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Brooke Trappnell rarely bothered to answer her office phone, especially when the caller ID registered “unknown number” because said caller was usually selling something she either didn’t need or couldn’t afford. But it was a slow day, and the office number actually was the one listed on her business cards, so just this once, she made an exception.
“Trappnell and Associates,” she said crisply.
“I’d like to speak to Miss Trappnell, please.” She was an older woman, with a high, quavery voice, and only a hint of the thick Southern accents that prevailed on this part of the Georgia coast.
“This is she.” Brooke grabbed a pen and a yellow legal pad, just in case she had a potential real, live client on the other end.
“Oh.” The woman seemed disappointed. Or maybe disoriented. “I see. Well, this is Josephine Warrick.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Brooke didn’t know why. She quickly typed it into the search engine on her computer.
“Josephine Warrick on Talisa Island,” the woman said impatiently, as though that should mean something to Brooke.
“I see. What can I do for you today, Mrs. Warrick?” Brooke glanced at the computer screen and clicked on a four-year-old Southern Living magazine story with a headline that said “Josephine Bettendorf Warrick and Her Battle to Save Talisa Island.” She stared at the color photograph of a woman with a mane of wild white hair, standing defiantly in front of what looked like a pink wedding cake of a mansion. The woman wore a full-length fur coat and high-top sneakers and had a double-barreled shotgun tucked in the crook of her right arm.
“I’d like you to come over here and see me,” Mrs. Warrick said. “I can have my boat pick you up at the municipal marina at 11:00 A.M. tomorrow. All right?”
“Well, um, can you tell me what you’d like to talk to me about? Is this a legal matter?”
“Of course it’s a legal matter. You are a lawyer, are you not? Licensed to practice in the state of Georgia?”
“It’s too complicated to go into on the phone. Be at the marina right at eleven, you hear? C. D. will pick you up. Don’t worry about lunch. We’ll find something for you to eat.”
Her caller didn’t hear her objections because she’d already disconnected. And now Brooke had another call coming in.
She winced when she glanced at the caller ID. Dr. Himali Patel. Was the pediatric orthopedist already calling to dun her for Henry’s ruinous medical bills?
“Hello, Brooke. It’s Dr. Patel. Just following up to see how Henry’s physical therapy is coming.”
“He’s fine, thanks. His last appointment was this week.”
“I’m so glad,” Dr. Patel said. Dr. Himali Patel was the soft-spoken Indian American doctor who’d treated Henry’s broken arm. Brooke shuddered when she thought about the thousands she still owed for the surgery. She’d rolled the dice on an “affordable,” high-deductible health insurance policy and came up snake eyes when Henry fell from the jungle gym at the park and landed awkwardly on his arm, leading to a trip to the emergency room, surgery, and weeks’ worth of physical therapy.
“If he has any pain or his range of motion starts to seem limited, bring him back into the office. Other than that, he’s good to go.”
“Thanks, Doctor.” Good to go. Easy for her to say. Brooke still needed to call the hospital’s billing department to set up a payment plan.
* * *
The Southern Living magazine article was timed to coincide with Josephine Warrick’s ninety-fifth birthday. Which would make her ninety-nine now. Brooke reached for the glass of iced tea and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she’d brought from home and read the article, and half a dozen others she’d found online, catching up with the colorful life and times of Josephine Bettendorf Warrick.
She already knew a little about Talisa, dating back to a brief, ill-fated Girl Scout camping expedition nearly twenty-five years earlier. Her memory of the place was hazy, because she’d gotten seasick on the boat ride across the river on the way to the island and then managed to get stung by a jellyfish and hike through a patch of poison ivy. The assistant troop leader had to arrange for a boat to take her back to the mainland a day early to await pickup by her parents, who were two hours away in Savannah. It had been Brooke’s first and last camping trip. The name Talisa called up memories of calamine lotion, burned marshmallows, and her sight line, from the backseat of the Cadillac, of her father’s neck, pink with barely suppressed anger at having to miss his Saturday golf game.
Brooke jotted notes as she read and chewed her sandwich. Talisa, she learned, was a twelve-thousand–acre barrier island a thirty-minute ferry ride from where she now lived in St. Ann’s, Georgia. It had been purchased as a winter retreat in 1912 by Samuel G. Bettendorf and two cousins, all of whom were in the shipping business together in Boston. In 1919, Samuel Bettendorf and his wife, Elsie, had built themselves a fifteen-room Mediterranean revival mansion, which they named Shellhaven.
In 1978, the cousins had sold their interest in Talisa to the State of Georgia for a wildlife refuge, which explained how Brooke’s Girl Scout troop had been allowed to camp there. Samuel Bettendorf had retained his property, which was on the southeast side of the island, facing the ocean.
And Samuel’s daughter and only living heir, Josephine Bettendorf Warrick, had been engaged in a lengthy court battle with the state, which had been trying, in vain, to buy up the remainder of the island for the past twenty years.
Was this why Mrs. Warrick wanted to see her? Brooke frowned. She’d spent the first three years of her career working at a white-shoe Savannah law firm, doing mostly corporate and civil work. But since fleeing to the coast as a runaway bride, she’d hung out a shingle as a solo practitioner. The and Associates part of Trappnell and Associates was pure fiction. There were no associates and only a very-part-time receptionist working in the one-story, wood-shingled office she rented downtown on Front Street. It was just thirty-four-year-old Brooke Marie Trappnell. In life, and in law, come to think of it. She did some divorce work, DUI, personal injury, and the occasional petty civil or criminal work. But she knew next to nothing about the highly specialized area of eminent domain law.
Which was what she’d tell Josephine Bettendorf Warrick. Tomorrow. And why not? She had a 9:00 A.M. appointment to see a client who’d been locked up for assault and battery in the Carter County Jail for a week, following a run-in with a clerk at the local KwikMart who’d tried to charge her ninety-nine cents for a cup of crushed ice. But the rest of her calendar was open. Not an unusual occurrence these days.
There were, by her count, nearly three dozen other attorneys practicing law in St. Ann’s, all of them long-term, well-established good ol’ boys, who gobbled up whatever lucrative legal work was to be done in this town of seventeen thousand souls. Brooke counted herself lucky to pick up whatever crumbs the big boys didn’t want.
If the weather app on her phone was to be trusted, tomorrow would be another sunny, breezy spring day. Why not take a boat ride to reacquaint herself with Talisa on her own terms and meet the legendary Josephine Warrick?
Copyright © 2018 by Whodunnit, Inc.