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The bright sunny almost cloudless, warm day was just made for cruising in a Corvette; especially in a T-Top with the rear window removed. Rollie Chambers smiled as he felt the car's raw power, and fought the temptation to exceed the 65 MPH speed limit. The Corvette's engine growled its impatience running at the relatively slow speed and it ate up the miles as the Stingray roared south on Route 100 on the east side of the Missouri River, south toward Alton, Illinois.
As he drove, Rollie thought, I'm glad now that I bought the car and had it restored. He turned and smiled at his passenger, Jessica Talbert. Jessica, or Jess as he called her, was Rollie's roommate, lady, and best friend. Although not married, Rollie and Jessica were committed to each other and to having a life together.
They had been on a picnic at Pier Marquette State Park, enjoying the scenery and the beautiful spring weather. It was late May and in a month or two the hot humid summer weather would invade the St. Louis area making it far less comfortable, but for now it was almost perfect.
Jessica returned the smile and laughed. He looks like a little boy on Christmas morning after opening his presents.
The car in question was a 69 Corvette T-Top. Rollie had found the vehicle languishing in a garage at one of the older large homes around Lafayette Park. A few weeks after Rollie's wife, Susan, died, he'd been just cruising around one day and saw the "For Sale" sign on the car. The garage doors were open but Rollie didn't think many people would have noticed the car parked in the shadows. He stopped and rang the door bell which was answered by an older, grandmotherly type woman.
"Howdy ma'am," Rollie greeted the lady. "I'm Rollie Chambers and I'd like to talk to you about the car you have for sale."
"I'm Abigail Simpson." She picked up the keys from a side table and tossed them to him. "Bring them back when you're done looking at the car young man. I had a new battery put in so the car would start," Mrs. Simpson said as she closed the door.
She shouldn't be so trusting, Rollie thought as he walked around the side of the house to the garage. The Corvette was Burgundy Metallic, had what was known as a 'shaker hood', a raised cowling with metal letters along the sides that said '427'.
Rollie sat in the driver's seat, inserted the key and turned it to start the vehicle. The starter groaned, turned over a couple of times and the engine roared to life. The factory side pipes caused sound waves to bounce off the walls of the garage and Rollie could feel the vibrations. The engine smoothed out and Rollie drove the car out of the garage into the sunlight so he could get a better look at it. Then he put the car in neutral and let it run while he walked around giving it a closer inspection. Rollie found that the car was basically in good shape cosmetically and from the sounds of the engine there was nothing major wrong in that department. The sound of the side pipes, the feeling of power as he sat back in the driver's seat cause Rollie to fall in love with the beast right then.
He looked in the driver's door pocket and found a large manila business size envelope. It contained the owner's manual, an illustrated brochure on where and how to store the removable rear window and another one to show where to fasten down the smoked glass T-Tops. The envelope also contained the original window sticker for the car.
The sticker said the car was a 1969 Corvette Stingray. Some of the options listed were the T-Tops and the removable rear window. The engine was listed as the L68 option; a 427 Tri Power with triple 2 barrel Holly carburetors. The transmission was the M22 option. The car also had Positraction and G70 tires and wheels. The price was listed at $5832.
While the car idled, Rollie used his smart phone to go on line and research the Corvette. He found that the engine produced 400 HP and the heavy duty, close ratio, 4 speed gear shift box was called the Rock Crusher. The cars he could find advertized ran from 30 thousand dollars up to 75 thousand for low mileage ones. He looked at the odometer and saw it read 8354 miles. Hope Mrs. Simpson doesn't want that much for the car. I love the beast but I don't want to spend that kind of money for a week end type vehicle.
Rollie shut off the engine, returned the envelope in the door pocket and walked back to Mrs. Simpson's, once again ringing the bell. He handed her the keys when she answered the door.
"You don't like the car then?" Mrs. Simpson asked.
"No ma'am, I mean yes ma'am. I really like it. Is it your car ma'am?"
"The car belonged to my son Teddy. He bought it new in '69 but joined the Army shortly afterwards and didn't get a chance to drive it much." Rollie could see the pain in the old lady's eyes as she added, "Teddy was killed in Viet Nam in '73. The car has been sitting in the garage ever since, except for me starting it and driving it around the block every week. That's what my Teddy asked me to do; I've been doing it for almost 40 years now."
"Sorry for your loss, ma'am." The elderly woman seemed to go back in time thinking about her son. Rollie waited for more than two minutes for her to rejoin the present, and then asked, "How much are you asking for it?"
"My neighbor tells me the car's worth a lot of money; I don't know what those things." Mrs. Simpson stared at Rollie for several seconds. "I'll let you have my son's car for $25,000."
Rollie hesitated for a moment. He liked, hell he loved the car and he knew it was probably worth a lot more on the open market, but 25 Grand was a lot of money.
"The car has extremely low mileage, and I don't believe there's anything major wrong with it." Mrs. Simpson smiled at Rollie. "Most likely all you'll have to do is a tune up, get new tires, and maybe a new paint job to make it brand new again."
"Mrs. Simpson, that's a fair price for the car," Rollie said. "But it's a bit steep for me. I'd like to buy the Corvette for maybe 18 thousand."
"I like your looks young man, you've been raised right and you have good manners. I'll let you have the car for $23,000."
"Thank you ma'am. My folks had a hard task but they did raise me to respect my elders. I'll give you 20 thousand for the Corvette. No financing to arrange, or banks involved; just cash money in any denominations you like."
"I'd like to see the car go to someone that would care as much about it as my Teddy did. Make it 21 cash and we've got a deal." Mrs. Simpson stuck out her right hand and held the keys with her left, jingling them in front of Rollie's eyes. To him, it was like a siren's song.
Rollie had to smile at the old lady. "Ma'am, for someone who claims not to know anything about cars, you sure drive a hard bargain. Guess we've got a deal," he said as he shook her hand. "It'll take me about two hours to get to the bank and get the money. Do you want me to leave a check with you to hold the car until I get back?"
"Your words good enough for me young man," Mrs. Simpson answered.
"Thank you ma'am. I'll go put the car back in the garage and head for my bank. Do you want cash or would you prefer a cashier's check? That's a lot of money to have lying around the house."
"A cashier's check will do fine. Leave the car where it is and I'll see you in a couple of hours." Mrs. Simpson closed the door.
Rollie almost ran to his truck, jumped in the cab, and drove the four miles to his bank that was near his apartment. He ran into the bank and waved at his friend, Dewey Baker, who was the manager of the M & I Bank.
"Dewey, I need a cashier's check made out to Mrs. Abigail Simpson for $21,000 and I need it fast. I just made a deal on a car and I have to get back before someone buys it out from under me."
Baker didn't hesitate; he led Rollie over to a teller and gave her instructions. It took than ten minutes and Rollie was on his was on his way back to Mrs. Simpson's. He waved at Dewey, "I'll call you later and tell you about the car. Thanks for your help."
With the help of some cooperating traffic lights and not many cars on the street, Rollie was able to get back to the Park Avenue house in even less time than it had taken to get to the bank. When he parked in front of the house, he saw a large man at Mrs. Simpson's door. Rollie couldn't hear the man's words as he walked toward the house, but the tone was angry.
"Look lady," Rollie heard as he got closer. "Your neighbor said you wanted 25 for the car, I'm offering you 27."
"I've already told you the car is sold. The young man who bought it will be back in a bit with the money."
"Yeah, maybe. But I'm here now," the man replied.
"So am I," Rollie said stepping onto the porch. He turned and said, "Hi Mrs. Simpson. I've got your check."
The big man turned toward Rollie and said, "Beat it sonny, I'm going to buy the car."
For the first time Rollie really looked at him. He was about an inch taller than Rollie's 6' 2 and probably 30 pounds heavier. He had a big red nose, like a man who was no stranger to strong drink, and his face was red with anger. The suit he wore was of good quality, but he looked uncomfortable wearing it. His big hands hung out of the coat sleeves like hams.
"You're mistaken Mister. I've already made a deal with Mrs. Simpson," Rollie said. He turned and handed the woman an envelope. "This is a cashier's check for the amount we agreed on, Mrs. Simpson."
"Thank you Mr. Chambers."
"Chambers? Are you Rollie Chambers?" The big thug asked.
"I've heard of you. You're the one that found Frank Rossi's daughter and stopped a kidnapping last year?"
"That would be me."
"You busted up Vito Rossi's protection racket too."
"Yes I did. I never actually found Vito; at least not until it was too late. That didn't work out so good for Vito."
The big man looked at Mrs. Simpson. "My apologies ma'am. You too Chambers. I didn't know it was you that bought the car. I'll leave now." He turned and hurried off the porch and down the walkway. By the time he got to his car parked at the curb, he was almost running. Rollie and Mrs. Simpson chuckled at the big man's retreat.
"Apparently your reputation precedes you Mr. Chambers. I haven't seen a grown man rush so fast in a long time."
"He did seem to be in a hurry to leave, didn't he?" Rollie laughed again.
"May I take advantage of your kind nature to ask a favor," Mrs. Simpson asked. At Rollie's nod she asked, "The title is in my safety deposit box at the bank. Would you take me to the bank so I can deposit this check and I'll get the paper work for the car at the same time?" She paused and added, "And maybe let me ride in Teddy's car one last time?"
"Yes ma'am. I'd be happy to."
Rollie took the keys and walked to the garage. He pulled the Corvette around to the front of the house and helped the elderly lady into the car. Mrs. Simpson had tears in her eyes as Rollie drove her to her bank. Back at her house on Park Avenue, Rollie helped her to her door.
Smiling sadly, Mrs. Simpson said, "Thank you Mr. Chambers. That car was Teddy's dream but it belongs to you now. Take good care of it. Good bye." She turned and went into her home.
"Yes ma'am, I will. You have my word," Rollie whispered to the closed door. Later that day, a neighbor dropped Rollie back at the old house so he could pick up his truck.
It took three months and several dollars, actually more like thousands, to put the Corvette back in pristine condition. Rollie had the car repainted the original Burgundy Metallic and the interior redone in black leather just like the factory 1969 materials. He also put new F70x15 red striped tires on the seven inch wide steel wheels. The Corvette was as close to original and new as possible.
"Would you like to drive Jess?" Rollie asked as he drove south on Route 100. He pulled off the highway into a scenic lookout and stopped the car.
"I wouldn't want to come between you and your car."
"It's our car Jess," Rollie said in a serious tone. He gave her a small grin and added, "Just like everything else; what I've got is yours."
Jessica touched his arm on the console and returned his grin. "Yes, I would like to drive." They switched seats and Jessica pulled back onto the highway.
Instead of watching the road, Rollie watched Jessica take it through the gears. She had a big smile and her blue eyes sparkled. With the T-Tops stored behind the seat, her long auburn hair was blowing in the wind. Her face had a blush of red from the excitement of driving the classic car.
Jessica pulled back off the road after about twenty minutes. "That was fun, but I know you're chomping at the bit to get back behind the wheel. Thank you Rollie. And not just for letting me drive." They switched seats again and he roared back onto the road.
Rollie pulled the low slung beast into a parking spot in front of Bailey's Ice Cream shop in Alton. This was an old fashioned, family run business that had been on the same corner for almost 50 years. Bailey's dished up a maximum of 8 flavors and two kinds of cones; no 31 flavors, whole grain cones or fat free ice cream here. The ice cream was made on site using the same recipes as when the shop opened. It was as close to 'home made' as possible.
Getting out of the Corvette, Rollie walked around and help Jessica. After getting their ice cream cones, Jessica started toward the car, Rollie sat down at a table in front of the ice cream shop.
"Shouldn't we be going if we want a chance to shower and change before dinner?" Jessica asked as she walked back to join Rollie.
"We've got plenty of time. We'll leave as soon as we finish our cones. I don't want to get anything on the car, especially melted ice cream."
"You don't keep our apartment as clean as you do that car."
"Our apartment isn't a rare, classic, 69 Corvette either. The Beast deserves to be treated with respect."
"That's what I've named it."
"Why the Beast?"
"What else would you call a 400 HP car that you have to fight with to keep it under the speed limit?"
Jessica laughed. "I'd call it a car; if I called it anything."
"Women have no soul when it comes to beautiful cars" Rollie said looking up to the sky. He laughed, took Jessica's arm, and led her to the Beast. "Just don't drip anything on the seats please," he requested.
Shortly after 10PM Rollie and Jessica left Rigazzi's Italian Restaurant for home. They made it a point to visit Rigazzi's at least once a week. The owner, Tony Rigazzi, was a close friend and he expected them to join him for dinner. He had sat at their table for most of the evening, talking and spending time with two of his favorite people. Jessica was a Clinical Psychiatrist at Washington University and she had early rounds at the University Medical Center the next morning.
Rollie was stopped at a light on Kings Highway when three men stepped out of the shadows of an alleyway. The first man was somewhat smaller than a city bus, but not by much. The other two were normal size human beings.
"Get out of the car," the big man ordered. He waved a gun at them and Jessica started to protest.
"Do as he says Jess," Rollie said.
As he exited the car, he heard Jessica yell at one of the other men. Rollie turned and saw a man jerking on Jessica's arm as she tried to unfasten her seat beat. Her head hit the door post and she slumped onto the seat with the seat belt still attached.
"Hey take it easy," Rollie said and started around the car toward Jessica. He felt the impact and heard the sound of the gunshot at the same time. Rollie dropped to one knee, pulled his own weapon, turned and fired at the big man. His target grunted in pain and lumbered away. Rollie turned back to face the other two but they were running back down the alley. Rollie started to fire at the retreating men, but pulled his .45 back down to his side. In his condition he wasn't sure he could hit the moving targets and he didn't know what was down the alley behind them.
"Jess, you okay?" Rollie asked as he fought against passing out. He looked over and saw Jessica, sprawled unconscious, in the passenger seat. Rollie half crawled over to her and saw blood seeping from a cut above her temple. He used his cell to call 911.
"911, what is your emergency?"
"We've been car jacked with shots fired. Two wounded. We're at the corner of Bischoff and Kingshighway and need an ambulance and the police." Rollie slipped to the ground, leaning into the car with his head in Jessica's lap.
"Jess," he whispered as he passed out.
The first sound Rollie heard was a steady beep, beep, beep. I know that sound, he thought as he fought to regain consciousness. Yeah, that's a hospital monitor. Is that where I am? Rollie tried to open his eyes and when he couldn't, tried to sit up.
He wished he hadn't moved. The sharp, shooting pain in his side almost made him pass out again. His thoughts were fuzzy and it took several seconds before he remembered being shot. Abruptly he remembered Jess. Rollie slumped back onto the pillow and he could feel the tears coming into his eyes.
His movements had caused a change in the monitor readings and a nurse hurried into the room. "Welcome back Mr. Chambers," a brisk authoritative voice said. "I'm Nurse Julie Colwell, you can call me Julie. Now you just take it easy," the nurse ordered.
"I can't open my eyes," Rollie complained.
"I'll take care of that for you." Nurse Colwell's voice softened and she spoke in a lower tone. "You've been crying in your sleep and when the tears dried they formed a crust on your eyelids."
Rollie felt a very warm, wet, cloth wiping his eyes. "Now try," the nurse suggested after a couple of minutes.
This time Rollie was able to open his eyes and see the hospital room he was in; he could also see Nurse Colwell. She wasn't what he expected from her voice. Julie Colwell appeared to be about 40, few years older than Rollie's 33. Even at 5' 7 and slender, she had a no nonsense aura of command about her. Rollie saw that she wore her long, dark hair gathered down her back and her grey eyes missed nothing.
In spite of the previous reaction, Rollie sat upright in the bed and grunted at the pain. "Where's Jessica? How is she?"
"That would be the young woman that was brought in with you?" Rollie nodded; even the abrupt movement of his head, made his body ache.
"She's in another ward. If you promise to stay in bed, keep still, and let me do my job I'll find out what I can." Nurse Colwell check the monitor and then examined Rollie's wound. Nodding in satisfaction, she said, "You and the young lady were injured during an attempted carjacking. You were shot in the side, but no organs were hit and the bullet passed through your body." She patted Rollie on the arm. "It'll take a while, but you'll be fine."
"I'll go see what I can find out, but you promised to stay still. Right"
Rollie nodded and Julie left. In spite of his promise to Nurse Colwell, Rollie had to test his body a little. He found he had complete use of his legs and arms, but it hurt too much to sit up. Rollie felt his chin and realized he needed a shave. Wonder how long I've been here, he thought.
It was close to forty five minutes before Nurse Colwell returned. "I shouldn't really give you information about another patient. Miss Talbert has a serious concussion, her brain was bruised and it's swelling. The doctors have her in a drug induced coma to allow the swelling to go down and help her body heal itself." Julie saw the fear in Rollie's eyes. She also saw something else, something deadly, something more than anger.
Julie quickly continued, "That's normal procedure with head injuries Rollie. Don't worry; Jessica's doctor is the best in the state with head traumas. I told the charge nurse to call me every couple of hours." She grinned and added, "There is a big, mean, looking man in her room. The nurse told me they tried to get him to leave but he refuses; they told him they would call security to remove him. The big man said they'd better call a lot of them because he was going to stay right there until the young lady regains consciousness. He was quite adamant."
Julie chuckled. "He asked about you and when I told him you'd be okay he said to tell you to get off your butt and let's go get the bastards that did this."
"Tully," Rollie said in a low voice, almost to himself. He smiled and nodded at Julie. "That's Tully. Next to Jessica, he's my closest friend."
"He's very intimidating isn't he?" Julie stated.
"Tully can be a force of nature all on his own. But Jessica sometimes calls him 'Bear', because where she's concerned, he just a big teddy bear." Rollie rubbed his face and asked, "How long have I, we, been here?"
"This is the third day," Julie answered. A young candy stripper stood in the doorway. "Nurse Colwell, there's a call for you at the nurse's station."
"Be right back Rollie," Julie said. She returned in just three minutes. "Jessica's doctor said they are taking her off the drugs and she should wake up within 24 hours. He said the prognosis was excellent for her complete recovery." Julie read the concern in Rollie's face. "It's normal for her to sleep a while after the drugs; that's a lot different than being unconscious. From what the charge nurse said, she'll be okay a lot sooner than you will be."
Rollie had tensed up when Julie started to talk about Jessica. Now he relaxed and let himself go to sleep too.
"Rollie, Rollie Chambers," Rollie heard a loud voice calling from the hallway. It had been 24 hours since Rollie first woke in the hospital. "Where the hell are you?"
"Tully," Rollie said to himself with a smile and then called out, "I'm in here you big ape."
The figure that appeared in the doorway was a poster boy for a former Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant. He was only 6' 3, but his barrel chest and erect posture made him look taller. His hair was salt and pepper and cut so short his scalp showed through. He walked with a very slight limp, due to having a prosthetic right leg from the knee down. Tully had lost the leg during a tour of duty with the National Guard in Afghanistan.
Tully walked over to the bed and shook Rollie's hand. "Glad to see you boy. How're you doing?"
"I'm okay, considering the hole in my side. Damn good thing the perp used a small caliber gun. If it had been a .45, I don't know that I would be here. How's Jess?"
"Dr. Talbert is sleeping peacefully and is in better condition than you," Tully replied.
"When are you getting out of here?" Tully asked. "We've got work to do."
"The doc won't give me a straight answer, but the head nurse, Julie Colwell told me it would be at least another three or four days."
"Who's raising all this fuss in my ward?" Nurse Colwell asked in a hard voice as she entered Rollie's room. Seeing Tully she said, "You're the man from Jessica's room." Tully nodded. "Well don't think you're going to run rough shod over this ward. I won't allow it." She stared at Tully with a challenge.
"No ma'am, I mean yes ma'am," Tully responded. He wasn't used to anyone talking to him in that way; especially an attractive woman.
Julie's face relaxed. "The fact that you want to protect your friends is admirable, but you have to let us do our jobs."
Rollie had a hard time hiding the grin and laughter at Tully's reaction to Julie. He'd never seen the big man cowed before.
"Nurse Colwell, Julie, this is my friend and partner, Jacob Tully. Tully, this is Julie Colwell; my nurse and the Gunnery Sergeant in charge of this ward."
Julie extended her hand to Tully. He took it and sort of bowed over it. "Pleased to meet you Nurse Colwell."
"It's good to meet the man who caused such a fuss in Ward 6," Julie said. "Just call me Julie. Nurse Colwell is a bit of a mouth full. I'll call you Jacob."
"Tully's what I go by, Julie. And I promise I'll behave," Tully added with a grin.
He continued to hold onto Julie's hand. They stared at each other for what seemed a long time.
"Ahem." Rollie said. "Remember me? I'm the patient here."
Julie smiled and pulled her hand away from Tully. "Can I have my hand back Tully?"
Tully returned her smile, not embarrassed at all. "Only until tonight at dinner."
"Very sure of yourself aren't you?"
"Maybe so but I'm a Marine. We're taught to adjust, adapt, and over come." Tully smiled again and said, "I'll pick you up at 7. Is that okay?"
Julie took a note pad from the drawer in the table next to Rollie's bed. "7 sharp and don't be late," she said and wrote her address and phone number down and handed it to Tully. "Now I've got patients to tend to. Don't stay and tire Rollie out too much; he needs his rest."
Tully admired Julie as she walked out of the room. He shook his head and turned to Rollie. "She'd almost be worth getting shot for." Rollie smiled and Tully continued, "I've got info on the big guy you shot. The cops are detaining a man who came into the ER over at Lutheran Hospital early this morning. Seems he couldn't explain the gunshot wound he was being treated for."
"So I did hit him. The way he ran off I thought I missed my shot."
"Do you remember what he looks like? That guy is huge; he's about 6'6 and weighs close to 300 pounds. Your .45 would have knocked down a normal man. He was dropped off at the ER by a person or persons unknown; according to the police report."
"Probably the two others that were with him," Rollie said. "Got a name?"
"Not yet; he wasn't carrying any I D and he refuses to give his name. For right now the cops are holding him on suspicion and for refusing to identify himself. They've got a man on him in the hospital until he can be released and then they'll take him to the precinct house."
"I want to go see Jess first, but maybe it'd be a good idea for you and I to talk to this guy before he gets into the system," Rollie suggested.
"Be right back," Tully said and disappeared out the door. He reappeared shortly pushing a wheel chair. "Your ride is here sir," he said with a grin.
"Where to?" Rollie asked as he slowly made his way into the chair.
"Just hang on. We'll have to go around a bit so we don't run into Julie." Tully chuckled and said, "She reminds me of my DI when I was a boot."
Tully pushed Rollie onto a freight elevator at the end of the corridor and rode down to the second floor. As they got near a nurse's station, Tully slowed and when the nurses at the desk were busy, he quickly pushed Rollie down to room 234 and entered.
The back of Jessica's bed was raised and she looked like she was taking a nap. There was a bandage around her head, an IV in her left arm and the wires of a monitor snaked under her hospital gown. Rollie could hear her whimpering in her sleep. Rollie rolled the wheelchair over to her bed, climbed out, and sat next to Jessica. He grimaced at the pull in his side but shook his head when Tully stepped over to help.
"I can hug my woman without your help big guy," Rollie said and put his arm gently around Jessica. "Hey Jess, it's me. It's okay, we're okay, don't cry." Rollie's eyes got misty as he held her.
Jessica stopped whimpering and the monitor readings seemed to settle down with Rollie's words. Tully stepped out of the room to give them some privacy. A few minutes later he came back in.
"Red alert! Battle stations," he said with a grin. "Julie's coming this way and she looks pissed. We better get out of here."
"Nope, I won't leave until I'm ready," Rollie said in a hard voice.
"Are you sure you want to deal with Julie?"
"Is she sure she wants to deal with trying to come between Jess and me?"
"Too late, here she comes," Tully said and went to a corner of the room. "I'm staying out of the way."
"Mr. Chambers, what are you doing out of your room?" Julie asked as she stormed into Jessica's room.
"I'm visiting my woman," Rollie answered with a challenge in his tone.
Julie saw the peaceful look on Jessica's face and on Rollie's. She looks less stressed and her vital signs have steadied, his color is better too, Julie thought. Maybe this is what they both need.
"Well don't stay too long and tire Jessica and yourself," Julie replied. "Let me know when you get back to your room." She turned and left, smiling to herself.
Forty five minutes later, Rollie let Tully wheel him back to his room. He carefully climbed out of the wheel chair onto his bed. Rollie nodded at Tully, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.
It's one thing to hear that the person you love will probably be okay after an accident, but it's hard not to worry, Tully thought. Looking at Rollie sleeping, Tully knew that the excitement and adrenaline rush tired Rollie out. Tully quietly left the room to let his friend sleep.