A Relationship Beckons: Sleepless Nights (#18) Wednesday

To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1Then navigate to subsequent posts using the links in the upper corners.

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Debra Perry:

Debra’s thumb hovered over her cell phone. Having composed it only moments ago, the message to Luca was displayed on the screen. All she had to do was touch the screen and it would be delivered. But moving her finger that last two inches was akin to moving a mountain. Her heart seemed to rise in her neck, choking her.

Last evening, she’d lain in bed after returning from Big Tommy’s place unable to sleep. Her mind replayed the conversation with the crime boss. It ruminated and agonized over the hows and whats of arranging the murder her lover. The wording, the timing and the resulting consequence were enormous issues weighing on her. Big Tommy Romano had done exactly what she’d expected him to do. He’d said exactly what he’d expected him to say. He’d given her an order. And in the same manner he’d given Luca his order only twenty-four hours earlier; in the same opulent room in which she had sat last evening.

“Luca has become a liability,” he’d declared bluntly. “I hoped we could salvage him. But after the events of today, it is not possible.” Big Tommy shook his head in feigned regret. But his voice bespoke no anger, no frustration and no regret. Whatever deviant or criminal activities in which Big Tommy participated or ordered, he was first and foremost a businessman. Luca Clivio was costing Romano’s organization revenue. The Cuban crime family was muscling in on his territory. And someone had to be held accountable. That person was Luca Clivio. Clivio had not been strong enough or forceful enough to keep the predators at bay. Big Tommy had intimated to Debra hat he was aware of Luca’s inability to motivate his team; that Luca was out of money and had snorted or injected most of it. Profit was paramount. Luca had to go.

Debra had simply nodded her agreement to Big Tommy’s simple but all-encompassing statement. She tried her best to hide her nervousness. But sweat erupted all over her body causing her thin sweater to cling to her breasts and back. Romano continued in a deep monotone. “Have you seen the television today?”

Debra shook her head once and whispered, “No.”

“As you are aware, I gave Luca an order to kill the Cuban–Fernando Gomez. There are reports of a shooting in Norfolk. Luca and Lorenzo Esposito’s operation failed. Esposito killed two of the Cuban’s bodyguards. But Gomez survived. Esposito also known as Il Gigante took two bullets in the gut. He’s in surgery.”

“How is Luca?” Debra croaked. Her question had two purposes. She needed to feed her heart and her head with information about the situation. He was after all her lover and her boss. So her emotions were torn between her feelings for him and her own survival. Her heart was truly concerned for the man who had been a wonderful lover. It was that same sensitivity and his use of the addictive products he peddled that made him a weak and unsuccessful criminal. Luca did not know it yet. But their relationship was over as of yesterday. Debra had made the decision after months and weeks of internal strife. She could not continue to be with him. Her head prayed secretly that Luca was already dead. If so, her angst over Romano’s order to end Luca’s life would be moot. And Debra would be spared the dreadful deed of taking his life.

Romano shrugged his wide, beefy shoulders. “Unfortunately, we do not know. I am told before the police and ambulances arrived, Il Gigante managed to call one of my boys who arrived just as the cops and the paramedics showed up. Il Gigante told our guy that Luca was late to the party. He fired one or two shots and dove into the kitchen of the restaurant. He has not been seen since.”

“Oh,” was all that Debra could manage. On one level, she was relieved. Luca was probably alive. While at the same time, her heart plummeted into her belly. Luca was probably alive. She was not sure how she should feel. That meant he

If her expression revealed anything about her internal discord, Romano did not let on. “You did call me today,” Big Tommy continued last night. “At first, I was going to discuss with you the chance that Luca could be–” Romano snapped his fat fingers. “Rehabilitated.” He cocked his head to one side. “Howeva, with today’s events, we must go in a different direction.”

Tears slid down her cheek along with a rivulet of snot from her nose. She swiped both away with a hand.

“You are going to kill Luca. You are close to him. He trusts you. I want this done by tomorrow.”

Her mind refocused on the item in her hand. Debra peered at the phone. The text sitting there calling out to her. Her thumb shook as did her whole hand.” Hi darling. Let’s get together today. I was exhausted and sleeping from following your ex-wife. Let me know when. She had followed the text with two heart emojis.

In the sleepless hours leading to the moment, she’d wrestled with the best way to carry out the morbid task. A gun was too noisy. She could poison him…but that would require obtaining something that was lethal very quickly. She could hit him with something blunt and heavy. That would require surprise.

No, she decided that the best way would require Luca letting down his guard. He needed to be relaxed and unprepared to defend himself. She pulled the stiletto from the end table. Her brother had given it to him for protection many years ago after a suitor had tried to take advantage of her. The silver blade glinted in the soft glow of the lamp light. The sun was still hours from rising. Darkness prevailed outside and within her.

This is how it would happen. It was quiet but lethal.

But there were many considerations. Where to do it? She could not do it here in her place. How would she dispose of the body? Big Tommy had not told her what to do after the deed was done. She was not strong enough to carry Luca’s dead body anywhere. She would need a better plan. She’d figure it out.

Debra placed the six inch blade into her purse.

She sucked in a tremulous breath, pushed out an equally shaky exhalation. Then with great reluctance as if her thumb were being opposed by an unseen but potent force, she lowered it onto the arrow on her screen.

Italian and French Connections

Jacques L’Enfant

“Who the fuck is this?” said the gruff, somnolent voice of Tommy Romano on other end of the line nearly four thousand miles to the west in Virginia. “Are you an idiota? Do you know what time it is?”

A devious smile widen over L’Enfant’s lips. It was nearly nine in the morning in his Paris luxury apartment on the Left Bank in the wealthy Seventh Arrondissement a stone’s throw from La Tour Eiffel. He had calculated the call to be made at precisely this time knowing that it would be almost four in the morning on the east coast of the United States.

He wanted this capo of Giuseppe Linguale to be surprised and unprepared for what was to follow.

L’Enfant had met with his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Linguale in Rome last evening at the pizzeria near the Trevi Fountain. Linguale had proposed a business transaction where their respective familles criminelles would divvy up the eastern Virginia region. The plan called for them to send teams to Norfolk in two weeks. L’Enfant had agreed and walked out never confirming the timeline. As soon as he’d left the Roman restaurant, he’d placed several calls. Two hours later, five of his most trusted men had hopped on a charted jet at Le Bourget airport. They touched down forty-five minutes ago at Norfolk International. L’Enfant had his own timeline. He was going to get a head start on his takeover of the northern area. And in the process was going to piss off the Italian. He wished he could see the look on Linguale’s face when he learned the news

“Do you know who I am?” Jacques L’Enfant inquired in a stage whisper. The French accent enhanced the air of aristocratic disdain in his voice.

The Italian-American cleared his throat amidst the rustling of bedclothes.

“Marrone….no…who is this?”

“My name is Jacques L’Enfant. I’m calling you from Paris. Look out your bedroom window.”

L’Enfant’s five man team had been in place for about an hour watching the residence. Two men were in a car on the street. The remaining three were on the beach side in the rear of the Ocean View residence standing on Romano’s pool deck.

Big Tommy Romano

My name is Jacques L’Enfant. I’m calling you from Paris. Look out your bedroom window.

Tommy Romano’s heart instantly thudded in his chest, rattling his ribcage like a condemned prisoner. His first instinct was to hang up and check in with his three bodyguards. Two were sitting in a vehicle on the street and one was downstairs in a guest bedroom. But curiosity prevailed. The large Italian whipped the covers off his legs. He moved with alarming dexterity for a man weighing three hundred pounds.

He was alone in the expansive space. His wife was in the Grand Caymans and had been for three weeks with her Latin lover.

He padded across the expansive carpet and reached the floor-to-ceiling window. He pulled back the heavy drape a few inches and looked down into the darkness. The sky and ocean melted into a seamless canvass. The sands had been combed smooth the the constant surf. The deck was lit by a small burning exterior lamp. Romano’s gaze moved to the multi-level deck and the swimming pool it surrounded. What his eyes saw sent bile surging into his throat. His heart skipped several beats. Seconds later, it resumed thrumming at an even faster rate.

Three silhouetted men wearing ski masks and holding large, suppressed sidearms stood on his deck each on one side of the pool. In the water of the pool, Romano could make out the outline of a man floating face down. A ribbony stain of darkness spread in all directions from the corpse. Romano recognized the figure as his bodyguard who was supposed to be asleep downstairs. These men had found a way past the security system and killed his bodyguard silently and without waking him.

“Figlio di puttana!” He let the drape fall back into place and he rumbled to his nightstand. Tossing the phone on the bed with the line still active, he removed the Beretta 92x. Forgetting there was already a round chambered, he racked the slide and a bullet tumbled end-over-end out of the gun and dropped with a tiny thud onto the carpet.

Romano retrieved the phone. “Who the fuck are you? What do you want?”

“Don’t bother calling your other two men in the car on the street, Tommy. They, too, are already dead.”

“How…did you? Who…are you?”

“My men will be upstairs in thirty seconds. If you want to live, you will do exactly as they say.”

Jacques L’Enfant

L’Enfant disconnected the call with Romano. He pocketed that phone and lifted a second device to his ear. “Take him alive,” he commanded to one of the men standing on the Romano’s pool deck. “Get the names of all his capos.” L’Enfant paused for effect. “Then you know what to do.”

“Consider it done,” came the reply.

Caroline and Jake

Later that morning, fatigue overtook Jake quickly this morning. His eyelids, itchy and watery, felt like they’d been laden with molten lead. His mind had been aflame with concern and anxiety since yesterday and learning about the drug error he’d made. He’d needed to protect himself professionally and legally.

What if this patient died? What did the family or the patient know about the drug error?

When he had a moment he would call the insurance company that carried his professional liability insurance. Then he needed to find a good lawyer. Suddenly, Jake worried about his future.

To make his dilemma worse, today’s workload in the pharmacy was crammed full of vaccine appointments and the computer queue still had five hundred prescriptions that were three days behind. His two technicians moved like they were walking in wet cement. They–like Jake–were numbed by years of constant bombardment of demanding patients, shots, walk-up prescriptions and more walk-up shots. It was impossible to keep up.

According to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, Jake now had been blessed and also burdened with complete control over every aspect of the practice of pharmacy. Jake had the right to refuse to perform any vaccination or fill any prescription or not provide a service like closing a drive-thru just as he’d done two days ago. And he’d actually made many of those decisions. Unfortunately, his company, Alliance, and their competitors still refused to acknowledge the front-line pharmacist’s new found authority. Or accept the reality of the deteriorating work environments in retail pharmacies. The consequences of a complaint to the Board could–and often did–result in retaliation from his superiors. As his recent interactions with Stephan Willings had demonstrated.

He had risen at five this morning. After a Marine shower, a quick cup of coffee and breakfast of a peanut butter covered English muffin, he’d checked on Lizzie. Claudia had spent the night in the next room. Jake insisted that she leave, go home and sleep in her own bed beside her husband. She’d refused. When Jake pushed back harder. His older sister did not yield. She pushed back with the force of a speeding Mack truck. As the encounter was about to turn into an all out argument. Claudia reminded him that if she left before morning, their mother would make Jake’s–and Claudia’s life–miserable.

Following a short, tense interlude, Claudia asked, “So what the hell is going on?”

With Lizzie sound asleep, the siblings discussed Jake’s drug error and the resultant stress. For an hour Jake had bared his soul, reciting the full story behind his alcoholic relapse. Claudia was the only person he trusted with such information.

“Don’t tell her,” Jake pled, referring to their mother.

“Do you have your drinking under control?” Claudia inquired with great concern.

Jake had sighed and replied, “I certainly hope so.”

Claudia reached out and placed her well-manicured fingers on his forearm. “If you’re feeling like your in trouble, call me…not Mom.”

Jake responded with a single, tentative nod.

Before work, he’d driven to a private gun range that was available to its members twenty-four seven. Jake unlocked the doors and spent thirty minute firing his Desert Eagle 44. Sixty rounds later, Jake policed up his brass and locked up the building. Feeling a little less stressed and somewhat more in control of his life, he headed back and relieved Claudia. He dressed Lizzie and took her to breakfast at the Warwick Restaurant. Lizzie had her pancakes smothered in strawberry syrup while Jake ate three scrambled eggs, three sausage links and slugged two more cups of coffee. Thirty minutes after paying the bill, he’d dropped his daughter off at Claudia’s and headed to the pharmacy.

Now two hours into his shift, he stood before the computer terminal which told him his day was rapidly rapidly spiraling out of control–again! Trying but unable to properly focus, he spied Caroline walking down the center aisle. His heart jumped in his chest.

For the moment, he pushed the drug error and his brush with insobriety and the overdue prescriptions into a recess of his mind.

Luca:

“I need to know what they know,” Luca barked into his cell phone. He had reached out to his contact several minutes ago. Luca had endured two minutes of banal conversation with barely restrained patience. The only reason, he’d waited that long was he needed information. Thirty seconds after the call began, Luca’s phone vibrated. He removed the device from his ear and saw that Debra had finally responded to his many texts.

Hi darling. Let’s get together today. I was exhausted and sleeping from following your ex-wife. Let me know when. Her words were followed by two red hearts.

Luca inflated with hope. Debra was the only person who understood him. Simply being in her presence calmed him. And by God did he need some calming now.

“I’m gonna need some time, Luca,” Derek Hamer replied in a stage whisper filled with frustration. The cop on the other end of the call had been on Luca’s payroll for eight months. The background noise on the line consisted of cars driving past and the wind rustling nearby trees. Luca knew he had stepped outside his precinct walls in mid-town Newport News for privacy.

“Cazzate!” That response ignited His irritation which had been fermenting in vats of worry and restlessness and lie just out of reach of his consciousness bubbled to the surface. “God damn it, Derek. I pay your for informanzione! I need it when I need it!”

“Don’t raise your voice to me, goomba! Your money buys you protection in my precinct. Remember, I do not pass along info to my superiors in my precinct that could cause you problems. Understand! Capisce! And I provide you information that comes across my desk. You are asking me for information about a shooting in Norfolk. That’s a different city…across the water. I’m not privvy to what’s going on over there. I can find out but….I…need…time!”

Luca ran a hand through his thick, black hair. Sweat dribbled down his spine. “Va bene. Perdonami!” He sighed into the phone. “How long?”

“That’s better,” Hamer replied. “I got a buddy over in First Patrol Blue. That’s not where the shooting happened. But he might be able to give me some better 4-1-1. Give me an hour. I’ll call you back.”

Hamer disconnected the call before Luca could object. “Merda!”

Luca paced the perimeter of the room twice. Then he remembered the text and called Debra. It rolled to voice mail. So he texted her back. So glad you texted. I need to stay out of sight. I need you to come to me.

What the hell was he going to do? He needed to make some hard decisions. But he could not think straight right now. His gut gurgled. He could not remember the last time he’d eaten. He was famished and needed food. He’d seen a fast food joint a couple blocks up the road. He preferred to stay out of sight but his hunger would not wait.

He checked his phone. Debra still had not replied. What the hell?! She’d just texted him! He grabbed his jacket, opened the door, checked both ends of the open air breezeway and tentatively headed out.

Jake and Caroline

Jake moved toward the drop off window and arrived there just as Caroline did. She cast a quick glance toward the line at the register. A patient was asking the technician serving her an endless series of questions. The four patrons queued behind were shifting their weight impatiently.

“I know you’re incredibly busy,” she said. “Can you transfer these here when you have a moment?” She removed three prescription containers and an inhaler from her purse and slid them to Jake. He noticed that they were empty. Three were for her son, Peter. One, Ativan, was for her.

Jake took information for both mother and son including the address, drug allergies and insurance information. “There’s no rush,” she said. “When should I come back?”

Jake shrugged. “I’ll call on these later today. Check with me tomorrow.”

Caroline flashed a white, toothy smile beneath a pair of beguiling emerald eyes . “Great, that’s a lot better than what CVS told me?”

“I do what I can. It’s not the pharmacist’s or the tech’s fault. It’s the damned system.”

She nodded once. “I know.” Then she removed something else from her purse and held out her hand. Jake reached out and placed his hand palm up to receive it. Caroline put her hand on his and released the item. She slid her fingers along his and whispered. “Read it later.” Her smile was genuine and inviting. A moment later, she turned and walked away.

Jake admired the view as she ambled up the center aisle without looking back. Then his attention was redirected to the item in his hand. It was a white piece of paper neatly folded into a small square.

Jake opened it and read the words inscribed on it in a flowing, artistic cursive. He smiled and slipped the note into his pocket.

To Be Continued

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