Is Jay J. Armes For Real?

He says he’s the world’s greatest private detective, but . . .

Jay J. Armes was running short on patience and long on doubt. He was slipping out of character. It was possible he had made a mistake. The self-proclaimed world’s greatest private detective, an internationally famous investigator who liked to brag that he’s never accepted a case he didn’t solve, fast on his way to becoming a legend, was stumbling through a television interview with a crew of Canadians who never seemed to be in the right place at the right time, or to have the right equipment, or to ask the right questions.

Jay Armes calculated that his time was worth $10,000 a day, which mean that the three-man crew from Toronto had gone through $15,000, on the house. Pretty much ignoring his suggestions, the Canadians had concentrated on what Armes called “Mickey Mouse shots” of the “Nairobi Village” menagerie in the backyard of his high-security El Paso home, and on his bulletproof, super-customed, chauffeur-driven 1975 Cadillac limousine.

Worse still, the Canadians were not from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as Armes has led himself to believe, but from CTV, a smaller independent network. He had badly overestimated the value of this publicity. The seeds of discord had been scattered unexpectedly the previous day, at a corner table of El Paso’s Miguel Steak and Spirits where Jay Armes sat with his back to the wall regaling the Canadians and two American magazine writers with tales of his escapades, or “capers,” as he called them.

He talked of the long helicopter search and dramatic rescue of Marlon Brando’s son Christian from a remote Mexican seaside cave where the lad was being held by eight dangerous hippies; of the time he piloted his glider into Cuba and recovered $2 million of his client’s “assets”; of the famous Mexican prison break, another helicopter caper which, he said, inspired the Charles Bronson movie Breakout; of the “Onion King Caper” in which a beautiful model shot her octogenarian husband, then turned a shotgun on herself because Armes wouldn’t spend the night with her—all incredible adventures of a super-sleuth, adventures made more incredible by the fact that both of Jay Armes’ hands had been blown off in a childhood dynamite accident.

He raised one of his gleaming steel hooks, signaling the waitress, still watching the faces around the table. Too much, they said in admiration: how did he do it? “I read the book,” Armes replied enigmatically, “and I saw the play.” That was one of his best lines.

At another table strategically positioned between his boss and the front door sat Jay Armes’ chauffeur-bodyguard, Fred Marshall, a large, taciturn man who used to sell potato chips. You could not detect the .38 under the coat of his navy-blue uniform. When they traveled in the limousine, which was a sort of floating office, laboratory, and fortress, Fred kept what appeared to be a submachine gun near his right leg. Armes claimed there had been thirteen or fourteen—the number varied from interview to interview—attempts on his life, a figure that did not include the six or seven times he had been wounded in the line of duty. He lifted his pants leg and exhibited what appeared to be a small-caliber bullet wound through his calf.

Concealed on his left hip, under his immaculate, custom-tailored suit with epaulets and belted back, was a .38 Special; implanted in the base of the hook on his right arm was a .22 magnum. What’s more, he told CTV producer Heinz Avigdor, he held a third-degree black belt in karate—and that was the point of the ensuing argument.

“I want to show you what a black belt does, besides hold your gi [karate regalia] up, he smiled at the producer. Look, I’ve been in a lot of films, I know what I’m talking about. Do it my way, I’ll show you what it’s all about.”

Armes had called ahead and cleared the plan with the Miguel manager. It would be a scene right out of The Investigator, a proposed television series which, according to Armes, CBS would begin filming right here in El Paso, right here at the Miguel, in fact, on January 20. CBS planned a pilot film and 23 episodes, all of the stories adapted from Armes’ personal files. Jay J. Armes, of course, would play the title role of Jay J. Armes.

This was the scenario Armes outlined for the CTV producer:

As soon as the Canadians had positioned their lights and camera, a telephone would ring. Armes would be paged. Fred would presumably go on eating his steak and chili. As Armes approached the lobby he could be confronted by a large Oriental who would grab him by the collar and say, “You’ve been pushing around the wrong people, Armes.” Jay would then project his thin smile, inform the Oriental that he was a man of peace, then flip the startled giant over his shoulder with a lightning-quick maneuver of his hooks. A second man would charge him with a pepper mill. Armes would deflect the blow with one of his steel hands, jump into the air, and paralyze the second assailant with a judo chop.

“Uh, Jay,” producer Heinz Avigdor said feebly, “I think that is a bit dramatic for the purposes of our show. We’re doing a documentary. I think perhaps a workout in your private exercise room, wearing your karate outfit, then some footage in your shooting range downstairs, and maybe a shot in your library. Something from real life, you see.”

Jay Armes saw, all right: he saw that the producer was a fool.

“I’m offering you something from real life,” he said, that edge of impatience returning to his voice.

“But, Jay, it’s so…so staged,” Avigdor argued. “W-5 isn’t that sort of show.”

“It’s real,” Armes snapped, and the pitch of his voice was much higher. “What you’re talking about isn’t real. There’s nothing real about working out in a gym, with a body bag, wearing a stupid gi. This way, I’ll be in

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