Friday, April 26, 2013

The Gathering: Chapter 9 - Late lunch with a beautiful woman



We had made a breakthrough in our investigation of how rich dope fiend Harrison Ogilvy had met his end.

Black magic! Harrison Ogilvy had got himself mixed up in black magic! Things were starting to make more sense. Black magic was just the thing to appeal to someone like Ogilvy who had received more education than he could ever put to use. The occult often sucks in people who like to think of themselves as sensitive and of superior intelligence to the average Joe, so small wonder Ogilvy found himself performing the rites of evil. Of course, black magic is all hogwash (or so I thought then), but that doesn’t mean that the people who believe in it can't end up doing some pretty crazy stuff. Nothing is beyond people who get mixed up in that kind of thing. Grave robbing, human sacrifice, even sexual deviance - any of these things might have been what drove Ogilvy to his breakdown, and then the others went and murdered him to stop him blabbing. The foreign guy he mentioned was probably the leader of the cult, some kind of fast talking con artist who could lure in over-sensitive saps and get them working to serve his interests. I found myself thinking that the foreigner was probably leeching money off Ogilvy and the others. Maybe he had partly killed Ogilvy to put the fear of God (or the Devil) into the others, to reinforce his power over them. Well he wasn't going to get away with this! Even if the cops weren't interested, I was going to see that he was brought to justice.

But Lomax was not quite so sure that this is what we were dealing with.

"Oh come on, black magic, in this day and age? This isn't mediaeval Germany, no one takes that kind of stuff seriously anymore."

"You think so, Bobby? Sure, you don't get people talking in the papers about how they're proud worshippers of the Devil, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And it gets reported too, when those lunatics do something that brings the law down on them. Jeez, Bobby, remember all that stuff in Louisiana last year."

"I remember it, but that was different, that was all that voodoo stuff."

"It's all the same! It's all stupid people thinking they're getting one up on everyone else by doing a deal with dark powers. OK, so it's all hokum, or all just some magician doing conjuring tricks to rip off the gullible, but that doesn't mean the people mixed up in this kind of thing don't find themselves getting up to some crazy stuff."

"OK, maybe you're right." I could tell that Bobby didn't really buy it, but he couldn't argue with my enthusiasm. "So what are we going to do about it? How are we going to track down whatever black magic buddies Ogilvy might have had?"

"That I don't know," I replied. "That I don't know yet. I'm hoping that the woman from the funeral comes back to me. If not we will have to pursue other lines of inquiry. I might see if I can have a word with Miss Ogilvy. She might know something. Or maybe some of those old buddies could be hit for some more information."

So we waited for the dame to come back to me. In the meantime I filled in Maddocks on how our search for his dope buddy's killer was going. Well, filled him in somewhat vague and general terms. I didn't like the idea of Maddocks knowing that we were up against some kind of sinister black magic cult. It was the kind of thing I could easily imagine setting him off again, and next thing his wife would be calling me to go fish him out of another opium den. So I just told him that we were pursuing some definite lines of inquiry and hoping to get to closer to putting away the people who had done in Ogilvy. I did not go into any further detail, telling him that I did not want to compromise the investigation. He seemed happy enough to hear that we were doing a thorough job.

I spent a lot of time in my office. I had, after all, given the woman my office number, so if she was going to ring me anywhere it would be there. I told my secretary that I was expecting a call from a woman, and that if she rang she was to be put straight through to me, no matter what. "What kind of woman?" she asked, to which I could give no very specific reply. As I result I found myself fielding calls from all kinds of idiot women who had somehow landed jobs in sales. But the woman herself did not call.

I was starting to think where else to take this. Maybe I could approach Ogilvy's sister. Everything suggested she was one tough cookie, so if she reckoned I was on the level a lot of doors would open for me. But if she reckoned I wasn't on the level going near her would be a big mistake. And how would I get near her? I suspected somehow that strange men who arrived at Ogilvy Towers looking to see Alanis Ogilvy would be shown off the premises in jig time. And going to the company offices would be a waste of time as well - she would have a lot of gate-keepers whose sole mission in life was to protect her from anyone she had not already decided she wanted to talk to. This could be a bit difficult, but I am a naturally resourceful man. If I had to talk to Alanis, I would. Ideas began to form in my mind.

But then I was able to put them away. Just when I had completely given up on the woman from the funeral, my secretary rang through to me and said there was a woman on the line. I expected it to be another caller trying to sell me the latest useless gadget, but instead a voice on the other end of the line said: "It's me."

"You took your time getting back to me," I said, trying not to sound too accusatory, making it more sound like a statement of fact.

"I wasn't sure I could trust you. I thought you might be working for Harry's stuck up sister. But I made my own inquiries. You don't work for anyone, do you?"

"I'm my own man," I replied. And it was true. I hated having someone else boss me around.

"I hate taking on the phone. When can we meet?"

"How about right now?"

"Sure. Where?"

I told her the name of the diner Lomax and I visited after the funeral. "See you there in fifteen minutes?"


She hung up. I told my secretary that I was taking the afternoon off. She smirked at me as I hot-footed it out of there. There was no doubt about it, the dame's voice had a certain quality to it and I think my secretary reckoned I was going to be doing more than having coffee and cake in my afternoon off. Let her think what she likes, I thought.

I got to the diner first. I ordered myself a coffee and took a booth. I half-read my paper and scanned the place. I suppose if I was becoming an investigator I would have to start acting like one, which meant developing some proficiency in the art of watching and noticing. The diner was quiet. It was that part of the afternoon where the lunch crowd have gone back to work but it's too early for people to be eating dinner after work. So who were the other people in here? That man with the moustache and the nasty suit, why was he stuffing apple pie into his face here instead of sitting behind a desk in an office? The other guy in the blue overalls, what was he writing at as he sipped his coke? I had no idea. If I was a real detective I would probably have been able to tell their whole life stories from a few details of their appearance. Instead I knew nothing at all.

Still, one thing I do know is what a beautiful woman looks like, and that's what came into the diner when the dame from the funeral arrived. From the way the clerk at the counter's mouth dropped open and the eyes of the other two as they followed her to my table I could tell they weren't used to seeing a knock-out like her in a place like this. And nor was I. I had seen other woman here before, of course, in having lunch or dinner with each other or their sweethearts. Often good-looking woman too. But they weren't like the lady who was now sitting in front of me. But she wasn't like them either. The other women who came here were good and ordinary. She was extraordinary. And she wasn't good, anyone could tell that from looking at her.

"Do you have a cigarette?" she said.

"Of course," I replied. "So you smoke?"

"No, I collect cigarettes," she said, in a sarcastic tone. "Of course I smoke. Can I have one, please?"

"Sure," I said, letting her take one from my packet and then lighting her, just as the waiter came over.

"Coffee," she said, before adding quickly: "And an egg and ham sandwich. With fries on the side."

The waiter scurried away. The lady looked at me and smiled a sad smile. "You're paying for this?" she asked.

"I suppose I am. So, tell me, what's your name?"

"I've got many names. But you can call me Lara. That's what Harry used to call me." She smiled again, the smile giving her face a heart-breaking quality.

"I'm -" I began, but she interrupted me.

"I know who you are. I have your card, remember?"

"Sure, I forgot."

The waiter arrived with her coffee. "Sandwich comin' right up!"

"OK, Lara," I said. "Beautiful as you are, I did not come here to buy you sandwiches. Like I said at the funeral, I think your Harrison Ogilvy may have murdered. And I think you might be able to tell me something that will put me onto the creeps who did it."

At that point her sandwich arrived. She tucked in hungrily.

"So," I continued, "Can you tell me when you first met Ogilvy?"

After gulping down some more mouthfuls and then swallowing, she said "Can I finish my sandwich first? I am kind of hungry."

I resigned to having to watch her eat. She did not eat her food in a diffident and lady-like manner, but like a ravenous beast. It did not show her at her best. It is hard to look beautiful and mysterious when you are stuffing your face. I drank some more of my coffee.

Eventually she finished. "God, I needed that," she said.

"Glad you liked it. Now, about Ogilvy?"

"Sure. I met Harry where I work. The Silver Bannister Club. You know it?"

I nodded. I had heard of the Silver Bannister. It was not a place with a good reputation. Something of my facial reputation must have betrayed what I was thinking.

"Hey! It’s not like that. I only waited tables."

"Sure. And what was Ogilvy doing in a place like that? Seems like a strange hang-out for a sensitive guy like that."

"Well believe it or not, he was there because he liked the music. Harry loved jazz."

I should have known. Jazz was just the thing that someone like him would have gone for. And not the kind of jazz they play in normal places, the jazz you can ask a lady to dance to, but the kind of strange jazz they played in the Silver Bannister.

"Did he come there alone, or with other people?"

"With other people, at first. Some of his friends. I saw some of them at the funeral. They didn't see me. Or they pretended not to. But they weren't so fond of the music. Harry kept coming in, but they didn't. And as we got to know each other better, he was happy to come in on his own."

"So you became… close?" I said, trying be as tactful as I could.

"Sure. We became lovers." There was no beating around the bush with this one, I thought. "I know what you think, that this a good time girl turned gold digger latching onto an innocent rich kid. Well mister, it wasn't like that. We were really in love. We both felt like we had met our true love. Have you ever felt like that?"

"No," I said sadly, "I can't say that I have."

"I thought so. But I can tell you, I've met a lot of guys in my time, but no one made me feel like when I was with Harry."

This dime novel romance was all very well but it was not why I was here.

"That's very sweet," I said. "So you were very happy together. But then what?"

"We were happy together. Very happy. But we had our troubles. Harry's family found out about us. They didn't like that. They didn't like a woman like me being with their boy. And that stuck up bitch of a sister, well she certainly was not my biggest fan."

"I see," I said. This was not really going anywhere.

"And then Harry told me he couldn't see me anymore. I was upset, I was very upset. He didn't give a reason and I thought at first it was his family, that they had got to him. But I don't think it was that. His whole manner was different, like he was hiding something from me, like he had found someone else. I don't think he had, though. Not another woman, anyway. I think it was those new friends of his."

"His new friends?"

"Yeah. He mentioned them at first, said he had some new friends he was working with on some stuff, not his work, but other stuff. But then he clammed up about them and wouldn't talk about them. He'd get uncomfortable if I mentioned them and change the subject."

"What do you know about these people?"

"Not much. I never met them. I think they were from here, mostly, but there was one guy from abroad somewhere. Harry seemed… well he seemed in awe of that guy, but he was afraid of him too."

"And do you know where he met these people?"

"Different places. When the foreigner showed up, I think he stayed with Harry at his apartment in town. Once that creep was on the scene, Harry never brought me back there and he wouldn't let me in if I called."

"Did you ever meet this foreign guy? Where was he from?"

"I met him once. Well, I saw him once. I was out in town and I saw Harry in a diner, with some guys. I hadn't seen Harry in a while. I think this must have been when he was getting in real deep with those other guys. I know that now, but then I was wondering what the story was, so I saw Harry in the diner and I decided to go in and say hello and ask why he hadn't called me. But Harry saw me before I got to their table. He was startled and he jumped up and ran over to me, almost hustled me out of the diner, giving me all this "darling we can't talk now, I'll ring you later". But I could tell. He didn't want his new friends to see me."

Lara now seemed like she was on the brink of crying. I instinctively took her hand.

"That must have been terrible." It wasn't the best thing in the world to say, but it was all I could think of.

"It was."

I took back my hand and continued with the questions. "And these friends of his, what were they like? Would you know them again?"

"Two of them were just regular guys. The kind of guys you see everywhere, the kind of guys that come to the Silver Bannister, the kind of guys you see in any downtown bar or diner. I've seen a lot of guys, mister, and there wasn't anything about those two that would make them stick in my memory."

"But the foreigner?"

"He was different. He looked at me while Harry was talking to me. And there was something about that look. A kind of pure hate, like he wanted me to curl up and die for having the nerve to come in and bust up his party. I'd know him if I saw him again. I only saw him for a few seconds, but I'll carry that face with me to the grave."

Her voice had dropped almost to a whisper, like she was afraid that this man would be lurking in the next booth listening to what she had to say about him.

"What did he look like?"

"Foreign. He looked foreign. And old. But not all wrinkled up and decrepit, like a normal old man. Just there was something about him that made him seem like he had been around a long time, longer than anyone has a right to be."

"When you say foreign, what do you mean?"

"Well it's hard to tell. He wasn't a negro or a Chinaman or anything like that, but he was darker than the average joe. There was something a bit weird about his features, something that made him look like his folks hadn't come over on the Mayflower."

"So this diner, where you saw them, where was it?"

"Downtown. Near the station. Marcy's. You know it?"

I nodded. I knew it. It was somewhere I had walked by any number of times.

"And anything else? Did Harry ever let slip anything else about what he was up to with these guys?"

"Nothing much. He said it was something big, something that would make everyone look up, but he never went into details. And if I started asking, he would clam."

"OK Lara, you've been a big help. If you think of anything else, call me."

"Sure mister, I will. But listen… I don't know how to say this, but you seem like a swell guy, so maybe you can help me out? My rent's due and I'm a bit short of dough. Things ain't been so good down the club lately, you know how it is."

I was wondering if she might pull something like this on me.

"Sure, I know how it is," I said. I took out my wallet and handed over a couple of bills. You might think me a sap, but you didn't have her sitting across from you, looking at me with those eyes. Lara was no angel, but she had something no man would find it easy to resist. I knew I would be lying awake that night thinking about her and I wanted to leave her on the best possible terms. I said to myself that this was just in case I needed to talk to her again about Ogilvy, but I knew that was a lie.

She seemed pleased with what I had given her.

"Gee mister, you are one swell guy. You should come by the club sometime. Listen, I gotta split." She got up to go and then in one swift movement bent over and kissed me on the cheek before exiting. The touch of her lips had me almost in shock, but my eyes followed her out the door, as I think did those of every other man in the diner.

Next Chapter

No comments:

Post a Comment