ya, champ. Ya survived the old lady's guff. What'll it be?" Carl
greeted Detective Morrison as he slid into his usual place at the
"Make it a dark draft, burger and chips."
Carl shouted the order to his cook standing at an open window in
the back of the tavern. He studied Morrison a moment before he said,
"You look down in the mouth."
"Harold, what would you say if a 105-year old skeleton with 1993
dental work turned up in a steamer trunk over a hundred years old?"
"I'd say an antique dealer had a sideline in grave robbery."
"What about the dental work?"
"He was from the Frankenstein School of Grave Robbery. Spare parts
from his junk yard of bones."
"Why would he hang expensive jewelry on the skeleton?"
"Aw, that's easy. He had this thing about prettying up his work-kind
of like putting mud flaps, whitewall tires and a front hood decoration
on a reconditioned car." "What
kinda of guy would do this, supposing it was a man, which usually
it is, a white male, that is, in his twenties or thirties?"
"A classy guy, I think. A guy who likes his things nice, real nice,
Carl. That's good. Murderers are twisted kooks who are out to look
like nice guys."
"Yeah, I bet they convince themselves every morning when they look
in the mirror, 'I'm a nice guy; the world just misunderstands me.'
They shit, shower and shave like the rest of us and then go out
the door to work, like us normal guys, only their job is to kill
some poor innocent girl on her way to her grandmother's house."
"You got it, Carl."
Carl tried to suppress a self-satisfied smile. Morrison's order
was up, so Carl went to retrieve it from where it waited under a
heated lamp on the back counter.
"If I were you, Mike," he said, as he placed the food before him,
"I'd start checking out antique dealers.
Morrison leisurely chewed the wad of food in his mouth. The rhythm
of the chump of his teeth grinding the meat engaged his thought
process like gears. He refrained from comment on Carl's suggestion.
An obvious possibility, requiring an extensive and expensive search.
The dealer, as well as anyone who had purchased a steamer trunk
of that description, would be suspect. It was a place to start until
something more promising turned up from the complete forensics report.
"A refill, Carl," Morrison shoved his beer mug toward the bartender.
Carl refilled the mug, then placed the frothy brew before Morrison.
Holding the cold glass ear of the mug in his hand, the satisfaction
he always felt after having churned his thoughts in the mill of
Carl's Dugout Bar on Wabash washed over him again. Carl's common
sense was neat and clean like a batter whacking a fast ball into
the stands. Morrison savored pitching one to Carl, seeing him swing
and go for the hit, sometimes a strike, sometimes a ball, but this
time Carl had a home run. Morrison felt Carl's speculations were
"Gotta run now, pal," Morrison eased himself up and left, leaving
Carl to serve other mid-day regulars at the bar.
He pulled the flaps of his coat over his ears as he headed into
the windy street. A taxi horn honked and a city bus rumbled as it
pulled away from the curb into the traffic. Sporty cars darted in
and out among the limousines and bigger luxury cars all jockeying
for position at the intersection. Morrison jumped the curb just
as the pedestrian light read "walk," heading back at a brisk clip
to his office, weaving in and out of other Chicagoans huddled in
winter jackets. In no other city was the pace of pedestrians quicker
than in Chicago. It was a walk-run. He loved it.
The patches of cloud between the buildings presaged more snow. Maybe
he could have one more shot at persuading Maggie to go to Florida
without him. Why should she stay here in this mess, shoveling out,
when she could be sunning herself on the beach? Knowing Maggie,
that would be a task for a wizard, which he was not. His skills
at wizardry were already stretched to the max with nabbing deviants
and sociopaths. To tell the truth, sometimes he found deviants and
sociopaths were less inscrutable than his dearly beloved wife. Women!
Species inscrutabilis, as far as he was concerned.
No sooner had he arrived in his office than the telephone rang.
"We've a match for you on the Jackson Park victim."
Morrison's ears perked up. "That soon? Super!"
"Subject matches dental records of a Carol Trilling, disappeared
August 31, 1993, on route to Seattle, Washington, from her home
in Silver Spring, Maryland. Age 42. Married. Government Administrator,
Treasury Department, D.C."
"Impossible! She was alive four months ago!"
"Go figure. We ran the match and that's what we got."
"Big help. You ain't making my job easier," Morrison said with a
testy edge in his voice and hung up.
Finally, a breakthrough on the Trilling missing person case, but
not one that made sense. What good was identification of the missing
woman when it confounded the bizarre nature of the case further?
Morrison wrestled with the incongruous circumstances of the murder.
The killer devised a method to convincingly age the skeleton. What
other possible explanation was there?
He reached for the phone and dialed Harold Gruber in pathology.
"You know anything yet about probable cause of death?"
"No skull or bone fractures to indicate a violent death. No trace
particles of poison, contaminants etc. on the remains. No conclusion
can be drawn."
"A clean kill," Morrison summarized. "Got a read on the time of
"Dead a long time. 1890's."
"Good god, Gruber, the victim's been identified as 42-year old Carol
Triling, last seen alive on August 31st! How do you explain 1993
dental work on a jawbone that old?"
"Got me. That's your job. I just run the tests."
"Thanks, Harold." Morrison hung up.
Morrison walked around his desk, scratching his head, and settled
in his chair. He untied his shoes and put his stocking feet on top
of his desk. Fragile flakes of snow were beginning to pattern the
sky outside the window, leaving no build-up on the ledge outside.
He watched their delicate drift as he sifted the information he
had just dropped into the hopper of his mind.
What was this new Piltdown scammer's game? Did the fraud super-glue
modern dental work on a hundred year old jawbone? Trilling's old
lover and his tenant on Hermitage Avenue knew more about her body
dumped in a steamer trunk than they were saying. It was time for
round three with Thad Majeski and fancy-pants Brooks in the downstairs
apartment. Suddenly, he dialed up the Public Information Officer.
"Keep the reporters out of here for four hours. Put a lid on the
Steamer Trunk Story. I need four hours."
"You know how journalists are," the officer stated. "I'll do my
damnedest, but the sharks will be circling before you can leave
the building. Per procedure, all I can say is we'll release the
identity as soon as the family is informed."
"Just four hours. Stall them if you have to." Morrison hung up,
grabbed his coat and headed for the elevator. In five minutes, he
steered his unmarked car out the underground parking garage and
was on his way to Hermitage Avenue.