George C. Chesbro

In The House Of Secret Enemies

The Drop

He was a big man, filled with a guy-wire tension and animal wariness that even his three-hundred-dollar tailored suit couldn't hide.

He came in the door, stopped and blinked, then walked over to my desk. I rose and took the proffered hand, waiting for the nervous, embarrassed reaction that usually preceded mumbled apologies and a hurried exit. It didn't come.

'Dr. Frederickson?'

Now, there are any number of disadvantages to being a dwarf, all compounded when you've chosen the somewhat unlikely career of a private investigator. I stand four feet eight inches in my socks. I've been told I don't exactly inspire confidence in prospective clients.

'I'm Frederickson,' I said. ''Mister' will do.'

'But you are the private detective who also teaches at the university?'

You'd be surprised at the number of people who get their jollies from playing practical jokes on dwarfs. For my own protection, I liked to try to size up people fast. He had manners, but I suspected they'd come out of a book and were things that he put on and took off like cuff links; it all depended upon the occasion. His eyes were muddy and the muscles in his face were tense, which meant that he was probably going to hold something back, at least in the beginning.

I put his age at around thirty-five, five years older than myself. I'd already decided I didn't like him. Still, there was an air of absorption about the man that suggested to me he hadn't come to play games. I wanted the job, so I decided to give him some information.

'My doctorate is in criminology, and that's what I teach at the university,' I said evenly, determined to lay everything out in the open. 'It's true that I operate a private practice but, to be perfectly frank with you, I haven't had that much experience, at least not in the field. I don't have a large clientele. Much of my business is specialized lab work that I do on a contract basis for the New York police and an occasional Federal agency.

'I'm not running down my abilities, which I happen to think are formidable. I'm just advising you as to the product you're buying.'

I might have added that hidden beneath the brusque patina of those few brief words was the story of years of bitterness and frustration, but, of course, I didn't. I'd decided long ago that when the time came that I couldn't keep my bitterness to myself I'd move permanently to the protective cocoon of the university. That time hadn't come yet.

I waited to see if I'd scared my prospective client away.

'My name is James Barrett,' the man said. 'I don't need a list of your qualifications because I've already checked them out. Actually, I'd say you're quite modest. As a forensic lab man, you're considered tops in your field. As a teacher, your students are patiently waiting for you to walk on water. It was your work on the Carter case that finally-'

'How can I help you, Mr. Barrett?' I said, a bit curtly. Barrett was being oily, and I didn't like that. Also, he'd touched on the subject of my success, and that was a sore point with me. It's not hard to be a great civil servant if you've got a measured I.Q. of 156, as I have. It is hard to achieve in private life if you're a dwarf, as I am. And that was what I craved, private achievement in my chosen profession.

Barrett sensed my displeasure and made an apologetic gesture. I swallowed hard. I was the one who'd been pushing, and it was time to make amends.

'I'm sorry, Barrett,' I said. 'I'm out of line. You see, I run up against too many people who go out of their way to spare my feelings. You don't see many dwarfs outside the circus, and deformity tends to make people uncomfortable. I like to clear the air first. I can see now that it wasn't necessary with you.'

The fact of the matter was that I had once been one of the dwarfs people see in the circus; eight years while I was studying for my degree.

'Mongo the Magnificent,' which looked better on a marquee than 'Robby Frederickson.' Mongo the Magnificent, The Dwarf Who Could Out-Tumble the Tumblers. A freak to most people. The memory made my stomach churn.

'Dr. Frederickson, I would like you to go to Europe and look for my brother.'

I waited, watching the other man. Barrett wiped his brow with a silk handkerchief. To me, he didn't look like the type to worry about anyone, not even his brother. But if it was an act, it was a convincing one.

'Tommy's a few years younger than myself,' Barrett continued. 'The other end of a large family. A few months ago he took up with a woman who was, shall I say, a bad influence on him.'

'Just a minute, Mr. Barrett. How old is your brother?'


I shrugged, as if that was the only explanation needed.

'I know he's of age, and can't be forced into doing anything. But this problem has nothing to do with age.'

'What is the problem, Mr. Barrett?'


I nodded, suddenly very sober. We'd established instant communications, Barrett and I. That one obscenity, drugs, spoke volumes to me, as it does to anyone who has spent time in a ghetto or on a college campus.

'I'm still not sure I can help, Mr. Barrett,' I said quietly. 'Addiction's a personal hell, and a man has to find his own road out.'

'I realize that. But I'm hoping you'll be able to give him a little more time to find that road. Tommy's an artist, and quite good, I'm told by those who should know. But, like many artists, he lives in a never-never land. Right now he's on the brink of very serious trouble and he must be made to see that. If he does, I'm betting that it will wake him up.'

'I take it the serious trouble you're talking about is in addition to his habit.'

'Yes. You see, Tommy and Elizabeth-'


'Elizabeth Hotaling, the girl he took up with. In order to support their habit they started trafficking, smuggling drugs in and out of Italy, selling them to tourists and students. Nothing big-they're not Syndicate-but big enough to attract the attention of Interpol. My sources, which are impeccable, assure me that he'll be arrested the next time he crosses the border, and that he'll receive a very stiff sentence.'

I wondered who his sources were, and if Barrett knew that my own brother, Garth, was a New York detective, and a Narco at that. I didn't ask.

'Mr. Barrett, your brother didn't have to go all the way to Italy to feed and support a habit. New York's the drug Mecca of the world.'

'Tommy found out that I was considering turning him into the health authorities here for forced treatment.'

'Well, that's not going to work over there. Europe isn't the United States. The Europeans take a dim view of drug users and pushers, especially when they're Americans.'

'That's why I want you to find him,' Barrett said, producing a thick file folder and placing it on my desk. 'I know you can't force him to come back, but at least you can warn him that they're on to him. That's all I want you to do-tell him what I've told you. I'll pay you five thousand dollars, plus expenses.'

'You want to pay me five thousand dollars for finding a man and delivering a message?'

Barrett shrugged. 'I have the money, and I feel a responsibility toward my brother. If you decide to take the job, I think this dossier may help. It has samples of his paintings, as well as descriptions of his habits, life-style, and so on.'

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