Ben walked back into the station, his shoulder back in its socket. He was in a hurry to get back to question Stephen Duke. He knew that Marty would do a good job, but he needed to be there. He wanted to look Duke in the eye as he questioned him. He noticed the interrogation room was still in use, a good sign. Marty’s signature was the last on the room sheet so he still had Duke in there.
Ben knocked and waited before I entered. Marty came to the door and cracked it to see who was there.
“How’s it going?”
Marty stepped out of the room and shut the door behind him.
“I’ve got nothing. We are running his alibi now. He says he was at Smithy’s Bar in Pilsen the whole night Ashely was killed.”
“Shit. Lots of witnesses to see him.”
“Yeah. I sent two rookies over there to see if the place has cameras, ask around.. Let’s see if his alibi checks out. You want to have a go? See if you can get anything out of him? I know this guy’s involved somehow, I can feel it.”
Ben stepped into the room, closing the door behind himself while Marty stepped out. The air in the small white room was stale. Duke was seated across the table. Ben walked towards the chair where Marty had sat, as Duke spoke up.
“Look I told you guys, I don’t no nothing about some dead girl. I was at Smithy’s on the 14th. The whole night. You got the wrong guy. Now can I get the hell out of here?”
“Just a couple of questions, and we’ll get you on your way man. Do you want something to drink?”
Ben knew Marty wouldn’t have mentioned Ashley Benson, the fact that he brought up the topic of a “dead girl” piqued his interest.
“So the Skokie roofing job?”
“What about it, just another fucking roof.”
“Did it go well, I mean was it an easy job?”
“What the hell kind of question is that?”
Ben sat quietly and waited.
“I already told the other cop that I don’t remember that job, they all blend together.”
“The guys on your crew remember it, they said the residents were a real pain in the ass, complaining about the noise.”
Duke looked down at his hands and began to pick at a callous.
“I mean re-roofing a row of townhomes is going to be loud. There’s no way around it. What did the people expect?”
Silence still. Ben decided to change tactics.
“Well here is the deal, Stephen, something awful happened to one of the residents of those townhomes. We know you have a record. This isn’t looking so good for you. Tell us what we want to know and we will let you go, clam up and I am sure I won’t have to dig far to make sure you end up back in prison. Maybe a phone call to your parole officer?”
Duke continued to peel the callous on his hand.
“Fine Duke, enjoy life on the inside again. No skin off of my nose.”
Ben stood up to walk out of the room. As he heard a low murmur, he couldn’t make it out.
“What was that?”
“I didn’t kill her.”
“The chick from Skokie.”
“I never said it was a woman. You want to tell me what you do know? Because let’s assume for a minute, that it was a woman, with your record you don’t stand a chance for not going down for this.”
“You should be talking to Jim and Rae Lynn, at the shop, they’re the ones breaking the law. All sorts of shit, gaming, running drugs, maybe they killed her.”
“Yeah like I said, I didn’t kill her. She was nice to us guys.”
“So you talked to her?”
“Look, if Jim knows I outed him, I am history, man. You guys gotta protect me or something.”
“Well give me something real and I will see what I can do.”
“You already outed them, so you just are just going to have to trust me.”
“Trust a cop? Duke exhaled a long jagged breath. Man, can I have a cigarette?”
“Sure,” Ben tossed a pack across the table along with a lighter.
He didn’t smoke but kept them on hand for things like this. He noticed Duke’s handshake as the man across the table lit the cigarette. Was it nerves, or withdrawn from alcohol or nicotine Ben wondered. Duke took a long drag of the cigarette. Ben pushed Marty’s cold coffee towards him to use as an ashtray, as he sat silently and waited. Duke sat quietly and smoked, the air in the room oozed with tension and second-hand smoke. Ben had become accustomed to the tension, most people would speak to break it, and Ben knew Duke would. He took one last long drag of the cigarette and dropped it into Marty’s coffee, the sizzle of the ash meeting the cold coffee, filling the room with noise.
“So Jim and Rae run this poker game. Usually, it’s nothing special, but a lot of money and a lot of business goes on. So one night Jim asks me to sit in. Normally us guys don’t really sit in. This is kind of a high roller thing. I am a decent player so I figured why not. They hold the games in the garage at the shop twice a month, it’s an invitation only thing. I thought it was cool that he asked me, so I decided to go and see what it was about.
It was a normal poker game for the most part. I had an okay time and I held my own in the game. The other guys who play are like bankers and shit. I don’t know why the hell they play with Jim, but whatever. This game came down to one hand. Just me and another guy. Anyway, this guy, cheated his way through our last hand, I still can’t figure out how he did it, but I know he did. I lost, I didn’t have that kind of money. These guys may wear suits and look all proper, but they’ll take you out back and beat the shit out of you or worse if you don’t pay up. I tried not to fucking panic, I knew I had no business at that table. Just then Jim walks up, and put his hand on my shoulder, real weird, and says he’ll stake me. I was shocked, Jim is not a generous guy. After the game ended, Jim said he’d take it out of my checks, and I thought, great, this will take years to pay off. How could I have been so fucking stupid? About a week later, Jim and Rae call me into the office and Jim says if I do him a favor that he’ll erase the debt. We’re talking a shit-ton of money here, so I sat and listened. He said he needed me to put a camera up in the attic in Skokie, in an air duct. He wants it up in the bathroom upstairs, in the house of the cute blonde girl. Look, I know it was a really, stupid, fucking thing to do, but I thought it was just a camera, no one was going to get hurt. So, I took the camera from Jim and went back to Skokie. I went up through a neighbor’s attic. I told them I had to check and make sure I didn’t leave some tools behind. I put the camera where I was instructed and got the hell out of there. I didn’t want any part of what was going on. Look, I know it was against the law but I didn’t kill her, I swear to God.”
“Did Jim say who the footage was for?”
“No, I didn’t ask either. Seemed like he was making good on a favor himself.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well for one, Rae was in the room when he told me to do it. Jim’s wife is a real bitch, he and Rae got a thing going on. He wouldn’t be filming another chick and tell me to go do it front of Rae. She wouldn’t stand for that shit. Anyway about a week later he asked me to go get the camera. So I snuck in during the day and grabbed and brought it back to Jim. Two days later Jim says he needs another favor, this time he’ll pay me for it. He tells me to take the tapes that he made of the chick to the parking garage in the Loop. I had to leave them in this garage. I left them late, like the middle of the night. I thought it was weird, but money is money. So I took them to the garage and left them. That was the end of it, I swear to God. If Jim knows, I talked, man I am dead. I may be a piece of shit but I never touched the chick from Skokie, you have to believe me.”
“How much did he pay you for this chore?”
“Two grand, cash. Look, I really needed the money. I swear I didn’t know anyone was going to get hurt!”
“Can you tell me where the garage is and when you left the tapes?”
“It’s off of Wacker, a couple blocks South of the River. I left them.. like mid-May. I don’t know the exact date.”
“If I got you a map could you find the garage?”
“Did Jim ask you to do anything else?”
“No, but you gotta hide me, man.”
“We are going to do some digging around, if your story works out, I won’t leave you to hang.”
He pulled his phone up and pulled up a map of Wacker Dr., Duke pointed to the garage right away. The Day Park on Wacker, he was sure of it.