I suppose I was taking a risk by driving over to the O'Hara house unannounced, but I thought I needed to talk Mrs. O'Hara a little more on my terms. Old Gray, my trusty car, looked mighty downscale when I pulled up to double wide, wrought iron gate that hung between two massive flagstone pillars. This was a custom gate, plenty of scroll work that eventually worked itself into an Irish harp.
To my left was a call box. Pushing the black button at the top of the polished brass speaker, elicited a husky male voice to say, "Can I help you?"
"Yes, this is Lieutenant MacKenzie of the Boston police, here to see either Mrs. O'Hara or her secretary."
"Just a moment." There was a click and then a rather lengthy silence. Then, "Sir. Sir."
"Someone is coming to let you in."
Before I could get a thank you out, another click told me that the invisible bouncer was already gone.
About five long minutes of waiting finally brought a big, old boy riding one of those miniature landscaping trucks down the long, tree-lined drive. When he stepped out of his glorified golf cart and stood to his full heigth, he became a wall of human flesh. "Jeez," I thought, "I'm not sure this guy is of my species."
As he unlocked the gate, he called out, "Follow me, Mr. MacKenzie." Those few words told me that this was beast behind that disembodied voice that was in that brass box.
The O'Hara was thick with trees, giving it a profound air of privacy in the midst of a crowded city. The two story-brick house appeared to have been an old estate house that through a series of well-to-do owners had begun to sprawl through addition after addition. It was a proper house, not a mansion, but a proper house very well-suited for someone of first generation money. Later I learned the old-time gangster, Red Mahoney, once owned this house. The day he died, his wife moved out and left for Los Angeles.
I was directed to a parking spot in front of the three-car garage. Before I had the chance, the Wall was opening my door. "Follow me, Mr. MacKenzie. And don't mind the dogs."
I thought "What dogs?" And as soon as I thought the question around the corner come three German shepherds. They didn't bark at me; they didn't snarl at me; they simply went about making me nervous as h*ll by sniffing me, one after another, all the way to the side door of the house. Either they were fascinated by the scent of Boo or they were checking to see which part of me each was going to take.
We were met at the door by a rather attractive blond gal, maybe in her forties. As she opened the screen door, she said, "Lieutenant MacKenzie, I'm Alysse Browning, Mrs. O'Hara's private secretary. Won't you come in. Mrs. O'Hara will be with you in a moment."
She guided me to what appeared to be the informal family room of the house, filled with comfy, over-stuffed furniture covered with quilts and afghans, family pictures placed everywhere a picture might find a place to either sit or hang, all of it overwhelmed by a huge bay window that overlooked a quite scenic backyard, she said, "Please have a seat, Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
The Wall returned to his security room down the hall, the three doggies following behind. Miss Browning took her place at a small office arrangement just off the family room. And I just sat there, trying not to look too uncomfortable.
Then I heard that stylish, quick-paced sound that lady's high heel shoes make when the walk across a hardwood floor. "Lieutenant MacKenzie, what a surprise!"
I rose at her entrance, "Sorry, Mrs. O'Hara maybe I should have called."
"No problem, officer. Please be seated. How can I help you?"
On the ride over, I had practiced a ploy to get what I wanted, but now that it was time to execute it, it sounded far too clumsy to even try. But I did.
"I was wondering Mrs. O'Hara if you might have any correspondence that Mollie might have sent you in the past year. We need to check to see if she mentioned anyone or anything in passing that might give us a lead."
"I don't have much, but I do have a memory box in which I keep little treasures and trinkets from Mollie's life." These words triggered a brief rush of tears, but she recovered quickly. I have found that well-bred, well-mannered ladies learn how to do that somewhere in their upbringing. "Any cards and notes from Mollie would be in there. Alysse, be a dear and bring Mollie's box in here for Mr. MacKenzie. You know, it is the pink and green hat box beneath that chair beside my vanity."
As Alysee jumped to fulfill her lady's wish, Mrs. O'Hara leaned over to comment, "Alysse has been with me for years. I don't know what I would do without her, I really don't. She's an orphan, you know. Worked her way through school. But I just don't understand why she can't find a husband. She's so bright and attractive. Don't you think so, Mr. MacKenzie?"
I wasn't quite sure how to answer such a question, so I stumbled out of my mouth the words, "Certainly seems to be so."
"Lieutenant, are we making any progress at all?"
"Sorry to say, ma'am, not much."
"You didn't forget our conversation?"
I figured she wanted some sort of progress report, "Yes, ma'am, I'm following up on that, but nothing yet."
By then, Alysse had returned with the box. i started to open it, but Mrs. O'Hara shook her head to ready me for a suggestion that I hadn't expected. "Lieutenant, why don't you take it with you? It will bring up too many memories if you go through her things now. I know you will take care of it. Bring it back when you're done."
Her gesture surprised me, but I said, "Mrs, O'Hara, I'll be sure to make sure that nothing happens to any of it."
"Is there anything else, Lieutenant?"
Sensing that she had endured enough of me, i shook my head, "No," and rose from me seat. That in turn caused Alysse to call out, "Buddy, please escort Mr. MacKenzie to the gate. And leave the dogs in."
The Wall returned. Opened the door, shushed back the dogs, who did give a chorus of barks when the screen door closed behind me. Without saying a further word, I was efficiently returned to the world outside gates.