The Case of the Cockamamie Killer
[ 4. ]
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."
"Lessee...." He pulled a shoe box toward him and leafed through the stubs. "Ollie. Yuh. Where's Ollie, sweeties? Yeah, we had a delivery. That's right...yeah, yeah, sure...to Cromwell downtown. No biggie."
"Okay. Where was the package picked up?"
"Where's Ollie? He out on a job, Joe?"
"Fuck do I know," replied Joe, leaning against the wall, one foot stuck on the stucco. "Fuckin' shit man, fuckin' fuckety fuck fuck, you know. Fuck. Ollie fuckin' fuck fuck all the fuckin' time wid dat, cuz fuck, he don't give a fuck. It's a fuckin' fuck fuck, yo.... Wanna fuck with the motha-fuckin' fucker, fuck it...cuz fuckin' fuck fuck fuckety fuck fuck, man."
"Thanks for the information."
The gentleman in question was slouched in a back room leafing through a girlie magazine and playing poker and chewing a sandwich that seemed to have a lot of extra mayonnaise. Three other mean-looking biker dudes were lounging at the same little card table. Ollie was the big black blond one with all the muscles swimming around.
"Hello. My name is Chak Charon," said Charon. "I'm here to talk to Ollie."
"Who're you," muttered Ollie through the meat and mayonnaise.
"Chak Charon. Funny thing is, I thought I said that already."
"Who're you," said Ollie.
"Chak Charon. Funny thing is, thought I just said that again." Charon grabbed the girlie magazine and gave it a quick perusal. "And these breasts aren't even all that alluring." He tossed the magazine aside.
The others chortled. Waited for the reaction.
"Okay, faggot, I'm focused on ya. Whatcha want?"
"Wanna know about a delivery you made the other day, Ollie; yesterday. Yesterday in the morning somewhere between 9:20 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Going to the office of a guy name of Jeff Jagglin, at the firm of Oliver Shimpkin Baker Dimple & Cromwell, Esquires."
Ollie glared and flexed his muscles in reverse alphabetical order. "Yeah, well, I make a lot of deliveries."
Charon nodded. A corner of his mouth arched, then flatlined. "This one was different. You made it to the law firm of Oliver Shimpkin Baker Dimple & Cromwell, Partners in Law. You made it to the office of a guy named Jeff Jagglin, a guy who's dead now. Stone dead. That mean anything to you...Ollie?"
"Ain't my business." Ollie leaned back a little and looked blasť.
"Sure it is. --'Ain't' is an illegitimate contraction, by the way. But never mind that now.-- My point is, you made a delivery to this guy's office. A cassette. Do you know about that by any chance?" Charon was being relaxed and equanimitous about it.
"Man, I get a job, I get a package, I take it somewhere, I drop it. That's it. Ain't no big thang."
"Sorry about your friend, but I didn't axe him."
Charon nodded. "I see. Well, what about traffic? Traffic a little bit of a crunch in this town? Kind of tough getting around?"
"Traffic...?" The others tittered uncertainly. "Sure man, roads always be tight. This ain't Peoria. --Isn't."
"Uh huh. So...I wouldn't be too far off if I were to infer that, as a busy and hard-driving biker functioning in busy and congested avenues, you now and then violate a few traffic regulations, here and there, every once in a while? Hmm? Maybe cut in front of cars, pedestrians, and so forth, when the traffic light isn't quite on your side? That sort of thing?" Charon was casual, even sympathetic.
"Yeah. So what."
"Ever cut in front of a pedestrian?"
"If they got it coming."
"Ever run a red light?"
"Reckless swerve my ass," drawled Ollie. The others laughed.
"Let me think about it."
"Yeah, well don't think too long baby, cuz I ain't gonna wait forever. --Isn't."
Hoots and howls.
Charon got grim. "Okay, let's cut the cute stuff. Let me remind you, sir, a man is dead. Name of Jagglin. Jeff Jagglin. You did a job for him. So I want to know the circumstances. Now I can ask the questions or somebody else can ask them, initials of NYPD, traffic division. Because let me tell you what I think, Ollie. I think you are reckless. Reckless as hell."
"Ever see or talk to Jagglin?"
"Didn't talk to no man. Just get the package, drop the package."
"You just get the job and do it. That's it?"
"They call that the Nuremburg Defense."
"I isn't gassin' anybody."
"Where'd you pick up the job?"
"Hobie gots the stub. Check that."
Charon glanced at the chit from the fat man. "Oh. Okay. Rockefeller Center. So you picked up the package at Rockefeller Center? Which office? Doesn't say the office."
"Man, it was an office. They say, go to 'such-and-such' office. I'm right there when he gets the call so Hobie don't write it down, see? I don't remember that crap."
"Well, what kind of office was it?"
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha," the other guys said.
"Office. Type. Now."
"You know. An office. Look, doofus, I got jobs to do--"
"Uh, the jobs can wait."
"Hey Mack...it's like a short-order cook, Mack. You don't write the shit down, so you forget it. I'm supposed to remember you like extra pickles?"
"Ha ha ha," said the others.
"Lemme tell you something, Ollie. I hate pickles. They're green and they're slimy and they stink like hell. So don't talk to me about pickles. Let's leave pickles entirely out of this. And the name is Chak, not Mack. Now what about the floor? Was it a high floor? Low floor? Mezzanine? Basement? Did you sign in at the lobby?"
Ollie pondered. "Maybe...come think of it, wasn't in the building at all. Yeah, yeah, okay. There be a water fountain yea high in some kinda courtyard with flags all around and Hobie tell me I gotta look for some guy in a chartreuse shirt, gonna be standing by a water fountain. He be gonna be giving me the package...."
Chartreuse shirt. Jagglin owned a chartreuse shirt!
"Chartreuse, eh?" The others laughed at the sissy sound of the word as pronounced by Charon.
"Yeah," affirmed Ollie.
Chartreuse as hell!
[ 6. ]
Her eyes were liquid pools of panic. Her mouth was a maw of misgiving. Her nostrils were naves of nausea. Her hair was just a gelatinous heap.
"No, Chak, no," she said. "No...."
"Alice, I just wanted to..."
"Chak, please, please go away. Please." She lurched backward, clunked her head against the wall. Somebody with a mail cart wheeled past and tossed a bundle into a tray. Bundle of mail.
"Look, Alice. Maybe I was a little too hard on you earlier--"
The phone rang. Blimpkin rocked forward.
"Mu-muh-Mr. Jagglin's office, good afternoon. No, I'm, I'm s-so sorry, but I must refer you to his ass-- ass-- ass-- associate, Ms. Kremblowsky. Let me--transfer you." She transferred the call and hung up. Then drooped like a popped balloon that hadn't been all that full of gas to begin with.
"Now please, please go away," she said. "Please just leave me alone, leave me alone in peace."
"There can't be any peace now, Alice. Now that there's been a murder..."
She screamed! She screamed and screamed and screamed!
Or maybe it was more like a whimper. "Ooooohhhh...noooooo...nooooooooo oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh...."
Charon gave her a little slap.
"Snap--out--of--it! Good God, woman! Pull yourself together. Look...Alice...I know it's tough. These are trying times. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We have to deal with this. Jeff was a good guy. He had his faults, sure. I'm the first to admit he wasn't very adept at dictating, to say the least. But he didn't deserve to be murdered. We've got to do something about it. We have to find out who killed him. Then bring the killer to justice."
"Go away!" she shrieked, blinking furiously. "The police are looking into it. It was a burglar or something. Just let them do their job! Why are you bothering me????? Why?? "
"Burglar eh. Let me tell you something, Alice. Jeff was scared. He knew he was in danger. Now, I think his death was connected with something he was working on, one of these tax issues. I think the killer wanted to shut him up because Jagglin was going to spill his guts about something. Something nasty. Something big. That's what I think. But I can't get access to any of the stuff he was working on. They've shunted his work to an inaccessible sector of the network, if they haven't deleted the documents entirely."
"I don't know what you expect me to do, Chak, really I don't. I don't have access to any of those files either. I don't work on them any more. I'm supposed to refer all inquiries to Ms. Kremblowsky's office. Why don't you talk to her?"
He switched to sotto voce mode, leaned in a little, confidentially. "Alice, I think you can help me. Sshhh! Just...just tell me the password to his computer. He may have some of those files on his own hard drive there. Also, they've locked his office. Have you got the key? The key and the password. That's all I need."
"I have the key but...." She bit her lip. "Oh I don't know, Chak, I don't know! They tell me I better not abet any interference with the police investigation, and you're the one they warn me about. I can't do this. I'll lose my job. It's not easy for me to get a job. Look at it from my point of view, Chak, ya gotta; ya gotta, Chak."
Charon nodded, backed up a little. Gave her space. "Well, I think I can. I'm not inert to your plight. But put yourself in my shoes, too, Alice. Or the shoes of Jeff Jagglin. It's murder we're talking about. Murder. Not any kind of accident or even manslaughter, but purposeful, malevolent intention. Planned. Evil. Premeditated. The arbitrary and precipitate cessation of a human life! Murder. Brief candle snuffed, way too soon. Out, out! Silence on the stage. Evermore. So okay, Alice, maybe you'll lose your job and it will be tough to get another job. Been there myself. Been unemployed. Been there, done that, feel your pain. But the point is, you can find work again, or at least give it a shot. You can go out there into the market and offer your services. Knock on the doors, do the interviews, take the typing tests. And why? Because you're alive, dammit, aren't you! You're alive! Able to struggle! You can still do things. Can act, function. Be all you can be. But it's all over for Jeff Jagglin, isn't it? Because Jeff Jagglin is dead. And we need to catch his killer. Catch him and put him away. Because nobody has a right to steal a life, Alice. Nobody. That's sacred. That's the source and sanction of all other values. Life itself as an end in itself. Life. Human life. He ain't coming back babe. He's gone. Wanna know why? Because he's dead. Somebody killed him! And if you don't give me that key and that password, it's almost like being an accessory....Come on. Don't you care about justice for the sake of the memory of your own boss, Jeff Jagglin, who is dead now because somebody murdered him? Think. Think hard. Make a decision. But make it fast. And it better be the right one."
Alice Blimpkin stared into space, transfixed by some vision of her own, or by nothing, as tears streamed down her puffy cheeks, and the heel of her left foot rhythmically thumped a tile.
She hiccuped. She opened a drawer, found a key, and tentatively tendered it to Charon.
"That--that I don't know. He never told me."
[ 7. ]
"Follow that bicycle!" Charon said.
"You talkin' to me?"
"Yes! Go after him. Honk your horn."
"Hey, I gotta traffic." The swarthy cabbie gestured vaguely at the sparsely distributed vehicles.
"Now suddenly a New York cabbie is worried about traffic?"
The driver shrugged. "I gotta traffic, I gotta a license, I gotta job I gotta keep. I gotta this, I gotta that. I been up before the Commission already before, okay? For not wearing my cap. Hurts my head. This is my job 'n I wanna keep my job, every man gotta right to gotta job. You get out you donta like it, eh?"
The traffic was not that heavy. The taxi could have navigated it easily in pursuit of the bicycle.
Charon found a twenty and waved it in the line of sight of the rearview mirror.
"Okay, no time to argue. Now, you see the bike turning onto Seventh? Try to get ahead of it. You will be adequately remunerated for the risk involved, which I believe is minimal."
The cabbie shook his head. "Minimal, shminimal. I gotta job I gotta keep it. You don't-a like it--poof!--you get outta da car."
"I'm paying you! Follow the darn bike!"
The cab screeched to a halt. "You don't gotta speak to me like that," the cabbie said, in the tone of somebody who's taken offense so many times that the aggrievement is pure rote though still certainly sincere. "You don't gotta speak to me like that. I gotta make a living like everybody else. Every man gotta right to gotta job. I worka hard in this country. So don't tell me I gotta breaka the law. I gotta wife, I gotta kids. I gotta mother back-a home, back in Sicily, she's-a dying now, God bless her. Take forever. Why she don't die already I don't know but I gotta pay the bills don't I? She gotta tube, ten tubes. How do I got money if'n I don't gotta no job? If'n I don't gotta no job I don't gotta no money. I gotta two jobs, you know. The other one and this. If I lose one then I only gotta the other one and it don't pay the bills. I gotta work. Every man gotta right to gotta job or two jobs."
Charon pulled hair on both sides of his head. "I will give you one thousand dollars to go after that bike! I will send a hit man after your mother! She'll be dead by morning!"
"Huh. You gotta one thousand dollars in-a your pocket? I don't-a believe you."
Charon got out and found himself in the middle of the street. On the right a vermouth K-Car was speeding past with a ten-year-old boy in the back seat punching his sister. The tire missed his sneaker by an inch. To his left, a rusty-chromed Toyota or Volvo. A coffee cup clipped his knee at fifty miles an hour.
Charon flourished the twenty-dollar bill. A car screeched to a halt. The driver was pretty and had fluffy blond hair. "Need a lift?" she asked.
"Yeah." Charon handed her the bill and she drove off. "Hey!" he said.
Twenty minutes later he found Ollie at the corner of 35th and 2nd, mounting his bike.
"Hey, hey--hey there! How's it--whew!--gimme a second--whew!--devil of a time trying to catch up to ya--whew!--lost ya back there--let me just catch my breath..."
"Man, what the fuck you want." Ollie leaned to grip the dropped handlebars. The biceps and triceps churned muscularly.
"Whoa--whoa there--whew...!" Charon planted himself in front of the bike, rested a hand on the fender.
"Get the fuck out of my face."
"You know what--what I'd call that, Ollie? Negative mental attitude. Whew!" Charon coughed. "Whew! Okay, look, need to talk to you. About a murder. Murder of Jeff Jagglin."
The biker's body hardened into start-off posture. He flexed his pecs and biceps and other muscles. His gloved hands gripped and ungripped the handlebars.
"Like it?" Ollie drawled. Charon shuddered. His mouth went dry. Ridiculous. It wasn't as if the rippling, chiseled, fluid slopes of the tightly-clad physique, or the auric gleam of the hazel eyes, at all appealed to him. "Gotta pay for it though. That's a fack, Mack."
"What I would like," said Charon, spitting out the words the way clumps of tar-cud are spit into a spittoon, "and what is incumbent upon me in the name of justice to demand--and by the way, my name is Chak, not Mack--is that you answer a few more questions about the delivery. The delivery from Rockefeller Center to the offices of Oliver Shimpkin Baker Dimple & Cromwell. Because something's funny about that pickup, fella. Funny as fudge at an Amish hoe-down."
"Like what, punk?"
There was a pause.
"Punk." Ollie looked Charon up and down.
"Like the, excuse me." Charon cleared his throat. "Excuse me. Er ah-ah-ah-ahem, ahem. Er-ahem." He thumped his chest.
"Frog gotcher tongue?"
"There's no problem with my tongue."
"Real problem is, a man is dead."
"Yeah, you said."
"Tell me again about the delivery."
"Man, like I said, punk. Water fountain by the Center. Guy in a chartreuse shirt gives me the package, says bring it to Oliver. I brang it to Oliver. It ain't no complicated thing like you're making it out."
"Who says I'm making it complicated?"
"Like I killed him or something. Shit. I ain't got no reason to kill some funky lawyer in a chartreuse shirt."
Charon chuckled and shook his head. "It's always something. Always some little thing that trips up guys like you. One little slip. One little inadvertent admission of unexpected relevance. Shall I spell it out to you, Ollie? Yeah, you did make a delivery to Oliver Shimpkin Baker Dimple & Cromwell, Partners in Law. The destination for the package was the office of Jeff Jagglin. But how in the heck could you have known that the man in the chartreuse shirt was Jagglin?? I never said a damn thing about it. I said you brought the package to his office; I never said he was there at the pickup too, or even that he was the one who commissioned the job."
"Cuz he musta said so his own damn self then. Or I just assumed. Dang."
"Said something like that himself. Assumed. Uh huh. But what I gathered from your statement the other day, is that all you could recall about the guy from whom you picked up the package was that you had met him near a water fountain and that he wore a chartreuse shirt. Right? When people give packages to messengers, they usually just hand over the package. There isn't usually a lot of discourse. Now, you told me you didn't talk to anyone. I think maybe you did. But yes, Jagglin had a chartreuse shirt. I've seen him wear it many times. And yes, the murder victim was a lawyer. That much at least was reported in the paper."
"So that's where I musta got it, Sherlock. Shit. The paper." He regarded Charon with disdain.
"Too late! Heh. Too late to make that kind of assertion now, Ollie. You knew who Jagglin was when you made the pickup. That much is clear. The question is, how? Did you speak to anyone else before you did the job? Did somebody contact you? What was your relationship to the deceased?"
NEXT MONTH: "How fast would you say you type, Chak?"
The Case of the Cockamamie Killer