Saturday, August 19, 2017

In the Mirror, Part Two

We drank coffee around the kitchen table.
            “Sometimes ghosts are trapped in the place where they died.” I rubbed my forehead. “They mostly talked about their son.”
            “But he’s alive.” Kate crossed her arms, angry. “And this started before he came here tonight.”
            “Yeah.” I gulped my coffee, hoping it would cleanse my brain. “And they didn’t explain what happened—”
            Mitch shot up from his chair. “What’s that?”
            Noises outside the door. He peered through the peephole. Then he made sure his sweatpants were secure and unsnapped the lock.
            Out in the hallway, a pair of EMTs pulled a cart from an apartment across the hall. A black body bag was strapped inside it.
            Freeman stepped out. “What’s going on?”
            A uniformed police officer glanced back at him. “Just go back inside, sir. We’re handling this.”
            Then a second cart came out. With another bag.
            Freeman looked at me.
            I pushed past him down the hall. “Hi. Tom Jurgen. And you are?” I eyed the name on his uniform. “Officer Abelson. Who’s handling this homicide?”
            Abelson glared. “Go home, whoever you are.”
            “Is it Mario Beach? Anita Sharpe? Hawkins? They all know me. They don’t like me, but—”
            “Jurgen!” A detective stalked down the hall, jostling against the carts. I didn’t know this one, but apparently he knew me. “What the hell are you doing here?”
            “Hello, officer.” I gave him a business card. “Tom Jurgen. I’m a private detective, and I was just here with a client—”
            “I know who you are.” The detective was tall and lean, with thin black hair and a long crooked nose. “I’m Rodriguez. Just stay out of my way.”
            My old reporting instincts kicked it. “What happened here? Two body bags coming out of an apartment—”
            “None of your business.” Rodriguez looked at Abelson. “Is it secure?”
            The patrolman nodded. “Yes, sir. The techs are inside now”
            A door opened. Down the hall. An elderly woman looked out into the hallway, spotted the police presence, and then ducked back, locking her door.
“Do you see that?” I pointed. “Tomorrow morning everyone in this building is going to start calling the management office to ask about—”
            Rodriguez growled. “That’s their job. Just let us do ours.”
            “Okay. Fine. What about the dog?”
            Rodriguez stared at me, confused. “Abelson?”
            Abelson shrugged. “What dog? No dog.”
            “There was a dog barking in that apartment a few hours ago. Not loud, but—”
            “Go home, Jurgen. Get some sleep.” He shoved me toward the elevators.
            I leaned against the wall and looked down at Freeman and Kate. “I’ll call you.”
            Freeman nodded. Kate pulled him inside the door. I heard the lock snick as I staggered to the elevator.

Back in my apartment I slept for three hours until my phone alarm jarred me from sleep. The sun glared through my blinds. After a shower and some fresh clothes, I drank some coffee and opened my laptop.
            The murders were already up on some of the news websites. It was a double murder—a young couple apparently attacking each other with steak knives and machetes.
            I skimmed through the articles, trying to eat a bowl of cereal, but my stomach wasn’t ready for food. I kept seeing Mona Ayres, drenched in blood, out of the corner of my eyes.
            So now what? I wasn’t sure what my job was now. The Freeman family had hired me to find out about the murder in their home. I’d done that, sort of.
            But I’d never been able to let things like this go.
            So I hunched over my laptop and started typing words into search engines.
Rachel unlocked my door at 9:30, holding my copy of the Chicago Tribune in her arms.
            “What the hell happened?” She slammed the door. “You call me from your car and tell me something about ghosts covered in blood, and then what? Nothing! I could barely get back to work.”
            I stood up, my knees weak from sitting all morning. “I’ll get you some coffee.”
            “You’d better.”
            Rachel has red hair and hazelnut eyes. She was wearing tight jeans, boots and a black T-shirt, and she slouched in a chair at my kitchen table as I brought her coffee and refilled my own cup.
            I sank back down. “There have been 12 murders in that building over the last 20 years. All of them either murder-suicides, or just unsolved murders. Throw out the unsolved ones, and there are still at least six, maybe seven, without any motive.”
            Rachel stared at me. “And you spent the night there? You idiot!” She punched my arm.
            “Ow.” I rubbed my shoulder. Her punches have been getting lighter lately, but they still hurt. “The killings in the Freeman place weren’t even the first. Twenty-eight years ago an 81-year-old man shot his wife and then killed himself on the 11th floor. My clients live on the 11th floor. Twelve years before that a pregnant woman and her husband—”
            “Stop!” Rachel planted her hands over her ears. “I get it! The place is a deathtrap! Did you tell your clients yet?”
            I looked at my phone on the table. “I guess I’d better.”
            Freeman sounded groggy. “I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes. What’s up?”
            “You might want to move.” I told him what I’d learned.
            “Oh, hell.” He sighed. “I was afraid of this. The whole building is—what? Cursed?”
            “I don’t know.” I looked at my search results. “Maybe just the 11th floor.”
            “Shit.” He was silent for a moment. “I have to call Kate.”
            “I’m still looking into this. I’ll be in touch if I find out anything.”
            “Okay, fine.” He sighed again. “We’ll start packing.”
            Rachel looked at me. “Have you got a plan?”
            “Hell, no.” I gulped my coffee. “Just a list of names to call and questions to ask. Do you want to stay?”
            “No.” She stood up and stretched. “I’ve still got work to do. Call me before you go after any more ghosts. Don’t get slimed.”
            I nodded. “I’ll add that to my to-do list.”

The nice woman at the management office refused to answer any questions when I called. “You should check our statement on the website. Are you a resident?”
            “I’m working for one of your residents. Are you aware of the number of murders that have taken place in your building in the last forty years?”
            “Uhh . . .” She swallowed. “Sandler Mullins has only been managing this location since 2011. I suggest you contact the previous management company, Keller Smithwick? In the meantime, as I said, please look at our statement. That’s all.” She hung up.
            I found the statement:


As you may know, a serious incident occurred in an apartment on the 11th floor of our building last night. Two of our residents were found dead. Police were called, and they are investigating the circumstances. Everything is under control as of this morning.

Out of respect for the families involved, we are not releasing the names of those involved.

Please be assured that your safety and security are our top priority. We will be cooperating fully with the Chicago Police Department, and we will share information as soon as it becomes available.

My next call was to the Anita Sharpe, Chicago police detective. We worked together on vampire cases. She wouldn’t be happy to hear from me on this, but she was one of the few cops I knew who wouldn’t immediately hang up on me.
            “Jurgen? What?” Sharpe sounded ready to strangle someone close by. “It’s daylight. There can’t be a vampire, can there? Can there?”
            “Calm down, detective.” There hadn’t been a vampire killing in weeks. “I just need some information on a murder-suicide in a condo last night. Anything you can tell me.”
            “You want me to do your work for you? I’ve got another shooting on the south side and a gang-banger to question.” She grunted. “I’ll code it as a vampire case if I can. Just make it quick.”
            “I don’t have the names. Rodriguez was in charge.” I gave her the address. “I owe you one.”
            “You owe me a lot, asshole.” I heard her fingers tapping. “Hang on.”
            We’d been through a few bad times together. Sharpe didn’t exactly like me, but we’d managed to build up a certain amount of trust.
            I still missed Dudovich.
            “Okay.” Sharpe talked slowly. “Victims’ names were Alex and Bryan Gomez. Early forties. No previous reports of domestic disturbance. Last night a neighbor heard crashing in their apartment and a dog barking. Officers arrived, a maintenance man opened the door with a key, and the two victims were found dead. A machete and a knife. No sign of forced entry, no evidence of sexual assault. The TV was on. Seinfeld.”
            “What about the dog?”
            “There wasn’t any . . .” Sharpe paused. “There’s nothing about any dog.”
            “But there was a dog barking inside the apartment.”
            “I’m just telling you what’s in the report, Jurgen. And you didn’t get it from me.”
            “Who are you again? I just called a random number inside the CPD.”
            Sharpe laughed. “Go to hell, Jurgen.” She hung up.

I had at least one more call to make. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to.
            Will Ayres worked in a Target on the near north side. He couldn’t talk immediately, but he called me back fifteen minutes later. “What happened? Did you see my parents?” His voice was a desperate whisper. “Just tell me.”
            I had to tell him the truth. Some of it, anyway. “Your father said he loves you. Your mother says she’s sorry.”
            “Oh god . . . oh god . . .” I could hear Will crying. “I’m sorry . . .”
            I waited. “Uh, you can call me back if you want.”
            “No, I’m okay.” He sniffed. “I’m in the bathroom. What did you want?”
            “It’s about your dog, Sparky. Where did he come from?”
            I heard the toilet flush. “I don’t really remember. He was just there. And then he wasn’t. Like I said, I never saw him after I went to stay with my grandma. She didn’t say anything about . . . anything.”
            I shifted in my chair. “Thanks. I’m sorry to bother you.”
            “No, it’s fine. Just . . . what did they look like?”
            Covered in blood? I couldn’t tell him that. “I saw them looking like a wedding picture. They looked . . . happy.”
            I waited. Hoping it wasn’t the wrong thing to say.
            “Okay.” Will cleared his throat. “I just hope Sparky is happy too.”
            NIneteen years? Sparky was probably dead. If he’d ever been alive.
            But I didn’t want to say that. “If I learn anything more, I’ll be in touch.”
            “I have to get back to work.” His voice lowered. “If you see them again, tell them . . . I don’t know. Tell them anything that sounds good.”
            Will hung up. I drank some coffee and tried to think of my next move.
            I could walk up and down the 11th floor, knocking on doors, asking questions, and listening for barking dogs. But that could get me kicked out and possibly arrested.
            I went back to the condo association’s website. The manager was Patricia Carnes. The picture showed a woman in her 30s with light brown hair and wide lips stretched in a smile. I wrote down her email address.
            Then I went to the previous management company’s website. And there, under a “Meet Our Team” Link, I found Carnes again.  Her brown hair looked a little darker, but her smile was just as wide.
            I poured myself another cup of coffee and dug deep into real estate management firms. It took a while. But before Keller Smithwick, the Freemans’ condo building had been owned by a company called Taylor & Taylor, back in the 1980s. Taylor & Taylor was out of business, but I found an archived site with a list of executives and managers.
            She was there, under the name “Pat Carnes.” Shorter hair, her smile a little less prominent. But the same person.
            It wasn’t unusual for companies to basically sell a property manager to another company when they got bought out. But it seemed unusual for the same manager to stay with a property for 30 years—and for a string of murders to take place in the same building over all that time.
            I called Freeman again. This time his wife picked up. “We have to move?”
            Were they already packing boxes? “Maybe. I need you to make an appointment with Patricia Carnes. Your property manager? I doubt if she’ll see me alone.”
            “Is this about—what Mitch said? All these murders?”
            “Yes.” I sighed. “I’m sorry. It might be important.”
            I heard Kate whisper to her husband. Then: “Okay. I’ll call her. I never liked her.”
            Yeah. “She probably won’t like either of us before this is over.”
So at 3:30 we were all sitting in the management office on the first floor. Me, Kate, and Patricia Carnes.
            She had short brown hair, and she looked to be in her 40s, even though she’d apparently been managing the building for almost 30 years. Maybe she worked out a lot.
            Kids on bicycles rode through the courtyard outside the window. Carnes moved her chair back and shut the blinds. “What can I do for you?”
             Rachel burst through the door. “Sorry I’m late! There was a traffic jam. And I was working.” She sat next to me and jabbed an elbow at my arm. “Jerk.”
            I’d asked her—begged her, actually—to join the meeting. Her psychic powers might help me pinpoint what was going on.
Carnes smiled, her red lips tight. “What can I do for you, Ms. Freeman?”
“We’re moving out.” Kate’s voice was calm. “After that murder last night—”
            “We are instituting new security measures after last night.” Carnes folded her hands on top of her desk. “More cameras, more guards. You have nothing to worry about—“
            “Wait a minute.” I shook my head. “So how are extra cameras and rental cops going to stop residents from killing themselves inside their own units?”
Carnes stared at me. “Who are you again?”
            I reached into my pocket and dropped a card on her desk. “Tom Jurgen. I have some experience with this sort of thing.”
            “With condo security?” Carnes seemed legitimately puzzled. “”We have our own security firm, you know. A&X Services. They’re very reputable.”
            I leaned forward. “Do you know how many people have been killed in this building in the last 20 years? I can give you names: James and Tammy Levine, 1999, murder-suicide. Bradley and Rebecca Wallings, 2003, another murder and suicide. Linda Crump, pregnant, 2004, suicide. All in your building, all on the 11th floor, none of them killed by intruders. This place is . . .” I hesitated. “It’s haunted. Cursed. Something like that.”
            She blinked. But before she could say tell me I was crazy, a dog started barking underneath her desk.
            “Ozzie!” Carnes snapped her fingers. “Come back here!”
Ozzie was a small beagle with black ears, shirt legs, and a white snout, but instead of obeying Carnes he burst around around the corner of the desk and started running in circles around the carpet.
Ozzie darted under my chair, dashed behind Kate, and then jumped up at Rachel, its long red tongue hanging out.
Rachel shoved her chair back. “Don’t slobber over me. I hate that. What’s your name?”
“Ozzie, get back.” Carnes walked around the desk and pulled on the dog’s collar. “She usually stays quiet when I’m working.”
Kate stood up, her legs ramrod straight. “We’re moving out. I’ll call about the freight elevator.” She stalked to the door.
“Wait—wait!” Carnes picked the dog up. “Quiet, Ozzie. What’s going on?”
I took out my phone. “Can I take a picture?”
The little dog barked at me. I managed a shot. Then another one. Then I slipped the phone back into my pocket. “Thanks for your time.”
“Wait!” Carnes let Ozzie drop to the floor. “What’s going on in my building? You have to tell me!”
Ozzie barked again, and then ran back underneath the desk.
I stood at the office door. “You’ve been here for 30 years. Didn’t you ever wonder?”
“This my job.” She sat back in her chair. “My building. I live here. And all I have is Ozzie.” 
The little dog barked at her feet.
“How old is Ozzie?” Rachel asked.
“The first manager gave him to me. She’s been here ever since.”
“So he—she’s over 20 years old?” I glanced at Rachel. “Pretty active for a dog in old age.
Carnes shrugged. “I don’t know. Tell Ms. Freeman and her husband I’m sorry.” She sat down, Ozzie squirmed at her feet.

1 comment:

  1. ageless is supposed to be a compliment, not a reality.