FIAWOL, MY LOVELY
- A Rex Rotary Mystery -
(This was written sometime in the mid '90s. I know I submitted it to someone at the time - Arnie Katz, maybe? Since the fans who appear thinly disguised in the tale are all American, I obviously intended it for a US fanzine, but if it ever saw print I never saw the fanzine in question. So, anyway, it's possible this is in fact its first appearance anywhere.)
The name's Rotary, Rex Rotary, and I'm a private investigator. I'm told I'm good at what I do but, as one look at the hovel I call my office would tell all but the thickest of fans, this has never translated into material success. My one-man operation is strictly downtown, so I couldn't have been more surprised when an uptown lady like her came to me with her problem. It had been another slow day, not helped by the ongoing mail-workers strike (a very serious matter in this town) and I was eating lunch, spooning the beans up straight from the can, while listening to the mellifluous tones of Hoop Andrews, on the ancient radio I keep on the filing cabinet next to my desk. Fandom City would be electing a new mayor in a few weeks so Hoop had decided to do his usual entertaining hatchet-job, complete with scurrilous rumours, on the candidates for the two major parties: Jonathan Beale for the NFFF, and Marcus Kane for the BSFA. I wasn't a fan of the New Fandom Freedom Forum or of Better Serconity For All since both parties seemed pretty irrelevant to an ordinary Joe like me, political hacks more interested in organisation for its own sake than in improving the lot of the city's residents, and I was only half-listening to the show when she walked in to my office.
"Mr Rotary?" she said, "My name's Melissa Roland, and I need your help."She frowned, obviously uncertain whether she should risk the skirt of her expensive cream silk suit on the admittedly dusty chair. There was little chance of damage since the rough edges of the various tears in the plastic upholstery were firmly secured by a web of duct tape, a conclusion she soon came to herself. My concentration was total as I watched her lower her exquisite body into the chair and cross her perfect legs.
"So what brings one of this city's top models to my office?"With that she got to her feet, we shook hands, and she left. Not a lady to waste time, but then in both our professions time is money. Of course, her time is considerably more valuable than mine, as evidenced by the cheque she'd left me. I whistled when I read it; it would cover my time for the next three months. Rich and gorgeous. What a shame she was Marcus Kane's longtime girlfriend; a woman like that was just what this gumshoe needed to sort his life out. Oh, well.
My first port of call was the police department and my favourite homicide detective, Inspector Patty-Sue Isaacs. Not that anyone ever called her Patty-Sue; not if they didn't want their lungs torn out, that is. No, to one and all she was 'Ike'. I needed to see the police report on Gary Roland's death and also to thank Ike for putting this job my way. However, I got there only to find she was out on a case and her long-suffering assistant, Sergeant Smith, wouldn't let me see the file without her direct okay. He was immovable on this, immune to my charm, but he did tell me where she was. I needed to see that report before I went any further, so I had no choice but to drive over to the scene of the crime she was investigating.
The Berrytown district was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and is full of the solid structures they erected at the end of what was one of the most creatively fertile periods the city has ever known. I found Ike in ATom Memorial Park, having had to abandon my car well before the police barriers thanks to the press and sightseers who'd gathered. Fortunately, the cops staffing the barriers knew me and they let me through. They were already loading the body into an ambulance when I finally reached Ike. She was gingerly examining a syringe.
"See this, Rotary," she said, "it was used to pump corflu into that poor shmuck's veins, and he didn't do it himself."I didn't much like the idea of trudging through all those streets to get back to my car so I was pleased, if a little surprised, to spot it the other side of a chain-link fence and across a piece of waste ground adjacent to the park. I quickly located a gap in the fence, squeezed through, and carefully picked my way across the uneven ground. The land was only a spur of a much larger site of several acres and I was glad it only took me a minute or so to cross it. A useful short-cut.
Back at the police department, the first thing Ike did was bawl me out for messing up the floor of her office.
"Jesus, Rotary, you're staining this nice linoleum the department has been so gracious as to provide us with. What is that shit, anyway?"She was right. I'd left a trail of purple footprints. I looked at the soles of my shoes, which were sticky with the stuff.
"Sorry 'bout that," I said, sheepishly, "I must have picked it up on that waste ground I crossed."According to the file, Gary Roland died as a result of suffocating on electrostenciller dust. Apparently, he took a sleeping pill then donned an oxygen mask attached to the exhaust of an electrostenciller fitted with a deadman's switch. As soon as he nodded off he released the switch, the machine came on, and he died. No suicide note, but also no signs of forced entry, struggle, or foul play, hence the assumption of suicide. The biographical data matched that given me by his sister. Briefly, he studied microbiology at Willis University, writing a thesis I couldn't even understand the title of but which was something to do with genetically engineering bacteria, graduating with honours and going on to work for KaneCo, the company owned by our very own NFFF candidate for mayor. No known girlfriends (or boyfriends, for that matter). Seems he devoted himself to his work. If it was suicide, no-one could give a reason, although he'd been upset over some big bust-up with Kane that he wouldn't talk about. Suddenly remembering something, I pulled out the wallet and keys his sister had given me. The battered metal fob on his key-chain had the crest of Willis University on one side and an inscription on the other: 'All my love forever, Sarah'. Hmmmn. Looks like he had a girlfriend at some point in the past after all. I went through his wallet hoping to find a photo but wasn't too surprised when I didn't. In fact there was nothing of any interest in there except for a small business card from something called 'Club di Stefano' whose emblem was a winged stylus. I was wondering how significant this might be when the door to the office burst open and Ike stormed in.
"We've got another murder," she said, grabbing her coat, "this time on the West Side. Wanna tag along?"
Laneyburg is a nice area, filled with the sort of neat little townhouses favoured by those who are going places. Unfortunately for our murder victim, the only place she was going was the morgue. Her hands were tied behind her back, a stencil taped across her nose and mouth. She had died of suffocation. Ike was grim faced as the coroner's department loaded the body onto a stretcher and carried it away.
"Goddammit. Two murders in one day. What's happening to this town, Rotary?"Before I had a chance to answer Ike, Sargeant Smith chimed in.
"Better make that three, Captain", he said. "A call's just come in. They've found another body near ATom Memorial Park. A middle-aged male, stabbed to death with a stylus."If Ike had been grim-faced before, her expression was positively stony as we drove back to Berrytown. A shock awaited her.
"It's Frank Kelly", she said when they showed her the body, "this city's best investigative reporter"I knew the name from his byline, of course, though I'd never have recognised Kelly myself. What I did recognise, however, was the lapel pin in his jacket. It was a winged stylus.
"I think you'd better go now, Rexy," said Ike, looking shaken. "We've got a lot of work to do here and at Sarah Wu's apartment."Could it be? Sarah was hardly an uncommon name, but after seeing that lapel pin I was starting to get the feeling that these deaths might be connected to Gary Roland's. And what of Mark Sanchez? He was the first person to be murdered today and brought the total to three murders, something unprecedented in the history of Fandom City. Could there be another connection there? Ike wasn't going to let me look at the files on any of today's killings, but I did have one lead I could follow up. As chance would have it, I'd parked my car in almost the same spot as I had earlier today and so got to pass that same bit of waste ground. Since this morning a sign had gone up on the fence: 'Beale Construction is Proud to Announce the Building on this Site of Low-Cost Housing for Neofans. Beale Construction - Planning for Fandom City's future'. Hmmm. Maybe I would vote for Jonathan Beale after all.
The hedonistic decor of Club di Stefano perfectly complemented it's owner, the sybaritic Dante di Stefano. Dressed in an exquisitely-tailored silk suit worth more than my whole business, he sported jewelled pins and rings through multiple piercings at ear, nose, and eyebrow. Sipping fine claret and smoking a cigarette whose smell suggested substances I really didn't want to risk my license by being around for too long, di Stefano was urbane and affable as he proudly showed me around his club.
"As you can see, Mr Rotary, we cater for very select tastes, and our clientele include some of Fandom's most creative and well-known people."Di Stefano pursed his lips thoughtfully, then beckoned his secretary, a scantily-clad and very beautiful young woman, to fetch him a large album from a row of such volumes in a bookcase near the door. Placing it on the desk before him, he paged through it, found what he was looking for, and spun the album around so that I could view the photographs he wanted me to see.
"Taken at the club's last theme party," he explained. "The theme was 'leather'."On one page was a photo of the dancefloor. In the foreground, Gary Roland and Sarah Wu were locked in a passionate embrace. So I was right. On the facing page was a photo of Mark Sanchez and Sarah siting at a table with...Jonathan Beale.
"They both worked for Beale," explained di Stefano, "and appeared to be pretty close confidants, judging by how often you saw them in the club together."Back at my office, I puzzled over what I'd learned to date. Club di Stefano linked all four of the deceased, three of whom had been together at Willis University, and two of whom worked for Jonathan Beale, who was also a member of the club. I had no idea what it all meant yet, but the obvious next place to do a little digging was Willis U.
Though Roland and Wu had taken different majors, it turned out that both had minored in the history of our fair city and that this was how they met. So it was that I found myself in the office of Professor Theo Blanc, who occupied the Warner Chair of Fanhistory at the university. He was smoking a pipe whose odour was suspiciously reminiscent of di Stefano's cigarettes.
"Be with you in a moment," he said, carefully covering some old publications he'd been looking at, before pulling the blinds and letting sunlight in.According to the university database, Sanchez had also majored in business studies. So now I had almost all the links, at least insofar as how most of them first met, but what about Frank Kelly? Out of curiosity, I looked him up in the database and found a profile under 'journalism'. Ace reporter on the Chronicle, he started out in radio, working with Hoop Andrews. Hoop Andrews. What was it Hoop was saying on his show this morning......? And just like that, I had it. Suddenly I knew what this whole thing was all about. Fortunately, the database included all the company information I needed and, naturally, a copy of Gary Roland's thesis. It all fit. I made three phone calls; the second to Ike, and the third to Melissa Roland. It was time to bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
Melissa Roland was every bit as beautiful as before, though irritated at being summoned to my office.
"I was on my way to a theatre date with Marcus Kane," she said. "We had prime seats for KATZ, the new musical about the Brooklyn Insurgents. This had better be good."Puzzled, she nonetheless complied and fished the key from her purse. I placed it carefully into a small ziploc plastic bag, depositing the key in my desk.
"What is this all about, Mr Rotary? I demand to know."
The next day, there was a media frenzy when it was revealed that both candidates for mayor had been arrested for murder, and fevered speculation over what it meant for the future of Fandom City. Personally, I figured that it probably meant good things. Most of us had never much liked being organised anyway, and now we were going to have a period where we could indulge our naturally anarchistic tendencies. And I'd done pretty damn well out of the whole thing, thank you very much. That first phone call I made yesterday was to my bookie. You'd be amazed at the odds he was offering on both of the mayoral candidates dropping out of the race on the same day.
.........copyright Rob Hansen © 2008.