A new way to get into the Miles Mitchell Mysteries. Miles is a Private Investigator and has become the go to guy who specializes in case around and about Walt Disney World.
Read by my good friend Dawn K.
More Miles Mitchell Mysteries.
Read by my good friend Dawn K.
More Miles Mitchell Mysteries.
I walked into the diner and found my favorite seat at the counter unoccupied, and better yet, with no one else sitting at the counter. I sat down and my second favorite employee there immediately placed a gorgeous steaming hot mug of joe in front of me. I smiled and she rolled her eyes. I was obviously not her favorite customer, but she was a damn fine waitress, so I put up with her occasional moods.
“Pie for the P.I?” she asked in a snarky tone.
“Whatcha got?” I said just to antagonize her.
Again, with the eye roll. “You know what we got, just tell me.”
“My memory is slipping, remind me.” I said after taking a sip of the hot dark goodness that was one of the essentials of my life.
She sighed. “This is Tuesday, so we have cherry, raisin, apple and blueberry.”
A voice came from somewhere in the back. “We are out of blueberry; the last three pieces went to the nuns in section two.”
I had noticed the humbly dressed table of ladies in the corner booth when I came in, but now I turned and raised my coffee cup to them. They noticed my motion. “How is the blueberry pie Sisters?” They were too polite to yell back at me, but they gave me a thumbs up in response. I turned back toward Daphne. “Daphne, how about you bring me a piece of your delicious raisin pie?”
“Ala mode?” was her only unsmiling response.
“Oh, better not, watching my pennies.”
As she walked away, I heard her mumble under her breath, “When aren’t you?’
A few minutes later I was happily and slowly eating my piece of pie, handmade on the premises by my favorite employee of the diner, Augustine, one of the finest bakers I have had the fortune to meet.
I sat and observed the people at the diner, just enjoying the ebb and flow of the place as I killed time waiting, never getting quite to the bottom of the cup, mostly due to the professionalism of Daphne rather than her love for me personally.
In less than a half an hour I was joined by my favorite person in the diner. She was not an employee; she was the employer, owner, manager and chief bottle washer of the closest non-chain diner to Disney World, my gal, Millie Mauser. She did not ask me about my pie, my cup of coffee, or even the service; she knew they had all been spectacular, as that was her standard, and her people always met her standard. “What is the plan for tonight Miles?”
My gal, always looking ahead. “Well I figured a movie and maybe a stroll over to that new resort area, maybe hear some live music.”
Millie nodded. “So, the typical Tuesday night, a cheap flick, then you seeing if you can get us in somewhere for a free show.”
“Only the best for my girl,” I said kissing her on the forehead. She loves me, and she knows I would spend money on her if I had it, but she also knows my business is slow. She loves to get in a few jabs at me once in a while anyway; it keeps our relationship fresh.
She was about to say something snarky when Daphne called out from across the counter. “Boss, Mr. Box is back. Is it okay if I give him the big table in the back again?”
We both turned towards the door where an older gentleman dressed in business casual attire had just entered carrying a cardboard filing box.
Millie looked around the diner, then at her watch, and nodded. “Sure. Even if he asks again, we shouldn’t need it on a Tuesday night.”
Daphne simply nodded and approached the man. We silently watched the exchange, and then Daphne led the man towards a large meeting room in the back where a table capable of seating ten was located.
“What’s the story there babe?” I asked with my head nodding towards the back.
“Oh, he has been coming in here like clockwork the last couple of nights. Saturday night he stayed in a booth and spread his paperwork out, and the next night he asked for a larger table, but we could not accommodate him. Last night we were slow though and let him spread all his paperwork out on the table in the back.”
“Receipts?” I asked, guessing he was trying to figure out his taxes to avoid paying money to Uncle Sam.
Millie shook her head. “I don’t think so, I checked on him once, and all the paperwork looked like letters, like he was trying to find something specific in them.”
My curiosity was piqued, and my wallet was dying of hunger from lack of feeding. I wondered if there might be case here. I stood up, and that is when Millie grabbed my arm. “I thought we were going out tonight?”
“We are, I am just going to introduce myself and see if he needs any help?”
Millie harrumphed and then stood up to join me. “Okay but if he needs your help, you start the case tomorrow.”
We never did go out that night. In fact, I never left the restaurant till the next morning.
“Hi Millie,” the old man said looking up from his piles of papers now spread out all over the large table.
“Charlie, this is my boyfriend Miles. He is a Private Investigator and wondered if you need any help,” Millie said sweetly.
Charlie had stood up and reached across the table to shake my hand. It was warm and strong, and I guessed he was in his 70s, dressed in a golf shirt and khaki pants. I could also tell he was a northerner by his lack of tan.
“Oh, I don’t think so, not unless he is an expert on Walt Disney World.”
I let out a low chuckle. “Well maybe not an expert, but I do know a lot about the place and its history.”
Charlie looked a bit surprised but went with the flow. “Well then, maybe you are the man for the job.” He motioned towards the spread out papers. “Why don’t you two sit down and I will tell you what I am doing down here in Florida with all this.”
I pulled out a chair for Millie and then sat next to her across the table from our impromptu host.
“I am from Michigan, but I lived down here once. After me and my buddy Frank got back from Vietnam, he had a friend down here working a huge construction job. It was Walt Disney World. We had been Sea Bees in the Navy, so we worked for Admiral Fowler dredging the Seven Seas Lagoon and putting in the central pillar in the Contemporary. We worked down here until the place opened. By then I wanted to go back to Michigan, but Frank stayed on. He did all kind of things for the company, but his favorite was building the tracks and getting the train operating. He even worked on the monorail for a bit.”
Frank paused and took a sip from his cup of coffee. “Me and Frank stayed in touch. Frank was really great. He would write me a letter at least every other month,” Charlie said motioning towards all the papers spread out over the table.
I decided to speak up. “So, what are you looking for in these letters?”
Charlie smiled. “I like that nice and direct.” He tapped a stack of letters closest to him. “Frank passed away last year.”
Millie made a sad noise. “Sorry to hear that.”
Charlie waved her off. “Frank had a great life. The letters were always positive. He had a lot of friends, traveled a lot, loved the jobs he had for Disney, and he fished an awful lot.” He smiled at that. Charlie looked as if he were lost in thought.
“So, what are you looking for in these letters?” I asked softly.
“Well, Frank donated his body to science. The medical school recently finished with him, and per the agreement he was cremated, and I was contacted about disposing of the ashes.”
I looked at him hoping he was not going down the path that I knew the Walt Disney Company would not like. Numerous times throughout the year in the parks rides and areas of the park were shut down due to someone spreading their loved one’s ashes. I had friends on the Custodial staff, and they had to get extra training and use a special vacuum and, basically, it is just a big pain to deal with. The place ashes were most commonly dumped: The Haunted Mansion. Some people just took the ride too literally. People are weird. Lucky for me; otherwise I would be out of a job.
Charlie continued, “Frank was a company man and would not want his ashes scattered, as that would cause a disruption in the parks.”
I gave an internal sigh but kept my face neutral.
“But he said he wanted his ashes scattered at, and I am quoting this, ‘on the water near where old number 4 broke down so often. Take the panic azimuth from the biggest tree and you will find the spot. I watched the 4th of July fireworks from here many a times’.”
I shook my head. That did not make any sense.
I nodded. “The train tracks don’t go anywhere near the water, let alone a good place to watch the fireworks from.”
“Yeah, I know, I have ridden that train several times over the last couple of days.” Charlie replied.
“What is he talking about, the ‘panic azimuth’?”
Charlie laughed. “That was an inside joke between the two of us. We were going through a land navigation course before we went to Vietnam and the instructors told us if we ever got so lost all we had to do was head on a bearing of 360 degrees, in other words due north, and we would find ourselves on a major road where we could walk back to base.” Charlie looked wistful for a few seconds. “Well, every time something went crazy over there,” he motioned outside towards the west, “one of us would ask the other which way the panic azimuth was. It always made us laugh.” Charlie smiled again.
I nodded. “I had inside jokes like that with my Army buddies.”
Millie looked at me surprised. I knew why; I hardly ever talked about my time in the military.
The table went silent for a moment, so I tried to get us back on track. “So, from the train tracks head due north from the biggest tree to the water.”
“I think,” Charlie said sounding tired.
I racked my brain trying to puzzle it out. I knew the property pretty well, having grown up around it, and I think I have been in just about every part, but this did not make any sense.
“I was thinking there was a clue in his letters. He wrote about building the train tracks, and he helped build the monorail as well, that’s near the water.”
I shook my head. None of this sounded right. I was missing something… “Would you mind if I sit with you for a while and looked over his letters?”
Charlie nodded, and I heard Millie give out an angry sigh that I was sure only I could hear. “I tried to sort them by year, but Frank never dated them, and I threw out the envelopes that came in, so no post mark. I think I got them sorted roughly by years, but I’m not sure.”
Millie got up. “Well you boys are going to need some more coffee, and I guess I’ll send Daphne home. It looks like I’ll be closing up tonight.”
For the next two hours all I did was try and come up with a system of sorting, which meant reading the letters and making sure they were in the right order. At one point I think Millie came by, handed me the keys, and had me lock the door behind her. Charlie gave up an hour later and went back to his hotel room. Me, I stayed, and read, and sorted, and read some more. Luckily for me they were all typed, on an old manual typewriter at first, and sometime in the 80’s old Frank switched to an electric. I read about construction projects and opening day attractions and tearing down old rides to make way for new ones. It seems Frank was a huge part of Walt Disney World construction history.
Unfortunately, he also rambled and did not stay consistent with his story line. So, it was not until I got to the most recent letters that I figured out what train he was talking about.
I took a short nap in a nearby booth and was woken up by Augustine, the greatest baker I had ever known and my favorite employee in the diner. “Cinnamon roll?”
I sat up and rubbed my face. She had already poured me a cup of hot joe. “Augustine, will you marry me?”
She smiled. “I am already married to Maximillian you silly boy,” she said as she went to get me the promised cinnamon roll.
I made my way into the bathroom and cleaned up, and when I returned to the large table, the pastry was sitting on the table along with a carafe of coffee. I shuffled the papers a little bit more, cleaning them up, putting them in the best order I could, then packing them into Charlie’s cardboard box. I had just gotten to the warm gooey center of the roll when Millie and Charlie joined me.
“You were here all night?” Millie said, not really asking.
I nodded, not wanting to talk with my mouth full.
“Did you figure anything out?” Charlie asked.
I nodded again and took a sip of coffee. “I think I have an idea where Frank wants his final resting place to be. Do you have a good pair of shoes? If so don’t wear them, this may get messy.”
An hour later we were at Fort Wilderness, the Walt Disney World campground, looking for the abandoned railroad tracks. Charlie had been both a construction worker and an engineer on the Fort Wilderness railroad and had been there on opening day in 1974.
The Fort Wilderness railroad used an actual steam powered locomotive that moved guests from the front of the campground to the rear (while the campground was only a mile deep, it covered about 700 acres of woodland). The problem was it was rather inefficient and a little unsafe, so it was only open about six years and the last couple rides were allowed only on special occasions. Sadly, it was replaced with bus service, which while more efficient and probably cheaper did not have the style of a real life steam train. I think Fort Wilderness lost something when it was decommissioned, and I would have liked to have ridden it, but it was before my time. I guess that is why I had forgotten it ever existed, but thanks to Frank’s letters and a couple of videos I found online I was able to guess where Engine number 4 broke down most consistently.
Breaking down was not exactly the problem, it was more running out of gas, due to having to refill the fuel tank and water tank to make steam and having a limited time in each stop to refuel while loading passengers at the same time. The engines most frequently quit when the train approached Bay Lake, the largest natural lake on Walt Disney property.
It took me and Charlie a couple of hours of tramping around the woods to find the old railroad bed and then a couple more to find the biggest tree that might have been there when Frank was driving the train. It would have taken a little less time, but Charlie left his compass back in his hotel room and I am a city boy, so the only way I know north is if it’s on street sign.
In the end Charlie was sure, deep down in his heart, that the little stretch of beach he found is where Frank would want his ashes to be scattered, but he thought it might be best if he did it first thing in the morning, just as the sun was coming up.
Charlie and I got back onto Ft. Wilderness early the next morning, and as the sun came up over the Cypress trees Frank was placed gently and with love by his best friend into the water. I stood back and let the man have his moment with his friend. I thought to my own friends and hoped I was a good enough friend to them that they would go through as much trouble for me when I died.
A couple of weeks later Millie got a letter from Charlie thanking both her and I for our help, in addition to sending me a nice check. It’s Tuesday again. Millie thinks we are going out to the cheap movies, but she’s wrong; I am taking her to a real nice sit-down meal and then a movie.
Other Miles Mitchell Mysteries:
In case you want to find me live and in person, my offices are right on Route 192, below me an Indian restaurant, next door a shared wall with a place that rents machine guns to tourists who want to play Rambo. Of the two, the Indian restaurant is the one that is the most annoying; the smells that permeate the air are so enticing, and for a perpetual broke guy like me it is torture.
But the Walk Away case came in on my landline (I really do not know why I keep it except that it came with the office and I did not have the money to upgrade the system to something more modern). The voice on the phone was pure upper-class white woman, North Eastern US prep school and rich (I am really good with voices).
The whole conversation lasted about fifteen minutes, but the summary is this: Mrs. Rich Woman, also known as Mrs. Janet Armstrong from Connecticut, wanted to hire me to tail her husband and prove that he was cheating on her with some doll here in Orlando. A typical infidelity case; find the husband, catch him doing the horizontal mambo with his side piece, and I would be eating for a month.
Mrs. Armstrong was smarter, or at least more devious than most wanna be ex-wives who already had a divorce shyster. She had installed tracking software on her husband’s phone, and she was also the person who made all his travel arrangements. What I initially thought was going to take a couple of days was most likely only going to take a day at most, depending on his libido. Well, I remember what my mother used to say, ‘don’t count your fried eggs before they are on your plate’.
Have I told you before that my mother is a bit of free spirit and doesn’t really go along with convention?
But she sent me a link on my cell phone after I embarrassingly told her she was talking to me on a landline and gave me a password to track her husband’s cell phone.
The suspected Mr. Armstrong was staying at one of the convention resorts on Disney property, the Coronado, probably one of the biggest ones by my guess. So, I went home, got a pair of pressed chinos and a dress shirt (typical convention wear here in Florida), and headed for the resort. Parking was never a problem here, as most attendees to conventions are bused around and never bother with a rental car, so I was able to park my car close to the convention hall.
I pulled up Mr. Armstrong’s location on the app Mrs. Armstrong sent me and noted he was in a room. I walked by it hoping I could catch a glimpse of him, and if I was lucky with his lady friend. I met with no luck, but I did note that I could sit nearby on a bench and casually monitor his room, so I sat down for a long wait.
Mr. Armstrong was out in less then a half hour, dressed not for a convention like most other corporate drones, but in a Duck Tales t-shirt and cargo shorts. Okay, I thought, maybe he is going to meet his girl in a park, so I did what I was hired to do: follow him.
Eight hours later I returned home, hot, tired and sweaty. Mr. Armstrong had toured the Animal Kingdom park with a vengeance, and after passing thru the touch points he had headed into Guest Services, not wanting to tip him off that I was following him I hung back. Over the next couple of hours I figured out what he had done in Guest Services: he had paid for a service to give him Fast Passes to every major attraction in Animal Kingdom. Expedition Everest, Flights of Passage, and Kilimanjaro Safari (he did that one twice). I was able to keep my eyeballs on him at Festival of the Lion King and the Finding Nemo show. No one joined him the entire day. No cute girls, or guys (not that I would judge). He was alone throughout the entire day. From what I saw he never took a single call throughout the day. I had thought he was some big wall street guy, but I never knew them to not be on the phone from morning till night.
It was nightfall before he returned to his room. I could see he was dragging butt as much as me, so I figured he was not going to have company for the night. Being the diligent investigator I was though, I set myself up on the bench near his room for an hour afterward and made sure he did not leave again or have a visitor.
Nothing, nada, zilch. I did not believe anything would happen, but it was billable hours. The guy was slightly older than me and I had caught him napping a bit on the bus on the way back to Coronado Springs. I checked my notebook to make sure the receipt for the thirty-dollar t shirt I had bought in the park as camouflage was still there. That was going in my bill to Mrs. Armstrong as well. I headed out when I saw the lights go out in Mr. Armstrong’s room. I could still track his phone, so if he went out, I would know it.
I went home with the best of intentions to be back at it first thing in the morning. That did not happen.
Okay, I overslept. A bad habit I know, but I rationalized that it was okay. I still had the tracking app and I could pick him up whenever I chose.
Unfortunately, Mr. Armstrong was not as weak as I was. Over a rushed egg sandwich from a convenience store I saw Armstrong was on the move and had been for two hours. Damn, the guy had been at rope drop for Hollywood Studios! Now I would have to spot him, but I did not know what he was wearing. What I thought was going to be difficult turned out not to be; he was making a remote controlled toy in Galaxy Edge at Build a Droid, and I knew I would have no trouble tracking him the rest of the day, seeing as he was dressed like a rebel fighter pilot, orange jump suit and all. Then, after build a droid, he had the backpack holding a droid and a fancy new light saber strapped to his back. The rest of the day was spent similarly to the day before, rides, shows and attractions along with stops for popcorn, churros and Mickey shaped ice cream bars.
Armstrong was not attending the convention; he was on vacation. He never talked to anyone for very long, he never talked on his phone and he sure never met up with a lover. He was just a guy having a good time.
While he was in the Frozen Sing Along show, I sat outside the exit reviewing my notes. His wife said he had come down to Orlando six times in the last year. She said he stayed at a resort with a convention hall every time. I was beginning to wonder if something else was going on here besides an affair. I reread my notes from yesterday to see if I had missed something, when it occurred to me. When I had followed him into the Animal Kingdom yesterday, I was like five people behind him in line. But it was the Annual Passholder line, not the buy a ticket for a day, or even the buy a ticket for vacation line, but the Annual Passholder line. That was for people that had a serious thing for Disney, multiple times in the parks throughout the year. Or the rare instance like me, someone with a lifetime pass.
Interesting. A picture was beginning to form in my head, but it was interrupted by the crowd coming out of the Hyperion Theater. I looked at my watch as we headed toward the Tower of Terror. I thought he was heading towards either getting back on that ride or maybe the Rock N Roller Coaster, but I was wrong. My orange armed and legged prey was heading towards Fantasmic, a large stage shows with characters, projections, fireworks and music. I knew from experience if he was meeting someone they would most likely meet up outside the show, as finding anyone inside was problematic. I gave up at this point, knowing the park was going to close while the show was going on. I headed towards my car and parked at the nearby gas station where I could follow Armstrong via his phone app without having to fight the crowds. Over a Yoo-hoo and a Slim Jim, I watched Armstrong’s dot move from the amphitheater, to the bus loop, then via Disney bus back to the Coronado, where I was now waiting. The middle aged Padawan got off the bus as predicted and I tailed him back to his room.Within a half an hour the lights were out, and Armstrong was out as well. At least I hoped he was; this guy was in hardcore vacation mode and I did not think I had the energy to follow him anymore. Just watching him have all this fun was tiring me out.
Locals like me do not spend all day at the parks. We might spend a couple of hours, do what we want to do, ride what we want, eat at a specific restaurant watch a show, then go home. We are not crazy like this guy or pressed for time like most guests.
I was outside of his room bright and early the next morning. This time I was prepared for a day in the parks, with comfortable shoes, shorts, three t shirts and two hats in my bag to change my look, and numerous snacks. I was going to try and get up close and personal with him today; if he was in a boat at Pirates of the Caribbean I would get splashed with the same mock cannonball, and if he was flying on Soar ‘in at Epcot I would be the fool kicking my feet a few seats down from him.
But like everything in this case it was not going according to my plan. I kept his room under surveillance for two hours before he emerged and damn it if he was not wearing a beautifully tailored pin strip suit with highly shined shoes and a very professional leather binder with gold clasps.
I looked down at my tan cargo shorts and decided they just would not do for whatever Armstrong had planned for the day. Luckily my chinos were laying flat on the back seat of the car and were not too wrinkled. Maybe I could blend in wherever he was going. So, while he was eating a safe non dripping breakfast of coffee and toast, I ducked into the gift shop and bought a very expensive golf shirt, another receipt to add to my billable expenses.
Another curve; instead of stopping in the convention center and talking to his peers of high finance, the perfectly coiffed target walked out the front door and got a cab. I tailed him and he ended up at Casting. Casting is a building that on the outside is styled with an Alice in Wonderland theme with funny doorknobs to match, but inside it is pure Corporate Disney Personal, or Human Resources, or whatever the corporation lingo is for a hiring center.
As I parked my car in an adjacent lot, I wondered what this very high-priced stockbroker was doing walking into Disney. Surely if they were recruiting him, he would not be walking in like a schlub off the street looking for an hourly job. There would be recruiters involved, lunches over lobster, and meetings at the corporate headquarters, not Casting across from the Disney Employees Credit Union.
I took the plunge and walked into the building. I had lost sight of my quarry, but he was in here somewhere and I was curious about what he was doing. I was approached almost immediately by a smiling, seemingly overly happy intern with an armful of clipboards.
“Are you here for the job fair?” she asked in a bubbly manner.
“My buddy came in before me, about so tall, and wearing a real nice suit.” I said, acting like I was looking for someone, which I was.
“Oh, your friend went up the ramp to the job fair, are you going to that to?”
I nodded yes and she gave me a clipboard with a Disney pen attached.
“Okay just head up the ramp, fill out the form and hand it in at the podium.” she said, smiling in a way that I am sure if I had tried to return it would have hurt my face. Taking the clipboard from her hand I went up the ramp surrounded tastefully with Disney characters.
The room was full of people sitting in chairs working on the aforementioned clip boards, and the only seat was right next to the most professionally dressed guy in the room. You guessed it: Armstrong.
The next ten minutes were filled with silence while people were filling out the forms and looking on their phones. I looked over the form myself. It was an application for an hourly position in Disney Transportation, bus driver to be exact. I pretended to fill out my form, but I was covertly looking over at Armstrong’s. The man was filling it out with the intensity similar to that of a gambler studying racing forms when he is down to his last two bucks.
I put some nonsense on my own form, and followed Armstrong as he placed his clipboard on the podium before we resumed our seats. He did not take out his phone. In fact, he did not do anything to kill time as most people do in similar situations. He just calmly took in the room, the pictures on the wall, and the people still working on the forms. I took my phone out but did not really do anything with it but check the weather.
“Is it going to rain today?” Armstrong said, looking at my phone.
I laughed. “It’s Florida in the summer, it rains every day, if it doesn’t its news,” I said.
“Lived here long.”
“All my life,” I responded.
“Me, I want to move down here.”
I wanted him to talk, so I just responded. “Oh?”
“Yeah, tired of the rat race. I’m tired of going to a job I hate, to spend time with people I hate, to make money for reasons I lost track of.”
I decided to go for the subtle interrogation route. “Your wife tired of it all too?” I said, motioning towards the ring on his finger.
“No, she loves it all, the country club life, the shopping for things she really does not need, the whole thing.”
“Sounds like you two have a difference of opinion on what life is about.”
“I’ll say,” he said. Then he paused for a few minutes as we both watched people move around the room turning in their clipboards and getting called in for interviews. “If I get this job here today do you know the first person I am going to call?”
“Your wife?” I guessed, not believing that was the answer.
He chuckled. “No but it is about her. I am going to call my lawyer and have him execute some instructions I gave him. He will start divorce proceedings, giving almost everything to my ex-wife, my cars, my savings, the house almost everything. I keep a small bit to be comfortable, move into a nice condo down here and drive a bus for Disney and not worry about the stock market, or whether or not I can get the next biggest corner office on the higher floor. I am going to walk away from it all and as Thoreau said, ‘Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.’
I was about to say something sarcastic I guess but I did not get a chance, because just as he finished his statement his name was called and he stood, turned to me and said, ‘good luck’.
I sat there confused for a few minutes unsure what to do. That is when the name I put on the clipboard was called. “Leo Grant, Leo David Grant.” That was my cue to leave I did not have the ID or the inclination to apply for a job as Leo Grant or anyone else for that matter.
I waited outside in my non air-conditioned car to see if Armstrong came out and if I could read on his face how it had gone. I did not have long to wait, as an hour later he came out with a big sappy smile on his face. I even overheard him on his phone talking to his lawyer telling him to put the plan into effect.
I reported my findings to Mrs. Armstrong the next day. I was too late; she had been served the divorce paperwork the previous night, along with the deed to the house, the title to the BMW, the Lexus, and the Land Rover. She informed me she would not be needing my services any longer and then promptly hung up on me.
A month later I got my bill returned from Mrs. Armstrong for the third time. I knew she was never going to pay me. I did get some satisfaction on the case though; I rode a Disney bus later that week and I had the happiest bus driver on property, a former stockbroker, now with a simple name tag that said, ‘Charlie’.
Other Miles Mitchell Mysteries:
My 1996 station wagon squeaked to a stop in front of the house. It really needed a lube job, and I suspected a brake job; I did not even dream about getting my AC fixed this year. I looked down at my phone, then up at the pony express box and confirmed I was in the right place. These people had some real money; this was both one of the oldest and most expensive neighborhoods in Orlando, and somehow I had been asked to come and investigate a theft. Walking up the sidewalk I automatically added another zero to my retainer cost and hoped it would not sour the deal.
The lady of the house opened the door before I could ring the bell (I was sorry about this because I really wanted to hear the doorbell; I bet it was one of those big gonging things like the Addams Family).I followed Mrs. Lafluer into the house, which from the short tour of the digs the inside matched the outside in that it was highbrow and expensive.
“I do not believe I have ever met a Private Investigator before,” the very distinguished looking grey-haired man said, rising from the sofa and extending his hand.
“And I am sure I have never met a brain surgeon before,” I said, shaking his hand. It was warm and firm, and I wondered how many brains these fingers had touched.
“We prefer Neurosurgeons, it shows you have an open mind.”
I heard his wife groan at his joke; it was one I am sure she had heard a couple thousand times. I supposed old married couples do that, but I did not have any personal experience with it; my mother’s longest relationship was with a couch she had for fifteen years. They motioned for me to sit, and we got right down to the case.
“We had a break in last month.”
My face must have shown some shock and Mrs. Lafluer noticed. “Oh, it was an organized ring, they broke into a series of houses around here, but they were caught last week.”
“I had not heard anything about it.”
Doctor Lafluer. “It was kept quiet, and they’re still trying to recover some property.”
“No all of ours was recovered waiting to be sold.” Confusion must have shown on my face. “Everything except one item,” the doctor added.
“And what was the one item?” I asked.
“It was a collectible, a family memento really.”
I nodded and then volunteered, “Something connected to Disney?”
The couple nodded, then Mrs. Lafluer spoke up, “It would probably be easier to show you.” The three of us rose and I followed them to an upstairs hallway. I noted several framed collages of what appeared to be Disney ticket stubs, park maps and small souvenirs, all mounted tastefully behind glass.
“One is missing,” I noted motioning to a spot on the wall that was slightly discolored. The void had once held a similarly large sized collection I guessed.
“Yes, that one had opening day memorabilia from Hollywood Studios.” I nodded and Dr. Lafluer continued. “My daughter was working there opening day as was our future son in law Justin. They each received opening day pins and assorted things that they both saved. When they got married, we framed it all and gave it to them as a wedding present.”
“I see,” I replied. “And it was taken in the burglary but was not recovered with your other things.”
“And you want me to see if I can find the collection.”
They both nodded eagerly.
“Well folks, this is kind of a tricky thing, if those pieces are valuable to a collector the collage might have been broken up already. If I take the case, there is no guarantee I will be able to recover any of the pieces.”
Dr. Lafluer nodded and spoke in a serious tone. “Son there are no guarantees in life, the only thing we can do is try. We are just asking you to try.”
I nodded back. I quoted my price and they agreed to it easily enough, then they gave me a check for my retainer along with a folder containing detailed descriptions and pictures of all the framed items. I left the house promising to update them daily. Halfway to my car I was kicking myself for not asking for more, but a deal was a deal. Rich clients… someday I was going ask for too much and be thrown out on my ear. But not today.
My first stop was the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Property Crimes Division. I caught up with a buddy and told him I was working the case, he moaned about the paperwork of the recovery, tagging and categorizing all the recovered property.
I usually don’t have much sympathy for flat foots when they complain about shuffling papers. They knew it was in the job when they took it, but I humored him and listened. It was about a half an hour of his belly aching before I got to the crux of the matter of the missing keepsakes. He said there were two problems with that case: one, the LaFleurs did not discover the missing frame until a day after the initial report and in the other burglaries nothing like the memorabilia had been taken.
The other was that the crew that had done the burglaries only took cash, jewelry, and some easily stolen high end appliances, but no paintings, collectibles or things of that nature. My buddy had interviewed the guy that turned on his co-conspirators (there is no honor among thieves), and he had told them the deal: fast cash, easily sold things that were hard to trace.
I drove away from the Sheriff’s office with more questions than before.
Why the collection? Why the delay in reporting? If it was the 2nd story crew, had one of them taken a personal fancy to the piece?
I needed to know more about the items stolen, maybe I was missing something, maybe those pieces were more valuable then any of us knew. Time to consult an expert.
Tuesday, that meant I had to go to Epcot.
Epcot, a park that was utterly different than Walt’s vision for his world. The name itself stood for Experimental Prototype of Community of Tomorrow, and it was meant to be a planned community with underground roads, incredible public transportation and beautiful landscaping.
Now Epcot was simply a theme park, a thrilling and educational one, but when boiled down, a theme park. One of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in Disney history, mostly because it was Walt’s last big proposed project.
Personally, I had my own ideas, and they were just as valid as anyone else’s, meaning pure malarkey.
My expert was at Epcot so that is where I went. He was a man of strict habits; looking at my watch I knew he would be somewhere in the International region of the park, either Germany or Italy.
After walking past China, which was the closest I would ever get to the real place, I kept my peepers open; my expert would most likely be sitting at a table with his laptop.
Predictably I found him in the sit-down restaurant in Italy, a few empty dishes around him which I am sure he had instructed the staff not to take away. He was a great tipper and so for him to monopolize a table, while annoying, was made up for with cold hard cash. He was also my oldest friend.
I had met Danny Deww a long time ago when we were both kids. His relatives did not know what to do with a 12 year old genius who loved Disney, so they dumped him off in the park with a credit card and annual pass. My mom would do the same thing, but with no credit card and never enough cash in my pocket to feed me. So, one day when borrowing snacks off people’s parked strollers I met Danny. We literally ran into one another. There were other kids like me who ran in packs around property and somehow, he had run afoul of them and they were chasing him. I hate bullies, I dealt with them and me and Danny have been friends ever since. Disney has since cracked down on those hooligans, but it gave me my best friend.
I picked up his old beat up backpack which occupied a chair and moved it to the next seat. He looked up from his laptop and frowned at the intrusion, but I saw a very brief smile, which turned back to a frown; a total put on I knew.
“Daniel,” I said in greeting.
“Miles,” he said making some notation on his ever-present notepad.
“How is business?”
He responded with a so-so hand gesture without looking up. Daniel’s business was information. He was the unknown research man for a variety of publications, blogs and even some business interests; people that wanted to know what was happening at the House of Mouse that was not in the press releases. Daniel knew more people that worked behind the scenes at Disney than anyone else, and he gathered information and dispersed it to numerous contacts around the world. Not that Daniel needed to work; he was a trust fund baby and if he stayed healthy and living with his aunt and uncle he was set for life.
“How are the Ganders?”
Daniel answered, “Good enough. They took up yoga, and they have some young chippy come to the house everyday and help them get into downward dog. Aunty says it helps fight her arthritis, I think Unc goes along with it just so he can see this hot blonde in his house every day.”
I shrugged. Rich people problems. “Eh, whatever gets you through the day,” I responded.
“What can I do for you?” Danny asked, glancing at the screen. “I have a conference call with someone from Saudi Arabia in ten minutes.”
“Anything to give me the brush me off, so I don’t bring up the money you owe me.” I added.
“No one can pull a straight flush without cheating.” Daniel said.
“People can and I did,” He was about to interrupt when I held up a finger. “I did not come for my money you old miser, in fact you help me out with this case, and I will call us even.”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you need?”
I pulled the folder out. “I need to locate these items that were stolen in a burglary. They were not targeting memorabilia, this was just a whim, so if they are trying to sell them I do not think they would have any connections, so I am thinking the public sites or maybe private sites that you would know about.”
Danny looked over the file for a few minutes. “Have these ever been sold before.” The confused look on my face must have answered his question. “Original owners huh.”
“As far as I know, they got them on opening day.”
He nodded then he closed the file. “Well I will do some research, but this is not really rare stuff, in fact except for how pristine the pieces are there is nothing really remarkable about them. There is some value to them, but any good thief would be disappointed in the price he got for them,” he said, handing the file back to me. “The frame and glass were not left behind. The burglars took everything together?”
That was not something I had really considered. I looked at the main list of things stolen. Most of the items could be easily stashed in a large duffle bag, but this framed thing was not easily moved; it was bulky and fragile. A new question and no answers yet. I looked over at my friend who had his headset on, and I bid a silent goodbye to Danny.
I continued to my trip and found myself at the Living Seas. I ran over the questions I had in my mind. Why did the thieves steal the memento when they had not done so before or after? Had they broken their own rules and taken the whole framed piece from the house. Why did the Lafleur’s add the item to the stolen list a day after the initial report? The LaFleurs where not someone I would peg for padding an insurance claim.
And lastly, where were the items now?
After turning the problem over many times in my head I realized I needed more information, or at least a second look at the crime scene. I called the LaFleur’s and set up an appointment.
This time I vowed to arrive a little earlier to ring the doorbell, I wanted to know if it was a big gong like I hoped.
I arrived ten minutes early for my appointment with the LaFleurs, but as my finger was less than an inch from hitting the button and appeasing my decidedly over developed curiosity, the door opened wide by the hand of the good doctor. A small voice like Snidely Whiplash in my head said, ‘Curses foiled again’.
I got down to the heart of the matter sitting on the same chair with the good doctor and his wife on the couch. “I have a question, on the initial police report you did not list the memorabilia as missing, then added it the next day.”
The Doctor looked a little embarrassed. “That was my fault, she was out of town and all I saw was the missing appliances, when she got home, she noted it was missing right away.”
Mrs. Lafluer patted him on the knee. “It was easy to overlook with everything else missing.”
“You weren’t home when the burglary occurred?” I said, puzzled.
“No, I was at my daughter and sons-in-law house.”
“The same ones that had the memorabilia from opening day at Studios?”
“Yes,” Mrs. LaFleur answered but I caught a glimpse of discomfort on the doctor’s face.
I recalled something from the first interview. “Didn’t you say the piece was a wedding present to them when they got married? I hate to be indelicate folks but if it was a wedding present, what was it doing in your home?”
The married couple exchanged chapters of information in just a short glance at each other. “A couple of years ago, they started to have trouble. Our daughter and her son moved back in here for a while, and she brought the piece with her. Recently they have been repairing the relationship, and in fact they are in the process of moving back in together,” the doctor stated.
I nodded. Then without pausing to think ahead my mouth formed the words, “Where is their son now?”
“Tommy is staying with us for the summer.”
“Was he here at the time of the break in?”
“No, he was at a day camp, he came home just as the police were taking the last of my statement,” the doctor answered.
“Yes, that is when I called with the good news that Tommy and his mom would be moving back in with Justin. That’s how I found out about the break in.” Volunteered Mrs. LaFleur.
“Is he here now?”
“Yes, I believe he’s up in his room. Why are you asking about Tommy?” Mrs. LaFleur asked with the hint of protective mama bear coming out.
“Just a hunch nothing more, can we talk to him?”
A glance again and then he nodded.
Tommy’s door was directly across from where the framed memorabilia had been hanging. The grandmother knocked on the door. A muffled ‘come in’ was heard and we entered the room of what I pictured a normal ten-year old’s room looked like. Legos, sport posters and a rumpled bed. Tommy was sitting in a chair playing a handheld game. He stopped when he saw both his grandparents and a stranger. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said back, taking command of the conversation. “I am a private investigator your grandparents hired me to look into the burglary.”
“You mean like Magnum P.I?”
“Sort of but without the cool car.” I looked around the room. “You know about the missing keepsakes.”
I watched him closely, his eyes went to the bed and not the closet.
“Yeah,” he said, but not as casually as before.
“Do you know anything about the stuff?”
Again, his eyes went to his bed and he simply shrugged.
“It was right across from your room; you must have seen it every day.”
I saw the tear start to form at his eye, at the same time the lower lip started to quiver. “I am sorry, I thought if they didn’t have the keepsakes they would not fight anymore. They always seemed to fight around it. I thought if it was gone, they could start over again and not fight so much.”
He really did not say all that at once, there was a lot of crying, blubbering, and nose wiping before we got the whole story out of the kid. The burglary just coincided with the news they were moving back in with his father. No grand conspiracy, no higher malice, just a kid who did not want his parents to fight anymore. The framed stuff was under the bed, and the LaFleurs stated the keepsakes would stay in their house and not go back to Tommy’s house.
The important part, I got paid a big bonus for getting it back in one piece. I did not tell them they would have eventually found it when someone vacuumed under the bed.
I do sometimes know when to shut up.