24

“So, what? A payoff? Is that what you’re thinking?”

“But that would be crazy, wouldn’t it? I mean, the timing is weird but . . . would someone actually do that? It looks so fishy.”

“Desperate people do things that look fishy.” Slovo picked up a slice of the pizza she’d brought and took a big bite. He broke off a piece of crust and gave it to the rat sitting on his shoulder. “Let’s think about this. The murder happened on Saturday.”

“Early Sunday morning, actually.” Anni watched the pet rat grasp the crust with its little pink paws and make short work of it. Ugh.

“At the house of a guy who Kyle has been hitting up for funding. And by Tuesday afternoon he’s writing a check for . . .”

“Fifty thousand. That’s the first tranche, according to the press release. The total investment is going to be two hundred K. What’s a tranche, anyway?”

“Beats me.” Slovo scrutinized the pizza slice, made a face, picked something off it and offered it to the rat. “Want this, little guy?” The rat sniffed, then started exploring his collar for crumbs. “Look, even rats won’t eat it. Who puts salted fish bones on pizza, anyway?” He dropped it on the pizza box and wiped his fingers on his shirt.

“I like anchovies.”

“We have more discerning tastes.” He broke off another piece of crust for the rat while Anni picked the offending anchovies off his half and put them on hers. “I called Kyle again, but he won’t pick up.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know. There’s nothing to go on. None of the people who were at that party will talk to me. Believe me, I tried. Tracked them down based on the selfie the victim posted to Twitter before he got gutted. Lot of good it does me. They aren’t talking.” I should check in with Az Abkerian, she thought to herself. He was good at getting people to open up, and he had contacted her about the story. Let him do the legwork.

“What’s the scenario?”

“The classic. They were drinking, they got into an argument. A weapon was handy. How a lot of homicides happen.”

“And then a guy comes along just in time, saying crazy stuff, and they figure they have an easy way out? Kind of convenient, huh?”

“Right. It’s way too big a coincidence.”

“Unless Kyle called and invited him over. Any chance of that?”

“Huh. If Josh’s parents pay his phone bill, their telecom might let them look at his phone records online.” She moaned. “God, I’ll have to talk to Donna.”

“Go on. Get it over with.”

“What, now?”

“Now. Otherwise you’ll have it hanging over you.”

She sighed and pulled out her phone. Yes, Donna told her, Josh was on their family plan. Donna had no idea how to access the records online but she would talk to the company and find out.

“Okay, that wasn’t too painful,” Anni said after ending the conversation in record time. “She said she’d get on it and get back to me. Hope I didn’t get her hopes up. This is a long shot.”

“Trust your instincts,” Slovo said. “Did you have a chance to check out those contacts I gave you?”

It took her a moment to switch gears. “Oh, the Elgin State Hospital ones? Yeah. Feliks was committed there when he turned sixteen. That retired doctor is pretty sharp for his age. He beat around the bush for a while on confidentiality, but he was curious and somehow became convinced I was acting on behalf of his heirs, so it was okay. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way. Anyhow, he remembered Feliks, as one of his first patients. He had been diagnosed as mentally deficient, but the guy said that was probably wrong in hindsight. These days he would probably get an autism diagnosis.”

“Didn’t you have . . . I may be remembering this wrong. A family member with autism?”

“My brother. Right. I’ve been wondering if Feliks was on the spectrum. Mostly nonverbal, like my brother. Obsessive. Big on routines, rituals. At first, I didn’t want to think he was anything like my brother. Those pictures he drew seemed so . . . disturbed. So crazy. My brother’s not crazy.”

“Neither was Feliks.”

“So, apparently he tried to run away from the hospital several times. Managed to escape sometime in the early sixties. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Somehow he made his way back to Chicago, back to the neighborhood where he’d lived with his mother when he was small.”

“See? Not crazy.” Slovo picked up the rodent and a half-eaten slice of pizza, limped over to put them both into a wire cage. “What are you up to this afternoon?”

“I want to talk to Danny’s sister.” I only let go for a minute. It’s not my fault. She could hear the little girl’s voice, defiant and anxious. “Oh, here are some more of those notebooks.” She passed over a USB drive. “That ought to keep you busy and off the streets.”

 

“Why do you want to talk to Cassie?” Joyce asked when Anni called her.

“I know she was really young when Danny disappeared, but maybe she remembers something she didn’t tell us back then.” Joyce didn’t say anything. “I’m just trying to fill in the blanks.”

“I don’t know. It was so traumatic for her.”

“I’m sure it was.”

“Being a middle child isn’t easy under the best of circumstances, but having an older brother with a disability meant she didn’t get enough attention. And then, Danny. Being the last one to see him. She wouldn’t like me telling you this, but she attempted suicide a couple of years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“The guilt. After the hospital and a few months of therapy, she dropped out of school and moved into the city. She’s estranged from us, now. Angry with her father over . . . well, a lot of things. Angry at me, too, for not making things better. Angry at the world.” She laughed, bleakly. “She came into the world that way. Oh, she had such a loud cry. Nothing would comfort her. I’d walk the hall with her for hours trying . . . well, anyway, it’s never been easy for her, especially after we lost Danny. She’d been doing so much better, lately, getting training as a tattoo artist, working as a seamstress. She even designs costumes for productions at Moonbeam.”

“The theatre?”

“They’re putting on a Camus play next month. I was hoping to get to it, but now I don’t think I will. She wouldn’t want me there, anyway. How is your work going? Have your learned anything new?”

“Not much. Feliks Król spent some time in a mental institution.”

“Oh.”

“But a doctor who knew him said he was probably misdiagnosed. A lot of people with autism were considered either cognitively impaired or psychotic back then. I’ve been talking with someone who knew Feliks pretty well. He’s convinced Feliks didn’t prey on kids, thinks he probably just found the clothes when he was out scavenging. And the art—he’s sure that’s unrelated to Danny.”

“What do you think?”

“Honestly? I’m starting to lean that way, myself.”

“What do the police say?”

“I haven’t talked to them in a while.”

“The woman called me a few days ago. Shirley? Didn’t have any news, just said she wanted to keep in touch, like you used to do.”

“Good.”

“It’s not the same. I keep feeling she’s holding something back. Any idea what it could be?”

Anni remembered the rumors Slovo had picked up about Brian’s fortunes, a money laundering investigation, her own long-ago probe into his complicated finances. “They don’t talk to me. That’s just how the police operate when they’re working on a case.”

“You did.”

“I never had anything to tell you. I still don’t.”

“At least you tried. Did you read that article Az Abkerian wrote? Your journalist friend? I forget where it was published, some online magazine. I thought it was rather good. Brian hated it.” Was that a chuckle?

 

Anni searched for the article and read it, then called Az. “Nice job on your piece in The Grapevine.”

“Thanks. I’m still waiting for the check. I could buy a sandwich with it if they ever get around to paying me.”

“You made Ben Sidlo look ridiculous.”

“I’m not taking credit for that. He did it all by himself, though it seems to have gone right past him. He texted me to say how great it was.”

“I hear Brian Truscott was pissed off.”

“Because it wasn’t all about him? Guy talked my ear off and didn’t even notice when I stopped taking notes. I was lucky to escape.”

“Have you heard any rumors about him lately?”

“Like what?”

“I heard something about money laundering.”

“Who’ve you been talking to?” He sounded more amused than surprised.

“It was third hand, something on the internet. Just curious if you knew anything about it.”

“Haven’t been able to confirm anything, but word on the street is he’s under federal investigation. Thanks to some friends in high places he got a big plot of land on the near South Side where the projects came down. He’s supposedly putting in a mixed-use, mixed-income development, the crown jewel of the Plan for Transformation, quote unquote. The source of the private funding he came up with is one of those riddles wrapped inside an enigma registered in the state of Delaware.”

“That’s interesting. Back when Danny went missing, I went down a rabbit hole, looking at his finances. He seemed pretty sketchy, but the higher-ups told me there was nothing there.”

“You think there might have been?”

“I don’t know. I’m just not convinced Feliks Król had anything to do with it.”

“ . . . ‘anything to do with it,’” he muttered to himself. She pictured him, scribbling away, his phone trapped between his chin and his shoulder.

“That’s not for attribution,” she added.

“Jesus Christ. What is it with you? Still . . . this is good. Pitching a financial crimes story is tough. Tie in a missing kid, that could sell it.”

Anni wondered what she’d unleashed. If it turned out Brian Truscott’s dodgy business practices were somehow responsible for his son’s disappearance, it could envelop the family in a media firestorm. On the other hand, a journalist recognized for his crime reporting might be able to get a lot further in uncovering a financial motive than she ever could. That thought reminded her of the reason she contacted Az in the first place. “Say, you doing anything on the Pete Foster case?”

“Why? You got something for me?”

“It’s probably nothing, but Devon Oachs, who hosted the party where the murder happened and Matthew . . . hang on.” She had to dig in her bag for her notebook, flip pages. “Matthew Bradford, who was also there that night, they have an LLC that just invested a pile of cash in a business that Kyle Peterson is trying to get off the ground, some tech startup. Peterson got introduced to them by Josh McLaren.”

“Your nutcase.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. Anyway, Kyle Peterson was also at the party, trying to make friends, and when I talked to him yesterday—the same day the LLC wrote a big check—he was really squirrely. Didn’t want to talk, seemed super stressed. I contacted other people who were there when Pete Foster got stabbed, but nobody’s talking. I have some names.” She read them out, along with their phone numbers. “These guys all went to the same high school on the North Shore as Josh and had a reputation for being pretty wild. Kyle Peterson is the outsider. He doesn’t come from money. He got Josh to introduce him to these guys, hoping to hustle some venture capital for his startup. Which apparently worked, though today he didn’t seem too thrilled about it.”

“What’s the name of this business?” She gave him MiMi’s URL and read out the name of the LLC.  “Okay, got it. You have any theories about this?”

“I’m sure you can come up with your own.”

“You’re such a hardass. Can you give me something on your client, Josh McLaren? What’s he going through?”

“No comment.”

He sighed gustily. “Fine. Be that way. I gotta go.”

Someone had left a voicemail while she was talking to Az. Donna, her voice buoyant with excitement. She’d been able to look at the phone records. Kyle had called Josh at 3:03 am Sunday night. Was that an important clue?

Anni pulled out her wallet, then burrow through her bag, finally finding the card tucked into one of its many pockets. Detective Elijah Morton. She punched in the cell number he’d written on the back.

“What?” He sounded harassed.

“Hi, it’s Anni Koskinen. You got a minute?”

“I can give you fifteen seconds. What’s on your mind?”

“Have you talked to Kyle Peterson lately?” He didn’t answer. “I tried to this morning. Something’s bothering him.”

“Watching a guy bleed out will do that.”

“Well, yeah, but here’s another thing: he’d been trying to get people to invest in his tech startup. That’s why he wanted to hang out with Devon Oachs and his pals, to coax them to put some money into his venture. A couple of them did—just today. Weird timing, huh? Another thing, turns out Kyle called Josh a little after three am. Like, to invite him over right around the time Pete Foster got killed, so he could take the fall.”

“We already have the phone records. We have a timeline. Look, I realize you’re trying to be helpful, but we’ve investigated a homicide or two, we know what we’re doing.”

“Okay, but the money—”

“Got it, thanks. I’m going into a meeting.” She heard voices in the background, his voice at a distance booming out a friendly greeting to someone else before it cut off.  Either it wasn’t news to him, or it was news he didn’t want to hear.

She looked up the address for the Moonbeam Theatre, checked out the traffic situation, and headed to her car.

License

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In the Dark by Barbara Fister, 2020, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.