metropolitan news.

When I’d finished the Herald-Star without finding any word on Elena, it was time to shower and dress for my two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar barbecue. I knew Marissa would probably show up in silk lounging pajamas or something equally exotic, but unless Rosalyn Fuentes had changed dramatically, she would probably wear jeans. It seemed to me good fund-raising etiquette dictated not to upstage the guest of honor. Besides, I didn’t want to worry about dry-clean-only clothes at a giant picnic. I put on khaki slacks and a loose- fitting olive shirt. Neat-would camouflage food spills and above all be comfortable for an afternoon in the sun.

Michael arrived a little before three, his black hair and dark eyes set off vividly by a navy blazer and pale blue polo shirt. His normal good spirits had spilled over into exuberance-he liked big parties, he liked getting together with his pals, and he had enough old-fashioned Dem in him to look forward to an afternoon hobnobbing with patty bigwigs.

I made a great show of salaams at his elegance. “You sure you want to arrive at Boots’s with me? It’s really going to tone down your image.”

He gave me a mock tap to the nose. “You make me look good, Warshawski. That’s why I want you to stay close this afternoon.”

“The slum next to the suburb? That’s kind of how I feel about the whole affair.” Somehow his effervescence made me feel like being disagreeable.

“Aw, come on, Warshawski. Do you really like living in the trash and graffiti? Secretly, down deep, wouldn’t you live in the clean open spaces if you could afford it?”

“You stay in Norwood Park,” I reminded him.

“Only because those of us who serve and protect you from the graffiti artists have to live in the city. And Chicago crime is more interesting to be around than the stuff in Streamwood.”

“Well, that’s what I think too. That’s why I can’t see myself out there.” I took my billfold from my handbag and stuffed it in a pants pocket along with my invitation to the party-I didn’t want to lug a purse around the picnic all afternoon.

“But you do a lot of investigations in the suburbs,” Michael objected as we left my apartment.

“That’s why I like city crime better.” I turned the double locks. “Someone bonks you on the head and steals your purse. They don’t sit in board rooms raving on about the niggers in Chicago while they’re sliding a million or two off the top from the company.”

“I could introduce you to some muggers,” Michael offered when we reached the street. “They need some PR- maybe you’re just the gal for them.” He sketched a billboard with his hands. “I can kind of see it-clean, honest crime like your granddaddy used to commit.”

I laughed in spite of myself. “Okay, okay. Muggers are scum. I just have a chip on my shoulder about the suburbs, that’s all. Anyway, I can’t afford them. I wouldn’t mind knowing what Boots did to finance a move from Division and Central to Streamwood.”

Michael framed my face with his hands and kissed me. “Do me a favor, Vic-just don’t ask him this afternoon.”

I disengaged myself and got into the Chevy. “Don’t worry-my mama brought me up to know how to act in public. See you at the ball.”

He hopped into the Corvette, flashed his lights at me a few times, and took off toward Belmont with a great screeching of rubber.


County Picnic

Once we were on the Kennedy I lost track of Michael. He could afford to do eighty-the highway patrol would give him a professional wink they wouldn’t extend to me. He was waiting for me at the exit to the Northwest Tollway; I had him more or less in view as we started winding our way through the hills that swell to the northwest as you leave Chicago.

I’m not sure I would have found Boots’s spread if I hadn’t been following Michael, at least not on the first go- round. The entrance, which lay on a twisting unlabeled street, was a discreet opening in the hedge separating the road from the gaze of the vulgar. Michael had been going close to sixty around the curves. He braked the Corvette and turned without warning, so that I had to screech to a halt beyond the entrance and find a long enough flat stretch to make a U in. Boys will be boys.

He was waiting for me beside a gate that lay ten feet or so from the hole in the hedge I had turned through. The shrubbery lining the drive partly concealed a ten-foot-high fence connected to the gate. If you tried to breach the ramparts anyway there were a couple of sheriff’s deputies to shoot you down.

“Sorry, Vic,” Furey said penitently, “I thought the turn off was up the road another half mile. Shouldn’t have been showing off on such a dangerous stretch.” When one of the deputies asked me for my invitation, Furey added, “Oh, don’t bother her-she’s with me.”

“Not so’s you’d notice it.” I fished in my pocket for the invitation and held it out, but the guard waved me on without looking at it. This assumption of my relationship to Michael added to my ill humor. I got back into my Chevy while Michael joked with the other men, maneuvered around the Corvette, and drove away with a little spit of gravel. Before the road twisted I could see Furey get back into the Corvette, but I turned a bend and found myself alone on a tree-lined drive.

Whatever damage the summer had done to the corn crop, it hadn’t hurt Boots particularly. The trees here showed full, graceful leaves and the grass beyond them was thick and green. In the distance I could make out a stand of corn. I guess if you’re chairman of the County Board there are ways to get water to your farm.

I turned another bend and found myself at the party. I’d been hearing music blaring in the distance ever since leaving the front gate. Now I could see a big bandstand beyond the main house with a band in straw boaters and navy blazers going full bore. On the other side of the house smoke hovered lazily over what was presumably the barbecue pit. Boots was sacrificing one of his own cows to Roz’s campaign.

A sheriff’s deputy, swinging an outsize flashlight, directed me to a crowd of cars in a big yard northeast of the house. Maybe it was a pasture-I remembered seeing one on a Girl Scout outing when I was eleven. Despite the presence of the deputies-or because of them-I carefully locked the Chevy.

Furey caught up with me as I headed toward the bandstand where most of the party was gathered. “Goddamnit, Vic, what’s making you so shirty?”

I stopped to look at him. “Michael, I paid two hundred and fifty dollars for the doubtful pleasure of coming to this shindig. I’m not your date, nor yet ‘the little woman’ whom you can tuck under your arm and hustle past the guards.”

His good-humored face tightened into a scowl. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“You treated me like a cipher out there-leaving me standing in the road and then telling the deputies to ignore me because I was your appendage. I don’t like it.”

He flung up his hands in exasperation. “I was trying to do you a favor, save you a little hassle with the boys at the gate. If I’d known you were going to treat it like a mortal insult I’d of saved my breath.”

He strode of toward the crowd. I followed him slowly, irritated as much with myself as with Furey. I didn’t like the little trick stunt he’d pulled at the turnoff, but that didn’t justify my retaliating in kind. Maybe frustration over Elena’s disappearance was making me testy. Or my innate bad humor. Or just being at a Cook County political fund-raiser.

The last time I remembered seeing Boots in the news one of his bodyguards had beaten in the face of a man who had come too close to the boss after a County Board meeting. The man claimed Boots had murdered his daughter- heavy accusations, although he had a long history at Elgin-but breaking someone’s nose seemed like an excessive response to insanity. In fairness to Boots, he’d picked up the guy’s hospital tab later on-but why did he need bodyguards at all?

That was only the most recent public episode Meagher had been involved in. He also had fingers in dozens of business ventures in the state, the kinds of deals where everybody gets rich if they know which way the tax breaks

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