ADVENTURE THE 11TH: DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS
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 11th: Daddy’s Little Girls
I got off to an early start the next morning – too early. Mico rolled over with a light sigh as I slid my hand out from under her pillow; remembering last night through rose-colored glasses.
“It was good for me too, angel,” I whisper, confident she hasn’t heard a word, before disappearing into the shower.
How does a guy get himself in so deep so fast? No that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn’t it? Today you’re a name scribbled down as an afterthought on a napkin or slip of paper, or if you’re really highbrow – ‘your card’…seven numbers and an itchy finger.
Tomorrow, an engagement ring. Then…
I never got past tomorrow. And it’s a good thing, too. Because in my profession tomorrow is two weeks in another town, a month pretending to be somebody else with no past and no future – a perennial nobody with no address; conveniently not there when the chips are down, after the retainer’s been paid in full. So long, sister…and here’s a few dollars on the bureau for your trouble and your eagerness to please. I’m getting too old for this.
The sky was charcoal gray. A steady frozen blanket of nature’s misery continued to fall. Even coils of smoke, escaping from ventilation ducts, lingered about the rooftop edges – reluctant to leave those sweaty inner tin corridors to their inevitable escape. From this God spot nothing seemed to stir. But I had to. I had to go back to 716 Templer and see if Ez had come out of it yet, or at least enough to tell me where Marysol was. You see, I didn’t think she was dead either.
I made as little noise as possible, stepping into some fresh trousers that had survived the previous night’s romp and grind. It was about then that I actually took first stock of the place I was currently calling home.
It sure was odd…for an heiress – all cold and mausoleum-like except for the bedroom – that frilly, fanciful paradise where we’d made loud, if not too beautiful, sustained booming noises together the night before.
I let myself out, knowing I could get back in if and when I wanted…then down the elevator to street level.
“Good morning, sir,” the doorman greeted, like I was old money or at least invited in to enjoy for a while.
“Yeah,” I said, looking around for any other signs of life, “Can I leave a message with you?”
“You may, sir.”
“Tell Ms. Allen, I’ve gone to do a little footwork.”
“Don’t you mean legwork, sir?” the doorman smugly replies.
“That was last night.”
. . .
I decide to get some breakfast. But the only place open is a dingy little café at the end of the block. In front is a very burly Ukrainian doing her best to chisel the drift flipped up against her window sill, and cursing bloody Tsarist Russia that she ever left the old world behind.
“You open for business?” I ask.
“Business,” I say, motioning to my open mouth with my hands.
“Ya, ya, shooor. You cum.”
She doesn’t realize how close to the truth that is. Inside, the place is what I expected; careworn and stained with the yellow grime of a thousand cigarettes. I take a seat at the counter and watch as my cook gets frisky with her fry pan. I’m not much for the place but in no time at all she’s whipped up a spread fit for Rasputin’s gluttony. Now comes my test: she watches while I eat it.
“Goot?” she asks, as though it’ll matter if I tell her it stinks.
Actually, it’s better than I expected – a lot better.
“You said it,” I tell her.
This seems to please her culinary sensitivity. She goes in the back to freshen up and I polish off what little I’ve left behind on my plate. I didn’t realize all that foreplay could burn so many calories.
. . .
Retracing my steps through Central Park, I take in the scenery as a bunch of kids pulverize one another in a snow fight.
Brings back memories, all right. Most, I’d rather forget. In the distance, I think I hear the sound of a plow. Maybe not. Hard to tell…and pretty damn impossible to see too, what with all this snow coming down.
I remember my fifth grade teach’ give us science’s version of why it’s never quite as cold as you think when the white and fluffy’s comin’ down. The water turning to ice gives off its heat to the atmosphere. And that must not be too far off, because I start to break a sweat under my trench and around the collar.
. . .
By the time I get to 716 Templer I’ve just about had it for making snow angels on my ass. I packed everything except suitable footwear. Damn near broke my back in a tumble by the reservoir.
On Templer it’s quiet – ominously quiet, but the front door’s ajar and there’s a mess of fresh wet and sticky footprints running up and down the stairs inside. I’ll bet that’s the first clean spill in over thirty years. I truck up the three flights again and return to Three C; only this time it’s already open.
Inside I find what I don’t expect – at least, not exactly. Ez is slumped over in her recliner. The only thing more purple than the scarf around her neck are the ligature marks underneath it. Handy job. She was so intoxicated she probably didn’t even scream.
But the landlady does – so loud, in fact, that for a minute even I feel like the killer. I turn to see a skinny little waif, shivering at the sight of me. Even flashing my detective’s badge doesn’t seem to calm her down. At least I know she won’t bolt like a pony whose livelihood’s been laid on the chopping block.
“How did it happen?” she asks with a gasp that tells me she’s had onions and garlic for breakfast.
“Don’t know,” I honestly say, “why did you come in?”
“It’s Thursday…” the landlady explains, “Rent’s due.”
“Well you better consider hers paid in full,” I suggest, “Oh, and call the cops when you’re back in one piece again.”
I’m out before she can ask too many questions. No sense in having the boys in blue do a tail job. My hands are clean.
. . .
It isn’t until I get to the library that I realize my snap assessment isn’t entirely true. There’s a faint hint of perfume on my fingertips. I’ve smelled that stuff before, only not at Ez’s apartment. Marysol wears that brand.
. . .
If you’ve never been to the New York Public Library, it’s an adventure not to be missed. After walking past a pair of stoic lions, you get the feeling that all of life’s secrets are just beyond the front doors…and you’re not far wrong. The guy who coined the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ must’a been a card-carrying member of this place. I swear I could find where they buried Hoffa in the stacks, given enough time and a crotchety spinster-librarian, like the one sitting behind the front desk, as my guide and companion. But why mention dried prunes when there’s a perfect little plume waiting on Park Avenue.
“Where would I go for business ledgers?” I ask the fat girl working behind the information desk.
She seems generally disinterested in my request, but her shapely coworker develops a quiet passion for any merger and holdings I might suggest.
“Developer?” Shapely asks.
“We’ll see,” I hint, “Why not banker…Wall Street?”
Shapely uses the eraser on the tip of her pencil as a pointer.
“Not in those shoes.”
She smart. I like her.
“Name’s Mars. I’m a private dick working a case.”
“Mine’s Cherlee. Tell me, Mr. Mars, do you think research is a good profession?”
“Only if you wanna wind up looking like your friend,” I suggest, “or that prune behind the front desk.”
“That prune happens to be my mother.”
I’ve stepped on a toe and given us both hang nail. But I’ve still got a leg to stand on and enough space between my molars for the other foot.
“You’re much too lovely to follow in her footsteps,” I suggest.
“I wanted to be a dancer,” Cherlee confides, leading me to a stairwell “Only my best work’s off stage.”
“How much for a private lesson?”
“How much you’re willing to pay.”
Cherlee pauses for a moment to adjust her hemline for my approval. I approve, but try not to show it.
“Yeah, I can see it would,” I tell her, “You may wanna consider getting your kicks some other way…like showing me where I can get my hands on the information I asked for.”
She smiles – that sly and precocious grin that says she knows she could have me her way if she wanted, and without cracking the slide ruler. Yep, Cherlee’s quite a gal. Stacked like pancakes in syrup and twice as fatal for any love affair bordering on the diabetic.
I’m led downstairs to the morgue where records collect like dust balls. It’s tight down there, enough to get friendly real fast with any figure that might jump out…and one does. Hemmingway’s been acquiring properties on the lower east side…and something else: he’s managed to pump enough cash into something called The Menendez Foundation – a charity that makes Bolivia’s gross national debt look like chump change.
Cute and lovely can see I’ve lost my passing interest in her. Assessing me the book worm, Cherlee says she’ll be back - then disappears for a few hours above board – leaving me to conduct my research. Smart girl. Stay just long enough to make an impression.
I like her. She gives ‘service industry’ a whole new meaning.
The lights in the basement suddenly flicker then dim. A battery operated security spot kicks in, casting long shadows across the floor. But for the first time, I don’t feel I’m alone.
Down one of those long narrow passages something or someone is moving – slowly, but moving nevertheless. I slip between the stacks, waiting for whoever to show themselves – only they don’t.
“Mr. Mars,” I hear Cherlee call from the top of the stairwell.
Why did she have to say my name?
“Mr. Mars,” she repeats, louder than the first time, “The power’s gone out.”
Yeah, angel, I think to myself, I’m glad you told me. I thought I had glaucoma. I suppose I could take on the role of the diplomat and wait for whoever’s playing cat and mouse to show as the cheese but I’ve never been that corrupt with my bait.
Pulling myself up by a bar at the top of the nearest shelving unit, I raise my legs to my chest and give the stacks a good strong kick. The thin steel plates break apart and a domino effect begins. It’s a deafening series of shudders that echo like rolling thunder throughout the basement. About seven isles down I think I hear my mystery guest get it in the neck, only I can’t be certain until the last of the dead relics buckle at the end of the room, flooding the floor with rare antiquities, documents and old records that haven’t seen this much excitement since Madame Curie first discovered Uranium. Cherlee appears with a flashlight in hand to take inventory of the aftermath.
“Mr. Mars!” she declares, “What happened?”
“Bad shelving,” I explain.
I leave Cherlee to assess the damage, crawling over the mangled remnants of steel until I feel something soft beneath my feet. Tossing back a few dozen books, the body of Cynthia McGlaghin comes into view her paralyzed stare leaving no doubt that her lending card’s been permanently revoked.
“The cheese stands alone,” I mutter to myself.
. . .
I get back to Park Avenue around four-thirty. By then the snow’s tapered off to a slow drizzle. I can tell from the get-go that the doorman’s got a grudge but he lets me pass just the same. I take the elevator upstairs and almost knock on the door, when I hear a familiar voice growing louder from the inside. Finding a safe corner, I wait to see my competition. The door opens and out steps Jock Hemmingway.
“Goodbye, my dear,” he tells Mico, a peck on the forehead leaving his mark.
“Goodbye dad,” Mico replies.
Well, I’ll be a son of a…
“I can’t understand it,” Hemmingway offers, “Your sister said she’d be here after she finished doing some research at the library.”
“Well,” Mico offers, “Something came up.”
“Yes,” Hemmingway suggests, “Something always does with that girl. I’ll tell her to call you tonight.”
They kiss again, like a dutiful patriarch and his favorite child: so normal, so not like the killers they are. Only now, I belong to their set. One in, one out; a real hit at the family Christmas party.
I wait patiently at my distance until Hemmingway’s in the elevator and half way down before returning to my most dangerous game, my paradise lost.
...get your bookmark ready for the next chapter.
EDDIE MARS will return in his next thrilling installment,
"I Remember Mama" on JUNE 2, 2006.
@ Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).