Ghost Marina on the Mississippi

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Chapter 42 – The Meeting – Modern Day

Just before 10:00 AM Jason was walking towards the gates of the marina dressed in the best clothes he could muster from his limited wardrobe. He was clean-shaven, wearing a little of his best after-shave and well groomed for the pending meeting with Caroline. Approaching was Chuck, who for the first time since Jason had met him, was wearing a suit and tie; and looked quite passable as a city gent. As they met and exchanged pleasantries, not least of which were the comments on how well they had both cleaned-up, Bill came driving along in his 1952 Chevrolet. Before anyone could say anything about their willingness to leave an impression on their guest a Porsche SUV was slowly heading towards them. It stopped behind the Chevrolet and Caroline popped her head out of the driver’s side window.

“Morning everyone!” Caroline shouted, “where’s the best place for me to park?” Chuck replied, using his arms to usher her into a parking spot next to Jason’s truck. Bill proceeded to do the same, but it was Caroline who was out of her vehicle first. Her demeanor as she walked towards them was one of excitement with one big beautiful smile on her face. If there had been any skepticism or doubt about their discussion of a couple of days ago it had all dissipated now.

“Hi,” Caroline said as she held out her hand to Jason. “This is exciting isn’t it?” Jason shook her hand, but not for the first time, he was lost for words. Caroline again looked stunning, if she was wearing make-up there couldn’t have been much, and her beautiful dark hair hung over a loose red top worn outside of tight, ice-blue, jeans. She was wearing canvas sailing shoes as if she was expecting to go out on a boat. The lack of a reply notwithstanding, she shook hands with Chuck and repeated her ritual as Archie and Bill arrived, although Archie, true to form, went one step further and reached in for a hug.

“Would you like a lift up to the jewelers in my car?” Bill asked.

“Oh, I was under the impression it was close by!” Caroline replied a little confused.

“It is, it’s only a quick ten-minute walk up the street,” Jason replied, finally finding his voice.

“Well, thanks for the kind offer Bill, but after the drive here it may be nice just to stretch my legs a bit,” Caroline said, although disappointed, Bill was quite impressed that she had remembered his name. “But I’d love to have a spin in your car later, it looks lovely.” Whether she was pushing Bill’s buttons, or she genuinely meant what she said it didn’t matter to Bill, he was beaming like a schoolboy.

Chuck led Caroline along the road to the jewelers with Jason flanking the other side of her, while Bill and Archie watched them leave. Chuck was giving her a little history lesson of every building along the route and she was fascinated with the quaint village of Kimmswick remarking on how close she had lived to such a marvel, all her life, without ever realizing the place existed.

At the jewelers, they went through the usual security procedures, but this time, David was ready with the jewels. Jason hadn’t fully explained to Caroline how he had traced the items to her, but David showed her the maker’s catalog and how the investigation developed from there. After much discussion with David, Caroline decided she would stew a little longer about keeping the items or selling them. Although, she promised that if she did decide to sell she would leave it to his expertise to find an appropriate buyer. Her decision would be based on the fact she would never wear the jewelry nor were there any other heirs to present it to. However, she was aware that David had to make a living and felt bad that he had been taking care of the jewelry at no charge. As a result, they agreed on a storage fee that would be waived in the event of a sale and agreed a commission structure that included a handsome finder’s fee for Jason, although he protested vehemently that it was totally unnecessary. By the time all the paperwork was completed, it was time for lunch, so they headed back to the pub.

Bill and Archie had already got a head start on the others as they were on their second pint as the trio entered the bar. To emphasize the fact, the two men raised their glasses as the trio sat down at a table, specially prepared for them. They had hardly sat down when Dexter appeared with drinks for the two male newcomers

“What can I get you, Caroline?” Dexter asked.

“White wine please.” Caroline replied, “better not drink too much, driving you know.” She indicated with her hands a driving gesture.

The group began a little small talk until Dexter returned with the wine and a drink for himself. Then Caroline began the proceedings.

“I have a confession to make.” Caroline said solemnly, “do you remember I said my contact had never heard of an Agent Redmond?” There were murmurings of agreement from around the table, they remembered it well, difficult to forget when you have a gun pointing at you. “Well, my contact called back later after doing a little more digging. It appears that Agent Redmond had been brought in from Washington DC, he belongs to a Special Projects group. Very hush hush apparently.”

“So, you believe our story now?” Jason asked.

“Absolutely,” Caroline said emphatically.

“Well, I’ve been doing a little digging too,” Dexter said, and all eyes turned surprisingly to him. “I’m not without contacts either, some of the jobs I had to do during my locksmith days were working with the police helping out on criminal investigations. So, I phoned one of the guys I once worked with to check out our Caroline Ashdene to see if she was who she said she was.”

“You didn’t tell us?” Chuck asked with some indignation, but a smile appeared on Caroline’s face.

“That’s good, what did you find out?” Caroline asked.

“You are who you say you are,” Dexter said succinctly but a little sheepishly now that the other guys were upset with his subterfuge. “Well, you never know!”

“You’re right. I’m glad you checked me out.” Caroline said, “now we all know where we stand, and we have no more secrets.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Bill said and that relieved the tension, but before they could elaborate any more, Helen arrived to inform them that the food was now ready to be served. She introduced herself to Caroline who, in turn, asked her host where the washrooms were. Helen escorted her to the facilities and they could be heard laughing in the background as Chuck chided Dexter for his actions. Before Dexter could reply the dulcet tone of his beloved wife beckoned him.

“Dexter, you can give me a hand with this food!” For once, Dexter was grateful his wife had innocently rescued him from the remarks from the old men.

Helen had indeed gone to town. She had prepared prime rib with all the trimmings, vegetables, perfect Yorkshire puddings, horseradish, gravy et all. The group was a good way into the sumptuous meal before any real discussion took place and it was Caroline who got the ball rolling.

“O.K. so, Jason, did the F.B.I. give you any indication on how long it was going to be before we receive any word about their investigation?” Caroline asked between mouthfuls of food.

“No, in fact, he, more or less, made it clear to me that my participation in the investigation was over and warned me to back off any further involvement,” Jason replied as he wiped off a glob of gravy from his lips with a napkin.

“So, you are going to leave it alone?” Caroline asked with some surprise. “Just drop it?”

“Not exactly,” Jason replied hesitantly, “first, I was going to try and find Tony’s relations and return his artifacts to them.”

“Tony?” Caroline asked.

“Sorry, that was the name of my grandfather’s shipmate who died on the boat.”
Jason replied, “then, I thought I would wait a month or two before contacting Chuck’s pal, Jeremiah, to see how the investigation was going.”

“Hey, I could help you find Tony’s relations.” Caroline said with enthusiasm, “I have a clear case file right now, I have loads of time and the resources to help you.”

“Whoa, I have a bit of bad news.” Chuck interrupted, everyone stopped eating to look at him.

“Got a call from Jeremiah a couple of days ago.” Chuck said despondently, “he has decided to retire, with immediate effect. Gone to live down in Mobile. Sorry, I forgot to mention it before, didn’t think it was important.”

“Do you think his retirement was forced and has something to do with the investigation?” Caroline asked.

“For sure,” Chuck replied, “thought the old bugger was never going to retire.”

“Wow, this is serious,” Caroline said absently. They had all just about cleaned their plates and with that new snippet of information it too was being digested, so a brief silence fell over the table.

“So, when all is said and done, you have nothing to show for all your good detective work Jason!” Archie offered.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jason replied. “As I mentioned to you the other day, my quest was to find out what happened to my grandfather. That I have achieved, despite what the authorities may say to the contrary. I have had a great adventure, found new friends.” Jason held out his arms indicating all the people around the table. “I now have the confidence to return home with my boat and maybe plan an extended trip down the river to the Gulf, who knows?” He then raised his almost empty glass for a toast and everyone else smiled and responded in kind. Dexter noting that a lot of the glasses were either empty or almost done, rose from the table to replenish the drinks. While Dexter left to get more drinks, a quizzical look appeared on Caroline’s face.

“I’ve never thought about it before, but why do we call the raising of our glasses a toast?” Caroline asked, “it seems a strange expression.” The group bandied about a solution until Dexter returned with a tray of beverages and they asked him, he was the bar-owner after all.

“Simple, in days of yore, in merry old England, they use to add pieces of spiced toast to their beer to give it some flavor.” Dexter explained, “then they would raise their glasses to their host. Hence, toast.”

“Not surprising, given the flavor of British beers!” Chuck remarked.

“Well it is surprising actually Chuck,” Dexter said, “what do you think you’ve been drinking ever since I have owned this bar?”

“What Fullers? I have been paying good money all these years for English beer?” Chuck asked in surprise as the others all laughed.

“I think the logo is a bit of a giveaway Chuck,” Bill said stoically, “you know, ‘Fullers London Pride’.” The others were now smiling at Chuck’s bemusement.

“Nothing wrong with that Chuck, the myth about poor beer came back with the G.I.s returning after the war, because they claimed English beer was warm when it was actually room temperature because they didn’t have the refrigeration in those days. They actually make really good beers.” Dexter explained. Then he hesitated for a moment. “But, on the subject of good money, do you still have all that cash from the safe Jason?” Dexter asked.

“Yes, why?” Jason replied quizzically.

“Still think you should get that evaluated, might be worth a bit,” Dexter replied.

“Maybe David knows someone!” Caroline offered.

“He’s just a jeweler, what you need is a numi, a numas, nusm-” Archie was saying before being interrupted by Dexter.

“A numismatist. I think you’re trying to say, someone specializing in coin collections.” Dexter said.

“Yes, that’s right a numis-, what you said,” Archie replied pointing his finger at Dexter in a kind of eureka moment.

“I am sure in his business David would have some connections,” Dexter said.

“What do you think Jason?” Caroline added.

“Well, like a lot of things lately, I hadn’t given it any thought until now,” Jason said as he mused about the possibility. He had come on a quest, not to make a profit on his grandfather’s demise and anyway, his father and Tony’s family should be entitled to any proceeds. “Not sure the commission on the transaction would be enough to pique David’s interest.”

“From my experience with jewelers, any profit is worth their interest,” Dexter added with a wry smile. There was a brief silence before Carol spoke out.

“Tell you what Jason,” Carol leaned forward as she spoke to the group. The others responded in kind as they awaited her comment. “If all you are worried about is that it is a waste of David’s time, I will give him the opportunity to sell the jewels if he is also prepared to find a buyer for the money.”

“Like a job lot,” Bill said.

“Yes Bill,” Caroline responded laughing. “Like a job lot.”

“Then I can give half of anything we receive to Tony’s descendants and the other half to my dad,” Jason said, his face beaming.

“Whoa, what about yourself?” Chuck questioned with some belligerence. “You’re the one who has done all the work here. Where’s your cut?”

“I don’t think that will be an issue.” Caroline said nonchalantly as she took another sip of her wine, “the finder’s fee from the sale of the jewelry will be more than adequate. In fact, I believe you all deserve a cut!”

They all looked at her in complete surprise, the quest had just gained another member.

“Well, I don’t know what you are all looking at me like that for!” Caroline said, admonishing the group, “starting Monday, we have lots of work to do. Jason, why don’t you come to my house, say 10:00 and we can get started?”

“Well yes, I could,” Jason said hesitantly.

“Does that mean you are going to stay a while longer Jason?” Chuck asked.

“Well, I guess so,” Jason replied slowly and the two men on either side of him, Chuck and Archie, cheered and slapped him playfully on the back. “But, to do what exactly?”

“Well, today you can contact David and discuss our next step with the sales of our artifacts. Then on Monday, we can begin to find Tony’s descendants, I believe I have better resources than you to do that.” Caroline responded authoritatively.

“Yes, but do you need me here in person to do that?” Jason asked, remembering he had promised his daughters that he would be returning home this weekend. The others were now watching and listening intently at the backward and forwards banter being delivered, as though they were attending another tense, tennis match.

“Yes, but I am also going to need your invaluable assistance,” Caroline said, “I need to document all your information so that we can go after the bastards who did this.”

“Well, I’m not sure who that would be exactly!” Jason replied, “the army, the F.B.I.?”

“No, not those entities, they were just the players,” Caroline replied.

“Then who?” Jason asked bewildered.

“The U.S. Government,” Caroline said.

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