A handful of summers back, there was a hostage situation in the South Loop that went balls up from the start, and all Frank St. Cyr could do was watch. A dozen squads on the scene, just blocks from the new Police Headquarters on Cullerton. The old building on Eleventh was being gutted, going condo. Terraces instead of fire escapes, it was already advertised as State Place or some such shit. Everything south of downtown was a different world these days. Different world, same fucking problems.
911 got a call from some woman living in a loft apartment with wall-to-wall views of the lake and everything from the Aon Building to Willis Tower. Building used to be cold storage for Beatrice Foods, but nobody cared to remember that anymore. She’s a looker, with one of those pins under her lip for nut-rubbing during blowjobs, and black hair that went down to the crack of her ass. Her cranked-up ex-con boyfriend raped her every way he could think of, including with the phone the emergency call was made on, post-mortem would show the fucking antennae was below the gum line in her right mandible, proving the guy had been really creative with what else went in her mouth besides his fist and cock.
Bill Jarecki and St. Cyr were first up on hostage call, and no more than ten seconds after they crept from the tenth-floor stairwell, the cock-knocker cracks open the door to 1021, pops one right in Jarecki’s face, St. Cyr ready to fire when the perp’s next shot is a through and through out his right thigh, ricocheting up off the metal mail-drop slot and back into his left shoulder, where it stayed. Fuck knows where the other guys were, hanging back playing soggy biscuit or thinking how they’ll look on WGN Channel Nine that night and if any of them would have a chance with anchorwoman Jackie Bange, if you can anticipate the thrust.
The black bastard Terrel Blassingame—everybody knew when it was over—had pulled Jarecki through the door and left him there with a bullet lodged above his right temple for the next three hours, St. Cyr a meat puppet against the opposite wall, the hostage situation ending when gas gets pumped in the AC vents.
The jagoff was carted off, Jarecki got operated on and laid in a coma, and everybody but the cops forget because three days later nineteen Muslim hijackers pumped for fucking virgins in the afterlife fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
St. Cyr’s wounds healed, but he put in for early retirement; the paperwork would take awhile, then he’d go before a panel and explain his reasons for leaving the force. All that scheduling and paper shuffling took time.
Twenty-seven years on the job, last eight with Jarecki in Hostage Unit 3, and the reason he wanted out like a cancerous spleen wasn’t his partner losing fine motor control in his extremities and a ten per cent drop in his IQ from the fucking bullet. Shit, he could work that load of guilt off pounding down Pabst at Dipple’s Printshop Inn or the Copper Kettle over past the viaduct on Cermak.
First, he tried to keep thinking straight by leaving Area 1 Hostage, and because of what happened to Jarecki, the top brass gave him his choice of district houses and he chose the Brighton Park District. Where he grew up, even though they put him in Homicide. He thought he’d have memories to smooth out the bad days.
But they were all bad days soon enough, and not just for him. It had been months since Manhattan had been given a new skyline, and still cops walked around in a daze. The CPD’s motto was “To Serve and Protect.” How could you do that when the world operated by new rules?
The possibility of dying on the job is part of the job itself. Pasdar, the day-watch desk sergeant, saw the department shrink after 9/11, started taking Zoloft just so he could sleep without hearing planes where they shouldn’t be. Moved further away from O’Hare, too, even though it meant leaving a Polish neighborhood for one that was black and Puerto Rican mixed. Now Pasdar hears shit like “it’s 9/11 every day here, with the Mexicans moving in and shooting the Ricans and all, and why don’t the Ay-rabs go back where they belong, who told them to come here?” During locker room talk, St. Cyr heard that Pasdar was thinking of an early out, too; maybe move out to Omaha, where he had friends.
And it wasn’t seeing a dozen abused women and baby killers and how whatever terrible beating, espousal assault, or the more common ex-husband pulling an O.J. or the babysitting boyfriend that didn’t know what Shaken Baby Syndrome was; fuck, no, he just lined the whining little shit into the washer/dryer so he could finish watching Girls Gone Wild Doggy Style in peace, both parties (if one wasn’t corpsed out) would swear on their sainted aunt’s grave that whatever had happened would never happen again.
It wasn’t even the actions of the ugly ass Governor, who commuted the death sentences on every motherfucker in the state, including Eric Daniels, who had raped and shot a hotel desk clerk named Michelle Davis down in Champaign-Urbana. Twenty-two years old when she died in July 1993. Seventeen years before, she’d walked down the aisle of St. Fidelis as flower girl at the wedding of St. Cyr and the former Janet Svoboda.
The marriage was doomed from the start. Jannie deciding that she didn’t want to be married to a beat cop and St. Cyr was already flopping with Jarecki or Leland or Rizzi when she died in a head-on collision just outside of a Sam’s Club parking lot, three years after they’d given up on sleeping with each other.
Dead all these years, and he could hardly visualize his estranged wife. He knew how beautiful Michelle Davis had turned out from the obit the Trib ran because her parents still lived in Blue Island. Thinking back to the wedding chapel, he couldn’t picture the bride-to-be’s face, or recall her perfume or lip gloss, but he could still see crystal clear, five-year-old Michelle, stumbling next to the ring-bearer, barely under control in her white high heels.
After all he’d been through, all he’d seen and heard. Of all the indignities forced upon him in the post‑9/11 world, the one event that made St. Cyr want to retire so that he could handle things on his own occurred on a crisp Friday night in early April when he and his new partner were called to the scene where a fourteen-year-old girl had been raped with a bumper jack and then dumped on a pile of tires and burned alive.
The crime scene was in an area of recently demolished three-flats and the Parisian Novelty Company on Western Boulevard. The vacant lot where the body was found held everything from tires to mattresses to an Amana Coldspot fridge knocked over with its door off. Homeless people used it to rinse their socks and shorts after the bin had filled with rainwater.
It was the report of a fire that had brought the district patrolmen, who were now upwind from the body, vomiting into the refrigerator. The corpse was small in stature, even in sneakers and blackened jeans yanked down past her knees. The body hadn’t curled up pre-mortem, but the vic’s fingers were curled inward, breaking the skin on the palms. Waiting for the Medical Examiner to arrive, St. Cyr walked the perimeter while his new partner—Mike Angelini, straight out of the patch—started a timetable and took notes. He already knew that proving age would be difficult because there’d be no possible way of telling if the legs had ever been shaved; the whole of her pelvic area resembled a gnarled tree branch.
Thirty feet away, the tire iron, black and red and rusted orange. St. Cyr squatted, cracking his right kneecap, and dropped down a weighted evidence tag, tent-shaped with lines for date and location. He could never understand why the evidence tags weren’t weighted down with ball bearings at the base on forensic television shows, like there was never any wind at all on the street. Knees cracking as he stood back up, still bent at the waist, he caught something glinting a few feet towards the street. There were several cones of light hitting a billboard that warned of cars being towed to 35th and Iron if found parked illegally. This being a joke, because any such car would be stripped long before Turek Towing Co. would show up.
St. Cyr looked back at his partner—he was taking copious notes, asking the beat cops for additional observations with which to impress the lieutenant. Then he looked down at a cheap, silver friendship bracelet, made for a tiny wrist. When he read the name etched on it, he had an idea of what might have happened that night. Pocketing the bracelet, he dropped another evidence tent near some loose change and a CTA bus transfer.
He thought he had it all figured out, but it was the part that he didn’t suspect that made him ultimately put in for retirement. Murder was all about two things, love and money. Didn’t matter if it was just someone passing through town who suddenly snaps, a long-lost cousin you haven’t seen in ages, or someone who knows every position you sleep in.
Every position. Jesus. Then you consider a placement that put a girl laid out on a pile of smoldering rubber. The name on the friendship bracelet read SHELBY, short for Shelly Beatrice Pianne, a family he knew from his parish church. Got the nickname from her sixth-grade classmates because there already was a Shelly the crowd hung with. She had hated her middle name, but in a Catholic school, everyone knows everyone else’s middle name, just like serial killers after they’ve been caught.
He held tight to the bracelet in his latex-gloved fist, the false dawn now playing tricks with the eyes as the sun rose out past Lake Michigan. Mike and Ellen Pianne were in Burbank, a suburb past the 8th District station house, for a funeral. St. Cyr knew this because the victim’s father was a Eucharistic minister and had asked Frank to fill in for him that Sunday. They had left Friday evening after Ed left Mitch’s Car Parts and were going to stay until Sunday night with Ellen’s one surviving auntie. The older sister, sixteen-year old Channe, kind of cool the way it rhymed with the last name, stayed behind with their grandmother Violetta, too frail for the two-hour car ride on the pot-holed Chicago side streets.
Frank St. Cyr planned on finding Shelby’s killer long before he’d be taking over the Eucharistic minister’s duties come Sunday morning.
He would. And it would devastate him.
By noon that Saturday, St. Cyr was at the old Maxwell Street station house, which was used in the opening credits and all exterior shots of Hill Street Blues, back in the day. The three-story brick building had 7th District etched in the arch over the wooden doors, an anomaly for the modern Chicago district station houses. The building, as it now stood, housed two floors of computers to school the hairbags up to speed with the rookies when it came to paperwork. In the basement, where the jail cells once lined the wall but the graffiti was never erased for sentimental value, was the office of the Crime Lab’s Trace-Microscopic Unit. Most cops called it Trace Mike, except in their reports. A large magnifying glass on a type of turntable pointed at the wall, a fragment of a statement by a man long dead jumping off the wall. June 25, 1937, I did it all for Nurleen and the rest of you can go … and the remaining words were small and meaningless.
St. Cyr sat in one of those old-time wooden desk chairs that pissed off all the left-handers who had to write a school paper or job application while cramped into its confines. He had a folded copy of the coroner’s report in his jacket, something to read while he waited for the lab findings on the tire jack. Maybe he was wrong, the name on the bracelet being more common than he thought, that the ratchet would prove to be from a goddamn Gremlin or Ford Pinto, some car that nobody drove anymore because they didn’t exist, and his line of thinking was all bullshit.
He knew most of the cars in his neighborhood, and the Piannes had three of them, and St. Cyr bet that the tire iron came from under the back seat of Shelby’s gray Toyota Corolla. Christ, what kind of a freak did she meet up with? Certainly she wouldn’t have picked up some hitcher on Archer Avenue … He had driven by their bungalow in the 3400 block of South Hermitage on the way down to Maxwell and only saw Channe’s white GEO Storm, but that meant nothing. Shelby had always been the bookworm, hitting the Brighton Park Library before the librarian had finished her first cup of decaf.
The lead guy at Trace Mike was on the phone, jotting notes on the back of an old Field Investigation report. St. Cyr pulled out the folded sheets filled with sterile anatomical descriptions from his pockets. It wasn’t like he was in a doctor’s office waiting on a rectal exam, with Newsweek and People on the empty chair next to him. He didn’t even read the papers anymore, not even to look at the sports scores. Anytime he looked at a paper, it got to be too damn depressing. On the desk, scratched with a nail clipper, So’s you know, David Bain says this is a square house 10/31/52.
Skimming past marginal squiggles about histamine and serotonin levels, St. Cyr read that “Jane Doe 2011–09” had been violated both vaginally and anally, this suggested by circumference of both orifices and verified by tissue samples from the labia and the transverse slit below the sigmoid flexure. The rectal vaginal pouch is about two and one-half inches from the anal orifice.
Christ, he thought, how did the actors on CSI get their lines straight? Big medical words to mask the sadness of the crime, was all. Had she lived, Shelby would’ve needed a hysterectomy and a kidney transplant. That was straight English for you, right, St. Cyr?
Orion Numbers, Area 1 Crime Scene Detective and head of Trace Mike for the past two years, hung up the phone. Born to do this kind of work, Numbers was gangly and skeletal, wispy blond hair fast receding, barely twenty-six. He pronounced his name ‘Or-ee-on,” out of spite, not O’Ryan, like an Irish pug. His mother hadn’t been into astrology and named him after the winter constellation with three bright stars in a straight line. No, he was named for some lame-ass guy in a white jumpsuit and a Green Hornet-type mask that only covered his eyes, came on the scene not long after Elvis was Graceland dead. All this from Numbers after St. Cyr introduced himself twenty minutes ago. Said his namesake had blow-dried hair, but he couldn’t even sound like Roy Orbison, called himself Orion and claimed to be the King back from the dead.
And St. Cyr thought he had left his childhood running two-forty out the side door.
Numbers liked to do things the old-fashioned way, the way cops worked, say ten years ago. Hated the Internet. Liked the old jaw-bending you got from a phone conversation. He’d been on the phone with a Sears catalogue outlet in Auburn, Indiana. The murder instrument was called a “hired hand jack,” and the tech had to call outside the state to get any decent information; the majority of Sears outlets and auto maintenance shops had closed down about the time Dubya invaded Iraq.
“The body dump was close to I‑55.” Numbers pressed his right fist into his left and cracked his knuckles. “Interstates are wonderful things for serial killers. Or just for people passing through that had that special urge.” Every techie learned early to be quotable in case a news reporter was around sniffing for a sound bite.
The jack featured Class A‑1 castings, St. Cyr was told. The horizontal climb pins from the base to positive contact measured twenty-eight inches. In Illinois, the majority of car dealerships provided buyers with bumper jacks, with different brands available through different dealerships. Ford Escorts. Chevy Novas. GEO Storms. Numbers stopped for a sip of foul-smelling jailhouse brew, then continued listing maybe a half-dozen more, but St. Cyr’s brain had frozen on the GEO Storm. The one Channe Pianne drove.
He thanked Orion Numbers and went to the door, his mind numb, chest pings starting up. Tried pushing instead of pulling, the door not budging. Smacked his shoulder hard and did it again before he got it right, pissed at himself, pissed that the tech was watching even if he was pretending not to, and way past pissed on every fucking thing that was wrong with the world today.
Finally yanking the door open, smacking the knob against the wall, St. Cyr’s eyes fell on one last bit of insightful, Depression-era graffiti. My baby’s waiting and I won’t be back, Scott Kroll, 6/11/36.
And then he was out of there for good.
St. Cyr sped up Halsted manic, like Starsky finding out Hutch’s girlfriend had been kidnapped. Hands gripping the wheel up close, the way a tailgunner shooting at Taliban troops would be holding his weapon. This made his shoulders hunch around his neck and it was like two transvestites were having a catfight somewhere between his brain and his right eye socket.
None of this was falling out right, he kept thinking over and over as he cut a hard right at the Citgo station at Archer, then cut through cross-sections of empty lots underneath, or in the shadow of, the new I‑55 overpasses. The locals called the area Snake Alley, and screwed tight as he was, St. Cyr watched out for errant kids on skateboards hopping the curbs and all that other shit they do.
He pulled up in front of the Pianne house, the one thing separating it from the identical brick bungalows with Cape Cod windows was a wooden ramp at the door which sided the driveway, for when the grandmother had to be wheeled out for hospital visits. It was Grandmother Violetta who told him that her granddaughter was out, had said she was going out to look for something she had lost. A bracelet she said; no prompting. St. Cyr took out his flip-pad and scrawled a note. I have what you are looking for. Meet me in front of the Ashland el station, 5 AM. tomorrow morning. It will be deserted and I know you’d be out that late even if it was a school night anyways, Party Girl. He capitalized the last words to piss her off more.
Twelve hours from now. He didn’t sign, the old lady would tell her who had been there, and besides, this would save him an anonymous phone call drawing her to the Orange Line. Yes, the note was better, and he placed it on top the kitchen counter himself. The grandmother had arthritis bad, her knuckles like cue balls in a graying bag of veins.
The Orange Line was the newest artery of the city’s elevated tracks, opening in 1993. The line wove northeastward from Midway Airport to the Loop. Just two months ago, in February, the Transit Authority extended the hours of the first and last trains of the day, to accommodate red-eye flights. The first train, only four cars long, left Midway Station, 58th and Cicero, at 4:52. It would arrive at the 35th Street station at 5:01.
St. Cyr sat there an hour ahead of time, too shaken and pissed and shocked to even have attempted to nap earlier in the evening. He’d put his palms to his temples and pressed folds of his skin towards the bridge of his nose, made it look like he had jowls. Shaking his head made him a rabid dog. If he let the pressure behind his eyes subside for even a moment, he’d be thinking of the girls in his life. His wife, so young and naive, and stupid for marrying him. Michelle, tripping in her little flower girl ensemble, the widows from the wars overseas and drive-by shootings right here in the city.
Sometimes, every day seemed fucking unfair and he knew he wasn’t going to shake this off quick. Maybe he should have eaten something. He could clearly see a White Castle on Robinson, a few blocks south, and a Jewel food store, but every place opened late on Sunday. He could still smell the grandmother’s mentholatum in the collar of his shirt from when they hugged. He imagined himself having the DTs, then his DTs having their own DTs. Why the hell couldn’t he remember Shelby’s face, her smile, her…naked body crusted black chipping from the stress and strain of rigor mortis the skin inside orange-red looks like lava peeking out of the black hands bunched making it look submissive the left hand still in flames then looking like a soiled oven mitt so close to her skeletal legs and the clotted mess around her pelvis he couldn’t look at what was left of her even before he found out it was Shelby Shelly Bea– Shelby’s face was no it really wasn’t there the eyelids gone eyes sagging inward like tiny gleaming blue bouncing balls that have starting losing air blue her eyes had been the bluest like an October afternoon just before dusk fell he fell felt no she October it was just before Halloween that he and Jarecki had been called to that house on Blake next to the Lindy’s Chili he remembered that they would Code Seven and eat there after but there was no after like now they went into the bedroom a young black girl on moxie had nodded out bad so bad that she knocked her two-year-old daughter off the side of the bed nearest the wall and the baby had literally melted into the coil heater against the wall because her momma didn’t wake up but no that wasn’t all when autopsy was done the white daddy’s semen was found in the two-year-old’s Disney Princesses underwear and where hair Shelby’s hair had been so blindingly blond like the title girl in any surfing tune
Tuned out there for a minute, didn’t you, Frank? Looked at his watch. 4:45. Would she show? Did Channe see him and leave; he couldn’t have dozed for more than a few minutes, because he couldn’t remember dreaming anything. What the hell did he think he was going to do anyways, lead her to redemption up the altar of the church of whatever Saint it was that blessed the Children’s Burn Ward at Stroger Hospital, he could not think of the patron saint. For the life of him.
He was going to, what, handcuff her to one of the bicycle racks and take her down to police headquarters like he was some kind of a goddamn bounty hunter? Try and talk with her along the way, find out why she did it?
“Why’d I do it?” A voice to the right of him, defiant. Not what he expected. “Shit, sitting there talking to yourself, like in church.”
St. Cyr turned to see Channe perched atop a blue Tribune recycling bin, black jacket over a charcoal tank top, legs in faded jeans and trendy open-toed clogs crossed haphazardly. She interrupted him before he could speak.
“Damn, I always hear you mumbling to yourself whenever Shelby and I, whenever I, when I passed your pew on the way to get those damn communion wafers, only because…”
He stared at her, saying nothing.
“You were, what? Praying for all us poor little girls?”
Channe hopped off the paper bin, her clogs echoing away from the platform. The train was visible now, moving eastward. Somewhere at street level, a car engine turned over in a nearby driveway on Leavitt. She had the piece of paper he had left his note on, was tearing it in small he-loves-me-loves-me-not pieces. They fell to the ground in the windless early morning.
“Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to start boozing it up and fuck up on the job? Shots downed, officer fired. You see what I just did there, cock-knocker?” She spit a wad of bright blue gum to the cement.
“Channe …” was all he could say.
“Channe, what? You’re gonna bring me in like I’m your Last Big Bust before retirement? Go out on a bang, Officer Limp-Dick?” She was going to keep talking, but a train heading toward Midway stopped her from continuing. “Here’s the story, you want it so goddamn bad. Shelby was in love with me! We enjoyed ourselves big-time sharing one bedroom in that shitty little bungalow.
“We did everything, Frankie. Did you know innocent little Shelly Beatrice had a freckle you couldn’t see unless she shaved her pussy?” Channe then went on about how Shelby had met a new girl at school, they starting hanging out, maybe too much. Channe tried not to be jealous—that’s why she made the friendship bracelet.
“But …” St. Cyr fumbled his words.
Another train rumbled into the station above them, and three Mexicans wearing shirts with the Holsum bread emblem ran up the stairs to catch the ride. Another commuter followed without rushing.
St. Cyr turned away from Channe at the scuffing of the shift workers’ ascent. The el doors banged open. The workers chattered as their shoes clanged up the escalator.
Channe Pianne, a knife suddenly in her hand, made a fist underhand and stabbed him in his right nut. Something St. Cyr wouldn’t have expected in a thousand years, even though he knew of the violence Channe had committed upon her sister.
The pain blinded him, he wanted to roll into a ball, but went to grab her wrist and failed. But she back-pedaled, and toppled over the bike rack. Her tank top fell open, exposing the tan lines on her braless tits.
Each of them turned then, almost in slow motion St. Cyr watched a lone straggler take a photo with his cell phone and then start dialing what no doubt would be 911.
Game plan changed. One hand on the cement, she bounced back up and took off toward Ashland, Interstate 55 rumbling overhead. She ran past the handicapped entrance to the el station and a second later was in the harsh light of the viaduct. St. Cyr could only watch, his stomach churning like it wanted to spill from his mouth.
Fuck it. He’d finished a weekend shift with a double hernia back in ’97. He zipped his windbreak, hoping it would cover the bloodstain over his crotch. The thin streak across his the leg of his navy slacks was shiny but less noticeable. “Fucking cunt.” Saying cunt was enough to get him to push off the pain.
He could be sore the rest of his life for all he cared. Let him get one good chance and shoving Channe head first into the path of a produce truck. St. Cyr never realized how crafty the elder Pianne daughter had been since starting high school. He was catching up. She looked back, surprised.
They passed the remains of a long-empty shipping company. New rows of houses in a gated community had been mapped out, Bridgeport Village. Crooked walls still waist-high near the sidewalk, the remaining area cleared but for a huge tower in the center of a lot, multi-colored with graffiti and looking like a giant finger that had been dipped in paint. The homes would match the other section of the “village” across the south branch of the Chicago River.
Bubbly Creek. So named because of the methane that still leaked from the bottom of the river, which ran past the long-gone stockyards. Add more than a few victims, courtesy of the Outfit, to the cattle bones, and the place smelled like shit and the surface never froze over even when the winter wind chill hit fifty below. Fucking idiot home buyers.
Channe kicked at the wall and a few bricks hit the sidewalk, fragmenting. Slowed St. Cyr by a second at best. He thought she was running for the bridge over Ashland, but Channe surprised him by ducking into this outcropping where old black men would sit and fish. A small area with chest-high railings for the bamboo poles, gravel walkways, and numerous benches littered with empty cans of malt liquor and Miller High Life.
He ducked to the right, but Channe was ready. Just before the area surrounded by the railings, a small path jinked towards the creek. A crooked and steep slope, he didn’t know if Channe had misjudged where she had made the turn. Maybe thought she could double back. But she wasn’t there.
And even as St. Ctr was thinking on how he had fucked up yet again, Channe came at him from his right side hard, and they did a brief pavane. She in her heels and he with one leg and sock soaked with blood, his shoe slippery on the rocks and dead grass.
He smashed Channe’s head into the railing, harder the second time. She stumbled backward a few steps and with both hands he shoved herchest. She made a decent grab for the dead grass, one exposed breast and hands now streaked with dirt. But St. Cyr was blood simple now.
He kicked at her side, but she turned and took the brunt of it in her hip. St. Cyr almost tripped, and skittered downward several steps. The only opening Channe needed to stab him in the foot. He had no choice but to fall to his knees and the in another second she stabbed him in his thigh. Every cop knows where the major blood vessels are. Channe had a good aim.
He fell face forward near the edge of the water, the knife breaking in two. Channe hefted a big rock, but that made her wobble She fell into a squat St. Cyr rolled to his side and grabbed Channe by the belt loops on her jeans and propelled her forward. By the time she could stop moving backward, she was waist-deep in water, the current swirling around her ruined tank top.
Their eyes locked. Channe was further away with every flutter of his lids. As feisty as she was, she obviously couldn’t swim worth a shit.
Screaming, then sputtering. She’d go under soon enough. There were unseen branches from fallen trees throughout the creek. St. Cyr was light-headed, the morning sun on him like a soft flame.
He tried to rationalize it. Unconscious or dead in a struggle, his story would change with Channe gone. With luck, she would be trapped underwater long enough for the currents to turn her face and fingertips into smooth nubs of bone and sagging flesh. A Jane Doe for weeks, maybe years.
St. Cyr pulled the friendship bracelet from his pocket and threw it after her. He couldn’t see Channe anymore. And St. Cyr could no longer see the sky, laid out above him in infinite splendor.