cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Six

May 29 – 31, 1983

 

We got up rather late on Sunday. Well, later than usual. We went to brunch at nine. It was Sid’s idea. He must not have been thinking straight because it was a buffet. I made at least five trips and scarfed down beignet, crepes, gumbo, bacon, sausage, grits, eggs, fruit and waffles.

“Is there any hope of you being finished within this lifetime?” he asked tiredly.

“Probably not,” I replied. “But I am getting ready to change restaurants.”

Sid shook his head. “Let’s go over your drop. According to the dossier, the suspect is Blaine Winters, caucasian, five eleven, dark blonde hair, blue eyes, fairly heavy. His cover is independent electronics sales. He has a place out in the bayou, with a P.O. box here in the city. Same good record everyone else has, except he’s a little weak in the area of investigations.” He paused. “You’re going to noon mass, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“I, uh, will probably drop you off a little early and meet you at one thirty. Is that okay with you?”

“Take your time. My drop isn’t til two and you don’t have to be there.”

Sid thought it over. “Wear your transmitter. I’ll make sure I’m in the neighborhood in time. I don’t like the alley set up, but there’s no reason to believe they’re expecting you.”

Sid left me at St. Louis’s Cathedral about fifteen minutes before noon mass. After mass, I killed about twenty minutes looking around the cathedral, then another half hour in the gift shop. The drop point wasn’t far away. It was a small alley off of the square. About two doors down, sitting in the doorway was a man fitting Winters’ description in a black beat up fedora and old dark raincoat.

“Excuse me,” I said approaching him. “I’ve got a small package to deliver on Bourbon Street. Can you help me find it?”

“I’ll draw you a map,” he replied. “You got something to write on?”

I dug into my purse and pulled out a pen and pad. Under the pad was the sealed envelope. These I handed to the man. He wrote the directions down and handed back the pen and pad.

“Thank you,” I replied and continued down the alley.

Ignoring the directions I’d been given, I left the alley at the first real street I came to. I had gone about half a block when I looked into a window and saw two men standing at the end of the alley I’d just left. One of them was short and fairly heavy, wearing a poorly fitting dark suit. The other was tall and had a dark green overcoat on. Neither was Winters.

After turning down a couple of streets, I discovered they were still close behind and getting closer. I walked a little faster. They picked up speed and started gaining on me. Wondering where the heck Sid was, I slid my hand up the sleeve of my dress and tapped out an urgent message on the transmitter. I turned a corner and broke into a trot. Checking behind me, I saw that they had not caught up with me yet so I ducked into a souvenir shop.

Apparently, they saw me go into it because a few minutes later they came in. I ducked behind the shelves, keeping one eye on the tall one, edging towards the door. The tall one was heading for the back. Just as I was almost to the door, I looked down the long aisle just in time to see the two of them spot me and come after.

That was enough. I dropped any pretense of discretion and ran full out, crashing through the doors, and headed in the direction I’d just came from. I looked back and saw the two of them running after me. But I’d gained almost a block’s lead. I frantically tapped out another message to Sid. At the second cross street I came to, I crossed the street I was running along, then nearly got myself hit by a car, running across the cross street. I hit the sidewalk and turned onto the street I’d just crossed. I looked back to check the progress of my pursuers and ran straight into someone.

“Excuse me,” I gasped without looking and tried to run on. Sid’s hands held me firmly but gently.

“Oh, thank God,” I gasped. “I’m being tailed.”

Sid looked quickly around and pulled me after him through two saloon doors. Just before I went through, I saw my tails come around the corner and spot me.

Firmly holding my hand, Sid led me through the dark, smoky room, weaving between the crowded tables. It was terribly noisy in there with loud music and people trying to talk over it. I heard the catcalls but somehow didn’t notice the ramp down the middle of the room.

“They saw me come in,” I said in a low voice in Sid’s ear. “They’d just come around the corner.”

“Do you think they saw me?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay. We’ll take a chance on assuming they didn’t.”

Sid found us a table in a dark corner, about midway through the room. A cocktail waitress came up and slapped two huge menus on the table. Smiling, Sid picked up one and opened it.

“Perfect,” he said quietly. “Don’t hold it so high it’s obvious you’re hiding, but this is excellent cover.”

I opened my menu and looked at it. The bill of fare was pretty typical. I guess the lewd drawings were too, but I had never seen anything like them. I began to realize what sort of place I was in. I swallowed.

“Carefully now,” said Sid. “Look up and check out the two gentlemen who just came in.”

My eyes were adjusted to the dark by then, so I could take just a quick peek.

“That’s them.” I dove behind my menu.

“Are either of them Winters?” Sid asked.

“No. But I picked them up as I left the alley.”

The waitress came to take our order.

“Just a few more minutes,” said Sid and off she went.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my tails heading for the back. Sid suddenly got up and left for a minute.

“Okay, they’re gone,” he said, returning.

I lowered my menu. For the first time, I saw the woman dancing on the ramp. I froze.

“Oh my god, she’s stark staring naked.”

“She’s not a very good dancer, either. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Once outside, Sid put his arm around my shoulders and held me tight against him. I started to pull away, but his grip was too strong.

“Hang on to me,” he ordered, as we walked quickly down the street. “It’ll be harder for them to spot you.”

I stopped pulling.

“Not that I think they’ll get out of there any too quickly,” he continued.

“Why not?”

“There’s a cat house in the back there.”

“How’d you know?” I looked at him suspiciously.

“Observation, my dear. I saw several men go back there, all escorted by obvious professionals. You got any cash?”

“Some.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “I just spent my last hundred bucks to keep those goons of yours occupied.”

“How?”

“I sent a couple of girls after them. Told them to say Jerry sent them.”

“Who’s Jerry?”

“Beats me.”

“Are you sure that’s going to stop them?”

Sid looked behind us. “Well, they’re not following us. Besides, I was able to get a better look at them than you were probably able to. They looked like your standard thugs to me. I get the feeling somebody hired them to do some dirty work. That’s just the type to take advantage of a freebie, even if it means being lax on the job.”

“I hope so.”

We got back to the motel without any sign of a tail. Still, we didn’t leave again that night. The next morning, Sid left fairly early to look around. He returned just before noon, saying he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Mutt and Jeff, as we’d come to call my pursuers, but that I’d better not go out that afternoon. We could go out that night, under the cover of darkness. We ate lunch in the motel coffee shop and spent the afternoon playing cards. That night Sid told me he had a surprise for me the next day.

It was an all day riverboat trip on the Mississippi. We had a wonderful time even though I lost ten dollars to Sid when I dared him to spell Mississippi. He couldn’t do it. But he challenged me to, and I didn’t get it right until the third try. That hurt my pride more than it hurt my pocketbook.

We got off the boat just in time to check in with the Dragon. Sid was not happy when he hung up the phone.

“Guess who set up a phony meeting with Winters and asked me to tail him when he splits after no one shows,” he said.

“Why would she do that?”

“Your friends, Mutt and Jeff.” He looked around. “It’s not ’til six thirty. Why don’t we get some dinner and window shop for a while, then you can go back to the motel while I’m on Winters’ tail.”

“Sounds good, but don’t you want to stay wired?”

“Uh, yes and no. The Dragon said I shouldn’t hold onto him too tight, and I thought I might take advantage of the separation, if you don’t mind.”

“I guess not. When do I start worrying?”

“Tap in a message around ten. I’ll make sure I keep my receiver on and give me, say, twenty minutes to respond.”

We took our time and pretty much stayed near the waterfront, as the meeting was in that neighborhood. At six twenty-five, Sid spotted Winters at the restaurant.

“There he is. Now, remember, straight to the room.”

“I’ll see you later.”

He watched me until I got half a block away, then got into position on the other side of the restaurant, where I couldn’t see him. I did see Mutt and Jeff watching Winters, which I thought was rather odd. I didn’t think they’d seen me, so I turned into a nice old fashioned drug store on the corner. Ordinarily, I would’ve done exactly what Sid had told me, but the next day was Sid’s birthday and I wanted to get him a card. I had plans and I couldn’t wait to surprise him.

Finding the right card for him was no easy task. Getting back to the hotel proved to be much harder. I had just paid for the card and stashed it in my purse when I saw Mutt heading my way down the aisle adjacent to me. I didn’t wait. I pulled a wire rack of greeting cards into his path and took off.

After bursting through the doors of the store, I turned right into a dark green overcoat. Gasping, I pulled away and tried to run over a small foreign car parked at the curb. But Jeff pulled me down by the back of my sundress.

By that time, Mutt was there. He grabbed my upper arm hard and held me so tightly it hurt. Jeff took hold of my other arm just as tightly. They escorted me down the street, to a large, dark, four-door sedan. Mutt shoved me into the back seat and climbed in next to me, while Jeff seated himself behind the wheel. Mutt pulled a gun. I decided not to try anything.

I wasn’t blindfolded and I do have a pretty good sense of direction, so I was able to pretty much keep track of where we were, even though I was terrified. I was too scared to play cool. It was all I could do to keep my head clear enough to think and not panic.

We parked in front of a line of seedy apartment buildings on the edge of the French Quarter. When Mutt pulled me out of the car I stumbled and fell, scraping my elbow. I was roughly dragged to my feet and escorted into the building we’d parked in front of.

The stairs weren’t lighted or carpeted. The place reeked of urine and burnt food. Somewhere I heard an infant screaming. I was pushed up three flights and then down the hall.

The apartment I was pushed into wasn’t any nicer. There were newspapers all over the floor, an old yellowed lamp in one corner, a couch with the stuffing coming out in several places and a kitchenette with a sink piled high with dirty dishes. At the end of the room was a door.

Mutt patted me down, missing the twenty-two automatic strapped to the top of my thigh. Sid had told me to wear it as close to my crotch as possible just because people usually avoid searching genitalia unless they have to. I was shoved through the door into a small bedroom with a foul smelling brass bed and a white ceramic stand alone sink up against one wall. In the other wall, was a window.

“Don’t think of trying anything,” said Jeff, as he shut the door.

I tried the window. Even if I could have opened it, there was no place to go but straight down three stories. I wasn’t that desperate yet. I debated blasting my way out with the twenty-two. But while the gun was better than no gun at all, it was little more than a pea shooter, and with two of them, I figured the odds were pretty good I’d get hit before I could get them stopped without killing them.

I decided to listen at the door, to see if I could learn something useful. All I heard was that someone wasn’t answering and snatches of debate about what to do in the meantime. I looked at my watch. It was eight forty-five.

Time crawled along. To calm myself, I recited the Rosary under my breath, counting the Hail Marys on my fingers. Shortly after nine, I heard the phone clatter onto its cradle. It seems whoever wanted me raped, strangled and dumped near the waterfront. Then they started talking about doing it together and arguing about who took the top and who took the bottom first. I had only a vague idea what they were talking about, and a bad feeling that I didn’t want to know. It took them ‘til ten-fifteen to settle it and they came after me.

I yanked up the skirt of my dress to get the gun. The fabric got in my way, then the door slammed into my hands.

Seeing me so close to the door really irritated Mutt and he backhanded me across the face, first one way and then the other. I stumbled, crying softly, as I felt the blood from my nose drip onto my upper lip. I saw him double up his fist and ducked just enough to catch it in my left eye. Then the room went spinning as another fist connected underneath my jaw. I fell backward onto my seat, my tongue throbbing on one side where my teeth had sunk in.

Looking up, I saw the both of them advancing on me. Jeff had come in without his overcoat and was playing with the fly on his pants.

“Holy God have mercy on me,” I prayed in a low voice.

Mutt turned to Jeff. “Quit playin’ with yourself and help me get her onto the bed. You can drop your drawers when we get her tied down.”

That wasn’t how I’d envisioned losing my virginity. I crawled backward as Mutt advanced on me. I tried to get my hand under my skirt again. Before I could get the gun, Mutt made a grab for me. I rolled away and scrambled to my feet. I think Mr. Fukaro, my martial arts instructor, would have frowned on my style, but I landed a good solid kick into Jeff’s groin. I swung around and landed a rabbit punch in Mutt’s ear and knee jerked him in the groin.

I found my purse in the other room and quickly checked inside to make sure everything was there. I guess they figured since they were killing me, they could always empty it later. With the transmitters on Sid and me, there really wasn’t anything of obvious interest in there, except my gun, which was on the same table as the purse. Jeff groaned and stumbled out of the bedroom. I grabbed the model thirteen and put a slug in his shoulder. Then I ran.

I got out of the building okay, but as I started running down the street, a bullet ricocheted off the building next to me. As another passed through my skirt dangerously close to my legs, I ducked for cover in a doorway.

I peeked around the stone to see Mutt, still doubled over, but hanging out the window with a gun. A car came towards us. I was about a hundred feet away from the cross street. As the car passed, I darted out from the doorway, running behind the car, to the corner and headed down the cross street.

I got turned around a couple of times and was making a lot of turns anyway, to avoid being followed, so I didn’t get back to the motel until eleven thirty. I couldn’t take a cab because Mutt and Jeff did get the cash out of my wallet. Gasping and sweating from the run, I got the key from the desk and hurried onto the elevator. My hands shook as I inserted the key and opened the door. The room was dark. I breathed a sigh of relief. Sid hadn’t gotten back yet. I had time to clean myself up and hopefully, he wouldn’t ask any questions. I could always say that the transmitter hadn’t worked.

I sank onto the edge of my bed closest to the balcony and blankly looked at the curtains. The key in the lock scraped and the door opened behind me.

“Where the hell have you been?” Sid was furious. “I’ve been worried sick about you.”

“Just out.” I kept my back to him. “I had to get something.”

I wanted to get to the bathroom before he saw my face.

“Just out,” snapped Sid. “I got back here at nine and you were gone. I found out from the desk clerk you never came in. I told you to come straight here.”

“I had to get something.”

“What, pray tell, did you have to get that took you four and a half hours to buy? Will you look at me?” Sid strode over. I winced as he grabbed my arm and turned me around. “Jesus. What the hell happened to you?”

“Will you please?” I groaned, trying not to cry. “I hate it when you use His name that way.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“Mutt and Jeff were watching Winters. I figured you’d seen them, but they found me. They knocked me around a little, but I got away. I kept an eye out. They didn’t follow me.”

Sid looked me over tenderly. A glance in the mirror told me I was a mess. My hair had gone wild from the run. My left eye was beginning to swell and redden. There was dried blood on my upper lip and out the corner of my mouth. My tongue had swollen and I was speaking with a slur. My upper arms were beginning to bruise. My elbow stung. My dress was filthy, with dark greasy spots all over it. My skirt had been torn away from the bodice in one section in the back and had a bullet hole in one side. My nylons were a mass of runs.

Sid bent and gently took off my sandals, which, amazingly, had held up. Then he turned down the covers on my bed and propped the pillows up against the headboard.

“I want you to stay put exactly where you are,” he said, pulling my nightgown out of my suitcase. “I’m going to get some ice. While I’m gone, I want you to slip out of your clothes and into your nightgown. I don’t want you to try and get up. I’ll clean you up when I get back. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Will you follow directions this time?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I’ll be right back. I’m taking my key, so don’t answer if anyone knocks.”

He left.

I did change into my nightgown. But he came back to catch me staggering out of the bathroom.

He set the ice bucket on the dresser.

“I thought I told you to…”

“I had to go.”

He softened and gently picked me up. I was too tired and shaky to protest. He set me down on my bed with my back against the propped up pillows. Then he quickly gathered together the towels, ice, washcloth, bucket and first aid kit, and neatly laid everything out on the bed beside me. He sat down next to me and without saying anything washed off my face and arms. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to enjoy his gentle touch. His hands were soft as they very carefully, gently probed my nose and around my eye, searching for things out of place, and then inspected the bruises on my arms and the scrape on my elbow.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” he said, smiling. “Just a nice selection of bruises and scrapes. You’re going to have quite a shiner, there.”

“Terrific. Can I have a piece of ice to suck on? I bit my tongue, too. It hurts.”

“Sure open wide.”

I did so and he popped the ice in.

He improvised an ice bag out of a plastic bag and a towel and had me hold it to my eye. Then he bandaged my elbow.

“Feeling any nausea or dizziness?” he asked, picking up the stuff.

I shook my head.

“Good. But let me know if you start feeling sick.”

He put everything away and then sat down next to me again.

“Now, I need to know exactly what happened.”

So I told him, starting from when I first saw Mutt. He listened without comment, although I saw him getting mad when he heard about the attempted rape.

“So you got them where it hurts,” he said and then to himself, “I wish I had.” He looked at me. “I’m proud of you. You handled yourself well.”

“Thanks.”

“But why were you at the drugstore in the first place?”

“I had to get something.”

“I know, but what?”

I bit my lip. Besides wanting to keep Sid’s birthday a surprise, I knew he’d be furious if he knew I’d gone there just for a birthday card. Fortunately, Sid took my hesitation for something else.

“Is it time for your monthly?”

I blushed but seized on the excuse. “Well, not quite. I just don’t like not being covered.”

I figured that was close enough to the truth. I hadn’t checked my calendar, but I knew I wasn’t due for at least another week and a half, more like two.

“You could have asked me to buy whatever you needed. I don’t mind doing that sort of thing.”

“I’m sure you don’t. But you know me.”

“Afraid so. That was a damned stupid thing to do. Next time, ask me, will you?”

“I will.” I watched him get up and go over to his bed. A question kept nagging at me. It was unpleasant, but I had to know. “Sid, I told you what they said before they came to me. Do you know what they were going to do?”

Sid looked at me sadly, then slowly nodded.

“What were they going to do?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“I do. It’s bugging me.”

Sid turned down his covers with a vicious snap before he spoke. He looked at me.

“They were going to take you both at the same time, probably more than once.”

“How?”

“One normally, one orally.”

I put my hand to my mouth as my stomach heaved.

“That’s sick,” I said through my fingers.

Sid shrugged. “It’s not really that bad. It’s the rape element that’s sick.” Sadly, he pulled his pajama bottoms and robe out of his suitcase. “Why don’t you go on to sleep?”

He helped me readjust my pillows, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Anne Louise Bannon

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