papers were filed in federal court today on behalf of sarah james, daughter of deceased longtime local businessman and philanthropist jonah james, seeking unspecified damages against the gray shipping company, of new york and san francisco.
the suit alleges fraud against the deceased jonah james by the deceased founder of the gray shipping company, walter “buck” gray.
jonah james was the founder of the town of jamestown and was for many years its most prominent citizen, as well as a familiar figure in the streets and lanes of the town, often accompanied by his faithful wolfhound.
jonah james came to an untimely end in december 1923, robbed and murdered, apparently by a wayfaring tramp, as he walked alone at night on the outskirts of town, something he was in the habit of doing, despite his advanced age. the case remains unsolved.
representatives of miss sarah james declined to comment or provide details on the pending lawsuit, assuring our correspondent that they were content to “let the law take its course” and that they were certain “justice would be done.”
the big storm had passed, and the county had done a halfway decent job of cleaning up after it, so there were not a lot of branches and debris on the road, just a few puddles.
two things had happened. the hobo jungle by the railroad had been pretty much blown away.
and the big news was - that the old morris house had completely collapsed, leaving a big heap of ruins - not “smoking ruins”, because the rain had soaked them pretty good - where it had stood for years.
some of the bums from the hobo jungle, and other assorted riffraff and scavengers, had flocked to the scene , trying to find some of the money old mrs morris was reputed to have hidden, or anything else they could carry away, and the sheriff had posted a couple of men to try to keep them away.
as rosie approached the three roads truck stop she saw the sheriff’s car parked outside it, and sheriff james brown standing in front of it, looking up and down the road.
“howdy, sheriff,” rosie greeted him.
“howdy, rosie.” the sheriff seemed in a better mood than usual, and he almost smiled at rosie. “what’s that you got there?”
“just a bag.” rosie had a old potato sack slung over her shoulder. it was almost empty. the sack, and the few contents - a sandwich , a couple of apples, a slice of pumpkin pie wrapped in a piece of newspaper, and a small bottle of moxie - had been bequeathed to her by her friend jenny, back at the boarding house where rosie had been given shelter from the storm.
“you wouldn’t by chance be fixing to fill up that sack up at the old morris house, would you?”
“what are you talking about, sheriff? the old morris house? old lady morris ain’t given out no handouts since samson had a haircut.”
the sheriff briefly explained that the old morris house had collapsed in the storm. “but. it’s still private property, though we ain’t sure just whose private property it is now, and we can’t have no human vultures congregating and looking for buried treasure, if you get my drift.”
“well, that’s mighty interesting,” said rosie. “but it ain’t nothing to me. i never believed any of them stories about the old lady’s money no way. i may be a fool, but i ain’t that particular type of fool.”
“well, i am glad to hear that, rosie. but if you ain’t going to the morris place, where are you going, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“just down the road.”
“just down the road? how far down the road?”
“a far piece.”
“you mean you’re leaving town? for good?”
“that’s the size of it.” rosie turned and looked down the road. “i figure it’s time to move on. that storm was a sign, it seemed to me. so i’m heading out.”
i wish some of the other bums in town would take it as a sign, thought the sheriff, but he did not say so out loud. “well, i wish you well, rosie. i hope you find a pot of gold and the peace that passeth understanding, and all that.”
“thank you, sheriff.” and rosie turned to go, but as she did, they both heard a shout from down the road the way rosie had come.
rosie and the sheriff looked back down the road and saw a figure approaching and waving,
“hey, rosie, wait up!”
it was susquehanna sal, another denizen of the blown away hobo jungle, who, like rosie, had spent the night at the boarding house.
as sal approached, she was swinging a sack similar to rosie’s and had a big smile on her face.
her smile disappeared briefly when the sheriff told her about the old morris place, and gave her the same warning about it that he had given rosie.
“i wouldn’t take nothing that wasn’t mine, sheriff,” sal protested. “ mean as that old lady was.”
“i’m glad to hear it. rosie here is leaving town, did you know that?”
“yeah, she told me.”
“how about you, you leaving town too?”
“no, where would i go?” sal turned to rosie. “but i’ll walk you as far as the old morris place. just to take a look at it.” she glanced at the sheriff. “out of curiosity, you know.”
“suit yourself,” rosie shrugged. the two of them started down the road, under the sheriff’s gaze.
sal shook her sack as they walked along. “that jenny kid, she’s the salt if the earth! she gave me a sandwich, some apples, some pie and a soda pop and she don’t even know me! and the sun is out, and it’s a great life, wouldn’t you say?”
“i guess it doesn’t take much to make some people happy,” rosie answered.
“yeah, that jenny, she’s a trump all right!”
rosie laughed. “a trump! where did you get that word?”
“i don’t know, some old movie with leslie howard or somebody. what, you think i’ve never been to a movie?”
rosie laughed again, but didn’t answer.
they walked along. the sun rose in the sky. some birds flew over their heads.
tomo or no tomo, agnes decided to get right to the point with minerva. she knew tomo had hearing like a mountain lion, and keeping her voice low might be a waste of time, but she did so anyway.
“there was a story that came to my attention,” agnes began in her low growl, “maybe to yours too. about the granddaughter or something of some fellow in cow country who is alleging fraud by grandfather gray about a hundred years ago and wanting - i guess wanting pretty much the whole family fortune.”
“as a matter of fact, i did see it,” minerva replied after a slight hesitation. “but it is, just - just nonsense. nonsense like that pops up every week. it keeps the lawyers occupied. you wanted to see me just about that?”
”but you did notice it?” agnes asked. “something about it caught your attention, did it not, not like what you call the usual nonsense? you knew right away what i was talking about - busy as you must be, eh?”
minerva hesitated again. “yes, i suppose it did. one of the lawyers brought it to my attention,” she lied, “and something about it - there was just something about it. do you know anything in particular about it, that you come running to me like this?”
“no, i was just like you, i thought there was something i could not put my finger on, that it rang some kind of bell. do you plan on doing anything about it, or looking into it yourself.”
“i had not,” minerva lied again. “i suppose the lawyers will have to file some kind of papers, as a formality. i had forgotten about it - until you came along.”
agnes knew minerva was lying. “that is reassuring,” she answered, “thank you.” she took her cigarettes out of her handbag and began lighting one.
“why are you so interested, anyway?” minerva asked. she did not need to say out loud, “it’s my money, not yours.”
“just checking, dear,” agnes answered. “those of us who only get the crumbs like to keep track of what is on the table.”
“i suppose so. but then i am not like you, agnes.”
“no, i don’t really care anything about money. i would be perfectly happy to live on three or four million a year.”
agnes laughed. “really? i heard you were quite keen on going to the office every day. running the empire your own little self.”
“it is something to do. it keeps me busy.”
“you could carry on the family traditions - drink, get a nice tan, all that.”
“pooh. not i, thank you.”
“you could take up painting, or write a novel.”
“i would hope i think better of myself than that.”
agnes had almost forgotten tomo. she glanced back at him. he seemed to be having a conversation with a bummy looking fellow who had seated himself at his table.
agnes had been surprised that minerva had so readily admitted to an interest in the lawsuit in the boondocks. she, agnes, had thought it foolishness on the countess’s part and had only been humoring her. now her own interest was aroused. very much aroused.
and minerva, hearing of agnes’s interest, was now more determined than ever to have the case investigated.
minerva finished her coffee and her creampuff. “i don’t mean to be rude, but i have some things i have to get back to.”
“a little rudeness never hurt anybody,” agnes assured her.
as agnes had predicted, jack’s coffee shop was crowded at noon, so she and minerva ended up going to a little automat around the corner on 35th street.
“you can always get a seat in this place, “ minerva assured agnes. “the coffee isn’t very good.”
tomo, who had parked the countess’s limousine in front of the gray building , followed them. he was not wearing his chauffeur’s uniform, and trailed them with practiced discretion. but he need not have bothered, as minerva was completely oblivious to him.
despite minerva’s admonition about the coffee, she and agnes each got a cup, and minerva bought a creampuff and agnes a slice of cheesecake and they sat at a small table in the corner furthest from the door.
tomo was right behind them, and got a cup of coffee and sat at a table in front of the window, looking out at sixth avenue. although he had his back to agnes and minerva, agnes knew he would not miss a thing.
agnes found this a little annoying. in spite of the countess’s instructions to her to be discreet in her questioning of minerva, she wanted to just get it over with and get right to the point by asking minerva if she knew or cared about the lawsuit out in the sticks that the countess professed to be so concerned about. she had brought the clipping from the “low plains gazette” to show minerva, but with tomo watching …
“so,” minerva began. “what is all this mystery about?”
tomo, over at his table, had his attention distracted by a man who appeared at his table. a table that seated three or four, but at which tomo had been sitting alone.
“mind if i sit here?” the man asked, in a tone that was neither polite nor otherwise.
“i don’t own the establishment,” tomo answered.
“i didn’t think so,” the man answered and sat down. he had a cup of tea in his hand and carefully placed it on the table.
tomo considered his new companion. thin, shabbily dressed, not quite a total bum, with a real mean look in his eyes. a man who looked like he would be at home in the proverbial dark alleys. a type more familiar to tomo in europe and north africa than in the states.
the shabby man looked tomo in the eyes. “i know you.”
“i don’t think so, “ tomo answered. as he was talking to the shabby man he watched agnes and minerva in the reflection in the window beside him. so far, they seemed to be getting along politely enough.
“i don’t mean i ever met you before,” the man continued. he took a spoon and squeezed the teabag against the size of his cup with it. “but i still know you. you know what i mean?”
“those two dames you are looking at in the glass. you followed them in here, didn’t you?”
tomo laughed in the man’s face. “what if i did?”
“some people might think you are up to no good.”
“they might if i did not work for one of them.”
for the first time the shabby man looked a little unsure of himself.
“i’m a chauffeur,” tomo said. “not that it is any of your business.”
“you’re not wearing a uniform.”
tomo did not bother to answer.
“yeah,” the man said, recovering himself. “you kind of look like a chauffeur.”
“you kind of look like a lowlife crumbbum who does not know what is good for him.”
the shabby man laughed. “yeah, you got me there.” he took a sip of his tea. “which one do you work for - the blonde or the younger one?”
“it’s no concern of yours.”
“let me tell you a story,” the shabby man laughed. “you like stories?”
“it depends.” tomo had had more than enough of the man, but did not want to call any kind of attention to the two of them.
“i never saw you before, but the younger dame - she reminds me of someone. looks like someone i had what you might call a strange encounter with a few years back.”
tomo did not bother to answer, but the man continued. “a few years ago i was walking down broadway, and this rich dame that looked just like her - not her, she’s too young , but could have been her sister - comes up to me and what do you think she wants?”
“i could never guess.”
the shabby man lowered his voice. “she wanted me to kill her husband! she was going to pay me to kill her husband and gave me a down payment. ain’t that something? what do you think of that?”
“and did you kill the husband?” tomo asked in a normal tone of voice.
“no, it didn’t work out. i was supposed to meet up with her to get the details, but she never showed.”
tomo snickered. “how sad.”
“but that ain’t the end of the story - not by a long shot. because a few days later, i pick up a paper somewhere, and what do you think? there was a picture of the dame in it, and she had been killed herself! over in brooklyn, i think it was. but that still ain’t the end. because a while after that - a couple of months maybe - i pick up another paper and there she is again, and now they are saying maybe she’s not dead after all. all very mysterious.”
“life is mysterious,” tomo replied.
“and that younger dame over there, i swear she looks just like her.”
“yes, people look alike sometimes.”
the shabby man seemed to have nothing more to say, and tomo did not encourage him, and they fell silent.
“i have miss agnes miller on line two, miss gray..”
“put her through,” minerva replied promptly. she took her reading glasses off and her pencil down, glad of any diversion after two hours of reading reports.
“hello, minerva. i hope i am not interrupting anything.”
“nothing very interesting. what can i do for you, agnes dear?”
“i thought we should meet and have a little chat.”
“about anything in particular?”
“yes, something in particular, though it may not be that important.”
“so it is not urgent?”
“maybe not, but i would like to see you in person. it won’t take long, and we can meet anywhere you like.”
“anywhere?” minerva raised her eyes to the window of the corner office she had commandeered in the gray headquarters when she had come into her inheritance. it was a dreary day outside. it looked like it might rain a little bit. there were sometimes birds on the ledges she liked to think she recognized, but none were there on this day.
“well, not in chicago or philadelphia.,” agnes was saying. “ i thought we might meet somewhere for dinner - “
“how about the coffee shop across the street?” minerva interrupted. “ you know the one i mean? it’s called jack’s or jake’s or something but there is no sign.”
“yes, i know it. doesn’t it get kind of crowded in the middle of the day? unless you want to meet later, around three o’clock.”
“i have something scheduled at three,” minerva lied. “i would rather meet at noon. if jack’s is busy, we can go somewhere else. like the automat.”
“very well,” agnes agreed. “whatever suits you. i will see you at noon.”
“until then.” minerva put the phone down. she was a little surprised that agnes had not argued a little more about the time and place, because agnes always like to argue, about anything and everything.
i should have argued more, agnes thought as she put the phone down on her end. she might get a little suspicious if i am too nice.
but agnes did not really care. she thought the meeting a waste of time anyway, and was only arranging it to humor the countess.
“well?’ tomo asked. he had listened to the brief exchange from the shadows of a couch against the wall of agnes’s apartment. he always sat in shadows if he could.
agnes described the conversation.
“i know the place she’s talking about,” tomo said. he laughed. “that’s easy enough. i thought she might want to meet in some place like bayonne or perth amboy.”
“minerva is not the type to arrange meetings in bayonne or perth amboy.”
agnes had tea with the countess every monday and thursday afternoon, in the countess’s little apartment on 88th street.
agnes could never gauge the countess’s moods, or tell if she had anything particular to say, until the countess had taken the first sips of her tea and opened her mouth to speak.
“i am disappointed in you, agnes, very disappointed,” the countess began, on this particular gray october afternoon.
“about what?” agnes replied after swallowing her small forkful of chocolate torte.
“about the progress of your claim against minerva, of course.”
“there are only three months to go until roselle can be pronounced dead. i thought we had agreed to wait until then before we made any moves.”
“we did agree. against my better judgment, but i did agree. however, something has come up.”
“oh?” agnes attempted to maintain her usual languid manner, but could not help sitting up a little straighter in her chair. “has there been some supposed sighting of roselle?”
“of course not. had there been, i would have summoned you at once, not waited until our regular tete-a-tete.”
agnes relaxed. “well, then?”
“take a look at this.” the countess produced a page of a newspaper from - somewhere. she had always had a knack for concealing items which she could suddenly produce “out of nowhere’.
the countess did not hand the newspaper to agnes but announced. “tomo found this.”
and at the sound of his name, tomo appeared out of the shadows, as he always did.
the countess gave the newspaper to tomo, who in turn handed it to agnes.
“the low plains gazette.” agnes read the banner of the paper. “what am i supposed to be looking at here?”
“the story on the lower left,” tomo told her. “family of slain man, and so forth.”
“ah.” agnes ran her eye over the paper. “continued on page 2.” she turned the single page over and read some more.
“and, that is it?” she asked when she was finished. she looked up at tomo, and them at the countess.
“that is all we know,” said the countess. “i wish to know more.”
“but it is all nonsense,” agnes replied. “and nothing to do with roselle.”
“no, not directly, but it could affect the whole gray empire.”
“pooh! this is nothing. stuff like this comes up every week. every day. simpson and simpson must have a press clipping service, they must have seen it, let them handle it.”
“i am sure they will - on minerva’s behalf,” the countess replied, with the slightest hint of annoyance. “i wish to be informed on our behalf.”
agnes shrugged. “you are the one who has the means to do that.”
“for reasons of my own, i wish you to handle it.”
“fine. any suggestions?”
“i have more than a suggestion. i wish you to contact minerva directly.”
“arrange a meeting. let her choose the place. when it has been arranged, let me know the time and place. tomo will be waiting for you outside and will bring you directly to me to report. i trust you to be able to question her with some discretion.”
“i trust myself to do it too.”
agnes stuck her fork back into her chocolate torte. “it shall be done.”
the countess did not smile, but tomo did, ever so slightly.