The schedule Rhonda prepared for him contained one name, but two men came for the meeting.
One was short and squat in a dark grey suit, with a round face and full salt-and-pepper beard. He wore a blue and white knit yarmulke on the crown of his head. Rhonda introduced him as Rabbi Shmuel Rifkin—“Sam,” he said as he shook Preuss’s hand.
The other man she introduced as Father Lloyd Corrigan. “Lloyd,” he said. He was taller and more florid than the rabbi, and wore a tweed sportscoat over an open-neck shirt with no clerical collar. Neither man had overcoats in the unseasonably mild February weather.
“Can we get you a coffee or something to drink?” Preuss asked.
Both men shook their heads and Preuss ushered them into his office with a nod to Rhonda, who gave him a wink in return. Good luck with this, her wink told him.
He closed the office door and took his seat behind the desk. The two men sat in the visitors’ chairs facing him.
“Bet you didn’t know you were going to have such an ecumenical crew,” Corrigan said.
“No,” Preuss said. “In fact, I was expecting one client today.”
“We thought it would be okay if we both came,” Rifkin said.
“Not a problem,” Preuss said. “What brings you in?”
“Before we get started,” the rabbi said, “let me ask, how is Manny?”
“He seems to be holding his own,” Preuss said.
“We go way back, Manny and I,” Rifkin said.
“Terrible thing, cancer,” the priest said, “I’m praying for him.”
“I’m sure he appreciates that,” Preuss said.
“It’s one God, after all,” the rabbi replied, “regardless how we’re dressed when we talk to him.”
“Amen,” said Corrigan.
Preuss stifled the urge to smile at these two, but instead directed the conversation back to the business at hand.
“How can I help?”
Suddenly reticent, Rifkin and Corrigan looked at each other. They were trying to decide who should talk first.
“Rabbi,” Preuss said, “you made the appointment, so maybe you can start?”
“Sure. I called Manny when I wanted some guidance,” Rifkin said, “and he told me I should speak with you.”
“It’s about a mutual friend. A friend of all of ours—Lloyd, Manny, myself. We all take part in an Interfaith Colloquium once a month.”
“We talk about subjects that cut across our religious boundaries,” Corrigan said. “We have priests, rabbis, pastors, imams, Buddhists, lay people, atheists if they want to come. We’re open to everyone.”
“Our friend is Charles Bright,” Rifkin said, “may his memory be a blessing. He died a few weeks ago. He was found in his home in Ferndale. Suspicious circumstances, as they say. Manny told us you’re from Ferndale, maybe you heard about it?”
“Of course,” Preuss said. Charles Bright’s death in his basement shocked the quiet community. Preuss had been the senior officer in the Ferndale PD Detective Bureau. Had he not retired from the force, he would have led the investigation.
“Very sorry to hear,” he said.
“Yes, thanks,” Rifkin said. “No one seems to know what happened.”
“I assume the police are investigating?”
“The Ferndale police and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office,” Corrigan said. “But they haven’t gotten anywhere. We were hoping you’d have more luck if you looked into it.”
“We don’t like to get involved in active police investigations,” Preuss said. “The police especially don’t like it.”
“No,” Rifkin said, “that I can understand.”
“The thing is,” Corrigan said, “they all seem to be convinced this is a domestic-type situation. A sexual encounter gone bad.”
“And you’re not?”
“We’re not. But they say they have to go where the evidence takes them.”
“Who told you that?”
“The woman from the Sheriff’s Office.”
Oh, don’t say it, Preuss silently pleaded.
Please don’t say it.
“A detective named Emma Blalock,” Corrigan said.
He said it.
“I see.” He tried to keep a poker face.
Not very well, apparently. “Do you know her?” the rabbi asked. “You look like you might know her.”
“I do,” Preuss said. “We’ve worked together a few times.”
“Manny told us you used to be a detective in Ferndale.”
Emma and Preuss had a history, which Preuss preferred not to go into at the moment.
Instead, he said, “She’s very good.”
“Well,” Corrigan continued, “Manny said you are, too.”
Preuss inclined his head at the compliment.
“Sam and I both think it’s more complicated than the police do,” Corrigan said.
“Charles was a widower,” Corrigan said, “who still loved his wife. He certainly wasn’t in the habit of bringing home strangers for assignations.”
“That’s what they think happened?”
“Yes,” Rifkin said. “They said there was no sign of a break-in, so they think Charlie let in whoever killed him. Also the extent of his injuries—the police say he was killed in a fury that points to a domestic crime.”
“Who’s on the case for Ferndale?”
“A detective named Trombley,” Corrigan said.
“I know him, too,” Preuss said. “Quite well, as a matter of fact. Look, these are two excellent investigators. If they say this looks like a domestic, I’d be inclined to believe them.”
“But we both think there’s more to this than meets the eye,” Corrigan said. “And they won’t move on what we’re telling them.”
“So we’re hoping you will,” Rifkin said.
Manny’s two friends sat looking at him, silent and plaintive.
“I can look into the corners,” Preuss said, “as long as I don’t interfere with the main investigation.”
“That’s all we’re asking,” Rifkin said.
“All right then, why don’t you fill me in on the background. And then I’ll turn you over to Rhonda for the financial arrangements.”
“Wonderful,” Corrigan said.
“I hope you don’t have dinner plans, Mr. Preuss,” Rifkin said. “Filling in the background is going to take a while.”
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