The police officer at the scene read the name of the victim from her driver’s license as I knelt over her body. I was near tears.
“A, Jennifer Coles,” the young officer spoke.
Still in the kneeling position I massaged my temples. “Doll,” I said.
“Doll, her name is Doll.”
“But her drivers lic………,”
“I don’t care what her license says her name is Doll!”
The officer relented, raising his hands. He could tell I was annoyed. I stood back up.
“I know her,” I said.
“Did you know her well?”
“I did,” I said, glad that it was raining; a little heavier than drizzle falling from the pink clouds into the alley where we stood, in back of Standee’s 24 hour diner on Granville. With the rain hitting my face the officer couldn’t tell I was crying, not Nathaniel Hutchinson, seasoned homicide detective.
“Sorry Detective Hutchinson,” the officer said.
I nodded. The rain was getting heavier, washing the heavy make-up from Doll’s face, soaking her tight red blouse and black mini skirt. Her fishnet stockings were torn and one high heeled pump was halfway under a nearby dumpster.
“What was she doing in the alley?” the officer said.
“Taking a short cut, maybe,” I said.
“She looked loose,” he added.
“You know sir, like she was fast, maybe?”
“She was a prostitute!” I said and surveyed the young cop closer. “You’re new.”
He chuckled like he was embarrassed.
“Fresh out of the academy?”
“Nate Hutchinson,” I said extending my hand. “But you knew that.”
He shook my hand. “Sean Woodley sir. I’ve heard about you at the station. You’re spoken of highly. When I called it in I was happy the Lieutenant sent you.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I said and focused on Doll again. I snapped a few pics with my new digital camera they give us now, but I should’ve brought the Polaroid. I still have it.
She looked like she was still alive, even had a pleasant look on her face, but that was Doll. She was a prostitute but she wasn’t beat down like a lot of the girls. She was probably about 30 now, 25 when I met her. I told her she was old school because she had a lot of wit for her age. I wonder who killed her, shot her in the neck and chest and left her here in the alley to die; this wasn’t like her. She wasn’t a crack whore. Doll was the thinking man’s hooker, a conversationalist; I should know. Contrary to what most people believed, Doll loved life, she was full of it and wanted to keep on living. She was street smart and knew how to dodge a bad John. What went wrong?
“Somebody call it in from Standee’s?”I said.
“Yes,” Officer Woodley said. “The cook Pedro, but he went home freaked.”
“Billie in there?”
“Never mind,” I said, took off my jacket and covered Doll. The M.E. would have a fit, but I didn’t care. Doll was my friend. I moved toward the front off the alley. “I’m going to talk to Billie. Let me know when the bus arrives.”
“Yes sir Detective,” Officer Woodley said and looked at Doll’s body with my jacket over it.
The rain had subsided and I could feel a cold humidity around me. When I came out of the alley a small crowd of onlookers had gathered; a few patrons from the restaurant and some pedestrians walking by. A few more squad cars had arrived and the bus. I walked toward Standee’s and saw Billie at the door. She was puffing on aNewportand shaking her head. She coughed, threw her cigarette on the ground and stepped on it, twisting her foot. Billie had been a waitress at Standee’s as long as I’d been a cop and she looked it.
“Was it Doll?” she said.
“Come on in,” she said.
I followed her into the small diner and sat at the counter. Billie instinctively poured me a cup of black coffee. I sipped it like it would save my life.
“I couldn’t believe it when Pedro told me he found her,” Billie said and leaned over the counter, looking like she might fall over it.
“Pedro went home I heard.”
“Yeah, it freaked him out finding her like that. He just went out to dump the trash like regular. You know he don’t speak English that well.”
“I know,” I said. “But I’ll have to speak to him at some point.”
Billie raised her pencil thin eyebrows. “How’d she look?”
“Dead,” I said.
She smiled laboriously, but it faded quickly. “What happened to her?”
“She was shot in the neck and chest. Looks like her jugular was hit, she bled out…….,
“Did she eat?”
“She did, had a bowl of soup here with Keesha. Keesha left and some old man came and sat with her.”
“Yeah, they sat here ten, fifteen minutes, and then they left.”
“They leave together?”
“Did you see them get in a car or something?”
“No, I got busy.”
“How long was it after they left when Pedro found her body?
Billie grimaced at the thought and shook her head. “Not long at all, half hour, maybe less……I know it was beforemidnight,eleven thirtyI think.”
“Billie how old was this man?”
“He was old, late sixties, maybe even seventies.”
“What’d he look like?”
“Thin, bald with white hair on the sides. He had a big white mustache.”
“You ever seen him in here with her before?”
“Never,” Billie said.
“He look like a customer?”
“No, not really, but they got into a little spat.”
“Yeah. I didn’t hear what they said, but it didn’t last very long. They got it back together and left.”
“Thanks,” I said, took another sip of coffee and slid off the stool. “I gotta work this. Looks like it was just minutes from the time she left here to the time she turned up dead in the alley.”
Billie just shook her head.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Doll. It was winter, early February and cold as all hell. I had walked into Standee’s around3am; I was starving, working graveyard, a triple homicide after having spent the whole afternoon at chemo with Liz. Standee’s was packed and Doll was the only one sitting at a table alone. I knew she was young and I knew she was a prostitute immediately. She was beautiful, didn’t need all the make-up she was wearing. But there was something different about her.
“You can sit here sir,” she said.
Doll was thin, but put away a western omelet, home fries and toast. I was more traditional having meat loaf and mashed potatoes, washing it down with black coffee. We hit it off right away. She told me that her name was Jennifer, but insisted on being called Doll. She said it was like a stage name, saying she was offering a service and that the men didn’t need to know her vitals. She even admitted to having a few female clients. Her honesty amazed me, but what amazed me more was that I didn’t feel sorry for her like I was supposed to because she was a young prostitute. She was a little mysterious. I never found out how she ended up street walking; she never told me some sad, sob story about what went wrong in her life.
Doll had helped me out. We spent time together. Shortly after I met her Liz passed, ironically on Valentine’s Day and I don’t think I would have survived it without Doll. I learned that people judge these girls unfairly, but they provide something that no psychologist could. It wasn’t really about sex or money. It was about the human connection. Doll had never charged me, but I paid her.
By the time I returned to the alley I wanted to solve this case immediately and was determined to. I wanted to know who killed Doll and wanted to know before the break of dawn. Screw protocol, there wouldn’t be any tonight. Officer Sean Woodley approached me with Doll’s belongings in a largeManilaenvelope; her purse and cell phone. He also gave me my jacket, indicating the bus had taken her already. I’ve seen a lot of body bags, but I’m glad I didn’t see that one.
“Thanks,” I said, took the envelope, put my jacket on and returned to the black Crown Vic parked across from Standee’s. I dropped the envelope on the back seat, looked at it for a second, and then drove off to my next source of information.
The Braxton Hotel was a five minute drive just west of Standee’s onClark Street. It was a transient, fairly sleazy hotel that attracted the likes of dopers, pushers, pimps, prostitutes and everything else in between. I have to admit that I’m a semi-regular of the Clark Street Lounge, a true dive bar attached to the hotel. The surly bartenders serve cheap liquor, the jukebox is one of the best in the city and there was always a host of colorful characters, one of whom I was looking for when I pulled up to the curb in front and parked. It was perfect; I didn’t have to look for her. She was puffing on a cigarette in front of the hotel with a far away, almost sad look in her eyes. She snapped out of it when she saw me approaching. She took another drag and smiled.
“You still smoke Keesha?” I said stopping in front of her. She was even younger than Doll, 24, but actually more haggard looking and worn out. She carried the weight of her career and all the demons that came with it. Suddenly, a deep feeling of dread had come over me. I didn’t want to tell her. Keesha was probably the closest the streets had to Doll, I guess other than myself. But I had to tell her. We had to know who Killed Doll.
Keesha smiled wide. My presence seemed to lift her spirits. If only she knew what I was about to say.
“I ain’t Doll,” she said.
I made a feeble attempt to smile. “Hey Keesha.”
“What is it?” She said and threw her cigarette down.
I hesitated, seeing the curiosity in her young eyes grow, slowly turning to fear.
“Doll….Doll is dead.”
She looked at me like I had spoken a foreign language.
I nodded and caught her on reflex as she collapsed. She burst into tears immediately, wetting the right side of my jacket.
“You shittin’ me man!” she hollered, drawing attention from people coming in and out of the hotel and lounge. I moved her to my car and put her in the passenger seat as she continued to wail.
“Tell me you shittin’ me Nate! Stop playin’, you shittin’ me……oh Lord not Doll!”
I got in the car on my side and held her, not saying a word until her outburst subsided. She lifted her wet face up and I could smell all the cigarettes and booze she had consumed. She panted a few seconds before she spoke.
“Where….where was she?”
“In the alley behind Standee’s….she was shot……,”
“What the f……I was just with her!”
“That’s what Billie told me. She said you left and a man came in and sat with her, an old man. Did you see him?”
“Naw, she was with a young man tonight.”
“You see him?”
“What’d he look like?”
Keesha started wiping her eyes with her bare hands. I reached into my glove compartment and gave her napkins. She patted her face down, heavy mascara running everywhere.
“Young guy, he pulled up to us walking downSheridan. He was in the car with his buddy. They looked like students from Loyola….they were drunk and had been smokin’ weed. They wanted me to go too, but I’m tired of drunk kids.”
“She got in the car?”
“You know where they went?”
“Naw, probably one of the motels around here….Doll wouldn’t do a guy in his car.”
“I know,” I said; it slipped out. Keesha stared at me strangely for a second.
“She called me about forty-five minutes later and we met at Standee’s.”
“What time was it?”
She shook her head. “I think it was after eleven.”
“What did she say about those guys, were they rough?”
“Naw, she did her business with them, they paid her and she left.”
“And she didn’t say what motel?”
“How was she?”
“What do you mean?”
“Her mood, was she okay, had she been drinking?”
“She was okay, I think….drank a little here with me earlier, but you know Doll, she was always the same, nothin’ ever got to her, not even this life. Doll loved people, she really liked what she did….people never think that we could like what we do.”
“Do you?” I said.
Keesha looked down at her exposed brown legs. This time I shook my head.
“Who was the man she was with after you left?” I said.
Keesha looked off to the side like she was trying to guess, and then something registered in her eyes.
“What?” I said.
“Now that I think about it,” Keesha said. “He was probably her father……yeah. They’d been re-connecting for about the last month or so.”
“But Billie said this man was up there, seventies maybe.”
“Uh huh,” Keesha said shaking her head. “Doll’s folks were in their forties when they had her…..ya know, a change baby. Her mom died a couple of years ago….cancer.”
I was surprised, and then felt envious; I didn’t know about Doll’s parents. We had never discussed it. Doll and I didn’t discuss her life, only mine.
“Her father?” I said.
“You ever see him?”
“Doll ever talk about where he lived?”
“Somewhere on the south side, but she didn’t say where.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Thanks,” I said. “Are you gonna be alright?”
Keesha smiled, but at her lips only; her eyes showed the sadness that they always had, tonight a little more. She opened the car door and got out. “You know me detective. I’m a survivor.”
She slammed my car door shut and I watched as another car pulled up alongside her. He wasn’t a cop. He rolled his window down and she poked her head in. A few seconds later she got in and they drove off. Keesha’s chosen profession. I thought about my daughter Angelique. She was probably about Doll’s age now. She lived with her husband inKenosha. We don’t communicate much, but that’s another story. I imagine though, that I’d probably go nuts if she was out here in the streets like these girls. I thought about Doll’s father. Keesha said that they were re-connecting which told be there was some sort of estrangement. And Billie said Doll and the older man got into an argument at the diner earlier. Keesha was right. The man was probably Doll’s father. I had to find him; he had to be the last person to see Doll alive. It wasn’t the young guys that picked her up.
I grabbed the envelope with Doll’s things off the back seat. I opened it and took out her purse and cell phone. I went through her purse. There was nothing of any real significance; make-up, a few condoms and cash that I counted to be $80 dollars; cash she probably got from those guys. Next I concentrated on her cell phone. I hate them and only carry the one the department provides, but as a detective I know cell phones give a lot of information. To my surprise it was still on. It was warm and I could smell Doll’s familiar perfume. It was sad and somewhat eerie. She hadn’t been dead for much more than an hour. I flipped it open, navigating though it I found out she was just like me. She didn’t program any numbers or keep an address book, but I did find the numbers she had dialed recently, in particular tonight. The number that appeared the most was the one she had dialed three times today. 5:41pm, 773.824.1436. She had dialed it again at 8:20pm, and the last time at 9:48pm, about 2 hours before she was killed. Even going back to previous days the same number showed up at least twice a day. Was it her father? Or maybe a jealous boyfriend who hated what she did for a living.
Eerie had turned to creepy as I dialed the number and held the phone up to my ear, smelling her perfume even more. It rang several times, and then a voice message came on. Harold Coles; he had to be her father. His voice didn’t exactly sound as old as Billie said he was, but it was just a voice, a cold monotone. He hadn’t answered. Maybe he was asleep, but the phone rang so many times. I’m no techie, but I always thought that meant the phone was on, hadn’t been turned off.
The next hurdle was to find out where Harold Coles lived. I had no idea. A 773 area code could be anywhere in the city outside theLoopand near north, though I assumed the south side. If he was listed 411 would have an address. I dialed it and the operator came on.
“What city and state?”
“Can you get me an address if I have a number?”
“What’s the number sir?”
There was a window of silence, but I could hear her typing on a computer. A feeling of panic had come over me. I was afraid his address wasn’t listed.
“Sir?” the operator said.
“A Harold Coles comes up on8344 South Sangamon Avenue.”
“Thank you,” I said and hung up. I grabbed a pen, wrote the address down, turned the key in the ignition and hitLake Shore Driveheading south. Halfway through the drive my cell phone rang twice. It was Lieutenant Boland. He probably wanted to know why I wasn’t back at the station trying to sort things out by the book. But he didn’t understand, not this case, not Doll. I had to handle this my way. Strike while the iron was hot. I had a lot of cases I was backed up on. This wouldn’t be one of them.
I took 79th Streetbecause it was a strip and remained fairly active even at these hours. I turned on Sangamon Avenueand headed further south to my address. The streets became treelined and quiet. As I crossed 83rd I looked at houses on both sides of the street. 8344 would be just before 84th. I spotted it; there it was, a small, red brick bungalow with black numbers painted on the front: 8344. There was nowhere to park so I double parked. I peered at the house; lights were on inside, coming from the big picture window I assumed was the living room, and light from the window above it that was probably the bedroom. I shifted my eyes to the left at the house next door to his. Lights were on there too but there were people out front standing on the porch. They were talking and seemed not to have noticed me drive up. Fighting the darkness I moved my head closer to the window and squinted. I saw an older man and an older woman.
They continued what appeared to be an intense conversation, that is until I got out the car and slammed the door shut. They looked at me. The man was definitely older, thin and balding with white hair on the sides and a big white mustache; the man Billie described earlier who was at Standee’s with Doll before she was killed.
They stared at me curiously which they had every right. They didn’t know me. I felt under my jacket for my holster and weapon just to be sure. This neighborhood could be unpredictable. I approached them, taking my shield from my pocket and holding it up.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m Detective Nathaniel Hutchinson, district twenty, homicide.”
The woman’s eyes bucked. She whispered something to the man and backed away until she disappeared into her house. The man came feebly down the porch stairs and crossed a small lawn to his house, almost like he hadn’t heard me.
“ChicagoPD Sir!” I said and moved closer to him. He stopped, standing in front of the stoop that led to his house like he was guarding me from it. His stare was cold and slightly frightened.
“Homicide,” I repeated.
“I heard you the first time,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure.”
“What is it?” he said cutting his eyes to the ground.
“I’m looking for Harold Coles.”
He hesitated, and then cleared his throat. “I’m Mr. Coles.”
“Are you the father of……,” I wanted to say Doll, but realized it wasn’t appropriate. “Are you the father of Jennifer Coles?”
Something about his demeanor had changed. He looked at me directly that time. His stare was colder. I had seen that look before.
“I am her father, biologically,” he said confidently.
Um, I thought, of his distinction; biologically. “Mr. Coles, I’m here because, your daughter……..,”
“Is she dead?” he said.
I was taken aback. “How did you know that?”
He reached nonchalantly into the pocket of his windbreaker and before I could react he produced a small handgun. My first response was to reach for mine and shout for him to drop it, but instead I watched him holding the gun out to me.
“Take it,” he said.
I grabbed the gun with both hands and studied it quickly. It looked like it had been fired, but ballistics would confirm that later. I put it away in my pocket. Harold Coles slowly collapsed to the sitting position on the stoop.
“Mr. Coles, can you tell me what happened?”
“I shot her.”
My knees buckled; something that never happened. “You….you shot her?”
“Why Mr. Coles, why would you shoot your own daughter?”
“I wanted her off the streets.”
“Well you got her off the streets.”
“She really dead?” he said.
“She’s dead Mr. Coles.”
“But……she, she called me a few minutes ago,” he said deliriously.
“That was me,” I said. “I have her cell phone.”
He looked up at me innocently and confused, like I would buy whatever he would say to excuse his horrible crime.
“It wasn’t just me, God wanted her off the streets, and God didn’t like the life she led. It was God who told me to kill her…..I tried hard to help save her soul.”
“Murder in the name of the Lord,” I said.
A religious fanatic. I had forgotten about them. To me they were more dangerous than a common street criminal. They blended into society undetected, harboring their hateful delusions. I called for a car and read Mr. Coles his rights. While reciting, he raised his hands and looked up at the heavens.
“Praise ye the Lord, praise ye the Lord!”
The officers came and cuffed him. He went along easily only asking that his neighbor be advised so she could assist him. Besides Doll, his neighbor was the only person he knew. I watched the officers put him in the car and was quite sure they were taking him down to 26th andCaliforniawhere the whole legal process would begin.
I jumped back in the Crown Vic and drove off. I could’ve gone back to the station to finish my paperwork but instead went back to the Braxton Hotel and Clark Street Lounge. It was approaching2amwhen I walked in. It wasn’t crowded. Some upliftingNew Orleansjazz was playing on the jukebox. The zombie-like bartender approached me and I ordered a shot of Wild Turkey.
Three shots later I began to feel somewhat exhausted. All I kept thinking about was Doll and how much she had helped me. I was really going to miss her. I swallowed one more shot and was about to leave until I looked over and saw Keesha slide onto the stool next to me. I saw my face within hers, if that makes any sense.
“Who killed Doll?” she said.
“I thought so.”
“Why didn’t you say that?”
“I didn’t know until I gave it some thought,” Keesha said. “Doll told me he looked down on her most of her life, always threatening her with God and religion.”
“He’s a religious fanatic,” I said.
“Somethin’ like that.”
“He wanted her off the streets,” I said.
“Well he got her off the streets.”
“I said the same thing to him.”
Keesha rolled her tired, red eyes. “I’m ready to go,” she said.
“Me too,” I said and stood up. I looked at the young woman sitting before me and knew she was afraid, even though she tried to act tough.
“You need a ride?”
“Please,” she said, but grabbed my arm first. “You and Doll, I never understood your relationship. What was it?”
“We were friends,” I said and looked off into space. “We were friends.”