Henry Drake is an acquaintance of mine. Depending on the day he might also be my friend, my priest, or a royal pain in my ass. Regardless of the day, or our relationship, Henry is a mover in the Chicago underground.
In my line of work "unexplained" might also mean "professionally done". I couldn't fathom what a nice Canadian girl might have done to get into that sort of trouble, but it wouldn't be the strangest thing I've seen. Fortunately Henry isn't usually hard to find, assuming he's not taking meetings or sewing up loose ends.
[MGE: Is Henry there? Yes]
I made my way to the Chess Pavilion over in Lincoln Park. My luck hadn't deserted me yet, it would be a bad omen this early in a case, as Henry was in his usual spot. I found an empty bench and sat down. I'd learned my lesson years ago, interrupting the man in the middle of match wasn't a good foundation to build a social call. At the moment he was staring down some kid, maybe 9 or 10, who was various shades of brown which made it hard to tell where skin ended and the grime began. He's always loved playing against the street kids. He claims it's his civic duty to keep them out of trouble, I've always suspected it's a handy recruitment tool for the old crime boss.
When the game was finished in Henry's favor, true to form the Old Drake never goes easy on an opponent of any age, he got up from his concrete bench and made his way over to me. I nod and offer him a smoke as I pull a crumpled pack from my pocket. He taps his chest as he sits down.
"You know my ticker can't take those cancer sticks any more. What are you doin' here John? I don't suppose the blessed day has arrived that you've decided to accompany me to mass."
I just shake my head and light my cigarette.
"Henry, when that day comes you might as well phone ahead and have them set up shop for an exorcism. Not that I could get in the front door in that condition."
"Joke if you want to son, but you of all people should be little more respectful of the Powers That Be. Alright, well it ain' t your soul and you sure as shit didn't walk down here to tempt an old man's addictive nature. What are wrapped up in this time?"
I pull the manila folder out of my briefcase and watch Henry's eyes light up. He's a sucker for a manila folder. I think it's the feeling of stepping across enemy lines.
[MGE: Does Henry know anything? N]
"You've heard about the Elisa Lam case?", I ask as I hand over the folder.
Henry doesn't answer for a moment, skimming through what little paperwork there was.
"Why is it that they always put your on the scent when there's no trail to follow?", he looks down again rereading the report, finally he closes the folder and hands it back.
"Of course I've heard about it, John. The Cecil neighborhood is near and dear to my heart. I keep a few old friends around the area for old times sake. I know what you're going to ask, but unfortunately I can't help you this time."
"Is this Henry talking or Old Drake? I don't need names, just an idea of what I'm dealing with. Human thugs are one thing, incorporeal entities another. What am I facing with this one?"
Before he can answer Henry begins to cough into his arm and glares accusingly at my cigarette. I sigh and toss it down, crushing it under my heal.
"I've asked around, out of civic minded curiosity, and I'd put a good wager on it not being tied into anything I'd be interested in. Some of the old hands are spooked of course, the Cecil has a history. You don't house serial killers and slain starlets with out gaining a reputation."
"I was afraid you were going to say that. So, my options likely come down to random act of violence or bad mojo. Well, if it were simple the PD would have solved this one. Thanks Henry, I'll come around and let you take me out for lunch one of these days."
Henry grins, and joins me as I stand.
"You know John, a man of your experience and expertise shouldn't be relying on an aging chess player for meals. The job offer still stands, I could find you a comfortable place in my..."
I wave him off, we've been down this road more times than I can count. We both know the answer but Old Drake didn't get this far for lack of persistence.
In my field you don't track down cases. No, wait around long enough and one will come up and wrestle you to the ground.
As it often does the latest one started with an "unofficial visit" from one of Chicago's homicide detectives. He gave me the run down, explained they were at a loss after two weeks of investigating and that the higher ups were starting to lose enthusiasm. In cases like these most of the suits and beat cops are relieved when the case fades away but there seems to always be one who can't let it go. Word gets around and I get another knock on my door at the behest of "someone you helped out". I'm never sure if they come to fulfill their duty or pass it off. Either way it's work and more importantly it's a paycheck that shows up as a line item on a budget somewhere under the heading "contracted experts".
I forget the kids name, we'll just call him Detective Dave. He came wielding an anorexic manila folder that held little more than the initial reports and some newspaper clippings. Truth be told I'd gotten most of the briefing before hand via the cable news networks. It went something like this:
[Elisa Lam, a Canadian citizen of Chinese decent, was found dead in the water tower atop the infamous Cecil Hotel her in Chicago. Lam, who was vacationing in the United States, has been determined to have not suffered sexual assault, was not under the influence of illicit narcotics, and her blood alcohol content indicated she was sober. While traveling checked in regularly with her family in Canada. On the day she was due to check out of the Cecil her family did not here from her and contacted LAPD.
The day of her last sighting she was noted to be alone by hotel staff. A book seller in the area recalled her visit to his store, noting Lam's friendly demeanor. With few leads and no probable cause the police were unable to enforce a wider search of the hotel premises.
During the intervening weeks the police released the unsettling security footage of Lam on the hotel elevator. Additionally, after patrons reported problems with the drinking water, hotel maintenance performed a routine check of the hotel's water tower. This was when Lam's body was discovered within the tank.
Hotel security records show no access to the roof via either of the electronic keypads required to access it. There is no permanent ladder access to the tank. No suspects have been apprehended, no further leads have come to light.]
What wasn't covered in that folder, though it was likely on it's way to urban legend imortalization, was the John Carlson Trifecta: Spooky, Unsettling, and Unexplained. The Trifecta pays my bills and keeps detectives sheepishly shuffling into my office.