The Los Angeles Aquarium was about several decades old and had gone
through three different phases. The first phase was back in the early
twenties, when some of the cigar-smokers in L.A. decided it would be
nice to get a little public recreational project going for the city.
L.A. was, after all, a sea-side city. Having an aquarium seemed a
natural thing for an ambitious city on the rise. The second phase came
during the thirties when a lot of WPA money became available. At that
point the aquarium was expanded to twice its former size, and acquired
such niceties as public restrooms and some offices.
The third phase came after the war and was the result of a lot of
post-war boom money combining with the growing reputation of the local
university. During this phase the aquarium grew once again, with major
additions like the underground aquatic complex, the killer whale
ampitheater, and the sea and sea-lion pools. Although it couldn't yet
rate with aquariums like the one in San Diego, it was probably just a
matter of time before the Aquarium would grow again in both size and
I pushed the Plymouth west towards San Pedro, a hard drive on hot
concrete. Though I had lived in L.A. most of my life, I had only been to
the Aquarium once. That had been on a date with Vikki the waitress and
her kids a few years back. I found myself hoping that the concession
stand that I remembered was open when I got there, as I was 'sorely
parched' as an old Army buddy of mine used to say.
"If this heat doesn't let up soon I'm going to move someplace else" I
said, once again talking to myself in the old Plymouth. "Like Fairbanks.
Or Greenland. Yeah, Greenland sounds good. Real good. Dogs and winter
and you can have the rest."
The traffic slowed once again on the highway. The guy in back of me
began to edge up closer to my bumper, honking his horn. I guess he
thought I might actually be able to do something about the fifty guys in
front of me that had slowed down first.
Luckily it was time to make my turn-off. A few minutes later I pulled
into the Aquarium parking lot. It was obvious that something unusual was
going on. There were about three patrol cars parked up by the entrance,
as well as a few more vehicles that looked official somehow. I parked
the car and went up to a uniform cop leaning against his cruiser, radio
set in hand but at that moment not talking into it.
"What's going on?" I asked him.
"Aquarium's closed" he snapped. "Police business."
"Is that right?" I commented, pushing up the brim of my hat and getting
my wallet out. "I'm a detective. Here on a case. Who's in charge?"
He looked sceptically at my P.I. license. "Detective Collins is handling
this matter" he said.
"Collins, huh? Yeah, I know Collins. Me and Collins go way back. Mind if
I go in?"
He looked at me sourly. "It's your ass" he said, nodding toward the
entrance. "You'll find them in the fish tank area. That's the one kind of
"Thanks," I said, sliding my hat back down to my eyebrows. I was still
thirsty from the drive. It looked like getting a Coca-Cola or something
from a concession stand wasn't going to happen right away, but maybe
they had a machine somewhere. I decided to keep an eye out as I headed
into the Aquarium.
Although I hadn't been to the Aquarium in a while, I didn't need to
check the posted map they had for visitors as there was an obvious trail
of people coming and going from the large complex up to the left. I
followed the path towards the building. The large fish tank at the
Aquarium was housed there, half above and half under ground. There were
stairs up over it to get to the open area of the tank, as well as an
entrance which took you down about ten feet into a type of circular
cavern with the fish tank in the center. It was possible to walk
completely around the tank within the cavern. About twenty feet up the
corridor leading in I saw Pete Collins and a small group of people standing
around, their attention focused on something on the floor.
The something on the floor turned out to be a dead body. I stopped
and put my hands in my pockets and tried to look inconspicuous. The body
was of a young male, probably early twenties, Caucasian but very tanned.
He was sprawled on his right side, halfway facing up, with his right arm
halfway under him. His left arm was out at an angle behind him. There
was a pool of blood under him, both in front and behind. It was a
helluva lot of blood. His eyes were open, staring into nothingness.
Collins finally noticed me, and walked up. "Maginess, what the hell
are you doing here?" he said rather blandly.
"Don't worry, I won't get in your way, Collins. I was just here to
interview a guy for a case I'm working on. What's the story here?"
"One of the Aquarium workers" he said, looking back toward the body.
"Shot dead, three wounds to the chest. Two in, one out. Shells left on
the floor, looks to be a .32 automatic. Happened sometime last night
evidently, after the Aquarium closed."
"That's too bad. What was his name?"
"Let's see" he said, checking his notebook. "That would be DeMargio,
It took a lot of control not to let my surprise show. "Is that right?
DeMargio, huh. You got time of death down any finer?"
"Coroner says preliminary is between ten and two. You know the guy?"
I shook my head no. I didn't know what was going on at that point, but
my experience with the cops, even with a rather straight-up guy like
Collins, was that it was better to play your cards close to the chest
until you could maybe swing some sort of a trade.
"I was just here to see the Aquarium manager, or whatever they call
them. Got a case going and heard from somebody that he might have some
information that would help."
"What kind of information?" Collins asked, looking suddenly quite
"Information about an antique clock."
That pretty much killed Collins' interest right then and there.
"Antique clock? Jeez, you scraping the barrel these days, Maginess?"
"Yeah, unfortunately. Scraping the barrel. Hey, who's the director of
the Aquarium here?"
"Uh, that's a guy named Jones. John Paul Jones, believe it or not. His
official title is curator, and he won't let you forget that either."
"Is he around?"
"Went back to his office. Couldn't stand all the blood. You go through
this building and out the other side, then take a hard right and go down
to an old Deco building. That's the one. Hey, gotta go. Coroner wants me."
"Thanks, Collins" I said.
I wandered over to the fish tank while Connors was talking to the
coroner. It was a huge tank whose luminosity only seemed accentuated by
the dark surroundings of the underground cavern that housed it. Looking
into the tank you could pretty much imagine being immersed in some ocean
somewhere, a strange visitor amidst the various fish and plant life of a
distant sea. Most of the fish were brightly colored. There were also a
couple of large, dark, and rather unattractive fish amongst them. I thought
that one might have been a tuna, or possibly a big sea bass. Swirling
at the bottom of the tank was a profusion of undersea plant life.
A new creature entered into view. It was a large turtle, perhaps four
feet long from the front of its shell to the back. The shell was a dark
green-black color, to my eye resembling plates of ancient armour. Its
large front flippers stretched out to pull it through the water in a
type of breast stroke, while the rear flippers and the spiked tail
seemed to steer it. It swam the tank at a stately speed, coming towards
the glass and swimming alongside it. It might have been my imagination,
but its bright round eyes seemed to radiate intelligence. I think the
turtle was checking things out on the other side of the glass. Given the
circumstances, I could only feel that he must have found us remarkably
I turned back to Collins and the others. They were busy putting
DeMargio's body onto the gurney. It was pretty much finished there as far
as the cops were concerned. I wanted to investigate a bit further at the
aquarium, but I didn't want to do it when the cops were there. I went
back to the fish tank to find the turtle still looking in at us. DeMargio
must have been about twenty-two when he bought it. Compared to him, the
turtle looked about a million years old.
The turtle swam off for a minute in a large loop pattern, then swam
back towards the glass. I put my palm up on the glass. The turtle swam
closer, then reduced speed and seemed to turn one of its eyes up at me.
The he made another loop, altered course, and swam back into the more
distant parts of the tank. Another few seconds more and he was lost from
I followed him, seemingly, around the circular hall surrounding the
Taking Collins' directions I found the building he was talking about, an
old Art Deco style structure that was obviously part of the original
twenties phase of construction. Inside the entrance there was a long
counter that must have had a receptionist behind it in normal
circumstances. As it was, the place seemed deserted. I followed a
hallway that opened to the right of the counter. There were doors on
each side of the hall, each with a small sign posted next to it. The
last door on the left read 'John P. Jones, Curator.'
I knocked lightly then entered, to find an outer office that seemed to
guard an inner office to the left. The outer office seemed to be missing
its secretary. The door to the inner office was open. I walked up to it
to find a short, thin man with a ruffled head of dark hair leaning over
his desk, head in hands.
"Don't worry too much" I said to him. "The cops will figure it out."
He looked up in surprise. "Who are you?" he said, like a child who had
lost his mother.
"Name's Maginess. I'm a friend of Lieutenant Collins. Mind if I sit?"
He waved his hand in the direction of a chair. "Of course" he said. "I
apologize for the inefficiency this afternoon. Given the circumstances,
I sent everybody but vital staff home."
"Probably a good idea," I told him, lighting a cigarette. "The cops
need room to work. And there wouldn't have been any visitors to the
place anyway, it being closed and all."
"You understand" he said, seeming to breathe a little bit easier. "I was
really worried about what people would think. We've never had anything
like this happen before. It's terrible."
"Murder is always terrible" I said.
"You think it's murder, then?" he said, his voice going back into the
plaintive mode. He lit a cigarette with a desk lighter, then leaned back
in his chair and tried to relax.
"Three shots to the chest, Director Jones, that's definitely not
suicide, let's put it that way."
"You can call me Doctor Jones. I'm the curator, not the director." It
was a momentary shot of ego, then he returned to his helpless mode. "But
why? Why here?"
"Well maybe I could ask you a few questions" I said, deciding to take
advantage of the situation. "It might help things considerably."
"Yes, yes of course" he said, once again relieved.
"Now the guy who was shot, DeMargio, he was one of your people?"
"Didn't the other detective ask this?"
"Yes, but I like to take my own notes. So DeMargio worked here?"
"Yes" he said, "he was an Attendant, Level Two. Those are the personnel
who feed the animals and clean the tanks and such."
"And how long had he worked here?"
"I pulled his personnel file for the other detective. Would you care
to see it?"
"Sure, that would really help."
Jones leaned across the desk and handed me a large file folder. He
took to staring out the window, tapping a pencil on the desk with his
right hand and smoking with his left.
There was a lot of information in the folder and I didn't trust my
head in the matter, so I took out my notebook and copied it down. After
about five minutes I felt I had what I needed from the file. But there
were still a couple of missing bits.
"What was DeMargio's schedule like? What days did he work?"
"I really wouldn't know about that" he said. "That would be handled by
Mr. Bennett, the personnel manager. He's also our accountant. He left
with the others."
"Any chance we could find the information somewhere? Me and you? In
cases like this, it sometimes helps to get information as quickly as
"Well, I suppose we could. We'll have to go to his office. It's right
down the hall."
We walked down the hall two doors and entered into a small office with
a desk and a lot of file cabinets. Jones went over to the file cabinets
and after a few minutes of searching seemed to find what he was looking
for. He handed me a file. "These are the schedules and the tax forms and
the other government information. I'm afraid I really don't know much
about these things. I'm a zoologist, not an accountant."
"Or course," I said. I looked through the file quickly. Luckily, the
most recent stuff was on top. The weekly schedule had DeMargio working
the four to one shift, Sunday through Friday. That fit with the day and
time of death. But there was no assurance that DeMargio had actually
been there when he was supposed to be, and that would take some
"Dr. Jones, do your people use a time clock here?" I asked him.
"I don't, of course. But everyone else does."
"And where do they punch in on the time clock?"
"Right this way" he said. We left Bennett's office and entered into
the office next to it. "This is the employee lounge" Jones said. "A bit
small, but it serves the purpose. Our employees sometimes eat here on
their break if they don't decide to lunch out on the grounds. There's the
time clock, of course. They punch in and out here."
I went over to the clock and found DeMargio's time card. On Monday,
yesterday, he had punched in at five fifteen. He hadn't punched out,
most likely due to the fact that he was lying in a pool of his own blood.
"It seems DeMargio was late for work yesterday."
"Really?" Jones said, taking the card from me. "Hmm, yes, he was late,
wasn't he. Not very good."
"Was he late quite a bit, that you know of?"
Jones considered that for a moment. "No one ever said anything to me
about it. And they probably would. I try to run things efficiently here.
If he had been chronically late, I probably would have known about it."
I slid the time card back into the rack and started searching the other
"What are you doing?" Jones asked.
"I want to find out if DeMargio was working with anybody last night."
I looked through the time cards. Most of the people at the Aquarium
worked the day shift and at best had overlapped DeMargio by a couple of
minutes. There was one employee, a Raymond Olsen, who seemed to work
late shift but hadn't been on the previous night. It must have been his
day off or something.
"This Raymond Olsen, who is he?" I asked Jones.
"Oh, he's another of the attendants. He is Attendant, Level One, I
"So he's above DeMargio in the order of things?"
"He would be his unofficial supervisor. Technically speaking, I'm
their immediate boss. Bennett makes out the schedules but I make out the
work orders and send them down through my secretary. But Olsen, he kind
of makes sure things get done, if you want to put it that way."
"It seems Olsen must be here. He's currently on the clock."
"I had to call him in early. Due to circumstances and all. The animals
need to be fed."
"Of course. You have an address on him, just in case I can't find him?"
We returned to Bennett's office and Jones searched for the personnel
file. I copied down the address.
"Dr. Jones, is there anybody else here who I should know about? Someone
who might have known DeMargio, been friends with him or something?"
"Well, there is Hank, Hank Schreiber. He's our engineer. Engineer,
Level One. He takes care of the machinery and pumps and such, keeps
everything mechanical running. He normally works day shift, but
sometimes he has to stay over into the evenings. I'm not sure if they
were friends or not. But they certainly would have known each other."
"Maybe I could get Schreiber's address too, just to be efficient?"
Jones dug into the file cabinet once again and handed me the file.
"Well, I want to thank you, Dr. Jones, you have certainly been a great
help. Try not to worry."
Jones put his hands into his pockets and nodded. "Thank you. I do
really try to run an efficient park here."
I started to walk off, then something came to mind.
"By the way, Dr. Jones. This doesn't have anything to do with
anything, but I was wondering if you could tell me how old that turtle
is, the one in the large tank."
He looked at me with surprise, but he was obviously glad to be back to
"Well, it's hard to say exactly, you see. He was caught in the wild. But
based upon my own examination I would say that he is probably a hundred
and twenty, plus or minus five each way."
I walked out of the office building, my mind reeling. "One hundred
twenty" I said aloud. "Incredible."
Coming across the violence of a murder always made my spirits sink.
But somehow the thought of the old sea turtle made me feel a bit better.
And to make me feel even better still, I finally spotted a Coca-Cola
There is an odd feel to large public spaces when there are no people
around. I drank the Coca-Cola and thought about the times when I was a
kid that I would sneak into the baseball park, my old beat-up mitt
stuffed in my pants under the too-large warm-up jacket that my dad had
given me. I would sit in the home team dug-out, throw a ball into the
mitt, and let my mind kind of empty out into the emptiness of the
infield and outfield and the empty stands. It was strange thinking about
all that normally went on there, all the RBIs and the double plays and
the fans cheering for the occasional home run. On those afternoons
sitting alone in the dug-out the park seemed inhabited by ghosts, and I
would often feel a chill work its way up my arms, making the hairs stand
up on end.
As I finished off the Coca-Cola and slid the empty bottle into the
rack, I looked around the Aquarium and wondered if the ghost of
DeMargio was lingering somewhere there. Some sort of rattling noise came
from around the corner of the vending machine area as if in reply. I
walked around the side half-expecting to see DeMargio walking towards
me, pale and distraught, saying that it had all just been some sort of
stupid mistake and that he hadn't deserved what he had got.
As it was I found a tall thin man in blue overalls holding a large
T-shaped push broom going through some supplies in a large bucket. He
looked up toward me somewhat suspiciously as I approached, picking up
the bucket of supplies in his left hand and hefting the broom with his
right somewhat defensively. Above his heart there was a patch on his
overalls with the Aquarium name, and on the right another patch that
read simply 'Olsen.'
"Raymond Olsen, I presume?" I said as I lit a cigarette.
"Who are you?" he inquired, hefting his broom several more times.
"Name's Maginess. Pat Maginess. I'm a private investigator. Mind if we
talk for a few minutes?"
"I've got a lot of work to do" he said, and started to walk off.
"I promise I won't take up much of your time" I told him, pulling out
my notebook. "Just a few questions, promise. Then you can get back to
He considered that for a second, then added, "Walk with me to the seal
tanks, I'll talk with you."
"Sounds fair" I said, trying to catch up with him. Olsen was about
six-foot six and thin as a soda straw, and I had to hustle to keep up with
"I hear you and DeMargio worked the same shift. I was trying to get some
information about him. No big deal, really. Too bad about him, huh?"
"Is this about Brooke?" he said, hefting his broom once again.
I didn't remember anyone named Brooke on the time cards I had looked
through in the office.
"Who's Brooke?" I said. As soon as I said it I knew I had made a
mistake, and I hated making mistakes when it came to investigations.
Olsen simply looked at me blankly and said nothing.
We came to a series of shallow concrete pools. The seals and sea-lions
became excited as Olsen approached. Olsen put down his bucket and broom
and walked over to a small storage shed just to the side of the pools.
From his pocket he pulled out a big bundle of keys and opened the padlock.
He went inside for a minute and came back out with a couple of trays of
fish. The seals became more excited and started jockeying for position
as Olsen walked up. He threw the fish from the trays to the ones in the
first few pools, then returned to the storage shed to get more trays. It
must have taken him about 15 minutes to get to the other pools and feed
them all, during which time I stood there like a boy scout on a tour.
I decided that I would have to back up a little. "I take it that shed
has a cooling system? I think I can hear it running. Must keep the fish
Once again I caught that odd-looking stare. "It's refrigerated, if
that's what you mean."
He locked up the storage shed and went towards the broom and bucket
once again. I kind of stepped between him and the equipment and pulled
out my pack of smokes, tapped a few up, took one for myself and offered
the pack to him.
"Why don't we stop just for a minute and have a smoke?" I said. "It's
kind of deserted around here today anyway. And I've never been around
He slowly reached out and pinched a Pall Mall from my pack. I handed
him my Ronson. He looked at it with interest as he lit his cigarette,
keeping his eye on it for a second before handing it back to me, as if
it was familiar or something. Then the vacant stare returned. I had a
sudden funny feeling of deja vu.
"I carried that lighter all through the war" I said to him. "Yeah, it
never let me down. Even in northern France with all the wind."
That got his attention, in a manner of speaking.
"I was there" he said, looking at the seals and taking a draw of
I had run into guys like Olsen during the war. Every once in a while,
more often than I cared to admit to myself back then, I would run across
a G.I. like Olsen. They just had that stare, the same stare Olsen had.
It was as if they carried a big chunk of what they had been through
around with them all the time and couldn't ever let go of it. I saw it
in England, France, Italy. Different guys, but all with the same look to
their eyes. That vacant look, behind which was god only knows what pain.
I had seen some of them curl up on the floor right in the middle of a
tavern and cry like babies. And I had conducted the investigations when
one or another of them them put an automatic to their heads and pulled
I didn't want to push Olsen about it. I needed to get the conversation
back to the matter at hand.
"Did you know Demargio? Apart from working with him here, that is.
Where you friends?"
"I barely knew him. We talked a few times. You know, about small
stuff. Mostly about work. He didn't take the job real serious."
"Did he ever mention anything about clocks?"
Olsen got a bit louder now, as if he just wanted to get it all over
with. "Yeah, he was braggin' or something one night. About how he had
this really swell deal, selling clocks or something. Said he was going
to take a nice vacation, buy a new car. You know, the usual brag stuff."
"It seems DeMargio was late to work yesterday" I said. 'You wouldn't
have any idea why that was, do you?"
"I have no idea. Like I said, he didn't take the job real serious."
"Was he late quite a bit? The curator seems to think he wasn't."
"That's because I covered for him. I don't know why, I just did."
"Did he have some other thing going on that you know of that made him
late all the time?"
"Like I said, I don't know. He did go to the track sometimes, I know
that much. Maybe that was it."
"The track, huh. So he gambled a bit?"
"For chissakes, I don't know. Isn't that what people normally do at the
"So, did DeMargio know Brooke?" I said, deciding to take a blind stab
at it, and hoping that Olsen had forgotten my earlier question.
Olsen looked at me, his eyes changing to a look of anger and distrust.
"Yeah, he knew her. He knew her all right."
There was some element to this that I couldn't figure out. I didn't know
if Olsen's anger was directed at DeMargio, at this girl named Brooke, or
at me for asking the question in the first place. For all I knew, it
could have been all three. I decided to bunt.
"It's kind of slippery around these tanks. You have many visitors slip
and hurt themselves?"
Olsen looked insulted. "The day attendants throw down some stuff in the
morning around the tanks. Nobody's been hurt that I can remember."
"That's a pretty good record. You don't seem like the kind of guy that
would want to see anybody hurt."
I stubbed out my smoke on the edge of the tank, keeping the butt in my
hand so I wouldn't mess up the area.
"Accidents happen though, sometimes. You wouldn't hurt anybody, would
you, Ray? Like maybe last night? Around midnight? Argument over a
girl, maybe? DeMargio pulls a gun on you, maybe you wrestle, gun kinda
goes off accidentally?"
"I wasn't here" he snapped. "I told them that."
"Of course you weren't here. I believe you. I saw your time card. But
the truth is you could have been here. You have the keys. That's what
the cops are going to think, that you might have been here anyway."
Olsen rubbed his eyes, suddenly not looking so good.
"Leave me alone. I have a headache."
"I'm as good as gone, Ray. But just tell me one thing. I'm thinking
right now that DeMargio was involved in something a bit shady, something
that got him into trouble. Something that didn't have anything to do
with you. But in order to clear everything up and get the right guys, I
need to talk with Brooke. If you can just tell me where she lives maybe
I can straighten all this out, okay? I just need Brooke's name and
address. Then I'm gone. And I'll put in a good word with the cops for
you. Tell them you're a veteran and everything. How you're a straight-up
Olsen looked at the seals as if he just wanted to jump in with them
and forget all about DeMargio and the Brooke girl and the whole mess.
"Brooke," he said quietly, taking a deep breath. "Brooke Pirelli, 1030
"You ever been out there?" I asked him, flipping the notebook closed.
It seemed like an innocent enough question, but Olsen became angry
"Don't be stupid. She's married" he said.
As if to emphasize my stupidity he bumped into me with the authority
of a six and a half foot guy who wants to get by you, went over and
picked up his broom and bucket, and walked off.
Since he didn't seem too enthusiastic about continuing the
conversation I didn't ask him how he knew Brooke's address if he had
never been to her house. I went over to the edge of the nearest seal
pool. One of the seals raised its head and shoulders over the wall of
the tank and splashed a pint or so of water over my shoes. I stepped
back instinctively, but then I found myself reaching out to touch him.
His skin felt like cool, fine, wet leather. Which I suppose it was,
"Maybe he sent her love letters or something" I explained to the seal.
"Or chocolates. Or flowers. Or maybe a nice cold juicy fish."