Blog 2022

A Relationship Beckons: Escape and Execution (#22)

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 darted from the intensive care unit. Behind him, he could hear the near-frantic voice of the charge nurse on the phone with security informing them of an unauthorized visitor. He sprinted toward the same bank of elevators on which he’d arrived. Checking the ceiling and upper walls, he spotted at least two cameras along the way.

He had no idea how many security personnel were on duty at this hour. But he imagined a cadre of uniformed enforcers would be headed toward the north tower shortly. He slipped past a set of double doors hallways delineating the exit to the unit just as the doors had begun to close. Jake realized this would be in response to the perceived threat of an intruder. The doors to clinical and administrative areas were being closed. At this very moment, the building was being locked down.

The second set of doors allowing access to all clinical areas on the floor also began to close. Jake turned his body sideways and again sidled through the shrinking gap. At the elevators, he pressed the down button. Then thinking better than being trapped in a metal box, he opted for the nearby stairwell. Crashing through the door, he raced downward, touching every other step. Adrenaline had taken over, pulsing through him like electric current. Despite being in superb physical condition, he was short of breath. Panic threatened to burst forth. It was everything he could do to tamp it down.

He spiraled down the flights of steps reaching the second floor. Coming up through the center gap creating by the stairs, Jake heard excited voices and heavy footfalls ascending from below. Hazarding a glance, he saw the blue-sheathed arms of three uniformed security personnel intermittently clutching the rail and climbing quickly.

He hesitated briefly on the landing to the second floor option racing through his mind. Flinging open the door, Jake slipped into a carpeted corridor. The hallway was lined with offices and a conference room. As the door slowly closed under the power of the hydraulic arm, the overhead paging system chimed twice. This was followed by a unemotional female voice alerting everyone in the building, “Attention. Code Black. North Tower. Attention Code Black. North Tower. Secure all patient rooms.”

Jake expelled a nervous breath certain that overhead warning on the public address system was aimed at him. He walked as calmly as his nerves would allow to the elevator bank a few feet away. Pressing the up button, he watched the digital readout countdown the numbers as a carriage descended to floor number two with agonizing slowness. When the doors swung open, he stepped in. A young woman was in the car. Jake walked in and turned around.

“How do I get to the breezeway connecting the towers?” He asked.

She smiled and said, “There’s one on the fifth floor and the tenth floor.”

“Great,” Jake answered. “Could you press ten for me?”

The young woman did. The doors closed. They rode in silence. All the while, perspiration coated his skin. The elevator stopped on the seventh floor where the young lady exited. A couple were waiting to enter. “Is this going down?” the man asked.

Jake said it wasn’t. The doors closed and he rode the three remaining floors to the tenth. He exited and followed the signs to the breezeway connecting the two towers. Jake pushed through the door and strode quickly along the glass-enclosed hallway. The view of the surrounding area was magnificent even at night. But the serene, inky tableau was lost on Jake.

He crossed quickly and departed the breezeway, entering the south tower. Quickly, Jake double-timed his way to a stairwell and–once again–began a rapid, circling descent.

Security Office

The bored security officer who’d been at his desk for the last six hours bolted to alertness with the alert that there was an intruder in the intensive care unit. A Code Black was one level below an active shooter scenario. The suspect did not appear to have a weapon but had impersonated a physician and accessed confidential patient information. The individual was now under pursuit somewhere on the hospital property. Unfortunately there were only eight guards on duty at the moment.

A blurry image of the suspect had been hastily captured from the CCTV. The young man was rapidly scanning the various cameras and video shots available on the one hundred plus cameras on the property. The face was blurred, obscured. So the security man was used the man’s clothing to identify the fugitive.

“There!” The guard exclaimed. “There you are you SOB.”

He grabbed his shoulder mike and rattled off the location.

“Suspect was spotted exiting the tenth floor elevators in the North Tower. He accessed the breezeway to the South Tower. Teams three and four pursue. Three check the stairwells. Team Four camp out at the elevators on the ground floor. Team One move from the the North Tower to the tenth floor and squeeze him from above. Go!”


Jake had descend three floors using the stairs when he heard the voices and footfalls of more security personnel from below. He peered down the center opening of the stairwells. Two arms swathed in official blue clothed yanked at the railings. The bodies attached to those appendages were climbing rapidly.

Jake swore. The guards were five floors below. Quietly, he slid to the door and pulled on the vertical handle, cracking it a few inches. Sidling through the opening, Jake stayed on the inside and used his hand to gently slow the closing. The door silently connected with the metal frame.

Rather than moving along the corridor, Jake peeked with one eye through the vertical rectangle of glass. A minute passed before he heard the muted footfalls of boots and out-of-breath voices coming up the steps. The sounds grew louder. When he spied the first of his pursuers, Jake backed away from the small window and held his breath. His heart thumped inside his ribcage with the force of heavy iron clapper striking a church bell. Jake tried vainly to slow his breathing. He closed his eyes and listened. If the guards opened this door, they would practically stumble over him and he would be apprehended.

He held his breath. The footfalls slowly receded. Jake hazarded another glimpse through the glass. The second of the guards rounded the landing halfway to the next floor, then quickly disappeared. Jake counted to fifteen. Then he pushed open the door just enough to allow his angled torso to slip into the stairwell. With the care and patience of a bomb technician, Jake coaxed the door back into its frame.

He moved to the descending staircase and without looking up began moving down the steps. Panicked and afraid of capture, Jake did not want to go back to his car. Had the hospital officials had time to watch video? Had they been able to back track his arrival to his car parked in the visitor lot? He doubted it but couldn’t be sure. If they captured him tonight and charges were pressed, he would lose his job, especially in light of the fact that he’d been visiting the patient who was there because of an error of which he’d been accused.

He’d gone down three floors to the second floor landing. He did not want to risk being seen in the parking lot. He had no idea how people were pursuing him. He needed to call some. He needed a ride. Pressing his back into the wall, he took several deep breaths. Who could he call?

He rammed his hands into his pockets. His felt the wadded scrap of paper and removed it. He recognized it instantly. Caroline! Better than calling his sister or mother, the questions they’d have would be endless. Jake unfurled the note and punched the number into his phone. “Here goes nothing,” he murmured as he placed his thumb over the red send circle.


Caroline nearly jumped out of her skin when the phone rang. The book she was reading nearly hopped out her lap. Her mother didn’t usually call this late. Her startled reaction turned to elation when she read the caller ID. She’d entered his name as “Jake The Pharmacist” in her contact list.

She expelled a long, calming breath which had little effect and depressed the talk button on the screen of her phone. As nonchalantly as possible, she said, “Hello?”


“This is she.”

“It’s Jake, your pharmacist. I hope this isn’t too late to call. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, I was just reading.”

A short silenced swelled on the line. “I read your note. I was flattered. I’d love to get together again.”

“That’s great,” she replied, relief blossoming in her chest.

“I was also calling because I’m kind of in a jam. I need your help.”

“Oh?” Caroline’s heart soared. He needed her help!

“I’m at Tidewater Regional Medical Center–‘

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was visiting a friend up here. I’m having some car trouble. Everyone I’ve called is either not answering or unavailable. Would it be too much to ask?”

Caroline paused. Her first thought was for her sleeping son upstairs. “Well, Peter’s upstairs asleep.”

“Oh, right. Completely forgot about that,” Jake’s voice deflated. “Sorry.”

Without hesitating, she replied, “My next door neighbor might be able to come over to sit with him. Can I call you back in a couple of minutes?”

“That would be awesome.”

Okay,” she said. “We’ll talk in a few.” Four minutes later, she called back. “I’ll be there in twenty. I drive a white Cadillac Escalade.”


Jake had been waiting in the shadows in a darkened waiting are just off the main entrance to the tower. Evidently, the lights had been dimmed because of the lateness of the hour. There was a security desk nearby, but it was vacant. Perhaps that employee had been summoned to pursue the intruder. He had managed to evade the security personnel so far. They, he was sure, were combing every video feed they had and tracking and tracing his every movement. He was quite certain now that it would only be a matter of time before they tracked him to his current location. Jake checked his watch for the tenth time. Twenty minutes had come and gone. Twenty-six minutes…and counting.

Eventually, again using the video footage, they would determine who he was using his scanned driver’s license presented when he entered the facility. You idiot!

A white Cadillac Escalade slide to a stop under the port cochere of the north Tower. The outline of Caroline’s profile could be seen through the glass and under the overhead lights on the canopy. Her round face and silky hair moved in a searching fashion no doubt looking for Jake.

A security guard appeared from the stairwell. He turned away from Jake and appeared to be searching a nearby hallway. The guard probably anticipated that he’d beat Jake to the ground floor and was hoping to catch him hightailing it to the exit. Jake knew he had less than a minute before the man turned around and began searching the lobby area. Jake stood as calmly as possible and marched to the entry doors. The whole time he was consumed with the feeling that unseen eyes and camera lenses were drilling into his backside.

As he neared, the doors slid open. Jake slipped into the cool night air. Behind him he heard the squawk of a hand held radio or shoulder mike. It was not close. yet. The staticky sound disappeared as the doors to the facility slid closed with a hiss. Jake hazarded a glance behand him and saw the security person walking toward the lobby area, his eyes searching the interior space and not finding him.

At that moment, a white Cadillac Escalade braked silently at the curb. Jake smiled at Caroline who was surprised to see him right there. Jake waved and circled around the engine compartment because it kept him hidden from the security guard’s view. He opened the passenger door and climbed in.

“Hey, thanks so much,” he said quickly. “Drive. There’s someone back there I don’t want to see me.”

Caroline squinted with confusion then concern. But she depressed the accelerator and sped off anyway. Jake glanced over his shoulder to see the guard exiting the lobby and watching the Escalade move off. It appeared that He had not seen Jake climb aboard the vehicle.

When they were safely on J Clyde Morris Boulevard, Caroline asked, “So I am your getaway driver?”


Andre Balzac walked the perimeter of the human circle, stopping for a brief moment to look each person in the eye. He toted a large handgun in his right hand and the long-bladed knife dripping with Big Tommy Romano’s blood from his left. Most of the new team members of the L’Enfant crime family peered up at him with questioning, uncertain eyes. Most managed a hesitant nod acknowledging his new dominion over them.

Two members, however, of this dozen avoided his gaze. One was Enzo Guardia, Big Tommy’s consiglieri–or former consiglieri. Luca was the second. Luca’s mind raced with questions. Did this new capitaine know that Luca owed Big Tommy unpaid tribute? Did he know that Luca and Il Gigante had botched the assassination attempt on the Cuban crime syndicate? Balzac stopped in front of Luca. Luca looked up at the diminutive Frenchman for a brief instant then lowered his eyes, studying his own hands. Out of the periphery of his vision, Luca spied the Gaul wiping the bloody blade on his dark trousers.

Luca saw the lower half of the man spin away. “You,” he bellowed. Luca looked up to catch him pointing at Enzo. “In the middle,” he commanded pointing to the floor. Then he spun back to Luca who was stunned. The Frenchman’s eyes bore into him followed shortly by a slowly expanding grin that sent shivers down Luca’s spine. “You, too. Get in the middle.” He grabbed Luca by the jersey jerking him out of the metal chair. Luca was surprised by the small man’s enormous strength. With a fling, Balzac released Luca who nearly toppled from the momentum.

The criminel continued circling facing those still seated. He lectured as he made another circuit around the group. “You are now mine. Jacques L’Enfant in Paris has taken over Big Tommy’s operation. If anyone wants out, now is the time.”

No one moved. Most looked away or averted their eyes. After what seemed an eon but was more likely twenty seconds, Balzac spun and leveled his weapon. He pointed it alternately at the faces of both men who jerked in horror. They starred down the barrel of the massive hand cannon. Balkac ratcheted the gun back and forth between the men. He settled on one, smiled and squeezed the trigger.

The boom shook the walls.

To Be Continued

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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 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.


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.


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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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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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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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 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?”


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.


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.


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 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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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.


“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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A Relationship Beckons: That Evening (#17) Tuesday

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.

Deb Perry

“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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A Relationship Beckons: Research and Relapse (#16) Tuesday

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.


Caroline had been glued to her chair in front of her laptop at the kitchen table for the last two hours. She was on a mission. Consumed by the desire to learn more about the man. She was still having trouble understanding her motivation. Perhaps it was because of her divorce from Luca. Perhaps it was in part because she was lonely. Perhaps it was because Jake the pharmacist had done her a solid by returning her phone. Perhaps it was all three. Nonetheless, she needed to know more about Jake.

The television was on in the living room. The current telecast: the local mid-day news. The droning of the male and female anchors provided just enough background noise to obscure the creaks and groans of the otherwise silent structure as she surfed. If he was married, she should leave him and his availability alone. For some unknown reason she’d couldn’t help herself.

Jake the man and the pharmacist with whom she’d had a polite but tense breakfast this morning had piqued her feminine curiosity. Everything she’d learned about him in that forty-five minutes screamed he was off-limits. He possessed a rugged masculinity in a tall, athletic frame. Caroline suspected he had been in the military at some point in his past. The astute, piercing blue eyes, the He had a beautiful daughter. He’d spoken about a wife. But he’d not volunteered any information. He was as tight lipped as a prostitute in church. But his body language signaled more to her than any unspoken words.

She didn’t consider herself . But she knew she possessed good looks. And Caroline could always tell when a man was interested in her. If any interested male had a wife or a girlfriend and was truly devoted to that person, it was her experience that he was talkative and forthcoming about his spouse or partner. They held no shame in talking about their mate to another woman. But if the subject male entertained making an illegitimate advance toward her, the conversation was steered away marital or relationship commitments. Caroline had experienced several of these leeches over the years. And she’d always rebuffed them quickly and definitively. Or she simply walked away. Jake had been different. He’d shown no amorous or inclinations. He’d not complimented her on her clothing or shoes or her eyes. No inappropriate suggestions, or crude jokes. Jake the pharmacist had he simply clammed up or said little to nothing.

Jake’s friendly facial expression, Caroline had noted, had dissolved instantly at the mention of a wife. It was as if a curtain of angst had swept in and whisked away any joviality. She’d noticed the change, but it had not registered in the moment. She had been too embarrassed and self-conscious about the closed restaurant fiasco at Schooner’s to realize what his reactions signified. In the intervening hours since she’d come home, she’d deconstructed his body language more objectively.

At first, she’d been disappointed that their breakfast had not produced a more concrete suggestion for a second meeting. He’d said something off hand at Schooners about coming back in the future. But Caroline had given it very little credence. Of course, Caroline assumed that was because Jake was married with a daughter. But a short time later, Caroline’s mind had conjured and concocted the possibility that Jake might somehow be available. Even if he was married, she still had looked for any reason to anticipate that there might be a sliver of hope that Jake Murphy was available if not legally maybe emotionally. With all the crap going on in her life, Caroline needed something to look forward to. She should not even be considering Jake the pharmacist. She didn’t even know his last name.

Jake’s cold response to discussion of his wife was a reaction Caroline had seen before in many of her suitors. Jake refused to discuss the woman in his life. This sliver of coldness gave Caroline hope.

Of course, she would never have an affair with a married man. She was not like that. During her years with Luca, she had always been faithful. Despite his wandering eye and penis, she’d never strayed. She had been afraid of his reaction and consequences.

She had spent sometime looking on all her social media accounts looking for a Jake with a photo. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Maybe she could place a face. So far she’d found nothing of consequence.

Then the news broadcast caught her attention. We have just learned of a shooting in Norfolk on Sewell’s Point Road. We do not have many details at this time. But what we do know is that gunshots rang out at a local restaurant named Sabor Caribeno and that several people had been shot.

Caroline’s breath caught in her chest and an icy shiver cascaded down her spine for some unknown reason. She walked quickly into the living room to watch the broadcast. The anchor spoke for another minute saying that they were sending a reporter to the location. Caroline moved her hand to her mouth. It was an unusual reaction for her.

Returning to the kitchen, she recalled another tidbit from breakfast. It spurred her to continue her search.

She picked up her phone and dialed Alliance Pharmacy in northern Newport News. She reached the pharmacy and spoke with a woman who sounded older. Caroline wondered if it was the older woman who’d been working with Jake yesterday when she’d brought Peter in. “Yes,” she began. “I’m looking for the pharmacist named Jake. Is he working today?” Caroline knew he wasn’t because he’d met her this morning.

“Sorry,” came the reply. “He’s not here.”

“Do you know when he’s working again?”

“Let me check the schedule,” the woman said. After a moment, she came back on the line. “It looks like he’s picking up an extra shift. He’ll be back tomorrow.”

Caroline thanked the woman and ended the call. Tomorrow, she thought. He’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll transfer my prescriptions to Jake’s store tomorrow. She smiled. It couldn’t hurt, she thought.

She ran the fingers of her right hand over the third finger of her left hand. Her ring finger was bare. Even the tan lines from the ring had faded. Her ring was in storage deep in her jewelry box. It was a trivial bit of information that had registered during their meal. Jake the pharmacist did not wear a ring on his left hand.


The loud clap was instantly followed by a sharp sting on his face. It jolted Jake awake. It hurt like hell bringing him to instant alertness. As seconds passed, the sting flared into a molten heat spreading over his face. He managed with great difficulty to pry his eyelids open. He involuntarily raised a hand to his left cheek–the source of his agony. The fuzzy, indistinct form standing over him and blocking the ceiling moved away from him to an erect position. The intruder’s body language and retreating arm registered in his brain, The person standing over him and blocking the light was the person who’d just slapped him awake.

He shook his head once. His vison sharpened. The stern expression on his mother’s face hurt more than the blow. It was a visage of disgust, hurt and disappointment. Guilt and regret swelled in him

“Is Daddy sleeping?” Jake recognized the small voice as that of his four year old Lizzie. He could not see her but she was close by. “Mimmi, why did you hit, Daddy?”

“Yeah, Mimmi,” Jake said huskily as he looked up at his mother, Lily. “Why did you hit me?”

Her glare said more than any words could. Her eyes bore into Jake with an devastating maternal intensity. She replied to her granddaughter in a sweet, sincere timbre but without softening of her glower. “Lizzie, darlin’, Daddy had a bug on his cheek. Mimmi had to kill it. Everything’s okay now. Go to your room and get you blanky and you’re Barbie doll and a book. Mimmi will read to you.”

“Okay,” she replied and skipped off to her room.

When she was out of sight, Lily leaned back down and grabbed Jake by the ear much like she’d done after his childhood transgressions. “Git your ass up!” She yanked. Trying to avoid anymore more pain, Jake rose in sync with her hand. The effects of the alcohol caused dizziness He nearly toppled over. A swell of nausea formed in his throat. His cheeks puffed as he swallowed it.

Irritated, Jake slapped her hand away with a skin-on-skin clap.

“What the hell are you doing? You smell like a brewery,” she whispered harshly. She pointed to the empty six pack of beer bottles on the coffee table. “You want your daughter to see this?”

Jake did not reply. There was no answer he could give to justify his condition and his surrender to the call of the bottle that would satisfy her.

“Get your ass in the shower! I need to make a call.”

Jake moved gingerly toward his bedroom and the master bathroom. “Who are you calling?”


“I had a lunch date with Shirley. But I can see I need to cancel that.” She pointed and lowered her voice. “Now git!” At that moment, Lizzie ambled unsteadily back into the living room. Her arms were laden with two Barbie dolls, three books and a comfy pink blanket trailed behind her like a bridal train.

Lily softened her voice again. “Are you hungry, darlin’?”

Lizzie nodded. “Can I have a peanut butter fluff?”

“Of course, honey. You get set up on the chair. I’ll read you one story then we’ll make a sandwich. I’m gonna check on Daddy.”

Jake was naked to the waist when Lily charged into the bedroom he once shared with his dead wife. She gently closed the door, turned and did not hesitate to launch a verbal missile at the former Marine.

“You better have a good explanation for what I saw out there.”


“Mom! I’m trying to get undressed.”

She ripped the shirt he was holding in his hand from his grasp. “Well?”

Jake sighed and closed his eyes. He battled his embarrassment, dizziness and nausea. Unable to string a whole sentence together and needing to give her something, he muttered, “Trouble at work.”

Lily shook her head. Her deep Irish roots fomented her frustration. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she spat making the sign of the cross. “After–” she pointed a crooked finger at him, “you’re daughter has lunch I’m going to put her down for a nap. Then you have some explaining to do.” She moved to the door and slipped out silently closing the door behind her. The click of the latch sounded like a cannon blast in Jake’s ears. He moved into the water closet, dropped to his knees and vomited.


Luca sat behind the wheel of the Mercedes shivering and drenched in perspiration. The gun was still warm in the passenger seat beside him under a copy of USA Today. Shortly after the shooting stopped at the Latino restaurant, he managed to escape out the rear entrance through the same door which he’d entered only seconds before. His mind would not let him suppress what he’d seen. As the gunshot blasts continued to reverberate in his ears and more rang out, he’d ducked into the kitchen, dropped to all fours. he’d been able to watch what unfolded in relative safety through an opening in the service window. Then he crawled toward the back wall. He managed to find a circuitous route near the large industrial sink and crawl out. He was still shaking, dealing the thrill and excitement of having survived his first gun fight.

But he was also dealing other feelings. He had been a coward. He’d fired three shots and dove for cover, not even waiting to see if he’d hit anyone. He’d risen up and peered through opening connecting the kitchen with the wait stand. He’d watched everything unfold. In addition to the exhilaration he felt, feelings of shame and guilt were beginning to creep in.

He’d recklessly backed out of the nearby parking spot, hitting a car parked behind him. He’d peeled away. speeding through intersections heedless of red lights and stop signs for fifteen minutes until he was out of the area. It was stupid and amateurish. He’d panicked. Not the mark of an experienced wise guy.

After he’d put some distance between him and the scene, he finally allowed himself to breath. Currently, e was parked behind a 7-Eleven behind a dumpster and out of sight. His breaths came fast and shallow. He could not suck in enough air to catch his breath and he was coated in sweat. He ran his hand through his drenched hair. It shook uncontrollably. he reached over and opened the glove box and removed a bottle and a prescription vial. The bottle of Wild Turkey had only an inch left in it. Luca drained it in one swallow. Then picked up the vial and shook it. A prescription for Xanax. Empty.

He craved a snort or a hit of heroin. But he had nothing. He needed something to calm himself, to ease his over active mind. Even when he was experiencing the adrenaline rush of mayhem, his body and mind required chemicals to keep the thoughts at bay.

The images from the restaurant came to him now, uncontrollably and in rapid succession, assaulting him like demons risen from hell. The entire sequence probably lasted no more than thirty seconds. But as the memory replayed itself, it seemed like hours.

Fernando Gomez, the Cuban capo, recognized the threat as Luca raised his quivering gun hand from his hip. His three guardias reacted instantly but fractions of seconds slow. Luca managed to rip off three shots. He couldn’t remember hitting anything except walls. Plaster showered the dining room. He saw Gomez shooting “Pistola!” as he reached for the weapon at his waist. The trio of Hispanic compatriots scrambled to find cover and draw their sidearms. Luca heard shots booming from the direction where Il Gigante would have been standing. Then Luca dove into the opening leading to the kitchen, knocking over a small Latino woman with a stained white apron around her waist. Luca cowered in the opening near an ice machine as rounds zipped in every direction. Glass shattered. Tables tossed. Plates fractured. The woman whom he knocked over screamed unintelligible words in Spanish. The two other men with her instantly dove for cover.

As deafening shots sliced through air strobed by muzzle flashes and terrified shouts were followed by grunts of agony, Luca managed to crawl to the far wall in the humid kitchen and pull himself through an open half-window. Scrambling to his feet, he bolted for the Mercedes. The next few minutes were just as a blur as the gunfight.

He leaned his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes. Relief washed over him followed almost immediately by a nightmarish terror. The shiver began at the base of his spine spreading like a sonic wave in all directions. Instantly, his whole body shook and the sobs found their way into his throat.

He had no idea who or how many had been shot or the extent of any injuries. As he shivered now, the memory of distant sirens had come to him as he’d driven. He’d had no memory of hearing sirens during the escape, but it came to him now. But the sirens grew louder as they neared. These were not memories. The were real and the were getting closer. He lifted his head and listened intently.

Unable to move, he simply stayed in the car and whispered curses and prayers simultaneously.

-To Be Continued –

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A Relationship Beckons: Guns and Guts(#15) Tuesday

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 wore a lightweight black turtle neck with long sleeves, a pair of comfortable jeans and a black pair of tasseled loafers without socks. With the enormous Il Gigante impatiently waiting for him at his house earlier, Luca had dressed quickly but with the Virginia spring chill in mind. He regretted the choice now. His discomfort was threefold. The weather was warmer than expected; he still battled a residual headache and nausea; and his nervousness had snowballed. Sweating profusely now, his head throbbed as his system worked overtime to cleanse his body of the drugs and alcohol. He had begun to perspire and, despite that fact, was shivering like a leaf in a tropical storm.

He had parked the Mercedes behind Sabor Caribeno, a Latin American eatery on Norfolk’s Sewell’s Point Road in a mixed industrial-residential lower middle class area. The engine idled. Luca needed the miniscule comfort the thrum of the engine provided. Silence threatened his sanity. He and Il Gigante had followed the Cuban gang to this spot and watched them enter fifteen minutes ago. Luca had dropped Il Gigante at the front door of the restaurant no less than five minutes earlier. The parking lot behind the establishment in which Luca sat serviced a flea market and a rundown phone store. There was no human activity in sight. Luca was grateful. It was out of sight in a secluded spot from Gomez and his men and a thirty second walk from the restaurant. He estimated he was about fifty yards away his target’s location.

His target! The word held a sinister connotation, implying mayhem was in his near future. A more virulent shiver crept over him. He reached behind him and felt the bulge of the pistol in the waistband at his back, pressing against his spine. Before Lorenzo Esposito aka Il Gigante had departed, he’d left instructions for Luca to enter through the rear entrance and to not hesitate to shoot Gomez..

Reflexively, Luca checked his watch. His wrist was bare. The expensive time piece had been surrendered to Big Tommy yesterday as a down payment on the revenue Luca owed his boss. His crime boss. He swallowed hard. It was never a good idea to be indebted to Tommy Romano.

He rubbed the naked wrist and checked the digital clock on the car’s computer screen. He had two minutes left in Il Gigante’s deadline. Bile welled in his throat. The bulge of the weapon in the waistline of his back seemed to be pulsing electric energy into his spine.

His hands shook as he removed his phone from the center console. With the dreaded deed looming, he needed, he wanted to reach out to Debra. He relied on her. She was his crutch. She made him feel important. She was also his sounding board frequently bearing the brunt of his childish tirades, handling them with grace and patience.

He had gone off the deep end forty minutes earlier when she’d told him that his ex–Caroline–had met with another man. She’d had breakfast with the pharmacist who’d saved his son. Luca’s Italian machismo instantly kicked in, insulted and consumed with guilt that another man had intervened to abort Peter’s breathing attack. Luca’s fragile and volatile temper, fueled by fatigue and a hangover, had exploded. Despite the fact that he was no longer with Caroline, no other man was to have her. The situation had been made worse by his stupid ex-wife’s forgetfulness.

He typed his message to Debra: I need to talk…call me.

Luca stared at the phone waiting, willing a text message to appear. Nothing.

He typed another text: I’m sorry I got angry. I really need to talk to you

Again there was no reply. Luca’s ire swelled once more. He dropped the phone into his lap and rammed the palm of both hands into the rim of the steering wheel several times. Yelling expletives in Italian for fifteen second as he did so. Then he recovered, breathing heavily, and slowly closed his eyes. His life was spinning out of control.

Pull yourself together, he chided. Marone! Luca made the sign of the cross and murmured a whispered prayer.

This was no time to let emotions dominate his thinking. He sucked in several deep breaths and pushed them out hastily. He had exceeded Il Gigante’s deadline. As the hammering pulse in his head slowed, he whispered a second prayer. And with a lump in his throat, he pulled on the door handle and exited the Mercedes. With each step toward the rear of the ristorante, Luca’s heart sank, his head pounded and the sweat streamed from his pores.


Fernando Gomez sat with his back to the far wall, facing the restaurant’s glass front door. He glanced down at the attire he selected this morning. He looked particularly dapper in his white pants with the razor-sharp crease, matching sports jacket over a tan chemise and white white vest. A gold chain dangled like a suspension bridge from the second button of the vest to the pocket. Gomez adjusted the white fedora on his close cropped curls. A wry smile spread across his face. He adjusted the circular glasses on his nose and fingered his pencil thin moustache. Life was good at the moment. His small empire was growing every day, crowding out the competition. He and his gang were becoming very popular with the big boss back in Havana. His stock was rising.

But life in criminal enterprise–like that in legitimate businesses and politics–was always double-edged. As success grew so did disfavor with competitors, enemies and rival gangs like the Italians. Gomez knew that a war loomed. The fact made his very wary.

His three guardaespaldas surrounded the round table munching on beef and chicken empanadas, fried plantains and guzzling Modelo. Gomez had nibbled on an empanada and was currently nursing a mojito.

Gomez liked to bring his boys here each day after collecting their protection money and gambling debts. And he always picked up the tab. It fostered loyalty and comradery among his troops. You needed that in a protection detail. Especially in this business.

His guarura bantered back and forth about the state of Cuban politics and the Cuban baseball team. Smoke from two cigarettes created a blue cloud over the table. Gomez did not participate in the jovial banter spoken in a hybrid of Cuban Spanish and heavily accented English. No, Gomez was pre-occupied by the massive man that had entered a few minutes ago and was standing at the counter. He seemed out of place and edgy.

The subject–a moving mountain–probably weighed in at at least one hundred and forty kilos. If his math was right that put this hombre gordo at better than three hundred pounds. He possessed the facial features of a European–Italian or Corsican, perhaps. It was what he hadn’t done that concerned Gomez. He hadn’t looked in their direction. Had not made eye contact. There was no acknowledging head nod. But it was the way he hadn’t looked and the slight stiffness. He had glanced everywhere but at them. It was as if he were trying not to look at them.

These facts made the hair on Gomez’s neck stand up. His muscles became taut. He moved his hand over the bulge under his jacket where the Soviet-made Makarov pistol resided in its holster. It was the standard issue small arm of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces. The Cuban moved the cloth of his jacket back and silently unclipped the strap holding the weapon.

The enormous human being turned toward the group and shouted in a thick Italian accent. “Signore Gomez! Signore Gomez! I have something for you.” As he said the words, the huge intruder was flipping over one of the larger tables.

Gomez’s three guards began to turn toward the shouted words. Each reached for their weapons. Chairs scraped against the floor and toppled. The whoosh of gun metal being with drawn from leather or cloth followed immediately by the click of hammers.

A moment before he turned towards the gigantic person, Gomez caught movement out of the corner of his eye. It came from the left; the rear of the restaurant. He rotated his head and saw a man in dark clothing and a turtle neck advancing toward him and his men. A second gunman advanced on them. There was a gun in his right hand at his thigh. His eyes were a mixture of fear and hatred. Sweat coated the man’s face. The hand raised the weapon.

Instinctively, Gomez shouted Cuban Spanish, “Pistola!”


With his arm draped over the door, Jake stared into the refrigerator positioned against the wall of his garage. The contents were sparse. An extra tub of margarine, a smattering of batteries in a small cardboard box and a six pack of long necks with one bottle was missing. It was the beer Jake had drunk last night after coming home from work.

It wasn’t even noon. And yet, he could feel the pull of the alcohol calling him, no, begging him. His mouth watered. A minute shiver passed over him.

Close the door and walk away!

But Jake simply stood at the door staring into the frigid air. Being a former Marine, he had learned to drink with gusto with his fellow leathernecks. He was younger then and it was considered expected behavior in the Corps. The drinking games and challenges were commonplace. He and his buddies always had each other’s backs whether its was on TDY in a foreign land or a neighborhood bar. After he’d been discharged eight years ago, he’d managed to scale back his consumption but it remained an important part of his social life. He’d always had it under control. At least that’s what he told himself.

Olivia’s tragic and untimely passing along with that of his unborn son had unhinged something in him and his ability to control his booze intake. The day after the funeral Jake sat down while still on leave from the pharmacy and downed almost a whole case. His self-control vanished in the weeks and months following the car wreck. His drinking spiraled out of control. He numbed his grief with beer and drowned his work stress with bourbon. He frequently relied on his mother to watch Lizzie. Luckily his work schedule in pharmacy: two thirteen hour days back-to- back created an built-in hiatus in his ability to overdrink. He was too busy with irate patients, prescriptions and vaccinations to worry or grieve for extended periods. Though he still managed slug a beer or two after work before falling asleep. But on his two days off, the binging was constant.

His mother tolerated his behavior for a short time out of sympathy for her devastated son. And perhaps out of her own confusion and paralysis. Jake guessed she hoped it would all pass. After a month though, she and Cliff confronted him. While Cliff cajoled and persuaded, his mother berated him after Lizzie had gone to bed. Lecturing him that his daughter needed him. She offered a temporary solution. It was an offer that he she would not let him refuse. Moving in with him, she monitored everything and watched over him and Lizzie.

She and Cliff steered him back to semi-sobriety and the reality that his pain would not be extinguished by alcohol. After two much-needed quasi interventions, Jake dried out and cleaned himself up. Despite his plunge into near-addiction, he’d still managed to work his thirteen hour shifts and perform shots and check prescriptions. But against his mother’s prodding, Jake refused to attend an AA meeting. His work was frequently lackluster and uninspired during those days. But he’d come out of it and had turned a corner. He had controlled the demon over the last ten months.

To this day, Jake still didn’t want to admit what his excessive drinking meant. The was a word for it. The dreaded “A” word. Jake had spent many hours pondering if his fate to drink to excess had been pre-destined from birth. His father who had been dead for three years now was also a heavy drinker. The smoking and drinking had caught up with him at the age of fifty-seven. Though Jake did not smoke, he had apparently inherited his father’s proclivity for the bottle.

The stress and excessive work of his job had waged and been waging a relentless onslaught since the day he’d become a licensed pharmacist. The desire to imbibe after the grueling thirteen hour shift was formidable. Jake had managed to resist for the most part. He’d had a beer last night for the first time in a long time. It had only been one, he told himself.

He peered into the refrigerator, licking his lips as the heat from the garage air mixed with the cool refrigeration, clouding the clear glass of the quintet beer bottles.

Perhaps it was a subconscious defense mechanism in his mind, Jake’s mind shifted to the sweet, soft, cherubic image of his daughter. Lizzie was the center of his life and he had been walking the straight and narrow over the last months for her. She needs you, Jake. You can’t drink. The words had been spoken in love but embedded in the steely tinged timbre.

He turned and began closing the door. But his hand remained on the door handle. As his arm was fully-extended, Jake refused to release it. He stopped standing there holding the door open with his back to the appliance. Then, suddenly and with the dexterity of jungle cat, he spun, reached through the cold air and tore the cardboard six pack holder from the fogged, glass shelf.

Inside, Jake slumped onto the sofa. He set the first already empty beer on the coffee table. The frigid liquid hurt his throat as it went down. The cold expanded through his chest and abdomen like liquid nitrogen. In two minutes, the alcohol took hold of his mind mercifully blunting the most recent devastating news. For the moment, the beer allowed him to cram the news of the drug error into a rickety cupboard of his mind.

As he time passed and he sat there, reality managed to push its way into his consciousness every few minutes. He would grab another beer, crack the twist top and guzzle another half-bottle. This routine was repeated several time over the next thirty minutes. When the entire collection of bottles were empty and sitting on the coffee table in little puddles of condensation, Jake laid his head back against the sofa. His eyes fluttered, in an attempt to stay open, battling the effects of the alcohol. His breathing slowed and deepened. Eventually the merciful curtain descended over his consciousness and everything melted into darkness.

Deb Perry

Deb Perry placed the remnants of her early lunch–a sliced tomato, a Caesar salad and a glass of diet soda–in the kitchen sink. Her appetite had been almost non-existent. She forced herself to eat about half the fare before pushing it aside. Then she made the call. It felt good to be taking action no matter how small it seemed. The service she requested could be scheduled for two days from now she was informed by the sales person. “I cannot wait that long. This is an emergency,” she explained, her voice was iron. “It needs to be done this morning. I will pay you whatever you require to cancel other appointments and fit me in.”

The line was silent for several moments. She heard the ambient sounds of the salesman rustling papers while the line was still open. Debra smiled to herself. She’d gotten his attention. After a minute, the man came back on and quoted a figure then said, “I can have a man there at three this afternoon.” It was less money than she’d expected. “I’ll give you twice that plus your normal fee if you get him here by noon. Tell your guy there will be a handsome tip in it for him and to use this code word.” The man reduced the word to writing asking her to spell it. Then she ended the call before the salesman could object. That had been a little more than an hour ago.

The last twenty-four hours had been very stressful. She’d slept little. During her lunch, Luca had texted, asking to speak to her. What little appetite she still possessed vanished. He texted a second time. She’d lost count of all the texts he’d sent since she’d followed his ex-wife through last night and this morning. She was tempted to reply with a lame excuse, but resisted. And there was no absolutely way in hell she was going to actually call him back.

Fear rose in her chest again. Luca was a loose cannon. Tonight she would meet with someone who would demand that she take care of the problem. The doorbell chimed. It was probably the service technician. But she was taking no chances. She picked up the handgun resting on the end table–a Glock G19. Rising from the chair, she ejected the magazine and saw that it was fully loaded. She rammed it back into the handle, pulled back on the slide and chambered a bullet with the skill of a someone seasoned in the use of weaponry.

At the door, she pushed her hair back over her shoulders and smoothed her clothes. Through the small square window of the door she viewed the image of the service technician wearing a Polo pullover embroidered with the company logo over the left breast. Her anxiety eased slightly.

“Who is it?” She called through the door.

Coffey’s Lock Shop,” came the reply. “I was told to say–” There was a hesitation because she knew the man had to refer to code word which had been written on a scrap of paper. Finally, he said haltingly, pronouncing the her family’s surname, “Perochoduk”.

Debra family had changed the name to Perry from Perochoduk many years ago out of fear of persecution.

She shoved the Glock into the waistband at her back and pulled open the door. “Thanks for coming so soon,” she said.

The man replied in a thick Southern drawl, “No problem, ma’am. The boss said you offered him a lot of cabbage to git this done real quick like.”

“That’s right. I need all the locks changed on the three doors very quickly. My boyfriend doesn’t know it yet. But we’re history. And he will not take it well.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s just after noon. There’s a hundred and fifty bucks in it for you if you can have them all switched out before three.”

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: Mistakes and Consequences (#14) Tuesday

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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Caroline sat at her small kitchen table, drinking coffee. It was her third cup this morning. She’d had the first early this morning trying to settle her nerves after the incident with Luca’s bitch staking out her house followed by Joe Beck’s intervention. The second cup had been with the pharmacist named Jake on Warwick Boulevard at the restaurant of the same name. She could feel her nerves unraveling. It was a combination of the caffeine and the ominous thoughts about all the had happened recently. She needed to call in a refill on her Ativan. She fished out a small key from her purse and a sickening feeling grew in her belly. This tiny key would unlock a whole new dimension to her life. That dimension was not one she ever envisioned and one she hoped she would never have to employ.

After she’d recovered from the shock of waking up to the sight of the BMW across the street, she’d left Peter with her mother who would take him to his first grade class. The school year was winding down and soon he would home all day long during summer break. She looked forward to spending more unfettered quality time with him, uninterrupted by Luca’s disruptive antics. Unfortunately, that was a pipe dream.

As the steaming cup sat before her, Caroline longed for better circumstances for the two of them. Peter’s asthmatic episode had scared her. She’d been so frazzled about forgetting his inhaler. But the heroic pharmacist whose name she now knew to be Jake had saved the day. Her enormous relief and sense of guilt was still all-consuming and lurking just below the surface of her consciousness.

Then Jake had returned her lost phone. Her near-breakdown at Schooner’s had nearly overwhelmed her. But with his patience and assistance, she’d recovered and managed to keep it together and properly thank him. In the short time they’d spent together she had not learned much about him. He had a gorgeous daughter. There was a wife. But Jake had been extremely tight lipped about her. There was something going on there. Caroline didn’t know what. She sensed it was something less than positive. A kind of tragic desolation lingered behind his eyes. It intrigued her. He intrigued her. He had been kind to her when she was weak. He’d downplayed the whole scene. That told her a lot about the kind of man he was.

She had no business expecting romance right now. With everything, it was the last thing she needed. But there was a niggle of expectation about him. She shook the thought from her mind. She needed to focus on her situation and Luca.

Luckily, she didn’t need to work right now. The divorce from Luca had left her with a one time windfall with which she’d been able to buy this carriage home for all cash. The court had ordered her crazy Italian Ex to pay enough alimony and child support for the two of them to live a modest existence. But she knew that Luca’s money would stop someday. Probably sooner than later.

Luca technically owned a small chain of dry cleaner’s in southeastern Virginia, may be five or six total. She also knew that those businesses could not support his expensive car, decent sized home and his growing drug addiction. Luca Clivio was a mobster through-and-through. Right down to his Sicilian toes inside those ugly patent leather shoes. He made his real money running a gang for Big Tommy Romano. Guns, dealing drugs, human trafficking and an underground gambling operation. One of her attorney’s crack investigators had managed to unearth Luca’s books. He’d been running his drug money through the dry cleaners to wash it. But he and his bookkeepers had done a poor job of hiding it.  Luckily for Caroline–and Luca– the judge had admitted those books as evidence in the divorce proceedings. Luca had been ordered to pay more than he legitimate income called for. Then ordered the judgment sealed. So the Feds and the local Virginia authorities had not been apprised of his dirty dealing. If they had, Luca would probably be turning government’s evidence and headed for witness protection. That would mean her alimony and Peter’s child support would go away.

It was also very possible that Caroline would be asked to testify about her knowledge of Luca’s criminal dealings in the future. It was only a matter of time. And that would mean she–and Peter–would have to go into hiding also.

Even if none of that happened, Caroline could foresee the end. It was barreling at her like a planet-killing meteor. Luca’s drug addiction and his illegitimate profession would either land him in prison–or in an early but well-deserved grave. Caroline had to get Peter away from Luca and his destructive influence. As it stood now, Luca was entitled to see Peter every other weekend. Luckily, Luca’s unpredictable schedule and frequent benders made him unreliable. He had seen his son three times in the last four months, not counting his recent visit to the emergency room. And then all Luca did was berate her. He’d paid no attention to Peter. Only during periods of extreme lucidity and sobriety did he ask to see Peter. Caroline had learned not to expect Luca to take Peter on his appointed weekends. In fact, she prayed it would not happen.

All of these factors had played into her decision to file for sole custody. It was a necessary but calculated risk. Luca would go off the deep end when he learned of her filing.

She stood and moved away from the table to a built-in desk beside the refrigerator. She used the space to pay bills, shop  online and surf the internet. Beneath the desktop hung a small dainty drawer with a locking mechanism. Caroline slipped the key into the lock and turned. She slowly pulled it open. Resting atop a stack of restaurant menus and surrounded by pens, pencils and other assorted items was a 0.38 caliber Smith and Wesson six-shot revolver and a box of bullets. She’d scraped together five hundred dollars and purchased it two weeks ago from a local gun shop. The whole transaction made her sick. It looked sinister and alien in the drawer juxtaposed with the ordinary desk items. She had taken a concealed carry class two months ago and filed the necessary paperwork with the Clerk of the Court’s office. Her permit had arrived a week later. She had put off carrying the gun as long as possible. But Luca’s actions had pushed her into a corner. From this day forward, Caroline would not go anywhere without it.


Jake had been sitting in his Toyota Tundra for the last forty-five minutes. At least, that was his best guess. Time had stood still since he’d received the devastating news. Since Althea Downs, the regional vice president of Alliance, had dropped the pharmacy equivalent of an atomic bomb on Jake in the non-descript conference room. According to the pharmacy executive, he had made an error. And it wasn’t a minor error. It was the kind of error every pharmacist dreaded and lo Jake recalled the last moments of the conversation that had taken place less than an hour ago as the weasel Stephan Willings looked on as an ever-expanding shit-eating grin spread across his mocking visage.

“What are you talking about?” Jake demanded. A nugget of concern fanned out over his solar plexus penetrating his abdomen and over his heart and lungs.

Althea Downs frowned tragically. “You filled a prescription two days ago for an elderly man. The doctor prescribed a short-acting insulin Humalog to be injected three times a day with meals. The medication which was dispensed was a long-acting insulin, Lantus. As you know it should only be used once a day.”

Jake recalled sitting in stunned silence for a long time. A potent nexus of fear ricocheted through from one ganglion to the next in Jake’s body at the speed of a lightning bolt. He shook his head incredulously. “That can’t be,” he said reflexively. But at the same time, he knew with the horrible working conditions deteriorating every day and distractions increasing every hour the possibility of any error was real. And the chance for a devastating or lethal consequence always hung over a pharmacist’s head like the Sword of Damocles.

“I’m afraid it is, Jake,” Downs replied. Jake didn’t think her voice could sound more grave. But it did. It seemed to reach into his chest, clutched his heart and squeezed the cardiac fibers. “He used the wrong insulin three times a day for the last two days. He’s in the Tidewater Regional Medical Center in the ICU.” She hesitated then plowed forward. “Jake, he’s in a coma.” His heart felt as if would seize.

His eyes closed involuntarily. His head swam. The room began to spin. He felt like he was going to fall out of the uncomfortable chair.

Downs continued explaining the facts of the incident as Jake’s mind fogged with malignant trepidation. His body deflated. Her words sounded as if they were coming through a long, cold tunnel. The patient’s name was John Harper. A fifty-two year old a type 2 diabetic. Jake recognized the name. It was familiar to him. But because so many patient’s names and prescriptions crossed his computer every day and in such rapid fashion, he had a hard time placing a face.

A bolus of nausea surged in his gut followed by a caustic wave of bile. Jake pushed open the truck door, leaned out and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the cracked, faded asphalt. A minute later, he straightened, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and closed the door. The effort was so weak, it did not close completely. A tiny chill developed in his lower back. It expanded gradually at first then moved exponentially over him until his entire body shook. Sweat poured from his pores like he was sick with fever.

A woman who’d just parked her car nearby studied him as she approached the Toyota, concern carved on her face. “Are you okay?” She asked.

Jake waved at her and lowered the window. “Yes, I’m good now. Something I ate,” he lied. The woman hesitated and finally waved apparently satisfied that Jake wasn’t going to die in front of her. She spun and headed to her destination.

Jake watched her go for a minute. Then he lowered his head, resting it against the steering wheel and muttered, “What the hell am I going to do now?”

Debra Perry

Inside her Hampton condo, Debra woke and checked the digital clock on the nightstand.  She had slept for about ninety minutes. It was a partially restful repose. She felt better. Not great but there was more charge in her battery. With great effort, she peeled back the bed covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She ran her hands over her face. As her fingers slid past her eyes, she spied her clothes scattered haphazardly on the floor. Naked, she padded into the bathroom and studied her lithe form in the mirror.

Her body was firm, tan and would make a porn star envious. Such a waste! She was a tough woman who’d been through her share of troubles In the beginning, her relationship with Luca was filled with heat and sparks. He had been charming and confident. That first night, he’d approached her at a holiday party at a hotel in Norfolk put on by Big Tommy Romano. A girlfriend had told her about Luca’s recent separation and divorce. She’d introduced them that same night. Luca and Debra spent the entire evening drinking, dancing and with their heads very close whispering intimate and carnal messages. Around midnight, he’d invited to leave with him.

They’d gone back to his place and made love three times, resting for periods between each episode. In the morning, they woke tired but sated. He made her a breakfast of bagels and sour cream, scrambled eggs and Bloody Mary’s. Debra had had great hope for their union. It had only taken six months before things began a downward slide. As she stood admiring her naked form in the mirror. She now chided herself for allowing her situation to deteriorate to its current state even as she remembered that passionate, desperate night of lovemaking.

It was time! She needed to act…to take steps. Do it now, she told herself, before you chicken out. She turned on the shower to let the water steam.  Then returning to the bedroom, Debra retrieved her phone from the nightstand. She pulled up the number and activated the call.

The gruff voice answered after after three rings.

“I need to see you,” she declared in a soft but firm tone. “Luca is becoming a problem. He’s out of control!”

“I know,” came the reply instantly. “Meet me this evening at eight and we will discuss how you will eliminate this problem.”

The line went dead. Debra expelled a long shaky breath. She tapped the silent phone against her temple. She swore out loud. “What the hell did you think he was going to say?”

-To Be Continued-

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A Relationship Beckons: Bad News Delivered (#13) Tuesday

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.

Luca and Il Gigante

Luca Clivio and Lorenzo Esposito a.k.a. Il Gigante had watched Fernando Gomez leave his modest Norfolk domicile ninety minutes earlier. The pair had trailed–at a discreet distance–the capitan of the Gomez Familia in Luca’s Mercedes S-class sedan to three locations in the Tidewater area. Twenty-five minutes ago, Gomez and his three bodyguards stopped at a international corner market owned by a Vietnamese couple on the outskirts of the Chesterfield Heights District of Norfolk.

Luca surmised that the Cuban Gomez probably would refer to the the establishment as a bodega. Luca and his new, unwelcome partner watched the tense interaction through a pair of field glasses the mammoth man produced from inside his coat. Il Gigante peered through the glasses for thirty seconds moving his head back for forth slightly taking in the scene. The store’s windows were half-covered with colorful signs over equally colorful inventory. Even without the  binoculars, Luca could partially make out the unfolding interaction. Il Gigante offered the glasses to Luca with a solitary word, “Pizzo.” Protection money. Luca had already concluded the same.

Luca nodded once and accepted them. Raising them to his eyes, he was rewarded with a magnified view as he swiveled the glasses back and forth taking in the entire scene. Two of Gomez’s bodyguards had taken up flanking positions behind the counter on either side of the petrified couple while the third stood a post outside the door. In the few minutes since the cabal arrived, this man had barred entrance to two potential customers. Just inside the glass door, Gomez partially obscured behind a bread rack was delivering a message. The Cuban leader moved his head in a calm, but authoritative manner. His words were most likely being dispensed in a soothing yet menacing manner. The man and the woman nodded apprehensively in response.

This must have been the Cuban’s first encounter with these “protectees”. His gut roiled as a growing frustration swelled in his rib cage. Luca had come to know the Cuban’s modus operandi. He himself had used it many times.

Right now, Gomez was explaining in his heavily accented English that the bodega was now under the protection of his organization. They would be required to pay a weekly protection fee, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 a week. In exchange, the Vietnamese couple would be assured that no one would bother them or their business. If anyone harassed or stole from them, Gomez’s boys would erase the problem. If they failed to pay, Gomez could not ensure a disaster would not befall their little enterprise. Luca knew these tactics well. He and his crew employed the same strategies. But Luca also knew that Gomez would ask the couple for one more assurance in exchange for their hard earned cash. Inside the crowded aisles of their establishment, drug deals and money transfers would take place whenever Gomez demanded–out of public view. And the couple would look the other way. Luca had learned this fact from one of his crew. The young man had stumbled upon a shakedown. When he told them they were on Luca’s turf he had been savagely beaten and was now recovering at Sentara Norfolk General.

Luca’s anger was not the result of sympathy for this distressed couple. This area was his territory and Gomez and his thugs were horning in, stealing his protection money and customers for drugs, whores and gambling. They were the reason his profits had shriveled. They were the reason he was in hot water with Big Tommy Romano. And this was why Big Tommy had ordered Luca to eradicate the problem, the infected vermin were to be exterminated.

Luca had not had the stones to come to the conclusion himself. No, instead, Big Tommy had given Luca the mandate, pronouncing that Luca must handle the situation. Big Tommy looked down upon him for allowing the problem devolve to this extent. For all his bluster and chest-thumping to his guys, Luca deep-down was not a killer. He was not a ruffian. He was a drug-addicted member of the Romano crime family who tried to appear tougher than he actually was.

When the Asian couple had handed over their first payment and been thoroughly terrorized, Gomez and his trio departed. They trailed the quartet to two more locations, watching them perform the same song and dance in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. As they pulled to a stop at the last location, Luca finally summoned the courage to ask the question that had been bothering him.

“You do have some kind of plan, don’t you, Lorenzo? I mean how are we going to get past the….buffones?” Luca inserted a Hispanic racial slur before the last word.

Il Gigante’s protruding, misshapen lips spread into a malicious smile, moving like giant worms pushing the pock marked skin over his cheeks toward his ears. “I have been following this stronzo for the last two weeks,” he grunted. “I know where he’s going next. He goes there every day…same time…same place. We will take him there.” Il Gigante rotated his enormous head to the left and leveled his malevolent pair of dark eyes on Luca. “Do not use that term… again.” Il Gigante dropped a heavy mitt on Luca’s forearm. His meaty fingers squeezed until Luca winced. “It offends me. This guy is a business man. He will be treated with respect. Right up until the time you put a bullet in his head. Capisce?”

Luca felt his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed heavily. Shit, he thought. If Il Gigante had been following Gomez for two weeks that meant that Big Tommy had ordered him to do it. And that meant Big Tommy had been aware of what was going on for longer than Luca had intimated to Luca. He felt his stock plummeting in Tommy’s dark, evil eyes. Luca nodded once acknowledging Il Gigante. He wrenched his arm free from his grasp and croaked his next question. “So what’s the plan?”

“When they get where they’re going, I will distract the buffones. You will kill…the Spaniard.”


Jake sat in the hard uncomfortable metal and vinyl chair in the medium-sized conference room in the Alliance Pharmacy’s district office in Williamsburg as he waited for Stephan Willings, his manager to materialize. The secretary, a stout gray-haired maven who performed scheduling and other various administrative duties was the gatekeeper and resident pit bull for the five managers at this location, had pointed him to the room to wait in exile. The color scheme was robin’s egg blue trimmed in a faded white. Four inspirational posters dotted the distressed walls professing teamwork, determination and taking care of the customer. Jake found them offensive. He had come to realize that Alliance Pharmacy, his employer, only cared about one thing. Profits.

He had driven north to Williamsburg directly from his breakfast with Caroline Clivio. As he slipped onto Interstate 64, Jake phoned his mother and asked her to watch Lizzie for another couple of hours. “Work had called. They need me to meet with them,” he explained. His mother required no further explanation. She was a saint, he told himself, as he pressed the accelerator encouraging more power from the Tundra’s twin-turbo V-6.

As he left the parking lot of the restaurant, Jake had decided that he wouldn’t ignore his idiot boss, Stephan Willings, any longer. Even though that’s exactly what he wanted to do. Willings would not let the matter of closing the drive thru drop. Jake knew what was going to happen. Willings was going to write him up. He’d decided he would take his proverbial medicine and get on with things. By signing the write-up Jake knew that Willings would stop riding his ass–at least–for the moment. But Jake was not about to take the reprimand lying down. His next step would be to file a complaint with the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. As the Pharmacist-in-charge, Jake was supposed to be in complete control of the practice of pharmacy at his location. Willings–and by extension Alliance Pharmacy telling him he couldn’t close the drive thru–were usurping his authority. The Board of Pharmacy would be very interested in this development. The ever-constant rolling wheels of corporate pharmacy with their labor shortages and payroll cuts and increasing workload demands were at odds with the safe practice of pharmacy. But they weren’t about to let patient’s well fare stand in the way of the bottom line. Pharmacists and their technicians were caught between a demanding public and their even more demanding corporate task masters. It was a problem that had been growing out of control like an untreated infection. Since the start of the pandemic, the crisis had swelled to ridiculous proportions and had failed to subside. The retail pharmacy industry was in deep, deep trouble.

Their efforts to trim and cut in order to cut expenses and increase profits were not working. Alliance had been hemorrhaging cash for the last five years. They were ripe to be swallowed whole by one of the pharmacy behemoths like Walgreens or CVS. But the higher ups kept pushing the same old mantra. More shots. More prescriptions. And less labor hours with which to get all of it all done.

As he sped along the highway, Jake temporarily forced that troubling work matter from his mind. He spent the remainder of his drive focusing on the woman who’d just bought him breakfast. She seemed to be a very engaged, concerned mother to her son, Peter. She was a knockout. Curvy in all the right places with sharp, intelligent eyes tinged with a malleable hardness that rested just behind her seemingly magnetic irises. Her near breakdown was inconsistent with her bearing of composure and strength. She recovered quickly and moved on, Jake recalled. His years in the Corps as an officer had blessed him with an unique ability to read people. Caroline Clivio had seen some shit in her life. And she was stronger for it.

Their encounter had been awkward, polite and–intriguing. He had mentioned the possibility of a lunch meeting at Schooners in the future just before taking her to the second restaurant. It was something one usually said to mollify a person who was upset and not knowing what else to say. A reflexive response. Perhaps, not one’s true intent. During breakfast, Caroline had asked him if he’d allow her and Peter to become his patients. It was a compliment. And Jake had to admit, he was intrigued at the thought of seeing her again even if it was professionally. The man in him was curious about this woman. The objective part of him warned to keep this potential entanglement at arms length. She had also picked up on his offhanded offer for a second meeting. The internal conflict inside him had only allowed him to manage a lukewarm response. She had also deftly managed to bring up the subject of Jake’s wife. Jake had not corrected nor informed her about the true circumstances. But she had not seemed deterred by the possibility. Caroline Clivio was a strong undeterred female. Despite the obvious unknowns and his skittish desire…his interest had been piqued–

His thoughts were quickly interrupted when two individuals breezed into the conference room. Their gait, scowls and hurried yet serious bearing struck Jake immediately. The first through the door was Stephan Willings. The slight, hunch-shouldered weasel with the crooked nose Jake had quickly come to despise. The second appeared ready to crawl up Willings’s backside. She was a tall, lithe black woman, Althea Downs, the regional vice president for pharmacy operations. In his six years at Alliance, Jake had met her only twice. About five-seven in three inch heels, she carried herself with a regal air and walked as if her spine were a steel rod. She was polite but possessed an edge when challenged could produce a razor-sharp response that withered the unprepared. When she asked questions, she demanded direct, short to-the-point answers. She had no time for unnecessary chatter. And like most of the corporate muckety-mucks at Alliance and throughout the industry, she wanted to hear what she wanted to hear. The frontline pharmacists and technicians were motivated to comply because when these entourages made their quarterly visits to inspect operations, they had prescriptions to fill and registers to ring. The visits always put them farther behind than they already were and added to the stress.

Downs’s oval face was set in perfect cocoa skin with large round piercing eyes beneath a tight-curled blonde hairstyle. Her no-nonsense comportment was amplified by her sharply-attired female physique. A stark white pants suit over a lavender blouse with the aforementioned black three-inch pumps. Both wrists sported what appeared to be a dozen metallic bracelets. When she moved her expertly-manicured hands as she spoke, they rattled like the dreaded jangle of a prison guard’s key chain.

“Good morning, Mr. Murphy,” Downs said in a silky smooth but firm tone as she dropped a file folder on the table. She lowered herself gracefully into the seat beside Jake.

Jake wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. “Look,” he began. “I closed the drive-thru because patient safety was at risk. I was down a technician and the environment was not conducive to safety. I told Willings here exactly that yesterday.”

Downs placed the knuckles of one hand against her pursed lips. “You know the company’s policy against closing the drive-thru–”

“I’m well aware of the company’s policy,” Jake interrupted. “My policy,” he emphasized the word “my”, “is the provide a safe work environment for me, my staff and my patients. An environment that reduces the chances that we will make an error.” His eyes whipsawed between Downs and the weasel Willings, finally settling on Willings. Jake held the skinny man’s gaze until the coward looked away.

“I understand your concern–”

“No you don’t.”

The vice president bristled. She paused then said as evenly as possible. “I’m a pharmacist too, Jake. I’ve been where you are. We all have.” She cast a quick glance at her subordinate, Willings.

“Then what are you doing to fix the problem?”

“You can’t close the drive-thru. You have to increase the wait times. The drive thru must stay open. Patients depend on that service. If you wanted to close it, you need to get permission.”

“I don’t have time to wait for you or–him–” Jake pointed at his boss, “to give me permission.” Jake sighed and shook his head. “You’re here to write me up for closing the drive thru. Just give me the form. I’ll sign it and be on my way.”

Downs made a gesture of surrender. She opened the folder and produced a typewritten document. Jake had seen the likes of it before. It was the Alliance Pharmacy corporate documentation form. It was neatly filled out with several paragraphs of text. She slid it over to him along her with a fancy fountain pen.

Jake read quickly but carefully. It contained all the legal mumbo-jumbo about failure abide by corporate policy. And if it happened again, it would potentially lead to more documentations up to and including termination. Jake picked up the pen, poised it over the paper for several beats the scratched his name on the signature line.

“I promise you. This is not over. As the pharmacist on-duty and the pharmacist-in-charge, I am supposed to have complete control of what happens in that pharmacy when I’m filling prescriptions and so does my partner.” Jake’s partner was the other pharmacist assigned to his store who worked when Jake was off. Her name was Gretchen Collins. Jake dropped the pen with finality. “The Board of Pharmacy is going to hear about this.”

Downs replied without hesitation as if she had been expecting this statement from Jake. “I’d be careful about doing that. It could be bad for…you.”

“Why?” Jake shot back. Then it occurred to him that he had also made the same threat about going to the Board when he handed Willings the Pharmacy Working Conditions Document yesterday. Willings had obviously shared it with Downs. Jake’s eyes bore holes into him. He addressed the next statement to Downs but kept his eyes on Willings. “Are you threatening me?”

“I’m just saying be careful how you handle yourself, is all.”

“Again why?”

“Because you are going to want the company behind you in the next days, weeks and months.”

Jake furrowed his brow. His question was unspoken but nonetheless it hung precariously between them.

Downs smile curtly and continued. “You see, Jake. Another issue has come up.”

“Okay.” Jake turned his hands toward the ceiling in a gesture that said, “I’m listening.”

“Jake, there’s been a drug error. A serious drug error that was reported just yesterday. It appears there has been injury to a patient. And it was your drug error.”

Deb Perry

Deb Perry, Luca’s girlfriend, vixen and surveillance expert, sat slouched in her BMW in her driveway, holding her phone and wishing it could transport her to another dimension and away from this sordid, surreal affair. She could feel everything on the verge of spiraling out of control. With great effort, she alighted from the car and trudged to the front door of the north building of the Windward Towers on the northern shore of the James River a stone’s throw from the shipyard. Exiting the elevator on the sixth floor, she needed four tries to slide her key in the lock. Exhausted, every fiber in her body craved sleep.

But she had to do one thing before her head hit the pillow. She had to make the dreaded call to Luca. Inside, she dropped her bag on the sofa, toed off her ankle boots and walked into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water from the fridge, oblivious to the gorgeous panorama for the James River bridge and the historic river spreading out beyond her large windows.

She pulled Luca’s number up from her favorites list and thumbed the call to life. It rang several times before she heard Luca’s strained, hoarse voice. “It’s about f-cking time,” he hissed.

“Where are you?” Deb asked, trying to deflect his anger.

“I’m taking care of some business.”

“Tommy Romano’s business. Are you–you know–doing it–today?”

By the background noise, she could tell Luca was in a moving car. “What did you find out?” Luca demanded.

Deb sighed. “It’s not good.”

“I’m in no mood for games, mi cara.” The term of endearment held no love in it. The sarcasm hit her like a slap in the face. He was sobering up. His words were no longer slurred. There was a keen, desperate intensity in them.

“Well, it’s like this.” She skipped the part about following Caroline to the hospital and the pharmacy. Luca had already shown up unexpectedly after she’d informed him that Caroline had taken Peter to the emergency room after leaving the pharmacy. For three minutes, she laid out what she’d over the last twenty four hours explaining that Caroline had stopped at a lawyer’s office carrying a manila envelope. She hesitated letting that information sink in and all that it implied. Luca only grunted. The sound of his breathing seemed to quicken.

“And she had breakfast this morning…with a man,” she explained. The breathing stopped. Only the distant sound of rubber on the road coming through the phone. Deb had ventured into the pharmacy yesterday following Caroline after she entered Alliance Pharmacy in a panic. She pretended to look at greeting cards as she eyed the events outside the pharmacy. The pharmacist administered a breathing medicine to Luca’s son, Peter. During the hurried chaos, she’d gotten a good look at the pharmacist. Deb plunged ahead. “It was the pharmacist that helped your son with his asthma attack.”

The silence stretched endlessly. When Luca ended it, his next words were lethal and ominous. “Figlio di puttana.” This was followed by a lengthy, sinister tirade in agitated and speedy Italian that Deb did not understand. Unfortunately, she knew exactly what the words meant.

-To Be Continued-

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