Cannon approached the front door with apprehension, dubious about getting involved in patrician Ravenholts’s personal business, the strange disappearance of his first daughter more than five years ago. And now one of his nieces had died unexpectedly in Sun Valley, Idaho.
A Latina maid answered his ring and Cannon introduced himself, handing the maid his business card. She led him into a spacious living room centered by a great fireplace. The wooden floors were covered with oriental rugs and dark mahogany furniture, the windows draped in ivory brocade curtains. All spoke of old, Idaho money.
The patriarch was waiting for Cannon by the fire, sitting in a wheelchair, dressed in a bulky burgundy robe. He was a big man grown old and slumped at the shoulders, with a large head, long face and bristly white hair. He awaited Cannon with an impatient scowl.
“Your nieces suggested I see you.” Cannon said, as he approached the old man and shook his hand. “I briefly new Nicky and my condolences on Nicky’s untimely passing. I just met Dr. Shaw and she suggested I should visit you. Suzie, Dr. Shaw, wanted me to look through the Karla files.”
Rei Ravenholt sighed and shook his head in distaste, took out a checkbook along with a ballpoint pen. “How much?” He asked.”
Cannon was taken aback. “This isn’t my idea. I’m not a private detective, or a tracer of lost persons. I have no idea why, but both of your nieces thought it would be useful for me to study the files. At that moment, the Latina entered the room and hovered, announcing that Rei had a phone call. She wheeled the annoyed man out to the den across the hall. Cannon waited a decent interval, and then wandered the living room, first inspecting the bookshelves, then turning toward a shelf set with what appeared to be family photos. There was a large photo of Rei and a handsome woman in their 50s, presumably Ravenholt’s dead wife, who Suzie related died a few years ago of cancer in her mid-60s.
At that instant a door in the corner of the living room creaked open and Cannon was startled to see a young, blond woman standing on steps that led upstairs, a back stairs to the second floor. She was tall, athletic, dressed in a strange, white cotton gown that hung down to her ankles, perhaps a nightdress, similar to an institutional gown. She had a lovely oval face, fine features and the bluest eyes that Cannon had ever seen.
He introduced himself, explaining he was here on business, waiting for Rei Ravenholt, who was taking a phone call in the den. He smiled and stepped toward the comely woman in the doorway. The young woman held on to the door knob, but stepped back as Cannon came close.
“Don’t do it.” She whispered, taking another step up the stairs.
Cannon paused and she smiled at him. “Don’t do it.” She repeated, then reached back and slowly closed the door.
At that moment, Camilla entered the room and told Cannon that Mr. Ravenholt would see him in the den. He dutifully followed the maid into another dark room, this one set off with a massive desk at the main window, the walls lined with book-filled shelves.
“That was my favorite niece on the phone, Suzie Shaw.” Rei said perking up. “You made a favorable impression on Suzie and she trusts you. So, I have agreed to let you have a go; you can take the files. You can even visit the cottage on Lake Payette in McCall if you wish. And how about your fee?”
Cannon protested that his interest in Karla’s disappearance was a favor to Suzie and now Nicky. If he did get involved, he would ask for expenses. If by some miracle, he was helpful in solving the Karla riddle, then Cannon would leave it to Rei to decide on an appropriate fee. He asked Rei to tell him what happened to Karla that evening on Lake Payette.
Rei cocked his head and smiled. He took out his checkbook and tore out a check. “I was going to give you $1,000 to get lost. But take this check as an advance on any expenses you might have. When you tire and Suzie is satisfied, we can reconcile our accounts.
“Tell me about that evening.” Cannon repeated.
Rei looked away and his face sagged. “Karla always went for an evening six- mile swim. That evening was nothing special; she planned to swim three miles toward the north along the shore, then three miles back. She went in the water around five and never returned. Of course we looked. I knew the police so the next day they searched the lake shore, then dragged the route she swam. But nothing, Karla had vanished.”
Cannon nodded, telling Rei he would go through the files and be in touch. He leaned over to take the expense check. As he did, Cannon noticed a standing frame picture on Rei’s desk. It was a picture of a young blond woman, dressed in running shorts and a Boise singlet.
“Karla, after she ran the Robie Creek Half-Marathon.” Rei said wistfully.
Cannon stepped back startled. It was a picture of the young woman that he had just seen a few minutes before on the living room back steps. Cannon asked who lived in the house. Rei explained he lived in the west wing, while Camilla had a maid’s suite in the east side of the house. Guests came and went, Rei said. He had four other children, three daughters and a son. Occasionally, they came to stay. But mostly it was just Rei and Camilla.
“Do the other girls look like Karla?” Cannon asked.
Rei laughed ruefully, explaining the other daughters, while attractive enough, got more of their father’s looks. Karla got her mother’s true Danish blond looks. Rei then asked Cannon about his schooling and back ground, why he was in Boise.
“No harm to try.” Rei concluded after listening to a summary of Cannon’s background. He then handed over three large manila folders, explaining that one was the police file, the other two were private detective reports that Rei had commissioned.
Cannon said he would go step by step. First the files, then he would decide if it was worthwhile to visit the lake cottage. He got up to leave and Camilla appeared, walking him to the heavy oak entrance door. As Cannon went to his car, he turned and looked back at the big house. Above the colonnaded front porch there were large windows. A young woman in white was standing looking down at him, the same woman on the steps and in the picture on Rei’s desk. She put her hands of the glass and shook her head.
She did not want Cannon searching.