“You want me to help your ‘master,’ huh?” I smirked despite myself. “Who’s he then?”
Mullins sat back in his chair for a moment and took a long drink from his glass, looking uncomfortable. After a brief silence, he looked back at me.
“Mr. Gannett,” he began, “I would greatly prefer if I can keep that information to myself for now. You may ask me anything else you like, and I will cooperate to the best of my ability, but please do not ask me my employer’s name or the name of his company.”
Inwardly, I paid close attention to his choice of words. Outwardly, I sighed.
“You’re putting me in an awkward position here, Mullins. I need to help your boss, but you won’t tell me who he is, or anything that will lead me to him. That about right?”
To his credit, Mullins looked me in the eye. “Yes, I am afraid part of my duty is to protect his privacy from public scrutiny as much as I am able. It is for this reason that I am asking for your help. He is behaving very strangely.”
“Tell me about it,” I offered, but of course at that moment the waiter came bearing two gleaming silver trays. I could have smelled the steak across the restaurant if I hadn’t been so focused on the moment. A plume of steam rose up from my tray as the waiter removed the ornate silver lid.
My rib eye was huge, cooked to perfection, and my baked potato looked to be almost the size of a football. I believe the mixed veggies had squash in them, but I had no intention of finding out for sure. Finally, there was a skewer of half a dozen fat grilled shrimp on a side dish, covered in garlic butter. My mouth was watering.
Mullins, who had ordered a Cobb salad, watched with nearly-concealed amusement as I stared at my plate.
“Perhaps you should eat while your supper is fresh, Mr. Gannett,” he offered. “I can begin to relay the details of the case to you momentarily.”
I was too hungry to argue, so I simply nodded and dug in, my senses immediately taking in all of the tastes and smells and almost overloading in the process. I hadn’t had a meal this good in a long time and had definitely never eaten anywhere like this. It was a dinner (who says supper anyway) to be savored, but my stomach couldn’t get filled fast enough.
After a moment, I managed to put my fork down long enough to gesture at Mullins, who was neatly working on his salad.
“You can start if you want, don’t wait on my account.”
He shook his head. “I prefer not to speak during meals if whenever possible. It saves one from so many potential embarrassments, don’t you agree?”
“I suppose so, yeah,” I shrugged.
Time passed, and I polished off the steak and half of the potato, wondering if this was the type of place to give you a doggie bag on the way out. Or in my case, a kitty bag. I started to ask Mullins about it, but saw that he had finished his meal and was looking at me patiently, but expectantly.
“Sorry,” I managed. “That was an amazing meal, thank you.”
“You are quite welcome,” he said. “Shall we get to the heart of the matter then?”
“Sure, tell me all about it.”
“My employer is a very wealthy and important man,” he began nervously. I noticed he was avoiding the word “master” now. “You may have already deduced that much.”
I nodded, and that inspired him to continue.
“I do not believe it will be saying too much to explain that he is a businessman with interests around the globe. He is a celebrated and accomplished man, and although he may not be well-loved, I doubt that anyone who knows him does not come away with respect for him.”
“Sounds like you admire him quite a bit,” I prodded.
Mullins nodded hesitantly. “Indeed. I have served him for most of my professional life, over twenty years now. One could surmise that I know the man better than himself, as any good valet should.”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“Well, you see, recently…” Here Mullins trailed off, frowning. I’d seen this hesitation dozens of times before. Clients who came in knowing that once they told me their secret, I was a part of it, for better or worse.
“Mr. Mullins, I may be no saint, but I’ve already told you: I respect my clients’ privacy. Whatever you tell me won’t go any further than the two of us.” This was, strictly speaking, true, but my silence stopped on the rare occasion that I found myself double-crossed, or at least when my client turned out to be a bigger scumbag than the people I was investigating.
Mullins smiled ever so briefly.
“I appreciate your professionalism, Mr. Gannett, and of course I will trust you.”
“Go on, then,” I encouraged him, “tell me what’s so strange that you need me.”
“Right. Well, my employer is typically a man of ritual, whose habits rarely change. It has made my job as his valet relatively easy, at least with respect to anticipating his needs.”
“And now things have gotten off kilter?”
“Okay, when did this all start?”
“I noticed it approximately two weeks ago, although it may have gone on for a night or two before I caught onto him.”
“In what way have his patterns changed?”
Here Mullins hesitated again, although only for a moment this time, but I pounced on it anyway.
“Come on, Mullins, give me something to work with. I can help you only as much as you let me.”
“Yes, of course,” he stammered. He was not a man used to being flustered. “The whole affair is just so impossible, that even I cannot believe it.”
“Tell me everything then, and we’ll see how impossible it is.”
Mullins sighed. “My employer disappears every night, and comes back in the morning with fresh cuts and bruises, and earth on his shoes.”
“Every night for the past couple of weeks?”
I sat back for a moment, pondering.
“What in the world could an extremely wealthy, pampered man be doing wandering around all night, coming home all banged up?”
Mullins looked at me hopelessly. “That, sir, is what I am hoping you will tell me.”
—END OF PART TWO—