Authors: Jack Parker
Tags: #Mystery, #USA
Now Tessa was eager to be gone. She thanked the woman and walked quickly towards the elevators. It was only after the large steel doors closed that she suggested, “Maybe we should change cars.”
“I don’t think we were followed,” Scott said. “They probably came here before they paid me a visit.”
She insisted, “Either way, we’re conspicuous in your Spider.”
“Oh, and these old friends of yours won’t be looking for your car?”
“No,” a smirk slipping across her lips, “I can pretty much guarantee they won’t.”
Clearly confused, Scott followed her down the walkway to a vehicle under a cloth cover. Tessa produced a key and unlocked the chain, lifting the beige cloth from the Mustang that it covered. Scott had to admit, the classic was a bit of a surprise.
She tossed the car cover in the trunk before her carefully manicured nails caressed the clear coat on the roof. Without raising her eyes, her smile softened but did not leave her face. “She’s balanced and blueprinted, 735 Holley carb with Edelbrock intake, and cranks out 375 HP. She can do zero to sixty in 7.1.” Clearing her throat, she added, “My personal best…7.3.”
Scott stood next to the driver’s door. He liked that Tessa referred to the car as female. She surprised him though, by tossing the keys over the roof.
“You can drive,” she suggested. “Think you can handle it?”
Deft fingers caught the key ring as it crossed the hood of the car. Green eyes locked with blue, conveying a look that said he understood. The car was special to her, he could only guess the details but he had faith that in time she’d fill him in.
With a quick flick of his wrist, he turned the ignition. The low rumble of the idling ‘Tang echoed down the street, disrupting all conscious thought of the gravity of the situation. Reverent hands caressed the steering wheel. He pushed the seat back as far as it could go, happy that there weren’t any passengers to accommodate behind him; Mustangs weren’t especially renowned for their leg room. The evening air was cold, and the heavy engine required a little food to stay running. Scott kept a gentle foot on the accelerator, urging the idle intermittently, the resulting growl of the motor egged on his growing excitement.
“I’m impressed.” It was obvious the car was kept original, the radio and dash components appeared to be in mint condition; even the leather of the seats appeared almost new.
He gave Tessa a curious glance as they moved away from the curb. “You don’t strike me as a car buff.”
“Depends on the car,” Tessa said.
He could understand that. His own inclination was towards foreign models. Notably Italian.
Looking back to the windshield, he tried not to think about other Italian things he liked. It was easier when he didn’t have to see how good Tessa looked in the sweater.
“We’ll do at least a drive-by,” he said. “Check out the restaurant and talk about what to do next.”
The ride to the restaurant was fairly short. Traffic was light, and the glow from the street lamps lent softness to the inside of the vehicle. However, the streets and occupants of the sidewalk could be easily seen through the windows. It only took one pass around the block to know, Gino’s was not set for business-as-usual. The closed sign still hung on the door, but the windows were lit. A small welcoming committee hovered outside the place of business. Six men, dressed in white shirts and black pants, all eagerly scanning the street.
“Nice uniform,” Tessa grumbled.
Scott didn’t quite understand the quip, but had to smile when she added, “And I was so looking forward to spaghetti.”
He cruised past, slowing a bit, but didn’t stop. Making a right, he said, “We need to think about how to approach this.”
“Again with the ‘we.’ You’re not really stuck with me. Maybe—”
“G.J. and I go back a ways.” Tessa explained. “I think I can trust him when he says, I deliver and we’re square.”
“We need to figure out what’s really going on,” Scott said. “You don’t need six guys to take a piece of paper from a woman.”
“You might be surprised,” she said.
Scott rescued the postcard from his pocket. He took a look at the photograph and the writing. “I can’t say that I see what all the fuss is about. Any fingerprints are long gone.”
Tessa leaned forward to reclaim the card, but Scott shifted it from his right hand, taking the item out of her reach, saying, “Have you given some thought to what I said before? That maybe it’s about you and not the card.”
“No, as a matter of fact, I have not considered that. I don’t have anything in common with those women. I mean…” she stammered, “I’m not a waitress.”
He stopped at a red light and took another look at his passenger. She sounded so uneasy; a small crack in her tough exterior, though he supposed that wasn’t too hard to understand why. “I don’t know. It’s still the 19th—maybe they just need another woman to round out the numbers.”
“Are you trying to make me feel better?”
The light changed. Scott drove straight, not making the final turn to complete the loop back to the restaurant . “Maybe you were on to something with the windows. Perhaps a chat with the priest from St. Joe’s would shed some light. Should we take a chance that he might still be at the Basilica?”
“No, he won’t be there. On weeknights, he does some volunteer work.” She pointed to her left. “Go ahead and turn on Regent. We can backtrack.”
“If you don’t go to church any more, how do you know his schedule so well?”
“I volunteer at the same place. Only, I go on Saturdays.”
“You…volunteer?” Scott said, considering another piece in a complicated puzzle.
“Sure, don’t you?”
Her dry reply was cut off by the sound of a ringing cell phone. Tessa retrieved it from her purse and answered. A few words in Italian were exchanged, but it was soon evident that their drive-by did not go unnoticed. Scott didn’t need a translator to understand the glow of quickly advancing headlights reflected in the rearview mirror.
He came to a stop at another light. Tessa pulled the phone away from her ear and looked at him. “It’s Cy. He wants to talk to you.”
This was unexpected. He looked at Tessa for a second, hoping for some hint on the latest request, but found nothing in her slightly irritated expression. He extended his hand and took the phone. Somehow in the exchange, Tessa managed to grab the postcard.
He wasn’t going to wrestle her for it, yet.
“Yeah,” he said into the phone.
Cy didn’t favor him with Italian obscenities; he got straight to the point. “Turn the car around, and bring her to the restaurant.”
“What did you say?”
Scott drove forward, even though the light was red. The car behind followed without hesitation. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he couldn’t tell if the driver was talking on the phone, or even if the mysterious Cy was indeed behind him. His money was on Cy still eating his linguini, and some nasty henchmen being in the blue Audi.
Pressing the gas, Scott continued, “Your little welcoming committee changed my mind. You want to do things the hard way, I’ll accommodate you.”
“You’re a dead man,” Cy growled into the phone.
Scott disregarded the threat; death didn’t really scare him. He’d dealt with Cy’s kind before. “So, why are we having this conversation?”
“I want that postcard. And I want it now.”
“One hour. I’ll call you back—let you know where to meet us.” Without a final salutation, he clicked the phone closed and handed it back to Tessa. “Regent Street, eh?” The speed continued to climb. “Hang on.”
A squeal of tires on the road caused Scott to snap his head to the left. The Audi was no longer following sedately behind him; the blue car swerved to the side, loudly peeling into the next lane. Scott didn’t press down on the accelerator of the Mustang. Already speeding, he tried to catch a glimpse of the other driver.
The Audi surged ahead, then jerked to the side, trying to cut them off. Anticipating the move, Scott braked. He narrowly avoided the collision, his body rocking forward even as his hand grabbed the gearshift and slammed the car into reverse. The wheels spun in protest. He switched gears back to drive, making a wide U-turn that the other car— which came to a stop at an angle—would struggle to follow.
“You okay?” he asked Tessa, flooding the engine with fuel by pounding a foot on the accelerator.
“Been better,” she mumbled, twisting to look at the other car. It would need to reverse before turning around, costing valuable seconds.
Scott didn’t waste the advantage. He gambled and ran the red light at the end of the street, surging the car through the intersection with nary a glance to either side.
The sudden acceleration pressed Tessa back into the seat. Her eyes caught sight of Scott’s hand moving as he twisted the wheel, the other hand mindlessly palming the stick shift. His eyes stayed trained on the road. There was that unmistakable tone, a tiny hint of variance to the trained ear, when the transmission tells the driver when to shift; Scott took each cue like a pro.
His quick reaction and keen maneuvers gave them a slight lead. Though in this game, a half mile, rather than a few mere blocks, would have been a more comfortable edge. With one-way streets, their path wouldn’t be hard to predict. Scott made a quick right, and then a left, continuing towards the interstate. Traffic did not impede their progress, but that being the case didn’t necessarily work in their favor either.
The other car pursued. Although it was behind by a couple of blocks, it was easy to find in the rearview mirror as it changed lanes aggressively. Scott knew he was just as visible without traffic to get lost in.
“Ideas?” Scott asked.
Tessa may have been getting used to the adventure since she seemed more relaxed than the last time they tore through town. One of her hands was clutching the lap belt, but this time her knuckles weren’t white. “We could go back to the restaurant,” she said.
“Too easy,” Scott said. Maybe he was just avoiding the inevitable, but bowing to Cy’s terms bugged him.
The Mustang was easily doing twice the speed limit. “Where’s a cop when I need one?” he grumbled.
Then Scott saw the large lit ‘PARKING’ sign. He rounded the corner and doubled back, piloting the car into an underground parking garage on the opposite side of the road. With a hiss, the car took the detour. No barrier or requirement to collect a ticket for entry slowed them, and Scott hoped that he had disappeared unseen, taking the ramp to the lower levels. Rather than descending further, Scott turned the car toward the exit, taking the slight rise up towards the street, strategically choosing a numbered, reserved stall, partially obscured by a white van, to back the Mustang into.
It was risky. If they’re followed, they were effectively trapped. Scott pointed towards the stair access, its green ‘exit’ sign mocking the two now sitting silently in the car. “If they enter and start down the ramp, we’ll have less than a minute to get out of this car and inside the building. They’ll most likely go all the way down the five levels looking for us before they double back,” he surmised.
With one hand planted on the door and the other gripping the seat, Tessa held her breath, listening for any tattletale sound that would alert them to the blue car’s presence in the underground garage. Nothing more than Scott’s even, steady breathing broke the silence. In her mind, this was another too-calm moment for the Navy boy, though at least it didn’t unnerve her like the first. If she were honest, she’d have to admit that it lent to a feeling of being in capable hands. Tessa made a mental note to inquire what his actual duties were when he’d been sent overseas.
Glancing at the building that he motioned to, Tessa gauged the distance. Her fingers nervously rubbed against each other, trying to soothe the angst that tried to cloud her thoughts. However, harsh reality could not be ignored. Outside the parking garage, there weren’t a lot of places for her to hide that she could be sure was safe from prying eyes, that would effectively lead to a call to the puppeteer of the blue Audi.
She wanted the control back.
Her right hand rose to the door handle. Scott’s arm shot out and touched her side. “Wait,” he said.
He was staring out the windshield. The pulse beat rapidly at his throat. She couldn’t tell what he might be able to see through the rear window of the van, but his hand felt warm through the thin cashmere of her sweater. The contact did nothing to relax her.
No blue car rolled down the ramp, and no sound from the street above suggested that it closed in on their hiding spot. Not giving Scott a chance to argue, Tessa pulled at the handle, got out and cautiously went around the back of the car. The space between the parked vehicles didn’t leave much room to maneuver as she opened the door for him. “If we’re ever going to see Father Luke, it looks like I’m going to have to drive us out of here,” she said, in a tone that defied him to argue. “At this rate, with you behind the wheel, we’ll never get to the Club.”
Scott didn’t take her comments with his usual humor. Silently, he complied with her request to vacate his post. As he stood, he made a point of looking down on her; irritated that she didn’t have faith in him, until he realized it had nothing to do with him.
In the narrow space, their bodies brushed. He reached out and reassuringly squeezed her shoulder as he walked around to the passenger side.
Meanwhile, Tessa was taking back her rightful place in the driver’s seat. Automatically, she adjusted the mirrors and the seat for her much shorter stature, giving Scott time to fold into the cramped passenger seat she vacated. “There’s still time for you to walk away,” she said, not daring to look in his direction.
“No…no, it’s much too late for that,” he answered cryptically, while he too kept his eyes trained out the front window.
A hint of a smile crossed her lips. Without another word between them, she gripped the shift and pressed the clutch to roll the Mustang from its hiding place.