Visitors

Rosemary was just beginning to put all of the events associated with Harry’s death into perspective when she first met Adam Sennett in the courtroom. Since then she had been trying to arrange an appointment with him to discuss the rather disturbing information Harry had left for her, and perhaps close another chapter in her new life. However, the county clerk always seemed to be too busy to see her.

After her announcements and directives at lunch, Rosemary’s household sprang into action. Madeline found out that same afternoon that Jason would have been able to meet with her on Monday afternoon, but she would be returning from Dare County at that time. He was not available to see her on Tuesday or Wednesday, but they could get together late Thursday afternoon. She really did not like anything about Jason and she had the sense that he was probably doing this just to annoy her, but she agreed reluctantly to meet him at 4 p.m. on Thursday. When Madeline told her the arrangements for the interview were complete, she asked also if Rosemary would like her to sit in for the interview. This served as a gentle reminder for Rosemary that, as Harry’s marketing person, Madeline had been in on the management of Harry’s image for years, and was probably familiar with a great many details that Harry had not shared with his wife.

“Yes, dear.” Rosemary said. “I think that would be best. And please feel free to add any information you think useful.”

When Jason arrived at 10 minutes to four on Thursday, Rosemary greeted him as warmly as she could manage before Madeline and Jason launched into an extended discussion of an editorial he had written a few days ago. Madeline was obviously flattering him shamelessly, but, large ego that he was, Jason seemed not to notice. He just accepted her ingratiating comments as the simple truth. Finally, his ego seemingly satiated for the moment, he turned to Rosemary and said, “I understand you have a story for me.”

“Yes” Rosemary said, and began to lay out the details of the carefully orchestrated plot to create and manage the public image of Harry Mueller, miser and anti-philanthropist. As she spoke, Madeline would occasionally interrupt briefly to add a detail here and a nuance there. But after they had been speaking for about ten minutes, sharing copies of memos and cancelled checks and other evidence with him, she began to get the impression that the story was not having the intended effect on Jason. In fact, he seemed to become increasingly annoyed. Finally, he held up his hand and said in what Rosemary thought a rather harsh tone, “I appreciate what you are trying to do here, Mrs. Mueller, but what do you expect me to do with this information?”

“Well. I was hoping you might want to do a story — a kind of expose about ‘the real Harry Mueller.’ The man behind the mask, that sort of thing. It’s an exclusive, We haven’t discussed this with anyone else. . .”

Jason’s loud guffaw could only be described as sarcastic and mean, Rosemary thought, and revealed the full measure of the cruelty of the man. “Listen. I appreciate what you are trying to do here. I really do. Grieving widow stands by her man. That sort of thing. But you’re forgetting. I knew Harry Mueller.”

He paused briefly, measuring his words.

“So you think I ought to write a story celebrating how I and the rest of the news media were hoodwinked for years by someone who most of my readers think was two steps short of Satan himself? You think I ought to tell them that I was duped and in turn fooled them, and how that he was actually a saint? How the great Harry Mueller was actually a decent human being, an actual credit to the community, not to mention a generous and anonymous philanthropist?”

“Is that what you think? Even if I wrote that story — which I’m not about to — how many of my readers would believe it? Do you think a few photocopies of what you claim are original letters to recipients of this supposed largess are going to convince anyone? Do you really think that if I assigned one of my reporters to this, it wouldn’t mean the end of their careers? That they wouldn’t be laughed out of town?”

“But,” Madeline interjected, “We can show you the originals. There is much more evidence like this than you could possibly . . .”

“Forget it!” Jason snarled. “If you think I’m going to write this story and in the process reveal that I and every other reporter in this town were played for fools by this . . . this . . . this scoundrel . . . It isn’t going to happen.”

“Now, unless you’ve got something else more newsworthy for me, Mrs. Mueller, I need to be somewhere.” And turning to Madeline, he said, “I’m really disappointed in you. I really thought you were better than this.” With that he turned and headed for the door, leaving both women sitting in stunned silence. Madeline broke the silence first.

“I don’t know what to say. This is not at all what I was expecting.”

Finally, Rosemary regained a measure of composure and said with perhaps too much vigor, “He is such a vulgar man; a truly vile human being!” Then, after another long pause. “I think we need to let him stew on this for a few days and see if he doesn’t change his mind.”

In the weeks and months that followed the fateful conversation with Jason Seltiz it became clear that there would be no apologies or change of heart from him. Nor would The Daily Eagle and Advertiser be printing any exposés or post-mortem profiles of the life and times of the real Harry Mueller. Less than a week after his meeting with Rosemary and Madeline, a prominent, well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles died. Tacked onto the end of the standard obituary that the Associated Press distributed to newspapers across the country, The Daily Eagle article added a paragraph detailing how different this man had been from that absurd local scoundrel, Harry Mueller. From that point on every time that the newspaper printed a story about rich men, philanthropy or even business practices, one or more sentences would be included casting Harry Mueller in a bad light. The lesson that Rosemary drew from this was simple: Never get between a newspaper man and the journalistic formulas he upholds. Once the myth of Harry Mueller was created it was set in stone and there was no amount of evidence, argument or complaining sufficient to dislodge it. She could only hope that if she made enough evidence accessible in as many ways as possible, at some point in the future some enterprising reporter might discover the truth for herself, or some historical researcher might hit upon the truth and, as a byproduct of a dry, scholarly monograph issue a news release or do a press conference unveiling the truth behind the myth of the man.

Two days after the fateful interview, Madeline was still hopeful that Jason Seltzer would call to apologize or as Rosemary had suggested to discuss the story further or perhaps continue the interview. But this call was not from Jason. It was a number she didn’t recognize, and the voice that responded when she answered was also an unfamiliar one.

“This is Detective Tom Horton. I’m with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation,” the voice said. “I need to arrange a time when I can come and speak with Mrs. Rosemary Mueller. I was told you might be able to help me arrange that?”

“What’s this about?”

“I would prefer not to discuss it over the phone. Let me just say it is in connection with an investigation.” he said. “Is Mrs. Mueller there?” Madeline said that she was not, but she agreed to check with Rosemary when she returned and to get back to him.

“The police? I wonder what they want to talk to me about. Tell him that anytime tomorrow would be fine. Have we heard anything further from Jason Mueller?”

“No.” At this, Rosemary turned and said, “I’ll be in my room until dinner.”

Rosemary turned the problem over in her mind, but she could not figure out why a police officer — a homicide detective, actually — might wish to talk with her. She kept coming back to the ‘mystery’ of Claire. She didn’t see how it could be anything else. Harry’s first wife, Claire Mueller, had been deeply unhappy during her brief marriage to Harry, Rosemary knew, and quite possibly mentally ill before and after the marriage which had ended with her widely reported ‘death’ from a mysterious illness. In all likelihood, she was what was then called manic-depressive, and what today is called bi-polar.

Harry and Claire had been a perfect mismatch from the start. Claire was a party girl; a real gold-digger, who made no secret that she was out to marry a rich man. Harry, on the other hand, even though he was well on his way to making his enormous fortune, was anything but a handsome, dashing man about town. Quite the opposite. In fact, to his parents’ generation, he would have been called a “stick in the mud.” After nearly a year of dinners, dances and movies, Harry needed to be coaxed to propose to Claire, and she had been more than willing to do the necessary coaxing.

Even at the start, people said, Claire wasn’t actually unhappy married to Harry. She was just bored. She was a free spirit, who genuinely loved night life. At first Harry appeared really smitten by her, and the long nights of drinking and dancing and partying with Claire’s friends were an interesting departure for him from his normal, staid, life. When her behavior would became more and more manic, he would turn more and more away from her to his business affairs, while Claire spent more and more nights away from what was supposed to have been their happy home. Years later, he told Rosemary, “I was too young and naive when I married Claire. The marriage didn’t work mostly because of me, and I’m not going to make that mistake again by neglecting you.”

Rosemary never knew for certain whether Harry knew the full extent of Claire’s ‘adventures’ as she called them. If he did, he never discussed them with her. She also didn’t know the full details of what had actually happened to Claire. After about eighteen months of marriage, Claire had been diagnosed with a malignant and rapidly advancing tumor and three months later she was dead. The funeral received saturation coverage from Jason Seltzer’s newspaper and all the various radio and television stations in town.

What none of the media knew, and Rosemary had only learned this week from June’s explorations of Harry’s files, was that all of this had been another ruse. “Oh, Harry!” Rosemary had said, “Why did you have to create all these mysteries? I don’t know how many more of this I can stand.” Harry had been furious when he learned the full extent of Claire’s infidelities, especially when his private detective Marvin Gardiner showed him the photos and gave him the reports of Claire with his own attorney, Edward Graham. There had been an angry confrontation between the two old friends, but Edward had been very contrite, apologized profusely and they had eventually reconciled. Ever the shrew businessman, Harry had decided that the news gave him a hold over Edward, who was really a very good lawyer — too good to lose — and so things had continued until Harry’s death.

Edward, the rainmaker of their firm while John was the firm’s civic presence, was more than grateful to retain Harry as a client, even though their friendship remained strained, was willing, even eager to work out the details of Claire’s ‘death’. In exchange for a generous financial settlement, she had agreed to disappear permanently; to change her name and appearance, move out of Ohio and never again approach or have any contact with Harry, any of her other boyfriends around town, or anyone else connected with her married life as Mrs. Harry Mueller. She was never to refer to the marriage, under threat that the financial support would cease permanently. Edward knew that she had moved to Las Vegas, lived a completely fictional life as the widow of a war hero, and eventually married a high-living New York real estate operator. The couple settled in a Palm Beach, Florida mansion, where Edward continued to mail the monthly checks from the trust fund for her that Harry had set up as part of the arrangement.

Meanwhile Harry had arranged a lavish funeral and burial for “Claire Mueller, beloved wife” which was attended by all of the leading figures of the community. Ever the philanthropist, Harry had arranged with the local coroner to substitute the body of an unidentified corpse from the County Morgue, thus saving him from burying a casket of rocks, and saving the county the expense of another burial in the local potters’ field. The coroner was willing, even eager, to cooperate, not only to get one more body off his hands, but also in grateful acknowledgement of the gift of two pieces of laboratory equipment that Harry paid for. “What’s the harm?” the coroner told his wife. “That poor woman gets a decent burial, and the county gets a much-needed electron microscope and spectrometer.”

Rosemary turned the problem over in her mind, but she could not figure out why a police officer — a homicide detective, actually — might wish to talk with her. She kept coming back to the ‘mystery’ of Claire. She didn’t see how it could be anything else. Harry’s first wife, Claire Mueller, had been deeply unhappy during her brief marriage to Harry, Rosemary knew, and quite possibly mentally ill before and after the marriage which had ended with her widely reported death. In all likelihood, she was what was then called manic-depressive, and what today is called bi-polar.

Harry and Claire had been a perfect mismatch from the start. Claire was a party girl; a real gold-digger, who made no secret that she was out to marry a rich man. Harry, on the other hand, even though he was well on his way to making his enormous fortune, was anything but a handsome, dashing man about town. Quite the opposite, in fact. A generation earlier, he would have been called a “stick in the mud.” After nearly a year of dinners, dances and movies, Harry needed to be coaxed to propose to Claire, and she had been more than willing to do the necessary coaxing.

Even at the start, people said, Claire wasn’t actually unhappy married to Harry. She was just bored. She was a free spirit, who genuinely loved night life. At first Harry appeared really smitten by her, and the long nights of drinking and dancing and partying with Claire’s friends were an interesting departure for him from his normal, staid, life. When her behavior would became more and more manic, he would turn more and more away from her to his business affairs, while Claire spent more and more nights away from what was supposed to have been their happy home. Years later, he told Rosemary, “I was too young and naive when I married Claire. The marriage didn’t work mostly because of me, and I’m not going to make that mistake again with you.”

Rosemary never knew for certain whether Harry knew the full extent of Claire’s ‘adventures’ as she called them. If he did, he never discussed them with her. She also didn’t know the full details of what had actually happened to Claire, but what she did know

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