|Mystery and Crime Fiction posted June 14, 2013||Chapters:||1 -2- 3...|
Cleve comes out of retirement
A chapter in the book Fatal Beauty
A Cry For Help
Book of the Month Contest Winner
A former Chicago cop tracks down a killer.
She came in while I was sitting at the bar of one of my favorite watering holes, The Redhead on West Ontario. It's a great piano bar, but it was late afternoon and the piano man wasn't set up to play yet, so I settled for the Muzak.
Nursing my second Johnnie Walker and soda, I was in deep thought, studying my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I admired my outfit that looked like it belonged to the street-person edition of GQ. Jeans with a rip in the knee, dusty shit-kicker boots, a T-shirt advertising Corona beer, a ratty gray unzipped sweatshirt over the shirt and two days of stubble. My sparse buzz-cut hair was covered with a Cub's baseball cap, and my mood was gloomy, even foul. I felt like beating up a nun.
When the young woman came up behind me, she leaned over my shoulder, like an umpire hovering over a baseball catcher.
"Cleve?" Her voice was an attention-grabber-- throaty and sexy-sounding.
"Hi." I slowly turned to face her. "Sorry--do we know each other?"
"Sure." She smiled just a bit, as if it pained her to do it. "You're the private detective, right? I used to work for Joe Gallup's office. You handled some cases for him. In fact, you bought me lunch one day last summer. Remember? We went to Lou Malnati's for pizza."
"Oh, yeah!" I lied. She extended her hand and I took it, even though I was still scratching around in my mental library trying to place her.
We sat in silence for a moment before I asked, "So, how did you know I would be here, Miss..."
"Rohrman...Betty Rohrman, and I need to talk to you, Cleve. I...I don't know where else to turn. May I?" she said as she slid onto the adjoining stool, and crossed her legs, showing me a lot of thigh.
Betty Rohrman-- yes, I remembered. A receptionist, a sort of Miss Moneypenny, the model of efficiency and repressed sexuality, and all that. Her eyes were big and brown and pleading. Five-four, around one hundred and five and looking very young. Early twenties. Classic good looks. Not much makeup, I don't think she needed it. She had freckles across her cheeks, giving her a kid-like quality up close. Nice legs. I think buying her lunch must have had something to do with those legs.
"Sorry, Betty. It's been a while, what's Joe up to these days?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not there anymore." She lowered her head as she began to fumble around in her purse. "I think I've got his card here someplace if you want it."
"I've got one."
We sat in silence for a moment before I asked, "So, how did you know I would be here, Betty?"
Her eyes narrowed. "I couldn't find your card, and didn't know where your office was," she explained. "But I remember you telling me the Redhead was one of your favorite hangouts, so I just took a chance. I did check a couple of other places first, like Butch McGuire's. It wasn't that hard, really."
"I see, well--can I buy you a drink?"
"No...not right now, thank you."
"Well, since you went to all the trouble of finding me, what can I do for you?"
"It's my sister. She's disappeared and I'm really worried about her. I want you to find her."
"Oh, how long's she been gone?"
"Seven days, counting today, and we usually talk every other day. Sometimes every day, and I haven't heard from her. I'm really afraid something may have happened to her. I hate to think about it, but the papers are saying they still haven't caught that serial killer, and what if..."
"Whoa. Take it slow, Betty. You shouldn't jump to conclusions. I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason she hasn't gotten a hold of you. Did you call the cops?"
"Yes. Four days ago, but I haven't heard anything back from them, and I know the police are too busy to spend a lot of time looking for one woman. Mom is frantic, too.
"I don't know. When I was there, they took missing persons situations pretty seriously."
I could see she was a basket case. "Come on," I said, as I stood. "Let's take a table in the back--a little more privacy."
She followed me to a four-chair table in the corner by a cloth-covered piano. I pulled her chair and gave a heavy sigh as we sat down.
"Where does your sister live?"
"In an apartment, over on Belmont."
I had to think about that. "What makes you believe I can help better than the police?"
"I just know, that's all. Joe Gallup told me you were a good man who's dependable. 'Solid,' he said. You used to be a cop, yourself--right?"
"True on the cop part. What else did Joe say?"
She studied me furtively and then lowered her eyes. "He said you were abrasive, and fearless, and downright mean."
"I'm glad I come with such a great recommendation."
Neither of us spoke for a moment until she said, "You look too young to be retired."
"Yeah. I get that a lot."
"Why'd you quit then?"
I swallowed some of my Scotch. "It's a long story, Miss Roman."
"No, It's Rohrman."
"Of course it is...sorry, Miss Rohrman. Anyway, so maybe I had no choice.
Life can take some bullshit turns, ya know? Pardon the language."
I studied her face as I spoke, and getting no reaction, I continued:
"See-- there's some stuff you don't know. For one thing, I've given up detective work. I did it for a while after I retired, but I haven't moved on much of anything except fishing for the past year or so. Know what I mean?"
"And...then...I 've had some problems with this stuff." I held up my Scotch which was now nearly empty. I hesitated before I said, "A drunk front breezed through the north side of Chicago just last night as a matter of fact."
Her eyes met mine. "You seem to be in good shape--physically, I mean."
"I do the gym thing four days a week is all."
"Well, I need to find my sister and I just know you can help." She leaned in as she said, "I won't take no for an answer."
I shook my head. "You should get somebody else."
She suddenly paused when I gave her a "don't push me" look.
"See, I don't respond well to demands, Miss Rohrman."
She quickly reached across the table and covered my hands with hers. She shook her head. "I'm sorry. Really, I shouldn't have said that. Please? Please? I need somebody like you, Mr. Hawkins."
She sounded choked up, like she was ready to cry, calling me Mr. Hawkins instead of Cleve.
"You don't understand. My sister is a free spirit and I've always worried. I've told her she takes too many chances, but she doesn't listen. I'm really afraid for her."
"With men, you know. She believes everything they tell her. She's been like that all her life...even in school she just ...well, you know was really popular with the guys."
She pulled a Kleenex from her purse and dabbed the corners of her eyes.
I felt myself beginning to feel bad for her-- buying into her story in spite of myself.
"Anyway, like I was saying, I've had problems. There was some trouble at the department." I paused. "The turds really hit the turbine."
"What do you mean? What happened?"
I didn't answer for a long moment as I watched the memory on my inside screen.
"Well,I killed a guy. It was an accident but the brass didn't see it that way. That's why I'm not a homicide detective any longer."
"Oh. I didn't know--I'm so sorry."
Neither of us spoke for a moment or two. The Muzak suddenly sounded louder.
"Sure you don't want that drink?"
"No, thanks. Look, I know it's none of my business, but can you tell me a little more about it--the trouble I mean?"
"I don't like to gab about it." An awkward moment followed as we both sat quietly. I rattled the ice in my glass and decided to continue:
"Funny thing is, I was always envious of family and church-oriented people. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a house with a white picket fence, a loving wife, two kids and a dog, and a nine-to-five job where no one wanted to kill me. I'd see myself getting some ice cream and sitting in the sun, listening to the ocean."
"So, what happened?"
"When I was a cop I worked undercover, mostly. I think I did pretty damned good too. But, the Chicago Police Department never liked its anti-crime unit made up of guys like me who looked and dressed like derelicts and muggers. The spit-and-polish establishment neither trusts nor understands its own down-and-dirty special units, and they don't give a rat's ass how effective the irregular troops are. Weird people, especially when they are effective, are a threat to the status quo."
"I don't understand."
"Well, it's simple. When push comes to shove you need certain people to have your back. When they don't, people like me take the fall: Duane Carlizzio and Jessica Waters were the kind of minor dirt bags that made life a little tougher for everybody. They'd steal anything that wasn't nailed down, burglarize any house or business they thought might be empty, get drunk and fight and drive, and choke down any drug they could get their hands on. It's a long story, but . . . bottom line I wasted Carlizzio."
"But, the police shoot bad guys all the time--don't they?"
"You've watched too much Law and Order. Very seldom do cops shoot to kill. Anyway, I didn't need Internal Affairs crawling up my ass for the rest of my life. And, I didn't want to end up slouching sullenly on some shrink's couch, staring at a box of Kleenex, folding my arms defensively and talking about what a God-awful mess I made of my life. So I flipped my badge. If I hadn't they would've just shoved me out eventually, like I was shit on their shoes. Guilty until proven innocent, right?"
Her eyes ticked away from mine like a second hand going to the next hash mark, and then came back, and she said, "I'm sure you must have had a good reason to kill him."
We were both quiet. "Again, I know it's none of my business, but do you want my opinion?"
She cleared her throat . "I think you're too hard on yourself. You should quit stirring up the past so much. If it's not moving, don't poke it."
"Yeah, well. Easy for you to say, Miss."
"I'm sorry, sorry I bothered you." She began to get up. "I'll just..."
"It's okay, take it easy." I paused a beat and finished my drink.
"Tell you what--I'll see what I can do, alright." I handed her my card. "I'll need a lot more info on your sister, though, and now is not the time or the place."
"Anything. What do you want?" she asked. She sat back, crossing her arms tightly against herself.
"I still have some friends at the department," I said. "I can't promise anything, mind you. Hopefully she'll turn up, but any candid cop will tell you that if we don't grab the bad guys during the commission of the crime, there's a good chance we won't catch them at all. When we do nail them it's often through informers or because they trip up and turn the key on themselves (drunk driving, expired license plates, a barroom beef). I still have office space over on Wells. Can you come in there tomorrow morning, and we can talk without this drink in my hand. Know what I mean?"
Her eyes lit up. "Yes, of course. I'll take the morning off...the whole day if I need to. I have some sick days left. What time do you want me there?"
"I go to the gym early, so let's make it nine-thirty?"
"Fine. What do you want me to bring?"
"A dust rag and a broom. No, just kiddin'. Bring pictures. Recent stuff of your sister----more than one, mind you,--a bunch. Different shots from your collection--know what I mean?"
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Yeah, her telephone records, bank statements, and be ready to answer a bunch of questions. I'll need her Social Security number too."
We both stood at the same time.
"Thanks so much, Mr. Hawkins." She extended her hand and I shook it. "This means so much to me. I'll see you in the morning."
"Cleve... call me Cleve. I take it you have a way home?"
"Yes, I'm parked over on Rush. I'll be fine."
She turned to leave, then stopped and faced me again. "Can you tell me how much you charge?"
"Don't worry about that right now, okay?"
When she left, I strolled back to the bar and ordered another Scotch.
I thought I might just regret taking the job, but I couldn't just walk away. I needed to pay off my conscience.
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