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Authors: Sara Paretsky

Bitter Medicine

BOOK: Bitter Medicine
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A V. I. Warshawski Novel


For Kathleen


Dull sublunary lovers love

(Whose soule is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love, so much refin’d,

That our selves know what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hands to misse.

Our two soules therefore, which are one,

Though [thou] must goe, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.


“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”



Title Page



1 The Land Beyond O’Hare

2 Infant Baptism

3 The Proud Father

4 Ten O’Clock News

5 Station Break

6 In the Archives

7 The Lions’ Den

8 Needle Work

9 Police at the Bar-B-Q

10 Doctor in Mourning

11 Artistic License

12 House Call

13 Open Clinic

14 Carnage on Damen

15 Amazing Who You Meet in Night Court

16 Who is Rosemary Jiminez?

17 The IckPiff Files

18 Messing About in a Boat

19 Uptown Blues

20 Family Ties

21 Well-Connected

22 Public Health

23 Connective Tissue

24 Garbage Disposal

25 Medical Supplies

26 A Matter of Records

27 The Fading Trail

28 Falling to the Bottom Line

29 A Good Wine with Dinner

30 Voice from the Grave

31 Midnight Projectionist

32 Mortality Conference

33 Retriever in Mourning

34 Preliminary Hearing

35 Last Swim of the Summer


About the Author


Also by Sara Paretsky


About the Publisher

The Land Beyond O’Hare

The heat and the tawdry sameness of the road drugged everyone to silence. The July sun shimmered around McDonald’s, Video King, Computerland, Arby’s, Burger King, the Colonel, a car dealership, and then McDonald’s again. I had a headache from the traffic, the heat, the sameness. God knows how Consuelo felt. When we left the clinic, she had been unbearably excited, chattering about Fabiano’s job, about the money, about the layette for the baby.

“Now Mama will let me move in with you,” she crowed, linking arms cajolingly with Fabiano.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, I didn’t see any signs of mutual joy on his face. Fabiano was sullen. “A punk,” Mrs. Alvarado called him, furious with Consuelo, the darling of the family—that she should love such a one, that she should have become pregnant by him. And choose to bear the child…. Consuelo, always
strictly chaperoned (but no one could kidnap her and carry her home from school every day), was now virtually under house arrest.

Once Consuelo made it clear she was going to have the baby, Mrs. Alvarado had insisted on a wedding (white, at Holy Sepulchre). But, honor satisfied, she kept her daughter at home with her. Fabiano stayed with his mother. The situation would have been ludicrous, had it not been for the tragedy of Consuelo’s life. And to do her justice, that was what Mrs. Alvarado wanted to avoid. She didn’t want Consuelo to become a slave, to a baby and to a man who wouldn’t even try to find a job.

Consuelo had just finished high school—a year early because of her brilliance—but she had no skills. Anyway, Mrs. Alvarado insisted, she was going to college. Class valedictorian, homecoming queen, winner of numerous scholarships, Consuelo was not throwing those opportunities away for a life of menial, exhausting jobs. Mrs. Alvarado knew what that life was like. She had raised six children working as a cafeteria attendant in one of the big downtown banks. She was determined that her daughter become the doctor or lawyer or executive who would lead the Alvarados to fame and fortune. That
, that
was not going to destroy her bright future.

All this I had heard more than once. Carol Alvarado, Consuelo’s older sister, was Lotty Herschel’s nurse. Carol had begged and pleaded with her sister to have
an abortion. Consuelo’s general health wasn’t strong; she’d already had cyst surgery at fourteen, and was diabetic. Carol and Lotty both tried telling Consuelo these conditions made for troubled pregnancies, but the girl was adamant about having the baby. To be sixteen, diabetic, and pregnant is not a pleasant state. In July, with no air-conditioning, it must have been close to intolerable. But Consuelo, thin and sick, was happy. She’d found a perfect exit from the pressure and the glory heaped on her since birth by the rest of the family.

Everyone knew that it was fear of Consuelo’s brothers that kept Fabiano searching for work. His mother seemed perfectly willing to support him indefinitely. He apparently thought if he let things slide long enough, he could slide right out of Consuelo’s life. But Paul, Herman, and Diego had been breathing down his neck all summer. They had beaten him up once, Carol told me, half worried—Fabiano had a tenuous connection to one of the street gangs—but it kept him going through the motions of looking for a job.

And now Fabiano had a lead on a live one. A factory near Schaumburg was hiring unskilled labor. Carol had a boyfriend whose uncle was the manager; he had unenthusiastically agreed to help Fabiano if the young man came out for an interview.

Carol had roused me at eight this morning. She hated to bother me, but everything depended on Fabiano’s making it to that interview. His car had broken down—“that bastard—he probably broke it himself to
avoid the trip!”—Lotty was tied up; Mama didn’t know how to drive; Diego, Paul, and Herman were all working. “V.I., I know how much an imposition this is. But you are almost family and I cannot involve strangers in Consuelo’s affairs.”

I ground my teeth. Fabiano was the kind of half-sullen, half-arrogant punk I used to spend my life with as a public defender. I’d hoped to leave them behind me when I became a private investigator eight years ago. But the Alvarados gave of themselves freely—a year ago Christmas, Carol sacrificed the day to look after me when I took an unplanned bath in Lake Michigan. Then there was the time Paul Alvarado babysat for Jill Thayer when her life was in danger. I could remember countless other occasions, great and small—I had no choice. I agreed to pick them up at Lotty’s clinic at noon.

The clinic was close enough to the lake that a breeze lifted some of the terrible summer heat. But when we reached the expressway and headed for the northwest suburbs the heavy air slammed at us. My little car has no air-conditioning and the hot wind forced in through the open windows dampened even Consuelo’s enthusiasm.

In the mirror I could see her looking white and wilted. Fabiano had moved to the other side of the seat, saying sullenly that the heat was too intense for closeness. We came to an intersection with Route 58.

“The turn should be close by here,” I called over my shoulder. “Which side of the road are we looking for?”

“Left,” Fabiano muttered.

“No,” Consuelo said. “Right. Carol said the north side of the highway.”

“Maybe you should be talking to the manager,” Fabiano said angrily in Spanish. “You set up the interview, you know the route. Do you trust me to go in by myself or do you want to do that for me?”

“I’m sorry, Fabiano. Please forgive me. I worry for the baby’s sake. I know you can handle this by yourself.” He pushed aside her pleading hand.

We came to Osage Way. I turned north and followed the street for a mile or two. Consuelo had been right: Canary and Bidwell, paint manufacturers, stood back from the road in a modern industrial park. The low, white building was set in a landscape that included a man-made lagoon complete with ducks.

Consuelo revived at the sight. “How pretty. How nice it will be for you to work with these pretty ducks and trees outside.”

“How nice,” Fabiano agreed sarcastically. “After I have driven thirty miles in the heat I will be enchanted with ducks.”

I pulled into the visitors’ parking lot. “We’ll go look at the lagoon while you’re talking. Good luck.” I put as much enthusiasm as I could into the wish. If he didn’t get a job before the baby came, maybe Consuelo would forget about him, get a divorce or annulment. Despite her stern morality, Mrs. Alvarado would care for the grandchild. Maybe its birth would free Consuelo from her fears and let her get on with her life.

She bade Fabiano an uncertain farewell, wanting to kiss him but getting no encouragement. She followed me quietly down the path toward the water, her seven-month stomach making her awkward and slow. We sat in the meager shade of the new trees and silently watched the birds. Used to handouts from visitors they swam toward us, quacking hopefully.

“If it is a girl, you and Lotty must be the godmothers, V.I.”

“Charlotte Victoria? What a terrible burden for a child. You should ask your mother, Consuelo. It would help reconcile her.”

“Reconcile? She thinks I am wicked. Wicked and wasteful. Carol is the same. Only Paul has a little sympathy…. Do you agree, V.I.? Do you think I’m wicked?”

I think you’re scared. They wanted you to go out by yourself to Gringoland and win prizes for them. It’s hard to do that alone.”

She held my hand, like a little girl. “So you will be the godmother?”

I didn’t like her looks—too white, with red patches in her cheeks. “I’m not a Christian. Your priest will have a thing or two to say about it… Why don’t you rest here—let me go to one of those fast-food places and get us something cold to drink.”

“I—don’t leave, V.I. I feel so queer. My legs feel so heavy—I think the baby’s starting.”

“It can’t be. This in only the end of your seventh
month!” I felt her abdomen, not sure of what signs to check for. Her skirt was damp and as I touched her I felt a spasm.

I looked around wildly. Not a soul in sight. Of course not, not in the land beyond O’Hare. No streets, no street life, no people, just endless miles of malls and fast-food chains.

I fought down my panic and spoke calmly. “I’m going to leave you for a few minutes, Consuelo. I need to go into the plant and find out where the nearest hospital is. As soon as I do that I’ll get back to you…. Try to breathe slowly, deep breath in, hold it, count six and breathe out again.” I held her hand tightly and practiced with her a few times. Her brown eyes were enormous and terrified in her pinched white face, but she gave me a quavering smile.

Inside the building, I stood momentarily bewildered. A faint acrid smell filled the air, and above it, a hum of noise, but no lobby, no receptionist. It might have been the entrance to the Inferno. I followed the noise down a short corridor. An enormous room opened to the right, filled with men, barrels, and a thicker haze. To the left I saw a grill marked
. Behind it sat a middle-aged woman with faded hair. She was not fat, but had the kind of flabby chins that a life of poor diet and no exercise brings. She was working on several mounds of paper in what seemed a hopeless task.

She looked up, harassed and abrupt, when I called to her. I explained the situation as best I could.

“I need to phone Chicago, need to talk to her doctor. Find out where to take her.”

Light winked from the woman’s glasses; I couldn’t see her eyes. “Pregnant girl? Out on the lagoon? You must be mistaken!” She had the nasal twang of Chicago’s South Side—Marquette Park moved to the suburbs.

BOOK: Bitter Medicine
11.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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