A Relationship Beckons: Research and Relapse (#16) Tuesday
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.
Caroline had been glued to her chair in front of her laptop at the kitchen table for the last two hours. She was on a mission. Consumed by the desire to learn more about the man. She was still having trouble understanding her motivation. Perhaps it was because of her divorce from Luca. Perhaps it was in part because she was lonely. Perhaps it was because Jake the pharmacist had done her a solid by returning her phone. Perhaps it was all three. Nonetheless, she needed to know more about Jake.
The television was on in the living room. The current telecast: the local mid-day news. The droning of the male and female anchors provided just enough background noise to obscure the creaks and groans of the otherwise silent structure as she surfed. If he was married, she should leave him and his availability alone. For some unknown reason she’d couldn’t help herself.
Jake the man and the pharmacist with whom she’d had a polite but tense breakfast this morning had piqued her feminine curiosity. Everything she’d learned about him in that forty-five minutes screamed he was off-limits. He possessed a rugged masculinity in a tall, athletic frame. Caroline suspected he had been in the military at some point in his past. The astute, piercing blue eyes, the He had a beautiful daughter. He’d spoken about a wife. But he’d not volunteered any information. He was as tight lipped as a prostitute in church. But his body language signaled more to her than any unspoken words.
She didn’t consider herself . But she knew she possessed good looks. And Caroline could always tell when a man was interested in her. If any interested male had a wife or a girlfriend and was truly devoted to that person, it was her experience that he was talkative and forthcoming about his spouse or partner. They held no shame in talking about their mate to another woman. But if the subject male entertained making an illegitimate advance toward her, the conversation was steered away marital or relationship commitments. Caroline had experienced several of these leeches over the years. And she’d always rebuffed them quickly and definitively. Or she simply walked away. Jake had been different. He’d shown no amorous or inclinations. He’d not complimented her on her clothing or shoes or her eyes. No inappropriate suggestions, or crude jokes. Jake the pharmacist had he simply clammed up or said little to nothing.
Jake’s friendly facial expression, Caroline had noted, had dissolved instantly at the mention of a wife. It was as if a curtain of angst had swept in and whisked away any joviality. She’d noticed the change, but it had not registered in the moment. She had been too embarrassed and self-conscious about the closed restaurant fiasco at Schooner’s to realize what his reactions signified. In the intervening hours since she’d come home, she’d deconstructed his body language more objectively.
At first, she’d been disappointed that their breakfast had not produced a more concrete suggestion for a second meeting. He’d said something off hand at Schooners about coming back in the future. But Caroline had given it very little credence. Of course, Caroline assumed that was because Jake was married with a daughter. But a short time later, Caroline’s mind had conjured and concocted the possibility that Jake might somehow be available. Even if he was married, she still had looked for any reason to anticipate that there might be a sliver of hope that Jake Murphy was available if not legally maybe emotionally. With all the crap going on in her life, Caroline needed something to look forward to. She should not even be considering Jake the pharmacist. She didn’t even know his last name.
Jake’s cold response to discussion of his wife was a reaction Caroline had seen before in many of her suitors. Jake refused to discuss the woman in his life. This sliver of coldness gave Caroline hope.
Of course, she would never have an affair with a married man. She was not like that. During her years with Luca, she had always been faithful. Despite his wandering eye and penis, she’d never strayed. She had been afraid of his reaction and consequences.
She had spent sometime looking on all her social media accounts looking for a Jake with a photo. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Maybe she could place a face. So far she’d found nothing of consequence.
Then the news broadcast caught her attention. We have just learned of a shooting in Norfolk on Sewell’s Point Road. We do not have many details at this time. But what we do know is that gunshots rang out at a local restaurant named Sabor Caribeno and that several people had been shot.
Caroline’s breath caught in her chest and an icy shiver cascaded down her spine for some unknown reason. She walked quickly into the living room to watch the broadcast. The anchor spoke for another minute saying that they were sending a reporter to the location. Caroline moved her hand to her mouth. It was an unusual reaction for her.
Returning to the kitchen, she recalled another tidbit from breakfast. It spurred her to continue her search.
She picked up her phone and dialed Alliance Pharmacy in northern Newport News. She reached the pharmacy and spoke with a woman who sounded older. Caroline wondered if it was the older woman who’d been working with Jake yesterday when she’d brought Peter in. “Yes,” she began. “I’m looking for the pharmacist named Jake. Is he working today?” Caroline knew he wasn’t because he’d met her this morning.
“Sorry,” came the reply. “He’s not here.”
“Do you know when he’s working again?”
“Let me check the schedule,” the woman said. After a moment, she came back on the line. “It looks like he’s picking up an extra shift. He’ll be back tomorrow.”
Caroline thanked the woman and ended the call. Tomorrow, she thought. He’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll transfer my prescriptions to Jake’s store tomorrow. She smiled. It couldn’t hurt, she thought.
She ran the fingers of her right hand over the third finger of her left hand. Her ring finger was bare. Even the tan lines from the ring had faded. Her ring was in storage deep in her jewelry box. It was a trivial bit of information that had registered during their meal. Jake the pharmacist did not wear a ring on his left hand.
The loud clap was instantly followed by a sharp sting on his face. It jolted Jake awake. It hurt like hell bringing him to instant alertness. As seconds passed, the sting flared into a molten heat spreading over his face. He managed with great difficulty to pry his eyelids open. He involuntarily raised a hand to his left cheek–the source of his agony. The fuzzy, indistinct form standing over him and blocking the ceiling moved away from him to an erect position. The intruder’s body language and retreating arm registered in his brain, The person standing over him and blocking the light was the person who’d just slapped him awake.
He shook his head once. His vison sharpened. The stern expression on his mother’s face hurt more than the blow. It was a visage of disgust, hurt and disappointment. Guilt and regret swelled in him
“Is Daddy sleeping?” Jake recognized the small voice as that of his four year old Lizzie. He could not see her but she was close by. “Mimmi, why did you hit, Daddy?”
“Yeah, Mimmi,” Jake said huskily as he looked up at his mother, Lily. “Why did you hit me?”
Her glare said more than any words could. Her eyes bore into Jake with an devastating maternal intensity. She replied to her granddaughter in a sweet, sincere timbre but without softening of her glower. “Lizzie, darlin’, Daddy had a bug on his cheek. Mimmi had to kill it. Everything’s okay now. Go to your room and get you blanky and you’re Barbie doll and a book. Mimmi will read to you.”
“Okay,” she replied and skipped off to her room.
When she was out of sight, Lily leaned back down and grabbed Jake by the ear much like she’d done after his childhood transgressions. “Git your ass up!” She yanked. Trying to avoid anymore more pain, Jake rose in sync with her hand. The effects of the alcohol caused dizziness He nearly toppled over. A swell of nausea formed in his throat. His cheeks puffed as he swallowed it.
Irritated, Jake slapped her hand away with a skin-on-skin clap.
“What the hell are you doing? You smell like a brewery,” she whispered harshly. She pointed to the empty six pack of beer bottles on the coffee table. “You want your daughter to see this?”
Jake did not reply. There was no answer he could give to justify his condition and his surrender to the call of the bottle that would satisfy her.
“Get your ass in the shower! I need to make a call.”
Jake moved gingerly toward his bedroom and the master bathroom. “Who are you calling?”
“I had a lunch date with Shirley. But I can see I need to cancel that.” She pointed and lowered her voice. “Now git!” At that moment, Lizzie ambled unsteadily back into the living room. Her arms were laden with two Barbie dolls, three books and a comfy pink blanket trailed behind her like a bridal train.
Lily softened her voice again. “Are you hungry, darlin’?”
Lizzie nodded. “Can I have a peanut butter fluff?”
“Of course, honey. You get set up on the chair. I’ll read you one story then we’ll make a sandwich. I’m gonna check on Daddy.”
Jake was naked to the waist when Lily charged into the bedroom he once shared with his dead wife. She gently closed the door, turned and did not hesitate to launch a verbal missile at the former Marine.
“You better have a good explanation for what I saw out there.”
“Mom! I’m trying to get undressed.”
She ripped the shirt he was holding in his hand from his grasp. “Well?”
Jake sighed and closed his eyes. He battled his embarrassment, dizziness and nausea. Unable to string a whole sentence together and needing to give her something, he muttered, “Trouble at work.”
Lily shook her head. Her deep Irish roots fomented her frustration. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she spat making the sign of the cross. “After–” she pointed a crooked finger at him, “you’re daughter has lunch I’m going to put her down for a nap. Then you have some explaining to do.” She moved to the door and slipped out silently closing the door behind her. The click of the latch sounded like a cannon blast in Jake’s ears. He moved into the water closet, dropped to his knees and vomited.
Luca sat behind the wheel of the Mercedes shivering and drenched in perspiration. The gun was still warm in the passenger seat beside him under a copy of USA Today. Shortly after the shooting stopped at the Latino restaurant, he managed to escape out the rear entrance through the same door which he’d entered only seconds before. His mind would not let him suppress what he’d seen. As the gunshot blasts continued to reverberate in his ears and more rang out, he’d ducked into the kitchen, dropped to all fours. he’d been able to watch what unfolded in relative safety through an opening in the service window. Then he crawled toward the back wall. He managed to find a circuitous route near the large industrial sink and crawl out. He was still shaking, dealing the thrill and excitement of having survived his first gun fight.
But he was also dealing other feelings. He had been a coward. He’d fired three shots and dove for cover, not even waiting to see if he’d hit anyone. He’d risen up and peered through opening connecting the kitchen with the wait stand. He’d watched everything unfold. In addition to the exhilaration he felt, feelings of shame and guilt were beginning to creep in.
He’d recklessly backed out of the nearby parking spot, hitting a car parked behind him. He’d peeled away. speeding through intersections heedless of red lights and stop signs for fifteen minutes until he was out of the area. It was stupid and amateurish. He’d panicked. Not the mark of an experienced wise guy.
After he’d put some distance between him and the scene, he finally allowed himself to breath. Currently, e was parked behind a 7-Eleven behind a dumpster and out of sight. His breaths came fast and shallow. He could not suck in enough air to catch his breath and he was coated in sweat. He ran his hand through his drenched hair. It shook uncontrollably. he reached over and opened the glove box and removed a bottle and a prescription vial. The bottle of Wild Turkey had only an inch left in it. Luca drained it in one swallow. Then picked up the vial and shook it. A prescription for Xanax. Empty.
He craved a snort or a hit of heroin. But he had nothing. He needed something to calm himself, to ease his over active mind. Even when he was experiencing the adrenaline rush of mayhem, his body and mind required chemicals to keep the thoughts at bay.
The images from the restaurant came to him now, uncontrollably and in rapid succession, assaulting him like demons risen from hell. The entire sequence probably lasted no more than thirty seconds. But as the memory replayed itself, it seemed like hours.
Fernando Gomez, the Cuban capo, recognized the threat as Luca raised his quivering gun hand from his hip. His three guardias reacted instantly but fractions of seconds slow. Luca managed to rip off three shots. He couldn’t remember hitting anything except walls. Plaster showered the dining room. He saw Gomez shooting “Pistola!” as he reached for the weapon at his waist. The trio of Hispanic compatriots scrambled to find cover and draw their sidearms. Luca heard shots booming from the direction where Il Gigante would have been standing. Then Luca dove into the opening leading to the kitchen, knocking over a small Latino woman with a stained white apron around her waist. Luca cowered in the opening near an ice machine as rounds zipped in every direction. Glass shattered. Tables tossed. Plates fractured. The woman whom he knocked over screamed unintelligible words in Spanish. The two other men with her instantly dove for cover.
As deafening shots sliced through air strobed by muzzle flashes and terrified shouts were followed by grunts of agony, Luca managed to crawl to the far wall in the humid kitchen and pull himself through an open half-window. Scrambling to his feet, he bolted for the Mercedes. The next few minutes were just as a blur as the gunfight.
He leaned his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes. Relief washed over him followed almost immediately by a nightmarish terror. The shiver began at the base of his spine spreading like a sonic wave in all directions. Instantly, his whole body shook and the sobs found their way into his throat.
He had no idea who or how many had been shot or the extent of any injuries. As he shivered now, the memory of distant sirens had come to him as he’d driven. He’d had no memory of hearing sirens during the escape, but it came to him now. But the sirens grew louder as they neared. These were not memories. The were real and the were getting closer. He lifted his head and listened intently.
Unable to move, he simply stayed in the car and whispered curses and prayers simultaneously.
-To Be Continued –
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