tagRomanceOne More Life To Live

One More Life To Live

byronde©

The morning sky was grey and cloudy, and a steady rain had been pouring down for about an hour when I got there. The uniforms had found the guy sitting up against a plastic dumpster behind a dingy little neighborhood bar on West Elm. At first they thought he was just drunk. Down in that part of Chicago, anything can turn up, and drunks are just part of the normal alley garbage. When they tried to roust him, he didn’t move. That wasn’t all that surprising since he had a bullet hole in his gut. The lab boys had beat me by a few minutes. They were taking pictures when I ducked under the yellow crime scene tape.

“Whatcha got Harry?’

“White male, one bullet in the belly with a close-range powder burn around the entry. He’s still a little warm, so he’s probably been dead about two hours or so. The bullet hole looks like a small caliber. I’m guessing it’s a twenty-five, because we found a twenty-five auto next to the body and a casing over by the wall. Looks like he was standing, and whoever shot him had the barrel pointed up at an angle. The exit wound’s just under his shoulder. Bullet probably got a lung. I think we may get the bullet too. There’s a hole going into the dumpster at the right height, but none coming out. As soon as we get this guy on his way to Doc Mason, we’re gonna sort through it.”

“ID?”

“Yeah. Tony Clay, according to his driver’s license. Address on the license is 12467 South Union. No pictures and no credit cards. Just a couple hundred in cash and a receipt from some tailor over on Sixth. Guy must have liked nice clothes. He’s wearin’ a silk shirt.”

“How about the auto? Any numbers?”

“Nope. Ground off. So’s the front sight.”

“Anything else left that might tell us who popped this guy?”

“With all this fuckin’ rain, not likely, but we’ll let you know. Hey Jack, you really cashing in next month like the rumor mill says.”

“Yeah. Got two more weeks to go. Figured it was time you young guys started earning your pay for a change.”

The uniforms were over by the ambulance. The youngest, a kid named Sorenson, looked white as a sheet. The other one, Grady, I’d worked with before.

“How’d you find him, Grady?”

“I didn’t. Sorenson did. We were cruisin’ by and saw a kid take off down the alley. Looked like he was up to something, so we stopped. Sorenson went after him while I called it in. I got there about the time he found the guy. Rick, you tell him.”

Sorenson was pretty shaken up. He talked about a mile a minute.

“The kid was really fast on his feet. He was almost at the cross street when I started down the alley. By the time I got to the end, he’d disappeared. I was walking back to the car when I see this guy sitting against the dumpster. Must have missed him when I went by the first time. Looked like he was asleep or drunk or something. When I shook the guy to wake him up, he fell over. That’s when I saw the blood on his shirt. I checked for a pulse, but he was already dead”

“Grady, think your kid had anything to do with it?”

“Nah. He was just walkin’ down the street, and ran into the alley when he saw the car. I figure he was either pushin’ or carryin’ a piece and that’s why he ran. Doubt he saw the guy either.”

Sorenson still looked like a ghost.

“This your first stiff, Sorenson?”

“Yeah. Just got out of the academy last month. Didn’t figure I’d get one so soon.”

I clapped him on the shoulder.

“First one’s a bitch. You’ll get over it.”

I knew how Sorenson felt. Mine was thirty-one years ago, and I’d puked up the chilidog I had for lunch. He wouldn’t get over it, but there was no sense telling him that. He wouldn’t get over this one or any of the others he’d find during his career, assuming he stayed on until retirement. He only had a halfway reasonable chance of learning to live with it without getting divorced or crawling into a bottle. I wasn’t so lucky. I did both after five years on the street. It took eight months to wean myself off the bourbon, but there was no fixing the marriage. Mary couldn’t handle my moods and worrying all the time.

Since Tony had seen fit to pass his last minutes just outside the back door of the bar, I figured that’d be a good place to start. Besides, it was still raining like hell, and I wanted to dry out a little. The sign on the door said Phil’s Tap opened at one, so I went back to the station instead. Maybe Tony had a past.

DMV had nothing but a speeding ticket and a couple parking violations. I didn’t get anything when I ran his name except the same address that was on his license. On the surface, it looked like Tony was just a guy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Doc Mason called me about ten. They had a preliminary and had lifted his prints. I walked downstairs to the morgue.

Janet Mason’s been opening up stiffs for fifteen years. I don’t know how she does it. The OD’d junkies aren’t too bad, but the rest…. She was slicing into a glob of something purple when I walked into the examining room.

“Hi, Jack. Be with you in a minute. He’s on the table by the door if you wanna have a look.”

Tony Clay was about five-ten, and he was in reasonable shape for his age. There was a tattoo of a dragon on his right bicep. I couldn’t see any other distinguishing marks except the charred little hole just under his breastbone. It looked like Harry was right about it being a twenty-five, although we didn’t see that caliber often. The twenty-five is a ladies gun. These little pistols aren’t very accurate and they don’t have much knockdown power. Women like them because they’re small enough to fit easily in a purse, and their double actions make them just point and shoot. I figured there wouldn’t have been much sound, either. A twenty-five isn’t all that loud to begin with, and the body would have silenced much of the muzzle blast.

“My guess - hey, Jack, take it easy. It’s only me. My guess is whoever shot him was on the ground. The angle’s right for that.”

Janet had startled me. I’ve spent a lot of hours in the morgue, but I still feel creepy down there. Janet knows that, and never misses the opportunity. She was chuckling when I turned around.

“So I’m jumpy around all these stiffs. So what? Anybody in their right mind would be.”

“Then you’re saying I’m not in my right mind.”

I knew from experience Janet loved playing this game and that I’d never win. There wasn’t much about Janet that wasn’t right. If she hadn’t been married, I might have tried showing her just how right she was.

“Never mind. So what can you tell me?”

“One shot, probably with the muzzle touching him. There’s burned powder as far as I can see inside the entrance and a muzzle imprint that matches the gun they found. The bullet didn’t expand much, but then, twenty-fives don’t have the velocity to do much. The exit wound is about the same size. Time of death I’m putting at sometime between two and five AM, for now. I’m gonna pop the hood in a minute if you wanna hang around, but it looks like the bullet got his heart and went out through his left lung. Oh, I have the prints here along with a picture of his face and another of the tattoo.”

I sent the print card to the lab, and then drove back to Phil’s Tap. It was one of those cozy little neighborhood bars nestled quietly in the middle of a block of deserted storefronts. When the neighborhood had been full of people, Phil’s would have been the center of the nightlife. Now, it was just a dark little place hanging on to the old life of block parties, the corner grocery and the butcher who always had fresh veal. The bar and a dozen stools occupied one long side of the building. On the other side were eight booths with padded seats. The hardwood floor was almost black from the years of beer stains and foot traffic, but it fit the general atmosphere of neglected age. Except for a dim bulb over the cash register, the neon signs seemed to be the only light in the place.

Three old men sat at the far end nursing mugs of beer and talking quietly. They were probably local residents who started coming here when the place was in better shape, and just never stopped. If Phil’s was like most of these little places, the real drinkers would get here later tonight. The local hookers would be here, too, either to do a little inside marketing, or maybe just to piss or get a little something to loosen them up. The bartender didn’t seem impressed when I flashed my badge.

“I seen one before. So whadda you want? The Liquor Commission send you down?”

“You’re Phil, I take it?”

“Phil lives in a fancy apartment downtown. I’m Dave, the manager.”

“You know a man was shot in the alley behind this place early this morning?

“Yeah, I know. The cops were out there digging through my dumpster when I opened up. What about it? Some jerk-off decides to get himself dead behind this place, it’s no skin off my ass.”

I showed him the pictures of Tony and his tattoo.

“You see this guy any time during the night.”

“Nah, but I left at ten. Angie closes up at night.”

“Who’s Angie?”

“Angie Carpenter, the bartender who works the late shift. She gets in about four.”

I couldn’t see spending three hours inhaling stale beer and cigarette smoke, so I gave him my card and went back to the station. If the prints had turned up anything, maybe I’d find out some more about Tony.

I got lucky. The lab boys had matched Tony’s prints to one Anthony Cardone. He’d done a couple years for selling some stereo equipment that was a little warm, and had been a suspect, but was never arrested, for selling bootleg VHS tapes. Other than that, he was clean. Didn’t seem like the kind of guy to get himself shot in an alley.

On the other hand, he didn’t appear to have a job of any kind, but he wore silk shirts and had two hundred dollars on him. The shooter hadn’t taken the money, so the murder wasn’t just a simple robbery gone bad. Tony must have really pissed off somebody.


The lab had lifted two sets of prints off the pistol. One belonged to Tony and probably confirmed it was his piece. From what I’d found out about him, that figured. Tony wouldn’t be the kind to carry something bigger, even if some people would laugh at the little pistol. He wasn’t a big-time shooter, and probably carried the piece just to feel a little tougher.

We didn’t have a match for the other prints. The lab had sent them to the state police and to the FBI. I could only hope their maker had been fingerprinted at some time. It’s surprising how many people haven’t.

Tony’s tailor was a little old man wearing a vest stuck full of pins. He knew Tony well, although he didn’t know much about him. Tony bought a new silk shirt every week, and he always paid cash. I told him Tony wouldn’t be needing any more shirts.

By the time I got back to the station, my shift was almost over. I didn’t have anything to do except go home, heat up a can of ravioli in the microwave, and watch television. Talking to Angie seemed like it would probably be more interesting, even if she didn’t know anything.

She looked to be forty-five, maybe fifty at the outside, but she’d done pretty good at looking younger than that. Life had etched a few lines in her face that she’d smoothed out with makeup, and I was pretty sure her long, dark red hair had also benefited from a little touchup. There were a few lighter roots showing in her part. The low-cut tank top was filled to overflowing, and the little shorts did a nice job of showing off her round ass. I figured she made a lot of her income off tips. Hell, when I was drinking, I’d have tossed her a ten just so she’d stand across the bar from me. She drew a pitcher for a guy in mechanic’s coveralls, took his money, and then walked down the bar to my stool.

“What can I get you? It’s happy hour. Two of anything for the price of one.”

“How about a coffee?”

A flash of fear crossed her face and turned into a frown.

“You a cop? Nobody comes in here and orders coffee, so you must be a cop.”

“It’s not against the law to order coffee in a bar, is it?”

“No, and you didn’t answer my question. Are you a cop or not?”

I showed her my badge.

“I knew it. If, if it’s about that kid last week, he was already drunk when he came in. I had Dave throw him out before he could order anything.”

“No, I don’t know anything about any kid. I just want to talk to Angie about the murder last night. You’re Angie, aren’t you?”

“What if I say no?”

“Then we’ll take a ride down to the station and find out who you are.”

“OK, I’m Angie. Dave said you’d be looking for me. I was here last night, but I don’t know anything. I closed up a little after three, and took a cab home.

I handed her the pictures of Tony.

“Was he in here, or maybe out back sometime during the night.”

Angie studied the photo for several seconds and then shook her head.

“No, don’t remember him. He’d have stuck out. We get mostly regulars in here.”

“Where’s your bouncer? Maybe he saw this guy.”

“Haven’t had one for a month or so. Last one got a little greedy and helped himself to a couple hundred from the drawer, so Dave fired him. It’s just me by myself, but the guys who come in here are a pretty close group. They take care of each other, so we don’t have much trouble. If there was, there’s Jules, that big guy over there. He helps out if I need it. Jules was a Marine in Vietnam, and he kinda likes things peaceful. Not many guys mess with Jules.”

I wouldn’t want to take on Jules either. The big man sitting at the end of the bar sipping his beer was about six-five and I guessed him at close to three hundred.

“I see what you mean. You sure this guy didn’t come in, even for a couple minutes?”

“Look, this is a little bar. I’d have seen him if he came in. Besides, why would a stranger come in here? These guys would throw him out on his ass. They don’t like strangers much.”

“Maybe he came in to see you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you’re pretty good looking, and –“

“Hey, listen. I’m a bartender and that’s all, got it? You want a little fun, you go talk to Sandy or Jackie. They’re taking a break at that booth right over there.”

“Hey, calm down. I wasn’t asking you for anything. I just said you were pretty. You always get mad when somebody tells you that?”

“No, not if they mean it that way, but they usually don’t. They’re looking for a quick blowjob or something. This place is about the bottom of the heap, but I’m not ready to start hookin’ yet.

“Ok, Ok, I believe you. You think Sandy or Jackie might have seen something?”

“Might have, but they weren’t here last night. You’ll have to ask ‘em yourself.”

As soon as they saw my badge, Sandy and Jackie claimed to be secretaries on their way home from work. I laughed and said I should have a secretary who dressed like they did. Once I convinced them I didn’t work for Vice, they said they didn’t know any Tony or Anthony, and anyway, they’d been at a party that night. When I asked for someone who could vouch for them, Sandy grinned and told me to ask a uniform named Richardson. It seems the party was in honor of his coming wedding. I made a note to talk with Don’s partner later. The Captain would be pissed if he ever found out his squad had sampled some of the street girls.

I went back to my barstool and waved at Angie. She walked back down the bar to my seat.

“So, you satisfied yet?”

“No. Won’t be until I get whoever popped the guy.”

“Why you so worried about him? Anybody stupid enough to walk around in that alley after dark is too stupid to live anyway.”

“Just doing my job, that’s all. Somebody gets shot, we have to find the shooter.”

“You don’t think I had anything to do with it, do you?”

Sometimes it’s better to keep quiet and see what happens. I didn’t have long to wait.

“You bastard. If I did it, do you think I’d be standing here talking to you? I’m not stupid, you know.”

I believed her. Angie was nervous as a cat, but there was strength and plenty of street smarts under that scared look. She’d have been long gone if she’d pulled the trigger on Tony.

“Ok, Ok. You’ve convinced me. Now that we’ve got that settled, can I have my coffee?”

“You still want it? I figured you’d leave since I didn’t know anything.”

‘Nah. I’m really off duty, and the only thing waiting for me is an empty apartment. I haven’t just sat in a bar since…, for years. I think I might hang around for a while, if that’s all right with you, that is.”

“Suit yourself.”

I really did want to relax, and a bar is a great place for relaxing. A lot of my job is reading people, and it’s become a hobby of mine. People in bars change as the drinks go down, and it’s fun to guess how this one or that one will turn out.

As the hours passed and the coffee went down, I found my watching centered mostly on Angie. She joked with the guys at the bar, but was…, I guess I’d describe it as a little bit sad and a lot defensive. I figured the defensive attitude came with her job. There were few women in the bar, and those who were there hadn’t come in for a drink. Their goal was to entice any and all willing guys to part with twenty bucks for a blowjob in the can, or more if he wanted a little extra attention in someplace more private. Angie was the unattainable prize. That would have to make her a little defensive. As for the feeling I got that she was a little sad, I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. It was just there.

The more I watched, the more interested in her I became. I hadn’t thought about getting to know another woman for a long time. My job just about guaranteed any serious involvement would end in a remake of my marriage, and I didn’t want to go through that again. Angie stirred something I’d kept buried for years. Maybe I felt sorry for her because she seemed unhappy. Maybe it was the knowledge that I’d be taking it easy in a couple weeks, and a woman wouldn’t have to compete with my job. She was a younger than I, but at our age, a few years wouldn’t make that much difference.

All my attempts at making conversation with Angie failed miserably. She seemed to be avoiding me except when I waved for more coffee. At about eleven, I gave up and left.

The next morning brought more dead ends and an interesting trip through Tony’s apartment. Tony Cardone had no relatives on record, and though my eyes and ears on the street, a greasy little guy who went by the name of “Twist”, had heard of the shooting, he knew nothing about Tony Clay or Anthony Cardone. The only new information was that the lab had found traces of oil in the right hip pocket of Tony’s pants. The oil was the same as that on the pistol. That would also explain why the front sight had been filed down. If the front sight was there, it might hang up when he tried to pull it quickly, and he probably didn’t need the sight anyway. Those little pistols are difficult to aim because of the short sight radius. It’s more of an instinctive pointing weapon. I know. I’ve carried a snub thirty-eight since I made detective.

Tony’s apartment was in a pretty nice neighborhood. I spent a little time with the super before asking to see it, but I didn’t get much. All he knew was that Tony paid his rent on time, and sometimes threw parties involving several women and a couple men. Once in the apartment, the reason for the so-called parties became evident.

One of the three bedrooms had been set up as a kind of film studio with a bed on one side and a fake fireplace on the other. There were lights on tripods placed around the room, and a professional video camera and a stack of blank tapes sat by the door. In another bedroom, there was a desk and several boxes of DVD’s, but these weren’t the copies of theater releases that almost got him into trouble before. They were porn films that catered to specific tastes. There were titles like “Tickle My Pink”, “Sweet Pee, the Shower Girl”, “Big Clit Grandmas”, and “Enema Queens 6”. The fine print on each said “Copyright 2002, TC Video, Inc.”. In the desk, we found a book of orders and receipts to various adult bookstores, and a file of releases from his models. It looked like he was a legit, if pretty sleazy, filmmaker. We took it all downtown.

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