“THE OLD BAD DREAM” By Thomas Shess, Pillar to Post Blog Exclusive.
ORIGINAL SHORT FICTION —The ghost returned. Arriving as often as an old bad dream, Tom Gresham knew his grammar school buddy, was flesh and blood. Unlike a nightmare that could be shaken off with a quick shower or a shot of Jack Daniels, the arriving specter would have to be dealt with in real time.
Dressed in gray slacks, Brooks Brothers oxford shirt and a tailored navy blazer, Art Garcia flashed his famous toothy Hispanic smile as he entered the softly lit Claire de Lune coffee house.
Perhaps, wearing the only blazer at 9 am on a Saturday in the hip, laid-back North Park neighborhood, the tall visitor instantly recognized Gresham, who had arrived first at a small table isolated between the big window facing University Avenue and next to the musicians’ stage. But, Garcia had always dressed nattily as a career U.S. Customs investigator—now retired.
Garcia loomed over the tire-sized cabaret table.
Gresham sat motionless in an overstuffed faux-leather chair, a saggy piece of furniture that showed its thrift store roots. No handshake was offered from the sandy-haired man in baggy cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Both men looked equally trim. Both had turned 50 the previous year. But Gresham knew Garcia lied about his age. He had to be 55 or more.
The visitor eased himself into the wooden chair. “Tommy, Tommy, Tommy—how have you been?”
“I’ve healed nicely since the last time I saw you.”
Garcia knew full well what Gresham meant. Already put on the defensive by Gresham’s remark, Garcia slowly released his smile. But he wasn’t here to discuss old times. “You haven’t changed. And, you weren’t easy to find—even for me.”
Gresham’s face held a neutral expression. He didn’t waste time responding. “Since I didn’t give you directions, I figured you’re here on business. What’s up?”
Garcia glanced out of the large plate glass window. “I don’t remember North Park looking this good.” He had paused for half a heart beat after saying remember.
Gresham fidgeted with his coffee cup. “Did you order something?”
“Nah, I won’t be long. I hear you’re running a detective agency?”
Gresham smiled. “Yes.”
“Got an office and a name on the door but little else?”
“I looked for you there.”
“Someday I’ll get a receptionist.”
Garcia grinned at the level of small talk. “I thought you had to have a license to be a PI?”
“I have one.”
“Really, how’d that happen?”
“Someone pulled some strings for me,” Gresham finally smiled.
“Was it Wally McGrath?” Garcia asked, dropping the name of the recently elected U.S. Senator from California, the first Republican to hold a Senate post in the state in several generations.
“You’re not here to talk politics. What’s up?”
Garcia’s grin faded slowly. “I got a job for you.”
“Last job with you almost killed me.”
“But you’re a rich man because of me, aren’t you?”
Gresham lowered his voice. “I’m not interested.”
“The money is good. If you have to choose between money and friends. Take the money, Tommy. Always take the money.”
“Humor me what have I turned down?
“I need someone to deliver something very small over to Europe. Hand it over to a friend then turn around and take the next plane home. I’ll take care of all the flight connections.”
“No machine gunning Fisherman’s Wharf or blowing up a San Francisco hotel?”
“Not this time,” Garcia stopped himself from laughing aloud.
Gresham pointed his index finger across the table. “I’m not interested. In fact, I’d like you to stay away from me. The last job was a favor to you. I did the job and you paid me. We’re even. Let’s keep it that way.”
Garcia reached inside his blazer and pulled out a standard envelope. Inside was a folded sheet of paper. He handed it to Gresham. “It’s an untraceable bearer bond. Put it in the Swiss banking account I know you still have. This is a make good job. The last one was ugly. This one is a walk in the park. I owe you that.”
“You owe me nothing.”
Garcia kept talking. “You get off the plane in a transit area of the airport. Do what needs to be done and you make your next connection half an hour later. Touch and go for one million U.S. dollars. All I need to know is where you want to wire the money today.”
“I don’t need money.”
“Don’t make me regret paying you too well.”
“I earned every penny, Art. I ought to keep this as an interest payment.”
“Then let’s call it a favor for old times sake.”
“Art, it is never that simple with you. I’m not as stupid as I was before.”
“I know where Annie is,” Garcia said softly. “Do this job and I’ll give you her address in Sweden.”
Immediately Gresham stood up. “Stop it! That’s a cheap shot. Both of us know she’s dead thanks to you!” His knee caught the edge of the cabaret table and tipped it far enough over for his coffee cup, the small lighted candle and daisy in a bud vase to crash to the table.
Instantly, the chatter of the coffee house fell silently.
Garcia raised his voice and his hands from his seated position. “My fault, my fault. No problem here folks, I’m just a clumsy guy.”
Laugher. Then the chatter resumed. Garcia righted the small table as one of the barista assistants came over to pick up the broken glass. Smoothly, Garcia slipped a $20 bill from his money clip and slipped it to the black-shirted young man.
“Thank you, I’ll put this in the tip jar.”
Gresham was no stranger to no-questions-asked freelance assignments that involved ultimate risks. He swore to himself that he was rid of that part of his life. He was dead even with his most recent international contractor. No more jobs. Nothing covert and nothing overt.
Annie Kinder, the beautiful widow of a rogue San Francisco cop had stolen Gresham’s heart. Plain and simple he was still mourning.
“You’re telling me she’s alive?”
“I know where you’ll find her. You could be with her in less than 30 hours from right now. She’s in Europe.”
Gresham thought for a long minute: silently, fuming. “But you won’t tell me where unless I help you. That sucks. You’re no friend. Especially since I owe you no favors.”
But Garcia knew full well how to play Gresham. “Well if you don’t think we’re friends and you don’t need the money—then do it for Annie for Christ’s sake and stop playing the martyr.”
“Art, you make it sound like I lost a pet cat. Screw you. She meant something to me.”
“I’ll be at the Lafayette hotel until tomorrow morning. I don’t have a cell phone.”
Garcia walked out of the coffee shop, He knew the only way to get to his free lance operative to cooperate was to dangle a piece of cheese--a morsel of information--as to where Annie could be found.
Gresham stared angrily at Garcia’s back. He despised the soldier of fortune that Garcia had become. But, despite the risks, the wounds, the agonies Gresham suffered because of Garcia, he was paid handsomely for success. And, for the most part the man stayed out of his new life—until today.
|Sheremetyevo International Airport|
The steward’s voice broke the silence of the Boeing 777 as most of the passengers including Tom Gresham were asleep. The American didn’t understand Russian but the English translation told him all he needed to know. “Welcome to Sheremetyevo International Airport. Moscow local time is six o’clock in the morning...”
Gresham ignored the rest of the laundry list of connecting flights, the British Airways steward was offering as a courtesy. So far, his journey from San Diego to London with connection in London for Moscow had been boring as it had been efficient.
He yawned and reflected on the fact it had 24 hours since he said good-bye to Art Garcia in the North Park coffee house.
Gresham didn’t need to go through British customs because he was only a transit passenger continuing on to Stockholm on British Airways flights.
Once he was in the posh BA lounge, Gresham found the toilet. Inside the WC stall, he removed the bottom edge of a money clip Garcia had given him. A small plastic key slipped out of the money clip and into his hand.
As instructed, he found a toilet stall with a large scratch on the metal door.
Locked in, Gresham slipped the key into the tissue dispenser. Inside the small metal container he found a miniature computer circuit board. Some other operative’s sole job had been to place the micro board in the toilet stall. Now it was his job to move the circuitry to the next stop.
He slipped the thin board into the pocket of his jacket and flushed the unused toilet.
Next, he walked slowly to the first newsstand, where he purchased a candy bar, a Russian newspaper and a small tin of breathmints.
He sat near a huge Heathrow window and ignored the gray sky, a color that seldom changed.
A few minutes later, a bored coed wearing jeans, flipflops and a Loyola Marymount sweatshirt sat facing him. Immediately she folded her legs under her and sat reading “One Flew Over the Coo-coo’s Nest.”
Half hour later, as Gresham heard the London to Moscow boarding announcement, the young woman put her book down and smiled, “when you deplane in Moscow put the circuitry at the bottom of the mint tin and and place it in your coat’s left front pocket. When the child runs into your leg pick up the child and carry him to the mother. And, your job will be done.”
By the time, he looked up to see her face, the coed had vanished into the crowd.
He had been in the Moscow Airport transit area 45 minutes.
Garcia had given him the money clip in San Diego and told him where to insert the key. The coed in London provided what to do with what he found via the key.
Now, his connecting flight to Stockholm was to board in 15 minutes.
Gresham noticed how many men were milling around at all areas of the transit area. He wondered how many high security cameras were focused on him at the moment.
Before he finished his yawn, a woman with a toddler moved toward the British Airways boarding desk. She asked in English where the transit hotel was located. Gresham noticed the airline employee point toward the opposite end of the lounge area.
It was then the small boy, who was probably three years old ran straight for Gresham.
They collided. The impact put the youngster on his rear-end. His childish laugh was infectious.
Gresham picked up the toddler and carried him to his mother, who was now scurrying toward him.
|Transit Escalator Moscow|
“Thank you, so much, I must be tired, I should have caught up with him,” she said as he handed the child over. “Thank you so much; are you going on to Stockholm?”
“Yes, I am?” Gresham said. There was no way she could have known that.
“Where are you staying?”
“At the Hyatt near the airport.”
“Such a dull place. I recommend the Gander Hotel. My friend Annie Kinder works there.”
“Wait,” Gresham’s voice chased after the young mother. He knew better than to chase her.
Gresham soon boarded the flight to Sweden. The mint tin in his jacket pocket was gone, but not his hope of quickly locating the woman he deeply loved but thought was dead.
The Stockholm cabbie driving Gresham to the Gander Hotel glanced in the mirror. “Did you hear? There was a horrible explosion at the Moscow airport.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“The spy the Americans were looking for got away. They missed him by a few minutes.”
“You sound like an American.”
“How do you feel about your government killing spy’s without a trial?”
“I don’t think this is the first time a government—yours or mine--has tried to kill a spy, do you?”
The cabbie laughed and said nothing the rest of the way to the Old Town section of town.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a new series of occasionally published short stories by Thomas Shess, which are exclusive to this blog. The author which utilizes fictional characters from the author’s unpublished novel. This is a work of fiction.