Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Public Case #1: Arena Attack (part 2)

We decided to finish up that day with lunch. Ben decided he would try to find out what he could from his contacts about this list, while I was to go home and see what I could dig up on my computer. We would meet up together the next day and start our investigation. I caught a cab home, using the money Ben gave me to pay the fare.

The next day I had a full list in hand when Ben called me. As per usual, he called from the pay phone down the block, and would hang up if anyone other than me answered. He was paranoid like that. I didn't mind, mostly because he typically had reason to act however he acted, no matter how crazy it might have seemed.

"Sugoi," he said when I answered the phone. "You ready?"

"Yeah, I've got the list right here. There's some people here that are worth looking into, but most of them are clean as a whistle."

"We'll take a look at all of them when the time's right. Come on out, now. We've got investigating to do."

I paused. Going out with him was a rare treat. Typically I was just the home front support. Not as fun, but I knew I was young and a liability. That he wanted me to come along meant that what we were doing would be more casual and safe enough he trusted me to be there. Before he said anything else, I was already stuffing a backpack and grabbing my coat, bounding down the stairs two at a time in my hurry to get out to the street.

Ben was there waiting for me, smoking a dark clove cigarette and bundled up tightly against the cold in his thin jacket. When I approached, he put out his cigarette and flagged a cab, which both of us climbed into. Inside, Ben rattled off an address and we were on our way.

"Do you want to see the list?" I asked when we settled in.

"Yeah, sure, it couldn't hurt," Ben said as he settled into his seat. Today he looked a little more put-together, with his long hair at least combed roughly into place. It still looked a mess, but relatively it was neat for him.

I pulled out the folder that had all the information I had found and gave it to him. He looked through it, seemingly only giving it a cursory glance. I knew better, though. He was the quickest, smartest guy I ever knew, and when he looked over some bit of information he remembered it.

"All right, good work," he said as he closed the folder and handed it back to me.

"Where we going to first?"

"Well, I figured we'd check out the security at the arena, first. I don't want our client being attacked while we're busy working. Not to mention that there might be some other sort of clue left behind."

"You got permission from him, right?"

"Yeah, of course," Ben said. "All access to the entire arena. Rick's cool like that. Figure we'll drop in, snoop around, and maybe start our suspect investigation in the afternoon."

I nodded and watched the city go by from outside the car. The rest of the ride was uneventful, and we arrived at the arena shortly before noon. Entering the arena, we were met by Richard, who took us on a tour of the arena. It was mostly empty that day, with only a few maintenance men working on repairing several broken safety devices under the stage. Benjamin stopped and asked them a few questions about what had gone wrong. It seemed there were electronic triggers on all of the trap doors. They wouldn't open without a command from the electrical technician. Yet all of the controls had been smashed, defaulting the doors to a final metal safety latch that had been pried loose.

The only other people in the arena were a band occupying the largest dressing room back stage. When they entered, Richard made the introductions. "This is our current headliner, Marquis the Sad."

Ben nodded in greeting to everyone in the room. There were five guys, all around twenty by my guess, dressed in skinny jeans and t-shirts. As usual, I just kept quiet and made mental notes. It also helped that I had a mini-recorder in my jacket so I could get it all down later.

The lead singer, Peter Renauld, did most of the talking. "Oh, yeah, I know, this whole thing's been a real bummer," he said when asked about the sabotage. "We've had to cancel a show already, and it took us forever to get a slot lined up. We have another performance in a week, so we're hoping this'll get cleared up by then."

"Didn't you guys have the show?"

"Um ... yeah," Peter said, looking embarassed. Some of the other band members looked away. "But you're maybe the only person who saw it. So now we've gotta go out and do it the hard way. I tell you, Rick picking us up was hard, man. He's a big name now. The only problem is that below him you can't make any money. So ... it's tough breaks for everyone."

"So why are you guys here today?"

"Well, we were supposed to practice, but now they're busy with the repairs, so we're just sitting around hoping that they'll finish before we're chased off for other acts who are scheduled to practice."

"Richard's still holding the shows?"

"Of course. Gotta make money. He's trying to make it safe, and only call things off when something happens. We had the sound tech take a spill before our show, so we got cancelled. There's another band performing tomorrow. We'll see how that goes, I suppose."

Ben thanked them and we headed out. Richard showed us to the door, and told us to feel free to drop in and take a look around if they felt it necessary. And to keep him posted. Ben agreed and we were in another cab, this time heading for the first address on the list I had drawn up.

"So what do you think?" I asked him when we were under way.

"I think that we need more information. There's only a few people who seem like the type to resort to sabotage. It's going to be a short list. Ask them what they know, maybe do a bit of snooping, and we should have an answer in a few days. Time enough to save the Marquis show this weekend."

"You're in that much of a rush?"

"Well ... I want to go to the concert," Ben said. He smiled at me. I shook my head and turned off the tape recorder until we reached our next stop.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Public Case #1: Arena Attack

I was sitting in a downtown bistro with Benjamin Camen one Sunday in the dead of winter. This was the kind of place that was far out our league, with some trendy name I forgot the moment I read it and lunches that cost more than I'd spend on food in a few days. But the client had insisted, and we were here to meet him, not to complain. Besides, client meals fell under the column of chargable expenses, so it was all on the poor sap who suggested this place. Ben didn't pay for business meals as a rule.

Our client was an older man, with graying hair that was worn long and pulled back in a ponytail. He wore a heavy jacket and had the general apathy of a life-long New Yorker. When we showed up, ten minutes late, the man seemed both relieved and annoyed to see us. I couldn't blame him. He was paying good money for a bum and a kid, by the looks of things. Ben didn't worry about his appearance, his long brown hair was unkept and seemed to form a shaggy pelt that ran down to his ancient, scuffed coat. Certainly he turned heads in this kind of a place, looking as he did. That he came with a scrawny eleven year old Japanese boy didn't help his case any. I felt as out of place among all these well-dressed white people as anyway, I think.

We sat down at the table and I reached into my backpack and pulled out the laptop where I kept all the information and notes related to the case in spreadsheets and slides. That was my job. Ben did the leg work and helped our client, but I was the computer guy. Benjamin Camen is many things, technophobe being among them. Not that I complain, that's the only reason he seemed to bring me aboard.

Our client, the long-haired guy, seemed impatient as he began speaking. I already had a client notes file where I'd transcribe what he wrote down. That was what I did on our meeting the client, keep quiet and let them talk and get as much information as I could. And I did my job.

Client: Richard ————
Age: 49
Occupation: Main Manager, Mooring Arena

Richard: Hello there ... who's this?

Benjamin: This is Sugoi. [ Because I was a minor, Ben insisted I use an alias and had cooked up Sugoi as an appropriate one. something about it sounding like my last name, Sugai, and how it meant wonderful. I don't know. I don't have a clue about Japanese, I'm from Long Island. ]

Richard: But what's he doing here?

Benjamin: He's my assistant. He'll compile all the information so I can work more effectively.

Richard: Can you trust him?

Benjamin: I certainly do. Now, what can I help you with?

Richard: I'm the general manager of Mooring Arena. I own it, you see. I heard through Pat that you frequent the place. [ Benjamin spent more money on music than anyone I had ever met, which was probably why he lived like a bum most of the time. He claimed it helped him think. ]

Benjamin: Been there, yeah. Is this relevant?

Richard: Well, you see, last fall a pretty big opportunity fell into my lap--an act that was far out of my league. Marton Syan, out of Japan, remember? [ When he said Japan, he looked at me. I didn't respond, because Ben didn't want me talking, but I thought about telling him off. ]

Benjamin: Marton Syan, yeah, I went to that one. Great concert. But they're over now, so what's the deal?

Richard: After that show, I was a bigger player than I had been. You know, better shows, bigger bands, things like that. I used to do a lot of underground stuff, which was great, but now I'm getting some established acts, people that bring in Joe Schmoe who's okay buying lots of merchandise because he's got money. I like that. Good for business. Finally making some real money.

Benjamin: I'm still looking for the problem.

Richard: Well, ever since then, there have been some accidents at the arena. At first I thought that's what they were--accidents. A falling light fixture, we had a wiring problem that did a lot of damage. Insurance investigators had a field day with that one, thought it was some sort of insurance scam. That's when I first started thinking that maybe the accidents were more than just accidents.

Benjamin: Someone's trying to sabotage you, you think?

Richard: I don't think, I know. After the wiring problem we had a stage malfunction, one of the trap doors gave way and one of my main sound guys broke his leg in three places. Nasty fall. When we found him, he was laying on top of a note. This note here...

[ Richard offered up the note, logged in the files as Item A. I'll relay the contents of the note here, but it was your standard newspaper cut and paste job, like something out of a movie. Silly, really. ]

Rick better learn his place or someone's gonna end up putting him there. Permanantly! [sic]

Benjamin: And you're thinking..?

Richard: One of my rivals, the other arena owners, probably decided to do this. They weren't too happy that I picked up Marton Syan. Said that it was asking for trouble. After all the things Marton Syan had going on in the press, they were supposed to be persona non grata. If they had their way, their wouldn't have been a New York City show. They were pretty pissed I picked them up.

Benjamin: And they're retaliating?

Richard: I got a lot of press. I was number three. Now I might be number two, or at least close. Those guys have been in the business for ages, and they're ruthless about it. If I'm cutting into their business, then they'd want to stop me. One of 'em, Maple Stadium, their board tried to buy me out. I wasn't having any of that. I can run my own show. I'm the only big single owner around, and I'm damn proud of it. I'm not going to let them take my arena from me.

Benjamin: If they're trying some sort of industrial sabotage, why don't you go to the police? Or a real private eye. I'm not licensed to take action. I'm only an information gatherer.

[ Which was true. The licensing for private detectives included such strict guidelines that Ben didn't bother applying. He sold his services under the table as an 'applied information consultant' and kept his business as far out of people's notice as possible. I'm not sure how legal that is, but he didn't mind. He had lots of friends. ]

Richard: These bastards are trying to take my life from me. I could send them to jail, sure, but that wouldn't teach them a lesson. They get a fine, maybe some fall guy takes the heat, and they go on with a little more care next time. No, I'd rather do this my own way, and show them that if they mess with me they're going to regret it.

And that was all the relevant information. The rest was talking about the fee, which was sizable and to be paid in cash. I kept the books, too, but that isn't information I feel like I should be sharing. And before you ask, I always got a cut. Benjamin insisted I save it, and put it into a trust for me to touch when I was older. He said it would easily pay for all the college I'd ever want when I got old enough. Outside of that, I always got fed and when I needed to upgrade my computer Ben would just write me a check. It was a good situation for a kid to be in.

Richard gave us a list of people he thought might be involved. They were the board members of competing arenas, and people who were in close contact with them. Benjamin took it and promised to get right on the case. Richard left without having ordered a thing, claiming he had other engagements. But he had already paid for our meals, which were soon on their way and which we enjoyed together in silence.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


The last time I saw Benjamin Camen was in a small bohemian coffee shop that catered to the eclectic and pretentious. Camen was sitting sipping a cappuccino he had spiked with brandy from a hip flask he kept in the laptop bag that he always carried around but I believe had never actually carried a laptop in its life.

This was the day that he told me what had happened during our last case. Benjamin Camen is one of the best freelance private investigators in the world. Or at least, that’s what he claims. I admit that I’ve only met a handful. But among that handful he is indeed the best, better than many detectives in police employ.

I was sitting with my laptop open, typing away while Camen spoke. I have been acting as his unofficial transcriptionist for the past three years. It was originally just case notes, but then progressed to random ruminations and monologues that he would archive and then scour for clues he had glossed over. Lately he had been talking about having me write out complete narratives.

“I want you to write it all down, Sugoi. This whole word of mouth advertising just isn’t working for us any longer. Can’t keep living the good life like this. You know more about that sort of thing than I do, maybe you can find a market for it. A procedural publication or something. And then we can expand our client base.”

I wasn’t entirely sure people would care, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. The last thing I wanted was a scene in a public place. Encounters with police—by and large, though there are some exceptions—suck.

“I’m not sure I can turn this into a narrative,” I told him.

“Nonsense. You’re a smart fellow. You graduated high school, didn’t you? You read a lot of fiction, right? Enjoy English? I’ve seen your notes, you have fast fingers and an accurate mind. What else do you need?”

“Creativity,” I muttered. “Talent wouldn’t hurt either.”

“HA!” He snorted far too loudly for the situation. A few people glanced over at us, the wild-eyed middle aged man and the young Asian boy sitting together huddled in the corner. A few of them looked too long, especially at Camen, as though they suspected him to be some sort of pedophile meeting a young boy. Those were the ones that wouldn’t bother looking at me out of shame or their dutiful rejection of getting involved.

“You don’t need talent,” Camen went on. “You know the case, you know all the details now, just put them down how they happened to us. Try to make me look good, too. This is a walking advertisement, gotta pander to the future clients.”

“Do you want to see it when I’m done?”
“No need, no need,” he said absently as he drained his cup and then refilled it directly from his flask. Camen is not an alcoholic, I don’t think. He only seems to drink when there’s nothing better to do. Or when we’re out in public at a place that doesn’t allow smoking. Without a project, his hands always fidget and he always is driven to do some bad thing or another. At least this wasn’t making a scene. The last time, after a very busy night when the tables hadn’t been bussed in some time, he had collected all the cups to build a tower of ceramic. That had been really embarrassing.

“I trust you well enough. Besides, the better I look, the more things you’ll get to do, too. I become famous, and you’ll be able to come along with me. Money, fame … women.” He grinned at me and winked. I hunkered down over my laptop so he didn’t see me roll my eyes. He was all talk and no action, at least when it came to women. Sometimes I wonder if he isn’t more than professionally interested in hanging out with a young boy instead of someone on the fairer sex.

I wouldn’t know. I don’t care what he does in his free time, but I’m batting for the right team.

The problem, as you’ll see, is that his story is so unpublishable that I don’t even know where to begin. He wants an accurate accounting, but one that makes him look good. That’s impossible. He can’t have both. So I’m forced, as always, to choose between two options. Neither of them sound great for me.

Either way I’m stuck writing up these stupid stories in the hopes that someone is going to take them seriously.

Either way, it’s not exactly going to be Dupin or Holmes or even Marple running around.

I’d rather just get it over with and go the path of least resistance. He wants an accurate story, I’ll give you one. Bells and all. But no publisher would ever believe they’re true. And he won’t let me publish them as fiction (I checked). So instead you’ll get them written down, warts and all, here. And I don’t really have to worry about Camen getting upset, because as far as I know he tries to remain as far away from the internet as possible. Well, sometimes. You’ll probably see.

When I write up the stories I’ll post them here for people to read. Maybe someone will care. Maybe some crazy will actually believe they’re real. I swear to you they are, but this is the internet. I know better than to hope for too much. And if some desperate soul decides to actually contact us and hire Camen for a case based on these stories, I’ll be justified and that person will be certifiable. But they won’t be disappointed.

These are the case files of Benjamin Camen, Master Detective.

All true. No holds barred. Narrated by his assistant and protégé, H. Sugai.

Monday, February 18, 2008


This is only a teeeeeest! One, two three!