A corpse and a million dollars in missing jewels—Sid Langdon is tapped to find the answers by the very man who may be responsible for both! It’s Sid’s first case—it might well be his last!
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Pillared Roses - Amanda Brenner
Sid Langdon, a newly licensed private investigator who wonders how he is going to pay his rent, gets his first case—complete with a corpse and a million dollars in missing jewels. And he is tapped to find the answers by the very man who may be responsible for both! So who done it? Sid wades through a sordid quagmire of blackmail, adultery and betrayal to find the answers. It’s Sid’s first case—it might well be his last!
Sid paused, as he always did before entering, to note with satisfaction the neat lettering on his office door: Sidney Langdon, Private Investigator. He liked the way it looked, but wondered how much longer he would be looking at it if he didn’t find a client to pay his rent. His only billings to date had been a woman wanting a background check on a prospective husband and a dog custody dispute.
Being the first in, he rinsed the coffee pot in the reception area and filled the unit with fresh water. He added what he hoped would be the right amount of grounds, plugged it in and returned to his office to wait until the brew was ready. He knew he would be useless until then.
He was going through the morning paper when he heard Michelle arrive and call in a greeting. Shortly afterward he heard her exchange comments with her boss, Jim Wheatley, the insurance agent who occupied the next office and who had apparently followed her in.
Sid figured the coffee must be ready and started in that direction when Jim appeared in his doorway. “Good morning, Sid. Got a minute?” That Sid was alone with the morning paper spread out in front of him was a clue.
“Good morning, Jim. Sure, come on in. I was just about to get some coffee. Care for a cup?”
“Sounds good. Just a little cream for me.”
Sid returned with two cups mixed the way he himself liked it and handed one to his visitor, who by now had made himself comfortable in a chair beside the desk and was checking out the morning headlines in Sid’s paper.
Taking his own place behind the desk, Sid got down to business. “Now then, what’s on your mind this early?” he asked.
“I think I might have some business for you,” Jim began earnestly. “That is, if you have the time and think it’s something you might be interested in.”
The truth was Sid certainly had the time and would have been interested in any kind of business, as long as it was legal; and if it should happen to pay well, then he would be very interested indeed. He thought of all this, but said only, “Tell me about it and we’ll see.”
Jim returned the paper to its spot on the desk and began, “Yesterday we received a claim for some jewelry on a policy that has been in effect for a number of years. The claim has been made in the name of Jennifer Sedgwick, granddaughter of William Sedgwick. The family has been a long time client of Global Standard, first in Los Angeles, then Denver, now here.”
“Sedgwick?” Sid echoed, “Wasn’t there something about a Sedgwick in the paper recently? An elderly man, I believe. Had a heart attack or something. A few weeks ago, wasn’t it? If I remember rightly, he had quite a layout in Darrowby Estates. Was that your client?”
“One of them, although a number of the Sedgwicks hold policies with Global. But, yes, it was William who held the original policy in this case. It was rewritten when the jewels became the property of his granddaughter, Jennifer, on her twenty-first birthday. She came into a sizeable trust at the same time,” Jim explained.
“Anyway,” he continued, “the estate was audited soon after his death and the jewelry listed on the most recent inventory record, which incidentally was updated yearly, couldn’t be found. Jennifer claimed the house was turned upside down, but there was no sign of the gems. They were therefore reported stolen and a claim filed for full value.”
“I assume the police were notified. What do they say?”
“Well, not a whole lot. They really don’t have much to go on. There was no evidence of burglary, no property damage and no injuries to anyone. There’s been no ransom demand. No one could remember exactly when they last saw the jewels and they really could simply be missing, as unlikely as that seems,” Jim explained. “Also, they were fully insured, so there isn’t that much incentive for the police to put a lot of manpower on the case.”
Sid nodded his understanding, and then he asked, “What do you mean the claim was filed in this Jennifer’s name? Filed by whom?”
“Her attorney, Jeff Dax. Jennifer was pretty upset and not thinking too clearly right after the death. It was she who found the body, and it was quite a shock for her. She lost her parents several years ago, and since then she and her grandfather had become very close. Anyway, he was a wealthy man with a sizeable estate and decisions had to be made quickly. You know how it is. Jeff took care of the details after the old man died, arranging for the funeral and an audit of the estate so that the will could be settled.”
“From what little I know of Jeff,” Jim continued, “he’s a good man. His father was the family’s lawyer until he retired last year. Now Jeff handles their legal affairs and is executor for the estate. He’s known Jennifer since they were children. She trusts him and has given him a lot of latitude to handle things as he sees fit.”
“You said a number of family members hold policies with Global. Where were they after the old man died?” Sid thought it was strange that a lawyer would be in charge if any family member was available to step in, particularly involving funeral arrangements.
“Apparently they’re not close,” Jim told him, “but the attorney was well known to the others. He was the one most familiar with the stipulations of the will, and the only person in close contact with Jennifer and her grandfather since her parents’ death. I get the impression that, for all practical purposes, the guy might as well be one of the family.”
“I see,” Sid said thoughtfully. “And just what kind of jewelry is it that’s unaccounted for? Also, you mentioned a claim had been filed for full value. Just what kind of money are we talking about here?” He suspected it had to be a sizable amount if the company was apparently questioning the payout.
Jim answered slowly and distinctly, as if to pointedly emphasize what he said, “A double strand of perfectly matched Oriental pearls with a diamond clasp. There was also a pair of matching earrings. Estimated replacement value for the set is approximately one million dollars.”
Sid said nothing, but studied his coffee while running the figure over in his mind. His guess was that Jim’s only reason for mentioning the claim at all was to involve him in finding the jewels. If he guessed right, and were successful, the recovery fee would take care of his rent for the next ten years.
“Jim, you said they were missing, yet Miss Sedgwick has reported them stolen and filed a police report. Have you any reason to believe they weren’t stolen? Are you thinking this could be insurance fraud? You said the estate has been audited. Have any irregularities come to light? Is fraud at all a possibility? What’s your take on the disappearance?”
The agent passed over the barrage of questions and instead told him, “Let’s put it this way: According to Jennifer, the pearls were kept in a safe in her grandfather’s study. The last time she remembers seeing them was several months ago, although it could have longer than that. An audit was done, everything appeared to be in order, except for the pearls, which were missing and unaccounted for.
“She claims only her grandfather had the combination to the safe and he had memorized it. There was no evidence the safe had been tampered with. The only fingerprints on it were her grandfather’s. The only written record of the combination was kept was in a safe deposit box at his bank. He was the only one who had access to it there. I simply don’t know what to think but, knowing Jennifer, I can’t believe she’d be involved in anything like fraud. Believe me, she doesn’t need the money and, actually, she’d be stealing from herself.”
“I’m sorry to seem dense,” Sid said, “but if the pearls were Jennifer’s property, why were they kept in a safe with the grandfather being the only one with the combination?”
“That’s kind of hazy,” Jim admitted. “It seems Jennifer never wore them. She allowed them to remain in the safe for her grandfather’s sake. It appears the old man would take them out periodically and just sit with them. They had belonged to his wife of more than fifty years, and they just had a sentimental attachment for him that Jennifer didn’t interfere with.”
“Besides, when you think about it,” he continued, “maybe it’s not so weird. If they insisted, as they did, on keeping the pearls in the house, what better place than the safe and, in the event Jennifer should change her mind about wearing them, I’m sure her grandfather would never have hesitated to give them to her. Not wearing them and keeping them in the safe were absolutely her decisions.”
Sid nodded, dismissing the matter as the eccentricities of the rich. Then he asked, “Did anyone have power of attorney?”
“Jennifer, but only in the event the old man should become mentally incapacitated, and as far as I know he was sharp right up to the end.”
“Who is the principal beneficiary of the estate?”
“Jennifer. There are various trusts set up, but she inherited the bulk of the estate. She’s a very wealthy young woman.”
“So where do I come in?” he asked, trying to sound casual. He thought he knew where this was headed, but wanted the job spelled out and his involvement made official. He continued to study his cup and outlined the rim with his finger, listening as Jim continued.
“I’ve already spoken to people in the head office,” he said. “They remember you and would be comfortable with you handling the case, so they’ve agreed. We want you to look into the situation and, if possible, find the pearls. Of course, if you succeed, there will be the usual recovery fee of ten percent of their value. It would be well worth it to us.”
Since recovery of the jewels would mean a saving of practically the entire amount of the current claim for the company, Sid saw his point and certainly agreed, but he just said, “Those must be some pearls.”
Jim nodded. “I’d really like you to look into this for us, Sid. I’ve already spoken to Jennifer and told her that on a claim this size we would need an independent investigation before making settlement. She understands and says she will cooperate in any way possible.” He paused, trying to gauge Sid’s reaction; then he asked, “Well, what do you say? Will you do it?”
“I have to admit,” Sid told him slowly, “it sounds like an interesting case. I’d like to see pearls worth that kind of money, so I suppose the answer is yes. I’ll draw up a contract for you to sign and drive out to the Sedgwick home today to talk to Jennifer. Then we’ll see where it leads.”