But she comes up with nothing.

She wasn’t sure what to expect when she arrived here; the villa and the island are as foreign as Neptune. What she finds surprising are the small flashes of her own influence that she stumbles across. All of the beds, she’s noticed, have six pillows, along with one oversized decorative pillow against the headboard, one small square decorative pillow in front, and a cylindrical bolster. This is exactly how Irene dresses the beds at home; she had no idea Russ had ever noticed. Also, the wine Russ keeps on hand—cases of it, on the ground floor—are her two favorites: Cakebread and Simi. It’s almost as if Russ expected her to show up for a drink one day.

She wouldn’t say these details made her feel at home, although they do provide a connection. This was her husband’s house. Her husband’s house. And now her husband is dead. These pieces of news that were, initially, so difficult to conceive, she’s now finally processing.

This is Russ’s house.

Russ is dead.

She’s also becoming acclimatized to life here—the temperature, the surroundings, the particulars of the villa—kind of the way one gets used to the thin air at altitude after a few days. Irene remembers when she and Russ used to visit Cash in Breckenridge; she would suffer from shortness of breath, headaches, strange dreams—and then these symptoms would gradually fade away.

She supposes this goes to show that one can get used to anything.

Seeking out Captain Sam Powers—Huck—had been a bold move, Irene knows. She had desperately wanted to hold someone accountable. She can’t confront Rosie, but why not Rosie’s parents? Huck had been nothing like what Irene had expected. First of all, he was not Rosie’s biological father but her stepfather, married to Rosie’s deceased mother. Secondly, he was kind—gruff, yes, at first, and unenthusiastic about talking to her (can she blame him?), but he seemed to understand that they were in the same boat (so to speak). Irene had stunned herself by asking to go fishing, and Huck had further stunned her (and likely himself) by agreeing. He could easily have told her to go away and leave him alone. He owed her nothing. He had lost a daughter, and Irene could see that his pain equaled her own; he deserved a day out on his boat by himself. That they had enjoyed such a cathartic and successful outing and that this dinner had evolved from that says… what? That misery loves company, she supposes. That they are not enemies but rather casualties of the same sordid circumstances.

Huck likely has as many questions for her as she does for him, but of course, she has no answers.

She’d had such an easy time finding Huck first thing Monday morning that she tries to track down Todd Croft. Cash had checked with Paulette, who had no contact information for Croft. Paulette dealt only with Marilyn Monroe and with pilot Stephen Thompson—an associate, she said, from the British Virgin Islands.

Irene tries Marilyn Monroe’s number again, but it’s still disconnected.

She tries the Ascension webpage, but—just as Baker had claimed—it won’t load. Someone took it down.

Russ’s cell phone isn’t in the house, though Irene has called it several times each day. Every time the phone starts ringing, her heart tenses in anticipation. Will today be the day that Russ answers? Is he alive somewhere? No: after two rings, it clicks over to generic voicemail. Irene doesn’t even have the luxury of hearing Russ’s recorded voice; if she did, she would likely scream at him each time.

She tries to access Russ’s cell phone records. She knows his phone number, of course, but the phone bill was paid by Ascension, and she has no idea which carrier he uses—she tries contacting AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile but gets nowhere. She wonders if he uses a carrier out of the British Virgin Islands, but here she grows frustrated. Even if she figures out the carrier, she doubts they’ll give her access to his call log without a court order.

Russ said that he’d been acquainted with Todd Croft at Northwestern, so Irene calls the Northwestern alumni office to see if they have contact information. They don’t. Irene could potentially ask one of Russ’s other friends from Northwestern—Leo Pelusi or Niles Adrian—but she hasn’t seen either of them since their wedding thirty-five years earlier. She has their mailing addresses—they exchange Christmas cards every year—but not phone numbers or email addresses. Russ doesn’t go to reunions. The last time he went to Northwestern was eight years ago, for Baker’s graduation.

A garden-variety Google of the name Todd Croft, paired with the name Ascension and then separately with Miami, yields nothing fruitful.

Irene grows frustrated. In this day and age, everyone has a digital profile. Someone just told her that, but who? Mavis Key! Mavis Key had explained to Irene and Irene’s boss, Joseph Feeney, that with some new software they could learn a lot more about their subscribers’ purchasing habits.

Irene is just desperate enough to do the unthinkable. She calls Mavis Key.

“Hey, Irene,” Mavis says. She sounds both surprised and concerned. “I heard you had a family emergency. Is everything okay?”

Everything is the opposite of okay, Irene wants to say. My husband is dead and he had a secret life. She should have thought this conversation through before she dialed. She needs to convey that the family emergency is real without disclosing even a hint about what has happened.

“Things are difficult right now,” Irene says. “Very difficult. But I can’t get into it. I called you because I need help finding someone.”

“Finding someone,” Mavis says. “I’m at the Java House getting a chai.” Before Irene can think that of course Mavis Key is downtown on the pedestrian mall, where all the hip university students hang out, ordering a “chai,” whatever that is, Mavis adds, “Let me sit down with my laptop. I love detective work.”

Irene feels herself relax. Mavis sounds self-assured. She’s thirty-one years old, roughly the age of Irene’s children, and she exudes both confidence and competence. Irene cherishes competence in everyone, even Mavis Key.

“The man’s name is Todd Croft,” Irene says. “He’s in his mid- to late fifties. He’s a banker—a businessman—in Florida, I think. Miami. His business is called Ascension. He went to Northwestern.”

Mavis double-checks the spelling of Croft and of Ascension, then Irene can hear her fingertips flying across a keyboard. LinkedIn, Mavis murmurs. Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook. This is a world Irene has actively resisted. People encouraged her to start a Facebook page about her home renovation, but she had been so immersed in the work itself that there had been no time left over to document it.

“I’m not finding him,” Mavis says. “Do you know where he worked before Ascension? Do you know if he has kids, or where they went to school? Do you know where in Miami he lives? Do you know if he owns property?”

“I don’t,” Irene admits. She chastises herself for being so impetuous; it isn’t like her. Now Mavis will go back to the office and tell everyone that Irene is looking for a fifty-something banker from Miami—and what will people think?

Well, whatever they think, it won’t be as awful as the truth.

“Never mind,” Irene says. “I just called on a whim. I need to get a hold of this gentleman because he has some information that will assist with my family issues. But thanks anyway, Mavis.”

“Oh,” Mavis says. “No problem. When do you think you’ll be back? The office isn’t the same without you. We’re kind of like a bunch of crazed teenagers when Mom is away.”

Irene imagines Beyoncé and Drake playing at full blast over the office sound system, microwave popcorn ground into the rug of the common room, long, expensed lunch breaks at Formosa, and the entire staff cutting out early for craft cocktails in the name of “team building.” Everyone at the magazine probably views Irene as a schoolmarm, smacking her yardstick into her palm. Irene offers a paltry laugh. “I’ll be back next week to restore order,” she says. “Thanks, Mavis.” She can’t hang up fast enough.

The boys leave for dinner. Irene asks them to stay out until eleven, a request that is met with blank stares. Neither of them has asked what she’s planning. They’re afraid of her, she realizes. They’re afraid that at any minute she’s going to crack and all of her ugly emotions are going to come flying out. That’s fine—they can think what they want, as long as they give her privacy tonight.

She pulls things out of the fridge that she can serve with grilled mahi. Camembert with crackers to start, pasta salad and the makings of a green salad as sides. There’s a fruit salad she can serve for dessert with packaged cookies. Food is the least of her worries.

She pours herself a glass of wine, the first since she left the Pullman Bar & Diner six days ago. Thinking about the Pullman and Prairie Lights leads Irene to thoughts of Milly. Cash called Milly on Saturday evening and Milly had been unable to come to the phone. What must Milly think? That they’ve abandoned her?

Irene grabs her cell phone and calls Milly while she sets the table for two. She debates setting out candles. They’re more flattering than the outdoor lighting, but will Irene be sending the wrong message? The boys were kind enough not to ask why she was wearing a sundress and earrings (possibly they hadn’t noticed). Irene wants to look nice and normal, though not like she’s trying too hard. She has left her hair hanging down her back, still damp from the shower. No makeup; it’s best if Huck sees her how she really is.


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