Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chapter 3: The Plot Thickens

A Crime Novel in Installments,
by Dick Adler

Where we left off: After exercising their sex drives a bit, Ivan Davis and Ross Calhoun finally visited the apartment of Saul Cooperman. They found no trace there of the missing writer, but did discover dried blood on the sofa. A sign of foul play?

* * *
As Ivan expected, Morgan McLennon was more annoyed than worried by Saul’s apparent disappearance or the signs of violence in his apartment. A good companion (one afternoon he’d invited Ivan along to meet his friend Behan, as the prison-pasty poet stripped off his sweaty shirt in the middle of Brooks Brothers in order to try on a new one) and a generous mentor, this son of a junk dealer from Providence, Rhode Island, seemed to see in Ivan’s radical upbringing some kind of social commitment he himself had missed. In the year since Ivan had answered his ad in The New York Times and left his apprenticeship at a scruffy little publishing house, where they airbrushed out the models’ nipples and writers got paid only when they threatened to throw the owner out of his eighth-floor window onto Fifth Avenue, Davis had written stories for Viking about American veterans of the Spanish Civil War whose careers had been cut off by their service, and had done some research for a piece that McLennon and his friend, photographer Will Redmond, were putting together on new aspects of the Caryl Chessman capital-punishment case out in California.

Both articles looked a bit out of place in Viking’s mix of oddly juiceless sex stories and tales of hunting and fishing, hidden treasure, and the inevitable World War II battles, but Morgan tried to give the magazine, and Worldwide’s lesser publications, at least a touch of the variety and literary class noticeably missing from the Magazine Management products--despite their editors’ and writers’ own lofty ambitions.

He listened to other job offers (mostly because of his wife, who used to be married to a successful science-fiction writer; with the help of her money, they had a large apartment on Washington Square and a weekend place in Lyme Rock, Connecticut), but his heart really wasn’t into changing positions. Viking seemed to be the height of Morgan’s ambition, and he enjoyed the free meals and travel junkets that regularly came his way.

The other side of McLennon was a total lack of forgiveness for human weakness. Cooperman had been one of his heroes; now he was just another drunk feeding at the men’s adventure trough. Morgan laughed when Ivan suggested that they contact the New Mexico state police, in case Saul was actually in trouble out there. “If we spent our time tracking down every has-been, we’d never get anything done,” the managing editor said.

Ivan talked with Ross about it at lunch; they agreed to give things another day before taking any action. Meanwhile, Viking’s publisher called to ask how Saul was getting along on his research into the Lopez slaying. “Perry Marcus seems to be taking a personal stake in this one,” Erickson said about the best-selling mystery writer who headed up his Court of Final Justice. Ivan stalled the publisher, hoping to give Cooperman a chance to surface, but he had a bad feeling that Saul wasn’t just out somewhere in the western desert, sampling local brews.

Yet he had other matters on his mind. Ruth and Ivan occupied themselves on Saturday with sex, browsing in used bookstores on Astor Place, and lots of food. Ivan had a freelance check burning to be splurged, so they blew $20 on some hearty French peasant cooking and a bottle of decent, unpretentious Beaune at Café Brittany on 9th Avenue--followed by Chico Hamilton’s smoky jazz and a Wild Turkey at the Five Spot.

Then, on Sunday, Ivan made an overdue trip back to the Bronx to see how the previous generation of his family was getting on. With a pound box of Baracini’s chocolates under one arm--half ginger-filled for his father, half orange peel for his mother--he made the subway trip that had carved a permanent track in his memory, surviving even some serious shelling in Korea.

“Boychick,” exclaimed his old man, grinning, the printer’s ink under the fingernails at the end of his steel-cable-like arms the permanent proof of how he had paid their rent and grocery bills during all of Ivan’s life. He worked in the press room at a left-leaning newspaper called PM, and although he never said it out loud, Ivan knew that the men’s adventure magazine business wasn’t really what he had in mind for his only child. He also knew that his dad was proud of the money Ivan made, the fact that he wore a shirt and tie to work, and that in at least some small ways he helped right social wrongs.

Ivan’s mother, the intellectual in the family, still had dreams that he would give up all this men’s magazine nonsense and go back to college, at least part-time. A librarian at the public branch on Castle Hill Avenue, she knew more about history and philosophy than Ivan could ever hope to soak up. Between what she earned and his father’s pay, they made enough to buy a little house in the suburbs--maybe one of the Long Island towns where Ivan’s uncles and aunts mowed their new lawns on weekends. But the Davises liked the city: the Bronx stew reminded them of the way their own parents had lived on the Lower East Side after they arrived in New York City as emigrants from Germany, Poland, and Lithuania in the 1880s.

“So what’s new at the Algonquin Round Table?” asked his little, round mother as they all settled down in the living room. “Has Mr. Benchley or Miss Parker said anything memorable over their oysters lately?”

“Not to me. All I know about the Algonquin is that it’s a great place to pick up British airline stewardesses. I could tell you stories ...”

“Please, leave me with at least a few illusions,” she said dryly. “Speaking of which, I heard that Heidi Rendelbaum is marrying an insurance agent. Joel Rubin, from the class ahead of you.” Heidi had been one of Ivan’s virgin girlfriends at James Monroe. With his pal and track companion, Paul Messenger, whose ambition stretched only as far as becoming a high-school history teacher, and Paul’s lifelong love, Anne, they had once bowled together on Saturdays, followed that up with pizza, then smiled nervously at each other with melted cheese on their teeth. There were lots of girls like Heidi at CCNY; apartments and babies glowed like lighthouses in their futures.

“So what’s up with your social life?” Ivan’s father inquired. “Still finding soul mates among the Bomb-Banners?”

“Why do you think they call it the peace movement?” Ivan said in his best Groucho Marx imitation. If things went well, he did plan to ask Ruth to join him up here for dinner one Sunday, or maybe they’d go out to the Davis family’s favorite Chinese place for shrimp with lobster sauce. But it was still too early in their relationship even to mention such things.

They enjoyed one of his mother’s specialties, a kosher chicken roasted with potatoes and carrots, and his father broke out a couple of bottles of German beer. The old man’s own family of Berlin socialists had mostly died in concentration camps; his father had arrived in America at age 16, and become an unlettered (he still didn’t read English) but occasionally successful electrical engineer and inventor. Ivan’s mother’s family, the Feldmans, being smarter or faster or just luckier, had sailed across the ocean as teenagers; she had two sisters and two brothers working hard at becoming suburban Americans. Ivan had six cousins, at least two of whom were people he’d have liked even if they weren’t relatives.

One of these, his cousin Bobby Siegel, who as a handsome teenager had scored some early sex points while working as a cabaña attendant at a ritzy spa in New Jersey, called Ivan the next morning, Monday. “Come have some clams casino with me at Vesuvio’s,” he said, referring to a known mob hangout frequented by many of Bobby’s contacts. “I’m hearing some stuff you might be interested in,” his cousin added, cryptically.

© Copyright 2007 by Dick Adler

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