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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: 6 (всего у книги 28 страниц)


Nina Quarles, Attorney, had her office on Commercial Avenue, just a couple of miles from Ira’s. The building was a converted three-flat at the corner of Eighty-ninth Street, and looked like one of the few on the street to be fully occupied. The top story was home to the South Side Youth Empowerment Foundation: Say, Yes! while the ground level held the insurance office of Rory Scanlon, Auto, Homeowners, Life, Health, Pension. Sandwiched between was the office of Nina Quarles, Attorney, boasting three lawyers and a bail bondsman.

When you’re a child, all adults seem both old and fixed in time, so I didn’t know if Rory Scanlon was still alive, or if the torch had been passed. Either way, the business was clearly a success. Looking through the street windows, I saw that the computers were new, the desks in good shape. Five people were talking into their headsets, smiling the way you do so the person at the other end feels your energy and wants to buy from you.

My parents bought their insurance through the Patrolmen’s Union, so I’d never been to Scanlon’s office, but he was such a lively presence in the neighborhood that everyone knew him. He’d been a fixer, the kind of guy you went to if you were going to be evicted or had your gas turned off. He turned out for community events, underwrote the Little League team that Frank Guzzo used to play on. When Boom-Boom made his home-ice debut with the Hawks, Scanlon got the CTA to send buses to ferry the neighborhood from Ninetieth and Commercial to the old Stadium.

My dad had driven up in his own car. One of the few times he took police privilege, he brought me and my uncle Bernie through the streets with his lights flashing, parking right next to the main entrance. He hadn’t gone to the party Scanlon sponsored at Rafters afterward.

“Too old for drunken crowds, Tori. And don’t you need to be studying?”

I’d been surprised—his usual concern about my work was that I kept at it too hard. He was worried, too, about leaving me on my own, which he also never did—at least not out loud.

“Boom-Boom’s signed on for a rough life, but I don’t want that for you, and you know your mama didn’t want it, either.”

My mama wouldn’t have wanted a lot of the things I choose to do. Maybe if she’d lived, I wouldn’t keep tempting fate by skating so close to the edge. Perhaps my recklessness was what destroyed my brief marriage. Or perhaps it was because Richard Yarborough had been a money-obsessed bore.

I went into Scanlon’s building, and looked up a flight of steep stairs. A sign in Spanish and English said there was an elevator behind the stairs. A security camera, the tiny modern kind that is almost invisible to the thief in a hurry, had been installed high on the stairwell wall. Another was set in the lintel above Nina Quarles’s door. It glowed red when I approached, presumably taking my picture. I must have looked honest and sincere: the lock clicked open before I rang the bell.

The walls of the original apartment had been removed to create a long room that stretched from the windows overlooking Commercial Avenue to the alley behind. It wasn’t divided into cubicles, but the desks were far enough apart that people could have private conversations if they kept their voices down. Two doors stood open along the north wall, showing private offices beyond in what probably used to be bedrooms. A third door at the back provided the staff with a toilet.

As in Scanlon’s office, the staff here were hard at it on the phones. Most of them were middle-aged and solidly built, a few wrinkles, hair turning gray—not the lean, workout-obsessed youth that might repel people like the elderly couple conferring in the near corner with a man in a rumpled suit.

I looked around but didn’t see any sign of Nina Quarles. I was on my way to the offices, to see if that’s where she was, when a woman came up behind me and asked what I needed. She was about my age, tall, angular, wearing a shapeless cardigan over beige slacks and spiked heels, which put her about three inches over my head.

“V. I. Warshawski,” I said, putting out a hand.

The angular woman’s eyes widened. “Warshawski? There was something about Boom-Boom Warshawski on the news this morning.”

“Yes, I’m his cousin.”

She said the usual things: she’d grown up on the East Side, she adored Boom-Boom, his death had been a terrible tragedy. In the middle of the outpouring I was able to get her name, Thelma Kalvin.

“What can we do for you?” Kalvin asked.

“I don’t know if you paid attention to the whole story, but my cousin was in the news today because someone is trying to link him to Annie Guzzo’s death.”

Thelma shook her head. “If the name is supposed to mean something to me, it doesn’t. I’m sorry we can’t help you.”

“Stella Guzzo was convicted of killing her daughter Annie a number of years ago,” I said. “Nina Quarles bought this practice from Mandel & McClelland, the firm that handled Stella’s defense. If Ms. Quarles kept files of old Mandel cases, I’d like to read Stella’s trial transcript.”

Thelma shook her head. “Nina doesn’t actually practice here. Our lawyers mostly work on job or property issues—a lot of this community got slammed in the mortgage crisis. And we have a criminal defender. But there isn’t room to store old case files here—they’re in a facility down in Indiana. Anyway, I doubt Nina would let you look at confidential files.”

“It’s not a confidential document,” I said, trying to keep frustration out of my voice. “Just a rare one. I want to see if Stella Guzzo made any effort to blame my cousin for her daughter’s death during her trial. I also would love to know why Mandel & McClelland took on the defense—Annie Guzzo worked for them. Why would they defend her killer, even if the killer was her mother?”

Thelma began saying that Mr. Zapateca would be available at two. I was startled, then realized she was talking to her device; she wore one of those clips that look like a beetle is trying to burrow into your ear.

When she finished she said there was nothing she could do to help, she hadn’t been part of Mandel & McClelland—another interruption for the beetle, this time about Ludo’s bail hearing—no one remembered that far back, and no, I couldn’t talk to Nina Quarles—“Sorry, not you, Mrs. Bialo, talking to someone in the office, please hold for one minute”—because Nina was in Paris.

The beetle had her full attention at this point. I stifled the impulse to yank it out of her ear and stalked out of the office, unreasonably annoyed. What had I really expected, after all?

The elderly couple who’d been with the guy in the rumpled suit were leaving as well. I held the door for them and put my ill temper to one side to offer an arm down the stairs—although the woman held herself erect, the man was bent over and walked with a slow shuffle.

“There is an elevator,” I suggested when they insisted they were fine on their own.

“It’s out of order, but they say climbing stairs is good for the heart,” the woman said brightly.

“We can’t afford to get dependent on anyone, young lady,” the man said. “Especially since we have to pay the lawyer bill now on top of everything else. Sounds as though you got the lady at the front desk kind of upset.”

“Hard to know why,” I said. “I was just asking a few questions. You buy your insurance here?”

“Oh, yes. The lawyer sends you down to the agency, and they give you a special rate if you’re a customer with the lawyer. And then, if you need a lawyer, the insurance man sends you up here. That’s why we were here, we were hoping to cash in our life insurance now that we need extra help. But the fine print, that’s what always does you in, isn’t it.” He pronounced the word as IN-surance.

I walked down in front of them, slowly, in case the couple changed their minds about wanting help. They were murmuring softly to each other. When we got to the front entryway, they stopped beside the inner door to Scanlon Insurance.

“We heard you asking about Stella Guzzo,” the woman said.

“Do you know her?” I tried to sound casual.

“No.” The woman looked up the stairs, to see if anyone was watching. I noticed the camera eye in the entryway ceiling, and ushered the couple outside.

“It was the girl,” the husband said. “Annie. She was a clerk in the office, a bright little thing. We still remember her being killed. Gangs. You’re always reading about children killed by gang violence, but when your own mother murders you—awful, awful!”

The woman squeezed her husband’s hand. “Don’t get so worked up, Harold: it all happened a long time ago. But Sol Mandel took it to heart, her working for him and so on. We were surprised that he gave the job of defending the mother to Ira Previn’s son.”

“It surprised me, too,” I said. “Do you know why he did it?”

“Sol had some explanation,” Harold said. “He felt responsible because the girl had planned on running away to college without telling her mother and he told her to stand up to her mother, be an adult. It didn’t seem like much of a reason, but that’s what he said.”

“How do you know so much about it?” I asked.

“Oh, we all belonged to the same temple, back when Har HaShem was down here,” the woman said. “Poor Joel.”

“What do you mean, ‘poor Joel’?” Harold snorted. “It’s poor Ira.”

“Poor Joel,” the woman repeated. “He could never live up to Ira’s reputation. He shouldn’t have gone into the law, but he so wanted Ira to pay attention to him, to admire him. Ira never could see it. All his emotional life, it was focused on the courts, and what wasn’t there, he felt he owed to Eunice. He knew how much talk there was, he felt he needed to protect her.”

“Even at the temple,” Harold said mournfully. “It’s an embarrassment to know how mean-spirited your own kind can be.”

“Yes, it caused quite a stir back when they married,” the woman sighed, “her not being a Jew, plus her being a Negro. African-American, we should say now. Oh, Harold! Look at the time, I’m running on, and we have to see about the payments before we go home.”

I handed her a card, asking her to call if anything else occurred to her. “And would you give me your phone number? I’m a detective, I’m inquisitive by nature and I might have more questions.”

Her husband objected sharply: the world was full of scam artists, she shouldn’t tell me their names. She patted his arm sympathetically but spelled it for me, slowly, Harold and Melba Minsky. They lived in Olympia Fields now, but they’d kept their legal affairs with Mandel for so long they didn’t feel like shifting when he died, even after Mr. McClelland sold the practice to Nina Quarles.

“Not that it’s much of a practice here in South Chicago anymore. If it’s a big case, they send it to the people who bought Sol Mandel’s downtown office, of course, but they can take care of the little things we need help with, not that they helped us much today.”

“They must have big cases, if Nina Quarles has to be in Paris to handle them,” I said.

Melba laughed, the sound like a rustling of paper. “I doubt that Nina has ever been in court, dear, unless she was trying to get out of a traffic ticket. She goes to Paris to buy clothes. But Thelma Kalvin is a first-rate office manager and the gentleman who looks after us knows his business. We don’t mind.”

She waited until Harold, clucking at her impatiently, pushed open the door to Scanlon’s office. “One person you might talk to is Rabbi Zukos’s son. The rabbi, may his name be a blessing, died after the congregation moved to Highland Park, but his son Rafael was in the same bar mitzvah class as Joel Previn. Good luck, dear.”


It was past two. I’d been too agitated by the television invasion to eat breakfast this morning and I was suddenly ravenous. I was standing in the street to see what restaurants were nearby when a car honked right behind me. I jumped and scrambled back to the curb. A late-model silver SUV pulled into the spot where I’d been standing.

Two men climbed out, laughing about someone named Robbie. The driver said, “You go on in, Wally, I’ll follow you in a sec.”

He came over to me, a white-haired man wearing a red-checked shirt, a leather bomber jacket slung over one shoulder.

“Is your life insurance paid up, young lady?”

He laughed at my startled expression. “If you stand in the middle of a busy street, better make sure your family is taken care of. What can we do for you?”

“Are you Mr. Scanlon?” I asked.

“Guilty as charged. And you are?”

“V. I. Warshawski.”

He’d been laughing, his cheeks pushing his eyes into twinkling slits, as if he were practicing for a role as Santa. At my name the twinkling vanished and I could see his eyes, blue and cold.

“I knew the hockey player,” Scanlon said. “Who’s back in the news these days.”

“Yes, indeed he is. I remember the night you chartered buses to take the neighborhood up to watch his debut at the Stadium. Or was that your father?”

He laughed, delighted that I remembered, but the laugh didn’t thaw his eyes. “That was me, a very young me. In those days I loved throwing big parties, getting people together, watching them have a good time. I still love a good party but can’t take the hours anymore. Warshawski wasn’t married. Let’s see—you’re a sister?”

“Cousin,” I said.

I could almost see zeros and ones shifting in his face as he calculated who I was, where I fit into his files.

“Your father was the cop, right? They said he couldn’t be bribed, right? One of the pillars of justice in an unjust world.”

“I’m glad people knew that about him,” I said formally: Scanlon’s voice had held an undercurrent that sounded close to scorn.

“And you went off to school someplace, left the neighborhood.”

“Guilty as charged,” I echoed him.

“So what brings you back to South Chicago?”

“Stella Guzzo.” I waited a beat, to let him fill in the blanks.

“Right, it was on the news, she claims Warshawski terrified her daughter. And so you’ve hotfooted it down here to clear his name. It’s what I love about this neighborhood, families in it stick together. What did you think we could do for you here?”

“Not you, Nina Quarles’s office. They took over Mandel & McClelland’s business.” I knew he knew that. “I was hoping they might have a trial transcript.”

“Oh? And did they?”

“No one seems to have one. Poor Annie—her death wasn’t considered important enough for anyone to record all the details.”

“She was a bright kid. Too bad it had to end that way.”

“Had to end that way? That makes it sound as if her mother was preordained to kill her.”

“Oh, these South Side Irish families, with their outsized voices and quarrels squeezed into tiny houses, they’re tinderboxes. I know them well—I grew up in one of those families.”

Scanlon started to open the door but stopped when I asked how he knew Annie Guzzo.

He shrugged impatiently. “How we all know each other. She was a bright kid in my lawyer’s office—Sol Mandel used to handle my family’s business. Nina does now. Keep it all in the neighborhood, that’s what I tell people.”

“Did Mr. Mandel ever tell you why he pressured Joel Previn into defending Stella? It seems so strange, defending the killer of his young clerk.”

“We all hoped something would put some spine in Joel. He had chances most people down here never come close to, but he was a whiner and a crybaby. Sol wanted to see if he could buck up, act like a man, and sad to say, it didn’t happen. Good talking to you, Warshawski the cousin, but stay out of the street—people drive like lunatics.”

He laughed again, clapped my shoulder and went into his office. I stared after him thoughtfully, wondering what that conversation had been about. And the meeting itself—it had seemed like a chance encounter, but it was odd that he’d stopped to talk to me. Was it possible that Thelma Kalvin had sent him a message—detective in the office asking about Stella Guzzo? Or had the Guzzo business gotten me so off-balance that I was seeing conspiracies under every streetlamp?

One thing I was sure about: I was still hungry. I found a taco stand up the street with some bar stools set up on the sidewalk for customers. After hours of slogging around the South Side, my anger about the slander against Boom-Boom was waning, but everything about Stella’s story was so odd I couldn’t leave it alone.

Maybe Scanlon’s theory as to why Mandel had asked Joel Previn to defend Stella was correct: tough love. Make the boy grow a spine or balls or whatever. It was possible—there’d definitely been a culture of bullying in the Mandel & McClelland office, with Spike Hurlihey, now the House Speaker, leading the pack. Would the partners have participated in the bullying to such a degree that they’d taken on Stella’s defense just to humiliate Joel?

What had Stella said, when I called on her last week? Something about Annie rotting in hell if she’d died with her last words to her mother on her lips. Maybe Sol Mandel had also seen something malicious in Annie that made him silently sympathize with Stella.

I tried to picture it, but that image wouldn’t come into focus. The Annie I’d known was hardworking, but not malicious. I’d been jealous of her sometimes when I was young because of the way she attached herself to my mother—I wanted Gabriella’s love all to myself and when Annie practiced her music harder than I ever did, I felt she was showing off. I had a couple of embarrassing memories of my own malicious acts, but not of Annie’s. Even so, it wouldn’t surprise me to know she’d fought with Stella. When you grow up in a violent household, you tend to lash back.

If Annie had kept a diary, I wanted to see it. “Sorry, Freeman,” I muttered, “I know you told me to keep away from the Guzzos, but I’m calling Frank.”

He wasn’t ecstatic at hearing from me, so I spoke with extra heartiness to make up for it.

“Frank! Your mom’s all over the news, so is Boom-Boom, and I’m even getting a shout-out. This is so cool—is this why you came to me? To help me with publicity?”

“I’m driving. What do you want?”

“Annie’s diary. It’s so amazing that it showed up like this out of the blue. Where was it all these years?”

“How should I know? I only know Ma said she found it while she was cleaning out the dresser in Annie’s bedroom. No one did that after Annie died, and all those old clothes, they’d been sitting in there for twenty-five years.”

“You and Betty never went in there?”

He didn’t say anything. Betty hadn’t seemed like the kind of person to sit idly by while someone else’s possessions were waiting for a home, and Frank’s long silence confirmed it.

“So after Stella went to prison, Betty went through Annie’s things, took what she wanted and left the rest,” I said, ignoring the indignant sputter from the other end of the phone. “Did she remember seeing this alleged diary?”

“Come on, Tori, it’s been a long time ago. Betty doesn’t remember one way or the other.”

“Of course not.” I made my tone soothing. “But you—when you looked at the diary they flashed on TV, did you recognize the handwriting? Did your heart turn over in your chest as you saw Annie’s last words on the page? Did you curse Boom-Boom for terrifying your baby sister?”

Again he was quiet, so I nudged him. “Your mother did show it to you, didn’t she, Frank?”

He cut the connection without saying anything. I studied my tostada. Either Frank hadn’t seen the diary, or he had seen it and knew it wasn’t Annie’s. This wasn’t evidence, nothing I could take to court, but it worked for me.

While I sat there, Melba and Harold came out of Scanlon’s. I watched their slow progress down the street toward the train station, Melba clutching her handbag tightly to her side, Harold bent over his cane.

Rafael Zukos, the rabbi’s son. Melba had told me to talk to him.

I finished the tostada, noticing to my annoyance that the wheat-colored jacket I’d put on for my visit to Ira Previn’s office now sported a glob of green.

I patted it off with a napkin dipped in fizzy water, which left a damp patch and pilling on the lapel. Nuts.

I wiped off my fingers and looked up Rafael Zukos on my iPad. There wasn’t much about him, except that he collected Japanese art, specializing in work from the middle Edo period. An article in the Herald-Star described an eighteenth-century painting of a geisha crossing a street that Zukos had presented to the Japanese consul.

The article also mentioned Zukos’s father, Rabbi Larry Zukos, who’d led Temple Har HaShem for forty years, first on the South Side and then for eight years when they moved to Highland Park. Rafael apparently had not been called to the spiritual life, at least not to the conventionally religious life. He didn’t have a listed number, but a subscription search engine gave me an address in Rogers Park on Chicago’s northeast edge. There was no sign that he worked for a living. Maybe I could just drop in.

As I followed the twists of the northbound road, I’d been trying to decide what story might get Zukos to let me in. The truth was simplest. I found a parking space on Sheridan Road and left my jacket in the car. Nothing makes you look less professional than food on your clothes.

When I got to the tiny street—a mere half-block leading to Lake Michigan—I saw that Zukos had gutted the building, replacing most of the brick in the upper two stories with glass. The third floor was recessed, with glass panels leading to a wide balcony, where Zukos could stand and stare at the lake.

The building was secluded, good for privacy, good, too, for thieves, but all the right security devices were in place: cameras, laser gates, manual locks to override the electronic ones. Very sensible if Zukos’s Japanese art collection was valuable.

“Yes? What do you want?”

A man was calling down from the balcony. I squinted at him but couldn’t make out his face against the sun.

“I’m V. I. Warshawski. Are you Rafael Zukos? Melba Minsky suggested I talk to you.”

“Rafe!” the man called, turning away.

A few minutes went by. I practiced my scales: I was terribly breathy still, but getting firmer through the diaphragm.

A man appeared around the corner of the building. He was short, stocky, balding, wearing a kind of Japanese jacket over khaki pants.

“I’m Rafe Zukos. Ken didn’t get your name.”

“V. I. Warshawski. Melba Minsky suggested I talk to you.”

“Melba,” he repeated softly. “I haven’t heard from her in years, didn’t know she was still alive. Harold?”

“Frail but mobile,” I said. “I don’t really know them—we met this morning in South Chicago.”

“So they stayed south when the rest of us fled to a new reservation. They were braver than their rabbi.”

“Your father was a coward, you think?” I asked.

“Jews stayed in Minsk and Slonim during pogroms, but a black family buying a house next door? You’d think a whole regiment of Cossacks was sweeping through the neighborhood. Rabbi Zukos wasn’t very brave, but then, neither was I. Why did Melba send you to me?”

I gave him my story, the truth. Not the whole truth, not Frank’s and my history, but Annie’s murder, my cousin, trying to find out what happened at the criminal courts all those years ago.

“Melba thought you might know why Mr. Mandel assigned the case to Joel,” I finished. “She thought Joel might have talked to you about the trial.”

Rafe stepped back a few paces. “She did? She was wrong. I don’t know what either of you hoped to gain by her sending you here.”

Ken, the man who’d called down to me from the balcony. Joel. Rafe’s belief he’d been a coward. These old stories, these old dramas, they wore me out. I sat on a boulder and spoke tonelessly.

“You and Joel were lovers, or at least the people at your dad’s synagogue thought you were. You didn’t come out directly to your father, so you think you were a coward.”

“How do you know?” Rafe said fiercely.

“It’s what I do for a living, Mr. Zukos, put fragments of stories together into a narrative that makes sense. I’m not always right, but I need a narrative to work with. Lies, secrets and silence. Everyone’s clutching them to their chests as if there were some value in being tightly bound and fearful.”

“Don’t preach to me. You don’t know what it was like growing up down there. The hypocrisy, the fear, not knowing who was part of what clique, who might beat you up after school because you were Jewish, or black, or a nerd who liked Japanese art.”

I looked up. “I grew up near Ninetieth and Commercial, Mr. Zukos. You can’t tell me much I don’t know about being a child down there. My middle name is Iphigenia. Kids used to dance around me shrieking ‘Iffy Genius’ at me because my mother had college ambitions for me.”

“It’s not like being beaten up because the other boys think you’re a pansy or a sissy,” he said, his voice low, shaking with passion.

“Maybe not. I’m afraid my reaction was to do as much damage as possible as fast as possible to anyone mocking me, instead of following my mother’s advice, which was to hold my head high and pretend it wasn’t happening. And she had her share of violent bullying in Mussolini’s Italy, so believe me, everyone has a hard story buried in them. Right now, today, I don’t care about your private life, what you did with Joel, or didn’t do. You seem to have made a good life for yourself.” I waved an arm at his building. “Joel’s a sad case; he lives inside a bottle, not a private art gallery.”

“Joel.” Zukos’s lips tightened in a bitter line. “Joel didn’t know who he was or what he wanted. Maybe he turned to me because he was unsure and was testing the water, although I thought he was trying to shock his father and mother: he had to be the role model for African-Americans, so that the people in the congregation who muttered against Eunice wouldn’t have any grounds for saying they’d been right all along, black people were rude or dirty or criminals. He had to be a model Jew in the black world so the goyim couldn’t say Jews were cheats or obsessed with money.”

“Heavy load.”

“I never knew what Joel wanted and he couldn’t figure it out, either. I don’t know what Joel looks like today, but back then he was pudgy, flabby. He was bright but the kids today would call him a geek. Girls didn’t respond to him. The only reason I did—all those years ago—I needed someone. And I hated being the rabbi’s model son; I could relate to Joel hating having to live up to Ira Previn’s halo.”

“He couldn’t do what you did,” I said. “Break away from the South Side, I mean—he went to Mandel & McClelland out of law school and he’s still down there, working for his father. But why did he get stuck with Stella Guzzo’s defense?”

A wind was starting to rise off the lake. Rafe pulled his silk jacket across his bare chest. “Joel thought Sol made him defend Stella as a punishment for being queer, although I thought it was because Joel had a crush on Annie and Sol wanted her to himself.”

That startled me so much I lost my balance on the boulder and slid onto the sidewalk. “Annie was having sex with Sol Mandel?”

Zukos hunched a shoulder. “I don’t know. Joel thought she was. Or he thought Mandel was a predator trying to seduce her.”

“I thought your family had moved to the North Shore years before Annie was murdered. He talked to you during the trial?” I picked myself up from the sidewalk and dusted the seat of my jeans.

“Joel and I stayed in touch. For a while. Force of habit.” Rafe was speaking slowly, as if the words were being squeezed from his diaphragm. “We were in the same bar mitzvah class, our parents sent us out of the neighborhood to the U of C lab school, we went off to Swarthmore together. I was doing an MFA in curatorship at the Art Institute when Joel was in law school. We’d meet for dinner and he’d whine how much he hated the law.”

The wind was getting stronger. Clouds blew in, like a conjuror’s trick: in an instant, the sky, which had been cornflower blue over Ira Previn’s office, turned gray.

“Rafe!” Ken was leaning over the side of the balcony again. “Are you coming in or do you want me to bring down a pullover?”

Rafe looked at the sky, at me shivering—the wind was coming straight in across the water. “Come in and see the art,” he offered unexpectedly.

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