Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger, private investigator, awoke to a rainy morning. He got up and washed and dressed. He went into the kitchen, and whisked an omelet, made toast, and a pot of coffee. As he ate, he thought of the unresolved case of Constance Livingston. What would have happened if he’d found her son’s father? Memory of the phone call rose in his mind as he recalled Constance Livingston telling him to end the investigation because there was no longer a reason to find the father. Was there something he missed? Would her son had lived? He got up and washed the dishes. He did not ignore a gut feeling, as was a rule. He went into his office and took out his files. He recalled last July as he read his notes:
Tuesday, July 27
Huntinger had been irritable with the problem that plagued him most days, of presenting Amaltheia with engagement. How could he seriously consider it when his life still posed danger to a wife? It was then that the persistent shrill of the telephone added to his irritability. He grabbed the receiver. “Huntinger,” he snapped.
“Mr. Huntinger, my name is Constance Livingston. I would like to make an appointment to discuss a problem. It’s important that I find the father of my son.”
“Can you meet me at Arby’s at six o’clock tomorrow evening?” Huntinger said as he lowered his tone.
“Yes. How will I know you?”
“I’ll be sitting in the last booth. I’ll have on a light blue shirt with big white flowers, and white slacks.”
“Thank you, Mr. Huntinger. I’ll be dressed in a pink and white summer dress.”
“You’re welcome, Ms. Livingston. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Huntinger hung up. He decided he wouldn’t charge her for the consultation because he didn’t have a case at present, and he could certainly afford it. Besides, missing persons cases always intrigued him because each one had its own flavor. In good spirits, Huntinger went jogging.
Wednesday, July 28
Huntinger saw her immediately. She looked around and seeing him crossed the room. She had thick dark hair pulled into a bun. Age was beginning to show around sad large brown eyes, set in a small brown face. He stood up as she approached. He extended his hand, which she clasped with a strong hand.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Livingston,” he said. They sat down. A server arrived to take their order. “Will you have something to drink, Miss Livingston?”
“I’ll just have water, please.”
“I’ll have iced tea with lemon,’ Huntinger said. The server left.
“Please tell me your problem, Ms. Livingston. And don’t worry, everything that you tell me will be confidential.” He took out a notebook and pen from his briefcase. The server returned with their beverages.
Constance waited until she left. “My son is thirty years old. He’s been in constant trouble since he was twelve. He has a consistent drug problem, and he’s committed crimes because of it as you can imagine. I’m afraid he won’t reform and will die. He’s never known his father. I have thought of searching for him when he was a baby, but I didn’t have too much money. Now I have come into an inheritance. Even though my son is older now, I don’t want to lose hope that he can rehabilitate and change his life for the better. I know it’s a risk, but maybe knowing his father will affect him significantly in a positive way.”
“Tell me about his father.”
“Years ago, I was homeless. A kind man asked the owner of a hotel if he’d hire me for room and board. He agreed, and I made beds each morning.” She paused and creased her brow. “The name was Perishing or Pershing. They provided a room, breakfast, and a small salary. I went to a McDonalds nearby one day, and a man approached me. He was attractive, and I was lonely, so I agreed to see him. He came to the hotel, and I slept with him. My memory of him is vague. I know he was taller than I and he was Caucasian. I remember asking him his name. He said his name was Cormac, I think, but I’m unsure. I slept with him for two nights.
“One day the owner called me and told me to leave. He wouldn’t give an explanation, so I asked for my salary, and I left. I called my mother and asked if I could return home. I gave birth to a beautiful blond boy and loved him instantly.
“Now son may be dying. There’s a bullet lodged in his brain, which the doctors wouldn’t remove to save his life. My hope is to find his father for the powerful effect it would have on him. And maybe his father will help him. Will you please take my case, Mr. Huntinger?”
Huntinger for silent, as he sipped his tea. “I’ll think about it, Ms. Livingston. May I have your address, and your phone number?”
She took out paper and pen from her purse, wrote the information down, and handed it to him.
“Thank you, Ms. Livingston. I’ll be in touch with you.”
She didn’t look at him, but a tear slid down her cheek, which she brushed away. Then, without another word, she got up and left.
Huntinger drove home, thinking of his meeting with Constance Livingston. As he got out of his car, two masked men ran toward him and grabbed him. One held him, as the other rammed his fist into his face and stomach. He kicked the assailant behind him with his right foot, then kicked other man beneath the stomach. They released him and turned and ran. He breathed heavily and held onto the car door. After he recovered from shock, he walked the few feet to his front door, his hand shaking as he opened the door with his key. He locked the door, stumbled to the bathroom, and inspected his bruised face in the mirror. He went back to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and removed ice. He took paper towels, wrapped the ice, and applied to his face. He went into the office. He wondered if that attack had something to do with Constance Livingston. It was too sudden. A gut feeling informed him that he had to do something, and he decided to take the case. He picked up the phone with his other hand.
“Ms. Livingston, I’ve decided to take your case. But I’ll need more details. Tell me the names of the people you remember. Bella? Okay. John? Do you remember the name of the restaurant, where he treated you breakfast? Do you recall any last names? Of course, after all this time, things would seem a blur. No, don’t worry about my retainer just yet. I’ll call you if I need more information. You’re welcome.”
Huntinger went to the bathroom, took a shower, then changed into jeans, and a white cotton shirt. He adjusted his prothesis and donned his sneakers. He took two pain relievers and gulped down a glass of water. He decided to visit Amaltheia. Talking to her always calmed his stress. And she might have an idea that would help him.
“Edgar, you are hurt,” said Amaltheia Amaranthus as he sat down on her white brocade sofa. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Two men assaulted me as I was getting out of the car, just as I’d finished an interview with a client. She asked me to find the father of her thirty- year- old son.”
“Naturally, you want to help her; you’ve always had an uncanny ability to see the truth in your clients,” said Amaltheia, smiling. She got up to go to the kitchen and came back with an ice pack.
“Thank you, Amaltheia.” He pressed it against his bruised face.
“Maybe I can help you,” she said as she sat across from him. “There’s a bar downtown, called Sunny’s. I know the bartender; he was a classmate at college. He’s worked there for years. People have always talked to him after they’ve started drinking. Maybe he can tell you something.”
“Thank you, Amaltheia, that’s a good start.” He got up, handed her the icepack, kissed her on the cheek, and left.
Thursday, July 29
“What can I get you, Sir,” asked the balding, muscular bartender.
“I’ll take a seltzer water, thank you,” Huntinger said.
The bartender filled a glass and placed it in front of him.
“You’ve been bartending here long?”
“I guess some of your customers have patronized your bar for some time.”
The bartender laughed. “Yeah. Take that lady over there at the table by the window for instance. She’s been a customer here for years.”
“Huntinger turned and saw an ancient lady sitting alone at the table. She noticed him looking at her; she got up and approached him.
She looked at him with shrewd blue eyes. Lifelines etched across a round face, framed by wisps of fuzzy gray hair. She wore jeans and a blue crepe short-sleeved shirt. “I’m Bella. You’re treatin’?” she sneered.
“That depends on a little information,” Huntinger said, as he handed her his business card. “Do you know, or have you ever known someone named Constance Livingston?”
“Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger, Private Investigator,” she read. She called over to the bartender, “I’ll have scotch, with lemon.” She sat down.
Bella was silent, as she gazed at the long rows of liquor. The bartender brought her drink; she savored it. “Yes, I remember her. My brother hired her years ago to assist me with making beds each morning. She had been on the street. She barely had enough clothes on her to cover her. My brother and I got her some clothes from a thrift shop.” She sipped her drink. “My brother regretted it, but he put her out when he learned she’d slept with one of the guests.”
“I’m looking for the man who fathered her child. Do you know the name of the guest who slept with her?”
“I don’t know who she slept with. My brother searched for her because he regretted kicking her out. We learned she’d had a child, but my brother said that we shouldn’t approach her. We don’t know who fathered the baby; maybe it’s dangerous, he said. He exaggerated probably, but he’d known unsavory people in his life. And the man who brought her to the hotel had a bad street rep. Listen, I have two brothers. One was the owner of the Pershing Hotel. I can give you the phone number of my younger brother. He bought her every morning in a restaurant near here. Got a pen and paper?”
Huntinger took out his pen and pad. He pushed it over to her. “And add your older brother’s name and number if you could, please.”
Bella scribbled her brothers’ names and phone numbers. “Thanks for the drink, Huntinger. Hope you find the guy. I liked Constance.”
“Thanks, Bella. Bartender, bring me the bill.”
Huntinger paid the bill, and he left.
Thursday, July 30
Huntinger sat at his desk reading his notes concerning the conversation with John, the brother of Bella. He had been stubborn and had given him scant information. He told him that he lost contact with his older brother. However, Huntinger suspected he was lying. He contemplated searching for him through the current owner when the phone rang. He answered. “Huntinger.” Constance Livingston choked, “Mr. Huntinger. Please stop the investigation. My son has died a violent death involving drugs.”
She hung up.
Huntinger finished reading the last page of his notes. He knew that sometimes death occurred in a life of drugs and crime; however, it shouldn’t have happened to this poor woman. Huntinger’s heart filled with compassion. He decided that he would discreetly continue the investigation cautiously. Constance Livingston should have justice and peace, and maybe it’s within his power to give it to her. He decided to type her a letter, confirming the end of the investigation. But he will find the truth; and until he does, he will not approach her.