The Master's Chair (The Chronicles of Terah) (4 page)

BOOK: The Master's Chair (The Chronicles of Terah)
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Pallor nodded politely.

“Look, this kid’ll have it made,” Mr. Peters said. “If he plays his cards right, stays out of trouble, does what we tell him, and takes care of us when we get old, this place’ll be his one day. Can’t ask for much more than that.”

“No, sir, you sure can’t,” Pallor agreed. Then he stood up and held his hand out to Mr. Peters. “I’ve taken up enough of your time. I know you’re a busy man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.”

Mr. Peters stood up too, held his hand out, and grasped Pallor’s in a bone-crushing grip. “Glad to talk to you. Now when can we expect that kid?”

“I’m only conducting the initial interviews. I’ll go back to the mother and tell her what you said and what you have to offer, but the final decision’s hers.”

“As it should be,” Mrs. Peters said quietly. “A mother always knows what’s best for her child.”

Pallor nodded, hoping that she was right. “Thanks again for your time. I’ll see myself out.”

~ ~ ~ ~

After he left Ottumwa, Pallor drove back to Des Moines. His flight to New York wasn’t until early Saturday morning, so after checking into his next motel, he wandered around town for a while, had an early dinner, and went back to his room to go through the folders on the Johanssons, his next interview.

Harold Johansson had just turned forty. He was an advertising executive with a small but growing firm. According to the investigator, he was quite good, good enough that his present firm had actively recruited him for over a year before convincing him to leave the firm he was with and come in with them. Christina Johansson was thirty-seven. She was a professional photographer, and considered one of the best in the field. She worked for the fashion industry and advertising agencies, free-lanced for newspapers, had done the photos for several travel books, and had a studio where she did private portraits. Their financial statement was impressive. They made good money, invested wisely, and spent less that they made. Their only outstanding debt was for their condo in New York. Their house outside Richmond was paid for. All in all, their future prospects looked solid.

On a personal level, the investigator noted that their housekeeper, Gladys Stokes, had been with them for the past ten years, moving with them each time they relocated and finally settling with them in New York. Before coming to work for the Johanssons, she had worked for Christina’s parents for over twenty years. In addition to running the condo in New York, she also saw to the upkeep of their house in Virginia. She seemed to be more like a part of their family than their employee.

Pallor’s flight landed in New York around lunchtime Saturday. After he checked into his hotel, he called the Johanssons to confirm his meeting with them for 7:00 that evening. They were both out, but Ms. Stokes assured him that they were all looking forward to meeting him.

At 6:45, Pallor was standing on the street outside their address, in the heart of Manhattan. Not many people could afford to live in Manhattan; the cost of a condo there was prohibitive. Even though he’d seen their financial statement, it didn’t really hit him just how rich they were until he entered the lobby of their building. The place reeked of understated wealth.

There was a reception desk, just like at a motel, and since he was a little early for his appointment, Pallor sat down in one of the easy chairs that were scattered around the lobby and watched for a few minutes. He saw the clerk hand one lady her dry cleaning, another her mail, take a package and mailing instructions from another, accept another resident’s dog from the groomer, call for one of the doormen to take the animal up to his home, accept the keys from a couple headed out, and make dinner reservations for another couple. All in under ten minutes.

About five minutes before seven, he walked over to the desk and announced himself. The clerk consulted a small calendar, smiled at him, and motioned him towards the elevator. When he got on the elevator, the attendant asked whom he was visiting. Pallor told him the Johanssons and the man set the little dial for the seventh floor. The gated door slid shut silently and the elevator rose smoothly to the seventh floor and gently stopped. The attendant opened the door and told him to have a good evening.

The carpet on the hall floor was lush and showed signs of having been vacuumed recently. The small pictures along the walls weren’t chosen to impress, only to enhance the décor. When he reached the door to the Johansson’s condo, he pressed the little buzzer and waited for the door to open.

A middle-aged woman in a light green pantsuit opened the door and held her hand out to Pallor. “Mr. Stewart. I’m Gladys Stokes. Please come in. We’ve been expecting you.”

She led him down a short hall and into a living room that actually looked like it had been lived in. There were magazines and books on the coffee table and end tables, not set out for show, but set aside by someone who had been reading them. The mantel over the fireplace held what looked like family pictures, and there was a basket of newspapers beside one of the recliners.

“If you’ll have a seat, I’ll get the Johanssons. They’re in Christina’s darkroom looking at some of the proofs she shot for Harold’s company today. Can I get you something to drink while you’re waiting?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” Pallor said as he sat down in one of the chairs.

A few minutes later he heard talking and laughing, and then Mr. and Mrs. Johansson walked into the room. Both were dressed in jeans, sport shirts, and good quality tennis shoes.

Mr. Johansson stepped over to Pallor and held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stewart. I’m Harold Johansson.” Then he turned towards his wife and said, “And this is Christina, the talented one of the family.”

She punched his arm playfully and said, “He’s just saying that so that I’ll give him a discount on the work I did for his agency today. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Gladys walked in with a tray with four glasses and a big pitcher of what looked like lemonade. She held the tray while Mrs. Johansson cleared a spot on the coffee table. After she set the tray down, she said, “I know you said you didn’t want anything, but I brought you a glass just in case you changed your mind.” Gladys poured three glasses, handed one to each of the Johansson’s, and took a sip of hers.

Mr. Johansson took a deep swallow of his and nodded. “You really should try this. Gladys is one of the few people left in the world who squeezes her own lemons. She makes wonderful lemonade.”

Pallor smiled and nodded at Gladys. She poured the fourth glass and handed it to him.

“Now, what can we do for you?” Mrs. Johansson asked.

“First of all, I’m curious as to why you’re going with a private adoption when I’m sure you’d qualify with a state agency.”

“Well, from what we’ve read, most adopted children eventually want to know who their natural parents are, and with a state adoption, that doesn’t happen very easily,” Mrs. Johansson said.

Pallor frowned. “You do realize that in this case, the natural mother doesn’t want her son to even know he’s adopted.”

“Yes, and that’s fine for now, but by the time he’s grown, he’ll probably figure it out. I don’t know what his mother looks like, but unless she’s blond with blue eyes, he’s going to figure out that something’s not quite right here, and when he asks, we want to be able to give him someone to turn to.”

“But you’re not going to know her name or where she is,” Pallor insisted.

“That’s okay. We’ll have you. It’ll be up to you to tell him what he wants to know,” Mr. Johansson said.

His words were truer than he could possibly imagine. Pallor was at a loss as to how to respond. Finally he nodded and said, “Yes, I imagine the time will come when he’ll have questions, but you must agree not to bring it up yourselves.”

Both of the Johanssons nodded.

Then Gladys spoke up. “What does the mother look like anyway?”

“She has brown hair and brown eyes, and I wouldn’t really say her skin is dark, but she’s not as pale as most Scandinavians.”

Gladys nodded. “And the father?”

Pallor paused. “I haven’t asked, so I don’t really know.”

“I take it that it’s not you then,” Gladys said quietly.

“No,” Pallor said as he shook his head. “I’m not related to the child in any way.”

“Then why are you willing to commit yourself to being involved in this boy’s life for the next twenty-some years?” Gladys persisted.

Pallor hesitated and then said, “Because she asked me to, and she’s a very dear friend of mine.”

“But not a lover?” Gladys asked.

Pallor shook his head again. Gladys nodded and sat back.

“I understand that you travel quite a bit. What arrangements are you planning to make for the child while you’re away?” Pallor asked, directing the question to Mr. Johansson.

“Gladys will oversee things, but he’ll have a nanny, too. We’re really too involved in our careers at this point to be able to spare the time that an infant will take,” Mrs. Johansson answered. “Later, when he’s old enough, he’ll accompany us when he’s not in school.” She smiled and got a dreamy look in her eyes. “I’m really looking forward to taking him to some of the places we’ve been. It’ll be so refreshing to see things through his eyes as he sees the wonders of the world for the first time.”

Mr. Johansson nodded and took her hand. “As you can see, we have a lot to offer a child: financial security, the excitement of life in New York, unlimited travel, the best education that money can buy, anything he needs, and he’ll be free to explore any area that interests him.”

Pallor nodded. “I take it you’re thinking in terms of private schools.”

“Of course,” Mr. Johansson said. “He can attend any of the schools in the city that he wants to and live here with Gladys, or he can go to a boarding school if he’d prefer. It’ll be completely up to him. Of course, we’ll play a big role in his life on weekends and vacations, but when school’s in session, Gladys will be the main caregiver.”

“And this is all right with you?” Pallor asked, looking directly at Gladys.

She nodded and said, “I’ve been looking forward to raising Christina’s child for a long time. I have to admit I was sort of hoping for a girl, but a boy will be fine.” Then she grinned and said, “I love kids. They bring such a life to the kitchen, and they’re so much fun to cook for. Baking cookies, cupcakes, brownies, cakes, decorating for all the different holidays. Much more fun than tossing a salad.”

Mrs. Johansson laughed and said, “You’re not going to spoil him, Gladys.”

“Humph! Cookies and milk after school didn’t do you any harm.”

“No, I’ll have to agree with you on that one.” Mrs. Johansson looked at her housekeeper with genuine affection.

“Well, I think I’ve about covered everything,” Pallor said as he stood up. “Thank you for allowing me to take up so much of your time, and thanks for the delicious lemonade. Now, unless you have something you want to ask me, I’ll be on my way.”

“I would like to know what you think,” Mrs. Johansson said. “Are we going to get the boy?”

“I don’t know,” Pallor said honestly. “All I’m doing is interviewing prospective parents. His mother will make the final decision.”

Mrs. Johansson nodded. “Well, we’d like to know as soon as possible. If he’s not coming to live with us, we’ll need to set something up with someone else. When do you think you’ll be able to let us know something?”

“Probably in about a month.”

~ ~ ~ ~

Pallor spent Sunday in New York, meeting with his editor and publisher about the book he had coming out in the new year. By the time he boarded his flight Monday morning, he was glad to be headed away from the city. His next appointment was on Key Biscayne that evening at 8:00. The motel Cynthia had booked him into was on the outskirts of Miami, near the airport. Again, while on the flight, he reviewed the folder for his next interview.

Albert Troxler was seventy-four years old. He had been married to his first wife for over forty years when she died of cancer ten years ago. He had three grown sons, and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren ranging in age from newborn to thirty-two.  Eight years ago, he married Tracy Shoffner, an exotic dancer that he met in Atlantic City. She was only eighteen when they got married, six years younger than his oldest grandchild.

According to the financial statement, the old man had more money than he could spend in two lifetimes. His sons had grown up while he was making his fortune and understood the value of hard work. Each of them had managed to do quite well on their own without tapping into their father’s money.

The investigator wasn’t positive, but the impression he got from the few people who would talk to him was that Tracy had signed a prenuptial agreement stating that her inheritance would be limited to a yearly stipend of fifty thousand dollars, payable in monthly installments for the remainder of her natural life. The bulk of Troxler’s fortune was being left to his sons.

The only reason that Pallor could come up with to explain why Albert was interested in adopting a child was for Tracy, but Pallor felt sure that she’d be married again before the grass grew over the old man’s grave, so why were they even bothering? He shook his head and put the folder away. He was probably wasting his time on this one, but he’d already made the appointment, so he’d go out there.

BOOK: The Master's Chair (The Chronicles of Terah)
7.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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