As I marched toward the front door, I wondered what lies Vandenburg, the sleaze, had slipped by me, what half-truths he'd told.
What lies would this client try?
With a touch--hell, a wallop--of vanity, I consider myself an expert in the field of lies, a collector, if you will. I've seen liars as fresh and obvious as newborn babes; a quick twitch of the eye, a sudden glance at the floor immediately giving the game away. I've interviewed practiced, skilled liars, blessed with the impeccable timing of ace stand-up comics. I don't know why I recognize lies. Somebody will be shooting his mouth, and I'll feel or hear a change of tone, a shift of pace. Maybe it's instinct. Maybe I got so used to lies when I was a cop that I suspect everyone.
I'd rather trust people. Given the choice.
My potential client beamed a hundred-watt smile when I opened the door, bounding into the foyer like an overgrown puppy. Even if he'd been a much younger man I'd have found his outright enthusiasm strange, since the number of people pleased to visit a private investigator is noticeably fewer than the number eagerly anticipating gum surgery.
He'd seemed both agitated and exhilarated on the phone that afternoon, otherwise I wouldn't have agreed to a Sunday evening appointment. He'd mentioned a missing person, given his name with no hint of reluctance. I'd checked with the Boston police; there was no 3501, i.e., missing person file, currently devoted to anyone sharing a last name with Mr. Adam Mayhew. Which left a ton of possibilities. The person in question could have been reported as a 2633, the current code for a runaway child. Could have had a different last name. Hadn't been absent the required twenty-four hours. The missing individual might be considered a voluntary--a walkaway or runaway adult.
Possibly my client-to-be knew exactly where the missing person could be found. Quick case; low fee.
Which would be too bad, because the sixtyish gentleman currently shifting his weight from one foot to the other as though testing my wooden floorboards looked like he could donate megabucks to the worthy cause of my upkeep and not miss a single dollar. His shoes were Bally or a damned good imitation, slip-on tassel loafers with neither a too-new nor a too-used sheen. Well-maintained classics, indicating a man with more than one pair of shoes to his wardrobe. A man with quietly expensive taste and access to a good dry cleaning establishment. A formal soul, rigged out in full business attire on a shirtsleeves, sweat-hot evening.
No wedding band. Inconclusive. A class ring, the Harvard Veritas
, common enough around here, worn with casual pride.
Hair silvering nicely, hairline receding. Height: five-nine, which made it easy for me, from my six-one vantage, to note that his crown was not yet thinning.
Fingernails buffed and filed. Hands well cared for. Prosperous. My kind of client. A lawyer? A professor? A respected businessman? The speed from phone call to initial appointment had curtailed my research.
"Yes," he agreed cheerfully. "And you're Miss Carlyle".
He'd been eyeing me as carefully as I'd been observing him. I wondered what conclusions he'd drawn from my disheveled appearance.
If Paolina's unexpected package of cash hadn't arrived, if I'd skipped the Miami phone call, if said phone call hadn't taken such a daunting chunk of time, I might have attempted to dress for success. Worn a little makeup to accent my green--well, hazel, really, almost green--eyes, and belittle my thrice-broken nose. I'd have done battle with my tangled red curls.
I opened my mouth to utter polite excuses, realized that Mr. Mayhew didn't seem to expect them. I liked the way his level glance concentrated on my eyes, as though the measure of a woman were not in her clothes or her curves, but hidden in a secret compartment beyond all external gifts and curses.
I nodded him down the single step to my living room-cum-office.
"You may call me Adam," he said.
"Carlotta," I replied. I liked his lived-in, good-humored face--lines, pouches, bags, and all. His eyes were blue behind bifocal lenses, and seemed shy and oddly defenseless, as though the glass barrier were necessary for protection as well as visual acuity.
He toted a battered monogrammed briefcase of caramel-colored leather. Forty years ago, it might have been a college graduation gift.
"I've wanted to do this for so long," he said as he settled into the upright chair next to my desk.
"Excuse me," I said. "You've wanted to do what for so long? Visit a PI's office?"
If the guy was a flake I wanted him out. He didn't seem like a thrill-seeker. He seemed genuine. Sympathetic. So sympathetic I was tempted to tell him my troubles with Paolina and the drug money. I shook myself out of it.
"On the phone--" I began.
"Do you remember Thea Janis?" he said at the same time, glancing at me expectantly. "The writer."
"Writer" jogged my memory.
"It was a long time ago," I said, struggling to recall a faint whisper of ancient scandal relegated to some distant storage locker in my mind like so much cast-off furniture. "I remember reading her book."
"Not when it was published," he said. "You're too young."
"When I was fifteen, maybe sixteen." Over half a lifetime ago. My mother had bought it for me three months before she died. Did I still have it? The title hovered tantalizingly out of reach, a ripe fruit on a high branch.
"Thea was younger than that when she wrote it," he said. He could have uttered the words dismissively. Or flippantly. But he spoke with longing, with fervency and desire. Triumph, as he added, "She was fourteen. Imagine. Fourteen. The critics didn't know that, at first. Unqualified praise. When they learned the book had been penned by a child, a teenager, the bouquets turned a bit thorny, almost as if some critics felt they'd been duped, not given the real goods somehow. Jealousy. Nothing more than jealousy."
"Why do you say that?"
"She was the goods," he answered simply. "A prodigy. Nietzsche wrote like an adult at twelve. We find it more acceptable in music. Mozart."
"Thea Janis was a literary Mozart?"
"See? You can't keep the skepticism out of your voice. It's automatic. Cinematic prodigies, okay. Visual arts, okay, with reservations. We prefer the paintings of a Grandma Moses. We glorify poets and authors who begin careers in their fifties, or later. I wonder if it's endemic to the beast," he continued softly, almost as though he were speaking to himself, "a way in which humans maintain belief in their own potential: Someday I'll write a brilliant novel, paint a great picture...A way to keep the meaninglessness of life at bay."
"We seem to have wandered a bit from Thea Janis," I said.
"Excuse me. Please."
The thought washed over me like a wave of ice water.
"She's not the missing person you talked about on the phone, is she?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Of course it's Thea."
"But she's been missing for--"
"Twenty-four years," he said.
"Twenty-four years!" I echoed.
"Yes," he said, quite calmly. Twenty-four years
, as if it were the same as twenty-four hours.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Cold Case by Linda Barnes. . Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.