“People can do a lot of things with a photo and a computer,” he said.
“So he might not really be dead?”
“Maybe not,” he said. “I think we ought to call the police and let them figure it out.”
She pointed to the screen. “He is the police.”
ALEC HEADED OVER TO THE HAMILTON HOTEL TO TALK TO Regan Madison, the nutcase who had called the office and asked to speak to Detective Benjamin Sweeney. When told by the operator that Sweeney wasn’t available, she’d asked if that was a permanent or a temporary situation. And that’s when Detective John Wincott and Detective Alec Buchanan got involved.
The operator had told him that either the woman who’d called or her assistant would meet Alec in front of the elevators on the south side of the lobby. He spotted a young man dressed in khaki pants and a navy blue blazer shifting from foot to foot in the elevator alcove and headed toward him. He looked like a bodyguard, maybe even a former linebacker with the Bears, or some other pro football team, but when Alec got closer to him, he saw how very young he was. Hell, he was just a teenager.
The young man stepped forward and thrust out his hand as he introduced himself. “My name’s Henry Portman, and I’m Regan’s … I mean, I’m Regan Madison’s assistant.”
The kid was nervous. Alec didn’t make any attempt to put him at ease. “So where’s …” he began, and then stopped. He’d almost called Henry’s employer a nutcase. Not too diplomatic, he decided. “Where’s Mrs. Madison?” he began again.
“Oh, she’s Miss Madison,” he corrected. “She isn’t married. I thought she might get engaged a while back, but it didn’t work out, and I was real happy about that.” He grinned and added, “I guess that isn’t important, is it?”
“Probably not,” Alec said. “So tell me. Why were you happy she didn’t get engaged?” He thought maybe Henry had a crush on his employer and wondered if he’d admit it.
“The guy was only after her money.”
“She has lots of money?”
Henry realized he was speaking out of school. “You’ll have to ask her about that. She’s waiting for us in her office on the third floor. She’s making sure no one touches her computer. If you’ll accompany me—”
“She’s guarding her computer?”
Henry was wearing a key on a long silver chain. As soon as they’d stepped inside the brass-plated elevator, he inserted the key into a lock and pushed the button for the third floor.
“All the offices are on three,” he explained. “And no one can get off on that floor without a key. It’s for security purposes. There’s a lot of expensive equipment up there.”
Alec filed the information away. At six foot three inches, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the kid, but he felt dwarfed by him. Alec had the muscles in his shoulders and upper arms, but Henry had about fifty pounds on him. Still, Alec felt he could take him down if he had to.
Something was making Henry nervous.
“How old are you?” Alec asked.
“You still in high school?”
“No, sir. I go to Loyola here in Chicago.”
“Loyola doesn’t have a football team.” He spoke the thought out loud.
Henry smiled. “I get asked what position I play and for what team all the time. A big African-American man with a twenty-inch neck. People make assumptions, like I’m a football player or sometimes even a rapper. My sheet’s clean now, by the way.”
Ah, there it was. Alec didn’t smile, but he came close. “Yeah?” he said as the elevator doors opened on the third floor.
“You’ll probably find out anyway,” Henry blurted. He stepped off the elevator and turned to face Alec. “Even though my file is sealed, you’ll figure out a way to read it like they do on those cop shows, so I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you. I had a couple of problems when I was a kid, and I spent some time in juvie. I was hanging with the wrong people. That’s not an excuse. Just fact.”
“Okay,” he said. “So how come you’re so nervous?”
“You,” he stammered. “Well, not exactly you. Cops make me nervous. That’s not so unusual. They make my friend Kevin nervous too. And he doesn’t have a record.”
“Your boss called us,” he reminded Henry. “So stop sweating it.”
Henry smiled. They had stopped and were now standing in the hallway. “Our offices are down that corridor and around the corner.”
Alec took his time following. He paused at each office door along the way to look inside. When Henry realized what he was doing, he backtracked.
“That office belongs to Regan’s brother Spencer. He’s rarely here, though.”
“That one?” Alec asked nodding toward the office on the opposite side of the corridor.
“That one belongs to Walker.”
Alec made the connection. “Walker Madison, the race car driver?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
They continued on, turned the corner, and then Alec stopped again in front of another suite.
“That one’s Aiden’s office. He’s the oldest brother. There’s four in all. Three boys and one girl.”
The hall was as luxurious as the lobby. There were fresh flowers in beautiful vases on each table along the corridor. The carpet was a deep red, the walls a white damask.
“Tell me about your boss.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What’s she like to work for?”
“Oh, she’s great.”
“How did you get this job?”
“A teacher in my high school had me fill out some forms for an intern program here at the hotel, working with computers. I thought it was a joke because I didn’t know much of anything about computers back then, didn’t even know how to do e-mail. We had computers in my high school, but they didn’t work half the time. Anyway, Miss Madison chose me and had me working day and night all summer long. I even slept at the hotel while I trained, until she found me a family that had an extra bedroom and didn’t mind having an extra kid around. I’ve worked here ever since.”
It sounded to Alec as though the teacher and Regan Madison had worked together to save the kid’s ass.
“Are you still living with that family?”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
There was a set of double glass doors directly ahead. “That’s my office,” Henry said, pride radiating in his voice. “Miss Madison’s office is behind mine.”
“So anyone wanting to see her has to go through you.”
“That’s right. Except when I’m in class. Then she fends for herself. We do okay.”
“What is it you do for her?”
“Oh, just about everything.”
“Okay. And what is it she does?”
Henry flashed a smile. “She gives money away.” Then he laughed, a deep belly laugh. “I love saying that.”
“And it’s true. She really does give money away. Miss Madison runs the family’s charitable foundation.”
Alec opened the door and motioned for Henry to go first. The kid rushed ahead to stand behind his desk. “This is my work area, my domain,” he said proudly. “It’s kind of a mess now. I was reorganizing.”
There were papers strewn all over the top of the desk. Henry pushed one stack aside and picked up a clipping from the newspaper.
“Here’s a photo of the Madisons,” he said. “I cut this out of the newspaper a while back, and I was going to frame it.”
He continued to hold onto the clipping as he said, “It was taken at a dedication of Conrad Park. You know where that is?” He didn’t wait for a response but continued. “The Madisons donated all the land and paid for a new jogging trail. Well, actually, it was an old trail that they repaved and expanded,” he said. “They also paid for a beautiful playground with all sorts of equipment for the little kids to climb on. Like it says in the article, Miss Madison used to go running there all the time, rain or shine, but now that the hotel has a track upstairs, she doesn’t have to leave the building.” He nodded toward the article and photo and said, “It was a nice profile of the brothers. I’m saving it because it’s kind of rare for all of them to be together.”
Alec barely glanced at the article. The fact that the Madisons were do-gooders wasn’t relevant now.
There was another set of French doors about fifteen feet behind Henry’s desk. Alec could see a young woman through the glass. She was on the phone, her back to the door. She ended the call and turned around, then hurriedly walked toward him.
Son of a gun, he thought. He recognized those long, gorgeous legs. She opened the door and stood there, the worry evident in her amazing eyes, her face flushed. Oh, yes. Same beautiful woman, all right.
Henry made the introductions as Regan walked forward and offered her hand. Her handshake was firm, no-nonsense, her smile disarming. He smiled back. Might as well start out charming, he decided. If she was a nutcase, which, after meeting Henry, he sincerely doubted, then being charming might make the difference in her continued cooperation. Noah Clayborne, a family friend also involved in law enforcement, once said that you could catch more crazies with sugar than vinegar. Of course, Noah, a true bull in a china store, had never bothered to test that theory. Like Alec, he much preferred clobbering male suspects who gave him trouble to chatting it up with them.
Apparently Regan didn’t remember him. Alec thought about it and decided not to mention the fact that he’d nearly run her down on the street last week. If she had remembered the incident, she surely would have said something. He obviously wasn’t memorable; she definitely was.
“You probably don’t recall, Detective, but we ran into each other last week just outside the police station.”
What do you know? She did remember.
“You know him?” Henry asked Regan.
“Sort of,” she answered. “We did run into each other, and if he hadn’t caught me, I would have been splattered on the sidewalk.”
Alec grinned. “I remember trying to roll over you. You laughed. I remember that too.”
“Yes,” she said. “You reminded me of …”
She blushed slightly. “The zoo. You reminded me of the zoo.”
“You smell much better today.”
He laughed. “I hope so.”
Henry had a speculative glint in his eyes as he watched his boss. Regan turned to him and asked, “Did you explain to Detective Buchanan …”
“I thought I’d let you explain. I wasn’t sure what to say.”
Alec’s stare was locked on Regan. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Before she could answer, Henry blurted out, “We don’t know anything about that detective. Isn’t that right, Miss Madison?”
“What’s with the ‘Miss Madison’?” she asked.
Henry looked embarrassed. “I didn’t think I should call you Regan in front of the police.”
“How about you sit at your desk while I talk to your employer?” Alec said.
“But I was hoping …”
“Yes?” Alec asked impatiently.
“I was hoping I could stay until you look at the photo and tell us if it’s real or computer-generated. I think it’s phony, but Regan thinks it might be real.”
Alec didn’t know what the kid was rambling on about. “Go sit,” he repeated. “Now, Miss Madison—”
“Please, call me Regan.”
“Yeah, okay. Regan, how about you start explaining?”
“I was checking my e-mails,” she said as she walked back to her computer. The screen was dark until she moved the mouse on the pad. “And this came up.”
She quickly moved aside so she wouldn’t block his view. Alec inwardly winced. The photo wasn’t a pretty sight. Regan leaned against the credenza, her back to the computer so she wouldn’t have to look at the screen again.
“I wasn’t sure how to proceed,” she said. “I was afraid to save it or forward it because I was concerned that whoever sent it might have built in some kind of virus that would destroy it, so I just left it alone.”
“What do you think, Detective? Is it real or fake?”
“Real,” he said. “Definitely real.” There wasn’t any hesitation or doubt in his voice.
“You don’t seem very surprised or … shocked.”
“I’ve worked with the violent crime unit. I’ve seen a dead body before,” he said as he moved closer to the monitor to inspect the picture.
“Yes, of course you have, but …” She pointed to the screen. His casual attitude had rattled her, and she was trying to recover. “But he was also a detective, one of your own, a …” Her voice trailed off.
“Yes, he was.”
From what Alec had heard about Sweeney, he was also a nasty son of a bitch who walked around most days in an alcoholic daze. Everyone knew he was on the take and that it was only a matter of time before he got caught.
“Did you know him well?” she asked.
She hoped that explained why he seemed so casual about Detective Sweeney’s demise. If not, then Detective Buchanan had about as much compassion as a fish. She suddenly felt nervous standing so close to him. She was trapped between the desk and the credenza, and unless she wanted to hike up her skirt and vault over the top, she was going to have to wait until he moved. He did smell a lot better today. In fact he smelled great, like the clean outdoors.
He stepped back from the computer, “Why do you think it was sent to you?”
“I don’t know,” she said wearily. She rubbed her arms as she thought about it. “If you scroll back up, it shows it came from Henry’s computer, but of course it didn’t. Someone has both our e-mail addresses. I’ve been racking my brain trying to make sense out of this. So far, no luck. What is the procedure now?”
“We need a tech,” he said. He pulled out his cell phone and made the call, walking away from her as he spoke softly into the phone. When he was finished, he motioned for her to join him across the room. Two easy chairs faced a sofa in front of the windows overlooking Michigan Avenue. Regan often curled up on the sofa to do paperwork.