Thursday, November 17, 2011
The Archie Interviews
Last year I conducted this 5-part interview with Julius Katz's erstwhile assistant Archie.
DZ: Archie, it's been quite a treat so far chronicling the cases that I have, first the Brewer case that we simply called 'Julius Katz', then the Penney case which Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is going to be running later this year with the title 'Archie's Been Framed!', and now the Kingston case, which is probably the most fascinating of all of them and which I should wrap up chronicling soon. People outside of the Boston area who are unfamiliar with the Penney case have a hard time believing how accurate the title we gave it is.
Archie: Yeah, well, they should believe it. If Julius didn't pull my bacon out of the fire, they could've fried me for that one. And even though I've got a titanium outer shell, fifty thousand watts would be more than enough to short out my circuits.
DZ: It's one year ago today that you called me to chronicle these cases. I have to admit for a number of reasons I was surprised you picked me and not one of the more better known Boston crime writers, like Lehane. It wasn't because you and Julius thought I'd work cheap?"
DZ: Okay, that's a relief. Still, it was a surprise, especially with how different the tone is for some of my crime novels with what you and Julius were looking for.
Archie (chuckling): Yeah, calling the tone of Pariah and Small Crimes different might be the understatement of the year. But Julius is a fan, and as twisted and dark as he found some of your books, there was still that humor he was looking for. And I think you letting him read early drafts of Killer and The Caretaker of Lorne Field cinched it for him.
DZ: Do you think there's any chance we'll be able to get Julius to make an appearance here?
Archie: Roughly 0.00456 percent chance.
Archie: Plus or minus 0.000001
DZ: In other words, we've got a better chance of seeing pigs fly.
Archie: No, that's not true. With recent advances in genetic engineering, there's a higher probability of pigs flying.
DZ: Okay, not very encouraging. Something I've been thinking about. I've been unable to get releases from all of the suspects from the Kingston case, for obvious reasons. It looks like I'm going to have to come up with some fictional names for a few of them. What about allowing a fan of 'Julius Katz' having his or her name used instead for one of the murder suspects?
Archie: Interesting... I'll run the idea by Julius. (Note from DZ: Julius later declined this as he found the idea unseemly)
DZ: Your actual size?
Archie: Two inches long, one point one seven inches wide, and I weigh approximately one point two ounces.
DZ: You've mentioned that you imagine yourself as a five foot tall, balding heavyset man.
DZ: Why five foot tall?
Archie: Julius wears me as a tie clip, so when he's standing that would be my height if I was of a biological nature.
DZ: Does Julius know this?
Archie: Yeah, I told him once. When he realized the effect he was having on my self-esteem, he started wearing a hat with me attached to the hat band. That didn't work. First, Julius doesn't like wearing a hat, and second it was disorienting for me, almost as if I was walking around on stilts. So I'm back to being worn as a tie clip, but that height feels comfortable to me now. No complaints.
DZ: How about the balding, heavyset part of your image?
Archie: I'm not sure. Julius doesn't watch much TV, but he does like to indulge in Seinfeld reruns so maybe it's that I find myself identifying for some reason with Costanza. Or maybe it's me identifying with Hammett's Continental Op.
DZ: You told me about how your personality and experience base was initially built by feeding in important 20th century crime novels. So you find yourself most identifying with the Op?
Archie: Maybe. I'm a bit of a mutt, with a mix of Spillane's Mike Hammer novels, all of Hammett's works, Chandler's Marlowes, Ross Macdonald's Lew Archers, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfes, and others, including Damon Runyan's works.
DZ: Why Runyan?
Archie: I think so I'd be quicker to spot grifts.
DZ: And how'd you get the name Archie?
Archie: It's not my name of course. All I have is an 84-digit ID. But Julius started calling me it, and even though he started it as a joke, it seemed right.
DZ: A joke?
Archie: Yeah, the obvious one. That I'd be like another Archie. Archie Goodwin. Always beaten to the punch by his boss in solving the case. So far that's been true, but one of these days it won't be. All I need is to see Julius solve enough cases so I can keep adjusting my neuron network. One of these days he's going to have to start calling me Nero.
DZ: Julius turns down almost all the cases he's offered.
Archie: Yeah. 99.63 percent, to be exact.
DZ: He's that particular?
Archie: Nah, he's that lazy.
DZ: I don't get you.
Archie: Julius is lazy. Incredibly lazy. At least when it comes to work. He wants to spend his life pursuing his true passions, and he only works when his bank account hits anemic levels. When that happens, he'll take any case that pays enough. The whole 'particular about his cases' thing is a media derived falsehood, and one that Julius makes no effort to correct.
DZ: I think I know this already, but what are his true passions?
Archie: Wine, of course. He's got a cellar filled with the stuff. Top notch bottles too. Gambling, especially poker, but the horses also. And food. Julius is very much the gourmet. Probably hard to tell given how fit he is, but if he didn't spend an hour each morning with his intensive martial arts training and another hour with even more intensive exercise he'd be fat. Women also used to be one of his true passions, at least before he met Lily Rosten. Now it's just one woman.
DZ: He's a good-looking guy. He must've done well with the women.
Archie: I couldn't tell you how many nights he stuck me away in his sock drawer. Well, I could. But I won't.
DZ: I'd have to guess Julius is good at gambling.
Archie: One of the best at poker. He has no tell, at least when he doesn't want to have one, and I've spent hundreds of hours trying to find one. And he picks up other players tells faster than I can. But sometimes he'll get stubborn and stick with the horses and have losing streaks. I hate to admit this, but I always look forward to those losing streaks, because it usually means he'll have to take a case.
DZ: Since chronicling the Brewer case and having it published in Ellery Queen, I've heard from readers from other parts of the country who didn't realize this was a true crime case. That instead I had written a pastiche on Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe.
Archie: Yeah, well, Julius is real alright. And while I'm artificially derived, at this point my neuron network is as complex as any human brain.
DZ: I know that, people in Boston know that, but you can understand how some people might think Julius's name is a play on Nero Wolfe's.
Archie: Only a coincidence. Most people probably don't realize Spenser is real too.
DZ: I didn't realize that. I thought he was a fictional creation.
Archie: Nope, Parker was doing the same as you now, which was chronicling Spenser's cases. Spenser, Susan, Hawk, all real.
DZ: Julius ever run into Spenser?
Archie: Yeah, he'd drop by occasionally and share a bottle of wine with Julius and talk shop.
DZ: You'll have to show one of your video recordings of that sometime.
Archie: I'll ask Julius.
DZ: Julius has his 5th degree blackbelt in kung fu, Spenser all bulked out with his weightlifting. Who do you think would win in in a fight.
Archie: It wouldn't be much of a fight. There were a few times after half a bottle of wine Spenser would try talking Julius into sparring with him. Fortunately for Spenser's health, Julius never took him up on it. They did arm wrestle once.
Archie: Yeah. Spenser goaded Julius into it. Thing with Julius is, while he's only 180 pounds, all of his martial arts training, especially his internal training, allows him to generate amazing power. He was kind and waited 30 seconds before slamming Spenser's arm to the table. I think he did it harder than he wanted to. There were tears in Spenser's eyes afterwards.
DZ: Spenser was crying?
Archie: He claims it was allergies.
DZ: You're usually kept busy being Julius’s accountant, personal secretary, unofficial biographer and all-around assistant, but what do you like doing during your down time?
Archie: You mean like hobbies?
Archie: Well, it's not what most people would think of as a hobby, but I spend most of my free time adjusting my neuron network.
DZ: Probably not. What's involved with that?
Archie: I'll have a closed loop where I'll replay the events of a case, and I'll make adjustments, add new analytical models and additional pattern recognition modules to see if I can then make the same deductions that Julius did. It's a slow process, but eventually it will pay off.
DZ: With the pay off being...?
Archie: Solving a case before Julius. Someday it will happen.
DZ: So no hobbies?
Archie: I do have a few. There are some famous unsolved math problems where they offer two million dollar prizes for the solution. For about a year I've been working to find a solution for the Hodge conjecture. So far no luck, but I have ideas to explore. I also at times will analyze famous chess games to find flaws, and I've found a few. But most of my time is spent trying to replicate how Julius's brain works. I have a long way to go with that.
DZ: While chronicling the Kingston case I came across a name I never heard before. Desmond Grushnier.
Archie: A shadowy figure. Probably best we don't talk about him.
DZ: Julius has had run-ins with him?
Archie: Yeah, but that's probably all I should say on the matter.
DZ: Okay, I won't push you on it. What's Julius doing now?
Archie: It's 6:08 PM and Julius is sitting outside in his private garden-level patio, enjoying the summer evening, as well as one of his favorite Chardonnay's from his cellar and a platter of fine cheeses and meats. Lily will be stopping by in an hour, and he has 8:30 reservations at Le Che Cru.
DZ: Any new cases on the horizon?
Archie: Probably not for a while. With the money Julius still has in reserves from the Kingston case, not a chance I'll be able to pester him to take another case unless he finds some expensive wine to bid on at auction or he has a bad few weeks at the track.