Authors: Warren Murphy
“Did your son use drugs regularly?” asked Trace.
“I woulda busted his ass if he did,” Nick Armitage snapped.
“I thought he might have gotten in with bad people,” Trace said. “Drug dealers. Stuff like that.”
“No, he didn’t, and you can stop fishing. I saw you in my restaurant last night—with that little slope of yours.”
“Mister Armitage, I’m going to do you two favors.”
“I’m going to make believe I didn’t hear that crack because I didn’t have a drink yet today and I’m not feeling so good and I might just have to pound it down your face. And second, I’m not going to tell the lady about it because you might just wake up one morning and find your intestines neatly piled on top of your chest.”
Trace shook his head. If there was anything he hated before he had a drink, it was snappy dialogue….
\WHEN ELEPHANTS FORGET
Copyright © 1984 by Warren B. Murphy
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
The murdered body of Anthony Armitage, who had just completed his junior year at Fairport College, was found yesterday along a stretch of the Merritt Parkway, outside Greenwich, Connecticut.
Police said that Armitage, 22, had been killed instantly by a single bullet wound in the heart. When he was found, the youth was wearing a rubber mask bearing the likeness of former President Richard Nixon.
State police said Armitage was found in a small clearing off the side of the road, designed for motorists with auto problems. A passing driver spotted the body early yesterday morning when he pulled into the clearing to empty his car’s ashtray. Armitage died near midnight, police said.
The student was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Armitage of New York City. The elder Armitage is the owner of the well-known New York nightclub, Chez Nick, which is a gathering spot for people in show business and in other endeavors.
“I don’t want to do it.”
“I. Don’t. Want. To. Do. It. Should I repeat it in Latin? I used to be an altar boy, you know.”
“No. Just explain it in English.” Walter Marks did not seem so much puzzled as annoyed. His thin lips were pressed tightly together.
“All right,” the other man explained. “To you, this Tony Armitage is just some young guy who got killed and had a big insurance policy with us.”
“A half million dollars,” Walter Marks said.
“Right. So you send in Devlin Tracy, your crack insurance investigator—”
“Hah. That’s a laugh.”
“Please, Groucho. Don’t be hateful. So you send me in and you expect me to do what the police of seven continents haven’t been able to do. Somehow solve this murder and prove it was suicide so that Garrison Fidelity Insurance Company doesn’t have to pay off on the half-mill policy.”
“So far that seems reasonable,” Walter Marks said cautiously. Devlin Tracy thought that Walter Marks said everything cautiously. He was the vice-president for claims for Garrison Fidelity Insurance Company, and he lived cautiously.
“Yes. Very reasonable to you,” Devlin Tracy said. “All cut-and-dried. Did you ever think that that’s a reference to flowers? Cut-and-dried. What has that got to do with facts and information? ’Tis a puzzlement.”
“Trace, you’re drunk again, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not. I took the pledge a long time ago.”
“Yesterday again,” Trace said.
“Why do you have a drink in front of you right now? If you took the pledge?”
“This isn’t a real drink. It’s wine.”
“Wine doesn’t count?” Marks asked.
“No,” Devlin Tracy said. “But if I did have a drink, no one could blame me. It’s what you’d deserve for calling me in the middle of the night.”
“I called you at noon,” Marks said.
“Exactly. The digital clock in my bedroom had just flicked over from eleven-fifty-nine to twelve. I call the main observatory in Greenwich every three days to make sure the clock is right. When the phone rang at the last infinitesimal click to noon, I knew it was you. I just knew it. No one else would be so petty as to wait exactly till noon to call. I knew I was going to have a lot of trouble today resisting drinking.”
“Please drop the subject and get on with your alleged thinking about this case,” Walter Marks said. It was obvious that he did not like Devlin Tracy. Most of the insurance investigators who worked for Marks were on salary, real employees who trembled in terror at the sound of their boss’s voice. But Devlin Tracy was on retainer. He worked when he felt like it, and Marks had very little control over him because Trace was a friend of Robert Swenson, the president of Garrison Fidelity, and that made him unfireable.
“As I was saying before you got off into this insipid discussion of time,” Trace said, “to you this case is cut-and-dried, but to me it’s something different…something more.”
“What different? What more?” Marks demanded.
“First of all, I don’t feel like working. I’m here in Las Vegas and it’s July,” Trace said.
“This case would be in New York,” Marks said.
“It’s July in New York, too,” Trace said. “I hate July in New York. But did you see who this kid’s father is?”
Marks snatched up the newspaper clipping that lay on the table before them and read it again. “Yes. Nick Armitage. He owns a nightclub.”
“With a French name,” Trace said. “In New York,” he concluded triumphantly as if he had just proved a point.
“That means he’s in the Mafia.”
“Every place with a French name is owned by the Mafia,” Trace said.
Marks shook his head, woefully confused. “What about Italian restaurants? I thought they owned Italian restaurants, spaghetti joints, like that.”
“No,” Trace said. “Mafia bosses won’t eat that crap. French restaurants only. Anyway, I know what you’re up to, Groucho. You want me to go to New York. I hate New York anyway. I like Las Vegas and Hoboken. You want me to go in there and scout around and you know I’m going to get this Nick Armitage pissed off, and that’s going to be it. When they drain the East River, I’ll be standing up in a cement block. For eternity. Some things are more important than five hundred thousand dollars of dear old Gone Fishing’s money. My life is indisputably one of these things.”
“Please don’t call Garrison Fidelity Insurance ‘Gone Fishing,’” Marks snapped.
Trace looked around anxiously at the dark empty cocktail lounge. “Why? Is somebody listening?”
“Never mind,” Marks said in disgust. “Just go check this out.”
“You really want me dead, don’t you?” Trace asked. “I mean, really dead. Like never to breathe again. Never again to smell the flowers. Even the cut-and-dried ones. I can’t believe this of you.”
“Just go check it out.”
“No. My mind is made up.”
“I’ll have to tell Mr. Swenson. Then he’ll ask you to go check it out and you’ll do it.”
“Why don’t you ever want to pay up on insurance claims?” Trace said. “The kid got killed. Pay up.”
“Not until you look into it.”
“All right. It’s solved for you. The kid was killed by the Sierra Club.”
“He was wearing this Richard Nixon mask, see. And you had these high Sierras out—they were high, that’s what high Sierras means—and they were marching along the Merritt Parkway looking for edible marigolds and James Watt. And when they didn’t see Watt, along came this kid wearing a Richard Nixon mask, so they settled for him. Question Jane Fonda. She had something to do with it.”
“Idiotic. You are truly idiotic,” Marks said.
“And I don’t get any better. So now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m going home,” Trace said. “I’m sorry you wasted this trip to Las Vegas for no reason at all.”
“Let me get this straight so I can be sure to tell it to Mr. Swenson correctly. You are refusing to take this assignment because you don’t like July in New York and you are afraid this Nick Armitage is in the Mafia.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself. Would you like another drink?”
“Will you be in town long?”
“Just until tomorrow. I’ve got to lay over a day to get some kind of super-economy fare. Something like that.”
“Where are you staying?” Trace asked
“At the Araby,” Marks said.
“A nice place. Have a nice time.”
Atop the piano in their living room in a condominium high above Las Vegas’s Strip, Trace found a note from his roommate.
“Had to go out. Sarge called. Wants to talk to you. Very important. Says your mother is coming to Las Vegas in a couple of days with her woman’s club. I will commit suicide. Chico.”
Trace read the note three times, poured himself a glass of Gallo Red Rosé wine from a three-liter jug in the refrigerator, then called the Araby Hotel and Casino and asked for Walter Marks’s room.
He was relieved to hear Marks answer in his tight-lipped lemony sour vicious bitter way, as if he had just been interrupted biting the heads off live mice and wanted to get back to it right away.
“Who is it?” Marks snapped.
“This is Trace. I’ll go to New York.”
“Why? Why now?”
Trace thought of his mother coming to town. “Some things are worse than facing death,” he said.
Michiko Mangini was the twenty-six-year-old product of an Italian father and a Japanese mother. She was barely five feet tall and weighed only one hundred pounds. Her body was the lissome physical machine of the dancer she had once been, and her fingers moved, even in casual conversation, with an elegant birdlike grace that deserved to be seen on a stage. Her hair was long and blue-black, a frame for the delicate features of her light-tanned face. Her mouth had been designed for smiling. Her voice was lilting and musical. Trace had never seen her do an awkward or ungraceful thing.
Until she fell on the floor.
She had entered their apartment on the Strip and had seen Trace at the stove in the apartment’s small kitchen at the other end of the large living room.
She dropped her bag of groceries and swooned to the floor. Trace ran to her side. “Chico, what’s the matter?”
“I must be tripping,” she said. “I thought I saw you in the kitchen. Cooking.” She clapped her hands to her chest. “This is it. The big one.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Trace snapped. “You’re going to make me burn my surprise.”
“You don’t have to burn it, whatever it is,” Chico said. She was still lying on the floor, looking up at him. “You could take it out in the desert and bury it. That’d do too.”
“Quiet, woman. This is important.” Trace left her where she lay and walked back to the kitchen and the stove.
Chico got up and brought the groceries into the kitchen, where she peered over his shoulder to see what he was cooking. “God, what is that mess?” she demanded, looking into the frying pan in which Trace was stirring something vaguely green.
“You’re so smart, you don’t know?”
“It looks like swamp stew,” she said. “Tell me. Where were you able to buy moss and lichen in Las Vegas?”
“You’re lucky I semi-love you,” Trace said. “Otherwise, I’d put you out of my kitchen.”
Chico put the few groceries away, then poured herself a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator and took a cinnamon bun from a closed container and sat at the small breakfast table in the room.
“You’re going to ruin your appetite,” Trace said.
“Your cooking’s ruined my appetite. Will you please tell me what that is and why you are perpetrating it?”
“All right. This is an original recipe. It’s called Devlin Tracy’s Green Pepper Veal Surprise.”
Chico choked on the cinnamon bun and spattered orange juice and crumbs onto the table. She cleaned up the mess with her napkin and asked, “What’s in it?”
“Green peppers. I found a green pepper in the refrigerator.”
“It’s done now. You can taste it.”
“Not without a list of ingredients first.” she said. “In writing.”
He ignored her and spooned some of the goo onto two plates and carried them to the table. He sat down facing her. He had already set the table with a knife and fork at each place. Chico got up and found the place mats, the cloth napkins, the spoons, glasses, cups, saucers, brought them all back, and swiftly and expertly arranged them.
“This way,” she said, “we can at least pretend it’s a real meal.”
“I thought you’d be happy that I cooked for you,” he said.
“Answer the question on the floor. What’s in it?”
“Green peppers. I wanted to make it with veal too, but I couldn’t find any veal in the freezer. Don’t you ever buy veal?”
“So I had to use hot dogs instead. If this isn’t right, it’s because you made me cut up hot dogs instead of veal.”
“What else is in it?”
“Vegetables. You had frozen vegetables. I think I used carrots and french fries. And asparagus. You keep a lot of asparagus in the freezer, you know.”
“Not anymore. Not now that I know you’re ready to violate it as soon as I turn my back.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” he said slowly. “We are not amused.”
“What’s the yellow goo that kind of holds this together into one big sodden mess?” Chico asked. She was pushing the food around on her plate, trying without much success to break it up into its component parts for physical analysis.
“It’s cheese soup,” he said. “I was supposed to use spicy cheddar and make a light cheese sauce, but I couldn’t find any spicy cheddar in the house. All I could find was that can of cheese soup and I had to use that.” He tasted a forkful of the food and chewed a long time. Then he got up and went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of beer with an unfamiliar label, printed in vaguely foreign letters.
“I think it needs salt,” he said. “Somehow I didn’t remember to salt it.”
Chico still had not tasted the food. “What’s that you’re drinking?”
“Imported Polish beer. I just found it.”
“Is it any good?”
“I don’t know. I never had it before. I just liked the label.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Chico demanded. “First you make Green Pepper Veal Surprise, without veal. You destroy my kitchen with empty cans and plastic bags and you dirty twenty-seven dishes so you can fry things in one pan. Then you’re drinking something you never drank before. Would you please explain?”
Trace sat down and twisted the cap off the beer bottle. He raised it to his lips and took a long swallow.
“Why are you drinking from the bottle?” Chico asked. “All these years, I’ve never seen you drink from a bottle. It’s one of the few things I really liked about you.” She looked down at the plate of Green Pepper Veal Surprise and picked up her cinnamon bun and took a bite.
“You’re not even going to try my food,” Trace complained.
“I don’t see you packing it away.”
“I kind of lost my appetite while I was cooking.”
“I lost mine looking.”
Trace let out a long sigh and pushed the plate back away from him.
“Ahhhh, crap. I’m not going to do this.”
“Be a detective.” He saw her start to drum her fingertips impatiently on the table, and added, “It’s Sarge.”
“What does your father have to do with this purported meal?” she asked.
“I called him back. Remember when he was here the last time, we talked about maybe him starting a detective agency?”
“Well, I was just joking more or less. But he’s gone ahead and done it. And now he wants me to go in with him and get a private detective’s license and be a real gumshoe.”
“I’m sure that this is all somehow going to lead to this kitchen and this plateful of placenta.”
“I wanted to see if I was cut out to be a detective,” he said.
“Keep going. I think we’re getting warmer.”
He took another long sip of beer from the bottle. His mouth pursed slightly in displeasure.
“Listen, there are things I know about. And I know about being a detective,” Trace said.
“Umhmmm,” she said, and nodded.
“It’s tough being a big detective today,” he said. “It’s not enough anymore to track people down through the dark lonely rain-swept streets. You can’t just give knuckle sandwiches to bad guys and shoot them in the belly so you can laugh, watching them die. All that stuff went out about twenty years ago.”
“What do you do now? Kill them by food poisoning?” she asked. She pushed her plate away too.
“Being a private detective today is different. If you’re going to be a big star, you’ve got to be a gourmet cook, for instance. You’ve got to be able to whip up things in the kitchen at a moment’s notice. All the big detectives today are gourmet cooks. You’ve got to be able to separate eggs.”
“Can you do that?”
“Sure. You put one here and you put one there, and then the eggs are separated. That’s the one thing I do know how to do.”
“How is that explaining this debacle?” she asked.
He ignored her. “And I just couldn’t drink vodka anymore anyway. Anybody can do that. Even Finlandia vodka. It’s imported beer all the way. Clever litle wines with a sardonic personality and imported beer. Even this Polack piss. You’ve got to find a beer nobody else drinks; then, when you’re a famous detective, the distributor sends you a thousand million cases and you never have to buy another bottle.”
“I get it now. You were practicing being a detective to see if you like it.”
“That’s right. Wait.” He left the table and walked into the bedroom.
While he was gone, Chico took a forkful of food from the plate. Trace had once said that the woman would eat a dog-food billboard if she had to. She ate six thousand calories a day and never gained an ounce. It was one of the things he truly hated about her.
She chewed. The mess was unappetizing to look at, an ugly barbarian insult to her Oriental soul, but the ingredients were at least viable. Except for the hot dogs, which had wound up in her super-market bag one day through a checkout clerk’s mistake. She started to push the hot dogs aside on the plate and pick at the vegetables in cheese sauce.
She took another small bite.
Trace came back with a pair of Nike running shoes in his hand.
“What are those for?” she said.
“You’ve got to run if you’re going to be a detective. Detectives today run a lot.”
“Wouldn’t pistol lessons be better?” Chico asked. “You haven’t run since I caught you in my bed with that hatcheck girl.”
“I wasn’t running then,” he said. “I was regrouping. Anyway, you’ve got to run. And, God, you’ve got to lift weights. I’ll be pumping iron.”
“You’ll be pumping gas if you keep on this way,” she said. Absently, she took a large forkful of the food and popped it into her mouth.
“And another thing. If I’m going to be a big detective, I’ve got to sit around and be dull and think big thoughts about the meaning of courage. And duty.”
“How do you arrange to think big thoughts when you have such a little brain?” she asked. “Why not think little thoughts and be a little private detective?”
“Please, lady. You’re not the only smart one here. I tested out genius on my college boards. IQ 156.”
“Your entire family doesn’t have an IQ of 156. Cumulative. And that’s counting your mother twice,” Chico said. She pulled the plateful of food back to her. With her mouth full, she mumbled, “Speaking of which, you got my message?”
“Right. My mother’s coming to town. With her woman’s club. I think it’s the annual chicken-soup tournament.”
“I’m leaving. I’m going to New York,” Trace said.
“You’re leaving me here alone? You know that woman’s going to be sniffing around, trying to sell our furniture and replace it with something pretty in real wood-grained vinyl.”
“Want to come to New York with me?” Trace asked. “Can you get off from the casino?”
“They owe me some time,” Chico said.
Trace didn’t bother to ask why, because he knew. Chico was a blackjack dealer at the Araby Casino, but she supplemented her income and her vacation time by occasionally “entertaining” high rollers as a favor to the casino. It was by her choice, and she and Trace did not talk about it.
“So you want to go with me?” he asked again.
“Thank God,” Trace said.
“Why ‘thank God?’”
“That’s another thing about being a detective. You’ve got to have a funny-looking sidekick. Hopefully somebody who’s a homicidal maniac. I can do that. I’ve got you.”
“You’ll pay for that, barbarian,” she said. Her plate was empty and she pulled Trace’s plate over and started eating from it.
He got up and took another beer from the refrigerator. “Eat up,” he said. “There’s plenty more.”
Later they sat side by side on one of their sofas, listening to the intricate mathematical music of the Dave Brubeck quartet playing on their stereo.
Trace had abandoned the Polish beer but was sipping at a plain tonic water. Chico was drinking apple juice.
“So Sarge said that because he was a cop for twenty-five years, it was easy for him to get his p.i. license.”
“Private investigator?” Chico asked.
“Right. And now he wants me to get mine. He really wants me to be a detective with him. So what do I do, Chico?”
“What do you want to do, Trace?”
“I don’t want to do anything. I want to sit here with you and listen to music. I don’t want to have to cook or run or lift big weights or think big thoughts. I want to sit here, empty-headed, with you, and listen to music and try to get you filled with passion for me so I can cop your nookie later. I quit drinking for you. I haven’t had a drink of vodka since…”
“Yesterday,” she supplied.
“Well, that was a mistake,” he said. “It was forced on me. I hardly ever have a drink anymore. That’s just to please you. I can’t please you and Pop too. It’s just too much obligation.”
“Then don’t be a detective,” she said. “It’s a license, but that’s all. You already are kind of a detective for the insurance company. Do you need anything more than that?”
“No. That’s the point. I take a case every so often. I save them a lot of money and they pay me a lot of money. I don’t have to work any more than that. I like leisure. I don’t like it as much as I used to since you made me stop drinking, but I still like leisure better than work.”
“Then do that,” she said. “Be leisurely. Work when you feel like it or when you need the money. Tell Sarge no.”
“I don’t want to hurt his feelings,” Trace said. “He didn’t say, but maybe the only way he could con my mother into letting him out of the house was telling her that I was going to get involved in this agency with him.”
“I will when I go to New York.”
go,” she said.
“Yes,” Trace agreed. “That’s what I’ll do.” He lighted a cigarette and took a long drag. “You know, everybody’s always talking about the responsibilities of being a parent. But children have responsibilities to their parents too. Maybe even bigger ones. Parents end their responsibility when you get to be eighteen or twenty-one or something, but after that, all the responsibility is on the kids. And it can last for years. It’s the nature of the parent-child responsibility.”
“What insipid shit,” she said. “Why are you talking that crap?”
“You think it’s crap?”
“See? I was trying to be a deep thinker. It doesn’t work.”