Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure


"The Lurker" tackles

The Monkey Club Murders

(Part Two)

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


The next evening I found myself taking a seat against the wall in Mickey's Bar.  The bar was crowded, but I felt alone.  More alone than I'd ever felt in my life.

The Lurker had promised he'd be there with me, I just wouldn't know where.  I looked over the other patrons.  As a detective, I figured I should be able to pick him out.  First off, he would be alone.  Second, he would be trying to act inconspicuous.  How hard could it be?

There was a fat guy seated at the bar nursing a tall one.  A thin guy at a table in the far corner with a plate of fries.  A burly trucker-type was playing the pinballs, racking up points but cursing anyway.  Then there was a bag lady also sitting at the bar with a drink.  At the other end of the bar was a dopey guy with a longshoreman's toque.  He seemed to be waiting for someone.  Everyone else had a partner, so it had to be one of those.  But which one?

Then a thought struck me.  What if he wasn't there?  What if something had gone wrong and I really was alone?  That thought was the sort to put rats up your spine.

Still, I did like he had told me to.  I ordered a drink and I waited for something to happen.  Earlier I had phoned Phil March and subtlely mentioned how I was going to drop by Mickey's Bar.  If Phil really was the killer, I had set myself up as pretty as you please.   I was wearing a sign -- One duck.  Sitting.

About half an hour into my wait, the trucker finished with the pinballs and made his way out the door, still cursing into his beard.  That left the other four.  I noticed the fat guy at the bar kept glancing over at me, but I couldn't decide if The Lurker would have been that obvious or not.  I doubted it.

The bag lady had apparently passed out, but that could have been a put on, and the dopey guy in the toque was still apparently waiting for someone who hadn't shown up.  I had just begun to suspect the thin guy with the fries.  He was the only one who didn't seem to be interested in me, but didn't seem to be avoiding me, either.  But then a gorgeous blonde in heels slid up beside him and they started making eyes.  Some detective I made.

I figured I had waited long enough.  I got up and left.  Outside, I looked at my watch.

I had lost fifteen minutes...

***
Fear.

Until that moment, I don't think I had ever truly known what it was to be afraid.  Well, now I knew.

Standing outside Mickey's Bar, staring dumbly at my watch, I got to know fear like you get to know a new friend.  Only this friend was one who got inside you and made a home, who burrowed deep down with sharp, digging claws, and scooped out anything it didn't need and shaped whatever remained into a nice comfy bed.

Some friend.

Something had happened in that bar, something which had taken fifteen minutes, but which I couldn't remember.  But, even though I couldn't remember it, I could make an educated guess -- based on what The Lurker had theorized.  And that guess raised every hair on my head except the ones that were too scared to move.

I had been hypnotized.  Just like the others, I had been programmed.  Now I was a walking time bomb, ticking relentless down to my own inevitable destruction.  All I needed was a trigger.

But what trigger?

There was the rub.  I still didn't know.  The blank letter, the taxi receipt, the telephone call.  What was the common factor?  Then again, maybe there was no common factor.  Maybe we were each of us hypnotized to react to a different trigger.  And what about Ian O'Shane?  Did he jump into the monkey habitat because he was programmed to do it?  But, no -- The Lurker had seemed to think the initial hypnotizing had been done after Ian's death.  So how did Ian die?

Frankly I didn't care.  I was still trying to come to grips with my own inevitable demise.

I walked home only a little faster than a scream.  I slammed and locked the door.  It was still only four o'clock and the afternoon sun was a golden tunnel through the window.  I was on the seventh floor, but I could hear the honking of traffic from the street outside.  It sounded like laughter.  Not good laughter, either.

Where was The Lurker?  Where the hell was he?  He'd promised to look out for me.  Said he'd be there to make sure nothing went wrong.  Well, something had sure gone wrong.  Any minute now, I might get the trigger and then...then...

Brring!

The phone surprised me.  Let's leave it at that.

I stared at the thing, hardly daring to breathe.  It rang again.  And again.  Then, in case I hadn't got it, it rang again.  In my head, I remembered The Lurker's warning not to answer the phone.  But, even without that warning, I had seen what had happened to Lou Friendly.  It kept on ringing.  I let it.  For a while, I didn't think it was going to quit.

But then it did.

The silence was almost worse.

What if The Lurker didn't show up? I asked myself.  Maybe he was dead, already.  Maybe, whoever had hypnotized me, had kill him.  Maybe there really was nothing I could do to save myself.  And, the worst part of the thing was, the cops would put my death down to a suicide.  Just like poor Jackie Tanaka.  No one would ever know the truth.

No one would ever know that Eddie Grimes had been murdered.

That was when the darkness came.

It started almost imperceptibly, as if someone was gently pulling curtains over a window that didn't get much light anyway.

Then the darkness grew, implacably, filling the room with shadows, everything getting colder and colder.  Darker and darker.  The tunnel of sunlight faded to nothing.

I didn't understand what was happening and I hurried to the window.

Outside it was night -- night at four o'clock.  The street lights had come on and cars had stopped by the curbs seven stories below.

But I wasn't paying attention to the cars.  Not anymore, I wasn't.

I had opened the window.

I had climbed out onto the ledge.

It was a long way down.  I may have paused.  That probably saved my life.

Even as I jumped, hands grabbed my collar, catching me, grappling, slamming me hard against the ledge.  My feet went through the window one story below.  Mrs. Lewis screamed.  It was Mrs. Lewis's window.  Had been, anyway.

Then someone was hauling me back up and a familar voice was gritting in my ear, "Hang on, Grimes, I've got you!"

The voice was the voice of The Lurker.  And I don't think I had ever heard a more welcome sound.  But, when I looked up, it wasn't The Lurker's face I saw, at least none of the faces I had seen him use so far.

It was the gorgeous blonde from the bar.  The one who was making eyes at the thin guy with the fries.  I wasn't sure what scared me more.  That I had come so close to dying, or that he could look so damn good in heels...

***
The thin guy turned out to have been one of The Lurker's operatives.   He called them his "adepts".  That one was named Birdie Bryant.

Swear to God.

"The drug was in your drink," The Lurker explained later, after we had closed the window and the sunlight had returned.  "Scopolamine.  It knocked you out.  Then the table you were at recessed into the wall, taking you into a hidden room.  That was where they hypnotized you.  When they were done, the table just swung back.  No one in the bar even noticed.  Except The Lurker, of course."

The way he referred to himself in the third person made me a little uncomfortable, but I didn't complain.

The Lurker had changed his appearance once more.  Now he was a distinguished gentleman of perhaps fifty.  He sported a monocle and waxed mustache.  I thought it a bit over-played.

As he had rescued me, I had noticed a bloody bandage wrapped around his arm.  When I mentioned it, he shrugged it off.  "Your friend, Phil March, carried a switchblade.  I had to take it away from him."

My guess was there was a hell of a story behind that laconic snippet, but I let it go.

"So it was Phil who wanted us dead?"

"There was never any doubt about that."

"Not for you, maybe, but the rest of us came in late.  Care to give us the story so far?"

"Your friends, Phil March and Ian O'Shane, were working on a case together.  Phil March took a bribe to destroy certain documents and Ian O'Shane wasn't pleased.  The day you six were supposed to meet at the monkey habitat, they got there first.  They had a fight and Phil accidentally knocked Ian over the barrier.  Before Phil could do anything, the gorillas had mauled Ian -- only Ian wasn't quite dead.  With his last strength, he used a rock to scratch the letters PHI on the ground under him.  I saw those letters when I went to the zoo.  No one else, though, had noticed them.  There was no way Phil could go down there and erase them, but he knew that, even if someone noticed, it wouldn't mean anything -- except to the remaining members of the Monkey Club.

"The problem was, so long as you kept going back there as part of your gambling, sooner or later, one of you were bound to notice.  That was when he enlisted the aid of his brother and some friends.  They were already using hypnotism for other nefarious purposes, and had the bar all set up.  All he had to do was suggest it after the funeral.  If you hadn't been feeling sick that day, he probably would have gotten away with it, too."

I was impressed.  Except for his use of the word "nefarious".  That I could have done without.

"So you saw what happened at the bar and you got the bad guys," I said.  "Now, don't get me wrong.  Thanks for saving my life.  But why did you take so long getting here?  And why did the lights go out?  And what made me try to jump out the window?"

"I thought," The Lurker explained, "you would be safe enough.  So long as I had Phil and the others in custody, there was no way they could trigger you to kill yourself.  The thing was, though, I still didn't know what that trigger was.  I hadn't been able to hear what they said when they hypnotized you.  But then I found some notes.  Even then, though, I thought you would be all right -- until I remembered that I had told you not to read the newspaper."

"The newspaper?  What does the newspaper have to do with it?"

"You were each hypnotized to kill yourselves when you experienced something totally baffling, something that was so unexpected it would jar you."

It took me a moment, but I finally got it.  "So Jackie opened a letter and found it blank.  Artie finds a cabbie handing him a receipt for no reason."

"And Lou Friendly," The Lurker finished, "picked up the phone to be asked if he wants to leave a message.  In each case, the effect was to surprise, to puzzle -- to jar.  That was the trigger."

I nodded slowly.  It just about made sense.  "And the darkness?"

"I got a police officer to try phoning you, but I guess you took my advice and didn't answer.  I ran all the way here, arriving just as the eclipse began."

"Eclipse?"

"That's right, it was in the newspaper, front page.  A total solar eclipse.  I knew you wouldn't know about it, and that it would act as the trigger.  I broke in just in time to catch you."

By this point, The Lurker had picked up his brown leather bag and gone to the door.  He was still a distinguished old gent with a monocle.  You would have guessed he was carrying books in the bag.  Either that or booze.

"Wait a minute," I said.  "What do I owe you?  I hired you to solve the case, after all, and that's what you've apparently done."

A small smile touched his lips.  "You'll know how to pay me back when the time comes, Eddie Grimes," he replied cryptically.

And, believe it or not, that was the first thing he had said that didn't surprise me at all...

The End.

Back to Part One



 


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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!)