Family Ties
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2020 by Lumpy

Whitaker dropped her helmet and threw herself at Taylor, her mouth smashing into his. For a long time, they kissed, pouring their worry and love into each other, each clutching the other tightly. Eventually, Whitaker untangled herself from Taylor and stepped back, both stopping to catch their breath.

“What are you doing here?” Whitaker asked.

“What? What do you mean, what am I doing here?” Taylor said, surprised. “You didn’t show up to bail me out?”

“No, I was there to check out Torsten Graf. I just happened to look through the window and saw you two.”

“I’m confused. You just happened to be there right when he was holding a gun on me?”

“Seems you got lucky. I found out Graf was the one who falsified my report and was going to ask him about it. Until I saw you through that window, I didn’t even know you were in Germany.”

“Okay, let’s back up because I’m a little lost. First, though, I’m thrilled to see you.”

Taylor stepped forward and kissed her again. Not as long or as passionate as before, but still with meaning, Whitaker returning it with the same amount of heat.

“No kidding, he had you dead to rights.”

“Yeah, but that’s not what I meant. I’ve missed you.”

Whitaker’s mouth drew in a tight light, a range of emotions playing across her face before she said, “Me, too. Now, you go first. What are you doing here?”

“A few days ago, German police contacted Joe Solomon about you, claiming you were wanted as a witness in a murder in Berlin, and that you’d dropped off the radar. Solomon told them about me and our relationship, and Graf requested I come back to Berlin and help them find you. I agreed to come in the hope I could find you first and help since I knew there was no way you’d killed anyone, especially some long-lived relative.”

“I didn’t.”

“I know, and so did Joe. He agreed for me to go for the same reason. I’ve spent the last few days backtracking your investigation in the hope that I could figure out where you were going and catch up to you. How’d you figure out Graf was dirty?”

“I didn’t. I found out the case into Frieda’s death had been closed, and the warrant out for me was under a completely different case. Torsten Graf signed off on it, so I was going to have a conversation with him about it.”

“Huh, I didn’t know that. He showed me the case file when I first got here, and it wasn’t closed.”

“It only happened a few days ago. I couldn’t figure out why, since he could have just as easily framed me for Frieda’s murder. The only thing that made sense is that something about the case was a liability, and he needed to get attention away from it. How far into this have you gotten? Have you figured out what’s happening?”

“Sort of. I can’t prove anything, but I’m pretty sure the Wissler family had Fredrick killed, and then had Frieda killed when she brought you in to look into his death.”

“That’s exactly the conclusion I’ve come to.”

“Like I said, I can prove literally none of it. We’re still jumping all over the place, and I’m not any clearer than I was five minutes ago. Walk me through everything that’s happened since you got here.”

“You seem to know most of it. I got a call from someone I’d never heard of named Frieda Wissler. She explained that I’m a distant relative of theirs. Apparently, my great-grandfather decided to leave the family and come to America, something about a disagreement with family business decisions. I’d never heard any of that. I’d always heard that he came to America without any living family, changing his name to Whitaker to better fit in.”

“Your sister said about the same thing.”

Whitaker let out a small gasp and said, “You talked to my sister?”

“Yeah. Joe only knew you’d gone to Europe to visit a distant relative. Considering how serious the situation was, I wanted to get some more information, so I wasn’t poking around blind. I did a little research on the family on my own. While there was some interesting stuff there, I never found any mention of a member of the family breaking off and going to America.”

“No, apparently he was basically written out of the family all together the moment he stepped on the boat for America. Still, it was brave of you to visit my sister. I ... I might have vented my frustrations about you to her a little bit.”

“Yeah, that came up. Once I told her you were in trouble and what I was doing, she became cordial and was helpful enough. You Whitakers are nothing if not practical.”

“Still...”

“Let’s put a pin in that for now, and focus on why we’re hiding in a rent-by-the-hour motel.”

“Right. Anyway, Frieda felt Fredrick had been murdered. She admitted he had a disease that would have killed him eventually, but she thought something was wrong with the timing.”

“His dying so soon after being pushed out of the family business?”

“Exactly. She’d tried to talk to the police, but everyone wrote her off as old and just in mourning for her husband. She’d never had much of a life outside of the family, apparently, so she didn’t know where to turn to. She’d remembered hearing something about her relative who went to America, did some digging, and found out that one of his descendants was in law enforcement.”

“How did she convince you?”

“She didn’t, not really. I told her that the police were probably right, and it was natural causes, but she kept pushing for me to come look into it, just to give her peace of mind. I was still royally pissed at you, and Kara kept making little comments about us getting back together. Frieda’s offer of a free trip to Germany sounded like just the way to get away from it all, at least for a little while.”

Taylor frowned and said, “I specifically told Kara, multiple times, to not push you into a decision.”

“I figured, and I didn’t blame you for that. You know how strong-willed she is. I just needed some space, so I agreed to take the job. At first, everything seemed to be playing out like I thought it would. I had to pull some strings to get in and see his autopsy...”

She paused, her voice catching in her throat. A tear rolled down her left cheek as she closed her eyes tight, trying to pull herself back together.

“I’m sorry about your friend.”

“Thanks,” Whitaker said, her voice still quivering. “We weren’t super close or anything, but we’ve been friends for a while. She was one of my instructors at Quantico, and after we became friends. I brought her into this and got her killed.”

“When you got her involved, you thought it was a wild goose chase and certainly didn’t think it was dangerous. You can’t blame yourself for what happened. Also, from what I’ve read, she was a smart lady and was able to make her own decisions. Don’t take her choices away from her. Had she been in trouble, I’m betting you would have stepped in and helped her and, if things had gone the other way, you wouldn’t want her beating herself up over this.”

“I guess, but it’s still...”

“Yeah, I know.”

After a moment to push those thoughts back, Whitaker continued, saying, “Anyway, the autopsy seemed to be exactly what the medical examiner said it was. I sent his files to a medical consultant, who agreed with the M.E.’s findings.”

“When did you decide your aunt wasn’t making it up?”

“She had this journal written by Fredrick. When I first read it, I wrote it off as the ramblings of a man with dementia. It was basically a note to himself about things at the Wissler trust, I guess, so he could remember them. The problem was, a good portion of his notes indicated a wide range of illegal activity. Smuggling, bribes, paying off regulators, abductions, and even some murders.”

“Where’s the Journal now?”

“I stashed it in a different self-storage place. I didn’t want to carry it on me in case I got caught but decided to keep it separate from the other stuff, just in case. Anyway, while I first thought the journal was meaningless, Frieda had this crate of documents she’d put together from stuff she’d found digging through the stacks of documents Fredrick had brought home before he died. Knowing what I know now, I’m betting it was carting all those documents home that got him killed. I’m pretty sure had he not done that, the family would have just put him out to pasture to retire. I can’t back it up, but I’m betting that’s when they decided to have him killed.”

“Thinking about that, how did they have him killed?”

“No idea. The family signed off on his cremation after the autopsy, without Frieda’s consent. Apparently, they’d gotten Fredrick to sign over power of attorney to the trust’s lawyers, and had someone at the trust assigned to handle the probate. That was all done only a few weeks before he died, which can’t be a coincidence.”

“So all we have are the medical examiner’s notes on the autopsy, which could be suspect.”

“Maybe, but I didn’t catch any whiff of the M.E. being dirty. I’m not even sure they would have had to go that far. Someone in Fredrick’s condition, anyone doing the autopsy, wouldn’t have looked that hard. From the expert we had look at the report, the post mortem x-rays do show a burst aneurysm right where the M.E. said it was. For my money, I’m betting they gave him something to cause it, and no one thought to look any harder since they saw what they expected to see.”

“Okay, back to the documents Frieda found. What was on them?”

“A lot of payment records, some internal memos, legal motions, that kind of thing. Each on its own wouldn’t be notable, but when put with Fredrick’s journal, it’s not hard to see the pattern. I didn’t have the resources to really follow up on them, but what I did track down wasn’t hard to make out as dubious activities on the trust’s part at best.”

“Shit.”

“What?”

“I found the invoice you stashed listing the storage locker and went there with Graf. Some guys jumped us, and Graf was hit accidentally. Afterward, Graf said they had to take the documents back to the station to catalog. He’d just been shot by the people trying to kill us, and there’d been no indication that Graf was dirty, so I didn’t think anything of it. Hell, Joe Solomon was the one who introduced Graf to me. He eventually let me go through the documents, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why you’d stashed that crate. Of course, in hindsight, it seems pretty obvious Graf destroyed anything incriminating before he let me see it.”

“Shit. Without that, nothing in the journal helps us. We can only get out of this if we prove Graf is dirty, and I didn’t kill Frieda. Without those documents as corroboration, I don’t have anything to prove that now.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I thought he was clean too, and someone had just played him for a fool. I looked into him before coming out to talk to him, and nothing stood out to suggest he was dirty, beyond the weird warrant.”

“Still, it kind of screws us.”

“Yeah.”

“So...”

“Yeah. Once I got the documents, I was convinced enough that maybe someone had Fredrick killed and started running down the documents to try and build up a picture of what was going on. I was heading back to ask Frieda some questions about one of those leads when I found her. Her neck was...”

“Yeah, I saw her. So you had the journal and the documents. That wasn’t enough?”

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