Saturday, August 19, 2017

In the Mirror, Part Four

The doorman, a broad-shouldered man with thin white hair, held the door open for an elderly woman carrying a shopping bag. “Hello, Ms. Wildman. Need any help with that?”
            “I’m fine, Johnnie, thanks.” She staggered through the door.
            He glanced at us. “Yes?”
            Kate took a deep breath. “Hi, John. These are friends of mine. They’re staying in our place for the night.”
            “Sure.” He held open the door for Rachel and me. “You okay, Ms. Freeman?” 
            She shook her head. “Not really. This is a bad place. We’re getting out.” Mitch was out on the street waiting for an Uber. Kate walked away, staggering down the steps outside the door.
            The doorman looked Rachel and me over. Mostly Rachel, in her jeans and boots. “What’s going on?”
I sighed. “There’s a dog barking somewhere inside the building. It’s driving my clients crazy.”
John rolled his eyes. “Might be Ozzie. He gets loose in the building sometimes. The manager lives on the second floor here. We all hate that dog.”
“You might have heard there was a murder here last night?” I looked through the glass doors into the lobby.
            “Sure.” He glanced outside. “It was all they talked about this morning. Is that why the Freemans are moving?”
I took my usual deep breath before saying something that was going to sound crazy. “Somehow that dog is . . . connected to the murder last night. And a whole lot of murders before. People in your building might be in danger. All we want to do is knock on doors to make sure everyone’s all right.”
John glanced over his shoulder and then leaned forward. “I’ve seen a lot of weird shit here the last few years, you know? And I’m not even talking about the hookers.” Then straightened up again. “Well, if I get any complaints, you’re going to have to leave. But since Ms. Freeman said you’re allowed, I guess I can let you go in.”
“Thanks.” I dropped a business card on his desk. “Call me if you need anything.”
He scribbled his own number on a Post-it. “Here.” He pulled the glass door open for us.
Rachel glanced back at the door as we headed toward the elevators. “That doorman is totally checking out my ass.” She hitched up her jeans
“I’ll complain to management.” I punched the Up button. “For right now, just listen for a dog barking.”
“Jerk.” Rachel punched my shoulder as I pressed the button for the 11th floor. “I guess I’ll go up. You can go down.” She giggled as the elevator ascended. “Maybe I should rephrase that?”
“Whatever position you want.” I rubbed my shoulder.
The doors opened at 11, and we stepped out into the hall and walked quickly down to the Freemans’ door. I bent over to listen. No dog barking.
“So, okay.” I turned to the large red EXIT sign above a stairway door. “Whatever way you want to go.” I entered the doorman’s station number into my phone and gave the Post-it to Rachel. “Call me, call him, whatever. Just be careful.”
I opened the door, and Rachel headed up the stairs. I watched her turn on the landing, and then I started down.
On the 10th floor I leaned against the door below the Freemans. Nothing. I knocked.
A young blond woman carrying a baby in one arm opened the door. “Yes?”
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am.” I made sure to back away so she could slam the door if she needed to. “My friends upstairs were hearing a dog barking. Do you—”
“Yeah, I thought I heard it too.” She rocked her baby gently. “We don’t have a dog. I don’t know.”
“That’s fine, thanks.” I reached for a card, but she closed the door.
I couldn’t blame her. Home alone, and some strange guy comes to her door about a phantom dog barking? I would have gotten rid of me fast too.
Then my phone buzzed. Rachel. “It’s up here. Fourteen. Hurry.”
I looked for the doorman’s number on my phone as I ran to the stairwell. One, two—“Doorman station.”
“It’s me, Jurgen? The dog is on 14. Send somebody.” I was already halfway out of breath.
I ran up past 11 and then 12. How did Rachel get up here so fast? There was no 13th floor, which helped. Maybe nobody was home at the 12th floor apartment.
I pulled on the 14th floor door and dashed out, gasping. The apartment at the end of the hall was open. And I could hear Ozzie barking.
Rachel was standing just inside the doorway at the entrance to the kitchen. I came up behind her and grabbed her shoulder, panting. “Where’s—” 
“Shut up.” She kicked my ankle. “Meet my new best friend, Aaron.”
A heavyset middle-aged man with a handgun stared at us from the inside hall.
Rachel had her palms up, even though the weapon was pointed at the floor. “Like I said, I’m just looking for a lost dog.” Her voice tried to be soothing, but it cracked in the middle of the sentence. “But we can leave—”
“Get out!” A woman stood in the middle of the narrow kitchen holdinga long sharp steak knife in her fist, her arm shaking. “Just get out!”
Oh god. But mostly I wanted to run. Down the stairs, out to my Honda, and into the back seat to hide until tomorrow morning.
I forced my feet to stay put as I looked around. Where the hell was Ozzie?
I clutched Rachel’s arm, but she didn’t move. She was staring at Aaron, her chest heaving. “That’s Beth,” she muttered. “Maybe don’t make her mad.”
“No problem.” But I could still hear Ozzie barking somewhere. Close.
“Make that goddamned dog shut up, you bitch!” The pistol trembled in Aaron’s hand. “Make it stop!”
“It’s not my dog, you moron!” Beth pounded the counter. “I didn’t bring him here! You make him stop!” She waved the knife. “Or don’t you have the guts?”
Is this how Ozzie did it? Drove them crazy with her barking? After just a few minutes, I was ready to drop-kick the beagle as far as I could. If I could find her.
I could feel Rachel’s arms trembling. I didn’t know if she was braver than me or just too scared to move. I did know I couldn’t leave her. She’d never let me hear the end of it.
So I managed to step in front of her. “Aaron? My name’s Tom. Nice to meet you.”
He stared at me. “Huh?”
“Rachel’s my girlfriend.” I tried not to stare at his handgun. “I’d appreciate if you’d just let us find that dog and leave.”
“Girlfriend?” Aaron gave a bitter laugh. “Don’t get married.”
Rachel snorted. “Married? Not on my bucket list.”
Ouch. I felt a little hurt, but I didn’t have time to think about it. Because right then Ozzie zoomed around the corner, barking furiously. The little beagle darted at Rachel and then zoomed round her feet in a circle, legs pumping until she fell over onto her side.
I reached down to grab her, but Rachel knocked my arm away. “Stay away. She likes me more than you. Come on, Ozzie, come on . . .” She crouched, and Ozzie stopped, barking up into her face. Rachel stroked the little dog’s ear. “Good girl . . .”
I kept an eye on Aaron and Beth.
Aaron’s arm still shook, as if he was fighting the urge to lift his handgun and start firing. And Beth’s hand tightened on her knife, but her face was pale with fear.
Rachel managed to pull Ozzie into her arms. The dog squirmed, and Rachel rubbed her stomach. “It’s okay, girl. Don’t be scared. It’s okay . . .”
Ozzie whimpered.
“Okay, we’re leaving. You should feel better once the dog is gone.” I hoped. I just wanted to get Rachel out of there before bullets started flying. “Go.”
“Yeah.” Rachel scrambled on her knees after Ozzie. “Let’s get the hell out.”
But I waited. Why? Because I’m stupid, apparently.
So I leaned against the door, my heart pounding with Aarons’ finger twitching dangerously on the trigger. “You don’t have to do this. You can just get a divorce if you have to. Don’t kill . . .” I looked at Beth. “Each other.”
Beth still held her knife, but her face trembled. “What—what?”
Ozzie yapped behind me.
Then another voice boomed down the hallway. “Hey, Ozzie? I’ve got something for you.”
I risked a glance over my shoulder. It was the doorman. He leaned down, reached into his pocket, and pulled a dog biscuit from his jacket. “Here you go.”
Ozzie darted forward. “That’s a good boy.”
“She’s a girl.” Rachel stood up. “But thanks.”
The doorman dropped another biscuit. “We keep these around for pets.”
I turned back. Aaron had dropped his pistol, fortunately without letting it go off. And Beth’s knife lay on the counter. They stared at each other.
“Oh, my god.” Aaron shook his head. “Beth, I’m—what did I do?”
I stepped toward the door. “It’s not your fault. It was—something else. But you stopped. That’s all that matters.”
Beth started to sob. “Oh god. I almost . . . I almost . . .”
            Ozzie barked in the hallway.

Rachel sat next to Ozzie on my couch, rubbing the dog’s ears as the sun went down outside my window. “We’re not keeping him.”
            “Hell no.” I gulped my beer. “I just can’t think of what to do. We’re sort of guilty of dognapping, and I doubt if any judge or jury is going to believe my defense.”
            My doorbell buzzed. Now what? I hadn’t been visited by Mormon missionaries in months. “Hello?”
            “Mr. Jurgen? It’s Patricia Carnes.”
            Great. I pressed the buzzer. “Come on up.”
            She was alone, which was a relief. Not that I’d expected a SWAT team for a kidnapped dog, but some people get exercised about their pets.
            Carnes stepped inside the door, her hair grayer than I remembered from our meeting this afternoon. “Is—is Ozzie here?”
            Ozzie peeked from the couch. She barked softly, then dropped down onto the floor and waddled over to Carnes, wagging her tail.
            Carnes knelt. “Oh, Ozzie. You’re okay. I was so worried . . .”
            Ozzie licked her face.
I glanced at Rachel. Already Ozzie looked years older. Almost like a 20-year-old dog.
Carnes rubbed the dog’s snout. Then she looked up. “I don’t remember—I don’t think I remember a lot. But Ozzie’s a good dog. Aren’t you, girl?”
Ozzie rolled over on her back, whapping her tail on the carpet.
“Ms. Carnes?” I wasn’t sure how to put it. “I’m not sure you should take Ozzie back to your building.”
I expected a scream, or at least a heated argument. Instead Carnes just nodded, rubbing Ozzie’s belly. “No. We’re not going back there.”

Story on the Chicago Tribune website the next morning:
Property manager found dead in park
Patricia Carnes, property manager of a Gold Coast highrise building, was found dead on a bench near the Lincoln Park lagoon at approximately 1 a.m.. She was reportedly holding a small dog in her arms. The dog was also dead.

Associates at the building she managed said that Carnes, 51, had been living in the building with her pet, Ozzie, for at least 30 years. No known cause of death was reported.

The building managed by Ms. Carnes has been the site of several murder-suicides in past years, but police say they have nothing to connect Ms. Carnes’ death to any illegal activity. Family members were unwilling to comment.

And on the condo’s own website:

We are sad to report the death of our property manager, Patricia Carnes. Many of you knew her as an excellent manager, serving out building for over 20 years through several different companies. Many of you also knew her dog Ozzie as they walked through our building, talking to residents, solving problems, and doing her best to make our building the best place to live in Chicago. A memorial service will be held for Patricia and her beloved dog Ozzie in the near future.

Rachel stumbled out of the bedroom in a long T-shirt and socks. “Is there coffee?”
            I poured her a mug, and then pushed the laptop in her face. “Did we kill her?”
            She gulped her coffee. “Give me a minute.” Then she skimmed the stories. “Okay. You saw Ozzie, right? We had to get her out of there.”
            “Right.” I went back into my file to look at pictures of Patricia Carnes on older websites. She’d never changed, except that her hair got longer and shorter over the years. “Do you think she knew what she was doing?”
            “She had to know.” Rachel shivered. “But she loved Ozzie. I could feel it.”
            My phone buzzed. The Freemans. “Tom Jurgen speaking.”
            “Mr. Jurgen?” It was Kate. “I saw the story in the Tribune. What happened?”
            “I think it’s over.” I gulped my coffee. “I’ll write up a report. You might not believe it, but—”
            “We’ll pay whatever you want.” That came from Mitch, on speakerphone. “But we just want to know what happened.”
            “Of course. You probably still want to move, but . . .”
            Rachel and I heard a girl laughing in the background. “But I’ll send the report this morning.”
            “Thank you. Coming, Caitlyn!” Kate laughed too. “Mitch, you—”
            “I’ve got it.” Mitch chuckled. “Just send me your invoice. You’ve got out email address?”
            “Along with the report. Thanks.”
            “Thank you.”
            We hung up. I sipped some coffee. “So what have you got planned for today?”
            “First, a shower.” Rachel stood up. “And don’t get any ideas. I’ve got deadlines.”
            “Should I make breakfast? Or at least pour cereal? Or—”
            My phone buzzed. Will Ayres.
            Oh no. “I have to take this.”
            “Fine.” Rachel walked back to the bedroom.
            “Mr. Jurgen?” Will sounded sleepy. “Sorry to bother you. I just saw that story in the Tribune, and I have to ask . . .”
            “Of course.” I took a deep breath. “Let me tell you what happened.”

# # #


  1. Devotion takes many forms -and sometimes lasts forever.

    Kolchak would be proud - and he'd take you out for a Scotch. Maybe even at the exorcist's bar. Kudos.

    1. Thanks! Of course you know who the exorcist/bartender is . . .