Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure


"The Lurker" tackles

The Monkey Club Murders
 

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


I'd never seen anyone die before.  Especially not that way.  But then, in this century, who has?  Not many, I'm thinking.

The joke is, we were all gumshoes.  All six of us, private dicks, fully licensed under Canadian law.  None of us were making a good living at it, but we got by.  We weren't proud.  Snapping pics of an unfaithful husband or two, tracking down some deadbeat for a goon who was himself only a step ahead of a five-to-ten suite in Kingston Pen -- it didn't shine, but it paid.  Ask me if I was complaining?  Not me, brother.

So there we were, early Monday morning, the two of us in a tight-fit,  low rent office, Jackie Tanaka and myself, Eddie Grimes, both of us just hanging out, him behind his paper-cluttered desk, me in a creaking chair near the file cabinet, just sitting, not complaining.  It was Jackie's office, and Jackie's phone, but we were both hoping it would ring because that would mean work, and work for Jackie usually translated into work for myself, if I could swing it.

He was going through his mail.  I didn't think much about that, since it was early and he had collected it as he let me in the door.  As he flipped through the envelopes, I was talking, but I can't really remember what I said.  I hadn't told him about my concerns, I know that.  I hadn't told anyone and, in light of what happened next, that could be seen as a fault on my part.  Maybe it would have saved his life.  Then again, maybe not.

Jackie suddenly noticed one letter that had evidently caught his interest.  Using his thumb, he ripped open the envelope and pulled out the letter inside.  I wasn't paying much attention.  Like I said, I was hoping the phone would ring.

I do remember noticing the way Jackie paused as he unfolded the letter and looked at it.  That stuck in my mind.  His brows dropped and his lips tightened around the corners.  But that was all he did.  If you knew Jackie, you'd know why that stuck in my mind.

"What've you got there?" I asked.  "One of your ex-wives finally caught up with you?"

It wasn't a great joke, but it should have gotten a better response than it did.  Still, like I said, you couldn't expect much from Jackie.  He liked to play it close to the vest.  Maybe that was why he got more work than I did.  He seemed like a private detective.

When he didn't respond, I just shrugged and went back to counting the shadow-stripes cast by the louvres on the wall.  I heard his chair creak as he stood up, but I didn't look over.  He put down the letter and crossed the room.

Jackie, I should mention, was born in Canada.  Well, in Newfoundland really, back in the twenties before it joined Confederation, but he thought of himself as Canadian.  His parents, though, had emigrated from Japan just before the first World War.  As a result, he had a pretty strong interest in his Japanese heritage.  He spoke Japanese and he kept a tiny bonzai tree on his desk, things like that.  The rest of us had pitched in last year to buy him a set of samurai swords.  He kept them on the floor in the corner of his office, on a black wooden rack.  There were two swords, one long and one short.  The longer one was a katana.  The short sword was a wakizashi.

Like I said, Jackie had an interest in his heritage, but it was an intellectual thing.  What he did, the spin the police tried to put on it, that just didn't fit.  Not if you knew Jackie.  He wasn't into it that much.

At that moment, the phone rang.  I answered it.  Later, the police tried to make a federal case out of that, but that was just something we all did.  We answered each other's phones.  So sue me.

"Jackie Tanaka's office, private investigations, may I help you?"  A woman's voice asked to speak to Jackie.  "Sure," I said.  "Hold tight."

Even as I was speaking, I heard the sound.  In hindsight, what else could it have been but one of those samurai swords sliding smoothly out of its black laquered scabbard?  But that didn't register.  I don't know what I thought, but I certainly didn't think that.

I turned in my chair, one hand over the mouthpiece.  I was surprised to find Jackie on his knees in the corner of the room.  He was hunched forward, and, for a strange moment, I thought he was praying.

"Hey, Jackie, you're gonna want to talk to this one.  If her voice is anything to go by, she's gotta be a..."

That was when I finally noticed one of the swords was missing from the rack.  It was the shortsword.  The wakizashi.

"Hey, Jackie, you okay?"

And Jackie fell over.  He fell like there were no bones beneath his waist.  Precious few above.  He just sort of melted, his shoulder colliding with the sword rack, moving it a foot but not managing to topple it.

I saw the wakizashi then, or part of it, at any rate.  Part of it was hidden.  The pokey part.

I remember a lot of blood and I remember feeling a strange, euphoric lassitude.  Maybe that explains what I did next.  Or maybe I was more of a private investigator than I gave myself credit for.

At any rate, I spoke calmly into the phone: "I'm sorry, Jackie Tanaka just killed himself.  I'll have to get back to you.  I have to call the cops."  Then I hung up.

The next thing I did was pick up the letter off the desk, the last thing Jackie had read before he did that.  I picked it up and I looked at it.

The cops didn't like that, either...

***
That night, I decided I would need help.

I had spent the day down at the police station, trying to explain why Jackie had a set of samurai swords in his office but wasn't the sort of guy to use them -- at least not in that way.  The cops weren't convinced.  I had witnessed the thing myself.  What was I trying to say -- someone else had killed Jackie?

Well -- yeah, sort of.

They thought I had a screw loose.  And what about the letter?  They checked it for fingerprints but all they turned up were mine.  I told them it had to be a clue -- but they weren't listening.  I couldn't blame them.  I had seen it myself.  How could it be a clue?

But I knew I was right.  Jackie was the third.  First Ian O'Shane, then Artie Schultz.  That left three of us.  Lou Friendly, Phil March, and myself.  Someone was knocking off the members of the Monkey Club, one by one.  Sure, it looked like suicides and accidents, but I knew different.  And even though we were all private investigators, I knew this was too big for us to handle.

We needed help.

That was when I turned to the classifieds in the Toronto Evening Nova.  I cut out the box that appeared there every week, then filled it in just like the instructions said.  My name, address, and a short description of my problem.  This is what I wrote:

Someone's knocking off the Monkey Club.  Making it look like accidents and suicides.  I don't know how they're doing it, but I know I'm not crazy.  What about it?  Interested?

Then I stuck the paper to a wine bottle cork using a red thumbtack.  Still following the directions, I found myself late at night standing in an alley off Yonge Street, looking down an open manhole.  There was a glimmer of rushing water in the darkness below.  I dropped in the cork and watched it get swept away into the sewers.

Then I went home.  Early the next morning, The Lurker came to call...

***
There was a knock at the door.  I was already up.  Actually I hadn't been to bed.  During the wait I had grown a crop of nerves.  When the knock came, I just about left my skin behind.

Opening the door, I found a man standing in the hall outside.  There was nothing special about him, medium height, medium build.  His face was average midtown Caucasian, not handsome but not ugly either.  He was probably in his mid-thirties.  But none of that was important because, as everyone knew, it wasn't real.  If he was The Lurker -- and I immediately guessed he was -- then it was all a fantastically clever disguise.

His only distinguishing characteristic, if you can call it that, was a hefty brown leather bag which he carried, kind of like a doctor's bag, except a little bigger.

He didn't mince words.  "Maybe," he said.

"Maybe what?"

"Maybe I'm interested."

"You're The Lurker?" I asked nervously.

"That's right.  Can I come in?"

I let him in.  He set down the bag on the couch and looked around.  Then his eyes fixed on me.  For some reason, my skin crawled at that look.  It was as if he was wearing a black mask, his two eyes staring at me through the eyeholes.  At the same time, the mask was his face, and that just made it worse.

Sure, I'd heard he was one of the good guys -- at least, so the papers played it.  Righter of wrongs, protector of the weak.  A regular Dick Tracy.  But who really knew?  Drop a message down that manhole into the sewer, wait a bit, maybe he shows up to help you, maybe he doesn't.  But what's his angle?  Who is he?  More important, what's he doing in the sewer?

You got to wonder.

"Tell me about it."

And I did.

"There were six of us to begin with," I explained.  "We're all private detectives.  But we're also friends and we call ourselves the Monkey Club.  The reason for that is that we set up this deal.  Each month, we put money into a pot, then we go down to the zoo and stand at the concrete barrier that overlooks the monkey habitat.  Those gorillas are pretty friendly and, sooner or later, one of them comes over to us.  Well, whichever guy the gorilla goes to, that guy gets the pot for that month.  He can spend it on whatever he wants.  Next month, hopefully, another guy gets it.  You see?"

"I see."  He didn't sound like he saw.  "You mean you lay bets on who the gorilla will go to."

"Well,...yeah," I said, feeling kind of hurt, "I guess that's what we do.  But it seemed more original when we thought of it."

"Go on."

"Last month, when we got to the zoo, we found Ian O'Shane lying dead down in the habitat.  Ian was one of us.  It looked like he had gotten there early and accidentally fallen over.  The gorillas had done the rest.  Since the barrier was pretty high, the cops played with the idea that maybe Ian had jumped over on purpose.  But there wasn't any reason for that.  Things weren't gilded, but they had been going okay for him."  I gave it a moment, then added: "We took a vote and decided to keep our Monkey Club going.  We figured Ian would have wanted it that way."

The Lurker was listening without really seeming to listen.  What I mean is, he wandered around, casting an eye over my place, playing it very disinterested.  It had the strange effect of making you want to talk.

"Well, a week later," I went on, "Artie Schultz stepped in front of a bus.  Artie was another one of us, too.  His wife was with him and they had both just taken a taxi to a party downtown.  Artie drank alot and his wife didn't know how to drive.  That explains the taxi.  I didn't get all the details, but I heard he just climbed out of the taxi and stepped in front of a passing bus.  Killed him instantly.  The cops put it down to an accident."

Now he stopped looking around and turned to face me.  "Go on."

Then I told him about Jackie Tanaka.  And about the wakizashi.  When I was done, he stood there for a good thirty seconds, evidently mulling the whole thing over.

"What about the letter?" he asked.  "What did it say?"

"That's the crazy thing.  It didn't say anything.  The paper was completely blank.  The cops even tested it to see if there was some sort of invisible ink.  There was nothing."

"What sort of paper was it?"

"Expensive stuff, creme coloured, regular letter size."

"And it was folded how?"

"Folded in thirds, the way you normally fold a letter to fit it into an envelope."

"And it was completely blank?"

"They don't come blanker."

"No return address on the envelope?"

"Nada.  No stamp, either.  It had been delivered by hand."

Without another word, he turned his back and, opening his brown bag, started doing things.  Not a lot of things, either.  I swear he hardly made more than a few motions, his hands dipping into the bag, then going to his face, the bag, his face...but when he turned around, his features weren't average anymore.  Not at all average.

They were mine.

"Let's see what The Lurker can turn up," he said.  "Shall we?"

***
Even at that early stage, he must already have had a theory.  That would explain why he warned me not to open any letters or read any newspapers or even answer the phone until he got back.  He told me to just sit tight.

I think that was the first time it hit me.  I could be next.

Until then, the whole thing had seemed like just a case -- a tough case, but still the sort of thing we detectives handled all the time.  Now, for the first time, I began to get scared.

But I waited.  I waited all day.  I didn't know where he had gone or why he had disguised himself to look like me.  I just hoped he knew what he was doing.

When, about five o'clock, there was a knock on the door, I naturally thought it was The Lurker.  But it wasn't.  It was Lou Friendly, one of the three remaining members of the Monkey Club.  I let him in.

Lou wasn't like Jackie.  Lou liked to talk.  He'd talk your ear off and halfway across the floor, if you'd let him.  Now he wanted to talk about Jackie.

He agreed with me -- Jackie could never have killed himself, least ways not like that.  But, of course, I had seen the thing myself.  So, from Lou I got the third degree.  He was worse than the cops.  He seemed to think, if he kept at it, I would change my story.  He didn't think I was lying, at least so he said, he just thought I was mistaken.  I had missed something.  I had to have missed something.

A half hour into this, the phone rang.  I was thankful for the interruption.  That must have been why I forgot all about The Lurker telling me not to answer the phone.

So I answered it.

A voice asked if Lou Friendly was there.  I gave it to him.  He said, "Hello?"

I guess I should have seen it coming.  Even though Lou was different from Jackie, he reacted pretty much the same.  There was the same dropping of the eyebrows, the same tightening at the corner of the lips.  I was paying attention, waiting for him to speak, so I could try and guess who it was.  But he didn't say anything.  He just stood there, tight lips and all.

I hadn't even known he carried a rod.  We were all licensed, but that didn't mean we packed heat.  You haul something like that around, you're asking for trouble.  Lou wasn't afraid of a little trouble.  Apparently.

He must have carried the gun in a shoulder holster.  It appeared in his hand like magic.  Houdini had nothing on him.  He was still holding the phone in his other hand, and now the gun went to his temple, so that they were on opposite sides of his head.  On his face, there was no reaction.  It was as if that gun had snuck up on him and he hadn't noticed.  For a crazy moment, I was tempted to yell, "Look out, Lou!"

And then there was movement.  It came from the edge of my vision.  In hindsight, I can see it really came from the hall door.  The gun spoke loud enough to deafen the world.  Then the air was full of falling plaster, white powder drifting down from a hole in the ceiling.  Like snow.  And two men were wrestling, fighting over the gun.  One man was Lou.  The other man was me.

Only, I was watching.  Watching myself save the day.  And I hadn't moved an inch...

***
To get the gun away from Lou, The Lurker had had to knock him unconscious.  We lay him on the couch.  Whoever had been on the phone had hung up.  Only Lou knew what had been said, and by whom.  We were anxious to talk to Lou.  At least I was.

The Lurker was still playing it very cool, very disinterested.

While he told me what he had done that day, he turned his back and did more things with his hands, reaching into his bag, then up to his face.  When he turned around, he looked like a middle-aged man, but not the same middle-aged man who had visited me that morning.  Now he had a mustache and a five o'clock shadow.  His eyes were blue.  Before they had been brown.

It was impressive and scary, all at the same time.

Disguised as me, he had visited the places where the three members of the Monkey Club had died: Jackie's office, the street corner where Artie Schultz stepped in front of a bus, and the zoo where Ian O'Shane was mauled by gorillas.  Then he went to speak to Artie's widow, Joyce.  That apparently was why he had disguised himself to look like me -- so she would talk to him without asking questions.

"According to Joyce," The Lurker said, "they had just pulled up to the curb in a cab.  Artie paid the cabbie and the cabbie immediately handed Artie a receipt.  Then Artie just climbed out of the cab and stepped in front of the bus."

"A receipt?"  I frowned, skeptically.  "Did he ask for a receipt?"

"That's the strange part.  No, he didn't.  The cabbie just handed it to him.  Artie seemed as surprised as anyone."

"But why --"  Then I saw.  "The cabbie was in on it.  But...in on what?"

The Lurker pulled something out of a pocket.  He was wearing a black overcoat and it had a lot of pockets.  Every time you thought you had found them all, it surprised you.

"This is the receipt," he said.  "Luckily Joyce kept it.  There's nothing strange about it, that I can see.  It's just a receipt."

"Fingerprints?"

"The driver must have been wearing gloves.  He's since disappeared."

I wasn't sure where that got us.  I said so.

"I think your friends, Artie and Jackie, were hypnotized," he explained.  "That is, I think they were given a post-hypnotic suggestion.  They were told to kill themselves when they received a certain trigger."

"Hypnotized?"  Somehow I wasn't as skeptical as you might think.  "That's pretty far-fetched, isn't it?"

"The only question," he continued, speaking as if I was a buzzing fly, "is what trigger are they using?  First the blank letter, then the ordinary receipt."

"Okay, so you don't think it's far-fetched.  But what about Ian O'Shane?  You said Artie and Jackie were hypnotized.  How do you explain Ian?"

Again, I was a fly.  He was thinking, and I wasn't a part of that.  After a moment, he asked, "What was the connection between Phil March and Ian O'Shane?  Apart from the Monkey Club."

"You mean apart from being friends?  I think maybe they were working on a case together -- you'd have to asked Phil about that.  When Ian fell into the monkey habitat, Phil was the first of us to find him, too.  He was pretty shook up about it.  Why?"

Before he could answer, Lou gave a groan and stirred on the couch.  One hand gingerly touched his head, making him wince.

"What the hell happened?"

We told him he had passed out.  Then we asked about the phone call.

"It was the weirdest thing," he told us.  "You handed me the phone, I said, 'Hello?', and a voice, a male voice, said, 'I'm sorry, he isn't in right now.  Can I take a message?'"  Lou winced again, this time sitting up.  "After that, I don't remember anything until I woke up on your couch."

Somehow or other we got rid of Lou.  He really didn't remember trying to blow his own head off, so it wasn't as hard as you might think.  After he had gone, The Lurker asked more questions.

"You said Artie's 'accident' was about a week after Ian fell into the monkey habitat.  During that week, was there any time when the rest of the Monkey Club got together -- all, that is, except yourself?"

I thought a moment, then shook my head.  "We got together for the funeral, but I was there for that.  But why --"  Then suddenly I understood, and that understanding was like a sleeping mule lifted off my shoulders.  "You figure I wasn't hypnotized like the others, don't you?  Because I looked at the blank letter, just like Jackie, and I didn't try to kill myself?  That's what you're thinking, isn't it?"

"Could be."

"Well, that's sure a load off my mind."  Then I had another thought.  "Say, wait a minute.  After the funeral, the others went to a bar.  I wasn't feeling so good, so I didn't go.  You think something happened to them at the bar?"

He didn't answer my question, except to pose one of his own.  "Was it a bar you'd been to before?"

"No.  A place called Mickey's, I think."

"Did anything strange happen while they were there -- something they maybe mentioned to you later?"

A bit more thinking turned up: "Yeah, there was something.  I remember Jackie telling me that, after they left the bar, they were surprised to find they were running fifteen minutes late.  Somehow they had lost fifteen minutes while they were in the bar."

"And who suggested it, going to that particular bar?  Was it Phil March?"

"Now that you mention it..."  I stopped.  Suddenly I saw where he was going.  I wasn't sure I liked the road.  "That's the second time you've asked about Phil.  You think maybe he's the one behind this?  But why?"

"I think there's only one way to know for sure."  He paused.  "How brave are you feeling?"

The way he said that -- not very.

Click for the Conclusion



 
 

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The Monkey Club Murders is copyright 1999, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)