The Case of the Cockamamie Killer
[ 3. ]
There are two kinds of dames. Smart dames and dumb dames.
Alice Blimpkin was one of the dumb ones.
Charon gave her his gaze. She was fiddling with something or other on the desk.
"Alice...listen to me Alice...when did Jeff give you this job? What about the cassette, when did you get that?"
"Is there something the matter with it?" She kept it up with the fiddling.
"Where's Jeff now? When did he call?"
"Well, he was home when he called. I think eleven-thirty or so. You hadn't yet arrived for your shift," she said reproachfully. She carved a speck of dirt with a thumbnail.
"What did Jeff tell you? I mean, when he called. What did he say?"
"He--why, what's the matter with the tape? Something wrong with it?"
Charon grabbed her shoulders. "I don't have time for this, Alice! What did he say?--tell me what he goddamn said!"
"You're...hurting...me...! I--I don't know, oh God, Chak, please, don't look at me like that"--like this--"I'm trying, okay, let me try to remember, remember what he said, said there's a rider, rider, you know, Rider D, that you needed for the job, needed to get that, get that to you as soon as possible...that you were the person to do the job, nobody else, only you Chak, you're the only one who could handle the editorial changes just the way he likes 'em..."
"Never mind about the editorial part of it now. What about the tape? The tape with the rider?"
"The tape...he phoned about eleven thirty, yes, and then I guess it was about ten minutes later the messenger showed up." She massaged her neck and shoulders. Charon felt sick.
"Messenger? What messenger? Answer me, Alice: what messenger??!!"
The tears started trickling. Charon wanted to smack her.
"Didn't...didn't...didn't I mention the messenger? Oh God. Jeff said a messenger would be coming with the tape, with the rider! The rider would be on the tape. And he, he-he-he, he, he showed up a few minutes later...the messenger did, I mean...you know, with the cassette. Or maybe it was already in the box. He came before the call or just after the call. Something. I...it's a little confusing...."
"All right, Alice, try to exert some minimal level of emotional self-discipline here. Did the messenger give you a receipt of some kind? Did you have to sign anything? What else did he say, and what else did Jeff say when he called? Did he mention what case?"
"Uh...he's got so many matters right now, and...well, I don't know...there's never any receipt...."
"Oh God I--I--I--what's this all about, why are you so--"
"What else did he say when he called? What about the messenger, what outfit was it? Regular corporate service?"
"Black blond guy. It was just a little package, you know, with the cassette. Little bubble package like a million others. Just the cassette, no note, nothing. A little micro cassette with the rider. In one of those little bubble packages...I...just threw it away. Flemco Messengers or something. Dimko, Jemko, Bipko or something. We've used them before."
He scratched his chin. "All right. Never mind about the cassette for a moment. What about the job? How long had the job been in its present form prior to the arrival of the cassette? Was Jeff waiting on anything else, edits or anything, or was the rider all that he needed? Think Alice. Think."
"The job had been ready for two weeks!" she squeaked. Her eyes darted around but she was seeing only murky damp space disturbed by an occasional ripple of movement; like a goldfish trapped in a puddle of mucus. "It was on his desk! He--he was just holding onto it, waiting for the go-ahead from one of the other partners I think."
"And the editing? Had all the editing been done?"
"The editing was done. It was done I tell you! If he made any more additions I wasn't aware of them. It was just sitting on his desk. The editing wasn't an issue. I mean, it was the rider. He was waiting for the rider, I guess." She buried her head in her arms, haloed by that frizzy reddish hair of hers that made you wanna puke.
"Waiting...? What do you mean?"
"Some approval he needed to get, oh I don't know. You know how it is. He didn't talk about it much. He was always so busy, running here, running there. Running everywhere."
Charon frowned. "Running. Ever running. Did he leave phone numbers? What if he had to be reached in an emergency?"
"There was--one time--when he had to go to the dentist--"
"Never mind about the dentist, chrissakes. Frickin' dentist. Jesus, do you think I care about the dentist? Don't you have some kind of calendar or appointment book for him?"
She yanked at her hair and it bunched like a squished marshmallow with too many air pockets and not enough bounce. "He didn't work like that. It was just, I've gotta go, I've gotta go, gotta go. Like that. In a rush. He didn't give me names and numbers. Can you, can you understand, Chak? It wasn't part of my duties to handle appointments or remind him of meetings. He took care of all that himself. He wasn't like other attorneys, who coordinate everything through their secretaries. He handled his own schedule, insisted on that. And yet it wasn't as if he were so incredibly organized himself."
Someone down the hall gave them a look. Charon took the volume down a couple notches.
"Okay. Well, what about his own records then? How did he note his appointments?"
"Oh, there was a little thing he carried around with him, what do you call it--"
"Daytimer. Electronic organizer. Notebook."
"Maybe. And then in his computer."
"Got his password?"
"I don't. Well, yes, it must be here somewhere. No wait a minute, I don't. I never had to go into his system."
"Hmmm. If I remember correctly, and I do, Jeff has a habit of scribbling things down on little pieces of paper. How does he keep track of all those pieces of paper? Is that information kept elsewhere as well? Is there any kind of storage unit in which he retains the little pieces of paper? Some kind of bin or receptacle?"
"I don't know. He's got that thing he carries around with him, but I think it just has names and addresses."
"All right. Tell me the conversation from this morning. What did he say to you? Exactly."
"It was, it was, 'Hello Alice'...."
"Okay, okay. Pick up the pace a little. Then what?"
She closed her eyes, concentrating. " 'There's a messenger on the way, he's going to be bringing a cassette'--"
" 'Cassette for the rider.' "
"Um. Okay. Go on."
"I mean, continue with your narrative of the conversation."
"That was it really. He did stress it was urgent to get the tape to you as soon as possible...you know, make sure you got it...the rest of my work wasn't important right now, he said. It was how he stressed things when there's some special importance attached to it. Just wait for the messenger and get it to you. You in particular. Chak Special. Had to be you."
"Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay. The tape or the whole job?"
"Did he mention the job at all, the document, or was he talking just about the cassette? I mean in this particular conversation?"
"Well, I just assumed it went with the job--"
"Just assumed? Just assumed? What's that supposed to mean?"
"He said it was important that you be the one to transcribe the rider--"
"To what end?"
"To...get it done...you know...." She blinked at him.
"Jesus Christ, Alice. To integrate it with an edit of a document he hadn't even as yet instructed you to send to WP? Where's your thinking cap? Let me ask you something. When Jeff was on the phone with you this morning, did he even mention the document you handed to me twenty minutes ago, a document that by your own reckoning had been sitting around for two weeks like a lump on a log? Is there anything at all on his desk or in his files to which this so-called Rider D could be relevant?"
"I don't know! I don't know! What else could it have been? Is there any reference to a Rider D in the document I gave you?"
Only one way to find out.
Charon would have to take another look at the document and see if there were any such rider indicated!
Also, he decided to give Jagglin a call at his apartment.
[ 4. ]
If Charon had an electron for every time Finnegan had given him the finger it would add up to a big fat spark. Maybe even a bolt.
"Get it to the lab and get it analyzed," Finnegan instructed one of his men. "And geez, label it properly, will ya, Hennesey?"
Hennesey sealed the sample, slapped a label on it and scribbled with a felt tip. "Okay, label-a-roonie on that sucker."
"You still here, Charon?" snarled Finnegan.
"Yes," said Charon.
Charon had hopped a subway as soon as he heard the news from the cop at the other end of the line. The scene when he arrived at the apartment wasn't very pretty.
But murder is never pretty.
Sergeant Michael Finnegan--bald, pot-bellied, grizzle-faced and grumpy--growled gruffly.
"Yeah, well, maybe I don't want you to be here any more, see? Maybe I want ya out. Get it? Out! That-a-way!" The finger was gone and now it was the thumb in evidence, pointing to the door.
"Maybe I get it and maybe I don't," Charon said. "But one thing I do know is that Jeff Jagglin was a co-worker of mine and that I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am a citizen of the United States and as such I am entitled to exercise my certain inalienable rights, among them being the right, liberty, and prerogative to practice my chosen profession to the best of my ability and by whatever legitimate means and in whatever appropriate venue--"
"Not on my time and not on my turf! Yikes-a-mighty!" Finnegan purpled. "Why is it, Charon, that every time a dead body shows up you show up with it! Just once I wish you and it were the same thing!"
"Every time...? Aren't you just a little bit exaggerating?"
"Out! Out I tell you! Out out out!"
Charon's glance took in every grisly square millimeter of the tableau. The crumpled, blood-caked corpse. The soiled, busted bust of Thomas Paine on the coffee table. The scruffiness of the place. The stink of squirrel fart and death.
But mostly the corpse. Mostly the dead body. That was the angle with most of the curves.
Jagglin had been shot and shot hard, three times, right through the heart, the first two bullets delivered as he was relaxing in the swivel desk chair in the southwest corner of the cramped den of his lower-east-side twelfth-story apartment. Killer must have been just a few feet away, facing the victim, when he pulled the trigger. Couldn't have been otherwise. Not the way the fifty-percent cotton, fifty-percent nylon of the pale green silk shirt was punctured. Not the way the bullets had churned through the chest and said goodbye at the spine at just that particular angle, same angle as the line of churned stuffing of the cheap chair back. Bullet wounds don't lie and wrinkles and dried blood don't either. They just sit around waiting for somebody to come along and draw the necessary inferences.
That last shot had been different, though. Different angle, different trajectory. The cops had dug the slug out of the floor board. The murderer must have bashed the body with the bust, then fired again after the victim was already dead and the body had piled onto the carpet. Weird. Superfluous.
But weird, superfluous things sometimes ended up being quite germane when it came to murder.
Germane as hell.
Charon didn't like it, the way destiny dealt things sometimes. The victim hadn't deserved this death. Jeff Jagglin might have been a fumblebum, but he was a harmless fumblebum, just one more over-worked tax attorney who mumbled when he should have articulated, slogging away at a job that maybe he didn't like very much but which he did his best at just the same.
Another thing Charon didn't like was how Jagglin looked so relaxed there, rigor-mortised in a pool of his own blood, as if he were at a picnic or something.
Murder is no picnic.
Especially when you're the guy getting murdered.
The cops were snapping photos and scrounging in the fridge for clues and lamb chops, but they were missing something. The laptop. The laptop computer on the dead man's desk, liquid crystal display starting to fade, fast. Even from a bunch of distance away Charon's eyeballs told him the gizmo had about two minutes at most of battery power remaining. To a veteran private detective and word processor like Charon, the situation spelled trouble with a Courier "T."
He approached Finnegan.
"Je-e-e-sus...! You still here, Charon?" bellowed the gangrenous officiator.
"Yes. Now I don't want to tell you how to do your job, Sergeant, but in this instance I feel it's incumbent upon me to offer a suggestion, take it or leave it but just give it a little consideration: which is to have one of your men look around for a wall socket, and then, when he finds it, to plug in that cord. And then there's something you might wanna try with something called a menu key combination or an icon button on the laptop to which the cord is connected, so as to save the data about to disappear from the screen. Because I don't know what kind of software Jagglin was using or whether the data was appropriately backed up to the hard drive--and you never know with these applications whether the backup features are functioning properly--but point is, if it wasn't saved...well, maybe it would be worth knowing what Jagglin was working on just before he got whacked. Think about it, Sergeant. Because if Jagglin didn't save the most recently edited text, then in another two and a half minutes, maybe three, it could be lost, lost for good. And I don't think we can take that chance. Especially not if any part of that text turns out to be a clue--perhaps a crucial clue--to the killer's identity."
Finnegan might have been a crusty, by-the-book son-of-a-bitch, but he was no slouch, nor one to procrastinate unduly. He was plenty peeved at the flatfoot's presence and the free advice did diddley to lube his humor--but he followed it, just the way Charon gave it to him, and all the way down the line. He walked over and plugged in the machine.
Charon studied the display over Finnegan's shoulder.
1 ctn. egg (large)
"Hey, Grabski! Check under the sofa!" spouted Finnegan.
Poor Jeff. Musing about a grocery list when he was about to be murdered? What a lousy way to go.
Charon tried to think, his brain scrunching up like a rubber ball in a rubber-ball-scrunching contest.
Didn't add up. It was two plus two all right but it kept coming up fractions no matter how you did the arithmetic. What the heck was Jagglin doing in his apartment when he was killed the afternoon of the day of the messengering of the tape some indeterminate amount of time after it had been recorded and who else would have known about it, if anyone had, and what had happened to the message? Thing is, even a fuzz-brain like Jagglin would have re-recorded a communication as urgent as this one appeared to be, if his dictation had been disrupted in mid-recording, rather than submit a ragged and incomplete tape.
Another thing that bugged Charon was the sheer mundanity of perusing a grocery list in the penultimate moment of doom. It was so freaking quotidian. And macabre.
Macabre as hell.
Charon surreptitiously copied the file onto a floppy disk that he happened to have in his back pocket and slipped the disk back into that very same pocket.
"And another thing, Sergeant."
Finnegan gave him a look.
"That spittle on the victim's collar. Could be the murderer's spittle. You might want to bag a sample and hold onto it. Because who knows. Maybe it will match the spittle of one of your future murder suspects. Eh?"
Time to pay a little visit to the Zippo Messengering Service.
[ 5. ]
The soggy-cigar-chewing, iron-lipped chubbins in plaid-and-paisley at Zippo Messengering across the street from the Bagel and Donut Emporium was much too busy with phones and scribbling job specs on little pieces of paper to hand off to lean-looking guys in Spandex and diving suits to possibly spare a moment for Chak Charon.
"Excuse me. Excuse me...sir...may I ask you...."
Continued to be ignored.
"Excuse me, sir, maybe I didn't introduce myself adequately--"
"You introduced yourself swell, chump," allowed the dispatcher, not bothering to glance in Charon's insignificant direction. "Now why dontcha make like a get-lost-meister and lemme do my bidness heah."
Derisive chuckles bounced around the room.
Wise guy, eh?
"Wise guy, eh?" Charon snatched the phone out of the intersection of the fatty's paw and jaw and crunched it into the cradle. "Okay, buddy boy. I tried it the easy way, the way of civility and mutual respect. I said excuse me. I said pretty please with sugar on top and would you like a maraschino cherry with it and maybe a little whipped topping and chocolate sauce. Isn't getting me anywhere though, is it? So let's try it another way. Because I've got a murder on my hands, okay, pal? Murder. Know what murder is? I'll give you a definition. The cessation of a human life by malignant means. Let me tell you about murder, fella. Let me spell it out for you. It's when you get killed and somebody wanted you dead, death by conscious intent, not by accident, not somebody spraying you with a water pistol and he just didn't know it happened to be loaded with hydrochloric acid, nor any natural cause like old age or a falling rock; not anything like that, no sir--but an act of planned and purposeful malevolence. It's about evil, buster. About three bullets through the heart, boom-boom-boom, while a guy's spell-checking a grocery list. Thirty-seven years old. A guy who maybe didn't articulate very well when he was dictating but who did other things better, who had hopes and dreams and friends, and a family, and a future. Only now he's dead. As dead as it is possible to be. Name of Jeff Jagglin."
"Never heard a da guy." The dispatcher shrugged, chomping the stogie, and handed off another order to a messenger who patted his water bottle and strode Visigothically into the street.
"Well, you need to make it your business to hear of him. Tell you why. There was a package delivered in his name by a guy from your outfit to the law firm of Oliver Shimpkin Baker Dimple & Cromwell, Esquires, early yesterday. Maybe ten thirty a.m., maybe eleven or eleven thirty. The data pertaining to that delivery could be relevant to my investigation. Could be highly relevant. Therefore, I'd like to speak to the individual who made the delivery and inquire about the circumstances of the delivery. I'd like to and I'm going to. And if you don't or can't oblige me there's a guy I know who might be able to get more out of you than I can. Works for an organization whose initials are NYPD; in the traffic division."
"Like that, eh?"
The dispatcher rammed a chit onto a spindle. "Look heah, mister. We stick to the rules, mostly, 'cept when we got a rush job. I'm running a business heah. You don't gotta threaten me with the coppers."
"Tell it to the law."
NEXT MONTH: "No, Chak," she said. "No...."
The Case of the Cockamamie Killer