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19

When I got back to the campus, most of the students were studying for an exam. The place was quiet, the campus snack bar filled with students staring into their laptops. I decided to follow suit and do some studying of my own.

I brought my laptop into the snack bar and found an empty table at the back. As I waited for it to power up, I lifted the necklace that Elena had given me and studied the amber stone. It was beautiful, seemed mysterious. I liked that I now owned something that had been in my family for a long time.

Once my laptop was up and running, I did an Internet search for helicopter crash. Even though such a crash sounded like a rare thing to me, I learned that they happen every day somewhere in the world. They almost always resulted in serious injuries or death. There were even lawyers who specialized in nothing but helicopter crashes. Usually pilot error was the cause of the crash, although it could also be a defective part or design, particularly if the helicopter was made from rebuilt or worn parts. And what my mom had been told-that crashes into large bodies of water often result in the human remains being unrecoverable-was true.

I read some more and studied photos of crashes until I began to feel ill, imagining my father inside those wrecked twists of metal.

After I closed the search engine I checked my e-mail. There was one from Maggie, and the subject line read, I GOT A TICKET!!! ILL BE THERE TOMORROW!!

I clapped my hands, drawing a few frowns from the studying students. I read quickly through Maggies e-mail, jotting down the information about her flight. At the end shed written, Theres one thing you have to do for me-book us a hotel. I love Loyola, but I am too old to be staying in a dorm, and so are you. I know, I know, you dont have any cash but I do. Consider it a birthday gift. Pick any place you want.

I thought of the hotel where Elena and I had met. I found their Web site and booked a room for the next day, wincing at the rate and thanking God for good friends.

I went to the vending machines and bought a bottle of water. When I got back to my table, a message light had popped up on my phone. I called my voice mail. The message was from Mayburn. Ive been trying to find Dez Romano, he said, with no other greeting, but hes keeping a low profile. Been looking for someone named Ransom, too, but Im not getting anything. Probably a nickname. I did find that guy-R. J. Ohman. He wasnt technically a Fed. He was a flight instructor who did civilian contracting for the FBI. Retired now. Lives in Bozeman. Ive got a number for you. He listed it. Let me know if you want me to call him.

But this was one call I wanted to make myself. I looked at my watch. It was morning in Bozeman. I took my cell phone outside and called. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. No voice mail. I tried it again. Same thing. I went back inside and texted Maybu. Youre sure thats the right number? I tried it but it just rings and theres no machine.

A minute later, he texted me back. I just tried, too. Got the same thing. Ill see if I can dig up another number or e-mail, but it was pretty tough to find that one.

I sat back in my chair and tried not to be frustrated. I picked up my cell phone again and went back outside. A basketball court of sorts had been set up there. The hoops were literally baskets with the bottoms cut open. The court itself was red earth, and the guys playing on it kicked up puffs of red dust.

I sat on a stone wall and watched them for a minute, then tried R. J. Ohmans number again. I kept getting the same endless ringing.

I called my mom on the private phone number for her charity. So few people knew about that number that I figured if Dez and Michael were tapping any phones that wouldnt be considered a place I might call.

Izzy! she said, I was just about to call you. Do you want to come over for brunch? We have pastries from Red Hen Bakery, and Spence is going to make those decadent cream-cheese omelets. There was a shout in the background. Whats that, Spence? my mother called. Oh, yes, she said, speaking into the phone again, and he says to tell you later that hes making some kind of cocktail thats got kiwi juice in it. She dropped her voice. That doesnt sound good, but you know Spence when he gets on these kicks.

I looked around the snack bar, full of students a decade younger than me, and suddenly, I missed Chicago. I cant come over, Mom. You wont believe this, but Im in Italy.

What? Italy? When did you leave town?

Saturday afternoon. I didnt have anything going on with the job search, and I found out the Loyola campus in Rome had cheap rates for alums so I just went for it.

Spence, Charlie, she said, sounding as if she was calling over her shoulder. Izzy is in Rome.

Fabulous! I heard Spence say.

What? Charlie said, then he got on the phone. Hey, Iz.

Hows the new job at the radio station?

Awesome. I love it.

Thats great.

Yeah, it is. A pause. What are you doing over there?

Visiting with Aunt Elena. And Maggie is coming over tomorrow.

Find out anything I should know?

Im working on it, I said, not wanting to get into anything when he was in front of my mom. Ill keep you posted.

Let me say hi! I heard Spence say. Then he was on the phone. Izzy, you must, and I mean you must go to Obika. Its a great restaurant.

That sounds Japanese.

No, no, its a mozzarella bar. And it is heaven. Spence rattled on about making reservations, and recommended about thirty other restaurants. Your mother wants to talk to you, but Ill think of some other places.

Then my mother was back on the phone. I cant believe you just picked up and went to Italy. What made you decide to go?

Two men trying to rough me up in a butterfly room. I just decided to take advantage of my time off. And Im hoping to find out about Dad.

Well, I think its wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Have you called Elena?

I saw her today.

Fantastic. How is she?

I told her that Elena looked well. I explained about the gallery and her job. I didnt mention that Elena had all but given me the bums rush out of there. Theres something I meant to ask her today, and I forgot-why was Dad taking helicopter lessons? I mean, his job didnt require it, right?

No, it was just a hobby. Something he wanted to learn.

Had he always had that desire? I mean, had he talked about it a lot?

Not really. Hed gotten his pilots license in college. He kept it current but didnt use it that often. Then one day he started talking about flying helicopters, and your father was very determined when he wanted something. Within days, he was taking lessons.

How long after that did he die?

A couple months. She sighed. Time goes so fast. And then he was gone.


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