They drove five blocks east down Market Street. They drove to the Wainwright Building which was on the corner of Market Street and Seventh Street. The Wainwright Building was a twentieth-story skyscraper of brown granite and glass. The top three floors of the building housed the employees of International Investment, Inc.
The accounting department was on the nineteenth floor. Hurts and Amanda went there first to speak with Ms. Diana Cogwell. The interior of the accounting department was a sea of cubicles and people. Ms. Cogwell’s office was to the back of the department. They were told by her receptionist that Ms. Cogwell had taken two personal holidays and would be back tomorrow. They then took the elevator up to the next floor to speak with Mr. Theodore Williams.
Once inside of Mr. Williams’ outer office, Hurts told Amanda to sit in the long, white, leather sofa that was against the west floral-wallpapered wall, near the entrance to the office. Amanda did as she was told and picked up a magazine off the white, wooden stand to the left side of the sofa and began reading.
Hurts approached the receptionist’s desk, and taking one of his business cards from his topcoat pocket, he handed it to her and introduced himself. He asked her if it would be possible to speak with Mr. Williams for a few seconds.
Almost everything in this outer office was white: The receptionist’s wooden desk was white. The plush carpet was white. The wooden stand to the north side of her desk, on which sat a computer, was white. The metal cabinets directly behind her were white. Hurts asked her if she ever got snow-blindness. She didn’t find that amusing. She merely smiled up at him patronizingly.
She was a plain-looking woman of average height and weight. She was in her early thirties, Hurts would say. She had shoulder-length brown hair, and she was wearing a plain red dress. Hurts thought it a bit odd that she hadn’t any pictures or a cup of candy on top of her desk, which had on it two stacks of stuffed manila folders, a clear-plastic, box-shaped container full of both pencils and pens and a multi-plex phone.
The receptionist informed Hurts that Mr. Williams was attending a meeting. Hurts was about to ask her if he could make an appointment with Mr. Williams when he heard from behind him a man’s pleasant-sounding voice say: “Hello, Amanda. What are you doing here? Do you remember me from the company Christmas party each year?”
Hurts turned around and saw a very distinguished looking man wearing an expensive suit, brown checkerboard with a white dress-shirt and red tie: the red tie matched the color of the handkerchief in the breast pocket of his suit. He stood about five-feet-seven-inches tall, and he had a slender build. His hair was almost white, sparse, and was combed straight back. A pencil-thin, white mustache complemented his straight, thin nose. He looked to be in his late fifties, but for some reason, Hurts thought him to be much older. There was an aura of culture about him, and Hurts thought that he detected the slightest hint of a British accent.
“I’m very sorry about your mother, Amanda,” he continued. “I’m speaking with my attorneys to see if we can assist your mother. Don’t lose hope.”
“Mr. Williams,” the receptionist said. “This is Mr. Hurts, a private investigator for—“ She stopped speaking and looked over at Amanda. “He would like to speak with you.”
After looking at the face of the Rolex watch upon his right wrist, he said: “I have a few moments to spare. By all means, come into my office, Mr. Hurts.” He extended his hand out to an open door to the left of the receptionist’s desk.
The only things that were white in his office were the carpet, the plasterboard walls and the two ornate chairs that were in front of a glass desk-top that stood on a silver metal frame: The two chairs looked very modern: with wooden frames and rounded backs that descended into the padded seats. The material had a bamboo print to them.
Many pictures of places in Europe, like Big Ben in London, and awards, lined the walls. There was even a picture of Mr. Williams accepting an award from the mayor. Another picture showed Mr. Williams standing in a room in the middle of five other men. An ebony credenza was positioned against the north wall.
“Please be seated,” Mr. Williams said as he walked around his desk and then sat down in a deep-padded, black-leather chair. The desk faced the outer office, and behind it was a wall of glass. One could take in a full view of the city, The Arch and the Mississippi River.
As Hurts sat down in one of the two chairs, he noticed that Mr. Williams, too, hadn’t any pictures on his desk — no family, children, or even a woman.
“How may I be of assistance to you, Mr. Hurts?” he said.
“What was your relationship like with Mrs. Warner?” Hurts asked.
“We had an excellent relationship,” he replied. “Jennifer was a hard-working, loyal employee to this organization.”
“Then why would a woman who had worked here for seven years, who had a steady job and income, and had no criminal record, suddenly do a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn and commit a crime here? And why on earth would anyone in their right mind commit the crime and walk in here the next day as if nothing had happened? Why didn’t she just run away to a country where American jurisdiction wouldn’t apply?”
“I do not know, Mr. Hurts,” Mr. Williams replied.
“When you called the police, Mr. Williams,” Hurts asked. “Did you—“
“I didn’t call the police,” Mr. Williams stated. When he had said that, Hurts noticed an expression on his face and eyes that told Hurts that he had not meant to say that.
“The police report states that you called the police. Who did then?” Hurts asked.
Mr. Williams turned his head to his left and looked up at the picture hanging on the wall of the six men. He raised his hand towards the picture and said: “These are my fellow board-members. The gentleman standing to my right is Mr. Fredrick Silvers.” Mr. Williams looked at him with much affection. “It was he who phoned the police.”
Hurts looked up at the picture. All of the men in the picture were dressed in suits. Their ages ranged from early thirties to Mr. Williams’ age. Mr. Silvers seemed to be the same age as Mr. Williams. He had salt-and-pepper hair, and he had a most infectious smile and sparkling eyes. From the picture, Hurts got the impression that he was a very supportive type of guy: A type of guy who would cheer you on even in the most troubling of times.
“Are you saying that he called the police pretending to be you?” Hurts asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Williams replied.
“Why did he do that?” Hurts stated.
“It was nothing insidious, Mr. Hurts,” Mr. Williams said. “I am senior board-member. At the time when all of this happened, I was engaged in a very important meeting. Dear Fredrick simply believed that it would be more appropriate if it was I who informed the police about this matter.”
“Can I speak with him?” Hurts said.
“Unfortunately, he left two days ago on a business trip to New York,” Mr. Williams said. “He’ll return Monday.”
“He’s got to work on Christmas?!” Hurts cried. Hurts saw that that had taken Mr. Williams by surprise, as if he had forgotten that Saturday was Christmas.
“Sadly, yes,” Mr. Williams replied. “It’s the nature of our business.”
“I’ve never been to New York myself,” Hurts said. “I don’t know if I would ever want to go. I hear that the people in New York are the rudest people in the world and that the whole city is just filthy — and that crime there is rampant; that it’s the most dangerous city in the world.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Hurts,” he replied. “You couldn’t be more incorrect. New York is—“
“Why, a place like that — so big, so dirty, so full with crime,” Hurts said. “Why, I’d be so scared that I wouldn’t even know where to stay. Where would a guy like me stay? I mean, I want to be—“
“Stay at the Drake Hotel,” Mr. Williams replied. “We—“
From the look on Mr. Williams’ face, Hurts knew that he knew that Hurts had baited him into revealing something that he hadn’t wanted to reveal. Hurts couldn’t help himself in giving him the slightest smile of satisfaction.
“Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time, Mr. Williams,” Hurts stated, rising.
Mr. Williams stood up and Hurts extended his hand to him. They shook and when Hurts reached the door, he stopped, turned around, and said: “By the way, Mr. Williams. Has any of that missing twelve million been found?”
“No, it hasn’t,” Mr. Williams replied. “Why?”
“Are you going to be offering a reward?”
“We haven’t discussed it as of yet,” he replied. “We may.”
“Great,” Hurts said. He then left.
In the outer office, Hurts motioned with his hand for Amanda to follow him. As they waited for the elevator to arrive, Hurts said: “Why didn’t you look or speak to Mr. Williams? Don’t you like him?”
“When I was at the library, I read the newspaper,” Amanda said. “He had my mother arrested.”
“Oh,” Hurts replied.
It was four-thirty and getting dark. Amanda was hungry. Hurts told her that they would stop at a Burger King and get some hamburgers and fries.
“I don’t want that, Mr. Hurts,” Amanda protested. “Do you want me to have high cholesterol by the time I’m thirteen?”
“If you don’t stop being so aggravating,” Hurts said, “you may not live to see thirteen.”
“Why can’t we have healthy food?” Amanda asked.
“All right,” Hurts said. “All right. Here’s the deal. We’ll stop at this Italian restaurant that I know. If that’s not good enough for you — then starve.” It began raining, a cold rain, and Hurts turned on the windshield wipers. “Aggravating,” Hurts said. “Just plain aggravating.”
At the restaurant, Hurt had spaghetti-and-meatballs and two draft beers. Amanda had a salad, a slice of baked salmon, a baked potato with butter and green beans. She had two glasses of milk, and for dessert, she had sliced peaches with a dollop of whipped-cream.
Later that evening Hurts sat at his old computer, which sat on an old wooden stand at the right-end of his desk, trying to find out all the information that he could about International Investments, Inc. and Mr. Williams, Amanda removed her Chemistry book from her backpack and opened it to the bookmark — which was mid-way through the book - and sat down on the couch and began reading.
“There ain’t all that much about that guy, that Mr. Williams, in here,” Hurts said as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag on it. “It says that he was born and raised in Chicago, and that he came here eighteen years ago. I know that I heard a slight British accent. Did you hear it?”
“No,” Amanda replied, turning a page. “Maybe he went to college in Great Britain, Mr. Hurts. Maybe he went to Oxford.”
“No,” Hurts replied, after looking at the monitor again. “It says here that he graduated from the University of Chicago. There should be more information here on this guy than there is. He’s a bigshot.”
Hurts heard Amanda coughing — a fake cough. He looked over at her, and she was waiving her right hand in front of her face. “It’s not that smoky in here,” he barked at her.
“It is, too, Mr. Hurts,” she replied. “Second-hand smoke is just as pernicious as first-hand smoke.”
“Stop using jawbreaker-size words that are bigger than you are,” Hurts said and released another long stream of smoke. Amanda brought the closed fist of her right hand up to her small lips and gave several more fake coughs. “All right,” Hurts said, smashing out his cigarette in the ashtray and then rising from the chair. “I’ll crack a window open … What are you reading?” he said.
“Chemistry,” she replied.
“They teach you Chemistry in the sixth grade?” Hurts said.
“No,” Amanda replied. “I had Mom buy me this book. I told you, Mr. Hurts, I’m going to be a doctor. My thought is, the earlier I start preparing, the better off I’ll be.”
Hurts turned and walked behind Tom’s old desk and reached up and unlocked the window. As he pushed the window open about an inch, he looked down into the street. He saw something that disturbed him. Parked right behind his car was a new, Black Mercedes.
What’s a car like that doing in a neighborhood like this at this time of night? Hurts said to himself. The car was parked too far away from the streetlamp for Hurts to get a clear picture of who was in the car. He saw the silhouette of a man behind the steering-wheel, he looked Caucasian. He must have detected Hurts looking at him, because the engine started, the lights came on and the car drove away.
As he watched the car drive away, Amanda said: “Mr. Hurts, is that the bathroom?” He turned around and saw Amanda pointing to the narrow door against the north wall.
“Yes, it is,” he replied and began walking back to his desk.
“May I use it, Mr. Hurts?” she said.
“You don’t have to ask to use the bathroom,” Hurts replied and removed a full bottle of bourbon from the top right-end drawer from his desk.
After setting her book down on the couch, Amanda removed her glasses and set them down on top of the book. She then untied her red-cloth tennis shoes, and let them drop to the floor below her. She then removed her white socks. She unzipped her backpack and removed from it her toothbrush, toothpaste and a pair of white pajamas.
By the time that this was all over, Hurts was sitting at the east-end of the dinning-table, with his bottle of bourbon. A coffee-mug sat before him on the table. The mug was half full of cold coffee. Hurts filled it to the brim with whiskey. As Hurts took a large gulp from the mug, he saw Amanda zip by him, dashing into the bathroom and shutting the door behind her. She was back out within seconds, though.
“Mr. Hurts,” she said, after turning and facing him.
“What?” he replied and took another drink from the mug.
“Where’s the bathtub?”
“I ain’t got one,” Hurts replied.
“Well, how do you bathe?”
“I use the sink,” he said. “There are towels and washcloths on top of the toilet tank.”
“But how do you wash your hair?”
“I stick my head in the bowl under the faucet,” he replied, getting angry with her.
“It’s too tall for me to do that, Mr. Hurts,” Amanda complained.
Hurts released a heavy sigh of irritation, rose from the chair, and said: “All right.” From the other end of the table, he picked up one of the other chairs and carried it towards the bathroom. “Move out of the way,” he said when he came abreast of Amanda. “There, now you’re tall enough.”” he said, setting the chair in front of the sink. He stepped out of the bathroom, turned, and started to walk back to the table.
“Mr. Hurts,” Amanda said.
Hurts turned back around, looked down at Amanda, and said: “What now, Amanda?”
“I don’t have any more clean clothes or underwear,” she said.
“This just gets better and better,” Hurt said, shaking his head at her.
“Sorry, Mr. Hurts,” she said, lowing her head.
Out of frustration, Hurts put his hands to his face and began wiping it, feeling the long scar on the left side and feeling the stubbles of his beard. After a few seconds, he said: “All right. Here’s the deal. We’ll get up early tomorrow. You’ll stay in your pajamas,” he continued, pointing to the pajamas she still held in her hand, “and we’ll take your clothes to the laundry matt down the street and wash and dry them. Then, we’ll come back here and you can get dressed. OK?”
“Thank you, Mr. Hurts,” Amanda replied.
“Go get washed,” he said. He walked back to the table, saying: “Aggravating. Just plain aggravating.”
Hurts thought about removing his suit-coat and slipping out of his shoulder-holster and placing it on top of Tom’s old desk, but then he thought better of it. He didn’t think that Amanda would touch the weapon, but he told himself that he better not chance it. He decided that he would store it on the top shelf of the narrow, tall, wooden clothes-dresser that he had bought and had had the movers stuff into the small bathroom.
The dresser contained his two other tattered, old suits. He told himself that tomorrow he would wear his dark-blue suit with the same red tie that he had on. Before sitting back down at the table, he prepared the coffeepot for the morning.
About forty minutes later, Amanda emerged from the bathroom. Donned in her white pajamas, and with wet hair, she scurried across the floor to the couch, saying: “Brrrrr, I’m cold, Mr. Hurts.”
“Shut the window if you’re cold,” he replied, opening the middle drawer on the right side of the dresser. He removed a pair of grey sweatpants from it. From the left middle drawer, Hurts removed a white T-shirt and a pair of underwear. Stepping to the bathroom door, he turned and looked at Amanda. She was sitting on the couch again. She had her glasses on and she was reading her book. “I’m going to shave and wash up, Amanda.”
“OK, Mr. Hurts,” she replied.
When Hurts came out of the bathroom, feeling good about being clean-shaven and washed, wearing the T-shirt, sweatpants and black socks, he had a moment of panic when he looked towards the couch. Not only was Amanda’s backpack, bedroll and coat gone, but Amanda was gone. Good Lord, Hurts cried silently. Did she run off! He shot a look to his left, and was much relieved by what he saw. There rolled out on the floor between the dinning-room table and Tom’s old desk was the bedroll. Amanda was so deep in it that he couldn’t see her. The backpack and her coat were up against the front of Tom’s desk. Amanda’s glasses and shoes were on the other side of the bedroll, by the dining-room table.
Hurts went to the far end of the table and took several big gulps from that whiskey bottle. “Are you ready for the lights out?” he said, wiping his mouth.
“Yes,” she replied from inside the bedroll.
Hurts switched off the light-switch by the door to the office and then lay down heavily on the couch. He reached down, got the blanket and threw it over him.
Amanda yawned and then said: “Mr. Hurts.”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you have family?”
“Well, I have a brother; an ex-wife and two baby girls — well, they’re adults now; married with children of their own.”
Yawning, Amanda said: “Why don’t you live with any of them?”
“It’s complicated,” Hurts replied.
“But they loved you, don’t they, Mr. Hurts?”
“Stop asking so many questions,” Hurts said.
She yawned again and said: “Sorry, Mr. Hurts.”
After a few minutes of silence, Hurts said: “You need a pillow or a blanket, Amanda?” Silence. “Amanda,” Hurts repeated. More silence. “Amanda.” Nothing but more silence. Hurts turned over on his side and went to sleep.
The next morning, Hurts awoke to a small hand pushing at his right shoulder, and to the words of: “Mr. Hurts, Mr. Hurts, Mr. Hurts ….”
“What is it?” he said, still half asleep. “What’s wrong?”
“You said that we were getting up early, Mr. Hurts,” Amanda stated. “It’s eight o’clock.”
“That’s too early,” he said. “Wake me back up in an hour.” He turned over on his other side, away from Amanda.
“Mr. Hurts,” Amanda said.
“What now, Amanda?” he replied, agitated.
“Do you have any cereal and milk here?”
“No, I don’t,” he replied sternly. “Before we go to the laundry matt, we’ll stop at that restaurant and have breakfast. Now let me go back to sleep … Oh, put the coffee on.”
It was exactly one p.m. when Hurts and Amanda entered the lobby of the Wainwright Building to catch the elevator up to the nineteenth floor and questioned Ms. Diana Cogwell. It had taken that long to get Amanda breakfast, to wash and dry her clothes, for her to change from wearing her pajamas into a pullover pink blouse with a white fringe at the bottom, a pair of grey-looking cargo pants and to drive down to the Wainwright Building. Hurts fumed the whole time, and Amanda didn’t help matters by complaining nonstop that she didn’t like being in public in her pajamas. Hurts kept telling her that no one could tell that she was in pajamas with her stocking cap, earmuffs, coat, scarf, gloves and shoes on.
When they reached the nineteenth floor, they did the same as they had the day before. They stepped into the basketball-court-size room of the account department, and walked to the back of the room to the office of Ms. Diana Cogwell, passing by many cubicles and people.
The receptionist’s desk sat to the south of the door to Ms. Cogwell’s office. The front wall of her office was mostly glass. As he had the day before, he asked the receptionist if he could speak with Ms. Cogwell. He handed her one of his cards. Hurts watched as the receptionist walked into Ms. Cogwell’s office and handed his card to a woman sitting behind a large, wooden, cider-stain desk. Hurts could see that there weren’t any pictures on the desk. The room seemed sparse to him.
The receptionist stepped out of her office, and Ms. Diana Cogwell stood defiantly at the door-frame. The first thing that Hurts noticed about her was that she was about the same height and weight as Amanda’s mother. She was in her late forties and had graying light-brown hair crushed into a tight bun on the top of her head. She was dressed in a white, button-down blouse and a brown skirt that extended to her thin ankles. For some reason, the skirt seemed out of place to Hurts, like it belonged to another time. She had piercing blue eyes, and Hurts got the feeling that she was the motherly type — the type of person who ferociously protected her flock.
“Ms. Cogwell,” Hurts said. “I’m James Hurts. I’d like to—“
“I know who you are, Mr. Hurts,” she replied in an authoritative, no-nonsense voice. “I’m sorry, but I have been instructed by my superiors not to speak with you.”
Hurts kept feeling the forehead of Amanda’s head hitting him in the butt, and he realized that Amanda was trying to hide from Ms. Cogwell. “By superiors,” Hurts said, “do you mean Mr. Williams?”
“I mean, my superiors, Mr. Hurts,” she replied.
“I don’t understand this,” Hurts said. “I only have a few general questions that I want to ask you about Jennifer Warner.” From time to time as they talked, Hurts kept noticing Ms. Cogwell trying to force herself to catch a glimpse of Amanda. When she did get a look at Amanda, she had a look on her wrinkle-lined, prickly face of both guilt and shame.
“I have informed the police all that I know about Jennifer,” she said.
“Why can’t you tell me what you told them?” Hurts replied.
“Again,” she stated, “my superiors have instructed me not to speak with you.”
“Well, OK, then,” Hurts said, dismissively. He turned to go, but then stopped suddenly. “Answer me this one thing: Do you own a black hat and a long, black coat?”
“Good day, Sir,” she replied, sharply, took two steps back and slammed the door shut.
Hurts laughed out loud. “That was fun,” he chuckled. He leaned to his left, tapped on the glass, and in a Jimmy Stewart voice, he said: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter.” Feeling Amanda hitting him in the butt again with her forehead, Hurts turned around, looked down, and said: “Stop doing that. What’s wrong with you?” He spun her around and said: “March. Let’s go.”
As they walked across the room, Hurts said: “Are you scared of her?”
“No,” Amanda replied.
“Then why were you acting like that?”
“I thought that she might turn me in to Family Services,” Amanda said.
“Oh,” Hurts replied. “Well, you might be right about that one … But you know her, right?”
“Sure,” Amanda said. “I know her from the Christmas parties.”
“How did she treat you?”
“She was always nice to me,” Amanda said. “She always kissed me and hugged me.”
“Strange,” Hurts said, thinking. “This case just gets stranger and stranger … Have they had the Christmas party this year yet?”
“No,” Amanda replied. “It’s tomorrow at one o’clock. Why?”
“Just wondering,” Hurts said.
When they reached the elevator, instead of Hurts pressing the elevator button, Hurts said, “C’mon over here with me.” He walked to the end of the hallway to the tall, narrow window there, and retrieved his cell-phone from his topcoat pocket.
He dialed information. “Give me the number of International Investments — and ring the number for me,” Hurts said into the cell-phone. “Mr. Williams’ office, please … Yes, this is Mr. James Hurts. I was wondering if I could speak with Mr. Williams? … Sorry to bother you, Mr. Williams. I have a quick question for you. I’m going to be in the neighborhood of International Investments today, and I would like to interview a—oh, let me get my notepad here—a Ms. Diana Cogwell. Now, I don’t want to step on any toes here. Do you have a policy that would prohibit any of your employees from speaking with me? … You don’t. I can speak with anyone … Thank you so much, Mr. Williams.”
After returning his cell-phone to his topcoat pocket, Hurts looked down at Amanda. “Bingo,” he said, shooting Amanda with his the index-finger of his right hand and his thumb. “That’s strike one for them.”
“What does that mean, Mr. Hurts?” Amanda asked.
“It means that we just caught that old bat telling a lie,” Hurts said. “Whenever you catch someone telling a lie, it means that they’re hiding something.”
“So you believe me, Mr. Hurts?—that my mom didn’t do it?”
“I’m getting there,” Hurts said.
“Woo-who,” Amanda cheered, raising her hands above her head.
“C’mon, let’s get back to the office,” Hurts said. “I want to get back on the computer and find out all that I can about that Cogwell gal.”