Long Lost Page 49

I thought about it.

’’Is this line safe?’’ I asked.

’’Very. And your office was swept this morning.’’

’’So what happened in London?’’

’’You saw me kill Tweedledee and Tweedledum?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’You know the rest then. Officials crashed in. There was no way I could get you out, so I decided that it would be best for me to depart. I immediately headed out of the country. Why? Because I, as I just stated, believe Berleand\'s tale has merit. I thus did not think it would behoove either of us for me to be taken into custody too. Do you understand?’’

’’I do. So what\'s your plan now?’’

’’To stay hidden just a little while longer.’’

’’Best way to make everyone safe is to get to the bottom of this.’’

’’True dat, dawg,’’ Win said.

I love it when he talks street.

’’To that end, I\'m putting out some feelers. I\'m hoping to get someone to tell me the fate of Ms. Collins. To put it bluntly and, yes, I know you have feelings for her if Terese was killed, this is pretty much over for us. Our interests are gone.’’

’’What about finding her daughter?’’

’’If Terese is dead, what would be the point?’’

I thought about that. He made sense. I had wanted to help Terese here. I had wanted to man, it still sounded so crazy to think it reunite her with her deceased daughter. What indeed would be the point, if Terese was dead?

I looked down and realized that again I was chewing on a fingernail.

’’So what now?’’ I asked.

’’Esperanza says you\'re a mess.’’

’’You\'re going to patronize me too?’’

Silence.

’’Win?’’

Win was the best at keeping his voice steady, but for maybe the second time since I\'ve known him, I heard a crack. ’’The last sixteen days were difficult.’’

’’I know, pal.’’

’’I scorched the earth looking for you.’’

I said nothing.

’’I did some things you would never approve of.’’

I waited.

’’And I still couldn\'t find you.’’

I understood what he meant. Win has sources like no one else I know. Win has money and influence and the truth is, he loves me. Not much scares him. But I knew that he\'d had a tough sixteen days.

’’I\'m okay now,’’ I said. ’’Come home when you think you can.’’

26

’’HAVE another dumpling,’’ Mom said to me.

’’I\'ve had enough, Mom, thanks.’’

’’One more. You\'re much too skinny. Try the pork one.’’

’’I really don\'t like them.’’

’’You what?’’ Mom gave me shocked. ’’But you used to love them at Fong\'s Garden.’’

’’Mom, Fong\'s Garden closed when I was eight years old.’’

’’I know. But still.’’

But still. The great Mom debate ender. One might understandably attribute her Fong\'s Garden recollection to an aging brain. One would be wrong. Mom had been making the same comment about my no longer liking dumplings since I was nine.

We sat in the kitchen of my childhood home in Livingston, New Jersey. Currently I split my nights between this abode and Win\'s lush apartment in the Dakota on West Seventy-second Street and Central Park West. When my parents moved down to Miami a few years back, I bought this house from them. You could rightly wonder about the psychology of buying the property I had lived here with my parents well into my thirties and still, in fact, sleep in the basement bedroom I\'d set up in high school but in the end I rarely stayed here. Livingston is a town for families raising kids, not single men working in Manhattan. Win\'s place is far more conveniently located and only slightly smaller, square-footage-wise, than an average European principality.

But Mom and Dad were back in town, so here we were.

I came from the Blame Generation where we all supposedly disliked our parents and found in their actions all the reasons why we ourselves are unhappy adults. I love my mother and father. I love being with them. I didn\'t live in that basement well into my adult years out of financial necessity. I did it because I liked it here, with them.

We finished dinner, threw away the takeout boxes, rinsed off the utensils. We talked a little about my brother and sister. When Mom mentioned Brad\'s work in South America, I felt a small but sharp pang something akin to déjàvu but far less pleasant. My stomach clenched. The nail-biting began again. My parents exchanged a glance.

Mom was tired. She gets that way a lot now. I kissed her cheek and watched her trudge up the stairs. She leaned on the banister. I flashed back to past days, of watching her take the steps with a hop and a bouncing ponytail, her hand nowhere near that damn banister. I looked back at Dad. He said nothing, but I think that he was flashing back too.

Dad and I moved to the den. He flipped on the TV. When I was little, Dad had a BarcaLounger recliner of hideous maroon. The vinyl-dressed-as-leather tore at the seams, and something metallic stuck out. My dad, not the handiest man in town, kept it together with duct tape. I know people criticize the hours Americans spend watching television, and with good reason, but some of my best memories were in this room, at night, him lounging on the duct-taped recliner, me on the couch. Anyone else remember that classic Saturday night prime-time CBS lineup? All in the Family, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. My dad would laugh so hard at something Archie Bunker would say, and his laugh was so contagious I would guffaw in kind, even though I didn\'t get a lot of the jokes.

Al Bolitar had worked hard in his factory in Newark. He wasn\'t a man who liked to play poker or hang with the boys or go to bars. Home was his solace. He liked relaxing with his family. He started very poor and was whip smart and probably had dreams beyond that Newark factory great, grand dreams but he never shared them with me. I was his son. You don\'t burden your child with stuff like that, not for anything.

On this night, he fell asleep during a Seinfeld repeat. I watched his chest rise and fall, his stubble coming in white. After a while I quietly rose, went down to the basement, climbed into bed, and stared at the ceiling.

My chest started hitching again. Panic swept through me. My eyes did not want to close. When they did, when I managed to start a nocturnal voyage of any kind, nightmares would jerk me back to consciousness. I could not recall the dreams, but the fear stayed behind. Sweat covered me. I sat in the dark, terrified, like a child.


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