OK peeps, here’s chapter two. If you’re enjoying the story, can you do me a favor? Pass the link to other who might want to read along. And if you’ve got comments, good or bad, drop me a note. Want to start from the beginning? Go here.
The Gravity of Mammon – Chapter Two
“That Stein?” asked Detective John Lynch.
“Hard to tell, just looking at his ass,” said the uniform. “Girl outside who found the body says it’s him – right size, right suit, nobody seen him leave, it’s his box, so I’m thinking yes.”
Stein’s body was wedged between the toilet and the wall in the bathroom of the luxury box at the United Center, on his knees, head on the floor, ass in the air. Besides a little mess next to the two holes at the base of his skull, no blood at all.
“Two thousand dollar suit, luxury box, and you still end up kissing the floor next to the toilet while you take two in the back of the head,” said Lynch.
“Are all thy conquests shrunk to this little measure?” said Shlomo Bernstein, Lynch’s partner.
“What’s that shit?” asked the uniform.
“Shakespeare probably,” said Lynch. “He does that.” Outside the box, the expansive post-game echoey sounds rattled around – the crew breaking down chairs and tables, starting to pull up the floor to set the rink up for the Blackhawks game the next night. “Got a timeline?”
“Girl said she’d been in with like five to go in the game,” said the uniform. “Stein’s last guest had just left, so she wanted to see did Stein need anything else. Stein said he was good. After the game, she comes back in, doesn’t see him, which she says was weird, ‘cause he’s a pretty gregarious guy – saying hello and shit to everybody coming and going. Anyway, she starts cleaning up, bathroom door’s open, she looks in, runs out, calls security, they call us. We get the call at 9:53. Five to go in the game is like 9:30 – got a 20 minute window there.”
“OK, thanks. We got everybody rounded up that had access here?”
“Everybody that wasn’t gone already, yeah, got them in the next couple suites up the hall.”
“OK, let ‘em know will get to them when we can. Thanks.”
The uniform left the suite.
“So what can you tell me about this Stein, Slo-mo?”
Shlomo Bernstein was an anomaly. North shore, Jewish, big family money, but he always wanted to be a cop. When he tried to go to the academy right after finishing a double major in economics and philosophy at Brown, his parents made a deal – get the MBA just in case you change your mind and want to take over Daddy’s brokerage business someday. So Bernstein blew through Wharton in two years, top of his class, became a cop, made detective in record time. Smart as hell, but a physical anonomly, too – maybe five foot seven, maybe 140. Good looking guy, though, like some junior-sized male model. Sharp dresser.
“Abraham Stein. Huge in commodities – one of the lords of the universe down at the Board of Trade. And one of the real big shots in the Jewish community here – Jewish United Fund chair, Spertus Institute named a building after him. Word is he’s very tight with Tel Aviv. His grandfather was Palmach. Family goes way back in the diamond business – that’s where he started.”
“What’s this Palmach?”
“The elite of the Haganah, which was a sort of unofficial Jewish army in Palestine under British rule – these were the guys who won the war in 1948.”
“OK, you might as well get back to the squad, start digging at the business and Jewish stuff. This had to come out of there somewhere.”
Kimberly Martin was in her early 20s with the kind of face that Lynch bet meant she never had to buy her own drinks. Blond, with a short cut Lynch was seeing a lot these days. Shiny white teeth. Thin, decent figure, not real tall. Perky. Lynch bet she got called perky, and she probably liked it.
“You were working Mr. Stein’s box tonight?”
“I was Abe’s regular hostess. It was a great assignment. He was very generous, and he wasn’t one of these guys that gets off on pushing the help around. And he didn’t hit on me either.”
“Bet you get a lot of that.”
She just smiled.
“Nice spread,” Lynch said. Table at the back of the box had a chafing dish full of ribs, some kind of pasta, salad, bar set up on the other side of the room. “All this, he’s up here alone?”
She was looking across the suite to the bathroom, where the evidence techs and ME guy were working on the body. “What?” she said.
“Lots of food. Seems like too much for him to be up here alone.”
“Oh. Abe did a lot of business during the games. People would come and go. He always over ordered. He’d let us have what’s left, after the games. The staff loved him.”
“I bet. Security pretty good up here? I mean you can’t just walk up, right?”
“What?” Looking over at the body again. Interview would go quicker if Lynch did it in another room, but most people didn’t see a lot of dead bodies, and it kept them off balance, kept them from working on their answers too hard. And if it didn’t then, that told Lynch something, too. “Oh, yeah. This level has its own elevators and ramps – you have to have a special ticket just to get up here.”
“Any ID needed?”
“Not if you have a ticket. I mean unless you need to pick it up at Will Call or something.”
“He leave any Will Calls tonight?”
“I can check on that.”
“Would you? Also, any paperwork that you have – his contract for the suite, any records on guests this year, can you get that?”
“I know who to talk to, sure.”
“OK, the officer outside will go with you to get that when we are done. Tell me about his guests tonight.”
“Most of them were regulars. Mendy Axelman – Abe works with him, he’s here all the time. He was here early with three younger guys – I think they were traders that work with Abe and Mendy. They bring them up to the box as a reward or something. Bulls went up by like 25 points midway through the last period, and they all took off. The younger guys were all heading for a party somewhere – one of them slipped me his card on the way out, told me I should stop by after the game, that it was going to go late.”
“You got the card?”
She handed it to Lynch. Mike Schwartz, Stein & Co. Address for one of the townhouses in the new development down by Navy Pier written on the back, along with another phone number – probably the guy’s cell. Lynch called the uniform in, told him to get a unit over to that address, get names, get statements from anybody who’d been at the box.
“Were you going to go?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. I mean not now.”
Lynch nodded. “Anybody else?”
“Another guy came right after they left. He was different.”
“Most of these guys, they all work at the same places, they buy the same clothes, they have the same haircuts. This guy, he was rougher. Real tan, and not like tanning booth tan, but like, you know, weathered? Different clothes – more casual, but not like Banana Republic, you know? You see these guys sometimes in the cargo pants and safari shirts, and it’s like Halloween – like they’re in a costume? This guy was like whoever it is they’re trying to dress up to be.”
She shook her head. “Not real tall, maybe 5’10”. Lean. I mean it’s not like he took his shirt off or anything, but sometimes you just look at a guy, and you know. This guy, he was in shape. He just looked hard. Gray hair – not like old man gray, but like Anderson Cooper gray. Real short – buzzed almost.”
“You hear a name?”
“No, which is a little strange, too. Abe always introduces everybody. What’s weird is I could swear I’ve seen him before. At the same time, I’m sure I never have. That make any sense?”
“Seen him here you mean?”
“That’s the weird part. I’m real good with faces, and I know I’ve never met him. Yet his face keeps nagging at me.”
“OK. Something comes to you, let me know. He was the last guest?”
She nodded. “That’s when I went back in to check with Abe, see if he would need anything else. He said he was fine. That was the last time I talked with him.”
“He seem OK, distracted or anything?”
“Seemed the same as usual.”
“And you never heard anything – shouting, gunshots, anything unusual?”
“See anybody up here who didn’t belong?”
“You get a blowout like that, toward then end of the game, you got people leaving trying to beat the traffic. You got the food service guys and janitorial services getting ready to break things down – there are a lot of people around. Nobody stuck out.”
“The mystery guest, you see him after he left the box?”
“Saw him get on the elevator, didn’t see him after that.”
“OK, Kimberly. Thanks. If I need anything else, I’ll be in touch.”
Eight blocks west of the United Center, Membe Saturday shivered in the night air trying to understand why the stars had moved. It had been only eight days since he’d arrived at the shelter run by the nuns he had met in Sierra Leone. His wife and sons had been killed by Taylor’s men during the war, and he had been forced to work at the mines near Kenema – until a stone went missing, and the guards had lined up Saturday and the five other men who had been working near him and cut off their right hands with an ax. Since then, he had begged and stolen and wasted away. Finally, he had gone to the hospital the nuns ran, thinking he could die there – everyone died there. But one of the sisters told him they would take him to a new life in America.
Saturday was beginning to think it was a bad idea. It was too cold here, colder than Saturday had ever been. And the stars were not where they belonged. Saturday had never listened as a boy when his father would try to tell him what the stars meant, but now he wished he had. Saturday had a bad feeling all the time, and he was sure that these misplaced stars held a message for him.
Then he looked up past the iron fence that ran across the front of the property at cement path in front of the street, and he saw a man he remembered from Kenema, and he knew what the message from the stars was, and that he had learned it too late.
Six months earlier, he had been begging in the streets when this man walked into the house of the courier who worked for the Arabs who sold the diamonds. He had marched the man and his wife and his two small children – a boy maybe four and a girl who could not yet walk – out into the street. The man made them all kneel there, except for the girl, who started to crawl away. The man shot the girl first, and then the boy, and then the woman. All in the head. And then he shot the man. First in both knees, then in both arms, and then in the stomach. He left the man to die slowly in the street with his dead family around him.
Now, the same man was standing on the cement path in front of the house that the nuns had brought Saturday to, and Saturday knew the man must have come for him. He could not think why, but why else would this man from Africa be here, with Saturday, under these same misplaced stars? The man had not yet seen Saturday in the darkness, but Saturday said . “Whetin Meck? Whetin Meck?” Why, Why, in Crio. He did not even know he had said it until he heard his own voice on the air. And then the man turned and pulled a pistol from inside his coat, and he shot Saturday.
Saturday fell to the ground, surprised there had not been more noise or more pain. He simply felt disconnected, like all the cords that held him together inside had been cut at the same time. He knew he should get up, should try to run, but nothing would move. He saw the man raise the gun again, pointing it straight at his face, and saw, for just a sliver of a moment, a flash.
McCord, one of the assistant ME’s stepped out of the bathroom after the girl left the room. “You want the quick and dirty?”
“Sure,” said Lynch. “What’ve you got.”
“Two entrance wounds, small caliber, probably a .22. No exit wounds, so the slugs bounced around inside the skull like lotto balls, figured to puree the brain pretty good. Mob likes to do that, but it’s been on every CSI episode since the dawn of time, so it’s not like it’s a secret. No sign the body’s been moved. Perp made the victim kneel by the toilet and put his head down on the floor, then popped him. Evidence points to pretty much a contact wound, but we got less singeing in the hair than usual, which means something trapped the gas, so you’re probably looking at a suppressor – explains why nobody heard nothing. We’ll see what’s left of the slugs when we get him in to the shop, but they’ll be a mess.”
“So a pro. You got anything else?”
“Got a shitload of prints in there – some from the victim, mess of others. Six or seven different sets in the can so far, who knows out here in the suite. Take a while to sort that out. Have to get prints from whatever guests we can track down, from the staff. Gonna to be a hairball. Listen, I’m gonna have to let the techs wrap up here. Somebody popped some guy couple of blocks west of here. Drive by or something. Not gonna get any sleep tonight, sounds like.”
“Job security, McCord.”
“Evil,” said McCord. “It’s a growth market.”