Quantcast

Friday, April 29, 2011

THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD

     We will speak tonight of friendship. It may not have as many syllables as some words, but what it lacks in sophistication it more than compensates in importance. I am convinced that friendship is as dear to humanity as water. One can technically live without either (my own water comes carbonated and is mixed with what Coca-Cola calls "the compound") but it isn't much of a life. 
     Certain people, and I may be one of them, have on occasion tried living the life of a hermit. I have lived the overwhelming majority of my life in that self-imposed condition, despite at least one marriage  and a vast number of concubines. That is to say, I have emotionally cut myself off, many times, from the rest of humanity. Everyone does this now and again, but I admit that I have done it willfully and often, and with some regret.
     At present I live with my best friend. Her name is Lisa Ann and if you are a frequent reader of this blog, you have crossed her name before tonight. We have been best friends since April 17, 1986, which puts it somewhere around twenty-five years. I will grant that there were times during that quarter-century when she could not stand the mention of my name within ten miles of her own presence, and I as well have on rare occasion been less than exultant with her. But for the most part, she and I have kept one another amused and enlightened for longer than many people have been alive. And this is strange to me because I am a hermit and she is a butterfly.




     Lisa Ann loves to mingle with interesting people. She walks into a room of strangers, listens politely for several seconds, then bounds into the most promising conversation going with gusto and nonchalance. This type of behavior fits her quite well and no one ever seems to think it odd. What people do think odd is me. I walk into the same exact room and immediately wonder what the hell I am doing there. I stand up against a wall with a drink in my hand, only to be approached by youthful and lovely people who are dying to ask my opinion on all matter of politics and religion, and I stare back as blank as an X-Ray machine from World War I. Lisa Ann, sensing my discomfort, stutters out a high laugh and informs those swelling around my person that I am far too erudite for my own good. Well, I reply, I am too something for my own whatever. This inanity draws measured chuckling and thoughtful puffs on foreign cigars and soon enough I am either the hit of the party or else I have been properly banished to the kitchen where the maid can always use a hand with the silverware.




     But, yes, we were speaking of friendship. For someone who has been a dedicated recluse for days, weeks, months, ad infinitum, I do love my friends more than anything or anyone else, including lovers, muggers and thieves. Whenever I receive a correspondence from someone I knew in high school or college, even if they are attempting to collect on an old debt, I am all the same mesmerized and freed up inside in a way I have not been on a regular basis since many years ago when I lived in the state called Ohio. To mention a recent example, just this morning I received a note via Facebook from a wonderful person who I knew as Paula Reichelderfer but who is now known as Paula Hopper. She reads this blog sometimes and gave me a very useful suggestion for one of the articles, one which I hope lived up to her expectations. The interesting thing, though, was how excited I was to hear from this young lady, someone I last saw on the day of my high school graduation. She has always been a fascinating person who enjoys laughing as much as anyone I have ever met. But I think that what delighted me so much about her sending that note was that for a few minutes there I was figuratively back in Ohio, back at the age of seventeen, back in some silly classroom, paying more attention to the curve of young ladies' legs than to the teacher's instructions, and the feeling I had for those few moments was the greatest thing in the world. You have had that feeling yourself, no matter who you are. The difference, I suppose, depends on how you deal with it.
     I try to live every day just that way. All of the great friends I've had (and often not deserved) walk through life with me every day, at least, to the extent that they are never far from my conscious mind. As anyone who has ever known me can attest, I tell more than a share of stories during conversations and it is invariable that over the course of an evening I will bring up some episode in the life of a friend who I may have last seen yesterday or thirty-five years ago at graduation.
     It is possible that all this chirping about friendship is so readily obvious to the rest of the world that anyone reading this may be caught in mid-yawn. If so, I hope you will grant me just a few more moments because I feel you will be glad you did. There is a reason why as children we are so transfixed with elements of magic. Some grifter pulls a penny out from behind our ear and we think the man is a genius and long to learn his methods and ways. I think that this is why many of the friendships we have as kids hold such a fascination for us long into adulthood. When we are kids, we do not think much about why we like someone or to what use our friendship can be put. We simply enjoy the person's company and could not explain why even under duress. When the friend or friends come around, we get silly inside and don't care at all how ridiculous others may see us. But as we age, we sometimes calculate. We think about what we are doing, about our social interactions and to what aims these activities can be put. As a result the magic we felt as children is missing. We stare into photo albums or randomly wonder what this or that person from our better days is doing with his or her life. And we relive the taste of that special magic that happened when we weren't thinking much about it, when all we knew was that things were right and would never end. 
     This is why the best films tend to have some sort of "buddy" angle. Movies are nearly as magical as friendship, if not quite as real. So when we think back on a favorite film, the odds are excellent that friendship and all its many offshoots will be a huge element. I bring this up now because in the days ahead I will be sharing some of what I consider to be the best films I've ever seen. I invite you to think of your own and to comment as you feel comfortable. 
     Until we meet again, mon ami, take care.


     Phil

PRINCE WILLIAM TAKES A DRUG TEST

     Today's post was inspired by a suggestion from a wonderful friend named Paula Hopper. 




     All week I have been listening to the TV media harp about how embarrassed they are to be covering the Royal Wedding. You know, Prince William married Prince Harry or something. I don't understand all the details. In any event, all these media folks have just gone on and on about how they wish they had been covering some serious news, and yet, there they are, in Merrie Olde Englande, 'aving a spot o' tea wit' the Queen, 'er Royale Majesty, waiting for the bride to stumble on her way outta Westminster Abbey Road Scholar and all that other gibberish. 
     Kinda makes me wish I still got high. I haven't imbibed in many a year, and don't all you young folks out there go reading anything into what I'm about to say here, because you already know better than us old farts what's going on anyway. So, here's the tie-in and the reason I made the point way back at the beginning of this fine journalistic article to thank the wise and wonderful Paula Hopper for giving me the idea. You see, if ever there was a great argument to be made for the legalization of not only marijuana but every mind-altering substance known to man and/or woman, this Royal Wedding Thing would have to be it. 




     So here comes the payoff: Clearly the only way to truly fathom the social-historical-political-comical-totally unimportant aspects of this Empire Building Soiree of Matrimony between yon fair Commoner and His Royal Dorkness is to be stoned to the gills and greased to the fins, meaning that if we are to be subjected to hourly updates on the Nuptials of the Century, the least the bloody networks can do is to make house-to-house visits insuring that every last viewer has an ample supply of Instantly Legalized Columbian Redbud Supremo. After all, it is widely known that Willie, as they call him back home, is a big time pot head, that he loves nothing better than to get nekked with Princess Whatshername and toke from one in the morning until two in the afternoon while all the Buckingham Palace Guards blush from the sheer embarrassment of it all. And if that sort of wild-eyed teenage behavior is acceptable for the likes of some batch of Limey urchins without the sense to elope, then by dang, it is certainly okey-doke for the likes of you and me!


     After all, as any good Yank knows, the only reason marijuana is illegal in this country these days is because of William Randolph Hearst. Sure. He was worried that the use of hemp would make all those paper products he had obsolete, so he lobbied Congress to pass a law making hemp (and its famous cousin, cannabis) illegal. Why do you think they kidnapped Patty Hearst? Hm? Well, I don't know either. What's that got to do with the price of a brick of Panamanian Weed? Nothing.




     So won't you join me today as we watch Kate and Leopold ride in their starched finery naked as jaybirds down Cannery Row, smilin' and winkin' at the Queen Mother, as they stuff their pretty faces fulla reefer brownies and wonder what kind of protection William uses and whether or not Kate has memorized page 174 of the Kama Sutra according to Number 10 Downing Street protocol? As a free-thinking American Loon, I feel a certain responsibility. Don't you?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SUPER SALVATION

Super Salvation 


By Phil Mershon 

(with apologies to Langston Hughes) 


     I came to God out of fear and left him for the same reason. I am humble about this desertion and make no claim for absolute certainty. My decision to disbelieve to grounded in politics, and I am convinced that if God does exist, He will understand my testimony. 


     The glory of Jesus seized me in the men’s restroom in Puckett’s Hamburger stand in Circleville, Ohio. I had just finished giving back to the Earth what I had taken from it, when I glanced down between my feet and saw staring up at me a miniature comic book entitled: “Where Will You Spend Eternity?” I laughed and then fell silent, remembering that one must never sound too delighted in a public facility. But I did reach down and pick it up, examining it with a sense of wonder. Someone else—some unseen entity—was concerned with the fate of my immortal thirteen-year-old soul. How strange, I thought. No less mystifying was the plot of the little comic. A naked man stood just outside a gated community. Between the man and the sparkling gate loomed a tree-tall angel, in front of whom was a lectern, upon which rested the Book of Life. The man’s aura of impatience was replaced with one of concern when the angel gazed down upon him. The man cleared his throat and inquired if his name was written in the Book of Life, because, if it were, he could continue on through the gate and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, the glorious inner sanctum where people shorn of genitals played harpsichord versions of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The angel scanned the book with an enormous index finger and said with a chilling finality: “Your name does not appear herein. Depart thee!” 


     Realizing this angel to be the cosmic head bouncer of the Pearly Gates Nightclub, the man slumped his shoulders and turned to leave, in that same instant coming face to face with Old Nick Apollyon Satan—the Devil himself.
     The other details elude me now, but rest assured that the impact of that hot-breathed, wild-eyed, grinning demon scared me straight into the welcoming arms of my local branch of Christian Athletes and before the day was over, I was no longer a sinner.
     The transformation itself was easy. What proved difficult was maintaining my state of righteousness. The pleasures of the flesh threatened to consume me and many were the times over the next couple of years that I wanted to bite into the fruit that bestowed knowledge of lightness and darkness, freedom and bondage, good and evil. But I remained pure as the Virgin Mother, determined as I was to pluck out an eye rather than to stare too long at wicked temptations. But by my sixteenth birthday, I felt like an old heating stove that someone has filled with coal, yet for some sadistic reason prevents from letting loose with volcanic eruptions and billowing clouds of relief. I burned despite there being no place for my fire to shine. And even if by some miracle it did, I knew God would see it happening and tell one of his doormen to erase my name from the Magic List, and soon enough I would be shivering beneath the eternal heat of the Royal Satanic Majesty. 


     On the evening of my sixteenth birthday, I had a party. There was a girl there named Cheryl. She did not care about my immortal soul. And by the time she was finished with me, I didn’t care much for it either.
     Later I was wracked with guilt and promised God that if he would take me back, I would cease and desist with my unauthorized fornications. Sure enough, I was again filled with the Holy Spirit and just as quickly found the Holy Spirit replaced with the pounding imperatives of sinful lust. After a while I sensed that God was tired of making deals with me and I decided not to bother him anymore. 


     I must say a few more words about Cheryl. My gaggle of friends and I came to believe that every housing subdivision had been blessed (or cursed) with at least one teenaged female nymphomaniac. In Jefferson Addition, where I lived, that girl was Cheryl. She made the rounds in those days, relieving more than a few of us from the burden of our virginity, and yet she was with routine abandon called the community slut, particularly by the very same boys she had recently vaccinated. That puzzled me then, and still does, that her own emptiness, no less severe than ours, should be turned against her once she had parted with what we desired. That, I suspect, is where the real sin lay.
      God and I have not been on a first name basis now for many years. Between watching old ladies send their Social Security checks to religious telethons and studying epistemology, between seeing pictures of Holocaust victims and pictures of Jonestown, Guyana, and between listening to lectures on quantum physics and listening to people describe themselves as spiritual rather than as religious, I have concluded that Purpose is a man-made concept, and often a rather ugly one.
     My own faith lies with a girl a year older and far more knowledgeable about life than me, a girl who was searching for her own salvation in the eyes of whomever it might be on a given night. And God, as usual, was silent on the subject.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HEAD FULL OF UGLY

Head Full of Ugly

     After forty-two years on this planet, after earning a Doctorate in Psychology and practicing with my blend of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and W. C. Fields, after working for the past five years as a private investigator, and after as much time spent alone in contemplation as conjoined and oblivious—after all this, I still knew less about people than on the day I was born.
     Tamla and I were in an upscale Spanish-Italian eatery enjoying a dinner that I wondered how I was going to afford when a slick piece of merchandise saddled up next to her and landed a wet kiss on her cheek. After forty-two years of misjudging apparently spontaneous behavior and often as not living to regret my instant calculations, I sipped my Remy Martin brandy and relocated a strand of linguine from one end of my plate to another prior to offering the obligatory look of inquisitiveness in their direction. As far as I knew, my business partner and I were celebrating the anticipated compensation we’d earned for completing a recent high profile case, and this stranger might well have staggered intoxicated from the bar and mistaken Tamla Reeves for his long lost sister, a woman last seen at the apex of a rollercoaster ride at Palisades Park. It took a man of my years and life experiences nearly twenty seconds to indulge the possibility that I’d been talked into this meal for other than celebratory reasons.




     My question mark expression caught their collective attention and once it did they giggled like twelve-year-olds caught dipping into Grandma’s secret cache of Kentucky bourbon. “I’m sorry, Douglas,” Tamla said. “This is my friend, Patrick Reichelderfer. Patrick, meet Dr. Douglas Konkle.”
     We shook hands over the remnants of my linguine. He gripped my hand like someone with something to prove. Maybe he wanted to demonstrate his manners were as Stentorian as his last name. I gave that some thought and three seconds later dismissed it because I no longer cared. I said, “What line of work you in, Mr. Reichelderfer?”
     He glanced down at his lap with a deferential smile, either a gesture of modesty or else he’d just discovered that he’d sat in some runaway pesto sauce. Tamla said, “Patrick is a professional tennis player. Two years ago he was seeded in the top 200 in the United States.”
     Modesty has its limits. He said, “Actually, I was 197 in the world. But, after all, that was—”
     “Two years ago,” I said. “Since I gather you two have met, how did you?”
     Tamla shot me a quick look I took to mean she wanted me to behave. The tennis player said, “Her brother Eddie used to be the driver we used at the country club. She and I met through him, didn’t we, darling?”


     Dogs, often superior to human beings, urinate around what they perceive to be their territory as a way of alerting other professional sniffers to back off. Less enlightened human males snake an arm around a paramour’s hip or shoulder. Some, presumably more sophisticated, stake out their domain with a phrase or a solitary word. The tennis player had just done that.
     “I’d invite you to join us,” I said. “But it appears you already have.”
     Tamla fired off a double-barreled look of dismay and aggravation, punctuating it with a clandestine kick beneath the table. She said, “Patrick called me last night, Douglas. He has a problem I think you might want to hear.”
     My dinner was getting cold anyway, so I said, “Would you like to talk about it, Pat?”
     After a welcome flinch at the sound of his name being abbreviated, he said, “I just want you to know I would never have barged in on you except that Tamla insisted.” He paused. Since he hadn’t asked a question I chose not to fill the conversational void. Finally, he went on. “I’ve been approached about fixing matches. Maybe I’m na├»ve, but I thought that kind of thing only happened in boxing. But his man, this Dustin Meyer, he made it quite clear that the fix was in on my next three meets, and he said that if I played ball, so to speak, I’d be in for a cut. I told him I’d never thrown a match in my life and wasn’t about to start now. Then he tells me it’s my next three competitors who are going to lose. Each of them has probably peaked professionally, and I can beat them without any help, but I don’t want to win and wonder if I earned the victories.”
     “That’s it?” I asked. “Why don’t you go to the Tennis Commission or whatever it’s called, and turn this Dustin Meyer in?”
     “Patrick wants to avoid an official inquiry.”
     “I wonder why?”
     “He doesn’t want to look like—”
     “A snitch?”
     “Like someone who would do that.”




     Reichelderfer piped up. “Dr. Konkle, I’d like an unofficial investigation. Maybe the guy is a liar? Maybe Haywood, Sinclair, and Ziebeck know nothing about it? Those are the next three matches: Lucius Haywood, Ernesto Sinclair, and Bardanio Ziebeck. What I want—what I need—is for the fix, if there is one, to be called off. When I beat them, I want to want I did it fair and square.”
     I slid my dinner plate over to one side. I was tired of trying to tango to mariachi rhythms. I said, “Dustin Meyer, whoever he is, has something on you, some leverage, or he’d never have approached you, assuming this really is the first time. Was this an unspoken secret between the two of you?”
     He lobbed that high bounce back across the net without messing one strand of hair. The ruder I was to this guy, the nicer he acted. “I can appreciate your skepticism, especially considering you and I have only just met. But, no, there’s nothing anyone has on me. My thinking is that the Commission itself could be plotting a sting. If that’s what’s happening and I do win these matches, as I plan, I’m liable to appear complicit in something I had no hand in. Do you see my problem?”
     I saw it. It was a strain to care, but I did see it. I said, “So who is Dustin Meyer?”
     Reichelderfer snagged a taste of fried ice cream from Tamla’s bowl. “He has more self-confidence than anyone I’ve ever met. The way he walked into the office, strutting as if he owned the building, and then making these demands. But to answer your question, I’ve no idea. That’s the thing. Google comes up blank and so do the other search engines.”
     Tamla translated. “There’s nothing about him on the Internet.”
     I dug my cell phone out of my jacket pocket, confirmed with Reichelderfer the spelling of the last name, and called up information. The automated system connected me with a home telephone. A man answered on the second ring.
     A fast talking voice of fluctuating pitch said, “This is Dustin. I don’t recognize the number you’re calling from. State your business.”
     My free hand made an automatic search of my breast pocket, even though I’d put the smokes down a couple months earlier. I said, “My name is Konkle. I’m investigating allegations that you have involved yourself in predetermining the outcomes of some tennis matches.”
     Patrick Reichelderfer raised an arm in tentative objection. Tamla caught him at the elbow. She whispered to him, but I was focusing on Meyer’s reaction. He said, “I can see why you called. If you were talking that way to my face, you’d be looking at the sky, chief. That might happen yet.”
     I coughed. I’d been doing that ever since I quit smoking. “We can meet if you want, but you sound clever enough to follow this over the phone. My client plays honest. He expects the same from his competition. We’ll be filming the matches. Anything looks odd, we’ll take it to the authorities.”
     I’d been yakked at by meth addicts with less hyper animation than this guy. “Who’d you say you were? Konkle? Listen, Konkle, I’m a promoter and I set up events and coordinate sponsorships, so if I was to work up a scam like you’re implying, I wouldn’t tell the guy to win, so you ought to tell your client, whoever he may be, to explain that, but meanwhile you make accusations like that one public, I got lawyers with sharp teeth.”



     I drew a deep breath. One of us needed to. “You heard what I said, Meyer. The cameras roll.”
     “I’m hanging up, chief.”
     "Stay calm.”
     “Stay healthy.” He hung up. I did the same.
     Our server placed the bill inside a folded black leather case. I didn’t lunge for it.
     Once the waiter removed himself from earshot, Reichelderfer’s face took on certain qualities one associates with a prune. He said, “Is this your normal method of operation?”
    “No, Pat. But for dinner crashers, I make exceptions.”
     Tamla whip-snapped her cloth napkin at me. “Douglas Konkle! Stop behaving like a child.”
     I addressed him. “My advice is to follow through and film those matches. Meyer’s spooked. If you’re the golden boy you say you are, he’s probably come on to other players. But he did raise one good point: Why tell you about it? And here’s my own point: why offer you a cut to play well?”
     He shrugged.
     I wrapped it up. “No charge. Tamla, you ready?”
     No one dove for the tab. As I examined the bill, Tamla muttered something about how he should call her later.

     She and I left together, if you can consider her walking twenty feet ahead of me “together.”
     She sat in the passenger side of the Vic while I drove. We spent the first five minutes of the forty minute drive to her apartment in complete silence. Sometime during the second five minutes I coughed. Cars these days are so efficient that all a driver need engage himself with is steering, accelerating, and breaking. That’s well and good if you’re alone or riding with someone who isn’t furious with you. But when your passengers floods your ears with silence, a few more essential knobs, dials and pedals would make things less awkward. Tokyo, take note!
     I expected Tamla to say nothing at all for the entire ride. Halfway to her home, she surprised me, although not pleasantly. “How could you behave that way? Patrick was charming as a prince and you went out of your way to be hostile. After I spent so much time telling him how great you are, how many people you’ve helped, how much I like working with you—and you make me look like an idiot!”
     The dash display reported our speed at seventy-two miles per hour and yet cars passed us on both sides. I considered what such behavior might say about the human condition. It was that or risk saying things that would escalate the tension.
     She continued. “And I guess you thought that phone call was cute? I specifically made a point of telling you that Patrick wanted a low key investigation.”
     If we’d been on the surface streets instead of the freeway, I would have pulled into the first convenience store and bought two cartons of Marlboro’s.
     “Patrick Reichelderfer is a friend of mine. You treated him like he was the one under investigation. I want you to tell me why you were so hateful.”
     We hit an upgrade and I passed a semi. I could feel myself glow from the accomplishment. I said, “I didn’t like him.”
     “Would you mind telling me why?”
     This had to be said with accuracy and precision. “I didn’t like his attitude. You and I were having dinner—”
     She stopped me with an opened-face stare. “Douglas Konkle, are you jealous?”
     “Yes.”
     “How cute. Isn’t that a sign of insecurity?”
     “Or it can be a rational first response to certain social situations.”
    She leaned so she could see out the window. “I can’t believe you’re jealous.”
     “Start believing it. That’ll expedite the conversation.”
     Maybe she didn’t believe it. Or maybe I was wrong. Either way, she didn’t say another word until I let her out at her apartment. We exchanged perfunctory “good nights” and I drove myself home.
     It was a little late for tea when I got to my house on Aster, but I brewed some anyway. The gift pack of Earl Grey Tamla had bought me seemed appropriate, and while I let it steep, I examined the day’s mail. Mixed in among some Charles Mingus reissues I’d ordered, the electric bill final notice, and solicitations I’d never read was a bulletin from the American Psychological Association. I’d applied for reinstatement of my license—an act motivated more by pride than any yearning to resume my practice—and that foolhardiness had gotten me positioned back on their mailing list. I had maybe two chances for reinstatement (and Slim was on vacation), but one who can maintain hope lives to endure new failures while one who gives up endures being a quitter. I think Nixon said that right before his resignation.
     My mind ached for a pot of thick Turkish coffee, but I’d made a promise. I sipped the foggy tea. It shouted its blandness, and I was looking for the pictures in a new study of the therapeutic advances in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, when a creak in the floorboards disrupted my feeble concentration. The house might have been settling or a minor earthquake might have made an early warning, but I treated the creak as if I had an intruder. After all, settling houses and pre-shocks are not famous for clicking back the hammers of their firearms.
     I spun in my desk chair and saw the man standing just within accurate shooting range from me, pointing what looked to be a perfectly adequate .38 Special my way. His dark brown hair was a bit long and parted on one side. Someone had powdered his skin recently, even though his forehead reflected the light from the ceiling. And his self-satisfied grin was as slick as the inside of an oil derrick. I could just make out a baby blue shirt collar poking out from beneath his long black leather jacket, his dress slacks featured creases he could have used for slicing Porterhouse, and the shimmer of his shoes glistened like the hood of a waxed Ferrari. His jaw moved as if he thought he was chewing bubblegum. His arm steadied the .38 at waist level. He said, “You talk pretty big on the phone, chief. How big you feeling now, huh? Why don’t you threaten me now, huh?”
     I recognized my guest by the lickety-split patter. I said, “Didn’t you see the no weapons sign on the front door?”
     He chomped his imaginary gum with great enthusiasm. “Never sweat, eh, hawkshaw? That’s nice. But inside you’re flooded I’ll bet. I know the type, believe it. See, I’ve traveled the circuit of every lukewarm tennis bum in the southwest. They ride a streak for five months, the press splatters them with a bucket of ego, and they coast until the next tight pair of sneakers kicks them off the curt. But even then, they always hold it together on the outside, just like you.”



     Guys wound that tight worried me. I’d been shot twice before, once in the arm and once in the upper leg, the leg shot chipping bone. Both times hurt. Both times I had to buy new clothes. There was also the inconvenience of going to the hospital and thinking up credible explanations for bored police officers. Plus there was always the chance of infection. Depending on the caliber, the range, and the talent of the shooter, a guy could even get killed. Even with very little on my plate at the moment, I just did not want to be shot. I said, “What can I do for you, Meyer?” That imaginary gum must have been delicious. I thought about asking him for a stick.
    “That guttersnipe client of yours, he tells you I’m fixing matches? How do I like that? I’m thinking on my way here I’ll shoot you so as you’ll be paralyzed, because you made me mad. Then I get to looking around and I say to myself, this guy Konkle, he’s got to make a living, sleazy as it is. I asked myself who’m I really mad at? Could be Ziebeck, but I figured Reichelderfer. Ziebeck would take me on personally. Patrick is more the type to run for help.”
     "Are you asking me?” I had a piece in the middle desk drawer. It might have even been loaded. I thought I might chance it, but only after Meyer announced his intentions. I pegged him for the kind of guy who would.
     He dismissed my question. “The point is, Konkle, you, me, people like us, all we got at the end of the day is a reputation. You start believing everything you hear from some washed up never was and like a flash I’m out of promotions and having to work for a living.”
     How sentimental, I thought. If we had a band, we could record You, Me, the Moonlight & Meyer.
     I tipped my head to indicate the tea. He said to go ahead. I sipped it. Bland never gets better, but it did help me think. I plunged ahead on instinct. “Look, I don’t know Reichelderfer any better than I know you. To be honest, I’m giving him the edge only because he hasn’t offered to paralyze me, but then again, we just met.” Meyer stopped chewing and pursed his lips. I went on. “The truth is I didn’t like his story much. As far as your part goes, sometimes I’m abrasive just to shake out the truth.”
     He nodded and drew back his arms. “Done it myself, hawkshaw. That’s why this time I’m going to tell you nice to make a switch. Scratch the kid and pencil me in. I’m in Tucson tomorrow. I’m back the day after. There’s a match between Reichelderfer and Haywood at the Vets Coliseum. Do I care who wins? What I care is that my rep stays clean. Between now and then I got a name for you. Tony Shapiro. He’s a bed bug. Shapiro Promotions been trying to derail me off the southwest circuit. Be smart and check him out. Physical rehab squeezes the wallet, Scarlet. From the looks of this dump, yours is already squeezed out.”
     He backed to the front door and opened it behind him. Stepping out, he said, “That kid is a disease. He’s got a head full of ugly. You sleep on it. But you are working for me.”
     He gave the nonexistent gum one final chew and bowed out into the evening, thudding the door into place. He hadn’t overstayed his welcome.

    In spite of my total lack of understanding of people, being forty-two does have some good things going for it. For instance, you can still tinker with the vestiges of youth without needing to endorse its commercialism. People both younger and older often imbue you with an unearned wisdom. And by that age it was easy to trade in worry over what other people think for a simple self-respect. Case in point: I’d made no commitment to either Reichelderfer or to Meyer, both of whom could, if it were up to me, take the A-train straight to the heart of the ninth circle. The income would have been nice, I’ll admit. But there’s other things of value in life. There was the above par Elvis Presley movie, Kid Creole, currently running muted on my TV screen. There was the Mingus disc I’d popped into the box: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, complete with liner notes written by the bassist’s shrink. And there were the books in the mystery section of my library, titles from Dashielle Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ross MacDonald, and—from the Elvis of detective fiction—Raymond Chandler. Back in college I’d idolized the resigned vitality of the main characters in these books. The literary establishment from time to time awakened the Chandler, debating whether a creation like Philip Marlowe was a forerunner of today’s anti-hero. All I knew was that the loner lifestyle was more fun to read about than to live through.
     The hum of my cell phone jarred me out of my self-absorption. I gave the caller my last name. After a brief hesitation, a voice I almost recognized said, “I’m sorry, who is this?”
     I repeated myself.
     “Konkle? This is Hadley Masters.”
     If you could mix a bulldog’s face with a rhino’s ass, throw on some human color and adjust it to scale, you’d have a fair likeness of Hadley Masters’ face. “Hadley,” I said. “I was just not thinking about you.”
     He spoke to someone and then came back to me. “Doug, I’m with homicide now—special duty—and I’m down at Tempe Town Lake. We’ve got a fresh victim here with this phone number in the wallet.”

     With my luck it was a client who still owed me.      “Who is it?”
     “Driver’s license says Dustin Meyer. What does that name mean to you?”
     Police, even when they don’t know much, never tell you all they do know. They’re taught to ask questions in ways that let them gage if you’re telling the truth, which is something most people avoid doing when talking to the law. I said, “His name came up at dinner tonight. I called him from the restaurant. I thought we might get around to meeting each other. How’d it happen?”
     He rattled some papers and said, “Victim took three shots to the head at close range from what looks to be a .38. You still carry one, right?”
     “From time to time. As seldom as possible.”
     “So you never met him?”
     “Tonight was the first time I’d even heard his name.”
     If Masters noticed that I didn’t answer his question, he didn’t let on.” “What you guys talk about on the phone?”
     “I’ve been getting slaughtered on the track. I’d heard he might source me some info on a few matches. Figured tennis would be a change of pace.”
     “Uh-huh. I swear, some people would bet on the Second Coming if they got a good point spread. What made you think of this guy?”
     “He’s a promoter. Sets up tourneys here locally. Any witnesses?”
     “Promoter, huh? We didn’t know that. What time did you last talk to him?”
     “I called him around a quarter to eight.”
     He asked if I was still living on Aster and I told him I was. He said he’d talk to me later and hung up.
     I had something new to add to the mountain of things I didn’t understand: Hadley Masters, homicide detective. I had a right to be confused. Our paths had intersected before. Five years earlier I was still in private practice and he’d been a patient. He’d come in suffering from the familiar bond of anxiety and depression, a condition triggered because Internal Affairs was pruning a tree to hang a murder charge on and he was the prime suspect. When he couldn’t get any support from the force, I agreed to look into it. I uprooted some evidence, Hadley was cleared, and the APA revoked me due to the alleged conflict of interest. When I’d first met Hadley, he’d been assigned to vice. After his exoneration, he’d helmed the tactical squadron that claimed to have brought down the Parker Allen Gang. Now he was in homicide. That bump brought him all the way back to me. What confused me was not so much that Masters worked homicide, or even that he was a cop. The mystery to me was how anyone so alien to good judgment could live that long.
     My phone buzzed again. It was getting so a man couldn’t feel superior to his fellows in the peace of his own home. It was Tamla’s number. I clicked off Mingus and turned off the movie. I took her call between the third and fourth rings. Before I could voice some nonchalant greeting, she yelled, “Douglas, I need your help! Please.”
     Her voice sounded unusually icy and fractured. I parked the stupid head games in the alley. “Where are you?” I asked, grabbing my jacket and making for the door.
     “I’m still at my apartment,” she said. “I never left. Douglas, its Patrick. He’s hurt. He’s—someone beat him up.”
     “Someone?” I looked down and noticed my feet had stopped moving before they reached the front door. I should listen to my feet more often. “Who?”
     It sounded like a shard of pride had caught in her throat. I waited. My feet weren’t in a hurry. She said, “I don’t think he wanted to tell me. It—at first he wouldn’t say. It was Dustin Meyer.”
     I said, “No kidding? That guy gets around.”
     “Douglas!”
     I opened the door and walked toward the Vic. “Okay. When and where?”
     “His hotel room. The Crescent. Right after he left us. Meyer was waiting for him. He doesn’t want to call the police. Douglas, he’s scared.”
     Some questions I hate to ask. “He with you?”
     “I’m calling from the bedroom. He’s lying on the couch.”
     I cranked the engine. “I’m on my way. But Tamla, what is it exactly that you want me to do?”
     She sighed. Some answers she hated to give. “Talk to him. And try to be nice.”
   I promised to try.
   I hit speed dial and connected to Harry Is off, a bookie, the only such person I knew whose front was selling Hawaiian Shaved Ice. He and I were square, so it was time to call in a favor. He was just putting away his flavor bottles for the evening, but he was chipper about my call. Yes, he knew the name Dustin Meyer, although they’d never met. He’d also heard the name Tony Shapiro, and if it was the same Tony Shapiro, the guy had an arterial link to organized crime. No, he’d never heard talk about fixing a tennis match, at least not since the days of Tonya Harding. And sure, he’d be glad to give me the line on Lucius Haywood’s match against Patrick Reichelderfer. The latter was favored to win at seven to one. I declined the bet and hung up.


     It takes a long time to get anywhere in the valley. City planners and the developers they favored built the city out rather than up. A twenty mile drive in Phoenix is the equivalent in most towns to going down to the corner. So eating on the road is even more usual here than in most thriving metros. I took the drive-thru through Casa del Taco Grande and snagged a small Nortena pizza, “small” meaning that it would only take five ravenous linebackers to put a dent in one. The sauce was creamy and cheesy and chock full of all the things that give southwestern food a reputation. It was glorious. The grease and spices sparked a few extra brain cells back to life and I began to wonder how Dustin Meyer had traveled from my place to the Crescent Hotel where he’d beat up a tennis pro and then on to Tempe Town Lake—a good forty miles away—just in time to catch a trio of bullets in the skull, all within the span of no more than seventy-five minutes. Several possible explanations existed. One, the dead man at the lake wasn’t actually Meyer, a real possibility since the three shots to the head would make an instant identification difficult, although eventually someone would check prints and dental records, a fact that the killer would likely have known. Two, the guy who came to my place was an imposter, a scenario that likewise presumed that the person I spoke with on the telephone was the same exact imposter. That theory sounded weak. Third, Patrick Reichelderfer was lying about Meyer beating him, the only problem with which was that I had no idea why he would want to lie about it, unless he planned to claim self-defense. What was it that Meyer had said? The kid had a head full of ugly. If Harry Isoff took bets on rational hunches, I’d have bet on Theory Three.
     I brought the pizza box to the door with me. I didn’t know how Patrick responded to a beating, but it always made me hungry. After all, I’d promised to try to be nice.
     He didn’t look good. There was nothing life-threatening here, but I knew he and pain were now on a first name basis. Someone had cut him with a metal ring just over his left eye. From the way he favored that eye, it was going to be bruised by morning. His lower lip was split. Something—maybe a length of chain—had struck his shoulder hard enough to rip the shirt and spray blood. A shoe imprint marred the right leg of his slacks just above the knee. And his hands rested on his stomach as if he were protecting it. His color was a pale green. Three different pain pill bottles saluted from the coffee table in front of him.
     “What are you doing here?” he moaned as I walked a half circle around him.
     “Describe the man who did this to you,” I said.
     He glowered at me. “It was Dustin Meyer.”
     I sat on the edge of the coffee table. I said, “I want you to describe him. Did he hit you with his right fist or left? What color shirt was he wearing? Did you see a weapon? What did he say during this?”
    I expected Tamla to object to these questions, but she gave Patrick a concerned look of encouragement.
     Patrick said, “He punched me with both hands, like a boxer does. He had on a jacket, so I didn’t see his shirt. As far as weapons go, I didn’t see any. He didn’t need any. And what was your other question?”
     “Was this a silt picture or did he talk?”
     “I’m standing in my hotel room. I’d just walked in. Someone called my name. I turned around and wham! He caught me right in the eye. He might have said things but if he did I didn’t hear them.”
     Tamla looked from him to me and back. I couldn’t tell what she made of this.
     I said, “Who’s Tony Shapiro?”
     He gripped his stomach. “I give up. Who is he?”
     “Think of it as a trick question. Here’s another: are you going to press charges?”
    Rather than tell the truth or risk a lie, he changed the subject. “My main concern is recovering to play Haywood day after tomorrow.”
     I held my breath as I asked my final question. “Did you kill Dustin Meyer?”
     An hysterical giggle bubbled up from Tamla. Patrick tried to sneer, but his face hurt too much. “Kill him? I thought he was going to kill me. What makes you ask that?”
     “How’d you get here?”
     He sat up, slightly. “I asked you a question.”
     “I don’t care.”
     Tamla put her arms between us. “Boys, play nice.”
     He rose a bit more. “I want to know what he meant by that.”
     I’d had enough, so I grabbed another slice of pizza. They didn’t appear to be hungry. Tamla jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen. She and I excused ourselves under the pretext of talking behind Patrick’s back.
     “What did you mean by that?” she asked.
     I told her about the call from Masters. She pulled on her lip. I wondered if she shared my doubts about Patrick’s story, but I didn’t push the issue.
     “In the morning,” I told her. “I’m going to pay a call on Tony Shapiro. It’s the only lead in this case. That reminds me: I wonder who’s paying the freight on this?”
     “Patrick.”
     “Patrick?”
     “Can we talk about that in the morning?”
     That sounded fair, at least in an alternate universe where everything that happens makes no sense at all. I gave her a chuck on the chin, nodded to Reichelderfer on the way out, and finished my slice on the way home.

     A hot shower is a fantastic way of washing off the stains of a disappointing day. Unfortunately, my shower head was busted, so I settled for a tub bath.
     I fell asleep almost instantly. Only the eventual chill of the water awakened me. I drained about half that water out and turned the faucet for round two. Someone knocked at the door. The only person I would have gotten out of that tub for was Tamla and she had an emergency key. Besides, I couldn’t imagine her leaving dear Patrick. Whoever it was could find accommodations in hell.



     By 10AM the next morning I was sitting in the lobby of Shapiro Promotions on Northwest Grand. The front of the building would have embarrassed the owners of a charity thrift store. The inside, however, was a designer’s dream. Indian mandalas hung on the walls between gold-framed photographic portraits of every major tennis star of the last sixty years. The speckled marble floor supported a variety of Asian rugs, the smallest of which might have overlapped opposite end zones in the Canadian Football League. The receptionist’s desk sat adjacent to a clear glass door through which one could catch glimpses of people marching from one inner office to another with digital headphones in place so they could all do three things at once.
     The receptionist had never heard of Dwight Seacrest. According to the business card I handed Michelle, the receptionist in question, Seacrest was an investigative reporter for the Chandler Globe. My duty, as one impersonating a newsman, was to inform Mr. Shapiro that our newspaper was preparing a special report on possible corruption in the tennis promotion industry. It would be necessary for me to speak with Mr. Shapiro personally.
     After better than an hour, Michelle interrupted my reading of a magazine article about the correlation between loosely-tied nylon shoe laces and victory on clay courts. Mr. Shapiro, she said, would see me now.
     He stood before me just inside his office door. “Tony Shapiro, Mr. Seacrest. What can I do for you on this busy Thursday morning? Michelle said something about an investigation?” He whirled around and slipped into his desk chair, indicating with a jerk of his head for me to sit. He looked to be about thirty-five, with a somewhat pox-faced complexion. His hair was thin on top, his nails recently manicured, and his legs were just a few inches too short for his body. His mahogany desk was home for a series of family photos, a small desktop computer, a carton of tennis balls, and a long hunting knife autographed by the late Elia Nastasi.
     “It’s serendipitous,” I told him. “The piece was planned to puff the local industry, but when our senior editors smells a story—well, you know how these uppity career women can be.”
     He massaged his temples. “I certainly do, Mr. Seacrest. I was married to one for seven years.”
     I nodded. “The reason I’m here today, Mr. Shapiro, is that the senior editor in question—Ms. Reeves—thinks there’s a story concerning all these ominous events.”
     When you look up the term “malevolent smile” in English phrase books, Shapiro’s picture serves as the illustration. I thought I’d seen him someplace before.
     “Ominous events?” Be more specific.”
     I flipped open the electronic notebook Tamla loaned me and pretended to refer to data stored there. “Three primary sources and half a dozen confirming statements leave little doubt about it,” I assured him. “Points are being shaved, players are faking everything from foot faults to missing overhead slams. It’s not the unauthorized gambling that upsets our newspaper, Mr. Shapiro. No, what has my boss’s panties in a bind is the allegation that players are being intimidated or bribed into losing matches. That is news.”
     He looked at me closely, as if he expected to see my face transform into Lon Chaney Jr. He said, “The fix is in, the fix is out. Let me tell you something: you think the promoters are the ones who started this thing? Look, I don’t have time to play with the outcomes. I’m setting up interviews, press releases and TV spots for better than twenty players’ managers, none of whom sees the value in what I do. The older ones, the Jimmy Connors, the Bjorn Borg’s, the Bobby Riggs’—they know that people go to car races to see a wreck. That’s why someone like McEnroe, he was the bomb because nobody gave a damn how he played. They just wanted to see him self-destruct. What I’m saying to you is that there’s no need to fix the matches. But I will tell you this: Dustin Meyer, who, God rest his soul, right? The way he went down, that’ll inspire ticket sales world wide.”
     “What was your relationship with Meyers?”
     He stopped rubbing his temples and readjusted his legs. “We were competitors, at least in his mind. I’m an A List, Mr. Seacrest. I promote matches for talent you see at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French open, when I can get those players here in town. Meyer, he was at best a B List promo man. In other words, although we were technically competitors, there was really no competition.”
     “Is Patrick Reichelderfer an A or a B?”
     He leaned back in his chair and studied the ceiling. “This is off the record. Reichelderfer was very much the kind of client Meyer wanted. The kid believes he’s better than he is. A lot of fans think he’s better than he is. I’ll tell you something: that kid was to improve to the A List, I still wouldn’t touch him.”
     Michelle the receptionist entered, took a sheath of papers from Shapiro’s out box, and pointed to her watch. She offered me a polite smile and sashayed back out to her desk.
     “I’m afraid that’s all the time I can give you today, Seacrest.”
     “Just one other thing and maybe we won’t have to bother you later?”
     He gave me a level stare and waited for the question.
     “Before he died, Dustin Meyer was under investigation for involvement in predetermined outcomes. When we pursued those allegations, he insisted we look into your operations. Do you have any idea why he would do that? I mean, when you stand that up next to his murder, imaginations activate.”
     Shapiro pressed his intercom switch. Looking directly at me, he spoke to his receptionist through the tiny device. “Michelle, call the Chandler Globeand ask them if they have a Dwight Seacrest working for them as an investigative reporter.” He took his finger off the switch and said to me, “You can’t be too careful in my business. Anyone can flash a business card these days. We had a guy in here, oh, late last year, claimed he was with the Commission. Turns out he was a P.I.”
     “No kidding?”
     “No kidding. He took a fall on his way out of here. Broke his arm in three places. Bad karma, I guess. Always pays to be honest.”
     “As you say, you can’t be too careful.”
     He continued to give me the greasy eyeball. At last Michelle buzzed him back. He pressed the switch. She said, “Mr. Shapiro, I spoke with an assignment editor at the Globe. He confirms they do have a reporter named Dwight Seacrest. They wouldn’t say what story he was presently working.”
     Shapiro thanked her and released the switch. Lucky for me she hadn’t asked to speak with Mr. Seacrest.
     “This is all I’m going to say about it. It’s possible that a player approached me about joining the A List. When I turned him down, he may have offered to disrupt Mr. Meyer’s operation as a favor to me. Meyer was more of a nuisance than a competitor. That’s what I would have said to this hypothetical player. Some people are slow learners.”
     “And some just have a head full of ugly,” I said aloud to myself.

     Back in the car I called Hadley Masters to see what he might tell me about the department’s investigation of Meyer’s murder. I got his voice mail and left a message for him to call me back. Then I rang Tamla to see how her guest was holding up. She didn’t answer either, something quite unusual for her. I decided to head over to the Phoenix Tennis Club to talk to Lucius Haywood. I was convinced that a tennis player had killed Meyer. My hunch was Patrick had done it, but a hunch isn’t worth spit to the bottled water industry.
     The valet looked at the five dollar bill I gave him as if I had handed him a stale and half-eaten cookie. He tore me a ticket and gassed the Vic around the corner. I was just walking to the gate when Masters called back. He asked if I was attached to the Meyer investigation. I admitted that such was a possibility. He asked if Patrick Reichelderfer was my client. I told him Patrick was an old friend of Tamla. “Further, deponent sayeth not.”
     “You asked last night if we had witnesses? Three joggers gave general descriptions of a man who looks one hell of a lot like your client. They all remember it pretty well because the two men they saw were physically assaulting one another. No one saw the shooting, but the timeline is close to perfect. The department has a want out on your boy.”
     I hated to hear that. First, that meant I’d probably been working for myself. More importantly, if he was still with Tamla, that might explain why she hadn’t answered the phone. I asked Masters if he would meet me at my colleague’s apartment. He said that would be fine, but he wouldn’t be coming alone. I flagged the same valet who looked at me as if we’d never met. I gave him the ticket and he returned in a few minutes with my car.



     I spun the Vic around and shot into overdrive. The only close call I had came when a jaywalker crossed in front of me on his way to make a plasma donation. I had to swerve into the center lane to miss him and then jerk back to the right to avoid an oncoming cement truck.
     A couple minutes later I wheeled up in front of Tamla’s flat. Her 280Z sat obediently in its normal reserved spot, but I didn’t see any sign’s of Reichelderfer’s Lexus. The cops hadn’t shown up yet, either. There were two Krispy Kremes between here and headquarters, so it might be a while. When no one answered the doorbell, I tried the phone again and went right to voice mail. I had to kick the door, a feat much harder than it looks on TV. I hoped Tamla had renter’s insurance. From the shiver of agony in my upper leg, I hoped I had door-kicker’s coverage.
     I didn’t see her immediately. I was too busy noticing that the sofa cushions were overturned, the throw rugs tossed in a pile, and the cabinet doors standing wide open, presumably so they would match the condition of the large work desk in the living room. I called her name and searched every room in the apartment before noticing that someone had placed a large fish tank on tope of a clothes hamper. I lifted the twenty gallon aquarium with a huge burst of adrenaline and staggered it back atop the bookshelf. Inside the hamper, something moved, so I gave it a slow lowering onto its side. As I helped Tamla out, she sucked in air like a woman during childbirth. She crawled on the floor, trying to reorient herself, looked at me, saw what had happened to her door, looked back at me, and collapsed on her back, staring at the ceiling.
     “He used me, Douglas. I knew it was too good to be true, but I needed to believe him so much. I was just a means to an end.”
     I didn’t know whether to take her hand, embrace her, or just wait it out. I asked her what happened.
     “When I woke up this morning a little after six, I was going to surprise him. You know, make him a big breakfast. But when I got up he was going through my desk and the place was a mess. When he heard me, he turned and looked and there was this possessed, fiery hate in his eyes. Douglas, I didn’t even know him. He told me to give him all the money I had here and when I asked him why, he tackled me and shoved me into that thing. He must have put something on top of it. I couldn’t get out. When I heard the door slam open, I prayed it was you.”
     She was trembling. Now I knew what to do. I held her.
     “Was there any money here?”
     She indicated the desk. “I had a little over five hundred in there. Douglas, what is he up to?”
     “That’s what I’d like to know,” Hadley Masters said. He and a pair of uniforms were surveying the scene and stepping over miscellany.
     “Tamla,” I said. “Meet Lieutenant Hadley Masters.”
     She looked from him to me. She knew the story about what happened when he’d been my patient, but the evident strain to hold in a laugh made me suspect she was recalling Parker Allen’s shenanigans.
     Without admitting more than was healthy, I laid out my theory. Reichelderfer had managed to piss off two promoters, both of whom had indicated a willingness to use violence when they deemed it necessary. He had involved Tamla and me in his mess in the hopes of buying himself enough time to figure out what to do.
     Masters nodded. “Could be. We checked his credit reports. The guy owes everybody. The finance company’s foreclosed on his house, the car he’s driving is in repossession status, and all his cards are shut down.”
     I resumed my speculations. “Both Meyer and Shapiro went out of their way to try to convince me that they had no interest in fixing matches.”
     Before I could go on, Masters interrupted
me with a puzzled look. “Anthony Shapiro? He’s been making loans to local athletes for years. Usually in the lower six figures. Not that those loans show up on a CBR.”
     Tamla was eying our faces. Even the two officers were interested now. I said, “Hadley, you know what I’m thinking? Meyer and Shapiro hated one another. I’m wondering if Patrick did Shapiro a little favor to pay off what he owed.”
     Tamla stood up. “I don’t like to think he’s capable of what you’re suggesting.”
     Hadley said, “Miss, we’re pretty certain Reichelderfer shot Dustin Meyer.”
     She took my arm to steady herself and said, “I was going to say, I wouldn’t have thought so before this morning. But while I was in the hamper, he made a phone call. I couldn’t make it out clear but his voice was terrible. Growling, gnashing, and groaning—he was like a monster.”
     One of the officers pulled out a pen, pressed the speaker button and then star six nined. A voice rattled off the last number called. I dialed it on my cell phone. Michelle the receptionist asked how she could help me. I hung up.
     After admonishing Tamla and me to mind our own business, Masters and the two uniforms left for Shapiro’s office. A bulletin had already been issued for Patrick’s arrest.
     I put the cushions back on the sofa and sat next to Tamla. I said, “He couldn’t get that far on five hundred dollars. You know him better than I do, Tamla. Where would he go?”
     She trembled again. She said, “You and I have been sort of kissing-face for a while now. But when he turned up the other night it seemed like he really needed me. Douglas, I like being needed. I’m sorry I let you down.”
     She lowered her head onto my shoulder. I thought about her convincing me to stop smoking, to cut back on the booze, to lay off the caffeine. I’d thought she was trying to improve me. Maybe she had just been struggling to be useful. “Tamla Reeves, you’re the last person in the world who needs to worry about that kind of thing. I need you, you know?”
     “Jacquelyn Durham,” she whispered.
     “Who?”
     “His ex-girlfriend. She’s an entertainer. A dancer.”
     “You mean she’s a stripper?”
     “Yeah. Patrick has a weakness for her. When he showed up here he swore it was over, though.”
     “Where does she live?”
     “She’s out on Ray Road just before you get to Chandler. You’re not going there?”
     “The question is: am I going alone?”
     We balanced the apartment door back into position and fell into my car. Tamla didn’t say much on the ride. She just hummed a bit and stared out the side window.
     A gold Lexus was pulling out of the driveway as we spun onto Ray Road. There were two people in the car. Patrick saw us, dropped the gears into drive and floored it. Up and down the street kids were shooting hoops, young men were sitting aboard riding mowers, and women were pruning rose gardens. Patrick turned north onto Chandler Boulevard and I had to roar up to beyond sixty just to stay with him. We stayed close as he made a sharp left onto Mesa Drive. When the road straighten out, the passenger, a young woman with very long dark hair, leaned out her opened window and pointed a gun in our direction. When you see something lie that, it’s a good idea to lay back. Instead, I rammed the rear of their car. The girl lost her balance and fell back into the seat. I told Tamla to hold on and rammed them again, jarring their car, rattling the driver and destroying the Vic’s grillwork. The oncoming lane cleared, so I told Tamla to hold on again and shot up even with them in the passing lane. Patrick lowered his window. The girl reached across and brought up the gun. As I shot ahead of them, she discharged and blew out both back side windows. I slammed the Vic’s rear into the left front bumper of the Lexus and dropped our speed down. Our car shook like it might hop and explode, but I turned into the skid just in time to drag the Lexus over into the bank of a ravine. The car came to a stop on its side.
     I didn’t intend to give them time to think, so I jumped out and ran over to the Lexus. As hard as I could I pushed against the underbody and leaped back as the big gold machine tilted over onto its top. I dragged the girl out, stood her up, and punched her hard on the chin. She dropped like pigeon dung.
     Tamla was already over on the driver’s side, trying to open the remnants of what had once been a car door. I pulled her aside and looked in at Reichelderfer. His head was hanging at an odd angle, blood trickled from his left ear, and he moaned as if he were in considerable discomfort. I finally worked the door open and dragged him out onto the side of the road. Tamla stayed beside him while I retrieved the gun. I found the S&W .38 revolver a few feet back in the ravine. I carried it over to my own car and then called Masters to have somebody come and pick up the trash.



     I don’t tend to follow cases once they’ve been put down, especially those without a paying client. I take a particular disliking to the ones that end up costing me money. This one had set me back a little over three grand. So when Masters and his bulldog face came into the office several weeks later, I didn’t want to hear about it. I told him so. That didn’t stop him.
     “It was all in Reichelderfer’s mind. He thought that if he took care of Meyer for Shapiro, they Tony would forgive the debt. And he owed over sixty g’s. And the part about fixing matches? That seems to have been imaginary.”
     Tamla said, “So Meyer is dead. Shapiro is free. And Patrick? What happens to him?”
     Hadley tried to appear sympathetic, a waste of time on his part, to be sure. It was like a politician trying to appear human. “He’ll get twenty-five and probably serve seventeen. And they don’t have tennis courts where he’s going.”
     No one said anything for a minute. Tamla handed me the day’s mail. There was a letter from the APA. I still wonder what it said.

NO GLOVES IN THE BOOKSTORE

No Gloves in the Bookstore 


Phil Mershon 

     I stared hard at the book and did not breathe, yearning for the courage to pounce. Long ago we had been friends, the book and I, but friends separated may rejoin as enemies or, worse still, as indifferent to one another. The reunion already felt awkward, what with some minimum wage clerk having placed the white and brown jacketed volume in Mythology and Folklore instead of in the Essential Essays of the 20th Century section, an oversight quite unforgivable despite the fact that the latter classification did not, sad to say, exist.
     At last I exhaled. The sound of my own futile sigh took me aback and induced two women passing behind me to giggle. Ignoring them (despite the one on the left having a sharp wiggle in her bright red running shorts), I tilted my body at an angle, allowing myself a parallel view from which to read the title embossed along the spine of the book. The details in the lettering looked just a bit different than I remembered, suggesting that this particular book might be of a more recent vintage or, just as likely, in the same way that a man may error in bringing to mind the color of an old friend’s eyes, I had misremembered the design of the title and author.
     I placed an index finger along the top of the compressed pages, drew in until my lungs rebelled, and at long last retrieved the book from the shelf, examined the photograph of the writer on the cover, and fanned myself with the scent of virgin pages trilling past my face like an old woman cooling herself in the pew of a southern church in late summer.
     As an aside, I refuse to apologize for this extended personification, a device most out of favor in this age of rhetorical neutrality. For much of my life inanimate objects—and especially books and records—have been logical companions in ways that actual human beings have not. And so one of my first extended thoughts upon rediscovering George Orwell’s A Collection of Essays was how delighted the other books in my library would be to see the return of this misadventurous comrade. In all likelihood, they would have great stories to tell one another.
     Purely from habit, I searched for the price. The original cost, back in my college days, had been $2.95. This day the price, which perched upon the totalitarian bar code, said $15.00. I examined the legal page. The book I held in my hands, a Harvest Book, by Harcourt, Inc., had been printed in 1981 and had beyond question languished in this bitterly cold bookstore over the intervening years, doubtless being filed and re-filed at random by semi-literate customers and thoughtless employees over the decades, none of them aware of the manifest glories contained between the covers of this testament to the ages, this sacred text which would be ignobled by the term “classic.” Let the snobs have their uncirculated first editions of Voltaire’s Candide or autographed and vomited-on-by-the-author copies of Dylan Thomas’ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Let them search the catacombs for first folios of the Bard’s translation of Richard III, Napoleon’s diaries at Elba, or even a pristine edition of Rachael Ray’s latest cookbook. I had A Collection of Essays right in my very own hands and the whole thing was only going to cost me fifteen bucks. Shazam! 


     I examined the chapter titles with a greediness that had my palms perspiring. There they were, all the holy gems right alongside the lesser works, the latter included to flesh out the tome so the prospective buyer would not feel cheated by a reduced number of pages: “Such, Such Were the Joys” (the title borrowed from William Blake’s “The Echoing Green”), “Reflections on Gandhi,” “Shooting an Elephant,” “Why I Write,” and right in the middle, the life-altering, epiphianic “Politics and the English Language.” In between, I was treated to one essay about Charles Dickens and another on Rudyard Kipling, a bit of class consciousness called “England Your England,” and an uncharacteristic bit of gushing homage to Henry Miller. 

     I walked with what might be called a determined pace over to the cashier, placed the book in front of her and actually said, “Make it snappy, will ya, Toots?” (Who the hell was writing my dialogue, Zelda Fitzgerald’s pharmacist?) The cashier demurred and asked if I had my frequent flier card, or whatever the price-cutting device the store was using these days was called. I replied in the negative and the cashier scanned her own discount card with the store’s Star Trek phaser, or whatever it was, giving me an extra ten percent off my already everyday low price.
     Then this same cashier, whose name tag said the folks at home called her Betty, did something quite strange and wonderful. As Betty was handing me the change from my twenty, a tall man, sharply dressed, entered the shop wearing what looked to be a very expensive pair of leather riding gloves.
     “Sir! Sir!” Betty called to the man with an urgency that bordered on alarm, all the while glancing back at me in smiling spurts. “Sir, I’m sorry, but you’ll need to remove your gloves. This is a bookstore.”
     The gentlemen complied with an embarrassed flush.
     Rest assured, time had not cheapened the effect of Orwell’s writing upon my discriminating yet impressionable mind. Only one of these essays was written after the publication of 1984 in 1948, and in truth the writer would only live two years after that, never seeing the animated version of his allegorical short novel Animal Farm, although he was aware of both books’ influence, if not of their last literary value. And while I have often jammed to Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, and especially Homage to Catalonia, it is A Collection of Essays to which I return again and again, whenever I need passion amplified with brilliance.

     George Orwell was not the first great writer to understand that all writing is in service to some ideology and hence is a first cousin (if not fraternal twin) to what enlightened people call propaganda. Shakespeare knew it; so did Rousseau; and the same is true for that great band of Rastafarians, Toots and the Maytals, whose seminal album, Funky Kingston, redirected Orwell’s thinking, or would have, had it not been recorded twenty-five years after his death.
     I let his tired and boney hands take mine and felt him lead me back to his British prep school, where he was beaten more than once for wetting the bed. We sulked through the occupation of Burma and gazed upon the carcass of a long-dead beast. We rejoined the fight against Franco. We wrote famous passages in satire of modern English prose and debated whether T. S. Eliot had enough sense to come in out of the rain or if we would have let him come in had he so desired. The other books in my home library leaned forward on the edges of their shelves, all the better to hear a righteous example of what Dr. Johnson said was the purpose of literature: entertainment and elucidation.
     I could, I suppose, summarize each section or paraphrase pertinent paragraphs, but instead I will offer a condensed excerpt from “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” a piece which, for me, demonstrates all one need understand about this collection: 

I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written…It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists…The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past (p. 199).

     Throughout that night I read, occasionally aloud, and on into the next day, falling asleep at last and not awakening until nearly six of the next evening. George was still there, waiting for me, an unfiltered Camel between his lips and a pen tucked into his writing hand.
     I picked up the book and wondered what Betty was doing tonight.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FAITH IN SOMETHING SMALLER

Faith in Something Smaller

     Lucien Tambor strode into our office with the frail dignity of an ailing beast who doesn’t know he’s soon to be out of his misery. The slithery mannerisms contrasting his proud gait were among a slew of similar contradictions. The frames of his Australian tortoise shell eyeglasses clung together only by virtue of masking tape. His fingernails bore the reflective shine of a recent manicure, yet were blackened with a bond of dirt and sweat. His brown overcoat retained the stiff glimmer of being new, while nevertheless sporting a gash in the left sleeve approximately the length of a switchblade knife. His baby face radiated from years of professional shavings and talcum, none of which was undone by the slug someone had introduced to his right jaw. And while he spoke with a voice accustomed to precision and melody, his song sounded like it had been dragged across the desert and beaten on the rocks. I didn’t know whether to offer him coffee or a gurney.
    Tamla and I must have stared too long for polite company. Tambor cleared his throat and shook his head as if he were trying to dislodge something. “I must look a fright,” he said. “I hope my appearance won’t dissuade you from helping me, Dr. Konkle.”
     I strained to convey a magnanimous smile, one that wouldn’t indicate we were choking on his blend of expensive cologne and sweat-drenched detritus. “We’re here to help people, when we can,” I said. “It looks like you could use some.”
     He shot a glance at Tamla and straightened his overcoat as if to hold in his embarrassment. “I’ve been victimized,” he said. “Dr. Konkle, Ms. Reeves, I cannot even prove to you as I sit here that I am Lucien Tambor. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a few moments, you may come to accept what I have to say.”
     I spooned the teabag from my cup and dropped it in the trash. Tamla was weaning me from coffee, and Morning Bayou Tea, with its aroma of swamp fog, was amazingly refreshing. “Mr. Tambor,” I said. “From what you’ve told us, I am inclined to believe you.” He sighed as if someone had just spared fifty pounds from the ton he was shouldering. I caught Tamla giving me a look that suggested I wasn’t quite the bastard she thought me capable of being. “Let’s recap, okay? You, Lucien Tambor, descendant of marquis and marquise, chair of Red Card Express, have been relieved of your job, drained of your bank accounts, pursued by the police, attacked by your spouse, rolled by drunks, beaten by hoodlums—”
    “Worst of all,” he inserted. “My friends view me with derision. People I’ve trusted most of my life.” His eyes scanned the office as if he suspected someone might be stepping out through one of the walls. “No, I’m wrong,” he said at last. “The worst of it is that I don’t know how to stop whoever’s doing this. And it’s no good asking me who my enemies are since I apparently can’t even judge my friends. Do you have any suggestions?”
     Such questions make me wish I smoked a pipe, so as to lend a cover of wisdom over what was at best an educated guess. “In a case of identity theft, if that’s what we’re dealing with, I’d be more inclined to suspect a friend.”
     Another small bag of weight lifted from his shoulders. “Then you do believe me? You will investigate?”
     I drew in steam from the tea. “Let’s say we’ll investigate. But the first thing we need to do is to get you some place where you’ll be safe. Let’s check you into a hotel.”
     Tamla closed her notebook with a brisk snap. “And I’ll speak with your wife.”
     Our client repositioned his glasses. “By yourself?”
“Tamla is quite resourceful,” I assured him. "She has been speaking with men's wives for as long as I've known her."
     He stopped fiddling with the masking tape. “I intended no offense. It’s just that Mrs. Tambor can be a challenge during even the best of times. Under stress—” he shivered.
     “I’m fairly good at walking between raindrops,” she told him.
    The three of us stood to leave. He said, “I hope so, Ms. Reeves. Because I’ve found it to be like acid rain.”


     The Adams Hotel imposed itself in a redevelopment district just south of central downtown Phoenix. The owner, an old acquaintance of mine, held a few thoroughbreds notorious for finishing just out of the money. The city planners and local developers had tried to buy him out so they could level the hotel and replace it with a more contemporary brand of eyesore, but the Adams, like a mule at the feed trough, remained where it was, a refreshing air of bad taste amid myriad monuments to modern obsolescence. As such, it was the perfect place to stash Lucien Tambor.
    I checked him in under my name and, despite the early hour, suggested we chat in the bar just off the lobby. “I rarely drink,” he admitted. “But today I believe I am entitled.”
    I ordered a Vodka cranberry for Tambor and a gin and tonic for myself. Neither one of us spoke for a couple minutes. If his story was true, he’d been through the wringer during the last seventy-two hours and I figured he’d unload when he was ready. I glanced to see how he was enjoying his drink and saw that his eyes were filling. He removed his eyeglasses with the haste of contemptuousness and wiped his face with a cocktail napkin.
    “I started up Red Card Express ten years ago, turning it into a major player. Sure, we’re not in the leagues with Diners or Discover, but we were getting there. Definitely in the top five charge cards. In that time I’ve fought nervous investors, hostile takeover attempts, unbalanced board members, and the wear of eighteen hour days. But after only three days of this limbo, this Kafka treatment, I’m ready to lose my mind.”
     “Sometimes the mind hides to protect itself. A few good meals and a couple nights rest, maybe a shower, your wits’ll return.”
     “How psychoanalytic. Just what I need.”
     I let that pass. He’d been through a lot.
     “But I suppose that is right. At least I’ll have a bed tonight.”
     I thumbed off five twenties to him under the bar. “Get your meals here. Don’t order delivery and don’t leave the hotel. Don’t let anyone in your room. And don’t order the chili.”
     He eyed the money, ran his palm across it as if stroking a puppy, and tucked it into his pants pocket. “Is she married? Your assistant?”
     “Tamla? No. Why?”
     “She appears very fond of you. Back in your office, whenever you spoke, she studied your face. Surely you’ve noticed.”
     Surely I hadn’t. “Amazing the things I apparently miss. Okay, finish your drink and get on up to bed.”
     He drained the glass. “What will you be doing?”
     I patted his shoulder. “Talking to nervous investors, hostile takeover types, and unbalanced board members.”
    As we were turning to go our different ways, three leathered cretins sauntered in. Two of them took the stools we’d just vacated while the third flopped down on one that an older woman had temporarily given up while using the restroom facilities. The bartender didn’t speak to any of them. Tambor tugged at my elbow and we lingered.
     Before I could anticipate his move, he made it.
     “Someone’s sitting there,” he told the biker.
    The stringy haired tattooed gentleman gave Lucien the look an invincible roustabout gives a cockroach. “Tough shit, ain’t it?”
     His two buddies laughed. They appeared to be the types who would laugh at anything said, as long as one of their number said it.
     Lucien replied, “It is the toughest of shit, sir,” and reached his fingers into the ends of the man’s long hair. Before any of them knew what was happening, he had whipped the biker’s mane around his neck and yanked him off the stool and down to the floor. But Lucien didn’t let go of the hair. Instead, as the biker fell, Lucien yanked upwards. A small bit of scalp clung to the roots. A large plot of gray and red skin turned more red and less gray. Before he could protest, Lucien back-kicked him in the mouth.
    The two fellows at the bar glanced at one another. The bartender smiled. I stepped over their unconscious comrade and suggested they patronize a venue down the street. They thought that wise.
    The woman returned to her stool and ordered a sloe gin fizz.
     As we watched them hauling their friend out the front door, I wondered how much protecting Lucien Tambor actually needed.


     Tamla, who I found to be operating more frequently as my partner instead of as my assistant, arrived at the Paradise Valley home of Lucien and Natasha Tambor within half an hour of leaving the office. Being far more mesmerized by technology than was I, Tamla kept a miniature voice-activated receiver tucked under the brim of her cap and a mini-recorder hooked to her waist band. It was from one such recording that I was able to learn the details of her visit.
     Natasha Tambor came to the door panting for breath. She spoke in a voice that crossed Vince Lombardi and Anna Nicole Smith. “Who are you, what do you want, yes, what is it?”
     Tamla did not hesitate. “Hello. My name is Tamla Reeves. Mr. Lucien Tambor has requested assistance in investigating a personal matter. Are you Mrs. Tambor?”
     At the sound of her own name, the woman moaned like a calf with its neck caught in a fence. “No longer than necessary, young lady. Well, let’s go, come on in so you can be on your way.”
     Mrs. Tambor directed Tamla to sit down. “I’m sure you’ll first want to know your husband is safe. He’s a little banged up, but he’s okay.”
     The lady of the house replied, “I’m sorry I can’t offer you any refreshments, but everything’s packed away. Hm? Oh, well I suppose I should be glad of his condition, but truth to tell, I simply don’t care. After all I’ve done for that man, he goes and pulls this.”
     “He claims he’s been the victim of—”
     “Yes, yes, of course. He’s always the innocent one. You say you’ve seen him?”
    “The man I work with, Dr. Konkle, has found a place for him to stay. Your husband’s story was pretty convincing. He believes that someone impersonating him liquidated his bank accounts—”
     “Our accounts. They are bone dry.”
     “Linked him with some improprieties at his company—”
     “You needn’t tiptoe around it. He over-valuated Red Card’s stock and sold off his holdings in the organization. Two gentlemen from the Securities Exchange Commission were here earlier this morning.”
     “He seems penniless,” Tamla said. “And adjusting to the life of a hobo—well, he’ll be all right now, but he’s had a few run-ins with street elements.”
     “Not that this isn’t fascinating, but what is it you want from me?”
     "Can you think of anyone who would have the ability to do this to you and your husband?”
     “Are you suggesting that I’ve had men in this house while Lucien was away?”
    I played that part back twice to make sure I’d heard it right.
     Tamla kept things professional. “Mr. Tambor didn’t discuss anything like that with us.”
     “No, but that is what you’re suggesting, isn’t it? You think someone used me to get to my husband.”
    There are some people who, under various pressures, when asked if they know the time, will confess to stealing a watch twenty years earlier. I don’t claim to know about confession’s value to the soul, but it’s been known to unknot a few people’s anxieties. But there I go being psychoanalytical again.
    “Did they?”
    “I don’t know it for a fact.”
    “Which seems more likely: that your husband would do all of these things, or that this other man would set him up?”
     The moaning stretched out over three octaves and wouldn’t have been hurt by at least one intermission. At long last, Mrs. Tambor made a slapping sound and replied, “Delbert Winkworth. He and Lucien have known each other for twenty years. Is Lucien really all right?”
     “Yes. Go on about this Mr. Winkworth.”
     “His wife Catherine is a research scientist. Del’s been in and out of jams his whole life, I guess. Lucien made him vice president of Information Services at Red Card.”
     “I take it you and he have had an affair?”
     King Kong dragged his fingernails down a mammoth blackboard. That, or else Mrs. Tambor shrieked.
    “Yes. And before you ask, yes, he pumped me for information. And he’s been in this house, parts of this house, many times.”
    The playback picked up a muffled sound and I could picture Tamla adjusting her cap as she stood to leave.
     “I won’t keep you, ma’am. I’ll share what we’ve discussed with Dr. Konkle. If I were you, I’d steer clear of that Winkworth fellow.”
     “My dear young lady, he’s here now, sound asleep in the guest room.”
    “Actually, I’m not.”
     The voice that spoke those three words—the final words on the recording—was dark and hollow with razors around its edges. I didn’t like the idea of Tamla being anywhere near that voice. Unfortunately, just as she was encountering Mr. Winkworth, I was hopping into a noose without knowing it.


     The corporate offices of Red Card Express towered less than a mile from the Adams Hotel, but I drove and parked anyway. Phoenix doesn’t lend itself to convenient walking and so foot transportation is reserved for pursuit and flight. Once inside the circular garage, I wound my way up the carousel until I finally plugged the Crown Victoria into a space that would have been a tight squeeze for a bicycle. After a swift ride in the elevator down to the ninth floor, I found myself standing in an expansive lobby where passersby absorbed themselves in reports as they ricocheted from one office to the next, somehow never quite colliding with one another. I said “Excuse me” to three different people who didn’t so much as look up from their clipboards and palm pilots as they passed. Not intending to spend any more time than necessary among the human pinballs, I grabbed one young go-getter by the upper arm and turned him my way.
    Once his feet shifted to neutral, I said, “I understand there’s a board meeting this morning. How do I find it?”
    As his face turned to mine, his lips skinned back to reveal a set of teeth that would have been perfect had he removed the strand of floss by the upper left canine. He said, “Take that hall all the way down. Turn right. Third door on your left.”
    I thanked him, released his arm, and started off down the hallway. I heard him call after me, “The meeting’s probably over by now.” When I looked back, he was once again absorbed in his reading, moments from colliding into a fat man gargling with a cup of coffee.
    It turned out the meeting was behind the fourth door rather than the third, but then again my young friend had also been wrong about it being over. Seven men and two women sat at an oblong table and all discussion ceased the moment I swung open the doors and marched inside. As I made my way over to stand behind a sour-looking gentleman at the far end, I said, “I bring news about Lucien Tambor. Sorry for the disturbance, but I’m sure you’ll want to know that he’s safe. He also gives every sign of being innocent.”
     Eight of the nine reacted to this news with a round of indistinct grumbling. The sour man at the head said, “Who are you?”
     By that time I was standing behind him with my hands gripping the back of his chair. The only way he could look at me was to tilt his head back and peer up. He squirmed a bit in this position before resolving to stare straight ahead.
     I told them, “I am a fellow with a few questions. Mr. Tambor is my employer. You may confide in me as you would in him. Now from what I know, the price of Red Card Express stock rose from an average of $30 a share to $65 in less than two months. Then just before it tanked, Mr. Tambor’s shares were converted into cash. He says the acquisitions and divestitures were accomplished without his knowledge.”
     A man to my right said, “Not possible.”
    “And I believe him,” I said. “What would it take to frame him?”
     One of the two women sneered. “He’s left us all completely vulnerable.”
     The man in the chair in front of me shifted a bit, so I pushed him up closer against the table. I said, “Let’s pretend Tambor’s telling the truth. How could the sale be made without his knowledge?” And who would accept it?”
     A man on the left raised his hand. “It would take his Social Security number, his employee ID number, and his password. The first two could be gotten through Human Resources. The password? Well, someone he told it to, or someone with a way of tracking his sign-ons.”
    “A computer person, then?”
     “But that’s really the easy part,” the man continued, finally lowering his hand. “The real question is how could he manipulate the stock prices? Or how could someone?”
     The fellow in the chair I was holding piped up. “One of this company’s holdings has been investing in research with the goal of mutating human DNA.”
     I pulled out his chair and spun him toward me. “Mutating it?”
     He straightened out his shirt sleeves. “Making it so that two previously unique strands from two different people would become similar enough to defy distinction beyond a scientific certainty. The patent will be worth billions. To raise capital to divert to that project, we didn’t keep it a secret.”
     The woman who had sneered earlier advised me, “That type of thing is done all the time in the market.”
     While I wondered to what legitimate uses such a project could be put, I noticed that the second woman was using her cell phone to send a text message.
     “That’s a matter for the SEC to determine,” I said. “My own investments run afternoons at Turf Paradise. Who’s the head computer guy?”
     A man at the far end snorted, “That’s Del. Delbert Winkworth. But he and Lucien are great friends.”
     My captive rubbed the side of his face and looked up at me.
     “Something you wanted to say?”
     “Winkworth’s wife,” he said. “I’m sure it’s just coincidence.”
    “What is?”
     “You see, Catherine Winkworth is in charge of the DNA project. She’s a research scientist.”
     I patted the side of his face. The second woman put her phone back into her purse.
     “None of this is proof,” I said, starting toward the door. “But it’s something to go on. I won’t keep you all any longer.”


     I was almost to the door when the second woman caught up with me. “May I speak with you alone for a moment?” she asked.
    I nodded to the others and she and I stepped out into the hall. “There’s something in my purse I want you to see.”
     It had been years since anyone had said that to me, so as she unsnapped her bag and reached inside, I peeked. A small revolver, about the size of a .22, was in her hand. Both the gun and the hand remained in the opened purse. “Let’s walk to the parking garage,” she said.
     The doors to the conference room opened and there stood my friend, the fellow I’d pressed into servitude. “Helen, is everything all right?”
     As God is my witness, she batted her eyelashes at him. “Oh, yes, Dave. I’m just walking the gentleman out. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
     The way he stared at her, for a second I thought he was going to tell her the jig was up, rap her in the mouth and catch the purse before it hit the floor. What he did instead was say, “Okay,” and disappeared behind the closed door.
     “We’re going out through the garage exit,” she said as we began navigating our way back through the unending currents of oblivious hustlers.
     “Lady has a gun in her purse,” I mentioned to everyone we passed, none of whom either heard or considered it a problem. Maybe she was always taking men out to the parking garage.
     Out on the ninth floor of the garage, she extracted her weapon and backed me up against a rail. “You’ve stumbled onto a complex scenario,” she said. “And now you’re going to stumble up and over that rail. You might eventually figure this thing out and I simply cannot permit that.”
     I glanced around. We were alone. I said, “How about this? You were seeing both Del Winkworth and Lucien Tambor, using the latter to help the former?”
    She didn’t bat her lashes at me. “And poor Catherine Winkworth hasn’t a clue. But then again, neither does Natasha. That fool thinks she cheating on her husband. It never occurred to her that she was being used. It’s a pity I can’t think of a use for you. You might be mildly entertaining.”
     “I’m a riot. I suppose you’ve contacted Winkworth?”
     She nodded. “He and I make a fine team. Strictly business, of course.”
     Based on my own admittedly limited knowledge of diligent business types, I’ve found them to be lacking in social awareness. I tested that theory. Glancing over her shoulder, I said, “You didn’t tell me he’d be joining us.”
     Her head snapped halfway in that direction before she suspected a ruse. By that time I jammed my foot hard against her knee and grabbed her wrist. Her fingers sought the trigger, but I pried the weapon loose before she could use it.


     I was halfway to the Tambor house before it dawned on me that after I’d cuffed Helen to the railing I should have used her cell phone to call Tamla. In the past the fact of my not carrying a phone had always been more of an inconvenience to others than to myself. Tamla had urged me to buy one at least ten times. I floored the Vic’s accelerator and made an illegal pass of a school bus.
     Helen had remained tight-lipped as I was securing her, but I had pieced together most of the story. Mrs. Winkworth had cozied up to Lucien Tambor and spilled what she knew to her husband. The information she could supply came through Natasha Tambor, directly to Delbert Winkworth himself. Helen Whatshername served as coordinator and virtual tease for her operation with Mr. Winkworth. Where the money was, I still didn’t know, but Tambor had been the fall guy, the perfect mark. Before he’d even known he was in the game, he was out, literally, out on the street, with everyone from the government to the local police looking to hang him. The chances were good that—lacking access to any funds—he’d either be killed or turn himself in.
     I jumped a red light at the intersection of Shea and Scottsdale Road. I was doing seventy-five and passed a cop. He didn’t even look up. Some days you actually can’t even get arrested.
     The DNA project had been the clincher. In the process of tying up loose ends, they’d need to kill a few people, most likely the wives of Tambor and Winkworth. With Catherine Winkworth’s work complete, they could finish the frame by planting Lucien’s DNA (or a reasonable facsimile) at the crime scenes. Juries couldn’t understand regular DNA testing. But mutated DNA? He’d be convicted before anyone even considered the possibilities.
     Tamla’s car blocked the driveway so I parked on the lawn, tearing off a few sprinkler heads in the process. I rang the doorbell and charged right in with Helen’s .22 in my fist.
     “Douglas, when will you buy a cell phone?”
     That was Tamla, sitting just as pretty as pie, her feet up on a coffee table, a TV remote in her hand. In a corner sat a woman roughly the size of a small tuna boat. Beneath her lay the prone figure of a man.
     “Get me one for Christmas,” I told her. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
     She smiled. “The man on the floor having trouble breathing is Delbert Winkworth. He has been a bad fellow, fleecing our Mr. Tambor out of so much.”
     I pocketed the gun and joined Tamla on the couch. “And the woman?”
     “That porcine figure belongs to Mrs. Tambor. She got wise to Winkworth’s shenanigans, but assumed the two of them would run off together. He got the drop on me, Douglas, but when he told Mrs. Tambor—”
     “Call me Natasha,” the woman said.
     Tamla continued. “When he told Natasha he was taking off with somebody named Helen—”
     “I’ve met her,” I said. “Foul disposition.”
     “Mrs. Tambor landed a flying tackle. I’ve been watching the soaps ever since.”
     We phoned the police and gained Mrs. Tambor’s word that she wouldn’t move until they arrived. Then we headed toward the Adams Hotel to check in on Lucien.

     “I wonder what happened to all that money,” I said while looking for a place where I wouldn’t have to parallel park.
     Tamla brushed some lint off my knee and said, “I’ll make you a deal. If I guess, and I’m right, you have to make me a full partner, including a raise.”
     “Deal,” I said.
     Lucien had checked out. From the undisturbed appearance of the room, we couldn’t see that he’d even been there. I scratched my head and Tamla laughed.
     “What’s funny?”
     “How about this? Lucien Tambor figured everything out before he ever came to us, including the fact that the money was in an account controlled by Mrs. Winkworth. I’ll give you odds, Douglas, that they’re out of the country by now.”
     I felt dizzy. I had sort of liked Lucien. I said, “So he came to me—to us—hoping we’d complete the tying up: capture Helen, Mrs. Tambor, and of course Winkworth.”
     “That, or he suspected all along and enabled them to scam him, knowing he’d benefit in the end.”
    An envelope sat on top of the TV set. I tore it open and my five twenties spilled out, along with a note. Tamla read it aloud.
     “Dear Doctor, you will need these far more than will I. Thanks for having faith in me, even though it was misplaced. By the end of the week you’ll receive payment for services. L.T.”
     I returned the twenties to my wallet.
     “Don’t look so glum,” my new partner said. “I’m going to take you out to celebrate my promotion. Dinner and a drink. Minimum.”
     I studied her face and saw it studying mine. “You mean a minimum of one drink?”
     “I don’t believe that’s what I meant at all,” she said.