Linda Weaver Clarke

The Missing Heir

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

A young woman with carrot red hair stormed into Amelia's office. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose and her lips were pressed together in an angry line.

"They want to close down the orphanage and ruin everything Uncle Dell has worked for," exclaimed the girl. "So where will they put the orphans? Out on the streets again?" She furrowed her brow as she pounded the desk with her fist. "We can't let that happen."

Amelia was startled at the interruption. The young woman was furious, but the blond curly-headed young man who followed her had an apologetic demeanor. He gave Amelia a half smile and shrugged when she looked at him.

Amelia looked at the young couple and asked, "May I help you?"

The young man nervously pushed his fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry. I know you're busy and we don't have an appointment but this is real important."

"Please have a seat," said Amelia as she motioned toward two office chairs in front of her desk.

The young man cleared his throat and sat down. "I'm Robert Walker." He motioned toward the red head. "And this is my sister Jenny. We need your help."

Amelia pushed some papers aside and rested her hands on the desk. "I've got some free time."

"We can pay you," said Jenny. "My brother and I get a healthy allowance every month, so money isn't an issue."

Amelia nodded. "What's the problem?'

Jenny gave a frustrated sigh. "If Uncle Dell knew what our parents and Uncle Richard were planning to do with the orphanage, he would turn over in his grave. He worked so hard to make it what it is today." She glanced at her brother and said, "When we told them how we felt, mom insinuated that we weren't old enough to understand."

"How old are you?"

"I'm twenty-one and Robert is twenty-four. We know what we're doing." Jenny leaned forward and said in an obstinate tone, "If we have to, we'll search for Neal ourselves. No one can stop us. He's the only one who can save the orphanage."

Jenny spoke with confidence and conviction. The girl's stubborn attitude impressed Amelia. She knew what it was like to believe in a cause and fight for her rights. She was once twenty-one and was just as obstinate and spunky as this young woman.

Amelia was now in her mid-thirties and had created her own company: The Moore Detective Agency. Her business was doing great and word about her agency was spreading like wildfire.

With a smile, Amelia gave a nod and said, "Start at the beginning."

Jenny looked at Robert and he nodded for her to continue. "Uncle Dell has a large estate... several hundred acres. He knew where to put his investments. And needless to say, he made quite a bit of money. So, he decided to do some good by starting an orphanage in Mexico."

"It's called Orfanato de Tio Dell," said Robert. "It means Uncle Dell's Orphanage. He wanted the children to refer to him as Uncle Dell."

"How old is the orphanage?" asked Amelia.

"About twenty years. When we were kids, he took Neal and me to Mexico every summer to help out. When Jenny turned ten, he included her, too. Uncle Dell said he wanted to teach us compassion by helping others."

"That's right," said Jenny. "Since he didn't have children, he treated us like his own."

Amelia smiled. "I see. So who's Neal?"

"Neal Woods is our cousin," said Robert. "He's four years older than me. All three of us chummed around every summer."

Jenny sighed as she clasped her hands together. "I'll never forget those summers in Mexico. It was wonderful. We would help paint the rooms, create crafts for the children, and buy clothes for them. Just before bedtime everyone sat in a circle with Uncle Dell in the middle. He would then entertain us by playing his guitar and singing. After a few songs, we would have an evening prayer."

"A prayer?" asked Amelia with surprise.

"He said it was important to teach the children to pray."

"Wow!" exclaimed Amelia. "Here in the States they won't allow prayer in the schools or any public facility. They're even trying to take the word 'God' out of the Pledge of Alliance."

"In Mexico, it's different," said Robert. "Most of the orphanages are owned by nuns or priests or a religious family."

Jenny became somber as she said, "Uncle Dell created this orphanage because he saw some abandoned children walking the streets and begging for food. It made him sad and he wanted to help them."

"It sounds like Uncle Dell was very compassionate," said Amelia.

"He was." A faraway look appeared in Jenny's eyes, as if remembering the past. She turned to Amelia and smiled. "Uncle Dell cared about each child he took in. Even though he hired someone to manage the place, he made the trip down there every three months to see the children. He considered himself their uncle."

Amelia was touched by the unselfish deeds of this man. His compassion for the children in Mexico was moving. Without a doubt, she knew this would be a case she would take.

"Who's the manager of the orphanage?" asked Amelia.

"Rosa Delgado," said Robert.

"How does it stay afloat since he's passed on?"

"Uncle Dell has a special bank account for the orphanage. Every month a certain amount of money is automatically deposited so Rosa can retrieve it and buy food and clothes. She, in turn, is supposed to send him the receipts from the purchases, including her wages. She's the only one who is paid. All the others are volunteers."

Amelia nodded. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Uncle Dell died two months ago," said Jenny with great sorrow. "Since his wife has already passed on, he willed most everything to Neal Woods except for the house and land. Our parents and uncle get that."

"And we get a bunch of money put into a special fund for Jenny and me," interrupted Robert.

Jenny took a ragged breath and said, "Uncle Dell knew our cousin would take care of the orphanage and wouldn't let it fall apart. That's why he's giving him all the money, stocks and bonds. It's so he can continue running it."

"If your uncle's will says Neal gets all of it, why are you concerned?"

Robert furrowed his brow and sighed. "Because he's nowhere to be found. Uncle Dell's lawyer said he's been searching for two months and can't find him."

"I don't believe him," blurted out Jenny. "I don't think he even tried. We've talked until we're blue in the face and that stubborn lawyer said the estate and money couldn't be in limbo any longer. So Neal will forfeit his inheritance if he doesn't show up by the twenty-fourth of this month."

Amelia looked at her calendar and her eyes widened. "But that only gives me seven days. You can contest the will, you know."

"Sure, Neal could contest it," exclaimed Jenny. "But you don't understand. Uncle Richard was a partner and helped to make their business what it is today. After a few years, he told Uncle Dell that he wanted to leave the business and go out on his own. He didn't ask for a thing from his brother. He just wanted to be independent."

Amelia was beginning to understand. "So if Neal contests it, then the judge will most likely take Richard's side."

"That's right," agreed Jenny.

Robert leaned toward Amelia and said in a business-like tone, "The will stipulates that if Neal is not available by a certain amount of time or feels he cannot take over the responsibility of the orphanage, then everything goes to Uncle Richard and our parents."

Jenny creased her brow and said, "They don't understand the importance of keeping the orphanage. They said that it's up to the country to provide for their own people, and they want to disband it." She shook her head with frustration. "No one will listen to a thing we have to say."

Amelia opened her notepad and wrote a few things down to check out.

With hope in her voice, Jenny asked, "Will you be able to find Neal in time? He needs to know what's going on."

Amelia smiled. "I'll try to find him, but I can't promise it will be on time for the reading of the will."

"Thanks," said Robert. "That's all we ask. At least we can tell Neal that we tried."

Jenny slid to the edge of her seat and said mysteriously, "I have to tell you something, though. I have my suspicions that someone is trying to stop us from finding Neal."

"What makes you think that?"

"Every time I get close to finding some information, then something ruins it."

"For example?" asked Amelia as she leaned back in her seat and folded her arms.

"Neal has a buddy that he grew up with. So I stopped by to visit Max and asked him if he'd heard from Neal because I needed his address. Max said it had been a few months since he'd received a letter. Right in the middle of our conversation, he received a phone call and had to go. But he told me to come back the following morning and he could give me the address then."

"So what happened?"

"When I returned, Max said he couldn't find the letter... but he had a strange look as if he was lying to me. When I told him I didn't believe him, he just slammed the door on my face. I tried calling him later to apologize but he won't answer his phone."

This bit of information made Amelia sit up straight. She shifted in her chair and asked, "Are you sure he lied?"

"You bet." Jenny gave a curt nod. "I think someone bribed him or threatened him."

"Do you know who would do such a thing?"

"No." Jenny shook her head. "I can't imagine who."

"Did anyone know you were going to visit Max?"

Jenny bit her lip in concentration and tapped her fingers on the armchair. "Hmmm. I don't remember mentioning it, but I could have." She then pulled a credit card from her purse. "So... do you require a deposit?"

Amelia nodded.

"Good. I came prepared."

After processing the card, Amelia handed her a receipt and said, "I need to know the names and phone numbers of your relatives so I can question them, including Neal's parents."

"You won't get much help in that department," said Robert. "Uncle Dell has a brother and two sisters. Uncle Richard and our mother are totally against the orphanage. And Neal's mother passed away about two years ago."

"How about Neal's father?"

We haven't seen him since the funeral. He moved back east somewhere. We're the only cousins that Neal has. That's about it."

"How about friends?"

Jenny shrugged. "Max is it and you're not going to get a thing out of him."

Amelia creased her brow, realizing this case would not be as easy as she thought. "When was the last time you saw Neal?"

"About two years ago at his mom's funeral," said Robert.

"Two years?" asked Amelia with an uplifted brow. "But I thought the three of you were close."

"My sister and I have been attending college and that keeps us pretty busy."

"Do you mean to tell me that you haven't kept in contact with your cousin this whole time?"

"Hey! We were lucky to write our parents a note or even call them." He laughed. "But we did get a graduation announcement from him. That's about it."

"I've got an idea," said Jenny as her eyes brightened. "I know he wrote to Uncle Dell. They were very close."

Amelia smiled. "Good. Do you have a key to his house so I can search it?"

Robert shook his head. "No, we don't. And we can't ask for one because our parents don't want us to interfere."

Jenny huffed with frustration. "When we approached them about hiring an investigator, they said Uncle Dell's lawyer knew what he was doing and wouldn't hear of it. Our parents pretty much ordered us to not interfere. So we're not telling them that we hired you."

Amelia had a hard time holding back a smile when she noticed the spunkiness in Jenny's voice. She just nodded and said, "I see."

"I've heard a lot about you and your agency," said Jenny. "And I was told that you always get the job done."

"Thanks," said Amelia. "I appreciate your confidence in me. I'll do my best."

Jenny then pulled a photo from her purse and handed it to Amelia. "Here's a picture of all three of us at the orphanage. That's about five years ago but he still looks the same. He's twenty-eight now and graduated from a medical school way down in Houston, Texas. He's a doctor."

Amelia looked at the photo. "Neal is a nice looking young man."

"I think so," said Jenny with a smile. "He reminds me of Uncle Dell."

"Where is this orphanage located?"

"Veracruz, Mexico."

Amelia stared at the photo with great interest. Two-dozen orphans surrounded the three cousins and everyone was smiling. Neal had a young girl, who was laughing, sitting on his shoulders. At that moment Amelia realized she had to find Neal Woods... if not for Robert and Jenny, then for the children.