It was late when I finally staggered out of Foley's. Hell, who was I kidding? It was three in the morning! I'd had no intentions of getting plastered, much less allowing myself to become almost legless, but there I was - a pin ball bouncing off walls and parking meters.
Moments later I'd found myself flat on my back on the sidewalk. Looming above me was a defiant parking meter that had just supplied me with its answer to the age old scientific paradox that poses the question, What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? I might not have been very irresistible, but the gloating parking meter had certainly made its case.
Working myself onto my hands and knees I crawled over to a coin-operated newspaper box. Through my drunken sleep deprived eyes I could just make out the morning edition of my paper. The lead headline read:
Our President DeniesI let loose a string of expletives as I pulled myself to an erect but precarious standing position. It wasn't so much the arrogance or the stubbornness of the man we'd put in the Oval Office that had evoked my cursing, but the story itself. It should have been my exclusive story dominating the front page, not some redundant account of the economy.
Country In Recession
A few minutes later I entered the small all night diner located across the street from the scene of my skirmish with the parking meter. I limped up to the counter and somehow managed to position myself onto the stool without falling.
"Where's your coat, Benny?" Rosie called out from the other end of the counter. "You trying to catch your death? It's freezing out there."
Through blurred eyes I tried to bring her into focus and replied, "Nah. I just topped off my anti-freeze down at Foley's."
She dropped a menu in front of me, "You ought to lay off that stuff, Benny." She motioned to the large window facing the street and added, "One of these days that parking meter and that newspaper box are going to file assault and battery charges against you."
I glanced over my shoulder and saw the newspaper box lying on its side beside the unscathed parking meter. I should have known that Rosie would have been a witness to my tirade against the inanimate objects. I winced at the sudden throb of pain in my toe which had led the charge, along with the rest of my foot, against the helpless newspaper box. Its only crime? It had been serving as a repository for the morning edition.
After I struggled to down and to hold down two hot cups of Rosie's motor oil, which she insisted was the best coffee in the city, I laid down a fin and said to her, "Keep the change, Rosie. Maybe you can use it as a down payment on your next trip to the beauty shop."
"What, so you can start hitting on me? No, thanks," she responded. "I'll pick up some batteries instead."
I flashed her a wink and stepped outside. I had been a regular at Rosie's going on fourteen years. Despite our acerbic exchanges, we had formed a strong friendship through the years. In times of need each of us had been there for the other on numerous occasions.
By the time I'd reached for the key to my apartment it was five in the morning. I'd already come to the conclusion that going to bed was out of the question. I was about to insert the key into the lock when I noticed that the door was ajar. I would never have left my door unlocked, even when I was home. I pushed the door open with my foot which aggravated the earlier trauma. I ignored the pain and cautiously stepped inside.
Although I've never witnessed first hand the damage caused by a tornado, my apartment looked like one had passed through it. My humble abode in no way resembled the one I had left twenty-two hours earlier. The place had been completely ransacked room to room, wall to wall. Glancing up at the ceiling fan which was dangling by a single wire, it was apparent that the intruders had even payed attention to the areas from the ceiling to the floor.
It was obvious to me that it had not been a random break-in. They were leaving no stone unturned. They weren't satisfied they had confiscated every record from the press room that even hinted at or mentioned the work of Mr. Black and Ms Gray. It irritated me to have them think I was dumb enough to leave anything connected with a story of that magnitude in my apartment.
My first thought was to call the police to report the break in and the vandalism. I surveyed the place from where I was standing trying to locate the telephone. From across the room I could hear the faint blare of the alarm signal announcing that the phone was off the hook.
I froze and held my breath. The off-the-hook signal had just started! That could have meant only mean one thing - the intruder was still in my apartment! I bent down and picked up the vintage souvenir 1967 Red Sox bat lying next to my foot.
It's true what they say, while the cat's away, the mice will play. I slapped the bat into my palm several times making certain that my uninvited guest could hear it. This cat had come home early and he had a mouse, a big nasty mouse cornered.
"Come on out," I shouted. "I know you're in there."
There was movement behind the suit jackets still hanging in the closet. "Mr. Bering? Is that you?" A young woman stepped out into view. "You ... You aren't going to hit me ... Are you?"
I let the bat fall to the floor as I gazed upon her familiar face. "Susan? What in the hell are you doing here ... In my apartment?"
She was trembling with fear as she spoke, "I ... I heard someone at the door ... I didn't know who it was ... I was trying use the phone ... I dropped it and ran to the closet."
I waved my arm indicating the state of my home, "Are you into interior decorating as well as chauffeuring?"
She shook her head, "You don't think I had anything to do with this?"
"No. Of course not." I assured her. "But that doesn't explain why you are here in my apartment in the first place."
"I was looking for you. Mr. Black sent me. He said he had to see you right away," she answered. "I found the door to your apartment open. I peeked in and called your name. Then I saw this mess." She suddenly broke down into tears and slumped to the floor. When I stooped down next to her she brushed her hair from her face and exclaimed, "I thought something happened to you too!"
"Too? What happened? To whom?"
"My boyfriend ... Billy ... He's dead!" She began to sob uncontrollably and buried her face in her hands.
I placed a comforting arm about her and said, "I'm so sorry." A foreboding thought struck me and I peered into her eyes, "God no! Billy was the cab driver that night?"
She nodded as I pulled her to her feet. I hugged her to me and let her cry on my shoulder. "I know it's not easy for you to talk about, but how did he ... die?"
Somehow she managed to hold herself together long enough to answer, "He was shot in the back of his head! His arms were tied behind his back ... with duct tape!" She began to sob and shuddered in my arms.
I swallowed hard and uttered, "He was executed. The sons of bitches executed him!"
(To be continued in part 7, "I Am, Therefore I'm Not.")