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Authors: Sara Paretsky

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Warshawski 01 - Indemnity Only (3 page)

BOOK: Warshawski 01 - Indemnity Only
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Over coffee and some smoked herring I tried to decide how to approach Peter Thayer about his missing girl friend. If his family disapproved of her, he would probably resent his father hiring a private detective to look into her disappearance. I’d have to be someone connected with the university—maybe in one of her classes wanting to borrow some notes? I looked pretty old for an undergraduate—and what if she wasn’t registered for the summer quarter? Maybe I’d be from an underground journal, wanting her to do an article on something. Something on labor unions—Thayer had said she was trying to push Peter into being a union organizer.

I stacked my dishes by the sink and eyed them thoughtfully: one more day and I’d have to wash them. I took the garbage out, though—I’m messy but not a slob. Newspapers had been piling up for some time, so I took a few minutes to carry them out next to the garbage cans. The building super’s son made extra money recycling paper.

I put on jeans and a yellow cotton top and surveyed myself in the mirror with critical approval. I look my best in the summer. I inherited my Italian mother’s olive coloring, and tan beautifully. I grinned at myself. I could hear her saying, “Yes, Vic, you are pretty-but pretty is no good. Any girl can be pretty—but to take care of yourself you must have brains. And you must have a job, a profession. You must work.” She
had hoped I would be a singer and had trained me patiently; she certainly wouldn’t have liked my being a detective. Nor would my father. He’d been a policeman himself, Polish in an Irish world. He’d never made it beyond sergeant, due partly to his lack of ambition, but also, I was sure, to his ancestry. But he’d expected great things of me … My grin went a little sour in the mirror and I turned away abruptly.

Before heading to the South Side, I walked over to my bank to deposit the five hundreds. First things first. The teller took them without a blink—I couldn’t expect everyone to be as impressed with them as I was.

It was 10:30 when I eased my Chevy Monza onto the Belmont entrance to Lake Shore Drive. The sky was already bleached out, and the waves reflected back a coppery sheen. Housewives, children, and detectives were the only people out this time of day; I coasted to Hyde Park in twenty-three minutes and parked on the Midway.

I hadn’t been on campus in ten years, but the place hadn’t changed much, not as much as I had. I’d read somewhere that the dirty, poverty-stricken collegiate appearance was giving way to the clean-cut look of the fifties. That movement had definitely passed Chicago by. Young people of indeterminate sex strolled by hand-in-hand or in groups, hair sticking out, sporting tattered cutoffs and torn work shirts—probably the closest contact any of them had with work. Supposedly a fifth of the student body came from homes with an annual income of fifty thousand
dollars or more, but I’d hate to use looks to decide which fifth.

I walked out of the glare into cool stone halls and stopped at a campus phone to call the registrar. “ I’m trying to locate one of your students, a Miss Anita Hill.” The voice on the other end, old and creaky, told me to wait. Papers rustled in the background. “Could you spell that name?” I obliged. More rustling. The creaky voice told me they had no student by that name. Did that mean she wasn’t registered for the summer quarter? It meant they had no student by that name. I asked for Peter Thayer and was a little surprised when she gave me the Harper address—if Anita didn’t exist, why should the boy?

“I’m sorry to be so much trouble, but I’m his aunt. Can you tell me what classes he might be in today? He’s not home and I’m only in Hyde Park for the day.” I must have sounded benevolent, for Ms. Creaky condescended to tell me that Peter was not registered this summer, but that the Political Science Department in the college might be able to help me find him. I thanked her benevolently and signed off.

I frowned at the phone and contemplated my next move. If there was no Anita Hill, how could I find her? And if there was no Anita Hill, how come someone was asking me to find her? And why had he told me the two were students at the university, when the registrar showed no record of the girl? Although maybe he was mistaken about her being at the University of Chicago—she might go to Roosevelt and
live in Hyde Park. I thought I should go to the apartment and see if anyone was home.

I went back to my car. It was stifling inside and the steering wheel burned my fingers. Among the papers on the backseat was a towel I’d taken to the beach a few weeks ago. I rummaged for it and covered the steering wheel with it. It had been so long since I’d been in the neighborhood that I got confused in the one-way streets, but I eventually made it to Harper. 5462 was a three-story building that had once been yellow brick. The entryway smelled like an el station-musty, with a trace of urine in the air. A bag labeled “Harold’s Chicken Shack” had been crumpled and thrown in a corner, and a few picked bones lay near it. The inner door hung loosely in its frame. It probably hadn’t had a lock for some time. Its paint, once brown, had chipped and peeled badly. I wrinkled my nose. I couldn’t blame the Thayers too much if they didn’t like the place their son lived in.

The names on the bell panel had been hand-printed on index cards and taped to the wall. Thayer, Berne, Steiner, McGraw, and Harata occupied a third-floor apartment. That must be the disgusting commune that had angered my client. No Hill. I wondered if he’d gotten Anita’s last name wrong, or if she was using an assumed name. I rang the bell and waited. No response. I rang again. Still no answer.

It was noon now and I decided to take a break. The Wimpy’s I remembered in the nearby shopping center had been replaced by a cool, attractive, quasi-Greek
restaurant. I had an excellent crabmeat salad and a glass of Chablis and walked back to the apartment. The kids probably had summer jobs and wouldn’t be home until five, but I didn’t have anything else to do that afternoon besides trying to find my welching printer.

There was still no answer, but a scruffy-looking young man came out as I was ringing. “Do you know if anyone in the Thayer-Berne apartment is home?” I asked. He looked at me in a glazed way and mumbled that he hadn’t seen any of them for several days. I pulled Anita’s picture from my pocket and told him I was trying to track down my niece. “She should be home right now, but I’m wondering if I have the right address,” I added.

He gave me a bored look. “Yeah, I think she lives here. I don’t know her name.”

“Anita,” I said, but he’d already shuffled outside. I leaned against the wall and thought for a few minutes. I could wait until tonight to see who showed up. On the other hand, if I went in now, I might find out more on my own than I could by asking questions.

I opened the inside door, whose lock I’d noticed that morning was missing, and climbed quickly to the third floor. Hammered on the Thayer-Berne apartment door. No answer. Put my ear to it and heard the faint hum of a window air conditioner. Pulled a collection of keys from my pocket and after a few false starts found one that turned the lock back.

I stepped inside and quietly shut the door. A small hallway opened directly onto a living room. It was
sparsely furnished with some large denim-covered pillows on the bare floor and a stereo system. I went over and looked at it—Kenwood turntable and JBL speakers. Someone here had money. My client’s son, no doubt.

The living room led to a hallway with rooms on either side of it, boxcar style. As I moved down it, I could smell something rank, like stale garbage or a dead mouse. I poked my head into each of the rooms but didn’t see anything. The hall ended in a kitchen. The smell was strongest there, but it took me a minute to see its source. A young man slumped over the kitchen table. I walked over to him. Despite the window air conditioner his body was in the early stages of decomposition.

The smell was strong, sweet, and sickening. The crabmeat and Chablis began a protest march in my stomach, but I fought back my nausea and carefully lifted the boy’s shoulders. A small hole had been put into his forehead. A trickle of blood had come out of it and dried across his face, but his face wasn’t damaged. The back of his head was a mess.

I lowered him carefully to the table. Something, call it my woman’s intuition, told me I was looking at the remains of Peter Thayer. I knew I ought to get out of the place and call the cops, but I might never have another chance to look over the apartment. The boy had clearly been dead for some time—the police could wait another few minutes for him.

I washed my hands at the sink and went back down the hall to explore the bedrooms. I wondered just how
long the body had been there and why none of the inmates had called the police. The second question was partially answered by a list taped up next to the phone giving Berne’s, Steiner’s, and Harata’s summer addresses. Two of the bedrooms containing books and papers but no clothes must belong to some combination of those three.

The third room belonged to the dead boy and a girl named Anita McGraw. Her name was scrawled in a large, flowing hand across the flyleaves of numerous books. On the dilapidated wooden desk was an un-framed photo of the dead boy and a girl out by the lake. The girl had wavy auburn hair and a vitality and intenseness that made the photo seem almost alive. It was a much better picture than the yearbook snap my client had given me last night. A boy might give up far more than business school for a girl like that. I wanted to meet Anita McGraw.

I looked through the papers, but they were impersonal—flyers urging people to boycott nonunion-made sheets, some Marxist literature, and the massive number of notebooks and term papers to be expected in a student apartment. I found a couple of recent pay stubs made out to Peter Thayer from the Ajax Insurance Company stuffed in one drawer. Clearly the boy had had a summer job. I balanced them on my hand for a minute, then pushed them into my back jeans pocket. Wedged behind them were some other papers, including a voter registration card with a Winnetka address on it. I took that, too. You
never know what may come in handy. I picked up the photograph and left the apartment.

Once outside I took some gulping breaths of the ozone-laden air. I never realized it could smell so good. I walked back to the shopping center and called the twenty-first police district. My dad had been dead for ten years, but I still knew the number by heart.

“Homicide, Drucker speaking,” growled a voice.

“There’s a dead body at Fifty-four sixty-two South Harper, apartment three,” I said.

“Who are you?” he snapped.

“Fifty-four sixty-two South Harper, apartment three,” I repeated. “Got that?” I hung up.

I went back to my car and left the scene. The cops might be all over me later for leaving, but right now I needed to sort some things out. I made it home in twenty-one minutes and took a long shower, trying to wash the sight of Peter Thayer’s head from my mind. I put on white linen slacks and a black silk shirt—clean, elegant clothes to center me squarely in the world of the living. I pulled the assortment of stolen papers from my back jeans pocket and put them and the photograph into a big shoulder bag. I headed back downtown to my office, ensconced my evidence in my wall safe, then checked in with my answering service. There were no messages, so I tried the number Thayer had given me. I rang three times and a woman’s voice answered: “The number you have dialed—674-9133—is not in service at this time. Please check your number and dial again.” That monotonous voice destroyed
whatever faith I still had in the identity of my last night’s visitor. I was certain he was not John Thayer. Who was he, then, and why had he wanted me to find that body? And why had he brought the girl into it, then given her a phony name?

With an unidentified client and an identified corpse, I’d been wondering what my job was supposed to be—fall girl for finding the body, no doubt. Still … Ms. McGraw had not been seen for several days. My client might just have wanted me to find the body, but I had a strong curiosity about the girl.

My job did not seem to include breaking the news of Peter’s death to his father, if his father didn’t already know. But before I completely wrote off last night’s visitor as John Thayer, I should get his picture. “Clear as you go” has ever been my motto. I pulled on my lower lip for a while in an agony of thought and finally realized where I could get a picture of the man with a minimum of fuss and bother—and with no one knowing I was getting it.

I locked the office and walked across the Loop to Monroe and La Salle. The Fort Dearborn Trust occupied four massive buildings, one on each corner of the intersection. I picked the one with gold lettering over the door, and asked the guard for the PR department.

“Thirty-second floor,” he mumbled. “You got an appointment?” I smiled seraphically and said I did and sailed up thirty-two stories while he went back to chewing his cigar butt.

PR receptionists are always trim, well-lacquered, and dressed in the extreme of fashion. This one’s
form-fitting lavender jumpsuit was probably the most outlandish costume in the bank. She gave me a plastic smile and graciously tendered a copy of the most recent annual report. I stuck on my own plastic smile and went back to the elevator, nodded beneficently to the guard, and sauntered out.

My stomach still felt a little jumpy, so I took the report over to Rosie’s Deli to read over ice cream and coffee. John L. Thayer, Executive Vice-President, Trust Division, was pictured prominently on the inside cover with some other big-wigs. He was Jean, tanned, and dressed in banker’s gray, and I did not have to see him under a neon light to know that he bore no resemblance to my last night’s visitor.

I pulled some more on my lip. The police would be interviewing all the neighbors. One clue I had that they didn’t because I had taken it with me, was the boy’s pay stubs. Ajax Insurance had its national headquarters in the Loop, not far from where I was now. It was three in the afternoon, not too late for business calls.

Ajax occupied all sixty floors of a modern glass-and-steel skyscraper. I’d always considered it one of the ugliest buldings downtown from the outside. The lower lobby was drab, and nothing about the interior made me want to reverse my first impression. The guard here was more aggressive than the one at the bank, and refused to let me in without a security pass. I told him I had an appointment with Peter Thayer and asked what floor he was on.

BOOK: Warshawski 01 - Indemnity Only
8.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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