Petersen acknowledged his partner’s parting words. He went back to his hotel room and packed. After a 2-hour nap, Petersen walked outside through the early night drizzle. He wandered in and out of several gift shops looking for something unique to Philadelphia. He purchased a small bronze Liberty Bell for Kathy and a Philadelphia Phillies baseball hat for Jim. Jessica would accept anything as long as it was unique to whatever city Petersen visited and was inexpensive.
It was 8:30 at night and he still hadn’t found anything for Jessica. A combination gift shop and liquor store caught his eye. Neither Petersen nor his wife drank alcohol. He scouted up and down the gift aisles. There was a lot of stuff there but he wanted a true Philadelphia gift. The line at the checkout was 6-deep and there was no other help in the store. He would have to ask a local Philadelphian for assistance.
“Excuse me miss?” He approached a middle-aged lady shopper who was looking knowingly at several shop items. “I’m from New York and if I don’t bring my wife back something totally Philadelphian, I won’t be able to go home.” There was an innocent charm to his opening line that immediately softened the woman to his cause.
“Well, does it have to be a souvenir?” She looked up at him.
“What would you bring back from Philadelphia for a wife and a family of two children?”
“I think there are several things this store has that fit your requirement.”
Petersen followed her down an aisle of baked goods and canned foods. She mumbled something to herself and then stopped and looked back up at him with a smile. As he listened to her suggestions something began to upset him. He tried to fight off the prodrome of ringing in his ears. Panic was starting to build. His pulse was racing. In his mind he could see the flash and his ears rang at a high pitch. The fifty-year old woman handed him something. Petersen held the can with a shaky hand. As she looked into his face, she could see a troubled expression.
“Are you okay?”
“It’s kind of stuffy in here and I get claustrophobic easily.” The ringing in his ears did not go away. “What is this you gave me?”
“Bookbinders Turtle Soup. It is delicious and definitely is found and sold only in Philadelphia. Your whole family can enjoy it.”
Petersen took four cans, thanked the lady and ran to the cashier. The five-foot samaritan looked at him for a moment and then went back about her original business. He watched her disappear around another aisle, paid for his purchase and walked rapidly from the store. Outside, the night was cold and drizzly with haloes around the colonial-style streetlights. The air smelled like moist mildew. He walked quickly around the corner to an alley and pressed his back up against a cold brick wall. He had to calm down. He placed his bag with the cans of soup on the ground. The noise in his ears would go away if he could get the images out of his head. The sweats and heart palpitations would subside, if he let them.
“Oh. It’s you.” It was the woman from the store again. “Are you really all right?” She was even more concerned now. She stared at him with his back rigid against the building wall and then stepped into the alley.
He had to slow his breathing. He couldn’t answer her unless he did.
“Is there anything I can do? Shall I get help?”
Petersen didn’t want to look at her face but he felt compelled to do so. The anger was building and was intensifying to irreversible levels as he saw her almond-shaped eyes again.
“No thank you. I’ll be all right in a few minutes. My claustrophobia sometimes gets intense, especially on dark, foggy nights like this.”
“Are you sure?” The woman looked around.
“Yes. Please. When I get like this even another person is like a crowd.” The barely perceptible jaundice hue to her facial skin triggered his hand to reach into his inside sport coat pocket. As she turned her back to him to go away, his left arm encircled her throat. His left hand cupped her mouth to stifle any attempt at screaming. At the same time, his right hand received the spring-loaded boot knife from his left inside coat pocket and deftly, in one motion, he inserted the blade into her right rib cage. The double-edged weapon entered the chest below her right breast at the margin of the ribs and the breastbone. She collapsed immediately, but he held her up with his left arm still around her neck and upper chest. He eased her down onto the cold pavement of the alley. “This is for Leon.” His boot knife performed its circular surgery on her Korean face.
The Philadelphia medical convention had been a success for Noel Enterprises. Rupert Petersen began to count his blessings. From experience, recalling the positive aspects of life suppressed Marco from emerging. While at dinner after the first weekend home from Philadelphia, he reflected on his good fortune as Rupert Petersen.
“The Philadelphia turtle soup was a neat thought, dear.” Jessica Petersen gave her husband a love pat on his behind. “How did you ever think of it?”
“I was just looking for something unique to Philadelphia and was different. Don’t forget the tourist stuff, the Liberty Bell souvenir and Jim’s Phillie’s baseball hat.”
“Are you going to the little league meeting with Jim this evening? I host the Den meeting for the Blue Birds today.” Jessica smiled. “I’m sure neither you nor Jim want to be around 13 juvenile girls.”
“I don’t know why they have to have little league meetings in winter. The season doesn’t start until the last month of school.” Petersen said. His son Jim walked into the kitchen.
“Hi dad. Can I wear the Phillies hat tonight?” Jim had the hat on.
“Well Jessica my dear, Jim just affirmed my presence at the meeting.” He winked at his wife. “Sure Jim.”
“Bye mom, we’re going.” Jim shouted and ran into the garage to get into the car.
“Hmm. Bye mom. We’re going.” He embraced Jessica and returned the love pat to her behind. “I’ll be back for the rest of you.” He kissed her tenderly.
Petersen considered himself lucky to have found her. Ironically it was through his business they met and he reflected on their meeting as he drove with Jim. The radio was playing Jim’s favorite pop music.
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