The old front door had a center oval of frosted glass, but the beveled border allowed her to see the distorted figure of Mr. Bronicki. She wished she could pretend she wasn't home, but he lived across the alley, so he'd seen her pull up in Sherman. Although Wicker Park had lost many of its elderly to gentrification, a few holdouts still lived in the houses where they'd raised their families. Others had moved into a nearby senior living facility, and still others lived on the less expensive fringe streets. Every one of them had known her grandmother.
“Hello, Mr. Bronicki.”
“Annabelle.” He had a lean, wiry build and gray caterpillar eyebrows with a Mephistophelean slant. The hair missing from his head sprouted copiously from his ears, but he was a natty dresser, wearing long-sleeved checked sports shirts and polished oxfords even on the warmest days.
He glared at her from beneath his satanic eyebrows. “You was supposed to call me. I left three messages.”
“You were next on my list,” she lied. “I've been out all day.”
“And don't I know it. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Myrna used to stay put so people could find her.” He had the accent of a born-and-bred Chicagoan and the aggression of a man who'd spent his life driving a truck for the gas company. He bulldozed past her into the house. “What are you going to do about my situation?”
“Mr. Bronicki, your agreement was with my grandmother.”
“My agreement was with Marriages by Myrna, 'Seniors Are My Specialty,' or have you forgotten your grammie's slogan?”
How could she forget, when it was plastered over every one of the dozens of yellowed notepads Nana had scattered around the house? “That business no longer exists.”
“Bull pippy.” He made a sharp gesture around the reception area, where Annabelle had exchanged Nana's wooden geese, silk flower arrangements, and milk-can end tables for a few pieces of Mediterranean-style pottery. Since she couldn't afford to replace the ruffled chairs and couches, she'd added pillows in a cheery red, cobalt, and yellow Provencal print that complemented the creamy new buttercup paint.
“Addin' some doodads don't change a thing,” he said. “This is still a matchmaker business, and me and your grammie had a contract. With a guarantee.”
“You signed that contract in 1989,” she pointed out, not for the first time.
“I paid her two hundred dollars. In cash.”
“Since you and Mrs. Bronicki were together for almost fifteen years, I'd say you got your money's worth.”
He whipped a dog-eared paper from his pants pocket and waved it at her. “ 'Satisfaction guaranteed.' That's what this contract says. And I'm not satisfied. She 'went loony on me.”
“I know you had a difficult time of it, and I'm sorry about Mrs. Bronicki passing.”
“Sorry don't cut the mustard. I didn't have satisfaction even when she was alive.”
Annabelle couldn't believe she was arguing with an eighty-year-old about a two-hundred-dollar contract signed when Reagan was president. “You married Mrs. Bronicki of your own free will,” she said as patiently as she could manage.
“Kids like you, they don't understand about customer satisfaction.”
“That's not true, Mr. Bronicki.”
“My nephew's a lawyer. I could sue.”
She started to tell him to go ahead and try, but he was just cranky enough to do it. “Mr. Bronicki, how about this? I promise I'll keep my eyes open.”
“I want a blonde.”
She bit the inside of her cheek. “Gotcha.”
“And not too young. None of them twenty-year-olds. I got a granddaughter twenty-two. Wouldn't look right.”
“You're thinking… ?”
“Thirty'd be good. With a little meat on her bones.”
“And nice.” A wistful expression softened the slant of those ferocious eyebrows. “Somebody nice.”
She smiled despite herself. “I'll see what I can do.”
When she finally managed to close the door behind him, she remembered there was a good reason she'd earned her reputation as the family's screwup. She had sucker written all over her.
And way too many clients living on Social Security.
Match Me If You Can
Bodie readjusted the treadmill speed, slowing the pace. “Tell me more about Portia Powers.” A bead of sweat trickled into the already damp neckband of Heath's faded Dolphins T-shirt as he set the barbell he'd been lifting back on the rack. “You met Annabelle. Do a one-eighty, and you've got Powers.”
“Annabelle's interesting. Kinda hard to get a bead on her.”
“She's a flake.” Heath stretched out his arms. “I'd never have hired her if she hadn't struck it lucky with Gwen Phelps.” Bodie chuckled. “You still can't believe you got rejected.”
“I finally meet somebody intriguing, and she's not interested.”
“Life's a bitch.” The treadmill slowed to a stop. Bodie climbed off and picked up a towel from the uncarpeted living room floor.
Heath's Lincoln Park house still smelled like new construction, probably because it was. A sleek wedge of glass and stone, it jutted toward the shady street like the prow of a ship. Through the sweeping V of floor-to-ceiling living room windows, he could see sky, trees, a pair of restored nineteenth-century town houses across the way, and a well-maintained neighborhood park surrounded by an old iron fence. His rooftop deck—which, admittedly, he'd only visited twice— afforded a distant view of the Lincoln Park Lagoon.
Once he found a wife, he'd let her furnish the place. For now, he'd set up a gym in the otherwise empty living room, bought a state-of-the-art sound system, a bed with a Tempur-Pedic mattress, and a big-screen plasma TV for the media room downstairs. All of that, combined with hardwood and tumbled marble floors, custom-built cabinets, limestone bathrooms, and a kitchen outfitted with the latest in European-designed appliances made this the house he'd dreamed about since he was a kid.
He just wished he liked it more. Maybe he should have hired a decorator instead of waiting, but he'd done that with his old place—cost a fortune, too—and he hadn't liked the results. The interior might have been impressive, but he'd felt weird there, like a visitor in somebody else's house. He'd sold everything when he moved here so he could start new, but now he wished he'd held on to enough furniture to keep the place from echoing.
Bodie picked up a water bottle. “Word is, she's a ballbuster.”
“Gwen?” Heath stepped on the treadmill.
“Powers. High employee turnover rate.”
“Seems like a good businesswoman to me. She also does some volunteer work mentoring other women.”
“If she's so good, why aren't you letting her sit through any of her introductions like you made Annabelle do last week?”
“I tried once, but it didn't work. She's pretty wired, a little hard to take in big doses. But she's sent along some decent candidates, and she knows how to get the job done.”
“That explains all those second dates you haven't asked anybody out on.”
“Sooner or later I will.”
Bodie wandered into the kitchen. He had a condo in
Wrigleyville, but sometimes came over here so they could work out together.
Heath turned up the treadmill speed. He and Bodie had been together almost six years now. After his motorcycle injury, Bodie had lost himself in drugs and self-pity, but Heath had admired him as a player, and he'd hired him to be a runner. Good runners tended to be former athletes, men the college players knew by reputation and trusted. Agents used them to bring potential clients to the table. Although Heath hadn't spelled it out, Bodie had known he had to get sober first, and that's what he'd done. Before long, his no-bullshit style had turned him into one of the best.
Bodie had started driving for him accidentally. Heath spent a lot of hours on Chicago's tollways, heading up to Halas Hall, out to Stars headquarters, or making endless trips to and from O'Hare. He hated wasting time stuck in traffic jams, and Bodie liked being behind the wheel, so Bodie'd started taking over when it was convenient for both of them. With Bodie driving, Heath could make phone calls, answer e-mail, and handle paperwork, although, just as frequently, they used their time to strategize, and this was where Bodie earned the six-figure income Heath paid him. Bodie's intimidating appearance hid a highly analytical mind—cool, focused, and unsentimental. He'd become Heath's closest friend, and the only person Heath completely trusted.
Bodie returned from the kitchen with a beer. “Your matchmaker doesn't like you.”