In the Wash: The Rona Shively Stories

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Chapter Nineteen

When I opened my eyes again, Norm was standing by the bed with a cup of coffee and the box of donuts. He set the mug down on my nightstand and crawled back into bed with the donuts. He sat with his back to the headboard and flipped open the box, selecting a fresh, glazed donut.

“Hungry?” he asked.

I rubbed my eyes and said, “Not yet, but I’m sure I will be.” He took a bite of his donut. Chewing thoughtfully, he looked at me and smiled.

“I can’t stop smiling,” he said.

I couldn’t help but smile back at him. He actually was getting cuter by the minute. As much as I wanted to sit and admire him, I figured that we couldn’t continue at this pace all day. I had shit to do.

“You know, when Charlie was over this morning, he mentioned something about my case that kind of bothered me,” I said.

“Oh, yeah? Like what?” he asked.

“Well, he mentioned my client’s name,” I said, “and I’ve never told him who I was working for.”

“Maybe you let it slip,” he said.

I shook my head, sitting up to get serious.

“Nuh-uh, I don’t do that,” I said. “I’m very picky about who I give details.”

“Everybody makes mistakes, hon,” he said, “It’s no big deal.” I frowned at him. I know myself better than that. I am almost anal about who I give information when I am dealing with a case. I wouldn’t have said Delvecchio’s name to Charlie, not even in the heat of passion.

“Okay,” I said, “Do you know who I am working for?”

He stopped chewing for a minute and scratched his head.

“Hmm,” he said, “No, I guess I don’t.”

See,” I said, “and you were with me when that crazy guy was chasing me.”

“Good point,” he said, “So, what do you think it means?”

“I’m not sure it means anything, but I don’t like the thought that he might be nosing around in my business,” I said.

He finished his donut and licked his fingers. He reached over to the nightstand and picked up the mug of coffee. He took a sip and set the mug back in its place.

“You want me to rough him up for you?” he said playfully as he moved closer to me.

“No, no, nothing like that,” I said, “I just wanted to run it by someone to see if I was being paranoid. I’m sure nothing’s wrong.”

I hadn’t even convinced myself with that Charlie could be trusted. I needed to follow up on that hunch as soon as possible.

“Just say the word, cutie,” he said. He winked at me. I kissed him again before getting out of bed and heading for the bathroom. A few moments later, I jumped in the shower and got cleaned up. I put on a white tee shirt and jeans and padded back into the bedroom. Norm had already gotten dressed and was in the kitchen washing the coffee mugs. He set them in the dish drainer and dried his hands on the cotton dishtowel that was hanging by the sink.

“I fed the fish,” he said.

“Thanks, I always forget,” I said.

“What’s your plan for today?” he asked.

“I’ve got a couple of interviews and then I need to do some

research,” I said.

“Cool, you wanna get dinner later?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, “I should be done by about six.”

“Great, it’s a date,” he said. “I’ve got to get my ass down to the lot, I’m late.” He came over to me and put his arms around my waist. “I had a great time last night…and this morning,” he said.

“Me, too,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. It didn’t necessarily feel weird, but things were different now than they were just twelve hours ago. I wanted this to work out, but I didn’t want to seem too needy.

“It’s nice, being this way with you,” he said, as if reading my mind,

“I care about you, Rona.”

“Me, too,” I said again. Was I stuck on this phrase or what? I grabbed his shirt and gave him a quick kiss.

He studied my face and then backed away. He was trying to act like he wasn’t worried about how committed I could be. He knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t sure how to handle this part of the relationship. He had heard me talk about boyfriends that didn’t measure up and about my fears of commitment. It was obvious that

I wasn’t good at this, after all, I was thirty-eight and still single.

“I’ll pick you up at six,” he said, “Try to have a good day.” He turned and walked to the door. I followed him.

“I’ll be waiting,” I said. He gave me another quick kiss and walked out the door. I locked it behind him and went in the other room to get my bag. I made sure that my phone, gun and other important items were in there. I turned off the lights and headed out to my car. When I looked around the parking lot, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that concerned me. There, at the far end of the parking lot, was the same sedan I had seen parked outside Kimball’s apartment building the other day. I tried to get a good look without being obvious. There was no one inside. I jotted down the license plate number and got in my car. I started it up and drove away.

I arrived at the Quinn County Public Library within minutes. When I reached the entrance, I looked around to make sure no one was following me. The coast was clear. I ducked inside and headed for the computers.

Once inside, I logged onto the Internet and found the website for traffic records. I figured that if I punched in the license plate number, I could find out if anything sinister had been done using this car. Within a few moments, the screen showed that the car was registered to a Theo Franklin. Was this person related to Charlie? I tried another search. This time, I plugged in Charles Franklin’s name. To my surprise, there were a few items listed. Just five years ago, he had been picked up on a weapons charge. I checked the date of birth and it seemed to correspond with what I knew of Charlie. I wasn’t sure when his birthday was exactly, but I had an idea. I switched to another website and entered the name Charles Franklin in the search box. This website pulled up information about past residences, occupations, etc. I had to put in my credit card number to get a full readout, but I needed to know what I was up against. If I broke it off with Charlie, was he going to go off the deep end and shoot me? It only took a few seconds for the report to generate. I scrolled down through the information and found that he had moved several times over the last five years. The report also showed that

Charlie had a white sports car registered in his name. I hadn’t seen this car at the apartment. The only place I had seen a white car like this was when I was being chased through downtown Vegas the other night. But this didn’t make sense. I would have recognized him if he had been driving and he had been home when I got back to my apartment.

I was becoming more agitated as I scrolled down the page. Not only was I pissed because Charlie hadn’t been honest with me, but I was kicking myself for being so damned gullible that I would get involved with him in the first place. I printed out the report and stuck it in my bag. I left the library and headed to the apartment. Having figured out that Charlie was probably up to something, I decided it was time for a stakeout. I wouldn’t be able to use my car, so I put a call in to Norm and asked him if he had something I could rent for a few hours. He offered up the Jeep that he had gotten for me. I drove out to his lot, parked my shitty sedan and went inside. After assuring Norm that I would still be able to go to dinner, we walked out to the gold Jeep Grand Cherokee, he gave me the keys and a temporary tag and I was on my way.

It was around two o’clock in the afternoon when I parked on the street opposite our apartment building. I hoped that I wouldn’t be spotted if Charlie pulled into the parking lot. Thankfully, the windows were tinted and the jeep had air conditioning. After about an hour, I saw a figure emerge from the apartment complex. It was the dark-haired guy who had stopped me the other night and then shown up at Kimball’s. He walked over to his car and got in. I waited for him to get about a block ahead before pulling out behind him.

He drove down past the highway and towards the strip. I watched as he pulled into the lot behind what everyone knew was McAthorn’s poker house. This was interesting. I tried to remember the stories I had heard about McAthorn. From what I knew, he was a badass. People tended to disappear when they crossed him and the cops didn’t seem to care. I pulled into the lot and parked on the far side at what I hoped was a safe distance from the creep. I opened the door and stepped out. Looking around the lot, I reached across the seat for my bag and took out my gun. I checked to make sure it was loaded and then tucked it into the back waistband of my jeans. I locked the jeep and headed for the door.

This was one of those establishments that you always see in the movies. The door had this little wooden door where the peephole should be and when I knocked, the little door opened revealing a pair of piercing blue eyes.

“Can I help you?” a voice said from the other side of the door.

“I’m looking for a game,” I said steadily. This was the only way to get in. I would have to show some cash or I would be left waiting in the dark until the guy came back out. For a moment, the thought entered my head that this was stupid. What the hell was I gonna do once I got inside? The guy probably knew who I was even if I didn’t know him. Was I just going to sit down and try to fake it through a game of Hold ’em while I made small talk with a guy who wanted to kill me?

“You got the cheese?” the voice asked.

I had to think for a moment, cheese? Oh, yeah, that was code for how much money was I bringing. I pulled a fifty out of my pocket and flashed it. I figured this would never be enough for them to let me in, so I would be off the hook. I would simply go back to the jeep and wait. To my surprise, the door opened and I was allowed to

enter.

“Shit,” I thought, “Now what was I going to do?” I really should have thought this through a little better. As I walked down the corridor to the card room, I tried to catch a glimpse of my surroundings. I might need to run out of here and I wanted to make sure I could remember where I had been. When I entered the card room, I looked around for the man I had followed here. I didn’t see him but I saw someone I knew. To my surprise, there in the corner sat Gilbert Delvecchio. I tried to be discreet as I shot him a look that said, “What the hell are you doing here?” Oddly enough, he was giving me the same look.

I found a table with an empty seat and sat down. The dealer looked at me as though I had done something really stupid. In the corner, I spotted what appeared to be a cashier’s window. Perhaps, I should have gotten some chips first. I put up a finger to signal that I would be back in a minute. I’m super smooth. I walked over to the corner and put down three fifty-dollar bills. The cashier handed me a small stack of chips and gave me a smirk. I realized that most people dropped this much on one hand of poker, but I wasn’t going to put down all of my money just for the sake of looking like I knew what I was doing. I smirked back at the cashier, picked up my chips and headed back to the table.

Seated across from the dealer again, I looked around the table and tried to ascertain what my next move should be. This group didn’t appear to be very aggressive. To my left, there was a balding, older gentleman who was squinting through his bifocals to get a better look at his hand. Beside him sat another older man with a gigantic nose. He had a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and he was shaking so badly that I worried he might drop his cards before he was able to finish the hand. On the other side of me sat a woman with neatly styled blonde hair. It looked as though she had come straight from the beauty parlor to this card game. Her platinum ringlets framed her face in a flattering way. From the lines on her face, I figured her to be in her late fifties though she would probably pass for late forties if the lighting was right. She held her cards close and her fingers tapped the table lightly as she studied her options. I watched the hand play out and then anted up when the dealer started the next hand. The man with glasses looked at me and asked, “You new around here?”

I looked over at him shyly, trying to play the angle to my advantage.

“It’s my first time playing,” I said, “I won this trip to Vegas and I promised myself that I was going to try to get really good at cards while I was out here.”

“Swell,” the old man said, “My name is Sal, this guy over here is

Louie and that vixen over there, that’s Shirley.” Each of them nodded as if to acknowledge their introduction.

“I’m Susie,” I fibbed, “I came out here from Ohio for the week. This radio station had a promotional thing going and I won a trip for two to Las Vegas.”

“Where’s your husband?” the other guy, Louie, asked. He was still squinting.

“Oh, I don’t have a husband,” I said, uneasily, “I actually came out here by myself.”

“That’s a shame,” said Shirley, shaking her head, “A nice girl like you shouldn’t be in a place like this.”

I tried to look appropriately concerned, “Why?” I asked, “Is this a bad place? Oh, God, this isn’t one of those thug places is it?”

“No, no,” Sal said, “Nothing like that, you just want to be careful being out by yourself when you’re not familiar with the city, that’s

all.”

I wiped him hand across my brow to show that I was relieved to hear this. The dealer looked annoyed as he indicated that the cards had been dealt and that it was time to place our bets. I threw another chip down and studied my hand. I had a pair of two’s, a nine, a jack and an ace. Everything was a different suit. This hand sucked but I had to try and stay in the game. The other players placed their bets and it came back around to me. What the hell should I do? I folded and sat back to watch the rest of the hand. A waitress came by the table with a drink for me. She indicated that it had been sent by the guy across the room, Delvecchio. Shirley smiled shrewdly at me,

“See, you have an admirer,” she said.

“Oh, that, no, that’s just some creep that has been following me around.” I’m sure he’ll go away.

“You ought to talk to him,” she said, trying to coax me into making a love connection. “At least go over and thank him for the drink.”

I took her advice as my cue to go over and find out why he was here. I excused myself from the table, taking my chips and walking towards Delvecchio.

“Is this seat taken?” I asked coolly. He waved his hand and pointed for me to take a seat.

“Thanks,” I said, “and thanks for the drink.” He seemed to understand that I was playing it like I didn’t know him, though he looked like he wasn’t sure why I was being so cryptic.

“No problem,” he said, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going,” I said, “You know how it is, every day has its surprises.

Like running into you here.”

He laughed and said, “It’s not as surprising to find me here as it is to see you in this place. What the hell led you here?”

“Do you know a guy that drives a late model, brown sedan?” I asked. “He’s about six feet tall, dark hair, kinda creepy looking.” He looked up sharply and said, “Not that guy? You don’t want to mess with that one.”

“Why not?” I asked, hoping he would give me more than that.

“Who is he?”

“That’s McAthorn’s boy,” he said, “the one who does the dirty work.”

I gave him the “I get it” nod. “So, what the hell does he have to do with all of this? You’re not on McAthorn’s short list are you?” He shook his head, sticking his lower lip out as if the question were absurd. “Would I be sittin’ here in his club playin’ cards if I was?” “Good point,” I said. I sat there rolling the ice around in my glass trying to figure out what to do next. If Delvecchio wasn’t this guy’s target, then who was he after? And why did he kill Kimball?

As if on cue, Delvecchio said, “So, what’s the connection here?

Why are you looking for this guy?”

“Remember, I told you the other night that a friend of mine had been killed?” I asked. He nodded and I went on, “That’s the guy that was at her apartment complex, I’m pretty sure he killed her.”

Delvecchio stood up and threw a fifty-dollar chip to the dealer, put the rest of his stack in his pocket and tapped my shoulder. “Let’s take this discussion somewhere else.”

We walked over to the cashier and he cashed in the rest of his chips, put the cash in his pocket and we headed for the door. When we reached the parking lot, I pointed in the direction of the jeep indicating that this was my car.

“Where’d you get this?” he asked, “This is pretty nice.”

“It’s a loaner,” I said. “Get in.” I started the jeep and we drove out of the lot and headed towards my apartment. We talked some more about the creepy guy and Delvecchio informed me that his name was Theo or something like that. It matched up with the name I had found in my research on Charlie.

“Not to change the subject, but have you had any luck finding

Luther?” he asked.

“I think I’m getting closer, but there just doesn’t seem to be much information out there,” I said, realizing that it seemed like I had spent more time on researching Charlie than I had on finding Janetti.

“Did you ever get to talk to Rita?” he asked. I had to think for a minute. I was worried that he might have been following me around but then I remembered his having said that she would be a good person to talk to during the investigation. It made sense, so I stopped being paranoid.

“Actually, yes, she called me,” I said. “Did you give her my

number?”

“Nah,” he said, “I hardly ever spoke to her, I was gonna give her a call and have her get in touch with you but I didn’t want to tip of

Gofski’s guys.”

“I didn’t think you sent her to me,” I said, “She acted kind of strange and I was pretty sure she was up to something other than finding her husband.”

“Huh,” he grunted, “That’s weird.”

We pulled into the lot and I looked around to make sure Charlie’s car wasn’t there. It wasn’t. We got out and headed for my apartment. I planned to check my messages while we tried to figure out what was going on. When we got into the place, I offered Delvecchio a coke and we sat down at the kitchen table.

“That guy, Theo, or whoever he is, was parked in my lot this morning,” I said, “I tailed him from here to McAthorn’s.”

“No shit,” he said, “You think he was here trying to find you?”

“I imagine so,” I said, “Why else would he have been here?” I didn’t want to tell him about my neighbor yet. I was fishing to see if he offered up any more information.

“Maybe this guy isn’t looking for you,” he said, “Maybe there’s something else to this.” He was being genuine as far as I could tell. He wasn’t sweating and he wasn’t wringing his hands. From what I had seen of him, he couldn’t possibly lie without sweating.

“I don’t know, it seems kind of strange that he would stop me outside the bar to give me a hard time and then he turns up nearly everywhere else I go,” I said, “I doubt that it’s a coincidence.” I got up and walked around the counter to the kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door and looked for something to snack on. I would be going out to dinner in a couple of hours and I didn’t want to fill up on junk. I found some salsa and set it out on the counter. As luck would have it, I also had chips. I offered some to Delvecchio and he declined. He was looking around my apartment and he stopped to admire an old poster I had on the wall. It was one of those old movie posters that I had put in a frame.

“This is cool,” he said, “Where’d you find this one?”

I came around the counter and checked it out, “I think I got that one at a flea market. I bought a bunch of them, but I just don’t have the wall space to put them up.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “ I collect this type of stuff, I got movie posters from way back.”

“You wanna buy the others?” I asked, “They’re downstairs in my storage bin.”

“Yeah, what do you have?” he asked. “You got any from the old

Humphrey Bogart movies?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that I have one for the African Queen,” I said, “We can go down and look at them if you have time.”

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