Paul Kemprecos's Blog

July 19, 2013

When I decided to bring out my old Aristotle “Soc” Socarides series in digital, I wondered whether the books had survived the test of time. The human emotions that drive a story-greed, jealousy, envy, hatred-are timeless. But the Soc stories were told in a 1990s context, and the world has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades. So I was intrigued when I picked up The New York Times today and saw an article and a review on a controversial movie called “Blackfish.” The blackfish in this case is a six-ton bull orca named Tilikum. The movie focuses on the killer whale, who has been implicated in the deaths of three people, and the behind-the-scenes role of Sea World. The giant marine theme park is, understandably, not happy with the movie, and has launched an information campaign to counter the issues raised by the movie.

Tilikum and I are old friends, in a manner of speaking. I met him when I was writing Death in Deep Water, the third book in my detective series. In the book, the owners of a Cape Cod marine park hire Soc to investigate the death of a trainer possibly killed by an orca named Rocky. As I dug into my research, I learned that some people were criticizing the marine theme park industry for putting these highly intelligent predators under dangerous physical and mental stress by making them perform constantly in confined conditions. There had been several attacks on trainers, but these incidents had pretty much been covered up. My story was predicated on the fact that orcas liked humans. Attacks on people in the wild had been cases on mistaken identify. And even under the stressful conditions in a park pool, there had been no recorded cases of an orca killing its trainer.

In 1991, I read a story about Tilikum killing his trainer at a park in British Columbia. I made the adjustment in my manuscript, saying that this was the only known case of a fatal attack. Then in 1999 a man who had broken into the park was found dead in the orca pool. The evidence pointed at Tilikum. In 1910, he did it again, killing a senior trainer during a performance at the Marine World park in Orlando. Tilikum is still performing, and strict rules have been put in place to prevent another tragedy. You'll have to read the book to find out what happened with my fictional whale Rocky, but I was quite pleased with the way it turned out, and so, I think, was he.
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Published on July 19, 2013 08:13 • 68 views • Tags: aristotle-soc-socarides, death-in-deep-water, paul-kemprecos

May 16, 2013

Something bad happened to Matinicus "Matt" Hawkins in Afghanistan.

The ex-SEAL was grievously wounded in an ambush that killed men under his command and almost ended his life. When he pushed for an investigation, he was kicked out of the Navy with a psychiatric discharge. The doctors put his shattered leg back together, but the bitterness destroyed his marriage.

Five years later, Hawkins is jerked out of his tranquil life as a designer of undersea robots. A super-secret government group wants him to go back to Afghanistan on a strange and dangerous mission.

A Georgetown University historian has unearthed evidence that could lead to the fabulous treasure of Prester John, a legendary Christian ruler of an eastern empire.

The historian has disappeared, and the government wants Hawkins to track down the treasure as a matter of national security. The centerpiece of the trove, an emerald-encrusted gold scepter, is the linchpin in the Prophet's Necklace, code-name for a plot that is intended to kill more people than the attack on the Twin Towers and rally others to the terrorist cause.

Hawkins sees his mission to foil the plot as an opportunity to search for answers. He pulls together an eclectic team that includes his ex-wife, a former comrade-in-arms and a mentally unstable computer whiz.

Backed by his unlikely team, Hawkins will travel thousands of miles and hundreds of years on an amazing time-space odyssey. He'll face off against a cold-blooded killer. Probe the underwater secrets of an ancient tomb. Navigate the treacherous stands of an unimaginable conspiracy. And in the process, will discover that there are treasures even more valuable than gold.

Releasing May 21, 2013 (Paperback and Digital: Suspense Publishing) Paul Kemprecos
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Published on May 16, 2013 11:51 • 96 views • Tags: the-emerald-scepter

March 12, 2013

It’s always fun to see something you’ve written as fiction become reality. The discovery of an unknown German U-boat was the centerpiece for "Neptune’s Eye," the second novel in the Aristotle ‘Soc’ Socarides series. A few years later, divers discovered a long-lost U-boat off New Jersey, where no one expected it to be.

In my third book, "Death in Deep Water," Socarides is hired to prove that a trained killer whale in a marine theme park was innocent of killing its trainer. There had been no such fatal attacks up to that time, but as I was writing the book, an orca did kill its trainer. I had to make a change in my manuscript, noting the incident as having happened. In the next book, entitled "Feeding Frenzy," something in the water is chewing up people at a Cape Cod beach. This past summer a swimmer was attacked and injured by a white shark and the beach I used as a locale was closed because big whites hanging off shore.

The idea for the book came from my agent, who suggested that I write about something lurking under the water, evoking the primal fear of being eaten alive. She sent me a magazine ad that had a deserted life-guard station at a deserted beach. I asked myself why a beach would be deserted, and took it from there. The marine menace in "Feeding Frenzy" is not a shark, and I won’t spoil the fun by giving away too much. But I was pleasantly surprised to read an article in The New York Times a few weeks ago headlined: Traces of Anxiety Drug May Affect Behavior in Fish. The gist of the story was that marine creatures exposed to certain drugs became, well, different.

That’s as far as I’ll go. You can get the whole story simply by ordering "Feeding Frenzy" (Digitally Released March 11 Published by Suspense Publishing). Enjoy!Paul Kemprecos
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Published on March 12, 2013 09:57 • 73 views • Tags: aristotle-soc-socarides, feeding-frenzy, paul-kemprecos

July 19, 2012

Blogpost

Last week my wife Christi and I hopped aboard an Amtrak train in Providence and rode along the picturesque Connecticut coastline to attend the seventh annual Thrillerfest in New York City. More than 700 writers, editors, agents and readers turned out to the conference put on by the International Thriller Writers at the Grand Hyatt. We have attended every Thrillerfest except for the first and they just keep getting better and better.

Christi and I jokingly describe it to friends as a long cocktail party interrupted by book stuff. While there are plenty of chances to renew old friendships and make friends over a glass of wine, it is much, much more than that. The four-day event features talks, interviews, lectures, panels, sessions that promote the craft of writing, provides the opportunity to make a book pitch, recognizes new writers, and offers a chance to mingle at an informal level with the best in the business.

The highlight is the Saturday night awards banquet. This year we got a warm welcome from co-presidents Kathleen Antrim and Doug Preston. This year’s Thrillermaster, Jack Higgins, couldn’t make it, but sent a video accepting the honor. Spotlight guests included R.L. Stine, Lee Child, Catherine Coulter and John Sanford. Richard North Patterson received the Silver Bullet award and Ann Rule got the True Thriller honor.

I served on a panel whose topic was researching novels. Panel master was Julie Kramer and my fellow panelists were W.G. Griffiths, Gary Grossman, David Liss, Michael Sears and L.A. Starks. We talked a lot about the nuts-and-bolts of research. Griffiths told about sky-diving to experience how it feels to jump out of a plane. I told the audience the story about writing half a book, basing it on something that I later found was impossible. I describe how more research saved me. I also talked about the seductive nature of research that entices a writer to use material simply because he or she spent time looking it up. Lastly, I advised people to keep records for the IRS of their research trips.

It was a timely panel for me because a few weeks earlier I was on the island of Nantucket doing research for a revival of the PI series that launched me into fiction. The murder scene is set at the Nantucket whaling museum. I was looking for a murder weapon in the main hall under the hanging skeleton of a sperm whale. I passed up the harpoons and the lances for various reasons but finally settled on a bayonet-like knife once used to cut up whales. It reinforced for me the lesson that Google is fine for a quick info fix, but there is nothing like being there.

Trips like this are one of the perks that balance off those lonely days sitting alone in front of a computer. Can’t wait to go back to find the murderer!
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Published on July 19, 2012 10:36 • 96 views

July 6, 2012

The time has come. Neptune's Eye, the second in the Aristotle "Soc" Socarides detective series, will come out as an e-book on July 9. I've already published parts of the book, but here is the back cover blurb which neatly sums up the action:

A simple missing-persons case: Find Frederick Walther’s beautiful young daughter, who disappeared after a love affair turned sour. Simple, that is, until Leslie Walther’s lover turns up dead in a fishy place—the seal pool at the Woods Hole aquarium. Part-time fisherman—part-time private eye “Soc” Socarides finds the highly loathsome Tom Drake had a number of acquaintances, business rivals, ex-lovers, and an ex-wife—all with reason to want him dead.

Soc’s investigation turns up so many knotted threads he could make a fishnet: a long-lost German U-boat, a cutting-edge underwater vehicle, corporate espionage, a shady munitions dealer, and a CIA spook from Soc’s distant past. Soc hopes the net will snare a murderer. But if he makes one wrong move, it could drag him down to a cold, wet, silent grave.
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Published on July 06, 2012 11:06 • 90 views

May 31, 2012

Well, the books just keep rolling out! Suspense Publishing will release Neptune's Eye as an e-book on July 9. This is the second in the Aristotle "Soc" Socarides series being published by Suspense. What starts off as a simple missings persons case soon snags Soc" Socarides in a complex web made up of a long-lost German U-boat, a cutting-edge underwater robot, corporate espionage and shady munitions deals. It also involves a CIA spook, the Wampanoag Indian John Flagg, from Soc's past, whose arrival complicates life even further. Suspense has announced a price cut in the first e-book, Cool Blue Tomb, which introduces Soc to readers. I've been having so much fun bringing my old series into the 21st century that I have started to sketch out a seventh book in the series. Stay tuned!
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Published on May 31, 2012 07:03 • 82 views

May 3, 2012

I'm pleased to announce that Neptune's Eye, my second book in the Aristotle "Soc" Socarides series, will soon be out as an e-book. The first book in the series, Cool Blue Tomb, was published in digital form on March 20. Suspense Publishing will publish the other four books at regular intervals. I've posted the prologue and first chapter of Neptune's Eye on my blog for those who may not be familiar with the series, and the cover designs are up for a vote on my Facebook author's page.
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Published on May 03, 2012 07:31 • 132 views
Neptune’s Eye
Paul Kemprecos


For Jeff and Carol


The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following people: Wreck diver and photographer Brian Skerry of the Boston Sea Rovers; Jim Jalbert of the Marine Systems Engineering Lab, University of New Hampshire; Peter Zentz of the Benthos Corporation in North Falmouth; Jeff Madison of the Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard Wampanoag; Henry Keatts, author and U-boat expert, Joe Bangert, and Eric Goodkind in the office of Congressmen Gerry Studds. Special thanks to Chester Robinson, Jr. Any errors or omission are the sole responsibility of the author.

“By their own follies they perished, the fools.”
Homer—Odyssey


PROLOGUE

1945

The sound of doom was remarkably prosaic.
It came as a muffled metallic crash, like a firecracker going off inside a distant rubbish bin. In the control room at midship, the commander took his eyes off the dial of the depth gauge he’d been studying and cocked his head to listen. He frowned in puzzlement. The noise was like nothing he had ever heard in years at sea.
A second explosion reverberated through the boat’s pressure hull, louder this time. Even as the echoes faded, another followed. The bearded helmsman and the equally bewhiskered hydroplane operators turned to the commander and watched his lined and weary face intently, waiting for instructions. There was alarm in their eyes. The commander calmly reached for the microphone hanging from an overhead cable and barked the order.
Close all watertight compartments.
The whole procedure, from the first explosion to the commander’s directions, took about ten seconds. It might just as well have been ten years. As crewmen from one end of the boat to the other raced to follow orders, a deafening blast, louder than any that preceded it, rocked the pressure hull.
The deck lurched violently. The commander was thrown off balance. He wrapped his arms around a vertical conduit pipe attached to the arched bulkhead and kept his footing. The crewmen grabbed onto the controls to keep from being flung from their seats. The boat shuttered and listed toward the stern. The diesels died. Forward motion came to a halt. Water had entered the engines.
They were sinking.
The commander called for battery power to keep the boat moving.
The control room went dark. Water in the electric motors.
The auxiliary power system came on, bathing the control room in a dim red glow. The commander glanced around at the hellish scene. Incredible. A minute ago they had been peacefully cruising at snorkel depth, recharging their main batteries. All was calm. All was secure. All was routine. All organized. Now this. Within seconds. Pandemonium.
He responded coolly. He had a reputation for a methodical go-by-the-book attitude that bordered on the phlegmatic. It was the reason he had been picked for this important mission. He ordered the crew to dump ballast. Compressed air hissed into the main ballast tanks.
The boat continued to sink stern-first.
They blew water from all the tanks. The added air should have been more than enough to restore buoyancy, but the boat plunged further.
The nose-up angle of descent became sharper. The emergency lights went out. Anguished shouts of panic in the darkness. Thuds and crashes. Bodies and objects smashed into the steel bulkheads.
The commander slid down the pipe and sat on the floor. Crouching in the dark, strangely detached from the bedlam around him, he knew it was over. He wondered briefly about the steel box in his quarters, if its contents were worth the end of his fine new vessel and its young crew.
Water was pouring in from the stern, surging from compartment to compartment, lapping around his feet. Strangely, instead of fear, the commander felt a serenity he had not known since the madness began in his country.
Die decently, the higher-ups had said. What a laugh. As if men could be ordered to go with dignity when they were gagging under tons of seawater. He twisted his mouth in scorn. And moments later, when death finally found him, his lips were still frozen in a rictus of contempt.


CHAPTER 1

The telephone call that launched me into the search for Leslie Walther came on a delicious Cape Cod morning in late spring. Sunlight bathed Pleasant Bay in a soft buttery glow and the sea-cool air was sweeter than strawberry wine. From time to time the breeze freshened and a perfume of salt spray rose, sedge and beach-plum blossoms wafted onto the boathouse deck where I lounged, half-comatose, with Kojak the Maine coon cat stretched out beside me. The boathouse was part of a large estate before I bought it and moved in. The old place isn’t what it used to be. The roof leaks in a rainy southwest blog, and I have to crank the wood stove up to red-hot when the cold winter winds sweep down from Labrador. But the view of the misty barrier beach with the dark Atlantic beyond is a visual mantra, and I like to sit outside, gaze off at the ocean rim, and pretend the world is flat.
I was trying to sell my flat-theory to Kojak, who wasn’t buying it. He was pretending to listen while he stared cross-eyed at a muscular ant struggling under the weight of a tortilla chip. I was at the part about the world being balanced on the back of a gigantic turtle when the cordless phone on the driftwood coffee table rang. I snagged the phone, stuck it in my ear, and managed a drowsy hello.
“Mr. Aristotle Socarides?” a man’s voice said.
“Speaking,” I answered, keeping an eye on Kojak, who had hoisted his bulky body onto all fours for a stretch. I lip-synched: Hey buddy, don’t go away. He yawned and licked one black paw.
“My name is Winston Prayerly,” the man said in an English accent. “Would you be available this afternoon or early this evening? My employer, Mr. Frederick Walther, would like to discuss the possibility of retaining your services.”
I sat up at attention. The prospect of a paying job stirred me from my lethargy. My last case was three months ago. A Wellfleet quahogger hired me to find a stolen outboard motor. He suspected his estranged wife who told me she took it but said she’d bought the damn thing so the lazy bum couldn’t use a busted motor as an excuse to stay home and loaf. She showed me the check to prove it. They quahogger refused to pay me because I hadn’t delivered the goods, but the story had a happy ending. The shell-fisherman and his wife joined a Pentecostal church, renewed their wedding vows, and the last I heard they were taking a second honeymoon in Cancún.
I said: “I’ll have to check my schedule, Mr. Prayerly. Could you tell me where Mr. Walther lives? That would have a bearing.” Kojak sauntered toward the kitchen door. I tried to grab his scruffy tail, he bolted, and I fell out of the aluminum-and-plastic chaise lounge.
“Not too far, Mr. Socarides. On Merrill’s Island in Chathman.”
I scrambled back into the chair. “In that case, I can fit you in after lunch, Mr. Prayerly. How about one P.M?”
“Perfect. Let me give you directions.”
A minute later I hung up and remembered what Homer said in the Odyssey, that our destiny lies on the knees of the gods. Or in my own less elegant metaphor, life is a crapshoot and somebody else is throwing the dice. Prayerly’s call proved Homer’s point nicely. My private detective work is incidental to my job as a commercial fisherman. I fit my investigations around the migratory patterns of groundfish, never forgetting that my success at catching cod, not crooks, is what pays my bar-bill tab. Ordinarily, it was the time of year when my fishing partner, Sam, and I would have been hooking cod from his line trawler. But Sam was in Florida with his wife Millie, enjoying a trip to Disney World and Epcot on a VFW raffle ticket I bought them. Sam had been reluctant to go. I don’t think he’s been off-Cape since Cal Coolidge was president. I told him the codfishing could wait and he agreed it was cheaper to take a vacation than to settle with Millie in divorce court.
I went into the boathouse and rummaged through the refrigerator for lunch goodies. The best I could do was two slices of bologna, rare, one egg over easy, and a stale Pepperidge Farm oatmeal raisin cookie for desert. As I dined on the health-food special I thought about Winston Prayerly’s accent. His speech had been brushed with a layer of culture, but his diction needed another coat of paint because the flaws showed through. If you listened carefully, you could hear him rough up a vowel or manhandle a consonant, like an East Boston tough trying to talk Back Bay Brahmin.
After lunch I shaved, showered, exchanged my jeans and gila-monster sweatshirt for a pair of tan Levi’s corduroys, a button-down blue oxford cloth shirt, and a brown Harris tweed jacket I had picked up for $1.50 at the Catholic church thrift shop. I hadn’t seen lapels that wide since my father wore them, and if the Al Capone look ever came back, I’d be right in style. I had haggled the thrift-shop ladies down from two dollars. They weren’t happy about selling the jacket at a discount, but it had been a slow day.
Sliding behind the wheel of my 1977 GMC pickup truck, I murmured a prayer and turned the ignition key. The engine coughed asthmatically and blue smoke billowed from the frame like a machine gun. The truck is in the advanced stages of decrepitude and it’s a toss-up which will go first, the body or the engine. The pickup started on the fourth try, a good sign. I offered thanks to the high god General Motors and the miracle mechanic at the Sunoco station who keep the truck on life-support systems and then pointed it toward the half mile of sandy drive that lead to the main road.
Merrill’s Island is a twenty-minute ride from my boathouse. Shortly before 1:00 P.M. I drove over the causeway that links the island to the mainland. The road is flanked by a shallow cove on one side and salt marsh laced by tidal creeks on the other. On Merrill’s Island itself, the rough natural beauty bordering the access road gave way to lawns as smooth as golf greens, as verdantly close to Astroturf as chemical science could make of living grass. A half-dozen houses have been built on the shoulders of the island, an oblong hill about a mile long. They’re great sprawling edifices as big as imperial mausoleums, owned by people who like privacy and can afford to pay for it, hidden from the world and from each other by uninviting thickets of trees and sharp-thorned shrubs.
The Walther house was slightly smaller than a dirigible hanger. It sat at the southerly tip of the upland, surrounded like a game preserve by a high spiked stockade fence. The place was built in an English baronial style, rare on the Cape, where people like their houses faced with white cedar that weathers to silver, and would put shingles on their mattresses if they’re weren’t afraid of splinters. The house had Tudor timbers exposed in beige stucco and small windows with diamond-shaped panes except on the Atlantic side, where huge expanses of glass faced easterly onto a wide veranda. The view must have cost a thousand dollars a square foot, and it was probably worth every cent of it.
An olive-green Mercedes sedan with Maryland plates crouched in the circular gravel drive. I pulled in behind it, walked up onto the wide porch, and rang the bell. The thick door was opened a few seconds later by a man about my height, just over six feet. He had balding black hair that could have been slicked back over his large meaty ears with two slices of buttered toast. His pale skin was as smooth as a salamander’s and it looked even whiter because of the contrast with his clothes. He was dressed like a paid mourner. Black blazer, black turtleneck, black slacks, and black Chinese rubber-soled slippers. I was sorry I hadn’t brought flowers and message of condolence for the dearly departed, whoever it might be.
“Please come in, Mr. Socarides.” It was the same soft-spoken voice with the English accent I had heard on the phone.
“Mr. Prayerly?” I stepped into a large circular lobby with high, beamed ceilings and a massive crystal chandelier.
He nodded. “Wait here, please.” He went up a wide sweeping staircase. I strolled over to examine the exposed machinery of a tall grandfather clock. I was checking out the date on the face when Prayerly said, “Mr. Walther will see you now.” He was standing a couple of yards behind me, looking as if he had caught me trying to stuff the grandfather clock in my hip pocket. A quiet one, Mr. Prayerly. He led the way up the stairs to a spacious landing and into a drafty oak-paneled room several times larger and a lot neater than my boathouse.
You could die happily in any one of the plump brown leather chairs after checking your blue-chip stocks in The Wall Street Journal, giving a loud harrumph, and smoking a fat Havana cigar. A log fire crackled in a walk-in medieval fireplace large enough to roast and elephant with an apple in its mouth. Ancient volumes filled the bookcases lining the walls. It was a room with a theme. War. Old war, fought at spear’s length. Shiny suits of armor stared vacantly out from each corner. Shields and halberds and flintlocks and paintings of battle scenes with soldiers dressed up like fancy-ball ushers hung from the walls. Someone had worked hard to make the room a shrine to the manly art of legalized murder, but it looked like the haunted house set of an Abbott and Costello movie.
Near the fireplace was a billiard size table. The green-and-brown baize top swarmed with hundreds of tin soldiers. Bending over the table was a slender man wearing a gray herringbone tweed jacket that wasn’t half as natty as mine. He turned and smiled, then walked smartly over to me, and giving a quiet click of his heels, he shook my hand. His bony grip was strong. He looked about sixty but was probably ten years older. His silver hair was cropped Prussian close to a long firm-jawed Nordic head. His thin lips were as bloodless as two strips of liver. His face was all hard planes and angle not a soft or curving line on it, like one of those ice sculptures they chisel for winder carnivals. If he stood near a stove long enough, he’d simply melt.
He cold blue eyes focused on a spot six inches behind my head. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Socarides. Please have a seat. These Cape Cod spring days still have a nip of winter in them, don’t they. How about some brandy?” It was a cultivated voice, not much louder than a whisper, with no particular regional accent I could place. I was wondering why everybody in the place spoke in a whisper. And why I wanted to do the same.
Winston Prayerly poured us two snifters of Grand Marnier. “Thank you,” Walther said, “that will be all.” The valet disappeared, quickly and quietly. Walther lifted his brandy. “To your health.” We said in facing leather chairs, sipping the brandy in appreciative silence. The only sound the snapping of the fire. Walther put the glass down on a side table. “You’re probably wondering how I happened to call you.”
It had crossed my mind. People who live on Merrill’s Island don’t exactly ring my phone off the hook.
“Most of my cases are referrals,” I said, which was true, because I don’t advertise.
“Just so. You were recommended to me by Leonard Wilson. He said your methods were unconventional, but they worked.”
Leonard Wilson was my old yachting buddy. Cape Cod has a lot of rich people like Wilson who are always looking for a free deckhand. Last summer an acquaintance asked me to crew in a sailboat race. The forty-nine-foot sloop was owned by Leonard Wilson. We lost the race, but Wilson was grateful and bought drinks for us at the yacht club. Over gin and tonics Wilson told me he owned a large retail operation near Boston and that someone at his warehouse was stealing him blind. I offered my services as a private cop, went in undercover, studied the system, and recommended places where he could plug the leaks. Then I got lucky. The thief spotted my cop’s flat feet and thought I needed a body to match. He tried to bury me under a pile of wooden crates. That was his first mistake. Missing me was his second. I get excited when people try to make me short and wide. I came up swinging and he spent a few days in the hospital nursing a broken jaw and three cracked ribs. With him out of the picture, things just sort of fell into place and the pilferage stopped.
Walther was saying, “I took the liberty of doing some further checking. I’m very careful about whom I work with.” A pile of manila folders sat on the table next to his brandy. He took the top folder and handed it to me. I opened it. Inside was a résumé I could have written myself. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, studied Greek and Roman classics at Boston University, dropped out to join the Marines in Vietnam, did a stint with the Boston Police Department, now a fisherman and part-time private cop.
The most interesting item was an eight-by-ten color photograph. It showed a dark-haired guy with olive skinned and a droopy mustache on the deck of Sam’s boat pitch-forking cod into the dockside conveyor bucket. The picture of me was taken by someone standing on the fist-per observation platform.
“Frankly, I don’t think it does you justice,” Walther said. He was watching for a reaction, so I gave him one.
“It’s not my best side, but I wouldn’t mind a dozen copies to spread around the family at Christmas.”
Walther smiled. He didn’t know I was serious. “I’ll see what I can do. Now, down to business.” He opened the next manila folder on the table, took out another photo, and handed it to me.
“This is my daughter Leslie.”
The picture was of a young woman in her late twenties. She had strawberry-blond hair that was a color no amount of money could buy. She didn’t resemble her father in the least. Even her blue eyes were different from his chill and distant ones. Hers sparkled with warm good humor. I memorized the soft features of her face without too much trouble and handed the photo back to Walther.
“She’s lovely,” I said, and I meant it.
“Yes.” He studied the portrait dreamily as if he were seeing it for the first time. “Extremely so.”
I waited.
Walther looked up. The dreamy look was gone, and in its place was the frozen stare. “Leslie has been missing for more than a month. I believe she is in the Cape Cod area. I would like you to find her. I could have hired a Boston detective agency, but I believe that as a local, you’d be more effective than a team of city detectives getting lost on back roads.”
“Have you gone to the police?”
“Yes, of course But they don’t have the facilities to launch a proper search. They can only put the information on file. Unless they suspect foul play.”
“Is there any evidence of that?”
“No, not in the strictest sense of the term.”
Walther was beating around the bush. “In what sense of the term, then?”
He didn’t flinch. “Let me explain,” he said. “Leslie is a lab technician. She lives in Falmouth and works for a man named Thomas Drake.” He handed me another file. “This contains some background on Drake, as much as I have been able to cull from available sources. I believe this man has something to do with Leslie’s disappearance.”
“Why do you say that?”
Walther picked up the snifter. He swished the amber contents, studied their whirling patterns as if he were searching for auguries, then, without drinking from it, set the glass down. He ran a slender finger along one side of his pencil-line mustache, then the other, although every hair was exactly where it should be, and said, “She was involved with him, very much so.” His voice had gained a carbon steel edge.
“Have the police talked to Drake?”
“Yes. But he told them Leslie simply didn’t show up for work one day, and that he hasn’t seen her or heard from her since.”
“Did she leave any indication of where she might be going? A note maybe?”
“No. Nothing. Her apartment was checked several times.”
“How about a paper trail? Did she pay for a hotel or plane ticket with a credit card?”
He shook his head. “We’ve kept in touch with her bank. Leslie made a large withdrawal just before she disappeared, but she hasn’t written any checks since then.”
“Did she mention anything to friends? Or was she acting unusual?”
“No again, I’m afraid.”
“Has she ever just taken off like this before? Perhaps when she was a teenager?”
“Leslie never left without saying where she was going.”
A missing persons case always starts this way. A picture. A distraught relative. A story that may or may not hold the whole truth. Either you find them quickly or not at all. This case didn’t seem too complicated. Rich daughter skeddadles. A few phone calls and interviews. I bet myself I could wrap it up in seventy-two hours, make some drachmas, and have a few days to play before Sam got back from Florida.
I said, “I would be glad to look into is for you, Mr. Walther.”
“Thank you. It’s been a strain, not knowing.” I examined the frosty eyes and found it hard to believe anything could strain Walther.
He handed me the folder that held Leslie’s picture. “This contains some background material on Leslie. I don’t mean to tell you your business, but you might want to start with Drake. Perhaps you can be more persuasive than the police.” He took an envelope from an inside jacket pocket. “This should more than cover your services for the first week, I believe. We can go on from there.”
I rose and said, “I’ll call you within a couple of days, whether I have something or not, Mr. Walther.”
Winston Prayerly appeared. Quietly.
Walther got up and shook my hand. “Fine,” he said. “I’m ever so grateful. And Mr. Socarides . . . I don’t care what it costs or who you have to step on to find my daughter.”
It wasn’t the kind of comment that needed an answer and Walther wouldn’t have liked the one I gave him. I picked a tin soldier off the battle table. The inch-high infantryman carried a shield and spear and wore a short pleated skirt.
Noting my interested, Walther said, “As you can see, I’m something of a military buff. This is the Battle of Chaeronea. Philip of Macedon crushing the Greeks with the phalanx.” He bent over the table. “Several ranks of spearman in close array, so if one fell, a fresh soldier took his place. A technique perfected by Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Simple but effective. I have these tin soldiers custom-made, by the way. They’re exact, down to the last detail.”
Armchair generals turn me off even when I’m working for them. I felt the sharp point of the miniature spear with my thumb and put the soldier back on the table.
“Everything’s real except for the shock, the bleeding, and the gangrene, Mr. Walther.”
He chuckled. “Winston,” he said without removing his gaze from the battle table, “please show Mr. Socarides to the door.”
The interview was over. I was on the payroll. Dismissed.
Back in my truck, I tore open the envelope from Walther and looked at the check inside. It was drawn on a bank in Maryland. I wondered if Leonard Wilson had given Walther the wrong impression about my work. For a smart man, Walther hadn’t the slightest idea of what he had just bought for his money. I’m not exactly a saint, but Walther didn’t know me. I won’t muscle anyone unless he tries to muscle me first, and even then I’ve got a lot of tolerance for stupidity, maybe more than I should have. I was tempted to tear up the check, tell him I was too busy, and go back and sit in the sun with Kojak until Sam got home. But I didn’t. I folded the check and tucked it into my wallet. It would be unprofessional to refuse a case just because I didn’t fall in love with the client. Besides, I was bored and broke. And there was always the chance Leslie Walther was in some trouble. Even if she weren’t, I wanted to meet her in the flesh so I could see if her hair was really as beautiful as the photograph showed.
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Published on May 03, 2012 07:23 • 42 views