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62

The plane hit the runway with a startling bump. I grabbed the arms of the seat and looked at my dad. He didnt even flinch. He just continued to argue with me about whether I would go with him to find Charlie. This is not a play thing, Isabel.

Not a play thing? Im not a kid, and I know its not a play thing, and this is my brother. He hasnt seen you in twenty-two years. He doesnt even know youre alive. If you do find him, you cant just show up out of nowhere. Its bad enough hes been kidnapped My voice caught on some tears that flushed up out of nowhere. How much trauma do you want him to suffer?

My dad said nothing.

From a few rows behind us, Maggie said, You guys okay?

I turned around and glanced at her. Her hair was matted on one side, standing up in golden crests on the other. Maggie, being Maggie, had slept just fine on the flight. Elena didnt look as if shed even closed her eyes.

Aunt Elena? I said. Do you need anything?

She sent me a beseeching look, shook her head. My stomach twisted with anguish for her.

Wanting something, anything, to distract me, not knowing what I should say to my dad, I turned back around and took my phone out of my bag, switching it on. A bunch of text messages flooded in. A couple were from Theo. How are you? How is the plane? I cant wait to see you.

I grinned at those texts, seeing his image in my mind. Theo had shown me in Naples and Ischia that he could handle more than just acrobatic sex in my apartment. But now?

Now, I decided, I wanted to feel normal for a second. I started to text Theo back, then stopped. Mayburn had said it was difficult, nearly impossible, to tap cell phones, and hed said mine hadnt been tampered with before I left. But what if someone had done something to it when I was in Italy? I couldnt imagine that was the case, since the phone had almost never been out of my possession. And then I decided that even if it somehow was tapped, it didnt matter. I wouldnt give out any identifying info. I wanted just an everyday exchange in a world in which every day lately had been surreal.

We just landed, I wrote to Theo. Cant thank you enough.

What are you doing today? he wrote back.

Looking for my brother. You?

Good luck. Let me know if I can do anything else. Im working today and then going to Old St. Pats.

The block party?

Yeah, theyre doing it early this year. But if you need me, just tell me what you want me to do.

I could think of nothing to say to respond to that. God, block parties. They were staples of Chicago summers, but the thought of attending one seemed too childlike and innocent.

I glanced across the aisle at my dad. He was real now, not just an imaginative theory, and Charlie, the most innocent and childlike person I knew, was in real trouble. I tossed my nonswearing campaign to the Chicago winds and thought, Jesus fucking Christ, if they hurt my brother I willI will what? What would I do?

Futility-one of the worst feelings in the world, and second only to the big doozy, regret-flooded into my brain, into me, until I felt as if I was swimming in it.

I looked back down at my phone, leaving the last text from Theo unanswered. I began scrolling through my e-mails, trying once again for distraction. One e-mail was from Dena Smith, a partner at a law firm where I had applied last week.

I stared at that e-mail. We were pleased to receive your r'esum'e, and we are, in fact, seeking lateral attorneys at this timeBut the words didnt matter. It seemed so long ago that I cared about something as mundane as a job.

I clicked to the next e-mail. It was from Charlie! Sent a few hours ago.

Oh my God, Dad, I said. We both froze for a second. I had just called him Dad. Out loud. Its an e-mail from Charlie.

The plane slowed. My father unclicked his seat belt and shot out of his seat, leaning over me to see the phone. What does it say?

Nothing. But hold on, theres an attachment. I clicked to open it. An eternity passed. Then there was the image. Of Charlie. His curly brown hair was messed. And his facebleeding and swollen on one side.

Oh God, I said. Charlie.

Below the photo was a caption. I read it fast, handing the phone to my dad. There, below the picture, someone had written, Isabel McNeil. Come see your brother. Bring your daddy, too. Both of you or theres no deal. Bring cops and your bro goes bye-bye. Youll get the address later, and when you do, youll have 25 minutes to get here, or hes gone.


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