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فصل 04

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Chapter four

A voice from the past

Tuesday, October 5th. Stella and I were at East 43rd Street early. Now we had another person to find.

“Stella, see if you can find a phone number for this Van Zandt,” I asked. “I’ll look for a number for Steinmann.”

My search was much faster than Stella’s. It was all there in the phone book - the number and an address on West 75 th Street, on the Upper West Side near Central Park. You needed serious money to live in that part of town.

I made the call. “Good morning. May I speak with Mr. Steinmann?” I asked.

“Who are you and what’s your business with Mr. Steinmann?” answered a loud voice. A voice I knew very well - Captain Oldenberg of the NYPD. What was he doing there? I wondered.

“Oldenberg! Great to hear your voice again!” I said. “Remember me? Nat Marley. Why, it only seems like yesterday when we used to be cops together.”

Oldenberg didn’t want to talk about old times. “Just answer the question, Marley!” he shouted.

“OK, OK. I’m making the call for a client. Mr. Steinmann is the head of her husband’s department. It’s important that I speak with him.”

“Very interesting,” replied Oldenberg. “That’s going to be kind of difficult. You see, Steinmann has disappeared. Nobody’s seen him since Friday. How about you tell me what’s going on?”

I knew I might need Oldenberg’s help. I told myself to be patient. “My client’s husband is in some kind of trouble,” I said. “I thought his boss could help with a few questions.”

“I get the picture,” said Oldenberg. “As usual, you can’t tell me the full story. But let me tell you this, Marley. Don’t try hiding information that could help my investigation, or else I’ll have you at Police Headquarters for questioning.”

Message received and understood. Oldenberg was a good cop and was doing his job. But, as I knew from the old days with the NYPD, he was neither the friendliest nor the easiest guy to work with.

As soon as I put the phone down, it rang. It was Mrs. O’Neill. She had returned home to Henry Street to pick up a change of clothes and she had found the front door wide open. Someone had broken into the house. I remembered the calls that Mrs. O’Neill had received yesterday. Now I knew that someone was checking to see when the house was empty.

“Is anything missing?” I asked.

“I really don’t know. Please come quickly. I’m so afraid they’ll come back,” she said.

“Don’t touch anything,” I told her. “Can you wait with a neighbor?… Good. I’m on my way.”

I left Stella looking for phone numbers for Van Zandts. I took another subway ride to Brooklyn Heights. With the number of traffic lights between Midtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, the subway was always faster. I called Mrs. O’Neill’s cellphone five minutes before I arrived. She was standing by the front door, her hands shaking.

“Mr. Marley, this is just horrible. It must be something to do with my poor Patrick,” she cried.

She led me into the house. Someone had made a complete mess of the home office. All the books were off the shelves, with their pages open. Empty desk drawers were lying on the carpet. The computer was still there, but when I felt around the back of the machine, it was open. The hard drive was missing.

“Look here,” I said. “That’s what they were looking for - information on the hard drive. But if they don’t find what they’re looking for on the hard drive they could return and you’ll be in serious danger. So I don’t want you to return to this house again.”

“I’ll stay at Julia’s until this is over,” Mrs O’Neill said sadly.

“OK. We have to make sure this house is safe before you leave,” I said. “I’ll call a twenty-four hour lock service. You’ll need new, stronger locks. I’ll stay here while we wait.”

I would probably have a couple of hours to wait with Mrs. O’Neill. It was a chance to ask a few more questions and get a better picture of her husband. I didn’t think she realized how much danger she could be in. When would she agree to call the NYPD?

“Mrs. O’Neill, what can you tell me about your husband’s boss, Steinmann?” I started. “Yesterday you said they weren’t the best of friends.”

“A couple of years ago, Patrick had the chance to become the department head. He was the right person for the job and he was well liked. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the job, though that wasn’t his fault. Lorraine Houston, the president, wanted someone fresh and new from outside. She preferred the kind of guy who didn’t care if he wasn’t liked. So Steinmann got the job. Patrick continued with his work as best as he could, but there was no friendship between him and Steinmann.”

“Thanks. That’s useful to know. Has your husband always lived in Brooklyn?” I went on.

“No. We moved here when Julia was just a kid. Patrick’s family are Irish-American. His grandparents arrived in the U.S. from Dublin in the 1920s. They more or less got off the ship and moved straight to the East Village. Patrick grew up in Alphabet City, on 10th Street.”

Alphabet City is the part of the East Village which gets its name from Avenues A, B, C and D, which cut across it. It didn’t use to be a safe area. In fact, it was a center for drugs and crime. But now things have changed. Today you can find cool cafes, bars and stores in the area.

“So he didn’t come from a rich family?” I asked.

“Not at all. Patrick’s parents had a hard life. They never lived the American Dream. It wasn’t easy for Patrick, either. He’s the youngest of six children, so there was no question of the family paying for college. Patrick did it the hard way and paid for everything by working nights at a 24/7 store. He never had the advantages that I had.”

“Where do you think he might hide to escape from somebody?” I asked. “Where would he feel safest in this city?” “I couldn’t say for sure. But the area he knows best of all is the East Village,” she replied.

“Right. Now, Mrs. O’Neill, I don’t want to worry you more than necessary, but I think you’re in real danger. The people that broke into your house could come back. I think we should call the NYPD.”

Mrs. O’Neill got up from her armchair, walked over to the window and looked out into the street.

At last she spoke: “Mr. Marley, I know you’re offering the best advice. But you remember what Patrick said in his message: ‘Don’t call the NYPD.’ Those are his wishes, and I have to follow them.”

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