It’s Friday evening in Chicago; even though the red July sun is disappearing behind the buildings to the west causing long shadows and the scattered clouds overhead are turning from a rusty orange glow to a slate gray, the heat on the dirty streets has yet to dissipate. The city’s oven of brick and glass structures connected by a network of concrete walkways and streets absorbed the ninety-plus degrees of heat during the day and are now giving it all back in that phenomena called the heat island effect. Just sitting still, I am sweating. A working woman, still on the job, as other singles are heading out for a night time of fun and libation and whatever the night brings, I’m parked in front of a fire hydrant on Argyle, about a half a block from the EL station. Waiting. Watching.
After each train rumbles away from the station, people flood the street, some are weary commuters straggling home, others are college kids anxious for fun, looking for a place to hang, and there’s the occasional retiree with a cane or pushing one of those two-wheeled metal grocery carts full of the day’s purchases. Merchant’s neon lights and signs flicker and flash to entice the customer, and now, the street lights begin to flicker on. It’s the city’s response to nature’s clock. I’m watching the people, looking for one, in particular. Tthese are the things you notice while working a stake-out.
From my illegal parking spot, I have a clear view of the Argyle EL station entrance, an SRO rooming house at the corner, a nearby convenience store, a Chinese restaurant, and an arcade down the block. My subject was last spotted in this neighborhood, and odds are, with some luck, she’ll turn up again. These are the likely stop-off points of a teen-ager in this neighborhood in the city. I’ve memorized the photo, as well as obtaining a driver’s license record of the boyfriend.
This one’s a run-away, a fifteen-year-old who had a fight with mom and dad about her falling grades and missed classes, and a new relationship with Rob, the drop-out boyfriend. Then there was some drug paraphernalia found in her bedroom. The family discussion grew into a family blow-up, and that night Amy Gerhardt climbed out the bedroom window of her parent’s home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and disappeared. Amy’s high school friends had said that they thought that Rob was from Chicago before his parents had moved to small-town Iowa to try to remove their son from his troublesome ways in the city. These were the insights I’d gained when talking to the anxious parents who had hired me to find their girl in the city.
My name’s Gina, Gina Girardi, private investigator. Now self-employed for about a year, it was some 18 months ago that I left the Chicago Police Department, resigning my patrol officer position rather than fight what I felt was a losing battle in a trumped-up situation involving misplaced evidence from a drug bust.
Things had been looking up, and I had been selected for a plainclothes tactical assignment; a drug sweep. It was a clean arrest. The perp had actually approached me and made an offer, and when drugs and money changed hands, I had him in cuffs and pinned to a building before he knew what hit him. I patted him down and turned up a dozen dime bags of cocaine and a wad of cash which I bagged and tagged, and turned in upon getting to the house. But when the case came to trial, the evidence turned up missing, and the brass pointed the finger at me.
Now, as a private investigator, I take work where I can find it, such as tracking down missing kids, checking on errant philandering husbands or wives- in the employ of the other spouse, running background checks, and recommending security procedures for businesses, usually after they’ve experienced a theft.
The area has emerged as an Asian –Vietnamese neighborhood, offering ethnic food, merchandise, and restaurants. In a city with a diverse population like Chicago, there was always a mix of individuals on the streets. I had to pay attention, looking out for my subjects, as well as stay alert for a passing Chicago cop who may decide to shag me from my parking spot in front of the hydrant. There’s a rumble overhead again, and though the EL tracks are a good 30 yards away, I feel a vibration as the trains rumble into the station, and sparks sprinkle from metal panels that ride the electrified third rail. Moments later, there is a surge of pedestrians hurrying from the station to their destinations along Argyle and nearby Broadway.
As the crowd dissipates, I see three heads bobbing my way, three teen-aged kids. Two males, one white, one black, and a white girl in between. The males each have large oversized T-shirts, baggy shorts that come down to mid-calf, and the latest in high-tech basketball shoes. The girl sports a short-cropped pink hair-not the dusty blonde in the driver’s license photo on my seat- wearing a dirty T-shirt with denim short shorts, and flip flops. She’s walking with her arms crossed in front of her. They stop momentarily, about fifty feet from my truck. I take one more look at the photo. As I look up, they dart into traffic, dodging cars, and running across the street into the convenience store.
That’s my girl, I think, and I jump from my truck and cross after them heading towards the store’s entrance. I pause outside, peeking into the window, peering between two poster-board signs, one that says MILK, BREAD, CIGARETTES, and the other proclaiming LOTTERY – 97 MILLION. I see the three are in the back of the store near a beverage cooler.
I slip quickly into the store and circle down an aisle of canned soups and veggies, past the cereal boxes around the back towards my subject. As I near the back aisle, I hear a terrified gasp, likely from the female checkout clerk, and hear a firecracker like the POP of a twenty-two caliber handgun. Everything and everyone inside the store freezes. Instinctively, my right-hand moves to my hip. I’m not a cop anymore, but I do have a state concealed carry permit. My eyes spot a back door in the stock room at the rear of the store. I quietly step toward the three teenagers and hold my finger to my lips and gesture to them to escape out the back door. As I peek down the aisle to the front of the store, I see the robber reaching around the counter into the cash drawer and grabbing a handful of cash. I reach down to my concealed carry holster strapped to my ankle and pull up my compact Ruger LCP .380.
Somehow, my left hand found a can of chili, which I hurl towards the front corner near the entry door, startling the robber, he looks to the corner, then back, and our eyes meet briefly. I see a scared Hispanic male, wearing jeans, a white T-shirt covered with a hoodie.
“Stop! ¡Al ladron!” Instinctively the remarks bark from my mouth, as my right-hand raises to shoulder level pointing my Ruger at the robber. He bolts to the door running out and west on Argyle. Lucky me-he didn’t shoot, I think. I run up to the counter, looking over for the clerk. She’s sitting on the floor crying, but I see no blood.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“N…no,…I don’t think so,” she sobs.
“Call 9-1-1. Armed Robbery. Perpetrator Hispanic male, five-six, wearing blue jeans and black hoodie. Headed west on Argyle,” I call out as I run out the door and down the street.
By now hoodie is about a hundred feet ahead, trying to run through the pedestrians who step back to get out of his way. My adrenaline is pumping, and now I’m sprinting in pursuit. Ahead, I see him cut into an alley that runs under the EL tracks. As I turn the corner, I see him toss something into a dumpster at the back of a store. It’s a full city block of hard running, and I’ve nearly caught him. I hear sirens to our front and on one side. He hesitates, and starts to turn and look behind; I duck around one of the EL support beams giving me an extra second or two to get close enough to tackle him.
A flying leap and I’ve got him tumbling to the cinders in the alley. He’s winded and breathing hard, likely too many cigarettes, and not enough exercise and now the tackle to the ground has knocked the wind out of him. I’m able to hogtie him with my belt and stand over him with my foot in his back to prevent escape. Inching towards thirty and still an avid jogger, I’m feeling pretty good from this little wind sprint and the rush of chasing a perp. At the end of the alley, I see a squad car rolling slowly by, with a spotlight shining my way. I give a whistle and a wave, and in a moment, we are bathed in flashing blue lights. Seconds later, another squad spins its tires in cinders at the other end of the alley coming our way.
Spotlights are shining brightly blinding my sight. But I know the drill, the officers approach from each side of their car, weapons drawn. I’m still standing over hoodie, my hands spread out holding up my investigator's ID.
“Investigator Girardi. This is the doer…armed robbery, the convenience store at 1040 Argyle. He threw a gun in the dumpster back there. …Maloney! Is that you? I’m Girardi. We were in the academy class of 2016.” I’ll have to catch up to my run-away Amy tomorrow, I thought.
“This guy’s a player…”
Four months earlier
“So that’s pretty much it, an accounts payable position in our accounting department. Did you have any questions?” Human resources administrator Jennifer Talbott smiled at the stylishly dressed petite 20 something young lady sitting across the desk, the third candidate interviewed today for this position.
A seasoned recruiter, Jennifer knew that, in addition to evaluating the candidate’s description of his or her experience and abilities, a candidate’s questions were often a telling measure of the individual. A job seeker’s questions generally reflected the individual’s interest in the company or knowledge of the job. Though the resume stated that Kara Conley had two years' experience in bookkeeping, Jennifer observed that the girl, though dressed up for the interview, looked and acted like she was still in high school. Kara had nervously glanced at her smartphone hidden in her lap as if it contained answers to interview questions. And the multiple body piercings including one through her tongue were distracting.
“Uh, yeh,…what about benefits?” asked Kara, “how many sick days to we get?”
As Jennifer answered the question about benefits and described the company’s sick days plan, she observed another employee pacing nervously in the human resources reception area outside of her office. Candidate Kara had no further questions, so Jennifer wrapped up the discussion, “Thank you for coming in, Kara. We have several candidates under consideration, if we determine that we have further interest, we will contact you for an interview with the department manager.”
“Uh, great. See ya.”
Jennifer watched as Kara left the office, and nearly bumped into company executive Sean O’Rielly. Jennifer gestured to Lauren Anderson, the employee anxiously pacing back and forth in the reception area of the human resources department, waiting to enter her office.
“Hi, you wanted to see me? Here, have a seat,” said Jennifer as she motioned towards the chair in front of her desk. “You’re Lauren, from Customer Service, right?”
“Yes, uh, hi Jennifer, thanks for seeing me.” Lauren looked back out into the reception area nervously, as if concerned that she was being followed. “I need to talk to …”
“Jennifer,…Jennifer, who was that girl who just left? What job was she applying for?” It was Sean O’Rielly, Sales Manager sticking his head into the office.
“Umm, excuse me, Lauren. Hi Mr. O’Rielly, that was Kara Conley, applying for the accounts payable position. We had three…”
“Great, send her paperwork up and arrange an interview this week. Patrick out this week and I’m pitching in on interviews.” With that, Sean disappeared from the doorway.
“I’m sorry Lauren, let me close this door. How can I help you?”
“Umm, I’ve been here for about six months, and I really like my job, uh, and I don’t want to make trouble for anyone, but,…” Lauren again looked around nervously towards the door as if she had been followed.
“What’s the matter, Lauren. It’s ok to talk here. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to get anybody in trouble, I just want it to stop. It bothers me, you know,…”
This time Jennifer waited, allowing the nervous girl in front of her to break the silence and proceed at her own pace. Lauren held her hand just below her throat, looked around again, then crossed her arms protectively in front of herself.
“It’s Brian, you know, Brian Dobbs, when he’s on the phone, he makes me uncomfortable,…”
“He makes you uncomfortable? What do you mean?” Jennifer pressed for details.
“Um, you know, he swears, F-bombs, stuff like that, and,…and when he can’t get through to the customer he calls the secretaries the “B” word, and worse. After one call, he called the secretary, oh, I can’t say it,…”
“To the customers? He says this to the customer? What did he say.”
“C-u-n-t,” Lauren whispered. “I’m too embarrassed to say it.”
Jennifer’s mouth dropped open and her hand covered her lips as if to avoid repeating the remark. Lauren now felt emboldened.
“And the pictures, and e-mails. He sends these filthy pictures and sexual cartoons, pictures of sex. And then,… ewe,…” Lauren shuddered and closed her eyes, visualizing an image in her mind, “I can see his computer over his shoulders, he has pictures of naked women and men and sex.” Lauren trembled again, having disclosed this experience occurring in her job.
“I’m shocked,” said Jennifer.
“And now,…” Lauren is sobbing. “And now, he’s pressuring me for sex, he wants me to send him naked pictures on the cell phone. Oh! I don’t know what to do…”
“This is Brian, in sales? I need to talk to Mr. O’Rielly right away,” says Jennifer.
“Please don’t say you heard it from me, I don’t want to get anybody fired,” pleaded Lauren.
After Lauren left, Jennifer waited a few minutes to compose herself, thinking about how she would present this complaint to management. She needed to talk to Sales Manager Sean O’Rielly, about the interview, and then she would bring it up then. She recalled that there had been another employee in that department complaining about Brian recently.
Later in the day, Jennifer called up to the executive suite and arranged a meeting with Sean to discuss the interviews for the accounts payable position. When she entered Sean’s office, he seemed pleasant but busy. So she quickly described the candidates and handed the resumes to Sean. Then, Jennifer gingerly brought up the complaint lodged by Lauren and described conduct which had been related by the nervous girl in her office an hour before.
“ Uhmm, probably a misunderstanding. We’ll look into it, thank you.” Sean had said and then he picked up his phone and began punching numbers. Jennifer took this to mean that the discussion was over, so she quietly left the office. As she walked back downstairs, Jennifer reflected on how Mr. O’Rielly had reacted upon learning that the complaint was about Brian in sales, and she recalled Mr. O’Rielly was in charge of sales and that she had seen them together laughing and joking at a company golf outing earlier in the year.
About a week later, Brian Dobbs came into Jennifer’s office, a scowl on his face, carrying a letter. Jennifer’s mind flashed back to the discussion with Lauren, and she looked up expectantly.
“Here, this letter’s been signed by Mr. O’Rielly. A termination for misconduct. Mr. O’Rielly says for you to take care of this.” Brian dropped the letter on Jennifer’s desk and turned and walked towards the doorway. He paused as he stepped through the door, and looked back at Jennifer. “I’ll send her right down. Mr. O’Rielly says to take care of this right away.”
Jennifer looked at the letter. Her mouth fell open in disbelief.
“Oh my God!” she gasped, they’re firing Lauren for misconduct.”