Jill cowered away from the painful blows she had received from the blond man. He had hit her twice more. Her face was bruised from the punishment and tears were seeping from under the blindfold.
“Please don’t hit me again,” she begged.
“How much does Wheeler know about you?” the brutal voice asked.
“Nothing. He doesn’t know anything,” she answered in a rush. “He picked me up at Cliff House.”
The man hit her again and she screamed in pain and fear.
“You can do better than that,” he said softly.
“I swear!” she sobbed. “I didn’t tell him anything!
“What about Ritchie? Does he know you knew him?”
“And the Senator?”
“Of course not!”
“Hmmmmmm. I wonder?”
Jill heard the door open. What more terrible thing would this bring?
“Mead called,” a new voice said. “Wheeler checked out of the hotel before he got there.”
“Son on a bitch!” Wulf spat. “Get Mead. You two to go to LA. Check his house again, his friends, whatever. Find him, then kill him. And don’t leave any witnesses.”
A surprised Larry stood in front of the rustic house, looking in the direction of the voice he had heard. Thankfully, it was a friendly voice; it had called his name, and that seemed to him to be a good sign. In only a moment he saw a stout woman, apparently in her mid-sixties, dressed in sweat pants and sweat shirt with a small logo on the left shoulder that read “Alaska” and an incongruous apron that read “Queen of the Grill” over both. She came running over clogs on her feet flopping loudly and with a bulky pillowcase in her hand,. Her face was wreathed in smiles.
“I saw you drive in. Here’s some of your mail,” she huffed, out of breath after the short run from her house. “The most important things like the utilities I paid out of the money you sent each month, and I threw away all that garbage they stuff in our boxes; didn’t think you’d want it. There’s another pillowcase full, but I don’t think it’s urgent. These seemed to me to be the ones you’d want to check out first.”
She beamed at him as she held the bundle to him. He had to drop the rock before he could take it. She threw her short arms around him in a motherly embrace.
“What were you going to do with that rock, Larry?” she continued. “You know I have a set of your keys.”
She didn’t stop to let him answer, for which he was glad because he wasn’t sure how to react to this jolly little woman.
“It’s so good to have you home, dear. Where have you been? I was afraid something had happened to you, you rascal. Golda’s a bit upset with you,” she scolded. “No letter, not even a card to let me know you were still alive. For shame, you bad boy.”
He held the mail bundle as she hugged him, not knowing if he should return the embrace or not. She noticed his reluctance.
“What’s wrong, Larry? Is something troubling you, dear?”
“Uh. . .please, don’t be offended,” he began. Her brows drew together in a puzzled frown. “It’s obvious that we must be friends, but. . .who are you?”
Golda’s mouth dropped open and her eyes grew like saucers. “You’re joking, aren’t you dear?”
Larry noted her distress and rushed to answer, “I wish I could say yes, but unfortunately, no. I’m not.”
“Oh, my. Something has happened. We’d better go inside. You can tell Golda all about it there.”
She took a key from the pocket of her apron and herded him like the mother hen she resembled to the back door of the house where she inserted the key and opened the door. She ushered him through a laundry room and pantry into a smallish but neat kitchen that contained a couple of overhead cupboards, a small table with two chairs, a modern side-by-side refrigerator, and the usual double sink, range and microwave oven. Nothing looked familiar to Larry, but it felt comfortable.
“You had a break-in just after you left. My goodness, you should have seen the mess! They even tore the sofa cushions and your bed pillows apart, but my cousin Phil put the cushions back the way they were,” she chatted comfortably. “I bought new pillows out of what you sent me. It took the better part of a weekend, but we got it put back together, my friend Rachel and I. I hope we got everything back the way it was.”
Larry looked around in amazement. No one would have suspected anything had ever happened.
“I appreciate. . .,” he began but Golda shushed him.
“Tsk tsk, Larry. What are neighbors for if not to help each other. Anyway, you know how I feel about you. Oh, dear,” she said remembering, “You don’t, do you? Well, you’re like my very own Andrew, who moved so far away from his mother, ungrateful boy.”
She led him into a rustic living room furnished with a leather couch in front of a fireplace with a stack of logs to one side, two comfortable looking chairs and an oval shaped wooden coffee table in the middle. On the walls were an eclectic bunch of pictures, including the one with Mike, Luis and the big fish, and what appeared to be an old Civil War sword hung over the fireplace. This was definitely a man’s home.
“Settle yourself, dear. I’m going to make some tea and we’ll talk.”
Larry sat on the sofa, plopping the bundle of mail beside him, and watched with interest as Golda scurried around as if it were her own house, making tea, putting cups, sweetener, and milk on a tray and finally placing all of it in front of him on the coffee table before settling herself in one of the chairs across from him. It seemed odd to him that she was so comfortable in his home while he was an absolute stranger to it.
“Now,” she said, “I’m all ears. Tell Golda all about it.”
He thought it funny that she kept referring to herself in the third person.
“I don’t really know where to start.” He sipped the tea, searching for a place to begin. “It’s probably obvious that I have amnesia, so I guess the first thing I’d like to know is how long have I been gone?”
“Well, let me see,” Golda began, search her memory, “You were here for Chinese New Year. I remember because we took the subway downtown to the parade. Don’t you remember, dear?” When he shook his head, she took a deep breath and said, “What has happened to you, Larry? Well, no matter for the moment. We’ll do this whichever way seems best to you. You were here for my birthday, which is February 6th but you were gone for Valentines Day. It’s almost Passover, which is late this year, so you’ve been gone just over two months.”
“Two months?” He was aghast. He’d been told he was in the hospital for six months. “That’s all?”
“Well, yes dear. That seems a long time to me. You’ve never been away for that long before, not without a letter or a card to say you were detained. I’ve been checking your machine and I have a log of the calls. I must say, there were a lot from your friend Mr. McNamara.”
“So, he’s real. I’d begun to think everything I’d been told was a lie.”
Larry spent the next hour drinking several cups of tea and telling Golda everything that had happened.
“Oh, no! That’s horrible!” she said when he mentioned Mike’s death. “I liked him. He was always so polite and funny. And that friend of his too. I’m so sorry, dear.”
“And so,” he finally concluded, “I came here to see if I could find anything that would make sense of this whole thing.”
“Why would someone do that to you, Larry dear?”
“I honest to god don’t know,” he shrugged. “With the break-in at Mike’s place, and now I find there was one here too, I’m beginning to think that I must have something that someone wants.”
“It must be very important.”
He nodded and took a sip of tea before stating, “A national politician seems to be involved.”
“Really!” her eyes grew wide again. “Elephant or donkey? No, don’t tell me. What I don’t know won’t hurt me. That’s what my late husband, Bernie, used to say.”
“I’m afraid what I don’t know is responsible for this whole mess.”
Golda stood and reached over and patted his knee, “I’m sure you will figure it out, dear. I hear my telephone ringing. I’d better see who it is. Our temple is having a garage sale this Sunday, and I’m in charge.”
Larry stood. “Thanks, uh…Golda. I really don’t know what to say. You’ve been. . .”
“Shush, dear. Not another word about it. I’m having brisket for dinner. Come about five thirty.” She checked her watch. “No, make it six. We’ll talk some more then.”