This is easy earned money thought AQ Walker when he accepted the task to find the daughter of the seriously ill industrialist Midland. What he found was a hornets' nest, deadly, merciless, and a British nobleman, the husband of the missing daughter who claimed to have lost his memory after a shipwrecking. All leads which he found led him into dead ends. It was sheer luck that he met Jennifer Forster a high ranking, smart, and uncompromising law enforcement officer of the Jamaican Police who was investigating a murder case and the disappearance of her best friend. When they realized that both cases are linked together they joined their efforts. The combined brains and intuitions discovered facts which convinced AQ Walker that the missing Lady was a victim of a dangerous crime which could not be solved by conventional methods. He developed therefore a plan with which he hoped to smoke out the criminals before the missing Lady was murdered too. The "case of the missing lady” is the first volume of a series of crimes Jennifer Forster and AQ Walker have to solve.
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The case of the Lost Lady
It was one of those days when the wind from the north brings the nasty cold and rain for which one is unprepared for in the month of April. AQ Walker was unsure about other people’s feelings of this time of year but he was mentally conditioned already for nice spring weather with a lot of sunshine, green leaves, and cherry trees in full blossom. But when he stepped out of the door of his apartment house a strong wind and a mixture of rain and snow let his mood drop even lower than it already was. The reason for his bad temper was the early morning hour at which he had to leave his warm bed to meet with a client in his office, not that he had a job for him, no - on the contrary he wanted him to do additional research on a case which was already closed. That would have been o.k. with AQ if the client would pay for the extra work but he expected that AQ do it within the confines of the old contact. Naturally, AQ could say no but the trouble was that he was a customer with a lot of money and great influence, therefore satisfying him could mean recommendations that would lead to new jobs and subsequently money. Money was what AQ Walker really loved, especially since his banker had cautioned him to balance his account if he wanted to draw even one single dollar in the future. The result was that AQ was walking through the shit weather to his office which lay five blocks north of his apartment. He always walked because only fools would use their own car in Manhattan. Even at this time of the day it was impossible to find a parking in the vicinity of his office. During the day time he got to his office by foot much faster than by taking a taxi.
AQ put the collar of his coat up and pulled his head as deep as he could into his coat. Under the half close eyelids he watched the side walk ahead. The road appeared as it probably always looked around this time of the day, though he was hardly up at this hour so he could not say for sure. He hated to start work before nine o’clock in the morning and then only if his morning had started with a cup of strong coffee with a lot of milk prepared by his secretary.
The sidewalk was covered on both sides of the street with trees, sycamore he guessed because the trees lost their bark during spring but he would not have bet on it because Biology was never his best subject.Between the trees cars were parked so close together that you hardly could put a newspaper between the bumpers. Beside the houses oldgarbage-cans stood on both sides of their doorways. Most of the lids were missing because youngsters seemedto get joy out of kicking them up and down the street until they finally got lost. This they really enjoyed doing usually after midnight because thesekickingsmade a hell of a noise, at the time when one had the deepest sleep.
About fifty yards ahead of him a car had parked in the second row. It blocked almost half of the road. What an idiot AQ thought. People can be reckless … He could not finish his thought because his attention was directed at two men in dark coats who seemed to come out of nowhere. The brim of their hats were drawn so deep into their faces that he could not see their eyes.
“AQ Walker?” the first man asked.
“Yes, what’s up?”
“Get in the car, our boss wants to see you!” He was pointing at the black sedan which was parked in the second row.
AQ was immediately awake and ready for action, this was a reaction left over from his time in the Special Forces. If someone approaches you at this early hour of a nasty morning when the streets are still empty then it usually doesn’t mean he wantsto invite you to a social chat. You better be prepared for unfriendly activities.
“Hey, guys, if this is a joke you better get off”, he said giving his voice a blank tone. “And tell your boss I don’t follow invitations from people I don’t know or I don’t want to know. If he wants something, he can come to my office during office hours and now get out of my way I have an important meeting.” While AQ was talking hewas assessingthe situation. The guy who talked was about a head taller than he was and his shoulderswere also broader from what he could see, but despite the coat, his belly was fat and also his face showed that the big one did more eating than training. This was an important fact, as in general fat men are usually slow in their reactions. That could prove to be an advantage for him.
The big one made a step closer and grabbed AQ’s arm. His grip was surprisingly strong.
“I said, get in that car, wise guy or …”
He could not finish saying what he had in mind because the edge of AQ’s right hand slashed against his throat. Panting for air was the only thing he was able to do. In cases like this you have to act immediately or you lose the advantage. Looking for help would be a waste of time because nobody would help you. It seemedto be an unspoken rule in New York that one should never get mixed up in another man’s affairs.
AQ did not lose a second to go after the second guywho was very tiny in stature,butwhom AQ soon realizedwas a pro. Instead of approaching AQ to help his companion he stepped three steps backwards to get out of his reach. Before AQ could close in, he took his right hand out of the pocket of his coat and AQ looked into the deadly hole of a 38 revolver. Almost unconsciously AQ recognized the short barrel; not precise but very deadly at short range – and they were at short range
“Get in”, he said in a low voice making his command even more dangerous.
AQ was not an idiot. Never fight a man with a gun if he is not in range, was amottowhich he had learned during his basic training in the Special Forces. Try to maneuver him into a situation that you hold the advantage and then move in to kill. Well heretiny had the advantage and so AQ stepped toward the car and climbed in the backseat. Tiny followed and took the seat next to AQ. He really was cautious because before he sat down he tossed a pair of handcuffs in AQ’s lap.
“Put ‘em on”, he commanded, “hands behind your back”.
AQ did as he ordered because there was no alternative. On the other hand he felt there was no direct danger because they had to bring him to the boss, whoever he was. While AQ was making a fuss of putting the handcuffs on, the gorilla type character climbed behind the steering wheel still fighting for air.
Tiny was really careful. He ordered AQ to turn around so that he could check the handcuffs. He saw immediately AQ had left one of the cuffs open.
“You think you are a real smart one, eh”, he said while he pressed the cuff tight.
The gorilla drove the sedan through side streets to downtown Manhattan. At one of these fully glass covered office towers he slowed down and turned right into an underground parking garage.
AQ knew where they were, he had seen this building many times. They were at the ground floor of the Midland Towerthatbelonged to the Midland Corporation which was owned by a Mitchell D. Midland a superrich industrialist. Now AQ was curious to whom they would take him.
They stepped into the elevator, to be more precise, the gorilla andtiny stepped in while AQ was pushed in. The gorilla would probably have hit him iftinyhad nothissed: “Stop it, you idiot!”
Tiny pressed the button labeled 34. Within seconds the cage was at the highest level. Tiny took the lead while the gorilla tossed AQ ahead of him. They did not stop at one of the offices but stepped up the stair case which led to the roof. Here was a helicopter landing on which there was a helicopter parked with Midland Corporation underlined by a blue arrow written in large red letters on the side. The situation became more and more scary but interesting too.
Tiny motioned with his hand to the open door of the helicopter. AQ climbed into the back seat assuming that this was the place he wanted him to sit. It was not easy with the arms handcuffed at the back but no one cared. The gorilla took his place beside AQ whiletiny climbed beside the pilot. The watchdogs put on headsets. AQ was left out.
As soon astiny had closed the door the pilot started the engine and off they went. The noise of the rotors hurt AQ’s ears - again nobody cared. They left Manhattan in a northwesterly direction, crossing the Hudson River arriving after a while at the outskirts of the metropolitan. In the meantime AQ had come to the conclusion that the boss was either Mitchell Midland himself or one of his high ranking staff members otherwise the helicopter would not fit into the picture. Knowing this he was checking his memory for whether he had done any work for Midland, his family, or his company. As a private investigator he had done a number of jobs for the industry, mostly in the field of industrial espionage but he could not remember Midland Corporation being among his customers. So, why would Midland want to see him and why under such dramatic circumstances? Why had Midland’s secretary not called and made an appointment? The whole situation did not make any sense!
They must have flown over an hour when AQ saw a mountain range ahead. The time of flight was a very rough guess because with AQ’s hands to the back he could not look at his watch but whentiny moved he had a chance to glance at the clock at the instrumentalpanel.Besides that, as a former captain in the Special Forces, he was trained to estimate time and usually he was pretty accurate at it. The flight direction had not changed a bit. The magnetic compass which he could see through the pilot andtiny read steadily 345 degrees. AQ made a rough calculation and came to the conclusion that they were approaching the Adirondack Mountain range. The situation became more and more confusing. What the hell were they doing out here, almost in the middle of nowhere!? The only reasonable cities in the vicinity were Utica to the west and Syracuse even more westerly and the almost combined cities of Albany and Schenectady but these two they must have passed already.
They flew about fifteen more minutes then the helicopter descended. All AQ could see was a green layer of tree tops. Some hundred yards above the ground he saw a well cut lawn through his side window. Shortly before touchdown the pilot made a sharp 180 degree turn and now a blockhouse appeared at his side. It was a two story building with a front side of at least thirty yards. The roof above the entrance was supported by four pillars each cut out of a single log.
“Get out”, said thegorilla and opened his door.
With some difficulties AQ slid to the ground. Tiny came around the chopper and removed the handcuffs. He probably thought that AQ could do no harm here. He was mistaken. With his hands free he felt comfortable knowing that the two were no match for him.
“Follow me”, orderedtiny. The gorilla came just around the chopper.
He was turning around when AQ stopped him. “Wait a minute I forgot something”, he said in a casual voice.
Tiny looked at him with surprise. “What’s u…” That was all he could say; the edge of AQ’s hand hit him directly at left temple, where the nerves joined. He fell down like a bag of sand. Then AQ flew around and rammed his right foot into the gorillas’ genitals. The pain he yelled out must have alarmed every member in the blockhouse. AQ looked at the pilot ready to engage him too but he was sitting behind his steering stick filling out some forms and did as if he hadnotheard or seenanything. Finally he seemed to realize that AQ was looking at him and he turned his head smiled and raised his right hand with the thumb up. He must have been in the army too.
Feeling much better AQ followed the pathway toward the house entrance. Now he wanted to see who was responsible for the insult hehad sufferedat this early morning hours and he was in no mood for friendly chatter.
AQ was about twenty yards away when the door opened and a man appeared. He almost smoothed his temper. What he saw looked like a joke. The man at the door was dressed as if he had just left the best butler school in London. In the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by miles of forests he wore a tailcoat as that of senior servants of the upper British class would wear. He even had white gloves on his hands.
“Mister Walker”, he asked with a well-modulated Queens English accent.
“Yes”, AQ answered much friendlier than he had originally in mind.
“I am Johann,Mister Midland’s butler, please, Sir, would you be so kind as to follow me.”
He led AQ into an entrance hall which was about the size of his whole apartment. The walls and the ceiling were built of logs which were at least twenty inches in diameter. The logs were polished so that you could use them almost as mirrors. The floor was made of irregularly shaped shale plates which were covered with white woolen rugs.
“May I take your coat and hat, Sir?”
AQ slipped out of it and gave it to the butler,who treated the wrinkled coat as if he was holding the rope of the British Queen. After he had put the coat on a hanger and stored it away he led AQ to a door opposite to the entrance. He knocked and opened the door before an invitation was heard. Holding the door wide open he announced AQ as if the prime minister was attending upon the Queen. As soon as AQ stepped into the room, hall would be a more proper word; the butler closed the door behind him.
AQ had never met Mitchell Midland but he recognized him immediately. The New York Herald Tribune once described him: A midget in stature but a giant in life. And that was a precise description. The man who stood at a glass front overlooking a small lake, which AQ had not seen from the helicopter, was hardly one meter sixty and so skinny that his first thought was he could easily break him which of course was absolutely wrong. His reputation was that of a merciless negotiator.
When AQ stepped into the room he turned around and looked at him with a piercing glance. Then he came forward with a smile on his lips and both of his hands outstretched.
“Mr. Walker, I am glad to see you and I am very thankful that you accepted my invitation. Shall we have breakfast together?” He took a little electronic device out of a pocket and pressed a button. “Please, Mr. Walker, let us sit over there.” He pointed toward a table surrounded by four lounge chairscovered with buffalo skins.
AQ remained where he was. “You have a very strange way to invite people! I do not feel invited but kidnapped!” his voice hard and the face stony.
“I am sorry if you feel that way, Mr. Walker, it was in no way my intention to insult you. I asked you to come because I have an urgent job for you to do.”
“Asked me!? How would you feel if you were forcedatgunpoint to step into a car and then be handcuffed? I hardly can see in such an action an invitation! So, whatever you want, the answer is NO!”
“What are you talking about? Gunpoint – handcuffs? I assume you are sober at this time of the morning.”
“I certainly am! And now I would like to get back to New York and to my work. I have already missed an important date. Would you please ask your pilot to fly me back?” AQ told him without any politeness in his voice.
“Now wait a minute. Let’s get things straight. I certainly asked nobody to use a gun or handcuffs. To even assume this is ridiculous.Willyou tell me what actually happened?”
AQ was not sure what he should do because in Midland’seyes there was a big question mark. “Ask your gorillas”, he said a little friendlier.
Mr. Midland stared at him surprised as if he was not used to such an aggressive tone, but AQ did not care.
For a moment he stood motionless then he walked over to a telephone and pressed a button. “What happened”, he requested in a quite different voice than he had spoken to AQ. He listened for a moment then he put the receiver down without saying a word. Slowly he turned back to AQ who had the feeling that he was trying to stall time to make up his mind how to handle the situation.
“My dear Mister Walker”, Midland said amiably, “I must apologize for my employees. These idiots completely misunderstood my orders. When I told them that they should not take no for an answer, I never expected that theywouldact like a Chicago gang.” He put his right hand on AQ’s arm. “Please, Mister Walker, be so kind and give an old and sick man the pleasure to have breakfast with him.”
What could he do? Should he remain stubborn and leave? No, this was against his character. So he told Mitchell Midland that he accepted his apology and added that he was pleased to join him.
Midland tensed face relaxed and got softer. He gave AQ a friendly smile while he directed him to the lounge chair. Both had just taken their seats when the butler came in with a trolley which was stuffed with everything a breakfast should consist of.
“Please, Mister Walker, help yourself and don’t follow my example. I will only have a dry toast and a glass of chamomile tea. Very delicious,” he said ironically, “but it is doctor’s orders.”
The butler served AQ the coffee and said: “If you need anything please ring the bell.” He pointed to a bell on the trolley.
AQ looked toward the butler and answered “Thank you but I am sure this is more than sufficient.” And then he turned to his host. “You said you have a job for me. What is it?”
Mitchell Midland nibbled on his dry toast and AQ could see how much he disliked it. He noticed AQ’s surprised glance.
“Cancer - stomach cancer. The doctors have taken out half of my stomach. I am out here to recover. These dammed butchers have forbidden any excitement. That’s why I am here. It is boring, dammed boring! But I should not complain, because the doctors assured me that they got every bit of the cancer out and if I follow orders, I may completely recover. The trouble is I have also a bad heart.”
“I hope you will be fine. I wish you the best.” What else could AQ say?
Midland made a gesture with his hand as if he wanted to swat his words away. “My sickness was the reason why I asked you to meet me here, because I was unable to get to town and I haveto discuss the matter in person with you. I want you to find my daughter. She seems to have disappeared and I am quite worried.”
“Since when has she been missing?”
“Since about two weeks.”
“How old is she?”
“28, but that’s not the point. Hold your questions until I have given you the complete picture”, he added before AQ could make another remark.
“O. K. Sir, I am listening.”
“You must understand”, he continued, “My daughter and I are very close. When my wife died Charlotte was just seven years old. I took care of her and spent as much time with her as I could. When she was old enough I sent her to Switzerland to one of these noble residential schools. I should not have done it because there she met one of these British noblemen and fell for him. He is the son of a viscount or something like that. I don’t know anything about the ranking of these guys and I don’t intend to learn it. Anyway, she married the boy and I showed a good face to a bad situation. But I was nosing around and found out, that the Viscount hasmore holes in his pockets than our New York beggars. So I think the son only married my girl because he knew that daddy hasmoney. That’s about how much I have been able to find out about his background. When I got sick, that was about three months ago, my girl made it a habit to call me twice a day if only to ask how I was feeling. I told her that this was not necessary but she insisted it was - good girl! Now, exactly two weeks ago the calls suddenly stopped. At first I did not think about it, but then I tried to reach her and was not able to get her. At first I got my son-in-law and later only the maid was on the line. All I could get out of her was that the couple flew to Florida to make a trip on a sail boat to Jamaica. She told me my son-in-law and my daughter had forbidden her to say a word about their plans because they wanted to have a restful vacation without a bunch of paparazzi on their coat-tails. I was suspicious because I wondered why my daughter had not told me about their plans so I asked the maid whether it was my son-in-law or daughter who had given her this order. She said it was the lord but he had said that it was what the lady wanted too. This made me even more suspicious. Why would anybody explain an order to a servant? I tried to get more out of her but that was obviously everything she knew. Then yesterday I received another letter.” He opened a leather folder which lay on a side table next to him and took a sheet of paper out of it and handed it to me.
AQ took it with two fingers at one edge, ashe wanted to prevent his fingerprints from getting all over it in case this paper would become evidence in a crime case. To be cautious had become his habit since he opened his office as a private investigator. He moved the dishes aside with the other hand, checked whether the place was clean and placed the paper in front of him. It was a plain sheet of white legal paper. He could not see any mark which could have shown that it was a special paper which you could not buy in any shop. There was only one sentence printed on top. It read: Watch your daughter she might be in danger. On first glance it looked like a print done with an ordinary printer - nothing particular with the print face.
“Another? You said another?”
“Yes, since Charlotte got married I receive such letters from time to time.”
“Did you do anything about it? I mean, did you go to the police? Do you have any idea who is behind these notes?”
“No, I did not go to the police and no, I have not the slightest idea who wrote these letters. But I discussed the subject with my daughter. She did not take it seriously and so far nothing has happened. We thought that it was probably one of those crazy girls who are jealous that she married the lord - maybe a type of female stalker. Anyway my daughter asked me not to do anything about it, so I did not. But now …?” His voice trailed off as if he was suddenly thinking on something particular.
“How many of those letters did you receive?”
Mitchell Midlandmade vague gesture. “I don’t know, maybe five or six.”
“Do you still have the letters?” AQ had the feeling that Mr. Midland’s concentration was wearing off.
“No, we thre…w them aw…ay – my secretary did it.”
The wordsbecame uncontrolled. AQ could see fatigue in his eyes. The whole situation seemedto be too exhausting for him. Although AQ would have liked to discuss this matter in more detail and get more information about Mr. Midland’s daughterbuthe decided that is was better for Mr. Midland to rest. So he rang the bell. The butler appeared immediately.
“I guess Mister Midland needs some rest”, AQ told him.
He looked at his master. “You are certainly right. I will take care of him. Be back in a minute, please wait, Sir.”
“Hold it”, commanded Mitchell Midland probably taken all his strength together. “Will you find my daughter?” he asked AQ.
AQ had already made up his mind. “Yes, Sir, I will do my best to find her. But you had better relax now. I will call you later tonight or tomorrow morning to get more information. I need that time to close up another business I am involved in or I will lose a lot of money.”
Mitchell Midland got slowly up. The Butler was helping him. A faint smile appeared on his lips. “I guess I am wea..ker than I thought. But thank you very m…uch for taking the job. Don’t waste time and do n..ot worry about money I… I take care of everything. Ple…ase wait for my bu..t..ler. He kn…” He faded.
AQ jumped up to assist but the butler had everything under control. As soon as he saw that his Master was ready to faint he grabbed him at the shoulder, steadied him and then lifted him up as if he was handling a child. AQ was amazedatthe strength he was hiding under his servant tail coat.
“Be back in a minute.”
“It is o.k. don’t hurry.”
While Midland and the butler left. AQ stood up and went to the window. It was a thirty yards wide glass front and stretched from floor to ceiling. He looked out but was not aware of the beautiful surroundings because he was trying to figure out how to handle the case. The information available did not convince him that Mitchell Midland’s daughter was really missing or was a victim of a crime. It should not be difficult to find her, he thought. If the maid in Englandiscorrect and had told thetruth thenhe would start to look for her in Florida. Even if Florida was an El Dorado for the rich and prominent to pick up the trail of a British count and the daughter of a well-known American millionaire should be easy.
AQdidnot notice that the butler had reentered the room before he addressed him: “Sir, Mister Midland asked me to beg you to start immediately. He took the liberty to inform me what he would like to be done in this case. May I speak?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Thank you, Sir, Mister Midland put a file together; actually I did it, which contains all the data about his daughter and her husband which could be of help to you. There is also an envelope with five thousand Dollars cash. If you need more, just give him a call. This should cover the expenses your fee will be paid extra. As Mr. Midland already said, he expects you to start immediately. His chauffeur will take you from here to Albany Airport. There Mr. Midland’s private jet is waiting for you to take you to Miami, Florida. Flo…”
“Hey, wait a minute.” AQ interrupted his flow of words. “I can’t go like this! I have to at least get some clothes from home.”
“Not necessary, Sir, you will find everything you need on board the jet.”
Now AQ was not only surprised but annoyed too. He made another attempt to throw some sand into Midland’s planning, because he hated to be manipulated in such a manner.
“As I said before, I have to take care of another client.”
“If you would give me his address, Mr. Midland will take care of him.”
If this was not such a serious matter, he would have laughed. AQ gave up. Time was too precious to spend it with senseless arguments.
“O. k. let’s go. I will handle my customer myself. But I warn youitwill cost you something.”
“Mr. Midland is fully aware of this”, the butler assured him.
He motioned AQ toward the door and led him to the entrance. Here stood a sparkling Rolls Royce. The chauffeur, clothed in a black suit, opened the back seat door with his right hand while holding his cap with the left hand.
“I wish you all success possible. Mr. Midland really cares for his daughter. She means everything to him. If you need anything please let us know. If Mr. Midland is not feeling well, you can talk with me because in this case I am tasked by Mr. Midland to assist you in any way possible”, the butler said.
“Don’t worry, I will do my best”, AQ assured him and at this time he was convinced that it was one of the easier jobs he had within the past six months. On the back seat of the Rolls Royce AQ found a leather briefcase. He did not open it. He just enjoyed the leisurely atmosphere of the Rolls. It contained every luxury one could dream of. This made the trip from Midland’s retreat quite different than his trip to it.
At the airport in Albany a flight attendant awaited him at the parking lot for flight personnel. She was a charming woman in her late forties. This showed to AQ that Mitchell Midland was one of those high level managers who was interested in surrounding himself not with youth but with class.
The Lear jet which he entered was customized and looked incredibly modern and luxurious. This is the way to travel he told the flight attendant. She smiled agreeably. Then she showed him around. Behind the cockpit were a small kitchen, a toilet, and the place for the flight attendant. The lounge followed. It had seats for six persons. Then a door led to the sleeping compartment with two beds and a closet. The flight attendant opened the sliding doors and showed him that it was stocked with clothes for every occasion. AQ put on a jacket - it fitted. He was amazed. How could Mitchell Midland have arranged all thisin such a short period of time? There was everything available, even a formal suit with the correct tie and shoes. The flight attendant said that Mister Midland had ordered her to tell him that he should take everything which he thought would support his job. More and more AQ liked this midget. Whatever one may say about him, he was a generous man. In the rear there was a bathroom stocked with everything a man would need.
We had almost finished our tour through the jet when the pilot asked us to be seated because the jet was ready for takeoff.
As soon as they reached the flight level and the pilot had turned off the fasten seat belt sign AQ went into the bathroom and took a long shower. Then he shaved, used the expensive aftershave, and felt great. He threw his old clothes in the waste basket and dressedinthe new oneswhich wereof an excellent quality. Then he was ready for a large cup of coffee.
The briefcase contained besidesthe mentioned envelope, another envelope with money and to his surprise two credit cards, one master and one visa card, each with a credit limit of ten thousand Dollars. Midland really cares for his daughter AQ thought and cared even more for the small man.
The other folder did not contain any information which was reallyusefulwith the exception of a series of photos of a beautiful girl at different ages and poses and some pictures of a man around thirty in various sport suits. He looked very handsome. AQ closed his eyes and tried to memorize the faces.
The flight attendant was shaking softly His arm. “Please, Mister Walker, wake up. We have arrived in the Miami area and will start our descent soon. Please buckle your seat belt.”
AQ looked up with surprise.
“Youhada nap, Sir please fasten your seat belt.”
“I did, did I?”
He must have fallen asleep while trying to memorize the photos. AQ appreciated it because he felt now relaxed and very comfortable.
When they had reached the parking position the flight attendant opened the door. Bright sunshine and 82 degreeswelcomed him. What a change. He felt ready for action.
“Willyou please wait a minute”, the flight attendant said when he stepped out of the plane “Your luggage should be ready any minute.”
“I don’t have any luggage”, he told her with some surprise in his voice because she should have known how he had entered the plane some hours ago.
“You have, Sir, while you were resting I packed your clothes. Here they come.”
AQ saw three huge suitcases on a trolley which was pushed by the co-pilot.
Nobody would believe it. Here AQ stood as a private investigator on a job to find a missing girl with three large suitcases full of things which he probably would never need. What a joke!
At the center of Kingston, the capital of the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica stood the Devon House. It was built almost 150 years ago by the first black millionaire at the corner of Trafalgar and Hope Roads, also known as the millionaire’s corner. Once the living quarters of the builder George Stiebel it is today a famous historic Great House with shops and restaurants where well-known Jamaican cuisine is served and is frequented by tourists and locals alike.
About a month before AQ Walker had the meeting with Mitchell Midland on a Saturday afternoon the Devon House was very much alive, especially the restaurants which were crowded. A group of ladies strolled leisurely through the shops around the courtyard. Although they had seen the displayed goods several times in the past, they seemed to discover in every shop something new about which they talked excitedly. The ladies were so engaged with themselves that they did not notice the handsome man who seemed to follow them for quite a while. When the women entered a shop he remained outside pretending to study the displayed goods, though at all times making sure that he was out of direct sight of the women.
When the ladies decided it was time for dinner they headed toward the Bin 26 Wine Bar. The place was crowded as all others but the ladies had obviously made reservations ahead because they had no difficulty in getting a table on the outside verandah. The handsome man who arrived minutes later had no such luck. Only after he tipped inconspicuously the waiter he found a place on the inside near the bar. The disadvantage was that he could not see the table where the ladies were seated. He made the best out of it insofar that he turned around in his stool so that he could watch the table. But now he could be spotted like a white horse in a pack of black ones.
The ladies at the table also saw him but showed no particular interest in him and concentrated on their conversation. The handsome man relaxed. His fear that the ladies would take too much notice of him was unfounded. They were obviously enjoying their meals which included sipping glasses of a fine red wine, while they rapped without a moment’s break. This gave the observer the opportunity to watch one of the ladies more closely. What he saw pleased him, not because the lady was a beauty but it confirmed his first impression. She seemed to fit perfectly into his plan. He had noticed her first when he was sitting in a coffee house in the center of Kingston watching the pedestrians passing by. At that time he was in a pretty bad mood because he had been in town since Tuesday and had so far been unable to find a girl which would fit his purpose. Then suddenly a woman had passed by who had immediately attracted his attention. He had thrown some coins on the table and followed the woman. Perfect he thought, although he had seen her face only briefly. What he had studied at that time was primarily her stature and the way she walked and that pleased him. And now he had plenty of time to study her face, her appearance, and the way she talked. This might be a slight problem as her voice had the lilt of the local accent and dialect but with some adjustments he felt sure she would fit into his plans.
While he was studying the lady who was calledMaryby her friends, a police officer entered the wine bar unnoticed by the observer. Determined he rushed through the bar to the table where the six ladies were sitting. The observer was not able to camouflage his shock completely. Afraid that the ladies had called the police because they felt annoyed by his blatant staring, he paid and left the Wine Bar. Outside he walked as fast as he could toward the exit without arousing suspicion. As soon as he reached the Hope Road he mingled with the other pedestrians and slowed down to a leisurely speed. Among the others he felt secure. Although the sudden appearance of the police had caused him to interrupt his inspection he had the feeling that he had accomplished quite a bit. He strolled to his hotel which was only three blocks away. At the receptiondeskhe asked for his key und went to the elevator. But instead of pressing the button to activate the lift he turned around and went to the pool bar. Except for a lady the place was deserted . The man ordered a Bacardi, asked for an extra paper napkin and a pen and chose a seat at the counter. Sipping his drink he deliberated his plans for tomorrow.
After a while he was approached by the only other guest at the bar. It was a lady in her early forties. Her evening dress was a little too revealing, the make-up a bit too pushy, and her perfume too strong – in short the handsome man at the bar knew immediately what kind of lady approached him. Because the girl did not look too bad and he had almost finished his planning, he decided he deserved a little fun before he had to leave Jamaica. After a short discussion, both left the bar and went to the lift. If he had only known that the police officer in the Devon House had nothing to do with his observations he would have stayed there longer, which would have saved him a lot of trouble.
The police officer approached the lady who was not drinking wine, but Pepsi Cola. The two chevrons on his right arm identified him as a Corporal of the Kingston Police . He bent down to her and whispered into her ear: “Sorry, Assistant Superintendent, but I must disturb you. There has been a robbery at the Strawberry Hill Resort. A guest and his wife were injured, the wife very seriously – she probably won’t make it. The Superintendent said you should lead the investigation.”
The Assistant Superintendent, a slender woman of about thirty five years with large deep brown eyes, and full soft lips, looked angrily at the police officer. “Inspector McLean is on duty, Corporal.” She pushed her hard shape jaw a bit forward. The striking chin stood in contrast to the soft female features of her face. The gesture showed that the Assistant Superintendent had a strong will.
“No, Assistant Superintendent, Inspector McLean reported in sick – probably food poisoning. He is in the University hospital. My car is outside. I shall take you to the crime scene.”
“O.k., I am coming”, she said disappointed. “Please wait at your car.” Then she turned to her friends and said: “I guess I have to go. Sorry to spoil our evening.” She gave the lady to her right some bills. “Claire,willyou take care of my order”, please.” Then she left with a wave goodbye.
The police car was waiting directly in front of the main entrance. Despite the hot and moist air the driver was waiting inside the car listening to a Reggae band. The engine was running and the air conditioner on full power. The Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Foster stepped in and shivered immediately.
“Turn down the air conditioner to about a half”, she ordered, “and switch off the radio.”
The Corporal looked at her somewhat surprised but did as she ordered, knowing that she was a very strict officer when she was on duty.
With the flashing light on andaroaring siren they raced up the Hope Road, followed the Old Hope Road, passed the University of Technology into Papine and took the left turn shortly thereafter on the B 1 toward the Blue Mountain region. It seemedas if the corporal got a kick out of when the cars ahead of him shot out of the way alarmed by the siren. Jennifer Forster silently watched his performance and had to admit that the corporal was an excellent driver. However, when they reached the narrow, heavily winding section of the B 1 she ordered him to slow down which he reluctantly did. In a less breakneck speed they took the countless needle sharp curves. Jennifer Forster could see that the corporal disliked having to drive at a snail’s pace but he did not dare to speed-up. They passed the place where a landslide had ripped off the whole B1 with the edge of the road very close to the cliff side and climbed higher and higher. Jennifer Forster was relieved when they reached the dirt road which led to the Strawberry Hill Resort. The annoying cranking of the steering wheel from right to left had made her almost sea sick. The air at about 3000 feet above sea level was cooler and more refreshing than downin theoverheated city of Kingston.
When they approached the grey wooden main building the place showed no indication that only hours earlier, a major crime had happened. No one was awaiting them, no bystander, no employee, not even a police officer.
Jennifer Foster stepped out. “You”, she said to the corporal, “look around; talk with the cleaning personnel, the barkeeper, and whomever you can find. I want the gossip; want to know what the personnel are thinking. Do not concentrate too much on the case. I want to know everything that has happened or should have happened but has not – I want the reason or better yet what they think the reason was. Do you understand?”
“Sure, Mam will do.”
“And don’t pull rank. Act as a friend.”
“I understand completely. Don’t worry if they know something I get it.”
“O. k. then, let’s go!” Jennifer Forster turned around and walked toward the entrance. But before she went into the lobby she turned around. “Corporal, please come back.”
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