|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on October 16, 2016 at 8:20 PM|
We're starting another serialization today. "The Second Mrs Trummelthau" was a bit more of a horror story, so this one is more of a traditional mystery. Perhaps not all that traditional. It was originally written, a little while ago (you will notice some references to characters recently moving in from the old Soviet Union) to be part of a ten-part series detailing the uneasy relationship between con man Emiliano Padovano and police detective Geaddise Shrine, who knows enough of Padovano's past to leverage his help on cases that seem to involve other con men or women. Blackmail is such an ugly word... Padovano is also a celebrity psychic, though a total fake, and since this story was written there have been a TV series of two also about fake psychics helping the police. Though the working relationship there seems a little friendlier...
Without further ado, Part I of "The Long Arm of the Law of Averages"
I stare at the smirking face of Police Captain Geaddise Shrine. For someone who has known me as long as he has, who even knows what brand of cigarette to buy me that I dare not be seen buying for myself, who knows things about me so sensitive that I may need to disappear some day, he says things as though he doesn’t know me at all. He has just told me of the shooting death of Elvis Ten Moose, and suggested that I might be interested in being involved in the investigation because of our shared profession.
I was in no mood, having just completed an exhausting private session with the Wittwald family of Boston. Generally I rely on the large crowd because I can count on any particular name or detail being significant to some fraction of the audience. With a private session, I have to actually prepare and engage in research, and I work alone so I can’t even farm it out to my executive assistant or hire a PI. And on the Internet, 90% of the hits you get are family tree sites. I’m mystified by the family tree business; I wonder what would happen if people knew what proportion of those revered family names were secret adoptees, how many brothers were really nephews, how many kids had no biological relation to their fathers at all. But the family tree website industry actually turned out to be helpful this time because later, during the session I was able to accidentally connect with great great uncle Sylvester Wittwald instead of grandfather Theodore Wittwald and that reinforced my bona fides.
I had already suspected that the family wanted to contact dearly departed Theodore for something other than an apology for putting him in the nursing home, and I hoped my research would give me enough material for an educated guess about whether he loved Susie or Foster more or who was supposed to get the collection of pornographic African masks. To my horror, the bereaved actually wanted specific information, namely the location of Theodore’s stash of Krugerrands, of which he had so often boasted. When I contacted Theodore in the Great Beyond, I decided he would tell me that he had spent the gold on a mistress. I figure there was at least a 50/50 chance this was true anyway, and if it wasn’t, and the gold was never found till bulldozers leveled his house, serves them right for being greedy. As to the damage to old man Wittwald’s reputation, I would say I actually did him a favor.
So I feel well within my rights to give Geaddise Shrine an offended glare when he suggests I should care who killed Elvis Ten Moose. Having done my corporal work of mercy for the day already.
“You mean, because he was on TV and I’m on TV, that we’re really brothers?”
“Well, you also do the same thing on TV.”
I snort. “I provide a public service. He does simple sleight of hand.”
“Well, you both charge money for it,” says Shrine, helping himself to one of my cigarettes.
“That’s the American way. If I made cars I would charge money for it. I allow people to reconnect with their deceased loved ones – it’s better than a car. All Ten Moose did was close-up magic that he embroidered with all that shamanic detail. He does nothing that Uri Geller didn’t do better and you can read all about it in Randi or Martin Gardner. I knew him way back when his name was Dmitri Dneiprovsky. He’s about as Native American as I am.”
“Or as Native American as you are Italian,” Shrine points out helpfully, since the public knows me by an Italian name. “I respect that you don’t consider him your equal. But surely if someone has murdered one TV psychic, you might be concerned for your own safety.”
We are in a cheap little waiting room in the offices of the Wittwald’s lawyers. This is the smoking-allowed waiting area. Presumably the smoking-prohibited area is swank in 90s mulberry and marble and equipped with a Bowflex. Here there is actually paneling on the wall. A telephone of the kind that can be switched to different lines occupies the table, grimed with oily dust as though it had once been in a greasy kitchen. I wonder how long the attorneys will let us squat in this palace. I don’t know if it is Shrine’s pull as a cop, or mine as a celebrity, that has saved us from interruption so far.
I shrug. “I assume he was careless in a way I am unlikely to be careless. It’s no concern of mine.”
Shrine takes another puff of the cig but he doesn’t like it so he snuffs it with half an inch of ash. Imagine having that kind of temerity to not only take a rare artisinal cigarette without permission, but to waste it.
“I have to say I’m disappointed in your reluctance to be involved. Especially with your stated dedication to public service. In fact, considering that you knew Ten Moose’s real name, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that he may in fact have known your real name. I probably need to consider you to be a major suspect.”
“That’s ridiculous," I say, but not immediately. "You know my real name and I haven’t killed you.” He doesn’t need to know that it isn’t for want of motivation.
“I have to concede that makes sense to me. But my days of being the lone cop, working outside the rules, are over. We’ll have to see if that makes sense to my superintendent.”
I look him in the eye just to reassure myself he doesn’t really suspect me. “What makes you think there is any psychic angle to his murder at all? Ten Moose got rich being a psychic. Maybe the rich was more important than the psychic.”
Shrine shakes his head. “Not robbery. There was over $400,000 in cash in his office.”
“You don’t mean out in plain sight, right? Maybe the murderer couldn’t get into the safe.”
“We didn’t find a safe – if he had one he probably had even more money than that. The four hundred were in a bunch of envelopes in a desk drawer. If someone was looking to clean him out they would have looked there.”
I vaguely remembered a wife who seemed pretty mild-mannered. I think she was an ex-wife. “Did Ten Moose have a girlfriend? Maybe hotheaded? Or a girlfriend involved with an angry boyfriend?”
“We’ve got guys checking into it – you don’t have to worry about that. I’m not real optimistic because the jealous murderers usually aren’t good at covering their tracks. I was originally thinking he got someone in trouble with his psychic stunts. But now you tell me he was Russian. Where did he get a name like Elvis Ten Moose?”
“Obviously it was the most American thing he could think of when he came over.”
Shrine has pulled out one of his own cancer sticks and already reduced it half to ash, and is now fumbling for its successor. Clearly he doesn’t spend much time in the smoking-allowed areas and wants to use it to the fullest. I prefer to savor mine.
“I heard that psychic research was really hot in the former Soviet Union” says he. “I get the impression they were making some breakthroughs that were far ahead of American science.”
I snort. “I guess a lot is still unknown. But what I’ve heard is more like, they didn’t know how to run a controlled experiment over there, and now that there is open exchange of knowledge nobody can repeat their studies any longer. In fact, when Ten Moose was Dnieprovsky he worked for one of those institutes. My rumors tell me all he did over there were magic tricks and all of his supervisors knew it. You’ll notice when he emigrated he never offered to sell the government any of his secret knowledge.”
Shrine snorts right back. “You think they would tell you if they did? Why don’t you pitch in and see what you can learn about Ten Moose’s Soviet connections. Maybe he threatened to expose them or vice versa.”
So without having a fair chance to protest or negotiate, I find myself assigned to pursue some dubious lead about old psychic research. It takes me most of the day to find a number for Irina Dnieprovsky, who is now living in Ohio. Fortunately she has already heard about her ex-husband so I am spared the role of messenger of tragedy. Irina remembers me, though under a different name, of course. It is actually a bit of a relief to speak to her in my own voice, and temporarily to have a vacation from maintaining my scrupulously authentic American accent. To my questions about any potentially dangerous activities she protests that she and Dmitri did not keep in touch in the States.
“Do you know who his associates were in his new life?”
“I’m afraid not. I do not think he associated with the Russian community. He had some friends in show business.”
“Irina, I have been asked to check into some of his colleagues from the psychic Institute. I assume quite a few of them are over here?”
“Almost all, dear. Not Ustinov, who is dead. Kharkhchev is. Evgenovich. Evgenovich is close to you, actually. But I don’t think they associated with Dmitri over here.”
“That’s fine – they will still help me. Evgenovich was Dmitri’s immediate supervisor?”
She confirms this and gives me the name of a bakery in Brooklyn. Apparently Evgenovich was unable to find employment as a psychic investigator over here. It’s a tough business to break into – many other Soviets trained in more respectable professions have had a similar experience.
I find the bakery the next day and discover that Evgenovich is actually quite happy with his rolls and breads. He has not heard of me as a celebrity but apologizes that he watches only reality shows. A tall military man, clean shaven with buzz-cut black hair and tattoos, he cuts some bagels on a two meter long wooden board while we talk. He is not his own boss here and cannot be seen talking without working.
He claims to have never made the connection between Elvis Ten Moose and Dmitri Dnieprovsky and so paid little notice to reports of Ten Moose’s death. “So he was actually famous, then, as psychic? Good for him. But then he is dead now, say you.”
We are speaking English, though Evgenovich says he knows Italian better and offers to speak in that language. I have not let on that I speak Russian, since that is not part of my public image and Irina was vague about whether Evgenovich can keep a secret.
“When you knew him at the Psychic Institute, did he ever speak of wanting to be a psychic in America?”
Evgenovich absently flours his hands though there is no dough in sight. There is a stench of extremely concentrated almond coming from a mixer the size of a fireplug.
“Well, America, yes. Always America, but then not just him either. I don’t remember him saying anything about being a psychic over here, but we did not talk of career or such. We were not friends there, you understand? He worked under me.”
“What did he do?”
“Experiments. There was one very long series with sensitive water. We had some sensitive water that a psychic had energized years ago. Every time it got low, we would mix it with new water and restore the supply…”
“Sensitive? You mean radioactive?”
Evgenovich is impatient with my dimness. “No, not a physical change. In fact, part of the experiments were to prove that there was no chemical change in the waters. If chemically different, then not psychic, yes?”
“So how do you know it was sensitive?”
The Soviet looks at me and I see a look he may have given a prisoner once or a disgraced private in the Red Army. Not that I care. “Another psychic can tell. He is out of the room, you see, maybe even behind lead. Depends on experiment. Dnieprovsky was very good at this. He could pick the sensitized water a good 80, 90% of the time.”
Categories: The Long Arm of the Law of Averages