This deplorable Chicago traffic, I hate it. A trip that should have taken half an hour has taken me fifty minutes, and I am still driving. I pass a sign for the zoo and consider stopping by it on my return. What is the price of a ticket nowadays? Probably exorbitant, just like everything else in this world.
I stop at a red light and glance again at the napkin, tucked into my GPS holder. Valencia Marianne Beltramo. 630-555-7538. 8703 Cherryvale Lane, Brookfield IL. Should I have called her before I come? I know her hours at work; she should be home. If not--I have a lockpicking set. I've never been able to use it, but I can at least try.
"In one thousand feet, turn right onto Cherryvale Lane."
I named the voice in my GPS Suzanne, after my eldest sister. They both excel at giving instructions. I slow, waiting for the silver pickup in the right lane to fly past me, before I change lanes and turn. So far, Valencia's neighborhood is lovely. Large trees grace manicured lawns, and the houses are like brick plantations.
"In four point three miles, your destination will be on the left."
After I pass an elementary school and Creamy Cups, the coffee shop at which Valencia works, the houses begin to get smaller. Most of them are vinyl siding now, and here and there I spot a duplex. Yet still they are modest, like my own apartment. Not extravagant, not impoverished. I respect Valencia's choice of neighborhoods.
I start scanning the house numbers. 8673 at one stop sign, 8685 at the next. Finally, I see a Kia in a driveway and park at a public park a few blocks away. The walk and the fresh air will do me good.
Valencia's house is well kept-up. The yard is mowed, and pink roses grace the flowerbeds with their color and the yard with their fragrance. There is a small tea table and two small chairs on the porch. I wonder if Valencia sat out here with her late husband, drinking wine and discussing their futures.
I put on a pair of light gloves--the weather is just cool enough for them to be socially acceptable--before I ring the doorbell. A cat meows at me.
I hear the lock turn, and Valencia herself opens the door--just enough to see me, not enough to let me in. She is so much more beautiful than her photograph on the internet. Her eyes are bright brown, swimming with flecks of light. And her face--the face of an angel from heaven! She looks kind and innocent and as sweet as gelato.
"Can I help you, sir?"
Her voice is annoyed. How long have I stood staring at her?
"Ah, yes. Max de Angelis. You received my email?"
She returns my smile and opens the door wider. "Come in, Mr. de Angelis."
I open a file, with the logo of Creamy Cups carefully Photoshopped on the front. I even made myself a badge that declares myself a regional manager of the coffee shop which was, according to me, about to become a chain. "Lovely house, Miss Beltramo," I say, blinking past my watering eyes. "Might I ask for a glass of water? I didn't know you had cats. I'm allergic, I'll need to take a Benadryl."
"Of course. I'll put him away real quick. I'm sorry." She gets me a glass of water from a filter attached to her sink. Her house is lovely, much nicer than the outside, with dark wood furniture and a large, flatscreen television. And yet nothing looks needlessly expensive. This is not how criminals live, further assuring me that Valencia Marianne Beltramo is innocent of anything the deplorable New Yorker will accuse her of.
You will not be Target Twenty-Eight, Valencia. You will be Rescue Fifty-Five.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.