A Relationship Beckons: Research and Reprieve (#20) 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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Big Tommy Romano and Andre Balzac

The small Frenchman was not taller than five feet five inches. He’d revealed his name to the Italian as he walked toward him with the phone. “My name is Andre Balzac. What is your decision, Big Tommy? What will it be?” he repeated. The image of his daughter Nicole in tears being held at gunpoint filling the screen. It was Andre Balzac. The Guardsmen moustache coating his upper lip had been a source of pride and his Frenchness for many years. It was thick and black with curving lines tapering to sharp points, held rigid by moustache wax. It provided a foundation for the steely, hazel eyes flanking a thin, aquiline nose. Possessing the surname Balzac in France had been both a curse and source of pride. Honoré de Balzac the renowned and revered playwright and novelist had–it is surmised–influenced many great writers like Zola, Flaubert, Dickens and Proust to name a handful.

Andre Balzac was descended from the eighteenth-century wordsmith in a very distant way. Unfortunately he had not been blessed with a scintilla of written compositional talent. In fact, his undiagnosed attention deficit disorder had resulted in endless badgering and bullying beginning in Ecole Première all the way through the Lycee. Andre did not finish that last segment of education, dropping out of the high school level to become part of Jacques l’Enfant’s criminal Milieu. Balzac had killed, extorted and strong-armed anyone and everyone for his master. He was ruthless and driven. In the organized crime world, that was a formidable pairing. He had been with L’Enfant for almost twenty years and had worked his way up the ranks to becoming one of l”Enfant’s most trusted capitaines.

Now, he stood over the body of Tommy Romano as it grew cold in the semi-darkened warehouse on the Norfolk waterfront. Balzac had asked the Italian how he wanted to die. Initially, the large man hesitated as he lie naked and bleeding on the cold metal table, perhaps contemplating his options, perhaps his mind was muddled with excruciating pain. There were only two choices. He could refuse to give up the password to his phone. If so, he would have been subjected to further torture and suffering. And his daughter would also be killed before his eyes via the phone video. Or he could capitulate. He would then be given a relatively painless death and Nicole would be spared. Either way, Big Tommy Romano was a dead man. Balzac knew it. And so did Romano. When Balzac lifted the phone and marched toward the table, the big tough, Italian crime boss wilted under the threat of harm to his daughter.

“I’ll give you the password,” Romano had wheezed. “Please promise you won’t hurt Nicole.”

Balzac smiled speculatively and replied, “You have my word as a Frenchman and a father.”

Ten seconds after Romano had recited the password to him, Balzac had unlocked the phone and scrolled through Romano’s contacts. The Frenchman produced a Beretta from his waistband and shot Romano between the eyes. Then he’d lifted the phone to his lips and issued two words to the man on the other end. “Do it.”

Seconds later a shot was heard through the open phone line.

All that had taken place forty minutes ago. In the intervening time, Balzac had recited names and phone numbers of members of Romano’s ten captains. The two other men with Balzac had started making phone calls five minutes ago. “If they don’t answer, leave a message and tell them Big Tommy has summoned them to a meeting at this address.” Balzac had written the address down on separate slips of paper.


The ugly brocade sofa was one of the few physical assets leftover from her marriage. She accepted it only because she needed something to sit one when she got divorced. Otherwise, she wanted nothing to remind her about Luca Clivio. Caroline sat on the hideous thing now cursing herself and the desperate state of mind she had been in. The same state of mind that had taken her over and allowed her to walk into Jake’s pharmacy and hand him a note asking to see him again. What the hell were you thinking? He’s a married man with a daughter.

During the brief meeting over the counter, Caroline had sensed Jake had been distracted. He was not quite as focused as he had been at breakfast yesterday. She didn’t know him very well. But she sensed there was something weighing on his mind. Either that, she told herself, or he’s just not interested and was frustrated by her appearance.


Ignoring the growing numbers of prescriptions, Jake sat in the small office area inside his Alliance Pharmacy department in northern Newport News with a several sheaves of paper on the desk. If he had been distraught upon hearing the news from his district superiors, now he was panicked. Althea Downs’s allegations had been confirmed by Jake’s own eyes. The patient’s profile did not lie.

The patient’s name was Lester Combs. Jake had pieced together the little bit he knew about the man from memories of a handful of conversations over the last six months. He was a truck driver with three kids and a surly wife who was addicted to oxycodone, alprazolam and an assortment of muscle relaxers. Coombs had been recently diagnosed in the last year. Diet, exercise and weight loss had not lowered his A1C. So his physician had prescribed injectable insulin.

Jake had pulled up Combs’s pharmacy profile right after telling the impatient patient that he’d have to wait a little longer for his prescription and administering the immunization that had been waiting. The dreaded evidence was there in pixelated black and white on the computer screen. Four days earlier, an electronic prescription had been received from the doctor’s office for Humalog insulin. Humalog is a short-acting insulin usually given just before meals or in response to high blood sugars. The effect was immediate and short-lived and helped diabetics to keep their blood sugars regulated. Coombs had been prescribed to give himself a sliding scale of Humalog three to four time a day. However, Jake confirmed that he had verified a prescription for Lantus, a long-acting insulin in the place of the Humalog. One dose of Lantus lasted twenty-four hours. If Mr. Coombs had been giving himself the Lantus instead of the Humalog, the long-acting doses of the Lantus would have a cumulative effect of continually lowering his blood sugars. Perhaps with catastrophic consequences.

Jake’s further investigation showed that one of his pharmacy technicians, Kayla Jones, had reviewed the new prescription and entered the information incorrectly into the computer. Kayla was a newly licensed technician with very little experience and who tended to talk too much rather than focusing on her work. The prescription had made its way to Jake’s computer and for whatever reason, Jake had verified the prescription as correct. Kayla would be counseled. But Jake would be held responsible. He was the pharmacist.

The general public had no idea how stressed and distracted retail pharmacy personnel were. The drive-thrus, the phone calls, the endless requests for flu shots or other vaccines, the demand by corporate to increase the numbers of everything, the impatient and sometimes abusive patients…and of course the hundreds of prescriptions they were expected to push out in a matter of minutes.

Perhaps Jake had been distracted by a customer asking a question, or he had to answer a phone call. Or maybe he had a headache or was under the weather and was not as sharp as he could be and–at the exact moment–he was placing his finger on the biometric fingerprint scanner, his mind wandered. Or had he been previously engaged with a complaining customer and his mind could not pull itself away from the issue? Or had his supervisor Stephan Willings called and demanded something unreasonable creating frustration?

Whatever the reason, Jake knew that full responsibility rested with him. Mistakes were always placed squarely on the shoulders of the pharmacist? Jake had known many pharmacists who had complained about the working conditions to higher-ups. Jake had been one on a few occasions. Every time they were told to shut up and get back to work.

One way or another, Jake would have to answer for this drug error. No matter what circumstances led to it.


Luca began slowly, trying to find the words to describe what had taken place. “As you know, Big Tommy wanted me and the big man to take out Gomez. We tried. We failed. I think. I’m waiting on a report from one of my snitches in the Newport News PD. He said it will take some time.”

“That was the shooting I saw on television?” Debra grasped the handle of the stiletto more tightly. Sweat coated her palms making them slick against the weapon.

Luca nodded hesitantly.

“We’re you injured?” She asked, moving the weapon to the edge of the pillow under which it was hidden.

“No but I think Il Gigante was hit. And a couple of Gomez’s guards. But I think Gomez survived.” Luca sucked in a lungful of air. He noticed Debra’s pale state.

Forgetting his predicament for the moment, Luca said, “You don’t look so good, Deb. What’s wrong? Are you ill?”

If you only knew. “I’m fine,” she lied. “Just tired. Go on.”

“The bullets were flying everywhere. I got off a couple of shots. I ducked out of the way…into the kitchen. Then I left through a window.” Luca was sweating. His eyes were wrapped with tension.

You’re not as tough or brave as you make yourself out to be, are you? In the early months of their relationship, Luca had seemed larger than life. He was the proverbial bad boy that woman loved to love. He was dangerous and exotic. But in the past few months as his addiction took over and he’d run afoul of Big Tommy, Luca appeared to literally shrink before he. Now he was a broken, petrified man. Debra moved the knife as close to the edge of the pillow as she dare. She sucked in several silent but deep breaths summoning the will to cross over to the other side.

Then Luca’s phone rang. “It’s probably my informant.” He picked it up instantly and clicked on.

Debra listened to Luca’s end of the conversation. Luca was not asking questions about police investigations or shootings. After a few minutes, he spat, “That bitch!’

Instantly, Debra knew he was referring to his ex, Caroline. She had seen that look on his face too many times. What had she done now? Luca would be furious when he end the call. He did just that a minute later after saying “I’ll get back to you later.”

“What did she do now?”

“That…” Luca stopped, trying to compose himself. He was on his feet now, opening and closing his hands into tight fists. “That was my attorney. She has filed for sole custody of Peter.” Luca rose from the bed and paced the floor. He screwed his face into a mangled mess of furrowed brows, squinting eyes and contracting and relaxing facial muscles. “I’m going to kill her.”

This was no good, she thought. She needed him on his back. He was too strong for her to attack him while he was standing. Her thrust had to be a surprise and when he was relaxed. “Come back to bed,” she pleaded. “Let me make love to you.” Perspiration erupted on her back.

Luca made several more passes along the side of the bed. Three minutes later, he’d calmed somewhat. “Come back to bed,” she persisted. She would attack as soon as he lay back down.

Luca leaned over the bed and grasped the folded back bed covers. Debra clutched the stiletto with a death grip. He had one knee on the mattress and was beginning to turn to lay on his back. Debra readied the blade removing it from under the pillow and moving it behind her back.

She readjusted the weapon to a reverse grip for a downward thrust. Ready to bring the knife around her torso, Luca’s phone rang again.

Shit! She couldn’t attack while he was on the phone. Whoever was on the other line would know something was happening. Debra relaxed for the moment and listened.

Luca greeted the caller, a question in his voice.

“Yeah, this is Luca Clivio. Who the f*ck is this!”

Luca listened for ten seconds.

“What?” A mask of confusion clouded Luca’s features. “Who is this?!” He repeated. Debra waited as Luca absorbed the response.

“I report to Big Tommy Romano.”

More silence.

“Holy sh*t!…When?”

The caller spoke. Luca mouthed the words…Holy Sh*t.

“Text it to me…What time?”

The caller apparently ended the call. Luca lowered the phone in his hand. “Marone,” he whispered. He followed that with, “sonofa!” He turned to Debra. “I gotta go.”

Debra wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or disappointed. “What is it?” She asked.

“Big Tommy’s family has been taken over…by a Frenchman.”

“A Frenchman? Where’s Big Tommy?

“Big Tommy is dead!”

To Be Continued

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