Liars and Tyrants and People Who Turn Blue

Liars and Tyrants and People Who Turn Blue

Barbara Paul

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

CHAPTER 1

UNTERMENSCH

Eau de prison:
jailhouse disinfectant, high on the we-recognize-it-but-wish-we-didn't scent parade. The room was hot, dark, stuffy, crowded. All that was needed was bars on the windows. And windows.

Splintery chair legs. “Should have worn trousers,” Shelby muttered.

“Whassay, Miz Kent?”

“Nothing. Talking to myself.”

One of the other men in the room threw her an uh-
huh
look. The man who'd spoken was Lieutenant Nicolosi—bushy head, beer belly, Certs breath. He'd hastily introduced the others crowded into the small room—“Shelby Kent, this here's mumble-mumble-mumble-Smith-and-mumble.”

Smith and one of the mumbles had made little effort to hide their skepticism. Shelby shrugged mentally and dismissed them. She'd been to Pittsburgh at Nicolosi's request before; he knew what she could do.

“Okay, we're gonna bring 'im in now,” Nicolosi said, and left.

Shelby and the five police investigators looked through the one-way glass into the interrogation room. The door opened and Nicolosi and an officer Shelby didn't know entered the room with a small, swaggering man—who, Shelby's now-practiced eye told her, was terrified. Drifter and grifter, incurably self-unemployed—the type was familiar. Pale, in his forties, trying to bluster his way out of a tight spot. The police thought he knew something about the death of a Pittsburgh-based jazz musician.

Nicolosi told the pale man to sit down and then stood directly behind him, literally breathing down his neck. The other officer sat across the table and started the questioning. “All right, Loser, tell us about Tuesday night. From the beginning.”

It sounded like bully-language but wasn't. The pale man's name was Loos, so of course everyone called him Loser. So of course he was. “I already toldja.” Loser couldn't decide whether to snarl or whine.

“Tell us again. What time did you see Wee Willie Bascomb on Tuesday?” (Shelby had seen photos of Wee Willie Bascomb; he'd weighed three hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce.)

“I toldja—around eight o'clock, at the Oyster House. His gig at the High Tone didn't start 'til ten.”

“What were you doing at the Oyster House, Loser?”

“Same thing as Wee Willie. Eatin'.”

“So you sat down at the table with him. Then what?”

“Then nothin'. We ate oysters.”

“How long were you there?”

“I dunno. Half hour, mebbe more.”

“Where was Willie when you left?”

“In the can.”

“So you skipped out and left him to pay your bill. What did Willie talk about, Loser?”

“This, that. I don't remember.”

Lieutenant Nicolosi spoke for the first time. “Remember.”

Loser shot a nervous glance over his shoulder at Nicolosi. “Well, he was mouthin' off about that guy runnin' the High Tone. Said he wouldn't pay to have Willie's box tuned. Willie was gonna have to foot the bill himself, and he was shit-mad about it. That's the one you oughta be talkin' to—that guy what runs the High Tone. Willie sure was mad at him.”

Nicolosi: “What was Willie pushing, Loser?”

Behind the one-way glass, Shelby Kent leaned forward in her chair.

“How do I know?” Loser said nervously. “I ain't seen Willie more'n two, three times since last summer. He coulda been clean, for all I know.”

Shelby sat back in her chair. The policemen in the room were all looking at her, but she kept her face blank.

“Was it H, Loser?” Nicolosi persisted. “Coke?”

“I dunno, I tell ya!” The pale little man's voice went up a key. “I don't know what Wee Willie's been into!”

“Where'd he get the stuff? And don't tell me you don't know—you were Willie's beater back in the seventies.” A beater was an errand-runner, a gofer. “You were dealing for him then and you're dealing for him now.”

“You're crazy!” Loser shouted. “Back in the seventies—that was marijuana, man! Thassall! I don't know nothin' about the hard stuff!”

Both Nicolosi and the other officer snorted. Nicolosi decided to let it go for the time being. “What else did you talk about, Loser? Willie didn't sit there yakking about piano tuning for half an hour.”

“Uh, uh, we talked about the oysters.”

“What did Willie have to say about the oysters?”

“Uh, he liked 'em, uh.”

“He liked 'em.”

“Yeah, he liked 'em a lot.” Loser warmed to his story. “He liked 'em so much he ordered another dozen.”

“Was that before or after he slipped you the dope?” the other officer asked quickly.

Loser's face became even paler. “He didn't slip me no dope!”

“Then you slipped it to him. Which way was it?”

Loser swallowed noisily. “You're crazy. Nobody slipped nothin' to nobody.”

“Sure, sure. Whose little beater are you now, Loser? Who sent you to meet Willie Tuesday night?”

“Nobody sent me! I met him by accident! I didn't know he was gonna be there.”

Hmm
, thought Shelby Kent.

Nicolosi was leaning against the wall, his eyes half shut, listening to the other officer hammering away at the Loser. When the little man was telling his story for the third time, Nicolosi straightened up and left the interrogation room.

Inside the observation room, Nicolosi closed the door behind him and said, “Well?”

Shelby cleared her throat. “He's telling the truth when he says he doesn't know anything about any drug operation. But he was lying when he said nothing changed hands at the Oyster House. And he lied when he said no one sent him to meet Willie Tuesday night.”

“Aha,” grinned Nicolosi. “Something
was
passed—I knew it! But it wasn't dope?”

“No,” said Shelby.

Nicolosi nodded. “First thing you think of with musicians, I guess.” He left and went back to the interrogation room.

The other officer was taking the Loser through his story a fourth time. Nicolosi listened a few minutes and then interrupted. “Loser,” he said softly, “I'd like to believe you. I really would. I'd like to believe you aren't pushing the hard stuff.”

“Swear to God, Lieutenant.”

“But if we're going to believe you, you're going to have to tell us what
did
pass between you and Wee Willie.”

“Nothin'! Nothin' passed!”

“Loser, we got two eyewitnesses willing to swear in court they saw something change hands at that table. Now don't tell me you and Willie was tradin' jelly beans. What passed?”

“Nothin'!”


Two witnesses
, Loser.” The policeman was a better liar than his suspect.

The Loser was sweating now; his mouth worked soundlessly. “I don't know what it was. A package. Just a package.”

“What was in the package?”

“I don't know! Swear to God! This guy, he give me twenty to—”

“What guy?”

“I don't know who he was—I never seen 'im before. He just come up to me and told me to take the package—”

“He just came up to you? Where?”

“On the street, man. Yeah, uh, Market Square.”

“So this total stranger walks up to you on the street and hands you twenty dollars—to deliver a valuable package to Wee Willie Bascomb at the Oyster House.”

“It wasn't like that—this guy knew I used to beat for Willie and—”

“Loser, Loser!” Nicolosi shook his head sadly and sat down next to the little man. “Don't you understand? You have to tell us the truth. All of it. What if there was PCP in that package? That means
you
're the one who'll be up on a narcotics charge.”

“No,” Loser squeaked. “He said it wasn't no drags.”

“Who said?”

“The guy that give me the package.”

“Which guy is this? Who was he, Loser? Don't you see—there's only two people know what was in that package. Wee Willie and the guy that sent you to the Oyster House. And Willie's dead, Loser. He can't help you.
Somebody's
going inside—and it'll have to be either you or the other guy. Now who was he, Loser?”

Loser made a strangling sound and then gasped, “Mick Colley. It was Mick Colley give me the package.”

The five policemen in the observation room were all staring at Shelby Kent. Shelby returned their look coolly.
First you thought I was a fake
, she thought,
and now you think I'm a freak. Up yours
.

Whoever Mick Colley was, he was well-known to the Pittsburgh police. In the flurry of activity that followed the Loser's announcement, Lieutenant Nicolosi managed to thank Shelby for her help and find a patrolman to drive her to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport.

Where, after stopping to buy a newspaper, the world's only living lie detector boarded a plane for New York.

CHAPTER 2

CHARON DRIVES SOUTH

One, two, buckle my shoo;

Three, jour, je t'adore;

Five, six, pick up Styx;

Seven, eight, Latham Strait;

Nine, ten, whoyoucallingafathen?

Pittsburgh
Press
, front page:

TEGUCIGALPA (AP)—Fighting broke out yesterday near the remote village of San Pedro, Honduras, between armed insurrectionists and a contingent of United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in Honduras.

Troops from the 44th UN Militia, stationed in Tegucigalpa under the command of Colonel Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, advanced to San Pedro in response to intelligence reports that arms and ammunition were being shipped secretly to the San Pedro area.

The fighting was intense but short-lived. After exchanging fire with UN forces for less than an hour, the surviving insurrectionists scattered throughout the jungle areas north and east of San Pedro. Casualty figures are not yet available.

Colonel Lefebvre said an investigation is being made to determine the source of the illegal arms shipments.

Editorial, page 8:

Honduras: No Hotbed of Rebellion

Yesterday's outburst of violence in the remote Central American village of San Pedro will be seen by many as a cause for alarm. Illegal arms and ammunition provided by unknown suppliers were turned against United Nations peacekeeping forces stationed in Honduras. Concerned persons may see a connection between yesterday's violence and a similar incident in Burma two months ago.

We have not had an international militia long enough for the peoples of this planet to feel full confidence in their newly formed global army. Its strength and stability have yet to be tested. Perhaps we are undergoing our first test now.

Not a test of military strength, but of moral courage. Uncertainty about an international military force can easily develop into paranoia if we allow ourselves to believe that opposition to the UN Militia is worldwide, organized, and dangerous.

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