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, January 26, 2006

ADVENTURE, THE 3RD: BATE AND SWITCH


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 3rd – Bate and Switch

A couple of blues came by the apartment within the hour. I wonder what took them so long. The cat certainly didn’t waste her time purring to the police. Now, I know plenty of guys, even in my line of work, who choke like salmon on the hook when the call comes down. Me…I couldn’t care less. It’s not bravery. More like insolence working overtime.

So, I take my time getting dressed and even find it in me to offer Officers Tweedle-Dee and Dumb a drink, grab my hat and coat and lock the place up, just in case Mrs. Menendez gets the urge to come back.

We go through the motions – just three tough guys out for a ride. It’s quiet and edgy with the fellas pretending to be more interested in the world coasting by, but not really.

“Where’s Malory?” I ask the heavy set one as we pull up to the precinct.

No reply. Not that I expected one.

“Hey, Costello, you must be a conversationalist,” I prod.

“Zip it,” I’m told by his skinny partner.

So we go through the motions some more. I walk between them like I’ve something to hide, which isn’t far off.

Out of boredom I size up my guides. Skinny’s no problem. Even with his gun strapped to his holster he’s less than a hundred in change. But Rolly’s got some stamina underneath all that girth; probably an ex-linebacker, drill sergeant or bouncer. He’s an ex-something or other because no guy with his hidden talents takes up the shield unless it’s as a last resort.

My pair march me into a nice little interrogation room – padded walls, two-way glass, bright light burning across my forehead, everything to make a Nazi feel right at home.

“You wanna tell us about the Menendez job?” the thin man asks.
“Only if you wanna tell me where you bought that tie.”
“Listen tough guy…” the fat one starts in.

I do a double take and some mugging for the boys on the other side of the glass and point to fatso with my fist in a gun motion. I know they’re there and they’ll appreciate it.

“It talks,” I say.
“Look it,” I’m told by the thin man, “We got a witness, see?”
“Yeah? And I got an alibi, see?”
“Just who might that be?”
“Where’s Malory?”

And this time I get me some service. The door swings open and in comes my old pal.

“Alright fellas,” Malory tells them, “I’ve got it.”
“Well, it’s about time. You should know better.”
“So should you.”

He’s right. I never learn from my mistakes. Keep makin’ the same ones over and over again, like I was dropped on my head at birth. Maybe I’m idiot but I doubt it. I just prefer doing things my own way and to hell with the rest.

“Suppose you tell us about Menendez,” Malory says.

He straddles the metal chair across from me, resting those big burly forearms rolled up tight in a pair of shirtsleeves that need a good pressing. His wife ought’a know how. She runs the local cleaners. He’s thinned out a bit. Must be all those late night coffee and cigarette dinners. And he’s careworn. Wonder what’s eatin’ him from the inside out.

“Well?” he prods.
“Suppose I tell you about his wife,” I say.

I can see daylight beginning to glimmer behind those hard-boiled eyes. Even fat and skinny get a clue. They lean in as I make up their minds.

“Suppose you do then,” says Malory.

So I do - in Technicolor. When it’s over I can see I’ve downgraded the opinion left behind by her testimony from a tropical storm to a thunder shower.

“You should have reported it,” Malory tells me.
“Highly irregular,” skinny chimes in.
“Yeah, so’s my bowel movements when I’m nervous,” I explain.
“And are you?” asks Malory.
“Am I what?”
“Nervous?”
“Only on days ending in ‘y’,” I quip.

The stooges three make their exchanges in binary mental telepathy before deciding on the obvious course of action.

“That’s all for now,” Malory officially concludes.

I grab my overcoat and hat.

“Say, you guys should do Vaudeville,” I tease.
“What do you mean?” Malory inquires.
“Don’t let’s cut off my head with an ax and tell me it’s a shave,” I tell him, all show and flash, “Outside of fifteen minutes one of these will be tailing me around town to see if my story checks out.”
“Routine,” Malory explains with a grin.
“Ah, but why am I so special?” I ask.
So he tells me with a sickening grin, “Because you’re made for it, Mars.”

. . .

I need a drink. I leave the precinct on foot and head for the Vanity Club; a real swinging spot where anyone can get lost with just the right amount of gin poured into them. A block away from the club the beat of hot jazz begins to pulsate under my feet. I’m all set to follow it into a stupor when who do I see getting out’a a cab but my double-crossing love affair. It seems great minds…or at least corrupt ones…think alike.

She’s got that ‘class look’ working for her again, and this time she’s not alone. I let her move into her comfort zone so I can get a better look at my competition. Another pug, where does she find them? This one’s uglier than her husband; shorter too. But he’s got very deep pockets because I don’t know anyone who slips a cabbie fifty for a ten and then doesn’t hold out for his change. Mrs. Menendez and her boyfriend go into the club unnoticed. I follow close, just not too close. I want to see more.

It’s a real crazy joint tonight, full of the best and worst that money can buy, hobnobbing like the world’s their oyster and the rest of us ought’a be allergic to shell fish. I’ve never seen so many people trying so hard to have a good time. In all this glitter the not-so-famous stick out like tarnished silver.

There’s our governor with his latest mistress, taking in the scenery while being taken by it. After last year’s scandal you’d think he’d learn. I suppose the spirit of his second inaugural was love, unlike the spirit of his first which was distilled unadulterated corruption. There’s a couple of married businessmen out with their pair of rentals for the evening; good fodder for anyone who’s inclined to blackmail. But my money’s on the nifty little underage thing twisting every last bit inside out on the dance floor with some guy who’s much too old to be her father and way too peppy to be grandpa.

After another fifty, this one stuffed into the breast pocket of the head waiter, Mrs. Menendez and her beau take up a cozy little half circle as far away from the band as possible. I take my usual at the bar, the half way point between both ends of the club and order myself two drinks. I’m expecting company and it isn’t long before he shows up.

“Is that scotch and soda?” Malory asks.
“Uh-huh.”

He drinks it down and orders another.
“You put on quite a show for my boys,” says Malory.
“You get your money’s worth,” I say, tossing my head in the direction of Mrs. Menendez’s booth, “Take a look at the far end.”

So he does, but he misses. His needle gets stuck on some trashy-cute blonde about six tables down, gazing our way despite the fact that she’s with a gorilla who wouldn’t think twice about leaving her in a dumpster if he had a mind to.

“Not bad.”
“You must me far-sighted” I say, drawing Malory’s attention with my own aimed further down the line.

He stiffens at the sight of Mrs. Menendez. She has that affect on all the guys.

“How’s her alibi holdin’ up now?” I ask.
“Not so good.”
“Why? Who’s she with?”

Malory takes a second, more obvious glance.

“You mean you don’t know?”
“I haven’t your aptitude for collecting rubbish.”
“Name’s Jock Hemmingway.”
“Is that supposed to mean something?”
“Only if you’re into stocks.”
“So what’s he doing with…”

But before I can finish my sentence there’s a quiet disturbance on the dance floor that catches most everyone’s attentions. Seems the Junior Miss I pegged at the start has decided she doesn’t like white whiskers in her root beer. By the time we join into the collective stare grandpa’s already given her a couple good smacks and sent one of her gold earrings sailing across the room.

“Let me go, you son of a bitch!”

She’s angry now, and making a scene worthy of the cheap pulp novella about a woman scored: great theater and a pack of lies. Nobody gets that frustrated the first time out.

“You realize I’m going to have to break it up,” Malory explains.
“So who’s stoppin’ you?”

Grandpa takes another swing at his playmate, but this time a swarthy looking mongrel to his left decides to be chivalrous. The two get into it fast, but it’s hardly a brawl. Grandpa pitches like a girl. While the rest of the crowd is focused on the floor show I turn and face Marysol. Our eyes lock on auto-track and I can tell she knows what I know.

Now comes the surprise. Grandpa pulls a tiny little piece he’s been hiding inside the breast pocket of his top coat and he and the mongrel wrestle until it goes off, narrowly missing a trumpeter’s ear on the stage. Some dame screams. Some dame always does. The crowd stands up, blocking my view. By the time Malory steps in to break it up for good, Marysol and Jock have vanished into thin air.

The End?...not by a long shot.
Eddie Mars will return Feb. 3, 2006 in his next adventure: "Research."

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Friday, January 13, 2006

ADVENTURE, THE 2ND: MEETING MARYSOL


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 the reader of 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 this confusion is not an option – no one coming to the series late or even 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’, 2nd and so on - 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 2nd: Meeting Marysol


Funny how your life catches up to you when you least expect it. I was nursing the tail of a cold with some day-old fish and chips that tasted like sandpaper, when I decided to refresh my cooler with some liquid protein. It had been one of those lazy afternoons, hot and with the distemper of gritty sweat pasting my cotton undershirt like cellophane. The room seemed smaller, the heat filling up and pressing down like a thumb tack. I had to get out of that crumby apartment, at least for an hour or two and get me a drink. That was where the trouble started.

I went to Sam’s. Everybody does. Every guy living on Mark Street who wants to get away from his wife or that clingy bit of leftover he picked out of the gutter last night but hopes to hell no one saw him with…or maybe just to escape the oppression of that heat…whew, like an anvil. Sam’s is a place where forgetting life at large is a blessing, the miserable smallness of it all; where nobody wants to know your name because the empathy to cast off yesterday and tomorrow and just exist in a vacuum is the mantra equally and liberally applied to all who enter Shangri-La at the bottom of a whiskey sour. Sam’s.

A quarter to five – rush hour for the afternoon lush. I find a careworn booth in the corner that I’ve never sat in before and after ordering my pleasure, I slump back in my seat to let the cool blast of window air conditioner tickle.

“Hello,” she said, handing me my drink and sitting across the table before I can tell her to beat it.

I take a look – a good one.

“Uh…” I muse sardonically, “Either Sam’s made some changes or the trade’s definitely improving.”

She looked familiar in an unfamiliar sort of way, her wavy brown bob teasing like her collar, the top button undone, making the rest of her blouse stand away just enough to draw attention to those two hidden talents underneath.

“Have we met?” I ask.

She nods with a smile.
Curious, because I feel we have too.

“I could write your biography,” she tells me.
“Well I wouldn’t advise it,” I add playfully, “You see my only curiosity in life is how I’ll be viewed ten years after my death in a book written by somebody who never met me.”
“Drink your drink,” she says, tipping her glass in my honor before taking a few light sips from the rim.

Class all the way.

“I’ll drink when I’m ready,” I reply, leaning into the table and unbuttoning the top button on my shirt to show I approve.

“I’d like to see more,” she coos.
“I’ll bet you would.”

She smiles again, only this time it’s as though she knows more than I do. I hate smart ass broads. They’re never as intelligent as they think.

“I meant the view,” she explains, “You’re blocking it.”

I lean back in my seat.

“You don’t remember me,” she says with a hint of disappointment.

“Should I?”
“I suppose not. Only I remember you.”
“Where from?”
“448 Laurel Terrace.”

And suddenly, she connects - like the impact of a semi on black ice – the sultry babe with the cigarette. She looked different in the daylight somehow - less willing.

“This isn’t coincidence,” I suggest.
“Let’s just say, it’s kismet.”

With that teaser, she takes hers straight without even a flutter of eyelash.

“What’s your story?”
“No, Mr. Mars,” her tone growing more mature than her years, “That’s my question. You see when someone pretends to be on the side of justice and then goes to great lengths to cover up a crime I have to question where his loyalties lie. That is, unless you killed Tony.”

“He was dead when I found him.”

“Will that be all, sir,” a waiter interrupts.

“Go away,” I snap.
“My,” the gal with all the answers replies, “we are in a mood.”

“If I was in a mood you’d know it,” I explain.

She looks at me as though she were studying a text book. But I’m a speed reader too and this one reads like a cheap novella. There isn’t one thing about her that’s genuine, not one gesture unrehearsed or that didn’t have at least a hundred ulterior motives.

“I believe you would,” she softly coos, then with the stinging command of a whip, “Waiter. Another.”

He comes back, but with apprehension attached this time, taking her glass away and reappearing only moments later with another. When I was sure he’s out of earshot I lean into the table again.

“Who are you really?”
“Writing a bio too?”
“No, just curious.”
“How nice for you,” she teases cynically, “Where should I start?”
“Skip the baby pictures and the story about how your great grandmother stepped off the Mayflower with a cob of corn. What’s your name?”

“Marysol.”

She stops just short of giving out with the rest, reaching into her purse for her cigarette case and lighter instead. Poor kid, I suppose she can’t walk and chew gum at the same time either.

“Does it come with a chaser?” I prod.

“Menendez,” she states.

So there it was. Marysol Menendez. The pieces in place, like a jigsaw for preschoolers – all except one.

“Maybe I should ask the questions from this point on,” I say.
“Maybe you should,” she insolently replies, “What do you want to know?”

The book’s still open, only now I’m the one leafing through the chapters.

“You kill Tony?” I ask.

Marysol let out a tiny gurgle of a laugh.

“What’s so funny?”
“You are. You think I’d go through all the trouble of having you see me on that street corner? That’s a motive hand delivered.”
“You’re a woman scorned.” I offer to another tight laugh.

She shakes her head with emphatic disappointment for what she thinks is short-sightedness. I haven’t seen a look like that since my mother caught me with my first pack of Lucky’s.

“Put away your Shakespeare, Mr. Mars. I’m a 20th century gal.”

“So enlighten me,” I suggest.
And so she does.

“Tony and I were a couple on paper only. He admired my figure. I liked his wallet.”

“And the big goomba was alright with that?”

“There isn’t much that money can’t buy,” Marysol explains, “I met him at one of those places where everybody meets someone they’d later like to forget. We had some fun. I thought I’d never see him again.”

“So what happened?”

“Six months later he proposed.”
“Just like that?”
“No, Mr. Mars. With a knife in his back and a baby on the way.”
“What happened to the kid?”

She draws in a deep cloud of gray into those buxom lungs, holding it in until her eyes haze over like a veneer of frosted glass.

“What happens when the mother to be decides she’d rather keep her figure than her child.”

Oh, she was hard for sure, if not hard to get. Killing herself with the weed was one thing. Killing something that didn’t ask to be spawned is another.

“Then what?” I push on.
After all, there’s gotta be a point to why she’s telling me this – even a misguided one.

“I made sure it could never happen again,” Marysol explains, “Tony figured it wasn’t meant to be. But after a while he wasn’t coming home at nights. I’m not simple. I could figure out why. It didn’t bore me none either. Girls came and went. But I stuck it out. I figured eventually syphilis or sentiment would catch up to him and that’d be it.”

“Why follow him to the beach house.”
“Curiosity,” she mused, “What were you doing there?”
“I have my reasons.”

She laughed.

“I’ll bet you have. Does she have a name?”
“You ought’a know.”

But Marysol just shakes her head. She does it so well. She ought’a get plenty of mileage out’a that one gesture. It says come here and get lost all at once.

“There are some things I’d rather not,” she says, sort of quiet and with great sadness attached, “As long as I can’t place the name to the face, it doesn’t seem to matter. She’s Jane Doe – every girl - and I’m able to hate them all.”

“Instead of hating just one?”
“Nobody could stand it.”

I give my sloped shoulders a relaxed shrug.

“I’m holding out alright.”

The Cheshire grin returns to her cheeks.

“I don’t hate you, Eddie.”
“Then why go to all the trouble of following your husband?”

“Confirmation, I suppose,” she said somewhat wearily, “See, it’s one thing to suspect what everyone else is whispering in your ear. Oh, maybe a hooker. A dancer. Some tart who makes a career out of bouncing on a man’s knee. But a steady? I had to know.”

“Then you already do.”
“It isn’t easy to give up, Mr. Mars.”
“Isn’t it?”

She leans in and for the first time I can read into those tracks of tragic careworn reflection that only a woman in love leaves herself open to.

“Is it?” she asks.
“Let’s get the check and find out,” I say.

. . .

She wasn’t much in the sack and probably knew it, but that didn’t stop her from making every attempt at being eager to please. By late evening the heat had dissipated in my apartment and without much effort or regret after the fact, Marysol rolled over and went to sleep.

It had been some time since I let myself get taken advantage of, and that’s exactly what I had done. She wasn’t interested in me or even sex. I wasn’t even the temporary diversion – just a quick fix to prove to herself that someone still found her desirable, even at the most basic level. Maybe I had helped there, but I doubted it. Those kind are always needy.

Having no further need to mull over the afternoon’s events, I turned my back to shut out her immediate memory and closed my eyes.

. . .

I slept longer than I wanted to, longer than I should have. The clock on the desk glowed dingy green - nearly eleven-thirty. I stretched a cautious foot across the other side of the crumpled bed covers. But Marysol wasn’t there. In fact, she wasn’t in the apartment. Thank God.

My desk drawer was open. My cabinets had the once over. The game worked. Get to me to get to my files…or so she thought. I hope she found what she was looking for. I certainly had no intention of getting back to basics with her again.

THE END…not for long…
Eddie Mars will return JAN. 27, 2006
in Adventure the 3rd: Bate and Switch.


@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Sunday, January 08, 2006

ADVENTURE THE FIRST: AS DARKNESS FALLS



So, there I was, out on the usual. For me it was easy, or I should say, at least, common. Daddy’s little girl hooking up with a guy with long dirty fingernails and lots of cash. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Still, as I rounded the corner with my forty-eight feeling snug against my side I could sense somehow that this one was going to be different. I couldn’t put my finger on it then. I still can’t find the words to square it away now. But that night, all thick and misty, with that unexpected chill rolling off the water like the cold touch of a gal you know'll do you wrong the moment your back's turned, I just knew I was in for the long haul.

I parked alongside a fire hydrant that looked as though it had seen better days. Granted, not the most conspicuous place to pause if you’re worried about a ticket, but who’s worried? Especially since I’m not going very far.

Positioning myself on a steel and wood bench overlooking the rooms of the idle rich I could see enough through the fog; lights flickering, then dimming inside 448 Laurel Terrace; daddy’s girl probably getting ready to tie one on with Tony Menendez - Jangles to his buddies, because he liked to jab a set of customized car keys into the throats of all who had done him wrong…for sentimental reasons.

The story goes that this particular set once belonged to a woman named Mavis Caswell, a certain perfumed feline shaking her tail in a seedy cabaret on the west end. Anyway, Jangles liked what he saw because he sequestered that slinky cat for some private lessons. Only she wasn’t the kind to kiss n’ tell or charge by the hour. Especially when there had been so many to talk about before Tony slipped in for his chaser.

Tony was good natured at first – after all, no use blaming any broad for what she’s done before tickling your fancy. But that’s not how Tony saw it. And Mav’ wasn’t into monogamy. Anything that girl couldn’t spell she didn’t follow, and Mav’ never went beyond the third grade.

So when Tony came home one night and found her rattling somebody else’s cage he decided to take matters into his own hands. He strangled Mavis’ lover right in front of her, then sent him sailing with a couple pounds of cement tied around the ankles – just so he wouldn’t get lost on the way down to Davie Jones' locker.

Mav’s sittin’ there, terrified in her scanties and thinkin’ she’s set for the second pair of pavement pumps. Now, I don't know much about women. I doubt any many ever does. But Mav doesn't sound too bright to me. Because Tony's gone for nearly an hour and what does she do? Nothin'! I mean she doesn't even crawl out'a bed to put something on; looking all puffy-eyed and plucked like a harp when Tony gets back in his blood-soaked shirt. After a few pensive moments, Tony begins to act like all’s forgiven - and Mav’…she buys into it.

He makes with a smile and does what he wants. She lets him too, but does only what she has to. Knowin’ Tony as I do that’s probably everything and then some. Afterward Mav’s in the shower scouring the rest of pug ugly off her with a loufa when Tony suddenly comes up from behind. She thinks she’s in for round two, but actually it's time for the knockout. Tony takes the keys to her car, pulls her head back nice and tight so the water’s hitting her right in the gullet and gives her a homemade tracheotomy.

Well, that’s the story. Since Mav's body never turned up you might as well call it a rumor. The only reason we know Mav' Caswell existed at all is because of Tony. He likes to brag. Mav' his a personal fav' of Tony's. In his line of business I suppose it helps to spread around such free samples. It says, 'I did it to her and I can do it to you', to the competition. You can't buy publicity like that. You also can't manufacture it. So it's probably true.

But tonight Tony’s got a new plaything: Carolyn Trent; nicely packed - that kit. Beveled in all the right places and with as little mind to give a damn about anyone else’s worries except her own. Shrewd, cynical and whacked out of her head for all the wrong guys, she’s Tony’s match in every way. I’m surprised he didn’t get to her sooner, what with old man Trent’s illegal bookmaking barely a thing of the past.

The Trent’s live like their old money, except they’re not. They’re not even second generation. Carolyn’s gran’pappy was a drunken wife beater who couldn’t find gold if it were yellow and growing out of the fillings in his teeth. Her father, Michael was the product of a rejected fling with somebody else’s mother. But ol’ Mike had a head on his shoulders bigger than the one between his thighs. He ran guns to Cuba for a while, jumped ship into narcotics smuggling, then buried himself neck deep in some plush racketeering that saw out the fifties with Bugsy and his boys. The guy’s got enough money to build a sandcastle in Spain and use real sand.

Me? I loathe the rich. I don’t suppose I’d care for them any more if I were the one sitting next to Carolyn and her cash cow at the country club or wasting my time with some thimble-headed socialite who though dictation was an S&M trip. No, I like the honest buck, the one that comes from knowing you paid for every cent with the sweat of your brow. It’s a good feeling going home at night an’ realizin' there are no hidden fees waiting inside your apartment to collect with a couple of baseball bats. Evidently, Carolyn Trent doesn’t share in my wisdom. She’s into danger, and right now danger is getting ready to bed down with her for the night.

448 Laurel Terrace; big brick and stone place with a garage the size of most corner drug stores. Nice work if you can get it and Tony’s got it and Carolyn’s got Tony. It all works out neatly for the stock and trade that’s so stained under their clean white collars that not even a bathtub filled with bleach could scour them clean. But Tony Menendez? The only smart thing that hood ever did was plant his hacienda across the street from a park bench under a burnt street lamp – ideal for my ‘bird’ watching.

As I sit there admiring the shrubbery and light my cigarette I can see vague shadows rubbing up against the walls inside Carolyn's place. From one window to the next, with his hands in all the right spots and her head cocked back like a shotgun about to go off. In fact, I’m so in tune with what’s happening behind closed doors that I forget to have a look-see at what’s taking place right under my own nose.

“Good evening,” she says.
“For what?” I ask her.

But then I get a better look and suddenly the night’s improving. She’s cut like a diamond, a real flash of culture on this otherwise bankrupt corner. I didn’t even see her coming.

“May I” she says, pointing to my lighter.
“Sure.”

I even flick it for her to keep those shiny red fingernails from getting cracked.

“Thank you,” she says.

And off she goes, the click of her patent leather heels echoing along the damp cobblestone until I think I can still hear her even after I know she’s gone. That’s class.

I’m still thinking about her an hour later, long after lights out at the Menendez place. I don’t have to guess what they're doing. I can smell it from the curb, as thick and heavy as the fog is right now. I can barely see the front door of 448 but I know it's there. And it’s a good thing too, because suddenly there’s a scream that jerks me from my complacency. It’s followed by a bright flicker of light in the upstairs window and three quick shots startling the German Sheppard tied up next door.

I rush up, gun drawn, with plans to kick in the front door, but decide to give my left the night off when I spot an open window leading into the living room. Inside it’s black, like the whole place was dipped in axel grease. I fumble for a switch but stop myself when I hear the sound of clumsy footsteps coming my way. I think I’m in the hall because I can feel the edge of a banister leading upstairs.

I hold my breath. The footsteps stop.

Whoever’s there isn’t exactly in a hurry to leave. If they were, I’d already have a slug in me – two if he’s a good shot.

“Who’s there?” I call out, my forty-eight aimed for an upward shot.

But I don’t get an answer and that makes me mad. I decide to reach back for the light switch. On the count of three then,…one…two…

There she stands, Carolyn Trent. The flood of light startles us both, but I’m quick to recover. She just stands there, her soft naked body pressed so tightly against the wall she’s going to leave wallpaper stripes down her back. I look her over, once for the record, then once more slowly…just for me. Even with her hair all disheveled, tear-stained and glassy-eyed she’s a looker, like something those guys doing the calendar pin-ups would paint. But there isn’t time for that now.

“Where’s Tony?”

She just stairs back in my direction – not at me but looking through as though I’ve got a second head growing from my left shoulder. I check, just to make sure, then slowly move up the stairs. Carolyn doesn’t flinch. In fact, she doesn’t even seem to breathe. I look at her again and ask her the same question with the same reply. I’m so close to her now I can recognize the perfume she’s wearing.

That kid doesn’t need dialogue. But I need some answers. So I take her chin in my free hand and try to shake some sense into that alcohol dulled brain. It’s no use. I’m about to give up when I notice her eyes slowly shift upwards to the end of the stairs. She’ll keep.

I go into the master bedroom with my piece cocked and ready. What a mess. There are bits of Tony Menendez everywhere. I didn’t think jelly spread that thin. I find what’s left of him eagle on some very expensive blood-soaked silk sheets. His face is missing. So is his crotch and his ring finger, but it’s Tony all right. Someone was certainly sending a message. Funny, I didn’t think the baby on the stairs had it in her.

I move around the room like a cripple playing Twister, careful not to step in any of the patches of Tony splashed about the room. No gun. Not even shell casings. It’s never that easy. But there’s a couple of mirrors, one on each nightstand lightly frosted with the white powder; his and hers. So that’s what silenced the baby.

Just then I hear a thud downstairs. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. By the time I get to the top of the banister the baby’s lying face down on the carpet in the front hall – not as sure-footed as either of us thought. Still, she’s beautiful in a way only an artist would appreciate, her blonde tresses perfectly splayed in a semicircle, her limbs curled up as though she were snuggling a Teddy Bear. Some sweet kid.

I go into the can and find a bathrobe on a hook behind the door. It’s green and terry and it’ll keep her warm until the cops arrive. By then I’ll be long gone and she won’t remember me any more than she knows her own name right now. As I’m turning her soft flesh over in my arms I get second thoughts. After all, I still need to get paid and Mike’s the guy with the funds. No, Carolyn can’t be found at the scene of the crime. She’s got to be home – the only one she knows and I know it too. But I can’t take her out the front like this. So, after I prop her in a corner as a precaution against swallowing her own tongue, I check between the lace curtains for any late night joggers.

There doesn’t seem to be any but you can never tell when a health nut or hobo is going to pop out of the bushes. So I hurry over to the back of the place – a cavern-like playroom with wall to wall glass overlooking the bay and Tony’s little speed boat, and that gives me an idea. I turn up the collar of my trench, leave by the patio doors, then walk the extra distance around to the front and get back inside my car. I drive clear to the other side of the bay and park in a secluded spot with my headlamps pointing across the water at Tony’s place. I leave them on so I’ll be able to spot the car from the other side, and as I sprint all the way back to the house I can still see them faintly glowing through the fog.

By the time I get back on foot I’m expecting Little Miss Shell Shock to be coming around. Instead, I find her in the same condition and posture. I pick her up. She weighs nothing, and carry her to Tony’s two-seater docked out back. Then across the bay and into the rushes we sail. Despite my general aversion for sticky bad girls, this one feels tailor made. Still, I can’t risk being seen with the only witness to a gangland hit. So, into the boot she goes. She’ll never know the difference, and if she wakes up before I get her home no one will know. Time to surprise daddy with his midnight girl.

. . .

I get to the Trent house just before one – another imposing brick and stone place with centuries of corruption buried between its walls. Opening the boot, I sling the baby over my shoulders. Fine thing when you have to burp a twenty-four year old.

It’s dark, but that doesn’t stop me from making inquiries. Sakal, the butler is the first guy on the scene and a more reliable bugger I've yet to meet. Even at this ungodly hour he’s dressed for dinner, like a lost mother penguin without any eggs to fertilize.

“Good evening, Mr. Mars,” Sakal says.

He’s not surprised to see Carolyn like this. Why should he be? I’ll bet he’s seen more than he’ll ever tell about this place.

“Mike in?” I ask.

I’m directed to the parlor, the only room I’ve ever been in except for that hand-carved cherry and cut-glass mausoleum they call a foyer. I don’t have to wait long for Mike. He enters with the air of a concerned patriarch from Good Housekeeping – good enough to fool anyone who’s meeting the man and his daughter the first time. As for me, it doesn’t play.

“I brought in the trash,” I tell him.

He’s less than pleased with my comparison, less than I expected him to be.

“Where did you find her?”
“Where do you think?”

Mike has a closer look at his property.

“Like this?” he asks.
“Not exactly. The robe was my idea.”
“Tell me everything.”

So I do, but I leave out a few details about the crime scene as a test. Mike passes with flying colors. He didn’t kill Tony. He didn’t have the guts to, and any guy who could love this kid without expecting payment in trade can’t be all bad.

“Now what?” I ask.
“I thought you might have the answer.”

I shake my head.

“This is where I get off,” I explain. “You wanted to know if she was and she was but she can’t, at least not with him anymore, unless she’s into necrophilia and even then, whoever did Tony didn't leave much to enjoy below the equator either. So our business is through. I don’t think Tony’ll be publishing his memoirs any time soon.”

“But what about her clothes?”

“What about them? Some broad’s skirt and panties that nobody can trace because nobody knows she’s been there. In fact, she hasn’t. Remember that. She’s been with you. All night, crying long hot tears about being dumped or cold short ones for the late night romance on PBS. Have Sakal empty out some warm cocoa in a glass by her bed just in case anyone asks.”

I pause for a moment, having one last good look at the baggage curled up on the couch.

“On second thought you better pass on the cocoa. Nobody’d believe it. Gin’s more her speed. Oh, and I haven’t been here either. You don’t know me. We’ve never met. Make sure you fill in those details later with the help.”

Mike nods.

“Did anyone see you?”
“Yeah, a German Sheppard named Fifi but I threw her a bone.”

Mike reaches into a desk drawer for his check pad. He cuts a good bunch of zeroes and seven hundred extra for covering up.

“You’ll hear from me,” he says as I exit the room.
“I hope not,” I shoot back.

Mike's a con but at least he knows it. He doesn't pretend. Not that he could. His daughter? She'd like to be sugar and spice and everything nice. She works hard at it too. But she'll never be more than what she is tonight - a flaxen-haired punching bag who doesn't mind it when she gets the stuffin's knocked out'a her. Heaven help the guy who finds that attractive. God help me too, because I think I'm that guy.


THE END?...not by a long shot.
EDDIE MARS WILL RETURN JAN. 14 - in ADVENTURE THE 2ND

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).