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The breakthrough, p.11
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       The Breakthrough, p.11

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 
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  “Now, Shane is everybody’s favorite. No complaints about him. This is a busy night. Can I put you on a list for a game?”

  “No, I just want to talk to Shane for a minute.”

  “Like I say, he probably won’t be available till midnight.”

  Jack called Margaret. “You still with Nurse Cilano?”

  “No, she left.”

  “Shoot. I was going to ask if there was something we could slip Boone to keep him sleeping till daybreak. I’ve got to follow another lead.”

  “So you want Haeley and Boone in induced comas? What’s the matter with you, Jack? You know, Chaz thinks we ought to tell him right away.”

  “Yeah? Well, I don’t tell her how to do her work.”

  “She’s right, you know.”

  “Of course. But I also know Boone.”

  “You think he’ll overreact?”

  “Well, I would. But he can also be corralled and his passion focused. But I need more time. I need to follow a lead in Hammond, and I’ve got somebody talking to Florence’s pastor. Then I’ll be ready to involve Boone.”

  “And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

  “Be there for him. Be ready. He wakes up now, tell him you just want to relieve him for a while. He’ll know it’s too late to talk to Max tonight.”

  “I’m not going to lie to him, Jack. If he makes me tell him what’s going on, I’m likely to do it.”

  “You don’t want to do that without me there.”

  “No, I don’t. And if you’re here, you can do it. I’m just telling you—”

  “You’re going to have to deal with the fallout, Margaret. Now you can do this. You don’t have to lie. Just be creative. I’ll see you on the way back from Hammond.”

  “Any idea when?”

  “You know better than to ask that, Margaret. I’ve never been able to guess how long these things take.”

  “That’s for sure.”

  17

  Interviews

  Detective Antoine Johnson knew that even in this day and age, a black man couldn’t just show up at the door of a white man and his family in Chicago and expect to be invited in—especially after dark—even if he’s in a suit and flashes a badge. Johnson called the 11th district stationhouse and reached the desk sergeant.

  Antoine told him the name of the man he was going to see, in case Waters called for verification—as he should.

  The sergeant laughed. “I’ll tell him we have no record of you on the force and that your badge number is bogus.”

  “You’re a laugh a minute, Sarge.”

  Johnson was within a mile of the Waterses’ when he called their home.

  “He’s putting the kids down,” Mrs. Waters said. “May I have him call you?”

  “Sorry, no. Chicago Police Department, ma’am. I just need permission to pay him a visit this evening.”

  “Tonight? What’s this about?”

  “I’m not at liberty to say, ma’am. Can I just have a minute with him?”

  Antoine heard the muffled sounds of Mrs. Waters fetching her husband and telling him the police were on the phone.

  “This is Pastor Waters,” he said, wariness in his voice.

  Johnson introduced himself and read off his badge number. “You’ll need that to verify me.”

  “That shouldn’t be necessary. How can I help you?”

  Antoine was tempted to lecture the man. Yes, it was necessary to check out someone who wants to visit you in the middle of the evening, claiming to be a cop. That same naiveté had made the pastor reveal exactly who was babysitting Max Lamonica Drake and where she lived.

  “Just need to chat about one of your parishioners. Shouldn’t take long.”

  “We can’t do this by phone? I’m putting the kids down and—”

  “I do need to talk to you in person, sir.”

  “Is it about Ray-Ray, because his parole officer tells me—”

  “I’m not familiar with a Ray-Ray, sir.”

  “Oh, sorry. He’s been coming to church since he was moved to a halfway house, and I think he’s doing well. But you never know.”

  “I should be there momentarily, Pastor. I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but it is important.”

  Antoine exited his unmarked squad in an alley behind the three-flat house where the Waterses lived on the first floor. He transferred his wallet badge to his outside breast pocket so it would be visible in the light over the back entrance. The pastor was waiting for him at the door.

  “Thanks for making time to see me. I hope you checked me out.”

  “I wasn’t going to,” the squat redhead said, looking embarrassed. “But the wife insisted.” He wore a sleeveless T-shirt over suit pants and was barefooted.

  “Good for her. That’s wise.”

  “You checked out,” the pastor said, leading the detective through a narrow hallway into a tiny kitchen.

  “Good for me.”

  Pastor Waters laughed a little too loud at this. He introduced his wife, who shook Antoine’s hand, looking concerned, but excused herself to finish getting the children down.

  “If you don’t mind my saying,” Johnson said, sitting across Waters at a Formica-topped table, “you seem a little—”

  “Old to have young kids? They ought to be my grandkids, shouldn’t they?”

  Johnson shrugged. “Just curious.”

  “We married late is all. Three kids ten and under. Wish we could afford a bigger place, but this is what the Lord called us to.”

  “Mm-hm,” Antoine said, pulling out his palm-size leather notebook and studying a page. “And you’re, uh, bi-vocational?”

  “Yes, sir. I work at Big Box in the electronics department during the week—salesman. Trying to make ends meet and keep too much of a salary burden off the congregation. You a churchgoing man, detective?”

  “Not as much as I used to be or as much as I should, but yeah, I go when I can. Still visit my mama’s church. She goes all the time.”

  “Good, good.”

  “Let me get down to business, if it’s all right, as this is urgent.” Johnson busily thumbed through his notes. “You didn’t work today?”

  “I work every day.”

  “I mean at the store.”

  “Yes, no, I work there only Monday through Friday. Saturday I spend at the church, getting ready for Sunday. I was at the church all day today. North Beach Fellowship. You know it?”

  “No, sir. Sorry.”

  Pastor Waters tried to tell Antoine where it was, something about a strip mall near a KFC. “I know the area,” Antoine said. “Now, did you have a visitor this morning?”

  “Several. We’re a small congregation, but the people know I’m there Saturdays, so that’s when they come to see me, for counseling and the like. This morning our outreach team leader met with me, and also our food-drive chairwoman. Oh, and the head of our women’s missionary society.”

  “This concerns a visitor from outside your congregation.”

  “Oh, yes! The soldier! The brother of one of our former parishioners. She’s married to a policeman. Do you know him? Boone Drake.”

  “I work for him.”

  “Wonderful! How did the surprise go?”

  “The surprise?”

  “Her brother just got home from Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever they’re fighting now, and he had planned a big surprise for her.”

  “Yet he didn’t know where she lived?”

  “He did, but the Drakes weren’t home, and a neighbor or someone told him they were gone for the day. He was just wondering if I knew where they were.”

  “Hold on a second. Excuse me.” Antoine rose and moved to the back door, where he whispered into his cell phone to the leader of the ransom team stationed at the Drake home. “How many homes near the Drakes’? . . . Cul-de-sac? . . . Six? Get someone to canvass ’em. . . . Yes, tonight. C’mon, man, there’s a kid missing! I need to know if anyone saw a blue Buick in the area or if a guy in Army f
atigues was asking where the Drakes were.”

  When Antoine returned to the kitchen, Pastor Waters looked puzzled. “I’d sure like to know what’s going on.”

  “Back to your story, sir. How did this Alfonso know where to find you?”

  “He said his sister told him all about the church and me and everything. I just happened to know that little Max—that’s her son from a previous relationship; Boone Drake recently adopted him. Oh, but you’d know that. I’m saying too much. . . .”

  “No, go on.”

  “I knew they were at some party—I don’t know where—but that Florence Quigley would be watching him. She’s a member of our church and the Drakes’ regular sitter.”

  “And you thought it was wise to tell a stranger who she was and where she lived?”

  “Oh, he wasn’t really a stranger.”

  “You knew him?”

  “Well, no, but I’m a pretty good judge of character. And the brother of a dear friend isn’t a stranger long with me.”

  “You accepted without question that he was Haeley Drake’s brother?”

  “Well, sure. Why else would he want to surprise her? He showed me a picture of them together before he shipped out. And you know what else? I told him I bet he was her unspoken prayer request. You know what that is?”

  “I do.”

  “I told him she did that often. She would ask prayer for her son or something else in her life, and she would almost always add, ‘And one unspoken request.’ Well, it’s never polite to ask what that is. People need to be able to keep private things private. But Alfonso agreed that he had to be that unspoken request, because he’d been on a classified assignment. And she didn’t even know he was back. He was so excited to finally meet his nephew.”

  “Pastor Waters, I need you to tell me everything you can remember about what this man looked like, what else he said, anything at all.”

  “One thing. I always like to get a reading of where a person stands, spiritually I mean. With Alfonso I asked if he shared his sister’s faith. He said he was washed in the same blood I was. You know what that means?”

  “Sure, the blood of Christ.”

  “You have to admit, that’s an inside term. People outside the church wouldn’t say that.”

  “Mm-hm.” Antoine Johnson set his notebook and pen aside and massaged his face with his palms. “Pastor Waters, it gives me no pleasure to tell you this, but I think it’s fair to say that this man purporting to be Alfonso Lamonica is a long way from being an insider.”

  If it was possible, the pale man grew paler. The light seemed to fade from his eyes, and his smile froze. “Why? What has happened? Did I do the wrong thing?”

  “Yes, sir. I’m afraid you did.”

  Jack Keller was not a gambling man, but his work had taken him into establishments like the Lucky Day. He found himself amused at the casino rats who frequented such places. People of all socioeconomic levels—judging from their apparel—crowded the acres of gaming floor, playing table games, slot machines, craps, roulette, you name it. And this was one of the last remaining venues where one could smoke indoors.

  Besides what looked to Jack like barely twenty-one-year-old gangbangers, he saw adults of all vintages, including the elderly and infirm, some in wheelchairs, many using canes, and others pulling oxygen tanks as they searched for hungry machines into which they slid plastic cards tethered to their belt loops by curly stretch cords.

  Ironically, Jack found the poker room a strange oasis from the blue clouds, as for some reason it had been decreed smoke free. He approached a reception desk under a bank of TV monitors listing available games and waiting lists.

  “I called and talked to a floor man a little while ago,” he told a young woman.

  “That would be Goose,” she said, pointing over her shoulder without looking.

  Across the massive poker room lay an elevated area with a podium, behind which stood a big man in a natty sport coat with the Lucky Day logo on his pocket.

  Jack shook the man’s hand.

  “We’ve got a waiting list,” Goose said. “You on it?”

  “I’m the one who called about talking to Mr. Shane Loggyn.”

  Goose’s eyes narrowed. “And I’m the one who told you he’s on till midnight.”

  “Which one is he, by the way?”

  “Right behind you, but don’t bother him.”

  Jack turned to see a dealer in the customary Lucky Day outfit—ruffled shirt, sleeve garters, gaming badge dangling from a lanyard around his neck. Shane Loggyn proved distinguished looking, with a dark-chocolate complexion, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a gaudy watch, and displaying manicured fingers. He appeared to have impeccable posture, sitting straight with his lower back tucked in, making him appear taller than the players. He had large, expressive eyes and maintained a steady, lighthearted patter. The players at his table looked happy to be there.

  “You say he’s popular?”

  Goose nodded. “And has seniority. Everybody knows him.”

  “Do people ask for him?”

  “They would, but that’s not how it works. We assign you to a table, and our dealers move every half hour. You play long enough, you’ll get Shane your share of times.”

  “So they rotate to a break occasionally?”

  “Occasionally, but as I told you, Shane’s next break is when he’s finished for the night.”

  “So you have other dealers currently on break?”

  Goose hesitated. “Why?”

  “Because someone will need to sit in for Shane while I chat with him for a few minutes.”

  “You got a hearing problem? I’ve made it clear that—”

  “Don’t make me show my badge right here on the floor, Goose. That wouldn’t be good for business, would it?”

  Goose sighed. “Who you with?”

  “Chicago PD.”

  “You realize you’re in Indiana, right?”

  “Do you really want to do this the hard way, Goose? Chicago and Hammond, we reciprocate. You need to see if I’m legit, I can give you the personal phone number of Lieutenant Tidwell, but I don’t think he’d appreciate being bothered after hours.”

  “I know Lefty Tidwell.”

  “I thought you might.”

  “He’s good people.”

  “So am I, if I get a little cooperation.”

  “Shane in trouble?”

  “Just—”

  “Need to talk to him. Yeah, I know the drill.” Goose whispered to a passing woman. When she responded, he said, “Have Kenny do it and tell him I’ll make it up to him.”

  Jack said, “And do you have a private place Shane and I can—”

  “Nobody’s in the high-limit room, but we’ve got a game scheduled in there in about thirty minutes.”

  “That’ll be more than enough time.”

  Goose pointed him toward the room.

  Jack sat at an empty table, gazing back out through smoked-glass doors. Goose approached Shane Loggyn with a young dealer in tow. Shane finished a hand, shoved the chips to the winner, moved the dealer button, and was gathering the cards. When Goose whispered in his ear, Loggyn raised his eyebrows and spread his fingers on the table to show the overhead cameras his hands were empty. He lifted his chip tray from a hole in the table and followed Goose to the high-limit room as Kenny slid in behind him and set his own tray into the table.

  Goose introduced Shane and shut the door on his way out. Shane tucked his tray under one arm and shook Jack’s hand with the other.

  “You know I work on tips,” he said in a sonorous baritone. He sounded like a professor.

  “Sorry?”

  “I get a few dollars an hour for showing up in costume, but I live on tips. The longer I’m away from those tables, the less I make.”

  “I’ll be brief.”

  Shane set his tray down and sat across from Jack. Suddenly he was slouching, as if his entire demeanor in the other room had been an act.

 
“Beat,” he said. “But a couple of hours to go. What do you need? I can tell you I have a nephew serving time in California on a weapons charge and that I have never been arrested. Other than that, I have no idea what you want with me.”

  “Fair enough. You still own a blue Buick?”

  “I do, sir, and I love that car.”

  “You drive it to work today?”

  “No, I drove the wife’s car. Lent the Buick to a friend.”

  Jack pulled out his notebook. “May I ask who that was?”

  “A friend of a friend.”

  Jack looked up. “I need a name.”

  “I believe the last name is Bertalay. Something like that.”

  Jack cocked his head. “Someone is using your vintage car and you don’t know his name?”

  “His name’s John. I’m guessing at the last name, but I think that’s it.”

  “Did he tell you what he wanted it for?”

  “A date, I think—oh, don’t tell me. Was my car used in a crime?”

  “I’ll get to that. For now—”

  Loggyn cursed under his breath. “I should have known.”

  “Should have known?”

  “I didn’t worry about it because my friend asked, and he gave me like a security deposit.”

  “How much?”

  “Two large.”

  “Thousand?”

  “No!” Loggyn chuckled. “In our business a hundred is large. Two hundred.”

  “So your friend gave you two hundred dollars to make you feel better about letting his friend use your car. For how long?”

  “He promised I’d get it back in time to drive to work tomorrow morning.”

  “And this Bertalay took it when?”

  “Last night.”

  “Did you meet him?”

  “Briefly. Seemed like an okay kid. Just back from the service.”

  “Wearing fatigues? Buzz cut? Sunburned?”

  “That’s him. Well spoken. Polite. Grateful.”

  “I’ll bet. And who’s the mutual friend?”

  “Former employee. And I may have overstated the friend part. I can’t say DeWayne’s actually my friend.”

  “DeWayne Mannock?”

  Shane grinned and shook his head. “Why doesn’t it surprise me a Chicago cop knows that name?”

  “So, not really a friend but a coworker?”

 
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