The Man in the Window
Nick Forte Book 3
Shamus Award nominee
Nick Forte doesn’t want Marshall Burton’s case. Forte hates divorce work and doesn’t care much for Burton, either. Still, he has bills to pay, and still has them when Burton is shot dead, apparently the innocent bystander of a drive-by. Or not. An eccentric and mysterious friend of Burton’s thinks the wife had him killed and hires Forte to find out. Forte’s investigation leads him back toward his musical roots, where an old friend keeps him connected, eventually leading to a plot involving both terrorists and acclaimed musicians, and Forte suffers a loss greater than he’s known before.
Praise for The Man in the Window
—Jack Getze, author of The Black Kachina and the Austin Carr novels
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.
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“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.”
“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.