Saturday, February 4, 2017

Face to Face, Part Three

“You think he’s involved?” Rachel sipped her coffee as I veered around a huge truck on the highway.
            Like I said, Rachel’s kind of psychic. She can’t predict the lottery, but she can sense when something’s not exactly right. I needed her to read Durr.
“He knew Brandon, and Brandon’s at the middle of this.” I hit my horn. “Of course, he’s dead, so I could be wasting gas. But I think AG can pay for it.”
Rachel leaned back. “Do I get to meet her at some point?”
            “You want an autograph? I thought you hated her.”
            “I don’t get to meet that many celebrities.” She closed her eyes. “Wake me when we’re there. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
            Ryan Durr lived in a split-level in a cul-de-sac in Orland Park, AG’s home town. The house was surrounded by a big yard, half covered in damp snow. A blue Miata sat in the driveway. Rachel and I climbed the front steps to a narrow wooden deck, and I rang the doorbell.
After thirty seconds, the door pulled back and Durr peered through the screen. “Hello. Who are you?”
            “Mr. Durr?” I held out my business card. “I’m Tom Jurgen. We talked on the phone? This is my associate Rachel. May we come in?”
Rachel waved her fingers at him and smiled. She was wearing her leather jacket and boots. That usually turned most men to mush. Including me.
            He just glanced between the two of us. A big man with white hair, taller than me. Durr was soft in the belly, but his arms were probably still strong enough to throw me over the rail.
He shook his head. “No, you can’t come in.” He stepped through the door and let it slam behind him as stepped out onto the deck. “What’s this all about?”
 Okay. “Like I said on the phone, I’m working on a case involving some students at the high school where you used to teach. Could we talk for a few minutes?”
            He yanked my card and stared at it. “Which students?”
            “Could I show you some pictures?” I pulled my phone from my windbreaker.
A picture of Brandon Toth might have spooked him. So I showed him an image of Mark Kirkenstock.
Durr leaned forward. “Maybe. He looks familiar.”
Then I showed him a picture of Kaz Peters.
His eyes flickered registered a mixture of surprise and recognition. “Who’s this?”
“Someone else involved in the case. How about . . .” I tapped for a photo of Brandon Toth.
Durr looked past the phone at me. “I know what this is about. Allison Gentry.”
“She is sort of famous.” I didn’t want to confirm or deny that AG was involved, but we’d all agreed on a quick call this morning that we probably couldn’t keep her name completely out of it. “She was in some of your classes, right?”
“Of course I remember her.” He laughed bitterly. “All the boys had a crush on her. Hell, some of the teachers, too.  She did just enough to get by in class, but was always out in front at the basketball and football games, shaking her butt at everyone. Now she’s the biggest singer in the world.” He glared at me. “What is this about?”
“Do you know if Brandon was stalking her on the internet? Do you know whether—”
“Listen, Brandon was a good kid.” Durr leaned forward, looming over me. “I liked all my kids. Not just the straight A students. But Ally just ignored him, like she ignored everyone except the jocks and the wrestlers and . . . everyone else. And now he’s dead!” His voice shook. “It shouldn’t have happened to him.”
I nodded. “I get that.”
“Good. Now get out.” He turned and yanked the screen door. I heard the lock click inside.
Walking down the steps, I glanced at Rachel. “So?”
“Oh yeah. It’s him.” She shivered in her jacket. “That first look at Kaz did it. The rest was all ‘I hate Allison Gentry.’ I was ready to get out my pepper spray.” She nudged my arm. “Nobody hits you but me.”
That was the second nicest thing she’d ever said to me. “So what about Brandon?”
“That’s . . . I don’t know.” She opened the door on my Honda. “Strong feelings, but you don’t actually have to be psychic to get that. But I don’t think there was anything pervy about it. More like fatherly—times ten.”
“Teachers have their favorites, I guess.” I clicked my seatbelt and shifted to reverse, looking up at the house.
Durr was watching us from his kitchen window.

Rachel got to meet Allison Gentry at dinner at 9:30 that night in a corner of the Signature Room, high in the John Hancock Center. The window looked out over Lake Michigan, and I could see lights from a few boats bouncing on the water. Jamie sat with us, and a big African-American bodyguard named Raymond sat a few tables away. 
            AG poked at her salad. “So it’s Mr. Durr? He always was a little creepy. Rubbing your shoulders and stuff. Some of the girls complained, but nothing ever happened.” She gulped some sparkling water. “Jerk.”
            “This just sounds like science fiction.” Jamie stabbed a knife into her filet mignon. “Face changers and body shifters? How can he do that?”
            “Different ways.” I was eating tilapia with just enough cilantro. “Rachel and I have some experience with this sort of thing. She’s sort of psychic.”
            “Really?” AG leaned forward. “Hey, I had an aunt like that. She always knew who was on the phone before she answered it, and she never got caller ID.”
             “It’s something like that.” Rachel kicked me under the table. “But Tom’s right. About the face-changing, anyway.”
            I was going to get punished later. For now, I stopped talking because Raymond was coming up behind Jamie. Except it wasn’t Raymond. Because Raymond was still at his table, sipping water.
            “Uh, AG?” He leaned down. “You got a minute?”
            I waved a hand. “Hang on—”
            AG scooted her chair back. “What’s the upgrade, Ray?”
            “What?” The other Raymond—the real Raymond, sitting at his table—shot to his feet. “Hey! You!”
            AG jumped up. “Get away from me. Right now.”
            “Not a chance.” Raymond—not Raymond—pulled his lips back in a demonic smile. “Time for you to sing, bitch.”
            AG jumped back, pressing her body against the window. “No . . . no . . .”
I looked at Rachel. She had her hands over her ears as if trying to hear something far, far away.
“Raymond” grabbed Jamie’s steak knife and waved it at AG’s face. “You will do it, you little whore! You will!”
            Then the real Raymond came charging across the floor. Durr—it had to be him—ducked down and twisted around. His arm swept up, jabbing the knife into Raymond’s stomach.
            Raymond dropped back, clutching his gut. Durr lurched up and pointed the knife at AG. “You will sing for me, bitch! You’ll do it!”
            AG lurched forward off the thick glass, her legs trembling. “Any time, asshole. Just stop doing this!”
            I heard Jamie under the table, squawking into her phone: “Yeah, there’s a stalker, and he’s trying to kill Allison Gentry. Send a SWAT team! Come fast!”
            “Ryan!” I stood up, standing back, trying to stay between him and Rachel. “Stop this! You don’t have to do this!”
            Durr glared at me. “You don’t know anything, Jurgen. You and your stupid whore girlfriend should just stay out of this.”
            What? I stood up, kicking my chair back. “Yeah, I know a lot about you, Ryan.” I was scared to death, but just angry enough to get into trouble. “Like who you are, where you live, and by the way, calling Rachel names is just about the worst thing you could have done—”         
            Rachel clutched my arm. “Don’t . . . Jesus Christ, don’t do anything dumb, okay?” She squeezed my hand. “Please?”
“Just stay away!” Durr waved the blood-streaked knife as Raymond rolled on the floor, clutching his bleeding stomach. “This is the lesson for today! Allison Gentry! She will screw you over and over again—”
“Shut up!” Jamie lunged to her feet. “You can’t say that! You’re just a coward! You can’t do this!””
            Durr whirled around. “Oh, you slut. Yes, I can. Watch me.”
            Jamie slid back and raised an arm. “Oh, no. No—”
            Allison screamed as Durr drove the knife into Jamie’s chest.