By ANDREW FLYNN, Storyteller
Not more than 15 minutes after hopping on the elevator up to his hotel room, Levi appeared back in the lobby in a crisp new shirt and jeans. He had freshened up quickly, so the scent of new rolled-on Old Spice and generic hotel bar soap pervaded the immediate area around him. He signaled over to his sister, who sat on the aforementioned lobby sofa.
“Look at you, all washed up,” Stephanie chided.
“Second wind. Nice to have after the ridiculous amount of time it takes to get from JFK to here,” said Levi.
“I guess you coulda driven here in about as much time. Might’ve saved you the hassle.”
“Nah, being here is too important. Can’t leave the open road to get you anywhere fast.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“So are you hungry? I mean we’re here in Chicago, so the day is our oyster.”
“Actually, brother, I want to get out of closed quarters and go for a walk across the street.”
“Good as place as any. It’s where our president spoke a few years ago on Election Night.”
“Sure was. Let’s go.”
The siblings headed out of the hotel, and Dale shot them a two-finger salute as they left the lobby. After they had crossed the street, they quickly found themselves at Buckingham Fountain. Fresh polish dogs in hand, they continued to catch up.
“Mmmm, phmmm, man this is so tasty,” Levi exclaimed with a mouthful of half-chewed hotdog.
“You’re going to kill my diet, you know.” Stephanie said.
“Ha-ha. But how often do you really treat yourself, anyways?”
“Good point. Oh, I want to eat four more of these!”
“It’s on me. This whole couple of days is taken care of, so don’t you even try to open up your purse like you just did back at the hotdog guy.”
“If ya say so, Bro.”
“And don’t you forget it. I won’t hear of it again.”
“So things are going well back in New York?”
“Eh, they could be better. But the job always keeps me busy, and there really isn’t ever a dull moment working my beat.”
“I still can’t believe you became a cop. For the NYPD no less. Unbelievable.”
“In the beginning, I has trepidation it wouldn’t work out. But after Academy, things felt right and it’s been going well. Up until the last few months.”
“And what happened in the last few months?”
“That’s actually part of this, us being here.”
Stephanie stopped in her tracks right there, demanding more information. She took a seat, right at the edge of the fountain. Levi followed her lead.”
“I kind of took a sabbatical from the force.”
“Like a forced one, or was it your choice?”
“It’s complicated. What’s important right now though is that I want to be super-honest with you.”
“Levi, you’re making me nervous.”
“Oh, no, no, no. Please don’t be. This is all with good intentions. I mean, you’re here, and I’m here, and we’re catching up, and this is really, really good.”
“Then what gives?”
“Well, I started looking into where Pop was those few months ago, and, er, uh, I need your help.”
“I see. And I don’t see. Where do I come in on this?”
“That’s where I don’t really even know yet. I just know that I need to get back to Blue Springs pretty soon and look through Dad’s records and all that. And since you still live in the house, you might be able to steer me in a direction.”
“Direction? Look, Levi, you’re really upsetting me.”
“Steph, yeah, sure, so I had an ulterior motive for our meeting here. But don’t hate me for it. I just really want to find out why Dad left so suddenly and without really a trace. And those damn Christmas cards, which I don’t know how he even got my New York address, but maybe that’s part of it.”
“So you want to track down Dad and then what?” Stephanie asked impatiently. “Then what?”
Levi was bold and resolute: “Then to find out the truth.”
Stephanie was now pacing back and forth in front of her brother, gestating with her hands as anyone in her distressed state-of-mind would do.
“Dang it, Levi. What makes now the time to do this?”
“I know. I kick myself every day for not trying to do it sooner. I guess I just realized it was time to get on with it. And now it’s been a year since Mom’s left us. So why not now?
“I don’t know. You should’ve told me that this was on your mind so much lately. I do have a phone, you know.”
“I’m sorry. How are things back in Blue anyways?”
Stephanie shot Levi a nasty look. He raised his eyebrows, remembering from their childhood that when she looked at him this way, nothing good was to follow. Her eyes welled up.
“Well it’s not good,” she said. “I mean I keep up the house and everything, but it’s not anything spectacular. I pretty much don’t have a life.”
“Oh, Steph, I’m sorry. I’ve really been a bad brother.”
“It’s both of us. What’s happened to us, Levi?”
The wind picked up as the sun was beginning to set over the tall buildings on Michigan Avenue. The siblings conversed at length over the next two hours, reminiscing on everything that has happening to them over the last couple of years. Just as night began to fall, they picked themselves up from their current location at Buckingham Fountain, and headed back through Grant Park towards Levi’s hotel.
“Hey it’s getting dark out. Look, let’s go get something to eat. It’s been a long day, and those dogs won’t sustain us,” Levi admitted.”
“I could go for a bite. We should get some something sparkling and toast it, you know, for Mom.”
“Hey that’s a really good idea. But you drink now?”
“No, no. Goodness no. I mean like some Martinelli’s or at least some ginger ale.”
“Ah, phew. For a minute there, I thought you might’ve taken up a new hobby back home.”
This only mildly offended Stephanie, and she went on defending herself. “Jackson’s a dry county. Has been forever. You know that.”
“I guess there’s always the next one over, you know.”
“You’re being silly right now. You must be hungry. Calling my sobriety into question.”
“My mistake. But toasting Mom is a great idea.”
“I just really miss her. Things aren’t the same without her.”
“Nothing’s been the same for awhile now.”
Levi turned to his sister and stopped her right as they were about to walk into the Congress Plaza hotel lobby. He took her hands in his, and looked deeply into her eyes.
“Stephanie, with your help, I really do think we can figure this out. What could possibly get in the way of a brother and sister on the pursuit of truth?”
“I just don’t know. It all still hurts so much. Dad left, then you left, then Mom’s decline. Rapid decline, I might add.”
“Her health was bad, I know. Can’t believe the cancer returned so quickly and metastasized.”
“It wasn’t the cancer that killed her, you know.”
“How do you mean?”
“Are you really that naïve, Levi?”
“It grew malignant, and then it was only a matter of time.”
“Christ, she didn’t die from that!”
Levi’s eyes blared open. For his sister to take their Lord’s name in vain like that, she must have had a reason.
“She died of a broken heart.”