On a bright cold Monday morning, instead of having breakfast at a nice restaurant, Detective Aaron Guerevich and his fiancée Ann Berendt clanked down the metal stairs into the cold shadows of the Rogers Park police station cell block. They had come to Chicago, where Guerevich grew up, to spend a week and celebrate the New Year’s holiday. Today they were visiting a man accused of murdering his uncle.
Guerevich spoke through the bars, squinting into the gray cell, lit by a single recessed light. “Hello, Jaime.”
“Who are you?” Jaime remained seated on his bed. His dark skin and his close-cut black hair a complement to his smooth Mestizo face, split by a bushy mustache that extended past the corners of his mouth and drooped to his chin.
“I’m an old friend of your uncle Roberto. You were only five years old when I last saw you. This is my fiancée, Ann Berendt.”
Ann smiled, wrinkling her eyes and automatically raising a hand to flip errant strands of hair behind her ear. “We’re here to help you if we can. Aaron saw the article about the murder in the Chicago Tribune yesterday.
“Really?” Sarcasm gave an edge to Jaime’s voice. “How well did you know Tio Roberto?” He stood up from his bed, a thin mattress on top of a hip-high cinderblock rectangle, and walked toward the steel door.
“I met him a long time ago, when I was a teenager. I remember him as a kind and honorable gentleman. It’s a shame what happened.”
Jaime looked down and shook his head. “Yes, it is.” He looked up at Guerevich, his voice resolute. “I had nothing to do with his death.” He put his hands on the bars. Moisture glistened in his eyes. He was lost in his orange jumpsuit. “I told the police that I was at my home when Tio Roberto was killed.”
“Was anyone with you?”
“Yes, but I can’t tell who without getting her in a lot of trouble.”
Guerevich took out his small notepad and scribbling hastily. He looked up. “But you could be facing life in prison. Or worse. Surely, she’ll come forward.”
“She will if I ask her. But I can’t do that to her. There has to be some other way.”
“Have you told your lawyer?” asked Ann.
“That fucking idiot. Sorry. When I refused to tell him her name, he wouldn’t handle the case and said no other lawyer would. My public defender told me to plead some lesser charge.”
Ann shook her head. “And go to jail for years? At least talk to us.”
“Why? What can you do?”
Ann reached out and touched his hand. “Maybe nothing. But we’d like to try.”
“At least you’re honest.”
Guerevich requested District Commander David Boggs that Jaime be brought to a conference room. Arriving first, they sat at the white plastic folding table scarred with cigarette burns and drink stains. Jaime, his leg chains clanking and scraping on the concrete floor, shuffled in accompanied by a guard. A chain around his waist attached to his wrists limited his arm movement.
Once in the room, he clanked into a metal chair and bent down to scratch his chin. “Do you have any change?”
Ann looked at his despondent face. “Change?”
“Yes. You can get me a cup of coffee and a candy bar from the machine. The guard will free my left arm so I can eat and drink in the room.”
Ann bought coffee and candy bars. Once they were seated, the guard partially closed the door and stood outside. Jaime Gutierrez squinted at Guerevich and asked the first question. “I really don’t remember you. How did you meet my Tio Roberto?”
Guerevich set his note pad on the table. “I was about sixteen. My father helped him get a job at a small factory in Phoenix.”
“The one that manufactured nuts and bolts?”
“Yes. But Roberto was too intelligent to spend his life running a machine. After a year or so on the job, he devised a way to modify the machines and make them run faster without reducing quality.”
Jaime nodded. “Tio Roberto told me about that.”
“My father patented the process and and when Roberto became a citizen, he bought the patent for one dollar. After he moved here, he often went through Arizona on his way to Mexico. Once he stayed at our house and you were with him.”
“Tio Roberto always called your father the friend who changed his life. He purchased a small manufacturing company here, and did very well. But why are you helping me?” He sipped his coffee with his free left hand.
“My father believed it’s necessary for people to do what they can to help others. But you need to tell me about your uncle’s death. Start at the beginning.”
Ann reached in her large purse and took out a yellow legal pad. Then she looked at Jaime. “I’m ready. First, tell me why your friend can’t come forward.”
“She and her husband are getting divorced, and if anyone knew about us, it would put her in a very difficult position.”
Ann scribbled the information on her pad. She looked up at Jaime. “Why were you raised by your uncle?”
“Seventeen years ago, my parents and my two sisters were killed in Mexico on the narrow road from Guadalajara to Tepic. I didn’t go with them because of summer school. Tio Roberto took me in.” Jaime paused and looked at Ann. “There is no way I could shoot him. Why should I? He gave me everything I ever wanted. He helped me become a businessman. I own four McDonald’s franchises. Do you think I could have done that without his help?” Tears began to seep from Jaime’s eyes and run down his face, getting lost in his bushy mustache. He instinctively reached up with his right hand to wipe them away, but the chain prevented his hand from reaching his face. “Damn.” He threw his hand into his lap as the chain banged against the metal leg of the chair.
Ann handed him a tissue and he wiped his face with his left hand.
Guerevich moved his chair closer to Jaime. “Where was he killed?”
“In his home, a large house overlooking the lake on North Sheridan Road. just south of Evanston.”
“We need the address in case we want to see it,” said Ann.
“5703 North Sheridan.”
“Exactly when did it happen?” She continued to write.
“December 12. The news called it the coldest night of the month. The temperature dropped to three below. That’s one reason my friend and I stayed home.”
“Any witnesses to the shooting?”
“A neighbor, Charles Andreesen. He told the police he heard three shots and rushed to the house. Claimed he recognized me and saw me run out the back door.”
Ann wrote the name on her notepad. “We need to talk to Andreesen.”
“I hope you get more from him than the police did. I don’t know why he said he saw me. That’s why they arrested me. No bail because I have family in Mexico. My stupid lawyer didn’t even fight the request for remand.”
Guerevich grimaced. He had run into overworked assistant DAs before, rushing complete one case before rushing to their next one. “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Tio Roberto always kept a lot of money in his house. In the freezer. We often joked about his cold cash.”
Ann poised her pen on her pad. “How much did he keep?”
“Sometimes as much as $100,000. In a box labeled Queso de Mexico. When the police searched the house after the murder, there was no box and no cash in the freezer. Or anywhere else in the house. I told the police but they didn’t believe me.”
Guerevich wanted to hug the young man, or at least shake his hand before he returned to his cell, but he knew police regulations. No physical contact between visitors and inmates.
When they started up the stairs, it was noon. Ann grabbed Guerevich by the arm at the top. “What the hell do you think you’ll be able to do?” she half whispered. “We’re not in Scottsdale. We’re in Chicago. I thought we would give him some moral support, and now I feel we’re back at work.”
“You know I can’t walk away. I have a chance here to do a mitzvah.”
She slumped her shoulders in resignation. “I know. Judaism teaches us that performing good deeds, mitzvot, helps us come closer to God and to holiness.”
He smiled at Ann, put his arm around her shoulder, and squeezed her to him. “Too bad more people don’t feel that way.”
She put her arms around his waist and hugged him. “It’s one of the reasons I love you.”
After a quick kiss, they went outside into the cold afternoon. “I’m hungry. All I had this morning was a bagel and coffee.”
He flagged down a taxi. When they told the driver what they wanted, he took them to Ada’s, a kosher style deli.
Seated in the warm back seat, Ann playfully punched Guerevich in the shoulder. “Well, now I know how we’re going to spend our New Year’s holidays. I just wish it would snow. I’ve never really been in snow.”
“Never? What about when you lived in Tahoe?”
“Never spent a winter there.”
In the restaurant, they ordered and Guerevich sipped his coffee in silence.
When their food arrived, Ann spread spicy mustard on her pastrami sandwich. “I wonder if Jaime has access to his uncle’s estate?”
Guerevich took a bite of his cheese omelet, put his fork down and sipped his coffee again. “Not now. But he must have money of his own from his McDonalds franchises.”
“Maybe. But why would Andreesen lie about seeing him?”
“That’s something we’ll have to find out from him.”
They ate the rest of their meal in thoughtful silence.
Guerevich finished the last bite of his toast. “Do you have any contacts in forensics here in Chicago?”
“You may be in luck. An old friend, Stan Miller, got a job here in Chicago after he left Tahoe. We’ve kept in touch. Maybe I can turn on the charm and get him to do a few favors for me – I mean us.”
“Very funny. Just don’t turn on too much charm.”
Ann smiled. “Well, he sent me a card last year with a picture of his wife and two kids. He’s gained about thirty pounds and he wasn’t thin when I dated him. Believe me, you have nothing to worry about.”
After their late lunch, they made calls to set things in motion for the next day. Then they took a bus downtown Chicago to see the displays on State Street. From his childhood, Guerevich remembered the mechanized presentations in the windows of Marshall Fields and Sears. Crowds stood outside watching articulated elves and santas moving their arms mechanically and laughing as they worked at their benches. Trains whizzed around make-believe towns and train stations.
As night arrived, snow started to fall, large flakes whirling and spinning in the glow of street lights, landing gently on hats and coats, giving a red-cheeked Currier and Ives look to shoppers along Michigan Avenue.
Guerevich suggested they walk back to The Drake hotel, but Ann complained that her nose and ears might freeze and fall off so they taxied back. After dinner they spent the evening discussing their strategy for the next day. Ann would meet Stanley Miller, and Guerevich would ask Commander Boggs to grant permission to interview Andreesen.
She snuggled next to him in bed. “You think he’ll agree?”
“I think so. This isn’t a TV crime show with a dramatic dispute between departments. We don’t work on commission. My guess is they’re overworked and they’ll welcome legitimate assistance.”
Guerevich was right and David Boggs agreed. “Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but you’re an ex-Chicago cop and you had a good rep here. Besides, he may just tell you something to you that he wouldn’t say to one of our guys. Just don’t do anything to mess us up.”
Ann left for the crime lab, and Guerevich took the Sheridan Road bus to Andreesen’s. The temperature had fallen to the low 20s and the midday sun was a small cold fire in the sky.
Seconds after Guerevich rang the bell, Andreeson, wearing a sweater over a flannel shirt and wrinkled chinos, opened the door. Several inches shorter than Guerevich, he had a halo of white hair around his head and his stomach hid his belt buckle.
“Mr. Andreesen? I’m Aaron Guerevich from Phoenix. I’m doing a follow-up investigation on the death of Roberto Gutierrez. May I come in?”
Andreeson spoke with a strong Norwegian accent. “Well, I tell the Chicago cops everyting ten times already. I don’t like to tell story again.”
Guerevich looked into the warm house. “It’s been a long time since I lived in freezing weather, and I’m not used to it.”
“I guess it don’t matter. Come in. One more time don’t make no real difference.”
Guerevich followed Andreesen into the living room. He looked at Guerevich and smiled. “Dis weather too cold for you? I hear blood tins out in hot climate like Phoenix. Where I come from, blood run very thick. Sit down. I make some coffee.”
“I grew up in Chicago, but I guess I’ve become a warm weather person.” As he sat in a new overstuffed chair, Guerevich noticed a matching chair and sofa and he smelled the cat-urine odor from solvent based adhesive of new cut-pile carpet, thick enough to show footprints.
He waited until Andreesen returned and sipped his coffee before asking the first question. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Exactly where you when you heard the shots?”
“Outside the house.” Andreesen set the cup in the saucer he held in his hand and pointed to his eyes. “I go to my garage to get my second pair of glasses from my car. Earpiece of my good pair lost a screw, and I have to hold them on my face. As I left garage — my garage, it’s not attached to house — I hear the shots. Three. I rush over to house of Mr. Gutierrez, and find front door open. I run inside and see his nephew. I see him clearly like I see you. He look at me. Then he turn and run out through back door. That damn kid got everything handed to him on silver plate, and he do this. Ach, kids today.”
“He’s 33. Did you see him often?”
“Well, I see him for years. Always hanging around, wanting more. The old man buy him four McDonalds, but that ain’t enough. He want two more. Said he couldn’t make decent money unless he own five or six.”
Guerevich wrote in his note pad. “I understand. Then what happened?”
“When I run in, I see the old man on the floor and call 9-1-1, but of course, was too late, even though it only took couple minutes to get there.”
“You say you were outside? And you had retrieved your glasses from your car?”
“Yah. That’s right.”
“And you had your glasses on when you ran to the house?”
“Yes. Without glasses, I don’t see much of anything other than what’s in front of my face.”
“And you’re sure it was Jaime. No doubt.”
“Soon as I go into house, I see him. And he see me.”
“Was he still holding the gun?
“Don’t remember seeing no gun. Young people today don’t want to work hard. Don’t want to take no responsibility.”
“What about about the money Mr. Gutierrez kept in his house? Jaime said his uncle kept quite a large amount in the freezer.”
Andreeson pursed his lips and squinted, looking at the. “Don’t know nothing about no box of money in freezer.”
Guerevich smiled. “Well, that’s all I have to ask. I’m sure the police have the full report. Thanks for your time.”
“No problem. It’s a shame. Mr. Gutierrez was good man. He work hard for what he had. Not like nephew of his. Greed does strange things to people.”
“Yes, it certainly does.”
Guerevich took the Outer Drive/Sheridan Road Bus back to the hotel. As it passed Foster Avenue, Guerevich looked toward the lake, remembering the huge white Edgewater Beach Hotel that stood for years where the outer drive once ended.
Back at the hotel, a message from Ann said to meet her for lunch at the Artists’ Cafe across from the Art Institute.
A five minute taxi ride brought him to the cafe. He crossed the wide sidewalk and tried to see Ann through the window, but the steamed glass kept him from looking in. He opened the door and saw her sitting at a table, a notebook open in front of her.
She looked up and smiled as he approached. “Hello, sweetie. Want some coffee?”
“As long as it’s hot.” He sat across from her. “My parents were smart to move to Phoenix. It’s hard to believe people live like this – it takes ten minutes to bundle up before you go outside, and then you can hardly move for all the clothes.”
“Don’t be a big baby. You don’t hear me complaining, do you?”
“Well, I’ve read that women have an extra layer of fat to protect them. It’s genetic.” He grinned.
“Then maybe I’ll just stay here genetics and all and you can go back to Phoenix by yourself. Stanley looked good. He joined an exercise club and lost almost fifty pounds.”
“Stanley, huh. Very amusing. What’d you find out?”
“He was very helpful. He just didn’t want his wife to know I visited. I guess our relationship sort of slipped his mind and he didn’t bore her with details.”
“Thanks. That’s more information than I need.”
“We did some research. Jaime’s clean. He has his own money. Small investments and income from his four McDonalds. He’s not rich, but he’s not hurting for cash.”
“So he didn’t have a motive. Except, he’d stand to inherit the house and his uncle’s business, which could be worth a few million.”
“But he said he had a good relationship with his uncle. The old man was helping him financially. Roberto gave him the seed money for the McDonalds’ franchises and there are no records to indicate Jaime ever paid him back.”
“That’s the kind of man I remember, but that could be a motive. Did you find out anything about Andreesen?”
“There we have a different story. Trans-Union Credit reported Andreesen had money problems until recently. Four months behind on his house payment, a collection agency after him for back payments on his car, and in default on his credit cards. You think he was desperate enough to kill Roberto for the money?”
“Maybe. He struck me as the kind of man who might take advantage of a situation, but not a killer.”
“Maybe there was a break-in, and the killer fled just as he said. And he helped himself to the money. Over the last few weeks, Andreesen made several cash deposits to his checking account, but none large enough to raise red flags at the bank. Somehow he found enough money to pay his bills.”
“What if he searched out the money before he called 9-1-1. If he waited ten or fifteen minutes, he could have combed the house before he called.”
“He says he called immediately.”
“The call came in to 9-1-1 at 8:46. That means the shots had to occur just after 8:45 to give Andreesen time to hear them and react, rush into the house, see Jaime or whoever was there, and call. Too bad no one else heard the shots.”
“I have to save you again. I did some checking, because I’d been thinking the same thing. You know, two great minds and all that.”
“That’s why I love you. That’s why we’re meant to be together.”
“Sure, sure. Anyway, there’s a Sheridan bus that goes by the house about 8:35 if it’s on time. I had Stanley contact the Chicago Transit Authority. Fortunately, the driver was on shift today, and because of light passenger traffic, he was running seven minutes early. He heard the shots just before 8:30. Stanley said that cold weather condenses sound and it travels faster.”
“But why didn’t the driver report it?”
“He said he thought they were backfires. He did say that three in a row is very unusual. Usually just one or two. He read about the murder in the newspaper, but when the police made an arrest, he didn’t pay any more attention.”
“So Andreesen had time — more than fifteen minutes — to search the place, take the money, and stash it somewhere.”
“Why would he blame Jaime?”
“Didn’t like him. He thought Jaime was a lazy kid after his uncle’s money. He really doesn’t understand the closeness of family ties in Mexican tradition. He said it himself when I talked to him. ‘Greed does strange things to people.’ But the timing and deposits aren’t enough. We need something else.”
“But what? Remember, we’re just visitors. We really can’t go barging around, uprooting a case that Chicago PD thinks is pretty well closed.”
“I know. Well, let’s head back to the hotel and sleep on it. Maybe something will come to us.”
Guerevich turned the room thermostat down to 65 and they went to bed. Just before dawn, something woke him up. He rose quietly to watch the sun rise over what he always thought of as his city. He wiped the fogged pane with a tissue. As he was about to throw it in the trash, his jaw dropped and he stared at the wet lump of paper in his hand. “How could I be so stupid.” He ran back to the bed and shook Ann’s shoulder. “Ann, wake up. The answer to the problem is here in front of us.”
Ann squinted in his direction and rolled to one elbow. “What do you mean?”
She got out of bed and walked toward him.
He smiled at her nude body still slow from sleep. Taking her hand, he led her to the window. “Look out at the city. What do you see? Nothing, because the windows are steamed up. That’s because it’s warm inside and cold outside.”
“So, if Andreesen ran into the warm house from a sub-zero night, the first thing that would happen is his glasses would fog up. And he admitted he’s almost blind without them. There’s no way he could have seen Jaime or anyone else in that house. I don’t know if he shot Roberto. That’s a Chicago PD problem. But he did take the money. We need to talk with Captain Boggs.”
The next morning, the District Attorney appeared before judge Walford, who ordered Jaime released on his own recognizance and issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Charles Andreesen.
Two days later, on a brilliantly clear January third night, Aaron Guerevich and Ann Berendt taxied to The Hancock Center. After looking up at the skyscraper’s distinctive X-bracing exterior, the spine that supports the building during high winds and has made it an architectural icon, they rode the elevator to The Signature Room on the 95th Floor to dine and look out over the city. They drank champagne, danced, and kissed as they silently celebrated a belated new year and watched the city lights twinkle like diamonds.