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Part II

"Not drinking your usual rye and ginger tonight?" the bartender said,
putting a cold bottle of beer down on a napkin in front of me.

"Naw, working a case. Might have to do some stuff later. I don't know
yet."

He nodded, then walked off down the bar to help another customer. The
bartender's name was Bryce. But I never could get used to saying that
name. That was due to the fact that he had been the replacement for Jack
Blumenthal, the bartender that had served me up my drinks there since
the 30s and who had been a kind of uncle to me across the years. The kid
was all right, I guess. He was young, but I didn't hold that against
him. He just wasn't Jack. The walls of the Alley Cat lounge were the
same and the bar was the same and the carpet was the same. And Will the
cook and Vikki the waitress were still there. But without Jack
Blumenthal, I often felt like I was on some alien planet in the place.

"Well, if you get ready for the rye, just let me know, Mr. Maginess"
the bartender said, coming back down to me.

"Sure will, kid."

I had ordered one of Will's mystery dinners. Will would cook something
up now and then, kind of experimenting, and I would be his guinea pig.
Most of his creations were excellent, though, so it was a pleasure to
contribute. As I finished off the bottle of beer and started the second
Will brought out something he called "Italian Chinese Eggplant." I
normally didn't ask him what was in the dishes he served up. This one, I
guessed, contained eggplant. It was top-notch. I could have eaten two of
them.

After getting some dinner down I began to think about the case. From
what I knew about Mary Pollard so far she hardly seemed the type to go
out on the town to a nightclub and meet strange men. Mary by all
accounts seemed more of the basket-weaving class sort. And there
probably weren't a lot of rich, married men around Los Angeles
interested in basket-weaving.

Proximity was usually the key. We tend to become involved with the
people who are proximate to our lives somehow, people we meet
as we push ourselves through the daily grind. The people that we
become friends with and the people we will love and the people we will
come to hate are usually right next door to us, working in the same
office, sitting across from us every morning on the train, sacking up
our groceries and calling us by name.

Every once in a while, there is the happy accident. I had known a few
myself. Mary Pollard could have met her married lover that way also. But
my feeling was that it was much more likely that her clandestine lover
was a part of her normal circle somehow, a part of her normal life and
activities.

There was one man in Mary's normal circle who fit all the criteria. He
was rich. He was married. He drove a fast, expensive car.

He was Clovis Richardson.

"Hey, Bryce" I called down the bar, trying to use the name for once.
"I think I will take that rye."

The kid brought down the drink and sat it in front of me on a new
napkin. I slid a couple of bills across to him.

"So, how long have you been bartending?" I asked him.

"Oh, about two years now. I started off as a dishwasher in a
restaurant. Hot work, low pay. Then I got a break at this bar down in
Long Beach. They said they'd try me out as a bartender for a few days
and see if I worked out."

"You must have worked out" I said, taking a sip.

"Yeah. Strange things happen sometimes."

I had to laugh at that one. "Yeah, sometimes they do."

Strange things like the supremely extroverted Richardson having an
affair with the wallflower girl from M.I.T. I didn't have any proof of
that, of course. But in a way it made sense. I thought back to the photo
in Mary's album, the one at the Christmas party. I had thought then that
Richardson looked unhappy somehow. And a guy having his new flame sit
with her boyfriend not three feet away, all happy and smiling, that
would tend to make a man a little on the despondent side.

The kid passed by me on his way down the bar to serve some drinks. As
he passed I noticed my reflection in the mirror on the wall behind the
bar. The low light in the barroom gave my mirrored face a rather sinister
look, like I was some 20s gangster who had just drove in some barrels of
gin, the stock of a Thompson machine gun resting on my hip.

The word duplicitous came to mind. Sweet or not, Mary had been playing
a rather cruel little game. And it wasn't so much that she was seeing
two men at once. It was that she was hiding the fact that she was doing
it. But Mary Pollard had probably lived a rather sheltered life. As
Grady had put it, she was naive. And being naive, what she had been up
to probably did seem merely on the naughty side to her. She was too
inexperienced to know what a rotten world it is sometimes where people
get their hearts raked over the coals or their souls go to sleep on a
bed of nails.

And then there was Richardson himself. He wasn't exactly being
straight-up about things either. He was married. I suppose that he could
have some sort of an arrangement worked out with his wife. It was
certainly possible. But as things usually go, probably not.

"I'll have another, Bryce" I said as the kid passed by. I was starting
to get comfortable using the name. The kid, Bryce, brought me my new
drink.

"I'll be honest, Bryce. The guy you replaced, me and him went way back.
It's kind of tough for me seeing a new face behind the bar. If I
offended you in any way, I apologize."

Bryce shrugged. "I never felt that, Mr. Maginess. I think you've been
pretty nice to me."

I nodded, sipped my drink, lit a smoke. "Okay. Thanks."

It must have been tough for Clovis Richardson, in any case. And there
was duplicity involved in that, also. On the one hand, he wanted to keep
his golden-boy, Creek, happy and well-fed at the Baffin Corporation. But
then Mary Pollard entered into his life, and it was quite possible that
he had gotten much more emotionally involved in that one than he ever
expected.

If Creek found out about the affair, all hell could break lose. All it
would take was a simple confession from Mary and Creek would no doubt be
out the door. I didn't know that much about Creek as a man, but most men
wouldn't want to work for the guy who had been screwing their
girlfriend.

Richardson now had to be considered a suspect. He could have decided
that things had gotten too out of hand, and that in spite of his
feelings for Mary that she was a danger to his ambitions for the
company.

The only problem with that theory was the timing, the fact that the
disappearances had come at the same time or virtually the same time over
the same weekend. It was possible that Creek had decided to skip, that
Richardson didn't know that he had decided to skip, and had decided to
get Mary out of the way over the same weekend. Which I thought about as
probable as dropping a coin into a paper cup from a six-story building.

And thus it was back to my screwy brain. I ordered another rye.
Another rye wouldn't help my screwy brain, but it probably wouldn't hurt
either. When Bryce brought the drink down I borrowed the phone and
called up Carmen and told her that I needed her in for a special
Saturday work day.

********

Carmen arrived at the office about five minutes after I did the next
morning. She was wearing a long black skirt and a while blouse and had
her .38 Smith M&P in her shoulder holster on her right side. Carmen was
more than my secretary. Over the past months since I had hired her she
had become my apprentice as well. She was young yet, only twenty-one,
and like Mary Pollard was still a little on the naive and inexperienced
side. But that was something that time could cure, and I felt she held
great promise toward becoming a full-fledged investigator. She was tall
and had a great inner toughness and steady nerves, complimented by an
ever optimistic attitude that was refreshing. I only hoped that seeing
the life she would see as a P.I. wouldn't jade her too awfully much.

"Have a seat, Carmen" I said, getting up from the desk. A few months
prior I had finally broken down and bought a second desk for the one-
room office. On the morning that the desk was delivered me and Carmen
had moved my desk over towards the couch and coffee table, and we had
put her desk over against the file cabinets where mine had been. It
might have been easier for me to just take the new desk, but I guess I
was sentimental.

"So, Mr. Maginess, what's going on? I guess you called me in for a
reason."

"That I did. We've got a new case going. The Baffin call you got
Thursday. Should be some good money behind it if I get it solved. Some
really good money."

I spent the next ten minutes or so laying out the cards for her. When
she was current, we got to work on the phone.

"I need to talk with Clovis Richardson this morning, this afternoon at
the latest. That's the top priority for today. Trouble is, I doubt that
he will be at the office on a Saturday. But you never can tell, so that's
the first step."

Carmen dialed the general Baffin number, talked briefly, pulled the
phone down to the side and covered it with her hand.

"It's a security guard. He says Richardson isn't in today."

"Ask him if Jerry Salazar is there. Tell him it's important I talk with
him."

Carmen talked into the phone a little more, shook her head at me.

"He says Mr. Salazar isn't there either."

"Ask him if he has a home number for Richardson or Salazar. Give him
the tough P.I. rigamarole."

Carmen talked again, doing a pretty good job of bullshitting her way
through it, wrote something on a notepad and hung up.

"Got it!" she said, holding up the pad to show me. "Mr. Salazar's home
phone."

"Good job. Now dial Salazar. But when he comes on, I'll talk with him."

A few minutes later Jerry Salazar came on the line.

"Jerry. Pat Maginess. Sorry about the Saturday thing. Hope you weren't
sleeping in."

"Sleeping in?" he laughed. "I forgot to tell you I've got five kids. I
was just out mowing the grass and trying to keep them all in the yard at
the same time."

"Congratulations. You'll have to show me pictures sometime. Hey, Jerry,
I need to talk with Richardson. Right away. You got a number for him?"

"Uh, yeah. What's up?"

Since I had no proof about Richardson being involved yet, I decided to
keep it simple.

"Oh, just really need to talk with him. No break in the case yet, but
what I can tell you is that Creek's clothing is gone from his apartment."

"Shit. You think he skipped, then?"

"Looks that way. But don't give up yet. I think there may be more
involved in all of this than just the damn formula."

"Like what, for instance?"

"Don't know yet. But I do need to talk with Richardson."

After getting the number from Jerry I called Richardson. A servant put
me through to Mrs. Richardson, who informed me that her husband was out
playing golf and was expected back about noon. I told her I would call
back around twelve-thirty, and left my number with her in case he
returned early.

"Well, Carmen, looks like we're on hold till lunch or so. But that's
okay. I'm going to go back over to Mary Pollard's apartment. You stay
with the phones."

A lot of doctors claimed that drinking alcohol killed brain cells. I
didn't know if that was true or not, but I was beginning to believe them.
Or it could have been age and the fact that maybe I was starting to lose
my edge. For whatever reason, I had failed to look for Mary Pollard's
car when I had visited her apartment.

Once over to Mary's building I parked and took a tour around the
block, checking out license plates. I had no idea what make or model of
car she drove, but I did have the license number from her employment
application. Like Casey had said, Baffin did a pretty thorough
background check, and her application had been loaded with just about
everything except her bank account number and the number of freckles on
her inner arm.

After covering the adjacent parking spots all around the building, I
crossed over to the other side of the street and made the same circuit
again. When that failed to turn up the vehicle, I walked down every
street in the area to a distance of about three blocks.

If Mary's car was there, she had parked it a helluva long way from her
building. But I doubted that was the case. Her car was simply missing,
just like she was. Which was just another thing to rattle my screwy
brain. Clothes still in the apartment, but car missing. At that point,
screwy brain or not, the little red light went off in my head.

"Oh, crap" I said to myself.

I went back to my car and drove over to Creek's apartment building. I
walked around the block. Midway up the street on the east side of
Creek's building a large white Ford was parked pretty much bumper to
bumper with a light blue Chevrolet. I walked up to the front of the Ford
and checked out the plate on the car in front of it. I pulled out my notebook,
just to make sure. It was Creek's car. I turned around and rammed a hand
down into my pocket and took off my hat and slapped it against my leg,
cussing under my breath.

Grabbing some lunch for Carmen and me at a local deli I returned to the
office. I ate the sandwich with a Coca-Cola and pretty much just watched
the clock until I could call Richardson back. I gave it till twelve-
thirty, then called. He came on the line and I told him that there were
a few things that had come up that I needed to talk to him about. Since
he lived rather far out we arranged to meet at Baffin.

It being a Saturday the Baffin Building parking lots were deserted. Due
to the lack of cars it was closer to park in a space just in front of
the building rather than the V.I.P. lot. The security guard inside took
me up the express elevator to the seventh floor and walked with me all
the way to Richardson's office.

"Mr. Richardson's secretary isn't here today. I was told to show you
in" he said by way of explanation.

As I entered the office, Clovis Richardson was sitting behind his desk
reading some sort of report. He looked up at me for a second, finished
off what he was reading, flipped over some pages and put the report down
on the desk. Then he came around and once again gave my hand two firm
shakes. He was dressed casually, wearing light blue slacks and tan
loafers and a while v-necked cotton sweater with blue stripes.

"Mr. Maginess. Good to see you again. I suppose that private-eyes don't
take the weekend off much."

"Not when we're working a case" I told him.

"Well, that's good to know. You said you had some questions for me?"

"Yeah, a few."

"Let's go out on the roof and get in some putting" he said. "It's a
nice day. And I'm stuck in this office enough." He went over to the wall
and selected two putters, came back and handed me one.

"You play golf?"

"Can't say that I do. I do use a scythe out in my back yard
occasionally."

Richardson gave a little laugh. "You should try a mower" he said.

"More rocks than grass in my yard, I'm afraid. A mower just wouldn't
work."

We passed through the doors and out onto the roof. "I had these little
putting greens put in. They were designed by Ben Hogan himself. Each one
has its own little difficulties." We walked up to the first green and
Richardson set his ball down, lined up behind it. "Since you're not a
player, I'll go first by way of instruction" he told me.

The main reason I had wanted to see Richardson was to gauge his mood.
He didn't seem to be his normal, extroverted self. Compared to the
Clovis Richardson I had met with only the day before, he seemed tired
and almost withdrawn by comparison. Following 18 holes and given his age
I thought he might be tired physically. But there was more to it than that.
There seemed to be a kind of psychological tiredness as well.

"This hole is fairly straight forward" he said. "Except that there is
just a little bit of elevation up to the hole to make it interesting.
You have to hit it more firmly than you would think." He pulled back the
putter and made the stroke, contacted it smoothly and firmly. At first
it seemed to me that the ball was traveling much too fast. But as it got
closer to the hole it slowed and finally came to a stop ten inches from
the pole.

"I'm just not playing well at all today" he moaned, more to himself than
to me. "I can usually make that putt. You have a go at it."

I took off my jacket and hat and put them on the stone bench next to
the green. Richardson eyed my .38 in its long shoulder holster hanging
down at my side.

"You always wear that?" he asked me.

"I sometimes wear it to bed" I told him. "Just to fight off the bad
dreams."

I put my ball down on the grass and lined up the shot. In spite of my
efforts the ball ended up about five feet short of the hole and about
two feet to the left of it. We walked up for the second shot.

"Well, what did you want to ask me?" he said, lining up his club.

"How well do you know your employees here, Mr. Richardson. Say Creek,
for example. Were you friends?"

"Oh, I'd say we were friends, yeah" he said, taking the shot. He made
the putt with one hand on the club, barely looking at it, and the ball
went forward smoothly and dropped in the cup. I went back to my ball and
took my best shot at it. The ball seemed to be heading straight for the
hole, but at the last minute it seemed to run out of gas and stopped
about ten inches short of the cup. I went up and tried again. This time
I managed to get the damn thing in.

"What about other employees here? Anybody you were close with?"

Richardson stared into space and shook his head. "No, I guess not" he
finally said. But it was obvious that he had been thinking about
something, thinking about something deeply.

We walked to the next green. He put his ball down and almost without
thinking about it sent the ball racing across the green, over the top of
a slight ridge, and down over the other side to just near the cup. I
tried my luck. As to what happened to my ball, that's something I would
rather not remember.

"Why don't you take your second shot first, Maginess" he said, shaking
his head sadly.

I took a long hike over to my ball and this time managed to get it
within three feet of the cup. Two putts later I got the ball in the
hole. Then Richardson walked up and putted his ball in.

"So. Any other employees you were close with?" I said.

"You have somebody particular in mind?" He stooped over and reached
down to get his ball from the cup.

"Like Mary Pollard, for example."

Richardson's hand stopped for just a second, then continued down and
picked up his ball. He straightened up and tossed the ball up and down a
bit in his hand, and looked off the edge of the roof. Then he lowered
his head down and poked at the turf a bit with the head of his putter.
He looked like a kid who had been caught with some dirty magazines in
his closet.

I tossed my ball on the grass and walked up close to him, put the
putter over my shoulder like a rifle and stuck my hand in my pocket.

"Mr. Richardson, what you do in your life is your own business. I'm not
in the morality business. But if there's one thing I do hate is being
lied to. Or having the truth kept from me, which amounts to the same
thing. I need to know about this matter."

Richardson nodded, looked me in the eye. "Okay, Maginess. Fair enough.
I admit, I was having an affair. With Mary Pollard. With my friend's
girl. There's your truth. That I'm a no-good son of a bitch."

I considered my next move carefully. The slower I took it, the better.

"When was the last time you talked with Mary, Mr. Richardson?"

He tossed the ball he had been holding down on the turf.

"It was last Friday. We were supposed to get together last night. We
kind of have a standing thing on Fridays. But I went to pick her up at
her apartment and she wasn't home. I tried calling her. And this morning,
too. I guess she's mad at me for some reason. Or…"

"Or what?"

He shook his head sadly. "I played a crappy 18 holes this morning, Mr.
Maginess. All I could think about was Mary. About how maybe she decided
to call off our affair."

It was time to turn up my Ace in the hole.

"Mr. Richardson, were you aware that Mary has been missing this entire
past week?"

I might as well have hit him between the legs with my putter. He
simply let go of his club and it fell onto the grass. His shoulders
drooped, and his arms hung down at his sides.

"Why don't we go back to the office for a drink, Mr. Maginess" he said
after a bit. "I know I need one at least."

I followed Clovis Richardson back to his office. Richardson was
wealthy, successful, self-confident, full of vitality. But right then he
looked like a man who had been totally defeated by life, like a man out
on the street in tattered clothes whose mind was lost in the clouds.
Once in the office he pressed himself up against a well-made mahogany
bar on the wall.

"What's your poison?" he said absently.

"Rye, if you have it. On the rocks."

Richardson nodded. "I'm more of a scotch man myself."

He made the drinks and handed me the glass. Then he walked over in
front of his desk and pulled one of the visitor's chairs out and slowly
lowered himself down on it. I joined him on its twin. We sipped our
drinks for a while, neither saying anything. One thing I did know was
that unless Richardson was an Oscar-caliber actor, he hadn't known about
Mary's disappearance. He might be guilty of adultery, but that was it. I
could cross him off as a suspect.

"So I guess she ran off with Creek" he said, gloomily.

"That remains to be seen. The truth cuts both ways, Mr. Richardson.
And I'd be less than honest with you at this point if I didn't tell you
that I don't know what the hell is going on. Creek's clothes are missing
from his apartment. But his car is still there. So if he's skipped, and
I would favor that view at this point, he left his car behind. Mary's
car I haven't found yet. But her clothes are still in her apartment. It
doesn't make any sense."

"Her clothes are still in her apartment?" Richardson said, his spirits
bouncing back a bit.

"Yeah. But I don't know how much I would put into that. Let me put
forward a kind of scenario here. Try to figure out what my have happened
given the facts as I have them so far. As long as you know this is just
speculative. It might not hold up. Okay?"

Richardson nodded, took a deep sip of scotch. "Okay."

"Let's say that Creek decides to skip, to take the formula and head
off to wherever the hell it is that he's thinking of going to. That's
last Saturday, say. But before he leaves he calls Mary. He wants her to
go with him. She rushes over to his place, thinking maybe she can talk
him out of it. She's a trained chemist. Maybe she doesn't like the idea
of traipsing around the country holding on to Creek's cuffs for support.
Or maybe she has other motives. You, for example. Maybe she likes having
her cake and eating it too. So she wants to keep Creek here."

"You think so?"

"I don't know. Like I said, this is speculative. So Mary goes over to
Creek's apartment and tries to talk him out of it. But Creek is persuasive.
He tells her about the great life they'll have together as soon as he sells
the formula. So maybe it's looking better to her now. She agrees. They
decide to leave Creek's car behind and take hers in case you try to track
him. Mary says she'll have to go pack. But for some reason, she doesn't."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. No woman I've ever known would just leave all her
clothes behind like that. She'd want to take at least a few things. Her
favorite dress. And old bath robe she can't bear to part with. A pair of
shoes that fit just right."

"So, you're saying that she didn't go with him."

"I'm saying I don't know. Her clothes are there. Her car is gone. It's
like she took off but just didn't pack."

"Maybe she left but is planning on coming back" Richardson suggested.

"Also a possibility. It's just not one that makes any real sense. One
would think that if she left with Creek that would be it. She wouldn't
be coming back. They'd be off to wherever they were going. I suppose she
could have agreed to drive with him, say to Virginia, then come back.
But one would think that even for something like that she'd want to take
a bag with her. Same way if they just drove to hide out somewhere
locally. There's also a chance that Creek left his car and had Mary
drive him to the train station or the airport. But if that's the case,
why is Mary missing? That would have taken a couple of hours at most.
And she would have been in to work last Monday."

Richardson got up and made us another couple of drinks. I lit a Pall
Mall and stretched my legs out. As I had been talking with Richardson
another scenario had popped into my screwy brain, a much darker scenario.
But I didn't know whether I should tell Richardson about it. As he handed
me my drink I looked up and saw the obvious concern in his eyes. I decided
then that he was my client, and that I was going to be straight-up with him.

"There's one other possibility too, Mr. Richardson" I said as he took
his seat.

"Oh, lord. My head is stuffed with possibilities, Mr. Maginess."

"Yours and mine both. I have to tell you, this one is just very, very
speculative. So I don't want you to worry. But there's a chance that if
Mary didn't want to go with Creek, he might have forced her to."

Richardson leaned forward suddenly. "How would he do that?"

"At the point of a gun, for example."

"You mean kidnapping?" he said.

"It fits the facts nicely. That's why Mary didn't pack her bags. Creek
took her car in case you had him tracked, which would explain why his
car is still there but Mary's is missing. What bothers me with that one
is the motivational factor. It's one thing to be in love with a girl. It
takes another thing entirely to point a gun at her and mean it. Creek
didn't strike me as that type when I talked with Casey. He didn't seem
like the spontaneous type. Casey described Creek as very methodical, thought
everything out before hand. This would have been more of a spontaneous
thing, if it went down that way. And then there's the gun. I can have
that checked, see if he was registered with one. That might help. But
the more important consideration is that if he did kidnap Mary, he
couldn't very well take her onto a train or airplane with him. Or take
her anywhere much in the public eye. He would have to keep her with him
in the car or hole up somewhere."

Richardson finished off his drink. He sat there nodding, as if it was
all beginning to register in his brain.

"What now?" he said. "We have to find Mary, Mr. Maginess."

"I think if we find Creek we'll find Mary. Or at least he can tell us
what happened to her. Let me ask you something, Mr. Richardson. You
spent a fair amount of time with Creek, right? Being friends and all."

"Yeah, I suppose I did."

"Did he have any property that you know of? A mountain cabin? A house
he owned back in Virginia? Anything like that?"

"He didn't mention anything to me about a cabin or anything. He did
mention going off for the weekend occasionally. He didn't mention where.
I figured he took off for the Springs or someplace. You know, just a
get-away."

I thought about that. A dead end. "Did you cover any type of insurance
for Creek here at Baffin?"

"Insurance? Well, yeah. It was part of his contract."

"What kind of insurance did he have?"

"Oh, Life. Medical. Property."

"Property?" I said. "That seems a little strange for a guy who lives
in an apartment. What insurance company was that with?"

"California Gold Insurance Company. I bartered the deal myself. Got a
pretty good package out of it. They're here in L.A. I wanted to stay
local."

"Well, I might be able to get some information on that. But it's the
weekend. It would be Monday at the earliest. I'm not very happy about
that."

"Why is that?"

"In missing persons cases my experience has been that the longer
someone is missing, the less likely it is that I'll find them. I wish
you had called me in earlier. But that's a moot point now, I suppose."

"Jerry Salazar tried to get me to do something earlier" he said. "But I
didn't listen to him. I guess I kept thinking that Creek would walk back
in the door any time, like nothing had happened." He paused, took a sip
of scotch. "And to be honest, I'm not sure if I didn't want him gone
anyway."

"Because of Mary?" I asked.

"Yes. Because of Mary. I'm crazy about her, Maginess. You know, when I
was young, I played football at Stanford. I was a center. I was big and
fast and I was damn good at it. But as soon as I would walk off the
field, everybody would just look at me like I was a big, stupid dog. I
would hear them laughing at me behind my back. After college, that's the
way it continued. Then I got smart. After the war I came up with the
needed capital and started Baffin. And I made it work. But everybody
still looked at me like a big stupid dog, except now it was just a big
stupid dog who had gotten lucky. But Mary, she wasn't like that. She
liked me exactly the way I was. I felt young again. Except that it was
even better than when I was young, because I wasn't a big stupid dog
anymore. I was just me. Clovis."

I put my empty glass down on the desk and stood and put on my hat.

"Well, Mr. Richardson, I'll do my best, of course. I'll find Creek, I
think. Eventually. And hopefully that will mean finding Mary, too."

I walked out of the office, leaving the man to his own thoughts.

********

Back at the office I filled Carmen in on developments, and got her
looking in the phone book to find the California Gold Insurance Company.

"Looks like it's in Anaheim, Mr. Maginess."

"Damn, that's a bit of rubber there."

"Maybe I could go with you. Keep you company."

"Not a bad idea. We'll see how it goes on Monday morning. I was hoping
that we would be able to get a little bit farther on the case this
weekend. But it seems now that the only leads left at this point involve
checking out Creek's insurance and whether he had a gun registered.
Neither of which we can do until Monday. In any case, I don't think
there'll be much for you to do here until then. Why don't you go home and
take the rest of the weekend off."

Carmen picked up her purse then the remainder of her lunch from the
refrigerator and left. I made a drink and sat down at my desk and read
through a copy of National Geographic. There was an interesting article
on Lemurs in Madagascar, and another one about the rings of Saturn.

A little while later there was a loud rap on the door.

"C'min" I said, studying one of the detail photos of the outer rings.

The man who walked through the door was about fifty years old. He was
wearing a nice but rather out-of-date three-piece suit and an oversized
fedora that looked like it came from the prohibition era. He had a
raincoat draped across his shoulders.

"Pat Maginess?" he said, in a thick accent.

"That's what the name on the door says" I told him, putting down the
magazine.

He pulled one of my visitor's chairs up and came around and sat himself
down on it.

"My name is Yuri Nabokov" he said, smiling. "I would like to talk to
you about a little matter that may be to our mutual interest."

"Okay. What do you want, Mr. Nabokov?"

"First of all, I would like to say that I do not represent myself, but
others."

"And what others would those be?"

"I think that you should be able to put two and two together by the
end of this. For now let's say that I am with, say, an international
organization that has influence and power all over the world."

"That's a little on the vague side, Mr. Nabokov. From your accent I
would say that you're Russian. Are you an international businessman,
perhaps?"

Nabokov laughed. It was a big, roaring laugh, equal to the large size
of him.

"Ah, that is a good one. I will have to remember that. No, I'm not in
business, Mr. Maginess. Not in the regular sense, in any case."

I was getting pretty tired of his crap, potential client or not.

"What do you want, Mr. Nabokov? 'Cause I'm kinda busy right now. I
already have a case going."

"Trying to find Dr. William Creek? It that what you are busy with?"

It came like a shot to the gut. I wanted to know how he knew, but I
didn't want to play my hand by admitting anything. I said nothing. After
a few moments the Russian took up the conversation again.

"You are surprised, no doubt. I can see it in your face. You are a
professional. But I am a professional as well. And that is why I think
we can do business together. My organization is a very broad-based one,
Mr. Maginess. We have people everywhere. And so it is that I know what
you are working on. You are trying to find Dr. Creek. You have been
hired by Clovis Richardson to find him."

"You must have the wrong information" I said. I reached down into the
drawer and pulled my fifth of rye out and made another drink. I sipped
it, not offering Nabokov one.

"I don't think so" he said, the smile lessening a bit. I had just insulted
him by not pouring him a drink and both of us knew it. "My sources are very
dependable. In any case, Mr. Maginess, we also have an interest in finding
Dr. Creek."

"If your organization is so damn large and so damn good, how come you
can't find him yourself?" I said, finishing off the rye. I poured another
one, slowly.

He gave out his large laugh again, but this time there was no humor in it.

"Oh, we very well might. I am confident of it. But, as you Americans
say, sometimes it is better to hedge one's bets."

"You're afraid I'll find him first."

"That is a possibility. A remote one. Nevertheless we are willing to
make you a substantial monetary offer for the location of Dr. Creek. If
you find him, you call us. We pay you. Simple."

I never did like it when people talked about things that supposedly
were so damn simple.

"How much cash are you offering? Because I already have a pretty damn
good offer."

"Fifteen thousand? Yes, I know how much you were offered. I know a lot
of things. Well, if you think that is a lot of money, Mr. Maginess, by
all means go collect your little pay. We can offer more. Say, three times
more."

"And let's say I don't like your money" I said flatly, slamming the
glass down.

"Well, that is your right. But I should say that my organization is
very committed to our purpose. We will do just about anything for our
cause."

The word 'cause' hit me suddenly. And I knew right then who Yuri
Nabokov was representing. I just couldn't imagine what his interest in
William Creek was.

"You're KGB" I said, playing with my glass.

"Well, I would have to say no to that. I am merely the local
representative of a tractor company in Mexico. But if that is what you
think, then by all means, go ahead and think it."

The case had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated, like a number
being raised by a power of two. One thing I knew for sure was that I
sure as hell didn't want to get on the bad side of an outfit like the
KGB. I had run into some of their agents at the end of the war, when I
was with C.I.D. in Italy. When the KGB came out to play they played
tough and they didn't play by the rules. I decided it was best to let
Nabokov think that I was going along with his deal. Then I would find
Creek. Then I would try to find some way to deal with the Russians. It
was the only plan I could think of at that point.

I reached down into the drawer and got a clean glass, poured a couple
of fingers into it and slowly slid it across the desk to Nabokov. He
nodded, and his smile returned. He took the glass and took a sip.

"Excellent" he said. "I've always claimed that the Americans make the
best whiskey."

"It's Canadian" I said, lighting a smoke. "So answer me this, Nabokov.
Why the hell is the KGB interested in a guy that develops toothpaste?"

Nabokov reached into his pocket and pulled out a case and took a
small, thin cigar from it. He lit it, and leaned back and took another
sip of the rye.

"Do you think that the Russian people do not care about proper dental
hygiene?" he said, smiling.

"Maybe they do at that. But let's just say it doesn't seem to be the
biggest global issue right now."

The Russian gave out another big laugh. "Perhaps not, Mr. Maginess.
But it is all part of the game. Everything is a part of the game these
days. Even toothpaste."

"I want cash" I said. "And no rubles. American dollars. And not that
counterfeit crap you guys like to pass around."

Nabokov finished off his drink and stood and reached into his pocket
and pulled out a business card.

"Just call that number" he said, handing the card to me. "Whoever
answers, just give them the information. We will contact you."

He turned and walked to the door and opened it, then turned back
around.

"And for your information, Mr. Maginess, we keep watch over a great
number of people. When it is in our interest to do so. You may want to
keep our meeting entirely to yourself."

He left. I sat there and fumed for while. Then I put the fifth back in
the desk drawer and went back to the National Geographic.

********

There was nothing that could be done on the case until Monday. I spent
Sunday at home, mostly on the back patio, mostly thinking about the
case. The inactivity drove me nuts. I kept thinking there was something
that I could be doing to advance the investigation further, Sunday or
not. But I couldn't think of one thing. I considered driving into town
and checking out Creek's and Mary's apartment, on the remote chance that
they had returned. But I knew that was more wishful thinking than
anything else. I thought about calling a contact at the L.A.P.D. and
getting a bulletin put out on Mary's car. But I knew my contact wouldn't
be at his desk on a Sunday, gold shield detective or not. There was
just nothing to be done but drink down a good portion of a bottle of rye
and watch the sunset. But at least the sunset turned out to be a pretty
nice one.

Monday morning I dressed in my most conservative looking suit and
drove in to the office. Carmen was already there, a glass of orange
juice in front of her.

I took off my hat and jacket and rolled up my sleeves.

"Good morning, Carmen. Today, we're going to change professions."

"We are?" she said.

"We are. At least for this morning, we're going into the accountancy
business."

I got down the little type press I had on top of the file cabinets and
took it over to the coffee table.

"Why don't you come over and watch me do this, Carmen. It'll be good
training for you. I need to get some information from California Gold
Insurance. So I'm going to pass myself off as Creek's accountant. This
little press prints business cards. Not very good ones, but people don't
really care about that. They just tend to believe what they read."

I showed Carmen how to set the type in the small composing box, putting
it in in reverse and sticking the thin strips of lead between the lines
to allow for spacing. Then I stuck the paper stock in and inked the type
up with a roller and pressed it. I pulled the stock off slowly, held it
up and waved it a bit to help dry it and then looked at it.

"Damn. Seems I've got a typo. It never fails."

I took out the composing box and fixed the typo, stuck it back in and
repeated the process.

"Ah, much better. See?"

Carmen looked at the paper. "Sydney Raffin, P.A. Public Accountant."

"Yep. And the telephone number, of course. With our number. If anybody
calls this morning, you answer the phone as Raffin's secretary, got it?"

Carmen nodded. "You think they'll go for that?"

"Well, I'm hoping. As a wise old man used to say, you never know until
you try."

"What wise old man was that, Mr. Maginess."

"My dad. But I guess he wasn't really old."

I wiped the ink off my hands with a rag and went over to my desk
and got a pair of low-strength dime-store reading glasses and put
them on. I put my hat on and pulled my shoulders just a little bit
forward to look thinner.

"I am representing William Creek" I said, pitching my voice up a bit.
"There is a terrible discrepancy in my books, I'm afraid."

Carmen laughed. "You look dorky, Mr. Maginess."

"Good. Anyway, that's the way I'm going to play it. Now let's print up
a few more cards and let them dry. Then I'll show you how to trim them
to size."

An hour later the cards were in my wallet. I took an old accountant
ledger from back in the days when I did my own books and stuck it under
my arm.

"Are you sure you don't want me to go with you, Mr. Maginess?" I think
she was kind of disappointed about not making the trip with me.

"Better to stay here and cover my back, Carmen. If they doubt my
authenticity, I'll have them call here. That might satisfy them. But I
might not have to do that. In any case, just be ready."

I rode the elevator down and walked out of the Paulsen building. I was
halfway to my car when I felt something sharp poke itself into my back
and I felt somebody press themselves up to me.

"That's a knife, so don't try anything" he said into my ear. A car
pulled up quickly and stopped parallel to us. A guy in a black suit
jumped out of the front passenger side, rushed to the back door and
opened it.

The guy behind me pushed me to the car. "Get in" he ordered, giving me a
firm shove just to make sure.

I got in the back seat. "Scoot over" the guy said. I slid to the side
and he was in the car. Meanwhile, the guy from the front had climbed back
in and from over the seat pointed a revolver at my midsection.

"Drive" the guy next to me said, leaning up a bit. He was wearing a
black suit also, and a newer style black hat. He had close-cropped hair
and his black wing-tips were polished military-style, shiny as glass. The
car pulled out with a rush.

"Didn't this kind of thing go out with the roaring twenties?" I asked
him.

"Since you mentioned it, I wouldn't crack wise. There's some twenties
stuff for you, Maginess."

"Where are you taking me?"

"We're just going for a little ride. It'll give us a chance to talk.
The other option is we tie you up and gag you and put you in the cargo
hold on a plane back to Virginia."

"It's a nice day. I suppose a little drive wouldn't hurt."

"My name is Smith" he said. "I'm with the government."

"Which government is that?" I said. "Or did you just make up your own?"

"Keep going, Maginess. We've got that plane all warmed up. I'm with
the United States Government, dumb shit."

"Okay, Mr. Smith. What do you want?"

"I'm going to ask you some questions. And I want straight answers.
Besides that plane, we can get the State to revoke your private
investigator's license any time we want. The State of California doesn't
give P.I. licenses to known Communists. Got it?"

"Known Communist? Are you shittin' me?" Gun or no gun I just wanted
to reach over and punch Smith out.

"Known communist. Or people that associate with communists."

"Okay" I said, suddenly real tired of it all. "Straight answers."

"What's that?" Smith said, grabbing my ledger. He flipped through the
pages a bit.

"Damn. Now you've discovered my secret code book" I said.

Smith tossed the ledger back onto my lap. "Very funny."

The guy in the front seat had turned the gun on its side so that it would
be slightly less conspicuous, but it was still leveled at my navel.

"What did Yuri Nabokov come to see you about? And we know he was at your
office. Don't even try to deny it."

"He just came to see me. About a case I'm working on."

"What case is that?"

There was no way in hell that I wanted to tell the guy anything, government
or not. But I didn't want my license revoked, either. Nabokov already knew
about the case. As did who knew how many people by that point. I decided a few
more people couldn't make it any worse as far as confidentiality was concerned.

"I'm looking for Dr. William Creek. Nabokov wants to find him, too.
Creek is a chemist for the Baffin Corporation. He develops toothpaste."

The whole thing sounded totally ludicrous, and I figured that one way
or another I was bound for that cargo hold and the great state of Virginia.
But Smith didn't seem bothered by the explanation one iota. He pulled at his
chin a bit.

"Hmmm. Toothpaste" he said to himself. "Interesting. And what else did
you discuss?"

"Nothing, really. Just that. We talked about Canadian and American whiskey.
And about the importance of good dental care to the Russian people."

"Are you givin' me the run-around, Maginess? Remember, that plane is warmed
up and ready to go."

"That's it, Smith. Honest. It was pretty much just about Creek."

"Okay, pull over" Smith said to the driver. "This is just between us,
Maginess. If you see Nabokov again, don't mention this. And by the way,
I should tell you that Yuri Nabokov is the senior KGB runner in southern
California. So if you think you can play smooth and fast on this one, I
recommend you reconsider."

When they dumped me out I found myself on the far side of Hollywood.
After walking a mile or so I finally managed get to Wilshire Boulevard,
where I found a city bus stop and waited for a bus back east. I lit a
Pall Mall, still not in the best of moods. Clovis Richardson had hired
me to find William Creek. Next thing I knew I was looking for Mary Pollard,
too. Now I had the damn KGB and CIA breathing down my neck. I figured the
way things were going I would soon have the Daughters of the American
Revolution following me down the sidewalk and the people at Walt Disney
pulling me into their limousine to grill me as to just why the hell I wanted
to kill Bambi. And all because of some stupid toothpaste formula and an unhappy
love affair.

There were days when it just didn't pay enough to be a private
investigator, fifteen grand or not. After what seemed like forever a
bus came along and I rode it back east to my car and headed off to Anaheim.

********

The California Gold Insurance Company was located on the sixth floor of
a new office building in central Anaheim. They must have had the entire
floor to themselves, as the first thing I ran into when I go off the elevator
was a small lobby with the company name on the wall and a small receptionist
desk. I had been going through my routine on the long drive out. Unfortunately
I wasn't much of an actor and didn't have a very good memory for memorizing
lines. But if there was one thing I had learned in life, virtually from the
time I was a kid standing on the pitcher's mound, was that sometimes you
simply have to push on through and hope for the best.

I had my hat set precisely on my head and had pushed up my tie so
tight it just about cut off circulation to my brain. I held the ledger
book under one arm, the other hand placed on top of it rather
protectively. I pulled out one of my fake business cards and handed it
to the receptionist. She took it, put it down on the counter and looked
back up at me.

"And how may we help you, Mr. Raffin."

"Well it seems there has been a discrepancy in my client's books" I told
her, hoping that the dorky image that Carmen had commented on was still
getting through. "My client has a policy with California Gold." I pulled
the ledger up, and began flipping through pages. "It seems that I have
his records showing that his policy was paid last May, June, and July.
But according to the statements I have from your company the policy was
only paid in June and July. Which of course is disastrous, Miss…What
was your name, young lady?"

"Patty."

"Yes, Patty. Wonderful name, Patty. My aunt was named Patty. In any
case, Patty, I am simply at my wit's end with this. It is probably my
fault. I'm sure your Company wasn't at fault. But I am sure you can
understand that I need to get this cleared up for my client as quickly
as possible. If I could just talk with someone about the matter, I'm
sure we could get this cleared up without too much ado."

"I'll see if someone is available to talk to you. Why don't you have
a seat over there, Mr. Raffin. I'll call Mr. Argento. He's our claims
auditor."

"Why thank you, Patty. I hope it won't be too long."

About fifteen minutes later a short, skinny young man came out, walked
up to the receptionist, spoke with her briefly, then came over to my chair.
I stood up, trying to look as deferential as I could.

"Mr. Raffin, I take it?" he said, extending his hand. "I'm Mr. Argento.
Please come with me." I followed him back through a glass door, down a
hallway, and through another glass door into a large office. We went
through the office and through another door and into what I gathered must
be Argento's personal office.

"A wonderful office you have" I said.

"Thanks" he said. "Have a seat. Now, what was all this about, if you
wouldn't mind going over it again."

I went through the speil all over again, pretty much verbatim. I made
sure to look through the pages of my ledger and tried to imitate mild
panic.

"If you could just help me to resolve this matter today, Mr. Argento,
it would do so much get me out of a bind. You look like a person of some
experience and influence here at the company. I'm sure it would be no
problem for a talented young man like yourself."

I thought I had laid the flattery bullshit on a little thick. But Argento
went for it anyway.

"What is your client's name?" he asked, smiling.

"Creek. William Creek."

"And what was the policy number?"

That one I hadn't thought of.

"Oh, my. You know, I think it is in here somewhere."

I went through the pages of the ledger, running my finger down and
turning a page occasionally, trying to be as slow as possible about it.
After about two minutes Argento patted his hand down on the desk and
leaned forward.

"I'll tell you what, Mr. Raffin. I have the name. Unless there are two
people by that name, that should be enough. So you say you need to
confirm that his home owner's policy was paid through last May-July?"

"That is correct, yes."

"Wait here a minute, Mr. Raffin. I'll go see if I can get Mr. Creek's
file."

About ten minutes later Argento came back in carrying three files. He
plopped them down on his desk and sat down, put two of them to the side
and began going through one of them.

"Well, Mr. Raffin, everything here seems to be in order. It seems we
received payment for the month you spoke of."

"Really?" I said, looking into the ledger again. "That is very odd.
Perhaps we are talking about the wrong property."

Argento looked at the policy. "This one is for the Oxnard Beach
property."

"Oxnard. I'm not sure."

"Well, Mr. Raffin, that's the only property Mr. Creek has insured with
us. It has to be the right one."

"Yes. I'm sure you are right. Yes, I'm sure you are right." I looked
up and sighed, and scratched the side of my chin. "Oxnard" I said,
looking back in the ledger. "Oxnard."

"That's right" Argento said, a little impatiently. "Oxnard Beech. On
Pacific Highway."

"What was the address? Dear, I'm just so incompetent anymore. It must
be the medication I'm on."

Argento made a face and sighed, looked down to the policy. "Pacific
Highway. Box 12200."

"Yes. That must be the one. Yes, I remember now. And you are sure that
he did pay his policy last May, then?"

"Positive. Now, is there anything else I can do for you? I'm afraid
I'm rather on the busy side today."

"No, no. I think that will be it, Mr. Argento." I stood and reached
over rather tentatively and shook his hand. "Thank you so much."

I retraced the route back to the receptionist area and the elevators.
Just as the elevator door closed I called out loudly to Patty.

"See ya, toots!"

Then I went back to the car and celebrated with a few good sips of rye.

It was going to be a helluva long drive from Anaheim to Oxnard Beach.
I decided to break the drive in two by driving first up through the south
end of L.A. and then up to Santa Monica. I stopped in Santa Monica and
had lunch at a nice little fresh seafood restaurant that I had discovered
on an earlier case. The restaurant being right off the beach I took a little
walk afterward to stretch my legs a bit.

There was a pier about a block down, and I want out on it. Old men
stood by the rails, the ends of their fishing poles nestled in metal
holders. They stood around and talked, sat on coolers and drank
beer, wiped their brows with old handkerchiefs and stared out at the
water. It was a nice day and a nice place to spend it, and I could
easily imagine leaving my jacket off and sitting down for the rest of
the afternoon with one of the fishermen and having a beer or two.
Standing on the pier it seemed that nothing in the world could ever be
dark or ominous, and the cool breeze that blew off the water mixed with
the cries of the seagulls in their perpetual search for food.

Unfortunately, I had to get to Oxnard. I walked back to the shops around
the restaurant and took a final restroom break. Then I stopped off at a
gas station. As the pump attendant was filling my tank I called Carmen
and gave her the address for Creek's house, just in case I somehow didn't
make it back. Then I headed back down the long highway to Oxnard Beach.

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