From Full Cleveland (a Milan Jacovich Mystery) by Les Roberts
In blue-collar towns such as Cleveland you don’t often run into guys with names like Richardson Hippsley-Tate. It isn’t the norm. There are plenty of people named Annunzio Napolitano or Bernie Feinberg or Leroy Washington Jr. Or even names like mine, Milan Jacovich. That’s Yugoslavian—Slovenian, to be more precise—and in my old neighborhood on the East Side, or in Bernie’s or Leroy’s or Nunzio’s neighborhoods, a guy with a hyphen in his name had better be either pretty good with his fists or damn fast on his feet.
On this particular afternoon, one of those oppressive August days in Cleveland when the air clings like wet cotton and beer sales hit an annual high, I had just finished a big job for an electronics firm in the eastern suburbs and written them a thirty-six-page report on implementing security procedures, preventing industrial espionage, and keeping the ribbon clerks from stealing paper clips. It’s not the most exciting type of job I get, but it was a nice change from spying on errant husbands and wives, or having guys with bent noses try to make mine look like theirs. The president of the electronics company had given me a little bonus and a glowing letter of reference, my bank account was healthier than it had been in a while, and I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself and with life in general. From past experience, I should have known that someone was going to rain all over the picnic—someone always does. But even if I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have figured it to happen that day. It was just too hot and muggy to start stirring up any shit. That’s when my telephone rang and I first heard of Richardson Hippsley-Tate.
You’d expect a fellow with a hyphen to have a stuffy British accent, but this guy sounded more like New York than New Hyde Park. He was the general manager of the Lake Shore Hotel, a huge new resort-and-convention-center complex that had been completed just the past spring, with all the attendant hoopla, grand opening visits by show business and sports celebrities, and a ribbon cutting by Governor Kinnick capping a boring and windy speech. The Lake Shore had been built, after an internal battle in the city council chambers that had left several members either politically dead or mortally wounded, atop a landfill on the West Side overlooking Lake Erie. It catered to fast-track business executives, Fortune 500 corporations, the local fat cats, and the out-of-town idle rich who were perverse enough to want to spend their precious vacation time in Cleveland.
When Hippsley-Tate called, he told me he needed to see me on “a matter of great urgency.” That’s what he said, a matter of great urgency.
“Could you be a little more specific, Mr. Hippsley-Tate?”
“It’s not something I can talk about on the phone,” he answered, “but this hotel has been ripped off for a great deal of money, and I need you to help me get it back.”
I run a private security agency from my apartment in Cleveland Heights, so I assumed he’d gotten my name from the classified directory. For someone like myself with an independent bent, self-employment seems to work out a lot better than punching a time clock and trying to look busy when the boss walks in. I never bitch about the boss, because I am he; I never have to worry about layoffs, because I am the sole employee of Milan Security, as well as the entrepreneur. So I didn’t have to check with anyone before arranging a meeting with Hippsley-Tate that evening. And since I get to the West Side all too infrequently, I decided not to waste the trip. I invited my lady, Mary Soderberg, to join me for the evening and dinner at Johnny’s.
I picked her up at her place in Shaker Heights, and we headed out the Shoreway to the West Side. In a pair of black slacks and a shiny green blouse that did funny things to the normal blue of her eyes, she looked merely sensational, causing heads to turn everywhere we went. She knew the outfit was one of my favorites, and I was touched that she wanted to wear it for me. In fact, just about everything Mary did touched me one way or another. I was getting scared about Mary—she was beginning to mean too much to me.
Mary regarded the rough-hewn scenic wonders of downtown Cleveland as we swung by Municipal Stadium and approached the bridge. “This isn’t going to be one of those deals where you get hurt again, is it, Milan?” she said. “I hate it when you get hurt.”
“I’m not real fond of it myself,” I told her. “When it comes to that, the whole idea is to hurt the other guy.”
“Didn’t General Patton say something like that?”
“He never said it to me.”
The big-shouldered silhouette of the Lake Shore Hotel rose against the darkening sky on our right as I pulled off the Shoreway and started down the access road. It was a beautiful hotel, some fourteen stories high, covering almost two hundred acres of prime lake frontage. Beautiful, that is, if you like stark modern architecture done in grays and muted pinks. Me, I prefer the solid buildings that have been around for a while—the ones that proudly announce they’re from the Midwest: Terminal Tower, Gray’s Armory, St. John’s Cathedral, and the old Deming Mansion, which climbs the bluff just a few blocks from my apartment at the intersection of Cedar Road and Fairmount Boulevard. Then again, I like big band music and American cars and Beeman’s gum and day baseball on grass, so you can’t go by my tastes.
The entire effect was as cold and emotionless as the eyes of a doll. Glass elevators climbed up the outside of the building like glossy-backed beetles, mirrored glass reflected the colors of the evening sky as though bent on improving them, and there was a too noisy waterfall in the lobby. For the life of me I couldn’t find a ninety-degree angle anywhere in the hotel. The walls of the lobby were covered with a kind of carpeting, and curved, as if they had been photographed with a fish-eye lens. The only thing square was the Muzak chirping merrily from hidden speakers all over the place. I asked at the desk for Mr. Hippsley-Tate. The clerk, a perky nineteen-year-old girl wearing a gray blazer with the hotel’s name and crest on the pocket, pointed me across the lobby to the executive offices.
Mary said, “I’ll meet you in the cocktail lounge, or whatever they call that place with the tables by the waterfall. I don’t want to sit there in the office like a camp follower while you play detective.”
“I hate to tell you this,” I said, “but I’m not playing.”
Mary didn’t understand about my work sometimes. Our relationship, now six months old, was basically hassle free. We hardly ever argued about anything, and when we did it was more of a spirited discussion than an argument. But she didn’t always understand about my work, and it troubled me. One of these days I felt it would cause a problem.
Richardson Hippsley-Tate’s secretary was supercilious and curt, as if I were a pencil salesman come to foist some low-priced soft-lead specials on her boss. I guess when your hairspray is laid on as thick as hers was it cuts off circulation to your head, and you tend to snap at people as a matter of course. Eventually she relented, performed some sort of mystical ritual with the intercom system, and the man himself came out of his office to greet me. Hippsley-Tate was a stocky five foot eleven, and affected a dashing Continental-style Vandyke that matched his sandy hair. His expensive three-piece suit was of the same shade of gray as the carpeted walls. It must have been the corporate color. His handshake was firm and hearty.
“Come on in, Mr. Jacovich. It’s so nice to meet you,” he said, seeming almost puppyish in his desire to have me like him. “How about some coffee? A drink? Name it.”
“Nothing right now, thanks,” I said, “I’m on my way to dinner. How can I help you, Mr. Hippsley-Tate?”
“Richie,” he corrected me, indicating a comfortable chair for me to sit in. “My last name’s too much of a mouthful.” He sat down behind his desk and folded his hands very correctly in front of him. “I’ll get right to the point. Does the name Gregory Shane mean anything to you?”
I frowned. It did ring a bell somewhere, but I couldn’t place it at first and told him so.
“How about North Coast Magazine?”
“I seem to remember them,” I said. “They’re new, just starting up. In fact, they called me for an ad about four months ago, but I wasn’t interested. The guy I talked to—was that Gregory Shane? A hell of a salesman. He said he’d write a small article about my business and do a quarter-page ad for two hundred dollars.”
“Two hundred dollars,” Hippsley-Tate murmured.
“It seemed like a good deal at the time, although now that you mention it, I haven’t seen the magazine anywhere.”
“There is no magazine,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I imagine that Shane told you the magazine was designed to highlight members of the business community here in the Cleveland area, right? And that instead of simply buying ads, the businesses were, in effect, buying editorial space: the stories that would be written about them would be twice as efficient as just an ad.”
“Something like that.”
“That’s what happened to me,” he said. “It was about two weeks before our grand opening in May. I’d had meetings with the financial interests in this hotel, and it was my idea to bring some of the local people in here to dine and drink and dance, to attract business meetings and conventions from the immediate area as well as the out-of-town trade that obviously will keep up the occupancy rates. I’m not worried about the transient business, but it’s very important to me to keep our banquet and F and B divisions in the black.”
“F and B?”
He smiled. “Sorry. Food and beverage. So anyways, I was, making that a priority. And when Dan Mulkey called to ask for an appointment and told me about his magazine, it seemed to be just what I was looking for in terms of local publicity.”
I took out my notebook and jotted down two things. One of them was Dan Mulkey and the other was Anyways???? I said, “Who is Dan Mulkey?”
“He was involved with the magazine somehow. He set up an appointment with me. They promised me that for the first three issues they wouldn’t accept any advertising from any of the other hotels in town, like the Hyatt or the Hollenden House. In other words, the Lake Shore had an exclusive with North Coast, for the back cover, which is the most desirable place to put an ad, as you know.”
I didn’t know. I’d never advertised in my life. I said, “And the cost of this ad?”
“Forty-two grand.” I noticed that he was perspiring. General managers of luxury hotels weren’t supposed to sweat. Under my other notations I put 42 Grand??
Hippsley-Tate ducked his head. “It was quite a price, but it was a new magazine and it was bound to get a lot of attention. I figured it was well worth it. Three-color printing, and they’d do all the layout and typesetting.”
“What did they tell you in terms of readership?”
“They said they were aiming for a circulation of a hundred thousand. I mean, they were going to do a print run of twenty thousand, but he figured at least five people would see each issue. In doctors’ offices and hotel rooms and places like that, he said. And of course on the racks in all the markets and discount drug outlets and the bookstores.” The perspiration had begun to collect over his eyebrows and he wiped at it absently with his hand. “And they promised to give good reviews to our restaurants and to mention whatever entertainment we had in the lounges in later issues.”
“And you gave them the entire fee up front?”
“With amounts that large isn’t it customary to spread payments out over longer periods?”
“Usually, sure. But when Dan Mulkey came to pick up the money he said the only way he could give me such a good rate was if he got a lump sum in advance.” He pounded his desk gently with a knotted fist. “I realize now what he was up to, but like I said, it seemed like such a good deal at the time.”
I scribbled Like I said?? Richardson Hippsley-Tate was beginning to interest me. “When is the last time you heard from them?”
He held his hands up in a gesture of supplication. “The day he picked up the money.”
“Did you get any sort of a receipt?”
He got up and went to a file cabinet in the corner. Ruffling through the folders for a moment, he came up with a piece of paper, which he brought to me. It was a standard receipt form, printed cheaply on thin paper, with Dan Mulkey’s signature scrawled almost illegibly across the bottom. It said, “Three issues, back pg., 3-color,” and the date and the dollar amount. Across the top of the receipt was printed the name of the magazine and an address in Ohio City.
“Listen, Mr. Jacovich,” he said, going to sit at his desk again. “Can I call you Milan? Jacovich is almost as much of a mouthful as Hippsley-Tate.”
“The owners of this hotel are very upset about this, and I’m kind of on the line about it. I mean, I cut this deal without going to executive row for approval. You’ve got to help me.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Find Greg Shane and get our money back.”
I noted the use of the plural and lit a Winston. I didn’t ask permission, because he was puffing away like mad on a cigarette of his own. He said, “We’ll give you a quarter of all the money you recover, with a minimum of five thousand dollars if you find Shane and don’t recover the money right away.”
“And if I come up empty?”
“We’ll pay you your standard daily rate and cover all your expenses for a week just for you to look. Is that fair?”
It was more than fair, and Richardson Hippsley-Tate knew it. But it didn’t smell good to me. “If you can’t get the money back, why is it important for you to find Shane?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone has assets that can be converted to cash. We’ll get something out of it. Mainly, we don’t want to look like a bunch of patsies.”
I wrote down patsies in my book. “It seems to me that these people are bona fide con artists. Why don’t you just put the police on them?”
“They came around and they took statements, but they are short on manpower, as usual, and right now they’re looking into a real estate rip-off in Parma, where the sting is well over six figures. This case will die in the files, I’m afraid.”
He removed a wallet from his pocket and extracted a number of crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. It was the kind of flat wallet that didn’t fold or crease the money inside; Benjamin Franklin was young and unwrinkled—all fifteen of him. “This should cover you for the first five days,” he said. “You can invoice me personally for the expense money.”
I took the money as though it might burn my fingers and put it in my jacket pocket. It felt bulky and unnatural there, like a tumor. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me where to start.”
“There on the receipt is Shane’s address. It’s a house in Ohio City, and I can tell you right now that it’s empty. He cleared out of there lock, stock, and wife.” Hippsley-Tate pushed a piece of paper across the desk at me. It was a list of names and addresses.
“Who are these people?”
“They’re the so-called staff of the magazine—or they were. I’ve heard of Leonard Pursglove before; he used to work for several local ad agencies. If you have connections in the ad business you might want to check up on him. Dan Mulkey used to have something to do with a record company. Greg Shane I never heard of until I got involved with his magazine.”
“Okay,” I said, and put all the papers in my pocket with the money. “Tell me, how’d you happen to get into the hotel business?”
He shrugged. “It’s as good as any other,” he said. “I managed a place in Manhattan Beach out in L.A. for a while. A small, European-style hotel with very expensive antiques in every room. The money was good, and it was a fun job, so I stuck with it. I’ve never handled a place as big as this one, though. It’s a hell of a lot more hard work.”
“I’ve always found that anytime someone gives you money to do something, it’s more work than fun. Otherwise they’d make you pay them.”
He laughed, ducking his head in agreement. “Milan,” he said, “it’s really important that we get some action on this. I mean, the owners of the hotel are holding me responsible, and forty-two Gs is a big bite out of anyone’s paycheck.”
“That’s more than I make in a week,” I agreed.
I went back out to the lobby to collect Mary. She was seated at a table near the waterfall, working on a glass of house Chablis, looking bemused as a paunchy middle-aged man in a blue suit stood over her giving her the rush of her life. He looked as if he was a regional sales manager in town for the annual corporate meeting of a bathroom accessories manufacturing firm. I sighed. When I had started seeing Mary several months before, I’d come to uneasy terms with the fact that such a truly beautiful woman is going to get a lot of attention from other men, but I’ve never quite accustomed myself to it happening in front of me.
I put on my best glower and stalked up to the table. “’Scuze me ma’am,” I drawled, “is this fella here botherin’ you?”
He looked up at me, the color leaving his face via express. “No,” he said quickly. “No problem. Just . . . ” He didn’t say just what but beat a hasty retreat to the other side of the lobby. Maybe the fear of scandal getting back to his boss and to his wife at home in Columbus or someplace changed his mind about pursuing his line of inquiry. Maybe it was because when I was at Kent State I was a first-string defensive guard, and I look it.
Mary watched him go and sipped her wine. “It’s getting so a girl can’t turn an honest buck around here,” she said. “He wanted to know what he could get for a hundred. Look, Milan, I’m getting hungry. Are you planning on buying me dinner? Because if not, I can earn my own, right here.”
She stood and I took her arm. The regional sales manager was glaring at us from across the lobby. He thought I was the house detective.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What can I get for buying dinner?” She put her mouth very close to my ear and told me.
During the day Johnny’s is a shot-and-a-beer bar, its clientele mostly unemployed steelworkers who sit hunched over their drinks in a cloud of cigarette smoke—plaid-shirted in the winter; muscle-shirted in the summer, so their tattoos show—for upwards of seven hours each day, ignoring the game shows and soap operas flickering on the TV, talking in rumbling monotones about the fates of the various sports franchises in town and about the weather and about their cars and about women. The smells of the beer and the smoke and the sweat seem to have been soaked up by the walls. There are ten thousand such neighborhood taverns in a hundred industrial cities, and almost all are interchangeable, except that one might trade talk of the Browns and Cavs and Indians for speculations about the Lions and the Pistons and the Tigers.
But along about six thirty or seven in the evening a strange thing happens to Johnny’s. The unshaven steelworkers at the bar are displaced by yuppie lawyers in three-piece suits and their tall, elegant women in clinging jersey dresses and full sets of acrylic nails, trailing clouds of Enjoli and waiting not always patiently for a table. The daylight odors of Stroh’s and Lucky Strikes are overpowered by those of beef en croutade and veal marsala and fusilli in a pesto sauce served on a bed of radicchio. The bartender, a hard-looking young woman in a well-filled T-shirt, spends more time selecting the right pouilly fuissé than she does drawing beers, and suddenly a maître d’ appears to recite the specials. He looks like a former welterweight contender, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that for good, fancy cooking, Johnny’s is one of the best restaurants in Cleveland.
Mary ordered roast quail with sherry lime sauce, and I had pasta with walnut sauce. We split a bottle of California grey Riesling. As we were preparing an assault on our goat cheese salads, Mary said, “Well, how did it go with Mr. Stokeley-Pipps?”
Mary had come into my life at just the right time. I had been divorced from my wife Lila for almost a year and was missing the hell out of my two sons, whom I see less and less frequently as they get older and busier with friends their own age, and who seem to be spending a lot of their spare time with my wife’s new friend, one Joe Bredac from the neighborhood. Joe had evidently worshipped Lila from afar since she and I had been a steady item in high school. To give him credit, he never made any sort of move in her direction while I was still in the picture, but as soon as Lila and I separated he moved in like a hermit crab, to inhabit the shell I’d left behind. In the meantime, my life had become as bland and flavorless as yesterday’s chewing gum; I had been turning into a lonely, cranky old bachelor, drinking beer at Vuk’s Tavern in the old neighborhood on St. Clair Avenue and watching the game on TV by myself every night. I always figured that when I got married it was going to be forever, and the fact that Lila had filed divorce papers on me didn’t change my gut feelings that she was still my wife, still the only family I had, and that somehow I had failed, screwed up, taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. But when I met Mary it was like the sun coming out after a long winter of gray.
“I got the job,” I said. “He seems to be a scared little man who’s gotten in too deep.”
“And you’re the life preserver?”
“It’s what I do.”
“Is it going to be dangerous? Rough stuff?”
“Not at all,” I said. “He’s been scammed, that’s all.”
She reached over and put her hand on my cheek. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “I’d hate anything to happen to this gorgeous face.”
I don’t have a gorgeous face. If you stretched real hard you might say that I’m okay-looking. But Mary makes me believe, for a few seconds at a time, anyway, that I have a gorgeous face. Relationships have been built on a lot less.
I looked up toward the front door as the noise level intensified a few decibels. Making a rather grand entrance was an old high school chum of mine who had gone through the police academy with me but had stayed on the force and earned his gold shield. Marko Meglich, now a homicide bureau lieutenant, had dropped the o from his first name and was called Mark by everyone, except those of us who knew him back on East Fifty-fifth Street. He was wearing expensive tailored sharkskin suits now and got a manicure once a week, but I could remember when he had the best hands of any wide receiver in the East Side City High School League. I’m told he often uses those hands to bounce recalcitrant witnesses off walls, but I couldn’t substantiate that. He was with another couple in their late thirties and a flashy-looking redhead, who I don’t think was of legal drinking age. Marko’s marriage to a neighborhood girl had, like my own, recently caved in—his under the pressures and exigencies of police work—and now he was most often seen around town squiring some pretty young thing like this one, with a body built for the fast lane and a vacant stare. Most of them were too young to be classified as bimbos; privately I referred to them as Marko’s Bimbettes.
I rose as he approached our table. “Milan!” he said. “You’re moving up in the world, my man, coming in here. I’ve never known you to eat anything more exotic than klobasa on rye bread.” He ignored my outstretched hand and hugged me. There was still that much Slovenian left in him. I could feel the gun nestled beneath his left armpit. Regulations.
“And this must be the magical Mary,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it gallantly, then preening his drooping black mustache. “You’re Milan’s only topic of conversation the last few months. I feel like I know you already.”
“Wouldn’t it be awkward,” I said, “if this weren’t Mary?” For a moment I thought Marko was going to wither away with embarrassment, so I quickly bailed him out. “Mary, meet Lieutenant Mark Meglich, Cleveland P.D.”
Mary gave Marko one of her more dazzling smiles. “I’ve heard a lot about you, too, Lieutenant.”
“Mark, please,” he said. And then as almost an afterthought, “Oh. Everyone say hi to Brenda.”
The girl smiled faintly, her red hair in a wild, trendy perm framing her pretty, empty face.
“What brings an East Side Kid like you west of the Cuyahoga?” Marko said.
“Naturally,” he said. “Anything you want to talk about?”
“Nothing that would interest homicide. Have you heard about North Coast Magazine?”
“I’m not really familiar with it,” Marko said. “If I recall rightly, they went around selling advertising to a bunch of mom-and-pop businesses and then disappeared before the magazine ever hit the stands. Small-time bunco stuff.”
“Do the names Greg Shane and Dan Mulkey mean anything?”
“Not Shane, but I can look it up for you. Mulkey, the last I heard of him, was a record company executive, a little on the shady side. Is that your case? The magazine?”
“Yeah. One of the scam-ees is bellowing.”
“Poor baby,” he said. “When will people learn that everything’s a scam? Religion, politics, television, football.” He took Brenda’s arm possessively. Maybe she was a scam too. “Listen, I’m with some people, I gotta run. Don’t be such a stranger, Milan. Quit keeping this beautiful creature all to yourself. Maybe the four of us can go out sometime.” He turned to Mary. “Make him call; all right, Mary?”
She smiled. “I’m not sure anyone makes Milan do anything.”
Marko scowled. “That’s his damn trouble!”
“Let’s just say I’ll suggest it,” Mary offered. “It was nice meeting you, Mark.”
I noticed that the broken-nosed mâitre d’ made a bit more of an obsequious fuss over Marko’s party than he had with us. A gold shield comes in handy sometimes, and one of Marko’s favorite pastimes is chiding me for not staying in the department and earning one of my own. For two people who’ve been friends for almost thirty years, he and I have definite communication problems. I’ve never been able to make him understand that I left the force because I’d had enough saluting at Cam Ranh Bay to last me a lifetime.
“So that’s the famous Marko Meglich,” Mary said as I sat back down and rearranged my napkin on my lap. “When should we get together with him and Brenda and all of us go out for some fun?”
“I can hardly wait.”
“I hope he won’t keep her out too late for her to finish her algebra homework. She’s certainly pretty, but your friend Marko seems better than that, somehow.”
“It’s his postdivorce play time,” I said. “She’s the flavor of the month. All divorced men go through it. Some take longer than others.”
“Did you, Milan?”
I thought about lying for a moment; then I said, “No.”
“I don’t know. Just needed to lie back and lick my wounds, I guess. Spent a lot of time alone, getting in touch with my own feelings. Is this conversation going to get heavy?”
“We haven’t talked much about Lila. Maybe it’s time we did.”
“I don’t know,” Mary said, “maybe because we’ve been hanging out together for a while and it might be helpful to define the relationship.”
“I’m nuts about you,” I said. “You’re very important to me, and I don’t know if I could make it without you. How’s that for a definition?”
“Right out of Webster’s,” she said as the waitress brought our dinners. “The silver-tongued devil strikes again.”
The walnut sauce was delicious, and Mary and I, as is our custom when we come to Johnny’s, tasted each other’s dinner. I’m not an authority when it comes to roast quail with sherry lime sauce, but the sample I had was spectacular. We discussed the food and the wine for a minute, easy once more after a few moments that had been less than comfortable. That was what was so good about Mary—the comfort level was remarkable. We are so often chameleons with other people, role-playing and trying to keep our dialogue and our scenes straight, it’s rare and very special when we find someone with whom we can relax and be ourselves. Woe to whoever lets such a person get away.
After dinner, instead of taking the Shoreway back to the East Side, I drove on surface streets past the old recently restored houses of Ohio City on the west bank of the Cuyahoga, which had once sheltered the families of European immigrants and now were the abodes of upwardly mobile young executives, and stopped at the address Hippsley-Tate had given me, the last-known residence of Greg Shane. Mary and I got out of the car and walked up the stone steps to the front porch. The house was dark. A few cobwebs were strung across the upper corners of the doorway, and there was no sound coming from inside. I peered in the windows, trying to see through the lace curtains that covered them, but I wasn’t too successful. From what I could make out there wasn’t much to see; a few cardboard boxes on the floor, a cheap aluminum chair in the middle of the room. An empty house isn’t all that fascinating.
Mary hugged herself. “It has a spooky feeling about it. Do you suppose they sneaked away in the dead of night?”
“I’ll find out tomorrow.” I wrote a reminder to myself in my notebook. Then we drove back to Mary’s house, and for quite a while I didn’t think about Gregory Shane or Richardson Hippsley-Tate.