Deadly Heirs Excerpt #1

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      At the time, I was unaware how much the downpour of rain echoed the furor of the coming days. Alone in the dark recesses of my office I, too, was unaware. Preparation is a rare luxury in my line of work. I frequently find myself scrambling to make sense of chaos, and chaos was about to greet me with a sensuous kiss. I'm a private investigator and it was 9:14 P.M. on a cold, saturated October night.
      I'd already had a rough day on the job - clues, suspects, paperwork - you know the deal. I propped up my feet on the large oak desk that sat in the middle of my office, lit up a cigar and was just starting to unwind. That's when she walked in. The moonlight shimmered in her emerald eyes; her hair of gold softly glowed. She delicately drifted toward me like a swan across the water - a woman of class was before me. What whimsical words would I use to greet this young, beautiful creature?
      "May I help you, Miss?" That was all I could say.
      She paused for a moment and surveyed the room. "Are you Chase Michael DeBarlo?"
      I paused for a moment and surveyed her. "Yes, I am. What can I do for you, Miss..."
      "Starr. Genelle Starr." She took a deep breath. "I have a problem."
      I gestured toward one of the black cushioned armchairs in front of my desk. "Please, sit down, Miss Starr." She graciously accepted. "What exactly is this problem of yours?"
      "Well," she began, adjusting her skirt and innocently drawing attention to her long legs, sleek within silky black nylon. "It all started about a month ago when my Great Uncle Earl suddenly and mysteriously died. When he was younger he had been in the Navy but somehow he drowned in his swimming pool."
      I frowned. This sounded like a classic "the police aren't finding the murderer as fast as I would like" case. We of the TV generation naturally, and mistakenly, expect real cases to be solved before commercial break and her initial remark seemed to express just that. "If the police have already launched an investigation I don't see how I can help."
      "The police are no longer involved as there's been no reason to believe that it was anything but an accident." With a hint of exasperation, she sighed. "His death is not why I'm here. It's his will. Not a single person has been able to find it. Uncle Earl had a great deal of money and property, but without the will everyone has been fighting over his possessions."
      "Understandable," I assured her, my mind backpedaling from its previous assumption. "Has anyone contacted the lawyer that drafted the will for him?"
      She rolled her eyes. "Of course! That was the first thing we did. According to his lawyer, Brice Baxtor, Uncle Earl purposely hid his will so that greedy family members wouldn't make any illegal alterations. It sounds unusual, but Uncle Earl was very protective." She abruptly straightened and apologized. "Oh, I'm sorry. My uncle is, excuse me, was Earl Kiddering."
      Earl Kiddering? The billionaire? He stood amongst the top five wealthiest men in the country. I had often wondered why he chose to reside in the outskirts of such an ordinary, medium-sized New England city. Fallsburg, Massachusetts was home to no one else of such financial caliber, but who am I to question the matter? Faster than the plummet of a dot com stock, a pen and pad were in my hand. "I see. Then I assume you've searched his entire estate?"
      "Yes."
      I was somewhat disappointed by her answer. Thoughts of searching through a mansion had started dancing like sugar plums in my head, but I knew there could be more. "Did he have an office or a vacation spot he frequented that is off the premises of the estate?"
      She put her hand to her chin for a moment and thought. Her answer was hesitant. "I believe he had a little cabin near Fallsburg Lake, but from what I understand my Great Aunt Josephine had everything he owned searched." She paused for a moment. "Is 9:00 A.M. too early to talk with her tomorrow?"
      My voice almost quivered with surprise. "Miss, you haven't even asked me about my fee."
      Genelle Starr stared at me without doubt; it froze me. "Does it matter?"
      My brain struggled trying to digest it all. Why would a beautiful woman with Kiddering dollars venture out on a stormy night looking for me? I shrugged away my conflicted emotions and replied, "To some it does. I take it money isn't really an object to you."
      "Not really," she answered then tossed her hair. I was beginning to like her.
      "I also haven't accepted your case yet."
      The statement shocked her. "I assumed that was understood."
      "Sorry to disappoint you, but just because you walk into my office doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to take on your case." A twinge ripped through my spine as the words rolled off my tongue and she started to get up. I certainly wanted a piece of the Kiddering's pie so why in the world was I trying to end up with pie in the face? Typically, a private investigator doesn't accept every case that walks in his door, but taking this one on was a no-brainer.
      "Hang on, hang on." Like a shot, I was up on my feet, motioning her to sit down, my flailing arms probably over-stressing the anxiety of a potentially lost and potentially profitable customer. "That didn't come out quite right."
      Genelle nodded in agreement and sat back down in the chair.
      "What I'll need is an advance to start and I'll bill you by the week. You've given me a few leads here, now all I need are a few addresses: your uncle Earl's residence and his lawyer... you said Brice Baxtor, correct?"
      "Yes," she said flatly as I handed her a piece of paper and a pen. The lawyer's name scratched my mind.
      "Sounds familiar," I muttered. "Who did you say referred you to me?"
      "I didn't." She jotted down the appropriate addresses, wrote an advance for $2500 (much more than my usual retainer), and promptly excused herself for the evening.
      The end of our conversation hadn't been ideal, but as the door that Genelle Starr exited gently eased itself into its latch, I tried imagining the estate at which Earl Kiddering had lived. In my mind there were brick walkways, brass lampposts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool - the swimming pool where the old man died, as she had said, mysteriously.