Pat Marshall descends into a world of life-threatening danger in search of her brother, Jimmy, missing in the Grand Canyon. She discovers a brother she really didn’t know, living a life beyond her wildest imagination. She hires Harry Hamilton, laid-back private investigator, to help her duel with espionage agents, the FBI, and the U.S. State Department to solve the mystery. She induces Park Ranger Scott Cantrell to provide confidential information about the case. Romatic entanglements with Cantrell and Hamilton further complicate the case and her life.
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THE CANYON CAPER
D K ELLIOTT
Copyright © 2010 D K Elliott
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Printed in the United States of America.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
College life was all she hoped it would be. Top grades in all subjects had made her the envy of classmates. She had chosen a business major. That was where her motivation was centered. Not to become a peg in a corporate pegboard, but to launch her own business—to become a successful entrepreneur. Social activities had been worked into her daily routine when there was room for them. However, schoolwork had priority.
Oh, it was not from a lack of attractiveness. In fact, she was by far the more desirable female student on campus. Male students engaged in games, wagering who would be the first to get into her bed. For three years, not one had crossed that threshold.
Senior year was a relaxing time for students. The tougher subjects had been overcome… or had claimed their victims. There was more time for social activities. She decided she could now afford to attend more of the soirées that followed class hours. One particular evening, her female friends convinced her to join them in a beer blast in Claxton Hall. She was reluctant, knowing how wild things got at those events. However, she felt confident she could handle any situation. She could always bail out if things got too unmanageable.
The minute she entered the Hall, she regretted coming. “Hey, guys, the goddess has arrived,” greeted her. She smiled weakly and tried not to appear too reserved. That effort encouraged a few of the macho boys to sally forth. For the next half-hour, she spent most of the time parrying hands groping her body. She was about to walk out when a young man she had noticed on campus and admired introduced himself.
He maneuvered her away from the rowdies and engaged her in serious discussion of their career ambitions. Perhaps it was the alcohol or the contrast with other boys in the room, but whether one or the other, she warmed to his attention. Hands touched arms, shoulders, necks and thighs in friendly persuasion. He put his head close to hers and smiled. “You’re wonderful.”
The kiss lasted a full two minutes. The sensation in her thighs stayed. They left the party and ambled to his room. She was aware of what was in store and her expectations were soaring. She knew all about sex, but had postponed it until she was ready. She was ready. Lower garments were shed and engagement was rapid. She was in ecstasy, aroused by the initial sensations, rising toward fulfillment, when he lifted off, kissed her forehead, dressed and was gone.
I. The Client
Pat Marshall breathed heavily as she read the sans serif block letters on the opaque glass panel of the door a second time.
HARRY HAMILTON, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
She glanced nervously left and right in the hallway. Her designer instincts told her the building was vintage 1930s: faded beige paint on the walls, graying white paint on the ceiling, uncarpeted, aging, wood-plank flooring. She was not surprised. The building was one of the older, tired structures on Pine Street in Philadelphia. It had yet to be captured for renovation by developers. She smiled and recalled a put-down by an old actress. “What a dump! What was her name again? Oh, well.”
She wondered if she had made a mistake to come here and reconsidered going ahead with the decision. These old buildings have seen a lot of crime in the past. She glanced left and right again. Maybe I’m overreacting in my concern for Jimmy. Maybe he’s okay and really not in any trouble. Maybe I’m not ready to plunge into an investigation, not knowing where it might lead. Maybe this PI isn’t the one I ought to use. She glanced left and right a third time and firmed her jaw. Oh, well, as long as we’re here we’ll give this Mr. Hamilton the benefit of the doubt, Patricia.
She reached for the door handle, paused, drew a deep breath, and with trepidation opened the door. Her concerns were immediately confirmed. The room was an offspring of the hallway, with its one window sporting a stained shade at a rakish angle. The furnishings were things she studiously avoided at the many estate sales she had attended. A simple, overhead light fixture of milk glass promised barely ample illumination when daylight waned. The desk appeared to have had many occupants, none of whom used it with tender loving care.
A fairly good-looking man with brown hair, probably in his early to mid-thirties, sat behind the desk. His feet were propped on a trash bucket, a telephone handset was braced on his shoulder, and he was engrossed in conversation. He wore an open-neck, white shirt with the sleeves partially rolled up. His hands were busy cleaning his fingernails. When she walked into the room, he turned his head, casually stared at her, and halted his telephone conversation in mid-sentence. She thought she had walked onto the set of a detective movie from yesteryear and expected Humphrey Bogart or Peter Lorre to materialize out of nowhere.
He hung up the phone without signing off, dropped his feet to the floor, and turned around to face her with an inquisitive look.
She shifted on her feet and broke the studied silence. “Mr. Hamilton?”
“That’s me, Hon, Harry Hamilton in the flesh. What can I do for you?”
She responded despite renewed reservations about being there. “I wonder if you can help me locate my brother. He’s been missing for over a week now.” She doubted he heard what she said; he was so busy undressing her. She stood erect, a full five-foot-eight, with arms folded and her left foot tapping out the seconds until she will turn and leave.
He stalled as he continued to check out her assets, then responded with a shrug. “I may be able to help. Have a seat and fill me in on this missing brother.”
She sat opposite him in a straight-back, wooden chair that reminded her of grammar school days. She recognized his taste as classic minimalist. He was clearly not one to spend lavishly on office décor. She figured he probably preferred to spend his meager income on good liquor and easy women. She studied him and searched for signs she had made the right decision to even consider him for involvement in her brother’s whereabouts. She decided to take one more step before she walked out. Well, I’ve come this far. I might as well see what he has to offer.
She crossed her legs and stroked her cheek. “My brother left on a vacation to the national parks out west about ten days ago. Let’s see, today’s the fifteenth, so he left on the fifth. When he arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park, he called and told me the trip went smoothly, he was settled in at the Thunderbird Lodge, and planned to spend a couple of days hiking trails in the park. He promised to call me when he had gotten to his next stop, which he expected to be Zion National Park. I haven’t heard from him since.” She uncrossed her legs, shifted to release tension and folded her hands in her lap.
“When I called the desk at the Grand Canyon, I was told he must have left because his room was vacant, but he’d forgotten some of his clothes and personal items, which they were holding. I told them he wouldn’t have forgotten those things; he was careful, and thorough, and not impulsive. I asked them if his car was gone, but they told me they had no way to know. I told them he’d rented a car in Phoenix, asked them to check his registration at the lodge for the car’s identification, and to let me know if the car was still there.”
Hamilton sat slightly slumped, a hand supported his chin, eyes fixed on her throughout her recitation.
“They called back later and told me they didn’t find a car in any of the parking lots fitting the description my brother gave on the registration. I called the park police, the local sheriff, and the state troopers, but they said they couldn’t help me. Lots of tourists go off on their own in the parks for days on end, hiking and camping. They can’t chase down every relative that families think may be missing. I know something happened to Jimmy, but I don’t know where to turn next. I thought, perhaps someone like you could help.”
She was fully aware he was focused on her lips as she spoke, as if he were mesmerized. Many people had told her she had the most sensuous pair of lips they had ever seen. She had the habit of wetting them periodically as she spoke, which only reinforced their effect on men. It was a habit she was unable to break.
He recovered. “Jimmy, I assume, is your brother?”
“Yes, of course. Did you hear everything I said?”
“Every detail, Hon. Explain why you’re sure he’s missing and not off enjoying the natural beauty of our national treasures… or off with one of the more feminine forms of beauty he might have met in his travels.”
She stiffened and gave him a cold stare. “I know my brother. He’s too shy to pick up some woman, and he’s too careful to be picked up by some forward female. His life is shared between his work and his art. He made the trip to photograph the parks for his artwork. We’ve been close since childhood, and he has never forgotten to call me frequently when on lengthy trips.” She voiced her response with a tinge of annoyance and wondered again if she had made a mistake not to have left sooner.
He nodded. “Okay, I’ll buy your reasoning. Now, give me a few more specifics, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. You mentioned your brother’s art interest, his avocation. What is his work? What does he do for a living?”
She gritted her teeth. “Jimmy’s a clerk in the State Department. I don’t know exactly what he does, but it has something to do with foreign embassies. He tells me it’s routine administrative work, but he’s not supposed to discuss it with anyone outside the Department.”
He continued to take notes, and without looking up, asked, “You mean the U.S. State Department?”
“Yes! The U.S. State Department.” She felt her blood pressure rise.
He cocked an eye. “Does Jimmy have a woman friend or a circle of friends he’s close to? Someone he might have traveled with?”
She shook her head. “No, he went alone. I don’t know all the details of his private life, but he never mentioned any special woman friend. He does have a few acquaintances he socializes with at plays, movies, art galleries and, occasionally, at parties.”
“Have you contacted any of them?”
“No, I wouldn’t know how.” She shook her head again and, each time she responded, her lush, auburn hair brushed her cheek.
He smiled. “Okay. By the way, may I know your name? It’s a bit awkward to continue this discussion anonymously.”
“Yes, my name is Pat, Pat Marshall.”
“Okay, Pat, you seem to have a legitimate reason to question your brother’s whereabouts, and you’ve done everything you can do on your own. You were right to seek professional help at this point in your concern for your brother. The police will help only if you have evidence of foul play, or if your brother was missing for ten days or more from his home and place of business for no good reason. When these conditions aren’t met, a private investigator can fill the gap. Why did you choose me?”
She had second thoughts about getting up, walking out, and seeking an alternative investigator. He may not be the classic TV or movie private eye, but he seemed to know his business. “I came to you because you helped one of my clients in her divorce—Susan Albright. Her husband was shacking up with another woman when he was supposedly on business trips. You traced him down and documented, shall we say, the action.”
He grinned. “Oh, yeah, I remember that case. I have to ask how much help you want from me, if you get my drift? My usual fee is two hundred an hour plus expenses. However, I’ll take a case for a fixed fee if I can reasonably estimate my time.”
She sat erect with a practiced expression. “Money is not an issue. I prefer an initial retainer of two thousand, for which I expect a report on what you did, what you found, and what more you need to do to locate my brother. If I like what I see, we can negotiate additional steps in your investigation.”
He came up short with a surprised look on his face. “A two thousand retainer is fine.” He took a document from his desk drawer and filled it out. “Here’s my standard agreement. It protects each of us and satisfies Big Brother so I don’t lose my license.” He handed her the form in triplicate as if it were a trivial item.
She took it and put it in her portfolio. “I’ll have my attorney look it over and, if he has no problems with it, you’ll get it back with my check in a couple of days.”
“That’s fine with me. Now, the more I know about Jimmy, the better I’ll be able to zero in on my investigative strategy, and the faster I’ll be able to locate him. I’d like to start with you, your husband, and any parents or other siblings. Then, I’ll look up his friends where he lives and obtain their input. Later, I’ll try to see if I can get access to his coworkers in the State Department.”
She nodded. “I’m not married, our parents are dead, and I’m his only sibling. I can give you his address in DC, but you’ll have to locate his friends and his coworkers if you want to question them.” When she mentioned there was no husband, she noticed his face light up. You should have expected that, Patricia. Well, we’ll keep him at arm’s length.
He visited his BlackBerry. “Why don’t we get started on your case. I have free time this evening. Let’s have dinner, and you can fill me in on Jimmy’s background and interests as you know them.”
She demurred. “Let me take care of this agreement first. We don’t have a client relationship yet, Mr. Hamilton. We can discuss next steps when and if I formally accept your offer to assist me.”
“That’s fine, Pat. By the way, you can call me Harry or, as some of my friends do, call me Ham.”
She didn’t bite. “I’ll be in touch, Mr. Hamilton.” She rose from the chair, smiled coolly, strode determinately to the door and turned. “Goodbye.”
II. THE ARRANGEMENT
Harry Hamilton watched his latest prospective client disappear from his office, but not from his mind. “She is okay.” He inventoried her assets: tall, perfect body, hazel-green eyes, shoulder-length auburn hair, and a sensuous Grecian nose—he hated pug noses—probably in her mid to late-twenties. She impressed him as a lot tougher and commanding than he expected. Confident, bright, attractive women always topped his list of desirable clients. He was never one to shrink from a challenge, and this gal was one challenge he looked forward to.
He visualized her as she had first appeared at his door: a white boat-neck blouse, gray cadet jacket, dark-blue pleated skirt, and minimum jewelry—her looks more than enough to cover its absence. He smiled, put his feet on top of his desk clutter, closed his eyes, and visualized her sitting on her knees in his bed, legs tucked under her, not a stitch of clothes on her soft, sensuous body.
“She’s centerfold material. Harry, old boy, it appears you may have hit the jackpot. Play your cards right and there may be a big payoff down the road.” His reaction was typical of confirmed heterosexual bachelors. He saw no fault in viewing attractive women as worthy beneficiaries of his many talents.
Two days passed after the babe, as he liked to think of her, had visited him in his office, with no telephone call or return visit. He wondered if his psychological salivating had been picked up by the lady and had blown his cover. The jarring ring of his antiquated telephone shook him back to reality. He picked up. “Harry Hamilton, investigative services our specialty.” He thought his way of answering the telephone was more professional than most other private eyes. Right away, he prayed it was the babe, and she was about to become his new client.
“Hello, Mr. Hamilton, it’s Pat Marshall. My lawyer had a few changes in your agreement, which he thought were needed to protect my interests. I think you’ll agree they’re minor and acceptable. You know lawyers, they have to add something to justify their fees. I’ll drop off the agreement and my check tomorrow when it’s convenient for me to come. When I’m there, we can discuss when and where to meet for my contribution to your investigation.”
He couldn’t resist grinning ear to ear. “Very good, Ms. Marshall. How about ten tomorrow morning?” He decided to be more formal now that she was a client.
“I’ll be there at ten. Goodbye.” She hung up.
He had a dilemma, and it made him uneasy. Which of his several crafty approaches should he take with this new client? The gal was obviously strong-minded, self-confident, and in full command of her emotions and behavior. On the other hand, she exhibited all the outward signs of a woman who wanted to be seen as attractive and desirable with a hint of vulnerability. He knew he was attractive to women. He had been the object of their affections since he was a teenager. His attractiveness to the opposite sex made his social life a breeze. While he never married, he spent more time in libidinal bedroom activity than many married men did. This particular lady was clearly not turned on by him. If she was, she gave no evidence of it. Her indifference left him with only one option.
“I’ll pursue the case as a professional investigator and let events and circumstances play out. I’ll keep any romantic suggestions off the table for now.” He knew he couldn’t stop fantasizing, but he thought he could hide his amative impulses while in her company.
Promptly at ten the next morning, Harry’s office door swung open announcing the arrival of his new client.
He beamed. “Good morning, Ms. Marshall.”
She returned the greeting and strode in with a hint of hauteur in her bearing, as if she knew where his interest lay and she wanted him to know it. She wore a tailored, flower print top in reds, oranges, and tans, open at the neck, a tobacco brown skirt, and matching heels. He saw at once her outfit was designed to reinforce her message—she was all business. He picked up the signal and stored the information for future reference.
“Here’s the signed agreement and my check for two thousand. I told you on the phone my lawyer made changes. You’ll notice them in Articles Four and Seven of the agreement.” She handed him the papers, sat in her assigned seat, and crossed her legs.
He shot a quick glance at her legs when her attention was diverted from him. He smiled, With gams like those I can be converted to a leg man.
He scanned the lawyer’s changes and shrugged. “You’re correct, they are minor and fully acceptable. Thank you for the retainer. Now, how will you like us to proceed on your contribution to my investigation?” He threw the ball in her court; first, to avoid any impression of eagerness, and second, to see how she handled the option.
She obviously had considered this and was quick to respond. “I’d be more comfortable if we met in my office. There, I have all the information that may be of help to you, and I have resources to acquire anything not readily at hand. Here’s the address. When would you like to meet?”
He caught the return toss without fumbling. She was no fool. This arrangement reversed the non-verbal communication between them. She will assume the power base behind her desk, and he will assume the submissive role on the straight-back chair.
He was impressed. “That’s fine with me. I’m ready to start today or whenever you prefer. I’m a little short of clients now, so I have lots of time. That might change at any moment. The sooner we start, the better.” He played the game as well as anyone. She gave the barest evidence of a smile, and he didn’t fail to notice it.
“Okay, Harry, since you’re ready to start, let’s head over to my office and go to work.”
No Mr. Hamilton! He laughed inwardly. “I’m with you, Ms. Marshall. I have to leave word with my answering service should I receive calls from new prospects.” He enjoyed their little game and anticipated its evolution and how he can influence it.
While they walked to their cars, she filled him in on her work. “I’m a commercial design consultant for corporations. Most of my work is on product design, package design, office design, and business communication materials. I have two junior designers working with me. I’ve been successful. Most of my clients like my work, which brings me a lot of repeat business and referrals.”
He thought, I bet they like your work. You can be my designer any day of the week.
She stopped at a current model BMW 325 coupe, silver with black leather seats. “Well, here’s my car. Do you want to follow me, or do you think you can find the address I gave you?”
He grinned and shook his head in jest. “If I can’t find my way to your office, you have made a huge mistake to hire me.” She laughed, waved goodbye, hopped in her car, and took off. He wandered over to his five-year-old, red Mazda Miata that hadn’t seen a car wash in weeks. He was pleased he got her to laugh. It was the first break in the ice to what he expected will be a more comfortable relationship.
Her office was in one of the newer buildings in Philadelphia. It was a departure from the glass and steel monstrosities that had brutalized the architecture of cities in the early 20th century. It had graceful lines, a reflecting pool in front, and seemed to recede into the surrounding landscape, which, though minimal because of land costs, gave the impression of a woodland setting. He parked in the visitor section and went into the building. The lobby was spacious, yet intimate, and fine art decorated the walls. The art was the product of local artists and depicted scenes of the city and its environs. He took the elevator to the tenth floor, walked around to her office, and rapped gently on the door, choosing not to imitate her bold arrival at his office.
“Come in, Harry.”
Well, I’m clearly on her mind, even if it was only fifteen minutes since we parted company. He opened the door and entered. She sat behind a large, glass-topped desk in a comfortable, low-back swivel chair. The arrangement showed off all her personal assets: legs, torso with its special qualities, and face, lit by the daylight from windows to the left and right of her desk. His station was well in evidence to the front left of her desk. He immediately sat down in the cushioned, leather-appointed chair provided.
“Well, I made it without getting lost.” He smiled, but she acted as if he had said nothing. He shrugged. Well, at least I got one laugh out of her. “I like your office, Ms. Marshall. Maybe someday I’ll graduate up to a classy office like this. By the way, where are your two associates?”
“I have a studio next door where we do all our design work. My associates operate there. Okay, Harry, what do you want to know about Jimmy?” She leaned back in her chair and gave him an intense look that said, Let’s get this over with fast.
He felt a slight bit of intimidation, paused, and regained his composure. “Why don’t we start with your relationship with your brother from the time you were children until the present. Focus on significant events in the relationship.”
She gave him a quizzical look and cautiously recounted her life with her brother as she experienced it.
He took notes, eschewing the popular tape and disk recorders. He thought them too intrusive and likely to raise suspicions on the part of the client about what he might do with the information. He never cared to record meetings ever since the Nixon tape fiasco.
It became clear to him, she had no close relationship with her brother. He was two years younger than her, and she acted more as a substitute mother than a sister when they were alone together. She knew he had friends when he was younger, but he always socialized with them away from home, exactly where, she was not sure. She saw him as a quiet, well-behaved, younger brother, who tended to shyness when in the presence of children older than him.
He played tennis and soccer in high school, but did not attend the dances held there with his peers. He was an excellent student, graduated near the top of his class in high school, and was accepted into Johns Hopkins University. She knew he did well in college and graduated summa cum laude, but she was unable to provide any details of his activities there. If he had any problems or conflicts while in college, she was unaware of them.
Her brother had majored in political science and, as a consequence, gravitated to the State Department when he chose a career path. He took what she thought was an insignificant, low-level, clerical position, given his college record and native intelligence. When she raised the point with him, he told her he wanted to learn the functions of the department from the ground up. He explained, half in jest, he wanted to fully understand the sobriquet, Foggy Bottom, applied to the State Department by media pundits. He clearly was an unusually bright and inquisitive individual, which did not surprise Harry, knowing his sister, even for such a short time.
When she had completed her narrative, he thought he had a somewhat superficial picture of Jimmy. There were many gaps—terra incognita zones—in the personality profile he was trying to construct. If he was to complete the profile, he needed help from others knowledgeable about Jimmy’s life. “Thank you, Ms. Marshall.” He stalled and invited a, Why don’t you call me Pat, from her, which did not come. “Ideally, I’d like to talk with some individuals who knew Jimmy in college as well as his recent friends and coworkers in DC. Since it will be easier to reach the latter two groups, why don’t we start there and see where their information leads us.”
She looked at him with a frown. “What do you mean by we? I believe I hired you to conduct the investigation.”
He didn’t flinch, fully anticipating her reaction. “Jimmy’s friends and coworkers will be cautious about opening up to a complete stranger who claims to be working for his sister. Further, Jimmy’s actual work for State may involve classified activities and privileged individuals, which are more likely to be shielded from me as an outsider. If you want to find your brother, and quickly, your involvement is critical.”
She squinted and looked sideways at him. “Okay, Harry, what’s the agenda?”
He swallowed the urge to grin. The ball was back in his court. “We can grab the Metroliner from the Thirtieth Street Station tomorrow morning and be in DC when State opens for business. The early start will give us a full day there, which I hope will be sufficient time to fill in most of the gaps in Jimmy’s recent life. We’ll start with his coworkers and find out if they can give us leads on his friends in DC. We might even pick up some leads on his college friends.”
She nodded. “I can clear my slate at the office for tomorrow and meet you at the station in the morning. I assume we’ll catch the late train back to Philly tomorrow evening.”
“That’s what I expect, barring any hitches.” He hoped she would not pick up on his hitches qualifier, which she ignored, being absorbed in her own list of things to do to keep the appointment.
He continued, “I pack some extra clothes should there be an emergency. It’s a habit of mine, despite the fact I’ve rarely needed them. However, there’s always a chance of transportation breakdowns, power outages, and such.” He kept his head down and sorted papers in his lap as he dropped the hint she might want to consider that option. Wondering if the seed had been planted, he cast a sly glance at her and stowed the papers. “Well, thank you for your time and cooperation, Ms. Marshall. I’ll see you at the station at seven sharp.” He rose and turned to head out the door when she stopped him in his tracks.
“Since we’re to work on my brother’s case as a team, you can drop the ‘Ms. Marshall’, Harry.”
He smiled. “As you wish, Pat. Bye.” If he knew how, when he left the building, he would have skipped all the way to his car.
Shortly before seven the next morning, Harry spotted Pat heading to the gate for the Metroliner where he waited expectantly. She wore a dark-gray skirt with pencil-thin, black lines, a dark-aqua collared blouse, a blue and dark-aqua neck scarf, and black heels. She was the epitome of the successful businesswoman executive. He nearly leaped out of his shoes when he saw her toting carry-on luggage. He looked down at his shabby tan slacks, green sport shirt, and brown loafers and felt underdressed for the occasion.
When she approached him, he waved. “Right on time, Pat. Let’s hope we find what we’re looking for when we’re in DC.”
She flashed a half smile. “Hi, Harry. I didn’t have time for breakfast. Can we get something to eat on the train?”
He nodded. “Certainly. We’ll see what’s on the menu.” They went to the dining car, waited on line, and were finally seated opposite two middle-age gentlemen dressed for business who appeared delighted to share the table with Pat. The four of them engaged in meaningless small talk until the two gentlemen left.
When they were alone, he turned to their project. “I’ve been thinking. Jimmy’s coworkers and friends know he’s on vacation for a few more days. They may well think you’re a bit paranoid about your inability to reach him. Maybe we should tell them he told you he was in some kind of trouble, that he thought his life might be threatened. However, he gave you no details.”
She looked at him with an incredulous expression. “I can’t believe what I heard! Are you serious? Tell them a bold-faced lie, and one with so many unforeseen consequences. I don’t think so. I’ll tell them the reasons for my concern, and if that doesn’t persuade them to help us, we’ll find other ways to locate Jimmy.”
He shrugged. “Okay, as you wish.” Good, now she’s fully involved in the quest. Harry, old boy, everything seems to be working out just fine.
They arrived in DC after a leisurely breakfast on the train, grabbed a cab, and headed for the State Department at 23rd and C streets. It was a typically hot September day in the District, and they were relieved to reach the air-conditioned building before they worked up a sweat. They asked to speak to the personnel office to find out exactly where Jimmy worked. After suitable inquiry into who they were, they were cleared to talk with personnel administration and were ushered into the office of a Mr. William Oberg.
“My name’s Bill Oberg. How can I help you?” Oberg was a tall, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, Scandinavian-looking man in his early fifties. He wore a light-gray business suit, white shirt, and sported a dark-red tie. He appeared as someone who had little time or patience for small talk.
Harry was energized to respond, but Pat preempted him. “How do you do? My name is Patricia Marshall, and my brother, James Marshall, works for the State Department. I’m not sure exactly which area he works in, and I need to find out so I can talk with his coworkers. I’m concerned something might have happened to him while he was on vacation in Arizona. I want to find out if his coworkers can shed light on his plans and frame of mind when he left work for his trip west.”
Oberg nodded. “I see, and this gentleman?” He looked at Harry with an air of suspicion.
She raised a hand. “He’s helping me to locate my brother. His name is Harry Hamilton.”
Oberg turned to Pat. “No relation, I gather?”
“No, only a friend.”
Harry could not help smiling. He was impressed with her tact to keep his role obscure. He thought, I guess that clever idea of mine I mentioned on the train ride is another reason to keep me on the shelf.
“Since I assume your brother is still on vacation, why do you think he’s in some sort of trouble?” said Oberg.
She went over the same explanation she had given to Harry.
Oberg listened attentively, but impatiently, until she finished. He turned to his computer, keyed in a few bits of information, and turned back to Pat. “Well, everything on his record agrees with what you have told me. He’s due back from vacation Monday. Why don’t we wait until then. It’s only three more days, and I’m sure he’ll show up with the answer you’re looking for.”
She shifted in the chair. Harry sensed she was annoyed, but he kept still.
“Mr. Oberg, I fully understand where you’re coming from. However, every day I lose in my search for the answer to my brother’s whereabouts increases the risk he may be deeper into some kind of trouble. All I really need from you is access to his coworkers in order that I may find out what they know about his vacation plans. May I please have that consideration so we can get moving on my search?”
Oberg was quiet for a brief moment. He spread his arms with open hands. “I’m afraid the access you seek is not a simple matter. I don’t know how much you know about your brother’s work here, but all I can tell you is it’s highly classified. I have to obtain clearance for your request, and that can’t happen until Monday. Here’s my card. Call me about ten-thirty Monday morning. If your brother hasn’t shown up for work, I’ll attend to your request.”
She was clearly beside herself, and before she blurted out something she would probably regret, Harry interjected. “We didn’t realize Jimmy’s work was so sensitive. Of course we’re disappointed we made this trip for nothing. However, we understand how government agencies operate, and we’ll bide our time until Monday.” He turned to Pat. “Let’s go, I have some other things we need to attend to until Monday.”
She looked at him with a confused expression, as if she did not know what he was talking about, but she seemed too frustrated and annoyed to say anything to him. She rose from the chair and followed him out of Oberg’s office.
Pat became more composed as they walked down the hall to the building exit, and grabbed Harry by the arm. “What were you talking about back there? What other things do we need to do, and when do you think we have time for other things? If we can’t see Jimmy’s coworkers until Monday, there’s no reason to stay here any longer. Let’s grab the next train to Philly and call Monday before we head back down here. Oberg might be right, and Jimmy will show up for work.”
He looked at her as if she was not making sense. “Pat, you’re the one who believes there’s a sense of urgency to locate Jimmy, not me… and not Oberg. We still have a chance to get into Jimmy’s apartment where we have an opportunity to obtain some more leads and even identify his friends. If we’re successful in locating the latter, the weekend will be a good time to interview them. You have Jimmy’s address. Let’s grab a cab and head over there.”
She was confused by his summation of other things, but could not think why she was confused. He made a lot of sense, but it was not where her mind was focused. She shook her head to clear the confusion and followed him into a cab he had whistled down.
He tapped her on the knee. “Pat, tell the driver the address.”
She stared at the driver, who grew impatient.
“Come on, lady, where do you wanna go?”
She fumbled in her purse, found her address book, and gave the driver the address. He grimaced, sped away, and jumped a traffic light as it turned red.
Jimmy’s apartment was in one of the yellow-brick, attached town houses common in the northwest DC area. They exited the taxicab after he paid the driver, giving a generous tip, which she assumed was to soothe the cabbie’s temper. They climbed the steps of the building and tried the front door. It was locked. The door served two apartments, so he rang the bell for the Levine apartment next door and waited—no response. He turned and led her down the stairs and around to an alley between Jimmy’s building and its neighbor. “I don’t give up easily. Let’s try another way in. There’s more than one way to skin the cat.”
He scanned the windows of Jimmy’s apartment and pointed to one fairly accessible from ground level. He stopped and scratched his head, absorbed in thought. After several minutes, he outlined a solution. “If we try the Levine’s again, they will be keyed into our presence and our effort to get into Jimmy’s apartment. On the other hand, if we come back here late tonight, I know I can get into the apartment through one of these windows. The trick is to get in without alerting the neighbors. To do that, it’ll have to be late—after midnight, assuming people here retire early even though it is a Friday night. You okay with that?”
Her anxiety about where he was headed rapidly increased as he laid out his plan. This was above and beyond anything she had ever experienced. She was frightened by the idea of a break-in and believed she had lost control of the situation. “I don’t like that idea at all. What if we’re caught? It might set us back weeks, and if Jimmy is in trouble, we may never be able to help him in time. It doesn’t seem to me it’s a good trade-off to save only three days in our search.”
“Jimmy’s been out of touch with you for twelve days now. If he is in trouble, this is a long time in my experience. We’re entering the critical zone where every day—every hour—is important. It’s up to you, but if it were my brother, I wouldn’t let a day go by without using every option available.”
She found his argument unassailable in the way he positioned it. She may have doubts about his ethics, but he sure knew how to manipulate a client with persuasive arguments. She shrugged. “Okay, if you think it’s the best option we have, let’s do it, but you better be right.”
He gave her a look of reassurance. “I think you’ll be impressed with my talents as a second-story man, Patricia.” He smiled.
She smiled back, as much for his calling her Patricia as for his bragging.
He gently took her arm and ushered her back down the street. “Okay, we have a lot of time to kill before we act. Anything you want to do until midnight?”
She accepted his plan, relaxed, and resumed control. “It’s near noon, and I’m hungry. Let’s find a place where we can eat and take it easy. I’d like to review where we are in our quest.”
He nodded. “Sounds good to me.” They found a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue and sat in a corner booth away from the other customers. That created a minor problem when they rejected the hostess’s request they lunch close to the occupied tables, presumably to save steps for the waitress. He advised the hostess to, “Bug off,” which made Pat shake her head and smile. She ordered a Caesar salad and tea. He ordered a cheeseburger and beer.
While waiting for their orders, they engaged in trifling comments about the restaurant, the clientele, and the neighborhood. Once the food was served, he brought up the project. “I know you’re terribly disappointed with our experience at State, but I have a good feeling about tonight.”
She wondered what he meant by, tonight. He had a way of phrasing things, which could be taken more ways than one. She knew he had desires for her, but that was nothing new for her. Most men she encountered professionally, or socially, were of his mindset with respect to her. She had no trouble handling men and knew she was able to handle him. Still, she picked up on his opener. “About tonight, what do you have planned until midnight?”
He smiled. “We need to rest after today’s hectic activity, have a light supper, and catch a few winks, but no more than forty. I plan to take a nap for an hour or so. I never hit the sack before ten. A nap from ten to eleven will refresh me. How about you?”
She pouted. “I’ll need the full forty. I always have eight to ten hours of sleep a night. I love my bed. You’ll probably have to wake me when it’s time to go.” She knew how to play equivocal word games too. “We had better finish up here and book our rooms for the night.” She was sure the emphasis was not lost on him.
They left the restaurant after she paid the bill, and they headed for the Washington Hotel on 15th and F Streets. In the lobby, she booked two nonadjacent rooms on her credit card and handed him his room key card. “I’ll go up to my room and relax for a while. I’ll see you in the lobby at five. We can go out and grab a bite and be back here by seven, okay?”
“Sounds good. I’ll do the same. See you at five.”
After they had dined and returned to the hotel in the early evening, she invited him to the bar for a drink. He appeared to enjoy the role of a kept man… a temporary role, for sure, in her mind.
They entered the lobby bar and were greeted by a cute middle-aged waitress. “Welcome to the last frontier. If you’re looking for the bar in the future, we’re expected to be up on the Sky Terrace level. What can I get you kids?”
They sat at a postage-stamp-size table for two. She ordered bourbon and water. He ordered Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks. She smiled inwardly. I guess he might as well drink the best as long as the lady’s paying.
The business of their late night project was finished for the time being, and they set out on a path she knew will probably encourage him to try out his manly talents.
She raised her drink. “Here’s to a successful operation tonight and a quick solution to the mystery of Jimmy’s whereabouts.”
He smiled. “I’ll drink to that,” and he raised his glass to touch hers. “Talking about mysteries—you, Patricia, are a mystery of your own. We’ve been working as a team for two days, and all I know about you is you’re a design consultant and have a brother named Jimmy, who you barely know.”
She begged to differ. “I believe I gave you a complete rundown of my life when you asked for it, did I not?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Uh-huh, you did talk quite a lot, but it was all focused on your brother and your relationship with him. You said little about Pat Marshall.”
She looked at him, put a finger to her lips, played with her drink, and weighed the risks before responding. “What about my life do you want to know that has relevance to our search for Jimmy?”
“I don’t really know. On the other hand, I’ve learned from past experience the more I know about my clients the more it helps me to solve their problems. It’s not unusual for them to reveal facts they didn’t know were helpful. However, if you’re uncomfortable with my curiosity, we can skip it. Well, what do you think of DC so far? I assume you haven’t spent much time here, since you weren’t familiar with the place where Jimmy lived.”
She had to admire his tact and cleverness. She knew he could be right again, and maybe there was something in her past that might help their cause. Besides, she had nothing in her past to be uncomfortable about, but she was equally tactful and clever. She enjoyed matching wits with him.
“I’ve been to DC several times, but always on business—never much fun—you know, quick in and out.” She smiled slyly at his pickup on her subtle inference. “I’ve always wanted to spend more time visiting the tourist sites, but my calendar didn’t allow it.” She slowly sipped her drink before continuing, and he patiently gazed on her. “You’re right, of course, Jimmy and I were never really close. I always believed I had a responsibility to look after him, particularly after our parents passed away. However, I never had much time to spend with him because I was totally absorbed in my work. You must realize, it’s a lot harder for a woman to become a successful entrepreneur in the design field than it is for a man. My ambition left me little time for pleasurable pursuits, only an occasional movie, play, or dinner date. There, that’s me—nothing mysterious.”
He remained quiet and looked at her with a quizzical smile. She felt uncomfortable and was about to end their socializing when he probed further.
“What was Jimmy’s attitude toward you and your parenting role in his life?”
She was puzzled by the question, frowned, and considered how to respond. “It’s hard for me to say. He more or less listened to the advice I gave him and thanked me on occasion. I usually ended our conversations and our phone calls telling him to take care of himself and let me know if he needed anything.”
He acknowledged her comments with a murmur and a tug on his ear. “What did Jimmy say during these conversations? Did he ever initiate contact without a request from you to call or visit?”
She glanced away, almost embarrassed at what she was about to say. “Not really. Uh… well… when we talked, he more or less agreed with me. He’d say things like, ‘you’re right, Pat’ or ‘okay’ or ‘I will’. He never really opened up with me. That’s why I know little about his personal life.”
He nodded, looked at his notes, and asked, “Have there been any men in your life who affected your relationship to Jimmy?”
She was prepared for this one. He had taken a long journey through mental gymnastics to arrive at the subject, and she had to admire his persistence. “No! Further, the only man in my life now is you, and it’s all professional.”
He burst out laughing. “Of course it is. Whatever gave you the idea it was anything but professional?”
She blushed and realized he was one step ahead of her again. She thought it best to retreat before things got out of hand. “Oh, look at the time. I better go to bed, or I’ll be a zombie when midnight rolls around. Ring me when it’s time to go. Good night, Harry.”
He smiled. “I will. Bon soir, Patricia.”
Still flustered, she rushed out of the bar, onto the elevator, and into her room before he paid the tab she forgot to pay. She shed her clothes and stopped to glance in a full-length mirror before slipping on a nightgown. The body was still intact, and she vowed to keep it that way. Somehow, she couldn’t visualize herself in bed with a man, and particularly not Harry. Maybe someday the right guy will come along, but that was well into the future. She crawled into bed and admonished herself for even thinking about the subject. She was soon fast asleep.
Harry left the bar humming, You Are My Sunshine, and made his way to the elevator. It was a stupid song for a with-it guy, but it always popped into his head when he believed he had accomplished something special. When he got to his room, he slipped off his shoes, plopped into a chair, switched on the TV, and turned to the Weather Channel. Tonight will be cool and overcast, with little chance of rain. “Perfect weather for the caper.” He surfed a few channels, sampled the news highlights on CNN, and turned off the TV.
He laid down on the bed and reviewed the day’s events. He was particularly mindful of his conversation with Pat in the bar, absorbed with her every word. She was vulnerable after all. He wondered if she knew how attractive and desirable she really was. Stories of glamorous movie and TV actresses who sat home night after night because they didn’t have dates—whether true or not—always amazed him. He fantasized about calling them up and offering to take them to dinner and a show, but never had the nerve.
He thought of what Pat said about Jimmy and wondered if Jimmy’s failure to call her a second time on his trip west was a deliberate act of rebellion. Clearly, he’s not the type to argue or question his big sister. Not calling her when she requested it is a tactic he might employ to rebel. But, why should he rebel? She was kind, helpful, and concerned about him, and wasn’t trying to control his lifestyle. “Well, if it was an act of rebellion, it’ll all be cleared up come Monday… if he shows up for work.”