It was well after ten when I finally sat down with my dinner. The chop was cooked to a turn, just pink inside, and the glazed mushrooms complemented it perfectly. I’d eaten about half of it when the phone rang. I debated letting it go, then thought of Elena. If she’d been trying to sell her ass on Clark Street it could be the cops wanting me to bail her out.

It was a police officer, but he didn’t know Elena and he was calling for purely personal reasons. At least partly personal reasons. I’d met Michael Furey when I went to the Mallorys’ last New Year’s Day for dinner. His father and Bobby had grown up together in Norwood Park. When Michael joined the police fresh out of junior college, Bobby kept an avuncular eye on him. In Chicago people look after their own, but Bobby is a scrupulously honorable cop-he wouldn’t use personal influence to promote a friend’s son’s career. The boy proved himself on his own, though; after fifteen years Bobby was glad to welcome him into the Violent Crimes Unit at the Central District.

For a while following the transfer Eileen invited the two of us up to dinner on a regular basis. She longed not so much for my second marriage as for my children-she kept trotting the brightest and best of the Chicago police by me in the hopes that one of them would look like good father material to me.

Eileen belonged to the generation that believes a guy with a good set of wheels is more appealing than one who can afford only a Honda. Furey had a little money- his father’s life insurance, he said, which he’d been able to invest-and he drove a silver Corvette. He was attractive and cheerful, and I did like driving the Corvette, but we didn’t have much except the Mallorys and a love of sports in common. Our relationship settled into an occasional trip to the Stadium or a ball game together. Eileen masked her disappointment but stopped the dinner invitations.

“Vic! Glad I caught you in,” Michael boomed cheerfully into my ear.

I finished chewing. “Hiya, Michael. What’s up?”

“Just got off shift. Thought I’d check in and see how you’re doing.”

“Why, Michael,” I said with mock sincerity, “how thoughtful of you. How long has it been-a month or so?-and you check in with me at ten P.M.?”

He laughed a little consciously. “Aw, heck, Vic. You know how it is. I got something to ask and I don’t want you taking it the wrong way.”

“Try me.”

“It’s-uh, well, just I didn’t know you were interested in county politics.”

“I’m not especially.” I was surprised.

“Ernie told me you’re listed as a sponsor for the Fuentes fund-raiser out at Boot’s farm on Sunday.”

“News sure do travel fast,” I said lightly, but I felt myself tensing in reflexive annoyance-I hate having my activities monitored. “How does Ernie know and why does he care?”

Ernie Wunsch and Ron Grasso had grown up with Michael on the northwest side. The odd political jobs they’d done as teenagers and young adults hadn’t hurt them any when they decided to join Ernie’s dad’s general contracting firm after college. Their company wasn’t one of the giants, but more and more often you saw cement trucks with Wunsch & Grasso’s red and green stripes at construction sites. Their biggest coup had been getting the bid on the Rapelec complex, an office-condo center under construction near the Gold Coast.

“I was afraid you’d take this the wrong way,” Michael said plaintively. “Ernie doesn’t care. He knows because he and his old man have done a certain amount of work for the county over the years. So of course he gets asked to all the fund-raisers. You know how it is in Chicago, Vic-if you do business with the city or the county, you gotta engage in a little reciprocity.”

I knew how it was.

“So of course they got an advance look at the program. And Ernie knows you and I are-well, friends. So he mentioned it. Not something you really need to get hot about.”

“No,” I agreed meekly. “It just takes me by surprise when two unconnected parts of my life suddenly hook up.”

“Know the feeling,” he agreed. “I just was wondering if I could go with you. I might attend anyway, since the boys are roping in as many victims as they can. If you’re going to be there…”

“Let me think about it,” I said, after a pause too long to be really polite. “Although-look, I wonder if you could do something for me.” I told him about Elena. “I don’t know much about her-what her hangouts are. And even though I don’t want her living with me, I’m a little worried. I’d kind of like to know she’s okay, wherever she is.”

“Christ, Vic, you don’t want much, do you? You know damned well there’s no way I can go to the CTA without a good reason. If I start checking routes and talking to drivers, their union’ll be at Uncle Bobby’s door within the hour screaming for my butt.”

“Maybe I should call Bobby in the morning, talk it over with him.” Besides being Michael’s godfather, Bobby Mallory had been my own father’s protege and his best friend on the force. He might check up on Elena for Tony’s sake-I wouldn’t expect him to do it for mine.

“No, don’t do that,” Michael said hastily. “Tell you what-I’ll pass it on to the uniforms on Madison and the Near South Side, ask them to keep an eye out for her and call me if they see her.”

“I don’t want her being hassled,” I warned him.

“Cool your jets, Vic. Discretion is my middle name.”

“Yeah, right, and I’m the Queen of Sheba.”

He laughed. “So if I look into it, you’ll go to Boots’s with me on Sunday?”

“Something like that,” I admitted, blushing in spite of myself.

“I ought to run you in for trying to bribe a cop.” It was a grumble, but the tone was good-natured; he promised to call me tomorrow if he turned anything up. He arranged to meet me at three on Sunday; since he knew the way he offered to drive. I said I’d follow him in my own car-I didn’t want to hang around Boots Meagher’s farm until midnight while Michael caught up with his old precinct pals.

By the time we hung up my chop had gotten cold and the glazed wine sauce was congealed. I was too tired to heat it up again tonight. Sticking the plate in the refrigerator, I fell into bed and spent the night in uneasy dreams in which I chased Elena across Chicago, always just missing her as she boarded the eastbound Diversey bus.


Royal Suite

I worked for the county for five years after passing the bar. During my summers in law school I interned at the Loop’s giant firms, and I’d held a lot of weird jobs to finance my college education. The worst was selling books by phone for Time-Life from five to nine in the evening. You call people at dinner and they scream at you. Eight or nine times I phoned homes of dead people-once the woman had died only the day before. I extricated myself from her sobbing daughter swiftly and gracelessly.

So I know working for myself beats a whole roster of other employers I can list. Still, being a private investigator is not the romance of the loner knight that Marlowe and Spenser like to pretend-half the time you’re doing some kind of tedious surveillance or spending your day in the Daley Center checking backgrounds. And a good chunk of the rest of the time goes to selling people on hiring your services. Often not successfully.

Cartwright & Wheeler, insurance brokers, listened closely to my presentation on the perils and possibilities of filing false claims. They asked a lot of questions, but the nine people in the room didn’t feel able to make a decision on hiring me without consulting senior staff. I exuded warmth, professionalism, and a positive mental attitude while trying to force a commitment, but the best I could get was a promise to discuss it at Monday’s management meeting.

I went back to my office to stow my five hundred dollars’ worth of transparencies in a filing cabinet. Usually I don’t get too upset by a lukewarm response, but I was feeling edgy enough about Elena that I slammed drawers and tore up mail to vent my irritation. Larry Bowa liked to destroy toilets after a bad game. We all have our little immature quirks.

When I’d calmed down some I checked in with my answering service. Marissa Duncan had left a message. I called back and spoke with her secretary. Marissa had found a room for Elena in a residential hotel on Ken-more

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