Book: Ask the Right Question

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I would not have believed how much unintelligible information can be packed onto 1,241 pictures. It took me till past eleven to realize that financial records are not my strong point. I mean, I knew it all along, but it took a long time to realize that meant I should start elsewhere. As with my doctor pictures, it might well be most efficient to leave them to an expert.

Conduct an audit, what a fetching idea. Only I didn’t know anyone who could do it. So I called Maude. Maude knows people who will do anything.

“Berrrtie! How the hell are you? I was just this moment picking up the phone to give you a ring. You know, shoot the breeze a little.” When she is tired that is her notion of a fabulous lie. Maude virtually never talks anything but business.

“I need a name, Maude, someone to go over a lot of financial records and tell me what they mean.”

She thought for a moment and said, “I presume since you are calling me you want a person who can keep his mouth shut.”

“Very shut.”

“Very? Is there likely to be some heat on him?”

“I don’t know how likely. But I’m beginning to think anything is possible. I have some records, you see, and I would very much prefer that nobody knew I had them.”

“Well,” she said, “I have a man who does a lot of things for me, but he is probably pretty high for you.”

“How high?”

“Like fifty to get in the door.”

“Will he do it on a contingency basis? Say, a hundred, plus more if he gets hustled? I don’t really think he will be.”

“He’ll do it.”


“Name is Andrew Elmitt, 4552 Park Avenue. Phone is, let me see, Humbolt 6–9292. Send your phone number with the stuff. Special delivery if you want it done fast. He’ll call you a day or two after he gets it.”

“I don’t want anybody getting blackmailed if there turns out to be anything there.”

“Your mind is too florid, Berrrrtie. Elmitt is completely reliable, and besides I’ve got enough on him to get him into prison and tax manipulator’s heaven.”

“Fair enough. Now all I have to worry about is you.”

“A good point there. I’ll call the gentleman to check, and tell him to expect a package tomorrow. If I don’t call you back in ten minutes, it’s on.”

I spent the ten minutes trying to figure out how likely Maude was to try to blackmail someone. But I guessed that it wasn’t really likely. At least 4 to 1 against.

After another five I decided to call Miller. No more sitting around on my butt trying to figure the most delicate way to do things. I was for action now.

Miller sounded tired and bored. Poor man, I try to bring a little spice into his life but he doesn’t always appreciate it.

“So, you’re really stuck on going ahead are you?”

“Yeah. You got that name right? Chivian, Henry, MD.” I spelled it for him, even the MD. That’s what I mean about the spice. It isn’t everybody who’d do that for a friend.

“All right, all right. But what I want to know is what I get out of this.”

“You get the first police information about any illegal doings. You get it all.”

“Is that before or after you sell the story to the papers?”

“What do you care, if you get that big bust that propels you into the lieutenancy you desire? By the way, I have something else that might interest you.”

“Oh.” He didn’t sound interested.

“Somebody came in and stole the lovely pictures you had made for me.”

“Oh, yeah? They get both sets?” He still didn’t sound interested.

“No. I was lucky. They were looking for one set and the negatives, and that’s what they got, plus all my other records.”

“Well, as it happens I had a set made for myself. If you accidentally burn up the ones you have left you can borrow mine.” So that’s why he wasn’t interested. He had already been interested enough in my case to keep copies of everything. Army files; police records. Very nice. What a nice gentleman.

He continued. “Anything else? I haven’t got time to fuck around with you on the phone.”

“I know,” I said. “You’ve gotta get home to the wife.”

For some reason he hung up on me.

It’s like with food. There are just some people who can take spice and some who cannot.

I had asked him to get me Army records on Chivian and when he found out where he lived before the Army, police records. Maybe Ames, Iowa?

I gathered the financial piles from my Crystal collection and put them in a small envelope. Then I put the small envelope in a larger one and addressed it to Andrew Elmitt. I covered it with stamps, wrote “Special Delivery” on it with a blood-colored crayon from my animal-drawing set, and went out and mailed it.

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