Charles Carmine punched in his key code to the Cottage Hill Police Department on the rusting metal keypad with rubber buttons. He shuffled through the door, through the hallways made of cracking black tiles and peeling walls that hadn’t been renovated since the station was built nearly thirty years ago. His hair was the only thing about him that looked to be in order because it wasn’t long enough to get disheveled. His ornamental tie was loose, his top button undone, and his dark blue suit had seen one too many workdays.
He made his way around the corner of the station, passed the room where a few officers were typing reports, passed the watch commander’s office, and up the circular stairs that inhabited a square building. It was 2:00 AM on a Thursday morning. There was no traffic but he still took his time coming in. He had always felt he was a night owl but recently felt he couldn’t get enough sleep. He was just about to open a brand new bottle of Jameson when the watch commander called him.
“Hey Chuck, we need you down here. I can’t give you too many details right now ‘cause information is still coming out but we need you. How soon can you be here?” The watch commander, John “Mick” Conlon, and Carmine had gone through the academy together. Carmine liked investigating, Mick liked commanding. To his credit, unlike many other officers who want to make rank, Mick was a true leader.
Carmine looked down at his hand, wrapped around the cap of the bottle. If he took a quick sip, he couldn’t go into work. Department policy. You cannot have any alcohol in your system on duty. They’d have to call the next detective. “I’ll be there in thirty.”
Carmine walked into the investigations office and was surrounded by currently uninhabited cubicles. He was the only one called in. He began to brew a pot of coffee and took his mug, inscribed with “Cottage Hill Homicide – Our Day Starts When Yours Ends,” down to Mick’s office. The chief of police was very outspoken about his feelings towards Carmine’s dark humor and the appearance it gave the department. Carmine also knew the chief hadn’t done any real police work in his career that wasn’t behind a desk and he couldn’t get fired for a coffee mug, so Carmine made it a point to use it at work.
He slowly walked down the stairs and as he passed report writing, he felt eyes on him. He looked into the room and saw five officers about the room, all looking at him wide-eyed.
“What?” He asked.
They all turned back to their work.
He continued to Mick’s office and stood in the doorway. Mick was shuffling paperwork and didn’t realize Carmine had come to the door. Next to Mick’s office was the office of Sergeant Lewis. Lewis saw Carmine and immediately got up and came into Mick’s office. Mick turned to address Lewis when he saw Carmine. Carmine continued drinking his coffee.
“Sergeant, why don’t you fill in our detective here,” Mick said.
“Sure, sure,” mumbled Lewis. Lewis pushed his palms into his eyes and wiped his face, looking like he was close to having a panic attack. “We found a body.”
“I gathered as much,” said Carmine.
“It was located under the Sugar Creek bridge on sixty-four…”
Carmine stuck his head out from his shoulders. “And… c’mon Lewis, out with it.”
“It was found in the trunk of a burned-out car,” said Lewis.
“So it’s crispy,” Carmine said with a smirk.
Lewis looked down at his poorly polished boots. He was the type of guy who had all the tools to keep his uniform neat and tidy but didn’t seem to have the common sense to make it all come together. One day his buttons would be shined but his boots would be scuffed. The next, his boots would be shined but his tie would be too short. “Looks like death from a gunshot and then the body was burned by whoever killed her.”
Carmine was growing impatient. “Didn’t you do a stint as a Dick before you got your stripes, Lewis? When was it found? Any witnesses? What evidence have you got? You gotta paint a picture for me and so far you’ve only told me it’s on canvas.”
Mick rose from his desk chair and patted Carmine on the shoulder. “We’ll be right back, Lewis,” he said before motioning for Carmine to follow.
They reached the other end of the hallway when Carmine turned to Mick. “Okay, can you tell me what “Blewit” in there can’t?”
“Cut him some slack, Chuck, he’s still coming into his stripes,” said Mick.
“I don’t cut supervisors any slack. They don’t cut me any. So, what’s the deal with this vic?” Carmine sipped the last bit of coffee from his mug, grimacing as coffee grounds swished across his tongue.
“We need you out over at sixty-fourth and sugar creek. Under the bridge, Joe Citizen called in a burned-out car that appeared suspicious. As you know, there’s no access road to get down there so whoever brought the car down there knew it wasn’t coming back out. Bonilla and Sackett were the R/Os. They advised the car was burned out but something didn’t feel right. They looked around the car and tapped on the trunk and it popped open. Inside was a body. We’re working on an ID now. I also called in Bekowsky. You two can tag-team this thing. I haven’t been to the scene yet but I’ll meet you over there. Bekowsky should be there already. He went straight to the scene when I called him in.”
“You got it, Mick.”
Mick returned to his office and Carmine headed out to his department take-home car, a dark blue 2011 Ford Crown Victoria, the last model year before Ford discontinued them. There were two left on the department’s fleet of vehicles, Carmine’s and Bekowsky’s. All the others were decommissioned and replaced with Explorers or Tahoes.
Carmine pulled out of his parking spot and drove towards the scene. Cottage Hill sat about ten miles west of Chicago and had multiple main streets that ran from the city all the way to the far western suburbs. With that, it had a mix of everything. Millionaires in mansions, homeless that slept under the viaducts, parks filled with the laughter of happy children who unknowingly find dirty needles from junkies. It was a small city next to a big one. Carmine thought to himself of where he’d be if he took the job with the Chicago Police Department instead of Cottage Hill. He saw great benefits from both. It was too late to change now anyway but sometimes he wondered how his life would’ve been different.
Driving down sixty-four, he came to a massive eight-lane intersection with Sugar Creek just on the other side. He could see the blue and red LED lights bouncing off the buildings and saw the glisten from the yellow crime scene tape. He pulled his Crown Vic into the neighboring parking lot and saw two rookies standing on either side of the bridge, securing the scene.
He took the long sidewalk that wound down to the scene under the bridge. He gave his name and badge to the officer who stood at the boundary with the crime scene log and lifted the tape. Evidence technicians had quarantined the area, snapping a few remaining photos before they’d get into the dirty work of reconstruction and lifting whatever evidence they could find. As Carmine approached the car, his nostrils twitched at the smell of burnt flesh, a distinct smell that once experienced was never forgotten.
It was a red Pontiac G6, discontinued since Pontiac went under a decade earlier. The car had only a few dabs of red left as the rest had been charred black by the flames licking away at the shell. The interior was dusty black with the dash and other plastic components solidified into new shapes after being melted from the extreme heat in the cabin. The rims were on the concrete, the tires had melted away into the ground. The concrete was still warm and a black halo surrounded the car. The evidence technicians had set up lights to illuminate the scene and the graffiti and markings painted into the bridge were vibrant, colorful, almost artistic. The bridge went directly overhead and the creek separated the east and west sides with the car shelved on the east.
Carmine walked around to the back of the car where Bekowsky was waiting, pen in hand, scribbling into the small pad in his hand. Bekowsky had a dark blue three piece suit with an ornamental tie over his white shirt and brown shoes. He reminded Carmine of what detectives in old LAPD shows would look like, minus the bowler hats. He would give Bekowsky grief over his appearance but it reminded Carmine of the Golden Age of detective work, so Carmine kind of liked the look.
“Stefan,” said Carmine.
“Carmine,” nodded Bekowsky.
“Drove straight in, huh?”
Bekowsky pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and lit one with a zippo. “I was up already. You?”
“Same, just needed a pick-me-up,” said Carmine. “Whattaya got?”
Bekowsky took a long draw from his Marlboro Red cigarette. “Nothing yet, ETs are still gathering evidence. I’ve just been noting the scene. Car’s got no front plate and the trunk is open, so the rear plate, if there is one, is looking at the sky.”
Carmine dropped his gaze at Bekowsky. “You really think there’s gonna be a plate on this thing?”
Bekowsky shrugged, “They could’ve gotten sloppy.”
Carmine considered it. Anyone could get sloppy. And with how far forensic technology has come since his first days on the job, the tiniest trace left behind could be enough for a conviction.
Carmine walked around to the front of the car, just in front of the driver’s seat. He looked into the slot under the windshield for the VIN. Nothing, just as he expected. There are seventeen characters in a Vehicle Identification Number and he hoped he’d be able to see at least the remnants of what would have been there despite the flames. “I’ll have to check the door,” he mumbled to himself.
“Hm?” Bekowsky asked.
“Nothing,” said Carmine.
“Hey, Detective,” said Parker, an evidence technician with a camera in his hand. “Ya mind?” He shooed Carmine away from his shot.
“Lemme get a few more shots here and we’ll have some forensic work to do. Then, we can release the scene to you,” said Parker.
Carmine had worked with Parker before. He wasn’t the best ET the department had but he got the job done. Carmine recalled when Parker had first become an ET and was processing one of his crime scenes, fresh out of training. Parker was leaning over the deceased victim of a stabbing and lost his footing. Carmine snapped a personal photo of Parker as he laid next to the stiff in horror. Luckily, most of the evidence was still on the victim and Parker had only disturbed his clean pair of pants.
Carmine walked back over to Bekowsky who was trying to get every little bit of information he could from one of the assisting technicians. They both watched as the technicians started working on different parts of the car and the scene. Finally, Parker motioned to them that the scene was released to the detectives.
Carmine and Bekowsky looked in the trunk and saw a charred corpse. The body was thin, almost all the skin was gone and what was left was blackened. They called over Parker.
“Did you find anything on the body?” Carmine asked.
“We found what was left of a bag or purse in the backseat. Had some stuff in it. Wallet, ash from what I imagine to be old receipts and cards, there was an ID but it was melted down so no luck there. Best I could get was this,” he held out a half-melted debit card with the first name “Courtney.”
“It wasn’t a robbery gone bad, they’d have taken all this with them. You could get a few good uses out of the cards before someone reports them,” said Bekowsky.
Carmine nodded in agreement. He walked to the side of the door looking for the VIN but again saw nothing. He returned to Bekowsky. “At least we have a place to start. The car has no VIN, no plate, nothing to identify it on the surface. We’re not even sure if our vic is male or female although, with the name ‘Courtney,’ I imagine female or at least one is involved,” said Carmine. He grabbed the card from Bekowsky and saw there weren’t many numbers left, only the first four. Not enough to get a bank to sift through files in a timely manner. They’d have to get more information on the card before they could subpoena the bank for records. With how melted the card was, Carmine thought to himself, they wouldn’t know which bank to send the paperwork to.
Carmine worked his way around the car. Most of the paint was gone aside from little bits of red that the flames hadn’t peeled away. Pontiacs stood out on the roadway. They weren’t in production anymore so they were either in mint condition from an owner that took care of them or they were hand-me-down pieces of crap that always had the odor of weed pouring out the windows and were riddled with equipment violations. To a patrol car, they guaranteed contraband or an arrest.
Carmine pulled on the driver’s door and it creaked open. If he didn’t know any better, Carmine would think it was going to turn to ash in his hand. He pulled the handle and it snapped off. He tossed it on the roof and pulled the door open further. There wasn’t much left of the interior. The seats were fried, the panels were melted, and what had been carpeted floor was now a hole to the cement underneath but with jagged metallic edges. Any DNA evidence that could’ve been left behind by the perpetrators was unidentifiable ash. Carmine eyed the driver’s seat, which was reclined almost all the way back. Usually a sign of an obese driver, it was also the way every gangbanger, skinny or fat, would have the seat ever since nineties rap videos popularized the look.
Bekowsky popped open the passenger’s side door and went to the glove box. A partial Pontiac owner’s manual with burnt crinkly edges was all that was legible. The car was barren. No bullet casings, no wallet left behind other than the burnt one in the backseat, no way to identify the car. Carmine was hoping this wasn’t going to be another cold case that got thrown in as another unsolved homicide statistic. He hated seeing people get away with this and it was becoming more and more common. News channels and politicians were painting police as untrustworthy maniacs on power trips. Few, if any, witnesses in crimes were coming forward to help police and everyone was suffering because of it. Witnesses could make or break cases and with no witnesses, the unsolved number kept growing.
Carmine walked back to the trunk of the car and looked in. The body looked mummified, almost like it had been shrink-wrapped in places. Bekowsky’s brow furrowed as he looked down at the corpse.
“They were wrapped in a garbage bag,” Parker started, pointing to the top half of the body. “When the car was burning, the bag melted down onto the body before burning up. However, as you can see here,” he pointed down to the legs, “the body wasn’t completely bagged up and some skin was left uncovered. The way the body was placed, the left hand was under the body where it lay. By laying on it, the rest of the body protected the hand from most of the flames. The victim was black. There’s also a tattoo on the back of the hand, a small ‘Q’ with a red heart in front of a red rose.”
“Queen of Hearts,” said Carmine.
Bekowsky tapped his pen on his notepad. “Garbage bag?”
Carmine looked at the body, the horrid smell of burnt flesh engulfing his nostrils. “We have another crime scene.”
Bekowsky nodded but Parker looked at Carmine with confusion.
“They were wrapped up,” Carmine continued, “because they were moved. Parker, did you find any signs of someone trying to claw their way out of the trunk?”
“No,” Parker said, uncertain if he had missed something.
“Anyone who thought they were going to die in the trunk of a car would try to claw their way out. They’d be kicking on the sides, the top, screaming, anything to get someone’s attention or somehow get the trunk to pop open. No sign of that means they weren’t conscious. It’s likely they were killed somewhere else, wrapped up for transport, and brought here where they’d burn the car,” said Carmine. “Has anyone called the coroner yet?”
“I’ll call now,” said Bekowsky, stepping away and keying up his radio.
“They can give us the definitive cause of death, which I imagine isn’t going to be smoke inhalation, and we can go from there,” said Carmine. “Once we can get an ID, we can get started on motive, suspects, and locations.”
Parker leaned over, scanning the interior of the trunk more intently.
“Sound good, Parker?” Carmine asked.
Carmine walked over to the edge of the scene where a beat officer was standing next to the crime scene tape. The officer stood with a wide stance, his hands tucked inside his vest. He leaned back slightly on a guard rail to maintain his posture but provide some relief to his back. Carmine remembered standing in the exact same way at the many crime scenes he’d covered when he was in patrol nearly ten years prior, though his hands clasped around his belt buckle as he didn’t wear an outer vest.
The patrol officer’s head raised up.
“You know if any of those businesses are open?” asked Carmine, pointing to the small strip of businesses ranging from nail salons to banks.
Michaels rotated at the hips and looked over his shoulder. “Don’t think so. Teasers across the street has signs that say they have cameras.”
Carmine looked over at the local 4:00 AM bar, Teasers. Known as the home of blackouts and brawls, it was the last stop of the night for many batters who had already struck out elsewhere.
As he reached the edge of the parking lot, about half a block away from the scene, he saw the sign that hung on a light pole. “This area under 24-hour video surveillance.” Carmine looked back at the scene. No one from inside the bar would’ve seen the car under the bridge and it was unlikely they saw any smoke from the fire. Between traffic, trees, and other businesses, Carmine’s hopes of any witnesses started to diminish.
He walked into the Chicago-themed bar, having come here when he was younger and now seeing that not much had changed. Newspaper headlines of the ‘85 Bears’ Super Bowl run, the Blackhawks three Stanley Cups, and now the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series win were framed on the walls next to autographed jerseys and random items of Windy City memorabilia. The place smelled of stale Old Style beer and mold. Carmine recalled taking a report here when he was a rookie where a drunk had made off with a framed and autographed Michael Jordan jersey.
Carmine locked eyes with Max, the old bartender with white hair that flowed down to his shoulders. He wore a black long-sleeve flannel shirt tucked into his acid-washed jeans with suspenders holding them up on his thin frame. Max liked the police, despite his bar’s reputation for fights and drug sales. Max had used some cocaine and speed years ago but since his heart attack, he’s slowed down and focused on his family business. Max felt he’d never gotten a beating from a cop he didn’t deserve and he respected them for it. On Thursdays and Fridays, despite city ordinance saying that all business establishments are to close at 2:00 AM, Teasers typically stayed open until 4:00 AM. So long as Max kept things under control, the police looked the other way.
“Carmine,” said Max. “Good to see ya again. What can I help you with?”
“Hello, Max. We have an ongoing incident under the bridge. Does your outside camera still work?” asked Carmine.
Max shook his head and locked his arms out on the bar. “Nope, unfortunately, it does not. Cheap piece of shit blew after the first rain. You’d think with it being marketed as an outdoor surveillance camera, they’d manufacture it to withstand the most basic elements of Chicago weather. Thing was toasted a month after I got it.”
Shit, Carmine thought to himself. “Do you know if any of the neighboring businesses have cameras?”
“Just the bank,” said Max. “I think they just cover the front door and the drive-up ATMs. Might be worth a shot. Though, you’d have to check in the morning when they open.”
“Got it,” Carmine sighed. “Did you hear or see anything in the last few hours? Anyone mention anything about a red Pontiac?”
Max thought for a second. “Nothing that stood out,” he shrugged. “If I hear anything, I’ll be sure to call ya. I still got your card.”
Carmine nodded and headed towards the door.
“Hey, Chuck. Sorry about Laura. She was a magnificent woman. God calls the best angels early,” said Max as he bowed his head.
“Thanks,” said Carmine.
Carmine walked outside and stood under the golden street light. He looked down at his watch, 4:15 AM. “God calls the best angels early,” Carmine said softly to himself. It had been eight months since Laura was called. He remembered that morning vividly. Carmine had been at his desk for twenty minutes when the phone rang. Cottage Hill Memorial Hospital was calling to tell him his wife had been in an accident and that he needed to get to the hospital immediately. Without telling anyone, he rushed to his car and flew lights and sirens. He ran straight to her room and got there just as she left him.
What they had initially thought was a traffic accident only ended up being part of the story. As Laura was driving into work via a neighboring town, a group of gang members began firing at each other from opposite sides of the block in a disputed area that neither faction could yet claim as their own. A stray round went through the window of Laura’s car and struck her in the side. She then lost control of her car and went head-on into a light pole. One of the shooters had just been released on bail for unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.
The following night when he got home, he looked at his bed in awe. He didn’t want to disturb it, not wanting Laura’s scent to fall off the sheets and pillows. He still slept in his lazy boy chair in the living room, just outside their bedroom door.
Carmine coughed and wiped his eyes, pushing away his thoughts. He started walking back towards the crime scene where a tow truck was standing by waiting to pull the car up from the viaduct. Bekowsky was walking up the sidewalk.
“Any luck at Teasers?” he asked.
Carmine shook his head. They stood next to each other, pausing for a moment. They knew they were going to be busy but a slight pause, even just a moment for a deep breath, helped keep them focused and relaxed. Tactical breathing, they were taught, kept you alive.
They watched as the coroner took custody of the body from the trunk, loading it into a black bag with a gurney underneath. Carmine and Bekowsky looked on as the two deputy coroners struggled to be gentle enough to remove the body in one piece but forceful enough to load it properly. They had both seen this done countless times but not with the added obstacle of burnt ashy flesh crumbling at first touch. After the body was loaded up, the tow truck got to work hooking up the car and transporting it to the police department’s evidence garage.
Two days had passed. Carmine walked through the secure door at the rear of the station after hearing the beeps from putting in his keycode. The morning of the incident, he’d checked in with the bank and the associate, an early twenties blonde with the body of a Playboy centerfold in a turtleneck, advised that she didn’t have access to the camera system but would have her manager pull footage. On his way in, Parker called Carmine and told him the manager had dropped off the footage and placed a copy on his desk.
Bekowsky had two cups of coffee in his hands as Carmine walked into the dicks’ office. Carmine nodded a thank you and sat down at his desk as Bekowsky stood next to him. Carmine popped in the compact disc and clicked around until he saw the video come to life. He fast-forwarded through the video, looking for the rhombic red tail lights with a white bulb near the bottom of the Pontiac. The footage overlooked a portion of the street but only a tiny sliver of the sidewalk next to the viaduct could be seen.
“Not the best,” said Bekowsky, sipping from his cup.
Carmine grumbled in agreement. They watched the video all the way through one time seeing nothing that stood out. Carmine restarted the video and ran the fast-forward mechanism at a slower rate.
“There,” said Carmine, stopping the footage and pointing to the corner near the viaduct. He backtracked the footage and they watched again, both moving closer to the screen.
On the screen was a slight movement near the viaduct, barely more than a shadow, but it was clear that something large and solid was inching slowly through the concrete side of the viaduct. Carmine looked at the corner of the screen and marked the time of 11:57 PM.
“They darked out,” he said. “Does the viaduct have another entrance? Is there another opening north of there, maybe in Sheffield?”
“I’ll take a drive up there but I don’t think Sheffield has an opening,” said Bekowsky. He reached over to his desk and grabbed his keys. “I’ll check it out and let you know. Oh, here’s the preliminary autopsy report, just came in,” said Bekowsky, pulling a manila envelope folder along with his keys.
Carmine tore it open, skipping through the medical jargon and diagnoses that he didn’t understand and went straight to the conclusion, scanning the back page.
“Cause of Death,” he started.
“Gunshot wound,” Bekowsky finished, reading the report over Carmine’s shoulder.
Carmine suspected as much. Anyone would’ve heard the blood-curdling screams coming from a person being torched alive. With no escape or claw marks inside the trunk, he never doubted the vic would have to have been dead or unconscious.
“I’m gonna trace the viaduct and see if there are any openings that could fit a Pontiac. You let me know if there’s anything else in that report that stands out, yeah?” said Bekowsky.
“Ten-Four,” said Carmine as Bekowsky ducked out the door. Carmine continued through the report. The victim was female, black, approximately twenty-two years old, still under the name “Jane Doe.” Carmine recalled the small tattoo on her hand, the Queen of Hearts. Not an uncommon tattoo idea, especially among young couples destined to split, but usually they didn’t have a rose behind them. Most were standalone designs. Carmine pulled up the Chicago Police database on arrestees and entered the information they knew plus the tattoo on the left hand. The database listed all markers and identifiers from scars to lazy eyes to tattoos. He found nearly two hundred suspects, most female, with the Queen tattoo. He sifted through about thirty photos before he came upon one of the few that had the Queen of Hearts with the same style rose that he’d seen on the vic’s hand. It even had red on the heart and the rose, further showing that the victim was light-skinned as the color could be seen and wasn’t just outlined. The arrestee was named Felicia Adams.
The name didn’t ring a bell with Carmine. She could’ve been from the city or maybe an innocent victim although, given the circumstances, it was unlikely. It’s rare that innocents get executed and have their bodies burned under the viaduct. Carmine ran her through his computer and found she had two priors, one for possession of crack cocaine and one for soliciting unlawful business, being the mouth for dope sales, both in Chicago.
Carmine pulled up her two booking photos with Chicago Police, the first for crack and the second for unlawful business, the latter arrest being only a year prior. She may have been in possession of crack for the first arrest but she wasn’t using. In her second arrest four years later, Felicia was beautiful, young, with light chocolate skin and a bright smile despite being in central lock-up. Crack addicts have a distinct look about them. Disheveled, fidgety, dangerously thin, scabs on their skin, and horrible dental hygiene. They can be twenty years old and look on the verge of fifty. Felicia had been selling, maybe even taking the fall for someone else, but she wasn’t using. Carmine looked up her most recent address in the city. He’d make the notification to the family and see what information he could find.
Carmine studied her mugshot, slightly saddened by how a pretty young girl could get caught up in such a dangerous way of life but it happened every day. Many young kids in the poverty-stricken areas of the city see the hardworking man or woman struggling to pay bills with his or her job and then see the drug dealers in nice cars wearing nice clothes. It becomes hard to tell a kid that it’s better to struggle legally than be a well-fed, fancy-clothed criminal. Not many songs glorify hard work at the plant but too many glorify selling dope and toting guns. Plus, drug dealing only requires on-the-job experience. No prior education required.
But who was Courtney? The question played over and over again in his head. Was he or she a friend? Boyfriend or girlfriend? Sibling? Her murderer? Or simply the unlucky owner of the burned-out car that became Felicia’s fiery coffin?
Carmine didn’t have much to go on. Felicia’s record didn’t have any recorded accomplices at the time of her two arrests. That could be because of lazy police work where the arresting officers didn’t want to write out the names of all the bangers that were present or she got arrested on her own. Carmine was leading towards the former. Bangers got hooked up every day and if they identified and recorded each one on every single arrest record, the city would run out of storage server room. Carmine was still under the impression she’d been arrested on possession while covering for someone else. He knew she hadn’t been using.
He double-clicked a file on his laptop and pulled up the Chicago Police record server. It listed every arrest that had occurred in the Chicago Metropolitan area and more. First, he went under the “Arrestees” tab and input the name, Courtney. Too many results, both male and female. He clicked around until he found “Field Interviews.” Field Interviews were a fancy way of saying Stop Cards. Any time the police came into contact with you for possible enforcement action, they were required to fill out a stop card that gave identifying information. Name, date of birth, cell phone number, address, clothing description, physical description, known associates, the like. Some were filled to the nines, some had just the bare bones and nothing else. It was one of the most effective ways to identify and keep track of known gang members. The identities and descriptions went into a searchable database which led to the conclusion of many different cases. It was helpful if you knew how to use it.
Carmine typed in Felicia’s information. Her address said she’d lived in the Austin neighborhood on the west side, a gang-infested area known for its violence and narcotics sales. He narrowed the search to that district and he saw three separate interview cards. On the first, she’d been stopped for being in the park after hours. No ticket issued, just identified and carded. The second was being detained as the passenger in a traffic stop. The third was for loitering outside of a convenience store after being asked to leave, no arrest made.
Carmine read through the convenience store card dated three years prior. Even drug dealers got cold. In Chicago’s brutal winters, dealers would move to a warmer location, typically a convenience store or nearby restaurant, where they could have the young blood wait outside for customers and call in when they had a sale. Some store owners didn’t like having the drugs in their businesses, others didn’t like the gang members. Per the stop card, the store owner must’ve only mentioned the gang members as no drugs were found on Felicia. He read through the brief narrative on the card and continued scanning. Under “Known Associates,” he found what he was looking for. “Courtney Williams, 20 YOA, Male/Black, Black puffy jacket, black jeans, white shoes, known Kostner King – Kostner / Madison.”
Taking his information, Carmine ran Courtney Williams. He found what he expected. Multiple priors for possession, possession with intent to distribute, aggravated battery, soliciting unlawful business. Williams’ file had gang hits and he was a parolee. Williams had numerous listed addresses, likely hopping from one location to another whenever he got arrested but Carmine saw one address that would get used more often than the others. Not far from Kostner and Madison, his listed gang territory, Carmine imagined that’d be the address Williams was actively staying at, using the other addresses to throw off police.
Carmine picked up his phone. “Bekowsky, I found Courtney Williams. Known banger with plenty of priors. I got an address on the west side.”
“Good. I found the only nearby entrance the car could’ve fit through. It’s on the northern border of Sheffield, a tiny little viaduct entrance that’s meant for the maintenance vehicles but you could fit that Pontiac through easily enough,” Bekowsky said. The wind was rushing past the mouthpiece as he was driving with the window open. “It’s about three miles north of our scene. Would take some time to slowly drive a car down but there doesn’t seem to be any obstructions once you’re in.”
“Think it’s worth tracing the route?” Carmine asked.
“I walked it a little bit, I can’t imagine they had enough room to drop anything off or leave anything behind. They knew they had to be quick. After they dumped the car and set it, they probably continued walking south or possibly walked up the west side of the bank into the tree line,” said Bekowsky.
“Shit,” Carmine mumbled. They didn’t have much solid evidence that revealed who their murderer was. Nothing that could tie them directly at least. Carmine didn’t expect much to be found on the trail of the viaduct, it was likely only used as a quick route to their destination.
“You find anything on our vic?” asked Bekowsky.
“Yes. Why don’t you swing by and pick me up? I got a lead we can check out.”
Carmine ashed his cigarette out the passenger’s side window of Bekowsky’s car. Carmine felt odd sitting in the passenger seat at work. He was always the one driving. It was nice not having to focus on the road for once.
“I really wish you wouldn’t smoke in the car,” said Bekowsky, his mouth tightening with disgust.
“It’s not like it didn’t smell like smoke before I sparked it. You know this was Pinko’s car before they gave it to detectives, right? Guy smoked like a chimney,” said Carmine.
Bekowsky nodded. “I can’t do anything about the stale smoke but I can usually do something about keeping the fresh smoke out,” he said pointing to the bottle of Febreze that lay in the back seat.
“I’ll be sure to give her a spray when we’re back at the station,” Carmine chuckled. He took a long drag of his cigarette and tossed it out the window.
“Which place is it?” Bekowsky asked.
“This one here on the right. Park down the street a ways,” said Carmine.
Bekowsky threw the car into park and the two stepped onto the cracked and decaying Chicago sidewalk. Most of the houses around had occupants although many had boarded up windows making them look as if they’d been foreclosed and forgotten. He found the numbers to the house, 4308 W. Monroe. As they approached the house, Carmine saw an empty lot where young kids were playing in a burnt-out car. He hoped each of the kids had received their tetanus shots. Across the street, a black man who looked to be in his fifties wearing blue coveralls and a flat cap was working under the hood of his mint condition early 2000s model silver Chevrolet Impala. The man looked up at the two officers and nodded at them. Carmine and Bekowsky returned the nod. The man went back under the hood.
“I asked for CPD to send a squad over here,” said Bekowksy as he scanned up and down the street.
“They’re not coming,” said Carmine. “They’re too busy. If we need real help, they’ll come. Until then, they got jobs stacked.”
Bekowsky continued looking up and down the block, eyeing the various houses and all their windows. Bekowsky heard the sound of police sirens in the background but they seemed to make the children nearby giggle louder.
Carmine walked up the steps of the house and read the names on the mailboxes, wanting to make contact with the right resident. The house was a two-flat. Neither name read “Adams” so he buzzed the first. A woman in her forties came to the door. She had light green eyes, a dark complexion, with light brown hair. She was thin but not healthy. Her skin seemed to hang loosely over her bones and veins.
“I don’t got no warrants, I took care of those a while back,” she said.
Carmine and Bekowsky looked at each other with confusion. Bekowsky spoke first. “Ma’am, we’re not here about any warrants and we aren’t too concerned if you have any. Do you know Felicia Adams?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed as she stood in the slightly cracked doorway, peering out at them. “She ain’t here. Why, what she do?”
“How do you know her, ma’am?” asked Carmine.
“She’s my daughter, why? I don’t have any bond money. She’s gonna have to get an I-Bond or wait for court,” said the woman.
“What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Can we come in to speak with you, Mrs. Winters? I’m Detective Carmine and this is Detective Bekowsky.”
The woman shook her head. “No, you cannot. Nobody gonna see police coming into my place.”
“Ma’am, the reason we need to speak with you is something you may want to be inside in private for,” said Bekowsky.
“This is private enough.”
Bekowsky looked at Carmine and shrugged. The woman wasn’t giving them much choice. Carmine cleared his throat.
“Ma’am, Felicia was killed. Her body was found in our city in the trunk of a car.”
The woman stood there motionless. Her mouth opened as if to speak but nothing came out. She stared down at the porch. The words hung in the air between them as they could still hear the children laughing in the distance.
“Ma’am?” Carmine broke the silence.
Talia Winters looked up, “Is there anything else, officers?”
Expecting to see tears or even wet eyes, Carmine and Bekowsky were surprised to see a blank face looking up at them. No tears, no wetness in her eyes.
“Do you know if anyone had anything against Felicia? Any rivals she had or anyone who would’ve wanted to hurt her?” asked Carmine.
“I haven’t talked to Felicia in almost three years. When she was thirteen, she started hanging out with some dealers. I had a bit of a problem then and, well, she was running ‘errands’ for me. When she got busted, it was because she was picking up for me. I was so blinded that I was angry at her for getting locked up ‘cause she lost my money and I had to go out and buy myself,” Winters said. “When Felicia got home, I was high as a kite. She left that night and I hadn’t seen her since.” Winters was looking down at her feet, hanging her head.
“This is her last known address. She hasn’t been staying here for nearly three years?” asked Bekowsky.
“That’s right,” said Winters.
“Do you know where she’s been staying?”
“Around here somewhere. Every once in a while I’d see her with a group of people at one of the convenience stores but I was too ashamed to try to speak to her.” Tears started to fill Winters’ eyes.
“Do you know who she’s been hanging around with?” Asked Bekowsky.
Winters shook her head.
“Do you know anyone by the name of ‘Courtney Williams?’” asked Carmine.
Winters nodded. “He lives a few blocks over. Corner house. He’s a dealer but I haven’t seen him in a while. Ever since Felicia got locked up, he wouldn’t sell to me. They were friends in school.”
“Were they friends or anything more than that?” asked Carmine.
“Just friends as far as I know. Felicia liked him but I wouldn’t know if they ever started seeing each other,” said Winters.
“Alright, ma’am. If we have any more questions for you or if you think of any more information that could help us, give us a call,” said Carmine as he handed her his card.
Winters nodded and closed the door.
“I hate notifications,” said Bekowksy. Carmine nodded his head and they stepped down off the porch. “You want to try his house?”
Carmine laughed, knowing what the outcome would be. “Sure, let’s have a look.”
The two detectives got in their car and drove a couple of streets over to Courtney’s last known residence. As they pulled up, the house appeared vacant but, then again, so did many others on the block that had families living in them. Families that couldn’t afford to decorate. Some looked fairly nice but not many. As Carmine and Bekowsky got out of the car, they saw a young boy on the corner, maybe eight years old. He watched their every move, staring them down. He stood there stoically and watched, waiting to see which house they were to approach. Carmine stared back, noting the boy wearing a black pinstripe Bulls jersey and bright white Air Force One shoes. The boy’s hair was cut short and his face hadn’t a single imperfection. His eyes were dark brown, nearly black. Waiting to see what the boy would do, Carmine paused. The boy put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loud enough for the neighborhood to hear and walked away. Carmine knew no one was going to come to the door.
Courtney’s address was a two-flat, similar to Felicia’s but with a faded brown color to the outer brick as opposed to red. It was one of the better-maintained buildings on the block, likely due to Courtney’s ability to afford repairs. Looking at the house, Carmine wondered if Courtney lived with other bangers or if his family lived in the house. The outside didn’t give much insight.
“Watch the windows,” said Carmine. Bekowsky stood offset at the base of the porch steps, eyes up. Carmine tried to look through the windows of the building but drapes masked the inside. The smaller windows had electrical tape covering them. Carmine listened, his ear to the door. Whatever life might have been heard before was gone now. The house was silent, not even a TV on.
Carmine wanted to talk to Courtney but he knew there was no chance of him coming to the door. He also wasn’t sure if he wanted Courtney to know he was looking for him. Carmine took a deep breath and slammed his fist into the door repeatedly and listened. Nothing stirred. He did it again with the same result. He noted the address and motioned for Bekowsky to follow back to the car.
The two stood near the hood of the car, scanning the block.
“You want to try a couple doors? See if anyone’s seen this guy?” asked Bekowsky.
“We could give it a try. If he’s tied in with the neighborhood they either like him or fear him but we’re already here,” said Carmine. Bekowsky nodded.
They tried house after house, door after door. Neither of Courtney’s immediate neighbors came to the door and the neighbors further out either wouldn’t talk to police or pretended not to know who Courtney was. After an hour of trying to get a bead on Courtney’s whereabouts, Carmine and Bekowsky were frustrated at their lack of information, but it was not unexpected.
“This is why I hate coming to the west side. No one likes you, no one helps you, but everyone blames you when their relative gets shot,” said Bekowsky.
He wasn’t wrong, Carmine thought. “Let’s try one more house, this one on the corner here,” he said.
The two walked up to the door, just as they had to all the others: one man knocking, the other scanning the building’s windows and doors and watching the block. After a few knocks, nothing. Carmine shrugged and began to step off the porch when the door creaked open. Carmine turned around and saw a young black girl, maybe ten years old, with dark black hair in braids and bright brown eyes.
“Hello, sir,” the girl said.
“Uh, hi,” started Carmine as he cleared his throat. “I’m Detective Carmine and this is Detective Bekowsky. We’re looking for someone. Is one of your parents home?”
The girl’s eyes dropped to the floor. “No, they aren’t around. I stay with my auntie.”
“Oh, okay. Is she around?”
“She’s asleep and gets mean if I wake her. Who are you looking for?” asked the girl.
Carmine and Bekowsky exchanged a glance from the porch and the landing, unsure if they wanted to proceed. “We’re looking for a boy named Courtney. Do you know him?”
The little girl looked back inside the house before turning back to Carmine, shaking her head.
“Okay then, sorry to bother you.” Carmine took a step down when the girl called out.
“H-he lives on Kostner, not far from here but I see him leaving the house you were first at every couple of days. I think that’s his mama’s house. He usually goes there Tuesdays around noon,” the little girl said.
Carmine raised an eyebrow. “You’re very observant. How do you know that?”
The little girl looked up at Carmine. Her eyes gave it away. Despite their youth, they were sharp and focused. Courtney’s schedule wasn’t something she happened to notice, she was actively paying attention.
“He killed my mama, that’s why I stay with my auntie,” she said, unflinching. “My mama used drugs. She’d only pick up from him. Same stuff every time. One day she slumped over and never woke up.”
Carmine expected to see sadness in the girl’s face but only saw stone. Her sadness had hardened into hatred, even at such a young age. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks,” the girl said. “The police were around here when she died asking about it but no one else helped them. They told me it was an accident. Only she did the same amount as she always did.” The girl drew a breath. “I don’t like him very much.”
Carmine’s lips drew tight. “I’m sure you don’t.” A moment hung between them and Carmine couldn’t help but wish he could help this girl as she’d already greatly helped him. He figured the best way would be to ensure Courtney saw the inside of a cell. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
The little girl nodded and shut the door. Carmine and Bekowsky walked in silence back to the car.