A Dame with a Past - Part 4

Continued from Part 3

The next day, I got to the office just before nine. Steve was already behind her computer typing. She looked up as I came in.

“Hey. How’d it go?”

“Hold on a sec,” I said, “and I’ll tell you all about it.”

I went into my office, dropped my briefcase on my desk chair, grabbed my cup, and went back out to the Keurig. I stuck the cup under the spout, dropped the coffee doohickey into the gizmo it sits in, and pushed the button. While the machine burbled and grunted, filling my cup with French Roast, I started to tell Steve about Bernie’s day yesterday.

I had just sat down in one of the chairs in the reception area when Harry came in.

“Oh, glad you’re here,” I greeted him. “I won’t have to tell my story twice. Grab some coffee and I’ll fill you both in. It’s quite a story. And it pretty much changed Bernie’s life, I think.”

“Harry began, “What…?” I interrupted him and said, “Sit. I’ll tell you everything.”

I gave them the long version, leaving out nothing. When I was done, they both looked a little stunned.

“It was her real mother?! She was adopted and never knew it?” Steve exclaimed. “Oh, the poor thing. She must have been so shocked.”

Almost simultaneously, Harry, said, “Wow! An apartment building… She must be have been thrilled.”

Ha, I guess that’s the Venus and Mars thing, right there in a nutshell.

I shrugged. “From what I saw, the shock of discovering you’re not exactly who you thought you were trumped inheriting a building. She didn’t even want to go look at it yet.”

Harry said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing. I’m betting old Mike the golf pro will be interested in looking at it. I did some checking and, I’m telling you, sure as Bob’s your uncle, that guy is trouble.”

“What do you mean?”

“He and Bernie barely have two nickels to rub together. They have no kids and they live in an ordinary tract house in Pasadena. They both work, but never seem to move their bank account off the empty peg. I thought that was kind of odd, so I called a buddy who plays golf at the club where McGraw works, which, by the way, is pretty posh. Seems our boy has a fondness for the ponies. He’s a regular at Santa Anita, and if you want my guess, that’s where all the extra money’s going.” Harry shrugged. “Oh, and it’s not only the ponies he likes. He also has a fondness,” Harry pauses for a lascivious eye roll, “for the fillies.”

“Not good,” I say, thinking to myself that it was no wonder Bernie had seemed so stressed at our first meeting. “But it’s none of our business, Harry.”

“I know, I know, but it gets worse. My friend told me McGraw was married before, and apparently just walked out on his wife, leaving her penniless. She divorced him, but didn’t get a penny in the settlement. You know what they say about getting blood from a persimmon.” At this, Steve groaned. “It didn’t come out in court, but my buddy says there were rumors McGraw had knocked her around.”

I shook my head, really sorry to hear that. I wondered if he was treating Bernie okay.
“Sad story, but unless Bernie asks for help, it's still not our business. Besides, she’s got that building now. That should give her some security of her own.”

“Yeah, I know, you’re right. Still, I’d hate for him to get his hands on that building,” Harry said with a grimace. “So what happens next?”

“For us? Far as I know, nothing. She asked us to find out if the letter about the inheritance from her ‘mother’,” I wiggled my fingers into quotations marks, “was real or a scam. It was very much real. End of case.”

I turned to Steve, “Send her a bill.”


As it turned out, that wasn’t the end of it. About a week after the trip to San Francisco, I got a call from Bernie.

“Marty, can I come in to see you?” She sounded pretty strung out.

Oh-oh...“Sure, Bernie. What’s up?”

“I’d rather talk about it in person.”

That sounded ominous. I wondered if something had happened.

We arranged a time to meet later that afternoon. 


I settled Bernie in a client chair with a cup of chamomile tea. She looked as though she hadn’t slept much since I last saw her a week ago. Her hair bore the signs of her fingers being pulled through it and she had obviously come dressed just as she was when she called, in jeans and a plaid shirt. The whole look was a far cry from the stylish outfit she’d worn on her first visit here. As she raised the cup to her lips, I noticed her hand shaking a bit.

“Bernie, you look… Has something happened?” I asked

“You mean beside the fact that I’ve discovered I’m not who I thought I was? Or maybe that phone calls I got from my ‘brother’ snooping around my family’s business and grilling me about my ‘plans’?” She gave a humorless little laugh. “Or maybe you mean the personality change that’s come over my husband.”

She put down the tea cup and struggled to open her purse. She’d obviously come prepared. She pulled out a wad of tissues just as she burst into tears.

I rose, went around the desk, and sat in the other client chair, scootching it closer to her so I could put an arm around her shoulder.

After a few minutes, during which I was extremely helpful, I’m sure, by muttering soothing noises, Bernie gave her red nose a final noisy honk, and apologized.
"I'm sorry. I've just been such a wreck since all this started. I'm not sleeping, can't eat, and I just feel sort of sick."

I patted her shoulder and returned to my chair. 

“No apologies needed. Now, tell me what’s going on. Mark Mitchum called you? What did he say?”

“Several times! Oh, he pretended to be all friendly and everything. Just checking to see how I was doing, he said. Asked what Mike and I did for a living, if we had kids, that sort of thing. But he was real interested in what I was going to do with the apartment building.” She gave a little snort. “I think it was all fake. If you ask me, he came across as nosy rather than interested.”

“Did he offer to buy the building or something?” I asked. That would actually make some sense if Bernie decided she didn’t want to keep it.

“Oh, no, not outright. I don’t know… I just got the idea there was something about my having that building that really ticked him off him.” She paused to take a sip of tea. “I can’t imagine why. Don’t you think the rest of Marjorie’s – my mother’s – estate must be worth a lot more than an old apartment building?”

“Yes, I would think so.” I answered. “We don’t know that it’s old, Bernie, but even if it is, remember, the building is on Nob Hill. That’s a pretty toney neighborhood.”

“Yeah, but still…”

I had to agree that it sounded like a bit of an over-reaction on the Mitchum kid’s part. I wondered what was up. And I really wished we’d gone and taken a look at the building last week.

“Anyway,” Bernie said, “I thought he sounded arrogant and sort of rude. One phone call might have made sense. But three calls in one week? It felt like harassment, Marty.”

“Well, don’t let him get to you. If it happens again, we’ll sic T. Malcolm on him.”

She nodded, and blew her nose again.

“Now, what’s this about your husband?” Given what Harry had learned about McGraw, I was hesitant to ask, but I had a feeling that she wanted to talk about it. I mean, why would she have brought it up otherwise?

“Oh, it’s probably nothing. He just got a little weird when I told him about the Mitchum family and the apartment building. And when he saw the pictures and letters that my… my mother left me, he seemed, I don’t know… angry. I guess I can’t blame him. It turns out his wife isn’t who he thought she was, either.”

“Bernie, that’s nonsense. You are still the same person.”

“I’m not even sure why he was upset, you know? I mean, it not like I deliberately misled him.”

“Can you tell me about the letters? Was there something in them to make him mad?”

“No! They were very sweet. I think she really hated having to give me up, but her father pretty much made her do it. She was only fifteen.” She rolled her eyes. “I can’t imagine being pregnant at fifteen, and being pushed around by your own parents. Anyway, she wrote me a letter every year on my birthday. Imagine. And I loved the pictures. I look like her, Marty!”

On the phone, she’d said she needed my help. I started to ask what she wanted me to do, but before I got more than a few words out of my mouth, a laugh in the outer office announced Harry’s arrival.

I went to my door and asked him to join us.

He came in, took one look at Bernie, and he said, “What happened? You look terrible.”

That’s our Harry, master of the social graces.

To my surprise, Bernie burst out laughing. “Well, thank you, Harry. You look pretty awful yourself.”

I knew I liked this woman. No one could argue with that, not even Harry. He looked down at his wrinkled chinos and sport shirt, and shrugged.

“Sorry. I guess compared to me, you look great. It’s hot in the Valley and it took me forever to get back. Traffic was terrible.”

Yeah, right. Like his appearance was due to his car ride.

“I was just about to ask Bernie what we could do. She’s here because she needs our help.”

Harry sat in the chair next to Bernie, and said, “What do you need, hon?”

She gave him a smile “Actually, two things. I told Marty about these letters my… mother – geez, that still feels so weird – left me. One every year on my birthday.”

She turned and looked at me for a moment. “But I didn’t tell you about the last one, Marty. It was different.  She knew she was dying, and it was a sort of goodbye. She mentioned the apartment building. Harry, did Marty tell you about the building I inherited?”

Harry nodded, and she went on. “Well, in that last letter, she said she hoped I’d hold onto it, that my roots were there. She said the building had things to tell me.”

She looked from me to Harry and back. “What do you suppose that means?”

It was a mystery, one I suspected couldn’t be solved until Bernie went to the apartment building.

“I think you need to go there, Bernie,” I said. “Worthington said there was an owner’s apartment. Maybe your answers are there.”

“Would one of you come with me? I’ll pay you. I don’t want to go alone, especially after those phone call from Mark Mitchum. And Mike is… busy. He can’t go.”

Harry started to ask, "Phone calls...?" but I held up my hand.

"I'll fill you in later."

He nodded, and went on. “I wish I could go with you. I’d love to see the place but I’m involved in a case and can’t leave. I'm sorry, Bernie.”

Bernie turned to me. “Of course I’ll go. I owe you a lunch on Union Square anyway.”

“Thank you. Oh, and there’s one other thing.”

I raised my eyebrows at her in question.

“I want to find my father.”

Two mysteries in one. I was a happy camper.

Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 4: "Psychosomatic Warfare."




  1. Now we're moving along. Perhaps a little repetitive but I guess they needed to fill Harry in.

  2. I like it - and following with the muses. :)

  3. I will say that there is a lack of economy to this style, a reliance on the obvious, and quite a bit of unnecessary repetition. One of your gifts as a writer is your ability to infer... It's a PI tale... inferring would suit this nicely.

    But... the game's now afoot! ;)


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