“Hold on a second, Gus! Let me get up to speed here.” Pete yawned, closed the den door, put Gus on speaker phone and poured himself a Scotch-in that order. “I’m ready now – Shoot.”
Gus relayed the suicide attempt with Mark, the home invasion, the lawyer’s taking of Mark’s case; leaving nothing out. Allowing for a lengthy silence on his end of the phone, he waited for Pete’s assessment.
“Well,” Pete said slowly, downing his drink, “I gotta tell you, I’m not surprised at your so-called friend’s betrayal. I haven’t liked Mark from the get-go beginning at yours and Mary’s barbeque years ago. Something about him gave me the creeps but he was your friend and I just wrote it off –anyway that’s water under the bridge now. So you say Mark’s debt was sold. Sounds like a serious bunch and it sure explains the extent of their efforts to silence you and that girl. She’s the key to this whole thing but what’s your take on why?”
“You and I both know that it’s mob related, Pete.” Gus replied with an ominous tone. “And this time the mob has an accent – a Russian one. From the start I knew this was too big for any local law enforcement. We’ve got to get enough info to make a case for the big guns to get involved. Having said that, what do you hear from Jessie? We’ve agreed to stay off any but emergency communication to avoid tracking but I’m anxious to know how and where they are.”
“Jessie and I have a code.” Pete began. “She calls every morning with a series of rings to let me know they’re OK. I heard from her early this morning but as you’ve probably noticed, the weather has suddenly turned nasty and since they’re on the coast I hope they’re aware of the impending storm. Jessie is so very savvy I know she’s doing her utmost to keep ahead of all the dangers.”
Gus felt a sense a pride and a strange feeling he didn’t expect at the sound of Jessie’s name. “Yeah, you’re right about Jessie. I haven’t had much chance to notice the weather…’ Gus laughed, touching the bandage on his arm.
‘Pete,” Gus became serious again, “I’ll need to get to the city to get to the bottom of things there- beginning at that singing institute. I hope to find a place that includes the girls too but haven’t a clue where.”
“Holy Mother, I just had a thought!” Pete broke in excitedly. “My sister has just left for Florida to await the birth of her first grandchild and will probably be gone for a month. Her apartment is in Queens, a neighborhood where people come and go at all hours for shift work. And since my brother- in-law died she’s kept pretty much to herself. That might be a perfect place for you! I’m sure Jessie needs to get back to the city and it would be great to have all of your ducks together – much less worry and we could all use a lot less of that. Get here tomorrow and I’ll take you there to set things up and we’ll contact Jessie to let her know the plan.”
Gus felt a great sense of relief, the first he’d felt in a very long while. “Thanks, buddy. I bless the day we met. See ya tomorrow!” and with that, the call was ended.
Jessie eyed the dark clouds forming on the horizon and announced, “Sorry to break up the party but we’d better be heading back. It looks like it’s gonna rain on our parade- and in a major way!” What had begun as a calm and lovely day had suddenly changed its mood and it was fast becoming a brooding one.
Theresa and Blue Eyes rolled over, kicking the sand off their bare feet as they did so. They helped pick up the blankets and picnic basket; tossing a few left-overs to the swooping gulls. They laughed and kicked over the sand castles that had taken a good part of this idyllic day to build.
Blue Eyes was now much more aware of her surroundings, with improving mobility, and in a childlike way, she seemed to revel in the smallest, sweetest moments with total trust in her two friends. Still, she’d not spoken a word.
The three suntanned friends trudged back toward their cabin. The wind picked up even before they were in sight of their destination and it was raining as they dashed up the dilapidated steps. What had once seemed so mundane and inhospitable looked homey and welcoming as they tossed the day’s belongings on the beds.
Jessie filled the kettle and lit the stove for tea. She began warming the leftover soup on the back burner while Theresa set the table with the chipped, mismatched dishes. She stepped back to admire the faded apple patterned table cloth and the mason jar filled with beach grass. “All the comforts of home!” she sighed as she motioned for Blue Eyes to sit down.
Jessie fiddled with the radio. It produced nothing but static so she turned it off and they ate in retrospective silence as the rain pelted the roof and windows. The long day at the beach had taken its toll on their stamina and they fell into bed lulled by the sound of rain.
All the day’s activities and the comforting sounds combined to make even Jessie fall into a deep slumber- the first in a very long time- but the sound of loud banging on the door of the cabin awoke her with a start and she was shocked to hear that the wind was now howling, the rain more relentless.
And yet someone was out there demanding to be noticed.
Jessie threw on her coat and jumped to answer the door. She had to yell to be heard over the howling winds as she asked who was on the other side. A familiar voice answered adamantly and Jessie opened the door to find the proprietor’s wife standing there, disheveled, rain pouring in rivers down her plastic raincoat.
“Sorry to wake you, Miss, but we’re leavin’ to ride out this storm at my sister’s in Trenton. My Mr. was just goin’ to leave but I wondered if you knew that the fringe of this early Hurricane’s turned inland overnight and we’re lookin’ to be hit hard! The storm surge could finally do this old place in this time and they might be closin’ the roads soon with no way out. He said he doesn’t owe you a refund for your unused days since this was an ‘Act of Nature’ but I wanted to at least warn you and leave you these. With that, she handed Jessie a large napkin, tied hobo style, greasy from the contents. “Corn dodgers from our breakfast…” she patted Jessie’s outstretched hand. “Good luck!” she said in a dire tone and retreated down the steps into the driving rain.
Jessie stood stunned. Shutting the door, she turned to see two sleepy-eyed, bewildered faces looking as confused as she was.
“OK, sounds like we better beat a hasty retreat to Somewhere Else!” and with that, they began hurriedly collecting their belongings. Jessie made coffee while they readied to leave and they made a dash for the car with barely time for a backward glance at their most recent hideaway.
Blue Eyes took her usual place in the backseat. Jessie started the car. The wheels spun on the rain and sand soaked beach grass and for a few agonizing minutes they got nowhere.
Upon instructions from Jessie, Theresa ran back to the cabin and returned with the vinyl table cloth, placing it under the front wheels. Finally, they gained traction and Jessie slowly edged onto the shell covered road leading away from the tidal surge.
It was still pitch-black and as they creeped towards the secondary highway the headlights revealed a scary sight. A road crew had barricaded the road to their escape and were packing up to leave. Still nearly a block away Jessie frantically blew the horn to get their attention. The county truck pulled away but stopped and waited, much to Jessie’s relief.
“You’re one lucky group!” the burly driver shouted. “Five more seconds and you would’ve been on the wrong side and at the mercy of this storm!” He unlocked the barricade and let the grateful threesome through.
They were the only vehicle on the secondary road but it was another matter as they entered the parkway. There, it was bumper to bumper as others were fleeing this surprise turn of events, each retreating toward their own ‘Somewhere Else’.
“See what’s on the radio and if there’s any news of the storm.”
Jessie motioned to Theresa. As Theresa turned the dial a news report was finishing an obvious alert: ‘It is advised to seek higher ground if near the coastal waterways and beaches and be on the lookout for possible tornadoes as the potential is always a threat in these storms as they near land….
In other news, anyone knowing the whereabouts of a missing young woman from Hoboken- Kay Blankenship- please notify the nearest Police Department. She is blond, five foot six, weighing approximately one-hundred fifteen pounds, age 18. It is believed she has been missing for 3 weeks but was only reported so when she didn’t show up for work after a brief time off. She was last seen leaving a music contest in New York City.’
For a minute it was not possible to tell just where the awful sound was coming from and Jessie’s first fear was that a tornado was approaching. The deep, guttural sound was like a wounded animal but immediately after came the words, ‘NO NOOOO!!!’ They came shrieking from the back seat.
Jessie and Theresa turned to see Blue Eyes raging, her face distorted, her arms flailing as if to fight off a horrible truth.
Jessie fought to keep the car on the road as Blue Eyes flung herself from side to side. Jessie looked for a possible place to pull over, fearing she might lose control of the car in the heavy traffic.
A large overhead road sign, damaged by the fierce winds, flapped and twisted in the driving wind – threatening to fall onto the roadway. Jessie reasoned it might be one announcing a turn off coming up. Soon an overpass did loom ahead as Jessie had hoped and she strained to maneuver over to the shoulder and embankment that offered a bit of shelter and out of the racing onslaught of traffic.
She turned off the ignition and slumped in relief for a brief second over the steering wheel but it was a short respite. The storm that was raging inside their vehicle was as fierce and relentless as the Category Three Hurricane that was mercilessly beating everyone in its path.
Theresa leaped over the seat to try to subdue the hysterical Blue Eyes. There were words now, most incoherent – except for ‘NO’ and perhaps a name…
© 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.