Fiction Saturday Chapter 28- “And Pull The Hole In After You” – Continued
Laura gathered up the dishes as Davis toweled himself dry in the bathroom. She had showered first, standing under the steaming water for fifteen minutes, crying there so Davis wouldn’t see her fear manifested yet again.
“Davis, while you’re getting dressed I’m going to take the dishes back to Vivian.”
“Okay,” he called from the bathroom, “and thank her for me too.”
Vivian saw her coming across the parking lot and hit the door buzzer to let Laura into the small office.
“Hiya. You kids sleep okay?”
“I can’t thank you enough for this, for all of this. It’s very kind of you,” said Laura.
“Think nothing of it. I just figured you two might be hungry and there ain’t no decent restaurants close by here, just burger joints.”
Vivian took the tray and stepped through the hanging beaded curtain into her small apartment.
“You kids ever been to San Diego before?” she hollered from the other room.
“Relax, Sweetie. No names is fine by me.” She reentered the office wiping her hands with a striped dishtowel.
“San Diego’s a good town. I came here in ’78 with Clive, my husband. We met in Atlanta. I was working at the Federal Penitentiary there. Clive was there too, as a guest of the Attorney General.” She looked for a reaction in Laura’s eyes. There was none. She continued her story.
“He didn’t kill nobody or anything like that. He was a gentle soul. He was a grifter who happened to massage a few postal laws in one of his setups. Can you imagine? He got sent to Atlanta for breaking Post Office regulations.
“Well, we met in the kitchen and, you know how it is. He had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Forget that Paul Newman. Clive Baderbock was quite a dish, and working in the kitchen, lifting heavy sacks of potatoes and such, kept him in shape, if you catch my drift. Well, when he got out, I quit my job and we came to San Diego.”
“Then you bought this motel?” asked Laura.
“Nah, Clive ran a new con on a pair of greedy lawyers. One ended up as Governor, you know? Then we bought this dump with the proceeds. The shysters were too embarrassed to press charges.” She laughed at the memory of her husband and his marks. It had been more than twenty-five years, but she could still remember every detail of her life with her husband. She sat down on the padded bar stool that she kept behind the counter. Laura spoke up before Vivian could start another story.
“I just want to say that we both really appreciate your kindness, and your discretion.”
“No problem, honey. You two seem like a couple of nice people in a jam.”
There was a knock at the door behind Laura. Vivian looked past Laura and smiled. She hit the buzzer and Davis walked in.
“Mind if I come in? Or is this Ladies Only?”
Vivian laughed and stood up. “C’mon in, handsome,” she said looking him up and down.
“I want to add my thanks on the food,” he said. He extended his hand and Vivian shook it, holding his hand with both of hers, and winking.
“My pleasure. I was just bending your lady’s ear here. Sorry if I bored you, Hon.” Vivian felt like a mother hen to these two guests of hers.
“No. If there is one thing you are not, it’s boring,” said Laura. She reached across the counter and, following Davis’ lead, shook Vivian’s hand and spoke. “Mrs. Baderbock…”
“Call me Vivian, remember? Everybody else in San Diego does. Except the local cops that is. To them I’m still ‘The Unindicted Co-conspirator’.”
“Vivian it is,” said Laura with a smile. “I just wanted to say that I wish there was some way we could repay you for your kindness.”
“There is,” she said enthusiastically. “Take me out to lunch.”
Davis’ eyes grew wide when he heard that.
“Vivian,” he said. “You know that we’re kind of trying to lay low here?”
“Exactly,” she countered. “That’s why you should definitely take me to lunch. You both could use a good meal to keep up your strength and I could go for someone else’s cooking for a change, and a good Mai-Tai or three.”
“But, Vivian, we might be spotted,” said Laura.
“Nah, they’ll be looking for you two in every dive and rat hole between here and the border,” Vivian said with a grin on her face. “But not in some place respectable. Hell, the Burger King next door here is more dangerous for you. A retired cop runs it.”
“It would be nice,” said Laura. “Do you know some place we could go?”
“I know a dozen of ‘em not ten minutes from here, over at Horton Plaza. It’s one of the busiest malls in San Diego. It’s crawling with tourists this time of year. Nobody would notice little ol’ us in that school of fish.”
Davis turned to Laura. They were both tempted by the chance to enjoy a bit of normal life again.
“What do you think? Vivian knows her way around, I bet,” he said. They both looked at Laura, hoping she would say “Yes.” She saw that they were both putting the decision on her. The thought of a nice meal appealed to her too.
“Let’s do it,” she said. “Where and when do you want to go?”
Vivian scratched her chin and noticed that it was time for a tweeze again.
“Give me about a half-hour, I’m in the middle of scrubbing my fish tank. Wait—I might want to doll up a bit too, since we have such a fine looking gentleman escort here. Make it forty-five minutes, and I’ll drive.”
The three of them bounced through the streets of San Diego in Vivian’s 1992 Dodge. The car shimmied and jumped at every rough spot in the road. Vivian held the wheel in a death grip.
“I think I might need new shocks,” she said between bounces.
“Could be, Vivian,” said Davis from the back seat. “Maybe a tune-up, too.” He looked out of the rear window at the trail of white smoke that the car was spewing into the California afternoon. “Vivian, how does this car pass the state smog check?”
“Smog check? You serious, kid?” She shot him a glance in the rearview mirror. “I wouldn’t let those incompetent buttsniffers near my car. It’s a classic. I haven’t been smogged since 1997.”
“But, what about the registration? You do have this thing registered, don’t you?” Davis looked back again at the smokescreen they were laying down.
“Well,” Vivian replied, “after a fashion I do. I just look at some other cars to see what color the current registration sticker is, and then I make one. It ain’t hard and it saves me a lot of hassle. Remember, you two, if it looks right, nobody will call you on it. People see what they expect to see.”
Davis slumped down in his seat. Laura just laughed and winked at Vivian, who winked back.
Vivian maneuvered her rolling crime wave through the streets until Horton Plaza loomed ahead. It was seven levels of tourist-baiting gift shops and boutiques, a cineplex and, most importantly, a wide variety of crowd-pleasing restaurants.
“Keep your eyes peeled for a parking space,” said Vivian.
“Over there. There’s a parking garage,” offered Davis, pointing to a large sign halfway down the block.
“Parking garage?” Vivian shook her head. “I ain’t going to pay somebody to look at my car do nothing but sit there. Economy, kid! Think economy.” Laura had her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
Vivian’s eyes were sweeping the landscape like a lion looking for a limping zebra.
Davis looked out of his window at the sign by the curb.
“Vivian, this is a handicapped space,” he said.
Vivian turned off the engine and leaned across Laura to pop open the glove box. She reached in and pulled out a piece of bright blue plastic—a California handicapped parking permit. She slapped the molded hook onto the rear view mirror. Davis leaned forward over the front seat.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that you were handicapped.”
“Sure, I’m handicapped, Sonny. Look at this car I’m driving. A little blue plastic, a little white paint and ‘bingo’ – instant gimp ticket. A girl’s got to be resourceful. Am I right, Honey?” She slapped Laura’s knee.
“Right, Vivian.” She looked back at Davis. “Sweetie, our guide here is a national treasure, a true rugged individualist. Just like Daniel Boone or that Indian gal, – Sacka-whatever.”
“Yeah, that was me on that dollar coin, flipping off the system. C’mon, let’s eat.” Vivian opened her door, just missing a passing Cadillac.
“You know what we’re doing here, don’t you, sir?” The agent from the LA office had been behind the wheel of the black Crown Victoria for more than three hours. The senior agent in the shotgun seat was bored too. He half-wished he was back home in New York.
“Yeah, we’re just following each other around town. They know we’re here and we know they’re here and we’re both looking for the same person.” Agent Paxton was jet lagged, bone tired and in no mood for chit-chat. “They think we know where she’s at and we think they know. This is ridiculous.”
They were shadowing a Lincoln Town Car around San Diego, waiting for something to happen.
“And there’s no guarantee that she’s even in San Diego.”
“Oh, she’s here,” said Agent Paxton. “We figure she’s trying to get across into Mexico, but with the number of people waiting for her down at the border, she’d have been spotted if she’d tried already. She’s just holed up somewhere, figuring out what to do next. Until then, we keep tabs on her loving husband and his boys, just in case.”
“Are you getting hungry, sir?” asked the young agent.
Agent Paxton looked at his watch. “Yeah, I suppose we should get something. Let’s hope that our friends up ahead are getting hungry, too. What’s good around here, agent?”
“We’re very proud of our seafood.”
“This really sucks, man. You do know what we’re doing here, don’t you?” He turned the steering wheel and pointed the Town Car down toward the waterfront—again.
“Suppose you tell me, Einstein. You think I don’t know we’ve just been driving around for three hours now? We’ve passed that boat dealer four times already.” He slid down in the seat, hoping he might be able to catch a few winks.
“Where are we going?” The younger man doing the driving wasn’t going to stop complaining. “We’re following them, and where are they going? They’re following us. This is crazy.” Giving up on getting any sleep, Peeto sat up straight, and stretched his legs. He would have to set the kid straight.
“Orders is orders, Johnny. Dominic and me fly all the way to California and then come down here and, because orders is orders, I gotta spend my time listening to you whine while I’m getting the two-dollar tour of San Diego.”
“Well, Peeto, they know you’re here and they know why.”
“Yeah, yeah, and if they find Dominic’s wife before we do, yada, yada, yada. I’m getting hungry. All I’ve had since yesterday was some nasty fish on the plane. Can’t we get something to eat in this town? What’s good here?”
“We’re very proud of our seafood,” boasted Johnny.
“I’m getting too old for this kind of thing,” he said, and tossed his cheeseburger onto the Styrofoam plate. “Why couldn’t they have picked someplace better for lunch?”
Special Agent Lawrence Paxton was tired. He had been chasing people for most of his adult life. First in the Air Police, then as a member of the Pittsburgh Police Department while he studied for his degree from Pitt at nights. After trying marriage twice and failing, he entered and succeeded at the FBI Academy.
In the course of nineteen years with the federal government he had two bullet wound scars, three grown children, and not nearly enough saved for the seaworthy boat he wanted to retire to. His digestive tract was shot to hell by too much coffee and fast food along with an insane mixture of boredom and sphincter-clenching terror. Yet, here he was again, in San Diego this time, trying to eat another fast-food cheeseburger while waiting for his latest quarry to slip up and reveal herself.
“Agent Markosi, would you like a bit of advice from a bone-weary veteran?” He picked up a french fry.
“Of course sir. Your knowledge and experience are invaluable to me.”
“There is no need to kiss my butt, Markosi. I’m just asking because you’re sitting here with me. Otherwise, everybody would wonder why I was talking out loud to myself.” He was not in a good mood. Paxton felt his gallbladder twitch in rebellion to the grease he was ingesting.
“Rave away sir. Nothing leaves this table.” Markosi sipped at his diet Dr. Pepper and prepared himself for another boring soliloquy from his boss.
“Including this cheeseburger,” said Paxton, spitting out his last bite. “Jesus, do you have any Tums or something?”
“Zantac?” Markosi reached into his coat pocket.
“Zantac, so soon Markosi? I didn’t get my first ulcer until I was thirty-five. Divorce time?” Paxton held out his palm as Markosi handed an orange plastic pill bottle to him.
“I’m thirty-two, sir. And ‘Yes,’ divorce time,” said Markosi. Paxton shook out two pills.
“Sorry Markosi. It’s none of my business.” Paxton tossed the pills into his mouth and washed them down with Diet Pepsi.
“You said you had some advice for me sir?” He might as well get it over with.
“What? Oh, yes, my pearls of wisdom.” His stomach was not going to calm down for hours.
“I’d like to hear what you have to say, sir. Seriously, and I’m not just kissing your butt.” Paxton looked at Markosi skeptically.
“Thank you for saying that, Markosi. Not that I necessarily believe it, but thank you anyway.” Paxton glanced over at Peeto and his driver, Johnny, on the far side of the restaurant – just checking.
Markosi shrugged and picked at his paper envelope of fries. He wanted to avoid eye contact with the lead agent, afraid that his frustration at being there might read out in his eyes.
“Here comes my advice, ready or not.” Paxton pushed his plastic tray of cold food over onto the next table.
“Markosi, your job is to be a cop, and that’s what you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s with the Bureau or as a Barney Fife in some small town in the sticks. You’re a cop and your job is to bring in the suspect. It’s not to uphold the law or to protect the citizenry or even to catch the bad guy. Your job is to find the person who somebody else has decided is, most likely, the guilty party—the suspect.
“You may know better from the start, or you may come to the conclusion along the way, that the suspect isn’t the guilty party. It doesn’t matter ninety-nine percent of the time. Your boss wants the suspect apprehended and he couldn’t care less about your opinions on the case. Nor does he care if the suspect is, indeed, the actual guilty party. He is just doing what his boss wants done, and that guy’s boss is usually some old fart who only cares about clearing cases off of his nice wood desk so that he can get elected to something and get his picture on the six o’clock news. You see? No one really cares about who is actually guilty of any crime. They all just want to look good for their bosses.”
Markosi feigned interest and nodded at what he hoped were appropriate moments. He noticed that Agent Richey was finally returning from the ladies room. Paxton continued talking.
“I’ve been doing it that way for all the years I’ve carried a shield and I’ve been damned good at making my bosses look pretty on TV.
“In the process, of course, I have put some people in jail, or worse, who were not guilty. People who I knew in my gut were innocent, but I couldn’t prove it. I’ve shot and killed innocent men who were terrified of me and who fired on me simply out of sheer desperation.
“Most of the people I’ve hunted have been men. Only a few were women and every one of them was guilty as sin. That much I do know. Or I did know, up until this one.
“Markosi, this woman we’re chasing is innocent and I’m afraid that, before this is over, I’m going to have to put a bullet into her. I can’t prove that she’s innocent. In fact, all of the circumstantials say that she probably did kill that undercover DEA agent. You were there when we interrogated that mucus ball of a husband of hers in LA and he smells on this, not her. But, there’s nothing hard that I can take to anybody who cares. They all just want me to bring in the suspect and move onto the next case.
Markosi took the pills from his coat pocket and pushed two more across the table. Richey had rejoined them in time to see the pills and wondered if this was reportable or not.
“No problem sir,” said Markosi, “but – ?”
“But what?” Paxton downed the second pair of pills. So much for “later.”
“Where’s the advice in all that, sir? You said that you had some advice for me.”
“Oh, the advice?” Paxton paused, looked at the young agent, then at Richey. “Markosi,” he said, “quit this job, reconcile with your wife, and become an auto mechanic. They lead nice, peaceful lives and never shoot anybody. Give up eating crap like these burgers. They’ll kill you as sure as a nine-millimeter to the roof of your mouth. There, advice delivered as promised. Same advice goes for you, Richey–make modifications as needed–unless you’ve split with your wife too.”
“Do you think I’m gay, sir?” asked Richey. “I’m not.”
“Whatever, Richey. I don’t care and I don’t want to know one way or the other. I’m ready to retire and then you can bum the Zantacs from Markosi here.”
Markosi jumped in to keep this from becoming even more maudlin or a violation of internal policy.
“Well, thank you sir. I’ll take that advice to heart. I’m sure we both will. Now, may I give you a piece of advice in return?”
“Why not? I can pretend to listen just as good as you.” Paxton shrugged and wished that he’d been able to sleep better last night.
“Sir,” Markosi paused and glanced at Richey who was still looking a bit confused and put out. “Do us all a favor and take your retirement now. You’re burned out. Go buy that boat you’ve been talking about. I think it’s time for you to get out before you get yourself killed, or someone else.”
Paxton looked Markosi in the eyes. He knew that the junior agent wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing. He smiled with his mouth, but his eyes stayed serious.