Authors: Sara Paretsky
I contemplated Devereux. Was he just another pretty face, or did he know anything? His anger had seemed to me the result of genuine shock and bewilderment at finding out the boy was dead. But anger was a good cover for other emotions, too…. For the time being I decided to classify him as an innocent bystander.
Devereux’s native Irish cockiness was starting to return—he began teasing me about my job. I felt I’d gotten all I could from him until I knew enough to ask better questions, so I let the matter drop and moved on to lighter subjects.
I signed the bar tab for Sal—she sends me a bill once a month—and went on to the Officers’ Mess with Devereux for a protracted meal. It’s Indian, and to my mind one of the most romantic restaurants in Chicago. They make a very nice Pimm’s Cup, too. Coming on top of the Scotch, it left me with a muzzy impression of dancing at a succession of North Side discos. I might have had a few more drinks. It was after one when I returned, alone, to my apartment. I was glad just to fling my clothes onto a chair and fall into bed.
That Professional Touch
Peter Thayer was protesting capitalist oppression by running wildly up and down the halls at Ajax, while Anita McGraw stood to one side carrying a picket sign and smiling. Ralph Devereux came out of his office and shot Thayer. The shot reverberated in the halls. It kept ringing and ringing and I tried seizing the gun from Devereux and throwing it away, but the sound continued and I jerked awake. The doorbell was shrilling furiously. I slid out of bed and pulled on jeans and a shirt as a loud knock sounded. The fuzziness in my mouth and eyes told me I’d had one or two Scotches too many too late in the evening before. I stumbled to the front room and looked through the peephole as heavy fists hammered the door again.
Two men were outside, both beefy, with jacket sleeves too short and hair crew-cut. I didn’t know the younger one on the right, but the older one on the left was Bobby Mallory, Homicide lieutenant from the twenty-first district. I fumbled the lock open and tried to smile sunnily.
“Morning, Bobby. What a nice surprise.”
“Good morning, Vicki. Sorry to drag you out of bed,” Mallory said with heavy humor.
“Not at all, Bobby—I’m always glad to see you.” Bobby Mallory had been my dad’s closest friend on the force. They’d started on the same beat together back in the thirties, and Bobby hadn’t forgotten Tony even after promotions had moved him out of my dad’s work life. I usually have Thanksgiving dinner with him and Eileen, his warmly maternal wife. And his six children and four grandchildren.
Most of the time Bobby tries to pretend I’m not working, or at least not working as an investigator. Now he was looking past me, not at me. “This is Sergeant John McGonnigal,” he said heartily, waving his arm loosely in McGonnigal’s direction. “We’d like to come in and ask you a few questions.”
“Certainly,” I said politely, wishing my hair weren’t sticking out in different directions all over my head. “Nice to meet you, Sergeant. I’m V. I. Warshawski.”
McGonnigal and I shook hands and I stood back to let them into the small entryway. The hallway behind us leads straight back to the bathroom, with the bedroom and living rooms opening off to the right, and the dining room and kitchen to the left. This way in the mornings I can stumble straight from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen.
I took Bobby and McGonnigal to the kitchen and put on some coffee. I casually whisked some crumbs
off the kitchen table and rummaged in the refrigerator for pumpernickel and cheddar cheese. Behind me, Bobby said, “You ever clean up this dump?”
Eileen is a fanatical housekeeper. If she didn’t love to watch people eat, you’d never see a dirty dish in their house. “I’ve been working,” I said with what dignity I could muster, “and I can’t afford a housekeeper. ”
Mallory looked around in disgust. “You know, if Tony had turned you over his knee more often instead of spoiling you rotten, you’d be a happy housewife now, instead of playing at detective and making it harder for us to get our job done.”
“But I’m a happy detective, Bobby, and I made a lousy housewife.” That was true. My brief foray into marriage eight years ago had ended in an acrimonious divorce after fourteen months: some men can only admire independent women at a distance.
“Being a detective is not a job for a girl like you, Vicki—it’s not fun and games. I’ve told you this a million times. Now you’ve got yourself messed up in a murder. They were going to send Althans out to talk to you, but I pulled my rank to get the assignment. That still means you’ve got to talk. I want to know what you were doing messing around with the Thayer boy.”
“Thayer boy?” I echoed.
“Grow up, Vicki,” Mallory advised. “We got a pretty good description of you from that doped-out specimen on the second floor you talked to on your
way into the building. Drucker, who took the squeal, thought it might be your voice when he heard the description…. And you left your thumbprint on the kitchen table.”
“I always said crime didn’t pay, Bobby. You guys want some coffee or eggs or anything?”
“We already ate, clown. Working people can’t stay in bed like sleeping beauty.”
It was only 8:10, I noticed, looking at the wooden clock next to the back door. No wonder my head felt so woolly. I methodically sliced cheese, green peppers, and onions, put them on the pumpernickel, and put the open-faced sandwich under the broiler. I kept my back to Bobby and the sergeant while I waited for the cheese to melt, then transferred the whole thing to a plate and poured myself a cup of coffee. From his breathing I could tell Bobby’s temper was mounting. His face was red by the time I put my food on the table and straddled a chair opposite him.
“I know very little about the Thayer boy, Bobby,” I apologized. “I know he used to be a student at the University of Chicago, and that he’s dead now. And I knew he’s dead because I read it in the
“Don’t be cute with me, Vicki; you know he’s dead because you found the body.”
I swallowed a mouthful of toasted cheese and green pepper. “Well, I assumed after reading the
story that the boy was Thayer, but I certainly didn’t know that when I saw the body. To me, he seemed to be just another corpse. Snuffed out in the springtime of life,” I added piously.
“Spare me his funeral oration and tell me what brought you down there,” Mallory demanded.
“You know me, Bobby—I have an instinct for crime. Where evil flourishes, there I will be, on my self-appointed mission to stamp it out.”
Mallory turned redder. McGonnigal coughed diffidently and changed the subject before his boss hemorrhaged. “Do you have a client of some kind, Miss Warshawski?” he asked.
Of course I’d seen this one coming, but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. However, she who hesitates is lost in the detective biz, so I opted for partial disclosure.
“I was hired to get Peter Thayer to agree to go to business school.” Mallory choked. “I’m not lying, Bobby,” I said earnestly “I went down there to meet the kid. And the door to his apartment was open, so I—”
“When you got there or after you’d picked the lock?” Mallory interrupted.
“So I went in,” I continued. “Anyway, I guess I failed in my assignment, since I don’t think Peter Thayer will ever go to business school. I’m not sure I still have a client.”
“Who hired you, Vicki?” Mallory was talking more quietly now. “John Thayer?”
“Now why would John Thayer want to hire me, Bobby?”
“You tell me that, Vicki. Maybe he wanted some dirt to use as a lever to pry the kid off those potheads down there.”
I swallowed the rest of my coffee and looked at Mallory squarely. “A guy came to me night before last and told me he was John Thayer. He wanted me to find his son’s girl friend, Anita. Anita Hill.”
“There’s no Anita Hill in that setup,” McGonnigal volunteered. “There’s an Anita McGraw. It looks like he was sharing a room with a girl, but the whole setup is so unisex you can’t tell who was with who.”
“Whom,” I said absently. McGonnigal looked blank. “You can’t tell who was with
Sergeant,” I explained. Mallory made explosive noises. “Anyway,” I added hastily, “I was beginning to suspect that the guy had sent me on a wild-goose chase when I found there was no Anita Hill at the university. Later I was sure of it.”
“Why?” Mallory demanded.
“I got a copy of Thayer’s picture from the Fort Dearborn Bank and Trust. He wasn’t my client.”
“Vicki,” Mallory said, “I think you’re a pain in the butt. I think Tony would turn in his grave if he knew what you were doing. But you’re not a fool. Don’t tell me you didn’t ask for any identification.”
“He gave me his card and his home phone and a retainer. I figured I could get back to him.”
“Let me see the card,” Mallory demanded. Suspicious bastard.
“It’s his card,” I said.
“Could I please see it anyway.” Tone of father barely restraining himself with recalcitrant child.
“It won’t tell you anything it didn’t tell me, Bobby.”
“I don’t believe he gave you a card,” Mallory said. “You knew the guy and you’re covering for him.
I shrugged and went to the bedroom and got the card out of my top drawer. I wiped it clean of prints with a scarf and brought it back to Mallory. The Fort Dearborn logo was in the lower left-hand corner. “John L. Thayer, Executive Vice-President, Trust” was in the middle, with his phone number. On the bottom I had scribbled the alleged home number.
Mallory grunted with satisfaction and put it in a plastic bag. I didn’t tell him the only prints on it at this point were mine. Why spoil one of his few pleasures?
Mallory leaned forward. “What are you going to do next?”
“Well, I don’t know. I got paid some money to find a girl and I feel like I ought to find her.”
“You going to ask for a revelation, Vicki?” Mallory said with heavy humor. “Or do you have something to go on?”
“I might talk to some people.”
“Vicki, if you know anything that you’re not telling me in connection with this murder—”
“You’ll be the first to know, Bobby,” I promised. That wasn’t exactly a lie, because I didn’t know for sure that Ajax was involved in the murder—but we all have our own ideas on what’s connected to what.
“Vicki, we’re on the case. You don’t have to prove anything to me about how cute or clever you are. But do me a favor—do a favor for Tony—let Sergeant McGormigal and me find the murderer.”
I stared limpidly at Bobby. He leaned forward
earnestly. “Vicki, what did you notice about the body?”
“He’d been shot, Bobby. I didn’t do a postmortem. ”
“Vicki, for two cents I’d kick you in your cute little behind. You’ve made a career out of something which no nice girl would touch, but you’re no dummy. I know when you—got yourself into that apartment—and we’ll overlook just how you got in there right now—you didn’t scream or throw up, the way any decent girl would. You looked the place over. And if something didn’t strike you straight off about that corpus, you deserve to go out and get your head blown off.”
I sighed and slouched back in the chair. “Okay, Bobby: the kid was set up. No dope-crazed radical fired that shot. Someone he knew, whom he would invite to sit down for a cup of coffee, had to be there. To my mind, a pro fired the shot, because it was perfectly done—just one bullet and right on the target—but someone he knew had to be along. Or it could have been an acquaintance who’s a heck of a marksman…. You looking into his family?”
Mallory ignored my question. “I figured you’d work that out. It’s because you’re smart enough to see how dangerous this thing could be that I’m asking you to leave it alone.” I yawned. Mallory was determined not to lose his temper. “Look, Vicki, stay out of that mess. I can smell organized crime, organized labor, a whole lot of organizations that you shouldn’t mess with.”
“You figure because the boy’s got radical friends and waves some posters he’s glued into organized labor? Come on, Bobby!”
Mallory’s struggle between the desire to get me out of the Thayer case and the need to keep police secrets to himself showed on his face. Finally he said, “We have evidence that the kids were getting some of their posters from a firm which does most of the printing for the Knifegrinders.”
I shook my head sorrowfully. “Terrible.” The International Brotherhood of Knifegrinders was notorious for their underworld connections. They’d hired muscle in the rough-and-tumble days of the thirties and had never been able to get rid of them since. As a result most of their elections and a lot of their finances were corrupt and—and suddenly it dawned on me who my elusive client was, why Anita McGraw’s name sounded familiar, and why the guy had picked me out of the Yellow Pages. I leaned farther back in my chair but said nothing.
Mallory’s face turned red. “Vicki, if I find you crossing my path on this case, I’m going to turn you in for your own good!” He stood so violently that his chair turned over. He motioned to Sergeant McGonnigal and the two slammed the door behind them.
I poured myself another cup of coffee and took it into the bathroom with me where I dumped a generous dollop of Azuree mineral salts into the tub and ran myself a hot bath. As I sank into it, the aftereffects of my late-night drinking seeping out of my bones, I recalled a night more than twenty years ago. My
mother was putting me to bed when the doorbell rang and the man who lived in the apartment below us staggered in. A burly man my dad’s age, maybe younger—all big men seem old to little girls. I’d peeped around the door because everyone was making such a commotion and seen him covered with blood before my mother rounded on me and hustled me into the bedroom. She stayed there with me and together we heard snatches of conversation: The man had been shot, possibly by management-hired thugs, but he was afraid to go to the police officially because he’d hired thugs himself, and would my dad help him.