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 (7 page)

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
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"Then you're not an architect yourself?"

"No. But any stress engineer would be absolutely familiar with Rafferty's work. His 'Rafferty angles' made possible a whole new approach to the construction of very strong but relatively lightweight structures. I could see a relationship to Rafferty's work the minute I saw that museum, and that's why I asked Patern about it. By the way, I found him rather snooty."

We sat and stared at each other for a few moments. Then Thomas shrugged again. "That's it," he said. "Sorry I can't be more helpful."

"You've been very helpful," I said, heading for the door, "and I thank you."

"Just a minute," Thomas said. I turned, waiting. "No offense, Mr. Frederickson, but are you
a private detective? I'm still not convinced someone isn't playing a joke on me."

"Oh, I'm a private detective," I said. "And I'm very serious."


Although I was on my way to meet Ronald Tal, it was impossible not to think of the Secretary General himself; the two men were as inextricably linked in my mind as they were in the American press.

Having been disappointed by too many famous and powerful men, I wasn't usually moved by reputations or the trappings of office. But Rolfe Thaag, the boss and mentor of the man I was going to see, impressed me, at least by way of accomplishment. A vigorous man in his sixties, Thaag had entered the field of international diplomacy after the Second World War, during which he'd fought in the Resistance in his native Norway. He'd attained his high office almost by accident, as a compromise candidate that all the Big Powers could agree on. Once in power, he'd surprised a lot of people; he was the most activist Secretary General since Dag Hammarskjold.

Thaag owed his power to the fact that he seemed to have an almost uncanny ability to determine who was speaking with forked tongue and who was telling the truth in any given situation; it was a faculty that had earned him a list of enemies almost as long as Ronald Tal's. But even the member nations who screamed the loudest at Thaag's periodic, and often scathing, "assessments of the situation" usually backed off once they'd been caught with their political pants down on the well-lighted stage of world opinion. Above all, Thaag had a reputation for being scrupulously fair. He was called "magician" in a hundred different languages; usually it was a sobriquet, often a curse.

Tal was the Secretary General's Chief Assistant, and he wasn't exactly what you could call eclipsed by his boss's fame. He was far and away the favorite hate object of the American right wing, but he'd been called "traitor," at one time or another, by national figures all along the political spectrum.

According to a
capsule biography I'd read, Tal had been born in Norway of American parents. Orphaned at an early age, he'd been brought up by Rolfe Thaag, a friend of the family. Since joining his mentor at the U.N., Tal—as an American operating, as it were, in his own backyard—had caused almost as much controversy as Rolfe Thaag himself. It was Tal who delivered most of the speeches critical of the West; despite the fact that it was common knowledge that Tal was acting as no more than a mouthpiece for the views of Rolfe Thaag, it was Tal who took his countrymen's heat for these speeches. The man had guts, in my opinion, and I was anxious to meet him.

The elevator I was riding sighed to a stop and opened directly into a suite of offices where Ronald Tal was waiting for me. I knew biographies could be faked, and I immediately started looking for resemblances to Victor Rafferty. Except for eye color, there weren't any. There were no signs of scar tissue on the handsome face. His hair was brown, fuller than Rafferty's had been, and there was no indication he was wearing a toupee. His piercing black eyes reminded me of Rafferty's, but Tal was considerably heavier than Rafferty, with what I judged to be about a hundred and ninety pounds evenly distributed on an athletic six-foot frame. There was a sense of movement about him, even when he was standing still; I suspected he spent a lot of time out of doors and in a gymnasium. There was a quiet dignity about him that hadn't come across in the newspaper photos I'd seen.

"Dr. Frederickson," Tal said, shaking my hand. "It's nice to meet you."

"My pleasure," I said. "I'll try not to take up too much of your time."

"If I understood Abu correctly, you'd like to discuss Victor Rafferty."

"That's right. You've heard of him?"

"Certainly." He motioned me over to a leather settee and sat down in a straight-backed chair across from me. "Rafferty was a seminal force in modern architecture, to say the least. Like you, he did a great deal of volunteer work for U.N. agencies. I believe he died a few years ago. May I ask what your interest in him might be?"

"There's reason to believe Victor Rafferty may still be alive."

He took a green wooden pencil from his breast pocket and began to twirl it slowly back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. Tal was right-handed; Victor Rafferty had been right-handed. Elliot Thomas was right- handed; most of the world's population was right-handed. "I don't understand," he said. "I can't remember the exact details, but I thought he died quite violently in the kind of accident no man could survive. It was reported on quite extensively."

"If the accident ever happened," I said as I showed Tal the photograph of the Nately Museum Foster had left with me.

He looked at the photograph, nodded approvingly. "I don't know much about architecture," he said, "but it
like a beautiful building. Who's the architect?"

"A man by the name of Richard Patern got the credit, but the building is almost certainly Victor Rafferty's idea."

"Are you saying you believe this Richard Patern is actually Victor Rafferty?"

"Not exactly."

"I don't quite understand how you think I can help you."

The conversation was beginning to sound disturbingly similar to the one I'd had with Thomas. "Patern admits he got the idea from a rough drawing he found here a couple of years ago," I said. "He was participating in your Seminar on Inexpensive Construction Techniques for Underdeveloped Countries." I filled Tal in on a few of the details Patern had given me.

Tal shook his head. "Wouldn't it be virtually impossible for a man as famous as Victor Rafferty to simply disappear without leaving a trace? And why would he want to do such a thing?"

"Because some people were after him; they wanted him very badly." I handed Tal the list of names. "If Rafferty was—or is—here, the name he's using should be on this list."

Tal studied the list for a few moments, then said: "I don't believe Rafferty can be any of these people. Obviously, they wouldn't have been invited to participate in the conference if they weren't established professionals in their own countries. I'm sure the careers of all these people predate Rafferty's supposed death."

"You're probably right. Still, I'd like to do some preliminary checking. Do you know any of the people on the list?"

"Of course." He smiled broadly. "I see you have a circle around

"You're an American, about the same age as Rafferty would be. You don't look anything alike, but plastic surgeons work miracles these days. I'm just trying to narrow down the possibilities."

Tal chuckled and held out his hands. "Why don't you fingerprint me? That should dispel any doubt in your mind."

I could feel my face grow hot. "I didn't bring my fingerprint kit with me. Thanks anyway."

Just then the phone on a desk at the other side of the office rang. Tal excused himself and rose to answer it. His back was to me as he spoke, and to be sure his offer to fingerprint him wasn't a bluff I picked up the pencil he'd left on the coffee table between us. Holding the pencil by the eraser, I dropped it into my pocket. Then I rose and moved toward the elevator; I didn't want to get caught pilfering pencils from the Secretary General's suite.

Tal finished on the phone and came over to me.

"I've used up enough of your time," I said.

"May I keep this list of names?" Tal asked, smiling.

"Sure. I have another copy."

"I'll look it over more carefully," he said. "If I think of anything I may have forgotten, I'll call you."

I gave him my card and thanked him again.

Abu was in his office when I stopped back in. We had coffee, we reminisced a bit, and then I went out into the late morning. I intended to go to Jack's Cakewalk, and I didn't want company.

The man in the checked suit was studiously pretending to read the
Daily News
. He was chomping on a hot dog, and a strand of sauerkraut was pasted to his chin. He blinked rapidly as he watched me out of the corner of his eye.

The direct approach was called for. "Hi," I said pleasantly as I walked up to him. "Why the hell are you following me?"

He didn't like it; I'd caught him with his mouth full. He chewed furiously, swallowed hard while his face auditioned a variety of expressions, and finally settled for a mixture of surprise and indignation. "Excuse me, sir?"

"I asked you why the hell you're following me. You've got sauerkraut all over your chin."

He swiped at his chin. He was getting mad; he did Mad better than Surprise and Indignation. "What are you talking about, pal?"

"Does it have something to do with Victor Rafferty? If you'd just tell me
you're following, I might not have to do so much walking around and we could all go home and relax."

His eyes narrowed. "Nobody's following you. You're crazy."

"Uh-uh. It's a sin to tell a lie. You're following me—and so is he." I pointed across the street to where the man's partner sat in the pink Pinto staring hard at the two of us.

"You're out of your mind, fella."

"Oh, good. Then I know I won't be seeing the two of you around anymore. Have a nice day."

I walked half a block, then stopped and looked back. The two men were having a heated conversation. The one I'd confronted reached inside the car and snatched a mobile telephone. He spoke into it quickly.

I hustled along, ducking into and out of a few storefronts on the way, just in case they had a third man on the job. When I was sure I was clean, I headed for the restaurant.

Jack's Cakewalk was open, crowded with laborers enjoying a late coffee break or an early lunch. There were two rooms, a lunch counter in front and a dingy, dimly lighted dining room in the back. I sat down in an empty seat at the lunch counter and exchanged a little friendly banter with the big boys around me who wanted to know if I was old enough to drink coffee.

The waitress, a pretty young thing with an astounding bust, finally worked her way down to me. She looked at me, smiled warmly. "What'll it be, little man?" she asked, shoving her chest at me amidst a chorus of cheers.

I grinned. "The little man would like a bun."

"A bun?" she singsonged. "Only one?"

"The cinammon variety." I put a five-dollar bill on the counter. "I'm looking for the old man."


"Is Barney old?"

She pursed her lips. "Barney's

"That's him. Is he around?"

She waved her hand in the direction of the dining room. "He's probably in the john; Barney's got weak kidneys. He takes care of the back, if you want to talk to him. Go ahead. I'll bring your food and change back to you."

I thanked her and walked into the gloom at the back. There was an empty table near a dirty window, and I sat down at it. A few seconds later there was a flushing sound from the men's room to my right. Ancient plumbing clattered, and a man who looked like a contemporary of the plumbing emerged, drying his hands on an equally ancient, greasy apron. He looked around, squinting in the dim light, saw me, and came over. Through the wet, rheumy windows of his eyes he studied me. Then he rubbed his belly and cackled.

"Circus in town?" he wheezed.

"Funny, I was about to ask the same thing. You've got to be the oldest waiter I've ever seen."

He liked that; he carried his age around with him like a trophy. He gave me a gummy grin and slapped the top of the table with his hand. "Been workin' steady for seventy years, not countin' the Depression when nobody was workin'. Been right here for twenty-five. Can't afford to retire. You ever try livin' on Social Security?" He answered the question himself. "You can't do it. Then you go on Welfare and somebody's always stickin' their nose into your business." He paused, frowned. "You ain't from Social Security, are ya?"

"No, Barney, but I'd still like to talk to you. My name's Mongo."

He looked around. The dining room was beginning to fill. "Bad time, mister. Lunch crowd's comin' in pretty quick."

I laid another five-dollar bill on the table, pushed it toward him. "This won't take long."

He looked at the bill greedily. "Why you want to talk to me, mister?"

The waitress brought me my coffee and bun, with a glimpse of cleavage on the side. Barney ogled her as she walked away.

"I'm a private investigator," I said loudly in an attempt to get his attention back.

He cackled again. "That's the funniest thing I ever heard."

"I've got lots of friends," I said. "Big spenders with a sense of humor. I want to talk to you about a man named Victor Rafferty."

"That's easy," he said, quickly glancing at the bill as if it were about to be taken out of his reach. "I never heard of him."

Barney's hand came closer as I touched the five-dollar bill. "It would have been about five years ago. The man passed out on you."

He snapped his fingers; his eyes were suddenly clear, excited. Memories moved there like tides beneath their wet surface. "The guy that bounced the food!"

"I think that's the one," I said. "Is he the one who passed out on you?"

"Yessir, that's the guy I'm talkin' about! He zonked out after he bounced the food!"

"What do you mean, he 'bounced' the food? He didn't like it? He sent it back?"

The old man looked injured. "No! I'm tellin' you, the food
off him, like he was standin' behind an invisible wall. Didn't have a spot oh him!" He paused, frowned. "You don't believe me, either, do you?"

"Who else didn't believe you?"

"The cop who came."

Whatever Barney meant, it was obvious that the incident had left a lasting impression. "Why don't you tell me about it from the beginning?" I said, putting a ten-dollar bill next to the five. My wallet was emptying fast. "I'd like to hear what happened from the time that man walked in here."

"I didn't see him come in. All I know is that he ended up at that table." He pointed to a table on my left. "He didn't look good. You could tell right away he was sick. You know, he was a little green around the gills, and he looked like he'd slept in his clothes.
scar down the side of his face; looked fresh-cut, if you know what I mean. At first I thought he was a bum, but he had a touch of class about him. He ordered a cup of coffee, bacon, eggs, and some orange juice, I think."

BOOK: Shadow of a Broken Man
10.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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