Cooking with Arsenic - Full fourth chapter

Chapter 4
“Mister Miller?”
Despite appearances, John Smith was not as nervous as he seemed to be. He was more calm than the day before, and the fidgeting Miller interrelated as nervousness were part and partial to a excess of energy and conscience which, now that movement had finally occurred, had dug itself deep into the psyche of John Smith. Fingers twitching, legs shifting, and rapid eye movements were the symptoms of a man who had lived without adrenaline for so long that when it began to rush through his system for the first time, perhaps in years, it affected him in a way similar to a rich grande cup of espresso, downed by Mormon, forever previous, abstinent of caffeine.
“I want to assure you, your partner’s death had nothing to do with me or my friends. I do not even think it is attached to my case. I have considered it, and I do not think it is likely, furthermore, I hope it is not likely.”
“If you will forgive me.” Miller replied, “I think it is best, no matter what, to proceed with your case as if my boss’ death was directly related. After all, the cases Mr. Hartley usually took often had more to do with Hollywood heiresses than half town hit men. Hollywood heiresses, though they may hold quite a grudge, will rarely plot murder.”
“Surely, he’s made other enemies. Is it not possible, also, that his death was merely a mistake, just one of those things that happens in that part of town?”
“I didn’t say it’s not possible. I said it’s best if we proceed as if that were not the case. I think it’s best if you tell me everything you can, and then leave the rest to me.”
“I suppose I have no choice. I do feel badly for your partner. If I may offer my condolences.”
“Thank you.”
As they spoke, they entered Miller’s office. He pushed a stack of papers from one side of his desk to the other, then put his feet up on the edge of the desk, and lit a cigarette.
“Lucky Strikes?”
“What the doctor ordered.”
“May I?”
“Please.” Miller tossed the pack to him, and for a moment, they joined in one of the oldest conspiratorial traditions in mankind. The warm glow of the cigarettes released from them the glow of Mrs. Tummley’s glare, and gave strange, warm relief from the heat of the day. In hot climates, cigarettes can be strangely homeopathic medicines.
“So. First, what’s your real name?”
“My real name? John Smith.”
“Come on. Now’s not the time to pull my leg.”
“Would you like to see my identification?”
“Yes, actually.” Miller studied the document closely, wrinkling his eyebrows. “John Smith. What sort of parents did you have, that’s been a cliché since Sherlock Homes.”
“My parents did not expect me to be in the midst of a murder investigation, Mister Miller.”
“Really? They seemed to have planned it well enough – a real name everyone will think is an alias.”
“It was certainly partially that they were not raised American. Irony does not translate terribly well I find.”
“True enough. Where were they from?”
A long sigh. “America. But their parents came from Japan.”
“Japan. This is part of why this so concerns me. My mother was born in America, raised by parents who spoke Japanese almost exclusively. She was raised to speak American. My father was of Scottish blood, adopted by first-generation Japanese parents, who also spoke little English. My father, not knowing his real name, at some point took the name Smith, and my parents desired me to have a name they considered American. I am a very patriotic man, and understand why my so-called people are now under suspicion, but I have no desire to come under suspicion myself.”
“You work as a lawyer?”
“Yes, how did you guess?”
“Not unexpected, along with an American name you were given an American schooling, and the most American of carriers. Being a lawyer gives you the longer lunch break to speak with me, without arousing suspicion, and explains why you have so easily put your ancestry out of the way of notice.”
John Smith checked his watch. “You are more perceptive than I first gave you credit for. I am a lawyer, specializing in business law.”
Miller imagined, for a moment, that he heard a mocking laugh from next door. McAven hated business lawyers.
“So, who is this Admiral?”
“I’m not sure. She just talks about big brass, and about military secrets. She tells me things, reports before they’ll come out.”
“Do you know how they met?”
“Mr. Miller, this may come as a shock to you, working in your business of broken homes and weeping, emotionally betrayed people, but I do not really care what my wife does.”
“For your information, that isn’t what I was asking. You might be surprised. My business is rarely involved with the passionate and betrayed. Usually, I’m called in at the end of a long marriage the couple both knew was over for some time; one side just needs some evidence to ratchet up their winnings in court. I have actually simultaneously represented both sides in divorce hearings.”
“I’m sorry. I tire of those who judge my position on marriage. I was, you see, rather forced.”
“Isn’t every man?”
“True enough.”
“I’m just looking for anything that can help us to understand what is happening, or to help me find the man your wife is… seeing.”
“You could just follow her.”
“That is certainly an option, but I vastly prefer not to, if someone else already is, the situation might very quickly become dangerous, and I think it’s quite dangerous enough as it is.”
“I suppose that is true. Unfortunately, I have no information, as my wife and I live very separate lives, exactly what we came to Los Angeles to have the ability to do.”
“Very well then, what’s your address?”
“24243 Sycamore. But that won’t help you much.”
“Why’s that?’
“My wife’s address is 1322 Canary.”
“The other end of town.”
“You do live separate lives.”
“I did inform you of that before.”
“Not even keeping up appearances?”
“For whom would we do that?”
“Why stay married?”
“Two reasons, the first being taxes, the second, simply I think we both get some benefit from it. We both found, rather quickly in our marriage, that we were attracted to a certain sort of people who find their joy in thinking themselves home-wreckers, able to turn people away from their wives. There is an inexplicable number of men and ladies willing to throw themselves at those they would not touch, were they not married.”
“The seal of approval of another woman is the greatest attracting factor?”
“Something like that, I do believe. Perhaps a penchant for drama, I don’t know. With those already married, our being married extends to them a feeling that we are living as dangerously as they. I will admit, to a man such as yourself, that this has, at times, proved financially helpful.”
“Only from those who could afford it. I’m sure you understand. We actually help each other sometimes, she will create drama at times when I feel my relationship needs it, or she will help me blackmail to prove I have nothing to loose. All in all, it’s a wonderful marriage, despite appearances.”
“Sounds like it. You aren’t nervous are you?”
“Yesterday? Yesterday I thought I would soon have the immigration bureau breathing down my neck. Today, I know it’s something much larger, and I, sir, prefer prison to paperwork.”
“Very well. I guess I’ll follow your wife.”
“Ironic, you following the wife of a man who couldn’t care less.”
“I told you, it’s what I do. Any idea when I should watch her?”
“Did it sound like I kept track? Do what you do.”
With that, John Smith left.
Jim Miller muttered, and his stomach followed suit. He had been leaning against the desk for the entirety of his interview. He threw himself into his chair, and put his feet up on the desk. Leaning back, he closed his eyes, and ran his hands across his face. He took one three second glance out of his window, swung his feet back down off of his desk, and left the room. As he passed Mrs. Tummley on the way out, he spoke:
“Mrs. Tummley. I will be out for the rest of the day on a trail.”
“Thank you Mr. Miller.” Though Mrs. Tummley disliked rudeness, she did appreciate a businesslike, hardworking attitude. She liked to see them busy, and it was often jested that she was more a slave-driver than Mr. Hartley. The jest was funny because it was an understatement. Jim Miller caught a quick “Very good, sir,” Emanating from her battleship of a desk before he was out the door.
Miller after taking the stairs as quickly as gravity and agility would let him, he paused, and peered out of the doorway, looking for John Smith. John Smith, apparently, had been eager to depart, and had disappeared entirely. After making sure of this, Miller stepped into the street, and, after some watching, managed to flag down a taxi.
“1333 Canary.”
In the taxi, Miller thought of his two trips to New York – taxis there were places of talk and chatter, only occasionally struck by silence, in rare moments when passengers and driver were both quiet. Here in Los Angeles, taxi rides were silent affairs, even the cars more silent than in New York, and the cacophony of horns, motors, and screeching tires. He rode silent through the streets, pondering the movement, and the long, low buildings. After some time, the taxi turned into the residential area, and long low businesses gave way to the long, low houses that form the backbone of the Californian rich life. Canary street was a brief side street, with no number 1333. The cab driver seemed unnaturally perturbed when he was told to stop in a cul-de-sac and just let his passenger out. He took his pay, however, and left. Miller walked back part way back to the gate for 2311. The neighborhood here existed almost completely of gates, the houses being set far enough back from the road that roofs alone were visible. Around 2315, Miller slipped into a hedgerow, and swung himself easily over a fence. He tried to spend as little time as possible in either breaking and entering or trespassing, but the police tended to look with a blind eye toward private investigators with good records who committed minor crimes while doing their job. The police, so long as their more important and public cases were not interfered with, tended to see private investigators as doing work they would prefer not do themselves. Those who extended no such grace were the sort that could often be bribed.
That was trouble Miller would rather not go to, and he was glad to see neither cars in front of 2315, nor any lights on inside. Silently, and staying toward cover, watching the house carefully despite its apparent emptiness. The next yard was occupied by a dog, yet Miller quickly and easily navigated it through trees and fences, keeping well out of the dog’s reach.
Miller, crossing the final yard, found a perch in a tree near the gate. Best of all, he was technically on public property, the tree extending over the sidewalk, and could drop if escape or pursuit was necessary. He so ensconced himself in the brush and bushiness of the tree, it was, after all, a pine, that he could not be seen from nearly any angle. There, he waited, nearly motionless, and without result, for the rest of the afternoon.
There were three cars outside of the house, and Miller could easily believe that all, or none, of them actually belonged to Mrs. Smith. They were each of a certain sort - a rich sort, a sporting sort, yet slightly antiquated. They could have been all of the sort one person might choose, or all of the sort one person's friends would choose, were that person particularly limited in friends. In any case, Miller took all their license plates down, and used the idle moments to memorize license plate numbers and descriptions, and plan routes up and into the house. By the time darkness had fallen, he had worked out fourteen ways he could most likely get into the house, including a daring chimney entrance. Chimney entrances are always problematic, and generally unnecessary, as people who might lock upper windows rarely realize how easy it is for one with practice to climb a house.

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