Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

Bronzeville, Chicago

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I’m writing an essay for Granta about Bronzeville, the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to Chicago early in the Twentieth Century, Chicago’s racism, and my favorite Chicago library, which sits in Bronzeville, the Chicago Bee branch.  I’m working flat out

Librarian Jo Willis in front of the Chicago Bee branch's Art Deco doors

Librarian Jo Willis in front of the Chicago Bee branch's Art Deco doors

to meet Granta’s deadline, but when I’m done I’ll post some of what I’ve been learning here, so stay tuned.

Bronzeville used to have a vibrant shopping and entertainment area, around 35th and State; the Bee branch of the library, which used to house the Chicago Bee newspaper, is the only remaining building from that time.  However, Gregg Spears painted a vibrant portrait of Bronzeville that hangs in the library’s lobby.

Bronzeville, by Gregg Spears

Bronzeville, by Gregg Spears


Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I’ve never played tennis, but I always enjoy watching Wimbledon.  It’s something I started doing with my husband’s mother, Geraldine, who was born in Wimbledon in 1883.  She used to spend her pocket money going to see matches there.  Geraldine was an artist, and instead of a written diary, she kept a painting diary her whole life.  I used to love going through her albums with her and seeing her early sketches of women in long white dresses wielding their rackets.

Geraldine valued good manners on and off the court.  While I always liked John McEnroe, his temper tantrums made him an unappealing player to her.  We both liked Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean and Chrissie.

Geraldine was an early feminist.  She was a woman who had to give up her dreams of art school to be a nursemaid, and after leaving England when she was 19 to work first in India and then Canada, she never saw her mother again.  I have a portrait of her mother which she painted, and another of Geraldine herself, aged 2, painted by her mother.  My husband doesn’t like them over our bed–it unnerves him to think his mother and his granny are watching him in bed–so I keep them in my study.

Geraldine had an indomitable spirit.  I never heard her complain about the difficulties of her life.  Instead, she charged forth to enjoy life, taking painting lessons when she could afford them, studying languages, traveling, and continuing, when I met her in her great old age, to play the piano every afternoon for two hours–followed by a martini.

On her hundredth birthday, the Queen sent a very tepid one-sentence telegram, but the president of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club sent a lovely long letter, recognizing some of Geraldine’s accomplishments (Olympic gold medal in poetry, published essays on Wimbledon in its early years.)

Next weekend, as I watch the finals, I’ll pour a glass of champagne for Geraldine and think with pleasure on her, on our hours scrutinizing the players together, and on the great example I was privileged to have by knowing her.

9 so far this year

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

That’s murders in the United States by people connected to white supremacist groups, according to Chip Berlet on June 18th’s Fresh Air.  Apparently, we can’t have anti-hate-crime legislation in America because it violates the 1st Amendment; we can’t control handgun ownership because that violates the 2nd Amendment.

What we can have is hysterical commentary on U.S. talk radio shows about things like Obama wanting to take people’s guns from them–the fear that apparently propelled Richard Poplawski into ambushing and killing 3 Pittsburgh police officers.  We can let a man who tried to kidnap the Federal Reserve carry weapons.  We can let a man convicted of carrying explosives in his car carry weapons.

And if we mutter something about gun control, or background checks, a well-orchestrated outcry will silence us.  Meanwhile, the credit card reform bill passed by Congress included a provision allowing people to carry handguns in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

Good Websites?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Thanks for your support.  I’m sorry to whine in public–just wanted to explain why I’m not keeping on top of the blog these days.

My web mistress, Lisa Hazen, is revamping my website.  Along with other changes, she’ll be able to incorporate the blog directly into the website. She’ll also use software that will allow me to update things like tour information much more easily than I can right now. Lisa asked me for some of my favorite websites, and I gave her a few suggestions, but I’m wondering if there are sites you really love that she and I should look at.



Things Could Be Worse

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Things could be worse; they often are, and I am lucky.  But I’ve had a lot going on in my private world involving many different doctors and many different family members.

So, my dear friends of the blogosphere, I am a little distracted, and will not often be posting here.  I need to focus on my novel in progress, due at the end of this year, and on supporting Hardball, and I still have trouble using my hands as a result of nerve damage from a serious injury 3 years ago.  I will get to the blog when I can, but I hope you won’t forget me and will check in from time to time.

D-Day: – and + 1

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

65 years ago tonight, my husband, S C Wright, was the radar officer in the code room on the HMS Apollo.  He decoded the message that announced the June 6 commencement of Operation Overlord.  The Apollo lay in New Haven, a port in Wales.  They were told to sail for Portsmouth.

The Apollo, a fast light mine-layer, was chosen as the headquarters ship for General Eisenhower.  They left Portsmouth the night of June 6 and reached the Normandy coast early on D-Day +1.

My husband, a 20-year-old naval lieutenant, had grown up in Vancouver, BC.  His parents were both British, and from an early age, my husband was navy mad.  When war began, he was afraid it would end before he could serve and wanted to join at once, but my mother-in-law insisted he finish his BA.  He went to the University of British Columbia and studied day and night and graduated in 1942 with a BS in physics.  Canada had agreed to supply the Royal Fleet with radar officers, and my husband was seconded to the Royal Navy, where he served until 1946.


My husband in 1944 in his naval dress uniform

My husband in 1944 in his naval dress uniform


When they reached the Normandy coast, early on June 7, the seas were rough.  British warships fired shells overhead at German redoubts; the men on the Apollo could see the shells as they went over.  Unfortunately, the Apollo went aground.  My husband had the dubious privilege of being on the bridge when one of her screws caught in the ground and the mast began to tilt.  He was a few feet from General Eisenhower, who was both dismayed and angry–and was quickly removed to a back-up command ship.  The Apollo limped back across the channel at 2 knots to Newcastle.  They were lucky not to be sunk–submarines underneath, dogfights above, and no ability to dodge either.  The first V-1 rockets were fired that night, and as they slowly rode back to Newcastle, the crew could hear their ominous engine rumblings without knowing what they were.

Like many of the so-called “great generation,” my husband went on with his life–to a distinguished career in high energy physics–without dwelling on his war experiences.  About a decade ago, he finally decided he wanted to revisit Normandy in peacetime.  We arrived on a day of bright sun, calm seas, no guns and made the solemn pilgrimmage to Utah, Omaha, Point d’Hoc.  It was at Point d’Hoc that my husband’s composure broke down.  The monument there, to the Rangers who lost their lives scaling those cliffs, is a monument to America–every nationality is represented in those names.  And to stand there, knowing that he lived a whole life denied to these youths, shook him, and me.  Like most other visitors, we could only weep.

Every French person we encountered, from the youngest teen to the oldest shopkeeper, when they learned about my husband’s service, treated him with extraordinary respect.  That someone would come from overseas to save their country is a sacrifice none of them every forgets.


Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach



I admire my husband and respect the sacrifice of every person who has ever died or fought.  As a Jew, I am grateful a thousand times over for those who saved a tiny remnant of my family from death.  I somehow can’t bear the thought of Barack and Sarkozy making publicity out of Normandy, though.  What goes through my head tonight is that Wilfred Owen poem:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood  

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,  

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,  

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 

To children ardent for some desperate glory,  

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est  

Pro patria mori.

Are the Cubs a Giant Boil?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Chicago’s book fair, which is always the first weekend in June, will take place June 6-7 this year.  I’ll be taking part in a panel on the Chicago Cubs at one p.m. on June 6; a lot of Chicago crime writers will be talking about crime fiction (if you’re going to talk about crimes, just go straight to the Cubs), the endlessly inventive Mary Zimmerman will be present, as will short story virtuoso Jean Thompson.

And if you don’t want to sit through a program, all writers will be signing books after their events.  Mystery writers will be hopping in and out of the Centuries & Sleuths tents.  Dozens of booksellers set up tents where you can actually handle a book and see if you want to read it without downloading it to your e-reader.  Paper, ink, illustrations–it doesn’t get any better than that.

The Chicago Tribune, the book fair’s sponsor, interviewed me this morning about the Cubs.  The interview explains why I compare the Cubs to a giant boil.


Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Today I received bound galleys for Hardball, which is always an exciting time in the life of a book.  It’s a strange time, too, because it represents a kind of final separation between you and the work you’ve lived with for a long time–it’s in print, it’s thrilling, but the book no longer belongs to you.  It belongs now to readers, who not only bring their own experience and expectations to the novel, but understand it –complete it– in ways that differ from your own ideas  while you were writing it.

My novels run about 135,000 words.  That’s a lot of text and it takes a long time to write.  I don’t make them that long on purpose, but as a story and characters develop, and they become more complex, it takes that long to work all the threads of the story out.

It also takes time to work out such dense story lines.  I’ve been urged to write two or even three books a year, but I’d have to think in a different way than I do now, a staccato, ad-copy kind of way that focused only on brief bursts of action, with less time spent on thinking through my characters.  Even if I could reprogram my brain to write like James Patterson’s stable of writers, I’m not sure stories like his would appeal to V I’s readers.

writers block

I often write three or more drafts before a novel comes into its correct shape.  I wish it didn’t happen like that–I wish the first draft were the final draft–but that’s happened to me only once in the course of the eighteen books I’ve published–and that was with the fourth novel in the V I series, Bitter Medicine. More than once, I’ve discarded over two hundred pages, and found I could use only two or three paragraphs of the work I tossed.

Thank you all for staying with me on my writing journey.

Photo Finish, cont

Friday, May 29th, 2009



       Wayland Davenport had died the same year as my client’s mother.  Poor Hunter, Senior, losing his wife and his father at the same time.  His mother Mildred was still alive, though, living in a shabby apartment complex in Lincolnwood.  When I rang the bell we began one of those tedious conversations through the intercom, where she couldn’t make out what I was saying and I kept shouting into the door mike.

       “I’m too old to work,” she screeched.

       “Your son’s work,” I hollered.  “His photographs.  We’re interested in a display — an exhibit.  Africa in the 1970’s through American eyes.”

       “You’d better go away,” she finally said.  “I’m not buying anything.”

       I ground my teeth.  A woman carrying two large bags of groceries came up the walk, followed by three young children.  The biggest had his own small shopping bag but the younger two had their hands free to punch each other.  The woman kept muttering an ineffectual “Michael, Tania, stop it.”  When she tried to balance a bag on her hip while she fumbled for her keys, I took the bags and held the door.  She thanked me with the same exhausted mutter she used on her children.

       “I’m visiting Mildred Davenport in 4K but I’ll be glad to carry your bags up for you first,” I said brightly.

       “Oh!  Oh, thank you.  Michael, let go of Tania’s hair.”csl3745l

       She was on four as well, but at the other end, and no, she didn’t know Mildred, more than to recognize her.  The kids kept her running all day, and Mildred never left her own apartment, except on Mondays when someone from the senior center came to take her to the store or the doctor.

       “Do you know if her son is staying with her?”

       “Is that who that man is?  I don’t like the way he looks at Tania, I told my husband it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a molester, out of prison and they won’t tell us who’s in the building.  We could be murdered here or our children abducted and would the management care?  Not any more than they did the time the people in 5A were keeping goldfish in the bathtub and let it overflow into our place.  And then the cats, yowling to get out, I have complained a thousand times — Tania, stop pinching –.”

       I was thankful when we reached her door.  I dumped the bags on the floor, in the middle of a litter of Legos, Beanie babies and half-empty cereal bowls, and fled as the children’s whines rose to howls.

       Before leaving my office this morning I had written a short letter to Mildred Davenport, giving her the same story I had tried shouting through the intercom: I was a freelance journalist writing a book on Africa through American eyes and very much wanted to get hold of some of her son’s photographs from the Eighties. 

       At the far end of the corridor I knocked loudly on her door.  After a long wait I heard a shuffling on the other side, and then movement at the peephole.  I smiled in a cheery, unthreatening way.

       She opened the door the width of a chain bolt.  “What do you want?”

       I kept smiling.  “I put it in writing — I thought that might be easier than me trying to explain it through the door.”

       She grudgingly took the envelope from me and shut the door again.  The television was turned up so loud I could hear it through the closed door.  After about ten minutes she came back.

       “I guess you can talk to him but he says he doesn’t know what you mean, he never was in Africa.”

       I followed her into a living room where a fan stirred air so heavy it fell back like soup onto my hair and blouse.  A television tuned to Oprah provided the only light.  Stacks of newspaper and pieces of furniture were crammed so close together that it was hard to find a place to stand.

       “Hunter!  This here’s the lady.”  She shouted over Oprah in a flat nasal.

       A figure stirred in one of the overstuffed armchairs.  In the flashes from the screen I’d mistaken him for a heap of towels or blankets.  Mrs. Davenport muted the sound.

       “Who you work for?” he said.  “They have money for prints?”

       “Gaudy Press.  They have some money, but they don’t throw it around.” I looked around for a place to sit and finally perched on the arm of another chair.  “They’re especially interested in your work in the Eighties.  When you were in Africa.”

       “Never was in Africa.”  Hunter shot a look at his mother.

       “If they want to pay you for your work,” Mrs. Davenport began, but he cut her off.

       “I said I never was in Africa.  You don’t know anything about my life away from here.”

       “I’m only deaf, not crazy,” his mother snapped.  “Why don’t you see if you can make some money.  Show this lady your photographs.  Even if you don’t have Africa you’ve got plenty of others.”

       “You go back to Oprah and the lady can go back to her publisher and tell them no sale.”  He took the control from his mother and restored the sound; a woman whose car had broken down on the Santa Ana Freeway had been rescued by an angel.

       I moved close enough to him that I could see his frayed t-shirt and the stubble of greying hair on his chin.  “Your son says you were in South Africa in 1986.”

       He curled his lip at me.  “I don’t have a son.  That I know of.”

       “Helen Alder’s son?  That the two of you produced after you married in Vietnam?”

       “Helen Alder?  I never heard of a …” His voice trailed away, and then he said with a ferocious urgency that astounded me, “Where are you really from?”

       “Could we go where we can hear each other?”

       His mother watched suspiciously when he pushed himself up from his chair, but she stayed behind when he led me to the kitchen.  The stuffy air was larded with stale dishwater.  The window had a two-by-four nailed across it to keep it from opening.  Sweat started to gather at the back of my neck.

       “Who sent you to me?”  His teeth showed, crooked and tobacco-stained, through the stubble.

       “Your son.”

       “I don’t have any children.  I never married.  I never was in Africa.”

       “What about Vietnam?” I asked.

       He shot me an angry look.  “And if I say, yeah, I was there, you won’t believe I didn’t marry this Helen whosis.”The-Vietnam-War_1

       “Try me.” I wanted to keep my voice affable, but standing in the musty room was hard on my back as well as my manners.

       “I was a photographer.  For the old Chicago American before it folded.  I covered the war for them from Sixty-three to Sixty-nine.  Sur Place bought a lot of my shots — the French were more interested in Indochina than we were.  After the paper collapsed I signed on with them as a freelancer.”

       “Where were you in 1986?  Here?”

       He shook his head.  “Europe.  England.  Sometimes New York.”

       I took a notepad from my handbag and started fanning my face with it.  “When did you come back to Chicago?  Do you work for Sur Place out of here?”

       His face contorted into a sneer.  “I haven’t worked for anyone for a long time.  My mother doesn’t like me sponging off her, but she’s paranoid about burglary and she thinks a man around the house, even a washed-up ex-photographer, is better than living alone.  Now it’s your turn.  And don’t give me any crap about being a freelance writer.”

       “Okay.  I’m a private investigator.  A man claiming to be Hunter Davenport, Junior, asked me to find you.”  I showed him my license.

       His face began to look like dull putty.  “Someone was pulling your leg.  I don’t have a son.”

       “Fair, very good-looking, most people would be proud to claim him.”

       He began to fidget violently with the utensil drawers.  “Get the guy to give you a blood sample.  We’ll compare DNA.  If his matches mine you’re welcome to my whole portfolio.  How’d you find me?”

       I told him, county birth records followed by tracing Wayland Davenport through old phone books.  He’d gone from Cottage Grove Avenue to Loomis, then Montrose, stair-stepping his way up the northwest side until landing at a bungalow in this tiny suburb in 1974.  His wife moved into this little apartment four years ago.

       “So anyone could find me,” he muttered.

       “And is that a problem?”

       He gave an unconvincing laugh.  “No one wants to find me these days so it’s no problem whatsoever.  Now you’ve wasted your time and mine enough.  Go hunt up some real mystery.  Like who your client is and why he’s stolen my name.”

       I stopped in the kitchen doorway and looked back at him.  “By the way, who is Helen Alder?”

       He bared his teeth, showing a broken chip on the left incisor.  “The figment of your client’s imagination.”

       I put a business card on the counter top.  “Give me a call if you decide to tell me the truth about her.”

Photo Finish ( A V I Warshawski story)

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Note: I’ve been juggling a few too many things lately to work on my alchemy story, so I thought I’d post a story I wrote a few years back that was published in the now-defunct Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine and is almost never anthologized–I hope you’ll find it new to you.

       When he came into my office that July afternoon I thought I’d met him before.  It was something about his smile, sweet but aloof, as if inviting and withholding at the same time.  Now that I’m in the computer age I check databases before my first meeting with a new client, but whatever Hunter Davenport did hadn’t made Lexis-Nexis yet.  If I’d seen him before, it wasn’t on the evening news.

       “I’m glad you could meet me on short notice, Ms. Warshawski: I’m only in town a few days and these Chicago hotel bills mount up.” He had a trace of that southern drawl we northerners secretly find appealing.  “They warned me summer in Chicago could make Charleston feel cool, but I could hardly believe them until I got off that plane.”

       I shook his hand and offered him the armchair.  Outside, the heat was turning sidewalks into reflecting pools, but in my windowless office all seasons and hours are alike; with air-conditioning and floor lamps it might have been midwinter.

       “Charleston, South Carolina?  Is that your home, Mr. Davenport?”

       “I lived there when I was a teenager, but most of my adult life has been spent in Europe.  I can’t quite shake the accent, or a secret longing for long summer afternoons where time stops and all we do is lie in the long grass waiting for fish to rise and drinking lemonade.”images

       I smiled: I feel nostalgia for those same endless summers, when my friends and I kept our ears cocked for the Good Humor truck while we jumped rope.

       “So what brings you to Chicago when you could be in Charleston getting just as hot, and visiting your old haunts in the bargain?”

       He smiled again.  “Since the grandmother who raised me died, there hasn’t been anything to take me back.  I’m looking for my father.  Someone told me he’d retired to Chicago, but I didn’t see him in any of the phone books.  So I thought I’d better get an investigator. The folks at the Herald-Star said you were good.”

       That was enterprising, an out-of-towner going straight to the dailies for advice.  “When did you last see him?”

       “When I was eleven.  When my mother died I guess he couldn’t stand it.  He left me at my grandmother’s — my mother’s mother — and took off.  I never even got a postcard from him after that.”

       “And why do you want to find him now?  After what, fifteen years?”

       “A pretty good guess, Ms. Warshawski.  I’m twenty-four.  When my grandmother died I started thinking I wanted more family.  Also, well,” he played with his fingers as if embarrassed, “I wondered if he didn’t have a side to his story I ought to hear.  I grew up listening to my granny and my aunt — her unmarried daughter who lived with her — repeat what a bad old bag of bones my old man was.  They blamed him for my mama’s death.  But I began to see that was impossible, so I started wondering about all the rest of what they had to say about my folks.  I guess every man likes to know what kind of person his own old man was — what he’s got to measure himself against, so to speak.”

       I’m no less human than the next woman — I couldn’t resist the self-deprecating smile, or the wistful yearning in his blue-grey eyes.  I printed out a contract for him and told him I needed a five hundred-dollar advance.  Under the floor lamp his helmet of ash-blond hair looked like spun gold; as he leaned forward to hand me five hundreds in cash I could almost imagine the money to be some conjuror’s trick.anatar2

       “I do accept checks and the usual credit cards,” I said.

       “I don’t have a permanent address these days.  Cash is easier for me.”

       It was odd, but not that odd: plenty of people who visit detectives don’t want a paper trail.  It just made me wonder.

       His story boiled down to this: his father, also named Hunter Davenport, was a photographer, at least, he had been a photographer when young Hunter’s mother died.  Hunter, senior had been a freelance journalist in Vietnam, where my client’s mother was an army nurse.  The two met, married, produced young Hunter.

       “That’s why I lived in Europe as a child: after the war my father covered hot spots in Africa and Asia.  My mother and I lived in Paris during the school year and joined him on assignment during the summer.  Then she died, in a car wreck in South Africa.  It had nothing to do with whatever conflict he was covering.  I don’t even know where he was working — when you’re a kid, you don’t pay attention to that kind of thing.  It was just the ordinary dumb kind of wreck she could have had in Paris or Charleston.  He wasn’t with her, in the car with her, I mean, but my grandmother always blamed him, said if he hadn’t kept her half a world away it never would have happened.”

       He stumbled through the words so quickly I had to lean forward to make out what he was saying.  He stopped abruptly.  When he spoke again it was in a slow flat voice, but his knuckles showed white where he gripped his hands against his crossed legs.

       “I was with her when she died.  My mother was so beautiful.  You never will see a woman as beautiful as her.  And when she was covered with blood — it was hard.  I still see her in my dreams, that way.”  He took a deep breath.  “It must have been hard for him, for Hunter — my — my dad — because the next thing I knew I was at school in Charleston, living with my grandmother, and I never saw him again.”

        “What was your mother’s name?  Birth name, I mean.”

       He’d gone away to some private world; my question startled him back to my office.  “Oh.  Helen.  Helen — Alder.”

       “And why do you think your father’s in Chicago?”

       “The agency.  The agency where he used to sell his pictures, they told me they’d last heard from him here.”

       I had to pry more information from him: the agency was a French bureau.  First he claimed not to remember the name, but when I handed the hundreds back across the table he came up with it: Sur Place, on Boulevard St. Germaine in Paris.  No, he didn’t know his father’s social security number. Or his date of birth: he and his mother spent so much time apart from his father that ordinary holidays and birthdays weren’t times they had in common.  As for where his father came from, young Hunter was similarly ignorant.

       “My dad never talked to me about his childhood that I can remember.  And my mother’s family declared him hors la loi, so that –”

       “Declared him ooh-la-la?”

       “What?  Oh, Hors la loi — an outlaw, you know.  They never talked about him.”

       The client was staying at the Hotel Trefoil, a tiny place on Scott Street where they unpack your luggage and hand you a hot towel when you walk in so you can wipe the day’s sweat from your brow.  If he could afford the Trefoil my fee wouldn’t make a dent in his loose change.  I told him I’d do what I could and that I’d get back to him in a few days.  He thanked me with that tantalizing familiar smile.

       “What do you do yourself, Mr. Davenport?  I feel I should recognize you.”

       He looked startled.  In fact, I thought he looked almost frightened, but in the pools of lamplight I couldn’t be certain.  Anyway, a second later he was laughing.

       “I don’t do anything worth recording.  I’m not an actor or an internet genius that you should know me.”

       He left on that note, making me wonder how he afforded the Trefoil.  Perhaps his Charleston grandmother had left him money.  I laid the five hundreds in a circle on my desktop and ran a marking pen over them. They weren’t counterfeit, but of course fairy’s gold vanishes overnight.  Just in case I’d drop them at the bank on my way home.

       The international operator got me the number of Sur Place, which cheered me: young Davenport had given me information so unwillingly that I’d been afraid he’d manufactured the agency’s name.  It was nine at night in Paris; the night operator at the photo agency didn’t speak English. I think he was telling me to call tomorrow, when Monsieur Duval would be in, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure.

       It was only two in Chicago, and Sherman Tucker, the photo editor at the Herald-Star, was at his desk taking calls.  “Vic, darling, you’ve found a corpse and I get the first look at it.”

       “Not even close.”  Sherman has a passion for the old noir private eyes.  He keeps hoping I’ll behave like Race Williams or the Continental Op and start stumbling over bodies every time I walk out the front door. “Ever use a stringer named Hunter Davenport, or heard anything about him?  He used to freelance in Africa but someone thinks he might have moved to Chicago.”

       “Hunter Davenport?  I never heard of the guy but he gets more popular by the hour.  You’re the second person today asking for him.”

       “Did you refer an extremely beautiful young man to me?” I asked.

       Sherman laughed.  “I don’t look at guys’ legs, V. I.  But, yeah, there was a kid in here earlier.  I told him if he didn’t want to take a missing person to the cops to go to you.”

       Sherman promised to call me if any of his staff recognized Davenport’s name.  I felt as though I was trailing after my own client, but I checked the city and suburban directories just to be sure.  There were a lot of Davenports, but no Hunters.  I frowned at my desk, then dug out the phone directory disk for the Southeast from a service I subscribe to and looked up “Alder” in Charleston, South Carolina.  There weren’t any.  A whole bunch of Aldermans and Aldershots were listed, but no plain Alders.  The client had said his granny was dead.  She didn’t seem to have any relatives besides young Hunter.  No wonder he wanted to find his father.

       I checked with the department of motor vehicles, but Hunter, Senior, didn’t have a driver’s license. For almost any other search I’d need a social security number or a place and date of birth or some such thing.  Of course, if the guy really had retired to Chicago, it was possible he’d been born here.  I looked with distaste at the hundred or so Davenports in the city, and the two hundred more scattered through the suburbs.  As a last resort I’d start calling them to see if a cousin or brother were mooching from them, but first I’d see what I could learn from the County.

       They know me in that mausoleum on Washington, but the warmth of my greeting still depends on who’s working the counter that day.  I was lucky this afternoon.  A middle-aged clerk who was marking time until he could take early retirement and devote himself to his homemade pie shop was on duty.  I’ve bought desserts from him from time to time; he was willing to give a fifteen-year stack of registers at one go.

       Twenty minutes before closing, when even my friendly clerk was snarling at citizens to hurry up and finish, I found Hunter Davenport.  He had been born in 1942 at Chicago Lying-In, to Mildred and Wayland Davenport (race: white, no previous live births, home address on Cottage Grove, age of parents, twenty-seven and thirty-five respectively).  If Mildred and Wayland were still alive they were ancient, and they probably had long since moved from Cottage Grove, but at least it was a place to start.

       I detoured to my bank to deposit the five hundreds.  As I was boarding the L at Lake Street, I thought I saw my client’s gold halo in the crowd.  I jumped off the train, but by the time I’d fought past the rush hour crowd behind me I couldn’t see him.  I finally decided it must have been a trick of light.


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July 2020