Mrs. Coleman's husband, an engineer, has been missing for several days. Abigail Coleman asks Jacob Lawdon to find him. Though Lawdon, a PI in San Diego, usually doesn't track down missing husbands, he takes on the case because he's short of money. It turns out that not only Coleman, but also his secretary, Olivia Jackson, and her daughter, Emma, are missing. Before Lawdon comes across Coleman in a boathouse, which belongs to Mr. Jackson, Olivia's husband, he's knocked down by Jackson's gamekeeper, Taylor Moore. Coleman then tells Lawdon that he has an affair with Emma and that he's looking for Emma who'd run away after a quarrel. Though Lawdon has found Coleman, he keeps on looking for Olivia Jackson and her daughter. This leads him into a rehab center where Emma was treated for alcohol abuse, and to Mrs. Young whose son Mike is Emma's friend. By and by he finds out that all those people have a secret in common which dates back more than twenty years. Finally one of them dies a violent death. Jacob Lawdon is a great admirer of Philipp Marlow. Like him he's a PI and like him he tries to stick to a strict code of ethics, but fails from time to time. Though he sometimes is quite cynical and hardboiled, he's full of sympathy and compassion. He's both tough and sensitive. He tries to act with integrity, but he's witty and good with words. He does everything to find out the truth though he knows that often all attempts are in vain. He prefers tea to hard drinks, but pretends to prefer hard drinks to tea. He's not keen on money, though he's always short of money. And last but not least he tries to be honest with the reader.
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Liczba stron: 135
Text: © Copyright by D. Goetz
Cover: © Copyright by D. Goetz
Publisher: D. Goetz
Producer: epubli, neopubli GmbH, Berlin
….You're a piker, Marlowe. You're a peanut grifter. You're so little it takes a magnifying glass to see you….
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
It tried to crawl up the pane vertically. It had covered already two thirds, then obviously changed its mind and turned to the left. I tried to count its spots, but didn’t get further than fifteen - fifteen black spots contrasting to the deep purple-red of its body. Its ancestors had come a long way across the Pacific before one of their offspring decided to say hello to me.
I liked the bug. It brought color into my room. Finally it got apparently sick of being gazed at and spread its wings. Our short acquaintance and all the color were gone.
I got up got shaved and dressed and was ready to leave when the phone rang.
"Hello, my name is Coleman, Abigail Coleman."
It was a rather low-pitched voice for a woman, something below alto, but still female. A gentle voice, a voice you are inclined to trust and which made you feel at home.
"How can I help you?"
"Well, Mr. Laydon, my husband is missing. I'd like you to find him."
"To be honest, I don’t' like to track down missing husbands who ran away from their wives for whatever reason. And I hate being hired to prove your husband was cheating you. By the way, why me of all PIs?"
"Two statements, one question. Which one do you want to be answered first?"
Her voice was still gentle, pleasant and friendly, but between pleasant and friendly it had turned slightly tense.
"It's up to you."
"Well, to start with your question, a friend of mine recommended you to me. As for my husband, we've now been married for ten years and he never ever went away without telling me when he would be back. He has now been missing for three days."
I should have asked her who her friend was and why she had picked out me, but I didn't.
"Why didn't you report it to the police?"
"I did, their answer was similar to yours."
"So, Mrs. Coleman, how do think I could help you?"
"Well, I'd be pleased if you came to my home. We then could talk over everything unhurriedly and make a plan how to continue. Maybe, you could you make it by four this afternoon?"
If I had had a roster, the pages would have been full of the names of my clients, but there wasn't any roster. The rent for my flat had to be paid.
She gave me her address somewhere in East County. To get there, you had to drive about half an hour from downtown San Diego. People called this area San Diego's backyard - a region full of rolling hills and sparkling lakes. In springtime you could enjoy the bloom of thousands and thousands of wild flowers. In San Diego you can meet a lot of rich and a lot of less rich people. The less rich ones don't live in that part of East County.
One of the estates more or less randomly scattered in the rugged landscape was the modest home of Abigail Coleman. The driveway was lined with evergreen citrus trees that blossom in the spring and provide colorful fruits.
The parking area in front of the house was just big enough for my VW Beetle. If you tried hard you could spot without using binoculars two more cars parking, a Mercedes S500 Coupé and a sports car Porsche 911.
I rang the bell at the door. I immediately recognized her voice when she answered via intercom.
"Lawdon," I said. "Jacob Lawdon."
The release buzzer was pressed and I let myself in.
When I saw her, I knew I'd met her before. Strictly speaking it was only part of her that I remembered. I had seen the color of her suit not long ago.
The ladybug had lost its bug, but not its color. Only the dark spots were missing.
She was middle-sized, slender, but not too much, auburn hair which came down to her shoulders, sun-tanned complexion, aged about forty. Her eyes were wide set, but not too wide and their color was something between amber and night.
"I'm glad you managed to come, Mr. Lawdon. Have a seat, please. Like a drink, alcoholic or nonalcoholic?"
"I'd rather have a nonalcoholic one, one third orange juice and the little rest filled up with rye if you don't mind."
She gave me the faintest smile I'd ever seen, maybe it wasn't a smile at all. She got my drink and seated herself opposite to me on a davenport.
"Well, Mrs. Coleman, would you tell me the whole story."
She gave me a rough outline. Obviously her husband, Michael Coleman, had left their house three days ago and promised to be back in two days. She told me he was working as a consulting engineer for an international group and had to go abroad quite frequently. She had already tried to contact his secretary, but didn't succeed. So she wanted me to find out about his whereabouts, at least to get in contact with his secretary.
"What's the name of his secretary?"
"Olivia, Olivia Jackson. She should be in the office downtown."
She really seemed to be concerned about her husband and I finally agreed to take care of the case.
"I charge a flat fee of $250 per day including all my expenses."
"I guess you require a retainer, don't you? Would $1000 be okay?"
She issued a check for $1000. It had been a very long time I saw a one followed by three zeros on a check. So I said good-bye and promised to do my best. She showed me out and I gave her my finest smile. Before I got into my car, I had a short glance back and saw her standing in the doorway. Somehow I felt a sense of envy and I thought Mr. Michael Coleman ought to be a happy man and it was neither his Porsche nor his estate he should be happy for.
I drove the way back to San Diego.
"Is Mr. Coleman available, please?"
The blonde behind the desk in Mr. Coleman's office threw a look at me she had been practicing for many years. I was just about to confess that I had lied to my father when I was three, but before I could, she said, "Who wants to know, friend, business friend?"
"Both, we've been friends since we played together in a sand-box some forty years ago. It was then that I dug out a dime and promised to split the amount fairly, but I'm afraid, I never did. So today I came here to do what I should have done for years - to give him his share and to beg his pardon. You know, I should have stuck to our bargain!"
Apparently she didn't disapprove my words totally - to be honest, she became quite talkative, but still kept a straight face.
"He's on a business trip abroad. His secretary can give you more details. I'm afraid, she has some days off. By the way, I'm disgusted with people who owe money and don't repay it. So beat it!"
She wrote down name and address of Mr. Coleman's secretary and gave me that look again, but the second time it wasn't so impressive any more. You got used to it after a while.
Before I tried to get in contact with Olivia Jackson, I went back to my apartment in East Village. In former times this neighborhood was well-known for its drug addicts, prostitutes and vacant buildings. Though there had been a lot of urban renewal recently, some of the buildings were still in a pretty bad shape. In one of them I had my apartment, third floor, no lift. It was a one bedroom apartment, besides there were a closet, a bathroom and a kitchen, not to mention the two windows. To claim that lots of natural light was entering this upstairs unit would be a slight exaggeration. Part of the living room I used as an office.
What I was really proud of, was the illuminated doorplate made of elegantly styled polished brass with the engraved words 'Jacob Lawdon, Private Investigator'. Each time I read this, it reminded me of the fact that I was still living there and my landlord hadn't yet arranged the eviction.
I always felt I owed this fact - at least to some extent - to my doorplate. So I cleaned the plate at least twice a day.
Some repainting and wallpapering would have been quite a good idea too, but I thought I shouldn't give my clients the feeling that I wasted their money.
Well, it had been a long while since somebody could have had this feeling.
I had a shower and was ready to see Olivia Jackson.
Olivia Jackson lived in the east of Carlsbad, not far away from Lake Calmora. So I went northward on the I-5.
As a rule, early spring is the best time in the region around San Diego. The weather is rather mild and temperatures can rise up to the mid-60s.
Well, actually spring hadn't started yet, though we were very close to it - February had one more day to go. But even for February it had been quite cold for the last three days. Temperatures tried to jump over the 50s, but didn't succeed. The sky was gray and overcast and now and then it began to drizzle. On the other hand this also was the time of year when the meadows and pastures were lush and green. As the year continued, the landscape then decided there had been enough green and bade farewell to it for the rest of the year and said hello to a rather nondescript brown.
I took the highway exit 48 and drove eastward on Cannon Road.
It was quite a nice property, where Olivia Jackson was supposed to live. There was a pool, a pond and a little orchard. A place you could feel at home, not quite as posh as Abigail Coleman's estate, but you wouldn't get depressed if you had to stay here for a longer time. No car parked outside in the parking lot, somehow nobody seemed to be at home.
I guess it was my negative aura which scared off all the people I wanted to talk to.
I stopped my car and approached the entrance. Before I could ring the bell, the door was opened by an elderly thickset man.
"Hello, my name is Lawdon, Jacob Lawdon, I wonder if Mrs. Jackson is at home."
I all at once realized that he didn't like me or maybe it was only my name he wasn't fully satisfied with. He eyed me suspiciously and didn't say a single word. So I decided to supply him with some more food for thought.
"Well, you see, Mr. Coleman, her boss, needs a document she took home to work on. He already tried to get in contact with her. But she didn't answer his call. He intended to see her this morning, but unexpectedly he had to go on a business trip. I'm his colleague and he asked me to see Mrs. Jackson in his place."
This caused a lot of scrutinizing. You could watch him weighing up the pros and cons. The pros won.
"We had a lot of riffraff roundabout here in the last weeks. I'm one of Mrs. Jackson's neighbors. She asked me to keep an eye on her property as long as she was away. Walden is my name."
"Of course, Mr. Walden, you were perfectly right to treat me the way you did. So Mrs. Jackson isn't at home?"
"No, I'm sorry she isn't. She wanted to meet up with her husband in the hills. They've got a cabin near Lake Calmora and they intended to pretty and prepare it for spring time. You know, they spend quite a time up there. Actually, she wanted to be back yesterday, but obviously the clean-up took more time as they expected."
He gave me a short description how to get to Mrs. Jackson's cabin. He seemed to like me now.
You could call Lake Calmora a hidden pearl amidst Carlsbad. The lake is not for swimming, but it is a nice hiking area with different trails from easy to difficult. I wouldn't call the view on the lake breathtaking but the surroundings are quite idyllic. During summertime you should start your hiking tour early in the morning, because it's likely to get sweltering hot in the afternoon. Quite a strenuous trail leads you up to the crater of a former volcano. From the edge of the crater you have a beautiful overview of Carlsbad.
There are several entrances to this area. Mr. Walden recommended me a parking lot in the park. He told me to leave my car there and to take a 30-minute walk to get to the cabin of Olivia Jackson and so I did.
When I approached the cabin, I realized that a dirt road lead to the cabin from the north-east. It struck me that none of the shutters was open and there were neither a car nor any human being. The place was absolutely deserted - at least I thought it was.
I knocked and rattled at the front door. Then I tried the back door. There was a rustle in the undergrowth behind me. Could have been a California pocket mouse or a ground squirrel, both of them were fairly common in this part of Southern California.
In a split second I noticed an enormous shadow to my left. According to the size of the shadow it would have been an enormous oversized ground squirrel. It gave off a distinct, strong odor.
I felt a dull pain that rushed through my head. The ground squirrel had knocked me down.
The squirrel was talking to me and what a miracle - I understood it perfectly. I could even recognize that typical Californian vowel shift so common in this area.
I opened my eyes. It was a human face; the squirrel had disappeared. The human face bent down to me and shouted,
"Hey, mister, are you okay?"
Oh yeah, I was really fine. I'm fond of being socked and knocked down. I pondered whether I should tell him the whole story and my nice chat with the ground squirrel, but I wasn't sure he would appreciate it. So I decided not to give my secret away and simply said,
"Who are you and how come you are here?"
A good question, I thought. In the scale of all the questions I've ever asked it was ranking quite highly.
"Well, I was walking my dog and let him run off-leash. When I followed him, I found you lying on the ground and blood trickled out of your head."
"Where's your dog?"
"Oh, he lost interest in you and pursues again his favorite hobby. He is chasing ground squirrels. You know, they bustle about here in large numbers. I guess you should have come across some of them before you took a nap."
"I tripped over one of them. The result you know."
He got slightly peeved.
"You are kind of a smart-aleck, aren't you? I should have listened to what my mother said some forty years ago. She used to tell me over and over again not to talk to strangers. Actually I wanted to ask you if I could give you a lift with my car, but I won't."
He rather rapidly disappeared. I got up, still a bit dizzy, but the bleeding had stopped. Oh, what a tough guy I was. I even managed to balance on both legs.
I tried the back door a second time. Nobody socked me, hit me, punched me, but again the door didn't yield. But I spied a rather small window without a shutter. I suppose it belonged to the bathroom. It took me some efforts, but in the end I managed to open it and to wriggle through the opening.
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