* * * 

As it turned out, the whiskey didn’t help.

Other than telling him where they were going, Trix had been resolutely silent on their short drive to the North End. Jim had found a parking spot across the street from Mike’s Pastry, and they’d walked past the strange spectacle of a trio of fiftyish Italian men sitting in lawn chairs in front of a small shop as though nothing had changed in the century since the North End had been the heart of Boston’s Italian-immigrant community.

These days, the people descended from those immigrants couldn’t afford to live in the trendy neighborhood, but nearly every storefront was an Italian restaurant. The North End was a dining mecca for tourists and locals alike, and the sidewalks were always thronged with people, the streets jammed with traffic. And yet those men in their lawn chairs seemed unmoved by the changes in the neighborhood. They were either Mafia or Mafia-connected, but even the Mob had been watered down tremendously over the years, and they were the only ones who didn’t seem to realize it.

They had passed by a dozen more modern restaurants, walking along Hanover Street away from the worst of the crowd. On a block of three-story apartment houses, tucked between a small Laundromat and an even smaller Italian grocery, was a restaurant called Abruzzi’s that seemed to make no effort to draw the attention of passersby. There was no sandwich board advertising specials on the sidewalk, no awning, no valet parking—just a menu taped to the inside of the tinted front window.

Inside, Abruzzi’s seemed stuck in the 1970s, with red vinyl booths and Sinatra playing on the sound system, photographs of Italian landscapes and cityscapes on the wall, and paper placemats upon which a map of “the boot” had been printed. But the moment they walked in, Jim’s stomach growled, betraying him. He hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, and hunger had been gnawing quietly at him, subordinate to hysteria and grief but now making itself known.

Reluctantly, he agreed to eat. Trix ordered pizza.

Now they waited, and Jim watched her as he sipped his whiskey. Glasses clinked. An old man celebrated his ninety-first birthday with what appeared to be three younger generations around a long table. When they sang to him, the whole restaurant joined in except for Jim and Trix, who feigned smiles and applauded politely. And then at last everyone turned their attention back to their own dining companions, and Jim took another sip, relished the burn of the whiskey in his throat, and looked at Trix.

In the car she had fixed her hair as best she could, pushing her fingers through it, but still he knew they both looked like something the cat had dragged in. He had to wonder what the other diners must have thought when they first came in. But then he realized he didn’t care. None of these people meant anything to him. They weren’t even really of his world. In some unsettling way, because they were only aware of a world where Jenny and Holly had never existed, they felt like the enemy to him. In fact, it felt like he and Trix had snuck behind enemy lines and at any moment might be discovered as outsiders.

We don’t belong here, he thought, taking another sip. And maybe that was true. It made him wonder if other people had vanished, too. If there were other people out there who were aware that the world had been subtly altered. He and Trix might as well be invaders from Mars.

She stared at the bottle of Heineken on the table in front of her, passing her thumb over the green glass like she was trying to see something floating in the beer inside. Every ten or fifteen seconds she glanced toward the door.

“Trix,” he said.

She blinked, focusing on him like she’d forgotten he was there.

“What the hell are we doing here?” Jim asked. “How is this helping, and what was that crazy shit about your grandmother?”

Trix took a swig from her Heineken and gave him the Cheshire cat grin that he had seen before, whenever she felt stupid or embarrassed. “Do you know the story of the Oracle of Delphi?” she asked.

Jim stared at her. “Sure. The Athenians went to her for guidance. She communed with the gods or something and could give them answers, see the future. That kind of thing.”

Trix stared at her beer. Someone came in, and she looked up hopefully, then turned again to Jim, dejected. “I don’t know about seeing the future.”

“What does this have to do with—”

She cut him off with a glare. “Just listen.”

“I’m trying,” he said sharply. “You’re not saying anything.”

Trix sighed. “All right. So, you know my father took off for L.A. when I was little and that after my mother died, my grandparents raised me.”


She started to strip the label from her beer bottle. “When I was maybe nine or ten my grandfather started to slip. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. He went downhill fast, and he died the day before my twelfth birthday.

“When I was in the fifth grade, I came home from school one day and my grandmother was a wreck. She totally flipped out. By then there were times when my grandfather had no idea who we were or where we were. He would think it was, like, the fifties again and that my grandmother was his sister Paulette. The neighbors all sort of kept an eye on him during those times. But this one day he’d been doing pretty well. My grandmother had been ironing in her bedroom, watching television, and when she went to look in on him, he’d disappeared.”

Jim felt a sick twist in his gut. “Vanished? You mean like Jenny and Holly? You’ve been through something like this before?”

But Trix shook her head. “No. Nothing like this. He just … he wandered off because he didn’t know where he was. He barely knew who he was. Well, how far can an old man get, right? But by the time I got home from school, six hours had passed with no sign of him and my grandmother had started to freak out completely. She said there was only one person she knew of who could really help, and we got on the bus—she didn’t have a car and couldn’t afford a cab—and she brought me to the Old State House, to that same spot.”

Jim frowned. “But what is it?”

“I’m surprised you don’t know. You’ve lived in Boston your whole life, and you’ve never followed the Freedom Trail?”

“Maybe when I was a kid. What does—”

“The Boston Massacre. That’s the spot, right there in front of the Old State House, within spitting distance of the balcony.”

He knew the story well enough—colonials throwing snowballs at British soldiers posted in the city, taunting them until the situation became so tense that there was musket fire, killing five men. It had been one of the events that fed the growing anti-British sentiment that led to the Revolution. “You’ve totally lost me,” he said.

Now when Trix glanced at the front door of Abruzzi’s, Jim looked as well.

“What are you waiting for?” he asked.

Trix smiled nervously. “I’m getting to that.”

“Fine. So your grandmother took you to that spot?”

“And she asked for help—”

“Why would she—”

“Just fucking listen!” Trix hissed, eyes full of pain.

The dad at the next table gave them a nasty look, but Jim stared him down and he finally turned away.

“I’m sorry,” Trix said, taking a swig of her beer.

The waitress came and slid a basket of bread between them. Jim waited for her to walk away, then he took a piece and tore off a chunk. “Go on,” he said.

Trix hesitated, looked at the door, and then squeezed her eyes shut again. “All right. Short version. I’m sorry, it’s just so … Jenny’s the only person I’ve ever told this story, and now when it matters, it’s hard to figure out how to explain.”

Jim said nothing, just listening. From a speaker set into the ceiling above them, Sinatra sang about coffee. He chewed the bread and found it too dry to swallow, so he chased it down with a sip of water, then more whiskey.

Opening her eyes, Trix seemed to have come to a decision. “I’ll tell you what my grandmother told me. She said Boston had an Oracle, like in ancient Greece. This woman knew everything about the city.” Trix shook her head. “No, it was more than that. It was like … I don’t remember the words my grandmother used, but it’s like she shares a soul with the city. She knows every brick, right? Every corner. Something happens in Boston, she knows, whether it’s a secret or not. You know that saying about when a tree falls in a forest when there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a noise? The Oracle would hear. So people go to her. If your kid runs away and is still in the city, the Oracle can find him. If someone stole your car and dumped it, she can tell you where they left it. She knows where all the bodies are buried, literally.”

Jim pushed back into the red vinyl seat. “So how are there still unsolved murders?”

“You think the cops are going to ask ‘the Oracle of Boston’? Seriously?” Trix said. “It’d be like calling a psychic hot line. They wouldn’t risk their careers.”

Jim narrowed his eyes, staring at her. “Jesus. And you really believe in this?”

Trix sipped her beer, glaring at him. “I have to. It’s our only hope. And it worked once before.”

“It did?”

“Just listen. My grandmother took me to that spot, and we asked for help finding my grandfather. Then she brought me here. Her friend Celia had told her this was the place—that you asked for help and then you waited at De Pasquale Brothers, which was the name of this place back then. I cried a lot that afternoon, waiting here. Not my grandmother. Her eyes were red but she didn’t cry. The woman looked like her face had turned to stone.” Trix shook her head, gazing at the wall as though she could see through it, back across the years.

“And?” Jim said. “Did she come? The Oracle?”

Trix reached up and pushed a matted lock of pink hair from her eyes. “Do you think we’d be sitting here if she didn’t?”

The waitress arrived and slid the metal pizza tray onto the table. Jim and Trix stared at each other, both drinking, as the woman served them each a slice and then asked if there was anything else she could get them. They both muttered noncommittally, and the waitress hurried off to her next customer.

“You found your grandfather?”

Trix took a swig that drained the remains of her Heineken. “He’d been a tailor in Chinatown in his thirties and forties. He was walking up and down Harrison Avenue trying to figure out why the business wasn’t there anymore. He thought he was late for work and had gotten turned around.”

“And that was where this Oracle woman had told you he would be?”

Trix glanced at the door. That was answer enough for Jim.

“This is nuts,” he said.

She bit into her pizza, chewed, and swallowed that first bite. “If you have a better idea … if you have the first clue what the fuck we should do about this …” She laughed a little crazily and touched her hair. “Please share. Because I don’t think calling Missing Persons is going to bring Jenny and Holly back.”

As Trix ate, Jim stared at the pizza cooling on his plate. Perhaps two full minutes passed before he picked it up and started to eat, feeling with every bite like he was somehow betraying his wife and daughter by feeding himself. He should have been out on the street, visiting every place they had ever been, or back at home waiting for them to return. But inside, he knew that was foolish.

Trix caught him staring at her. “What?” she demanded.

“Just trying to adjust to your new look.”

Trix shook her hair back. “Me, too. You know, I’m not the only one who looks different.”

“What, me?”

She tapped her eyebrow. “Your scar, from the night you and Jenny went to the U2 concert? It’s gone.”

Jim reached up and ran his finger across the place where the scar ought to be, but he couldn’t muster shock or even surprise. He’d earned the scar in a quick exchange of fists with an asshole who’d groped Jenny’s ass at the concert. There had been blood in his eyes—the guy wore a ring with a Celtic design—and by the time he’d wiped it away they were all being thrown out. But that had never happened, so there was no scar.

“You’re in better shape, too,” Trix told him. “Leaner, maybe a little better built. In the car, when you hugged me, I could tell.”

Now that she mentioned it, he did feel different. For several seconds he studied her again, then he flagged the waitress as she went by. “Another whiskey, please.”

“Do you want another Heineken, honey?” the waitress asked Trix.

Trix laughed uneasily. “Damn right.”

And so they ate and drank and waited, talking very little. There was nothing they could have said that would not have seemed either redundant or ridiculously trivial.

But when the glasses were empty and they’d eaten their fill—and even after they had ordered coffee and the dregs were cooling—no one had come over to talk to them, and no one Trix recognized had come through the front door. The restaurant had a bar that ran its length, right across from the booth where they sat, and from what Jim could tell there weren’t even any single women there.

The waitress had brought the check, but they weren’t in a hurry to pay, though they could feel her silently willing them to give up the table. He had to fight the urge to be up and out of there, to be doing something—anything—to find out what had happened to Jenny and Holly. What would he do, Google “vanishing people”? He would get crazy Bermuda Triangle stories and Amelia Earhart.

Are you sure? he wondered, and realized he wasn’t.

Another twenty minutes went by, and the waitress had obviously become uncomfortable. If he and Trix had been talking, they wouldn’t have drawn any real attention, but even the bartender kept glancing at them uneasily because they just sat there, waiting.