Scapegoat by Douglas Leonard

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Chapter 19– Stalked

The first day Steele wore his concealed weapon to work, he noticed a man in tan khakis and a forest green polo shirt reading a newspaper on a bench opposite Daley Plaza. It was a warm morning, but a little fresh to be wearing just a summer shirt. A cool breeze swept in off the lake. The man wasn’t even sitting in the sun. He was sitting, in fact, in the shadow of the Picasso sculpture, perhaps thinking the huge chimera made him invisible, or at least insignificant. Whoever he was, he was holding the paper open in front of his face in a caricature of a man who is trying to hide. Was the L.L. Bean outfit part of his hiding in plain view?

Steele suspected it was Schram right away. The body was steroidal like the new Schram. This was not a man engrossed in reading about the Cubs’ woeful April. Picasso’s goofy goulash of bird, aardvark, Afghan hound, and who-knows-what-else did not obscure that man was a spy. Steele considered what he should do. He could walk straight toward Schram, force him to run or reveal himself. If an outfielder catches a shallow fly with men on base, the best strategy is simply to walk the ball into the infield. He was startled to note he was taking the baseball analogy seriously. This isn’t baseball, he reminded himself, even if it does feel like a game.

No, he should just pretend not to have seen Schram. He cursed under his breath as he did a hard right and pushed through the revolving door into Richard J. Daley Center. He reassured himself that he’d been more prudent than cowardly as he showed his ID to the guard at the door. Fortunately there were no metal detectors between the front door and his office. He went to the an east window in the lobby area and leaned against a pillar, watching. The spy had lowered the paper a little, but was keeping his head down. That straight black hair was Schram. Every once in awhile he’d look up quickly toward the door Steele had entered. His fingers were moving strangely. It was the Schram fidget. No question about it.

To confront him would be interesting, but premature. He didn’t want Schram to know he’d been rattled by the threats. He didn’t want to be put on the defensive with questions about why he, Steele, had been checking out Schram’s place of employment, his apartment, or his mother’s house. And why was he, Steele, talking to Schram’s mother, boss, landlady, parole officer, and psychologist? He couldn’t assume that Schram was unaware of his little overt and covert operations. On the other hand, Steele felt confident that Schram had little if any knowledge of what he’d been up to. Schram would never figure him to take matters into his own hands as he had.

And if walked out onto the plaza and confronted Schram right now with stalking, Schram could feign innocence, saying he was here to meet with his parole officer or his psychologist. After all, they had offices in this building too. No reason for Steele to assume the world revolved around him. Steele concluded the situation was still too murky to approach Schram. He needed to have a plan well underway. But he couldn’t plan without more information about Schram’s approach. In the meantime, he would have to live with his uncertainty. The gun under his left arm was a great reassurance.

On the way up to his 7th floor office, he resolved to meet soon with Lisa Rainey, this time in person. He knew she had an office with the public defender group on California Street. He could walk over there if need be. He considered a lot of men would be willing to walk a mile to meet with Rainey.

He arrived at his floor and strode out of the elevator. He checked in with Mrs. Simone. He extended the politeness a few extra beats. Mrs. Simone didn’t think in beats. She must have thought that he was in an unusually talkative mood. Her eyes scanned him in the usual way. He felt sure she didn’t detect the concealed carry. If she didn’t, perhaps no one would.

Reassured, he said: “Would you find an office phone number for Lisa Rainey? She’s with the Cook County Public Defender.”

Steele had that number somewhere. Maybe at home. But what’s a secretary for? As he settled himself at his desk, fired up his computer, Mrs. Simone called with the number. He typed it into his to-do list for the day, assigning it high priority.

He dialed Rainey’s direct number and listened to it ring. He wondered if he had dialed it so confidently because he was packing iron under his jacket, within quick reach of his right hand. He wondered if he had spoken differently to Mrs. Simone because he had a pistol strapped on. Had he borrowed a machismo that otherwise was not his own? He wondered whether packing a rod changed the ways hormones flowed in his brain. Whether the mere fact of carrying a weapon inspired him to use such happy expressions as packing. He used to think that his own image of himself would be unaffected by something so trivial as to whether he was carrying a concealed handgun. Maybe not.

“Hello, this is Rainey.”

“Hey, Rainey, I’m glad you are there. This is Andy Steele. I need to meet with you as soon as possible. Are you available for lunch today?” (Would he have spoken so forcefully without the gun?)

“Sounds great,” she said.

“Okay, wait in your office for me. I’ll be there 12:15.” Life was easier when you had a little something to lean on.
He did walk the mile and found her office in the California Street complex. She had her head in a file when he peeked into her cubicle and said hi. She whirled around. When she recognized him, she smiled. “Hi, Andy. Good to see you,” she said. He looked at her a minute wondering what made her so exceptionally pretty. He also took a second to check whether she was wearing a wedding ring. Her left hand was bare.

“Don’t be too quick with your affirmations,” said Steele. “I’m running amok in professional ethics violations. Worse, my colleagues think I’m paranoid. Well, they would if they knew. I wonder myself.”

She looked at him fixedly. He was relieved that he’d gotten her past polite conversation. “Let’s go eat,” he said.

As soon as they were mingling among the sidewalk crowd, he told her that he wanted her to pick the restaurant since it was her neighborhood. He also told her that Schram was stalking him, that Schram had threatened him twice by phone, and that Schram had put his phone number on a list in his apartment.

“Do you have that list of numbers?” Rainey asked.

“I’ll give them to you. I’m hoping you have a friend or a connection who can figure out who they belong to?”

Rainey laughed. “Yeah, I do.”

“What’s so funny, Rainey,” he asked.

“I guess I travel with a geekier crowd than you do. It’s been awhile since I met someone who doesn’t know how to do a reverse lookup online. You can enter the number and get the name. Let’s eat here.” She turned into a tiny restaurant with a big sign that said Chicago Hot Dog.

“I’m glad you’re amused,” he said. “What kind of place is this?”

“Just follow me and do what I do.” She walked right up to the window, said hi to the fat black woman behind the counter, and said: “I’ll have the natural casing dog basket with the works, crinkle cut fries, large Coke.”

“For here?”

“Yeah, and his too.”

Steele looked at Rainey. She wasn’t a big woman. She didn’t have many places to store fat, and the places she did have weren’t fat at all. Her shape was perfect. Whenever he had thought about her previously, he had pictured her pretty face, usually with loose tendrils curling down both sides of her face, like Hassidic ear locks or maybe a horse’s fetlocks. From now on he’d picture her perfect shape along with it. “Where do you pack it?” he asked.

“Just order,” she said, as if she had been aware of his eyes on her.

“I’ll have what she had.”

“Copycat.” She pulled out a roll of bills and paid for both of them. She dropped the change into her purse.

“Here you go.” The woman placed their drink cups on the counter in front of them. Rainey took the empty paper cups and filled them both with Coke at the soda dispenser—not too much ice. She put them on a narrow countertop along the side wall, away from the couple at one of the two small tables. A half-dozen stools stood along the wall. Steele got some napkins and put them by the Cokes. Before they could sit down, the woman said, “Baskets up, folks.”

Rainey carried the tray to their place. Steele began removing items from the tray and setting them in front of himself and her. She watched him. “You some kind of neatness freak?”

“I’m just making a nice presentation. Presentation is half of good-tasting food.”

“Presentation? These are hot dogs.”

“Still true,” he said. He pulled away the empty tray, and they settled on the stools. “See how much better?”

“You’re right, Steele.” She hit him with her smile.

“Don’t mention it. But I admit I’m worried about the definition of ‘natural casing.’ Are we talking animal intestine here?”

“Pig!” She said it too loudly. The people at the table gave him a look.

“Look at this pickle spear,” he said, holding it up a giant, showing the world he was definitely not a pig.

“Wait until you taste the fries,” she said, sprinkling salt from about a foot above her basket. Then she made a pool of ketchup next to her fries.

He took a fry and dipped it into her ketchup. “Fabulous.”

“Wait until you taste the hot dog,” she said.

He looked at it, half again as big as anything calling itself a hot dog in the supermarket. It was grilled dark brown, slightly split from end to end, revealing pinkish insides. The bun was big enough to accommodate it, something homemade. He picked it up and bit off the end. Chewed. Swallowed. Took a swig of Coke. Wiped his mouth with the first of his three napkins. “Fantastic,” he said.

“Good. Now give me the full story on this Schram business.”

He described in detail for her his visits to Goodwill, to Schram’s mother’s house, to Schram’s new apartment. He had rehearsed it all with Donna, so the telling went smoothly. Rainey had finished eating and was sipping her Coke. He had fallen far behind her while talking.

“Your entry into his apartment was illegal, of course, but you didn’t break in and you didn’t steal anything. Did you?”

“Of course not.”

“There are laws against stalking now, you know.”

“Son of a bitch is definitely stalking me. Doesn’t that violate his parole or something? I was startled when I spotted him at the Daley Center this morning.”

“No, I mean you’ve been stalking him. All he did was read the paper in front of the Picasso.”

“I’m the stalker?”

“Technically, yes. But I’m speaking only as a person here, not as a lawyer.”

“Handy the way you lawyers can separate your personhood from your job.”

She ignored him, continuing. “As a person, I’m glad you did it. I want to know more about what he’s up to. I always thought he was dangerous. I hated the way he looked at me and spoke to me. In the end he threatened me too, you know.”

“I doubt he’ll follow through in your case, but I think he will in mine. His telephone threat tells me that. He’s not calling you.”

“I get hang-up calls. Sometimes I can’t tell who’s making them. Who knows?”

“Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire?”

“Not yet.”

“Not ever, I think.”

“Thanks, Steele. That helps a little. Let me see the list of phone numbers you took off his fridge.”

Steele took out his wallet and found the list of four. “See, the second number is my cell phone. Can you imagine what I felt when I saw that?”

Rainey was staring at the list. She didn’t move or speak. She just stared at the list. Steele waited. Finally she looked up and said, “The third number is my cell phone. How did that bastard get my number? No one has that number.”

“J-j-j-join the club,” said Steele, blushing with shame when he was just trying to be cool. Stuttering can wreck a moment, that was for sure.

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