Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Seymour Petit. He’s in trouble and hopes No Names Investigations can help. Let me know what you think:
“Oh, my goodness gracious me. I never thought it would come to this. Never in a million years would I think it. You ladies must help me, you simply must!”
Seymour Petit is a man small in stature. His body appears to be as weak as his voice. He could be our very first bona fide client, so Beth and I hang on every soft-spoken word as he tells us about his troubles between bites on his fingernails. I write down notes so nothing will be missed.
Beth is sitting behind her desk while I reach over and pat his hand for reassurance. He rocks back and forth in his seat. “We’re going to do our very best Mr. Petit. Please tell us how we can be of service.”
He eases up on his rocking and nail-biting. “First, you must understand that what I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential.”
Beth and I nod our agreement and he continues. “My wife Gladys has been missing for two weeks and I’ve just got to find her.”
When it’s clear that Mr. Petit is not volunteering any more information, Beth and I exchange confused looks. Beth breaks the silence.
“Mr. Petit, are you saying your wife is a missing person? Have you spoken to the police?”
“Oh, goodness no. No police. I can only imagine the problems that will bring.”
I figure there’s only one way to get the whole story. “Mr. Petit, why don’t you just go back two weeks and tell us everything you know about your wife’s disappearance.”
“Okay. I’m sorry I’m so flustered. About two weeks ago Gladys and I were about to leave the office to go home. We both work at Newbern Real Estate. We usually go to work in one car but it was Friday and Gladys wanted to visit her cousin in Danville for the weekend. That’s Danville, Virginia. She drove straight from work and called me to let me know she got there okay. I didn’t talk to her again until Sunday. A bad storm was coming through the area so she said she’d meet me at work the next day. I arrived at the office on Monday morning and no Gladys. By 9:45 I was getting worried and about to call the police.”
“What stopped you?” Beth asked.
“Well, Mr. Tinsley, that’s the head of our department, he sent word that he wanted to see me right away. When Mr. Tinsley calls for you, you drop everything. Once I’m in his office he proceeded to tell me that he’s been going over the company’s books and there is a discrepancy of $378,000.94.”
I almost drop my pencil. “Mr. Petit, what is it that you and Gladys do at Newbern Real Estate?”
“Oh yes, well we’re both accountants. We’ve been working there for almost ten years now. But don’t you understand? My Gladys must have taken that money. I’ve got to find her and get her to give it back!”
Beth makes an effort to get the story back on track. “What did you say to Mr. Tinsley?”
“What could I say? I told him I would find out how the money went missing, and that’s exactly what I did. I discovered that for the past seven years or so, my Gladys has been moving company assets into a fictitious project account. A thousand here, a thousand there, with thirty or forty ventures going on at any one time, no one would miss a thousand dollars from a multi-million dollar project. The only reason why it was noticed is that she liquidated the account.”
I spoke up again. “So your wife is running around with $378,000?”
“And ninety-four cents.” Mr. Petit corrected.
I shake my head. “The point is, your wife could be on the other side of the world by now. I don’t know if—”
“Oh please, please you have to try and find her. I was able to hide the deficit but it won’t stand up to scrutiny. The office thinks Gladys has the flu but she can’t be sick forever. Please, you have to help me!”
With his pale hands clasped together, he looks like a mouse begging for a wedge of cheese. I’m just about to let him down easy when Beth chimes in. “We’ll do what we can, Mr. Petit. Do you have any idea where she might be? What about the cousin—”
“Uh, Mrs. Finelli, May I have a word with you in the reception area?” while I’m talking I give Beth a look that lets her know I’m serious. “Please excuse us for just a minute Mr. Petit.”
“Oh, ah, of course.”
I lead Beth through the reception area and into the hallway. I close the office door in case the conversation gets loud. The coast is clear and Beth talks first.
“What is it?”
“Tell me we’re not taking this case.”
She leans against the office door in a way that makes her look cavalier, “Why wouldn’t we?”
“Weren’t you paying attention? We’re never gonna catch that woman.”
She shrugs, “You never know until you try Sugar. Besides, let’s say we don’t catch her, we still get fifty bucks a day plus expenses while we try.”
Beth’s easy-going attitude is bothering me, “It’s dishonest to take Petit’s money this way. Why take a case doomed to failure? Besides, I’ve got a feeling we’re not being told everything.”
“I don’t totally trust Petit’s story. I’m not saying he’s lying, but we need to know more before we go chasing after his wife.”
Beth pushes off the door and takes a serious tone, “Listen Sugar, that’s a real client in there with a real problem. Are we in this business to help people or not?”
When Beth and I have discussions like this, we usually end up on the same page. This time I don’t think we’ll be in agreement.
“Okay, it’s against my better judgement but I guess we’ll take the case.”
“Good. Now let’s get back in there before he wonders what happened to us.”
Beth and I step back into the office and find Mr. Petit staring at a photo in his hand. He must have been lost in thought because he has a startled look.
“We’re sorry for the interruption Mr. Petit, Ms. Harding and I were just working out some details about taking the case. Do you have any more information that might be helpful?”
“After my meeting with Mr. Tisdale, I called her cousin Barbara the first chance I got. According to her, Gladys was never supposed to be there in the first place. They hadn’t spoken to each other in weeks. Oh, one other thing, Gladys initiated the transfer a week before she left. The money was moved from the company account to some other bank, but I don’t know which one.”
“Is that a picture of Gladys you have there Mr. Petit?” I ask.
“Oh, yes that’s my Gladys. Isn’t she the sweetest thing?”
Mr. Petit hands me the snapshot and I get my first good look at Gladys Petit. The picture is from one of those instant cameras. If the photographer said “smile” Gladys must not have been listening. Her cold hard stare into the camera comes from a chubby forty-something face and body to match. She looks like she’s angry that someone took her picture and I can understand why. I hand the photo to Beth and I have to credit her for not reacting when she takes a look. I write down as much detail as I can while Mr. Petit gives me the company account number, transaction date and the company bank’s branch location. When he’s done, Beth gets down to business.
“Mr. Petit, Ms. Harding and I will investigate this matter to the best of our ability. After the $500 deposit is used, our fee is $50 a day plus expenses. We will provide you with an itemized list when our business is concluded. I must warn you, pursuing this case may get very expensive.”
Mr. Petit is already writing out the deposit check. “Don’t worry about that Ms. Finelli, I’ve been prudent with my money over the years and getting my Gladys back is worth all I have. But we have to keep this whole business quiet.”
Beth accepts the check, “Don’t worry Mr. Petit, at No Names Investigations we pride ourselves on discretion. We have your number and we’ll get right on the case.”
“Bless you ladies, bless you. When I’m not at work I’ll be waiting by the phone.”
Mr. Petit gets up and shakes our hands. Once he’s out of the office, I re-heat our discussion about taking the case.
“We just made a mistake.”
“Nonsense. But I’ll admit, this is gonna take a lot of effort.”
“This is gonna take a lot of effort just to fail miserably. People can disappear with no traces when they have that many dollars.”
Beth gives a slight smile. “Don’t forget the ninety-four cents, but at least we have a lead.”
“As thin as a dollar bill.”
“It’s better than nothing. Besides Sugar, there are ways to track people on the run. Don’t fret, celebrate! We have work to do.”
All the facts say Beth’s right. No Names Investigations has its first official client and his pockets are deep. I should be happy, but my intuition tells me this case is going to bring more trouble than money.