Mystery & Crime

Chi-Town Blues

By

This book will launch on Sep 1, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

An immigrant landlady with a half-dozen skips on her hands, a suburban contractor in the Mob’s crosshairs, a nearly frozen fisherman with a sloe-eyed, murderous blonde to heat things up—they’re all here. From the wealthy Near North Side and the chimera of Rush Street to the city's plebeian suburbs, immerse yourself in a cross-section of Chi-Town's most secretive, seductive, and seditious characters.

This wild-and-wooly, sexually charged, hit-and-hit-harder book exposes the soft underbelly of Chicago’s most riveting criminal elements. All the cops, dicks, cons, dames, skirts, and criminals whose paths a living body could ever hope to cross—or not!—make appearances in this whimsical, haunting, riveting, and erotically charged neo-noir.

From Crime and Punishment to Humor, Spirituality, and Redemption, these tales enlighten, educate, amuse, and astound with life as it used to be in the Second City.

So, uncover the real Chicago at the hands of a native storyteller whose latest book brims with mystery around every aging brownstone—and mayhem atop each spiraling staircase.

Uncover the Second City’s unique brand of crime—in D. J. Herda’s Chi-town Blues.

A cockroach poked its head out from beneath the bureau across the room. Several times it peeked out, paused, and sniffed the air like a golden retriever getting a fix before it scurried back to safety.

Bastard!

"Yes, Mrs. Martinowicz," I said. "I mean, no." The insect was proving to be a welcomed diversion to the endless harangue falling from the woman’s lips. She droned on for an hour, pausing only long enough to ask a quick question, never long enough to hear an answer, and then asking it again a few minutes later. She'd enjoyed a happy childhood in Poland, selling flowers to the peasantry in her dear, since-deceased grandmother's shop. She eventually moved to America, met and married her husband, and lost him only two years ago. A yellow tear formed in the corner of one eye, beading up to enormous proportions before scaling its way slowly down a complexion so parched and crinkled, you could have read the Preamble in it.

"You know, excuse me, Mr. Joseph, sir, such a beautiful, such an elegant name as that ... excuse me for saying that the trouble with this American people is all this, this ... fooling around that so many people ... and the women ... do. It's a sin, excuse me, how these old hags who could scare the Frankenstein, how they smear all this makeup stuff all over their faces and they put on these short dresses, these skirts, and it's a sin how they chase after some men, now, isn't it? But, you know, Mr. Joseph, sir, I feel sorry for them, because they're all empty people inside ... with this sexy business and all. And I can't stand empty people. I can't stand people who don't use the brains the good God gave them. Excuse me for saying it, Mr. Joseph, sir, darling, but I just can't stand no empty people!

"Mrs. Martinowicz ..." I pulled my legs back beneath my chair and stood up. "I'll take it."

Mrs. Martinowicz patted the ball of yellow hair tacked to the back of her head. "Then you don't want it, no?"

"No. I mean, yes, I want it. I'll take the apartment. I’d like to rent it. Starting today.”

"Oh, my God, can you believe it? Such an elegant young gentleman like yourself to want such an old place like this. That is a gift from the God. Believe me, sir, a gift from the God. Most people today, these empty-headed people, they don’t want no old place like this. But you know what, Mr. Joseph, darling? They are all for show, these people. They all want to say, ‘Look at me, what I got on the outside,’ and inside …" She made a circular motion with her finger. “They are all just empty people inside.”

"I have to go now, Mrs. Martinowicz. I'm on my lunch hour from the bank. I don't have many things to move in here in the way of furniture and all. Mostly clothes. A few boxes. I could do it tonight easy, if that works for you. Around six?"

I handed her the security deposit and the first month’s rent and observed how she signed her name, Mrs. Josephine Martinowicz, on the receipt, which she folded twice and handed to me. I'd had some training in handwriting analysis and found it fascinating, studying people's natures and comparing that to what their writing revealed. It was more than a pastime with me. It was a vice.

"Then, Mr. Joseph, sir, I see you tonight at six, and I give you your key then, no?”

“Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it. Oh, and one more thing. About my mail …”

She held up her hand and led me out the door to the front of the building. “Right here,” she said, pointing to an aging steel box standing guard over the steps leading up to the street and my future happiness. “This is your mailbox. I’ll give you the key for that tonight, too. It’s Apartment 1-B.” She pointed to a label on the front. “See?”

I saw.

My mind raced as I hiked the stairs leading to the walk.

What a hole! Who would have imagined? Me, a rising, button-down-collar man at the First. A junior officer. But, then again, it won’t be intolerable. For a while. That’s all it will take. If everything goes well, I’ll be settled in by Saturday. Within a few short weeks, I'll be rich.

And then I’ll be gone.

*    *    *

The last two people filed out of the department except for a couple of tellers and Lynn, an assistant accountant who looked up, caught my eye, and waved from across the room. I smiled and waved back as she swung around in her chair and buried herself in a file cabinet. Good kid. I opened my bottom desk drawer and pulled out a stack of mimeographed sheets. Slowly, I ran my finger up and down the list, stopping finally at account number 74775.

"Martinowicz," I whispered.

Quickly my fingers followed the line of print after her name. Address? Four East Maple, Chicago, Illinois, 60606. Telephone? 312-659-1121. Credit Rating? AAA. Loans in Force? None. Amount on Account? $673,244.

"No lunch, Joe?"

The voice startled me. "What?"

"I say, aren't you going to lunch?" Mr. Cox learned over my shoulder. I wanted to close the sheaf of papers before me or set them print-side down on my desk. But neither would do. That would surely make him suspicious. No, I'd just have to sit tight and hope for the best. Just wait for whatever happened.

"Oh. No, no." I pointed to a wrapped sandwich sitting next to my phone. "I thought I'd just eat in today. You know, catch up on a little work. I want to run some figures I've been working on. For a mortgage that one of our customers is applying for." I hoped he wouldn't notice the sweat forming on my brow. “I figured I’d use the 5660.”

"Bernice?" Fred turned toward the computer sitting in a room across the hall. "If she can't do it, nobody can. Of course, you have to treat her right, you understand. Just like any woman. You can kick her around a little and push her to the limit, get her fired up as all hell. Then, just when you think the love affair is over, you give her a pat on the processor, tickle her BIOS, and she'll purr like a kitten." Fred winked.

"Oh ... yes, sir." I forced an awkward laugh. "Very good, sir. I'll have to remember that one."

"Well, I'm off now. Be back in an hour in case anybody asks for me."

That would be a first, I thought. I followed the hollow sound of his hard-soled shoes down the corridor and across the hall. Pause. More sounds, followed by the slamming of the elevator door as the fiberglass-and-steel cage whisked its occupant to the 14th-floor cafeteria. My pulse suddenly dropped twenty points, and I took my first breath in a minute-and-a-half. I patted the sweat rolling down my temples.

Stupid, Joe. Very stupid. If you’re going to do this thing, you have to do it right. No chance for slip-ups. Absolutely none. Otherwise, don’t do it at all. I'm not going to spend the next thirty years of my life in Joliet because you fucked up. Uh-uh!

I glanced around before returning to the list, copying all the information I needed and shredding the rest. Then I got up and keyed a username into the computer. I punched some figures in, entered the access code and the password I’d seen Fred use a thousand times before--asshole!--and updated the information for account number 74775. After that, I went across the hall to Internal Security. As I expected, the department was vacant except for Marge.

"Hey. Hi, Marge."

"Joe. How are you doing? "

I shrugged. "Oh, you know. Busy, busy. Like they say, no rest for the wick-- ...” I caught myself. “--uhh, weary."

Some other time, I might have been tempted to stick around awhile. You know, sling a little hash. Marge had the smoothest curves and the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. Strawberry blonde mane, teased just enough to make it stand out from every other woman on earth but not enough to make her look cheap, you know? And when she walked, her firm, well-rounded buttocks swayed poetically--the kind of sway that tells a man she's a woman of vast experience ... all carnal. And not averse to putting it to use.

"Say, I need to use Bernice for a bit. I have to scan in some new customer signature cards. Alright by you?"

She threw her shoulders back and motioned with her arms, her bosoms shifting precipitously. "Let me know if you need any help."

I had to struggle to remember why I was there. In fact, for a brief moment, I was tempted to feel her out on the whole thing. You know, in a “just-kidding” sort of way. Tell her I had a plan for making a quick bundle and ask if she’d be interested in joining me. Something like a junior partner. With senior assets. Something in the way she smiled told me she wasn't exactly above it all. And she'd be good company along the way. Guaranteed.

But it was too risky. I knew that. There was too much at stake. Too much riding on everything going smoothly. I needed a foolproof plan, one hundred percent. And that meant no one else could know what I was up to. After all, there were a million Margaret Maddings down in Mexico. Plenty to last me for the rest of my days. And with the money I'd soon have, I'd be able to sample each and every one of them.

I turned the scanner on, punched in the account number, and waited as the machine whirred into action. On the oversized screen appeared the name, "Josephine Martinowicz." Below it was a scan of her signature. I revised the name on the file, deleted and resigned the signature line, and saved everything back into the computer. I ran a copy onto a new thumb drive that I slipped into my pocket. Now, the file read, "J. Martinowicz" with a signature that matched. My signature.

Next, I made a slight altercation to her mailing address: From “Four E. Maple St., Chicago,” to “Six Playa del Real, Acapulco.”

Okay, I mused, maybe not all that slight.

I signed my name as a witnessing officer of the bank and stepped over to the printer where I slipped a dozen blank withdrawal slips into the hopper. I watched mesmerized as the printer spit out the new slips just as the elevator bell rang. I turned to see two tellers returning from lunch. I closed out the account and walked back toward Marge, eyeing her cautiously so as not to arouse suspicion..

“Well, that’s done,” I said, smiling. “Thanks. Catch you later.”

“You get what you were after?”

Hmm?” I paused, trying to gauge the meaning behind her words. “Oh, yeah. Sure. Thanks, again. No problem.”

I turned to leave when she stopped me short. “Just a minute.”

Oh, crap. I stopped and looked back, arching my brows. “Yes? Anything wrong?” Shit. Why did I say that. It was practically an open invitation to start her thinking. And wondering.

“I was wondering.”

Crap!

“Do you have plans for dinner tonight?”

Dinner?” I let out a soft breath and thought for several seconds, taking in suddenly the flush of wildflowers wafting in from some illusory window overlooking some make-believe meadow covered in imaginary blooms. Confused, I shook my head. “No. No, can’s say that I have. Why?”

“I was just thinking. Why don’t we grab something together? Nothing fancy. Maybe Gino’s for pizza and a beer?” Her eyes glistened, shimmering like those of a cat on the prowl.

I shrugged. Why all of a sudden? I wondered. I thought for a brief moment that she might somehow have gotten suspicious, and then I stuffed that crazy notion right into the shredder. Besides, what could go wrong with a harmless dinner with an even more harmless coworker?

“Besides,” she added, “I received some good news this morning, and I don’t feel like celebrating alone.”

“Oh? What good news?”

She smiled--that cat again--and I could swear I heard her purr.

Uh-uh. I’ll tell you tonight.”

I smiled and nodded. “It’s a date.”

“Great. Let’s make it at eight. I’ll meet you there.”

I took her in more closely, the eyes, the crooked smile, the kind of cockiness that comes from a woman who’s just a little too sure of herself just a little too soon into a relationship. Any relationship.

“Sounds like a plan,” I said as she leaned across her desk, laying her hand on mine, the chasm between her breasts exhorting me home. I swallowed. “But, uhh, that’s a little late, isn’t it? Why don’t we make it seven? Before the crowds. That line starts to form pretty early.”

She smiled wider, a wickedness to her grin, as she squeezed my hand. “Eight,” she said again, more firmly this time. “And don’t keep me waiting.”

I must have raised my brows because she released my hand and sat back in her chair, crossing one shapely pin over the other, her skirt hiking up provocatively. “I don’t know,” I said, pressing my point and shifting my head to one side for a better view. “Eight is a little past my bedtime.”

“You can make an exception tonight. It’s Friday. Besides …” She popped her mouth into a perfect “O” and slid her tongue across her lower lip. “I’ll be sure to make it worth your while.” She threw me one last provocative wink, her eyes locked on mine as I headed back toward the executive suite.

I entered the office and slid back behind my desk, feeling for the deposit slips in my pocket. It had been all so simple. In with a wink and a smile. A minor change to a customer’s signature card. Out with a handful of signed withdrawal slips and a dinner date. What could have been easier? It was all so perfect.

Too perfect.

 

Except that it hadn’t been too perfect at all. In fact, it was a little unnerving, though I’d fantasized about it for months. Sitting across a table in a cozy booth entombed by ancient fresco walls and a ceiling painted with swirling cherubs, a single candle in an old Chianti bottle lighting the table, two people flirting shamelessly. I wondered why I’d never thought of it before. Except I’d always felt that dating someone at the office was a bad idea. You know what they say about shitting where you eat.

But even if it had been a bad idea, it wasn’t any longer. After finishing our coffee, she asked me where I lived, and I told her around the corner on Maple. She broke into a devious smile.

“What?” I asked, wondering what she found so amusing.

“I know,” she said. “I checked.”

So we climbed up the steps of the café and out onto Rush and rounded the corner at Maple just half a block from where I lived. We scurried down the stairs to my flat like two kids on a scavenger hunt and rolled around in bed like two acolytes from the Church of Perpetual Heat. And after I’d scrubbed every lingering glint of color from her lips and fondled those magnificent breasts and stroked her where it was appreciated the most and she’d zeroed in on her target for the evening and had me begging for release before she lay back--the sweat on her chest, her belly, her thighs glistening and her bosom heaving … well, after a couple hours of that, I dozed off and slept the sleep of the dead.

Until five the next morning. That’s when I rolled over and reached out to find her … Gone!

Popping up onto my elbows, I peered out of the bedroom toward the front door. She had stopped there, pausing to fasten the last of the buttons on her blouse, when she looked up.

“Sorry. I didn’t want to wake you. You were sleeping so soundly. I was going to slip out and call you later.”

“That’s okay.” I took her all in, ran my eyes across her from head to toe. She still looked good. “Where are you going?”

“I’ve got to get home.”

What? My eyes popped open wide. Home? Oh, shit! That’s why I’d never come on to her before. How could I have been so stupid! Of course. That’s why she’d always seemed so unapproachable! Because she was!

“To … to your husband?”

She grinned. “To my pro. My neighbor Dee and I take tennis lessons on Saturday. She’ll get suspicious if I don’t show.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled, shaking as many cobwebs from my head as I could without spilling out what little remained of my brains. “Will I see you again tonight?”

She shook her head. “I’ve got plans tonight. Business.”

“Oh.”

“But you’ll see me tomorrow morning at Francie’s. For breakfast. At nine. Sharp. I don’t like cold blintzes.”

I sighed. Blintzes.

“Then maybe we can catch that Pissarro retrospective at the Art Institute before going to my place to watch an old Bogie movie and make love in front of the fireplace.”

Oh!

Suddenly, she strode halfway back toward the bedroom door, her movements so quick I thought she was going to pounce on me when she stopped. “And, just so you don’t forget …”

She reached down, hiked up her skirt, and slipped her tangerine panties down first one long, limber leg and then the other before flipping them toward me. Turning her back, she bent down at the waist, lifted her skirt again, and flashed me before standing back up and straightening herself out.

“Hey, wait a minute!”

She turned back and raised her brows.

“You never did tell me what we were celebrating last night. Remember?”

“Oh, that’s right.” She crossed the kitchen and led me back into the bedroom where she maneuvered me onto the bed, opened her mouth, and slipped her tongue between my lips. I let out an instinctive groan as she ran her hand across my shorts. “I got a promotion at the bank. And a raise. I start training for my new job Monday morning. Isn’t that incredible?”

“Wow. Yeah,” I said, reaching out, swiping at her and coming up with an armful of air. She blew me a kiss--actually blew me a fucking kiss, can you believe it?--and turned toward the door. “Hey!” I called as she reached for the knob. “What new job?”

“Oh. Meet the bank’s new analyst for Internal Affairs’ Security Division.”

 

The rest of that day, Saturday, was just exactly perfect. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Prayed for anything more. I was now the proud diddler of the banks new security officer. Suffice it to say I did not go easy into the night. I couldn’t take my mind off her for a minute. And it wasn’t good. Was her promotion at the bank just a coincidence? Was she just kidding around, Internal Affairs Security Division? If so, why, how? That would have meant she’d found out about my scheme and was toying with me, seeing how far she could string me along before dropping the big one. Whatever that might turn out to be.

But why would she go to all that trouble instead of just confronting me? Just laying everything right on the line?

To cut herself in on the deal, I thought. That’s why. To rattle my cage just enough to make me feel I had to take her in as a partner. As if I have no choice.

But what would have been so wrong with that? I’d already considered the idea of inviting her along with me. Mexico was a big, cold, strange place on your own. Two people together would make it a lot cozier. What difference did it make who thought of it first … or how much she may have learned about what I was up to?

And then that possibility played a number on me. Because if she has figured it out, just how perfect a plan could it have been, and how long would it take before someone else at the bank figured it out, someone who hadn’t just fucked my brains out, someone who maybe had a solid reason for whistleblowing on me? Someone else with Internal Affairs?

And then I realized I was being foolish. She couldn’t have known what I was up to, she couldn’t have. Even if she’d gone into the computer room right after I’d left and somehow managed to check out what I’d been up to, she couldn’t possibly have found out anything that would have tipped her off. Sure, she might have noticed Mrs. M.’s change of address, but that would have been highly unlikely. And even if she had, so what? Even if she was the old lady’s new identification card, how could that tie me to anything out of the ordinary?

No. No. It was all just a coincidence. She’d been working at the bank longer than I had. She was probably just due for a promotion and a raise, and Internal Affairs just happened to be the next available position. Internal Affairs’ Security Analyst. Big fucking deal. So she was a trainee. Starting Monday. No, that’s not why she asked me to dinner and then came back to my apartment with me to fuck me senseless. That wasn’t the reason at all.

But, then, what was? How could someone I’d seen nearly every day of my life for the past six months suddenly come steamrolling along, panting after me like there was no tomorrow? And why last night of all nights? What was it about last night? Why hadn’t she made her move sooner? Why wait until after I’d pulled the I.D. switch? Another coincidence?

And how was it that she handled herself as if she’d planned everything in advance to be absolutely perfect? Everything she did, everything she said. All rehearsed. Thought out. Ordained.

Are you kidding me? If she’d been a German Panzer tank during World War II, the allies would still be fighting to liberate Europe.

Yes, I’d hit upon something. She knew. She knew what, I wasn’t sure. But whatevwer it was, it was too much for my own good. Unless I took her in on it with me. But if she decided not to come along, then what? It would be like a signed confession. “I, Mr. Joseph Darling, do hereby confess to attempting to swindle Mrs. Josephine Martinowicz out of her entire life’s savings and would have done so, too, except for my own stupidity.

She had to know. She just had to.

But, no, I decided. She couldn’t possibly. I’d been too careful, too cautious. I’d planned out everything down to the tiniest detail. It would be impossible for her to know. I was being paranoid. She was who she was, period. No pretense, no illusion.

So, by the time Saturday evening rolled around, I’d pretty much run all my wildest fantasies through the wringer and put my suspicions to bed. There was no conspiracy, there was no advance knowledge. There was only us. Just the two of us. It was kismet or something. Just one of those things that happens, just one of those crazy, incredible, unfathomable, inexplicable, intoxicating, mesmerizing, infatuating, mind-boggling things.

Damn!

I sank into an old, tattered chaise lounge that had been making people squirm uncomfortably since 1822 and switched on a lamp by my side. Quarter to six. The last rays of the sun slipped behind the brownstones lining the street across from my new digs. And as I picked up the pair of panties I had placed next to me, I sniffed them once more, reliving a night I’d not known for a long, long time.

As in forever.

I hoisted my attaché case onto my lap and opened it. From an inside pocket, I removed the stack of withdrawal slips. In the open space marked, "Amount Withdrawn," I carefully printed the figure, $9,000 on one of them and tucked the rest back inside the case. It was not an arbitrary amount, nine grand. I knew from experience that withdrawals of $10,000 or more triggered a teller to fill out a Federal Transfer Form before the withdrawal could be authorized. Federal forms meant more bank scrutiny, more bank signatures, and more bank witnesses--none of whom I was particularly anxious to invite to the party.

Moving my pen across the slip, I stopped at the space marked "Address" just above the signature line. I printed "Six Playa del Real, Acapulco, Mexico." I checked the box marked "Non-cancellable Bank Transfer," slipped the paper into a pre-addressed and stamped envelope, and sealed it. Within a few days, I would be nine thousand dollars richer. Within two weeks … well, it was easy enough to calculate. I could probably have grabbed it all, drained the old lady’s account, and left her with nothing, but no sense in being greedy. Besides, I didn’t have anything against her personally. But when my ex and I had split, the bitch had left me with a headful of erotic memories and a handful of debt. No, I was going to stick to my plan and take just enough to allow me to live the way I’d hoped to grow accustomed to living for the rest of my life. Give or take a year or two. And if that meant spending the rest of that life as an ex-pat in a foreign land, so be it.

When I had first gone to work at the bank as an assistant vice president, I was clearing $500 a week. Which, you understand, is not horrible. But, with eight other full- and two part-time officers on the payroll, advances were sure to be slow ... if they came at all. And I am not big on spending my days rusting in the rain.

The idea of running a grift on Mrs. Martinowicz had come only after I'd told her where I worked. Why, that's where I bank, she said. On a hunch, I followed up. Now, that alone wasn't enough to stir me to action. But, when I found out the old lady was a widow with no family in the world that she knew of, I would have been a fool to let it ride. After all, at 76 years of age, her days were numbered. She’d never spend all that money. And who better to benefit from her financial fortunes than her darling new tenant, Mr. Joseph? Her cat?

So, I slipped on my coat and hat and went outside to the mailbox. I felt like kissing the envelope goodbye before dropping it through the slot but instead slipped it into the hole like any average person mailing a check to the telephone company or paying off his bookie.

By Monday morning, the bank would receive the withdrawal slip and run it through the computer. The giant machine would shoot a shower of sparks around the room before determining that there was more than enough cash on account to cover the withdrawal.

Next, the slip would be routed to Internal Security, where someone--maybe even Marge--would run the paper through the scanner to compare the signature line to the one on file. The two "J. Martinowicz" lines would be identical--I had made sure of that.

Finally, the slip would wend its way to Auditing, where a non-cancellable bank draft for $9,000 would be issued to the account holder and the funds transferred to a bank account I had opened in the name of “J. Martinowicz in Acapulco. Once I received word that the money had arrived and been deposited in my account, I’d be ready for the next test, a transaction transferring $270,000 to Margaritaville. I'd over-ridden the computer's log so that monthly statements would no longer go to Maple Street but instead to Acapulco, where Mrs. Martinowicz had recently purchased a retirement villa and planned to relocate permanently.

Meet Mrs. Martinowicz.

Of course, such a significant transaction would trigger the Federal Funds Transferal Act and require a form be filled out and signed by Mrs. Martinowicz in the presence of an officer of the bank before that officer mailed a copy of it to the Feds for their records.

Meet an officer of the bank.

I mean, why leave such a mundane, time-consuming task to someone as old and slow-witted as Mrs. Martinowicz when I could save her the effort. I hate seeing old people exposed to undue duress. I really do.

As soon as I received word that my Mexican account was swollen to the tune of more than a quarter million dollars, I’d pack up my gear and hop a plane for the land of milk and honey. Or cervezas and senoritas.

Whatever.

By then, I'd have an account tipping nearly $280,000 before Mrs. Martinowicz ever woke up and smelled the kolachki and realized something had gone wrong. By then, I’d be hell and gone from my Maple Street digs, from the bank, and from the good ol’ U.S. of A.

And Mexico, I was careful to have checked in advance, has no extradition treaty with the United States for any crime short of murder.

So, as evening pooled its resources, I girded myself against the onset of one more Saturday night alone in Chi-Town. I walked down the street, turning north on Rush where I let my eyes feast on the full-color girlie-show placards and the flashing neon lights of the strip bars and the black-and-white cutouts outside the blues clubs, each of the buildings dark and depressing on the outside and blazing on the inside with only God knew what. I stopped only once to chat briefly with Fat Max, who worked for one of the nudie dance clubs as a "grabber."

"Hey, man. Doncha be walkin' on by like dat. Don' you know what beautiful dings is wigglin' an' a-wrigglin' just inside dees doe? Come on, my main man. Gib yoself a treat, Homes. No cover, no 'mishon. Jes you an' duh li'l ladies doin' what cum natchel, dig?"

I dug, smiled, and slipped him a buck, I don't know why, and then I wandered on down toward State Street and a small burger joint I'd visited a couple times before. It wasn't exactly what I had a taste for. But with less than a hundred bucks and a one-way ticket to Acapulco in my billfold, it would have to do.

And then, before I realized it, it was Sunday. And there she was, just as she’d said she’d be. She was wearing neatly pressed white slacks, appropriately scuffed tennies, and a white linen shirt that did little to conceal the fact that she was braless. A red, white, and blue nautical belt and expensive-looking earrings completed the ensemble. I felt myself begin to pant and regretted the fact that we weren’t alone.

“Hey,” she said. “Right on time.”

“Hi. You look fantastic.”

“You, too. Here,” she said reaching down to the chair next to her. “I brought you a gift.”

“You did?” I said. “What?”

She grabbed a Sunday paper, still unopened. “Chicago Tribune.

I laughed. “So I see.”

“Don’t laugh. I couldn’t make up my mind whether to bring the Trib or the Sun-Times. But I finally figured you for a broadsheet man.”

“And just how did you come to that conclusion?”

She thought for several seconds. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

I smiled and reached out to squeeze her hand. “Yes. Absolutely.”

She laughed, loud and guttural. “I just knew someone hung like you could never be a tabloid man. I’ll bet you like to look beneath the fold, too.” She laughed again, loud enough so that several people turned to look. She lowered her voice. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I stretched my palm toward hers and peered into two eyes peering back. “God, I missed you.”

She paused only briefly. “Me, too.”

I took a feigned breath. “So, how was your lesson?”

She cocked her head. “What lesson?”

“Your tennis lesson. Yesterday morning.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“You didn’t go?”

She squeezed my hand tighter. “Yes, I went. But I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t think of anything but you.” She leaned forward, her nipples straining against the cool thinness of the fabric, my organ struggling to keep pace.

“Oh, my God,” I said softly.

“What?” she asked, turning her head up toward me.

“This could get complicated.”

“I think it already has.”

I paused, breathed in and out for real this time, and shook my head. “If only you knew.”

 

We spent the rest of the morning wandering the crypts of the museum, stopping for lunch at Terzo Piano and topping it off with a chocolate truffle tart and espresso. If breakfast hadn’t turned the trick, lunch had.

“Did you know,” she said, leaning into me with her most conspiratorial tone, “that Pissarro was an Impressionist until he transformed himself into a Neo-Impressionist at the age of 54?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“It’s true. He was so brilliant, Cezanne regarded him as a father figure; Gauguin referred to him as a genius. Even Renoir claimed he was a genuine artistic revolutionary, which is true. Of course, he studied under Seurat, Signac, and the other great Impressionists of the time and took the best of each of their techniques to weave into his own artistic tapestry.”

I stared at her half amused, the other half stunned.

“I just thought of it,” she said, running her finger across her plate and painting a layer of chocolate across her lips, “because of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte. You remember the huge painting? The one he created using pointillism?”

By the time we got up to leave, I was overwhelmed. What I’d thought was nothing more than a devastatingly stunning woman with a vivacious sexual libido had turned out to be a walking enigma of science, history, art, and only God knew what else. Who would have guessed?

We caught a cab back to Francie’s to retrieve our cars, and I followed her to her brownstone on North Wellington. After nuzzling with her in the kitchen, she opened a bottle of Rioja, and we made love for the rest of the afternoon to a backdrop of Bogie and Bacall. As the darker side of midnight crept upon us, I knew I was in trouble.

All the way home, I kept replaying in my mind my questions to her. Why? Why now? Why us?

And replaying her replies.

“It just wasn’t right before. I was involved with someone else. It’s against company policy. I didn’t want to get hurt.”

And when I reminded her that, if anyone saw us out together, she could still lose her job, she said she’d risk it.

That’s when I knew.

The next few days were excruciating, like being in a candy store owned by your dentist. Marge spent all day working her main job and breaking in another girl while training for her new position at night. A few telltale smiles here and there, a sexy glance now and again, but no touching, little talking, nothing to tip anyone off to anything serious going on between us.

I understood. Pretty much. I mean, it wasn’t only our jobs at stake. If anyone found out I was planning on taking off for good and bringing her along, my entire world would have come crashing down around us.

Me.

By the time the following Thursday evening unveiled itself, I was a frayed bungee cord ready to snap. My stomach turned cartwheels. My head whirred.

Nerves. Or maybe that fucking Philly cheesesteak sandwich with those greasy fries I just had to inhale for lunch.

Either way, I couldn’t let it slow me down. I had less than twenty-four hours to finish stuffing my suitcase with everything I owned in the world, catch some shuteye, and grab a cab out to O'Hare for my flight in the morning. Then, just four hours later, I'd be home free.

And then the thought struck me. How? How would I be home free? And home where? In Acapulco? Without her? I could still invite her, of course. Maybe afterward. Maybe a couple of weeks later. Or a month or two. Once all the dirt that was bound to blow up had died down. But a month or two without her …

And then another thought struck me. Why not just stay put. Don’t go anywhere. Get the money back from Mexico and replace it in the account. Make it look as if it had never left. I had the know-how and the opportunity to do it.

I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. My perfectly crafted plan was unraveling like a giant ball of twine. What had started as a lark had turned into a nightmare. The harmless little theft of a few thousand dollars that no one would miss had suddenly become my life flushed down the toilet.

Could I give her up? I mean, if I told her I wanted her to join me and she said no? Could I go ahead with my plans anyway? Would I be able to function without her in my life? Could I be really satisfied alone?

Damn straight I could! I didn’t plan this thing for the past two months only to watch it all wash down the drain because of some sexy little skirt, some empty-headed dame with more cutes than common sense who can turn me on with the flash of a smile. Uh-uh. No way, mister. Get over it.

Except she wasn’t some empty-headed dame, and she did turn me on with her smile. I realized that suddenly. And she had more intellect, street smarts, and social breeding than anyone I’d ever met before. And I still didn’t know what I was going to tell her about why I wanted her to join me. Or where. Or why we could never come back. Hell, I didn’t even know if she’d say yes. She might have family in Chicago--she never did say. She might not be comfortable living in a third-world country. Christ, I didn’t even know if she liked frijoles!

But, I couldn’t just give it all up. Not now. I had already put through the second withdrawal, and after checking the old lady’s account, sure enough, it had triggered the requisite 1053 Transferal Form signed, of course, by “J. Martinowicz.” I had given Security a copy of the form to send to the Feds before the bank’s closing that afternoon. By noon the following day, the First Bank of Acapulco had e-mailed me that a transfer of $270,000 was pending, noting that the funds would be available for withdrawal the following day, Friday.

No, no, I couldn’t back out now. The only sensible thing was to wait until morning and proceed as planned. And try to keep my mind off her.

Then, as I stuffed my last knit shirt into the satchel and struggled to close the clasps, I heard a knock at the door.

I froze.

Who could that be?

My heart raced, my palms itched, my temples pounded--beating so hard I didn't just feel them, I heard them ... really heard them, for God's sake. I looked around. It wouldn't do to have anything lying about that might give me away. But everything appeared normal, so I shoved my case under the bed and paused. To the sound of silence.

I let out a deep breath. Had I been mistaken? I must have been. Perhaps it was a knock at the door of the apartment upstairs. I checked my watch. Nearly 10:30. No one would come calling at 10:30. Not at 10:30 at night they wouldn’t. Not on a Thursday evening before a busy work day.

I listened some more. The only sounds in an otherwise silent sanctum were the steady klickety-clack of the roaches as their little feet skittered across the Formica countertop in the kitchen.

Bastards!

I was just in the process of bending down to pull my satchel out from under the bed when I heard it again. Louder, this time, more insistent. I shot up, my eyes bulging. This time, there was no mistaking it.

Fuck!” I spat. I had slipped up. I knew it. I had missed some tiny, nearly inconceivable detail and would now have to pay for my carelessness.

But that was impossible. I'd followed my plan down to the letter--even so far as giving my boss at the bank a prescription from my doctor, ordering me to Arizona for six weeks of rest and recuperation for an asthmatic condition I’d been faking for a few weeks. My “doc” was a friend, a guy I’d gone to school with, not a real doctor but a pharmacist--close enough. I slipped him a fifty and told him I needed a break from work. That was all it had taken. Not only had my boss bought it hook, line, and sinker, but he actually expressed his deepest sympathies and concerns. He even put me on medical leave so I could continue drawing my paycheck, which I conveniently instructed our Accounting Department to send to a drop-box in Tucson where it would be forwarded to Mexico.

"You lucky son-of-a-gun," Fred announced when I'd told him of my misfortunes. "While we're here, suffering through another bank audit, you'll be basking in the sunshine by the pool, flirting with all those pretty girls!" I smiled to myself. Little did he know.

The knock sounded again, louder than the last. It was Mrs. Martinowicz come to say goodbye. That was it. To wish me luck ... maybe even refund me half my rent. That would be fine with me. I could use a little extra traveling cash.

I let out another deep breath, straightened my tie, and walked across the kitchen to the door. I lifted the latch, but Mrs. Martinowicz was nowhere to be found.

"Mr. Singleton? Joseph Singleton?" the taller of the two men asked. He wore a suit like a Maxwell Street bum and smelled like a cut-rate undertaker. His eyes were cold, glossy, black. His lips were dry and white. I couldn't tell whether or not he had any color at all to his pallor.

"Yes," I said.

"Mr. Singleton, I’m Lieutenant Cartwright. I think you know why we’re here.”

I froze. Could I have heard right? Was he a cop? I glanced at the second man, a uniform, and realized what was happening.

I furrowed my brow. "I’m sorry. There must be ... some mistake."

The man shook his head. "No mistake."

"But … what’s this all about?” I really didn't want to hear it, but I figured it would look bad if I didn't at least feign a modicum of interest.

He squinted down at a piece of paper he'd been holding. "Mr. Singleton, we’re here to take you down to the station with us.”

“Me? For what?”

His face was chiseled marble as he ticked off the list. “Let’s see, we’re talking grand larceny, grand theft, embezzlement, forgery, bank fraud, mail fraud, and an attempt to flee the scene of a crime. Will you grab your coat and accompany me, please?”

"What?" I said again, this time my furrowed brow genuine. "You've got to be kidding."

I mean, attempted fraud I could see. But I hadn't done that other stuff. Not all of it, not yet, anyway. How could anyone arrest someone for what he was planning on doing? And how would they even know? It’s not as if I’d taken out an ad in the Chicago Tribune, for God's sake. How could they possibly pin all those charges on me? It was insane.

The man shook his head again. "Afraid not. Mr. Singleton. Please. If you don’t mind. This shouldn’t take long.”

Long? Oh, no. Not for him. But probably forty-to-life for me!

He held his arm toward the door, and he said something unintelligible, either to me or to the uniform, I wasn’t sure, although I imagined it went something along the lines of, “You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that right, anything you say may and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you by the court at the expense of the government ...”

I never actually heard the words. I was too stunned. He could have read me the Mexican Magna Carta for all I knew. For all I cared. Somewhere along the line, I had miscalculated. It was the perfect crime--with one tiny flaw. But what?

I gathered up my wallet and grabbed my watch, and I slung my coat across my back. Lieutenant Cartwright took me by the arm and led me to the door, and I felt the sudden chill of the evening across my face.

"This is some mistake," I said. "Some big mistake."

"I don't think so," he said. "We've got her nailed to the wall."

I stopped. Her! My blood froze, my heart raced. Did he say her?

He led me up the stairwell and out into the night, where we paused at the curb for his partner to walk around and unlock the door to the prowler.

"Tell me," I said. I knew I shouldn't have. I knew it was stupid, against all advice any attorney might have given me. I knew it was wrong to say anything, but I had to find out. I had to know.

"What?"

"How?"

He paused. "How what, sir?"

"How did you find out?"

"Oh, that? Your coworker called and tipped us off.”

“My …”

“Coworker. A Miss Margaret Madding. She gave us a call when she noticed an impropriety with one of the bank’s accounts.”

Goddamit, I knew she was too good to be true. I just knew it was a setup from the start! My one fucking chance to foul things up, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And me, practically ready to give it all up, throw it all away, just to be with her!

“You know,” I said, not sure yet of from where the words were coming, “I don’t know what she told you, but in my book, this looks more than a little like entrapment.”

Meet Perry Mason.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ve got all the proof, all the documentation.”

“Of what? I mean, I didn’t actually do anything. Oh, maybe some fooling around here and there, but nothing major.”

“According to Miss Madding, she couldn’t have done it without you. Apparently, you did plenty.”

I froze, the anger welling within me. “Did she tell you that? Did she say that?”

I thought back to our first night together, how when I’d looked at her in the glow from the fluorescent lights seeping through my bedroom shades, how I couldn’t tell if she had the face of an angel … or a devil. Now I knew.

Cartwright opened the rear of the car before the uniform came around to the passenger’s side. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” the cop said. “Is that her?”

Cartwright looked up toward the building, second floor, to a window with a light behind a silhouetted figure who slowly pulled closed the curtains. “That’s her,” he said. “3-B.”

“Couldn’t be on the first floor,” the cop groaned. He labored his way up the steps to the solid wooden door on the landing, brushed some webs out of the way, and pushed it open.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

The lieutenant never took his eyes off the window. “Jack’s going up to get her.”

“Her? You mean Mrs. Martinowicz? For what?”

“To bring her down, of course.”

Fucking great. It wasn’t bad enough one woman in my life had just turned on me. Now a second was coming down to nail the coffin shut. Things just keep getting better and better. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about her Mr. Joseph darling now!

Several moments later, the cop emerged from the building, helping Mrs. Martinowicz down the steps and over to the curb and the car. When she saw me, she smiled; when she looked at Cartwright, she frowned.

He told her that she was under arrest for embezzlement, collusion, and bank fraud.

He thinks she’s in on it, too? How could she possibly embezzle her own funds?

She sighed, frowned, and looked up like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “Tell me, please, officer. Will I have to go to jail?” she asked. He replied that most likely not, considering her age, provided she returned the money to the bank.

She demurred. “But the money from the interest the bank paid me is mine. They shouldn’t make me pay that back, no? That money is from my investments.”

“Your investments,” he said, shaking his head, “were the bank’s money in the first place, remember? The bank was paying you interest on the money you stole under false circumstances. It’s like stealing from the bank twice. You can’t do that, Mrs. Martinowicz. Life doesn’t work that way.”

I felt like shaking my head, asking if he minded if I turned up the volume or switched to another channel, one with subtitles in English, anything to understand what the hell was going on. But they hadn’t slapped the cuffs on me yet; they hadn’t shoved me into the back seat of the cruiser, either. They hadn’t even read me my rights. Had they? Something strange was going down, and I figured the best chance I had of coming out on top was to keep my mouth shut until someone addressed me. Someone did.

“So,” Cartwright said, “I take it this is the woman you’ve been investigating? The one with the account at the bank?”

I raised my brows. “Her? Oh, yeah. Yes. Sure is. Absolutely.”

“Just making sure.”

“Yeah. No doubt about it. It’s her all right. But tell me, lieutenant, how did you catch on to her so quickly?”

The lieutenant told me that Margaret had notified them that Mrs. Martinowicz had made arrangements to withdraw her funds a little at a time and transfer them to Mexico. That’s when she got suspicious as to how a little old lady from Poland, with no job and a meager social security income, could have amassed so much money in such a short period of time. That’s when she ran a check on the woman’s account and learned about the loan scam.

“Loan scam?”

“Miss Madding wired the bank in Acapulco to hold the funds until we called for them. I assume that’s when she enlisted your help to ensure Mrs. Martinowicz wouldn’t find out what was happening and skip town before we could build a case against her.”

“My help. Yes. Of course. But tell me, just how did she get all that money? I mean, Mrs. Martinowicz. I’m a still a bit fuzzy about that part.”

“Do you want to tell him that,” Cartwright asked. The woman shook her head. He said he didn’t think so and turned back to me. “Apparently Mrs. Martinowicz here got the idea to doctor several fictitious bank loans, using her friends and relatives to pose as applicants. After they had received several substantial loans using the phony bank docs she’d supplied to them, they turned the loan money over to her in exchange for a payoff of a thousand dollars apiece. Then she deposited that “loan money” into her own account, which, over the eight or ten years of running the scam, grew into quite a nest egg.”

“So,” I said, “the part about Mexico … she was transferring her funds there?” It paid, I realized, not to play too dumb.

“She’d just started doing so when Miss Madding discovered the transfers and called us. A little sleuthing, and we were able to tie everything back to her.”

I looked at the woman and craned my head. “Is that what you were planning, Mrs. M.?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know nothing about no transfer, but I am not sorry one bit. That president of the bank, he is a dumbbell. Excuse me for saying so, Mr. Joseph, darling, but he is empty-headed. I never liked him one bit. He treat me like an old lady. He treat me like a dummy, so I show him who is the smart one and who is the dummy.”

“But …” I heard the words slip out of my mouth without being able to stop them. “But, you knew that setting up a loan scam was wrong. You knew it was wrong and that someday you’d be caught. Didn’t you?”

“Caught? Caught what? No one lost anything. When my friends get their loans, they pay a fee to the bank. Then I pay them for their trouble, and they go back to Poland for a visit for a while, and no one is hurt. You know that, Mr. Joseph, darling, I can’t hurt nobody. Nobody except the dumb people like the bank president and that little fellow who used to live here before you move in, such a little fellow and a drunk and with the women all the time. The women for the sex. It’s such a shame.”

I glanced at the lieutenant who was making some notes, his lips moving as he scribbled. I tried glancing at what he was writing down, but he turned away.

“Do you … do you think she had some … help?” I asked, motioning toward her. “I mean, do you think she had an accomplice or something? A partner?”

I hadn’t wanted to ask, but for some reason, I was suddenly fascinated. The old lady had actually pulled off a scam worth more than I’d ever imagined. And would have gotten away with it if I hadn’t bumbled along. Yet, at first glance at least, she didn’t seem to have the brains to boil a pot of coffee.

Cartwright looked up. “Nah. She’s strictly a lone wolf,” he said, turning toward the woman, “aren’t you Mrs. Martinowicz?” She shook her head and looked away. “It seems she didn’t need any help. For her, pulling off the scam was no big deal. Not for someone who once worked for a bank in Poland … as an Internal Affairs Officer in the Fraud Division.”

“What?”

“So,” Mrs. M. said, “what happens now?” She tugged on his overcoat sleeve. “I’m sorry, what did you say your name is, again?”

“Cartwright,” he said. “Lieutenant Daniel Cartwright.”

“Oh, that is a good name. Such a elegant name, Mr. Daniel, darling. I am so fortunate to live the good life with such wonderful people around me. First Mr. Joseph come to me looking for a place to stay, and now you. I tell you, Mr. Daniel, sir, I thank my lucky God to find people like the two of you in this world. But tell me something, tell me something, Mr. Daniel. Do I have to go somewhere now or can I go back upstairs and feed my cats?”

He told her she’d have to accompany him to the station, and he helped her into the back of the prowler. He said they’d probably keep her in the holding area until they could get the night judge to bind her over for arraignment, after which she’d most likely be released on her own recognizance; so, she’d be back home and sleeping in her own bed by midnight.

“With my cats?”

He nodded. “With your cats.”

She asked if she could go back upstairs to retrieve her shawl, and he told her it wasn’t necessary, that the officer would be happy to turn up the heat in the cruiser. “Won’t you, Officer Carlisle?”

Carlisle looked from one to the other. “Oh, yeah, sure, thrilled. Nothing I like better than running the heater full blast in the middle of August.”

I watched as Carlisle slammed the back door and walked around to the driver’s side. I turned to Cartwright. “So, you don’t really need me anymore, do you, lieutenant? Now that you have Mrs. Martinowicz’s confession.”

“I’d still like you to come down to swear out a complaint on behalf of the bank. Then you can go.”

“You mean that’s why you … I mean, that’s the reason you …”

“We need your complaint on behalf of the bank to bind her over.” I told him that, since Margaret was more knowledgeable than I, perhaps she should be the one to sign off.

“She’s on her way to the station now,” he said. “You can sign a joint complaint and make things official. That will wrap things up on our end.”

“And … Mrs. Martinowicz? Will she really be okay? I mean, you’re not going to throw her behind bars or anything like that, are you? I don’t know that her old heart could take it.”

“We’ll treat her with kid gloves. Look, she made a mistake in judgment. She’s an immigrant American. Once the funds are returned from Mexico and she signs over her account back to the bank, everyone will be satisfied, including the D.A. I don’t expect there’ll be any more to it than that.”

Thank God, he thought. Thank my lucky God.

Following the affairs that were unfolding, my biggest remaining concern was what Miss Margaret Madding was going to say when we collided at the police station. Was she going to stick to the story she told Cartwright, or was she just setting me up to turn me over to the D.A.? How much did she actually know about my activities, my plans? And why, if she knew as much as it appeared, did she just let me off the hook?

I got part of the answer when I laid eyes on her. I expected her to turn on me. But she was cordial, pleasant, businesslike. One employee to another. And she stuck to her story. Almost as if she really didn’t know the extent of my involvement. Maybe she had checked up on Mrs. Martinowicz, found out about the bum loan apps, and saw that the old lady had already transferred half her funds to Acapulco. And that she had rented a villa there in her name. And was planning on leaving the country for good. At least, that’s the way it seemed.

That was it. Margaret actually did think Mrs. M. was the only guilty party here. She really did believe the old lady had done everything I’d set in motion and was planning on skipping out for good with her entire account. How could she possibly think anything else? Everything I’d done was in the name of J. Martinowicz!

On the way out of the station, Marge asked if I needed a lift home, and I told her thanks. And for the next several minutes, the communication between us was an abyss, a black hole of emptiness. I didn’t know what to say, and she wasn’t exactly in a chatty mood. So when she pulled up outside my place, I leaned over, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and thanked her.

“For what?”

I shrugged. “Oh, I guess for including me in your report to the police, saying I had a bigger role to play in the apprehension of Mrs. M. when you really could have taken all the credit yourself. After all, you’re the one who figured this whole thing out. I didn’t have anything to do with that end of it.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that.

I looked at her, my brows furrowed, my lips pursed.

Hmm?”

“I said, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

I sat there, waiting for an explanation, and when none came, I asked her what she meant.

“Well, if it hadn’t been for you changing Mrs. Martinowicz’ signature card from ‘Josephine” to “J” Martinowicz and updating her residence from Maple Street, Chicago, to Acapulco, Mexico …”

I sat in deathly silence as she rattled off every single move I had made in the litany of missteps I had taken on my way to pulling off the Crime of the Century. And when she was finished, I sat, mouth agape, hands sweating. How did she know? How could she have known?

“Once I began checking up on Mrs. Martinowicz’ banking history,” she continued, “I stumbled across a series of suspicious loan applications made by her friends and neighbors, each of whom had a Polish surname and each of whom ended up defaulting on their loans after disappearing into the woodwork. I guess she provided each one with a one-way ticket back to the Old Country. That’s how I knew she’d never had any intention of transferring her funds to Mexico and skipping out.”

When I told her I still didn’t get it, she explained how only a fool would risk a perfectly successful scam like hers by pulling up stakes and leaving the country. It would have been judicial homicide. “So, I began looking for someone else behind the transfers, another party, someone who knew her well enough and could get close enough to her to learn certain things about her lifestyle and personal habits. Someone with access to her banking records.”

“Someone like me,” I said.

She nodded.

I shook my head.

“What’s the matter? Stunned?”

“More like … stupefied.”

“Why? Don’t you think I have the brains to put two and two together and come up with embezzlement?”

I shifted uncomfortably. “That’s … such an ugly word.”

He forced a smile. “Well, how about theft, then. Better?”

I was trapped, and I knew it. I shrugged. My mouth opened and, after the awkward passage of several electrically charged moments, a single word flopped out.

“Fuck.”

She smiled. “Later, darling. We’ve got a lot to do before then.”

“What?” I peered over at her, her eyes fixed on the road. “What are you talking about?”

“About what you have to do, and soon.”

“Like what?”

“Like, you’d better go back in and finish packing and then get some rest. We’ve got a flight to catch tomorrow at eleven.”

“What?”

“Has this rain impacted your hearing? I said we’ve got a flight to catch to Mexico tomorrow, so you’d better get some rest.”

“Look, here,” I said finally. “I’m grateful for what you did. I really am. You didn’t have to. You could have told that Lieutenant Cartwright everything.”

“You’re welcome.”

“But … we can’t exactly go riding off into the sunset together …”

“It’s dark out, and it’s raining,” she said flatly. “Besides, we’re traveling by air.”

“I mean, what if we did go off to Mexico together?”

“What if we did?”

“You’d always have something over my head.”

“So?”

“So, what’s to say that one day you wouldn’t use it against me? I mean, you’d always have that power over me.”

“True.” She glanced at me before returning her eyes to the street. “So, what’s your point?”

“My point is that this can’t possibly work.”

“Why not?”

“I just told you.”

“That’s just silly. Everybody knows a wife can’t testify against her husband on a felony rap. Not even in Cabo San Lucas.”

 “Acapulco,” I said.

“Cabo. My family has a villa on the cape overlooking the bay. Or did have. When mom died last year, she left it to me. It would be a shame to see it go to waste.”

“So, this is how you see things ending? The bad guy gets the girl and the glitz and the glamor, and everything turns out for the best?”

She thought for several moments. “Yeah,” she said, “something like that.”

“And the good girl ends up with some jackass who just happened to be fortunate enough to have her fall in love with him and save him from the gallows?”

“Pretty much,” she said.

“So, in other words, crime does pay. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I’d prefer to think of it a little differently. I’d prefer to think of it as you recognized from the moment you laid eyes on Mrs. Martinowicz that something about her was fishy, and, as an officer of the bank, you felt it was your duty to investigate. And you were right. So, you shifted some funds around to prevent her from absconding with the bank’s money and taking a hike. That’s a small enough risk to take in saving the bank a bundle. You’ll probably get a handsome reward. Maybe even a medal.”

“We both know that’s a bunch of crap.”

“Do we?”

“I’d have to have a pretty creative imagination to talk myself into believing that’s how this all went down.”

“But, darling, you do have, remember? After all, you talked yourself into believing you had a fool-proof plan, didn’t you? And that you were poised on the brink of success?”

“Okay, okay, I confess. I blew it. All right? Satisfied? I overestimated my criminal talents.”

“That’s the understatement of the century.”

I paused, thinking, puzzled, defeated. “So, what’s next? Do I throw myself on the mercy of the court here or what?”

“In this particular instance, yes. Just think of me as the judge.”

I nodded. “And … you’re going to give me a suspended sentence providing we get married so that we can live happily ever after in Cabo San Lucas. Is that about it?”

“That’s about it.” She pulled the car to a stop, unfastened her safety belt, leaned over, and slipped her arms around my neck. “Oh, there is one more thing,” she said, pulling me closer.

I looked into her face, the street lights dancing in her eyes, her hair shimmering like spun gold. “Yes, your honor?”

She moved so close to me, I could smell the tantalizing scent of her lipstick. “Don’t ever pull a fool stunt like that again.”

About the author

Born and raised in Chicago, Herda taught Creative Writing Workshop at several Windy City colleges and worked for years as a columnist at The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, and other regional and national publications. He is a conventionally published 90-book author, book doctor, and editor, view profile

Published on September 01, 2020

Published by Elektra Press

70000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Mystery & Crime

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