Fiction Saturday Chapter 25 – And Pull The Hole… Continued
“I hate this. I can’t hear a damn thing.”
Inside the crowded cabin, the roar of the jet engines was only a constant vibration to him. No sound was getting through. He always flew stone deaf. It would take two days for his full hearing to return.
“I know, Dominic,” said Peeto. “Happens every time you fly.”
“Happens every time I fly.” Dominic pinched his nose and blew, trying to open his blocked ears.
“I tell you, Peeto, I hate to fly. I really hate it.” The blowing did no good.
“Yeah, it always messes up your hearing,” nodded Peeto.
“It always messes up my hearing, y’know?” He stuffed five sticks of gum into his mouth.
It was a little more than an hour into the flight from Newark to LAX and the flight attendants had already started dealing out the prepackaged, precooked, and pre-ruined meals to the passengers. It was a ritual known to the attendants as “slopping the hogs.” Somehow, that part never got into their ads.
“I’ll have the sole, and is it okay for me to use my laptop now?” asked Agent Markosi.
“Sure, no problem, sir. It’s only during takeoffs and landings that we insist you turn them off.”
The attendant smiled a plastic smile and moved on to the next row of hogs.
Agent Paxton smiled and leaned closer to the junior agent in the next seat.
“A tip from a grizzled veteran, Markosi, never order the fish on an airplane. It’s almost a guaranteed case of the trots. I don’t know where they get their fish, but once I had the fish on a flight out of Cleveland. The fish, a whole trout, had only one eye.”
“Jesus, did you eat it?” Markosi had concern creeping into his voice. He wondered if it was too late to change his order.
“That thing probably had enough mercury in it to qualify as a thermometer. No, I didn’t eat it,” said Paxton.
Agent Richey, who was in the row behind Paxton and Markosi leaned forward.
“By the way, sir,” she whispered. “I got a text message from LA just before we took off. We’ll be met by two of their agents at the gate.”
“That’s fine, Richey. Excuse me, Markosi.” He climbed over Markosi to get into the aisle. Standing in the aisle he folded his sports coat and pushed it into the already packed overhead compartment. It was going to be badly wrinkled by the time they landed.
He looked around the plane—not an empty seat anywhere. His gaze lingered a moment on the seats by the wing exits. When he sat down and buckled his belt, he took the in-flight telephone from its cradle in the seat back in front of him. He swiped his business account card through the slot, tapped at the tiny blue buttons and pressed the phone to his ear.
“Hello, this is Paxton. Put me through to the surveillance desk.” While he waited to be connected, he turned to the agent in the aisle seat.
“We have company on this plane, up by the wing exit.” Markosi craned his neck to check it out.
“Hi, Waller, Lawrence Paxton here. Has the tail on Dominic Deltino kept up with him? Where is he? He is at his father-in-law’s home? Really? I think those boys need a refresher course on how to follow someone. Well, unless he’s suddenly found a twin brother somewhere, I think that he’s sitting about six rows in front of me as we speak. We have a leak and Deltino is on his way to Los Angeles, too.”
The sunlight spilling over the coastal hills made the world seem at peace and benign. Davis was learning rapidly that it wasn’t that way at all.
He was behind the wheel again. Laura was still trying to get some rest. The night before had not given her body what it needed, which was more than the physical satisfaction of a lover’s touch. She needed a sleep undisturbed by dreams filled with horror.
Davis looked over at her curled up against the car door. She was dozing, half asleep, but still alert. The expression on her face showed that her brain wouldn’t allow her to really rest.
He wanted to help, but knew that he couldn’t.
“Laura, I just love you to pieces” he said softly.
Her expression didn’t change. She had heard him.
“I know, but can you love me back together again?”
He didn’t know the answer to that question.
He looked at the traffic heading north and at the snake of red taillights in the hazy morning in front of him, all heading south. He was at a loss for words.
Nothing he could say to her seemed to help for any longer than the time it took for him to say the words. That he loved her was now sure in his mind. He knew that he had been in love with her since their first night together back in San Francisco. He was secure that she felt the same way. If she said something, you believed it, but….There was always that fuzzy word but hanging, unspoken, at the end of her sentences.
No matter how passionate they were together or how close they seemed to be, it was always as if they were walking on a very thin tightrope over an abyss. At any moment, it might snap and they would plunge into a freezing reality and be torn from each other’s arms in the currents of their different pasts.
Some motels are welcoming respites from the road, an oasis to rest and recharge. Some are places to close the drapes and pretend that it’s love. Some are places of desperation and depression, the last stop on a hopeless journey.
The Budget Traveler Inn on the fringe of downtown San Diego was the kind of motel that got a few people off the streets at night and kept the fast food joints from bumping into each other.
“That’ll be sixty-two fifty per night.”
The Budget Traveler Inn had changed names several times in the last fourteen years. It had a bad habit of losing franchises. Shadows of bygone lettering still showed on the stucco wall above the faded blue canopied entrance. The only constant throughout the steady decline of the motel and the neighborhood around it was the owner, Mrs. Vivian Baderbock, widow of Clive.
“Sixty-two fifty is fine.” said Laura.
“Of course, in advance.”
“No pets, no kids and no heavy foot traffic, if ya catch my drift.” She had a name tag pinned to her cardigan. It bore the name “Vivian.”
“No problem. We plan on staying for two or three days max. Cash all right with you?” asked Laura.
“Cash is good. My credit card gizmo is on the fritz anyway.”
“We’d like some privacy. Do you have anything available in the back?”
“Honey, all our rooms are in the back,” Vivian said with a wink. “And for an extra ten-spot a night you won’t even be here.”
Understanding, Laura pulled a trio of one hundred-dollar notes from her pocket and slid them across the worn laminated plastic counter top. Vivian scooped up the bills, pulled at the neck of her tee shirt, and dropped the cash into her own, personal safe deposit box.
“Here, take number twenty-nine. It’s around back, next to the dumpster. Not even Santa Claus could sneak up on you there. You can drive out into the alley from there too, so you don’t have to come through the front lot here. Nice room too, clean and, if you want, complimentary coffee.” She handed Davis a small, already-opened jar of Sanka.
“Cups are in the room, real ceramic.”
Davis smiled and thanked her as he thought, Sanka…I didn’t know they still made this stuff.
Appraising the woman’s face for any possible danger, and seeing none, Laura said, “Thanks, we appreciate it.”
“S’okay kids. I was young once. Ha! I been young at least a hundred times, if you catch my drift.” She winked at Davis.
“Got it, and thanks for your help.” Laura smiled at her and handed the key to Davis.
They turned to leave the office. Davis pushed open the door and headed toward the car. As Laura passed through the door, the older woman called out to her.
Laura turned her head and looked over her shoulder. Vivian was smiling.
“Yes? Is there something else?”
“Your picture don’t do you justice.” The woman winked at her.
“My picture?” said Laura, trying not to show any emotion as the hairs on her neck stood up.
“I read the paper every morning, Honey. I don’t believe any of it, but that was you in the picture, wasn’t it?”
Laura felt the urge to bolt out of the door, grab Davis and run, yet again, but instead she walked back to the desk.
“Ma’am…Yes, that was my picture, but I swear, I never hurt anybody. I just left my husband, that’s all. If you want us to leave, we’ll go, but please don’t call the cops. I’m begging you.”
Vivian reached out and patted Laura’s hand. “Darlin’, take it easy. It wasn’t five seconds after you walked in here that I knew that newspaper story was bull. You ain’t no killer. I can tell, trust me. I’ve known enough of them in my lifetime. You two are safe here with me.”
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that, Ma’am. I don’t want you to get into any kind of trouble because of me, though,” said Laura.
Vivian laughed out loud. “Don’t you worry about me. I can take care of myself, Sweetie. Now, you go snuggle down with that cute little hunk of mid-America you got there, if you catch my drift. And can the Ma’am business, my friends call me Vivian.”
“Thanks again. You’re good people, Vivian.”
“So are you, Honey. I can tell.”
Their room was as advertised – secluded from view with a quick and easy exit into the alley, a very valuable safety valve. The dumpster offered a shadowed space for the car where Davis smoothly parked his Ford, nose out. He was learning.
It took all of thirty seconds to tour the entire layout. The bathroom was small and the window over the tub was less than a foot square and covered with a grate bolted into the stucco.
Davis sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked around the room and pulled open the drawer on the cherry-stained, particleboard nightstand.
“Jesus,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” Laura called from the bathroom. She poked her head around the corner, into the bedroom area.
Davis reached into the drawer, a smile on his face.
“Somebody evidently felt the need to take the Gideon Bible with them and left this in its place.”
He held up a dog-eared copy of the magazine “Guns & Ammo.”
Laura laughed and said, “Well, we all worship in our own way.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you make a joke since all of this craziness started,” said Davis.
“Yeah, I know,” said Laura. “Things haven’t been too much fun lately.”
“We’ve done pretty good so far,” said Davis. “A couple of dicey moments but….” She cut him off.
“Davis, I’m afraid it’s going to get a lot dicier from now on.”
“But, we’re almost into Mexico,” protested Davis.
“Yeah, and you, me, the Feds, and Dominic all know that. Remember back in San Francisco, I asked you if you knew how to use a gun?”
“Yes, I remember.” His eyes moved to the cover of the magazine.
“Do you? I need to know.” She was dead serious.
“No. I’ve never even held one. You think it might come to that?” asked Davis.
“I hope not, but it might.” She looked deep into his eyes, weighing both his fear and his resolve.
He tossed the magazine back into the drawer and looked at Laura, unblinking. “I’ll use one if I have to.”
He pushed the drawer closed on the nightstand as if to say, This discussion is ended.
There was very little light coming from the street lamp in the alley. Years of accumulated grime and civic neglect had dimmed a lot of lights in this part of San Diego.
They kept the frayed and dusty drapes pulled shut as they lay in the bed trying to get some desperately needed sleep. It was nowhere close by.
“I’m sorry, Davis”
“Sorry? About what?” His arm rested across his forehead.
“I’m sorry I got you into this. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.”
“You didn’t get me into anything, Laura. I talked you into taking me along, remember?” He raised himself up onto his elbow and looked down at Laura. Her eyes were closed.
“No.” She opened her eyes. “I wanted you to come with me. I let you talk me into it. I was thinking with my heart and not my head.” She rolled over onto her side and closed her eyes, her back to Davis. He lay back down and stared up at the ceiling.
“When you left your husband…”
“Dominic.” She opened her eyes. She didn’t want to go into this.
“Dominic,” amended Davis. “When you left him, why did you come to San Francisco? Why didn’t you go to Brazil or Australia, or someplace like that?”
“No passport. Dominic keeps our passports in a safe deposit box and he keeps the only key with him. A passport is one of the things I need to buy in Tijuana. Any of the channels out of the country without a passport would’ve put me into contact with Family friends. They’d have tossed me back to Dominic in a heartbeat. Why San Francisco? It was as far away as I could get without ending up stuck on an island.”
She rolled back over, her face inches from Davis’s.
“My marriage to Dominic was as close to an arranged marriage as you’ll find these days. My mother set it up. She was already ill and wanted to see me taken care of. I was just sixteen when we were introduced. The Families are like tribes or small countries. You aren’t supposed to marry an outsider. I was sixteen and Dominic was twenty-two. He was really a nice-looking guy back then. I liked him. He was a runner, an errand boy, for one of my father’s captains. I thought it was all kind of romantic. I was in love with being in love. My father didn’t like Dominic much, but I was so in love with the idea of being married that I got him to go along.
“Dominic actually wooed me. He gave me flowers, candy, a car even. I took him to my senior prom. I’m sure I was the only girl there whose date was wearing an ankle holster.
“Our married life was pretty good for a short time. Dominic was moving up. Daddy saw to that. I certainly didn’t lack for anything. How many teenage girls drive BMWs and vacation in Miami Beach?
“We got married the day after my eighteenth birthday. I wanted to do it sooner, but my father would’ve had to sign a parental permission document and he never signed anything. He was afraid it could come back at him as ‘People’s Exhibit B’ or something someday.
“Then, as Dominic’s work got rougher—collecting, witness discouragement, disciplining—he began to change.”
“Oh.” She realized it was time for a short lesson. “Remember about – eight or ten years ago, in Philadelphia, when some Black Nationalist types got blown up? Took out almost a whole block of their neighborhood?”
“Yeah, the TV news said that the Philly police bombed them or something.” Davis hadn’t made the connection, so Laura continued.
“Well, the so-called Black Nationalists were really just some Philly street gangbangers that were trying to move up from knocking over Mom-and-Pop corner stores and into activities that were controlled by the Families. Dominic was sent down to help out and he and a couple of the local boys used two city garbage trucks to bring three thousand pounds of that ammonium nitrate and fertilizer stuff right into the alley behind the gang’s house. Those poor gangbanger punks were dumb as a sackful of hammers. They thought it was just the regular garbage pickup and paid them no mind until it was too late.”
Davis was both fascinated and appalled as he recalled the incident.
“That blast killed something like eighty people, if I remember right,” he said.
“About that, but Philly street gangs have been real docile since then, haven’t they? She smiled at the memory. “Dominic barely got away before the stuff blew. It’s affected his hearing ever since.”
“Good God, Laura. This man is your husband?” He blanched and closed his eyes so she wouldn’t see his fear. Panic was rising in him again.
“Yes, that’s my little Dominic,” she said. “He’d been a violent person before that, of course, but I never had reason to be afraid of him until after the Philadelphia thing. He really enjoyed doing that. That job gave him some reputation and he thought he would become a “made man” as a result. When that didn’t happen, it got worse.”
“Worse? How could it get worse?” he wondered.
“Well, early on in our marriage I got pregnant. I was thrilled, but Dominic wasn’t ready to start a family, he said. He beat me up pretty bad and I lost the baby.
“He started slapping me around on a regular basis after Philadelphia, but he knew that if he ever really hurt me, made it obvious in public, my father would kill him. Daddy would have shot him down in the streets like a dog.”
”Laura, I’m so sorry…”
“Don’t be.” She thought she had come to terms with this years before. Maybe she hadn’t. “It’s my own fault…”
Davis cut her off.
“No, it’s not your fault,” he insisted.
“It is. It’s my own fault for not leaving him the first time he hit me. He had no right to treat me like that.” She clenched her fists with the memory.
“Don’t blame yourself,” he pleaded.
“I don’t need or want your pity on this, Davis.” Laura’s anger was growing in her.
“I don’t mean to pity…” She cut him off in mid sentence.
“The first time he hit me, screw him. The second time, screw me. I learned to start hitting back.”
She sat up in the bed. Her skin was flushed with anger all the way to her waist.
“Look, I’ve fixed the son of a bitch. I’ve got six hundred grand of his personal stash—at least some of which I’m sure he skimmed. He’s going to need that cash to pay his people. He needs it back. He wants me back. Dominic actually says that he loves me. But I told him in the note I left him that if I ever see his face again I’ll put an ice pick through his eye.”
Davis sat up, his eyes wide, remembering her purchases at the Target store in Santa Maria.
“An ice pick?”
“Damn straight, Davis and I’ll do it. I come from a violent world. I grew up in a family of murderers and sadists. I’ve seen people killed because of some supposed insult or because they were stealing from other thieves, for God’s sake.
“Our parents thought it didn’t affect us, but it did. They thought they could shield the children from that part of it, but they couldn’t.” Her heart was racing.
“How do you think it feels when the other kids at school are afraid to play with you or to come over to your house because your Daddy kills people for a living?” Tears were welling up in Laura’s eyes. The memories were taking over.
“What do you think it’s like to see your Daddy’s picture in the newspaper with the headline ‘Mob Figure Indicted In Gangland Slayings’?
“I grew up afraid. I was always afraid. Afraid that I’d become like them. Afraid that I might kill somebody over nothing. It’s in me, I know it. It’s in my blood, but I don’t enjoy it. I don’t love it like they do, but I know that I can let it out and use it if I need to, and, Davis, I will. To protect myself and to protect you, I will let it out.”
She started to punch at the pillow that lay in her lap.
“I’ll kill them all. I just want them to leave me alone. I’m not like them. I may be part of their family but, God damn it, I’m not one of them.”
She looked at Davis and he looked back at her with tear-filled eyes of his own. He reached out and laid his hand over hers on the pillow. She moved her other hand and grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him down flat on the bed. Spinning over him she straddled his body and pinned his arms to the sheets. She looked down at him, her eyes wide, and pushed her face down onto his in a wild and lustful kiss.
They made love with a physical abandon that neither had ever experienced before, taking turns being the aggressor. She timed their moves and made sure that she was astride him, as they both exploded in a much needed release.
After, during the quiet minutes that allowed the senses to clear and return to earth, they held each other in an embrace that comforted them both. She spoke first.
“Tell me we’re going to make it.”
“Laura, I don’t know if….”
“I need to hear it. Lie to me if you have to, but I need to hear it.” She tightened her embrace.
“We’re going to make it,” he whispered into her ear.
“Lie to me again.”
“We’re going to make it. We’re going to be safe.”
“Again. Yes. Keep saying it. Lie to me all night long.”