Authors: Sara Paretsky
“I don’t know anyone named Lemour, but I’ll ask Terry,” she promised. “I read that report last night before I signed it, and it made crystal clear the fact that we had not hit that poor creature. There shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll certainly tell them that when they come around here. I have to get Nathan to day camp, but I’ll call Terry as soon as I get back.”
Mary Louise could make that phone call more easily than I. Terry Finchley, her commanding officer her last four years on the force, was a rising star in the violent crimes unit. When Mary Louise resigned, she was careful to do it in a way that left him on her side.
I’d actually met Mary Louise on cases where Terry Finchley and I had crossed paths. I’d always liked him, but since the end of Conrad’s and my affair he’s been rather stiff with me. He and Conrad are pretty close; even though it was Conrad who broke things off, Terry thinks I treated his friend shabbily. Still, he’s too honest a person to extend his stiffness to Mary Louise simply because she works for me.
“You gonna call the lieutenant and make a complaint?” Mr. Contreras asked, meaning my father’s old friend Bobby Mallory.
“I don’t think so.” Bobby was much more likely to chew me out for interfering with a police investigation than he was to phone the Rogers Park station and complain about Lemour. He would probably say, If I wanted to play cops and robbers, I’d have to be ready to take the heat that comes with it.
4 Searching for Wheels
“So whatcha going to do next, doll?” Mr. Contreras asked.
I frowned. “I’d like to find out who that woman is, so I can try to understand why the cops are so eager to find someone to take the fall for hitting her. In the meantime, I need to get hold of a car. Who knows how long it’ll be before the Trans Am is fit to drive again, especially if it ends up as police exhibit A.”
I called my insurance company, but they were useless. The Trans Am was ten years old; the only value it had to them was as scrap. They wouldn’t help me with a tow, the repairs, or a loaner. I snarled at the agent, who only said blandly that I shouldn’t carry property damage on such an old car.
I slammed down the phone. What was I doing sending good money to this idiot and the company of thieves he represented? I checked a few rental places, but if the Trans Am were tied up for weeks I’d be shelling out hundreds, maybe even a thousand, to rent something I’d have no equity in.
“Perhaps I should scrape together a few grand and buy something used. Something good enough that I could resell it when my car comes out of the shop. Or a motorcycle—you know—we’ll see the world from my Harley!”
“Don’t go buying a Harley,” Mr. Contreras begged. “One of my buddies, before your time, old Carmen Brioni, he used to ride a big old Honda 650 around town, thought he was a teenager all over again, until a semi run him off 55 down by Lockport. After that he never talked again, lived like an eggplant for seven years before the good Lord was kind enough to pull the plug.”
We studied the ads in the paper together, which left me more discouraged: anything roadworthy seemed to run three or four thousand. And would take a good day out of my life to hunt down.
“Why don’t you leave car–hunting to me?” Mr. Contreras said. “I sold mine when I moved here because I figured I couldn’t afford all that extry for insurance and whatnot on my pension. In fact, you know that’s why I moved out of the old neighborhood when Clara died, besides, most of my friends had got scared and left the city, so it wasn’t like I was missing my pals. Here I figured I’d be close by the L and walking distance to the stores. And of course it saves me all that parking aggravation, but I still can tell whether an engine runs good or not. What do you have in mind?”
“A Jaguar XJ–12,” I said promptly. “There’s one here for only thirty–six thousand. Standard shift, convertible, the old body before the Ford engineers got their hands on it.”
“That ain’t practical. Those ragtops don’t have any backseat to speak of, and where would the dogs sit?” He startled me into laughing, which made him beam with pride.
“Oh, yeah, the dogs,” I said. “You know, it’s going to have to be a beater. Unless I decide to junk the Trans Am. But I only want to buy something if it’s a reasonable alternative to renting.”
He started running a black fingernail down the page, whispering the words under his breath as he read, his eyes bright with interest. He has his own friends, and he tends a garden in our tiny backyard with painstaking care, but he doesn’t really have enough stimulation in his life—it’s why he gets overinvolved in my affairs.
I skimmed the news sections, trying to see if our accident victim had made the morning edition, while Mr. Contreras worked the ad pages. Commonwealth Edison’s inability to provide the city with power got a tiny mention, as did wildfires in Florida, but Global’s television debut took up most of the front page.
Murray had a byline, describing his interview with Lacey Dowell. It was the first time he’d been on the front page in ten months. First time in the paper in three. “Just haven’t been covering the right stories until now, Murray,” I muttered. First the paper spends four days hyping Global’s new television network. Then the network makes its debut. Then they write up what they showed on television. It made a neat loop, but was it news?
Even Regine Mauger’s column had been moved to a prominent spot because she was covering the television launch.
Teddy Trant was glowing last night, and not only from the soft lights of Sal Barthele’s original Tiffany lamps,
With House Speaker Jean–Claude Poilevy on one side and Lacey Dowell on the other he has every right to be pleased with the impression he’s making on Chicago.
Regine went on to describe the other players, including members of the Illinois Commerce Commission, the mayor and his wife, whom I’d missed in the throng, and of course the denizens of the town’s TV studios, whose feelings get hurt if they’re overlooked.
Murray Ryerson, whose trademark red beard disappeared for the occasion, took to the camera like a duck to water. His chosen escort—or did she choose him?—was Alexandra Fisher from Global’s front office, stunning in an Armani evening ensemble. But don’t let that cleavage fool you: when she puts on her power suits she’s as invincible as Dick Butkus.
Of course some problems always erupt at occasions like this. A bird tells us that Lucian Frenada, from Lacey’s old neighborhood, finagled an invitation in the hopes of holding Lacey to a boy–girl romance, but Officer Mooney, on loan from Chicago’s finest, muscled him outside before he could make a full–scale scene. Lacey had no comment, but Alex Fisher says the star is troubled by the misunderstanding. Other hangers–on, like Chicago investigator V. I. Warshawski, who used to be an item with Ryerson, probably were hoping for crumbs to drop from one of the richest tables to be set in town for years.
That last sentence jolted me out of my chair so fast that Peppy barked a warning. Damned scrawny bitch with her fifty face–lifts, annoyed because I’d tripped on her Chanel trousers. Me, hoping for crumbs from a Hollywood table? And still pining for Murray? I didn’t know which suggestion offended me more.
It’s true Murray and I once had a fling, but that was history so ancient there weren’t even any archaeological remains to look through. Far from pining over him, I’d realized after a few weeks that going to bed with someone that competitive had been a colossal mistake. Who the hell had even cared enough to tell Regine Mauger? Murray, out of spite toward me for not being enthusiastic enough about his debut? “Took to the camera like fleas to a dog,” I said savagely.
The story reminded me that Alexandra Fisher said she’d gone to law school with me. While Mr. Contreras continued his slow study of the ads, I went to the hall closet and pulled out the trunk where I keep bits and pieces of my past. On top, wrapped in cotton sheeting, was my mother’s concert gown. I couldn’t resist taking a moment to pull back the sheet and finger the silver lace panels, the soft black silk. The fabric brought her to me as intensely as if she were in the next room. She wanted me to be independent, my mother, not to make the compromises she did for safety, but holding her gown I longed to have her with me, guarding me against the great and little blows the world inflicts.
I resolutely put the dress to one side and rummaged through the trunk until I found my law–school class directory. We’d had a Michael Fisher and a Claud, but no Alexandra. I was snapping the booklet shut when I saw the name above Claud’s: Sandra Fishbein.
The photograph showed a petulant, wide–mouthed face with a mop of wild curls a good six inches thick. She’d been number two in our class and what the faculty called a rabble–rouser. I remembered her chewing me out for not joining her proposed sit–in over women’s bathrooms at the law school.
You’re a blue–collar girl,
she harangued me with a speech she’d used before,
you should know better than to let the establishment stand on your face.
I remembered the scene vividly—she came from the kind of family where children got European travel as high–school graduation presents. For some reason the fact that I was a blue–collar girl, maybe the only one in my class, made her feel she needed my support or approval or respect, I was never sure which.
It’s your establishment, and your face,
I’d replied on that occasion, which only wound her up tighter.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,
she’d snapped. Oh, all that old–time rhetoric. She’d applauded my going to the public defender, while she went off to clerk for a judge on the tony Sixth Circuit.
Well, well. Girl radical had gone to Hollywood, cut her halo of wild hair close to her head, changed her name—and conducted surgery on her politics. No wonder she’d given me that challenging stare last night.
I put away the directory. Emphysema had forced my father onto long–term disability when I was in law school. His illness affected everything about me then, from my decision to marry in the hopes I’d produce a grandchild for him before he died to my lack of interest in campus politics. I’d taken the public defender’s job so I could stay in Chicago and be with him. He died two years later. My marriage hadn’t survived much longer. I’d never had a child.
The dogs were pacing restlessly, a sign that they badly needed a walk. I carefully rewrapped the silk dress and pushed the trunk back into the closet. I promised the dogs I’d be with them as soon as I checked my appointments on my Palm Pilot. I had a one o’clock with one of my few really important clients—translate that to read big retainer, big billing, prompt payment. Thanks to Lemour and the ruckus he’d stirred up, it was after eleven now. I barely had time to run the dogs and get something to eat. Since my refrigerator held only an orange besides the stale bread, I leashed up the dogs and went out with my backpack to forage for food.
A cool spring had given way overnight to the oppressive mugginess of midsummer. There aren’t any parks close to our building, but I couldn’t make the dogs do three miles to the lake and back in air that covered us like a sock. By the time we reached the grocery store, even Mitch had stopped pulling at the leash and was glad to rest in the shade of the building. I pulled a collapsible drinking bowl out of my pack and bought a bottle of water for them before buying my own food, along with a cappuccino from the coffee bar across the street.
As we ambled home in the heat, I kept wondering about the woman in the road. In the dark street I couldn’t tell what had happened to her, but that humerus sticking up like a branch from a swamp told some terrible tale of violence. The tall stolid detective had let out that the woman was sent to Beth Israel. That was fortunate, because Max Loewenthal, the executive director, was the lover of one of my oldest friends. With dogs in one hand and coffee in the other, I couldn’t very well whip out my cell phone to call the hospital. I urged the dogs to a trot, bribing them with some bread.
As we rounded the corner at Racine, a brown Chevy bristling with antennas slowed down. Detective Lemour rolled down his window and called out “Warshki.” I kept going.
He turned on his loudspeaker and broadcast to the neighborhood that those dogs better not be let off their leash. “You think you’re smart, Warshki, flaunting your friends in the PD, but I’m going to be on you like your underwear this summer. If you so much as run a stop sign I’ll be there, so watch your step.”
A woman with a toddler in tow looked from me to the police car, while two kids on the other side of the street stared, slack–jawed. I stopped and blew Lemour a kiss. His face darkened with fury, but his partner seemed to restrain him; he took off with a great screeching of rubber.
Why did the cops care so much about the injured woman? Maybe it was only Lemour who cared, but his threat made me almost as nervous as he intended. I urged the dogs up Racine to my apartment. I was beginning to think having an outside lab look at the Trans Am was the smartest thing I’d done this year.
Mr. Contreras had left a note in his large unpracticed hand to tell me he was down in his own place, making phone calls to a few likely prospects, and would I drop the dogs off with him on my way downtown. I showered again to wash the sweat from my hair, then called Max Loewenthal’s office while I dried off.
Max was in some meeting or other, which didn’t surprise me. Fortunately his secretary hadn’t gone to lunch and was glad to check on a Jane Doe for me. I gave her my cell–phone number and dressed at a record–setting pace, in a wheat–colored pantsuit, black top, and silver earrings. I could slap on a little makeup in the L.
I didn’t have time now for breakfast. I grabbed an apple from my groceries, stuffed my pumps into a briefcase, and ran back downstairs with the dogs. Mr. Contreras stopped me with a status report, although I told him I was on my way to Darraugh Graham’s.
“You’d better get going then, cookie,” he said, following me to the hall and hanging on the door. “It don’t do to keep the one guy who pays his bills on time waiting. I got a lead on a Buick Century with ninety–seven thousand on it, and a Dodge with some less, but maybe a whole lot more rust. What time do you think you’ll get back? Want me to take a look at these without you, or what?”
“You the man, Mr. C. Pick out the car of our dreams and I’ll drive you downtown to the Berghoff for dinner.”
The dogs were convinced I was going to the lake and tried to leave with me. I shut the door on them firmly. Running the four blocks to the L got me sticky and sweaty again. I could have made time for breakfast by skipping the second shower.
I climbed the platform for the Red Line going south. The Red Line. In some moment of hallucination a few years back, the city had color–coded the trains. You used to know what train to take by where you wanted to go. Suddenly the Howard L, which I’d ridden all my life, became red and the O’Hare Line turned blue. It made Chicago look like Mister Rogers’s neighborhood instead of one of the great cities of the world. And what if you’re color–blind? Then how do you know whether you’re even on the Brown or the Orange Line? And then, to make it worse, they’d installed these ticket machines. You have to buy a round–trip ticket even if you’re only going one–way, the machines don’t give change, and there aren’t any human beings to assist you if you climb onto the wrong platform by mistake.
And the final insult: when a train finally arrived, the air–conditioning wasn’t working. I melted into my seat, too hot to bother with makeup. I folded my jacket on my lap and tried to sit absolutely still for the fifteen–minute trip. I was riding the escalator up at Randolph Street when Cynthia Dowling called back from Max’s office. “Vic, I’m afraid it’s bad news about your Jane Doe. She died in the operating room.”