complimented his ear, now half a size larger. He ran cold water and splashed it liberally over his head and face. Samuel slowly stood up straight and stared in the mirror, struggling to conjure up his parents’ faces. His legs weak, he wobbled over to the toilet and plopped down, head in his hands.
“I want to go home,” he whimpered softly, wondering if God could hear him. He gathered himself as best he could, kicked off his shoes, and removed his khaki pants, socks and underwear .
“I’m coming for you,” he heard a familiar voice whisper in his head.
It was his godfather, Uncle Robert.
Yes, Uncle Robert and Aunt Thorne, they’ll come get me. I know they will.
Encouraged, Samuel knelt down and prayed, asking God to help him.
The longer he prayed, the stronger he felt.
“Hurry up in there,” Father Sin’s grizzly voice growled.
Samuel stood. “I’m almost finished,” he said, mustering as much strength as he could, not wanting to appear defeated. He heard Father Sin give a huff and stomp away.
Despite the pain searing his face, he felt better. There were people looking for him, people who loved him, and would die for him. He quickly put on the clothes, dried his hair and face, stopping to gaze at the smile plastered on the now not-so-cute boy looking back. He’d do what he thought his godfather would do. Play it cool. Watch and wait. He’d find a way to help whoever was searching for him, and if he got an opening, he’d run away.
An almost sinister calm fell over him. He opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the cabin, where Sister Bravo and Father Sin were standing and waiting as the others slept. Samuel sat down on the couch and picked up his mug.
“Can I please have some more?” he asked, subdued and cool. “And may I have something to eat?”
Sister Bravo walked over and kissed his cheek. “Forgive me for hitting you,” she said, taking his cup.
Samuel smiled. Father Sin didn’t.
H alfway to Lake Forest, a small suburb, thirty-one miles outside of Chicago, Robert took several measured breaths and flexed his hands out of nervousness. Freeway signs and highway shrubbery a blur, he gritted his teeth and suppressed the primal urge to bellow at the top of his lungs.
Samuel’s voice played in his head. “Uncle Robert, how come you don’t have any children?”
“I have a son.”
Samuel’s eyes widened. “Where is he?” Robert smiled. “I’m looking at him.” The rented, black, two-ton Explorer sped down Interstate 94 like a guided missile, weaving in and out of traffic, Robert barely aware of others on the road. For the first time since he and Thorne opened shop as guns-for-hire, the pangs of victim, not savior, filled his gut like hot coals, scorching his soul. More than he cared to remember, he’d sat in living rooms and offices across the globe, watching husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, lament feverishly to the point of collapse over a loved one. But now, his usually well-weaved nerves felt weak, unsteady and unraveled.
Get it together. You’ve done this before, and you’ve never lost one yet. Samuel won’t be the first.
Slowly, Robert’s pulse eased back to normal, his shoulder muscles and jaw relaxed. Two miles from St. Paul Catholic, the elementary school Samuel attended, he gathered himself, his surroundings a clearer presence. He heard the wind whistle through a crevice in the passenger door and bang against the windows. The partly cloudy sky cast a soft light on the surrounding area, much brighter than the veil of darkness his mood blanketed everything with earlier. The artificial scent of strawberries, from an air freshener the rental car clerk gave him, reemerged in his nostrils, signaling the near full return of self-control.
He found a jazz station on the radio at FM 89.3, Northwestern University’s station, and recalled the letters he and Samuel often wrote each other. Pen pals since the boy could scribble in
Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Christine Feddersen-Manfredi