by Marji Laine
Her phone rang and she glanced at the number. “Oh, Peter. You’re timing is perfect as usual.” She made her way back to her office and shut the door behind her.
“And how is my favorite baby sister?” The man’s fifty years and hard living in the dry environment near the Sahara left his voice crackling.
“Frustrated.” Peter didn’t really have much to do with the foundation, but being a widower, he’d taken as active a part in the family as possible, calling her every week without fail. “The foundation is having some financial trouble, apparently.”
“I can’t see the bank accounts to check them.” She told him about what Dad had said and about her failed efforts on the computer. “But he and Mama are at an event so I don’t want to bother them.”
“What about that new man?” Peter must have spoken to Mama or Dad about Clint.
“He only volunteers here. I don’t have any way to contact him, and I haven’t seen him for a few days.”
“Oh, that is frustrating. Things are still running like normal?” Of course, her big brother would focus on the facts.”
“I guess so.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes. I’m just making snakes out of spaghetti, aren’t I?”
Her brother chuckled through the line. “Now I didn’t say that. If you are concerned then there’s reason to look into it. You’re doing the right thing. But I also know that mystery-conjuring mind of yours.”
He didn’t know the half of it. She’d only told him a few of her tales. “That was a long time ago, bro.”
“Once a sleuth . . . but seriously, you might consider talking to someone. Maybe someone there at the foundation or some accounting type.”
“Probably a good idea.” She would consider it anyway. “What’s the news?”
Her brother shared about an intricate operation that he was able to perform, a facial reconstruction that would allow a child to look as normal as all the others. “Children who have birth defects here are terribly mistreated.”
“I can’t imagine the type of bullying they must experience.”
“Beyond bullying. Children who are different are targeted, regularly beaten, and often killed. Like open season.”
“That’s horrible.” And shocking.
“So, you can imagine how important this surgery was to the little boy and his widowed mother.” Peter’s voice resonated with compassion.
It reminded her again of why she did what she did. It wasn’t the family. Not even her parents. She did what she did to help the children who benefitted from their many charities and learned that God loved them in a real and personal way.
When she got off the phone with her brother she decided to take his advice and continue to pursue this issue with the finances.
And the first issue was to find Clint. She hurried across the reception room to the opposite wing where most of the rooms were used by volunteers. Mrs. Hodges waved at her, absently, as she spoke on the phone with someone.
She made her way to the large office for those volunteers tasked with desk work, typing and such. Clint’s office was at one end of it. She tapped her knuckles just below his nameplate. “Clint?”
She’d not really expected an answer and bumped her hip lightly against the door. Sure enough, it opened. It hadn’t latched well since her brother, Paul, ran into it when they were playing chase a dozen years ago.
The space had been Connie’s when she served as an intern a few years back. She flicked on the switch, and the bare surfaces of the office showed before her just as she remembered them. The only homey effect in the entire office was a large Wright family portrait on the opposite wall. Connie had only been ten, sitting cross-legged on the ground with red bows in her dark hair and a matching sweater over her plaid dress.
So, she had worn red at one point. More like Mama had dressed her in the color. But maybe this weekend she’d shop a little. Maybe some red accessories, like a belt. Or shoes
She rounded the edge of the desk. The least she could do was leave Clint a sticky note requesting that he come see her. His computer’s screen saver danced around like some ancient video game that her brother, Paul, had taught her how to play.
A yellow pad perched on the edge of the desk. She picked it up and reached for a pen but caught the feel of deep indentions under her fingertips. She gave the surface of the pad a long look. Clint had probably used a pen that was low on ink so had pressed down hard.
She set the pad back down and picked up a pencil from the cup beside the monitor. Yeah, she was being a little on the nosy side, but her policeman brother Paul had shown her this technique once. Her curiosity drove her to see if it really worked.
At least, that’s what she told herself. She lightly ran the side of the pencil across the sticky notepad. The top of it had several letters, both caps and lowercase. Looked like a password for something, though there weren’t any numbers. But the line underneath it was all numbers and no letters, but a gap splitting the line.
She kept shading the rest of the page. Her eyes widened at the last notation, 1.5M. Something itched the back of her neck. Was that million? As in dollars? Surely it was something silly like meters? Or maybe it was 1.5 million people.
Still, what seemed to be the impression of a dollar sign appeared in the space in front of the one. Her imagination might be running away with her, but either way, she wasn’t about to leave the evidence behind that she’d even been in this office. Pulling the top few sheets from the pad, she returned the pencil to the cup and exited the office, flicking off the switch as she went. She pulled the door almost closed again and scampered in her flats back to her own office. She stuck the pages onto the surface of her desk and jotted down a note on her own blue notepad.
Please come see me in my office.
She trotted back down the hallway and stuck the note on the doorframe of his office. Surely, he would see it if he’d missed the emails she’d sent.
Back in her office, Connie stared at the shaded page. She probably indulged in too many Perry Mason episodes, but her gut bothered her about this note.
With Mama and Dad at Margaret’s visiting her family, though, she really didn’t have anyone she could discuss it with. She slipped the pages into the pocket of her brown pants and strolled down to the reception desk.
“Well, there’s the beautiful girl.” Mrs. Hodges gave her a glowing grin. She was a picture of professionalism. Mama probably had her in this position for that exact reason. “What can I do for you, dear?”
“I wonder if you’ve seen Clint Rutherford this week?” If anyone had, it would be Mrs. Hodges.
She pursed her lips for a moment and her forehead wrinkled. “You know he works at another office.”
Connie had gotten that vibe when he mentioned his freelancing gigs.
Mrs. Hodges continued, ”He usually comes in on Mondays and Thursdays. But I don’t remember seeing him at all this week.”
“Is that normal for him?” Maybe he had a habit of working from home since her parents were out of town. “Have you heard from him?”
“No. It’s really rather strange. The only other time I remember him missing a day he had scheduled to work, he called because he had a doctor appointment. Very conscientious young man, there.”
Sounded like she thought well of him, too. “Was he scheduled for Monday and today?”
She opened the book on the counter behind her. “Yes for today.” She flipped back several pages. “Yes on Monday as well.”
“And you haven’t heard from him?”
“No.” She drew the word out and turned another page in the planner. “Oh, there’s a note here that he spoke to Frank last week.” She glanced up at Connie. “Could that by your brother?”
“I can certainly find out.”
Check back tomorrow for Part Nine of
THE VISITOR MISSES A VISIT!