* Editing notes: Chapter 1 -> hide name of Chris Markle, consider move larger exposition to Lila below or Chapter 4/5, check overall timeline, tweak Feast or Famine nuance, tweak restaurant details, tweak calling Kit, tweak Dad’s list
** Personae dramatis:
– Carleton “Cal” Clarke, lead investigator;
– Marilyn (maternity) and Phil (appendix), investigators on leave;
– Five legal beagles;
– Harrison Matthew James III, founder and senior partner in
– Lila Matthews, James’ assistant
– Haggerty (1950s), McCleod (1960s), other partners
– Maxwell Jennings, father, divorced
– Maria Jennings, mother, divorced
– William Clarke, Cal’s deceased father
– Melanie Jennings, daughter, deceased (car crash) and goddaughter to James
– Michael Jennings, son, missing
– Detective Daniel Moorcroft, detective, Bayport PD
– Jim Peterson, drunk boyfriend in car crash
– Chris “Kit” Markle, patrolwoman, Bayport PD
START CHAPTER 2:
I tried calling Chris Markle, but it went straight to voicemail.
“This is Kit, leave a message”.
I thought it was worth a try to phone, but I’m used to getting her greeting during the day. She’s a police officer in BPD, and usually on patrol, so she doesn’t answer her personal phone unless she has a free moment. Instead of leaving a message, I hung up and sent her a quick text:
“Lunch? Santino’s @ usual spot?”
She texted back about 5 minutes later saying “Perfect!” with a smiley face. I wasn’t sure if the smiley face was for me, lunch or the food source.
Santino’s is a local deli about three blocks over from my office and a popular spot for the downtown crowd. But Kit’s patrol was the Uplands/Bluffs to the North of the downtown, which meant she couldn’t get to Santino’s very often, with only about a half-hour break. If she was testifying in court, she often would find an excuse to be downtown at lunch-time, and Santino’s was her go-to spot. We had been friends for about two years now, and if I had business around Uplands, I’d grab a take-out order from Santino’s and meet Kit at the second look-out on the old Bluffs Road, just inside the City Limits. The parking lot was usually empty at mid-day, so it was easy to grab a picnic table and look out over the lake while we snacked.
I didn’t need to know her order, it never changed. Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich, rye bread, Cajun mustard, two thinly-sliced pickles, Havarti cheese, 3 tomato slices on the side, creamy coleslaw, and ketchup-flavoured chips. I logged onto Santino’s corporate service page, pulled up our work account, and booked pickup for two just after the lunch rush. Santino’s doesn’t normally handle personal orders, but since we are also their lawyers, and we order all our catering from them, the corporate account is a nice perk. It is carefully monitored by Lila Matthews to make sure nobody abuses the privilege too much, but I figured this one was worth it. I sent her a quick message anyway just to let her know I was doing it, but would charge it to my personal expenses.
With the order in, I opened a new electronic case file. My father’s second rule of investigation has become one of the cornerstones of my approach to my job. He insisted that everything should be written down. Not just facts, but feelings, impressions, anything that would help you recapture that moment when you re-read the notes. It is an approach that has helped me a lot during my time as an investigator, and I try to use it for every case. Which is why I am writing this report, if only for myself.
I supplement the report with some software that I used to use for project management when I worked conferences with my brother and before I became an investigator. The program has a tool that allows you a visual representation of people and relationships. It sort of looks like a combination of a family tree and an organizational chart, but it is way more powerful than that, and allows me to attach notes to each person, facts, commentary, even documents. I can move them around, sort them different ways, even choose a randomize function when I’m feeling particularly stuck and looking for a new avenue to follow or connection to consider. I can add in timelines if I need to, just like you see the detectives do on TV shows where they write on those nice big glass boards. It even comes with an app I can synch with my tablet and phone.
I quickly added a summary from the morning, and added empty boxes for the Jennings family members. I didn’t know if the deceased daughter was relevant in any way, but I added her anyway. I added the detective involved, the restaurant with a big question mark, even James, although I expected his involvement would turn out to be simply as a lawyer.
I was looking at the chart, but I was mostly thinking about my father. He had known the Jennings before, even found their lost daughter. Two more people who knew my father in a role that I never knew. He kept us at a distance from his police life, and it was only after his death that I had learned about some of his adventures. I even found his list of ten rules for investigation. I mentioned #3 earlier, never assume the outcome, and #2, write things down, but it was his first rule that was bothering me for this case. Make A Difference.
I had read through my father’s old journals and I realized that in some cases that did not mean just catch the bad guy. Sometimes it meant staying in touch with the victims afterwards, checking on them, making sure they were still connected to their community. Letting them know, for example, that if they had lost a son to gang violence, someone still remembered the son and that he had been part of a family. That a daughter who overdosed was not just a statistic. Or that a surviving friend could be prevented from becoming another statistic.
I knew the Jennings were hurting, and I had no idea what I could do in their life to make a difference. James had suggested closure, but I wasn’t sure necessarily that was going to be enough. It would stop the bleeding, but I don’t know if it would make a difference. Obviously, finding their son alive and well would be the best outcome, maybe having lost his memory which would be why he hadn’t t come home. Or maybe he became involved in a secret government program and he would return a hero. Neither of those would happen, but some people come up with elaborate explanations to hide a truth that they don’t want to face. For the Jennings, the truth was stark. Either their son had run away and was still alive but didn’t want to see them or he was dead. I knew which was more likely. Neither option would be painless.
I tabbed over to a separate note panel and noted my lunch expense. I try to be overly scrupulous with my expense account, which is a legacy I think from my father. His view was that you can never rebuild integrity. With work. With the public. With friends. With family. If you cut corners in one, you’ll start cutting corners in others. He also felt it was easier to always tell the truth because it was easier to remember. In this case, it was simply easier to let Lila know it was personal now rather than trying to remember later at the end of the month when the bills came in.
So I checked the box for personal on my expense form, but truthfully, I had no idea what the lunch was…business or personal? We’ve known each other about two years, got together lots of times. So it was no big deal when we had hung out one night in June, just before we were both headed out of town for awhile. Somehow that night was different. We ended up having this really long conversation about family, loss, work, dating, our life goals, everything. Pretty heavy stuff for what was supposed to be just two friends grabbing a beer and wings after a law firm / police officer softball game (they slaughtered us). Kit and I are friends, that’s it. I say that to be clear, that’s all we are. It’s all we have ever been. No line has ever been crossed. Not even when we were both single, even before she started dating an accountant. Friends. Full stop.
But we were talking, it was really intense, and we kind of had this moment. At least I thought we had a moment. But I confess, I am one of the dumbest guys on the planet in reading women and romance. I can spot flirting between other people, I can see sparks flying even when they can’t, but with me, I see nothing. I know nothing. I hear nothing. I’m as dense as a post unless they tell me. Which isn’t to say Kit was trying to tell me something, but even if it was accidental, I thought it was a moment. And I haven’t talked to her since.
I know that sounds bad. But it was mostly due to holidays and circumstance. We were both away and then busy. Okay, maybe a little avoidance. But I got a smiley face on my lunch idea so it is likely all good. Right? I probably imagined the moment. Like I said, she’s seeing someone anyway. I’m also recently out of a four-year long-distance relationship, so I wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a good specimen for dating anyway. Friends.
I didn’t know if Kit would become involved in the case, but I added a box for her on the case file too.
My research team wasn’t very busy at the moment, that whole famine thing was clear for them, so I tasked them with some media scraping on anything to do with the Jennings family and the restaurant, expanding first to a ten-year timeframe and then deciding to widen it to a full 25 years. It would take me back before their wedding, but I didn’t expect the newspapers to have anything much anywhere in the whole timeframe except the car crash. It wasn’t even guaranteed they would have published any names if the boyfriend who lived was a minor at the time.
The next couple of hours was spent approving legal briefs that my research team had written, tweaking a couple of points here and there, and then closing out some of the case files from my investigation team. We were all caught up by noon on everything, so my research team would tackle the media research that afternoon.
I saw Lila’s active icon on my messenger app go to offline, which meant she had just shut down. I know the IT people pretty well, so I have a few privileges others don’t have, and monitoring when people were logged in or not was one of them. Officially it’s so I know who is in since my team is a support function, but that’s just an excuse. I like to use it to time accidental run-ins with the administrative staff when I need gossip.
I waited until the elevator went to the 6th floor and headed back down before I pressed the button. As expected, Lila was on the elevator by herself, purse in hand. She was going out for lunch, which likely meant she was meeting her son at Santino’s. It was Monday after all, and her boss was not the only one for formal routine.
“Hi Lila. Hello again I should say.” Subtle, aren’t I? “Are you heading over to Santino’s too?”.
“Yes, I am. Do you want me to pick up your order on the way back?” Lila never offers to pick up food or run errands. As the executive assistant to the head of the firm, she has progressed well beyond those days. But here she was offering.
“Umm…no, thanks, I need a break from the office. Can I walk with you?”
As we left the building, she put her purse in her left hand, and her pace quickened. I had forgotten her normal walking speed was almost a sprint for most people.
“Sorry, Lila, I worked out this morning after almost a month off from the gym and my legs are screaming at me. Can we walk a bit slower?”. I wasn’t lying. Leg day practically kills me in a good week.
Lila slowed, “Sorry, force of habit. I only have 45 minutes.” I wasn’t the only one scrupulous with the books.
I waited another half of a block as we walked, and remained silent. I was relieved when she took the initiative as I had hoped and asked if there was any progress yet on the Jennings case. I told her that I was meeting with my friend for lunch and hoped she would be able to get me the police files, while the research team was pulling together some background from media sources. I was hoping to be out in the field talking to people on Tuesday, and I told her that too.
She nodded like she thought it sounded reasonable.
“Lila…”, I started. “You’ve been with Mr. James for a long time. Did you know the Jennings before today?”
Her eyes narrowed for a moment, but she answered. “Of course.”
Ah yes, it would not be a simple dumping of info, but a need to pry it out of her. “I’m not asking you to betray any confidences of course, but I don’t want to let Mr. James down. As you said this morning. Is there anything you think I should know sooner rather than later? Anyone in particular you think I should talk to?”. I hoped the guilt of potentially failing James would loosen her tongue and apparently it was the magic key.
“Absolutely. We cannot let Mr. James or the Jennings down on this one. Not again.”
Again? Now what did that mean?
Lila continued before I could ask. “If I was you, I would review the file for the Jennings divorce. Particularly the custody portion. And you should talk to that Peterson boy.”
I was seriously confused. The only way we would have the Jennings divorce file is if one of our firm handled the divorce. But if we had, I can’t imagine which party we represented or how the other would have agreed to come to our offices this morning. I’d have to read it as soon as I got back from lunch. “I’m sorry, Lila, I’m new to the clients. We have their divorce file? Who did we represent?”
Lila frowned. “It was most unusual, but we represented both parties. It was a simple enough divorce, as I understand it, and Mr. James assigned two associates to work out the division as fast as they could. They drew up a proposal, and it was all over in two days. Most unusual. It would have even been over in a day, but apparently there was some discussion about the wording of the custody provision if their son returned.”
James had always had a strict rule in the firm about never representing two opposing sides, even when there was no real disagreement or conflict of interest. The Bar Association had rules to allow us to do it, and procedures in place to protect both parties and the firm, and James had always said it was a slippery slope that could lead to anarchy. Haggerty, McCleod and James had a strict rule against it. Yet James had been the one to violate that rule himself. Doubly strange.
“And who is the Peterson boy you mentioned?”.
“Oh, Jim Peterson. He was the boy who was driving the car when Melanie was killed.”
I didn’t see a connection yet between Melanie’s car crash and Michael’s disappearance, but if Lila thought I should talk to the driver of the car, I’d add him to the interview list.
We had arrived at Santino’s and Lila went off to join her son. I waved from a distance. He’s a dental hygienist, and since I had already spent an hour with one that morning for extra scaling of my teeth, I wasn’t in the mood for another visit. I grabbed my order, headed back to the office to pick up my car, and headed North to the Lock Bridge that connects the downtown to the old Bluffs Road highway. I passed the turn for Bayport Boulevard, but people just call it the Boulevard. Somewhere down that road was the restaurant where the boy disappeared but I would head over there tomorrow. I needed more information first.