Ferrigno, Robert The Wake Up

ISBN 13: 9780091794705

The Wake Up

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9780091794705: The Wake Up

'Strange the things our fates pivoted on: a kid selling gum and candy, a hard charger in a hurry, and a beached spook with a bad attitude.' The beached spook is Frank Thorpe, in limbo having recently left an off-the-books American Intelligence unit after an operation went down river. The 'hard charger' was a stranger whom Frank saw mow down a young kid selling sweets at the airport and keep going without so much as a backward glance. Almost on a whim Frank decides to use all his skills and resources to give that stranger what they call in his trade 'a wake up'. Not that Thorpe intends any permanent damage, just a little tap to get the hard charger's attention, to show him how quickly the storm clouds could roll in on his little world. Unfortunately, the little 'wake up' sets up a chain reaction which ends in far more serious ramifications than Frank could ever have anticipated. And as Thorpe tries to mend things he himself finds someone from his own past is out to give him a rather bigger 'wake up'.

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About the Author:

Robert Ferrigno is the author of seven previous novels, including Scavenger Hunt, Heartbreaker and The Horse Latitudes. He lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

Three Months Later

Out of the corner of his eye, Thorpe saw Kimberly heading toward the escalator. He ignored her. It took everything he had, but he managed it, jaw tightening as he concentrated on the revolving luggage carousel at LAX. He had been standing there for the last ten minutes, matching up travelers with the bags sliding down the chute. He had nailed a computer jock and his yellow plastic Hello Kitty knapsack, even paired the dreadlocked skateboarder with an incongruous brushed-chrome footlocker—the peeling Reggae rainbow sticker on the case had been the tell. Nice catch, but it didn’t mean anything now.

Vacation was a bitch, and permanent vacation was even worse. He didn’t expect much from this trip to Miami; he was just tired of sitting around his apartment. Miami was as frantic as L.A., overcrowded with tourists and drunks and geezers doing fifty-five in the fast lane, but there was Cuban food and Cuban music, airboating through the Glades by moonlight, and conch chowder at Shirttail Charlie’s. There were still parts of the Keys where you could slip through the mangrove trees, stand knee-deep in the warm Atlantic, and it was so quiet that you could hear mermaids singing sad songs under the sea. “A lapse in judgment,” that’s how the shop described the Lazurus fiasco—they might as well be accusing him of forgetting to take his vitamins or failing to rotate his tires.

Near the exit, a thin Hispanic kid was selling confections, holding out a wooden tray filled with candy and nuts, small oranges, and chunks of fresh coconut. A sweet-faced kid no older than nine or ten, standing there in hemmed cutoffs and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. Most people hurried past, not making eye contact, but the kid’s smile never faltered. Thorpe liked the kid’s hustle, the way he positioned himself to get maximum foot traffic, head high. No matter what the need that brought him here on a school day, he was no beggar. Thorpe had seen him refuse money from an old woman who wasn’t interested in his goods, accepting her handful of loose change only when she took a pack of Chiclets and a single chocolate Kiss.

A chunky teenage girl with chopped black hair stood by the carousel, the four gold rings through her lower lip making her look like a hooked tuna. Thorpe pegged her for the gray rubberized suitcase, but she grabbed a Louis Vuitton overnighter instead. Daddy’s girl, and he had missed it. Thorpe turned, saw Kimberly riding the up escalator to the main concourse, a pale green sundress clinging to her. He was sweating now, but he stayed where he was.

The sign over the carousel blinked. Luggage from American Airlines flight 223 would be unloaded next. About time. Thorpe’s 7:00 a.m. flight to Miami had turned back barely a half hour out of L.A. with engine trouble—if the luggage didn’t arrive soon, he was going to miss the alternate flight. At least a dozen nervous passengers had decided not to reschedule. Flames shooting out of the port engine could do that to you, particularly with the pilot’s calling for calm over the intercom, his voice crackling. Thorpe was as superstitious as anyone, seeing portents in soap slivers and broken shoelaces, but he never let that stop him. If God really wanted to communicate with him, he could fire off a certified letter.

Thorpe glanced again toward the escalator, glimpsed Kimberly’s bare legs, the green dress swirling around her knees as she disappeared from view. Unable to stop himself, Thorpe gave chase, taking the escalator three steps at a time.

Halfway down the concourse, he spotted her, deep in a crowd of travelers. He lost sight of her for a few moments; then the crowd parted and there she was, wearing the same green dress she had worn the first time she made contact with Lazurus, a demure dress of some silky synthetic, which only hinted at her lithe figure. Frantic now, Thorpe bumped his way through the swarm of people separating them, lightly touched her shoulder.

“Yes?” The woman stared at him. Lovely woman . . . but she wasn’t Kimberly.

“Sorry.” Thorpe backed off, embarrassed, beelined over to a coffee stand, and ordered a Mexican-style espresso.

The heavyset woman behind the counter levered out the inky brew from a stainless-steel manual machine, using two hands. She added a dash of cocoa and three sugar cubes to the cardboard cup, then took his three singles for the coffee. She rang up the sale, tore off the register receipt, showed it to him. “You got a red star. Coffee’s on the house. You’re a lucky man.”

“You’re a lucky man,” said the plastic surgeon for the fifth or sixth time.

“If I was lucky, I wouldn’t have been shot,” gasped Thorpe.

“You’re lucky that someone of my skill is working on you,” said the surgeon as he examined Thorpe’s gunshot wound. “Working solo, too, no anesthesiologist or surgical nurse in attendance. . . . Let those ER butchers try doing that.” He shook his head. “You tell Billy we’re even now.”

Thorpe closed his eyes. Stretched out on the table, an IV in his arm, he wasn’t about to tell the surgeon that Billy was retired. He could feel the man’s fingers probing his flesh.

“That hurt?” asked the surgeon. “I had to be cautious with the anesthetic; it’s not my area of expertise.” He chuckled. “I can promise you a beautiful scar, however.”

“I’m a lucky man.”

“Told you.”

The lights were bright, even through his closed eyelids, but something nagged at Thorpe. It had been bothering him the whole drive over, but he just couldn’t remember what it was. The surgeon chattered away, but Thorpe was drifting, hearing bullets whizzing past him in the parking lot, and car doors slamming. He remembered racing through traffic, and the Engineer turning around to see if they were being followed. He must have groaned out loud with the memory.

“Hang on,” said the surgeon.

Thorpe could still see Kimberly leaning against the Jeep, and lying there in the operating room, he got a whiff of her perfume. He fought to stay awake. Her fragrance was fainter now, and he tried to hang on to her, but she was walking away, walking back to the safe house with the Engineer. Thorpe sat up. The surgeon tried to push him down, but Thorpe shook him off, grabbed his cell phone from the counter.

“Are you trying to kill yourself?” asked the surgeon.

Thorpe listened to the phone ring. The Engineer’s gait had changed slightly as he and Kimberly approached the house, become almost jaunty, and at the top of the steps, he had looked back at Thorpe. It had lasted only a moment, and Thorpe was bleeding and desperate to leave, but there was something wrong with his expression.

The surgeon fiddled with the anesthetic drip that ran into Thorpe’s arm.

The phone clicked. “Kimberly!” Thorpe’s tongue felt thick. “The Engineer. He’s not . . . he’s not right.”

“None of us are,” said the Engineer. He had lost all trace of his Italian accent. “Look at Kimberly. A little liar, that’s all she was. And you, Frank, so cocky before, all that razzle-dazzle. You don’t sound so fearless now.”

“Let me . . . speak to Kimberly.”

“Say ‘Please.’ ”

“Please, don’t hurt her.” Thorpe dragged the surgeon closer. “The safe house . . . nine one one.”

“Where are you, Frank?” asked the Engineer.

Thorpe licked his lips. “The Fuck You Hilton.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Thorpe floated on a vast black lake. He felt the surgeon take the phone from him. Someone was sobbing, the sound sending ripples across the water.

“Mister?” The woman at the coffee stand was holding out his three dollars. “I told you—your coffee is free.”

Thorpe shoved the money into his pocket, walked away without a word, still hearing the Engineer’s last words. He sat down at one of the nearby tables, more convinced than ever that this vacation was a mistake, a retreat, not a respite. Kimberly was dead and the Engineer was alive, and no vacation was going to change that. Not that staying home presented much hope. He had laid out the bait for the Engineer, offered himself up without success, and Thorpe had grown tired of waiting.

Thorpe sipped the thick sweetened coffee and watched the people streaming past. Commuters double-timing it, laptops swinging with every step. Grandmothers with too many carry-on plastic bags, tissues tucked into their sleeves. College girls in Stanford sweatshirts, sorority tattoos discreetly stitched onto their ankles, easily hidden when they joined the PTA in a few years. A woman caught his attention, a middle-aged woman sitting at a nearby table, her cup of frozen yogurt melting while she tracked the line waiting at the security checkpoint. An earpiece was almost hidden by her hair. Ten demerits for the almost. She looked over, but he didn’t react, his expression of practiced boredom deflecting any further interest in him.

Practiced boredom was a specialty of the shop. They had even used it on him, sending some weary desk jockey with fine gray hair to sit on his bed in the plastic surgeon’s recovery room, the man plucking at the bedsheet while he told Thorpe that his services were no longer required. All that surveillance, and you didn’t ID the main player, Frank. How do you think that makes us look? The desk jockey yawned. I won’t even mention the mess at the safe house. Thorpe had beckoned the man closer, said he couldn’t hear him, but the desk jockey kept his distance, tossed Thorpe an envelope stuffed with cash.
...

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