She sputtered about traffic. Right. Like there's traffic in a two-stoplight town after the tourists have left. I didn't have any more appointments so my plan was to work on what I called-in my mind only-my Big Case. Finding Harry Anslyn.
First, I needed to know why Nick Palzetti had come back. Was he spying on me for The Pops? Or did he have another reason? One I definitely wouldn't like.
I pinched his ear and dragged him into my office. Of course, if he'd wanted to stop me, all he had to do was jerk his head away. At six-two, he topped me by four inches and outweighed me by sixty pounds. He yelped and threatened me with a personal injury lawsuit.
"Go ahead. There's a lawyer two doors down."
The Pops had bought the red-brick, two-story building shortly after they started the agency. As with most of the structures on Main Street, it stood cheek-to-jowl with its neighbor. In some instances, a walkway to the beach separated the buildings allowing access to the parking area in back. I have a good relationship with two of my immediate neighbors-an accountant who handles my taxes and the lawyer who does my legal work. I've done some collections-ugh!-for the accountant and legwork for the lawyer. A good arrangement for all.
I released Nick's ear at the same time I closed the solid mahogany door behind us. Susan had the curiosity of most eighteen-year-olds. I didn't want her to share what she heard. When I hired her in June, I made sure she understood the word confidentiality. I also assured her that I would fire her for a breach of said confidentiality. Being a good friend's daughter wouldn't save her. Since Nick wasn't a client, I wasn't sure she'd keep what she heard confidential.
She was skating on thin ice in a couple of other areas. I warned her last week that she had to either get her act together or she was going to be another casualty of the semi-recovering economy. She didn't need to know I wouldn't really fire her, even if saving on her wages would help my bottom line. If I had an empty receptionist desk, it would give the appearance that the agency wasn't doing well. In this business, as with many others, appearances were important.
I hitched my hip on the corner of my desk-imitating Nick's pose in the outer office. "What brings you to Fair Haven, Nick? Passing through?"
He snorted. "Nobody passes through Fair Haven. It's the end of the road." He had that right. Next stop heading west was Lake Michigan.
Nick sprawled in the visitor's chair recently vacated by Mrs. Yoder. "You were a little hard on the kid out there. She was only a few minutes late."
"Third time this week."
"It's only Monday," he pointed out.
"She was late three times last week, all right? Do not presume to tell me how to handle my employee and don't change the subject. Why are you here?"
I folded my arms. I didn't just sound defensive, I looked it. He'd better not be here to claim his share of the business. For the past eight months, I'd busted my rump to make it on my own. He wasn't going to stroll in just as business was picking up and take it away from me.
Here's what sticks in my craw. Through high school, I ran errands, answered phones, and filed-all the scut work at the firm-while Mr. Football Star ran around dazzling girls with his dark hair, dark eyes, and those thick lashes girls would kill for. While he went off to the University of Michigan and majored in seduction, I commuted to Grand Valley State-criminal justice-and helped The Pops in the office. Gradually, they turned more and more work over to me before retiring. I was building a good reputation until they left. Nothing like being undermined by your employees. Former employees.
I've had to work doubly hard just to stay afloat. Nick was not going to take it away.
"Would you believe I came to see you?" His mouth creased into a whimsical smile.
I knew better than to believe him. "It's been what, Nick? Eight years?" At Mom's funeral.
He had to have an ulterior motive. I mean, come on, he didn't even come back for The Pops' retirement celebration in February.
Nick appeared to ponder for a moment. "Maybe eight for you. I saw you two years ago when I came home for Christmas."
"And you didn't think to stop and say 'Hi'? To Pop?" Wouldn't want him to think I cared that he'd seen me and hadn't bothered to talk to me.
"As I recall, you were sitting on a stool at Clancy's Tavern as some knuckle-dragger tickled your tonsils."
While my cheeks burned at the memory of that unwanted kiss, I silently cursed my fair Irish complexion. Genetics betrayed me every time. "Knuckle-dragger is right," I said. "I guess you didn't stay long enough to see me deck him."
"Would you have talked to me if you had?" Why did I ask that? It wasn't like I wanted him to know how much I missed him.
We grew up together. Our playpens sat side-by-side in the front office while our mothers worked at the agency. Okay, slight exaggeration. I was in the playpen. Since he's three years older, he got to play under desks.
"Forget I asked that," I said hastily. "Why are you back? It's not like your folks are here anymore."
"I saw them in Scottsdale last week. They send their love. Frank, too. He said to tell you his golf game is improving."
Oh, Lord. They did send him. Since they'd bank-rolled my venture, I sent regular reports. Did they think I wasn't doing a good enough job? Did they think I needed help?
Don't go there, I told myself. Think positive. Don't let him know you think he's here to spy on you.
"How's your mom?" I asked.
Maria Palzetti was especially dear to me. After Mom died when I was twenty-two, Maria was my life-saver. She didn't try to take Mom's place. She was just there for me during that horrible time. I hate to say it, but I miss Maria more than I miss my father.
"Mom's fine. She got her way with Pop so she's happy."
It was Maria who declared the investigative business was for the young and not for someone past seventy. She told Tony it was time to retire. His triple bypass might have had something to do with her decision. Pop thought it was such a good idea he retired, too. At Maria's instigation, they sold me the business. She was a dynamic force. Neither of The Pops would dare go against her. Maria also made sure her son wasn't denied his inheritance. Hence, Nick's option to buy into the business.
I tried again. "What are you-"
He got up and walked around. Though the office was spacious, the usual business accoutrements made it smaller. Besides the long bookcase behind the massive cherry desk, there was a vertical file-definitely not one I'd ever climb on. Next to it was a printer stand with a slow, but reliable, black-only printer that had seen a lot of use. Pop said it was like a Timex. It took a licking and kept on printing. I guess that came from an old commercial. Susan had the faster laser color printer out front.
Nick brushed against my swinging foot. Though he murmured an apology, it took every bit of self-control not to shrink back. He would see it as a sign of weakness.
"I like what you've done to the place."
"Not much," I demurred. I'd tried to brighten up the mahogany-paneled walls with large white-matted photos I'd taken around Michigan. The ones of Lake Michigan lighthouses, like Big Red in Holland and Point Betsie, were my favorites.
"I picked up your Pop's baseballs. I'm glad you kept his collection." He gave me a winsome smile over his shoulder. "I always wanted that one signed by Al Kaline and the rest of the Tigers' 1968 World Series team."
"In your dreams. Back to my question. Why are you really here?"
He turned away from examining the photo of the Pictured Rocks along Lake Superior. "I'm considering a career change."
YOU ARE READING
The Case of the Bygone Brother (An Alex O'Hara Novel)Mystery / Thriller
The Case of the Bygone Brother is now complete. Small Town . . . Big Case. After taking over O'Hara & Palzetti, Confidential Investigations from her dad and his partner, Alex O'Hara's bottom line has taken a plunge. So when a femme fatale offers he...