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I was ashamed to admit that adrenaline was still coursing through my veins as I stalked out of the box and headed back to my desk. It seemed that Dante could still get under my skin without really trying, regardless of how hard I worked to keep my cool. No one knew my buttons the way he did, and he delighted in pushing them, often several at a time. It was as if he'd found just the right combination to irritate me to the greatest degree in the shortest amount of time, like the combo moves on those stupid video games he liked so much.

Glancing up when Mary approached my desk, her brow furrowed in something like concern, I just lifted my eyebrows.

"What?" I asked, a little more tersely than necessary.

"What was that all about?" she asked, one hand on her hip, and I sat back in my chair and folded my arms: an involuntary defensive gesture.

"What was what all about?" I knew damn well what she meant, but that wasn't the point. "I interrogated the suspect, deemed him unconnected to the situation at hand, and ordered for his release. Is that not protocol?"

She planted one hand on the edge of the desk and leaned forward, giving me that infernal view down the front of her blouse. I glanced away.

"You badgered your brother and threw him against the wall," she said. "I don't have to know what you two said to see most of it had nothing to do with the investigation." She shifted and folded her arms again, meaning it was safe to look back at her. "And you know as well as I do that $30K is excessive."

My eyes wheeled toward the ceiling. "Are you really going to lecture me about the rules, Mary? Because if that is your plan you may want to refamiliarize yourself with them." I leaned back in the chair a bit and folded my hands across my abdomen. "He has two .50 caliber assault weapons that he does not have a permit for, nor are they registered in the state of New York. Both were loaded upon confiscation, which is technically a Class C violent felony, and because they're both custom pieces, it's criminal possession in the second degree. That's a B felony."

Everyone seemed to hate the way I could just rattle off textbook information, but in cases like this it was useful, not pedantic, and I wished that my colleagues paid a little more attention to detail.

"He doesn't have $30,000. He said that after demanding four more packets of Splenda," she said, and I tilted my head.

"Well then I guess he'll be spending some time in the brig, won't he?" I said. "He most certainly does have $30,000, he just refuses to tap into his inherited funds. That isn't my problem." I shrugged one shoulder and craned my neck to work a knot out of it. "Maybe after spending a few days in jail he'll wisen up."

Unlikely.

"So, wait, you're really going to convict your brother of two felonies?" she asked, shaking her head. "Are you really that heartless?"

"I could get him on false personation and round everything off with a Class B misdemeanor as well, but I'm feeling generous today."

"Vergil..."

"Knowing my brother, I could probably book him on criminal mischief, loitering, and public indecency, too, but that would be more effort than I care to waste on him at the moment."

Mary thumped her fist on the front of the desk and glared at me. "You haven't seen him in like five years, and this is how you welcome him back into your life?" she asked, and now it was my turn to glower.

"Who's welcoming him?" I asked. "He's been alive for the past five years outside my knowledge because he changed his name, left the Hamptons, and hasn't touched our family's funds since I left for England. The ball's been in his court for half a decade, Mary; he could have looked me up at any time, and he never did."

I didn't want to admit the fact that it stung, either. Why the hell hadn't he said anything? Did he really believe I had left because I was looking to castigate him for dropping out of high school? Was he really that self-important? Just because he had no interest in bettering himself didn't mean I wasn't allowed to have goals.

What had happened these past five years? Dante had always been a bit of a point of vexation in my life, but I'd never seen such outright resentment in his eyes before. Dante was the blithesome, cheerful fool who didn't hold grudges; had I really done so wrong by him without even trying?

Rising from my chair, I grabbed my coat and rounded the desk.

"Where are you going now?" Mary asked, and I glanced over my shoulder.

"I need to talk to someone," I said. "Don't follow me."

"Well what am I supposed to do with your brother?"

"He can stay in the box for a few more hours if he wants," I said, "or if he gets disorderly you can toss him into one of the holding cells in the back." I shook a finger at her. "He's got an eye for you, though, so I would recommend cuffing and gagging him if you plan on spending any time in the same room."

She acknowledged this forewarning with an impatient sigh. "And his fines?" she asked. "He says he can't pay them."

"If they're not paid within 12 hours he has to go to the prison, Mary," I said, sliding my coat onto my shoulders as I lingered in the doorway. "You know the rules. Just put him in the cage in the back with the two guys they picked up earlier and be done with it."

"You're really throwing your own brother in jail," she mused, "on charges that shouldn't even really hold in this situation. His guns hadn't even been fired recently when we confiscated them."

"The law is the law," I replied, and she sat down on the edge of my desk. I frowned, but didn't scold her, mostly because I knew she would be right back at it as soon as I had left anyway. "You know it as well as I do."

The fact that I was deliberately being harsh was irrelevant; it was completely within the law to fine or imprison him for what he had done.

"Well next time you feel like pulling charges out of your ass you could see about pulling that stick out as well," she grumbled, leaning back on the desk and examining her fingernails.

I just rolled my eyes and pulled the door open. "Whatever, Mary."



Dante wasn't the only one who had disappeared while I was overseas. We had had a caretaker after our mother had died, since we were only fourteen at the time, but when I returned to find the house empty, I could only assume she had either left town or died as well. Her name hadn't been a terribly common one: if there had been a Beatrice Portinari anywhere in New York City I would have found her by now.

Recently, however, I had acquired a source. In the movies, a 'real' cop always has a guy who knew a guy, and I guessed it was really only a matter of time until I obtained one of my own. Joe Vega was not just a guy who knew a guy, however: he was a guy who knew everybody.

I was an incorrigible overachiever.

Joe was ex-CIA. He had essentially been the man retired CIA agents turned to when they needed to disappear, when they needed the fact that they had once been privy to all of America's secrets to no longer grace their list of credentials. Joe had been in the business of erasing people, which meant he was the guy to talk to when you needed to find someone who so far as you could tell no longer existed.

I hadn't bothered asking him to look for my brother--by the time Joe had become an entry in my Rolodex, I had long come to terms with the idea that Dante was dead--but if he could find Beatrice, maybe I would get a few answers.

"So what exactly is it that you're doing now?" I asked, leaning on the back of his chair in the dim light of his too-small apartment. Joe lived like a hacker: efficiency apartment stocked floor to ceiling with computer equipment, nothing in the kitchen but Red Bull and energy bars, and an overnight bag always packed in case anyone showed up to invite him into The Matrix.

"Well, there's 24 Portinaris in the city limits," he said, "but none of 'em match your credentials." He swept a hand across a list of names and addresses and lines of numbers of which I didn't know the significance, thinking for some reason they would enlighten me on details. They didn't.

"So what now?" I asked.

He spun in his chair and wheeled over to a different computer console, munching absently on an energy bar as he did so.

"So now," he said, wiping a crumb from his mouth that I backpedaled to avoid, "we'll have a look at a little word scramble."

"Word scramble?" I decided leaning on the back of the chair might not be such a good idea after all; there might have been crumbs I couldn't see.

"You know what an anagram is, right?" he asked, and I nodded.

"Yes, it's when the letters in a word or words are rearranged to create a different word or words." I folded my arms. "So?"

"So,"--he was getting crumbs all over his front again; why did all the people I associated with talk with their mouths full?--"anagrams are very common when people take up aliases."

"They are?" That seemed foolish to me. "Doesn't that make them easier to trace?"

"Yes and no," he replied, pulling up another results generator and then typing furiously with one hand while he nursed an energy drink with the other. "If your name is John Smith there ain't much to work with, but Beatrice Portinari? Now that's got all kinds'a possibilities."

He turned to glance at me, grinning, and I offered something that was closer to a grimace in return. Joe was an interesting character; he was brilliant and efficient, he was punctual and thorough, and he always returned his phone calls. He was small and thin, mousy, with large bottlecap glasses and arms that looked too thin to even carry groceries. He spoke with an almost unintelligibly thick Brooklyn accent. He had bright eyes and bad teeth and hair that never looked like it had been thoroughly washed. Joe was a bit shady, but I could always count on him to find me a door when I hit a wall.

Joe was not my friend, but he was useful.

Another few keystrokes, and a list of his alleged 'possibilities' was displayed on the screen. He wheeled himself back over to the other computer and typed a bit more, then wheeled to a third terminal, and I found myself wondering if Joe's posterior ever actually left that chair.

"Got her," he said, and I was genuinely surprised.

"That was fast."

"All those letters mean lots of ways to arrange 'em," he said, brushing those crumbs off his shirt, "but you gotta decide on one, in the end." He tapped one yellowed fingernail against the computer screen. "And we have a winner."

I leaned forward without actually touching the chair.

"Patricia Rebortine," I read, and took a moment to arrange the letters in my head. Huh. They really did spell Beatrice Portinari. It seemed like such a simple exchange--I was a little abashed that I hadn't thought of this myself. I pulled out my notebook and jotted down her address, then started to clap Joe on the shoulder before I thought better of it. "Much obliged," I said.

I never said 'thank you'.

"So you can get me the--?"

"Yes, yes, we have a confiscated box-set of the AO-Rated All-Nude PC game triumvirate in the back evidence room," I said, rubbing my forehead, "and I promise I will get it to you." Then I pointed at him. "But if it ever gets out that I so much acknowledged the existence of those games, I will tear out your spleen."

He threw both hands in the air. "Got it, copper, don't shoot," he sniggered, and then went back to his energy bar.

I let myself out of the apartment and hoped that I would not have need of my guy who knew a guy again anytime soon.



Queens had never been an area I minded visiting. It was full of history and had a pleasant garden, and was a surprisingly multicultural area. It was honestly about as close to worldly as New York City got.

I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that Beatrice was living in Middle Village--it had one of the largest Italian populations in the city. Beatrice had always seemed a bit perturbed by her Italian heritage, though she never seemed to outright begrudge it, or begrudge my family ours. She had been four years older than my brother and I, which had struck me as very young for a social worker, but she had been assigned to our case by the only next of kin we were aware of; a distant uncle of our father's had appointed her. I still found it eerie that I had been unable to track down uncle Enzo when I had visited Italy one summer. Perhaps now that my detection skills had increased, I would try again.

But one step at a time.

Joe's search had given me a fourth-floor apartment at 76th and Penelope, and as I climbed the steps I found myself wondering how anyone managed to move any furniture up three flights of stairs. Cresting the staircase, I turned a corner and headed down the hall in search of apartment 415. The door was painted an unhealthy green, and the brass 1 had fallen off, leaving only a faint glow of slightly less dirty paint in the shape of the number behind.

Stuffing my memo pad back into the pocket of my coat, I lifted a hand and rapped crisply on the door. I wasn't certain if I hoped she was home or not. When I received no answer after the first series of knocks, I tried again, and then moved a bit closer to the door to attempt to peer through the peephole from the outside.

"Beatrice?" I supposed it was only natural that a woman I presumed was living alone would hesitate to open her door for a stranger in the middle of the night. I wasn't the boy I had been when I left for Europe. "Beatrice, it's Vergil."

And then I stepped back and folded my hands together. Dante had forsaken me when I had left, and if Beatrice wished to do the same I could not stop her, but she had always been much more reasonable than my brother.

There was another beat of heavy silence, and I wasn't certain at first if the sound of soft, light footsteps beyond the door was wishful thinking or not. When I heard a series of clicks indicating several lock tumblers being lined up, however, I supposed that maybe one thing had the potential to go right today after all.

The door handle twisted slowly, almost hesitantly, and then the door opened to reveal the figure of a tall, slender woman silhouetted against the soft yellow light from within her apartment. My eyes adjusted to the sudden light (the bulb above the door was burnt out, so the hallway itself was rather dim), and she focused.

She looked exactly the same. Beatrice had always had one of those ageless faces--she had looked anywhere between 18 and immortal eternity then, and she still looked it now, as if time had simply decided to leave her untouched. Her hair was a bit longer now, and she still wore it long and touching her shoulders, which were draped in a wraparound robe made of some satiny material. It was embroidered with cranes and had long sleeves like she'd been dressed up to escort some classy Japanese businessman.

Oh, it was short, though. She still had legs that looked almost too long for her body.

There was a moment of quiet, and it wasn't until her voice broke through the haze of reminiscence--"Well, isn't this a surprise?"--that I realized I was still looking at her legs. Straightening, undaunted, I met her eyes, and she smiled that thin Mona Lisa smile of hers, wordlessly stepping back and making a sweeping gesture of invitation.

It looked like she was still more reasonable than my brother.

"Apologies for dropping by so late," I said, not bothering to acknowledge her alias or how I had discovered it. If she cared, she would ask.

I turned to her as she moved to close the door behind me.

She just shook her head. The muted television and rolled-open fashion magazine on the coffee table indicated she hadn't been sleeping anyway. She had always kept odd hours, as I recalled. I noted absently that she took an extra moment to make certain that all the locks--all seven of them--were in place before she turned back to me.

"It's still early for me," she said, folding her arms over her chest then.

"You look well." I figured she remembered I had never been good at smalltalk, but after five years of separation, diving right into questions would have been rude.

"You as well," she replied, something appreciative in her gaze, in her smile, and I wasn't quite sure what the look was for. The expression was gone as soon as it was there, however, and she strode past me.

She really hadn't changed at all: she still commanded an entire room simply by being in it. Her presence was encompassing without being suffocating, and she held the floor even when others were speaking. There was a strength and power to her now that had been there since the day I had met her, and five years had done nothing to dull or diffuse it. Yet looking at her still made something ache, old and cold and mostly healed but not quite enough to be forgotten--an old bruise that was no longer visible but still bloomed with pain when pressed.

She still reminded me of my mother.

"Anything to drink?" she asked, tearing me from my forgotten musings.

I shook my head. "I appreciate the offer, but I don't intend to overstay my welcome," I said, the usual no-nonsense tone bleeding into my voice then. That was sufficient smalltalk. I folded my hands behind my back then, regarding her where she stood in the little alcove near the kitchen.

She nodded at my decline, turning and tugging the fridge open to retrieve herself... a beer. Yes, she was still the same Beatrice. It was something imported, from the look of the label, but it was still beer. I would never understand how she could drink the stuff. She and Dante had had a few wonderfully illegal underage bashes during our high school years, and the first beer they had forced me to try remained the last I had ever consumed. It tasted like fermented mulch water, so far as I was concerned.

She lifted the beer in something like a silent toast, then leaned back on the counter, crossing her ankles.

I could have asked a thousand questions. I could have asked why she hadn't stayed in the Hamptons. I could have asked why she had made no effort to contact me when I returned from London. I could have asked if she even knew Dante was still alive, or if she had seen him recently, or if she knew what he had been doing only 90 minutes earlier. But I was not a man to mince words.

"What happened when I left for Europe?" I asked. It was an all-encompassing question, and I hoped it would provide the answers to those which I had not yet figured out how to ask.

She paused in thought only a moment. "If you're asking, you must have some idea," she accused benignly, tapping her manicured nails on the top of the beer can before popping it open and taking a sip. The can lingered at her lower lip as she asked, "You do, don't you?"

My hand moved, unbidden, to press my thumb against the ridge of my eyebrow. "When I returned to find the house empty and our father's funds untouched," I said, my words a little strained, "I figured Dante had gotten himself killed. And when I couldn't find your name listed anywhere, I figured you had skipped town or died with him." Dante had always been closer to her than I had. He had embraced her as a surrogate mother, and I had kept her at arm's length. She hadn't been sent to us as a replacement, and I would never regard her as one.

I folded my hands again.

'How long did he stay?' I wanted to ask. 'Why did he never access the money that was rightfully his?' I wanted to know. 'Why did you disappear?' I tried to inquire.

"Did he really hate me so much?" was all I could get my tongue to form.

Her face twisted briefly with suppressed pain, but the emotion faded quickly, leaving her looking simply uncomfortable. "He doesn't hate you," she said, and I noted that she had spoken in the present tense. So she had been in touch with him, then. "Quite the opposite, in fact," she added, taking another sip of her beer in lieu of expounding.

She was so infuriatingly practical sometimes. This was not her problem to work out: she wasn't going to offer any hints.

She shifted a bit and tilted her head ever so slightly. "Should I ask for the details of how you two met up or wait for the more dramatic version?"

My lip curled with contempt and I spun away from her. "Of all the ways I ever thought I might chance to meet my brother again," I snarled, "I never once entertained the idea of arresting him."

I figured she probably knew what I'd been up to since returning from England. Of the three of us I was the only one still using the same name I'd had five years ago--it wasn't like it was hard to figure out where I was. Beatrice had always had a knack for knowing more than anyone thought, to boot.

There was a beat of silence, and then she said, "Sounds like you're having a fun night." Her sarcasm was rarely malignant, but even her well-intentioned attempts at levity did nothing to smooth my frazzled nerves.

I turned back to her and half-glowered, though I hoped she wouldn't take it as anger directed at her. "He was the last thing I expected to find at the bust," I said, "and the last thing I wanted to find there." I didn't bother to clarify. Once upon a time, I would have done anything for my brother, infuriating as he had been, and I had known he would have done the same. Now, I found myself wondering if he would even notice or care--or accept my help at all--if I tried. Had I really screwed up so thoroughly? I couldn't decide if I was ashamed, disappointed, or just furious with myself.

Realizing I had avoided her eyes again, I dragged my gaze back to hers, then made a silent gesture to beckon her out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. There were very few people I could stand in immediate proximity. Beatrice had been one of them, and speaking to her from across the room felt too distant. Dante may have been a lost cause, and maybe it had been my own damn fault, but he and Beatrice were the only family I had left, and I wanted to protect that for as long as I could.

She obliged me, sitting down on the arm of the sofa, her arms folded, her beer still caught in her fingers. In a way, she was guilty of the same things Dante was, but I couldn't find it in me to condemn her the way I did him. Maybe it was because she had acknowledged me when our eyes had met, whereas Dante had just grinned and ignored me and resisted arrest like the fool street punk he was. Or maybe it was because she looked so much like my mother, whom I could never quite manage to truly begrudge anything, try as my prepubescent self had inevitably wanted to.

I sat down in the chair adjacent to the sofa without asking permission, but sat hunched and uncomfortable all the same. "He changed his name, left no trace behind..." I shook my head and scowled at my hands. "He didn't want me to find him." I looked up at her again. "So I find myself wondering why I did."

"I think he did," she replied quietly after a moment, and then grinned. "He won't admit it for the life of him, of course."

I wasn't sure I believed her.

"But that's not my story to tell," she continued, and I frowned at her. She tilted her head again, almost imperceptibly. "That's why you're here, isn't it?"

I sighed, smearing my hands down my face and then raking them back through my hair.

"He's a fool," I said, controlled anger in my voice. "He's hiding from something, hiding behind a fake name and false bravado..." I scoffed derisively and sat back in the chair then. "And as usual, I have no idea what to do with him. I've got him downtown right now, and he's too damn proud to pull the money that's rightfully his to pay his own way out." I hesitated for only a moment, then looked down at my hands where they were folded in my lap. "I thought he was five years dead," I said, "and now suddenly I kind of want to strangle him with my own hands."

She was quiet for a long time as I spoke, and I was something like grateful that she was still good at listening. Dante never kept anything to himself--happiness, rage, fear, he wore them all on his sleeves. I had always felt like I needed to compensate by keeping my cards close to my chest... which had led to inevitable stewing and festering of emotions into what probably should have manifested into full-blown mental illness by now. I was either lucky or talented.

Beatrice rose then, moving toward the door, and for a moment I genuinely thought she was going to ask me to leave. Maybe threatening to throttle my brother had crossed a line. There was a shuffling sound then, and I turned to see her rummaging through her purse, on a stand near the door. There was a tall, expensive looking vase on the stand, though it was bereft of flowers. It looked like something that might have been in the old house in the Hamptons, but I couldn't quite remember.

Turning back toward me and leaning forward, she extended her hand toward me, a single silver key caught in her fingers. "Don't let me stop you," she said, smiling faintly.

I didn't hesitate, taking the key and staring at it a moment before sliding it into my pocket. Maybe Dante would be more likely to explain himself on his own turf.

That in mind...

"I have a favor to ask you," I said, rising again and straightening the front of my slacks. She lifted her eyebrows inquiringly, and I reached into one of the inner pockets of my coat, which I had not removed. I withdrew from it three stacks of rubber-banded hundred-dollar notes. $30,000. "That idiot refuses to touch our father's money," I said, offering the bills to her. "He's a fool, but he doesn't belong in jail. Not for this." I shook my head. "I can't pay it for him, for obvious reasons."

She accepted the cash wordlessly, not bothering to count it for the same reason I was not worried about giving it to her. I could count the people I truly trusted on one hand, and I would have had fingers left over, but for as difficult as she was to read at times there had never been a lack of confidence between us. She went back to her purse and slid the money inside, then leaned over, appearing to write something down.

"603," she said, twisting to hand me a slip of paper with an intersection written on it--Pelham Parkway North and Wallace Avenue--he lived in the Bronx? "Be sure to watch the first floorboard when you step in. He's been meaning to 'fix' it for a few months."

I reached into my pocket and withdrew a business card, handing it to her.

"If you need to get a hold of me," I said unnecessarily, and then took a step toward the door. I was no better at visiting than I was at smalltalk, and now that I had accomplished what I had come to do, I was out of amenable ammunition.

She slid the card into her robe. I blinked. She turned then and unlatched the locks on the door. I found myself wondering why she felt she needed seven locks in Queens, but supposed that was an investigation for another day. One step at a time. She tugged the door open and gave me a small grin.

"I'll be sure to set up the signal, Commissioner," she said, and I actually found myself letting out a hint of a chuckle as I walked through the doorway and back out into the obscured shadows of the hallway.

"Don't be a stranger," I said, waving over one shoulder as I headed for the stairs. I heard the door close behind me.

I really had no more answers than when I had arrived--on the contrary, I felt like now I had more questions--but progress had been made regardless. Now all I had to do was invite myself over to Dante's apartment, let myself in, wait for him to return home, and attempt to initiate civil conversation.

Right, this was going to be a piece of cake.

[Next Chapter -->]

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