Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

Related Topics

No topics are associated with this blog

USA: Chapter Five

I'm an extremely heavy sleeper. I'm also not a morning person. Years ago I discovered that I had to get started an hour or so ahead of morning people just to stay even. I also found I could catch up faster if I started my day with about thirty minutes of body torture - five minutes of stretching, followed by twenty-five of exercise. I can think of only one or two things I enjoy less, but I feel guilty if I don't do it. By the time I shower, shave, and have my first cup of coffee, I'm usually ready for the starting gate.

Saturday morning was no different. I managed to call Suzy by eight to tell her that the uniform of the day was jeans and sneakers; we were going to do a lot of walking. I was on my second cup of coffee in the coffee shop when she walked in, looking very cute with her hair pulled up. She refused to sit down, knowing we were going elsewhere for breakfast, and told me to finish off my coffee; she was suffering from world-class hunger.

We wound up at a place that had good food, but the atmosphere of a farmers' market butcher shop; sawdust on the floor, huge display cases, and noise. Lots of good-natured yelling and tray clanging. We each had the Brit's version of a healthy way to start the day; eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, rounded out with scones, fruit preserves and coffee. I cautioned Suzy about the bacon. You asked for it American style, or you got it almost raw - having seen heat for about thirty seconds. They also offer an alternative to coffee - wasser. Not tea with whiskey, but whiskey with tea. We stayed with coffee.

Instead of taking a taxi to the Thames to begin our stroll, we decided to walk off our leaden breakfast. Heading south on Farringdon Street to Blackfriars Bridge, we turned west on Victoria Embankment along the river. We passed Big Ben, New Scotland Yard, the Houses of Parliament and, doubling back in the direction of our hotel, spent some time in Westminster Abbey.

By three o'clock, everything was still in good working order except Suzy's right heel and my stomach. Stopping at the next pub, a friendly barmaid found a Band-Aid for Suzy's heel, and a hot meat pastie took care of my stomach. Suzy gave in to the aroma and ordered one too. We each washed them down with a pint of cold lager, while trying to figure out how far it was back to the Dukes. Suzy was stubborn; she refused my offer of a taxi. Blister or not, we'd finish on foot. I agreed, with one condition: everything I had in mind for tomorrow would be by taxi.

Before reaching the hotel we walked past 10 Downing Street. Well, not exactly past - the closest you can get is the mouth of Downing Street, and gaze through the cast iron gates. Aside from the gates, access is prevented by Bobbies armed with Uzis. About all you can see of Number 10 is the black limo parked in front and the armed Bobby at the door. Suzy remarked that it's a shame that such an historic landmark has to be taken from the public because of the threat of terrorism. Sad, but true.

We straggled into the Dukes a few minutes before five, both of us disheveled and footsore. It had been one helluva walk! Suzy said she wouldn't even consider dinner until she soaked for at least an hour in a hot tub. I had suggested fish and chips, so we agreed to meet in the lobby at eight. I didn't admit it, but nothing sounded better than a long hot shower and an even longer nap.

At eight-thirty there was still a short line outside the Sea Shell in Lisson Grove. They sell take-out fish and chips from the ground floor of a corner store, with an old-fashioned but comfortable restaurant upstairs. We were seated after a short wait, and Suzy grinned at me as she scanned the menu. "This looks really different," she remarked. "I'm not much for French fries, but I've never seen so many kinds of fish on one menu. Is it all fresh?"

"As far as I know it is. My favorite is the haddock, I've had it here three or four times and it's always been excellent."

Suzy said it sounded good to her, so we each settled for the haddock, chips and iced tea. The portions were huge and, as usual, everything was delicious. I convinced Suzy to try the cider vinegar on her fish and she loved it. She even raved about the chips.

It was dark when we left the restaurant. Suzy agreed to a nightcap, so I asked the taxi driver to drop us at a pub I knew of about two blocks from our hotel. I knew Suzy would like it. It's a walk-up, located on the second floor above a row of small shops, and has a long, open-air balcony with small tables and clusters of potted flowers. When we arrived an elderly black man was playing good Gershwin on a baby grand. We seated ourselves at a secluded table overlooking the street below, and a waitress came for our drink order.

The night was warm, but a light breeze was blending the fragrance of fresh flowers with the muted piano coming from inside. It created a soft, relaxing mood, conducive to good conversation. I was determined not to talk about my meeting with Trimble unless Suzy asked, and I was relieved when she didn't. We did talk about many other things; our lives as kids, teenage romances, our parents, and her first marriage.

Suzy had always been reluctant to talk about her early life in California. What little I did know about her past were bits and pieces I had picked up from office talk. Tonight she told me her first husband had been a musician. He was also a drunk who couldn't keep a job, and who constantly abused her, both emotionally and physically. When she became pregnant with Julia, he straightened out for about six months. But then the abuse started all over again. One night after a particularly violent episode, she thought she was losing the baby. She grabbed a few belongings and spent six hours on a bus to San Francisco, where she moved in with her older sister and her sister's family. Suzy filed for divorce, found a job, and worked part-time until Julia was born. Her sister convinced her to stay with them, so she went back to work as a secretary while her sister took care of Julia.

A few weeks before Julia's third birthday, Suzy's ex showed up at her sister's front door, nasty drunk, demanding to see his daughter. When Suzy refused, he got really obnoxious and threatened everybody. Suzy's brother-in-law called the cops and had him arrested. Suzy was terrified. She packed their few belongings and left the next morning with Julia, not knowing exactly where they were headed. But she knew it had to be far away. They wound up in Philadelphia where, a week later, she answered Walter's ad for a secretary.

Suzy put Julia in day-care and devoted herself to her new job. Her goal was to be independent and totally free of her past life. But she was terrified that her husband would trace them to Philly, and was also concerned about the safety of her sister's family. About six weeks after coming to work for us she decided to tell Walter everything, and to ask his advice. Within hours he hired a private investigator in Frisco to track down her former husband and determine what he was up to. The PI found him in less than two days - in the city morgue. He had died of pneumonia in a cheap hotel. End of ex husband. The rest of the story I did know.

After the waitress delivered our second drinks, Suzy reached across the table and took my hand. She had a very melancholy look as she spoke, almost in a whisper. "Walter was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me - or Julia. When he proposed to me he said he wouldn't marry me unless I permitted him to adopt Julia. Almost like a pre-nuptial condition, really. As you know, he did adopt her, and she quickly grew to love him.

"And as much as she did love Walter, in the six years since his death Julia has formed an equally strong attachment to you. At first, I thought it was nothing more than a schoolgirl crush because you had been so kind and helpful to her after Walter was killed. I guess in the beginning it was, but over the years it has grown into much more than that. She really loves and respects you, Cole - now you're her father figure. You may not have realized it but she frequently asks me to get your opinion on something or other. But as much as I'm sure she would like you to know, she'd die of embarrassment if she knew I was telling you this."

I looked at Suzy in disbelief. "I honestly didn't realize her feelings ran that deep. I've told you many times what a great job you've done raising her, and how everybody thinks she is one fantastic young lady. I certainly think the world of her, and I know she likes me, just from the way we kid around with each other. But I never thought of it as a father-daughter relationship; more like big brother and kid sister. Do you understand?"

"Completely, I know exactly how you feel about her. But please don't be frightened off by what I've just told you - you're too good to her, and she needs you now more than ever. What I don't understand - and if this bothers you, please tell me to mind my own business - is why you haven't married and had kids of your own. It certainly hasn't been for lack of opportunity; I can recall two or three gals who everybody thought you were really serious about. I'm sorry, I guess I should mind my own business - I feel foolish. I hope you're not angry with me."

She was smiling at me, but even in the reduced light, I could see the color rise in her face. "Not at all. I guess I've seen too many friends marry - people I thought were well suited to each other - and then a year or two later they split. That's not for me. It may be old fashioned, but I want the kind of relationship and marriage my parents have. Maybe I'm too damn particular - maybe it's the other way around...I don't know. I hope Miss Right is out there somewhere - looking like hell for me."

I sipped my drink, whistled, and waved to an imaginary girl down on the street. I guess I was trying to lighten the conversation.

Suzy squeezed my hand hard and laughed. "Cole," she said softly, "I understand why Julia feels about you as she does. Other than Walter, you are the kindest, most gentle and caring man I have ever known. We've been friends and partners for a long time now, but do you really know how much I care for you as a person?"

What the hell was I hearing? "You're really stirring some old feelings, Suzy...feelings I thought I buried years ago. Talk about crushes; I had one on you from the day you set foot in the office. I did my damnedest to hide it because I knew from the start how Walter felt about you. He told me more than once. And then he married you. I must have moped around the office for months feeling sorry for myself. I finally forced you out of my head by convincing myself that you were the boss's wife...untouchable, and besides, you didn't indicate any interest in me. Now...I don't know what to say. You've got my head spinning."

"I didn't know you had any old feelings for me. I also didn't mean to upset you with what I just told you. This is very difficult for me - I know how much the business means to both of us, and I don't want to complicate our professional relationship...please understand that. But I've been thinking about this for a very long time, and I had to tell you how I feel. I just haven't had the opportunity until now."

She leaned across the table and kissed me. New emotions were blending with past memories; what the hell was happening? I wanted to speak but I couldn't find the right words. I got up and led her to the balcony rail, where I took her in my arms and kissed her. I felt her tremble as she whispered in my ear, "I've felt untouchable for too long. Take me back to the hotel and let's have some fun."

I awoke the next morning to a colorless dawn; the sun still well below the horizon. The room was dark, with only the early gray filtering through the gap in the draperies. I didn't know where I was, but it was very warm and I couldn't move my left arm.

The perfume of her hair stirred my senses, and as I opened my eyes fully I realized my left arm was under Suzy, with her soft body curled tightly against mine. Her left leg was splayed across both of mine. We were both naked. I knew from her shallow breathing that she was still sound asleep. She sighed, and moved enough to pull the sheet a little lower, exposing a soft, white breast.

Thoughts of last night flooded my consciousness; Suzy unbuttoning my shirt and fighting my belt buckle; the long zipper down the back of what seemed like a fall-away dress; our clothes on the floor; the fireworks when our anxious bodies touched for the first time. She was unlike any women I had ever known. I had always thought of Suzy as beautiful, and very sexy - but sort of quiet and reserved, almost cool. Not anymore. She had been anything but quiet and reserved - absolutely tireless... almost insatiable! It was almost eleven o'clock when we got to her room. The last time I remember looking at the clock it was a little past three-thirty. Time flies.

As I lay looking at the dark ceiling, vague thoughts of what had brought us to London - not to mention Trimble's bizarre story - began to intermingle with the more vivid intimacy of last night. But the intrusion strangely didn't bother me. It didn't because I suddenly realized that I hadn't felt this happy in a long time or felt this comfortable with a woman. Suzy and I seemed to fit. I drifted off to sleep again.

Bright sun was streaming through the open drapes when I awoke the second time. Suzy was gone, but I heard the shower running and knew where she was. A few minutes later she padded into the room, wrapped in a towel, her hair dripping. When she saw I was awake, she yanked the sheet down and shook her wet hair over me. It was like getting hit with a spray of frozen needles. She laughed as I grabbed a wrist and pulled her on top of me. The towel fell away and she rolled to the bed alongside me, propping herself on one elbow. She looked down at me with a devilish grin on her face and began tracing a pattern on my bare stomach with a fingertip. It bothered me and she knew it. "Do you realize," she said, "how very little I know about you or your life outside the office? Last night at the pub you gave me a brief glimpse, but that was mostly childhood stuff. For example, I know you're over six feet, but just how big are you? ...Uh oh!" She laughed and jabbed me with her finger. "I mean how tall - I know how big."

"O.K. Put that damn finger away and I'll give you ?McQuaid's Famous Personal History, Capsulated Version'."

"Fair enough, but I want to know everything." She covered me with the sheet and leaned down and kissed me.

"I'm thirty-eight, a shade over six-one, keep my weight around one-ninety, get my black hair and blue eyes from good Anglo-Saxon stock - Irish and English. My father's name is Ansell, my mother is Martha. Dad's a retired real estate broker. He and mom are both healthy and live in Florida. I'm the youngest of three. My sister Abigail is the oldest, then Ben, then me - about three years between each of us. I don't think you've met Abby; she's married to a doctor in Boston, and doesn't come down to visit too often. By the way, the names are no accident; Abigail, Benjamin and Cole. Mom says she was just following alphabetical progression, but three was as far as she wanted to go. She marked us in another unusual way; Abby, Ben and I all have the same middle name - Catlett - mom's maiden name. I stopped using it in grade school when a girl I didn't like made fun of it and nicknamed me ?cowboy'. Speaking of school, I have a mechanical engineering degree and a master's in business. Walter hired me right out of college, sixteen years ago - four years before you showed up - and here I am in bed with you, the luckiest guy in all of England."

"Only England? I must be slipping." She laughed and kissed me on the nose, pulling the sheet down and starting again with the fingertip. It took all of five seconds to have the same effect as before. "You have two choices, Cole Catlett McQuaid: either make love to me again, or I get to watch you take a cold shower." The choice was easy. I hate cold showers.

It was almost ten o'clock before we made it to the Dukes lobby. We had coffee and scones in the coffee shop and planned the rest of our day. A half-hour later we were on one of the famous red double-decker tour buses doing the London tourist thing. This wasn't my idea of how to see things, but it was easy on the feet and Suzy said she was satisfied. After almost an hour of our driver-guide's monologue, she said she had seen enough, and, besides, she needed more retail therapy - she had shopping to do. So we got off the bus at Harrods, after which we did Fortnum & Mason's and Laura Ashley's. Three hours and two taxi's later we made it back to the Dukes, where the doorman took pity on me and helped with some of the packages I was balancing.

Sunday evening we decided to have dinner in the hotel and relax. By nine o'clock Suzy was yawning and rubbing her eyes. I also knew I had to spend some time this evening sorting out everything Trimble had told me. Other than having to meet with him tomorrow afternoon, I still hadn't told Suzy anything about my earlier meeting with him - and she still hadn't asked. I knew it would spoil her trip. But before I could say anything about calling it a day, she said she was tired and was going to bed. " I think," she added, with a big grin, "that if either of us wants to sleep tonight we had better stay in our own rooms." I faked a hurt look, but then she wiggled that talented finger at me - the one I remembered so well. I laughed and kissed her goodnight.

I spent the next two hours sitting in the dark in my room, thinking. I went over everything Trimble had told me, plus what had happened this past week. I could comprehend everything, but yet didn't understand anything. Everything seemed so unrelated, so disjointed. And where was the motive? One minute I was agreeing with Trimble, and the next minute I thought he was nuts. I turned on the light and tried scratching out a timeline on a piece of paper. It didn't help. Frustrated, I crawled into bed. There were no answers, but I was sure of one thing: I had to do something to get to the bottom of this... before I wound up like David! Lying there with my eyes shut and a myriad of thoughts and ideas flashing through my head, it was like a curtain suddenly rose - everything gelled and I knew what I had to do, and what I would tell Trimble tomorrow. As I again looked up at the ceiling, I touched the empty pillow next to me and realized I had another problem. I missed her.

The infamous London weather finally caught up with us on Monday morning; fog and a soaking drizzle. When I gave the taxi driver the location of the church he politely cautioned me about the distance: it was well north of Regent's Park, in a rural area about forty minutes away. I was concerned we might have trouble getting a return taxi, so I made a deal with the driver. For little more than a round-trip fare he agreed to take us both ways, and wait for us during the service. This couldn't be Philly or New York.

The fog had lifted by the time we arrived, but the drizzle had turned into a steady downpour. Alex was waiting for us in the church narthex with his wife. She looked to be about the same age as Alex, was rather mousy and non-descript, but seemed sociable and pleasant enough. After introductions, Alex suggested we find seats, the church was small and was filling up quickly. It didn't escape me that Alex couldn't keep his eyes off Suzy.

The service was short but impressive. Alex had mentioned that David and his wife had no children and between them only a handful of relatives. From the size of the crowd it was obvious they had a lot of friends. As we moved to the cemetery behind the church, Alex introduced us to David's widow. She broke down when she heard my name, quietly mentioning that I was the last friend to see David alive. She thanked us for coming. I never know what to say in situations like this, and always say something that I later consider stupid. But I do try to be sincere. Mrs. Nesbitt dabbed her eyes and reached in her handbag for a pen and paper. She quickly jotted a number and handed it to me, asking that I call her before leaving for home. She said she had questions about David.

At the grave site we stayed reasonably dry under a canopy. Suzy gripped my hand tightly while the minister intoned standard passages from the bible, concluding with a personal prayer for Mrs. Nesbitt. The rain slackened as the casket was lowered into the ground, and the gathering began to disperse. On the way back to the road, Alex and I agreed to meet in his office at two o'clock.

It was almost one by the time we arrived back at the Dukes. The rain was steady again, so Suzy and I decided to have lunch in the coffee shop. During lunch we discussed the rest of our stay in London and agreed to catch tomorrow's late morning flight out of Heathrow. Finishing her iced tea, Suzy said she was going back to her room when I left to meet with Alex.

"I'll confirm our plane reservations," she said, "then I'm going to sort out everything I've bought so it'll fit in my luggage."

"It won't happen," I laughed, "even if you use my luggage, too.

Besides, our plane'll probably never get off the ground. Why don't you call UPS? Maybe they can get all of it on one plane. If it's a big one."

She pouted and then reached across and slapped my arm. "That's not fair. I didn't really buy that much. And I won't need any help - everything will fit in my luggage, thank you. I guarantee it!"

"A dollar says you're wrong."

"You're on! But let's make it interesting - five bucks."

Alex was waiting for me in his office. Before I could say anything he told me that he wanted to proceed with settlement on the Burlington County property, the settlement that had brought David to the States just a week ago today. He then slid an envelope across the desk to me and said it contained a letter authorizing me to represent the bank on all matters pertaining to the property.

"One other point regarding the Burlington deal," he continued. "I want you to finish the site engineering as quickly as possible. David mentioned that he had sent you preliminary drawings for the new plant. The problem is, we have to be ready to move ahead as soon as settlement takes place and I'm sure you're more familiar with local politics and code requirements than the architect - he's located in Tokyo. Are there any problems at your end?"

"A few, but none we can't resolve."

"Good. You should also know that Tampa will be taking over from you after settlement, but not until you finish your work. Tampa has an agreement to fast-track the plant's construction - you probably already know it's for a Japanese computer manufacturer. It should be a first for your country; not only are they going to assemble computer components shipped from their main plant in Japan, they also hope to crack the American software market, something they have n't been successful at in the past. They plan to employ about eight hundred people, including, I would imagine, a fair percentage of your American software brain trust. I'm sure that won't sit well with many of your? Buy American' union people, but it will help your future local economy, not to mention all the immediate construction jobs."

I don't know if it was professional jealousy or what, but what I just heard really ticked me off. "You know Alex," I snapped, "it may sound ungrateful after all the business you've given us over the years, but what the hell, Hammel & McQuaid aren't bankers or private detectives - were builders! And we're damned good at what we do. Why don't we ever get a crack at these construction projects?"

"Two reasons, Cole. First, we don't control the decision making. We're told who is going to do what; sometimes by Milan, other times by Tampa. Second, after all the years I've dealt with this crazy client, I'm convinced they don't want any one of us - Tampa, you, or my bank - to see too many pieces of the puzzle. They want to keep all of us in the dark as much as possible. You should hear some of the idiotic questions asked of us by Tampa. It's another reason why I believe Tampa doesn't know any more about the client than we do."

"But with all their other crazy restraints, they've got to be interested in controlling construction cost. Don't they ever put these jobs out for competitive bidding?"

"As far as I know, never. And I know it's not because they don't care - believe me, they control everything. From what Tampa tells me, bids are by invitation only. It's a very small fraternity, and it changes with project location. But if you're not on the list, you don't get to bid. It's that simple."

Alex got out of his chair and began pacing behind the desk. Without stopping or looking at me he continued talking, but his voice suddenly lost it's authority. "Before we stray too far from the main issue, I'd like to say one more thing and then ask you a question. As I hope I conveyed to you on Friday, I'm at a loss trying to decide what to do about this frightening mess. I know I cannot sit idly by any longer and do nothing, but I also cannot do anything that will harm the bank or any of us. And, for the record, my concern for the bank has nothing to do with personal greed - I fear for the institution and the people here. I intend to retire in less than two years; my wife and I have a beautiful little place along the coast near St. Austell, in Cornwall. But I can't leave here until this business is would absolutely kill me to see the bank destroyed because of a bad decision on my part."

He stopped pacing and rested his hands on the back of his chair, staring down at me. "And that leads to my question - actually two; have you considered what we discussed earlier, and do you have any suggestions as to what we should do?"

"Yes to both questions. I've blocked out a rough plan that I hope you'll agree with, although I'll tell you up front that some of what I'm going to suggest will happen whether you agree or not - it's too late to do otherwise. It's also a safe bet that my plan will expose us to a certain amount of risk. I really don't care, because it appears we've been at risk all along. We just didn't know it. I know what I'm going to suggest isn't foolproof, but at least it gives us the initiative, so we don't sit on our hands waiting for whatever they want to dish out."

Alex sat down. "I dread what I think I'm about to hear, but please get on with it. I just hope you've considered what I said about the bank."

I don't know why, but I wasn't completely sold on Alex's stated reason for protecting the bank. Was it pride, compassion, or pure greed?

"Yes, I have. Based on what David told me just before his death, I understand your predicament, or what you perceive as a predicament. But, regardless, your first priority should be to liquidate as much as possible of the client's working capital. Everything you have invested in short-term loans...I believe something in excess of two hundred fifty million. You've got to quickly build as much cash reserve as you can. If the..."

"My god," he interrupted, "if the client gets wind of it - and I'm sure they will - they'll terminate us immediately. Why risk such a drastic result?"

"It's a risk I believe you have to take. You have to prepare for the worst. As I said, some things are going to happen whether we like it or not. Think about what's already happened. Look at the crazy situation in Atlantic City; there is no logical reason why somebody should have meddled with the investigation into David's death, but according to Ronko somebody did. Another thing I haven't told you about; the day before coming here I was followed home by two men in a car. I have no idea who they were - good or bad - or why they followed me. But I know they did. And then add in what you told me last Friday. Somebody has been stirring this pot for twenty-five years, and I don't like it one bit! I don't like feeling threatened, and I don't like looking over my shoulder - particularly when I don't know which way to look. If you do as I suggest and the client doesn't like it...and decides to pull the account, it may be a bitter pill to swallow, but if you have the liquid assets your bank should survive. And, consider this, if your earlier suspicion is correct and the client is the bad guy, losing the account may be the least of our worries."

Alex looked defeated, his complexion almost gray. "You're right. Things have gotten out of hand and I've refused to face up to it. In fact, I should have done something about this years ago...maybe David would still be alive. Now I feel everybody is threatened. Even my wife - who knew nothing of this until David was killed - is badgering me to increase security at our home and here in the bank. Maybe I should. But, more to the point, your suggestion about converting the loans is going to be difficult to do quickly; it may take some time, maybe as long as two weeks. I don't know what else you have in mind doing, but I am convinced the client will find out - it's just a question of how quickly."

"That's going to depend on how good their grapevine is, and whether they have a mole in the bank. As far as your part is concerned, you should do as much as possible within the privacy of this office - the less people in your bank who know what's happening the better."

"I'll have to get started immediately." Alex punched a button on his phone. "Miss Nickleby, call Rogers and tell him I want a printout of the latest Milan loan portfolio and I need it within the hour. When he delivers it bring it to me immediately. Oh, and call my wife and tell her I'll be late tonight - not to hold dinner." Alex turned to me and continued. "Unfortunately, we'll probable have to discount most of the paper. I'm sure we'll take a pretty hard hit on some of it. The best we can hope for is to break even."

"Breaking even is better than belly-up. I still think it's a smart move."

"I hope you're right. With all that's happened I can't disagree with your logic, but once I start this action my directors are going to demand answers...some of them think the bank can't exist without the damned account, and I'm not sure I can - or should - answer their questions. I may be looking at termination instead of retirement, but I guess at this point it really doesn't matter. Other than my reputation and pride. I would feel a lot more confident if I knew what you intend doing next. You obviously have something in mind."

"I do, at least to a point, and I'll gladly tell you as much as I've worked out. But I recommend telling your directors absolutely nothing; stall and try to buy us as much time as possible. And, unless it's absolutely necessary, I wouldn't say a word about this to anybody else, in or out of the bank.

"As far as what I'm going to do, first, I have to convince my brother to help me find out what the hell is going on in Atlantic City. Before he opened his own office Ben was an assistant county prosecutor. He has a lot of connections in South Jersey, both legal and political. On top of that, a college buddy of his is now in the FBI hierarchy in Washington. So with Ben's help I'm sure I can get some answers; maybe even more details than you have.

"Next, I'm going to do some snooping in Tampa - and as soon as possible. Initially I'll try to be as discreet as possible. But, if I fail to turn up anything useful, I won't hesitate to let the Tampa people know who I am and what I'm doing, particularly this Marie Sippano. If you're assessment of their involvement in this is wrong, that's when all hell will break loose, and the client cancels the account. If nothing else, we'll at least know what triggered it."

"Cole, wait a minute, you said it yourself a few minutes ago; you're a builder - not a detective. Why should you get involved in this further? It seems to me it would be a lot safer to hire a private investigator. The bank can do that, and I certainly have the authority to order it."

"No, if we bring somebody else into the loop it'll just delay the inevitable. Besides, I'm already in this up to my eyeballs, and I'll feel a lot better if I'm moving around and taking some initiative...I don't like being a sitting duck. I guess after what happened to David we both should feel a little spooked, but I'm also concerned for our friends and families. I can't sit around waiting for something to happen, I've got to do something - anything. Do you understand?"

"Yes I do, and I share your concern for the others. Things have gone far enough. But, please promise me that you'll be careful; what you plan on doing really frightens me. And I'd also like to reimburse you for whatever expenses you incur, after all, you're doing this for both of us."

"Maybe we'll split them, but let's see what happens first."

When I arrived back at the hotel I found Suzy in her room sitting on an overstuffed suitcase, a big grin on her face. "If you'll snap these latches for me I'll be happy to relieve you of five dollars," she said jokingly.

"You've got everything packed?" I asked. " Everything ?"

"All but my things for tonight and the trip home, and I have room in my carry-on for all that's left. Oh, that extra bundle over their also has to go in the overhead with my carry-on. But see, I did it without needing any space in your luggage. I won!"

I laughed and handed her five bucks. "O.K. my packing specialist, but with that bundle in the overhead I hope the pilot can keep us flying level."

We decided to have an early dinner at an Italian restaurant we had spotted a few blocks from the hotel. Before we left I found the slip of paper in my pocket and remembered that Mrs. Nesbitt had asked me to call her. The phone rang a number of times and I was about to hang up when she answered. She spoke in a very subdued voice and began crying when I gave my name. She sounded terrible and I apologized for intruding.

"Mr. McQuaid, please don't feel you have to apologize...I appreciate you taking time to call me. There wasn't an opportunity to talk privately at the church this morning and there are so many much I don't understand about what has happened. I also wanted to thank you for your kind assistance with David's arrangements. It would have been very difficult for me, with his death being so far away. I really don't know how to thank you..."

"Please, Mrs. Nesbitt, I interrupted, it is not necessary. Suzanne and I are deeply saddened by what happened. We're leaving for home tomorrow morning. I will be in contact with Alex Trimble on a regular basis and will keep him informed about the investigation in Atlantic City. I'm sure he'll call you as soon as we know more. Is there anything else we can do before we leave?"

"No, there isn't, except to answer one or two questions."

She wanted to know everything David had said and done during the time we were together before his death. I answered as best I could about the few hours David and I had spent together, without mentioning the mysterious client or Alex Trimble's suspicions; she apparently knew nothing about any of it. Before hanging up I again expressed my sorrow and promised to pursue the investigation into David's death as soon as I got home.

After Suzy and I returned from dinner I decided to tell her of my conversations with Trimble; there was really no point in delaying further. She was shocked to hear about the earlier deaths, and said she couldn't understand how this went on year after year without Walter or I being told. I told her the reasons given to me by Trimble, but she just sat in her chair shaking her head. When I explained what actions Trimble and I were going to take she jumped up and grabbed my hands.

"No, Cole, no! I don't want you involved in this any further. I can't bear the thought of losing you now. My god, this could be dangerous for all of us. And what do you think Ben is going to say?"

I had no good answers. I knew Suzy was right - there will be a lot of risk, and the danger could extend well beyond our families and friends.

"Suzy, I share your concern about the everybody, but what's the alternative? Do nothing and let the police handle it? Hell, they haven't solved one of these crimes going back to 1972, and they probably won't find David's killer or killers either. And David's murder hit pretty close to home - who's next, you, me, one of our employees?

"Doing nothing hasn't solved or stopped one of these crimes and, as I told Trimble, I don't like being a sitting duck...and I refuse to live looking over my shoulder. I've got to do something! Can you understand that?"

"Yes, Cole, I do, but I'm still terrified for all of us. And what about Ben? I just know he'll want us to bail out of the whole mess."

"You're probable right, but, like it or not, Ben's going to have to understand. He better, because I'm going to need his help and a few of his connections once we get home. Bottom line; it may take some arm twisting, but he is my brother. I think I can convince him."

Originally published: Wednesday, March 21, 2007; most-recently modified: Monday, June 03, 2019