The Verdana Obit
by Lee Hammerschmidt
(Portland, OR, USA)
"It's like that old joke," Goudy said. "The one that old guy used to tell. Who was it? Youngman? Dangerfield?"
"This isn't funny Goudy."
"The guy says something about having to read the obituaries first thing in the morning to make sure he's not in them."
Gill pointed to the open newspaper on the small table in front of them. ''It's no joke. That's mine. ''
Goudy sipped from his double Hazelnut latte and glanced around. You couldn't swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a Starbucks. They were perfect for meetings, always crowded with people who wouldn't see you if they looked right at you. These fancy coffee drinks grew on you, too. He read the obit again:
Richard Arno Verdana
October 25, 1964 - August 12, 2009
Richard Arno Verdana died August 12 after a sudden illness.
He was employed as a technician for Rockwell Dental Laboratory.
He leaves no surviving relatives.
There will be no service.
''You say you found this at work?''
''On my desk, open to this page, with my coffee mug sitting right under my obit, so I'd be sure to notice.''
''Someone you're working with is yanking you a little. You made any new pals there? Any practical jokers?''
"I work by myself most of the time. I put in my eight and go home, to that luxury cardboard apartment you set me up in. It’s a dental lab, Goudy. I make dentures. I'm not palling around with anybody. Remember what you keep telling me? Low profile.''
''Yeah, low profile, always. Still, I think it's probably--''
''Can it," Gil said. "It's Bodoni, you know damn well it is. You don’t want to admit it, but you fucked up. He's found me and he's letting me know. He's messing with me. You know what a psycho he is!''
''It can't be. Everything was airtight, by the book. There's no way that sleazebag knows where, or even who you are.''
''Oh, he knows. And you've got to move me, set me up again somewhere else. Get me a different job.''
''Now just calm down,'' Goudy said. ''I'll look into it. But as far as relocating you, that's not gonna' happen overnight. There's logistics involved. These things take time.''
''Then screw it, and screw you. I'm not waiting around for his thugs to show up. If you won't help me, I'll go it alone.''
Gill moved to stand, but Goudy grabbed his wrist. ''Now listen to me.” He spoke in a quiet but firm voice, his eyes locked on Gill's. ''You're free to leave this program at any time. That's your choice. But you walk out of here now and you're on your own. There's no coming back. I know you're scared. I see it all the time. But believe me, your best chance is with us.''
Gill wrested his wrist free.
''Then I've got no chance.'' Gill matched Goudy's stare. ''I leave, yeah, Bodoni might track me down again. But if I stay, I’m dead for sure. Thanks for everything, Marshall Goudy.''
Goudy waited until Gil stormed out the door, then he blew out a deep breath and went back to his coffee. He flipped through the newspaper Gill had left and stopped at the celebrity gossip.
''Things went well I take it.'' A muscular, well-dressed man loomed over Goudy and then took the chair Gill had occupied. He had just a trace of East Coast in his voice.
''Bolted like a flushed rabbit. He's leaving town, he won't be back.''
The other man pulled a thick envelope from the inside pocket of his finely tailored jacket and slid it under the newspaper.
''Just make sure he's far enough away before you make your move,'' Goudy said. ''I don’t want this coming back on me.''
''Relax. We'll follow him around for a couple of weeks. When he ends up in some remote backwater town, and they always do, Mr. Gill Bookman will meet the same fate as Richard Verdana.''
Goudy extracted the envelope from under the paper and tucked it inside his jacket.
''That'll supplement your pension nicely,'' the man said. ''What is it? Less than a year now?''
The man stood to leave. ''You did good, Goudy. That obituary idea was pure genius. Mr. Bodoni will be pleased. Very pleased.''
She had dimmed the lights and was just closing up the small art gallery. He watched her flip the sign to CLOSED and gather her belongings. Okay, it was now or never.
The old Elvis tune popped into his head and he hummed it under his breath. He took one last look up and down the street. All clear. No sign of Bodoni's goons or any of Goudy's marshals, just the upscale clientele of the art galleries and bistros across the street.
He stepped out from behind the bushes where he had been hiding. Five days of roundabout bus rides to get here. Then three hours surveying the scene, making sure no one had followed him or sent a welcoming party. He pulled his ball cap down over his eyes and tried to appear calm and deliberate as he crossed the street.
He reached the door just as she opened it to leave.
She stopped as their eyes met and stepped back inside. He followed her in and she locked the door behind him.
''Hello, Gill. What's it been, almost a year now?''
"Ten and a half months, give or take a day or two.''
She pulled him out of view of the street. ''Aren't you supposed to be somewhere, you know, someplace no one knows about?''
''I couldn't do it anymore, Ariel. I had to see you.''
She put her fingers on his lips, then moved in and kissed him softly on the mouth. ''I've missed you, too. It's been a long, rough haul.''
Gill pulled her closer. ''Come with me. I've got enough stashed away offshore to get by for years. We'll go to Costa Rica, or Belize, anyplace with a beach and rum and no extradition." He twisted his hand through the hair at the nape of her neck. "I thought I could go through this without you, but they had me working in a dental lab for Christ's sake!''
''Bodoni will find you,'' she said. ''Or the Feds. The world isn't big enough to hide from two outfits like that. And in a third world country, extradition will be the least of your worries.''
''It doesn't matter. I can't survive in the program and I can't survive without you. I'll take my chances. Come with me.''
She pulled away and shook her head.
The sadness in her eyes gutted him. "I made it this far.'' He was pleading now. ''If Bodoni was on my tail he would've sent someone by now.''
She shook her head again. She reached into her purse and pulled out a small automatic pistol. She pointed it at his chest.
''Oh, Gill,'' she said. ''He did.''