Stones crunching and popping off tires registered innocuously in the back of Tanya’s mind as she sat in an armless swayback lounge chair swiping her finger across an iPad. She felt wonderfully cozy with her legs folded tightly underneath herself, wearing jersey knit stretch pants and an oversized sweatshirt. At no time in her young life had she ever imagined seeing a house like the ones on the Home & Design website, never mind relaxing in a modern living room of concrete and glass looking into a leafy paradise. When she heard knocking and doorbell chimes, Tanya felt more annoyed at having to leave her comfy lounge chair than alarmed by the urgency of whoever was visiting.
She opened the front door to see her friend’s familiar smile. He treated her like gold but his arrival deflated her mood a bit, reminded her that her days of living in a suburban wonderland were coming to a close. Good things lay ahead, she knew, but a bittersweet mixture of hope and anxiety was also never far away.
“What’s in the suitcase?” Tanya asked, as if she didn’t know.
“Your train has finally arrived, my love,” her friend said, locking the door then following Tanya back to the living room, pulling a small metallic suitcase on rollers. Tanya returned to the lounge chair. Her friend dragged a chair over from a card table and sat in front of her. They made small talk for several minutes before he smiled broadly, put both hands on the suitcase handle, then struggled to lift it chest high, where he held it a few seconds before dropping it back down.
“Oh, my god!” Tanya said.
They both laughed. Tanya told her friend she couldn’t wait to buy more comfy clothes like what she was wearing. Then tires skidded on gravel. Soon after, someone fiddled with the door. Tanya’s friend jumped to his feet, then backed away from the living room entrance, dragging the suitcase with him.
That’s when the guys with the guns walked in.
Ten days earlier
The first day of spring. Cold, rainy. Ten a.m.
Coltrane, a giant saxophone-playing rodent wearing a red beret, hung from the ceiling of Mocha Mouse, a kind of coffee shop–deli that had become my hangout. I had just finished reading an article in The Partisan about the most recent collection of rubber stamps given to the new mayor—the one who promised a city free of bookkeeping ploys or sleight-of-hand political maneuvers—when I looked up to see a kid standing in front of the door, shaking the water off his leather jacket and scanning the room. His T-shirt clung to a severely chiseled physique. He was slim, about five-nine, and his shaved head and baby face reminded me of the screaming man in that famous painting. When his gaze reached the far corner of the room, he looked at me squint-eyed for several seconds, then advanced. His swagger meant business. As he approached, I recalled eyeing my holstered gun as I left my apartment. Alas, I’d left it behind.
“Are you Mr. Landau?” he said in blue-collar New Jersey.
“I might be,” I said, unable to keep a straight face. My humor escaped him.
“Oh. I thought maybe—”
“Sorry. I’m Landau. What can I do for you?”
The kid took a seat and folded the jacket on his lap. “Mr. Kalijero told me to see you.”
“First, tell me who you are.”
“Uh, I’m Eddie Byrne.” Eddie offered his hand. I took it. A spiderweb tattoo stretched between thumb and forefinger.
“How do you know Detective Kalijero?”
“I don’t know Detective Kalijero. But he’s friends with a cop I know back East. Kalijero said you’re good at findin’ people.”
“Tell me what Kalijero looks like.”
“I just talked to him on the phone.”
I folded the newspaper shut and pushed it aside. “Are you searching for birth parents?”
The kid screwed up his face. “No, no. My girlfriend, Tanya Maggio.”
He handed me a photo taken in a booth where you sat on a stool while the camera flashed rapid-fire then spit out a strip of pictures. She bordered between cute and pretty, with straight dark hair and a perky nose.
“How old is this picture?”
“It was a while ago,” he said. “But that’s what she looks like.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Over a year ago.” He started scratching the back of his neck. A bear claw of black ink graced his left forearm.
“Okay, if you want me to help you, then you need to tell me a story about Eddie and the gal he hasn’t seen in a year. Let’s start with where you’ve been the last year.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry, I ain’t never talked with a guy like you before. I’ve been away. So me and Tanya haven’t been seein’ each other so much but now I’m back and I heard she came to Chicago.”
He was starting to annoy me. “You were away, like away in the Peace Corps?” I was pretty sure that wasn’t it.
Eddie looked confused. “No, no. I don’t know no Peace Corps. I just had some business out of town for a while.”
I stared at him then took a calculated risk. “Just say it. I was in prison the last year.”
Eddie scratched his neck again then looked at me with a sheepish, mea culpa face. “Yeah, okay, I was, but more like three years. She stopped visitin’ me over a year ago. I got my last letter six months ago. And then nothin’. She knew I was gettin’ out. And we was all excited because I was gonna make a new start with her, you know? And then she takes off.”
“Hang on. She came to Chicago a year ago, after her last visit to you in the can? Or six months ago, after her last letter?”
“I dunno. Her last letter had no return address or nothin’.”
“You didn’t even get an email?”
“Ain’t no email in East Jersey State Prison.”
“What about the postmark on the letter?”
More confusion. “I don’t remember.”
“What did the letter say?”
Eddie shrugged. “Nothin’ special. Nothin’ about leavin’.”
“What about her friends?”
“Nobody knows nothin’ except she took off for Chicago. And she was workin’ at some fancy wine bar.”
“And nobody knows why she left without telling you nothin’?”
Eddie turned his head away just enough to indicate he was about to lie—then he looked back at me and nodded.
“Well, I don’t think I’m your guy. But it was nice meeting you.” I picked up The Partisan.
“What? Why? I got money.” From under the leather jacket he took a folded wad of cash in a rubber band, then reached across the table and dropped it in front of me. General Grant and the troops looked pretty well worn, like they’d just retreated from Cold Harbor. I looked around the room. “That’s five large,” Eddie said quietly.
“You got balls, Eddie. I mean, this isn’t a tough neighborhood, but if you go tossing 5K bankrolls around, it’s only a matter of time.”
Suddenly, his eyes narrowed, turning the nice kid into a serial killer. Just as quickly, he softened. “Yeah, well, I guess this is how I know to do business. It’s just a down payment to show you I ain’t full a shit. And I got plenty more. I really gotta find Tanya. She’s been at my side my whole crappy life. She’s never let me down. I don’t care what it costs, Mr. Landau. I’ll pay it.”
He slouched in his chair, staring at the table. His lower lip quivered a few times. I picked up the cash and fingered the beat-up bills. Then I took two cards out of my jacket pocket and tossed them to Eddie. “Write your number on one of them. And tell me about this wine bar.”
Eddie wrote down a number. “I don’t got the name of the bar, except it’s on the North Side and they serve the fancy stuff to yuppies.”
“Maybe they don’t drink wine in Jersey, but the North Side’s a big neighborhood with a lot of fancy wine bars.”
Eddie rubbed his temples. “It’s near the river.”
Actually, that narrowed my search significantly and I took this as a good sign.