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I Won’t Be Home For Christmas

 

Vinny mulled things over while sitting in a parked car in an underserved community. The Neighborhood Crime Stoppers resigned years ago, allowing corruption to infiltrate every nook and cranny like melted butter on a hot English muffin. The detective’s officiousness sent him on a wild-goose chase an hour drive from home. This dick didn’t ruminate his personal welfare. The stallion is a risk-taker and ventured into the war zone. His protection was close to his side, steel not a Guardian Angel.

Analyzing the snail pace of the never-ending surveillance encroaching on two-hours, the man-of-the-hour was undoubtedly a no show. The detective concluded; his information source deliberately threw him a curveball. Irked by the dubious outcome that he didn’t share eggnog with the self-employed pharmacist, he kicked himself in the romp. No one in their right mind would be out on a night like this. Pulling the figurative switch on the stakeout, Vinny cursed under his breath, turned on the motor, and pumped up the heat shivering from the bitter temperatures.

Pushing a button on his phone, he waited for a response. Thinking the call was dropped into voicemail, he was ready to verbalize his disdain until he heard a woman’s agitated greeting. Perception prevailed.

“Vinchenzo, why are you calling me at this hour? Mama and Papa are sleeping. You’ll wake them. I told you to not to phone me after seven.”

“I didn’t bother Mama and Papa; you’re not home. So Maria, what’s the real problem? Am I intruding on your love life, barged in on your personal space?”

“Vinny, you have some nerve saying that to me. I’m with my parents and it’s late. Did you call to argue? I’m in no mood to argue with you.”

“Maria, you’re busted. Jaime, your cousin, he said you were with Renaldo. It seems you’ve been shacking up with Renaldo quite a bit on this trip. I hope you’re having a good time with Mama and Papa. From what I hear, you have only seen them a few times.”

“You know my cousin lies. Yes, Renaldo and I have been going places and doing things but he’s a good friend. We’re friends, Vinny. Don’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t get mad when you spend overnight with female agents. Don’t let me bring up your past. Stop there before you really make me mad.”

“Maria, when I pull all-nighters it is work not sex. It buys you all the stuff you want. That’s how you get to live in a nice home in a comfortable neighborhood, drive an expensive car, and have six closets packed with clothes. Is Renaldo a friend with benefits; your new flavor of the month?”

“Like I said Vinny, I’m not going to argue with you. If that’s what you want to believe - believe it. I can’t change your mind.”

“According to Jaime, you’ve seen Renaldo every night, and a couple of times, you stayed over, left in the morning. I’m sure you can understand why I’d be a little concerned.”

“Jaime had words with Renaldo when Renaldo broke the engagement with Anna, Jaime’s sister. I told you about that. We were supposed to go to their wedding in October. You’re this big private detective and you couldn’t figure this out? Jaime wants you to side with him.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right but did you sleep with the guy?”

“Vinny, I won’t lie to you. I did, once. Renaldo and I fell asleep watching a movie. Nothing happened. I knew you’d find out. Honestly Vinny, we didn’t do anything.”

“Okay, so when are you leaving your bff and coming home to your husband? I made reservations at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville for Christmas. I thought you’d like a romantic getaway.”

Instantly Maria’s disposition upgraded. “Oh Vinchenzo, my favorite place, but I won’t be home for Christmas. Mama wants me to stay. She’s planning a big family dinner and all my relatives will be visiting between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I need to help Mama prepare and cook.”

“Since when do you spend time in the kitchen?”

“Vinny, why don’t you come here? You like my family and once you meet Renaldo, you will like him, too. You can play poker, drink, smoke, and go to the cantina; flirt with all the pretty dancers.”

“Maria, I’m working this case and if I leave for a few days, I could blow it and my cover. I’m that close in getting this guy. As far as partying with Renaldo, I’ll pass. I don’t need a dancer - I have you. From what I know, your new friend is a small-time hood. Watch your step with the guy. He wants to be more than just your amigo. I know what the guy does for a living and his reputation is not honorable.”

“See Vinny, that’s our problem - your work. It has always been your work. You don’t trust anyone. And what are you doing that is so important that you can’t take a few days off to be with me? Renaldo took time off and he’s not a drug dealer like Jaime says he is. Renaldo is a builder. It’s the holidays, take Christmas week and be with me. If you loved me, you’d do it.”

“In Maria-world it’s simple but not in my world. I can’t go into details. You know the rules. I’m also checking out my brother’s new girlfriend.”

“I didn’t know your brother had a girlfriend. Why are you doing that?”

“The agency doesn’t want another fiasco on their hands when he ran off and got married in Vegas. Getting married in Vegas, under the influence wasn’t a rational decision.”

“Is his new girlfriend pretty? Is that why you’re investigating her?”

“No, I wouldn’t classify her as pretty. Average looking but she’s got personality.”

“What do you mean by ‘personality’?”

“She’s not his usual type, a controlling ice-queen.”

“Is she young like his partner, the one who thinks she’s better than everyone? You know how hard it was for me not to tear her apart when we went out to dinner. She asked me if I ate tortillas for breakfast. That b**** has some nerve.”

“I told my brother, if his partner kept up the sarcasm, you would whoop her ass. No, this one is more down-to-earth, different. Actually, she is more his age not twenty years younger. Like I said, she’s nothing special but he seems to be infatuated with her. He talks about her all the time.”

“Do you think they’ll get married?”

“Funny you should mention marriage. I think it’s leading up to vows. She’s got a few skeletons in her closet but nothing too crazy. I guess she would be a good wife for him. I did the usual criminal background paperwork and looked into her social network. She was clean. She wouldn’t be my type.”

“Where did your brother meet her?”

“At a bar.”

“Is she a drinker like his last wife?”

“No, she’s not a drinker. If they do get married, I give it six months and he’ll be bored with her.”

“You really think it’s that serious?”

“He’s been hinting he’s lonely. He put in a transfer to leave California and move here. Parker approved it.”

“It sounds like you’ve met his girlfriend.”

“Yeah, tonight at the grocery store; we talked for a few minutes.”

“Did you like her?”

“Maria, what’s with the third degree? Like I said, she’s okay, not eye candy. I think she’s going to be needy but he seems to like that quality in women. It makes him feel macho and evidently she must make bedtime interesting.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“No, he doesn’t discuss his sex life.”

Putting the pillow talk to bed, “Vinny, you do what you got to do. Did you really made reservations at the Inn for me?”

“Yeah, I did. You’re my wife and I wanted to make the holiday special for us.”

“Can you change the date?”

“Should I book us for New Year’s Eve?”

“No, I won’t be home until after the first. Can you make reservations for January 6? I’ll be flying home on the fifth.”

“Email your flight details and I can pick you up at the airport. Depending on the ETA, we could go right to the hotel.”

Su amante, I won’t have winter clothes to wear.”

“You won’t need to wear anything at the hotel. I want to see you naked. It’s been a long time.”

“Vinchenzo, you’re such a good husband but are you sure you’re not angry at my staying here? I miss my family and Renaldo is just a friend.”

“No, stay and enjoy your family. Look, I got to get back to work. Please, do me a favor and cool it with Renaldo. I don’t trust him. Would you do it for me? It doesn’t look right.”

“Vinchenzo don’t be jealous. Renaldo’s my night out when my parents go to bed.”

“Maria, it only takes one night and one drink too many.”

“You don’t trust me?”

“It’s Renaldo; I don’t trust him.”

“Baby, I’m all yours. Don’t worry about Renaldo - okay?”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Good, and for Christmas, I want a diamond bracelet. You can buy it when we go to Asheville. You know how I love that downtown jewelry store. I was online last week and saw it.”

“Maria, you have four-carat’s worth of diamonds in your dresser draw.”

“I know, but this bracelet is different. Please Vinchenzo, will you buy it for me? Diamonds bring out my best features.”

“How expensive is it?”

“You love me, right? You want to make me happy, right?”

“Okay, I’ll buy the bracelet. Maria, I got to go.”

“Bye Vinny and I’ll email my flight.”

The nark heard a man’s voice in the background right before his wife pressed the end button. Feeling ditched, Vinny put the phone in his coat pocket and tried to put things into prospective. Staring at the road ahead of him, he knew his marriage was over. His wife was spot-on serious with Renaldo. It was a matter of time. Jaime was right; Renaldo is her bedtime story.

Glancing at the clock it was close to ten. The preoccupied detective was heading back to Hickory to check on another lead. The roads were somewhat drivable. When he’s done, he’ll take a ride to Barbara’s house. He’ll be there before the clock strikes twelve. Can something go right for him tonight?

Getting back into town, leaving his car in an isolated location, he took a short jaunt to a rundown house three blocks from police headquarters. There was a party going on but only a select few were invited. Vinny worked his way into their circle of trust. His source was there, higher than a kite on a blustery day.

Using brute force, he persuaded the punk to the cellar where they could talk more openly and honestly. Paving the stoolie’s hand with a Grant, the snitch was willing to reciprocate and negotiate new terms. The man-of-the-hour who was supposed to be in Charlotte was about a mile away distributing a million dollars’ worth of street pharmaceuticals, grossing half that amount in cash which is not a bad paycheck for one night’s work. The entrepreneur will have to pay his subcontractors. The player can easily maintain a home in the downtown historical district with a tax-free, six-digit annual income figure.

The kid let the cat out of the bag having one hit too many and he feared the look on the undercover’s face. Leaving his source of information before he bashed the addict’s head into the wall, Vinny walked the streets enduring the sleeting precipitation. Pushing a few buttons on his cell phone, the call was intercepted by an automated message line. The party he dialed did not answer.

“Yeah, it’s Vinny. I met you at the store. I was just calling to see how you were doing. Hey, I’ve got a few details to take care of, and then I’ll stop over. Now, if your boyfriend is there, give me a tag back. You got my personal cell number. Look, I’m concerned about you. I have no other motive but to make sure you’re all right. Maybe you could make me the tea you just bought and a sandwich, PBJ. I’m not fussy. Got to go, but I’ll see you soon.”

Arriving at his destination, the agent’s eyes, and ears was right on the money. Using speed-dial, back up responded and Vinny left the scene. Getting into his car, turning the key, the engine was dead. Hopping out of the vehicle, he kept a brisk pace charging down North Main. Dialing a friend to request a ride to Barbara’s house, hearing wheels screech and skid around the corner, Vinny turned.

Glaring headlights distorted the agent’s field of vision. Ditching his phone, he whipped out a Glock; too late. The rear passenger’s window opened, three shots were fired hitting the suggested target. Feeling a stinging-burn, Vinny fell to the cold earth, and blood splattered, speckling the white snow. Will he be home for Christmas?

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