Authors: Jack Parker
Tags: #Mystery, #USA
Scott leaned close to see the text. His brow was furrowed. Neither could find anything particularly revealing or threatening in the few simple sentences on the front.
Wish you were here. See you soon.
It sounded more like a request for a meeting than any sort of ominous demand. Tessa flipped the card over, held it up to the light as she’d done with the first one G.J. had brought her. Sure enough, another Bible verse was etched across the water in faint blue ink.
2 CHRON 7 13-14
“Did you show this to anyone?” Tessa asked.
“No, I’ve showed no one,” G.J. said, “except you. Dad wasn’t too happy when he started looking for the other card.”
G.J. held out a hand, clearly expecting Tessa to give him something. “I need it back.”
“I don’t have it.”
His shoulders stiffened. “What?”
Scott’s eyes followed the conversation like a man watches a tennis match. If he’d drawn his own conclusions about the cryptic conversation, he wisely kept them to himself.
“I don’t have it,” she affirmed.
Leaning forward, G.J. put his nose inches from her face. “Why do you think they found her in New York? Harlem is Harlem, right? That was so there was no mistaking who’s responsible.”
Tessa clenched her eyes tight, as if this simple act would change what he was saying. North Harlem in Chicago was rich with Italian influence, a part of Little Italy. An area peppered with the best… and the worst that Italy had to offer.
Scott’s face was all innocence, “Who is ‘they’?”
A long uncomfortable pause followed before the response, “Everyone knows better than to ask.” G.J. threw up his hands in an expressive gesture. “I never should have involved you. Don’t play games, Contessa. Give me…”
Eyes narrowed, a small growl escaped her; this is what she hated. One can talk for hours and still walk away knowing nothing. Some were willing to speak of what went on, but nobody was willing to utter a name.
“My name is Tessa!” she snapped.
“Fine,” he glared back, “you want no part of us or them, then you’d better leave.”
The meeting was clearly over. Wisely, Scott remained quiet as he followed Tessa to the door and out into the street.
A few streetlights blinked on in response to the growing dusk. They walked back towards the newspaper office in silence. Tessa felt cold, perhaps it was fear, perhaps rejection. Either way, she crossed her arms in deference to the imagined chill.
“I take it, that didn’t go as planned.” Scott said.
“Ya think?” she responded wryly.
“So, I guess the Perellis have more than one postcard? What did you do with the other one?”
She looked at the man beside her and wondered again if she could trust him. Maybe it was too late to second-guess. “I hid it.”
From the corner of her eye she could see how much her evasion irritated her companion. How long he’d be able to hold back the reporter instinct to question? Her money was on two minutes.
They were at the front of the Tribune building, but Tessa didn’t go through the front doors; instead, she walked on towards the garage. Scott followed, finally asking, “You going to tell me where?”
The electric lights of the garage were bright, and Tessa wrinkled her nose at the smell of exhaust. “Where did you park?” she asked.
“Second level.” Scott answered on reflex, then skewed his brow in curiosity. The obvious ‘why?’ lingered at the tip of his tongue, but he suspected he would be privy to more if he tucked away the journalistic tendencies and went along for the proverbial ride; so together they started climbing the ramp.
A black Mercedes drove by. Tessa waved at the man behind the wheel before walking down the row of cars. Scott’s Alpha Romeo was in sight, and she quickened her pace to almost a trot by the time she reached the Spider. With a flick of her wrist, she opened the trunk.
“Wait a minute!” Scott exclaimed as she started moving his things, “How did you do that?”
“Honey, everybody can do that.” She pulled the original Navy Pier postcard from his gym bag. “I put it here yesterday when you were at the press conference.”
And now, it was Scott’s turn to wonder about the person he stood beside. He snatched the card and tried to see what the fuss was about. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
“I didn’t give it to you,” she said, “but I couldn’t very well leave it at my condo either. Don’t panic, people around here won’t think of you being involved.”
He noted the odd writing, and then asked the question most on his mind, “Why’d you leave the note on my windshield?”
“Yeah, the warning note; the ‘e’ is the same.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A squeal of brakes punctuated her vague denial, if that’s what it was. Scott and Tessa both turned towards the sound. Like a movie running in slow motion, she saw the flash of metal and smelled the burn of rubber just before she heard the gunshot.
On reflex, Scott dropped into a protective crouch. Grabbing Tessa’s arm, he dragged her down with him, pressing her body against the rear door of the neighboring car. His head turned and his eyes scanned the dimly lit garage, looking for the source of the gunshot.
An engine revved and a car sped past with a flash of blue. Scott thought it might have been an Audi, but he wasn’t going to put his head up over the hood of his Spider to be sure.
Another shot. This time it met a mark, shattering a window of Scott’s car. Covering her head, Tessa felt the rain of glass spray down on them; a muffled scream from within her tangled arms revealed her fear. Squealing tires ensued as the vehicle sped away down the exit ramp. The echo was eerie in the silence that followed.
Scott couldn’t help the swear word that escaped through his lips. “Get in,” he ordered, standing and pulling Tessa with him.
Tessa gasped, her face pale and eyes wide. “Say what? I don’t think we should…”
“In!” Scott said, already climbing into the driver’s seat, “Or I’ll leave you.”
Split-second decision made, Tessa ran around the back of the car and pulled open the passenger door. Before she was buckled, Scott already had the Spider in gear, driving forward out of the parking spot.
The other car was already at the bottom of the ramp. Rather than speeding through the cashier’s gate, the shooter had obviously paused to pay the parking garage ticket and exit without fanfare.
“Smart,” Scott mumbled, gunning the engine as he closed the distance between them.
The blue Audi lurched under the rising traffic gate with Scott right at its bumper. Almost as one unit, both cars turned right onto the downtown street. The driver ahead noticed the vehicle behind and reacted by changing lanes.
“Recognize them?” Scott asked. He could make out the shadowed forms of both driver and passenger; probably men. The view didn’t get any clearer as he tried to pull up alongside.
Tessa shook her head. “No.”
The other car managed to stay ahead, making a left turn. Scott swerved, driving the Spider through the yellow light at the intersection.
Traffic in the business district was heavy. Scott seemed to know how to drive, but Tessa’s white-knuckle grip on the door and shallow breathing betrayed her nerves.
The blue car zipped back into their lane and then made a right. Scott didn’t bother to signal as he followed.
“What are you doing?” Tessa asked.
“Someone shot at me,” Scott reminded her calmly. “I want to find out why.”
“They didn’t shoot at you, they shot at this.” Tessa picked up the postcard from where it had fallen to the floor and waggled it at him.
“And you know this because?”
“Just a guess,” she said, turning her face from his scrutiny.
Recklessly taking one hand from the wheel, Scott pointed at the postcard. “Well then, how come that doesn’t have a broken window—and I do?”
“Broken window,” Tessa repeated. She clucked her tongue like a mother hen instructing a chick. “They’re big on intimidation.”
“Another guess?” he said snidely. Missing glass aside, the classic sports car performed like a champ. The engine purred; revving as the car made another quick turn under Scott’s experienced hands. “Do I look intimidated?”
“You push this, and someone on the street might get shot,” she warned.
Scott’s foot eased off the gas as he glanced at Tessa; the gap between the Spider and the Audi widened.
“Logical,” he said, “but I still want to know who they are…don’t you?”
Why did she feel like the question was a test? Tessa seemingly ignored Scott’s curiosity directly and pointed out the obvious “We’re heading towards the lake.”
Scott glanced down at the picture of the attractions at Navy Pier in her hand. “Maybe.” He continued to speed but let the Audi expand its lead. Unexpectedly, Tessa placed a call on her cell and Scott listened; when prompted he provided the license number so she could share it with the unknown person on the other end of the line.
The call was short and to the point. Putting the phone away, she said, “He’ll call me back.”
“He who?” Scott asked.
“I have a friend.”
Biting his tongue, Scott let the snide comment remain unvoiced. He fell back on cliché. “Guess it’s not what you know, but who you know.”
“I’m not sure what things were like in New York, but people here are pretty tight-knit.”
“So people keep telling me,” he muttered.
She didn’t seem to hear him, adding, “Marc is an old friend. He, Darla, and I all come from the same neighborhood. Since he works at the Department of Motor Vehicles, maybe he can shed some light.”
“Same neighborhood?” Scott asked, pressing his advantage that she’d dropped a personal hint about herself. “So when you say ‘old’ friend, you mean childhood friend?”
“Well, sort of. Darla and Marcus were pretty much neighbors back then—only a couple of houses between their parent’s homes. Darla and I didn’t become close friends until we were a bit older, but of course all our parents knew each other.”
Scott listened to Tessa’s light description of where she grew up. She mentioned Norwood Park, a middle-class neighborhood with neatly trimmed yards lining the street. Simple on the surface, but her blank facial expression and lack of elaboration let him know her heart really wasn’t in the answer.
His tone was grim. “We should call the police.”
“No. What would we say – it looks like we lost them anyway.” The blue car was more memory than visible.
He glanced at his passenger, who had returned to observing the passing sights out the side window, Scott changed the subject, “We’re headed to the Pier. Let’s see if there is something to the postcard picture.”
Whether she’d heard his intentions, he couldn’t say but it was right then Tessa shifted in her seat to look at her companion. “Considering what happened in the garage, you’re very calm.”
Most people focus on themselves when confronted with danger. It takes someone unusually observant to note the uncharacteristic behavior of others. Scott’s admiration of Tessa went up a notch. Fingers drummed on the leather steering wheel as Scott offered the deadpan answer, “I’m always calm.”
“So…what… people shoot at you a lot?”
“How’d you know?”
She smiled. “Very funny.”
He shrugged. “I grew up on Navy bases, so the sound of gunfire doesn’t bother me. It used to put me to sleep some nights like the muffled sound of popping corn.”
“Popcorn?” she half choked out her response.
The strangled sound had Scott glancing in her direction. He could tell that she didn’t agree with his casual appraisal. To add to his credibility, he added, “I paid for college with ROTC.” He didn’t elaborate, figuring she’d heard the acronym before, and anyways, it was a logical step for the son of a soldier. The military supported his college fund as long as he entered the reserves or active service after his education was complete. “And I spent a year in Afghanistan on active duty.”
For the first time Tessa took a look at Scott; not at his outward appearance, but what lay beneath the surface. A strange order of events in her mind—most become journalists, then do their ‘tour’ reporting the war, she’d never heard of a reporter trading his pen in for an MP5. How ironic, she thought, that in a manner of speaking, both their fathers had taught them how to play with guns. She commended Scott’s father; at least he’d taken a more honorable road.
“What do you want to do? Drive around, or…”
“This is as good a place to park as any.” Scott said, filling in the blank, as he pulled into an empty stall just off the main gate of Navy Pier. “At the very least it will be an experience; I’ve never been here.”
“I’ve been once or twice.” Her eyes were busy, scanning the crowd for anything unusual. The sun had just set, but the attraction was crowded, mostly with couples and families looking for an after-dinner stroll.
“Let’s go have a look around,” Scott said as he unfolded his long frame from the car.
Brushing back the few hairs that had fallen loose around her face, Tessa drew a deep breath, released it slowly, and climbed out of the car.
It had made sense to fall back and let the other car out of their sight, but now Scott appeared to regret the decision. Some of his irritation showed in the set of his shoulders as he eyed the entrance to the tourist attraction; a large gateway topped with an arched sign and neon lights.
He said, “The view might be better from the Ferris wheel. Maybe we can pick up their trail.”
“Or not.” Tessa said bluntly. She seemed to be fidgeting with the sleeve of her sweater and looked more nervous than a half-second before “Maybe we should wait for Marcus to call us back,” she paused, then added “then maybe we’ll have a name.”
He shook his head and took the opportunity to look apprehensively from side to side. “Naw, I like my idea better.”
There was a carnival-type atmosphere on the pier, with music and laughter. Tessa was reluctant to admit that she liked it, but she did. The smell of cotton candy made her mouth water. Together they walked towards the pier, with its large amusement park attractions lit against the night sky. “I forgot how big it is,” Tessa whispered, eyeing the big wheel; the latent fear of heights causing her to shut her eyes.