between Wilson and Lawrence. They wanted ninety a month for it. I hesitated a moment. I hated to turn it down- Marissa would be peeved and she had enough connections that I was better off with her feeling good about me. Even worse, what if Elena showed up again at three in the morning?

“She can’t move in right away,” I said at last. “But I’ll stop by and pay for the room on my way home.”

“Cash,” the secretary said briefly. “And no pets or children.”

“Fine.” I double-checked the address and hung up. For the first time in my life I found myself wondering what Elena had done for birth control all those years. And I suddenly realized why Gabriella had been so accepting the time she showed up at our house thirty years ago. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what had been said, but Elena had been pregnant. Gabriella helped her find some kind of underground abortion and Elena got drunk.

I sat at my desk, my shoulder slumped, watching the pigeons fight for space on the windowsill. Finally I stretched out a hand to switch on the desk lamp and called Michael Furey at the Central District. He didn’t sound enthusiastic at hearing from me, but he said he’d checked the morgue and some of the area hospitals-no gray- haired drunk women had been hauled in since yesterday afternoon.

“Gotta go, Vic, we’re hard at it. See you Sunday…”

Normally I would have chafed him about being hard at a poker game, but I hung up without saying anything-I wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

I’d noticed too late that one of the pieces of mail I was shredding was from an old client. I rummaged through the scraps on the floor and reconstructed enough of it to see that it was a request for a simple background check. It would keep until Monday-I wasn’t in the humor to do that tonight, either. The rest of the paper I scooped up and put into the trash.

Embarrassed by my earlier outburst, I soberly filed the papers remaining on my desk, then went to the ladies’ room on the seventh floor for some water to scrub down the surface. That looked so good that I finished by washing the windowsills and filing cabinets too. Clean now in thought, word, and deed, I locked up the office.

En route to the garage I stopped at a cash machine to get the ninety dollars, then joined the slow procession out of the Loop. Everyone leaves work early on Friday in order to maximize the amount of time spent sitting in traffic before starting the weekend.

It was a little before five when I reached the Windsor Arms on Kenmore. The building had gone up when the Duke was in his heyday, enjoying Goering’s hospitality and lending his name to residential hotels that hoped to reflect his royal splendor. The Duke of Windsor was dead now, but the hotel hadn’t been so lucky. If the facade had been washed since George VI’s ascension, it didn’t show. Not much more attention had been paid to basic repairs- a number of windows had pieces of cardboard filling in for missing panes.

The inside smelled faintly of boiled cabbage, despite a large poster over the desk that stated emphatically, “Absolutely No Cooking in Rooms.” Next to the sign Alderman Helen Schiller’s face smiled beatifically out at her voters.

No one was behind the desk, but a handful of residents sat in a small lounge watching Vanna White on a tiny TV chained high on the wall. I walked over and asked if anyone knew where the manager was. A middle-aged woman in a sleeveless housedress looked at me suspiciously-people in business suits and nylons who come to residential hotels are usually city inspectors or lawyers threatening action on behalf of the family of a dead resident.

I gave my most trustworthy smile. “I understand you have a room here. For Elena Warshawski.”

“What about it?” The woman had the heavy flat drawl of the Irish South side.

“I’m her niece. She’ll be by in a couple of days to move in, but I wanted to pay for a month in advance to hold the room for her.”

The woman looked me up and down, her watery gray eyes tight and ungiving. At last she decided my sanctimonious honesty was the real thing. She turned back to the set, waited for a commercial, then heaved herself ponderously out of the vinyl-coated armchair. I followed her out to the desk and behind it into a cubbyhole whose outstanding feature was a large lockbox.

The chatelaine counted my tens twice, wrote out a receipt in a labored hand, then put the money in a sealed envelope and slid it through a slot in the side of the box.

“I don’t know how to get into that sucker, so don’t think your boyfriend can come around and hold a gun on me to get your money back for you. They come and empty it out twice a week.”

“No, ma’am,” I agreed helplessly.

“Now I’ll show you the room. When your aunt’s ready to move in she can come on over. Make sure she brings the receipt with her.”

We walked up three flights of stairs, slowly, to accommodate my guide’s short, panting breaths, and down an uncarpeted corridor. Empty glass fixtures over the doors were a reminder of the Windsor Arms’s grander days-the hall was lighted now by two naked bulbs. The desk clerk stopped at the second door from the end of the left side and unlocked it.

Whoever owned the building apparently owed Marissa Duncan a favor. Either that or hoped Marissa would provide a friendly push up the local political ladder. The window held all four panes, the floor was clean, and the narrow bed made up tidily. A white plastic chest of drawers stood in the corner. A deal table under the window completed the furnishings.

“Bathroom’s down the hall. She can lock her stuff in a chest under the bed if she’s afraid of junkies. Key comes to me when she’s not in the room. And absolutely no cooking in here. The wiring’s old. Don’t want the place going up in smoke around us.”

I agreed soberly and followed her back down the stairs. She returned to Wheel of Fortune without another look at me. Once outside I gulped in the air in great mouthfuls.

I never seem to make enough money to put more than a thousand or so into a Keogh plan every year. What was I going to live on when I got too old to hustle clients any longer? The thought of being sixty-six, alone, living in a little room with three plastic drawers to hold my clothes- a shudder swept through me, almost knocking me off balance. A woman with three children in tow yanked them past me-I was just a falling-down drunk for her children to stare at on their way home. I climbed heavily into the Chevy and headed south.

The mixture of guilt and fear the Windsor Arms stirred in me took the edge off my pleasure in the weekend. I went to the grocery Saturday morning and got fruit and yogurt for the week ahead. But when I picked out supplies for a pasta salad I was taking to an impromptu picnic that afternoon I bypassed my usual olive oil for a cheap brand- how could I spend eleven dollars on a pint of olive oil when I couldn’t scrape together enough for a third- quarter deposit into my Keogh? I even bought domestic Parmesan. Gabriella would have upbraided me sharply-but then she wouldn’t have approved of my buying pasta in a store to begin with.

I got all three morning papers and read them carefully before going over to the park. So far nobody had found any unidentified older women in the river or roaming dementedly about the streets. I had to trust that Furey, or Bobby Mallory himself, would call me if Elena had been arrested. There didn’t seem to be anything else for me to do except join my pals at Montrose Harbor and take my aggressions out on a Softball.

I couldn’t quite shake off my depression, but a game-saving catch I made in the sixth inning cheered me-I hadn’t known I could still dive for a ball and come up with it the way I did at twenty. Over Soave and grilled chicken afterwards, I couldn’t quite get into the ribald spirits of my friends. I left while the party was still in progress so as to catch the ten o’clock news.

Elena still hadn’t surfaced in a dramatic way. I finally decided she was hanging out someplace with Annie Green-sleeves and went to bed, torn between disgust with her and irritation with myself.

I’d half been hoping that the gods would blight Boots’s party with violent thundershowers, but Sunday dawned with more of the bright, merciless sunshine we’d suffered from all summer. With September drawing to a close, the days were merely warm instead of sweltering, but the Midwest was still suffering from its worst drought in fifty years.

All around the city sidewalks and roadbeds had buckled and collapsed. During the height of the heat wave sparks from the trains had ignited beams holding up the L platforms so that various stations were now closed more or less permanently. Given Chicago’s perennial cash shortfall, I didn’t expect to see those stops reopen in my lifetime.

I ran Peppy to Belmont Harbor and back, then made my way through the Sunday papers. The Sun-Times was the hardest-I’ve never figured out their organizational scheme and I had to read a lot more than I wanted about home decorating and fall festivals in Wisconsin before stumbling on the

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