Closing The Circle
Jim J. Wilsky
King Lear, Act V, Scene 3
She’s so beautiful, Wendy thought. The bitch.
Anika chuckled at something Richard said, covering her mouth and shooting him a mischievous look.
I don’t mean that, Wendy realized. She wondered how it was possible to feel so many different ways about one person. She stood behind the kitchen door, her conflicting emotions not really confused as much as each one vying for dominance.
The bittersweet loss of what never was and now probably would never be.
Each of these emotions came at her in waves, washing over her as she stood outside the small dining room of the winery. It was late, and all the regular guests and tourists had long since departed, but a single couple still sat at a corner table sharing a bottle of sangiovese.
Wendy wished she were sitting at that table across from Richard Hightower, sharing wine. Wine was something that he loved almost as much as he’d loved his wife, Constanza. After Constanza’s death almost six years ago, it seemed to Wendy that wine then became what Richard loved most in the world. It was as if his grief for his lost wife became his passion for the vineyard. He focused on it to the exclusion of everything else in life.
Ten years was a long stretch in any job. Wendy had been loyal to Richard and Constanza. Even though rival wineries had tried to hire her away, she’d never even considered it. She believed in La Pradera as much as the Hightower family did. After Constanza died, her loyalty only increased.
She was in love with Richard, of course. Probably had been since that first year. How could she not be? He was handsome, generous, and loving. She never thought to express her secret affections to him while Constanza was alive, knowing he would always be faithful to his wife. Even after Constanza died, Wendy was reluctant to tell him. She knew how deeply he grieved and although she thought she might be able to bring him some comfort, she didn’t want to risk destroying the close friendship they’d shared for so many years.
So she loved secretly, and she waited. And even now, she still wished she were the one sitting at that table with him, toasting the success of this year’s vintage, making him smile easily again after such a long period of grief.
Wendy looked through the small square window in the kitchen door and wished something else, too. She wanted to be the beautiful blonde woman sitting across from Richard, instead of Wendy -– the plain, diligent employee who was smart with numbers. No, she longed to be Anika -– the mysterious, confident, entrancing woman who seemed to have captured Richard’s heart.
She knew that many women in her position would hate Anika for that. After ten years of loyalty and unrequited love, Wendy watched helplessly as Anika arrived on the scene and Richard fell for her. As much as she tried to at first, Wendy just couldn’t hate her, though.For one thing, Anika made Richard happy. That was clear. She made him smile genuine smiles again. He had a spark in his eyes, one that Wendy hadn’t seen since Constanza died. That alone kept her from hating Anika.
But it was more than that. She’d been nice to Wendy, treating her like a best friend from the moment they’d met. She even showed Wendy the beautiful diamond earrings that she’d inherited after her mother and father had been tragically killed in a car wreck less than a year ago.
Maybe that was part of why Anika was so good for Richard. Wendy knew how much he loved Constanza and how much he’d grieved for her, but Anika had been through something similar, even recently. Where Wendy understood Richard’s pain, Anika knew that pain for herself.
Wendy watched Anika through the kitchen door window. She admired how she smiled at Richard in a way that seemed to pour out her whole being through her eyes. It was no wonder Richard loved her already. Wendy wished she could just be like her.
And maybe she could be. Hadn’t Anika said that she felt like Wendy was the sister she’d never had? Didn’t sisters help each other in that way? Sure, Wendy couldn’t hope to take Richard away from Anika; she wouldn’t want to. But maybe with Anika’s help, she could find her true love, too.
In the dining room, she saw Richard had poured the last of the bottle for Anika. Wendy turned away, smiling, and went to get the happy couple another sangiovese.
That was the mantra that Lieutenant Colonel Grayson used to preach almost daily, especially during live operations. Be unsurprised, be adaptive, and never surrender. He said those things so many times that at one point, the words had almost lost their meaning. It was just something the commander repeated and harped on. But over time, those tenets became a part of me. I didn’t realize how much so until those hairy moments when the bullets were flying or plans were unraveling.But those were back in the days when unpleasant surprises could happen almost every day. Before I turned in my uniform. Not like today.
My phone buzzed at the tee of the fourteenth hole. I glanced down at the screen. Harold Yeats, it read.“You’re up, John,” Tim said. He stood next to Fred and the museum director we were all courting. Fred had just shanked his shot and was pouting about it.
I really hated golf.
“Gotta take this,” I said. “I’ll tee off last.”
Tim scowled. Mr. Everything-in-Order didn’t like to mess up the rotation.
I stepped away from the three of them and answered. “This is John.”
“You finished schmoozing with our guest?” Yeats asked.
“How’s it going?”
“Fred’s pouting. Tim’s a Nazi.”
“And our friend?”
“Good. We could use the contract. He’s the director of seven museums. Two of them good-sized.”
“I know. You told me.”
“So I’m telling you again. It’s an important account, if we can land it.”
“Yeah, I know,” I repeated. “That’s why I’m here.”
“For an ex-military guy, you’ve got a serious insubordinate streak.”
“Insubordination is refusing orders. This is more like insolence.”
Yeats laughed. “Well, either way, make sure Fred doesn’t mess up this deal.”
“He’s too competitive.”
“All salesmen are. That’s what makes them good salesmen.”
“Sure,” I agreed. The thing was, I always figured high class insurance companies would have high class salesmen. Fred was an over-competitive crybaby who acted like a used car salesman.
“And when you’re done, come to my office. I’ve got a special assignment for you.”
Before I could ask what, he hung up.
“You believe in second chances?” Yeats asked, looking at me from behind his desk.
I shrugged. “Not for child molesters or communists.”
He smiled. “How about for insurance companies?”
“Don’t they fall somewhere in the middle of those two?”
“If you ask most Americans, yes.” Yeats turned up his hands. “But somehow, they all still buy insurance.”
“Thank God, even them.” Yeats slid open a desk drawer and removed a cigar. He offered it to me, but I shook my head. Yeats shrugged and snipped off the end.
“An insurance executive who smokes,” I observed. “That’s got to be…what? Ironic?”
“It’s gotta be against the rules.”
Yeats fired up and puffed the cigar until he had a strong cherry on the end. Then he reached behind him and slid open the window.
“It is against the rules,” he said, smiling around another draw. “But some days, it’s good to be the boss.”
“Okay, then. What’s the second chance, boss?”
He slid open another desk drawer and removed a thick manila folder. Without a word, he pushed it across the desk to me.
I let it sit. “Can you give me the executive summary?”
He smiled knowingly. He was perfectly aware that I’d read that file from cover to cover, more than once. But I wanted to know more than what was in the file. I wanted to know what he was looking for. Usually, all he wanted was that the items get recovered. It didn’t necessarily matter how, or if it cost a little bit of grease to make it happen. In the end, there was a certain intangible value to having a particular painting hanging on the right wall in the right museum. That, and reputation. The knowledge that we not only always pay the claim, but most times we got people’s shit back for them.
“You’re Irish, right?”
“Yes, but your family history is Irish?”I shrugged. My last name is Pearse, which is not as Irish as O’Malley, but it’s pretty mick all the same. However, I couldn’t tell Yeats about my family history because I didn’t know the first thing about it. Growing up in an orphanage does that.
“Sure,” I finally allowed. “I’m Irish. So?”
“So,” he said, around another large puff. “If some Irish princess had her jewels stolen, and someone could get them back, what do you suppose the Irish government would pay for that?”
I took a deep breath and let it out. I liked Yeats. He was a decent boss. He told the truth. He paid me fairly. He didn’t ask me uncomfortable questions. But goddamn if he didn’t take his sweet time getting to his point.
“The Irish don’t have royalty,” I said. “And I suppose whoever wants the jewels would pay what they’re worth. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Yeats leaned back in his chair. “Golf makes you cranky.”
I shrugged again. He might be right on that count.
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “About fifteen years ago, a museum in Philadelphia sold the display rights to a set of royal Hungarian jewels to a sister museum in Chicago. But once the courier landed in Chicago, he got picked off on his way to the museum.”
“Of the local variety, yes. They made off with the necklace and the earrings. The cops in Chicago figured out who the stick up guys were and started roping them in. They recovered the necklace and rolled one of the crew into informing on the other two. But they never found the earrings.”
“So we paid off on the earrings.”
“A little less than three hundred thousand.”
I raised my eyebrows. That was a painful payout today, but fifteen years ago, it must have been a pretty big hit for a mid-sized insurance company to take.
Yeats nodded. “Yeah. It hurt, but what are you going to do? We always pay legitimate claims.”
“So that was fifteen years ago. Nothing happens for all this time. Then, all of a sudden, I get a call from Chicago PD’s Internal Affairs Division. They got a guy on their watch list who had some suspicious computer activity. So they pull him in and—”
“Let me guess. It’s about the diamond heist from fifteen years ago.”
“Exactly. This sergeant is looking up all kinds of information on that case, and there’s no reason in the world he should be. The IAD investigators bring him in and they work on him. At first, he denied everything, but after they confronted him with the computer records, he caved.”
“Didn’t hold up well under interrogation, huh?”
“It was my understanding that they had some other things to hang over his head that helped the process along. In any event, he finally admits that he accessed all of the information for an ex-cop named Mick Sawyer.”
“There’s an Irishman for you.”
“No lie. Now, the thing about Mr. Sawyer is that he was the son of one of the original stick up men, Garnett Sawyer.”
I thought about that. “So sonny boy is looking into one of dear old da’s heists?”
“Exactly. And our sergeant friend tells IAD that the reason is because Mick has a line on the missing diamond earrings.”
I nodded. “Interesting.”
“That’s not all. Not by half.”
“Nope.” He drew deep on the cigar and let out a long breath of smoke. “Turns out dad died in prison right about the time this guy Mick is asking the sarge about the diamonds. And then a few days later, it’s Mick who turns up dead, too.”
“Shot twice through the heart in a hotel room.”
“Sounds like a country song,” I said.
“You want to guess who was with him in that room?”
Yeats shook his head.
He snorted at that. “You’re not even trying here.”
“Okay, a real guess then. Some hooker?”
“Strike three,” Yeats said. “It was his brother.”
Yeats nodded. “His brother. Also found deader than disco, a bullet in the head.” He chuckled. “It’s like a Quentin Tarantino soap opera, huh?”
“Something like that, yeah. What’s the brother’s story?”
“He was an ex-con. CPD said he’d been working as muscle for the Polish mob in Chicago. He just got out of prison himself a few days before the dad died in the can.”
“So two dead brothers in a hotel room and no diamonds?”
“Sounds like the sergeant double-crossed them or something.”
“It’d be nice if it were that easy,” Yeats said. “But patrol cops found the bodies when they were still pretty fresh, and the sergeant had the best alibi any cop could hope for.”
I thought about it for a moment. Then I smiled knowingly. “He was being interviewed by IAD when it happened.”
“So we don’t know who killed the two brothers?”
“Or where the diamonds are?”
“That’s why we’re having this conversation.” He puffed smoke at me and waited.
I considered it. This sounded like a mess, and most leads were probably already cold. But I was salaried, so I’d run down whatever case Yeats asked me to. And things had been slow, so this was way better than babysitting Fred and Tim while they schmoozed clients.
“Do the cops have any suspects?” I asked.
“A few. I don’t know how solid any of them are, but it’s all in the file.”
“What is the recovery worth?”
“Our expert puts the value of the diamonds themselves at one point three million dollars.”
I let out a low whistle. The one percent finder’s fee on that was thirteen thousand. “Nice.”
“It gets nicer. We contacted the Hungarian government. Turns out the jewels belonged to a duchess who is somewhere in the family tree of their current president. Getting the diamonds back has some significant cultural value to them.”
“Triple?” That was almost four million dollars. Forty grand to me and a huge infusion of cash for the company.
“Triple,” Yeats repeated. He took another draw on his cigar. “So how soon can you leave for Chicago?”
Expect the unexpected, I thought.
I have never whistled a tune in my life or done a happy little dance when no one was watching. I will not start now. I don’t display my emotions or put on shows of feeling. It is not for me. There is no benefit, no need, no time for that.I swipe at the mirror, stick my chin up, and turn my head to the left. The straight razor is new, and it glides effortlessly up my neck and over my jaw. I shave each and every morning, precisely at six a.m., no matter what I’m doing or where I am.
Rinsing the razor off, I raise my eyes and stare at myself. The corners of my mouth lift just a little. A small controlled smile appears. It is the best I can do.
It’s true, though. I am very happy.
Last night, I had dinner with the boss at his favorite restaurant, Staropolska. I’ve never had such fine food. The service was impeccable. They scurried about, back and forth, as they took care of our table. The owner shook our hands on the way out. They knew who we were.
I will never forget this dinner. We had eaten together many times, of course, but not formally like that.
Afterward, I drove us back to the new estate, north of the city. It has a stone wall that encircles the property and an iron gate at the entrance. Tomas, one of the last of the old guard for the Dudek family, waved at me as we slowed to a stop. The gate opened, and we drove up the lane. There are more men around these days than before, and an expensive alarm system has been installed too. It is now a very secure place.
We pulled into the four-car garage, and he began to get out but then stopped. He looked back at me.
“Andros, did you like dinner or not? I mean, what the fuck? You never say a damn thing, good or bad.” He was grinning at me.
“Mr. Dudek, it was spectacular. I thank you for this invitation.”
He stared at me, still smiling and shaking his head. “There was a reason for tonight. You deserve it, but you also deserve a promotion. I’m going to start paying you a lot more money.”
That moment had been awkward for me. I owe Patrik Dudek everything; he doesn’t owe me. I came from nothing and nowhere. I was born in Tresna, a small rural town in southern Poland. Years ago, he arranged with my uncle for me to come over to U.S. He has always treated me fairly, and I live well.
“Mr. Dudek. Please. There is no need for this.”
“You’re officially number two in charge.”
I just stared at him then.
“Not just my number one man or my personal bodyguard or my main guy. No. You are now the number two man in our organization. Period.” He got out of the car, and I followed quickly. I was in shock.
He came around the car then and gave me a hug. “You should be proud. Do me proud now. Continue to serve me and this organization like you always have, and we’ll all be very successful.”
I jerk back to now. The mirror is completely steamed over. I blink twice and realize the hot water is still running.
Enough of this day dreaming. I’m acting like a fool. Shutting the faucet off hard, I yank a clean towel off the rack with a snap.
I put on my watch and see that it’s almost six twenty. I need to move. I’m always downstairs by six thirty. Always. He never wants anything until eight or so, but I don’t like rushing. I like to have the coffee and breakfast ready for our morning meeting.
Dressing quickly in a pressed blue dress shirt and slacks, I put on my shoulder holster last and grab my sports jacket off a hanger as I head out the bedroom door.
I pass through the large open foyer area with shiny black and white floor tiles, then by the big front doors. The wide curving staircase is on my left, and out of the corner of my eye, I see movement on the rail up there.
I snap a quick look and Patrik Dudek is looking down at me. He takes a slow sip of coffee. The coffee I always bring him every morning. He’s up very early this morning. Very.
This is not good.
“Andros, meet me in the study. I’ll be down there in a second.” Another sip. “And hey, relax a little bit. You’re management now.”
“Mr. Dudek, I…”
“Hey.” He stares down at me. No smile. “Patrik. You call me Patrik. You ain’t a fucking soldier no more, Andros, so stop acting like one. Michael’s in the kitchen. Get some coffee from him. Tell him what you want to eat. He’s not as good a cook as you were, but he’s getting there.”
“Yes, sir. I mean, Patrik. I’ll be in your study. Of course.”
He lets out a short bark of a laugh and then disappears from the railing.
I continue to stare at the spot where he had been standing. This is going to take some getting used to. I cannot allow myself to abuse this, though. No one will be cooking for me.
Quickly, I say hi to Mike in the kitchen, pour a cup of coffee, and head to the study. I’m not there five minutes before Patrik walks in. He folds his hands together on the desk and starts talking.
“First of all, this whole promotion thing is important. You have to move yourself up, too. In my eyes and all the others who work for us, you are battle tested ten times over.”
I start to thank him, but he holds a finger up.
“You have displayed unquestioned loyalty to me and forged a fierce, ruthless reputation with those who are aligned against us. Most importantly to me though, despite the warrior prowess, it turns out that you’re a very intelligent man. Cunning, in fact.”
He stops talking, raises his eyebrows, and opens his hands outward, gesturing to me.
“Patrik, I am understanding of what you are saying about my role in the organization. I will lead and portray myself as I should. I put the highest value on your opinion of me. Respectfully, though, I will lead all the others, but never you. I will always follow you.”
“You have always been the right guy for me and for us. By the end of the day, everyone will know, by the way. You’ll go nowhere without Jan.”
“Jan is a good man. Don’t we need him running things downstate?”
“Michael is taking over for us down there. His kitchen duty was temporary work.”
“Patrik, I’ll be fine. This will stretch our resources.”
“You’ll go nowhere without Jan,” Patrik repeats. “Got it?”
“He’s on his way here right now.”
He stood up and walked to a large window overlooking the acreage in back of the house.
“Okay, Andros, I know I just promoted you but I need you to complete one last thing in your old role. A thing you have been so proficient at in the past. I’m sending you on a personal mission.”
“Of course, whatever you need.” I stand up slowly, but I am prepared for whatever this is.
“Remember a few weeks ago when we were all watching that poker championship on the television? The poker tournament being held in the Las Vegas casino?”
“Yes, I recall this.” I remember seeing Ania Kozak in the crowd. The little kurwa was on the arm of some famous American card player. We had all cursed her.
“Well, it got me thinking about things. A lot of things. You know, I never did like how she just walked away from everything I did for her. Job, car, money, hooked her up with Jerzy…who was crazy about her. There was no respect, no nothing.”
“I would agree, Patrik. She is trouble and ungrateful.”
I had always thought that about her from the very beginning. I knew a girl just like her when I was younger and foolish with matters of the heart. Zofia was her name, beautiful and spirited. This girl had me, way before I had her. She also had my best friend Karl before she moved on.
When I met Ania at Ambrozy’s that first time, I saw something familiar, something hidden deep. She was like another Zofia. It was all there to see, in her eyes, if you could fight past all the rest that she offered.
“Well, I think she’s the reason Jerzy is dead.” Patrik takes a drink of coffee and shakes his head back and forth ruefully. “I mean, sure, I had to walk away from Jerzy, but I didn’t want him fuckin’ killed.”
I remember the night the two had said goodbye. I know of the soft spot he had for Jerzy. I liked him too. He was a tough guy no one messed with. A loner with no real allies, but he wanted it that way. He had been very good at what he did.
“I’ve had our guys on the street, talking to some people. Cops we know, people who work at the hotel where Jerzy was killed and other people too. There are people who just always seem to know things.”
“Was she there? At the hotel?”
“Well, if it wasn’t her it was a twin sister she don’t have. I think the little suka might have even killed Jerzy herself.” His voice is getting louder. “Killed him and took the money I paid Jerzy.” Patrik’s back is still to me as he gazes out the window.
There is a long silent pause and then finally Patrik turns around to face me. His face is red.
“I want her dead.”
I nod at him with no reservations. It would be good. It isn’t always that way, but when someone deserves it, the job is good, it is easy.
“I want her dead,” Patrik repeats and slams his fist into his palm. ”For the simple fact that she just walked away from me like she did. Just on principle alone. She took from me and didn’t pay anything back. I think she was taking cash out of the club, too, but I can’t prove it.”
“When do you want this done?”
He isn’t listening to me, though. He stares at the far wall with a growing anger and just keeps talking.
“I paid that money to Jerzy for what he did for me. Now Jerzy is dead, and I think she killed him. That means she’s got my money.” He looks at me with eyes ablaze now. “MY fuckin’ money!”
He seems spent but I wait just a little longer. He just stares at me.
“Patrik, just say when and this is done.”
“I want you to handle this. Only you. Jan will be with you, though.”
“Of course. I will handle it.”
“I have a few business associates I know in Vegas who will help you get on her trail. That’s where you start.”
“Don’t worry. This will be taken care of, Patrik. That I can promise to you.”
He smiles at me now. Like a switch has been thrown. It always amazes me how fast his moods can change. He walks over to his desk, opens a drawer, and pulls out a large yellow envelope with a tie clasp.
“There are names and numbers of the Vegas guys in here and some serious travel money too. The money is only for you and Jan. The guys in Vegas have been taken care of already. They’ll help you with everything from information to guns. You need more cash, you call me.”
He hands me the envelope, and it has some weight to it.
“You call me anytime, day or night. Keep in touch. I wanna know what’s going on.”
I nod at him and stand.
He points at the envelope again. “You’re already booked on a United flight out of O’Hare at four thirty this afternoon. First class, too.” He smiles at that. “Rental car is booked, everything is all set.”
He sits down hard and sighs heavily.
“I’ll pack my bag now,” I say. “Jan is coming soon though, eh?”
“Yeah, he’ll be here soon. Pack light, though. You can buy shit when you get there. Don’t check a bag. The Vegas boys are saying they think she might have left town already, or getting ready to, so you might not be there long.” He paused and took a sip of coffee. “She’s had a car this whole time, and she hasn’t taken a flight yet.”
“Okay. These Vegas associates are friendly to us then?”
He shrugs. “You know how that goes. There’s a limit to everything, right? But yeah, for the most part. I know they got a good line on her. They’ve been kinda watching her since I called them. Hey, whatever, you’ll know how to play this. That’s why I’m sending you.”
I nod at him again and turn for the door. I have hours to spare, but I want to be ready way ahead of time.
“Oh Andros, hey. I almost forgot. Two more things.”
“Yes?” I look back at him.
“They think she has some stolen merchandise with her, too.”
“Diamonds. Some kind of stolen jewelry. I’ll let you know when I find out more.”
“Those are mine, too.” This kind of smile is his most dangerous.
“I understand, consider it done.”
“Last thing. Very, very important, too. When you kill her, I want proof afterward. A picture of the body, a lock of that pretty gold hair, something.
“This is not a problem.” Picturing my old girlfriend, I smile back at him and mean what I say.
I landed in Chicago and took a cab straight to the Central Precinct. I had called ahead from the airport, so Lieutenant Rick Turner was waiting for me by the front desk.
Turner was thin, almost gaunt, with sharp, angular features. He reminded me of soldiers I’d served with who looked as if they might not be able to hold up a wet mop but could do a forced march with an eighty-pound rucksack while barely breaking a sweat.
He handed me a visitor’s ID card with a metal clip on it and said, “Follow me,” as he turned on his heel.
I put on the badge as I followed him. “I appreciate you letting me review your file,” I said, trying to make nice.
“I know it’s not standard,” I said.
Turner cast me a glance over his shoulder, then shrugged. “What’s standard about dirty cops? Besides, your boss is a friend of my boss. Makes for the spirit of cooperation.”
And that’s not dirty at all, I thought, but I didn’t say a word. Somehow, I didn’t think Chicago Internal Affairs investigators had a high opinion of irony, especially at their own expense.
“You been doing this long?” I asked him instead.
“Long enough,” Turner said. He swiped his badge at a reader next to a door marked ‘Internal Affairs Personnel Only – No Exceptions.’ “Maybe too long,” he added quietly as he held the door open for me.
I walked through. We headed down a short wide corridor that further opened up into a bullpen. Eight or nine desks were situated around the open area, some of them solo, others butted up to each other, face to face. Three or four were occupied. Turner led me to one.
The man at the desk had closely cropped white hair and a starched white shirt with a dark blue tie. When he glanced up from the file he was viewing and saw me, he closed the file and put it into a desk drawer, locking it. Then he grabbed another file from the desk and stood up.
“This way,” he said. He had the build and manner of ex-military. I figured Marines. And an officer, too, not enlisted.
We went through another door and down another hallway. I remained silent. If this was how they wanted to play it, that was their call. Some cops welcome insurance investigators with some professional camaraderie, others with an air of superiority. A few, apparently Chicago PD among them, just endure them.
The Inspector stopped at a door, swiped his card and held it open for me. I walked in, expecting a table with a file on it. Instead, I stood in an observation room. Through the pane of one-way glass, I saw another man in the next room. His fat face was tightened in a scowl, but even without the attitude, I’d have pegged him as a cop. And the Italian features didn’t leave much room for doubt which cop.
“The Deputy Chief said to make Sergeant Molinari available for you to interview,” the Inspector said.
It was more than I expected. But Yeats and the Chicago Deputy Chief went way back, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. If the Chicago DC came visiting in Washington, Yeats would have pulled strings to get him an afterhours walk through the Smithsonian. Way of the world.
The Inspector was staring at me, so I said, “That’d be fine. Thank you.”
The Inspector held out the file to me. “You’ll want to take this in with you. He won’t respect you if you’re not carrying a file.”
I smiled and took the file. “Thanks.”
The Inspector nodded.
What I wanted to do was sit down and go through the file again, even though I was pretty certain it was the same original that yielded the copy Yeats already gave me. Still, it would have been nice to give it one more pass, just in case. But that wouldn’t do. Not with Inspector Stare-at-Me standing there.
Talk about respect.
“Lead on,” I said.
He pursed his lips slightly, and a flicker of annoyance passed over his features, but he suppressed it quickly enough.
I gave him a smile.
Forget the Marines. He was Navy. Maybe even Coast Guard.
The Inspector led me back out into the hallway. A few steps down was the door to the interrogation room. The Inspector raised his hand to swipe his card, but I stopped him.
“Have you interviewed him yet?” I asked.
He gave me a look of cool disdain. “What do you think is in that file?” he asked. Then he added, “Sir.”
“No, I mean have you interviewed him? You, personally.”
The Inspector nodded. “Yes.”
“Good,” I said. “When you swing the door open, let him see you.”
“And don’t react to anything I say,” I told him, taking the visitor’s badge off and putting it in my jacket pocket.
He stood staring at me for a long moment.
I motioned toward the door. “Go ahead,” I said. “Swipe the thingy. And make sure he sees you.”
The Inspector regarded me for another moment or two and then swiped his card over the reader. The lock mechanism clicked, and he pushed the door open.
Sergeant Molinari looked up. His gaze paused at the inspector and swung toward me.
I brushed past the Inspector, striding into the room. I dropped the file onto the table across from Molinari and took off my jacket. Then I glanced over my shoulder.
“You can go, Inspector,” I said in a dismissive tone.
He gawked at me momentarily, but I turned away. I draped my jacket over the chair back and pulled out the chair. Then I sat down facing Molinari. He was still looking over my shoulder at the Inspector, so I followed his gaze, feigning confusion. When I saw the Inspector still standing there, taken aback, I said, “Now, Inspector.”
The Inspector’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he otherwise kept a neutral expression. Without a word, he nodded brusquely, turned, and left the room.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind him, I muttered, “Pinhead asshole.” Then I turned to Molinari.
He gave me a curious look but said nothing.
I folded my hands on the table in front of me. “Do you know who I am, Sergeant?”
“The fuck I care?” he asked. His voice was raspy and tired, but the Chicago Italian accent cut through both.
“I think you do care,” I said. “Or, at least, you should.”
“You’re not CPD,” he said. “So I ain’t got to say shit to you.”
I raised my eyebrows slightly, nodding my head. “That’s right. I’m not Chicago’s finest.” I jerked a thumb toward the door. “Or their worst. No, I’m something different.”
Molinari’s gaze bored into me. I stared back at him, calm and patient. Molinari’s eyes held some measure of intelligence, but more of it was pure cunning. The man was street smart. He’d probably been a hell of a cop at some point, too.
“Mister,” he said, “I don’t care if you’re the fairy fucking godfather. I got nothing to say to you.”
“If I was the godfather, I’d make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
“I want my lawyer,” he said.
“This isn’t like that.”
“Call. My. Motherfucking. Lawyer.”
I shook my head. “You don’t have a right to a lawyer, Al.”
He paused slightly at the sound of his name. Then he shrugged it off. “We aren’t friends, asshole,” he said. “Don’t call me Al.”
“I wasn’t hoping for friendship, to be honest with you.” I tapped a finger on the file. “I’m not even going to offer you any help on this problem here. Because like I said, this isn’t like that.”
“But you’ll help me,” I said. “Just the same, you’ll help me.”
“Why the fuck would I do that?”
I smiled. “Because you are in a corner, Al. Because you’ve got no way out. And because I’m an outsider, sitting here by the good grace of your Deputy Chief of Operations. You know him?” I raised my eyebrows. “He a nice guy?”
Molinari didn’t respond.
“No?” I shrugged. “I didn’t figure so. So the deal here is pretty simple. Whatever you did in there,” I tapped the file again, “you carry that water. That’s on you. But if you don’t talk to me, then that’s on the Deputy Ops. It’s extra. And I believe, Sergeant Molinari, that the proverbial shit in this equation will roll downhill. So whatever you’ve got now, it will get worse.”
Molinari frowned. “How do I know you’re for real?”
I furrowed my brow. “Can just anyone waltz in here and boss inspectors around? Is CPD that lame ass of an organization?”
He considered me for another moment. He swallowed and wiped the sweat from his upper lip. “I’m not saying anything that puts me in a worse jackpot,” he finally said.
We danced around for a little bit. I asked him questions, and he tried to feed me bullshit. Not all of it was bullshit, just some. He was testing me, and when I took his truth and kicked back his lies, he figured out I knew what I was talking about. Somewhere around a half hour in, he surrendered. I’d seen fifteen-year olds last longer, under worse pressure. But what did I care? I wasn’t there to learn respect for dirty cops.
“So after you accessed all the data and pieced the story together, you took it to Mick Sawyer,” I said.
He nodded. “Yeah. Met him at a diner and gave him the whole rundown.”
“And his reaction was?”
“He was surprised,” Molinari answered. “I don’t think he knew what they were worth, the diamonds.”
Molinari paused, then shook his head. “No.”
“Fuck you,” he said, but without much conviction.
I didn’t reply. I sat and waited. And waited some more. It was an old interrogation ploy. Let the silence sit there, and the other guy will eventually fill it. The beauty of the technique was that even if someone knew it was a ploy, it still worked.
Molinari was stubborn, though. He made it a full thirty seconds before he gave in. “All right, so I asked him for a taste. We discussed how much. There was some disagreement, but after a little while, we came to an understanding.”
He shrugged. “Ten large.”
I let out a low whistle. “For running down a few computer entries? Pretty good wage.”
“You know what those earrings are worth?” Molinari asked me.
“As a matter of fact,” I said, “I do.” More than you know.