Mystery and Crime Fiction posted August 18, 2013 Chapters:  ...6 7 -8- 9... 


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Cleve gets his first break in finding Chelsea.

A chapter in the book Fatal Beauty

A Good Lead

by Mastery

When the phone rings at three in the morning, it can't be good news, but I didn't hesitate to pick it up.

"This better be good," I said.

"Why are you still up at this hour?" Maureen asked.

"You're joking, right?" I grinned.

"No. I'm sorry, I just couldn't sleep."

"I'm having a little trouble myself--must be something in the water at Geja's place."

"Yeah...must be. Listen, I wanted you to know--well-- I had to tell you--I had a wonderful time tonight . . . well last night now."

"Me too."

There was a long beat of silence before she spoke again. Rather than try to dig her out, I just shut up and listened. "Please understand I did want to invite you in, but--well--please stay in touch, Cleve."

"I plan on it, Mo. I really do. I'll let you go, though,okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Well, goodnight."

"Morning, you mean. Goodnight, Mo." I heard her giggle a little before she hung up.

In the quiet that followed, I pondered the entire situation, rolling our evening over in my head. As we used to say in school, "Getting laid is no big deal, but not getting laid is a very big deal. I knew she needed more healing time so remaining horny would be a problem--my problem, at least for now.

I reflected on past relationships I'd had before Maureen and I began dating. Sally Burke was a good one. She was attractive, had a cute South Carolina accent, didn't hate Yankees, loved sex and Jim Beam, was poorer than me, and had always wanted to marry a cop. I don't know if she ever realized her goal but, as it turned out, she wasn't the one. I fell asleep on the couch watching re-runs of Lucy.

*******

The next day, events kicked into overdrive. The promise of an early spring had turned to overcast skies and spitting rain. It was after three and I had a late lunch. A half-eaten burrito lay on my desk, sitting on oil-stained paper.

I was waiting until it was close to happy hour at the bars, specifically, Ernie's on Halsted where Chelsea Rohrman hung out, according to her mother. I'd finished reading The Tribune's coverge of the serial killings and scrutinized some mail. I also looked over the threatening letters to Chelsea from credit card companies. I shoved my own bills aside, figuring I'd deal with them later. I knew the rent was due, I damn sure didn't need a reminder.

I swiveled my chair around, rested my feet up on the windowsill, and watched the rain. The wind was blowing in the parking lot. Pieces of newspaper flapped and twisted through the air.

I had a pad and pen in hand and tried my hand at thinking. I don't work with a lot of scientific clues. Since nearly all the crimes I've looked into were human, it figured that all the clues I came up with were human.

I decided to visit the bars that Florence Rohrman had said were her daughter, Chelsea's, favorite watering holes. With that in mind, I stood and stuffed my .38 in the holster behind my right hip. It was a bit chilly, so I slipped into my leather jacket. I'd just turned the key to lock my desk when Betty Rohrman strolled in.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Hawkins."

I smiled. "Please--I thought we were on a first name basis, Betty. It's Cleve."

"Yes, okay--sorry. Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not really-- have a seat."

She drifted across the room and took it upon herself to close off the glare of sunlight through the blinds. She sat in my client's chair and when she crossed her legs, she showed me a flash of thigh.

Her hair was up in a bun, and she wore thin horn-rimmed glasses and a little business suit that was way too short for any real librarian to wear. She paused and looked around . "Your office is exactly the way I expected," she said.

"Yeah, I'm saving up for a neon sign of a smoking gun."

She smiled but then suddenly sat very erect, her knees together and neck held high. She took out a pack of Marlboro menthols, and looked around for an ashtray. She lit a cigarette, half-heartedly, and fanned away the smoke. I reached in my drawer and retrieved an ashtray.

"I understand you were out to see my mother."

"Yes. She's a fine lady."

"Hmmmm. My parents," she said, and shook her head. "My step-father was a psychotic; people who got too close to him suffered because they did not--could not--understand the sheer uncontrolled malevolence of the bastard. And as for my mother--well, there were times when I would rather eat worms in a root cellar than go to a restaurant with my parents. Did she give you anything that will help you find Chelsea?"

"Ahhhh--yeah, I got a couple of things I can use."

"Like what?" She lowered her eyes.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I'm on my way right now to check out a spot your sister used to frequent."

I moved around the desk, sat on the edge of it and looked down at the top of her head. "Listen, Betty. Sometimes the smallest mistake can trip up the bad guys. You'd be surprised. Ever heard of Watergate?"

"Yes, in school. Why?"

"Well, the Watergate guys weren't nickle-and-dime second story idiots. They had worked for the CIA and FBI. The reason they got busted was because they taped back a spring lock on an office door by wrapping the tape horizontally around the lock rather than vertically. A wanna-be-cop security guard spotted the tape and removed it but didn't report it. One of the burglars came back and taped the door open a second time. The security guard made his rounds again, saw the fresh tape and called the Washington police. The burglars were still in the building when the cops arrived."

"Oh, I see. Well, anyway, I quit my job yesterday morning at the insurance company."

"What?" I circled back around and retrieved my Cubs cap from the top of the filing cabinet; I tilted it back on my head. "Why's that?"

Betty shook her head from side to side. "Because I was fed up with the boss. I have been for some time, and now with Chelsea missing, I just can't concentrate, especially with that bastard, Jenkins, hanging all over me."

"You mean, he is sexually harassing you?"

"Yeah---well, no--not really. It's just that-- well, I sort of blew up and called him an unprincipled asshole, an utterly cynical bastard, and a monumental prick." She stared at her feet which she clicked together, back and forth, like Dorothy. "I believe that was the last thing I said."

"Hmmmm. I see. Well, I don't know your circumstances there, of course, but you may want to reconsider--I mean the way the job situation is right now and so forth. I'm telling you, and I know it's difficult, but try not to worry so much about your sister. I realize that's easy to say, but I am working on that. You can't help things by quitting your job. In fact, truthfully, it's better if you stay busy. I'll bet your mom could use some help, financially, too, couldn't she?"

"Yeah," she murmured.

I continued to prepare to leave by locking the desk. There was a long moment of silence before Betty drummed her fingers on the edge of my desk as she spoke.

"So . . . You think maybe I should go back and apologize for my profanity, rephrase the sentence in Proper English, and ask him if he'll work on those problems. Is that right?" Sarcastic, I thought.

"I would."

She stayed seated for another moment, then stood to leave.

"Just call me the minute you hear anything--alright, Cleve? Please?"

"Of course. You know I will," I said as I shook her hand. I thought I knew the truth, had known it from the first day. Something had happened to her sister. Something bad.

Her heels echoed loudly in the hallway as she left.

*************

The rain pattered on the brim of my ball cap as I jumped in the car and headed for Ernie's on Halstead. Happy Hour would get under way, soon. Maybe I would run into some of Chelsea's friends. I had the radio turned low to a jazz program on WBEZ, Stan Getz on horn during my twenty-five minute drive. I figured I looked rakish in my Cubs cap and leather bomber jacket.

A half-dozen cars were parked at odd attitudes around a tiny parking lot when I got to the bar. I slowed down and parked by easing nose-first into a slot and shut it down.

The bar's windows were tinted, so that patrons could see who was coming in from the parking lot without being seen themselves.

The joint was owned by Ernie Jurnic, a snake in a suit, who had been nothing if not an expert in how to break the rules. I was quite sure he hadn't changed. I had my beefs with him when I was a rookie in uniform. He could sell cheap drinks, he said, because he avoided high overhead. He avoided it by not fixing anything. The pool table used to have grooves that would roll a ball through a thirty-degree arc into a corner pocket. The overhead fans hadn't moved in years. I wondered if Jurnic would be around today.

Ernie's looked like hundreds of other bars, a country ballad on the jukebox, workingmen sitting around drinking Budweiser, some college students and secretary types were perched at the bar. I had to wonder why in the hell Chelsea Rohrman found the place so appealing. I fit in about as well as a cat at a dog pound.

The man behind the bar was in his late sixties, short and stout with sloping shoulders and no neck. He was bald as a cue ball, with shaggy steel gray hair ringing the sides of his head and sprouting in fantastic tufts from his ears. A cloud of curly hair spilled out of the V of his plaid shirt.

I noticed one of the waitresses wore a tight open-collared shirt with Garth Brooks's likeness plastered across it, and tight jeans that hugged her wide hips and disappeared into the tops of red, high-heeled, looking-for-trouble cowboy boots. She was chewing gum and had a butterfly tattoo just visible on the swell of her left breast.

"May I help you, sir?" she asked in the tone that meant, "What the hell do you want?" She was as perky as a chickadee but I was assuming dumber. "You look like a cop, and I wish you'd please quit staring at my tits."

The bartender put six long-necked bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon on her tray, ran up the bill, put that on the tray, and she left me and charged back past me toward the big round table in the corner. I caught snatches of conversations and the sounds of cell playing a symphony of downloaded tunes. I'm still proud of the fact that my phone simply rings when someone calls me.

I dropped on a stool and the bartender wiped his way over.

"Yeah?"

"Ernie Jurnic here?"

He coughed before answering, turning his head away, not bothering to cover his mouth. Spit flew down the bar. He had an expression on his face that suggested he hadn't had a proper bowel movement in too long. "Ernie's dead," he said, recovering.

"Dead?"

"Yeah. Choked on a bratwurst at a Bears game."

"You gotta be kidding me."

The guy shrugged, started to smile, thought better of it, and shrugged again. Coughed. "His time was up," he said, running his rag in a circle. "You a friend of his?"

"Jesus Christ, no. I'm looking for a customer of yours. At least I'm told she's a regular."

"Yeah? You a cop?"

"Nope."

He looked around. Happy Hour had begun and I could see he was itching to take care of business, but he leaned in and said, "Who're you looking for?"

"A young girl by the name of Chelsea. Chelsea Rohrman. She always made your happy hour, I understand."

He turned and walked over to another girl working with him behind the bar. He said something to her, she nodded and came my way. She was young with a short skirt and very short blond hair. She wore a T-shirt that read Save Gas, Fart in a Jar.

"You lookin' for Chelsea?"

Her voice was like fingernails on a chalkboard. She folded her arms, defensively.

"Yes. You know her, I take it?"

"Yeah, most all of us know her in this place. She's a fixture, you might say." Chelsea, by her account, was a precocious, snotty little bitch who everybody thought was bright and beautiful.

"What's your name, Miss?"

"Barb. Who's asking?"

"My name's Hawkins."

The waitress stayed on the move as she talked. I watched her lean over the bar to pick up empty bottles. She rolled her eyes, looking as if she had had years of experience. "What do you want with her? You a cop, Hawkins?"

"No, I'm not a cop, but I need to talk to her."

"Well, you're outta' luck. I work everyday except Sunday and I'm telling' ya', she ain't been in."

"When was the last time you saw her...can you remember?"

"Ah, I don't know. Say, why all the questions if you ain't a cop?"

"Her family thinks she's gone missing. They haven't heard from her in over a week. Understand?"

She paused a minute and turned a bit serious. "Yeah, . . . a week ago." She stared at the ceiling as if it would tell her what she wanted to know. "Yeah, I do remember something, now that I think about it. She was having a bunch of beers with a guy. Yeah, that's right. They sat down at one of the two tops over on the side. I think she left with him too." She sniggered as she said it.

"Really? Are you sure about that, Barb?"

"About what? Her leaving with a guy, you mean? Yeah. She left with the guy, alright-- but that wasn't so strange. What the hell--Chelsea hung out with lots of guys."

A joker sitting two stools down craned his neck and said, "Yeah, I saw that dude with Chelsea, too."

He was a young guy who wore his hair in a big throwback afro that reminded me of a young Michael Jackson. Quite strange, since the man was white.

I picked up my glass of beer, moved down the bar and stood next to him. "What did you say, friend?"

"Huh? Oh, I said, I saw the guy with Chelsea."

"Your Name?"

"Jesus Christ."

"I doubt it," I said.

"What's my name matter, you wanna' know what that guy looked like?" He wiped his nose with the heel of his hand.

No shit! I didn't answer at first, but stared straight into his face.

"Yeah, go ahead. What did he look like?"

"Well, let's see . . . I remember he had lots of pea-size freckles all over his face." He made a small circle with his thumb and forefinger to show me. "And his hair was bright red and shaggy. Yeah, he had long red hair. He was wearing a Red Sox baseball cap, but I could tell his hair was long. Red, too--that's how I remember. You a cop or somethin?"

"No--not a cop, and that's really good that you remembered." I took out my ID. Listen, I'm a private detective and I'm trying to find Chelsea. I've got some cop friends downtown. Would you mind coming down there and taking a look at some mug shots?"

"Nah. I don't want nothin' ta do with the cops, man."

"You won't even have to talk to a cop. I just need you to look at some pictures...see if you can spot the guy you saw her with."

"Tell you what, Mister Dick Tracy--you buy me a drink and I'll think about it. How's that?"







Recognized


Characters: Cleve Hawkins . . . Detective (Ex cop)
Deckle . . .A homeless friend.
Maureen . . .Cleve's ex-girlfriend
Kris branoff . . . Detective active with Chicago Police.
Florence Rhorman . . .Mother of Missing girl.
Bart . . . A serial killer
Lewis Lisecki . . . A serial killer

Thanks again to Lilac Collas for the Artwork.
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