“He says it’s a matter of life and death,” Sarah whispered urgently over the intercom.
Before Lowell could answer, a tall, well-dressed man carrying a brown, leather briefcase pushed open the office door and strode to the desk. He carried himself with an air of self-importance as he dropped the briefcase on the floor and placed a card in front of the detective.
“Mr. Williamson,” Sarah introduced from behind, raising her eyebrows as she closed the door.
David Lowell, being a creature of habit, preferred to conduct his morning in a particular order and did not like his routine upset.
“I’m extremely busy and can’t accept another client.” “Perhaps once you’ve heard my story.”
Lowell looked down at the business card in front of him. “Mr. Williamson, I can spare you exactly five minutes.” The notoriety of the recent rock ’n’ roll murder case had increased demands and stretched Lowell’s limits of both time and patience.
“Thank you sir, I appreciate it. Actually, it’s Doctor Ethan Williamson. I don’t put it on the card, as I’m primarily in research these days, not a practicing physician.” He sat in one of the two leather client’s chairs. “Let me be clear. I appreciate your time and your talents, and I have a vital need for both. I understand you’re rich. Please forgive my bluntness, but as time is at a premium I have no choice.”
Impatient but intrigued, Lowell tugged at his salt and pepper ponytail.
“So I’m sure money won’t be sufficient motivation. Still…” Williamson reached down and picked up the briefcase, placed it on the desk facing Lowell, and opened it. The case was filled with crisp, neatly bound, one hundred-dollar bills. “That’s a million dollars. And it’s yours up front if you will take my case, whether you are successful or not.”
Lowell took a fleeting look at the cash. “Now what could be important enough to risk that kind of money?’
“The only thing in the world that matters to me. My son Edward. Money is the least of my worries.”
“I’ll listen to your story. But if you’ll just wait a moment, I’d like my associate, Mort, to come in.”
He pushed a button on the intercom and several moments later the door opened and a man with limbs too long for his body entered the room. He walked with a quirky, erratic gait.
“Mort, this is Dr. Williamson. He’s interested in hiring us and was just about to tell me his story. I’d like you to hear it as well.” “How do you do?” Mort nodded as he sat in the second client’s chair. When he saw the cash-filled briefcase he and Lowell exchanged a momentary look. Mort could see Lowell was hooked. Williamson sat forward. “My son, Edward, is fifteen years old and the most important thing in my life. His mother and I had a contentious separation soon after he was born and she left, taking Edward’s twin brother, Kevin. I’ve devoted much of my life to raising my boy. I’ve been very fortunate financially and want for nothing material. But Edward has advanced kidney disease, and without a transplant I don’t believe he will last much longer. I would give every penny I have to keep him alive.” “And how can we be of help?” asked Lowell.
“His blood type is quite rare, something he inherits from my side of the family, and we haven’t been able to find a donor match. The most difficult part of a transplant is the body’s tendency to reject the new organ and the antigens that form the human leukocyte antigen, or HLA system. But because
Edward is an identical twin his DNA is indistinguishable from his brother’s. His body would not reject the kidney. It would recognize the new organ as if it were his own.”
“You have our full attention. Please.” Lowell waved his arm. “I’m a surgeon by trade, and have performed countless trans- plant operations in my career. I’m a firm believer in the donor program. Without organ donors many people would be denied the opportunity to continue a fruitful life. I’ve signed on as a potential donor myself. One of my kidneys was damaged in an accident years ago or I’d give Edward one of mine.”
He crossed his legs, straightening the crease in his pants. “My son has little time. I’ve been unable to find Kevin. I’ve hired the most expensive detective agencies in the world, and they haven’t come up with anything. Until now. A detective in California, where I thought they were living, got a lead that suggested Kevin and his mother may be somewhere in the northeast. I need someone who knows the turf.”
“And you would like us to find your son’s twin?” “It’s the only way to save his life. And time is short.” “Have you contacted the police?”
“No.” His tone was adamant. “No police. This is a private matter. If my story were to become public knowledge I would be at the mercy of every con artist on the planet. I’m relying on your discretion in this matter.”
“You’re familiar with my methods?”
“Yes. I understand that you use astrology in your work.” “Much more than that. Astrology is the very foundation of my practice.”
“I have little knowledge of it one way or the other, but I pride myself on being open-minded. Your reputation precedes you and frankly, I’m in no position to question your methods. Time is not on my side here.”
Lowell turned to his computer. “May I have your sons’ birth information?”
“They were born in Princeton, New Jersey, on June 10th, 1999.
Kevin was born at 3:30 a.m. Edward followed at 3:44 a.m.”
“Appropriate to arrive in Gemini, the sign of the twins,” said Lowell. “Are you certain about the birth times?”
“I delivered them myself, so yes I’m quite positive.”
“Dr. Williamson, your case is intriguing, and I’ll look into it. But I will not take one million dollars if I fail to find your son.” “Then I insist that you hold it as collateral. You may return some amount if our relationship concludes unsatisfactorily.”
Lowell smiled slightly. “I’ll have Sarah write you a receipt for the money.”
“That won’t be necessary. I trust my judgment in people. Besides, what good would it do to chase you for the money, with or without a receipt?”
“Fine. May I ask how you accrued your wealth?” “I hold several extremely valuable patents.”
“Are you an inventor?”
“No, these are genetic patents.”
“I see.” Lowell nodded. “I’ll need your wife’s birth information: date, place, and time.”
“I understand. I believe I have a copy of her birth certificate at home somewhere. I’ll email it to you. I don’t know if the time of birth is included. Is that important?”
“Yes. It may make the difference between being able to find them or not.”
“I also will need your birth information.” “Mine? What has that got to do with anything?”
“It may prove useful in finding your son. There’s something called reflective astrology where we see others within someone’s chart. I can look for your children and your marriage partner in your chart. Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes not.”
“Well, of course I know my birthday, but not the time. I’ll check. I’m sure I have my birth certificate somewhere. I’ll try to find it for you, though I don’t know if the birth time is on it either.”
“Just get me whatever you can.”
The big man stood, throwing his shoulders back, intimidating in both size and manner. “I’ll call you later with that information.”
# # #
Mort gazed out the window after Williamson left, allowing David time.
Lowell was silent for a few moments. Then he turned. “What did you think?”
Mort shifted in his chair. “I think it’s a pretty weird story.” “So do I.”
“But you might take the case?” “Yes.”
“Because it’s weird enough?” Lowell laughed. “Maybe.”
Mort nodded thoughtfully. “I think there’s a lot more to it than he’s telling.”
“What did you get from him?”
Mort was a master hacker who had been asked to leave MIT after using its computers to get into secret U.S. government sites. Rather than face the embarrassment of prosecuting him, the government, recognizing his unique ability to circumvent normal boundaries on the Internet, offered him a job hacking for them, which he turned down. He was also a psychic who could read the emotions and thoughts of those around him. Most of the time. Once Lowell realized that Mort could not read his, he hired him for his computer skills and his other abilities. Lowell paid attention to what Mort felt and had found his instincts right on the money most of the time.
“His anxiety was quite strong.”
Lowell unknotted his ponytail and retied it. “Could you tell what scared him?”
“No. Only that the fear was strong and very real. And it felt very personal, as one would expect at the fear of losing a child.” “Okay, after I get his birth information and his wife’s, I can understand it better. In the meantime find out what you can about Dr. Williamson and his estranged family. I need as much information as I can get if I’m going to find the boy in time.”
Lowell hit the intercom. “Sarah, come in here, please.”
The door opened. “What’s up boss?” Sarah unconsciously pushed her bright red hair back behind her ears. She wore a dark blue collared sleeveless blouse, designer faded blue-jeans, pre-torn in spots to reveal just a bit of skin, with silver buttons running down the sides, and aqua shoes. Monochromatic shading from head to toe.
When she saw the cash-filled briefcase her eyes bulged. “What’s that?”
“A million dollars in cash.” “Don’t see that everyday.”
Lowell took the briefcase and walked over to the wall opposite his desk and pushed a hidden button underneath a Modigliani print. A spring released, and the print slid sideways revealing a wall safe. He swiftly spun the dial and the safe opened, then he pushed a few folders aside to make room for the briefcase. Lowell rarely kept anything of monetary value in the safe, mostly paperwork. It was state of the art, and he relied on the safe to protect his most valuable possessions: notes from his cases, astrological charts of some very prominent people who might not be happy if their information became common knowledge, and a diary he had kept since his days trading on Wall Street.
“I just wanted you to be aware that the money’s here in the safe. I’ve taken Dr. Williamson’s case. It involves his missing son.” Lowell looked at his two colleagues. “Now that we’re getting busier, I’m going to need you both to be on top of things.”
He handed out assignments and sent Mort and Sarah to their tasks.
Lowell closed the safe and walked to the window. The unobstructed view of the Empire State Building from his window was a source of great joy, and he never tired of seeing its majestic stance. He took a container of turtle food and sprinkled a bit near his two red-eared slider turtles.
“Hello, Buster,” he said to the first, as she waddled over to the food. “Hello, Keaton,” he greeted the other, as he too lumbered toward the goodies.
When he’d opened the Starlight Detective Agency eight years before, they were the size of his thumb. Now they were each a foot long and growing. He watched them eat for a few moments, enjoying the morning ritual.