The New York Times Sunday Magazine piece famously opened: “She has pouting lips and high round breasts. Thousands of men have dreamt of her. Hundreds have chased after her. Two have died in pursuit. Her name is Sirena, she weighs 193 pounds, and she vanished in 1959. Without a trace.”
Barrett College’s legendary Greco-Roman sculpture’s fate was still a hot topic in 1970 when four roommates began their freshman year at the New England school. They’ve gone their separate ways for years. But as the 1994 commencement approaches, they are about to reunite to meet a challenge thrown down by a Class of ’59 hedge-fund billionaire. He has pledged a $25 million endowment plus a $3 million purse to her finder(s) if Sirena is restored to Barrett by June 17th, the date of his 35th reunion, the college’s sesquicentennial celebrationand our foursome’s 20th class reunion.
Although they are not alone in their pursuitgroups of alumni, including a pair of aggressive and highly-financed classmates, are running down leads across the worldSt. Louis lawyer Lou Solomon and his crew come upon an obscure but intriguing clue. It leads them to Chicago where a young lawyer called Rachel Gold may hold key information. As the men race to crack the Sirena puzzle, their quest will transform their lives in unexpected ways.
About the Author
Michael A. Kahn is the award-winning author of several novels, praised by Publishers Weekly for their “intelligent, breezy dialogue and clever plotting.” A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, Mr. Kahn began his literary career writing free-lance feature articles for Chicago Magazine while teaching fifth grade in the Chicago public schools. Now a trial attorney in St. Louis, he wrote his first novel on a dare from his wife, who got sick of hearing him announce, each time he finished a paperback thriller that he’d purchased at an airport newsstand, “I could write a better book than this.” “Then write one,” she finally said, “or please shut up.”
Read an Excerpt
The Sirena Quest
By Michael A. Kahn
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Michael A. Kahn
All rights reserved.
At 10:48 on the morning of June 6, 1994, Lou Solomon was in his law firm's library. That in itself was noteworthy. The law library of Rosen & O'Malley, as with the libraries of most large law firms, is not a likely place to find a partner. Although one may occasionally poke his head in looking for an associate or to scan that day's Wall Street Journal, the library is—as its name suggests—a place for research. Within the law firm hierarchy, associates do the research. They are, in the jargon of the profession, the mind mules.
Even more unusual, by 10:48 that morning Lou Solomon had already been in the library for nearly three hours. And there he would remain for several more. There hadn't been a partner in the Rosen & O'Malley library for that long since old Mr. Caruthers spent the night back in the spring of 1982, and that didn't really count. After all, when the assistant librarian found the seventy-four-year-old tax attorney the following morning slumped against the side of a carrel, his right arm clutching volume four of Scott on Trusts, he was already in an advanced stage of rigor mortis.
When Lou finally gathered his research materials at three that afternoon, two male junior associates peered over their library carrels to watch him leave. As the door swung closed behind him, they exchanged glances.
"Almost seven hours," one said.
The other shook his head. "That's incredible, dude."
He said it with affection.
Lou Solomon was a favorite of the associates. The younger litigators tried to emulate his unassuming style in front of judges and juries, and he was often the topic of firm lore when associates gathered for lunch during the week or over pitchers of beer at Dooley's after work on Fridays.
As the older associates occasionally reminded the younger ones, Lou Solomon had been a different guy back when they joined the firm.
"Remember when he played on the softball team?" one would reminisce between sips of beer.
"Lou played?" a younger associate would ask.
"Oh, yeah. He was good, too. Damn good. Played ball in college, didn't he, Dave?"
And then Dave would lean back with a smile. "He ran the summer program when I was a law clerk."
"My summer, too. Remember those float trips?"
"What float trips?" a younger associate would ask.
"He organized this annual float trip down the Meramec. It was a real hoot."
Invariably, one of the senior associates would add, "She used to go on the float trips with us."
And then there'd be silence. They all knew about Andi, even the ones who'd never met her. Especially the women.
"Yeah," one of the senior associates would eventually say. "He was a different guy back then."
Standing at the library carrels, the two associates watched as Lou disappeared down the hall.
"What's he working on?"
"I think it's that Donohue appeal."
"Donohue? Isn't Brenda on that with him?"
"She says Lou's obsessed."
And he was. Obsessed and haunted.
The brief was due tomorrow, and he still couldn't let go. He'd promised Brenda his final changes by six that night. That would still leave her enough time to proof and cite-check the brief, shepherd the final version through the word processing department, and arrange to have the correct number of copies bound and filed in the court of appeals by the close of business tomorrow afternoon.
The Donohue appeal.
Its grip on Lou was all the more unusual because of the type of case it was. Lou's specialty was complex commercial litigation—or, as those cases are known among law firms, elephant orgies: massive disputes featuring lots of parties, warehouses of documents, Dickensian plots, hordes of witnesses, squadrons of attorneys, and millions and millions of dollars at stake. His growing reputation in the field had placed him on the short lists of most general counsels in the region, which made him, at the age of forty-one, one of the firm's top rainmakers.
But the Donohue appeal was no elephant orgy. The case arose out of a traffic accident, that hoary staple of the personal injury bar. Nevertheless, it possessed him like none he'd ever worked on. He found himself thinking about it in bed at night and on his morning jog and off and on during the day while listening to a long-winded client on the phone or waiting in court for a motion to be called. Although he was hardly the introspective type, Lou wondered about his devotion to this lost cause.
His office was one floor above the library. As he reached the interior stairway between the two floors, he was flipping through his research notes. He scanned one of the pages as he bounded up the stairs two at a time. The human shape registered in his peripheral vision at the last possible instant.
Roger Madison ducked back to avoid the collision.
"Whoops," Madison said. "That was close."
"I'm sorry, Roger."
The older man chuckled. "No harm, no foul, Louis."
Roger Madison, a litigation partner who specialized in condemnation matters, was sixty-three, bald, slightly hunched over, and recently divorced. His only son, Roger Jr., had died of AIDS a year earlier. Lou was close enough to Madison to pick up the tang of alcohol beneath the Polo cologne.
Lou gave him an apologetic smile as he started back up the stairs. "I'm a little out of it today, Roger."
"No problem, Iceman."
Lou paused and looked back, but Madison was already heading down the stairs.
He started up the stairs again, shaking his head.
He was scanning the headnotes of the next case in the pile as he strolled into his office. Taking a seat on the front edge of his desk, he began reading the court opinion.
The Donohue appeal.
It was a tale any fiction editor would reject as forced and overwrought and far too dependent upon coincidence. Thing was, God seemed to like them that way. The law books were filled with Donohue appeals—fact patterns served up with heavy platters of melodrama, seasoned with pure happenstance, and smothered in a thick gravy of pathos.
The Donohue of Donohue v. Henderson Construction Co. was Jane Donohue—attorney, widow, quadriplegic, mother of two little girls. The Henderson Construction Company had been her client. When old man Henderson died a few years back, Jane advised his adult sons to restructure the company into three separate corporations, one responsible for finances, one for marketing, and one for operations. Her legal strategy was to limit the liability exposure of the operations end of the business. The sons agreed, Jane drew up the new corporate papers, and six weeks later a Henderson dump truck loaded with eight tons of hot asphalt ran a stop sign in her subdivision and plowed into the driver's side of her station wagon, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down.
Jane was a widow at the time of the accident, her husband having died of cancer a year earlier. She hired Lou to represent her and her daughters in the lawsuit, and he'd grown close to all three over the course of the fourteen months of pre-trial proceedings. He'd even taken the two little girls—Emma and Abby—on several outings with his children to the zoo, the science museum, and elsewhere.
He tried the case earlier that year. Forty-five minutes after closing arguments, the jury returned a verdict in Jane's favor for $3.2 million. That was the good news. The bad news was that the judgment was against the operations corporation, which had total assets of $384,000. Jane Donohue's medical bills alone had long since exceeded that amount.
Lou had been struggling with the appellate brief for weeks. The court had granted him three extensions of time as he searched for a loose brick in the legal fortress that Jane had built around the assets of the business. With no support from Missouri precedents, he had spent the last seven hours scouring the legal countryside for aid, reviewing dozens of court opinions from other states and law review articles from across the nation in what seemed an increasingly doomed effort to get some money to a paralyzed woman and her little girls. He'd even turned to California cases—a true sign of desperation. Asking a panel of Missouri appellate judges to follow a Left Coast precedent was akin to asking them to join you in a rousing evening of pansexual bondage. You might get lucky, but the odds were against you.
But even with California in the mix, there wasn't much help out there. He set the court opinion down and with a sigh of fatigue reached for the latest draft of the appellate brief.
And that's when he saw the pink Phono-O-Gram slip.
Actually, he saw several. They were in a neat stack on top of the latest draft of the brief. He picked up the slips and started flipping through them. He stopped when he came upon the one from 10:48 that morning:
Mr. Gorman of San Diego called re "fame and fortune" (His words) "Change of plans." Arrives @5 PM tomorrow: TWA Flight 432. Said you should "clear your calendar and fasten your seat belt."
Lou smiled as he leaned back.
What was Gorman up to now?
Their twentieth college reunion was less than two weeks away. Three months earlier, Ray Gorman had put Lou, Gordie, and Bronco Billy together on a conference call and made them take a pledge to meet him at Barrett College two days before the reunion. It would be the first gathering of the James Gang since the end of freshman year.
Lou read the message again.
Change of plans?
He checked his watch. Twenty minutes after three. He'd promised Brenda the brief by six. San Diego was two hours behind St. Louis time. He'd call Ray later.
He flipped through the other messages. Nothing urgent. He folded Ray's message slip and put it in the pocket of his white dress shirt.CHAPTER 2
Two hours later, Lou handed Brenda Harris his marked-up final draft of the Donohue brief.
"If you have any questions," he told her, "call me at home. I'm coaching a Little League game tonight, but I'll be home by nine. If you need me before then, you can try my cell phone. I'll have it with me at the game."
She nodded solemnly and reached for the draft. Brenda was a second-year associate from the University of Chicago—frizzy red hair, wire-rim glasses, thin, intense. Like many younger associates at Rosen & O'Malley, she worked late most nights and was down at the office at least one full day each weekend.
She looked up from the draft as Lou turned to leave. A moment later, she leaned back in her chair with a wistful expression.
It was an expression Lou tended to evoke in women, and not just those who knew about his situation. He was a tall, good-looking guy who kept in shape by running four miles each morning and playing basketball in the bar association league. During a rowdy secretaries-only gathering after the firm's Christmas party last year, they voted his the best butt in the firm.
Butts aside, women loved his boyish smile and his intelligent brown eyes and the way his thick dark hair was tousled from a habit of running his fingers through it as he concentrated. But what charmed many of them the most was the vulnerability they sensed beneath that superlawyer persona.
As Lou reached the main reception area, he heard the unmistakable chortle of Ben Schwartz. The silver-haired partner was standing by the elevator with Cindi Shields, one of the firm's paralegals. She was giggling at something Ben had told her.
"Ah, Louis." Schwartz gave him a wink. "I was just imparting the wisdom of the ages to our lovely young Cynthia."
With his white handlebar mustache and bronze tan, Ben had the look of a well-groomed satyr.
"What's Ben's gem tonight?" Lou asked her.
She giggled again. "He is so bad."
Cindi had permed blonde hair, blue eyes, a perpetual tan, and a wardrobe selected to highlight her full breasts and long legs. Tonight she had on a short black skirt, a silky white blouse, black suspenders, and spike heels. The suspenders ran directly over the center of each breast.
Ben was grinning. "A riddle worthy of the Sphinx, Louis. Why do you need one million sperm to fertilize just one egg?"
Lou shrugged. "No idea."
Ben looked at Cindi. "Enlighten him, my dear."
She leaned toward Lou, brushing her right breast against his upper arm as she put her hand on his elbow. "Because none of them will ask for directions."
Lou smiled. Yet another from Ben's anthology of cornball dirty jokes.
Ben Schwartz had been at Rosen & O'Malley for almost fifty years. Now the firm's oldest partner, he was the polar opposite of Sidney Rosen, the founding partner.
Sidney Rosen, a brilliant Russian immigrant, arrived in St. Louis penniless in 1916 and worked his way through college and night law school. From the Depression years until a heart attack felled him in his office in 1967, Rosen had crafted corporate structures and estate plans of Byzantine complexity for his Jewish merchant clients. In the photographic portrait of him hanging in the firm's large conference room, Rosen stares into the camera, a thick cigar clenched between his teeth, his scowl amplified by the dark bushy eyebrows that joined above a tomahawk nose. The Sidney Rosen you saw was the Sidney Rosen you got: a shrewd and fiercely puritanical man who married late in life, never had children, and devoted his evenings and weekends to work on behalf of numerous Jewish philanthropic organizations.
By contrast, Ben Schwartz's principal "community service" was his term as president of Briarcliff Country Club back in the 1960s—back when it was the exclusive Jewish country club. Back before, as he once told Lou, "we shamelessly lined our coffers with initiation gelt from real estate developers, shoe peddlers, and other Galitzianers."
Though brilliant by even Sidney Rosen standards—between his Yale undergraduate days and his law degree from Columbia University, Ben Schwartz had spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar—he had long since decided that having the law as your mistress was far less appealing than having a mistress as your mistress. He entertained clients at the horse tracks and casinos, kept a stocked bar in his office, had been named corespondent in the celebrated Singer divorce, and had shtupped Judge Milton Abrams' wife Peggy every Wednesday afternoon in Room 402 at the Chase Park Plaza while handling a lengthy will dispute before His Honor.
Even in his self-described dotage, suffering from bourbon- induced impotence, Schwartz continued to escort the lovelier young paralegals and secretaries up to his secret "bachelor pad" at the Mansion House apartment complex overlooking the Mississippi River.
His erectile problems had not dampened his ardor. "I may not always have a hot dog," he once told Lou, "but I can still lick the mustard jar."
His wife Beatrice—a plump regal presence at charity balls around town—affected ignorance of her husband's philandering.
As Lou and the other two stepped onto the elevator, Schwartz explained that Cindi was joining him for dinner at Faust's in the Adam's Mark, just down the block.
And just across the street from your place at the Mansion House, Lou added to himself, remembering the weight of Cindi's breast against his arm. The younger lawyers hung around her office like dogs in heat, jostling for position and getting nowhere, failing to grasp that her target demographic was at least ten years older and several hundred thousand dollars a year beyond them.
Schwartz checked his wristwatch. "Louis, my boy, you calling it a night so soon?"
"Got a game in a half-hour."
"Ah, yes." Schwartz turned to Cindi. "Coach Solomon. The Connie Mack of the Little Leagues. Did you know that Louis named his son after his boyhood hero, Ken Boyer?"
Cindi flashed her 200-watt smile at Lou. "Really?" Lou shrugged, willing to bet his next mortgage payment that she'd never heard of Ken Boyer.
They said their good-byes on the first floor. Lou headed toward the front exit while Schwartz and Cindi headed toward the side entrance. Her giggle made him turn back. She was leaning against Schwartz as they walked, her high heels clicking on the marble floor. Schwartz placed his arm around her, and his hand came to rest on her swaying hips. As she passed through the revolving door into the sunlight, her breasts were silhouetted through her blouse.
Lou walked south along Broadway past the Old Courthouse and Tony's restaurant. The Arch shimmered in the early-evening sun. Ahead to his right stood Busch Stadium. The Cardinals were in town tonight, and most in the arriving crowd wore something red—red shorts, a red baseball cap, a shirt with the birds-on-the-bat logo.
He walked up several flights of stairs at the Stadium East Garage, brushing past the fans coming down, mostly families.
Lots of mothers.
Mothers with kids. Mothers with husbands.
He paused on the stairs, leaning against the rail, vaguely aware of people moving past him. It was as if a locked vault somewhere in his mind had sprung open. He started up the stairs again, forcing the vault closed.
Excerpted from The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn. Copyright © 2015 Michael A. Kahn. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsThe Sirena Quest,
Part 1: The Call,
Part 2: Picking Up The Scent,
Part 3: The Hunt,
Part 4: The Chase,
Part 5: Redemption,
More from this Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Michael A. Kahn in his new book, “The Sirena Quest” published by Poisoned Pen Press gives us a quest. From the back cover: The New York Times Sunday Magazine piece famously opened: “She has pouting lips and high round breasts. Thousands of men have dreamt of her. Hundreds have chased after her. Two have died in pursuit. Her name is Sirena, she weighs 193 pounds, and she vanished in 1959. Without a trace.” Barrett College’s legendary Greco-Roman sculpture’s fate was still a hot topic in 1970 when four roommates began their freshman year at the New England school. They’ve gone their separate ways for years. But as the 1994 commencement approaches, they are about to reunite to meet a challenge thrown down by a Class of ’59 hedge-fund billionaire. He has pledged a $25 million endowment plus a $3 million purse to her finder(s) if Sirena is restored to Barrett by June 17th, the date of his 35th reunion, the college’s sesquicentennial celebration—and our foursome’s 20th class reunion. Although they are not alone in their pursuit—groups of alumni, including a pair of aggressive and highly-financed classmates, are running down leads across the world—St. Louis lawyer Lou Solomon and his crew come upon an obscure but intriguing clue. It leads them to Chicago where a young lawyer called Rachel Gold may hold key information. As the men race to crack the Sirena puzzle, their quest will transform their lives in unexpected ways. Barrett College has issued a national challenge: Find Sirena, a statue that has been missing for 35 years, and restore her to the campus on the day of the college’s sesquicentennial. At stake is twenty-five million dollars. So four friends who graduated twenty years before hit the road on a journey of discovery. This is a journey not only of trying to find a missing statue but of what these men have become in their twenty years. “The Sirena Quest” is a character study that hums along at an even pace as these four men go about their exploration. Mr. Kahn has provided us with four marvelous characters that we really get involved with. Quite well done. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Partners In Crime. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”