An Open Letter to Senators Hatch and Grassley: It’s Not too late to leave your gang

Senators: It’s not too late to leave the gang
By Trish McReynolds and Sara Paretsky

When Trish McReynolds’s beautiful husky was shot by a macho, gun-toting neighbor, she sobbed “Why”? to her mother, who replied helplessly, “Because he could. He had the power.”
That hard answer came back to us as we listened to Sen. Grassley and the Con-Avenue Gang try to bully Dr. Ford into silence, just as Judge Kavanaugh tried to silence her 36 years ago, (allegedly) lying on top of her with his hands over her mouth.
Senators Grassley and Hatch have baldly stated to the world, that even if Kavanaugh committed rape, that wouldn’t be as important as the fact that he’s a sitting judge today.
Why didn’t Dr. Ford speak up when she was fifteen? These men – and a handful of women — ask? Because she knew Brett Kavanaugh had the power. Because women’s voices are perennially, perpetually silenced. Because the power to shame, scare, threaten us into silence is real.
We’ve seen this movie before. We know the script. A woman speaks out, at tremendous personal cost, and the most powerful gangs in the world, the Constitution Avenue gang – or the Wall Street or K Street or Main Street gangs – send their members a message: “‘Ho’ is getting out of line. Punish the ‘ho’.” Yes, Sen. Hatch, Sen. Grassley, you behave like members of MS-13 or the Vice Lords. You may not use the language in public, but to you, women are “‘bitches and ‘ho’s” who have to be kept in line.
If you’re a woman in any walk of life, you know that you have to scream to be heard – and even then, chances are good no one will listen. How many women had to scream before Harvey Weinstein was brought up short? How many women screamed about Trump during the run-up to the election? Rich and powerful men laughed them off: it’s okay to grab pussy because who’s going to stop you? No one: you have the power.
We watched this movie during Anita Hill’s testimony. We watch this movie in every fast-food restaurant in this country. We watch this movie at work, at home and we know the ending. They have the power.
But we will continue to speak, even as man-boys with power put their hands over our mouths, even as man-boys with power defame and threaten us. You belong to a powerful gang, Sen. Grassley, but we will not be silent. We will do our utmost to support Dr. Ford, support her as you seek to do to her what you and Sen. Hatch both did to Professor Hill.
You know the story, too, which is why you fear an FBI investigation: they may dig into the so-called “Clit and Slit” society Judge Kavanaugh belonged to at Yale and turn up other possible allegations of assault, other pussy grabs.
You have another chance, the two of you who led the charge against Anita Hill, to get it right, to turn your back on your gang, to let justice roll down like waters. You have the power. Use it this time for good.

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And once again, the backroom deals reign supreme

As most people know, Barack Obama is planning his presidential legacy center for the part of Chicago’s south side where he lived and taught law before become a U.S. Senator and then President. This isn’t a presidential library, which will be built in some other, as yet undisclosed location, but a private facility. The City of Chicago has given him 19 acres of land in Jackson Park, for a lease whose terms are secret. The city has decided to close roads that are heavily traveled to accommodate both the Obama Center and a proposed PGA golf course. All of those decisions are also cloaked in secrecy.

As is tiresomely all too often the case in my city, all the deals have been done behind the scenes. I testified before the Chicago Plan [sic]  Commission, but mine was a drowned out voice in a room full of people desperate to believe the city’s promises.

I’m attaching my remarks here. FYI, Rahm Emanuel is Chicago’s mayor, Mike Kelly the superindentent of the Chicago Park District.


Questions Regarding the Plans for the Obama Presidential Center

Sara Paretsky, Hyde Park resident since 1968

It’s fitting that President Obama’s center return to the South Side where he, and especially the former First Lady, lived and worked. I’m delighted the center will be here, but disturbed by the process by which the park district and the city made decisions to dismember Jackson Park, close roads, upend commutes and install a PGA golf course in an area that can’t support one economically.

I’ve lived a few blocks from Jackson Park for fifty years and I’m in the park at three or more days a week. One of my least favorite places is the underpass at 59th Street, which I’ve dubbed, “Lake Rahm Kelly.” This underpass has been flooded and impassable for 46 of the past 52 weeks.

Looking west under Lake Shore Drive at 59th Street

Every time I get there and see I have to retrace my steps, I think, Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent Kelly are two of the people asking us to take their proposed massive disruption of Jackson Park on faith: trust us, they say, as Lucy does to Charlie Brown when she holds the football for him. We can close roads, take away big chunks of Jackson Park to give to a private foundation, eliminate parking, turn Stony Island into a six-lane road, we can do all this without hurting the 2200 children who go to school near Stony Island. We can do all this without causing traffic bottlenecks for the commuters who are already bumper-to-bumper on the roads the city wants to close or narrow. We can bring new commerce to the South Side, we can bring jobs, we can do all this.

You taxpayers don’t need to see data on how we decided on this massive upheaval. You just need to trust us. We can’t keep one lonely underpass free of water, but we can do all this other bigger stuff.

We can build a PGA golf course, which requires intensive use of herbicides and pesticides, without allowing one single molecule of these chemicals into Lake Michigan. We can give almost twenty acres of Jackson Park to the Obama Presidential Center for a lease whose terms we will not reveal to you – how many years, how much rent, how big a burden for maintenance and security will fall on taxpayers. Just trust us.

We’re giving public land to a private center, but this won’t create a precedent for giving public land to other private users such as George Lucas or even Donald Trump. Why won’t it? Because you can trust us.

The Obama Presidential Center similarly demands our trust: for access to the nineteen acres of Jackson Park where they will sit, for economic revitalization of the South Side without a community benefits agreement, for replacement of football, baseball and soccer fields that the OPC and the proposed road changes will displace.

Mayor Emanuel recently said that skeptics like me aren’t ready for the 21st Century.That could be because the Jackson Park plan process looks very much like Chicago politics as they’ve been practiced for one hundred-fifty years.


Out-take from Shell Game

When I started writing Shell Game 20 months ago, I imagined at first that it would center on a Syrian poet. My poet was called Tarik Kataba and he was in the U.S. illegally. He had been imprisoned and tortured by Bashar. When he was released, he fled and made his way here through what John le Carré called “the soft routes.” I imagined VI having an affair with him. It turned out not to be possible to use him to tell the story I was trying to write. He still exists, but not in the same role. I thought it might entertain some readers to see where I started.

chapter 4: Scars


When I closed my eyes, I saw not the battered head in the woods nor the smooth skin of the dead young man, but Tarik Kataba’s back, criss-crossed with welts.

That hot August day, the Hope Against Fear picnic. Tarik had gone for a swim at the far end of the private beach across from Max’s home. I’d noticed him walking up the beach to a rocky outcropping at the far end, but at that time, I didn’t know his name – we were a motley gathering of immigrants, refugees, high-end donors, friends of Lotty and Max like me.

Felix Herschel was there, hanging out with the younger people; presumably that’s where he met Rasima. Mid-afternoon, Felix joined me in playing beach volleyball with some of Lotty’s surgical residents and other energetic people. Rasima had left for work.

Partway through our game, Tarik’s shirt blew from the rocks into the water. Wind and waves were carrying it toward our end of the beach; I darted into the water to collect it before it sank. I took the shirt up the beach to the rocks just as Tarik was climbing out. The sun had burned the newer flesh around the scars, highlighting the puckered stripes against his olive skin.

He was mortified that I’d seen his wounded back. He grabbed the shirt without speaking and disappeared behind the rocks. During supper, Max told me his name, and that he’d been tortured in Assad’s prisons because of his poetry.

Later, as the sun was setting, I had taken a break from the yammer of the crowd to sit on the beach and watch the light on the water change color. After some minutes, Tarik appeared noiselessly at my side.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I also am sorry. Sorry for the rude action when you make the kind action.”

We sat quietly for a few minutes, and then I asked about his poetry.

“Poetry is my life and also almost end of life.”

As dark gathered around us, in fractured English, he softly told me his story. Tarik spoke Russian: during the Cold War, when Syria was closely allied to the Soviet Union, he’d spent a year in Moscow as a student. He’d made friends among people who circulated samizdat; through them he learned the work of the great dissident poets of the Thirties.

“Akhmatova, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva. For me best is always Mandlestam. I try translate. Language hard, also hard is –“ he beat a rhythm on his thigh.

“Rhythm? Meter?”

“Yes. Hard and therefore happiness to put in Arabic. My bad mistake: I choose wrong poem, poem Mandlestam write to Stalin.”

Tarik recited “Stalin’s Epigram” for me in Russian and then in Arabic. It sounded beautiful in both languages, although I understood neither. Tarik tried to explain what it said, but his English wasn’t up to the job.

When I pulled out my phone and looked it up, it was instantly obvious that it would rile a dictator. Mandlestam wrote that Stalin had a mustache like “cockroach whiskers;” his followers were “a rabble of fawning half-men” who “whinny or purr or whine” at his command, his laws were “horseshoes” which hit people in the head or the eye or the groin.

In 1933, after the “Epigram” reached his ears, Stalin had Mandlestam arrested, and ultimately killed. In today’s global war against ordinary citizens, a poet should not be surprised when the police arrive in the middle of the night.

“Problem is moustache. Stalin has big, like – like brush. Bashar moustache tiny, like pencil –“ he rubbed his fingers in the sand, imitating an eraser.”

“Smudges,” I guessed.

“Smudge, hmm. I ask daughter, Rasima know English perfect. Bashar moustache smudge. Not big like Stalin. Bashar not same like Stalin, I trying say.”

“I’m sure that didn’t help.” I couldn’t hold back a laugh, and instantly apologized, but Tarik laughed softly as well. “Yes. Not help. Bashar want big cockroach moustache.”

Tariq had spent nineteen months in Assad’s prisons, nineteen months where he was whipped with electric wires, among other tortures. His son, seventeen at Tarik’s arrest, slipped across the border to safety in Jordan. When Tarik was released, he left Syria immediately with Rasima, flying to Panama and moving overland to the United States. In 2013 we still seemed like a haven.

“My son, Adam, stay at Jordan. Better there.”

It was full night when Tarik finished talking. He and I left the party together. He spent the night with me, and I felt the scars in the darkness. We never repeated the encounter, not out of shame nor fear of Rasima’s discovering us. Whatever we both had needed was satisfied by that one night.


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When Dorothy Salisbury Davis turned eighty, I flew to New York for her birthday. She wasn’t feeling well, and during the three days I spent with her she finally admitted to some bleeding and a low-grade fever. I urged her to let me take her to her doctor but she was adamantly opposed. In retrospect, I suppose she was afraid of hospitalization instead of the festive dinner she’d been planning. At any rate, I respected her wishes, we had dinner. The next day I urged her again, but she remained resolute — or perhaps obdurate, and I returned to Chicago.

Two days later a good friend found her passed out on her living room floor. She was rushed to an ER where they diagnosed a kidney infection, eminently treatable. She was resilient as well as obdurate and was soon back in top form.

Dorothy lived to 98 in pretty good health except for her last few years, but the question of when she needed care and what kind continued to be a struggle. The friend who got her to the ER was also resolute and pushed Dorothy far harder than I ever could have or would have.

I’ve been thinking about that recently, thinking about agency. My husband has COPD and it is worsening. He doesn’t want to go to a pulmonologist; he doesn’t want oxygen. I think I have a right to insist he uses his inhalers, but I think he has a right to decide how much additional treatment he wants.

I’m torn on this question of agency. If he were younger, if he were as mentally sharp as he was at 75 (he’s 94 now), maybe he’d make the decision to go to oxygen or other treatments, but he might not. He needs me to administer any therapies he receives and he has never liked being dependent. He’s always been the caregiver, not the care receiver, and I imagine myself in his head, thinking, “I won’t be that helpless person.”

I was in my twenties when a beloved friend succombed to a particularly lethal form of lupus; I was with her when she died. The night before, she pulled all the treatment lines out of her body. She’d had enough in her twenty-five short years. When I was 25, I couldn’t bear the decision she made but I understand it better now — I was clinging to her in my own neediness, not letting her go where she needed to be.  As Stewart Alsop put it so poignantly, A dying person needs to die just as a sleepy person needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong to resist.



Remarks at the ACLU Lunch

March 23 the Illinois ACLU held a fundraising lunch, where we were reminded how close to the edge of losing our Constitutional protections the current occupant is pushing us. We get caught in the daily battles for reproductive health care or protecting immigrants and forget that Congress is abrogating its right and its duty to uphold the separation of powers.

Illinois ACLU director Colleen Connell spelled out our challenges in a moving speech. As soon as I have a copy I will post it here. In the meantime, for those who are interested, I’m putting my own remarks here — I was asked to speak briefly about reproductive health care access.

Thank you all for coming today and for turning out in such large numbers. The March 4 Wall Street Journal questioned the patriotism of progressives like me: if we aren’t for America First, what claim can we lay to our country?

My claim is the to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Without these then I do feel frightened and stateless. It is thanks to the ACLU that all of us, progressives, conservatives, libtards and even the two Stevens, Miller and Bannon, have a country.

A view of the Jumbotron

After the 2016 election, as we scrambled for ways to protect our country, Jonathan Santlofer, who runs the Center for Fiction in New York, got a contract with Simon & Schuster to create an anthology of resistance called, It Occurs to Me that I am America. All profits go to the ACLU.

My contribution imagines a dystopian future, complete with special courts to protect the so-called unborn – a word which for me conjures the undead. In it, Lotty Herschel and V.I. Warshawski are arrested for supporting abortion rights.

My story rose out of my own anxiety over the thousands of restrictions that have been placed on access to abortion, contraception and women’s reproductive health across the fifty states. It is thanks to the ACLU’s legal actions around the country, along with our grassroots resistance, that we can still claim access to contraception and abortion in many jurisdictions.


In 1970, three years before Roe, my roommate had a back-alley abortion. We weren’t friends: we’d known each other for about a week and she didn’t want me to go with her. That night, when she hadn’t come home, I started calling hospitals and police stations near our Harlem apartment. She had been found unconscious, hemorrhaging, on a sidewalk near Columbia University’s big teaching hospital. The intern on call saved her life but gave her a scathing lecture on her loose morals.

When I returned to Chicago that fall, I began actively working for reproductive rights. It’s been almost fifty years now of struggling against parental notification laws, mandatory ultrasounds, terrorist attacks on doctors and clinics, punitive building codes and so on. I am angry, I am tired, but I am heartened by the legion of young women and men who are taking up the fight, especially those of you who are here today.


#MeToo has raised awareness of the way in which sexual harassment and assault permeate American institutions. The failure –until very recently — for anyone to respond to women’s reports of assaults, stems from the same social norm that seeks to deny our access to reproductive health care. We operate in a culture that does not see women as fully human, as having the same ability as men to make moral decisions. Just as Harvey Weinstein’s and Donald Trump’s victims couldn’t get law enforcement or industry power players to take their experiences seriously, so, too, are women unable to establish our right to make our own health care decisions.

Women’s speech is unheard and undervalued. Studies of women’s speech shows that whether at the dinner table or the boardroom, women can speak about a third of the time. When we take up more time – more room – we are tuned out. American movies reflect that: even with a female lead, women get about a quarter of the dialogue, men three-quarters.

So it’s an unsurprising, but a grim, life-threatening reality, that women are not attended to when we report predatory behavior of presidents or demand access to health care.

Thanks to #MeToo, thanks to the energy of thousands of young women and men, and thanks to the tireless work of the ACLU, we are changing that reality.

When I look at this room, I feel more hope than I have for many years, despite the despicable situation in our nation’s capitol. I know that everyone here is passionately committed to “promoting justice and providing for the general welfare,” as our country’s founders put it.

If you can work at a clinic under siege, or volunteer in a campaign for this fall’s election, so that we have a pro-choice governor and a pro-choice Congress, do so. If you can write the most generous check you can afford to the ACLU — the life you save could be your own. Or your mother’s, your lover’s, your daughter’s. Certainly it will be the life of one of our sisters.


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Head trip

You ever have conversations in your head with important people where you get to change the course of events? Here’s one of mine:


So I’m on the phone with my girl Angie and I say, girlfriend, we gotta send one back to you. The Drumpf family from Kallstadt, you know? They are majorly destroying the United States.

And Angie, she says, Get a grip, girl. This is 2018, not 1938. You can’t emigrate here if you, like, hang out with Neo-nazis and support all that racist rhetoric. We got laws here, and those laws say you cannot go around calling other people’s countries “shitholes” and stuff. And you can’t be posting ani-Jewish images on your social media, and you can’t surround yourself with that kind of trash, neither.

But, Angie, I say, think of the Marshal plan. Didn’t we save anyone in your family from starving? Your mom, maybe or your grandpa. This Drumpf guy wants to get rid of all public institutions and only his friends get to have jobs, and, like, you know. We’re sending him back to Kallstadt.

And Angie is all, he can visit but it’s a five-day visa. He overstays, we arrest him in front of his little boy.

And I’m like, I’m down with that Angie. Totally.

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It Occurs to Me that I am America

Lotty Herschel is in prison in my short story, “Safety First.” This story is one of many original stories and pieces of art created for the anthology It Occurs to Me that I am America. All royalties from the sale of this book will go to the ACLU as they fight for our Constitutional rights. Simon & Schuster, the publishers are making an additional donation of 10 % of the hardcover price on all copies sold before midnight, January 15. It’s a great anthology, with contributions from Mary Higgins Clark, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Walker, among many others.

Here’s an excerpt from my story. Will Lotty make it out of prison? Where’s VI Warshawski? Buy It Occurs to Me that I am America and learn the whole story. Or look at Art Spiegelman’s graphic short story, or Stephen Carter’s work, or any of the dozens of other fascinating contributions.

Safety First, by Sara Paretsky

She guessed that cameras, or at least microphones, were hidden in the cell. Possibly in the showers, the cafeteria, even the attorneys’ meeting rooms. From the moment of her arrest until the day of the trial, she said nothing inside the prison, except immediately after her arrest, and that was only to repeat a demand for a phone call. Finally on the fifth day, when she’d been kept sleepless and could no longer be sure of time, a guard handed her a cell phone and told her she had thirty seconds, and if she didn’t know the number, they weren’t a phone directory, so tough luck.

Once she’d made the call, she became mute. She didn’t speak to the assistant attorneys for the Northern District of Illinois sent to interrogate her, nor to the guards who summoned her for roll-call four times a day, or tried to chat with her during the exercise period. Because she was a high-risk prisoner, she was kept segregated from the general population. A guard was always with her, and always tried to get her to speak.

The other women yelled at her across the wire fence that separated her from them during recreation, not rude, just curious: “Why are you here, Grandma? You kill your old man? You hold up a bank?”

One day the guards brought a woman into her cell, a prisoner with an advanced pregnancy. “You’re a baby doctor, right? This woman is bleeding, she says she’s in pain, says she needs to go to the hospital. You can examine her, see if she’s telling the truth or casting shade.”

A pregnant woman, bleeding, that wasn’t so rare, could mean anything, but brought to her cell, not to the infirmary? That could mean an invitation to a charge of abuse, malpractice. She stared at the pregnant woman’s face, saw fear in her face and something less appetizing, something like greed, or maybe unwholesome anticipation. She sat cross-legged on her bunk, closed her eyes, hands clasped in her lap.

The guard smacked her face, hard enough to knock her backward. “You think you’re better than her, you’re too good to touch her? Didn’t you swear an oath to take care of sick people when they gave you your telescope?”

In the beginning, she had corrected such ludicrous mistakes in her head. Now, she carefully withdrew herself from even a mental engagement: arguing a point in your head meant you were tempted to argue you it out loud.

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Chiara’s Third Anniversary

It was three years ago today that Chiara came into our lives, courtesy of Christina Yohe in Missouri. In May, we had lost our beautiful girl, Callie, to a bone tumor that pressed into her brain, and I was not ready for another dog. However, my husband, who was 91 at the time, was  overwhelmed with grief for Callie. He would spend hours every day weeping over her photographs and finally, after months of this, with no amelioration, I realized the only cure was a new dog. I wanted a Golden, as all my dogs have been Goldens, and I wanted a house-trained adult. And so we got Chiara. I resisted her at first, and I wasn’t the best mom I could have been, but for all of that, we began to bond and became close friends. These days, my happiest times are walking the lakefront or through the woods with Chiara; I couldn’t live without her. Courtenay took to her instantly:

Courtenay and Chiara on the road home from Missouri

Chiara doesn’t play with toys or retrieve, but she does like to swim. Her first encounter with the Big Lake freaked her — it took about 9 months for her to realize that water and Goldens go together, kind of like Goldens and liver treats.

Chiara at Oak St Beach, March 2015

She’s a very mellow girl, very laid back, and isn’t afraid of anything. She’s nervous around the new, but she keeps approaching it until she’s mastered it. The Westy next door tries to tease her into playing but Chiara prefers to sleep.

Chiara is enchanted by candles at her first Chanukah

She was awarded her Doctor of Furosophy degree in May 2015

Chiara gets her Doctor of Furosophy degree

After Sara’s final swim for 2017 – 49 degrees is too cold for me

Doug Shaeffer, who’s a dog whisperer, took this picture of his boy Copper with me and Chiara after we’d been swimming one hot August morning.

With our buddy Copper at Lake Michigan

With her two buddies, Giga, the Westy, and Dante, the giant Schnauz

We’re in my kitchen here, everyone trying to make sure she or he doesn’t get left out of snack-time

Chiara in bed with Courtenay

Chiara feels responsible for Courtenay and stays close to him when she’s in the house. The two are late risers. I’m up by six or seven but they sleep until 9 or 10, which makes it hard to get that first walk in and get to work and and and. After our walks, she races instantly to his side. On the rare occasions when he’s out (these days he doesn’t like to leave the house unless he has to), she lies by the front door until he comes home.

This next picture is my favorite: twice a week Rogan Birnie comes to help Courtenay exercise. I figure this is guy time and leave them alone, but one Monday I was in the basement and looked over to see this sight. Rogan told me Chiara so needs to be next to Courtenay, she even tries to get on the treadmill with him.

Chiara doing hamstring stretches with Courtenay

She and I are taking agility lessons together and one of these days I will figure out how to upload a video of her going through a tunnel and other amazing feats.


Watch VI in Action. See her with Sal. See — VI the Video!

If you’ve read  the VI Warshawski books or stories, you know she travels the city up and down. She started when she was a child, performing hair-raising escapades with her cousin Boom-Boom, and she’s still racing around Chicago today. Now, with this video, created for Sara by three young cineastes at the University of Chicago, you can follow her from Wrigley Field to the Golden Glow. Catch a Hitchcock view of Sara in the last frame.

VI Warshawski Book Trailer from Sara Paretsky on Vimeo. Created by Alison Titus, Anna Gregg and Grace McLeod


Fallout – Chapter 1

(Fallout goes on sale April 18; you can pre-order it now)


Playing the Sap – Again


“The police say it was drug related, ma’am. They think August was stealing to deal.” Angela Creedy spoke so softly I had to lean forward to hear her.

“That is a bêtise—a—a lie, a stupidity.” Bernie Fouchard stomped her foot for emphasis.

“Bernie, my little volcano, you could be right, but I have no idea what, or even who, you’re talking about. Can you start at the beginning?”

Angela had been looking at her clasped hands, her face tight with worry, but that made her give a brief smile. “You are a little volcano, Bernie. Maybe that’s what we’ll start calling you at the training table. The thing is, August is missing, and when this break-in happened—“

“They had to pick on someone,” Bernie interrupted. “And because he is black—“

Angela put a hand over Bernie’s mouth. “August is my cousin, ma’am. I don’t really know him—I’m from Shreveport, and he grew up in Chicago. We don’t have the kind of family that stages big reunions; I haven’t seen him since he was about eight or nine and came down with his mama to visit. Anyway, when I connected with him, after I moved up here, it turned out he’s trying to be a filmmaker, but he works as a personal trainer to support himself and videos parties – weddings, kids’ birthdays, things like that. It just seemed like the perfect combo.”

The southern lilt in her soft voice made it hard for me to understand her. “Perfect for what?” I asked.

Bernie flung up her hands. “But to help us train and video us when we play, naturellement, so we can see where we must improve!”

Bernadine Fouchard was a rising hockey player. Her father had been my cousin Boom-Boom’s closest friend on the Blackhawks, and he’d asked Boom-Boom to be Bernie’s godfather. Now that she was a first year student and athletic star at Northwestern, I had sort of inherited her.

“Angela is also an athlete?” I asked.

“Can’t you tell? She is like a—a giraffe; she is a basketball star.”

Angela looked at her in annoyance, but went back to her narrative. “Anyway, Bernie and I, we’re both freshmen, we have a lot to prove before we can be starters, so we started going to the Six-Points Gym, because that’s where my cousin works, and it’s not far from campus.”

“When this gym was broken into two nights ago, the police, at first they thought it was a prank, because of Halloween, but then today they said it must have been August, which is a scandale,” Bernie cut in. “So I told Angela about you, and we agreed, you are the exact person for proving he never did this thing.”

Bernie favored me with a brilliant smile, as if she were the Queen bestowing an important medal on me. I felt more as though the Queen’s horse was kicking me in the stomach.

“What does August say about it?”

“He’s disappeared,” Bernie said. “I think he’s hiding—“

“Bernie, I’m going to call you a volcanic kangaroo, not a volcano, you jump around so much.” Angela’s voice finally rose in exasperation. “The gym manager says August told him he was going away for a week, but he didn’t say where, just that it was a confidential project. He’s a contract employee, so he doesn’t get vacation time—he takes unpaid leave if he wants to go.”

“He didn’t tell you?” I asked.

Angela shook her head. “We’re not that close, ma’am. I mean, I like him, but—you know how it is when you play college ball—Bernie told me you played basketball for the University of Chicago—you’re training, you’re practicing, you’re fitting in your classes. Girls ball isn’t like boys: we have to graduate, we have to take our courses seriously. Not that I don’t want to, I love everything I’m studying, but there isn’t time left over for family. And August is pretty private, anyway. He’s never even invited me to his home.”

“You have his phone number?” I said.

Angela nodded. “He’s not answering it, or texts, or anything. No updates on his Facebook page or Twitter feed.”

“The police must have something to go on,” I objected. “Other than saying that nobody knows where your cousin is.”

Angela picked at her cuticles. “It wasn’t really a break-in.” Her voice had become even lower. “Someone with a key opened all the doors, and August is the only person with a key who they can’t find.”

“How long has he been out of touch?” I asked, cutting short another harangue by Bernie.

Angela hunched a shoulder. “I can’t even tell you that, ma’am. It wasn’t until today that I knew he was missing, and that’s because the police came to talk to me, to see if I knew where he was.”

I got up to turn on more lights. The only windows in the warehouse where I lease office space are at the top of the fourteen-foot walls. I’ve filled the place with floor and ceiling lamps, and at five on a November day, I needed all of them to break the gloom.

Neither of my visitors seemed able to tell her story in a straight-forward way, but what it boiled down to was that Six-Points Gym’s medical supply closet had been ransacked some time last night.

The gym worked with a lot of athletes, from weekend warriors to some of the city’s pro teams, along with a number of university athletes. They had a doctor on call who could – and did – hand out drugs. Neither Angela nor Bernie knew what had been in the ransacked closet.

“We don’t take drugs,” Bernie snapped when I asked. “Why would we know?”

I sighed, loudly. “It’s the kind of question you might have asked the police when they talked to you. Or they might have asked you. Six-Points must have controlled substances, or the cops wouldn’t care.”

“They didn’t say.” Angela was talking to her hands again. “They asked me how well I know August, and did I know if he took drugs, sold drugs, all those things. I told them no, of course.”

“Even though you don’t know him well?” I prodded.

Angela looked up at that, her eyes hot. “I know when someone is on drugs. Ma’am. It’s true I don’t know him well—I was only two the one time he came to see us—but my mother told me he brought a toy farm with him that I kept messing with. She says August was so cute, how he put the animals to bed for the night, all the little lambs together, all the cows, the dog got to sleep on the farmer’s bed. A boy like that wouldn’t be stealing drugs.”

I didn’t suggest that every drug dealer had once been a little child who played with toys.

Bernie nodded vigorously. “Exactement! So we need you to find August. Find him before the police do, or they will just arrest him and never listen to the truth.”

“Which is?”

“That someone else did this break-in, this sabotage,” Bernie flung up her arms, exasperated with my thickness.

“This is potentially a huge inquiry, Bernie. You need to fingerprint the premises, talk to everyone on the gym’s staff, talk to customers. The police have the manpower and the technical resources for an investigation like this. I don’t have the equipment or the staff to work a crime scene, even if the Evanston cops would let me look at it.”

“But, Vic! You can at least talk to people. When you start asking questions, they will be squirming and saying things they thought they could keep secret. I know you can do this, because I have seen you making it happen. Maybe even the manager of the gym, maybe he is doing this crime and trying to blame August.”

I opened and shut my mouth a few times. Whether it was the flattery, or the supplication in both their faces, I wrote down the address of Six-Points, the name of the manager, August’s home address. When I asked Angela for August’s mother’s name, though, she said that “Auntie Jacquelyn” had died six years ago.

“I honestly don’t think he has any other family in Chicago. Not on my side, anyway. His daddy was killed in Iraq, years ago. If he has other relatives here, I don’t know about them.”

Of course she didn’t know his friends, either, or lovers, or whether he had debts he needed to pay off. At least she could provide his last name—Veriden. Even though I knew neither woman could afford my fees, I still found myself saying that I would call up to the gym tomorrow and ask some questions.

Bernie leapt up to hug me. “Vic, I knew you would say yes, I knew we could count on you.”

I thought of Sam Spade, telling Brigid O’Shaughnessy he wouldn’t play the sap for her. Why wasn’t I as tough as Sam?

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February 2021