Fiction Saturday Chapter 29- “And Pull The Hole In After You” – Continued
Horton Plaza looked like the love child of Rube Goldberg and M.C. Escher. Seven levels high with a hundred and forty shops, restaurants and touristy boutiques, all connected by stairs, escalators, ramps, and glass elevators. The entire structure was painted in a full palette of pastels, with multicolored banners, flags, and flowers fluttering in the soft ocean breezes.
High up on Level Seven, in a choice corner location, was The Captain’s Table restaurant. It had everything that a family on vacation from Nebraska could ever want—a six page menu offering seafood delicacies named for every exotic locale on the globe, several tons of nautical-looking adornments made in China, and decals on the front door promising the acceptance of all major credit cards.
The Captain’s Table also had spectacular views of the San Diego waterfront. If you looked straight down, it offered a dizzying look into the kaleidoscope of escalators, stairs and walkways stitching Horton Plaza together.
“I’ve only been here twice before,” said Vivian. “Once with Clive, my late hubby, on his sixty-fifth birthday, and with a Mexican gentleman who was wooing me something fierce. They make a very decent Mai-Tai here.”
Laura toyed with the paper umbrella that was impaled into her concrete-thick Piña Colada and Davis wrapped both hands around his sweating pilsener glass.
“It didn’t work out with the Mexican gentleman?” said Laura.
“Nah, it was strictly a physical thing. We both had something the other one wanted. I had the real estate underneath the motel and he had….,” she winked at Laura.
“What? He had what?” Davis was mystified.
Vivian looked at him and let out a low equine whinny. Davis was completely lost. Finally, Vivian just spoke plainly.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Sweetheart, he was hung like a racehorse. You get the picture now?”
Laura had to cover her mouth to keep from spraying her drink across the table.
“A gal’s got needs too, y’know,” Vivian added.
Davis took on the look of an embarrassed teenager. “Okay, okay, I get the picture. Thank you, Vivian. It was sex.”
A florid woman in the next booth looked around and gave them all a disapproving glare. She, her husband, and three children were all elbow-deep into platters of deep-fried everything.
Vivian caught the woman’s reprimanding glare and gave her a dismissive snort and then decided to follow with a comment.
“Welcome to San Diego, lady. Now, eat your lunch before that litter of yours pounces on it like a pack of dingoes. Then go out to Sea World and visit your brother Shamu.”
Laura reached for the napkin to cover her mouth again.
“Gimme the salt.”
“Sure, Peeto, here you go, but you really should cut back on your salt intake. It’s very unhealthy for a man your age.” He looked down at Peeto’s meal of a double cheeseburger with fries, a basket of onion rings, and a chocolate shake. It was grease with a side order of fat.
“It needs salt. Johnny, you people out here eat your food like you think it’s all poison.”
“I wish you had let me take you to a seafood place. Actually, there’s a pretty good one up on the top level, The Captain’s Table. They have an excellent mahi-mahi with a mango chutney up there.”
“If I want fish, I go to Onorati’s, out near Coney Island, and get fried calamari.” He pointed at Johnny’s plate. “What is that supposed to be?”
“It’s a fresh fruit platter with some tofu and a side of plain yogurt with a little wheat germ.” Johnny smiled proudly.
“Tofu? Germs? It looks like upholstery stuffing and a dish of wallpaper paste.” Peeto sneered at his driver’s lunch.
“It’s high in protein and very low in fat, very healthy,” said Johnny as he licked his spoon.
Peeto shook his head and bit into an onion ring.
“How many kids you got, Johnny?” asked Peeto.
“I’m not married.”
“Me neither, but answer my question. How many kids you got?”
“None. I don’t have any kids.” Johnny wondered where this was going.
“See,” said Peeto. “I got six. You’re shooting blanks. That crap you call food is gelding you. Here, put some lead back in your pencil.” He tossed an onion ring onto Johnny’s plate. It landed in his yogurt.
“Screw you, Peeto,” said Johnny as he picked the onion ring out of his yogurt with his fork.
“You couldn’t. Not eating like that.”
“Forget it, will ya?” Johnny focused on his fruit.
“Fruit,” muttered Peeto.
“What?” asked Johnny. “What did you say?”
“I said fruit. You’re eating fruit like a goddamn monkey.”
“Well, Peeto, you’re eating meat like a goddamn dog.”
“California.” Peeto said it like it was an insult.
“New York,” answered Johnny.
Like two small children, they dropped into a sullen silence, hunched over their food.
From the booth at the other end of the Burger Palace the federal agents ate, keeping a relaxed eye on Dominic’s boy Peeto and Johnny, his California driver.
“Well, kids, I know a few people over in TJ who should be able to help you out. They won’t be cheap though. This kind of thing never is.”
“I know that, Vivian, but it’s worth it,” said Laura as she idly stirred her after-dinner coffee. Davis took a sip of his coffee as Vivian drank her tea with an air of gentility and upper class grace that belied her clothing and her language.
“Clive got me drinking tea. He was a Brit, you know. Moved to the States to avoid some ‘unpleasantness’ as he used to say. God, I miss that guy. You’d have liked him, and him, you.” Her eyes gazed sadly into the depths of the cup.
Laura looked at Vivian and thought of herself and Davis in thirty years.
“He sounds like he was quite a guy, Vivian. He was a lucky man,” Davis said as he moved his hand over on top of Laura’s and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Kids, I have one last piece of advice for you, and then, I’ll stop being a mother hen,” said Vivian.
“Hey, Vivian, you know which way the wind is blowing around here. We don’t,” said Laura.
Vivian looked at Laura for a moment and then shifted her gaze to Davis. The smile was gone from her face.
“Young man, your lady here is okay. She knows her way around and in a fight I want her with me. She’s smart and tough.”
“But?” said Davis. He knew that she had misgivings about him. He had them too.
“But—I’m worried about you,” said Vivian. “You’re a great guy, but I don’t know if you’re tough enough. From what I gather, you’re both in for a rough ride the next couple of days. Hell, Sweet Cheeks, do you know how to use a gun?”
The sound of a fork hitting a plate made them jump. As they all watched in amusement, the woman in the neighboring booth turned around, yet again, with a look of amazement and red-faced anger in her eyes. She looked straight at Laura. Vivian set down her spoon and pointed her index finger right at the irate woman’s nose.
“Look here, bitch. The primary organ used in this dive is the mouth. So, either turn around and eat or say something, but don’t just sit there making faces. It makes you look like the south end of a northbound horse.”
The woman’s face lost a few dozen shades of red and she quickly turned around. She spoke quickly and quietly to her family and–over the protest of the children–they bolted their last few bites of food, slid noisily out of the vinyl booth, and headed toward the cashier. As she got to her feet the woman turned to face Laura, Davis, and Vivian again. This time she spoke. Loudly.
“You people are a disgrace. You all belong in jail.”
“In case you’re still hungry—you can bite me, bitch,” said Laura, as she moved, hinting that she was coming out of the booth. The woman flipped them all the finger and sped off to catch up with her complaining brood.
Vivian started to snicker. “To quote Bugs Bunny, ‘What a Maroon.’”
That got them all laughing out of proportion to the humor of the situation. It was a chance to release some tension without actually hitting someone or breaking something expensive.
“Folks, I think we’re done here,” said Davis.
“Yeah, let’s blow this pop stand. We’ll take the scenic route home and I’ll show you kids a few local landmarks that ain’t on the tourist maps.”
“That’s them, Officer. They were talking about getting guns and sex with horses. I thought the blonde was going to attack me. In Michigan we’d lock them all up.”
As Vivian led the way out of the restaurant and slipped on her sunglasses, she noticed the unarmed mall security guard headed their way, a serious look on his face and his hand resting on his walkie-talkie.
“Kids, let’s take the stairs – quickly,” suggested Vivian.
Laura and Davis saw the guard, too, and the trio pulled a fast left down the stairwell to the sixth level.
“When we get down a level, split up. I’ll head for the car. I’ll meet you where we came in.” Vivian moved quickly for a woman her age.
“Gotcha, Vivian,” said Laura. Davis kept looking over his shoulder, waiting for the door at the top of the stairwell to open.
The young security officer picked up his pace as he saw them disappear down the stairs.
“Base, this is 37. I need some help.”
“Go, 37,” said the scratchy voice from the combination microphone/speaker that was clipped to his shirt.
“I’m on Level Seven by The Captain’s Table, going down the west stairway to Level Six. Pursuing three individuals about a report of possible firearms possession. Two females, one, a blonde in a beige top, the other is older with a straw hat and sunglasses. The male is wearing a blue windbreaker.”
Hurrying down the steps the young guard stumbled. He caught himself as he fell, but hit his shoulder hard on the steel handrail. He reached for the mike button as he regained his footing. It wasn’t there. Half of the microphone was gone. The cheap plastic housing had smashed and broken. He reached to his belt for the hand held radio and unplugged the useless shoulder unit. He fumbled with the radio as he continued down the stairs. He had never used just the main unit and it slipped out of his grip and fell over the railing, dropping to the concrete floor on Level Six. It broke into pieces. He was now flying solo, and worried if he would have to pay for the smashed radio.
Seconds before, on Level Six, Vivian had turned left, removed her colorful hat and sunglasses and had ducked into The Country Mouse, a boutique that sold quaint and rustic Early American-looking knick-knacks, all made in China.
Davis and Laura had turned to the right.
“Where now?” asked Davis, a note of panic in his voice. Laura pretended not to notice.
“Down,” she said, pointing to an escalator unfolding ten shops ahead.
As they neared the escalator the security guard jumped down the last two steps from the top level and scanned the crowd in front of him. He was looking for Vivian’s straw hat, which was now ten feet behind him, stuffed deep into a bright blue trash receptacle.
Laura looked around. She and the mall cop made momentary eye contact.
“He sees us, let’s move,” urged Laura. She had her hand on Davis’ shoulder and gave him a bit of a shove. They pushed their way down the escalator, elbowing shoppers out of the way.
“Excuse us, coming through,” she said loudly. “Pregnant woman coming through. I think I’m going to be sick.” That got people moving to one side.
They got to Level Five just as the guard stepped onto the escalator at the top and called out.
“Stop! Mall Security!”
Someone screamed. A few started running. The poorly-trained security guard had created a dangerous and confusing situation. All of his two hours of training went out the window at the first sign of real trouble. A panic was the last thing he needed to deal with, and now, a panic was what he had.
Laura and Davis turned left again.
“Quick, in here,” said Laura as she steered Davis toward the front door of a crowded restaurant.
She pushed open the glass door and spotted an empty table.
“Sit down, there,” she ordered.
They dropped into the seats and she picked up a menu. Davis followed her lead and did the same. Peeking over the top of the menu, through the window, Davis could see the security guard standing only a dozen feet away, looking around the mall. Laura quickly eyed the layout of the restaurant, searching for another way out
“C’mon,” she said. “We can’t stay here.”
She got up and started moving toward the rear of the café. As Davis stood, his nervous energy caused him to push his chair back with too much force and it slammed into the diner seated at the next table.
“Hey,” cried out the man.
“Sorry, fella.” Davis made a quick apology.
“Just watch it, moron.” The man had clam chowder all over his shirt.
“Whatever,” Davis mumbled as he started to follow Laura.
“What did you say?” roared the diner as he tossed down his napkin and lifted himself out of his chair.
Everyone in the place looked up. That included the two men eating at the corner table. One was busy with a burger and the other with the California Fruit Plate.
“What the–,” said the New Yorker as he saw the woman in beige hurrying toward the back of the eatery. “That’s her. That’s Dominic’s wife!” said a surprised Peeto.
“What? Where?” asked Johnny. He looked around the room trying to see her.
“Let’s go,” said Peeto as he dropped his burger on the plate and they both started after her.
The movement of Peeto and Johnny caught the eyes of Paxton, Richey and Markosi at the table near the kitchen.
“Something’s up,” said Paxton. “They’re moving. They’re coming this way.”
“Uh-oh,” said Markosi. He moved his hand into his coat and onto his weapon.
With their eyes focused on Dominic’s boys they failed to notice that Laura and Davis had scurried right past them and into the kitchen.
“Hi, boys,” said Agent Paxton. The agents stood up and blocked the aisle. “The door is at the front. You aren’t trying to skip out on your bill, are you?”
Johnny looked over Markosi’s shoulder, through the window into the kitchen. Mr. Fruit Salad could see Laura and Davis heading toward the fire exit. Markosi turned and followed his gaze. He saw Laura look back over her shoulder, right into his eyes.
“It’s Beverly Deltino!” he said.
It was like a scene from the Three Stooges as all of them tried to get into the kitchen at the same time. They smashed themselves together in the doorway as the kitchen staff wondered, in several languages, what was going on.
Laura pushed open the fire door, triggering the alarm. The bell was very loud and it set off a panicked push of diners toward the front door of the restaurant.
Laura’s and Davis’s pursuers finally got into the kitchen and ran into all of the cooks and busboys who were also rushing for the fire door. Once out into the service hallway Laura looked for a faster way down. There was none. The way was blocked by trash bins and wooden crates, a major fire code violation.
“Davis, Back into the mall, turn right.” He turned and pushed open the gray metal door.
The fire alarm was audible to the shoppers in the mall proper and it started an exodus toward the stairs and escalators. The customers rushing from the restaurant into the mall helped to aggravate the chaotic traffic jam on both sides of the seven-story atrium.
Six more security people had joined the search and were moving quickly through the mall on each level. They were searching for Laura, Davis and Vivian, while also trying to deal with the tide of panicked shoppers who were rushing toward the exits.
Laura and Davis stepped into a small alcove to catch their breath.
“Vivian is getting the car. We’ve got to get down to street level fast,” said Davis.
“Right. Get rid of your jacket,” said Laura as she looked around, planning their next move.
Davis pulled off his windbreaker and stuffed it between two planters.
“Just to give us a different look,” she told him.
Back inside the restaurant Peeto had decided to join the exiting patrons and left the eatery through the front door. Let the others battle with the gridlock in the kitchen. He was on his own now, alone and unobserved. He liked it that way—the solo hunter.
Laura and Davis stepped out of the alcove and looked around for the fastest way down.
Peeto saw them first, standing there, looking around like a couple of tourists, unaware that they had been spotted. He pulled his gun from the shoulder holster.
“There’s a floor plan on that kiosk. Let’s take a–” She stopped in mid-sentence as her eyes moved past Davis and saw a man with a semiautomatic pistol pointed at her.
“Gun!” she screamed as she pushed him to the right and dove in the opposite direction herself.
The crack of the gun, the screams, and a loud crash all echoed simultaneously through the mall as Laura hit the tiled floor. Peeto’s bullet smashed through the front window of the Sunglass Hut, shattering it into a million small pieces.
She looked over at Davis, sprawled behind a planter, dazed but seemingly unhurt. She looked down at herself, no blood, and no pain. Laura had heard the bullet fly past her ear.
She slid over behind a trash bin and searched the area for the man with the gun. She found him, laying face down on the floor, covered in soil, with a clump of geraniums resting in the small of his back. She recognized him. Peeto had been in her home many times. His pistol, a Glock 27, was ten feet away, leaning against the map kiosk.
Davis scurried over to the gun and scooped it up. It was lighter than he had expected.
“Hey, Sweet Cheeks,” he heard a voice yell.
He looked up and saw Vivian leaning over the railing. She was standing in the space where a ceramic planter filled with geraniums had been before she had shoved it down onto the now-shattered collarbone of the unconscious man on the floor.
“Vivian,” Davis called out.
She waved, pulled back and disappeared from view.
Davis hurried back to where Laura was still crouched. He held Peeto’s gun in his hand.
“What now?” he asked.
She grabbed his arm and they ran off toward the escalator, which was overflowing with terrified tourists, fleeing from the sound of the gunfire. They got to Level Four and stayed hidden in the crowd as it slowly headed toward the third level.
As they stepped off onto the third level, Laura looked up and saw the three FBI agents and Johnny, the local mob associate, staring down at them from between the geraniums, just one level above. All four of them had their weapons drawn. They were standing no more than six feet from each other and fifteen feet away from Laura and Davis.
Laura could also see that she and the man she loved were in a very vulnerable position. People continued to clog the escalators and it was at least twenty feet to any kind of cover. They were backed up against a storefront on Level Three, just fifteen feet above Level Two and a dash down the steps to the street and escape. But, even if they broke in opposite directions, the odds were still four against two.
“Stay where you are. Don’t move.” yelled Richey, her weapon leveled on Laura’s chest. As she yelled her command, Johnny, the diet-conscious gunman, raised his weapon. Orders are orders.
Laura looked over the railing down to the lower level.
Davis looked over at her with disbelief on his face. Laura’s voice rose making it an order. “Jump! Now!”
They both turned and started to vault over the railing.
From up on Level Four a pair of shots flew from Johnny’s gun. One dug into the tile an inch from Laura’s foot, the other missed and grazed the leg of a female tourist from Michigan who was running for the sidewalk with her husband and children. Davis twisted back toward the danger above and raised his new weapon.
He pulled the trigger as fast as his finger could move. He was still firing as he followed Laura over the rail.
The first two shots went wild and smashed into the pastel pink and green stucco walls on Levels Six and Seven. The third shot smashed into the low concrete wall in front of young Agent Kerry Richey. The proximity and the spray of concrete shrapnel pushed her back from the railing and onto the floor. As she fell to the tile she looked over at Markosi who crouched nearby, and said, “Sweet Jesus, that was close.”
Davis’ next shot blasted into Johnny, entering into his chest a half-inch below his diaphragm and racing upward. He lurched backward, stumbling and landing next to Agent Richey. He looked over at her, a terrified look on his bloodied face as he asked her, “Did my heart just stop?”
Before she could answer, it did.
Laura heard all of the shooting and closed her eyes as she fell through the air. A collage of thoughts and memories sped past her mind’s eye: her confirmation where the Bishop gave her a symbolic slap on the face, to let her know that she may face pain and trials for her faith; her wedding to Dominic with the scent of a thousand flowers filling the church; the sight of her father coming home with spots of fresh blood on his shirt, not his blood.
Davis’ eyes were open as he fell backwards, looking at his targets. He saw the young agent lurch and fall back from the overhang. He saw the look of vacant surprise on the face of the Family assassin as the slug exited his body with a red spray that covered his cheek. It reminded Davis of the blossoming red geraniums of Horton Plaza.
Another crash and more screams followed as the tourists heard the gunfire and saw two bodies flying down from above, smashing into the large wooden display cart filled to overflowing with brightly colored fruits and vegetables—the bounty of California’s Central Valley.
Laura and Davis hit the cart side by side. They were stunned by the impact, but unhurt. Davis still had Peeto’s Glock gripped in his outstretched hand.
The people nearby scattered, not knowing what other unplanned terror was going to explode onto their vacation plans. One man with a video camera was recording everything. He had taped their fall and was moving in for a close up. Davis saw him and reacted by turning the gun on him. He started to squeeze the trigger yet again.
“No! Don’t shoot! Stop!” screamed Laura.
He blinked as her words got through to him. He lowered the pistol and looked at Laura, stunned.
“Let’s get out of here. C’mon, let’s go.” She grabbed his arm and pulled.
They slid down off the cart and, covered with bits of green leaves and colorful pieces of squashed fruits and vegetables, ran toward the short stairway down to the street.
Just as they got to the sidewalk Vivian pulled up. She reached over and opened the front door for Laura while Davis got into the back seat. Even before the doors were closed Vivian hit the gas and the car lurched away from the curb and into traffic. “Are you kids okay?” she asked as she turned down a side street.
“My God, are you alright? Are you hurt?” said Davis. He was breathing hard and his eyes were as wide as they could go.
“I’m fine, I think,” answered Laura. You?” She was more concerned about him than she was for herself.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Mother of God, I just killed a man. I saw his face, the blood. Laura…I shot him.” Laura took the gun from his shaking hand.
As the car headed up Fourth Street they saw three San Diego Police cruisers coming the other way, sirens screaming, on their way to a bloody Horton Plaza.