The next morning, Saturday, it was after 11AM when I finally came to in my little-boy bed. The TV was still on with the sound muted. Some angular cartoon characters ran around silently raising hell in their 2D world. I found the remote twisted into the blanket and put them out of my misery. I checked the clock again and couldn’t believe I’d slept so late. Tossed a robe on over my boxers and stumbled out into the living room.
A note on the dining room table informed me that Mother would be gone most of the day visiting Aunt Zelda in Chagrin Falls. I said a little prayer of thanks that she hadn’t asked me to join her. I needed coffee—wanted good coffee—and then remembered my mother only drank instant. I boiled just enough water in the kettle to fill a big mug and poured it onto a double portion of mountain-grown freeze-dried crystals. While stirring a spoon in the mug to get rid of that nasty instant coffee foam, I opened the morning paper that Mother had left on the kitchen counter.
The photo I’d selected of Jill’s former Senator-now-our-President looked just right for the front-page; I hadn’t embarrassed Bob Randall or myself. And with an ironic twist, I had fleetingly given Jill what she wanted from me. Not that she would ever know. Or ever care.
I got comfortable at the dining room table; Saturday morning peace and quiet in the old bathrobe, reading the paper with a hot mug of coffee. Last night’s torment faded away as I lingered over stories I didn’t even care about. I decided to really kill some time and check out the box scores and stats on all the sports teams.
Front-page center of the SPORTS section featured a photo from last night’s Stanley Cup game. He caught my attention first. Front row. Center ice. Mr. Spiffy in his Italian suit. Standing and yelling with his fist in the air. And sitting next to him. Wearing those dark glasses. Andrea. No doubt about that this time.
In the adjoining box seat section, fans were up and scrambling and jumping out onto the ice. I hurriedly read the photo caption and the accompanying story. Some whack-job had pulled a .38 revolver and shot the person in front of him—a local wiseguy—point-blank in the back of the head. Amid the freeze frame of frenetic chaos, Andrea just sat there. Cool. Calm. Beautiful. Those pictures on Bob Randall’s desk exploded back into my brain and I broke out in a nauseous cold sweat.
Jesus Christ on crutches.
That was Andrea in all those other pictures.
I took a deep breath.
Okay, Tommy, don’t go to pieces here.
There must be a logical explanation.
Yeah, and none of them good.
In my room, I whipped off my robe and threw it in the corner. I pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. Then I stumbled back up the hallway as I scuffed my bare feet into a pair of moccasins. I grabbed my jacket and the newspaper SPORTS section, then shambled out the front door.
I ran to the corner and squeezed through the half-closed doors of the 11:52 Metro Bus. Luckily, I had some change buried in my jacket pocket to cover the fare. Walking to a seat, absentmindedly staring at that SPORTS front page, I stumbled over some lady’s canvas shopping bag lying in the aisle and scattered a few cans of baby peas under her seat. I bent down to gather them up, but she pushed me away and muttered some Polish epithet. I found a seat and made myself stay in it.
The rhythm of the ride got me singing that kids’ song about ‘the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round’ and after a few blocks, I regained some composure. Watching the world go by, I asked myself where I was going and what the hell I thought I was going to do when I got there. The answers popped up quick enough: I was going to the newspaper building, Bob Randall’s office, to lay those three other pictures of Andrea alongside today’s SPORTS section and…and …and then…I had no idea what I was going to do after that.
The old woman with the canvas shopping bag turned around every so often to shoot daggers at me. Twenty minutes passed and the bus stopped at the weather shed across the street from the newspaper building. I paused next to the old woman’s seat on my way off the bus, thinking I’d apologize again. She glared at me one last time.
“Careful,” I whispered, “you might be next.”
I jogged to the front door, dug in my pockets and discovered that I’d left my passkey back at Mother’s house. I pressed the buzzer next to the double glass doors and the security guard swiveled around to face me.Good ‘ole Gus. He buzzed me in and smiled as I crossed the lobby.
“Don’t you ever go home, Gus?”
“Why, what a silly question, Mr. Bruschi, of course I go home. Would you like a jelly doughnut? Got them fresh this morning.”
That jelly doughnut sounded like the best thing in the world right then, a piece of reality to sink my teeth into.
“Yeah, thanks, Gus,” I said.
I ate the doughnut slowly, deliberately, like a convict’s last meal, not wanting it to be gone for apprehension of what might come after.
Gus silently watched me until I was almost finished.
“Working, Mr. Bruschi,” he said, “or did you just forget something?”
I licked the last bit of jelly off my finger.
“That’s a good question, Gus. Am I working, or have I lost my mind?”
Gus cocked an eyebrow at that non sequitur.
“Well, you gonna be long?”
“I don’t know, Gus. But I’m betting you’re still here when I’m done.”
Old Gus laughed.
“Yeah, you’re probably right about that Mr. Bruschi.”
I climbed the stairs, cracked open one of the swinging doors of the newsroom and slipped inside. Uncharacteristic calm filled the air, sprinkled with the sounds of building maintenance cleaning up, someone in a cubicle talking on the phone, and a TV somewhere at the back of the room airing updates on the hockey game murder. No one but Gus had seen me come in, and it was going to stay that way. With a watchful eye, I padded around the perimeter of the newsroom to Bob Randall’s office.
I gently closed the office door and closed the blinds on the newsroom windows. Bob’s desk was in worse shape than I remembered leaving it last night. On top of the mess lay the stack of pictures featuring Andrea. I got on the other side of the desk ready to compare them all with today’s published photo and and then realized that I had left my sports section downstairs with Gus’s jelly doughnuts. I peeked out the office door, made sure the coast was clear, slipped out, grabbed a morning paper from a stack nearby, and then whooshed back in.
After spreading the SPORTS section flat on the desk, I arranged the three Andrea photos in a circle around the picture of the hockey game. There was no doubt about it. It was the same woman in all the pictures.
It was Andrea.
My mind did a wobbly, kid’s pinwheel kind of spin trying to comprehend what I was seeing.
The first concept that leapt to mind was pretty lame: So, what? It could happen. In a city of millions, random events occur and the same innocent bystander just happens to show up. Repeatedly.
Yeah, that could happen. I don’t know in what kind of crazy world, but it could happen.
I studied the photos again. Andrea struck a passive pose in all of them, even casually surveying the carnage at the pizza parlor like she’d seen death and mayhem a thousand times. But Mr. Spiffy was totally involved in the hockey game fracas, fired up and in the middle of it. I studied that picture closer, hoping to find some clue. The big lug looked to be aiming his verbal fury at a figure in an arena jumpsuit running out of frame. A swarthy, stout, jug-eared, rough type. The Russian Mob.
Andrea is trapped.
She wants out.
She was hiding from Mr. Spiffy that night we met at The Liar’s Club.
She wanted us to help her.
Was she hoping I could help her?
It occurred to me that Bernie must have found out something about Andrea last night from Doreen that could now be an important piece of the puzzle. When I picked up the phone, I realized I didn’t know Bernie’s new number—I didn’t need to, he always called me. I put the phone down. What was Bernie going to tell me, anyway? That Andrea was being held against her will by the Russian Mafia? Or that she was a serial killer? Or just a garden variety, bloodthirsty voyeur?
Or, would Bernie say, “Tommy, you gotta get out more.”
A throbbing headache had wrapped around my skull like a turban. I dug through Bob Randall’s desk, found a bottle of aspirin, chucked three and washed them down with the melted ice from yesterday’s lunch coke. I stretched out on Bob’s office couch to wait for the pain to go away and sank into oblivion.
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