by Jon Jefferson
Continued from Part One
She was gone in the morning. Jessica’s job pulled her out of bed early every morning. Eric never noticed her leave, but he woke up every morning grasping for her only to find the empty place on her side of the bed.
His cell phone rang, random ringtone. A while back he learned to set ringtones for individual people, saved his hide a few times already. He felt around on the night stand for it as it vibrated away from his hand.
“Mr. Droopchak? Sorry to wake you.” He didn’t recognize the voice at the other end.
“Well, you did. Who is this?”
“Inspector Hernandez. I am investigating the disappearance of a Mr. Federov.”
Eric sat up. “Eddie Federov? What do you mean disappearance?”
“His wife filed a report recently. She hasn’t heard from him in three days. She mentioned that you two were acquainted.”
“I know him,” Eric said. “He found buyers for me.”
“Have you heard from him?”
“We talked on the phone about 2 days ago,” Eric said. “But I didn’t have anything for him then. Haven’t heard from him since.”
“Was the conversation any different than normal?”
The box. Eddie had called about the box. He couldn’t say anything about that. “Not really, we try to talk at least once a week to keep merchandise flowing.”
“What kind of merchandise?”
“I retrieve rare art pieces. Eddie was always good at finding discerning clientele.”
“This phone call, the only contact you’ve had with him?”
Eddie disappeared, crazy to say the least. It was only yesterday that Eddie brought up the box. If he’s gone to ground then he probably has the box with him. The thing was too big to leave to chance.
Eric knew the places The Mouse liked to hole up. In their last conversation, Eddie mentioned a tradeoff. It wasn’t blackmail. Their relationship was stronger than that. They’d known each other for far too long to play the games of two-bit crooks.
Eric fired up the Impala and pulled it out of the apartment complex. He wasn’t going to go directly to the meeting spot. He knew better. The tail he picked up only confirmed that he needed to make some side stops on the way.
After the second stop the car was still with him. He turned down an alley. He stopped his car about halfway down the alley and watched his tail drive past. A quick shift into reverse, he gunned it and pulled back onto the main road. Time to turn the table a little.
He found the car two cars ahead of him. Eric didn’t bother with tailing the car. He announced his presence. After cutting through traffic to pull in behind the car he tapped the gas and kissed the cars bumper.
The black focus didn’t have the balls of Eric’s Impala. The thing was little more than tin with no weight to back it up. The Impala asserted itself with no problem. The focus pulled into a strip mall parking lot with the Impala right on its heels. He blocked the focus into a parking spot.
Eric shoved his .38 into the pocket of his hoodie and stepped out of the Impala. The driver of the Focus hadn’t moved. “Mind getting out of the car?”
“Fuck you.” He couldn’t make out the speaker but it was a woman’s voice.
He moved up on the car and caught the driver’s face in the side mirror. “Jessica? What the fuck are you doing?”
She opened the door and got out of the car. “You’ve been acting weird. I thought maybe you were seeing someone else,” she said. “I… I just wanted to make sure…” She burst into tears.
“Oh baby, I wouldn’t do that to you.” He pulled her into his arms. “It’s all work baby. I just been busy with work lately.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell,” she said. Her bottom lip quivered as she caught her breath.
He wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Just some big shit going on right now. Eddie’s missing,” he said. “Who’s car is that?”
“Janette from the office,” she said. “It was her idea to follow you.”
“You should know better than to trust some bimbo. You should have talked to me, baby.”
He left her there. She would head back to work, a little distraught but at least she wouldn’t be following him anymore. Eric pulled out into the flow of traffic, eager to find Eddie.
He pulled the Impala into a carport, attached to a single-story brown stone. The place was one of the few residential neighborhoods still in the warehouse district. He thought it was a bit too obvious as a safe house. Eddie always told him that was the simplicity of the thing. Who would expect the place in the most obvious of locations?
The dark house bode ill for visitors. He laughed at the thought. Bode, who uses words like bode? But there was a feeling he couldn’t quite shake looking at the place. It could be the lack of light coming through the windows. Hell, the place looked like it was still sealed from last winter.
He knocked on the front door; no answer. Didn’t really expect an answer but it was worth a try anyway. It was locked too. Why was it everywhere he needed to be lately locked him out? Didn’t matter, Eddie kept a key in a safe rock near the back door. This wasn’t Eric’s first time at this place.
The key, right where it was supposed to be, allowed him into the back door. The place looked like Eddie hadn’t done work back there in months. This wasn’t his only safe house, but with the proximity to the warehouse district it was the one easiest to get to.
Eric slipped the key into the locked and pushed the door open. A funk wafted out the door with a whoosh. The mustiness of an old basement, it was the only way that Eric could describe it. Not dirty, but with a dampness that he felt when he breathed the air in.
The place used to have a dehumidifier working full time. This close to the docks could damage much of the stuff in the houses around here. He hit the lights beside the door, nothing. Maybe it had been a while since Eddie was here. People would notice someone coming and going from a derelict house.
Light filtered in through the grime-encrusted windows. A layer of dust covered the floor and counters, undisturbed for some time by the look of it. The dust near the front door had been brushed aside. Upset and then resettled, someone had been here recently.
Tracks in the dust came into the house, nothing going out. Eddie must be here. “Eddie,” Eric said. “Hey, you here?” There was no answer. There was a stillness in the air, almost unnatural. Eric followed the footprints in the dust into the hall leading toward the bedrooms.
“Hey Eddie, I don’t have time for this. Quit fooling around dude.” He pulled the .38 out of his coat pocket and pulled the hammer back. The path ended at the end of the hall. Closed door cut off the prints.
Eric held the .38 at the ready with his left hand on the door knob. “Eddie, you in there?” No answer. He slammed the door open. It banged into the wall, and kicked up a cloud of dust.
The room was furnished: a bed, desk and chair, and a couple dressers. The layer of dust and grime in the air choked him. But the room, Eddie went into the room, how the hell did he leave the room?
The box on the bed, he knew that box. They had sealed it with several layers of tape before they buried it though. The tape was cut at the seam. “Eddie, you fool,” he said. “I told you to stay out of the box. But you never listen.”
Eric assumed he tried to open the box. Scorch marks on the bed beside it told a tale of their own. “What the hell were you thinking?” He gathered the box, holding the lid closed tight. It was time to go. He put the .38 back into the pocket of his hoody, both hands were needed to ensure the box stayed closed.
The air pressure in the house changed, then re-equalized when he heard the backdoor slam shut. Eric froze. He couldn’t set the box down, but he needed his .38. Whoever followed him here would be looking for the box. He couldn’t let it get into the wrong hands.
“Eric?” Jessica’s voice cut through the dust in the air. “Where you at baby?”
How the hell did she follow him? He watched for it. No one came this far with him. Did she know about the box?
“Come on out baby,” she said. “I know you’re here.” Was she in the living room now?
He slipped the box into the closet. “I’ll be right out.”
Jessica stood in the center of the living room, a Beretta in her hand. She held the gun relaxed but still pointed at chest level. No way he could dodge that bullet.
He should have known better. Never trust a woman, he told himself. They always find a way to make your life difficult.
“How did you find me?” He asked, looking for exits. He could always come back for the box. He needed to live through this to make it back for it.
“I wasn’t the only one following you baby.”
She had an accomplice. Who would help her and why? Only a couple people knew about the box to begin with. Hell, only a couple people even knew about this safe house. “You can come out George.”
George stepped out of the kitchen, unarmed. “Give it up Eric,” he said. “I have a buyer.”
“I told you before, this thing can’t be sold.” He shifted his weight. He might be able to drop and roll with his .38 if he timed it right.
“This isn’t for you to judge,” Jessica said. “We’ve been looking for the box for quite some time.”
“That thing torched Eddie,” he said. “It was never meant to be found.”
“The daughters of Pandora feel differently,” she said. “We have a use for it. Besides it’s our legacy.”
Eric dropped and rolled, the .38 in his hands. Two shots, one through Jessica’s throat, dropped her. The other shot caught George in the left shoulder, he fell back into the kitchen.
“You still alive, George?” A groan from the kitchen confirmed it. “Let me get Pandora’s Box out of here. You know it can’t be opened just as much as I do.”
“Take the damn box,” George said. “Thing’s brought me enough trouble as it is.”
Eric holstered his .38 and grabbed the box. “Need me to get you to the hospital?” he asked.
“Nah, just get rid of the box. I don’t want to know anything else about it.”
He flicked the switch and the lights of the Impala cut the darkness. When he pulled out onto the road his phone beeped, a text message from George. “Call me tomorrow. Need an item picked up at the airport.”
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