Join the further adventures and misadventures of Cat Collier, a young woman who opens her own private investigation business in her small hometown as she makes her journey from being a small town obituary writer to big city detective. In this fifth installment of the short story mystery series, Cat works to find a missing Chinese girl who came to the United States on a work/study program and disappeared into thin air. An informant takes a big risk. Nola is put in danger. The child of a prominent country club women has her parentage questioned. Someone from Gus Black’s past shows up at the hotel.
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“You don’t get it all in life, Cat,” shrieked my mother. “Nobody does. You don’t get to have the dream job and the dream guy and all the love and brains and looks and personality. You have to pick. You have to choose. You have to sacrifice. You have to give up one in order to get the other. That’s life as an adult woman.”
“Mom, calm down. What are you yelling about?”
“I am simply attempting to shake you back to reality, daughter. Carter and Detrick have spoiled you rotten. You live in a damn fairy tale dream world. Penthouse apartment, luxury office, brand new car. Fancy designer clothes, cocktail dresses, and a diamond engagement ring so big it looks fake. Handbags that cost as much as a month’s rent. Somebody cooks for you. Somebody cleans for you. Somebody does your laundry. While you play detective on your own tiny, delusional planet. Wake the hell up!
“How long do you think it will take Carter Larsen to figure out he could have had any girl in the world? He’s tall, dark, and so handsome. He’s a brilliant lawyer with a wonderful personality,” she continued. “He’s charming, sweet, and very smart. He’s the only child of a millionaire. He’s a great cook. He’s organized and has a great eye for design and color. He knows how to do just about everything. He does everything in the apartment. He adored his mother. And he’s mannerly and respectful. Why on earth would he want to marry—”
“Me? Why would he want to marry a plain, boring, average, small town girl like…me? Not particularly beautiful? Or well educated? Or wealthy? Truthfully, I don’t know the answer to that one. I’ve asked myself that same question over and over. I didn’t propose to him, you know. He asked me. Numerous times. So, if you want the answer to that burning question, Mother, you’ll have to ask Carter himself.”
I pulled on my raincoat and stomped out to my car, not even attempting to dodge the giant raindrops. I tore down the street at breakneck speed, sliding all over the empty side streets. I turned into the grocery store parking lot, screeched to a stop, and sobbed.
My mother was caustic, but she was absolutely right. Erick Carter Larsen was way out of my league. I always harbored the fear he would go back to his beautiful, slim, underwear model ex-girlfriend. Yvette. All those things my mother said were true. The only thing I had going for me was I looked like his beloved, now deceased, mother. I don’t know how long I sat in the car and balled like a hormonal teenager on her period before my phone rang.
“Cat, Mr. Harlan is here for his two o’clock appointment,” said Nola White, my secretary, my friend, and my partner in crime and legal matters. I met Nola when she hired me to find out who was stalking her. We hit it off. She had no one and no place to go, so I brought her home. Home, to the Palazzo Castellano, the hotel where I live and work.
I cleared my throat and said, “I’ll be right there. I’m on my way.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Just a little…wet. I’ll be right there.”
I pulled back out into traffic and proceeded at normal speed to the underground parking lot of the Palazzo Castellano. I parked in my reserved space and took the elevator up to my office on the eighth floor.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Harlan.” I eyed the nice-looking gentleman in khakis and a leather jacket, somewhere in his late thirties I’m guessing. Light brown hair with just a touch of grey at the temples. Soft, kind eyes, brown and slightly worried. I dug deep inside to find my most cheerful voice and a smile as I hung up my soaking wet raincoat. I sat down at my beautiful chrome and glass desk and pulled the gorgeous white leather swivel chair up to the desk.
Nola closed the door.
“How can we at Red Cat Investigation help you today?”
“Hello, Miss Collier. It’s nice to meet you. I have a delicate situation on my hands and I wondered if you could look into a matter of great importance to me… privately.”
“That’s what we do, Mr. Harlan.”
“Call me Jack…please.”
I reached my hand across the desk.
“Jack. Call me Cat.”
“Cat.” He stood for a moment and shook my hand. “I’m lucky enough to be engaged to a wonderful woman. Beautiful and fantastic. Simone Phillipson.”
“Well, congratulations, Jack.”
“Thank you,” he blushed. “Simone has a child. From a former relationship. A daughter, a lovely girl named Lystra.”
“That’s not uncommon these days, Jack.”
“I realize that. And Lystra is a terrific kid. Cute, sweet, smart, funny. I love her as if she were my own daughter.”
“And that’s where the problem lies. Simone won’t tell me who the child’s father is. She won’t tell anybody. She’s never told anyone. Her parents don’t even know. The father is listed on the birth certificate as unknown. I would like to adopt Lystra when we get married. But I want to know what I’m getting myself into. If the guy is alive, I don’t want him showing up at our door to challenge me as Lystra’s father and causing me custody battles down the line. I know if we lost custody of Lystra, I would lose Simone. She is devoted to her child.”
“I understand. You want to get all your ducks in a row. Does your fiancée object to DNA testing?”
“Yes. Strongly. She told me to leave it alone. In fact, she demanded it.”
“So, she doesn’t want you to adopt Lystra?”
“She has no problem with my pursuit of the adoption, but she refuses to have any discussion about Lystra’s father. But I travel for business, sometimes out of the country. Simone works for an online marketing company, so she can work anywhere with an internet connection. We could travel all over the world. That’s been my lifelong dream. We could see all the wonderful sights out there together. As a family unit.
“Presently Lystra is in private school with a very flexible schedule. But as she gets older, that’ll change. I want to legally adopt Lystra so we can be a real family. And when we take her out of the country, I won’t have to worry about challenges to Simone’s custody. I think Lystra wants that, too. It’ll make us feel like a family unit. That’s where the ‘privately’ part comes in, Cat. Simone can’t know what we’re doing. She can’t find out I’ve gone behind her back to find out about Lystra’s father.”
“No problem. I’ll need some information on Lystra and Simone. Let’s see what I can dig up without a DNA test first. Maybe, we’ll get lucky. You know, it’s easier to prove who the father isn’t with a DNA test rather than who is.”
“I have some dates and locations for you,” said Jack.
I took notes as Jack recited a litany of names, dates, and cities.
“I’ll get right on this, Jack.”
He laid a hundred-dollar bill on my desk. “Here’s a deposit. Call me on my cell phone.” He scribbled the number on the corner of my notepad. “Thank you, Cat.”
Mr. Jack Harlan left the office just as my cell phone rang.
“Cat,” said Jean Houston, “I just walked into Carter’s apartment in Manhattan and…”
I froze. Was she going to tell me she walked in on Carter and his beautiful underwear model ex-girlfriend in the throes of passion and love-making. I held my breath.“And I’m in the living room,” continued Jean, “and it’s the creepiest thing..."