Sunshine. Blue skies. Noontime bloomed in the city. Sleeping through the entire morning, Gina was shocked to be waking up on a Victorian-style sofa. Where was she? Judging by the white living room walls, cleanliness, old-style furniture and the vinyl record player standing by the grand windows, she knew exactly where she was: her parent’s house.
Gina sat up on the couch as spotted Alex sitting at the dining room table, examining the golden artifacts they retrieved last night. Normally Gina would be thrilled over stopping a robbery but seeing a good friend die before her eyes had dampened the mood. Today she planned to have her long-awaited meeting with Pastor Goode. But after last night’s chaotic episode, who knows if she’ll ever make it there.
“Welcome back,” said Alex as Gina stood up and stretched out her limbs as if they made from rubber.
“How long have I been out for?” she asked. “All morning.”
“Seriously? Damn, I’ve must’ve been out of it. The last thing I remember was being in that ditch and... blank. Nothing. I don’t even remember how I got here last night.”
“You called me last night and I picked you up somewhere in Castle Hill.
None of this ring a bell?”
“Thought your car got totaled in the shootout.”
“I asked the bureau for emergency transportation. And they gave me a
brand-new Infinity Gauntlet.” Gina looked out the window and shielded her eyes as the pine green vehicle gleam from the driveway. “Jeez, you don’t remember that either? Then again, you did act like you were sleepwalking when I found you.”
“Did Mom and Dad see us?”
“Just us, not the gold. I told Mom that traffic was backed up due to an accident so that we changed our minds and came back here - food gave you the itis - that type of ordeal.”
“And she believed you?”
“I didn’t lie to her – at least not completely. They left for Orchard Beach early this morning, so they won’t be back for hours. That gives us plenty to time to put the pieces of this puzzle together.”
Gina pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. “What happened after I
Alex picked up some coins and let it slide off her hands. “I called for a Retrieval Unit to collect this evidence before the local cops showed up. Funny thing is my unit was in-and-out before I heard any sirens. After what seemed like forever, the cops arrived and carted away the shooters in a paddy wagon. But let me tell you, that ain’t the news of the night.”
“Yes. Take a good look at these.” She slid a gathering of gold pieces across the table, shining like spotlights at a runway show.
Gina picked one up and carefully examined it. “These look like artifacts,”
she guessed. “Were the shooters carrying these?”
“Yup. Plus these babies down here.” Alex pointed at two tote bags under the table. “All this was stuffed in the trunk of their busted car.”
“I have to imagine these were stolen?”
“You imagine correct. However, I bet you’ll never guess where they were stolen from: from an old church right here in the Bronx, not that far of a drive.”
“Really? Which one?”
Alex cleared her throat. “Where were you going today?”
“Umm... the Inner Life... my God! No way! Are you telling me these guys robbed the same church I’m supposed to be going to today?! You can’t be serious!
“Agent Cho checked it twice and she’s the best analyst in the Bureau. All shipments of religious artifacts that entered the city had Pastor Goode’s name
on top of the list of recipients. There’s no mistake. My reaction was the same as yours.”
“I can’t believe this is happening. This is too perfect to be coincidental!” “What if it’s not, Gina? What if these gold pieces hold a clue, a hidden gem
that could ascertain the truth behind this Spiritual mystique that you and Mom
constantly praise him for having? Can this whole aura thing just be a trivial shroud? Or is he - in some weird, whimsical, otherworldly kind of way - sending you a message? Either way, you have to meet this man. Today.”
“This is so frustrating. I don’t remember being so clueless. I was always the cop who thought on her feet, ya know? Kept it together under pressure. Now I can’t even connect pieces to a puzzle that blatantly involves the pastor! What’s worst is that I can’t even begin to fathom how Sylvan is wrapped up in all this!”
“Sylvan? You saw him last night?”
“He was driving in the jeep that I chased. That’s how I wound up in that pit. The jeep crashed through the gate flipped down the mountainside. I went down to check the crash site and he was the last one breathing. He died right there, in my arms.”
“My God. I’m so sorry, Gi. Anything else you remember?”
“Slashes on his chest. Dried blood on their outfits. They all had the same
marks, but I know it wasn’t caused by the crash. Cuts were so precise that it makes me believe they were attacked beforehand. But, by who?”
“Was he able to back your assumption?”
“No. All he could say was ‘he’s evil’ - ‘he’s the devil’. But he died before he could give me a name.”
“I’ll have my team keep taps on their bodies. Eventually, they’ll be logged into a morgue somewhere, but that’ll take some time though.”
“Maybe you should keep an eye on the shooters as well, in case we need an interrogation -”
“Already on it.”
“Should’ve known. Meanwhile, I should get going to my appointment and...” Gina looked down. “drop off his stolen property. Now you, young lady, should head home and get some sleep. You look tired.”
“Are you kidding? This is my ‘awake’ face. Besides, I’m having too much fun to sleep now. Want me to drive you to the church? It’s going to be a pain in the butt lugging all this gold on your own.”
“I need the exercise. You should at least get some food in your system to reenergize.”
“Fine. Meantime, I’ll run the plates of the shooter’s car, nose around and see what I come up with. Hope you find what you’re looking for, Gina. If the pastor came to visit knowing you were seconds away from death, then there must be some truth to what Mom is saying.”
“Thanks, Allie. For everything. I’d still be lost in the desert if not for you.” “I love you, Gi.” The sisters shared a tight hug and wished each other luck
with their separate tasks. The tote bags were dragged out from under the table
and Gina felt she was herculean enough to grab the straps and pick them both up like laundry bags.
“Are you crazy?!” Alex warned. She then reached down and pulled out handles from the bottom of the bags. “These are carry-ons. See the wheels?”
“Oh, I see,” said Gina. She grabbed the handles and rolled the bags toward the front door in much delight. “Much easier. Now I can take the bus instead of a cab, which reminds me, got any change?”