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Full Nelson – Part 3 June 26, 2011

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Uncategorized.
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Jim Nelson was sweating as he made his way south on Harlem. He had jogged past North Avenue and Division Street, but he began to slow as he saw the lights of downtown Oak Park come into sight. To his right, as  he crossed Augusta, he saw the large church that was a landmark. Things were still too vague and it had been so long since he’d been on Harlem for any reason that he couldn’t place the name of the church in his memory.

At forty-eight years old, and not in top shape although by no means overweight, Nelson began to struggle as he approached Chicago Avenue. The traffic was beginning to pick up and he wondered if he would be late. He stopped before crossing and dug the cell phone from the left pocket of his jeans and checked the time. 4:51. He thought he could make it to his appointed destination on time. Still, what could this be about? He asked himself as he waited for a westbound car to pass on Chicago. As it approached nelson noticed it was decelerating, as if the driver was going to turn right and proceed north on Harlem. Instead, it was an Oak Park police car. It stopped, blocking Nelson’s attempt to cross.

The window of the Ford cruiser slide down nearly in silence. Nelson was afraid to duck down to the open window but then, he thought, if I’m going to die in Oak Park this morning, it might as well be here, so he squatted to see who was inside.

“Nelson?” the officer inquired.

“Uh, yes, officer. Is there some problem?” Nelson asked.

“Get in. You’re late,” the officer commanded. Nelson didn’t hesitate. He opened the door, slid into the passenger seat, unconsciously dragging the seat belt across his body and clicking it in place like it was an exclamation point.

The officer turned left and proceeded south on Harlem.

“Sgt. Jim Donlevy,” he offered. Nelson was surprised. He didn’t figure to hear a name. He felt the officer was just a cypher, a pawn in whatever game was afoot.

Donlevy looked across at Nelson and continued, “Let me answer the three questions that are running through your mind right now: Yes, you are in trouble. You crossed some people who not only want their money but they want answers. You will find them pleasant at first but not for long. No, I’m not going to kill you. I’m only delivering the precious cargo. I don’t know exactly what you did but I can assure you, when it comes to this, I don’t dare speculate if anyone ever sees you again. And, maybe you live to tell this story or not. As I mentioned, I have to be sure you show up, alive and in one piece, at the Dunkin’ Donuts just the other side of the L.”

“But…” Nelson began to protest, remembering that wasn’t the instructed destination.

“Things change quickly, Mr. Nelson. Don’t try to keep up. If you think you should be going somewhere else, well, forget that. The new plan is in play.”

They drove past Lake Street and the light was red and they sat under the L tracks as they came upon Circle Avenue on their right. There, brightly lit yet nearly worn out in appearance, was the Dunkin’ Donuts. Nelson thought he should make a move to get out. Maybe run, go back under the tracks and cut west on Central and escape into River Forest. It sounded brilliant. Then, Donlevy cut the daydream short.

“Don’t get brave. Wait for the light and I’ll drop you right next to the place. You wouldn’t make it from under the tracks,” the Sargent offered matter-of-factly.

“Three o’clock homeless guy. He ain’t homeless. If you happen to make it and round the corner into River Forest – a long shot I must add – then you’d be gunned down by a River Forest officer who happens to be at the right place at the right time.”

Nelson felt his chest tightening. The cruiser crossed Circle and Donlevy said, “This is your stop with a couple of minutes to spare. Here’s two bucks, get a coffee. You won’t be waiting long.” He pulled two singles from the small space between the police radio and the dashboard and offered a final, “Get out…now!”

Nelson took the money, disengaged the seat belt and found himself on the street just glaring at Donlevy’s cruiser it pulled away. Nelson turned and made his way into the coffee shop.

Jim Nelson was a Loop attorney. He collected some high-end clientele along with his share of high maintenance divorcees and bankrupt businessmen. He didn’t recall siphoning money out-right from any of his clients. Draining bank accounts with his fees, yes, but that was legal. All he could do for the short minutes he had left is go through his metal Rol-O-Dex to begin to piece together what he had done and to whom.

After he pressed through the door, a blast of coffee and sweet cake donuts hung in the air and made him a little nauseous. What he judged to be either a Pakistani or Indian woman stood behind the counter in the kind of near-excitement you’d see from a Jack Russell Terrier as she broke him away from the smell with, “Good morning, sir, and how may I help you today?”

Nelson attempted a smile. He knew he must have looked a little confused, maybe even taken aback by her question. She was no more than five-feet tall, very slim, and seemed to have had a cup of full strength coffee very recently.

“Yes. Black coffee. Large. That’s all. Thanks.”

The counter lady looked almost devastated at first but put her smile back on and asked,” Any cream or sugar?”

“No. Just black. Thanks,” was all Nelson could offer. As he waited for her to fill a cup, he looked to his right and saw just two patrons seated in the shop. One was a large black man with a CTA uniform. He had ear buds on and he appeared to be shuffling through a song list on a Blackberry. The other was a twenty-something he judged to be a burn-out, maybe an addict, or, at least, a left over from a previous night of celebration. They both looked harmless enough.

The counter woman delivered the coffee and nelson gave her the two dollars he received from Donlevy and off-handedly said, “”Keep the change,” and walked toward an empty table between the other two patrons. The counter woman shrugged and Nelson picked a chair to slide into, facing Harlem but with a view of Circle. CTA was behind him, out of view and he could almost smell the burn-out sitting a couple of table in front of him.

At first, Nelson closed his eyes and just drew in a deep breath of the hot coffee aroma. Then a second, before finally giving it a taste. It was very good. When he opened his eyes, CTA and burn out were seated directly in front of him. He nearly jumped back, but the chair only allowed a loud screech, which was easily missed as an L train and a Metra suburban commuter train seemed to pass by on cue at the same time on the elevated track across Circle.

“Did we startle you, Mr. Nelson?” the black man with the Delroy Lindo voice asked. “You know, we get that a lot,” he said nudging and winking at his partner, who was seated to his right. “You know, security is important to our client…YOUR client,” the burn out finally spoke, “So, keep cool and we’ll get the show on the road in a moment. In the meantime, do you have any idea what this is about, Mr. Nelson?”

Nelson looked at both of them and scooted his chair back to the table. “Your client is my client?” he asked with more than a little surprise in his voice.

“Sure is,” CTA offered. “Actually, it was our company who referred him to you. Divorce, bankruptcy, a real financial mess for the last two years. Ring any bells yet?”

Now Nelson’s mind was reeling. He was given the clues and this pair wanted to see if he could piece it together. He gave his best steel-eyed corporate attorney glare at them and demanded, “What is this about?”

After a moment of silence, CTA and burn out burst into laughter. They looked at each other, gave each other wide-eyed shrugs then turned back to Nelson and laughed some more. “Nelson, you missed your calling. You are a superb comedic talent!” CTA offered in mock praise.

Then burn out jumped in, “Alright, alright! If you can tell us where you were last night, give us the whole sequence of events from, say, six o’clock until you found yourself in an alley at about three forty-five this morning, and you don’t figure it out for yourself while you’re telling it, then, I’ll tell you who we work for. How’s that?”

CTA gave the burn out a light shove in disapproval but then turned to Nelson and said, “Talk! You’ve got two minutes.”

Nelson stammered at first as he tried to pull it all together. “Ah, at six I was finishing some notes on the Henry Cortez bankruptcy. I left the office about six thirty to walk over to the American Tap but it was too crowded with twenty-somethings. I decided to walk down to Harry Carey’s, not necessarily quieter n the bar that time of day but I figured I get a table and grab a bite in some peace before going back to the office.”

“Very mundane,” CTA observed.

“Yes, well, not two minutes after I was seated Kevin North came in. A criminal defense attorney I had not seen in years, but he got seated at the table next to me. I ordered a beer and those thick pork chops and minded my own business.”

“Until?” Burn out nudged.

“North came over to my table. Said he thought he remembered me and that we had a client in common: Hector Cortez. I asked, ‘Really, Hector in some sort of trouble?’ Not really expecting a straight answer. North said, ‘As a matter of fact, he is, or will be. He doesn’t know about it yet.’ So, I offered, ‘Has it anything to do with the bankruptcy? Is there something you need?’ He grabbed his drink, I think it was gin and tonic, from his table and brought it over and sat next to me. ‘Yes, there is,’ he says and pulls what appears to be a subpoena from his right inside suit pocket. ‘Take a look at this,’ he says. It was blurry so he brought it closer and it smelled of, I don’t know, ether or some kind of knock out gas. The next thing I know, I’m in an alley.”

“That’s quite a story,” CTA observed. “Still a lot of blanks to be filled in. You really expect us to believe a criminal defense attorney drugged you, in a public place, and you were able to walk out, or he was able to carry you out without a struggle and no one noticing. No 9-1-1 call? No screams from the wait staff or patrons?”

“As far as I remember. That’s how it went down,” Nelson said with all the confidence he could muster.

Burn out glared at CTA for a brief moment. Then a black SUV pulled up on Circle that caught his eye.

“Let me put this a gently as I can,” CTA began, “North and Cortez are dead and you killed them. We think you know this. But, right now, you have bigger fish to contend with,” and he pointed out the window to the SUV. “We’re just another link in the chain. Like I said, we’re a security layer. You could have made it without the ride in the SUV, but your story needs some fleshing out. We don’t do the wet work so get up and we’ll escort you out.”

Wet work? Nelson didn’t understand. North and Cortez dead. Both dead? He sure didn’t understand that and he couldn’t even be sure of his whereabouts between Harry Carey’s and the northwest side alley he found himself in. But, he didn’t need his University of Chicago law degree to smell a frame up. It was like that sweet smell of cake donuts when he hit the door coming into the coffee shop.

Before he could react, CTA grabbed Nelson’s right arm and brought him around the table where burn out grabbed his left arm and they escorted him out passed the growing line of “coffee only” commuters beginning to crowd the entrance.

“The cell phone,” CTA demanded. “Reach in your pocket and give me the cell phone.” Nelson fished around in his left pocket and pulled it out, noticing it was now 5:26 before passing it to CTA. They pressed through the entrance and onto Harlem and briskly walked around to Circle and the waiting SUV.

The back passenger side door of the SUV opened and a hand with a black cloth bag appeared and put it over Nelson’s head, which was being pushed toward the vehicle by CTA. The hand extended an envelope and CTA took it and handed it to burn out. CTA nodded, shoved Nelson into the SUV, slammed the door, and it turned right disappearing southbound on Harlem.

CTA and burn out walked west down Circle to a dark blue 1998 Oldsmobile 88 LS. Burn out opened the doors with the remote and the pair got in, burn out on the driver’s side and CTA on the passenger side.

“Payday!” CTA exclaimed.

“Indeed!” returned burn out. He took out a pocket knife and slid it across the top of the envelope. As soon as it was opened less than an inch, red paint sprayed over the money and CTA and burn out, both too close to avoid the surprise.

“What the hell?” Burn out yelled and almost reflexively turned the ignition key, as if he could drive away from the mess in a hurry. First, the car doors locked and the interior filled with smoke almost immediately. The pair began to yell, trying to open the doors, but as that failed and they were about to go for the windows, a muffled explosion occurred. Only a pedestrian walking right by the car at the time of explosion would have heard it clearly and noticed it. The sound of the L did its job of concealing whatever sound did manage to get out. All that was left inside the Oldsmobile were the charred remains of what looked like two men. The outside of the car was unscathed.

It would be two hours before a passer-by, with benefit of full morning light, could see the unbelievable sight and call 9-1-1.

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