Family Ties
Chapter 6

Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy

Taylor thought about the name ‘Grace Sharp’ all the way back to the hotel, trying to place where he’d heard it. By the time he got back, he still hadn’t placed it, but he did remember it had something to do with Whitaker. He couldn’t remember if it was a personal connection, or a work connection. Still, knowing Whitaker, their connection was almost certainly through work. Even after they got together, Whitaker always spent more time working than socializing. Taylor could only think of a handful of non-work friends, most of whom she saw only occasionally.

Assuming it was a work connection, Taylor called Joe Solomon. It took a little time after the secretary put him on hold, but eventually, Joe answered.

“Did you find her?” Joe said as soon as he picked up the phone.

“Not yet, but I came across a lead I can’t place. Does the name Grace Sharp sound familiar to you?”

“Hold on a second,” Joe said.

Taylor could hear a keyboard in the background for a minute, meaning Joe was looking her up in one of the FBI’s databases.

“She used to be one of ours working in Intelligence. She retired a year and a half ago, and last year she registered as a consultant for the German foreign office. Our records indicate she’s living in Berlin. Do you have information that she’s connected to any of this?”

“Some. When Whitaker was looking into her uncles’ death, before her aunt was murdered, Sharp helped Whitaker get access to his autopsy and accompanied her to the medical examiners’ office. What did she do in Intelligence?”

“I didn’t know her personally, so I’m just going by our records, but it looks like she was in information warehousing and sharing, specifically liaising with EU nations. Her last year here, she was the point person working with the Bundespolizei, the German federal police force. That probably explains how she got the gig consulting with them after her separation.”

“Anything in her records about how she and Whitaker might be connected or a clue of how she got involved?”

“No, but it’s unlikely there would be. Whitaker was never assigned to Intelligence, but she’s worked with them before, so they could have met there. Then again, they could have met through mutual friends or a hundred other different ways. Whitaker never mentioned her to you?”

“Maybe. Her name sounds familiar, but I can’t place it. If she had mentioned her, it wasn’t often or only in passing. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d remember.”

“How’d you end up with her name?”

“I went to see the M.E. to try to backtrack Whitaker’s investigation, to see if I could work out where she’d be going next. Sharp pulled some strings to get Whitaker in the door and accompanied her when they went to look at her uncle’s records. Like I said, her name seemed familiar, but I wasn’t able to place her. Can you send me her contact information?”

“Yeah. Anything else happening?”

“We found a storage locker Whitaker rented after her aunt’s murder. I was with Graf, and three guys jumped us. Graf took a flyer in the arm, and one of the men got away. Graf’s men are going over the files Whitaker had in the storage locker now.”

“Were the men there specifically for you?”

“Either that or they knew about the locker and were waiting for someone to come along and open it. Either way, they’re connected. No way it was a coincidence.”

“Do you know who they were?”

“Not yet. Graf is running their prints, and I asked an old friend to do some checking in areas outside of what Graf would have access to.”

“Be careful with that. The Germans can be just as touchy as we are when it comes to outsiders messing with their investigations. Honestly, I’m still surprised they were the ones who asked for you to be involved.”

“He’s been keeping me at arm’s length. I wasn’t going to tell him about my separate checks unless they turned up something.”

“Good. What about the files you found.”

“I got a chance to look through them already, there was nothing noteworthy, at least not that I can see. I’m honestly not sure why Whitaker stashed them in a locker. They were pretty mundane.”

“She almost certainly had her reasons. I’ve never known Loretta to do anything on a whim, at least not without someone else’s influence. Be careful out there, John. A lot about this still smells bad.”

Taylor let the dig about ‘someone else’s influence,’ which was a clear record to himself, slide.

“No, kidding. None of this adds up yet. I’m missing something, but I’m not sure what it is.”

“Good luck and call me if you need anything else.”

Taylor hung up and marveled at the conversation he just had. He and Solomon had never been on good terms. Truth be told, Solomon would have preferred Taylor never being involved with the Bureau and was forced to deal with him only out of Taylor’s minimal celebrity after the killing of Qasim. That was almost certainly the least acrimonious conversation the two men had ever had.

Solomon sent Sharp’s contact information after a few minutes, including office and home numbers, as well as her basic file. It wasn’t the full file Solomon had been looking at, but it was basic biographic details and a picture. The picture, more than anything, was going to be useful, since Taylor didn’t know what Sharp looked like yet. A secretary answered at the office but said that Sharp had taken some personal time and wasn’t expected until next week. Taylor left his name with the secretary and told her it was urgent, and to try and get the message to Sharp. From the tone of the woman’s voice, it seemed pretty certain that wasn’t going to happen.

He also tried Sharp’s home number, which no one picked up.

Looking at the clock, he realized he’d have to deal with Sharp later. The meeting Caldwell had set up with the Wissler family was coming up, and he needed to get a move on. People like this were always happy to leave someone of Taylor’s status waiting, but they wouldn’t stand to be kept waiting themselves.

While Taylor was always happy to tweak the nose of the high and mighty, he needed something from them, so it was best to play by their rules.

Taylor had expected the address to lead to a swanky mansion. Instead, he was taken to an office building in the center of Berlin. There were guards in the lobby who took his name and eventually directed him up to the top floor. The offices were swanky, of course, but they were still just offices. He cooled his heels a while longer, waiting in a glass-walled conference room of some type with nicer chairs than anything in Taylor’s house.

After thirty minutes, a middle-aged man in a suit that screamed money walked in, followed by three others in nice, but much less fancy attire. When all three were seated, it was one of the flunkies and not the well-dressed man who spoke first.

“Mr. Taylor, I’m Dominik Arneth, one of the trust’s lawyers. Before we can begin, we’d like to set down a few ground rules. We will not be answering any questions of a personal nature about any of the family members or trust employees, nor will we get into any details about assets or business interests the trust currently or has previously held. Any information we do provide will be considered just informational, and we will not confirm anything that’s said here in this meeting.”

“Or put another way,” Taylor said, “you plan on answering as few questions as possible.”

“I want to make something very clear here, Mr. Taylor,” the well-dressed man said. “You have no legal standing in this country to request a meeting on any topic, let alone something as ... concerning as Frieda Wissler’s untimely death. The only reason we’ve agreed to talk to you is as a favor to Senator Caldwell and some interested parties who want to keep Mrs. Caldwell happy. Without her, you’d have no access at all. As it is, that access is naturally minimal. We, of course, understand if you find this too restricting and decide you no longer want this interview.”

“It’s fine, I get where I stand. So am I talking to him or you?”

“Me, Mr. Taylor,” the well-dressed man said. “Mr. Arneth and his associates are just here to make sure everything stays on the, up, and up, I believe you Americans say.”

“Fine. As you said, I’m looking into the murder of Frieda Wissler and, by extension, her husbands’ death as well.”

“I understood Frederick’s death was ruled natural causes,” Albrecht said.

“That was the ruling. However, Frieda thought there was more to it than that. Her sudden murder seems to suggest she might have been on to something.”

“The police have connected her murder to his passing?”

“Officially, not yet, but some indications are pointing that way.”

Taylor knew that was obfuscation at best. They had nothing but Taylor’s gut at the moment to suggest the two events were connected.

“I see. Mr. Taylor, I will say both personally and as a spokesman for the family trust, we are aghast at Frieda’s senseless murder. As we’ve told the police, we are committed to helping find her justice. What I can tell you, however, is it is doubtful that the two events are connected. I’m not sure if you are aware, but Frederick had started suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. As I understand it, his sudden death was not out of character for someone suffering from that disease.”

“You are correct, but the suddenness of his departure did seem unusual to Frieda.”

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