stomach. He didn't invite me to sit, but I considered myself ahead of the game as long as he was talking to me.

'Yeah, I worked in the Rafferty lab,' he said. 'But Rafferty himself didn't hire me. I only knew him by sight. There were mostly technical people there; they tested different kinds of metal alloys.'

'I understand that. But you claim to have seen Rafferty die.'

'I don't claim, I did see him die. What's your interest in Rafferty?'

'It's an insurance matter; a few old loose ends that were overlooked at the time and have to be straightened out. Some people don't think Victor Rafferty is dead.'

His hands rose, fluttered like wounded birds a few inches above the surface of his desk, slowly came back to a landing. It was the most curious gesture I'd ever seen, and it struck me that it could be learned, practiced, purposely exaggerated. Aside from his voice, Harold Q. Barnes was almost too gross, too vulgar, as if he consciously worked at it. The man would bear closer study.

'What the hell does that mean?' Barnes snapped. 'Somebody calling me a liar?'

'Insurance people are professional skeptics,' I said soothingly. 'They like to keep going back over the same details.'

'That's crazy,' he said, a distant look on his face. 'Rafferty died five years ago. Who'd be interested now?'

'You were the last person to see him alive. Is that correct?'

'That's what I told the cops, and that's what I told the insurance companies. I don't-'

'Mr. Barnes, would you tell me exactly what happened?'

Barnes shrugged, then spoke as if he were reciting. 'He was walking on the catwalk over the smelting furnaces. He stopped and leaned over a railing, like he was looking at something down there. All of a sudden he reached for his head, like he was dizzy. I tried to get to him, but I was too late. He fell over the railing into one of the open vats. His body exploded when it hit that hot metal. There was nothing left of him. I called the cops, but there wasn't anything anyone could do for him.'

Barnes seemed immensely pleased with himself, like an actor who has learned his lines well.

'This was on a Sunday, wasn't it?'

'Yeah. I only worked there on weekends.'

'Was there anyone else around?'

'No. The lab was closed on Sundays. I kept an eye on the place and checked the furnaces; they have to be kept hot, y'know.'

'Why did Rafferty take you along with him, Mr. Barnes?'

'I had to let him on the catwalk. There's a steel door.'

'He owned the building. Why didn't he have his own key?'

'Hell, I don't know. He must have forgotten it.'

' Why did he want to go on the catwalk?'

'He never said.'

'What was Rafferty doing there on a Sunday?'

'I don't know. I wasn't being paid to ask the boss questions. They tell me he was a weirdo. Maybe he just wanted to make sure everything was running like it should.'

I didn't seem to be making much progress in that vein, so I gestured around the office to change the subject. 'This is quite a setup you have here.'

His eyes clouded with suspicion. 'Yeah, I make out. What's it to you and the insurance company?'

'I'm interested in making movies myself.'

Barnes's face brightened. 'Hey, you ever think of acting? I might be able to build a whole film around you. Something really kinky.'

'No, thanks. How do you get started in a business like this?'

'Good luck and clean living,' he said with a smirk.

'And a little money.'

'Some.' Barnes was getting nervous again; his hands were beginning to twitch, ready for takeoff.

'About how much, would you say?'

He shook his head. 'I don't discuss my personal business. You said you wanted to talk about Rafferty; okay, we talked. You said you don't want to be a movie star; that's all right too.'

'It's quite a career jump from watchman to movie producer. I was hoping you might be able to give me a few tips. Who gave you your big break?'

Barnes rose threateningly from his chair. 'I'm tired of this conversation. You found your way in here; now find your way out!'

I found my way out and waited a few feet beyond the entrance to the brownstone until one of the women who had been on the studio floor emerged. I almost didn't recognize her with her clothes on. She was big and lumpy, didn't wear a bra and should have. She hadn't bothered to clean off her theatrical makeup, and her face looked like a cake that had been forgotten in the oven. I stepped in front of her.

'Excuse me, ma'am. My name's Frederickson. I'd like to talk to you for a minute.'

She stared down at me over the twin peaks of her breasts for what seemed a long time. 'I saw you inside the studio, buddy. Whaddya want?'

'Just talk.'

'I ain't no hooker, mister. I'm an actress.'

'Anybody can see that right away,' I assured her. 'I said I just want to talk.'

'No offense, but you ain't, uh, normal. I don't know how you get your kicks.'

'I'd get a big kick out of your talking to me.'

She sniffed. 'The street ain't no Times Square rap parlor, buddy. I'm busy; I got another job to get to.'

She started to walk past me. I flashed a twenty and she almost broke a platform heel stopping.

'Twenty bucks, sister, for twenty minutes of your time. A buck a minute.'

She took the bill and stuffed it down the front of her dress; I wondered if she'd ever find it again.

'What do you want to talk about?' She could turn her tone on a dime; her voice was now positively saccharine.

We started walking toward Third Avenue. 'Tell me about Harry Barnes.'

She seemed relieved; I think she'd been expecting me to grab her leg. 'That's all you want to talk about?'

'That's it. What do you know about him?'

She darted a glance sideways at me. 'You ain't going to tell him what I say, are you?'

'Not a word, love. Cross my heart.'

She made a face. 'He's kinky.'

'Oh-oh,' I clucked. 'What does that mean?'

Her breasts bounced violently as we stepped down off a curb, and then settled back into their normal, quivering rhythm as we crossed the street. 'He ain't no professional,' she said, demurely supporting her breasts with a forearm as we stepped up on the opposite curb. 'I mean, there's lots of guys making skin flicks. Most of them treat you like a professional. Harry ain't like that. He likes to touch his girls, sleep with 'em, that kind of thing.'

'What's his product like?'

Another face. 'I don't know how he makes any money on the shit he turns out. The stuff he makes would have been okay a few years ago, but everything now is synch sound and color. Real Hollywood. It's like Harry makes 'em as a hobby.' She shrugged. 'Still, he pays pretty good. Standard.'

'Where do you suppose he got the money to get started?'

'Gee, I don't know, mister. I ain't interested in the business end. He just started is all.'


'Oh, I don't know. A few years ago.'

'Five years?'

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