22

Following instructions on the lawyer’s site, Anni installed the Signal app and set it to erase messages automatically, then composed a cautious message to Anita Brockhurst. A response pinged back immediately.

Brockhurst made it clear in her first message that she didn’t want to know where Slovo was, but she could confirm he was handling a difficult situation using his best judgment. He had not broken any laws that she was aware of, but it was possible he could be taken into custody if he was careless.

> Could I be charged with harboring? Anni thumbed.

> They could try, but it wouldn’t hold up. He’s not a fugitive. If his status changes, I’ll notify you.

> He bailed on a court appearance.

> We worked it out. Postponed. No bench warrant, no charges for failing to appear.

> But he’s in trouble? Are there three-letter agencies involved?

Three dots showed a response was coming, but it took a while.

> It’s a complicated situation. He knows the risks.

> What about me?

> Legally you should be fine, but it’s my duty to inform you that he’s kind of an asshole. Don’t take any shit from him. And don’t ask him what’s going on. Safer for you. If things go sideways, don’t talk to the police. Call me immediately and we’ll handle it pro bono. You should be okay.

It didn’t reassure Anni, being told twice.

> How likely is it to go sideways?

> Depends on various factors, including him keeping out of sight for the next 3-4 days.

> After that?

Those three dots again.

> Unclear at this point.

After she watched the texts vanish one by one, she turned to Slovo. “I’ve been instructed by your lawyer to not take any shit from you.”

“She’s a good attorney. I would take her advice.”

“Did Adam say when he was coming back?”

“Sunday.”

“She wants you to stay out of sight for a few days. When it’s good and dark, you’re going to go downstairs, take care of the damned rat, and hole up. Keep the blinds drawn. Don’t answer the door. Don’t answer the phone.”

“He doesn’t have a landline. I’m phoneless.”

“Good. Keep the noise down and the lights off. The neighbors might have seen you, but I’ll put the word out that Adam’s away this week and nobody’s home but me. You need anything . . .”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll stop by sometime tomorrow with some food. Otherwise, it’ll be solitary confinement. Do you think you can do this?”

“You kidding? I have two years’ worth of sleep to catch up on. Besides, could be good practice for what comes next. Solitary. That’s a joke.”

She decided to ignore that. “I may want to pick your brain about Król.”

“Sure. I’d like to help. If you copy those files, I can take a look. I might pick up on something.”

“Maybe.”

“And I can maybe dig up some background. Nothing better to do.”

“You’re supposed to be lying low.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve learned how to avoid leaving a digital trace. Had to have a crash course, the stuff I’ve been doing lately.”

“Tell me about it. Took me forever to track you down.” She made a sudden decision. “Okay, I’ll copy some files. They’re huge, it’ll take a while. Let’s have something to eat.”

 

She dug through her desk drawer to find her biggest USB drive, wiped out the files on it, and started to copy the first collection of notebooks that had been scanned. Dinner was a process of cleaning out her refrigerator to microwave a motley selection of leftovers and make a salad of anything that wasn’t too wilted. As they ate, he asked what she had learned about Król. She told him what she knew so far, including the scraps she’d picked up from the two elderly men she’d talked to that afternoon.

One didn’t remember him from the orphanage, didn’t like thinking about that place, and wanted to get back to his TV show where some right-wing blowhards were ranting at high volume. The other was more forthcoming, showed her a scrapbook with some photos. He remembered Feliks as quiet, dreamy, always off in his own world. The bigger boys were mean to him, and sneaky enough about it that it was always Feliks who got in trouble. Couldn’t blame him if he lost his temper from time to time.

“Huh. Somehow I can’t image Feliks losing his temper.” Slovo said. “Stuff seemed to roll right off his back. Reminded me of these saints, guys who went into the desert and lived alone for decades. A hermit living in the middle of the city.”

“You must have gone to Catholic school.”

“Occasionally, when I wasn’t busy being a truant. You too?”

“Depended on the foster home we were in,” Anni said, thinking about the times her brother was bullied at school. He mostly curled up and rocked as they piled on. She was the one who got in trouble for losing her temper.

“So this guy I talked to, he said things changed in the nineteen fifties,” she went on. “Some of the boys were sent to live with relatives or even a parent. I figured orphans were, you know, orphans, but apparently these places used to take in kids whose parents were too poor to take care of them. When they switched to a foster system, doctors came to run tests on the kids. They decided some of the other boys were too anti-social and disturbed to leave the orphanage. Basically, the ones who the doctors labeled deficient, they stayed behind.”

“A mental asylum for kids, huh?”

“That’s what it sounds like. He thinks Feliks was one of the ones who got left behind, but he wasn’t sure. Loyola has some records from the orphanage in their archives. I’m going to have to go back there to do more digging. I barely got started yesterday. There are boxes and boxes of stuff.”

“What other leads do you have?”

“Not much. Feliks had a brochure from a memorial service at Elgin State Hospital’s chapel.”

“You have this brochure?”

“I took some photos.” She flicked through her photo album, then remembered she’d used Linnea’s phone, sent as a text. “Here you go. The first one, that’s Felik’s mother.” He took the phone and studied it. “She wasn’t married. People gave them a hard time.”

He scrolled. “A report card. Looks like mine. Unsatisfactory across the board.”

“Keep going.”

He flicked the screen. “Laurence Abbott, requiescat in pace, 1961. Wonder who he was?”

“Someone important enough that Feliks kept the pamphlet. I mean, his room was stuffed with paper, but these were the only things I saw that seemed obviously personal, saved in a little box. Made me wonder if Feliks was committed to the mental hospital for a while, but the records are closed unless you’re a relative and can get a court order. I still haven’t visited the nursing home where he died, but they probably have restrictions on patient information, too, so I’ll have to be creative.”

“You can probably expense that creativity. Put it down under ‘hospitality.’”

She laughed. “The place is run by nuns, I’m not sure bribery will work. Hey, remember what a pain it was to deal with C.I.s? All the paperwork, even if you weren’t asking for money to pay them?”

“Fuck that. I had plenty of C.I.s and I never bothered.”

“I don’t know how you got away with it.”

“Cops get away with shit all the time. Your problem was you followed the rules. That’s how you get in real trouble.”

“No kidding. You know what happened to me, right? I told the truth when I was under oath. You don’t do that when the defendant is a cop. So they made my life hell and I quit.”

“Christ. At least now you have less paperwork and no brass breathing down your neck.”

“Less money, too. But the truth is, I would never have lasted anyway. I never belonged, not really.” She thought about Dugan, how he seemed to effortlessly fit in and yet kept his moral compass. How did he do it?

“What’s going on with your other cases?” She gave him a quick rundown of Pete Foster’s murder. “You think your guy did it?”

“Probably. He was in pretty bad shape. Though . . .” He raised his eyebrows, inviting more. She wasn’t sure what it was that was niggling her. “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right. Josh’s mother was babbling about how mean the dead guy was when he was a kid, that he got in trouble a lot, but it was probably just talk. She was upset, grasping at straws.”

“They knew each other at school?”

“Josh said he didn’t have any friends in high school. He was a good student, but he had trouble getting along socially.”

“Especially if he was a good student. Way to make yourself unpopular. How’d he end up at this guy’s party?”

“Good question. Maybe he followed his neighbor Kyle over? It was Josh who introduced Kyle to these guys he went to school with up on the North Shore. That crowd has money, lots of it, and Kyle’s looking for investors, trying to get some tech business off the ground.”

But the timing was wrong, Anni realized. The party would have started before midnight, surely. Given the paranoid state Josh was in, if he went with Kyle, things would have come to a head long before the stabbing happened. When was that Twitter photo taken? She reached for her phone, started to search.

“Might be worth following up on that. The money,” Slovo was saying.

“You said that with Danny.”

“I did?”

“Follow the money. Brian Truscott’s business records looked suspicious, but it didn’t pan out.”

“What are you looking for?”

“Sorry, this is just . . . the victim posted a selfie at the party. Here it is. No time stamp, just the date. But if it’s accurate, the party started hours before he got stabbed.”  She showed it to him. “The one in the middle, holding the phone, that’s the dead guy. Kyle’s at the back.”

“I assume this was before what’s-his-name showed up. Josh?”

“Must have been. The police will be able to put the timeline together. When Josh goes off the deep end, the neighbors know about it, and pretty soon reporters do, too.”

“Just like Danny’s case. You have a talent for picking the hot ones.”

“I wouldn’t call it talent.”

“Did following the money help with Danny?”

“Not really. I mean, the dad seemed like kind of a crook, but nothing out of the ordinary for Chicago. He still pals around with politicians, working real estate deals. Apparently he’s told the cops he’s going to increase the reward to half a million, which . . .” Her voice trailed away. She realized Slovo was watching her, waiting for her to finish her thought. “Joyce said they didn’t have that kind of money. Half a million is a lot, but he does multi-million dollar deals all the time. Makes me wonder if they’re having financial problems—not that it matters, now, I suppose, but for a while ten years ago I had convinced myself that this was all tied into his business dealings. Had me pretty excited for a few hours before it got shot down. Did you get enough to eat?”

“I’m good, thanks.” He yawned, shifted in his seat, and winced. She realized it was coming up on midnight.

“Let me see if those files have finished copying.”

She ejected the USB drive and handed it to him. He pocketed it and picked up his duffel, coat, and cane. She went first, checking the houses across the alley, looking up and down the block for headlights heading for a garage or people on the move. A shadow moving across her brick patio stilled, then slipped into the bushes. Just the cat.

She beckoned and Slovo went silently down the stairs, fitted the key into the lock and vanished inside. No lights went on. He would be moving stealthily through the apartment, closing the blinds, battening the hatches. Doing a disappearing act.

Anni went back into her flat and cleared the table, humming to herself, making mental lists for the next day. As she finished washing the dishes, she realized how good it had felt to talk shop.

 

Donna McLaren woke her up with call at seven a.m. sharp. “What progress have you made?”

“Progress?” Anni rubbed her eyes.

“What have you done so far?”

“Donna, have you been able to get any rest?”

“It’s a simple question. What are your plans?”

“Hang on.” Anni unwrapped herself from the bedclothes and set the phone down as she filled the kettle. She scooped coffee into the pot and then picked the phone up again. “I haven’t made plans. Josh is in the hospital, where he’ll be safe.”

“Safe!”

“He’s getting treatment. Which is where my job ends.”

“Don’t be silly. We pay you to deal with problems when he’s having an episode—”

“I did that.”

“—and this time he got into trouble on your watch, and you need to fix it. Something happened at that party, and he got blamed for it. Why was he even there?”

“I’m not sure. I know his neighbor was planning to go.”

“That boy across the hall? The dentist’s son? That’s strange. How did he get invited?”

“He’s taking classes at the business school. He probably knows the guy who hosted the party from school.” Actually, Josh had introduced them, but it didn’t seem a good idea to tell Donna about it. It would just become grist for a conspiracy theory.

“Devon Oachs.” Donna spat it out. “He was one of the gang that made Josh’s life so difficult in high school. They would never have gotten into the university if they weren’t legacies, they didn’t have the grades. They were too busy being juvenile delinquents. You need to talk to these boys, find out what really happened.”

“I’ll check with Kyle again,” Anni said, hoping to placate her. “I also have to talk to the police, sign a formal statement. I’ll see if I can find anything out.” Fat chance, Anni thought to herself.

“You won’t learn a thing from them. They act so nice, so sympathetic, but if you ask a question? Forget it, they clam right up.”

“That’s the way investigations go. Sounds as if you’ve been interviewed yourself.”

“Barely. Our lawyer keeps cutting me off. I swear, he’s siding with the police. He keeps talking about an insanity defense instead of getting to the bottom of—Just a minute.” Anni heard a muffled conversation, Donna’s voice rising in anger. Then she was back, her voice icy and imperious. “Talk to that boy, the dentist’s son. See if you can find out what really happened. Do whatever it is you used to do when you investigated murders. You’ll be paid. It’s my own money.” Those last words were loud, furious. Meant for someone else.

“Donna . . .”

“Just do it,” she hissed. “I expect a report by end of business,” she added, more calmly, but Anni heard her draw a breath and give a hiccupping sob before the line went dead.

The kettle whistled. Anni groggily went about making a pot of coffee.

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.