The Naked Face / Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten


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THEY WERE SITTING in the living room of Judd's apartment, talking, Moody's enormous body spilling over the large couch. Moody had carefully put the pieces of the already defused bomb in the trunk of his own car.

"Shouldn't you have left it there so the police could have examined it?" Judd asked.

"I always say that the most confusin' thing in the world is too much information."

"But it would have proved to Lieutenant McGreavy that I've been telling the truth."

"Would it?"

Judd saw his point. As far as McGreavy was concerned, Judd could have placed it there himself. Still, it seemed odd to him that a private detective would withhold evidence from the police. He had a feeling that Moody was like an enormous iceberg. Most of the man was concealed under the surface, under that facade of gentle, small-town bumbler. But now, as he listened to Moody talking, he was filled with elation. He was not insane and the world had not suddenly become filled with wild coincidences. There was an assassin on the loose. A flesh-and-blood assassin. And for some reason he had chosen Judd as his target. My God, thought Judd, how easily our egos can be destroyed. A few minutes ago he had been ready to believe that he was paranoiac. He owed Moody an incalculable debt.

"...You're the doctor," Moody was saying. "I'm just an old gumshoe. I always say when you want honey, go to a beehive."

Judd was beginning to understand Moody's jargon. "You want my opinion about the kind of man, or men, we're looking for."

"That's it," beamed Moody. "Are we dealin' with some homicidal maniac who broke out of a loony bin" -

Mental institution, Judd thought automatically.

- "or have we got somethin' deeper goin' here?"

"Something deeper," said Judd instantly.

"What makes you think so, Doc?"

"First of all, two men broke into my office last night. I might swallow the theory of one lunatic, but two lunatics working together is too much."

Moody nodded approvingly. "Gotcha. Go on."

"Secondly, a deranged mind may have an obsession, but it works in a definite pattern. I don't know why John Hanson and Carol Roberts were killed, but unless I'm wrong, I'm scheduled to be the third and last victim."

"What makes you think you're the last?" asked Moody curiously.

"Because," replied Judd, "if there were going to be other murders, then the first time they failed to kill me, they would have gone on to get whoever else was on their list. But instead of that, they've been concentrating on trying to kill me."

"You know," said Moody approvingly, "you have the natural born makin's of a detective."

Judd was frowning. "There are several things that make no sense."

"Such as?"

"First, the motive," said Judd. "I don't know anyone who - "

"We'll come back to that. What else?"

"If someone really was that anxious to kill me, when the car knocked me down, all the driver had to do was to back up and run over me. I was unconscious."

"Ah! That's where Mr. Benson comes in."

Judd looked at him blankly.

"Mr. Benson is the witness to your accident," explained Moody benevolently. "I got his name from the police report and went to see him after you left my office. That'll be three-fifty for taxicabs. OK?"

Judd nodded, speechless.

"Mr. Benson - he's a furrier, by the way. Beautiful stuff. If you ever want to buy anything for your sweetheart, I can get you a discount. Anyway, Tuesday, the night of the accident, he was comin' out of an office building where his sister-in-law works. He dropped some pills off because his brother Matthew, who's a Bible salesman, had the flu an' she was goin' to take the pills home to him."

Judd controlled his impatience. If Norman Z. Moody had felt like sitting there and reciting the entire Bill of Rights, he was going to listen.

"So Mr. Benson dropped off these pills an' was comin' out of the building when he saw this limousine headin' toward you. Of course, he didn't know it was you at the time."

Judd nodded.

"The car was kinda crabbin' sideways, an' from Benson's angle, it looked like it was in a skid. When he saw it hit you, he started runnin' over to see if he could help. The limousine backed up to make another run at you. He saw Mr. Benson an' got out of there like a bat outta hell."

Judd swallowed. "So if Mr. Benson hadn't happened along..."

"Yeah," said Moody mildly. "You might say you an' me wouldn't have met. These boys aren't playin' games. They're out to get you, Doc."

"What about the attack in my office? Why didn't they break the door down?"

Moody was silent for a moment, thinking. "That's a puzzler. They coulda broken in an' killed you an' whoever was with you an' got away without anybody seein' them. But when they thought you weren't alone, they left. It don't fit in with the rest." He sat there worrying his lower lip. "Unless..." he said.

"Unless what?"

A speculative look came over Moody's face. "I wonder..." he breathed.

"What?"

"It'll keep for the time bein'. I got me a little idea, but it don't make sense until we find a motive."

Judd shrugged helplessly. "I don't know of anyone who has a motive for killing me."

Moody thought about this a moment. "Doc, could you have any secret that you shared with this patient of yours, Hanson, an' Carol Roberts? Somethin' maybe only the three of you knew about?"

Judd shook his head. "The only secrets I have are professional secrets about my patients. And there's not one single thing in any of their case histories that would justify murder. None of my patients is a secret agent, or a foreign spy, or an escaped convict. They're just ordinary people - housewives, professional men, bank clerks - who have problems they can't cope with."

Moody looked at him guilelessly. "An' you're sure that you're not harboring a homicidal maniac in your little group?"

Judd's voice was firm. "Positive. Yesterday I might not have been sure. To tell you the truth, I was beginning to think that I was suffering from paranoia and that you were humoring me."

Moody smiled at him. "The thought had crossed my mind," he said. "After you phoned me for an appointment, I did some checking up on you. I called a couple of pretty good doctor friends of mine. You got quite a reputation."

So the "Mr. Stevenson" had been part of Moody's country bumpkin facade.

"If we go to the police now," Judd said, "with what we know, we can at least get them to start looking for whoever's behind all this."

Moody looked at him in mild surprise. "You think so? We don't really have much to go on yet, do we, Doc?"

It was true.

"I wouldn't be discouraged," Moody said. "I think we're makin' real progress. We've narrowed it down nicely."

A note of frustration crept into Judd's voice. "Sure. It could be anyone in the Continental United States."

Moody sat there a moment, contemplating the ceiling. Finally he shook his head. "Families," he sighed.

"Families?"

"Doc - I believe you when you say you know your patients inside out. If you tell me they couldn't do anything like this, I have to go along with you. It's your beehive an' you're th' keeper of the honey." He leaned forward on the couch. "But tell me somethin'. When you take on a patient, do you interview his family?"

"No. Sometimes the family isn't even aware that the patient is undergoing psychoanalysis."

Moody leaned back, satisfied. "There you are," he said.

Judd looked at him. "You think that some member of a patient's family is trying to kill me?"

"Could be."

"They'd have no more motive than the patient. Less, probably."

Moody painfully pushed himself to his feet. "You never know, do you, Doc? Tell you what I'd like you to do. Get me a list of all the patients you've seen in the last four or five weeks. Can you do that?"

Judd hesitated. "No," he said, finally.

"That confidential patient-doctor business? I think maybe it's time to bend that a little. Your life's at stake."

"I think you're on the wrong track. What's been happening has nothing to do with my patients or their families. If there had been any insanity in their families, it would have come out in the psychoanalysis." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Moody. I have to protect my patients."

"You said there was nothing in the files that was important."

"Nothing that's important to us." He thought of some of the material in the files. John Hanson picking up sailors in gay bars on Third Avenue. Teri Washburn making love to the boys in the band. Fourteen-year-old Evelyn Warshak, the resident prostitute in the ninth grade... "I'm sorry," he said again. "I can't show you the files."

Moody shrugged. "OK," he said. "OK. Then you're gonna have to do part of my job for me."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Take out the tapes on everybody you've had on your couch for the last month. Listen real careful to each one. Only this time don't listen like a doctor - listen like a detective - look for anything the least bit offbeat."

"I do that anyway. That's my job."

"Do it again. An' keep your eyes open. I don't want to lose you 'til we solve this case." He picked up his overcoat and struggled into it, making it look like an elephant ballet. Fat men were supposed to be graceful, thought Judd, but that did not include Mr. Moody. "Do you know the most peculiar thing about this whole megillah?" queried Moody thoughtfully.

"What?"

"You put your finger on it before, when you said there were two men. Maybe one man might have a burning itch to knock you off - but why two?"

"I don't know."

Moody studied him a moment, speculatively. "By God!" he finally said.

"What is it?"

"I just might have a brainstorm. If I'm right, there could be more than two men out to kill you."

Judd stared at him incredulously. "You mean there's a whole group of maniacs after me? That doesn't make sense."

There was a look of growing excitement on Moody's face. "Doctor, I've got an idea who the umpire in this ballgame might be." He looked at Judd, his eyes bright. "I don't know how yet, or why - but it could be I know who."

"Who?"

Moody shook his head. "You'd have me sent to a cracker factory if I told you. I always say if you're gonna shoot off your mouth, make sure it's loaded first. Let me do a little target practice. If I'm on the right track, I'll tell you."

"I hope you are," Judd said earnestly.

Moody looked at him a moment. "No, Doc. If you value your life worth a damn - pray I'm wrong."

And Moody was gone.

He took a taxi to the office.

It was Friday noon, and with only three more shopping days until Christmas, the streets were crowded with late shoppers, bundled up against the raw wind sweeping in from the Hudson River. The store windows were festive and bright, filled with lighted Christmas trees and carved figures of the Nativity. Peace on Earth. Christmas. And Elizabeth, and their unborn baby. One day soon - if he survived - he would have to make his own peace, free himself from the dead past and let go. He knew that with Anne he could have...He firmly stopped himself. What was the point in fantasizing about a married woman about to go away with her husband, whom she loved?

The taxi pulled up in front of his office building and Judd got out, nervously looking around. But what could he look for? He had no idea what the murder weapon would be, or who would wield it.

When he reached his office, he locked the outer door, went to the paneling that concealed the tapes, and opened it. The tapes were filed chronologically, under the name of each patient. He selected the most recent ones and carried them over to the tape recorder. With all his appointments canceled for the day, he would be able to concentrate on trying to find some clue that might involve the friends or families of his patients. He felt that Moody's suggestion was farfetched, but he had too much respect for him to ignore it.

As he put on the first tape, he remembered the last time he had used the machine. Was it only last night? The memory filled him again with the sharp sense of nightmare. Someone had planned to murder him here in this room, where they had murdered Carol.

He suddenly realized that he had given no thought to his patients at the free hospital clinic where he worked one morning a week. It was probably because the murders had revolved around this office rather than the hospital. Still...He walked over to a section of the cabinets labeled "CLINIC," looked through some of the tapes, and finally selected half a dozen. He put the first one on the tape recorder.

Rose Graham.

"...an accident, Doctor. Nancy cries a lot. She's always been a whiny baby, so when I hit her, it's for her own good, y'know?"

"Did you ever try to find out why Nancy cries a lot?" Judd's voice asked.

"'Cause she's spoiled. Her daddy spoiled her rotten and then run off and left us. Nancy always thought she was daddy's girl, but how much could Harry really have loved her if he run off like that?"

"You and Harry were never married, were you?"

"Well...Common law, I guess you'd call it. We was goin' to get married."

"How long did you live together?"

"Four years."

"How long was it after Harry left you that you broke Nancy's arm?"

"'Bout a week, I guess. I didn't mean to break it. It's just that she wouldn't stop whining, so I finally picked up this curtain rod an' started beating on her."

"Do you think Harry loved Nancy more than he loved you?"

"No. Harry was crazy about me."

"Then why do you think he left you?"

"Because he was a man. An' y'know what men are? Animals! All of you! You should all be slaughtered like pigs!" Sobbing.

Judd switched off the tape and thought about Rose Graham. She was a psychotic misanthrope, and she had nearly beaten her six-year-old child to death on two separate occasions. But the pattern of the murders did not fit Rose Graham's psychosis.

He put on the next tape from the clinic.

Alexander Fallon.

"The police say that you attacked Mr. Champion with a knife, Mr. Fallon."

"I only did what I was told."

"Someone told you to kill Mr. Champion?"

"He told me to do it."

"He?"

"God."

"Why did God tell you to kill him?"

"Because Champion's an evil man. He's an actor. I saw him on the stage. He kissed this woman. This actress. In front of the whole audience. He kissed her and..."

Silence.

"Go on."

"He touched her - her titty."

"Did that upset you?"

"Of course! It upset me terribly. Don't you understand what that meant? He had carnal knowledge of her. When I came out of that theater, I felt like I had just come from Sodom and Gomorrah. They had to be punished."

"So you decided to kill him."

"I didn't decide it. God decided. I just carried out His orders."

"Does God often talk to you?"

"Only when there's His work to be done. He's chosen me as His instrument, because I'm pure. Do you know what makes me pure? Do you know what the most cleansing thing in the world is? Slaying the wicked!"

Alexander Fallon. Thirty-five, a part-time baker's assistant. He had been sent to a mental home for six months and then released. Could God have told him to destroy Hanson, a homosexual, and Carol, a former prostitute, and Judd, their benefactor? Judd decided that it was unlikely. Fallon's thought processes took place in brief, painful spasms. Whoever had planned the murders was highly organized.

He played several more of the tapes from the clinic, but none of them fit into the pattern he was searching for. No. It wasn't any patient at the clinic.

He looked over the office files again and a name caught his eye.

Skeet Gibson.

He put on the tape.

"'Mornin', Dockie. How do you like this bee-u-ti-ful day I cooked up for you?"

"You're feeling good today."

"If I was feelin' any better, they'd have me locked up. Did you catch my show last night?"

"No. I'm sorry, I wasn't able to."

"I was only a smash. Jack Gould called me 'the most lovable comedian in the world.' An' who am I to argue with a genius like Jack Gould? You shoulda heard that audience! They were applauding like it was going out of style. Do ya know what that proves?"

"That they can read 'Applause' cards?"

"You're sharp, you devil, you. That's what I like - a headshrinker with a sense of humor. The last one I had was a drag. Had a great big beard that really bugged me."

"Why?"

"Because it was a lady!"

Loud laughter.

"Gotcha that time, didn't I, old cock? Seriously, folks, one of the reasons I'm feelin' so good is because I just pledged a million dollars - count 'em: one million bucks - to help the kids in Biafra."

"No wonder you feel good."

"You bet your sweet ass. That story hit the front pages all over the world."

"Is that important?"

"What do you mean, 'Is that important?' How many guys pledge that kind of loot? You've gotta blow your own horn, Peter Pan. I'm glad I can afford to pledge the money."

"You keep saying 'pledge.' Do you mean 'give?' "

"Pledge - give - what's the difference? You pledge a million - give a few grand - an' they kiss your ass... Did I tell you it's my anniversary today?"

"No. Congratulations."

"Thanks. Fifteen great years. You never met Sally. There's the sweetest broad that ever walked God's earth. I really got lucky with my marriage. You know what a pain in the keester in-laws can be? Well, Sally's got these two brothers, Ben an' Charley. I told you about them. Ben's head writer on my TV show an' Charley's my producer. They're geniuses. I've been on the air seven years now. An' we're never outta the top ten in the Nielsen's. I was smart to marry into a family like that, huh? Most women get fat an' sloppy once they've hooked their husband. But Sally, bless her, is slimmer now than the day we were married. What a dame!...Got a cigarette?"

"Here. I thought you quit smoking."

"I just wanted to show myself I had the old willpower, so I quit. Now I'm smoking because I want to... I made a new deal with the network yesterday. I really shafted 'em. Is my time up yet?"

"No. Are you restless, Skeet?"

"To tell you the truth, sweetie, I'm in such great shape I don't know what the hell I'm coming in here any more for."

"No more problems?"

"Me? The world's my oyster an' I'm Diamond Jim Brady. I've gotta hand it to you. You've really helped me. You're my man. With the kind of money you make, maybe I should go into business and set up my own shingle, huh?...That reminds me of the great story of the guy who goes to a wig-picker, but he's so nervous he just lays on the couch and doesn't say anything. At the end of the hour, the shrink says, 'That'll be fifty dollars.' Well, that goes on for two whole years without the schmuck saying one word. Finally the little guy opens his mouth one day and says, 'Doctor - could I ask you a question?' 'Sure,' says the Doc. And the little guy says, 'Would you like a partner?' "

Loud laughter.

"You got a shot of aspirin or somethin'?"

"Certainly. Is it one of your bad headaches?"

"Nothin' I can't handle, old buddy... Thanks. That'll do the trick."

"What do you think brings these headaches on?"

"Just normal show-biz tension... We have our script reading this afternoon."

"Does that make you nervous?"

"Me? Hell, no! What have I got to be nervous about? If the jokes are lousy, I make a face, wink at the audience, an' they eat it up. No matter how bad the show is, little old Skeet comes out smelling like a rose."

"Why do you think you have these headaches every week?"

"How the fuck do I know? You're supposed to be a doctor. You tell me. I don't pay you to sit on your fat ass for an hour asking stupid questions. Jesus Christ, if an idiot like you can't cure a simple headache, they shouldn't let you be running around loose, messing up people's lives. Where'd you get your medical certificate? From a veterinarian school? I wouldn't trust my fuckin' cats with you. You're a goddam quack! The only reason I came to you in the first place was because Sally shitted me into it. It was the only way I could get her off my back. Do ya know my definition of Hell? Bein' married to an ugly, skinny nag for fifteen years. If you're lookin' for some more suckers to cheat, take on her two idiot brothers, Ben an' Charley. Ben, my head writer, doesn't know which end of the pencil has the lead in it, an' his brother's even stupider. I wish they'd all drop dead. They're out to get me. You think I like you? You stink! You're so goddam smug, sitting there looking down on everybody. You haven't got any problems, have you? Do you know why? Because you're not for real. You're out of it. All you do is sit on your fat keester all day long an' steal money from sick people. Well, I'm gonna get you, you sonofabitch. I'm gonna report you to the AMA..."

Sobbing.

"I wish I didn't have to go to that goddam reading."

Silence.

"Well - keep your pecker up. See ya next week, sweetie."

Judd switched off the recorder. Skeet Gibson, America's most beloved comedian, should have been institutionalized ten years ago. His hobbies were beating up young, blond showgirls and getting into barroom brawls. Skeet was a small man, but he had started out as a prizefighter, and he knew how to hurt. One of his favorite sports was going into a gay bar, coaxing an unsuspecting homosexual into the men's room, and beating him unconscious. Skeet had been picked up by the police several times, but the incidents had always been hushed up. After all, he was America's most lovable comic. Skeet was paranoid enough to want to kill, and he was capable of killing in a fit of rage. But Judd did not think he was cold-blooded enough to carry out this kind of planned vendetta. And in that, Judd felt certain, lay the key to the solution. Whoever was trying to murder him was doing it not in the heat of any passion, but methodically and cold-bloodedly. A madman.

Who was not mad.


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