A circus-performer-turned-PI matches wits with an international assassin in another of Chesbro’s “wild roller-coaster rides” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine).
With a genius IQ, a past career as a circus acrobat, and a black belt in karate, criminology professor Dr. Robert Frederickson—better known as “Mongo the Magnificent”—has a decidedly unusual background for a private investigator. He also just so happens to be a dwarf.
Hired to investigate an audacious theft, Mongo travels to Zurich, Switzerland, where rich philanthropist Emmet P. Neuberger claims terrorist and criminal John “Chant” Sinclair has swindled his charitable organization, the Cornucopia Foundation, out of $10 million. Several agencies, including Interpol, are already on the case, but Neuberger wants a private eye to monitor the situation.
It quickly becomes clear it’s much more than a simple case of embezzlement. As the bodies pile up and suspicions turn to Mongo himself, the detective decides to hunt down Chant on his own. But the deeper he digs into this peculiar case, the more he begins to think that Chant may not be the one to blame . . .
This thrilling entry in the Mongo series introduces international assassin Chant, who goes on to star in his own series of adventures from the author who “writes wonderfully strange mystery novels . . . [with] perfectly calculated nail-biting tension” (Boston Sunday Herald).
Dark Chant in a Crimson Key is the 11th book in the Mongo Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
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In a just world the commission of good deeds would bestow upon the charitable in our midst commensurate physical beauty and social grace, and Emmet P. Neuberger would not look like a pumpkin-in-progress with a complexion to match, nor act like the buffoon at the dinner party who desperately wants to make a good impression but who can't stop telling bad jokes in a loud voice and whose tie somehow always manages to end up floating in the soup. He had pale green eyes which always appeared to be out of focus, as if they had been set wrong at the factory, and he looked like a man who would smell bad, although he didn't. The obsequious manner in which he dealt with most people only made matters worse.
I considered my aversion to Neuberger to be a character defect on my part, but I took some comfort in the fact that even my brother Garth, quintessential defender of underdogs and buffoons, studiously avoided the man, not only in our business dealings with him but also at the numerous New York charity balls and other assorted galas to which the oft-incredulous but undeniably renowned Frederickson brothers were asked to lend their good offices and presence.
I certainly respected what Neuberger did, which accounted for the fact that somewhere along the way we had gotten on a first-name basis. His grandfather had been one of the more ruthless of the nineteenth-century robber barons who had amassed fortunes in both coal and the railroads to transport it. Before he died, the patriarch, perhaps to assuage a measure of guilt at the lives he'd crushed and twisted out of shape to acquire his treasure horde, had set aside a goodly portion of his gargantuan estate to establish the Cornucopia Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a primary, if not exclusive, task to finance both scientific and emergency relief efforts to assuage hunger, disease, and malnutrition in the world. Emmet P. Neuberger was the current elder scion of the clan carrying on the family tradition of administering the multibillion-dollar philanthropic entity for a salary of a dollar a year. Frederickson and Frederickson often accepted generous fees to run routine investigations on presumably saintly individuals and famine research or relief organizations upon whom or which the board of directors of Cornucopia was considering bestowing some of its legendary largesse, and I occasionally did some pro bono work for them. Neuberger's heart was certainly in the right place, and under his ten-year stewardship the Cornucopia Foundation had enhanced an already impeccable reputation. I wished both Garth and I liked him better personally than we did.
He was in my office on this sunny summer Monday morning to ask me to go to Zurich, because the man who was universally conceded to be the world's most wanted criminal, an individual who specialized in what might be described as terror-driven confidence scams and extortion, had ripped off the Cornucopia Foundation to the high-pitched tune of ten million dollars, and subsequently burned out the eyes and cut out the heart of a hapless Interpol inspector who had presumably gotten too close to his prey, perhaps even seen his real face.
"But why?" I asked.
Emmet P. Neuberger stared at me with his out-of-focus gaze for a few moments, nervously pulled at his pendulous lower lip, shook his head. "Why?"
"Why do you want me to go to Zurich, Emmet? Just what is it you expect me to do there?"
He smiled tentatively, took his fingers away from his mouth, and proceeded to tug at the end of his too-wide tie. "I'm surprised you should even ask, Mongo. Surely you've read that Interpol and the Swiss authorities report they have this Chant Sinclair trapped inside Switzerland, and that it's only a matter of time before their net closes in on him. I would think that a man of your accomplishments and interests, an ex-professor with a Ph.D. in criminology, connoisseur of the bizarre, and world-famous investigator, would at least want to be on the scene when they catch this legendary criminal. I would think it would be like a football fan receiving free tickets and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl."
"Very colorful, Emmet. But just because I've been involved in some strange cases doesn't make me a connoisseur of the bizarre, as you put it. At heart I'm really just a simple farm boy from Nebraska. And I'm not a journalist, which means that whatever is going on over there is none of my business. Besides, if I had a buck for every time Interpol or some other police force somewhere in the world announced they were about to catch Sinclair, I could fly to Europe in my own private jet."
"It's different this time. The Swiss Army is being used to help seal off the borders."
"Hell, nobody can even agree on what he looks like now; the last photograph taken of him is twenty-five years old. I know you're anxious to recover Cornucopia's ten million, Emmet, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for anybody to catch Sinclair."
Emmet P. Neuberger again fixed me with his eerie, out-of-focus gaze. There was a good deal of anxiety and tension in his pale green eyes. "And you say you're not intrigued by the unusual? You obviously know a great deal about Chant Sinclair."
"No more than what anybody who reads newspapers and watches television would know."
What those readers and watchers were likely to know was that "Chant" was a nickname that John Sinclair had picked up in Vietnam, although nobody seemed to know how he had acquired it, or what it might mean. He'd been a U.S. Army captain in Special Forces, and a highly decorated war hero after two and a half tours of duty. One day he'd apparently just got up in the morning and decided to desert. On his way out of the country he'd managed to kill five highly trained Army Rangers, no less, who had been unlucky enough to have received orders to go after him. Nobody knew how he'd managed to get out of the country with the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, and the U.S. Army all on his case, but he had. Nobody knew where he went, or where he lived now. About the only thing everybody did agree on was that within five years after he walked away from the war he'd established a reputation as a master criminal who'd stolen millions from various individuals and companies around the world, usually by means of often very elaborate con games. But he was no white-collar crook; very messy, sometimes bizarre, violence was a kind of signature trademark of his, as with the missing eyes and heart of the Interpol inspector. He seemed to like people to know when he'd been in their neighborhood.
"He stole ten million dollars from us," Neuberger said tersely. There was a good deal of anger in his voice, but I thought I saw an equal measure of fear reflected in his eyes.
He blinked and smiled at me, as though I'd said something especially pleasing to him. "Actually, it's rather complicated. Are you sure you want me to explain it to you?"
"Well, Emmet, I don't know," I replied, glancing at my watch. "If it's all that involved, maybe it had better wait until —"
"He somehow managed to gain access to one of our fund depositories in Europe."
I suppressed a sigh, leaned back in my leather-covered swivel chair, placed my hands behind my head. "You make it sound like a transaction at an automated teller machine."
He thought about it, nodded. "Actually, the analogy is not inappropriate — but only to a degree. You see, at the level of finance at which we operate, in dealing with our investments as well as the organizations and individuals Cornucopia wishes to back financially, money never actually changes hands."
"How do you pay salaries and buy paper clips?"
"That's mere housekeeping," he replied with a dismissive wave of his pudgy right hand. "Those kinds of administrative details are handled through separate accounts which are maintained and administered by regional directors around the world, the same as with any global corporation. These accounts are, of course, routinely audited, as with any business. However, our business is the dispensation of many millions of dollars to worthy causes. Although we do occasionally give grants to individuals, most of our dealings are with corporations, and sometimes with national governments. In our philanthropic disbursements, and in the management of our investments, dozens of different currencies are involved."
"Emmet, this is all very interesting, but I really don't have the time to —"
"In a single hour on any given day, hundreds of millions of dollars may be moved from one investment activity to another, from one country to another. This is done by our own team of investment bankers, using computers and what are called electronic keys, which are similar to the numbers you are assigned for your savings and checking accounts at your bank. One must be authorized to make such a transfer between accounts, of course, but it is not unusual for any large corporation to have a dozen or more investment bankers, working under close supervision, authorized to make such transfers."
"But we're not talking cash here."
"Precisely. We are talking only about numbers, like the listed value of a stock, essentially symbols of value that can only be used when converted into some currency. The actual conversion of credits into currency is done by the recipient of the grant, be it the International Red Cross or some enterprising scientist, after the organization or individual receives it. The credit, if you want to call it that, is transferred to the recipient's account by means of a special electronic key created for that single transaction. Such a key cannot be created without the signed authorization of three individuals — our chief financial officer, one member of the board of directors, and myself. To create a special electronic key, transfer credits to the new account, and then be able to actually convert the credits into cash without any sort of authorization along the way is theoretically impossible."
"So much for theory. John Sinclair made it happen."
Emmet P. Neuberger's pumpkin-shaped face took on an extremely soulful look, as if he were getting ready to cry. "Yes. Essentially, what he did was to open up his own personal checking account with ten million dollars of our money, and then empty it. To accomplish that, he had to defeat the most sophisticated electronic security system in the world."
"Maybe you'd better have a heart-to-heart talk with your people in Zurich."
"Oh, the police and Interpol have interviewed all our staff people over there thoroughly, although I could have told them they were wasting their time. Hyatt Pomeroy is the executive in charge of our western European operations, but he couldn't possibly have been involved in the crime."
"He doesn't have the authorization to transfer funds, and I doubt he even understands the complex procedures involved."
"Just what is it Pomeroy does?"
"He administers our Zurich office. He has access to some funds, of course, but only to run the office, pay staff, that sort of thing. We maintain offices around the world to take applications and interview potential recipients of grants."
"But he must have talked with Sinclair, even if he didn't know it was Sinclair."
"Presumably," Neuberger said in a slightly absent tone. "The money this man took was funds marked for emergency famine relief in the Sudan. In a very real sense, the Interpol inspector isn't the only person Sinclair has murdered. Untold numbers of men, women, and children may now starve to death because the relief funds that would have been provided will not now be forthcoming."
I grunted, inclined my head slightly, and stared at Neuberger, who stared anxiously back at me. Finally, I said, "Just what is it you want me to do, Emmet?"
He blinked rapidly, seemingly surprised. "I thought I'd made that clear. I'd like you to go to Zurich."
"You've told me where you want me to go, not what you expect me to do once I get there. My P.I. license is no good in Europe. I have no franchise to operate as an investigator over there, and I really don't think either Interpol or the Zurich police would be too eager to even buy a glass of zinferdal for a private citizen they'd have to perceive as a smart-ass American who'd arrived on the scene to look over their shoulders and second-guess them."
"You're internationally known and respected, Mongo. They'd talk to you."
"About what? I wouldn't know what questions to ask. I don't have the financial or computer expertise to even begin to get a fix on how Sinclair did what he did. You certainly know more about your own operations than I ever will. You already have a city and international police force, not to mention the Swiss Army, working on your behalf. I really don't fancy wasting my time or Cornucopia's money."
"I will be paying you personally, Mongo," Neuberger said quickly, leaning forward in his chair. "None of the people you mentioned work for me; they don't report to me, and all of the information I get is secondhand. All I want is a report on what has happened and the progress of events from someone who has Cornucopia's interests in mind. A report, Mongo; that's all I want. And if you can't find out anything more than I already know, that's all right. All I'm asking is that you go over as soon as possible and take a look at things. Please. I can't tell you how important this is to me."
"I can see that," I said, suppressing a sigh. "Look, Garth is in Brussels taking care of some business for another client. He'll be finished in a day or two, and I'll have him swing through Zurich on his way —"
"No, no, Mongo!" he said sharply, almost plaintively. When I looked at him, somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of his reaction, he continued quickly, "Garth isn't you, Mongo. I mean, he doesn't have your tact. He can be quite abrasive with certain people, as I know you're aware. I'm not sure he could get the job done."
"Damn it, Emmet, that's an insult to Garth. He's a professional, and he's every bit as well known and respected as I am. Besides that, he's an ex-cop; the Zurich police and Interpol could be a lot more impressed by him than by me, and they might extend him professional courtesies they would deny me. Garth may stand a better chance of getting the job done than I would, and he's already in Europe. It will not only save you money, Emmet, but it makes more sense."
Neuberger leaned forward even farther in his chair, clasped his hands in his lap, and bowed his head, allowing me the privilege of studying his bald spot and pronounced dandruff. He made a strange, muffled sound deep in his throat, and when he looked up, I was startled to see that his pale green eyes were misted with tears that puddled in his puffy lids, then rolled down his round cheeks. "But Garth doesn't like me, Mongo. You know that. Not many people do. You may not care much for me, but at least you treat me with courtesy and respect."
"I like you just fine, Emmet," I said lamely, looking away in embarrassment.
"Even as a child, I was never able to make many friends, no matter how hard I tried. Having a lot of money wasn't enough; it just led people to try to take advantage of me. I wanted to do something, to be somebody. Cornucopia has given me the chance to make my life meaningful. The foundation is my life. This may sound odd to you, Mongo, but what John Sinclair did to Cornucopia makes me feel personally violated. I just want to feel as if I have some measure of control, or at least that I'm being kept properly informed about events concerning my ... child. Having you personally go to Zurich to prepare this report would give me a great measure of relief. Please, Mongo. As a personal favor, would you do it for me?"
"Emmet," I said quietly, hoping my exasperation didn't show in my tone, "I have personal reasons for not being able to go over to Europe right now. I have a lady friend whom I haven't seen in a long time coming into town, and —"
"Miss Rhys-Whitney," he said, smiling broadly. "The snake woman. Such a lovely lady. I met her at the Museum of Natural History benefit, remember?"
"Harper and I were planning on spending some time together, Emmet. We've been looking forward to it."
"Then spend it together in Switzerland! She can meet you there. I'll pick up all expenses, so you can think of this as a paid vacation if you like. It shouldn't take you long to meet with the people you'll want to talk to. You can fax me your report, and then the two of you can be on your way."
Actually, the thought of a European vacation with Harper was not unappealing; we had talked about going off somewhere for a couple of weeks, but hadn't decided where it was we wanted to go. "I don't accept paid vacations from clients, Emmet. But I'll go over to Zurich and poke around a bit, if you insist you want to spend your money that way."
Excerpted from "Dark Chant in a Crimson Key"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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