Saturday, September 9, 2017

Witches' Notebook, Part Two

Fortunately the client wanted a simple tail job on her husband for a few hours in the late afternoon—though I’ve had those turn out badly. She didn’t need me to start until tomorrow, and my only other ongoing job involved computers and phone calls, so I could stay in my apartment the rest of the day.
            No response from Karen. I tracked down a landline phone number for Curtis and tried calling him. He didn’t pick up. I left a message, claiming I’d lost my favorite pen at Sayers’ condo last night, and asked him to call me back.
            I spent the next two hours going through Sayers’ Facebook friends. I sorted all the college friends I could find into one folder—everyone who’d gone to U of I, at least, since that’s where Karen and Sayers had been in the witches’ group together. I added a few others, including one man who claimed to do psychic readings and a woman who had “Magic” as one of her likes. Then I spent a while digging in deep on each one, until I had 14 possibles
            What now? While I was trying to think of a way to message all of them asking, “Hey, were you ever involved in a witches’ group that tried to resurrect dead animals?” my phone buzzed. “Tom Jurgen speaking.”
            “Mr. Jurgen? This is Marissa Sayers.” Her voice was low and cool.
            “Hello, Ms. Sayers? What can I do for you?” Maybe she was screening Curtis’ phone calls?
            “I need you to call your client. Karen didn’t give me the entire notebook.” Her tone was higher and less cool now.
            “Why do you need me? You were able to—”
            “She’s not answering my emails. I don’t have her number. She didn’t hold up her end of the deal.”
            “What deal? She gave it to you of her own free will.” I’m not a lawyer—and Sayers was—but that didn’t sound like—
            “She agreed. She didn’t keep her agreement. I want what we agreed to. All of it.”
            I didn’t want to argue with a lawyer. “I’ll call her. That’s all I can do.”
            “Do that. Immediately.” Sayers hung up.
            So I called Karen again, got no answer again, and            left a message again.
Maybe she just had a cold. People don’t go to work and don’t answer their phones for any number of reasons. But most people aren’t involved with witches who have a zombie working for them.
            I didn’t know where she lived or worked, but she’d mentioned a firm called “D&K” last night. So I looked up all the marketing firms I could find in Chicago starting with D, then ones that had a K. I found two: Daniels & Kearns LLC, and Dilney and Kimball, Inc.
            Daniels & Kearns had never heard of her. Dilney and Kimball, on the other hand, told me that Karen Yester hadn’t come to work today.
            It took some time, but I managed to track down an actual address for her. (Don’t ask me how.) I called Rachel to tell her where I was going, and then I drove up to the north side to find her apartment building.
            I buzzed at her door. No response. So then I turned to the doorman, a dark young man in a black jacket. His nametag was Darryl. “Hi, I’m Tom Jurgen. One of your residents, Karen Yester, is a client of mine? She’s not answering calls and she didn’t come to work today, and I’m concerned. Is there any way someone could go up and do a wellness check on her?”
            Darryl T. looked at my card. “I can ask maintenance to go in. I can’t let you up, though.”
            I nodded. “That’s fine. I’ll wait right here.”
            I checked my email on my phone while I waited, then played some solitaire. The doorman let people in—residents, food deliveries, and the like—while glaring at me from behind his desk. After fifteen minutes his phone buzzed. “She’s not there.”
            “Did they go inside?”
            He nodded, irritated. “Just enough to confirm that no one was home. That’s all we can do.”
            I nodded. “Right. Thank you.”
            Out in my Honda I pondered my next move. Maybe I was just overreacting. Karen could be at a doctor’s appointment for all I knew. But why wouldn’t she call me back? Especially after last night.
            I called Marissa Sayers. “I’m at Karen’s apartment. She’s not home. There’s not much else I can do right now.”
            “Then find her.” Her voice was a snarl. “This is on you now. I want those pages.”
            “Or what? You’ll sue me?” I tried to imagine the resulting lawsuit: Your honor, the defendant promised me she would deliver all the content of a notebook outlining magical spells for bringing animals back from the dead, and . . .
            “You know what I can do. You met Curtis. You’ve got 24 hours. Bring me those pages.” She hung up.
            Oh hell.

Back at my apartment the phone buzzed again. This time it was the doorman from Karen’s building. “Mr. Jurgen? I just wanted to let you know, I talked to the doorman from last night? And he says he saw Ms. Yester leaving around 6 a.m.. She had a small suitcase, he said.”
            I wished I’d left him a tip. “Thanks. I owe you one.”
            At least now I knew she’d left on her own. Trying to stay away from Sayers? Or just a business trip she hadn’t mentioned? I had no idea.
            As I was checking my email messages I saw a notice that I had a package in the receiving room. We don’t have a doorman, but the handymen pick up packages in their office in the basement. So I went down.
            “A messenger dropped this by a few hours ago,” Earl said as I signed on the clipboard. It was a padded white envelope, with my name and address—and Karen Yester’s name and building as the return address.
            Upstairs I pulled the envelope open. Inside I found a check for twice what I would have charged her, along with five pages from a notebook. And a letter.
Mr. Jurgen: I’m leaving town to stay safe from Marissa for a while. These pages are from the notebook I gave her last night. Without them, Marissa won’t be able to try again, or if she does, she’ll end up with something like Curtis. Do whatever you want with them, but please don’t give them back to her.
Karen Yester

I read the letter twice. Then I called Rachel. “Can you come down?”
            She muttered something about work, but five minutes later she was at my table, looking at the pages.
“Holy shit.” She rubbed her eyebrows. “Where did you get this?”
“Karen sent it by messenger. She’s on the run. What does it mean?”
Rachel leaned down. “This is . . . instructions. I didn’t see the book last night. But this looks like a continuation. ‘After withdrawing the blade, put two drops of blood into the wound before sealing it up. Step 19, rub the wound with a paste made from the butterfly wings in step nine . . .’”
She looked up, her shoulder shuddering. “We should burn this.”
            “Yeah.” I looked at the pages. “Except we might need it as a bargaining chip.”
            “For what?”
            Then my door opened. I was sure it was locked, but the man who walked into my apartment apparently didn’t care.
            He wore a short leather jacket, black jeans, and tennis shoes. White hair, mid thirties, a thick jaw. Oh, and he was carrying a handgun.
            I stood up slowly as Rachel backed away, her hands up. “Who the hell are you?” My voice might have trembled more than a little.
            He just pointed. “I’ll take that.”
            The pages.
            What the—“H-how did you know they were here?”
            “Just give them to me.” His handgun was pointed at the floor, but I had no desire to find out how quickly he could lift it and fire.
            “S-sure.” I’ve been called stubborn, but no one has ever accused me of being brave, especially with a handgun in the room. I lifted the pages. They shook in my hand.
            The man glanced at them and then stuffed them in his rear pocket. “Forget about this.” He smiled at Rachel. “Sorry.”
            She giggled nervously. “Fine.”
            He left.
            I collapsed in my chair. For a second I thought Rachel was going to fall over, and I tried to stand again, but she leaned on the table, took a deep breath, and sat down, her shoulders shaking. “What the hell was that?”
            I shook my head. “No idea.”

I’ve faced vampires, ghosts, and a dragon, but something about a handgun shocked my nerves more than any supernatural being. Especially in my own apartment.
So I opened the bottle of whiskey I keep in a cupboard and poured us two stiff shots. We drank silently, but when I poured myself another drink Rachel got up and put the bottle away. She brought two Heinekens from the kitchen and watched as I tried to tap at my laptop. My fingers didn’t cooperate at first, but finally I found what I was looking for.
            Rachel stared at me. “What?”
            I turned my laptop around. “This guy.”
            Tim Radansky. He was in my file of Possibles from Sayers’ friends on her profile. White hair, a wide chin, and an interest in reincarnation.
            Rachel nodded. “Yeah. That’s him.”
            I could call the police. Even without going into the whole “bringing people back from the dead” thing, I could still report a robbery with a handgun.
            But Radansky could deny everything. He could hide the papers, ditch the handgun, and it would be a he-said/he-said case. The cops would have nothing to go on. And I wouldn’t blame them.
So I clicked through his profile. Work: Video consultant. Education: B.A. in management, University of Illinois. Places lived: Indiana and Illinois. Relationship status: No answer.
I clicked on his photos. There he was, smiling from his office chair, walking in the park, eating lunch. And in the middle, two photos of Marissa Sayers.
One of them showed her walking away down a sidewalk, her head turned around just enough to show her face, although she clearly wasn’t looking at the lens. The other caught her face outside a restaurant with a girlfriend, in a short skirt and high boots.
I clicked and found an album named “MS.” It had four photos, including one of Sayers in shorts hiking up a hill somewhere.
The last picture was a shot of her apartment building in the daytime.
I waved my hand over the screen. “So, is he stalking her?”
Rachel peered over my shoulder. “It’s only a few pictures. But yeah, that feels a little weird. Especially that one of her building.”
I went back to Radansky’s own photos. Regular stuff: friends, parties, a trip to New York City. Nothing different from anyone else’s profile.
Except for one selfie of him with Karen Yester. Holding her hand in front of Lake Michigan.
Damn it. I picked up my phone, my hands still trembling, and called Marissa Sayers.
She picked up after two rings. “Jurgen. Are you ready to turn it over?”
“Okay, okay!” My voice shook. “Yes, I had the papers, because Karen Yester just sent them to me today. But your friend Tim Radansky just stole them from me. Using a gun. So I’m out of this. Talk to him if you want them back.”
            “Tim?” She groaned. “Are you sure?”
            ‘Pretty sure.” I managed a deep breath. “So if you want those pages, you’d better talk to him.”
            “No.” Her voice echoed between our phones. “I’ll send you everything I have on Tim Radansky. But you get those pages back. That was the deal.”
            “What? We don’t have any deal—”
Sayers shut off the call.
            “Sounds like that went well.” Rachel gulped down her beer.
I rubbed my face, tired and frustrated. “She wants me to find Radansky and get the pages back. She’s sending me stuff. Maybe we can find him. Maybe—”
            “Maybe what? He had a gun! You just have your awesome personality. I know you’re the great detective, but you’re not exactly the Terminator.”
            “I’m not even the denominator.” I sighed.
            Rachel’s head slanted. “Huh? That makes no sense.”
            “Neither does my sense of humor. Or my math skills.” But Rachel was right—the closest thing I have to a superpower is stubbornness. Still, I had to do something. As a reporter you learn never to give up as long as you have more questions. And I had a lot of them.
            I suddenly had an email from Sayers with a bunch of attachments. “Just let me look at this.”
            She’d sent me pictures of Radansky from his Facebook page, which I’d already seen, and also a link to his LinkedIn profile, which told me again that he was a video consultant for a marketing firm downtown.
            The next document was from a real estate website—which made sense, because Sayers was a real estate attorney. It gave me Radansky’s address, phone number, email, and a photo of the condo building he lived in near the lake.
            The third was a scanned photo, obviously from years ago. Radansky, his hair thin but not white, sat on his knees in a circle with three other young people. His face was curled in a tight smile.
            Karen Yester sat next to him in shorts, legs crossed. I didn’t see Marissa Sayers. Maybe she was taking the picture?
            Radansky held a small rabbit in his left hand. One of the students was pointing at it, laughing. A candle burned on a windowsill in the background.
            Rachel shuddered.
            I clicked back to the document with Radansky’s contact info. Rachel punched my shoulder. “You’re not going over there, are you?”
            “You think I’m stupid? Don’t answer that.” I picked up my phone, my fingers numb. “I’m just going to call him.”
            “For what, comment? You’re not a reporter anymore. Your client ran out on you. She paid you. You—”
            “I can’t just quit.” Did Rachel know me at all after all these years? “I have to ask questions. It’s all I know how to do.”
            “Yeah.” She punched my arm again. Gently, this time. “Jerk.”
            “Yeah.” I punched Radansky’s number into my phone. One buzz . . . two . . .
            “Hello?” The voice was a little hoarse, but I recognized it right away. “Who is this?”
            “Tom Jurgen.” I swallowed. “You just stuck a gun in my face?”
            “What the—” I expected him to hang up. “How did you get this number?”
            “How did you know I had those papers?”
            “I—I can’t tell you that. Can’t you just forget about—”
            “What are you going to do with them?”
            “None of your business. Just leave me—”
            “Do you know Karen Yester?” I was keeping the questions coming fast, hoping he might slip up.
            “I don’t know where she is. ”
            “How do you know Marissa Sayers?”
            “I knew her in college. She was part of a group . . .” His voice trailed off, nervous.
            “Trying to bring the dead back to life? She was the leader of the group, wasn’t she?”
            “That wasn’t it. I mean, yes, but that’s not why . . . I was there.”
            “So why did you come to my apartment with a gun?” I stood up. I might have been shouting.
            Pause. “I only wanted the papers. That’s all. I’m sorry.” He hung up.
            I dropped my phone and sat down again, shaking with anger. And fear.
            Rachel brought me another beer. “Did that do any good?”
            “No.” I tried to think. It wasn’t easy, with my mind blinded with terror from the gun. “I don’t know what to do now.”
            We sat in silence for a few minutes. Eventually I calmed down.
            “Sorry.” I pushed my beer away. “I was just—nervous.”
            “Hey, I was here too. I might have to change my panties upstairs.” Rachel patted my hand. “Are we done with this now?”
            Done? Yeah, I could walk away right now. Who cared what was in the notebook? Would it even work? Karen Yester was far away and safe, and Radansky had brought a gun into my home. I wanted to stay the hell away from all of them.
            “No.” I’m not brave, but I am stubborn. I picked up my phone. “Sorry.”
            Rachel groaned. “Good thing I like you, or I’d be out of here in a heartbeat.”
I didn’t call Sayers. Instead I called Karen Yester. She didn’t pick up, so I left a message: “Tom Jurgen here. I got your package, but a man named Tim Radansky just stole the missing pages from me. I don’t know what he’s planning to do with them. If you could call me back with any information, I’d appreciate it. Oh, and thanks for the check.”
            “Now what?” Rachel finished her beer.
            “Lunch.” I stood up. Even after being threatened by a gun, I was hungry. “Want a sandwich? I’ve got tomatoes and avocado.” Rachel’s a vegetarian.
            She shook her head. “I’ve got work to do.”
            But my phone buzzed as she got up. Karen Yester.
            “Tim’s got the pages?” She sounded as if she were driving.
            “He had a gun.” I turned the speaker on so Rachel could hear.
            “Oh god.” Yester groaned. “He’ll give them to her. I’m in Wisconsin, my sister lives in Madison. You’ve got to do something.”
            “How did he even know I had them? What’s going on?”
“I—we were together. Last night. I told him not to do anything stupid, but he—”
Last night? Together? I was none of my business, but— “Look, I really don’t care about your sex life. But why would he steal the papers and then give them to Marissa Sayers?”
            “Because he’s in love with her! Or he was in college, at least. He was my boyfriend for a while, all right? Then he saw Marissa, and that’s why he joined the group. He didn’t care about witchcraft. He just wanted to hook up with Marissa.”
“Okay, fine.” I grimaced. “I just need to know how this all fits together. Why didn’t you give Marissa Sayers the entire notebook in the first place?”
“I’m afraid of her. I didn’t want her to do it while I was there. But I knew she’d find out right away, so I sent the pages to you. That way I could be far away when she started looking for people to try it on.”
It made a kind of sense. “So what does Tim Radansky want?”
            I heard Yester’s motor turn off. “He got in touch with me a few months ago. I had, uh, a bad breakup last year. So we hooked up. Just a few times. He started talking about Marissa and asking about the notebook. I showed it to him. Then last night, after, uh, everything, I knew I had to get away from the city. So I wrote a check and printed off that later to you, but Tim must have seen my loading the papers into the envelope. He’s still obsessed with her. You’ve got to get those pages back and destroy them before he gives them to Marissa.”
            I looked at Rachel. She shook her head, a hard threatening look in her eyes.
            I sighed. “I’m not Dirty Harry, Ms. Yester, just an ex-reporter trying to make a living. Did I mention that Radansky had a gun?”
            She was silent for a moment. “Sorry. I’m—I shouldn’t have kept that notebook.” Then she blew her nose. “All right, I’m on my way back. I’ll take care of it. Somehow.”
            She hung up.
            “So?” Rachel stared at me.
I nodded. “She’s coming back. She says she’ll handle it.”
            “What are you going to do?”
            “You heard what I told her.” I didn’t want anything more to do with this case. I picked up the check, Karen’s letter, and the envelope.
            Something made me check the envelope again. Maybe it felt wrong, or maybe I just wanted to see if I’d missed anything. So I looked inside.
            And found another page from the notebook.
            Oh, hell. I picked up my phone and called Karen again. “How many pages did you send me?”
            She was driving again. “From the—what? Six. Six pages. Why?”
            “He doesn’t have all of them. Somehow I left one in the envelope.”
            Rachel was next to me, looking at the page. “She won’t be able to do it. But she’ll know she doesn’t have it all. The steps are numbered.”
            “I’ll get back to you.” I hung up.
            Rachel cocked her arm to punch me, her fist tight. “What are you thinking? You’ve got an idea, don’t you?”
            I wished I didn’t. A minute ago I’d been willing to let the whole case go. But if I could stop Sayers from trying again . . . I braced myself for Rachel’s punch. “Yeah. Like I said, a bargaining chip.”
            “You asshole.” But she didn’t hit me. She just sat down, her shoulders tense. “Let’s hear it.”
            “Okay.” I gulped. “Here’s the plan.”


  1. It sucks when the supes (or their igors) pack heat.

  2. I was following Raymond Chandler's advice: When in doubt, have someone walk through the door with a gun.