Eddie Mars: The Ongoing Saga of a Guy with Nothing To Lose

A Noir Thriller

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Nick Zegarac is a freelance writer/editor and graphics artist. He holds a Masters in Communications and an Honors B.A in Creative Lit from the University of Windsor. He is currently a freelance writer and has been a contributing editor for Black Moss Press and is a featured contributor to online's The Subtle Tea. He's also has had two screenplays under consideration in Hollywood. Last year he finished his first novel and is currently searching for an agent to represent him. Contact Nick via email at movieman@sympatico.ca

Thursday, July 01, 2010

ADVENTURE THE 61ST: GARTERS AND GUTS

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.

Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read.

For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made.

This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…

ADVENTURE THE 61ST: GARTERS AND GUTS

Live for today. It's an adage we've all seen on billboards, T-shirts and cheap, sentimental greeting cards that wind up in the ash can ten minutes after they're read. Live. For tomorrow you may not and what a waste today would be if it were not spent with every last second dedicated to the greater likeness of being.

I never learned that trick of experiencing from moment to moment. Instead, the moments usually crept upon me while I was either looking ahead or back, like a rabid coon, devilishly eager to gnaw off a finger or toe. When you really stop to think about it, the seconds in a minute are deceptive. They pass, one after the next in an endless march of time, consciously whittling away the moment, the minute, and finally, the hour until the measuring glass of life is more than half empty than it is full.

And death is not just some clinical term that one thinks about in a vacuum as just the final, mysterious passage from life. No, it's real, with definable features; clawing away at the edges of skin, bone and hair until they sag or decrease in density and fall out like a great cacophony of scattered bristles from a well worn broom. When I was a boy, the sands of time were a myth. But over time, their granules have grown.

I wish I were a young man again. I'd know how to do things - perhaps not better, but differently. The road not taken, always the most attractive in life's journey. I wish I were younger. Not a boy. Childhood is so unrepentantly cruel. It lulls us into believing that the summer will never end, that the best is yet ahead and that the learning curve will always remain in our favor.

Lies. All of them. For one Spring morning you awake on a train bound for Innsbruck and realize that the only thing fresh about the morn is the air. It's still sweet and crisp, but now it seems almost too painful a reminder of the fact that the best has come and gone and that you've no more knowledge to gain that will enrich or advance your understanding of the great beyond. There is simply more, left largely untouched by your hands. Instead, you observe as the generation behind yours comes up with lightening speed and the audacity to identify your mere existence as a quaint old relic of the ever distant, moldering past. Goodbye, little yellow bird...so long Piccadilly, farewell Lester Square.

. . .

The next few hours pass like a flash of Saint Elmo's Fire. Snapshots of panicked passengers - more nosy than anything else, with their own set of overlapping questions whispered greedily in hushed tones add their curiosities to the conductor's tally of inquiry.

"Who was the man you killed?"

"I didn't kill him," I explain, "He followed me home from the Cafe Gritsch. That is, after he drugged and kidnapped my...uh...wife."

"Where is your wife now?"

"You guess," I say, "I'm out of ideas."

I'm also running out of patience.

"Our staff do not moonlight as waiters in cafes," I'm told, "You say this man has kidnapped your wife. That he followed you both first from Paris to here and then from the cafe back again?"

"Yeah. Persistent little bugger, isn't he? We made chase on the roof. But Mother Nature wiped him from the slate of time with her own brand of charm and cruelty."

I'm told my statements will have to be verified when we make our next stop. By 'who' and 'how' are questions that don't get answered. And a good thing too, because I'm bleeding from a cut on the shoulder that I wouldn't mind tending.

"These questions are absurd," I hear a familiar voice call out from behind.

The crowd of onlookers part and Fertuk takes center stage.

"A man is dead, monsieur," the conductor reminds us, as if reminder were needed, "He must be accounted for. His family must be told of his demise."

"What family?" Fertuk reasons with an air of disdain, "You said yourself, there was no wallet on his person. No identification of any kind. It's obvious to anyone with the I.Q. of ferret that this man did not wish to be known to anyone but himself."

"That may be," the conductor replies, "But the body will have to be examined by a coroner at Innsbruck."

"Good luck with that," I reason, "Paid assassins don't keep books."

"Then it is your claim that this man was hired to killed you?"

"Yes."

"Why? By who?"

I'm at a loss. You would think I could come up with something of half assed intelligence to quell the mystery - but no. I just shrug my shoulders and leave it at that. The conductor's clearly displeased with my nonchalance. Oh well, we all have our shortcomings. Mine aren't any more or less pronounced than then his.

"I'm waiting for your answer, monsieur," he says.

"...and I'm sure one'll be forthcoming...in a week to ten days or your pizza's free. Until then, learn to live with disappointment. I have!"

My insolence has misfired. After clearing the crowd from the open door the conductor informs me that he intends to lock me in my compartment until we reach Innsbruck at which time he will personally hand me over to the authorities.

Outside a light drizzle has begun to fall, turning the already decapitated mess of remains belonging to my assailant into a soggy pile of dislocated lumps. A couple of junior pull men wrap what's left in an oversized tarp and load it into the baggage car. I watch as the younger of the two turns fifty unhealthy shades from rigor mortis gray to salmonella green, then leans over the side of the caboose to donate his lunch to the tracks below.

I feel pretty strong, if not in stamina than in my commitment to preserving the secrecy of Jess' mission. But once inside Fertuk's private car my head begins to do the helium dance. My limbs feel disconnected as I recline on the pullout, Fertuk grabbing my legs and tossing them up to rest. He sits on the edge of the pullout, unbuttons my collar and peels back the blood saturated cotton/silk blend of my dress shirt to reveal a fair sized gash.

"Lay back," he instructs, reaching for a bottle of peroxide and a cotton patch, tenderly tapping the wound until it starts to draw tingles down my spine. "My friend, what have you gotten us into?"

"I wish I knew," I tell him honestly, "And what do you mean 'us'? Who's askin' you to tag along. Be gone, Jiminy Cricket. I'll let my conscience - such as it is - be my guide. I absolve you of your guilt."

Fertuk shakes his head.

"My friend, you are lost," he tells me.

So there it is. The unvarnished truth. He's right of course. Lost, am I? ...even to myself. Where shall I find me. At the bottom of a ravine or the next available bottle of scotch. It all seems suddenly so pointless. I think how grand it might be to have gangrene set in and take me cross the River Styx to nowhere I might find myself. I repeat the fantasy over and over as I drift in an out of conscious thought. The sting of peroxide brings me back to clarity.

So, I tell him the rest. About Jess, and the money and our rendezvous at the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea.

"I've not heard of the Ryugyong," Fertuk tells me.

"Actually, there's no reason you should," I explain, "It's a hundred and five stories of nothing that never opened."

Fertuk looks confused and I don't blame him. The Baikdoosan brain trust that began the Ryugyong twenty years earlier must have let the altitude go to their heads when designing this behemoth. Begun in 1987, the project consumed a third of North Korea's gross national product until financing ran dry a decade later, bringing construction to a grinding halt and leaving the landscape scarred by a truly hideous monstrosity. Shaped like a gigantic pyramid with three bat-like winged towers melding into one imposing super point rising 1,083 feet from the ground and clearly visible from space, the Ryugyong was easily communism's most ambitious miscalculation.

That in recent years Egypt's Orascom Group had taken a personal interest in the fate of the Ryugyong seemed to bode well with that totalitarian urge to at last open the hotel to world wide acclaim rather than ridicule. In fact, over the last ten year's North Korea's government had even attempted to deny that the hotel existed at all. When no amount of conventional dynamite - short of a nuclear bomb - could be used to demolish the tower, North Korea simply hired a skilled airbrush artist to obliterate it from the landscape featured in their postcards.

"Then why...?"

"Because something's buried on the one hundred and third floor, inside one of the seven revolving restaurant's that tops that sucker," I explain.

"What?"

Well...I've come this far in the story. Why not?

"A diamond," I mutter.

"A big one?" Fertuk inquiries, his curiosity peaked like a Pekinese whose just been promised the Holy Grail of juicy bones.

"No," I condescendingly reply, "A little one. In fact, forget diamond. Cubic zirconium with an attitude is actually more like it. A guy from the Liberace museum in Vegas promised me free tickets to Celine Dion's Caesar's comeback and a chit for their all you can eat buffet if I deliver that oversized rhinestone to him before the fourth of July."

Fertuk digs the peroxide soaked cotton into my wound to exercise his displeasure. It pinches and I get the hint.

"Sorry," I tell him, "It's just that I never fancied myself a fortune hunter, that's all."

"Then why?"

"For that we have to find my...uh...wife."

Fertuk raises a curious eyebrow in my direction.

"My friend," he wearily exclaims, "How much longer are we going to pretend?"

After what I've put him through he'd have every right to just turn me over the authorities and walk away with his Good Samaritan badge. The fact that he's still interested in what happens to me is refreshing...touching, even. After all, I hadn't given any thought to making new friends along the way. I guess the years of lumping it alone have made me sort of impervious to any notion that someone could care and not want something from me in return.

At Innsbruck, the rain comes down in windswept curtains that billow between the naked slit of rooftop that separates the station from the platform, just like the tempting veils of a belly dancer with little to hide. The conductor makes sure I'm well escorted from the platform to a waiting police car parked just beyond the station. Fertuk carries both his and my luggage.

"I'll follow you in a taxi," Fertuk explains, shaking my hand heartily as though it were for the last time.

I don't know why, but I get a jolt of great courage from this poetic gesture, ripped from a code of ethics from some other forgotten time. I believe in him.

But as the police car pulls away from the station I get an even greater sinking feeling in my gut. It doesn't help matters that I lose sight of the cab Fertuk promised he'd take and arrive at the police station alone in a torrential downpour.

When we've come to a full stop the officer exits his driver's side door and opens the back for me to get out. We walk side by side down a narrow cobblestoned passage with high walls closing in from both sides.

Inside the station the atmosphere is less ominous. In fact, it reminds me of a cozy Motel Six, except for the imposing front desk and the two dour detectives who sit in pre-judgment as I approach them.

I'm fingerprinted, of course, photographed left, right and centre against a plain white wall, then given a nice warm flannel suit of stripes to change into. At first I think it's prison garb, and, it is. But after I've been locked away in a cell for about an hour my sticky, blood stained wet clothes come back to me, washed, pressed and neatly stitched by expert seamstress hands. I'm told by the officer who gives them to me to get dressed. I confess I've never been quite so happy to trade the comfort of flannel for the cold rub of silk in my life.

The cell is chilly and I feel rather naked even after I've been restored to my former, reasonably fashionable self. I find myself unable to think of anything clearly. Nothing seems to matter...or maybe it does and I'm just too stupid to realize it. I watch as the hands of the clock on the opposite wall tick away another hour and a half. No Fertuk. Figures. I've been duped again. Or so I think.

I listen to the storm rage outside and suddenly find myself feeling grateful that I'm in a cell without a care in the world...except, perhaps, for the electric chair. I settle down on the bunk provided and close my eyes tightly to blot out the mild sting of concentration. I'm about to drift off to sleep when the sound of keys turning in the door down the hall alert me to the fact that someone has come for me.

"My friend," I hear Fertuk's familiar voice, "My Friend!"

And I realize that he is - my friend, that is. He hasn't forsaken me. As I raise my head up from the pillow to see him animated with delight, smiling from ear to ear, his sweaty hands nervously rattling the bars with giddy excitement I suddenly feel quiet humility and an epic sense of gratitude overwhelm my senses. Things are clearer once more. Happy days are here again!

Fertuk's accompanied by a poker faced constable who reluctantly unlocks my cell door.

"You're free," Fertuk exclaims.

"What? How?"

"Come. Come." Fertuk reasons, a hurried hand locking around mine and tearing me from the cell as though someone from the home office might change their minds at any moment and send us both away for life.

I walk with crooked, spread feet apart like a recovering glassy eyed drunkard whose just been asked to donate a pint of blood and maybe Gin to the Red Cross. You'd think I'd been in jail for sixty years hard time.

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"Anyplace but here," Fertuk reasons.

I agree. At this point I think that even the slums of Calcutta have their beauteous appeal.

I'm ushered by Fertuk to a waiting taxi, the rain coming down with even greater intensity as the driver pulls away from the police station.

"Zwei fünfundzwanzig Volker Straße," Fertuk tells the driver.

There's a few moments of caustic silence as the driver turns and glares at us both.

"Eilen! Bitte, bitte!" Fertuk reasons with a commanding wave of his hand.

The driver shrugs his shoulders before turning the corner.

"Where are we..." I start.

But Fertuk just gives me a polite 'shut up and be patient' glance. I settle in for a short ride.

Turns out 225 Volker Street is Innsbruck's red light district; a veritable pick n' save of human depravities catering to the rough trade, the forgotten and the might as well be dead. I should feel right at home, only prison has made me pious and a bit of a prig. The taxi pulls curbside down a narrow alley leading to what once might have been a great old house, but that today is something of a cross between the Brothers Grimm meet Scooby Doo.

Fertuk tips the cabbie and tenderly pushes me once more into the gale. We quickly move in from the rain onto a rickety front porch. Fertuk gives the worn door knocker three light taps followed by one heavy thwack. A small sliding window near the top of the door opens a moment and a woman with a face like a tube of calking peers out with modest disdain at we two weary travelers. A moment later the slider gets bolted and the door is unlocked.

I was too kind in my initial assessment of the lady of the house. She's Madame DeFarge's twin sister, with enough girth between her shoulders and hips to plug the BP oil spill all by herself. Just a drop of spittle from her sweaty, endowed cheeks could weld whole chunks of metal together. I'm afraid to look back lest I turn to a pillar of salt. With a shock of hair grossly pasted across her forehead - possibly with real lard - and tattoos of the most obscene nature cascading from the top of her lumpy shoulder to the bulbous fatty deposits loosely draped about her elbow and wrist, she's the poster child for why charm school ought never have been abolished.

"Goldene Schauer, elf fünfundzwanzig," she starts, waddling like a pregnant platypus and leading us down a dark hall into a parlor full of moth eaten furniture with dark red velvet curtains drawn across all the windows, "Anal nur von Mädchen gebe ich an. Gerades Geschlecht fängt an sieben, achtzehn an. Lösen Sie Vorderseite ein. Und keine Ausnahmen Hinzufügungen sobald hat die Partei begonnen!"

My German's a little rusty but from what I gather this Babe, Pig In The City is offering us a special on today's kink. Funny, I didn't figure Fertuk for this kind of thing, and I'm a little put off by the thought of having to perform on cue after I thought I'd turned over a new leaf - and not to be spanked with it either!

"Sie werden ihn lassen sich schämen," I hear a soft familiar voice call from the top a long staircase, "Ich kann es von hier nehmen."

I look up and can't believe my eyes. It's Martinique, rather conservatively dressed in a long black housecoat drawn tightly up to her neck.

"Angel," I find myself saying, "How..."

"Get your ass upstairs, Mars," Martinique commands, "And bring Shorty there with you."

I'm about to say something in Fertuk's defense when I notice him raising a polite hand to silence me.

"It's okay," he reasons with a smile, "I've never been a lady's man."

"Don't sweat it," I mutter as we hurry upstairs, "I don't think these ladies are particular."

A vacuum of blackness swallows us whole at the top of the stairs. There's only one crusty light bulb burning in the middle of the hall but its smoker's yellow hue barely casts enough of a glow to make out Martinique in silhouette as she leads us to a door at the end of the hall.

"Go inside and lock it behind you," she tells me, "Whatever you do, don't unlock it for anyone. I'll let myself back in."

"Yes ma'am," I shoot back, finding Martinique's Gestapo-like spank rather erotic.

Still, I'm unprepared for what I find on the other side of that door. As I step into the room my eyes take another minute to adjust to even dimmer lighting, this time in the form of a small table lamp on a nightstand with its dusty reddish purple shade half cocked to cast light across the adjacent bed. There, weak and lying semi-unconscious under a billowy comforter is darling Jessica. The creak the door makes as I close it kindles a small but sharp twinkle in her eyes.

"About time you got here," she mutters through the thick speech of sedation.

And she's so right. God help us, we've found each other once again.

THE END?

Take everything with a grain of salt - including the fact that Eddie Mars will be on Summer Hiatus until Sept. 4th, 2010.

@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ADVENTURE THE 60TH: A LA CARTE

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.

Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.

For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made. This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…

ADVENTURE THE 60TH:
A LA CARTE

I have no head for heights. Having said that, many a time have I been out on a ledge without a harness, wondering just what the hell got me to this point in the first place. Usually it's my own stupidity. Right about now I feel like I'm dangling off a high cliff with my tail tied to a daisy. I hate my life.

I weigh the pros and cons of continuing the itinerary Jess and I had outlined at the start of our journey. It all seems so unnecessary now. I try to file my thoughts under the old adage of ....well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...only my conscience won't let me dismiss all that's gone before quite so easily.

After all, what me worry? I've enough money to buy a small European principality. And maybe that's not such a bad idea. I mean, after Frisco I can't very well go back to the U.S. - at least, not for a long while. It doesn't matter that I put a period to a guy who slit throats by proxy and not just in the political arena either. In the eyes of the law I'm a vigilante, not a hero and someone who probably ought to be fitted with a muzzle and/or silencer. Maybe both!

Vengeance isn't pretty. But neither is penitence. It makes you take a good, long, hard and unflattering look at yourself - even when there's no mirror around. In the dark you see what you've become more clearly and it forces you to reconsider just how far from a centralized ideal you've veered. In my case, I don't even see the middle anymore. There's just glaring variations of 'oh God, what have I done?'

Jess...where ever she is...wouldn't think twice about ditching me for my millions and buying a schloss on the Rein. I imagine her somewhere far, far away, elegant and without my constant screw ups to worry about, sipping champagne and effortlessly juggling three flawed relationships while she diddles the gardener to indulge her risqué side for living on the edge with a garden hose and pruning shears. She'd find happiness too. She's just the type to keep searching until it effortlessly came to her.

I make up my mind to put in an anonymous call to the authorities in Verona and then quietly disappear into the night to parts unknown...even to myself.

I'm tired - well, sort of. Bored is more like it. I know...you're thinking with all I've been through and everything that's supposed to follow, how could anyone be bored? My heart should be pounding out of my chest with excitement. But it's not. I just want a place to crash; somewhere where life has an even cadence and people don't come to call unless they just want a few hours of friendly discussion: no hidden agendas, no price on my head, no time for playing the guessing game that never comes with any finite answers. Just peace, palm trees and a pina colada. That's my idea of heaven.

Can you understand boredom such as this? Probably not, comfortable as you are in your nine to five, punch clock, PTA and Four H, looking forward to the weekend mentality. I envy you that. Mediocrity has its privileges. All I can tell you is that when your time is your own, your life really is not.

. . .

I don't get much sleep on the train. In fact, I take on a fairly good representation of a guy who's had insomnia his entire life. By the dawn's first crack the next morning I look like a tree full of owls and about as chipper in mood as I am in stamina. Fertuk (pronounced Fair-tooook) shares my concern as we sit silently across from one another in the dining car, eating warm porridge and cold orange juice. Our waiter glances at us both periodically, as though he can read what's going on in our minds. He's a curious one. And something else...I don't know...but strangely familiar.

Nothing seems to help my demeanor. Funny. I thought I'd lost my ability to care for anyone but myself long ago. Perhaps I'm confusing lust with loss. I do that now and then. Jess isn't my type but she was fairly distracting last night and now, without her to tease me into a frenzy, I seem to have lost interest in everything but finding her. Perhaps I've simply become a Higgins in my middle age. I've grown accustom to her face.

That last image I have of Jess, disappearing into the bathroom with an unhealthy greenish tint about her cheeks seems to stick in my mind as the most indelible form of brain cancer. I can't close my eyes to blot her out. She's there. Ever-present. Haunting. As though she might provide some clue as to... I decide to play a hunch.

"How'd you manage it?" I ask Fertuk.

He seems genuinely confounded by my question.

"How did I..."

"The drug you slipped Jess last night to get her out of our dinner," I say.

He's suddenly incensed.

"Why should I..." he begins.

"Because you liked her even less than I do," I suggest, my mind beginning to wander, "And because...just maybe...I've been a fool for lesser and greater things and now just want to be a fool alone. Humor me. What was it? Not poison. No. That would have been too obvious. And messy. Having to explain a body with its head stuck in a tank full of crap at the Cafe Gritsch. No. I'd say just enough of something disagreeable to get her out'a the picture for the night - maybe two - but not kill her."

Fertuk rises from his chair, ripping off the cloth napkin he's stuffed into the collar of his crisp white shirt and tossing it to his chair.

"I shall never forgive you for this!" he hisses before departing the dining car in a huff.

"Then don't," I mutter loudly, "You drug-inducing bastard! Where is she?"

I do a quick scan of the room. Our waiter is frozen in time with a pitcher of ice water rigidly extended in his hand. I give him a good, long stare. It says 'Go ahead, lucky...try and offer me the check. I'll cram it down your skinny little throat!' All eyes are on me - just the way I want it. I throw the napkin from my lap across my half eaten bowl of porridge and storm out of the dining car.

A few moments later I reduce my jaunt to a stroll as I make my way to Fertuk's drawing room for an apology. I knock politely and he opens the door with a blood-pressure red face full of rage - his cheeks bulging like a pair of ripe beets but his eyes brimming with hurtful tears.

"How dare..." he begins.

"I had to," I say, politely forcing my way into his car and quickly shutting the door behind me.

Fertuk's two steps away from ringing for the porter so I lay my cards on the table. I start with an apology - sincere...well, as sincere as I can get...and I'm genuinely impressed that the patina on my words rings true even to my own ears. I segue into an explanation for my behavior. How I suddenly remembered that the waiter on the train is one in the same as the server at the Cafe Gritsch and how he must have been the one to spike Jessica's drink. How I needed a distraction just now to make it appear as though I hadn't figured this out for myself and how using Fertuk as a scapegoat was the best alternative I could come up with on short notice.

I observe the suddenly look of relief wash over Fertuk's face, his color effortlessly returning to normal, his eyes less likely to shoot daggers in my direction. He's forgiven me my crude outburst and even cruder apology.

"Then, my friend, we are still very much in danger" he reasons, asking the obvious question, "Why?"

"Well, that part I still haven't had time to iron out," I admit, "But it's about time we asked the only man I know has all the answers. I think you should order something a la carte."

Fertuk nods, ringing for the porter. A few moments later, an immaculately dressed portly gent with a handlebar moustache you could hang coffee cups off of arrives at Fertuk's door. I duck behind the closet so that the porter can't see me.

"Tell the waiter I want some black coffee and figs sent to this car," Fertuk commands.

The porter nods and disappears down the narrow passage. We've only a minute or two to iron out our plan. Afterward, I hide in Fertuk's cramped washroom, pensively waiting for our unwelcomed guest to arrive.

I press my ear to the door and listen, the soft clickety-clickety of the train beneath my feet offering a sort of lulling massage to my tense muscles. I could sure go for a nap right about now. Damn inopportune moment, so it is. I try to envision a few scenarios. But it's impossible to think about anything clearly when all you really want to do is sleep. Maybe I'll just beat the son of a bitch senseless, tie him up first and ask questions later.

There's a soft tap at Fertuk's outer door.

"Come in," Fertuk says, and I hear the muffled but familiar voice of the waiter announce Fertuk's breakfast tray.

As per our instructions, Fertuk get up from his seat and locks the outer door to his compartment just as the waiter begins to set up his tray. That's my cue. I immerge from my hiding place. The waiter suddenly aware that he's been ambushed, freezes, his eyes locking with mine.

"Now, my friend," Fertuk reasons with a glint in his eye, "The real fun begins."

The waiter gets this cockeyed dopey smile. It doesn't last. And neither does his laconic stance. He turns for the door and I jump him from behind. He's a skinny bugger but wiry and not as easily subdued as I imagined, throwing his weight and sending me hurling back into the bathroom stall. Fertuk lunges toward the waiter and gets a kick in the jaw for his efforts. We three struggle unprofessionally in these cramped quarters, like a trio of WWF tryout rejects with coffee and figs sailing through the air and limbs intertwined in a game of Twister gone bad.

There's the flash of a gun from beneath the waiter's waistcoat, my wrist on his, shaking the pistol back and forth upwards, a couple of rounds going straight through the vaulted ceiling and another shattering the window. Fertuk jumps into action, sinking his teeth into the waiter's clenched hand. There's a scream and the gun falls to the floor. I make a stupid decision to reach for the fallen weapon and that affords the waiter the opportunity to get to his feet, run out the door and into the hall.

"Stay here," I tell Fertuk, before making chase.

The gun fire's attracted curious guests in the hall, a few pointing me in the direction of the fleeing waiter. As I near the end of the first car I notice that the outer door has been left open and stupidly peak outside before considering that it might be a trap. It is, and I get a fist in the gut that knocks most of the wind out of me. Between gasps for fresh air I see the waiter grab hold of the side rail and climb up to the roof of the train. It's all or nothing. I'm going after him.

Outside the early morning wind bites into my skin. We've entered a mountainous area with tall pines lining either side of the track and a shadowy mist blowing past on all sides like the steamy entrance to the gates of hell. In this narrow passage the downdraft blows in large heavy gusts that threaten to inflate my long sleeved shirt and pants and make me airborne. I haven't exactly dressed for climbing. But the soles of my shoes are rubber, good for grip on the otherwise smooth metal roof.

A car's length ahead is my assailant, struggling in his smooth soled dress shoes to stay on top of the slightly curved roof. Fertuk was right. Now the fun really begins. The track we're travelling on coils sharply, the train never travelling in a straight line but twisting back and forth as if to say 'Get off me you silly bastards!' as it writhes beneath us with serpentine flail.

I have the waiter's gun tucked in my pants, but hesitate to use it. I need this guy alive - at least until I get some answers. Even so, a dead 'would-be' assassin is my solid Plan B. A few steps at a time, and I make the successful jump between cars, landing on my knees and popping the gun from my belt. It rolls over the side and is lost to the mist and pines. So much for Plan B.

The train now begins to bend sharply to the left, the sound of its wheels gliding on the rails below suddenly intensified with full reverb, which can only mean one thing....tunnel!

It's just mere seconds, but the snapshots are burned in my memory. I look up just in time to see the waiter's paralytic body language meet with the side of a mountain, wiping him clean from the roof's surface with a resounding splat - like a juicy little beetle that's met with the oncoming windshield of a semi.

I let go of my tenuous grip on the train roof, the downdraft sliding me back and over the edge in between cars, sinking my fingers into the lip of the metal frame and dangling there as the world suddenly goes black around me.

I hear the echo of every bone in the waiter's bony little frame dislocating as his unconscious body slides over and past me like a rag doll before it's violently knocked into the side of that cavernous stone wall. A few seconds later, a strong spurt of his blood sprays across my finger tips and downward into my hair and face. I'll say one thing for him. He's left one hell of a bloody impression!

THE END? - not yet.

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure:
Verona by Moonlight on July 5th, 2010.

@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ADVENTURE THE 59TH: ALL ABOARD

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.

Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.

For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made. This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…

Adventure the 59th:
ALL ABOARD


It isn't every day you find yourself accused of a murder you didn't commit. I don't go to the Eiffel in search of Jones because I'm fairly certain he - or what's left of him - is there. I'm also pretty sure whoever used my name for their rendezvous is also waiting somewhere in the shadows for a hasty dispatch.

It's late by the time I return to darling Jess. Under the name Charlie Gwenn I check in to our hotel, then spend a rather sleepless night on the Rue de la Hutchette thinking about what'll happen if Jessica Jones tags Charlie Gwenn as the guy who asked too many questions about her dear ol' dad. The morning papers say it all: "Saut de Mort - L'homme d'affaires local Saute de la Tour Eiffel".

I decide to put as much distance between me and that famed Parisian landmark before breakfast. My only problem seems to be timing. An Icelandic volcano's grounded all European and transcontinental flights. I'm trapped by the cursed outcroppings of a grumbling Mother Nature with too much natural gas.

"It's over, then," Jess' reasons, reading the headlines as we pass an outdoor newspaper vendor.

"It's just begun," I say, a queasy sort of feeling creeping into my stomach.

She raises a curious brow in my direction. I lean in to her as though we're a couple a' newlywed tourists on the prowl for fine art and cheap wine.

"I wasn't there last night," I explain in a muffled sigh, "I didn't kill Franklin Jones!"

This revelation seems to both please and startle darling Jess.

"Then who?"

"I don't know," I admit, "Take your pick. You, his crippled daughter, the man in the moon...The problem isn't Jones. It's that his daughter knew I was coming...or that is, someone told her that her dad was meeting an Edward Mars last night at the Eiffel Tower. She's sure to repeat the story to the police."

"At least you're registered as Charlie Gwenn," Jess thinks thing through.

"Yeah," I concur, "But my passport says Mars."

I let Jess check us out of our hotel. The concierge seems a little too keen on my looks, as though he knows me from somewhere. Ah, well - maybe he's just window shopping for a crossover weekend. Or maybe he's read the paper and is doing a bit of creative calculation that doesn't include breakfast a la carte.

Jumping into a taxi out front, Jess and I get off in front of a small open air cafe about six blocks from the Gare Montparnasse, then do the rest of our trek on foot. When we're inside the massive train station Jess has a sudden attack of stomach jitters, probably brought on by that strong black coffee she's been chuggin' all morning.

"Get the tickets," she tells me before making a B-line for the restroom.

Maybe it was the coffee. Or maybe she just doesn't like long line ups. The station is packed to the rafters with weary, rather impatient travelers, most of whom I suspect would have preferred a quick flight to a long passage by rail. I'm interrupted several times by passersby who think nothing of cutting through the lineup en route to their destinations. One, a pasty tailed gutter rat, loosely clinging to her tattoo-covered body pierced twink of a boy toy, practically knocks me and the little Egyptian gent down in front over with their grungy carry on. The Egyptian turns, casually eyeing the couple before shaking his head in disgust and muttering, "Bloody tourists!"

I smile. I know just how he feels, being one myself.

"They tell me some dumb schmuck drove a steam engine through the front of this station at the turn of the last century," he goes on.

"Yep," I reason, "October 1895 or thereabouts. Name was Pellerin or something like it."

I've impressed him. He turns to face me with a glint and a smile.

"Ah, you know the story then," the roly-poly Middle Eastern adds, his eyes suddenly a twinkle, "Nineteen. What crazy person puts a nineteen year old peasant at the controls of the Granville to Paris? I ask you?"

"The brake failed," I suggest.

"The brain before it, my friend," he reasons, tapping his index finger against his temple before extending a hand for a hearty shake. "Fertuk Hassad. Dean of Historical Studies at Cambridge."

"Eddie Mars. You're just a little off campus this morning, aren't you professor?" I say as our ticket lineup advances by one.

"On holiday," Fertuk explains, "Actually, on sabbatical."

"Can't you do both?" I tease.

He grins, knowing that it's the truth. A sabbatical is just a fancy word for a cushy stipend; an academic reason to bugger off on paid leave to parts of the world most hard working public sector employees will never get a chance to see firsthand.

"I am making a study of railway stations across Europe," Fertuk explains, "For a piece I hope to publish sometime next semester. You have studied too, no?"

"Only through the school of hard knocks," I tell him.

"But you know the story," Fertuk reasons, "Not many people do. About Pellerin, I mean."

"Or Marie-Augustine Aguilard," I tack on, "The news gal he flattened under a piece of falling masonry."

"You studied?"

"No. I just happen to own Mr. Big's Lean Into It."

We share a laugh. He's alright, the professor. Hardly the stuffy academic you'd normally find passively sequestered with his books behind ivy covered walls, in quiet retreat from the world. No, I'd say Fertuk Hassad is the lively sort - well heeled and well traveled and loving every minute of his 'go anywhere/do everything' lifestyle. Cambridge? That's just a safety net - one that benefits from his travels and expertise. But Fertuk could easily do without them much more than the other way around.

"I thought this was going to be the dull stretch of my journey," Fertuk explains, "But somehow I feel as though you might prove a worthy travelling companion. Where are you going?"

I'm caught off guard by the question. Not so much because I don't want to commit to an answer, but because Jess and I have barely had a moment's notice to work out our plans. North Korea is the truth. How we're going to get there without a plane is what mystifies me.

"Venice," I explain.

After all, that's where the train's going.

"The Orient Express?" Fertuk exclaims, his eyes deliciously glistening as though he's just been the unrequited witness to a cave of wonders, "This is kismet. Truly! I too am going to Venice, by way of Innsbruck and Verona. We shall be travelers together."

I'm nudged from behind by Jess'.

"We shall be travelers three," she corrects Fertuk, reaching in to shake his reluctant hand.

But Fertuk looks as though I've just sold him out to the enemy.

"A thousand apologies," he says to me with a distant disappointment in his tone, "I thought you were traveling alone."

"There's no reason why we can't travel together...is there?" I suggest.

"Besides, I sleep a lot," Jess teases.

"Just very little with me," I add - to set the record straight.

The professor's not terribly convinced of our arrangement, but nods anyway as we move one more step towards the ticket master.

. . .


An hour and a half later, Jess and I move into our close quarters for the trip; a stateroom with two pull down beds and a latrine that I can barely squat on without knocking my knees against the narrow cabin door. Before leaving, the porter informs us of their 24 hour steward service and asks if we would like to lay down for an afternoon nap. I shake my head, but Jess nods and motions for her upper birth to be opened.

"I'm going to the dining car," I tell her as she takes the clip out and lets her long tresses tumble around her neck and shoulders.

. . .

As the train begins to glide smoothly out of the station I find Fertuk seated at a table inside the dining car, studiously immersed in a very thick book on Greek history. My eye catches his and, noticing that I am alone, he enthusiastically motions for me to join him. After I've made myself comfortable and ordered a tall glass of beer, we get down to more practical discussion.

"You don't approve of my choice of travelling companion," I begin.

Fertuk is sheepish with apprehension.

"I have not said I do not approve," he suggests.

"But you don't."

"It's just that I thought we might explore the stations together," he admits, "You see, I am a lonely scholar...and not terribly popular with ladies. I suppose my mother had something to do with that. She always insisted that I accept no less than a woman of pedigree and culture."

"Hmmm," I tease, "Pedigree's a birthright. You either are or you're not. But culture? You have to look long and hard for one of those...and not on the isle of Manhattan. Nothing but oversexed debutantes and prissy princesses there."

Fertuk shakes his head with heavy disappointment.

"Nor in Istanbul, Stockholm or Sidney..." he tells me, "I should know. I have lived in all three."

"Were you ever in America?" I inquire.

"American women," he tells me with a mild note of disgust, "You can't teach them anything they don't already know. They audit my class and tell me what I should be teaching."

"And English girls?"

"They simply don't care..." Fertuk hypothesizes, "...so long as the boy next to them is cute."

We spend the next hour or so chatting over drinks. About every twenty minutes our waiter comes by with two more of the same without even being asked. I'll say one thing; the service is top notch.

"Tonight we stop for fifty minutes in Innsbruck," Fertuk explains, "It would give me great pleasure if you and your lady friend would join me for dinner at the Cafe Gritsch."

I see no reason to say no, so I say yes for the two of us.

"Say, didn't the Romans once have an army outpost there?" I ask, knowing full well that they did.

Hmph!" Fertuk grunts with great emphasis, "Romans! Where are they now?"

"Back in Rome where they belong," I suggest with a toast of my glass.

. . .

I return to the cabin Jess and I are sharing at a quarter to five. She's still out and snoring like a sailor I once bunked under at a sweat hole in Korea. The gal's got lungs - I'll give her that; and a clogged nasal cavity that could stir ships from the fog. I decide to freshen up a bit before waking her.

"Go away," she mutters in her sleep.

"Wish I could, angel," I whisper back before going into the loo and closing the door.

Twenty long and silent minutes pass.

. . .

The only time I know for sure that our train's in motion is either when we start moving or pull in to our next stop. As we pull into Innsbruck station, our usually sturdy car goes through a curious series of shuffling - like a drunkard walking wide-stride back and forth from one spread foot to the next.

"I don't see why we have to indulge that the funny little man," Jess tells me as she tosses back her long blond tresses for effect.

"Well, I like him," I say, "He's the first okay guy I've met in a while. I forgot they grew that way. What's more, he's buying. Free food's always a plus."

Jess doesn't buy my reasoning. She doesn't buy a lot. I think deep down she's probably as nervous as a stray trapped in an alley outside a cheap Chinese restaurant. Being a skeptic helps keep her edge.

"You could buy him, the restaurant and probably the whole damn town and still have enough to launch a full scale assault on Switzerland," Jess reasons.

I watch as she adjusts her bra in the mirror for maximum squeeze.

"For someone disinterested in the hired help, you sure know how to dress for the occasion," I suggest.

"I dress for me," Jess informs, "I undress for real men."

"Which probably explains why I've never seen you naked," I tease.

What comes next is totally unexpected.

"You wanna see me naked?" she says, her voice suddenly dropping a few octaves; curiously infused with a sultry hush.

Before I know it she's on top of me, pressing into the wall, her hands reaching behind mine, her lips pressed against my cheek, then chin so that I can feel her hot breath tickling my nose and teeth.

"It wouldn't take much," she tells me, her wet kisses sliding all over my face.

I don't buy her act for a moment.

"When did all this happen?"

I make my inquiries during the few brief seconds between those long, hard kisses.

"When did what happen?"

"You," I reason, "Flossing my gums without your tongue. I thought you wanted everything strictly professional?"

"Professionalism's overrated," Jess decides, sliding one hand down my inner thigh to my crotch, "Besides. Isn't everything on the up and up?"

"I don't know," I say, coiling my neck to bury my face in her hair, "You tell me."

"Alright, I will," Jess says.

I feel her slender fingers loosen my belt and unzip my fly. The train may have come to a complete stop but the ride has only just begun.

. . .
Twenty-four minutes later we're hurrying down the platform toward the Cafe Gritsch. By now the sun's begun to set behind the mountains, casting long dark shadows through the gas lit streets and transforming Innsbruck into a Tyrolean fairyland with bustling tourist foot traffic scattered all about.

As we round the corner of a tight cobblestone thoroughfare, I catch a brief glimpse at our rumpled selves in the reflective surface of a store front window showcasing children's marionettes.

"Hey," I reason to Jess, spotting the cafe just around the corner and pulling her aside for a moment, "Fix your hair. Let me fix mine."

"Why?"

"Because we look like a pair of pre-teen imbeciles who just had sex."

"We just did," Jess replies.

"But we've graduated," I insist.

I run a set of fingers through my thick mane before reaching for the comb in my back pocket.

"That's fitting," Jess tells me, nodding in the direction of the marionettes, "Like puppets on a string."

"Yeah," I admit, "Only who's pulling on whose strings?"

I study her expression as she preens a bit. There's no spark of excitement about her, unlike the flush and afterglow coursing through my veins at breakneck speed that I'm certain everyone can notice from a mile away. But looking at her we might just as well have been playing Tiddlywinks in the club car.

"Give your head a shake," Jess tells me, "Or do you want me to come over there and do it for you?"

"Not in public," I reason.

"Ready?" she asks.

"I'm up for anything," I smugly reply.

Only I don't even get a half smile in return.

. . .

Inside the Cafe Gritsch, Fertuk is seated at a rather lonely table for four with three empty chairs. He perks up at the first sight of us, rising to hold a chair for Jess as we sit down.

"I was afraid you were lost," Fertuk says.

"Only in Wonderland! Not canceled," I relate, "But delayed."

"Nothing serious, I hope," Fertuk reasons, glancing over at Jess, who has suddenly been distracted by a rather youngish Adam Lambert knock off pressed up against the bar.

"Apparently not," I say, "Have you ordered?"

"Only drinks," Fertuk admits, "What would you like for dinner?"

The menus arrive - pricey, to say the least. I decide that when the opportunity presents itself I'm going to suggest we go Dutch on the meal. It's the least I can do.

A waiter arrives with two beers and a cocktail.

"What's that?" Jess coolly asks Fertuk as the waiter begins to extend the cocktail to her.

"A Cosmopolitan for the lady," the waiter suggests.

"Whiskey," Jess corrects, "Ginger ale on the side. In case I feel like celebrating."

The waiter leaves the two beers before disappearing behind the bar to fill Jess's request.

"I trust you took some photos before arriving here tonight," I say to Fertuk.

"Photos?"

He seems confused and that leaves me unsettled.

"Of the station..." I add, waiting for his response, "For your research."

Fertuk smiles - hardly nervous, but evasively nonetheless.

"I have all the research that's required to complete my work," he tells me.

We chat - politely; about the weather, the Euro and European politics in general and why I seem to be missing a button off my collar. I don't tell Fertuk that Jess was a little too frantic to get me out of my shirt back on the train and even make the suggestion that perhaps I should point out the absence to my valet once we've arrived home. That is, of course, if I had a valet.

Jess takes her vodka straight up. The food arrives on cue with all the trimmings. After our afternoon gymnastics I'm hungry as hell, plowing into my steak like a starving super model who just discovered her next gig is a Burger King. I don't even think to glance over and see how Jess is managing with her chicken salad. Only Jess suddenly doesn't look so hot.

"You alright?" I ask.

She nods that she is but I can tell that she's not. A moment later she's excusing herself for the ladies room.

"Not a good traveler," Fertuk suggests.

"Mmmm," I mutter, my mouth full of tender beef.

The Lambert lookalike Jess had taken an interest in earlier is working the room for a friend; a boy about twenty-two whom he finds easily enough at the end of the bar. They lazily eye one another for a moment or two before heading off to the bathroom together. Toujour l'amour.

"How is your steak, my friend," Fertuk inquires.

"Superb," I admit, "How is your swordfish?"

"A little tough," Fertuk admits, pausing a few long moments before nodding in the direction of the bathrooms and slowly adding, "Tell me...are you married to...?"

"No," I reply, "She's my...secretary."

Jess would castrate me if she heard that.

"Ah..."

"Are you?" I inquire, "Married I mean?"

"Yes," Fertuk admits, pausing this time for effect before adding, "...to my work. But seriously...look at me. Who would want this when there are so many better options available?"

"Don't sell yourself short," I suggest, "Some women get excited by intelligence."

"School girls," Fertuk tells me, a wickedly thin smile curling up his cheeks, "Or ugly librarians looking to better to their standing by marrying a professor. No, my friend. I shall never marry. My standards are too high and the women I would prefer could not stand to see me without my clothes on."

I suddenly realize Jess has been in the bathroom for a long time. Glancing at my watch I acknowledge that our train will pull out of the station in less than ten minutes.

"Well, so much for dessert," I reason.

Fertuk agrees, motioning to a nearby waiter for our check.

"Would you mind going into the ladies bathroom to see what's become of my friend?" I ask the waiter.

"I am not permitted, sir," he politely replies, "But I will send one of the kitchen staff in to make inquiries."

Several long minutes pass. I sit quietly and let Fertuk finish his fish. Reaching for the check as it comes to the table, Fertuk casually knocks my hand aside, the waiter leaning in to pass him the check instead before turning to give me a slip of white paper from the bar.

I open the paper to find a sloppily scribbled note: 'gone back to the train. See you there.'

"What the...?"

"Something the matter?"

"No," I mutter, "Just another one of my secretary's surprises. She's full of them this evening."

Fertuk reaches into his wallet for his credit card.

"Please, let me at least pay for our share," I suggest.

"Not tonight," says Fertuk, "But I know a very smart trattoria in Verona where you may wish to settle the tab."

Yep, well heeled and well traveled.

"I'll look forward to that," I say.

We hurry back to the train, my wider strides leaving Fertuk slightly puffing to keep up. Normally I'd scale back, but I'm somehow anxious to find out what's ailing Jess.

We board the Orient Express just as the first peel of the conductor's whistle echoes through the cavernous station. I thank Fertuk once more for his hospitality, then depart his company down the long narrow corridor to my compartment. Only Jess isn't there. In fact, she isn't in the club car or any place else that I can discover. I feel the earth move beneath me as the train slowly pulls out of Innsbruck.

"Excuse me," I ask the conductor as he passes, "The lady who boarded with me in Paris...you remember. Blonde hair. Tall. Have you seen her?"

"Not since you left the train together earlier this evening," the conductor admits.

Where the hell could she be? I check the lounge in the rear and then make a brisk walk up through all eight cabin cars. I'm tempted to start knocking on individual doors when a note arrives from the porter - this one written more neatly than the one I received back at the cafe.

'Gone ahead. Will see you in Verona. Jess.'

Gone ahead? How? With who? This can't be right. We must go back. Only, we can't. I can't take that chance. I have to stick to our original timeline. By the time I reason that Jess probably isn't on the train we've left Innsbruck a distant memory in a darkening cloud of gathering dust.

THE END?

Possibly for some...
But Eddie Mars will return in his next big adventure on June 15th, 2010.

@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ADVENTURE THE 58TH: COULD'A, WOULD'A, DIDN'T

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.

Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.

For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made. This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…

ADVENTURE THE 58TH:
COULD'A, WOULD'A, DIDN'T


Two hours in county lock up can seem like two months, especially without a wrist watch. I don't mind so much. Actually, the lull in frenzy and madness plays like an HBO original series about bizarre stay-cations - especially when there's just me and Jo-Jo; the scum sucker with more tracks than NASCAR - a real winner from the east side, nabbed on a credit card fraud charge and awaiting his court appointed mouthpiece.

"What's yer story?" Jo-Jo asks.

"They say I killed the Mayor of Frisco," I tell him.

This impresses Jo-Jo immensely.

"Whoa!"

He smiles... a cheap little smile - the kind you find painted on cast off dime store clown heads, three for a dollar, or Pez dispensers; their powdery sugar smiles leering with the beckoning promise of more tooth decay.

I can't decide if Jo-Jo thinks I'm jerking his chain. Maybe he gets off on the idea of having a killer in his midst...or maybe he's just tired of having his taxes jacked up as much as he is. Who can tell? With the intellectually challenged and marginally crazy it's always like flipping a coin...you know the kind: Janus guaranteed.

"You wanna tell me what yer really doin' here?" says Jo-Jo.

He bores me. I liked it better when he was just eyeing at my glutes from across the cell.

"No."

"Hey..."

"...is for horses..." I interrupt, "Give it a rest. Shoot up. Crap your pants. Just roll over, foam at the mouth and die. Or do you need help with that?"

Jo-Jo slumps down on a cot in the corner of the cell. He's a hungry little mug, all right. He'd try something, only he doesn't have the guts or brain power to pull it off...just stick it in.

"Geez-us," he mutters, "Who spanked your ass without a paddle?"

"Mayor Bridesman," I shoot back, "And look where it got him."

So, what am I doing here?

Well, the boys in blue didn't exactly buy my story about an honest to goodness showdown. We'll see. Forensics is bound to do a number on the gun Bridesman touched just before I sent him sailing through three inches of shattering glass. When it comes back with a good palm and thumb print that should soften the blow to my conceit and possibly lead to an acquittal. Not that I plan to stick around for reasonable doubt. After all, a guy could grow gray hair on his sack waiting for American justice to do right by him.

The jangle of keys in the door at the end of the hall draws me back from the edge of a bunch of 'what if?' scenarios. I don't usually wallow in contemplation. How odd. A minute later I discover a reason to forget once more.

Enter Jessica - my angle; quaffed and perfumed and dressed like a high priced mouth piece who could give mouth to mouth to an Asian Carp and make it look sexy. She's toting a brief case - nice touch - and accompanied by the same narrow minded Officer McGruder who locked me up in the first place.

"You're free to go," McGruder grudgingly tells me as he sticks his long cell key into the stiff, tight lock, "You're attorney's posted bail."

McGruder gives Jess the eye, up and down, like a light in search of its cigarette.

"When they care enough to send the very best," I tell McGruder.

"Nice work if you can get it, pal," McGruder mutters back.

"And if I could I still wouldn't share the secret with you," I reply.

I get no satisfaction from darling Jess. In fact, if looks could kill then rigor mortis would already have set in. I can almost feel my blood congealing as Jessica stares me down, a steely glint emerging from the center of those soft eyes that tells me I shouldn't push any more buttons today.

When we're out of McGruder's earshot and moving quickly down the front steps of the police station I make my first attempt at an inquiry.

"Are we talking or is it a Marcel Marceau kind'a tough love we're exercising for today?"

Jessica pivots in place, the heel of her shoe grinding into the freshly swept pavement below.

"Let's just say that you're lucky I never learned to mime any four letter words."

She's a pistol - cocked and aimed at my head.

"A little too convenient," I suggest.

"You won't think so when you see how much it cost," Jessica argues.

She directs me to a sporty red convertible parked at the curb - a new toy and one I'm sure I've written the I.O.U. for.

"Get in!"

It's no use to argue. Hell hath no fury...and Shake's wasn't kidding. I'm barely buckled in when Jess' drops the stick into third like the pro I figured her for. We peel away - a pair of teasers ripe for a traffic ticket.

"You wanna slow down?" I say.

I get no satisfaction - much less a reply.

"We just left the cops," I reason, "The last think we need is a moving violation."

She must agree, because her lead foot suddenly comes off the pedal and we coast to an RPM more in line with the local speed limit.

"So what did this cost me?" I ask her.

"A little over one-fifty," she admits.

"This car cost a hundred and fifty thousand?" I exclaim.

True, I'm a millionaire and it shouldn't matter. Maybe it still doesn't. But I can't imagine anything on four wheels that doesn't come with a couple of Playboy bunnies and a hot tub costing this much.

"The car's the least of your worries," Jessica reasons, "Chump change I was referring to went to Mrs. Griswald."

"Who?"

"Griswald," Jessica repeats, "Bridesman's secretary...you remember? The one you sailed past on your way to the assassi...uh...showdown."

"Cute."

"Sloppy."

"How's that?"

Jess' pulls the car off to the side next to a trendy outdoor cafe with Boca Rattan chairs and umbrella's dotting its patio. We turn a few heads from the A-list set shielding their California angst from the sharp rays of sun with large, dark sunglasses and wide brimmed Rodeo Drive hats. At first I think we're going to get out, but a moment later Jess's hand is on my shoulder, her grip more firm and commanding than I expect.

The chiding she gives makes me feel nine all over again - you know; lost and confused and unable to wipe my own butt without having a couple sticky fingers soak through that cheapo two ply en route to the porcelain bowl.

"I don't know about you, Eddie," Jess explains, "But I don't like the idea of having a rich jail bird for an employer. You think any prison bitch in the country is going to care if you can write him a check while he has you bent over a wash basin at laundry time?"

She has a point - I suppose.

"Now look," she tells me, "I know all about Franklin Jones. 1740 La Place Merianne. Paris, France. You're going there, and don't lie to me about it. I can see it in your eyes. But when you finish with Uncle Frank I need you on a plane to North Korea."

"What's in North Korea?"

"A really ugly hotel with a really important secret I can't hide anymore," she hints.

It's the last bit of mystery I get out of her. For the rest of our ride Jess is close lipped. I decide to let it go, but realize somewhere en route that we're not heading back to Deluca Square. I don't dare ask where we're going or even partake in the guessing game. Jess is mad; not like a sullen wet hen whose nest has just been raided for fresh eggs by the local fox; more like a rabid tigress ready to slice the jugular of a waiting antelope in the green savannah.

Moments later we turn off the main strip and head toward the beach. It's cooler along the coast. I take in the fresh breeze even as the noon day sun cooks the top of my head. About forty-five minutes later we're at a private landing strip at San Carlos Airport, a plane already gassed and good to go. The pilot tips his head and waves as Jess parks along side. She returns the gesture, popping the trunk and tossing out a couple of suitcases.

"He's all yours," Jess tells the approaching pilot before turning to me one last time, "You have exactly seventy-two hours to straighten this mess with Franklin Jones. Whatever you do, don't kill this one until you've convinced him to fly with you to North Korea."

"Just a damn minute," I interrupt, "You said back there that you didn't fancy an employer with a plate of numbers tattooed across his chest. Alright. But hear this: I'm not up for a gal Friday on this one with an over inflated sense of self importance. It's my money we're spending, right? That means you work for me. Well, I just decided I don't need you. Actually, I don't want you. You've brains and a sharp trigger finger on the plus side but that's not enough to make me want to jump through hoops like a trained whale at Sea World."

Jess shrugs her shoulders.

"Well, I suppose this is where you drag me under for the final count," she passively suggests.

I don't see the heavy wrench in the pilot's hand coming fast up behind me, but I sure as hell feel it crack against the back of my head seconds before I black out and kiss the pavement. When I come to a half hour or so later, there's a whirling noise inside my head and a buoyant feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Gradually, I realize that we're airborne. The pilot's down in front where I'd expect him to be. I've been dumped on a chez in the back of the plane. We seem to be experiencing some sort of turbulence...or maybe I just am. My head throbs and I can't quite focus. One thing is crystal clear - I'm not alone. Jess has decided to come along for the ride.

"You don't make things easy," she says, "Did anybody ever tell you that?"

"Only my mother, teachers, a high school principal, two ex-wives, a string of girlfriends and maybe my barber," I admit, rubbing the back of my neck to ease the pain, "I have a problem with authority."

"You thrive on close shaves," Jess teases.

"With a little help from Mr. Goodwrench," I add, "You're boyfriend's got a steady hand and good swing."

"I liked you better when you were in a coma," Jess explains, "Better get your Z's. Paris isn't a trip across the millpond."

And so it isn't. I slump into a reclining chair, kick off my deck shoes and turn up the sleeves of my shirt. Before long, a more peacefully induced sleep overtakes me.

. . .

I dream - bizarrely and without restraint. In this dream I'm an ad executive with a penchant for hot bods poured into form fitting business suits. After some water cooler chit chat I get asked out on a date with a suit who vaguely resembles this Vegas showgirl I once spent a brisk forty-eight hours with. We nibble on some expensive h'or d'oeuvres and then each other and before long I'm having the most insanely triple X encounter of my adult life. But something's not right.

I figure this out in my dream, almost from the moment the condom comes off. My paramour tells me she's invited a house full of friends to meet me and then proceeds to put on an apron and play the part of Donna Reed.

Company arrives by way of a pretty mixed batch of pabulum and milquetoast; a fairly boring, but nevertheless congenial lot who debate politics and pop culture with all the superficial understanding afforded our current brain dead generation.

After an hour or so, one of the funny little men in the group leans across the table to shake my hand before explaining that I've just been set up on a new reality based television program: how to screw a guy on the first date. It's a flood of mixed emotions that follows, ranging from wanting to throw up and die to turning to my supposed lover and burrow a nice solid fist print in the side of her head.

I get jolted back to reality by some minor turbulence shortly before we touchdown in Evry. I can tell by the look on Jess' face that I probably have a queer sort of gaze on mine.

"Bad dream?"

She reads my mind - well, almost.

"Good nightmare," I reason.

. . .

Shortly after checking our baggage Jess and I part company to take separate cabs.

"I'll see you at the Chateau," Jess explains, handing me a map with an address for a hotel on the Rue de la Hutchette, "Make sure you check in as Charlie Gwenn."

"Why?" I ask, holding the cab door open for her.

"Because I'm registered as Patrice Gwenn..." Jess reasons, "Your wife."

. . .


I decide to take a cab to 1740 La Place Merianne to make a hasty dispatch of Franklin Jones. I suppose I could have waited until morning, but somehow the cover of advancing night seems to better suit my darkening purpose. Only 1740 La Place Merianne is hardly what I expected. It's not a house, but a cramped set of ramshackle flats: dirty and disheveled.

I suppose if you could get past the row on row of clothes line laundry dangling between the alley there's a half ass view of the Seine to be had for the price of a croissant and some moldy cheese force fed by the upstairs maid. Only the rough trade lining the streets even at this hour doesn't look as though they'd be able to afford both at the same time.

I get out of my cab in front of a narrow walk. Lining the steps leading up to the front door of a three story apartment are a pair of rent-by-the-hours who look as though they've enough STD's between them to keep every free clinic east of the Arc de Triumph open twenty-four hours.

"Etes-vous sûr que ceci est la rue juste ?" I ask my cabby.

"Oui."

Inside the dimly lit lobby I make out the name 'F. Jones' on a faded gray piece of cardboard tucked into its metal identity slot next to room number 212.

No elevator. No problem. I sprint up the two flights and down a tight hallway illuminated by a single bulb that flickers on the brink of extinction. 212 is just like any other door. Could this inauspicious layout really be the happy hideaway of an underworld titan?

I tap lightly on the creaky wood, expecting someone to ask 'who is it?' from the other side. No one does. Gradually, my tuned in hearing detects the sound of a tiny motor whirling from just beyond the other side. A moment later, the door opens.

"Hello?"

I am greeted by a young woman bound for her eternity to a mechanized wheelchair and so horribly disfigured that for a brief moment I have the sudden urge to look away in reviled disgust.

"I'm looking for Mr. Jones," I say directly.

"Oh," the woman politely replies, a friendly smile of innocence poking from beneath her contorted, skin grafted facial tissue, "Of course...you must be from The Tribune."

"Yes," I lie, "Uh...Gwenn...Charles Gwenn."

I extend my hand to shake hers before noticing that there are only three fingers remaining on her right. The woman tips her deformed brow in a relaxed nod instead, reading my best efforts to conceal utter shock.

"Don't worry," she tells me, "I'm used to being stared at. In fact, I would have thought you quite odd if you hadn't. Won't you come in?"

I smile, looking directly into her eyes, soft and brown and perhaps more illusively serene than I ever would have imagined.

"Thanks. I will."

The Jones apartment is modest and cozy - hardly what I would have expected for the command center of an international cartel. I wait a moment as the woman struggles to fondle the small console knob with a red button at its side that controls the driving mechanism of her chair. She backs herself into the room. I enter and close the door behind me.

"Regrettably, my father isn't here at the moment," the woman tells me.

"Then you're..."

"Jessica Jones," the woman replies, "Can I offer you something to drink, Mr. Gwenn?"

"No thank you," I stutter.

An excruciatingly slow moment passes between us - like the grate of chalk scraping on a board.

"I suppose you're wondering how it all happened?"

"I wouldn't think of asking."

Another lie. Curiosity has peaked this cat's interest. And so, Jessica tells me her story.

"About a year ago I was on holiday with my father in Lucerne," Jess explains, "He was there on business and I had some shopping to do."

She pauses suddenly.

"I liked nice things then..." she quietly reasons, "They used to suit me. Anyway, dad's meeting went longer than expected. He called me on my cell and told me to take his car back to the hotel."

The last thing Jessica remembers is turning the key in the ignition before a gigantic fireball consumed the BMW she was driving.

"I don't remember much else," she explains, "I don't suppose it would make for polite conversation if I could."

Small mercy. When she awoke some six days later in the burn unit of the local hospital Jess' was told that her left leg from the knee down had not been saved. Worse, she was destined to be a circus freak for the rest of her life. Her right eye, now glass, stares upward at the most improbable angle. She has not eye brows and no lips to speak of. Reconstructive surgery has given her back a nose, such as it is without grizzle, and holes on either side of her head with a loose flap of skin where once a pair of ears were attached. Beneath her thin veil of jet black hair is a scalp so unnaturally caramelized that every vein seems to draw undue attention to itself as it runs beneath the brittle parchment that was once her soft, warm flesh.

"I'm lucky to be alive," she attempts to justify, although I can see even now that Jessica's not entirely convinced of that truth, "And later...when the police discovered it was deliberate...that a bomb had been planted for my father...well...they made every attempt to find out who was behind it."

"And did they?"

"No."

I suddenly realize that my own sense of avenging authority has been as warped as the body of this tragic storyteller. We chat a bit more, mostly about nothing and by my own doing. I do everything I can to change the subject and make Jessica momentarily forget about herself. I tell her about America - which she's never seen.

"It sounds like a fascinating country," Jess reasons, "I wish I had traveled more before..."

The conversation changes, as conversations do, to her and her father. Franklin met Jess' mother in England, married her in France and had Jessica in Germany. Then her mother died in childbirth and since that time, by her own account, she has been her doting father's pride and joy.

"He's really been a wonderful father," Jess confides, "Even if he hasn't really been much of a man."

I'm perplexed by the dichotomy.

"Why do you say that?"

"Mr. Gwenn," Jess begins, "I shouldn't really be telling you this...and what I say now isn't motivated by contempt or anger. But my father...he's become involved in something terrible. I just know it."

The truth spills forth like a perilous flood on the delta. Jess tells me about a series of coded messages, business trips that have taken Franklin Jones all over Europe, America and Asia, and, those strange sudden meetings in the middle of the night with men whose voices make her blood run cold.

"Once I asked my father where he was going and he told me it would be better for me if I didn't know," Jess explains, "I'm frightened, Mr. Gwenn. Dad was always honest with me in the past. But now I don't know where he goes or what he does. He tells me that whatever he's doing is for me...to ensure that I'll be looked after when he's gone...but that doesn't ease the separation. I feel like I've lost both parents, you see?"

I nod. I want to reach out and embrace her, smooth that clumped matting of tangled hair that clings thinly to some of her scalp and tell her everything will be alright. But how can I? I had planned to murder the man she so worships; so desperately in fact that she would risk telling a common journalist the family secrets - at least, the one's she superficially been privy to.

I decide then and there that whatever the circumstances leading up to Jones' decision to green light my assassination attempt in Italy, his motive was hardly dictated by personal greed or even monetary gain. He's an evil man to be sure, but one I can no longer bring myself to kill. Pulverizing him into a confession and leaving him to the local authorities is another story.

"Where has your father now?" I inquire.

"Oh...uh...the Eiffel Tower," Jessica confides.

"To meet another secret contacts?"

"No," Jess reasons, "This one has a name...Edward Mars."

The hairs on the back of my neck recoil. I've been set up yet again.

THE END?

Hardly...

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure on May 1, 2010.

@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).

Monday, February 15, 2010

ADVENTURE THE 57TH: On Wrong Swift Vengeance Waits

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

For those unfamiliar with the posting structure of a blog: postings appear in the order they are made by their author, not necessarily in the order that would most benefit an ongoing series such as the one you are about to read. Since the purpose of this blog is to be an ongoing thriller, simply removing the previous chapter to alleviate confusion is not an option – since no one coming to the series after the first chapter had been removed would be able to follow the story line.

Therefore, if you scroll down or visit the archives in future months, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended to be read. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial will be marked by a number. If you follow these numbers marked at the top of each chapter in their numeric order - eg ‘Adventure the 1st’ - you will be able to follow this continuing saga.

For those savvy to the blog world – this disclaimer may seem redundant, and for that no apology is made. This disclaimer is meant to better acquaint new readers in how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…

ADVENTURE THE 57TH:
On Wrong Swift Vengeance Waits

Revenge is the act of passion, vengeance is an act of justice.
-Samuel Johnson


Sylvia Plath once said that she prayed to God...only the skies were empty. I know just how she felt; to wonder, as the years wear on, just how far off the mark I've fallen and equally ponder the prospect that I might never accomplish in this lifetime what I was born to do.

"If you ask me, sunshine, you're going about this the wrong way..." Jessica tells me as she rifles through some papers at my desk.

After our escape from the cocaine capital of southern California my chips were down. Jess' threatened to go to the cops if I didn't spill my plan then and there and I really didn't come prepped for a plausible backup. So, out it came - the whole dirty list of laundry and who I planned to set right with the Lord or at least put down to the devil before the next millennium.

Jess was sympathetic - at least to a point. But she's professional to a fault and dressed like a cross between a high paid research assistant and some oversexed White House intern who wouldn't mind doing it twice and under the desk for her country.

"So, this Father Montegue in Italy..." she prods, "He was important."

"To me," I tell her, "He gave me something nobody should ever be without."

I haven't convinced her of anything. I can tell. She has that pouty sort of 'oh, please' plastered thicker than that Loreal across her face.

"And what's that?" Jessica asks.

"Hope."

A deafening silence creates a sonic vacuum in the room. It's as though I can't hear anything - not even the persistent foot and auto traffic outside.

"And your way to repay him is to commit murder?" she persists, "Well, well...death finds Andy Hardy."

In the old days I would have kissed her cheeks or kick 'em right out of my room; only this isn't yesterday. So, instead, I try an ol' Father Monty trick - patience through reason.

"We all have our way," I tell her, "Some people don't respond to logic, reason, pleas or threats. Some people only understand the way of the gun. For those, I'm going to come to an understanding."

"And he would want that? A priest?...to have revenge and blood on his hands?"

"Maybe not," I explain, "But I'm fairly safe in thinking he wasn't ready to have his head split in half with an axe and his body riddled to Swiss cheese by a load a' bullets. Besides, it's not revenge I'm after, angel. It's justice."

"That isn't justice," Jess' attempts to argue, "That's you reasoning slaughter to suit your own ends."

"Have it your own way," I reply, "But who speaks for Father Montegue and Doctor Bartelli? Who? They can't and their lives were wasted because they took it to themselves to believe that goodness was its own reward. I was a marked man, angel. A guy without a hope that nobody wanted to cure. But these men took me to their own bosom - without question, complaint or even thought for one second that I wasn't a worthy applicant for the cause...like Christ curing the lepers. I don't know about you, but my kind'a trophy for that sanctity doesn't include being assassinated and lit on fire with a tank of petrol. The animal who killed those men...that animal has to pay. I may not get to heaven, but damn it, I'm going to take a few bastards with me to hell."

"You'll burn together?" Jess reasons.

"Hey, you know what they say... misery loves company."

. . .

It's been three weeks since our trip to bountiful out in the sticks and two since the local news sources reported that a tragic fire claimed twenty one migrant workers and leveled the drug depot to the ground; only on the news the status of the depot had been downgraded to a tomato processing plant. I thought it best to wait out the media hype before moving on to round two of my plan.

Besides, it took me this long to get all the paper work together on my ol' pal Mallory. And quite a list it was: deeds for the land where the drug factory sat belonging to him; cross referenced with bank statements to prove that directed monies transferred from the federal government's 'make work' projects actually went unchecked to courier fees for smugglers and several customs officers paid to look the other way on certain shipments coming into and leaving the country.

But best of all was a video confession left behind by one Clemenzay Tortilla - a Honduran refugee who gave the illusion that he lived like a dirty sow in the Chicano slums of Los Cruzez but actually spent more time wrapped in a plush bathrobe at the Beverly Hills Hotel - lining up contract hits on smuggler types who either didn't hold up their end of the prearranged bargain in that City Hall kickback bait and switch or tried to cut themselves too big a slice of the proverbial pie. Either way, they wound up dead - Mafia style and written off as part of the gangland casualty list on the official books of police investigation.

But now, was the time to strike. I'm packing for a voyage; one that doesn't include darling Jess' or her opinion and one that I'll start just as soon as I convince her - convince myself - that what I'm doing is the right thing.

"Look," I reason, "You can walk on this right now. You've served your purpose, delivered your payload. Your finger nails are clean of me. How's that suit you?"

"Not well," Jess says, "Besides, what's to stop me from going to the locals right now with everything I do know already? Or are you planning on first taking care of this loose end?"

She's really gone under my skin.

"I'd sooner kill myself," I explain, "You have me pegged as a hit man - fine! But those I whack first took more than a couple a' calculated pot shots at yours truly. They weren't priests, doctors, nurses...those dedicated to preserving humanity. They were the lowest of the low; put together with someone else's sweat and blood money. They deserve to die and as far as that goes, they're gettin' what they deserve."

"Oh," Jess nods, "Thanks for explaining...because I missed that passage in the Bible about thou shall not kill except for people that aren't nice."

"I'm not looking for approval, angel," I tell her as I zip up my suitcase and my mouth and head for the door.

"Good!" she shouts from behind, "Because you're not going to get it from me!"

. . .

I arrive at the abandoned classic six opposite Mallory's palatial estate just before noon - just in time to talk a few choice rooftop photos for my memoir with my new high powered lens. At 12:15 it happens; the inspired wrath of God taking on a more physically human form. The ol' fat cat is carted off to much chagrin and considerable surprise by enough FBI to stock J. Edgar Hoover's pantry after my anonymous tip off.

I'm going to miss the bastard - almost. The Feds? They don't miss a trick. Now, it'll come; this house of cards crashing down on our Mayor. If Mal' knows what's good for him he'll cop a witness protection plea and maybe live out his golden years in Bramble Bush, Nowhere - population zero - looking over his shoulder with sweaty hooves like the scared little goat that he is, about to have its udders yanked for some painfully fresh milk. I like that image. It fits the whiny bugger better than his designer Calvin's ever did.

My next stop is the Mayor's office. He won't have heard about his stoolie just yet and that bit of time socked away, plus the element of surprise, should be enough to get what I'm after.

. . .

I sail into City Hall on a cloud of self importance; cocky, assured and in great shape - right past the voluptuous secretary who doesn't quite know whether to try and stop me or jump me for a quickie in the copy room. She's a nice looking kid - if you're into kids that think they're already women just because some guy took their cherry after the prom.

Before she can finish her "Sir, you can't go in there..." speech, I've moved past the heavy oak door, slamming it shut behind me and locking it from the inside. There he sits behind a massive antique desk: Wendell Bridesman - our King Farouk, Al Capone and Adolph Hitler all rolled into one scrawny package of excrement that even from this end of the room I can smell as rotten to the core.

"Excuse me," Wendell starts off, "You can't just..."

"Says who, Wendell?" I interrupt.

He reaches for the phone on his desk. I reach for the Magnum I've tucked inside my suit jacket.

"I wouldn't, if I were you," I tell him, "But hey - you're a gambling man, aren't you Wendell...or maybe I should say - Alonzo."

I've caught his attention. He puts the receiver back on its hook.

"What do you want?"

"You're slipping," I tell him, "The question used to be 'how much'?"

"An offer of money is only made if I think what you're selling is worth the price," Bridesman smugly explains, a thin grin spreading across his face, as though he doesn't believe I mean business.

I'm running out of time. I'm already out of patience. Without hesitating, I take my first shot, hitting Bridesman in his left shoulder, blowing the outer half of his rotator cuff and most of the chair behind it clean off.

The grin's gone. In fact, the man goes into instead shock, his jaw dropping to his chest as he squeals like the little piggy that he is.

"Jesus Christ!" he sputters in between deep gasps.

I move in with lightening speed, pressing the barrel of my gun to his right temple.

"I wouldn't advise taking the Lord's name in vane," I suggest, "You already sent one of his servants to a higher calling."

"Stop...please...."

"Please?" I say, grabbing him by the back of his head, "Please, what? You're expendable. Just like your partner in crime, Capt. Mallory. I went a little easier on him, partly for old time's sake. It's the romantic in me. But you...I could just as easily kill you as eat a burger at Mickey Dee's."

"Go ahead!"

"Oh, afraid not, Wendell," I say, allowing my condescension to spill forth like a pound of butter melting in the microwave, "You, who didn't go easy on Bobby Valenz or his greedy little wife...or yours, for that matter. You, who funded a private little war against me because I was getting too close to the truth. You had me chased half way around the globe and back again. You even tried to paralyze me. But I don't seize up that easily. So, you took out your frustration on the two people who did their best to see I didn't wind up riding a chair for the rest of my days. No, what I want from you now is the name of your paymaster - the bigger fool with all the strings attached whose going to get his just as sure as you're about to have yours!"

He's silent, and breathing so fast he just might have a heart attack right on the spot and foul up everything.

"What?" I add, "No pithy retort? Get up!"

I grab Wendell by the back of his head, fairly ripping out a handful of his cheap perm as I drag him to his feet and throw him up against a wall size window. I wedge the barrel of my Magnum into what's left of Wendell's bloody shoulder. He screams like a ten dollar whore with a bad case of the crabs.

"Wendell," I tell him, "I want a name and I want it now. You want to live? Federal prison and all - you want to hold on to what's left of your life and your arm, don't you?"

"Yes."

I press a little harder. He screams again.

"The price of admission," I tell him, "Name?"

"Franklin Jones," he mutters.

"Great," I reason, "Only several hundred million of those in the world. How about an address?"

"1740 La Place Merianne. Paris, France."

"Why?"

"You find that out for yourself, Mr. Mars."

So, he remembers me after all.

"I figure you got about six minutes, give or take before you bleed to death and about ten minutes after that before the Feds bust in to arrest you for a laundry list of sins that I put together for them. So what's it going to be?"

I pause for effect.

"Oh," I add, "I almost forgot. There's a third option."

I remove a small pistol from my inside breast pocket and place it on the window ledge next to him.

"That's right," I explain, "A showdown. You wanted me dead. Here's your chance. Only not with a phone call of a small arsenal of thugs at your disposal. Just this. Just you and me. Fair fight."

I turn and start to walk away.

"Go ahead, Wendell," I tell him, knowing he'll reach for the gun in another moment or two, "Do me the favor."

The proposition is too delicious to pass up. Wendell reaches for the pistol and I turn in place. In the final analysis, he's just what I thought he was - a fool's fool. I let him have it twice. The force of the shots from my Magnum send him through the plate glass and over the balcony rail, down six flights. He's skewered like a Honolulu pig at luau; a wrought iron fence impaling his chest cavity at ground level.

I'll have to answer to the small army of Frisco's finest pounding on the other side of the door. Bridesman? - Now, he has to answer to God.

THE END...
(not yet. Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure on April 5th 2010.

@ Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).