I jumped on the dead air to start my own line of questioning. "On the phone you said you'd been given a few things that were found in a police evidence locker—that belonged to a relative of yours?"
"No, they belong to a relative of yours. Maybe I should just start from the beginning."
I resisted the urge to pull out my phone and start recording the conversation.
But before Mr. Rich could begin, our coney dogs were plunked down on the table in no particular order. We slid the plates around to their proper owners. The men across from me bit into their dogs. I began to cut mine with a knife and fork, eliciting a you-gotta-be-kidding-me look from Linden.
"I've been reading the Free Press over the years," Mr. Rich began, "and I kept seeing your byline. I don't know if I would have noticed that all those articles were by the same person if I didn't have a connection to your family name."
I nodded to let him know I was tracking with him.
"And I got to thinking, maybe this Elizabeth Balsam is related to the Balsam I know. It's not a real common name in Detroit. I don't know if I'd ever heard it outside of my own association with a Nora Balsam. Now, is that name familiar to you?"
I speared a bit of bun and sopped up some sauce. "Sorry, no. I don't think I know anyone by that name."
Linden lifted his hand up to his father as if to say, "See?"
"Now, hold on," the older man said in his son's direction. "You said yourself she looks like her."
"I'll admit you do look like her," Linden said. "But—no offense and all— you do kind of all look the same."
I laughed. As a white person in a city that was over eighty percent black, I was used to occasional reminders of what minority races had to contend with in most parts of the country. I didn't mind it. It helped me remember that the readership I served wasn't only made up of people just like me.
"I wouldn't say you're the spitting image," Mr. Rich said, "but there's a definite resemblance in the eyes. If you had blonde hair, maybe a different chin, it'd be spot-on."
I took a sip of water. "I still don't know who you're talking about. Or what this meeting is all about."
Mr. Rich shut his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah, we're getting ahead of ourselves again. Now, you know well as anyone lots of things have gone by the wayside in this city. We got too many problems to deal with them all.
Well, I been looking for something that's been lost for a very long time. I knew the police had to have it, but you try getting someone on the phone who knows what they're talking about in an organization that had five police chiefs in five years. And I get it. They got way more important things to do than find some old bag collecting dust on a shelf." He paused and smiled broadly. "But I finally found it. Got the call a couple years ago and got it back—and a bit more I hadn't bargained for." He tapped the bag on his lap, still miraculously free of coney sauce. "This camera belongs to Nora Balsam. And I have a box full of photographs for her as well."
I realized I'd been squinting, trying to put the pieces together in my head as to what any of this really had to do with me. I relaxed my face and tried to look sympathetic. "And you think I'm related and I therefore can get them to her?"
"That's what I hoped."
I wiped my already clean hands on my napkin. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rich, but I think you'll have to look elsewhere. I've never heard of her."
The old man looked disappointed, but I was relieved. I had bigger fish to fry and a deadline that was breathing down my neck. I didn't have time to courier old photos to someone. I glanced at my phone. I didn't even have time to finish lunch.
"I'm so sorry not to have better news for you. But unfortunately, I have to get going." I started to pull some bills from my wallet.
Linden held up his hand. "It's on me."