Cry for the forgotten, Part 6
|Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 |Part 6 | Part 7 |
The day was chilly and gray for August. An unexpected cold snap was making its way down from Canada, bringing much needed relief to the stifling streets of New York.
The temperatures dropped down to the sixties and I welcomed the change. I was wearing a light wool navy blue pantsuit and ignored the stares of disapproval. It was obvious that my choice of attire offended most.
I couldn't have cared less what people thought. The fact of the matter is, I felt a certain freedom when I wasn't confined in a dress. I picked up a box of peanut brittle and was bringing it to Tiny. I knew it was one of his personal favorites and he would enjoy the added treat to his strict diet.
It was a week since the disappearance of my kitten, and Tuvo's crew and my snitches were working overtime canvassing the city for her. I arrived at the hospital feeling good for once, because Tuvo was finally being released today.
Though his shoulder was still stiff and sore, he managed to recuperate faster than the doctors anticipated. Begrudgingly, and under protest, they agreed to release him early. I knew the nursing staff would be pleased and relieved, the thought of getting rid of him was like Christmas arriving early.
Tuvo, like every other man I knew, made the worst patient imaginable. He took to using the call button like his own personal butler service. The night before I had to prevent Mabel, a 5' 5" dark skinned dynamo nurse from throttling him. She left tears in my eyes, when she told in him, in graphic detail, which part of his anatomy the surgeon would be removing with the buzzer if he used it one more time.
I made my way through the corridor and I spotted Lucille and Eugene as they headed towards Tiny's Room. Tiny was far from being released, but the gentle giant managed to defy all logic and was slowly recovering from the ten bullets he took to his body.
Lucille was wearing her Sunday best and even Eugene was looking like a brand new penny. Since Tiny's admittance, Eugene stayed on, in the Tiny household and was doing a decent job of filling in as a father figure for Tiny's two sons.
To tell you the truth, I was actually proud of Eugene, he was lying off the sauce and it was obvious he and Tiny seemed to bond somehow and had reached a new level of respect for one another.
I stopped in front of them and marveled at Eugene's appearance. He had a warm glow to his face and it was obvious he gained a few needed pounds. No doubt, it had to do with Lucille's fine home cooking. Lucille seemed to take a personal offense to anyone weighing less than two hundred pounds.
I guess I must have measured as a weakling, though she would never tell me to my face. For some reason that I could never quite explain, Lucille seemed to have a lot of respect for me. I counted my blessings, seeing how I never wanted to find myself on her bad side.
It was Eugene that spoke first and I did a double take. I realized quickly, his jaw was no longer wired shut. He smiled warmly, rubbed his chin, there was a shadow of stubble that actually made him look rakish, and his eyes were clear and a brilliant blue.
For a minute I felt my heart catch, as their bright intensity brought back painful memories of my lost kitten, and I felt the pounding in my heart as it threatened to leap out of my chest. A dark sinking feeling slowly began to creep its way into the core of my being.
Before I could say another word, I found myself swept up into Lucille's powerful embrace. I felt the oxygen escaping my lungs, and I tired valiantly to take a deep breath. To tell you the truth, it felt good if not a little painful. Somehow, the comfort of her powerful embrace eased the darkness that was creeping into the core of my heart.
I felt the sting of tears in my eyes and I blinked several times in an effort to keep from crying. My frail emotions on overload as the past week's events unfolded and left me feeling vulnerable. I found myself in constant tears when left in my own solitude, especially in those lone times when I was unable to continue my false bravado. The floodgate of undisciplined emotions quickly escaped and consumed my outer demeanor.
Between almost losing Tuvo and Tiny, then arranging for Bobo's funeral, I was at my wits end. However, not hearing a word about my kitten, struck me the hardest. It was plain to see, I loved her with a depth I never knew existed.
Though Miles and Bus Stop where working around the clock in trying to find a lead, the sudden void she left after her disappearance left me in despair. I was certain Lucille was able to detect it, though she would never be presumptuous enough to voice it.
She made it a point to hug me warmly every time we met and departed company. There was something about her powerful embrace that comforted me. I felt like a child nestled warmly in her mother's womb.
Being in the company of Tuvo's crew and their families always made me feel as if I was home and belonged. There wasn't anything in the world I wouldn't do for any of them and they for me.
Lucille released me from her embrace and looked warmly into my eyes. I glanced quickly to Eugene who had a wide grin on his face. I guess all of the love Lucille showed openly managed to heal a part of his battered soul.
That was the one thing about Lucille, she was an ever present rock of Gibraltar to us. She freely and openly showered us with the warmth and comforts only a mother could provide.
I held out the box of peanut brittle to her. She accepted it warmly and a sparkling smile touched her dark ebon face. Lucille was sentimental and took the simplest gestures to heart.
"Oh, Cat. You're going to spoil that big ape of mine? You know this is his favorite."
I couldn't help but return her smile and I'm sure my eyes were sparkling as brightly as hers were.
"Only the best for my Tiny."
"Your Tiny? Now Cat, don't you be setting your sights on Tiny. He's my man. Besides, what's he going to do with a frail thing like you?"
I was getting ready to answer when we were interrupted by a high shrill voice. Mabel the nurse was wheeling Tuvo in a wheelchair while arguing with him, as they headed in our direction. I couldn't help but notice the exasperated look on his wife's face as she walked along side them quietly.
No doubt, Nell wasn't looking forward to taking on the required duties for her grumpy husband. She was dressed elegantly as usual and carried herself with a highborn air that always made me feel clumsy whenever I was in her presence.
About the only person I could think of, that could hold their own socially against Nell was my kitten. As they neared, I was struck by the irony of it all. It dawned on me that the two most significant persons in Tuvo's life, and my own, carried themselves with such highborn elegant grace and ease.
I wondered how much Tuvo and I were alike. It made more sense to me now, why he was so smitten with my kitten. I envied Tuvo as he neared, knowing he would have his wife by his side tonight to comfort him, while I struggled with my feelings of emptiness and despair.
"I'm so glad to be rid of you, you're the most difficult man I've ever met. I don't know how your wife puts up with you."
"Perhaps you require a refresher course on nurse/patient relationships."
"Yeah, and maybe I shouldn't have ditched that course on patient safety either. I hear these things have inadequate brakes, you know. "
I couldn't help but chuckle as they neared, and even Nell had a hard time stifling her laughter. It was obvious Mabel had got the upper hand on Tuvo and we all seemed to enjoy the distraction.
Mabel stopped in front of us, as a forceful Tuvo ordered her to while he addressed us. She sighed deeply and rolled her eyes at the same time. I could tell, she wanted to be rid of him sooner rather than later. It was plain she didn't appreciate us stopping her from executing her duties.
"Cat, Lucille, how's Tiny?"
I watched as Tuvo raked his eyes over Eugene's form and I was able to detect a slight look of approval. It was the first time I ever saw Tuvo look at Eugene with respect and, for some reason, even Eugene noticed it. I watched as he stood erect and nodded his head elegantly to Tuvo.
Though Tuvo didn't directly address Eugene, he nodded back in response, the closest thing to a compliment Eugene would ever get coming from Tuvo. Lucille smiled warmly at him and answered.
"He's getting stronger by the day, Tuvo. The doctor said he should be able to come home in another week or two."
I watched as the shadow of relief crossed Nell and Tuvo's face. It was a known fact his crew was more family then anything else. Besides, Tiny was part of Tuvo's inner circle, which meant a lot more than anyone could ever imagine.
"That is excellent news. Is everything fine, Lucille, do the boys need anything?"
Tuvo would never abandon one of his crewmembers, and though I knew he was aware of the fact of Eugene's role in assuming responsibility over Tiny's family, I was curious to see where this would lead.
"No Tuvo, the boys are doing just fine. Eugene here, has been doing a great job in helping me out with the boys."
Tuvo shifted his vision to Eugene and a knowing look touched his eyes. My jaw fell to the floor when I watched Tuvo reach his hand out to Eugene's, it took several seconds before Eugene reacted and immediately shook Tuvo's firmly.
It was the least thing either Nell or I suspected and we were flabbergasted by the exchange. Tuvo was always exemplary and this was the reason why I admired him so much.
Though Eugene erred tremendously in the past, Tuvo was gracious enough to give him public credit where it was due. I smiled warmly at my old friend and shook my head. He watched me peripherally and I noticed the curl of a smile touch his lip.
Miles and Bus Stop arrived in time to witness the exchange and I noticed how Miles nodded his head in approval. A sign he endorsed Tuvo's decision and agreed with the assessment. Without ever truly realizing it, Eugene just went from a lowlife scum in their book, to a full crewmember.
I felt the sting in the back of my eyes again and cursed myself inwardly. For the past week, I had found I was unable to keep a lid on my emotions and, on more than one occasion, found myself being comforted by either Miles or Tuvo.
I knew that it bothered them and they felt just as helpless as I did. The failure in not being able to locate my kitten was eating at us all, and we doubled our efforts hoping to catch a break somewhere, anywhere.
I noticed a certain warm glow in Miles's eyes and I felt my heart leap into my mouth. My eyes scanned his and I read his thoughts instantly. He returned my intense stare with a quiet nod of his head and this time I couldn't stop the tears from rising swiftly.
Miles had a lead and it was obvious this one panned out. Over the past week, we ran ourselves ragged following various tips that turned out to be dead ends. Miles raised his eyebrows, and flexing the toothpick in his mouth, nodded towards an empty room.
Tuvo and Nell were watching our exchange with interest and knew we just caught a big break. Nell leaped right into action and without skipping a beat, she promptly removed Tuvo from Mabel's care, who began to protest until she got a gander of Nell's threatening stare. With a loud huff, she spun on her heels and left us to our own devices.
Nell carefully pushed Tuvo's wheelchair into the empty room, as Miles, Bus stop and I followed suit quickly behind them, all along with Nell struggling in keeping Tuvo seated in the chair and begging him to remain that way.
We entered the dull green empty room where two stripped beds sat on opposite sides of the room, and a silver metal bedpan laid in the center of each bed. Bus Stop promptly closed the door behind him, and we turned to face Miles, who had placed himself near the window.
Miles had a terrible aversion to hospitals, and it took every ounce of his strength each time he was forced to darken the door of one. Luckily for us, those times were far and few between. He took in a deep breath and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Tuvo nodded his elegant head towards him, before I could ask him verbally what was on the tip of all of our tongues. Miles graced us with his enigmatic wide grin and his eyes took on a definitive sparkle. I knew then that the news was good.
"We got a lead on her and it panned out."
"What do you have?"
"Your rummy snitch from Westchester spotted her being dragged into a plane."
I couldn't stop the level of emotion that was inflected in my tone and I was anxious to hear what else Miles had to say.
"That's not all, the skirt was dragged into a separate plane several hours later."
"Was it Henke's crew?"
A level of fear touched my voice for some reason I couldn't quite make out. I knew by the look in Miles eyes, that I wasn't going to like the answer. There was a shadow of fear that quickly flashed through his eyes, those of us that knew him well were able to detect it.
I didn't fail to notice how Nell and Tuvo stiffened immediately when they caught sight of it too. Nell turned to me with a look of deep compassion in her eyes.
Just like her husband, she was well aware of my sexual preferences and never seemed to mind. Nell spent the early part of her life in France singing professionally in Parisian cabarets with the likes of Josephine Baker. She had very open views towards sex, just like her husband, and knew of my relationship with the kitten.
It occurred to me, she and Tuvo must have spent many hours discussing my relationship with the kitten. No doubt, they were probably relieved I'd finally found someone to settle down with. Over the past four years, Nell tried on numerous occasions to play matchmaker for me and never quite succeeded.
She moved from her husband's side and crossed over to me, placing a warm firm hand on my forearm and squeezing it gently. I leaned into her warm gesture and took strength from her silent show of support. Miles swallowed deeply before he answered.
"Cat, ...I..I.. Henke doesn't have her exactly."
For a moment, I felt the confusion as it clouded my thought process and almost failed to consider the hesitation in Miles voice. If I weren't thinking so emotionally, I would have jumped on it immediately. The sudden realization hit me and I felt the fear forming a lump in my throat. Nell squeezed my arm tightly, as I closed my eyes for a few seconds and took in a deep breath.
"Who has her, Miles?"
I needed to know the answer and I felt a sudden cold dark shadow that stole into my soul. I wished to lock out his answer, because I knew it couldn't be good if Miles was suddenly showing hesitation.
"Cat, I..I don't know how to say this, but its Dr. Charleston. Henke's crew took the skirt, I don't know maybe they're working together."
I felt the blow to my stomach and physically bent in response quickly turning my back towards them as Tuvo sucked in a deep breath. I felt the strong hands of Nell, holding me tightly on my shoulders and I couldn't help the cry that escaped from my lips.
The tears immediately formed in my eyes and I tried desperately to regain my self control, while Nell ran smooth circles along my back. It was several moments before I was able to regain my composure and able to turn around and face my friends. By now, I was leaning heavily on Nell, who didn't seem to mind supporting my limp form.
"Are you sure?"
My voice cracked under the raw emotions that assaulted the very heart of my soul. Miles nodded his head silently, his face was dark and serious. There wasn't a person in that room, that didn't understand the danger my kitten was in.
"Yeah, Cat, I'm sure. Our man saw her being forced into a plane and Cat, she seemed pretty hurt."
It was all I could take, and I felt the sudden surge of hot blood rage rising swiftly from my feet. The thought of the freak laying a hand on my kitten automatically forced me to loathe and despise him more. I had very little doubt in my mind, I was going to take pleasure in killing him if necessary.
To tell you the truth, I was hoping he would give me the slightest reason to act aggressively against him. I knew there wasn't a person in this room that would attempt to stop me if I did. Each silently acknowledging what a better place the world would be without the likes of him.
"Exactly how long ago?"
Miles looked at his watch before he turned to me and answered, whispering quietly.
"Sixteen hours ago. I'm sorry, we couldn't have gotten the information sooner, Cat. The skirt was taken 4 hours after that."
My face drained of all of its color at the mention of the time lost. Charleston had a big jump on us and by now, they could be anywhere.
All along we had been working under the assumption Henke and his crew were responsible. Particularly, since the incident in Germantown, that had sent us all running for cover and Tuvo to the hospital.
For the first time in a week, I felt the numbing sensations slowly ebb from my nerve endings. I stared at Tuvo and read the compassion in his face, there was also the look of fear that touched the corner of his eyes. My heart sank to the floor. I cleared my thoughts and began taking charge.
My time for dwelling on the implications would have to wait if I expected to locate Annia. I knew I had to keep a level head or I could lose her forever. I felt the burning again in the pit of my stomach and regretted never sticking the knife into Charleston's heart after all.
I turned to Miles slowly, my entire body tensing and becoming rigid. I watched through the corner of my eye as Nell took a tentative step backwards and smiled lightly.
It was plain to see my 'fighting' face was on, and everyone present in that room knew it well. Tuvo sat higher in his chair and I had everyone's undivided attention.
"What do you have?"
My voice was low and deadly. I noticed Bus Stop shiver slightly as he stood by the door and pretended not to be paying attention. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I was glad Tuvo brought him in, you see, Bus Stop was a deadly opponent and extremely efficient in particular situations.
"According to our sources, their flight plan indicates they where headed to Chicago."
"Why Chicago? Who does Charleston know in Chicago?"
"I don't think he's staying. If anything, they probably will stay long enough to refuel and head to San Francisco."
"How about the skirt's plane?"
"Same pattern and flight plan."
"I don't get it, why not take them in the same plane?"
"Maybe they're worried about a crash, and don't want to put all of their eggs in one basket."
Tuvo's warm voice broke the thread in my conversation and I knew he had to be right. The entire mess started with the abduction of the skirt in San Francisco, and it made sense that's where things would come full circle.
"That's possible, but it just doesn't make sense."
What can you tell me?
"Charleston isn't operating under the OSS arm, that's for sure."
"Then who the hell is he operating for?"
"I think it's the Germans and Henke's his control."
"So then, that means he was working for Henke all along. Tuvo, this isn't making sense. According to the OSS, they've been tailing the kitten and linked her to Henke. Why kidnap her, when they've had her all along?"
"It's possible they just realized she was the key."
"Tuvo, the day we went to see Charleston, the two spooks freaked and took off after the kitten. How could they have not known?"
"Cat, that's the part I haven't been able to figure out."
"There's something about the whole thing that still bothers me."
"Call me crazy, Tuvo, but we've been played from the day I took on this case. Now all of a sudden, the pieces are starting to fit together, and too nicely, if you ask me."
"In what sense?"
"I can't help but feel someone is cleverly moving us into these positions, and we're nothing more than pawns in an elaborate scheme. Who do you know in Washington, I mean in the high levels?"
"I have a few contacts, why?"
"Good enough to get us a meeting with Donavan?"
"It will take some creative thinking, but yes I think I can arrange it."
"Miles, see if you can dig up anything on the plane when it landed in Chicago. Use my contacts, see what they can dig up. I also need a plane and don't bother with a pilot I can fly it myself. My gut instinct is telling me they're headed to the Napa Valley."
Miles dropped the toothpick from his mouth, and Bus Stop stiffened immediately. I knew this was going to be trouble, and they had no intention of letting me go alone.
"I mean it Miles, I'm going alone."
I leveled my voice low and commanding making sure to let Miles know I would broker no argument in changing my mind. My gut instinct was screaming merciless in my ear and drowning out my thoughts. For some strange reason, I knew Henke was playing a different role than we thought.
"Sure Cat, whatever you say. You're still going to need backup and I won't take no for an answer."
His eyes were narrow and deadly letting me know I wasn't going to get past him on this one.
"Okay fine, I'll take Bus Stop. " Bus Stop you aren't afraid of flying are you?"
"No, I'll be all right, Cat."
"Fine, then you're with me."
"Sorry, but that won't do. The four of us can go together."
I turned to look at Tuvo in astonishment, never once expecting him to chime in and join us. I saw from the look on Nell's face, that I wasn't going to get any help from her.
I knew immediately, I was just sandbagged and it was Miles's intention all along. He knew I would have fought him tooth and nail on this, and cleverly managed to trap me into his initial plan.
I looked at them with my death glare, letting them know I didn't like being manipulated. They had that loveable smug smile on their faces and I shook my head as I stared at them all in astonishment.
There was a wealth of sincerity in Tuvo's eyes and I felt my heart soften to it. I knew Miles had a real sense of duty towards me and it touched and warmed my heart. They were all noble, as noble they come, and I knew any attempt to dissuade them was futile on my part.
"Very well, it looks like I don't have much of a choice in this matter. We leave as soon as you can get us a plane. Tuvo, I need that meeting with Donovan and I need it now."
I answered dryly, knowing they won this one, but I wanted to let them know I was filing my protest anyway. I turned to look at Nell, who had a bemused smirk on her face and her eyes were sparkling brightly.
"What are you smiling at?"
"Just marking this date down in my calendar, the day the sly Cat was outfoxed by three jackals."
We all laughed openly, and the relief it brought helped to calm our tense and frayed nerves. To tell you the truth, I felt better knowing my friends were with me watching my back.
It took a matter of three hours for Tuvo to secure our meeting with Donovan. It was obvious the OSS was watching the whole matter closer than what we thought.
Twelve hours after my kitten's disappearance, there was a small battalion of OSS operatives swooping down, taking possession of an empty mansion, and setting up shop.
The mansion was located three miles from the Westchester airfield, which is where the kitten and the skirt were last seen. The five of us jumped into the caddy, Bus Stop riding shotgun with Jimmy, with Miles, Tuvo and me in the back.
We headed towards Westchester and our prearranged meeting with Donovan, the head of the OSS. Unlike the last time, I found myself anxious to get to our destination, knowing answers awaited me at the other end.
I couldn't help but to keep looking at Miles and Tuvo nervously, and kept glancing at the speedometer every five minutes. As far as I was concerned, 75 miles an hour wasn't fast enough and I cursed inwardly that Jimmy wasn't being more aggressive at the wheel.
If it were Eugene driving, the wheels never would have touched the ground. Miles kept shifting his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other, and I knew he was just as nervous as I was.
Whenever he did that, it meant he was feeling jumpy and on edge. Tuvo, on the other hand, was as cool as a cucumber and reading the news as if nothing was wrong.
I forced myself to look out the window and watched the passing scenery as it flew effortlessly by, hoping for a distraction, anything to keep my mind off my kitten.
For what amounted to a small fortune, Miles managed to secure a plane for us. In fact, it was the skirt's Cabin Waco. After several moments, I became hypnotized by the passing scenery and welcomed the relief from my anxieties. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a smoke.
Tuvo reached over immediately and lit it, never once looking up from his newspaper. I lowered the window a crack and watched as the smoke escaped through it, my mind occupied with my Donovan meeting.
I was still a little in shock that he so readily agreed to see us. To tell you the truth, it made me a little nervous. I figured it might mean bad news, the OSS was willing to accept outside help, and that wasn't good, knowing full well that they tended to protect their territory like a rabid dog.
We were all carrying hardware and I felt the cool comfort of metal pressing tightly against my hip. The thin silk blouse was no match for the cool metal.
I taped a small derringer to the inside of my leg and carried a back up thirty-eight in my purse. I figured we would be searched, and if luck were on our side, they wouldn't relieve us of our hardware.
Miles and Bus stop were carrying an ice pick disguised as a pen, along with a ton of hardware that was sure to be at least ten pounds of extra weight to their persons.
I was hoping the plane would be able to lift off the ground with all of the extra weight we each carried. Miles and I kept our eyes on Tuvo, knowing despite his claims, he wasn't exactly up to standard, though he seemed a trifle uncomfortable, there was no outward sign it was a major issue.
We arrived 45 minutes later, and pulled up into the long driveway to the mansion. The place was locked down tighter than Fort Knox. We were stopped at the front gate and we each supplied the guard with identification. After several phone calls, we were permitted entry and ordered to stay on the road leading to the entrance of the mansion. A team of goons ran along side of us on foot, carrying an assortment of weapons that would make any local hood proud.
There was six dogs running freely, and though I knew they were German shepherds, it was hard to miss their wolf like qualities. We each swallowed deeply and commented on the level of security. One would have thought Roosevelt himself was present.
A tall blonde haired goon opened my car door and motioned me to lean against the car. It was obvious he intended to search me regardless of my gender, he quickly patted me down and tried not to be too intrusive.
A team of six goons made a detailed search of our car, while two of the shepherds sat patiently by our sides, licking their chops in anticipation of a good hunt, should we decide to bolt.
The goon indicated to me he was finished with the search. I shot him a warm condescending smile and headed to the front door with my team along side me. An army of goons quickly descended upon us, cutting Miles and Bus Stop away from us.
Miles and Bus Stop immediately tensed, and I could tell from their body language that they were ready to resist. Tuvo shot them a quick stare and they immediately backed down. A team of guards kept a watchful eye on Jimmy, who made sure to keep his hands on the wheel.
We headed towards the door and were stopped again. A short goon about my height with sandy brown hair, removed me of my purse and hardware, carelessly tossing the rest of contents to the floor.
Tuvo was also left naked without his hardware, before we were allowed to enter the door. I turned back quickly and noted Bus Stop and Miles became involved in an inanimate conversation with two goons and seemed to look relaxed.
We entered together and were struck by the magnificence of the interior layout. I have to admit, the spooks picked a classy joint to set up shop. The entryway was Italian marble and a long circular staircase led to the upstairs quarters.
I was struck speechless as a cutting and distinguished figure in a wheelchair made his way towards us from what appeared to be the library, his distinguished wife assisting him. I knew my jaw was wide open and heard Tuvo chuckle slightly, as he reached over and shut it for me. We both watched as FDR and Eleanor moved towards us.
Donovan was descending the stairs and reached us before Eleanor and FDR, his hand outstretched taking ours in his and introducing himself.
FDR and Eleanor reached us and I shook his warm strong hand vigorously, his distinctive voice warm and commanding, as he introduced me to his wife.
I watched in wide-eyed wonder as Eleanor embraced Tuvo and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. I knew Tuvo had high contacts, but I never knew they reached this level.
Donovan pointed to a room and the four of us followed him sheepishly. The room was a large den, furnished in rich dark woods with intricate hand carved designs.
There was a large overstuffed flowered sofa and Donovan motioned us to sit. He took a seat to our immediate left and Eleanor maneuvered the wheelchair so that FDR could face us. She sat in a chair to his immediate left and smiled at us warmly.
I found I was unable to speak since first introducing myself to them. Though, I heard his voice often on the radio, I was still stunned into silence from his powerful presence.
Eleanor broke the awkward silence, by asking us if we cared for coffee or tea. It was the first time I noticed the silver-serving tray sitting on a table in front of us, the strong aroma of coffee filled the room calling to me.
I nodded in silence, unable to find my voice and cursed myself silently for acting like awe struck grade schooler. Eleanor detected my discomfort and smiled through hooded lashes as she elegantly poured the coffee into a fine china cup.
"Do you take anything with it?"
It took several seconds for her question to register, and though I opened my mouth, no words seem to come out. I heard Tuvo chuckle slightly, and he leaned forward, nudging me lightly back to reality and answering for me.
"She takes it black with no sugar."
I shook the numbness from my head and bobbed my head up and down like a mechanical toy, my hand reaching outward and taking the offered cup from her hand. I found the nerve to gaze side glanced towards FDR and was surprised to see a bemused smile on his strong face.
"It takes a real woman to drink her coffee black."
His voice was rich and powerful and I turned my vision towards him, forcing the shock from my system and willing myself to speak. For the first time, I found my voice and managed to answer coherently without embarrassing myself any further.
"Thank you, Mr. President."
I shot him my enigmatic smile and he returned it with a wide grin. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a long silver cigarette case.
I watched with interest, as Eleanor immediately placed an ashtray near his reach and he proceeded to light his trademark cigar. He inhaled deeply, and watched as the circle of smoke danced briefly in front of him, before moving upward and out of sight.
Eleanor proceeded to pour a cup of almond tea for Tuvo, and it dawned on me they had done this before. She added the three teaspoons of sugar and passed it to him effortlessly.
I was feeling more at ease and settled comfortably into the sofa, all along my eyesight shifting from our three hosts. FDR settled in his chair and moved the checkered blanket higher on his lap. He looked at me with a keen interest, and after grounding his cigar, he finally addressed me.
"Mr. Donovan has informed me of the latest situation. I understand you've involved yourself in a matter that is of national security."
"That's news to me," I added dryly.
I realized it was the wrong tone to use and not the most flattering response I could come up with. I was about to retract my statement with an apologetic plead, when I was stopped by the sound of a deep rumbling laughter emanating from his chest.
"Well I assure you, detective Johnson, Mr. Donovan and I disagree with you. What do you know of the black spider sweeping Europe?"
For a second, I wondered if it was a trick question, a clever way of them trying to trip me to obtain information from me. I felt Tuvo's knee pressing against mine, a sure sign he wanted me to answer honestly. I sucked in a deep breath before responding, shooting Tuvo an evil glare, and letting him know I didn't like being pushed.
"Mainly what the papers indicate, a mad little ruler with twisted views trying to make a name for himself."
I figured, since I was being forced to answer, I'd be as cryptic as possible. After all, the name of the game was, they answer my questions not me theirs. I pursed my lips involuntarily and realized, a little too late, it may not have been the wise thing to do.
FDR chuckled, and I could tell he was impressed by my defiance. Then I saw a no nonsense look enter his eyes and realized I was just about to be walked across the rug. I braced myself for the verbal assault and realized that must be the same look others see in me.
"I have a feeling you're trying to be coy with me detective and since this is both a serious matter and one of national and world security, I feel obliged to dispense with my usual pleasantries. Mr. Donavan and his department have been monitoring the Hitler situation for a number of years. Our sources in Europe have informed us of Hitler's sudden interest in science. From all indications, the signs will not weigh in our favor should we enter into a war against Germany. You see detective, I have no doubt in my mind, we will be forced to enter this war. Though it isn't the direction I look forward to leading our country in, I find the situation is unavoidable and only a matter of time. In the interim, I intend to gain the advantage and under my direct orders, Mr. Donovan, has been working with covert operatives in Europe and they have been carefully monitoring the situation for us. Are you with me so far, detective?"
My back stiffened at his question, I was impressed by this complex man before me with contradictory qualities, an aristocrat, with the common touch and not unlike myself.
He was a traditionalist who was willing to try anything, a jovial charmer who was deeply serious about his beliefs and the consequences of his actions. He was also a skilled tactician with a fine sense of timing and I was in complete awe.
"Yes, yes, Mr. President. I am."
Though I had an extensive formal education behind me, I was suddenly dumbstruck and unable to respond intelligently. It was his second term in office and his Fireside chats were the sole linkage to our floundering Nation. The fact that the European war seemed miles away from our shore, and already of a concern to him, only further proved his political prowess and tactical wizardry.
"I thought that you would, detective. Somehow, you've managed to involve yourself in a delicate situation, one of great importance to me personally. Though Mr. Donovan is in disagreement with me, I've read your dossier and have concluded you are an honorable and proud person, with a reputation for being discrete. Discretion being the operative word, though the United States wants to keep out of foreign affairs, we still have a need to know and understand the consequences of the actions that are taking place in Europe. The interests of the United States and her allies are being threatened, and entrance into a World War is not far from conception. I want you to be perfectly aware of what is at stake here, and that there is no room for error. Mr. Donovan is going to brief you on our European operations thus far. Since this is a matter of national security, you will be sworn to secrecy, any violation of this trust will have dire consequences for you. Do we have an understanding, detective Johnson?"
"You have my word, Mr. President."
I swallowed deeply, and let out the long breath I managed to hold in throughout his speech. I felt lightheaded and for a moment cursed myself for asking for Donovan's help in the first place. I was now in it knee deep and couldn't help but wonder what the kitten had got me involved in.
Eleanor rose elegantly, an indication the meeting with FDR was over, he stuck his hand out and I rose and took it in my own, shaking it warmly. I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear, and realize what a great leader we truly had.
"If you will excuse me now, detective, I have a Fireside chat to deliver in October and I think I found an appropriate topic. Though, I don't believe Congress will be in complete agreement with me, but then again, that's why they pay me the big bucks, detective."
"Of course, Mr. President and I look forward to hearing it."
"I'm afraid we maybe keeping you very occupied in the near future, detective, but I'll make sure my assistant mails you a copy."
"I'd appreciate that sir." He nodded elegantly towards us and I silently pondered what he meant by that.
Eleanor crossed the span of the room and stood facing me, her regal face staring warmly at mine. I was struck by the power she emanated and realized for the first time, what a formidable lady, she truly was. If ever two strong people belonged together, it was these two and I pitied the fool that would come between them.
She smiled warmly taking my hand in both of hers. They were warm and powerful, and deceiving in their delicate appearance. She was taller than me, and I had to crane my neck slightly upward to look at her.
"I expect to hear positive news from you, detective. I have been watching your career for quite sometime now and I am impressed with the way you handle yourself. I expect you will handle this situation as efficient and effortlessly as possible. Be sure to see me again on your return."
I nodded silently to her and our eyes locked. There were far and few women I ever really respected or idolized, but the grand dame was one of them. I admired her tenacity and her openness in the discussion of social issues and reforms, and knew the world was a much better place for having her grace it with her presence.
They silently left the room, which seemed to grow empty and colder without them. I turned to face Donovan and we all had the same look on our faces. There was something about the Roosevelts that simply left you in awe. We each settled down to our prospective places and began our meeting.
"I must ask you some questions, detective, if you don't mind."
"Actually, I do. You see, I have more questions than answers, if you don't mind."
His eyes narrowed and he tried to intimidate me with his stare. I could tell I was up against a very clever and cunning opponent. I wasn't sure if I would win, but I sure as hell was going to give it my best shot.
William J. Donovan or 'Wild Bill' was a fifty eight-year-old gray haired millionaire lawyer and one of the most decorated soldiers of W.W.I. He held America's three highest military decorations, and his numerous successes in his civilian law practice only added to his already impressive dossier.
It was his many trips to foreign countries, gathering information and intelligence, that led him to see the strategic importance of an organization whose sole role would be to gather, decipher and administer intelligence information.
Donovan's operation was officially known as the COI, (Office of Coordinated Information). It was a long running joke in Washington, his outfit was cloaked in so much secrecy that it wasn't long before the words the Office of Secret Service were synonymous with his group.
He had an elite board of analysts known as the 'College of Cardinals'. They were the cream of the crop and consisted of some of the most distinguished academics in America.
They boasted the likes of James Phinney Baxter III (President of Williams College), Edward Mead Earle (Professor of the school Economics and Politics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton); William L. Lnager (Professor of History, Harvard); Edward S. Mason (Professor of Economics, Harvard); Donald C. McKay (Professor of French History, Harvard); Joseph R. Halden (Chairmen of the Department of Political Science, University of Michigan), and Clavin B. Hoover (Professor of Economics, Duke University).
Wild Bill's organization was like none other seen before, his methods were unorthodox, which fell under some serious political scrutiny, and it was a good thing for him. Such was the nature of the job, and the nature of the men under his command, he even had a psychological staff, something no other agency had in any form of government and reported to no one else but Roosevelt.
"Fair enough detective, what would you like to know?"
I couldn't help feeling like a trapped salmon in a bear claw. Though, he seemed sincere enough, I had a distinct feeling he was just toying with me before snapping me up in his jaw.
"How long have you known that Charleston was working for Henke?"
He looked stunned for a moment, and I figured I suckered punched him, until it was quickly replaced by one of confusion. For some reason, I knew I wasn't going to like his response.
"You're mistaken detective, Charleston doesn't work for Henke. In fact, Henke is one of my operatives. He has been for four years now. I'm curious detective, what makes you think he did?"
I thought of Harold and the information he laid on me a week ago. If the little punk had standing in front of me, I would have slapped him for not checking his information thoroughly.
Then again, I honestly didn't know what to expect from a numbers boy who was still green behind the ears. If I expected to get any decent answers, I had to recover quickly and come up with a plausible reason. There was no doubt in my mind that Donovan was going to tell me only what he wanted.
"My sources have informed me, that Charleston boarded a plane with Dr. Hansen, and that four hours later Henke boarded another plane with Dr. Janeson. They were both headed to the same destination and I believe that to be San Francisco. If you had Dr. Janeson all along, why pretend she had been kidnapped?"
"That's on a need to know basis, detective. Something you need not be privy too."
I didn't like his answer. In fact, when I thought about it, he didn't give me an answer at all. I figured, I had two ways of playing this. I could either play hardball with him or be diplomatic. I decided to go with option one and see how far that would get me. I put on my best wry smile and looked him square in the eyes.
"I disagree, you see somehow this is all connected and if you expect my cooperation, then I need to know. I need to know what kind of danger I'm leading my crew into."
I smiled condescendingly at him and waited for his response. His eyes narrowed and he stopped smiling and I knew I had the upper hand. It seems that whatever Donovan's crew was up to, they managed to drop the ball and couldn't get it back in play without me.
"You won't be traveling with your crew, detective. You'll be entering this operation with my own highly trained men."
I felt Tuvo's knee nudge mine lightly and his back stiffened in response to Donovan's suggestion.
I stood up and Tuvo quickly followed suit, I had nothing to lose right now and everything to gain. The way I saw it, Donovan needed us and not the other way around.
"Give the President my apologies for not being able to assist him. You see Mr. Donovan, I don't know your crew from a hole in the wall, and if it is my ass on the line, then I'm going with my crew. The way I see it, we don't need your help, I have the coordinates and I know where they're headed too. I don't need you, but thanks anyway. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm already behind schedule."
We started towards the door and I found my forearm being grasped. I looked at his hand holding me and I shot him a deadly look. The kind that told him the next person he would be visiting would be his orthopedic. He quickly released me, and held his hands openly in the air, a sign of surrender evident in his face. He nodded for us to sit down and I stood staring at him instead.
"Please sit down, detective."
I managed to give him a taste of humble pie and I was smart enough to know when to back off. I nodded slightly and headed towards the sofa, sitting down and placing my arm around the back. Tuvo settled in next to me. He removed an imaginary thread from his suit jacket, smoothing out the front and pretending to look bored. Donovan never knew what hit him, when he came across the likes of us, we were a formidable team and he never stood a chance.
"What is it that you want to know?"
"The same thing I wanted to know before. Why did you stage Dr. Janeson's kidnapping."
"How much has Dr. Hansen told you?"
"What does Annia have to do with this?"
I realized my slight error and Wild Bill was quick to notice it. He nodded knowingly and a gleam seemed to enter his eyes, the kind that told me he now had the upper hand on me.
"She has everything to do with this. Dr. Hansen is one of my operatives as well, she was recruited while still a student at the University of Strasbourg. I found her academic credentials to be an asset to my department."
I pretended not to sound shocked, but the fact of the matter was, I was taken completely off guard. It made sense seeing how Donovan was in the habit of recruiting only from the top of the academe world and my kitten happen to fit right in. Tuvo's lip twitched lightly and I was able to tell it was news to him as well.
"So she was already working for you when she became Dr, Janeson's assistant?"
"That's correct, in fact you might say she became her assistant with a little outside help."
"Was she aware of that?"
"No, not at first, but then again, Dr. Hansen is a remarkably intelligent woman. It didn't take her long to figure it out."
"So your intention was to protect Dr. Janeson all along?"
"That's correct. You see, detective, Dr. Janeson was very important to us. Her theories were revolutionary, and in the wrong hands, well, I'd rather not think of that. She was difficult though and managed to make every other operative we put on her."
"So you thought that by installing a woman, she wouldn't catch on?"
"I wish that were the case, Dr. Janeson made Annia several months after they began working together."
"So why didn't she send her packing like the rest?"
"Ah, because even Dr. Janeson couldn't resist her brilliance. Tell me, what do you know about Dr. Janeson?"
"Only what her dossier states. By the time she was twenty-one, she obtained her second doctrine in the field of physics and studied under Einstein and Rosen at Princeton. She's forty-one and next To Einstein, she's considered one of the most brilliant physicists of all time."
"After Dr. Janeson returned to the States, she became involved in a very covert project, but I'm afraid I can't go into the details. She recently made a breakthrough and was ready to bring her findings before our committee, when it was detected that we had a mole. A mole is a person we call a double agent."
"That would be Dr. Charleston?"
"It took some grease elbow, but yes. Eventually, we were able to determine it was Dr. Charleston. However, due to his prestige in the field of physics, we had to be careful how we handled the situation and, most importantly, we needed to know how his ring operated and how they managed to infiltrate the highest levels of our government."
"So why did you stage Dr. Janeson's kidnapping?"
"It was her idea really. You see, we know it was Dr. Hansen that made the breakthrough, we have high hopes for her you know. Dr. Janeson was concerned for her safety and decided to use herself as bait until we could gather enough evidence against Dr. Charleston and his high level contacts."
"Annia was aware of this all along?"
'Why did you involve me?"
"It was the only way to bring Dr. Hansen here, closer to Charleston, without him getting suspicious."
"Henke is her control, her contact to us, she funnels the information Gretchen sends her on Charleston."
"So Gretchen is working for you as well?"
"No, she doesn't trust us, but she's extremely loyal to Dr. Janeson. Gretchen isn't aware we have Dr. Janeson and have been keeping her safe."
"And Henke has the skirt, I mean Dr. Janeson."
"He was safeguarding her, yes, that is until you decided to free her. I'm sorry that you were hurt Mr. Carter. You caught us by surprise and we weren't expecting it. Detective, you must understand, it isn't only Dr. Charleston we're interested in. It's how his ring operates, and as much as it pains me to admit, some of my own people are involved in this distasteful matter."
"What's the story on Dr. Janeson? Why did you bring her to New York?"
"Dr. Hansen insisted or she would stop working for us. We spent several years on this operation already and couldn't afford to lose her. You see Dr. Hansen managed to get more information on the ring in one year than we have in three.
"What do you want from us?"
"We can't go in and free Dr. Hansen, not without letting Charleston know we're on to him. It can ruin a three yearlong investigation. This is our only chance at determining how far this ring extends."
"You're really expecting a war with the Germans?"
"It's inevitable and we've been planning for it for years now."
"So you want me to clean up your mess?"
"I guess you could put it that way, another way to think of it is, it's a way of saving the woman you love. I don't need to remind you Dr. Charleston's peculiar tastes?"
I might have been shocked by his knowledge of the kitten, and me, but this was Wild Bill I was talking to and his painful bland appearance, only served to disguise his genius and eerie sense of perception.
I stood from the sofa and he automatically rose, I wasn't quite sure if it was his gentleman protocol that forced him or if I managed to instill fear in him. Knowing his reputation, I took it for his being a gentleman. I walked towards him and stood in front of him, my eyes locking onto his, I watched him flinch slightly, but he held his ground firmly. I lowered my voice to a low deadly timber and hid its level of danger under a throaty response.
"I take my own team with me and there's no guarantee I don't kill Charleston."
"Then we have a problem, we need him alive and well."
"You should have thought of that when you let him escape so easily. Let's understand one thing here, I don't care whether he lives, breathes or dies. In fact, I prefer the latter, but if you think, I'm going to risk Dr. Hansen to save that freak your sadly mistaken. You had your crack at him and you blew it, we're playing by my rules now."
His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared slightly, I knew he was ready to go off, but I had no intention of backing down. I leveled him with my fiercest death stare and let him know I wasn't backing down.
He blinked and I knew I won this round, to tell you the truth, I couldn't care if Christ came off his cross and begged me to show Charleston mercy, I had no intention, of letting him live if he hurt my kitten.
"Very well detective, but before you act rash, why don't you get Dr. Hansen's opinion first?"
"I'll consider it, if she's capable of voicing one. If she isn't, then you better call for a body bag."
I nodded silently to Tuvo, who rose swiftly and followed me. I left Wild Bill standing in the middle of the room, staring at my retreating form as we exited. My steps were short and tight, I was pissed and my paced showed it. I didn't fail to notice that Tuvo was doing double time trying to keep up with me.
I nodded to Bus Stop and Miles as we exited the mansion and they quickly fell into step behind me. My eyes were a steely gray and I felt the heat of anger rushing up my veins. We quickly climbed into the car, and I nodded to Jimmy, who briskly shifted the car into gear and we drove away from the estate. The building growing smaller in the distance as we put a few miles between us.
We were headed to the Westchester airfield where the skirt's Cabin Waco was fueled up and ready to go. It had been five years since I was behind the controls of a plane, and I sure as hell hoped it was like riding a bicycle.
Flying was an adventure I picked up during my time in Spain. I met a daredevil ex-patriot with a flare for flying and a zest for life. He seemed to have a death wish, and after several months of dancing with the devil, I put him behind me, but not before he taught me how to fly.
I remember well the first time I went solo, the wind was blowing to the southwest and the sun was beginning it's descent into the horizon. After making a few minor adjustments, I managed to land us safely with little fanfare. I lived off the high for a week and knew I found a new love.
There was a certain freedom about being up in the air, you lock the whole world away for a few precious hours and enjoy the fancy flight of freedom our feathery friends live every day. It was thrilling and exciting and better than any sex I ever had, except with my kitten, being with her was better than flying any day of the week.
We emptied out of the car and walked towards the plane. The mechanic was going over the last of the flight checks and he handed me a silver metal pad with all of his maintenance checks. I quickly scanned the list and the piece of hardware underneath her hood made me let out a loud audible whistle.
The plane was originally designed to hit top airspeeds of 147 MPH and a cruising speed of 140 MPH. However, the skirt and the kitten made certain enhancements to its engine, which even the mechanic was unable to explain.
According to the new paperwork, it hit a top airspeed of 187 MPH with a cruising speed of 180 MPH. I sure hoped the skirt and the kitten knew what they were doing, because I had every intention of putting it through its paces.
Charleston and Henke had a nineteen-hour jump on me and I had every intention of making up for as much lost time as possible.
The plane was a blue and white beauty, stripped bear inside and with only the minimal comforts as possible. No doubt, it improved the output airspeed. It sat six comfortably, and for a moment, I was grateful Tiny wasn't with us, there was no way on God's good earth he would have made it into the cabin.
I made a quick check and made sure the plane was fully fueled. After filing my flight plan, I jumped into a lightweight flyer's jumpsuit and headed towards the plane. Tuvo and his crew were already settled into position and looking relaxed.
The thought occurred to me, they had no idea I hadn't touched the controls of a plane in over five years and, I'm sure if they did, they'd all be heading for their chutes immediately. I climbed into the cabin and headed to the cockpit settling in comfortably.
I turned to check on my passengers, as I ran my hand over several of the control panels, checking all of my gauges and running the usual flight checks.
I turned the engine and she began to purr like a kitten, I felt the rumbling of the powerful engines through the metal of the stick. Though I hadn't prayed since I was six years old, I said a silent prayer that I could get us off the ground safely.
The dangers in flying were always higher when taking off and landing. Admittedly, I had a little trepidation as I watched the ground crew remove the wooden lock blocks and give me the signal that I was clear to take off.
I pulled back on the stick, and hit the throttle and felt her try to pull away from me. I realized that flying this beauty would be like being in the ring with a Japanese sumo wrestler. I put her under control and headed in the direction of the only runway available.
I opened her up and the engine answered immediately, as I headed down the length of the runway at speeds of 60 MPH. I pulled back on the stick with all of my strength and felt her conceding to my hand. She began her slow ascent and the expanse of the horizon opened up before me. I felt the same rush of excitement hit me and knew I found my place in the sun.
The roaring sounds of the engine were a soothing comfort and for the first time in a week, I found my thoughts clear enough and not dwelling on my problem at hand.
I marveled at the mechanical wonder of the Waco and couldn't help feeling proud of my kitten. Whatever it was she and the skirt did to enhance the output of this beauty was well worth the effort.
I prayed silently that she could hold out long enough for me to get her out safely. I knew my kitten was strong and though the thought of what she would be going through with the freak sickened me, I knew she would manage to hold her own, until we could get to her.
I realized right there and then, I would never let her out of my sight again. That somehow we belonged together in this lifetime and many more to follow. I was struck by the irony of it all and amazed that though it was but a brief time that we spent in eachother's presence, she seemed to be a part of me that was missing all along, an integral part of my life that made me whole and capable of feeling again.
I would move heaven and earth to spend the rest of eternity in her arms, and gain strength and comfort from her being. I watched as we cut effortless through the clouds, the warmth of the sun touching my face and cheering me.
It wasn't long before Tuvo settled in the second seat next to me, and we began formulating a plan. One that would get my kitten safely back to me where she belonged."
Continue to Part Seven