Gary Hobson pounded down the Chicago sidewalk, a folded newspaper flapping in his hand. At a corner, he stopped, puffing. He checked the paper, checked his watch, and looked around intently as if searching for something or someone he was afraid to find. Gulping air, he darted around the corner and into an apartment building. He thundered up two flights of stairs and, panting, rapped at the door of Apartment 2-A.

“The door’s open, Nancy,” said a woman’s voice.

Gary opened the door. A woman of about twenty stood, one foot on a wooden chair, zipping up a black leather half-boot. Her ribbed stockings were also black, as were her leather mini-skirt, her pirate-sleeved silk blouse, her jet-on-satin vest, and the clip that held her long black hair folded at the back of her head. At her feet — or foot — stood an amplifier and a guitar case.

“You’re not Nancy…,” she said, raising one eyebrow.

“No, I’m not Nancy,” Gary repeated impatiently. “Look… uh…,” he referred to the paper, “Faye, you gotta get outta here. In about five minutes, two men with guns are gonna come through that door,” he pointed to the door with the floppy paper, “and take you,” he pointed to Faye, “and throw you off that fire escape.” He pointed to the window.

“I think not,” said Faye. She put both feet on the floor and turned to face Gary fully, her fists on her hips.

“Yes,” he said, ironically, “I’m sure you’re a very tough cookie, but these guys are going to kill you. First, a dark-haired man is going to be observed coming to your room then, a few minutes later, these two guys. The official version is that you fell off the fire escape balcony, but a kid feeding a stray dog…,” Gary referred again to the paper, “‘in the alley below the dead woman’s apartment….'”

He seemed to see the incident as he read about it — black and white, like the print on paper before his eyes: He heard the muffled scream, he saw the boy look up; saw, through the boy’s eyes, the body plummeting two stories to the cobbles and the men, one tucking a gun into his coat, peering over the rail.

“‘The boy’s mother admitted that he has a history of telling tall tales; his story has been discounted by the authorities — ‘” Gary flicked the newspaper, “and so on.” He strode across the room and took Faye’s elbow. “Now let’s get outta here before that dark-haired man comes in, and we might just have a chance!”

“You’re a dark-haired man, you goober!” Faye said, pulling her arm from Gary’s grasp.

“I’m a –” Gary made a face of total disgust. “I know I’m a dark-haired man…. This is a different dark-haired man.” Gary looked at the article again, where a police-artist’s sketch took up part of the column.

There was a knock at the open door.

A dark-haired man stood in the opening, dressed completely in black leather. Gary looked from him to the paper and back again. The face and the sketch matched: Dark hair cut very short, dark almond-shaped eyes with half-lowered lids, slightly sinister smile.

“May I come in?” the man asked, in the tone of a good boy who knew how to mind his manners.

“That’s him…,” Gary whispered, his mouth falling open. “C’mon, we gotta go before those guys get here!”

“What ‘guys’?” the man asked.

“Guys!” Gary blurted. “Two guys with guns. They’re gonna kill her!”

“Let’s go!” the man said. “Is there a fire escape?”

“Yeah,” Gary said. “Out that window. But –” he flapped a contemptuous hand at Faye, “– I can’t get her to go.”

The man looked quickly around the apartment. He sprang toward the young woman. She raised her fists, but he grabbed the handle of her guitar case and made for the window.

“Hey!” she cried. “You come back with that!”

The man paused to grin at her and wink at Gary. “Come and get it.” And he was gone.

Faye glared at Gary, as if he had been responsible, and plunged onto the fire escape and down the ladder.

Gary was right behind her.

Faye’s guitar case, the side with “Chicago Phoenix” emblazoned across it, waved from around a corner, the man’s hand holding it all that was visible of him. Faye took off running. Gary stopped beside a dumpster, where a boy was feeding a stray dog. He opened his wallet and handed the boy a five.

“Wow! What’s this for?”

“Amnesia. You know what that means?”

Two men clattered onto the fire escape two floors above.

“Nobody come through this alley but me and this dog,” the boy said.

“Thanks, kid.” Glancing up, to be sure the men were too occupied with negotiating the steps to notice him, Gary followed Faye and the mysterious guitar-kidnapper around the corner. Neither was anywhere in sight.

Gary looked at the paper again. Where the article about Faye’s death had been was a review of the “Blues Brothers 2000” movie. “They never say thank you,” he muttered, and with no discernable expression of satisfaction, he stuffed the paper into his brown leather jacket and trotted off.

#

The two men faced each other across a broad desk of polished wood, both standing. The man who had just risen from his padded swivel chair had a thick mane of silver hair, and had probably been handsome once upon a time. The other was bald, and had never been handsome in his life; his ugliness had nothing to do with the fact that he was bald or with the air-tube draping his face, or the oxygen tank he pulled behind him on a small wheeled cart. It had to do with his eyes; rather, the terrible coldness behind his eyes. It had to do with the cruelty that came clearly through the otherwise expressionless hiss of his ruined voice.

He spoke now. “Mr. Parker…. It wouldn’t be prudent for me to go back into the field. You remember what happened the last time I went into the field.” He shifted his shoulders uncomfortably, remembering the bullet that had exploded his oxygen tank, the months in hospitalization, the skin grafts, how he had nearly lost them…. He blinked — which, in another man, would have been a full-body shudder.

“Yes, I remember, Mr. Raines — you almost succeeded in your mission. Came closer, in fact, than my own daughter has done.” As Mr. Raines opened his mouth to reply, Mr. Parker waved a hand and said, “Oh, don’t worry: Sydney is in South Bend with my daughter and Broots, chasing Jarod. Neither they nor Jarod know about the girl, or the things her mother may have told her about…SL-27. We’ve only learned of her existence ourselves. I’m depending on you to find her and…relieve us of her.”

Mr. Raines stared — or glared. His glassy eyes made all his looks equally violent and rigid. Then he nodded jerkily and left the room.

Neither man saw the eyes watching them through the air vent. Neither heard the silent man creep away to a secret room, deep in the walls of The Centre.

There, the man picked a piece of paper from a disordered stack. It was an e-mail. The subject line read: FAYE. The message said, simply, “Thanks, Angelo. Your pal, Jarod.”

The man read the message over and over, then held the paper gently close to his chest and bowed his head over it.

#

Faye paused briefly at the door of McGinty’s, a firehouse that had been converted into a sports bar. The man with her guitar had just ducked into the place. Muttering threats, she shoved the door open. She spotted the man in the corner and stalked over with a glower.

He sat with his back to the corner, her Chicago Phoenix propped up behind his chair, where she couldn’t get to it.

A man who looked like a muppet — round head, big nose, bad hair — slid up to Faye with a menu. “What’ll you have?” he asked.

“That man’s blood,” she growled back, continuing toward the table in the corner.

“O-kay,” he said, letting her go without further interaction.

“You remind me of someone,” the man at the table said as Faye scowled down at him.

“That’s great. Give me the guitar, and no one will get hurt,” she said.

“I’m holding it for ransom. I need to talk to you.”

“Great. High school memories.” She felt her mouth twist into a lopsided smile in spite of herself. She sat down. “Who are you?”

“Jarod Elwood. I need to talk to you about your mother.”

Her face lost its wry half-smile, her eyes flashed. “My mother’s dead.”

“So are all the other kids from SL-27.”

She started, pushing herself further away from Jarod. “What do you mean?” Her eyes narrowed.

“I’m talking about the Centre,” Jarod said, sitting forward and looking up at her from under his eyelashes.

She glanced around for potential help. The muppet-man was standing behind the bar, polishing a glass. An older, heavy-set man came up beside him and snatched the glass out of his hand.

“Don’t breathe on ’em!”

“Sor-ry!” Muppet-Man said in a sarcastic tone.

The old guy, maybe; Muppet-Man, no.

She turned back to Jarod, who was still looking at her.

Lowering his voice even more, he said, “I was taken from my parents as a child — to the Centre. I spent my whole life there as a subject for their research until I finally found an opportunity to escape. Ever since then, I’ve been running from the Centre’s sweepers. I have a friend in the Centre who feeds me information. I’ve learned that a woman named Catherine Parker rescued several children from SL-27. Your mother was one of those children. They lost track of her before you were born. They’re afraid of what she might have told you. Now they’ve found you, and they want to kill you.”

She sat back in her chair. “Well, there goes my stage career,” she said with bitter irony. “I’ll tell you what she told me, and you ask your friend in the Centre if it’s worth killing me for.”

A voice called loudly, “Are you people going to order anything?” Faye turned around. Muppet-Man. She ignored him, turned to face Jarod again.

“I was on my way to dinner when you kidnapped my guitar,” she said.

Jarod flashed her a sweet, disarming smile; his “sinister” eyes turned suddenly innocent and appealing. “Then I guess I owe you dinner. What’ll you have?”

“If that guy’s the cook,” she said, indicating Muppet-Man, “I want something that comes packaged in cellophane.”

“I hear noises from the kitchen — I think we’re safe,” he said with a laugh.

When Muppet-Man had gone to take their order back to the kitchen, the door opened and Dark-Haired-Man-Number-One trudged into McGinty’s, still clutching his paper.

“Hey, Gary, how’s it going?” the heavy-set man behind the bar asked.

“Fine, Crumb,” Gary said absently. “It’s going fine. Where’s Chuck?”

“Taking an order back.” Crumb nodded toward Faye and Jarod.

Meanwhile, Jarod leaned over and asked, “Isn’t that your friend?”

“Who, the dude with the newspaper obsession? I never saw him before today. He came in about two minutes before you did and started babbling –”

“He was right,” Jarod broke in, regarding Gary thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I guess he was.”

Gary looked over to see who Crumb was talking about.

“You!” Gary said, with a touch of belligerence. “What’re you doing here?”

“It’s a free country,” said Faye. “It’s a public place. What are you doing here?”

“I work here. Yeah, in fact, I own this place. Now, how about that?” He moved to the table and stood, in a somehow challenging slouch.

He looks like that kid in the old Little Rascals movies, Faye thought. The good-looking one….

“Faye has something to say to you,” Jarod said, smiling up at Gary, as if he didn’t notice the attitude, or as if he lacked the experience to interpret it.

“She does?” said Gary.

“I do?” said Faye.

“Don’t you?” Jarod asked. Shielding the lower half of his face from Gary, he mouthed, “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Faye repeated. Then, pulling her attention from Jarod’s mouth, she looked up at Gary and said, with a genuine smile, “Thank you. You saved my life.”

Gary ducked his head. “Welcome,” he murmured. “Say, what was all that about, anyway? Who were those guys?”

Jarod pulled a chair away from the table, inviting Gary to sit, and said, “I’m more interested in how you knew they were coming.”

Gary shoved the now-shabby Sun-Times into his jacket and said, “I just — I just knew it. I get these feelings…or something.”

Jarod raised his eyebrows. “Spooky!”

“He read it in the paper,” Faye said.

“What’s that?” said Gary. “I did not!”

“Yes, you did!” Faye reached for the paper, but Gary zipped his jacket to the neck and gave her a look of smug defiance. The girl pounded on the table in frustration. “THEN HOW DID YOU KNOW?”

Crumb, the heavy-set bartender, leaned on the counter and called, “He just knows. You might as well not ask ‘im — just save your breath. Believe you me — I been down that road myself.” He went back to straightening glasses and bottles.

“Okay,” Jarod said quietly. “You just knew. What else do you know about it?”

“Well, I — Nothing! I don’t know anything about it, that’s why I asked. Not that it’s any of my business….” He pushed away from the table and waved a hand, palm outward, as if to erase his question. “Maybe I don’t wanna know. It’s just that….” He hitched his chair forward again and leaned a little toward Faye. “You’re just a kid. How could a kid like you be in that much trouble?”

“Who’s a kid?” Faye demanded, gritting her teeth.

“Oh, yeah.” Gary sat back. “‘Scuse me, my mistake. You’re not a kid. What I meant to say was, ‘How did a little old lady like you get into so much trouble?'”

The swinging door to the kitchen opened, and Chuck the Muppet-Man came out, carrying a tray. “Okay, here ya go. Oh, hi, Gare. You know these folks?”

“Yes and no,” Gary muttered glumly.

“Hmmmm.” Chuck unloaded the tray. “I’m not asking; I’m not involved; I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Yeah, well, that’s one thing we already knew, isn’t it?” Gary asked, looking up at his partner. He looked back at the table. “What’s this?” He pointed to a small oil-burning tin lamp Chuck had put in front of him.

“It’s like a hurricane lamp. Cute, huh?”

“This is Chicago. We don’t get hurricanes here.”

“It’s for atmosphere, Gare. It gets dark, we light the lamps.”

“This is a bar, Chuck. It’s supposed to be dark. People like it dark. That’s one reason they come in. It’s dark, but not too dark. It’s just dark enough. We start lighting little fires all over the place,” Gary flickered his fingers to indicate the little fires, “it won’t be dark enough anymore. Get the picture?”

“But –”

“People come in here to watch the games. They get excited. They pound on the tables. Stuff gets knocked off. Do we really want one of the things that gets knocked off to be a container of burning kerosene?”

Chuck seemed to be considering this point. “Ummm…. Since you put it that way….”

“Get rid of it,” Gary said.

“All right, okay.” Pouting, Chuck snatched away the lamp and carried it over to the bar, where he put it near the cash register. “Atmosphere,” he explained to Crumb.

Crumb turned on the television over the bar; the credits for a game show scrolled up the screen. Jarod and Faye attacked their sandwiches. Jarod offered Gary some of his, but Gary declined.

Faye found her anger at being called a kid evaporating. She glanced from one of her escorts to the other, and caught them each looking at her.

Geez Louise, she thought. They’re both gorgeous! I don’t know which way to drool!

She turned as she heard an inner door open.

A beautiful black woman, her hair in long corn-rows, entered the room. She stood a moment, head cocked, as if listening.

“Hey, Marissa,” Gary called.

The woman smiled and came toward the table. With a slight shock, Faye realized the woman was blind.

“Hi, Gary,” Marissa said. “Did Chuck tell you what he wants –”

“He hated the idea,” Chuck said, still pouting.

Marissa, her mouth pursed in a surprisingly vindictive little smile, muttered, “Told ya!”

Gary rose to give the woman his chair. “Marissa, I’d like you to meet…er….”

“Jarod Elwood.” Jarod rose and took Marissa’s outstretched hand.

“Yeah, and Faye….”

“Faye Harrison.” The women shook hands.

Marissa sat and then, doing a “double take,” said, “Faye Harrison? The Faye Harrison? The one who’s playing at The Blue Dog tonight?”

Jarod raised his eyebrows and Gary sat down, across from Marissa, his head swiveling back and forth between the two women. “You heard of her?”

“Well, sure! She plays blues, jazz, rock, and some kind of…,” Marissa smiled and swayed to a music in her head, “…some kind of cooool medieval funk that nobody else has ever done. Writes most of her own stuff, too.”

“My, my,” said Jarod. “I’m impressed.”

“Yeah,” said Gary. “I’m impressed, too. And you’re playing down at The Blue Dog?”

“That’s right,” said Faye, looking at her watch. “In about an hour and a half.”

“Can I come with you?” Marissa asked. “I was planning to go anyway. I’ll really score points with my friends if I walk in with the band!”

Faye laughed. “Glad to have you. The real band’s coming later, though. Holly and Janine and the others couldn’t make it until next week; I’m just holding the gig down on my own until they get here. The numbers I sing that I didn’t write, they did.”

“Cool!”

Chuck shuffled up, set down sodas for everyone, and took the empty glasses. He had started away when Jarod said,

“What’s this?”

Gary looked down fearfully.

Never say “What’s this?” at a table with the owner, Faye thought.

“What?” Gary said. Then, he said, “Chuck!”

“He didn’t,” said Marissa.

“Little paper parasols,” Jarod said. He picked his out of his drink and twirled it between two fingers.

“He did,” Marissa said.

Gary plucked his parasol out as if it were a fly and brandished it at Chuck.

“At-mos-phere,” Chuck said.

“We have atmosphere,” Gary said. “It’s called ‘Chicago Bar.'”

“Interesting.” Jarod was still regarding his parasol with delight, examining it from all angles. Faye, with the weird feeling that she was sitting across from her four-year-old nephew, gave him hers. “May I have this? Thank you!” He looked up at Chuck. “‘Atmosphere’…. Ah! They were originally intended for use at outdoor cafés, to keep the sun from melting the ice cubes.”

Everyone gazed at Jarod, who smiled around the circle of faces.

“Yeah,” Gary said at last. “Yeah, I bet you’re right. Here, y’want mine?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Give him mine,” Marissa said.

“Thanks! Where did you get them?”

“Bar novelty store, over on South Wacker,” Chuck said, rather absently. He brightened, “I got a box of five gross I could sell you at cost.”

“That would be great!” Jarod said. “Thank you very much!”

Chuck bounced away, happy again.

“So what’s going on?” asked Marissa.

“Faye was just going to tell us about her mother,” Jarod said.

Faye tapped her fingernail on the side of her glass, a complicated rhythm that seemed to draw the words out of her. “Mom never would tell me exactly what happened at the Centre. She told me a Mrs. Parker helped her escape and brought her to Chicago. They met another woman, Susan Gardener, on the street and Mrs. Parker told Mom to go with Ms. Gardener. Mrs. Parker got into a car and drove away. Mom saw a car coming toward them — she realized it was trying to run them down — but she couldn’t move. So then this guy clutching a newspaper –” Faye stared at Gary’s jacket, where the paper was still concealed. She went on more slowly. “This guy with a paper pushed them both out of the way and disappeared. She never saw him again, never knew where he came from.”

“The paper…Gary!” Marissa breathed.

“It can’t have been him. This was my mother…. This was more than twenty years ago,” Faye said.

“Of course it wasn’t me!” Gary snapped. “I know who it was, is all — I mean, I don’t know him, I…,” his voice trailed away as he finished, “…I know his cat.”

“His cat? There was a cat, too — in my mother’s story, I mean. Ms. Gardener took Mom to an apartment, where they lived for about a week. Then one day when Ms. Gardener was out, someone started pounding at the door. Mom was scared. She knew it was people from the Centre. There was no other door, but there was a window. The apartment was on the second floor. Mom climbed out, lowered herself as far as she could, and dropped. She was lying there, trying to decide if anything was broken when this marmalade cat appeared out of nowhere and started meowing like…she said it was really…bossy.”

“I know that cat,” Gary said.

Marissa nodded.

“This is twenty years ago,” Faye repeated. “Mom followed the cat to a hotel — the Blackstone Hotel, I think Mom told me.”

“It figures,” Gary said. “I used to live at the Blackstone. That’s where I –” he put his hand to his jacket. “That’s where I picked up the cat.”

Faye pursed her lips, shook her head, and went on. “Anyway, the cat led Mom around back, where Mom literally ran into an old man in a uniform. She said his name was Bosley or Boz…,” Faye shook her head. “Boz-something.”

“Boswell,” Gary said, quietly. “His name was Boswell.”

“That was it…,” Faye said. She looked from Gary to Marissa, then at Jarod, who shrugged his shoulders. Jarod had leaned his elbow on the table, and his cheek on his fist, and was listening to everything like a child at a story-telling. Faye thought he seemed a little impatient at her stopping “just when it was getting to the good part.”

This is so freaky, Faye thought. This is, like, unreal. Gary knows the cat. He used to live at the hotel. He has this paper, just like the other man. He saved my life, just like the other man saved Mom. What the heck is going on, here?

She went on: “He hid Mom in an empty room in the hotel — brought her food and milk. A few hours later, he came back with Ms. Gardener. She hugged Mom and cried. Boswell drove them to the bus station. They took a Greyhound to Corydon, Indiana, where Ms. Gardener placed Mom with John and Paula Starr, the couple I always thought were my grandparents. Mom told me the truth last year, just before…just before she died. She never saw Susan Gardener again.”

Jarod spoke: “Susan Gardener was a known contact of Catherine Parker’s. She was killed in a drive-by shooting ten years ago.”

“Oh…,” Faye said. It wasn’t until then that she realized: one of the reasons she had insisted on the band’s taking this Chicago gig was a hope that she could locate Susan Gardener and thank her.

Gary shifted in his seat, and asked Jarod, “You don’t think that shooting was a random act of violence — do you?”

“No,” said Jarod. “I don’t. I think the same people who sent those men after Faye today sent a gunman after Susan Gardener ten years ago, and the housebreakers and the hit-and-run driver twenty years ago.”

“Ah,” said Marissa. “But who sent the cat?”

“Who sent the ca — The point is,” Gary said, “what do we do now? If these guys haven’t given up in twenty years, they aren’t going to give up now, just because we got out the fire escape. Faye can’t spend the rest of her life running away. That’s a — That’s no way to live.”

“No,” said Jarod, “it isn’t.” He sat forward, leaning on the table with both arms. “Let me think….”

Faye could see his eyes, seeming to burn under his lowered brows, and shivered. I’m glad he isn’t thinking what he’s thinking about me…, she said to herself.

“Yeah,” said Gary. “You think. I’m going upstairs for a while….” He rubbed the front of his jacket. Faye heard the paper crackle, and guessed what he wanted to do upstairs — check that magic paper, hoping for a clue.

“C’mon into the office,” Marissa said to Faye. “Tell me about the band. How’d you decide on the name?”

Chuck strutted in from the store-room, balancing a gray cardboard box on his lifted palm. “Gotcher five gross novelty paper drink parasols right — Where’s everybody going?”

“You come in — everybody leaves,” Marissa said, leading Faye into the office. “See a pattern?”

Chuck hmmphed, plunked the box down in front of Jarod, and retreated behind the bar to toy with the oil lamp by the cash register.

#

Faye and Marissa emerged from the office. Gary stood in the middle of the room staring at the table, where Jarod still sat. Chuck and Crumb stood behind the bar, fascinated by the same sight.

Jarod was surrounded by a pile of unfurled parasols. The table was covered with them, separated by color and arranged to form a peace sign.

“Groovy, man,” said Faye. “I can dig it.”

Gary looked disgusted. “Hey, no littering. Look at that mess all over the floor!”

“I think I have the answer to our problem,” Jarod said, ignoring Gary’s objection to his masterpiece.

“Oh, does it involve little paper parasols?” Gary asked haughtily. “Because if it does, I’m outta here.”

“No,” Jarod said with a slight smile. “It doesn’t.” Jarod seemed impossible to offend.

“So what’re we going to do?” Faye asked, pulling a chair up to the table and sitting down next to Jarod. Gary flopped into the chair next to hers, Marissa sinking into the seat across from Faye. Chuck and Crumb had begun to argue about something.

“I’ll explain to my friend in the Centre that they have the wrong person — your mom changed her name, after all. False names are hard to trace. He’ll pass the information on. Of course, he won’t say who his source is….” Jarod trailed off, twirling a parasol between his thumb and forefinger and looking at it with intensity.

“So I can go on with my stage career,” Faye finished the sentence for him.

“I need to use your phone,” Jarod said to Gary. “And I’d like to talk to Boswell. We can go while they’re at the gig.” He indicated Faye and Marissa.

Gary nodded, muttering, “If we can find Boswell. Besides, I want to go with them.”

“Just us girls tonight,” Marissa said to avoid conflict.

“I can reserve a table for tomorrow night,” Faye said, backing Marissa up.

“Yeah,” Chuck burst into the conversation. “I’ll come, too.”

“Yeah. Great,” Gary grumbled.

“Uh, Jarod, if I’m going to the gig — which I need to be at in….” Faye glanced at her watch. “Half an hour — I’m gonna need my guitar back.”

Jarod reached behind him and handed over the guitar case.

“Thank you,” Faye said with half-mocking politeness. “Now I have to get my amp, and then I can go to the gig.” She turned to the other woman. “You coming, Marissa?”

“Sure.” Marissa smiled, getting up. “See you, Gare. Nice meeting you, Jarod.”

Faye stood up, since everyone else was doing so. “Bye, Gary…. And thanks again,” she said, serious now. She hugged him impulsively, then turned away. “And Jarod, even if you did gank my guitar, I’m still grateful. Thanks.” She hugged him briefly, too, then headed for the door, waved, and left, Marissa in tow.

Gary pulled the paper out of his jacket instinctively, glanced at it, and put it back. “Well, let’s find Boswell,” he said to Jarod.

“You do see something in that paper, don’t you?” Jarod said.

Ignoring the question, Gary gestured with distaste at the table with the parasol peace sign. “Hey, Chuck, clean this mess up, will you?”

Chuck came over, regarding the table with interest. “I like it. At least SOMEbody understands the concept of ATmosphere.”

Gary rolled his eyes. Jarod looked amused.

#

Gary looked up at the front of the historic old Blackstone Hotel. It was strange to think he didn’t live there anymore. He hadn’t been back since he moved out; he wondered if Boswell still worked there. Yeah, he still works here. He’s probably worked here since it was built.

“After you,” Jarod said. They crossed the street and went through the front door.

No Boswell. No desk clerk.

“Let’s check the elevator,” said Gary.

They checked the elevator. No Boswell.

“What now?” Jarod asked.

“Now we wait,” Gary replied, sitting down in one of the lobby’s chairs.

Jarod sat down next to him. “Pez?” he asked, producing a dispenser with Jimminy Cricket’s head on top.

Gary looked at Jarod, looked away, then looked back again. “Wha — No! Thanks.”

They waited half an hour, Gary checking his watch every five minutes. When Jarod started wandering around the lobby, asking if the ferns were giant carrots and if the residents grew their own food, Gary stood up and said, “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Jarod asked.

“Around the corner — where the cat took Faye’s mother.”

Nodding, Jarod followed Gary out the door and around the building. The alley was deserted. The fire escape loomed, empty, overhead and to the right.

They rounded the corner to the back of the building. No Boswell.

“Well. He isn’t here, either,” Gary said with a slight I-told-you-so tone to his voice.

The two men paced the alleyway nervously for a while, then went back inside to see if the clerk had returned to the desk. He had.

“Excuse me,” Jarod said to the clerk. “We’re looking for Mr. Boswell. Do you know where he would be?”

“It’s Boswell’s night off,” the clerk said. “I don’t know where he is.”

“We really need to talk to him,” Jarod continued.

“If you leave your names with me, I can have him get back to you,” the clerk said.

“Look,” Gary said abruptly. “I’m a friend of Boswell’s — yeah, I used to live here as a matter of fact. Gary Hobson…. My room was the one that burned.”

“Oh,” said the desk clerk. “Well…. I could call him now, and if he’ll talk to you….”

“That’d be great,” Jarod smiled.

The clerk nodded, picked up the desk phone, and dialed. “No answer,” he said at length, and hung up.

“Well, will he be back anytime soon?” Gary asked.

“No, not until tomorrow morning at nine.”

“Do you have any idea where we could find him?” Jarod said.

“He may have gone to the orchestra — he goes to the concert hall on Lakeshore Drive a lot.”

“Thank you,” Jarod said, glancing at Gary.

Gary nodded, and he and Jarod left. They hailed a cab and started for the concert hall.

The cab got stuck in traffic, so it took them forty-five minutes to get there. Leaping out of the cab, they hurried up the stairs and into the hall.

The orchestra concert was just letting out. Gary and Jarod watched constantly for Boswell, staying for fifteen minutes just to be sure. He wasn’t there.

Absently, Gary checked the paper.

“TWO WOMEN FOUND DEAD IN LAKE MICHIGAN,” read the headline. Underneath were two pictures — one of Faye and one of Marissa. Horrified, Gary read on, murmuring the article out loud as he read it.

“Yesterday morning the bodies of two women, Faye Harrison and Marissa Clark were found in Lake Michigan. The women were apparently abducted after leaving The Blue Dog, a local jazz club. They were identified by their friend, Gary Hobson….”

#

Faye slid into the cab next to Marissa.

“I’ve got to go back to McGinty’s to get something,” Marissa said. “Chuck and Crumb will have closed up by now, and gone home, but I have a key.”

“Okay, I’ll come too,” Faye said. “Wow, that was fun!” She leaned back in the cab seat.

They went on discussing the gig until the cab pulled up in front of McGinty’s. After paying the driver and getting out, they headed for the bar, Marissa jingling her keys.

“Hmm….That’s funny,” she said as she turned the doorknob.

“What?” Faye asked.

“The door’s wasn’t even locked — Chuck probably forgot…. He usually remembers, though.”

They entered the dark room. Faye switched on the lights, then let out a startled cry.

“What?” Marissa asked.

A bald man with an oxygen tank next to him stood by the bar. At a sound behind them, Marissa and Faye turned. Two dark-suited thugs blocked the door.

“What is it?” Marissa whispered.

“Two ugly guys,” said Faye, so only Marissa could hear. “And one really ugly guy.”

#

“Jarod!” Gary couldn’t take his eyes off the paper. “Jarod! Look at this!”

“At what?” Jarod was inspecting the cover of a manhole in the access street next to the concert hall. “Is this where the alligators live?”

“No,” Gary said absently, re-reading the article. “No, that’s New York. — Will ya look at this? Please?”

Jarod came and took the paper. While Jarod read, Gary paced — two feet in one direction, two feet back, as if he were in a cage much too small for comfort.

“Aren’t you finished yet? Oh, you are. Well, what’re we gonna do? It — it doesn’t say where they disappear from or — or anything. I never thought I’d live to say this, but I wish Crumb was still on the force. — Say, there’s an idea! He’s retired and everything, but I bet he still knows…. I bet he could….”

Jarod shook his head. “As you say, this doesn’t give any details about the actual disappearance. What could we tell the police? That our friends haven’t come home yet from a jazz club? And, when they ask us how long they’ve been missing, we tell them….” Jarod looked at his watch. “We tell them they haven’t left the club yet?”

Gary’s jaw dropped. “They haven’t left the club yet? It’s not too late! A phone! Where’s a phone?”

He spotted a public phone in the next block and pelted down the sidewalk, Jarod at his heels.

“A quarter!” Gary gasped, ravaging his pockets. “Quarter!”

“I don’t have any change,” Jarod said, “but….” He took a billfold-like packet of tools out of his back pocket. Choosing an instrument, he worked at the coin return slot. With a ding and a series of rattles, a quarter fell onto the ground.

Gary chased the coin, catching it before it rolled into the gutter. He dropped the quarter into the slot and had his finger poised to punch the number when he realized he didn’t know it.

“Phone book!”

Jarod lifted the torn end of the cable that had once held the book in place.

“Operator — I’ll call directory assistance or something.” Gary punched the number and waited. There was no sound. He pounded the phone with the handset, finally ripping the cord completely away. “Now people will KNOW it’s out of order!” he snarled. “A cab! We’ll catch a cab and get to the place before they leave. What was it? The Dead Parrot, or something.”

“The Blue Dog,” said Jarod.

There wasn’t a cab in sight. The concert was over, the concert-goers had dispersed, and cab drivers had gone to greener pastures.

“Let’s go over a block,” Jarod suggested. “Maybe we’ll have better luck there, or maybe we’ll find a phone.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea! Let’s go….”

#

“Where’s Jarod?” the really ugly man hissed.

“I don’t know,” Faye snapped. She was terrified, and that made her furious. She was even more furious when she took Marissa’s elbow, helping the blind woman to a seat at the bar, and felt her trembling.

She must be more scared than I am, Faye thought. She must feel so helpless. Faye glared at the really ugly man and thought, Of course, even blindness has some compensations…. She sat next to Marissa, at the end of the bar.

If she could cause some disturbance, some distraction, maybe she could grab Marissa and duck out.

“I know he’s been here,” the Hideous One said, glancing over at the parasol-covered table.

Nice going, Chuck, Faye thought. How’s a couple of dead bodies for “atmosphere”?

The bald man took a step toward them, the trolley of his oxygen tank squeaking as he moved.

“We don’t know anybody named ‘Jarod,'” Faye said. “Except the kid brother of a friend of mine in Dayton, and I don’t think you mean him. Do you?”

Baldy’s lips compressed and he rasped, “I have no sense of humor.”

“You should spend more time in front of a mirror,” Faye couldn’t help saying. She heard one of the men in black suits smothering a snicker.

“Don’t make him angry, Faye…,” Marissa murmured out of the corner of her mouth.

“Too late,” the man snarled. He took another step forward. “You have ten seconds to answer one of these questions: Where can we find Jarod? Is he due back here? Do you know how to contact him?”

Contact him…. The words echoed futilely in Faye’s mind. Contact him….

“We don’t know where he is,” Marissa repeated. “He isn’t due back here, and we don’t know where to contact him. There, I answered all of your questions.” Meekly, already knowing the answer, she said, “Can we go now?”

“You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?” Baldy nodded toward the other two men.

One of them pulled a pair of pliers out of his pocket, advancing toward Faye and Marissa.

Faye knew she must have registered her fright, because Marissa grabbed her arm, saying, “What is it?”

The bald man’s lips twisted; he might have been smiling but, to Faye, he looked like a Chihuahua with gas. “I think you’re starting to get the picture,” he said.

“They plan to torture us,” Faye said.

“No…,” Marissa said. She cried out, “We told you the truth! We told you the truth!”

The man with the pliers came no closer, looking to his boss for the next order.

“Mrrroww!”

A marmalade tom swaggered out of the office.

“The cat!” Marissa whispered. “Yes!”

“Yes?” said Faye. “What can the cat do?”

Marissa’s optimism deflated. “I don’t know.”

The Chihuahua sneezed. And again. And again. “Allergic!” he gasped. He pointed to the man with the pliers. “Watch them!” Waving at the other man, he said, “Get rid of it!”

Even under threat of one’s life, Faye mused, there is nothing quite so entertaining as watching a big ugly man trying to catch a cat. At the end of a rousing ten minutes, during which Mr. Goodwrench guarded the women too well for an escape, the bald man had collapsed into a chair, and the cat-chaser sat on the floor, rubbing the bump he had gotten coming up under a table.

“Mrrroww!” the cat repeated. It leapt onto the bar, walked past Marissa and Faye to the cash register and rubbed against the oil lamp. With a clink and a crash, the chimney fell off and smashed on the floor. The cat jumped back down. It yawned, shook one back paw after another, and sashayed out of the room.

Faye’s eyes remained on the oil lamp.

If I could light that lamp, Faye thought, and knock it onto the floor, surely both of these plug-uglies would try to save their boss instead of guarding us…. She fingered the “Bulls” lighter she always carried for good luck.

#

No cabs. No phones. No breath. Both men stood in the chill air, panting and sweating.

“Try the paper again!” Jarod said suddenly.

“The paper!” Gary unfolded the Sun-Times and frantically turned the pages. His eye lit on his watch, and he groaned. “No good,” he said.

“Just look!”

“It’s no good!!” Gary shouted. “Don’t you understand? It’s after midnight!” He shook the flimsy pages. “This is today’s newspaper! Don’t you see? It’s today’s! Nothing can change! It’s too late!”

“JUST LOOK!” Jarod stepped closer to Gary and fixed him with his gaze. “Miracles happen.”

“Not in Chicago,” Gary said.

“Especially in Chicago,” said Jarod, with the tiniest of smiles. “I heard the Cubs won a game.”

Gary missed the joke: He was staring, gaping, at the front page of the paper. In two-inch headlines, over a five-column photo, he read, “Historic McGinty’s Bar Burns. In an early- morning conflagration, McGinty’s Bar was consumed in flames. According to officials, the fire was caused by an over-turned oil lamp, aggravated by an exploding oxygen tank.”

“Oxygen tank!?” said Jarod. “Raines?”

Gary read on, “The bodies of three men and two women were recovered from the ruins. The women, Faye Harrison and Marissa Clark, were identified by their friend, Gary — It’s them! They’re at McGinty’s! Let’s go!”

#

Faye flicked the lighter on and off, watching Baldy try to get his breath back.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Goodwrench asked suspiciously.

“Nervous habit.” She flicked it back on, hoping he’d look away. He didn’t, so she stared absently at the flame.

“Get to work,” the Chihuahua gasped.

The man with the pliers stepped forward.

Faye thrust the flame into his face, causing him to stagger back. In the same movement as her thrust, she swiveled and touched the fire to the lamp’s wick. She grasped the body of the lamp, ready to sweep it to the floor.

“No!” Gary half-fell through the kitchen door. He held his hands before him, as if to calm the crowd. “Wait! You don’t want to do that!”

“It’s about time you got here!” Faye said, brusque with relief.

“Yeah, well, you’re welcome,” Gary snapped.

“Gary!” Marissa said.

“The cops are on the way,” Gary said. “Yeah, my bartender’s an ex-cop, and I get real good service.”

The two ugly men looked at the really ugly man. The telephone behind the bar rang. Marissa turned on her stool and reached for the set.

“Leave it,” Baldy said.

“It might be important,” Gary said. “It might be for you.”

“Why would it be for me?” The bald man’s cold eyes tried to read Gary’s face and failed. He jerked his head toward one of his men and said, “Answer it.”

The man picked up the phone, listened briefly, and said, “It’s for you.” Looking surprised, the man took the phone to his boss.

“Raines here,” the Hideous One said. He listened for a while. “Yes….I’ll be on the next available plane.” He hung up. He struggled to his feet. “Let’s go,” he said.

Mr. Goodwrench tucked his pliers back into his pocket, and the three men walked toward the front door.

“That’s it? No goodbye? No apology? I want an APOLOGY here!” Faye hefted the oil lamp meaningfully.

Raines, his eyes glued to the lamp, barely moved his lips as he hissed, “Sssorry.”

When the men were gone, Gary strode across the room and bolted the door. Then he took the lamp, blew it out, and dropped it into a metal trash container.

“How did you know?” Faye asked.

“It was a miracle,” Jarod said, coming out of the office. “Chicago style.”

#

McGinty’s was packed, reeking of cigarette smoke and atmosphere.

A trio walked in, led by a dark-haired woman wearing a black jacket, a black mini-skirt, and the coldest expression Gary had ever seen. Behind her walked a man with “computer geek” written all over him. The third member of the party strolled in with his hands stuffed in his pockets.

Chuck sidled up to Gary and whistled. “Armani!” he said, nodding toward the second man.

“You know that guy?” Gary asked.

Chuck looked at Gary in disgust. “The suit. You need to get out more, buddy.”

There was no room at the bar. “EXCUSE me,” the woman said, with a certain tone, a certain look.

Three men picked up their drinks and left. She and her friends took the empty places.

“You must be Miss Parker,” Gary said. “And you must be Broots,” he said to the computer guy.

“Jarod mentioned me?” Broots asked, obviously pleased.

“Yeah. And you must be Sydney.”

Sydney shook Gary’s hand with a gracious smile.

“Where is he?” Miss Parker interrupted.

“Jarod? I don’t know, but he left you this.” Gary handed her a little paper parasol with the letters “M.P.” painted on it.

She snatched it, inspecting it as if for hidden clues. “This is it?”

“No, he left you a message, too.”

“Give it to me,” she said.

“He said to tell you…,” Gary cleared his throat uncomfortably and stepped further back behind the bar. “He said ‘Let a smile be your umbrella.'”

Miss Parker rolled her eyes, looked away, stood up, and left, crushing the parasol as she went.

The men rose, too. “Nice place you have here,” said Sydney.

Broots nodded. “Great atmosphere.”

“Yeah,” said Gary wryly. “We call it ‘Chicago Bar.'”

The End

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