A former cop, retired from injuries on the job tries to escape his past and find new life.
After Joey left, I pondered her question. How was I going to pull this off? Kaela knew what she was doing and didn’t get the job done, how was I? I walked into the kitchen and the pile of pills was still on the counter. There was a multi-vitamin, two Glucosamine and Chondroitin, fish oil, and some others I didn’t recognize. This was Joey’s subtle way of telling me that it was time to get back in shape. I poured water, scooped up the pile, and slammed both. It didn’t give me any more clarity on solving my delivery issue. I took the file that Kaela gave me, opened it and began to read, looking to see if there was any info I missed. Nothing really jumped out right away. I made note of the car Gerry, a black, 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV with the vanity plate of EPS-1. Nothing else really popped.
My stomach grumbled. I took to the cupboards to see what I had for food, reading snippets from the file as I went back and forth. I had been binging on junk food as of late and my I began to feel my cooking skills atrophy. As I rummaged, I let my brain wander around to see if it stumbled over a plan. I saw that EPS was located on Nassau St in downtown Rochester. I found onions in one of the pull outs and placed them on the small kitchen’s counter. I found a bottle of olive oil, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and tin of Old Bay seasoning in what I decided to call the spice cabinet. I took a frying pan from the drawer under the stove, placed it on a burner, and turned the heat on low.
If he lived gated property, his wife, Ellen, might be able to help. I opened the freezer and found two chicken breasts. I pulled them out, wrestled them out of the package, and on to a plate. I popped them into the microwave hanging over the stove and punched the necessary buttons to defrost them. As I waited I flipped a through the few pages and pictures. Kaela said that Ellen wasn’t too much help, but I wasn’t sure. I could see that Kaela was a very strong and independent woman. I was guessing that she was shielding Ellen a bit. The chicken dinged and I pulled if from the microwave. It would make it easier for me to get to her husband if Ellen could give me a key or something. I assumed though, that Kaela would have already taken advantage of that avenue of attack or provided me with the key if it existed; and when I factored in the description of Ellen’s escape from the property, it told me that existence of such a key that allowed me to waltz in to drop these papers on Gerry was a futile hope.
I peeled and sliced two onions and put them in pan. They sizzled on the hot surface as they made contact. Ellen might be able to give me some details about her husband’s habits that might give a shot at getting me close enough to Gerry. I added a tablespoon of olive oil without measuring it, followed by the garlic powder. I rummaged around in drawers to find a spatula and I was successful. I turned up the heat and stirred the onions slowly, letting the garlic oil mixture crust to the onions.
My thoughts returned to my interview that morning. I most likely gave Michaela Warner, Attorney at Law, the idea that I was a sexist pig. When I heard her comment about limiting Ellen’s options about backing out of the divorce, my disdain for authority was probably misinterpreted. Kaela and I were probably pretty close on our opinions on domestic violence. Remembering my criminology and sociology courses, I knew that many women did not have the choices available that everyone thinks. Even in the US, women did not get the same chances that men did. Depending on their background, many women didn’t have the money or the education to walk out on an abusive marriage. It could be the loss of the safety net for her or more importantly, her children if they had any. There were other reasons, too: attachment, need, love, obligation, religion, etc.
I sliced up the chicken breasts into strips laid them in the pan. The meat went from pink to white in the boiling oil and my mouth started to water. I tapped some of the Old Bay over the pan to coat the simmering meat. Opening the fridge, I saw a six pack of Sam Adams and a gallon of milk. I was trying to remember if I actually bought everything I found or if Joey had simply taken care of me. I had been here for month now and been very, very drunk practically that entire time. I was guessing Joey stocked for my visit. I looked at the milk and the date was a little more than a month old. I left it there, not wanting to tempt fate. I promised Kaela no booze; it came down to water or more coffee.
I didn’t know what Ellen’s background was. Four DV complaints in five years said that she could fall into some of those parameters. I hoped this train of thought would somehow steer me to the formation of the plan that would successfully complete the simple task of serving divorce papers on Gerry Furman. I couldn’t see how. The white knight complex I identified with started me thinking as Ellen as a damsel in distress. Maybe this is what Joey had in mind when she got me to take this job. I could see the system was failing Ellen. Maybe Joey knew that my brain couldn’t help but think about protecting the victim.
“Look how well you protected Frank,” said my inner demon.
I frowned as the comment rolled around in my head. I prodded the chicken around the pan, fighting to fight back the doubts and fears that began to surface. I can do this job. I turned the heat off and stirred the contents of the pan. I was coming to the conclusion that Ellen was probably not a viable means to get at her husband.
The chicken and onions were ready and the water was poured. I took the contents of the pan and placed them on a clean plate. I stood at the counter and after I found a fork I began to eat. The water helped with the dehydration from the alcohol and the chicken and onions filled the void that had formed in my abdomen. As I chewed, a thought occurred to me. It started to grow into a full-fledged idea and I began eating faster, keeping in pace with the birth of a possible plan.
Once finished, I put the current plate, the defrost plate, the spatula, and the pan in the sink. I ran water, found soap and dish rack under the sink, and washed the dishes quickly, leaving them in the rack on the sink to dry. I hurried to my laptop after the cleanup, opened it, and jumped on Monster.com. Kaela said EPS was trying to expand. That would mean they were probably looking for employees. After a search of driving and shipping positions in the area, I found what I was hoping. There were several postings for EPS from Package Van Driver to Quality Assurance. Good, that means I might have come up with a plan that doesn’t involve Ellen.
The posting said to visit the EPS office between the hours of nine and eleven, Monday through Friday, making it a move I couldn’t implement immediately. I had a plan now but it required patience, something I haven’t quite acquired. I had to do something more. The feeling of the need to do something transported me back to all the times I had sat in a police cruiser in Tucson, hoping something would happen. Maybe I could take a drive down to Gerry’s. I was curious about this impregnable fortress that Ellen broke out of. Maybe I would get lucky and see Gerry pulling up in his blue Trailblazer at the exact same time as I arrived and my plan would be totally moot. I checked the stove to make sure it was off. I went into the bedroom to grab my kit—wallet, keys, multiplier, cell phone, and flashlight—and arranged everything in its proper pocket. Returning to the kitchen for the file, I picked it up, went out the door, and hopped in the Gumby Mobile.
One gas station stop plus forty minutes later, I was on Briar’s Creek Trail. When I had left, it was only an unnamed, unkempt, dirt service road. Now it was a black topped, two lane road that was well kept. Nostalgia sent my memory back to my when I first came to this area after my parents died. I remember David, my foster father, taking me hiking and fishing here. Briar’s Creek ran through the valley of two hills populated with intertwined trees and thickets with only deer paths to follow. Being from the city, it was my first introduction to actual natural surroundings. I guess Central Park was natural, but not in the same way.
My mind came back the present. I saw several holes cut out of the tree lined hill alongside the black top. There were mailboxes, numbers, and gravel or paved paths leading into the foliage that told me this area went from wild to residential. Briar’s Creek ran on the opposite side of the road. I paid attention to the numbers until I spotted what I was looking for. I pulled up to the front of a gate that blocked the driveway of Gerry Furman. The gate was connected to an eight foot fence that looked to encompass the property. There was no place to hide; no other driveways to sit in. Briar’s Creek ran next to road I sat on, leaving no place to sit and wait without creating a traffic incident.
I got out of the Gumby Mobile and walked up to the gate. Upon inspection, I saw that it was rigged to automatically open. I looked passed the gate trying to follow the very nicely paved private road. I no longer thought of it as a driveway because you can at least see the house at the end of a driveway. The road went up the hill and seemed to disappear in the canopy of trees. There was a post on the driver side of the private road that held a mailbox on top of it and an arm that protruded out and terminated in a small metal box. The face of the box had what looked like an RF reader and a small speaker with a button underneath it. It was an impressive set up.
I pressed the button and said, “Hello?”
When I released it, there was the squawk that you would expect to hear when using an intercom, but no response. I waited a few more seconds, with nothing occurring. I got back in the Gumby Mobile and started her up. I pulled back out on to the main road and headed back the way I came. I was beginning to see why Michaela Warner, Attorney at Law, was having such difficulties.
I started into the turn in the road that matched the bend in Briar’s creek itself, when a dark green Jeep Liberty cut the turn and nearly hit me. I was able to maneuver the Gumby Mobile away from the Liberty without landing in the creek, and when I got the old Ford stopped I was facing the way I had just come, but in the wrong lane. I stared at the Liberty trying to get a plate number with no luck. It pulled up to the call box at Gerry’s compound and I stomped on the gas. The Gumby Mobile responded with a buck and a stall. I saw the gate open and the Liberty pulled forward. I turned the key several times and the engine sparked to life on the eighth try. It didn’t matter though as I watched the gate close and lock. I looked in folder to see if I had missed and other vehicle information, but I hadn’t. Well, someone besides Gerry had access to his gate.
I didn’t get much else accomplished that day. I called Michaela with no answer. I left a message to see if she had anything on the Liberty and drove back to Joey’s guest house to throw together a gym bag of work out necessities. Heading into downtown Port Rishile, I steered toward Joey’s school to get started on my physical rehabilitation. I hadn’t picked up a stick, gone through forms, nor even done any simple bag work in about a year. I figured it was time.
Joey’s main school located in refurbished dockside warehouse. The lake front was undergoing redevelopment, transforming the old dock warehouses that were idle and empty into either commercial or luxury residential properties. What had once been swamped in the commerce and commotion of the Great Lakes shipping industry now lay barren. The rejuvenation movement had started when I left the area and Joey had gotten in early. The warehouse she was located in was a co-op of several businesses, from a gourmet coffee café to a small farmers’ market. It was quite an eclectic conglomerate. Her school was located lakeside and the furthest from the parking lot. I think it was the extra weight and lowered lung capacity that made me notice that.
I entered the dojo, bowing in respect before I crossed the threshold. I took off my shoes and socks, stuffed the socks in the shoes, and placed them in the shoe rack that was next to the door. There was the main work out deck was about forty feet by twenty feet and it was the dominating feature of the room. I saw Joey in front of twenty judo gi clad individuals leading them through the warm ups. Fifty pushups, fifty sit-ups, followed by fifty Japanese rows, fifty Hindu squats, then start again. I felt tired already from watching their exertions. I followed the edge of the main deck, going past a smaller work out area where small free weights were fighting off a horde of invading Wave Master standing bags that were, in turn, dodging a couple of Muay Thai style hanging bags. Just beyond the battling sports equipment was little hall hiding in the back. The hall contained changing rooms on the left and guest area with a small couch, a table and a scattering of plastic chairs where people could watch the class. Ahead was a small flight of stairs that went to a smaller, second floor room. Joey used the room for private lessons and she had spent some money on its old style dojo décor.
I poked into Joey’s office, spotting and grabbing a pair of rattan kali sticks leaning against her desk, and then went upstairs. I bowed and saluted in respect again before crossing the threshold of this room as well. The hardwood floor was cool on my bare feet as I began to jog the perimeter of the twenty by twenty foot room, cradling the sticks in the webbing of my thumbs and suspending them above my head. I could feel the extra weight of the fat I carried bounce as I tried to get the blood flowing. It was like jogging with over filled, hot water bottles duck taped to my chest, abdomen, and thighs. Joey was sort of close to her guess on my added padding. Since the shooting, I had shot up from two hundred and twenty pounds to almost two sixty; it’s amazing at how short of a time span was necessary for your body to go to hell, especially when you punish it with food, drink, tobacco, and bullets.
After about five minutes, I was breathing heavy. Back in the day, I would not have broken a sweat yet. I stopped to catch my breath, trying to inhale deeply and only my right lung responding to the command. I held my head back to maximize the openness of my windpipe. As the agony of breathing continued, I fantasized about junk food. I could smell the burgers and fries that were dripping with fat, beckoning to be ingested. My stomach growled and I salivated as the smell became part of my reality. My inner demon stoked the fires of desire, morphing the fantasy to include alcohol. The bouquet from the imaginary glass of bourbon tickled my nostrils as it sat next to a medium cooked, 1 lb. cheeseburger full of fixings with a bucket-load of fries caressing the sides of the beef, absorbing the flowing juices.
I felt my breathing return to manageable and I took strength from that. Pushing my inner demon back into the darkness of my mind, I started moving my body again. I started the double stick drills, beginning with the warm-up exercises. Once I felt that my arms and shoulder were loose, I began forming the attack patterns. The sticks moved with practiced ease and I was starting to regain my confidence. I began to trace a triangle pattern on the floor with my feet, adding mobility to my attacks. My mind kept it cadence of both feet and hands, and the darkness in my mind began to fade. Slide across the base, One strike, Two strike. Step back on the angle, jab, One strike, switch the feet. Step forward on the angle, Two strike, jab. Slide across the base, Nine thrust, Two strike. The muscle hadn’t forgotten which pleased me—the first real pleasure I felt in a while.
I was breathing hard again, but I ignored it this time, weaving a diamond out of two triangles. I expanded the pattern to include hour glass on either point of the diamond. Occasionally I would turn and shoot out a heel. This allowed me to turn my body ninety degrees off centerline and drop my weight into a power strike that would crush a bowling ball, so I told myself. My chest began to spasm as the diaphragm sent signals to the lungs. The right lung responded, while the left faltered. The demon began to claw his way back into my brain. I looked at the time, only ten minutes had elapsed. I ground my teeth together and tried to push, but I found myself gulping for air. The spasm became more intense, leading into a full lock up of my diaphragm. I dropped the sticks and tried to inhale, nothing. No air seemed to pass in or out of my windpipe. I put my hands on my knees trying to keep myself on my feet. Gray started to appear at the edges of my vision, indicating a black out coming on. My inner demon giggled at my worsening condition. I tried to shut him out, but his cackle scraped in my head.
I detected motion in my periphery and turned to see what it was. For a second, I thought I saw dark colored tie and suit coat. I my blinked eyes to see if I could focus on whatever it was, but nothing was there. I looked about the small room and found it to be void of anything but myself. I wondered if I was becoming hypoxic and it was then I realized I was breathing again. My chest ached from the spasm, but I was drawing air in again. I rested my head against the wall and let my breath out slowly, appreciating the life giving gas as it passed from my windpipe to my lips.
My inner demon retreated some; his cackle was gone but he was tickling my desire for bad food and worse drink. I felt at this point if I gave him something, he’d leave me alone. I picked up the sticks and headed back down to Joey’s office. I deposited the sticks where I had found them and retrieved my bag. It took only a few minutes in the changing room to become restaurant acceptable and I deposited my bag with its newly scented workout shirt back in Joey’s office on my way out the door. I saw Joey look in my direction, trying to get my attention with her expression, but I tunneled my vision because didn’t want to engage in a conversation that would deprive me red meat and cholesterol. The demon needed a sacrifice that would hopefully shield my sanity. I took the door leading into the co-op. I seemed to remember about halfway back to the parking area was a burger place and the saturated fat was calling my name.
I sat at one of ten tables in my new favorite place, The Junk Food Junction. I became giddy as I looked over the menu. I made a promise about booze not food and ordered what the menu called The Heart Crusher. A one pound burger encased American, Swiss, Colby, and Mozzarella; along with mayo, ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce applied with a paint sprayer; followed by a leaf of lettuce, fried onions, and dill slices. This construction sat between a massive, well toasted, and heavily buttered sesame roll. I felt this, plus the cheddar smothered bacon fries, should keep the demon at bay for some time. Salivation began and blood filled my cheeks and lips. A very pretty and rather tiny girl that looking like she was half way through high school, walked my plate out. Her size made my order look as if was being served on a flat car. She placed it in front of me and I was on the verge of bliss. She smiled and placed a pile of napkins with some silverware next to the plate. She vanished, leaving me with the caloric nuke in front of me and my finger on the trigger.
I saw the bounce of brown hair that looked like Joey’s, walking through the crowd outside the Junction. Fear spiked and I started stuffing my face. The force of Joey’s personality was always so… forceful. When she was right, it was gospel and she was smart enough to stick to topics that she knew she was right. I could sense that was the position she was taking on my rehab and I knew in my heart that I could have no one better in charge of it. The demon spiked my food lust and the need gobble my food before she could find me responded.
She turned and I knew at that moment I was busted, except I wasn’t. She was facing a man in a tan colored long sleeve and black pants standing near the exit of the Junction. His back was to me but I could make out his black hair kempt close to his head and combed straight, but I suspected that it would have been curly orb on the gentleman’s head without meticulous care. He had an olive quality to his skin, suggesting a mediteraean heritage. Joey began talking and smiling to the gentleman, her bright smile visible from here. She approached him, threw her hands around his neck and kissed him with a passion I had never seen from her I sat with my burger in my hand and stared.
They turned toward the southern exit and she looped her arm with his. He extended a white cane with a red tip. I put the burger down as the realization dawned on me that he was blind. They walked away at his pace, with Joey’s head on his shoulder. They disappeared and it took me a moment before looked back at my food. For some reason that I wasn’t quite sure of, I couldn’t eat any further. I felt a vibration in my pocket and drew out the cell phone. It was Kaela texting me that there was no record of Gerry owning a green Liberty.
I paid my check, leaving the obscene amount of food on the table and began my walk to the Gumby Mobile. I found a newspaper stand and bought a copy of the Democrat and Chronicle after I verified that the driving job that I spotted on Monster was listed. I figured I would hit Mr. Furman up at his office tomorrow and drop the papers on him.
As I climbed in the truck, it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying trying to solve the problem. It had kept me off of my mind off the rest of the trash that had cluttered my mind for the last year. It was still there, but it wasn’t stabbing into me like it had. Even with tonight’s failure of my body, the tragedies of the last year felt—lighter. Also seeing Joey with the mystery man and seeing the joy on her face; it gave a warm fuzzy that my best friend had found someone. I rode this positive wave all the way back to the guest house, coming close to breaking out into song.
It was only 9 p.m. when I stepped through the front door. I was starting to feel sick from the food, but I wanted to end on a positive note. I stripped down to my shorts, went out on through the double doors that were in the living room and led out to a brick patio. The summer night air was still warm but not uncomfortable. I moved through all the empty hands forms, letting the body take control and the mind enter the void. I kept the pace at a tortoise crawl, extending the time and keeping the chance of hyperventilating down. The sick feeling in my stomach disappeared. My chest felt relaxed and my lungs were accepting air. When I finished it was twenty to eleven. For the first time in a long time, I felt that my mind quieted. Doubt and fear had given in to a mild peace. I hoped that it was enough to keep the nightmare locked in its box tonight.
The aroma of coffee brewing snapped my eyes into the open position. Sunlight was just starting to come into the window, telling me it was between five and six in the morning. I felt righteous indignation coming on for yet another intrusion into my domicile, but tapped it back into the recesses of my mind before my inner demon could get a hold of it. At least, she didn’t hit me.
I threw on shorts and a T-shirt and proceeded into the kitchen. She sat on one of the stools at the counter, sipping her coffee, paper in hand. Her hair was back in a pony tail and I made the outline of the sports bra she was wearing under an Under Armour short sleeve. I steeled myself.
“Morning,” I said. She had a stern look on her face, the one that she reserved for her teenaged students when they said they couldn’t do pushups. I took a mug that she had placed next to the coffee maker and poured. The Everest of pills was there as well. I scooped them up and tossed them back, washing them down with water from the faucet. I proceeded to stand across from her, drinking the coffee, and waiting for her to begin.
“Do you want to go to breakfast?” she asked, “my treat.” She had a beautiful smile on when she said it, telling me that this was the carrot she chose to dangle. A free breakfast is a pretty good carrot.
“What will I have to do for it?” I asked, waiting for the stick.
“Run,” she said, “We’ll only do three miles.” I sighed a bit. It wasn’t too bad. I knew I needed the cardio and stamina, but I was afraid of locking up my lung again. I also hate running, so I offered another option.
“Let’s try next week. I’ll buy a bicycle and join you. I worked out pretty hard last night and my lung failed me. The body isn’t ready for road work.”
“Ok,” she said, still looking like the skeptical gym teacher reading my pass that exempted me from dodge ball. I’ll give it to her; she was trying to hold back the force of her personality. Her Type-A could overwhelm The Great Wall if it was fully unleashed. I couldn’t fault her on her compassion, it was her lack of tact and absolute confidence in the rightness of her opinion that I took issue with. She offered an olive branch.
“Still want breakfast?”
“Thank you, no. I want to get a jump on these divorce papers.” She smiled and I knew I was forgiven for not running her morning marathon with her.
“Next week?” She asked.
“I promise.” I said, “We can test what the body can do and go from there.”
“Okay,” she said. She got up and started for the door. She stopped as she opened the door halfway and turned back.
“Zeke,” she said and I gave her my attention, “Can you come out to dinner tonight?”
“I have no plans,” I said and quirked as she looked away from me, “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” she said, “I want you to meet someone.”
“The very nice looking gentleman I saw you walking away arm in arm?” I asked, giving her a half smile. She looked up and saw it and shied away again. I was amusing to see her act like a teenager.
“I would be honored to meet the man,” I sad.
“Will you play nice?” she asked, giving me a stern look, but it wasn’t real.
“I promise. I will try to keep my tongue in my head,” I said, “Where and when?”
“House of Autumn, seven o’clock?”
“I will be there.”
She smiled and went out the door. When the door hit the jamb stood for a few minutes more and finished my coffee. Once fully caffeinated, I hit the shower and dressed in a shirt and tie—or tried to anyway. I couldn’t button the top button without gagging myself, so I tried to tie the Full Windsor a little wider so it would cover the gap. I looked in the mirror and saw the tie now terminated above my belly button. I stripped it off and went casual. Fortunately my pants were relaxed fit.
Despite my wardrobe malfunctions, I was full of optimism as I drove the Gumby Mobile to the Expedited Package Service’s headquarters in Rochester. Last night ended on a rather positive note and Joey hadn’t chain ganged me into a marathon this morning. Maybe life was on the turn around. Frank popped into my head and guilt started to crawl out of my spine in the form of sweat from my pores. I fought back with the notion that I was on the road to redemption for my crimes. This job was a baby step, with many more to come. Frank still sat there in his wheel chair looking at me and my optimism faded a bit.
My optimism dimmed further when I saw that the employee parking Expedited Package Services was security fenced, complete with a guard house. From my vantage point I couldn’t tell if Gerry’s Escalade was in there. If he was chauffeured like Kaela said, it might not be there anyway. I parked in the visitor’s lot and went in. I saw a baseball hat with a gold shield embroidered on it sitting on top of a set of eyes, which looked like they were sitting on top of a service counter. As I drew closer, the eyes gained a face. It was tanned and clean shaven, with a shape similar to an old fashioned lunch box. The best description of his body would be a bowling ball with legs. Light brown hair peeked out from under the ball cap, and I read the name of the company interwoven into the badge in blue letters: Broden Security Services.
Thinking it was like a UPS or FedEx terminal, I stood at the counter and waited for a service rep to come out. None showed. I looked at the security guard and he ignored me. I glanced around the room, taking in the layout. One door directly behind the guard, two more doors were to my left, and bathrooms were to my right. I heard the low rumble of diesels and the aroma of exhaust told me that the two doors to my left were the docks, so I was hoping that door number behind the guard was where the elusive Gerry Furman was. I stood there for another minute with nothing still happening after which I figured I should start talking.
“I came in to apply for the package van driver position.” I said. Bowling Ball looked up at me and stared. I stared back at him.
“What position?” Bowling Ball grumbled, confirming my suspicions as a pillar of intellect.
“The driving one,” I said, holding up my print out, “and since you are either derelict in your responsibilities as a greeter or they just don’t trust you to not screw it up, can you call for someone who actually knows what is going on?” I played a hunch since he was a contractor security guy that he wasn’t fully in the know—plus I was sure he didn’t know what the word derelict meant. There was only a phone and a CCTV screen on the desk area; I saw no calendars or appointment books in front of him so I was pretty sure he wasn’t the real gate keeper. He looked at me and I returned it with a glare. He picked up the phone.
“I have someone out for a meeting.”
The door opened within a matter of minutes of the guard replacing the receiver. Out walked a stunning woman with raven black hair made up for business and confidence blazing from the emerald gems she had for eyes. The suit she wore was worth several hundred I estimated, which was making my off the rack Burlington close-out jacket cower in fear. Her eyes narrowed when she looked into my face, scanning for something. She hit on it and her eyebrows rose widening the display cases for her emerald eyes. They returned to business as she spoke.
“I am Kara Dobroff. I’m the Human Resources Department for EPS,” she said, “I don’t seem to remember any meetings scheduled for today.” Her voice was powerful, sensual, and intelligent. There was a familiarity to it that I couldn’t place, though. The combination of the eyes, the suit, and the voice had me disarmed. I started to speak, hoping my voice wouldn’t squeak in front of her.
“No, I said that I wanted to apply for the driving position. Your greeter is not quite aware of the term customer service,” I said. He began to stand, but she waved him down.
“Please come in,” she said and motioned for me to follow, “we can have you start filling out the application.” I fell in behind her and stuck my tongue out at the guard as I passed.
The office area was more elegant than I expected. The steel blue carpet masked our steps that had been so evident on the vinyl floor in the front. It still had the modern cubicle design to it, but the four cubicles in the office were an oak veneer face and a finished molding on the top and sides, instead of the white metal or fabric board small offices are so fond of. Two cubicles were occupied two were empty. Ms. Dobroff placed me in one of these cubicles which was situated next to the standard glass and metal door marked in brilliant red, “Fire Exit”. As I passed her, I detected a hint of jasmine that sent my memory on rewind. The right combination of blurry images blended together and it hit me.
“Are you still okay?” I asked. She blushed as our eyes met again, but for the first time with recognition.
“Yes,” She said quietly, “thank you again.” Embarrassment shaded her face and she looked down and away.
“Carl… was an old friend of mine from college,” she said, “we were…”
I put a finger to her shoulder and gave her a gentle nudge. The gesture interrupted her and brought her attention back to me, which I happily accepted. Another waft of jasmine washed over me and I breathed deeply taking aroma in; it was becoming an intoxicant.
“No need to explain to a stranger and a potential employee,” I said, “and no one has the right to hurt someone else like that,” I thought for a moment and added, “I was a little inebriated too. Perhaps I could have handled it better.”
“No, no… it’s…” she started and cut off what she was going to say. We had a second more of awkward silence and I figured a change of subject was in order.
“I would see if your security company could send a thug that could at least work as a proper front man,” I said, “especially if what I read about the ambitions of EPS is true.”
“I agree,” she said with a slight sigh, “we’ve had some shrinkage recently and Mr. Furman brought in the security company; an old friend of his.”
“No,” she laughed and my heart skipped a beat, “Broden Security. Mr. Furman is an old friend of Michael Broden, the security company’s owner.”
“A little nepotism?” I asked.
“Nothing like the Old Boys Networking to cut some costs. Unfortunately, Broden was not my first choice,” said Leanna.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“They have a decent track record, but there are two ro three other companies that had better credentials,” she replied.
“Is that how EPS makes its money? Cutting costs? Buying on the cheap? Forgive me saying, but your wardrobe is quite stunning… and expensive.” I said. Her smile brightened and her cheeks colored.
“It is one of the ways, running lean. Maximizing the labor we get out of people, but we don’t short change safety. That’s why I am the HR Department; no assistant, no secretary. We work our people hard, but we reward it in our pay and benefits package,” she said, “and yes, my last incentive check paid for the clothes.” She did a slight turn from side to side and I think I blushed. The room had definitely gotten warmer. She flashed a teasing smile and disappeared as I sat down at the lonely, empty desk that occupied the cubicle. She reappeared with an application in hand.
“Have you had at least one year’s driving experience with a package car or heavier?” she asked.
“Yes, down in Tucson. I drove a box truck,” Once, when they let me back up the S.W.A.T. truck. No need for the details.
“Good. When you are finished, come over to my office. Name’s on the door,” she said, pointing to another set of doors in a small hall. I had to stand up to see the line of her point. It also gave me an excuse to inhale her perfume again—jasmine, I think.
I watched as walked to where she indicated, she stepped through one of the doors, and closed it. I did the good old fashion look both ways to see if anyone was paying attention and proceeded with my plan when I realized the other two cubicles had emptied after I came in. I walked by Leanna’s door betting Gerry’s office was here as well. I wasn’t disappointed as I saw his name on the door. I turned the knob and stepped in. It was empty. No Gerry. Curses! My brain yelped. My inner demon gloated. Shut up, you. I thought.
I went over to the desk and tried to find a datebook or calendar. None were visible. A briefcase was next to the desk. A plus for me since it was evidence that I was close and Gerry had to be here. Breaking my concentration was the whoosh! of a toilet flushing. My head snapped to the side and noticed for the first time another door. I got excited and stepped around the desk and stood in front the bathroom door. It was now a simple matter of waiting for the bathroom door to open.
“What the hell are you doing?” said the guard from the door. I turned as he rolled toward me on small tree trunks.
“I have to talk to…” I began to say, but he cut me off with a bellow.
“Stay in there, sir! We have an intruder!” the guard shouted. I looked back at the bathroom door. I heard the clicking sound of a lock being engaged. Dammit! I cursed in my head. The guard was charging toward me cutting me off from escape. When he was a step away from me I hooked my foot on his heel before he had put of his weight down and pulled it. The guard fell forward as his fell in to a split. A combination of a gargled grunt and the tearing of pants emanated from the guard.
I watched for a second as the guard couldn’t figure which was more important; the holding his hyperextended limbs or the covering his one-size-too-small briefs. I looked back at the bathroom door and stepped over the guard to reach it. I proceeded to knock.
“Mr. Furman,” I said. Silence answered.
“Mr. Furman, I’m here to serve you some divorce papers,” I said louder. No sound came from inside. I stood straining to hear something, and I did. It was the front door opening followed by a well-practiced command voice.
“Police, is everyone okay?”
That afternoon I sat once again in front of Michaela Warner, Attorney at Law. I reassessed her looks and demeanor and determined that I had been correct the first time, even with my judgment clouded by a hangover. I watched as she took a mammoth pile of file folders and went to her motley crew of file cabinets.
“You smell better, at least,” said Michaela, opening a drawer and shuffling the files around and placing one of the overstuffed file folders in its proper place.
“I have had a shower or two since our last meeting.”
“I take it you didn’t put the papers on him?” she asked, slamming the drawer a couple of times to get it to close.
“No, not quite,” I said. She shoehorned the last file into another overfilled file cabinet, this one an abused and ancient wooden monstrosity.
“I have a favor to ask,” I said.
“You are working for me, you do realize,” she said, putting her weight into closing the file drawer. It thumped closed and she walked around me and her desk and sat down in her chair.
“I am,” I said, keeping my sarcasm out, “but I don’t have the resources available that I had in Tucson. I am trying to build bridges though.”
“I heard,” she said as she started pulling file folders from a void that I assumed was a desk drawer and placing them out in front of her. I started to wonder how many trees were killed in a month to make all the documents that lawyers kept.
“They didn’t arrest me,” I said.
“You assaulted a guard.”
“The guard clearly injured himself when he slipped,” I flashed a half smile, but she wasn’t paying attention, “and he couldn’t articulate exactly how I caused his injury. I technically I didn’t trespass either since the lovely Ms. Dobroff invited me back.”
“Enough. You are not anywhere near as charming as you think you are,” she asked. She continued her work on the files, opening and leafing through pages, scanning the words.
“I’m insulted,” I said.
“I don’t care,” she said, “the idea behind hiring you, was to alleviate my workload, not add to it.”
“Then can I ask a favor?”
“If the favor is to fire you, I’m thinking it’s more of a favor to me.”
“No, I’d like to speak with Ellen,” I said. She stopped and looked up at me.
“You are joking,” she stated flatly.
“I want to see if there is a habit of Gerry’s I could exploit… maybe a favorite bar or restaurant?”
“No,” she said, still not looking at me.
“No, there is no favorite bar or restaurant? Or no, I can’t see Ellen?” I asked.
“No, you can’t see Ellen,” she said, holding up a form, narrowing her eyes in concentration.
“Look, you know as well as I do the property is a no go. I was close today and just had the bad luck of Gerry being indisposed. You want this done quick, so I need some information that could help me accomplish this,” I said.
Without looking up from the document, she gave me a somewhat dismissive, “No.”
“Why?” I asked, slightly puzzled and more than slightly annoyed.
She set the paper aside and looked at me.
“I don’t think you have the right mind set to talk to a battered woman. I feel you will do more damage,” she said.
“So you feel that my inner misogynist will rear its ugly head, emotionally rape the helpless victim, and leave her in a pool of shame and self loathing,” I said, cutting free my sardonic tone, “it is quite fortunate that Ellen has such a self righteous champion to protect her soul.” She shot up out of her chair like a high school freshman ready to throw down. I stayed seated; no need to get my ass beat by a lawyer.
“Michaela,” I said, “I am really trying to help, despite my overly honed sense of sarcasm. I can do this. Just a little info. If I strike out on the next chance, it should be more than enough for you to go to the judge and get them to sign off.”
She stood behind the desk folding her arms then placing them on the desk and leaning in. I kept my eyes focused on hers, in case my inner misogynist tried to peek at her cleavage.
“I’ll call her.”
“Soon? There’s still daylight left,” I said. She opened her mouth to say something but I cut her off.
“How long can she hold it together?” I asked. I played the card properly.
“You’re a bastard,” she said.
“No,” I said, “an orphan.”
She didn’t quite know how to answer that, so she settled for staring. I got up and started for the door.