My name is Noel Glass. I once was a respected scientist and madly in love. All that ended in a splash of scarlet. I can never forget, and I will never forgive myself.
It's 1953 and I'm a shamus working the streets of Industry City. I don't rely on instinct; science is my game. The cases I get, and the booze I drink, keep oblivion just a step away. That is, until some rich recluse walks in and tells me that accident from all those years ago was a set-up, a frame job, and I was meant to take the fall.
Now I have to clear my name … like that's easy. Everyone's keeping secrets. Who can I trust? My neighbor, the mysteriously connected Wan Lee? Or the songbird Merlot Sterling? Her lies are almost as beautiful as her voice. Even the muscle-bound bodyguard I inherited can't keep the hit men, spies—or my own government—from trying to put me six feet under.
You see, this secret organization believes I know something and wants to keep me quiet. All I do know is they're aiming to remake the world into their own twisted image using a device I created. They've already axed one world leader, and Ike could be next.
God, I could use a shot of bourbon and some answers, but neither comes cheap these days.
I met David Boop at a Denver science fiction convention many years ago when he was debuting a short horror film he had made; I came to his screening, a relatively small audience, and he has paid back that gesture of support in spades. He has volunteered to help at many of my events and is one of the most enthusiastic promoters I know. He published an earlier version of his novel She Murdered Me with Science from a small publisher, and we were pleased to bring out the New! Improved! Version from WordFire earlier this year. – Kevin J. Anderson
"A delightful mix of hard-boiled detective story and good old fashioned pulp science story, with a dash of Jazz thrown in for flavor."– Mark Urbin, The Urbin Report
"Boop goes beyond the usual suspects when the conspiracy is uncovered for an interesting alternative history twist. There's nonstop action showing a love for private eyes, mad scientists and blues music."– The Denver Post
The first thing I realized, as the synapses fired in the gray matter I called a brain, was that I couldn't feel the left side of my face. I was semi-sure this was due to the metal table I had fallen asleep on … again.
I was also pretty sure the feeling would return to my cheek if I'd just get up from my slumped position; however, one could never be too sure. I mean, this had happened almost every night for two years now and blood would flow freely through my cheek as soon as I moved, but what if …
What if this was one time too many? What if, by passing out at my lab table for the umpteenth time, I had permanently damaged the nerves in my face? I could have a drooping left side that would forever keep me from finding the future Mrs. Noel R. Glass.
Oh, well. There were always call girls.
I sat up and slowly rubbed life back into my stagnant cheek. I flexed my jaw, blinked my eyes at the morning sun streaming in, and stretched. When all my body parts were working to expectations, I concluded that this morning was already starting out much better than yesterday.
The day before had begun with Mrs. Lupton and a third scolding about late-night noises wafting from my apartment. It's unfortunate that no one has invented a quieter centrifuge machine, but try to tell her that. She also took the opportunity to remind me that I was two weeks overdue on my rent.
No, yesterday had not started out well.
Today, however, things were looking up. Last night I had solved a nasty problem on The Atlantis, my hydro-car. I know the idea of a car that runs on water must sound like something straight out of a Flash Gordon serial, but it was flights of fancy that led me to become a scientist in the first place. I wanted to make the unreal, um … real.
The Atlantis was one of a select few blueprints I had managed to abscond with when I had been removed from my position at the Theoretical Science Department of the New Mexico Institute of Technology. My job had been to take scientific discoveries and design practical uses for them. I was the bread and butter for the college. Both the government and the private sector paid well for anything I designed. Until … until I made the unforgivable error, the one all scientists fear, and it cost six people their lives. Guilt would forever be my mistress. I'd lost everything that mattered to me.
Even after the inquest cleared me of negligence, I was surprised I didn't do jail time. I'd been a golden boy for so long that without serious proof to convict, the government and the college just let me slip away once the hoopla died down. My reputation in ruins, I knew I might need a bargaining chip someday. Those blueprints were the chip, and today was the day.
As I looked around, I spotted the bottle of Old Johnny already empty in the trash. I guess I celebrated before passing out. That would account for the hangover I was feeling the first inklings of.
It was weird thinking of the libation as a celebratory device. I had been using it for so long as a sedative, something to settle down my rage, that it now seemed a part of the inventing process. If these designs brought me out of this mediocrity I called a life, I might have to give up the stuff.
Or, at least, buy better stuff.
You owe yourself this, Noel, I thought. Today you can start showing your face in public again.
Of course, I still needed money, lots of it. First I'd have to get a prototype car made. Nobody would take me seriously without proof. Then I'd need good clothes. I had hocked all my good clothes for food when my savings had previously run dry. Now all I owned was a trench coat, a hat, and some respectable street clothes.
The snoop jobs I took since becoming a private investigator were barely enough to keep a roof over my head, some food in my gut, and to supplement my personal research.
I stretched again, farther than before, and finally felt something pop in my back. I shook out my arms and legs, feeling the last vestiges of my poor sleep habits slide from my body. I needed to move around, so I walked through my three-room cell. I had converted both bedrooms into workspaces: one for the lab, the other as an office. When I did actually fall asleep like normal people did, it was on an old couch in the combined living room/kitchen. I left all the windows covered, save for the kitchen. That way I'd have a rough idea what time of day it was when I woke.
Despite being early morning, the Little Osaka district buzzed with the daily chaos. The barbecued-duck vendor bullied passersby on the sidewalk; carts rushed down side streets hauling herbs, roots, and rice to the restaurants before they opened; and kids pushed giant hoops down the middle of the road, much to the consternation of motorists.
It was 1953 and the view out this window didn't look much different than 1952 had, nor the eleven years prior to that. The world had changed, though. Communists had replaced Nazis as the "big bad." Police regularly raided Russians' homes on tips called in from little old ladies who swore their Chechen neighbors planned to kill the president because they never "talked proper American." The problem was more people had televisions, which fed the hysteria. The networks were all tuned in to Senator Joseph McCarthy's hearings and watched him proclaim that the "Red Menace" was around every corner. Meanwhile, the leathernecks had just finished ruining the landscape in Korea and were coming home. We hadn't dropped the bomb, but then the Russians and Chinese had stayed in the shadows, not forcing our hand. And to top everything off, the price of milk was up.
Good thing I drank hooch.
As I put stuff away, I scanned my rows of test tubes, beakers, and retorts. Each cent spent on them was worth it. Science was the tool for both my short and long-term goals. I used my genius to solve crimes, all the while designing the key to the prison of my own making.
One more snoop job—a big one—and that's it. I was out.
The phone rang as if destiny had a wiretap in my mind. The voice I heard didn't carry with it the dollar signs I needed, though, but it might be enough to get old lady Lupton off my ass.
"Glass? You conscious?"
"Yeah, Sweet. I've been up for close to thirty seconds."
Police Chief Charles Sweet was anything but. He was worse when he had to call me. That meant he was up shit creek and using his hands to row.
"I need that crap you fling around. What's it called? Foreplay?" The rhetorical question came accompanied by a small, sarcastic chuckle. He knew what it was called. Sweet loved yanking me around.
"That's it. Be here in a half while the scene is still fresh."
He gave me the directions and rang off. I'd never make it in thirty minutes, so I didn't try. If Sweet was going to be moodier by the time I arrived, oh well. He hated science and loved instinct. He'd throw a guy in jail for murder just by smelling him. That is, if the courts would let him.
I checked to see if the communal bathroom was open. Unfortunately, it was. It must've been all-you-can-eat night at the Thai place down the street. I had wanted to get in and out, not spend ten minutes decontaminating it first.
After my shave, the smile that blessed my face held promise, like it might be there a while this time. I tightened my tie, slipped on my jacket and bundled my toiletries in a towel.
As I walked down the hall, the door next to mine opened. The nearly midget form of Mr. Wan Lee backed out slowly, not sensing my presence. Once the door was closed, Lee turned, startled.
"Ack, Glass! You frighten me. You lucky I not packing."
I always laughed internally at Lee's broken English interpretations of gangster slang. His regular English was not bad, but since he started watching Cagney, he tried too hard to incorporate that image into his lifestyle.
I firmly held on to the notion Lee was somehow involved with the Japanese mafia. He kept odd hours, had plenty of money, and brought home dozens of people at a time, and they all had the same last name: Lee.
Relatives? Possibly, but I'd spent enough time in Little Osaka to identify one family tree from another. "All Asians looking alike" is bullshit when you specialize in details.
The way he tells it, his grandfather's father came over to work on the railroad lines the same time as many of the Chinese did. Foremen, not wanting to deal with names like Zhéng, found Japanese surnames like Hisamatsu even more detestable. They'd go down the line of workers saying, "You're now Chan, Wang, Dong …" until fate landed Wan's Nipponese ancestor with "Lee."
Wan liked it, saying it gave him a secret identity, "like Superman," which is why I leaned towards the mob angle.
"Sorry about that, Wan. Off to work?"
He smirked. "No, I go see my moll. No let wife know where I go, okay?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Moll? You have a girl on the side?"
With a big smile, he said, "Yeah. Blonde bombshell with two big guns." He hovered his hands the appropriate distance to imply just how big the "guns" were.
This lent more credit to my theory. Lee was in his fifties and not attractive. He must be dealing in something big to be getting an easy ride. He could be pulling my leg, though; it wouldn't be the first time.
"Well, maybe you'll be lucky and die in the saddle, Lee. If the missus finds out what you've been doing, she'll kill you and it won't be fun."
Lee wiped a brow. "Nothing you can tell me I not already know."
He got to his tiptoes and sized me up. "First time you shave in months. You got hair all cleaned too. You have new dame?"
"Nah, finished my designs. Got to dredge up some work to get a prototype made."
"You spend long time on them. They really work?"
"I hope so. I need out of this place. Not that you haven't been a decent neighbor or anything. Well … you know."
The elder nodded. "I know." Then he got downright serious. "Always work, you. Need a hobby, like me. I collect loose women." Lee pointed an accusatory finger. "You spend too much time solving science mystery. Try solving mystery of love, once."
I waved him off. "Too expensive. I'll just read about it in the paper."
We both had a good chuckle before he bowed out and headed down the stairs. I dropped off my bathroom supplies, retrieved my hat and coat, and entered the unseasonably warm late September only minutes behind Lee.
The place where I kept my car wasn't far when I wasn't in a hurry, but the delay with the bathroom and Lee had now pushed me past the fashionably late mark. I jumped on a passing cable car to save time. These things were all the rage in San Francisco now, but they had started here, in Industry City.
Halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, Industry City was a fulcrum of manufacturing and technology for most of the Southwest. Ore processing gave the metropolis a hazy sheen in the early morning light, but at night, when the companies burned off their waste and the flames shot out of smokestacks forty feet high, it was almost romantic. Ethnic neighborhoods framed the downtown commerce center while "good, white folk" moved to the 'burbs that were nestled in between the city and the mountains. I don't know that I ever truly fit in that crowd, even when I had money. I ate mostly in ethnic restaurants while working at the college and since leaving there, I haven't been in an upscale eatery once.
About ten blocks outside of Little Osaka, I got off in front of Hansen's Automobile Repair. Hansen himself came out to greet me as I entered the shop area. Always in overalls and covered head to toe in grease, I felt the briefest of sympathies for any wife that cleaned up after this man.
"Noel, you come for the '37?"
If you were blind and couldn't see the shoulder-length blond hair, Hansen's thick Nordic accent would have given away his Scandinavian heritage.
"Yeah, Inger. You check it out recently?"
"I just oiled and gassed her last week. I had a feeling in my gut you would be coming to visit soon. She has been a good girl, sitting and waiting for her master to return."
I didn't personify objects as Inger did. It was always "she this" or "she that" like the way his Viking ancestors always referred to their ships in the feminine. I liked to keep my machinery on a last-name basis.
We walked past the shop into the back lot where a dozen cars sat in various stages of disrepair. I recognized mine by its shape under a tarp. Hansen reached for the drape.
"What's it doing under that?" I inquired.
"Because of this …"
He yanked it off with a flamboyant gesture. There was my 1937 Hudson Custom 8 … in worse shape than I had left it. The rust spots had grown, and the passenger side mirror was gimped. The rag top was even more cracked, if that was possible. What once glistened with chrome and royal blue now was mottled gray and something the color of wiper fluid. To top my growing disgust, the antenna was so bent that the Z it formed would have made Zorro proud.
"Your car is an embarrassment. Why do you not let me fix it up?"
"Because I can barely afford to pay you to keep the engine tuned up." I lied, "I don't care about looks. It just needs to get me places."
The mechanic shook his head forlornly. "Ah, but you did once, did you not? When this car was new, it was a thing of beauty, was it not? It took a man of spectacular means and tastes to pick this expensive car from all the others available."
"I had—" I rethought my verbiage. "Someone had suggested it. I had just done something pretty special and earned a lot of money. This was supposed to be the best car out there. It turned out the advertising was a bit trumped up. More flash than substance. It's a decent ride, but nothing to get all steamed up about. As long as the engine works."
"That it does. My son, Sigarr? He take it on as a project. He is only twelve, but he knows his stuff."
I was twelve when I entered high school. I pulled out my last two aces and gave the singles to Hansen. "Slip these to the kid. Tell him to keep it up."
The keys were already in it. The eight cylinders started up like a cat getting a belly rub. The stick slid in easier than it had the last time. I eased out of the lot, tossing a thumbs-up to Inger, who beamed with pride.
The crime scene was jumping when I rolled in an hour later. My mug was familiar enough to be waved through without preamble. The mansion was everything you'd expect from the Cherry Knolls area, enough bread to burn a wet mule. Manicured hedges outlined a babied lawn. Grass shouldn't be this color in September, but it shown greener than a leprechaun's ass. My Hudson stuck out like a goose-stepper on Armistice Day.
When I reached Sweet, he went out of his way to make me feel welcome. "You'd think someone who is one step away from being ground up for dog food would jump when somebody offers him a job."
"I don't 'jump' for anybody." Cocky, I planned my reveal for after whatever Sweet'd brought me out for was done, but since he decided to press my hand right away, I pulled out my hole cards. "I'm finished with my Atlantis project, Sweet. This is the last cleanup I'm doing for you. Not to mention, I've made more money selling blood than what you pay."
Sweet seethed. "So I toss you work out of the goodness of my heart, and this is the thanks I get?"
Behind the contempt, did I sense something else? Maybe a touch of fear? In the eight years we'd worked together, we had built up some sort of rapport, almost a partnership for lack of a better word. I've known marriages that haven't lasted as long.
"No offense meant, Chief. I just want to it lay out. This is my last job, so I hope it's worth it."
"Oh, this should challenge that IQ of yours," he said, again with that special chuckle of his.
Forensics was a developing field. Chicago PD had the first full department, while most metropolitan crime units employed at least one person on staff now. Industry City's resistance to adopting a similar approach came from their blue-collar attitude toward crime, not my success rate, which was stellar. People weren't murdered here like they were in Chi-town or the Big Apple. ICPD ran every crime through two filters: acts of passion or mob hits. At least until I started freelancing as a consultant.
Within the first year, I had overturned three arrests, which gave them a black eye I still catch hell for. But I'd been right and proved it by handing them the real culprits. While this raised me only slightly above pond scum in their eyes, it was enough for them to call on me when the profile was high or the shit deep. Now, if it wasn't a bar fight, jealous husband, or concrete footmuffs, Sweet brought me in. You'd think with what they spent on me, they'd just hire someone full time.
I followed Sweet's blue-clad shoulders around back to a window. Five bulls milled around, bored out of their gourds. They, too, had been waiting for me. They jumped at our abrupt appearance and tried to look as if they had been doing something useful. Sweet sneered in their direction. He wasn't someone to mess with, a wrestler's physique compounded with a gunpowder burn on his left cheek—an unintentional tattoo from the war—made him intimidating to anyone in front of him.
I climbed the stepladder that had graciously been left for me. Sweet directed me to a bullet hole in a window. My eye tracked its trajectory to find the matching hole in the back of a chair. The chair was in front of a fireplace, and on the floor in front of the chair lay a tape outline. From the shape, it appeared the victim had gotten up then keeled over.
"Who was the stiff?"
"Montague Morrison. Newspaper magnate. Ran the Industry City Post until about midnight last night when he was capped."
"Worse, a squabble over his will. Looks like he was going to leave the bulk of his estate to a new wife half his age. There've been several threats on his life from his family, as reported by his staff."
The inside was as elegant as the outside. Mounted trophies adorned one wall, awards another. The rug looked expensive, one of those import jobs and not the type you'd find sold in Little Osaka.
I climbed down the ladder and examined the areas the police had marked off.
"Yeah. From the height of the bullet's entry and the depth of the footprints, we already have a suspect."
"Why am I here, then?"
A small flower garden rimmed the house. The soil held the perfect impression of a size thirteen footprint. The heavily watered lawn made the ground spongy and tracks led out from the dirt and across the lawn. I looked at the first of the prints. Something wasn't right, so I knelt down and took a closer peep.
"The only suspect tall enough to take the shot is the gardener. He's six-six."
"What's the problem?" I asked, knowing from his tone that Sweet wasn't happy with his suspect.
"The guy's a souse. He starts drinking when he's done working for the day and usually passes out by midnight. He was seen stumbling from the area, but there's no way he could've shot Morrison with any accuracy."
My fingers traced the imprint while my mind wandered. "Lucky shot?"
"Maybe, except the guy says he didn't do it, had no reason to do it, and wasn't hired by anyone to do it."
"How reliable is the witness?"
Sweet harrumphed. "Not great. It's the housekeeper and she's got glasses thicker than a bottle of cola. Something stinks about the whole thing, and I'm not ready to call this a done deal. We really need to make an arrest stick. The paper will massacre us if we screw this up." I could see his point. A quick resolution would paint the department as heroes. On the other hand, a long trial without a solid conviction would make them fools.
I opened my forensics kit. I already composed a working hypothesis, but Sweet would want facts. I started with the bullet hole in the window. I measured the distance from ground to hole. Then, with some assistance, I ran a string from the hole in the chair through the glass.
"Did the bullet go all the way through or embed?"
"It's still in Morrison."
I paused. "Military rifle?"
"That's our guess." Sweet harrumphed again. "The old man kept a Springfield 1903 in the hunting shed. It was wiped clean of prints. Ballistics is checking the bullet to the bore."
"Ballistics and fingerprints, Sweet. You're halfway to your own forensics team."
The bull flared his nostrils, so I let it drop.
I paid out more string and stepped back another dozen feet. I had the ladder brought to me and retraced the bullet's path. It was going to be farther out in the yard than the footprint by the window indicated. For that powerful a bullet to not pass through, the shot had to be taken from at least a hundred feet back. I looked across the lawn; that would put it up against an opposing building. While it's possible the gardener needed the stability to take the shot, I doubt someone who was intoxicated could hit the mark unless he were a military-trained sniper. I asked for more string and got the detectives to line up to hold it.
I asked about weather conditions and was told that it had been a calm night, little breeze, which was unusual for fall but not unheard of. It made my job easier. Every twenty yards, an OT 30 bullet dropped 1.35 percent. I was eyeballing it, but by the time I reached the building, I measured the point of origin. I could put the gun being fired at six feet six inches. I showed Sweet.
"The gardener would have had to shoot Morrison while balancing the gun on his head."
"With six-inch heels? Okay, it's a consideration. Let's go a step further. Why are there footprints by the window if he fired from back here?"
"He had to make sure the old man was in the room?"
"Doubtful, whoever shot from a hundred yards back would have the eyesight to see his target or, even better yet, had binoculars. Going to the window might alert the victim and cause him to move from the chair. I think the killer went afterwards, specifically to leave footprints and be seen leaving the scene."
"So, what? He wanted to frame the gardener?"
I pondered. "Or at least appear to be someone he or she wasn't."
I went back to the footprints with a ruler. I got down on my hands and knees and measured several of the impressions. I measured the front and back and did some quick mental calculations. I now had enough proof for my conjecture. I laughed inwardly because Sweet was going to have to chalk up another arrest to science, and that meant a serving of crow back at the station.
"Is one of his relatives short, say five feet or under? Maybe even a little stocky?"
Sweet smiled. "How'd you know? The nephew is a runt, I'd say five-one, if that."
I waved the chief in closer. "Look at the prints. I can see why you thought it was somebody big." I pointed at the heel. "See how deep the heel is, right? A good inch. That would lead anyone to believe that the killer was at least 250 pounds plus. Now look at this."
I moved his attention to the toe area. "Here the indentation is less, maybe a quarter inch tops. Means one of two things."
Standing up, I brushed the dirt from my knees. Sweet stood up as well. I gave him space to pad his skull about my supposition.
"He was putting more pressure on his heels than his toes, like he was walking on his heels, toes up?"
"Right, which makes no sense. When you tiptoe, you put more force on the toes, leaving a deeper impression in the front than the back. So why would there be such a difference in the heel depth than the toes?"
"He had no toes?"
I brushed a finger across my nose. "Right on the money." Sweet gritted his teeth. "Stilts."
"I bet Shorty's got a set stashed somewhere. I also wager you he checks out on that gun. He used the building over there to stabilize himself for the shot and then stilt-walked over to the window to check his work and to leave impressions much bigger than him. Knowing the staff, like I'm sure he does, he wore a trench coat to fool the housekeeper into thinking he was the gardener. I'd check the trash, his car. You know … the usual places.
"And I'll be by the precinct later for my check."
I closed my kit, proud of myself that this case hadn't taken weeks to solve. Sometimes things just fell into place. I was itching to search for a financier. Maybe I should demand more from Sweet, so I could pay rent and buy a new suit. I did solve his high profile murder quickly, and he should get a conviction. Saving the department's ass in the paper should pay extra.
I walked back to my car.
"Glass! Wait." Sweet moved quickly to catch up with me. His face twisted. It was hard to battle pleasure and anger at the same time. I had solved a case, but I was quitting.
"You're really shaking the investigator bit?"
"What? You going to try being a scientist again? You got screwed pretty badly last time."
"Not trying. I am a scientist. I did this"—I waved at the crime scene—"to live. I need more. I need to make a difference."
Sweet just shook his head. "You brainy types all think alike. Think you can save the world, you do. I think you just find new ways to screw it up. Bombs that destroy cities … ha! What good does that do? Especially now that the Ruskies have them too?"
It was an old argument. Sweet had lost a father in World War I, a brother in World War II, and a son in Korea. If the bomb wasn't going to stop wars, what was it good for?
"X-rays help doctors mend bones, diagnose disease, and aid healing. A scientist invented that too. Should we go back to leeches and acid?"
I'm sure he wanted to argue more, maybe to keep me there longer.
He needed me but couldn't admit it.
"Get out of here, Glass. Don't let me find you on the other side, okay?"
I shook my head. "Nah, nothing can go wrong with this one. I won't be breaking any laws."
I offered my hand, which he took. It would be the closest thing to a thank-you I'd ever get from him.
Chief Sweet was already barking orders to have the nephew brought in for questioning before I was out of earshot.
I collected my consulting fee from the station and slowly drove the Hudson back to my place. My head was filled with a dozen competing thoughts. Who should I take the plans to? Who could I trust? I needed money but how could I attract a high-paying client without resorting to some less-than-kosher tactics?
I parked as close to my block as possible, guessing I'd be going back out soon. There was nothing left to steal on the piece of junk, so I doubted it would ever be lifted. I always left it unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Should some kids want it for a joyride, they wouldn't have to break a window or hotwire it. There was a note in the glove box asking for it to be returned to the exact spot should that ever occur.
I ankled it along pavement, feeling empty enough to steal a dog's dinner. I looked up and the duck vendor was eyeing me. He had a sixth sense regarding hunger and was already reaching for a duckling to wave in my face as I crossed the street. For all the thugs I'd taken down, this old man intimidated me, and I would take the duck despite not really being hungry for fowl. Maybe it was the fact he always had a cleaver in one hand. I darted into the beef bowl place before I got near him, and I heard him curse. I knew enough Japanese to know what things he called my parents. After splurging on a double order with gyoza, I headed out the back door to avoid having a curse placed on my descendants by the still-stewing duck merchant.
By the time I got home, I had a list of former clients to call. From there, I'd hit my contact at the Post and see what the word was on the street.
As I reached my apartment door, I found it already unlocked and open a crack. While I might have still been suffering a little barrel fever from the night before, I remembered clearly closing and locking it. I listened and heard the subtle sounds of rustling inside.
I had no weapon to speak of, save for a pocketknife. I unfolded the blade and launched myself into the apartment.
The wall I ran into felt suspiciously like someone's back. I looked up until I found a neck. Sure enough, the mountain in front of me was a man. I jumped back into the hallway as the wall turned around. What best could be described as a shaved silverback gorilla smiled at me. His frame filled the doorway, keeping me from seeing who else was in the room.
"Sir?" the gorilla said, "I think he's here."
A weak voice came from somewhere behind it, err … him.
"Does the man have dark hair, intense eyes, and a hawk-like nose?"
I had never been sized up so quickly, but there it was.
"Yes, sir, that's him."
"Well? Let the man into his own place, Vincent. We have to talk." Vincent stared at my hand. "He's got a weapon. Should I take it?" The question left no doubt as to if he could, just whether he should.
"Heavens, no! A man can defend his castle, no matter what form that castle takes." He let out a hollow cough then, "Now move out of the way."
Like a boulder rolling aside to open a cave, Vincent slid over, allowing me access to the room.
"Open sesame," I whispered, but I'm sure the man-mountain heard.
I surmised from the angle of the second voice, the man running this show was in my lab. I moved cautiously past the gorilla-man, folding the blade back into its protective sheath.
As a child, you are taught opposites. The man looking over my blueprints was the best example of a contrast to his partner I could imagine. While Vincent was swarthy and bearlike, his master was anything but: tiny; frail; blotchy skin; and, as he ran a finger over the designs, seemingly intelligent. He used a cane to steady himself as he leaned over my drafting table. Dangling from his neck, a gold chain with a ring hung low. An indentation on his skeletal ring finger indicated that he had gotten too thin to keep it there anymore.
"This design is sound. You finally fixed the catalytic converter, I see."
I never like to look surprised. It has added to the legend that I'm some sort of genius. I had to come up with some quick deductions to keep the ball in play.
"Along with a few other changes, Mr. Reece, but then you haven't seen The Atlantis designs in quite a while. Not that you should have seen them at all, but I guess a man as affluent as you are has first dibs on everything coming out of NMIT, right?"
He kept running a finger around the prints. "First guess. I'm pleased your attention to detail hasn't weakened in your banishment. I was also glad to hear what you had chosen to do in the private sector. Keeps those skills sharp, doesn't it?"
Vincent, who had moved to fill in the doorjamb, grunted, "How'd he know it was you, Mr. Reece? You never have your picture taken, and you told me you'd never met him before."
Not wanting to be bothered, Reece waved the question over for me to explain.
"Well, you see, Vince, Mr. Reece's comment implied he had seen these designs before. I personally know everyone who had seen my designs during my days at the Tech. That means he had unofficially seen them.
"I also knew the government poked around our labs occasionally, so I ran down a mental list of 'sponsored' entrepreneurs, until I found one with the initials C.J.R."
I called his attention to the old man's pocket, while continuing to show off. "Those are the letters monogrammed on the handkerchief sticking out there. Cornelius Jacob Reece, third richest man in America; launched Little Technologies, which, to this day, holds more patents than any other company.
"Keep up with that, Vince?"
I watched Vincent as I laid out my theory and was amazed to see he had paid attention. I expected him to be one banana short of a bunch, yet as I had spelled everything out quickly, his thinking room was open for business.
"Okay, you know me and now I know you, Mr. Reece." With my sarcasm dial fully engaged, I asked, "How can I be of service?"
Old Money didn't want to let the designs go. I stepped in front of him. Vincent placed a hand on my shoulder as a warning. I stared up at him incredulously while I waved a finger at Reece. "Tsk, tsk. Just like the bearded lady at the circus, you get one look for free. You need to pay extra for a closer look."
He tittered at the comment. Maybe he liked bearded ladies and was remembering some long-lost encounter. I don't know; maybe he just found me amusing. He slid away and slowly moved into the area I call an office. Vincent heeled, helping him into the most comfortable seat.
I entered the room, took my usual chair behind the desk, and leaned forward expectantly.
"I'm being murdered, Mr. Glass, and it's your fault."
And here I was, thinking this day was looking up.