Going against all his training, and before he could stop himself, Gus flew across the room toward his distraught friend. He tackled Mark, yelling as he did so and the two men hit the floor with a thud, the gun discharging, muffled by a silencer. Mark broke free and stared -wide eyed and sweating- at Gus who winced in pain and grabbed his left forearm.
Mark instinctively reached for the tie that hung disheveled and loose around his neck. Ripping it from his collar he lurched toward Gus, taking Gus’s wounded arm and making a makeshift tourniquet.
‘Gus! Gus, I’m sorry. I’m so damn sorry!! I’m so damned sorry….’ Mark’s voice trailed away into sobs.
Gus held his arm tight and looked into his friend’s pale, terrified face. After a moment Gus responded. ‘It’s OK Mark. It’s OK… just a flesh wound. But I suspect you’re apologizing for more than just THIS. ‘Bout time you and I had a little talk huh?’
Mark fell back against the wall of his office and looked at Gus. ‘I better call for help…’ came his deflective reply.
‘Just get me some alcohol and bandages Mark. You can’t let anyone know what’s happened here or we’ll both be in a world of trouble.’
The 2 men sat in breathless silence for a moment and then Gus added “a snort or two from that bottle you keep in the desk drawer might be good too.” He winced as he stood up and steadied himself.
Mark hurried and retrieved the bottle of scotch. He unscrewed the lid and handed the bottle over to Gus, avoiding eye contact as he did so.
While Gus took a few swallows and let his arm drip blood into a neighboring trash can, Mark nervously wiped his face on the sleeve of his shirt and went into his private restroom, where moments later he returned carrying paper towels, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a roll of gauze bandage and first aid tape.
He pulled a chair up close to Gus and taking Gus’s arm, began to sterilize and bandage the wound. Gus winced and drew in his breath a time or two but not once did he remove his gaze from Mark’s face.
Taking another long sip of scotch, Gus’s voice broke the silence, ‘Guess now I know why your office staff got the afternoon off early.’
Mark didn’t respond.
“Listen”— Gus continued, “It’s time you opened up. Way passed time. I know enough about this case to know you’re up to your ass in it- but it’s time you told me how so I can help you. Lives are on the line Mark—yours, mine, Theresa’s… good people- and folks are going to die. Folks already have…”
Mark sucked in a deep breath and returned Gus’s gaze. His eyes were filled with terror -and shame. Tears ran down his face and he began to shake. As though confessing to a priest, Mark began a long, sordid tale of gambling addiction spiraling into theft- not only of a large amount of money from the hospital but also drugs. As his debts grew, his ‘creditors’ became more demanding of payment.
Gus recognized the involvement of organized crime and was not at all surprised to hear that Mark’s unpaid debts had been sold to an even more violent group of foreign crime lords. It was now starting to come together and make some sense.
When Mark couldn’t pay up, his only option was to provide information. Information pertaining to the whereabouts of one near dead, no-name patient who seemed to be no one of consequence.
It seemed an easy out to Mark – until Gus had gotten involved.
From the night Gus first clapped eyes on Blue Eyes, lying in her hospital bed in Intensive Care, the noose around Mark’s neck began to pull tighter and tighter, all but squeezing the life out of him. Sleepless nights, days spent glancing over his shoulder and avoiding phone calls, he gave up the required information readily, never realizing he was giving away more than just Ms. X. – he was giving up his oldest friend and Theresa- the daughter that should have been his- and the lives of countless others.
Of course the information was never enough and now they were coming to collect- along with the unsuspecting auditors that would soon overrun his office.
Gus breathed in and out a few times and flexed his left hand, wincing as he did so. The blood had ceased pouring and now stiffness was setting in. His arm throbbed and his mind whirled.
He handed the bottle of scotch to Mark. Taking a deep swallow, Mark sat back and stared at his friend. He was so far out of his depth he couldn’t believe it.
The two men sat in silence for a moment. Gus’s thoughts turned to Theresa and Jessie somewhere out there in the wind, running from a mob more ruthless than anyone had dared imagine. He then thought of Angie alone on her little farm, a sitting duck.
“Mark… who the hell are these guys?”
Mark ran his hands through his hair and down across his face. Glancing at the floor, he reached for the trash can and the bloody trash bag that sat inside the receptacle. Removing the bag from the can, he added the bloody paper towels and tied it closed.
“We’ll need to toss this somewhere it won’t be found…”
Gus just nodded.
“Aw crap Gus. CRAP. I’ve managed to get myself tangled up with the Russian Mob!” Mark sobbed and laughed at the same time as he blurted his answer. Gus’s eyes widened. “Holy Shit!”
After a moment of stunned silence, Gus took out his cell phone. He held the phone in his right hand, dialed with his thumb and waited. While the phone rang on the other end, his gaze traced the room.
In the precise area he expected, Gus found a bullet hole in the wall behind Mark’s desk. Catching Mark’s eye, he pointed to the potted palm that sat in the corner. “Might want to move that over there…” Mark did as Gus suggested with a look of embarrassment. He proceeded to tidy the disheveled office.
Just then, Gus spoke into the phone. His voice had a sense of urgency. “Victor, this is Gus Walker. I hope I’m not disturbing you but I have urgent business to discuss. Life or Death. Can’t do it over the phone. Can we meet ASAP?”
After a hurried exit from the hospital by way of the service elevator, Gus and Mark soon found their way to the brick office building downtown. Gus took great care in making certain the pair hadn’t been followed and now they stood in the reception area of ‘Kazinski, Kazinski and Price’.
Victor Kazinski was the senior partner of the old and much respected law firm and there was mutual respect between him and Gus even though they had usually been on opposite sides of the aisle.
The tall, distinguished looking older man came forward and reached to shake Gus’s hand. A look of concern crossed his face when he noticed Gus’s injured arm.
“Rough day at the office…” Gus winked and patted Victor on the shoulder. He then introduced Mark in a whispered voice. Victor nodded his head toward an empty meeting room and Gus and Mark headed toward it. “Ms. Gustafson, hold my calls please.”
After the door closed, Gus wasted no time in bringing Victor up to speed on all that Mark had told him. Gus told Victor of the murdered informant that had been found in the alley weeks ago, of Jessie and Theresa and Angie, of his trip to Chicago and what he knew of Blue Eyes.
Victor listened intently, his eyes widening at parts of the story, narrowing at others; his mind whirring.
Finally, he spoke.
“I’ll need a bit more information before I can advise you fully but obviously time is of the essence. Gus, let’s meet at the safe house I use. You remember where? I’ll meet you there in 30 minutes.”
The word ‘safe’ seemed to calm Mark and the pair made their way back through the streets, the opposite way they’d come.
Gus parked a few houses away and waited for the lawyer. He recognized the shock of silver hair as Victor got out of his car and taking Mark by the arm they walked briskly to meet him. Victor punched a code without saying a word and the three entered the place that would be Mark’s hoped for sanctuary.
After an hour of inquiry Victor rose, stuck out his hand and said resolutely, “Mark, I’ll take your case but you must be firm in your conviction to make this right. I can only guide you safely into a final showdown where you will be instrumental in bringing down those who are guilty of much worse crimes. But be forewarned they will be masters of evasion and deceit and should you lose, the retaliation you feared today will be much worse than you could imagine. I’ll file the necessary writs to get this going. You’ll be safe here and either I or my staff will be in touch when need be. Don’t worry about payment just now.” and with that, the elder man shook Gus’s hand and after filling in the staff, he disappeared into the night.
A guard came and took Mark to his quarters after assuring Gus that his charge would be given a mild sedative so that he could get a good night’s sleep.
After saying goodbye to Mark and making plans to meet next, Gus left the safe house and drove towards his home, parking in a darkened street a few blocks away. He made his way down the alleys to the gate of his backyard. Once there, he approached a dense hedge and stepped down into a darkened window well. Jimmying that lock he eased inside, found a flashlight on the work bench and climbed the stairs to the kitchen door.
It was just as suspected. Every room was ransacked and a sickening smell filled the house. Gus found the cause. Theresa’s cat was hanging from the chandelier- a gruesome warning. Choking from the stench, Gus cut the poor creature loose and placed it in a garage bag. Judging from the stiffness of the small corpse, it had been dead at least three days.
He wanted desperately to lie down but he knew he must stay alert and awake. Making his way to the den, he pushed a large armoire from the wall, hurting his wounded arm as he did so. It took several shoves but at last the big piece of furniture moved enough to expose a small safe hidden behind it. Squatting down and leaning forward Gus punched in a series of numbers. From this metal bastion, he pulled out two boxes of ammo and $2,000.00 in cash.
Closing the safe, he shoved the heavy armoire back in place. Stopping by the bathroom, he grabbed his toothbrush and more bandages. Next, he stepped over the shards of broken glass and debris littering the floor and made his way to his bedroom. There he grabbed a duffle bag, tossed in the ammo and cash and threw a couple changes of clothes over the top. Zipping it closed, he made his way back to the car, calling Pete as he did so.
“Gus! You’re the only one I’d answer for at this time of night. What’s up!?”
The answer would begin a final race toward Life or Death for all involved….
© 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.