The office Christmas Party was being held at Smokey Joe’s Blues Café, or Smokey’s, as the locals called the place. It was a respectable place made to look like an authentic Blues Joint. The music was Blues and Blues only – no Rock and Roll, ever. There was sawdust on the floor, raw peanuts on the bar, and you could buy your beer by the pint or by the pitcher. And its owner prided himself on never having served a watered down drink.
Besides drinks and music the place had the best mouth watering burgers and barbeque ribs in town.
The party was in full swing and Frank was well into his fourth Scotch neat. He was in an unusually jovial mood having put the crash of Flight 404, Rebecca Schuster, and his divorce out of his thoughts.
After interviewing Rebecca, he thought it was highly unlikely, even given her past exploits, that Rebecca was the person they were looking for. She was far too timid to have intentionally crashed a plane load of people. No, that required a kind of mindset that Rebecca lacked. However, she did fit the profile. She worked for the New York Police Department and could have easily gained entry to secure places at LaGuardia.
Margaret and David had hired a detective agency to continue looking into things, i.e., Rebecca Schuster. The detective agency had thought it best to warn the remaining member of his old group, Saul Abramovitz, to stave off flying for a while. They had taken the extra precaution of having an agent from the detective agency watch Rebecca’s apartment building. So, tonight all he wanted to do was have a good time and if possible, get laid.
Margaret Larson had stirred up old feelings in him that he thought had died with his marriage.
He made his way through the crowd searching for a substitute for her. He chatted here and there with various women only to find out that they were there with one of his colleagues or for whatever reason were unavailable.
Bmmp-bmmp, bmmp-bmmp. He pulled the annoying pager from his inside jacket pocket and checked the number. It was agent Carlos Sanchez, his boss.
Frowning and more intent than ever to accomplish his goal, he shut off the pager, ordered another drink, and resumed his search.
At the end of his search, he found Laura from Human Resources. She was one of about five women who were there unescorted and around his age. A little disappointed but not disheartened, he thought, “what the hell. She’ll do for tonight.”
Laura, from Human Resources was not like Margaret. She was not exceptional. Laura was average everything – average brown hair, average brown eyes, average smile and average personality. And quite possibly she was going to be average in bed. But that was OK with him cause right now average was about all he could handle. An exceptional woman, like Margaret, would require more energy and commitment than he was ready to give.
He eased his way over to where Laura was sitting, and bent down over her and whispered in her ear, “Tonight, baby, I’m going to be the man of your dreams.”
“What make you think you’d be in a dream of mine?”
It must have been the liquor, because he didn’t feel the least bit intimidated by her remark. She became a little bit more interesting which made him want her more. “Everybody has dreams,” he countered.
Laura Havermire leaned back in her chair and took a good long look at Agent Frank Roberts for the first time. Ruggedly handsome, she’d always thought, was a euphemism for ugly, but in his case, it fit. There were deep lines across his face indicating that he’d lived, loved, and loss. His nose was a smidgen to big and his eyes were the wrong shade of blue. And those brows – God hadn’t the man ever heard of a pair of tweezers.
Worst than his looks was what she’d heard about him through the grapevine. She was aware of the circumstances surrounding his divorce. By all accounts he was a tight-wad. He’d kept the house and had refused to pay his ex-wife a cent of alimony. And he was on his way out of the bureau if Agent Sanchez, their new boss, had his way. She was about to tell him to get lost, when he did, of all things – kissed her softly on the lips.
Something in her melted and as their eyes met, she knew she was going home with this man.
Gently, he eased her out of her chair and onto the dance floor. He held her close even though at first she held her body as stiff as a block of wood. He had his left arm around her waist and with his right hand he took her left hand in his and brought their combined hands down between their two bodies. As they danced to the music he could feel the stiffness of her body relax. He closed his eyes and drew her even closer, imagining what the rest of the night might bring. It had been a long time since he’d felt the warmth of a woman’s body. He was ready for this and so it seemed was Laura.
He was already miles away in his bedroom, undressing Laura, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He was about to tell this asshole to go get his own girl, when he recognized Agent Schlade’s voice.
“Frank, we’ve got a crash.”
“Give it to somebody else.”
“Can’t. You know that.”
Agent Schlade recognized the woman Frank was dancing with as the woman from Human Resources. The woman he’d given his report to, about Frank’s conduct in the field.
“Go away. Can’t you see I’m dancing with a lady?”
“I can see you don’t have a ghost of a chance.”
“Shut up, junior.”
“Come on old man,” Schlade said shoving his coat at him. “Sanchez is waiting outside for us.”
“Sanchez?” “He’s going on this one?”
“Yeah. It’s a bad one. A Boeing 737 went down in Flushing Bay.”
He let go of Laura, turned and faced Agent Schlade. “Flushing Bay. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
The nice alcoholic buzz he’d been enjoying disappeared. He walked stoically behind Agent Schlade towards the front door. Outside a light snow was falling and the city had lost its Christmas innocence.
Agent Sanchez was in the front passenger seat and Agent Schlade took the driver’s seat. He was left with the rear passenger seat.
As the car sped away from the curve his heart started beating faster and louder. He was sure one of the two men in the front of the car would hear it, and ask him why he was so anxious. They said nothing.
He sat back in the seat, his mind contemplating the implications of a plane crash in Flushing Bay. He had a thousand questions, none of which he wanted answered. And he especially didn’t want to know how bad it was or how many people had died. The knot in his stomach had returned. He felt like someone was slowly twisting and ice pick in the middle of his gut. His stomach, his mind, and mostly his groin wanted to jump from the moving car and yell, “no more damn it. No more senseless death.” Here he was hurtling through time and space at forty miles an hour towards more carnage when he’d had plans for tonight and they hadn’t include counting dead bodies. He wanted to feel a live, warm human body moving beneath his. He wanted to participate in the joy of life for a change instead of walking through the valley of death.