- 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."

"I recognise you from your recent fashion spread in Locum," I said, suavely (I hoped) dropping the can of beans into my wastebasket while leaping to my feet and sweeping aside the magazines piled on my guest chair. "Please have a seat Ms Gilbert."

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?"

"It's my brother, Gary. Two weeks ago, he was found dead in his apartment. The police say it was suicide and they've closed the case, but there's no way Gary could've committed suicide. He just couldn't have." She took a handkerchief from her handbag and dabbed at the corners of her eyes, composing herself again before continuing. "When the police said they weren't going to spend any more time on the case, I told them I would. I said I'd hire my own private investigator. That's when the detective in charge, Inspector Isaacs, suggested I come to you."

"I'll have to thank her. The police are usually pretty thorough and I'm not sure what you expect me to turn up, but I'll certainly give it my best shot."

"Thank you. I've put together all the details about Gary I can think of that you might need," she said, passing me a large manilla envelope, "and also included his keys and his wallet. There's also a cheque in there that should cover your fee. Please do all you can, Mr Rotary."

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."

She handed it back to the head of the forensics team and then gave me a large grin.

"I assume it you're here because you want to see the file on Gary Roland."

"You assume right. Thanks for the recommendation, by the way."

"Hey, if you can't put a little work an ex-lover's way now and again what's the point of having the influence? You still in that flea-pit office in Burbeeville?"

"It may be a flea-pit but the way the Burb's being rediscovered by all these new writers and artists I may soon be able to make a killing on the place."

"Yeah, right. So, d'you need a ride back to the station house?"

"Nah, I just got my own wheels back from the shop. I'll meet you there."

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."

"Well clean it off." She tossed me a box of kleenex, and I set to work removing the stain from my sole (no wisecracks, please).

"Here's the Roland file," she said, sliding it across her desk, "and no, you can't take it out of the building. I've got to go down to forensics to see what they can tell me about Mark Sanchez - that's the guy we just found in the park - so you can use my office. Don't mess it up any more."

"Yes, sir."

"And don't give me any of that 'sir' crap."

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?"

"Yeah, why not," I said. "I always like to watch professionals at work."


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."

"Sarah Wu? That was the dead woman's name?" "Yeah. Now let us get on with it. I'll give you a call."

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."

"It's those clientele I want to ask you about," I told him. "I'm pretty sure that Frank Kelly and Gary Roland were members, but what about Sarah Wu and Mark Sanchez?"

"You'll understand that given the, ah, nature of some of the activities we cater for, a certain degree of discretion is advisable."

"It is in the gumshoe biz, too, but all four of those people are dead and I need to establish any connection between them that I can. Can you help me?"

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."

"What about Gary Roland?"

"I was never sure exactly what the relationship between him and Wu was. I gather they were an item when they were at Willis University with Sanchez, but it seemed to be a pretty occasional thing by the time they joined the club."

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.
"Old newszines from the 1940s," he explained, "they were all printed on hekto back then so you have to be careful about the light."

"Researching anything in particular?" I asked him.

"Yeah, an article on Degler, Fandom City's mad prophet. Do you know about him?"

"Who doesn't?" I replied. "You still get accosted by Deglerites at the airport and bus terminal, pushing their literature on you and trying to get you to join the Cosmic Circle."

"Yeah," he chuckled, "we've all had that experience. I was just going through back issues of 'Fandom Chronicle', our mass-circulation newszine which Carlton Beale used to publish out of Berrytown, looking for contemporary reports on Degler himself. Found a few, too. Anyway, what can I help you with?"

"Sarah Wu and Gary Roland. What can you tell me about them?"

"A nice couple. He majored in microbiology, she in business. They were both idealists. They met in my fanhistory class, y'know."

"So I heard. What about Mark Sanchez?"

"Not a name I know, I'm afraid, though if he was a student here you can probably find out something about him in the university database."

"I may just do that. Thank's for your time, Professor Blanc."

"My pleasure."

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."

"It is, but before we go any further, can I ask you if you still have your key to your brother's flat, and confirm that you always kept it in your purse?"

"Yes to both, but I don't see...."

"Have you used it since his death?" I interrupted.

"No, there was no need. The police have his keys and I haven't been able to face going there."

"Then may I have your key, please?"

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."

"It's about greed and murder, Ms Roland, greed and murder. Do you know much about the history of Fandom City and the development of its media? No? Well, back in 1930s and 1940s, all of our newszines were printed via a process called hekto and the biggest newszine of the time, as it is today, was the Fandom Chronicle. With the circulation of the Chronicle, they got through a lot of hekto jelly. Back then, the Chronicle's printing plant was located on a site in Berrytown, near what is now ATom Memorial Park. The plant is long gone, but the land the plant stood on is still in the family and the Chronicle's current owner, Jonathan Beale, is building low cost housing on it that he's selling to the city. Unfortunately, rather than disposing of it properly, ol' Granpa Beale had all that used hekto jelly buried in the ground, and it's still there. A gooey, seeping mess that makes the site unfit for housing. If the city found out about this they wouldn't buy the houses but, so long as he got elected, Jonathan Beale could ensure that they did and leave the clean-up bill with the city, claiming that he had no idea the land was contaminated. Wu and Sanchez found out about his plans and, being idealists, decided to spill the beans to Frank Kelly, who they'd met at a club they were all members of. Since Beale owned the Chronicle, the paper Kelly worked for, Kelly leaked what he knew to his old pal Hoop Andrews, figuring on Hoop holding back on it until Wu and Sanchez got him the proof he needed from Beale's files. Unfortunately, Hoop decided to be cute and mention 'rumours' of shady real-estate dealings on his show this morning. Even more unfortunately, Beale was listening and figured out who had to have leaked the story. If the proof got out he was finished, so he did the only thing he could, and killed Wu, Sanchez, and Kelly. Some of this is speculation, but I'm sure Captain Isaacs will find proof that pretty much confirms it when she raids Beale's home and office which," I said, checking my watch, "should be happening just about now."

"But what does this have to do with my brother?" asked Melissa Roland. "Are you saying Beale also killed Gary?"

"No, I'm afraid he was killed by your boyfriend, Marcus Kane."

"What?! You can't be serious! Why would he do such a thing?"

"Because of what your brother discovered. It was all in his thesis; bacteria that could break down used hekto jelly and so make the contaminated land completely safe again. Somehow, Kane had found out about the contaminated land, and with Gary's bacteria he had an unprecedented opportunity to crush his opponent and to make a killing at the same time. The way I figure it is that at just the right moment he was going to let everyone know about the contamined land Beale was trying to offload on the city, a revelation that would've destroyed Beale's candidacy and left him with virtually unsellable real estate. Which Kane would then have picked up for a song since no-one knew he had the means to clean it up cheaply. It would've worked too, only during one of their love-making sessions, Sarah Wu must have let Gary know what Beale was up to. Being the idealist that he was, Gary wanted to let everyone know that he'd developed a means to render the land safe, which was the last thing Kane wanted people learning about prematurely. So he killed Gary."

"You can't know it was him," whispered Melissa, tears welling.

"I'm afraid I can," I said, gently. "Gary's flat was locked, with no sign of forced entry, which means that either Gary let his killer in or the killer had a key. Since Gary wouldn't have let Kane in after Kane had warned him off telling everyone about the bacteria - that was the bust-up he wouldn't talk about - Kane had to have had a key. Which means he had to have copied your key when you were at his place. You said yourself that you kept the key to Gary's flat in your purse, and that you always kept your purse with you, so he's the only one who could have copied it. That's why I asked you to give it to me. Chances are, there are still traces on the key of the wax Kane would've pressed it into, and maybe even a partial fingerprint. I'm sure the police forensic team will get enough from it to nail Kane. As to how he did it, I'm betting that Kane somehow slipped Gary a sleeping pill and, when he knew Gary would be asleep, let himself into the flat and finished him off."

"So it was all about money and power," sobbed Melissa, the tears flowing freely now.

"It usually is. Both Kane and Beale let money and power corrupt them and so lost sight of the philosophy that guides most of the citizens of our fair city.

"Which philosophy is that, Mr Rotary?"

"Fiawol, my lovely."


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.