I started writing this novel with a mystery that I didn’t really have an answer for. A couple of days ago, the secret behind Della and the letters here crystallized. As a result, things should be more cohesive going forward.
* * *
You said it would be a good idea for me to right write out my thoughts to you, so I am trying to do that now. I am not really comfortable with it, though. This is not how I express myself. Then again, I guess I don’t express myself much in other ways, ether either.
You mentioned Della to me today, and I wish you stopped doing that. I do love her, but thinking about her too often makes me nervous. I feel like I should tell somebody about her, but I know I would not like the reaction that it would get. Mother would be ashamed, and do I really want to make things worst worse with her?
I am interested in seeing you again, but I think I need to wait. Yesterday was a shock to me. I want to know how I feel before we talk next time.
With the Wyatt situation in a holding pattern and Jamie apparently incommunicado, I had to try a different approach. I went back to the letters, even though they told me nothing. None of them had dates on them, meaning they could have been anything from recent correspondences to secret letters from high school. Each of them were addressed to somebody named Livia, and each of them mentioned his reluctance to tell anybody about a person named Della. Other than that, they might as well have been written in crayon and Chinese.
I know why you want me to talk more, but I also know I do not express myself well. Exp Especially not when I am under stress.
I feel like maybe we should take a vacation somewhere, just you and me. I have a lot of money and freedom. We could disappear and people would not think anything was wrong for weeks, or maybe months.
But I know that would not solve the problem. You always want me to talk about her. You don’t understand what it was like when Len found out. And you have to stop pushing me to tell mother.
That is what I think, anyway. I know you are usually write right about these things, even if I don’t like it. I feel like the news would kill her, but maybe you are right. Maybe it is time to tell her about Della. But I still don’t like it.
We should talk about something else sometime. Maybe the weather, or how awful the Giants are. You should know me as my own person.
I checked my watch. It was after 5:00. Outside, the sun had begun to sink down underneath the skyscraper peaks of the city. I thought about dinner, I thought about Rosalyn Madera, and I thought about those letters. I could solve the first issue by swinging by a drive thru. The second was a minor irritant – unless a tape actually surfaced, that job was done. I just needed to decide if I was going to bother bringing the possibility of a tape up to Wyatt.
The last one should have been a simple task and was turning into a headache. Jamie, obviously not a writer, had put together a handful of letters that never made it to the mailbox. Somehow, they had landed in his mother’s hands. And, despite the fact that the news of this Della person had been dropped into my lap as little more than an afterthought, I was becoming increasingly sure that this person’s identity was the real job. Unfortunately, I was also sure that whatever I uncovered looking into the Della problem would probably run into conflict with the facts I produced in trying to make the Montgomery boys shine like angels.
I set the printouts of the letters aside and reached for my phone. With a couple of taps on the screen and a few seconds of waiting, I had the butler, Ellen, on the line.
“This is Carlton Hammond,” I said as soon as she answered the phone. “I’d like to know if I could speak with Mrs. Montgomery.
“Let me see if she’s available.”
The line clicked and then went completely silent. I had to check the timer on my own phone to see if we had been disconnected. The call was still active, which meant I was still getting billed. That was something, at least.
Eventually, the line clicked again.
“Hello?” Mrs. Montgomery’s voice greeted me, although it sounded somewhat disoriented. It was early yet, but maybe I had just woken her up from a nap.
“Mrs. Montgomery? This is Carlton Hammond.”
“Who?” She sounded genuinely bewildered.
“Carlton Hammond. The fact finder. You asked me to look into your children.”
Some whispering on the other end. I couldn’t tell who was speaking or what they said. Then alertness crept into Mrs. Montgomery’s voice.
“Oh, yes. Yes. Mr. Hammond. What can I do for you?”
“Well, first of all I just wanted you to know that I should have a terrific report for you by the end of next week. You’ve raised a pair of fine young men, and I look forward to sharing their accomplishments with you.” I kept smiling through the pitch, even though nobody was there to watch me or claim that I was lying.
“That’s good to know,” she responded with a patronizing tone. “And have you had any luck with the other thing?”
“Actually, that other thing is one of the reasons I’m calling. I have a few questions about the letters you let me see.”
“I’ll do what I can to help, of course.”
“For starters, I’m wondering how you got hold of the letters. Were they given to you or did you find them?”
“I found them tucked inside an old dresser. Jamie had kept it in one of his homes, but he sold that house and returned the furniture to me.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“At the end of September. Does that help?”
“It absolutely does.” I glanced at the calendar on the wall. It was October 19th – she had hired me a couple of weeks, maximum, after she found the letters. “Now the writing is all addressed to a woman named Livia. Do you know anything about her?”
“I wouldn’t need to have called you if I did. I assume she’s one of Jamie’s lovers. The boy isn’t that bright, but he has a way with ladies.”
“That’s why you think the Della he mentions is a child…one he had with Livia?”
“Maybe that’s the hopeful grandmother in me. Then again, there’s only so many options, isn’t there? Just once, I’d like to be a doting grandmother, instead of the parent who passes the kids off to a nanny so she can take business trips.”
“Thank you for your help, Mrs. Montgomery. As I said, you can expect a final report from me soon.”
“I’m sure you’ll be very thorough. I just want you to know, you don’t need to make me wear rose-colored glasses for this. Give me all the facts, good or…bad.” She stumbled over the last words, as though she were trying to choke back the sentence for fear of what it might bring down upon her.
“You’ll like what you see,” I said.
“That’s a bold claim to make when you haven’t found anything about this Della just yet.”
“Your children fit a certain profile,” I responded. “There’s a good chance she is a daughter, or maybe something similar. If there’s a surprise, I’m sure it will be a pleasant one.”
“Hm. That would be nice.”
The line wavered in silence. I imagined Mrs. Montgomery closing her eyes and fantasizing about some long-lost child she could dote over to her heart’s content.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Montgomery.”
“Yes,” she answered. “Goodbye and good luck.”
I ended the call and then turned back to thinking about the letters. They weren’t an afterthought – they were the real reason Mrs. Montgomery had hired me and paid me so much money. And the longer I looked at them, the more I began to worry that she was deliberately setting me up to fail. If she truly expected something happy to come out of this, she could have turned the information over to a professional investigator or maybe even a friend in the police department. Heaven knew that somebody with her wealth had plenty of connections on speed dial. The only reason to bring me in would be if she was expecting something terrible and needed somebody who could use selected facts to soften the blow. When you boiled everything else down, that’s what I was: a guy who came by after the worst had happened and gave rich people a bright side to look upon.
I imagined the old woman having a laugh now that the phone call had ended. Pay a ridiculous sum of money, give less than a crumb of information, and watch the little guy scramble.
Of course, that theory ignored the fact that while rich people could be vindictive, they didn’t tend to stay rich by wasting their money on useless circuitous things. At least, that was true of the ones who earned their money. Elizabeth Montgomery had dragged a useless husband along with her into the big leagues in an era when women didn’t do much more than pass smokes around the boardroom. After that one’s heart gave out, she took on another husband until he failed to keep up with her, too. Her children might go in for something petty just to make their world spin, but she wouldn’t throw her money at me unless she thought I was going to give her a decent return on investment.
I went back to the letters. Stuffed in the back of a dresser drawer, so far hidden that Jamie didn’t notice them despite knowing that they contained information he didn’t want his mother to see. No dates, no envelopes. He probably never intended to send them. So who was Livia?
Not enough sexy talk to be love letters. Not enough personal information to be an introduction to someone. One of the letters said Livia wanted him to write it. What kind of profession asks a person to write letters they’ll never send?