ADVENTURE THE 9TH: TRAVELER'S PRIVILEGE
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Adventure the 9th: Traveler’s Privilege
I drove all night like madman along that lonely stretch of winding road, the echoing distant thunder and clumsy dull thud of Carolyn’s body ricocheting in my trunk; solitary companions. I had searched the plantation for clues. There were none. Just a faded memory of greatness from that forgotten generation and best turned under by the digger of a back hoe. My bets were on Mother Nature. Another ten years and there’d be nothing left of the place but mildew and cockroaches.
But the list was somewhere. Whoever killed Carolyn realized she didn’t have it, and that meant they didn’t have it either. I’m not a philosopher, but if it’s usually the last place you look and the first place you find, I figured on pretty good odds that the list was still hidden behind some secret panel at Casa Menendez. If I was lucky, nobody – not Mike or Hemmingway or even my old pal Malory had it figured as good. Too bad I’m not that lucky.
Even before I rounded the bluff, with the house still out of sight I knew I was too late; the flicker of orange and yellow bouncing off the low lying clouds, a dead giveaway. Somebody had torched the Menendez estate. By the time I pulled up to the property it looked like jack-o-lantern that somebody had left burning on the front porch for too long – with sprouts of flame fanning out the doors and windows and a few loose patches of shingle. Evidently, some good neighbor – the kind that never says hello or gets to know you, but develops an itch against watching his own place go up in smoke – had called the brigade before my arrival because the hose and Dalmatian set showed up a few minutes later.
I leaned against a parked car to watch those gallant boys go through their motions. It must’a been a slow night because they gave it their all – like there was something besides ashes to save. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I took stock of the sporty import that was holding me up. It was the same coupe that Carolyn and I had made our fake escape in from the country club. Checking the registration proved my suspicions. The coupe belonged to Marysol.
I tried the driver’s door. It was unlocked. Her purse and a train ticket to New York City were on the front seat. I had it figured two ways. Either Marysol set the blaze and was halfway to Hemmingway’s with the list, or, she was turning extra crispy in what was left of Tony’s stately abode. I let my fingers to the walking through her handbag and came up with an address; 716 Templer, New York City. No sense in letting her ticket go to waste.
. . .
It rained most of that afternoon – a blessing for the fire fighters, but it was hot. I packed heavy, picking up a couple of sweaters and my trench for the climate change up North. Two weeks before Christmas there – a place I knew begrudgingly well but hadn’t had much use for. It promised to be a dull stretch of travel, what with rowdy tourists and anxious travelers. For the most part the journey did not disappoint. The station was a mess of life – or that is, life gone crazy with the holiday hiccups. I had a good porter though who put me on without much hassle, delay or damage to my pocket book.
We were already packed in like a bunch of misshapen peaches in heavy syrup when she came in – a polite sophisticate wearing the French line. The crowds seemed to part like the Red Sea wherever she went and without having to ask for the privilege. She was going places - on some superficial level at least. We had that much in common.
She ordered a dry martini in the club car and sipped it like she didn’t care. Every guy was doing his own quick study as her lips caressed the rim of that glass. I took a seat next to her.
“Going far?” I ask.
She cast a gaze of nonchalance like a pair of hungry searchlights roaming the skyline for a monument but coming up empty or on a rubbish heap.
“That depends,” she says coolly, “and you?”
She didn’t seem interested so I kept prodding. Her kind enjoys the process of getting worn down.
“I’d ask if you had a good rest,” I say, “Only I can tell you haven’t.”
She gives me a look, but it isn’t spiteful. More like I’ve figured her out and she’s slightly impressed.
“I’m going back,” she says, “to an empty apartment in a city I can’t stand.”
Now I give her the once over. She’s not wearing enough black to be a widow. She must be a divorce.
“He wasn’t worth it,” I tell her, “Most of us aren’t.”
“You’re very perceptive.”
“I’ve had practice.”
She mellows just enough in that same sort of feminine trusting way that millions like her do for some stranger who’ll either rob them blind or leave whatever’s left, cold and toe-tagged in a dumpster. The coroner’s office is lined with refrigerated lovelies who thought a kind word and stiff bounce between slaps meant a proposal of marriage and happily ever after.
“Mico Allen” she introduces herself, sticking a gloved hand out for a tentative shake.
“Jake Marley,” I lie in a way that makes me sound like a banker on Wall Street.
I’d have to be to afford this one. She’s used to money all right; either inherited or alimony, but she’s fixed for life with whatever that fickle little heart of hers could desire. And yet, somehow I know that she’d toss it all in the East River for the guy who left her soul penniless.
“Have you ever been to New York City, Jake?”
I like the way she says my name, or at least the name I’ve adopted as my own for the journey.
“I’m going there now as matter of fact,” I tell her before ordering another drink.
No sense in lying. Besides, I could use a place to stay.
“But I grew up there if that helps you any,” I add.
“I didn’t,” she says, “It takes some getting used to.”
“I never did,” I agree, “That’s why I haven’t been back in twenty years.”
I’ve struck another winning chord. For a woman of the world, she’s not particularly bright. Any four year old with guts could mind trick her out’a a lollypop and seventy-thousand. But she’s got cash and looks, and, in most big cities that’s preferred to any bit of secular intelligence that might let her rise above it all.
“I married it,” says Mico, pursing her lips and taking the rest of her drink in one swig, “Married a guy who built his castles from the penthouse up. Old money. Never worked a day in his life, except for those quarterly-whatever’s he had and monthly something-or-others. I never had a head for business.”
“How ‘bout shopping?”
She gives me some of her sulky belligerence that must have cut many a check from the guy in charge – only my credit’s not so good and I’m not in the habit of lending what I can’t afford.
“I deserve that,” she concurs, “Yes. Shopping. I spend. Big. But I spent on him. Furnished his apartments, decorated his offices, renovated a private stateroom on his ship…house in Bermuda, villa in Milan.”
“What,” I interrupt sarcastically, “No schloss on the Rhine?”
She smiles, setting up for another round of martinis.
“I would have gotten around to that too,” Mico explains, her tone turning sour, “Only by then, Francis was too busy with his broker…Melanie. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”
“I suppose you would have never suspected as much,” she says.
“No,” I say with a smirk, “I just wouldn’t have married a guy named Francis.”
“Not even of Assisi?” she playfully coos.
“Well”, I reason in faux contemplation, “Saints have never held much interest for me. Insofar as that goes, yours was no saint or you’d still be plucking his harp. Ol’ Fran’ may have had the bread, but I suspect his biscuit left something to be desired.”
She leans back on her stool, almost to the point where I think she might fall and bruise her celebrated assets.
“I’m beginning to like you, Jake.”
“It wouldn’t work, angel,” I tell her with a grin.
“You. Me. The band on the third finger. I’d make you most unhappy.”
Now she’s the one left smiling.
“Ha,” she says, all common sense leaving her pretty little head, “I’d like to see you try.”
I lean in without much effort, brushing my five o’clock shadow against her warm rounded upper lip. So that’s what high gloss on the jet set tastes like.
“There,” she teases, “Now I’m miserable all over.”
“Oh no,” I explain, my hand taking firm grip on the silken scarf around her neck. I go to work for real this time, traveling the contours of her cheek, chin and brow, “Not yet.”
Her willingness doesn’t surprise me, but it sure as hell shocks the bartender and a few of the patrons. Then suddenly I feel her pull away. Adjusting her hair with a light touch she gives me fair warning that she means what she’s not saying.
“I’m a respectable girl.”
“All evidence to the contrary.”
Our banter continues for the better half of the night. Mico regales me with the story of her life, leaving out the fact that it has been relatively cushy and pampered. She grew up on a farm but developed a natural distaste for cow manure by the time she was eleven. At fourteen she ran off with the first guy who broke her in and the last fella that left her dry. But she came to from the knockouts just in time to strike a blow for womanhood. Brother, the Gold Digger’s Association of America ought’a elect this kitten their union president.
Then came Francis McDougal-Reilly-DeChamps: a foreign register that roughly translated to eighty million in U.S. currency, minus personal assets and income tax. Mico was a Sotherby’s auctioneer then. That’s where Francis discovered her peddling a Louis XV clock – a time piece currently augmenting her Park Avenue penthouse as part of the settlement. Little did old Francis realize his prenup’ couldn’t prevent Mico from cleaning his to the tune of twenty-five and change.
. . .
Around Ohio the rain turned to snow.
“You know something, Mr. Marley,” Mico coos, “I really like you.”
“When do you think you might start finding me positively irresistible?” I reply.
“Don’t push it,” she tells me, only half serious, “I’m on the rebound. Anything can happen.”
She reaches into her handbag and pulls out a card with her address.
“Where I come from only escorts have these printed up,” I tease.
She laughs, like she knows too well what I’m talking about.
“I’m not open for business, Mr. Marley,” she explains, “But sometimes I’m very open for pleasure.”
I can tell she’s had enough for one night because even after the train’s stopped for a refill she’s got the motion of a speeding locomotive caught in her eyes. We separate like cream and milk. Mico retires to her private compartment to sleep it off. I settle in next to a guy that needs to drop thirty pounds, just to be downgraded to fat. It’s going to be a rusty night.
THE END?...we're just getting warmed up.
Eddie Mars will return promptly in his next adventure...
ON THE LOOSE, May 5th 2006.
@ Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).