Our Story So Far: Um… heck, I’m not even sure myself. There’s this thing, something really valuable, and lots of people are willing to do just about anything to get it. One key to the location of this treasure might be a painting, and Charles Lowell has been hired to protect the person with that painting. He’s also been hired to recover it, and to keep it from being recovered. It was last seen in the company of Lola Fanutti (neé Meredith Baxter), widow of a major figure in the mob and herself a crack shot with a .45. Lowell has been through some difficult scrapes with Fanutti; perhaps the most dangerous was being alone with her in a hotel outside the city. Lowell’s faithful and spunky assistant Alice really doesn’t like Lola Fanutti. Paolo Fanutti, Lola’s former brother-in-law and the man most anxious to see her dead, recently beat up Alice, and Lowell isn’t going to let that slide. He has agreed to hand Lola over to Paolo, mostly because he’s pretty sure she’ll kill him.
As well as the Fanutti family, there is a ruthless and powerful man named Cello, a group that may or may not answer to Lola, and a secretive group of Spaniards known as the Blood of the Saint. That is also the name of the painting….
This episode has a little more thinking in it than its predecessors, as I wrote it in two hours instead of the traditional one. The lack of thought in constructing the narrative gives the whole thing only a little more structure than the TV show “Lost” (from what I hear they must write that thing with the same amount of planning and attention to continuity). And wow! Who thought Charlie would get shot last episode? When I started writing it, I certainly had no idea. But there he was, bleeding on the sidewalk, shot with a .45. I didn’t want to split Reunion up, but it’s taking a lot of words to get from bleeding on the sidewalk to a confrontation at the waterfront. That’s what happens when I pick a title for the following episode more or less at random.
To read the entire story from the beginning click here. Continuity issues are probably starting to pile up, but so it goes.
My ears began to work before my eyes did. I lay still, strange apparitions scattering back to the darker corners of my mind like cockroaches when you turn on the kitchen light. They’re not gone, but best forgotten, at least until the lights go out again. In the final lingering image I was staring down a gun held by Lola Fanutti. “Trust me,” I thought I heard her say.
“Oh, I trust you completely,” another voice said, a man’s voice from outside my head, and I realized that the first voice I had heard was not Lola’s, but Alice’s. I forced my eyes open.
Alice was there, talking to a dark-haird man in a suit. His back was to me, and I was still foggy; I couldn’t place him. Alice saw that I was awake and stepped to my side. Her hand was smooth and cool against my fevered brow. In her eyes was relief. “Charlie! Thank goodness! I was so frightened.”
I tried to say something witty, but my throat felt like the sahara during a dry spell. It probably wouldn’t have been funny anyway. Alice took a glass of water from the table by the bed and helped me drink. I reached up to guide the glass to my parched lips and that’s when I discovered that my right arm wasn’t working. That’s when I remembered being shot.
“It’s OK, now,” Alice said. “We’re safe.”
I was pretty sure Alice was wrong about that, but I didn’t have the strength to argue. I looked around for the man Alice had been talking to, but we were alone. I filed it under “potential hallucination” until I could think of the right question to ask. Trust me, Alice had told him. “Anybody see who did this?” I asked her.
Alice shook her head. “He got away.”
“It was a pistol, he must have been pretty close.”
“He was probably trying to hit Mr. Santiago. No one knew we would be there.”
“Whoever told Santiago how to find us could have told other people.”
Alice digested that. “Mr. Santiago did know a lot about what happened with Paolo Fanutti.”
“It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that Santiago would take you to his pet doctor.” Alice wasn’t looking that good; her face had had time to puff up and her bruises were in full bloom. She had bandages here and there where she had been stiched up. “How are you doing, anyway?” I asked.
“OK. They said the scars shouldn’t be too bad.” She traced her finger along one of the bandages on her face. “I must look horrible.”
“You look great, doll,” I lied. “A couple of scars just add character.” That’s what I told myself each time I collected a new one, anyway.
“Thanks.” It looked like she was about to start blubbering. “You think the guy was really after you?”
“There are plenty of people who want me out of the picture. There might be some in this building. Santiago seems square, but he’s got leaks of his own. We need to get out of here. Without Santiago knowing where we went.”
“I got you some new clothes,” Alice said. “The other ones were all bloody. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t let anyone see you,” I said to the closing door, though that seemed optimistic.
While she was gone I took stock of my condition. My right shoulder was bandaged and very stiff, my right hand was taped up as well. It seemed like a long time since I had broken it on the goon’s face. I paused, then looked around the room for any indication of what day it might be. How long had I been out? Lola was supposed to get the painting on Sunday. Had I missed it?
Alice returned with a suit that was considerably nicer than anything I had worn before. Shirt and tie were silk, and fit me perfectly, as far as I could tell. “I don’t suppose there’s any whiskey in the pockets,” I said.
I guess that’s not the reaction she was hoping for. Her look darkened and I clammed up and got dressed. She had to help me get my arm down the shirt sleeve and then into the jacket. She stood close to me while she tied on my tie, and I watched her eyes as she kept them resolutely fixed on her task. A little crease formed between her eyebrows when she concentrated. I was a little disappointed when she finished.
“Now a sling,” she said. She folded a large white bandage into a triangle and helped me settle my arm into it. When I was at a less-uncomfortable position she took the ends of the the bandage and reached up around my neck.
“How’s your mouth?” I asked.
“My…? Oh!” She blushed and looked away shyly, conscious of her bruised lips. “It’ll be all right. They’re not sure about the tooth.” She turned back to look at me, and her lips were very close to mine. Her hands were still resting on the back of my neck. “I’m not supposed to… um…” We held that tableau for a terrifying second before she whispered, “we should go. Mr. Santiago will be coming to check on you soon.”
“Right,” I said. Alice held a coat for me and I slipped my good arm through the sleeve. She draped it over my other shoulder. I wasn’t going to be moving very quickly, but I was moving, and that’s all that mattered. The next move would be mine. I kept saying that, and one of these days I would be right.
I made an awkward attempt to help her into her own coat, really only making things more difficult with my left hand. “We’re quite the pair, aren’t we?” I asked when we were ready to go.
She smiled a bit. “I hear black and blue is the new black.”
It hurt to laugh. “That’s the spirit, kid. Ready for the ballet?”
We walked past the protesting sawbones and his pretty assistant, past a bulky but disinterested man reading a paper in the outer room, down a dimly-lit hallway, through a heavy wood door and onto the city street. The rain had stopped, days ago for all I knew. It was early afternoon and the sun was back in command. The air was gravid with the moisture from the rain; the streets were sweating, so were the buildings, the people and the cars. Everything except Alice.
I paused, triangulating on visible skyscrapers. I turned toward Jake’s. Lola would expect me there. So would Cello, but I didn’t think he had reason to kill me at the moment. There would be booze there. “What day is it?” I asked as we walked.
Alice hesitated. “Sunday.”
“Listen, I’ve got to meet with someone. Alone.”
“Yeah, her. I need you to back me up.”
“I didn’t do so good last time.”
I gave her an address. “Ask for Artemis. You ever shoot a gun?”
“We’ll leave that for another time, then. Get me a .38 – Artemis knows what I like. Get plenty of ammunition.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Be at the diner tonight at eleven p.m.”
“Be careful, Charlie.”
“What could possibly go wrong?”
It looked like she wanted to say something else, but instead she squeezed my good arm once, hesitated, and turned to head up the street. The man who was following us stayed with me. There wasn’t much else I could to keep her out of the fray. “Good luck, doll,” I muttered as I turned and continued toward Jake’s. I could taste the whiskey already.
Tune in next time for: Reunion by the River, Part 2!