A Relationship Beckons: Notes and Knives (#19) 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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Luca/Debra

As he waited in line in the drive-thru at the McDonald’s a few blocks up the street from the seedy motel in lower Newport News serving as his hideout, Luca’s cell phone buzzed. Checking the caller ID, he connected immediately.

“Debra,” he sighed. “Where are you!?”

“I’m at home. Where are you? Where have you been? What’s going on?”

The car behind Luca honked once impatiently. Instinctively, the impatient Italian wanted to get of the car and pummel the red neck. Through the rearview mirror he saw the offender was a bearded white male wearing stained mesh baseball cap. Luca refocused on the line of cars queued in front of him and realized he had fallen behind. He released the brake and rolled forward. “Hold on,” he barked into the phone as he pulled even with the window.

A minute later, Luca drove away with his breakfast and spoke to Debra. “I need you,” he begged. “I’m in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“The big kind.”

“Tell me.”

“Not on the phone. Meet me. Come right away. I’ll text the address in a few minutes.”

“I need you to te-” Debra’s voice was cut off. Luca had disconnected.

Debra

Debra cursed out loud. She was in mid-sentence when he ended the call. With all the anxiety mounting inside her, that deed pissed her off to no end. She wanted to cry and wring his neck at the same time. She checked the wall clock. It was just past ten in the morning. She would not need to get Peter from school for at least five more hours. That left her plenty of time to do meet Luca and perhaps do the dirty deed.

Five minutes later, her phone buzzed with a text message. Luca had sent the address. Debra googled it and learned that it was a motel in the east end section of Newport News near the shipyard.

She moved quickly about the house grabbing an assortment of items: a change of clothes, shoes and underwear. She rummaged through her closet and found an old wig she’d donned for a Halloween party a few years back. After stuffing everything in an oversized bag, Debra tapped away on her phone and summoned a car through one of the ridesharing apps. She requested a pickup at a location a half mile away. She would need to walk quickly to catch her Lyft.

Perspiration erupted from her pores, coating her entire body. She doubled checked the pistol in her purse and then the stiletto. After several courage-inducing sighs, she grabbed her keys and strode toward the front door. As she pulled the front door closed, the realization struck her that she was closing the door on her current life and was about to walk into a totally different one.

Big Tommy Romano

The pain slithering through his body was like none Tommy Romano had ever experienced. He lay splayed under a harsh cone of stark light. His massive, hirsute and round body lay supine without a stitch covering it. His clothing had been expertly cut away and lie in a shredded heap on the concrete floor a few feet away. His body heat had long ago warmed the smooth cold surface on which he lied. It was some kind of industrial worktable in a large drafty warehouse. He had just awoken. He couldn’t remember how many times he’d passed out during the seemingly endless torture session. As he came awake now, he realized his tormentors had taken a break. The bad news was that he was in excruciating pain. That was the good news too. It meant he was still alive. Though at the moment he wasn’t sure he wanted to be.

Though the torment had been temporarily halted, he knew they were not done with him. His body was immersed in a volcanic wave of agony. The large Italian tried to distract his mind by focusing on the Frenchman who’d called him. Romano struggled to remember his name. The baguette had told him il nome moments before his trio of intruders had entered his bedroom.

Romano had fired several wild shots into the opposite bedroom wall. One had returned fire, hitting him in the left leg. Romano had dropped the weapon and gone down like an imploded building. Now his suffering was so intense, the over-stimulated synapses in his brain could process no pertinent information. He couldn’t remember the damn name.

Changing mentals tactics, he began to assess his physical state. His flabby arms and meaty legs were spread apart like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man albeit a plump one. Romano tried to move his appendages without success. He rotated his head to the right and glimpsed his blood-covered arm. The wrist was encircled up to the elbow with by yards of duct tape, securing the arm to a narrow metal table. He lifted his head off the table as far as he could. His face had been beaten and battered by three pairs of fists for fifteen minutes. Though it was difficult to see through his swollen and blood-soaked eyes, he managed to evaluate his lower body. Both legs which were equally covered in patches of dried blood. The left thigh sported a dark crimson circle where the bullet had entered. Blood no longer flowed from it. But pain continues to sear him. His ankles had been bound in much the same manner as him arms.

He lay his head back down, jostling his face and jaw, sending bolts of white light into his vision. The side of his face pulsed. He was confident his jaw was broken. Tasting blood in his mouth, he moved his tongue reflexively over his lips. More dried, crusted blood. How long had they been at him?

To say his body hurt was like saying the Grand Canyon was a hole in the ground. A carousel of various agonies took turns assaulting his brain. Each open wound competed for attention. His skin and been cut, sliced and flayed in many areas. The open wounds were aflame in the dampness of the open space. At one point, they had taken a blow torch to the bottom of his feet. The burns must have obliterated his nerve endings because he could no longer feel them.

L’Enfant! That was it. That was the name of the bastardo who had ordered the attack on his men and home and the man who had ordered his capture. Romano swore he would report this transgression to Giusepppe Linguale his boss in Rome. If–and that was a big if–he survived this torture.

His password! They had wanted the password to his phone. The device contained the names of all his contacts. His team, his suppliers and even his enemies. The gun runners, drug smugglers and human traffickers who had slipped across the southern border many months ago thanks to the lax policies of the federal government. His whole operation was on that phone. Big Tommy could not remember if he’d surrendered it. The fact that he was still alive gave him confidence he had not surrendered it. Exhausted from fighting the pain and the threat of the same, Tommy closed his eyes and lapsed back into a state of semi-consciousness.

He woke again an undetermined time later by the sound of a squeaking door opening then slamming shut. This was followed by sound of multiple heavy leather shoes on the concrete floor. The same three dour-faced men appeared in the perimeter of the cone of stark light. The leader a smallish man with a guardsman’s moustache and a thick French accent preceded the other two goons to his side. A smile spread out across his aquiline features.

This time instead of a knife or a blow torch, the man held a cell phone. A bluish light emanated from the screen. The Frenchman spoke in a low, menacing tone. “I commend you, Big Tommy. You have lasted longer than anyone I have ever interrogated before. We will try something else, n’est-ce pas?”

The Frenchman held the phone before Tommy revealing the image on the screen. Instantly, Tommy squirmed and tensed against his bonds. “You bastardos,” he hissed. “I will kill you!”

The leader looked at the screen then turned it back for Tommy to see. The image was a video of his daughter, Nicole, who was supposed to be away at college. Her hands had been bound behind her and a gag dimpled the skin around her mouth. Her eyes were damp and mascara streaked her face. A large man wearing a black cloth over his head held a long, sparkling blade to her throat.

The Frenchman whispered his next words. “No, you won’t. You will give me the password to your phone or you will watch you daughter’s blood splattered on the screen. Then as a reward I will kill you quickly.” He paused then showed Romano a blood-stained blade. “Or there will be more of this.” He smiled and ran the end of moustache between a thumb and forefinger. “So what will it be, mon ami?”

Jake

As usual, Jake was buried in an endless stream of electronic prescriptions and patients waiting for shots. About three hours into his shift, he’d simply stopped caring. It was all too much to absorb day after day. And now he was burdened with a pharmacist’s worst nightmare: a drug error. More specifically, a drug error that had caused harm to one of his patients. The specter hung in his mind like the Sword of Damocles. After Caroline’s brief visit to the pharmacy, he had been briefly but pleasantly distracted. He did not completely understand why but he was glad for it nonetheless. He would not have reached out to her on his own. He at that point in his life. He did not possess the energy to pursue anything or anyone. After she’d departed, Jake left the pharmacy to retrieve a soda from the wall refrigerators, he’d pulled out the note she’d slipped him and read it. A smile curled over his lips.

Jake,

I very much enjoyed our breakfast yesterday. Thank you again for treating Peter and returning my phone. I would like to buy you dinner. Breakfast was not enough. I’m normally not this forward. Please don’t think poorly of me. You seem like an upstanding guy. If you would be interested, please text me or call on my phone. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll understand.

Caroline

She had written her cell number on the paper. Since she’d summoned the courage to reach out to him…maybe…just maybe he would call her.

Upon his return to the pharmacy with drink in hand, the more dire issues again weighed on him. He wanted to–no he needed to–investigate this drug error. He must know the details of what happened. He needed to see it for himself and not rely on what anyone from Alliance Pharmacy told him. He would investigate the facts of how and when the insulin prescription had been filled. And he needed to find out how the patient was. He’d been instructed let the company handle the matter. They’d implied they would protect him legally. He was protected under the company’s insurance, the vice president Althea Downs has said. Yeah, right! Jake knew that he would be protected as long as he did not throw the company under the bus or deviate from what they wanted. If his interests were different from the company’s, he would not be protected. He did not trust anyone in management in his company or in the industry. These people had perpetuated the horrible working conditions all pharmacists faced. And at least in part, he blamed them for what had happened.

He also needed to find a good attorney who practiced medical or pharmacy malpractice. And he would need to file a claim with his professional liability carrier. That would be after he learned more.

“Hey buddy,” a man called from the cash register area. He was a customer looking pissed and impatient. “What the hell are you doing to get us some service?”

Jake was immediately shocked. No matter how much it happened–and it happened frequently, a rude patient always initially caught the staff off guard. Jake’s defenses sharpened in conjunction with his ire. He filled his lungs with air and counted to five. Expelling the breath, he marched slowly toward the man, covering the fifteen feet in three strides. As he pulled to a stop, Jake leaned in so that his face was only a few inches from the man’s. The stench of cigarette smoke oozed from the man. He spoke in a slow, measured tone, indicating that mayhem lay just beneath the surface. “You wanna try that again, buddy!

He didn’t remember this idiot’s name. But he knew the guy from previous visits. He was a narcotic patient. A frequent flyer who was in every month and always early for his opioid prescriptions. The man’s face softened and retreated a few steps. Jake knew the type. A prescription drug addict with little patience who thought he could get his way by being a bully. The man’s impulse control had disappeared years ago. Clinically, Jake couldn’t be sure anymore if the man really needed his meds to quell pain or if he was just addicted. He guessed the latter. At what point did a patient like this stop being a pain patient and become a drug addict?

The look on the man’s face told Jake instantly that he knew he’d stepped in it. Jake’s barely restrained response reminded the patient of one salient fact. Jake was the only person standing between him and his narcotic fix.

“I didn’t mean no harm, man. Just need my medication.”

“We’re still working on it,” Jake barked. Jake had no clue if his medicine was ready or not. Even if it was, this jerk had just earned himself sometime in the penalty box. “I’ll call you up when it’s ready.” Jake’s glare cut through the man. “Take a seat!”

The patient skulked over to the three chairs in the small waiting area, looking admonished and irritated. Jake asked the technician to remind him of the man’s name. She gave it to him. Jake checked his patient profile and saw that the medication was ready. But the line at the register had been long and slow.

As a pharmacist Jake had learned years ago, if you allowed patients to bully you or the staff and did not stand your ground, the behavior only got worse. Jake had scolded a multitude of unruly patients over the years that they could take their prescriptions elsewhere if they did not fix their behavior. Many times that fixed the errant behavior. He’d even banned a handful for over-the-top actions and threats. His company did not like it. But Jake had stood his ground and the few expulsions stood.

Trying to push the episode away, he instructed one of his technicians to wait ten minutes then they could release the medication to Mr. Impatient. “I’m going to give this shot. Then I need fifteen minutes in the office…undisturbed.”

He’d decided on two courses of action. One involved researching the drug error. The other also involved the mistake. But he wouldn’t be able to act on that course until tonight after he left work.

Debra/Luca

Debra rapped three times on the door to room six of the ancient motel as she adjusted her handbag on her shoulder and the leather bag in her hand. The gun and the knife in her purse though not weighing much felt like a pair of anvils. The peeling paint on the door had been replaced by dotted rusting metal. Ten seconds later, a disheveled and stressed Luca Clivio cracked it an inch. Seeing it was her, he opened it wider, reached out, clutched her wrist and yanked her inside.

After the door was closed, Luca declared, “I’m so glad to see you.” He moved to her and pulled her into a tight bear hug. She dropped the large leather handbag holding her clothes and wig and reluctantly wrapped her arms around him. Luca was so distracted he didn’t notice the second bag.

He whispered into her hair. “I need you. I’m in trouble.”

His body was hot and stunk of sweat and fear. Perspiration coated very inch of him. She almost gagged on the stench. She pushed him away. “We’ll talk. I see you’ve eaten,” she said, noticing the wrinkled fast-food sack and the soda cup.

He tried to kiss her deeply. Debra braced her hands against his chest. He did this everytime he was angry, in trouble or high. He wanted to make love to her. For some reason, it soothed him. He tried again. But she pushed back more firmly. “Luca, you stink. You must take a shower.”

“Va bene,” he whispered in frustration. “But be ready for me.” Luca began shedding his day-plus old clothing as he headed to the bathroom.

Debra waited until the door closed and heard the shower running. She dug the stiletto out of her purse and placed it under her pillow. She removed all her clothing except her bra and panties and climbed under the sheets which felt stiff and rough. The wait lasted forever. She fidgeted and squirmed.

Then the bathroom door swung open releasing a cloud steam. Luca emerged naked, rubbing his hair with a towel. He forced a smile as he walked with more confidence around the bed. Climbing under the covers, Debra tensed. She’d made love with him countless times. In the beginning, it had been free and easy. But lately the act had become forced and loveless–robotic. Today, it was the prelude to murder.

Luca kissed her. Debra allowed it but had a very hard time reciprocating. His hand began roaming over her body. Her tenseness deepened. Goose flesh erupted on her skin. Luca moved his lips to her neck and began heading lower. Debra stopped him. “You need to tell me what happened. We’re not doing this until I know,” she said. What she thought was: We’re not doing this again…ever!

She was on the right side of the bed. Sitting up, she leaned against the weak headboard. “So? Tell me!”

Luca licked his lips summoning saliva and strength. As he searched for the words, Debra slipped her right hand between rough headboard and the pillow. She curved her wrist under the natty pillow and found the cold metal of the blade. The intensity of its temperature shocked her. Re-orienting the weapon, she wrapped her hand around the hilt.

“Luca, tell me what happened.”

To Be Continued

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