It was raining in Sequim the morning Julie called, raining with the dank relentlessness of a sodden bill collector. The dog run was half under water, the slugs had downed a deer and were enjoying a gastropod banquet out by the pergola, and a heavy green carpet of moss clung to everything in sight like wet velour blankets on a chain link fence. The phone rang again and I was the man to answer it.
Julie was tough. She had to be, growing up the way we did on Chicago’s south side. There were three of us in those days: Julie, Mary, and me. We were tight, and together we roamed the streets at night rolling punks and robbing hoods. How we managed to turn out okay I couldn’t tell you. Mary was hard too, and went to work for Mayor Daysbe, Richard J. that is. I turned to consulting, a more or less legal form of the larceny to which I was bred. Julie was the grittiest of all; she set up shop in Chicago as a private dick. Like I said, she was tough – double tough – but I could tell a cookie that was about to crumble.
When I picked up the blower, her voice was quivering like the low d on a grand piano with no damper. She was in a bad state, so bad it might have been New Jersey. In gasps and sobs she told me that she had just returned from Miami where she’d put the pinch on the Pompey mob. It had been a hard gig and she’d taken a couple of slugs doing it, but managed to come out of it still able to take a long drag on a Lucky Strike.
Long story short, she had just claimed her duffle at O’Hare when a tall dude in a black hoodie approached her. “He was gibberish’n on and on about Ides March. Beware of Ides March! I thought that foul witch had rotted in prison years ago. If she’s alive and out of stir, I’m in a world of trouble.”
My mind was a whirl of cheap music and junkyard images as I thought back to those terrible times. I hadn’t thought of Ides March in years, and the memory swept over me like the stink of week-old mackerel on a sunny rock. She’d been the silent partner behind Decius, Casca, and Ligarius, that now infamous Chicago accounting firm with ties to organized crime. She was also reputed to have had influence inside the mayor’s office. That was never proven and Mary still denies it. Nevertheless, Daysbe and his staff supported the defense when March was indicted for ordering the murder of a sanitation worker who refused to set his rig on fire to help DC&L with a little “housecleaning.”
I won’t comment publicly on whether or not I thought Ides March was guilty. My momma didn’t raise stupid children. The jury convicted March based on the testimony of three Māori tourists who overheard her ordering the hit in a downtown Chicago restaurant. The defense argued that the witnesses had been intoxicated and therefore unreliable. Even the restaurant’s owner, a little Mexican pipsqueak named Digby Brighte, testified to their insobriety. But Julie helped the D.A. uncover evidence suggesting they’d ordered their drinks after Ides March gave the order. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get March sent up for life and in everyone’s eyes Julie was responsible for making a patsy out of her. Julie and Mary never spoke a civil word to each other again. Now March was out.
“So, Rick, you gotta help me. She’s out of the slammer and gunning for me. She’s got the whole firm still behind her and my life insurance ain’t worth owl snot on a Ritz cracker.”
“This isn’t my kind of racket, Julie, but I’ll do what I can. And it’s Steve, Sugar, not Rick. My name is Steve, remember?”
“Whatever you say, Rick. What am I gonna do?”
“Sounds like you need to lay low for awhile, Sister. Say, don’t you have a little place up near Lake Geneva?”
“You mean The Forum?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Only you and I know about it, right? Why don’t you go there and stay out of sight until this potato cools off?”
“Sure, Rick. Sure! I could do that. And thanks, Rick.”
“Glad to help, Julie. And Julie, it’s Steve, dammit.”
Life turns on a dime, and my advice had been the worst I’d ever given, even pro bono. Three days later I opened the newspaper and saw the headline glaring at me like the spectral headlamp of an oncoming Studebaker. Julie was dead. The morning before, on March 15th, the eight remaining partners of Decius, Casca, and Ligarius had visited her at The Forum and gunned her down. What we hadn’t counted on was the firm being able to find The Forum. What they hadn’t counted on was that Julie was a professional dick right to the end. She had caught the massacre on hidden camera and the images had streamed out to the Internet faster than the sleazebags could slither back to their limousines with their smoking pieces.
The aftermath was about as much fun as poison ivy in your boxers. While the assassins got what was coming to them in the end, Julie’s sister filed a lawsuit against my firm, Cinna and Parnassus, on the grounds that I was in cahoots with the conspirators from the start. The suit’s been dragging on for years now and I’ve been unable to convince either the plaintiff or the blockheaded court that the Cinna in my firm is unrelated to Cinna the convicted assassin. Needless to say, my company has about as much credibility as the village wino these days. And old Ides March is having a long and hearty laugh over that ironic mote, you bet, which just about makes my crap sandwich complete.
I spent the years following Julie’s death trying to divine some meaning or sense in all of it. Is life really so random and pointless? Is there nothing to tie all of this together in a nice neat package like the lyrics of an Irving Berlin song? Was there no wisdom to be gained or perspective to be achieved from all this misery? And why did Julie have to die? The answer came by special messenger.
It was raining in Sequim, raining with the dull monotonous persistence of a high school algebra teacher. The north meadow had turned to a bog, the slugs had turned to larger prey, and the moss now lay even thicker than a salesman’s pitch. What I’m saying is that it was no white Christmas. In fact, it was March 15th, five years to the day since Julie’s death and I had stepped out onto the moss-grown, rain soaked patio for a quick smoke. Unexpectedly, a tall, dark figure in a black hoodie glided from the foggy woods, accompanied by the sound of screeching violins. He stopped just ten feet in front of me and we stared at each other for what seemed like ages. At last I mastered myself and addressed the mysterious visitor.
“Are you here to bring me enlightenment that I may at last understand Julie’s death?”
The stranger spoke not a word, but bowed his head as if in assent to my question. The movement was attended by another bewildering screech of violins as if all of the school children on the planet had been given a math quiz at the same moment.
“Speak, then, good friend, that I may find peace.”
The messenger moved closer to me, bending his head. This time the music was not strident at all but almost lovely – comforting, in fact, like a familiar carol. As he faded from sight, he crooned to me in a melody I almost knew, “Mayor Daysbe, Mary and Brighte, had made all her witnesses be tight.”
Can anyone name the three literary works (author and title) alluded to in the story? Did you all get the shaggy dog pun? No? Try saying it out loud a couple of times. Happy Ides of March!