Mystery and Crime Fiction posted August 4, 2013 Chapters:  ...4 5 -6- 7... 


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Cleve questions the missing girl's mother.

A chapter in the book Fatal Beauty

Florence

by Mastery



Background
Ex-Chicago Cop and private investigator, Cleve Hawkins, takes a missing persons case.
Florence Rohrman had a low, grainy voice, like that of my third grade teacher in a nightmare. She was one of those people whose telephone voice exactly matched her in person. She was wearing a yellow polka-dotted dress when I got to her house in Lombard.

Her daughter, Betty had told me Florence was fifty-six years old, but she looked much older. She was breathing like someone trying to steady herself as she pointed to a chair. "Have a seat."

The furnishings were meager to say the least, and I immediately noticed senior pictures of Betty and her sister, Chelsea, displayed on the wall behind the sofa. The sofa should have seen the back door of Goodwill years ago. I smiled my friendly neighborhood detective smile and thanked Florence.

Reaching for a pack of Pall Malls, she tore it open to get the last one.

"Why don't you go ahead and tell me everything you can about Chelsea, Ma'am."

She still wasn't sure about me and folded her arms across her chest as if she'd grown cold. We sat quietly for a moment before she lit the cigarette, raised her head and blew out a stream of smoke.

"So, you were a cop or something?"

"Or something."

"Thrown off the force for drinking?"

"No."

"Police brutality?"

"No."

"Then, how come you're not a cop now?"

I hesitated, then sighed and said, "It's a long story."

"You must have seen too many bad things in the world, Mr. Hawkins."

"I have. And to be honest, I've contributed my share to the world's problems."

"Have you?"

"Maybe not on purpose."

"Tell me a good deed, you've done on purpose"

Florence caught me off guard. "Oh, I don't know offhand . . . I've seen good deeds . . . It's not a bad world, Ma'am, and I don't mean to suggest it is. For all the bad things I've seen, I've also seen the most extraordinary acts of courage, kindness, honesty and love."

"Well, our family is pretty torn up. We're not The Waltons."

I noticed her reading my reaction, trying to figure out if I believed her, I guess.

"Chelsea was a fat kid with a terrible overbite. That bastard husband of mine made fun of her. Can you imagine that? Anyway, we handled the overbite with braces and by the time she was fifteen she'd trimmed down to look like Barbie. Problem was, Chelsea was like smoke. Hard to hang on to." She stared off into the kitchen as she spoke. "She still is."

"That must have been hard for her, though."

"To put it mildly," she said. "Nothing has ever worked right for her." She was in between cigarettes and her hands flopped restlessly in her lap. She sobbed once, stuck a knuckle in her mouth and turned away.

"She always did like the boys," she continued. "Well, of course they chased her, plenty. It seems like she was always gettin' her heart broken, though...you know what I mean?"

I nodded and started taking notes on a small pad I carry.

"I couldn't convince her to stay home. She wasn't interested in college, like her sister." Florence pulled a used tissue from the pocket of her housedress and blew her nose.

"Finally, Chelsea left home as soon as she turned eighteen--lived with some guy we'd never met before. You know, a young wiseguy from school. It was a shame, because the old man up and died on me. Hell, she would have been happy here, I think, with him out of the way."

"Yes, Betty was telling me her stepfather was a drinker."

She nodded. "Absolutely."

"I have to ask you this, Florence, is Chelsea a drinker, too?"

"No, not really. Oh, she likes to have a good time, alright. What young girl doesn't? But she isn't a drunk by a long shot."

She opened a new pack of Pall Malls and lit another cigarette.

"Does she have her own car, Ma'am?"

"Yeah, that old red Toyota. It's paid off, as far as I know."

"I don't suppose you have the license number do you?"

She shook her head. "No, I wish I did."

"That's okay, I'll be able to get that."

"How about work. She must have a job?"

"Well, I'm not so sure. She's had a few. The last I knew, she was working for some company called Edelman's over on the west side. I don't know the exact address."

I was still writing when I said, "How about credit cards?"

"Ha! It's funny you should ask. Chelsea has had a Target card and a Discover, but she maxed them out a long time ago. Last year, I think it was. I still get the threatening letters every week from both outfits."

"I see. Well, I'll need copies of those letters, if you don't mind."

"Sure. You can have them all, if you want."

We let the silence hang for a moment while I made more notes. Florence coughed and cleared her throat.

"Betty said she believes in you, Mr. Hawkins. Please be honest with me, do you think you'll be able to find her? I mean, I reported it to the police and all, but I understand a lot of people go missing and they never find them."

There was a crack in her voice as she continued. "All I know is what I see on TV and in the movies. None of the criminals in those shows seem very smart and they are always getting caught by the good guys, even though they don't really seem much smarter than the bad guys."

I looked into her wet-looking eyes. I'd seen the same eyes so many times. "Listen, Florence, we don't know that Chelsea is really missing, yet. I'll admit it does seem that way, but if she doesn't show up, 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. Cops aren't that much in the middle of it, unfortunately. But I intend to do my best. We'll find her, you can depend on that."

She nodded, rolling her eyes like that was all a load of crap.

"Now, you indicated that Chelsea likes to have a good time. Can you tell me the places she liked to hang out? Friends? Bars? You know."

"Oh, I don't know, really. She's been on her own so long. I only see her about once a month--if that. According to bits and pieces I've picked up though, she liked McGuire's on Division, and I understand she went to happy hour like it was mass, at a place called Ernie's on Halstead Street. I've seen that one--it's a dump, believe me."

"Okay." I reached for one of my business cards and wrote my cell number on the back. I stood and passed it to her. "Well, that should be enough for now. If you'll just give me those letters, I'll go and get started."

When I left the Rohrman house, the sky was clear and struggling to be blue, and I felt as though I could breathe again. Florence called out as I was on my way to the car:

"I don't care that you're not a cop, anymore, or why . . . just bring my little girl home,please?"

I waved as I opened the car door. And even though I had my doubts, I yelled back, "We'll find her, Ma'am."


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