there were no signs in the windows. At the end of the block I turned left and came back up the alley from the other end, almost full circle. And got saved. An old woman in a faded beige housedress was hanging clothes on a line in one of the tiny backyards. I stopped at her chain-link gate. âDo you know of any apartments for rent around here?â She had four wood clothespins in her mouth. She shook her head. âHow about garages?â The wet blue towel she was raising to the line went still. The clothespins came out of her mouth. âYah,â she said in a heavy Polish accent. âMine.â
She dropped the towel into her basket and motioned me to come through the gate. She met me at the service door to the garage, pushed it open, and stepped aside. I went in. There was just enough light coming from the dirty side window to see. The cement slab was cracked into a dozen pieces, and the wood smelled damp from mildew and rot. I felt the wall along the side door for a light switch. âNo electric,â she said from outside. I walked across the broken slab to the side window, took a quick casual look, and went on to the overhead door. The big door was swelled shut, probably from the rot I smelled. I jiggled it loose enough to muscle it up, as if I cared that it worked. Iâd already seen what I wanted. The side window had an unobstructed view of the Dumpster behind Ann Satherâs. âHow much?â âTree hunnert.â Her dentures clicked. When a neighborhood is in play, when the developers come and start bidding everything up, garage rents are among the first to rise. Forget the faded housedress and fractured English; this babushka had her ear to the ground. âI just want one stall.â âTree hunnert, cash.â âIâll give you one seventy-five.â She shook her head. âTree hunnert.â âTwo hundred cash.â It was all I was packing. âTwo fifty, plus two fifty security. Five hunnert, up front.â I pulled down the overhead door and walked across the cracked concrete. The hinges of the service door wiggled in the spongy door jam as I started to close it. âTwo hundred cash, no security,â I said as I stepped out. She nodded, put the clothespins back in her mouth, and extended her hand, palm up.
I gave her four fifties. It was all transacted Chicago style: no lease, no signed receipt. The money disappeared into the pocket of her faded housedress. We were done. From the Jeep, I called Endora, Leoâs girlfriend, at the Newberry Library. She usually worked Saturdays. âYou still driving that little purple â94 Grand Am?â âMy lilac-mobile.â âCan I borrow it tomorrow night?â âGot a date you want to impress, Dek? Some new lovely you donât want to bounce around in your Jeep?â Endora had many interests. Resurrecting my love life was in the middle of her list. âNo. I need your car for surveillance.â âNo problem. Listen, thereâs a new lady whoâs been coming here, doing research for her dissertation. I think sheâd be perfectââ âCan I just borrow the car?â âLeo will switch with you tomorrow.â Leo was a lucky man. âA stakeout? Isnât that over your head?â Leo shot the basketball. It arched over the backboard, bounced off the top of a rusty metal upright, and rolled across the crumbled asphalt into the corner of the rusty chain-link fence. âI should go to the Feds instead?â I called as I ran to get the ball. âNo,â he said as I came huffing back. âYou rat out your clients, youâre done working for lawyers.â âThen what do I do?â He shook his head. âI donât know. Itâs just that if you need a car your own clients wonât recognize, youâve got a problem.â Iâd called Leo after I talked to Endora, to arrange to swap