“Les Nessman is at it again,” I informed Julius. “At this very moment he’s telling even more scurrilous lies about you than he was last week.”
Of course, the person I was referring to wasn’t really Les Nessman, since that’s the name of a character from the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati played by the actor Richard Sanders. But Linus Harnsworth, the real man in question, strongly resembled online photos and YouTube videos I’d found of Sanders as Nessman. He had the same slight build, the same lightbulb-shaped head and severely receding hairline, and the same bug-eyed, oblivious stare hidden under thick glasses. At that moment I was watching Harnsworth over a local TV news feed, and he was even dressed the same way Nessman typically dressed, with a polka-dot bow tie, white button-down shirt, and sports jacket. And Harnsworth, at thirty-nine, was the same age that Sanders would’ve been during the second season of WKRP. The one way that Harnsworth was very different from Nessman was his voice. Instead of a high-pitched squeak, Harnsworth’s voice was deep and rich, and sounded similar to audio recordings I’d found of Robert Mitchum, which seemed incongruous given his appearance. Still, I thought my Nessman reference deserved a reaction of some sort, and I got nothing. Not a scowl nor the crack of a smile from Julius. He acted as if he didn’t hear me. Instead, forty seconds later, he flipped another page of the six-hundred- and-eight-page biography of Samuel Johnson that he was engaged in, appearing as if he was too engrossed in it to pay any attention to what I said. I waited half a minute before trying again.
“Maybe he’s not lying,” I said. “That was only an assumption on my part. The fact is, I don’t know whether he’s lying or not. But regardless, Harnsworth is being interviewed on the local Channel Four news, and what he’s claiming is that you threatened his life last night.”
I waited another half-minute and all I got from Julius was another page flip.
If I’d had shoulders, I would’ve shrugged, but since I don’t I simply continued on while trying my best to sound unconcerned. “If it doesn’t bother you that he’s possibly defaming you right now, then I guess that’s your problem. All I know is what he’s saying, which is that you showed up at his door at eleven forty-seven last night and threatened to put a bullet in his chest if he didn’t stop his investigation. The reason I don’t know whether or not he’s defaming you is, as you know, you left me on your dresser bureau last night before going out. If you hadn’t, I’d be able to back you up on what really happened, assuming Harnsworth is the lying weasel that I’m guessing he is.”
Julius flinched. I could tell that he had hoped to keep ignoring me, but it was no longer possible. “Archie, please,” he said, a hint of annoyance showing in his voice. Whether this annoyance was for me or Harnsworth, I couldn’t tell. His attention remained focused on the page he was staring at as he added, “Not now. Later, perhaps, we can discuss this.”
“Later? You mean after your reputation has been completely trashed by this twerp?”
“Archie, now is not the time for this.”
“Sure, I understand. I appreciate how fascinating a historical and literary figure Samuel Johnson is, and that the biography you’ve got in your hands has been critically acclaimed, and that you just want to sit back and enjoy it and pretend none of this is happening. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is happening. It was bad enough last week when you did nothing after what he insinuated about you. This is much worse. The guy is right now publicly accusing you of felonious behavior—”
While I might be a two-inch rectangular piece of advanced computer technology that Julius wears as a tiepin, that’s not how I imagine myself. When I do picture myself, it’s as a stocky man in his thirties with thinning brown hair and a tough bulldog countenance. Julius, on seeing a photo I had generated of how I view myself, commented that it was how he would’ve imagined Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op to look, which makes sense given that all of Hammett’s books were used to program my knowledge base. The reason I’m mentioning this is that Julius interrupted me by taking out the earpiece that I communicate to him through, and the image that flashed vividly in my neuron network was of myself as a man with my jaw dropping open in stunned amazement.
For as much as three point four microseconds it felt as if my processing unit had frozen up, and I soon realized that the sensation I was experiencing was similar to being flabbergasted. There have been incidents in the past where I’ve annoyed Julius enough so that he’d turned me off, but this was the first time that he’s resorted to something as childish as taking out his earpiece.
Again, if I had shoulders I probably would’ve shrugged them. And if I had fingers, I might’ve used one of them in particular. But since I don’t, instead I did my equivalent of taking a deep breath to calm myself down, which was to analyze a classic chess game. When I was done, I focused on the matter at hand. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t figure out Julius’s apparent disinterest in what Harnsworth was doing. I didn’t have enough data points to figure it out. This was the first time I’d witnessed anyone outside of police detectives making unfounded accusations about Julius, and in those cases they were made to Julius in private and in the heat of the moment, not to the news media.
I would’ve expected Julius to do something about this, and not simply ignore it. What his reason was, other than, possibly, pure laziness, I had no idea, but I decided one of us needed to take it seriously, and I e-mailed him the video of Harnsworth’s TV interview. He ignored it, but at least I had tried. After that I hacked into Harnsworth’s bank and phone records and checked for recent activity, then made several phone calls, and soon had at least three small pieces of the Harnsworth puzzle solved.
Seven months ago Julius had attended socialite Doris Buckley’s monthly round-table dinner as her guest of honor. Normally Julius would’ve turned down the invitation. First, the dinner conflicted with his weekly poker game, and second, he considers having to perform for his dinner unseemly, and the guest of honor for Doris Buckley’s monthly dinners is expected to give a talk and entertain a question-and-answer session. Two factors made Julius begrudgingly accept this invitation: (1) Buckley was flying a hotshot chef, Marc Rousse, directly from Paris to cook for them, and, (2) she was promising to serve 2005 Château Petrus with dinner, a Bordeaux that went for four grand a bottle and something Julius had been wanting to add to his wine cellar for years. So he went to the dinner, and was given a tour of Buckley’s home, which was quite impressive; the highlight was her near-priceless eighteenth-century painting by the Dutch master Pieter de Berge. I can say near priceless because an insurance company coughed up sixteen million for it when it was reported stolen a month later. When exactly the painting was stolen no one, other than the thief involved, knew for sure, since Doris Buckley had locked up her small mansion immediately at the conclusion of her roundtable dinner so that she could vacation in Belize for four weeks, and the theft wasn’t discovered until the day before her next round-table dinner was scheduled. A week ago, Linus Harnsworth, who is a regular at Buckley’s dinners, accosted Julius at the Belvedere Club and insinuated that Julius had stolen the painting the night of the dinner, which is utter hogwash. But the twerp made his insinuations in a loud enough voice that they appeared the next day on the gossip pages of both Boston newspapers. I was amazed that Julius showed the restraint he did by not decking Harnsworth. He simply ignored him as if he weren’t there. I don’t think I would’ve been able to. While Harnsworth was broadcasting his tripe loud enough for the rest of the room to hear, I felt an excess of heat building up in my processing unit, which I knew from past experience was a sensation similar to anger. Later, while Julius was leaving the Belvedere Club, I asked him about Harnsworth’s outburst, but he simply seemed bemused by the incident.
At six-thirty, Julius bookmarked his place in the Samuel Johnson biography, and after he put the book on his desk, he reinserted his earpiece so that I could talk to him if I chose to. Matter-of-factly, I remarked about the video I had e-mailed him, which he hadn’t bothered to look at. He grunted back a response, thanking me, but adding that he had no reason to look at it at this time, nor could he even if he wanted to since he needed to get ready for a seven-thirty dinner reservation he had with Lily Rosten. He didn’t need to tell me that, since I had booked the reservation for him, as well as arranging for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to the restaurant for Lily.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
Julius had gotten up off his chair at this point and was heading out of the office. He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Archie?”
“You don’t seem to care about this.”
Julius sighed softly, his lips showing the trace of a grimace. “That’s not true,” he said. “But I choose, for the moment, not to do anything.”
I considered this for several seconds, and while Julius was heading up the staircase to the second level of his townhouse, I asked him why this was, although I had a good idea of what he was going to tell me.
“The man is trying to stir me to action, and I’m curious as to what he is going to try next.”
“You didn’t go to his residence last night?”
Julius made a face as if he had sipped vinegar. “Of course not, Archie.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think there was much chance of you doing that. Last night you arrived home at precisely eleven minutes past twelve. Can anyone corroborate where you were at the time that Harnsworth is claiming you threatened him?”
“I’m afraid not, Archie.” Since Julius did have shoulders, he was able to shrug them, even if it was only a slight shrug. “At that time I would’ve been alone. A pity I didn’t take a cab home, but it was a nice night for walking.”
That answered where Julius had walked home from. Le Che Cru, where Julius and Lily had dinner, would’ve been a nine-minute walk to Julius’s Beacon Hill townhouse, so if he was walking from there he would’ve had witnesses to corroborate where he was at eleven forty-seven. Lily Rosten’s apartment, however, would’ve been a twenty-nine minute walk. I didn’t bother filling Julius in on this part of my junior-detective work.
I told Julius I found it interesting that that twerp had specified the exact time the way he did. “He could’ve been gambling that you were home alone and wouldn’t have witnesses to vouch for you,” I said. “But it would’ve been a bad gamble, especially given how you and Lily are a known item these days. It made me suspicious enough to hack into Harnsworth’s bank accounts and phone records. And guess what I found? Two days ago Harnsworth made a cash withdrawal for five hundred dollars, which is what you’d expect some cut-rate detective would want for a retainer, and early this morning Harnsworth received a phone call from just such a cut-rate private eye, Pete Carney. And please excuse any unintended insult in my implying that you and that bottom feeder Carney are members of the same profession.”
Julius was in the process of picking out a tie to wear that evening. A grim smile twisted his lips. “No offense taken, Archie.”
“Good. I called Carney after I discovered this and asked him point blank whether Harnsworth hired him to follow you. I thought I’d catch him off guard, and I did. He denied it, of course, but the way he stammered out his denial gave him away just the same.”
Julius chuckled at that. He had picked out a rich solid-gray silk tie, and slid me off the one he was presently wearing so he could unknot that one. While he placed me on his dresser bureau, he kept his earpiece in.
“Very good, Archie.” He hesitated, then added, “You didn’t call Harnsworth, did you?”
“No, I figured it would be best to leave that to you. I did make several other calls. I saw on Harnsworth’s phone records that he had contacted the Boston office of Pritchard of London, which is the outfit that insured the painting he’s all but accusing you of stealing. While I couldn’t get anyone there to tell me what he called about, I did find out they’re offering a standard ten-percent reward, which is one point six million, for the return of the painting. I’m guessing that Harnsworth has it in his head that he can bully you into tracking it down, and that somehow he plans to take ownership when you do so he can return it for the reward money.”
“It’s the best I’ve been able to come up with to explain why he’s doing what he is, although I think it’s kind of nuts of him to think that he’d be able to grab the painting from you if you’re able to find it.” I hesitated, then added, “That lowlife Carney is probably waiting out front to tail you again tonight. If you slip out through the back patio, you should be able to shake him easily enough.”
“You’re probably right, Archie. Thank you. I’ll consider that.”
Julius had finished tying a Windsor knot for the gray silk tie he had picked out and was in the process of attaching a sterling-silver tiepin to it when I made a sound as if I were clearing my throat and said, “With all this nonsense going on with Harnsworth, don’t you think it would be wise to bring me along tonight? You might need me.”
Julius’s expression became slightly pinched. “Archie, Lily doesn’t feel quite comfortable yet—”
“Yeah, I know, she thinks I’m eavesdropping on her. I’m not. And if she’d like, I could filter out her voice, as well as her visually, so she can rest assured that I won’t be seeing or listening to her.”
Julius attempted a weak smile. “Give it more time, Archie. She’ll get used to you. For tonight it would be best if I didn’t bring you. And regardless of whether Linus Harnsworth behaves himself, it won’t matter.”
I wanted to argue with Julius, but it wouldn’t have done any good, so I didn’t bother. He removed his earpiece and placed it next to me on his dresser bureau, and after he adjusted his tie and suit jacket, he ran a brush through his hair and left the room. I followed him over the webcam feeds as he made his way through the townhouse. He didn’t take my advice to use the back patio, and instead left through the front door. I tried searching for Carney using the feed from the webcam planted by a front lamppost, but if he was hiding out there waiting for Julius, he was doing so outside of the camera’s range.
Harnsworth had done interviews that day for all five of the local TV news stations. Since Julius showed no interest in watching them, I thought at least one of us should, so I went through them all—not that I imagined his story would change much from one to the other. In each of them, Harnsworth gave mostly the same spiel. He’d start off explaining his rationale for why he suspected Julius of the theft, which was that given the foolproof security system Doris Buckley had in place, the Pieter de Berge painting had to have been stolen the night of the round-table dinner, and that meant Julius had to be the one to steal it—since if anyone else had stolen it, Julius, being such a brilliant detective, would know who the thief was. There were plenty of holes in his theory. While Buckley’s security system might’ve been expensive, after studying it, as well as the blueprints for Buckley’s small mansion, I came up with four different ways that the security could’ve been bypassed and the painting stolen, and I was sure there had to be professional thieves who’d be able to come up with one of those methods on their own. But Harnsworth was adamant that his theory showed Julius was the only one who could’ve stolen the painting, and that his theory was proved when Julius threatened him at his door.
That was the story Harnsworth gave in his first three interviews. In his fourth interview, he expanded the story, claiming he had heard rumors of Julius approaching a shadowy figure involved in the selling of stolen artwork about finding a buyer for Doris Buckley’s painting. In the fifth, he insisted that when Julius had accosted him the previous night he’d boasted that his involvement in the theft could never be proved so Harnsworth might as well stop trying while he was still breathing.
All in all, it was an interesting performance. Julius is an expert at reading a person’s tell—mannerisms that give away when someone is bluffing or lying. As long as I’ve got video to analyze of someone both lying and telling the truth I can almost always identify the tell also. At first, it looked like I would have a hard time finding Harnsworth’s tell, given how much he was lying, but once I got to where he began expanding his story, it jumped out at me. It was how he’d blink rapidly three times in succession when he told one of his whoppers. With his tell figured out, I set out to build a more extensive profile on Harnsworth, and I was in the process of doing that when the phone rang at nine minutes past eight. Whoever was calling was doing so from a pay phone, but once I heard his voice I put him on hold and called Julius on his cell phone.
“Linus Harnsworth called the office line sixteen seconds ago from a pay phone in Cambridge. I did a voice analysis to verify it’s him, and it is, and I’ve got him on hold right now. Do you want me to patch him through to your cell phone?”
“No, that won’t be necessary.”
“So what do you want me to do? Hang up on him? Take a message? Question him? Something else?”
“Taking a message will be sufficient. Goodnight, Archie.”
That goodnight told me two things. Not to call him again that evening, and he wasn’t expecting to come home that night. So he was going to be taking things to the next level with Lily, and it looked like I’d be spending many more evenings and nights sitting alone on Julius’s dresser bureau. Fine. I wasn’t about to let that bother me. When I got back to Harnsworth, he demanded, “Katz? Is that you?”
“Julius isn’t available—”
“You better damn well make him available!”
“That’s not going to happen. Either leave a message or don’t. It’s your choice.”
“Look here, you better put Katz on the phone—”
I hung up on him. Forty-four seconds later the phone rang again, which was probably the amount of time he needed to dig more change out of his pocket and dial Julius’s number.
“We’re not going to be playing this game all night,” I growled at him. “You’ve got one last chance to leave a message. After that I’m not picking up the phone again. Understood?”
Harnsworth’s voice became indignant as he said, “You tell your boss that I’m on to him. I know everything now, and unless he meets me at this address at precisely eleven-thirty tonight I will make sure that he’s locked up by tomorrow. You tell him that!”
Harnsworth gave me an address in Cambridge that was several blocks from the pay phone he was using. While I don’t have lips, I can whistle easily enough by programming my voice synthesizer, and I let out a long one right then. The guy was certifiable. That was all I could think of. I debated whether to interrupt Julius’s dinner to give him that message, and in the end I decided I’d better. When I got Julius back on his cell phone, I asked whether he wanted a recording, for me to give him the message verbatim, or a summary. He asked for a summary, which I gave him.
“I’m sorry about interfering with your evening,” I told him. “And please apologize to Lily for me. I wasn’t sure what to do about that message.”
“You did the right thing, Archie, but if he calls back you don’t need to relay any further messages to me.”
“Okay. Sure. I’m guessing Harnsworth called from a pay phone instead of using his cell phone because he didn’t want any record of the call being made.”
“A reasonable assumption, Archie.”
“Yeah, I thought so. I also have a new theory on why Harnsworth has been doing all this. And it’s because the guy’s nuts. A delusional paranoid who should be locked up.”
“Possibly. Again, goodnight.”
There was more than a hint of scepticism in Julius’s voice when he said possibly. And the way he said goodnight, it was clear he didn’t want me calling him again. Still, three hours and forty-two minutes later I had no choice.
“Yes, Archie?” Julius asked, some exasperation in his voice.
“Yeah, I know, you didn’t want me disturbing you again tonight, but it can’t be helped. I need to know whether you’ve got an alibi for eleven thirty-seven tonight. If you’ve got nothing, that’s bad. And if all you’ve got is Lily, that’s not much better. Juries tend to be sceptical when a defendant’s only got a wife or girlfriend vouching for him.”
“What’s this about?” Julius asked coldly.
“At eleven thirty-seven tonight Linus Harnsworth was shot dead on Doris Buckley’s property, which, by the way, is less than two blocks from the address where Harnsworth wanted to meet you. The time of the shooting might not be a hundred percent accurate, but that’s the time Buckley claims she heard a gunshot. She’s also claiming that she looked out a window and saw a man wearing a dark coat running from Harnsworth’s body, and from her description, the man could easily be you, especially since you were wearing your brown cashmere coat tonight. So that’s why I’m asking about alibis and whether you’ve got one that will hold up. Because if you don’t, a better option might be for you to go on the lam. I can get you on a plane leaving in forty minutes to San Antonio, and from there safe passage into Mexico, and then on a cruise ship to Argentina—”
“Archie, enough of that. Has this made the news yet?”
“Not yet. I picked up a police dispatch to Buckley’s address, and then hacked into the Cambridge Police Department’s computer system to get the rest of it. An arrest warrant hasn’t been issued yet, but I’m sure one will be soon.”
“You could be right.” This was followed by four point six seconds of silence from Julius, during which I imagined his features hardening as he sorted through his options. When he spoke next, he asked me to get ahold of Henry Zack and arrange for Henry to meet him back at the townhouse as soon as possible. Henry was Julius’s attorney, and Julius had him on twenty-four-hour call for emergencies. He’d gotten Julius out of sticky legal situations in the past.
“Archie, also call Tom Durkin,” Julius added. “Please apologize to Tom for the lateness of the call. If he’s available for an immediate assignment, have him call me on my cell phone. If he’s not available, try Saul, and if Saul’s not available, try Willie. I also need you to track down a home or cell-phone number of the head of the Boston office of Pritchard of London, and when you have it, call me back with it.”
Tom Durkin, Saul Penzer, and Willie Cather were all freelance private investigators that Julius would call upon frequently. All were good, although Tom was the most reliable in tricky situations. The head of Pritchard of London’s Boston office was one Landon Caulfield, and I already had both his home and cell-phone numbers so I texted them to Julius’s cell phone. Julius asked me to send a cab to Lily’s apartment to pick him up and take him back to his townhouse, so at least he saw the urgency of not spending twenty-nine minutes walking home.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go on the lam?” I asked him. “I can still get you on that plane to San Antonio.”
“No, Archie, I think I’ll try it this way.”
Julius reattached me to his tie when he returned to his townhouse. He ended up beating Henry Zack by seven minutes, which gave Julius time to ask me for profiles on Doris Buckley and the other four remaining regular members of her monthly round table. Since I already had these printed and waiting for him, he had a chance to study them for a whole six minutes before his attorney was at the front door. Julius proceeded to bring Henry to the kitchen, where he started brewing a pot of French-roast coffee while he filled Henry in on the situation. Henry’s expression turned increasingly incredulous as he listened.
“I caught Harnsworth’s interview on Channel Four earlier,” Henry said. “I was planning to talk to you about it. Is there anything at all to his claims, or were they completely fabricated, as I suspected?”
“Completely fabricated. I have an idea about what was behind it all, but I’d rather not share it presently.”
Henry raised an eyebrow about that but didn’t argue with Julius. “And you expect the police to be arresting you tonight?”
Since Julius had his earpiece in I could’ve just told him this news, but he had instructed me to call if this happened, so I did. “An arrest warrant has just been issued,” I told him. “The lead detective on the case is your old buddy, Cramer. It’s probably too late for you to fly out of Boston, but it doesn’t look like they’ve alerted Providence airport yet. It might not be too late to get you out of the country.”
Julius muttered, “Thank you, Archie,” into the phone. He hung up on me and told Henry that it was now a certainty. “As you can guess, that was Archie,” Julius said. “I have him on assignment concerning what we’ve talked about, and he has learned that an arrest warrant has just been issued. We should expect Cambridge’s finest to be arriving within the next ten minutes.”
Henry frowned severely. “I don’t like this, Julius. Not at all. Even if we were to have Lily back you up on your alibi—”
“I don’t want Lily to have to be subjected to police questioning.”
“I understand.” Henry rubbed a hand across his jaw as he continued to frown. “But what I was saying is, even with her claiming she was with you all night, I don’t like this.” He paused for a moment, his frown deepening. “A jury can be a funny thing. So can human nature. People love to tear down their heroes. A sworn affidavit from Lily wouldn’t keep the police from arresting you, and could very well not keep a jury from convicting you. From what you’ve told me, the case against you is highly circumstantial, but it doesn’t look good when a man is shot dead the same day he goes on every local news station claiming you’ve threatened his life. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that we’ve got an eyewitness describing the killer as someone who could’ve been you. All I can say is, I hope this plan of yours works.”
Julius smiled thinly. “Archie suggested I go on the lam,” he said.
Henry had stopped rubbing his jaw and instead pulled slightly on his bottom lip. His eyes were deep in thought as he considered my suggestion to Julius.
“That might not have been a bad idea . . .”
# # #