Disconnecting the call, Gus tucked his cell back into his left breast pocket and stared out the window of Jessie’s car. He began to tap his fingers on his knees. After a moment, Jessie asked, “So what’s the scoop Gus?”
Gus drew a deep breath and winced. “Just as we thought Jess – only worse… The good news: they’ve found a car that might be the lead we need to trace Ms. X. Bad news is: it’s shaping up to be Mob related, no doubts – but no Mob we’ve ever dealt with before… From what Pete’s said this has ‘foreign’ written all over it—but from where?” They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Gus took the back stairs at Madison General -two at a time- to reach Mark Anderson’s office. He hoped that he had indeed made the right decision not to call ahead. As Hospital Administrator, Gus’s long-time friend and employer, Mark had always proved himself a loyal ally, since their shared childhood. Friendly rivals in sports, academics- and even for the affections of Gus’s beloved Mary, they’d been through it all. But now it fell to Gus to put that relationship to the test.
Mark was well versed in matters of Life and Death – but getting him to fully grasp the scope of this particular situation was not going to be easy. Doing so would require him to put his career on the line, and Gus had a dicey feeling.
Gus wasn’t surprised by Mark’s reaction as he outlined the facts of the grim situation. There in the quiet, closed privacy of Mark’s office, Gus laid out his best case and worst fears. The woman in Room 260, marked for assassination by unknown killers, was helpless game. They were coming for her but exactly when and how was anybody’s guess. Time was not on their side.
An agitated Mark interrupted Gus’s argument to state the obvious. “Shouldn’t we be calling the police Gus? I mean, Hell!”
Matching agitation for agitation, Gus raised his voice to a loud, insistent whisper. “Mark! You gotta trust me. It’s too late for the police. They’ve already written her off as a vagrant. You were ready to transfer her to the county nursing home, so why not just convince the staff that she’s now going to a private institution? I need TIME. She needs TIME!”
Mark sighed heavily with exasperation and slammed a file on his desk. Swiveling his office chair toward the window, he turned his back to Gus and sat staring out into the afternoon light. It seemed an eternity before he turned back, looked at Gus and reached for the phone.
“Miss Grayson, please call Dr. Stafford and inform him that his patient in Room 260 is being sent to a private sanitarium and is released from his care. He is to provide his diagnosis and protocol with necessary follow up meds. Have all pertinent records ready ASAP.”
“Gus”, Mark’s eyes narrowed, “my neck is on the chopping block here.”
Gus nodded. “I’ll need a leave of absence for a few days, Mark – but you’ve done a brave and good thing.” Mark waved Gus toward the office door and turned his attention back to his work.
With that, Gus headed for Room 260. Preparation was already in progress as he entered. The patient was sedated-but Theresa was NOT… “Dad! What’s going on? What’s happening??!”
Taking her aside, Gus took hold of Theresa’s shoulders and whispered, “I’ll explain later. We’re taking a little trip. There’s no time to go home or pack. Just trust me.”
At a loss, Theresa stood numb and stammered for words that wouldn’t come. With trembling hands she quickly collected her belongings and stood in the corner, observing the activity whirling around her.
Gus turned to Curtis. “I’m taking a short break, Curt. Will be gone for a few days on family business. You’re in charge. Mark has already signed off. I’m sorry to put you in a bind but I really appreciate it.”
“Sure thing, Gus….” came the reply and with a little wink of his eye, Curtis left the room.
Downstairs by the morgue entrance Jessie waved as a silver hearse approached. A slender young man got out, grinning.
“Hi Jessie! Do I look ‘Funereal’ enough?”
“Perfect.” Jessie reassured Arlo in a hushed voice. “I can almost smell the Lilies. Now hop to and work your magic.”
At that moment, a gurney carrying a draped body was wheeled off the elevator and approached the waiting car. After solemnly loading the cargo, Arlo slid behind the wheel, accompanied by a helper in a jumpsuit that appeared a bit too large. Theresa walked numbly beside Jessie to her car and the motley group of ‘mourners’ slowly drove away.
So it was that this strange, desperate group played their charade to any curious eyes that might be observing. Mark Anderson was also watching from his window. As the procession drove out of the hospital parking lot, he reached for his phone.
Two hours and a few detours later, the procession drove past the Andover exits onto a Farm to Market road and into a lane that ended at De Angelo’s Truck Farm.
A rosy cheeked, Apple Doll of a woman, Angie came out the back door, still wearing an apron and wiping jam off her fingers. She smiled broadly as she welcomed her god-daughter and nephew-in-law, hugging each one warmly.
After being introduced to Arlo, Jessie and her ‘patient’, Angie welcomed them all into the kitchen of her cozy 100 year old homestead. Rows of blackberry and raspberry jam lined the kitchen counter and three loaves of fresh bread sat cooling on the table.
“You all must be starved!” she said as she started clearing the table and putting on a red and white checkered cloth.
“Angie,” Gus began as he embraced her and looked into her trusting eyes, “Theresa and I will settle our sleeping friend into wherever you want her to stay, and maybe Jessie and Arlo can help get supper on. After we eat, Arlo and I have to go back to the city. I’ll be back to visit in a couple days but Jessie will be here for whatever you might need. Rely on her. Trust her.”
Gus could see that this was a shock to Angie and Theresa but they both sensed better than to question. He knew that Jessie would be all the protection needed, if the plan went as hoped.
Coffee and apple pie finished, Gus took Theresa and Jessie aside as Angie washed and dried the dishes. In hushed and hurried tones the threesome discussed what was to come next.
With a grateful hug to Angie and Jessie, Gus kissed Theresa on the cheek. Stopping on the front porch Gus took Theresa’s hand in his, looked her square in the eyes and said in a voice that cracked with emotion, “Your Mom would be so proud of you for your brave trust. I certainly am.” Theresa had tears in her eyes as she hugged him.
“Be safe. I love you Dad.”
Gus joined Arlo in the hearse and together they made their way down the country lane and back toward the city. During the long trip back, Arlo told Gus in detail all he had learned from the vehicle in question at the Impound lot, and of the shady characters that had come to call and ask questions about it.
With that information in hand, Gus boarded a late night flight bound for Chicago. It would seem like a lifetime before he found his way back.