Private investigator Paul Whelan’s specialty is tracking down missing persons. But when his good friend is found slain in an alley, Whelan is steered down a path of violence as he searches for answers in a murder case.
His investigation is interrupted by the arrival of an attractive young woman who is on her own search for her missing kid brother. But as clues lead Whelan to believe the two cases may be connected, the body count rises quickly, and he finds himself racing to catch a killer before he strikes again . . .
“Raleigh seems to have gotten so deeply inside his hero and his seamy world that there may be nothing left for a sequel. But it would be great to be wrong about that.” —Kirkus Reviews
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"You're in my way."
Paul Whelan, a lanky redhead in a Mexican cotton shirt, turned and saw a little man in a winter coat carrying a Jewel bag with what were presumably all his worldly possessions. Squinty and older than Genesis, the little man stared righteously at Whelan and held up one hand. "You are in my way, sir."
Whelan stepped aside. "Okay. Now I'm out."
The old man looked at him for a moment and then nodded. "Look to your soul, young man."
"Thanks. I'll do that." The little man launched into oratory, bellowing out biblical injunctions and citing scripture, and Whelan stepped out into Broadway against the traffic. A Checker cab came within six inches of him and the cabbie leaned on his horn and shouted something profane. The little man yelled that the cabbie was damned and the cabbie gave him the finger and the little man began running after him, and Whelan told himself that he lived in an interesting neighborhood.
On the other side of the street, a vacant-faced kid was passing out little blue leaflets. He handed one to Whelan without looking at him. The leaflet bore the picture of a woman in her fifties or sixties and proclaimed her to be "your guide to the spirits."
Whelan looked at the kid and smiled. "Oh, good. Fraud, my favorite." The kid looked at him, picked at his ear, examined whatever he found and looked away again. Whelan looked at the brochure.
It said the woman's name was "Madame Claire" and told him that she was "the most sought-after and internationally acclaimed clairvoyant and astrologer in the Western Hemisphere," and went on to give both her education — a degree from Florida Astrological Institute, plus various certificates attesting that Madame Claire was a sort of honor student among seers and clairvoyants — and her pedigree, namely her descent from "Gypsy royalty" of the fifteenth century. Whelan studied her picture: she had blue eyes and blond hair and it was clear that she was descended from the Norwegian branch of the Gypsy race.
Madame Claire was apparently a virtuoso among spiritualists: she knew the future, could communicate with the dead, even, the brochure claimed, "if they have been dead a long time," and spoke eleven languages fluently. Her specialty was her remarkable success at helping people pick winning lottery tickets; this success had apparently been limited thus far to the New Jersey lottery, because all her testimonials were from New Jersey residents. The pamphlet was filled with these quotes from happy New Jerseyites claiming to have made the Big Score on predictions from Madame Claire. She offered to tell fortunes, unravel family difficulties, explain life's mysteries and help people select careers. She accepted Visa and MasterCard and tossed in the time-honored freebie of all fortune-tellers: one free question.
Whelan looked at the kid. "You know this lady?"
The kid squinted, scratched his head and nodded. "My aunt."
"So you're a Gypsy too."
The kid looked uncomfortable and shuffled from one foot to the other.
"Hey, don't be embarrassed. This is America. It's okay to be a Gypsy. Listen, ask your aunt who she likes in the first race at Arlington. That's my free question." He tossed the leaflet in a trash can and walked on.
A few doors from his office building, just outside the el station, a pack of teenage boys had gathered to watch two kids fight. Just a half mile to the east, more sensible types were already filling up the beach or spreading picnic blankets in Lincoln Park, and a short mile or so to the south they were lining up for tickets to the Cub game, but this was ghetto life, in the multicolored ghetto that was Uptown. The streets were overrun with bored kids who hadn't landed summer jobs; most of them would be on these corners till Labor Day. A few, he knew, would stay here the rest of their lives.
One of the young pugilists was small and stocky and looked Mexican. The other was taller, very dark, heavy-lidded and smiling. He looked like Nino Valdez, a flashy Cuban heavyweight of the late fifties. Like most heavyweights of the time, his moment in the sun had passed when he fought Sonny Liston. After Liston stretched him, Valdez claimed he'd been fed a drugged orange before the fight. Valdez faded quickly from the public eye but the orange went on to become famous.
The two boys traded lefts and Nino wasn't smiling anymore. Whelan was about to stop it when a squad car rolled around the corner and the whole crowd vanished under the el tracks.
Sam Carlos came out of his grocery store and sat on a fruit crate in his doorway. He gave Whelan a little salute.
"Hey, Pablo. How's the detective business?"
"I'd rather be in groceries, Sam." Carlos laughed and surveyed his window. New hand-painted signs decorated the window and his door, and Sam's store now proclaimed itself a CARNNICERIA though it hadn't seen fresh meat since Nixon.
"Hey, you like? You like my signs?"
"You've got too many n's in carniceria, Sam. There's only one."
Sam turned on his crate to look at the new sign. He grunted and shrugged. "Hey, whaddayou know? You don' know Spanish."
"Yeah, but neither do you," Whelan said and laughed.
Sam Carlos was a source of amusement to Whelan. A short fat man who seemed to go out of his way to dress in the filthiest clothes, Sam carried more cash on his person than most people had in banks. He looked and acted broke, and he spent long hours after closing time ringing up false register tapes to feed his equally corrupt accountant, and he lied to everyone about everything. His store was a monument to the melting-pot culture of Uptown: he sold tripe and avocados, rice, garbanzos, catfish, buffalo fish and three kinds of greens; he routinely overcharged, hit the wrong register keys purposely and apologized profusely if caught, and took delight in giving short weight. If you paid for a pound of hamburger, you got thirteen ounces and the weight of Sam's thumb. Most fascinating of his poses and postures was his continuing role as Puerto Rican businessman. Sam was Armenian.
"Here. You look like sick man. Like you don' make no money lately." He tossed Whelan an apple and laughed. "I buy you breakfast in case you got important case today."
Whelan caught it and shrugged. "I'm not proud." He waved and walked on, biting into the apple. It was dry and mealy.
Across the street, the marquee of the Aragon Ballroom was being changed: BOXING: YOUNG JOE LOUIS VS. HERMINIO ESPARRAGOSA PLUS 8 BOUTS was being removed, letter by letter.
One of the Persians caught his eye and waved to him from the window of the A&W next to the Aragon. It was Rashid. The Iranian smiled, winked, nodded, secure in the knowledge that if he made no other sale today he'd still get Whelan's money. Whelan seldom had lunch anywhere else. For his part, Whelan was glad to be so predictable. He couldn't imagine eating anywhere else when there was a place of such unadulterated bizarreness at hand. He was certain that there was no A&W like this one anywhere in the world and possibly no eatery of any kind like it. Two menus, one Persian and Middle Eastern, the other American junk classics. The customer could choose not just between sandwiches but between worlds. A papaburger or shalimar kabob; the cheez dog or a shish kabob; felafel or a taco; chili, pizza, egg rolls, pizza puffs, ribs, chicken, gyros, Polish sausage and Italian beef. And Whelan had tried them all, every item on the menu except for the one that truly frightened him: he'd never had the ham and cheese. He'd never seen anyone order the ham and cheese, knew only that the ham, hard and red like the stones of the pyramids, sat there in a glass case and aged itself.
He pushed open the heavy door to his office building and noticed the puddle in the corner of the hallway. He held his breath and went quickly up the steps — marble steps, and brass handrails to go with them, reminders of the time long since passed when the building and the entire neighborhood had been prosperous, a refuge for the wealthy from the rest of a dirty, noisy city. Now, it was one more office building holding a lot of empty space and counting the days before it became a parking lot.
He paused at the landing to the first floor and looked at the offices on both sides of the hall: a small travel agency whose continued existence puzzled him — no one he knew in Uptown took vacations; two social service agencies — the death sentence on any building was the day it was forced to rent its space to welfare agencies; a baby photographer; two small Korean importers; an old man who rented out theatrical props. Whelan counted the days for one of them to move out so he could be forever free of the hated second floor. Other than the Whelan Investigative Agency, the only other tenant upstairs was a nervous-looking accountant seldom there. The halls were kept in semidarkness by the penny-conscious owner, who lived somewhere in suburban Lincolnwood avoiding taxes and subpoenas, and all doors but the front were kept locked, including those to the restrooms. Whelan had to use the one on the first floor, and had to get the key from the baby photographer. The owner was rumored to be the landlord of an entire block of burned-out buildings on the West Side, and Whelan fully believed some morning he'd come in to find the building a pile of soot.
He opened the door to his office, picked up his mail from the floor and went in. If possible, it was hotter inside than on the street, and he opened the window quickly to let the fumes from Lawrence Avenue and the noise from the el come in. Across from his window, the Aragon marquee was undergoing rapid transformation: "FRIDAY NITE SALSA! three bands y un grande ..."
He laughed at the familiar Creole employed by the management of the old dance hall and went through his mail. There were two carryout menus, one for a new pizzeria over on Addison near the ballpark and another for a place calling itself Imperial Mongolian Majesty House and promising Szechuan and Mongolian cuisine. He filed both menus in his top drawer, with the rest of his collection. There were now over ninety, representing most of the cuisines of the planet Earth, and he intended to sample them all before he died.
There was also money in the mail. "Fat City," he said.
The money was a check from Kenneth Laflin for six hundred dollars. It was supposed to have been seven hundred and change, but Whelan by now understood Laflin's approach to his obligations, his grasp of math and his adversarial world view. The letter was an exact duplicate of all Laflin's others, just as Laflin was a clone of the fast-moving high steppers on La Salle Street, where lawyers bred and multiplied like the Gerbils from Hell but always seemed to find work for one another. Tall, perfectly dressed, with silver-fox hair, a year-round tan and the morals of Legs Diamond. And of course, successful. Dealing with him was an irritant, but Laflin was a major contributor to his income, and the relationship afforded Whelan the exquisite pleasure of occasionally telling a rich young attorney to go screw himself. The letter thanked Whelan for his professionalism, for his ingenuity and for his inventiveness, and expressed the hope that they would continue their professional association in the future. Whelan stared at the letter, annoyed that he'd have to come up with a new set of photocopies for his expenses, then looked at the check and felt better.
He sat clown at the gray steel desk, inhaled the exhaust coming in through his window and looked at the sports section of the Tribune. Art Shears was coming by around ten but he expected no other calls or visitors till then. He often had coffee and donuts delivered at ten-thirty from the greasy spoon under the tracks, just to give his hallways some traffic and himself a face to talk to. There was really no reason to be in the office now, but he willingly spent his mornings at the desk, for he believed it was the way he kept order in his life. Each morning he came in at nine, sat at his desk, wrote his reports to Laflin or other clients, drank coffee and read the paper column by column. Often he took the rest of the day off, but the mornings provided structure. If you let go of the structure in your life, you left yourself vulnerable to other things and you lost what you had, whether to sloth or drink or something worse. Whelan was fairly well convinced that if he were suddenly freed of the need to work to support himself, he'd go off the deep end.
At nine-thirty he called his service, normally a perfunctory call, brief and friendly. He was surprised when a new voice answered, not the whiskey-throated Shelley, whom he'd never met but envisioned as Lucille Ball at 275 pounds, but a man, a young man, and of distant origins.
"Hello-good-morning, this is the offices of Wee-Lan Investigative Sarviees," the voice sang.
"No. It's 'Way-lan.' It's pronounced 'Way-lan.'"
"He is not in," the little voice sang back.
"No, the name, my name, is Paul Whelan. It is pronounced 'Way-lan.'"
"Paul Whelan speaking, my friend."
"Thank you very much, sir. Mr. Wee-lan is not in. I am answering sarvice."
"I know that. You are my answering service."
There was a pause, indecision, perhaps a breakthrough. "Who is calling, please?"
He took a deep breath and said, "Paul Whelan."
"He is not in," the voice chirped, its confidence back.
Whelan took another breath. "Good morning, friend. And what is your name?"
"I am Abraham Chacko," the voice warbled.
"Hello. Good morning."
"And, ah, where are you from, Abraham?"
"I am from India," he said excitedly.
"No kidding? Well, Abraham? I am Paul Whelan of Whelan Investigative Services. I am. The man to whom you are now speaking is Paul Whelan."
"He is not in."
A dull pressure, more of an ache, began to form behind Whelan's eyes, and he saw spots of white light. "Every day dozens of people are killed for trivial reasons, Abraham, did you know that?"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Where is Shelley, Abraham?"
"She is not here."
"Yeah, that was my guess, too. Tell you what, Abraham. You call Mr. Whelan for me at his office in about, oh, ten minutes and tell him I'll see him later."
"Veddy good, sir."
He hung up and began fiddling with his desk clock, which had not worked since winter. In a few minutes there was a ring on the phone.
"Hello-good-morning, Mr. Wee-lan, this is answering sarvice. You have but only just the one call and he is a Mr. Paul. He will see you later."
"Thank you very much."
The service was, in many ways, a waste of money, since the bulk of his calls turned out to be phone solicitations, wrong numbers, teenage jokers or weirdos fascinated by the notion of speaking to a private detective. Still, the phone brought occasional business and was a way for people to catch him. Or it had been till the appearance of Abraham Chacko.
At ten after ten there was a knock, followed by a cough and the sound of feet shuffling. Through the clouded glass of the door he could see the slightly stooped silhouette of Art Shears.
"Come on in, Art."
Whelan could see at a glance that Art Shears's life had seen changes and they weren't for the better. He hoped he could hide his shock. Art's hair was shaggy and going to gray, and it hung over his collar. He'd lost weight, more than he needed to, and his rumpled seersucker jacket seemed to be a size too large.
"Hey, Paulie. Long time no see."
Whelan nodded and got up to shake his hand. "Joe Konzcak's funeral."
"That's how it is now. Weddings and funerals, that's where we all see each other. When you're young, you think you'll hang around with your friends forever, that you'll never stop seeing them. Then it's just weddings and funerals."
"And not many weddings," Whelan said, laughing.
"No. Maybe yours, Paul. Got to happen some day. How bout it?"
"Don't hold your breath, Artie. I think you got married for both of us."
"Still seeing Liz?"
"No. And don't ask. How're things with you, Art? Sit down."
"Oh, super. Can't complain." Art Shears took the client's chair and Whelan sat down on the edge of the desk. There was a rash across both Art's cheeks and the bridge of his nose. Artie grinned and fidgeted and Whelan could smell whiskey.
"Sorry I'm late, Paul. I called to say I'd be running a few minutes behind and I got some guy from Pakistan."
"India. My answering service." He laughed and Art smiled.
"Some service. Hey, interesting location for an office, Paul. You love stuff like this. Soaking up the local color, or what?"
"I thought I was the local color."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Death in Uptown"
Copyright © 1991 Michael Raleigh.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had never heard of the author Michael Raleigh until I read his very moving novel, Castle of the Flynns, and finished the book wishing deeply that the Flynn's were my family. That book was filled with so many likeable, lovable characters--who were also characters. I also finished that novel determined to find anything else I could find by this terrific author. This book is apparently one in a series of mysteries that center on Paul Whelan, an ex-Chicago-area copy turned private investigator, and again while I found the story compelling, it was really the characters that drew me in and carried me to the end. I finished this book liking Paul Whelan very much, and equally so the obnoxious, exasperating, but strangely likable Detective Baughman. I will definitely be reading more books by this author.