Authors: Susan Laine
Journal Entry 1, the Chance Case: Beginning
cursed with perfect recall. Always have been. Ever since I was a child, when I couldn’t forget the time a bee stung me in the ass and I couldn’t sit down for four days. All that? Clear as crystal; even today at the tender age of thirty-six.
Perhaps because of my perfect memory, I had chosen law enforcement as a career.
Landing Rex Ford as my partner had been happenstance. Yes, that was the name on his ID. I always suspected his parents were sadists. No one ever called him Rex, though. He was just Ford.
Five years ago, my partner got shot. It had been touch and go for over a week. By the time he’d recovered, our relationship had changed. He called it matured. I called it spiraling into insanity, but I understood his point. Considering the kind of person he had been before he’d been shot—a gambling, drinking, whoring, borderline suicidal, narcissistic asshole—I was just glad to have him back in one piece.
Needless to say, after his surviving a near-fatal shooting
our starting a romantic and sexual liaison, we decided to step onto new career paths.
With his mother’s horticultural background, he became a landscape artist. When he had first told me his plan, I had laughed, and he had been hurt—and it had taken a near boutique full of flowers, a lot of back rubs, and dinner at a high-class restaurant every night for a week to appease him. In a couple of years, he had become quite successful at his new occupation, and with notoriety had come wealth, so we were pretty well off.
No thanks to
alternative career choice.
I’m a PI. Yes, my name is Sam. No, not Sam
. At least times have progressed to the point that I am no longer called either flatfoot for my past or gumshoe for my present occupation. In any case, my name is Sam Garrett, which I think is a passable name for a private investigator.
Not that my parents had known what I was going to become when they named me: an army brat who went on to become a police officer and then a detective—and then a gay private investigator. As you might guess, the latest developments in my life didn’t go over so well with them. But at least we were on friendly, if distant, terms.
Anyway, after that introduction I’m going to tell you about my journal—and then why I’m recording these events for posterity.
My grandfather had been an avid writer, a journalist in fact, before he died. He taught me to write things down for clarity, for keepsake, for a million reasons. I learned shorthand before I learned division. Ever since I was six years old, I have kept a journal. No, not a diary, as those are for girls. A journal. Today I have boxes of them. I wrote in them daily or weekly, and having stellar recall, the entries are in-depth and riddled with vivid details.
This current journal entry, and all those that follow, however, were not written daily or even weekly. I wrote them after I closed the case. The most important case of my career and my life—and no one ever knew what really happened.
That’s what this is about.
The case that changed my life and everything I thought I knew about the world and the people in it.
The suicide of Mozart Chance, or Mo as he was more commonly known.
Mozart Chance was the creator and owner of Mo’ Goodies, a vast international toy company. I was used to seeing the puffy, fire-engine-red sign up here and there. “Poor Little Rich Boy” the headlines had dubbed him, since by the time he was twelve, he was a billionaire in his own right. Mozart, like his namesake, had been a child prodigy, and he’d created the toy company from scratch before he had even turned eleven, being the chief inventor.
And then he was dead at eighteen. Poor little rich boy indeed. “No Mo Goodies” the headlines had said after his death.
How did I get involved, you ask?
Well, it happened like this.
a letter for you, pumpkin.”
Ford’s honeyed words suggested he was after something, which made me think I had forgotten an important date, or something significant anyway. Yet he added nothing as he paused by my office at the back of our house, depositing the pink envelope in front of me. With a shrug and a grin, he left me.
Looking at the perfumed, pink envelope, I realized Ford must have thought I had an admirer. It was ridiculous, since because of my generally grumpy attitude, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would bother to take a second look at me, even on my best days.
Of course, Ford was perfect. I’d had a fierce crush on him before we got together, but his destructive lifestyle had not suited me, so I’d kept my distance even though we were both men-inclined. That is to say, I was gay, he was… omnivorous. Where I looked like a poor impression of Bogie in his heyday—the cheap and scruffy clothes, stubbled cleft jaw, and brown eyes and brown hair to match—Ford was tall and athletic, always smooth and stylish in his immaculate khakis, button-down shirts without any wrinkles, and bright-colored silk ties that spoke of wealth and refinement. He looked like a WASP to me, though he wasn’t even close. The fact that he was also a gorgeous blond with striking blue eyes and a dimpled smile only made me hate him more.
Or love him, as the case may be.
Yes, he did have a small, almost unnoticeable limp from the shooting—two hits midsternum and one in the leg—but he wore his disability well. There were the cold days when he wheezed a bit, but he said it didn’t really bother him.
With a casual shrug, not wanting to fight over a letter the contents of which were still unknown to me, I studied the piece of correspondence. It was one of those old-fashioned parchments you could fold into a letter and envelope all in one, only this one was dyed pink, apparently dipped in rose-scented perfume, and then dried. These aspects generally indicated a woman’s touch, but from Ford’s reaction, I guessed he assumed it was a love letter from a feminine man.
Rolling my eyes, I pushed the thought of Ford’s jealousy out of my mind and focused on the seal. Another old-fashioned quirk: the letter was sealed with candle wax that had a crest on it. Well, it resembled a crest, but I recognized it for what it was, having seen it so many times—just a moment ago, in fact, on the front page of the newspaper.
The image of the jack-in-the-box was a familiar company logo for Mo’ Goodies.
I picked up the paper and read through the front page, where the apparent suicide of Mozart Chance was top news. It had happened two nights ago, and precious little factual information was available so far. No actual cause of death, no precise time of death, no reasons given. The police remained tight-lipped as ever, which was understandable. Contrary to what the TV programs showed, doing forensic tests and searching for evidence was a time-consuming process. Police PR specialists toted the same old rhetoric about following up leads and promising to get to the bottom of it all. I didn’t believe them, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone else would be stupid enough to either.
The headline once more read “No Mo Goodies,” which I thought was pretty sick and morbid. But my opinion was not asked or required.
I turned my attention to the letter. I broke the seal as cautiously as possible. As I parted the flaps, a plain white envelope fell on my desk from inside. I decided to look at it later and focused on the parchment instead.
Dear Mr. Garrett,
I trust I find you in good health?
All right, enough chitchat.
If you’re reading this letter, it means I am dead. Gosh, that’s a damn shame!
Moving on. If I am indeed dead, then there’s foul play afoot, for I assure you I would not end my own life. You do not know me, but trust me, I have reasons to live. Big reasons. Huge reasons. Important reasons.
You get the gist of my statement, I’m sure.
So, Mr. Garrett, on to my point. I have been keeping an eye on your career for many years now, and I was sorry to hear about the shooting which almost robbed you of your partner. But your reputation precedes you. I find you smart and capable, relentless and trustworthy, so as of right now, while you’re reading this line, you are hereby hired to investigate the suspicious circumstances of my untimely demise.
You will be handsomely rewarded. I have attached a note to my lawyer along with this letter, with instructions to pay you accordingly. You may interpret that as a lot! My attorney will provide you with whatever you need, including permissions to speak to those who inherited me, or risk losing what they got. That should clear any misunderstandings and open up their loose lips.
Just as I always have—well, mostly have—had fun in my life, I hope you have fun with this case. Find whoever murdered me, Mr. Garrett. I have the utmost faith in you.
Yours with heartfelt sincerity,
Funny how the letter read like it had been written by a child and an adult at the same time. I found it curious, but then again, Mo Chance had been a child genius.
And he was apparently my new client, without contest.
The other envelope contained the legal documents and a business card from one Dwight Niedermayer of the law firm of Murray, Rogers, & Jones. To me they sounded like a bunch of Las Vegas showmen-type charlatans, but you never knew. I skimmed the other papers and found Mo hadn’t been kidding. My retainer alone meant I wouldn’t have to work for a year or two if I so chose.
Not that it was a good thing, you understand. In my opinion, people who threw money around carelessly, all willy-nilly, wanted something buried or something disturbing to be found out. I had no way of knowing which at this point.
Needless to say, I took the case.
I left the stuff on the desk and went in search of my man.
I found Ford in the backyard, kneeling in front of a rich, colorful flowerbed. The first drops of color on this late spring day gave new life to our garden after the barren, windy, and rainy San Francisco winter.
Ford looked up as I approached. Studying him, it was hard to believe he was in fact older than me by four years, having passed forty a few months ago. He didn’t look a day over thirty, and sometimes, when he was sunbathing under the golden rays, he could have passed for twentysomething.
Shaking his hands to get rid of the fresh dirt, he asked, “So?” He was curious, but he held it in check. This was mainly jealousy talking.
I grinned. “I’ve got a new client. I’m gonna head out for a bit.”
Shoveling some dirt around with a tiny garden shovel, Ford mumbled, “A woman?”
“A dead man, actually.” At that, Ford looked up, frowning in disbelief, but his brow cleared when he realized I wasn’t kidding.
Ford cocked his head, his blond hair waving around. “Well. Better get to it then, eh?” Without another word, he went back to gardening, and I left.
Niedermayer was a short, plump man with round spectacles, thick brown hair, and cat hairs all over his dark-brown tweed suit. He looked more appropriate for a British historical sitcom, circa 1950s, than a modern law firm.
“Mr. Garrett?” He extended his hand in greeting, the shake hearty and sincere. “It is wonderful to finally meet you after all these years.” He motioned for me to sit, and I did, confused. “Oh, Mr. Chance mentioned you on several occasions, even before he gave me the sealed orders to grant you license to investigate his death, whatever the method, and whenever it might take place.” Suddenly, he lifted a pudgy finger, his lips rounded in a startled O, and he gave me a check. “Here you are. Your retainer. And—” He gave me another check, this one blank. “—for your expenses. May I suggest five thousand to start with? I would like to give the bank a heads up, if you know what I mean.” He winked at me, and I tried not to cringe.
“What can you tell me about Mo’s bequest?” I asked, steering the conversation back on track.
“Ah, yes. I anticipated your request.” I thought he would have been a poor lawyer if he hadn’t, so it was a rather useless statement. But some people liked to glorify even their simplest of accomplishments. “At the moment, as I’m sure you are well aware, the will is held up in probate court pending the official findings of Mr. Chance’s death by the authorities, the witnesses of the will being questioned, and all other administrative issues being dealt with.” He then offered a stack of connected documents. Mo’s last will and testament.
“Who inherits?” I asked, even while skimming the main contents of the will.
“Five people.” Mr. Niedermayer brought his hands up and pressed his fingers together in what he must have assumed made him look distinguished. I quickly expelled the image of what it really looked like. “First, his maternal uncle, Cecil Chance. He inherits the bulk of the estate. That includes the manor house, a 51 percent share in Mo’ Goodies, and other property, valuables, and currency.”