On April 17, 2007 a federal grand jury in Milwaukee, Wisconsin indicted Jimmy Clevenger for piracy on the high seas. Clevenger thought he’d dodged the bullet when the Milwaukee County DA decided not to prosecute, but then this federal thing blindsided him.
Clevenger had always thought it would be kind of cool to be a celebrity—you know, fifteen minutes of fame, a little tube time, that kind of thing—but having Nancy Grace pronounce him guilty on CNN a week before his trial wasn’t what he’d had in mind. His transcript at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hadn’t looked any too hot even before the indictment, and a felony conviction figured to mess up his resumé for sure. Plus, from everything he’d heard, prison could be a real bitch.
So, bottom line, in his opinion his situation pretty much sucked. And as for the people who died in the aftermath of his escapade—well, he felt bad about them, but the way he saw things that part wasn’t really his fault.
“Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics
…because the stakes are so small.”
Independence Day, 2005
“It’s good we’re here,” Boone Fletcher said. “A July Fourth fireworks display is a traditional American community event.”
“So’s a lynching.” As he spoke, Quintus Ultimusque Kazmaryk pointed at a moonlit figure slicing toward them through Lake Michigan. “She doesn’t look drunk. Or he.”
“I can’t swim that well when I’m sober.”
“When was the last time that happened?” Kazmaryk never let facts get in the way of a mot juste. Or even, as in this case, a mot mediocre.
Fletcher focused on the swimmer. He and Kazmaryk stood on a footpath about ten feet wide along the top of a breakwater arching a good half-mile from McKinley Marina toward Milwaukee’s downtown shoreline. It was just after midnight, the lakefront fireworks now a memory to the hundred-thousand spectators trying to make their way home. Many of them no doubt glanced ruefully at the lake, envying the swells who’d watched the rockets and starbursts from ringside seats on cabin cruisers or sailboats and now had no crowds of surging humanity nor snaking ribbons of snarled traffic to fight.
“You think she’s gonna have a problem?” Kazmaryck had decided that the swimmer was female.
The woman had to have covered more than a quarter-mile already—and this wasn’t some suburban swimming pool. This was Lake Michigan, a churning, surging inland sea that in its time had swallowed ocean-going freighters without a burp and was now fouled with waste from abundant party boats as well as the usual flotsam and jetsam.
Kazmaryk dropped flat near the curving top of one of the ladders that rose from the water to the footpath every thirty feet or so along the breakwater. Easing his torso over the slight lip that edged the walkway, he stretched his two-hundred-twenty pounds of unevenly distributed bulk gingerly toward the water.
“What are you doing, you idiot?”
Fletcher asked this question for form’s sake. He lay next to and slightly behind the older man, left hand gripping Kazmaryck’s trouser belt and right hand prepared to brace himself against the walkway’s lip if Kazmaryck suddenly surged forward. Within seconds wavelets washing over the breakwater soaked both of them from scalps to knees.
The swimmer seemed to notice them. The intensity of her strokes increased. Panting, sputtering, the young woman drew within ten yards, then five, and finally reached her sodden right arm out to Kazmaryk. He cursed in two languages as his hands slipped off at the first grab, then managed to grip her arm and guide her hand to the ladder. Swinging her legs under her like an expert while she anchored herself on the ladder and Kazmaryk’s grip, she found footing on the ladder’s lowest rung and climbed awkwardly onto the walkway. Fletcher expected to hear panic in her voice. He heard rage instead.
“He tried to rape me on my own boat!”
“Who’s ‘he?’” Fletcher took off his windbreaker and wrapped it around the shoulders of the shivering woman. “And who are you?”
The woman blinked at his blasé tone. “Are you cops?”
“No. I’m a reporter, and Mr. Kazmaryk here makes his living operating a store on the south side and running for public office.”
“Collectibles and keys-made-while-you-wait.” Kazmaryk winked.
“Now who are you? And who tried to rape you?” “My name is Carolyn Hoeckstra.”
“What?” Kazmaryk yelped. “Good poker face, Q.”
“And the punk who came after me is Jimmy Clevenger.”
# # #
When two detectives came to Clevenger’s Oakland Avenue apartment at 6:45 that morning, the sleepy stoner who answered the door told them that Clevenger wasn’t there. This was true. Clevenger was at that moment and for several hours afterward in the office of Walter Kuchinski, Esq., undergoing a withering interrogation by Kuchinski and one other attorney, who hap- pened to have given birth to him some twenty years before.
He just didn’t see what the fuss was. Yes, he and a bud had taken a Jetski out to some chick’s boat because they’d been given to understand that there was some major fox action on board—as indeed there was, oh yes. Primo talent, my man. Someone had invited them on board. He couldn’t remember who. Just a normal fireworks party, except only liquor and beer. No drugs, not even pot. He had absolutely no idea, man, why the Hoeckstra dudette suddenly dove overboard and swam desperately for shore.
“I mean, I swear, man. ‘Sex or swim’ is just an expression.”