Milo stepped off the boat with the rest of the crowd. New York had changed in the ten years he been gone. He had left the year before construction began on the Empire State Building and now it dominated the skyline. It was truly an impressive sight. Still, it couldn’t compare with the towering majesty of the Himalayas. Milo had stood on the top of the world and looked down.
He made his way through customs, queuing silently with the throngs of foreigners. The customs agent waved him through after barely looking at him or his passport, which was horribly out of date. People flowed out the doors and back into the spring sunlight and Milo flowed with them. The city smelled damp and musty, a stark contrast to the crisp air of the mountains he had become accustomed to or even the salty spray of the oceans; he had crossed both the Indian and the Atlantic on his trip home.
“Mr. Steel! Please wait! Mr. Steel,” came a shout from behind him. Milo looked about for his father. To Milo’s surprise a man in his mid-thirties came directly toward him and offered his hand. “Mr. Steel, my name is David Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Milo offered a pleasantry in turn.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why someone would be looking for you,” Jones said with a bit of awkwardness. Milo agreed, his eyes uneasy. “I am here to see if you need work and offer you a job. My company, Smythe and Boutin, has a need for someone of your rare ability. We discovered that you would be returning to New York and …” he was interrupted by Milo here. “Yes, of course, you are entirely right. The logical conclusion was, therefore, your return to New York.”
Hairs stood at the back of Milo’s neck as a chill raced down his spine. Few people knew of him. Fewer still knew why. He had not left danger behind when he fled home so long ago. It had simply lain in wait.
A polite smile and deferent phrase prompted Jones to lead the way to a nondescript Ford. Milo listened as Jones prattled about the work being offered, compensation and a host of other meaningless details. The car wove through the narrow streets of New York to the Upper East Side. Jones led Milo to the fifth floor of an office building. The elevator ride was quiet. Jones had run out of things to say and Milo was not inclined to chatter by nature.
The doors led to a futuristic looking office. It was spacious and metallic and white. The entire space seemed like something out of the brochure for the upcoming World’s Fair. Everyone in the office was neatly dressed in what Milo supposed was fashionable clothing. Suits were well pressed, the women wore knee-length skirts and blouses. Ten years in Tibet hadn’t offered him many opportunities for fashion mongering. His own suit was plain and serviceable; the best he was able to find as he started his trip back to New York.
Three secretaries sat before the office doors and perhaps a dozen clerks were seated at desks in the room beyond. Standing among them, speaking with a clerk was a tall, pale man in an immaculately pressed suit of dark silk. His blonde hair was receding, accentuating his pallor. He looked up to see Jones and Milo standing at the door. Excusing himself, the pale man walked briskly forward and extended his hand in a firm shake.
“Mr. Steel, so good to meet you. I am Frederick Smythe, president of Smythe and Boutin Investigations,” he said. “I had hoped you would arrive today, we’ve had poor Jones and others at the various points of arrival for a week now.” Smythe’s tone was filled with condescending pity for all those who weren’t born with the grace to be him. Milo gave a lighthearted explanation of how he hadn’t known he was expected. There may have been a joke about hurrying if they had let him know. No one could precisely recall, though there was polite laughter at one point in the conversation.
Milo spent the rest of the afternoon with Smythe. They went about the company, discussing the various aspects and points of business. It soon became evident that Smythe was not the man who had discovered Milo. The frightening combination of intellect and power was evident throughout the organization but was clearly not the balding fop. Things were neat and orderly, but too strangely structured for a normal business. To even know about Milo there had to be considerable resources of information. While Smythe helped to run the business, he did not understand it. He was a pawn. Someone was manipulating not only Smythe but everyone at the company.
“Is there anything you would like to know, Mr. Steel?” Smythe asked, nearly as an afterthought. “Any questions about the business?”
Milo had a request.
“Ah, you see, our third partner maintains a silent interest in the company and does not wish to be known. It’s quite impossible for us to arrange a meeting with him.” Smythe slowly wilted under Milo’s stare. “Well, I suppose we could arrange a meeting for you. After all, it was on his recommendation that we sought you out. I will make arrangement. Phone the office tomorrow and I will give you the particulars. If that is acceptable?”
Milo nodded or perhaps said something in agreement. The two men shook hands and Milo left the office, his mind burning with questions. He walked south to the Waldorf-Astoria, his favorite hotel from the family’s summer trips to the city. Dinner was a simple meal at a local Italian restaurant, a luxury notably absent in the Orient. Milo had to place his order three times before the waiter remembered, a noted improvement from his childhood. He ate slowly as he contemplated the problems before him. Someone or something knew who and what he was. That alone was an impressive feat but more disturbing was that somehow the men in the organization had been informed and then somehow able to find Milo. No one sought out Milo.
The waiter cleared and reset the table for another diner so Milo left without paying for his meal. No one even looked in his direction as he left the restaurant.
In the morning Milo phoned the offices of Smythe and Boutin Investigations. The secretary who answered was demure and professional, perfectly business-like and unassuming. She transferred Milo to Smythe’s office immediately.
“Mr. Steel? Hello. Yes, I’ve made the arrangements for you. Do you have a pen and paper?” A pause. “He would like to meet you for lunch today. 1:00 at the Waldorf-Astoria. Do you know where that is? Excellent. Tell the maitre d’ that you are to have lunch with a Mr. Cavendish. Have a good day, Mr. Steel.”
Milo hung up his phone while the hairs on his neck stood up. He didn’t believe in coincidence. Mr. Cavendish was even more dangerous than he had imagined. Milo dressed and armed himself with several long knives strapped to his calves and a revolver under his coat. There was no sense in taking chances. He made his way downstairs to the restaurant and spoke with the host.
An elderly man was seated at the table to which Milo was led. He had a full head of grey hair, was clean shaven and bespectacled. He was finely dressed, though without pretense. Laugh lines crinkled the corners of his cheeks and a knowing twinkle danced in his eye as Milo approached.
“Mr. Steel, it’s good to meet you at last,” the man rose easily to shake Milo’s hand. “I’m James Cavendish.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cavendish,” Milo replied. “You’ve certainly caught my attention in the last day.”
The old man grinned fiercely as they took their chairs, “That wasn’t intentional. Smythe is about as subtle as a hippopotamus. How did you enjoy the east?”
“It was peaceful. I learned a great deal,” Milo eyed the man across the table. “How is it you know I was in the Orient? My family never even knew.”
“I have sources and means. You are not the only remarkable person in the world, Milo.”
“No, I’m not. I may be the most unremarkable man alive.”
“Quite so!” barked Cavendish. “That is precisely why I am interested in you.”
“I don’t like people meddling in my affairs, Mr. Cavendish. It doesn’t happen often, as I’m sure you understand.” Milo studied his menu carefully. “Your interest in me is your own affair. What’s to keep me from walking away right now?”
“Curiosity, for a start,” replied the dapper gentleman. “You want to know how it is that I and mine can track and predict your movements so easily. Beyond that, I’m sure you’re wondering what my intentions are. Being followed is worrying enough for anyone. It must be doubly alarming for you.” The waiter returned to take their order, Cavendish sipped his beer. “I assure you that my interest is purely professional. I wish to offer you a job.”
“I don’t need a job, Mr. Cavendish. There is the small matter of the inheritance that is waiting for me in Albany,” Milo countered.
“Ah, that. I had hoped you would find out before we met. You were not named in your father’s will. He disowned you shortly after you fled the country following your sister’s untimely passing,” James said with his eyes downcast.
“He disowned me?” Milo’s hand curled into a fist.
“Yes, it would seem that there was some speculation that you had a part in your sister’s death,” Cavendish continued quietly. “Nothing was ever proven, of course. We both know what really happened, even if the rest of the world refuses to admit the reality. Your father took it rather hard and turned toward his nephew Donald for help with the company. Donald has been groomed as your father’s successor for the better part of the last decade. He has been appointed president and CEO of Steel Holdings and your father left most of his estate to him, as well. A small charitable trust was established in your sister’s memory. It is being used to create an animal shelter, if the rumors are to be trusted.”
“You seem to know much of my family, Mr. Cavendish. You still haven’t answered my question: what’s stopping me from just walking out the front door?”
“Nothing,” Cavendish sighed. “I have no hold over you. I’m making no threats. I’m merely offering you a job, one where your unique talents will prove useful. Like your father, I am an old man. A tired man. I wish to establish my own legacy and leave what I have in capable hands. Much of my work is dangerous and I fear it will only grow more so in the coming years. I need help and I’m asking you.”
“Now you’ve piqued my curiosity, Mr. Cavendish.”