The Longest Night of Rain

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Folded Like a Pretzel

I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to sit down and put all the information I had into one cohesive piece. The only problem is my head was still throbbing and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I finally went to bed and tried to sleep, thinking if I got a few good hours I’d be better able to do what I needed to do. I tried, but every couple of hours I’d wake up, having had another nightmare about my Mustang getting smashed.

She was a 1965 Shelby GT 350, white with a black rally stripe across the hood, roof, and trunk. Eddie had helped me restore her, and she was my pride and joy. I knew I was never gonna be able to concentrate on any of the Navarro’s until I knew she was in Jamie’s hands at Yancy’s Garage. I finally got out of bed at five o’clock and took a shower. My head wasn’t hurting as bad as it had been last night, and my wrist was painful but manageable. Once I got dressed I made my way downstairs and was surprised to find Alma sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee. “You couldn’t sleep either?” she asked me.

“Nope. I kept dreaming about getting hit. Have you heard from Walton yet?”

“Nothing yet. I’ll give him until nine o’clock. You’re sure you want it back?”

“I’m sure. She’s real important to me. I had some papers in the front seat with information about Ramon senior. That’s another reason I want her back. Once I’ve got those I can start putting together a synopsis of what we know so far. I think it will make more sense that way.”

“I hope so, because right now all I know is I’m confused.”

Gerald appeared out of nowhere with a cup of coffee. “Thank you, Gerald.”

“Would you like some aspirin, Rick?” Bless his heart, he remembered.

Alma started to say something and I stopped her. “I told him to call me Rick. And yes, Gerald, some aspirin would be wonderful.”

He pulled a bottle of aspirin out of his pocket. “I think you better keep this, Rick. You’ll need it more than I will.”

“Thanks,” I told him, taking the bottle.

“I’ll bring you some water.” And he was gone to get water.

“Gerald is a good man,” I told Alma. Of course, that wasn’t anything she didn’t already know.

“He’s worth his weight in gold.”

When Gerald returned with the water he asked Alma, “What time would you like breakfast, madam?”

“I think eight o’clock, Gerald. Is that acceptable to you, Richard?”

“Perfectly fine, Alma.”

Gerald nodded and hurried back to the kitchen. I couldn’t stand it any longer and finally said something. “Alma, I wish you would do me a favor.”

“Anything.”

“Please don’t call me Richard anymore. I prefer Rick.”

“Of course, Rick.” And she gave me that patrician smile.

“Thank you.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

I chuckled. I couldn’t help it. “I didn’t know you well enough.”

We sat quietly in the living room for a few minutes, until Gerald returned with a silver coffee pot on a matching tray. He left and I poured us both more coffee. And it was me that broke the silence. “Do you know how old this house is?”

“Douglas Fairbanks had it built in 1920, but he never lived in it. It stood empty until John Barrymore bought it in 1935. After that it passed from hand to hand until Mateo bought it in 1985. He took almost five years to have it remodeled, then I had it done again a few years ago.“

“Quite some history. She doesn’t look too bad for an old girl.”

“Sort of like your car. Is there a story behind that?”

I could feel the expression on my face change, so I turned my head away from Alma. “Eddie helped me restore it.” Whatever my face was going to tell her, she didn’t need to know.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” Her voice was soft and gentle, just the kind of reaction I didn’t want to get from her.

“I’ve had her a long time, that’s all.”

“Of course.” The phone rang, and in a minute she picked it up. “Hello? Well, good morning, Walton. No, you didn’t get me up. You did? And then? It is? Well, good. Rick will be happy to hear that. Yes, I knew you could, Walton. Thank you.” She ended the call and I turned back to her eagerly. “Your car is at Yancy’s Garage. Your mechanic will call you later today and let you know how long it will take to get it fixed, and your papers were on the floor of the front seat. You can relax, now.”

I let out a breath. “Thank you. Do you have a car I can borrow to go get the papers? Then I can start my synopsis. Maybe we’ll have a clear path to Ramon Luis Navarro. And I have Robin gathering information on him.”

Now it was my turn. My phone rang and I saw that it was Robin. “Hey, Miss Short. How are you this morning?”

The first words out of her mouth were, “Why didn’t you call me last night? Do I have to hear that you were almost killed from Donahue?”

“That’s because I wasn’t almost killed. I left the hospital three hours later.”

“Hospital? You were in the hospital?” I had to hold the phone away from my ear; she was definitely on full tilt.

“Calm down. Didn’t Donahue tell you what happened?”

“No, he didn’t. Just that you were in an accident and almost killed. So you better be telling me now, or I’ll never forgive you.” She’d barely calmed down.

“I stopped at Del Taco – “

“I told you that place was going to kill you.”

“I stopped at Del Taco and on the way out of the drive-thru I got broadsided by some kid that came racing in the parking lot without looking.”

“Oh, no. Why were you taken to the hospital? How bad were you hurt? What about the Mustang?”

“Robin, slow down. I got a steering wheel in the chest and then hit my head. Mild concussion, seven stitches. And a sprained wrist. They took me to the hospital because I was unconscious and couldn’t tell them not to.” I had to pause for breath. I guess the steering wheel did more damage than I thought. “I don’t know how bad the Mustang is, but she got it broadside. They tried to declare her totaled but she’s with Jamie now. That’s all I can tell you. I’m going over later to see her.”

“Rick Simon, if you ever pull another stunt like this again . . . “

“I didn’t pull a stunt, Robin. I’m the innocent party here.”

“Next time you call me. I don’t care if all you’ve got is a hangnail. You understand?” It didn’t matter what I said at this point, just as long as I promised to call. I guess we were both a little touchy about Eddie.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, how soon do you need this information about Navarro?” Finally, she was back to business.

“As soon as you can get it. Take a picture of it and send it to me. And see if you can find any information on his daughter Delores. Anything else?”

“Ralph Turner at Turner Materials wants to know how the investigation is going.”

“Shit,” I said under my breath. “Call him and tell him I’m still investigating.”

“You haven’t started yet.”

“Yes, I have. Right before we lost Eddie. I’ll spend some time on it next week. I swear.”

“That’s all. Are you coming into the office today?”

“Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.”

“You better come by so I can see you and make sure you told me the truth about your injuries.”

“I’ll try. Talk to you later.”

“Bye, Rick.”

I hung up just as Gerald came in. “Breakfast, madam, Rick.”

Gerald picked up our coffee cups and followed us into the dining room. This morning we had scrambled eggs, sausage, hash brown potatoes, toast and orange juice. A veritable feast. The aspirin Gerald gave me had started to work and my head felt a whole lot better than it had at five o’clock this morning. Consequently, I was hungry. I did my best not to overeat, but the food was so good it was hard not to.

When I was finished I asked Alma the question that was originally interrupted by Robin’s phone call. “Do you have a car that I can borrow?”

“Oh, of course. You can take mine. It’s the red Ferrari.”

“Alma, don’t you have something a little less expensive?”

Alma laughed. “No, silly, of course not. Gerald, would you get Rick the keys to the Ferrari?”

“Wait, Gerald. Isn’t there anything else?” I asked plaintively.

“Madam, there is Miss Alicia’s Cadillac.”

“Would that be better?” Alma asked.

“If it’s alright with you.” I didn’t know if she had any kind of sentimental attachment to it, considering it was Alicia’s car.

“Of course. Gerald.” And Alma dispatched Gerald to bring the keys to the Cadillac. He seemed to be gone an awfully long time, and then I heard the sound of a car engine in front of the house.

“I’ll be back later,” I called out as I went running out the front door. “You didn’t have to do that,” I told the butler.

“You would never have found it in the garage,” was the reply.

“Well, thank you.” I got in and put the car in drive, and in just a minute was on my way to Yancy’s.

When I got to the garage I didn’t see the Mustang anywhere. I parked the Cadillac and went looking for Jaimie. I found him, of course, with his nose stuck under the hood of a car. “Hey, Jaimie.”

He came out from under the hood in a hurry. “Hey, man, you’re walking around. Considering what the Mustang looks like, I didn’t think I’d see you for weeks.”

“Oh, God, is she that bad?”

“Well, see for yourself. She’s around back.”

I walked around back and almost got sick to my stomach. My car had been folded in half, sideways, just like a pretzel. No wonder they wanted to total her. All I could do was pray Jaimie could fix her. While I was there I retrieved the papers I had with the Navarro information on them, then I went back inside the garage. “She looks terrible.”

“Didn’t you see her last night?”

“No. I hit my head on the steering wheel and was unconscious when they got me out of her. Is she fixable?”

“Well, if it was anybody but you, I’d say no. But if you’ll give me the time to do it right, I think so.”

On to my next question. “How long do you think?”

“Thirty days.”

“Does that include the bodywork?”

“Of course. I’ve got a brother in the business,” Jaimie answered, grinning at me. I was so happy I almost kissed him. “Who has to pay for it?”

“The kid’s insurance. He’s got to get me a rental car, too.”

He turned around and looked at the Caddy. “Whose is that you’re driving?”

“A client’s. It’s a loaner.”

“You travel in some pretty fancy circles, my friend.”

That made me laugh. “You just have to know the right people.”

“Alright, I’ll give you a call when it’s getting close. And Rick . . . take care of yourself.”

“Will do, Jaimie.”

I got back in the Caddy and headed for the office. I had to go face the wrath of Robin.

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