23

A little past noon, Anni made a show of climbing the front porch and picking up the mail and taking it into Josh’s flat, like a good landlord. “Slovo?” She said into the shadowy dark. “It’s just me.” She set the mail and a sack of food down on the coffee table in front of Adam’s oversized leather couch.

“Something smells good,” he said, materializing from the bedroom.

“I was way up on the North Side, going through the orphanage’s archives. Stopped by one of those Indian restaurants up on Devon.” She unpacked the tinfoil pans of aloo gobi, dahl, lamb vindaloo, and garlic naan. “Got a little carried away. You sleep okay?”

“Got a few hours in. Stayed up late, reading through those notebooks Can you get me more of them?”

“Sure. You see anything interesting?”

“It’s all interesting. Strange, though, realizing this guy I thought I knew had invented an entire world of his own. A place that must have felt like home to him, as much time as he spent in it. Like, he developed his own mythology, part Catholicism, part comic books and fairy tales. These angels pop up, over and over, and dragons. Lots of dragons. Some of them are big and scary and work for the enemy, some are small and kind of cute and are on the side of the children. All different children, but in a way it’s chapters of a single story. Same struggle between good and evil, over and over. Good doesn’t come off so well most of the time.”

She got plates from the kitchen. He pulled up a chair and settled in, stretching out his bad leg. There was just enough sunlight slanting through the blinds to see what they were dishing up. “Some of the setting seems based on that orphanage of his,” he went on after sampling a bite. “Like, his life is mixed into these kids’ stories. And there’s a building that looks like photos of Elgin State Hospital, though it’s a dungeon in the stories. All that plus elements of real crimes. One of those notebooks was about a case I worked. I must have talked to Feliks about it, because there’s stuff in his version that wasn’t public.”

“You talked to him about your cases?”

“Sometimes, especially if I’d had a few drinks. Not like he was going to spill it to reporters or anything.” He reached for a piece of naan. “I didn’t have anyone else to talk to. Not until Robin, anyway.”

“So that story based on your case, was it true to life? I mean, did he write it like it happened?”

“God only knows what really happened to that child. We made an arrest, but none of it made any sense. Feliks filled in the blanks with more than we could ever find out. There weren’t ever any angels around that I could see.”

“I wonder if Król made one of his stories about Danny.”

“It was in the news, enough, he must have read about it.”

“We talked to him. Not me, one of the uniforms doing the canvass. Didn’t get anything out of him. Didn’t even spell his name right. But wouldn’t that be all the more reason to write a story about Danny? It was probably the only case he was personally asked about. Maybe we’ll find out in a few years, when Sidlo finally gets around to inventorying that part of the precious treasure box of wondrous artwork.”

“Oh, hey. I found these.” He unfolded the other piece of paper he’d pulled from his pocket and handed it to her. A list of names and phone numbers.

She peered at it. “Who’s  Sheila . . . Johnson?” His handwriting was terrible, a childish jumble of letters bumping into each other.

“Sheila Abbot Johnson. Daughter of the man on that funeral service brochure Feliks kept. Don’t know if she’ll know anything, but worth a try. The next five on the list are people who worked at the hospital when that funeral service was held. Probably a bust. They had a lot of patients out there. Even if Feliks was one of them, I doubt they’d remember. That last name, though, he’s been retired for years but he was a psychiatrist there for decades, starting in 1960. He might be reading the news and wondering whether that quiet oddball was actually a violent pedophile. Assuming Feliks was committed, which we don’t actually know.”

“You’ve been busy.”

“You would have found this stuff if you weren’t tied up with your other case. Also, what you said, Danny’s family maybe being in financial trouble? I think it’s more than that. There are rumors flying that Truscott’s real estate empire is on the rocks. Hints he’s in legal trouble over bribes to officials, something bigger than the usual palm-greasing. May be some money laundering involved.”

“Where’d you get all this?”

“The internet is an amazing invention. Stand on a corner and you can overhear all kinds of conversations. You find anything in those archives?”

“Not really.” Just the weird feeling of drifting back in time, wandering ghostlike through a thicket of numbers and budgets and annual reports that described the wholesome hygiene lessons and spiritual guidance provided to the boys, with a list of the names of orphans, with an appendix for the ones who’d died that year. Age seven, age nine. As she read those records and sorted through photos she kept thinking about Król’s images of children in trouble, children fleeing, children being hurt. “Just a few dates.” She pulled a notepad out of her bag and thumbed through it. “DOB. Year he entered the orphanage, year he left. Those were the only mentions I could find, but it’s more than I had.” She picked up the scrap of paper with contacts Slovo had found for her. “This might help.”

“Let me know what you find out.”

She gathered up her things. “Keep the leftovers. I have to go to Area South to sign a statement about my client.”

“Area South?”

“The city decided to save money by consolidating the detective divisions. There are only three now, North, Central, and South, and none of them are where the homicides are.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It’s a disaster. The clear rate’s in the toilet.” She caught herself about to quote Dugan on it. Slovo didn’t need to know the owner of the extra toothbrush in her bathroom was a cop. Which made those questions tickle the back of her neck again: Why was she trusting this guy? He was on the run, and not for the first time. Was what he told her the whole story?

She pushed it aside and grabbed a piece of naan to eat in the car. “I’ll bring you more of those scanned notebooks tomorrow.”

 

Nearly three hours had passed before she was finished at Area South, most of it waiting, keeping her eyes on her phone to avoid the sidelong glances and murmured comments of officers milling through the place. She could be imagining it. There were a thousands of officers in the CPD, and only a few of them had ever worked with her. They could be complaining about the place they ate lunch or some new directive that was screwing up their work, but as every minute of those three hours ticked by she felt as if she was in hostile territory. She had been part of this, once. She had missed it. Now she was just relieved to escape to her car.

She drove to Josh’s apartment building and called Kyle. No answer. She probed her memory for that night in March when Josh had woken the neighbors as she studied the list of names beside the entrance. Which ones had been most receptive to her questions? She tried the apartment below Josh’s where a sociology grad student had tried to be helpful. Nobody home. She tried two more doorbells before she reached a woman who lived on the top floor, a visiting professor at the divinity school. She offered Anni a cup of tea, but didn’t know anything. She had been away at a conference and was shocked to find a troubled neighbor had been arrested for murdering a student. This city.

Anni knocked on more doors, without any luck, writing notes on the back of her cards and slipping them under the door, until she reached Josh’s landing. The apartment still had a police seal on the door. Across the hall she heard music coming from Kyle’s apartment. She knocked, but no one answered. She turned to head down the stairs when she heard a crashing sound, like a bin full of beer cans falling over. “Kyle?” she called out. “It’s Anni, Josh’s friend.” She listened, but heard nothing other than the music. Maybe he had a cat, and it was making a mess in his absence. She wrote a note on the back of a card and slid it under his door before going down the stairs to try a few more doors.

It was when she was talking to a man in the apartment directly below Kyle’s that she heard the floor creaking overhead from footsteps. “It’s an old building,” he said, noticing her looking at the ceiling. “You hear everything, including that head case when he’s ranting and raving. I missed the latest drama, but I don’t know why he wasn’t evicted the first time there was an incident. I mean, what if he attacked one of us?”

“Did you happen to hear Josh go out late Saturday or early Sunday morning?”

“I must have slept through it. Do you know when the police will finish with that apartment? I got a friend looking for a place.”

She went back upstairs. “Kyle? I know you’re in in there. Can we talk?” She waited and knocked again. “Kyle? I need to talk to you, and I’m not going anywhere.”

It took two more minutes of knocking before the door opened a crack, on a chain. “I can’t talk. I’m sick.”

“What is it, the flu?”

He looked pale and shaky. “I don’t know. I feel awful, I need to go back to bed.”

“Can I come in for just a minute?”

“No, really. I can’t deal with this right now.”

“I just need to know one thing: how did Josh know about the party?”

He blinked at her for a long moment. “I don’t know. He just showed up.”

“Like, right before it happened? Or did he get there earlier?”

He stared at her. “He came late,” he finally said.

“So, he got there around three am, is that right?” He didn’t respond. “I’m just trying to figure out how he even knew about it.”

He closed his eyes and licked his lips, looking queasy. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“When Josh came to the house—” she started to ask, but he closed the door before she could finish the question. She heard the bolt turn.

What the hell? She thought to herself. He had been outgoing and eager to talk in the past. Though witnessing a murder could change a person. He must still be processing it.

Or maybe he was just upset that his chance to raise startup funding had gone so badly awry, she thought as she started her car. That selfie on the dead man’s Twitter feed showed him anxiously trying to break into an inner circle, an outsider looking to be one of the guys.

She looked for the contact information he’d sent to her when she first met him, clicked on the web link for his business. The site looked slick and professional, like a million others. She scrolled down to a “who we are” section. Four perky young faces and titles, including the company’s marketing manager. Anni did a quick search and found the woman was a senior majoring in Communication Studies at Northwestern whose passions were visual culture and her two cats, Bella and Twerp, who had an entire Instagram account of their own.

She tapped in the phone number, composing a voicemail in her head, but was startled to get a real voice, so cheerful it sounded almost manic. “Hi, this is Laurel.”

“Hello. Could I ask a few questions about your company? I was just talking to Kyle . . . Peterson.” She had to quickly scroll back to confirm his last name.

“Really? I’ve been texting him like crazy, but he’s not responding.”

“I think I got him out of bed. He looked a little shaky.”

“How do you know Kyle?”

“Friend of a friend. He told me about your startup, said would be a solid investment if I was looking for an opportunity.”

“Totally! We’re still in development, but our beta testers have been super excited. And we’re getting traction with investors. Are you interested in using MiMi as a business application?”

“Well, I own a business, but—”

“That’s awesome! I can set you up with a free account so you can see it in action. There are features we haven’t launched yet, but the integrated impact dashboard is fully functional and it’s fabulous. And the cool thing is, we just got some serious VC to take it to the next level.” She giggled, excitement leaking out of her like steam under pressure.

“VC?”

“Venture capital. We just got a major infusion of funding. That’s why I’m trying to reach Kyle. I’m working on our press release. It’s so exciting. We’ll be able to pay our programmers to build out our functionality.”

“Cool. I’d love to talk to you about this in person. What’s the address?”

“Address?”

“Of your business. You’re in Chicago, right?”

She laughed again in a way that seemed somehow condescending. “Who needs to rent office space these days? We’re a cross-functional team of collaborators using the internet itself as our workspace. But we can totally meet if—”

“That’s okay. This press release you’re writing, will it include who this new investor is?”

“Do you think I shouldn’t? I mean, I was going to, but . . . I’m kind of new at this.”

“I don’t see why not. I mean, it’s impressive, it could give people like me more confidence about investing.”

“Then I will. ‘DBT Ventures is pleased to partner with . . .’ Or should I do it the other way around, ‘MiMi is excited to partner with DBT—‘”

“DBT?”

“Devonshire Bradford Tech Ventures LLC. I literally just got the call an hour ago. Well, two hours ago, I guess. Time flies when you’re trying to get a press release put together! Kyle has been working so hard to land us some capital, I really wanted to share the news with him, but . . . well, I don’t know if you know this: he lives on the South Side and witnessed a violent crime over the weekend. It really shook him up. When I talked to him yesterday he didn’t sound good. Not himself at all.”

“That’s what I thought. He’s usually so outgoing.”

“Totally. He was really stressed yesterday. Practically hung up on me, and now he’s not answering my texts. I thought this news might cheer him up. Are you going to see him again? We’ve all been talking to potential funders, but he deserves the credit for landing this one. The guy said so, specifically. He wanted me to let Kyle know it was his work that closed the deal.”

“What guy was that?”

“The DBT guy.” There was an implied “duh” in her voice.

“I mean, you’ll need to put his name in your press release, won’t you?”

“I suppose? Sure. I wrote it down . . . Matthew Bradford. He’s, like, the president or something? CEO? I’ll put in a quote from him about how much he believes in the company. He said something like that, anyway. Honestly, I was so excited I forgot to take notes.”

“Can you send me the press release when it’s done? I know some reporters I could forward it to.”

“That would be awesome!”

Anni gave her the email address, hung up, and went to the Illinois Secretary of State’s website to look up Devonshire Bradford Tech. Within seconds she had a list of its key personnel. “Okay, that’s weird,” she said out loud. There were five names and addresses. One of them was Devon Oachs, and his address was the house where Pete Foster had been stabbed to death.

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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.