“Let’s get tattoos.”
I looked at my friend Maggie. “What are you talking about?”
It was Monday, the day after my night with Dez Romano, and needing a warm and welcoming face or two, I had texted my best friend, Maggie, and my former assistant, Q, and was happily surprised when they were both available for lunch. Q, who was also unemployed but living with his very wealthy boyfriend, picked me up and took us into the Loop to meet Maggie at a pub near her office.
Maggie and I ordered the fish and chips. Maggie ate greedily, the way she does when she finally remembers to stop working and eat, while I sort of picked at the fries and poked at the fish with my finger, unable to muster an appetite. Q, who was eternally on a diet to avoid a persistent belly, his personal nemesis to the perfect gay physique, gave a sullen stab at his plain chicken breast and pushed it away.
You’re okay now, Boo.
I’d called Mayburn when I got home last night, telling him about the debacle at Gibsons, about being chased, about hearing those words. He wasn’t too impressed by the “Boo” thing, but he’d been worried and upset about Michael and Dez being after me. He told me to keep a low profile, to watch for anyone tailing me. I don’t think he would consider having lunch in the Loop “low profile,” but sometimes you’ve simply got to be with friends.
“We need something new,” Maggie said. “At least I do.” She dunked a piece of battered fish into a ramekin of tartar sauce and popped it in her mouth. “And a tattoo is a way to signify something new in your life, like a new chapter.”
“Who told you that?” Q asked.
She shrugged. “That’s what people say.”
“That’s what they say after they get a tattoo, so they can justify it. So they can live with themselves.”
Maggie stopped eating and gave a slightly dejected look.
“Mags,” I said. “Your family would kill you if you got another tattoo.” Maggie came from a big South Side Irish family, and they barely tolerated the tiny shamrock she got on her ankle during a college spring break.
“I’m thirty,” she said. “I can do what I want. I don’t care what they think.”
Q and I laughed. Maggie did, too. Yes, Maggie was very much an adult, helping to run the criminal defense practice started by her famous lawyer grandfather, trying cases in courthouses all over the state. But her family was as thick as the thieves she represented. They spent most of their free time together, they knew everything about each other, and Maggie very much cared about their opinions.
I bit into a french fry, thinking about my recent exposure to tattoos. The last guy I dated-a twenty-one-year-old wunderkind of the computer world named Theo Jameson-had boasted a plethora of tattoos around his stunning body. A gold-and-black serpent slithered sexily around one arm, a red ribbon on the other. High on his left pec was an Asian-looking symbol. I’d never learned what it meant. We only dated a short time. He’d been too young for me, although that wasn’t why we broke up.
Lately, Theo lingered in my mind just as much as Sam, my ex-fianc'e, maybe more so because Theo had started texting me again recently.
I miss you…he’d say. I think about you 300 times a day. And the last one-I have blood oranges.
One late night a couple months ago, Theo came to my apartment with a bag filled with small oranges tinged a sultry crimson color. He made us screwdrivers. He squeezed juice on my wrists and licked it off.
I smiled as I chewed now, thinking about it.
Q saw my look. Knowing me well, he asked, “Theo?” before attempting another bite of his chicken breast.
Q and Maggie hadn’t met Theo, but I’d given them a detailed description of him, as well as a somewhat sanitized version of the nights we’d spent together.
“Is he still texting you?” Maggie asked.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you want to see him?”
“I haven’t had sex in almost two months. And that kid is sex on a stick. What do you think?”
Maggie groaned, stopped eating momentarily. “I so understand.” Recently, Maggie had taken a second shot at a relationship with an older, scoundrel type named Wyatt. And for the second time, Wyatt proved his scoundrel status, landing Maggie and me into singledom at the same time, something that hadn’t happened since we’d met our first year in law school.
“A sexual dry spell?” Q said, smiling despite the lunch he’d pushed away again. “I can’t even remember what that’s like.”
“Shut up,” Maggie and I said in unison.
Q kept smiling.
“What about Sam?” Maggie asked me.
“What about Sam?” I repeated, as if by saying the question out loud someone external, or maybe someone deep inside me, would answer definitively. But as usual, only more questions popped up: Could we ever recapture what we had? Should we stop wondering about recapturing and consider redesigning? And then came that question, always that brutal question that scared the others, and even the other possible answers, into complete silence: Was it over between us for good?
Sam and I had met through Forester Pickett, a Chicago media mogul we both worked for-me as a lawyer and Sam as a financial advisor at a private wealth management firm. When Forester was killed, our worlds spun out of control. And I’m not using that phrase-out of control-the way I previously used it when I was on trial or in the middle of a particularly nasty contract battle. Everything is so out of control, I would say back then, having no idea what that really meant.
In the aftermath of Forester’s death, we tried to put back together the team that was Sam and Izzy, Izzy and Sam, but something was missing. And lacking the tools to adequately describe it, or maybe just lacking the tools to adequately ride it out and shift our worlds around, we dated other people and then officially broke up. The breakup came right about the time Theo and I ended, too-right about the time I ended the minor romance that sprung up with my friend Grady.
And so for the last two months, it had been just me. I spent time with Q and Maggie. I saw my family, too- my brother, Charlie, my mom and her husband, Spence. That friend and family time had helped me to arise from the fog I’d started carrying around, but I agreed with Maggie that maybe we both needed something new.
“Look,” I said, ignoring the question about Sam. “Tattoos aren’t going to help. We need something else.”
“You do,” Q said. “It’s almost your birthday.”
“That’s right!” Maggie said. “Ten days from now. What do you want to do?”
I thought about it. “I guess I just want to be around family and friends. Does that sound too boring?”
“Kinda,” Q said.
Maggie pushed her plate away. “No, c’mon, you need something.” Suddenly, she sat up tall, brushing her wavy, golden-brown hair out of her eyes. “A vacation!” she said. “That’s it! We’ll celebrate your birthday by getting the hell out of Dodge.”
“Shane and I are going to St. Bart’s,” Q said. “You could come with us.”
I leaned back against the booth. “I don’t have the cash for a vacation.”
Maggie sighed. “And what am I talking about? I don’t have the time. I’m on trial later this week. But maybe if we just started planning something it would motivate us, give us something to look forward to. We’ve always talked about going to Prague.”
“And back to Italy.” Now I sat upright. Maggie and I had done a study-abroad program after our first year in law school.
Maggie saw my excited look and read my thoughts. “Is your aunt still living in Rome?”
I nodded fast. “As far as I know.”
“Do you think we could stay with her?” Maggie asked. “That would help with the cost.” The truth was Maggie made more than enough to head to Rome for a week or two or four, but I appreciated that she was trying to be sensitive to her newly cash-strapped friend.
“I haven’t talked to her in a long time, but I could ask.” I could definitely ask, and not only because we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, but because other than my mother and brother, my aunt was the only person who had also known my father. Elena, my father’s sister, had been living in Rome for decades. When Maggie and I went to school there eight years ago, Aunt Elena had taken us to our first meal in Rome -at a restaurant right next to the Pantheon called Fortunato. But unfortunately, she had been out of town the rest of that month, and we didn’t get to spend any more time with her.
Yet she was exactly the person I wanted to spend time with now.
You’re okay now, Boo.
I hadn’t told Maggie or Q about last night. Under Mayburn’s rules, I couldn’t tell anyone about the fact that I was his part-time, off-the-books employee.
I’d started working with Mayburn last fall when Sam had disappeared after Forester’s death, and in return for looking into the matter, I’d agreed to freelance for Mayburn. The whole reason I need you, he’d said, is because you’re a typical, normal North Side Chicago woman. If there’s any inkling that’s not the case, if anyone knows you do P.I. stuff on the side, it won’t work. I had argued that I should be able to tell my close friends, but Mayburn wouldn’t budge. If one of those people lets it slip to someone else, he’d said, it wouldn’t end there; word would get around.
I wasn’t so sure I cared anymore about a freelance investigator gig, especially when it got me into the kind of scariness it had last night. I’m a girl who likes to be chased as much as the next, but only in a romantic sense, not in a Mob-is-about-to-kill-you kind of sense.
And yet I couldn’t shake the sound of that man’s voice, the way he’d called me by my childhood nickname, Boo. Or at least that’s what I thought I’d heard. The further I got away from it, the more I doubted myself. But I still wanted to poke around a little, to see if I could find anything out about my father, if there was anything to find out. The man had been dead for almost twenty-two years after all. But no one aside from my mother, used that nickname.
A way to fish around about my dad was to reestablish contact with my aunt Elena.
“Mags,” I said, “I think you’ve got something here.” I lifted my napkin and tossed it onto my plate. “I’m calling her tonight.”