THE HEIR HUNT

By Jacqueline Seewald




“So Mr. Roth, what can we do for you?”

Roth, a trim, nondescript man of middle years wore a navy blue suit, white shirt and striped tie. He looked every inch the successful Manhattan attorney. Lawyers like Roth didn’t usually come to his office; so Bob was curious as to the reason for this visit.

The Sweethearts Detective Agency, founded by Bob and Nina Harris, two N.Y.P.D. detectives who opted for early retirement from the force, was strictly a small-time gumshoe operation. They’d met on the job, been attracted to each other from the first, and were married a year after their first date. When Bob, a tall, husky former marine met Nina, a feisty blue-eyed redhead, he started to think it was time to consider marriage.

It was Nina who initially suggested the name for the P.I. firm. At first Bob had groaned, but the truth was it drew a lot of female clients. Ironically, these women were generally checking up on husbands they suspected of cheating.

“Mr. Harris, I’ve come to you today on the recommendation of another attorney who has used your services in the past.”

“And that would be?”

“Quentin Jameson.”

Bob gave a nod. Jameson was primarily a criminal defense attorney. Bob had shadowed some people for him. “So this is a criminal matter?”

Roth pulled at his tie. “I hope not. You see I am executor of the estate of the late Marshall Greene who was a wealthy industrialist. Mr. Greene retired some years ago. He passed away at the age of ninety-one. He lived quietly, was never married and had no children. However, there are four people in his will, two grand nieces and two grand nephews. Mr. Greene was a man of simple tastes who accumulated a certain degree of wealth.”

“How much money are we talking about here?” Bob asked.

“In the neighborhood of twenty million dollars.”

Bob let out a low whistle. “Nice neighborhood,” he said. “So what’s the problem?”

“We can account for three of the heirs, but one of the nephews seems to have vanished.”

“And you want me to try and find him?”

Roth gave a short nod.

“Give me the information and we’ll start a search.”

Roth hesitated.  “There’s just one thing. Joseph Wellman disappeared into the Hasidic community in Brooklyn some fifteen years ago. He’d become devoutly religious. He changed completely from a secular Jew to a Hasid. As you might be aware, it’s a closed community. This group he joined was particularly so.”

Bob felt puzzled. “Mr. Roth, no offense, but why would you come to me? Shouldn’t you reach out directly to the Hasidic community?”

“I understand that you have some connections with people in that community who might be able to help us find Mr. Wellman. I believe there’s a good chance he’s changed his name as well as his appearance.”

“What makes you think he’d even want the inheritance?”

Roth worried his lower lip. “He can refuse it. That would be his right. However, as the executor of the estate, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to locate the man.”

“I have worked with a Hasidic sleuth in the past. I know him to be effective in his Brooklyn community. I could give you his information.”

“No, I’ve been given to understand that the detective you’re referring to normally only takes on cases from other Hassids. Will you contact him for me? I’m willing and able to pay both of you.”

Bob agreed and took down all the information that Roth could provide.

After the client left his office, as was their routine, Bob knocked at Nina’s office door. She called out for him to enter. Each morning they discussed their cases for the coming day, usually in Nina’s office where they shared coffee and whole grain toast. Nina insisted on fresh fruit as well. She was committed to keeping them both in good health. A slim woman, she hardly looked her forty years. Gone were the days when Bob could wolf down a couple of donuts for breakfast. He let out a sigh of resignation.

“So what does your day look like?” Bob asked his wife.

Nina took a thoughtful nibble of her dry toast. “I’m following one Mary Neillson today. Her husband is convinced she’s two-timing him.”

“Lots more women cheating these days,” Bob observed.

“Equal rights,” Nina responded. “Who’s your client? I could hear the two of you talking through the wall but not what was being said.”

Bob told his wife about the case. “It’s a little different than what we’ve been doing, but it should be interesting.”

“Sounds like it’ll pay our bills for this month. Go to it.” Nina gave him a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

Bob clicked on Moe Stein’s phone number using his smart phone. He loved the convenience of it. Nothing like modern technology. Moe answered on the fourth ring.

Bob wasted no time on explaining what the case was about.

“Come meet me. We’ll talk,” Moe said.

“Your office?”

“No, I’m meeting a new client in the parking lot of a kosher supermarket in Borough Park. I’ll wait there for you.” Moe gave Bob the name and address.

This was unusual for a shamus. However, Bob was familiar with Moe Stein’s sleuthing methods. For an orthodox Jew, Moe was unorthodox in his detective work. Bob understood that a lot of Moe’s clients didn’t want anyone seeing them entering his detective office. It was an embarrassment, a mark of shame that they would require his services.

Moe was obviously looking out for him because when Bob arrived, Moe stuck his head out the driver’s side of his nondescript black sports utility vehicle and waved. Bob came around to the passenger side of the S.U.V. and hoisted himself into the leather bucket seat.

“Do a lot of business here?” Bob couldn’t help smiling.

“I like this particular spot because I know the manager of the market, the delivery man, and the security guard — who lets me borrow footage from the lot’s surveillance equipment when I need it.”

Bob knew that Moe mostly did his own snooping. His cases varied in nature from investigations into international banking and investment companies to local background checks for prospective Shidduchim, orthodox marital arrangements. 

Today Moe was garbed in the usual black frock coat and fedora of the Hasidim, but Bob was aware that when Moe went undercover he wore stocking or baseball caps to conceal his black skullcap, as well as baseball jackets to hide his tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by Hasidic male Jews. Unlike Bob who was clean-shaven, Moe had a beard and mustache, his dark hair on the long side.

 Bob knew Moe’s ways well because as an off-duty policeman before Bob started his own agency, Moe had often hired Bob to cover for him until the sun went down on the Jewish Sabbath when Moe was unable to work.  It seemed Saturday was a busy day for crime inside the Hasidic world — something Bob would not have guessed.

“How do you want to handle this investigation?” Bob asked.

“The best way is to spread the word about the missing heir in the various synagogues. That way Wellman will hopefully contact us.”

“How do you want me involved?”

Moe laughed as if Bob had told an amusing joke. “I can penetrate Orthodox locations without raising suspicion. Even if you were to dress in the appropriate manner, they would know you weren’t one of us. There are a lot of intricate rules and coded behaviors that people from outside these communities don’t understand. Even if you might think to blend in at a synagogue, you would look as inappropriate as ham on a bagel. No, I’ll handle this and get back to you as soon as I know anything.”

 

* * *

 

It was a week before Moe Stein called Bob on his cell phone.

“You found the missing heir?” Bob asked.

“Better even, I’ve got four of them.”

“It’s good I’m sitting down. I only need one heir, not four.”

“True,” Moe agreed. “I realize three are imposters, the question is which three. Believe or not, I narrowed it down from eight possible candidates. That wasn’t too difficult. But now it’s getting tricky.”

“What do you suggest?” Bob asked.

“I have an idea for handling this. I believe it’s best if I have the four men come to your office rather than my own. I haven’t met them in person as yet, but all of them sounded like possibilities in our telephone conversations.”

Bob agreed and the meeting was set.

 

* * *

 

Nina brought two mugs of hot coffee into Bob’s office and sat down opposite him. She handed him one of the mugs and began drinking from her own.

“Thanks, that smells good,” he said.

“Tastes even better.  Only the best for you.  I got us a new coffee machine. We deserve it.”

Bob clinked cups with her. “Thanks. I never would have thought of that.”

“Of course not,” she said, azure eyes twinkling. “So what’s on your agenda for today?”

“Moe Stein’s coming and so are the four possible heirs.”

“Interesting case,” Nina remarked. “It makes me think of that old TV game show To Tell the Truth.”

Bob was amazed at the amount of TV trivia Nina knew. “How did that one go?”

Nina shrugged. “Simple. Three people would claim to be the same person. Each told some aspect of the person’s life. The celebrity panel had to figure out which one was telling the truth.”

“Did they usually figure it out?”

“More to the point, will you and Moe be able to discover who the real heir is?”

“Moe has a plan. I’ll let you know if it works.”

“You do that,” Nina said. “Do you want me to help?”

“Usually I’d say yes, but these are Hasids. So it’s going to be a guy thing.”

Nina frowned. “Chauvinistic, aren’t they?”

“You bet. They’re part of an anachronistic society like the Amish, a kind of cultural and religious throwback.”

Nina finished her coffee. “I don’t suppose Moe would like a cup of our coffee when he arrives?”

Bob grinned. “What do you think?”

Nina shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Goodbye. I have my own cases to deal with.”

“Lunch today?”

“Let you know if I’m free,” Nina said.

Bob’s eyes appreciatively followed his wife’s derriere as she walked out of his office. He was a lucky man and he knew it.

 

* * *

Moe Stein arrived to confer with him about the missing heir case.

“You used your computer resources?” Bob asked.

“I did. But needless to say, these are not people who frequent social networking sites. Any one of the four is possible as it stands right now, and so it becomes more difficult.”

“What’s the plan?”

Moe rubbed his short beard thoughtfully. “You know about King Solomon, I suppose?”

Bob was puzzled. “Sure, I read some Bible stories as a kid.”

“As you may recall, Solomon was considered the wisest of kings. There are numerous stories that demonstrate his wisdom. One of the most famous involves how two women came before the king each claiming to be the mother of a baby. Solomon announced that the only fair decision was to cut the child in half, where upon one woman came forward and renounced the child. She said the other woman could have the baby. She did not want the child harmed. Solomon then knew that she was the real mother, because only the true mother would not want to allow her child to come to harm and would make such a sacrifice.”

“Great story,” Bob said, “but how does that help us figure out who the real heir is?”

Moe’s expression was enigmatic. “It remains to be seen. If you don’t mind, I’d like to do most of the talking.” The conversation ended and Bob shook his head in puzzlement.  

“Not a problem,” Bob said. He was curious how this would go down. “I contacted Roth and had him fax us copies of family photos.”

Moe gave an approving nod. “That should help us.”

“Maybe not as much as you might think,” Bob said. “The last pictures that Joseph Wellman appeared in were taken when he was about fourteen. It seems after he graduated high school, he spent one year at college and then made his decision to leave the secular life.” Bob spread out the photo copies so he and Moe could both study them.

“A slender, dark-haired youth,” Moe observed. “I see light gray eyes. That could be helpful.”


Of the four potential heirs, the first two arrived early, the third on time and the fourth was ten minutes late. Moe brought them all into Bob’s office as a group which surprised him. As a cop, the procedure was to interrogate each suspect individually and that included witnesses as well. Then again, these men weren’t being accused of any crime. Yet three of them had to be imposters. Still, he supposed Moe must know what he was doing — at least Bob hoped that was the case.

The tallest of the four men, Wellman #1, was nearly Bob’s height which would put him at six feet. He also had a flowing carrot-colored beard. He and Moe exchanged looks.

“Joseph Wellman did not have red hair,” Moe said, holding up the photo. “I think there’s been a mistake. I’m sorry but you are not the man we are seeking.” Moe walked the imposter to the door. “Thank you for coming today. Sorry this didn’t work out for you.”

Without further comment, Moe gave the man a slight shove through the door and shut it on him. They could hear the imposter muttering under his breath as his footsteps receded down the hall.

Moe turned to the other three men. They were all of average height. The trimmest of the three who could have resembled Wellman in build, however, had dark brown eyes, so dark as to nearly be black. His beard also was black in color. Moe exchanged glances with Bob.

“No way,” Bob said.

Moe gave a slight nod. “Sir, I’m sorry but you are not Joseph Wellman either.” He followed the same procedure with the second imposter, walking him out the door in a determined manner.

That left only two candidates. Would either of them prove to be the missing heir? Bob was beginning to wonder. He studied each of the men. Both had light eyes and brown hair. One was heavier than the other. Neither man was tall in stature. Appearance would not be a deciding factor. 

Bob, along with Moe, listened as each man claimed to be the missing heir. Moe asked a number of questions. None of the answers came across as lies. This would not be easy as far as he could tell. Both candidates appeared creditable. Bob looked at Moe and raised his eyebrows. Moe merely smiled back at him.

“Gentlemen, we have a dilemma here,” Moe said. “As I see it, either of you could be Joseph Wellman. If it were up to me, I would divide the money in half and give each of you an equal portion. Unfortunately, I regret to say that decision is not mine to make. Mr. Harris has been employed by the executor of the late Mr. Greene’s estate to provide us with the true heir. If we cannot do that then the money goes to neither one of you and the other heirs divide an extra five million dollars.”

The taller and heavier of the two men folded his arms over his chest. “That is unfair. I am Joseph Wellman and I demand I receive my due inheritance.”

“Do you have any proof, sir? A birth certificate, a driver’s license for instance?”

The man shook his head. “No, I left that all behind when I became part of the Hasid community. I took on another name and identity to symbolize my new life.”

“I see,” Moe said in a thoughtful manner. Then Moe turned his attention to the final man who claimed he was the heir. “What about you? Can you provide us with any proof of your identity?”

The slighter man also shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Moe Stein let out a deep sigh. “Then I am afraid we will be unable to determine who is the true heir. So gentlemen I must tell you that neither one of you will receive any money. I am sorry to have wasted your time.”

Moe was about to turn his back when the slighter man touched his arm. “No, wait. Give him the money. I’m removing myself from consideration. My sisters and cousins don’t deserve to have all that wealth. Let this man take it. I don’t care about the money. I left that kind of life once. I don’t need to be tempted or corrupted by it again.”

Moe stared into the man’s eyes. “You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, I am.”

Moe turned to the larger man. “And you still maintain you are Joseph Wellman and you want the inheritance?”

“Absolutely, I do.” The man’s tone of voice grated. “I demand what is mine.” His manner was belligerent.

Moe nodded. “Good, problem solved.” He spoke to the taller man. “You are an imposter. Please leave this office now.”

The man’s face turned red. “What do you mean? Didn’t you hear him? He said I was Joseph Wellman. He’s the imposter.” The man pointed his finger. “I deserve the inheritance.”

“No, you do not. Mr. Wellman only declared that the money was not important to him. He did not deny his true identity. He simply felt it was better that you receive the inheritance rather than other members of his family who already had so much. Only the true heir would think that way.” Moe turned to the real Joseph Wellman as imposter # 3 stormed out the office door, slamming it behind him. “The money was left to you to do with as you wish. You don’t have to keep it. It could be used to benefit many poor people, donated to charitable organizations. But that will, of course, be your decision to make.”

Bob shook the real Joseph Wellman’s hand. “Good luck,” he said. Then he turned to Moe. “Great job.”

Moe Stein, the Hasid detective, modestly smiled and gave Bob a thumbs up. “Thanks, but everything I know I learned from reading the Bible and the Talmud. Centuries of wisdom were available to help me. I take no credit.”




Jacqueline Seewald is a multiple award-winning author. She has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Fifteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including mysteries: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH, DEATH LEGACY and THE THIRD EYE. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as THE WRITER, PEDESTAL, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, THE MYSTERY MEGAPACK, LIBRARY JOURNAL, SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. The 4th novel in her Kim Reynolds mystery series, THE BAD WIFE, is published by Perfect Crime Books.

Copyright 2015 Jacqueline Seewald. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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