Kat, I’d like to see you in the office.
Kat Williamson stared at the text. The last time she’d been summoned upstairs was before she went off to college and her dad made her prove she could defend herself if anyone on campus “tried get out of line”. She was sure he let her take him down during a couple of the fake attacks but he’d insisted it was all her.
It had been two years and she still wasn’t sure she believed him on that.
Leaving the boutique garment bags laid out atop her bed Kat put her flip-flops on and quickly accessed the staircase behind the wall in the weird little niche at the end of the family home’s second-floor hallway.
Reaching the small landing, Kat knocked once and entered. Jesse Odell her godfather and Dad’s VP of Trident International motioned her inside. He jerked his thumb towards a three-quarter length wall leading to a sitting room that greeted clients coming from the outside. She could see her dad on his cell.
Grabbing her phone she muted it then used the stylus to write. I can come back.
Jesse shook his head and led the way to the two leather chairs facing her father’s desk.
The home office took up the entire top floor of the large Virginia house and looked pretty much like one would expect any other spacious home office to look—assuming most home offices had mad soundproofing and high impact resistant windows, as well as a small armory and a year’s worth of food and supplies nestled in concealed rooms along the walls. A solar generator, kitchenette and bathroom completed the necessities tucked into their own little compartments.
Kat smiled at her dad when he came around the dividing wall. “You and Jilly have fun shopping?”
“Fun might not be the word I’d choose—”
Dad held up his hand. “I don’t need the girl stuff details. Just tell me if I need to use next week’s salary to pay the bills.”
Kat winced. The clothing had cost a lot more than she was used to spending but she had to agree with her stepmother that she needed some high-end things if she was going to fit in on the trip. “Jilly said it was okay. There were a couple things that were really expensive that I passed on, and I used my store discount at Mason’s and what I’d saved from my internship pay to get the shoes and a few other things. I’m not being a total leech here.”
Her dad’s soft laugh relaxed her. “I was joking. Yes, I do sometimes joke.”
“Before C.J. left for New York he asked me to remind you that he would reimburse you or you could invoice his father’s bank.”
Dad’s smile fell back to his usual serious business expression. “We don’t do that. We pay our own way.”
“That’s what I told him.”
Dad’s expression softened and he tilted his chair back a bit. “Speaking of C.J., how much has he told you about his mother?”
“Pretty much what the rest of the world knows. She was an actress doing a movie in Philadelphia when she met his dad who was at UPenn doing his MBA, the same as C.J. is doing now. She was America’s Princess, always in the news until the other more famous royal wedding happened. She died in a car accident near the castle in Höhenburg when C.J. was six.”
She turned to Jesse when he spoke.
“You never heard anything else? No speculation on the parents divorcing and talk of jealous other women or if the princess had a boyfriend on the side?”
“What? No. Of course, I knew about them living separately Violet and the boys down in the town while Gerhard stayed up in the castle, but if you mean did C.J. ever tell me any secret scandal, no.” She looked back to her father. “He was only a year older than I was when mom died. If the adults had drama he didn’t know or understand it. I never questioned him for details but obviously the subject of us both having a dead mother came up between us early on.”
Neither man said anything and while Kat didn’t want to show any disrespect she had to know. “Why are we having this conversation?”
Her dad got up and came around to lean against the front of his desk. “When Jesse was out at the L.A. office a couple weeks back he met with a man who wanted to hire Trident to look into Violet’s accident.”
“Who? Why Who would want to look into it after almost twenty years?”
Dad gestured to Jesse.
“It was the damndest thing, Kit-Kat,” he said crossing one long leg over the other. ”He sent me a letter first asking for an appointment the next time I was at the West Coast office. The letter included a check for an ‘appointment retainer’ drawn on a Swiss bank. We don’t ask any upfront fees for pre-contract appointments and this was not chump change.” He looked to Kat’s dad. “Show her the pics, Mikey.”
The series of pictures were from a top of the line security camera and showed your average All American grandfather type right out of some movie.
The man was dressed in simple navy suit with vest, tie, and pocket square. His gray hair was well trimmed and he wore metal rimmed glasses that must be prescription judging from the way the lens tint changed as the photos progressed of him moving from the building’s lobby to Trident’s 10th floor reception area.
Kat gave the pictures back to her dad. “Who is he?”
“Peter Schmidt,” Jesse said. “He worked in a studio makeup department in Hollywood from his early twenties until twenty years ago when he retired. He likes to visit where his family was originally from, a little town in Austria right on the border with Höhenburg.”
Okay, it was quite the coincidence Höhenburg was C.J.’s home country but it wasn’t too far out there. Kat looked at both men and shrugged. “And?”
“And,” Jesse said. “I did some research on the pay rate past and present of studio makeup lackeys. “Even if he was frugal, and if he is a secret investment wizard, I don’t see him being ab
le to hand over a huge check looking for co-conspirators to a cold case that may go nowhere.”
Wait. Trident wasn’t any kind of criminal investigation agency. They were private military and security contractors. “A cold case?” Kat looked from Jesse to her dad. “Like that TV show where they investigate old unsolved murders—this guy thinks C.J.’s mom was murdered? By who? And even if she was isn’t this something for their local police?”
“Correct on all counts.” Dad came over and sat on the arm of Kat’s chair. “Obviously Jesse heard the man out but refused his check and told him to seek out the local authorities over there, but` ,” He paused and exchanged a quick glance with his friend. “If I’ve learned anything being in the military and working with career bureaucrats, it’s that corruption can run deep and last decades.” He tucked a stray strand of hair behind Kat’s ear the way he used to when was little and heading off to grade school. “You guys are still going to visit C.J.’s father and brother after the royal wedding in London, right?”
“For a little bit until he comes back for graduation.”
Dad nodded and stood. “I want you to have a great fairytale time, but remember to be observant and listen to your gut, okay?”
Her dad’s phone alarm chimed and he breathed a half sigh. “Jess and I have to hit the Beltway. You make sure you let me know when you get to New York this evening and then when you kids hit London, okay? You know how Jilly worries.”
Jesse faked a cough that sounded a lot like “bullshit”.
Suppressing a laugh Kat said, “I promise.” She stood and gave her dad a hug and then one to Jesse.
She couldn’t really fault her father for being a “helicopter parent” at times. After all he and her later mother had spent years being actual helicopter pilots.
As far as any worries about the death of Princess Violet, she didn’t have any. That would be like saying her own mom’s training accident hadn’t been an accident. It was ridiculous.
But part of me is afraid of what will happen between C.J. and me once he gets that diploma and goes home and takes on both his royal and family business duties. Will there even be time in his life for there to be an “us” despite what he’s said?