WHERE IS ELIZABETH DIMAGGIO? The tabloid screamed as they stood in the checkout line waiting to pay for their groceries. Not a week went by without some headline or another theorizing about her whereabouts. Although Nate was probably the only person on the face of the Earth who actually knew the answer, he stopped and stared at the magazine blankly. Amy thought that maybe this time he’d turn away and move on, but instead he pulled it off the rack and threw it on top of the sourdough loaf at the end of the conveyor. Like always. She never actually saw him read the magazines, but she supposed he must, maybe late at night when he wasn’t sleeping.
At least this periodical had enough class to use a decent picture. It had a copy of that award-winning photo where Liz was wearing the navy trench-coat dress and red heels. When she had first seen it, Amy had been shocked by the way the photographer caught both Liz’s beauty and the haunted look in her eyes. It was the better than the tabloids that showed the pictures from right after Liz left the hospital, stains on her dress and bandages around her wrist. Those were just cruel. Amy thought of last week’s magazine, making the completely unfounded assertion that Liz was actually dead. She flinched remembering the picture. Talk about haunted, Liz had been a ghost after Chuck died.
Amy could tell Nate was looking at the headline, even though his head was caulked to the side. Being the only one who knew the truth was no consolation. Even without the baseball cap he wore, they would not need to worry about him being recognized. Nate looked haggard. Amy hesitated then slipped her hand into his, squeezing it in a way that hopefully conveyed her support. At first, Nate’s hand hung limp in hers, but then he slowly squeezed back and didn’t let go. In fact, despite the inconvenience he held onto her hand like his life depended on it while the cashier checked them out, the bagger loaded the cart, they walked to the car, and while loading the bags in the car. It occurred to Amy that maybe his life did depend on it.
They drove up to the mountain house not bothering to discuss it first. Nate needed the solitude. By the time all the groceries were put away, the magazine had disappeared. Nate set every exterior alarm before Amy even had a chance to sit down. She knew he needed the comfort the technology provided, since he couldn’t get it elsewhere.
Amy fixed dinner, which Nate complimented even though he didn’t look as if he was really tasting it. At least he still ate. Amy mentally thanked the Powers-That-Be that Nate didn’t also have his sister’s health problems. After dinner, he pulled out his computer, made small talk, and then got lost in his internet empire. She pulled out the homework she had for the child psychology class she was taking over the summer. Nate had probably made enough money to pay a year’s worth of tuition by the time she finished reading the instructions. There was nothing he couldn’t do with a computer, and much of the wealth he had acquired in life was not, like everyone assumed, from his inheritance, but from his online activity, coding, programing, testing, hacking… she wasn’t sure what he always did, but the DiMaggios had just about the strongest moral compass of anyone she’d ever met, and Amy knew that whatever Nate did, it was not only making him wealthy but also making the world a better place—literally.
Amy was soon immersed in the homework—reading a few scholarly articles and analyzing their findings—and didn’t realize how much time had passed until Nate shut the laptop. It was late. She thought of the magazine that had disappeared.
“All done?” She asked, trying to sound cheery but not too cheery.
“For tonight,” He replied, taking her hand again in that grip that felt as if he would fall off a precipice if he let go. “Do you have to finished that tonight?”
Amy looked out the windows. The night views up here were…well… worthy of a DiMaggio. Earlier this summer, the first stars would not yet have made an appearance, but now, near the end of August, it was pitch dark, the moon and stars providing the only light, and it looked like the world ended where the mountain curved downward. “No, it’s not due until Tuesday,” She said, noticing Nate’s gaze resting on her papers.
That was the thing about Nate, he never rushed her, but he was never idle. She knew the information he’d picked up by perusing her homework would allow him to ask relevant and thoughtful questions about her class later. Like Liz, he retained nearly everything he saw. It amazed Amy that Nate had spent his childhood known as the “slow one” in the family. She didn’t know how anyone who spent more than thirty seconds with him could think of him as slow. She shook her head breaking out of another reverie. She must be more tired than she realized. “I’ll just finish up this paragraph,” she responded.
“No rush,” Nate said, standing and only reluctantly letting go of her hand. “I’m going to get ready for bed. I’ll come say good night.”
Amy nodded and watched him disappear into the back of the house. Without him sitting next to her, the silence became intrusive. She tried to focus on her work, but it was hard not to picture the magazines with Liz on the cover. It was hard not to see Liz as she had been in the hospital, knife in her hand, bleeding, when Amy had arrived with Nate.
Determined to finish the homework question tonight, she wrote down something half-heartedly, knowing she’d have to go back and change it later. After closing her computer and putting her notes away she turned out the lights and headed to the back of the house. Her room was to the left, and Nate’s light was on to the right. Amy snorted at that irony. It was no secret to anyone that Amy and Nate practically lived together. But thanks to that hyperactive DiMaggio moral compass, what was a secret is that they didn’t sleep together. In fact, Amy had never slept with her boyfriend. They were roommates—without benefits. Nate had this quaint view of intimate relations that meant they would not be sleeping together until they were married. Amy was used to it, but every once in a while, it struck her as comical. The secret was that they didn’t have sex, because chastity was more controversial than any kind of sluttiness.
She dropped her bag on the floor of her bedroom, and headed to the bathroom. While brushing her teeth, Amy realized her phone was still on the coffee table in the living room. She needed to be down the mountain by nine, which meant she needed to be up by 7:30 and the only way that was going to happen was setting the alarm on her phone. She finished brushing and threw on some sweatpants and a tank top. Nate’s light was still on, door shut. It must be the magazine. Why does he torture himself, reading that stuff? She thought.
Back in the front room, the only light was from the half-moon shinning near the window’s horizon, which is why she was able to take three steps into the room before she noticed the black shadow crouching over the couch. With a gasp, Amy stumbled back and the shadow straightened and took the form of a large, muscular man.
“Naate!” Amy whined, her heart exploding in her chest. Her voice sounded weak and small in the dark room, and despite all the training Liz had given her on how to defend herself, Amy was frozen in terror. The alarms. Nate’s alarms were impenetrable. How could this intruder be here without Nate knowing in advance? The only person capable of that kind of evasion was—Liz.
She felt his tension behind her, one second before his presence. The moment Nate saw the shadow, he flipped on the light and strode to the couch. “How long has she been like this?” he asked, clearly familiar with the grim looking man who had materialized from shadow.
“Two days,” the man said.
“Two days!” Nate remonstrated, although Amy wasn’t sure he was surprised.
“I got her here as fast as I could,” the man said gruffly.
“Amy, go get my medical bag. Please,” Nate said.
Amy, still frozen in place, hadn’t actually seen what was on the couch, but she didn’t need to. Nate only reacted like this for one reason. It was Liz. She sort of jumped as her body released her from the freeze and hurried down a hall to the closet by the bathroom. Inside was a large black bag full of medical supplies, most of which should have required a prescription or medical professional, which Nate was not. But the DiMaggio compass did not always align with the law, and when it came to his sister, Nate did whatever it took. Amy had watched him preform numerous medical procedures on his sister, always supplied from this black bag. As far as she knew he’d learned it all on his own.
She grabbed the bag and hurried back into the front room. The man had been speaking urgently to Nate, who was kneeling next to the couch, but when Amy entered, he stopped mid-sentence. Nate waved Amy in and she handed the bag to him, getting her first look at Nate’s sister since she disappeared after Chuck’s funeral months ago.
Liz was barely recognizable, and Amy was fairly certain that any of the nosey paparazzi trying to find Elizabeth DiMaggio could walk in this room right now and not know who the woman lying unconscious on the couch was. Her hair, always long and styled, was cut short, almost– but not quite– to buzz length. She was rail thin, even more than normal, and her skin was nearly translucent. She wore all black, long sleeves, long pants, boots. Military style boots. She looked like a vampire, Amy thought, recalling the vampire craze that the entertainment industry had gone through a few years ago. Actually, Amy recalled Liz telling her they had wanted her to play a vampire in one of the big blockbusters. Liz had declined.
Nate had on a stethoscope and was listening to Liz’s chest. He pulled it away from his ears and began pulling IV tubes out. “Amy can you get the hanger, and in the downstairs fridge are the bags of fluids. Check the dates, I haven’t gotten rid of the expired ones for a few days. Bring up two,” he instructed.
“Yeah, of course,” Amy said, hesitated and then hurried to get the supplies. The instant she returned, the strange man, who like Liz, was dressed in all black, stopped talking again.
Nate, who was just taping the IV to his sister’s arm above where he’d inserted the needle, said, “It’s okay Ethan, you can trust her.” Ethan looked skeptical. “Here Amy, bring it over right here.” He hung the first bag on the hanger and hooked up the IV. As he adjusted the flow he said, “Amy, Ethan. Ethan, Amy,” and glanced up at both of his companions briefly before turning his focus back to Liz. She hadn’t moved, and if Amy hadn’t had Nate there, she may have thought Liz was dead. Sometimes those tabloids hit closer to the truth than they realized.
Ethan said something in another language, in a voice hardly above a whisper. Nate understood it, of course. Amy had no idea what language it was.
Nate pulled a vial out of the bag and inserted whatever medicine it held into the IV tube. He answered in English, “No, Ethan, she doesn’t know. But she might as well.” He stood up and took off the latex gloves he had been wearing and added them to a red plastic bag that had the symbol for medical waste emblazoned on the outside. Nate looked up at Amy and she thought he might be holding his breath. “You can trust Amy,” he said.
“Are you sure? I don’t—“ Ethan started gruffly.
But Nate interrupted him, “Amy, Ethan is Liz’s partner.” Amy was confused and her face must have shown it. “In the CIA. Liz is a CIA agent.”