Before Mitch returns to the Marshals Service, he'll take this one last case. Besides, going undercover will get Mitch closer to Heidi and her lovable son, Zack. Temporarily, that is. Mitch is ready to reclaim his life, and that means finding his real family in Florida. Only for this P.I., what he really wants is in the last place he expects.
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"Your rotary cuff has healed, Mitch. You have one hundred percent mobility and are cleared to return to work full-time. Today I'll have the office fax the information to your superior, Lew Davies, in Florida. After being away from your job almost a year, I'm sure he'll be happy to get you back on active duty."
No doubt about it. Lew Davies, more like a father figure to Mitch in the past year, would be ecstatic at the news. He needed Mitch on the job yesterday. That was a given.
"Thank you, Dr. Samuels," he said. "I appreciate all that you and the staff have done for me."
"You worked hard on your physical therapy and it really shows. Remember, you can get some plastic surgery done on the scars if you feel it's necessary. I guess you know how lucky you are to still have a great future ahead of you."
After they shook hands, Federal Marshal Mitchell Garrett walked out of the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, better known as TOSH, in Salt Lake City, Utah. TOSH was one of the finest facilities for his type of injury in the world, which was why Lew had arranged for him to be flown from Florida to Utah eleven months ago for surgery.
You know how lucky you are to still have a great future ahead of you. As he climbed into his used Audi, Mitch knew how fortunate he was to have fully recovered. Having the full use of his right arm again was his "get out of jail free" card. For during that nightmarish week after his surgery when he went crazy from total inactivity, he'd felt as though he'd been thrown in jail. Lew knew how Mitch had felt. To make certain he didn't climb the walls during the long recuperation period, he'd arranged temporary work for Mitch at the Roman Lufka Private Investigators firm in Salt Lake.
Lew had maintained that a P.I. job would be a less hostile work environment for Mitch, yet still keep his brain revved. It was a feasible solution for the off time while he trained the muscles in his arm and shoulder to function properly again.
Mitch had liked Roman Lufka from the start. The man was a total professional. It didn't take long to understand why Lufka's firm was recognized as the best P.I. firm in the Intermountain West. To his surprise Mitch found he enjoyed the work there, too. The cases were varied and challenging. Better yet, he didn't have to watch his back every second, the way he did as a marshal.
As a result he found more time to make friends with the office staff, especially a couple of the P.I.s, Chaz and Travis. Like Mitch, they'd both come from military and lawenforcement backgrounds. Chaz, who'd lost his wife to cancer, had recently married again and was now a stepfather to a cute little girl. Travis had been with the Texas Rangers until his wife was murdered in a revenge killing. He'd resigned and brought his son to Salt Lake, where he could have the support of his sister's family.
Mitch had come close to marriage several times, but he had a tendency to be somewhat of a loner and liked his own space. Because he didn't crave doing things as a couple all the time, the women he'd gotten close to felt it reflected on them and the relationships fizzled out. Though Lew argued with him to the contrary, Mitch was getting to the point where he didn't believe marriage was for him. He'd dated several women lately, but felt no spark.
Now that eleven months had passed and he was fit to resume his duties as a federal marshal, he felt conflicted.
To be conflicted was a state of mind he'd never experienced and didn't understand, because until this point in his life he'd always known exactly what he wanted to do and had felt good about his decisions. He should be excited and happy to know he could get back to his career in Florida. But he wasn't and it disturbed him.
After he turned on the Audi's ignition, he drove to his apartment, near the University of Utah. Though he should phone Lew and tell him the news, he wasn't ready to do that yet. What he needed right now was coffee. It wouldn't help his nerves, but he craved the caffeine.
When he wheeled into the double carport he shared with a pair of female college students in the next apartment, he saw the mailman chatting with them. They loved to party and were probably hitting on the guy.
Not wanting to have to turn down their dozenth invitation to hook up, Mitch remained in the car, put his cell phone to his ear and pretended he was deep in conversation. To his relief the girls finally went back into their apartment.
He got out of the car, then grabbed the mail out of the box and hurriedly unlocked the door into his kitchen. He was looking for a letter from the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. He wanted any information he could get in the course of his ongoing search for his birth parents.
Over the years, he'd sent the bureau numerous inquiries. Each time he'd hoped the bureau would find a new name to add to the list they'd compiled and sent to him. When he saw the envelope, he felt a rush of adrenaline and tossed the rest of the mail on the counter so he could open it.
Dear Mr. Garrett, in regard to your letter of June 30the following birth records on those individuals with the last name Garrett, taken from the dates you specified, appear below. If this doesn't help, we suggest you search out every church in the Tallahassee area. They'll have baptismal and christening records. Don't forget the local hospitals, which keep thorough records.
Mitch had already made an attempt to do all the things suggested, but because the nature of his work left him little leisure time, his attempts were sporadic and he couldn't provide the follow-through. An indepth investigation required months of work without interruption, a luxury he didn't have.
As a last resort, you might hire a genealogist. This can be expensive, but some of the professionals have done years of work on certain lines and can be of significant help. The best of luck to you.
Mitch appreciated the information. That was one angle he hadn't pursued. While it was on his mind, he sat down at his kitchen table and looked up genealogists in Florida on his laptop. He came across a website for the Florida chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. That would be a good place to start, but not right now. He was too restless and had other things to do.
Once he'd rifled through the bills and ads on the counter, he walked into the living room and turned on the TV to see who'd won the most recent stage of the Tour de France. Mitch had done a lot of cycling before his injury. He'd found it relaxing. Right now he was rooting for the American team, but it was the Belgian who won the yellow jersey today. He turned the TV off and went back to the kitchen to make some instant coffee.
While he waited for water to heat in the microwave, he checked his watch. It was 10:00 a.m. He ought to be hungry, but his appetite had deserted him. Once he'd made the coffee, he sweetened it and wandered out onto the veranda. He never tired of the view.
The small apartment for college students he rented was simply a place to sleep while he'd been recuperating. Lew had arranged for him to stay here where he could keep a low profile. Mitch preferred lots of space and the miniscule rooms provided little, but the sight of Salt Lake from this spot made up for it.
Before he'd come to Utah, he'd heard about the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. It was flanked by the Wasatch Mountains on the east and the Oquirrhs on the west, names that came from the Goshute and Paiute Indians respectively. The sight of both ranges rising close to eleven thousand feet in the dry air took his breath every time.
A unique part of the country, Salt Lake. When storms did roll in, they grew into cloudbursts at colossal heights with lightning and thunder that rocked the whole region. Right now there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was hot already. By this afternoon the temperature would reach one hundred again, typical for mid-July.
Being a Florida native, he was used to the heat. In Florida, in fact, the heat was made more intense by the humidity. If he had to choose between both places to live and work in the U.S., the West and Salt Lake would probably win out. Except Whether rational or not, Mitch didn't know if he could leave Florida for good. The sooner he contacted a genealogist in the area, the better.
He swallowed the last of his coffee. Tomorrow he'd phone Lew, who would have received the fax from Dr. Samuels. In the meantime Mitch needed to get to the P.I. office. He'd finally nabbed the culprits in the mail-fraud case he'd been working on, and there was paperwork to finish up. Anything would be better than staying here and dwelling on this new freedom, which had brought him to a crossroads he wasn't ready for. Mitch would wait until the end of the day to tell Roman his sick leave was up.
The second Heidi Bauer Norris walked into her office at Bauer's Incorporated after her lunch break, the phone rang. She was the director of human resources for the company that made SweetSpud Donuts, and Mondays were always like this for her. You didn't have time to catch your breath before everything over the weekend that could go wrong came to light. She dashed to her desk and picked up the receiver on her extension. "This is Heidi."
"I'm glad you answered. It's Phyllis from No. 2."
Bauer's had twenty donut shops in the Salt Lake Valley. Heidi knew them by number. "Yes, Phyllis. How's your daughter?"
"She still has a lot of morning sickness."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I went through those days while I was carrying Zack. Tell her to hang in there and eat soda crackers before she gets out of bed. It works. What can I do for you?"
"Jim didn't come in this morning. His wife just phoned and said he was sick on Saturday so he went to the doctor. It seems he has to go into the hospital for a series of tests to find out what's wrong with his stomach. He'll be out until Thursday. I can handle today without him, but somebody needs to be here for Tuesday and Wednesday."
"I'll take care of it right away and be in touch with you."
She'd barely hung up when her great-uncle Bruno Bauer, the CEO of the family-owned company, rolled into her office. He still had his brains and the energy of ten people, but since the stroke that had left him unable to walk, he'd had to rely on a wheelchair to get around.
Last week he'd started coming into the office in the afternoons. She'd visited him a lot during his recuperation period and knew how much he'd hated the restrictions. At least now he was back at the work he loved.
To her surprise, he closed and locked the door behind him. Intrigued by his action, she crossed the room to hug him. "This is a surprise. Why didn't you ask me to come upstairs?"
He patted her hand. "Because since I've been back, my office is like Grand Central Station. Too many busybodies. Too many ears. I didn't want anyone walking in on us, but no one's going to question my wanting to talk to my favorite Adelheide first."
"So what's up?" she asked. Besides the father she adored, she loved Bruno. He and her grandfather were brothers who'd also been best friends. When her grandfather had died, she'd claimed Bruno as another grandfather. He'd always gone out of his way to be kind to her. After her divorce two years ago, he'd brought her into the home office.
The action had miffed some of the family, who'd questioned his action for their own selfish reasons. She'd been only twenty-seven at the time; they were older and more qualified. But none of them had any idea how he'd helped her restore a little self-worth.
"I phoned your father last night and then spent hours talking to him. Sit down and I'll tell you about it."
Heidi took her place behind the desk while he drew around the side to be close to her. There had to be major trouble for him to call her father, who'd gone on a trip to Nebraska with her mom. They were visiting Heidi's older sister, Evy, who'd just had her third baby.
His eyes, light blue like hers, suggested their Austrian roots, but today the blue seemed to have a grayish tinge. He looked troubled. "I have reason to believe Jonas and Lucas are stealing from the company."
"Oh, no!" Jonas and Lucas were the son and grandson respectively of Bruno's sister Rosaline.
Bruno nodded solemnly and told her what he'd discovered. "In all the years this company has been in business, we've had small thefts here and there, but we've never had anything major like this." He went on to give her the details. "Your father agrees with me we need immediate expert help from an outside source."
"You mean the police."
"No. They'll bungle it." He waved his hand. "I want answers fast in an environment of absolute secrecy. This is where you come in. I've done some checking and want you to go to this P.I. firm today. They're reputed to be the best. I've called them and they'll be expecting you. Talk to the owner. Tell him the problem and find out what he suggests."