The day was warm but autumn was soon coming. The leaves were barely starting to turn. If you looked carefully you could see a leaf here or there with one of the rich colors of change. A deep breath told you: Summer was ending.
Madame Marina Karitska was at Sunday brunch at her friend Faber-Jones’s house on Cavendish Square. The weather was nice enough that seating had been set up outside for them to enjoy the warm sun as well as the wonderful food. Faber-Jones had once lived in a mansion with his wife, but after she left him he had moved to this smaller, yet still magnificent house. He had kept in his employ his cook and her husband, and the brunch the cook had prepared was delicious: small mini souffles and quiches, accompanied by pieces of fresh fruit rounded out with strong, if American, coffee.
The party guests were mostly known to her. As always there was Faber-Jones’ medical doctor, Berkowitz, and Lieutenant Pruden and his fiancée, Jan Cooper Hyer. Of course there was Faber-Jones’ daughter, Laurie, who she had helped find her way in life after the young woman fell in with a cult. Laurie had brought along a friend, a pretty brunette with a very shy smile.
“I met Beth in college,” Laurie explained. “She has a bit of a puzzle and we’re hoping you might help. That is, if you don’t mind,” she pleaded.
“Of course,” said Madame Karitska. “Come, sit down here with me. What is your puzzle?”
Laurie and Beth sat down at the small table. “It’s ok, Beth,” Laurie said to her friend. “You can tell her. She’ll try to help.”
“This will sound weird, but it’s about my father,” Beth started. “I never knew him, and my mother died five weeks ago. She never told me much about him, just that he left when I was a baby.”
“I am so sorry to hear that,” said Madame Karitska. “But there is something more?”
“Yesterday I was at work when a man came in and asked for me by name. When I went to the reception desk, he said he was my father!”
“Did your mother have any pictures of him?” Madame Karitska inquired. “Or something else he left behind?”
“No, nothing,” replied Beth. “But I have picture of this man.” She pulled out a computer printer picture of a man with dark hair and a Van Dyke beard. “It’s not very good, it was taken from the cameras that watch the reception desk.”
Madame Karitska studied the picture, and asked, “What is his name?”
“Henry Billings. I’ve always used my mother’s last name.” Beth shrugged. “He says he just wants to get to know me. I’m supposed to meet him tomorrow night for dinner.”
“Something about him makes me nervous,” interjected Laurie. “Beth said he couldn’t remember the name of Beth’s mother correctly, or where they were living when she was born.”
“But that’s easy to explain, it’s been so long,” Beth protested. “Karen and Katherine are close enough to be confused, and my parents were living in New York City when I was born but moved to Trafton when I was only a month old.”
“Still,” argued Laurie, with some heat. “A father should at least remember where he was living when his child was born!”
“Has he asked for money, perhaps?” suggested Madame Karitska. “Has he said anything to give reason to believe he has a bad motive?”
“No,” admitted Beth. “But he says he wants to talk about something ‘important’ when we have dinner tomorrow.”
“Have you talked with the police?” asked Madame Karitska. “Lieutenant Pruden would be happy to help you, I am sure.” Pruden and his fiancée had been listening to an elderly distinguished man introduced as Simon Brimmer, who had been talking about old radio shows. Upon hearing Pruden’s name he and Jan came down to where the three women sat.
Laurie quickly recapped Beth’s tale but Beth, blushing, added, “I spoke with a nice police officer at the local precinct. He told me that there was nothing to be done, as it was not a crime to pretend to be someone’s father. And they couldn’t do any kind of background check on him without proof of criminal activity.”
“Unfortunately, he was probably correct,” said Lieutenant Pruden. “The police are so backed up with serious crimes that many precincts are under orders to only run checks on those they hold suspect. But if you give me his information, I would be happy to try to slip in the request.”
With thanks from Beth, and relief on Laurie’s face, Beth wrote out the information she had on her possible father. “This is the address he gave me,” she said.
“I’ll try to look into it as soon as possible,” promised Lieutenant Pruden. “But I must ask -- do you have any money he could be after?”
“Oh, no,” replied Laurie. “I make a decent salary at my job as a computer programmer. My mother left me a few pieces of jewelry, nothing very expensive.”
“Here is my address,” said Madame Karitska, giving Beth a piece of paper. “Would you come by on Tuesday, in the morning, to tell me of your dinner?”
“Of course,” replied Beth, and politely excused herself.
“Do you suspect something, too,” Laurie asked, turning to Madame Karitska.
“I only sense that she also believes something is amiss, but is reluctant to speak it aloud,” said Madame Karitska.
“Sense?” said Brimmer. “The young lady is just nervous due to this change in familial status. Surely you don’t believe that someone would claim to be the young woman’s father for some nefarious reason?”
“People have claimed family relationship for all sorts of reasons,” commented Madame Karitska.
“Madame, I assure you,” said the man with a pointed sniff. “I have quite many years experience with solving crimes and know exactly of what I am speaking.”
“I see,” was all Madame Karitska said.
“Madame Karitska,” said Faber-Jones. “Have you met Mr. Brimmer? Simon Brimmer was well known for his mystery-solving radio shows years ago.”
"Surely you remember 'The Casebook of Simon Brimmer'?" Brimmer inquired. "It was a very popular show, on which I solved hundreds of mysteries and crimes."
"Pisces Records is thinking of making albums of some of his best shows," said Faber-Jones. "This could be a big hit for the record company."
“Perhaps it will interest people in a new show," said Brimmer. "And, I assure you, Simon Brimmer has not lost his touch.”