Raffles Tunny, a juggler in the employ of the United States government, is relaxing at his Swiss chalet when a killer comes to call. He’s found the next day, electrocuted in the style of serial murderer Shocker Fulson, the man with the electric touch. The trouble is, Shocker’s dead—cremated and interred in New Orleans—and Raffles is not the first victim. Six other government-employed entertainers are have been murdered, all of them killed in the style of an executed madman. A case this insane demands an equally insane detective, which means it’s time to call Odd Jobs, Inc. Jake and Hildy Pace have made names for themselves solving impossible murders. But nabbing the copycat lunatic will mean facing down the Amateur Mafia, a gang of belly-button ventriloquists, and the strangest doctor the future has ever seen. One false step, and they’ll follow Raffles to the great music hall in the sky.
About the Author
Ron Goulart (b. 1933) is a cultural historian and novelist. Besides writing extensively about pulp fiction—including the seminal Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of Pulp Magazines (1972)—Goulart has written for the pulps since 1952, when the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction published his first story, a sci-fi parody of letters to the editor. Since then he has written dozens of novels and countless short stories, spanning genres and using a variety of pennames, including Kenneth Robeson, Joseph Silva, and Con Steffanson. In the 1990s, he became the ghostwriter for William Shatner’s popular TekWar novels. Goulart’s After Things Fell Apart (1970) is the only science-fiction novel to ever win an Edgar Award. In the 1970s Goulart wrote novels starring series characters like Flash Gordon and the Phantom, and in 1980 he published Hail Hibbler, a comic sci-fi novel that began the Odd Jobs, Inc. series. Goulart has also written several comic mystery series, including six books starring Groucho Marx. Having written for comic books, Goulart produced several histories of the art form, including the Comic Book Encyclopedia (2004).
Read an Excerpt
Calling Dr. Patchwork
An Odd Jobs, Inc. Novel
By Ron Goulart
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Ron Goulart
All rights reserved.
THIS PARTICULAR ATTEMPT TO kill them came as a surprise.
Well, not a complete surprise since the Great Lando was hinting at it from the amphitheater stage when the man with the flame-hand made his try.
Let's backtrack and orient ourselves. It's a crisp clean autumn day in the year 2002 and we're in the New Westport Vaudeville Amphitheater, which is, as you probably know, built on stilts out over the barely polluted waters of Long Island Sound. The theater holds 900 people and is full this afternoon, probably because a percentage of the profits is going to the Republican-Democrat Party election committee. But then, vaudeville has been drawing good crowds since the turn of the century.
Jake Pace is a long lean man of thirty-six, tanned and capable-looking. His wife, Hildy, is a very attractive red-haired woman of thirty-two. Five feet ten, she is frequently described as willowy. She and Jake, holding hands, were sitting in row J of the second tier on this afternoon.
Up on the floating boomerang-shaped stage the Great Lando, a very small black man in a one-piece scarlet neosilk magic suit and matching cloak, was in the midst of his mentalist act. He stood crouched on the stage rim, pointing at the second row of the first tier and a matronly woman in a pearl dress. "It is a missing brooch which is troubling you," he said. "A baker's dozen of blood-red rubies in a gold setting, framed in square-cut diamonds."
"Oh, blimey, yes," gasped the plump woman as she pressed her ringed fingers against her bosom. "It's lost, misplaced."
"How could you misplace something like that?" Hildy asked with lips close to Jake's ear. "It must glow in the dark."
"Hush, no heckling. I'm curious about this guy."
"I'm not heckling him. I'm heckling you if anybody."
Jake gave her one of his slightly grim smiles and leaned forward, resting his bony hands on the tubular back of the empty chair in front of him.
"The brooch you seek is—I see it glowing!"
"Told you it glowed," said Hildy.
"Yes, I see whereat you may find the missing ... Holy Christ!" The Great Lando doubled up, clutching at his stomach. "A man with a flaming hand ... He is here ... Death! He brings death!"
"What's that got to do with me blinking brooch?" the matron demanded.
"Odd jobs ... odd jobs," muttered the mentalist. "He ... wants to kill them ..."
"Hey!" Jake jumped up. "That must be us."
"Down, sit down, you!"
Ignoring the selectman in the chair directly behind him, Jake rapidly scanned the audience around them.
"I knew we were in for trouble sitting so near them," remarked a Chinese neopath a few seats over.
"Don't be offensive, Sun Yen," cautioned his wife.
"I knew who they were the minute they sat down. Sure, they're the Paces, own and operate Odd Jobs, Inc. They're continually getting into—"
"Jake!" warned Hildy, darting, long bare legs flashing, out of her chair. "In the aisle to your right."
There he was. Face feverish, eyes sunk in shadowy hollows and blazing. Right arm made of rusty steel, swinging up now to point directly at Jake. "Kill them both," he was chanting, "kill them both."
"Not quite yet." Grabbing up the empty chair in front of him, Jake hurled it smack into the killer.
The metal chair took the man in the chin, forcing his head far back and jerking him off his feet. As he tottered back across the aisle his hand went off and a sizzling line of red- yellow flame cut straight up through the afternoon.
"I knew we'd get ourselves killed sitting in the vicinity of those daredevils."
"Stop bitching, Sun Yen, and hit the deck."
Chairs were clacking, falling down. People were scrambling, tumbling, running, jumping, anxious to get away from there before the built-in flame gun went off again.
Jake nudged his way through the confusion, caught hold of the still-stumbling man by his gun arm. The thing was so hot it made him grit his teeth, but he twisted the arm behind the assassin's back and yanked him upright. "Who the hell are you?"
"Snuff yourself." The man ran away.
Jake realized, in under three seconds, that the guy had a way to detach the arm swiftly. Jake held on to it for another second before dropping it to take off after the man. "He's maybe heading backstage," he called to Hildy.
She, too, was on the move. Running when she could, sailing over seated people and chairs as though they were track hurdles. Her red hair a streaming banner, she reached the front of the outdoor theater ahead of the one-armed man.
He would have galloped right into her if he hadn't suddenly sprung up onto the floating stage. "Damn bitch, ought to die."
The Great Lando had remained doubled up, holding onto himself as though he were suffering violent cramps. "Death.... He still carries death!"
Jake heard that and, eyes on the fugitive, realized what it meant. Instead of going after him he sprinted and tackled his wife before she could leap onto the stage. "This is the time for tucking in heads," he advised, getting one hand on her shoulder and an arm around her just below her breasts.
"But we ought—"
An enormous whomping explosion.
The floating stage stopped floating, came dropping down six feet into the airlift pit. Screams and angry shouts rolled down out of the audience.
Hildy caught her breath, gave Jake a hug, shook her head, her long red hair brushing at his bony cheek. "Should have anticipated that."
"Suicide mission, kills us and then himself. I saw him going for the trigger to the damn explosives under his tunic." Jake lifted her to her feet. "Lando's warning helped."
"Yes, he seems to have known a good deal about all this. We'd best talk to ..." She saw it in Jake's face before she turned to look at the fallen stage.
"Too late," he said. "Lando went along with the assassin."
"Now I'll never find me blooming brooch," complained the matron.CHAPTER 2
"IT MAY BE MY fault," the Secretary of Show Biz said while circling the huge living room of the fortified barn which served as the offices of Odd Jobs, Inc. "Then again it may not."
Jake was sitting in a floating lucite wingchair, quietly playing Portuguese fados on a twelve string guitar while watching the tree-filled five acres of their West Redding estate. Everything was orange and gold out there in the late afternoon. Beside his right foot a factspool scanner rested on the hardwood floor. "Who knew you were flying up here from the Autumn White House in Nashville?"
"The president and no one else," answered Gunther Stool. His prominent jowls were particularly twitchy this afternoon. "At least I don't think anyone else knew."
"You arrive in Connecticut to hire us," said Hildy, "and at almost the same exact moment a suicidal flamethrower takes a crack at barbecuing us and making a public spectacle of it. Figure that for a coincidence?"
Halting, eyeing her long smooth and tan legs, Stool said, "In the light of what's been happening, no, it does not strike me as a coincidence, Hildy. Though it might be."
"This fellow who tried to do us in." Jake kicked at the scanner. "He was last heard of, before today, in Outer Alabama where he was supposed to be locked up in an institution for the dangerously insane. His arm had been deactivated."
The Secretary of Show Biz said, "Apparently he escaped."
"Apparently," agreed Hildy. "How come the Federal Police didn't know he was running free?"
"The damn asylum didn't even know it," added Jake, "until I pixphoned them just now."
"We're dealing," said Stool, "with people who have a big budget seemingly. With a big budget, you know, almost anything can be arranged."
"Whose money is it?"
"We think, and we could be wrong but I don't feel we are, we're dealing with the Amateur Mafia again."
Jake stopped playing. "They've got money sure enough."
"I hate to see them prosper," said Hildy. "I mean besides being crooks, they're such awful bigots. Not allowing any Italians into their Mafia."
"They think the Mafia is too good an idea to be wasted on European minorities," said Secretary Stool. "They've been very successful, got a net worth in the neighborhood of 2.6 billion."
"Poor Italian Mafia doesn't take in more than 20 million a year anymore," said Hildy.
Jake leaned the guitar against a half-size statue of a horse he'd recently carved from real marble. "Is the AM making another try to take over the entertainment industry?"
"Yes," answered Stool. "Or so we strongly suspect. That would account for the murders, wouldn't it?"
Hildy wandered by Jake's chair, rubbed her fingertips across the back of his neck before moving on. "Your people, Gunther, suspect these recent murders among show business figures are linked? Been five of them this year."
"Six," corrected Jake.
She gathered up the big guitar, perched on a stool and began to play an early 20th century walking-bass blues. "You insist on including Bubbles the Clown."
"That sure wasn't a suicide," Jake told his wife.
The Secretary of Show Biz scratched at his scalloped chin. "If we include Bubbles the Clown, which my department is inclined to do, the total today is seven murders."
"Seven?" echoed both Paces. Hildy ceased playing.
"This hasn't been released to the media as yet," said Stool. "Raffles Tunny was found dead, murdered, early this morning at his therapeutic chalet in Switzerland."
"Too bad," said Jake. "He was a pretty good juggler."
"How?" asked Hildy.
"What means was used to dispatch Raffles? He was stunned to death, but not by any mechanical weapon we can detect traces of."
"Ha!" Jake, bouncing in his chair, snapped his fingers. "Now I see why the president of the United States sent you to bring us into this thing, Gunther. But it sounds impossible."
"That's your specialty, isn't it? You and Hildy, as Odd Jobs, Inc. you specialize in impossible crimes and intrigues."
"Improbable," amended Hildy. "What the heck are you getting at, Jake?"
"I'll bet the pattern of the murder of Raffles Tunny matches that of a killer named Shocker Fulson," he replied. "The guy with the electric touch."
"Shocker's dead," said Hildy. "That was a side effect of our investigation of the telekinetic pilfering down in Disneystate last spring."
Jake's eyes closed, he tilted back in his chair. "Two show-business murders back they found Rance Keane, the top gunfighter in America, dead in the middle of a bare field. No footprints around but his, yet he'd been strangled. That reminded me of Pox Fairfield, the telekinetic murderer."
"He's dead, too."
"They all are," said Stool. "Which is why, finally, the Federal Police are allowing us to contact a private inquiry agency such as yours."
"All?" Hildy, hands on hips, stopped near the easel which held the self-portrait she'd been working on earlier in the week. "You're telling us, Gunther, that the MO's on all these murders of entertainment notables match those of dead men?"
"Exactly, Hildy. Almost down to every detail, amazingly close." Stool gave an exasperated sigh. "When the Federal Police ran the details of the Raffles Tunny murder through their crime computers only one name came out as fitting the pattern used. The name was that of Shocker Fulson. There aren't, after all, that many wild talent killers in this world of ours."
"You suspect somebody, the Amateur Mafia say, is reviving the dead?"
"We've given up attempting to come up with answers, Jake. But personally I believe the Amateur Mafia has put together a gang of wild talent murderers and let them loose to plague us, a sort of death patrol."
"If they want to take over a piece of the government-controlled show business, Gunther," put in Hildy, "why are they knocking off valuable entertainers?"
"To put pressure on us. You must realize the AM is a very practical businesslike organization."
"They figure they can always find another juggler or clown," said Jake. "You have to be willing to kill a few important people if you're going to scare the U.S. government."
"They haven't made a direct pitch yet?"
"No, Hildy, nobody has openly asked for a piece of the business. They never will. Hints, however, have been popping up. Eventually someone will hint that if we don't share show business with them the killings won't stop."
Hildy went over, rubbed at Jake's neck once again. "Shocker Fulson absolutely is dead, isn't he?"
"Dead, cremated and resting in an urn down in New Orleans."
"Well, then he couldn't have murdered anyone in Switzerland this morning."
Narrowing an eye, Jake nodded at Gunther Stool. "How much are you going to pay us to find out if Shocker did or didn't?"
"$200,000?" Jake shook his head. "With the risk of assassination hanging over us? The Amateur Mafia obviously doesn't want Odd Jobs, Inc. digging into this."
"The president's been very touchy about budgets of late, Jake. After the Secretary of War dipped into the bribe fund and then Mrs. Hobart ordered all those $3 bills printed up we—"
"How high did they tell you to go to get us, Gunther?" Hildy asked him.
Her green eyes blinked at her husband. "Shall we?"
"Since it's a favor for the government I guess we can work for a fee that low," he decided.
"Half in front, Gunther."
"Oh, no. Best I can do, Jake, is $50,000 now, then $150,000 when you solve the case and the final $200,000 when the next fiscal—"
"Whoa," advised Jake. "You don't understand the deal. We get $400,000 whether we catch anybody or not. Our fees aren't based on any kind of guaranteed results."
"I don't know if I can swing that."
Hildy moistened her upper lip with her tongue. "We've been 87 percent successful in the past year."
"89 percent," said Jake.
"Oh, you keep including the Baroness Honeyball Job, Jake, which got solved only because she happened to think your game of tennis was—"
"I tracked her down, damn it, Hildy. Tennis had very little to do with—"
"We're desperate," said the Secretary of Show Biz. "The president is deathly afraid they may even strike at Fancy Dawntreader, robbing him of his favorite vidshow."
"Who?" said Hildy.
"Fancy Dawntreader, the gossip," said Jake. "Very attractive young woman if you like tallness."
"She's six feet seven."
"That is tall."
"Has someone threatened her?"
"No." The flesh on Stool's heavy face jiggled. "They never give us a warning, though, they simply strike. Bam! Like that and another valuable show-business personality is lost forever."
Jake stood, took another look at the waning day outside. "Stick $150,000 in our Banx account, Gunther, and hand us the rest in cash for expenses."
After several long seconds Gunther Stool said, "Very well, you've got a deal."
"I'll fly down to New Orleans and see what really happened to Shocker," said Jake. "Hildy, you check out the Raffles Tunny murder site."
"Fine," said his wife, smiling, "I always like Switzerland."
Stool said, "The Federal Police and the International Lawforce have already done both those things."
Jake grinned a thin grin. "Even so," he said.CHAPTER 3
JAKE LEANED BACK IN his synwicker chair, gazed up at the seethrough bulletproof dome ceiling of their dining room. The night sky was incredibly clear, rich with stars. "Too much bay leaf," he said, wiping at his lips with a neolin napkin. "Yeah, a touch too much."
Hildy made a polite snorting sound. "A lot you know about preparing Coquilles St. Jacques."
"Didn't I win a blue ribbon for cooking this very dish?"
A louder snort. "At the Nebraska State Fair." She took up the bottle of white wine to refill her glass.
"You still need to learn how to take criticism, Hildy." Jake pushed back from the floating oval table, walked to the cobbler's bench on which he'd earlier dumped a batch of factspools and a small stack of faxgrams.
"It was your turn to cook anyway." Rim of her wine glass touching her chin, she watched her lanky husband.
"Going to have to dig out that ribbon. I'm fairly certain it was won in Paris."
"The farmer who pinned it on you was wearing a French cologne." She stretched up out of her chair. "Back to work?"
Squatting, Jake was setting the nine spools out in a single row. "You'll be leaving for Switzerland early in the morning, and I'll be catching a TransAm flight to New Orleans. I want us to know all about these show business murders before we depart," he said, riffling the faxgrams. "Got coded responses from six of our stringers so far, with some background stuff neither the Feds or IntLaw have. There'll be more when Steranko the Siphoner sends us what he can hijack from the Amateur Mafia's clandestine computers."
Hildy crossed over to stand behind him. Her slender fingers rubbed at the back of his neck. "Certain you want us to take this case?"
Excerpted from Calling Dr. Patchwork by Ron Goulart. Copyright © 1978 Ron Goulart. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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