Martin was seated across my desk, his anxious gaze fixed on my every move. An on-again, off-again alcoholic, he was a thin man with deeply circled, worried eyes. Although he had been written off as a nonentity by many, I had long regarded him as a quick-witted and highly observant, if slightly disorganized, private detective. I had known him casually as far back as my days as an assistant D.A. and always had gotten along well with him.
"Jack," I said, "why don't you relax a little? You should know by now that you're among friends here."
He nodded nervously. He was seated in the roomy, upholstered chair across from my desk, but he looked most uncomfortable. I offered him some coffee. "You're not under cross-examination. Jack," I said "I just want a little help. Understand?"
"The police report says the reason Banister beat you was you had an argument over telephone bills." I pulled a copy of the police report from my desk drawer and shoved it across to him. "Here, take a look at it." He bent his head over and examined it as if he had never seen it before. I was sure that he had seen it many times, probably even had a copy at home.
After a moment he looked up without saying a word. His eyes told me he was deeply concerned about something.
"Now, does a simple argument over phone bills sound like a believable explanation to you?" I asked.
I waited. Then, dreamily, he shook his head slowly. "No," he admitted. "It involved more than that."
"How much more?"
Again I waited. He breathed deeply, sucking in the air.
"It started like it was going to be nothing at all," he began. "We'd both been drinking at Katzenjammer's - maybe more than usual, because of the assassination and all. Banister especially."
Pausing to chug down another cup of coffee, he made a real effort to collect his thoughts.
"Well, when we came back to the office. Banister started hitching about one thing and then another. He was in a mean mood. Then all of a sudden, he accused me of going through his private files. Now I never went through his private stuff ever - absolutely never. And that really ticked me off."
He hesitated for a long moment.
"Go on. Jack," I said gently.
"I guess I blew up," he continued, his face flushed with memories of injustice. "That's when I told him he'd better not talk to me like that. I told him I remembered the people I had seen around the office that summer. And that's when he hit me. Fast as a flash - pulled out that big Magnum and slammed me on the side of the head with it."
"Just because you remembered the people you'd seen at his office the past summer?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's all it took. He went bananas on that one."
"And just who were the people you'd seen in the office that summer?" I prodded softly.
"There was a bunch of them. It was like a circus. There were all those Cubans - coming in and going out, coming in and going out. They all looked alike to me."
Someone once commenced that whenever you really want to do something unseen, whenever you go to great pains to make sure that you are unobserved, there always turns out to be someone who was sitting under the oak tree. At the strange place that was Banister's office. Jack Martin, unnoticed in the middle of it all, was the one sitting under the oak tree.
He drew a long breath and then went on. "Then there were all these other characters. There was Dave Ferrie - you know about him by now."
"Was he there very often?" I asked.
"Often? He practically lived there."
Then Martin fell silent. I saw by the look in his eyes that he had come to a full stop.
I was not about to let my weekend visit to 544 Camp Street go down the drain that easily, so I gave him a hand. 'And Lee Harvey Oswald'" I added.
Jack swallowed, then nodded. It was almost as if he felt relief in finally having a burden lifted from him. "Yeah, he was there too. Sometimes he'd be meeting with Guy Banister with the door shut. Other times he'd be shooting the bull with Dave Ferrie. But he was there all right."
"What was Guy Banister doing while all this was going on?"
"Hell, he was the one running the circus."
"What about his private detective work?"
"Not much of that came in, but when it did, I handled it. That's why I was there."
"So, Jack," I said. "Just what was going on at Banister's office?"
He held up his hand. "I can't answer that," he said firmly. "I can't go into that stuff at all." Unexpectedly, he stood up. "I think I'd better go," he said.
"Hold on. Jack. What's the problem with our going into what was happening at Banister's office?"
"What's the problem?" he said. "What's the problem?" he repeated, as if in disbelief. "The problem is that we're going to bring the goddamned federal government down on our backs. Do I need to spell it out? I could get killed - and so could you."
He turned around. "I'd better go," he mumbled. He wobbled as he headed for the door.