Death in Donegal Bay
Death in Donegal Bay
ALAN ARTHUR BAKER HAD never hit it big in the field he chose for his lifetime career. The field was larceny. He had made his first appearance in court at the innocent age of seventeen. The charge was selling bogus location maps of the homes of movie stars in Hollywood and adjacent areas.
Selling these maps was not in itself unlawful. But Alan's maps were several decades old; he had inherited them from an uncle who had been in the same business as a youth. Most of the stars had moved by the time Alan hit the streets. Quite a few of them had died.
The complainants-a vindictive and elderly couple visiting from Illinois-must have hoped for punitive rather than compensatory damages from Alan. They appeared in small-claims court without an attorney.
The case was dismissed without penalty. Alan had taken the precautionary step of buying a rubber stamp to update his avuncular inheritance. The stamp bore the single word Historic in print small enough to fit between The and Fabulous of the original title. The couple from Illinois might have had sight too dimmed by time to read it. The original title had been "The Fabulous Homes of All the Famous Cinema Stars." Alan had made them historic.
He had gone on from there to other small con scams and had become a minor local celebrity. I had grown up in Long Beach, so I was not aware of his reputation when we first met.
I was in my second season with the Rams and being paid more than I was worth. Four years at Stanford had not made me as sophisticated as I imagined myself to be.
It was over drinks at Heinie's that Alan explained to me how short the life of the professional athlete was, how bleak the years of retirement were-unless he prepared for them. Two days later, I gave him a check for five thousand dollars to be invested in Stadium Mutual Funds, of which Alan claimed to be the financial adviser.
He was more than the adviser; he was the total organization. When it was forced into bankruptcy, Alan escaped with two years of probation on his promise to a tolerant and gullible judge that he would make complete restitution to the investors.
Considering the history of our relationship, I was surprised when he phoned me in San Valdesto on an unseasonably hot June morning.
"Remember me?" he asked.
"Too well. Where are you calling from?"
"In town. I live here now."
"I'm sorry to hear it. What's your latest con?"
"What a thing to say! Jesus, Brock, you were the very first investor to get his money back!"
"And why was that?"
"What do you mean, why? I promised and I paid."
"You don't remember the scene in your office?"
"Dimly. That was a long time ago. I remember you said something about my back."
"That's right. I told you to come up with five thousand dollars in twenty-four hours or learn to live with a broken back."
"Dear God! Mr. Macho. Big man, now, aren't you? You inherited a wad from your uncle. My uncle left me a trunk full of maps. At least I made it on my own."
"Alan!" I said sternly, and started to laugh.
"That's better," he said. "Look, I'm not working a pitch on you. I want to hire you. I need a detective."
"Sorry. I'm retired."
"Sure you are! You have worked on three cases up here since you claimed you were retired."
"For free," I said. "For emotional reasons. I don't do it for pay anymore."
"That figures. You always were an economic idiot. Well, could you recommend any other agency in town?"
"Wouldn't I be doing them a disservice? How could I be sure they would get their money?"
"They could check my credit or they could get it up front. You're not a forgiving man, are you?"
"I guess not. What kind of work-divorce?"
"No. But ... checking on my wife. I think she's in trouble, not messing around. I don't want to divorce her. I love her."