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Brush Back
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:36

Текст книги "Brush Back"

Автор книги: Sara Paretsky

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Текущая страница: 21 (всего у книги 28 страниц)


I drove north in a melancholy mood. Nothing in my so-called life, Frank had said. Nothing worked out the way he wanted it to.

That might be true, but how much else of what he said could I believe? His forgetting that Annie had been at the ballpark for the open tryouts, that sounded credible. He’d needed support and sympathy, but he didn’t want them from Boom-Boom, and his sister was so wrapped up in her own affairs that she didn’t have room for her brother.

Growing up, like so many only children I’d fantasized about siblings, someone to confide in, play with. Boom-Boom had been a kind of surrogate brother, but we saw each other only once or twice a week. It seemed painful that Frank and Annie had squandered their relationship in the short time they’d had together, but perhaps that had been the inevitable outcome of growing up with a mother as turbulent as Stella.

While I waited at the long light at Damen and Milwaukee, I dictated a summary of the conversation for my files. As an afterthought, I sent a copy to Freeman.

Sorry to violate the r-o, but I had to ask him about the pix.

You did not have to ask him about the pix, Freeman typed back sharply. You don’t need to know about the damned pictures. Unless you want to spend 30 days in County, you will respect the order.

I made a face: he was right, but I was tired of having to admit everyone around me was right.

The grease from Frank’s lunch had gotten in my hair and skin; I could wash off under Tessa’s shower and start on a project for Darraugh Graham. Like Frank, sometimes nothing in my life worked as planned: when I reached my office, Viola Mesaline appeared in the doorway of Tessa’s studio.

“What happened to you?” she wailed. “As soon as I heard that recording, I told my supervisor I was sick and ran over to see you, but you’d disappeared. I went to your apartment and they didn’t know where you were, so I came back here.”

I was losing my grip: I’d forgotten that I’d been on the phone to her about her brother’s recording. “You hung up on me. If you’d let me know you were coming, I’d have waited for you.”

“They’re going to fire me, I can’t keep running away from work pretending to be sick. Why did you call me and then disappear?” She was going to blame me for her troubles no matter what.

Tessa appeared in the doorway behind Viola and beckoned to me, leading me to the cubbyhole where she handled the business end of her work. “She’s scared of her own shadow. I couldn’t leave her out on the street, but I didn’t know what to do with her—you weren’t answering your phone.”

I’d turned off the ringer when I was talking to Frank and had forgotten to turn it back on; I looked down at the screen and saw I’d missed nine calls, most from clients. One from Vince Bagby. Great way to run a detective agency.

“And what did you do to your hair?” Tessa wrinkled her nose. “Can’t say I like your new shampoo.”

“It’s called Grasso de Sud-Chicago and only Yuppie snobs are put off by it,” I said with dignity. “I was planning to wash it, but I guess I’d better deal with this poor little kitten. I sprang a thunderbolt on her this morning.”

I ushered Viola into my own office, moving the bouquet Vince Bagby had sent me so I could watch her face. She looked genuinely distressed as she rehashed her fears. I made her sit still, take some deep breaths, drink a glass of water.

“Viola, who was that on the recording? Your brother?”

“No, no, it was Uncle Jerry, it must have been what he wanted Sebastian to do, but—”

“Which one was Uncle Jerry?”

“The man who was speaking first.”

I played the file again for her. It was Uncle Jerry who said he wanted a chance to bid, that everyone has to pay to play. Viola had no idea who the second speaker was.

“And what does this have to do with Sebastian?” she sobbed.

“He recorded the conversation, then, the day he disappeared, he went in early to work and loaded it onto a computer there. Think, Viola: Where could this have been taking place?”

“I don’t know, how can I possibly know? How can you be sure Sebastian was involved?”

I repeated what I’d just said, about his loading the file onto his work computer. “Does your brother have some kind of secret recorder?”

“I don’t know, why would he? He isn’t—he doesn’t listen in on people if that’s what you’re trying to say. You’re making him sound like some kind of pervert, but he’s a sweet boy who doesn’t want to hurt people.”

I changed the subject. “Have you heard from anyone about your loan since Sebastian disappeared?”

“Like what?”

“Like anything. Like, you still owe Sleep-EZ money, or threats about your loan, or promises to forgive it.”

She shook her head, the fear lines around her eyes and mouth deepening: I’d handed her another thing to worry about.

“Do you know if the company Sebastian worked for was trying to get access to a big project, something where they thought they hadn’t been given a chance to bid?” I asked.

“I told you before, Sebastian wouldn’t say anything about what Uncle Jerry wanted him to do. I don’t know, I don’t know!”

I looked at the wall clock; time was running short and my brain wasn’t functioning. “What else did your brother work on before the Virejas project?”

Viola was having a hard time focusing as well, but she made a valiant effort. Sebastian had helped with part of the city’s sewer restoration, he’d done work on a couple of playgrounds for the park district.

“Any of this in South Chicago?” I wondered if he’d been on Scanlon’s turf, but Viola couldn’t remember.

“I think he did something for a cement company. Would it be stress tests? Something like that. I only remember because Sebastian is afraid he may have to go work for them—he’s afraid he’ll get fired by Brentback, and the cement people kind of promised him a job if he needs one. He doesn’t want it, he says he’ll never get to do design work, just stick probes into batches of cement, and how boring is that? He did his degree, he loves engineering, he’s good at it.”

This wasn’t the time to tell her that her brother was barred from the Virejas site. “Would this be Sturlese Cement?”

“That’s right. How did you know?”

“Your uncle had a connection to a guy named Boris Nabiyev, who’s involved with Sturlese Cement. Did your uncle ever mention Nabiyev?”

“No. What does he have to do with Sebastian?”

“I’m trying to figure out who Sebastian made the recording for,” I said with as much patience as I could summon. “In fact, the second time I saw your uncle—”

I broke off, mid-sentence. The second and final time I’d seen Jerry Fugher had been outside Wrigley Field, where Boris Nabiyev was terrifying him.

If you wanted to name a big project that the Illinois legislature had a say in, it was the rebuilding of Wrigley Field. There were endless proposals for state and city aid to make the five-hundred-million-dollar price tag less onerous for the owners—tax breaks, state-sponsored bonds, a special levy. If Sturlese wanted a piece of the Cubs action, and had been cut out of the bidding, they might have sent someone to try to threaten the team.

But why send Uncle Jerry to try to shake down the Cubs? Why not let Nabiyev do it? He was the pro at threats and enforcement.

For that matter, why would Spike care whether Sturlese got a contract or not? Unless he, or his pal Rory, was the mysterious angel who’d bailed out the cement maker.

“In fact, what?” Viola wrung her hands. “What’s wrong, your face, you know something, you know what happened to my brother, don’t you?”

“No, Viola, but I may finally have a starting place for my search. You’re going to have to leave now; I don’t have any more time today. Go to your doctor and get a medical form to take to your supervisor, and then try not to worry if you don’t hear from me for a day or two.”

Her nervousness about being seen at my office returned, exacerbated by her realization that she’d run here without taking any precautions: the people her brother was involved with could have been following her.

I didn’t argue with her, just forcibly led her out the back way and into a cab.

I’d only talked to one man at the Cubs, Will Drechen in media relations. I didn’t think he was the other speaker, but I couldn’t be sure. I needed expert help.

I took the time to go back into the warehouse to shower the French fry grease from my hair and skin. I had a clean T-shirt in the back; it would have to do. I didn’t want to stop at home for a change of clothes.

I knew I should call ahead, but I had a superstition that doing so would bring me bad luck. When I got to the Villard mansion in Evanston, I breathed more easily: old Mr. Villard was still there, and Adelaide, the empathetic caregiver, answered the door, not the brisk, brusque daughter.

Oh, yes, she remembered me; my visit had brought Mr. Villard a lot of pleasure; she’d see if he felt strong enough to see me. She left me in the foyer, which was stacked high now with packed boxes, some labeled for his new home, others for charities or to what I assumed were his daughters’ addresses in Seattle and Tucson. It felt sad, a full and happy life reduced to cartons.

Before I descended too far into melancholy, Adelaide returned to take me to the room overlooking Lake Michigan where I’d seen Villard on Saturday. He was in his easy chair, the custom table that fitted into the arms holding a book and a glass.

“You finish writing that book already, young lady?” he asked as I bent over to shake his hand.

“Right now, that book is about as remote as a Cubs championship,” I said ruefully. “I have a favor, I guess yet another favor to ask. I want to play a recording for you and ask whether you recognize any of the voices you hear.”

He was pleased to help out; it would take his mind off the impending move.

“It’s not necessarily going to bring you pleasure: it’s a recording someone made of an attempt at extortion.”

I stepped him through the background of the recording before I played it. He was old, as old as Mr. Contreras, and he needed time to absorb the story, so I told it in small steps. Adelaide gave little gasps of horror at the description of Jerry Fugher’s death.

When Mr. Villard seemed to have the details under his belt, I took out my cell phone and played the recording for him. He had trouble hearing it, so I asked Adelaide to hold it to his ear.

At the end, he stared hard at me, eyes troubled. “You knew who it was before you played it for me, didn’t you?”

“No, sir,” I said quietly. “The first speaker is a man named Jerry Fugher. He was murdered last week, but I have no idea who the second person is. I thought it might be a politician, but now I’m thinking it’s someone connected to the Cubs.”

“I’m old. It’s easy to con the old.” He looked up at Adelaide. “Should I believe her?”

“Why did you think Mr. Villard would know who it was?” Adelaide asked.

“It was a guess, a leap, but Sturlese Cement plays a role in this, and there’s a mobster who has a stake in Sturlese. I saw him outside the ballpark almost two weeks ago. I’m wondering if they were meeting with someone in the team’s organization.”

She didn’t like what I was doing, but she told Mr. Villard I was telling the truth. “Probably telling the truth,” she amended.

He picked up his glass with his distorted fingers and took a deep swallow. “I’m old. My hearing is crap. Can you leave that recording here? I want to check with someone else before I say for sure.”

I hesitated. “There are a lot of ugly players in this game, sir. The way they disposed of Jerry Fugher is proof of that. Quite possibly this unusual makeup I have on my left eye came from them as well. I can’t let you put yourself in danger.”

Adelaide nodded. “She’s right, Mr. Villard. You know what your daughters would say.”

“My daughters, God love them, think their job is to swaddle me in baby blankets so that nothing bruises me between now and my funeral.” He put the glass down with a snap. “I’m ninety-one. I’m tired of no one thinking I’m good for anything besides being a grinning ornament at Cubs CARE dinners. Give me the recording and I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”

I explained that I needed to copy it to an electronic device—I couldn’t hand over my cell phone. Adelaide didn’t have a smartphone, but the daughters had given their father one and Adelaide knew the basic technology; she’d help him listen to it if I forwarded the file to his e-mail.


By now I was cutting it close for collecting Bernie so we could meet Pierre’s flight at O’Hare. The Subaru was a sturdy beast, not built for speed. That didn’t really matter, given the thick traffic, but I missed the Mustang’s ability to maneuver.

I found Bernie and Mr. Contreras having a sad farewell. The old man tried to persuade me that he and Mitch could take care of anyone who came after Bernie.

“Her parents are the ones who are summoning her home,” I said, “and after the attack last week, I agree it’s the right decision.

“Let’s go,” I added to Bernie. “Your dad’s flight lands in under an hour and he will be very disappointed if you’re not there to meet him.”

We stowed her backpack and suitcase in the Subaru along with her hockey stick. She and Pierre were spending two nights at the Trefoil Hotel. They would detour back to Florida for the Canadiens’ next playoff game, then fly to Quebec.

Mr. Contreras brought the dogs out to see us off. While Bernie knelt on the sidewalk to clutch Mitch’s neck, I told Tom Streeter, who was on duty this afternoon, that the brothers could end their surveillance for now.

“No one’s been sniffing around that I could see, Vic, but a young woman tried to get into your place this afternoon—”

“Right, Viola Mesaline. Kind of a client.”

“Yes, Mr. Contreras told me. There may have been someone on her tail, someone on a Hog. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, and I didn’t want to follow them in case they’d been sent to smoke out Bernie’s protection detail.”

My stomach turned to ice. If someone was tailing Viola—Nabiyev? Bagby? Scanlon?—it was because—how could I know why? Not because they thought she’d be easier to track than me—I had done nothing to cover my trail lately. Then because they thought she’d lead them to someone? To her brother? Which meant he was probably still alive.

“Do you want us to check in with her, see if we can spot the Hog again?” Tom Streeter asked.

I didn’t like to think how much the Streeters’ bill might run. The last few weeks, all I’d incurred was overhead, not income, but I couldn’t leave Viola naked if the Grozny Mob was after her. I agreed, but said they didn’t need to stay on her during business hours, assuming she went to her job at Ajax.

“Got it, Vic. I’ll cover you as far as the expressway.”

That was helpful, too: once we were on the glue called the Kennedy, it would be impossible to check for tails.

We seemed clean, unless the pursuit was doing it with multiple vehicles, which implies both a security team with a lot of resources—think NSA—and a target worth spending them on. The Uzbeki Mob’s finances might rival the NSA’s, but I wasn’t that kind of target. I’d be easy to take out the old-fashioned way, a good marksman with one bullet to the head. I rubbed my forehead reflexively.

I glanced over at Bernie, but she had her earbuds in and the volume turned up. She was texting friends, ignoring me, leaving me to send my brain uselessly around a maze that didn’t seem to have a center.

Where did Sebastian and the Cubs fit into this scenario? Villard had been briefly angry when I played Sebastian’s recording for him, accusing me of knowing who was on the other end of the conversation before I played it. Someone I’d met when I’d been at the ballpark? Will Drechen in Media Relations was the only man I’d talked to, and it didn’t sound like his voice.

“What are you thinking?” Bernie asked as we finally reached the airport exit. “You look angry.”

“Not angry, frustrated.”

“Are you glad I’m leaving? Uncle Sal told me I was making you worried.”

“I worry because I can’t keep you safe. When you come back in July for Northwestern’s hockey camp, I hope all this Guzzo business will be resolved so you can run from my home to the lake without my worrying that someone might hurt you.”

“And me, I am sad to leave without clearing Uncle Boom-Boom’s name. And of course, I am happy that we have met,” she added as a formal afterthought. “Also the dogs and Uncle Sal. And Jake. I know Uncle Sal is sorry I’m going.”

“Yes, you’ve brightened his life,” I agreed.

When we reached the O’Hare parking garage, I passed up the first few open spaces to make sure that none of the cars following us up the ramp was sticking with us.

Pierre’s plane was on time, a miracle on the route between O’Hare and the Northeast. He ran through the revolving doors at the security exit, bag over his shoulder, and scooped his daughter into his arms.

As soon as she saw him, Bernie’s animation returned. Father and daughter exclaimed in French for a moment until Pierre turned to embrace me. “Ah, so good to see you, Victoire, much too long since we were last together. Thank you for caring so tenderly for our tourbillon.”

He brushed Bernie’s hair from her forehead, saw the fading bruises where she’d scraped her face against the concrete. “Yes, petite, you’ve had far worse injuries on the ice rink, that is for sure. As for you, V.I., you look much more like Boom-Boom with that nose and your face all green, but it’s a badge of courage. Arlette and I, we don’t forget that you saved our darling’s life.”

“After putting it at risk,” I said dryly.

He made a dismissive gesture. “Bernadine has a gift for mischief, so enough of that. Now—you must be my guest for dinner. Not much of a thanks—for that, as soon as the hockey season ends—as soon as the Canadiens defeat the Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup—you will come for a week or a month or a summer to the Laurentians, right?”

“Canadiens beating the Hawks?” I said. “Not only Boom-Boom’s ghost but the Golden Jet will come for you, you renegade.”

“Americans are so greedy,” Bernie said. “The Blackhawks have won for years and the Canadiens not since 1993, before I was even born! If Vic is coming downtown to dinner, then can we ask Uncle Sal? He’s so very sad that I am leaving and I am sad to be going.”

The upshot was that we collected both Mr. Contreras and Jake on our way into the city. I changed out of jeans into gray silk trousers and my favorite rose-colored top and the five of us went into the Loop in a festive mood. The bartender at the hotel restaurant, who remembered Pierre from the Blackhawks glory days, sent over a bottle of wine, while the hostess, who knew Jake’s playing, put together an off-menu meal.

The first bottle disappeared quickly, the second one only slightly less so, and we were partway through a third by the time the hostess presented us with a cart of artisanal cheeses. Bernie was drinking her share and more besides, but her father didn’t object, and thankfully she was no longer my worry.

As Jake sliced a pear, twirling it around and laying uniform sections out on the cheese board, Bernie brought up her complaint, or perhaps concern, that I was letting Boom-Boom down by paying too much attention to that “dreary woman’s missing brother,” and not enough to the slander against my cousin.

Jake said he was just as happy if something had taken my mind off getting beaten up in South Chicago. “Dreary is good. Dreary is low-risk.”

I decided it would be prudent not to mention that the dreary woman’s brother might have a connection to the Uzbeki Mob.

“But what is happening with this history of Boom-Boom?” Pierre said. “His name has not been in the news since ten days. I thought this tracasserie about a girl being terrified of him had died down.”

“It has, in a way,” I said. “And up until two days ago, I’d become convinced that Stella Guzzo, or maybe her handlers, had invented her daughter’s diary. Then I saw some photos that made me think the diary might actually have existed.”

I pulled out my phone and showed Pierre the photographs from Mr. Villard’s collection. “This is the young woman who was murdered. Did you ever see Boom-Boom with her? Or did he ever talk about the day he went to Wrigley Field with his boyhood friend?”

Pierre beckoned to the hostess to bring over a better lamp. “Vic, you know this is many years in the past. What do I remember of the thirty thousand times your cousin and I spoke? The camaraderie, not the details. Especially no details of Boom-Boom’s love life. Me, I was always with Arlette, but for Boom-Boom, in those early years, it was a new love every three or four months.”

Still, he took his time going through the photos, tilting the phone so the light hit the screen at the best angle. When he put the phone down, Bernie snatched it and looked through the file herself.

“That man, the drunk one with the soft hands, he thought I was this girl, but me, I don’t see it at all.”

Mr. Contreras leaned over her shoulder. “No, I see what he meant, Peanut. You both have a kind of liveliness in you. Reckless, maybe.”

I looked at Mr. Contreras with respect. He was right: it was that quality that Joel Previn had been responding to, not the fact that the two had the same coloring or were the same age.

“And this was the girl whose mother murdered her?” Bernie said. “And now I see, she was playing hide-and-seek with Uncle Boom-Boom—where? At the baseball stadium? And she is holding—quoi?—pas une pochette. A little book, no? You didn’t tell me this, Vic, you didn’t tell me you saw this girl with the diary in her hand.”

“I’m not sure that’s what it is,” I said. “It’s not clear—”

“When it quacks, and waddles, and drops white feathers on the grass, you still say, it is not a duck?” Bernie slapped the phone back on the table, throwing up her hands to emphasize her sarcasm.

“Bernadine! You are jumping to conclusions like a kangaroo. Pas plus de vin.” Pierre moved the third bottle out of her reach, adding to me, “As for this poor girl—so terrible to think she was soon to be dead, she is so—so vivace in the photo. But I never saw her with your cousin.”

He tapped the screen. “In these pictures, if anyone was afraid it was Boom-Boom, after all. Look at his face—it’s not a game for him. She’s leading him in the dance all over this stadium.”

Mr. Contreras and Jake took their turn to look at the pictures. “Whatever she was carrying, she don’t have it when she comes out of that tunnel, or wherever she went off to,” my neighbor said.

Bernie grabbed the phone again. “Uncle Sal, you are right. This Annie left the diary behind, and then the mother saw the pictures and went back and found it as soon as she got out of prison.”

“Nobody knew the pictures existed until after the story about the diary surfaced,” I objected. “And then—”

I stopped.

“What are you thinking?” Bernie demanded.

“Mr. Villard’s house was burgled and some of his Cubs memorabilia were taken. I was going to say, maybe the thieves were looking for these pictures. Well, not these specifically, but the break-in happened soon after the story ran about Boom-Boom being at Wrigley. Maybe I’m wrong—maybe the break-in was random and not connected to Boom-Boom or Stella’s quest for exoneration.”

“These pictures prove the diary!” Bernie cried, cheeks flaming.

“This conversation proves that you cannot have more than one glass of wine, Bernadine,” Pierre said. “You are behaving as if you were with your teammates, not at a dinner party. You and I, we are going up to our room and let these people have some peace and quiet.”

He took my hand and kissed it. “Tomorrow, Bernadine and I will see the sights of Chicago, including a chance to watch the Blackhawks skate against St. Louis. You must come, too. The Blackhawks, they will be thrilled to have Boom-Boom’s cousin in the house. And these gentlemen?”

Mr. Contreras was torn, but decided he needed a night at home. Jake seemed thankful to plead a rehearsal, but I accepted happily.

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