Authors: A.J. Lape
“Wife?” I asked. He nodded with a smirk. She was pretty, I guess, in a space cadet sort of way. She appeared around thirty years younger with dark hair, dark lips, and a white form-fitting dress cut down to her pregnant navel. “What’s the story with the other guys?”
Both dinner guests were textbook Italian. One man gazed square in the camera, a cigar held in his lips by a hand that had been scarred and twisted by some horrific accident. His hair was slicked back to the scalp, and his face cut into hard lines reminiscent of seeing—and participating in—a life without moral boundaries. The profile of the other male revealed dang little other than a graying military cut. What features resided, however, defined cold-hearted, and a gander at his bulging biceps suggested he worked as someone’s heavy.
“Two different mob families,” Lincoln responded. “Turkey has run deals for both, but from what we can tell, he’s now mostly an envoy for a third party.”
I didn’t know whether to hire a security detail or ask for an introduction. “And he’s alive?” I guffawed. “That’s what I’d call some serious talent. What gives?”
Lincoln remained close-mouthed, clicking his jaw a few times before answering, “Both families are concerned this third family is getting too big. Exactly what they are proposing isn’t yet clear.”
I held up a black-and-white photograph of two boys and two girls walking up the steps to a private high school. The boys donned dark blazers, khakis, and ties. The girls wore white blouses and plaid skirts with knee socks and penny loafers. They’d just exited a dark limousine with a smiling Turkey waving from a rolled down window. “Children?” I asked.
Lincoln’s face took on a paternal protectiveness. “Four out of six. Their mother’s alive and well, still cooking dinner, and totally oblivious to wife number two.”
, I shuddered,
as they say, the wife’s always the last to know
Lincoln slid over another shot of whom I assumed was the wife the law deemed legitimate. She looked matronly with short dark hair, a plump face and body, but an otherwise sincere smile. Why, oh why, did men look for a younger squeeze when the wife piled on the pounds?
“Butthead,” I mumbled.
Thankfully, Lincoln didn’t attempt to sanitize my mouth.
Honestly, I understood the confusion with the case. Overall, the family appeared boringly normal, not the family of a career criminal. And, for that matter, Turkey seemed normal, too, as he waved out the window while his children went to school. His face appeared softer—less like a skunk—and more like a proud father of his progeny. The photograph didn’t show how he’d dressed, but my guess was the skunk tail lay hidden away along with his alter ego.
I laid the photograph back down, when a fifth—obviously stuck underneath—fluttered to the table.
Dead man, sunny side up, literally with a heavy chalk outline drawn around him. The side of his face looked like it had been filleted, pulled back like a freaking tuna can. I swallowed hard, convincing my breakfast to stay south.
Lincoln looked like he’d thrown an embolism. “Sorry, kiddo,” he gasped, snatching the photograph from my hand. “I’m usually better at hiding my job.”
“I don’t scare easily.”
“You don’t,” he repeated.
“No, I just catalogue this stuff in my
People are Evil
He drew the pic up to his eyes. “I need to figure out who he is.”
Don’t hold your breath on that one
, I thought.
I anxiously rapped my fingers on the tray table. “What is it about Turkey that allows him to swim with the sharks without being eaten alive? I mean, his last name is Cardoza. That’s Spanish. Yet he’s representing a family that’s Italian?”
Lincoln chuckled deeply, “I’d forgotten how astute you are.”
Awwwww. Astute sounded nice, but it was more like a badger that wouldn’t let go of a snake.
He didn’t speculate a guess but acted as if he still knew the answer. If anyone could dissect Turkey’s particular idiosyncrasies, it would be Lincoln. He grew up in the Compton area of LA. If you didn’t join a street gang, you didn’t survive … but Lincoln hadn’t and was somehow still breathing. As a matter of fact, he’d successfully coexisted, and when he earned his badge, he took down those he thought were the worst—leaving the others to live by their own rules. But let’s be real, the man had to have gotten dirty somewhere along the way. No one was
Lincoln blinked hard then gazed out the window, as though he was thinking about a particular incident he’d rather forget. “This trip came at the right time, Darcy. Turkey’s put out the word he’s gunning for my partner and me, and the best thing to do is place some distance between all of us. Turkey would never look for me here.”
Lincoln’s face coated in head-to-toe frustration while I secretly said in my head,
Please come, and let me shoot a gun
. “At least, you’ve got two weeks to relax,” I smiled.
“I don’t understand the term, dear,” he chuckled. He fished his hand down in his pocket, pulling out a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum, offering me the first piece. “Do you want some gum? I chew four packs a day when I’m anxious.”
I’d had four cups of coffee in two hours. There was a good chance my mouth smelled like a cigarette butt.
A trip to the restroom later, I wheeled my bag outside and telephoned Murphy to communicate we’d landed safely. Then I punched in 411 and got the number for Lola Medina. Did I have a plan? No. Did I pray one would materialize if she answered? Heck, yeah.
The airport felt hotter than Hades. My underarms took on a strange funk while sweat rolled down my back like a leaky faucet. Twitchy with apprehension, I dialed and after five rings was greeted with a cough that resembled an asthma attack, then an aggravated sigh. “Hullo?” she muttered.
Somebody pinch me.
“Lola Medina?” I asked.
She didn’t have to voice anything; the vibe through the receiver smelled of suspicion. After a New York minute, she stiffly said, “Yes?”
I picked at my nails—hoping to sound professional—then spit out a reply. “I’m going to find your son.” What I recognized as Spanish curse words filled the dead space, followed by an avalanche of tears and a disconnection. Talk about tearing at your heartstrings. For some reason, I remembered that chapter in
Alice in Wonderland
Pool of Tears
. Alice had fallen down the rabbit hole and is trapped, depressed, with no way out, and swimming in her own sadness.
I choked down the hysteria but told myself three times,
You’re doing the right thing
. Maybe that explained away my own brand of conviction, but people like me didn’t boast a lot of success stories. We were the ones that got patted on the head with a look of sympathy that said,
. I surprised even myself with the strategies I’d use, but for some reason I had the consuming need to help this woman. Trouble was, I needed to formulate a plan of action before my good intentions went haywire and bit me in the rear.
Lincoln and I met eyes while he checked out the bestseller section at Hudson Bookstore. He returned a hardback book to its shelf then waved me toward him, but as I bent down to retrieve my bag, I inadvertently knocked it onto the rolling sidewalk. I quickly jumped onboard to retrieve it, but three businessmen suddenly clustered together like sardines in a can. Squeezing around them, I hurdled over a toddler, veered left, and ran into what felt like the entire offensive line of a professional football team. The air left my body in a hiss, my heart pounding so loud I think they heard it in Africa.
“Watch out!” the ‘offensive line’ screamed. This man stood two heads taller than me, attractive enough in a pinstriped black suit, but was Pit Bull mean. And here I was, trying to be a hero. I fought the urge to slap the jerk because he went on and on about how stupid I was. Maybe so, but no one liked a face-rubber. When his voice reached a more threatening octave, my fear grew like a fungus. My word, he planned to hit me … his intentions written all over his blood-red face. When he backed me up against my luggage, I choked out an apology, but he snorted and launched spittle in my eyes followed by another, “You’re an idiot.”
Right when I told him to kiss my you-know-what (seriously, I just let that crap fly), Lincoln exploded onto the scene with the snarling face of a butcher. With one angry hand, he leapt over the railing, corralling my runaway bag, and inserted himself between us.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” he sneered. The man took one gaze at Lincoln’s flexed fists and looked like he’d just wet his pants. On paper, this shouldn’t be a fair fight—he stood massively larger than Lincoln—but anger was a funny thing. If you had enough of it, with the attitude to back it up, you could suddenly appear 100 pounds heavier and shrink the size of your opponent to a bedbug. “Apologize to her,” Lincoln demanded. He paused for effect and then bellowed, “
Holy crap … my neck broke out in hives.
The man babbled incoherently—like some Appalachian native handling snakes—while Lincoln continued to carve him up with his eyes. After a few seconds of Holy-God-help-us, I thought it was over … but then the ‘offensive line’ dumbly crowded Lincoln’s personal space. Lincoln threw his head back and laughed like the talking doll Chucky, plotting a plan for world domination. He curled his fingers into a fist, and I dove between them.
LUB IS THE
filet mignon crowd. Trouble was, I grew up in the beans and franks crowd. Where my street’s littered with plastic toys and dead trees, beautiful landscaping crisscrossed through the grounds that’d make God Himself envious. Here, your home’s maintained for you, there’s 24-hour security with a manned gatehouse, and you don’t get in unless your name’s on the invite-list.
Holy cow, can you just say exclusive…
Stationed along the eleven lakes that make up the Lake Butler chain, residents could boat, swim, or water-ski on the body of water of their choice. A private dock in the middle of the neighborhood allowed you to skip from one lake to another via a group of navigable canals. All you had to do was chart where you were going and
an inlet would take you there.
Colton, Dylan, Zander, and I were in their sleek, red, and black 21-foot ski boat, cruising on Lake Butler. Dylan had just finished skiing and attached a double-seater tube for Zander and me. Once he clicked it in place, we cannonballed into the H2O as Dylan hoisted himself back inside the boat.
“Have a good trip,” Dylan winked as we settled inside.
I threw him the peace sign as Colton revved up to our mutually agreed upon speed of 20 miles per hour. Twenty miles per hour seemed like child’s play to me, but to Colton, it was flirting with danger and a trip to the morgue.
Water splashed around us like the French outrunning the guillotine, but it didn’t faze me one bit. In truth, I loved the onslaught of the spray. It could jar you awake from an otherwise spiritually numb existence. I’d practiced shutting myself off for years. Sometimes it worked; others I was left raw with an open wound time refused to heal.
The lake was crowded with boaters today, too. Teenagers joyrode up front, an elderly couple puttered near the shoreline, and dozens of others skied in the main path. Zander and I tangled our hands together as we skipped across the waves, but right when I closed my eyes to YOLO the moment, I heard Colton bellow then felt him zigzag the boat.
Literature claims there’s a foreshadowing of bad before it happens. I watched “bad” unfold in slow motion before my eyes. Colton turned his boat sharply to the left, but not before he hit the wake of those on the opposite side. The tube bounced once, then twice, and the third time we went airborne and zoomed like a hovercraft. Zander’s head bonked with mine, our arms and legs twisted like a pretzel, and we both dove face-first into a watery grave.
And that’s all she wrote…
I stiffened then went limp, my head banging with an instant case of the dizzies when I crashed into the water. Clawing for the surface, my eyes burned with unshed tears as I tried to make sense of what’d happened. It felt as though someone had hit me with a semi-truck, backed up, then ran over me again. Water entered and exited every orifice of my body, but all I could manage to do was think,
Whoa … and my God I need a clean suit.
Alternating between bloody and woozy, I viewed someone shuck their orange life vest and dive off the side of the boat. Something warm, thick, and rancid ran into my mouth, and I briefly thought about Lincoln’s text and the hanging victim, wondering if my head had popped off my shoulders, and splashed like a fish in the lake.
Spitting out blood, my mind started singing the Kumbaya song.
Someone’s cryin’, Lord, Kumbaya
, it sang.
Hum, hum, hum, hum-hum, Kumbaya
Holy. Moly. Even my involuntary thoughts were stupid.