Do you own a gun, Mr. Parker?”
“Has the state of Indiana licensed you to carry it?”
“Then I can assume you are proficient in its use?”
“With either hand,” I said.
The woman sitting across the desk from me was an attractive brunette with brown eyes that were clear and doe-like. And she was young. I placed her in her early thirties. Her face hadn’t yet developed the lines that would later give it character.
She sat with her legs crossed as she bounced one foot, reviewing information from an open file folder that sat on her lap. She had taken her folder and Montblanc pen from an expensive-looking leather briefcase she had carried into my office. She was wearing a charcoal gray business suit with an understated pink blouse. A single strand of freshwater pearls hung around her neck.
“May I ask,” she said, “why were you terminated from the FBI?” Her attention was focused on the open file.
“Abuse of power,” I said.
She looked up from the folder. “Abuse of power?”
“I forced a confession out of a young girl’s kidnapper.”
“And how did you do that?”
“Abuse of power.”
“I see,” she said, turning back to her file. After another perusal, she said, “The information I have indicates you were also with the Chicago Police Department. Is that correct?”
“Five years,” I said. “The Fourth District.”
“I see.” She made a note in the margin of the file and then rested the pen against her lower lip as she continued to review the dossier.
“That’s the south side of Chicago,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” she murmured without looking up.
The room was silent as she continued to review the file, flipping to the second page with her left hand while her right hand kept the pen resting against her mouth. I watched as she continued to bounce her foot to a tune that only she could hear.
“Jim Croce called it the baddest part of town,” I said, breaking the silence.
She remained unimpressed as she nodded and flipped to the third page in the file. Her demeanor was professional. And tough. Wall Street tough.
I glanced at the business card she had laid on my desk: “Elizabeth Carmichael, MBA.”
“What can I do for you, Ms. Carmichael?” I finally asked, easing back in my chair and clasping my hands behind my head.
She held up an index finger in a “wait just a minute” gesture as she continued to scan the file. After a moment, she raised her head.
“I work for Berger Hume, Mr. Parker. Have you heard of him?”
“Sure,” I said. “Who hasn’t?”
Berger Hume was a rich man’s rich man. Listed annually in Forbes, he had been an instrumental figure in Indianapolis’ revitalization efforts during the 1980s. Hume had been the primary driving force in turning what had been “Indiana-no-place” into a major metropolitan hub. A city with two professional sports teams, an international airport, and a thriving economy.
“He seems to have dropped out of sight, though,” I said.
“Yes, that’s correct. He hasn’t gone public for more than two years now. He went into seclusion after his wife’s death.”
I could sympathize. Since my wife died eighteen months earlier, I too had often felt like withdrawing. But I didn’t have that luxury.
She uncrossed her legs and crossed them again as she snapped the cap of her pen back into place. “Mr. Hume is dying, Mr. Parker.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “How long?”
She shook her head. “We don’t know for sure. The doctors are perplexed and haven’t gotten a handle on his problem.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again, for lack of anything better to say.
Her response was followed by a barren stretch of silence that was accented by the hissing of my radiator.
“I don’t mean to sound glib, Ms. Carmichael,” I said, disrupting the stillness, “but how does that involve me?”
“Prior to his marriage to the late Mrs. Hume, Mr. Hume was engaged to another woman. They were within days of marriage when Mr. Hume broke off the engagement. Recently, we have begun receiving letters from someone who is claiming that Mr. Hume fathered a child with the other woman.”
“Any idea who’s writing the letters?”
She shook her head. “No. They’ve been anonymous.”
“Are they accurate?”
“Perhaps. We’ve been able to determine that the woman did have a child eight months after Mr. Hume ended their engagement. We’ve also determined that the child’s name is Miles Poole. We have not, however, been able to determine if he is Mr. Hume’s son.”
“Blackmail?” I asked.
“We don’t know the motive behind the letters, but to be frank, that has crossed our minds.”
“Blackmail,” I said to myself.
“That’s always the risk, isn’t it? Particularly when one is as successful and as visible as Mr. Hume.”
“That explains it,” I said.
She tilted her head. “Explains what?”
“Why no one has tried to blackmail me.”
She smiled. “At any rate, Mr. Hume was unaware of the child until the letters began to arrive.”
“Where are the letters coming from?” I asked.
“We don’t know. All we know is that they have Indianapolis postmarks.”
“How many letters have you received?”
“Two. One came a month ago, the other two weeks ago.”
I unclasped my hands and eased forward in my chair. “How does Mr. Hume feel about all of this?”
“He wants to know.”
“If Miles is his son.”
“Yes. And if he is, Mr. Hume wants to see him.”
“Any idea where he might be?”
“None. We could have gone to the police, but given the circumstances we felt it best to do this as privately as possible. Which is why we have come to you.”
“I’m not up to speed on all of my local business trivia,” I said, “but it seems I read somewhere that Mr. Hume has children.”
She nodded. “Yes. Denton Hume is the oldest son. He is the current president of Hume Enterprises.”
“To succeed his father?” I asked.
“Soon. It is anticipated that he will be selected as CEO and chairman of the board.”
“Mr. Hume is that close to passing?”
“Yes. Then there is Warren Hume. He is the younger son and vice-president of Hume Enterprises.”
“Rivalry?” I asked.
I crossed one leg over the other as I clasped my hands around one knee. “How do the sons feel about the revelation of another sibling? Assuming, of course, that he is the genuine article.”
“I would characterize them as less than thrilled.”
“They are concerned,” I said.
“That,” she said, with a wry smile, “would be an understatement.”
“What kind of business problems does this create for the family?” I asked.
She shifted slightly in her seat. “Denton and Warren are currently in negotiations to sell one of Hume Enterprises’ subsidiaries. Specifically, the hotels.”
“And a new son,” I said, “particularly one that may have ulterior motives, could challenge the sale and tie it up for years to come.”
She nodded. “Yes. The hotels are losing money, and the family wants to jettison them from their holdings as quickly as possible.”
“So this new revelation becomes a wrench in the works.”
“How close is the deal to being inked?”
“Close. Three, four weeks at most.”
“Do the brothers want him found and exposed, or left alone?”
“If Miles is Mr. Hume’s son, Denton wants him found and appropriate arrangements made prior to Mr. Hume’s demise.”
“Settle with him.”
“Throw a few dollars at him until he goes away?” I asked.
“Yes. Warren, on the other hand, is much less accommodating. He has made it clear that he desires to leave the whole thing alone.”
“Lest Miles rock the boat,” I said.
“Yes. Unfortunately, however, leaving him alone won’t make the potential problem go away. Even if the sale is finalized, he could always challenge it.”
“So Denton’s plan to settle with him—buy him off—would make it much more difficult for him to challenge the sale later.”
“And what if he can’t be bought off?”
She shrugged. “He could create problems for the family regardless of how the situation is handled.”
“But it’s better to address the issue now than to let it fester and blow up later.”
I stood and went to the coffeemaker that I kept on top of my file cabinet. I dropped a filter and some coffee into the basket, filled the carafe with water, and poured the water into the maker’s reservoir before flipping on the switch.
“Why me?” I asked, settling back into my chair.
She tilted her head again.
“Mr. Hume has unlimited resources, Ms. Carmichael. He could hire half the federal government. Why me?”
She smiled. “You have come recommended.”
“By whom?” I asked.
“By Harley Wilkins.”
She studied me for a moment. “Yes. Why? Does that surprise you?”
“In a way.”
Harley Wilkins was a detective captain with IPD. Though we had known each other for a number of years and had worked together on several cases, his disdain for private detectives was palpable.
“Well, as you say, Mr. Parker, Mr. Hume is not without resources. He is a close friend of the chief of police. After a phone call asking for a recommendation, the chief mentioned that he thought the captain may know of someone who could help. Your name came up.”
“The chief is apprised of the situation?” I asked.
A frown crossed her face as she shook her head. “No. Absolutely not. As I alluded before, until the situation can be properly developed, the family wants to keep this secret. It is imperative that we keep the police out of this. This is the one thing on which the brothers agree. The chief was only asked for his recommendation.”
“Sure,” I said. “And you’re here today, asking questions, to see if I am worthy of Detective Wilkins’ endorsement?”
She chuckled. “We’ve already checked you out, Mr. Parker. My visit today is to see if what we’ve heard is accurate.”
“And what have you heard?” I asked.
“To be blunt? That you’re a brash, insolent, and narrow-minded ex-cop who tends to be a bit of a loner. We’ve also been told that you often work with all the subtlety of a jackhammer in a funeral parlor.”
She slid the Montblanc into her briefcase. “The cliche ‘a square peg in a round hole’ came up more than once.”
“Bull in a china shop?” I asked.
“We didn’t hear that one, but I think it would have been consistent with the point they were trying to make.”
“Nice to have friends,” I said.
She continued. “Nevertheless, nearly everyone we spoke with said that you are honest, aggressive, and doggedly determined, and that you will get the job done.”
“Kind to animals too,” I said.
She ignored my last remark as she slid the file into her briefcase. “Your sense of subtlety does concern us, but it was counterbalanced by your determination. Mr. Hume would like to meet with you tomorrow morning. Would nine be okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Because of the obvious urgency of the situation, we’re going to need your full attention. We’re prepared to offer ten thousand dollars in advance, plus expenses.”
“In that case,” I said, “I can clear my calendar and be there at eight.”
“You forget, Mr. Parker. We’ve checked you out. Your calendar is clear.” She stood with the briefcase in one hand.
“I’m in a slump,” I said.
“At any rate, we didn’t want someone else popping up at the wrong time and diverting your attention.”
“No chance of that,” I said. “I’m all yours.”
She handed me a card with preprinted directions to the Hume home. “You must understand that time is of the essence. Miles must be found before Mr. Hume dies.”
“I’ll find him,” I said, standing to see her to the door.
She smiled. “Tomorrow at nine?”
“Tomorrow at nine.”
After she left, I poured coffee into my Chicago PD mug and sat down, spinning my chair around and resting my feet on the window ledge behind my desk.
Berger Hume was dying. A son he did not know existed had popped up at the most inopportune time. Or opportune, depending on which side of the fence you were on. And that was leaving his other sons, who seemed to have agendas of their own, to speculate about the trouble this could mean to them. Or their father’s business. Or their business. Again, depending on which side of the fence you were on.
This was the sort of problem I usually tried to avoid. The kind of case I didn’t like but that seemed to come my way. The family kind. In particular, the rich family kind. There was no way to win. The best I could do was to avoid trouble and try not to lose. Then again, they were offering ten thousand dollars. For that kind of money, I would be willing to drive to Amity and brush Jaws’ teeth.
I blew on the coffee before drinking and watched as the previously clear September sky darkened with a sudden influx of churning clouds.