A Relationship Beckons: The Meetings (#10)
To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1. Then navigate to the next post using the links in the upper corners.
Jake waited in his idling Tundra in the small square parking lot of the Starbucks on Warwick Boulevard facing the massive complex of buildings that represented Christopher Newport University. He listened to a local country music station as he absently gazed out over the perfect lawns and red-brick and white-domed buildings. He was always astonished at the royal presence and unquestionable erudition seeping from the campus’s every square inch. Former United States Senator Paul Trible who went on to become the fifth president of the then-college poured over one billion dollars of capital improvements into the school transforming it from a plain, fatigued smattering of flat-roofed buildings into a nationally-renowned performing arts institution. The campus resembled a sparkling, gleaming, updated version of the prestigious College of William and Mary, the second oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the ninth oldest in the English-speaking world. The three hundred and thirty year old school was only a modest drive north in Williamsburg.
Being an amateur history buff, Jake knew that William and Mary had educated three presidents and a regiment of historic figures vital to the founding of our nation. To pass the time, he asked himself three questions: How many potentially famous and influential men and women had already been graduated from Christopher Newport University? How many would graduate in years to come and make their mark on the world? And would the list one day be as long and distinguished as their sister school to the north?
The answers didn’t materialize. Instead, he was jarred from his reverie by the arrival of a white Cadillac Escalade in need of a good wash rolling to a stop in the adjacent spot. The woman–he knew her name to be Caroline–glanced over at him with a friendly, vivacious smile. Jake flashed an equally inviting smile. For some unknown reason, he glanced at his blue-faced Seiko DressKX. It read 10:43am. And for an equally unknown reason, the mental image of the watch face and the position of the hands were now burned into his memory.
He alighted from the pick-up at the same time Caroline descended from the luxury SUV. They met at the rear corner of his vehicle. She extended her hand in a crisp, friendly, business-like manner. “I’m Caroline.”
Jake accepted the petite, well-manicured hand. “Jake Murphy.”
Caroline pushed a few strands of her caramel hair behind her ear. She lowered her gaze momentarily then brought her eyes back to meet his. Jake’s heart gave a ever so slight bump. Inside his chest, it felt like a major earth tremor. The hazel eyes were flecked with brown and enhanced by the silky brunette tresses. Her smooth voice sounded like liquid honey. “This is the second time in twenty-fours hours I owe you a thank you. Ah…And I haven’t even properly thanked you for what you did for Peter yesterday.”
Jakes nodded with a slightly angled bow of the head. “How is he doing?”
“He’s fine. Back to his rambunctious self. The docs at the ER checked him out and gave him a breathing treatment. We were home in about four hours.”
“That’s actually a pretty good turnaround time for an emergency room. Lucky you weren’t in there for twelve.”
She nodded then said, “I suppose you’re right.”
Their eyes met again as a polite pause yawned into a zone of discomfort. Jake spoke as he pulled her phone from his back pocket. “I guess I should get around to giving this back to you. That’s a great photo of your son on your wallpaper.” He extended the device. Caroline hesitated and then accepted it.
“Thank you…I would like to…I mean…I’m not sure what the proper protocol is here. What I’m trying to say is I don’t think a simple thank you is sufficient.” Her eyes seemed to reach somewhere deep into him, blinking rapidly. Jake thought for a moment that she might break down right here. “Can we go somewhere and talk? I don’t think a handshake and a thank you is enough. And I don’t want to offend you and offer you money.”
Jake smiled and shook his head. “Money is definitely not necessary. I wouldn’t accept it.”
“Let me buy you a cup of coffee or a beer?”
Jake gave a quick guffaw. “As much as I would love a good beer, I usually wait until afternoon.”
Embarrassed, Caroline moved her hand to her forehead and gently slapped it with her palm. “Of course, so it’s coffee then?”
Jake furrowed a brow. “Wow that was very good. Nice recovery or a very well-planned transition.”
“Believe me,” she replied. “There’s nothing in my life that’s well planned at the moment.”
Jake checked the Seiko once more. 10:48am. “I have to pick up my daughter from my mother’s.” He hesitated as if considering the consequences. “But it’s not urgent. Mimmi can spoil her for a little longer.”
“Great, follow me. I know a perfect place.” Her face see brightened and her eyes held the sparkle of the Eiffel Tower light show.
Jake nodded and watched Caroline’s hour glass figure slide gracefully behind the wheel. As he turned to return to his Tundra, the black shine of a sleek BMW sedan caught his eye. It was a hundred yards away across the street on the campus of Christopher Newport University slowing down on one of the access roads. Jake’s eye caught the driver, a woman, looking in his direction. He made eye contact. But the woman looked away or simply hadn’t seen him.
Caroline’s Escalade slid behind him. She honked once and waved for him to follow. Jake returned the wave and climbed in. He looked back toward the BMW across the way. The car was gone.
Luca sat behind the wheel of the while Il Gigante…er…Lorenzo Esposito’s girth… consumed the passenger side of his Mercedes like Andre the Giant in a circus clown car. Equally impressive and annoying, his impressive mass caused the luxury sedan to dip to the passenger side. The blunt point of his left elbow protruded across the invisible boundary of the car’s console and dug deeply into Luca’s right shoulder. Luca tried to shrink himself against the driver’s door so as not to touch Big Tommy Romano’s assassin in any way. He was unsuccessful. This lethal, extremely offensive looking man had not spoken more than ten words since appearing on Luca’s doorstep this morning. But creepiness and lethality seeped from his pores.
Two hours earlier, Luca had managed to convince Esposito to allow him a quick shower. Three minutes after ringing the bell, his hair still dripping, Esposito had Luca out the door and driving Luca’s Mercedes. Esposito navigated by pointing and grunting, “Turn here!” Now they were sitting in the listing vehicle peering through the windshield at the modest accommodation of Fernando Gomez in a unspectacular Norfolk neighborhood
It was a two-story affair with no more than a half-acre lot covered in a mixture of weeds and grass competing for notice. The building couldn’t have cost more than three hundred grand. Luca surmised Gomez like to spend his money on cars rather than his domicile. Three brilliantly polished vehicles were lined up in the drive way: a cherry red Shelby Ford Mustang with white double racing stripes down the middle, a white Chevy Camaro with rear spoiler and, perhaps slightly more functional, a sky blue Chevy Silverado with an oversized cab and oversized knobby tires.
Luca re-adjusted himself and checked his phone. He had texted Debra five times, hoping to glean more information about his ex-wife. What the hell was she doing? It was hard for him to focus. His head hurt from a drug and alcohol hangover. His body was sore. He could feel the burn of a fever building in his chest.
He started to compose a sixth message to her. But Il Gigante interrupted his thoughts. “There he is.” He smiled. But his eyes hardened as he watched the short Hispanic drug lord leave his house with three men. Bodyguards.
Il Gigante removed a pistol with a long sound suppressor. He chambered a round and returned the weapon to his shoulder holster. He then removed a short piece of metal. His thumb depressed a lever. The sharp metallic click announced the appearance of a thin, sharp blade.
“Today,” Il Gigante groaned. “The Spanish man…he die.”
Sacro e Profano
At the same time Caroline and Jake were meeting for the first time and Luca and Il Gigante were surveilling their target, a tall, thin and dangerous man stood in a darkened claustrophobic street four thousand miles away. Because of the time difference, it was currently approaching five in the evening in Italy. Via dei Maroniti in Rome, like many of the side streets in the Eternal City, was a quaint, narrow cobblestone passageway barely wide enough to accommodate the insectile European vehicles. During the day, pedestrians rarely saw the gleaming Italian sun for the five oor six story ancient edifici crowding the narrow sidewalk. The effect was that of a claustrophobic hallway. But nonetheless, it was the quintessential Roman experience.
Tonight, a few touristi strolled along aimlessly down this isolated street. Most were oblivious to the handsome, well-dressed man. That is except for the curious females imagining the carnal pleasures of an authentic Italian lover. His midnight blue eyes were often mistaken for black, especially after the sun went down. They were set close together over a razor sharp beak of a nose. The cheeks angled to a rounded chin. All of this was covered by deeply bronzed skin which made his smoky white hair glow under the amber lights of the restaurant.
International crime boss Giuseppe Linguale wore a double-breasted, Navy suit with white pencil stripes over a starched cotton white smoking shirt. A matching Navy tie was knotted expertly and pulled tight against the spread collar. Casual was not a term ever associated with this man.
He scratched his temple absent-mindedly with his left hand as he scanned the via across the thin rough street, revealing a gold pinky ring. Impatiently tapping his highly polished black monk shoes against the uneven cobbles. His two body guards took up rear guard positions, close enough to be one step away from their charge in case of trouble but far enough away to allow him a modicum of privacy.
As he crossed his arms and pushed out an exasperated sigh. Linguale hated to be kept waiting especially by a rival. He began to turn toward one of his guardia del corpo when a vehicle with glistening reflection cut through the shadow and ambient light. It came to a stop directly in front of the ristorante.
Languale recognized the vehicle. His French counterpart always rented the same model, color and upgraded amenities. The fire engine red Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifiglio. The driver exited, circled the engine compartment and opened the rear passenger door. From the backseat emerged, man younger than Linguale, shorter in stature, with a three day scruff of beard who wore circular sunglasses despite the lack of direct sunlight. His white suit coat was buttoned revealing an inverted white triangle of a pressed t-shirt. The khaki trousers and a pair tans sneakers lent the ensemble a casual air. The black thigh-length over coat draped over his shoulders announced him as l’homme Parisian.
The Frenchman scanned the scene initially not acknowledging Linguale. The Italian knew that Jacques Maurice L’Enfant saw him. The Frenchies game-playing infuriated him to no end. But Linguale needed the Frenchman. He had invited him to Rome to offer him a deal.
Linguale stepped forward and raised his hand. He’d play along for now. “Maurice, Buongiorno. Welcome to Roma!”
L’Enfant forced a stiff smile. The two men politely, but reluctantly, gave each other a tight gripped handshake. “Gio.” L’Enfant muttered.
Linguale motioned toward the restaurant. “We have much to discuss. I have need of your help in America. Virginia specifically.”
-To Be Continued-
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