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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

Shadow of a Broken Man (3 page)

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
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I let the photograph slip from my fingers onto the top of my desk, as though the fire in those eyes might burn me. Then I hurried back out into the day.


It was time for my meeting with Richard Patern, and I wasn't looking forward to it; I'd lied to get the appointment, and I was hard-pressed to think of a reason why Patern should want to talk to me once he discovered my real interests. I made it a point to be on time.

After a swift, whining ride in a Muzak-filled elevator, I found myself in familiar territory at the main reception desk of Fielding, Fielding and Gross. I was somewhat surprised when the receptionist waved me on into the interior network of corridors, and even more surprised to find a man I assumed was the resident genius waiting for me outside his office in his shirt sleeves. He grinned when he saw his secretary staring at me as if I had no clothes on.

Richard Patern was a man in his early thirties who projected the image of an athlete-scholar. He'd kept in shape, and was obviously proud of his body; he had broad shoulders, a trim waist, and the tight, somewhat awkward gait of a former football player or wrestler. His deep tan nicely complemented bright, intelligent hazel eyes. To round off the image, he wore a twenty-five-dollar razor haircut and a two-hundred-fifty-dollar Brooks Brothers suit. He looked good and he knew it.

Patern stepped forward and extended a tapered, sinewy hand. "Mongo the Magnificent,' he intoned like an announcer. I shook his hand. Gripping me firmly by the elbow, he presented me to his secretary, who was still staring at me wide-eyed. "This is one of the greatest circus performers of all time. Incredible gymnast and tumbler; absolutely able to defy gravity."

"So you told me," the woman said breathily. Her green eyes blinked like traffic lights. "Hello again, Dr. Frederickson."

Patern ushered me into an office decorated in browns and golds, with vast areas of tinted glass that afforded a dizzying view of Manhattan. Outside, a helicopter flapped silently toward its aerie somewhere along the East River.

The walls of the office that weren't glass were decorated exclusively with antique, lacquered circus posters which looked very old and valuable. Frank Manning, preoccupied with his sandbox, had neglected to mention the fact that Patern was a circus buff. It could make things difficult.

"Would you like some coffee, Dr. Frederickson?"

I nodded. Patern buzzed his secretary, who appeared within seconds with cups and a pot of coffee on a tray.

"Let's see," Patern said, stirring his coffee. His gaze slowly rose to the ceiling, then snapped back to my face as his memory circuits revved up. "You were a headliner with the Statler Brothers Circus. Genius I.Q.; used your time and money to study for a Ph.D. in criminology. You retired from the circus, and you work uptown at the university." He paused, apparently inviting me to respond. I declined with a smile. He asked, "Do you know Frank Manning?"

"I do," I said a little stiffly. "Frank" Manning sounded a little strained and familiar coming from Patern. I indicated his office with a sweep of my hand, tried to keep my voice neutral. "You've come a long way in a short time, Mr. Patern."

He didn't seem to hear me. "Let's see," he said distantly, "I think I saw a piece on you in
... something about you also being a private detective. Is that right?"

I nodded, beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"Well, I'm really delighted to meet you," he said with apparent sincerity. "My secretary tells me you want to talk to me about a building."

"A particular building, Mr. Patern. I'd like to ask you some questions about the Nately Museum."

His smile remained, but the hazel eyes above it grew hard and cold. "That sounds like detective talk, not client talk."

detective talk." With my personal dossier in Patern's head, there didn't seem much point in trying to maintain the potential-client masquerade. "I'd appreciate your giving me some information."

He gave it some thought, then said, "I don't mean to be rude, but I just can't see why the Nately Museum should concern a private detective."

"Why don't you let me be the judge of that? You may be doing yourself a favor in the long run. There are some people who don't believe the idea for the museum was yours."

"What people?" he snapped.

"I'm told there's a similarity between the Nately Museum and some of Victor Rafferty's work. The people who mention it definitely don't mean it as a compliment to you."

A look of genuine surprise and concern swept over his face. "What's this Rafferty business?" he said impatiently. "Rafferty's been dead four, five years."

Something in the architect's voice suggested that I hadn't been the first to make the comparison to his face. I asked him about it, and he made a quick, nervous gesture with his hands.

"A guy at the dedication ceremony mentioned it," he said tightly.

"Do you remember the man's name?"

Patern absently rubbed a knuckle in one eye while he thought about it, then shook his head. "No. I remember he was well dressed, had a full beard, and walked with a limp. Look, is this really important?"

It struck me that it was to him; otherwise he'd already have asked me to leave. "It could be, Mr. Patern. Is there anything else you remember about this man?"

"I think he had two first names. I mean, his last name was a first name. He wanted to know where I got the idea for the museum. I told him I thought it was a stupid question."

"I don't want to sound stupid," I said, clearing my throat, "but where
you get the idea for the museum?"

"It sounds like somebody may be preparing a legal action against me," he said tightly. "Accusing me of stealing somebody else's idea is a ridiculous charge, and it's ridiculous for you to expect me to help somebody who might be out to embarrass me."

"Nobody's trying to embarrass you. My investigation doesn't involve a lawsuit."

He studied me intently for a few moments; when he spoke, it was very softly. "Then you won't mind telling me who hired you."

"I can't tell you that, Mr. Patern."

He smiled crookedly. "You mean you won't."

I didn't say anything, and his voice suddenly turned ugly. "You're helping somebody poke their nose in my business. You want me to give you information, and you won't even tell me who wants it, and why. You can get out, Frederickson."

I could see his point, but held my ground. "What is it that you have to hide, Mr. Patern?"

He half-rose out of his chair, then slowly sat down again. When he spoke his voice was controlled, but a blue vein throbbed in his forehead. "I don't have anything to hide, and I find it insulting for you to imply that I do. Look, I don't
to copy another man's work; I'm too good an architect. Besides, I have my preliminary sketches to prove that the Nately Museum is my work."

"It's not your sketches I'm interested in; it's the basic concept for the museum. Where did that come from?"

He hesitated for only a split second, but it was enough to convince me I was onto something. "That's none of your business," he said with controlled anger.

I tried pushing another button to open a door and reveal what had been hidden behind the hesitation. "What about the 'Rafferty angles' in the building?"

"You'll find 'Rafferty angles' in any one of hundreds of buildings constructed in the past fifteen years," he said easily. He seemed comfortable with the question. "They're the only means you can use to get that special lighter-than-air effect. They're no secret."

"I don't know about that, Mr. Patern," I said, watching his face. "I do know this: the design for the building that became the Nately Museum was one of Victor Rafferty's pet projects, right down to the last line."

His eyes clouded. "How do you know that?"

"You'll just have to take my word for it. Now, would you like to tell me about the Nately Museum?"

"My God," he whispered. He blinked rapidly and turned his face away. "I... don't understand. It never occurred to me that I might be stealing someone else's idea."

"I believe you, Mr. Patern. You could help your case by telling me how that building came about."

"I don't know where the idea came from," he said quietly, after a long pause. "More precisely, I don't know
it came from." He shook his head and leaned forward in his chair; it brought him back into the room with me. "I saw a sketch; a very rough pencil drawing."

"Do you have this sketch?" I asked quickly.

"No. It wasn't something that you'd keep. Here—"

He took a pencil and scratch pad out of his desk and quickly drew some lines. It was a crude drawing of a building that could be recognized as the Nately Museum. It was difficult to see how such a simple sketch could have been transformed into a structure that, according to Foster, was a virtual line-by-line replica of Rafferty's project.

"This is all there was?"

He nodded. "It's close. It was only a scrap of paper, but it just seemed to open up so many possibilities... like watching a paper airplane soar can lead to the development of a new type of wing. I don't call that stealing."

Neither did I, assuming Patern was telling the truth. "What about all the details in the building?"

He shrugged helplessly, as though he despaired of making me understand. "I studied Rafferty's work for years, like thousands of other architectural students. After a time, I suppose, you begin to absorb certain principles of style and design. The design for that building, even in the sketch that I showed you, is so
that one thing necessarily leads to the next. Once you understand the concept, it almost completes itself."

"Did you mention this to the man with the beard?"

"No. I was busy, flying high. We didn't have what you'd call a conversation. To me, he was just a stranger."

"Where did you find this drawing?"

"I was taking part in a two-day seminar at the U.N. on housing problems in underdeveloped countries. I remember coming... into a room for a meeting. I was early. Another session had just finished when I sat down and found this paper in front of me."

"Was it the only paper on the table?" I asked quietly. I sensed that remembering—and telling me—the story had cost him something.

He sighed. "No. The room was a mess; there was a tight schedule between sessions and the janitorial staff only had a few minutes to clean up. Anyway, that drawing was like a Rorschach blot; I sat there staring at it, and all of a sudden I knew what the whole building would look like. At the time I just chalked it up to my fertile imagination. Now I can see—"

"When did this seminar take place, Mr. Patern?" My question brought him back to the present.

"A couple of years ago; in the fall, I think. Once I had the idea, the planning and construction went very quickly."

I believed him: Patern's description of the creative process roughly jibed with the stories I'd heard other artists tell. My concern had shifted to the identity of the person who had left the paper behind. "Do you have any idea who was at the meeting just before yours?"

"God, there were probably more than a couple of hundred people there. Rolfe Thaag was speaking, and you know how
attracts a crowd. I have a program in my files somewhere. If you'd like, I'll give you a copy."

"I'd like," I answered wryly.

Patern rummaged around in a filing cabinet and emerged with an official-looking program, which he took out for his secretary to copy.

"Incidentally," he said as he came back into the office, "I did ask around afterward to see who might have left that sketch there. Nobody claimed it."

I wasn't surprised. "Rafferty's obituary mentioned that he did a lot of work for the U.N.," I said.

Patern nodded as his secretary came back into the office with two copies of the program. The names of the participants were listed on the last three pages, in small print; it would take me years to check out every person on the list. By now, they'd be scattered all over the globe. I thanked Patern for his time, pocketed the program copies, and rose to leave.

"The sketch," Patern said, his voice strained. "Do you think Victor Rafferty made it?"

made it." I had an urge to leave him with something. "But the building is yours. Don't worry about it. I doubt there are more than five architects in the world who could have accomplished what you did from only that sketch."

He smiled and leaned back in his chair like a man whose troubles were over. I had the feeling mine were just beginning.


It was time to shake the local branch of the family tree and see what might fall out. I caught a cab, which wallowed slowly crosstown through the rush-hour traffic. As I sat in the nearly motionless cab, somewhat out of joint from my talk with Patern, my own past suddenly reared up from behind an idle thought and leered at me.

The time I'd spent with the circus had been nightmare years, notwithstanding the fact that the man who was my boss is one of the finest human beings in the world. Phil Statler had saved my life by helping me up off a series of psychiatrists' couches where I'd been trying to discover just what the hell I was supposed to do in a world of giants.

Born into a perfectly normal Nebraska family, I was the product of a pairing of recessive genes. Nature had compounded her bad joke by endowing me with a fairly well-muscled intellect, and considerable gymnastic skills which I'd parlayed into a black belt in karate. By the time I reached my early twenties, I was in the circus and earning a living. It was Phil Statler who'd discovered the control I had over my body, and who'd groomed me into a headliner, away from the clowns and freaks. The man had given me dignity.

But simple dignity hadn't been enough. Perhaps because I was a physical deviate, I was drawn to the problems of other kinds of deviates. I earned a B.S. in sociology, then used my money and time off from the circus to finance my doctorate in criminology. Somewhat to my surprise, I'd been offered a teaching position at the university. There was probably a certain irony in my choice of New York City as a base of operations; my brother, Garth, was a detective on the New York City police force. All disgustingly normal six feet of him.

Garth always maintained that I had a tendency to over- compensate; that was how he explained my private investigator's license. I'd lucked out more than a few times in my life. I wasn't rich, as they say, but I was reasonably happy.

I caught Garth just as he was leaving the station house. He was almost an exact replica of our father: big, rawboned, a wheat-colored thatch of hair atop a head that despite his considerable size seemed too big for the rest of his body. After all his tough years in a city of cold stone, steel, and glass, he still walked with the ambling gait of a farmer. I loved the man; he'd carried me on his broad shoulders through a tortured childhood brimming with jeers and cruel jokes.

Despite his bellowing protests, I managed to maneuver Garth back into the tiny broom closet he called an office. There were dark rings under his blue eyes. Garth always looked tired; maybe it had something to do with being an honest cop who felt a personal responsibility toward eight million people.

"Hello, brother." I flashed my largest grin.

"Don't give me that 'brother' crap, brother," he growled. "You always say that when you want something."

"One reason you're such a good cop is your uncanny perceptiveness."

Garth grunted. "Perceptive? I read you like a book; make that a cheap pulp thriller." "Tut-tut. Compliments won't get you anywhere. I
like to find out a few things."

"This isn't the public library, Mongo. You're a private snoop; you can't just walk in off the street and pump me for information"—he allowed himself a thin smile—"like you always do."

"Now, don't get righteous on me. A retired cop working private could come in here anytime and get information."

"You're not retired, and you're not a cop."

"I'm a colleague, and I'm your
." I tried to put a little whine in my voice; that usually got to him.

He wasn't moved. "I'm hungry, and it's my dinner hour."

"You've grown callous, Garth. I'll buy you whiskey sours and a steak. Consider that an official bribe."

"What the hell do you want, Mongo?" Garth asked wearily.

"Well, now that you mention it, I would like to see the file on—"

Garth shook his head determinedly. "Uh-uh. You know I can't actually let you look at any files."

"Then you look for me. See what you've got on the murder of a Dr. Arthur Morton. It would be early August, about five years ago, so you may get your uniform a little dusty."

"Morton ask you to find his killer?" The question was a typical way of his asking what my concern in the matter was.

I filled him in on Victor Rafferty and Arthur Morton's relationship to him, emphasizing the fact that both had died violent deaths a few days apart.

Garth frowned. "You think there may be some connection between the deaths?"

"Can't say, but I do think it's worth a little digging. Somebody else apparently got hurt in connection with Rafferty, and it upset some important people." I showed him the Xeroxed copy of the photo taken outside Rafferty's home.

Garth studied it. "They do look important."

"And they had the juice to keep everybody away from whatever was happening. That's Rafferty's house. Quite a gathering, huh?"

"Which one is Rafferty?"

"He's not there," I said. "That picture was taken two days before his dive into the furnace. I'd like to find out where he was, and what those men were doing at his house."

"Who's the creep in the winter coat?"

"Beats me. I'm just playing a hunch that there could be a tie-in with Morton's death. Morton was killed in his office— at three-thirty in the morning. What the hell was he doing in his office at that hour? And who would bother to break into a neurosurgeon's office in the first place? No money, and damn little chance of finding any narcotics. Now, isn't that enough to make a cop's nose twitch?"

"I'll pull the file," Garth said seriously.


"First thing in the morning," he said, starting to rise. "Right now I'm going to take you up on that bribe offer."

"Rain check, brother," I said. "I'm in a big hurry on this one. I plan to be in Acapulco on Thursday, and I want to earn as much of my client's money as I can before I leave."

"You're going to roil the waters and then swim away? That doesn't sound like you."

"I'm hoping there won't be a week's worth of mud. If there is—well, I need a rest and my colleagues need the work."

"There goes the last of my illusions; I thought you were indestructible."

"What time can I get to you tomorrow, Garth?"

He considered it, then said: "Make it ten. And bring black coffee."

Now I needed a phone directory. I stopped in a bar around the corner from the station house and ordered a corned beef on rye and a beer, which I took into one of the phone booths in the rear.

Harold Q. Barnes was the name of the watchman who'd seen Rafferty fall off the catwalk. But there was only one Harold Q. Barnes listed, and his name was in large, black type in front of the words F
. The address was near Washington Square. I finished my corned beef sandwich in the cab.

Harry Barnes's combination house-movie studio was a converted brownstone in a fashionable district where the remodeling costs alone started at around a hundred thousand dollars. The place was all glitter on the outside and blue funk on the inside; Harry Barnes made dirty movies.

A young, very gay male let me in the door, examined me with an air of jaded disbelief, then motioned me over to where a crowd of actors and actresses were waiting, shuffling their feet. Nobody else paid any particular attention to me. These people had their own problems; the room smelled of sour hope and anxiety.

I recognized a casting "cattle call" when I saw one. The men and women were waiting in line for parts in an X-rated quickie that would probably be shot in forty-eight hours over the weekend. The men were uniformly good-looking and wore tight pants. Most of the women were well past whatever prime they might have had; many were young and just looked old—would-be discoveries on the run from places like Des Moines and Peoria. Or Nebraska. They'd come to New York to chase a star and had washed up, a thousand disappointments later, on the barren shores of the flesh trade.

I waited until the young man's back was turned, then made my way past the crowd, down a fluorescent-lighted corridor that looked as if it led to where the action was. There were now a few giggles from the women; they were speculating as to what role I was going to play in Harry Barnes's next film and what my qualification—singular—might look like.

Barnes was enjoying himself in a large, soundproofed studio deep in the bowels of the brownstone. He was gnawing on a hamburger as he directed a scene involving two big- breasted women writhing on the floor in the tepid embrace of an obviously bored, pimply-faced boy of nineteen or twenty. Again, nobody paid the slightest bit of attention to me: the people on the floor because they didn't care; Barnes because he was totally absorbed in his art.

Barnes was a big man with red hair, moustache, and goatee. He had small eyes that only looked red because of his hair and the bright lighting. Beads of sweat marched like drunken soldiers down his forehead. He turned and spotted me.

"Hey! What the—?" He almost choked on the last bite of his hamburger. He finally got it down, but the sight of a strange, uninvited dwarf standing next to him seemed to have short-circuited his vocal cords. He rose halfway out of his director's chair, his hands flapping nervously at his sides, and sputtered.

"My name's Frederickson," I said quickly. "I'm a private detective. I'd like to ask you some questions about a man named Victor Rafferty. I'll only need a few minutes of your time."

Pay dirt. He stopped sputtering and his hands grew still as he tried on a variety of expressions and settled for surprise. He obviously recognized the name. The three people on the floor continued to writhe around one another as he came over to me.

"All right, dwarf, what did you say your name was?" Barnes's voice was deep, well modulated, pleasing; it clashed with the rest of the package.

"Frederickson." I extended my hand, but he ignored it.

 "You said you wanted to talk to me about Rafferty. I'm a busy man."

"I can see that. This won't take long. You worked for Victor Rafferty five years ago. Is that right?"

Barnes turned to watch the fleshy tableau behind him. "Yeah," he mumbled. I seemed to be losing his attention.

"Mr. Barnes, is there someplace we can go to talk?"

He hesitated, then nodded in the direction of a closed door across the corridor from the studio. I followed him through it, leaving the two women and the boy alone in their curious circle of hell.

The cork walls of the spacious office were covered with glossy pornographic photographs. I shut the door of the office behind me as Barnes settled down behind a large oak desk and folded his hands across his ample stomach. He didn't invite me to sit, but I considered myself ahead of the game as long as he was talking to me.

"Yeah, I worked in the Rafferty lab," he said. "But Rafferty himself didn't hire me. I only knew him by sight. There were mostly technical people there; they tested different kinds of metal alloys."

"I understand that. But you claim to have seen Rafferty die."

"I don't claim, I
see him die. What's your interest in Rafferty?"

"It's an insurance matter; a few old loose ends that were overlooked at the time and have to be straightened out. Some people don't think Victor Rafferty is dead."

His hands rose, fluttered like wounded birds a few inches above the surface of his desk, slowly came back to a landing. It was the most curious gesture I'd ever seen, and it struck me that it could be learned, practiced, purposely exaggerated. Aside from his voice, Harold Q. Barnes was almost
gross, too vulgar, as if he consciously worked at it. The man would bear closer study.

 "What the hell does
mean?" Barnes snapped. "Somebody calling me a liar?"

"Insurance people are professional skeptics," I said soothingly. "They like to keep going back over the same details."

"That's crazy," he said, a distant look on his face. "Rafferty died five years ago. Who'd be interested now?"

"You were the last person to see him alive. Is that correct?"

"That's what I told the cops, and that's what I told the insurance companies. I don't—"

"Mr. Barnes, would you tell me exactly what happened?"

Barnes shrugged, then spoke as if he were reciting. "He was walking on the catwalk over the smelting furnaces. He stopped and leaned over a railing, like he was looking at something down there. All of a sudden he reached for his head, like he was dizzy. I tried to get to him, but I was too late. He fell over the railing into one of the open vats. His body exploded when it hit that hot metal. There was nothing left of him. I called the cops, but there wasn't anything anyone could do for him."

Barnes seemed immensely pleased with himself, like an actor who has learned his lines well.

"This was on a Sunday, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. I only worked there on weekends."

"Was there anyone else around?"

"No. The lab was closed on Sundays. I kept an eye on the place and checked the furnaces; they have to be kept hot, y'know."

"Why did Rafferty take you along with him, Mr. Barnes?"

"I had to let him on the catwalk. There's a steel door."

"He owned the building. Why didn't he have his own key?"

"Hell, I don't know. He must have forgotten it."

" Why
did he want to go on the catwalk?"

"He never said."

"What was Rafferty doing there on a Sunday?"

"I don't know. I wasn't being paid to ask the boss questions. They tell me he was a weirdo. Maybe he just wanted to make sure everything was running like it should."

I didn't seem to be making much progress in that vein, so I gestured around the office to change the subject. "This is quite a setup you have here."

His eyes clouded with suspicion. "Yeah, I make out. What's it to you and the insurance company?"

"I'm interested in making movies myself."

Barnes's face brightened. "Hey, you ever think of acting? I might be able to build a whole film around you. Something really

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
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