All the ‘important’ people had been invited and most of them accepted. Present and former governors, senators, congressmen and even a few ‘small people’, who might carry some weight in their respective communities, had received gold engraved invitations to Sinclair McCabe’s ‘official’ retirement party. This was ‘official’, because in reality Sinclair had been distancing himself from the firm for the past few years. He no longer handled regular business, and only had a handful of high-profile clients on his ‘active’ list.
Sinclair had transitioned the day-to-day business control to senior partner, Turner Clark. Turner joined the firm soon after its founding and had proven to be a very capable businessman, as well as an outstanding attorney. In the beginning, Sinclair and Turner made a beautiful team. After all, they were both Yale graduates and brought the same high standards to their work. However, other than the Yale graduate ‘logo’, they had little else in common. Sinclair was a ‘people person’, relying on his personality and friendships to move the business forward and make it successful. Turner Clark certainly had people skills, but he relied on cunning and manipulation as the keys to success.
Turner Clark ruled with an iron hand, which was much different than the way Sinclair managed the business. Turner and Sinclair argued often about his demanding manner and his aggressiveness regarding growing the business. Sinclair believed the business would come if they served their clients well; Turner believed it was necessary to address, and if necessary, combat competition. Turner had a good point; the number of attorneys in the area had almost doubled in the past 10 years, while the local client base had continued to shrink. For this reason, and some others, Turner felt it was absolutely necessary to expand their business to the larger metro areas of Memphis and Nashville. These plans had been formulated and approved by the partners and the controlling board of directors. Reluctantly, Sinclair had agreed to the changes, but everyone realized his heart wasn’t in it, and rumors of his retirement floated about the office on a regular basis.
Obviously, Sinclair was aware of the rumors and finally made the decision to step down and ‘officially’ retire. The date was set to be the end of the calendar year 1962 and this party was the culmination of that decision; however, there was another lingering problem.
Sinclair and Gloria McCabe’s only son, Gordon had joined the firm last year, following his graduation from the University of Tennessee and the Memphis School of Law. Years earlier, Sinclair had added the second ‘McCabe’ to the name "McCabe, Clark and Lewis’, believing that it added prestige to firm and also in hopes that his son would someday become the ‘other McCabe’ on the ‘M,M,C & L’ letterhead. When that finally happened, Sinclair was as proud as any father could ever be. Unfortunately, he was in a minority.
Gordon came into the firm with high promise and praise, and it was Sinclair’s wish for Gordon to take the reins of ‘M,M,C & L’ , so he was immediately named a junior partner – that turned out to be a serious mistake. Not only was Gordon disregarded by the other attorneys, he was simply not respected – and he managed to live up to all these expectations! He drank too much; he partied too much and lost almost every case he handled. Sinclair failed to see, or refused to acknowledge, the shortcomings and misdeeds by Gordon. He continued to support him and offered praise at every opportunity. Sinclair’s planned announcement of Gordon as a senior partner at ‘M,M,C & L’ was just another step in the wrong direction.
Gordon had barely made it through college, finished last in his graduation class and (rumored) only passed his bar exam by one point. But, Gordon’s life had always been an easy one. When your father is Sinclair McCabe, you didn’t need to work hard – things just naturally came your way!
The clash between Turner and Gordon started on the first day and had only gotten worse with time. Everyone in the firm wondered how Sinclair’s retirement would affect this relationship and Gordon’s future with ‘M,M,C, & L’.
The guest list was huge, but the Sinclair home was able to accommodate. A small band in the foyer played a mixture of slow waltzes and Christmas music, while the guests snacked, drank and told stories of bad judges, bad clients and good money! Everyone had assembled to wish Sinclair good wishes with his retirement, and to wish his wife, Gloria, good luck dealing with a ‘hard nosed’ lawyer who, seemingly had nothing left to do.
Gloria was busy mingling with the many guests, but continued to glance at her wristwatch and look around the room. Her son, Gordon, had not yet arrived and it was important that he be here. Very important - and he knew it!
Sinclair was holding audience in the den and entertaining former Governor’s Frank Clement and Gordon Browning with some humorous stories of past clients and difficult cases. Sinclair was really a people person, and a large group of younger lawyers from ‘M,M,C & L’ had also gathered to enjoy the performance and rub shoulders with these former political giants.
If Sinclair was aware of his son’s absence, it didn’t show. Perhaps he wasn’t concerned, or perhaps he knew why he was delayed, or perhaps he still couldn’t recognize the failures of his only son.
Carrie Mae Johnson is the head housekeeper, and frankly, the success of this gathering was because of her tireless work. She ran a tight ship and knew exactly how Mrs. Gloria Sinclair wanted things, and made them happen that way.
Somehow, amidst the mingling crowd, Gloria managed to get Carrie Mae’s attention when she was replenishing one of the appetizer trays. She motioned toward the kitchen door, letting Carrie Mae know to meet her there promptly.
Gloria quickly walked into the kitchen and nervously sat down in one of the plastic cushioned aluminum kitchen chairs. She was shaking.
‘What’s wrong, Miss Gloria?" Carrie Mae quickly asked as she entered the enormous kitchen moments later.
"Gordon isn’t here," she said almost out of breath. "He knows how important this party is and he’s not here! Where is he? Has he called?"
"No ma’am, Miss Gloria, I haven’t heard from him. But you know the weather is bad, maybe Master Gordon is just having trouble with the icy roads," Carrie Mae offered trying to comfort.
"That’s not it," Gloria snorted. "He’s off drunk somewhere and probably with that whore, Shelly Norwood. I know he is, and I know he’s doing it to spite his father and me! Oh, Carrie Mae, what am I going to do?" She started crying.
Carrie Mae put her arms around Gloria and let her cry on her shoulder as she had done many times in the past. In a moment it was over and Gloria raised her head up, walked over to the sink for some tissue to wipe her tears and began to put herself back together.
"Everything will be okay, Miss Gloria, I promise it will. Master Gordon knows his daddy is going to announce him as senior partner this evening, and he don’t want to miss that," Carrie Mae said smiling. "Just look at that weather outside, it’s snowing harder now. He’ll be home soon; stop worrying and go take care of all them fancy guests. I’ll let you know if he calls or anything."
Gloria walked over to the large kitchen window that looked out on to the driveway and massive estate. Yes, she told herself, it was just the weather and he would be here soon.
The ‘high point’ of the evening was going to be Sinclair’s announcement of his son’s, Gordon, appointment as a senior partner for ‘M,M,C& L’. Everyone knew this, and the internal gossip had not been good. Gordon was not a favorite of very many in the firm, and they believed he didn’t deserve this honor.
Turner Clark was the one most affected by the coming announcement, and he spent most of the evening drinking with a couple of Senators in the den. They didn’t discuss the situation, but everyone was very aware that Gordon and Turner did not get along, and this appointment was not going to be accepted very well by anyone at ‘M,M,C & L’.
At ten o’clock, Sinclair gathered his guests in the den around the large Christmas tree. He made a short speech about his retirement and how he planned on learning how to fly fish again. No mention was made about Gordon and his appointment as a senior partner. He thanked everyone for attending and mentioned the worsening road conditions, in case anyone might need to go ahead and leave early.
Gordon still had not arrived at the party.
The snow continued to fall and the party faded. By midnight, the majority of guests had left and the few stragglers had gathered in the den for a final nightcap and one last story.
It’s amazing how the white snow can enhance lights and colors. When the red lights of the Gibson County Sheriff’s cruisers pulled into the long sweeping snow covered driveway, it seemed to light up the entire Sinclair home - everyone ran to the large frosted windows to see what was happening. Carrie Mae and the rest of the help were busy cleaning the service areas and stopped briefly to watch Gloria quickly run to the front of the hall when she saw the lights - Sinclair was right behind her. Sheriff Epsee’s cruiser had just pulled up and stopped when she opened the massive front door.
"Oh no, no, no, no," Gloria screamed. "Something has happened to Gordon! I knew it, I knew it. Is he hurt? Is he dead?" Gloria was standing in her doorway crying and yelling to no one.
Sheriff Epsee and Deputy Nancy Oakland stepped out of the cruiser and into the snow that had piled up below the porch and front steps. Sinclair pulled Gloria back into the foyer and motioned for Carrie Mae to come and get her. Then he stepped onto the large covered porch and closed the door behind him.
"Sheriff…" he started to speak.
"Sinclair," Leroy interrupted, "I know you are having a party, and I would not be here if it were not important. Please understand that."
"Sheriff, I understand," he said nervously. "Please tell me, what has happened to Gordon?"
"Sinclair, I don’t know that anything has happened to him," Leroy said while knocking the sticking snow from his boots. "I drove out here to talk to him, is he here?"
"Huh?" Sinclair looked confused.
"I need to see Gordon, your son. Is he here?" Leroy asked again.
"Why…why no, he isn’t, but he’s supposed to be," he stuttered. "That’s why we thought you were here; to tell us something had happened to him. Gordon was supposed to be at the party to announce his appointment as a senior partner at our firm, but he hasn’t come home. What’s this about, Sheriff?" Sinclair frowned.
"Do you know where we can find Gordon?" Deputy Nancy Oakland asked.
"Why…no, I guess not. Did you check his girlfriend’s apartment? Shelly Norwood is her name, she lives in Humboldt."
Deputy Oakland and Sheriff Epsee looked at each other then back at Sinclair McCabe.
"Sinclair, you want to come over to my office? I know it’s late, but we can discuss it there," Leroy offered.
"Can’t we talk here? I mean…can’t we talk here?" he repeated.
"Sinclair, you have guests and that would not be a good idea. If you tell me Gordon isn’t here, then I’ll accept that. If you want to drive over to my office, Deputy Oakland and I will be there for the next couple of hours and we can discuss his whereabouts," Leroy said frankly.
Sinclair had a crazy blank look on his face and just stared without speaking for a few moments.
"Okay, but I need to tell my wife something. Has something happened to Gordon? What can I tell her?" he finally said.
"Mr. McCabe," Deputy Oakland answered. "We are looking for Gordon and have no knowledge of his wellbeing. We need to find him first, sorry."
"Okay…I think. Let me close this up with my remaining guests and I’ll be over to your office as soon as I can," Sinclair said as he turned, shook his head and walked back inside. Turner Clark had walked onto the porch during the conversation; he followed Sinclair inside and closed the door behind them.
Sheriff Epsee and Deputy Oakland got back in the cruiser and drove the icy roads back to the Gibson County Sheriff’s office. This had been a long trip in the snow for nothing.
It was after midnight and Deputy Oakland was working the third shift. As Leroy made fresh coffee and waited for Sinclair McCabe, he was trying to figure out what shift he was working! Leroy guessed it must be all of them – after all, he was the sheriff!
At 12:45 AM Sinclair’s Lincoln pulled up and parked in front of the sheriff’s office. Through the frost covered windows that lined the front of the sheriff’s office, Nancy and Leroy could see that the engine remained running when he got out - so they assumed someone else was driving and had remained in the car. Sinclair walked straight through the office door and directly into Leroy’s office – he was wearing his lawyer face and it showed.
"Coffee?" Leroy offered.
"No…no thank you," Sinclair said, removing his overcoat, scarf, gloves and hat before taking a seat in one of Leroy’s comfortable office chairs. "Please get to the point, Sheriff, it’s late and I need to know what this is all about."
Leroy took his time, stirred his coffee and settled into his overstuffed desk chair. He waited before speaking and made certain that Sinclair was looking at him before he spoke.
"Where is Gordon?" Leroy asked again, peeking over his coffee cup as he took a sip.
"I don’t know. Why? Have you checked at his girlfriend’s apartment? That girl…Shelly Norwood," he sounded frustrated.
"Yes, and that is WHY I am looking for him," Leroy said still sipping his coffee and staring at Sinclair.
"What? That makes no sense, Sheriff. Tell me what’s going on and stop playing games!" Sinclair had his lawyer hat on.
"Shelly Norwood is dead. Probably murdered, maybe an overdose, maybe anything, but she is dead. And your son, Gordon, was there. He was seen entering and leaving Shelly’s apartment only a short time before her body was discovered. A neighbor has identified Gordon McCabe as leaving Shelly Norwood’s apartment at approximately 6:00 PM. Her roommate, Darcille Moore, called the sheriff’s office at 6:30 and reported Shelly unconscious, and an ambulance was dispatched. She was DOA at St. Mary’s Hospital, and we need to talk with your son. Is that enough?" Leroy asked.
"How did she die?" he asked.
"We don’t know that yet. Doctor Barker is doing an autopsy and we’ll probably know tomorrow. But I still need to talk to your son!" Leroy added harshly.
"I don’t know where he is," Sinclair said putting his head in his hands.
"When was the last time to saw or spoke to him?" Leroy asked reaching for a pad and pen.
Sinclair stared at Leroy for a few moments, apparently in thought about the question. Then he stood up, lit a cigarette and walked across the room to the coffeepot.
"That offer for coffee still good, Sheriff?"
"Certainly," Leroy said getting up and retrieving an empty cup from the table behind his desk.
Leroy poured Sinclair a cup of coffee, then refilled his own as he pointed to the sugar and powdered cream that sat next to the pot.
Sinclair seemed to be moving in slow motion, as he prepared his coffee and finally made his way back to his chair. He had removed his lawyer hat and didn’t seem to be in a hurry anymore.
"Leroy, I haven’t talked to Gordon in over a week. I’ve been busy getting ready for this retirement party and wrapping up some loose ends at the office. I know he has been sleeping at the house, but he has his own entrance. So, unless we happen to meet in the hall or bump into each other in the kitchen, then I rarely see him at the house. But, I’m sure some of the help can give you a good idea about his coming and going. Is that important?"
"His current whereabouts is important, and I’m pretty sure the DA will want a timeline on his recent activities."
"District Attorney!" Sinclair stood up and yelled. "Is Gordon being charged with some crime?"
"Sit down, Sinclair," Leroy said calmly. "He’s not being charged because we don’t know if a crime has been committed – yet. But, I do have a dead girl and your son was with her just prior to her death, so you do the math! We’ll certainly know more when we can find and talk with Gordon - understand?"
Sinclair sat back down. "Leroy, I’m sorry. This is all just a shock to me, I guess."
"Really," Leroy frowned. "What about at the office? When is the last time you saw or talked to Gordon at the office?"
"I don’t remember, Sheriff, but me not seeing him at the office isn’t unusual. Our offices are on different floors, and unless we had some business reasons, then we typically wouldn’t encounter each other."
"Alright, Sinclair," Leroy said as he stood up. "This conversation isn’t going anywhere, and as you pointed out, it is getting late. Can I have your word that if you see or hear from Gordon you will have him contact this office immediately?"
Sinclair stood up and sat his empty coffee cup on the edge of Leroy’s desk. "Yes Sheriff, you have my word."
Sinclair McCabe was obviously frustrated and it was showing. Without speaking, they walked together back through the office where Sinclair put on his overcoat, reached for the door and then turned toward Leroy.
"You have my word, Sheriff," he said again. "As soon as I hear from Gordon, I will have him contact you immediately."
"Thank you. And please advise your help that either I or one of my deputies will be out tomorrow to interview them."
Sinclair didn’t answer, but slowly walked back out into the snow and got into his waiting Lincoln.
"What did he say?" Deputy Oakland asked Leroy, after he had closed the frost covered front door behind Sinclair McCabe.
"It’s what he DIDN’T say that bothers me," Leroy mumbled while shaking his head.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I’m not sure. He’s hiding something. Sinclair is a smart man and a smart lawyer. He knows something about Gordon that he’s not willing to tell, either because he knows it wouldn’t be in Gordon’s best interest or too embarrassing for him or the firm of ‘McCabe, McCabe, Clark and Lewis’. Maybe we’ll know more tomorrow," Leroy added as he put on his down-filled green sheriff’s jacket and walked out the front door into the snow.