Victoria drove up and down Lake Street. Minutes before, she had found the address Charlie had sent her an hour ago, but she was still trying to get her bearings. That was something she often had problems with-getting her bearings, her footing…whatever you wanted to call it. Her whole life she had been like that. Not someone who assessed a situation and adapted immediately-like Izzy-but rather someone who was constantly surprised by life and needed to watch and wait and, yes, often retreat before she could act. But she didn’t have that kind of time now. She was delivering money to her son’s drug dealer. Charlie’s drug dealer. She’d been saying that over and over in her head-Charlie’s drug dealer, Charlie’s dealer-as she drove from the Gold Coast into the Loop and then west. The mantra didn’t work. The reality wasn’t settling in, and it didn’t help that the world around her appeared so normal-tourists snapping pictures and dawdling on Michigan Avenue, bike messengers zipping past them, almost hitting the tourists and yet not even seeming to notice them. And certainly no one was noticing her, a woman in her late fifties driving her car, wearing her sunglasses.
She drove up and down the block once more, having decided that it was time to park the car, that she would never get used to the situation that presented itself. She’d lain awake all night, debating and debating whether to tell Spence but finally deciding against it. She would do what her son asked. She would help her son.
She pulled up to a restaurant. It was called Carnivale.
The valet opened the door for her. “Here for lunch?” he said with a bored, fake smile.
“Just parking,” she said.
She lifted her purse from the passenger seat and got out of the car, wondering if she was someone who looked as if she was about to make a drug deal. Except that in this case the drugs had, apparently, already been purchased, taken, ingested, whatever you called it, by her son.
She walked down Lake Street. When she approached the spot where the street hovered over the Kennedy Expressway, she felt a clenching in her stomach and she tucked her arm closer to her side, holding her purse even tighter. She had driven over this spot often, easily a hundred times, but she had never walked it. Underneath her feet, cars sped by, horns blared. Exhaust rose up and circled her, the street shaking as a semi rumbled by.
Finally, she reached the address-a three-story building, probably once a warehouse. At some point, it appeared the building had been turned into offices or residences-back in the seventies, judging from the glass blocks. The brick was now flaking, chipped away in parts.
She looked around for a doorbell. Seeing none, she raised her hand and knocked on the black metal door. No answer. She knocked again, thinking about how to handle Charlie when she saw him. With compassion? With a stern lecture of some sort? She had never been much of a disciplinarian. She’d been lucky that, until lately, neither of her children had needed much guidance.
Victoria looked with a keener eye around the door and finally noticed a black knob on the right. A buzzer? She pushed it. She couldn’t hear anything inside.
But then the door clicked open-just like that. No one said anything, no one stepped outside. She pulled the door toward her a little bit and peered around it. Inside, it was dark, and with the sun behind her, she couldn’t make out much of anything.
“Hello?” she called out. “Hello?”
Nothing. But then she heard a distinct clack…clack…clack…Footsteps. Someone’s heels hitting the floor. She wanted to draw back with anxiousness, but she didn’t let herself. She pulled the door open farther and dipped her head inside.
She could make out a hallway now, bare with a gray cement floor and brick walls. A man in a suit appeared next to one of the few lights fastened to the brick. He looked like someone Victoria might see down the street from her, having a drink at the Pump Room. He had dark hair, and the suit was well-tailored. His hands clasped behind his back, he appeared, almost, as if he were a host, waiting for the first guests to arrive at a party.
“Mrs. McNeil?” he said.
“Do you have the money?”
She nodded again, a little tentatively, then stuck her hand in her bag and withdrew the cash.
“Who did you tell?”
“Who did you tell that you were coming here?”
She looked at him. What answer was he looking for? She told the truth. “No one. My son asked me not to tell anyone.”
She held out the cash to him. He took a few more steps forward with the clack, clack, clack of his heels on the floor. She moved forward a bit, stepping inside, her arm outstretched, and just then, the door behind her slammed shut.