I flipped the folder open to find a face staring at me. It was a 5x7 color photo of a thin faced man, probably in his sixties. He looked a very capable sort and his name, according to the label on the back, was Anton Higginson.
The brief biography, typed on the next sheet, proved he was very capable: industrialist, self-made multimillionaire and, penciled in the margin, 'used to having his own way.'
'What's this about?' I asked.
She leaned forward, forearms resting on the desktop.
'In simple terms,' she said, 'it's a kidnapping. At least we think it is.'
'What do you mean 'think'?'
'Higginson's adopted son, Scott, has been abducted, that much we know. But there's been no ransom demand of any kind.
I frowned. 'Any other kind of pressure been brought to bear?'
'Nothing, nothing at all.'
'So why did they take him?'
She shrugged. 'That's what we'd like you to find out.'
I tossed the file folder onto her desk. 'Do you have anything to go on? A place to start?'
Pendleton sat back and looked pleased for the first time. 'Yes. In fact, we have quite a bit.'
'For instance, we have a pretty good idea where they exited the country.'
I paused, surprised. 'Are you telling me they're out of the country someplace?'
Pendleton in turn looked surprised.
'Yes, of course,' she said. 'I thought you would have assumed that much. It's why we needed you back.'
'Because you have the knack for operating abroad. I mean, hell, if the Higginson kid had been just dragged across a state line, his father probably wouldn't need us at all.'
'Why did he come to...you?' I had almost said, '...come to us.'
'Once it was discovered that his son was out of the country, there started the usual jurisdictional hassles.' She looked away. 'To tell you the truth, I strongly suspect someone in the government, the State Department maybe, recommended us to Higginson. Unofficially, of course.'
I nodded. Pendleton seemed to be going out of her way to be up front with me and had even thrown in a few veiled compliments, the only kind she ever offered. And I was letting myself be led along the garden path because, quite frankly, it's a nice feeling having someone of Pendleton's position pulling you along that path. Let bygones be bygones, I thought. That and the fact I was broke and needed the work. Poverty and principles are always a bad mix in my book.
'Where do I start?' I asked.
'I'd like you to meet Anton Higginson first. He can fill you in on the details of the actual kidnapping and tell you about his son.'
'Was Higginson an actual witness to the abduction?'
'Their bodyguard was driving at the time.'
'And can I talk to him?'
She looked up. 'He's dead.'