Book: Ask the Right Question

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I waited awhile before I called Miller. To segment the parts of my life. Break it all down into more handleable pieces. I had another mug of tea.

I called Miller. That is, I called Police HQ and asked for Miller. Not there, but he had left the stuff for me. “Are you Mr. Samson? Sergeant Miller left an envelope for you. When would you care to pick it up?” I cared to pick it up immediately. I knew the desk man wasn’t Numbie. I could tell by the grammar. I was beginning to wonder what had happened to poor old Numb Nuts. I still don’t know. I guess I’ll have to remember to ask Miller sometime.

I picked up the folder from a clean-cut young cop who was filling in on the desk. I walked home, and on the way in I picked up the items I’d stashed next door.

I had a choice. Leander’s tiddly bills or the Immigration file.

I went for the Immigration file.

Annie Lombard; French, unmarried, aged nineteen at time of entry into the United States on April 17, 1954. Admitted as resident alien. Fingerprints enclosed. Address in United States.: 413 East Fiftieth Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. American Consulate in Marseilles stated she had proof of assets of over nine thousand dollars and that her fiancé, an American, had written a letter “guaranteeing” that she would not become a “ward of the state.”

In April, 1955, was the first notation that there was no record of an Annie Lombard having registered at a post office, or having left the country.

At that point Immigration had turned the case over to the Justice Department. They had found that she no longer resided at the address given and that persons currently residing at that address knew nothing about her.

There was a covering note stating the presumption that either she had left the country and her leaving had been missed clerically, or that she remained illegally. It also asked for any further information on this “missing alien” which the Indianapolis Police might have.

Altogether a fascinating document. Quite, quite fascinating, considering the information it gave as stacked up against the information I had.

There had never been “friends” at the address given. Only a bald man with curious neighbors. She had left the address in September, 1954, not later. And she had been pregnant.

But what happened to the lady? Left to go back to France? Or, sensing the Indiana winters, did she go to Mexico and then go wherever she was going from there?

And the baby? She was single, nineteen, monied and pregnant. Not usually a situation that lasts, intact, for the full nine months. Usually something gives, like getting married, or committing suicide, or blowing some bread to get rid of the bun in the oven.

I wondered just how pregnant she had been when she hung out the wash on Fiftieth Street.

Altogether quite fascinating.

I went to the jacket pocket that contained Leander Crystal’s income records. I went through each sheet quite carefully. There weren’t all that many, and while I can’t claim to know what each item was, I was more adept at picking out what it wasn’t. What each one wasn’t was rent from the Fiftieth Street property.

Which wasn’t conclusive of anything. I had no way of being certain that the records were complete or that I necessarily would have spotted rent income.

But after I went through them I was pretty sure. Sure enough to do some speculating.

Like, maybe Annie Lombard had a friend in Indianapolis after all.

But why? how? and miscellaneous other questions pertaining to the establishment of the establishment. The best question of which was the pregnancy. I knew one landlord who had not caused it.

I let it go for the moment.

I started instead on Leander Crystal’s debits from before 1956.

I’m better on debits than credits. I was able to do quite a bit of positive classification. A pile of household bills, and department store bills, and tax bills. I was surprised just how unusual and outstanding the checks to Jacques Chaulet had been. They had seemed much more ordinary to me the last time I had gone through the canceled checks. I had to conclude that I was developing more skill with practice, more ability to sort out the usual from the unusual in canceled-check line. I realized how dumb I must have been not to pick out twenty thousand dollars’ worth of checks to one man at the beginning.

Even so, now I could class by date and by payee just what each thing went for. Like a puzzle. The things that were not blatantly ordinary centered on the house on Fiftieth Street, the trip to Europe, and the trip to New York during which Eloise was born. The house economics I had been through before: the purchase, the remodelings and the apparently rent-free status for all occupants since Crystal’s purchase.

The European trip gave me a little more. They had blasted nearly nineteen thousand dollars in six and a half months. That seemed a trifle high to me for 1953–54. I wondered how easy it was to drop that kind of pocket change. I wondered if they had made any fantastic purchases. I wished I still had the letters Eloise had so graciously brought once upon a time; I wanted to go over Fleur’s letters to her father. I didn’t remember any suggestion of beautiful things but maybe I hadn’t been looking for that sort of reference. What you notice depends so much on what you want to see.

I would have been glad to take a look at the item-by-item breakdown of that expenditure, but there wasn’t any. All that was separate was a check for traveler’s checks for $17,000 and a check to Matador Travel Agency for $2,941.91. That one had me too. Bit steep for plane tickets, yet not a lot for extended hotel bookings for six-plus months. Maybe tickets plus some hotels. Fair enough.

Matador had done some good business with Leander. The New York trip came through them too. September, ’54. The check was dated the fifth, and paid out $307.52. That seemed high too, tacked onto a check to the Essex House Hotel for $4,102. But some folks live in style. And at the Essex House you can do just that. I figured from September 6 to November 15 made about seventy days. OK, nearly $60 a day, not bad. But a fellow begins to wonder.

In the process of wondering it occurred to me that Chivian had probably come along for the trip and I felt a little better. Three people can eat a lot more than two.

Hmmmm. Chivian.

At 10:12 I hit the phone. For Lafayette, Indiana. I felt like talking to my daughter’s doctor.

He answered it himself. His voice was fresh, not sleepy, and he didn’t sound annoyed. I wondered what he was doing and what he had been expecting. Then I realized that the man was a doctor and what I was hearing was the professional voice.

“Good evening, sir,” I said in my best nasal high-pitched voice. “I’m sorry to bother you at this hour, but I am Harrison Fall, of Fall’s Wigs and Falls, Inc. We are a long-established wig concern and I wondered if you would be willing to have one of our salesmen call at your home or office to show you what I believe is a quite unique line of men’s wigs.”

“No,” he said, “I have everything I need along that line.” And he hung up.

I had quite a nice line in mind. It’s called the wet-mop style. It may come off in times of violent head motion, but if it does it is guaranteed to leave a clean head.

It had been my best bit of deduction in months.

I had a vision; more than a vision, a vision with sound. The bastard laughing at me, that long howl, with his hand upon his head.

But all things need checking.

It wasn’t late but I had a lot of weighty stuff on my mind. Like hair. Annie’s American fiancé, a bald doctor, perchance.

I perused the canceled checks for a while longer but came up with nothing, I settled for it, and at midnight I called it a day.

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