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12

My eyes shot around the place. There had been at least six other people in the room when we entered. Now it was just Lucy and me and the kids, who were bending over a fern in the corner, pointing at hovering butterflies.

Lucy, I said, my voice low.

Her eyes narrowed. She looked at the man by the entrance. She called quietly for her kids to come to her.

Lucy, I said again, pointing as surreptitiously as possible to Dez Romano, who stood, blocking the exit, giving a hostile, cold stare that scared the hell out of me.

She stood. Dez, what are you doing here?

He took a few steps toward us, arms still crossed. He wore soft-looking camel pants and a houndstooth jacket. I came to say hello to Suzanne. Or is it Isabel? Or should I say Izzy? He gave me a cool, level stare. Or wait. Should I say Izzy McNeil? Thats right, isnt it?

I stood alongside Lucy. We looked at each other; her eyes were pained.

Im sorry, she said, her voice still low.

Did you know this was going to happen? I whispered.

No! Her eyes went big, scared. God, no.

Then how?

Michael must be taping my phone conversations. Or maybe everything in my house. Her voice was anguished.

Lucy, you should get the kids out of here.

She glanced around, and raising her voice said, Noah. Belle. Come here.

The humidity in the room seemed to be pushing downward, making it hard to breathe.

Dez smiled at me. A triumphant smile. You and I have some talking to do, little girl.

The kids ran up to Lucy. They were quiet, eyes big, as if theyd just noticed the heavy, frightening weight in the room. Lucy wrapped her arms around them. Wheres Michael? she said.

Dez shrugged, didnt take his eyes off me. No idea. We dont work together anymore. Why dont you take off, Lucy?

Im not leaving my friend.

Oh, youre friends, are you?

I turned to her. Just go. If something happened to the kids Id feel terrible.

Lucy looked conflicted.

Its okay, I said. I leaned toward her and whispered, Call Mayburn when youre outside. My whisper sounded calm, even authoritative, but panic was thumping in my chest.

Dez glanced at the guy in black and nodded. The guy took a few steps into the room. He looked about my age, maybe thirty, but his face was twisted somehow, as if hed seen centuries of wars and strife. His neck was tattooed with a multitude of what looked like grotesque images-bloody knives, disembodied heads and a large circle with a capital A inside it.

Mommy? Belle said, her voice a scared whimper.

Lucy, go, I said.

The guy in black took another step into the room. So did Dez. He waved a hand behind him at the exit. See ya later, Lucy. Weve got everything we need here.

It was said in such a demeaning tone that I could feel Lucy bristle. She threw her shoulders back, then hugged her kids closer, hesitating.

Mom? Noah asked.

Were going home, she said. And Izzy is coming with us. She started to move forward. She put a hand on my arm, tugging me with her.

Oh, no, Dez said, laughing. Izzy is not going anywhere. Beyond one of his shoulders, two black butterflies circled lazily, like tiny vultures around a corpse.

What did he want? What was he going to do?

Were leaving, Lucy said, and youre going to leave all of us alone.

Another chuckle, then the smile dropped. Get the fuck out of here, Lucy, and take those kids, or Im going to stop being nice about it.

A deafening siren pierced the room. The kids threw their hands over their ears.

Dez pulled a cell phone from his breast pocket, opened it, typed something in as if he was texting. The siren stopped in the room, although we could still hear it outside.

The whole place is being evacuated, Dez said. Small fire apparently.

Lucy and I looked at each other.

Go. I nodded. Ill be right behind you. I didnt know if I believed it, but she had to get the kids away from these guys.

She took the kids, walked toward the exit. She shot a scared look over her shoulder.

Thatta girl, Lucy, Dez said in the same demeaning tone. He tried to pat her on the shoulder, but she flinched and glared at him.

She kept the kids moving and pushed through the exit doors.

Dez looked at the guy in black. Make sure she gets all the way outside.

The guy left. Dez flashed that cold smile again. Finally. Were alone. Just where I wanted you the other night.

His tone slithered. It seemed to wind through the heat to reach me. Why had I thought him fairly harmless on Sunday?

I coughed and forced my mind into the mode I used when I was nervous about a case and had to step up in front of a judge. What can I do for you?

Oh, youre going to do a lot for me. A lot. Youre going to start out by telling me who you work for.

What makes you think I work for someone?

A girl like you isnt smart enough to try and fleece me on your own.

It was my turn to bristle. Id rather be called anything other than stupid.

Dez saw it. He smiled, then looked me up and down slowly, lecherously.

I glanced at the exit door. The sirens outside kept screaming.

You know what? I started to walk right toward him. Lets just cut the shit. I wasnt trying to fleece you. I work for the federal government. Youre under surveillance. I had no idea what I was talking about, but the words had the effect I wanted. An uncertain look crossed Dezs face.

You dont want to harm a federal agent, I continued. I thought of all the times Maggie had talked to me about sentencing hearings. Thatll get you another eighty-six months in prison. My heart was banging in my chest now, but still I kept walking toward him. Leave me alone and youll be fine. Ive got nothing on you anyway.

Again, for a moment, he looked unsure. But he was still blocking the path to the exit. I seized the moment and veered to the right, toward the entrance doors.

Apparently, Dez wasnt as unsure as Id thought. He moved fast, grabbing me by the arm, twisting it behind my back. Dont walk away from me, he said. Dont ever walk away from me.

I started shaking. I couldnt help it.

Yeah, baby, Dez said in my ear, twisting my arm tighter behind me so that it felt it would pop out of the socket. Thats how I like it. I like you scared. I like you trembling. Thats going to make this so much more fun.

Id taken a self-defense class once in college. My mind scuttled about, trying to remember what I learned, what you were supposed to do. No! I yelled. That was the main thing I remembered from the class. No! I yelled again. It wasnt super helpful given that the fire alarm was still shrieking outside the room.

Yank. Dez twisted my arm tighter. I tried not to whimper, but a grimaced moan escaped from my throat.

Yeah, thats it. Dez pulled my arm up and even tighter. Feels nice, doesnt it? Youre into pain, arent you? Thats good. His breath was hot, moist in my ear. I dont care who you work for. I really dont. You stepped into the wrong pile of shit here, because I make an example of people who mess with me. I am going to fuck you up, girl. Bad. He chuckled. I mean really bad. But youll love it. His wet breath was whispering in my ear now. Yank again with my arm.

I turned my face away from his, then decided to try and use the momentum to my advantage. I swung my face back, and before he could react, Crack! I hit my forehead hard against his nose.

Goddamn it! he said. One arm still clenched mine, but he raised his other hand to his face as if searching for swelling or blood. Suddenly, I remembered another tactic from that self-defense class. I raised my foot and brought it down hard on the top of his.

You cunt! The blow to the foot seemed only to anger him, not to slow him down. The arm hed raised to his face shot to me now, but in that second, I ducked fast and managed to squirm out of his grasp. A huge urn with an exotic tree was just to my left. It was about as tall as me. I grasped it at the top and heaved it. I couldnt lift it, but I managed to get it rolling on its base, right at Dez.

It hit him, but he deflected it and the urn crashed to the floor, breaking into hundreds of shards of pottery, water pooling around our feet. I turned to run toward the entrance doors, but right then they opened. The guy dressed in black stepped inside. He looked over my shoulder for a second at Dez, then lunged toward me, pulling both arms behind my back, and facing me toward Dez.

Dez grinned coolly. Isabel McNeil, meet Ransom. Ransom likes redheads, dont you?

The guy behind me murmured something I couldnt exactly understand, a garbled, guttural string of words.

After I get you, he gets you, Dez said. And he likes pain as much as you.

I started trembling again. What in the hell should I do?

Dez took one step toward me, then another. I kept shaking, and Ransom kept gripping his meaty hands tighter around my arms, pulling me back against him.

Just then I saw something above Dez-one of the massive moths that had been on the glass ceiling. It fluttered behind Dezs head, almost as if it were dazzled by the sheen of his overapplied hair gel.

Dude, Ransom said, followed by more guttural-sounding words. I could only make out, You got some-

I got some what? Dez said, his voice coy but menacing. He stared at my breasts. Took a step toward me. But then the moth decided to land. Right on Dezs head.

What the fuck? Dez screamed, batting at his hair. What the fuck?

But the moth wouldnt leave. In fact, it fluttered up for a second, then landed again, this time on his face.

Fucking bug! He squashed the thing with his hands, but it was as if hed angered the moths posse, because suddenly there were four of them, all flapping around Dezs face, while he swore and smacked at himself.

Ransom tried to drag me over to Dez, I guess to help him, but the minute his grip lessened the tiniest bit, I surged out of his clutches and dashed to the doors. I pushed through them and started running, yelling for help. But there was no one in the museum, just the screams of the fire alarm. I heard another sound behind me, though, and I looked over my shoulder. Dez and Ransom, sans the moths, were running after me and fast. I turned and kept hauling.

Help! I yelled once or twice, but I knew it was pointless. I ran downstairs, past an exhibit about rainwater. I could hear the footfalls of Dez and Ransom at the top of the stairs. I had to find somewhere to conceal myself before they got to the first floor. My eyes careened wildly around the place. But the floor plan was open-made so children could enjoy themselves and their parents could keep an eye on them. There were no nooks or crannies.

I kept running. I had to get outside before they did. I turned a corner and just then an arm shot out from a photo booth and pulled me hard. Shit! Was it another one of Dezs guys? Then I thought, Dad?

Still, my instincts made me struggle against it, until I heard a fierce whisper. Jesus Christ, McNeil. Relax.

Mayburn?

He clamped his hand over my mouth and pulled me into the booth, one of those old-fashioned ones that print little strips of photos. Over the sirens, we heard footsteps pounding down the hallway.

Quiet, Mayburn whispered.

I held my breath, froze my body.

The footsteps stopped. Where were they? What were they doing? With the sirens still ringing, we couldnt hear them now that they werent running.

I held my breath so that I wouldnt move. With Mayburns hand still over my mouth, I felt I was going to pass out. I shook his hand away from my face. Sucked in quiet lungfuls of breath.

Hey, Ransom, I heard Dez say loudly. He must have been fifteen feet from us. Ever get your picture taken in one of those booths?

Ransom gurgled a response, which sounded like a sickening laugh.

Yeah, lets get a picture. Dezs voice was closer now. Weve never had our picture taken together.

Ransom gurgled again, sounding closer, too.

I tried to turn to see Mayburn, so we could figure out what in the hell we were going to do, but then we heard a crash of glass, followed by shouting.

Its the Chicago Fire Department! someone yelled. Is there anyone in the building?

We heard the banging of boots on the floor.

Sir! Sirs! It must have been one of the firefighters yelling at Dez and Ransom. Sirs, we have to evacuate the building. This way.

Were okay, Dez shouted.

Exit this way, sirs.

Yeah, just a minute.

Now! yelled the firefighter. We need you out of here. Boots pounded closer.

Hey, dont touch me, Dez said.

Were just evacuating you, sir. Follow me and I wont have to touch you.

Boots passed by the booth.

Well go, Dez said.

Mayburn and I sat frozen for a few minutes, the sounds of boots trailing down the hallway. When they were gone, I extricated myself from Mayburn and turned around. He wore jeans and a gray T-shirt with a Buddy Guy logo.

Why didnt Dez tell the firefighters we were in here? I asked.

Mayburn shrugged. Probably because then hed have to explain why someone was hiding from him and that would look suspicious. Might make the firefighters hold him for questioning, and I would guess that a guy like Dez doesnt like being questioned by the authorities.

But he could be waiting outside for us right now.

Yeah. Weve got to get out through some other exit. Mayburn poked his head out of the booth. Its clear. We heard footfalls from the floor above us. Probably more firefighters. Lets go.

Mayburn and I ran down the hallway, farther into the museum. Most of the sirens had been turned off, although there were a few still shrieking. We found a glass door at the back of the building with a sign above it that read, Emergency Exit Only.

We pushed through it, and it set off another alarm. But finally we were outside. We ran along the footpath that hemmed the pond.

I glanced over my shoulder. Oh, no! Dez and Ransom were a hundred feet behind us, running, pissed-off looks on their faces.

Mayburn saw them. Faster! My car is just on the other side of the bridge.

We sprinted along the path, past joggers and waddling ducks. We bolted in front of the North Pond Caf'e. This time, I didnt stop to reflect about Sam. We ran under a fieldstone bridge.

There! Mayburn yelled, pointing at a tiny silver car, his late 60s Aston Martin coupe.

You know I dont like that car, I said, hoofing toward it. Its impossible to get in.

Just shut up and get your ass inside, and this car will get us out of here. He ran to the drivers side and opened it, sliding in.

I was still standing outside the car, and when I looked behind me, Ransom and Dez were running under the bridge. Hurry!

Mayburn opened the door, and I folded myself into the low, little car.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Dez and Ransom had reached the back of the car and were slamming it with their fists. Mayburn started the engine, but Ransom and Dez were on either side. Dez was next to my window, and he grinned that lecherous grin, before he raised his fist and smashed it against the glass. The window cracked like a spiderweb.

I cried out, but it was nothing like Mayburn, who bellowed, You motherfucker! Mayburn really did like his car. He jerked the thing into Reverse. Ransom smashed the drivers side window.

Thats it, Mayburn said, shifting into gear. I dont like to hurt people but the hell with it.

He put his foot on the gas, and the car shot into the street. And, apparently, right over Ransoms foot. You could hear the guy howl in pain.

Mayburn zipped up the street, and at last, wed lost them.

Thank you for saving me! I said, but Mayburn was just muttering about his car, his face flushed.

Lucy called you and told you to find me? I asked.

Yeah. I was already outside the museum, so it was easy.

What do you mean you were already outside? Like you were following Lucy?

He nodded, his face more chagrined now than pissed.

Thats not going to make Lucy very happy.

Shes definitely not happy. She said her husband is probably taping her conversations, and now Im following her. She told me not to call, not to text.

Ouch. Sorry.

Me, too.

I warned you about that.

Shut up.

Sorry.

Mayburn sighed, turned the car onto Clark Street.

Where are we going? I asked.

Im taking you to your house, and then He paused, looked at me. Is your home phone number and address listed?

No. When I moved in years ago Id just finished dating a guy who was a little too enthusiastic, so I unlisted it.

Good. Im going to wait while you pack and hope that those guys didnt find where you live some other way, then Im taking you to the airport.

Where am I going?

Out of town. Anywhere you want. The farther the better. Dez Romano is serious business.

Then why did you send me to hang with him at Gibsons, for Christs sake?

I shouldnt have. Im sorry. Im just so screwed up about Lucy. Its clouded my judgment.

Maybe its clouding your judgment now. Maybe I dont have to get out of town.

He stopped at a light and looked at me. His face was as serious as Id ever seen it. Youre leaving. Ill work things on this end. Ill try and dig up some stuff on Romano. See if I can get behind the layers of reputable businesses he hides behind, and if theres anything to find, Ill turn it over to the authorities.

Can you also look into Kelvin McNeil? Thats my grandfather. I told him how he was killed, about the clipping I found in my dads book.

Mayburn shrugged. Ill look into it, but its not strange that your father would have a clipping of his own fathers death.

I know. I just want to know more about it.

What if theres nothing to find?

Then theres nothing to find. And what about Dez Romano? What if theres nothing to find there, either? He obviously covers his tracks. It was Michael they prosecuted, not him, because he covered them so well.

Then well talk to the Feds about getting you an order of protection. I just dont want him looking for you while were trying to get all these things done. These guys specialize in making people disappear. You need to do that before they get the chance. No discussion. Youre going. So, you got some place in mind?

I looked through the windshield at girls in sundresses crossing the street, towels in hand, on their way to the beach. I loved Chicago in the summer. Old Town Art Fair was starting today, and the street fairs would continue every weekend from one quirky neighborhood to the next until September. But Id spent one summer in another place, a place I had loved, too-a sticky, hot, glorious city with an array of streetside caf'es, enoteche and ristoranti. Plus, the questions about my dad wouldnt wait until October.

I looked at Mayburn. Ive got someone to see first, then Im going to Rome.

Oh, thats brilliant, McNeil. Youre running from the Mob, and youre going to head to their homeland?

You think these guys will expect me to go there?

No, its probably the last place theyd expect, and they-

Exactly. Im going to the last place theyd think Id go.


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