Finally, a voice on the other end of the phone, “Thanks for holding. This is Detective Cheeks. How can I help you?” Cheeks sounded like he had a mouthful of food. William Cheeks had been Pat’s best friend since high school. They both grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, both wound up enrolled at Marquette University, and both – to the chagrin of their parents – pursued careers in law enforcement. Big Willy, as he liked to be called, ended up in West Allis while Pat found himself in Brookfield. They never lost touch with each other.
“Big Willy!” Pat tried to sound more excited than upset. The effort was less than stellar. “How have you been?”
Willy still had a mouthful of doughnut that he was having a hard time getting down. “What’s on your mind, Pat? I know you didn’t call me at work just to see how I’m doing. What’s going on?”
If Pat didn’t have so much on his mind he might have laughed and pimped his old friend out about the doughnut habit. As much as both men hated when people cracked jokes about doughnut eating pigs, neither could break the habit. Instead, he got directly to the point, “I need to know all you can tell me about the Ramsey murder. I need some names. I need to know who’s being looked at in this case. A plate number off of the vehicle that was used during the kidnapping would be helpful too. You know what I’m looking for.”
Willy cleared his throat. He had finally managed to work the rest of the doughnut down. “You know I can’t give you any of that. Why are you so interested anyway?”
Pat ignored the question. “Is Huft running the investigation? He had his name all over the paper, so I’m assuming that he’s the man in charge. How many years does he have in your department?”
“Sorry, bud. I know what you’re trying to do and it ain’t gonna’ work. Yes, he does happen to be my superior on this case and yes it does bother me. In fact, it really pisses me off that he’s got no time in and he gets all the good cases. But he does get them. That’s the way it is and giving me a hard time about it isn’t going to make me do anything stupid.” He asked again, “Why are you so interested in this case?”
Pat’s sigh was a loud one. “I think the car that the perps were driving when they did the hit is the same car that ran a woman off the road in my neck of the woods the day before. The wife is missing right?”
Pat continued, “I’ll take that as a yes. Anyway, I think that she may be involved somehow. I don’t know how yet. That’s why I need info. This is tearing me up man. She looked right in my eyes and lied to me. Worse than that, I bought it. I let her go. If I could have brought her in on anything, maybe Mark Ramsey would still be alive and you wouldn’t be searching for two missing kids. Can you help me out?”
“Shit man, I’m sorry but…” he paused for a moment. “Hell, it will be all over the news in the next couple of days anyway. Look, I’ll give you a name and only because we’ve been friends for so long. I don’t think I need to mention that you didn’t get this name from me. The owner of the car is Vincent Valentino. They call him Vinny Heart on the street. He’s got a pretty big rep in Milwaukee. That’s all I can give you. You know how Captain French is. I’d get a nice, fat suspension if he found out I was leaking information about a case this big. I hope that helps.”
Pat was silent for a moment as he processed the information.
“You there, Pat?”
“Did you say Vincent Valentino, Vinny?” shock dripped from Pat’s voice.
“You know him?”
“Know him, the kid’s my neighbor. I watched him grow up. He was always causing little bits of drama here and there. But murder? No way. His mom’s gonna’ be crushed. Are you sure about that?”
A bit of excitement crept into Willy’s voice, “You live next door to the punk’s parents? I guess I don’t have to search for their address now. I just need to get a search warrant. Thanks for the tip, Pat. I hope Huft will take it from me without asking how I got it.”
Pat was still a bit stunned, “No problem. Thanks for the name. You didn’t tell me how you’re sure it was him.”
“Oh. All the witnesses questioned agreed on the description of the vehicle. It was a black Cadillac; license number “VNY HRT”. That’s your boy, Pat. Sorry.”
“Yeah, that’s his car. Thanks Willy. Talk to you later.”
Pat slowly hung up the phone as his gaze drifted out the window and beyond. The scent of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen distracted him from his thoughts, but just barely. Suzy was a quite a good baker, the best as far as Pat was concerned. That’s probably what kept him so round. That woman sure was a demon cat in the kitchen. Too many other thoughts were vying for his attention just then to focus too much on the deliciousness she was pulling out of the oven. The Valentino’s had asked him to watch the house while they were on vacation in Miami. Vinny had been around, in and out though. Every winter since they had bought the place in Miami, they would mention to him that Vinny would be watching the place but asked that he “just keep an eye on things” for them. So far all he’d done was take the mail from the box on the road and drop it on the kitchen counter. There wasn’t much, they had all of the important stuff forwarded to their condo on the beach. Most of what Pat brought in was junk. On his next visit he would do more than just drop the mail off. He would look around a bit. He didn’t need to wait for a search warrant.
“Hey Suz,” he hollered into the kitchen. “I’m running next door to take the mail up. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“The mail won’t be here for a couple of hours,” she replied, distracted. It didn’t matter. He was already gone.