Nick Forte #3, Chapters 1 - 5 Worst Enemies
© Dana King 2015
THE MAN IN THE WINDOW “We call that person who has lost his father an orphan; and a widower that man who has lost his wife. But that man who has known the immense unhappiness of losing a friend, by what name do we call him? Here every language is silent and holds its peace in impotence.” — Joseph Roux 1 Marshall Burton began our acquaintance with my seven least favorite words: “I want you to follow my wife.” Not as heart-wrenching as Christ’s last words on the cross. Lacking the utter hopelessness of a flight attendant saying, “Welcome to Cleveland.” I wanted to throw the four-eyed git into the hall somewhere between “follow” and “my.” Any professional investigator who says he doesn’t take divorce work either has another source of income, or is lying. Divorce work is always there, and it almost always pays. It’s the proctology of detecting. Marshall Burton stood about five-seven or -eight, a hundred forty pounds of snobbery supported by a body toned like a wet scarecrow. Hair the color of a dying mouse managed to look thick and stringy at the same time. Glasses no more than half an inch thick. His teeth showed English ancestry dating back hundreds of years. Who would fool around on him? I tried to talk him out of it. “Have you asked her?” “Of course not. She’d only be forced to lie. The tension and suspicion would never go away.” The irony of this always escaped them. “Isn’t there a fair amount of suspicion now? I mean, you’re willing to pay me to catch her in the act.” “It’s different.” “Because she’d know you suspected her? She’ll find out. They always do.” “I would hope you’d be more discreet than that.” I shook my head. “She won’t see me. You’ll act differently. Suspiciously, even, and she’ll know something’s up. I’ve seen cases where the husband’s behavior changed so much the wife started to think he was fooling around on her.” Burton sniffed and colored a little, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with the middle finger of his left hand. I chose not to take umbrage, even if intended. He didn’t seem to know what to do next, so I did it for him. “What makes you think she’s fooling around on you?” “She’s keeping odd hours. We always do; we’re musicians, but the entire rhythm of her life has changed the past few months.” “Has her schedule changed? Maybe you should casually volunteer to accompany her to a gig or two.” Burton had a habit of looking at me straight on when he started to speak, then letting his eyes wander. “That’s the point. We both play the same services. I’m principal viola in the Chicago Symphony. She’s the associate. Her schedule is the same as mine.” Now the World’s Greatest Detective recognized him. I’d read Marshall Burton’s name in programs since I started at Northwestern twenty years ago. Seen him on stage more times than I could remember. He didn’t look the same without his fiddle. “Sorry, Mr. Burton. I should have recognized the name. I’ve been going to hear you play since I was in school. I used to be a musician myself.” “I know, a trumpet player.” He said “trumpet player” like they should be sweeping up after concerts. “Tom McManus recommended you.” Tom McManus. An old Northwestern friend of mine, with a great deal more talent and a greater deal less hair. I joined the Army and taught after graduation. Tom got a master’s at New England Conservatory and became a god. He’d been principal in the CSO for four years. “Tom’s a good friend. I hope you’re not getting the impression I don’t want to help you. Both sides are usually better off if they just put their cards on the table.” I’d snuck into too many hotel rooms looking for condoms and bribed too many chambermaids for soiled sheets. Next month’s bills were paid. Counseling Burton out of this would be a good deal for everyone. “Is there a pre-nuptial agreement or something that requires proof of infidelity?” “No. Of course there’s some money at stake, but that will be decided during the divorce.” “Then you’ve decided to divorce her. Do you want evidence of infidelity for a reason, or an excuse?” “I don’t understand the question.” “A reason causes you to take action. An excuse justifies an action already taken.” Burton sniffed again and adjusted his chin to let me know he didn’t like me. That didn’t make him special. I’m not a bad guy, depending on who you ask. Happy people don’t hire detectives. I only get paying visitors when something’s wrong; the person sitting in that chair resents being here in the first place. Too often I come to personify the problem instead of the solution. Marshall Burton wanted me to do something he didn’t want to do himself. He intended to walk in here and tell me what he wanted, write a check, and leave. I’d be expected to deliver like some florist bringing blossoms of truth to set his life right. He never said this, nothing like it. I’d seen too many men and women with his posture and air not to recognize it. “How much do you charge?” His tone implied he’d been listening to my half of a sordid phone conversation having nothing to do with him. I told him my rates and how long it might take, made steeples of my fingers while he backpedaled. “Tom implied your rates were quite reasonable.” “They are. Ask around.” He moved parts of his face, trying to think of what to say next. Burton didn’t want to pay me that kind of money any more than he wanted to be embarrassed by walking out like a cheapskate. I threw him a lifeline. “That’s why I asked about the amount of money involved. It’s not worth it unless you think you’ll save more than I cost. No one really cares much about adultery any more, except the offended spouse. I don’t want to seem insensitive, but hurt feelings aren’t grounds for divorce.” He gave me a quick look, more direct than any so far, like I was on to something with that comment. “Go home. Sleep on it. If you still want me to follow her, come back and we’ll get started. If not, keep your money and try to work things out.” “I’ll call you. I hate coming down here.” Like I had an office in a crack house or a Wal- Mart. “I need a signed contract and a retainer before I can start.” “I’ll arrange to meet if I wish to continue. Will that be all right?” It would. He offered his and allowed me to shake it. I felt the strength in his fingers—string players have remarkably strong fingers—there was no action on his part beyond extending his arm. It was like gripping a mounted fish. I watched him walk through the outer office. He ignored Sharon typing at her desk while he adjusted a goofy little driving hat to an angle he probably considered rakish. I figured I’d never see him again. That’s why I don’t get paid to do much figuring. A week later I sat holding his report in a manila envelope near the window of Coogan’s Riverside Saloon on Wacker Drive at 4:50 on a weekday afternoon. A cold Sam Adams kept me company while I watched the sweet young things come out of their offices. They walked fast to get to Union Station in time for a good seat before the beefcake started by. It was warm for September, the twenty-somethings’ skirts just long enough to make waiting for Marshall Burton a refreshing break without feeling like a dirty old thirty-something. The report would be good news for most men. Margot Burton was even less likely to have a paramour than Marshall. Five feet tall after a week on the rack, a hot fudge sundae shy of three hundred pounds. She moved with the grace and elegance of a nose tackle. Margot spent a lot of time with Vincent Percy, another member of the CSO viola section. They went to lunch together every day and walked to Roosevelt University twice that week to teach lessons. They shopped along State Street and drank coffee at Starbucks. Margot always had a venti Caffè Verona; Percy switched around. They were always alone and always in plain sight. Every night I thanked whatever higher power created platonic affairs. Taking pictures of Margot naked would have called for a lot more money than Burton had agreed to pay. I saw him make the turn from Lake to come south on Wacker, lost him when a delivery truck drove between us. My eyes took a ten-second vacation to watch a woman at least six feet tall without her two-inch heels pass in front of my window. There were several shots, too many to count in the rush hour bustle. Tires squealed. People screamed and started running. The truck passed; Burton didn’t appear. I ran outside toward the commotion. Women with their mouths open, hands to their cheeks. Men walking away fast. When people don’t know what to do, women will at least stick around in case someone who does know will tell them. Men leave. An attractive blonde woman about my age lay a few feet away. Skirt hiked up around her hips, panty hose torn. Right knee bloody where it had scraped the pavement. The back of her head hung open like it was hinged. A piece of brain clung to the hand of a twenty-year old girl. She screamed without sound, making no move to shake it off. A few feet farther up lay a heavy-set man in a brown suit, brown shirt, shoes, socks. He looked like he’d been trying to crawl away from the trail of blood that followed him for ten feet. He didn’t make it. Marshall Burton sat against the side of a building, legs splayed in front of him. He looked more confused than dismayed. Blood leaked through tears in his trench coat and his goofy little hat sat slightly askew. He’d never play the viola again. It would be a bitch to get paid now. 2 The elaborate script on the old-fashioned calling card read only “Zoltan.” In purple. My sense of smell isn’t much after a lifetime of allergies and four broken noses, but the card felt scented. The man it belonged to could not be described well to anyone sober. A square head sat on a stocky torso. Hair razor cut on the sides and spiked on top, held with no more than a quart of mousse. A wispy embarrassment of a mustache had been allowed to grow until the ends could be curled and waxed. A be-bop tuft perched below his lower lip like moss on a cliff. He wore a purple—not lavender—sport coat, a black shirt and a tie with an abstract design of blacks and purples. His slacks were black, and he wore black loafers without socks in Chicago in September. He looked like Salvador Dali’s pimp. “Mister, uh, Zoltan, please have a seat.” I gestured toward the infamous client chair, wondered if he had cards to match every outfit or if purple was his color. “What can I do for you?” He took the customary time to conform himself to the chair. The imprint of hundreds of asses hadn’t made sitting there any easier. It had nothing to do with the chair. “I am Zoltan,” he said like I might want to think about it for a while. “I am Nick Forte.” So there, Zoltan. “I am creator of interior style.” He looked around my office. “I do not think you might have hear of me.” I couldn’t help but smile. “Forgive me. As you can see, my knowledge of interior style is somewhat deficient. What can I do for you?” Zoltan crossed his left leg over his right at the knee, foot rocking. “You were following wife of Marshall Burton.” “It’s only fair to tell you I’m not at liberty to discuss who I may or may not have been following.” “Zoltan understands. You must be discreet. Marshall Burton was friend of mine. He tells me he hire you to follow wife.” Zoltan pasted his accent onto his speech like decals on a car window. “I want you to find who was killing him.” “The police have that under control. They don’t like private guys sticking their noses in.” “I read in newspaper police say Marshall shot as—what you call?—innocent bystanding. Is true?” “That’s what they say.” Zoltan’s brow knitted together. He leaned forward and put both hands flat on my desk. “Is not true. Zoltan go to police, ask what they know. What they really know, not what newspaper say.” “What did they tell you?” “They tell me nothing.” He sat back, made a dismissive gesture. “Zoltan cannot even talk to police doing investigation. They send me away like child with no candy.” “Don’t take it personal. They’ll only talk to the immediate family, and they won’t tell them much. The police are in the business of collecting information, not passing it out.” “Is true, but Zoltan is like family to Marshall. Zoltan and Marshall were—how you say it?—I think word is intimate.” I kept my tone as neutral as before. “You were lovers?” Just the hint of a blush. “Yes.” “Tell me what you want me to do.” “Find out what police know. Zoltan see in papers rumors that woman was one supposed to be killed. I am afraid is Marshall. I am afraid wife find out Marshall hire you to follow her and kill him.” “Calm down, Zoltan. That was no domestic shooting. Wives never drive down busy streets and shoot up several people. It’s a lot easier to do it at home.” “Wife is pig, she blow nose on Marshall’s grave.” He spit a little when he said “pig.” “She would pay men for killing Marshall.” The concern was obvious in Zoltan’s voice and face, even if he was a blowhard and probably a phony. “Okay, I’ll look around. I don’t think the wife did it, at least not for the same reasons you do. A week isn’t much time for a respected classical musician to round up a drive-by shooting.” “Maybe she planning to kill him for longer time.” “Does his wife know he was gay?” “Was not gay. Is what you call bisensual.” Close enough. “But does his wife know?” “I think yes.” “Does she know about you specifically?” “I think no, but not perfectly sure.” I pulled a legal pad across the desk. Picked up my good pen to show I meant business. Gels impress the most demanding client. “You knew Marshall was meeting me at Coogan’s, right?” “Yes, he tell me at lunch that day.” “Who else knew he’d be there? Even if they didn’t know why.” “Zoltan did not say to anyone. I do not know if Marshall tell.”  I asked Zoltan a few more questions about Marshall and Margot. He knew enough about her to like her for the shooting and nothing else. His opinions were so colored I gave it up before my own expectations could be tainted. His information had the details a lover would know without being so precise it sounded researched. “Let’s get clear on one thing,” I said. “I’m not agreeing to investigate the shooting, just find out what the police know.” “And to learn if fat Margot kill my Marshall.” “The police will tell you that when the time comes. They’re not going to let whoever did this walk around.” “Zoltan is not trusting police. In my country, police are …” He looked at me as he searched for the word. I waved him off and he stopped looking. Sharon answered the intercom right away. “Sharon, will you draw up a contract for us to find out if Marshall Burton’s wife had anything to do with his death?” I paused and looked straight at Zoltan. “Please include something that states we will turn over any evidence of wrongdoing to the police. Also that our client agrees not to take any acts of retribution, except through strictly legal means.” Zoltan nodded. “Standard rates. Client’s name is—” I turned to Zoltan. “What name should we put on the contract?” “Zoltan. Is spelled like on card.” “Just Zoltan?” “Yes. Is perfect legality. I change it so much years ago.” Zoltan and I passed the time waiting for the contract by discussing how I might improve my office décor. His accent meandered through several possible countries, mostly Eastern European. Much of what he suggested could have come from an alcoholic’s nightmare. I listened to it all. Asked questions, made comments as though what he said had a slug’s chance on a salt lick of being considered. It looked like I had Marshall Burton’s case whether I wanted it or not. 3 Sharon showed me before I had a chance to ask for it. A finger pointed to “Zoltan” scrawled on the signature line. “He show you any ID?”  “Illinois license. I got the number.” “What do you think?” She dropped her voice an octave and gave a horrible Zoltan impression. “I think Zoltan is bit much.” I chuckled more at the effort than the humor. Two people were guaranteed to get a smile from me: Sharon and my daughter Caroline. Sharon Summers and I met when some work I did for her previous employer came full circle and implicated him. She was out of work; my business was growing, and I needed help. Now we existed in an exotic area between platonic and physical love: more than friends, not lovers. I didn’t know such a place existed before she came to work here. “You’re the best. You know what comes next.” “Everything there is to know about Zoltan.” A long time since I’d needed to ask if she knew what to do; I don’t lock my car unless I’m looking at the keys in my hand. Sharon understood. “He walked in here like a fictional character,” I said. “We don’t take cases from fictional characters.” She spoke when I turned to go back to my desk. “Delbert’s here.” “Where?” I gestured around her office, even smaller than mine, if somewhat better appointed. Five-five, ash-blond hair and gray-green eyes, Sharon could make a well better appointed than my office just by standing in it. “In the crapper, boss.” Delbert McCall a raw-boned Texan with a constant half-smile that showed a Tom Sawyer gap between his teeth. A couple of inches taller than me at six-three and not an ounce of fat on him. Except between the ears, as he said himself. Angular face, unlined but weathered, young Clint Eastwood without the sneer. “I hear you got a job for me.” I snapped my fingers. “The Abernathy divorce. Come on back and I’ll lay it out for you.” Delbert had been doing some of my legwork for about three months. A decorated Texas Ranger, he came to Chicago to execute a fugitive warrant. A couple of the prisoner’s associates tried to break him loose and all four ended up in Michael Reese. Delbert walked out two months later, by which time the others’ graves had grown a full cover of grass. He met a nurse named Corky Logan during his rehab and decided Texas could do without him. A friend of mine who worked the fugitive case with him thought he and I would get along. I fed him my excess work until he could get his own license or a police job came open. “Where’s the hat?” I couldn’t recall ever seeing him without his cowboy hat. “You said it was a divorce. That means I’m following someone. Can’t hardly surveil nobody in the big city wearing a Stetson.” “Good point. Don’t lose it, though. It might come in handy, someone not paying too much attention. Wear it, don’t wear it. Most people won’t think you’re the same guy.” “I do that sometimes. Bought me a Cubs hat and one of them car driving hats? Had to get rid of that one. Made me look like a dickhead.” He gestured with his hands as though adjusting a hat like Marshall Burton’s. “They make everyone look like a dickhead.” I handed him a sheet of paper with some notes and the address. “Mrs. Abernathy’s home today. You can get the details from her.” “I’ll get right on it.” He picked up the notes and stood. “Appreciate it, Nick. Really. So does Corky.” “You’re doing me a favor. Now I can take more cases and stick you with the scut work.” I winked. “Let me know, you want to do this full time.” “Thanks, Boss.” Halfway to the door he pulled a Columbo. “I almost forgot. You get the new piece?” “In the safe.” Delbert started on me to get a new gun as soon as he felt comfortable enough to make suggestions, which was about half an hour after we met. I was perfectly happy with my Colt M1911 .45, just like the Army used to be. Delbert kept pointing out the relative virtues of revolvers versus automatics until I gave in just to change the subject. “Let me see.” He slid the Abernathy information into an inside pocket and came back to my desk. The gun a Smith & Wesson Model 25. A .45 like my ACP, even took the same cartridges. Delbert had pushed for the Anaconda, me being a Colt man and all. I didn’t want to carry three pounds of .44 magnum under my arm like Dirty Harry. Chicago passed out gun permits like they were licenses to shoot defenseless babies. I’d used mine enough not to want to press my luck. “Nice gun. Good heft to it.” He opened the cylinder, took a look. Clicked it back into place with a snap of his wrist, made a satisfied face at the sound. Sighted out the window overlooking Federal Street, squeezed the trigger and nodded. “I’m telling you, you’ll never go back. No chance one of these babies jamming on you.” “My Colt never jammed on me.” “My Sig did once. Don’t know why, it was a hell of a gun. Loved it to death until I fired a demonstration round, you know, to show I meant business, and the ejector jammed. No brass came out, so we both knew I was holding a paperweight.” I let him tell the story, even though I’d heard it more than once. He got so evangelical I half expected him to baptize me with a dab of ArmaLube on my forehead. “So what did you do?” “Threw it at him. Dumb ass ducked, too. I rushed him and took his piece.” Delbert’s lop- sided grin flashed at the memory. “You always hear about cops getting shot with their own guns. I thought the irony might appeal to him.” I loved hanging with Delbert. No one else I knew could say “irony” in one breath, then describe a rain storm as a toad choker with the next. “Did you shoot him?” “Nah. Beat the shit out of him with it, though. Teach him to try to shoot an unarmed Ranger.” He gave the gun a good looking-over and handed it back to me. “Too bad I couldn’t talk you into that Colt Long .45.” “I’m a PI, not Wyatt Earp. How the hell could I carry that foot-long thing under my coat?” “But they’re such cool guns. I ever tell you my daddy wears one?” “He a Ranger?” “Was. Got his thirty in last year and retired. Wore one of those Long .45s on his hip, just like the old Peacemakers. Told me a couple a times he pulled and didn’t even have to shoot. Crook just stared at the gun like it came out of a movie.” “What’s he do now?” “Got a job chiefing in a little bitty town down by the Pedernales. Loves it. Wears that Peacemaker on his hip. People stop for gas by the state park there, Daddy tells their kids made- up war stories. They put his picture on the town web site. Kind of a ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ thing.” Delbert’s face showed how much he loved Texas every time he talked about it. I hoped Corky’s status could get him through his first Chicago winter. “I’m out, Boss. Thanks for the job. I’ll make sure Mrs. Abernathy knows every place hubby’s wick gets dipped. Even if he’s just sticking it in a light socket for kicks.” I made a mental note to find something more interesting for Delbert to do and checked my watch. Almost three. I still had time to get to the Area Four station before the shift changed. 4   Chicago’s Violent Crimes detectives handle the four major food groups of crimes against persons: murder, rape, armed robbery, assault. Area Four runs from the lake through The Loop, out past the United Center. The geography and demographics range from the jewelry district and Orchestra Hall to “communities” that make Midnight Express look like a Chamber of Commerce promo. The station resembles a YMCA from the outside, beveled edges and glass front, bring your towel for adult swim. Inside the counter is manned and womanned by uniformed police and auxiliaries who aren’t much interested in your sad story; take a number. Civilians stand around in various attitudes of despair, defiance, or impatience, dressed in everything from evening clothes to FUBU, depending on the time of day. Things were quiet at 3:15 on a weekday afternoon. A middle-aged black woman in a cheap cloth coat sat on a bench with her arm around another woman who might have been younger, or aging better. The second woman’s crying created an air of melancholy that seemed to occupy the room more than come from an individual source. Two kids in Oakland Raider jackets slouched in the opposite corner trying to look hard. They were too young to know you can’t try to look hard. You either do or you don’t. Just like you either are or you aren’t. The Violent Crimes detective bullpen was upstairs. About the size of a classroom, with folding tables pushed together in rows to fill the open area. Computers and phones covered the tables, jammed so close that alternate monitors faced in opposite directions so users could slide their chairs back as far as the next table. Filing cabinets lined every available inch of wall space. I rapped on the frame of Sonny Ng’s office door. He looked up still drinking whatever he had in his mug. “Here’s trouble.” Lieutenant Ng ran Area Four’s Violent Crimes detectives. Sonny had drawn the short straw ten years ago and got to be my field training officer when I graduated from the academy. We got along and stayed close after I left the job. No one would guess it to see or hear him. I’d spent enough time in close proximity to know we were buds: no one he didn’t like ever got to spend that much time with him. “Tell me you’re raising money for Caroline’s school.” “Next month. I know you’ll need lots of wrapping paper for all the Christmas presents you’re buying those adorable children.” I gestured to the picture on his desk. Three kids ranging in age from 2 to 8, plus Sonny’s wife, Kara. The kids really were adorable, in an exotic way. Sonny a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant; Kara looked like she walked out of an ad for Icelandic Air. The kids had traits of both. “Today I’m working. Can you tell me who drew the shooting on Wacker yesterday?” “Sure, I can.” He took another swallow and riffled through a file. Served me right. “Okay, I know you can. Will you?” “Why?” “An intimate acquaintance of one of the stiffs wants me to talk to him.” “Which one?” “Marshall Burton.” “The musician. Weren’t you working for him?” I nodded. “Divorce case, following the wife.” “I hear she’s a piece of work.” “So do I.” “Talk to her?” “Following her around was enough.” “My cops had to talk to her.” “I tailed her for a week. My dues are paid. Now who is it?” “Who’s what?” His chair showed as much expression as his face. “Who’s handling the case?” “You’re supposed to be a detective. Tell me.” Just what I needed. A stone-faced wiseass. “Let’s see, three upstanding citizens shot dead on a busy street in time for live coverage on the evening news. All over the newspapers, outraged politicians, public uproar. A real heater.” I pretended to think for two seconds. “Hanlon and Rusiewicz.” Sonny touched the tip of his nose. “Hanlon’s interviewing a witness. Rusiewicz is in the bullpen.” He pointed to the detectives’ working area. “You must have seen her coming in. Why bother me?” “Because Pat Hanlon wouldn’t waste the breath to tell me to kiss his ass, and I don’t want Jan to feel like I’m taking advantage.” Jan and I dated off and on for a couple of years. We’d been off since last winter. “Make it harder for him to refuse if I had your blessing.” “You need more blessing than I can give. Talk to Rusiewicz. Don’t take all day. She has plenty to do.” He picked up a folder, turned his chair away, and started to read. Subtlety even lower than warmth on Sonny’s list of priorities. Jan sat halfway across the room, studying a computer monitor with her back to me. I straddled the nearest vacant chair before she knew I was there. “Having fun?” She turned and gave me one of her good smiles. Everyone knows a Jan Rusiewicz. Not the prettiest or best built or smartest girl in school, thought worthy of honorable mention for each. Probably the nicest, if any high school kid could handle such an abstract concept. The jocks too busy gunning for cheerleaders and majorettes; the geeks intimidated, through no fault of hers. “Oh, yeah. A laugh a minute. I guess you know Pat and I drew the Wacker drive-by.” “That’s why I’m here. Sonny said I could pick your brain as long as I kept it short.” “What are you working on?” “You hip to a guy named Zoltan?” She rolled her eyes. “Yes, we’re hip to Zoltan. He was here when I came in this morning. Wanted to know what we were doing about Marshall Burton.” “And you wouldn’t talk to him.” “You know we don’t talk to civilians about cases. I told him and sent him home.” “Uh-uh. You sent him to me. You just didn’t know it.” “How did he find you?” “Zoltan and Marshall Burton were, what you call it, intimate,” I said, slipping into a bad Zoltan impression. “Marshall tell Zoltan what I was doing for him, following wife.” “Damn it, I should have talked to him. He came in demanding things like he owned the place, never said who he was except for one of those poofy cards. You have an address?” “Sharon has his info at the office. Zoltan’s having a hissy fit because you won’t tell him anything. He thought I might do better. I’m not here to get in your way. He looks like he really misses the guy, and he hates, I’m talking despises, the wife.” “Margot? Fennel broke the news to her last night. He thinks he bored her.” “I haven’t met her. Between what Marshall Burton and Zoltan told me and what I saw following her around for a week, I think I’ll get over it.” “So you want what?” Jan said. “Whatever you can spare. Zoltan thinks Marshall was the target and the others got in the way. I told him I’d let him know if you were thinking along those lines.” She wrinkled her mouth like I should know better. “Wives don’t kill husbands like that. Besides, she has an alibi.” “Don’t tell me. She was with a guy named Vincent Percy.” “How’d you know?” “I followed her for a week, remember? She hangs with him after every rehearsal.” “Well, she’s consistent, then.” “So she’s not a suspect?” “Not unless she hired it out.” Jan hefted a file three inches thick on the table between us. “We interviewed fifty-some witnesses last night. What we know for sure is the car was a late- model Chevy or Pontiac or Ford, black, or dark blue, or maroon with two or three men or women in it. Ten people got a partial plate, no more than three characters alike on any, no characters alike on all ten. We’re running them down. One guy swears he got the whole plate. Belongs to a 63-year-old man living on a farm outside of Annawan.” “Where the hell is Annawan?” “About twenty miles east of Iowa on 80. I had to look it up myself.” “And you don’t think the old guy shot up Wacker Drive and hot-footed it back to Annawan.” She pursed her lips, shook her head an inch. “He had prostate surgery three days ago. He’s doing well. His wife said it was very nice of me to call.” “You’re a sweetheart. What do you have for sure that you can share?” “Dead people’s names. The woman was Marla Willingham, 38, divorced, two kids. Worked in the Cook County Clerk’s office. Man was Peter Bixler, 59, salesman for, uh—” she shuffled a few papers, “EnterMan software. Bullets pulled out of all three victims were from two different nines. We even looked to see if there was any significance in who shot whom.” “You mean like both of them shot one person and each other stiff was shot by a different gun?” “Yes, but it didn’t work out. Burton and Willingham were both shot by both guns. Bixler was only shot by one.” “So one shooter hit everyone, and the other hit only two out of three?” “Right.” “You really do have nothing.” “If that. We’re doing background checks on all the victims. We’ll give your new client a call right away.” “He’ll finger the wife.” “I thought you said he hated her.” The corners of her mouth tightened in a stifled smile. Jan lived in a man’s world; she gave as good as she got. “He can tell us what he wants. I don’t see anything that points to her. Of course, we don’t see anything that points to anyone yet.” “Okay, I didn’t come to bust chops, just doing my job. I don’t want to hold you up.” Jan put her hand on mine before I could go. “Don’t be in too much of a hurry. I could use a breather.” She let the hand go when she saw she had my attention. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you around.” “I’ve been spending more time in the burbs since I bought the place in Bolingbrook. I got a cable modem so I can work from home. Lets me spend time with Caroline when Diane has to work late.” “That’s good. I know how much you love being a dad.” Hanlon stepped from the interview room. “I’ll call you if we get anything.” Sonny not in his office to say good-bye, so I let myself out. Stood on the corner of Harrison and Kedzie while the sun warmed my face. I knew Jan couldn’t tell me everything. She wouldn’t stonewall me, either. The police had squat. My contract with Zoltan left me with wiggle room. Telling him the police didn’t know anything except Margot wasn’t a suspect might be all I needed. I had time to draft a report for Sharon to finish in the morning before my next appointment. 5 “Picture this: You’re driving down a mountain, bunch of those switchback curves, and your brakes go out. So here you are, eighty mile an hour, sheer cliff up one side, sheer cliff down the other. Got it? Now here comes a conductor and a violist walking up the road like nothing’s happening. No place to bail out and no way you can miss them both. Which one has to die, and why?” Tom McManus hated conductors and violists like a drunk hates last call. Every conversation started with a shot at one or the other. Both, tonight. “I give up.” I already had a smile going. “The conductor, dummy. Business before pleasure.” “How foolish of me.” “It’s okay, you’ve been away from it.” He spit gum into a trash can. “Those guys drive me crazy.” “Which, conductors or violists?” “Yes.” Tom spent part of every day thinking of ways to torment one or the other. The rest of his time was spent as principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony. He’d been my friend since our misspent collegiate days at Northwestern, where we’d been inseparable. We got together at Hooters on North Wells once a month to trade stories, eat wings, and flirt with waitresses. Tom had the perfect level of fame. No one at Hooters ever pegged him as anyone out of the ordinary. He could walk down the street, go to a ball game or a movie; no one would think twice about him. Never worried about picking up Preparation H at Osco and hearing John Q. Public yell, “Hey, Marge! Tom McManus has hemorrhoids!” He could walk out of Osco and into the Midwest Band Conference or an International Trumpet Guild meeting, and musicians would part for him like the Red Sea. The big TV on Hooters’ upper level showed St. Louis and Cincinnati fighting for a playoff spot. We could have been watching the game in Cincinnati for all the love the Northsiders showed the Cardinals. “When’s the last time you came to a concert?” Tom always after me to see the band more often, his motives less than altruistic. Yes, I’d enjoy myself. I was also one of a small handful of people he trusted to tell him the truth about his playing. “Since the season doesn’t open until tomorrow night, I’d say it’s been at least three months since I had an opportunity.” “You don’t need a passport to go to Ravinia. We were there all summer.” “I know, it’s been a while. I saw Bruckner Four in—what was it?—April.” “Try January. Eight months is too long. I’ll get you a pair for Mahler Two tomorrow night.” “How? That’s the opening night concert.” “There’s this girl in the promotions office, and—” “I get it. One’ll be enough, thanks.” “No date? Still not back with the cop?” “She wants babies, and—” “And you don’t want Caroline to wonder if you love the kids you live with more than you love her. I’d pay for the wings to go a whole month without hearing that speech.” “You’re paying for the wings, anyway. Odd months are yours.” “I’ll cover you next time if I can get a reprieve.” I watched Jay Bruce strike out on a pitch he couldn’t have hit with a bed slat, decided to quit while I was ahead. “Thanks for the ticket. Who’s conducting?” “Der Führer is going to honor us with his presence this year.” “You mean Obersdorfer?” “Who else?” Helmut Obersdorfer had been the alleged music director of the CSO for two years. His schedule had yet to allow him to conduct more than eight weeks a season, or be present for gala openings, auditions, or fund raisers. The CSO Board hired him because they had an opening and he was the Hot Conductor that year. The Board wanted someone with a reputation to enhance the orchestra’s. It never occurs to management that it’s the orchestra’s rep that elevates the conductor. “I’m half surprised we don’t have to give one of those stiff-armed salutes when he steps on the podium. Did you hear what happened in Italy this summer?” “No.” “We did a concert at La Scala. Verdi overture, Pines of Rome, wopped it up good for them. Crowd went nuts, standing O. Obersdorfer comes out and quiets them down like there’s going to be an encore, then he rips them new assholes because … because they had a good time, I guess. The concert sucked, the orchestra played like it had jet lag, none of our parents were married. All in flawless Italian. Fucking Nazi is what he is. But put a score in front of him and oh, my God. No one like him. If he can remember what’s on the program.” “What do you mean? I thought he did everything from memory.” Tom nodded. “Photographic memory. Looks at a score once, and he’s done with it. Supposedly he even does most of his prep from memory. At least that’s what he says in interviews. Problem is, sometimes he gets spread so thin he probably forgets where he is, let alone what piece is up. One time last season, right before he flew to Covent Garden to conduct Boheme, he gets on our podium and says, ‘Puccini.’ Dougie Deacon, the concertmaster, goes, ‘Uhh, Maestro, we’re doing Brahms this week.’ Obersdorfer looks at him like Dougie raped his daughter and left a stain on his autographed picture of Herbert von Karajan. ‘Which Brahms,’ he says, not like it’s a question, and I swear the sound comes right from his brain. His lips never move. Dougie goes, ‘Three,’ and Obersdorfer goes ‘sehr gut,’ and away we go.” I loved hearing these stories. I felt the way an athlete must feel when his playing days are over. I never missed the business of being a musician. I missed playing the horn under conditions that mattered, and I missed the camaraderie. Tom loved being my link to the only thing I ever really wanted to do. Our waitress turned out to be well worth the wait. Tall enough for her name tag to be at eye level as I sat on my high stool, Connie didn’t need to tie her T-shirt behind her back to fill it like some Hooters girls did. Strawberry blond hair and a rumor of freckles framed a thousand- watt smile and eyes the color of deep water. Her tips would send her through medical school if she could remember half of anyone’s order. Tom and I had the usual: fifty wings, two sides of celery with ranch dressing, a Bass and a Sam Adams. “Fifty wings?” she said. “You boys have some hefty appetites.” “We prefer to think of them as manly appetites, uh, Connie.” Tom twisted his head to get a better look at her name tag and surrounding scenery with no overt leering. Too many people think classical musicians are sealed in their plastic between gigs. Orchestra players spend at least as much time as the general public trying to get laid. Only their personalities keep the world from being overrun with them. “We’ll take most of them home,” I said. “This is our monthly ritual.” “To separate homes,” Tom said. “I wouldn’t want you to think there was anything unorthodox going on.” “You don’t look the type.” She made a show of sizing us up. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” “I’m impressed,” Tom said, “and I’m not easily impressed. Seinfeld had to be off the air before you were allowed to stay up late enough to watch it.” “It’s on cable twenty-four hours a day,” she said. “Except when Law and Order is,” I said, so they wouldn’t forget about me. They bantered about Seinfeld while I looked over Connie’s shoulder to watch Yadier Molina double into the gap to tie the game. She confirmed our orders, and we watched her bright orange shorts walk away with suitable admiration. “Nice girl,” Tom said. “Very. Beautiful smile.” “Yeah, that too.” “Behave. She’s half your age.” “It’s harmless fun. You’re just jealous because you’re not getting any. You should get a hobby.” “I have a hobby.” “Masturbation is not a hobby.” He’d pout if I didn’t let him win once in a while. “Let’s talk about Marshall Burton before Connie comes back. I don’t want to interfere with your harmless fun.” “I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Marsh was an asshole. I’m sorry, he was. Ask around.” Tom leaned back from the table with his arms crossed like nothing more could be added. “Did you send him to me the other day?” “Yeah. He heard I knew a detective and wanted—hello, Connie’s back.” “Did you miss me?” She set our beers down in the proper locations. “People who have never met you miss you. They just don’t know it yet.” “That’s sweet. I’ll bet you say that to all the girls.” I cut in. “No. What he says to all the girls is what he does for a living.” Tom glared at me. “I’m just saving time. You’d get to it sooner or later.” “Some things shouldn’t be hurried,” he said. Connie rested one hand on his shoulder. “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a musician.” “Really? You play in any bands I know?” “Chicago Symphony?” he said. “Get out!” She pushed him hard on the shoulder and took the seat to his left. “I went to Ravinia three times this summer. That Tchaikovsky concert you did in July was awesome. What do you play?” “Trumpet.” “What’s your name?” “Tom.” “Tom what?” “McManus.” You’re Tom McManus? You’re so good! I saw you play that concerto last year, who wrote it?” “Hummel.” “Right.” This was a done deal. Unless Connie took off engagement and/or wedding rings when she worked, she’d eat some of our leftover wings for breakfast. Tom had found a classical music groupie. A hot one. Like he needed the help. Daniel Descalso singled in two runs and Joe Kelly struck out to end the inning by the time their mutual admiration society adjourned. “What were we talking about?” “Why you sent Marshall Burton to see me.” “He said he had some ICSOM thing he wanted to find out about.” The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians was a union within a union. It kept orchestra matters from falling through the cracks while the American Federation of Musicians watched fifteen-piece bands get replaced by two keyboards players and a DJ. “Why would ICSOM need an investigator?” “He didn’t say.” “You know of anyone might be happy he’s dead?” “I don’t know anyone who might not be happy. Marsh was a real pain in the ass. Everything had to be a federal case with him. I almost felt guilty inflicting him on you, but how often do I get to throw you a gig?” I noticed Connie intercepting the waitress with our wings so she could bring them herself. I didn’t mention it to Tom. “Here you go, boys,” she said, facing Tom. Not quite ignoring me. She might notice if I had a seizure. “Fifty wings. Hot.” “Just the way I like them.” A few minutes ago it would have been we. How soon they forget. Connie did all the Hooters Girl activities. Opened the ranch dressing, gave us each a napkin. Tom’s she tucked into his shirt. Mine came by way of a behind-the-back pass Magic Johnson would have been proud of. I felt like the only man at a lesbian wedding. John Jay robbed Joey Votto of at least a double. I put a half dozen wings on my plate. What the hell, more for me. Connie said she had to go, nodded when I pointed to my empty glass. Tom looked at the wings on my plate and took six of his own. He devoted more concentration to eating chicken wings than carrier pilots do for landings. “What’s the deal with the wife?” I asked before he became non-responsive. “Margot the Hutt? She plays in the orchestra. You’ve seen her at concerts.” “I know. I’ve been following her around for a week.” That’s what he wanted you for? I wonder why he said it was ICSOM.” “Maybe he didn’t want word getting out. How bad was it between them?” “I haven’t seen them exchange two civil words since I got here. Remember what I said about Marsh? Times two for Margot.” “That bad.” He wiped sauce from his fingers, made eye contact. “Margot Burton is a bitch on a good day. On a bad day she’s a Rottweiler with menstrual cramps. She didn’t talk to Marsh in public for years. Now she’s the courageous widow, insisted on playing the rehearsal because her Marshall would want her to. You going to talk to her?” “I hope not, but I may have to.” He made the sign of the cross. “Go with God.” I had no idea why I’d started grilling Tom; I wanted rid of Marshall Burton and Zoltan, not in deeper. Sometimes I can’t help myself. Now that I’d started, maybe I could take a shovelful out of the pile of favors I owed Jan. “You could make it easier if you pointed me toward someone else.” Another head shake. The wings had him locked in. “There’s Vince Percy. Marsh has been trying to get him fired for a year.” “The guy Margot hangs with after rehearsal?” “Right. Vince isn’t a bad guy, for a violist. Smarmy little pud, but he’s okay.” “Marshall putting the screws to him because he’s tight with Margot?” “I’d guess Vince was tight with Margot because Marsh was putting the screws to him. Neither one killed him, though.” “What makes you say that?” He swirled a celery stalk around his tub of dressing. “We’re musicians. We wouldn’t know how to find a hit man, even one so bad he’d have to shoot three people to get the one he wanted. It’s not like they’re in the Yellow Pages.” His innocence about human nature refreshed me. Tom could be insensitive, forgetful, an unapologetic hound, and never offend anyone. He accepted everyone at face value and without guile. Only music had hidden layers worth probing for him. Even if he scored with Connie, his joy would be almost childlike, contained in the moment. He had no idea what Margot Burton, or anyone, might be capable of. We got down to serious eating. Tom not only didn’t know any of Marshall Burton’s friends, he didn’t know of any. We’d talk, Connie’d come back to flirt with Tom, and I’d watch baseball. It went on like that for an hour and half and two dozen wings. We said good-night standing under Hooters’ sign on Wells Street. We each had a dozen and a half wings to take home. I offered Tom an Altoid strip. “No, thanks. I love them, but they dry out the lining of my mouth or something. Can’t play worth shit for a day after I have one.” “I used to be like that with Fritos. The salt would get in the cracks in my lips and I’d feel like one of those African tribesmen. You know, with the plates in their faces?” “The sacrifices we make for art.” Tom paused and lost his smile. “I don’t mean to make light of what happened to Marsh. He was a jerk, but it’s not like he was evil or anything. There are a couple of things you might want to think about before we go.” “Shoot.” “Question One: What’s the difference between a violin and a viola? Question Two, considering where we are right now, under this sign, do you think Connie’s are real?” Question One was easy: violas burn longer. Question Two was in the capable hands of an investigator far more likely to solve his case before I figured out if I had one.
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The Man in the Window