Breakdown Chapter Two
In the Garden of Bad and Worse
It was several hours before I was able to join the girls at the Dudek apartment. I hadn’t been foolish enough to think the cops would let me show them the crime scene and take off, but they put me through a longer process than I’d expected.
By the time I’d retraced a path through the undergrowth to the Leavitt Street side of the cemetery, rain had pounded through my jacket and I was soaked to the skin. My scarlet frock was cut from silk faille; I sincerely hoped it would survive tonight’s abuse.
I slithered through the hole in the fence I’d used to enter and walked down Leavitt to the cops. Four squad cars were parked there, their lights flashing so brightly that I could see the people in the apartments across the street peering at us through the cracks in their curtains. Most of the officers were already in the cemetery. I told the man left to watch the street that there was a dead body in one of the tombs.
“That doesn’t seem too shocking, miss,” he said and smirked. “It’s a graveyard.”
“Right.” I grinned sourly. “A murdered body. Can you call your team and tell them? If they come back for me, I can show them the location.”
He asked me—a thinly veiled order—to get into the back of his squad car and wait to talk to Sergeant Anstey. The sergeant arrived within a couple of minutes and moved me to his own car to hear my story.
“You want to phone your team, tell them to wait for me? It would make their lives easier if I went with them,” I said. “I know where the victim is.”
“They’re big boys and girls; they can find that tomb thing on their own. Tell me again what you were doing in an abandoned graveyard in a thunderstorm.”
I repeated my story. “I was on my way home when I thought I heard someone screaming inside the cemetery. I followed the sound, but then I tripped on a chunk of marble and landed in the mud. By the time I got back on my feet, the screams had stopped; I poked around and found the dead man, but whoever killed him managed to take off without my spotting him.”
Anstey snorted. “You really expect me to believe a woman goes alone into an abandoned cemetery in the middle of a thunderstorm? Why didn’t you call 911?”
“I know what kind of backlog this district has on Saturday nights—my dad used to work out of the Twelfth.”
“This is about a lover who dissed you, isn’t it. Or was it a drug deal gone bad?”
“Just a South Side street fighter who forgot for a minute that she was fifty, not fifteen.” I rubbed my arms, hoping to get some blood moving in them. “If I’d known you were going to give me a hard time, I would have made an anonymous call about the vic to 911, but I thought you would appreciate help in locating the body.”
Anstey phoned in to the station and got a report back on me. The CPD file said I was a private eye with a track record, both for results and for a chip on the shoulder. I couldn’t argue with either claim. The file apparently also included a note that a senior officer, namely Captain Bobby Mallory, was a personal friend. And that my dad really had been a cop.
Anstey revealed that news with disgust—it meant he had to treat me like a person, not a criminal. Although the hostility of his questions lessened, his voice still sounded like he wished he could use his baton on my skull.
The person who lingers around a crime scene is a perpetrator more often than not. I’d known that was what the cops would think. But if I’d left a print at the crime scene, they’d have found me fast enough, and they’d have grounds for getting the state to suspend my license if I didn’t report the crime.
I decided it was time to shift the ground. “What brought you here, Sergeant, on a night like this? Is Mount Moriah a regular part of your unit’s beat?”
“That’s right. We like driving around among the dead, cheers us up to think that we have peace and quiet to look forward to even if we’ll never be able to afford to retire.”
“Someone called you. I wonder why? Was it someone who wanted that body found, or had they heard me running through the grounds?”
Anstey paused, measuring me in the dark squad car. “Give Captain Mallory a call, see if he’ll tell you, because I certainly won’t.”
After that, Anstey turned to his computer and began clearing incident reports. When I started to make bright conversation, he ignored me, so I tried to leave, but he’d locked the back doors. He kept me in the car until his troops phoned that they’d found the body.
“Okay. Your turn to shine, Warshawski. Lead me to my team.”
Anstey unlocked the back door and pulled me out. His squad had used bolt cutters on the chain across the front gate, so at least we didn’t have to sidle through the hole in the fence.
The police spots sent a bright glow through the cemetery, which made it easy to pick out the remnants of the gravel paths. The rain had stopped again, and Anstey and I didn’t have any trouble getting to the crime scene.
Under the lights, the little temple looked like part of a movie set, maybe for something like In the Garden of Bad and Worse. It was an elaborate tomb, resembling an Italian cathedral. A carved frieze swung from the dome that had been planted on top of the columns. Like the columns and the shallow steps leading to the tomb, the dome and frieze were badly cracked and covered with lichen. The Saloman family had put a lot of money into interring their dead but now there was no one to care for the dead or the tomb, or even the graveyard.
The lights made it easy to see the space where the girls had performed their ritual. It wasn’t actually a clearing, just an area where tombstones had been placed flat into the ground rather than set at right angles to it. At one side, I saw a bottle of alcopop and hoped that wasn’t what the girls had been passing around. I didn’t call attention to it—plenty of drunks hang out in cemeteries, after all. People without a lot of options make love in them, too. Empties are a cemetery commonplace.
Sergeant Anstey dragged me up the shallow steps to look at the dead man. “This the guy you want me to believe was screaming in here? You put a spike through his chest as payback for dragging you through the mud?”
I didn’t respond to the gibe, just stared down at the man. He’d been around forty, a white man with thick, dark hair that was just beginning to turn gray at the sides.
What startled me was his peaceful expression. It seemed as though such a terrible murder should have left a trace on his face—shock, fury, some emotion. In the Middle Ages, people believed a dead person’s eyes would hold the image of his killer, and maybe I’d been expecting something like that. This man looked as though he’d lain down for a nap.
I put my hand on his neck again, wondering if I’d been mistaken before. His damp skin was already colder, stiffer than it had been when I’d found him an hour earlier.
“We know he’s dead,” one of the patrol officers said.
Blood loss had turned his skin a waxy yellow, so that he seemed more like a mannequin than a dead person. Even the blood that had leaked from under his Windbreaker and pooled onto the floor didn’t look real.
“He couldn’t just have lain down there for someone to murder,” I said. “But that’s what it looks like. He must have been alive when the spike went into him for so much blood to have spilled, but—was he drugged? Did someone carry him here?”
“Yeah, when we need your guidance on how to run the investigation or the autopsy, we’ll get back to you,” Sergeant Anstey said. “Meanwhile, I think it’s time you answered a few questions about what you were really doing in here. Don’t tell me you knew nothing about this poor twerp.”
I was silent.
“Well?” he demanded.
“I can’t speak,” I said. “You don’t want to hear that I knew nothing about this poor twerp, but that’s all I can tell you about him.”
The sergeant told his team to secure the crime scene for the evidence techs. He took me back to the station for a heart-to-heart. While I huddled, shivering and sneezing—and eyeing my mud-stained evening dress in dismay—someone phoned with the victim’s identity. Miles Wuchnik, he’d been when he was alive. And, like me, an investigator. Anstey couldn’t believe I didn’t know him.
“Sergeant, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of investigators in Illinois. Most are not detectives—they just do research for law firms or work in security.”
Anstey ignored that answer and started to imagine a scenario where Wuchnik had been muscling in on one of my clients and I’d murdered him to get him out of the way.
I rolled my eyes. “First you wanted us to be drug dealers who’d fallen out, or lovers having a quarrel. Now, at least, you’re respecting my professional status, but your theory is still a million miles from reality.”
I sneezed again. “You’ve got your air-conditioning turned on too high. Save the city a dime, save the planet, turn it down. I’m freezing. If that’s the best you can do, I’m out of here.”
He didn’t try to stop me; he probably didn’t even really suspect me. He just was hoping the murder would solve itself for him, and I was handy.
No one offered me a ride back to my car, but they didn’t tail me, either, so I walked straight to the Dudek apartment.