Read Shadow of a Broken Man Online

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 (5 page)

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
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"Stop the car, Foster."


"Stop the car."

Foster pulled the car back over to the curb. I opened the door and got out. When I looked back he seemed uncertain.

"I don't like being bawled out before the fact," I said quietly. "In fact, I don't like being bawled out at all."

"Uh, look, Frederickson—"

"I took your money and you're entitled to what I found out, along with an opinion or two. First, Richard Patern did design the Nately. Museum, but he admits to getting the idea and inspiration from someone else. He says he doesn't know who, and I believe him. I
believe the man who claims he saw Rafferty go into the furnace. By the way, did you know Rafferty was reported missing two days before he's supposed to have died?"

"No," Foster said sheepishly. "Elizabeth?"

"No. A very heavy government agency that doesn't mess with small fry. Also, the neurosurgeon who saved Rafferty's life was murdered a few days before Rafferty's supposed final accident. I think there's a connection."

"You do?" Foster said weakly.

"And I'll tell you something else: I think there's a good possibility that Victor Rafferty
alive, but the smart money says to forget it. That's up to you. Goodbye."

I slammed the car door shut and started hoofing it back down Eighth Avenue. There was a squeal of tires as Foster's car backed past me and screeched to a halt beside a fire hydrant. Foster got out and hurried up to me.

"Frederickson," he said, breathing hard. "Just hang on a minute. Please."

I stopped. A cop appeared from the shadows of a storefront and began writing out a ticket. Foster ignored him.

"I... I don't know what to say," Foster continued. "You're telling me Rafferty may be

"In my opinion, it's a reasonable possibility."

"Do ... you think Elizabeth knows for sure?" His voice cracked.

"Maybe. We won't know until we talk to her, Mike. It all comes back to that." We were standing in the middle of the sidewalk being jostled by people going in both directions, but Foster didn't seem inclined to move.

"Look, I'm sorry about the way I came on back in the car. I
really worried about Elizabeth. It's incredible what you've found out in such a short time."

 "There's much more. There has to be. Your wife could have all the answers. You know, Mike, sometimes it's better to face up to a problem."

He looked pained. "I just don't want to take that kind of a chance. If anything should happen to her—"

"Something has already happened to her, Mike. It was five years ago, and it's still eating at her. She's obviously a principal in this case. Sooner or later, I think the police are going to be back in on it."

"Why do you say that?" he asked sharply.

"Because of the murder I mentioned; the man's name was Arthur Morton. If I continue this investigation, I think it's going to open the lid on a can of worms someone tried to close five years ago. The process may already have begun."

"Why?" he said, alarmed. "Have you been to the police?"

"No." It was only a half-lie; I didn't consider talking to Garth going to the police.

"Then how do you know all this?"

"Mike, I don't think you really want a lecture on detective work. You've got a decision to make. If you want me to continue, you're wasting my time and your money by keeping me away from your wife; it's like walking around the world to get across the street."

Foster looked shaken, and I felt sorry for him; I'd been beating him over the head with two razor-sharp horns of a dilemma. But it was Garth who might take it upon himself to reopen the case, and it could cost him his job. In light of that possibility, I didn't mind putting a little pressure on my client.

Foster was staring at his feet. I nudged him and pointed to his car, which was decorated with a buff-colored thirty-five-dollar ticket. "You'd better get your car out of here before the tow truck shows up," I said.

He looked at the car absently, as if it belonged to someone else. "Can you keep on working a little while longer?" "If that's what you want. It's your money, and I don't leave until Thursday. May I talk to your wife?"

"Would you wait on that just a while longer?" he said, a plea in his voice.

I shrugged. "All right, Mike." It
his money, and I'd given him my best advice.

He seemed relieved, "Can I buy you breakfast?"

It was after ten; I hadn't eaten, but I wasn't hungry. "Some other time. If you're still my client, I've got work to do."

"I'm still your client, Mr. Frederickson. Can I drop you someplace?"

"The nearest car-rental agency. You might as well come along, since you're paying for it."

"Where are you going?"

"South Jersey. I want to talk to the cop who had Rafferty."

Foster blinked. "The police had Victor?"

"I don't want to take the time to explain now, Mike. I'd like to get on the road."

Foster nodded toward the big Olds with the buff decoration on the windshield. "Use my car. I'll take a cab home. Tomorrow's Sunday. Leave it in the street in front of your apartment house and I'll pick it up in the morning."

"What about your wife? Won't she wonder where the car is?"

"I'll tell her it broke down. Go ahead and take it."

I removed the ticket, got into the car, and pulled the seat up all the way. In the rearview mirror I saw Foster, hands jammed into his pockets, staring after me. I liked the man; he was groping blindly, sifting through the ashes of the past because he thought it could help his wife. I was convinced those ashes weren't cold, only banked; they could still burn.

I turned at the corner and Foster blinked out of sight.


The Olds was big, powerful, smooth-riding. Slipping out of Manhattan through the stone umbilical of the Lincoln Tunnel, I made good time in the light weekend traffic. Within an hour I had passed through the depressing yellow air of northern New Jersey and was immersed in the flat, deadly monotony of the New Jersey Turnpike.

I was off the Turnpike by two thirty. A gas-station attendant gave me some directions and I headed northwest.

Sunny Acres was a pleasant retirement community, spacious and clean, at least on the outside. I parked in a visitor's space and approached an elderly couple who were walking hand in hand. I introduced myself and asked about Patrick O'Connell. After a few giggles, they went into conference and eventually agreed that O'Connell could probably be found shooting pool in the recreation hall. They gave me directions, and we wished each other a nice afternoon.

Inside the recreation hall, I immediately spotted O'Connell as the lion among the lambs. He was silver-haired, with the aura of a good man slightly tarnished by the residue of cynicism and roughness that being a New York City cop leaves on you like a second layer of skin. His ruddy complexion blended with the garish colors of his short- sleeved Hawaiian shirt. Doughy flesh that had once been muscle now swung loosely under his arms, but there was still plenty of strength there. He limped slightly; the sides of his shoes had been slit to make room for his bunions.

O'Connell and a few of the other men in the room turned to stare at me, but they soon turned their attention back to the game in progress. O'Connell was the star; it was obvious that he was used to the role, and enjoyed it. He took ten minutes to beat a wily-looking old man at Rotation, interspersing a variety of trick bank shots with a running stream of banter delivered in an exaggerated Irish brogue. When he got tired of the game, he turned his cue over to another man and made his way to a small self-service bar in a corner of the hall.

He found a beer in a small refrigerator in the back, then came around and sat down on one of the stools with a contented sigh. I sat down beside him. His gray eyes flicked over my face, then returned to gaze at the foaming beer can in front of him. He was too much of a New Yorker to ask what a dwarf was doing in a retirement community, sitting beside him at the bar.

"My name's Frederickson," I said as I took out my P.B.A. courtesy card and laid it next to his elbow. "I'm a private investigator working out of New York. I'd like to talk to you about a case you were involved in."

O'Connell examined my card like a cop looking for evidence of forgery; finally he nodded his approval. "I've heard of you, Frederickson." The Irish brogue had acquired a heavy Brooklyn accent. "Don't you have a brother on the force?"

"Garth," I said. There was nothing the matter with O'Connell's mind. "May I ask you some questions, Mr. O'Connell?"

"You want a beer, Frederickson?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

"Get it yourself, if you don't mind. My goddamned feet are killing me. Bunions."

 I helped myself to a beer and returned to the bar. The beer was warm.

"Don't think too much of private cops?" O'Connell said, staring at me hard. "Some of them have been known to interfere with the work of duly appointed police officers."

"You check with Bardeen," I said, invoking the name of Garth's precinct commander. "He'll tell you I always cooperate with the police." I cleared my throat, swallowed some warm beer. "I'd like to talk to you about a man named Victor Rafferty."

That struck a chord. He grunted and spun around on his stool to face me. "What's up?"

"Frankly, I was hoping
might be able to tell
I've been hired to investigate Rafferty's background. I know you were involved with him, at least for a few hours."

"Craziest few hours I've ever spent in my life!" O'Connell said with feeling, his eyes coming alive,

"Those are the hours I'm interested in. I can see they stick in your mind."

He nodded his gray head slowly. "And that's for sure."

"You were in Roosevelt Hospital with Rafferty. Do you know why he was taken there?"

O'Connell shrugged. "I suppose he was sick."

"With what?"

He seemed slightly embarrassed. "I haven't got the slightest idea. As far as I was concerned, it was a routine bit of business. I just happened to be the closest cop to the restaurant when Rafferty had his accident. Somebody pulled me in off the street."

"Do you remember the name of this restaurant?"

"Uh, Cakewalk. Jack's Cakewalk, I think. I'm pretty sure it was near West Thirty-fourth. Anyway, I walked in and found this guy lying on the floor, out cold."

"Had anybody inside the restaurant seen what happened?" "A waiter. Must have been ninety if he was a day. It was hard to understand him because he didn't have any teeth, and he'd left his bridge home that day." O'Connell shook his head in admiration. "Tough old son-of-a-bitch. Still working. He'll probably live forever."

I hoped he'd made ninety-five. "Do you remember his name?"

"No, but I do remember that he told a weird story. Didn't make a bit of sense. He kept on babbling about Rafferty throwing food."

 "Throwing food?"

 "Yeah. Throwing food. I told you it didn't make sense. The ambulance boys were just loading Rafferty in when I got a call from the precinct house. The chief told me in no uncertain terms that I was to stay with Rafferty and make sure they locked him up good when we got to Roosevelt."

"He was on a Missing Persons list, right?"

"I guess so."

"The police don't usually go around locking up missing persons, do they?"

"No. I was curious too, but I had my orders. I got in the ambulance and went with Rafferty to the hospital. I made sure they took him up to the security ward on the fourth floor."

"How secure was security?" I asked.

He thought about it for a moment. "Roosevelt isn't really set up for that kind of thing. Security? I'd say maximum inside the room, minimum outside. There weren't any gates in the corridors, no bars on the windows. But the room was bolted from the outside, and the door was absolutely solid, flush to the wall on the inside."

"Was Rafferty admitted by a particular doctor?"

"No. I think they had their orders too. They just wheeled him in and locked us both up."

A feisty old man with a moustache and wearing red Bermuda shorts three sizes too big for him came over, cue stick in hand, and tried to entice O'Connell back to the table. O'Connell promised him a game later, and he tottered away.

"Too many old guys here," O'Connell said quietly. "Nice guys, but..." He let the sentence trail away.

I tried to keep his mind from wandering off. "What were your instructions, besides keeping an eye on him?"

He removed a handkerchief from his pocket, slowly and methodically wiped up a puddle of beer. "That was it," he said when he'd finished. "I was just told to keep him on ice until this guy got there to relieve me."

"Was this man coming from Washington?"

"Yeah. They told me that."

"Was his name Lippitt?"

O'Connell was clearly impressed. "Yeah! Hey, how'd you know that?"

"Oh, I've been talking to some other people. How did Rafferty get away?"

O'Connell flushed angrily. The memory still bothered him. "Somebody let him out."

"Then you must have seen who it was."

"No," O'Connell said defiantly. His eyes glinted. "Those bastards wanted to be so goddamned secretive, well, they paid the price! Nobody told me Rafferty was a hypnotist."

Nobody had told me, either. "What makes you say that?"

"Because he put me to sleep, that's why!" He'd begun to tremble. O'Connell settled himself and addressed his beer can. "I was told to shoot him in the legs if he tried to escape. Whatever he'd done was that serious. Naturally, I pulled my gun on him when he woke up; I wanted to show him right away who was in charge. But when I saw he wasn't going to give me any trouble, I kind of relaxed. That was my one big mistake."

I got us two more beers. "How did Rafferty react when he first woke up, Mr. O'Connell?"

He shook his head. "Cool, he was. No more concerned than if he was waking up from a nap in his own bed. Pretty strange."

"He wasn't hurt?"

"Not that I could tell. He just woke up, looked me over, then started to get out of bed. I stopped him pretty damn quick when I pulled my gun on him, but he didn't give me any arguments. He said it was obviously a mistake that would be cleared up." O'Connell paused, frowned as he looked at the memory. "He didn't even seem surprised to find himself in a locked hospital room with a cop. That's when I started thinking that they'd locked me up with some kind of nut."

We sat in silence for a time while O'Connell ran a finger around the rim of his beer can. "What happened then?" I prompted.

"He just started talking. He was a good talker."

"You mean, he was just making conversation?"

"That's right. Came on like a real nice guy." O'Connell's lip curled contemptuously. "That's what I thought at the time. Now I can see what he was up to. He started talking about how tired I must be, like he was reading my mind. He was right. I was just starting in on a second tour of duty, and probably looked like hell. He suggested I sleep. I didn't intend to do any cooping on
job, but all of a sudden I couldn't keep my eyes open. Dropped right off. You see what I mean about his being a hypnotist?"

"Yeah." It was an interesting thought; I remembered Rafferty's black, brooding hawk eyes. But he hadn't hypnotized the door open. "And Rafferty was gone when you woke up?"

"Like a big bird," he said with some bitterness. "He'd locked

"You're absolutely sure there was no way he could get out of that room by himself?"

"Absolutely. There wasn't even a hinge on the inside, and no way to jimmy that outside bolt. Somebody
to let him out."

"How many people could have known he was in that particular hospital?"

He considered it, finally said: "Just the two guys in the ambulance and a few people in the hospital, besides whoever knew about the orders. Maybe whoever it was found out some other way."

"With all that secrecy?" It didn't seem likely.

"I know it sounds like I'm making excuses, but somebody just had to help him get out of that room. Once out, all he had to do was walk down one of the fire exits to the street."

helped him." I let it drop cold and watched O'Connell's growing anger. His face blotched pink and white.

"You're calling me a liar, mister," he said in a choked whisper.

I stared at the clenched fist that had suddenly appeared under my nose. "You must have been asked the same question before."

"No, mister, I wasn't.
, that makes me angry! I may be a fool, but I don't give up prisoners! I ain't no crook! I'm telling you, they
he was a hypnotist. Christ, I was sound asleep when this Lippitt walked in on me!" O'Connell squeezed the beer can until foam squirted out of the opening and rolled down over his hand. "I think you just asked your last question, Frederickson. I don't like being called a liar."

"C'mon, O'Connell," I said quietly. "I'd have to be an idiot
to ask that question."

O'Connell exhaled sharply and looked away. "What else do you want to know?"

"Tell me about this Mr. Lippitt."

"Real weirdo. There was something wrong with him: Here he is wearing a heavy overcoat in August. You could see him shiver every once in a while." He paused, staring hard into the past. "When he found out Rafferty was gone, he chewed my ass good."

Lippitt was beginning to sound like a stand-in for Boris Karloff. But he was real enough; he'd certainly made an impression on O'Connell. "He actually
?" I asked. "Even with the overcoat?"

"Sure did. And it must have been eighty-five or ninety degrees; he still seemed cold. Didn't make him any less mean, though," he added as an afterthought.

"Did he say what agency he worked for?"

"No, and I didn't ask."

"Don't misunderstand me, Mr. O'Connell," I said, touching his elbow, "but I'm surprised you weren't disciplined in some way."

"The Department was thinking about it, I'm sure of
My guess is that the weird guy talked them out of it."

"Why should Lippitt have done that?" I asked.

"I suppose he was decent enough not to want to see me punished for something that wasn't all my fault.
knew Rafferty was a hypnotist."

"Were you asked to file a report?"

He laughed. "Hell, I was told
to." He paused, coughed. "I probably shouldn't be talking about it now."

"I appreciate the fact that you did, Mr. O'Connell. I won't keep you any longer."

I shook his hand and started for the door.

"Frederickson!" I stopped and waited while O'Connell shuffled after me on his sore feet. "I just remembered something else," he said. "Whoever helped Rafferty get out of that room may not have been his friend."

"Oh? What makes you say that?"

"I think they hurt him. There were spots of blood all over the floor and scratches on the doorjamb, like a man would make with his fingernails. It looked to me like Rafferty'd put up a struggle. Maybe he didn't
to go."

My firm intention was to kill half of Sunday in bed, but I found myself wide awake at eight thirty, thinking about Victor Rafferty. So I got up, brewed a pot of strong coffee, and fried two eggs. One of my neighbors had been kind enough not to steal my paper that morning; I ate over the
sports and editorial sections.

I'd planned to spend the day getting my packing out of the way and recording my notes on the case, so that whoever took over for me would have a solid foundation of information to work with. At the moment I didn't feel like doing anything.

When I went to the window and pulled back the curtain, I could see that Foster had already been around to pick up his car, which made me suspect that he wasn't sleeping too well either. Directly across the street, two men were sitting in a black Chevrolet. It seemed an odd thing to be doing on a Sunday morning, so I got my binoculars out of a drawer and looked the men over. Both were well dressed in light summer business suits and had close-cropped hair; they'd popped out of the same cookie cutter as the men in the newspaper photograph. I was under surveillance.

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
4.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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