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THE STENCILED WRITING ON the frosted glass door simply read INVESTIGATIONS. On the second floor of a vintage walk-up on Chicago’s near north side, a broad-shouldered man in a Derry rugby shirt unwrapped a sandwich and opened the Chicago Tribune to the sports page. His hair, just a little thinner this year with tinges of gray sneaking in, was cut short. His ruddy face evidenced the wear of twenty years in his business.
Just as he took a healthy bite of his sandwich, the phone rang. “Damn,” he mumbled.
“Liam Taggart,” he said, as he swallowed.
“My name is Lena Woodward.” Her voice was thin and sounded elderly. “Is this the private detective?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is. How can I help you?”
“I’d like to schedule an appointment.”
“Can I ask what you have in mind, Miss Woodward?”
“It’s Mrs. Woodward. I’d like you to help me find someone. Actually, two people.”
“Are these people related to you?”
There was a pause on the line. “No. May I have an appointment, please? I’ll tell you all about it when I see you.”
“Well, I have time this afternoon. Do you want to come in today?”
“Tomorrow morning would be better,” she said, “but I need to meet with you and Ms. Lockhart. Both of you.”
“Catherine’s a lawyer, she doesn’t find people. Does this involve a court case?”
“Well, let me make a suggestion: we’ll meet tomorrow and if you have legal needs, we can always talk to Catherine later.”
“Respectfully, I must insist upon her presence, Mr. Taggart. Would you see if she’s available, as well?”
“Mrs. Woodward, she’s a busy lawyer and she has a busy morning court call. Her time is very expensive…”
“Then three o’clock tomorrow afternoon, and please don’t patronize me, Mr. Taggart, I know what legal costs are. I have the money to cover each of your fees if I choose to engage you.”
“Could you give me just a little more information, just a hint? Why are you trying to find these people? Who are they to you? Are they in the Chicago area?” There was another pause. “Mrs. Woodward?”
“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Three o’clock?”
Liam sighed. “I don’t have Catherine’s calendar, but I’ll see if she’s available. May I have a number where I can reach you?”
After jotting down the information, he ended the call and sat for a moment contemplating why this woman thought it was necessary to involve Catherine in a simple skiptrace. He shrugged and made the call.
“Law offices of Catherine Lockhart.”
“Gladys, what’s Cat doing tomorrow afternoon at three?”
“Preparing for a hearing on Monday morning.”
“Okay, would you pencil me in the book for three o’clock? We’ll be meeting with a woman named Lena Woodward.”
“What’s it about?”
“I don’t know.”
* * *
IN A THREE-STORY BROWNSTONE on West Belden Ave., two blocks west of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Liam sat at the kitchen table, drinking a Guinness, staring at his computer and waiting for his wife. Two subjects occupied his thoughts: the mysterious call from Lena Woodward earlier that afternoon and his lack of a strong running back in advance of his weekly fantasy showdown with his cousin. The door opened and Catherine Lockhart-Taggart entered carrying a box of documents.
“Working tonight?” Liam said.
“I have a TRO set for Monday morning, for which I’m unprepared, and then somebody I know told Gladys to schedule an appointment for tomorrow at three, taking away my entire afternoon.”
Liam took the box from Catherine and placed it on the dining room table. “She was very insistent. She bullied me.”
Catherine slipped her heels off, hung her raincoat on the hook, walked to the refrigerator, and poured herself a glass of cold milk. “What does this woman want? Why are you two coming to my office?”
Liam shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “Because she wants to see us.”
“I think she wants us to find two people.”
“What two people?”
“Liam, honestly, sometimes you do the goofiest things. Why didn’t you ask her?”
“I did. She wouldn’t tell me. She’s very bossy.”
“Oh hell, Liam, she’s probably a kook. She won’t even show up.”
He shook his head. “Nope. Not a kook. She’ll show.”
“And you know this because…”
“It’s me Irish intuition.”
Catherine started to spread her papers out on the table. “Then your intuition should tell you that you’re in charge of dinner tonight.”
* * *
LIAM LOVED CHATTING WITH Catherine’s secretary, a fiery Latin from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, who ran Cat’s office tighter than Patton ran the Third. “How many paper clips did Cat use this week?” Liam teased.
“You think I don’t know?” Gladys said with her hands on her hips.
Just then the door opened and a tall woman in a camel coat, knitted scarf and soft brown pillbox hat entered the office. Her gait was a bit unsteady and she needed the assistance of a shiny black cane. She smiled at Liam. “I presume you are Mr. Taggart?” She extended her hand. “I’m Lena.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Lena. This is Gladys, Catherine’s security force. I think Catherine is waiting for us.”
Gladys took Lena’s coat and escorted them back to Catherine’s office. Lena appeared to be well into her eighties. She stood straight and poised, smartly dressed in a gray two-piece suit, a silk designer scarf and a pearl lattice barrette, which was clipped neatly to the right side of her styled silver hair. After the introductions, Lena came straight to the point. “I’d like to hire you both. I need to find out what happened to two children.”
“Like I told you on the phone,” Liam said. “Catherine doesn’t find children. That’s my stock-in-trade.”
Lena nodded with a knowing smile. “I didn’t come here by accident. I was a very close friend to Ben Solomon. Eight years ago you guided him through the final pursuit of his life—the quest to bring Hauptscharführer Otto Piatek to justice. Adele Silver and I sat with him almost every night during those trying times. I’m aware of what the two of you can do when you put your minds to it. I’ve seen it and I want to hire the team. I can pay for it.”
“It’s not a matter of money, Mrs. Woodward,” Catherine said. “Ben needed a trial lawyer and I met that requirement. Ben also needed an investigator and that’s where Liam came in. Ben’s situation was unique. I’m sure it was quite different from yours.”
Lena was unfazed. She continued to smile. “Different in some respects, but there are probably more similarities than disparities. Nevertheless, the project will require tireless efforts and a creative approach. According to Ben, it’s the magical combination of your two minds that distinguishes you. He said he’d never seen anything like the way you two work together.” She punctuated her declaration with her index finger. “I want the package.”
“What do you want us to do, Lena?” Catherine said in a more resigned tone.
“I told you. I want you to find two children.”
“Are they your children?”
Lena shook her head. “They aren’t mine. But I made a promise to a very special person and I intend to keep it.”
Catherine swiveled to her credenza and pushed the button on her phone. “Gladys, would you please put on a pot of coffee and hold my calls.”
Copyright © 2016 by Ronald H. Balson