"He says it's a matter of life and death," Sarah whispered urgently over the intercom.
Before Lowell could answer, a tall, well-dressed man carrying a brown, leather briefcase pushed open the office door and strode to the desk. He carried himself with an air of self-importance as he dropped the briefcase on the floor and placed a card in front of the detective.
"Mr. Williamson," Sarah introduced from behind, raising her eyebrows as she closed the door.
David Lowell, being a creature of habit, preferred to conduct his morning in a particular order and did not like his routine upset.
"I'm extremely busy and can't accept another client."
"Perhaps once you've heard my story."
Lowell looked down at the business card in front of him. "Mr. Williamson, I can spare you exactly five minutes." The notoriety of the recent rock 'n' roll murder case had increased demands and stretched Lowell's limits of both time and patience.
"Thank you sir, I appreciate it. Actually, it's Doctor Ethan Williamson. I don't put it on the card, as I'm primarily in research these days, not a practicing physician." He sat in one of the two leather client's chairs. "Let me be clear. I appreciate your time and your talents, and I have a vital need for both. I understand you're rich. Please forgive my bluntness, but as time is at a premium I have no choice."
Impatient but intrigued, Lowell tugged at his salt and pepper ponytail.
"So I'm sure money won't be sufficient motivation. Still ..." Williamson reached down and picked up the briefcase, placed it on the desk facing Lowell, and opened it. The case was filled with crisp, neatly bound, one hundred-dollar bills. "That's a million dollars. And it's yours up front if you will take my case, whether you are successful or not."
Lowell took a fleeting look at the cash. "Now what could be important enough to risk that kind of money?'
"The only thing in the world that matters to me. My son Edward. Money is the least of my worries."
"I'll listen to your story. But if you'll just wait a moment, I'd like my associate, Mort, to come in."
He pushed a button on the intercom and several moments later the door opened and a man with limbs too long for his body entered the room. He walked with a quirky, erratic gait.
"Mort, this is Dr. Williamson. He's interested in hiring us and was just about to tell me his story. I'd like you to hear it as well."
"How do you do?" Mort nodded as he sat in the second client's chair. When he saw the cash-filled briefcase he and Lowell exchanged a momentary look. Mort could see Lowell was hooked.
Williamson sat forward. "My son, Edward, is fifteen years old and the most important thing in my life. His mother and I had a contentious separation soon after he was born and she left, taking Edward's twin brother, Kevin. I've devoted much of my life to raising my boy. I've been very fortunate financially and want for nothing material. But Edward has advanced kidney disease, and without a transplant I don't believe he will last much longer. I would give every penny I have to keep him alive."
"And how can we be of help?" asked Lowell.
"His blood type is quite rare, something he inherits from my side of the family, and we haven't been able to find a donor match. The most difficult part of a transplant is the body's tendency to reject the new organ and the antigens that form the human leukocyte antigen, or HLA system. But because Edward is an identical twin his DNA is indistinguishable from his brother's. His body would not reject the kidney. It would recognize the new organ as if it were his own."
"You have our full attention. Please." Lowell waved his arm.
"I'm a surgeon by trade, and have performed countless transplant operations in my career. I'm a firm believer in the donor program. Without organ donors many people would be denied the opportunity to continue a fruitful life. I've signed on as a potential donor myself. One of my kidneys was damaged in an accident years ago or I'd give Edward one of mine."
He crossed his legs, straightening the crease in his pants. "My son has little time. I've been unable to find Kevin. I've hired the most expensive detective agencies in the world, and they haven't come up with anything. Until now. A detective in California, where I thought they were living, got a lead that suggested Kevin and his mother may be somewhere in the northeast. I need someone who knows the turf."
"And you would like us to find your son's twin?"
"It's the only way to save his life. And time is short."
"Have you contacted the police?"
"No." His tone was adamant. "No police. This is a private matter. If my story were to become public knowledge I would be at the mercy of every con artist on the planet. I'm relying on your discretion in this matter."
"You're familiar with my methods?"
"Yes. I understand that you use astrology in your work."
"Much more than that. Astrology is the very foundation of my practice."
"I have little knowledge of it one way or the other, but I pride myself on being open-minded. Your reputation precedes you and frankly, I'm in no position to question your methods. Time is not on my side here."
Lowell turned to his computer. "May I have your sons' birth information?"
"They were born in Princeton, New Jersey, on June 10th, 1999. Kevin was born at 3:30 a.m. Edward followed at 3:44 a.m."
"Appropriate to arrive in Gemini, the sign of the twins," said Lowell. "Are you certain about the birth times?"
"I delivered them myself, so yes I'm quite positive."
"Dr. Williamson, your case is intriguing, and I'll look into it. But I will not take one million dollars if I fail to find your son."
"Then I insist that you hold it as collateral. You may return some amount if our relationship concludes unsatisfactorily."
Lowell smiled slightly. "I'll have Sarah write you a receipt for the money."
"That won't be necessary. I trust my judgment in people. Besides, what good would it do to chase you for the money, with or without a receipt?"
"Fine. May I ask how you accrued your wealth?"
"I hold several extremely valuable patents."
"Are you an inventor?"
"No, these are genetic patents."
"I see." Lowell nodded. "I'll need your wife's birth information: date, place, and time."
"I understand. I believe I have a copy of her birth certificate at home somewhere. I'll email it to you. I don't know if the time of birth is included. Is that important?"
"Yes. It may make the difference between being able to find them or not."
"I also will need your birth information."
"Mine? What has that got to do with anything?"
"It may prove useful in finding your son. There's something called reflective astrology where we see others within someone's chart. I can look for your children and your marriage partner in your chart. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes not."
"Well, of course I know my birthday, but not the time. I'll check. I'm sure I have my birth certificate somewhere. I'll try to find it for you, though I don't know if the birth time is on it either."
"Just get me whatever you can."
The big man stood, throwing his shoulders back, intimidating in both size and manner. "I'll call you later with that information."
* * *
Mort gazed out the window after Williamson left, allowing David time.
Lowell was silent for a few moments. Then he turned. "What did you think?"
Mort shifted in his chair. "I think it's a pretty weird story."
"So do I."
"But you might take the case?"
"Because it's weird enough?"
Lowell laughed. "Maybe."
Mort nodded thoughtfully. "I think there's a lot more to it than he's telling."
"What did you get from him?"
Mort was a master hacker who had been asked to leave MIT after using its computers to get into secret U.S. government sites. Rather than face the embarrassment of prosecuting him, the government, recognizing his unique ability to circumvent normal boundaries on the Internet, offered him a job hacking for them, which he turned down. He was also a psychic who could read the emotions and thoughts of those around him. Most of the time. Once Lowell realized that Mort could not read his, he hired him for his computer skills and his other abilities. Lowell paid attention to what Mort felt and had found his instincts right on the money most of the time.
"His anxiety was quite strong."
Lowell unknotted his ponytail and retied it. "Could you tell what scared him?"
"No. Only that the fear was strong and very real. And it felt very personal, as one would expect at the fear of losing a child."
"Okay, after I get his birth information and his wife's, I can understand it better. In the meantime find out what you can about Dr. Williamson and his estranged family. I need as much information as I can get if I'm going to find the boy in time."
Lowell hit the intercom. "Sarah, come in here, please."
The door opened. "What's up boss?" Sarah unconsciously pushed her bright red hair back behind her ears. She wore a dark blue collared sleeveless blouse, designer faded blue-jeans, pre-torn in spots to reveal just a bit of skin, with silver buttons running down the sides, and aqua shoes. Monochromatic shading from head to toe.
When she saw the cash-filled briefcase her eyes bulged. "What's that?"
"A million dollars in cash."
"Don't see that everyday."
Lowell took the briefcase and walked over to the wall opposite his desk and pushed a hidden button underneath a Modigliani print. A spring released, and the print slid sideways revealing a wall safe. He swiftly spun the dial and the safe opened, then he pushed a few folders aside to make room for the briefcase. Lowell rarely kept anything of monetary value in the safe, mostly paperwork. It was state of the art, and he relied on the safe to protect his most valuable possessions: notes from his cases, astrological charts of some very prominent people who might not be happy if their information became common knowledge, and a diary he had kept since his days trading on Wall Street.
"I just wanted you to be aware that the money's here in the safe. I've taken Dr. Williamson's case. It involves his missing son." Lowell looked at his two colleagues. "Now that we're getting busier, I'm going to need you both to be on top of things."
He handed out assignments and sent Mort and Sarah to their tasks.
Lowell closed the safe and walked to the window. The unobstructed view of the Empire State Building from his window was a source of great joy, and he never tired of seeing its majestic stance. He took a container of turtle food and sprinkled a bit near his two red-eared slider turtles.
"Hello, Buster," he said to the first, as she waddled over to the food. "Hello, Keaton," he greeted the other, as he too lumbered toward the goodies.
When he'd opened the Starlight Detective Agency eight years before, they were the size of his thumb. Now they were each a foot long and growing. He watched them eat for a few moments, enjoying the morning ritual.
The intercom buzzed. "Yes, Sarah?"
"Send her in."
"There's also a woman on the other line from a cable station who wants you to do a reality show about astrology."
"There are hundreds of excellent astrologers who would love the opportunity to be on TV. If she calls back, suggest astrologers we have on file. Or have her call one of the astrology organizations, like the NCGR or AFAN."
"She's more interested in using your renown to help herself rather than help someone else."
"I think you're right."
"That's why you pay me the big bucks." She laughed. "Anything you need?"
"Order me breakfast from Louie's." Louie's was his favorite organic restaurant, run by an old hippie from Vermont who'd inherited the building several years before and moved his restaurant down to Manhattan. The menu had many selections that suited Lowell's vegetarian diet.
"What do you want?"
The door opened and an attractive brunette in an expensive business suit entered. She walked over to the desk and bent to kiss Lowell on his forehead. "Hi, Dad." At six feet she towered over Lowell's five-foot-eight frame.
He smiled and leaned back in his chair. "You look tired, Melinda."
"You tell me that every time I see you."
"That's because you look tired every time I see you. Why won't you let me set you up with your own law practice?"
"Why, so I can work a hundred hours a week instead of seventy? I'm only thirty-two. I'd like to try to have a life outside the office."
"Eventually you'll come to the same conclusion I have: it's better to work for yourself. Especially with your natal chart. What brings you around?"
"I have to see a client in the neighborhood, and I thought I'd come by and say hello."
"They overwork you terribly."
"Dad, I'm fine, really."
"Do you need any money?"
"No, thank you. I make a good living."
He nodded. "I spoke to your mother last night."
"I've been meaning to call her. How's she doing?"
* * *
"How are you, David?"
"Is there ever really a simple answer? I've been okay. A little tired. Getting very busy with my work."
His ex-wife sighed. "I've been reading about you. Freddie Finger's murder even made the Woodstock papers. How sad. Remember the first time we saw him in concert?"
He chuckled. "How could I forget? You wore yellow shoes and a very short blue dress. You never wore dresses in those days. Always jeans. And sneakers with no laces. Once I saw that dress I knew we were going to finally get together as a couple that night."
"Sure of yourself, weren't you?"
"Not until I saw that dress."
She laughed. "I must have tried on thirty outfits before my roommate lent me that one."
"She must have been pissed when you returned it full of grass stains after our rendezvous under the stars."
They both laughed.
Then there was silence.
"Is there something on your mind, David?"
He sipped his beer and gazed out the window of his Manhattan townhouse at the tiny piece of backyard property fenced in on three sides with high wooden panels. He wasn't feeling well, and he couldn't put his finger on it until now when his eyes fell upon that urban oasis enclosed like a child's dollhouse. He felt claustrophobic. His life seemed to be closing in around him, like that wooden fence.
When he heard ice clink in a glass, he knew she was drinking Sauvignon blanc. She drank it with ice in the summer.
"I was thinking of taking a drive later in the week," he said, "and was wondering if you'd like some company. I haven't been up to Woodstock in a while and would like to come up to visit. I miss ... the house."
"Is Melinda alright?"
"Yes, our daughter's fine."
"Thank God." She sipped her wine. "I suppose if your mind is set on it there's little I can do to dissuade you."
"It's going to be a beautiful weekend," he said quietly, "and I thought it would be nice to take a walk and have dinner. I love that old farmhouse restaurant in town."
"Okay, David. Next Saturday?"
"I'll have Andy drive me up in the early afternoon. I'll see if Melinda would like to join us."
"It would be nice to spend some time together."
"I'll call you on the way."
When they hung up, Lowell went out to the backyard and sat for almost an hour, beer forgotten in hand, staring at the fence.
* * *
"Oh, sorry. She sounded okay. I'm driving up next weekend, and I was wondering if you'd like to come along."
Melinda walked over to the window and picked up the turtle's food. She sprinkled a little into the tank and watched as Buster and Keaton shambled over for a second treat. "It's that time of year again, isn't it?"
Lowell was silent.
"Yes, I guess I'll come up." She gazed out the window. "It doesn't get any easier with time, does it?"
"Not really. But it would be good to get together as a family."
"I miss him everyday."
"So do I."
Melinda nodded. "Okay, when do you want to leave?"
"Saturday morning about nine."
"Will Andy pick me up, or should I come up to the townhouse?"
"Andy will get you. Unless you want to stay over Friday night."
"I'll check my social calendar and let you know." Melinda had made finger quotes when referring to her social life. "What are you working on?"