Read Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky Online

Authors: Johm Howard Reid

Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky (21 page)

28

 

After all that drama, I was pleasantly surprised on Wednesday night. The TV broadcast of the show actually came across – if not with kudos – at least with moderate honor.

    Certainly, my TV debut wouldn’t cause Stephen Colbert any worries. But all the same, my new toupee made me look as suave and sophisticated as the best of them. I didn’t quite project Sedge’s easy confidence, his assumed but natural-seeming nonchalance, his ability to appear so unfazed and in such complete control – no matter what slip-ups occurred in the control room or what disasters of dullness he might encounter in the contestants.

    Admittedly, I seemed somewhat less tolerant of wafflers and windbags, but I thought my quick temper helped the show. The quiz segments certainly moved fast. Of course, producer Monty Fairmont and director Ace Jellis had been busy with the editing shears, and there was no doubt that – following my lead – Mr. Kent had cunningly loaded the program with even more commercials than usual. In addition to the normal overdose of super-contented Total Service travelers, we were breathlessly informed not only of the scientific wonders formulated into a new liquid detergent, but of a used car dealer whose honesty and generosity made Santa Claus look like a thieving miser, plus a fading movie star plugging an irresistible concoction of delicious, diet-delight biscuits filled with all the goodness of sulfur dioxide and real imitation cherries.

    But disregarding all the byways, the main fact was that I looked pretty good. Maybe I’ll invest in a toupee for real.

    Actually, I almost missed the show. I didn’t watch it at my place. I remembered the brand new set at Douglas’s just going to waste. And anyway I wanted to check out my inheritance a bit more thoroughly – and without cops looming over my shoulder.

    Once again I parked my old Ford at the bottom of the hill and walked up the hellish grade slowly, and all ready to make a quick disappearance if I spotted a cop car anywhere near my driveway. No, the place seemed deserted. I checked the mailbox even though I couldn’t imagine that Dune-Harrigan would subscribe to anything of interest and I felt sure that the cops had already taken most of the contents away anyway.

    As it turned out, I was crediting the cops with more efficiency than they deserved. Along with the usual mailbox mess of useless spiels detailing the latest record-busting specials at Demimonde Druggists and Delirious Discounts, was the electricity bill from LADWP: Over $900 for the last quarter! That was more than I paid for a whole year. The five-star professor must have taken a hot shower on the hour and left every light blazing like a shopping mall on pension day.

    There was also a bill from
Julio’s Prestigious Cars of Distinction:
$13,000 for a 1986 Alfetta sedan. What would crazy old Dune-Harrigan be doing with an Alfetta? And where was it? The last time I checked the useless garage, it was empty!                

    The deadlock on the front door was almost impossible to pick, but on my last visit I’d taken the precaution of unlatching a window at the side of the house. This window fronted a flower-bed and there was no way even an acrobat could reach the sill without touching ground. I checked carefully. The earth had not been disturbed. Of course, I’d have to put my own big footprints into the earth, but I’d smooth them away before I left in the morning. Now, if only some conscientious cop hadn’t taken it into his feeble brain to secure all the windows… He hadn’t – and I was in!

    First, I checked the garage. Sure enough, I found a sleek-looking Alfetta sitting in the space that I’d swear was empty last time I looked. Where the hell had it been? Perhaps the cops found it somewhere and brought it home? Anyway, I gave it a quick once-over. I’m no expert on luxury cars, but I wouldn’t have paid $3,000 for it. The tires were new and the body gleamed, but the engine was shot – and no tin lizzie wonder! The speedo showed 257,512 miles! The previous owner must have been a lingerie salesman who burned the car up all over the forty-eight states for ten or twenty years. $13,000 for this heap? Prestigious Mr. Julio could whistle for his money!

    I raided Dune-Harrigan’s pantry and fridge, but he’d obviously not dined much at home. I had to settle for a can of tomato soup with lentils.

    Dune-Harrigan was one crazy old joker, no doubt about it. No matter what drawer I opened – looking for a spoon, a tin opener, a soup bowl or whatever – I was sure to find keys. Not a whole bundle of them on a chain or tied with string or wire, but loose: three in this drawer, four in that, five over there – all shapes, types and sizes. What were they supposed to unlock? Only the front door needed a key – and that one was missing! Even the four capacious drawers in Dune-Harrigan’s study desk had no locks, but they themselves yielded a further fifteen keys!

    But it wasn’t Dune-Harrigan’s varied collections of keys that interested me. Somewhere the good professor must have left some clues to where he’d stashed his Egyptian collection. I knew it existed. So I was looking for storage receipts, bills from forwarding agencies, copies of old Customs Declarations (“3 dozen glass/terra cotta souvenirs”, etc.), travel folders, foreign coins, streetcar tickets – anything! But I found nothing. In fact, I was so engrossed I this search , I almost missed my TV debut. I switched the set on just as Monty’s voice was reaching its final crescendo: “… Alberta, Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand please for Mr. Don Ellin!” 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