Book: Ask the Right Question

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A siren howled, but not for me. About a quarter after three. No day left hardly. My mind wasn’t much refreshed either. Just enough that from the office I got a manila envelope, a looseleaf ring binder, a hole punch and a pair of scissors.

The envelope I filled with the pictures I had perused so fruitlessly in the morning. From their various drying locations I gathered the duplicate set that I had made in my early morning zeal. I congratulated myself on my zeal. I flattened the copies and punched holes in them to fit the binder. Then I cut the names and addresses off the records, and grouped them by person in the binder. I numbered each person’s records.

If I couldn’t read them, maybe a doctor could. Fishman was not the only doctor in town. I had a doctor of my own. How simple life is! Take the records to Dr. Harry and let him read them. All it would take was money. And a prayer, so to speak, that there was something on them to read.

I called Harry, but spoke to him only through his nurse. “What’s he doing? Making dogfood out of one of his patients?”

“No, Mr. Samson,” said the nurse. I’ve talked to her before. She took my message to her boss and brought me one back in return. I would drop off the binder at his home. He would read them for me tonight.

I wrote a note to attach to the binder. I asked him to go over the records and look for “anything unusual,” whatever that meant. These were the records of a general practitioner and his son for a family of patients.

Before I left, I wrote an equivalent mental note for myself. What I want you to do is …

Is what? It had been about twenty-four hours since I had thought explicitly about what I was trying to do—find the father of Eloise Graham Crystal, born November 1, 1954, in the city of New York.

What things could I do that hadn’t been yet done? How about going to New York? I had lived in New York for a number of years. My child had been born there. Very interesting, but what could I find out in New York? Maybe Eloise’s real father had visited Fleur in the hospital. Would there be records? Would a nurse there remember him?


I could go to Europe and try to locate the conception spot. Where in Europe? Probably near the grave of Joshua Graham. How near? Ten miles? One hundred miles? Oh, yes, very useful. I could find out more exactly where and when they had been in various places in Europe. How? Ask Fleur? Not if she had the secret we presumed she did. Ask Leander? But how do you go up to a stranger and ask him for the itinerary of a sentimental trip he made seventeen years ago? “I’m writing an article.…” If he were gracious he would laugh.

Or maybe they had sent picture postcards. Mail. Mail to Daddy. Distinctly possible.

Distinctly on cue, Eloise Graham Crystal, client and juvenile, teeny benefactress, entered the office. She seemed to be becoming the punctuation for my workday.

She saw me in the back room as I saw her come in. She made straight for my personal quarters.

“So this is where you live,” she said, not quite admiringly. She sat in what I consider my dining-room chair—it has wide wooden arms on which I balance plates and glasses. “So much junk,” she said.

Fresh from sleep and idea, I chose to not to defend the artifacts of my life. Instead I got to work. “I’ve thought of something you may be able to do,” I said.

“What?” Her eyes were still wading through the room. I waited impatiently till she found me again. Just another piece of junk.

“Do you know where your grandfather’s records are? Not his business records, but things like personal letters?”

“Yes, I think so. They’re in some shoe boxes in the attic.”

Are you sure?”

“Mummy used to take me up there and show me them. I told you. All kinds, like from her brothers and from her. And old ones from people she says were important. I think he kept every letter that he ever got.”

“I need to see them.”

“All of them? There are boxes and boxes.”

“I guess as many as I can, but mostly from your grandfather’s later years and from the war years. Like the 1940’s from your uncles and from 1952 and 1953 from anyone. Do you think you can get them?”

Me get them?” It was just sinking in.

“You’re the only person I know with easy access to the house.”

“Couldn’t I, like, just let you in and you get them?”

“Are you afraid?”

“I don’t know. If I get caught, I guess so.”

“Aren’t you in a lot better position to explain it if you get caught than I am?”

“But it seems … Oh, well. When do you want them?”

“When can you get them?”

“Tonight I guess. But I can’t take them out in the morning. You’ll have to meet me tonight. I’ll get them out and you can meet me.”

“What time?”

“I guess about eleven thirty. I’ll go out to the back and between houses. I’ll meet you at the corner of Jefferson and Seventieth.” She took a breath and giggled. “You’ll recognize me OK. I’ll be the one carrying boxes.”

“Of course.”

She stood up crisply and came to stand in front of me. She had just come to check in and now she had gotten lumbered with duties.

“Are you making progress?”

“I think so. But those letters will help.”

“Will you find my biological father?”

“If he can be found I’ll find him, or tell you how.” Rashly.

“Good,” she said. “I’m tired now. I have to go. Actually, I don’t have to go, but I want to go. I came to town to do some shopping. See you tonight. Don’t be late.”

I had been looking up at her and feeling uncomfortable. She bounced away, and out of the office door. I frowned and wondered if I was incorrect in believing her skirts were getting shorter. Growing shorter before my very eyes.

I looked through the door after her for several seconds. I was having a peculiar reaction. Unease at the notion of a client breezing in and out at her will—to check up on me.

She was a client, fine. She had paid me, in advance, with the sizable sum of eleven hundred dollars. Her problem was a legitimate one, concerning as it did her own legitimacy. All well and good.

But on the other hand Eloise Crystal was just a kid and nobody, especially a free-lance personality, likes to be responsible to a kid.

But I knew she was a kid when I started.

Did I? Or did I see the young adult she had wanted to appear? Or did I see a job that was out of the ordinary? Or did I see a job, period, as opposed to none?

I was remembering that I had assumed, presumed, a very great deal. Basically because I wanted to, and possibly for reasons I didn’t want to tell myself about.

If we were coming down to it maybe I was seeing more in my client than business. Me getting hooked on a kid? That would be a twist. But who knows how flexible one is?

I got up and stretched. I rubbed my face. I went to the sink and splashed some cold water on my face. I did all the things I do when I am on a tack I don’t like.

It helped a little. When in trouble, go back to basics. Good basketball sense. I tried to figure out what it was that I wanted me to be doing.

Finding a father, right?

Because a kid did some blood tests, right?

I was embarrassing myself. What a hideous confused undirected mass I had become. I had broken into Fishman’s office to get confirmation of the blood tests, and I hadn’t even tried to find the blood types.

And I knew I wasn’t going to either. It was a measure of my state of mind. I went to my pantry and took out a half-full bottle of mediocre bourbon. I also keep a bottle in my desk drawer for form’s sake, but I usually get bluesy in my living quarters. I took a long belt. Scratch the day.

I went to the note I had written to Harry. At the bottom I added, “And find me the blood type for each of these too, if they’re there.”

Then I went back and had another crack at Poppa’s baby bottle.

Isn’t a detective allowed to get depressed?

Especially a detective who lives alone?

I realized that it was after dark and I had not been out of doors all day. That has an effect on a fellow.

I gathered my coat and burden of medical records and departed.

I drove very slowly. But it still didn’t take very long to get there. Spann and Spruce. It’s not really very far from where I hang my boots at night. Usually I like my world condensed. But not that night. Why couldn’t I have a nice doctor living far enough away that a fellow could sober up before he got there? By driving slowly. Why didn’t I have Fishman for a doctor? He was good and far away.

I was still upset, about my episode at Fishman’s.

Ah, well, we all have things we cringe at when we recall them. You just try to avoid thinking about them.

I was studiously not thinking about them when I arrived at Dr. Harry’s.

“Phew! You smell like a still.” It was Evvie, Harry’s wife. She has a sweet tongue.

“These are for Harry,” I said proffering my ring binder of medical records. Worthless fruit of a fool’s sally. “I called him about them. There’s a note.” I smiled to be friendly.

She pinched them between her thumb and index finger and held them so they didn’t touch her body.

“Are you catching?” she said.

It may be hard to believe but we are all good friends.

“I’ll give them to him,” she said. I just stood there grinning like the fool I felt. “So go away!” she said. “Shoo! He’ll call you.”

I showed her. I left.

I got in the car, rolled down my window and drove off. Slowly.

I had a decision to make. Having dropped off my package, getting into the air, on the road, had cleared my decks somewhat. But I still needed some activity for the evening that would let me out easily to pick up the letters at eleven thirty.

I considered calling Eloise and telling her to forget the eleven-thirty business. To bring them in the afternoon.

I decided not to. Because I figured that I would want to look at them before the afternoon and because, somewhat more refreshed and charitable as I was, it occurred to me that she might have difficulties getting out except in the quieter parts of the night.

So. The Pacers or my woman. I called my woman.

Sweet thing that she is, she told me not to bother if I was going to leave before eleven thirty. And she’s right. We have a working understanding about business; it doesn’t fit. Hers or mine.

Pacers it was.

Until I arrived at the Fairgrounds Coliseum and deduced from a ticket stub in the street that the Pacers had played their second game of the season Friday night. This was Saturday: no game. The locked doors and darkened lights helped confirm my conclusion.

It broke my heart.

I went to see dirty movies at the Fox instead. What else can a fellow do to pass a lonely Saturday night?

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