Detective April Hope stalked through the doors of the Chicago police station, shaking water off her umbrella with the fervor of a woman throttling a thief.
"Bleep," she said.
She swatted snowflakes from the long down coat that only a few days before she'd put away for good.
"Bleep bleep bleep."
Outside, Chicago was as grim and cold as a dead goat's head, and inside, here in the drafty old station, there wasn't a whole lot more to make a girl croon "my kinda town."
"Boyfriend trouble?" Officer Snarky Snark said.
Snark was a beefy guy, like the Chicago dogs he ate daily for breakfast, and "Boyfriend trouble?" was how he always greeted Detective Hope, even when he knew what was really putting her yoga pants in a bunch.
She swatted his feet off her desk.
"Do you have no respect, Snark?"
"Not if you're gonna come in here whining about the weather, sweetheart. Again."
From across the room, Officer Hardy Boyle looked up.
"Give the gal a break," Boyle said. "You were just saying yourself that this weather stinks like the old stockyards."
Detective Hope was used to it by now, the way Snark pretended not to care about the weather even though he did. Everybody did. She knew that his foul mood, like hers, was a product of a vitamin D deficit and a lifetime of Chicago winters that lasted until June, and she knew there was only one way to deal with him.
"Snark," she said. "Grab your rain gear. We've got a case to solve."
She pretended not to hear when he muttered something about blaming it on Rahm because everything that went wrong in Chicago was Rahm's fault, wasn't it?
"Spring," she went on. "It's gone missing."
For the next few minutes, Detective Hope — who hated the term "gone missing," but used it because it made her feel like a TV cop — gave the officers the rundown.
Spring had recently been spotted in Chicago after a long disappearance. Then it vanished again. Poof. But it couldn't have gone far. They had to find it before the city exploded or moved in one fell swoop to Phoenix.
"Boyle," she said, "you stay and monitor the phones. Skilling might call in a lead. Snark, you and I are going in search of spring."
The streets of Chicago were slick and wet that morning, grumpy drivers clogging the intersections like flies on an Eli's cheesecake.
"Where'd you get that name, doll?" Snark snorted as they idled in the gridlock. "April Hope? What a joke. A cruel joke. But then" — he made a toasting motion with his Caribou cup — "April is the cruelest month."
Detective Hope glanced across the squad car. Huh. She wouldn't have taken Snark for the type to quote poetry — T.S. Eliot, no less — but sometimes you could find a sliver of soul in a jerk.
"Well," she said, "my parents wanted more for me than they had growing up."
The traffic had picked up by now, and they cruised through the gray city, past trees as stiff as corpses and lawns the color of sewer water.
"They wanted me to have sunshine and flowers in April," she said. "They'd heard that those things came true in other places, and they believed that words can shift reality. So, voila. April Hope Grabowski. I dropped the 'Grabowski.'"
"Better stripper name, am I right?"
Detective Hope was about to say something she'd be more than happy to regret when she spied it, there, next to a sidewalk. A swipe of blue and yellow.
"Snark! Look! Spring!"
The squad car screeched to the curb. Detective Hope leaped out, into a mud puddle. And found only an old potato chip bag that skittered away in the wind.
"Listen, doll," Snark said. He winced as she slammed the driver's door. "You want a sign of spring? Despair. Despair is a sign of spring in Chicago."
He was babbling on — about how spring was the season of transition, and all transitions are filled with ups and downs — when she stopped the car again, quietly this time.
She stepped out, knelt down and reached a hand toward the cold, wet ground.
Here, at last. She had found it.
Her name, April Hope, incarnate in a single purple crocus.
All she'd had to do was look.