[Ella loves her neighborhood and her new home, but a mutilated body turns up in the trash-burner, site of her terrifying encounter with a beastly dog. The police will be in touch, but meanwhile her neighbor Fanny offers her some tea and a chance to recover]
Fanny draped my wet jacket over the back of a fluffy, blue wing chair, licked her fingertips, and settled into her red sofa opposite me. Still in her chenille bathrobe, she curled her legs under her and blinked at me before asking, “Went out for a walk, huh? Not a great day for it.”
I looked around before answering. Her apartment was smaller than mine, minus a second bedroom and bath. Her bed, covered by half a dozen pillows, sat in a deep alcove, closed off from the living/dining room by a pair of sliding glass doors. Cozy, if a little cramped for my taste.
“Fanny, this neighborhood is so calm and family-oriented. I didn’t expect to see a block of run-down houses and—of all things—a trash-burner, a decaying one, at that!” Instinctively, I did not talk about the body Officer Falk had found. After all, I never saw it myself, never saw the EMR actually remove it. Falk made sure of that.
“Yeah, that’s an eyesore, alright. It’s a blight on the neighborhood, set up before most of these homes were built. Not used anymore.” She scratched her ear. “Ready for some tea? How about mint?”
I nodded and rose to help. She waved me back to the sofa and commented, “I heard police sirens while you were out there. Did you see anything?”
I caught my breath. “Well, I actually arranged to meet Animal Control by the trash-burner.”
Fanny cocked her head and stared at me a bit, then filled two mugs from her teapot. Taking the mug she offered me, I sniffed the light, minty cloud hanging over its rim. “When? Why would you call them? They chase after cats and dogs around here as if they were mice.” She licked her lips and took a sip. “Ah.” She stretched her arms over her head. “Much better. Now. Tell me more.”
Settling into my corner of the sofa, I told her about the frightening dog and my escape. “Maybe it hated the music coming from my phone,” I said, “Whatever, it walked into that trash-burner. Officer Falk was looking for the dog’s tracks this morning when he found…found…something…I didn’t see what…in the trash-burner and called the police.”
Fanny’s eyes darkened. I could have sworn they were all pupil. “Was it the dog?”
“I don’t think…I can’t say.”
She tapped the rim of her mug with one long nail. “The police once found another body in there a few years ago, before DNA testing. Too torn up to ID. No one from the neighborhood.” She sneezed after a few gulps of tea. “Excuse me. I was saying…”
“Not an area resident.”
“Right, totally unknown. Later, much later, the police looked at the saved evidence and identified it as a lawyer, a Loop lawyer, quite famous. Before this, people gossiped he’d run off with his mistress.”
“A lawyer? Do you remember the name and when?”
“Umm, no, I…Rothman…no…Hoffman? No, can’t remember the name but it was about ten years ago.”
My heart quickened a little. “That’s when my husband died.”
“Was he a lawyer? Was he murdered?”
“Not murdered; he had a wasting disease the doctors couldn’t cure. He killed himself. It was bad. And no, he was not a lawyer. He was an insurance executive.” I laughed, realizing how ironic that was.
Fanny put her mug on the end table behind her and scooted closer to me. Humming softly, she put an arm around my shoulders and said, “There, there, it must have been so hard for you. I am sorry. Would it hurt you to tell me how it happened?”
Randy had been so vital for most of our marriage. A daily runner, he loved to compete in marathons all over the globe. Wherever business took him, he’d find a race. He loved running with what he called the pack. He was so fit that his mysterious disease caught us by surprise. I explained all that to Fanny and added, “I loved him but we spent so little time together, now that I look back on it. I was not athletic, overweight, in fact. He was either working or running; at the end of the day he’d collapse, exhausted by all his efforts. Anyway, as he worsened, gaunt and hollow-eyed, he couldn’t bear it, I guess. His last day I left him bundled in blankets by the TV and met a friend for lunch. Turns out he’d called a cab, got dropped off near a lakeshore bluff, and fell to his death. At least, that’s how they think it went. The police traced the ride, found a note and some personal items, but no one ever found his body. He disappeared.”
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