GM - Story #3

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Chapter 16

Gina Santaria emerged from the underground a block away from the excitement on 54th Street. She bit her nails and pressed her arms across her chest to shield herself from the gush of winter air that rushed down the stairway to the subway. She heard the sirens in the distance and recognized the alternating warm and cool lights of the NYPD squad cars.

He killed himself,” she thought. “He overdosed on bad crack or heroin or some lethal mix of drugs and alcohol.”

Her mind raced. She oscillated between grief for the friend she never met in person and fear for her own well-being.

They will check History,” she panicked. “I will be a suspect - the internet stripper whore – damnit.

After standing still at the corner of 54th and 6th for several minutes, reflecting on her options to run back to Jersey or continue forward, she decided that she needed to know what happened and had a responsibility to answer any questions the authorities might ask.

Henry Lucas reached the plain metal door to Greyson’s apartment building just as police started clearing the masses. Olivia fussed and whined about how her legs were tired and how tightly he had held her hand through her pink knitted mittens.

The NYPD had blocked off a long strip of 7th avenue and the surrounding streets on either side of 54th, so Henry and Olivia had to fight through several blocks to get to their destination. Olivia complained about the cold and asked where they were going every few minutes. At one point, she tried to stop and watch the police stretch yellow ribbons across the 7th Avenue intersection.

But she kept up with her father and didn’t let go of his hand despite the bumps and jostling she experienced throughout their trek.

Greyson stood helplessly in his living room, transfixed by the tall distinctive figure standing in front of him. In the background, the primitive medical triage in his spare bedroom faded to grey as he peered at the man with his wavy hair, ice blue eyes and long white overcoat. The connection to the iconic video footage of the chaos in the Middle East came to mind and the resemblance became so obvious to Greyson that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t made the connection sooner.

“Alcohol,” Cael snapped at his hapless cousin. “Rubbing alcohol? Peroxide? Anything … Something clear. Vodka?”

Greyson scoured the compartments of his kitchen, but his latest binge had all but cleared out his supply. He stood sheepishly in the middle of his kitchen floor shaking his head.

“Water,” Cael spoke in bits. “Fill a bowl. Wet some paper towels. Anything!”

The beeping window that popped up on his television caught Greyson’s eye and distracted him from his task. He could see only Henry with his back to the camera rechecking the apartment number for “Holliday”.

“Someone wants to come up,” he called out to the bedroom.

“Water,” Cael barked. “Now.”

Henry’s voice could be heard over the video feed from outside the apartment.

“Greyson Holliday?” he asked. “I just need a few minutes of your time. It is very important. I need to speak with the tall man from the plane earlier today. It’s just me and my little girl. We are harmless. Please open up and let us speak with him.”

Greyson filled an empty wine jug with water and brought it into the room like a hospital nurse.

The urgent tone of Henry’s voice sparked his attention. Glancing back at the TV screen, a sketchy flood of loose images crossed his consciousness; a purple juice box, a ratty stuffed bunny, and a non-stop series of tiny hiccups at the NetJets terminal.

In the cam window, Olivia’s little pink nose protruded past a pair of red, raw cheeks, flush with the wet snow. Greyson stared at the two figures huddled in front of the apartment door in disbelief. The alert beeped again, and Henry continued to ask for an audience with the person who had healed his daughter.

“You can let him in.” Jai spoke softly and with a casualness that betrayed the chaos of the moment. “He presents no threat. In fact, he has much to offer.”

“Are you seriously who I think you are?”

“I am who you know as Jaio,” he replied. “I appreciate your kind hospitality and admire you for casting aside your fear and inhibition to open your apartment to this man in need of care.”

For the first time in a long time, Greyson felt useful. His convoluted thoughts and worries in the wake of all he had been through the past week ebbed away and his impulses simplified. In Jaio’s presence, he found himself thinking; “why wouldn’t I help someone in need?

Jaio gazed at Greyson and smiled softly. Greyson, to his own amazement, quickly accepted the situation and felt a sensation of calm that he could not remember ever feeling. In just the few minutes since recognizing the iconic figure standing five feet away from him in his apartment, he took comfort in Jaio’s presence.

And yet, an instance later, footage of the violent incident in Bethlehem flashed across his mind. He tried to process the images and rationalize the difference between what he had seen in the past and what he experienced in the moment.

The cam buzzed a third time, breaking his thoughts. Henry’s shoulders slumped. He turned away and took Olivia by the hand.

Cael emerged from the bedroom, rubbing his hands together. Streaks of blood stained his white button-down shirt, which he removed and tossed into a corner, leaving him clad in a tight white T-shirt with a brown leather gun holster across his powerful shoulders. As he lifted it over his head and placed it down by his crumpled shirt, he turned to Greyson and nodded his head in agreement with Jaio.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Let him in.”

With a flick of his thumb, the image of Henry and Olivia plodding slowly down the stairway reversed. The door lock clicked loudly, and Greyson’s two guests happily strode back up the stair.

In the distance, a shadowed figure trotted awkwardly down the icy, snowy sidewalk. The pitchy female voice cut through the night confirming the address of the apartment.

“Hold the door please.”

The golden afternoon sun illuminated the flattened Iowa corn fields. Occasional clusters of houses and barns dotted the quilted ground, breaking the geometric rhythm of the neat layout below. Every couple dozen acres, long thin strands of road cut through the fields in stark North to South and East to West lines. In the distance, lush, green, tree-lined creeks slashed through the landscape in uneven patterns like lightning against a stormy sky. The shadow of the DC10 danced above the patchwork and dove into the DesMoines River. It darted over the six-building skyline and approached the two runways of the International Airport like outstretched arms welcoming the passengers to the heartland.

Missy Davidson had never traveled west of the Mississippi. She hadn’t even seen land so flat or rigid in its organization. The openness of the land alleviated the claustrophobic feeling of living in the Northeast and reminded her of the vast world that lay outside the bubble in which she lived and worked. They seemed to circle for an excessive amount of time, making more than a half dozen passes over the airport. At each eastward swing, Missy strained out her window to catch another glimpse of the majestic Mississippi River, but the eastern border of the state lay too far out of view.

As soon as the plane finally hit the ground and slowed to a near stop, Jameis reached for his carry on and immediately edged out of his seat to exit the plane. But following one last look out the window, Missy fired up her iPad and checked her news sources.

She clutched Jameis’ sleeve a bit harder than expected and he temporarily lost his balance in the cramped aisle of the plane. He glared at her in annoyance but changed his face as soon as he saw the look in her eyes.

“There’s a new story up on CNN,” she said. “It’s something about a shooting in New York.”

The DesMoines airport had one television monitor in the only sports bar in the terminal. Jameis headed straight for the closest bar stool to catch up on the coverage of the UNI bombing and investigate the new headline. Missy took time away from the job to study the flap of the menu that displayed the appetizers. Each one looked better than the choice above it. Four hours was her limit on the amount of time she could go without eating a decent meal and her stomach hurt with hunger.

“You want to split the spring rolls?” she called out. “Two each?”

Jameis didn’t hear her. After practically begging the bartender to switch from ESPN to CNN, he stood in disbelief at the story that dominated the screen.

“New York?” he muttered. “That’s it? Iowa is dead? Everyone is in New York now for this gang shooting?”

Missy looked up from the menu and caught the coverage just past Jameis’ immobile pose.

“So, what’s going on in New York?” she asked. “And what happened to our bombing?”

“I think its old news already.”

A third voice butted in.

“Reporters?” the bartender asked.

“Yes,” Jameis answered. “Christian Science Monitor.”

“Oh,” the bartender replied. “I figured you would have been here to cover the bombing.”

“We are,” Jameis frowned. “We are heading over to Cedar Falls after we get a bite to eat.”

“Is there a religious angle to the story?”

“No,” Jameis bristled flatly and turned to watch the CNN broadcast. “… well, maybe.”

“I didn’t like those guys from CNN,” he continued. “They were rude to me. I asked an innocent enough question about Natalie Morales and they snapped at me.”

“She’s on NBC,” Missy said from behind her menu.

“That’s what they said,” the bartended peered Missy’s way to see more of her face from around the side of the menu. “They just didn’t say it so sweet.”

Jameis reached for his iPhone out of his laptop bag. Missy sipped her water and folded the menu onto the table.

“I went to UNI,” said the bartender, wiping out a beer mug and glancing at the TV screen. “I can’t believe they bombed the Performing Arts Center.”

“Who do you think would have done it?” Jameis asked with low expectations of a meaningful answer.

“Beats me. Nobody’s ever even heard of UNI outside of Iowa. But we beat Minnesota in Football last season.”

Jameis took a sip of his beer and paged through his contacts for his Contributing Editor. He texted a message asking for an update on New York.

“World’s falling apart today,” said the bartender with a smile and a head nod to Missy, who cast her vibe that she was ready to place her order. Jameis buried his nose into his phone, directing his resources to cover the New York situation while he pushed deeper into the Iowa event.

Missy ordered her spring rolls with a garden salad and a diet Coke.

“Hey, if you went to UNI,” she said to the bartender, only newly able to focus on her job with the knowledge that she had placed her order and would be able to eat soon. “Have you ever attended a meeting at that building? Maybe a club or social event? Ever listen to an outside lecturer or public speaker there?”

“Nah,” he replied. “I was on the wrestling team. I didn’t make much use of the PA Center. I was a ’58-pounder. I was lightning fast …”

He turned away from Jameis and directed his response to Missy, the younger, more attractive and attentive of his two patrons.

“We had a good team,” he said. “We won the Midlands tournament. I came in third. People don’t think of UNI when they think of Iowa wrestling. It’s all about Dan Gable and Iowa State. But we were pretty good. We went 26 and 8 my senior year. I was 29-5. I lost to Garibaldi 4-1 in the NCAAs. He went on to make the finals…”

Jameis called up the CSM web site and mentally planned the modular design for balancing coverage of the volatile events in the Middle East, the UNI bombing and this new mysterious violence in New York. Missy smiled politely at the bartender and considered interrupting him to ask for the status of her lunch order.

“Only time I was in the PA center was with my girlfriend at the time,” the bartender continued. “She was real religious, although not always that strict about it, if you know what I mean. She took me to some meeting there one time. There was a guy from a church in DesMoines. He was a real interesting guy. And he has quite a following. I still log into his web casts every now and then. He gives a lot of great advice about life and dealing with other people.”

Jameis shook his head at the CNN tag line: “Incident on 54th Street”. He had thought of the exact same headline and couldn’t use it now that CNN had gobbled it up and spit it out. He stopped and put his phone down on the bar. He refocused on the 20-something bartender.

“Where is this church in DesMoines?”

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