The following is Chapter Two in January Moon.
Urbana police responded to an emergency call from an hysterical female about blood in the ladies washroom over at the Gas City near I-57.
“Blood is everywhere!” she yelled, “All over the place!”
Cops found a pair of blood soaked underpants and two bloodied bath towels and the washroom floor, toilet and sink were smeared with bloody hand prints. They also retrieved a pink backpack with clean underwear and knee socks, a tube of Neosporin, a mirror and tweezers, and a box of straws – but no ID.
They quickly theorized a baby might have been born in the john and other reasonable possibilities included a miscarriage or botched abortion. The theories gained credence when security cameras confirmed the last female to use the john was a young girl who left the premises under unusual circumstances.
Ms. Waynelle Penney, the Gas City night employee who placed the 911 call, described a white female, twelve to fourteen, fifteen tops, who was forcefully dragged from the premises.
When Ms. Penney admitted the kid didn’t scream, ask for help, or fight the big trucker who snatched her, the cops figured she probably knew the guy.
Waynelle thought the girl was Amish because she wore an old-fashioned black dress. She conceded, however, she didn’t see her wearing the traditional white cap most Amish women wore. Waynelle explained she was “something of an expert on the Amish” because she had a cousin who lived near Arcola and “there’s lots of them there.”
The cop taking her statement said he didn’t know much about the Amish but “never heard of no Amish kid having a baby in a gas station john.”
Waynelle weighed his comment carefully. “I never looked at it that way,” she admitted.
According to Ms. Penney, the kid was in the john about two hours and then bought chocolate milk and Ding Dongs. Waynelle overheard her trying to hitch a ride to Wisconsin with three local guys who were “bad news” when all of a sudden “this big trucker guy just kinda’ come right outta’ nowhere.” She clarified “nowhere” as being over in the area near the Wiener Ferris Wheel and said “and then damn if he don’t grab her little fanny and haul her outta’ here.”
Urbana was expecting a major winter storm blowing down from up north so police were at full court press to find a baby, if in fact there was one. Snow was already falling as they searched the dumpsters, garbage cans, and empty boxes behind the premises and a canine team was brought in to search a grassy knoll behind the gas station.
A state trooper pulled into the Gas City for his usual coffee and a piss and saw local cops up to their necks in something big. He called his district’s headquarters to see what he could learn to help the local cops and that’s how Urbana police learned a Jane Doe was found in a truck more than a hundred miles north, near Matteson, way up in Cook County just south of Chicago.
Obviously, state and local police needed to know if Jane was the same kid who left the bloody mess in the john. Urbana police downloaded security pictures from multiple video cameras covering the Gas City premises and sent them to the state police; they expected an answer shortly.
Three Illinois State Police cars responded to Mack’s call and troopers found him understandably agitated but fully cooperative. He was sober, coherent and articulate and his CDL, registration and title, as well as insurance and truck log were in order. They let Mack cool his heels in the rear of one of their cars while they inspected his truck.
Jane Doe was found in the passenger seat of the truck, secured in place by a seat belt and sitting upright in a small puddle of her own blood. A blanket was tucked around her. One of her coat pockets contained a few coins, a $5 bill, and a dirty Ace bandage, the type used to wrap a sprained ankle or wrist. The other held a 200-count bottle of Ibuprofen; only four pills remained. Just as in Urbana, the troopers further north found no ID.
An initial inspection of the truck and body failed to show evidence of a shooting or stabbing and Ms. Doe didn’t appear to have died from strangulation. There was no evidence of blood on Mack, his clothes, or anywhere in the truck other than the immediate space where the body was found. Troopers found no weapons, drugs, or anything other than what was legitimately on Mack’s manifest or what personally belonged to him.
The weather was worsening so dispatch instructed troopers to take Mack to the nearest municipal police department which happened to be over in Matteson, rather than to district headquarters in Des Plaines, which was a good poke down the road.
“Anyway, Wiley’s already there,” the dispatcher said, “we’ll call and tell him you’re coming in.”
The troopers wondered why Wiley was in Matteson and one of them might have asked if Mack didn’t interrupt. Mack asked if he could call his wife to tell her where they were taking him and they agreed.
Fred Wiley was a tough talking, chain smoking, ’Nam-era ex-Marine who’d been with the Illinois State Police almost four decades. He could have pensioned out ten years earlier but hoped to die on the job because the idea of retirement was one of the few things that terrified him. His ruggedly handsome leathery face, square jaw, steel blue eyes, old fashioned crew cut and whiskey voice made him look like a stereotypical grunt-eating, fire spitting by-the-book USMC Drill Instructor which is exactly the image he wanted to project.
Wiley was killing time, waiting for the troopers to bring Mack Carter into Matteson, when he decided to ride his partner about his ridiculously pompous name.
“What are you, a pope or something? What the hell kind of name is Aloysius anyway? And Benedict; Jesus: Aloysius Benedict? Don’t know if I should puke or genuflect.”
Benedict tried to explain his friends called him Aloe. “You know, like the aloe plant. The one for burns.”
“Christ, say it ain’t so. Aloe? Like A-hole? You actually let people call you Aloe? What, ’cuz you burn my ass?”
Benedict didn’t know what the problem was or why Wiley insisted on ragging his sorry ass but several bored cops enjoyed the exchange immensely. Everyone knew Wiley was as big of a hoot as he could be horse’s ass but if you weren’t the poor bastard withering under one of his verbal assaults it was damn good fun to be an observer.
“OK, listen up,” Wiley snapped, “I’m calling you Eggs. From now on, you’re Eggs.”
“Eggs? Why eggs? I don’t get it.” Benedict’s cluelessness was possibly even funnier than Wiley. “I don’t even like eggs,” Benedict whined, “and I’m allergic to egg products.”
Wiley threw his hands up in disgust. “You believe this guy? He’s allergic.”
“Wha… what am I missing about this? You don’t think allergic is serious?”
One of the Matteson cops felt compelled to come to his aid. “Eggs Benedict, you get it now?”
Benedict didn’t get anything. His deer-in-the-headlights look said it all.
Wiley snarled, “Hey maybe we should call him Allergic, whaddya’ think?”
One of the other cops tried another tack. “Listen up Aloe, it’s like this man: Aloe just don’t work, you understand? A cop can’t have no partner people call Aloe. It ain’t possible.”
A third cop added, “Hey Aloe, Wiley don’t mean nothing by it. He gives almost everyone a nickname, especially if he likes ’em.”
It was all too much for Wiley and he exploded.
“Like him? You think I like this poor bastard? Hell, I don’t like him. This isn’t love, you assholes. It’s a damn mercy mission.”
It was 6:30 AM when Wiley and Eggs finally walked into the small drab interview room where Mack was held. Eggs was brooding about the meaning of his new name and sat sullenly beside Wiley while he interviewed Mack.
Mack explained how he found the girl at the Gas City down in Urbana, thought she was afraid someone was following her, and seemed willing to hitch a ride with three guys Mack described as “dangerous creeps.” Mack told Wiley and Eggs he only realized how sick she was after he got her into his truck and then he called his wife to see what Marge thought he should do next.
He also tried very hard to tell Wiley everything the girl said to him and the men agreed her words made little sense, most likely because of her delirium. However, she probably had a grandmother since she repeatedly called Carter “Gram.” Wiley made a number of notes, including “grandmother?” and “poss. drug use?” which he circled for emphasis. He figured there was a chance the kid was hopped up on something that made her loony.
Mack also explained he was an independent trucker driving a refrigerated rig and he hauled one kind of shit south and was hauling another kind on the flip-flop north when he stopped in Urbana to take a leak, stretch his legs, and get some fresh Joe. Then a goddamn house fell on him. It was one of the most godawful things that ever happened to him.
He shook his head in genuine puzzlement. “God Almighty,” he asked Wiley, “why do you suppose that kid died?”
Wiley couldn’t say. He explained the body was on its way to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. Unfortunately, the place was usually backlogged and even if they were lucky it could take days to get a preliminary post-mortem report and much longer if they weren’t.
Wiley gave Mack a cup of strong coffee. He looked like he could use something stronger but Wiley didn’t offer it.
Wiley saw Mack’s simple gold wedding ring and asked how long he’d been married. Mack said “forty years this June” and Wiley whistled to show he was impressed.
Wiley knew marriage was no guarantor of anything, let alone an inability to murder, but when he formed his opinions about people he liked to say he “added up all the little things.” If it was true the man was married to the same babe for forty years then it told Wiley several things: first, the man hadn’t murdered at least one woman and, second, he was probably a damn saint.
Wiley was married and divorced four times and figured most wives at one time or another deserved killing. He said he never had a wife who didn’t give him at least one good reason to murder her. In fact, he joked, he considered his failure to murder at least two of his wives to be his two greatest achievements.
“Unfortunately,” he’d deadpan, “no one hands out medals for not killing wives.”
A clerk knocked on the door, entered, and handed Wiley security camera pictures from the Gas City. They showed Jane Doe walked in the door three hours before Mack drove onto the premises. The cameras caught her speaking to the three guys Mack described as creeps, as well as Mack propelling her out the door to his rig. The hostile exchange between Mack and one of the creeps in the parking lot was also captured on video.
Mack also looked at the pictures and gave a statement that she was definitely the same girl he picked up in Urbana who died in his truck.
There was another knock on the door and Wiley barked an order to come in. A trooper handed him two reports; one said Carter was clean as a whistle, which came as no surprise to Wiley, and the other indicated there were no recent Amber Alerts or other reports about missing girls fitting Jane Doe’s description. Wiley found that vaguely disconcerting; he always wondered how people could lose their kids and not know it.
Wiley studied Mack carefully and made up his mind. Mack’s story checked out and the quicker he could wrap it up with Carter the quicker he could get on with the real business of investigating Jane Doe’s death.
As far as he was concerned, Mack Carter could go home.
Wiley and Eggs left the room and Wiley asked the desk clerk to get Carter more coffee and let him go to the can. Eggs could see Wiley was done with Mack but didn’t grasp why.
“So, you’re just gonna’ let him walk out the door? That’s it? That’s our investigation?”
“No. I’m going to call Eliot Ness and discuss it with her and then I’m gonna’ let him walk out the door.”
Wiley nicknamed Ms. Elnora Calista Ness “Eliot” the day he met her and it stuck. Assistant State’s Attorney Ness was that rare breed of attorney content to spend an entire career as a prosecutor. At one time when the office had very few minority lawyers, not to mention even fewer female ones, it was rumored her color and sex made her a double token. Those rumors died quickly as Eliot chalked up an impressive prosecutorial record.
Eliot was brilliant, aggressive, and strikingly beautiful. She currently looked as stunning in short cropped silver streaked hair as she did when she showed up right out of law school. Neither three kids nor middle age screwed up her fine figure or legendary energy. She liked to wear bright colors, short skirts, sexy shoes and insanely large earrings and pulled it off with a panache that kept her from looking cheap.
Eliot’s first criminal prosecution was Wiley’s first homicide case. He didn’t know shit about being a credible professional witness and she knew even less about being an aggressive, sharp prosecutor. Their combined inexperience gave the case to the defense and the perp walked but he showed up later, as most perps will, after he kidnapped, tortured, and murdered another little boy.
Wiley and Eliot believed it was their incompetence that gave the bastard a second chance to kill. The shared pain of that first trial loss would never go away but it became the catalyst that transformed them into a strong prosecutorial team and they successfully nailed him the second time around.
The day they got his evil ass convicted was also the first night they slept together. That night turned into three more days and nights holed up in Eliot’s tiny apartment in some dump of a building in some shit hole part of the city not far from the courthouse. They periodically came up for air long enough to order pizzas and Chinese and then they went down like submarines again.
It was a torrid, wonderful affair but Eliot always told Wiley it couldn’t last. He assured her it could and would and he meant it with all his heart. She knew differently.
She insisted the affair be kept a secret, something that really pissed him off.
“Why is this necessary?” he’d storm. He said “I want to go out to dinner with you and my friends” or “I want you to meet my family” and badgered her with questions like “why won’t you introduce me to your family or friends?” But she never talked about her family and she claimed she hadn’t been in Chicago long enough to make many close friends so he had to be content with bringing her into his world.
Then one night at the Parthenon in Greek Town Wiley asked her to become his wife. It was just after waiters ignited their order of saganaki and the entire restaurant erupted with joyous shouts of “Oooopa!” Wiley waited for the luscious cheese to cool and poured her another glass of Greek wine. Then he raised a toast to the “Most beautiful, brilliant, and sexy woman in the world, the woman I love and want to marry,” and she froze. She refused to even look at the stunning 2-carat emerald cut diamond he had carefully chosen.
Wiley was stunned when she explained marriage was not an option. “Blacks should marry blacks and whites should marry whites.”
“What are you, nuts?” he fumed. “We’ve been humping the eyes out of each other for two goddamn years and I love you to death. I don’t want to live without you. We can screw but we can’t marry? Where’s the logic in that?”
Eliot was adamant: she wasn’t going to marry a white man. The argument went on for days.
“But this is 1978 for God’s sakes, and this is Illinois,” he argued. “Damnit, El, this is ridiculous.” He accused her of being a bigot in her own convoluted way.
“So, it’s OK to screw me,” he heard himself ask, “but not marry me? Did you lie to me when you told me you loved me?”
No, she loved him very much but she would not marry him.
Finally, under his relentless pressure, she explained she wasn’t strong enough to be a trail blazer.
“I’ve already gone further than I ever dreamed possible and I don’t want the strain of a mixed-race marriage for the rest of my life or the stress it’ll put on my kids.”
Wiley was stupefied. “That’s crazy,” he said, “please, listen to me baby. We can make this work. There are neighborhoods we can live in. Screw those assholes who don’t like us.”
He had a house in mind in a great neighborhood in Evanston, close to Northwestern University. It was a safe and beautiful town for an interracial couple. Barring that, if she didn’t want to leave the city, there were several other excellent neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, and East Rogers Park, all places anchored by world class universities that gave haven to liberally minded folks. Wiley did his homework.
Eliot was emphatic. “Don’t ask me to explain it any more than I already have. It’s over.”
She swooped down on Truman White, marrying him with lightning speed in a historically important black Methodist church on the south side of Chicago less than five weeks later. Tru was an easy going, salt-of-the-earth, church-going black man who wanted nothing more radical than a steady job teaching high school and a few kids of his own. Eliot was the most extraordinary, beautiful, and talented woman he ever met and he adored her. They enjoyed a stable marriage and were the proud parents of three kids but after a lifetime sharing the same bed with Truman, it was still Wiley who came to Eliot in all of her most vivid sexual dreams.
She could live with that; in fact, it was exactly how she wanted it: Tru in her house and Wiley in her head.
“You’ll get over me,” she assured him but it wasn’t true. No matter how many other women agreed to marry him, the truth was the only woman Wiley really wanted at his side declined the offer.
He wished he’d been able to hate her for rejecting him but that was impossible: Fred Wiley knew he was still very much in love with Eliot Ness.
Wiley returned his thoughts to Carter. He wasn’t going to let Mack walk until he spoke to an ASA and he intended the ASA to be Eliot. He didn’t want to think too much about why his heart still skipped a beat or why he felt like a chump just thinking about her. He’d go with the fact she was the best ASA in the county and he was the best dick in the state and it was OK for him to run important issues past her. They had a long history turning his busts into successful prosecutions and if that was the only way he could have Eliot in his life he’d rather take it than leave it.
He never knew what she thought about their working relationship and he always hunted for the faintest glimmer of regret on her part, the merest suggestion that she still cared deeply but those hints and suggestions never came. Her only deliberate effort to maintain social contact with him outside of work was an odd faithfulness about sending an annual Christmas card, something she’d done every holiday since they broke up. She also always remembered to include whatever his wife’s name was at the time, a thoughtful gesture that both amused and puzzled him. He kept every single card, including all the pictures of her kids as they grew up over the years. Their names were branded into his memory: Kenny, Adele and Denise.
Pictures of Eliot and her husband Tru were never included.
Wiley looked at his watch; it was still too early to call Eliot. He almost always called her on her cell but tried to respect sensible business hours unless it was a dire emergency.
He didn’t consider Mack Carter a dire emergency. Be cool, he told himself; relax.
Wiley told Eggs to run out and bring back breakfast. Eggs groused that it was still snowing heavily.
“So what? You don’t eat in winter or something? Cops don’t fight crime in bad weather? You think I should starve ’cuz it’s snowing?”
Eggs wisely bit his tongue and grabbed his parka.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t care, just make sure it’s pancakes, three eggs, sausage, make it links, hash browns, Greek toast and get me a large OJ.”
He tossed Eggs a double saw-buck, adding “Ask that guy Carter if he’s hungry. Tell him I’m buying.”
He didn’t offer to buy anything for Eggs.
Note from Maureen: I know it appears that I've been slackin' off all week since I haven't posted anything since last Monday. Truthfully, I've been on a mini-vacation... I didn't plan it though (if I had I would have told you) but it's sort of evolved like this: I've been waking up every morning lately and saying "screw it; I'm going to do nothing but chill today...."
Honestly, I think it began when I was hit with Maximum Blog Burnout because I'm less than happy with Google (as already noted). I'm thinking about moving my blog to Word Press but I'm just too lazy to bother with that now...
In any event, as I said, almost every day this week I woke and said "screw it..." but you know what? It feels pretty damn good so, obviously, it was time.
I've taken a few short road trips, tackled a few gardening projects, wrote a review about an art exhibit for my local paper, but mainly have been greatly absorbed in thoughts about March Storm, the sequel to January Moon. I'm not at an impasse and I don't have writer's block; I'm just letting the Muse speak and I'm trying to listen. March Storm is already written in my head and much is already typed and I love it; this is just a break in the action so that I can return to the mss fresh and ready to hit it out of the park!
Enjoy your Sunday!!
|Beats the hell out of ordinary sunbathing, doesn't it?|