Mystery and Crime Fiction posted September 8, 2013 Chapters:  ...9 10 -11- 12... 


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Cleve starts looking for clues.

A chapter in the book Fatal Beauty

The Soul And The Search

by Mastery





















When the Medical Examiner drew the dark-colored curtain aside, Chelsea Rohrman's corpse was on display in the glass window for her mother, Florence and sister, Betty to identify. The body was covered with a sheet which the ME slowly pulled away to show Chelsea's face.

Florence moaned and collapsed. Betty and I caught her before she fell all the way down to the floor. Betty nodded in lieu of her mother's affirmation.

"Yes," she said, as I helped with her mother. "It's Chelsea, alright. It's my sister." She sobbed uncontrollably and I collected Florence in my arms and took her to a nearby wooden bench where I sat with her. At that moment in time, I wanted to confront the killer and make him accountable, not simply for his crimes but for his existence, even though I had learned long ago not to walk too far through the corridors of my soul.

The conventional portrayal of a P I's life is romantic and noir excursion into a world of intrigue, with wealthy female clients swathed in veils and overweight villains sweating under a fan in a bar in the tropics. The real world of the PI, and my clientele, could be compared to the shit running through an open sewer.

Real life is a bitch and there always will be a dirty side to deal with. I often wonder if some people are made differently in the womb, born without a conscience, intent on destroying everything that is good in the world. Or can a black wind blow the weather vane in the wrong direction for any of us and reshape our lives, turning us into people we no longer recognize.

A detective's heart bleeds for the victims and their families. Anyone who thinks otherwise knows nothing about it.

After they calmed down a bit, I walked out with Betty and her mother. It was raining softly while I tried to comfort them in the only way I knew how. "I'm really sorry, but we're going to get the people who did this--I promise you that. It may take a while--but we will get the him."

"Really?" said Florence. "Will that bring my daughter back?" She looked at me as though she were coming out of a trance . . . her voice, little more than a whisper. She was still hyperventilating as she tried to continue. "You know as well as I do, Mr. Hawkins, these people never get caught, so please don't promise us anything today. It doesn't become you." Tears of frustration spilled out of her eyes and rolled down her face.

Betty had one arm draped around her mother's shoulders as we talked. She drew on a cigarette with the other hand and let the smoke drift out of her mouth, as she eyed me and shook her head with disgust.

"You said you'd find Chelsea. You promised us--remember? You shouldn't make those kind of promises." She paused, looked at her mother, and pulled her close. "I don't blame Mom. She's right, and you know it. I'm sorry, but you are a huge disappointment, Cleve Hawkins. Detective? No, what I think is that you couldn't find your own dick if you had a string tied to it."

I didn't reply. I couldn't-- and looking at the two women I felt as useless as a human being could. I slowly pawed the ground with one foot and cleared my throat.

"I'm sorry, I just . . ."

Betty interrupted and tugged my arm. "Sorry for that. I apologize for the way I say things. My best friend tells me I have the sophistication of a junkyard falling down a staircase. But you have to understand--you failed us, and now look. Can you honestly blame us for being angry and hurt?"

Florence looked into my eyes; she was searching for reasons, and perhaps, answers. Her face became empty of expression, as though she had lost the thread in our conversation.

"What is it you really do, Mr. Hawkins? Are you even qualified to search for missing people?" She began to sob again and I felt helpless.

"Ma'am, I'm a licensed PI in Illinois, but I have to be honest with you, a private investigator's license has the legal value of a dog's tag. I chase down bail skips for a couple of bondsmen, so I have some powers that cops don't have. Yes--I find people, and I've worked both sides of the fence with homicide investigation. As a PI, I can even cross state lines and break down doors without warrants. I can hook up people and hold them in custody indefinitely. When a guy is bailed out of the can by a bondsman, he becomes property. The law lets me go after his property. I'm not proud of what I do, but it's what I do. Now, as an ex-cop, I also have access to police records and so on, and finding Chelsea was priority--you must believe me. I am truly sorry for your loss."

"But none of what you say helped, and you didn't find Chelsea before it was too late."

"Actually, Ma'am, we have identified a suspect."

"Oh, and when did this come about?" Betty's voice was loaded with sarcasm.

"A few days ago. I haven't been able to work on the information because everything is coming apart at once, but I promise you, I'm on it. There's an All Points Bulletin out for the suspect as we speak."

Telling them anything at all was not helping. I might as well have been speaking to the wind.

We walked slowly to Betty's car and I helped with her mother as they got in. I put my hands on the door and leaned in.

"There is one thing you can do for me if you would, Betty; I need permission to go in Chelsea's apartment. You told me you had a key. I want to get that from you as soon as possible."

"Yes, I suppose. Anything to help." She began to fumble around inside her purse and then handed me the key. "You have the address I gave you, right?"

"Yes, of course," I said as I held the key. "I'll get this back to you as soon as possible. The police will want to search Chelsea's place, too. I'll tell them I have it."

"Won't do any good," what can you find in her apartment?" said Florence. "You think the madman that killed my baby will be there?"

I started to reply, but couldn't find my voice.

They drove off and for the first time in years, a tear formed in my eye. It would have run down my cheek if I hadn't quickly brushed it away.

I walked to my car remembering what Betty told me about her sister that first day, when I met her at Redhead's bar.

Chelsea had promised her, the last time they spoke, she would not become the mistress of any man old enough to be her father, no matter how much money he had or how great a lake front apartment he offered to rent for her. She would borrow from her mother only in emergencies, and she would pay back every dime as soon as she could. She would pay off her credit cards. She further promised to stay off cigarettes and avoid Absolut vodka, which caused her to misbehave in public. She would not automatically be impressed by men with black convertibles or foreign- language skills. Dreams. Promises. None of them mattered anymore.

The rain had stopped, but the sky was still overcast and dark enough to look like the end of the world.


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

The next morning, I took a long hot shower and shaved. It was hard to look at myself in the mirror. I got dressed, made another pot of coffee, then loaded a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson that I'd grown quite fond of.

Holding a gun feels great. On television, the average person always acts repulsed when the gun is first handed to them. They make a face and say, "I don't want that thing!" But the truth is, to a cop at least, having a gun in your hand--the cold steel against your skin, the weight in your palm, the very shape, the way your hand naturally coils around the grip, the way your index finger slides into the trigger loop--it feels not only good, but right and even natural. I picked up the gun and rubbed the grip of it the way a child plays with its sippy cup. I would be armed from here on, until we found Chelsea's killer. I'm sure he'd have one.

The rains had done their magic, it had blown out overnight, and the sky overhead was bright, cloudless and blue. Even with springtime weather only a few days old, there was already a hint of green everywhere. I went to the house on Elmwood where Chelsea had rented an apartment.

It was a white-stone turn-of-the-century Victorian with a sweeping porch that disappeared around one end. It needed paint, a new roof and some yard work. The windows were dingy and the gutters were choked with leaves.

I needed to caution the owner, Bertha Quinn, about my presence and the reason for going into one of her apartments. I rang the bell five times before a woman opened the door.

"What? What is it?" she questioned, her eyes filmed with sleep.

She had a figure like a garbage can atop two bowling pins. Appearing to be in her late forties, she was dressed in a frilly blouse and a pant suit with big buttons. A graying mass of hair was piled on top of her head and her face was as round as a muskmelon. For whatever reason, she seemed to be wearing huge amounts of perfume that could knock down a rhino. A cigarette dangled from her lips.

I flashed my badge and said, "Hello, Mrs. Quinn?"

"Yeah. Oh! The police? What do you want? Wait--I didn't call for no police. Go away." Her voice was husky and her manner compact--efficient. She started to close the door.

I smiled and said, "Ma'am, my name is Cleve Hawkins, and you look like a good judge of character. Do I really look like I will go away?"

She rubbed her sausage fingers over her third chin. She had the manic look and behavioral manner of someone who might have spent her life inside a windstorm. She drew on the cigarette and coughed a hacking, irritating cough that reddened her face and caused her huge breasts to gyrate.

"I said I didn't call the cops-- so, what do you want, anyway?" She crossed her arms and studied me.

"I'm sure you heard about the unfortunate death of your tenant, Miss Rohrman?"

"Oh, yes. Isn't that terrible. Did you catch the murderer yet?"

"No, Ma'am. We are still investigating. I need to get into her apartment and have a look around. I have the key and the family's permission."

"Hmmmm--and who are you, again?" I couldn't help but notice, her breath was stale and her hair smelled like an ashtray.

"Cleve Hawkins, I'm a private investigator,working with the police."
I watched her eyes dart around, looking over my shoulder and back to me again.

"Well, okay, I guess. Come on in. That girl's place is at the top of the stairs. Or it was. Now I gotta find another renter. First door on the right. Hey, are a whole bunch of you guys gonna be snooping up there?"

"Some more officers will be by, I'm sure, Ma'am." I sneaked a glance at my wristwatch as she followed me up the stairs.

"It don't surprise me none that the girl got killed."

"Oh--why is that?" I asked as I unlocked the door. Bertha was so close, I felt her breath on the back of my neck.

"Ha! Let's just say she had a lot of boyfriends coming and going. Trashy-looking--you know the type. She was way too loose, if you ask me."

"Yes, Ma'am." I stepped inside and looked back at her. I'll be alright now, if you'll just allow me . . . "

"Well, yeah-- sure. What do I care? Go ahead and do your thing. I'll be downstairs."

After I heard her footsteps finish thumping down the stairs I began to look around. I wasn't even sure what I was looking for, but maybe there would be something--anything to point me in the right direction. The room was in semi-darkness, and the air was thick with the perfume of stale pizza.

In the kitchen, someone had left a half-eaten specialty pizza in a grease-stained box on the counter. The pizza had congealed into a solid mass and sat next to a saucer filled with cigarette ashes. The counter was also littered with fast-food wrappers, empty soda cans, food-encrusted plates, and cheap dented pots. A bottle of Miller's beer had been left open.

Pictures on the walls were of the discount-store variety, framed prints of Picasso and one of a monkey drinking some kind of Italian wine. The living room floor was bare, scarred wood, and the furniture minimal. There was a lumpy secondhand couch and two folding chairs with Marrs Funeral Home's name engraved on the back. A rickety end table had been placed between the two folding chairs. A thirteen-inch portable TV sat atop a cheap brass stand, by the only living room window.

It seemed to be obvious that Chelsea had left in a hurry. A dirty fork lay on the floor, along with a glass. I walked around and searched for signs of a struggle but saw none. No telltale smears of blood or bullet holes. No scuffed heel marks on the floor.

I checked the phone for a voice mail service, but the line was dead. So few landlines left these days.

A suitcase lay open on the unmade sofa bed. It was half filled with jeans, sweatshirts, socks and under things. I checked a chest of drawers, finding mainly clothes. There was a collection of maybe thirty CDs of singers and groups. She had magazines that told about the private lives of celebrities. One was open to a page of Hollywood weight loss tips.

Dirty laundry was strewn on the floor in the bathroom. The medicine chest was empty except for a bottle of Bayer aspirin, a few band-aids and a box of Midol.

When I was finished nearly an hour later, I went downstairs where Mrs. Quinn came out of her apartment to meet me. With hand on hip and cigarette in hand, she said, "Well--did you find anything?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not free to say, Ma'am. Tell me--did Miss Rohrman have a car that you know of?"

"Sure. A Pontiac. One of them Firebirds. An old one." She took a deep drag on the cigarette which just about wore it down to the filter. Blue smoke filtered out her nose, and she flicked the butt away. "I wish she had of moved it before she left, too. It's parked alongside the house--just before the alley."

"Okay, well, thank you for your time, I'll be going now. We'll get back to you if we need anything further."

"Yeah, okay."

She called out after I was down the steps: "Hey--see what you guys can do about getting that piece of junk hauled out of here will you?"

I walked around the side of the house and checked out the car which was covered with tree sap and dust. It was locked, but I peered inside and saw feminine stuff everywhere. There was a box of tissues with flowers all over it, and a dead lipstick in the recess of the console, right next to a furry Teddy bear. The floor of the car was piled with trash--Styrofoam food containers, paper cups and flattened Misty Menthol cigarette packs. The ashtray overflowed with butts. I needed to get inside the car. Maybe all those butts weren't Chelsea's, and who knew what else might be in there.

Before I walked away, I took down the plate number and read the bumper sticker that said: "Don't like my driving? Call 1-800-BITE-ME."

My cell phone vibrated just as I got behind the wheel of my car. It was Maureen. I wanted to answer, but thought I'd wait until my mood changed for the better--if that was possible. I needed to talk to Branoff. Maybe they got a hit from the APB mugshot. But then, he would have called, wouldn't he?






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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