I was waiting outside when Kyra arrived in her beat-up Nissan Sentra. She pulled up next to me, rolled down the window, and said, “Get in. Oh shit, James. Have you seen your face?” she asked, “And are you drunk?”
“I just want to get her out of there. Go! Go! Go!”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, just go. We’ll figure something out.”
She gunned it, blowing the first stop sign. The next block down, a trolley was stopping to pick up passengers. She slowed down until they were all on, and then she gunned it again. She went as fast as possible, blowing as many stop signs as she could and dodging trolley traffic.
“Maybe North Beach. I met him there once!” I said, and she took a hard left, right in front of a trolley.
As we approached North Beach, she said, “James, this is crazy. We have absolutely nothing to go on. Did you see his car?”
“Yes. It was a white Camry.”
“Oh, like there aren’t a million of those.”
“Just look for a white Camry, ok?”
“Turn here!” I said, seeing some apartments
She turned hard, and it threw my face into the window, reminding me of my sore jaw. There were rows of cars in the parking lot. We rolled around the complex until we saw it; a white Camry.
“Look! There!” I said.
She pulled up behind the car, and I got out.
“Stay in the car. I’ll check it out.”
I began knocking on doors. One door opened. It was a young man with a beanie propped far back on his head.
“I’m looking for a man…fifties…a girl seventeen. Drives a white Camry.”
“The Camry out there is owned by a little Chinese dude.”
“Shit. Sorry to bother you!” I said, running back to the car.
I got in, and Kyra said, “Look, we’re not going to find her this way. Can you think of anywhere or anyone that might at least give us a clue?”
In a flash of inspiration, I said, “Farid! The guy went to Farid’s a couple of times. Maybe he went there looking for her.”
“Ok, let’s go, then.”
She put the car in reverse and made a tight turn around between rows of cars and began heading for Union Square.
When we got to Farid’s, I said, “Ok, stay in the car. Keep it running. I’m just going to see if there’s anything he can tell us.”
I climbed out of the car as fast as my drunk legs would take me and blew into Farid’s place.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, my friend!” Farid greeted me, “What is the rush?”
“Amy is in trouble, Farid. She’s been abducted by her father.”
“By her father?”
“Yes. Look is there anything you can think of—anything at all—that could help me figure out where he might have taken her?”
“Well, I don’t know. Let me think about that. You know that man was here again–the one with the ball cap and paper. Is that her father?”
“Yes! When was that?”
“Oh, yesterday morning. Wait a minute. He left something. I was just about to throw it out, but maybe it will help you.”
He hurried back to his office and returned with a newspaper. “I was working the crossword puzzle.” He opened it to the front page and turned it around so that I could see it. “Look at that!”
On the front page of the paper was a yellow sticker with an address on it. I grabbed it from him. It was addressed to Joseph Pensiero.
“Holy fuck! That’s it. That’s his address. Thanks, Farid!” I said, and I ran for the door.
“Good luck, my friend! Are you sure you don’t need some backup? Let me come with you; this man could be dangerous!”
He took off his apron and said, “Sarah. I’m going to be leaving the store to help my friend. Will you be ok on your own?”
“Go get Amy, Mr. Farid! Kick the shit out of that guy!” said Sarah, shaking a fist.
“Ok, Farid, let’s do this.”
Farid jumped in the back seat with the speed of a man half his age.
“Are you sure about this, Farid?” said Kyra.
“Before I opened the coffee shop in San Francisco, I used to collect debt for a loan shark in Lebanon. Farid has seen his share of action. You don’t worry about me!”
The address was a North Beach address, so we headed back that way. We took Geary over to Taylor. When we reached Grace Cathedral, a wedding was letting out, and there was a limo parked in the middle of the road. Kyra began honking and shouting until the driver pulled closer to the curb and let us through. We passed Ina Coolbrith Park and then took a right on Filbert over to St. Peter and Paul Church, where we took a hard left onto Powell, where we competed with a trolley for a few blocks. When we finally got around it, we were in North Beach, and I was checking the address. I didn’t know the area, so I handed it to Farid.
“Ok, ok, my friends. I know where this is. This is on Stockton. Here! Here! Here! Turn right here!”
We had almost blown through the intersection, but Kyra managed to get in a right before heading oncoming traffic.
“Next left is Stockton. Looking for Northpoint Apartments. Two more blocks, we are very close now,” said Farid.
“There!” cried Kyra. She pulled in to Northpoint, and we began looking for the building number and the white Camry. We drove most of the way around until we found it. She pulled into a parking space and stopped the car.
“Ok, so what is the plan?” asked Kyra.
“You stay here, and Farid and I—“
“The fuck I’m staying here!” shouted Kyra. “We’re going to get our girl!”
“Ok, ok, but be careful, let us take the lead.”
“No,” she said. “I’ve got an idea! See that pizza box?” She pointed to a discarded pizza box outside of one of the apartments. “If he sees you at all, he will not open the door. I’m going to pretend to be a pizza girl and see if I can get him to open the door, then you guys bust in. Got it?”
Farid and I looked at each other. It sounded like something that could work, so we nodded and followed her until we got to some bushes outside of the apartment.
“Ok,” she whispered. “This is it. You guys hide here. When I say, ‘You didn’t order this?’ that’s your cue. Got it?”
We both nodded.
I’d never been in an altercation like this before. I was prepared to fight if necessary, but I hadn’t been in a fight since the third grade. Having Farid gave me the confidence I needed. After all, it was two to one—three to one if you counted Kyra, and I certainly wasn’t going to count her out. She’d tossed drunks out of bars before.
She knocked on the door. She knocked a second time. Then a third, this time with some force.
We could not see the door, but she stopped knocking, and a man said, “Well? What do you want?”
“Pepperoni with extra anchovies?”
“There must be a mistake.”
“You didn’t order this?” she said loudly.
Farid grunted and jumped to his feet, and I followed him. He was surprisingly quick. At seeing us, Kyra stepped from the door, and before Pensiero could shut it, Farid was in, and I was fast behind him.
“Where’s the girl!” he shouted.
I shoved past Farid, and this time landed a powerful uppercut to Pensiero’s jaw, knocking him back, but he didn’t go down.
“Where the fuck is she!” I screamed.
He shoved me back, and Farid stepped forward and shoved him down to the floor. “You look,” Farid said to me, and he kicked Amy’s father in the gut.
I checked the first room I came to, but it was empty. The next one was locked. I pounded on it, “Amy, it’s James! Are you in there?” But no one responded. I backed up and began kicking the door as hard as I could until it flew open. Amy was on the bed; there were bruises on her face and bare arms. She was bleeding from the nose.
“Amy, come on we got to go,” I pleaded, but she was not moving. I grabbed her and pulled her to her feet. She began to come to.
“James?” she said.
“Yes, it’s me. We’re getting you out of here.”
She was woozy, so I wrapped her arm around my neck and helped her back into the living room. Farid and Kyra had Amy’s dad cornered and on the floor, holding his gut.
I helped Amy to the door, and Kyra joined us, taking her from me.
“You listen to me, Joe,” I said. “You are NEVER going to see your daughter again. Do you fucking understand me? NEVER!”
Farid gave him one last kick in the gut, and we took off to the car. Farid, as gently as possible, helped Amy into the backseat of the Sentra, we all got in, and we took off.
“You don’t understand, James!” shouted Amy. “He’s never going to let this go! He will find me.”
“No, you don’t understand. We are outta here. Leaving the state! Tonight. We’re going to go back to my place, pack up our shit, get on a plane, and I’m taking you home with me.”
We dropped Farid back at his coffee shop. In parting, he said, “James, you take good care of this niece of yours.”
“I will, Farid. I promise,” I said. Farid climbed out of the car, and he waved to us as we drove off, making our way back to Chinatown. When we got back to my apartment, Kyra parked the car, and we all got out. Amy and I went in, but Kyra stayed outside.
“Wait here,” I said to Amy and went back out to Kyra.
“Well,” she said. “I guess this is it.”
I looked her in the eyes and studied her for a moment. Tears quietly stream down her face.
On an impulse, a very strong one, I said, “Come with us.”
“Come with us. There are plenty of bars for you to work in Oklahoma. What’s keeping you here?”
“Not a thing,” she said, and she laughed. “Not a goddamn thing.”
She pulled her car to the curb, killed the engine, got out, and hugged me.
We went inside, and I threw some clothes in a bag and picked up the broken angel and put it in as well.
“Amy,” I said, turning to her. She was wide awake now and was wiping the blood from her face with a kitchen towel. “How are you doing? Do you think we need to go to the hospital?”
“I just want to get the fuck out of here. Can we do that?”
“Kyra? How do you want to do this?” I said.
She looked around at my sparsely decorated apartment, “I think I have a little more packing to do than you. You two go ahead. Get away from that asshole. I need to get things settled with my apartment and my job. I don’t care about furniture, I can leave it behind, but I’ll need to take a couple of days.”
“Ok. I’ll text you when we get in and tell you where we are staying,” I said. “Amy, you pack whatever you can in your backpack. There’s just a couple of things I need to take care of before we leave. Amy, why don’t you start packing.”
She went back to her bedroom.
Kyra was standing near the door, looking like she was about to leave, but I came to her and took her hands. Something was different between us. I was feeling more than gratitude for her.
“Are you sure about this, James?” said Kyra.
I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her on the lips, softly at first, then more firmly. Then I kissed her on the cheek and neck.
“I’m not sure exactly what I feel for you, Kyra, but it is more than friendship. I know this is all happening so fast, but I don’t want this to end. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I feel like we need you. I understand if you don’t want to come.”
“James, “ she said, brushing my hair back, “I know how I feel about you, and that’s enough for me right now. “
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said, turning back to the door. “So this Oklahoma, are we talking covered wagons and Indians?”
I laughed and said, “Well, not exactly.”
She laughed and kissed me on the cheek. “See you in a few days, ok?”
“Ok,” I said, and she left.
Amy came into the living room with her army jacket and backpack. “Ok. All ready.”
“Am I gonna get picked up for kidnapping since you’re a minor?”
“Nope. Today is my 18th birthday,” she said, smiling.
“Some birthday,” I said. “ Look, there’s just one more thing I need to do,” I said. I pulled out my phone and dialed George.
“George?” I said, when he answered, “Can you meet me at the church?”
“I can be there in fifteen minutes,” he said.
“Can you bring your Big Book?”
“Sure thing,” he said.
The only thing I had brought from Oklahoma was a crystal decanter, and I knew that I would not need it. I left it and everything else when we walked out of the apartment, and I locked it up. We walked down to the church. George was waiting for me smoking a cigarette when we arrived.
“What can I do for you, James?”
“We’re leaving town, but there’s something I want to do. Will you pray that prayer with me?”
“The Third Step Prayer?”
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I would be honored.”
He held the door for us, but instead of going to the basement, he took us into the sanctuary of the church. It was large, with wooden pews and stained glass windows. In the front was a raised chancel with a kneeling rail.
He gestured for me to kneel, and he opened up the book.
“James,” he said, grunting as he knelt by me. “We pray this prayer only if we can acknowledge that a God of our understanding can heal us from our insanity. Can you do that?”
“Yes, I can do that,” I said, and I took a deep breath, letting the events of the day roll away.
“Ok,” he said, thumbing through the book to a page and setting the book between us on the rail. “We’re going to read this together. Take my hand. “
I took his hand, and he squeezed mine.
“The third step says that we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Can you do that today?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then pray this prayer with me.”
As we prayed, a peace came over me. I knew this was just the beginning, but I could feel a change happening in me. I could feel the heavy burdens of guilt and grief and addiction and resentment lightening just a little bit. I began to weep tears of gratitude for a God that seemed to be inviting me back into relationship with him. After we were done, George released my hand and said. “So, what made you decide to do this, James?”
I had not yet articulated this to myself, but the words came anyway. “My wife died this spring. I survived when I shouldn’t have. It’s hard for me to say how that happened, but it happened. All this time, I’ve been asking why this happened. Why her? Why not me? But that question brought me nothing but resentment. But maybe that’s not the right question to be asking. Maybe the question to ask is, what now? Well, today, I understand the answer to that.” I looked at Amy, who was crying quietly in the front pew.
I got up, and Amy rushed to me, hugging me around the waist. I held her while she cried.
“I was so worried,” I said, rubbing her back. “I was worried that I’d lost you.”
After the hug, George said, “What now?”
“We’re going to Oklahoma. I’ll find a meeting and get a sponsor, and I’m gonna work this program.”
“Just remember this, James,” he said. “This program is a day-to-day deal. The only day you need to worry about not drinking is today. And it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress, and you made tremendous progress today. Call me when you get settled in and tell me how you’re doing.”
“Ok, thanks a lot George.” He opened his arms, and I hugged him. He said, “I love you, brother.”
“I love you, too.”
As Amy and I stood on the corner to hail a cab to the airport, she said, “I’m sorry about your wife, James. That really sucks.”
“Yeah. It does.”
She took my hand for a moment, gave it a squeeze and let it go. I signaled the next cab, and our journey to Oklahoma began.
On the plane, Amy was quiet for a while, but then she said, “What’s Oklahoma like?”
“It’s mostly flat,” I said. “It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she said. “What will our lives be like?”
I thought about the life I had once lived. Meeting Laura. Marrying her. My father and mother. “There’s a man who will want to meet you, Amy: my dad. He’s going to absolutely adore you. When we get back on the ground, I’ll give him a call and ask him if we can stay with him until we get a place.”
“And I’ll live with you?” she said.
I thought about the son or daughter that Laura and I could never have, and the daughter my parents had lost.
“We’ll figure something out.”
She was quiet for a while again, nothing but the deep hum of a jet engine in my ears.
“And what about Kyra?”
I hadn’t thought about it. I just knew that I wanted her in my life. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’m still finding my way.”
“Do you love her like you loved your wife?” she said.
“I don’t think I can ever love anyone again like I loved Laura. I wasn’t exactly husband of the year, but she was my person, you know? I don’t know if that will ever change. But yeah, I love her. She was there when I needed her. I don’t know what good I can be to her, but I want to try. I don’t know. Maybe I should just be alone.”
“You will never be alone, James. Not as long as I’m alive,” she said, taking my hand in hers and laying her head against my shoulder.