Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole In After You – Continued
She had run back to her apartment after the confrontation on the street with the drunken old man. He knew her despite the changes in her appearance. It sent her into a deep, dark fear that choked her. Was there no way for her to survive? She’d never heard of anyone outrunning the Family. Whatever made her think that she could be the one to do it?
At first, she couldn’t sleep at all. For three days she jumped at every sound and paced the floor for hours at a time. Then, exhausted, she slept almost around the clock. She hoped that it would be an escape from the fear. It wasn’t.
She dreamed of Dominic during those tormented hours. She saw him walking through the door of her small apartment and finding her hiding in the corner, in the dark. In her dream she waited for him to take out his pistol and shoot her in the head. He didn’t. Instead, he laughed at her cringing on the floor. It was a laugh that said, “I win, and you lose.” It was a laugh of total victory, of domination. In her nightmare, Dominic told her the truth about herself.
“I don’t have to kill you because you killed yourself. Beverly Deltino is already dead.”
When she awoke, those words stuck with her. Beverly Deltino is already dead. She finally understood that hiding in her apartment would never work. Dominic could always find a cowering Beverly Deltino. To safely disappear she would have to truly reappear as someone else. She had to become a new person, a totally new human being. It had to be more than makeup, hair and denim. The new name–Laura Smith–she would keep. It honored her mother, who had given her life once before. Maybe it would do so again.
On the seventh day, God rested, but Laura Smith got to work.
As she showered off a week’s worth of stinking fear and darkness, the concept of a new person started to come together in her reopening brain.
Dominic would be hunting for the woman he knew, crouching in the shadows, so she had to walk upright, in the brightest sunlight she could find. He would never think to look for her there. Never.
She spoke out loud to let Dominic and the universe hear every word.
“Dominic, you SOB, I’m not dead and I’m not going to let you make me kill myself. As far as I’m concerned, from this moment on, you are dead and buried. You don’t own me or run my life. You are just a bad memory. This is my life now and, damn it, I’m going to live the hell out of it.”
After her shower, she dressed herself–costumed really–in the brightest, most colorful outfit she could put together. So what if everything clashed with everything else? Before, she would have had everything color coordinated. No more of that.
“If people want to look at me, go ahead. I’ll look right back at them.”
Just before she closed and locked the door she slipped the black revolver into her bag.
Confidence is one thing, foolishness is something else altogether.
Her appetite had returned. Before she had just been hungry. Now she desired to eat for the sheer pleasure of the act. She wanted to savor the taste, the aroma, the color, and the texture. She knew that she needed to eat, but now she wanted to eat as well.
Laura left her tiny apartment and walked a few blocks back down Chestnut Street. She paused at the corner of Mallorca Street where Tucky Santi had recognized her. The sun was blindingly bright and the sidewalk was crowded with shoppers and tourists.
A young couple stopped at the corner. The woman was pushing a stroller holding two little girls. Laura looked down at them and smiled.
“They are just lovely. You must be very happy,” she said to the couple.
“Yes, we are. They’re identical twins, but we’re not going to dress them alike. We want them to be individuals, not copies of each other. You really can’t be someone else.”
“Maybe yes, maybe no. Well, your babies are just beautiful,” said Laura as the happy family continued on its way.
With her appetite roaring, she stopped at Izzy’s Steak House and ate until the lunch crowd thinned and the busboy for her table started hovering, wanting her to finish so he could go out back for a smoke.
A walk after a big meal was very unlike the old her, so she meandered down to the Marina Green on the shore of San Francisco Bay.
The Golden Gate Bridge with its garish “International Orange” paint dominated the vista. Huge freighters cut through the whitecaps heading out to the far corners of the world. A dozen kites were riding the steady winds high above the Green, while joggers exercised in the postcard setting. For the first time she felt that she was home – at last.
The mid-afternoon sun was overflowing the cloudless sky. She bought a straw hat from a street vendor and threw the baseball cap into a trash bin.
“Ice cream, I need some ice cream,” she told the vendor. He smiled and answered, “Don’t we all?”
It was just shy of four in the afternoon. The day was still bright and breezy. The fog was starting to charge in through the Golden Gate like a milky-white wave ready to crash over the city, and Laura was walking through the automatic doors at the Marina Safeway with conspicuous consumption on her mind.
This time there was no skulking up and down each aisle. Today’s tour was a stroll, a Grand Promenade.
She selected foods that were new to her: lychee nuts, a six-pack of “Inca Kola” from Peru, and tofu. New foods for a new person. New, yes, but some things never change: ice cream.
Fighting the cart’s insistence to go only to the left, she ambled along to the frozen food aisle. She noticed several men checking her out, only now, it didn’t alert her defenses, but rather, made her smile.
These men aren’t out to get me, she thought. Well, maybe they are, but in a different way.
It had been a while since she had seen any man look at her like that. Under the floppy brim of her new hat, she did a little checking out of her own.
The selections available in the ice cream freezer could make any sweet tooth tingle. There were at least twenty different brand names, national, some local boutique labels, as well as the store brand. All of those flavors and combinations of flavors could be the real reason that the dish ran away with the spoon, she mused. It was almost too much.
God bless California, where the State Motto should be “I Want More.”
She took her time making up her mind. Today was special. It was her new birthday and everything had to be perfect. Of course, “perfect” dictated only one real choice: Ben and Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia,” the ice cream of the gods.
Like a Wild Weasel radar-guided missile, she homed in on her target. It was nestled in its place of honor between freezing cartons of “Chunky Monkey” and “Phish Food.”
Her fingers reached into the freezer case and wrapped themselves around…another set of fingers. Someone else’s hand had found the frosty target a nanosecond ahead of hers.
She ran her eyes up from the strange hand, to the arm, to the shoulder, and to a pair of light blue eyes. A short gasp escaped from her mouth, but she didn’t let go of the ice cream or of the fingers that separated her from her prize.
“I win,” he said.
“What?” was all she could say.
“I saw it first and those are my fingers that you’re squeezing,” said the man with an easy smile on his face.
“Oh? Well, I need this one. Get yourself another carton,” insisted Laura.
“This is the last one and I’m not letting go,” he said.
“But it’s my birthday and I really need it. Please?”
“Happy birthday, but I was here first and it’s mine. So, let go, Miss.”
She was unaccustomed to not getting what she wanted. She was the daughter of a man who commanded a small army. He denied her nothing and neither did anyone who knew of her father. But now she was on her own, as anonymous as anyone could be. There was no family name, no connections, no Family. Reality had a firm, cold grip on something she wanted and it wasn’t going to let go.
“I’ll give you twenty bucks, buddy.” Bribery often worked, she knew.
“Twenty bucks? Get serious.” He laughed out loud at her proposal. “This is ice cream we’re talking here, more precious than gold.”
“Fifty bucks. Look, pal. I really need it.” She was getting upset.
“No. End of discussion. Let go.” His voice and his expression told her that he couldn’t be bought.
This was a first. Everything and everyone had a selling price. She knew that. There was always a weak spot.
She took off her sunglasses and glared at him. Money didn’t work, maybe intimidation would. She narrowed her eyes and flared her nostrils.
His eyes widened and the beginnings of another smile sprouted at the corners of his mouth.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’m not letting go and it looks as if you’re in it for the duration as well. So, let’s compromise.”
“Compromise? I’m listening,” she said.
His smile that was just starting, blossomed. He had a nice smile, she noticed. It was an honest smile, not just a negotiating tool.
“I am willing to share this last and unimaginably precious pint of Cherry Garcia.”
“Share it? With you? Bite me.” Other shoppers were noticing this little drama and stopping to watch.
“Hear me out,” he pleaded. “Half of this carton of Vermont’s finest export can be yours–if you will have dinner with me tonight,” said the man with the firm grip on her goal.
“You’re trying to pick me up.” She was incredulous.
“Not at all. I’m trying to pick up this ice cream and it seems that you are permanently attached to it.”
“I don’t even know you, pal. What are you, some kind of California nut ball?” A couple members of the growing audience chuckled.
“California nut balls don’t eat ice cream. They exist solely on sprouts, tofu and goofy politics. I’m just a simple boy from Ohio who would like to buy you some dinner and share something sweet.”
“Whoa there, cowboy,” said a woman who was enjoying the show.
“The ice cream – I’m talking about the ice cream, lady,” he tossed in her direction. To Laura he pleaded earnestly, “Please say ‘Yes.’ I’m starting to lose the feeling in my fingers, and I’m not a cowboy. My name is Davis Lovejoy. I’m an accountant, and your name is…?”
To live a new life you can’t lock yourself away from the world.
“Laura. My name is Laura Smith. It’s nice to meet you, Davis Lovejoy, accountant. Now, let go of the ice cream.”
“Laura? Nice name, it fits you…and we’ve met before.” He saw her mind do a quick search, trying to place him.
“About a week or so ago, on Chestnut Street at about three a.m., remember?”
Congenital alarms were being triggered.
“When that old drunk attacked you? I was the guy who tried to be a hero and took a backhand to the face. Just before he walked in front of the bus.”
She let go of the ice cream and of his hand. She thought for a moment about punching him–a visceral reaction. She stepped back from him, feeling panic in her throat.
“What do you want?” Her voice was getting louder, more frightened with every word. “Are you following me? Did Dominic send you? They have cameras in here. Touch me and I’ll scream!” Her hand reached into her purse, groping for the revolver.
The shoppers who had been enjoying the seeming flirtation moved back, out of the way, not knowing what to expect.
Holding the ice cream in his hand, Davis Lovejoy, accountant, tried to calm the situation.
“Easy, Laura. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m sorry if I upset you. I didn’t even recognize you until you took off your sunglasses.” He let go of the ice cream, setting it on the edge of the freezer case.
A female Safeway clerk came trotting down the aisle. There were, indeed, cameras. Laura’s hand let go of the pistol grip.
“Are you all right, Miss? Is this man bothering you?”
“What? No.” Her breathing was slowly returning to normal. “Everything is fine.” She kept her eyes on the man as she spoke. She was answering the clerk, but her words were really directed at Davis Lovejoy. “Everything is fine? Right? Right?”
Both women looked hard at the solitary man. He knew that he was being adjudged as some lonely guy who hits on single women in the supermarket.
“Everything is okay by me, Laura.”
“Yes, everything is okay.” Laura took a deep breath. “Thank you, Miss. I know this gentleman. He’s harmless. I saw an old man deck him once.”
The clerk watched them both to make sure that everything was, indeed, okay. “If you say so, Miss. But if you need any help, I’ll be close by, and thank you for shopping at Safeway.”
The clerk moved back up the aisle and pretended to tidy up the stacks of Hungry Man Dinners, but she kept her brown eyes focused on the blue-eyed man. The small group of onlookers moved on. There was nothing more to see.
“You were the guy who tried to help me that night?” Laura asked.
“Yes, ‘tried to’ is right. He kind of put me on my ass.”
“Yes, he did. Well – thank you.” She was sincerely grateful.
“Why did you run away?” he asked. “The danger was over.”
“It’s never over, ” Laura said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I was just overwhelmed. I didn’t know him. He was just some drunken old man.”
“Well, it turns out the cops recognized him. They said he was some retired gangster type,” Davis said with a shrug. “Can you believe it?”
“Oh?” Laura felt the knot in her stomach returning.
“But that’s in the past. Everything is fine now, right? Today the issue is ice cream and dinner. What do you say?” He smiled at Laura, trying to comfort her and lighten the moment.
“No. I don’t go out with complete strangers,” she answered. “I never have.”
Her words echoed back at her. “I never have.” Beverly Deltino certainly never went out with strangers. Her dates were all selected and screened beforehand.
“You said that today was your birthday,” he reminded her. “Let me take you to dinner on your birthday, please.”
“Okay. I accept.” Her answer surprised both of them
“What?” His eyes and his smile both widened.
“I accept your invitation to dinner, or are you backing out now?”
“No! Great. Tonight?” he asked, still surprised at her change in attitude.
Laura held up a finger and looked at him, a no-nonsense expression on her face.
“I accept your invitation on one—no, two conditions. First: we meet at the restaurant, and secondly, I leave here with the ice cream.” She pointed at the carton still perched on the freezer. She smiled at him. It was a negotiating smile.
“All right, you win,” he conceded. “How about eight p.m. at Scott’s seafood place? You know where that’s at, here in the Marina?”
“Yes, I’ve seen it. That’ll be fine,” she nodded. “Now, my ice cream, please.” She held out her hand and snapped her fingers. “Fork it over.”
Davis Lovejoy reached over to the freezer, picked up the carton of Cherry Garcia, and held it out to her. She took it from him and placed it, with great mock ceremony, into her shopping cart.
“Maybe we can share this ice cream sometime” he said.
“Now, don’t you dare stand me up,” he said. “I’ve been straight with you.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” She laughed a small, satisfied, laugh. The hairs on his arm stood up.
“See you tonight” said Davis, as he started to push his cart toward the front of the store. Laura guided hers in the opposite direction.
She wheeled by the clerk, who was still playing store detective. She leaned toward Laura as her cart passed.
“He is kinda cute. Good luck tonight.”
“Thanks. I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” said Laura, still amazed at herself.
“Good. You gotta live a little. You never know, the Big One could hit tomorrow and drop us all into the Pacific Ocean. Anyway, a gal’s got needs too.”