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THAT KILLER SMILE

a Pat Maginess private-eye novella

by

Edward Piercy

(Proof of 8/29/2006)

Cover Art:
“Duplicity” by Edward Piercy

“I am losing my voice calling you, speak to me, tell me the truth.”
— Jacques Derrida.

 

Los Angeles, 1952

Part I

There had been an earthquake during the night. I didn’t notice it until
the following morning when I got up and went into the bathroom to shave
and found a crack in the medicine cabinet mirror running all the way down
from top to bottom. The first thing I did was to go around and check the
rest of my little house out, in particular the gas lines in the kitchen.
They seemed to be okay and I couldn’t smell any gas fumes. The only other
damage I found was a two-foot crack at the bottom of the bedroom wall on
the far side of my bed. I tend to be a pretty good sleeper when I’m in my
own bed, and evidently I had slept right through the damn thing.

I shaved, moving my head to put my face now to one side of the crack
and then the other. The medicine cabinet was of the old style built all
of a piece into the wall. The hinges to the door had been thrown out of
whack by the earthquake as well and the whole unit looked slightly
askew. As I shaved I started calculating how much that particular fix
was going to cost me, seeing as the whole cabinet unit was going to have
to be ripped out and replaced. That was the problem with owning your own
place. Every little thing that went wrong came out of your own pocket.

After showering I put on one of my newer suits, the grey one, and
matched it with a grey-and-blue striped tie. I combed my hair and
brushed my teeth with Bright-White toothpaste and gargled a minute,
holding my tie with my left hand as I spat into the sink. I looked up
into the mirror and smiled, trying to get myself motivated to meet the
new client I had on my schedule that morning. But the crack in the
mirror broke my smile in two. I moved my face to the right and left,
keeping the smile set, peeking around the crack.

“Ready for the day, Maginess, you handsome devil?” I said to the
mirror. Neither Patrick Maginess in the mirror said anything back,
either the one on the left or the one on the right. I found myself
thinking about a story I had read a while back in STRANGE STORIES, about
a man who was haunted by a doppelganger, a twin version of his own self.

“Who knows, maybe I can charge twice my normal fee” I said to myself
and to no one in particular, grabbing my keys and wallet. Then I stuffed
my .38 Smith and Wesson into the shoulder holster and put the little .22
automatic in my right pocket. It was time to go to work.

I drove the old Plymouth west and then south and then west again. My
appointment was with the president of the Baffin Corporation, at eight
o’clock sharp. Carmen, my secretary, had set the appointment up for me
the day before and at that point I had no idea what the case was about.
The security guy at the gate house at the Baffin Building came out
slowly and leaned over to talk.

“Pat Maginess” I told him. “Here to see Mr. Richardson.”

“Of course, Mr. Maginess. Just drive up through the parking lot till
you get to the building, then take a left. You’ll see the V.I.P. parking
lot to the side of the building. You’ve got the okay to park there.”

“Thanks” I said. I found the special parking lot and pulled into it
and walked to the front of the building. The lobby to the Baffin
building was two stories high fronted entirely by glass. There was
another security station towards the elevators and I stopped at it and
gave my name. The guard was evidently expecting me.

“Right this way, Mr. Maginess” he said, standing up. He led me to the
back of the elevator corridor to the one in the rear. He turned a
special key next to the elevator and the doors opened immediately. We
got in the elevator and the guard stuck his key in and we went up.

“Mr. Richardson’s office is on the seventh floor” the guard told me.
“This elevator is the express.”

“I kinda feel like Moses has parted the Red Sea for me here.”

The guard smiled and nodded. “Mr. Richardson’s office called down
earlier. Told us to give you the quick pass.”

The guard left me to my own devices once on the seventh floor, but
there wasn’t really any doubt about the layout. Down the hall I found a
reception area and at the rear of it a large desk. Behind the desk a
dark-haired secretary sat, already giving me a look of appraisal as I
walked up. I must have passed muster, as she smiled when I reached her
desk.

“I’d tell you my name, but my guess is they already called up” I told
her.

She laughed. “I guess you are a private-eye, after all. You are correct.
Please come this way, Mr. Maginess.”

She opened the left of two panelled doors leading in to what proved to
be a huge office, decorated to the nines with contemporary modern
furniture.

“Mr. Richardson will join you shortly” she said. “Just have a seat and
make yourself comfortable. Would you like some coffee?”

“No, I’m fine” I said, twirling my hat on finger. “Thanks.”

I took a seat in front of the huge maple desk and figited with the
hat. About three minutes later a man came through a set of double French
doors at the edge of the office. He was a tall, stout man with a strong
jaw that looked like it could take a couple dozen punches without really
feeling it too much. He was about fifty-five or so, wearing an expensive
dark-grey suit. He was carrying a golf putter in one hand. He came up to
me briskly and I rose and took his hand.

“Clovis Richardson” he said, giving my hand two good shakes. He went
behind the desk and leaned the putter up against the wall.

“I apologize” he said. “I was out on the roof. I have a little putting
green out there. Helps to keep the tension down.”

“Sounds nice” I said.

“Well” he said, fitting himself into the large desk chair. “I’m glad you
were available on such short notice. Did your secretary mention anything
about this matter?”

Carmen hadn’t been given any details, so I didn’t have any either.

“No” I said. “She didn’t go into it.”

“There’s a little problem we have here, Mr. Maginess. But first, let me
ask you a question. Do you know what we do here at Baffin Corporation?”

“I think you make shampoos and such, correct?”

“That’s how we started out, yeah. After the war we were just a start-
up company and we got into the shampoo and hair care product line. But,
well, let’s just say it branched quickly out from there. These days we
make all sorts of products. Our main money-maker these days is Bright-
White toothpaste. Do you know it?”

“I use it myself” I said, lighting a smoke.

“Excellent. Bright-White has made a lot of money, Mr. Maginess. We have
a significant market base out there. And we intend to keep it that way.
In fact, we just signed Craig Simpson to do some advertising for us.
He’s going to do a product endorsement for us on the television. We’re
very optimistic about that. You know his show, right? Secret Agent?”

“I’m afraid I don’t” I said. “I haven’t gotten around to buying a
television yet.”

“Oh. Well, it’s a really popular program, primarily because of Craig
Simpson. As the saying goes, the men want to be like him and the women
just want him. He’s got that killer smile, Mr. Maginess. Just a great
smile. Perfect for Bright-White toothpaste.”

Richardson paused and lit a cigarette with a big heavy metal lighter
he picked up off his desk. Then he bent over the desk a bit and punched
a button.

“Claire” he said into the intercom, “is Casey out there yet?”

A little tin voice came back over the box.

“Good, send him in.”

As soon as Richardson stopped talking the door opened. A short,
balding man in thick glasses walked up to the desk. He had a long white
laboratory coat on and was carrying a clipboard. He nodded at us, then
took the chair to the left of me and turned it ninety degrees so that it
was almost facing me.

“Mr. Maginess, this is Dr. Tom Casey. He’s a chemist. He’s also the
head of Research and Development here at Baffin.

Casey and I said our hellos. Richardson stubbed out his cigarette into
a stone ashtray and gave me a serious look.

“One of our scientists is missing, Mr. Maginess. William Creek. In
fact, you could say that he’s our main scientist here.”

“Creek is a genius” Casey said from my left. “Virginia Polytechnic,
Summa Cum Laude. He did his doctoral research in biochemistry at the
University of Virginia. It was on the chemical nature of the cocoa bean.
Creek was curious as to what made it taste exactly the way it did. His
research went unnoticed in its time. But it was the beginning of what
would eventually be called food additive science.”

“Maybe we should just skip ahead a bit, Tom. The main thing is that
Creek has been working here for about three years now. He’s been working
on a new formula for us. And now he’s missing.”

“How long has he been missing?” I asked.

“A week now” Casey said, shaking his head. “He was here a week ago, last
Friday. But he didn’t come in Monday morning, as usual. Or any other day
this past week.”

“And I take it you’ve tried calling him and so forth.”

“Of course. I’ve had Claire calling his place since Tuesday morning.
Practically every hour. I had her call the hospitals. No report of him
there, either. We decided yesterday that we had better call in a
professional” Richarson said. “That’s when we called you.”

“It’s just not like him” Casey added, a bit sadly. “He isn’t an
alcoholic or anything. So this isn’t some sort of a binge.”

There were a lot of reasons why a man could skip. But it would have
been idle speculation to go into it.

“I suppose that if he had been hit by a car or something, yeah, you
would have heard. Provided he had the right kind of I.D. in his wallet,
of course.”

“We need to find him, Maginess” Richardson said. “I take it that when
you work for a client that you work confidentially, am I correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“That’s one reason we didn’t call the police about this. Creek was
working on a very hush-hush project for us. He had just cracked the
formula for a mint-flavored toothpaste. A huge leap, Mr. Maginess. It
will give us a significant edge over our competitors when we can get it
out there.”

“Mint flavored toothpaste?” I said, rather surprised.

“The American people don’t want toothpaste that tastes like toothpaste,
Mr. Maginess” Richardson said.

“They don’t?”

“No” Casey said from the other side. “They don’t. They want toothpaste
that tastes like mint.”

“They do?”

“We’re convinced of it” Richardson said, slamming his palm down on the
desk. “It’s becoming a terrible world, Mr. Maginess. The Communists are
running all over the place. Then there’s the a-bomb. Why, in a few short
years those Commies could bomb our cities. Cities reduced to rubble.
Millions dead. Women, children running around with their skin falling
off from radiation. Our pets with their tails falling off.”

“Pets with their tails falling off?”

“Umm, what Mr. Richardson is saying, Mr. Maginess, is that people want
to be assured of something” Casey told me. “They want something they can
look to and take some comfort in.”

“Like mint toothpaste?” I said, taking a wild stab at it.

“Precisely” Richardson said. “And from the look of it now, Mr. Maginess,
that might never happen. Creek was one of a kind. Without him, the
formula for mint toothpaste might take another generation. And then what
will happen to the American public, Mr. Maginess? Let me ask you, what
will happen then?”

“I really don’t know, Mr. Richardson. I really don’t.”

“They will suffer. Not to mention the amount of money Baffin has put
into this research already. Years of research. Years. And hundreds of
thousands of dollars.”

“The human tongue is a very sensitive instrument, Mr. Maginess” Casey
told me, rocking forward and back in his chair. “It is the most complex
of all the sense organs.”

“I would have thought it was the eyeball” I said.

“Oh, no. It is the tongue. The eye is of course quite complex. It is
the world’s most perfect camera. But the tongue, Mr. Maginess, is capable
of the most complex chemical analysis. That’s why it’s so hard to
develop artificial flavors. The tongue can differentiate the most subtle
differences in chemical composition. Of course, the person tasting one
particular flavor may not know why it doesn’t quite taste like vanilla,
for example. They just know there’s something odd with it. It’s very
hard to fool the human tongue.”

“Well, I do know that some whiskeys taste better than others.”

“That is it precisely” Casey said, still rocking. “Your tongue tells
you the difference.”

“I won’t argue with my tongue, then.”

“Mr. Maginess” Richardson said, “let’s get back to things at hand. What
we have here is a very bad situation. We need to find Creek.”

“Let me ask you something, Mr. Richardson. Is there any possibility
that Creek may have flown the coop and taken his new formula to some
other company?”

Richardson looked at me like he was reliving some horrible nightmare.
“I suppose it is possible, yes. Creek was under contract to us. We had
first rights to his formula. I talked with our lawyers, and they
basically said that if that happened then we could file a civil action.
But that would take years. And by then, it would be too late. Our
competitors would have gotten the jump on us. And that is why it is so
important that we find him, and find him quickly. Before he could ever
do anything like that. Not that he has, mind you. But better to be on
the safe side. So, what do you say? Are you going to help us on this
one? Will you take the case?”

I sat there for a second and calculated the number of sleazy divorce
cases it would take me to make the money that I could on the one being
offered. I didn’t like missing person’s cases. All too often they led to
going out of town, where I would invariably end up in some hotel with a
horrible lumpy bed and a brick-hard pillow. But Baffin was a large
company, and if I played my cards right I thought I might be able to get
some sort of nice bonus on this one.

“I charge fifty dollars a day plus expenses” I told Richardson. “And I
want a bonus coming out of it at the end. Assuming I find Creek.”

Richardson leaned back in his seat, considered it for a minute.

“What kind of a bonus are we talking about?” he asked suspiciously.

“I think fifteen grand would do it” I told him, looking him straight
in the eye.

“Fifteen? Are you serious?”

“Think of the American people, Mr. Richardson. The American people.”

Richardson thought about it a second, then leaned forward in his chair
and slammed his palm down again.

“You don’t come cheap, Mr. Maginess, I’ll say that. But I agree. For
the American people. Assuming you find Creek, of course. No Creek, no
cash.”

“Well put, Mr. Richardson. No Creek, no cash. Now, I need some
information. I’m going to need Creek’s address and telephone number. And
I’d also like to see what he had in the way here of a desk, if he had
one. And if he had some sort of personal locker, I need to see that
too.”

Richardson looked over at Casey. “Can you take care of that?” he asked
him.

Casey nodded. “With most of it. He didn’t have a locker.”

“I should tell you, Mr. Maginess, that we’ve already been through
Creek’s desk. First thing we did when he didn’t show up the second
morning was I called security and we busted open up his file drawer.
His notes to the formula were gone.”

“He kept notes, then. How big would this file be?”

Casey leaned up. “Not thick. Maybe six or seven pages. Maybe less.”

“That doesn’t seem like a very thick file for all those years of
research” I said.

“You don’t know scientists” Casey said, shrugging. “We like to keep
things simple.”

“Maybe you could take Mr. Maginess downstairs, Casey. I’m sure you can
handle it from here. I have a meeting in ten minutes that I have to get
ready for.”

Richardson stood and extended his hand and we shook again. “We need to
find Creek, Mr. Maginess. I’m counting on you.”

“I’ll find him, Mr. Richardson” I told him, deciding it wouldn’t hurt to
be on the optimistic side. “One way or another.”

I walked with Casey out of the office and to the elevator. But all I
was really seeing at that point were dollar signs.

********

We took one of the regular elevators down to the second floor. As soon
as we exited we came to another guard station, this one a lot more
serious-looking than the previous ones and enclosed by sliding glass
windows. A middle-aged guard sat behind the station, looked up at us,
then smiled.

“Well, I’ll be damned” I said, approaching him. “Jerry Salazar. How the
hell are you, pal?”

Salazar stood and exited the station and came around and took my hand.
He patted me on the back. “Sorry I didn’t meet you earlier. I knew you
were coming in on the case.”

“Did you have anything to do with that?” I asked him.

“I might have dropped a recommendation” he smiled.

Jerry had been an L.A.P.D. cop for a dozen years or so. But he decided
down the line that he couldn’t stand the corruption and the type of
people he occasionally had to deal with at the department and he
eventually left the force. I hadn’t seen him in about three years.

“So, how’s life at Baffin Corporation?” I asked him.

“Great. Good pay. No overtime, at least not usually. No bullshit to
deal with, at least not normally. You know how it goes. I’m the head of
security here.”

“That’s just great, Jerry. Congratulations. Couldn’t have happened to a
nicer guy.”

Jerry got serious for a second. “So, Pat. What do you think of this?”

“Too soon to tell, Jerry” I said, sliding my hands down into my
pockets. “But I’m hopeful. I don’t like the one week deal, to be honest.
Missing that amount of time makes things a little tougher.”

Salazar shook his head in agreement. “Yeah, I know. I tried to get
Richardson to do something earlier. But he kept thinking…hell, I don’t
know what he was thinking.”

I patted him on the arm.

“Don’t give up yet. Pat Maginess is on the case.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I feel better already.”

Salazar walked us over to a set of double doors behind the security
station and got out a serious looking ring of keys. He picked one out
and opened the door, held it open for us.

“Welcome to Baffin Corporation Research and Development Labs” he
announced.

“Thanks, Jerry. And I’ll try to give you a call and keep you up on
things.”

“Thanks, Pat. I’d appreciate that.”

Casey took me down the hall past a series of individual labs. At the
end of the hall he stopped and unlocked another door.

“This is Dr. Creeks unit” he explained. The laboratory was smaller than
I expected it to be. It had that unusual yet rather pleasant smell that
chemistry labs always seemed to have. There were two rows of tall lab
tables in the center loaded with glass lab ware and bunsen burners and
such. Along the left wall were a series of refrigerators, followed by a
few desks and some test equipment. The right wall was taken up with
cabinets above and other tables with other test equipment below. At the
end of the left center lab table was a desk. Casey stopped at it.

“This is Dr. Creek’s desk.”

“He doesn’t have an office?” I asked.

Casey shook his head. “He likes to be where the action is, I suppose
you could say.”

I sat down at the desk and started rummaging through it. The bottom
right drawer of the desk was a file drawer, and had obviously been crow-
barred open.

“They didn’t go gentle with this one” I said.

Casey just shook his head. “They were a little on the nervous side.”

“I’ll bet they were. Your lead alchemist goes down, and maybe takes
the magic formula with him.”

There was nothing in the desk that could be of any help. It was a dead
end as far as the laboratory went.

“So what is Creek like?” I asked Casey.

“He’s a genius” Casey said simply.

“Yeah, yeah. But what is he like as a person? You know, as a man. It
might help me to find him quicker, Doctor, if you could tell me
something about him. I’ve found in cases dealing with missing people
that the more about a person I know, the likelier it is that I find
them.”

Casey thought about that for a moment. Then he leaned up against the
end of the tall lab bench and crossed his arms.

“He is very methodical. To a T. His brain is very organized. He
usually knows just the path to get to where he needs to go. If he gets
stuck, and all of us do occasionally, he doesn’t panic. He simply backs
up and retraces his steps, looking for where the error crept in. But
that is only half of it. He has incredible intuition as well. He will
be at point A and all of a sudden he will be looking at point D. That’s
something that I found fascinating, and sometimes almost scary. Just
that ability to make great leaps like that. I couldn’t do that in a
million years.”

“What about his personal relationships?” I said. I pulled out a Pall
Mall and lit it, took my hat off and put it on the desk.

Casey looked down at the floor. He didn’t look happy.

“There’s something I should probably tell you, Mr. Maginess.”

“What’s that?”

“There is a woman here. Her name is Mary Pollard. She’s one of our lab
technicians. A wonderful girl. And a top-notch technician. Anyway, I think
Casey and her, they were involved together. If you know what I mean.”

“So she knew him pretty well, then” I commented.

“Yes.”

“How long have they been going together?”

“It’s hard to say. But I think it has been going on for about a year.
At least by the time of the corporate Christmas party, they were
obviously together.”

“I’d like to talk to this Mary Pollard. Right away, if possible.”

Casey looked even more unhappy than before.

“She isn’t here, Mr. Maginess. She hasn’t been here since last Friday,
either.”

“What?” I cried, getting up out of the chair. “You mean this Mary girl
is missing, too?”

“Evidently.”

“And why didn’t you mention this upstairs? Or is it that you care
about your money-maker, but not about a girl who’s just a technician?”

“Oh, no” Casey protested, turning to me. “That’s not it at all. I care
about Mary very much. She’s a wonderful person. It’s just that…well,
Richardson doesn’t know she is missing. I didn’t tell him about her.”

“And just why the hell not, if you don’t mind me asking, Dr. Casey?”

“Well, you see, I hired her. We lost our former technician very
suddenly. He got his degree in hand, and the next day he called in and
quit. I was in a bind. Luckily, I was able to find Mary. She had
excellent credentials. And as it so happened she could start right
away.”

“Forgive me, doctor, but nothing about that tells me why you didn’t
report her missing.”

“I felt responsible” he said. He was beginning to come unglued. He
tossed his clipboard onto the lab table and threw up his hands. “I had
hired her. Creek went missing. And Mary, too. And then there was the
fact that they were involved together. I thought that it might come back
to me somehow, since I had brought her in here in the first place. I
didn’t want Richardson to know. But I told you, didn’t I, Mr. Maginess?
I told you.”

“Yeah, you told me, doctor” I said, making a few scawls in my notebook.
“At least eventually. So, I take it that you haven’t heard from Mary,
either. She hasn’t called in, stopped in to pick up a paycheck or anything?”

“No” Casey said, sadly.

“And did anybody call around trying to find Mary?”

“I did. Claire was taking care of Creek. I made it my responsibility to
try to get hold of Mary. But I haven’t been able to reach her.”

I paced in front of the desk and thought about it a bit. Chances were that
Creek and Mary had both flown the coop together. And with the file missing,
it just sounded very much on the suspicious side.

“Did Mary know about the formula?” I asked him.

“Yes. Of course. She was Creek’s research assistant.”

“And did she know where the file was kept? Did she have access to it?”

“She knew about the file. She didn’t have the key. Only Creek had the
key. Not even Security had the key to that drawer. Creek insisted on it.”

“Okay, doctor. Is there anything else you are keeping back? Because if
there is, now would be one helluva good time to get it out.”

Casey simply shook his head. “Nothing. I’ve told you everything.”

“I need addresses, doctor. For Creek and Mary.”

“I can give you Creek’s address. I’ve been over to his apartment many
times. Mary, I don’t know. I had her telephone in case of an emergency.
For the address, you’ll have to see Personnel about that one. But
they’re closed on Fridays.”

I pulled out my lock-picking kit and opened it up in front of Casey.

“No problem there, Dr. Casey. Just lead the way.”

We took the elevator down to the Personnel office on the first floor
and I went to work.

“You know, Mr. Maginess. I could get security to unlock that.”

It never hurts to show off your stuff in front of a client. “Naw” I said,
winking at him. “More fun this way.”

The lock clicked and we went into the office and turned on the light.
Two minutes later we had found the right file cabinet and I had Mary
Pollard’s employment file in my hands. I copied down the address and
telephone number and gave the file the once over. All her references
were from back east, from Massachusetts. She had received her B.S.
degree in chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“M.I.T., huh? Pretty impressive stuff.”

“Yes. As I told you, her credentials were excellent. And she had just
moved out here. That’s one reason I could grab her up so quickly. She
had just moved to Los Angeles and was looking for a job.”

“And I take it you did a thorough check on all this information? To
make sure she had the degree and everything?”

“Oh lord, yes. When it comes to the R&D area, Personnel has
instructions to do the most complete backgrounds they can. They even
check with the F.B.I.”

“Even though you were, as you put it, in a bind?”

“I have to admit she started work before the background was done. But
they did complete the process a few days later. I’m not stupid, Mr. Maginess.
This is very secret research we do here.”

“Did she have any friends here at Baffin? Or otherwise? Other than
Dr. Creek, of course.”

“No. Or rather I don’t know. I used to see her in the employee
cafeteria every once in a while talking with the Irish girl.”

“The Irish girl? What’s her name?”

Casey shook his head. “I don’t know. We have over two-hundred
employees here at Baffin, Mr. Maginess.”

“What department does she work in?”

“I have no idea.”

“But you saw Mary talking with this Irish girl on a regular basis,
huh.” Casey nodded. “And why do you call her the Irish girl?”

“Oh, you should see her” Casey said, excitedly. “Very tiny. Short curly
red hair. Very red. Flame red. And when she wears short sleeve dresses,
you can see the freckles all the way down her arms.”

Unless I was mistaken, Casey had a little bit of a crush. “You ever
see what kind of car she drives?”

“No. Different parking lots. I’m in the V.I.P. lot.”

“Is Personnel the only office that is closed on Fridays? Or are there
others?”

“It’s just Personnel. We have a fairly stable workforce here. It just
doesn’t pay to keep Personnel open all the time. They’re closed on
Tuesdays, also.”

“Yeah, I saw the sign on the door. So everybody else works Monday
through Friday?”

“Yes. There are two shifts.”

“Two?”

“There used to by just one, but it was madness getting on the
elevators with everyone getting off at five o’clock. So Richardson came
up with the idea of having some people work eight to five, and others
work eight-thirty to five-thirty. And I must say, it really did improve
things.”

I picked up a photo of Mary Pollard from the file folder. “Does
everyone have their photo taken when they start here?”

“Yes. That was the head of Security’s idea.”

That would be Jerry Salazar, again. It would be just like him to get
pictures so that his security men could get to know the employees by
their faces. Jerry always was a people guy. A nice touch, too, security-
wise.

“Mind if I take this photo?” I said.

Casey shrugged.

“I’d like to see Creek’s file too, while I’m at it.”

I found Creeks’ file and went through it and got his telephone number
from it. I looked through the file a bit, but there wasn’t really
anything useful. I took his photo also.

“Well, Dr. Casey. I think that will be it for now. Can I get your
telephone numbers here and at home? Just in case I need some further
information.”

I pulled out of the Baffin lot and headed back east. I stopped at a
favorite drive-in of mine and had a burger in the car and went through
the notebook and ran the information over. The first obvious step was to
visit Creek’s apartment. There wasn’t a very big chance that he would be
there. Creek had been missing for a good number of days, and it didn’t
make much sense that he was just at home, lounging around his apartment,
taking a few days off work. He would have called in if that were the
case. But I had to check it out. He could be lying on the floor, dead of
a heart attack. But with the combined disappearance of Mary Pollard I
didn’t think that likely. I wanted to check through Creek’s apartment
just to eliminate it as a possibility and to look for any leads. Then I
would do the same thing with Mary Pollard and her apartment.

Creek lived in a newer, two-story apartment off West Vine. The building
looked on the higher end of the rent scale. I lucked out, though. It
wasn’t a secured building. I walked through the double doors as pretty
as you please and went up the elevator to the second floor. I knocked at
Creek’s door, more going through the motions than anything else. Then I
picked the lock and went in.

The apartment wasn’t quite what I expected. It was decorated with
overstuffed furniture and thick drapes and nick-naks all over the place.
Given a few doilies placed on the arms of the chairs, it could have been
my grandmother’s apartment back in Connecticut in the old days. Strange
that a man would have that kind of decor. Maybe he inherited it. But
that would mean he had to have had it shipped from Virginia. Which was
possible.

I checked around the living room and flipped through the books in the
bookcase. Then I went through the small writing desk. There was nothing
there in the way of a lead. I went into the kitchen. It was well- stocked,
with a lot of kitchens utensils such as a chef might use hanging on the
walls.

As soon as I entered the bedroom I knew that Creek had skipped. There
were hangers lying on the lace bedspread and the drawers to the dresser
were open. There were a few things left in the dresser, and I flipped
through them. Under a pair of old underwear I found a pretty nice
looking watch. Either it was broken or he had been in a hurry and had
missed it. I rotated the pin back and forth and within a minute it
started ticking. That pretty much answered that one. If Creek had been
as meticulous as Casey claimed then he must have been in one hell of a
hurry. I considered slipping the watch in my pocket, thought better of
it and tossed it back in the drawer.

The closet was empty except for some hangers and an old sports jacket
that had obviously seen better days. I searched the bedroom for any
suitcases, but there were none.

Creek was gone. I knew that much. Now I just had to find out where he
had gone off to. And then bring him in. And then collect my fifteen
grand.

“Simple” I said to myself and to no one in particular. “Should have it
wrapped up by midnight.”

Mary Pollard’s building wasn’t as posh as Creek’s, but it was
respectable. I went up to her floor and knocked. Then I knocked again.
Unlike Creek, I thought there might be a chance that Mary was home. The
whole thing could have been just a crazy break-up between two lovers.
Creek gets mad and runs off. Mary feels bad about it and stays home and
nurses her emotional wounds and doesn’t bother to call in to work or
even answer the phone. It wouldn’t be the first time in history two
lovers had gone through all of that.

After knocking a while I let myself into Mary’s apartment also. Her
furnishings were about what you would expect from a normal working
person. My own apartment would have looked pretty much like it, I
thought, if I hadn’t just bought my little house. My little house
didn’t have anything at all in it yet except for my bed and a kitchen
table and some patio furniture.

I searched through the living room. I didn’t find much. In one of the
end tables I found a album of old photos. They showed Mary as a girl,
one of her graduating from college. The usual stuff.

The last photo in the album caught my attention. It was obviously some
sort of office party, from the decorations certainly the office
Christmas party Casey had spoke of. The photo showed Mary Pollard at a
round table in what looked like the cafeteria. She was dolled up real
nice and was looking up at the camera with a big smile on her face. She
had a charming smile. Obviously shy, yet bright and somewhat open at the
same time. It was an odd combination of contradictory elements that just
pulled you in. To me she came across in the photo as a girl who was not
quite sure about everything that was going on around her but was somehow
willing to mingle anyway.

Sitting next to her at the table was William Creek. He was smiling too,
a more tight-lipped smile but a big one regardless. He had his arm on
the back of Mary’s chair and was kicked back in his own with his drink
in front of him. He looked a little on the egotistical side somehow. But
perhaps that was due to sitting next to his girl, Mary Pollard.

On the other side of Mary, although not sitting as close as Creek, was
Clovis Richardson. Richardson wasn’t looking at the camera. Instead the
photo had been taken as he was staring down at this drink. He was
grinning, but his eyes told the real story. He didn’t look too happy.
Either that, or he was bored.

“Maybe he doesn’t like slumming with the help” I said. I put the photo
album back in the drawer.

I checked out the kitchen next. The cabinets were stocked. The bottle
of milk in the refrigerator was just starting to go sour. That was
pretty much in line with a week-long disappearance if you took into
account that she had bought the milk a few days before she left.

As I closed the refrigerator door the little red light went off in my
head. It was the memory of the photo album that had set it off. An album
like that was very personal, just the kind of thing that a person
would tuck into their suitcase even on a sudden, impetuous move.

I ran back into the bedroom, fearing that I would find Mary lying on
the floor after having come to some bad end. Fortunately, that wasn’t
the case. But she hadn’t packed her bags, either. Mary’s bedroom
appeared untouched, as if she had just gone out to the movie and would
be back in a couple of hours. Her stuff was still in the dresser and her
closet was stuffed with dresses and hat boxes and shoes. I looked around
for a suitcase, and found two under the bed and a travel trunk sitting
empty against the far wall.

I sat down on the bed and lit a Pall Mall. As of an hour or so ago the
most likely scenario that fit the facts so far was that Creek had
decided to take off with the formula and had taken his girlfriend with
him. But that scenario didn’t make much sense anymore, given Mary’s
apartment. If Creek and Mary had run away together, Mary’s clothes would
be gone also. Something was screwy.

The likelihood that two people who worked for the same company would
disappear at the same time due to two totally different sequences of
events was probably zero. There was still a chance that Creek had simply
run off. But the two disappearances had to be linked in some way or
another, even if it hadn’t happened in the way I first thought. What was
screwy was that I didn’t have enough facts yet and it was making my brain
screwy and a screwy brain can’t solve a case.

I looked at my watch. It was just coming up on three o’clock. There was
just enough time to stop in for a few drinks somewhere. Then I would go
back to Baffin and try to find the Irish girl.

********

A few minutes before five o’clock I pulled into the Baffin Corporation
grounds and parked again in the V.I.P. lot. I did a quick tour around
the exterior of the building. Besides a few emergency doors, the front
lobby was the only entry to the building. If the Irish girl who was
friends with Mary was at work one that particular day, she would have to
come out the front. Unless she was missing too, of course. And I didn’t
even want to think about that one. I had quite enough missing people on
my plate with just Creek and Pollard. I stood outside the entrance and
smoked.

Right after five employees began streaming out of the building. I kept
an eye out for the Irish girl. From Casey’s description, she would be
easy to spot. But by five-fifteen there was no sign of her. I snuck a
few sips of rye from the bottle in my jacket and chained-smoked a couple
of Pall Malls. Just after five-thirty people began coming out again. A
short redhead came out of the building. She was walking so fast that I
almost missed her. I ran up behind her and fell in at her side as she
walked across the parking lot.

“Excuse me, Miss” I said to her. “My name is Pat Maginess. I’m a
private investigator, working for your company.”

She looked up at me suspiciously and kept on walking. I pulled out my
wallet and held it up in front of her as we walked.

“See there? Private Investigator. Says it right there on the license.
I’m looking for Mary Pollard. It seems she’s missing.”

The Irish girl stopped abruptly as if she had hit a brick wall.

“Missing?” she said.

“Yeah, hasn’t been in to work since last week. The company got
concerned. Hired me to find her.”

“Missing?” she said, looking down at the pavement, more to herself than
to me.

“That’s right. Hey, do you think we could go back to the building and
talk a bit? With all these cars pulling out, I’m afraid I’m going to get
run over here. Besides, it’s quieter.”

“Missing” she said once again. Then she looked up at me. “All right,
Mr…”

“Maginess” I said.

“Maginess. I have some Maginess relatives in Donegal, I think. Not
thatI would recognize them if I saw them. Let’s go back to the building.”

She started off slowly, obviously deep in thought, but then resumed
her normal bat-out-of-hell walk. We went into the lobby. The security
guard gave me a stare and then a nod. The redhead marched over to one of
the marble benches in the lobby and sat down and crossed her legs
tightly. She was certainly attractive, I thought. It was easy to figure
why Casey had a crush on her. She was about five-foot tall and skinny as
a stick. Her face was porcelain-fair and beautiful, with just a trace of
freckles in front of her ears to give you something to nibble at. She
was wearing a classy-looking red print dress and black stockings and
high-heels. Just guessing, I judged her to be about mid-thirties. But it
was sometimes tough to estimate with redheads. She could have been a
very young looking forty-five.

“First, can I get your name, Miss?”

She laughed. “Miss? That’s a good one. The name’s Peggy O’Grady. Just
call me Grady.”

“Okay, Grady. How long have you worked here at Baffin?”

“About five years.”

“And what is your position here?”

“I’m an accountant. But let’s cut the crap. What’s this about Mary?”

“Well, she’s missing, like I said. I’m afraid I can’t tell you much
about it so far as I’ve just started the investigation. So any
information that you could give me about her would really help me out. I
hear that you had lunch together sometimes.”

“We sat together. It wasn’t as if it we made a date of it or anything.
If we saw each other in the cafeteria, we would sit together. That’s
pretty much it.”

“But you talked with her, I take it. Did you become friends?”

“Depends on what you would call friends. I asked her out to dinner a
few times. But she was seeing a man. She didn’t like women.”

I had to think about that one.

“She didn’t like women? But, she seemed to like you well enough,
right? Just because she didn’t have the time to go to dinner with
you…oh, okay. I get it. Don’t worry, Grady, this isn’t an investigation
into the personal lives of employees. I’m simply trying to find Mary.
Now, I heard from a source that she was seeing somebody here at the
company. You said she was seeing a man? Did she tell you about it?”

“First thing, Maginess. Mary was a total wallflower. And I mean in a
big way. I did most of the talking when we were at lunch. I tried to get
her to come out of that big clam shell of hers. She was so lovely. And
so intelligent. And that smile of hers, my god, it just made you want to
throw your arms around her. I managed to get her out of the shell a
little. But she didn’t tell me anything about her life.”

“If that’s the case, how did you know that she was seeing somebody?”

Grady looked at me and smiled. “Score one for the private-eye and
logic. You’re right. She did mention some things. She told me she was
seeing a new man. Evidently, he was married. And rich. I’m sure you know
the type, being in your line of work. They only saw each other on
Fridays, evidently.”

I knew from Creek’s personnel file that he was single. The information
Grady was telling me was evidently taking me in a new direction, if the
information was correct.

“Are you sure that the man she was seeing was married?”

Grady looked at me and shook her head, as if I were a hopeless case.

“She was so naive. She leaned over when told me, putting her hand over
her mouth as she said it. And then she giggled. Giggled, can you believe
that? As if she were doing something really naughty that nobody had ever
done before. I think she liked the idea of it. That was the sad thing.
Like I said, very naive.”

“And I don’t suppose she mentioned his name?”

“Nope.”

“Did she mention anything else about him at all? It would really help
if you could remember some things, Grady. It might be something that you
might consider insignificant. But it might help me anyway.”

Grady looked off across the lobby and held her knee and bounced her calf
up and down. It was a perfectly turned calf.

“Well, she said he had a really expensive car. And that he would take
her out for drives on their Friday dates and drive really fast. And then
she giggled some more. As if driving fast was really naughty, too.”

“Anything else?”

“I can’t think of anything.”

“She didn’t happen to say anything about taking a trip or anything, did
she? Or maybe a vacation? Anything about getting another job, moving to
a different company?”

“No, nothing like that. I definitely would have remembered that kind
of thing. Come to think of it, though, she did say one strange thing
last Wednesday. The Wednesday before last, I mean. We were sitting at
the lunch table and she leaned over to me and touched my arm. And then
she asked me whether I thought that most men were the forgiving type.
She seemed sad when she said it. I simply told her I didn’t know. That
it probably depends on the man.”

“That was a week and a half ago, then. When was the last time you
talked with her?”

“It was that day. That lunch.” I wrote a few things in my notebook.

“And she didn’t go into detail then, either, I take it.”

“No. She didn’t.”

“Did she mention anything about another man she was seeing? Like
someone here at Baffin? Evidently, her and another employee went to the
Christmas party together last December.”

“That’s a new one on me. Another man? Oh, lord. What a mixed-up girl.
But it doesn’t surprise me, either. Somebody here you say? I don’t
remember her getting together with anyone in the cafeteria. As for the
Christmas party, I didn’t go. Not exactly a lot for me there, if you
know what I mean.”

That wasn’t much. But it was more than I had come in with. Mary was
seeing another man, and that added a whole new element into it, a whole
range of new possibilities. And it also added a lot more unanswered
questions.

“So,” Mary said, “the company hired you to find her, huh? It’s hard to
believe they would do that. Employee or not.”

“It’s part of a package deal I’m offering this month” I said, flipping
the notebook closed. “Two jobs for the price of one.”

Grady looked at me, grinned, and raised her eyebrows.

“You’re full of shit, Maginess” she said.

I nodded. “I’ve been told that.”

Back at the V.I.P. parking lot I looked around a bit. There was only
one car in the lot that broadcasted speed and money. I walked up to it.
It was a Jaguar, British racing green. Its light-tan leather top was
stored neatly at the back of the cockpit. I admired it a bit, running my
hand over the exquisite leather of the interior. Every detail was
perfect, from the wood in the dash and the steering wheel to the metal
trim around the edge of the cockpit.

I went back into the building and walked up to the security guard at
the desk.

“Hello, Altman” I said, remembering his name tag from earlier in the
day.

“What can I do you for, Mr. Maginess?” he said. “Do you need to go
upstairs again?”

“Naw,” I said, putting my arm on the counter and leaning against it a
bit. “I was just curious about something. Who owns that incredible
looking Jaguar out in the lot? Some lucky guy, I suppose. What a set of
wheels.”

Altman leaned back and smiled. “Oh, that’s Mr. Richardson’s baby” he
said. “Nice, huh?”

“I’ll say” I said. I straightened up and faced the entrance a bit and
stuck my hands deep into my pockets.

“Just fantastic.”

 

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