Sex or not....
I had signed out of the hospital a.m.a., against medical advice. The intern responsible for my care was frantic.
“Mr. Williams, I can not disagree more strongly with your decision to leave the hospital. You are badly injured, and you may not be aware of the danger you are exposing yourself to. If you insist on leaving, you must sign this waiver.” The doctor shoved a clipboard at me.
I looked at Kat. After all, this was his idea. He gave a quick nod. I shrugged my shoulders, winced in pain, and signed the dotted line.
With the help of Wilbur and Orville I made my way out to Katowski’s car. Katowski’s pride and joy, this is a 1964 Lincoln Continental Convertible, white on white with an all leather interior. Suicide doors. 64,000 original miles on the 430 cubic inch, 320 hp V-8. 5200 pounds of Detroit iron. It is mint inside and out, top to bottom. Katowski treated this car like his wife. Hell, he treated it like his mistress. The jack had never been used. The floor was clean enough to eat off of. He’d kill you before you finished, but you could get at least through a shrimp cocktail. And that is my choice for a final meal, anyway.
The Smith boys eased me into the spacious rear seat. Katowski called out. “Don’t get any blood on the leather.” It’s nice to be loved.
Smith One sat beside me while Smith Two took the shotgun seat. Katowski cast off and eased the Lincoln into traffic. He was watching me through the rear view mirror, to the exclusion of the road ahead. “We’ll take you back to your place. You don’t officially live there, right?”
“Right. I’m only known through a P.O. box.” I used a cell phone for all calls. It is bad economics, but easier than trying to convince the local telco to hook up a line into an abandoned church. Even the cable TV was untraceable. The signal was there when I moved in. I guess the cable company didn’t bother to send a crew out to disconnect the line when the church folded. Ok, I know it is technically stealing, but I figured they would never miss a few electrons.Now, it appeared that my little misdemeanor might save my life. Sometimes crime does pay.
“You’ll want to lie low for a while.” Katowski had the disconcerting habit of looking at me while he spoke. Disconcerting because I was in the back seat of the moving car he was driving. “If I’m guessing right, you’re in the middle of something that could get very unpleasant.”
“Can’t you watch the road while you cheer me up. I’d like to survive the trip home, so I can begin worrying afresh tomorrow.’ Katowski humored me by turning his head so that only one eye was looking at me. I was expected to assume that the other was on the road, but God only knows.
“I’m going to drop you at the church. Wilbur and Orville will be staying with you until you’re healthier. They are feeling a little bit responsible for your situation. They would like to help out.”
It is possible that the Smiths were telepaths, or using some clever, subtle sign language to communicate with Katowski, all I know is they had not uttered a sound in my presence. Katowski was willing to attribute all manner of emotions and thoughts to them for which there was no evidence available to my eye or ear. I didn’t know if they were feeling guilty or not, but I would be glad of the help and company, and a couple of healthy bodies could come in handy if my whereabouts should become known in the wrong circles.
“That would be great.” I nodded towards each brother. “Thanks guys, I appreciate it”
The only indication that they heard or understood was the re-emergence of the same shy grins I saw when I first awoke in the hospital. This quickly gave way to the blank expressions that seemed to characterize the boys.
“ There are a couple of sofas in the lounge, I’ve some extra blankets, I think we can make do.”
“Good.” Kat was weaving through traffic with the nimble grace of a car half this size, being driven by man half his size.. “You stay out of sight. I’m going to poke around and see if I can find out what is happening. It is possible that this is just a series of coincidences, that there is no relationship between your evening out with Mrs. Marlin, the failed attempt on your life and the successful hit on Mayor Marlin” It was obvious Kat didn’t believe that.
“Hit?” I picked up immediately on the code. “You don’t think the Mob is involved?”
“No, if I did you would still be in the hospital. I know my limits. I was referring to the style, not the perpetrator. This was done by an amateur who has seen one too many De Niro movies. Killing a man as he entered an Italian restaurant is a little too theatrical. If the Mob wanted to send a message the Mayor would have disappeared. Just as effective a signal, and no evidence or witnesses. Mayor Marlin was killed by some local cowboy who is all hat and no cattle.”
“ Why don’t we just go to the Police, tell them what we know, and let them handle this? Investigating crime is their department, after all.”
“Shit!” Katowski slammed on the brakes to avoid running over a pedestrian who had walked across the street in the middle of the block. This city was populated with a peculiar group of people who believed fervently that they could not be hit by a car, even when standing in the middle of the road. They were wrong, of course, and proven so with alarming regularity. Today was not this fellows time, and Katowski stopped inches from him. He did not even acknowledge the two and a half tons of steel threatening his very existence, or the extremely angry man behind the wheel proposing to succeed where the car had failed. As we drove forward past the young gentleman, Katowski rolled his window down and offered some speculative opinions about the man’s family tree.
Meanwhile, the sudden stop had catapulted me off of the seat onto the floor. I’m reasonably certain that this too would be A.M.A.. I curled up in a ball in the floor well behind the passenger’s seat, gasping for air, through my pain. The drop had reminded me that I was one sick puppy. I seemed to hurt all over. What didn’t hurt, ached. What didn’t ache, throbbed. I believe I was whimpering, and I refuse to apologize for it.
Smith One reached down to help me, but I waved him away.
“Leave me alone. I just want to die here.” I was a little pissy by this point.
Kat reached over the seat back and looked down at me laying there. “Are you OK?’ He sounded concerned, but not concerned enough to watch the road. Following my recent conversion to fatalism, I no longer cared.
“No. No, I’m not OK. I’ve suffered serious injuries. I should be in a hospital, with doctors and IVs and round-the-clock nurses. Instead, I’m taking Mr. Toad’s Wild Tide though town with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the Mad Hatter at the wheel.” Dale Carnegie had nothing on me.
Kat looked hurt. “There is no need to be nasty. We are trying to help you, you know.”
I fixed him with one eye up out of the foot well. “Let’s recap, shall we? I was working for YOU when I got the crap beat out of me, and I met these two gentlemen when they failed in their attempt to feed me into a wood shredder. YOU made me sign out of the nice safe hospital, and YOU caused me to fall on the floor by driving like a madman. I think I am being quite pleasant under the circumstances.”
Kat gave a little “Hmpph” and turned around to face the road ahead. I settled into the well, curled into a ball. The posterior Smith reached down and rested the palm of his hand on the top of my head. It felt nice.
We finished the journey in silence. Katowski was sulking. The Smith Brothers were as inscrutable as ever. Katowski pulled into the lot behind the church and parked next to the pastor’s entrance. With the help of les freres Smith, I dragged myself to my bedroom at the far end of the church basement. The Smiths settled me into bed, propped my head up with pillows, then both of them went off to the kitchen to make tea. Katowski grabbed the chair from next to the desk, and pulling it up to the bed, he sat down.
“Listen, boychik, we are in a bit of a mess here. You asked about the police, well I went to the police when you were first brought to the hospital, and they were not particularly interested. The desk sergeant took a report, and two uniforms came to see you while you were still unconscious, but they did not seem very keen on the project. My feeling is that this incident is going to fall through the cracks, and that may be the best place for it. You will want to remain out of sight for a while.” Katowski looked serious. Dead serious.
The Smiths came into the room, one carrying a tray with a teapot, steam curling out of the spout, four mugs and a plate of frosted oatmeal cookies scrounged from my cupboard. He placed the tray on the nightstand next to my bed and poured tea into each mug. The other Smith was carrying two chairs which he set up next to Katowski. Tea was poured and the plate of cookies passed. It was all very civilized.
“Okay”. Katowski mumbled though a mouthful of cookie. “I want to bring you up to speed.” He swiped his hand across his mouth to remove the crumbs resting there. “I have been poking around a little since your accident. Wilbur and Orville,” he said, nodding towards each in turn, “have helped. There are no secrets from the trash man. You would be surprised how many people behave as if these two aren’t even in the vicinity, talking away about their most intimate undertakings”
Actually, I was not surprised that the Smiths made no impression. People who hired itinerant handymen liked to view them as servants, not assistants, or in any way equal. This master-servant mentality could lead to endless embarrassment for the poor handyman, who could be subjected to all manner of sights and sounds, as their employer pretended there was no one else in the room. I know this for a fact, because I didn’t always have a job as good as my current one. Oh, the things I saw, the stories I heard. It isn’t pretty out there.
Thinking is a dangerous pastime. As the last images went through my mind, it struck me that I was probably unemployed again. In my current condition I wasn’t going to be swaining dowagers about town anytime soon.
Katowski continued, “We don’t have much yet. It seems that there is something funny going on down at City Hall. The Mayor’s assassination may be political, it may be personal, it may be both.”
I interrupted. “So, tell me why we are so concerned about the Mayor. You said yourself this was only a terrible coincidence of unrelated events.” I was struggling with optimism born of desperation.
“Possibly. But I think we’ve got reason to worry. Mrs. Marlin gave a completely different account of her evening with you. She claimed that she returned from the Ladies to find you gone without a trace. She said she settled the bill and took a cab home. The next morning she called me to complain about your behavior. I spent the morning trying to track you down, when I got a call from the Smith Brothers telling me they had a naked man in their truck and asking me what they should do. I met them at the hospital, and there you were.”
“So why, if I ran out on her, did she offer to cover my hospital expenses?”
“At the time I thought it was to keep you quiet about the whole escort deal. Mrs. Marlin is on the Board of Directors of the Hospital, so it was no skin off her nose to see that you were cared for properly, without worrying about the expense. That kind of phony philanthropy makes some people feel good about themselves.” Kat reached for another cookie. “When you gave your version of the evening, I got an uncomfortable feeling, but you had a head injury, and Mrs. Marlin is a pillar of the community and a paying client, so I favored her story.
“However, the Mayor’s assassination put a whole new spin on things. I have a hunch that Mrs. Marlin’s actions the night she was with you, and the sudden demise of her husband are somehow related. I don’t know how, and I don’t know where you come into it”
“I’m an innocent in all this.” I protested “I don’t know the Mayor, I didn’t even vote for him.” I never voted, but I found, over the years, that it was better not to say so. There was always someone in the crowd willing to give you a good dressing down about how it is your civic duty to participate in the democratic process. They were incapable of understanding that freedom of choice includes the freedom to do nothing. In all my years of eligibility, I had never been in a position where my vote counted. Either my chosen candidate didn’t have a hope in hell, or was a landslide winner. I was conserving paper, by not spoiling a ballot.
“Oh, I know” Kat gave a sly grin. “I know all about you, I checked you out thoroughly the past two days. I know more about you than you do.”
I was willing to believe him. I tried to think back to anything I was especially ashamed of. I suppose the only source of shame in my background is the lack of any truly sordid occurrences. A little adventure would have been nice. On the other hand, I could have missed the adventures of the last week without regret.
Kat continued. “I think you are an accidental player in this drama. I have no reason to believe that Mrs. Marlin planned anything other than a routine evening with you. Whatever caused her to leave the restaurant must have been unexpected. When you ran after her, you stumbled into trouble.”
“I don’t need any more trouble. What do I do now?” I will admit to being baffled.
Kat looked apologetic. “Well, and I am not impugning your character, or fortitude, but you could disappear, move out of state, preferably out of the region.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Kat, I’d pull my tail between my legs and head for the furthest coast without worrying one bit about whether I was being insulted or not, but I am a little short on resources here. I took this job because I needed money. I’m in no position to pack my bags and move anywhere. I’m assuming I don’t have this job anymore?” I didn’t really need to ask.
“No, you had better be taking a hiatus from the escort business for a while. White bandages clash with black tie.” Katowski thought for a minute. “I have some friends I’ll ask, they might have something that can tide you over, allowing for your condition.”
“If you are going to stay in town, then we had better find a way to keep you safe. I’ve never lost an employee, and I don’t want to start.” Katowski was trying to be reassuring.
“Yeah, well so far I’m counting more on my good luck than your history as an employer to keep me alive.
Kat smiled and reached for the last oatmeal cookie.