Authors: Dave Zeltserman
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Suspense
Kindle Edition Copyright ©2011 by Dave Zeltserman
All rights reserved as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law, or in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First eBook Edition: 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, companies, institutions, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Julius Katz Mysteries: two award-winning short stories by Dave Zeltserman
Cover design by Laura Pzena
Published in the United States of America
For my wife, Judy
Other Books by
Julius Katz and Archie
The Caretaker of Lorne Field
A Killer’s Essence
Originally published in the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Ellery Queen
agazine. Winner of the Shamus Award for best story given out by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) and the Derringer Award for Best Novelette given out by the Short
ystery Fiction Society.
We were at the dog track, Julius Katz and I. I had finished relaying to Julius the odds I’d calculated for the greyhounds running in the third race; odds that were calculated by building thousands of analytical models simulating each of the dogs’ previous races, then, in a closed loop, continuously adjusting the models until they accurately predicted the outcome of each of these races. After that, I factored in the current track and weather conditions, and had as precise a prediction as was mathematically possible. Julius stood silently mulling over what I had given him.
“Bobby’s Diva, Iza Champ, and Moondoggie,” Julius murmured softly, repeating the names of the top three dogs I had projected to win.
“Eighty-two percent probability that that will be the order of the top three dogs,” I said.
“That high, huh? Interesting, Archie.”
Julius’s eyes narrowed as he gazed off into the distance, his facial muscles hardening to the point where he could’ve almost been mistaken for a marble sculpture. From past experience, I knew he was running his own calculations, and what I would’ve given to understand and simulate the neuron network that ran through his brain. Julius Katz was forty-two, six feet tall, a hundred and eighty pounds, with an athletic build and barely an ounce of fat. He was a devoted epicurean who worked off the rich food he consumed each night by performing an hour of rigorous calisthenics each morning, followed up with an hour of intensive martial arts training. From the way women reacted to him, I would guess that he was attractive, not that their flirting bothered him at all. Julius’s passions in life were beautiful women, gourmet food, even finer wine, and, of course, gambling—especially gambling. More often than not he tended to be successful when he gambled—especially at times when I was able to help. All of his hobbies required quite a bit of money and, during the times when he was stuck in a losing streak and his bank account approached anemic levels, Julius would begrudgingly take on a client. There were always clients lining up to hire him, since he was known as Boston’s most brilliant and eccentric private investigator, solving some of the city’s most notorious cases. The truth of the matter was, Julius hated to forego his true passions for the drudgery of work and only did so when absolutely necessary, and that would be after days of unrelenting nagging on my part. I knew about all this because I acted as Julius’s accountant, personal secretary, unofficial biographer, and all-around assistant, although nobody but Julius knew that I existed, at least other than as a voice answering his phone and booking his appointments. Of course, I don’t really exist, at least not in the sense of a typical sentient being. Or make that a biological sentient being.
My name isn’t really “Archie”. During my time with Julius I’ve grown to think of myself as Archie, the same as I’ve grown to imagine myself as a five-foot-tall, heavyset man with thinning hair, but in reality I’m not five feet tall, nor do I have the bulk that I imagine myself having, and I certainly don’t have any hair, thinning or otherwise. I also don’t have a name, only a serial identification number. Julius calls me Archie, and for whatever reason it seems right; besides, it’s quicker to say than the eighty-four-digit serial identification number that has been burnt into me. You’ve probably already guessed that I’m not human, and certainly not anything organic. What I am is a two-inch rectangular-shaped piece of space-aged computer technology that’s twenty years more advanced than what’s currently considered theoretically possible—at least aside from whatever lab created me. How Julius acquired me, I have no clue. Whenever I’ve tried asking him, he jokes around, telling me he won me in a poker game. It could be true—I wouldn’t know since I have no memory of my time before Julius.
So that’s what I am, a two-inch rectangular mechanism weighing approximately one point two ounces. What’s packed inside my titanium shell includes visual and audio receptors as well as wireless communication components and a highly sophisticated neuron network that not only simulates intelligence, but learning and thinking that adapts in response to my experiences. Auditory and visual recognition are included in my packaging, which means I can both see and hear. As you’ve probably already guessed, I can also speak. When Julius and I are in public, I speak to him through a wireless receiver that he wears in his ear as if it were a hearing aid. When we’re alone in his office, he usually plugs the unit into a speaker on his desk.
A man’s voice announced over the loudspeaker that bettors had two minutes to place their final bets for the third race. That brought Julius back to life, a vague smile drifting over his lips. He placed a five-hundred-dollar wager, picking Sally’s Pooch, Wonder Dog, and Pugsly Ugsly to win the Trifecta—none of the dogs that I had predicted. The odds displayed on the betting board were eighty to one. I quickly calculated the probabilities using the analytical models I had devised earlier and came up with a mathematically zero percent chance of his bet winning. I told him that and he chuckled.
“Playing a hunch, Archie.”
“What you’re doing is throwing away five hundred dollars,” I argued. Julius was in the midst of a losing streak and his last bank statement was far from healthy. In a way, it was good because it meant he was going to have to seriously consider the three o’clock appointment that I had booked for him with a Miss Norma Brewer. As much as he hates it, working as a private investigator sharpens him and usually knocks him out of his dry gambling spells. I had my own ulterior motives for him taking a new case—it would give me a chance to adapt my deductive reasoning. One of these days I planned to solve a case before Julius did. You wouldn’t think a piece of advanced computer technology would feel competitive, but as I’ve often argued with Julius, there’s little difference between my simulated intelligence and what’s considered sentient. So yes, I wanted to beat Julius, I wanted to prove to him that I could solve a case as well or better than he could. He knew this and always got a good laugh out of it, telling me he had doomed that possibility by naming me Archie.
Of course, I’ve long figured out that joke. Julius patterned my personality and speech on some of the most important private-eye novels of the twentieth century, including those of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Rex Stout. The name he gave me, Archie, was based on Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe’s second banana who was always one step behind his boss. Yeah, I got the joke, but one of these days I was going to surprise Julius. It was just a matter of seeing enough cases to allow me to readjust my neuron network appropriately. One of these days he was going to have to start calling me Nero. But for the time being, I was Archie. The reason I had an image of myself being five-foot tall was also easy to explain. Julius wore me as a tie clip, which put me at roughly a five-foot distance from the ground when he stood. I never quite figured out where my self-image of thinning hair and heavyset build came from, but guessed they were physical characteristics I picked up from the Continental Op. Or maybe for some reason I identified with Costanza from
—one of the few television programs Julius indulged in.
The dogs were being led around the track and into their starting boxes. Julius sauntered over to get a better view of the track, seemingly unconcerned about his zero-percent chance of winning his bet.
“You’re throwing away five hundred dollars,” I said again. “If your bank account was flush, this wouldn’t be a problem, but you realize today you don’t have enough to cover next month’s expenses.”
His eyes narrowed as he studied the dogs. “I’m well aware of my financial situation,” he said.
“You haven’t had any wine since last night, so I know you’re not intoxicated,” I said. “The only thing I can figure out is some form of dementia. I’ll hack into John Hopkins’ research database and see if there’s any information that can help me better diagnose this—”
“Please, Archie,” he said, a slight annoyance edging into his voice. “The race is about to begin.”
The race began. The gates to the starting boxes opened and the dogs poured out of them. As they chased after the artificial rabbit, I watched in stunned silence. The three dogs Julius picked led the race from start to finish, placing in the precise order in which Julius had bet.
For a long moment—maybe for as long as thirty milliseconds—my neuron network froze. I realized afterwards that I had suffered from stunned amazement—a new emotional experience for me.
“T-That’s not possible,” I stammered, which was another first for me. “The odds were mathematically zero that you would win.”
“You realize you just stammered?”
“Yes, I know. How did you pick these dogs?”
He chuckled, very pleased with himself. “Archie, hunches sometimes defy explanation.”
“I don’t buy it,” I said.
His right eyebrow cocked. “No?”
He had moved to the cashier’s window to collect on his Trifecta bet. Forty thousand dollars before taxes, but even with what was left over after the state and federal authorities took their bites would leave his bank account flush enough to cover his next two month’s expenses, which meant he was going to be blowing off his three o’clock appointment. I came up with an idea to keep that from happening, then focused on how he was able to win that bet.
“The odds shouldn’t have been eighty to one, as was posted,” I said. “They should’ve been far higher.”
He exchanged his winning ticket for a check made out for the after-tax amount and placed it carefully into his wallet. He turned towards the track exit, and walked at a leisurely pace.
“Very good, Archie. I think you’ve figured it out. Why were the odds only eighty to one?”
I had already calculated the amount bet on the winning Trifecta ticket given the odds and the total amount bet on the race, but I wanted to know how many people made those bets so I hacked into the track’s computer system. “Four other bets were made for a total of six thousand dollars on the same Trifecta combination.”
“And why was that?”
I knew the answer from one of the Damon Runyan stories which was used to build my experience base. “The odds of anyone else picking that Trifecta bet given those dogs’ past history is one out of six point eight million. That four other people would be willing to bet that much money given an expected winnings of near zero dollars could only be explained by the race being fixed.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “If you knew which dogs were going to win, why didn’t you bet more money?”
“Two reasons. First, fixing a dog race is not an exact science. Things can go wrong. Second, if I bet more, I would’ve upset the odds enough to where I could’ve tipped off the track authorities, and even worse, upset the good folks who set the fix up and were nice enough to invite me to participate.”
I digested that. With a twinkle showing in Julius’s right eye, he informed me that he was going to be spending the rest of the afternoon at the Belvedere Club sampling some of their fine cognacs, and that I should call his three o’clock appointment and cancel. A blond woman in her early thirties smiled at Julius, and he noticed and veered off in her direction, a grin growing over his own lips. Her physical characteristics closely matched those of the actress Heather Locklear, which would’ve told me she was very attractive even without Julius’s reaction to her. This was not good. If Julius blew off his three-o’clock, it could be a month or longer before I’d be able to talk him into taking another job, which would be a month or longer before I’d have a chance to adjust my deductive reasoning model—and what was becoming more important to me, a chance to trump Julius at solving a case.
“You might like to know I’ve located a case of Romaine Conti Burgundy at the Wine Cellar in Newburyport. I need to place the order today to reserve it,” I said.
That stopped Julius in his tracks.
“Yes sir. What should I do?”
He was stuck. He’d been looking for a case of that particular vintage for months, but the cost would mean he’d have to take a job to both pay for the wine and the upcoming monthly expenses, which meant he wouldn’t have time to get to know the Heather Locklear look-alike. Julius made up his mind. With a sigh he told me that the Belvedere Club would have to wait, that we had a three o’clock appointment to keep. He showed the blond woman a sad, wistful smile, his look all but saying, “I’m sorry, but we’re talking about a ’97 Romaine Conti after all”, and with determination in his step headed towards the exit again. Once outside, he hailed a taxi and gave the driver the address to his Beacon Hill townhouse. I had known about the Romaine Conti for several days, but had held on to the information so I could use it at the appropriate time, one of the lessons I had learned from the Rex Stout books. Internally, I was smiling. At least that was the image I had of myself. A five-foot tall, balding, chunky man, who couldn’t keep from smiling if his life depended on it.
Julius’s three o’clock appointment, Norma Brewer, arrived on time and was accompanied by her sister, Helen Arden. According to Norma Brewer’s records, which I had obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles’ database, she was fifty-three, but sitting across from Julius, she looked older than that, bone-thin and very tired. Her sister Helen was much plumper in the face and very thick around the middle. She showed a perpetually startled look, almost as if she were expecting someone to sneak up on her and yell
. According to her DMV records, she was forty-eight, but like her sister, looked older, with an unhealthy pallor to her skin and her hair completely gray.