Chicago, Illinois and Manitowoc, Wisconsin are the background cities for my book Union Dues. Robert Atwater, a federal appellate court judge is discover dead at a Wisconsin lodge. Local authorities are quick to say his death was natural. Those close to the judge disagree. They believe Judge Atwater was murdered. They hire private detective Mathew Price to prove their case. What Mathew Price finds is not what they had in mind.
Author's note: Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life". I began writing Union Dues two months prior to the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia. Any resemblance to Judge Scalia's untimely passing, and that of fictional judge Robert Atwater is totally coincidental. It does make for good reading . I hope you enjoy the first three chapters of Union Dues.
Mathew Price didn’t know what to expect of his day. He had a 1:00 p.m. Monday afternoon appointment with Marcia Hart who was one of the senior partners for the law firm of Hart, Murphy & Dix. This morning she had called personally to ask if he would be available to meet with her. Price had availed his service to many of the law firms in Chicago, but never HM&D, so he was surprised when she called and just a tad bit curious why she had. So he instantly agreed to the meeting. Price purposely arrived early to the 30th floor of the Harrington Building where HM&D had offices. He had never known any attorney to be on time, so this gave him an opportunity to nose around. However, Marcia Hart was immediately available to receive him and that made Price all the more suspicious and inquisitive of his visit. He had seen Marcia Hart on television and her picture in the newspaper, but never face to face. She was much more attractive in person. Never one to discount or hide her age, Marcia Hart was a proud sixty-year-old successful woman. Tall and athletically built with a mane of silver blond hair that gently touched the shoulders of her Armani dress. Her office had a skyline view and Price sat in a chair facing it. She graced the seat behind her desk a long glass top monstrosity with a large computer screen sitting on one corner. There were no visible drawers in the desk. Price wondered where she hid the bottle of tequila that she had a notorious liking for. Marcia Hart got right down to business without a hint of ice breaking small talk. She didn’t offer him coffee, water or to see her collection of Bonsai plants. She jumped right in. “Did you hear the news about Judge Atwater?” she asked. Her voice had a tinge of a New York accent. It sounded strange hearing that accent coming from the mouth of a Chicagoan. The two Cities had much in common; pizza, theater and lousy winter weather, but accents were not one of those things. “I heard that he died,” Price answered. “We want you to look in to it for us.” “Why?” Price asked a little shocked to hear the request. Atwater, a Federal appellate court judge had died of natural causes. There was nothing to investigate. No indication of foul play was apparent so no autopsy was ordered and the judge was embalmed and prepared for burial. His body was on its way to the state capital where it would lay in state. “We’re skeptical that’s all. Will you do it?” “Skeptical?” “That he died from natural causes. Judge Atwater was in excellent health.” She opened a folder and passed Price four photographs.” ‘Who gave these to you?” Price asked. The amateur pictures had been shot of Judge Atwater’s deathbed. “Our clients have resources.” Price lifted his gaze away from the photographs. “Our clients are confidential,” Marcia Hart said. Price refocused his attention to the four pictures. “I still don’t see it,” he said. “Notice the pillow is beside him and not under his head.” “Lots of people don’t sleep with a pillow.” “Not the Judge. He had allergies. He always kept his head elevated when he slept.” Marcia Hart leaned across the desk to pointed out the second photograph in Price’s left hand. “Do you see the nightstand?” she asked. “Judge Atwater always read from his bible before sleep. There is no bible on the nightstand.” “Maybe he forgot to pack it,” Price said. “It was found on the floor next to the bed.” “There was a struggle?” “We believe so.” “And that makes you think there was foul play.” “That’s what we want you to find out.” “Price stacked the photographs and handed them back to Marcia Hart. “How many hours?” he asked. “Twenty five billable hours to start. After that we’ll renegotiate. I’ll throw in a $50.00 per diem to sweeten the pot.” “I’ll need forty.” “Fine. Judy at the desk out front will have your check. Call me when you have something. Marcia Hart slipped on a pair of eyeglasses then turned her attention to a client file that was on her desk. Price stood, but stopped to ask, “Why me?” Marcia Hart looked up over the rim of her glasses. “I beg your pardon,” she said. “Why did you call me in on this? Your firm has investigators, top notch ones on retainer so why call me?” She put down her glasses and folded her hands on the desk. “You have unique talents Mr. Price. Those talents may come in handy. You also have friends that may know certain things about certain people, and that too may come in handy. Need I say more?” “Those friends you speak of like to stay alive so they like to stay invisible. You understand that don’t you?” “Understood,” she agreed. “Those friends also like to eat and that means that they like to get rewarded for their information. You understand that too don’t you?” “Yes I understand. Now if you will excuse me.” Marcia Hart slipped her eyeglasses back on gave Price a half smile that meant their conversation had ended.
“Do you think he’ll find what we suspect?” Adrian Murphy said to Marcia Hart. He had entered her office from the conference room through a side door. Murphy was of medium height; five foot ten inches and medium age fifty-five years old. He was bald had a growing potbelly and preferred wearing cardigan sweaters around the office and not a suit coat. “He’s good at what he does,” Marcia Hart said as they watched Price wait for the elevator. “If there’s something out there then he will find it.” “I hear that he’s a bit of a loose cannon.” ‘Show me a private investigator who isn’t.” “I felt better capping him at twenty five hours.” “The extra hours certainly won’t bankrupt us. Besides, if he finds the truth it will be well worth the investment.” Murphy moved to the front of the desk and watched Price step into the elevator. “He’s not much to look at is he?” “You don’t approve?” “He’s not my type is he yours?” Marcia Hart pulled off her glasses. “He is sort of handsome in a rugged way,” she said. “I like the salt and pepper hair, but I’d definitely redo his wardrobe. Jeans and a sport coat went out of fashion years ago. And who wears cowboy boots in Chicago?” Murphy turned from the door to face his partner. “Now don’t you go dipping into the employee pool sweetheart. Remember what happened the last time you did that? We’re still paying that one off.” Marcia Hart sucked on a fingertip and smiled.
The handwritten sign on the tavern window promised cold beer and warm food. Price was in the market for both, so he went inside. The canned music was loud and the talking even louder echoing in the long and narrow room. The polished bar was elbow-to-elbow thick with young law clerks and associate lawyers. A blind man could see that this was their watering hole and Price was old enough to be their grandfather. He took a seat in a booth at the rear of the room. He ordered a Coors beer and a cheeseburger and asked that the cheeseburger be cooked medium rare. He warned the waitress that if it came out of the kitchen looking like a piece of charcoal he would send it back. He was delighted when it came cooked to perfection. He unfolded the newspaper and spread it open across the table to the article about Judge Atwater’s death. Social media broke the story as soon as Atwater’s body was discovered. Talk radio and cable television followed with around the clock reporting leaving the newspapers crawling behind in coverage. Price didn’t know his way around a computer very well, so he never took his news online, and he had no use for cable news programs either so that left the tried and true reporting of the newspaper for him. The front page article was old news, but Price read it anyway. Judge Atwater, an ardent hunter had checked into a lodge in Manitowoc Wisconsin with two companions for opening weekend of deer hunting season. On the first day, a Friday, and after a long day of travel he excused himself after dinner saying he was tired and went off to bed. The next morning he was found dead in his bed. “He looked so peaceful like he was sleeping,” Mr. Royal Fritch the owner of the lodge and the man who discovered the Judge said when interviewed by the press. “He just went to sleep and never woke up. We should all be so lucky to go that way,” Fritch added. Price took out his phone and pressed in the numbers. The friendly voice of his receptionist answered saying, “Hello Price Investigations, I’m Samantha how can I help you this afternoon?” Three years ago Samantha walked into the office asking for a job. Price wasn’t hiring, but after spending half an hour talking with the young woman he changed his mind and brought her on. He hasn’t regretted his decision for a minute. “It’s me Sam. Listen rent me a car from Hertz at the airport will ya?” “Why not rent one here in town Boss? Why go all the way out to O’Hare?” “The cars are better at the airport. Last time I rented in town they tried giving me a Jeep that rattled like an old box spring. Rent me something in a standard size not too big, but not small. I don’t want one of those Korean or Japanese cars either get me something American made and reliable like a Ford.” “Remember when Ford gas tanks were exploding? That was real reliable wasn’t it?” “Don’t break my balls Sam just rent the car. I’ll catch the blue line commuter train to the airport.” “Where are you going Boss?” “Manitowoc Wisconsin,” Price answered. “Yikes that’s a long drive. I’ll rent you a Cadillac. Hey Boss bring me back a Danish Kringle will you and maybe some cheddar?” “Anything else Sam?” “Yeah, and some Sheboygan summer sausage too.”