Chapter 31: Wednesday, Dec. 13

In which there's an e-mail about a powerful aphrodisiac, and the moneyman behind Corny's expedition is revealed.

By Alfred Alcorn

Published September 21, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Oh, Elsbeth, why did you leave me again? My house is empty. My heart is empty. My soul is empty.

Grief is never comic. But it can be grotesque. I writhe on a rack of loss and lust. The ghost of Elsbeth beckons but so does the living presence of Diantha. I have had to all but manacle myself to keep from leaving my empty bed and falling at the foot of hers, on my knees, imploring, take me, hold me, give me life again.

But Diantha has grown distant in her own grief. She spends more time at her work now, a fixture in front of a fixture. She promised to go to the Curatorial Ball with me, but that seems a pathetic sop to what I now crave in the core of my being. I feel like one of evolution's bad jokes, surviving only to suffer. A poor forked animal. Forked, all right. Diantha has been gone nearly every night and does not return until the wee hours. On what debaucheries, I can scarcely, in my fevered state, imagine. I suspect she's going out with that mocking fraud of a restaurateur. Perhaps it's a reaction to her mother's death. I am powerless to do anything, to help her in the way she needs help.

I'll probably excise this outburst later on, but I needed to get that off my chest. A reluctant Calvinist, I am of the old school, neither a Papist who can bare his soul to some sympathetic priest nor a dupe of the therapeutic racket that exacerbates, while purporting to cure, the pathologies of self-absorption. I have, despite many good friends, none I want to bother with my troubles. And self-pity is the worst form of self-reliance.

I've found it a solace to come to work. The very furniture seems welcoming. The contents of my in-basket have proved a balm where I can lose myself in detail, the pickier the better. Darlene is being extra sweet to me. Not to mention that I am knee-deep in a murder investigation.

Indeed, I arrived to find an e-mail from Nicole Stone-Lee. She reports that it's clear from notes and memoranda deftly hidden on Professor Ossmann's hard drive that he was working on some kind of aphrodisiac. It seems likely that in reviewing research done by Professor Tromstromer and Dr. Woodley, he stumbled across a combination of compounds that had "a profound effect" on the sexual activity of various small mammals. She noted that there seemed to be a lot more to plow through and would report back as soon as she had anything else of interest.

I forwarded the e-mail to Lieutenant Tracy, made a hard copy for myself, and then erased it. I left word with Ms. Stone-Lee thanking her and asking her to refrain from e-mail in the future as I was not all that sure how secure it was. I'm wondering whether it would be helpful if the Lieutenant and I paid a visit to Professor Tromstromer. I can think of several insinuations to lay before the big gnome. How much did he know about Ossmann's use of his research? Were Tromstromer and Woodley working on something that Ossmann stole? Does Tromstromer stand to gain with the removal of Ossmann and Woodley from the scene?

Speaking of Mr. Bain, I had a fruitful conversation with Professor Brauer early this afternoon. I had left word at his office to drop in when he got a chance. He came by just after lunch. Our relations have always been cool, and we didn't pretend any great cordiality beyond a businesslike handshake. We indulged a minute or two of small talk before we got to the point.

"I understand," I said, "there's a production company making a film of your book that would like to use the premises of the MOM for background shots."

"That's true," he said. "I believe Malachy Morin is taking care of details."

"Mr. Morin isn't taking care of anything," I said, "despite whatever he might be telling you to the contrary."

Professor Brauer wrinkled his smooth pate in frowning. "He tells me it's a done deal."

"It is not a done deal, Professor Brauer. The University in general and Mr. Morin in particular have no say whatsoever regarding the premises of this Museum. But it doesn't surprise me that he has been less than straightforward with you. He has always had a tendency to tell people what he wants them to hear, regardless of the truth."

"Did you ask me in here just to tell me that?" His expression was decidedly baleful.

"If I had, you could take it as an act of courtesy."

His frown turned to puzzlement. "Then what did you ask me to come here for?"

I cleared my throat. "I'm willing to consider some very restricted use of the Museum for the film in return for some information."

"What information?"

"I want to know who, in the Long Pig Society, your Sociiti Cochon Long, funded Corny's trip to the Upper Orinoco."

He did something of a double take. He had the expression of one suddenly thinking quite deeply about something. "Well, that's privileged information."

"I understand. And these are privileged premises. And as you know, I have very good relations with the Seaboard Police Department. I'm quite sure I could arrange to keep your crews from getting anywhere near the place."

He sighed. "If I do tell you, it's strictly, strictly confidential."

"Of course."

"I want to be able to use the Skull Collection."


"And the Oceana Gallery."

"With restrictions."

"Understood. And outside shots, doors, and one or two window shots."

"Within a period of no more than..."

"Say three weeks."

"Two and a half."

"Done. You'll get a call from Mr. Castor."

"Yes. I've spoken to him before. And now..."

"Yes. You know this is in absolute confidence."


"For your protection as much as anyone else's."

"I understand."

"Most of the funding came from Freddie Bain."

"Freddie Bain, the restaurateur?" I said.

"Yes. Among other things, the proprietor of the Green Sherpa."

"Yes, of course. He makes quite an impression. When did he join the club?"

"Not long after the Cannibal Murders trial. He's quite a man about town, if you didn't know."

"I didn't. Are his interests in matters anthropophagic purely scholarly?"

"I'm not sure. He's the kind of person who talks but doesn't say much."

We left it at that. I felt I had learned something valuable, but I wasn't sure what. I also remained under the distinct impression that Raul Brauer was holding something back. What else did he know about Freddie Bain and what he was up to? How did he get the kind of throw-away wealth to fund an expedition like Corny's? Not from running a restaurant, surely? What, if anything, were his connections with Celeste Tangent? Why is the FBI interested in him?

As I suspected would happen, I've had several groveling phone calls from Professor Athol and one from Maria Cowe herself. Good old Felix must have written a powerful letter. I told both of them I will be satisfied with nothing less than a notarized written apology and a notarized memo listing the names and detailing their roles in the matter.

Not that it matters. Not that anything matters anymore. I continue this weird, bifurcated existence. I fill my life with this stuff only to find it still empty at the end of the day. I suppose the only thing to do in these situations is to invent another life for yourself. But I don't want another life. I want what I had and what now exists only in the sunshine of memory.

But oh, what memories! Into little more than two years we packed a lifetime. We had the most marvelous little wedding at the Miranda Hotel overflowing with friends and champagne. We honeymooned for three glorious weeks in France. (Izzy has remarked that people in relationships go to therapists; people in love go to Paris.) Elsbeth, I have come to realize, was like a magnifying lens, shaping, brightening and intensifying my life.

Now it's like the old days again. I think I'll make my way over to the Club. There are people there. Someone might ask me to join their table. If nothing else, the waiters talk to you, they smile, they bring you things.

Alfred Alcorn

Alfred Alcorn, formerly a journalist at the Boston Herald and CBS, is also the former director of the travel program at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. In addition to "The Love Potion Murders (in the Museum of Man)," he is the author of two previous novels, "The Pull of the Earth" (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and "Murder in the Museum of Man" (Zoland Books, 1997). He lives in Belmont, Mass.

MORE FROM Alfred Alcorn

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Crime Fiction Mysteries