Fiction Saturday Chapter 23 – Pull The Hole… Continued
Fiction Saturday – Continued
“See, I told you I’d come in handy.” Davis looked out of the passenger side window at the passing California landscape. “I wish you’d let me drive for a while, though.”
“Later tonight maybe. I’m a better driver than you are and it helps me to relax.” Relax was something that Laura had not been able to do for a second, ever since she saw her own face staring out from page four of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Besides, I think better while driving. Maybe I can figure a way out of this mess for us.”
“Well, I’m a very good driver—no accidents ever, and you could use a break.” Davis knew there was no changing her mind once it was made up, even though Laura looked like she hadn’t slept in days and her jaw was clenched tight.
Appreciating his effort to care for her, Laura smiled and gazed at him as he huddled up against the car door. He looked lost, she thought.
“Well, dearest,” she said, “at sixteen I was picking up extra pocket money as a wheel man. Just for kicks really. My father never knew. It was stupid and dangerous, but I was good at it.”
“Don’t tell me any more right now.” He was a stranger in a strange land if ever there was one. “I haven’t digested everything you’ve laid on me so far.”
“Okay, I understand.”
“I do have one question though,” he said. “Why did we stop at a travel agent before we left? A ticket for one from Miami to Detroit?”
“A little deception. Detroit is a border town, a ten-minute walk out of the country across the river. I bought it in my own name, of course. It won’t fool anybody for long, especially Dominic. But the Feds will have to check it out. It’ll tie up a couple of their guys for a few hours and give us a little extra edge. It’ll help our odds, maybe.” She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”
“What are our odds?” He was immediately sorry that he had asked.
“We’re two snowballs and we’re driving south.”
“Cheer up, dear. With our chances this crappy, I figure, let’s try to enjoy this while it lasts. Let’s see how well we travel together. That’s important in a relationship, they say.” Her eyes never left the road stretching out before them.
“I can’t understand your cheerfulness about this,” he said, rubbing his eyes. He was exhausted too.
“It’s called ’severe denial’, Dear. Let me wallow in it for a while. Think of us as ‘Thelma and Louise’.”
“Which one am I?” asked Davis. “And you do know how that movie ended, don’t you?”
She laughed and reached over and squeezed his knee. They had been on the road for several hours, on U.S. route 101 headed south out of San Francisco. Keeping to the speed limit it was about an eight-hour drive to Los Angeles. The road went through small towns, along the Pacific shoreline, and some of the most fertile farmland in the world further inland.
“Are you getting hungry, Laura? Sorry, I mean Beverly.”
“Laura, please. I like it better. Beverly was that woman back in New York. From now on, I’m Laura and nobody else, and, yes, I could eat. Also, I need to pick up a few things. I left kind of suddenly. Keep your eyes open for a place.”
“How about that Target store up ahead there? Take this exit.”
“Perfect. Target it is.”
Laura expertly eased the car across traffic, into the exit lane and drove off the freeway and quickly into the huge parking lot. She pulled into an empty slot and then crept forward into the space ahead, so that the front of the car pointed out into the lane.
She looked at Davis, smiled and took on a serious tone.
“Tip: always park nose out in case you need to make a quick getaway. Got it?”
“Let’s eat first. I’m hungrier than I thought,” she said, grabbing her bag from the backseat.
They entered the store through the automatic doors. The place was busy with shoppers. They located the snack bar near the front of the store. Davis slid into a red fiberglass booth. Laura stayed standing.
“Sit tight, I’ll go order for us,” she said. “Something quick. I want to get in and out of here as fast as we can.”
She turned and walked up to the counter.
“Good afternoon. How can I help you today?” said a friendly voice.
The clerk behind the counter was a cute young Hispanic woman in a crisp red and white uniform.
“Good afternoon. Yes,” answered Laura. “Let’s have two burgers and fries and…what are those things there?” she said, pointing to a revolving lighted case perched on the counter.
“Oh, those are churros, a very tasty Mexican pastry, very delicious. Like a long cinnamon donut.”
“Give me a couple of those too…looks good.”
“You want cheese on those burgers, Miss?”
“Please, and two large Cokes, one with no ice.” Laura had learned that Davis had a cold-sensitive filling that needed attention.
“You can help yourself to your beverages, right over there,” the clerk said, pointing behind Laura. “Free refills.”
The dark-haired young woman rang up the sale as Laura passed her a fifty.
“Miss,” Laura asked, “this may seem like a silly question but…where are we? What town are we in? We just got off the freeway and I’m a bit lost.”
The young woman laughed.
“You are in Santa Maria—farm country. Lots of people get lost here. We’re not too far from Vandenberg Air Force Base. They launch satellites from there. At night, it’s really something to see. The rockets light up the sky. Other than that, there’s not much here.”
“I’ll bet,” said Laura. “I mean about lighting up the sky. I didn’t mean about the ‘not much here’ part.”
The ever-friendly clerk laughed, showing some sparkling white teeth.
“You must be a tourist here. Where are you from? Wait, let me guess. I say…New York.”
Laura didn’t like being pigeonholed so easily again.
“Originally, but I’ve been out here a few years,” she answered. “I guess I still have an accent, huh?”
“I pride myself on figuring out where people are from. Kind of a hobby. We get a lot of tourists passing through, but nobody stops for very long.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s a nice town.” She didn’t know what else to say.
“Well, have a seat, Miss. I’ll bring your order over in a jiffy.”
Laura took her change and two large plastic cups and headed for the beverage dispenser. Partly out of habit, as well as an enhanced sense of self-preservation, she automatically scanned the faces of the other people in the café. Always alert, always wary, still alive. She had the gun in her bag, loaded and ready, if needed.
Carrying two bubbling soft drinks, she slid into the seat across from Davis.
“Here you go. Coke. I remembered ‘no ice’.”
“Sure, thanks. Here comes our food already, I think.” He was looking over her shoulder.
Laura turned and saw the cheerful clerk coming their way.
“Here you go, folks, two burgers, fries and a couple of churros, and here’s something extra for you, a map of California. I figured you could use it.”
She handed the dog-eared, folded map to Laura and smiled politely at Davis.
Laura unfolded the map. California was foreign territory to her. She quickly located Santa Maria and guessed how long it might take them to get to LA. She was also looking for possible escape routes, just in case things got too warm along Route 101.
“Why, thank you, Miss. How much do I owe you?” Davis reached for his wallet.
“Oh, no charge, sir. I had it in my purse. You guys are visitors to Santa Maria and you can use it.
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you.” He decided to leave her a good tip.
The clerk leaned over the table, smiled at them both and whispered.
“Honeymooners, right? I can always spot you guys. I think it’s so sweet. You two… it’s so romantic. Well, enjoy your meal. I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone now. Have a nice day.” She toddled off back to the counter.
“What was that all about, Laura?”
“My New York accent. I think you’d better do the ordering from now on. I guess I stand out. I keep forgetting about that.”
“What’s with the map?”
“Actually, this could come in handy,” she said. “I certainly don’t know my way around California and this may help us along the way.”
She refolded the map and laid it down on the seat beside her. She picked up her sandwich and took a big bite.
“Exactly where are we going,” he asked, ” other than South? LA maybe?”
“Further than that. LA, San Diego and then over into Mexico,” she said between bites.
“I need to do a little shopping.”
“Shopping? In Mexico? For what?” He was thoroughly confused.
“Well, my dear, right now, all I have is a bagful of cash. That can only get you so far in the world. What you need is a life, a history. My history, or rather, Beverly Deltino’s history, is my enemy. Our enemy. So, I need to get a new one.”
“A new history? That’s an oxymoron.”
“Oxymoron. A word or phrase that contradicts itself– like ‘Jumbo Shrimp’ or ‘Honest Politician’.”
“Whatever. But we are going to cross over into Mexico for a while.” She took a bite of the Mexican pastry that the clerk had recommended. “These churro things are great. Try it.”
Davis pushed his cardboard food tray away and covered his eyes with his hands.
“Are you sick, Davis?”
“Never mind me. I’m just a nervous wreck.” He pointed at his burger and fries. “I can’t eat this. I can’t eat anything right now. I’m sorry. Go on, enjoy your food.” He looked a little green. Laura, concerned, reached out and took his his hand in hers.
“Davis, we haven’t even gotten started yet. Don’t fall apart on me. Coming along was your idea and now, I’m very happy that you’re with me. But I need you to keep it together.”
“I’ll be fine.” He tried to smile. “Go on. How do we find this ‘new history’ of yours?”
“You sure you’re okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“I’m sure you will,” she said, hoping it was true.
“Mexico,” she continued. “You see, I grew up in a very different world than you did. I know a lot of things that you can’t even imagine. Example: One of the major industries in Tijuana, Mexico, is fake documents and IDs. It will take a hefty chunk of cash, but I can get enough paperwork to completely vanish and reappear as whoever I want.”
“Isn’t that dangerous? The people who do this, they might talk, rat on you…us.” She had his attention. He looked around the cafe. He had picked up her habit of noticing who was close by.
“No, they won’t talk,” she said. “Their silence is part of the deal. It’s the one thing that keeps them in business, and alive. Nobody will step on them to talk because they might need that silence themselves someday.”
“What about the police? Don’t they try to make them talk?” He was asking very reasonable questions. Reasonable for someone raised outside of the Family, that is.
“The police in Mexico?” She actually laughed. “They tell the American cops to go bite themselves and the Mexican cops know better than to even try to squeeze the Paper People. Hell, the police there are more crooked than the crooks.”
“Oh, great,” he said. “And this is where we’re going?”
“You bet. Let’s finish up here,” she said, taking charge of the situation again. “I need to get a few things. You will too. Please try to eat something. It might be a while before we get another decent meal.”
He picked at his fries with little enthusiasm. It was not going to work.
“I can’t. If I try, I’ll get sick. I’m sorry. I’ll be fine, really.”
Laura knew that it was pointless to push him any further on this.
“Well then, let’s get started and get out of here.”
Laura headed off to get a shopping cart as Davis bussed the table.
“Bye-bye now.” The clerk waved her burger flipper at them from her spot at the grill. “Drive safe now, you two.”
Laura waved back at her, touched by the kindness of a total stranger, but also unnerved by her talent for spotting accents.
“Bye-bye, and thank you.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s go. You’ve been looking at those reels forever.”
The boy leaned on the shopping cart while his father crouched low by a shelf filled with a collection of brightly-colored fishing gear.
“Relax, Bobby. I want to get you the right reel. You wouldn’t buy a tennis racket to play baseball, would you?”
A confused and exasperated look passed over the boy’s face.
“I don’t even know what that means, Dad.”
He hefted the reel in his hand as he walked over to the shopping cart and his bored son. As he leaned over to place the reel in the cart, his jacket bloused open. Into view came a brown leather shoulder holster and the butt of a Glock semi-automatic pistol.
“Jeez, Dad, I can see your gun,” whispered the boy as he looked around to see who else might have noticed the gun.
“Oh, thanks. Let me zip up here so we don’t scare anybody.”
“You know, Davis, I don’t even know what brand of toothpaste you use. I never noticed.”
“Here we are, Colgate’s fine.” He tossed the long narrow box into the cart.
“Let’s swing through Housewares,” said Laura as she turned the cart around.
They came to the end of the aisle and turned left just as a cart, pushed by a man in a zipped-up jacket came around from the right.
“Look out,” said the young boy.
The carts collided with a metallic bang.
“Oh, sorry there, fellas,” said Laura.
“Dad, will you slow down. Let me drive.”
“Sorry, folks,” said the father. “I wasn’t paying attention, I guess.”
“That’s fine. No harm done.”
They pulled the carts apart and continued on toward their respective aisles.
The man looked down at his son. “Slow down? Bobby, two minutes ago you were all over me to step on it.”
Halfway down the aisle, near the toothpaste display, the man stopped his cart. He looked back over his shoulder, down the aisle they had just traversed.
“What’s the matter, Dad?”
“Nothing, son. That woman, she looked familiar, that’s all.”
“I’m telling Mom you were scoping out the babes.”
“Toothpaste, comb, masking tape, deodorant and…grab one of those nylon gym bags too, a fairly big one. There, that looks like everything, I think,” said Laura.
“Why this?” said Davis, pointing at the bottom of the cart. “What’s this for?”
“You never know when it might come in handy. An ice pick is a very versatile tool.” She tried to play it down by smiling. That just made him more uneasy.
As a teenager she had met a girl at school, the daughter of another Family father. This girl, Stacey, was the one who got her into boosting cars for fun and being the wheel man when they would knock over small bodegas to get alcohol and smokes. Stacey was a couple of years older and carried an ice pick taped to her calf. She called it her “rape prevention kit.” If a boy got a little too aggressive, Stacey would get out her ice pick and convince the boy to take a cold shower. It was a quick, easy and very, very effective means of defense.
Laura and Davis worked their way toward the front of the store and into the long line at cashier number seventeen. It was busy and going to take a while for them to get out of there.
They inched forward toward the cashier. They didn’t talk. Without warning, Davis felt a blow from behind.
“Ouch.” He turned around to see what it was.
“Oh, sorry, Mister.”
The apology came from a small Asian woman pushing a cart piled high with huge bundles of toilet tissue and blister-packed Pokemon toys.
“That’s okay, Ma’am. You just startled me. Please be careful.”
“Well, for crying out loud, Mister. I just gave you a little bump. You gotta learn to mellow out.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” He didn’t want to drag this out any further.
As Laura looked back at this encounter she noticed that four carts behind them were the father and son who had crashed into them a few minutes earlier. She and the father made momentary eye contact. A look of almost-recognition crossed his face.
After about five minutes, but what seemed like a half an hour, Laura and Davis finally paid their bill in cash, and started to wheel the cart toward the doors and the huge parking lot beyond.
Back in the checkout line, the man in the zipped-up jacket had been watching them. Suddenly, his face lit up. He had made the connection.
“Oh, my God,” he said quietly.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“Damn—it’s her.” His eyes grew wide as he watched Laura and Davis head toward the parking lot.
“Who? What’s going on, Dad?”
“Bobby, stay here. Don’t move. That’s an order!” He turned his attention back to the woman and man nearing the door.
“Hey, you,” he yelled. “Lady! You two. Stop!”
He tried to push his way ahead, past the lined up carts and shoppers.
“Let me through. Let me pass,” he demanded.
A huge man in a flannel shirt with two small children in tow reached out and put his beefy hand on the man’s solar plexus.
“Hey, Buddy. You wait in line like everybody else.”
The man in the jacket reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather folder.
“Federal Agent. Let me through.”
“Jesus, guy. Why didn’t you say something?” He backed away, sucked in his stomach, and pulled his two young children out of the way.
Up ahead, the Asian woman with the cart full of toilet tissue and Pokemon toys had the aisle completely blocked. She looked, with contempt, at the man flashing the badge.
“I don’t care if you’re the damn Attorney General, Mister. You gotta wait in line. Just chill out, will you?”
The checkout clerk, who was used to confrontations between shoppers, quickly grabbed the goose-neck microphone bolted to the cash register.
“Security. Security to check stand seventeen, now.”
Laura and Davis were just passing through the automatic swinging doors as the PA announcement echoed through the store. They both turned and saw the off-duty agent trying to climb over the moving conveyor belt on the check stand. He was unzipping his jacket.
“Move it. We’ve been spotted.” Laura started running.
Davis grabbed the plastic bags out of the cart and they both broke into a dead sprint toward the car. She fumbled for the keys, wasting no time.
“Davis, get in. I’m driving.”
She slipped the key into the door and Davis ran around to the passenger side as the lock button popped up. He tossed the bags into the back seat as she slid behind the wheel and slammed the key into the ignition.
Inside the store, the agent broke free of the crowd of people and raced through the front door into the parking lot just in time to see Davis’s car zip out of the parking space and head for the exit.
“Stop! Stop!” It was pointless. His voice dropped back to a near-whisper, “Federal Agent.”
His eyes followed the car as it sped toward the exit, then turned left across the busy county road, and quickly swung right, up onto the freeway entrance ramp.
“Damn, damn, damn! South on 101…white Ford Taurus.”
Laura gunned the engine and sped up the ramp and into the flow of traffic heading south toward LA, the Land of Illusion and Dreams.
“Damn, damn, damn!” cried Laura. She punched the steering wheel with her fist. “Well, that makes this a whole lot tougher,” she said. “Now they know we’re headed south and what we’re driving. It won’t take them long to figure out what we’re up to.”
“Should we ditch the car?” asked Davis.
“It’s a long walk to Tijuana.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Davis felt like a real amateur suddenly called upon to play in a very professional game.
“We’ve got a few hours until the Feds get their act together,” said Laura. Her eyes kept checking the rear view mirror, looking for flashing lights.
“At least your husband doesn’t know where we are.”
Laura glanced over at him. Her cheek was twitching.
“He’ll probably hear about this within an hour. We’ve got to get off this road, find a spot to hole up for a while. They’ll expect us to make a dash into LA. To get lost in the crowd. So, we’ve got to do something else.
At the next exit, they left the freeway again. Davis unfolded the map that they had gotten from the waitress in the Target store.
“She’s in California,” said Agent Richey, almost yelling as she burst through the open office door.
“Where?” Agent Paxton jumped to his feet. At last, they had something to work with.
“She was spotted by an off duty agent in a store in—”
Markosi scanned down the page that had just popped out of the fax machine.
“Santa Maria, California,” he read from the paper completing Richey’s sentence. “It’s near the central coast, not far from Vandenberg. I was stationed there when I was in the Air Force.
“And she’s not alone,” said Markosi, as he handed the fax to Paxton. “She’s traveling with a man. No ID on him or a plate number on the car. They got away, but we know that they’re headed south towards LA.”
“Good work!” Paxton started issuing orders. “Notify the Santa Barbara and LA offices with the details.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, moving towards the door. “I want that agent who spotted them along with us on this one. He’s on the ball. Tell LA that we’re on our way out. Let’s roll, people!”
“She’s in California.”
“Where?” It was Dominic.
“She was spotted by some off duty cop in—in Santa Maria, California. One of our resources in the LA office just got briefed.” Peeto was reading an instant message on his cell phone from a Family associate in Los Angeles. “She wasn’t alone. She’s traveling with somebody, a guy.”
“I’ll kill her. I’ll kill them both,” Dominic screamed. “I’ll cut ‘em up and put ‘em in my refrigerator and dump ’em in the East River.”
His fist smashed down on the table, knocking over his cup of coffee and sending a half-eaten pastry to the floor.
“Call our people in LA. Tell them I’m on my way out.”