ADVENTURE THE 14TH: BAND PRACTICE
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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 14th: Band Practice
I awoke with a throb, tied in a bundle on that ‘once’ blissful bed of joy with a Texas-size headache. After a few blurry minutes, there’s not much I see that I didn’t expect. The roster never seems to change, but tonight they’re overdressed for the occasion. I make eye contact with Mico first, seated on a chair near her dressing table. Funny, she still looks as though she cares. She’s good – very good.
Only a few feet away is my ol’ pal, Jock Hemmingway – overcoat slung over the shoulder of a very expensive tux and still looking fairly cheap and dirty. He’s brought a new set of friends – a trio of goons, straight out’a ‘Goonville.’ The first, a tall and manicured statue, listens intently to Jock’s instructions. It’s probably the only way anything gets through that dull head of his. The second is a poster child for steroid abuse, his girth barely contained inside its stretched wool Jimmy Dean casing. Number three doesn’t make an impression one way of the other. In fact, he looks more like an accountant than a killer. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear these guys had a college or, at the very least, a union.
The tall ugly Pit Bull with the Hitler youth haircut is the first to notice that I’m no longer in a state of forced grace. He alerts his boss with a polite tap on the shoulder – probably the most careful he’s ever been at getting somebody’s attention.
“Good morning, Mr. Mars,” Hemmingway greets, “Or is it afternoon?”
He’s playing with me. I take a quick look out the window. It’s already dark – probably sixish and with a heavy rain falling.
“I’d say thanks for the rest, only I’m a little tied up just now,” I tell him.
He seems pleased that I’ve lost none of my sense of humor. When he’s close enough that I can smell him, Hemmingway grabs me by the back of my head to reveal his handy men’s souvenir bump.
“My, my…” he teases, “You certainly bruise easily. Just like a banana.”
“Handle with care,” I suggest.
“Ah well,” Hemmingway replies, “Time flies when you’re avenging the one’s you love.”
“That’s a short list,” I say.
“Indeed. You’ve made it even shorter.”
Hemmingway’s entire manner sours. He motions for Mico who obeys him without a sound. I wonder what his secret is for taming the wild cat. Maybe it’s no secret. Just good ol’ fashioned intimidation.
“My dear,” he says, taking her under the arm and drawing her close to the bed, “Meet the man who murdered your sister.”
So there it is; the truth – the release of that unholy surprise. It can’t be dissolved in a block of cement or pissed away with forty-ounces. Mico studies me as though we’re being introduced for the first time – panged, glassy-eyed, almost levitating in slow motion as she leans in for a big close up. I could reach out and bite her on the nose, and I’d do it if I thought that blunt sting would wipe out the one she’s carrying in her heart. Then, I get her genuine reaction.
“Son of a bitch!”
She takes to using me for a piñata – haphazardly lashing out like a Tabby about to be thrust into the flea bath. It’s pathetic and it doesn’t hurt one bit, although she does nearly poke my left eye out at least once. Daddy lets her get it all out of her system. Only when her hits turn to sobs does he slowly pry her off with a “there, there, my dear.”
Another nod from Hemmingway gets the attention of goon number two, the muscle bound menace with a neck the size of my thigh. He escorts Mico from the room.
“I’m afraid the vote is unanimous,” Hemmingway tells me, “You’ve outlived your usefulness.”
“There’s a lot of us who have,” I reason.
Hemmingway turns to his two other ‘friends.’
“Wait fifteen minutes. Give us enough time to get to the theater,” he explains, “Make sure the doorman sees you exit, then make your way back and kill him.”
“What is the appropriate music to die by?” I interrupt.
My quip seems to amuse Hemmingway. He grins from ear to ear.
“Not that you’d know the difference,” he explains, “But Tchaikovsky’s number six is going out with a hell of a bang tonight. I’d say adieu, Mr. Mars…but goodbye seems more fitting.”
He really means it this time. No questions, no answers. I get the distinct hint I’ve over played my last hand even before I decide to.
“What about the list?” I say.
“Oh, I shall have it, Mr. Mars…” Hemmingway explains, “Tonight.”
And just like that he’s gone. ‘Tall and Turbulent’ give me the once over like a pair of granite gargoyles getting ready to pounce. I figure I’ve got fifteen minutes before it’s all over.
. . .
Those fifteen seem like hours. With Tweedle-Dee and Dumb eyeballing me from the other side of the room I feel like a public spectacle getting set for my own execution. I decide to play it out in silence. The accountant-type has this sick little grin plastered across his pasty puss; a circus freak about to swallow his own tongue. Nazi boy seems to have more sinister thoughts brewing beneath that blond sugar bowl haircut.
“Time,” the accountant says.
“Yep,” his accomplice agrees.
Great conversationalists. The two methodically rise from their chairs, turn in unison and exit the room. The elevators in this building are a model of efficient engineering. I’ve got may ten minutes now before I go out like a flash at Mardi Gras. But I can’t move. The sailor who tied me up sure knew his knots. I use my body weight to bounce a bit on the bed covers but it’s no use; serves me right for not packing my other suit with the cape and big ‘S’ on its chest.
Then suddenly I feel a jab in my back that brings me from ‘point anxiety’. I feel around with my fingers, tracing the contours of a sharp thin metal object that’s been strategically placed for my escape. It’s a file…a woman’s nail file, and it hits me…Mico. She’s good alright…better than I’d expected and she’s still on my side. Probably better than I deserve. But my admiration’ll have to keep.
I can hear the first set of elevator doors open.
Sliding the tip of the file between my index finger and thumb, I start digging into the rope binding my wrists, missing my target a couple of times and feeling the blade stick in my soft flesh instead. Have to be more careful or I’ll bleed to death and beat the boys to their punch.
To my surprise, the chord isn’t as thick as it feels. I slice through the first bit and get some leverage with the rest of my fist, digging deep into the knot and keeping my hands tied behind my back. With another couple of jabs I’m able to free my left.
I’m making good time when I suddenly hear the elevator doors open again. It can’t be! If that’s fifteen minutes my name is Rolex. A few heavy footsteps grow louder from the hall. The door to the bedroom swings open. Billy Hitler has come back for his hat.
I stay perfectly still, watching him watch me – hoping to hell that he’s not smart enough to notice the little pool of blood dampening the white spread under my butt. But he’s got more neurons firing all at once than I gave him credit for. Picking up his derby, he approaches.
I’m not ready for him but I’ll have to be or die trying. He’s got this queer sort of expressionless paralyzed fixation on an imaginary bull’s eye in the center of my face. For a minute, I think he’s going to bust me one on the cheek. Then, I get the surprise of my life as he leans in and uses the nub of his tongue to lick the tip of my nose.
I don’t confuse easily, but I guess I hide it less than well this time, because he suddenly lights up like a school boy who just figured out what his Johnson’s good for. He lets out this cockeyed crooked laugh, the wrinkles in his cheek tickling his eye brows.
Time for your surprise, big boy.
I take the file tightly in my fist and drill it into his left eye. I know I’ve hit through to what’s left of that brain because this guy begins to do a Funky Chicken as I break the file tip off in his socket. He blindly reaches for my throat, but he’s losing ground fast and I don’t have much trouble prying those cold meaty mitts off of me. I struggle with his awkward flailing as he goes limp and heavy in my arms, the last low sustained booming noises gargling up from inside a hollow chest. Then, he’s gone.
I slide his dead weight to the floor and finish untying my legs. By the time I’ve freed myself, he’s left a big crimson puddle at the foot of the bed. I don’t care how well built this place is. It won’t be long before the tenant below starts getting trails on his pillow.
I take Gary Gestapo’s gun for my own, kill the lights and wait behind a couch in the living room for ‘Useless Number Two to come around for a little target practice. I’m so sure that I’ve thought of all the angles, I don’t stop to take the obvious into consideration; maybe Dead-Head has been in the room all along.
I suddenly feel a telephone cord wrap around my neck from behind.
Dropping the gun on the floor as the wire cuts into my apple – I feel dizzying unconsciousness gaining. We wrestle like a couple of floundering fish out of water. I’ll say this for Hemmingway’s stooges – they play for keeps and this one’s got more stamina than I pegged him for. But I’ve still got the other half of the nail file in my breast pocket and I thrust its blunt broken tip between the bones and cartilage of his right knee cap, feeling the grip on the cord loosen around my neck as he buckles in pain.
That’s all the advantage I need. That and a couple of well placed bullets. It’s over in a flash and I’m glad, because I only had a hint more of stored energy left to spend. I’ve left a hell of a mess for housekeeping to discover and a trail as down and dirty as any Mafia chieftain looking to change the old guard before closing time. My neck feels like a giraffe’s – long and stretched. Maybe it won’t stain for good, I think, feeling the ligatures with my finger tips. Maybe I won’t either.
THE END...not quite.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure:
The Curtain Goes Down
on July 23, 2006.
@ Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).