Dead Land – Sara Paretsky

The long buzz on my front doorbell woke me, and then I heard the dogs. I pulled on jeans and staggered to my door, where Donna Lutas was leaning on the bell and screaming, “Will you fucking get out of bed and deal with this?” I ignored her, stuck my feet into the running shoes I’d left outside the door, and hurried down the stairs, past a gauntlet of angry neighbors—including Mr. Contreras, resplendent in magenta pajamas. Peppy and Mitch, the two dogs I share with him, were hurling themselves at the lobby entrance in a frenzy. A smart detective does not open her home at four in the morning when an unknown danger on the other side has roused the dogs, but Donna Lutas was yelling threats, the Sung baby was crying, and everyone was babbling incoherent worries—Should we call 911? Should we shoot the dogs? I opened the front door just wide enough to slither through. A large brown dog with a square face and an anxious expression was tied to a lamppost near the entrance, a paper bag on the walk next to him. He had a white piece of paper wound around his collar. I unfolded it and held it under the lamp to read. Warshawski— You seem to know your way around dogs even if you’re terrible with people. Look after Bear until I come back for him. Coop Ijogged down to the street, tripping on my shoelaces, hoping to see what direction Coop was heading. That was a fool’s errand: he had tied his dog to the lamppost and slipped into the darkness before Mitch and Peppy started barking. I turned back. Bear was whining, anxiously licking his lips, when I got to him. I unhooked the leash.

“What’s going on, huh, boy?” I said softly. The dog whined again and started down the sidewalk. I stood on his leash long enough to tie my laces, then let him lead me. We’d gone about five blocks when I realized he was trying to get to the South Side, to wherever Coop lived, not following a trail. However, when I tried to turn Bear around to head to my place, he lay on the sidewalk and refused to budge. I’m strong, but not strong enough to carry a big dog half a mile. I squatted on the sidewalk next to him, feeling naked despite the hot night. I was wearing a sleepshirt and jeans, no underwear, no socks, no phone, no house keys. “If Coop left you with me, he’s not going to be at home, boy. Best come with me now.

We can get some sleep and sort it out in the morning. Let’s make the best of a situation neither of us wants.” I don’t know if it was my words, my tone, or just his sad realization that his lot was hopeless, but he got up and plodded up the street with me. “How’d a steady boy like you end up with an explosive device like him, anyway?” I asked the dog. I barely knew Coop—I didn’t even know if that was his first or last name or just a nickname. I didn’t know where he lived, where he was from, where he might go if he’d fled Chicago. We’d met a handful of times, and each time, he’d gone from angry to volcanic in under a minute. Maybe he really had killed Leo Prinz and thought the cops were closing in on him. “Except, if he was going into hiding, he’d surely take you along, wouldn’t he?” I said to the dog. “And why me? He’s made it clear he despises me.

No insult, but what am I going to do with you?” We’d reached my building. I picked up the bag Coop had left. “Another dog?” Donna Lutas screamed. She was still standing by the open door to her unit. “You can’t bring another dog in here.” “Yes, Vic,” Mr. Sung said. “It is too much, all this barking, and then, we never know if someone is breaking in, wanting to shoot you, but maybe hitting one of us by mistake.” Mr. Contreras usually speaks up for me, but not tonight.

Mr. Sung was only reiterating what he himself often said, albeit more sympathetically: Why did I hurl myself into danger? Didn’t I care none about the people who cared about me? Peppy and Mitch didn’t help: when they saw me escorting Bear up to the third floor they began barking and straining to follow. They didn’t want some interloper taking attention that belonged to them. “The fucking last straw!” Lutas cried. “I’m going to the management board in the morning to demand they evict you. Three dogs? When the limit is one?” Lutas represented our building with the board of the company that managed our property. She was a junior associate at one of the big downtown law firms. She worked ninety-hour weeks, the way all the juniors do. I knew she was sleep deprived. I knew I was not a congenial neighbor: a recent encounter with an assailant had broken one of the stairwell bannisters.

I still couldn’t rouse any sympathy for her—she’d gloated as she served me with legal papers demanding that I undertake repairs. She probably would go to the board to try to evict me; maybe she could, especially with the other residents glaring at me. I opened the paper bag Coop had left and took out a blanket, Bear’s food bowls, and a few toys. I set everything up in the kitchen and went back to bed, but I felt like a heavily starched shirt, stiff, unbending, listening to Bear’s toenails scratching the floors as he explored the apartment. At the end, he came into my room and sniffed at me for a few minutes, then gave a heavy sigh and plopped to the floor by my bed. “If only” is a fool’s game. But I couldn’t help thinking, if only I’d followed my first wish, to spend my birthday hiking with Peter Sansen and the dogs in the country, none of the rest of this would have happened. 1 South Side Sisters July 27, V.I. Warshawski’s Birthday The girls lined up along the wall, their faces glistening with sweat, still breathing hard.

“We could have won if Lureen had moved her fat ass into place to block—” one girl began, but Bernie silenced her. “No one who plays for me calls another player a bad name. And there is only one way to lose a competition. What way is that?” The girl who’d issued the insult turned her head away, but the other seven chanted in unison, “Dishonesty.” “Right!” Bernie said. “If you don’t do your best, you are dishonest to yourself and to your team. If you do your best, you’ve won, even if the other team outscores you. You learn from mistakes, n’est-ce pas? Losing a match is only a loss if you don’t learn and grow from it.” “Yes, Coach.” “Louder.

You believe this!” “Yes, Coach!” they shouted. The South Side Sisters had lost their match to the Lincoln Park Lions. Bernie—Bernadine Fouchard—had coached them with the ardor she brought to everything in her life. The girls loved her: they’d started sprinkling their conversation with French phrases, they copied her mannerisms—the way she stood with hands on hips; the way she smacked her palm against her forehead and groaned, Mon dieu. Bernie’s sport was hockey—like her father, Pierre, like her godfather, my cousin Boom-Boom, both former Chicago Blackhawks stars. Unlike them, even though she was a gifted player, there wasn’t any way for her to make a living at the game, so she was doing the next best, majoring in sports management at Northwestern, where she played for their Big Ten hockey team. This summer she was interning in a Chicago Park District youth camp, coaching soccer. She’d played enough soccer as a child that she knew the basics. She’d jumped into the sport with the energy she brought to everything she did. Even though her kids hadn’t had all the private camps and other opportunities that came to girls in affluent communities, Bernie inspired them to play with something close to her own ferocity.

I’d come down to Forty-seventh Street to watch the eleven-year-old Sisters play their final match of a round-robin tournament. The South Lakefront Improvement Council—SLICK—had helped sponsor the Sisters and wanted them to take a bow following the game. SLICK was holding their monthly meeting; the girls were supposed to wait in the hall until someone came out for them. A woman whose tightly curled hair was dyed a rusty brown opened the common room door and stuck her head into the hall. “Can you girls keep it down—oh! Are these our soccer players?” “Yes,” Bernie said. “We are a wonderful team, but we are not wonderful at waiting in the hall. When do we go in?” “Very soon.” The woman tittered, as if Bernie had made a mildly amusing joke. As she shut the door, we heard a man yelling from inside the room. “You damned liar! Where’d you come up with this pile of crap? You go to Lying School? Because you sure as hell didn’t learn this in any environmental studies program.

” The girls put their hands over their mouths to muffle their shocked laughter. I moved to the door and stuck my head through. The meeting room had served as a community meeting hall back when Prairie Savings and Loan was a Bronzeville landmark. It held a shallow stage and perhaps a hundred fifty folding chairs, arranged today in concentric semicircles. The seats were full, not because the community wanted to attend a meeting on a late summer afternoon, but because family members had been rooting for the Sisters and now wanted to see them get their awards. Two men and a woman, all in later middle age, were trying to run the meeting, but the shouting from the audience had apparently taken them by surprise. One of the men had a gavel that he kept pounding against a wood block while shouting, “Order, order!” The woman—thin, wiry, wearing a blue T-shirt with the SLICK logo—was bouncing up and down in her chair, trying to scream at the heckler in the audience. The second man didn’t look up; he was writing on a white pad in a slow hand. The protestor was a white man in his forties, his skin tanned like old leather, wearing khaki shorts and a T-shirt with a faded sunflower on it. He might have been handsome, but fury had distorted his expression.

His wrath was apparently directed at a young man on the stage who was awkwardly balancing a computer on a music stand: like much of the South Side, the building where SLICK held its meetings didn’t run to amenities like podiums. He’d apparently been making a presentation about filling in part of the lakefront around Forty-seventh Street; a sketch of a sand beach, playground equipment, and a bar and restaurant was projected onto the wall behind the stage. “But, sir, this is part of the original Burnham plan, or at least, it’s how Burnham—” “Like crap it’s the Burnham plan.” Although the younger man had a mike, the protestor’s shout drowned it out. The man charged up the aisle to the stage. The youth flinched and dropped his mouse. When he bent to pick it up, his computer hit the floor. The picture on the wall behind the stage disappeared. Before the protestor reached the steps, several audience members were there, blocking his path. He wrestled with them, still shouting abuse, at both the speaker and the trio running the meeting.

A pair of Chicago cops appeared from a far corner. They pinned the man’s arms behind his back and marched him down the aisle and out the door, shoving me to one side. A forest of cell phones rose up, recording the moment. Much of the audience had cheered the cops, but a few yelled in support of the protestor. “Let him speak!” “Let him breathe.” “The whole world’s watching.” The man with the gavel continued to slam it against a wood block. In the hall behind me, the girls were watching, openmouthed, as the cops hustled the protestor out of the building. When they’d disappeared, the soccer players began an excited chatter that Bernie didn’t try to silence. “That is Leo he was attacking,” she said to me.

“Good that the police have arrested him!” “Leo?” I echoed. “He is working for this SLICK this summer. He helped me organize today’s celebration for my team. He does not need this attack.” She ushered her players into the room, where they clustered behind the last row of chairs. The woman on the stage was now marching back and forth across the short platform. She slapped a wooden pointer against the open palm of her left hand, as if it were a field marshal’s swagger stick. “Our council is committed to protecting the lake and the lakefront,” she screamed. “We scrutinize every action that impacts Lake Michigan. I’ve been living on the South Side since I was nineteen; I raised three children here.

I’ve dedicated my life to this community and to our lakefront. I resent professional protestors coming in here trying to overturn the applecart.” “Hear, hear!” cried the gaveller. “No professional protestors.” The second man on the stage still didn’t look up from the documents he was working on. “We need a motion to accept the report as Leo presented it.” The woman smacked her pointer on the table so hard that the note maker dropped his pen. “But I haven’t finished,” Leo objected. “That’s okay, son,” the gaveller boomed. “Everyone who wants the details can get them from the SLICK website.

” A white-haired woman near the front of the room got to her feet. “I’m not a professional protestor, Mona; I’ve lived on the South Side longer than you, I’ve raised children here, although what that has to do with protecting the lakefront I don’t know. However, I also have some knowledge of parliamentary procedure. We can’t vote on a proposal whose details we don’t even know.” “You’re not recognized, the chair does not recognize you,” the gaveller roared, his cheeks swollen with rage. Next to me, Bernie was frowning, worried by the way the meeting was devolving. “This isn’t right. Why won’t they let Leo finish?”


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