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  #11  
Old 01-22-2018, 10:06 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 11

Ross stood at his door and watched the two detectives as they walked to their car and he wondered what might happen next, and where Gus Mendoza might be at that moment. He felt sure that the guy in West Virginia, Mazzone, was interested only in an interview with Mendoza, relative to his wounding of Ross. If Mendoza turned up on the street in Wheeling, he might be arrested and face a charge of some kind, but it was not likely the local cops had been requested to do any more than question him. The St. Louis police, on the other hand, would have a greater interest and might well want Gus picked up and held – perhaps until they could send someone to Baton Rouge. They had a murder investigation going, and he knew they weren’t likely to find their suspect, Hector Velez. Sonny Leppert had said he left Velez in a ditch in West Memphis. The call from Ross, with Mendoza’s name, was certainly their best lead.

Only Mendoza knew just what he had done to Miriam Moscowitz, and he would be crazy to do anything but run like hell and try hard to cover his tracks. If he was found, the rest of his life would be spent in a Missouri prison – or worse. Ross assumed Mendoza was on the road to somewhere, and wondered about his wife, Gloria,and about her Subaru. He tried to remember what Gus’ own car was. On the off chance, he called the number he had called last night, but there was no answer, and he decided to speak to Gloria if he could. He found a number in his little book and dialed. Gloria picked up almost instantly.

“Gloria, this is Jack Ross, and I’m trying to reach Gus. Is he there?”

“Bastard!’ she screamed. “He’s in some kind of trouble because of you, and now he’s gone – left in the middle of the night. You’ve got some nerve to call here. You knew he was gone, it’s your fault!” She was sobbing loudly now.

“He’s in trouble, you better believe that, and it’s big trouble and it’s his own fault. I don’t know what he told you, but I guarantee you he was lying. You don’t want to hear the truth. And if he’s gone, why didn’t you go with him?”

“He’s gonna send for me in a few days. I’m his wife, Jack, and we’re in this together. And what do you care, anyway? If you know something, you need to tell me. You and Gus used to be friends.”

“Okay, shut up and listen to me. When Gus left you and his job a few weeks ago, the first thing he did was make a really bad decision, and then he made it worse every chance he got. He followed me across the country and shot me in the stomach when he caught up with me in Ohio and left me down on the ground in a parking lot, and he was in bad trouble even before that. When he found out I wasn’t dead, he should have started running. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him cruising my shop in your car last night. Has he been here in Baton Rouge for the past month? He must be crazy, and unless he leaves the country you can’t go where he’s going. Gloria, he’s a wanted man in two states, and if they catch him he’ll go to jail for a helluva long time.”

“I don’t know whether to believe you or not. Gus said it was your fault. How bad is the trouble?”

“As bad as it could get. You’ve got some decisions to make. Take my advice and get control of whatever money you guys have – all of it. You’re going to need it, now that he’s gone. Even if he sends for you, you can’t go, because the police will be looking at you. Get used to it. I won’t call you again and I won’t do anything to help Gus. He’s no friend of mine now. Good luck.” Jack ended the call.

He felt sorry for Gloria, and almost sorry for Gus, who had thrown away a good job and a wife for a slim chance at some money that might not even exist. Ross wondered if it might have been his fault, after all. Maybe he had made it sound like an adventure. Once Mendoza had left Baton Rouge and done the deed in St. Louis, there had been no place to stop and now it was much too late. He was history. Ross told himself that all this had no relation to a small breaking and entering he was planning to do amid the mountains of West Virginia. Not the same thing at all.

However, he had to wonder whether anyone had found the body of Sonny Boy, in the woods off Interstate 55 and if so, had they noted that the body was rolled up in a tarp stained with paint in many bright colors – like one might find in a sign shop.
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  #12  
Old 02-03-2018, 02:33 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 12

Jack locked the front door and went into the working area of the shop and stood looking around at the tools of his trade and reflected that he still was not strong enough to do much work. He told himself to regard them as tools of his former trade, which seemed to take a lot for granted. He saw two sections of scaffold, broken down into pieces, two step ladders and an extension ladder and a post hole digger with its two shovel handles leaning against the back wall. He had a good table saw and a cut-off saw and a band saw and two skill saws. Four grand – maybe five - of his hard-earned money, without the hand tools and the stuff in the box. It might bring him two, if he was lucky.

He frowned and picked up a big garbage bag and returned to the office and began to fill it from his file cabinet. Everything older than a few months went. He wondered if there was any point in saving a collection of his hand sketches, in color, for job proposals, and he wasted an hour looking at them before stuffing them into the bag. The Zodiac Sign Shop was getting an enema, and the sign painter was moving on. First he would be a tourist and then for a few hours he would be a burglar, and after that was anyone’s guess. Perhaps a man of means or just another shmuck looking for a job. Not a convict - that was out, unthinkable. How much for first offense B & E, anyway?

He wanted to talk to Sandra, but she might not want to hear from him. Surely she would want to know he was back in town. Just thinking about it was a waste of time, and he picked up the phone and picked her number from the speed-dial list. She picked up on the third ring, and recognized the number.

“Hello, Jack. I heard you were back in town. How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad, I guess, but I’m still sort of weak. Getting my strength back, but it’s a slow process. They told me you had called the hospital.”

“I didn’t give them my name.”

“I know, but it had to be you. Who else was gonna call?”

“They said you had been shot in the stomach.”
“Right in the stomach. I was pretty sick for a while.”

“Who shot you?”

“It was a Mexican named Gus – a crazy Mexican.”

“Did they catch him?”

“No, he was in the wind by then, gone. Just a couple of days before, he had killed a woman. I guess that’s what he will have to answer for, if they ever catch him.”

“Jack, what in the world were you doing in West Virginia in the first place?”

“Same as the Mexican, both of us on a wild goose chase.”

“There must be quite a story here.”

“Quite a story, I promise you. Stranger than fiction. Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. My life got real different all of a sudden, but I’m fine, and I’m glad you called to let me know you were back, and glad to know you are recovering. I did worry about you. After we . . . left each other, within a couple of days you were gone, and I had no idea where you were.”

“Sandra, I should have let you know. This story, once it got started, took off with a bang. You didn’t think I had gone in the river, did you?”

“No, I knew you wouldn’t do anything like that, but I felt sort of guilty that I might have had something to do with your leaving town so soon. Did the story begin here in town?”

“No, it began in St. Louis. I guy I used to know was dying in St. Louis and he wanted to see me, and his lawyer called me.”

“Old friend?”

“Lord, no. He just seemed to have me on his conscience. He had let me down in a bad spot, many years ago, and felt he owed me something. He was just a small-time bum. I’m closing the shop and I will sell the building and maybe take some time off for myself. Been working a long time. I wasn’t sure calling you was a good idea, but I figured you would want to know I had gotten back.”

“I was hoping you would call me, as a courtesy, but it doesn’t change anything, you know.”

“No, I know that, Sandra. For me, everything is about to change, except this. I will let you know, if you want.”

“I don’t want. I’m okay, doing fine. You really did go to St. Louis that night, didn’t you? I guess that’s something. I didn’t believe you. See you around, pal.”

“Yeah, you take good care.” Jack hung up the phone and tried to think about anything but Sandra.
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  #13  
Old 02-21-2018, 12:27 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 13

He tramped around the shop, frowning. He had no pending work orders, nothing at all to produce any money. He wasn’t destitute, but the trip to West Virginia had cost a bundle, what with the copays for his hospital treatment and traveling expenses, and the Zodiac Sign Shop was well into its second straight month of red ink. There was no chance, in his mind, of trying to get it up and running again, even if he had had the strength to do it. Little remained except to button it up and move along.

Ross stopped and looked at the lettering brushes on the bench. Except for the fitches, they were all carefully shaped in blade form, wet with transmission fluid or lard oil. He had always liked the smell of the brushes and the oil, and he would miss it, and he suddenly became aware that he might never paint another sign. Also on the bench was an assortment of paint rags and shop towels, including a faded red one with a bullet hole in it. That one would be added to the items he would keep – a grisly reminder of the day he had found Sonny Boy Leppert sitting on the ground under his pecan tree, waiting for him to come and open the shop. Sonny was collateral damage, incidental to the rest of the failed journey eastward. He had already decided to go, to meet Miriam Moscowitz and find out, once and for all, whether there was any money waiting for them.

But there was one more sign to be done, and he would do it now; tonight. On the easel was a two foot by three foot blank, already coated and ready to go. A pattern had been pounced on it, month before last, in readiness for his attention the next day – except that the next day he had been two hundred miles down the road and rolling eastward. He took a rag and wiped off the black dots of the pattern and poured turps into a cup and washed out a brush, and then used the same turps to mix up some black One Shot enamel. In big casual characters he painted Building for Sale. No phone numbers listed. He posted it in the office window, between the glass and the bilind. He cleaned and shaped the brush and laid it on the bench, just because he couldn’t bear not to. He wasn’t sure how to prepare the brushes for keeping, or even why, but he would keep them all.

He turned out the lights and went into the little office and turned on the television and sat in the big rolling chair, but only briefly. There was nothing he wanted to see and he turned off the set and let himself out and locked the door and went home. The climb up the outside stairs left him puffing and weak again. Where was Gus tonight, he wondered, and where was Sandra? Neither was any of his business any longer, but he wondered anyway.

When he got to the shop in the morning there was a Volvo SUV under the pecan tree, in his parking place, and two women were standing at his front door, cupping their eyes with their hands as they peered into the building. One was pretty and petite, short shorts and tank top and fashionable sandals. Her dark hair was in a ponytail. Her companion was bigger and bulkier and wore cowboy clothes, including pointed boots. Her hair was cut short, like a man’s, and she wore a heavy watch on her wrist, and she turned away from the door and spoke in a deep voice.

“Are you the owner of this building?”
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  #14  
Old 03-09-2018, 12:36 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 14

The two women backed up just enough for him to unlock and open the door. They followed him inside and he went around turning on the lights as they toured his shop, looking into the little bathroom, opening his refrigerator and sniffing the interior. All their attention seemed to be for each other, and Jack was ignored. As they walked around they conversed in hushed tones and offered no introductions. He began to think of them as Big and Little.

“I’m Jack Ross, and this is my place – Zodiac Sign Shop.”

“Jack Ross the sign maker,” sniffed Big, much as she might say ‘Jack Ross the yard man’. “How much are you asking for the place?”

“I don’t know yet. I just put up the sign last night, and I’ll have to get some advice on an asking price. Maybe a few days - I don’t know how much it’s worth.”

“Can’t be all that much for this building in this area. We might have some use for it, anyway, and I might make an offer this afternoon after we talk about it.” Big and Little continued their inspection, taking an interest in the paints and brushes and discussing the power tools. They wondered about various things out loud, to each other, but had no questions for Jack. They opened the back door and looked out into the yard, which had lacked attention during his absence. The grass had grown tall, and old signs in various conditions stood propped against the wall. Without speaking, they conveyed their disdain for the mess. Jack thought Big needed a punch in the mouth. He had not heard a word from Little since she entered the shop.

They moved into the little office, trying his big chair and turning on the television and his computer. Big picked up the phone and listened for a dial tone and hung it up. She pulled out the top drawer of his filing cabinet and spent more time than she needed, and Jack pushed it closed. She sniffed again and turned away, stepping to the window and surveying the street outside. Both women left him in the office and went back into the shop area and stood by the sink. Big spoke to Little and got a smile and a nod in return. They returned to the office.

Big sat at the desk and leafed through the legal pad for a clean sheet and began writing. Three minutes later she tore out the page and folded it once and laid it on the desk. “There you go, Jack Ross, that’s my bid for the place with all contents, as it sits. You can take your computer with you. The offer is good for forty-eight hours, and I will contact you day after tomorrow to see if we have a deal. I never negotiate or haggle. Yes or no is all I will want to hear from you.” She looked at him expectantly, but he gave her nothing. She shrugged and nodded to her small partner and they drove away in the Volvo.

Ross figured he had seen the last of them; hoped he had. The process of shutting down and getting out had begun with a jolt, and it left him a bit weak. He got a beer from the refrigerator and sat down at his desk. Big’s folded offer lay unopened where she had left it. He thought about his brushes and paints, his ladders and section of scaffold, his post hole digger, his accounts receivable, his big chair and his sign shop. He suddenly realized that he had put the sign in his window without much attention for what he was doing. He thought about Sandra and about Gus Mendoza; he recalled killing Sonny Boy Leppert, listening to Miriam’s story and driving to West Virginia, and his plan to go again.

He left the office and went back into the work area. The business had never been much of an enterprise, never even an LLC, just a private place for one man to make his living, not at leisure surely, but at least on his own schedule. It wouldn’t be missed by anyone else, and not much by him. He went into his bathroom and scowled at himself in the mirror. He opened the back door and rejoiced in the fact that he might not have to clean up the back yard after all. Shop Cat appeared for the first time since his return and strolled past him and went directly to the office and jumped into his chair.

Jack opened another beer and took a deep breath and wondered what else he might be opening. And none too soon, either. He was forty-three years old.
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  #15  
Old 03-21-2018, 02:05 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 15

Ross followed Shop Cat into the office and picked up the folded offer that Big had left on his desk. It was signed G.A. Fothergill. The amount impressed him and indicated that he had some serious equity in the property, but he had little idea how it might compare to the actual value. The woman had said her offer was good for forty-eight hours – not much time for gathering the information he needed. Getting the matter finished so soon was an exciting prospect and far beyond anything he had imagined when he was preparing the sign he had put in his window last night. At the same time, it was tempting to think about turning down the big woman in the cowboy boots.

He called the bank and dialed the extension for Barry Minor, who picked up on the second ring. “Hey, Jack, been a while, man. You want to borrow any money today?”

“Not today, Barry, but maybe next week or the week after – I’ll keep you on speed dial. I’m closing the shop and trying to sell the building. I put a sign in the window last night, and today I got a prospective buyer and she gave me an offer that’s good for two days, so all of a sudden I need to know what the place is worth and I need to know who can help me with that on short notice.”

“Hell, man, ask me. I can tell you pretty damn’ close.”

“In two days?”

“In five minutes, buddy. I’m bringing it up on the system as we speak. We got the mortgage, so it’s my business to keep up with what it’s worth. I’m not a realtor, so I can’t advise you about what to ask, but I can give you the figure I would use if you wanted a second mortgage. How much is the offer you’ve got?” He peered at his monitor and listened to Ross’ response. “Huh, that’s an easy call. Take it and try not to grin at the lady. Bring her in.”

“Barry, she wants it all – you know, all my gear and my power tools and my refrigerator, everything. She wants me to just walk out.”

“I don’t care. Take it if you can get it. Anyway, man, why are you getting out? I thought you were hanging on pretty good in there. You gonna retire?”

“Not exactly. I’m making a slow recovery from a serious injury and I’m not in any shape to go back to work yet. I was laid up for several weeks in another state, and the shop sort of closed itself while I was gone. A small commercial shop isn’t maintained with lettering brushes any more, anyhow, and this is my excuse to get out. I’ll sell the building and get out of town for a while. Travel around a little and get well. Then I will look around and do something else, and I’m looking forward to it. Sort of exciting.”

“Jack, I heard you got shot.”

“Yeah, pal, right in the stomach. Had a bad time for a while. How did you find out?”

“Well, Sandy is a good friend of my wife’s. Gerrie said it hit Sandy pretty hard. Do they know who shot you?”

“Yeah, I gave them his name. It was a guy I know. It wasn’t the worst thing he did that week, either, and now he’s wanted in two states. Far as I know, he’s somewhere out there, running hard. I’m rooting for the cops, for sure, Barry.”

“Jack, I think I know who it is, you know?”

“You might. I called his wife and advised her to gather up all their money, so he can’t get it and leave her busted. He’s history, and she needs to get used to the idea. She can’t do anything for him.”

“Sounds like a helluva story, man. If you ever feel like it, I’d like to hear about it.”

“Could be. I’ve had more adventures lately than the other sign painters around here. Thanks for your help. Maybe I’ll be in touch soon.” Ross hung up the phone. He lifted Shop Cat out of the chair and sat down. He wished he had a cigarette.

He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes and spent an hour reflecting on the unlikely events of his forty-fourth year. Beginning with the letter from Bynum in St. Louis and continuing up to the written offer to buy his sign shop, still in his hand, from the obnoxious Ms. Fothergill, he had ridden a runaway sled halfway across the country and back. The two days she had allowed for his response was only a pause before he would get back aboard to continue the frenzied trip to . . . well, to somewhere. He began to make a plan, for the lack of something better to do. He would walk every day and work out, to get his strength and stamina back. He would gather up the things he might need in a tool box to take back to West Virginia. Everything was here in the shop, and Big need not ever know what he took.

At some point, as he sat, a handful of mail came through the slot in the door and fell to the floor. It made him think of Gus Mendoza and his own part in the bad decisions Gus had made after hearing Jack’s running account of the taking of Sonny Boy and the tale of the ransom money. He wondered if he should feel some responsibility for Gus’ current plight, but he did not. Dumb Mexican.

The very recollection exhausted him, and he fell asleep. Shop Cat returned to the office and jumped into the chair with him, fleas and all.
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  #16  
Old 04-04-2018, 09:26 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 16

Big and Little returned on the second day, as promised. "Well, Jack Ross the sign maker, we're back. What's the word, have we got a deal?"

"No deal, Ms. Fothergill. That was just day before yesterday, and my friend in the business advised that the place would bring more than you offered. But thanks for your interest, anyway." In truth, Ross had made no decision prior to their appearance, but the refusal had been automatic in the presence of the pugnacious Big. He didn't like her.

"So, what's your price?"

Haven't got one yet. You said all you wanted was a yes or no, and you've got it. No dickering, you said."

"We won't dicker, but tell me what you'll take for it, and we'll think about it. And I don't really like doing business with people like you, anyway."

"I know the feeling. For another fifteen thousand you can buy it."

Big left the office and strolled into the shop area. Little stayed behind and seemed to be trying to look even smaller than she was. Jack looked at her and realized she was really a beautiful girl, but not at ease with him.

"Your friend is an obnoxious broad, and I don't even know your names."

"I'm Jenny and her name is Jaynie. She's really a nice person if you get to know her."

"Sure, maybe that's it. And she's good to you."

"Oh, yes! I'm getting a green VW convertible!" Suddenly, Jenny could be fifteen years old.

Big was back, and she stood looking out the window, and she heaved a big sigh. "Your friend is full of shit and you're an idiot."

"Your partner is a minor and you're a muff-diver." Jenny was horrified and Jaynie fumed audibly. "Are you in or out?"

"Jenny likes the place. But your price for this dump is a ripoff."

"Are you in or out? Don't do me any favors."

So, on the following Monday they met at the bank and Jack sold the Zodiac Sign Shop building for the ripoff price, to the surprise of both Jack and the banker. Ms. Fothergill signed on the dotted line and agreed to wait seventy-two hours to take possession. She declined to smile at either of them. Jenny attended, but took no part in the transaction. Jack wondered if Fothergill ever went anywhere without her.

By Thursday his little business was history, leaving him without visible means of support, but with considerably more money than he had ever had when he was painting. He thought he should feel something more, but it wasn't there. He had packed his tool kit and taken his files and the computer. When he showed up at half past nine, Big and Little were again waiting for him, under his pecan tree. They filed into the building and spent three minutes touring the work area aimlessly. Opening the cupboard door under the sink, Big pulled out a paper bag she found there.

"What's the cat food for, Ross?"

"It's for the cat, Jaynie."

Jenny suppressed a girlish giggle. "You have a cat? What's her name?" Jenny was showing a spark, here on the last day.

"His name is Shop Cat. He's not mine and he doesn't live here, but he comes in once in a while when I leave the back door open, and I feed him. This is just a stop on his route." Jack went and opened the back door, and Shop Cat ambled inside, as if on cue.

Big made a face. "Gawd, he's an ugly beast."

Jenny was following the cat toward the office. "Can I pet him?"

"I doubt it. He's a pretty independent cat. I guess you could try."

"Does he have fleas?"

"Probably." He found himself hoping Jenny and the cat would find a connection of some kind and that Fothergill would be infested by fleas. "Don't lock him inside when you leave. He wouldn't like that." He took a last look around and give Big the keys to the building and left.

Just like that, it was over. He cranked the truck and headed for McDonald's to get some hotcakes and sausage. He wasn't used to getting up so early.
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Last edited by vapros; 04-05-2018 at 09:47 AM.
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  #17  
Old 06-10-2018, 07:30 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 17

*** Watching Stephen King interviews today, and I am reminded how long my story here has been neglected. That's not good, and beginning right now I will get Jack Ross started on his return to Wheeling.

I don't read Stephen King, but he is a funny guy and he does great interviews and lots of them. Everybody wants him on their show and I want to watch, so I'm a fan. Here is my favorite Stephen King story, and I hope I have not told it on this site before:

When he was a young school teacher and just married he and his wife lived with her parents, having a couple of kids and no money. He recalls overhearing his father-in-law say one day, "I know I'm going to have to support that four-eyed son of a bitch for the rest of my life!" King says he remembers that every time he buys the guy a car.

- - - - -

When Ross was finished with his breakfast, he resisted going home. He should have been headed for the shop; it didn’t feel right not to go, so he circled around and went by his former building. Big and Little, Jaynie and Jenny, were outside looking at the big sign on the wall. Lettering on cinder block is a pain in the ass, no matter how many coats of paint have been applied, and he had many hours of labor in the design and rendering of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, arranged in the correct order in a circle. Some of his best work, without a doubt, and a sort of landmark in the neighborhood. And also without a doubt, the new owner would paint it out before many days passed. He told himself he didn’t care.

With nothing better to do, he drove past Gus Mendoza’s house. There were no cars under the carport, and a couple of daily papers, still in their bags, rested on the little front porch. The place looked empty, he thought. Maybe not abandoned, but empty. He didn’t know whether Gloria had a job, and it seemed likely that she had gone off to be with her husband, wherever that might be. Jack drove into the park and parked on the grass under an oak tree and called the BRPD, only to find that Detective Haydel wasn’t in the building. He didn’t leave his number – surely they would have let him know if Mendoza had been found.

So he went home to the garage apartment with the outside stairs, and climbed right up without pausing, now that he was getting stronger. Not that much stronger really, and he had to sit down on the landing with his feet on the top step, gasping for breath. Starting tomorrow he would begin doing something about that, or the day after for sure. Inside, he sat on the stool at his breakfast bar and attacked the paper work from the file cabinet, getting it ready for the bookkeeper who would deal with it one more time. Having no payroll beyond Jack Ross and Shop Cat, end of the month was always a breeze. The Zodiac Sign Shop would not require much buttoning-up, but he recalled that he had nearly four thousand dollars in accounts receivable, and it gave him an excuse to get back on the street to see how much of it he could collect, so he went back down the stairs.

At day’s end he had picked up twenty-two hundred dollars and had a promising promise for another seven hundred after the weekend. Not bad at all, and he told himself that he could blow off the rest if need be – he had money in his pocket, didn’t he? Being this solvent would take some getting used to, and he vowed to pursue the remaining dollars; nearly enough to finance his coming travels, to be sure. Instead of climbing the stairs when he left the truck he took a walk. Once around the block would be a good-faith beginning for his recovery, but he had to stop twice to sit on the curb and rest. He was still a long way short of fit. He saw a Subaru sedan pass in the traffic, and then another one going the other way. He could not be sure of the colors, here in the daylight, and Gloria’s ride was newer anyway. Not to worry.

Mendoza was much too much in his thoughts, and the following day he phoned the St. Louis PD, and was routed to the detective named Marcello when he identified himself. “I’m calling for news in the Miriam Moscowitz murder case, detective. Has Gus Mendoza been picked up yet?”

“Nothing on that, Mr. Ross. He’s still a fugitive, and somebody will come across him one of these days and contact us, and I will be sure to let you know. We’ll look for him until we find him, and I stay in touch with the police in Baton Rouge. I think that’s the most likely place, as he will be the most comfortable there. He knows his way around. After hearing from you, we have established that he was in this area at the right time. We know where he spent two nights and where he bought gasoline.

Our other guy, Ortega or Velez, is still a person of interest, but he seems to be gone, also. At least he had a relationship with the victim and he’s acting just as guilty as your man, so we have requested the Louisville police to find him for us.

That reminds me, I want you to get me a notarized statement with all your information laid out for me. Do it today, if you can. I need to know exactly what Mendoza told you about the crime, and anything else I can use. And you need to watch your back, Mr. Ross. Even if we find him today, there’s no evidence at all from the crime scene. Your testimony is all there is, and you can bet he has figured that out. You told me he shot you right after, well, he was on the right track. His best bet is to shoot you again. That’s what I would do in his shoes.”

Ross frowned and stood staring out of his second-story kitchen window. He wondered where Gus might be today.
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  #18  
Old 06-24-2018, 01:04 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 18

The conversation with the St. Louis detective didn’t do anything to improve his mood. The guy figured that the best bet for Gus Mendoza was to remain in the Baton Rouge area, since he knew his way around in the town, and because he still needed to kill Ross. He had pointed out that Ross’ testimony was the only thing that could help him make the case for the murder of Miriam Moscowitz. It did not seem like a good sign that Det. Marcello considered his statement urgent. Why urgent? In case Jack couldn’t make it in person?

He sat at the keyboard and began to write. Just how much to include required a bit of planning and he developed an account of the business in Wheeling, telling Marcello what he figured he needed to know, and without giving up the full story of his relationship with Miriam. If he was pressured for more detail, sometime in the future, he would give up a bit more. None of it would matter if they never caught Mendoza. He told himself that this was not the biggest item on the police blotter in Missouri, anyway. It figured to be little more to them than the unsolved shooting case on the desk of the detective named Mazzone in West Virginia.

He wrote that he had met Ms. Moscowitz only recently, but that they had planned a trip to western Pennsylvania for a private enterprise that required the cooperation of both parties. When he had foolishly told Mendoza, his mailman, what was developing, Gus M. decided to take a hand in the venture, and had apparently gone to St. Louis to find Moscowitz. She had refused him what he wanted and he had forced it from her with violence, ending her life in the process. Catching up with Ross he had lied about being Moscowitz’ representative, finally confessing that she would not be answering Jack’s telephone calls.

As he told the story he tried to recall Mendoza’s exact words and suddenly realized that the confession had only been implied rather than explicit. Let Marcello figure it out, and he reported it honestly. He went on to say that the plan had broken down and was no more than a dry run, and that Mendoza had tried to kill him on the way to Pennsylvania to keep Ross from telling on him. Satisfied that he had given Marcello all he needed, he printed up the one-page statement and took it to his bank and signed it in the presence of a notary, paying a small fee for the imprint he needed. He printed three copies and put the original in the mail to the St. Louis PD, attn: Detective Marcello. He wished he could phone Gus and let him know that it was too late to shoot him again.

The rest of the day was spent in the house, doing a lot of things that didn’t really need doing – not today, anyway. He did all his laundry, stripping bare and washing even the clothes he was wearing. He washed the bedding, which had been done just the day before yesterday. One never knew. Maybe Sandra would want to come to visit, and she was picky about such things. He made a list of the things he would need to take with him on the road back to Wheeling, and another list of the things he would need to attend to before he left. The truck needed an alignment and an oil change and maybe even a good waxing, but he crossed that off when he realized that the more ordinary it looked the less it would be recalled. One doesn’t wax a work truck. It was what the school teachers call busy work; more like something to do. His trip was probably a month away and would happen when he was stronger, when he had a few weeks of walking and general rehab. Couldn’t hurry that.

He had guns in the closet just inside the door at the landing and he took them all out and did a general inspection and maintenance and fresh oil. There was a twenty-gauge shotgun which he loaded with number five shells, this being the heaviest shot he had on hand. He stood it just inside the door. A little flat .22 auto was still in the box. He had bought it for Sandra and she had refused to take it. That could stay in the closet for now. He also had a long-barreled .22 target pistol – accurate, but had no hitting power. The .38 he had kept in the sign shop – the one he had used to kill Sonny Boy Leppert – had been cleaned recently. He deemed it immune to any possible ballistic exam, because the slug had passed through Sonny and he had picked if off the floor and tossed into the garbage can. Sonny’s own revolver was there too, and needed to be thrown away since he had no way of knowing what its history might be.

Ross figured he had about an average number of guns in his possession, certainly no assault rifles or such as that. Everybody with any sense kept some guns, and especially now that he had Gus Mendoza to think about. That was certainly not paranoia – Gus was a threat to his life and he vowed never to leave the house without something comforting in his pocket until Gus was caught. Tomorrow he would call Detective Haydel for license tag numbers for Gloria’s and Gus’ cars, so he could watch for them. He felt certain he would be more diligent than would Haydel and his side-kick, Farmer.

It was full dark when he got a cold beer and took it outside and sat down on the landing. Baton Rouge in the summer is almost as hot at night as in the daytime. The ululating sound of the cicadas was nearly deafening, as they sang oo-ee-oo-ee without pause in the semi-rural neighborhood around his garage apartment. Halfway through the beer, their buzzing throttled down and stopped. The sudden silence seemed just as loud.
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  #19  
Old 07-02-2018, 01:18 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 19

Ross froze with the beer halfway to his mouth and frowned. The sound of the cicadas was suddenly conspicuous by its absence. How much of an interruption was required to make them quit? Perhaps something like a fat Mexican prowling around, come to kill him or burn him out. Foolishly, the St. Louis Blues popped into his head. “Throw your clothes out the window and let the shack burn down!” Mendoza and St. Louis. He thought he should go down the stairs and walk around in the dark. There was a vacant lot on the other side, between his place and a patch of woods. Instead, he went inside and went to the bedroom, leaving the light out and sitting on the bed, looking out the window.

He could see the rear end of a car parked in front of the woods, with two wheels on the grass and two on the street. No good reason for it to be there, and it had not been there an hour ago. He thought of calling 911, but what would he say – there is a Toyota parked illegally on my block? He felt like he was treed, and he didn’t like it. There was no doubt in his mind that Gus was out there in the little patch of woods, and if he was, the reckoning was on him before he was ready. But he could get ready in just a couple of minutes. At the back door he picked up the shotgun and threw the slide. At the last second, he took his .38 and stuck it in his belt. He killed the outside light and went out and down the stairs as lightly as he could, aware that the buzzing sound of the cicadas had returned.

He went around the back of the building and along it, shotgun at the ready, trying to see into the brush and trees some seventy feet away. He was blind in the dark and realized he had on a white tee shirt, but the building was painted white, anyway. Too late to worry about that. The rear end of the car was still in sight, and he thought he saw something near it and swung the muzzle of the gun in that direction.

The shot came from the side, though, and the impact knocked him down and took away his breath and he lost both his weapons. The wound he had taken in Wheeling came immediately to mind: the same Goddamned Mexican had hit him in the gut again and taken away his breath, and again he had nothing in his hands for protection. He scrabbled onto his knees, but couldn’t stand. There was blood on his hand, but he was beginning to get some short and painful breaths. The blow had turned him to face the shooter, and Mendoza was now in full view, fifty feet away and closing. He fired twice more, but both went wide. Jack searched the ground in front of him and found his revolver. He rocked back on his haunches, holding the gun in both hands and aimed at his man and pulled the trigger.

The shot stung his hands and he lost the gun again, but Mendoza was down and then up. His fourth shot again was wide and then he was headed for the car in the street, dragging one leg badly behind him. Ross finally spotted the shotgun and crawled to it, just as the car was pulling away. He let off a round for no good reason. The twenty gauge sound was puny compared to a bigger gun. His right leg was numb and he couldn’t stand, but he began to crawl toward the street, dragging the shotgun as he went. He would fire it again, as soon as a car came along the street, to call attention to himself. He didn’t want to bleed to death in the night.

The first car, though, was a police unit and they had picked him up in their spotlight while still half a block away. Someone had reported shots. The car stopped and the spotlight went out, but the gumball lights came on and two patrolmen left the vehicle and crossed the street. The one who approached Ross had a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. The second was playing his light across the trees and brush beyond the vacant lot. Jack tossed the shotgun away and remained on hands and knees.

“Get on your feet, and put your hands up,” demanded Cop One.

“I can’t get up, I been shot,” Ross offered his bloody hand for inspection.

Cop One spoke into the radio on his shoulder, but kept his gun pointed at Ross. “Then stay where you are, an ambulance will be here in a minute.”

Cop Two called, “Where’s the other guy?”

“Drove away in a car, maybe a Toyota, maybe five minutes ago. I hit him, too.”

“Hit him with the shotgun?”

“No, I had a .38 but I lost it. It’s over there somewhere.” A siren could be heard in the distance, and Ross was down on his back by the time the medics arrived. He wondered how bad it was this time.
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  #20  
Old 07-13-2018, 09:27 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default Chapter 20

The ambulance climbed the low curb and rolled to within six feet of the prone body of Jack Ross. Cop number one had questions, and Jack gave him what he knew, but somehow he could not recall Mendoza’s first name, after knowing him for several years! Still a bit woozy from the impact of the bullet, he told the policeman that Detective Haydel would be interested to hear news of the encounter.

“Son of a bitch has gut-shot me twice already this summer, and he’s wanted for murder in St. Louis and it would be good if somebody would catch him – I’m still trying to recover from the first time - this hurts like hell.”

“You’re not gut-shot,” said the medic. “Shot in the hip, looks like. Just relax while we load you up and we’re on the way. I got a quarter-pounder with cheese getting cold in the wagon. Seems like you could have kept this gunfight going another fifteen minutes.”

Cop number two arrived from an inspection of the street where the Toyota had been parked. “You hit him pretty good, man. I seen blood in the street. I called in and told the dispatcher to check all the hospitals – he might make it to the ER before we get there and you would have to wait your turn. Come on, Ray, I’ll ride in the back with the vic and get what I need for my report.”

Nobody seemed to have much sympathy for Ross’ pain. The driver had both the lights and the siren in action, but he didn’t jump any traffic signals and driving with one hand he finished his hamburger before they reached the Ochsner Emergency Room. He backed expertly to the platform, and a bridge was put in place and the gurney was inside the automatic doors in less than three minutes. A triage nurse was waiting, and she supervised the lowering of Jack’s blue jeans so that she could view the nasty wound in his side.

“Okay,” said the nurse. “Don’t stop here – take him right on to X-ray. We need to know where the bullet is.” Jack had no doubt that it must be lodged among his vital organs.

“No X-ray needed for that,” offered cop number two. “I got the bullet right here,” and he produced a mangled and bloody slug, wrapped in a gauze sponge. “It fell out on the gurney when we jumped off the curb at the scene. I saved it.”

The triage nurse rolled her eyes. “Okay, but we still need X-rays,” and off they went to the lab. When they returned, cop number one was coming in through the big doors.

“Mr. Ross, didn’t you tell me you shot the guy with the revolver?”

“Yeah, I did. His shot knocked me down and the gun went flying, and by the time I could get up on my knees, he was right on top of me and still shooting. I found my .38 on the ground and just had time for one round. Lost the gun again, and I figured it was all over for me until I saw him go down. Then he got up and ran for the car. Lucky shot, for sure.”

“Double lucky, Mr. Ross. I been looking at your piece, and you were lucky it would fire even once for you. It couldn’t fire again – the cylinder don’t turn any more, it’s damaged pretty bad. I’m thinking that’s where you got hit, man. He hit your gun and the bullet was spent out before it struck you.”

The ER doctor kept him waiting on the gurney for forty minutes, and when he showed up he had the pictures in his hand, and he slid them into place on the lighted cabinet and studied them intently for ninety seconds. “Not much to see, Mr. Ross. Shallow wound and possibly a very small chip in the hip bone. They tell me it was a ricochet that hit you. You will be pretty sore for a while, and you should get your primary care guy to look at the injury in a few days. If this was on the front lines they would slap a pad on it and tell you to walk it off.” The young doctor was smirking, and Jack gave him a dirty look. “We’ll keep you here until tomorrow and someone will take another peek at you before you go home. Get some rest.”

Alone in the hospital room he stood up, with much groaning and frowning, undressed to his shorts and put on the hospital gown. A nurse came into the room and gave him a shot, and in a few minutes he was back in Wheeling, West Virginia, wrapped in the fuzzy black cocoon where he had spent several long days close to death. As he spiraled down into sleep he cursed Gus Mendoza and wondered where he was tonight. And he cursed the gaunt little apparition he had known as Piper.
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