Fourth in the Rhett and Toni Detective Series
Monday Morning. Houston, Texas.
On Monday at nine o’clock in the morning, Jan Larsen paid her second visit to the offices of the Sanders Investigation Agency. She’d been here three weeks before, and Toni and I had turned her away. Jan Larsen hoped this time would be different.
The first time Jan Larsen visited our office, she’d asked for one of those services not offered by the Sanders Investigation Agency. She wanted her husband tailed, hoping to obtain proof he was having an affair. She was willing to pay anything, including expenses for travel as she believed Niels Larsen’s affairs were conducted outside of Houston. But we declined.
This visit was different. The service Jan Larsen wanted today was on our menu.
After thanking the new P.I.s for agreeing to meet with her again, Jan explained how her husband had died in New Mexico three nights ago, and how the Santa Fe Police Department had claimed the shooting was the result of a “drug deal gone bad.” She reported that the police had found small plastic baggies of cocaine in her husband’s rental car, and a gun in her husband’s hand. Toni and I recalled reading something about the murder in the Houston Chronicle.
She said, “Niels was probably not a faithful husband—and by the way, I never did hire someone to follow him—but he certainly wasn’t involved in drugs. And he never owned a hand gun. I need to find out what really happened in Santa Fe.”
As Toni and I listened, we also analyzed.
I took notes on index cards—something I’ve done for years—and hoped Jan wouldn’t catch my occasional glances at her body. She was gorgeous, with a terrific figure. She was forty years old with frequently refreshed blond hair and light blue eyes. I thought she could’ve been related to the actress, Reese Witherspoon. Of course, she’s not my type. I like them shorter, around five feet two inches tall, with dark brown hair, green eyes, and a face like Natalie Wood. Someone who looks like Toni. But Jan Larsen was attractive and I wondered whether her dead husband had indeed been unfaithful, and if so, why. I recalled the old saying, “No matter how beautiful a woman is, someone could still tire of sleeping with her.”
Toni and I already knew she had money—or at least would inherit a lot of money—as she’d written, “4045 Inverness,” as her home address on her Application for Services form. Every home on that prestigious River Oaks block was worth at least four million dollars, and some were worth much more. Jan and her sons would be fine financially, and if she was heartbroken about her new status as widow, she wasn’t showing it.
Toni wondered why a very recently widowed woman of a murdered man would bother to take the time to do her hair and makeup and get dressed in an attractive St. John’s suit to meet with a couple of private investigators. Toni guessed correctly that Jan had been either a Pi Phi or Kappa at the University of Texas, and she was amused when she caught me sneaking glances at Jan’s legs and upper body when Jan wasn’t looking at me.
As we listened to Jan, Toni and I tried to determine whether the widow was grieving or perhaps was hiding her pleasure by what had occurred in Santa Fe. So far, we couldn’t tell which. As Jan spoke, she was in complete control of her emotions. Toni also wondered about the coincidence that Niels Larsen, a man suspected by his wife to be an adulterer, would be killed.
Toni asked, “Jan, a month ago you came to us, hoping to prove your husband was involved with another woman. We assumed that if we’d taken your case then, and had indeed discovered that your late husband was being unfaithful, that you would have divorced him. That’s right isn’t it?”
“So you were emotionally prepared to be divorced.”
I knew where Toni was headed and said, “Ms. Larsen, what Toni is getting at, is why do you care about your how husband died? I mean, if you thought he was cheating on you, his death is sort of the same as a divorce.”
In reality, I knew that in some ways Niels Larsen’s murder was better than a divorce. There would be no legal fees, and Jan would now get everything that wasn’t in trusts for her sons or considered Larsen’s separate property.
Jan said, “Look, I’m pretty sure Niels had girlfriends or whatever when he traveled. And yes, if I had proof of that, I would have filed for divorce. But we have two sons—I’m thinking about them. His reputation is important, and I don’t want our sons growing up believing their father was a drug dealer.” She glanced at Toni and added, “I didn’t hate Niels, and I certainly didn’t want him killed.”
I was eager to take Jan on as our first client but I sensed Toni had some reservations. Maybe there was something Jan was not sharing. Maybe there was some secret she was hiding.
Jan looked at me and asked, “Will you help me?”
“Yes, we will.” Then I looked at Toni who took a deep breath and slowly nodded. I added, “If Toni agrees.”
Toni smiled. I scored some points. But I could tell Toni still had some reservations about Jan. Toni’s a better judge of character than I am, and I admit that I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face.
Toni said, “Jan, we’ll take your case, but please understand that Rhett and I will have to know a lot of information—some of it very personal—and you will have to be totally honest with us.” She glanced at me, and then leaning forward she looked Jan Larsen in the eye and added, “Is there anything else we need to know? Anything at all?”
Jan said, “No.”
I said, “We’ll definitely need to talk with you more, ask you a lot of questions, but we’ll try not to bother you too much.”
Jan Larsen said she’d make herself available whenever we called, although she indicated that she would be very busy until after the memorial service for her husband scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Toni explained the fee structure to the very first client of the Sanders Investigation Agency. Jan would be charged $75 per hour for our time, plus expenses. When researching the private investigative business, Toni and I learned that the most experienced PIs charged $150 or more per hour, and because we knew that we would always work as a team, $75 per hour per person seemed like a competitive rate. Maybe after we become more experienced, we could raise our fees. Toni asked for an up-front retainer of $2,500.
Jan Larsen didn’t hesitate as she accepted the terms. I retrieved a contract from my desk and handed it to her. She signed without reading it and then she took her checkbook from her purse and wrote the check and handed it to me. I immediately passed it Toni. More points.
We discussed the assignments of the engagement and agreed that one of the first objectives, which I wrote down on an index card, would be to determine that Niels Larsen was not a drug user nor a drug dealer. We would also ascertain whether Jan’s dead husband had financial problems that might motivate him to make money illegally selling drugs. Jan said that she was certain there were no money problems.
Toni said, “Jan, we’ll need your permission to get your husband’s autopsy report, and also your permission to talk to his family doctor.”
I said, “We’ll also need to talk with your husband’s bankers.”
Jan was provided with a simple form which gave the necessary permissions, and on which she listed Niels Larsen’s personal physician, his bankers, his stock broker, and his money manager. In all, there were four men who handled Niels Larsen’s finances.
Jan reiterated, “I’m sure you’ll find out that we have no financial problems, and that Niels was not involved with drugs in any way.”
Toni said, “I’m sure you’re right.”
I agreed and said, “So if your husband wasn’t killed in a ‘drug deal gone bad,’ we’ll to try to find out who murdered him and why.”
Our client confirmed our objectives.
Toni asked, “Jan, what was your husband doing in Santa Fe?”
She wasn’t sure. “I stopped asking why he went anywhere a long time ago. Got tired of his lying. But he . . . I mean, we’re …. major donors to the opera in Santa Fe, so maybe there was a meeting about that. And he’s gone there to play golf with one of his college friends who owns a vacation home there.”
I told her that Toni and I would try to find out for certain why Niels Larsen was in Santa Fe.
After the door was closed when Jan walked out of their offices, Toni and I hugged. I said, “Our first client. And she’s loaded.”
Toni smiled, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I just hope she can be trusted.”
I looked at my wife and business partner. Again I acknowledged that she was a better judge of character than I was. I said, “I hope so, too. We need to celebrate.”