Picking Up the Pieces
As I sat in the RAV4 I called Robin on the cell phone. She answered on the fourth ring. “Simon Private Investigations. May I help you?”
“Yes. Stay there. Don’t move until I get there.”
“Rick . . . “ she started, but I’d already hung up.
By the time I got there it was starting to get dark, and it had finally cooled off some. Matter of fact, it almost felt like rain. I parked in front and walked in the door – she gasped when she saw my arm. “It’s nothing,” I told her, but she had to examine it to make sure.
“Do you want the short version or the long version?” I asked her.
“Gerald got shot in the shoulder, I got it in the arm, Flatbush is dead and junior’s been arrested for first-degree murder and hiring a hitman.”
“Who killed Flatbush?”
“I did. I had to. He was going to shoot Gerald and Alma and me. And I don’t think he had only one bullet in mind for me.”
“How did you figure it out?” the questioning continued.
“I didn’t. Sean Donahue did. He’s the one that set me on the right trail.”
“Alright, I want the long version.” Trust her to change her mind.
“Honey, I’m beat to hell. I need to go home and eat dinner and sleep in my own bed. If I promise to be here tomorrow and give you the long version, will you let me go home?”
“No. We’re going to dinner, and then you can go home and go to sleep. That’s the only way I can be sure you’ll eat. And I’m going to hold you to that promise to give me the long version tomorrow. Deal?”
“As long as we can get a steak somewhere.”
“Outback?” she asked me.
“Outback it is. Can you follow me to my apartment and do the driving after we drop the RAV4 off? I’m afraid I’m gonna fall asleep.”
“No problem. Lead the way, boss.”
I grinned at her. “Deal.”
Just this side of twenty minutes later, I dropped the RAV4 in my parking lot and promised it I’d be back, sooner rather than later. I got into Robin’s Nissan Pathfinder and closed my eyes. It felt good, not to see the images of Billy leering at me while he pointed his gun, trying to determine what part of me he was going to put his first bullet into, or the look on junior’s face when he finally confessed to his mother that he took after his Uncle Eduardo. Or even the quiet trust that Gerald displayed, somehow knowing that I wouldn’t let anything happen to Madame. The next thing I knew Robin was shaking my arm, trying to wake me.
“Are we here already?” I asked sleepily.
“We’re at your apartment.”
“But I thought . . . “
“That’s what happens when you do your own thinking,” she replied. “Come on, I’m going to put you to bed.” It wouldn’t be the first time that happened, and I was almost sure it wouldn’t be the last. At least this time I wasn’t drunk.
With my good arm draped over her shoulders, we got inside and into the elevator. It was a long ride to the eleventh floor, and she almost had trouble getting me started again when the doors opened. I don’t remember much after that – the feel of her small hand as she searched for my keys, the tug on my feet as she pulled my shoes off. The next thing that registered was my alarm clock, going off at seven in the morning.
I showered and shaved, and fortunately I was awake before I tried to put a razor to my face. It had been so long since I’d put on anything but jeans and a shirt; it felt strangely odd with a tie and a blazer and a gun on my hip. I went to the kitchen and stuck water in Mr. Coffee, and in less than five minutes I had a cup of the stuff that would keep me going this morning. I didn’t have any useable cream in the refrigerator, so I dumped some powdered fluff in the cup and stirred it around. Now that I was home I would have to sit down with the computer and place a grocery order.
I took my coffee to the desk and gave a quick once over to the stack of bills. There were no disconnect notices, so I knew they would wait until tonight. There was a new issue of Time magazine and an issue of True Detective that I’d already seen when I waited for Lonnie in the library at U.S.C. Other than that there didn’t appear to be anything of great interest. I looked around for my briefcase and then remembered – it was still at the mansion, along with my computer and some clothes. I sighed. I was gonna have to face Alma today whether I wanted to or not. I finished my coffee and took the cup to the dishwasher, then grabbed my keys from the ashtray by the door and locked the door behind me. When I quit smoking, I cleaned the ashtray and used it to hold everything in my pockets when I came home at night. It was better than throwing away a perfectly good ashtray.
Thank God we had designated parking spaces, or I’d never find my car in the morning. I started the little car and thought about my Mustang; I’d have to go see how Jamie was doing with her. Even though it was odd driving the RAV4, it felt good to drive to the office, like things were almost back in their normal order again. There was only one thing missing, and I couldn’t do anything about that. I parked at the back of the lot and walked down to Subway, where they greeted me by name and asked if I wanted my usual order. I nodded and in just a few minutes I had two breakfast sandwiches and two cups of coffee.
Robin saw me at the door and rushed to open it. “I didn’t expect you this early,” she told me as I walked in. “How do you feel?”
“Like a train ran over me. How are you?”
“I’m . . . okay.”
“Thanks for putting me to bed last night,” I told her as I handed her coffee. “I’m not sure I would have made it without your help.”
“You owe me a steak dinner,” she replied with a grin.
“I won’t forget,” I promised.
“Yes, you will, but that’s alright.” The phone rang and she answered it, “Simon Private Investigations. May I help you?” Dead silence, and then, ”Yes. Yes, ma’am. He’s standing right here.” She put the phone on hold and looked at me. “Alma Cortez.”
I took the phone from her and she pushed the button. “Yes, Alma. Yes, I do. Okay. I can do that. I have to come by anyway and gather up all my belongings. This morning? Sure. Alright, I’ll see you.” I handed the phone back to Robin and she hung up the receiver. “I have to go get my computer and my briefcase. And she wants to talk to me about the arresting officer.”
“Who was it?”
“Donahue. I asked for him. He knew the most about the case.” Pause. “There’s something I want to talk to you about. Bring your breakfast and follow me.” I walked into my office and she followed. Once we got situated, I tried to get the conversation started. “There’s something I’ve been giving some thought. I wanted to run it by you and hear your feelings on it.”
“What?” she asked. Robin never wasted words.
“What about him?”
“What would you think about him working here?”
“Sean? Where did that come from?”
“I don’t know. Interacting with him the last couple days . . . it just feels right, like it could work if we gave it time. Of course, I don’t know if he’d be interested . . .”
“I think he’d be interested.”
“Is that first-hand knowledge, or woman’s intuition?”
“A little of both. He hasn’t said anything directly, but I saw the look in his eyes after the two of you talked. Eddie used to have that same look. Like he was excited to be involved in something new.” We finished eating, and sat drinking our coffee for a few minutes. “What made you ask me my opinion?”
“It has to work for all three of us, or it won’t work at all. You’re not just the office manager, you’re one-third of this business. I don’t want to consider somebody if you don’t want them here.” I think I’d surprised her by asking her opinion, but what I told her was true. It had to work for everyone.
“If this is the new you . . . I think I like it.”
“Besides,” I told her grinning, “Simon and Donahue Private Investigations sounds good.”
“Oh, you,” and she threw her empty paper cup at me, then burst out laughing.
“Alright, get out of here. I have a very important phone call to make.”
Once Robin had gone back to her desk I picked up the phone and dialed Donahue’s number. I was surprised when he answered. “Donahue.”
“Sergeant Donahue, this is Rick Simon. I’ve got something I’d like to talk to you about. Can you come by when you get off work?”
“Sure,” he answered. “is three-thirty alright?”
That would give me plenty of time to get to Alma’s and get my possessions. “That’s fine,” I told him. ”I’ll see you then.” I got up and walked back into the front office. “Donahue will be here at three-thirty. I’m going to Mrs. Cortez’s house to get my computer.”
“Mrs. Cortez?” Robin asked.
I was surprised when I rang the bell at the mansion and Alma answered the door. “Rick, please come in.”
I followed her into the living room, where Gerald was reclining on the couch. He looked pretty comfortable there. Alma had all my belongings packed in a box and ready to go. My computer was on top. “I’m truly sorry for the way everything turned out,” I told her.
“It’s not your fault. Who knew I was living with a psychopath?”
“He’s not a psychopath, Alma; he’s just a very disturbed young man. I’m sorry I didn’t catch on to it sooner.”
“You did your job, Rick. You got the man that committed the murders, and you found the person that hired him. I’m grateful to you for your efforts. I’ll be happy to pay your bill.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your saying that.” I turned to the man on the couch. “How are you, Gerald?”
“Much better, thank you, Rick,” and he smiled brightly at me. “I just wish Alma would realize she doesn’t have to spoil me. I still have a job to do.”
I caught the ‘Alma’ instead of ‘Madame.’ “No, you don’t, Gerald,” Alma told him. “You’re fired. Now, there’s something else in have I mind for you . . . “
I almost laughed at the two of them. They were like kids. I had no doubt that soon they would be Mr. and Mrs. . . . “What is your last name, Gerald?”
“Smith. Gerald Smith.”
I looked at Alma. “I expect a wedding invitation.”
“Please bring Robin,” she requested.
“I shall.” I picked up my box and walked back to the front door. “It’s been a pleasure being here with you, Mrs. Cortez. Have a long and healthy life.”
“I intend to, Rick.” She nodded towards the couch. “And thank you.”
At three-thirty I was back in my office. I’d given Robin the long version of what happened yesterday, and she’d taken a package she was mailing to the post office. I heard the front door open and glanced at my watch. Right on time. “Come on in, Sean,” I called. He came in, dressed almost like me – slacks, pastel shirt, sport coat, tie. He cleaned up nice, as my mother would have said. We shook hands and I told him, “Have a seat. I noticed you were on desk duty this morning. Is there a story behind that?”
He looked like a most unhappy man. “I’m confined to the precinct until further notice.”
“Because I didn’t catch either Flatbush or Lonnie Cortez.”
He’d given me the perfect opening. I caught my breath and started. “I’ve got a proposition to run past you. That’s if you’re interested . . . “
As I laid everything out in front of him, I could hear the rain beating on the roof.
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