25

“Did my mom send you?” Cassie Truscott glowered at Anni. She sat behind a sewing machine in the crowded back room of a trendy shop on Milwaukee. Rags Restored, a bohemian boutique where wealthy twenty-somethings bought second-hand clothes for big bucks after they were cleaned up, mended, and labeled “vintage.”

“She wouldn’t even give me your phone number.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“I’m researching Feliks Król, the man who had your brother’s clothing in his room.”

“The famous artist.” She flavored the word with sarcasm.

“Right. Anyway, I heard you designed costumes for the Moonbeam, so I asked around and . . . here you are.”

Cassie concentrated on ripping out a seam. “I remember you. You were the one who came to the house back then. Asking all the questions.”

“I know that must have been hard.”

“You don’t know shit.”

She watched Cassie work, holding up the dress, then bending over it, pinning things together, snipping at something with tiny scissors. “That day in the park—”

“You’re not seriously going to do all this again? I told you everything I knew, which was nothing. He was there, and then he wasn’t. That’s it. What else am I supposed to say? You want me to make something up? He was abducted by aliens. How’s that work for you?”

“No, I don’t want anything but the truth.”

Cassie fed the cloth into the sewing machine, frowning in concentration as she guided the stitches. She tossed the garment on a pile, then sorted through a box of clothes, pulling out a skirt, ignoring Anni as she examined its broken zipper.

“It’s just, you were only seven, and naturally you were upset, so maybe—”

“You know what really upsets me? Is when people tell me I’m upset. Fuck, I need a cigarette.” She dropped the skirt and reached into a purse hung on the back of her chair. “This is a smoke-free building,” she announced to herself, in a prissy voice.

Anni followed her out the back door into an alley. Cassie gave her an irritated look, then lit up and leaned against the brick wall, shrugging her cardigan around her. It was chilly as the sun began to dip behind the buildings.

“I used to smoke,” Anni said, feeling a pang as the scent drifted past her.

“Tough shit. I’m not sharing.”

“That’s okay. I quit, anyway.”

“Aren’t you special?” She drew on the cigarette, tilted her head back, and let the smoke stream out, staring up at it as it curled and broke up. There wasn’t anything left of the sullen seven-year-old who’d taken her brother to get an ice cream, stringy blond hair, sunburned cheeks streaked with tears and snot. Her cheeks were rounder, now, and she filled out her dress with generous curves, her hair dyed deep purple with pink streaks, an elaborate black-and-gray tattoo winding around her neck. Nothing was left of the child she had been, except the sullenness.

“I found your brother’s clothes in Feliks Król’s room a few weeks ago.” Cassie shot a suspicious look at her. “It was planned that way. The art historian who hired me to do some background research found them and thought it would make a good story: Woman who failed to solve the Danny Truscott disappearance finds new evidence in the room of a mad artist. Something like that.”

“Terrific,” she muttered.

“I was pissed off, but I needed the money, so.”

Cassie drew hard on her cigarette, flicked ash.

“Anyway, I’ve been talking to your mom, and it occurred to me maybe you had some thoughts about what happened to Danny.”

Cassie pulled her cardigan closer and stared down the alley. Anni waited. “Yeah, I’ve had some thoughts,” she finally said. “But you know what? I don’t want to drive myself crazy, so I try not to.”

“I can see that. I’m sorry this got raked up again. But maybe if the cops can finally find out what happened—”

“So my father can go on TV? So people can get all excited listening to the gory details? Maybe there will be a true-crime podcast. Wouldn’t that would be cool.”

Anni leaned against the wall and looked up at a skein of low-lying clouds, gray against the brightness of a mound of cumulus, lit up by the setting sun. It would be dark, soon, but for now the high clouds were bright white, towering and majestic, like baroque castles floating overhead, serene and clean, a different world above the dirty, cluttered city. She flashed on Feliks Król’s pictures, so often full of weather. Light streaming through clouds like a benediction, a gathering storm looming over children, cloudbanks ominously animated with flickering lightning. “Your father’s an asshole, but I like your mom. I know you might not get along right now, but she’s a good person.” Cassie didn’t respond. “I think she’s lonely.”

The tip of the cigarette glowed as Cassie drew on it.

“Well,” Anni finally said, pushing herself off the wall. “I should leave you alone.”

“You know who you should leave alone?” Cassie said, dropping the spent butt on the pavement, grinding it out with the toe of her boot. “Danny. He was just a little kid, and he’s gone, and there’s no way to bring him back, but everyone wants to have a piece of him now. You, the press, that guy who wants to make a creepy artist famous. My fucking father. Stop exploiting him.” She turned to go inside, slamming the door shut behind her.

 

As she walked to her car, something started to twitch against her leg. Her phone, she realized, vibrating in her bag. She reached for it, didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?” Not really paying attention, prepared to hang up on a journalist.

“It’s me.”

Dugan’s voice. Something clutched tight in her chest. “What’s up?”

“You have a house guest. He needs to know somebody’s going to be showing up to serve him papers.”

“How did—”

“They’re getting the paperwork together right now, talking to a judge. If your friend wants to get out in front of this, he needs to leave, now.”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, but I figure if you’re letting him stay at your place, you must have a reason. Don’t loan him your car. They’ll be looking for it, so I’m borrowing my aunt’s, a 2006 dark blue Accord. I’ll park it in your alley somewhere. Is there space in the back?”

“I’ll leave my spot open.”

“Good. The keys . . . let me think. You still have that stack of pots by the back gate? I’ll drop them in there.”

“Are you going to get in trouble over this?”

“Are you? Your house guest has some federal agencies interested in his whereabouts. They’re throwing their weight around. They could make your life miserable.”

“How did they find out where he is?”

“Not sure, but my guess is some of my fellow officers decided to stake out your place to see if they could catch me violating my supervisor’s orders, then saw this other thing going down. I’d better get moving. Tell your house guest what’s up. And you, don’t talk to anyone without a lawyer.”

“They’ll guess you tipped me off. You shouldn’t be involved in this, there has to be another way. I’ll take him to the bus station.”

“They’ll be watching for him.”

“Then . . . I don’t know. I’ll figure something else out. I really don’t want you to screw up your career, Dugan.”

He laughed. “I’m feeling pretty good about my career right now. Better than I have in ages. Tell your house guest: dark blue Honda, keys in that pot. It’ll be parked behind your house in twenty minutes or so.”

“Thanks. And thanks to your aunt. Does she even know about this?”

“She knows. I’m using her phone right now. Anni? Love you.” And he was gone.

She dropped her phone back into her bag and started to jog to her car.

 

“Hey, I found something interesting,” Slovo said as she opened the door.

“You need to pack up. They found you. Soon as a judge signs off, they’ll be here to pick you up.”

“Shit.” He was sitting in front of Adam’s computer, the glowing screen the only light in the room. He turned back to the keyboard and started pecking. “Need to check something.”

“I picked up some cash in case you’re short. A friend is bringing a car you can use to get out of town.”

“Dammit,” he muttered. “Nothing. Maybe by tomorrow—”

“You don’t have time.” Anni found his duffel, dropped it on the couch. “It’s a Honda Accord. Leave it somewhere safe and let me know so I can go pick it up.”

“Okay, okay.” He gathered up some papers scattered around the computer. “Ow, shit, I’ve been sitting too long.” He stretched and groaned. “So, that last batch of notebooks you gave me? One of them is about Danny. The thing is—”

“I’ll take a look later. I think I have some energy bars upstairs, something you can eat on the road. You’ll want to get as far as you can from Chicago by morning.”

“Relax, would you? Worst that happens, they take me into custody.” He was aggravatingly calm, while her pulse was jumping. “I can stonewall them for a while. How’d you hear they were coming, anyway?”

“I still have a friend in the CPD. He’s arranging the car.”

“Oh.” He pointed to the ceiling. “The toothbrush?”  He gave her a Groucho Marx leer, eyebrows dancing up and down.

“He’s putting his job on the line. For Christ’s sake, get a move on.”

“All right, all right. This other thing I found, you’ll want to check it out. I think it might tie into the notebook.” He handed her a sheet of paper. “Genealogists are amazing detectives. Put out a question, they’re all over it. I love the goddamn Internet.”

“What is this?” She tilted the page to pick up the light from the computer screen, but still couldn’t make it out.

“Names of Joyce Trustcott’s downstate cousins. The one I circled, she’s the one to talk to, but she’s kind of a recluse. You probably won’t get anything out of her unless you go in person and catch her by surprise. She lives south of Carbondale, deep in the woods, off the grid at the old family homestead.”

“Thanks. We need to get you out of here. The car will be out back in ten minutes.”

He limped around, picking up strewn clothing, fetching his gear from the bathroom. “You’re sure in a hurry to get rid of me.”

She was smoldering, biting back angry words. I took you in. I bought that damned pizza for you. We’re loaning you a car . . . Her angry internal monologue was interrupted as she watched him straighten after bending to zip up his duffel, his face twisting in pain. “Wait, can you even drive?”

“It’s like riding a bicycle, right? No license, but that’s the least of my worries.”

“I mean your leg.”

“Just stiff.” He poked around the room, lifting things, shuffling papers beside the computer, putting the rat in his cage and filling his bottle with fresh water. “Don’t forget to feed him. He’ll eat pretty much anything, except anchovies. We have our standards.”

She jogged upstairs to grab some granola bars and fill a water bottle. From her balcony she saw the Honda was parked by the back gate. She trotted downstairs and tucked the food and water into his duffel. “Car’s here.”

Slovo shrugged on his coat, slung the duffel over his shoulder, and made his way across the room to retrieve his cane. “Listen, before you do anything else, take a look at Danny’s story. That notebook opens up a whole new way of looking at the case. Then head downstate to find that cousin, but don’t tell anyone what you’re doing, not until you’ve checked it out.”

“Fine. I’ll get right on it.”

“In fact . . . I just had a great idea.”

“No time for that. You need to hit the road.”

“How about we hit it together? You up for a road trip?”

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

In the Dark by Barbara Fister, 2020, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.