A Relationship Beckons: Death and Deception (#21)

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.

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Jake

Jake entered through the automatic sliding doors of Tidewater Regional Medical Center’s gleaming front entrance carry a small backpack. The hospital consisted of twin spires connected by enclosed walkways at two different levels. The front entrance was a two-story flat-roofed structure from which both towers seemed to sprout. He’d been here few times. Jake knew a couple of pharmacists from his pharmacy college days that worked in the inpatient and outpatient pharmacies. He’d actually interviewed for a job with the Pharmacy Director Melissa Harrison a few years back. Jake had heard she had died unexpectedly.

Tidewater Regional had also been in the local and national news a few years earlier. They were at the epicenter of an illicit and illegal drug testing scandal. The details were thin in the papers and news reports. Jake guessed that a lot of the intimate details had been squelched. The land on which the hospital lived dated back to the Civil War. Perhaps even further. There were many underground tunnels spider webbing beneath the surface dug and built by the Confederates using slave labor for the purpose of escape by Southerners as the Union forces advanced on the Virginia Peninsula. A novel entitled Second Chance (Use code pharmacy50 to get 50% off) had been written by a local author which had based the plot on the known incidents. The explosion of the Science Building at John Radcliffe University across Warwick Boulevard had been tied to the scandal. Jake had read the book. It made for interesting reading.

The lobby was handsomely appointed with red marble and granite; highly polished floors and soft muzak being pumped from unseen speakers. Jake approached the visitor registration desk. A well-dressed matronly black woman sat behind it and greeted him.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a sweet, pleasant Southern drawl.

“I’m here to see Lester Combs. He’s my neighbor,” Jake replied.

“I’ll need your driver’s license. Please place it in the machine.”

Thirty seconds later, Jake had been given a stick-on name badge with his driver’s license picture on it. She told him that Combs was in the intensive care unit. She pointed him to the north tower elevators. He pressed the up button. The elevator arrived and a man and a woman exited. Jake entered the carriage and was the only passenger. As the car ascended, he opened the backpack he’d brought with him and removed a white lab coat which he’d rolled carefully to avoid creating wrinkles. He also donned his Alliance Pharmacy badge and attached it to the lapel of his lab jacket. He exited on the fourth floor and followed the signs to the intensive care unit. The badge did not match those of the hospital employees. But he hoped it would serve the purpose for what he was about to do.

He moved along the corridor brightly lit, sterile hallway towards the nursing unit. He passed an open door of what appeared to be some kind of break area. In it, a hospital employee wearing green scrubs sat at a table drinking coffee. A lab jacket with a badge hanging from it sat over the chair back. Jason continued past the door moving tentatively along the hallway reading the signs directing him to the ICU. He reached the entrance. The large wooden double doors allowed access only by swiping a badge. There was in intercom. Jake wasn’t sure if his presence in the hospital was now on record or if the woman at the registration desk might have signaled his arrival electronically through the hospital’s computers. Many organizations had beefed up security because of the many mass shootings. He looked around but did not see a plate to push that would open the door for visitors to enter. He thought about waiting around for a nurse or other employee to swipe their identification and slip in with them but quickly disregarded that plan.

Damn!

Jake retreated back down the hallway to the break area to develop another strategy. He saw that the green-scrubbed employee had gone. His hopes soared when he saw that the lab jacket and badge were still on the back of the chair. Jake moved back to the hallway. He checked both directions. Seeing that the corridor was clear, he quickly moved to the chair and removed the hospital badge, removed his Alliance badge and replaced it with the pilfered one. Just as quickly, he exited the break area and marched to the intensive care unit.

With his heart pounding against his ribcage and his pulse pounding in his ears, Jake extended the retractable cord of the ID with its magnetic stripe pull cord and swiped the badge. The wide double doors clicked and whirred then slowly swung open. He read the name on the ID. Dr. James Spiller. Shit! He’d stolen a hospitalist’s identification. Jake turned the badge so that the picture and name faced his chest and was not visible to anyone.

He approached the nurse’s station and addressed the young woman clad in a dark blue scrub top and tight-fitting leggings standing behind the computer terminal. “Can I help you?” The woman asked.

“Hi, I’m Jake from the pharmacy. I need to check the labels and remaining IV fluids for…” Jake feigned checking a invisible piece of paper for the patient’s name. “Lester Combs. We’re just verifiying when the next IV medications will be due.”

“Oh.” the woman replied as a trace of confusion. “Sure, he’s over there in room four. Is this something new y’all are doing?”

“”Yeah, it’s a new quality control measure. Like we don’t have enough to do. I won’t be but a minute.” He crossed his hand over his heart. “Promise I won’t disturb the patient,” Jake said. “You are?”

“Elizabeth. Elizabeth Jennings.”

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He thanked her. Before the nurse could respond, Jake circled around to room four and entered. He hoped his frayed nerves weren’t apparent as he stepped inside. The room was semi-dark. Lester Combs was reclined in bed in a rumpled hospital gown and various tubes snaking from his arms and under his blankets. A middle-aged woman sat beside the bed. Her face was lined with worry and fatigue.

Jake’s heart nearly stopped. A coating of sweat immediately erupted from his pores all over his body. He recognized the woman. It was the wife. Jake had interacted with her over the counter at Alliance on a few occasions. But he couldn’t remember her name.

Shit! Jake wanted to turn and run. He hadn’t thought about the possibility of running into family members that he’d served at the pharmacy. But he was committed now. He played it cool. He lifted his eyes to the IV pole with three different bags hanging from the metal arms.

“Good evening, Ma’am. How are you today?” Jake asked, deepening his voice and angling his face from hers so that she did not have a head-on view. “How is the patient tonight?”

“He’s doing better,” she said. “We thought we were gonna lose him.”

Jake moved behind the IV pole so that the bags were between him and the woman. “But you say he’s doing better?” Jake pulse quickened with relief.

“Yeah. His blood sugar dropped very low. Someone at the pharmacy made a mistake and gave him the wrong insulin. Lester don’t see so well. He took it without asking any questions. I normally do it for him. But I had a hair appointment.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“They’ll be sorry when we find out what happened. They nearly killed my, Les. We’re gonna fix their wagon. Right good!”

Jake swallowed. His throat was dry, gritty. “Did you hear from the pharmacy folks?”

“Yeah,” the wife replied. “Some muckety-muck vice president called and was apologizing all over herself. Didn’t give me a bunch of warm and fuzzies. The lawyer is coming up tomorrow to talk.”

“Oh really,” Jake replied in a deeper tone.

“Yeah, you know the fast-talking guy on the TV who yells and screams. The one that says ‘He’ll go to war for you.'”

Jake managed another weak reply. “Oh yeah, I know the fella. I’m real glad that he’s doing better. You have a great night. I’ll be praying for you both.”

“Thank you,” she answered.

Jake turned to leave. When he was a step from the door, the woman called to him. “Say you look awful familiar. Have we met before?”

Jake hesitated but did not turn but instead offered a quick, “Don’t think so, ma’am. Sorry got another patient to see.”

As Jake was rounding the nurses station, the nurse he’d spoke with earlier was saying, “I’m going to dinner. Be back in thirty.”

Jake saw that she did not sign off her terminal. Without thinking or stopping, he circled the desk and sat at the terminal. He checked both directions. The nurses and attendants were engrossed in He perused the hospital’s electronic medical record. Managing to find the home screen, he found a list of patients on the unit. He clicked on Lester Combs name. The patient’s clinical data dropped onto the screen.

Jake knew that his presence in the ICU, swiping the badge and now accessing privileged patient information could get him in heaps of trouble. His actions could also get the nurse in hot water because she failed to secure her access to the system. Jake pushed those thoughts from his mind as he scanned Combs’ data. After five minutes, he gleaned a picture of Combs’ clinical state and prognosis.

Just as he was about to close off the system, he was interrupted. “Excuse me? Who are you?”

Jake almost jumped out of his seat. He turned slowly. A large black woman towered over him, glaring down at him. “I’m Jake with the pharmacy. Just checking on patient’s meds. And you are?” Jake offered his hand.

“I’m Wanda Johnson, charge nurse tonight! I ain’t never seen you before,” came the reply, ignoring the proffered hand.

“Just started a couple of weeks ago,” Jake added.

“That so?” She reached out and flipped over Jake’s stolen badge, read the name and compared the picture to his face. “Ain’t no way in hell your Dr. Spiller…Mister Jake…Stay right here.” The charge nurse demanded. Without taking her eyes off Jake, she called over her shoulder. “Amanda, call security now!”

Jake cleared his throat as he gazed into the woman’s round face. He made an “Oh, well” motion with his hands, sucked in a deep breath and bolted toward the exit. the charge nurse was left holding nothing but the doctor’s badge.

Debra/Luca

Luca rapped three times on the thick, rusted door. He turned and regarded his Mercedes parked halfway down the block. Debra was in the driver’s seat. She flashed the headlights once, acknowledging that she saw him. Luca thanked the God above that he had someone in his life like Debra. Then he scoffed silently. he was thanking the Almighty for having someone who protected him from himself in his criminal activities.

This seedy part of Norfolk looked like something out of an thirties gangster movie. The structure appeared to have been abandoned and neglected for years.

A creaking sound pierced the cool night air. Luca realized the door was being opened. He spun quickly hoping whoever answered would not see that he’d been silently communicating with a partner. The gargantuan door moved slowly. The hinges screeched in protest. There was no way the person pulling it open would have seen him with his back to the door. Luca allowed himself a fractional moment of relief.

When it was half open, a vague silhouette was framed by a faint light coming from inside. The face was indiscernible. But the outline was definitely male…a very large male. The hulking form took one step forward into the wash of the lone streetlamp still functioning in the area. He was at least six-five, had completely shaven head and must have weighed two thirty all of it hardened muscle. The grip of a large handgun protruded from his waistband just right of the ornate buckle. “Who are you?” The words were stilted with a thick French accent.

Luca swallowed. His throat was desert dry. “I got a call to come here. From Andre Balzac,” he stammered. His body had been craving another hit or something…anything. He’d love some blow. But even a shot of whiskey would calm his frayed nerves. The withdrawals were getting worse. But right now, he was so jacked up on adrenaline. He actually felt half-human. But Luca knew there was a major crash in his future.

His mind raced with so many questions. His contact in the Newport News PD had not called him back. Caroline had filed for sole custody. He had worried about getting Big Tommy’s money to him. We’re the cops onto him as one of the shooters? What had happened to Il Gigante. Was he dead? Had he lived? Had he ratted Luca out?

Luca wasn’t sure going in here alone was a good idea. If Big Tommy was dead as he’d been told. He could be next. He wasn’t about to bring Debra to this party if it was death trap. So, he decided to let her wait in the car. But he’d told her to be ready…just in case.

The massive French goon motioned with a wave of his arm for Luca to enter the warehouse. He placed a meaty mitt on Luca’s back and propelled him forward toward a single naked bulb in the dingy warehouse forty feet away. A small man with an old-time vaudevillian moustache stood arms akimbo in the center of a ring of metal folding chairs. Luca counted twelve. In eleven of the chairs sat a man sitting in quiet anxiety, waiting and watching. Behind the mustachioed man and just beyond the light was a long table on which sat a hulking mass of something visible but. Luca could not make out what it was. He realized then that the twelfth and only empty chair was reserved for him.

As he neared the ring of people, Luca recognized some of his compadres in crime. Each man was a captain in Big Tommy’s criminal enterprise. With Big Tommy’s demise, Luca thought “was” was the more appropriate tense of verb. Each supervised a different area in Tidewater and southeastern Virginia. Each possessed different specialties. Luca didn’t know all of the men but five stood out. Luca considered them friends. There was Johnny “Vig” Buglisi the loan shark and bookie; Lorenzo Padua, the hitman and human trafficker; Antonio DiCesare, also a numbers and rackets guy; Giovanni Pipilini, the pimp and drug dealer. The final man Luca knew was Enzo Guardia, Big Tommy’s consiglieri. The other seven men were familiar faces. Luca had seen them in family gatherings and meetings. But he was not tight with them.

“Come. Come,” Andre Balzac declared as Luca stepped to the circle of men. “You must be Luca Clivio. Please take your seat.” Balzac pointed to the unoccupied chair.

Luca nodded speculatively. He sidled between Antonio and Giovanni and moved to the chair. He smiled at both men and slowly descended onto the cold metal.

Balzac smiled smugly and raised his voice. His English. “Now that ve are all here. Let’s commence, n’est-ce-pas? Bring him out.”

Two men in the shadows began pushing the long rectangular table into the ring of light. The lifeless blood-covered body of Big Tommy Romano slowly came into full view. The men collectively gasped. Some shouted supplications to the Almighty; others made the sign of the cross.

Gradually, the table was rolled fully into the harsh light of the naked bulb. The unmoving, lifeless form of Big Tommy Romano inched into complete view. Every inch of the corpse was covered in slashes, cut, dried blood. Through the crimson coating, highlights of gray-blue skin poked through. His face–or what was left of it–looked like ground hamburger that had been left out for a week. Once in full view of the dozen witnesses, the two men tending to the body rotated the table a full three hundred and sixty degrees allowing everyone a complete picture of the torture and pain the crime boss had endured. Two bullet holes

When the rotation was complete, the diminutive Frenchman, Andre Balzac, strode casually to the carcass. He hefted a large knife and plunged it into the belly of the obese body. He smiled and eyed every man. His complete revolution consumed a full, tense minute. Then he spoke slowly and in a stage whisper causing everyone to lean in to hear him.

“Welcome to your new family. I’m Andre Balzac. You all belong to me now.”

To Be Continued

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