“Remember my telling you about a lady named Abby
Farrell, who I worked with on the Raptor Project?”
“The lady who disappeared? Don’t tell me you finally
“Yesterday. Can we come over and talk?”
THIRTY MINUTES LATER, we met the elusive Miss
Farrell at our less-than-sumptuous office suite in a
suburban shopping center (for “suite,” think former
beauty shop). Only it wasn’t Miss Farrell now.
“Jill and Greg McKenzie,” said a smiling Warren
Jarvis, “meet Kelli—spelled with an i—Kane. And
“Nice to meet you, Kelli-with-an-i,” I said, shaking
She gave me an indulgent grin. “My
pleasure, I’m sure.”
Jill invited them to occupy the client chairs that
faced our twin desks. Dressed in trim designer jeans
and a white shirt, Kelli Kane moved with the easy
grace of someone accustomed to traveling in
sophisticated circles. Long black tresses
accompanied a pleasant smile accented by hazel eyes
that had a striking starburst effect. I guessed her
age at early to mid-forties. That made her at least
twenty years younger than Jill or me. On the
outside, she had the look of a successful
businesswoman on a relaxing vacation. My sixth sense
told me there was a lot more going on inside.
turned to Jarvis, a handsome man who made no attempt
to hide that precursor of aging, gray around the
temples. “After what you did for us in Israel,
Warren, we could hardly refuse our help.”
“We’re not looking for charity, Greg.”
“Point taken. So what’s the problem? I hope it
isn’t too serious.”
He glanced at Kelli. “That remains to be seen. It
could involve a ninety-year-old murder.”
Jill’s brown eyes sprang open wide. “Wow, talk about
your cold cases.”
Jarvis shifted in his chair.
“True. But it appears to be heating up.”
Kelli spoke, her expression clouded. “Before we go
any further, we need to agree on some ground rules.”
As a retired agent with the Air Force’s Office of
Special Investigations, I could write a book on
dealing with confidential sources. Considering
Colonel Jarvis’s earlier description of Abby as
having apparently operated under deep cover, I
wasn’t surprised at her conditional response.
never been a big fan of rules,” I said. “But let’s
see if we can live with yours.”
“Warren has told me about his previous conversation
with you. Forget Abby Farrell. She no longer exists.
That’s really all you need to know of my background.
Kelli Kane is the name I was born with in Seattle
forty-plus years ago. And that’s a fact.”
Seeing the perplexed look on my wife’s face, I
smiled. “My partner doesn’t understand these things.
I’ll explain it later.”
Jill’s eyes narrowed. “That would be appreciated.”
“Now, you or the colonel needs to tell us what this
is all about, and how we might be able to help.”
Kelli crossed her legs, folding strong, slim hands
over one knee. “When I spoke with my grandfather a
few days ago, he asked if I could come to Nashville.
He was scheduled to meet with a man named Pierce
Bradley, a construction supervisor who related a
rather strange story on the phone. Grandpa wanted me
there to hear all the details when they met.”
Bradley, she related, was job foreman for a
contractor involved in renovating an old brick
building near downtown Nashville that had once
housed Marathon Motor Works. Bradley had a bundle of
papers that contained the name of Kelli’s
great-great-grandfather, Sydney Liggett, who was
Marathon’s assistant treasurer. A carpenter
discovered them stashed behind the paneling of an
old wall he was restoring.
The foreman thumbed through the papers and found
they were Marathon Motors records dated in 1914. A
handwritten note attached indicated Liggett planned
to turn them over to the District Attorney. An
enterprising fellow, Bradley made a few calls in the
business community and learned that Sydney Liggett’s
grandson, Arthur Liggett, had been admitted recently
to a nursing home on the northeast side of town.
“Your grandfather is Arthur Liggett?” I asked.
“Yes. I had been out of the country and wasn’t
aware he’d gone into the nursing home. He’s
Jill donned a sympathetic frown. “Was it the result
of an illness?”
“No, though he has emphysema.”
“So why the nursing home?” I asked.
“He fell at home and fractured his leg in a couple
of places. He’s coming along. I think he’ll make it
okay, but it will take a while. I had just completed
an assignment and was ready to take some accrued
leave when I called to check on him. That’s when he
told me about Mr. Bradley.”
I turned to Jarvis. “What’s the deal on this
ninety-year-old murder, Warren?”
“Sydney Liggett disappeared around the time that
note was written.” A trim, muscular man still
capable of handling the controls of the Air Force’s
hottest jet fighters, Jarvis squared his jaw. “They
accused him of running off with some company funds.”
“Did he ever turn up?”
“They found him five years later . . . dead,” Kelli
said. “Grandpa says the family never believed he
took any money or left of his own volition.”
It had the sound of a tragic story, but I didn’t
see where Jill and I fit in. “Have you talked with
A grim look crossed Kelli’s face. “We were supposed
to meet with him last night. He didn’t show.”
“Did he give any reason why?”
Jarvis tapped his fingertips. “We haven’t been able
to locate him.”
“If he’s a supervisor, you’d think he would be on
“You would think so, but they haven’t heard from
him over at the Marathon project. They say he
doesn’t show up there every day, but he hasn’t been
by the contractor’s office, either.”
“Does he have a wife?” Jill asked.
Kelli opened her handbag and pulled out a cigarette
pack. “Mind if I smoke?”
Jill gave her a polite smile. “We’d rather you
Jarvis looked at me and grinned. “Did your wife
prod you back off the cancer sticks?”
prodded with a vengeance. I found it pretty tough at
the start, but I gritted my teeth and hung in there.
Regarding this Mr. Bradley, did you make an effort
to check with his family?”
“He’s a single man,” Kelli said. “Lives alone over
in another county.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Jarvis said. “We don’t
have a lot of time. We want to hire you to find him
and recover those papers.”
Kelli stuck the cigarettes back in her bag and
dropped it to the floor with a pronounced clunk. I
took that to mean she wasn’t too thrilled with the
house rules. But she hid it well as she spoke in an
“My grandfather thinks those papers may provide the
proof that Sydney Liggett was no embezzler. They
could show he was framed, possibly murdered. Grandpa
feels the erroneous allegations have left a
permanent stain on the family name, one that should
have been erased long ago. This is very important to
him. He’s in poor health. I want to do what he’d do
if he could. I have some investigative talents, and
I’ll do whatever you’d like me to. But this is your
territory. I’m sure you can do the job much better
and much quicker.”
I hoped she was right on both counts. From her
description, it sounded like a no-brainer. I had a
bad feeling, though. Brush aside something that
looked no more complicated than a twist of rope, and
the next thing you knew it could pop up as a coiled
snake and take a bite out of your behind.
we owed Warren Jarvis. Whatever it took, I was
determined to track down those errant records.
AFTER JARVIS AND Kelli left for the nursing home,
Jill pulled her chair over to my desk. “I don’t
suppose the police would consider Mr. Bradley a
missing person,” she said.
“You don’t suppose correctly.”
“So what happened?”
“It’s a nice Tuesday afternoon in August. He
probably went fishing.”
“That’s not what happened to me two years ago.”
“True.” No way I could forget that. “But I found out
pretty quickly you’d been kidnapped. Until we get
some positive evidence that it’s otherwise, we have
to assume Mr. Bradley, for whatever reason, simply
chose not to keep an appointment.”
“So how do we find him, boss?”
That “boss” bit was delivered tongue-in-cheek.
Although Jill held a license as an apprentice
investigator under my supervision, she considered
herself a full partner in the firm. Which she was,
of course, though I sometimes wondered why I let her
talk me into pursuing this wacky profession in a
partnership. Anyway, I suppose you could say I
qualified as the lead investigator on this case.
“We start with Mr. Bradley’s boss. Where are your
notes with the contractor’s name?”
After consulting the notes, I called Allied
Construction and got the owner’s secretary, a Mrs.
Nelson. Her voice reminded me of my mother’s, laced
with overtones of patience and tolerance. When I
explained my problem, she gave a musical laugh.
“I’m not all that surprised. His transportation
probably played out on him. Pierce Bradley is a
stubborn young man. He insists on driving an antique
“An old Cherokee?” That’s the Jeep I had driven the
past few years.
“Heavens, no. It’s a real Jeep. You know, that
“That’s it. Looks like surplus from some ancient
I knew about ancient wars, too, having served an Air
Force tour in Vietnam. “Does it break down often?”
“I wouldn’t say often. But a lot oftener than he’d
like, I’m sure.”
“I’ve had experience with Jeeps like that. Where
does he live?”
“In Walnut Grove. It’s a wide spot in the road up in
Trousdale County, about forty miles northeast of
Nashville. I think he’d like to move down here, but
he’s got some problems. Would you like his phone
She gave me both home and cell numbers. I thanked
her and turned to Jill. “Mr. Bradley probably had
car trouble. He drives what sounds like a
Vietnam-era model of what Jeep now calls a
She fixed me with a wary frown. “Why didn’t he call
and tell somebody?”
Good point, but I played devil’s advocate. “If he
didn’t have anything pressing, he probably didn’t
feel it necessary.”
“I heard you repeating phone numbers. That means we should try
calling him, right?”
“Shall we divvy up?”
“You try at home. I’ll try the cell.”
We were big on serendipity, economy of effort, all
that good organizational stuff.
Neither of us got an answer, which was troubling. We
left messages on both phones to call us, regardless
of the hour.
It was almost time to close shop when Jarvis called
“Having any luck?”
“Not so far. How’s Mr. Liggett?”
“He’s doing fairly well, but the pain medication
leaves him a little confused at times. I think it
would be profitable for you to come over and hear
his story, though.”
“And you want him to see that we’re on the job.”
“Might improve his outlook.”
“When is a good time for us to make our appearance?”
“He’s eating supper now.”
“Why don’t Jill and I get a bite, then we’ll drop
“Sounds good. Kelli and I’ll be here. I don’t have
to be down at Arnold for my talk until in the
Jarvis’s current assignment was with the Defense
Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. He had flown
into Nashville to rent a car en route to Arnold Air
Force Base near Tullahoma, seventy-five miles to the
south. He planned to brief delegates attending a
conference at Arnold Engineering Development Center,
the Air Force’s big supersonic wind tunnel facility
capable of testing most anything that flew, on the
situation in the Middle East.
OUR STOREFRONT OFFICE in a suburban strip center had
acquired a little more dignity since we’d covered
the plate glass windows with a mural depicting the
Gardens of Versailles. Quite a step up for an
ex-beauty salon. Being the daughter of a symphony
violinist, Jill had insisted on a classical look.
That, however, marked the extent of our elegance.
The rest was strictly utilitarian, more in tune with
my Scottish roots—a couple of green metal filing
cabinets, a well-stocked bookshelf, a paper
shredder, and a table with printer, fax, copier, and
a small TV.
I had found the location ideal for a guy who likes
to eat, being convenient to numerous restaurants. We
stopped at a nearby ribs place and ordered a pile of
food that would embarrass a porker. I had just
cleaned the last bone of its barbeque
sauce-slathered meat when Jill gave me her
“After eating all that, you’d better be ready to
march in the morning, Colonel McKenzie. Considering
what you put away, you may have a stomach cramp, but
that won’t work as an excuse.”
Most mornings we trekked the neighborhood on a
two-mile jaunt before breakfast. We’d shower and eat
and head for the office around eight. This morning I
had begged off walking because of a leg cramp.
“Okay, babe,” I said. “I’ll be ready. I guar-ahn-tee
it. You can cancel the whip-cracking routine.”
My bride of nearly forty years had become a firm
taskmaster of late when it came to my maintaining a
healthy lifestyle. I tend to gravitate to what is
politely called hefty. She not always politely
reminds me to back away from the table.
AFTERNOON RUSH HOUR traffic had subsided, although a
conglomeration of cars and trucks cluttered Old
Hickory Boulevard as we took the circumferential
highway to the north. It led past President Andrew
Jackson’s restored Hermitage mansion, for which our
community was named, through an area called Old
Hickory, another Jacksonian reference, and the tiny
incorporated village of Lakewood. The traffic slowed
to a decent 45 miles per hour there, thanks to its
reputation as a speed trap.
I had never been to this particular nursing home. We
found it in a fashionable neighborhood of large post
World War II houses built on sizeable lots with
brawny oaks and maples and lawns as smooth as golf
course greens. Though I couldn’t say if it was a
conscious effort to stash away the ranks of the
infirm, the facility lay hidden behind a woodsy
façade. We would have missed it except for the
modest Safe Harbor sign at the driveway entrance.
A nurse wearing a colorful smock directed us down a
tiled corridor infused with a pervasive antiseptic
odor. We passed a huddled woman in a wheelchair, a
few wisps of gray hair clinging to her bowed head.
She talked to herself in low, unintelligible tones.
It left me with a hollow feeling inside, a feeling I
should do something to help her but without the
vaguest idea of what I could do. It was similar to
what I felt when encountering a homeless guy on the
street. I usually gave them a buck and hoped it
would be spent in some useful manner, if not a wise
We found Arthur Liggett’s name beside the door to a
room not a lot more spacious than a broom closet. It
housed a bed, a lounge chair, and a three-drawer
wooden chest. A few aluminum stack chairs had been
squeezed in for our benefit.
A large man with thinning white hair, Liggett had a
full face and a silvery mustache in need of
trimming. I suspected his granddaughter would get
around to that shortly. Hooded eyes gave him a
lethargic look. Small oxygen tubes fed into his
nose, a circumstance that struck me as demeaning,
though necessary. Neither age nor physical
impairment had lessened his desire to maintain the
formality of years in management, however. He wore a
white shirt with red tie beneath the blue sweater
donned to combat the robust air-conditioning system.
My approach to retirement had taken the opposite
tack. After a lifetime of being forced to dress up
in coats and ties, I took pains to avoid them except
when an absolute necessity, and never during a
mid-August heat wave.
After introductions, I shook Mr. Liggett’s large,
gnarled hand and took a chair beside the battleship
gray wall. “What in the world are you doing here,
Mr. Liggett?” I asked. “You look like you’re ready
to run a marathon.”
He leaned his head against the lounge chair and
gazed out through thick oval lenses, the bare hint
of a smile tilting a corner of his mouth. “You can’t
see the gruesome part . . . under this blanket
covering my legs. I never did run too fast, though.
Maybe it won’t matter.”
He spoke in a low, breathy voice, the words coming
“As long as I’ve known him, he’s never been a
complainer,” Kelli said.
I wondered about that “as long as I’ve known him”
but let it pass.
“You were a hospital administrator?” I asked.
“Yes. You’d think I’d seen enough of this sort of
environment, that I’d figure out how to avoid it in
any way possible.”
“How long were you in the hospital business?”
He took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling,
then back at me. “Practically all my life. I served
in the Army Medical Corps during the war. Went to
work in a hospital after my discharge. I only needed
a year to finish college. They were generous enough
to let me do that while I was working.”
Kelli leaned forward. “He was manager of one of the
city’s largest hospitals when he retired at
“You’ve spent a long in the trenches,” Jill said.
“Time for you to get a rest.”
“Hmph. Only rest I’m likely to get’s in the grave.
Kelli says you’re detectives. I hope you can find
out what’s going on.”
“Tell us how this came about,” I said.
“A few days ago I got a call.” He glanced at the
phone on the bedside table. “Fellow said—what was
“Pierce Bradley,” Kelli prompted.
“Yes, Pierce Bradley called. Said he was a foreman
with a contractor rehabbing the old Marathon Motors
buildings on Clinton Street. It’s just beyond
downtown, near the Inner Loop. I knew the place, of
course. That’s where my grandfather worked years
ago. Werthan Bag Company used the buildings in its
operations for a while, but they’d been vacant a
“Somebody new had bought them?” I asked.
“Yes. A fellow making office space for photographers
and artists and musicians. Don’t remember his name.
Anyway, this—Bradley, was it?—said one of his
workers had found a sheaf of papers behind some wood
paneling. It was addressed to the Davidson County
District Attorney General.”
“The worker gave the papers to Bradley?”
“Did Bradley show them to anybody else?”
“I don’t think so. Said they were obviously quite
old. The building had been vacant for years.
Derelicts had trashed the place. Bradley said he
started to throw the papers away but decided to take
a look first. He’s not a financial type of fellow.
He wasn’t sure what to make of it. But he talked to
the building’s owner and lerarned of Marathon’s
bankruptcy. He knew there had been a lot of
controversy. Then he saw my grandfather’s name, that
he was the assistant treasurer.”
“How did Bradley connect it with you?” I asked.
“I think he started with the Chamber of Commerce.
They suggested he contact somebody else. After a few
calls, he came up with my name.”
“I imagine you’re pretty well known in the Nashville
business community,” Jill said.
He allowed a full smile for the first time. It had a
touch of shyness to it. “You could probably say
I looked up from the notes I was jotting in my lap.
“That part about the District Attorney sounds like
your grandfather thought something criminal was
involved. Did Mr. Bradley give you any clue as to
what the records contained?”
Liggett took another deep breath before replying. “I
don’t think he really had any idea. He didn’t know
anything about Sydney Liggett’s disappearance.”
“Tell us about that.”
Liggett shifted in his chair, a beefy hand smoothing
his tie. “It’s one of those things you’d rather
forget, but can’t. The first I knew about it was
when I was in the first or second grade. This uppity
boy got mad at me one day and said, ‘Your granddaddy
was a thief.’ I thought he was just inventing an
insult until I got home and told my mother. She sat
me down and told me not to believe such things. My
grandfather had been accused of taking money from
the company, but the family was convinced he didn’t
“That was a terrible way to learn about it,” Jill
“It was. My mother told me Grandpa Liggett had
disappeared. They found nothing but bones when they
discovered his body several years later. The legal
system ruled him guilty, but his wife and son, my
dad, always believed in his innocence.” Albert
Liggett rubbed his eyes. “I’d like to be able to
prove that, and these papers sound like they just
might do it.”
Jill leaned over and whispered in my ear. “He’s
I agreed. I stuck my little notebook in my pocket
and stood. “We certainly enjoyed meeting you, Mr.
Liggett. This little chat should help get us off to
a good start. You take it easy now and get well. I’m
sure we’ll see you again soon.”
“Just find that fellow and get me those papers,”
Liggett said, removing his glasses and pinching the
bridge of his nose.
Kelli and Jarvis followed us into the corridor.
“What do you think, Greg?” Jarvis asked.
“I think we’d better go camp on Mr. Bradley’s
doorstep. I hope he’s just gone fishing. It would
certainly make things a lot simpler.”
We had just returned to the car when my cell phone
“Hello,” I answered.
I don’t take well to that sort of question on the
telephone. “Who wants to know?”
The voice was a young man’s, with a good ol’ boy
twang. “Well, I found this here cell phone with a
message on it to call you. I figured you’d know
whose phone it was.”
I checked the number on the caller ID. It looked
familiar. I opened my note pad. “It belongs to Mr.
Pierce Bradley. Where did you find it?”
“On Carey Lane, just off Highway 25.”
“What’s that near?”
I shook my head. “Is there a town somewhere around?”
“Walnut Grove,” he said, “but it ain’t zackly what
I’d call a town.”