Freemont Tate lived in an exceptionally grand co-op on Lake Shore Drive a few blocks north of my apartment. While I lived in one of the cheapest apartments on the Drive, Tate lived in one of the most expensive. So expensive it had its own private elevator.
After calling up to announce me, the doorman got out a special key and then walked me over to the elevator. Next to the metal doors was a lock into which he put the key. A moment later the doors opened and he nodded his head toward them. I stepped in. There was an up button and a down button but nothing more. I pressed up.
At the top floor, sixteen floors later and the only possible stop, I stepped out into a foyer with a white marble floor, ghastly wallpaper and a real live butler. The butler was a dapper, middle-aged man dressed in a tuxedo—a bit much for mid-morning, I thought.
He told me, “You’re Mr. Nowak.”
“Mr. Tate recognized your name and asks that you join him in the downstairs library.”
Downstairs library? Did that mean there was an upstairs library? Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed when I followed the butler out of the foyer into a long hallway was a flight of stairs leading upstairs. It was the kind of hallway filled with comfortable chairs and small tables, as though the apartment was so large a guest might need to suddenly sit down and rest.
We passed several open rooms, all to my right: a dining room set for ten, a sitting room, a living room three times as big as my entire apartment. Each room was finished with neatly painted floor boards, molding and cornices. The paintings on the walls looked collectible. There was a Michael France in the sitting room taking up most of a wall. Lilies, I think.
I felt grossly out of place in my faded jeans, Reeboks and dark blue alligator shirt—though, at least that had a collar.
The downstairs library—which was directly across from the living room—was a deep forest green, including all the molding. The green was carefully chosen to set off an enormous gold-framed mirror that reflected the stunning view of the lake. There was a large mahogany desk and two comfy looking, leather chairs. Presumably Tate only did business here with people he liked. A lot.
A man in his early seventies sat behind the desk. He had a full head of white hair and skin the color of a brick. I suspected a vacation home in Arizona or somewhere else equally scorching. As it happened, I’d never seen him before in my life, which made it unlikely I’d be collecting the money I was owed.
Standing up to shake my hand, he said, “Mr. Nowak, I presume?”
“Mr. Tate.” I was tempted to ask if his friends called him Free, but then I’d thought the same thing when I met the phony Mr. Tate.
“So, we agree that we’ve never met?” His voice was loud.
“Yes. We do.”
“I said, ‘Yes, we do.’” I raised my voice a bit. The old man didn’t seem to hear very well.
“Wonderful. So, who wrote the check that you attempted to cash?”
“A man came to my office. He introduced himself as Freemont Tate. He was around sixty, salt-and-pepper hair, thick in the middle, pasty complexion, shorter than you are.”
“What kind of work do you do at your office?”
“I’m a private detective.”
“What did you say?”
“A private detective.”
“Oh, I see,” he said, a doubtful tone in his voice. “And what did your Mr. Tate ask you to do?”
“I’m afraid that’s confidential.” It wasn’t exactly. Not after the check bounced—nonpayment tends to void most legal agreements.
He—phony Mr. Tate—hired me to follow his much younger wife and discover whether she was having an affair. She was. The story he fed me was that they had a legal agreement guaranteeing her money if they divorced, but that agreement was void if she cheated. She had and so it was. In retrospect, it was possible none of that was true.
Since I’d sat outside that very building waiting for the young woman—I assumed I’d followed the right woman. Glancing around, I found a photo of her on the bookshelf, so yeah, I’d followed the right woman. The question now was did Mr. Tate want to know about his wife’s dalliance. If he didn’t want to know, I certainly didn’t want to tell him.
“Do you have a brother or cousin around your age?” I asked.
“Why would you want to know that?”
“The man I met was near your age. Roughly.” Though he had no issues with his hearing.
“How do you know my age? Why do people always think they know—”
I ignored him and asked again, “Relatives?”
“Other than my children I have very few relatives. A maiden aunt in her nineties. A few second and third cousins out West.”
“How would someone have gotten ahold of one of your checks?”
“Checks? I keep my personal check register here on the desk most of the time and the extra checks in that cabinet right there.” He pointed at the cabinet that was the base of a built-in bookcase. “The check was taken from the cabinet. It was out of sequence.”
“So you wouldn’t notice right away it was missing. And they only took one check?”
I stopped for a moment. That meant the entire point of stealing a check was to pay me. This wasn’t part of some bigger theft.
“Who has access to this room?”
“The staff. Teddy, whom you’ve met. Our cook, Midge. Three maids. They come and go so often I don’t learn their names.”
“You and your wife live here alone?”
“No. There are six bedrooms. My wife and I have adjoining rooms; each of my children has a bedroom. The last is a guest room. We often have guests.”
“How old are your children?”
“Forty, thirty-eight and sixteen—if I’m remembering correctly.”
That told me that Mrs. Tate was a second or third wife. She was a woman in her thirties. Two of the children were older than she was. The sixteen-year-old might be hers. Hard to say.
It also told me his two older children weren’t particularly ambitious. They were far too old to be living at home.
“So, the list of who had access to your checks includes any of your five servants, possibly more since you say there’s a lot of turnover among the maids, any of your three children, and any of the guests you had in say March, April or early May.”
“Also delivery men. We receive a lot of packages. The plumber, I think, has been here recently. Teddy would know for sure. I believe we had the filters on the air conditioners cleaned, which required letting someone in.”
“This is getting to be quite a list,” I pointed out. Going through it wasn’t going to be the best way to approach this. Of course, I shouldn’t bother. Even if I found the first Mr. Tate, it was unlikely he was going to pay me.
“And you, of course,” he said.
“Me? I’ve never been here before.”
“That is what you’d say, isn’t it, if you were involved.” He stared at me for a moment. “Though I must say, if you are involved it’s brazen of you to show up here asking to be paid. That is what you’re doing, isn’t it? Asking to be paid?”
“You don’t have to pay me. I didn’t work for you.”
“I assume if I pay your bill you’ll tell me why you were hired?”
“That’s not a good idea. This is a con job, don’t you think? The whole point of it is to get you the information I discovered. Someone wants you to know what I’ve learned. And I don’t think they’re doing you any favors.”
The logic in what I’d just said was probably leaping all over the place. But with or without leaps, I couldn’t think of any other reason for a fake Mr. Tate to hire me to uncover Mrs. Tate’s affair other than that he, or whoever hired him, wanted the real Mr. Tate to find out about it.
“Someone’s gone to a lot of effort to put me in this room with you,” I continued. “The best way to thwart them would be for me to remain silent.”
“Yes, but then I think knowing is better than not knowing. The things we don’t know end up hurting us much more than the things we do.” He took his check register out of the top drawer of his desk and began to write me a check. “I’m adding an extra five hundred. For the inconvenience.”
He held out the check and I had to decide whether to take it or not. He seemed like a pretty smart guy. Eventually, he’d realize I’d left his wife off the list of people who might have stolen the check used to pay me. That would tell him she was the subject of my investigation. Once he knew that, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of it to fall into place. I took the check.
“Your wife is much younger than you are.”
“What was that?”
I raised my voice and repeated, “Your wife is much younger than you are.”
“That’s nothing I didn’t already know.”
“She seems to be having an affair with someone name Edward Hurley.”
Tate’s face got tight. “Edward Hurley is my attorney. I think you’ve misunderstood.”
“Yes, that’s entirely possible.” I didn’t think it was.
He waited a moment. “What makes you think they might be having an affair?”
“I followed your wife to the Starlight Motel. She entered a room that had been registered to an Edward Smith. Mrs. Tate was there a little bit more than half an hour. She left the room with a man I later identified as Edward Hurley.”
The Starlight Motel was a seedy place way up on Lincoln Avenue along a stretch where there were a number of other seedy motels. At first, it seemed odd that Mrs. Tate and Hurley would go to such a place when the Drake was available. However, I suspect the Drake doesn’t allow fake names or rent by the hour.
After a moment, Tate cleared his throat and asked, “Did you take photos?”
“I’m surprised they haven’t been sent to me,” Tate said.
“I think they were for my benefit.”
“Your benefit? How so?”
“The, um, imposter told me you have some kind of agreement with your wife. If you divorce her because of infidelity she gets nothing. But he didn’t ask for pictures. I had to suggest them.”
“My wife and I don’t have any such agreement.”
I wondered if he was suddenly wishing they did.
He cleared his throat. “As you’ve pointed out, my wife is much younger than I am. In a marriage like ours certain accommodations need to be made. And that’s all I want to say about it.”
“You’re saying your wife did nothing wrong.”
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. I’d appreciate a little discretion.”
“So whoever wanted you to know—”
“Is a fool.
In the latest installment of the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries, it’s summer 1985.
As Nick’s personal life begins to unravel, Nick throws himself headlong into investigating the murder of a woman married to a much older, wealthy man. It appears that only her husband could have killed her, but Nick is sure that’s not what happened. Meanwhile, Rita Lundquist makes her presence known, posing a continuing threat to Nick and those around him.
More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:
Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery twice, once for each series. His romantic comedy, Femme was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Masc, the sequel to Femme. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.
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