Behind Lori Baer, 7

Behind Lori Baer

CHAPTER 7

Friendly Fences Lane never looked friendlier and brighter than the night of Chuck’s wake. Our home was ablaze with warm yellow light radiating from every window, and the night seemed less cold, less tragic, and less mysterious.

Beth had lit up the place for me; she knew I would need it. By nature, she was a frugal woman, a virtue in the Tomassetti clan of six who had lived, grew, and prospered on a cop’s wages. She lit only what needed lighting.

I was the opposite. I had grown up in sporadic darkness; often our strange troika couldn’t scrape together enough money to appease Central Hudson. As a result, I craved light and illuminated rooms for the sheer joy of recouping brightness I believed I had missed out on. To assuage Beth, years before, when the children were babies, I bought a few hundred shares of Commonwealth Edison. My purchase was a great value, for it had appreciated, and had served on many occasions as a ready retort to her complaints about, in her opinion, my squandering of money.

Glowing in her kindness, I nested the Jag in the garage. Wanting another, longer look at this rare and thoughtful gesture, I strolled down the driveway.

It was late for High Hills, around ten. The town was quiet, the silence disturbed intermittently and gently by the rustle of autumn leaves. At the end of the drive, I turned and faced our home. It was magnificent, standing there on the land we owned, gazing on the home we had built, recalling how once we’d had little, and how long ago I had next to nothing. A night like that, in the shadow of my friend’s violent death, in the comfort of Beth and my success—it was something to luxuriate in.

It would have been a perfect contemplative moment, almost Trappist in its simplicity, if a car hadn’t cranked down the street and by me.

At least, I thought it was a car, until I turned and caught its fleeting taillights. The car was a pickup truck that didn’t just clang and rattle, but also spewed a blue fog in its wake, pungent and oily, a scent I enjoyed as it reminded me of the old garage and the resurrection of the Mustang. But I scowled in its direction anyway, resenting its noisy invasion of my tranquility. Not a Puritan like The Priest, I mumbled a couple of choice imprecations as I passed through the garage into the house.

I hooked my keys on the catchall rack and let out a low sigh. The kitchen and family room were nearly pitch black, except for stray light from the front rooms and the small recessed fixture over the sink.

I left the kitchen dim and went straight for the refrigerator. The evening had given me an appetite. I quietly shuffled bottles, plates, and containers, settling on a Genny and the leftover O’Leary’s Chili.

I drank and ate quietly over the sink to the bemusement of a fellow who bore no resemblance to the man I thought I’d be at fifty. I stared at the reflection in the window for a long minute before washing up. What had I thought ten and twenty years ago? That this day was far off, that it would never arrive, not for me. And there I was faced with the reflection of myself as an old—correct that—maturing man.

It could be worse, I told myself, as I latched the dishwasher door and doused the sink light. I could be Chuck. I shuddered and roamed the front rooms of the first floor dousing lights and trying to put his death out of my mind for the rest of the evening.

Upstairs, I found Beth in bed. She sat propped up against a mountain of pillows. She was reading Choice. To her left was another issue of a teacher’s magazine. To her right were issues of Instructor and Grade School Teacher. On the floor, two poster boards leaned against the bed. She was engrossed in her magazine and didn’t notice me until I lowered my rear onto the bed.

She looked at me over the top of the magazine and pursed her lips. I leaned over the magazine and kissed her.

“Chili,” she said. “And beer.”

“Ale,” I corrected.

She frowned prudishly.

“I know,” I said, “I’m not getting any younger.”

“True, but I was about to say you look tired. How was it?”

Slipping out of my jacket and removing my tie, I said, “I wish you had come along.”

She squinted. I got the message:  You couldn’t drag me to any place where I’d have to see Lori Gatewood.

I finished undressing quickly, hanging my suit and tie in the closet, depositing my shirt in the dry cleaning basket, tossing my socks in the hamper in the bathroom. I slipped into bed beside her.

“How was it?” she repeated.

“Grim. Depressing. Disturbing,” I said, arranging pillows. I fell back on them and quickly related my conversation with Turk, expunging the color. I described Jerdan Marsh. I explained Lori’s ambivalence toward him.

“The signals were mixed,” I said, scooting closer and wrapping an arm around her. “One minute I thought she and Marsh were having an affair. The next I got the impression she was afraid of him, then resentful, then angry. I don’t know what was with her.”

“How about sorrow?”

“What?” I said, mildly startled that I couldn’t conjure an image of Lori grieving.

“Was she sad about Chuck’s death? Was she crying? Were her eyes red?”  She glared at my face, which couldn’t have been any more revealing than white paper. “She wasn’t was she? I tell you, Gabe, I was right about that woman three years ago. And I’m still right.”

“You think they’re having an affair?”  I pulled her close and she let the magazine fall on the bedspread.

“And more. I wouldn’t doubt she and that Marsh were stealing from Gatewood Graphics.”

I turned and hoisted myself on an elbow. I hung over her and delved her black eyes. “I had the same feeling about the stealing. I don’t know why she’d do it. But I had the sense she was somehow tied in with Marsh.”  She reached up and caressed my face. “I’m not sure about the affair, though. It has to be some weird arrangement. She acted in anything but a loving way toward him. You know, like you do to me.”  I dropped down on her and kissed her.

She pushed up and kissed back hard. I pulled away. She hooked a finger onto the neck of my undershirt and peaked an eyebrow. I rolled off her onto my back and shucked off the shirt and my shorts. She threw down the covers and we both kicked them to the end of the bed. Her magazines flew off and thudded on the floor. I hadn’t noticed before; she was wearing a black peignoir, gossamer so I could see the mounding of her breasts and the dark of her nipples thrusting against the gauzy fabric. I flicked the thread-thin string fastening the peignoir at her neck and stoked it off her shoulders. I bent and kissed the valley between her breasts. I kissed the sweet hollow of her neck. She arched her head, then followed with her back until her belly pushed against mine and we toughed from chest to pelvis. I put my mouth over hers and she kissed back hard again. She relaxed onto the bed and I laid on her. Her nipples burned into my chest, and I swelled into her. She moaned softly and raked her legs along mine, stopping when hers perched over my hips. I reached behind and ran my hand over their smoothness. We made love over every inch of the bed.

After, she disappeared into the bathroom for five minutes. I ran my hand along where she had been. Her warmth, the heat of just a few moments ago, transferred to me, rose up into me as if my arm was a steam pipe, radiated throughout me, into my mind, and left me hungry for more, and puzzling over why this had been different, more powerful than our lovemaking had been in weeks, perhaps months. Had death added an edge that hadn’t existed between us before? It seemed almost obscene to contemplate Chuck’s murder as—what? Something too fearful to think –- an aphrodisiac? Perhaps the idea of death, of its sudden cruelness, had overpowered my depression about my age and the diminished life I thought it meant.

I told myself it could explain my sharpened excitement, but not Beth’s. I hadn’t been recharged in isolation; she loved with a vigor I hadn’t sensed in her for months. It wasn’t a mere perception on my part fostered by my own passion. It was real and physical, down to the two scratches on my back. Fingering the wounds lightly, a flash of realization hit me. It had been Lori.

Beth was not usually possessive, or jealous, or fearful of other women; but Lori had always been the exception. From the time I first talked about Lori, Beth’s defenses prickled. But this subsided somewhat after we resolved the disaffection—her disaffection—over The Incident. And from then on our relationship restored itself each day as time wedged itself between us and The Incident. When Lori departed Trumpet as Chuck’s wife, Beth’s mood improved immensely, and I was certain the tempest that had endangered our marriage had passed. And yet, there it was again, in the quiet hints of Mae Chen, and moments ago in Beth’s urgent lovemaking. And all that was different between us was:  Lori was in the picture again.

Beth returned to our bed in a practical cotton nightgown. We pulled up the covers and she drew me to her, settling her head on my arm. We were quiet for a few minutes, each staring at the ceiling, each lost in our thoughts. She spoke first.

“How did she look?”

“Fine,” I said, not knowing exactly what she expected to hear, and being mellow and satisfied, and not willing to offer up anything for fear it might be very wrong.

“Fine?” she repeated. “Only fine? She must be out of practice.”  She snuggled closer. “You think I’m being petty?”

I shook my head.

“What was she wearing?”

I figured I couldn’t go wrong with the simple, unexpanded truth. “A black dress.”

“Short?” she asked, eyeing me closely.

“Kind of.”  I could have quoted Turk, that Lori acted as if she was at the party. However, repeating Turk would have been a very wrong thing.

We enjoyed another silent break, and I began to drift off. I’d had a long day, a sad day, too, and I had a big one planned again for tomorrow.

“You think it was his idea?”

I blinked in full consciousness, but must have appeared at least partially bewildered to her, for she repeated and expanded, “You think Marsh planned this?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know enough to say one way or the other.”

“You’re probably right about the money. Chuck’s probably left her well off. And she probably knew it.”

“As your father says, money’s a pretty powerful motive.”

“The most powerful,” she reminded me.

Hoping she was finished, I settled back, ready for a long, peaceful shuffle with the sheets. But Beth would never be done with Lori Gatewood.

“I still believe she caused his death.”

I rubbed my eyes and yawned, wide, long, and loud.

She jabbed an elbow in my ribs, securing my undivided attention. She knew when to cast subtly aside in favor of the direct approach.

“How?” I groaned.

“She tired of Chuck. Marsh joined the company. Okay, Chuck said she wasn’t involved in the business.”

I nodded.

She smiled slyly. “But she got to know Marsh. How, you might ask?”

I took the bait. “How?”

“Parties. You know how Chuck and Doreen were, parties constantly. You, me, customers, employees, everybody on the guest list. I don’t expect he changed much with Lori.”

“So they got close at parties?”

“Why not? One thing led to another and before you know it … Well, I’m sure you have a vivid imagination in that department.”

Indeed I did, and could picture Lori and Marsh together. But, no, on consideration I couldn’t. They didn’t fit, and I didn’t know precisely why. Marsh was too edgy? Too dark? Too much of a grinder? I kept to myself on the matter.

Beth turned in my arm and opened big eyes at me, as if she had to say no more as the affair was obvious.

I gave her my dumb look, which, over the years, I had honed into a tableau quite familiar to her. I was sincere, as her inference was lost on me.

She said, “She was trapped. Marsh held a sword over her head. If he revealed their affair, she was afraid Chuck would divorce her, amounting to automatic disinheriting. Keeping with your instant dislike for this fellow, Marsh might very well have been embezzling funds. Why not? He was cuckolding the owner. Might as well empty the poor bastard’s pockets at the same time. Do the job right.”

“Then Chuck discovered the embezzlement.”

“Yes, and he made the mistake of sharing the knowledge with Lori, who went back to Marsh with it.”

“You think Marsh murdered Chuck to cover up the theft.”

“It seems plausible, doesn’t it?”

“Beth, you’re saying that Lori let Marsh kill Chuck.”

“Yes, because she had too much to lose. What would Chuck have done if he’d discovered she was sleeping with Marsh?”

I had to admit that Beth made a good case. A conspiracy of lovers. Passion and money. These motives predated the Bible. According to Beth, who definitely had an overpowering prejudice against Lori, Lori became disaffected with Chuck for some reason. Chuck committed the mistake, which didn’t seem so at the time, of hiring Marsh to help him move his business forward. Taking Lori’s claim to not have been involved in Gatewood Graphics at face value, she did get to know Marsh through affairs sponsored by Chuck and her. Maybe he came onto her; she possessed an irresistible quality, a raw sexuality she wasn’t shy about, and a flirtatious disposition. They started seeing each other. She probably didn’t realize, at least in the beginning, that Marsh was a thief at heart. When she discovered what he was up to at Gatewood Graphics, she was helpless. She couldn’t go to Chuck, not without revealing her betrayal; she risked losing whatever inheritance Chuck had planned for her. Then Chuck discovered the embezzlement on his own. He told her about it. How couldn’t he have? She was his wife, and he had no reason not to trust her. She told Marsh, and he decided there was no way out but murder. As Beth said, Lori was trapped. But still, in my mind, there was a chasm separating infidelity from murder.

“It listens pretty good,” she said. It was a Tommy expression, an old cop phrase and a favorite in police procedurals. If I’d gotten past the first chapter of my little demon in a fedora, I might have had an opportunity to use it.

“It does,” I conceded, though not at all certain of it. But the time was approaching midnight and I was more in the mood to sleep than spar with her. “Sleep?” I said.

She looked at the mess surrounding us and shrugged.

“Yes, I’m drained.”

She kissed me, rolled over, and was asleep before I’d scrunched down in the bed.

But sleep didn’t come quickly for me. I laid awake and listened to her breathe.

Guilt assaulted me. I was unable to purge Lori Baer from my thoughts, the person who had and continued to offend the woman I loved, and who might have been complicit in an old friend’s death; the woman who caused Mae Chen to view me a shade differently and to nettle me with the past; and the woman who for a brief instant had rekindled the idea that despite the heaping on of years I was wanted for more than position and money; I was desirable for seduction. 

I suppose, if I was true to myself, I had to admit seduction had been an irresistible idea. Not that Beth wasn’t seductive with me, tempting with her dress, her walk, her voice, her scent, her compassion, and her deeds, most good, noble, and admirable to the point of envy. But those years, those years where powerful. Familiarity was good and bad. The comfort of it was extremely good and I prized it. And that very goodness stole what I desired, and that was adventure, newness, the mystery of what might lurk around the corner. If I were true to myself, perhaps I would have to acknowledge there had been a little more to The Incident. It had been nothing as horrible as breaching the ultimate trust binding Beth and me, fidelity; but it was exciting, and I had suspected it was happening, and I had allowed it. Not encouraged it, though, and there was a difference between letting and fostering. I couldn’t tell Beth, because I would hurt her and I never wanted to cause her pain; and because I couldn’t accept I was capable of it.

I watched her and my love for her overwhelmed me and brought me peace. Then I dropped off.

* * *

I woke earlier than usual Tuesday morning and cut back my run to six miles. I wasn’t getting lazy or losing my resolve to fight fifty every step of the way; I wanted to finish before Beth came downstairs and have breakfast waiting for her. I needed to see her, talk to her, and start her out feeling cherished.

I prepared a modest breakfast, a simple act to brighten her morning. “Gabe,” she said, afterwards, near the door to the garage, ready to leave, “come here.”

Drying my hands on a dishtowel, I came to her from the sink, where I’d been rinsing the remains of breakfast into the disposal and grinding them into oblivion.

She opened her arms to me. I draped the towel over a shoulder and stepped into her embrace. She kissed me twice and said, “Gabe, what did I ever do to deserve a man like you?”

“It’s the other way around, Beth.”

She stoked my hair and studied my eyes. Hers misted. She kissed me again. She picked up her bags –- she never lugged fewer than two bags, usually a briefcase and a cloth satchel, to school. I followed her into the garage and helped her into the BMW.

In her car, she powered down her window. I leaned in. We kissed again.

“Gabe, I hope I’m wrong about Lori. I really do.”

“I hope you are, too.”

I returned to the kitchen, finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes, and went to my office. I settled behind my desk and stared at the answering machine. I realized I’d forgotten to ask Beth if Vider had called with information about the fingerprints. If he had I was certain she would have told me. I was innocent, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t concerned. I’d fingered enough walls, cabinets, and objects in Chuck’s apartment to convict ten men.

I carried the Tribune and Herald, both of which I had retrieved from the bushes when I had returned from my run, into my office. I quickly searched them for a mention of the murder, but found nothing. Aside from the short piece in the Monday papers, Chuck’s murder received scant coverage. I hadn’t tuned into the television stations, but I figured it was the same with them. Chuck was a wealthy citizen, yet, apparently not prominent enough to warrant the coverage showered on multiple or particularly grotesque murders. It was a blessing.

I found Vider’s card on the desk and called. He picked up on the second ring. He identified himself and sneezed.

“Those allergies won’t let up, Sergeant, will they?”

He grunted. “Let me guess. Mr. Angellini.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay, Mr. Angellini, the Priest called a few minutes ago. I gave him the news. But I was about to call you anyway.”  I waited expectantly. “Your prints where all over the place.”  I groaned. “So where the wife’s, and Mr. Gatewood’s.”

“What about the knife?” I asked, relieved.

“The Wüsthof?” he said, sardonically. “The lab couldn’t do much with it.”  I must have exhaled a sigh, for he added, “That doesn’t mean much.”

I waited for him to expand on that, but when he didn’t I asked, “Okay to leave town?”

“Sure, but don’t stray to far, Mr. Angellini. You’re the closest thing we have to a witness.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. I want to find the killer as much as you do.”

“So I heard,” he said flatly.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

He coughed. “Why not? Everybody else is.”

“How did the killer get in and out of the building without anybody seeing him?”

“Or her?”

“Well, yes,” I said hesitantly, envisioning the seemingly indifferent Lori and the smarmy Jerdan Marsh at Chuck’s wake, “him or her?”

“He, she, they, or it could have come in through a window for all we know.”

“Or through the garage,” I said.

“With an opener, sure, which some people had.”  His meaning was plain. Lori certainly possessed a garage door opener. She could have used it Saturday. As bad, she could have provided it to an accomplice. Vider was probably thinking what Beth, Tommy and the others were. Lori murdered Chuck, or arranged it.

“Couldn’t the killer have figured out the code? That’s possible, isn’t it?”

“Those are two questions, Mr. Angellini. Maybe three.”

“It’s possible?” I persisted.

“It’s possible the mayor’s going to make me superintendent this afternoon.”

“That possible?” I said.

“About.”  He sneezed.

“Not any better, is it?”

“What?”

“The allergy.”

He sneezed again, as if to say not a bit.

“The Priest said you and him where running a little investigation of your own.”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d call it—“

“Don’t do us any favors, Mr. Angellini. We’ll find the killer.”

“I owe him,” I said.

“Lay back then. Let us do our job. You’ll only get in the way, and it’ll take us longer.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Think hard. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find a murderer.”

I cleared the line and called Tommy.

“Just caught me, Gabe. I’m on my way out to Kmart.”

“I talked to Vider.”

“Feel better?”

“Not much.”

“You need something to do. You said you knew less about Lori than you thought. Why not check her background today? Let me know what you find tonight.”

“I plan to. Did Vider tell you anything?”

“Yes, he reminded me I was retired and he didn’t appreciate me—us—horning in on his investigation. Oh, yeah, he said he still loved me like a father. Don’t worry, Gabe, it’ll take a while, but Vider will find the killer.”

“Or we will.”

“If we’re unlucky,” he muttered. “How was the wake?”

I summarized what I had observed and he said, “Marsh sounds interesting. I’ll do a some digging and see what shakes out.”

“What about Vider?”

“Gabe, I think the poor boy would be disappointed if I didn’t nose around. I wouldn’t want to disillusion a protégée, would I?”  I chuckled. He finished. “Happy hunting. I’ll call you tonight.”

I drummed the desk mulling over how to begin. I decided to approach this as I did nearly everything. I took a small single-subject notebook from my desk, opened to the first page, and made a list:

  1. Check office files.
  2. Call Skip Holler at Lion-Harris.
  3. Call the University of Illinois Records’ Office in Champaign.

I swiveled and opened the credenza doors on the left side, carefully avoiding the center, home of my stunted demons. I’d kept a few Trumpet files as mementos. Mostly they were presentations I had liked, samples of ads I considered exceptional, notes of praise from happy clients, and several folders of photographs taken at office functions and individually with employees, clients, and personalities we had used in ads and television commercials. I had every intention of browsing these files occasionally. I had thought I’d haul them out on the anniversary of the sale and relish my freedom. Whatever I’d had in mind, I hadn’t touched the files since the day I exiled them in the credenza.

Behind the door were two drawers. Behind them were boxes containing the files, as well a box of Lion-Harris letterhead I used occasionally when corresponding on publications. The name added creditability. I opened the top drawer. In it, I found a file labeled “Proposals.”  I thumbed through them and removed a bound presentation. It was Lori’s first new business pitch—the effort spawning The Incident. I turned the pages, reading patches there and there, reminded of how well it read, of the fine job Lori had done. Toward the end, it contained brief individual biographies of the account team we had planned to assign to the client. Lori was there, her reward for having worked on the presentation. I scanned her biography, but it didn’t tell me anything more than I already knew:

Lori Baer, Account Executive

Ms. Baer, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, manages three diverse accounts at Trumpet Advertising. For Gatewood Graphics, our oldest client, she designed and manages a lead program Gatewood credits with boosting business nearly 20 percent to date. She developed and manages an extensive print campaign for Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Prentice Clinic for women. She also manages our Chicago Magazine account, where she is in charge of circulation sales.

Reading it reminded me how bright and hard-driving a young woman she had been. The Lori of three years ago bore little resemblance to the Lori I talked with at the wake. Yes, she looked the same, still slim, beautiful, tempting, if I allowed her to be. But her spirit had vanished, blotted out in the shadow of Chuck’s death—and Jerdan Marsh. I couldn’t help thinking she had acted tentative, unsure of herself, and also irritable, bitchy, and curt. I suspected it might have been a veneer hiding what was actually at play—fear. She was afraid of something, and I thought it might be Marsh. One thing was certain:  The Lori of today and the Lori of yesterday were two different women. If I could understand what had transformed her into the Mrs. Gatewood drained of sorrow and tears, a person who claimed no interest or involvement in the affairs of her husband, I might unravel who killed Chuck.

I conducted a perfunctory search of the other material, but I knew I’d find nothing except memories that I was in no mood to indulge. I tapped a riff on the desk and then picked up the phone and called Skip Holler at Lion-Harris, the agency that had brought Trumpet.

A young voice answered. I introduced myself and asked for Skip. She put me on hold.

Skip—his full name was Arthur Lyle Holler, but Skip appropriately described his personality—was the prototypical advertising man, which is not to say he was a bad fellow. He was intelligent and personable. His demeanor and opinions were malleable, enabling him to form his manner around the contour of any client. His ability marked him a consummate ad man and more than justified the brand, Skip. As for knowing the real Skip Holler, well I doubted even his wife and kids had met that individual. His cover of unrelenting congeniality and chameleon blending were prodigious to the point they eclipsed his reality.

We were as opposite as the equator and the poles, for I have always been who I am, transparently obvious. I’ve generally have been content with the fact. So why had I sold out to a guy who existed as an enigma?

Money.

Skip and his agency offered me more of the stuff than other competitors. He offered me a pile of cash outright and a percentage of Lion-Harris’ business, a considerable lifetime annuity, cream on their already lucrative pie. Partially, too, I understood fully, it was for my agreement to subsume the name Trumpet.

Money and what money bought:  total freedom.

It was a beautiful combination, and Skip Holler, as shallow as he might have been, had bestowed more of it on me than anybody else. I had only to bury my creation.

In a while, though, the money and freedom alchemized into lead. Remorse chipped away at me. I wasn’t politicking beyond High Hills. I wasn’t writing. The time came when I couldn’t sit at my desk for longer than ten minutes. And in those rare and tiny moments, I would recriminate. “You sold for this:  to insult and depress yourself?”  Then I would construct a great edifice of excuse. The planks were:  It takes time to get started. Writing isn’t easy. The house requires tending. I’m too old to launch another career.

Truth was, I had sold for the freedom to start over again as another person, and I was still me, still writing about and debating the merits of advertising, and not much else. I felt to me like a failure, and I feared Beth smelled it on me. The topper, eloquently driven home to me Friday night by Beth and family and punctuated Saturday, was that time, the ephemeral concoction I could never trade for or acquire more of, was fast fleeing me.

It was as if I had been wallowing in those thoughts for an eternity, but it was less than thirty seconds until Skip greeted me.

“Game,” he said cheerily, “checking up on us?”

I rarely called Lion-Harris. When I did, I was usually gathering information for an article and spoke with a member of the staff who could actually help me.

I forced a laugh for his benefit. “Skip, I wonder if you’d do me a favor? I’m interested in the personnel records of Lori Gatewood, Lori Baer when she worked for Trumpet.”

“I read about poor Chuck,” he said in perfectly pitched sympathy. “I know you two were friends.”

I thanked him for his consideration.

“You probably know you aren’t the only one who wants to see those records. The police called about them yesterday. A woman.”  Mavic, I thought. “We’re pulling them from storage. They should be here tomorrow.”

They were old, useless files, dead files, stored in a cold, dark warehouse in the west suburbs; and I imagined them trussed together and arriving in Skip’s office as a gray cadaver, a sight only a lawyer could enjoy, and, appropriately, for whom they were preserved.

“Would it be possible to fax a copy of her employment application to me?”  Though I had hired Lori quickly and had been deficient in checking her background, Trumpet did have a formal procedure that required a completed employment application. It was a standard form. I wanted to refresh my memory regarding her work history, and get the names and addresses of earlier employers, as well as the personal references I hadn’t bothered to check.

“I’ll have a copy made before we release the files to the police. They didn’t say anything about not sharing the information. Anything else I can do for you, Gabe?”

“Thanks, Skip, no.”  I gave him my fax number.

“I had few calls from the press about Chuck. I had only good things to say about him. His death, it was a real lost.” 

Detecting glimmering sincerity, I responded, “Yes, it was.”  Then we exchanged farewells with the knowledge we wouldn’t speak for a long time, if all went well.

I popped into the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee.

I finished one cup in front of the sink as I gazed out the window at the activity in the backyard and park. Squirrels darted from tree to tree. A couple of women sped walked along the path. I wanted to dash out and join them to make up for my truncated morning run.

Instead, I carried a second cup to the office. I called Champaign directory assistance and got the number for the University of Illinois’ Records office. I figured a transcript would list the names of her professors. Any of them might be able to tell me about Lori as a student, and perhaps even something of her life before she arrived in Champaign.

A woman answered. Her voice creaked like desiccated wood, imparting the impression she’d been at her desk from the day of the school’s founding.

I introduced myself and stretched the truth a bit thinking I might not get what I needed otherwise. I hoped universities didn’t send transcripts to just anybody who could dial a phone and ask for one. “I’m a partner in Lion-Harris. We’re a large advertising agency up here in Chicago. You may have heard of us.”

“Never did, sorry to say.”

“Well, we’re about to hire a University of Illinois graduate, but before we do we’d like to confirm her credentials. Can you help me with that?”

“Depends on what they are.”

“Her transcript.”

“If you’ll provide her name and year of graduation, I’ll be quite pleased to look up the information for you. What is her name?”

I gave her Lori’s maiden name and spelled it for her.

“I should have no trouble locating her records, Mr. Angellini. However, I won’t be able to get back to you until later today, perhaps tomorrow morning. Of course, I’ll also require your request in writing before I can release any student information to you.”

“I’ll ask my assistant to draw up a request and fax it to you immediately.”

She provided her fax number. I thanked her, hung up, rocked in my chair, enjoyed the view. Finally, I was doing something to find Chuck’s killer. And I was ready to do more. It was time to visit Gatewood Graphics.

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