Devlin Tracy is an insurance fraud investigator, and a good one. The pay’s great, he lives in swingin’ Las Vegas, and only has to work when he feels like it. Taking on a New York-based case for Garrison Fidelity isn’t something Trace particularly feels like…until his mother comes to town. Suddenly the Big Apple sounds much more appetizing.
Problem: A policyholder’s been found by the roadside with Quaaludes in his bloodstream, a rubber Nixon mask on his face, and a bullet through his heart. The police have no suspects, no motive, and no leads. Complication: The victim’s father seems to be a made man, Mafia-style. Translation: Not the cooperative type. Quite the opposite, in fact. You’d think he was trying to obstruct the investigation. Trace isn’t the type to let a little stonewalling stop him, though, and with help from Chico and Sarge, he’ll run the killer to ground. It’s what he does.
When Elephants Forget is the third in the Trace series of suspense novels, featuring the charmingly hardboiled insurance investigator.
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"I don't want to do it."
"I. Don't. Want. To. Do. It. Should I repeat it in Latin? I used to be an altar boy, you know."
"No. Just explain it in English." Walter Marks did not seem so much puzzled as annoyed. His thin lips were pressed tightly together.
"All right," the other man explained. "To you, this Tony Armitage is just some young guy who got killed and had a big insurance policy with us."
"A half million dollars," Walter Marks said.
"Right. So you send in Devlin Tracy, your crack insurance investigator--"
"Hah. That's a laugh."
"Please, Groucho. Don't be hateful. So you send me in and you expect me to do what the police of seven continents haven't been able to do. Somehow solve this murder and prove it was suicide so that Garrison Fidelity Insurance Company doesn't have to pay off on the half-mill policy."
"So far that seems reasonable," Walter Marks said cautiously. Devlin Tracy thought that Walter Marks said everything cautiously. He was the vice-president for claims for Garrison Fidelity Insurance Company, and he lived cautiously.
"Yes. Very reasonable to you," Devlin Tracy said. "All cut-and-dried. Did you ever think that that's a reference to flowers? Cut-and-dried. What has that got to do with facts and information? 'Tis a puzzlement."
"Trace, you're drunk again, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not. I took the pledge a long time ago."
"Yesterday again," Trace said.
"Why do you have a drink in front of you right now? If you took the pledge?"
"This isn't a real drink. It's wine."
"Wine doesn't count?" Marks asked.
"No," Devlin Tracy said. "But if I did have a drink, no onecould blame me. It's what you'd deserve for calling me in the middle of the night."
"I called you at noon," Marks said.
"Exactly. The digital clock in my bedroom had just flicked over from eleven-fifty-nine to twelve. I call the main observatory in Greenwich every three days to make sure the clock is right. When the phone rang at the last infinitesimal click to noon, I knew it was you. I just knew it. No one else would be so petty as to wait exactly till noon to call. I knew I was going to have a lot of trouble today resisting drinking."
"Please drop the subject and get on with your alleged thinking about this case," Walter Marks said. It was obvious that he did not like Devlin Tracy. Most of the insurance investigators who worked for Marks were on salary, real employees who trembled in terror at the sound of their boss's voice. But Devlin Tracy was on retainer. He worked when he felt like it, and Marks had very little control over him because Trace was a friend of Robert Swenson, the president of Garrison Fidelity, and that made him unfireable.
"As I was saying before you got off into this insipid discussion of time," Trace said, "to you this case is cut-and-dried, but to me it's something different ... something more."
"What different? What more?" Marks demanded.
"First of all, I don't feel like working. I'm here in Las Vegas and it's July," Trace said.
"This case would be in New York," Marks said.
"It's July in New York, too," Trace said. "I hate July in New York. But did you see who this kid's father is?"
Marks snatched up the newspaper clipping that lay on the table before them and read it again. "Yes. Nick Armitage. He owns a nightclub."
"With a French name," Trace said. "In New York," he concluded triumphantly as if he had just proved a point.
"That means he's in the Mafia."
"Every place with a French name is owned by the Mafia," Trace said.
Marks shook his head, woefully confused. "What about Italian restaurants? I thought they owned Italian restaurants, spaghetti joints, like that."
"No," Trace said. "Mafia bosses won't eat that crap. French restaurants only. Anyway, I know what you're up to, Groucho. You want me to go to New York. I hate New York anyway. I like Las Vegas and Hoboken. You want me to go in there and scout around and you know I'm going to get this Nick Armitage pissed off, and that's going to be it. When they drain the East River, I'll be standing up in a cement block. For eternity. Some things are more important than five hundred thousand dollars of dear old Gone Fishing's money. My life is indisputably one of these things."
"Please don't call Garrison Fidelity Insurance 'Gone Fishing,'" Marks snapped.
Trace looked around anxiously at the dark empty cocktail lounge. "Why? Is somebody listening?"
"Never mind," Marks said in disgust. "Just go check this out."
"You really want me dead, don't you?" Trace asked. "I mean, really dead. Like never to breathe again. Never again to smell the flowers. Even the cut-and-dried ones. I can't believe this of you."
"Just go check it out."
"No. My mind is made up."
"I'll have to tell Mr. Swenson. Then he'll ask you to go check it out and you'll do it."
"Why don't you ever want to pay up on insurance claims?" Trace said. "The kid got killed. Pay up."
"Not until you look into it."
"All right. It's solved for you. The kid was killed by the Sierra Club."
"He was wearing this Richard Nixon mask, see. And you had these high Sierras out--they were high, that's what high Sierras means--and they were marching along the Merritt Parkway looking for edible marigolds and James Watt. And when they didn't see Watt, along came this kid wearing a Richard Nixon mask, so they settled for him. Question Jane Fonda. She had something to do with it."
"Idiotic. You are truly idiotic," Marks said.
"And I don't get any better. So now, if you'll forgive me, I'm going home," Trace said. "I'm sorry you wasted this trip to Las Vegas for no reason at all."
"Let me get this straight so I can be sure to tell it to Mr. Swenson correctly. You are refusing to take this assignment because you don't like July in New York and you are afraid this Nick Armitage is in the Mafia."
"I couldn't have said it better myself. Would you like another drink?"
"Will you be in town long?"
"Just until tomorrow. I've got to lay over a day to get some kind of super-economy fare. Something like that."
"Where are you staying?" Trace asked
"At the Araby," Marks said.
"A nice place. Have a nice time."
Atop the piano in their living room in a condominium high above Las Vegas's Strip, Trace found a note from his roommate.
"Had to go out. Sarge called. Wants to talk to you. Very important. Says your mother is coming to Las Vegas in a couple of days with her woman's club. I will commit suicide. Chico."
Trace read the note three times, poured himself a glass of Gallo Red Rosé wine from a three-liter jug in the refrigerator, then called the Araby Hotel and Casino and asked for Walter Marks's room.
He was relieved to hear Marks answer in his tight-lipped lemony sour vicious bitter way, as if he had just been interrupted biting the heads off live mice and wanted to get back to it right away.
"Who is it?" Marks snapped.
"This is Trace. I'll go to New York."
"Why? Why now?"
Trace thought of his mother coming to town. "Some things are worse than facing death," he said.