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by Jason Bennett
“Come over immediately,” he said. “Olivia’s dead.”
It had been raining all evening and night. There must have been four or five inches of it by now, and everything was soaked. And it was cold. The front that brought the rain through in the late afternoon also had brought way-below-normal temperatures. I actually turned on the heater in my Jeep as I drove.
The Case house glowed an eerie bluish white in the distance as I pulled up. The cold rain blurred my windshield as my wipers struggled to keep up with the storm. All afternoon I had felt something knotting in my stomach. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be an uneventful night.
I saw lights from the cop cars and ambulance two blocks away, and knew it was bad. My stomach had been in knots the entire drive, but pulling into that driveway made me seize. My body nearly failed me as I tried to get out of the car, but somehow I managed to make it to the yellow tape that encircled the front walk and two of the front windows.
The house, under any circumstances, dominated the block. Its size alone separated it from the rest of the block’s inhabitants, but its architecture made it shine. Somehow, Jerry Case had procured an un-built Frank Lloyd Wright design, and had it built right there, in the middle of the most upscale subdivision in Southport, Wisconsin. The rest of the residents in the subdivision were furious, complaining that the house didn’t conform to the neighborhood’s building codes. The truth was that Case’s house so badly outclassed the rest of the houses near his, that their owners were insanely jealous, and upset, that he had again trumped their million-dollar purchases. Case would shrug when faced with a complaint and tell me “They wouldn’t know class if it bit them on the behind. And they don’t know baseball.”
I loved him for statements like that.
But under these circumstances, the appearance was not only dominating, but also frightful. The yellow police tape, as I approached it, looked like a grim frightful smile curling up the front of the house. I shivered as I stepped up and hollered at a uniform standing by the front door, approximately 15 feet away.
“I need to get in.”
“No one enters. Sorry, pal.”
“Jerry case called me just a while ago. He wants me in there.”
“Sure he did.”
“Look, I have a press pass, but it’s at home. I write for the Times.” I looked at myself. Adidas wind pants, a white tee shirt, gray sweatshirt, flip-flop sandals, and a replica 1936 Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball cap. I probably wouldn’t have believed me either.
“I don’t care who you are. No one is supposed to get in here. Lieutenant’s orders.” He was getting irritated with me, and so was I, with him.
“I don’t give a fuck what is lieutenant’s orders, or who the lieutenant is,” I barked at the poor rookie. He was, after all, just doing his job. No matter how pissed I was at him, and frightened of the situation, he didn’t deserve the chewing I was giving him. “You will let me into that fucking house before I rip your shiny badge off your little bird chest and shove it into your fucking ear.” I realized my temper had gotten the better of me.
“Carson Osborne, if you hurt my man here, I’ll have to take you in.” Donovan Pagliocci was one of my oldest friends, and, as luck would have it, the officer in charge of this crime scene. He approached me from the house and laid a hand on the officer’s shoulder “He’s okay, Sam, he’s with me.”
Donnie was dressed for a funeral, or a wedding. It was hard to tell. His dark suit was way too hot for this time of late summer, but Donnie was always the professional. He wore a badge on a chain around his neck at a time like this – it was the first time I’d ever actually seen him under these circumstances – and his badge hung there around his neck like a medal, an award for being in charge. For some reason it held my attention a second or two too long.
“Ozzie, you okay?”
Donnie ducked the yellow tape and put his hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
I forced my eyes from his badge – like a fish to a gleaming lure, I almost couldn’t break free of it. “Yeah.”
“You want to come inside? The old man really wants to talk to you. He’s been asking if you were here yet.“
“Yeah. I’ll come in. He called me.” Donnie knew that. The gravity of my situation chose just then to find its way into my consciousness. My knees buckled and Donnie caught my arm.
“Alright, cowboy, you gonna make it?”
“Yeah,” I repeated for the third time, “I need to go inside.”
I leaned down and Donnie lifted the caution tape. I felt like a boxer stepping into the ring for a fight I wasn’t quite ready for. My stomach all butterflies and seeing flashes of stars, I had to steady myself on the handrail up to the front door. I didn’t think I was quite ready for what I was about to get myself into.
The Case mansion was elegance, down to its front door. A door I had seen and entered a million times before, but for some reason, couldn’t bring myself to touch. Donnie opened it for me and I walked into the expansive foyer. I stood staring at the two-story room, and the curved wooden staircase that ascended to the balcony while Donnie entered after me.
“Ozzie, I know Jerry called you here, and I know he wants you here.” He looked at the floor while he talked. “But this house is very ugly tonight. What happened here is not human. You’re very close to this family, and Olivia is your . . . WAS your friend and . . .“ He broke off.
“I need to see her, Donnie. Jerry needs me here, now.”
“Okay, here we go.”
I only then noticed the people in the house. Several uniformed police officers stood inside, while another accompanied a woman with a camera, and another man in a dark suit up the stairs that Donnie and I were now walking towards. When we got to the top, I let Donnie lead the way.
We walked to Jerry Case’s study, where he sat on a dark leather sofa with yet another detective. They were discussing what had happened in the house that night, and I could tell by Case’s expression and tone that he was irritated at the direction or content of the conversation. As soon as I entered the room, he stood up.
“Carson, thank you so much for coming.” He extended his hand, which I shook. He reached out his other hand and clasped my forearm.
“Sure, Jerry. I don’t know how much help I can really be, but I’ll do anything I can.”
Donnie stood next to me, staring at the floor. Case did not release my hand.
“Son, your being here is the help I need now. Olivia was my last family, but for years you’ve been like my son. Thank you for being here,” he repeated.
“Of course.” I didn’t know what else to say.
Reluctantly, Case let my hand go. His eyes nearly glowed red. I had never seen him emotional before, and the sight of it now augmented my discomfort. For the first time since I’d known Jerry Case, he needed my help. He wanted my comfort. Could I do that?
“Over here, Ozzie,” Donnie nodded out the door and in a haze I followed him. We crossed the hall to Olivia’s bedroom without my really knowing where I was headed, and before I knew it I was in a room with several other people, staring at the dead body of my good friend Olivia Case. She lay in an ocean of blood, blood pooled out across most of the floor of her bedroom. She was dressed only in a bikini.
The room had been torn apart, pictures broken and torn from the walls, her expansive collection of baseball memorabilia strewn across the floor, her dresser overturned. The wall nearest where she lay had four large holes in the drywall, one for each of the bullets that went through her, I would find out later.
The sickness started slowly, but came on me like a swarm of furious bees. My head swam. I began to get dizzy and my stomach swelled. I felt a wave of nausea at the gruesome sight.
I bolted from the room, knocking down a man on my way through the door. I reached the bathroom two doors down just in time, threw open the door and dove to the commode as my stomach ejected its contents: the remains of a meatball bomber that I had eaten five hours earlier at Luigi’s Tratoria.
After my stomach had voided itself, I heaved until bile trickled out of my mouth and burned my throat. I pounded my fist on the floor from innumerable emotions and the burn of stomach acids burning my throat and nose. I had never vomited so violently before.
When the heaves left me, I blew my nose on the Angel Soft toilet paper from the roll next to the toilet. I spit several times to remove as much of the offensive-tasting concoction from my mouth as I could, then I flushed the toilet. My hand smarted from pounding the floor, and I remembered what I had just seen.
Without knowing when I had started, I realized I was crying – sobbing uncontrollably as I watched the clockwise rotation of the toilet water while it receded. My lungs and chest heaved until I almost couldn’t breathe. I needed to control myself.
I counted to ten as I tried to slow down my breathing. Olivia Case was dead. My friend of many years, and daughter of the man who was more like a father to me than my own father ever was, was gone forever, and I couldn’t do anything to change that. She was my first friend ever to die, and if this was how it felt to lose people, I hoped she’d be my last.
My breathing calmed, and tears stopped, I blew my nose again, and splashed cold water from the faucet on my face. It was then, thankfully, that Donnie popped his head in the door.
“I guess so. That is terrible. Poor Olivia.”
“Yeah, I know.” Donnie put his hands in his pocket while I dried my face on a towel.
“I . . . better go see what I can do for Jerry,” I said.
“He’s back in the study,” Donnie told me, “I think he broke out the Scotch.”
I walked back to Jerry’s study and found him sitting on his dark brown leather sofa with his head in his hands. In front of him, on a glass-top coffee table sat a bottle of Dewar's and two highball glasses. I looked across the room to his expansive mahogany desk. It was then that I noticed the desk had been ransacked. The drawers all were pulled open; several had been pulled out and dropped onto the floor, their contents strewn around the desk. The brass lamp that normally sat proud on top of the antique furniture was toppled and its bulbs shattered, adding glass to the melange of papers, writing utensils, books and paraphernalia that littered the area.
As I approached Jerry, he poured three fingers into each of the glasses. Before I could sit down, he handed me a glass and drained his, pouring another on its heels.
“Carson, I need your help,” Jerry said without releasing his head from his hands.
I opened my mouth, but my throat, still raw from stomach acids, couldn’t help me speak. I stared dumbly at him, wondering what I could possibly do at a time like this, other than be a good friend.
I drank my whisky.
“You’re the only person I know who can help me with this,” he went on.
“Of course, Jerry, I’ll do whatever I can for you.” I surprised myself by speaking almost without effort.
“Carson,” Jerry repeated, “It’s no secret to you that Olivia had a drug problem.”
I nodded. Olivia had been hooked on cocaine since I knew her. I just hadn’t known that Jerry was informed about his daughter’s recreational drug use. I sat down on the wing back chair, across the coffee table from Jerry’s sofa. Donnie sat in the chair next to me.
“I thought she had kicked the habit, but when I came home tonight and found her in her room like that, with that room all broken up . . . “ he trailed off a for a second. He still had not lifted his head.
“There was . . . is a mirror on her dressing table with a bunch of the stuff on there – cut out in lines like she was doing it right before . . .“
Donnie took over where Jerry cut off. “Ozzie do you know Jake Ellison?”
“Sure. I know who he is. Olivia used to date him, didn’t she?” I knew then where this was going.
“We’re going to look at him for this, Ozzie. He’s about the biggest coke dealer in town, and yes, they used to see quite a bit of each other. If it wasn’t him, chances are it was one of his guys. There was a lot of money taken out of Jerry’s desk, and some jewelry taken from Olivia’s room.”
“Maybe it was a robbery,” I suggested.
“I don’t think so,” Jerry said.
“No forced entry at all,” Donnie added, ”looks like she let in whoever did this.”
“It must have been that fuck, Ellison, or one of his goons, or at least someone he knew. If she’s been using again,” Jerry raised his head and looked at me, “She doesn’t have much sense. She becomes dependent on the stuff, and wherever she gets it from.”
“Is that why she came home from school, Jerry?” There was no doubt in my mind.
“Yes. She was using before she ever went away, but I figured California was far enough away from bad influences that she could kick the habit and straighten herself out. After a couple failed semesters, I wanted her back here, with me, where I could help her.” Jerry dropped his head back into his hands. “I thought rehab would help her, but bringing her here just brought her closer to the source of her whole problem, and closer to the means of getting it – my money.”
“Jerry,” Donnie broke in on him, “you need to realize that this isn’t your fault. Olivia was sick. She did this to herself, you didn’t do it to her.”
“I know, but goddamn it, I couldn’t stop it.”
“I saw Olivia and Jake together at the Pub three days ago,” I said. “They didn’t seem to be getting along too well.”
Jerry looked at me.
I cut him off before he began. “I probably should have told you that.”
“No,” he said, “its not your business to look after her. She should make her own decisions. She’s old enough. I just wish they weren’t such bad ones.”
“We’re going to look at Ellison for this, Ozzie,” Donnie repeated. “We have to spend a little time here collecting some physical evidence, but I imagine in a day or two, we’ll at least bring him in.”
“That’s where I need your help, for now, Carson,” Jerry turned to me. “I don’t want her name dragged through the mud in the paper. I don’t want anyone to know that this was drug related.”
The phrase echoed in my mind – “drug related.” My friend was killed in a “drug-related homicide.” It sounded so familiar, yet foreign to anything that could possibly relate to my own life.
“You’re the only reporter I’m letting in here tonight, Ozzie,” Donnie said. “And I’m not going to say anything to any of those guys outside – except that she was killed and we’re looking into it – until we know something solid.”
I looked at each of them, in turn. “Okay.”
“We all know, however, that someone will find out. Reporters always do.” Donnie lit a cigarette.
Jerry poured another three fingers into his glass and drank it quickly. “That’s how I need you to help me. You know every news hound in this city. And if there’s anyone likely to dig this part of it up, it’s someone with local connections. I need your help to keep the drug connection out of the paper. Carson, this is important. My daughter is dead – that’s bad enough. I don’t want this town to know that side of her, and I know if that is leaked at all, this city will be all over it. I want to cap it right away. For her sake, and mine as well.”
I was a little concerned about what I was hearing. I was a journalist, after all, and freedom of the press was as important to me as to any reporter.
On the other hand . . .
“I owe you at least that much, Jerry,” I said. “I’ll do what I can. I am a sports reporter, though. You know that.”
“I know, Ozzie, I know. But you’ve also been writing in this town for nearly 10 years. You know the people who make those decisions.”
“So do you, Jerry, you know them. You’re the best known man in this town.” I don’t know exactly why I felt defensive on the issue. For some reason, I wasn’t sure I could pull this off.
“I know them socially, I know them from the country club, or fundraisers for the mayor, or the ballpark. You’re an insider, Ozzie. You’re not only in their world, you’re important in that world. They respect you, professionally, the way they respect me, socially. That’s why I need you.“
I knew I couldn’t fight him on this. “Alright, Jerry. I’ll do what I can do.”
“We need to get going, Ozzie,” Donnie stood up. “Go home, get some sleep.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Sleep.” As elusive as that concept sounded, it sounded equally appealing. I had to go.
On my way out of the house, I passed by Olivia’s room again. More composed and prepared, I stepped back into the room. She was covered, by then, and I was spared the torture of actually seeing her face. I looked around the room, though, taking in all the damage. This scene was savage, without a doubt. I walked across the room to a shelf next to her window that hadn’t been knocked down. On top I found a baseball, resting in a plastic stand, signed by Enos Slaughter. Next to the ball was a photograph of Olivia and Colby Akers. I had forgotten that Olivia had dated Colby when he first arrived at the club. I didn’t know if they still were dating, but I knew jealousy could be a strong emotion, and wondered if somewhere in this story I might find an ex-boyfriend jealous of a new lover. I also realized I didn’t have a picture of my friend Olivia. I slipped the picture into my pocket.
Right next to the picture was a gold ring that I knew Jerry had given Olivia for her high school graduation four years ago. I remembered the dinner when he gave it to her: it was the same night I had met Dianne.
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