Book: Ask the Right Question

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Late to bed, and late to rise. I had sort of hoped to be able to take a few side trips. My mother’s parents came from the territory between Lafayette and Indianapolis. Kokomo, but more specifically such metropolises as Camden and Deer “Crick” and Flora and Delphi. Where she grew up, Logansport was the big city. You know, where the city slickers come from.

But I had no time to stop and renew acquaintance with the land of my origins. I had to hustle to get to Chivian’s Lafayette office by two.

His office was not merely an office, however. But a clinic with doctor’s name riding high. One Crystal thing must have led to another. The cat was doing pretty well.

My golden-voiced secretary was a disappointment. I hadn’t really thought she would be. I had prepared myself for a beast, or possibly, outside chance, a beauty. But no. Just an ordinary old Hoosier lady of about thirty. Definitely middle-of-the-road.

Until she spoke, of course, but I was a little too nervous to admire her vocal qualities. I had trouble following the things she said.

Like “Mr. Keindly?” It nearly threw me. It was not said with a great sense of recognition, and I had been thinking of other things.

So I nodded.

“Doctor will see you when he’s finished with the patient he’s with. Will you take a seat please? It’ll only be a few minutes.

I was alone in a strange waiting room. Somehow one always expects to be sitting along with other people in a doctor’s waiting room. I idled away the time with magazines. One has to be very careful about a doctor’s magazines. They have the usual picture, entertainment and news publications sprinkled around, but the nitty gritty of the magazine budget goes for medical journals of various sorts which then do double duty in the waiting room. If you’re not very careful you will pick up one of them and find yourself reading about the types of cancer commonly found in children and how little there is you can do about three-quarters of them. Not highly constructive for parents bringing kiddy-kid to see doc-doc about that lump-lump on his head.

Or for detectives who haven’t seen their daughters for a long time. I go on record against cancer in children.

A very attractive brunette-type broad left what I presumed to be the doctor’s chamber. She was about the same age as my secretary, but everything that I had hoped my secretary was going to be. As the door closed behind the brunette, I turned back to the lady at the desk. It gave me the opportunity and motivation to evaluate her face, the suntan makeup pancaked over the pimple scars.

Then our eyes met. An extraordinary thing happened. “As a matter of fact, they’re from chicken pox I had when I was eighteen.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was, terribly. “Would you come out with me tonight?”

She held up her left hand, a finger of which bore the answer to my question. Her intercom buzzed.

“I am a fool,” I said.

“Yes.” she said. “Doctor will see you now.” The doctor’s door opened and Henry Chivian strode out, right hand extended.

“Mr.—um, Keindly, I believe. I’m Doctor Chivian. Come in, won’t you.”

I came in. Chivian was average height, but with a dark, real tan, bushy eyebrows and a thick head of black hair. He moved back to his desk quickly, almost ruthlessly. There was something about him.

I spent a few moments looking around the office, a prosperous office of a modern cut, but with a medical degree framed at the right, in the position on the wall which is a medical compromise—where both patient and doctor can look at it. So I looked at it. University of Oklahoma, January, 1943. I didn’t know by how much, but that made him older than Leander Crystal. He didn’t look it.

The rest of the office, books on an open shelf, some cupboards, quite trim, and a few pictures on the top of the bookshelf below the medical degree. One an Army picture, two others, both of the doctor with other men, apparently in distinguished settings. I couldn’t quite make out what. But I didn’t have a lot of time.

The doctor was looking businesslike. “Mrs. Rogers says that you have some sort of male problem, Mr. Keindly. That can cover a lot of ground.”

“I want to be frank with you, Doctor. I didn’t come to see you about myself. I have a rather delicate problem and I hoped that you could help me solve it.”

His lips curled into a slight smile. Perhaps he liked delicate problems. He sat back, the better to enjoy. “Go on.”

“I have a feeling you’ve guessed,” I said. “but I’ll say it anyway. My daughter has gotten herself in trouble, I mean pregnant. I hoped that you would help us or send us to someone who could.”

“But why do you choose me to come to? Surely no one is going around saying that I do abortions.” The trace of a smile remained in place. And I was getting information.

“No, but a friend of mine, well.… The thing is that we’re pretty desperate. Lucy, that is, my daughter, left it kind of late to tell us about, and we don’t really know much about this sort of thing. We never expected … that is, we spoke to a friend and she said that she didn’t know but that you were a nice doctor, and that you might conceivably help us, or tell me where we could go to get help.”

“How exactly did Lucy get herself in this kind of trouble?” He let the question dangle for a moment, wading in the implications. But he stepped out just as I was about to tell him about the hayride I unwisely let little Lucy go on in the spring. He said, “I mean, didn’t Lucy know such a thing might happen, or is she the type of girl who is quite careless with her affections and her defenses?” Oh, he was enjoying it all right.

“I wouldn’t say that,” I said.

“Now, Mr. Keindly, surely you are a worldly enough man to have realized that nobody’s daughter is safe in this world of the flesh, surely not without education, preparation and warning. Surely you could at least have shown her how to use a diaphragm, just in case, or pills or something.”

I was rapidly coming to feel uncomfortable in the guise in which I’d come to the man. But that was like locking the barn after the horse. The same type of help he was offering Lucy.

“All the regrets in the world can’t undo what is done,” I said. “Will you help us, or will you not?”

“You are absolutely right, absolutely.” He took his prescription pad and spent several moments writing a couple of lines. He tore the top sheet off, and folded it and extended it halfway toward me.

“You are right, Mr. Keindly. And I am sorry if I have seemed unhelpful. I’ll help you, all right. I’ve written on this page the name of a man who should be able to offer you some assistance. His office may seem a little seamy, and he may come after your daughter with sharpened coat hangers and—” He cut himself off by dropping the paper on the desk in front of me and leaning way back in his chair and laughing.

Loud, vulgar peels of laughter, through which he had to hold the top of his head. He frightened me. But loud noises and nonsequiturs usually do.

I picked up his prescription for my problems, and opened it. It read:

Albert Samson
Indianapolis, Indiana
U.S.A. World

The bastard knew all along who I was.

There are times in this business when all the words in the world cannot express exactly what has gone on in the shortest period of time.

There was nothing I could do but wait until he had had his laugh. Usually I try to be a good sport, but it is a fairly well-established fact that I do not take big jokes on me all that well. Leander Crystal’s last chance of buying me off went up in gales of laughter in Lafayette, Indiana, that afternoon.

By the time he was snuffing to control himself I was looking at his pictures. One was not of him at all, I didn’t know who. One looked like a newspaper shot of him receiving a plaque or something from somebody. And the third was of the doctor in his full-dress Army uniform. There was something wrong about that picture. I didn’t know what.

Chivian had just cooled down; I was heated up.

“Nice little joke, Doc,” I said with my best Bogart voice, and my best Cagney stare.

“Well, I’m sorry, Samson. But I’d been warned you might come around and I’ve been checking the names and addresses of new patients against the phone book and a Lafayette address register. Mr. Keindly had neither a phone nor an address. I would have let you go on, but I just don’t have any more time today to see how a real private eye works.” He was smirking, the bastard.

“At this point do you answer questions or do you play cute?”

“It should depend on the questions, I know. But I have to balance the fact that I have nothing in my life to hide against the balls you have coming here to ask me questions at all.”

“It depends on how good a friend of Leander Crystal’s you are.”

“Does this mean that you are accepting his offer?”

“Not necessarily, but you have already answered that question.”

“I know.” He sighed. “I had hoped for some style from you, Samson, but all I get is two-bit games. Leander and I were in the Army together. We kept in touch, and when he settled in Indianapolis, he invited me to try it too. I did and became his family’s doctor. After a while I decided I wanted to open a clinic in the area, he helped me get the loan, we got a good deal here and here I have remained. I go to Indianapolis, usually once every other week, to see Fleur. Then I play golf with Leander in the afternoon. Sometimes I don’t stay the afternoons. Is there anything else you want to know? If so, please make it brief. I have patients waiting.”

“Nothing else,” I said.

I got up and left the room, closing the door quietly behind me.

There were no patients in the waiting room. There was only Mrs. Rogers.

She spoke as I walked by. “Did you give him the good time you had in store for me? He needed it. He’s been pretty nervous the last few.…”

I didn’t hear the end of her solicitude. I had closed the outer door, and at the same time she had stopped talking. I heard the echo of laughter as I went out to my car, but that might just have been my imagination.

I drove like hell to get back to Indianapolis. Combination of mood and circumstances. If Leander Crystal had friends like that, I figured he didn’t need enemies. In the first half of the trip I also thought up many other novel notions.

But I was relaxing some by the time I got to the city. It was pushing five, and coming into town during the rush hour going out made me feel better. More reflective. Reflective enough to figure out what had been wrong with that Army picture. Basically nothing. It had not lied at all. It must have been when Chivian was something like, thirty years old, what with medical school and all.

Nearly thirty and with a receding hairline. Much more recessed than it was today. I realized why he had had to hold onto his head even during his moment of triumph. The bastard was bald, bald as an egg.

Bald, one might say, as Leander Crystal. The Doublemint twins.

I laughed aloud from Kessler Boulevard all the way to Thirty-eighth Street, no mean distance. And I only stopped then because I was getting tired and a traffic cop looked at me kind of funny.

The rest of the way in I figured out that without the wig and the tan Chivian would look pretty much like Leander. Superficial description anyway. Chivian a little taller, and a little heavier and a little older. And a lot nastier.

Somehow I didn’t figure Crystal for the nasties. It was as if Chivian were sort of the poor relation, the pale imitation, the crude Crystal.

And it passed through my mind that they might be more closely related than friends; a notion I decided was worth a little effort. I made a note.

I had no traffic all the way home.

But I had had heavy traffic at home.

The mail was on the floor as usual, and I ground it into the floorboards as I came in. There was something of interest, a letter from the New York Birth Certificates Office.

But other things were riot right. My office desk drawers were open. The same at the desk and bureau in my living room. I always close my drawers all the way. It’s not something I am careless about in my dotage.

I had had little visitors.

I went to my files. They do not lock. I’ve never needed a lock.

I opened to C. The Crystal file was missing. The folder containing the negatives and the prints so kindly supplied by the officers of the law, as well as my Fishman records and Graham letters.

I was nearly in shock. I ran back to my office desk on which there resided one beautiful, gorgeous, exquisite set of prints of the Crystal office papers, in ten organized piles. My working copy. Sitting on the desk, beautiful and gorgeous, and ready for work. If I needed anything else to get me down to business, this was it. What a ridiculous game—two grown men playing “let’s raid each other’s office!”

My only salvation was that Crystal had not known that Miller gave me two sets of prints, not one. And I thanked Crystal for his added message: there is something in them. I presumed my visitor was Crystal.

I opened the letter from New York and examined the birth certificate of Eloise Crystal. Delivering physician was Henry Chivian. Surprise, surprise.

That certificate started the new Crystal file, and a picture of it started the new safety file which would remain undeveloped, on film, and hidden. Unless needed.

I sat at my desk and addressed an envelope to Leander Crystal. Into it I tearfully put his check for fifty thousand dollars. I had the passing thought that instead, I should ask him for lots more. What would he do?

But that would be immoral. Of course, if I were bothering about things moral, the proper thing for me to do would be to keep quiet, drop the case and send the man back his money anyway.

If I cashed the check, under any circumstances, I would have felt guilty. Not that one cannot adjust to living with guilt.…

I almost put Chivian’s prescription in the envelope as well, but thought better of it. It was a sample of the handwriting of the man. Instead I took a picture of it and dropped the original in the file with Eloise’s birth certificate. It might be a clue. And Leander wouldn’t need it to enjoy the report of my adventure in Lafayette. Probably he was already getting that.

I paused for a thought. The mail was where it should have been when I came in, but the drawers were not. That either meant that my visitor was more careful about putting the mail back where he found it than he had been about the drawers, or that the mail came after my visitor.

Odds on the second one. Mail usually comes about two. Crystal had decided to have the stuff picked up this morning. Before I’d seen Chivian. That was curious. And meant that Chivian had called him, probably the night before, to tell him that a Mr. Keindly was coming, but no one knew where from. And Crystal had decided that this meant that I was not to be “reasoned” with.

There were a lot of presumptions, indeed. It was possible that it was not Crystal who had taken the Crystal file. But I had a hard time coming up with an alternative. Except maybe Eloise. But why?

Ugh. Too much. I gathered the remaining set of my precious photos, and went sleuthily downstairs, and to my neighborhood drugstore. There I bought up all the rolls of black-and-white 35 mm film he had, along with some potato chips and a Table Talk rhubarb and apple pie. I returned to the office.

I started my evening by taking pictures of all the pictures I was lucky still to have. When I had finished popping pics, I hid the undeveloped films under my mattress and started to work seriously on the Crystal records.

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