A Relationship Beckons: That Evening (#17) 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.
“Thank you for coming, Debra,” Big Tommy Romano wheezed a gruff, breathy greeting . “You have been a loyal companion and assistant to Luca this past year. We need to discuss business…an unpleasant business.” He had planted his massive body in the center of the sofa opposite Debra who sat in a facing chair. His weight mashed the cushions causing him to sink low. His graying chest hair was visible in the wedge of shiny black cloth of his silk robe.
The massive mansion on the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay appeared as glorious and appointed to Debra as it had last evening. Yesterday, the mood and atmosphere had been tense and uneasy for her. Last night, she had not been the focus of the discussion. Luca had. Last night, Big Tommy’s glower and threats had been directed at Luca. Luca had hoped that her presence would soften the boss’s demands and expectations. Ultimately, Luca had been ordered to take out the rival crime family’s head man. Debra had been simply a witness.
But at this very moment, Big Tommy’s leaden gaze and was focused squarely on her. And she knew that tonight Big Tommy was going to ask–no order–her to commit a deed much more devastating. She knew what his order would be. She hadn’t verbalized it. She hadn’t even allowed herself to think it….or to let the thought take shape in her mind. But Debra knew that when she walked out the front door of the mansion tonight into the salty night air, she knew what she was going to be expected to do.
At that moment, her cell phone chimed. She looked down and checked the readout and saw that it was Luca. The expression on her face must have communicated this to Big Tommy Romano.
“Is that him?” Romano asked in an ominous voice.
Debra swallowed and gave a half-nod, almost hoping Big Tommy would not recognize it as acknowledgment.
To her relief, Romano said, “Let it go to voice mail. He’ll call back. We have things to discuss. If he doesn’t, you’ll call him back.”
Caroline put Peter to bed an hour early. He was exhausted. And so was she. She had spent a good ninety minutes searching for anything she could find on Jake, last name unknown, occupation pharmacist. There had been a few posts on one of the neighborhood apps talking about what a great a pharmacist he was and that his company was not providing enough help. He had a Facebook page, but it hadn’t shown any activity in the last year. It did have pictures of a daughter and a wife and Jake. About a year ago, it also had quite a few posts expressing sorrow for his loss.
She had spent the rest of the day cleaning the house; vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and…doing five loads of laundry. All chores that had been piling up over the last week and a half. She’d tried to keep her mind busy and away from treacherous thoughts of Luca and his girlfriend/drug dealer, Debra something-or-other. Then she’d picked up Peter from the bus stop, oversaw his homework duties then allowed him sometime to play with a friend down the street. She’d whipped up his favorite dinner of hot dogs, mac and cheese followed by a bowl of ice cream. Then she’d bathed him, administered his Singulair and let him choose between thirty minutes of television or a video game. Tonight, Peter chose an episode of Power Rangers.
She’d tucked him in and thwarted two of Peter’s attempts to extend his awake time. A drink of water and a second trip to the bathroom.
After he was finally down for the night, she settled onto the sofa with a glass of wine sipping periodically as she flipped through the pages of the latest Cosmopolitan. The housework had exhausted her physically but the tribulations with her ex–tribulation seemed so trivial. The more appropriate descriptor was torment.
She’d endured years of unhappiness at Luca’s expense and his unyielding selfishness. Toward the end, she’d suffered bouts of terror and fear for both herself and her son. The divorce hadn’t cured her. In some ways, it had mad them worse. Luca did not want to let her go. He had to possess everything and every one in his life. She wasn’t sure but he’d finally acceded Watching Luca’s drug use spiral out of control was the last straw. She needed to get both of them away from Luca. The divorce had separated them from him legally. Now she was convinced she needed physical distance.
Unable to continue that exhausting train, her focus returned to the pharmacist.
What loss had he’d suffered? Had one of his parents died? Had it been a close friend or a sibling? Or…had it been someone more intimate? Had it been his wife?
That possibility sent a surge of morbid hope through her. After a moment, she’d chastised herself for wishing for the demise of another human being so that she might have an opportunity to rekindle the train wreck that was her social and romantic life. Her thinking about such things wouldn’t make them happened. He’d already suffered a loss. It was in the past.
Stop it! Stop acting so desperate!
Her cell phone chimed. It was Becky Jackson her BFF. Caroline answered and greeted her with half-hearted, melancholy acknowledgment.
“Well,” Becky began. “Sounds like someone’s taking a ride on the struggle bus. What’s wrong girlfriend?”
Caroline rubbed her hand across her forehead twice and expelled a slow sigh. “Oh, Becks, where do I begin?”
“Has that ex of yours been acting like the gigantic ass that he is again?”
Caroline shrugged. “Yeah, that and more.”
“Do tell Princess. I’m all ears!”
Caroline hadn’t spoken to Rebecca Milton in almost a week. Over the next forty minutes, she’d brought her up to date on the incidents and activities with Luca and the pharmacist, Peter’s asthmatic episode and her decision to file for sole custody for her son and the reasons why. When she finished her recitation of events, she said with resignation, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s too much!”
As he sat at the kitchen table with his daughter, Lizzie, Jake finally remembered signing the second document that Alfreda Downs had placed before him earlier today.
“Daddy, did you hear me?” Lizzie persisted.
“I’m sorry sweetie, what did you say?” The memory from earlier distracted him still
Somehow his mind had blocked out the recollection until now. It had been the second official write-up coming only minutes after the disciplinary action for closing the drive-thru. After she’d delivered the devastating news about the mistake and the magnitude of its consequences had finally taken root, Jake’s mind and body functioned on auto pilot not registering the minute details of the latter half of the meeting. The ever-present bile in his gut churned hotter. A combination of his desperate anxiety, the looming hangover from the six pack he’d downed earlier and the residual dyspepsia from his earlier episode of puking onto the asphalt beside his Tundra pick-up.
“I said,” Lizzie replied in the frustrated voice all women possess from birth. “Do you like my picture?”
The child had crayoned a messy, multi-colored landscape of an over-sized dog and in a square yard with disproportionately small trees.
“Oh,” Jake said, taking the paper. “Let me take a look.” He perused it critically.
“Well, Daddy, do you like it?”
“It’s very pretty. Lot’s of colors. Who’s dog is that?”
“But we don’t have a dog,” Jake pointed out.
“No,” Lizzie retorted. “We will. You’re going to get me a girl dog.”
“Oh…I see. I am?”
Claudia, Jake’s sister, who was finishing up dinner chortled loud enough to be heard. She carried two plates of broiled chicken, steamed broccoli and servings of garden salad. “Sounds a lot like her mother. You’ve got your hands full, brother.”
Now, the memory of the sound of the pen scratching across the page as his hand absently scribbled his name a second time on the document for this more serious infraction echoed like malignant white noise in his head. He had made a serious drug error that–according to Downs and Willings–had landed one of his patients in the hospital in dire condition.
Downs had informed him to not discuss the incident with anyone. “The company will handle the legal details. You must continue to work your shifts. We cannot afford to let you take any time off. You need to shake this off, Jake,” he recalled her attempt to soothe his angst. How the hell could he be expected to return to work tomorrow with this hanging over his head?
On the other hand he could not afford to miss any shifts. He needed the money. Not desperately. The small death benefit from Olivia’s life insurance had paid off his truck, her car and a big chunk of the mortgage principal.
“Did you hear me, Jake?” Claudia persisted.
Jake looked up at her. His eyes were filled with a glassy stare. “Oh, yeah sorry. Just distracted.”
“I know. Mom told me when you were putting Lizzie down for her nap.” She called over her shoulder as she returned to the kitchen to retrieve Lizzie’s plate of cut-up chicken, broccoli and some mac and cheese.
Earlier his mother had castigated him for getting drunk. And rightly so. Jake was disgusted with himself also for drowning himself in the beer to dampen his swelling angst. As wrong as he knew he was, he could not endure the hours-long castigation that would have come from his mother. He dreaded the laser-like glares, the condescending sighs and the perpetual inquiries that would have been forthcoming. After he’d exited the shower, he’d called Claudia is older sister and the one person who had not judged him for his drinking binges after Olivia’s death. She’d always looked out for him and in many ways still did. After he’d explained to her the predicament he was in, she’d not hesitated to come over. With some gentle nudging and unwavering persistence, Claudia convinced Mimmi to go home and let the brother and sister talk.
As they settled in for the meal, Claudia cast him a sideways glance. “So tell me what’s going on? And don’t feed me any–” She leaned in and lowered her voice to a whisper so Lizzie who was engrossed and wearing in her mac and cheese, “– any bullshit!“
Jake sucked in a deep sigh and pushed it out slowly. “Okay.” Then he plunged into his story.
Luca sat in the corner of the motel room in lower Newport News shaking and perspiring. He lived in Norfolk. His small chain of dry cleaners–the front for his illegal activities and the washing machine for all his dirty cash–were on the Southside. Despite his panic, he realized it was best to drive north across the Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel and find refuge as quickly as possible on the finger of land known as the Peninsula. That had been several hours ago.
The joint was a seedy, rundown one-story affair in the East End. Not the best area–not even close– rampant with crime, lower income dwellings and an industrial presence dominated by the shipyard. He wisely parked the Mercedes a mile north behind thick bushes and humped it back to the motel. He’d be lucky if it hadn’t already been stripped of its tires and hubcaps. He couldn’t be sure if anyone had seen him leave or if they’d registered his tag numbers.
Luca had paid in cash for two nights without having to provide identification or a credit card. He had no idea who had been shot, who had lived or who had died. He thought that one of his bullets had found its mark, hitting the Cuban Gomez. Luca had been so petrified about being struck himself, he’d fired to wild shots and ducked for cover.
But Gomez had been quick to see what was happening. And reacted with leonine reflexes and screamed something in Spanish. The rest had been a tornadic kaleidoscope of desperate activity.
Luca been slow to enter the restaurant. Il Gigante had probably figured his partner had chickened out and decided to take the initiative to take out Gomez himself. Luca wanted to find out what had happened. Where did he stand? Was Il Gigante dead or wounded? He could turn on the television and try to find a report. But Luca did not want to. A part of him hoped it would delay the inevitable.
His anxiety mounted with each minutes. He needed a hit, a fix, a snort–anything. He’d tried to call the only person he still trusted. Debra Perry. His call to her about thirty minutes ago had rolled to voicemail. She had been avoiding him. Luca knew that much. A small part of him guessed he could understand why. Luca knew his behaviors and decisions of late had been poor ones. But it frustrated him nonetheless. He had treated her well. She’d wanted for nothing.
He pulled in and expelled several deep breaths, trying to quell his nerves and his ire. After two minutes, he lifted the cellphone and initiated the second call to Debra.
-To Be Continued –
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