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11

The next few days skidded by quickly, an inefficient bunch of days where I thought of little but my father and checked my BlackBerry religiously for a call or e-mail from my aunt.

I had e-mailed her the morning after our talk, mentioning that I might visit Italy. I heard nothing back. I called the next day and left a message this time. Again nothing.

I sent out some more r'esum'es, made follow-up calls and a few halfhearted attempts to establish new contacts. Still nothing.

I grew frustrated, short-tempered. I could think of little else to do about my job search or my dad search. I talked to Mayburn but he was in too much of a twist about Lucy and the fact that she was living with Michael to be of much help. I couldnt shake the feeling that if I could just speak to Aunt Elena again and find what else she knew, if anything, about my dads death, then maybe I would know where to go from there. Or, even better, I could just put the whole thing away. I didnt want to go any further with my mother because she had endured a lot of loss over her life. The last thing she needed was her bored, out-of-work daughter shooting around assertions about what shed maybe heard in a dark stairwell.

Meanwhile, the one thing getting me through my week was someone else on a dark stairwell, and it wasnt my dad.

Theo had called Tuesday night, and again Wednesday and Thursday, and each night I met him on the stairwell, and each night it was the same. And yet even better.

He worked during the days at his software company, and so he was gone every morning, leaving me flushed and sleepy and satisfied. It was as if Theo rounded down the sharp angles that I collected every day and that Id been collecting from my months off work.

Friday morning, I got up an hour after Theo left and found a message on my voice mail. It was from Elena. Shed left it at three in the morning Chicago time, a vague, Hello, cara. I am sorry I havent been able to get back to you. Lets chat soon. And that was it. She didnt mention my possible visit.

I called her again. Heard nothing back. I e-mailed again, telling her once more that I was considering a visit and mentioning a few dates. I didnt go so far as to inquire if I could stay with her. Even though we were family, our contact had been so minimal over the years it felt rude.

On Saturday morning, I received an e-mail. Cara, she wrote, I do not think you would enjoy Rome in the summer. There are so many tourists, and it is about to get very hot. Also, I am busy working in a new galleria that has just opened in the last few years. It is a personal passion of mine, very close to my heart. Perhaps you should come in October or November?

I sat back from the computer as my cell phone rang.

Izzy? a womans voice said when I answered. Its Lucy DeSanto.

Lucy! My voice went high. She was about the last person I expected to hear from.

In my mind, I pictured her-a tiny, toned blonde with a pixie haircut and a big smile.

Hi, she said. So, I heard that you ran into Michael.

Michael ran after me, I wanted to say, but instead I just mumbled a chagrined, Yeah, I did.

Lucy and I had a brief but complicated history. The cold fact was that Id originally met her because Mayburn asked me to pretend I was a neighborhood mom (and wanted to be her friend) so I could get inside her house and onto her husbands computer. The ruse worked, and the evidence I collected landed Michael with a federal indictment. But it also worked its guilt on me. I genuinely liked Lucy, and I felt bad duping her. When she found out what Mayburn and I had been doing, I thought she would be pissed as hell. But instead, Lucy-sweet, elegant Lucy-had been forgiving. Shed always been in love with her husband, but she hadnt known he was involved with the Mafia. That knowledge had devastated her, and yet she was glad the secret was out. Then shed started up with Mayburn, and the last few times Id seen her theyd seemed over-the-moon happy.

And yet now here we were, back on familiar territory, where I found myself apologizing, once again, for messing around in her life.

Thats okay, she said. I know you did it for John.

I chuckled. Its funny to hear him called John. Id met Mayburn because he was the private investigator often hired by my former law firm. And no one called him anything but Mayburn. He misses you, I said.

I miss him. She sighed. But, Izzy, I have kids. And I want the kids to grow up with their dad, with a family thats a whole unit. I loved Michael for a long time, and he says hes done with that business.

I thought of Dez and Michael standing in Gibsons, looking so similar. I hope I didnt complicate things for you. Mayburn just wants to make sure youre safe.

A moment of quiet. I want to talk to you about John.

Suddenly, there was a shriek in the background.

Lucy? I said, alarmed.

Another sigh. Its my kids. Ive been promising to take them to the nature museum for weeks now, and were finally going this morning. She paused. Is there any way youd want to come with us?

Id love to see you, but

What?

Well, does Michael know youre asking me?

No. Hes already gone this morning. Hes networking to try and find a new job.

Hmm, thats what Im supposed to be doing, too.

Look, Ill tell you one thing. Im trying to make this work with my husband, and Im trying to be honest with him so hell be honest with me. But I am not going to tell him Im seeing you. No way. Im just so confused. A pause. I really need a friend. Someone who knows John.

I trusted Lucy. It was impossible not to. But stillIm not sure, Lucy.

A pocket of silence. I understand. Then a tiny sniffle. I just feel like Im going crazy. Crazy.

God, Im so sorry.

One of her kids yelled in the background. Noah, give me one minute! she said, sounding as if her voice might break. I have to go, Izzy. Dont worry about it.

The heartache in her voice killed me. Of course Ill meet you.

Really?

Sure.

Oh, thank you. Thank you. Were going to the nature museum at ten. Do you know where it is?

Fullerton, near Lake Shore?

Thats it. Inside, theres a big stuffed bear to the right. My kids love it, so well be there for at least fifteen minutes. Another shriek in the background. Ill see you there, Izzy.

I called Mayburn and told him. She wants to talk to me about you.

What about me? he said quick, anxious.

Im not sure.

Well, as much as I want to hear what she says, Im not sure I like this. What about Michael?

She said hed left the house. And shes not telling him were meeting. Do you trust her?

Hell, yes.

Me, too. Ill call you when were done.

At a few minutes before ten, I parked my Vespa outside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, an oddly unnatural-looking structure made of glass and sand-colored steel. It was surrounded, however, by the rolling, green lawns of Lincoln Park and gold ornamental grasses that fluttered in a balmy breeze. Behind the building, ducks in a pond glided by a snapshot view of the skyline.

The North Pond Caf'e, once a favorite of Sams and mine, was at the other end of that pond, and I stood outside the museum for a moment, gazing in that direction, thinking of the last time we were there. It was a few months ago, when we were trying, and failing, to patch up our relationship.

I made myself shut down the memories. Inside the museum, the sounds of childrens voices filled the place. I paid and made my way past parents corralling kids inside the entrance. A few steps down the hallway, I easily found the giant white polar bear standing on its haunches, its mouth open in a ferocious, silent roar.

I looked around, didnt see Lucy or her kids. I checked my watch, wondering if Id misunderstood her. I was about to call her cell phone, when I heard someone shout my name.

Lucy was hustling down the hallway, wearing white jeans cuffed at the bottom and a light blue cotton blouse with short sleeves. She had a kid by each hand. Noah, a boy of about five or six, had a smear of something red on his face, which was also red with frustration. I dont want to see the bear again! he whined. Noahs little sister, Belle, was a three-year-old mini replica of Lucy, who looked at her big brother with a calm kind of wonder that said, Whats all the fuss about?

I hugged Lucy when they reached me and took Belle by the hand. Lucy, in turn, hauled Noah up and onto her hip, although the kid looked too big to carry around.

Can you say hi to mommys friend? she said.

He shook his head hurriedly. I dont want to see the bear!

How about the butterfly room? I said. Id heard lots about the museums famous butterfly exhibit but had never seen it myself.

Noahs eyes got big. He looked at his mom for confirmation. Butterfly room?

She nodded, wiped at the red spot on his cheek and set him back on the ground, where he took off. He obviously knew the place.

Thanks, Lucy said as we tailed Noah, pulling Belle along with us.

We followed Noah upstairs, down a hallway, past exhibits of stuffed prairie animals to a dimly lit hallway with two sets of swinging rubber doors at the end.

Noah jumped on his toes outside the first doors where a sign read Enter. Can I, Mommy?

Lucy laughed, nodded. Noah pushed the doors open, and we followed him into a bright humid room full of lush green trees, shrubs and plants. And on every surface-butterflies. Some were small and bright yellow. Others were the size of a fist with complicated zigzag bolts of color on their backs. Some were as large as a human head, their wings spread wide on the high glass ceiling of the room.

Mommy, look! Noah dashed into the room and grabbed a laminated card that was essentially a butterfly menu. I see this one! He gestured excitedly at a picture of a black butterfly with iridescent blue and white markings, then pointed at a bush where the real-life butterfly perched and fluttered.

I see one, little Belle said, waving at a blue butterfly on a plant frond.

Noah pointed at the huge butterflies on the ceiling. They were gray but with a glistening green sheen to them. Look, Mom, those are moths.

Let me see, Belle said. She tugged at the card, trying to snatch it from her brothers hand. Its mine!

Belle Josephine, you play nice, Lucy said. Share with your brother. Now go find more butterflies.

Off they went, clutching the laminated card between them, two blond heads swiveling, four little hands pointing in awe.

Lucy and I walked to the side of the room and took a seat on a stone bench.

Great to see you, I said.

You, too.

Im sorry if I caused any trouble when I saw Michael the other night.

She ran a thumb over a fingernail on the other hand that was perfectly painted shell-pink. John has to let me make decisions for myself. He has to respect me right now and give me space.

I nodded. I know. I told him that, too. I think hes just afraid to lose you forever.

Im afraid to lose him, too. Tears popped into the inside corners of her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut and wiped the tears swiftly with her hand. But I need to do this for myself. I knew Michael still saw Dez socially. So telling me that theyre meeting at Gibsons doesnt change anything. I need to be the one who decides if Michael is good for me or not, whether we can raise our family together or not. She gave a sad laugh. All Ive ever wanted in my life is to marry one wonderful man and have a few wonderful kids and live a simple, happy life. For a while, I thought I had that. Then everything changed, and now Im trying to put that dream back together She shrugged. But the truth is Im no longer sure what I want.

I know what you mean. I had Sam, and I wanted to be married, and I didnt think much about what would come after that, because it just seemed like our whole life was lined up-my work, his work, us together. And then the plug got pulled and now I have no clue what to wish for or what to plan.

Are you and Sam talking?

I shook my head. Not really. I gently batted away a reddish butterfly that was flapping around in front of my face. Weve tried talking, and weve tried acting like we were back together, but neither seemed to work. Its like weve lost this thing we had. This thing that was uniquely us. Ive been meaning to call or stop by and see how hes doing.

So you miss him, and you love him, but youre not sure if its right to be with him right now?

Yeah.

Lucy nodded, her blue eyes scanning the room for her kids. Thats what its like for me with John.

I studied her. Hes in love with you, you know.

Lucys eyes zeroed in on mine. They gleamed with tears again. A huge, orange butterfly sailed by. I love him, too. He knows that.

I think hes also afraid that Michael could be involved with those guys again.

Mom, Mom! Belle ran up to Lucy, waving the card. I saw five butterflies!

Good job, Belle, Lucy said.

Belle turned and toddled away again.

Lucy looked at me. Two white butterflies quivered behind her head. What do you think?

I didnt get a chance to chat with Michael that night. I swallowed hard, thinking of the fear that had shot through my belly as Id crouched behind that car. But I think they looked like two men who worked together pretty closely. Now. Not like two people who used to work together.

Lucy shook her head, her light hair shimmering in the bright lights of the room. He was just there to tell Dez a few last things. She squeezed my hand. By the way, Izzy, be careful. Dez is a bad guy.

How so?

I dont know how to explain it. I mean, he seems charming, dont you think?

I nodded. If I hadnt known he was shady, I wouldve definitely gone out with him.

But theres more beyond that charming front. For one thing, he can be really cruel, especially to Michael.

Michael doesnt seem the type to take shit from anyone.

Well, thats usually true. Michael can be obstinate and even scary when hes angry.

Oh, I know that. I remember when I was in his office, trying to get onto his laptop.

Both of us were silent for a moment. We had never talked specifically about how I had helped to bring her husband down.

Lucy shook her head as if not wanting to think about it. Anyway, Dez is incredibly arrogant. He expects everyone to jump around and do whatever he wants. Its like he thinks hes a king, and hes entitled to being treated like a king. She wore an irritated scowl on her face. I wouldnt see him again, Izzy.

Trust me, Im not going to be seeing Dez again. He doesnt even know my real name.

And Ive never told Michael your name. I never even told him that we saw each other when he was in jail.

I started to reply, but something across the room caught my eye. Something dark. Something almost hidden behind a huge fern. I looked closer, jutting my head forward as I squinted across the room.

It was a man, I realized. A man wearing black jeans and a black jacket. He moved to the left, blocking the doors we had come in. My eyes searched for the exit doors, saw another man.

And right then I realized I was wrong. I would, in fact, be seeing Dez Romano again. He was standing right in front of the exit, his arms crossed, and he was looking right at me.


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