The phone call was thirty years late in coming, not that Cliff Stover ever expected to hear the name William T. Walsh again after he retired from the force, but his old partner, Hal Knapp, was laying it on him now.
“You hear what I’m telling you, Smokey? William T. Walsh,” he said.
“I thought LAPD closed the book on his disappearance, retired it alongside others on the cold case shelves.”
“He was lost, Walsh was, and now he’s found and the case is back on the front burner.”
“How’d it happen?”
“How do you suppose? Superior detective work.”
“An accident, you mean.”
“You’re as sharp as ever, my man.”
“Spare me the insincerity and cut straight to the punchline, please.”
“Jordan found him.”
“The basketball player?”
“The dog,” Knapp said.
Stover took the 134 East aiming for the Pasadena address that accompanied Knapp’s invitation to join him for a firsthand look at the crime scene. Traffic was light on the scenery-starved freeway, nothing to distract him from pulling the case out of his memory bank for the year 1954 as he sped past the image of an eagle time and nature had carved out of a hillside.
His memory wasn’t what it used to be. Details were firmly fixed, only it took longer to conjure up names and particulars, who said what to whom and when and why, stuff like that, but the Walsh case came to mind faster and full-blown, maybe because he never stopped viewing it, however subliminally, as the unwelcome gift that came at the tag end of his LAPD twenty, his bleeding ulcer.
Walsh was one of those self-made millionaires, who lived an ultra-comfortable life with his wife, Millie, up Benedict Canyon a mile north of Sunset in a custom-built chateau modeled after one they’d seen and admired while vacationing in the south of France.
A fitness freak, he had a fully equipped gym in the house, worked out three afternoons a week in a Beverly Hills gym and massage parlor that catered to VIPs and celebrities, and always took an after-dinner run of about an hour’s duration.
He was off on the run the night he disappeared.
Millie thought nothing of it when he wasn’t back after an hour.
Her husband often stretched the run by thirty or sixty minutes.
Worry set in at the three-hour mark.
She had the neighborhood security patrol search for him.
Walsh was nowhere to be found.
She called the police.
The two cops who responded were sympathetic, but the best they could do was fill out a report and leave her with a carbon copy, explaining Mr. Walsh had to be missing for a minimum seventy-two hours before the department could take further action.
Millie took matters into her own hands.
Her husband was a power player in local politics, where generous campaign contributions can also buy future favors. She made a phone call to City Hall that brought immediate attention. The matter was marked Top Priority and kicked over to Parker Center, where Missing Persons spent weeks working to turn up leads, got nowhere, and invented a pretext that sent the case to Homicide and into the laps of Detectives Knapp and Stover.
They hit a brick wall, not for lack of trying.
It was as if some mysterious force had locked on to Walsh and spirited him away to the land of Judge Crater and Jimmy Hoffa.
The case receded off the front page as public interest moved on to crimes stuffed with recognizable names—the more violent the better.
Stover took their failure with him into a retirement that lasted about six weeks before he accepted that doing nothing was tantamount to dying. His professional skills were limited to one. He opened Clifford Stover Private Investigator and here he was, still at it thirty years later, still living with the idea something would come along some day that answered the mystery that was the disappearance of William T. Walsh.
His ulcer was at war with his stomach by the time he pulled up to the house, inspired by a whole new batch of questions he had added to all the old ones. He popped a handful of antacids and snapped off the motor before Sinatra had finished warbling the Rodgers and Hart classic “My Funny Valentine,” the album cut currently spinning in his CD player.