Earlier, when instinct and training had kicked in, tragedy was avoided and Gus relied on it again to get him safely home without being followed. He approached his neighborhood, cautiously with his lights off – relieved as he remembered that Theresa would be at choir practice.
Entering the darkened house he went straight to his room, retrieving the bottle from under his bed. Gus would finish the contents but not until he was sure he heard Theresa was safely home.
Waking before dawn after a fitful night, disheveled and ravenous, Gus cracked an egg into a glass, filled it with milk, a dash of Worcestershire and with a shudder gulped it down. A cold shower would complete his ‘wake-up call’.
Gus scribbled a vague note for Theresa about a ‘fender bender’, insurance coverage and needed repairs and slipped out into the still dark early morning.
When Theresa awoke she read Gus’s note and mentally filed her own planned phony excuse for another day. Dressing hastily she headed for Madison General. She needed penance for what her words might have caused and some much needed answers as well.
Gus drove to Midtown Manhattan, entered the parking garage next to a dingy, grey, five story office building. He took the stairs to the second floor and stood for a moment in front of a glass fronted door marked ‘Acme Bail Bonds ‘. A faint smile crossed his face as he removed a cartoon of Wily Coyote pasted on the glass. There’s always one…he shook his head.
He entered the small waiting room and immediately recognized the figure standing at the window. A slender dark-haired woman turned, smiled warmly and stuck out her hand.
‘Hello, Gus it’s good to see you – looks like we’ve both been called in on this one. Pete’s with a client but he has news. ‘How’ve you been?’
‘Fine…’ Gus scrambled mentally to steady his voice and present a calm countenance. How long had it been since he had seen Jessie? Six or seven years at least but it all came flooding back.
One of the best female Bounty Hunters in the business, Jessie and he had been partnered in a stake-out near Madison Square Park in Manhattan to catch an elusive well- known drug lord. Two nights into the wait and without a sighting, a snow storm suddenly turned into a massive blizzard. Headquarters finely called off the search but public transportation had been halted by then and streets would be impassible until city snow removing machines could make their rounds to relieve the mountains of snow already accumulating in monumental proportions.
Gus remembered that is was Jessie who recalled that The Flatiron Hotel was very near. They braved the blowing snow and gasping for breath they were relieved to see the inviting warm light, shining through the steamed- up windows. Gus and Jessie entered the lobby. Disgruntled people were milling about and grumbling about the forced delay of their plans.
The dining room was closed so the lounge would have to do. The two cold, wet partners scrambled for the last vacant booth. Jessie removed her parka and wet boots, tucking her feet under her as Gus went to the bar returning with two mugs of Hot Buttered Rum and a bowl of peanuts
‘Dinner is served Madam’ Gus apologized with a smile. It took two more mugs of the hot rum drinks for them to finally begin to feel any semblance of warmth. During that time they shared personal histories, bucket lists, past faux pas in their respective careers and retirement dreams- somewhere ‘warm’ being the common thread.
Gus had always thought of Jessie as extremely competent at what she did – an opinion shared by bail bondsmen and local police departments as well. She had a great arrest record and was well thought of by all levels of law enforcement. Most of the guys thought of Jessie as a ‘good ole girl’ –and it was always meant as a great compliment. But up until then Gus had never really looked at Jessie and was surprised to see just how feminine and lovely she seemed. Was it the candle light, the rum or something else??
An hour passed quickly but without any let up in the weather. Jessie stretched, wiggled her toes and slid them under Gus’s leg.
More as a reflex, he remembered, he took her foot in his hand commenting on how cold it still was. But, surprisingly he wasn’t aware of the cold anymore.
At that moment a voice came over the loud speaker. ‘The management would like to announce that in light of the severity of the storm all of our available rooms can be had at a substantially reduced rate. We want you to be warm and safe. You may proceed to the front desk for those accommodations’
Jessie looked up at Gus – her eyes wide and quizzically imploringly. She put her hand on his arm, took his hand and pressed it against her lips.
It took a few seconds for Gus to get the implied meaning of that surprising, sweet gesture. True, his mind raced, this could happen without anyone being the wiser…Mary had been gone for two weeks in Des Moines taking care of her sister and not due home till next week, Theresa was most likely long tucked in at her own apartment and besides she knew her dad was on assignment and not available.
Still holding Gus’s hand, Jessie started to rise. Gus pulled her back down, steadying his gaze and racing heart he put his arms around her and kissed her gently.
‘Jessie, we would regret this in so many ways. Please know I am flattered beyond words and of course tempted….but…’
‘I know’ Jessie sighed sadly. Please know I don’t make a habit of this. In fact, this IS the first time. Chalk it up to the making of a Perfect Storm. Thank you for letting me down gently’.
She put her hands on his face and he saw that her eyes were full of tears. With that she put on her boots and headed for the desk, alone.
In the brief moment of recollection Gus remembered that he had watched her walk away, had sat for a moment, then putting on his coat, walked out in to the freezing night. The stinging, blowing snow bit into his hot face. Hugging the walls of the buildings and leaning into the wind he fought his way to Penn Station, four long agonizing blocks away.
It would be late morning before he managed to get home. The house was cold and lonely but still he was so glad and relieved to be really Home. He waited a few hours and phoned Mary to tell her how much he loved and missed her.
Gus’s brief recollections of the incident were cut short as Pete and a lawyer came out of the inner office. ‘Good luck, counselor’ Pete remarked as he ushered the well- dressed man out the door.
Once the outer door was closed Pete turned to Gus and Jessie
‘OK – Here’s where we stand. My sources checked the cabs for the night that your Ms. X was found. No one matching her description was delivered there or to any nearby environs. And there were no news reports of her being found there in that awful condition. Money talks and also keeps even more silent, sometimes. And I am sure the club owners have ways to keep their seedy reputations from being too spread about. What did your trip to the impound reveal?
Pete raised his hand to stop the answer as he reached for the ringing phone.
He turned away from the waiting couple but his body language was all too clear.
‘OK – you’re sure and those are the facts? A damn shame! No one deserves that!’
Pete hung up the phone and slowly turned, grimly, to face Jessie and Gus.
‘Our friend, Sam has just been found – dead! Same alley – So he was still there where you last saw him Gus. I know the true facts will be kept quiet. Seems his throat had been cut, and – get this! – a Gardenia was stuffed in his mouth. Bizarre!
Gus clenched his fists – enraged but with sadness and remorse as well. Sam’s informant life style had gotten him this awful end and Gus had been a co-conspirator. He was aware now just how precarious Sam’s life had become – circumstances had forced him into a life and a death – a drop and a word at a time.
Gus knew now that all the strange circumstances that had come to pass were coming from a very sinister evil and he was deeply involved without knowing how or why. He did know that he had to do something fast! But ‘WHAT’? Who else could be the next victim?
© copyright 2017-2018 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.