The Dead Caller from Chicago by Jack Fredrickson is the fourth in the humorous Dek Elstrom mystery series (available April 23, 2013).
Dek Elstrom is back. Bad things are surfacing in Rivertown, in a huge hole in a block of bungalows; in the river, where the dam trapped what should never have been in the water. And from the past, where secrets long buried have risen again, to kill. Then comes a phone call from a dead man, and the sudden disappearance of almost everyone Dek ever held close. A trail leads north, to the end of Michigan, past the chop of the angry waters beyond, to an ice swept island most everyone wants to forget. But there are no answers there, just more questions, and another dead man pointing straight back to Rivertown, to the hole, and the dam, and secrets that want to keep killing
By my adjusted new standard, I’d become almost rich, and I felt myself swelling with optimism as Lester Lance Leamington, astute television advertiser, allowed as to how he could make me even richer. All I had to do was follow his advice, conveniently presented in a five-disc DVD series enticingly entitled Making Millions from Molehills. Though his features were blurry on my elderly analog four-inch television, its reception now modified by a government-mandated digital converter that dangled from it like an anchor on a chain, there was nothing fuzzy about his latest achievement. Lester Lance Leamington had hit the big time. He’d moved from late-night commercials jammed between spots for fast juicers and miracle scratch removers up to midday infomercials. If that wasn’t testament to his financial acuity, I couldn’t imagine what was. No more would he be talking to stupored, drowsy people; Lester Lance Leamington had risen into the clarity of sunlight. Now, for only twenty-nine ninety-nine, including shipping, he was going to show folks how to ascend just like him.
“All it takes is attitude,” he was saying as I squinted in rapt attention, for on my tiny TV, he was only an inch tall. “Embrace your future. Call our toll-free line today. If you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll refund your money immediately; less, of course, the modest eighteen ninety-nine for processing, shipping, and handling.”
Miraculous though it sounded, I was not yet ready to embrace my financial destiny. My new money, almost three thousand dollars from a tiny insurance company that promised more work, was already budgeted for past-due utility bills, a paydown on the lone credit card that hadn’t canceled me, and wood, lots of the good oak I needed to continue trimming out my turret. There was the complication, too, that I had no DVD player, nor plans to buy one. My eyes were set on affording a furnace, ductwork, and a gas line to set it all to humming. It was early March, I lived in an unheated stone turret set beside a frozen river just west of Chicago, and the notion of warmth was constantly on my mind.
There was one final concern, I supposed. I watch television while semireclining in an electric blue La-Z-Boy that I acquired, well used, in an alley, perching the set on my breadbasket. Balancing a DVD player wired to a converter box wired to a television seemed like an awful lot of precariousness, just to get rich.
My cell phone rang, saving me from having to ponder the dilemma further.
“You doing anything worthwhile?” Leo Brumsky inquired.
“I’m being advised by Lester Lance Leamington.”
“That TV lunatic with the red hair and green suit?”
“I don’t know; my television is black-and-white. What matters is I am on the road to wealth.”
“That insurance job up north?”
“My new client is delighted with the photographs I took of their insured, he of the broken back, up on a ladder, cleaning his gutters. They’re talking about putting me on retainer.”
“The company saved two hundred grand, easy.”
“No, I meant you. What was your take?”
“Twenty-eight hundred and fifty-three dollars,” I said. Then, to maximize the impact, I added, “Plus change.”
“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t intrude on a man burdened by such weighty considerations, but I have need of your brawn. I’ll be right over.”
I did not protest. His car had a fine heater.
Ten minutes later, a white Ford Econoline van rattled up to the turret where, since evicting the pigeons, I’ve lived alone. I’d been expecting a Porsche cabriolet, but the flash of a too-large orange traffic officer’s jacket and purple pants, bright as beacons even at fifty feet, confirmed it was Leo.
He gave my own outerwear the fisheye as I got in. Hypocrisy, especially concerning clothing, was one of his most pronounced traits.
“A rented van?” I asked.
“Two coats?” he dodged, still round-eying my duds.
My blue blazer was longer than my peacoat, so it wasn’t like he’d experienced a moment of deductive brilliance.
“I’m wearing my blazer in case Lester Lance Leamington drops by to give me personalized investment advice. Word of my newfound wealth is sure to spread.” I aimed the heater vents to blast directly at my face.
A smile full of big white teeth split his narrow bald head, topped as it was, preposterously, by a chartreuse knit hat adorned with a purple pom. “You’re wearing two coats because your limestone monstrosity retains cold like the arctic,” he said, pulling us away from the curb.
I loosened the collar of my peacoat to more fully absorb the truck’s free heat and asked where we were going.
“Once again, I’m branching out beyond my usual realm of expertise,” he said.
Leo’s usual realm of expertise was establishing provenance. The big auction houses in Chicago and on both coasts paid him in excess of half a million dollars a year to establish the lineage and authenticity of the pieces they offered to bidders.
“How far outside your realm?” I asked, as he swung northbound onto the Tollway.
The rented van shuddered its way up to sixty miles an hour. “Medical frontier,” he said, grinning. “I’ve come up with a cure for aging baby boomers who suffer reduced physical and mental dexterity. Soon all will rejoice at the sound of my name. The visage of me, Leo Brumsky, the man who saved them from decrepitude, will adorn parks everywhere. They’ll erect statues, bronze if not solid gold, of the Great Brumsky—”
“As targets for pigeons?” I myself had become an expert on pigeons, or at least their eviction.
“All will hail the name Brumsky, the genius who discovered the cure.”
I pressed him no further. Silence would be the only way to drive him crazy.
His eyes remained fixed on the road. “Nonsplits,” he offered up, after a moment.
I stared ahead, as silent as would be any bronzed Brumsky.
He lasted less than another hundred silent yards. “Aren’t you curious about nonsplits?”
“Sundaes without bananas,” I threw out, quite nonchalantly.
“Ah,” he said, squeezing the wheel with his chartreuse-mittened hands to keep from blurting out anything more. It was to be a standoff between us.
After fifteen minutes of absolute silence, he left the tollway, turned into an industrial park, and backed into a loading dock of the Great Prairie Nut Company.
“I’m sure they don’t need another nut,” I said.
“Stay here.” He got out.
Ten minutes later, two men bounced a tall barrel into the back. They secured it with the yellow web straps lying on the floor and slammed the tin doors.
“I thought you needed my brawn, heroic as it is,” I said, when Leo got back in.
He said nothing, easing the truck up the dock incline as though the barrel contained eggs. The game was still afoot.
It was too much. “OK. What are we hauling that must be so carefully secured?”
“Spent fuel rods. I’m converting your turret into a storage facility.”
“I do investigations, and have deduced you’ve bought a barrel of nuts.”
“Not mere nuts: nonsplits, the gateway to a more flexible life.”
“And Brumskys, bronzed, will adorn parks across the land?”
“The world will rejoice.” Once again we lapsed into silence, until we got to his street.
I turned my head to look out the side window, shocked. “What’s going on?” A backhoe and a bulldozer were demolishing two bungalows toward the end of his block.
“Amazing, huh?” He sounded not at all happy.
“New homes? Here?” It was stunning news. Rivertown, the greasiest of the empty factory wastelands stuck like barnacles to the edge of Chicago, hadn’t seen new construction in decades.
“Rumor has it there’s to be only one, a McMansion on three lots. The bungalow just to the west is also coming down.” He shook his head. “It’s going to ruin the neighborhood.”
His block, like almost all the residential blocks in town, was built solid of brick bungalows put up before the Great Depression for workingmen when manufacturing, instead of stripping women and stripping cars, was what pulsed in Rivertown.
“Who’s building it?” I asked.
“No doubt some fool egoist, anxious to set himself above respectable, working-class neighbors.”
“Be still, my lusting heart.” Unlike Leo, who held the past dear, I had mixed emotions. The grit of Rivertown was deep under my skin, too; I was comfortable with solid lower-middle-class. Yet, if there was interest in redeveloping the crooked old burg, then my five-story turret might attract someone with lots of money and a crazed need to live in a tube. I could move up, like Lester Lance Leamington, to a place with central heat.
“I suppose you should see a lawyer about your zoning again,” Leo said, turning up the alley.
There was the rub. The turret, built by my lunatic bootlegger grandfather as the beginning of a castle, had sat empty and ignored following his death at the start of the Great Depression. That changed at the end of World War II, when the town’s fathers—an especially shameless lot of lizards, even by Illinois standards—sought to build a new city hall. They seized most of my grandfather’s land along the Willahock River, and his mountain of unused limestone blocks, and erected a magnificent city hall of huge private offices and tiny public rooms. They’d had no need for the turret, though, and it continued to languish empty, racking up property taxes no one in my mother’s family thought to pay. Sixty more years passed, and then the children and grandchildren lizards now running things thought to invite development, with its prospect of big-time bribes for construction and operating permits. For that, they needed to perfume the city’s corrupt, tank-town image. They announced a new era, terming it the Rivertown Renaissance, and decided to use the turret on the Willahock River as an icon to plaster on their trucks, stationery, and the porta-potty in the town’s one park. The lizards offered up a greasy deal: My aunt, the churlish bull-headed woman who’d inherited sole ownership of the turret after her sisters died, would get decades of unpaid property taxes wiped away. In exchange, the turret would remain in my family’s hands, but it would be rezoned as a municipal structure, making it unsalable and thereby ensuring the city could use it forever as its new symbol. My aunt was elated . . . and cunning. To make sure her children would never suffer responsibility for the turret’s upkeep, she willed the place to me on her deathbed, as a sort of grand last flush as she exited the planet.
Being of reasonable mind, I ignored her munificence at first. Then, disgraced by a scandal not of my making, and emotionally trashed by behavior that was, I got tossed out of my ex-wife’s gated community. Drunk and utterly broke, I needed a roof. The turret had that, though it leaked. It also had pigeons, and no heat. Still, it was indoor living, of a fashion, and offered the faint hope that I might convert it into a residence to sell.
Right after moving in, I began petitioning to get the turret’s zoning changed back to residential. Elvis Derbil, nephew of the mayor and the town’s building and zoning commissioner, always refused. The turret was the city’s icon; they’d invested too much in splattering its image all over town.
I had no money for a long-term legal battle, so I retreated. Even after Elvis resigned because of a scandal of his own—he’d altered freshness and fat-content labels on truckloads of stale salad oil—I hung back. My income from researching insurance claims and photographing accident scenes was little more than what I needed for materials to rehab the turret; I’d fight the zoning battle after the turret had been fixed up. However, if upscale yups were now about to charge Rivertown, bent on pushing over bungalows to build McMansions, times were changing faster than I’d dared hope. My future needed to be embraced, pronto. That meant reigniting my zoning battle.
Leo turned into the alley and stopped at his garage. Though the bungalows in Rivertown were built of the same dark brown brick, the colors of their frame garages varied within a subdued palette of whites, beiges, and grays. Not Leo’s. His was a particularly vibrant shade of yellow, trimmed in neon green. Ma Brumsky loved her only child.
He got out, opened the big door, and disappeared behind his late father’s ancient brown Ford LTD. Pa Brumsky had been dead for years, and his mother didn’t drive, but Leo still kept the old beast in its usual spot and in prime running order. He respected the totems of his past.
He came out wheeling a dolly, and together we muscled the barrel out of the van, along the narrow walk, and up into the screened rear porch. Like all the neighborhood women who had enclosed back porches, Ma Brumsky used hers as a walk-in pantry. Leo had created a space for the barrel between cases of Diet Mountain Dew, bagged prunes, and All-Bran.
“This is going to improve flexibility how?” I asked.
“It might even cure the ’Zheimers,” he said. He undid the clips on the barrel and lifted the lid so I could see inside.
“Pistachio nuts,” I said.
He jabbed a hand into the nuts and withdrew a few as if he were cradling tiny torpedoes of gold. “Look closer; behold the miracle.”
I took one from his palm. “A most ordinary pistachio,” I said, having keen observational skills.
“How would you open it?”
It had not burst open. There was no seam.“Nonsplits,” I said, at last understanding his earlier use of the term—and not.
A Home Depot plastic bag lay on the case of All-Bran. He smiled, reached inside, and pulled out a pair of needle-nose pliers. “Comprende?” Sometimes he switches to Spanish, though never for very long, because he does not know the language.
“Oui,” I answered in flawless high school French. “Ma and her lady friends will have to use pliers to open the pistachios, thereby strengthening their motor and mental skills. Thus the world will be saved, bronze Brumskys will be erected, and pigeons everywhere will have something appropriate to aim at.”
“Drive me home.” I had no time to dawdle. Yups were coming.
Five minutes later, he pulled up to the turret. “Come over tomorrow, and behold the beginnings of the new age.”
As I climbed out of his rental van, I told him I would bet every one of my newfound twenty-eight hundred and fifty-three dollars that nothing but good was on the horizon for us both.
I will remember that moment for as long as I live.
I awoke the next morning early and optimistic. I shrugged into my three sweatshirts, XL, XXL, and XXXL, and fairly raced down to the second-floor kitchen to make coffee. I was anxious to embrace the day and all the yups it brought forth, exactly as Lester Lance advised.
Burbling along with Mr. Coffee, I looked around with new satisfaction. I’d learned finish carpentry and cabinetmaking in that kitchen and thought the new oak cabinets, moldings, and trims looked fine indeed. True, the badly dented microwave offered a discordant note, presenting as it did the tiny potential of glow-in-the-dark aftereffects, and the rusty avocado-colored refrigerator I’d found in an alley worked well enough in the winter but was not at all reliable in the summer. No matter; they’d be gone soon. Only high-end stainless steel appliances would impress yups, and those were on the horizon. I had a new client, talking retainer.
Mr. Coffee gasped at last, and I took my coffee across the hall. As on each of the five floors, a huge fireplace was set into the southwest curve. It had been used only once, to share a fire with a woman reporter whom I’d never quite gotten to know.
I pulled the plastic garbage bag down over my desktop computer, covered my card table desk with a bedsheet, and began cutting thin strips of oak molding to surround the slit windows.
Architecturally, the narrow windows were historically accurate, ideal for archers to repel attacking marauders. Because they were set into rough stone, trimming them was fussy, slow work. By one o’clock, I’d only finished two and was ready for a break.
I went into the kitchen, drank the last burned dregs of the coffee, and ate half a cup of Cheerios, dry. Drinking burned coffee was a longtime habit. Dry Cheerios, though, were new. I’d had the happy yellow box since my divorce, but I’d used it simply as a cabinet divider to separate the small mounds of Twinkies and Ho Hos that were my ordinary staples. I’d been inspired to a wider view when, simultaneously, Lester Lance Leamington moved up into the daylight and I acquired a generous client. Change was in the wind for sure, and I reasoned I should improve my nutritional life as well. I began supplementing the Twinkies and Ho Hos with small test doses of Cheerios, administered one half-cup at a time. It had been almost a week, and I’d experienced no ill effects from the little sawdust-colored circles. In fact, that day I thought I noticed more spring in my step as I bounded up to the third-floor bedroom, where I keep my clothes piled on a chair next to my bed. I changed into unstained khakis and my least wrinkled blue button-down shirt, slipped on my blue blazer and peacoat, and walked my new health and optimism down the street to city hall.
The Building and Zoning Department was in the basement, the darkest floor of all. Unlike the mayor’s first-floor office, where the big bundles from pimps, bookies, and tavern operators were counted out behind thick mahogany and closed drapes, the windowless basement offices were for collecting ordinary, day-to-day gratuities for permits that in any other suburb wouldn’t require a bribe at all. I hadn’t been down there since before Elvis Derbil had been perp-walked out by federal agents.
His door had been changed only slightly. The opaque glass now read j. j. derbil, building and zoning commissioner. Only the first name had changed. Official positions were passed along through families in Rivertown like genetic disorders.
The secretary in the outer office hurried out another door when she saw me. That had been her habit since the first time I’d come to scream at Elvis.
“Ahem,” I said, clearing my throat behind the counter in the now empty outer office.
“Do you have an appointment?” a woman’s voice called from inside Elvis’s old private office.
“Purely an introductory call,” I called through the door.
“You’re the pain in the ass that lives in that limestone toilet-paper tube. Go away.”
“I’m a taxpayer. You work for me.” I laughed. Even I saw that as ludicrous.
“Make an appointment, Elstrom.”
“Who are you?”
“The building and zoning commissioner, you idiot.”
“I meant your name.”
“I meant your first name.”
“Make an appointment,” she said for the second time. She certainly had Elvis’s communication skills, though my nose told me she didn’t use his coconut-scented hair spray.
“I want you to rezone my property from municipal to residential.”
She laughed. I left, thinking that to stay longer might jeopardize our budding relationship.
Since I was all dressed up, I drove to Leo’s. I needed humor, and good coffee to wash away the dregs I’d just had at home, and heat, in which to enjoy them both.
I parked in front. As always, his walk and steps were immaculate, despite the snow that seemed to have fallen every day since November. Oddly, Leo’s old aluminum baseball bat lay on the snow next to the walk.
The sound of a vacuum cleaner came through the front door. As did a sort of pinging, as though gravel were ricocheting inside, against the walls and windows. I had to knock loudly for almost a minute before the vacuuming stopped and Leo opened the door. Though he was dressed with his usual absurd cheeriness, in a too-large aqua-colored Hawaiian shirt festooned with monkeys riding balloons, and red cargo pants, he was not smiling. His normally pale face was flushed dark, perhaps from exertion.
“Vacuuming, Leo?” I asked, aff ably enough.
“With a normal vacuum cleaner, not a Shop-Vac like others must use,” he said, trying for a smirk. On a head so pale and thin, a smirk was always an interesting contortion, because it made his thick black eyebrows look like they were trying to mate.
“I’m here for coffee,” I said.
“First we clean.” Leo never gets sidetracked. He thinks and lives sequentially. He is not like me.
I stepped inside. The living room had been shelled, literally. Splintered beige pistachio shells and crumbly bits of yellowish green nut meat lay on the carpet, the tops of the picture frames, the windowsills, and the yellowed plastic slipcovers that had protected every piece of upholstered furniture since Leo was an infant.
Two vacuum cleaners sat in the middle of the floor. One was an upright, the other a canister on wheels. A broom and a dustpan were set against the big-screen television. Shells crunched beneath my shoes as I took another step into the room.
The needle-nosed pliers Leo had bought for Ma and her friends to manipulate their minds and hands into better mental and motor health lay loosely spilled out of the Home Depot bag, apparently untouched. More interestingly, different, heavier tools—three wood-handled hammers, a handsaw, two silver adjustable wrenches, even Pa Brumsky’s huge pipe wrench—were scattered all over the floor.
Several twisted, smashed-in tray tables were propped against the wall, ruined.
I understood why Leo’s short aluminum baseball bat was lying on the snow outside. It was another tool, grabbed from the basement.
“Ma and her lady friends decided heavier implements would be more efficient?” I asked, summoning up my own smirk as I imagined the sounds such heavy weaponry must have made, whacking at tiny nonsplit nuts.
He ignored me. Pointing to the two vacuum cleaners, he asked, “Upright or canister?”
I took the upright, since it required less bending.
Even though the front room was tiny, it took a full twenty minutes because the two vacuum cleaners kept sending bits of shells and meat zinging in new directions. Finally, he shut off his vacuum and took a last look around. Leo’s five-six, and that day he looked every bit the perfect miniature of a general surveying the field of an earlier, disastrous battle.
“Movie night?” I asked.
“Movie night,” he agreed sadly, picking up an empty quart of vodka that had been kicked under a chair.
It had taken her less than a month, once Leo bought Ma the big-screen television, to discover soft cable porn. Only days after that, she found the harder, pay-per-view stuff. I could well imagine the rapid-fire chattering, in Polish, as Ma called her friends, all but one widows, with news of what could be summoned into her front room.
Gone was bingo at the church. Gone were rotating weekly bridge evenings. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays were now for new adventures, as Ma’s circle of septuagenarians and octogenarians tottered over to Casa Brumsky to witness the slicked contortions on Ma’s new TV.
I’d stumbled into one of those movie nights the previous summer. Eight old ladies sat primly in front of tray tables, sipping vodka from water glasses, munching from bowls of bridge mix, fried Wheat Chex, and prunes, staring at things on television they’d never previously dared discuss, in Polish, English, or any other language.
They’d looked up, red faced, when I knocked on the open screen door. The three that had walkers began banging their wheels on the floor, summoning Leo up from his basement office, where he’d taken to hiding on the nights when the girls came over. He charged up the gangway from the back of the house and yanked me off the front porch like I was explosive. He told me it was best to call before coming over; the girls liked privacy on movie nights.
“I still believe cracking the pistachios will spark them up a bit,” Leo said now.
“Don’t movie nights do that?”
He shook his head at my lack of vision. “I figured by the time they worked through the barrel of pistachios, they’d have improved their finger dexterity, loosened their shoulders and necks, and be thinking at warp speed.”
I gestured at the heavy tools lying on the sculpted brown carpet. “They thought faster than you, for sure.”
“Ma even got her meat tenderizer, the big square one she used to use on whole sides of beef. And someone messed up the garage, looking for Pa’s tire iron.”
“Your old baseball bat, too. It’s lying on the snow outside.”
“Jeez, you should have heard them, Dek. They sounded like a highway crew jackhammering a road.” He sighed. “Let’s bring coffee down to my office. Ma will be too embarrassed to show herself with you around.”
Leo’s office was directly under the living room. It must have been deafening, beneath a loud cloud of moaning porn stars, banging walkers, and falling wrenches.
Leo read my mind as always. “I couldn’t stand it and spent the night at Endora’s.” Endora was his girlfriend. An ex-model and current Newberry Library researcher, she was a head taller than he was, though both their heads possessed the same oversized IQ. She lived in a condo, downtown.
His office was furnished with mismatched furniture, files, and equipment and was always orderly and neat. He sat behind the ancient wood desk, and I took the huge green upholstered chair his father had died in, all those years before.
“Tell me about this new client that’s going to make you rich.” He took a yellow wood pencil from the cup on his desk and leaned back. Leo was amazingly dexterous and often walked a pencil up and down between his fingers.
“Offices in ten states. They’ve hinted that the twenty-eight hundred was just for openers, that there will be a retainer coming for a lot more work. Maybe I’ve hit a golden confluence—”
“Confluence?” he interrupted.
“Confluence. It means a joining of two or more streams, like—”
“I know what a confluence is, you jackass. I just can’t let you throw around such words as though they’re part of your regular vocabulary.”
“Confluence,” I went on. “Maybe I’ll have the dough to finish the turret and get my zoning changed just as yups are a-gathering right here in Rivertown—”
His landline phone rang. “Leo Brumsky,” he said, holding the receiver with his left hand as his right kept finger-walking the pencil.
I tuned him out and looked around the office. As always, there was no sign of any current project, but I knew there had to be several. Leo Brumsky was highly regarded in the auction world.
On display, though, was Bo Derek. The movie goddess from the late seventies looked back at me from a poster above the light table. She sat in the surf and wore only a thin blouse, mostly unbuttoned. The blouse was wet. It was why Leo bought the poster when he was in high school. It was still the only work in his, an art examiner’s, office. Even as adults, we agreed, it was all the art he needed.
The soft tap of his pencil hitting the tiled floor caught my ear.
“Snark?” His voice was higher than I’d ever heard.
I kept my eyes on Bo. The office had gone absolutely silent, except for Leo’s breathing. It had quickened.
A moment passed, then another. Then he spoke, in a voice that was disbelieving. “Speak up, will you? You’re whispering.”
I had to look. His normally pale face had gone absolutely white. He was staring at the blank place on the wall above his four-drawer file cabinets, seeing nothing.
“No. I ran into Tebbins, and he told me about you, and all, so I threw it out; I didn’t figure you’d want—” he said, his own voice now barely above a whisper. “I tell you: It’s gone.”
His free hand reached for another pencil. It snapped in his fist.
He mumbled something that I couldn’t make out and hung up the phone.
“Who was that?”
His head didn’t move.
“Leo?” I said, louder.
He looked up at me, slowly, like his neck hurt.
“That first summer you were gone,” he said softly. “After first year of college . . .” His voice trailed away, and he again turned to look at the blank spot above the filing cabinets.
I remembered that summer. I’d left Rivertown at the end of the summer before, to begin college in Chicago, but really to get as far from Rivertown as I could afford. After freshman year, I stayed in the city because I had nowhere else to go. I took an early-morning summer session class, worked three part-time jobs, and waited for the memories to fade. A girl I’d known had died. For a time, I’d been suspected of killing her.
I’d never wanted to summon back those times, but now I realized Leo had never mentioned that summer, either, other than once he’d said he’d worked at the city’s municipal garage.
“Who called, Leo?”
His eyes were glass, unblinking, as he turned back to look at me.
“A dead man,” he said.
Copyright © 2013 Jack Fredrickson
Jack Fredrickson’s first Dek Elstrom mystery, A Safe Place for Dying, was nominated for the Shamus Award for Best First Novel, and his second, Honestly, Dearest, You’re Dead was a March 2009 Pearl Pick. His short fiction has appeared in the acclaimed Chicago Blues and in Michael Connelly’s Burden of the Badge anthologies. He lives in Chicago.