The Cleveland Creep – Chapter One

The Cleveland Creep: A Milan Jacovich Mystery (#15), by Les Roberts. Published by Gray & Company, Publishers. Front cover of book.

The Cleveland Creep, a book by Les Roberts: A Milan Jacovich Mystery (#15)

Book Excerpt

From The Cleveland Creep (a Milan Jacovich Mystery), by Les Roberts

When a child goes missing, there is nothing more frightening, tragic, or terror-inducing for the distraught parent. Most never give up hoping. That’s how it was for my new client, Savannah Dacey—even though her “child” was a grown man in his twenties.

Savannah is one of the most atmospheric cities in America, on the Atlantic coast in Georgia—full of beautiful old buildings, hanging moss, eccentric natives, and weeping willows. Its summertime humidity can knock you off your feet, and it’s been the subject of a series of books, including one that wound up a Clint Eastwood movie. A river with the same name, Savannah, runs nearby. Additionally, Savannah is the name of a woman who does stand-up news at the White House for NBC television, Savannah Guthrie. Like her, most women named Savannah are attractive and as tropical-looking as their names—or at least they seem more that way than if they’d been christened Sadie or Gertrude.

But Savannah Dacey didn’t fit the name in any way. She’d sounded like a sad sack when she made the phone appointment, and whiny to boot, and she looked like a sad sack, too. She was close to fifty, and looked ten years older. Her fingers were thick as bratwursts, fingernails polished the vivid crimson women stopped wearing in 1972. Her hair had been “done” and dyed an improbable red by someone in a low-rent beauty shop. Her eyeglasses, also of a long-gone era, were bright green, shaped like cat’s eyes, with ungainly rhinestones twinkling in each corner. Her forehead and upper lip were shiny with perspiration, and half-moon sweat stains appeared at the underarms of her short-sleeved white blouse. Her wrinkled, inexpensive peasant skirt made her appear as if she’d walked in the heat and humidity from her West Park home all the way to my office on the west bank of the Flats.

How anyone named “Savannah” wound up in Cleveland is anyone’s guess; it’s not a Savannah kind of town. But I’ve met women with even more exotic names, as you’ll learn.

“It’s kind of you to see me on such short notice, Mr. Jacovich,” she said. She’d phoned me the day before and had mispronounced my last name. If it gives you trouble, just sound it out properly with the J sounding like a Y—Yock-o-vitch. It’s hard to say, I think, which is why I christened my private investigation business Milan Securities after my first name. Put the American slant on it—My-lan—and don’t say it the way you’d pronounce the name of an Eastern European, or the Italian city noted for its fashion shows and its opera house. I’d gently corrected her on the phone, and now Savannah said my name carefully, as if she’d been practicing.

Her son, twenty-eight-year-old Earl Dacey, was missing. He had left the house six days earlier and hadn’t been heard from since. Now his mother wanted to know what had become of him. “He never stayed out all night in his life,” she moaned. “If he’s ever half an hour late getting home, he always calls me. Always. He’s a good boy.”

“Does he have a car?”

“An old, crappy car,” she said. “A two-door, blue Dodge from around 1985. He bought it himself last fall. I never axed him where he got the money.”

Axed him: fingernails on a blackboard. I’d been on the edge of the Earl Dacey disappearance for less than five minutes, and he was already an albatross around my neck. I said, “Is he someplace with a—” I paused, not wanting to say “woman.” I had no right to assume Earl’s sexual preferences. “With a lover?”

“He don’t date girls. He don’t have men friends, either. The best friend he has in the whole world is me.” Savannah said it proudly.

“Where does he work?”

“He don’t have a job right now.” She shifted her spreading backside in my visitor’s chair. “He never had a proper job. He don’t get along with people he don’t know. He’s shy.” Her eyes twinkled behind the cat’s-eye glasses. Maybe she was flirting with me; I hoped not.

“Does Earl have any hobbies?”

“No—he watches TV, an’ plays on his computer for hours at a time. He likes watching baseball.” Her round whey-face lit up as she glanced out my full-length windows across the Cuyahoga River to where the Indians play—Progressive Field is its official name now, although almost everyone in Cleveland still refers to it as what they called it when it opened in 1994, Jacobs Field, or more familiarly, “The Jake.” The ballpark and my office are on opposite sides of a peculiar, sometimes dangerous kink in the river known as Collision Bend—I’m always amazed that few Clevelanders know what it’s called.

“Does Earl play baseball?”

“Lord, no! He’s not very athletic.”

“Nothing else he likes?”

“Eating—spaghetti a couple times a week, or pizza or cheeseburgers. And he likes taking pitchers, too.”

The start of a headache thrummed against my eyeballs. Pitchers! I couldn’t correct my prospective client. Not only isn’t it my job, but half the people in Cleveland call a photograph or a painting a “pitcher,” not realizing a pitcher is a guy on the mound who accurately throws a ball ninety miles an hour at another guy with a big stick in his hand and dares him to hit it. “Pitcher” is also a vessel from which to pour milk, water, or Kool-Aid. But Savannah and lots of other people don’t even know how to pronounce “picture.”

I wasn’t overjoyed about my headache, either. I was getting lots of them—more than I used to. They weren’t blinding migraines that put me out of commission; they were more the essence of a headache. Maybe I was getting old. Sixty is the new forty, or so they say—and sixty was still almost a year ahead of me. I rubbed the back of my neck. “He likes taking pictures?”

“He never goes anywhere without his camera—or his videocam.”

“He has a videocam?”

She nodded. “I dunno what he films with it, but I guess he’s having a good time so I don’t even ask.”

“Did you contact the police?”

“Fer sure,” she said—another expression that quietly died in the late sixties. “I told them he was gone, but they didn’t have much interest.”

“He’s an adult. They assumed he’d left of his own accord.” I cleared my throat. “Maybe he has.”

“No way!” There was real emotion behind her whine. “He wouldn’t worry me like that unless he’s got to.”

I nodded. “It’s a hot morning, Ms. Dacey,” I said, more out of pity than anything else. “How about something cold to drink? A Pepsi, or a Mountain Dew?”

She was immediately interested. “Regular or diet?”

“Regular Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi.”

“Eew, no diet anything. But I wouldn’t say no to a Mountain Dew,” she simpered. I got a Dew from my office-size refrigerator, painted to look like an old-fashioned Wells Fargo safe, and she poured it into a plastic glass I gave her from my bottom desk drawer.

I said, “Does Earl belong to a photography group or a camera club?”

She shook her head.

“Who does he take pictures of, then?”

“I don’t know. People? Maybe just buildings—or dogs or squirrels. He don’t show me his pitchers very often.”

“And he has no friends—even casual ones?”

“Earl isn’t so at ease with strangers. They scare him.” She examined me with an admiring frankness that weirded me out. “You’re a big guy—I bet you’ll scare him, too.”

“I’ll try not to,” I said. “So he doesn’t have a job or a girlfriend, he doesn’t spend time with friends. Where do I start looking for him, Ms. Dacey?”

“If I knew, I’d look there myself. That’s why I want to hire you.”

“That brings us around to money.” I told her how much I charged, half expecting her to turn pale and scurry from my office, because the whole country was struggling against a recession—but when someone has an important reason to want a private investigator on the job, they somehow get the money they need. Savannah took my quoted prices in stride. Her late husband, Earl’s father, had died eight years earlier, leaving her a handsome pension from his long career on the line at the Ford plant. Shortly thereafter she hired on as night manager of a family restaurant on Detroit Avenue, so it didn’t bother her to whip out her checkbook and write me a retainer.

“I want to start by looking at your house first,” I said.

“Earl’s not at my house.”

“No, but maybe I could find information that will help show me where I might look for him.”

She looked dubious but said it was okay.

“Will you be home in about an hour and a half? At noon?”

“Yeah, but I have to work tonight—I’ll leave at about four thirty,” she said, sneaking another fond glance out the windows. “This is a lovely office—such a nice view of downtown.”

It is a nice view of downtown. It makes me feel good just looking at it. The familiar downtown skyline is my town—or I’ve always thought so. Born and bred, and though I’ve traveled—two years in Vietnam being a military policeman was a large part of it—I’ve never wanted to move anywhere else. “Thank you, Ms. Dacey.”

She fluttered her eyelashes at me. “You can call me Savannah—um—Milan.”

Now we were on a first-name basis—in moments we would become lifelong buddies.

Her high heels clattered down the steps. I didn’t move until I heard her car start up and pull out of the lot. Then I breathed more freely.

I’m never comfortable with my clients. People at the end of their rope wouldn’t hire me if they weren’t under great stress. Still, I had sympathy for a mother whose son vanished, even if he was nearly thirty.

I created a new Earl Dacey file on my computer and typed in all his mother had told me. It didn’t even fill up one page. I feared this would be a long haul, because I had other active jobs on my calendar, the main one an assignment from a large warehouse on the East Side in which brand-new refrigerators, stoves, air conditioners, and giant TV sets were kept until the retail store called for them to be delivered. One of the warehouse employees was claiming workers’ comp and had been staying home from his job for the past six weeks, nursing what he swore was a very badly injured back from wrestling those heavy appliances out to a delivery truck. His bosses wanted to know if he really was disabled—so my assignment was to follow him around and see whether those supposedly misaligned vertebrae were truly keeping him from going back to work. I’d already seen him lug his heavy trash cans from his back door to the curb on garbage days, heft two cases of beer from his shopping cart to the back of his pickup at a Dave’s supermarket, and even struggle with a gigantic watermelon.

I had more written about him than I did about Earl Dacey—but with Earl I was just getting started. I wish I didn’t have to take Savannah’s case.

I guess I’m just a sucker for mothers who tremble on the edge of crying.

* * *

It was still early for lunch, but I found my way to Stone Mad, a little bar-restaurant on West 65th Street. It’s in an ancient building with naked bricks inside, and elegant old wood—something to look at if you happened to be dining alone, like me. I’ve been eating by myself for far too long, but Stone Mad serves a fast lunch when there’s no one to talk to. After twenty minutes I headed south and west to the Dacey house, about a hundred blocks from downtown Cleveland.

In the West Park neighborhood, most of the homes are neatly cared for but old and tired. If Savannah repainted her house something other than faded gray, the upgrade would make all the rest of the homes on her block look even worse. The wooden steps up to a small front porch were swaybacked, and the swing seat, covered in sickly apple-green and bilious pink plastic, sported a coat of dust.

I pushed the doorbell, but didn’t hear it ring. I waited twenty seconds, then knocked firmly. When Savannah let me in, I noticed she wore a dark blue sundress with extra-large white polka dots, and she’d redone her makeup, apparently for my benefit. She wore too much orangey base and green eye shadow, and she’d rushed applying a new coat of lipstick, which crept out from the outline of her lips like something drawn by a first grader trying to crayon a picture in his coloring book.

In her living room the air conditioner didn’t work hard enough. The house was a modest, not-nice and not-crappy place you’d forget about as soon as you left. The furniture was either from Value City a decade ago or bought used from one of a dozen gritty resale stores on Lorain Avenue calling themselves antique shops. At both ends of the sofa were matching lamps, their bases made out of small tin pails painted bright yellow and then adorned with drawings—a contented-looking cow on one and a hog on the other. My taste in furniture has never been high class, but someone would have to shoot me before I allowed them to put those two lamps in my living room.

There were no paintings or decorations on Savannah’s walls save for a star-shaped 1960s-era clock, but every flat surface was dotted with framed photographs, mostly of her child Earl—and I use the word “child” advisedly, because every picture was of a kid under the age of ten.

The chairs, side tables, and sofa in the living room were all outdated. I lowered myself slowly onto the least-uncomfortable-looking chair, feeling a broken spring inside the cushion. The most expensive thing in the room was a fifty-two-inch plasma TV playing a daytime drama. Embarrassed, Savannah muted the sound. “I got hooked on soap operas,” she said as if confessing to a string of serial murders. “I work nights, so I never get to look at good TV shows. That’s when I started watching soaps in the daytime and—well, I’m hooked.”

“That’s okay,” I said. I’d never watched more than five minutes of any soap opera in my life. On the screen two impossibly good-looking actors were lying in bed under a sheet, hoping their audience believed they’d just had a wild sex moment, though neither of them had messed up their stiffly gelled hair even a little bit. I decided to look at Savannah instead.

Bad idea.

“So, Milan—now that you’re in my house, can I return the favor?” She batted her false eyelashes at me and crinkled up her nose. “Do you want a Mountain Dew?”

“Nothing, thanks. I just had lunch.”

Her mouth took on one of those teasing, “your-loss” looks. “I wish I knew you were going to eat before you came. Maybe we could have had lunch together.” She sat across from me on her flowered sofa, crossing her legs and hoping I’d notice them. “So,” she said, “what should I tell you about Earl?”

“Everything you can. Let’s start with a photograph, if you have one.”

“Hmmm,” she cooed, cocking her head at what she believed to be an adorable angle, “there’s lots a pitchers right here in this room. Take your pick.”

“I’d prefer one a little more current.”

“Earl likes taking pitchers, but hates having his pitcher took. I’ll go look for one.”

She disappeared down the hall and into what I assumed was her bedroom. The two drop-dead-beautiful soap opera people in bed had been replaced with two different drop-dead beautiful people, this time having an intense conversation in somebody’s living room. Neither was a good enough actor to indicate a scintilla of sexual tension between them. On those daytime dramas they usually shoot everyone in close-up, but the TV was still muted—and I didn’t care enough about what they were saying to try reading lips.

Eventually Savannah returned with a snapshot of Earl and surrendered it to me. “I took this Christmas morning,” she said, “and surprised him.”

In the photo Earl sat cross-legged near a Christmas tree, opening a present, wearing the ugliest pair of blue-and-white-striped pajamas I’d ever seen. Either he’d kicked off his slippers, or he didn’t own a pair to hide his large, bony, ghost-white feet. His lank black hair flopped over his forehead in unkempt chunks, and smiling unfortunately crinkled up his nose, making him look like he was smelling something foul. His snaggly teeth were yellow, his face bore an active case of acne, and he was a hundred pounds overweight. No wonder he didn’t pose for pictures.

“That’s my Earl,” Savannah said.

I searched fruitlessly for an appropriate compliment. “May I hang on to this?”

“Long as you bring it back.”

“I promise.” I slipped it into the inside pocket of my jacket. “You last saw him six days ago—on Wednesday. What time was that?”

She seemed vague. “I’m not sure. Morning, I guess—eleven o’clock or so.”

“He didn’t mention where he was going?”

“No, he just said, ‘See you later, Mom.’”

“What was he wearing?”

She seemed shocked at the question. “Gosh, I don’t know. Umm—khaki pants, I guess. And a short-sleeved sports shirt.” With her fingers she showed me that the shirt probably had buttons and was not a pullover.

I nodded. “Did he take anything with him, like a gym bag or a package? Was he taking clothes to the cleaners?”

Savannah tapped her forehead with one finger. “I—don’t recall. Lotsa times when he goes out, he takes a shopping bag with him.”

“Does he go shopping with that shopping bag?”

“I don’t know what he does with it. But he don’t shop. He don’t have much money ever.”

“Not many people leave to go shopping already carrying a shopping bag,” I said—discounting those “green” shoppers who buy reusable canvas bags and carry them around everywhere. “Savannah, I hate to ask this, but—does Earl shoplift?”

Her back stiffened. “What?”

“I’m not suggesting—just asking questions.”

“Well, ask a different one,” she ordered. “I don’t like that.”

“Can I take a look in his room, then?”

She relaxed a little. “Earl don’t like nobody poking around his private things.”

“Earl isn’t here,” I reminded her.

Savannah couldn’t argue with that logic, but she took nearly a minute thinking about it. Then she led me back through the house to the kitchen. She pointed toward a closed door to one side of the refrigerator. “That’s Earl’s room, there.” The room was too damn small for two large people to be inside, looking under the mattress and feeling around inside dresser drawers. I couldn’t imagine why a very large adult man slept in a single bed held over from childhood. The nubby white chenille bedspread was yellow with age, and a tattered Indians pennant on the wall curled at the tip.

I said, “I’d work better and quicker by myself. I promise I won’t steal anything.”

“You aren’t the stealing type,” she said, heading back toward the living room. “I’ll be out here—I don’t want to miss my soaps.”

No federal prison cell was more depressing than Earl Dacey’s bedroom. There were no books anywhere, and no artwork unless you count assorted color “pitchers” of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Khloe Kardashian, cut from celebrity magazines and thumbtacked to the wall and to a large corkboard propped up on his desk. Despite her printed signature across the bottom, I had no idea who Khloe Kardashian was—but that’s just me.

An off-brand laptop sat atop the desk, open, with no dust on the monitor. On the floor was a photo printer. The desk drawers contained loose paper clips and rubber bands, eleven pennies and two nickels, and five Tic Tac containers, three of which were empty. His address book contained only six names and numbers scrawled in a childlike hand, none familiar to me. I took from my pocket a folded-up plastic bag from Giant Eagle and slipped the receipts and the address book inside.

On a low table was a TV set, half the size of the one in the living room, with a DVD player built in. Below it, on another shelf, was a short stack of DVDs. I squatted to examine them. The top one was The Godfather—the first one, the great one, with Brando—in a jewel case that bore signs of repeated viewings. I didn’t have much in common with Earl, but we evidently shared a love for this particular movie. I can quote much of it by heart; the line that stays with me best is: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Classic.

The other DVDs, in colored plastic envelopes, were unmarked except by Post-It notes with numbers scrawled on them, starting with Number 1 and ending with Number 9.

I went through an old dresser desperately in need of paint. Inside were T-shirts, washed and folded neatly, which made me imagine Savannah did all her son’s laundry. About eight pairs of underwear were in the other corner of the drawer, all whitey-tighty briefs.

Cleveland gets hotter than hell in summer and doesn’t cool off much in the evening. Everyone sweats and everyone smells. When I opened the door to the closet I was nearly overpowered by the stink of old sneakers and clothes recently worn and not washed. Earl’s passion for plaid shirts emphasized his girth. There were no dress slacks—just jeans and khaki pants, hung on wire hangers.

On a high shelf Earl had folded a few sweaters and several more sweatshirts, including one hoodie with the Browns’ orange helmet logo on it. I noticed three magazines nearly hidden beneath the sweaters. The tacky color photographs on the covers were thumbprint-smudged. I’d never noticed these publications on an ordinary magazine shelf in Barnes and Noble. They were usually for sale in one of those grubby Lorain Road establishments called “bookstores” that peddled such items as these to raincoat-wearing middle-aged men who’d sneak in the back door from the parking lot so no one would see them. Earl’s small collection wasn’t exactly pornographic, but the magazines featured photos of young women cheerfully baring their backsides to the camera.

Almost everyone has enjoyed looking at nude pictures of someone, depending on their taste. However, not everyone stashes their stroke-off magazines on a closet shelf hidden beneath a stack of clothing. Earl had gone out of his way so Savannah wouldn’t discover his literary preferences. I stuffed the magazines into my plastic bag, too.

On the floor were three pair of sneakers with Velcro tabs, easier to open and close for someone one hundred pounds too heavy, and a pair of work boots that he must have worn instead of galoshes during winter snow. Next to them, squished into a corner, was a shopping bag bearing the name of a long-gone department store, Kaufmann’s. The top was covered with white tissue paper. I slid it out into the middle of the closet and looked inside carefully to find several sheets of bubble wrap, two thick eighteen-inch-square patches of soft rubber used for packing, and, stacked neatly near the top so that its lens pointed upward, a camcorder that recorded live action as well as taking still photographs.

I couldn’t help noticing that a thumbnail-sized piece of tape was affixed to the front of the camcorder. I lifted it to find someone—probably Earl—had used the tape so no one could see the red light announcing the camcorder was recording.

I picked up the laptop, collected some other possessions of Earl’s I wanted to examine more closely, hooked his shopping bag over my wrist along with my own from Giant Eagle, and went back into the living room, where Savannah was still watching a soap opera, a different program, since the top of the hour had come and gone. Two more beautiful actors in another love scene—different faces and a different bedroom, but probably the same hair stylist, because their hair wasn’t mussed up, either.

“I want to take some things with me,” I said. “A stack of DVDs, his computer, his address book, and his shopping bag, okay? I’ll write out a receipt for you.”

“Don’t bother with the receipt, Milan” she said, reluctantly hitting the mute button on her TV remote and tearing her attention away from the actors. “I trust you.”

“Where did Earl get that camcorder?”

“I bought it for him two Christmases ago.” She put her finger to her forehead to look like she was thinking about it and appearing adorable. “He’d been asking for it—hinting for it.”

So Earl owned the camcorder he’d begged for. I wondered what he did with it, and why he kept it in that shopping bag. I wrote out a receipt for Savannah before I left, though—whether she trusted me or not.

* * *

I headed home to get comfortable and to play Earl’s unmarked DVDs. For more than twenty years I’ve lived in an apartment at the crest of Cedar Hill in Cleveland Heights. I’d moved there when my marriage fell apart, figuring it would be a short-term stopover—no more than a year or two—but since then I’d thought of no valid reason to move again. My ex, Lila, got the house—my house—and she and her longtime live-in lover, Joe Bradac, enjoy it, and my bed, too. Even though I’ve never hit him, Joe is still scared to death of me. He’d slept with Lila for at least eighteen months before she announced she wanted a divorce from me, and I desperately wanted to eat his lunch, but I’ve kept my knotted fists in my pockets whenever I see him.

I’ve stared through my bay window by the hour—at the triangle where Cedar Road and Fairmount Boulevard come together, across the street from a Dave’s supermarket and the Mad Greek restaurant, in which people frequently gather for happy hour, especially during the summer when the Mad Greek lifts its windows and I can see directly into their lounge. For years I used my living room as my office until I bought the old building on the riverfront in the Flats. So here I am, two decades later and now an old-timer in my rented digs. It’s fine with me; I don’t want the trouble of landscaping, grass cutting, repairs, and maintenance on a house. I’m apartment-bound and happy as a clam—a lonely clam, admittedly, but contented nonetheless.

I shuffled through the mail, threw it all away, and felt bad for the trees that had died to produce it, grabbed a cold Stroh’s, and repaired to the bedroom to change into shorts and a T-shirt with the Cleveland Indians logo on it. I’m as uneasy about wearing Chief Wahoo garb as anyone else—but that’s our team and our mascot, so Clevelanders live with it. When the phone rang, I hadn’t yet begun watching Earl Dacey’s discs.

My home number isn’t listed, and the only people who know it are people I like, so I didn’t even check the Caller ID when I picked up and said hello.

“It’s summertime! I thought you’d be out drinking a beer and enjoying the female scenery in their halter tops and miniskirts,” Suzanne Davis said. She always makes me smile. She’s a private investigator too, but plies her trade in Lake County, so we don’t get together often enough. She’s aided me on a few cases, and I’ve given her a helping hand when she needed it. She’s a few years younger than I am, and one of my best friends.

“You’re right about the beer part,” I said. “How are you anyway?”

“Slowing down like everyone else in this recession, waiting for a miracle. What are you up to at eight o’clock tomorrow morning?”

“Ye Gods, do you percolate that early?”

“Usually not. But there’s someone I want you to meet—someone kind of interesting.”

“You want me to get up early just to meet your new boyfriend?”

She snorted. “He’s practically a boy and he’s a friend, but I wouldn’t put those two words together about him.”

“I thought you went for the young ones.”

“Not this young—he’s twenty-four. I refuse to write a note to some teacher for permission to sleep with him. He’s had some bad times, so I care about him. Besides, there’s a reason for getting the two of you together.” She got serious. “You need assistance.”

“Somebody to help me stand up or walk down the stairs?”

“Bingo!” Suzanne chuckled. “Besides, he needs a job. So—breakfast tomorrow, or not? I’m buying.”

“Buying,” I said, “is the magic word.”

We picked a place—Jack’s Deli, on Cedar Road just east of Green Road—and said goodbye so I could begin my serious inquiries into the whereabouts of Earl Dacey.

My second Stroh’s was opened when DVD Number 1 began to play. At first, all I could see on the screen was what looked like a high ceiling, studded with wide glass panels letting in bright sunshine; the tape was made during the spring or summer. There was bouncing, as if the camera operator moved briskly along, not paying attention to what was being photographed. My mind drifted off to other things, such as my current stakeout on the guy cheating the insurance company out of worker’s comp.

Then the cameraman made a sharp right turn and went through a wide public doorway, and the ceiling in the frame changed. Now it was lower, with fluorescent light fixtures, finished in rough-hewn blown plaster. The videographer was walking through a mall and now had turned into a retail venue, probably a department store. I glanced at the shopping bag. Probably what I was watching was Earl Dacey’s camera work—but why was he shooting ceilings and keeping the video collection unmarked in his bedroom?

The movement slowed down, stopped—and I was looking directly up someone’s dress.

She—whoever she was—wore a short dark blue skirt, and beneath it a tiny black thong. The camera angle distorted the view, but her legs were smooth and tan, her thighs slim and firm, her butt tight. She moved slightly while the camera ground away, probably clueless that someone was taping up her skirt. She was being assaulted.

After a few moments the cameraman moved a little, and I was treated to a shot of another pair of panties—flowered bikinis this time. This woman had slightly thicker legs than the previous victim, but wore the same type of dark blue skirt. Her bikini was pulled up tight, creating what’s known in the pornography trade as a camel toe.

I watched for another ten minutes. During that time the voyeur found two more women wearing skirts or dresses with interesting underwear. One of them, also wearing a thong, bore an interesting butterfly tattoo on her left buttock. I was learning more from this DVD than I’d ever wanted to know.

I stopped watching and rewound it. Earl must have done this recently. Cleveland women don’t wear short skirts and bare legs unless it’s summertime.

I changed discs and began studying Number 2. Different setting—I think a different mall altogether—but more of the same subject. I skipped to Number 5—same old same old.

I took Earl’s camcorder out of the shopping bag, removed the memory disc, and plugged it into my own laptop computer. Within moments I was witnessing his current artistic endeavors—more upskirt videos.

Earl Dacey, whose mother had paid me to find him, was an active pervert, and only God knew where he might be now and what he could be doing.

And me? I shook my head sadly. Unbidden, I’d suddenly turned into a dirty old man.

From the book The Cleveland Creep (a Milan Jacovich Mystery), © Les Roberts All rights reserved.

From the book The Cleveland Creep, by Les Roberts. 

© Les Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be reproduced without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.

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