She was blond…naturally.
She strode into my office, enthroned herself in the chair opposite my desk and said without a trace of sincerity, “Sorry to interrupt your… lunch.”
I looked down at the remains of Tuesday night’s moo goo gai pan. She was right, it wasn’t much of a lunch. It hadn’t made for much of a breakfast either. I dropped the plastic fork in the paper container, folded the top closed and dabbed at my chin with a paper napkin while asking, “And what can I do for you, Miss —…”
“You can die, Mr. Putnam.”
I looked up and into the barrel of the .38 she held, pointed laser straight at my chest. I glanced at Gladys, hanging in her holster on the coat rack in the far corner of my office. No chance there. I looked back at her and she was smiling. “Go ahead, make a try for it.”
“I’m not a fool, Miss–.”
She arched an eyebrow. “I disagree, Mr. Putnam. And the name’s Baxter, Millicent Baxter.”
Baxter? The name rang a distant bell, but nothing about her did. And I would not have forgotten the likes of her, sitting perfect posture straight, dressed in a tailored suit, flawless coiffure and expensive looking shoes at the end of long, very shapely legs. Baxter?
She was sitting there, waiting. Her ice blue eyes slid over my desk and somehow her look made me aware of the piles of stuff on my desk. Old magazines, notebooks, a litter of old pens, some of which might actually still work, a candy wrapper or two. Or three. I was suddenly aware that they all seemed to be a little dusty. Have to tidy up, I told myself, if I’m still around to do it.
“What’s that? A trophy?”
She was looking at a newspaper article, framed and hanging on the wall, among a couple of other clippings. One of my first cases after I had left the force and gone private. “Yeah, a phony kidnapping I help solve. Maybe you heard of it. A banker named Anthem was supposedly kidnapped —.”
“Before my time,” she said. I looked at her again and the gun. Baxter? Wait a minute, those blue eyes…
“You related to Calvin Baxter?”
She smirked. “Bravo, Mr. Detective. My father.”
Calvin Baxter, the mini-Bernie Madoff wannabe. He was one of several partners in an private equity investment firm, Capitalist Investments, that turned out to be nothing but a ponzie scheme, where new investors’ money was used to pay older investors fabulous ‘returns’ on their investments, where, in truth, precious little had been invested anywhere, mostly it was just money flowing round and round and where she stopped had been with Baxter being found out. One of the other partners in the firm had contacted me, quietly voicing suspicions and asking me to discreetly trace down the alleged companies in which the firm had invested. Some didn’t exist, some did but had never heard of Capitalist, some had seen some money from Capitalist but had nothing like the returns that Capitalist was reporting to its investors. I had reported to my client, the D.A. had been called and the whole scheme had come crashing down with several hundreds of millions unaccounted for, and the dashing Mr. Baxter, with his piercing blue eyes, standing trial, fingers being pointed at him as the architect of it all. He denied it passionately but was convicted and sentenced to prison for a century or so. That had been, what, three or four years ago? And now his daughter with the same piercing blue eyes sat opposite me with a gun that hadn’t wavered a fraction.
“I can understand your feelings, Miss Baxter. But, I’m sorry to say, you’re father has hurt a lot of people. Killing me isn‘t going to get him out of prison.”
“Stroke. In prison. Dead.”
I recited the banal, “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Baxter, “ and started to sweat a little bit more. “But the evidence against your dad…”
She shook her head. “He was framed.”
I sighed. “There was a lot of testimony regarding the losses…”
“Oh, Mr. Putnam, you really are the fool. Testimony from founding partners, all who had traded deals for testimony. And over the last seven years they’ve all done their light sentences and where are they now? Where are they now, Mr. Putnam? And all of that money that has never been accounted for?”
I sympathized with her hurt, but … wait, seven years. Had it been that long?
“The scheme was beginning to crumble,” continued Baxter. “I’m told the economy had slowed a bit, so that not enough new money was coming in to keep up with the high returns that the clients were demanding. The whole scheme was going to come tumbling down like a house of cards caught in a breeze. A scapegoat had to be found and…” and she left the thought there with a shrug of a shoulder and an angry look.
“Miss Baxter, your suggesting that the other principals in the firm conspired against your dad. But that guy that had come to me….ah, Garfield, he was really shocked and appalled when I reported to him.”
“That would be Jeremy Garfield, one of the founding partners. Testified, short sentence in prison, gone now, living quite well in Costa Rica. Wonder how he managed that? And did he ever say how he happened to pick you for this investigation? You, looking into some fairly sophisticated financial dealings? Something about your divorce cases, nickel and dime employee theft cases qualify you for that kind of work? You were played, Putnam,” she said with a laugh.. “They waved a big fee in front of your muzzle and you were like a dog sniffing after a Milkbone. You followed wherever they led you.”
I should have been angry, but something about her certainty gave me pause. Had I gotten it wrong? No, the evidence was there. But…it had not been that difficult to find. Lots of legwork, yes, but not difficult to find. All the pieces had appeared and fit in fairly easily. Maybe I had been thinking more of the generous fee. The trail of the evidence….had I gotten it wrong? Had I been set up, a patsy like Baxter was saying her father had been? No, I couldn’t have been fooled. I’m an experienced investigator. I looked at the newspaper clippings on the wall, the cases that I had solved and somehow at that moment I noticed for the first time that the clipping were yellowed with age. When had that happened? Had I gotten it wrong?
She was staring at me, saying nothing while thoughts roared through my head. She was picture perfect, she made my cramped office look shabby. No, no…it wasn’t she who had made my office look shabby, it was all the years that had gone by, unnoticed. How had that happened? I could remember starting out with such high and confident hopes after retiring with twenty years as a cop, opening my office some—and I suddenly had trouble remembering how many years had it been. But I had done some big cases, glancing again at the newspaper clippings and quickly looking away from their sallowness. I looked at the open files on my desk…some teenaged employee suspected of stealing stuff from a Radio Hut store, an unfaithful wife —petty ass cases. I tried thinking back over the last few years, trying to remember one case that was significant but saw only a long line of cheating spouses and pimple-faced kids.
I turned my head and stared out the window at the high-rise office tower across the street. I remembered how I had looked at that new building being built and thinking how while I was just starting here in this old building, with small, cramped offices, that eventually I would move across to that shiny new tower, with a staff and fine furnishings, with a business built on first class investigators and investigations. But here I was, not across the street, still just looking across the street.
I realized with a start that I had forgotten about Baxter, didn’t know how long I had been staring out the window. I looked back at her again, and saw that she was looking at me with a strange expression. And that she no longer had her gun in her hand. She stood.
“I came here to kill you, Mr. Putnam,” she said, looking around at my office and then down at me again, “but now . . . I can see you’re already dead.” She turned and strode out through the door, leaving me with only the scent of her perfume and a stale smell that could have been from the soy sauce.