Authors: George C. Chesbro
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery Fiction, #Private Investigators, #Mongo (Fictitious Character), #Criminologists, #Dwarfs, #Private Investigators - New York (State) - New York, #Criminologists - New York (State) - New York, #Dwarfs - New York (State) - New York
"Remember to send me a postcard."
I tried to shake off the feeling of exclusion, the suspicion that I'd gone gun-shy. "How about that steak now?"
"You hungry?" Garth sounded distracted.
"Not really, no. But I'd like to buy my brother a steak. You mind?"
Garth pushed the typewriter aside and rose. "I thought you'd never get around to it," he said. "But I don't like it when you sound like you're buying a condemned man his last meal."
After lunch I went to my uptown office to wait for Foster. Another call to Abu's office told me he still wasn't in. The secretary wouldn't give me his unlisted home number. I tried to occupy myself by reading the junk mail that had accumulated. Two o'clock came and went. At two forty- five I left a message taped to the door and caught a subway downtown. I was getting edgy. For all I knew, Abu was holed up somewhere with a mistress, but I wanted to do a little personal checking.
A few blocks from the subway station the upended stone- and-glass slab that was the U.N. Secretariat building rose into a cloudless, azure sky—a gigantic symbol of man's striving for something better than the economic and political squalor the majority of his fellows were accustomed to.
ff the polished windows
on the upper stories as
flock of starlings rode an air current up o
ff the East River and across the face of the building. Suddenly another, larger bird appeared, a little behind the others. This bird was surrounded by a glistening shower of what looked like water. The bird flapped helplessly and plunged toward the earth as its companions flew on without it.
I was running before the body hit the ground.
The screams of police and ambulance sirens were closing in as I reached the U.N. plaza. Theirs was a futile, hopeless sound; the man who had fallen would never need an ambulance or a policeman again.
Stunned pedestrians and U.N. guards stood around staring at something just out of my line of vision. I pushed through the gathering crowd and stopped a few paces away from the bloody, broken thing splashed over the concrete apron. The head was a shapeless jam, but one hand lay in macabre, ironic repose atop the caved-in chest. I'd seen the large opal ring on the finger before.
I stared at what was left of the gentle Pakistani for a few moments, then turned away and dazedly groped my way back through the crowd toward the street. Cops and stretcher bearers raced past me in the opposite direction, but it seemed as if they and everything else were going in slow motion. I heard Abu's voice, speaking to me from the opposite end of a long, dark tunnel, telling me how happy he'd be to help me.
Now he was dead. He'd asked the wrong people the wrong questions.
Now I needed some answers. I needed to know why a friend of mine was dead; to find out what terrible knowledge Victor Rafferty had possessed. There was only one person besides Lippitt who I thought could give me those answers, and that was where I intended to go.
Still numb with shock and something like terror, I managed to hail a cab. I mumbled Foster's address, then sank back into the cab's cracked leather seat. I thought I heard Garth yelling at me as the cab pulled away, but I wasn't sure whether the voice was any more real than Abu's, and didn't really care.
Feeling started to return during the long ride to Queens, but I still saw mental flashes of Abu's body plummeting like a wingless bird to be squashed on a hot sidewalk. Garth was going to be asking me some tough questions when I got back, and I intended to ask them of Mrs. Foster first. The toughest questions were the ones I was going to be asking of myself.
I was wound down by the time I reached the Fosters' home: an expensive trilevel on a street with just enough other houses to provide neighbors, but not enough to make anyone feel crowded. I'd originally intended to come on like Dr. J driving for the basket and start firing questions. Now I realized that that wouldn't help anyone. I wasn't going to feel particularly gallant pumping Mrs. Foster for information if she was alone, so I stood on the sidewalk, hands in my pockets, staring at the house and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
There was no sign of the Olds: just a black Falcon in the driveway, probably Mrs. Foster's. A phone started to ring inside the house. It rang five or six times, then stopped, unanswered. The muscles in my stomach knotted. I walked up to the front door and tried the bell. There was no answer. I rang the bell again, then pounded on the door; still no answer. It suddenly became very important to me that I get inside the house. It was broad daylight, but I was in a hurry and not thinking too clearly; I used a plastic credit card to jimmy my way past the spring lock and into the house.
Not sure what I expected to find, I went through the house room by room. The fact that the door was locked and hadn't been tampered with seemed to be a good sign. Everything inside the house seemed in order; there were no signs of a struggle. The Fosters had apparently left the house under their own power. The question remained as to where they had gone, and why Foster hadn't kept our appointment.
I used the phone to call my answering service. There were no messages from Foster, or anyone else. Next I called Garth's station house. Garth was out. Finally I called a cab, then the airline to cancel my flight to Acapulco.
Garth was waiting for me on the steps of the station house when my cab pulled up to the curb. He came down to the sidewalk to meet me. "You knew him, didn't you?" he said perfunctorily. His eyes were opaque, stirred by conflicting emotions.
"Yes." He didn't have to tell me whom he was talking about. "And I think I'm responsible for his death."
"You have an inclination toward self-pity," Garth snapped. "Some bloody bastard pushed him out a window, and I sure as hell know it wasn't you."
"I'm sorry I ran out on you back there," I said, my voice thick with fatigue. "I couldn't. . .handle it at the time."
Garth nodded. "It has something to do with the Rafferty case, doesn't it?"
"I think so," I said, knowing so.
"Then maybe it's time you told me everything you know, right from the beginning."
We went into Garth's office and spent the next three quarters of an hour going over what I knew and a little of what I suspected. A second shock wave of horror rolled over me, taking away my breath. Garth saw and tried to beat it back with words.
"You say you talked with him yesterday morning," Garth said, poking me on the arm and forcing me to focus my attention on his words. "Then it all happened incredibly fast."
"Somebody inside that building killed him. And it wasn't a visitor—not up on those floors."
"More likely somebody looking for him. Whoever did it probably thought that Abu knew something. God
"You could be the next target."
"I hope so," I said evenly.
"That sounds suicidal."
Garth looked at me for a long time. "These boys are rough, Mongo, and they seem to be in a big hurry. There was enough left of your friend to determine that he'd been tortured."
"What's going to be done about it?" I whispered hoarsely.
Garth took a long time to answer. "I don't think anything will be done about it; at least not by the N.Y.P.D."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because your friend fell out of the U.N. building. Even if we wanted to, we can't go in there without an invitation. It's like a sovereign state."
there be an invitation?"
"Because somebody will object; somebody
objects. Besides, it wouldn't do any good." He paused, hit his desk in frustration. "Let's suppose we
find out something— which is highly unlikely. Almost everyone in there, with the exception of the Americans, enjoys diplomatic immunity. We couldn't do anything with the killer if we
"What about the publicity? Don't the U.N. people want the public to think they're doing something about it?"
"Oh, the publicity will be bad for a few days, but then it'll die down. It would be even worse if they asked for a police investigation; the police would be followed and questioned by reporters for days, weeks, months, however long it took."
"Then the murderer goes free?"
"I'm afraid that's it. Unless he gets called on the carpet for sloppy workmanship; there are a hell of a lot of tidier ways to kill a man than to push him out the twenty-seventh floor of the U.N. building."
"That's what I was thinking."
"Exactly what would that be?"
"That he wasn't pushed. There's no way the people involved in this thing would want to attract so much attention."
Garth studied me. "You think he
"Yes. As a warning signal to me. He knew they were going to kill him, and he wanted to warn me that I'd be next. He'd given them my name under torture."
"We'll give you some protection."
Garth started to reach for the telephone and I grabbed his wrist. "I don't want it," I said. "Besides, I don't think it would do any good. If they want me, they'll find a way to get me."
"Are you still going to Acapulco?"
Garth's eyes narrowed. "What do you plan to do, Mongo?"
"I don't know." The next words forced their way out of me. "I'd like to do a little killing."
"That's not hard to understand, but you're going to have to learn to live with it."
"I may not be able to. They must know about me, and they're going to want to know what I know. They're going to be watching, waiting."
"You keep your eyes open, brother."
"What about the Morton case?"
Garth tapped his fingers on the side of his chair. He seemed angry, frustrated. "I requested permission to reopen it. I was turned down flat. The U.N. isn't the only organization that doesn't want local cops nosing around in its business."
to be a tie-in with Rafferty!"
Garth nodded. I turned and walked out of the office.
Somebody already knew what I knew: My apartment had been broken into and ransacked. The tapes I'd made were gone. They'd ignored my gun. I cleaned and loaded it, then strapped on my shoulder holster. If they had my tapes, they didn't need me. On the other hand, they might want to make sure that I hadn't left anything out. I hoped someone would come for me. It was the only way I could avenge Abu's death.
Waiting: For most of the afternoon I sat in a chair, sweating, watching the door. I called the Foster home four times and didn't get an answer. Mike's office hadn't heard from him either. In the evening, Ronald Tal called to invite me to a memorial service for Abu the next morning at eleven. I said I'd be there.
After rigging up a crude alarm system, I went to bed with my hand on the gun under my pillow. I slept badly, dreaming of a man with a secret so deadly that men were willing to torture and kill almost at the mere mention of his name.
In the morning I took an ice-cold shower and tried to pull myself together. I dressed, ate, and went out into the brilliant morning sunshine. The hard bulge of the revolver in my armpit felt reassuring.
On the steps of the U.N. plaza a woman with blue hair was standing by the spot where Abu had fallen, gesturing excitedly to the two young children she had in tow. I identified myself to a guard at the entrance, and he escorted me to a small, dimly lighted chapel. At the front was a closed casket surrounded by banks of lilies. The symbol of Islam hung on the wall behind the casket, and there was an honor guard of Pakistanis standing by the bier. Taped organ music played softly in the background.
I stood by the bier for a few minutes staring into the reflections in the oiled mahogany surface of the casket, then turned and walked toward the back of the chapel. The pews were sparsely filled with morning-coated representatives of the various member nations. I found a black-suited Tal in the right-hand corner of the last pew.
He rose and offered me his hand. "Hello, Dr. Frederickson," he said quietly.
"Thanks for the call," I said. "Abu was a good friend of mine."
"He was my friend too," Tal said softly. "Which is why I thought you wouldn't mind my asking some questions."
"I don't feel much like answering questions, and I'm not sure this is the proper time or place."
"It won't make much difference to Abu, will it? I'd like to find out who did this to him, but I need information. Assuming you're being watched, I thought this chapel would be the safest place to talk. We both have a reason for being here."
"All right," I said. "Are you doing this on your own?"
"No. The Secretary General would like to know what happened, and why. This has happened in our 'house,' so to speak. Effective steps can be taken to find out who the murderer is and have him recalled."
"I had something else in mind."
"We'll have to settle for what we can get. But the publicity I'll arrange will be very embarrassing to the country involved. I can almost guarantee that they'll punish whoever is responsible."
"All right, I'm listening."
The pew was hard and I shifted in my seat, half-turning toward Tal. As I moved, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye that made me turn all the way around. Elliot Thomas' head jerked back almost imperceptibly. There was no way of knowing how long he'd been standing there, watching, but it was obvious that I'd startled him. He nodded slightly, then walked slowly down the aisle toward the bier.
"Is something the matter?" Tal asked.
"No," I said after a pause. "Just uncomfortable. I'm all right now."
"You asked me about Victor Rafferty. Was Abu making the same kind of inquiries?"
"Yes," I said tersely.
"Can you tell me who hired you?"
"Perhaps it would be a clue," Tal said softly.
"I don't think so." I wasn't ready to trust Tal—or anyone else who didn't already know—with the Fosters' name, at least not until I found out where they were.
Thomas remained at the bier for a few moments, head bowed, then turned and walked back up the aisle. He didn't look at me as he passed.
Tal remained silent for a few minutes, thinking. Then he said, "Victor Rafferty was obviously more than just the greatest architect of our age."
Deciding it might be time to open up a bit, I told Tal about Lippitt, and some of what Lippitt had told me.
Tal took some time to digest what I'd told him, then said: "It seems that everyone was satisfied as long as they believed Victor Rafferty was dead. It's the possibility of his being alive that they find so upsetting."
"That's exactly right." I had the feeling I was being watched. I quickly glanced around me, but Elliot Thomas was nowhere in sight. I was surprised to find that almost all the mourners had changed; they seemed to be coming and going in ten minute shifts. At the moment there was a large number of Asians.
"Tell me," Tal said. "On the basis of your investigation so far, do
believe that Rafferty is alive?"
"There are two versions of how he died," I said, turning back to him. "In both versions he ends up in a furnace filled with molten metal. Either way, there wouldn't be any trace."
"You mean, if it ever happened."
"Sure. But Lippitt was pretty forceful on that point. He says he shot Rafferty first."
"He could be lying. As you point out, the furnace story would be a handy excuse not to have to produce a body."
"Still, there was something about Lippitt that bothered me. He seemed to be taking the whole matter personally. He told me something like this could happen. I should have listened harder."
"Then you blame yourself for Abu's death?"
"I think your guilt is misplaced."
"Don't patronize me, Tal."
"All right. Feel guilty if it helps you."
My first reaction was anger. Then something happened which I could not understand and which frightened me; for a split second I thought I was losing my mind. I heard a sound that was not a sound; a single soft, dizzying chime inside my mind that cleared away the din of jumbled, jagged thoughts, leaving in its echoing wake an absolute stillness. Into that silence came a voice that was not a voice, an eerie sensation of speech without sound, a series of vibrations echoing in my subconscious and delivering a message I could understand and accept: Abu's death was not my fault; by the time I'd been in a position to warn Abu, it was already too late.
I could feel the guilt being lifted from me, to be replaced by a kind of warmth and gentle sadness that allowed me to genuinely grieve for my friend. I wiped away tears.
"Huh?" I'd forgotten all about Tal.
"Are you all right? You look pale."
"I'm all right."
"Do you want to leave?"
"No. Not just yet," I said distantly. I felt strangely disoriented, but at peace.
"Did you finish your investigation to your satisfaction?" Tal asked quietly.
"There would appear to be a slight semantic difference."
"No semantics involved. I'm just off the case." Any investigating I did from that point on would be done strictly in secret. I had to find the Fosters.
"Don't you want to find Abu's killer?"
"Yes, but not if it means more people will die."
Tal quietly cleared his throat. "The Secretary General would like to see you continue the investigation. I think you'll find his terms generous."
I looked up, surprised. "Why me?"
"You're the only logical choice. You're already deeply involved; you know the case."
"Why don't you use your own people?"
"Because the Secretary General would like this investigation to be carried on outside of regular channels, for obvious reasons."
"Lippitt was right," I said, looking away. "People get hurt when you start mentioning Rafferty's name."
"That phase of it may be over; there's been too much publicity over Abu's murder. But more people could die in any case. Consider: You're undoubtedly being watched and followed in an effort to see what you turn up. If you cut off your investigation, the others may continue on their own. They won't ask questions as gently as you do. You've seen the results of their work."
I decided to walk around the suggestion and look at it awhile longer. "It seems like pretty dirty business for a Secretary General to involve himself in."
Tal considered it, then said, "Would you agree that Rolfe Thaag is the most effective Secretary General the U.N. has ever had?"
"Well, he's only as 'good' as the information he receives. In the world of international politics and diplomacy, information is the most valuable commodity. Facts are badly needed here if Abu's murderer is to be brought to justice. And, of course, we want to know if Rafferty
here at the United Nations, and if so, what he's doing." He paused, drumming his fingers silently on the back of the pew in front of him. "Will you work for us?"
The crowd had shifted again; the Europeans had taken over. I pretended to mull the offer over, even though I knew what I was going to say. The case couldn't be closed for me until I learned the Fosters were safe. If I was going to look for them, I might as well be paid while I was doing it. "All right," I said. "But I'll drop it again like a hot potato if I think there's good reason to."