S. D. Tooley
When the dead speak
Legend says that overcast skies are nature’s way of hiding evil, protecting the gods from seeing sinister deeds. So the clouds hovered, suspended by some unseen cosmic force. Even the Chicago winds weren’t able to blow the thick clouds away. The sun had tried to make a showing, desperately seeking a flaw in the haze. But it finally gave up as dusk bullied its way in, permitting the sun one brief shining moment before sinking below the horizon.
Like a string of dominos, expressway lights clicked on in succession along the Bishop Ford Freeway. A thunderous crash filled the air. Billows of smoke drifted up, spewing grainey dust in front of headlights, pitting windshields.
In an attempt to avoid another vehicle, a semi had swerved onto the median plowing headlong into the center support pillar of the overpass. The collision had sent the back of the semi fish-tailing into a jackknife. Tires screeched and rubber burned as cars and trucks slammed on their brakes. Loud, shrill horns replaced the sound of the disintegrating column. Chunks of concrete pelted the cab of the semi sending the driver running for cover.
Above the cab wedged under the overpass, the concrete pillar began to change. As if flicking a pesty insect, another piece of concrete dropped away followed by others, pounding out a musical tune on the cab.
A portion of the pillar was taking form, a recognizable shape as it seemed to shrug out of its concrete tomb. Little by little, more of its tomb crumbled away revealing a town’s long-kept secret. Fingers clenched tightly, a mouth silently screamed freedom. Eyes wide in terror reflected the victim’s last fatal seconds.
Harvey Wilson had a story to tell. And only one person would be able to hear him.
Most deals were made in back rooms of cornerstone restaurants after a Closed sign had been hung in the window, or behind closed doors in city council chambers away from the public and press. But in the living room of State Representative Preston Hilliard’s home, there was more than deals to be made — there was money.
The air was as thick as the wainscoting on the walls and the decor as rich-looking as the socially elite that graced the rooms of the oldest mansion in Chasen Heights, a suburb fifteen miles south of Chicago. One hundred of the most influential businessmen and women had been invited for cocktails and a buffet dinner of entrees which included Maine lobster, crab legs, and filet mignon.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” A billow of foul-smelling cigar smoke drifted toward Sam’s line of vision. She had been inhaling the stench and forcing a smile for the last two hours.
“Enise,” Sam replied, pronouncing it E-NUSS. She passed the six decks of cards to the distinguished man at third base, the last seat to her right. He winked at her and slid the yellow cut card one knuckle’s width from the end.
“You sure do have the prettiest blue eyes,” said an elderly man sitting next to the card cutter. His drooping eyes skimmed the length of her white satin cropped top.
The heavyset cigar smoker seated to her left leaned over to view the length of Sam’s frame where she stood behind the waist-high blackjack table.
“You think she looks great from the front, you should see her from the back.” His laugh came from deep within his water-soaked lungs ending in a coughing spasm.
“Stick your tongue back in your mouth, Judge. We’re here to win some money. Deal those cards, Honey.” The man front and center hadn’t cracked a smile all night, deadpan, with eyes that seemed to cross-examine everyone’s movement for a motive. She didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to determine his occupation since he had been spewing legalese since he had arrived.
The players had been coming and going throughout the night depending on how long their money lasted. All wearing tuxedos, they congregated around the bar or sat on the floral sofa and love seat. Some wore their tuxedos quite nicely. Some looked as if they had to be squeezed through a steam roller first. They were from all types of businesses and looking forward to making some money. But the odds were against them the moment they walked through the oak-paneled door.
“Well, Enise,” the banker said. “Let’s see a few blackjacks.” Square bifocals rested on the banker’s nose. Sam spread out his one-hundred-dollar bills, and expertly clicked out two thousand dollars in black chips from the bankroll. The metal tray in front of her divided the chips by color in their respective denominations — red for five- dollar chips, green for twenty-five-dollar chips, black for one-hundred-dollar chips, and lavender for five-hundred- dollar chips.
“Good luck,” Sam told him as she slid the stack of black chips across the green felt. Another belch of foul smoke spouted from the judge at first base. He had spilled more drinks tonight than he had consumed. Sam kept hoping he’d lose his money and leave but he had a royal horseshoe up his butt. The cards were all falling his way. And he was doing stupid things like splitting tens and doubling down on a hard twelve. He seemed to get a blackjack every third hand. And he just got another one.
“YEH!” the doughboy screamed. “Way to go, Anus.”
“That’s ENISE,” Sam said between clenched teeth. I knew I should have picked a simpler name. “E-NUSS.” Sam clicked out seven hundred and fifty dollars in chips from the bankroll and set them by doughboy’s five- hundred-dollar bet. “And you won’t get another blackjack tonight if you don’t pronounce my name right.”
He clamped his teeth over his cigar and in his gravelly voice said, “Okay, Anus.” Another phlegmy cough erupted from his throat as his chubby hands grabbed for his chips.
This night will be worth it, Sam kept repeating in her head. Her eyes swept the room looking for the host. He wasn’t hard to miss. His eyes were as cold as gun metal with well-defined lines etching a frame around them. Standing ramrod straight, he surveyed the room as though assessing if everyone was worthy of his presence. He had thick silver hair and had been working the room, going in and out, shaking hands, practically campaigning.
Sam couldn’t help but notice the Remington statues, and the huge stone fireplace one could almost stand in. She wondered exactly how much money was too much and doubted the words too much were part of Preston’s vocabulary.
“Hey, Murphy.” The attorney waved toward the doorway where a familiar-looking man stood. “Come pull up a chair.” Voices and laughter spilled in through the opened door.
Sam couldn’t match a name with the well-tanned face, plastic-looking hair, and expensive jewelry. The man ran a hand through his too-perfect shade of brown hair and strolled over.
“You know everyone, don’t you, Dennis?” the judge asked.
Dennis, Sam thought. Dennis Murphy. The name sounded oh so familiar. She tried to focus on the cards she was dealing as her mind flipped through the filing system in her head.
It was the attorney’s voice again. “You all know Captain Dennis Murphy.”
“Dealer busts,” Sam announced in a voice she hoped sounded steady. She avoided Murphy’s eyes as she paid the players. Instead, she was searching for Jackie. Sam had never met Murphy, only seen his pictures, saw his name on several documents at the office. Still, she half expected him to do a double-take and say, “Aren’t you Sergeant Samantha Casey?” Of all places for Murphy to show up. But why not? What’s a friendly illegal blackjack game among the powers of Chasen Heights.
Sam was somewhat confident Murphy couldn’t recognize her. He had never met her, she was wearing a red wig styled in a pixie, and had enough make-up on to camouflage an elephant.
The host moved toward the table. It was more like slithering, Sam thought, his tongue darting in and out, his eyes never blinking as if he were afraid of missing something important.