The Mysterious Mr. X

 

 

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"Someone's been looking for you," the receptionist at my office told me

over the telephone, the day after my trip to Newark.

 

I was half expecting a call from Judy or maybe -- if I was very, very

lucky, Sue herself.

 

"A woman?" I asked.

 

"No, a man," the receptionist said.

 

"What did he look like?"

 

"A businessman," the receptionist said. "He said he had information

about Sue Walsh."

 

"Did he leave a name or number where I could reach him?" I asked.

 

"I think he gave a card to Mike" she said. "He really seemed put off

that you weren't here."

 

"For God's Sake, I'm a newspaper man, I can't be in the office all the

time."

 

"I told him that, but he didn't seem to want to hear it. Michael talked

to him. Maybe you should ask him what the man said."

 

As the receptionist routed my call to my editor's phone, I pondered the

significance of the event. I give a card to a prostitute in Newark and

the next day a business man shows up at my office. Not at my house. He

doesn't even call. He just shows up.

 

I thought that queer.

 

Everyone else I had talked to during the five months pursuing the case

had my home number -- which led me to believe the prostitute had given

the man my number.

 

I just happen to be under the weather and working at home, otherwise he

would have caught me.

 

My editor said the man's name was Ron Weissman, and the card claimed he

work at a Mendham company named Advent Logic, Inc., something not listed

in the phone book, under that name or under the name of the man.

 

"He seemed straight enough to me," my editor said.

 

"What did he look like?"

 

"A grey-haired fellow with a fairly pleasant way of speaking," my editor

said. "Though there was something odd about him. I can't quite put my

finger on what it was."

 

My editor seemed to catch the drift of my suspicions when he suggested

Weissman might be one of Sue's johns, though at the time I still wasn't

convinced that Sue did any hooking. The Sue I knew teased and promised,

but rarely delivered unless pressed. A straight cash-for-sex transaction

just wasn't her style -- despite her exboyfriend's claim she took money

from Al Goldstein or even Melissa who feared Sue was hooking along

Broadway in Newark. Sue played a power game, willing to use the promise

of sex to gain a hold over a man, creating a sense of obligation.

 

If not a john, then what? Was Weissman one of Sue's mobsters in the

flesh?

 

Weissman came back later the same day, I found out when I called in for

my messages.

 

"He's really hot," my receptionist said. "He says he needs to talk with

you right now."

 

"All right," I told her. "If he comes back. Give him my home number."

 

"All right, I will," my receptionist said. "But this man scares me."

 

He did come back again, and my receptionist did give him my number. And

when I called the office, she informed me of the situation, saying the

man had left the office to find a pay phone. But I still received no

call.

 

When I called the office, the receptionist told me that Weissman had

returned, shouting at her, saying that he had called the number she had

given him and gotten some Chinese restaurant in downtown Hoboken. He

said accused her of deliberately deceiving him, and demanded to know why

I wouldn't meet with him.

 

By this time, I wasn't sure I wanted to meet with him, though I wanted

to know more about him -- especially how he fit into the Susan Walsh

Story. Had he known her? If so in what way? And why had he come to look

me up? Was he acting as an intermediary for Sue, perhaps setting up a

meeting -- to which I would have readily agreed.

 

Or was he part of some other force, a power in Nutley or Brighton Beach

that did not want me looking for Susan and would have preferred Sue to

remain unfound? He couhave preferred Sue to remain unfound? He could

have even sought her in their interests, using those of us who wanted to

find and help her for his own purposes, perhaps to reach her ahead of us

and make certain that we never did get a chance to hear what she had to

say. And why had he shown up and not called

 

The Abbie Hoffman dictate about telephones struck me: "never talk on the

telephone," a dictate I had wisely honored during my years on the run.

Did Weissman fear some other power, one that looked over his shoulder in

order to find out what he knew?

 

"I'll be right down," I told my receptionist.

 

The last thing I needed was for this guy to yank out a gun and have him

shoot all my co-workers, just because I wasn't available. If someone was

going to get shot over Sue, it should be me -- though a few people had

tried that in the past and we sorry for the attempt. Later, Weissman

apologized, telling me he had transposed two of the numbers. But the

mistake had allowed me a glimpse inside his psyche. No matter whose side

he was on, I couldn't trust him. For on some level, he was just another

one of the Sue's collection of broken people, and somehow I knew she was

behind him somewhere pulling his strings.

 

When I got back to the newspaper, Weissman was not around, nor did he

return. Yet he had left his mark on my staff, each of whom asked me what

kind of people I was associating with. Some of the neighborhood people

cautioned me as well.

 

"Some guy has been around here asking questions about you," the hot-dog

lady said. "He was really weird. He actually gave me the creeps and

that's hard to do with you work on the street the way I do."

 

Weissman apparently had checked her cart for news of me, as well as the

newspaper store, the local deli, the local produce stand, as well as the

local dry cleaner, always probing, always mumbling and grumbling about

me to them, as if they needed to agree that I was some kind of monster,

someone they shouldn't trust.

 

Although I didn't know it earlier, I had head rumors of Weissman long

before he actually made his move, rumors of this "other" figure that

sought out almost every name connected in the current chapter of The

Susan Walsh Story.

 

In fact, Weissman scared some people. He had called Melissa several

times, and she feared him, saying he was either crazy or dangerous. He

apparently first emerged sometime in late August calling Melissa to tell

her he had Sue's cross.

 

"I didn't know what he was talking about at first," Melissa said. "He

just kept going on and on about a cross, telling me it was the one Sue

wore in the picture and I kept asking him what picture did he mean, and

then finally, he made me understand, he meant the picture in the Book."

 

The Book Melissa meant was "Redlight" and the picture was one of Sue's

more exotic poses, so exotic that at first you don't notice the cross at

all. I had to look twice to see it, and when I did, I noticed how

similar it was to those displayed in some of the vampire books I'd

acquired -- crosses used to ward off evil spirits the way garlic

allegedly did in the movies.

 

When I asked Melissa who he was, she didn't know. She didn't even

remember his name. But his habits struck me strangely. He seemed to be

gathering more information than he was giving, a habit typical of many

of the private detectives I met when I was on the run, he, pretending to

give information as he drained you of what information you had.

 

Melissa didn’t like him either, saying he sounded like a nut, nor could

she explain where he came from. One day, he called her up on the

telephone, telling her strange things, asking her questions she didn’t

know how to or was unwilling to answer.

 

"He said he had information about Sue but always asked more questions

than he answered," she said. "He kept insisting that I meet with him. He

scared the hell out of me. I think he’s some kind of psychopath."

 

Weissman had also ferreted out O'Keefe, haunting the editor's Bloomfield

office for the latest breaking information. He made O'Keefe nervous.

 

"He's working for somebody, but who?" O'Keefe asked me, making the same

observation about his information gathering, bearing all the habits of

private investigator. "He might be working for the other side."

 

O’Keefe was convinced that other, shadowy figures in Nutley did not want

Sue found, a combination of mobsters, insurance scam artists and

possibly town officials who would like Sue’s stories of the mob to stop,

stories that might have more basis in fact than even Sue knew.

 

"He might be trying to find out what everybody else knows, or they might

want to find her first," O'Keefe said.

 

If Sue had aggravated the mob, then sooner or later they would want her

silenced more permanently. But O'Keefe seemed to think that a body

showing up in one of the parks this early would be inconvenient and lend

too much credence to her tales -- even though the Nutley Sun had already

hinted of as much, as if floating a trial balloon, a "what if" scenario

designed to test public reaction. After the police department issued the

finding of its psychic, Dorothy Allison, The Sun sought out one of its

own, reaching into the psychic center located in one of the publishers

rental buildings for another opinion, someone who suggested he saw Sue's

body in a Newark Park.

 

Perhaps my insistence that Sue was alive had spoiled such plans, forcing

those shadowy figures to remain in the background. Perhaps they were

already seeking her, thinking to dispose of her body in some less

obvious way -- as they had when some of these same people disposed of

Jimmy Hoffa in the Meadowlands.

 

Perhaps they were willing to wait until later, when the media attention

shifted elsewhere, and then quietly take care of her. In the meantime,

they needed to keep track of her, and to know just how close other

people were to finding her.

 

"They, whoever they are, might be looking to scare her," O’Keefe said.

"They might want to make her look like such a fool, painting her as a

vampire and a slut, so that she’ll be too ashamed to show herself, to us

or to anybody else."

 

More than likely, paranoid Sue had proven way to illusive for even them,

having learned a long time ago how to slip in and out of the shadows,

how to keep herself hidden, showing herself only at selective times and

spots. If someone was after her, some dark element which was not a

product of Sue's imagination, then Sue was well ahead of them, too. If

she had vanished on her own as we believed, and discovered herself

seriously being stalked, then our task of finding her would be made that

much harder. With real mobsters chasing her with real guns, we might

never see her again. And if Weissman was leading this parade, we needed

to make sure we didn't lead him to her.

 

But we also had to check out what he had to say, even though he might

also be in league with Sue herself, seeking to lead us away from her.

 

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The Man from NeXT

 

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