'Yes, and it's what I know from my own experience.'

'What experience is that?'

'I'm a builder. I knew Victor Rafferty casually. That's about as well as anyone knew him, except for Elizabeth.' He paused and held out his hands; his veins sprang up and writhed like snakes trying to escape from their fleshy prison. 'That's where my brains are. Rafferty liked my work and I was prime contractor on a number of his buildings. After his death Elizabeth became executrix of his estate, which meant she was supervising a lot of his unfinished projects. We met and… we fell in love.' He suddenly, self-consciously, placed his hands in his lap. 'The point is that I know there's no way Rafferty would have told anyone about that building until the final drafting was ready to be done, and Elizabeth says he never got beyond the preliminary sketches he showed her. All his personal effects like that were locked in a safe after his death. I checked, and they're still there.'

'Well, maybe somebody else simply got the same idea.'

Foster shook his head again. 'That isn't likely,' he said emphatically. 'Other people just don't get Victor Rafferty's ideas. Still, according to Elizabeth, that museum is almost exactly the way Rafferty planned it.'

I spoke slowly. 'Do you think this Patern could be Rafferty?'

'I really don't know, but I strongly doubt it. I've never met Patern, but I've worked on a few of his buildings. Mostly shopping centers; nothing to compare with Rafferty's work-until this. Besides, I don't see how Rafferty, if he is alive, could operate under an assumed name. He's too famous. Was too famous,' he added uncertainly. He fumbled in his pocket and came up with a snapshot which he shoved across the desk to me. 'This is what he looked like.'

I was reluctant to look at the photograph. I knew what Rafferty had looked like, and I didn't want Foster to assume I was going to take the case. But I picked up the photograph anyway.

It had been taken at a beach and was overexposed; Rafferty seemed to be floating in a puddle of light. He looked as if he wanted to be someplace else; his smile was forced and didn't touch the black, hawklike eyes that were his dominant feature. The widow's peak in his black hair was crested in the wind like the waves in the camera-frozen sea behind him. His body was thin and pale. The few black dots that were bathers in the surf behind him only made him seem more alone, trapped in an alien environment. I found the picture depressing.

'That picture was taken before the accident,' Foster said. 'Of course, he looked different afterward; pretty wasted.'

'He looks pretty wasted here,' I said, shoving the photograph back toward him.

'Rafferty was a very cerebral person. He lived in his mind, never took very good care of his body. Why don't you keep the picture?'

I left it in the no-man's land of the desk between us. Victor Rafferty wouldn't be the first man to fake a death in order to escape certain problems, such as a wife he didn't want. On the other hand, men who do such things don't usually have as much to give up as Rafferty had. 'Can you think of any reason why Rafferty would want to operate under a false name, assuming he is alive?'

'I don't know,' Foster said after a long pause.

It seemed to me that the question bothered him and he wasn't sure; I made a mental note to come back to the point. There was an aura about Foster suggesting that more than the Nately Museum was disturbing him; it wasn't what he said as much as the way he said it. Perhaps he was jealous of a dead man after all. 'You're still left with a witness who claims he saw Rafferty fall into that open furnace.'

'Yes,' Foster said.

'Then what you're really interested in is the Nately Museum. Did Patern steal Rafferty's idea, and if so, how? Is that right?'

'Well, not exactly,' Foster said haltingly. 'I… think I'd like you to look into more than just that.'

“You think?”

'I know' Foster said more forcefully.

'Like what?'

'I don't know for sure.' Foster rocked nervously in his chair, then suddenly seemed to reach some kind of decision. He abruptly leaned forward, his massive hands bracketing Rafferty's picture as if to prevent the escape of some dark secret that might be lurking there.

'Rafferty's haunting our marriage in a way I don't understand,' he continued. 'I'm not jealous of his memory, if that's what you're thinking. Victor had more brains than I do, and he sure as hell was more famous. But I've got my own strengths, and I don't envy any man. I know Elizabeth loves me, and I don't ask for anything more. In fact, I don't think Victor and Elizabeth were happy together-at least, not in the last few years of their marriage. Victor was too much of a genius, if you know what I mean. He lived in his own world and didn't share much of it with anybody, not even Elizabeth. Elizabeth's a red-blooded woman; she needed-needs-a whole man, a real man.'

He paused, reddened. 'I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. I didn't mean it the way it sounded.'

I wasn't sure whether he was apologizing to me or for me; it didn't make any difference. 'I understand what you're saying,' I replied evenly. 'Go on.'

'I'm sure there's something important concerning Victor that I don't know about. It's tearing Elizabeth apart; she tries to hide it, but she's been beside herself ever since she saw that photograph of the museum.'

'Why don't you just ask your wife if there's something else bothering her?'

'Because I know. I know my wife. I did ask her and she denied there was anything; but just my asking upset her terribly. I never mentioned it again and she hasn't volunteered any information, but I'm convinced that something happened to Victor in the months between his car smash up and the accident in the foundry lab. Whatever it is, I think it's driving my wife out of her mind.' He paused, continued more quietly: 'Elizabeth's very nervous. She doesn't know I'm doing this, and one condition of your taking the case is that you don't talk to her about it.'

'I haven't said I'd take the case, Mike.'

He flushed. 'I… I thought-'

'In one week I'm going to be sunning in Acapulco.'

Foster looked at his hands as though they'd betrayed him. 'Maybe you could recommend somebody to me.' His voice had thickened with disappointment. 'I made up my mind to look into this thing, and I'm going to do it; but I don't want to get taken by some smart-ass joker. I know finding a good private detective isn't as easy as they make it look in the movies.'

I enjoyed my first good belly laugh in four months. 'The only place you're likely to find a dwarf private detective is in real life, hiding in a university.'

Foster smiled almost shyly. I seemed to have taken some kind of pressure off him. 'Frank says you're a criminologist.'

'True. You'd be amazed how limited the demand is for dwarf private detectives; I don't eat much, but I still have to eat.'

'Now you're pulling my leg. I looked up some of your press clippings after Frank mentioned you. You're pretty famous yourself.'

I grinned. 'That's because I get weird cases, Mike.'

That amused him. 'Frank also says you're a circus star.'

'Former circus star,' I corrected him. A wink. 'I gave up the circus; too common for a dwarf.'

Foster waited until he was sure there was a joke to get, then laughed. The laugh quickly turned sour, and he dropped his eyes. 'I've known Manning for a few years. He's not like a lot of these ivory-tower architects who don't know a nut from a bolt and couldn't care less. Anyway, when he recommended you I thought I was really in luck.'

It suddenly occurred to me that I had received my Ph.D. and left the circus at about the same time that Rafferty was-maybe-getting himself killed for the second time. Maybe it was some kind of omen.

In honor of omens, I gave it some thought. The background checking Foster wanted could boil down to nothing more than a lot of reading: if not in bed, then in a cool, secluded library. Considering the length of my legs, I could always use a little extra walking-around money in Acapulco.

'Let's see what I can come up with in a week, if anything,' I said. 'That's it if you want me. If I think it's worth more digging, I'll turn it over to somebody else. Or I can give you a name now. It's up to you. My rate is a

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