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Famous Fathers and Other Stories
Im at Mikes office and its Friday, late in the afternoon, so the sun is slipping down. The view up here is great, there are no clouds, no pastels–all I see is a bright yellow ball. My office has forwarded a call from my sister Gin because I told them Id be at Mikes, working on my taxes, and Im on his desk phone. The mouthpiece smells like old cigar. Mikes on the thirty-second floor of One Shell Square. Hes behind his desk, tilted back in his chair, feet up, and in the plate glass window behind him I can see the Superdome. Ive just uncorked the bottle of wine I brought up in my purse, and Im wiping out two stained coffee mugs.
Gin asks if I can talk and I say, “Sure, Im at Mikes.” She groans. “Whats up?” I say. I print SISTER on a yellow Post-it note and stick it below the V of my sweater, and Mike smiles and straightens the papers on his desk. He likes the top of it clean. Gins talking fast. She says shes been following our father around Laurel, Maryland, and something strange is going on. Gins in military intelligence, stationed in Annapolis, and no one in the family is sure what she does except that she interprets covert photos from hostile countries. Our parents live together in New Orleans, but our fathers up there in Maryland on a business trip, just a few miles from Gin and her husband, Gerry.
Gin says, “Dads been here almost a week and hasnt been by. I went to the Marriott where he usually stays, but hes not registered.”
“Youre worried?” I hear her pop open the top on a can.
She says, “Dads in a green Taurus, camel interior.”
I wedge the phone between my chin and shoulder and pour red wine into the mugs. “Emma Peel, you are.”
“The car gets returned Tuesday; prepaid the gas.”
Mikes phone cord is twisted and I drop the receiver for a second and let the tangle spin out. I can hear her down there, impatient, asking if Im listening. “Dr. Pepper in the drink holder?” I say, when I get back on.
“Pay attention, Renny,” she says.
“Im listening,” I say. Mike is suddenly touching my neck and I lean back so hell kiss my hair.
Gin and Gerry have been married for ten years and have a little girl. Im not married anymore, but Mike is, and there are pictures of his family on the console behind him. I walk over with the phone, pick up the frames and look more closely. Everyones cute. Theres a ski trip, the son on a dock in an orange life jacket, Mike sitting on a wall in some crumbly golden-lit Spanish town. He turns in his chair and rubs his hand on my calf, along my black fishnets and up under the edge of my skirt, tries to push me from there and I brush his hand away.
“I traced Dads car,” she says, “by satellite, and found it in Claires driveway.”
“Claire?” I say. Claire is an ex-student of our fathers. Hes a music professor at the University of New Orleans, and shes a singer, a mezzo-soprano, from Shreveport, but now shes in graduate school at the University of Maryland, where our parents have old friends in the department. Our father wrote letters, helped her get the scholarship.
“What do you think?” Gin says.
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