A cat retreated from the porch as Gus approached the back door. Making a mental note to put some scraps out and to hang the birdfeeder out of reach, he entered the kitchen just as the last drop of coffee splashed into the pot.
“I was beginning to wonder if you’d started your day off early!” Theresa chided, grabbing her cup and sliding into a chair.
“Not a chance.” Gus smiled.
Theresa continued filling their cups. “Planning to visit the guys in the city today?”
“Haven’t decided yet…” Gus evaded. “What’re your plans?”
Taking a sip she replied. “The products Mrs. Simmons ordered came in. I’ll do some marketing, drop them by and give her a makeup lesson. Want anything special?”
“Well, there IS something…” Gus stirred cream into his mug to avoid looking at her. “Do you remember that case they brought into ICU three days ago? They’ve moved her into a private room but she’s still unconscious and…”
“Whoa Dad!’ Theresa interrupted “remember you’re not a cop anymore! The old days where you and Mom took an interest in every sad case…”
“I know. I know.” Gus replied with slight defensiveness. “I was just wondering if you’d drop in and sit with her awhile. I’ve checked with the RN’s. They’d welcome it and it might do some good.”
Trying to control her mixed emotions, Theresa began removing curlers from her hair. As she left the kitchen she shot back “I’ll think about it.”
Theresa pulled up in front of the Simmons’ house just as Mrs. Simmons was leaving.
Grabbing the small bag from Theresa, Mrs. Simmons apologized, “Oh thank you, Dear! I totally forgot my grandson’s band concert this afternoon–have to dash! Hope you understand! ” With that, she sped away leaving Theresa standing in the driveway.
Back in her car, Theresa fumed. “Well great. Is this Fate or just bum luck?!” Either way, she headed for Madison General Hospital- with a mix of reluctance and foreboding.
“Theresa!” The Head Nurse looked up from her charts and smiled. “Your Dad said you might be coming. This is sweet of you. We’re understaffed and a friendly presence might just help our Jane Doe come around.”
Theresa forced a smile in response and entered the dimly lit room. The pale, bruised face, tangled dark hair resting on the pillow, the slender, blanket-covered body caused her to wince.
Pulling up a chair, Theresa sat with her thoughts, then began whispering to this ‘intruder’.
“So, here you are. I hope you’re not going to interfere with our life. Of course I hope you get better but understand here and now, my entire life growing up was one endless stream of junkies and sad sacks and Dad and I just can’t open ourselves to that pain and baggage again…not without Mom… OK?”
Theresa picked up her bag to leave. Stunned, she saw ‘Jane Doe’s’ eyes had opened. Deep blue and glassy, they stared at the ceiling with a look of fear.
Theresa panicked. “Oh Lord, what’ve I done!” Gasping she called for the nurse.
Raising the match to his cigarette, Gus took a drag. His chest felt heavy and his lungs burned. This was not a proud moment for him. Mary had disliked his nicotine habit so he’d quit. He’d only wavered a few times since and only when agitation had gotten the better of him. This was one of those times.
Stomping out the butt with the heel of his boot, Gus turned his gaze down the street. It was a seedy neighborhood. Late afternoon sun cast shadows along the alleyway and neon bar signs began turning on. The stench from the dumpsters hung heavy in the air and the smell of urine burned his nose.
Gus walked down the alley, his eyes surveying the scene. Off in the distance, car doors slammed, dogs barked. A drunk staggered toward him. “Is that you Mr. Gus?? I got your message. Same price?”
Gus held out a folded bill. ‘Yes Sam- just as always. So what’ve you got for me?”
The disheveled bum lurched forward. “Thank you Mr. Gus…I’m awful thirsty.”
He wiped a bit of spit from the corner of his mouth and ran his hands down his dirty jacket. Gus nodded and waited.
Sam looked nervously around and then leaned in. “This here’s the place- right over there.” He whispered wide eyed. “They found her in an awful way… I must’ve got here right after it happened but I didn’t touch nuthin’, I swear.”
Gus followed Sam’s gaze, coming to rest on a pile of overturned crates and bins. Walking over, Gus rifled through the debris with the toe of his boot. Sam stood back- silent.
After a few moments, Gus found what he was looking for: blood stains. Rising to his feet he turned. “Good Sam. I’m lucky you work both sides of the river.” The bum’s face flushed. “I do what I can Mr. Gus.”
With this new lead, Gus reached for his ringing cell as he walked back to his car. “Yeah. Thanks Pete. Your info was right on and I owe you one. That was the place alright. Now to figure out how the hell she got there…I’m on my way to the ‘Pound’ now. Ring ya later.”
Commuter traffic surged on the turnpike. Gus exited onto the feeder road next to the tracks, heading for the County Impound. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he noticed headlights coming up fast behind him.
Gus gripped the wheel instinctively. Focusing intently on the approaching car, he grabbed his Chief’s Special snub-nose revolver from its shoulder holster, placed it on the seat and braced for what was to come.
As expected, the car accelerated and came along side him. The darkened windows concealed the occupants. Tires squealed and the car veered into Gus’s left front bumper. Gus jerked the wheel, compensated and hit the brakes. The car shot past him and sped away.
Gus hit the accelerator and turned the wheel hard left, heading back the way he came, he drove over the median and merged back onto the highway gunning the engine. His visit to the County Impound would have to wait.