His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 24
I stopped at home to put on fresh clothes before going to my office and firing up the computer and my seven hundred dollar Saeco espresso machine. What can I say? I really, really like coffee, especially Sumatran. I’ll eat cold pizza for breakfast and store-brand ice cream instead of the fancy kinds that come in pint containers costing seven bucks a pop. But try to sneak cheap coffee by me and I’ll know it from the smell.
Once I had a bit of caffeine in me, I searched online for everything I could find on Regina Witcombe. Most of what I read focused on her philanthropic activities; finding detailed information about her business dealings proved frustrating. Apparently, she didn’t like to shine a spotlight on that part of her life. But I kept digging and over the next hour, managed to piece together a rough portrait of her rise to corporate power.
Her husband, Michael, had died while yachting — alone — off the Malibu Coast about ten years before. She had been in Belize, traveling with friends. The story was he drank a bit too much wine and wasn’t prepared when his vessel encountered high winds and rough seas. The Coast Guard believed that he fell off the boat and drowned; the yacht, the Regina, of course, was discovered a day later, drifting near Santa Catalina Island. Regina and her two daughters inherited everything, and after a brief power struggle with the corporate board of Witcombe Financial, she was named its new CEO. She possessed a business degree from the Wharton School, and a degree in law from Georgetown, and she had been active in the company as a Vice President and in-house counsel. It wasn’t like she was unqualified, but she leap-frogged several senior execs to take the position, and a few of them were pretty unhappy about it. In the wake of her elevation to CEO, three of Witcombe’s top executives left the company.
The controversy didn’t last long, however, because the board of directors and the rest of her executive team closed ranks behind her, and because the company continued to do well under her leadership.
Nevertheless, reading about Michael Witcombe’s death and all that followed set off alarm bells in my head. A tragic accident, a perfect alibi, an inheritance worth more than a billion dollars. It all struck me as too convenient, too easy. Add in rumors of dark magic, and I was ready to call Kona and tell her to have the case reopened. Never mind that it was a few hundred miles outside her jurisdiction.
There was no shortage of photographs of her online. She was an attractive woman; auburn hair, blue eyes, brilliant smile, always impeccably dressed. She had been in her early forties when Michael died, and so was in her early fifties now, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at her. I found a video of her as well, speaking to stockholders at Witcombe’s annual meeting. She spoke in a warm alto, her manner easy, charming even. But I couldn’t tell for certain, from either the clip I watched or the photos I found, whether she was really a weremyste. The blurring of features that I experienced when face to face with another sorcerer didn’t translate to these media. I had no idea how I might get close enough to this woman to see for myself if she was a myste. And I wasn’t yet ready to take Jacinto Amaya’s word for it.
My perusal of the roster of Witcombe’s corporate officers didn’t produce much, although I jotted down the names of the highest ranking executives to run by Kona and Billie.
I kept digging, collecting tidbits about Regina Witcombe’s life like a mouse hoarding crumbs. It seemed that two years ago she had sold her estate in Scottsdale, and bought a place in Paradise Valley for a cool eleven million and change. Must be nice to have options like that.
Something in my mind clicked again. I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine, an ex-girlfriend as it happened, who had helped me find the office in which I was sitting.
“This is Sally Peters.”
“Hey, Sally. It’s Jay Fearsson.”
“Hey there, stranger. How’s the PI biz?”
“It’s keeping me busy, paying some bills.”
“Getting you in the paper, too. I saw that you got shot.”
“Yeah, I’m better now.”
“Well, good. Wanna take me out for dinner? Maybe get lucky?”
“I thought you were engaged.”
“I was,” she said. “Not anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sal. But I’m going to have to pass on the getting lucky thing.”
“Jay Fearsson, do you have a girlfriend?”
A big, fat, stupid grin split my face. Billie and I had been together for a couple of months, but the novelty of being in a serious relationship hadn’t worn off yet. “Yep. Pretty crazy, right?”
“Wow, yeah. Pretty crazy. So if you’re not calling for me for a night on the town, are you calling for business?”
“Sort of. I need a little information. If a house was sold a couple of years ago, can you still pull up the listing on your system, maybe tell me some of the details?”
“Hmmm,” she said. “A couple of years? I dunno. But I can try. Where was the house?”
“Scottsdale. It belonged to Regina Witcombe.”
She laughed. “The Witcombe estate? I don’t have to do a search. Every agent in the greater Phoenix area was drooling over those commissions — one agency got both the sale of the Scottsdale house and the purchase of the mansion in Paradise Valley. Both were handled by Sonoran Winds Realty.”
“You don’t happen to know who the listing agent was, do you?”
“For which one?”
I wasn’t sure it mattered, but I said, “The Scottsdale sale.” I held my breath, hoping against hope that she would remember that name as well.
“Oh, God. I should remember. She was the toast of the town for weeks afterward.”
“It was a woman.”
“Yes. Both agents were; that much I’m sure of. Hold on, Jay.” It sounded like she put her hand over the receiver, though I could still hear her voice as she said, “Hey do any of you remember the name of the listing agent for Regina Witcombe’s house in Scottsdale?”
Someone answered her, but I couldn’t make out the name.
“No,” Sally said. “She handled the sale in Paradise Valley.”
“Who did, Sal?” I asked. I don’t think she heard me.
She and her colleagues batted around a couple of other names before she removed her hand from the receiver.
“We’re drawing a blank on the Scottsdale agent, Jay. Sorry.”
“Who was the agent on the one in Paradise Valley?”
“What was the first name again?” Sally asked her coworkers. “Right, right.” To me she said, “Patricia Hesslan-Fine.”
“That’s the name I was hoping to hear, Sal. Thank you.”
“Seriously, I owe you one.”
“Cool. If this thing with your new girlfriend works out, and you need to find a new place, you’ll come to me, right?”
“I promise. Gotta go.”
We hung up, but for a moment I remained frozen in place, staring at my computer and the image of Regina Witcombe that lingered on the screen.
Patty Hesslan had been Regina Witcombe’s real estate agent, or at least one of them. And yesterday they had been traveling together. Sort of. Patty had been listed as a party of one. Checking the list again, I saw that Regina was listed the same way. Random chance? It was possible. But in the past day and a half I had encountered enough coincidences to last a lifetime, and this last one was a doozy.
I had few leads and no idea where to start digging around for more. This one, as tenuous as it was, seemed like my best bet. And I’ll admit as well that a part of me was curious about Patty Hesslan and what she remembered about the horrible events that had bound our families together for a few months back when we were teenagers.