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Charlie has been kidnapped? I asked.

The words hit the room like a small bomb. Elena, whose eyes had been staring blankly, suddenly came to life.

Maggies mouth fell open, and she stared at me. Then she nodded at the phone. Let us hear this.

I put the phone on speaker. Mom, tell me whats happened.

He was at work. Some men were outside. They were doing something outside. They saw the men. They told Charlie to go. He went outside My mother, always calm even in the most stressful and tragic situations, was running at the mouth.

I heard voices in the background, then one of them, a womans voice, said, Give me that. Izzy, I heard then, its Bunny.

Bunny Loveland was my familys housekeeper when we first moved to Chicago. Upon finding herself a suddenly single mom, my mother hired her, thinking, apparently, that since Bunny looked like a grandmother she would probably act like one. But this book would not be judged by its cover. Bunny was about as sour as they came, but the thing was, she was honest as hell, a trait Id come to appreciate, even if her opinions usually felt like a punch to the throat. And eventually Bunny grew protective of us. The last time Id seen her was a few months ago when I found her outside my condo smacking around some journalists who were hounding me.

Bunny, whats going on?

I heard about Charlie on the radio. So I came right to the house. Your mother is having a rough time.

Well, Im glad youre there.

Yeah, yeah. Anyway, heres all we know. There were two rowdy assholes- Bunny did not share my goal of trying to stop swearing -and they were fucking around outside the station. Your brother was sent out to calm em down.

Who where they?

Apparently, they were Cubs fans. Idiots. Bunny didnt partake in the Sox versus Cubs debate that split apart the Chicago population. She thought they both sucked tomatoes, whatever that meant. Or they were dressed like Cubs fans, she said. One had a tattoo on his neck that was a red letter A or some crap. It was that guy who grabbed Charlie around the neck and hauled him away. If I find that fucker, Im going to-

A tattoo on his neck? I thought of Ransom, chasing me through the Nature Museum. In that moment, my concerns and questions about my father disappeared. All I cared about was Charlie. Do we know anything about where they took him?

Nope, Bunny said. All we know is he was working, he was asked to go outside and then they snatched him. No sign of him since. There was a faint beeping sound. Izzy, theyre getting another call. Might be those idiot cops. Well call you back.

She hung up.

I sat staring at my phone. I looked up at Elena. Her eyes were narrowed, confused.

I looked at Maggie, stunned. That guy who chased me through the museum with Dez Romano-his name was Ransom, and he had a tattoo on his neck. A red letter A with a circle around it.

So this thing she said, this abduction isnt random?

We heard a click, and the office door behind me slid open.

Its not random, a mans voice said.

I turned. All I saw at first was gray hair, green eyes, copper glasses. I looked down. He was wearing boat shoes.

They were scuffed.

And then he spoke again. Happy birthday, Boo.

| Red, White & Dead | Part III 54