[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 075
Chapter 16 (1 of 10): Investigation
Phoebe admitted to herself that she had long been curious about the Mercedes model year 2004 that Ulla drove. According to her check on blue-book values, a chassis like Ulla’s S-500 started at around eighty grand. Not bad for someone whose nominal salary was in the high forties, even if she was single. Somehow Phoebe had gotten it into her head that Sweden was a very egalitarian society and that anyone with more money than some governmentally approved average would have the excess taxed away faster than you could say ‘socialism’.
The suggestion that they take Ulla’s car might give her a chance to probe discreetly. In no way did she suspect the car indicated anything underhanded. She was simply curious about this eager, competent and darkly beautiful Nordic.
Ulla’s Mercedes was parked in the underground police garage, but not near the elevator. Their shoes, fashioned for walking comfort rather than style, made no echoes as they traversed the large garage and headed for a far corner. As they got near, Ulla whipped out her keychain and, pointing it at her car, clicked. There was a sharp beep and the interior lights of the vehicle turned on. Ulla peered into the back seat before opening the door on the driver’s side. “Here we are,” she said.
Ulla seemed very much at home in the driver’s seat of her Mercedes, and she handled the car smoothly in the rush-hour traffic.
“There’s a nice little Italian restaurant in the business district in Blaylock. Want to try it?”
“Sure,” Ulla said. “Just let me know when we get close.”
“Will do.” Phoebe looked around her at the interior luxury of the car. Ulla had a CD-player with what must have been quite expensive speakers, and she was playing some show tunes.”
“Nice sound,” Phoebe remarked.
“Cole Porter,” Ulla explained.
“Yes. I was thinking more of the acoustics. But yes, Cole Porter sounded great even on old 78s.” She hesitated. “Long before your time,” she laughed.
“But I know of them. My father still has his collection, that he got from my grandfather. Including Cole Porter. Sung by Ethel Merman.”
“Ah, I see you’re knowledgeable in the area.”
“I love American music,” Ulla said. “Always have. All Swedish kids do! It’s how I first started to learn English. But I’m more traditional. I like the stuff from the fifties and forties, and even the thirties. Family influence, I suppose.” She laughed lightly.
It seemed like a good place for Phoebe to jump in.
“What does your father do, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Not much,” she said warily. “He lives in Spain.”
“Not in Sweden?”
“Very few wealthy Swedes live in Sweden.”
“That’s odd isn’t it?”
“No. Taxes.” A compendious as well as catholic explanation.
“I understand they are very high.”
“Confiscatory.” She nodded her head. “Not my word, but it’s accurate. Some official in the U.S. Treasury department once used it, and it made all the Swedish papers. The conservative ones were gleeful; the lefty press was outraged.”
“So if you don’t live in Sweden you avoid the high taxes?”
“Something like that. Sweden is a nation of tax-cheats. Only fools pay the full freight.” It was as self-evident as breathing to her.
“And your father?” Phoebe thought she’d give it one more try.
“He was in this and that, had important partners in the government. That helped. I never fully understood what it was all about. But he made a lot of money in the nineties and got out early 2000. And right away moved to Spain. Mallorca. He has an estate there.”
“I see,” Phoebe said. Now the Mercedes made sense, non-sinister sense.
She wondered if she should push a bit more.
“Can I ask you another question?”
“Do you and your father get along?”
Ulla did not answer right away. “We have … what do you call it these days … issues.”
“Issues. I don’t like the way he treated my mother when they got divorced. I’m not crazy about the way he treats me. I suppose he loves me, but with him that just seems to mean money.” She concentrated on her driving. “I shouldn’t complain. I’ll never have money worries. And that’s because of him.”
Phoebe sensed there was a big ‘but’ dangling on the end of the last sentence, but she let it slide. Why did so many young women have ‘issues’ with their fathers? Especially successful ones? It was rarely a matter of physical or sexual abuse. Maybe more a matter of clashing intelligences, adversarial wills. She thought vaguely of the young ladies Wang, Hsien, and Cao whose parents they were going to interview. Did they get along with their fathers? If she had lived, would Samuel and Melinda have stayed friends? Unfathomable mysteries.
They drove on in silence, the traffic thinning out as they left the downtown area and approached the broader suburban streets of the Blaylock area. Frank Sinatra was just starting to crank up ‘Let’s Do It’.
After a while Ulla turned briefly to Phoebe and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, of course not.” She had an idea of what was coming.
“I know you’re married to a lawyer. That’s scuttlebutt I picked up early on. But I wonder, do you have any children?”
Phoebe felt a catch in her throat. She turned away from Ulla and looked out at the dark mansion passing by the side window of the car. “I have a son. Noah. He’s twenty-two.”
“What does he do? I mean, I don’t want to pry or anything.”
“No, I understand. Noah is a Down’s child. Do you know what that is?”
“Yes, I do.” Her voice was muted. She turned and put her hand on Phoebe’s arm. “I’m … I’m … I don’t know what to say, Phoebe.”
“It’s O.K., Ulla. I appreciate it.” She put her hand on top of Ulla’s. “He’s a sweet and gentle child, and he’s in a good place where they take care of him. Thank God we can afford it. But,” she sighed, “he’ll never be older than about five.”
They had entered Blaylock’s central business district. Suddenly Phoebe pointed off diagonally to the right. “There,” she said, “there’s the restaurant. See it? The red and green martini glass?”
“Got it,” Phoebe said, slowing down. “Now let me just find a parking place somewhere near here.”
While Ulla skillfully parked the big Mercedes, Phoebe kept asking herself why she had not mentioned Melinda when she’d been asked about her children.
TO BE CONTINUED