Short Fiction for Guests of the Wordfeeder
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Preface… This is the second in a series that began with “Stranger on the Bus“. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to read it first. It’s about an exceptional individual living among us, seemingly one of us, but special in ways not even he fully appreciates, a stranger without knowledge of his origins, purpose or destiny, still finding his way.
What you or I believe isn’t important, only what happened. I’m only asking that you read the first two and others in the series with an open mind – because you have no choice, because, like everything I write, except for a few details, this is a true story.
This second installment begins a few months later, on a Friday evening in early October.
“Going to the stadium?” the young man, wearing a lightweight navy blue jacket over a bold red t-shirt, asked the bus driver.
“All the way. Com’on. Standing room only, so hold on tight.”
“No problem,” the young man smiled back, swiping his card and turning to walk down the aisle. Just past the side door, he grabbed a vertical poll to steady himself just as the bus lurched forward on its way to its next stop.
“Hi,” an older woman looked up from her aisle seat to greet him. “How ‘bout if I put my granddaughter,” who was sitting next to her by the window, “on my lap and let you have this seat?” she asked, turning to pick up the child, just four years old, wearing a Panthers sweatshirt.
“No, Mam. Don’t trouble yourself. ..What position does she play?” He was kidding, of course.
The older woman laughed. “Just a fan, a big fan of her older brother, James. He’s their star receiver,” she said proudly, “All-State offense in just his sophomore year.” Putting her arm around her granddaughter, the older woman gave her a squeeze. “She’s standing in for her mother who had to work tonight.”
“I’ve heard he’s the best.”
“Were you a student?”
“No. I’ve been doing some construction work at the school, and just thought I’d catch the game. Sounds like it could be a good one.”
“Oh, it will,” she reassured him. “Our boys have heart, James especially, but this team.. This team they’re playing is mean, big and mean. Don’t care much how they win. They’ll put my James in the hospital if they can get away it, and maybe even if they can’t.” Saying that, she pinched the small gold cross around her neck.
“You think that’ll help?” the young man asked.
“Can’t hurt,” the grandmother giggled back her answer.
The bus jerked to its next stop, idling while a few more riders, all of them students excited to be going to the game and dance after it, pushed up against him. The little girl looked up, her beautiful eyes wide, a tiny smile forming at the corners of her mouth. Holding out her arm, she reached up toward the young man, as far as she could. And the young man returned the gesture extending his hand past her grandmother. Rolling his palm up, his first finger stretching to just barely touch hers. Her smile widened into a full faced grin.
“What’s her name?” the young man asked.
Her grandmother paused, taking a moment to brush some hair off the little girl’s forehead. “Angela. It’s Angela.”
“That’s a good name. ..Someday she’ll do important work.”
The grandmother nodded, worried about her granddaughter’s future, but somehow certain he was right.
“In the meantime,” the young man scrunched down to look at the little girl eye to eye, “GO PANTHERS!!” he shouted, but not so loud as to scare her. And the little girl screamed as only little girls can, her shriek soon lost in the cheers from everyone on the bus.
A few miles away, on the two lane road that runs from the Interstate toward the town, a dark SUV was following the GPS on the driver’s phone, heading toward the stadium. Next to him, in the front passenger seat, a woman in her late 20s was clearly impatient. She is stunning, but in a hard, cold way. By nature and wealth, she is perfectly, expensively, flawlessly put together, but not the least bit affected by it. She’d run through a swamp, without giving it a second thought, if that was what it took to get her story – and celebrate at a five star restaurant without bothering to change.
Tonight, she is way over-dressed, still in the outfit she wore to work that morning for the night out she’d given up when they were tipped about the game, too close to their big city corporate operations center not to give it a shot. The one thing she’d done was replace the three inch heels she’d been wearing at the end of her well-toned, but not muscular runner’s legs with Nikes she’d grabbed from her locker at the office gym on her way out the door, better suited for where they were going.
The driver was concentrating on the local traffic. Two men in the back seat were expressionless.
“Hustle up,” she tells the driver without looking at him. Everything she says sounds as like an order. “I want us in position before the kickoff.”
“What exactly are we looking for?” The voice was from the man sitting behind the driver. “We’ve been tracking this guy for more than a month now without a name or picture. Just how do you..”
“Hey!” the woman turned to look at him. “I told you. He’ll seem ordinary, unexceptional but then, in ways we can’t explain or anticipate, he’ll stand out. He’ll have an aura about him, ..”
“You’re kidding? We’re looking for someone with an aura?”
“That’s it exactly. There’ll be something about him that’s different,” she broke for a second to wonder to herself what that might be, “..not odd or bizarre, but something that sets him apart.” Seeing the flat, non-responsive look on her associate’s face made her eyes close, then re-open when a blend of frustration and disappointment. “..If you’re not up to it,” she warned him, matter of fact, “I’ll get someone who is.” It was no idle threat, and she didn’t mean, “when I get around to it.” Her father had taught her not to delay making corrections.
The other man in the back wanted to say something, but felt uncomfortable. Thinking it better to be submissive, he turned and looked out his window, but made it a point not to miss a word she said, while his colleague kept talking.
“Is he dangerous?”
“We’re not sure, and I’m not sure we want to find out.”
“Which is why we weren’t allowed to bring guns?” the other man in the back asked.
“Exactly. Under no circumstances can we risk hurting this guy, even if we could. There’s no telling what he can or would do to protect himself and others around him.”
“But will he be armed?” the man behind the driver still didn’t get it.
“No, at least not in any way we’d be expecting.”
“What the h..”
The driver, who seemed to know the woman better, decided it best to interrupt his associate in the backseat before all three of them were looking for work. “It’s too late for tonight’s game, but I think, instead of binoculars, we should be looking for him with high resolution video infrared scanners. That way, we can study the…”
“Good idea. Call my father’s office as soon as you can. Ask for Mrs. Latham, his personal assistant.”
“I don’t remember anyone by..”
“Just ask for Mrs. Latham, and tell whoever comes to the phone what you need. We’ll be staying overnight unless we’re in pursuit, so have them deliver…”
“Does your father,” the driver asked innocently enough, “have any idea how much we’ve been spending?”
She snapped back, unwilling to let anyone to challenge her authority. “You ..work ..for me,” she said deliberately. “Besides, do you honestly think he cares about our spending a few thousand dollars on some video equipment on a story this big?”
“No offense, Miss, but I work for your father. We’ve been looking for this guy for weeks now. Four of us, at hotels, flying around in one his private jets, and..”
“Pull over!” Not waiting for him to respond, she grabbed the wheel, yanking it toward her and the gravel shoulder. The driver hit the brakes hard as soon as he was clear of the traffic behind him. Diving into her bag, she snatched her cell phone from an inside pocket and pressed a single icon. Only a couple of seconds later, even before their vehicle had come to a complete stop, the face of an older man appeared on the screen. Shadows from a desktop lamp in a mostly dark office obscured a clear view of his face. “Father.”
“What is it, Susanne? I’m in the middle of something.”
“Me, too. I have a management issue,” at which point she shoved her phone in front of the driver, his face more or less centered in the small window on her phone’s screen.
“I’m not sure exactly why she’s calling, but I can guess. I want you to do absolutely whatever my daughter tells you to do. When I’m not there, assume she has my authority in every respect. ..Understood?”
“Then good evening. Oh, and Roberts, in case it needs saying, you’re to protect my daughter with your life, with the lives of the two men in the back seat first, but with your life if necessary.”
“What?” the man on the passenger side of the back seat couldn’t contain himself.
“Replace that one, the one who interrupted us.” He wasn’t kidding. “Have him finish the job, but then replace him.”
“Sir, your on the speaker.”
“And your point? ..Roberts.”
“We’re not going to have this conversation twice.”
“No, sir. Understood,” Roberts answered respectfully.
“Yes?” She moved the phone back in front of her, angled down slightly, enabling him to see the top of what she was wearing.
“You’re not dressed to blend in.”
“What difference would it make if we did?
“None, not if he’s paying attention, but maybe he’s not and it’s best that you not stand out among locals who might be hiding him. Why attract their attention?”
“Thank you, Father.” And the screen on her phone went dark. “Get back on the road.”
And the driver did as he was told, gravel spitting from under the SUV’s tires as they pulled away.
A short walk from where the bus had left them off, down the crowded paths that led to the small stadium’s main entrances, the older woman, her granddaughter and the young man she’d invited to join them, were looking for the best seats they could find.
“Oh hi, Reverend.” The older woman saw a face she recognized. “I thought that was you. Are those seats,” she pointed to the open space on the bench next to him, “taken?”
“No, Grandma Lizbeth,” which was what many of the parishioners called her. “Com’on. There’s plenty of room.”
“I will Reverend.” Carefully holding her granddaughter’s hand, she shuffled sideways past the first few people in the row and then the Reverend’s wife, “Hi. Good to see you,” and then the Reverend, sitting down next to him as her granddaughter and then the young took the next two seats. “Glad you’re here, Lizbeth. We’re going to need all the crowd and the hand of God himself to pull this out.”
“Oh, I’m sure He’s on our side, Reverend,” she commented, but then noticed the polite expression on the Reverend’s face. “My God, Reverend? You don’t think so?”
“I don’t know, Lizbeth. To be honest..”
“You’re not going to be preaching at me now, are you Reverend,” she laughed at him.
“No, Mam. It’s just that, isn’t it the nature of God that he’d be on everyone’s side?”
It was a surprisingly serious comment amidst the growing noise of the crowd as the team captains converged on center field for the toss of the coin, both team bands playing while their cheerleaders revved up their fans, most of them standing.
“Fortunately,” the young man raised his voice, shouting, “GooooOOOO PANTERS!!” as he rose to his feet, “picking sides isn’t a problem for me.”
“Is that what this game is really all about?” the Reverend, standing and clapping, shouted back, not yet done with his mini-sermon. “About right versus wrong, good versus evil?”
“Uh, no. ..Well, maybe, but mostly it’s about rooting for the home team.”
“All I know..” For Grandma Lizbeth it was all about the game, and James. “..is that they’re HUGE,” she shouted. “So you think God cares as much about them as about us, do you Reverend?! Well, God better damn well be on our side!!”
“And mean, Grandma,” the little girl thought it was important, and it was. “They’re not just big, they’re mean.”
“You’re right, honey,” her Grandmother reassured her the way grandmothers do, “but James is the best there is. ..He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.”
Around the stadium, the woman and three men from the dark SUV had positioned themselves, their discreet binoculars carefully searching the crowd, Bluetooth earpieces keeping them in touch with each other.
“You see anything?” one of the men asked his associates.
“I see lots of people,” one of the other men responded, “all of them pretty normal.”
“Scan slowly,” the young woman advised them while she did the same, along one row at a time in the section she was watching, “like you were making discreet eye contact with everyone in your area, one person at a time. Pay particular attention to younger men, in the their 20s and 30s.”
“Are you sure,” one of the men asked, “it’s not a woman we’re looking for?”
“No,” the woman responded, “but the tip that got us here talked about a…,” she stopped talking, thinking she might have noticed something, but it was nothing. “..about a man.”
Late in the game, there was a timeout on the field while the home team’s coach and team doctor talked to a player still down on the field, making sure he was okay before they let him get up. It was James, Lizbeth’s grandson, the victim of an unnecessarily, purposely brutal gang tackle. A man in the row in front of them clapped quietly, facing the field while commenting to his wife, “Our guys are a good. They’re just getting the crap beat out of them.”
“Unbelievable,” the Reverend shook his head slightly, side to side. “There was no penalty call on that? ..Damn, wh..”
“Honey,” the Reverend’s wife thought she should remind him they were out in public.
“..What,” he said, without shouting this time, “does it take to get a flag around here?!”
“Com’on, James!” the little girl, standing on the bench where she’d been sitting, called out to her brother.
Grandma Lizbeth just stood there, watching James’ legs, the only part of him they could see with the people around him on the field. Players, on the field and along his team’s bench stood around quietly, most with their helmets off – and then he moved, sat up, turned and pushed himself up on one knee, his left arm holding his side.
“He’s hurt, isn’t he Grandma?”
“It sure looks that way, honey,” she agreed, just as someone from the next section broke the silence, shouting as loudly as he could. “GET UP, JAMES!! COM’ON!!!” And that got the crowd going. Everyone, already on their feet, cheering, clapping, screaming, “GET UP!! COM’ON JAMES, GET UP!!” Begging. Demanding. Sure, they hoped he was okay. Certainly, his grandmother did, but what the crowd really wanted was James back in the game. The score was close. They could win this. Without him, they’d had it. Both sides knew it. You could see it in the faces of the players, in the lowered shoulders of the home team, and the cautious excitement along the visiting team sidelines.
And he was up, limping slightly, holding his side on his way back to his team’s huddle, just beginning to form. “His rib may not actually be broken,” the team doctor whispered loudly to the coach on their way back to the sidelines, “but it’s damn close. I’m not sure he can take another hit like that.”
“You want him out, Doc,” the coach put the call on him, “just say so.”
In the huddle, their team was beaten, physically hurt. James may have been the one down on the field, but seeing him like that nearly took everything they had left. Wasted at the sight of their star running back unable to stand upright, in pain so severe he was barely able to hold it together, they needed a miracle to have a fighting chance. The quarterback looked to the sidelines for help, but the coach just stood there, took his right hand out of his pocket and pointed, poking twice in the air, back at him. It was his call.
The crowd, on both sides of the field, was relentless.
“Reverend,” Grandma Lizbeth shouted, “if you’ve got any pull left upstairs, use it now!”
“I’m doin’ my best, Lizbeth. “Doin’ my best,” the Reverend shouted back.
No one… No one was sitting down. Not now. This next play was the kind a crowd gives everything it has. Jumping up and down. Screaming. Clapping until hands hurt. Even crying. ..All except the one, the one who was silent. The young man just stood there, and then closed his eyes. His head bowed slightly, he slowly raised his right arm until it pointed straight up, like an antenna, and maybe it was. And then, when his arm was as high as it could go, he rolled his hand back, palm up to the sky.
“There!” one of the men from the backseat of the SUV shouted.
“Where?!” the young woman blew back.
“Home team side. Thirty yard line. One, two, ..twelve rows up. The man in the blue jacket. Look at him!!”
“There’re blue jackets eveyw.. Wait! With the red shirt. I see him!” It was the moment she’d been waiting for. “John. Get as close as you can, but don’t engage.” Her instructions were fast. Her tone level, professional. “..Jimmy, Carl. Cover the two main exits, exactly the way we planned. I’m heading out back,” she told him, already running on her way around the stadium’s perimeter. “Keep your lines open. Nothing,” her breath was short as she started through the rear exit tunnel, ignoring the three men on the side of the path just outside the tunnel entrance, “unless it’s on point. ..Do it, now!”
There in the huddle, one the players couldn’t hold back. “Johnny,” he said to the quarterback, “I don’t think I’ve got another play in me. ..I’m hurt, and look at James. He’s a mess. He can hardly stand up.”
“James?” the quarterback was worried, not just about the game, but for his friend, “Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah,” and, to his own surprise, he meant it. “I.. It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Yeah, well I’m getting someone else in here.” Johnny stood up straight and started to motion to the sidelines, their timeout almost over.
“No, no. I mean it. I don’t know how, but I’m comin’ back. It’ll be okay, really.”
The referee’s whistle went off, ending their time out. “Okay, guys,” Johnny started to call the play, but hesitated.
“Johnny..,” it was James. “Give me ball. Same play as last time.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No. They’ll never expect it, and.. and I’m fine. I’ll limp out, holding my side. They’ll never see me coming.”
“You can’t take another…”
“Those two tackles that hit me last time? Another second, and I would have been pass them. I’ll limp out. You fake like you’re throwing to Howard. That’ll hold the right tackle.”
“Okay.” Their quarterback was back in charge. “That’s exactly what we’ll do, except Wayne..”
“I want you running past me. I’ll fake a handoff. That’ll hold the left tackle for the extra second we’ll need. David, you run with Jimmy, stay to his left..”
“Got it,” David knew what he had to do. “When my side’s tackle centers, I’ll be there to take him out.”
“Ready up!” the quarterback called them to attention. “Hear that crowd?” he whispered. “We can do this,” and, in their faces, in their eyes as he looked around the huddle, they knew they could. “BREAK!!”
“Wait. I’ve lost him!” one of the men from the SUV shouted into his earpiece.
“What happened?!” the young woman demanded.
“I got pushed. The crowd’s going nuts,” he shouted back at her. “By the time I looked back to where he was standing, he was gone.”
“Did he see you?”
“It’s always possible, but I don’t think so.”
“Alright. Go to the front. ..Is everybody listening?”
“Keep an eye out. There’s only a few minutes left in the game. Everybody will be leaving all at once, most of them out front. Blue jacket, red t-shirt. Pay attention!! There’s nothing out here. I’m heading back through the tunnel to get closer,” and she started moving, thinking it better to wait outside the double door exit through the stadium wall. Better to confront him before he could get out into the open – but thinking about it was as far as she got.
“Hey, you look lost Miss. Maybe we can help you.” It was one of the three men she’d passed on the way out, now on her side of the tunnel, walking toward her.
She stopped, then headed to the other edge of the path, away from them, but they spread out, blocking her way. She thought about alerting her men, but didn’t want them to leave their positions.
“No thank you,” she said assertively, but with a slight, ever so slight trembling in her voice that betrayed her.
“Susanne. What did you say?” the driver and his men we’re listening.
“Nothing,” she told them into her earpiece. “Do your jobs. I’m fine.”
“You know, Miss,” another one of them laughed, walking toward her, “it’s really not safe back her, particularly given how fine you look.”
“Yeah, that dress is nice, like for a prom,” the third one, Mario, was more into fashion than his friends, “but even nicer.. except maybe for the sneakers? What do you think, Freddy?” he asked the one of them who had walked behind her, to cut her off in case she started to run.
“You know,” Freddy thought about it for a moment, “I think I like a woman in comfortable shoes.”
“Going to the dance?” the one, his name was Ray, who seemed to be in charge asked her. “..It’s not good to go without date.” He pointed at her, moving his finger left to right, in the air in front of her breasts. “Who’ll protect you from strange men?”
“Men?” Mario teased her. “They’re just boys. They.. They wouldn’t know what to do with..”
“Ray,” Freddy looked back into the tunnel, “it’s him.
The other two turned to a single person coming in their direction, and back toward the woman, starting to move as they did. “Maybe later, baby,” Ray mumbled at her, deliberately brushing against her shoulder as he walked past her on their way to toward parking lot and street.
“Let’s go.” Freddy wanted them to hustle up. That guy creeps me out.” And they left, walking away as quickly as their street rep and bravado would allow.
She stood there. For a person like Susanne, the appearance of poise was important. Step one, control her breathing. Step two, confirm her posture. Relax her face. Take charge of her eyes. A small, barely noticeable shake of her head helped her resume control. From a distance, she could see the blue jacket, the red of his t-shirt getting bolder as he came through the tunnel into the light of the couple of street lamps that lined the path to the overflow parking lot. The three men, now well away from her, looked back at him and picked up their pace. Turning to face the young man coming toward her, from the stadium behind them she heard the home crowd moan when something didn’t go well.
“Hey,” the young man was friendly, greeting her when he was close enough for her to hear him.
“Doesn’t sound like your team’s winning.”
“No. No, it doesn’t. But then it’s not over yet.”
She’s nervous. He can hear it in her voice. “I’m surprised you didn’t do anything about that.”
“I’m a fan. I came to the game and yelled with the rest of them,” he smiled. “What was I supposed to do?”
“You could have stayed to the end,” she reprimanded him as he stopped just a couple of feet in front of her. “I hate it when fans leave early just because their team isn’t doing well.”
“Me too.” He looked past her, in the direction of the three men, to make sure they were really gone. “I just.. I just had sense that someone, that you might be in trouble.”
“So, those three guys where friends of yours?”
“Not exactly, but I can handle myself and I’ve got men with..”
“So where are they?”
“Looking for you.”
“Hm. ..So how’s that going?”
She smiled her answer, feeling surprisingly calm in his presence, oblivious to the wild cheering and fireworks that had just exploded high over the field.
“So, why me? Why now? You obviously don’t go around saving everybody.”
“I don’t go around saving anybody. Maybe I just wanted to be here for you.”
“Hey! Susanne!!” Two of her three men, the third trailing behind them, came jogging up through exit tunnel. “You okay? We heard you..”
“I’m fine. Give me a minute,” she shouted back to him, holding up her hand and patting the air as a signal for them to hold their position.
“For what? Give you a minute for what?”
“The three men who were hitting on me, they were afraid of you.”
He laughed softly. “I doubt it. Do I look like the type that frightens people? They probably just didn’t want any witnesses.”
“And my men, the one that was talking is ex-special ops. You’re not worried about them? ..or is it that they should be worried about you?”
“What,” the young man’s voice cracked slightly, “are you talking about? I.. I just thought you needed..,” and then he smiled. “No. To be honest, ..”
“That would be nice.”
“I was hoping we might go out for a beer?”
“This is a $1,500 outfit, not including the earrings and watch. Do I look like your type?”
“So, if I were wearing Armani, you’d consider going out with me?”
“No, I think Armani would be over doing it. Maybe Ralph Lauren for a high school football game.”
“Maybe next time. Or we could go to my place, I could change, maybe take you out to dinner?”
“Maybe next time.” She looked over his shoulder and nodded slightly at her men who started walking toward them. It was hard for the young man not to notice. He turned to look at them, and they stopped.
“What?” he turned back to see the look on her face. “So I’m not your type?”
“To be honest,” she was mocking him, or was it flirting? “..I prefer men with blu.. eyes. ..How did you do that, change the color of your eyes? And nobody has eyes that blue.”
“There.” He did it again. “Is that better?”
“So it’s a trick. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but it doesn’t make it less of a trick, does it?”
“It’s more about what you see than who I am.”
“You know, I don’t believe in God.”
“Okay. Thanks for the update, but I don’t really care what you believe in unless it’s sex on a first date.”
“Do I believe in sex on a fir..?” He knew what she meant, and stopped short. “I believe in ‘religious experience’. Will that do?”
“I don’t know if I like the idea, hypothetically speaking of course, of a God I can tou..”
Taking a step forward, he extended his hand, not for her to shake it, but with his palm out, toward her. Instinctively, cautiously, she did the same, their fingers touching midway in the space between them – until, she jerked hers back. “Another trick? ..Carl. Get over here.”
“You know, I get the feeling you think I’m someone else.”
“I know exactly who you are. If I’m right, and we’re about to find out, you won’t come with us or let us take you.”
“Whoa,” he answered with a fearless smile. “You know, I don’t like the way that sounds. ..I was thinking, it would just be the two of us.”
And then she sighed, something she almost never did, resigned to how this was going down. “You’re not worried, are you?”
“No.” Her men were only 20 feet away, but holding her position. “Not really. Just a guy, trying to make a favorable impression on girl with $1,500 to spend on a dress and who doesn’t mind wearing Nike’s with it.”
“My men aren’t going to.. They’re not going to do what I tell them, are they?”
“I don’t what they’re going to do. I just know I like talking to you.” And then he did what, for the young woman, was unimaginable. He took a half step forward, leaned down and kissed her. It wasn’t a big or long kiss, but the heart-stopping chemistry of it was undeniable.
“Why don’t I just have my special ops guy shoot you?” She wasn’t serious.
“Okay, I get it. You’ve already got a boyfriend, or something. So..”
She was, completely out of character, doing everything she could to not smile. She was out of control, and unexpectedly relishing the feeling of being lost.
..You gonna to be okay?” he asked, reaching out to touch the side of her arm. “..I should probably go.” And he walked away, not waiting for any pithy quip or mean threat which wasn’t forthcoming. And he walked away, the young woman staring at his back, at his hands in his pockets and casual gait. She stood there, her right arm crossed against her chest, rubbing the muscle of her left arm, one leg straight down, the other angled out in a stance that would have been perfect in three inch heels. The farther away he got, the more her determination and edge returned to normal.
Her men had stepped up behind her, and she turned toward them, her aggressiveness back. “Hey! Are you going to follow him?!” It wasn’t a question.
“That guy who was hitting on you?”
“Yeah. That guy, and chase down three Hispanics, if you can find them, the three you heard me talking to. Ray, Freddy and a third one. I don’t think I heard his name. My guess is, they’ll still be together and boasting about how they almost nailed this well dressed white girl at the game. I’ll take the car and meet you at the hotel.”
“We only have the one car,” one of them from the back seat pointed out.
“Who gives a shit?” she snapped back. Steal one if you have to.”
They stood there, the three of them. “Go!” And they did. “It’s a small town, for God’s sake,” she shouted after them, fully aware of the irony of her quip, “with bars all over the place. In this neighborhood, they’re probably on foot. Find them!”
Less than an hour later, the young man in the dark blue jacket walked into a local diner only few blocks from the field where the home team had come from behind to beat a much bigger opponent. Walking up to one of the booths, he squeezed in next to one of three Hispanic men who had been waiting for him, a half eaten platter of cheese fries on the center of the Formica covered table.
“Hey,” they answered.
“Thanks for the help.”
“No problem, man,” one of them laughs. “I rehearsed it with Juanita last night. Turned the lady on.”
“Well then I’m glad it worked out for you.”
“And she was hot,” one of the others spoke up.”
“Yeah, a little like that Jennifer Love person,” the third one finished the thought, “you know, short, but not too short, and thin, but with nice size melons.”
“I didn’t know you had a thing for fruit, Mario,” the young man kidded him.
“What can I say? As long as they’re organic.”
“What’s he talking about?” the young man asked the other two, making fun of the third one.
“Did we look scared when you walked up?” Ray wanted to know.
“Are you kidding? There was the smell of fear in the air. Very convincing, and more worried, that outright scared. Just the right touch. You know, you three should consider Hollywood.”
“Hey. After all your help with the neighborhood these past few months, it was the least we could do.”
“And thanks for not asking for an explanation.”
“Not our business man. We’re just glad we could return the favor.”
“You know, her men are going to follow up, ask questions,” the young man reminded them.
“Just tell them I thought I’d give her a shot, make a favorable first impression.”
“Maybe get lucky?”
“Yeah, something like that. ..You know, I’m not going to be around..”
“We figured as much. ..Maybe later?”
“Maybe,” the young man answered hopefully. “I like it here.” Taking two fries to go, he got up, leaded his head up with his mouth open to let them down easy, smiled, “Mmm, mm,” knocked twice on the table to say goodbye, and walked away.
The following morning, the young woman and her three associates met at their motel’s diner for a late breakfast.
“Let me guess,” she asked, “you couldn’t find him anywhere?”
“Gone. Left his job with the landscaper, and gone.”
“Everybody leaves a trail. Find it. Stay here until you do.”
“We did run into the three guys who were pushing you around.”
“It never got that far.”
“Yeah, thanks to the blue jacket who rescued you? For a hundred bucks, they confessed that he gave them each twenty to make him look good, although I think the one of the them would have hit on you for nothing.”
“And you buy that?” she asked.
“And you don’t?”
Her phone, which she had on the table, began to vibrate. Picking it up, she told the caller, “Hold on,” and looked at her driver. “You keep the car. I’ve rented one. Now get out of here, and call me tonight with an update.” The three of them left and, when they were out of earshot, she retuned to her call.
“What’s he like?”
“And my story?”
“He’s not going to talk to us, not if he’s who you think he is. ..And if he’s not, what’s the point?”
“Give your team three days to pick up his lead. In the meantime, I’m bringing in.. a consultant, someone who can help you.”
“Thank you, father. We’ll talk more when I get back.”
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