Spenser Blake's Secret
Peaches sat quietly thinking about the import of Rafé’s vision. They would investigate Carlyle Quincebury to determine the seriousness of the threat he posed. With their skill surfing cyberspace Rafé and her friend Sandra would be assets. Neither she nor Aeneas had done much surfing.
Through the intercom Aeneas announced the arrival of a visitor and potential client, “We have a visitor, a Mr. Douglas Balentine, who wishes to speak with you about our investigation services.”
“Bring him in.” She placed the well-chewed cigar in the ashtray. She never smoked cigars, only chewed them. She liked the taste of good rich earth tobacco.
When the inner door to her office opened, a tall, slender middle-aged man entered. He was well-groomed and probably had his hair trimmed daily. He was wearing a brown suit, conservative cut, and a brown tie. A serious frown was etched on his face. Peaches rose and offered her hand, giving his a mild but firm clasp. As he sat down in the chair nearest her desk, she noticed he was extremely anxious. To put him at ease she asked, “Mr. Balentine, would you like something to drink – coffee or tea?”
“Oh, my. Everyone, since I was a child, has called me Doug. Please, let’s be informal. Too much standardization and formality in the world today. Yes, tea would be fine. Perhaps you have Earl Grey, a favorite of mine.” He pushed his glasses back toward his eyes. Peaches assumed it was a nervous habit.
Aeneas, who was still standing by the office door, said, “I’ll make a cup. Should be ready in a couple minutes.”
“Well, Doug, tell me what the situation is, and I’ll decide whether we can help or not.” “A very important manuscript has disappeared. I’ve searched everywhere and my valet and housekeeper have also inspected the entire house. I now believe it has been stolen.”
“We’ve a good record for recovering lost and stolen property. We’ll do our best at finding yours. I would like to know all the details, especially the reason you haven’t gone to the police. At least I presume you haven’t.”
“Yes, well, I hadn’t taken the matter to the official authorities because of the delicate nature of the manuscript’s contents. Let’s say that if ideas contained in the book were broadcast throughout the media, all hell would fall on me. At the moment I can’t be more explicit than that. I’ve photos of the manuscript, both exterior and interior images. I’ve kept it in a very secure safe, which has not been tampered with. I can honestly state I believe whoever took it had access to the safe’s combination.”
“And when did you become aware it was missing?”
“Last weekend, Sunday evening, after a light supper I retired to my study and was preparing to analyze certain sections. I’m a professional biblical scholar. I’ve written articles on the cultural placement of biblical documents by analyzing the text, its word usage and grammar for the most part. When I opened the safe, it was gone. I immediately proceeded to search for it, calling to my two servants for their help. Monday morning I phoned a close friend who is interested in biblical texts but not a scholar. I told him what had happened and he said he would talk to his lawyer, who might recommend a detective firm to investigate the matter. You come highly recommended I must say.”
“Why, thank you, and we’ll be happy to solve your problem and locate the manuscript. Is it possible for us to visit your home and inspect the study where it was kept? We would also like to photograph the study which might help in discovering the method used to remove and steal it.”
“Of course. Would this evening around 7 pm work for you?”
“Aeneas and I’ll be there at that time. For now would you please fill out our standard contract. And we require an advance deposit before we begin.” She handed him the contract. He read and signed it and then wrote a check for the advance. Peaches took the contract and went into the outer office where she made a copy. Returning, she gave the original to Bertie who, placing it in his jacket pocket, stood and offered his hand again for an agreement shake. As he left the office, he said, “So I’ll see you at seven this evening.”
When she had heard the outer door close, Peaches asked, “Virgil, what are your first impressions?”
Virgil was their supercomputer. When Aeneas had joined Peaches Peoples, forming the Peoples Investiga¬tion Agency, he had brought with him his computer Virgil. He had designed and built the computer to his personal specifications. Virgil was more pow¬erful than anything the government or global corporations had.
Virgil was the third and hid¬den partner of Peoples Investigation. It could see, hear, and speak. Camera eyes, miniature microphones, and speakers were placed in strategic areas of both their offices and living quarters. Virgil could speak fifteen languages with different voice registers and understand those languages in their spoken and written forms; it was a veritable language wizard. Peaches and Aeneas always spoke to and treated Virgil as a person. Aeneas had programmed the computer with a male persona. During most interviews, though, Virgil was silent so as not to scare clients or give away his powers.
“Doug is obviously protecting the contents of the manuscript for reasons still unknown. He also has some secrets hidden within secrets, forming a clandestine agenda which might hinder our investigation and perhaps even harm our firm.”
“So you noticed his extremely suspicious mindset based on a deep foreboding fear?” Aeneas said.
“Yes.” Peaches nodded in agreement. “Something bothers him more than just losing the manuscript. Virgil, give us an in-depth background check available tomorrow morning. We should have more data for you after this evening’s visit.
After she sipped her extra dry martini, Shasta asked, “Well, how did the first day of the convention go?”
“It is the first time for Assembly 2 to host a convention, albeit a mini one. We don’t hope to make a big profit, mainly just enough to pay for the venue and other expenses.” Ralph was a member of The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) and belonged to the San Francisco branch, Assemble 2. S.A.M. is the oldest and most prestigious magic organization in the world. Ralph had been a member since adolescence when he had joined the S.A.M Youth Division.
“Yes, the convention began without a hitch. The talent show started on time and the acts were well received. The lecture-presentations had good attendance, and the vendors seemed to be happy with many sales.” He rubbed Karma behind the ears and she began purring.
Shasta smiled and sipped her martini. “Well, I had an active day. I commenced the new Peaches mystery for my client Spenser Blake. At the moment my Muse is singing a melodious song filled with inspiration.”
“By the way I met your Spenser Blake today at the convention or at least I believe it’s the same person.”
Shasta looked at him quizzically. “Really. That is strange.”
“Well, it isn’t too strange, perhaps more an example of synchronicity. He is a S.A.M. member but has never attended an Assembly 2 meeting. There are many magicians living in San Francisco like him. We have tried to encourage them to attend our monthly meetings, but most are too busy with other activities. The same is true for Spenser when I asked about coming to some meetings. We had coffee and chatted about magic. I’ve made arrangements to visit him.”
Shasta was sitting at the round table cluttered with magazines, a notepad nd pens.
“How was your afternoon visit with Spenser?” Shasta turned toward Ralph with an attentive look. She sipped the dry martini.
Ralph was sitting on the couch. Karma was curled up beside him while Lucy was resting in one of the armchairs. “Once I had regained Spenser Blake’s acquaintance at the Assembly 2 mini magic convention last week, a link of kindred interest has developed. Blake is more of a scholar than a performer and had never attended Assembly 2 monthly meetings.”
“And you’re now going into the history and scholarly side,” Shasta replied. “Does he perform any routines?”
“He focuses on book tests, which I can understand because of his professional work.”
Lucy hopped off the easy chair and leaped onto the desk and then onto top of a pile of magazines. Karma rolled over on her back asking for a belly rub, which Ralph obliging did.
“What is a book test? I’ve never seen you perform one.”
“It’s a routine, with many versions, performed by magicians who portray themselves as mentalists, the kind using telepathic powers.”
“You often do some form of mentalism or psi demonstration, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, primarily utilizing ESP or tarot cards. With these props I’m able to empower the assistant selected from the audience.”
“Of course, they often appear to do the magic while you stand by helping.”
“Too many magicians demean the assistant thereby inflicting the audience with the same outlook.”
Holding up her empty martini glass, Shasta said, “A refill please and then tell me about the book test.”
Ralph took both glasses into the kitchen with the kitties leading the way, hoping for fresh munchies. When he returned and had given a glass to Shasta, he began relating the basics of the book test, “The plain and simple format involves an assistant from the audience who selects a book among, say, three books. Randomly the assistant opens the book to a certain page and the magician identifies the first word on the page or perhaps a specific word in the first sentence. In his lecture Spenser demonstrated a variety of versions, several quite complex and often involving a story. His presentation was very lucid and entertaining. I was impressed.”
“Yes, he struck me as an articulate person with a well-organized and cogent intellect. No doubt his scholarly activities as a contextual analyst hone his reasoning processes.”
“Oh, by the way, Spenser has a very lovely Abyssinian kitty – Theodora or Theo for short,” he said.
“I’m delighted to hear that he’s a cat person. What color is Theo’s coat?” Shasta asked.
“It’s a reddish-brown, the usual coloration one expects for an Abyssinian. From what he told me, there are more color variations now,” he answered.
“What’s your assessment of him?”
Ralph put his martini glass on the side table and, rubbing Lucy’s ears, said, “Overall fine. It’s just that –” he paused searching for words. After another sip of martini, he told Shasta about the visit. “Spenser owns an older house which has been refurbished. His library is extensive, not only books on early Christianity and textual analysis but also on other religions and on magic, many of them ancient and medieval, bound books and early manuscripts. What amazed me was the large and wide-ranging collection of occult books. I felt privileged to view his library; at least he made me feel that way. And that’s the rub. I sensed a wrongness, something out of joint.”
He stopped and sipped the martini. Both Lucy and Karma were purring, showing their understanding of Ralph’s troubling experience.
“He has a doctorate in Divinity and --”
“Talks like a professor giving a lecture.” Shasta laughed. “I noticed his speaking manner when I first met him.”
Shasta sipped her martini and, after placing the glass on the table, asked, “Was it something he said or a personality issue or perhaps his mindset as reflected during the conversation?”
“Yes and no. All three. He has a crucial secret, deeply rooted, that weighs on his soul. The inner man is different from the outer persona. He’s not what he seems to be, what he projects to the public.”
“Well, well. Our man of secrets, living a clandestine existence in an underground realm.”
Lucy had her head on Ralph’s thigh and was enjoying the ear rubbing. Karma, not wanting Lucy to have all the fun, rolled over onto her back with legs in air. Noticing Karma’s obvious call for attention, Ralph began rubbing her belly, initiating intense purrs. “An aha. I’ve received inspiration from the kitties. The sharp conflicts within Spenser’s inner being are concealed, for the most part, from his awareness. His intense, robust ego has established a shield of denial. Anything that diverges from the self-image he wants to project through his outer persona will be automatically concealed.”
Shasta picked up the thread, “So if we knew the fundamental dynamics of the strife and opposition of the basic elements of his inner self, we could better understand the motivation underlying his outer behavior.”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“What we need is more background data – a penetrating search that reveals what he is concealing.”
“We could have help from Peaches and her team, especially someone like Virgil.” He laughed.
She joined in the humor of the startling idea. She giggled and then held up the martini glass. “Dear, a refill please and I’ll tell you an idea I just had.”
The kitties arrived first in the kitchen, hoping for fresh munchies. Touched by their intense stare, Ralph added more food to the bowl. Returning to the living room, he handed her the martini, sipped some of his, and sat down on the couch.
“Okay, here is the plan. We’ll convey all the data to Peaches and her team. I’m her. What I know she does. Form the large Garland-Peaches team.” They smiled at each other and went into the kitchen to serve dinner.
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