Episode 20 of Witt Kepler, Private Eye
After seeing the two beautiful women seated at his table, Witt’s hands started fidgeting. He tried hooking his thumbs into the corners of the front pockets of his trousers, but then decided the look was too casual. The right hand went deep into the pocket, the left started swinging like a robot missing a few gears. Still not happy about the whole situation, Witt grabbed a menu from the hostess stand. Now he felt more comfortable. He had his crutch.
“Sorry I’m late. Had to finish some business over at the DA’s office. Would you like to see a menu?” Witt offered the ladies his folio, as if he were a maitre’d.
The two women chuckled, obviously sensing the private eye’s unnatural nervousness. Carolyn and her friend were seated on the same side of the booth. She waved her hand toward the opposing bench seat, letting Witt know he was welcome to sit with them.
“Thank you,” Carolyn answered, “but I’m afraid we have just ordered. In fact, I ordered for you, as well. But first, Witt, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Erica Hansen. She and I struggled through medical school together. Erica is a pediatrician now and lives over on the west side of Metro.”
Witt knew the neighborhoods over on the west side. Most of his business came from the denizens who lived there, in their multi-million dollar mansions. If it wasn’t setting up a security system, or determining which staff member was stealing silverware, it was staking out the property to see who was sleeping with whom while the spouse was away. A rotten business, but those cases paid the bills he thought.
“Very nice to meet you, Erica. So – what did you all choose for me? The spaghetti Bolognese is wonderful. Or – by chance did you order the Puttanesca? My favorite, you know.”
The blonde started to speak, but then thought otherwise and did not reply, only glancing at her friend.
“Caprese salad, actually. I thought it would be nice to give you something besides my mother’s meatloaf.” Turning to her companion, Carolyn said “Erica, Witt is such a gentleman – and very discreet. He is also the best private detective in town. If anyone can help you and Tove, he can.”
“Tove?” Witt said. “As in Tove Hansen, owner of Tove Hansen Shipyards?” The social status of the woman sitting across from him suddenly trumped the lack of meat on his entrée.
The pediatrician gave a weak smile of acknowledgment. “Yes. It’s our family business.”
Witt had no idea he had just sat across from the wife of one of Metro’s most reclusive billionaires. The Hansen shipyards had built at least half of America’s fleet of Naval vessels. Yet, even during contract negotiations, lawyers handled everything. The mysterious owner had never been seen, not even photographed. Just getting to meet him would put Witt in an exclusive club.
“Witt, my friend here has a problem. She thinks a competitor has hired an industrial espionage specialist.”
“A spy,” the woman added. “A spy that has somehow gained knowledge that could only have been heard inside my own home. And Mr. Kepler, pay is no problem.”
“A spy at the hatch, eh?” Witt started tapping his index finger on the table, unconsciously echoing the statement in Morse code. “Mrs. Hansen, I will do this job gratis. Any friend of Carolyn is a friend of mine.”
“Mr. Kepler, you must stop this spy. And – there is one stipulation, one rule – an iron-clad rule. Anything you see inside the house must never be spoken of. Tove and I lead very private lives and we intend to keep it that way. Security is essential.”
“Ma’am, you have nothing to worry about. I don’t like talking to most people as it is.”