Monthly Archives: October 2023
To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1. Then navigate to subsequent posts using the links in the upper corners.
Check out the special advance offer at the end of this blog for a new book scheduled for release later this year from local authors Dr. Lisa Spiller and Sylvia Weinstein Craft…
Luca wore a lightweight black turtle neck with long sleeves, a pair of comfortable jeans and a black pair of tasseled loafers without socks. With the enormous Il Gigante impatiently waiting for him at his house earlier, Luca had dressed quickly but with the Virginia spring chill in mind. He regretted the choice now. He was uncomfortable for three reasons. The weather was warmer than expected; he was still battling a headache and nausea; and his nervousness had snowballed. Sweating profusely now, his head throbbed as his system worked overtime to cleanse his body of the drugs and alcohol. He had begun to perspire and, despite that fact, was shivering like a leaf in a tropical storm.
He had parked the Mercedes behind Sabor Caribeno, a Latin American eatery on Norfolk’s Sewell’s Point Road in a mixed industrial-residential lower middle class area. The engine idled. Luca needed the miniscule comfort the thrum of the engine provided. Silence threatened his sanity. He and Il Gigante had followed the Cuban gang to this spot and watched them enter fifteen minutes ago. Luca had dropped Il Gigante at the front door of the restaurant no less than five minutes earlier. The parking lot behind the establishment in which Luca sat serviced a flea market and a rundown phone store. There was no human activity in sight. Luca was grateful. It was out of sight in a secluded spot from Gomez and his men and a thirty second walk from the restaurant. He estimated he was about fifty yards away his target’s location.
His target! The word held a sinister connotation, implying mayhem was in his near future. A more virulent shiver crept over him. He reached behind him and felt the bulge of the pistol in the waistband at his back, pressing against his spine. Before Lorenzo Esposito aka Il Gigante had departed, he’d left instructions for Luca to enter through the rear entrance and to not hesitate to shoot Gomez..
Reflexively, Luca checked his watch. His wrist was bare. The expensive time piece had been surrendered to Big Tommy yesterday as a down payment on the revenue Luca owed his boss. His crime boss. He swallowed hard. It was never a good idea to be indebted to Tommy Romano.
He rubbed the vacant wrist and instead checked the digital clock on the car’s computer screen. He had two minutes left in Il Gigante’s deadline. Bile welled in his throat. The bulge of the weapon in the waistline of his back seemed to be pulsing electric energy into his spine.
His hands shook as he removed his phone from the center console. With the dreaded deed looming, he needed, he wanted to reach out to Debra. He relied on her. She was his crutch. She made him feel important. But she was also his sounding board who frequently bore the brunt of his tirades and handled them with grace and patience.
He had gone off the deep end forty minutes earlier when she’d told him that his ex Caroline had met with another man. She’d had breakfast with the pharmacist who’d saved his son. His Italian machismo instantly kicked in, insulted and consumed with guilt that another man had intervened to abort Peter’s attack. Luca’s fragile and volatile temper, fueled by fatigue and a hangover, had exploded. Despite the fact that he was no longer with Caroline, no other man was to have her. The situation had ben worse by his stupid ex-wife’s forgetfulness.
He typed his message: I need to talk…call me.
Luca stared at the phone waiting, willing a text message to appear. Nothing.
He typed another text: I’m sorry I got angry. I really need to talk to you
Again there was no reply. Luca’s ire swelled once more. He dropped the phone into his lap and rammed the palm of both hands into the rim of the steering wheel several times. Yelling expletives in Italian for fifteen second as he did so. Then he recovered, breathing heavily, and slowly closed his eyes. His life was spinning out of control.
Pull yourself together, he chided. Marone! Luca made the sign of the cross and murmured a whispered prayer.
This was no time to let emotions dominate his thinking. He sucked in several deep breaths and pushed them out hastily. As the hammering pulse in his head slowed, he whispered another prayer. And with a lump in his throat, he pulled on the door handle and exited the Mercedes. With each step toward the rear of the ristorante, Luca’s heart sank, his head pounded and the sweat streamed from his pores.
Fernando Gomez sat with his back to the far wall, facing the restaurant’s glass front door. He glanced down at the attire he selected this morning. He looked particularly dapper in his white pants with the razor-sharp crease, matching sports jacket over a tan chemise and white white vest. A gold chain dangled like a suspension bridge from the second button of the vest to the pocket. Gomez adjusted the white fedora on his close cropped curls. A wry smile spread across his face. He adjusted the circular glasses on his nose and fingered his pencil thin moustache. Life was good at the moment. His small empire was growing every day, crowding out the competition. He and his gang were becoming very popular with the big boss back in Havana. His stock was rising.
But life in criminal enterprise–like that in legitimate businesses and politics–was always double-edged. As success grew so did disfavor with competitors, enemies and rival gangs like the Italians. Gomez knew that a war loomed. The fact made his very wary.
His three guardaespaldas surrounded the round table munching on beef and chicken empanadas, fried plantains and guzzling Modelo. Gomez had nibbled on an empanada and was currently nursing a mojito.
Gomez liked to bring his boys here each day after collecting their protection money and gambling debts. And he always picked up the tab. It fostered loyalty and comradery among his troops. You needed that in a protection detail. Especially in this business.
His guarura bantered back and forth about the state of Cuban politics and the Cuban baseball team. Smoke from two cigarettes created a blue cloud over the table. Gomez did not participate in the jovial banter spoken in a hybrid of Cuban Spanish and heavily accented English. No, Gomez was pre-occupied by the massive man that had entered a few minutes ago and was standing at the counter. He seemed out of place and edgy.
The subject–a moving mountain–probably weighed in at at least one hundred and forty kilos. If his math was right that put this hombre gordo at better than three hundred pounds. He possessed the facial features of a European–Italian or Corsican, perhaps. It was what he hadn’t done that concerned Gomez. He hadn’t looked in their direction. Had not made eye contact. There was no acknowledging head nod. But it was the way he hadn’t looked and the slight stiffness. He had glanced everywhere but at them. It was as if he were trying not to look at them.
These facts made the hair on Gomez’s neck stand up. His muscles became taut. He moved his hand over the bulge under his jacket where the Soviet-made Makarov pistol resided in its holster. It was the standard issue small arm of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces. The Cuban moved the cloth of his jacket back and silently unclipped the strap holding the weapon.
The enormous human being turned toward the group and shouted in a thick Italian accent. “Signore Gomez! Signore Gomez! I have something for you.” As he said the words, the huge intruder was flipping over one of the larger tables.
Gomez’s three guards began to turn toward the shouted words. Each reached for their weapons. Chairs scraped against the floor and toppled. The whoosh of gun metal being with drawn from leather or cloth followed immediately by the click of hammers.
A moment before he turned towards the gigantic person, Gomez caught movement out of the corner of his eye. It came from the left; the rear of the restaurant. He rotated his head and saw a man in dark clothing and a turtle neck advancing toward him and his men. A second gunman advanced on them. There was a gun in his right hand at his thigh. His eyes were a mixture of fear and hatred. Sweat coated the man’s face. The hand raised the weapon.
Instinctively, Gomez shouted Cuban Spanish, “Pistola!”
With his arm draped over the door, Jake stared into the refrigerator positioned against the wall of his garage. The contents were sparse. An extra tub of margarine, a smattering of batteries in a small cardboard box and a six pack of long necks with one bottle was missing. It was the beer Jake had drunk last night after coming home from work.
It wasn’t even noon. And yet, he could feel the pull of the alcohol calling him, no, begging him. His mouth watered. A minute shiver passed over him.
Close the door and walk away!
But Jake simply stood at the door staring into the frigid air. Being a former Marine, he had learned to drink with gusto with his fellow leathernecks. He was younger then and it was considered expected behavior in the Corps. The drinking games and challenges were commonplace. He and his buddies always had each other’s backs whether its was on TDY in a foreign land or a neighborhood bar. After he’d been discharged eight years ago, he’d managed to scale back his consumption but it remained an important part of his social life. He’d always had it under control. At least that’s what he told himself.
Olivia’s tragic and untimely passing along with that of his unborn son had unhinged something in him and his ability to control his booze intake. The day after the funeral Jake sat down while still on leave from the pharmacy and downed almost a whole case. His self-control vanished in the weeks and months following the car wreck. His drinking spiraled out of control. He numbed his grief with beer and drowned his work stress with bourbon. He frequently relied on his mother to watch Lizzie. Luckily his work schedule in pharmacy: two thirteen hour days back-to- back created an built-in hiatus in his ability to overdrink. He was too busy with irate patients, prescriptions and vaccinations to worry or grieve for extended periods. Though he still managed slug a beer or two after work before falling asleep. But on his two days off, the binging was constant.
His mother tolerated his behavior for a short time out of sympathy for her devastated son. And perhaps out of her own confusion and paralysis. Jake guessed she hoped it would all pass. After a month though, she and Cliff confronted him. While Cliff cajoled and persuaded, his mother berated him after Lizzie had gone to bed. Lecturing him that his daughter needed him. She offered a temporary solution. It was an offer that he she would not let him refuse. Moving in with him, she monitored everything and watched over him and Lizzie.
She and Cliff steered him back to semi-sobriety and the reality that his pain would not be extinguished by alcohol. After two much-needed quasi interventions, Jake dried out and cleaned himself up. Despite his plunge into near-addiction, he’d still managed to work his thirteen hour shifts and perform shots and check prescriptions. But against his mother’s prodding, Jake refused to attend an AA meeting. His work was frequently lackluster and uninspired during those days. But he’d come out of it and had turned a corner. He had controlled the demon over the last ten months.
To this day, Jake still didn’t want to admit what his excessive drinking meant. The was a word for it. The dreaded “A” word. Jake had spent many hours pondering if his fate to drink to excess had been pre-destined from birth. His father who had been dead for three years now was also a heavy drinker. The smoking and drinking had caught up with him at the age of fifty-seven. Though Jake did not smoke, he had apparently inherited his father’s proclivity for the bottle.
The stress and excessive work of his job had waged and been waging a relentless onslaught since the day he’d become a licensed pharmacist. The desire to imbibe after the grueling thirteen hour shift was formidable. Jake had managed to resist for the most part. He’d had a beer last night for the first time in a long time. It had only been one, he told himself.
He peered into the refrigerator, licking his lips as the heat from the garage air mixed with the cool refrigeration, clouding the clear glass of the quintet beer bottles.
Perhaps it was a subconscious defense mechanism in his mind, Jake’s mind shifted to the sweet, soft, cherubic image of his daughter. Lizzie was the center of his life and he had been walking the straight and narrow over the last months for her. She needs you, Jake. You can’t drink. The words had been spoken in love but embedded in the steely tinged timbre.
He turned and began closing the door. But his hand remained on the door handle. As his arm was fully-extended, Jake refused to release it. He stopped standing there holding the door open with his back to the appliance. Then, suddenly and with the dexterity of jungle cat, he spun, reached through the cold air and tore the cardboard six pack holder from the fogged, glass shelf.
Inside, Jake slumped onto the sofa. He set the first already empty beer on the coffee table. The frigid liquid hurt his throat as it went down. The cold expanded through his chest and abdomen like liquid nitrogen. In two minutes, the alcohol took hold of his mind mercifully blunting the most recent devastating news. For the moment, the beer allowed him to cram the news of the drug error into a rickety cupboard of his mind.
As he time passed and he sat there, reality managed to push its way into his consciousness every few minutes. He would grab another beer, crack the twist top and guzzle another half-bottle. This routine was repeated several time over the next thirty minutes. When the entire collection of bottles were empty and sitting on the coffee table in little puddles of condensation, Jake laid his head back against the sofa. His eyes fluttered, in an attempt to stay open, battling the effects of the alcohol. His breathing slowed and deepened. Eventually the merciful curtain descended over his consciousness and everything melted into darkness.
Deb Perry placed the remnants of her early lunch–a sliced tomato, a Caesar salad and a glass of diet soda–in the kitchen sink. Her appetite had been almost non-existent. She forced herself to eat about half the fare before pushing it aside. Then she made the call. It felt good to be taking action no matter how small it seemed. The service she requested could be scheduled for two days from now she was informed by the sales person. “I cannot wait that long. This is an emergency,” she explained, her voice was iron. “It needs to be done this morning. I will pay you whatever you require to cancel other appointments and fit me in.”
The line was silent for several moments. She heard the ambient sounds of the salesman rustling papers while the line was still open. Debra smiled to herself. She’d gotten his attention. After a minute, the man came back on and quoted a figure then said, “I can have a man there at three this afternoon.” It was less money than she’d expected. “I’ll give you twice that plus your normal fee if you get him here by noon. Tell your guy there will be a handsome tip in it for him and to use this code word.” The man reduced the word to writing asking her to spell it. Then she ended the call before the salesman could object. That had been a little more than an hour ago.
The last twenty-four hours had been very stressful. She’d slept little. During her lunch, Luca had texted, asking to speak to her. What little appetite she still possessed vanished. He texted a second time. She’d lost count of all the texts he’d sent since she’d followed his ex-wife through last night and this morning. She was tempted to reply with a lame excuse, but resisted. And there was no absolutely way in hell she was going to actually call him back.
Fear rose in her chest again. Luca was a loose cannon. Tonight she would meet with someone who would demand that she take care of the problem. The doorbell chimed. It was probably the service technician. But she was taking no chances. She picked up the handgun resting on the end table–a Glock G19. Rising from the chair, she ejected the magazine and saw that it was fully loaded. She rammed it back into the handle, pulled back on the slide and chambered a bullet with the skill of a someone seasoned in the use of weaponry.
At the door, she pushed her hair back over her shoulders and smoothed her clothes. Through the small square window of the door she viewed the image of the service technician wearing a Polo pullover embroidered with the company logo over the left breast. Her anxiety eased slightly.
“Who is it?” She called through the door.
“Coffey’s Lock Shop,” came the reply. “I was told to say–” There was a hesitation because she knew the man had to refer to code word which had been written on a scrap of paper. Finally, he said haltingly, pronouncing the her family’s surname, “Perochoduk”.
Debra family had changed the name to Perry from Perochoduk many years ago out of fear of persecution.
She shoved the Glock into the waistband at her back and pulled open the door. “Thanks for coming so soon,” she said.
The man replied in a thick Southern drawl, “No problem, ma’am. The boss said you offered him a lot of cabbage to git this done real quick like.”
“That’s right. I need all the locks changed on the three doors very quickly. My boyfriend doesn’t know it yet. But we’re history. And he will not take it well.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s just after noon. There’s a hundred and fifty bucks in it for you if you can have them all switched out before three.”
-To Be Continued-
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