Make Out with Murder, page 1
Make Out with Murder
Penguin Group USA, Inc (1997)
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A previously published mystery follows New York City sleuth-for-hire Chip Harrison as he confronts his first case, in which five beautiful sisters--one of them a former flame--are hunted down by their wicked
The third book in a four-novel, humorous mystery series written in the 1970's by Lawrence Block and featuring Chip Harrison, a teenaged, one-man anti-chastity movement training to be an Archie Goodwin to NYC private detective Leo Haig.
Make Out with Murder
The Third Chip Harrison Novel
This is for REX STOUT, whoever he may be. …
A New Afterword by the Author
A Biography of Lawrence Block
The man was about forty or forty-five. I guessed his height at five-seven, which made him about four inches too short for his weight. He was wearing a brown suit, one of those double-knit deals that are not supposed to wrinkle. His was sort of rumpled. He was wearing gleaming brown wing-tip shoes and chocolate brown socks. He wore a ring on his left pinky with what looked like a sapphire in it. Anyway, it was a blue stone, and I figure any blue stone is either a sapphire or trying to look like one.
I don’t know all this because I have some kind of terrific memory or anything. I know it because I wrote it all down. Leo Haig says that ultimately I won’t have to write things down in my notebook. He says I can train my memory to report all conversations verbatim and remember photographically what people are wearing and things like that. He says if Archie Goodwin can do it, so can I. It’s a matter of training, he says.
Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. If so, I need all the training I can get. I figure it’s going to be a good day if I remember in the morning where I put my wristwatch the night before.
Anyway, there’s something we’d better get straight right in front. In the course of writing all this up for you, some of the facts will be as I’ve jotted them down in my notebook, and some will be as I happen to remember them, and things like conversations are as close as my memory can make them to how they happened originally. I don’t have a tape recorder in my head, but I do tend to listen to people and remember not only what they said but how they said it. I suppose that’s as close to the truth as you can generally come.
The guy in the brown suit was very boring to follow. I picked him up outside of the Gaily Gaily Theater on Eighth Avenue between 45th and 46th. That was 1:37 in the afternoon, and the particular afternoon was the third Wednesday in August. He emerged from the theater (All-Male Cast! XXX-rated! Adults Only Positively!) making those hesitant eye movements that you would expect anybody to make under those circumstances, as if he wanted to make sure that nobody he knew was watching him, but without making it obvious that he was looking around.
I picked him up because I liked the idea that he was already behaving with suspicion. It seemed likely that he would be more of a challenge.
See, I had no real reason to follow this man in particular. This was what Leo Haig calls a training exercise. We didn’t have a case at the time, and while he enjoyed having me hang around and listen to him talk while he played with his tropical fish, we both eventually felt guilty if I wasn’t doing something to earn the salary he paid me. So he sent me out to follow people. I would do this for as many hours as I could stand, and then I would go back and type up a report on my activities as a shadow. He would then read the report very critically. (I’m surprised he managed to read these reports at all, to tell you the truth. When all you do is follow a woman from her apartment building to Gristede’s and back again, there is not a hell of a lot of excitement in a detailed report of what you have seen.)
But all of this would develop my powers of observation, he said, plus my skills in following people, in case we got a case that demanded that sort of thing. And it would also point up my journalistic talents. Leo Haig is very firm on I this last subject, incidentally. It’s not enough to be a great detective, he says, unless somebody writes about it well enough to let the world know about you.
Well, the guy in the brown suit certainly moved around I enough. From the theater he went to a cafeteria on Broadway and had a cup of coffee and a prune Danish. I sat half a dozen tables away and pretended to drink my iced tea. He left the cafeteria and walked around the corner onto 42nd Street, where he entered First Amendment Books, a hole-in-the-wall that specializes in reading matter that abuses the amendment it’s named after. I don’t know what he bought there because I didn’t want to go in there after him. I loitered outside, trying not to look like a male hustler. By concentrating on Melanie Trelawney, I figured it might be easier to project a determinedly heterosexual image.
Thinking about Melanie Trelawney may not have made me look more heterosexual, but it certainly made me feel heterosexual as all hell. And thinking about Melanie came fairly easily to me because I had been thinking of very little else for the past month. In a sense, thinking about Melanie was more rewarding than spending time with her, because I allowed myself to play a more active role in thought than I did in life itself.
In the little plays I acted out in my head, for example, Melanie did not deliver lines like, “I think we should wait until we know each other better, Chip.” Or, “I’m just not sure I’m stable enough for an active sexual relationship.” Or, “Stop!”
My mental Melanie, my liberated, receptive Melanie was purring like a kitten while I stroked the soft skin of her upper thigh, when the man in the brown suit picked that moment to emerge from First Amendment with a parcel under his arm. Magazines, by the size and shape of the parcel. I had a fair idea what kind of magazines they were.
He headed west and walked briskly to Eighth Avenue. Just before he reached the corner he stopped in a doorway and talked to a tall slender young man wearing faded jeans and brand-new cowboy boots. They talked for a few moments and evidently failed to come to an agreement. My target heaved his shoulders and lurched away, and the kid with the boots gave him the finger.
On the other side of Eighth he had better luck. He stopped again in a doorway, and I loitered as unobtrusively as possible while they got it together. Then they walked side by side over to Ninth Avenue and two blocks north to something that was supposed to be a hotel. That’s what the sign said, anyhow. From the looks of it I got the feeling that if you ever needed a cockroach in a hurry, that was the place to look for one.
There was a liquor store next to the hotel, and they stopped there first, with the hustler waiting outside while Brown Suit bought a bottle. He came out with a pint of something and they went into the hotel together.
I was going to leave him there and say the hell with it, and either follow somebody else or call it a day, but Haig had told me just a couple of days ago that the attribute a successful surveillance man most needed to develop was patience. “You must cultivate sitzfleisch, Chip. Sitting flesh. A mark of professionalism is the ability to do absolutely nothing when to do otherwise would be an improper course of action.”
I went into a coffee shop across the street and settled my sitzfleisch on a wobbly counter stool. The special of the day was mea
While I worked on this I did a little more thinking about Melanie Trelawney.
I had met her about a month ago. I was in Tompkins Square Park trying to decide whether or not I wanted a Good Humor. The Special Flavor of the Month was Chocolate Pastrami and I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but it did sound off the beaten track. Somebody came by that I knew, and then someone else materialized with a guitar, and eventually a batch of us were sitting around singing songs of social significance. After a while somebody started passing out home-made cigarettes with an organic and non-carcinogenic tobacco substitute in them, but I just passed them up, because by this time I had seen Melanie and I was high already.
We got to talking. Nine times out of ten when I meet a really sensational girl it takes an exchange of perhaps fourteen sentences before one or both of us realizes we could easily bore each other to death. Sometimes, say one time in ten, it doesn’t happen that way. In which case I tend to flip out a little.
I’ll tell you something. Sometimes when two people meet each other, the best thing that can happen is that they go directly to the nearest bed. Other times the best thing can happen is that they take their time and really get to know each other first. Either way is cool. The problem comes when the two people perceive the situation differently.
Not that she was precisely driving me up a wall. There were times when it felt that way, I’ll admit, but basically it was a question of Melanie’s feeling it was very necessary for us to take our time, while I felt that all the time we had to take was whatever time it took to get out of our clothes. Since Melanie always wore jeans and a tie-dyed top and sandals, and nothing under any of those three articles of clothing but her own sweet self, and since I was sufficiently motivated to take off my shirt without unbuttoning it, this process would not have taken much time.
It probably wasn’t as bad as I’m making it sound. I mean, I’m not Stanley Stud who has to have a woman every night or his thing will turn green. I want a woman every night, but I’ve learned to live with failure. We were getting to know each other, Melanie and I, and we were getting to I know each other slightly in a physical way, and eventually things were going to work out. Until then I wasn’t sleeping very well, but I had decided I could put up with that.
I sat at the counter and stirred my coffee, trying to convince myself that I wanted to drink it. Every few seconds I would glance out through the window to see if the man in the brown suit was finished and ready to lead me off to still more exciting places. Every once in a while someone with the same general orientation as Brown Suit would give me a sidelong glance. Which made me think defensively again of Melanie.
One thing had been bothering me lately. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Melanie might be a little bit out of touch with reality.
For maybe the past ten days she had been behaving strangely. She would laugh suddenly at nothing at all, and then a few minutes later she would start crying and not say what it was about. And then a couple of days earlier she explained what it was. She was convinced she was going to die.
“Two of my sisters are already gone,” she said. “First Robin was killed in a car accident. Then Jessica threw herself out the window. There’s just three of us left, Caitlin and Kim and me, and then we’ll all be gone.”
“In seventy years, maybe. But not like tomorrow, Melanie.”
“Maybe tomorrow, Chip.”
“I think maybe you do drugs a little too much.”
“It’s not drugs. Anyway, I’m straight now.”
“Then I don’t get it.”
Her eyes, which range from blue to green and back again, were a very vivid blue now. “I am going to be killed,” she said. “I can sense it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. Robin and Jessica were killed—”
“Well, Jessica killed herself, didn’t she?”
“Jesus, Melanie, that’s what you just said, isn’t it? You said she threw herself out a window.”
“Maybe she did. Maybe she … she was pushed.”
She lowered her head, closed her eyes. “Oh, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t know anything, Chip. All I know is the feelings I’ve had lately. That all of the Trelawney girls are going to die and that I’m going to be next. Maybe Robin’s accident really was an accident. Maybe Jessica did kill herself. She wasn’t terribly stable, she had a weird life style. And maybe Robin’s accident really was an accident. I know it must have been. But—I’m afraid, Chip.”
I saw her a couple of times after that, and she was never that hysterical again. She did mention the subject, though. She tried to be cool about it.
“Well, like it’s a good thing you’re working for a private detective, Chip. That way you can investigate the case when I’m murdered.”
I would tell her to cut the shit, that she was not going to be murdered, and she would say she was just making a joke out of it. Except it was only partly a joke.
I guess that coffee shop wasn’t the best place to pick for a stake-out. Not just because the coffee was rotten, but because the clientele was largely gay.
Which is all right as far as I’m concerned. I don’t get uncomfortable in homosexual company. I have a couple of gay friends, as far as that goes. But the thing is this: if you sit in a place like that, just killing time over a cup of coffee, and if you’re young and tallish and thinnish, which is to say the general physical type which is likely to hang out in such a place for a particular purpose, well, people come to an obvious conclusion.
It was getting a little heavy, so I paid for my coffee and I went out to wait outside. I guess that turned out to be worse. I wasn’t outside for five minutes before a heavy-set man with a slim attaché case and a neatly trimmed white moustache asked me if he could buy me a drink.
I took my wallet out and flipped it open briefly. “Police,” I said. “Surveillance,” I said. “Scram,” I said.
“Oh, dear,” the man said.
“Just go away,” I said.
“I didn’t actually do anything,” the man said. “Just an offer of a drink, all in good faith—”
“Jesus, go away,” I said.
“I’m not under arrest?”
Across the street, the man in the brown suit emerged from the hotel. He still had his package of magazines with him. I told the idiot with the moustache that he was not under arrest, but that he would be if he didn’t pissed off.
“You’re not Vice Squad?”
“Narcotics,” I said, trying to get past him.
“But you should be on the Vice Squad,” he insisted. “You’d fool anyone.”
I’ve decided since that he must have intended this as a compliment. At the time I couldn’t pay that much attention to what he was saying because Brown Suit was on his way into a subway kiosk and I had to hurry if I didn’t want to lose him. It occurred to me that perhaps I did want to lose him, but I wanted to get away from the creep with the moustache in any case, so I charged down to the subway entrance and caught sight of the man in brown just as I dropped my own token into the turnstile. Actually, it was his turn to follow me for the next little bit, because he had to buy a token. I always have a pocket full of them.
Leo Haig believes his right-hand man should be prepared for any contingency.
I bought a paper to give myself something to hide behind and to kill time so that he could let me know which train we were going to ride. It turned out to be the downtown A train and we rode it to Washington Square. Then we went up and around and caught the E train as far as Long Island City. This puzzled me a little because he could have caught that same E train at 42nd Street and saved going out of the way a couple of miles, but I figured maybe he changed his mind and had some particular last
At Long Island City he got out of the train just as the doors were closing, and if I hadn’t been standing right next to the door at the time I would have gone on riding to Flushing or someplace weird like that. But I got out, and I immediately began walking off in the opposite direction from him. After I had gone about twenty yards I turned and looked over my shoulder and there he was. I started to turn again, but he was making motions with his hands.
I just stood there. I didn’t really know what else to do.
“Look,” he said. “This is beginning to get on my nerves.”
“You’ve been following me all afternoon, son. Would you like to tell me why?”
Leo Haig always tells me to use my instinct, guided by my experience. He stole this bit of advice from Nero Wolfe. My problem is, I haven’t had too much experience and my instincts aren’t always that razor-sharp.
But what I said was, “I have to say something to you.”
“Well, you could have said it back on Ninth Avenue, son. You didn’t have to wait until we both rode back and forth underneath Manhattan Island.”
“The thing is, I don’t know if you’re the right man.”
“What right man?”
“The married man who’s been running around with my sister, and if you are—”
Well, he damned well wasn’t, and that was a load off both our minds. He laughed a lot, and he did everything but explain to me precisely why he was extremely unlikely to be running around with anybody’s sister, or to be married, and we went our separate ways to our mutual relief. I got another E train heading back in the direction I’d come from and he went somewhere else.
At least he hadn’t made me until I’d tailed him to Ninth Avenue. I suppose that was something.
There’s probably a good way to connect from the E train to something that goes somewhere near the Lower East Side, but I’m still not brilliant about the subway system and the maps they have there are impossible to; figure out, especially when the train is (a) moving and (b) crowded, which this one certainly was. So I rode down to Washington Square again, feeling a little foolish about the whole thing, and then I got out and walked cross town. I called Melanie a couple of times en route, but the line was busy.
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