168: The Theodate Dance Conservatory

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Sue Walsh recovered evidence. Voice recorded testimony from retired Officer Theodore A., Chicago PD, 1963-1983, currently deceased.

So, this girl came to me, disheveled, panic stricken, coked out of her head. It took the two of us, my partner Bill and me to settle her down at my station desk. I remember, Bill got her a cup of shitty hot cocoa from the precinct vending machine. 22 years I worked there, and never tried that beverage, but the last thing we wanted is to get her more uppity with caffeine. Me? No problem. Always coffee, black, worst piece of shit cup of tar I've ever tasted but I miss it like my wife.


So, this slender piece of work, thin, waifish, like one of those ballerinas, you could tell she was into gymnastics or dance 'coz you could see the tight muscles, like springs through her damp clothing, you know despite her thin frame, she set me chasing on a rabbit hole so deep I couldn't find the bottom 'til the day I retired. It's like you see a little light down there in the hole, but I could just never get down to the bottom of it until well... yeah, look at me now. An old man, needing that pension for his dying wife. Well, now dead wife. And... I was just tired, you know? Tired of chasing shadows.

Some of these white whale cases, they just chew you up and this missing dancer story just left enough breadcrumbs to lead me somewhere but never to that Gingerbread House. And God knows what witches and monsters I'd face once I found it. But yeah well, here you are, digging up secrets again, and to be honest, the limo driver was right. Pretty gal like you, ya gotta know that there are wolves in the forest. You look a little like her, you know? You a dancer too?

(Sue Walsh replies, unintelligible) ...

Yeah, yeah. I figured as much. So let's get to the point. This pretty little thing repeated this over and over again, rocking on that chair with that hot cocoa in the palms of her hand. "A dancer is fresh, strong and full of life."

I didn't know what that meant. Just some cokehead gibberish I thought. I've seen gals like her come in the precinct almost every other day. Hookers who got strung out by their pimps and johns, loaded on speed and crack, raving about secret societies, devil worshippers and aliens lurking around the corner. And I took it then that she was no different. I asked what's that about and she looked at me with those hazel eyes, instantly lucid as if she just woke up from a dream and told me she couldn't find her missing roommate. And after that, she laid it all on the table. Told me everything she knew.

She was a foreign student from Bulgaria, spoke pretty good English, a little broken but good enough, studying at this Dance Academy down at Englewood. Obscure but European fancy, run by some hard-to-find shady individuals, she says. A mysterious benefactor who she was sure as day was an ex-Nazi mad scientist and owned by a corporation called the Kronos Consortium. The witches at the school would take some of these girls like her missing friend and sacrifice her to some demon. "The two get what they want. The conservatory gets to train the best dancers. The dancers who excel get to escape poverty and be world famous, and the devil will receive a select few as a sacrifice. A symbiotic relationship. And me, now that I've come to the cops, they'll hollow me out and eat my cunt on a plate!" She screamed. "Don't you see? They like strong, firm legs. Don't you see?"

Covens and demons. Now you see my paranoid delusional hooker theory antenna started pointing up.

I looked at Bill seeing if he was in any way interested. That fat bastard loved his freshly baked old-fashioned more than anything in the world so it was just me with the pretty lady out in the cold. Call it the responsibility of the badge, curiosity, on it being a slow winter's day or maybe I thought I needed the exercise, I thought I should check it out. Her eyes went wide like saucers when I told her I'd follow her to that dance school in Englewood but I managed with some effort to calm her down, reassuring her that I was there to get to the bottom of this. I knew from cop's intuition that most of these drugged up junkies don't realize that the best place to be is where they don't wanna go, bruised ego and such, and I had a hunch that she was a runaway and the school would take her in and fix her up. It's almost usually the case where they'll thank me for it later once they get it out of their system. I feel a little bad for leading her on, and even more so now... now that I know, nothing good could have come from that place.

So I found the building, 63rd and Wallace. A big old building that seemed familiar, like it had real history behind it, something you'd see in an old-timey pre-war newspaper during the time of the World's Fair. The Bulgarian seemed like she's seen a ghost so I left her in the car and walked up to it. If I knew now what I knew then, I'd feel the same. The faded signage said... "Theodate Dance Conservatory." This thin dark haired lady greeted me at the doorstep as if she knew I'd be coming. She was middle-aged, pretty but not in a way that's attractive, but more like... she'd make a good scary ghost if she'd ever died in a tragic suicide and haunt a castle, if you know what I mean. Sunken, sullen eyes that pierced deep and look at you almost like a lioness would. She says to me she was expecting me and if I'd found her runaway student. And from her, I got a story, of a talented but frustrated young prodigy who broke under the mental and emotional pressure of the craft, got friendly with some lowlifes who hooked up on drugs on the streets, felt too ashamed to return home, until her mind went to dark places. She was just thankful that she was alive, she says.

I poked around a little, and the place seemed legit, an European dance studio for underprivileged but talented girls, set up by a German benefactor who wanted to remain anonymous. I asked about the building she showed me the paperwork and the seal of the city council,  and it all seemed straight and narrow. Nothing about a Kronos Consortium, not even when I asked. So I poked a little more about the anonymous benefactor but she didn't budge. It almost always seems that way with old money. I was a little suspicious yeah, but this was nothing illegal about an owner who chose to remain hidden and I had to leave it at that. Then I asked to see the students, which she was more than happy to do. These girls seemed happy enough. Not a hint about being abused. Tough, yes, they said, but the Conservatory took them in at their lowest and gave them purpose and ultimately, they were quite happy there.

In the end, cops ain't perfect. We make mistakes, I see that now. And I made a huge one letting the girl go, kicking and screaming back to the school. I told myself every day, I've seen it all before and it's always the same. Drugs be damned, they'll thank me later. But the last time I've ever laid eyes on that hazel-eyed Bulgarian girl was when she was led through the double doors by the Matron and her teachers.

I did a follow up a week later, city was still shoveling snow after the Blizzard of '79, so of course, I was out alone on patrol and happened by Englewood. So I thought I'd follow up on that Bulgarian girl, see what happened. Flew back home to Bulgaria, the desk clerk said. She had been homesick. Bill usually was more of the hard-nosed white knuckled cop who could smell bullshit despite his fat lazy ass not being able to outrun ol' Roscoe Arbuckle, and I was more of a people person, but again had a date with his warm old-fashioneds that day. It made sense, but it never sat right with me. But I had to let it go. Maybe city wore me down a little and got a little lazy myself. In the end, what could I do? Dig up on that phantom German benefactor which nobody at the precinct or the pencilnecks at the Tribune seemed to know about.

And a few years later, just a year before retirement, there was another disturbance, a case of some human remains in a dumpster behind some fancy French restaurant downtown called Club Asterion. Now, that's when that name came up again. Kronos. That same mysterious company that the Bulgarian girl mentioned that owned the Conservatory and all those nasty memories came flooding back when I was looking up the paperwork of the dining establishment with the help of a new friend in the Tribune. And there in black and white, as lists of one of their assets, islands in South East Asia, resorts in Hawaii, various apartments in different cities around the world, the list goes on, and somewhere in the middle, the Theodate Dance Conservatory!

Then for the first time, I knew something was wrong.

First thing I did after that was to head out to Englewood again to pay that dance academy another visit and well, whaddya know... the place was closed. Condemned for demolition. I think you're too late now to pay the place a visit unless you'd wanna send mail via United States Postal Service.

And for the second time, I knew something was REALLY wrong.

The bones they found behind the French restaurant? Well, they chalked it up as the remains of an ape. Bonobo, they called it. Now for a restaurant that sells illegal game, to still get off the hook and be up and running with just a slap on a wrist and a fine, now that tells you something about the city and who runs the 312. But if you head on downtown now, you'll still see the place still operating, although strangely enough, they always seemed to be closed for a private event. And to this day, I swear on my mother's grave and all those trips I took visiting the city coroner, those bones we found were definitely, a hundred percent human. Swear to God.

And when I brought it up to the Lieutenant one time too many, he took me off the case. The force never felt the same since. I retired earlier than I wanted to after that. I looked at my brothers and I keep thinking, who's that sunofabitch who's on the take? The LT? Bill? Maybe even higher up to the commissioner or the mayor. It's the 312 that does this to you. What kind of secrets does this corrupt city carry to protect our dirty politicians and scumbag businessmen. I couldn't stay anymore and took an early retirement and take care of my wife.

God forgive me. That day in '79. I wished I could go back in time and just for once, follow that instinct. Have faith in the girl. Believe that something was wrong about that place. I led the lamb back to the slaughter and I couldn't shake off that feeling. Not a day goes by I never thought of that girl and what could have happened to her. Something I can't dare imagine and swear to me, even if you ever found out what really happened to her, don't come back to me. All I have are good memories of the other good I did in the city. I want to see Helen in the eye at the pearly gates when it's my time.

End of recording session.

Bonus sketch:





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