“Looks like the weather’s turning colder…” the young woman at the newsstand observed as she handed Gus the morning paper and a pack of Marlboros. Gus nodded at the obvious for it had shown up as a pain in his leg the day before. The limp had become less noticeable, except to Gus when these weather patterns reminded him all too well. But it was always there – one way or another.
‘The Limp’. In the nine months since that had ensued, Gus had limped through his days and nights in pain –both physical and emotional. Sure, he had much to be grateful for. He had survived a near fatal wound, Theresa was safe, Lindy’s ordeal had been vindicated, five young women’s lives had been saved and a human trafficking ring had been squashed. Hopefully, the gang members will be made to pay for their evil deeds soon too.
He was no longer guarding the halls at Madison General or even relegated to a dead-end desk job. He’d applied and been accepted as an Instructor at the Police Academy and was enjoying instructing the young men and women who had chosen to become one of New York’s Finest. The feeling of respect was mutual.
It had not been as difficult as he’d feared to sell the old house in Jersey and to put to rest the ghosts that had long haunted him there. The small apartment he had leased was becoming somewhat more homelike thanks to the microwave and dishwasher and the friendly neighbors down the hall. More than a new chapter, a new book was beginning for Gus, although not the one he’d imagined not terribly long ago.
Gus walked on in the crisp autumn air toward the coffee shop where he was to meet Arlo. It did his heart good to know that Arlo had chosen to try again at the Academy and this time he had his head on straight. Even without Gus’s extra coaching and encouragement Arlo seemed determined- but with it, there was no doubt he was going to become a great cop.
Arlo stood up from the table as Gus entered the coffee shop. The two men smiled in warm recognition and grasped each other’s hands in sincere friendship. Arlo had two steaming cups of coffee on the table in readiness for their weekly Saturday morning reprise of the week’s lessons and the general bull session that the visits always devolved into.
Catching up on the news, Arlo asked, “What do you hear from Theresa and Lindy? How do they like California?”
Gus launched into his report, “They like it just fine. Lindy begins her recording session in a week or two. It should be cathartic for her- all Billie Holliday songs but Theresa‘s concerned that that SOB trumpet player from Lindy’s past is trying to muscle in on the project -and Lindy’s life. As for Theresa, she’s really psyched to be able to do makeup professionally. She’s apprenticing on a Made for TV movie and seems to really love it. She was all thrills at powdering some heartthrob I never heard of!” Gus rolled his eyes and snorted a laugh– but there was pride in his voice.
Stirring some cream into his coffee, Gus paused a moment and then asked Arlo about his Academy concerns. Arlo was beginning a list of questions when Gus’s cell phone rang. “Excuse me, Arl, I gotta take this…it’s Pete.”
“…’sup man?” Gus asked continuing to stir his coffee. A quizzical look came over his face and his eyes caught Arlo’s gaze. “Well, I can if that’s the only way. I’m here now with Arlo…” Turning his head toward his friend Gus whispered gruffly, “He says hey.” Arlo nodded, smiling and Gus continued his conversation. “We’ll be through here in about an hour. Can I call you back for more details? OK, in about an hour then.” Smiling and shaking his head he returned to the conversation. Two more cups of coffee and ten answered questions later, the two men parted company, tossing a “See ya next Monday. Have a great rest of the weekend!” over their shoulders.
Gus remained at the table and dialed Pete’s number. “OK! What’s this all about and just why do you need me for this caper?” Gus asked, half curious and half in jest. “Seems a bit out of character for you to need me.”
On the other end of the call, Pete tried to make it clear. “I can’t explain, man. My informant just needs to meet with an unknown go-between. Gus, what can I tell you. She’s a woman and has her reasons…
She’ll be in Madison Park on the third bench from the water fountain around 4:00 this afternoon. It’s getting colder out so she will be in a heavy coat and a scarf. You are to ask her the time and she will answer, ‘My watch is broken but it’s late’. You say, ‘Yes it sure seems to be. VERY late.’ Then she will give you the information I need. Got that?
“OK, Pete, I don’t get it but I know I owe you plenty favors so chalk one off.” Gus half grimaced and half chuckled. I’ll call you when Madame X spills the beans.”
Gus ended the call and looked at his watch. It was barely noon so he headed for the small diner where he ate a lot of his meals these days. Old thoughts were turning over in his head, mingling there with new ones.
“Gloria should be on duty now and maybe…just maybe I should ask her out. She seems kinda interested and maybe this’d be a good time to get back into Life in a more fleshed out way…” The pun seemed silly and far from reality, after all this time. “BUT, why not? Nothing ventured – Nothing gained….”
The diner was crowded but Gus grabbed a seat at the counter. Sure enough, Gloria was there and smiled a broad smile as she spotted him. She came by his seat and motioned that she had a place for him in the back of the diner near her station.
“What’ll it be, Gus? The usual? “No, just the soup of the day as long as it isn’t Bean” he grinned. In a flash, she reappeared with a steaming bowl of beef stew. In a Motherly voice she chided, “Looks like you could use a bit more meat and potatoes Mister.” Gus smiled and rolled his eyes but dived in gratefully.
Gloria returned shortly with some coffee and apple pie. She noted with a wink that it was ‘on the house’ for his continued patronage. Smiling warmly, she turned to leave but Gus stopped her to ask the question he had rehearsed in his mind all through the stew.
Gloria didn’t seem at all surprised and, nodding with a warm smile, she jotted down her phone number. “I get off at 5:00 and my day off is Monday.” Her smile deepened. “Monday it is then.” Gus managed a smile too despite the strange feeling that he had just jumped off a cliff.
It was only 1:00 now. What to do until 4:00? He walked toward home. Passing his favorite liquor store, he paused and entered. Feeling flush and rather proud of himself he splurged and purchased a bottle of Glenfiddich and walked on to his apartment.
He turned the key in the lock, paused to nod at the new neighbor just leaving the apartment across the hall and entered what he now called Home. Gus stood in the living room thinking over the rest of the day’s assignment.
He took a hot shower and returned in his underwear and socks to kick back on the couch. Checking the paper, he turned on the TV, poured himself a shot and surfed the channels, deciding on a local football game. It was after 3:15 when he awoke from a deep sleep at the sound of a loud cheer from the winners of the game. Jumping up and still in a daze, he grabbed his shoes, sweater and jeans and yanked them on as he made his way to his jacket and car keys. Slamming the door shut behind him he rushed to the parking garage.
Luckily traffic was relatively light and he pulled into the Madison Park lot with a few minutes to spare. It took a minute for him to get oriented and find the right water fountain and assigned bench. Sure enough, there was a figure sitting where Pete had directed. Her shoulders seemed slumped as if carrying a big load.
Gus walked up to the waiting figure and asked the key question, “Pardon me Ma’am can you tell me the time?” The woman looked down and mumbled, “My watch is broken but it’s Late…VERY LATE!”
Gus looked down at her and almost staggered as she looked up. “Jess!” He almost shouted, ‘My God! It’s you!” He stood unsteady for a moment, staring in disbelief and then sat down beside her and hugged her tightly fearing she would disappear. She collapsed in his arms and it was a while before either of them could speak.
Gus broke the silence with the thousand questions that were always present in his mind. “Where have you been? How are you???” And on and on until he realized there had been no time left in between for her to answer any of them.
Jessie took Gus’s shaking hands in hers, smiled a loving yet sad smile- and began. “I asked Pete to let me do it this way. There is so much to tell and I didn’t know how you’d take my coming back after all this time.” Gus shook his head. Joy had erased so many of the questions he wanted to ask. Holding her in his arms like this was all that mattered now- and time seemed to stand still all around them.
Jessie continued. “I hated to leave so suddenly the last time we were together. It had seemed it was gonna be so straight forward at the beginning. Do a sting on that Cartel ‘conference’, rescue my brother and return to finish what we had started with Lindy. It was all in place. We were prepared and ready but someone had snitched our setup. They were waiting for us, Gus. They were WAITING!” Jessie’s eyes filled with tears and fear as she relived the moment of the ambush. “Rick knew I was part of the sting and showed his position to shout a warning.” Jessie paused for a moment as if to gain courage.
Then she broke into uncontrollable sobs, “Gus, they shot him a thousand times, right before my eyes and then they were all over me. They threw me in a van and hauled ass back over the border. I was held in some pretty unspeakable conditions for over three months.” She took a breath before continuing. Her eyes traced the outline of Gus’s face as he took in her news. His jaw tightened and his eyes darkened. After an awkward moment of silence, Jessie’s voice continued haltingly.
“Thank God, I was rescued by a team of amazing, brave contractors and spirited to a safe house until I could testify secretly about what I knew. Then there was a lot of putting myself back together. Gus. I’m damaged goods! Seriously damaged….” she sobbed again but Gus put his finger over her lips to stop her story.
“It’s OK, Jess. You’re home and safe. Nothing else matters. This is where Life begins. It all starts here, today. Look, Jess where we are, where it all began, pointing to the Flat Iron Hotel Bar just a short distance away. Come on now, let’s go have a drink to celebrate!”
Gus pulled the weak Jessie to her feet and with a protective arm around her waist they headed toward the Hotel and Bar. Suddenly, Jessie stopped, looking up. “Look Gus it’s starting to snow! How perfect! Can we have some Hot Buttered Rum?” Gus stopped short in the fading autumn light and looked down at Jessie. A flutter of tiny snowflakes floated to rest on her eyelashes.
She could’ve asked for the Moon and he would’ve gotten it for her…
They entered the lobby and Jessie started for the bar. Gus pulled her to him and looking her directly in the eyes, said “How ‘bout room service instead?” The look on Jessies’ face was all he needed. He walked to the desk without a sign of a limp and looking back over his shoulder, he grinned, “Oh Jess, remind me to make a phone call when we get upstairs.”
“Pete?” she smiled.
“Oh yeah. Him too.” Gus felt for the piece of paper with Gloria’s phone number scrawled on it, stashed deep in his pocket. Then, turning to sign the register and more as a declaration then a confession, Gus said with a firm and steady voice, “No, we don’t have any baggage. Do we, Jess??!”
They headed for the elevators and Gus called out, “Going up!”