On a hot and muggy day in the city of Chicago, a
hero was lost.
1. Heroes Lost
On June 16, a warm and muggy day in the city of Chicago, a hero was lost.
The save should have been so simple — the newspaper told of a young woman who climbed up on the roof of an old building to get better reception on her cell phone. After finishing the call, she leaned against the railing, which gave way. She fell to the concrete below and broke her neck.
It looked to be such a simple save, in fact, that Gary took his 18-year-old daughter, Arianna, with him. She was standing below, watching her father in action as she had so many times before, innocently unaware that this save was going to be his last.
It seemed fitting that Gary Hobson should die as he had lived, always putting others first. The young woman who would have fallen and been paralyzed was saved; Gary managed to get her away from the edge before he lost his balance and went through the railing himself.
It hadn't been all that far down, really; maybe twenty-five feet. Arianna had managed to hold out hope that he was all right, but only until she ran over and saw him. Without looking at the headline in the Paper still clutched in his hand, Arianna knew that her father was dying.
He had not spoken; once he opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came and he closed it again, his eyes fastened on Arianna's face. He looked at her as if she was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that had ever mattered. Arianna had never known so much love could be communicated wordlessly, in a simple gaze.
Afterward, she could never quite pinpoint the exact second when the light left his eyes and she knew he was gone. She sat with him for what seemed like forever, holding tightly to his hand and staring into the beautiful mud-green eyes, as if she could somehow bring him back by the sheer force of her will. Someone finally pried free Arianna's hand and led her away, but not before she had taken the Paper from her father's cold hand. It was the last paper she would see; all was up to Lindsay now.
The days that followed had seemed unendurable at times; Arianna was unable to imagine living the rest of her life without her father. She missed the familiar scent of him, the smell of cinnamon chewing gum and Old Spice. She missed his stutter, his shy smile, his habit of whipping the Paper out of his back pocket and glancing at his watch to see how much time he had.
She hated the Paper and the cat — oh, how she hated them. Cat wisely stayed away, probably knowing, with his odd feline ESP, that he would be turned into mincemeat if he dared venture near.
Worst of all was when Arianna dreamed about him, dreams that were so hauntingly real that she could hear his laughter and touch his face. Dreams so real that, when she awakened, her arms were still stretched out to hold him. She would cry afterward, cry until her eyes swelled shut and her head pounded.
It was hard for Marissa and Chuck, too; Arianna had lost her father, but they had lost a dear friend, a man who had been a central part of their lives for so many years. Arianna was so much like her father — she had his eyes, his faint southern accent, his stutter, his mannerisms — that sometimes just seeing or hearing her was enough to set them off.
On a completely ordinary day nearly three weeks after Gary's death, Arianna — the bar's new owner now that her father was gone — was helping Marissa with some paperwork when the blind woman made a confusing comment. Moments later she was sobbing so hard she could barely breathe. Arianna was confused, until she realized she had asked "Howzat?" in the exact tone of voice Gary had always used. Marissa soon had company. It must have been unnerving for potential customers to see two women standing over paperwork and crying uncontrollably, but neither woman cared.
Gradually, over time, Arianna's bitter hatred toward the Paper faded. She was still angry at times, but she realized that her father had made a choice and that he had known the risks when he did.
Lindsay did well with the Paper; Arianna kept in touch and even helped out occasionally, after she stopped hating everything involved with the Paper. Lindsay's grief at the death of Gary Hobson had been genuine; she'd looked up to and admired the soft-spoken man with the muddy green eyes. She confided in Arianna that she often wished Gary was there to tell her what she should do.
For nearly three months after Gary's death, Lindsay handled the Paper well, earning a wistful smile from Arianna Hobson and the comment, "Daddy would have been proud of you, Lindsay."
In October, when the skies were turning gray with the clouds of fall and icy winds were blowing in from the north, everything changed. Lindsay called the police about the impending bank robbery, using a Gary-style indecipherable story about how her cousin knows this guy who heard these guys talking, but the CPD was already familiar with her and her bizarre stories and excuses. When Lindsay hung up the phone, nothing had changed.
"Darn," She muttered under her breath; this was a little over her head, not the type of thing she wanted to get involved with, but she had no choice. Someone would be killed in the robbery — a small child, a little five-year-old boy. Lindsay felt like a swarm of butterflies had gathered in her stomach, but she knew she couldn't allow the child to die. Gary wouldn't have.
She even tried to convince bank security; no one would listen to her, and they were in fact escorting her out the door when the man in the black mask burst inside, brandishing a gun and shouting, "Nobody move! I'll kill you, I darn sure will!"
Lindsay spotted the little boy, the robber's eventual target, immediately; he was the only child in the bank. Pale-faced and frightened, the tow-headed child clung to his mother's leg and whimpered. The thief heard the pitiful sound and turned toward the mother and child.
"You think I won't kill you? Huh?" He asked the terrified woman, who clung to her little boy and sat frozen, not replying. The thief raised his gun and pointed it toward the frightened child. "You wanna see how willing I am to kill somebody? Do you?"
The mother mutely shook her head, clinging to her child. Lindsay could see the robber's empty eyes from where she stood, just to the side, and she knew what was going to happen.
God, help me, Lindsay thought numbly, and jumped in front of the little boy, hands out in front of her. "No!" She shouted. "Don't do it!"
Things happened very fast then; while the robber was distracted by Lindsay's sudden move, the security guard came up behind him and struck him over the head, then wrestled the gun away from him, but not before a shot had been fired. The little boy and his mother were fine; Lindsay was facedown on the floor in a growing pool of blood. The bullet had struck her in the neck, severing her jugular and killing her almost instantly. She only had time to think, No, and then she was gone.
Arianna received a phone call from the police within a half-hour; Lindsay had had the number to McGinty's in her purse, and they didn't know who else to call. Arianna was outwardly calm when she heard the news, but immediately after hanging up the phone she collapsed, unable to handle any more strain, any more grief, or any more pain.
Marissa and Casey, the bar manager, got Arianna upstairs and into bed, where she fell asleep almost immediately, in shock and too dazed to remember what had happened or where she was.
"Let me sleep for a little while," Arianna mumbled, pulling the covers over her head. "I won't be late for school." When the cat began to meow again, she raised her voice a little. "Daddy, aren't you going to get the Paper?"
When there was no answer, Arianna's eyes flew open and reality flooded back in. Her father wasn't there, of course; for a second, just a split second when she was between sleep and wakefulness, it seemed that she had sensed his presence, as if he was standing nearby. A lump formed in Arianna's throat and she stared despondently at the closet, where Gary's black leather jacket still hung as if waiting for him to come back.
Lindsay is dead. Memory of the previous night came flooding in, and Arianna covered her eyes with her hands. "Why?" She whispered hoarsely. "Why? You took away daddy. Why Lindsay too? She was so young, just beginning to live. She hadn't even picked a successor, dang it!"
How cruel that she would dream of the cat now, the morning after Lindsay's tragic and unexpected death. Arianna forced herself to climb out of bed; she was already getting a headache and it wasn't even 7 AM yet. Lindsay's death still seemed unreal. It was all so — so unfair!
Arianna froze in mid-step, her eyes going to the door. No, God, no, please. Please let me be hallucinating.
"Meow!" More persistent this time.
It was no hallucination; the cat was there, along with the newspaper and another small object. Arianna picked it up, her hands shaking. It was a small pocket knife, and on it was carved the initials "A.H."
Arianna started sobbing, dry, painful sobs that sounded like hiccups. She threw the knife across the room, breaking a vase, and shouted, "I can't do this! You can't do this to me! Why? God, why? This took away everyone I loved. I can't do this! Not now!"
The cat meowed a concerned-sounding meow. He was looking at Arianna out of his too-intelligent eyes.
"Go away!" She screamed. "I hate you! Go away. You can ... not ... do ... this ... to ... me! I can't handle it!"
Hands over her face, she sank to the floor, her entire body shaking. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no ...