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Mom looked up, waiting for me to finish, a small frown settling between her thickly penciled eyebrows. “What is it, Mads?”

I decided the least cruel way to do it was quick and painless, like ripping off a Band-Aid. Or a waxy bit of upper lip hair.

“Larry called me.”

Mom froze, her face going a shade of pale Nicole Kidman would be jealous of. Her mouth did an empty open and shut thing like a goldfish, then clamped into a thin tight line. “I see.”

She grabbed a corner of the wax strip and yanked with a force that made me cringe.

Mrs. Rosenblatt howled like a coyote.

So much for painless.

“Mom, are you okay?” I asked as she attacked the left side of Mrs. R’s face.

“Fine.” Mom’s lips were starting to turn white from being clamped together so tightly.

I rushed on, afraid she might attack my dust next. “Look, I didn’t mean to upset you, but he called last night and left a message on my machine. Only he didn’t say where he was calling from or leave a number or anything. He said he saw my name in the papers and…he needed my help.”

Mom’s lips remained clamped as she ripped the second strip. Tears welled in Mrs. Rosenblatt’s eyes.

Oy, I hope that fox is worth this,” Mrs. R wailed, rubbing her lip.

Mom took a deep breath, closing her eyes in a little mini meditation. “What kind of help?” she finally asked.

“I don’t know. He…the machine cut him off before he could say.” No sense in mentioning the gunshot until I knew for sure that it was one. Besides, Mom was proving to be dangerous with a wax kit in her hands, and despite the reasonable person in me, I was beginning to fear her.

“I see,” she said, clamping her lips together again.

I cleared my throat, wishing I didn’t have to do this. “Look, I know you two…” I trailed off, her eyes boring into me beneath her 1984 powder-blue eye shadow. “I know he ditched us for a showgirl, which makes him maybe not your favorite person.”

Mom made a sound like a snort.

“But despite all that, he is still my dad. And, well, I need to know. Do you know where he might be-”

But Mom cut me off, advancing on me with a fresh wax strip. “Madison Louise Springer, I refuse to discuss the man.”

I took one giant step back. When she used my full name, I knew she was serious. Generally my very Irish, very Catholic grandmother was the only person who called me Madison. Mom had only used my full name twice that I can remember. Once was in seventh grade, when I’d been caught under the bleachers with a high school sophomore, prompting Mom to explain in exhausting detail about the birds, the bees, and why I should wait until I was thirty to have any contact with the opposite sex again. And the second time was when I’d accidentally maxed out her credit card in a bout of post-breakup shopping when I was eighteen. That had earned me an entire summer working at Hot Dog on a Stick to pay her back. (I still have nightmares about those hats.)

“He left,” Mom said. “End of story.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but was stopped by Mrs. Rosenblatt laying a thick palm on my forehead.

“Hold on, bubbee, I’m getting a vision.” Mrs. Rosenblatt rolled her eyes back in her head until she looked like an extra from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. “I see feathers and lipstick. Lots of red lipstick.” She paused. “Did your father ever work in cosmetics testing?”

Mom and I did a simultaneous eye roll and Mom threw her hands up in the air in surrender. “Maddie, I honestly don’t know where he is,” she said.

I watched her for a second, trying to decide if I believed her. “But even if you did, you wouldn’t tell me, would you?”

She set her mouth in that thin line again and shook her head.

Part of me understood her anger. I mean, the man had left her alone with a young child to raise on her own. And I could only imagine the sting of being left for a five foot gazillion inch showgirl. That had to hurt. I tried to picture how I’d feel if I found out Ramirez had been shacked up with some topless dancer. Not too happy. And we were only dating! (Sort of. If you called one half naked encounter six weeks ago dating. Which, for lack of any other action, I did.) But I honestly couldn’t imagine what he might have done that was so bad she didn’t want me to even meet him. Just once.

Unfortunately it was clear by the grim set of her mouth that I’d gotten all I was going to get out of Mom.

“Fine,” I said, doing a mirror image of Mom’s thin lip routine. The two of us did a little stare-down thing, which I’m pretty sure neither of us won, and I left.

Fine, if Mom wouldn’t help me find my dad, I’d find someone else who would.

Marco was showing a woman with enormous Lucille Ball red hair a new moisturizing mist product as I made my way back through the salon. I waited for him to finish, then approached his desk.

“Can you get online with that thing?” I asked, gesturing to his sleek black computer.

Marco shot me a look. “What do you think this is, the Stone Age? This is an eight-hundred megahertz Pentium Processor with a four gigabyte memory. With this baby I can download naked pictures of Brad Pitt before you could even say yummilicious.”

Tempting…

“Actually, I was wondering if you could google someone for me?”

“But of course.” Marco sat down behind the computer and pulled up the screen. “What’s the name?”

I glanced nervously over my shoulder at the wax room, expecting Mom to appear any minute. “Larry Springer.”

Marco typed the name in. “Twelve thousand hits.”

Gee, that narrowed it down.

“What exactly are you looking for?” he asked, clicking on the first couple of links on the screen. A web page for a Washington state senator and a link to a memorial page for a clergyman who died in 1842. Neither one particularly helpful.

“I’m not sure.” I sighed. “An address or a phone number maybe? Any way to contact him.”

“Ah!” Marco danced his fingers over the keyboard with practiced speed, pulling up a white pages directory. He keyed in the name. “Do you know what city?”

I bit my lip, glancing over my shoulder again. “Try Las Vegas.”

“Ooooh, Sin City. My favorite town, honey.” Marco did an eyebrow waggle, adding the city to the search. A page of names and numbers came up. “Okay, we’ve got phone numbers for three Larry Springers, twelve L. Springers and a couple of Lawrences. No addresses. Who is this guy anyway?” Marco asked. “New boyfriend?”

I heard the door to the wax room open and Mrs. R. emerged, rubbing at an upper lip that looked like she’d been French kissing sandpaper.

“Uh, no. He’s…someone I’m looking for,” I hedged. Marco was a sweetheart, but he lived for gossip. Telling Marco a secret was like taking out an ad in Cosmo. Every fashionable woman and gay man in the country would know about it.

“Oooh, is this one of Ramir-” he paused, slapping a palm over his mouth as he remembered The Oath. “Uh, I mean, um, that hottie cop’s cases? Oh baby, would I like to work with him.” Marco began fanning himself.

“No, it’s…personal.” I watched as Mom handed Mrs. R. a bottle of lotion, motioning to her red upper lip.

“Hey, can you print this page out for me?” I asked, ducking behind the monitor, hoping Mom didn’t see me.

“Sure thing, honey,” Marco said, as the printer hummed to life.

“Great. Thanks.” My attention was still absorbed by Mom and Mrs. R. They were walking toward the reception area, Mrs. R. rubbing at her lip, Mom making apologetic motions.

“Here you go, dahling.” Marco handed me a sheet of paper, fresh out of the printer.

“Thanks! Gotta go,” I said as I made a mad crouching dash for the front doors. “I owe you, Marco!”

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