Book: Ask the Right Question

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It was half past eleven. I had lunch and I spent the bulk of the remaining office hours serving papers. I was doing it very cunningly. Very efficiently. I was nearly halfway done with a four-day job in less than two days. I really regretted taking the job, but what’s a fellow to do?

At four thirty I was on the east side, a little past the Fair Grounds on Thirty-eighth Street. I called Miller. And found him in, as usual. But cheery.

“I’ve got a case, Al. A decent real case. Extortion. I guess somebody had too many to keep for himself and decided to let poor old Miller have a crack. I’ll be out of the office for a while anyway. Most of the time. You were lucky to catch me in.”

“You won’t need me to confess to trespassing then, good.”

“This might be a break. What can I do for you? I have some records here. Army, hometown police, Lafayette police, and medical association. I’ll leave them for you.”

“Thanks, but before you go, could you do me one more? I’m looking for a lost alien. Could you ask the Department of Immigration what they have on a young female alien, I don’t know the name, but who lived here at 413 East Fiftieth Street from the spring of 1954 to maybe September of 1954. The address is the last one known for her. They sent a man asking for her for five straight years after ’54.”

“That’ll be the Justice Department, Al. Not Immigration.” He paused. “This is the same case, is it?”

“Yeah, it’s the same case. What’s the matter? You getting a little touchy about handing out your favors now that you are a big lieutenant?”

“I’m not a lieutenant yet, Al.”

“As I am only too aware. Get the stuff for me, will you, Sergeant?”

“Oh, hell. Sure.”

“And make it snappy. I wouldn’t want to have to put in a bad word with your captain.”

He laughed. “My captain, huh? Gartland wouldn’t understand you if you did talk to him. You talk good English.”

I said, “Good luck.” And I hung up.

Being out east, it seemed a waste to drive straight home just to go get the Chivian files from police headquarters. But I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I compromised and stopped at a store for some unshelled walnuts. Then I drove home enjoying for the second straight day the drive against the general flow of rush-hour traffic. I split the difference, and parked halfway between police headquarters and Samson headquarters.

With a pocketful of walnuts I headed for the cops. But all my plans were in vain. Numb Nuts was nowhere to be seen. My gift stayed in my pocket. I picked up the files and headed home.

On the street I cracked a couple in my hand, and picked out the nutmeats. It’s not hard to do them in your hand, but after a few your hand begins to hurt. Why bother? I left the rest for later, maybe to scatter across the floor to surprise a burglar in case I had night visitors or something. Or to save. I’m not all that keen on walnuts. I had more gentle work to save my hands for. Turning pages. And pages and pages.

Which I did all evening. Not even a call from my woman dissuaded me. My loving woman.

Man, that’s dedication.

It was files night at Samson’s.

First Chivian’s Army record. It located his birth in New York City in 1915. A war baby. He had been drafted as a doctor in 1943. He had served in the same outfit as Leander Crystal and Joshua Graham. The only notation of interest was that he had “appeared as a witness at the inquest following the death of Private Joshua Graham.”

He had no New York police record. And no record in Lafayette. No unusual information from the medical association, in which he was a member in good standing.

At least I got his home address. And the information that he was not married when he joined the Lafayette AMA. No indication if he ever had been. He joined in 1957. The year he told me he moved to Lafayette.

Not exactly a pile of information. But I was not daunted. I went on to the nonfinancial piles of Leander Crystal.

In a move of infinite craft, I decided to hit the piles in the order I figured would be easiest to understand.

I started with the money. I had pictures of several of the bills. Enough to see they were most likely in sequence. Hence new. With my magnifier I estimated the number of edges. I made it about seven and a half thousand bucks, if they were all twenties.

Then I hit the pornography. Not that I expected a great deal from it, but I had decided to go with what was easiest to understand. Which didn’t turn out to be quite that. I mean I’m not that sure that I understand pornography.

But I did notice one thing. Although I had only taken pictures of half the stuff—and it lost a lot in the transition from color to black and white—it was clear that not all of it was professional. Some was, but other pictures were just snapshots of naked ladies. Enlarged to the same size as the others, but just pictures. Almost portraits, if the enlarger had been a little more scrupulous about getting the whole head on each print.

The personnel varied. Except for one of whom there was a series of pictures. Profiles. A rather frail lady, with an increasingly protuberant midsection.

I could almost feel the camera being held by a balding man of about forty, give or take a few years. My only problem was figuring out which of the available balding men of that age was squeezing the shutter.

I let it go, thinking only of how willing my lecherous old gentleman would be to identify one of these pictures.

OK, granted it was my missing alien tenant.

Could Leander have been the gentleman of the house? I mean could he have been? Was it possible? What about his other family? Or was I left with Chivian?

Or with someone else.

And then I thought about the high shrubs and electric garage door device Leander had put in. I had nasty thoughts about two bald men and a frail pregnant foreign lady.

It was worth a break. I had some dinner.

When I moved back across the room after a quick pair of sandwiches I decided to let the wicked rest. I took instead the photographs from Crystal’s scrapbook. I used to keep a scrapbook. I figured it might not be too hard to understand.

A slight underestimation. Mementos are fine, if you know just what they mement. I spent about an hour going through pages and pages of the early entries: ticket stubs, programs, paper clippings, official letters, less official notes in French, and pictures. All more or less from the wartime, maybe a little before and a little after. The only general notion I got was that the man had been a fairly fast liver. The notes in French were sweet.

There were no references to anybody that I recognized, apart from Eisenhower and Churchill.

The war had been an active, exciting, expanding time for my juvenile delinquent from Ames, Iowa. But it didn’t help me much.

The later entries made more sense. He had clippings that I had seen in the Star, for instance. Plus a couple I hadn’t seen from the News, the Star’s afternoon brother. Only on rereading about the marriage did I realize how much older than Fleur Graham Leander Crystal was. When he first came to Indianapolis in 1946 to go to Butler’s Business College he was twenty-six years old. Fleur was sixteen. He had been halfway around the world, had seen all there was to see in a war, and from the clippings and letters, he had not limited himself to the bullets and strategy aspects.

She had seen nothing. Was, from the accounts I had, a relatively quiet, relatively awkward little girl.

Enter Leander.

A love match.

The phone rang. I picked it up and expected the party himself.

“Mr. Samson? This is your tax man.” The words were spaced to emphasize their meaning. “I received today a parcel from you. I wondered if you could give me some rather more specific instructions about its contents. There is a great deal here, you understand. And if I know what I am looking for it will help me approach things.”

“I understand your problem, but there isn’t a lot that I can do to help you.”

“Perhaps if I am a little more specific. Can you tell me if we are looking for tax fraud, or evidence of fiscal mismanagement, or money going to mysterious places which might be evidence of support of a mistress, or what?”

“I need to have some indication, first, of what each entry is. No need to make detailed counts of money spent yet. I don’t know quite what I am looking for, but the first step is the identification of each entry. If it will help any, I am most interested in the period of time around 1953 and 1954.”

“All right. I’ll try to identify that time and work on it first. Perhaps if you could, you will come by tomorrow. Say early afternoon. By then I shall have gone through matters once and perhaps we will be able to define the problem more specifically.”

“All right.”

“You will take precautions, if you believe them necessary, to make sure you are not followed. I understand that there is some danger.”

“I’m not absolutely sure of that, but I shall take precautions.”

“Good. Good night.”

Good, maybe getting better. The tempo of life seemed to be picking up. I was excited again. Still.

Excited enough to face, again, piles of pictures. From the scrap book I got a little more. A few things having to do with young Eloise. And then the pages sort of thinned out. I got the idea that the book itself was a relic of a more exciting, perhaps less mature period for the man.

I went on. Pictures of miscellaneous papers. Junk mail: most of the loose papers in his desk drawer had been very miscellaneous indeed. I found nothing in it.

I came to his address book. Which turned out to be women. Forty-two of them. Which gave me something to think about. There is no telling when they dated from. But that was not an evil number over fifteen years.

The many secrets of a man. I didn’t know what to do with so many secrets.

But it occurred to me that the number itself told me something. That they were all or mostly professional. No man in Crystal’s financial position could have that many free girlfriends without having paid at least the price of gossip. And any gossip would have gotten back to Maude. But Maude had given Crystal a clean gossip record. Q.E.D.

I recalled the clothes in his office. An orderly man—not prone to scandal. And willing to go to some expense to avoid it. And trouble too. I wondered if he wore his Secret Office Wig when visiting his Secret Ladies. It sounded like surprises from cereal boxes.

I decided to call Miller.

He was there, but the stuff I wanted wasn’t.

“Look, Al, they’re only human, even at the Justice Department. If you had the name I might have had it, but the earliest it will be in is tomorrow. Give it a rest, will you? I only sent it out this afternoon.”

He was right, of course. I had forgotten that it was only that afternoon that I had asked him for the information on my missing alien.

A bad sign. A bad sign. Losing track of time. I put my stuff away and headed toward the bed, by way of a sleeping pill. I don’t take them often. So when I do—Boom!

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