Chapter Sixty-Nine

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Simone didn't hit any vital organs, but I still had to spend several weeks in the hospital. That's how I managed to miss Deborah's funeral and Simone's arraignment. I was just as happy because I wouldn't have known how to act at either event.

Besides, the hospital gig was pretty sweet, even better than having my apartment burned down. People trooped in to see me, and they brought gifts.

Karlson sent roses. Pink ones. HAT brought a purple begonia plant and actually apologized for canceling tea. It seemed he did have a girlfriend, as Claudie said.

C trooped in with Officer Hansen, whose first name was Ryan. Apparently, Ryan had taken in Claudie's show shortly after he'd dropped me off at my apartment and she'd waved at him. The rest was history, C said, as Ryan blushed. They brought me the stupid Data-head teapot that I pretended to despise. Even Greenberg appeared carrying a dozen perfect white daisies in a bunch.

From him, I learned that Claudie and Ryan had stopped by my mother's house because I wasn't picking up my cell phone. My mother told them where I was, and the Swede led them to the brokerage firm. All three snuck down the secret passageway.

As the gun went off, Olaf had vaulted through the door and tackled Simone. C had stanched my gunshot wound. Ryan managed to interrupt Karlson in the middle of a hot date. And Jimmy dialed 9-1-1.

That's how Barney happened to be free on bond so he could send me three dozen blood-red American Beauties and a two-foot tall thank you note.

The office closed after all, since Barney would be serving time downstate. Jimmy and Kate moved back to Chicago. They visited me, carrying bright yellow daffodils and holding hands. Jimmy loved me, I knew, but he'd protected Kate. He didn't know the difference yet, but I thought he might in time. They invited me to visit them when I got better, and I promised to do so.

My mother and the Swede offered to put me up until I was completely healed, which was a euphemism, I knew, for when I found a new job. Meanwhile, my insurance check had come, so I wasn't hurting for money. At least not for a while.

And in the spirit of fair play, the Chicago office extended my medical benefits 18 months past the end of my two-day's employment. Only later did I find out that the extension was mandated by law as part of my federal COBRA benefits, and I still had to pay for the privilege.

One fine Sunday in June a few months after I'd been shot, I sat down to 1 p.m. dinner with my mother and the Swede in their dining room. The Swede had made his famous Chicken Marsala, and I looked forward to tasting the dish that had launched my mother's ship. I was about to fill my plate when the doorbell rang.

My mother glanced at her husband, then got up to answer the door. She came back with Odin in tow. He was smiling.

"I don't suppose you'd like to take a little spin," he said. "You know you want to."

Actually, I didn't know any such thing, but I saw the Swede wink at my mother. Apparently the fix was in, and this wasn't a surprise to them.

"Okay," I said.

Minutes later, we were racing down Rockford's streets in Odin's cherry-red Corvette convertible. The wind sluiced through my hair like a river, and all at once I was sorry that I'd ever tried to injure the car or its owner. That's when Odin pulled a fast one.

He turned to me, his silver chrome Oakley sunglasses making him look like a blond bug and said, "There's something I want to show you."

One crazy bat-turn later, we were sailing through some sub-division on the other side of Alpine Road. Every time I thought I recognized a street name, Odin made another hairpin turn until I gave up trying to figure out where we were.

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