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6

My Internet search for R. J. Ohman revealed nothing.

For the moment, I gave up on finding him and went to the closet in my office, removing boxes of winter stuff-the scarves and gloves that were so prevalent during the winter and seemed like foreign, faraway objects now. Chicagoans are seasonal amnesiacs. In the summer, we literally forget what the winters are like, the warm winds sloughing away our hard-edged memories of January.

At the back of the closet, I found what I was looking for.

For months after my dad died, my mother left his belongings exactly as they were. His ratty blue-and-maroon robe still hung on a brass hook on the back of their bedroom door in Michigan. His shoes-the tan boat shoes he wore so often-were right inside the garage door, as if he might step into them, and back into life, at any moment. His books were still in the office hed made for himself in a corner of the basement, makeshift shelves lined with psychology texts, but also the mystery novels he loved to read.

When we moved to Chicago from Michigan, my mother got rid of most of those things. She kept some of his books, divided up others between Charlie and me. The clothes she gave to the Salvation Army store. My brother and I used to love to play in that store, trying on goofy hats and ridiculous shoes that someones grandmother had left behind. But later it filled me with a queer sickness to think of some other kid trying on my dads ratty bathrobe, laughing at his scuffed boat shoes.

From my closet now, I extracted a cardboard box, reading my mothers handwriting on the side-Isabel/Christopher. Seeing my name next to my fathers like that always gave me a chill.

Inside the box, I sifted through whatever my hands came across-cards, scraps of notes, a dinged-up metal glasses case my father used to carry with him. I put some items aside, studied others. I thought about the last time Id seen my father, the night before he died when he put me to bed and he read to me. I searched through the box for the book-Poems & Prayers for the Very Young. I remembered the illustration of the boy and girl on the cover; they were looking out the window into a starry night. My father would point to that picture and say, Thats you, Izzy. And thats Charlie, and I would gaze at him in awe and think that my father must have been the most spectacular man since he could get a drawing of his children on the cover of a book.

I reached to the bottom of the box, and although there were a few more cards there, I realized that I didnt have the book. I only had the memory of it, one that was sharp and vivid. I had other memories, too-of his soft voice reading to me, of the way he sometimes repeated phrases he loved or wanted to make sure Id heard.

I sifted through the stuff in the box some more. I found a birthday card hed given me for my eighth birthday, just a few weeks before hed died.

The card was one that you might give an adult woman, not a child. On the front it had crimson cursive writing rimmed with gold that spelled out Happy Birthday on ivory linen paper.

In a few weeks, I would be thirty. If he were alive, my father would have been fifty-seven. If he were alive. If

I read the words hed printed inside the card.

Happy birthday, Boo.

I am so lucky that God chose me to be your father. You have been my little girl for 8 years, but I love you like it has been forever. Already you live life as if it is yours for the taking, with your big-eyed curiosity, your ability to embrace and overcome anything, and the unfailing kindness toward others that I know you got from your mom. You will be great, no matter what happens to me. Remember, you will always be in my heart.

I love you, Boo,

Dad

When Id read the card as an eight-year-old, I knew they were nice words. I knew my dad loved me. I was secure in the way children are, sure that nothing will ever change, that happiness will always be at the forefront of life.

And so on that night of my birthday, the last birthday where I felt I was truly young, truly a child, I had put the card aside, moving on to the wrapped gifts that my mother and father had stacked on our kitchen table.

I didnt pick the card up again until six months after his death, and thats when I really read it, studying the words like an archeologist who finds a shard of an ancient urn in the dust.

No matter what happens to me. The words of the card had torn through me, stealing my breath. I kept that card in my nightstand for years after he died. And although it pained me to do so, I took it out of the drawer every few weeks, whenever I was really missing him, and I read it again, marveling at the words he had written, the words that made it seem as if he had somehow sensed his approaching death, although no one could ever have predicted a helicopter crash.

After a few years, I put the card away. It was too sharp, caused too many knife slits in the still delicate skin of my psyche. But now, I looked at the card and examined it from more of an emotional distance. Had he told anyone about this sense of foreboding? Or did he carry it around by himself, thinking it too morbid, maybe embarrassed to be having such thoughts. He wasnt sick. So why that wording, as if he were reassuring himself that I would be okay without him when he was gone?

I thought back to my phone call with the owner of the airport, and then I thought about my dads profession as a psychologist and a profiler. The pilot thing was something I understood he did on the side, a hobby. But then why the government instructor? Was he working for the federal government? Did that mean the crash had something to do with his job? Maybe hed been working on a case when he died; maybe it had to do with a helicopter? Andandthen what? It all seemed so vague.

I flipped through some of the other cards and letters Id taken out of the box and found those from my aunt Elena, my fathers only sibling. Most were postmarked from Rome. They all bore her small, pristine handwriting. In the left corners, shed written her married name, Elena Traviata.

When I was younger, she had sent me a card every year for my birthday, beautiful cards with Italian words that she would translate in her tiny penmanship, as if she hoped that from afar she could teach me Italian, that I could share her passion for the country and the language.

There were other cards from her, too-some for graduations and other big life events. The last one Id received was for my law school graduation. It was hard to believe we hadnt shared any contact since then, but the years had slipped away, and I hadnt been good about keeping up my end of things, either.

I stood from the floor, groaning a little at the stiffness in my legs. Holding one of her cards, I moved to my desk and switched on the small light against the encroaching darkness outside. I looked for my date planner. Most of my friends, and nearly all the lawyers I knew, kept their calendars on their BlackBerrys or computers, but I liked the old-fashioned hard copy, liked seeing my days laid out in front of me. Those pages used to be chock-full of meetings, depositions and conference calls. Now there were only a few tragically mundane things. Take Vespa to get headlight changed. Buy tampons. Teeth cleaning.

I found the date book-thin with a maroon cover embossed in gold-which my former client, Forester Pickett, had given me before he died. I kept some contacts written in the back. Flipping there, I found Aunt Elenas phone number in Rome. Hoping it was still the same, I began to dial, but then I looked at my watch. Eight-thirty. Which meant it was three-thirty in the morning Rome time.

I hung up the phone and sat back, disappointed.

My cell phone rang. Mayburn.

Meet me for a beer? he asked.

I looked at my office floor, strewn with cards. Dont think so, but thanks.

Cmon. Just one. I just need to get out. Ill come to your hood. Meet me at Marges. Half an hour. One beer. Please.

Id never heard him say please. He must be in a bad way. All right. Just one.

Twenty minutes later, I walked down Sedgwick to Marges, a bar that had been in the hood for years and years, but had undergone a recent renovation. Inside, it was clean, the tin ceiling sparkling. Being a lover of dive bars, I missed the atmosphere it used to have.

Mayburn was sitting at the bar. He turned when I came in and gave me a little wave.

Mayburn was in his early forties, although he looked younger and acted older. He was cynical and sarcastic in that way people are when theyre using such traits as a shield. The only person Id seen penetrate that defense of his was Lucy DeSanto, and now that she was back with her husband, Michael, it was as if Mayburns shield had been ripped away, leaving him a little colorless, a little flat.

Hey, he said, when I reached him. Thanks for coming. His sandy-brown hair, which was usually styled well, was slightly messy. During the week he wore suits and jackets, but on nights and weekends he wore cooler clothes-great jeans, beat-up brown boots, stuff like that. At Marges now, he wore old jeans and a black T-shirt that had a skull and crossbones on it.

I pointed at his shirt. Feeling chipper today?

Yeah. Really fucking chipper.

I sat and ordered a Blue Moon beer with an orange. It was what Sam used to drink, and recently-maybe I was missing Sam-Id adopted Blue Moon as my beer of choice.

Mayburn turned toward me on his stool. So. Any other problems?

He meant the debacle at Gibsons, about being chased. No.

No one lingering around you? No cars tailing you?

I dont think so. I walked around all day and-

You walked around all day? His face was irritated. Jesus, Izzy, I told you-

You told me to keep it low-key, keep a low profile, whatever. But how am I supposed to do that? Im looking for a job. I thought of my day, which had consisted of lunch, sitting by a pond and drinking with my family. Sort of. I mean, I cant hang out in my condo all day, just because you got me into trouble last night.

He sighed. I know. Im sorry. But you have to be careful.

I am. I kept my eyes open. Believe me, I dont want those guys finding me any more than you do.

But youre hoping someone will find you, Mayburn said. Youre hoping your dad will step out of the shadows and introduce himself.

I hated that I was so transparent, but the tone of Mayburns words was kind.

I took a sip of my beer. I guess you can understand wanting someone to come back to you, I said softly.

A pause, a pained one. Mayburn turned back to his own beer. I do understand. But, hey, lets not lose sight of the fact that my someone is alive.

I said nothing.

Izzy, dont get your hopes up here.

Hopes? I have no hopes. Hell, if anything, I hope Im wrong. Because if hes really alive, what does that mean? What would that say about him?

He certainly wouldnt be the man I knew, the father I thought Id had. And somehow that would be worse than having him dead for all those years.

Did you talk to Lucy today? I asked, changing the subject.

He groaned a little. Yeah. She isnt real pleased with me. Michael came home last night, yelling about the friend she brought into the house, the one who sent him away to prison. She knows I sent you to investigate them.

Does Michael know that you and Lucy had a relationship while he was in jail?

She told him she dated someone when he was inside, but she wouldnt tell him who. She wants me to back off now. She wants to give her marriage a shot.

Even if Michael still seems pretty tight with Dez Romano?

He tells her hes not. Says he just went to see Dez to clean up some stuff, to tell him hes out for good. I dont believe that, but she does. Or at least she wants to.

I patted his hand, and surprisingly he let me. You have to let her do whatever she thinks is best for herself and her family. If you dont, you could lose her.

She could get trapped again. She could get trapped with this guy forever.

Its her call, Mayburn. Let her make it.

He pulled his hand away, went silent for a second. I dont know what to do with myself.

How about helping me look for my father?

He gave me a smile. Even though I think youre a little delusional, sure. Tell me what you need.

I told him about my dads flight instructor being someone from the federal government, someone named R. J. Ohman. Can you find him?

Ill kick it around.

My cell phone rang. I looked at the screen. Theo. My pulse picked up. I answered. Hey, I said, trying to sound calm. I stood and moved away from Mayburn.

Girl. Hed been texting me, but I hadnt heard his voice in months. And with that one word, I felt a little short of breath.

Hey, I said again. I went to the front window. The night sky was a sexy, deep orange from the last bit of the sunset.

Im by your house, he said.

Oh, yeah?

Had a beer with a friend at Border Line.

Thats not near my house. Its in Bucktown.

But its on North Avenue. And your place is near North Avenue.

And so this is what? A booty call?

Like youd let me get away with that. He laughed. I had to drink a beer to get up the courage to call you since I screwed things up with you last time.

You didnt screw up. You just didnt tell me something that I wish Id known about.

Exactly. I wasnt totally honest, and I dont feel good about it. Give me another chance.

I turned away from the window and leaned back against the wall. At what? Theo, Im about to turn thirty-

When? he interrupted.

I told him the date. But thats not the point. Im almost thirty and youre twenty-one.

Twenty-two.

When was your birthday?

May.

I cannot believe you were born in the Eighties.

You owe me a birthday present.

I owe you?

Let me say that a different way. You want to know what I want for my birthday?

The ability to rent a car by yourself?

He laughed. That was one thing, among the several, that I enjoyed about Theo. Unlike many men, he had the ability to see himself with a sense of humor. Maybe it was due to the fact that he was gorgeous. And smart. And sexy. And wealthy.

I want to see you, he said. Just see you. Let me stop over and say hi. We can sit on your front stoop if you dont want me to come up.

We never did get to sit on the stoop last time, did we? When wed dated in April, my friends murder and me being a suspect meant the media had been camped out on my front lawn much of the time.

So what do you say?

I walked back toward Mayburn. I decided not to think too long about Theo, but rather to go with what I wanted. A baseline want, maybe, but I really didnt care. Ill see you outside my house, I told him.


Fifteen minutes later, truly night now, and I was sitting on the stoop with a glass of water, moisture beading on its sides, waiting for Theo. Mayburn had given me crap about dumping him for, as he called Theo, a twelve year old.

Hes not twelve, I said.

Sounds like he might as well be.

Hes cool. Really.

Oh, Im sure your boy toy is cool.

Hes not a boy toy! Hes-

Look, Iz, you dont have to explain it to me. He pulled my beer toward him. Im going to sit here and finish the rest of your beer and then Im going home.

And youre not going to call Lucy.

Right, he said. Then, again, right, as if he needed to convince himself.

I put Mayburn out of my mind when I saw Theo turn onto Eugenie Street, a tall figure, solid and dark with the streetlights behind him. I could see the outline of his muscled shoulders, the rounded dip and curl of his biceps. I pushed my sundress between my legs and closed them.

I waited until he was standing before me-looking down, his chin-length hair falling forward onto his face- then I said hello. I put my water down. He held out a hand and pulled me to my feet. He wrapped his arms around me and I thawed, curving myself around his abdomen, his chest, hugging him tight, surprised at the relief. The feeling was quickly followed by desire-shots of it, stinging through me, hitting my brain, my body.

Theo looked up at the building above us. Are your neighbors home?

I looked up with him. The lights were on in all three condos. Yeah.

Think theyll come downstairs?

Why?

You think theyll come downstairs?

No. My neighbors usually have to be up early. They both work. Unlike me.

Theo reached an arm out and pushed the front door, which Id propped open with a rock. He kicked the rock away and pulled me into the stairwell, a place constantly too dark, a complaint Id made more than once to the management company. But now, with the door shutting behind us, Theo pushing me against the wall, kissing me deeply, I didnt mind that the stairwell was shadowy and hot.

Desire turned into frantic craving. I kissed him back hard, threading my hands through his hair, hearing myself pant, gasp.

He lifted me up, legs around him, then pushed me back against the wall. I kissed him deeper, gulping at his mouth. I felt my body temp soar, my mind open.

Should we go upstairs? His words were muffled by his mouth on my throat, my collarbone.

No. No way. I yanked at the skirt of my sundress, pulling it up, and I wrapped my legs around him tighter.


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