Gus thought it best to head toward Manhattan before the storm worsened. He knew he could rest when he was on relatively safe ground and he was looking forward to the refuge that Pete had offered.
He wasn‘t surprised to see traffic was already heavy on the parkway- in spite of the early morning darkness- and he wondered if any of those fleeing could be Jessie and the girls.
Gus wasn’t used to spending large chunks of his time immersed in fantasies. His career had allowed little time for that luxury but this seemed like a perfect opportunity to allow his usually-focused mind to run free.
Mary had called these rare moments ‘Indulging in the What Ifs’.
But driving in the rain-soaked darkness, he found his mind and heart wandering.
Of course, the first to come to mind and linger there: ‘What If’ Mary had lived and he’d been allowed to stay on the force – not taking early retirement to take care of her in her declining years. Would they have lived happily ever after; perhaps moving to Florida or some other warm Paradise, watching their grandkids, coaching soccer games, enjoying backyard barbeques and old age together?
Gus couldn’t seem to color that scenario in the vivid colors he might’ve once. It all now seemed too far away.
He did know that he would never have taken the Security Guard position at Madison General or found himself in the position he now did: fighting a fierce battle against evil forces in order to save a brutalized, unknown woman- and in so doing, risk the safety of his own daughter Theresa, his devoted aunt Angie and his deeply respected friends, Pete and Jessie. His mind lingered on this fact, and paused for an extra moment on Jessie.
A sharp clap of thunder snapped Gus out of his deep thought.
The music that had accompanied his reveries had now given way to a news bulletin. Gus fiddled with the radio and turned up the volume so that he could hear over the slap of the wiper blades as they cascaded the heavy rain away.
‘Hurricane Alex is now downgraded to a tropical storm after doing much damage to the Jersey shore. Significant flooding is still to be expected for the entire East Coast and there is much damage yet to be assessed. Two fatalities have been reported at this time: two males were found drowned in the storm surge after they left their car at a roadblock and apparently sought shelter in an abandoned motel on Drag Island. Their identity is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The victims appear to have been hunters judging from weapons found with their bodies.’
Gus felt an uneasiness he couldn’t explain and a sinking in his gut. He knew he must try to communicate with Jessie- and soon. He had a bad feeling….
Heading toward the Lincoln Tunnel and Pete’s office, Gus increased his speed- hoping to be there in time for Jessie’s signal.
In the meantime, much further down the highway, miles behind him, another tempest was still raging in the backseat of Jessie’s car- and had not ‘downgraded’. Theresa was trying to subdue Blue Eyes as Jessie reached under the passenger’s seat and struggled to locate a small box. Finally grasping the handle, she yanked the box up and then open. She grabbed an airline sized bottle of Brandy, unscrewed the top and as she and Theresa held Blue Eyes close, they forced the amber contents of the bottle down her throat.
It took a few moments to even make the slightest difference but Blue Eyes’ body finally became less stiff and defiant, her moans more subdued.
Jessie and Theresa loosened their hold, softening it to just an embrace. Jessie retrieved two more bottles and she and Theresa relaxed as well.
It was only then that Jessie opened the thermos of coffee, unwrapped the greasy corn dodgers and the meager fare became a feast they would long remember.
They sat in silence for a while before trying to decide their next move.
There was no cell service under the overpass. Who knows how or where they would be able to find any but they knew they must be moving on.
Other cars were trying to ease onto the highway and in the headlights Jessie could see that there was debris and stalled cars littering their way. Along with other vehicles, they joined a slow-moving caravan toward what they hoped would be safety.
Blue Eyes seemed to be eased a bit but her eyes held a different and deeper concern, as if questioning a whole new perspective. Jessie and Theresa each prayed that it was progress– and they headed onward.
Gus pulled into the parking garage of Pete’s building, bought two coffees from the corner shop and headed up to Pete’s office. He was relieved to find Pete was already there.
“Great to see you, man!” they each said in unison. Pete grabbed Gus in a semi-bear hug, while Gus struggled to maintain hold of the hot coffee. He smiled at his friend, wincing a bit at the same time.
Pete motioned Gus into the inner office and they sat down smiling at each other like two long lost brothers.
“Damn it, Gus! SO much has happened! I know you’ve been through Hell since you left here last. I guess we all have – one way or another. We need a report from Jessie to put all the pieces together. Let’s hope she calls this morning!”
Gus nodded and noticed his hand shook as he lifted the coffee to his lips. In all his years on the Force he’d never felt so tired. It was then that he saw that blood had begun to seep through his shirt. “Can you get some stuff to clean this up, Pete?” he asked as he shook himself conscious.
“Uh…Sure thing, buddy…” Pete hurried to bring a basin of water, some bandages and antibiotic ointment. “Should we call Doc Benson from down the hall?”
“No, it’s no big thing.” Gus smiled weakly but was grateful for the care.
The time came and went for the signaled call from Jessie. Anxiety accompanied them both as they headed for Queens and Pete’s promised safe-haven. Parking in the carport, Pete helped Gus into the back door and eased him onto a recliner in the small den.
“I’ll be right back, Gus!” There was no need to tell him to rest as Pete watched the tension drain from Gus’s face as he slumped into a deep sleep almost immediately.
Pete went next door and knocked on the kitchen window of the brick bungalow that was identical to all the rest on the block.
“Hello, Mrs. Krasne!” Pete called out. A craggy, middle-aged face peered through the window and met Pete’s perky grin. “It’s me, Pete. Just wanted you to know that I’m lettin’ my friend and his family stay next door for a short while – just while my sister’s away. She knows all about it!” he lied and hoped it sounded convincing. “Just didn’t want you to worry if you saw lights or activity. Have a good day, now!” Pete jumped down the back stairs and walked briskly to his car to avoid any questions.
He drove to the neighborhood deli a few blocks away.
“Hey Luigi!” Pete smiled at the proprietor stacking a display of fresh baguettes in a bushel basket. “I need a few things while I entertain my friend and his family at my sister’s place… she’s in Florida. No, there’s no news on the baby yet, but thanks for askin’! I’ll pass along your good wishes.”
Pete bought the usual breakfast fare and some assorted buns. He added a bottle of Scotch, some red wine and 2 packs of cigarettes. From the deli, he chose lasagna, spaghetti marinara, antipasti, a wedge of Parmesan and three loaves of the baguettes. He paid cash and walked out whistling, proud of his purchases -and performance.
Back at the flat, he unloaded the bags, poured himself a small Scotch – it was still very early but he felt the need. He sat and looked at his friend still sleeping soundly. The old Gus would never have slept- or let someone come into a room without his knowledge- but this ‘older Gus’ did just that and it pointed up the fact that this was a different game they were playing now. Not just the hunter but also the hunted- and not on an even playing field.
Gus groaned, turned a bit in the chair and opened his eyes. “I must’ve dozed off. Where were we?”
Pete smiled. “YOU were in need of a rest, my friend. I laid some groundwork and brought in some supplies. You hungry?” Without waiting for an answer, Pete began frying bacon, cracking eggs and making coffee. The two men each ate in grateful silence and then sat back to make plans for the next step.
As they began assessing their options, Pete’s cell phone rang. They each held their breath and sat rigid-the expected rings came in perfect sequence and Pete grabbed to answer. The signal was weak and a faint, garbled voice spoke as though in a foreign language. Pete could only make out about every third word but he was certain it was Jessie.
Pete spoke slowly and loudly, “Jessie, if you can hear me let me know if you can make it to our appointed rendezvous and when. Gus is with me. Signal me back!” With that, the line went dead and he sat back in his chair with half-relieved gratitude.
“Gus, we can pick them up when they give us the go ahead and bring them here. From then on – it’s Game On”.
Gus nodded and sat perfectly still, his eyes focusing on something very far away. Nothing more was said and the only sound in the room was that of the ticking clock. After a moment, Gus took a long sip of scotch and let out a heavy sigh. His arm hurt, his eyes burned- and his head whirled with too much information and not enough sleep.
Pete stared at his friend closely and then reached for a pack of cigarettes. Stuffing one in his mouth, he lit it and tossed the pack to Gus with a faint grin.
Gus smiled and followed suit.
Soon, the room was stale with tobacco smoke and the two men went back to mapping out their possible options while they waited.
After an hour, a series of rings on Pete’s cell indicated the go-ahead. Pete and Gus grabbed their coats and some bread, lunchmeat and milk from their stash as they headed out.
It was a long drive, in every sense of the word, but they finally reached the arranged meeting place. Down a country lane and well off the highway, sat an old, abandoned gas station. Round, glass topped pumps stood at attention like creatures from a faraway planet– their mission and service long ago retired.
Pete pulled the car close in behind the back bay where they waited – and waited. An hour and a half went by. Pete checked his phone-several times. More maddening minutes and then finally! A car pulled into the service area and eased on around behind to their waiting car. With a sense of great relief Gus and Pete watched Jessie slowly emerge from behind the wheel, pause and stretch.
Jessie stood back as Theresa rushed to hug her Dad. Pete clasped Jessie’s hands warmly and then it was down to just Gus and Jessie to share their greeting- at first tentative- then growing in a rush of relief- a warm, heartfelt yet embarrassed embrace.
Jessie stretched out her arm, pointing to the back seat of her car – “Gentlemen,” she said, “Let us introduce you to the ‘new and improved’ Blue Eyes!”
They all turned to find Blue Eyes, emerging from the back seat of the car, wide-eyed and shaking like a puppy – one that had been lost and then found.
Gus approached the car first, reached out his hand and touched hers in a warm clasp.
‘Hello, Lindy…” he said, choking with emotion. “Welcome Home…”
© copyright 2018 Laurie Allyn all rights reserved
Laurie Allyn is a professional jazz singer with a storied past. Singing in smoky clubs in Chicago during the 1950’s and 60’s, she went on to record an album in Hollywood. When the recording label went bankrupt, she turned her attention to professional modeling. Now living outside Seattle, she writes mysteries and continues her singing career.