Like the heaviness of the cigarette smoke swirling in the room, the atmosphere of the inner office at Acme Bail Bond felt stifling. After a few moments of silence, Gus turned to Pete. “I know we’re both thinking the same thing.” Pete met Gus’s gaze with an equal look of dread. “Yeah,‘fraid so. This has Mob vibes all over it — but where in the world do you fit in?”
Gus tamped out his half-smoked cigarette. Taking a deep breath he glanced up to see Jessie staring at him, a look of concern furrowing her brow. For a moment their eyes locked. Gus turned his attention back to Pete. “Guess I got a little too close to one of their operations but my gut tells me this has to involve that woman at the hospital.”
Gus sat rigid for a moment, thinking.
Pete leaned forward and opened the top drawer of his desk, retrieving a bottle of bourbon. Reaching in his filing cabinet he grabbed three water glasses- one still containing residue from the last usage. He caught Gus’s eye and held the bottle out toward him with a questioning look. Gus waved him off. Jessie held out her hand and took one of the glasses. As Gus began to speak, she poured herself a shot.
“I better get a handle on this and soon.” Gus continued. “It looks like they know me – and if that’s the case, they know a lot of things. We have to level the playing field- and fast.”
Jessie swallowed down the last of her drink and sat the glass on Pete’s desk. Pete followed suit. Rubbing the stubble on his chin, he asked in a hushed voice, “What’s the plan Gus?”
Theresa breezed past the front desk at Madison General. She’d made every green light en route, found a great parking spot and was on her way to salve her conscience. But she was stopped abruptly by the Head Nurse as she rounded the corner to Room 260.
“So glad you’re here, Theresa. The reports are in and our friend is being moved to the county nursing home.” Theresa’s quizzical look prompted further explanation. “Her injuries are healing nicely and now all that’s left to do is continue to detox the drugs from her system and work on getting her memory back. Without matching fingerprints or any missing person’s inquiries, our mandatory three day hold is over. She’s got to move on to the next phase of care– and it won’t be here. But hey, thanks so much for all your help. I know you made an impact!”
With that, the nurse continued on down the hall leaving Theresa standing there staring. Taking a deep breath and blowing it out Theresa groaned “Impact indeed. I have no doubt.” The memory of her last visit still weighed on her and she’d worried about the damage she might’ve caused.
Entering the dimly lit room and walking up to the figure lying in bed, Theresa whispered, “Hello. It’s me again. Listen, I need to apologize for coming on so strong last time. I was selfish in making it all about me when it should’ve been all about you. I understand you’re moving soon so I guess this is goodbye. I just want to wish you all the best.”
Just like the last time, the eyes fluttered. They opened abruptly and a look of fear washed over the thin face. “Ah Geez…” Theresa grimaced and nervously shifted from one foot to the other, trying to figure out what to say or do next.
Digging into her purse, Theresa pulled out a tube of Lavender Hand Crème and reached for the pale, slender hand. She felt the tendons relax as she massaged the crème into the palm and each finger.
“Look maybe I can come see you at your new place…some time.” The two women sat together in silence with only the rhythmic beeping of the heart monitor passing the time.
Gus reached for the rumpled pack in his left breast pocket and pulled out the last cigarette it contained. It was bent but he lit it anyway. Pete and Jessie watched as he paced the floor. They could see the wheels turning. Stopping suddenly he addressed them both. “I have a plan and I need to know if you’re in with me- all the way.”
“All the way Bud.” Pete answered. Jessie nodded her agreement.
With no further explanation, Gus reached for the phone and dialed. After a few rings a reluctant Theresa answered her cell. “Uh, Hi Dad. How’s the repair going?”
“Theresa, where are you?”
“I’m at Madison General hoping to line up some new clients from among the nurses”. She mentally crossed her fingers as she lied.
“Thank God you’re there!” Gus breathed with relief. “Now, I need you to listen carefully. If Curtis is there -or any burly male nurse- get him to accompany you to Ms. X’s room and stay put. I’ll clear it with Administration right now but you might check to see if Mark is in his office and tell him to wait for my call. I’m in the city but I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
Theresa gulped. “Dad! What’s going on?! I haven’t heard you sound so worried in a long time.”
“Theresa Honey, just do as I say and please trust me. I’ll explain when I can. Stay there!” In closing he added, “Hey. I love you, kid.” With that he disconnected.
Lifting the receiver a second time Gus punched a series of numbers and stood tense as he waited for his call to be answered. Finally, on the 7th ring, a breathless voice answered.
“Ange – this is Gus…”
“Oh Gus! How nice to hear from you! How’re you and my favorite God-daughter doing these days?”
“Listen Ange- I don’t mean to be short but I need a favor…a BIG one and I don’t have a lot of time to explain.”
“Sure, Gus. Anything…” came the answer from the other end of the phone.
Gus continued, “Could you put Theresa and an injured friend up at your place for a while? I wouldn’t ask but it’s important. I’ll pay expenses.”
“Gus, you know that won’t be necessary. It gets pretty lonely here since Nick passed away. I’d love the company and any time I can be of help you know I’m happy to.”
“Great! I’ll call you back as soon as I know the particulars. Thanks so much and Ange, don’t go to any trouble but if we could keep this just to ourselves, all the better.”
With that he hung up leaving a bewildered Angie de Angelo to ponder just what this mysterious favor was all about.
Turning back to face Pete, Gus made direct eye contact with his oldest and most trusted friend.
“Pete, I need to ask one more favor.” “Shoot, Gus.” Pete replied.
“I need you to call, Arlo at Impound and ask him if he still has that hearse he used to rent out to High School kids for Prom night. I need it and I’ll let him know when and where. And you need to ask him about unclaimed cars picked up in the area where Sam was killed in the last three days. Ask him to check license plates and VIN numbers.”
Pete nodded his agreement and reached for the phone.
Reaching for his jacket and heading toward Jessie, Gus tossed this toward Pete: “Thanks buddy – I really appreciate you!”
All this time, Jessie had been standing, looking out the window. She felt Gus walk up close behind her and touch her arm. She turned and looked up at him.
“Jess, could you drive me across the river to the hospital? Since they obviously know my car I’d better leave it in the parking garage. I hate to get you involved but you’re my best and only hope right now.”
A slight smile curved Jessie’s lips. “Sure thing Gus. Let’s roll.”
Jessie’s Mustang GT purred down the alley pulling up to the back service entrance. Light drizzle misted the windshield. Reaching down, she turned the intermittent wipers on and sat.
A figure wearing a raincoat and hat emerged from the shadows and approached the car.
Jessie instinctively fingered her gun as the figure neared. A second later, Gus tapped the code on the passenger side window and she unlocked the car door, letting him in.
They said nothing and the car made its way down the alley, taking a left on to a side street heading toward the freeway and Madison General Hospital, a lifetime away.
Halfway across the George Washington Bridge, Gus took a breath and spoke. “I don’t think I ever thanked you for the flowers you sent. They were beautiful and Mary would’ve loved them.”
Jessie lightly tapped her finger on the steering wheel as she replied, “You’re welcome Gus. It was the least I could do and Theresa sent a Thank You note from the both of you.”
“I appreciate your help tonight Jessie. I’m afraid I’ve put you in real danger.”
“I’ve known real danger Gus… I’m not afraid.”
As they neared their exit, Gus’s cell phone rang. “Yeah Pete. Whatcha got?” Pete’s answer was more than Gus bargained for….
© 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.