Book: Ask the Right Question

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I sat in front of the Indianapolis Star in the browsing area. Once I tried to get them to subscribe to the Morning Telegraph. For the theater reviews, I said, and movie reviews. I don’t know how far it got, but either the seventy-five cents a day or the fact that it really dwells on the ponies killed it. I thumbed through the Star.

I mulled through my own case while I skimmed the world’s cases. I perused my notes.

Then I migrated to Arts where I acquired the New York Times microfilms for September I through December 31, 1954. I began to skim them. A lively era. Lots of Presidential golf.

The Times is inordinately long for a newspaper. So soon after I began, I stopped. Not only was I increasingly sure that miscellaneous bodies didn’t make news in New York, but I was also convinced that this was not my kind of work. Damn it, Miller was going to do it for me, more efficiently and probably more rapidly.

By starting to do the crap myself, I was just being impatient. Very childish. Who was being the kid now? Good old Albert. How could I knock a poor sixteen-year-old kid for having a childish streak, when I had one myself. When everyone has them. I felt a moment of tenderness for her.

Then I reminded myself that it’s the quantity of the childishness, not its existence, that counts.

I realized I was dissembling.

I put the microfilm away, back in its little boxes, and turned the viewer off. I tried to think about just what the hell I was doing and what I should be doing.

I tried to ask myself some pertinent questions. Like, Big Al, what are you meant to be doing?

It occurred to me that I was initially hired to find the biological father of Eloise Crystal.

Had I done that?

No, in all likelihood I had not. I’d found lots of other things instead. Half people and like that.

Hmmmm. Now that I thought about it, no half people at all. Those were just halves of round-trip tickets. That just meant one-way tickets.

One-way tickets. I pictured a rather slight, rather pretty little French girl walking around her apartment in New York, now, this afternoon, fifteen years later. Probably married, no doubt long over the details of how she got there in the first place. Well dowered, totally oblivious to the curiosity of the hack detective in Indianapolis who was trying to work out just where she was, just how she got nine thousand dollars to show to the consulate, and how she related to the real question that he had been hired to answer in the first place.

I picked up my notebook in one hand, and the pile of Times microfilms in the other, set off for the Science and Technology Division on the west end of the second floor. I almost forgot to drop the microfilm off. Such was the state of my absent-mindedness.

In Science I got down to basics. I picked out a book with the index entry “Blood types—inheritance in humans,” page 297.

On Page 297 I was treated to the following:

“Children’s blood types are limited by the blood types of their parents.”



blood types

blood types

O and O parents can have O or A children

O and A

O or A

O and B

O or B

O and AB

A or B

A and A

O or A

A and B

O, A, B, or AB

A and AB

A, B, or AB

B and B

O or B

B and AB

A, B, or AB

AB and AB

A, B, or AB

OK. The Fleur and Leander I was interested in had B and O blood. That meant they could have B or O children.

And Eloise had A blood. So she was not their child.

I knew that already.

But something else bothered me. The table didn’t distinguish between the parents.

I read on.

“Blood typing has been used as evidence in legal cases of questioned parenthood since 1935. Blood types are ‘exclusive’ tests; that is, they can not prove which two people did conceive a child, but they can prove that two people did not conceive a child. Used in conjunction with other evidence, they are often useful in establishing the correct biological parentage, especially since the identity of the mother is not normally in question. By themselves blood tests cannot distinguish the genetic contribution of the mother from that of the father, nor can it identify all the people who were in fact not parents of a given child.”

It was enough. No, it was too much. All the facts in the world won’t do a thing for you if you don’t interpret them correctly, if you don’t separate fact from presumption.

I got madder as I was putting the book back on its shelf. That’s because I remembered a little part of a twelve-day-old conversation I’d had with Dr. Harry: “The adults cannot be the parents of the child.”

You got to keep awake in this world.

I walked the seven blocks home. I picked up my car. It was still pretty early and there was driving to do.

I made good time out to Broadland Country Club. I’d been over the road before and I was impatient.

After I drove in the gate, I parked in the space closest to the door to the clubhouse. I recognized the lot attendant, the same one who’d been on duty my last visit. I neglected to exchange nods with him.

Inside the door was a desk with a buffalo on duty. I told him to page Leander Crystal. I gave him my name. He asked if I’d been invited by Mr. Crystal. I said I had.

At least he hadn’t told me, “Mr. Crystal is on the golf course.” I wondered if Crystal was still keeping up his extracurricular office on the south side. In his place I didn’t know whether I would give it up or not. Maybe he was actually spending more time playing golf. I wondered if his scores were getting worse.

Crystal’s face, as he came from the inner recesses to meet me, showed that the pressure was on.

“It is you,” he said. His face was less simple than his sentence.

“Who did you expect from the name? You got some perverted friends who like to play practical jokes on you?”

“Yes,” he said simply. “What do you want?”

“That’s not very friendly to a fellow who has come all this way from town to give you another chance to buy him off.” He looked dubious. “At a bargain price,” I said. “C’mon.”

“Where is there to go?” I was beginning to think the man didn’t like bargains.

“Not far. To my car. Then we’ll drive outside the front gate and park on the road. Then I’ll ask you some questions and if the answers are right I’ll bring you back here and vanish from your life.”

“And if they’re not right?”

“Then you’ll probably kill me and I’ll vanish from your life.”

“Kill. You?” He shook his head and sighed. For an Army guy he seemed to present a pretty consistent notion that he wouldn’t do anybody any harm. He’d said something like that before, in my office. I had it in my notebook. It’s one of the things that induced me to trust him. No, not trust. It gave me the predisposition to justify what he had done, up to a point. Maybe Le Chatelier’s principle applies: forced to kill in war—would never kill in peace.

I hoped.

“Surely,” he said, “surely it is I who have more to fear from you than the other way. Even physically. Why do we have to go in your car?”

“Because there’s not likely to be a place we can talk here in private, and even if there is I prefer to be on my own turf.”

“No tape recordings?”

“I must come across a lot fancier than I feel.”

We went to the car.

Outside the club I parked where I’d parked the last time, by the golf course.

We faced each other, each back against a door. The way you do in a car when you’ve been poking the other party where the other party doesn’t want to be poked.

“You lied to me,” I said. “I don’t like that.”

He shrugged. He was not as I had seen him before—neither efficient protector nor tired family manager. Somewhere between, maybe a little nasty.

“What do you want?”

“All of it.”


“The whole sordid story. You can do it yourself with question and answer period later or we can do an interview. Either way, if I get it all I’m probably off your back; if I don’t—” I paused, trying to think whether it would be gentlemanly to threaten him with putting IRS on his tail. He read the pause as a threat, but an undefined menace. If I had thought of it I would have done it intentionally. I liked it.

“You ask questions; I’ll see if I like them.”

I sighed. I was still not sure we were making progress.

“I’ll start cozy,” I said. “With a few yes-or-noes. You are Eloise’s father?”

“I told you.”

I sighed. I had wasted so much time and effort—all for the lack of the right question. Not “who is Eloise’s father?” but “who is Eloise’s mother?” I didn’t feel in the mood to waste a lot of time now. “This one will show you the ball park we are in. Eloise’s mother was Annie Lombard, was she not?”

I had regained his attention. Recrystallized my position. He squirmed as if the handle of the car door was rabbit punching him. Then he said, “Yes.”

“All right. You see progress has been made. Who was the father, the biological father?”

But the progress was limited. He didn’t answer the question. He waited a few seconds, then said, “Just why the hell should I talk to you? Just what the hell do I have to gain from telling you anything?”

“That depends,” I said.

“On what?”

“On what the whole story is. I don’t want anything from you, Crystal, except the truth and some reason to believe you will love and care for Eloise for the next few years. If you are straight, and if I find out what I want to know, then I will return you to your country club, to your golf, to your secret office and to your whores, and I will leave your life forever.”

“As simple as that?”

“As simple as that. I am assuming that such a deal will appeal to you if you are not a wicked man with violence in his past. I believe you are not actively wicked, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“Wicked,” he mimicked me, and tried to laugh. “OK, what do you want to know?”

“Who is Eloise’s father?”

“I am.”

“Wasn’t that a bit sticky?” He paused. I continued. “In Toulon, with your wife there?”

He shook his head in what I took egotistically to be wonderment.

“We needed a child,” he said.

“To conform to the terms of Estes’ will.”

“But Fleur is sterile. She can’t have children. I can’t tell you what learning that did to us.”

“Chivian conducted the examination and tests?”

“Yes, I knew him from the Army. We were both—” he stopped again. But I could imagine. They were both young, ambitious. It would be impossible to reconstruct how much planning had gone into their cultivation of Joshua Graham, how much agreement there had been to share any progress either made up the money ladder.

“So you imported Chivian?”

“Yes. After four years with Fleur I knew we had trouble. I knew I wasn’t sterile. It was driving Fleur crazy.” He was talking more easily. “We couldn’t let Estes know about it, and there weren’t too many places in the world he would let us go that we could also do what we had to. In the Army Chivian and I could get most things done. So we went back to see some people we knew there, in France. When we got to Toulon, we looked up Jacques Chaulet, and after a while Jacques found Annie.”

In a sense I was blackmailing the man. The story was an emotional one. It was costing him.

“It seemed so clear then,” he said. “Anyway Jacques found Annie. She was just what we were looking for. Unattached and without prospects. Jacques had known her family. Her father was dead. She was burned by the bomb that killed her mother. You can imagine some of the things she’d already been through late in the war and after it. She’d already had illegitimate twins, so we knew she was fertile.”

“She was perfect,” I said.

He nodded. “So for convenience, I impregnated her. We figured that if I was the father the child would be more likely to look like us. Annie doesn’t look much like Fleur.”

“Not many women do,” I said uselessly. It was an emotional story for me too. Lots of wild, conflicting feelings, but a few of them favored Leander Crystal. “What then?”

“Once we were sure Annie was pregnant we all came back. I set Annie up in a house I have—”

“On Fiftieth Street. Mrs. Forebush’s house. I know.” I was showing off, but information that had come so hard …

It registered, and reinforced his resignation.

I asked, “Who was the bodyguard?

“Bodyguard? Oh, I see. Chivian lived with her.”

“Lived with?”

“Separate rooms. We never took advantage of her.”

I thought of the pictures in his pornography collection, but I let it pass. In no way could it have been easy for them all those months. Not for Annie or for the Crystal conpirators. The time had to be passed.

“What did you pay her?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”

“And Jacques?” I knew, but I was already crosschecking the story.

“Twenty.” Check.

“Weren’t you afraid of Jacques?”

“I was. But Chivian has some information on him which he said would keep him in line. I don’t know what it was but I haven’t heard from him, except once offering a business deal.”

“And did you take it?”

“No. It was illegal.” With dignity.

“What about Chivian?”

“We have a long-term arrangement. I helped set him up and I give him an annuity. It hasn’t been excessive. He knows that the money is Fleur’s and that he lives at least as well as I do.

It was time, yet I hesitated. My hole card.

“And the Swiss account? Does Chivian have one of those too?”

He shook his head. He rubbed his eyes, his wrinkly forehead, and then his temples.

“You know,” I said, “or do you, that I have another set of prints of the pictures I took in your office.”

“I didn’t know. But I can see now that you must have.”

I sidetracked. “Did you steal your file from my office or did you have it done?”

He smiled weakly. “I did it myself.”

“You missed my second set of pictures sitting on my desk.” I didn’t tell him about the set Miller had kept. I didn’t think that he would like my telling him that anybody else knew about any of this. “Why did you steal the file when you did?”

“Chivian insisted. When you made that appointment to see him he was sure you had decided not to take the money.”

“Were you sure?”

“No. I didn’t like it, but there is something about you.” The biggest ego boost of my day. “I thought we should wait awhile longer.”

I said quietly. “When did you plan to leave?” We both knew I was talking about his Swiss cache again.

“Not for a while. Not really till Eloise was older.”

“Would you ever have told her?”

“All this?” He laughed harshly. “No. Never. I love that child, as much as I can love. This is not the kind of thing one tells one’s daughter. Under ordinary circumstances.” Right, but neither is she an ordinary child.

“Was Fleur really pregnant?”

“You may not believe this, but I don’t know.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“You have to understand that things have changed over the years. Some sort of bond has grown between my wife and Henry Chivian which I would never have imagined possible years ago. We get older, I guess. I do know that he had been treating her with fertility drugs.”

“Without telling you?”

He gave a little laugh. “Yes. That’s an example of his idea of a joke. I’m never there when he comes to see Fleur. And he comes every week or two.”

“And the miscarriage?”

“If she was pregnant, then she had one. I am sure that whatever the truth, Fleur thought she was pregnant. She takes everything that he gives her.”

“But Chivian doesn’t know about the money you have tucked away?”

“No. I would be getting away from him as much as anybody.”

“Leaving Fleur to him?”

“She’d still have lots of money, which he likes. He’s still a doctor, which she likes. I don’t know.”

“What happened to Annie?”

“She went back to France to live on her money. Jacques was supposed to look out for her.”

“Tell me what happened in New York.”

“After Estes’ funeral we all went to New York because Fleur couldn’t stand to stay. We would have gone soon anyway. Fleur was going crazy having to dress up in a pregnancy costume whenever she came out of her room. The worst was when the old man wanted to feel her belly for the baby. Really quite hideous.”

“You went to New York.”

“So we went to New York. We checked in, with me and Annie as Mr. and Mrs. Crystal, and Fleur and Henry as Dr. and Mrs. Chivian. When Annie’s time came, she went to the hospital as Mrs. Crystal; Henry delivered the baby. After a couple of weeks Fleur and Henry and I, and Eloise, came back to Indianapolis. And Annie went back to France.”

“The Immigration Department has no record of Annie leaving the country.”

“I don’t know anything about that, but she did leave. We bought her a ticket.”

As if that guaranteed it.

“OK,” I said, and prepared to drive.

“OK what?”

“OK, why don’t you go and play some golf and I’ll finish up a few odds and ends and let you know.”

He shrugged and became a passenger. “I still don’t understand,” he said.

Nor was he alone. “Think of it this way. You feel better now that you’ve got it all off your chest, right?”

No,” he said.

I dropped him in the parking lot at Broadland.

I drove home slowly. I felt almost too certain the man had been telling the truth. It’s not safe to have confidence in people. I might have been more skeptical had he answered my questions in the commanding manner he had used in all our previous exchanges. But apparently resigned and in my own model ’58?”

I wanted very much to believe him, because getting truth from him would mean that I had paid him back for underestimating me.

But I wasn’t happy. If I was playing revenge, it was really Chivian that I wanted. But more than that I was becoming aware, for the first time, that the case was nearly over. I would take the information Crystal had given me; I would check some of it, somehow. It would check. I would go my way. It made me feel tired. It made me feel poor.

I indulged myself with a little daydream. Convinced that Albert is an honorable man, Leander Crystal decides to make Albert the free, spontaneous, unstringed gift of fifty thousand dollars.

And Albert takes it.

A nice daydream, based on two equally unlikely events.

I would run straight to the bank and draw it in cash. I would buy my little girl the biggest, baddest teddy bear in the whole world.

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