Fiction Saturday Chapter 27- “And Pull The Hole In After You” – Continued
Both Laura and Davis slept late the next morning. Laura had planned on a day or two of rest before crossing into Mexico. She knew that they might need all of their strength and all of their wits. She hadn’t come this far just to get caught or killed due to some bonehead mistake brought on by exhaustion.
She also wanted to lay low for a while to—hopefully—confuse their pursuers. If there was no scent to follow for a couple of days they might think that Laura and Davis had already crossed into Mexico and that was that. Or they might think that the couple had pulled a fast one on them and was heading off in another direction altogether. Laura knew that at least for now, time was their ally.
It was close to ten-thirty when Davis began to stir. His movement woke Laura and she rolled over to look at him.
“Good morning,” she said with a sleepy smile. He smiled back at her and winked.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this. I’m beginning to talk,” he teased.
She reached over and gave him a light, playful slap.
“Why, sir, a gentlemen never kisses and tells.”
“But who, sweet lady, says that I am a gentleman?”
“I do, dear,” she said in all earnestness. “You are a gentleman and a gentle man and I love you so much it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.”
“Now, that would confuse me no end,” he said. “Did you know that I love you so much that I want to cut down trees and build us a home with my own two hands?” Davis held up his hands as he spoke. “These two hands, right here.”
“Really? With your own two hands?” She was beginning to laugh as his enthusiasm grew.
“Yes, high on top of a hill, a mountain even, where we could see for a hundred miles. I’d clear some land and we’d grow our own food and never have to leave.” He was seeing the house in his mind’s eye.
“Easy there, Paul Bunyan. I’m a city girl. I demand a supermarket and a mall.”
They both laughed and moved closer to kiss each other good morning.
They were lost in the moment and, at first, didn’t hear the scraping noises just outside their door. They did hear the two sharp raps that followed. They both froze. Their smiles disappeared as their eyes locked on the door. After what was only a few seconds, but seemed like minutes, they heard another scraping sound and saw a shadow pass across the drapes.
Laura slipped out of the bed, took the pistol from her bag and moved quickly to the door. It was silent and she saw no more motion on the sunlit drapes.
Davis looked at her with fear and with a twinge of resigned sadness. He noticed the moles in the small of her back—the moles that he had discovered that first night together.
Was that only a few weeks ago? he thought.
Laura pressed her head to the door. A puzzled look crossed her face. She put her hand on the knob and slowly began to turn it. She held the gun at her side, the safety was off.
“No, don’t,” whispered Davis. She motioned for him to be quiet.
She opened the door a half-inch, then an inch, then two . She peered out through the narrow opening, bracing for a possible surge against the door from the outside. Her senses struggled for signals. Her eyes looked down at the ground outside the door. She turned back toward Davis and smiled as she shut the door so she could undo the sliding chain lock.
“What is it?” he asked. She flipped the safety back on.
In her hands was a tray. A folded newspaper made a tent over two steaming plates.
Davis jumped up to help her. Laura shook her head and said, “I’ve got it. You get the door and then make us some coffee while I set the table.”
She set the tray on the bed then cleared a space on the small table near the window.
It may have been just scrambled eggs, home fried potatoes, and toast, but at that time, in that place, to these two people, it was as grand a feast as anything from the trendiest five-star restaurant. Wolfgang Puck never did potatoes this delicious. They had not eaten in almost twenty-four hours.
The two naked people ate to satisfy an intense hunger. They were tasting, smelling, seeing, and feeling every bite, storing up the sensations. Few words were exchanged until the last toasty crust and bit of egg were gone.
“Oh, my God,” said Laura, as she pushed her empty plate toward the center of the table. “That was absolute heaven.”
Davis just nodded, his mouth still full with the last swallow of steaming Sanka. This was the first time he had ever eaten with a gun sitting next to the sugar bowl.
Laura noticed a small corner of paper sticking out from under her plate. She hadn’t seen it–before—after all, it wasn’t food. She lifted the edge of the plate and pulled out the paper.
Davis set down his ceramic mug. “What’s that?”
Laura grinned and read it out loud.
“’I thought you kids might be hungry. On the house, my treat. P.S. Here’s the morning paper. You might want to read the article on page A-14. I circled it.’ She signed it ‘Vivian Baderbock – Concierge’.”
Laura leaned over and scooped up the newspaper from the floor where it had been tossed in favor of the hot breakfast. She took the front section and leafed back to page A-14. Below the fold was a bright pink circle around a small item. She read it to herself.
“Cops and Robbers Rumble At LAX”
“Two local underworld errand boys and several FBI Agents got into a shoving match at LAX yesterday.
“Both groups were meeting an inbound flight from Newark, New Jersey. After words were exchanged at the gate, according to hundreds of witnesses, things got physical.
“No one was injured in the melee, but three people were arrested, including arriving passenger Dominic Deltino. Mr. Deltino has reputed Mob connections in the New York City area.”
“What does it say?” asked Davis.
“It says that Dominic is in Los Angeles.”
“Assaulting a Federal Officer is a serious charge, Mr. Deltino.”
Dominic sat silently in the federal government’s standard GSA issue office side chair. He kept his eyes loosely focused on a spot in midair, off to the right of the wooden table where he was seated. He pointedly ignored the two FBI Agents who were going to handle the interview. The lead in the questioning was being taken by one of the men who had shared the transcontinental flight, Agent Lawrence Paxton. The other man was David Biondi, the off-duty agent who had spotted Laura and Davis in Santa Maria. He had been temporarily reassigned to assist the New York agents. Agents Richey and Markosi watched from an adjoining room, through the obvious and ubiquitous two-way mirror.
Seated beside Dominic Deltino was a man wearing a suit that cost more than any of the agents cleared in a month.
“As Mr. Deltino’s counsel, allow me to say that Mr. Deltino is fully aware of the severity of such an offense, but since he is totally without any culpability in this squalid little matter, he has nothing to fear—or to say, as is his Constitutional right under the fifth amendment. I assume you gentlemen have heard of the Bill of Rights?”
To Paxton’s eyes, the attorney’s face seemed somewhat rigid as he spoke. The lawyer had just been finishing up his regular Botox injections when he got the call to represent Dominic and keep him from shooting off his mouth.
The Consiglieri dispatched by the Lucini Family was already waiting at the Federal Building when the agents and Dominic arrived from the airport. He was eight hundred dollars an hour and worth every penny of it. The Families take care of their own.
“What are you doing in Los Angeles, Dominic?” asked Paxton.
“I’m goin’ to Disneyland,” said Dominic, making momentary eye contact. The lawyer put his hand on Dominic’s arm to remind him that he was to say nothing.
“Mr. Deltino is just a tourist, here to enjoy the many attractions of the Southland,” amended the lawyer. He couldn’t move his eyebrows yet.
“I’m sure,” said Biondi, who was seated near the door.
“A tourist? Disneyland? Where’s your wife? Beverly, isn’t it? Wouldn’t she enjoy going to Disneyland, too?” asked Paxton.
“She’s afraid of Goofy.” Dominic smiled at his own witticism.
“And yet she married you?” tossed in the agent by the door. Biondi was enjoying this. He didn’t get this kind of action very often in Santa Maria. There he spent most of his time chasing down methamphetamine labs.
“Mr. Deltino,” said the lawyer in the Italian suit, “has nothing more to say.” He looked sternly at Dominic. Dominic glared back at his borrowed lawyer.
“Counselor,” said Dominic. “I don’t need your help in dealing with these two comedians here.” He looked up at Paxton who was standing now, leaning against the mirror in the wall. His back was complaining about the too many hours sitting on a plane.
“Boys, I am an innocent bystander in this nonsense, an honest businessman on vacation,” said Dominic. “My conscience is clear. I sleep like a baby at night.”
“What? You wake up every two hours and wet the bed?” asked Biondi. His role was to antagonize Dominic. He was doing a good job of it.
Dominic shot a glance at Agent Biondi. A look that, under different circumstances, on Dominic’s turf, would have gotten the agent kneecapped at the very least.
The lawyer shook his head, but kept silent. He knew his place. He also knew that there is no saving some people, even from themselves.
“No, I can’t, Dominic,” said Paxton. “Seems that here in California, if I tried, it could be interpreted as creating a hostile work environment. Go figure.”
Dominic made a show of looking at his watch.
“Are we almost done here? I want to get some rest. My ears are killing me. It happens every time I fly.” Dominic worked his jaw from side to side trying to get his ears to pop. He looked like a cow chewing its cud.
“Almost, Mr. Deltino,” said Paxton. “Just a few more things I need to clear up, and then you can be on your way to Disneyland.”
“Sheesh.” Dominic slumped down in his seat and kept moving his jaw.
Agent Markosi, observing through the mirror, said that he thought Dominic looked like a gasping perch.
Feeling jet-lagged himself, Paxton pulled up a chair and sat down across the table from Dominic.
“Tell me, Dominic. Does your wife do windows?”
“Does she do the vacuuming, or the laundry?” said Paxton.
“No, not like your wife, you asshole. I have a housekeeper.” The lawyer groaned. He looked at Dominic and shook his head. Dominic looked back at him and said, “Your eyebrows never move. You know that, counselor?”
“Her name is Graciella, your housekeeper?” came from across the room.
Dominic moved only his eyes to look at him. For the first time, there was a flicker of oh, shit on his face.
“I dunno. Yeah, I think that’s her name. Yeah, Graciella.”
“Where is Graciella these days, Dominic?” asked Paxton.
“What’s she got to do with what happened at the airport?” asked Dominic. He didn’t like the turn this conversation had taken.
“I don’t know. You tell me, Dominic. All I know is that your wife disappeared a few weeks ago,” the agent continued.
“Disappeared? She’s just visiting some family, down in Miami, I think,” said Dominic with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Who? Which family members?” asked Biondi.
“Christ, I don’t know.” Dominic squirmed in his seat and sat up straighter.
“Cousin Maria maybe? Or her Aunt Nellie and Uncle Paul?” asked Paxton, looking at a sheet of paper on the table. Some clerk in New York had done a very thorough job.
“Yeah, Nellie and Paul, I think.” Dominic tried to read off the paper, but it was upside down and too far away.
The agent still seated by the door chimed in.
“We can’t seem to locate Graciella either. Did she go to Miami too? With Beverly maybe? You know, a little hot Latin lezbo action, maybe?”
“Screw you, Seinfeld. What’d you do, buy your suit from a vending machine? Jesus, you dress like a clown.” Dominic smiled, pleased at his comeback. The lawyer didn’t even try any more to keep Dominic in check. He could bill this time whether or not the client took his advice.
Agent Biondi was doing his job well. He was getting under Dominic’s skin. Making him angry, so that his temper might make him reveal something he might not if calm and on his guard.
“Oh, Dominic, that hurt,” chided Agent Biondi. “No, Dominic, Graciella boosted this suit for me out of your closet. I had to have it cleaned of course. Get the stink out. Don’t you ever shower, Dominic?”
Dominic’s smile disappeared. He wiggled his finger at the man as if to say “One day you’ll walk into my neighborhood, and then you’re mine, asshole.”
“I have a real good cleaner, Dominic. Who do you use? What’s your cleaner’s name?” asked Biondi, not letting go.
Dominic was silent. He didn’t like this. He stole a quick glance at his lawyer. The lawyer looked back at him with a mixture of boredom and contempt painted on his soft, pink face. One eyebrow could now move.
“I heard you used Carl Nouri,” said Paxton, pressing in on the real question. “Look, Dominic,” he added. “I’m going to be straight with you here. I don’t give a rat’s behind about the airport thing. Nobody got hurt, right?”
“Then what is this all about?” asked the lawyer, breaking his silence.
“It’s about your wife, Dominic. It’s about Beverly.” Paxton leaned across the table closing in on Dominic.
“It’s about Graciella, too,” came from across the room.
Dominic looked directly at the agent on the other side of the table, ignoring the agent by the door completely. He didn’t like this at all.
“Your cleaner is slipping, Dominic,” continued Paxton. “He’s getting careless, or maybe he’s just running out of gravesites in New Jersey. Dominic.” He paused for effect. “We found Graciella’s body.” It was a lie.
Dominic clenched his jaw, but kept his cool, his temper under control. He had been in tight spots before. He sat up straight, looked past Paxton at the mirror, and waved. He knew that someone was back there watching.
He returned his focus to Paxton and spoke, trying to seem casual and unconcerned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and why would you care about some half-assed housekeeper? She wasn’t even any good. I think she was stealing the silverware.”
The two Agents looked at each other. The senior agent nodded and then spoke to Dominic, moving closer across the wooden surface until he was six inches from Dominic’s face.
“We care, Dominic, because Graciella was one of ours.”
Dominic’s eyes widened, questioning. The lawyer leaned forward too, both eyebrows now arching high.
“Graciella was a DEA agent and she was in your sock drawer for eight months, Dominic.”
The lawyer knew that this news had to be reported back to New York.
“That’s bullshit,” said Dominic. His heart was starting to pick up the tempo.
“We care, Dominic, because she’s dead and we think your wife killed her.”
Dominic, surprised, froze in his chair. He took the time to smooth his necktie before speaking.
“Beverly? I don’t buy it. Sure, she had a temper but—well, she and Graciella did get into it sometimes. One time I thought Beverly was going to brain her with a lamp.”
“We want her, Dominic. We want Beverly. Where is she?” pressed Paxton.
“I don’t know. I heard she was in California somewhere,” Dominic admitted. “Somewhere out here, I heard.”
“And you’re here looking for her yourself?” added Biondi.
“Hey, she’s my wife and I love her. I want her back home. I want her bad.”
Dominic and the Consiglieri left the Federal Building in the lawyer’s vintage Mercedes. He scolded his client for talking so much. Dominic ignored him. As they turned onto Wilshire Boulevard, Dominic turned to the lawyer who was behind the wheel.
“Y’know, I don’t care if the Feds find Beverly, but I want to find her first. I want to get my money back and then let them find what’s left of her.”
“Your money?” asked the lawyer.
Back on the fourteenth floor, Agents Paxton and Biondi were going over the interview. Markosi and Richey joined them in the interrogation room.
“Well, what’s your take?” asked Biondi. “You know him better than me, sir. He’s one of your New York boys.”
“She didn’t do it,” said Agent Paxton.
“What?” said Richey and Markosi in unison.
“Beverly Deltino didn’t kill the DEA Agent,” he continued.
“How do you figure?” said Richey.
“He was too eager to give her up. If your wife was being accused of murder, Agent Biondi, I’d expect you to jump in and defend her, to call me every name in the book. But Dominic says, ‘I thought she was going to brain her with a lamp’. He just threw her under the bus.”
“Why would he do that?” asked Richey.
“Maybe he figures that if we pin it on her we’ll be satisfied, move on, and forget about him and his activities.”
“If it wasn’t her, who was it?” asked Markosi.
“Dominic Deltino himself is my bet,” said Paxton, feeling sure of his opinion. “Let’s go over the notes from New York again to see if we can more closely pinpoint when Dominic got back home from Philly. I’ll lay good money on him as our killer. If he is, that means that we’ve still got to find the wife, but now to protect her from her husband. She can still be extremely valuable to us, but if he gets to her first, he’ll kill her for sure.”
Agent Richey nodded and added, “Or she’ll kill him.”
“Monsignori, we have a problem.”
“Of course we do. Whenever do I see you anymore, Marco, except we have a problem? Sit, play a game with me.” Today’s game was Scrabble.
Marco, a man now in his late thirties and tending toward fat, had started working as an errand boy for the Monsignor. He had shown an aptitude for quiet brutality. He took his orders without questions and followed them without mercy. Marco had grown up into a man of fierce loyalty who was comfortable in the darkness. Always there, in his mentor’s shadow, he was rarely noticed until it was too late. Today it was his duty to bring bad news to his patron.
“Monsignori, We’ve gotten a message from Don Tommaso, in Los Angeles.”
“What is it, Marco? What does my old friend have to say? It must be bad news. From that man it’s always bad news, too.”
“It’s about Dominic Deltino. He got picked up by the Feds at the airport in LA.. Arrested”
The Old Man wiped his hand across his eyes.
“That idiot. He can’t even get out of an airport without messing up.” He gestured for Marco to continue as he fondled a cigarette.
“Don Tommaso sent his Consiglieri over to bail him out and to keep an eye on him. In the middle of the questioning the cops drop a bomb.”
“A bomb? How so?” The Old Man tilted his head, curious.
“Well, it seems that Dominic’s housekeeper, a woman named Graciella, is dead,” said Marco.
“Oh, yes, Graciella, Dominic’s little something on the side. Yes, Dominic told me. He hit her with the refrigerator or something.”
“Yes, sir. Well, the Feds say that they think Dominic’s wife, Beverly, killed her and that she was a narc, a DEA Agent.”
“Dominic’s wife is a DEA Agent? That’s crazy.” He dropped his cigarette.
“No, no. Graciella, the housekeeper was an agent,” corrected Marco.
The Old Man shifted in his chair. He sat up straight, his back rigid. The years seemed to lift from his shoulders. His eyes cleared and a tinge of color came into his papery skin. His voice deepened with a sense of command and a totally controlled anger.
“Marco?” he said softly.
Marco leaned closer to the Old Man and lowered his head until they almost touched. Instructions were given.