Read Part I
The instructions on Oliver Kurtz’s note underscored his demand for punctuality. I was to arrive at ten a.m. on the dot at his home in the twelve hundred block of east South Street. How could a man who knew every sordid detail of my life not be aware that I’d never bow down to an edict? I arrived promptly at twelve after the hour noting how disgustingly out of place my scratched ten-year-old Chevy looked parked in front of the house at 1215 South.
The marker displayed at the intersection four blocks back indicated I had entered a history neighborhood. Both sides of the road were flanked with large stately homes and well-manicured lawns. I expected to see a lavish home and an expensive car in Kurtz’s driveway to match the others along this street. Instead, his one-story ranch stood out like a brick in field of diamonds.
A second after ringing the bell, a man in his thirties sporting a golden tan and even features answered the door. I envisioned him waiting for me—one hand on the knob, an eye peering through the peephole. The image was as clear as seeing him rummage through my house. With a grunt and wave of the hand he motioned for me to enter. His black polo shirt did little to hide the bulge of muscles on his arms and upper chest, yet the emptiness in his gaze gave me a chill. I’d seen his type before, an animal who’d mindlessly comply with orders.
I followed him down the main hallway and into the den. There he instructed me to take a seat in one of two leather chairs in front of a less than impressive desk. I couldn’t help but notice the display of plaques and certificates adorning the wall to my immediate right. The room was more telling of the man I was about to meet than a twelve-page report. This man was neat and precise. He’d already displayed a keen wit, with knowledge comes power and the place oozed with it. He would expect perfection. I sensed as much. So the burning question on the tip of my tongue was, why me?
There wasn’t time to think of an answer before the tanned guy opened the door again. I assumed the man behind him was Oliver Kurtz. His appearance deceived the image I had conjured up in my mind. No, he wouldn’t have made me glance twice in a crowed room. Yet it was clear he had been there—in those crowded rooms, studying my style, memorizing my schedule, making me wonder now how long he’d been at it.
“Ms. Stone, you’re late,” he said, extending his hand. “Oliver Kurtz.”
“That much I figured.”
“Care for something to drink? Coffee, water?”
“No thanks.” I couldn’t help wonder why the muscleman had taken a seat in the overstuffed chair near the door. Clearly he was more than a pretty-faced butler. That assumption made me curious to know why Kurtz needed protecting. More to the point, from what or who?
Kurtz had thinning dark hair and seemed to be in relatively good shape for a man who looked to be nudging his mid-sixties. He had yet to smile or express any pleasure to meet me, but his eyes drew me in all the same; dark and intense, searching, questioning, yet non-threatening. At least that was my first assessment.
“You’re a former FBI,” I said, nodding at the plaque hanging on the wall behind his desk.
“Does it matter?”
“Not really.” I glanced back at the other man in the room unable to shake the image of him walking through my house. The thought of him slithering his meaty fingers through my panty drawer made me ill. And he had the insolence to place Kurtz’s package on my bed, the creep. I grinned in spite of the anger churning inside me. “The rose was a nice touch.”
The man’s granite-like expression made it clear he was unaffected by the intentional jab so I let it drop.
“I assume you’ve read through the case file?” Kurtz said.
“Yes, but it’s full of holes.”
“What’s your interest in Laura Wells?”
“For her?” I asked.
“Not hardly.” Kurtz lowered and raised his glance. “People have the misconception the FBI never misses their targets. Some cases will never be solved, others we simply couldn’t touch.”
“Various reasons, sometimes politics, at other times ... well, let’s just say that exposing the guilty would cause more damage than the crime itself.”
“Which is it with Wells, politics or damage control?”
“The obstacle keeping us from investigating Laura Wells is no longer an issue.”
“It’s not important.”
“It is if you expect me to take this case. I don’t play games, Mr. Kurtz—not with my work—not with my life. So what exactly do I need to know about her?”
Kurtz leaned back in his chair and drew in a breath. He paused for a moment then said:
“Her uncle, Paul H. Jutte, was a high-power criminal defense attorney in a community just north of Boston from the 1950s through the ’90s. On December 26, 1959, he was a brash 34 year-old full of spit and vinegar when he defended a small time hoodlum by the name of Robert O’Malley who had been charged with robbing $800 from a local bank. O’Malley served five of his ten-year sentence and was granted early parole for good behavior. Six months after his release, an armored car was hijacked. The driver was killed, but not before plugging one of the thieves with bullets from his service revolver.”
“No. Another man, Bill Fife. What’s important is that Fife and O’Malley met in prison, were released around the same time, and ...”
“Let me guess, both were represented by Jutte.”
“Smart girl,” he said. “We knew Fife impersonated a security guard by the phony company ID we found on his body. The driver was legit, but we have no idea if he was in on the heist or not.”
“Except for the fact he killed Fife.”
“Yes, but for all we know, it was a stray bullet. No way to know if he intended to kill Fife or not,” he said. “At any rate, the dispatch logs indicated the truck pulled out of the garage at nine in the morning and arrived at the First National Bank at ten-twenty-three. We have witness statements that confirm Fife and the driver went into the bank vault and removed bags containing $4 million in cash and more than $1 million in checks before leaving. When the truck didn’t return to the garage, the company reported it and the guards missing. The local police found the bodies of the two men and the empty truck on a side road three miles off highway 128.”
“What about the bullet taken from the driver’s body? Did it match Fife’s gun?”
“No,” he said.
“So there was a third person involved in the heist.”
“At least. Unfortunately, ballistics never found a match to the bullet and we never found the gun.”
“Then why finger Jutte and O’Malley?”
“Gut instinct,” he said. “Fife didn’t have the smarts to pull off something that big on his own. He was a loner, no family to speak of and the only two calls he ever made to the outside were to Jutte and O’Malley. Every ounce of evidence against the two was purely circumstantial. We lost the case, of course, but my instincts still tell me those two were neck-high involved in it.”
“And the five million?”
“Never recovered. The case is still on the books, but without witnesses or evidence, the case might as well be closed. No one at the agency has worked it for years.”
“So where’s Jutte now?”
“Dead--two years ago of natural causes.”
“Fascinating.” My thoughts of reward money, a front page spread, and a spot on Oprah were fading fast. “From the picture you placed in the file, Wells can’t be over 30.”
“Thirty-six. What’s your point?” he asked.
“She wasn’t alive when that robbery took place. So she’s related to Jutte, what’s she have to do with any of this?”
“After her uncle’s death, she took over his law firm in Chandler and with it she inherited his clientele.”
“Including Robert O’Malley.”
“Right again, Ms. Stone.”
“And you think she’ll talk? Wells is bound by client/attorney privileges.” I couldn’t believe he needed reminding.
“I doubt Wells is terribly concerned with ethics. She has a somewhat sorted past of her own. My interest at the moment, however, is to find out what she knows about robbery. Even though Jutte defended O’Malley at the trial, Jutte wouldn’t have placed any pertinent information about the robbery in O’Malley’s file. But trust me, his ego wouldn’t have allowed him to not keep some type of memento of his victory.”
Kurtz didn’t respond. Instead, he frisked me with a piercing glance.
“I get it. Get close and see what she knows. Is that it?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “Wouldn’t it be more direct to shake down O’Malley?”
“No. He thinks he’s been out of the spotlight for years. If he knows we’re on to him, we might lose him for good. Besides, he’s old and my sources tell me he’s not in the best of health.” Kurtz reached for a notepad and pen and scribbled on it. “Here’s someone you may want to contact.”
“Sam Harper? Who’s he?”
“I work alone.”
“I know,” he said.
“Then what makes you think I need a cop?”
“Wells is defending one of his arrests right now. I understand there’s no love lost between them. Could work in our favor.”
“Maybe.” Never met a cop who like working with a PI. The feeling was entirely mutual so I couldn’t see getting close to this one. Kurtz had a point though. “Think he knows about Laura Wells’s past?”
“It’s hard to say. Get close enough and he might just confide in you. Surely you can be persuasive without tackling the man to the ground.”
“Go home. Pack a few bags. I expect you in Chandler by the end of the week.”
It was all I could do to keep the smirk off my lips. I opened the door then stopped and glanced over my shoulder. He looked too smug for words and I couldn’t resist getting the final word. “I travel light. Should be there by seven this evening. And just so you know, I don’t need any calls from you or visits from Mr. Goon over there to keep me focused.”
The EndKind of ... look for more of this character and this scene in the next Sam Harper Crime Mystery novel.