Chapter 34, Bingo
Thursday, June 19, 9 p.m.
Falconer had just finished updating the blog for Friday, eating cold pizza at his desk, washing it down with Redhook when the phone rang.
“Bingo!” said Theresa.
“Bingo I found the daughter, what else?”
“Maureen Collins’ kid?”
“Maybe. That we don’t know yet. Not for absolute sure.”
“You said you found the daughter.” It was a question.
“Eric, there are a lot of coincidences and unknowns here. Something’s going on that could be connected to the plot against Governor Collins, assuming there is one, but I really don’t know.”
“Sounds like you jumped the gun with that excited ‘bingo.’”
“OK, OK. Maybe it’s not bingo yet. But let me tell you from the beginning, then you can work out what it means and whether is has any value.” Theresa was sitting outside at a Mexican restaurant near the downtown end of the Tijuana Trolley waiting for her order. As the sunset darkened, strings of lights on a vine-laced trellis blinked on, lighting the patio and the large red and green umbrella above her table. Celebrating a little, she sipped a margarita.
“Go ahead. No, wait a sec. Let me plug in this cell phone; the battery’s almost dead. OK, now.” Falconer leaned over his desk, ready to take notes on yellow pad. “No, wait. One more thing: OK if I record you?”
“Sure, no problem. I’m sure you’ll want a record in case you say something profoundly romantic or you promise me a bonus.”
What a great woman, he thought. “I love you,” he said. “Whoops, sorry. Tape wasn’t running.”
“Be nice if you were here,” Theresa said, taken aback and uncertain what else to say. That was Falconer. When it came to emotions, he was either tongue-tied or too blunt and then hid it in a joke or some other distraction, a verbal nervous shuffling of the feet, like a kid. “Anyway, the story…” she said after a long uncomfortable silence.
Falconer set his cell phone to speaker and opened an application he’d bought only a few months before that allowed it to simultaneously record. “Tape’s running.”
“Well, like I said before I left and you know this, it is truly next to impossible – really, it is impossible – to obtain the names of women who give their babies up for adoption if they decided at the time to close the records. Most do. Only in the last ten or fifteen years have there been many open adoptions. It’s growing, but back in 1973, of course, it was pretty much unheard of. Despite that, or maybe because the system’s so hard to crack, there’s a small industry ready to help children – now adults – search for their birth parents. I know of one woman in Seattle who set up shop helping others after she managed to track down her own birth mother. Down here, primarily, there are two P.I. firms and one law office that specialize in those kinds of searches. Turns out I already knew one of the investigators, Dan Armstrong, and a friendly clerk at the county records office told me about the others.
“So I made the rounds, Armstrong, the other P.I. and the lawyer and asked if they would go through their files for clients they’ve had who were born from May to August 1973 and searching for birth mothers. They were glad to help as soon as I said you were paying.”
“Don’t worry, I think it’ll come in under fifteen hundred for all three.”
“OK. That’s the tariff. What’s the punch line? What’ve you got?”
“I know it’s hard for you, but try and be patient.” The waiter set a taco salad in front of Theresa. She ignored it and sipped from the margarita. “Altogether, there were fifteen names and twelve of them, contacted by the P.I.s and lawyer, said it was OK if I called them.”
“Given the cost and the legwork, I can see why the dailies haven’t pursued this story.”
“So, anyway, I started calling them. Turns out seven still live in southern California and what with them working and away from home most of the day, in the last three days I managed to find and interview four of them, which – we are so lucky – turned out to be all I needed. Two of them I did by phone and took them off the list. One had found her mother in Los Angeles. The other gave up looking fairly quickly so I asked her to describe herself to see if there was any chance of a relationship. Nope. No red hair. This woman said she was Hispanic and quite dark skinned with black hair. Check. On to number three.
“I drove out to San Bernardino this afternoon to see her because she wouldn’t talk to a stranger on the phone. Not surprising, actually. I wouldn’t either. Turned out to be a gold digger, though. She’d found her mother years ago, which of course she hadn’t told me when I called, and both mother and daughter met me in the living room, effusively, with hugs, fresh coffee and cookies. They were in league, searching for the father whom they believed was rich and when they found him planned to shake him down for some of his dough. Since they had been unsuccessful so far, what they wanted was my help in this enterprise. I got out of there as quickly as I could.”
“You are a wonderful story teller.”
“I know, you want the punch line. Well, here it comes.”
“Number four: Michelle Adams – I left her just an hour ago – single mother of Manuel, age 10, lives in a cheap apartment near San Diego State, assistant news producer at one of the local TV stations, has no idea who her mother is, despite a serious effort to find her several years ago, including, through the law firm I mentioned, inquiries in Seattle.
“And here, Eric, comes the gold. For the past three years, she’s gotten $1,000 a month from an anonymous source who she thinks is in Seattle because there’s a lawyer from Seattle who says he represents this benefactor and comes by once every six months or so to check on her and the kid but keeps mum about the source of the monthly checks. Very secretive, she said. And even the lawyer she hired, the one who had her name, couldn’t break through the wall at the Seattle firm, so she got nothing for her high-priced search.”
“Who’s the lawyer? Did she give you a name?”
“Just a minute. We’ll get to that. It gets better. Just Monday this guy shows up – coincidentally about the same time I’m flying here – and hands her two plane tickets for Seattle on July 1. She said he was insistent, said she had to come and implied they’d cut off her ‘allowance,’ including a college fund for her son which is extra, beyond the $1,000-a-month stipend. Her benefactor wants her and the boy in Seattle for something special. That was how she put it, ‘something special,’ something special that will ‘change her life,’ she said, but she hasn’t a clue what. She said she’s afraid to hope that her mother is behind it and will reveal herself for the ‘reunion’ – I thought that was a strange choice of words – for the meeting Michelle has dreamed about for the last twenty years since her adoptive mother told her the truth. Apparently they’ll be staying at the Edgewater beginning a week from Tuesday.
“Holy shit!” For a moment, Falconer really had nothing else to say. Mind racing, he stared out at the pale sky, turning orange in the west as the sun set far to the north.
“You’re welcome. I really appreciate your gratitude and the articulate way you’ve expressed it.” Theresa laughed to herself and mixed the taco salad with her fork before taking a bite. In San Diego, it was already dark.
“Let me add ‘fucking amazing’ to that. For real, Theresa. Feels like the jackpot, doesn’t it. What was the lawyer’s name?”
“Mmm, mouth full. Sec. Mmmm. Mundy, Todd Mundy, she said.
“No, Mundy. M-U-N-D-Y.”
“Name’s familiar. If he’s real then these guys have made a big mistake in our favor. Let me take a look.” Theresa took another bite.
Falconer typed ‘Seattle attorney Todd Mundy’ into Google. “Bingo it is. Partner in Harper Johnson Evans Borg right here in our home town.”
Chapter 35, DNA
Friday, June 20, 10 a.m.
“Mo, I think we found her,” Falconer said when the governor’s staff finally got her on the line.
“A miraculous feat of investigation – or should I say presdigitation – since the person you’re looking for does not exist.” Collins was sarcastic, irritated and impatient, the permanent condition of elected executives herded by staff through days of meetings without end. Falconer could tell she wasn’t focused on the call yet.
“I mean we found a woman in San Diego that – so far circumstantially – could be your daughter. Theresa’s talked to her.”
“Date of birth.”
“Christ, Falconer, that doesn’t get you anywhere. There could be hundreds, think about thousands – even assuming I had a kid. You’ve found a phony, though I’ll grant you that may be all my opponents need.”
Falconer ignored that, pushed on. “Figuring you got pregnant between mid-October and Christmas break in 1972, your alleged baby would have been born anywhere from June to the end of August, 1973, probably not too late in August since a person giving birth would likely need several weeks to get back in shape before returning to dorm life. We also figured not before mid-October since when you left school in February you were probably worried it was beginning to show. Narrows it down a bit.”
“More detail than I care for, Falconer.”
“But you did leave school in February.”
“I had mono. Everyone knows that. And as I said, we’re dealing with hundreds of children.”
“Not so many given up for adoption by unnamed mothers in San Diego, though. Barely a dozen.”
“That means nothing.”
“We found five. Four can be ruled out. But Michelle Adams, born August 3, 1973 looks like she might be your daughter.”
“I don’t have a daughter.” In the strident denial, Falconer heard rising fear. “I mean I don’t have a daughter born in the 70s like you’re describing. I have Kelly, of course. She’s 16.”
“Governor, I think you do. When I took this on, like I told you, it seemed like a scam, political dirty tricks that would hurt you even if only a rumor, ultimately not true. But now I think this kid’s yours.”
“Not a kid. She’s almost 35.”
“Quick math, Mo. Or is her age something you always know.”
There was a pause. “Falconer, you’ve got a name and a birth date. I don’t think you’ve proved anything. Like you said, it’s circumstantial.”
“There are more circumstances.”
“And what are those?”
“Somebody else found her first.” Falconer paused for a reaction. Collins was silent. The white noise that filled the phone line could have come from outer space.
“Some anonymous donor’s been sending her and her kid – not married but she’s got a 10-year-old son – a thousand dollar check every month for three years. A lawyer here in Seattle is intermediary.”
“And that means what?”
Falconer hesitated, surprised at Collins’ stonewall. “Well, I don’t think it would mean much by itself except that someone, this mystery benefactor, is bringing her up to Seattle July 1.
“I’m still not tracking with you, Falconer.”
Falconer decided Collins was playing him, testing him, fishing for more information and trying to avoid revealing anything herself. He was sure there was more there.
“Think about it, Mo. Why would someone do that?”
“You tell me.” Still dodging and weaving, he thought.
“OK, governor, here’s the story.” Falconer exasperated. “Assume this is what we thought from the start, a political dirty trick, only now it’s not just a rumor you’ll have to keep denying.
“Someone thinks they have proof and they’re bringing her here to Seattle. For what? I don’t know. To parade her for the press? They’d need proof she’s your daughter but maybe they’ve breached the wall of secrecy surrounding the adoption. Bribed someone. Who knows what? After all, somehow they found her.”
“So did you, you found someone, whoever this person is. Doesn’t prove anything.” The courtroom lawyer speaking.
“We knew what we were looking for and so did the mystery benefactor who found her first. It’s somebody who knows a lot about you. That alone should be worrisome to someone running for office, to anyone, really.”
“Falconer, we’re talking because I am worried about the damage this can do to my re-election campaign. Don’t sell me short.”
“OK, so the they do a news conference, ‘woman claims to be Governor Collins abandoned daughter,’ that sort of thing. You’re toast.”
“Yes, I’m probably toast. If that happens, the party would ask me to step aside for one of those jerks running in the primary against me. Pretty much no matter what scenario you look at, Sonny McCracken wins by a landslide next November. Unless, Falconer, it’s all bullshit and we can prove it.”
“That she’s not your daughter.”
“That she’s not my daughter.”
“They’ll still be claiming you left school and had a baby.”
“Without much success if this poor woman’s proved to be a phony.” From her low point, Falconer could hear Collins voice firm up. She was taking control.
“What do you want to do?”
“DNA. It’s the only evidence that will do. The only way we can prove a negative.”
“You’re taking a risk that it will prove she is your daughter.”
“Get off my back, Falconer. She’s not. I’ll do a DNA test, have a trooper watch, take custody, deliver it to the crime lab so there won’t be any doubt that it’s mine. You said Theresa talked to her. Can she ask this woman to do the same?”
“Theresa’s still in San Diego. We can try. Probably can’t get the police in for chain of custody but we should be able to have her do it in the presence of lab personnel. Michele Adams herself has to believe in the results.”
“Yes, she does. So she’ll know she’s a fake, don’t you think?”
“Do me a favor, will you?”
“OK, Falconer, I’ll grant you points so far. What do you want?”
“Any chance you still have your Whitman College year books?”
“It would make sense for us to look for people who might have heard rumors around Whitman about why you were out a semester and where you went, someone interested enough in you to find your daughter.”
“The daughter I don’t have, remember. Might have annuals in a box in our storage locker, though. I can go along with that. I’ll have Richard take a look.”
“He knows about threats to me, yes.”
“Take a look at your classmates – all four years in case someone transferred in or out – and make a list of people you think could do this, then Fedex me the books. We might have our own ideas about who’s a threat.
“OK. Richard will deliver them himself if we can find them. But I’m not making any goddam list for you.”
“Mo, right now we do have one advantage. It sounds trite but ‘they don’t know that we know.’ Michelle Adams gave us the name of the lawyer who’s the intermediary here but we have deliberately not confronted him – he wouldn’t have to tell us the name of his client, anyway.”
“Who is it?”
“Guy named Todd Mundy. M-U-N-D-Y.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Me neither. But maybe he works for someone in your yearbooks.”