CASE NO. 770:

October 13, 1961

. . .

From the Files of

Ronald Archer, Private Investigator

. . .

By Ted White

It was a side street on the East Side. I found the address and then looked at my scrawled note again. It said "basement", so I pushed open the little gate in the fence and took the metal steps down to the door under the front stoop. I pushed a doorbell button, but it looked like it had been painted over too often, so I knocked on the door several times.

The woman who opened the door was not at all what I'd expected. She was tall, with short-cut dark hair and a questioning smile. She wasn't pretty, but she wasn't plain either. And her voice, as she invited me in after I identified myself, had just a bit of a southern drawl.

I followed her into a dark hallway and almost immediately through the door on my left, into what I guessed was the small apartment's living room. It too was dark, but cozy. The windows high on the street wall were curtained, but no light came through them and I guessed they'd been painted over. She gestured to the sofa against that wall, and I sat. She pulled up a three-legged stool and sat facing me. Only a low table lamp on an end table to my right cast any light.

I looked around. Walls of bookcases, filled with books, magazines, and record albums. My sense that I was in a cozy cave was heightened when I noticed the wall to my right. The table lamp illuminated the browned plaster wall, on which someone had created a startlingly realistic cave-painting -- a bison-like animal, with spears sticking in it.

"I did that," she said, laughing. "Everyone says I live in a cave, so I decided to decorate it as a cave. Do you like it?"

"Very impressive," I said. "We could be in France."

She laughed again. We were in Manhattan, New York City. Then her expression sobered. "I need to explain this job to you. I don't think it's the sort you're used to."

I could tell that already.

. . .

Her name was Shirley, and she'd called my office that morning. She explained that she couldn't leave her apartment and asked me to meet her there. "It's not like I'm an invalid and can't leave," she told me on the phone. "But I'm expecting several important phone calls and maybe a messenger, and I just don't know when they'll come."

I'd asked her if she wanted to come to my office tomorrow or the day after, but she'd explained that all her days were like this, and I'd agreed to come to her place, scrawling down the address in my notepad. "Basement," she'd said. "Separate entrance. Don't go upstairs. Don't use the front door." And I hadn't.

I'm Ron Archer, and I'm a private detective. Don't look at me like that. I've never been on TV and nobody is going to make a movie about my life. I do divorce work and serve papers, mostly. It's a living. I know Shirley's neighborhood, because she lived around the corner from the Five Spot and the Jazz Gallery, and I liked to hang out in those clubs nights I wasn't working.

"I want to hire you to find a man," Shirley told me. He's supposed to live in Evanston, Illinois, but my last letter to him came back, undelivered. I've heard rumors he might be here, in New York right now, maybe for a week or two, and then he's driving out to California. I need to talk to him before he leaves."

I told her that finding someone in New York City was something I could do, but if I had to make any trips to Chicago -- Evanston was a suburb of Chicago -- I'd have to charge her my expenses, and they wouldn't be cheap.

"I'll give you some phone numbers out there," she said. "Maybe you'll have better luck with them than I did." Then she explained to me why she needed to talk to this guy.

"I'm a writer and an editor," Shirley told me. And maybe she was an artist on the side, I guessed. "There's this one magazine I do which is kinda unusual. It comes out once every five years, on a rigid schedule -- November, every five years. Here it is October, and an issue is due next month. He started a serial in the last issue, and his next installment is due, and I don't have it yet."

"A serial -- with installments every five years?" I asked.

I guess I didn't keep the skepticism out of my voice, because her response was a sharp one. "I don't ask you to understand why this is important to me," she said. "But I'm willing to pay your going rate if you can find him. The question is, can you?"

I could and I would.

. . .

I got the phone calls to Evanston out of the way first. My man's home phone was disconnected. Illinois Bell told me that service had been cancelled, the bill paid. Moved out. Gone.

Another phone number was for something called Regency Books, but when I called it the woman who answered said, "Blake Pharmacuticals," which threw me for a moment. But I asked for my guy. "I'm sorry," she said. "He's no longer here. Would you like to speak to Ayjay?"

"Who's that?"

"He's the new editor."

My guy's replacement? "Sure," I said. "Let me talk to him."

He was no help at all. First he wanted to know who I was, where I was calling from, and what I knew about him, He was all questions and no answers.

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"The garage showed two cars, quietly not burning."

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He seemed strangely suspicious of my call and of me. "Who put you up to this?" was his repeated response to my attempts to ask him questions. Then he growled and hung up on me.

I called back and got the receptionist again. "Mr. Ayjay didn't work out too well," I told her. "Is there anybody else there I can talk to?"

She put me through to a man who said, "This is Earl," in a rich southern accent. "How can I help you?" Once again I explained who I was trying to find.

He's not here any more," Earl told me. "Palace coup, you know what I mean? He brought in Ayjay as his assistant -- they were old friends -- and Ayjay went to the owner, the boss man, and took his job. The irony was that he was planning to leave in a month or two, and he was grooming Ayjay to replace him, but Ayjay couldn't wait. It got pretty nasty, the day he came in and found Ayjay sitting at his desk, all his own stuff already packed in a box on the floor by the door. Loud words were spoken. I was downstairs and I could hear more than I wanted to. I mean, I'm still working here...."

"Apparently he's left Evanston," I told Earl. "His phone's been turned off."

He laughed. "Yeah, he and Billie and the kid, they've split."


"Gone. Left. Amscrayed. Packed everything into their car and pulled up stakes."

"Where to? Do you know?"

"You're calling from New York City?"


'Well, watch the tunnels and bridges -- the approaches to the city. Watch for an overloaded car with a short man, a big blonde, and a 12-year-old kid. They're coming your way.

"To New York, you say?"

"Yup. You got it."

Earl gave me three names and wished me luck. One of those names was my client's.

. . .

Both of the other names were, I saw when I cross-checked their phone numbers with their addresses, located on the same block of Christopher Street in the Village. 95 and 107 Christopher St. I took the 7th Avenue IRT local from my office down to Sheridan Square. That was where Christopher Street crossed 7th Avenue. It was one of the older and nicer parts of the Village. There was an A&P at the corner of Christopher and 7th, and next to it a little deli where I scarfed down a quick lunch.

Heading west on Christopher I crossed Bleeker Street and there was 95 Christopher -- a tall luxury apartment building, with a doorman. That was where Miss Solomon lived. A few doors farther west was 107 -- a more typical tenement building with no doorman and no elevator. The guy who lived there had an apartment on the fifth floor -- out of six.

I'd decided to try him first. I'd called from my office and his wife said he'd gone out but she expected him back within minutes. "He just went to the A&P for some Pepsis," she told me in a young, girlish voice. Miss Solomon had not answered her phone.

I was out of breath by

the time I'd climbed four flights

of stairs and knocked on the

apartment door. It was opened

by a stunningly good-looking

slender young woman, who

ruined her looks by frowning

at me. "Yes? What do you

want?" she asked coldly. I

have that effect on some people,

unfortunately. I am not a

handsome man.

I told her I'd called

earlier, and I asked if her husband

was back. Her face brightened.

"Oh, sure. Come on in. He's

writing something right now,

but ...

I followed her down a

short hallway and into what was

obviously the living room. Beyond

a pair of closed French doors I could

hear the sounds of typing and see

into a room with a desk and a man

with his back to me at a typewriter.

A small tiger-striped cat looked up

at me from the living room couch

and then stretched itself and rose

and leapt to the floor to come over

and sniff my shoes, after which it

rubbed itself against my ankles. I

reached down to pet it, and it

immediately began purring.

That's Aphrodite," the

woman explained. She's a slut."

She grinned at me. "She wants you

to pick her up." I did, and the cat's

purring got louder.

At that point one of the French doors opened and a young man entered the room. He was average height, skinny and fully bearded. "Hi," he said. "I see you've already met the important people here."

I returned the cat to the couch and shook his proffered hand. "I'm looking for a man," I said. I told them his name. I heard you might know -- "

"Oh, they were here just yesterday," the woman said. "You should've told me -- on the phone, I mean. I coulda told you and saved you the trip."

Her husband amplified: "They just drove in from Chicago. It's really sad. They're breaking up." He smiled ruefully. "I introduced them to each other just -- well, not much over a year ago."

"They gave us a bunch of kitchen stuff," the young woman said.

"He gave me a suit," he added. "You wouldn't think of it fitting, but our arms and legs are pretty much the same length. It's his torso that's shorter."

"They're heading out to Los Angeles," she said. "Driving out in that car."

"Hope they make it," he said.

"Have they left already?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I don't think so. Not yet. He has business here to wrap up. See his agent, see a couple editors."

"He's a writer?" I asked. "Or an editor?"

"Both," they chorused together. The young man amplified. "We're all writers and editors. Both professionally and fannishly."

"'Fannishly'?" I asked.

"It's too complicated to explain," he said, shrugging. "We're all science fiction fans, too. And he writes science fiction, professionally."

"Do you, too?"

"I'd like to. I've started a couple of stories. But right now I'm a journalist. I write for jazz magazines -- like Metronome."

I'd heard of Metronome, but I usually read Down Beat. "So if I picked up a copy, I'd find you in it?"

"You sure would. I'm all over that magazine. I do a column, I do record reviews, club date reviews, book reviews -- "

"What about the man I'm looking for? Is he in Metronome too?"

"No," he said. Then he picked up a copy of a digest-sized magazine sitting on a coffee table. It was an issue of Amazing Stories. He pointed to the cover, and there was my quarry's name in big letters on the cover. "This is where you'll find him."

"Yeah, well, that's all very well, but I need to find him in person. Any idea where he is now?"

The young woman said, "You could try Linda's."

"That would be Linda Solomon? Just up the street?"

"Yeah." her husband said. "He used to live in that building. Back before the job in Evanston. He stayed with us for a month or so and then he bribed the doorman and got an apartment there. That's how he met Linda. She's also a writer."

"A very good-looking writer," his wife added.

. . .

She certainly was. I gave her name at the desk in the lobby and she was home and said I could come up. An elevator took me to her floor and if I was breathless when she opened the door, it had nothing to do with the trip up.

Miss Solomon was in her early thirties -- older by nearly ten years than the young couple down the street -- she wore her dark hair to her shoulders. She was dressed in what I can only call elegant casual -- simple but expensive clothes. Her apartment matched her attire. Only a set of four unmatched suitcases in her foyer clashed with the décor.

She looked me up and down. "You'll have to forgive me," she said with a coquettish smile. "I've never before met a real live private detective. You don't look much like the ones on TV."

For one split second I entertained the notion of suggesting we go out for a drink. Then I remembered that I was years older and that this was just another job. And for all I know, Miss Solomon greeted every stranger this warmly. So I told her why I was there.

"He's here," she said. "Oh, not right now, but he's staying here." She gestured at the suitcases. "Billie and her son are staying at her mother's place in Queens, but he'll be back here, sooner or later."

I looked at the suitcases. They looked packed and ready to go. She answered my unasked question. "He's totally organized. Every morning he packs up everything. Says he doesn't want to be in my way." I realized the smaller fourth suitcase wasn't. It was a portable typewriter.

"He use that thing while he's here?" I asked.

"As a matter of fact, yes. He wrote a complete story on it last night. He insisted on reading it to me, every three or four pages, while he was writing it." She gave me a rueful grin, like I should sympathize with her, and then admitted, "It was pretty good, actually."

"No," she said. "It was called -- what was it called? 'Robert White for the Greater Good,' I think it was. Contemporary. Race relations, you know?"

"So what do you suggest?" I asked. "I come back here later...?"

"Or you could wait around," she said. "Could I get you something to drink?"

. . .

I was still there two hours later when my man used a key to enter Miss Solomon's apartment. We were listening to an old Mildred Bailey cut on a sampler album of vintage jazz when the door flew dramatically open.

"Wow! Shit! That's Mildred Bailey!" exclaimed a short wiry man who seemed to explode into the room and fill it with his presence. "That's John Lewis's band, right?"

"Actually, no," I said. "John Kirby's." I rose from the couch, lad there were no obvious signs on either Miss Solomon or myself of what we'd spent the previous couple of hours doing, and thrust my hand out and introduced myself.

His grip was very firm. Close up he wasn't more than half my size, but he seemed bigger. It was the energy that seemed to emanate from him, all but shooting off sparks. And he talked a mile a minute.

"Kirby? Nah! Gotta be Lewis. I know it's John Lewis! Lemme see the album jacket, sweetheart."

"That's pre-World War Two," I said, mildly. "John Lewis wasn't working professionally before the war. Got his start in the Army band."

"What? Are you sure? Nah, can't be. Lemme see that, honey." He grabbed the jacket out of Miss Solomon's hands and started scanning the small print on its back eagerly. "Gotta be John Lewis, gotta be! Lessee, where is it? I'll bet you anything!" Then, his attention focused, his face fell as he read the liner notes for the Mildred Bailey track. "Well, fuck! I guess you're right...."

His clouded expression cleared. "So, okay," he said. "You wanted to see me, and here I am. What's it about?"

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"It's not in his interest to over-egg the pudding."

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I told him. In a dramatic gesture he smote his brow and exclaimed, "Oh damn! I knew I was forgetting something! I promised her, too! Well, hell. I'll have to do something about that. Listen, you doing anything later? Tonight, I mean?"

I'd been mulling some ideas, but nothing had jelled yet, so I shook my head.

"I'm going to a party, just down the street." He named the young couple I'd visited at 107 Christopher. "They're throwing a small impromptu party for me. This is my last night in town. Tomorrow I'm heading west. You come to that party and I'll give you the piece for Lee."

"'Lee'?" I asked.

"Lee -- Shirley -- same person." His face grew sober, intent. "Listen, Lee is one of the best people in the whole world. I would do anything for her. Anything! I will not let her down! You can bank on that!"

"Will she be at the party?" I asked.

"She doesn't go out much," he said. "Not the partying type. But you be there and I'll give you my piece for her."

"Is there some reason you can't just give it to her yourself?"

"Yeah. There is. But I'm not gonna share it with you, okay?" He walked me to the apartment door, his body language expressing an impatience to be rid of me right then. He opened the door for me.

I looked over him at Miss Solomon. She gave me a wink. I think that is the very first time a woman has ever actually winked at me.

. . .

Dinner was two hot dogs with mustard at Needick's, standing up. But a couple of hours after that I ponderously climbed the four flights of stairs at 107 Christopher for a second time.

This time I could hear music -- more jazz, but contemporary, Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" -- and voices as I approached the apartment door. When I knocked, the same young woman opened the door, this time giving me a wide smile of recognition.

"He said you'd be back," she said in greeting. "Come on in."

There were maybe a dozen people in the apartment. The French doors were both wide open, effectively doubling the size of the living room, and people were wandering through both rooms, talking over the music blaring from a hi-fi system. Most of them were young -- teens or just post-teens -- and most of them were male. In addition to our hostess I saw Miss Solomon and one other woman, a middle-aged woman who was talking animatedly with my man.

He looked up at my entrance -- I was not only probably the oldest person there but the biggest -- and a guilty look flickered briefly across his face. "I'm sorry, Noreen," he said to the woman next to him, "but I made a promise and it's time to make good on that promise." He nodded at me. "Hold your horses, big guy."

He turned to address the room, and at that provident moment the record ended and there was a momentary silence in conversation. "Okay, guys," he announced, his voice drawing everyone's attention. "You all know that I started a serial in Science-Fiction Five-Yearly #2. And now the next installment's due. This big guy is a local enforcer" -- he gestured at me and there was nervous laughter from a couple of the younger guys who looked like high school kids -- "here to see that I do it." There was ragged applause.

"That's what you need, all right," said our host, the skinny bearded guy. "You need an enforcer!" Everyone laughed.

"Can I use your typer, Ted?"

"Sure. What do you need? Paper's in the first drawer on your right, carbon's in the second drawer."

"That'll do me." And with that, the party still swirling around him, my guy settled in at the typewriter on the desk, assembled a sandwich of paper and carbons, rolled it into the Underwood manual, and began to write. He wrote in quick staccato bursts, his fingers flying on the keyboard, the only punctuation his occasional bark of laughter at what he'd written.

Less than twenty minutes later he pulled the final page from the typewriter, and began collating the original and two carbon copies into three neat stacks. Later, when I looked at the manuscript he'd given me, I saw that it was impeccably typed, error free.

One of the high school kids asked him, "You gonna read it to us now?" Apparently this was not the first time my guy had written something in the middle of a party, and those who were there had expectations.

"Normally I would," he said. "Normally I would, but not this time. This is for the Hoffwoman. This is special. You'll et to read this installment when she publishes it. You gotta wait."

And with that, he handed me the original copy of the manuscript. I folded it in thirds and tucked it into my jacket's inside pocket, and thanked him.

"That was pretty neat," I told him. "Good party trick."

He laughed. "My pleasure, man. My pleasure."

I looked into the other room. Miss Solomon was surrounded by teenaged boys. Their tongues were all but hanging out. She looked up and our eyes locked and we exchanged brief grins. I knew I'd be seeing her again, after the suitcases were gone from her foyer. That was something to look forward to, after I'd delivered the manuscript.

And I wondered if I'd run into my guy again, sometime. He seemed like somebody I'd be hearing about, one way or another.

Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan

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