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

A Noir Thriller

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Location: Canada

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 8TH: DEATH IN THE TROPICS



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 8th: Death in the Tropics


A quick stop at my apartment for a change of clothes and I’m off to meet Carolyn in my rented convertible. Getting off the plane in Miami, the radio said rain but I didn’t believe them. By the time I was halfway across the causeway I knew better. A rolling bank of kingpin clouds was chewing up the scenery in my rear view.

I figured on trying to outrun Mother Nature and took the causeway at a fair clip, knowing damn well that I’d probably end up with a ticket before I reached our little rendezvous. The highway patrol did not disappoint. After asserting himself as the custodian of safe passage for the tourist trade, my copper decided to put in a personal dig just to show me who’s boss.

“You’re a regular Ben-Hur,” he gloats.

So I hold up his ticket against my middle finger before pulling away.

“Yeah,” I admit, “Thanks for my invitation to the toga party.”

. . .

The address Carolyn gave me had been described as a little place not far off the road. So, it was no great surprise when I drove past the cutoff twice before pulling into that remote sweaty jungle. The house was the size of parliament, tucked way in back of some forgotten place where God must have been a baby once. I caught the old petrified wooden porch of the hideout staring back at my headlamps, rotted through by termites and sea salt. The drive was nothing more than worn dust where nothing had been allowed to grow for years. I pulled my car into a half collapsed port attached to the plantation house, all twisted and overgrown with vines. Tarzan’s maid must be off for the season.

It was unnaturally dark by now. A big canopy had dropped from the sky.

And suddenly, there was Carolyn, glowing like a zombie in her almost sheer green negligee and fluff-lined housecoat. She was taller somehow than I remembered and poised just so, with her left leg extending from between separating fabrics – a glittery powder puff of a slipper pointed in my direction. But any illusion I had about her being glad to see me ended with her first words.

“Huh,” she says, producing a half empty glass of something cleverly tucked behind her, “I didn’t think you’d come.”

“How’s that?” I say, trying to convince myself that she’s alright deep down where it counts.

“You’re late!”

She pouts like a sick canary, as though she means every word. This isn’t what I had in mind - exactly, but being a birdwatcher, I decide its time for a little cat and mouse.

A bolt of lightening transforms the relatively placid forest into a cage of shadows – the accompanying thunder clasp rattling all hell beneath us.

I walk up the creaking stairs, paying more attention not to shove my foot through a soft spot. When I get to the top, Carolyn’s already gone inside.

It’s a surprisingly homey place, the kind old southern gentlemen built in the old southern days when labor was cheap and the lives behind it cheaper still. I wonder how many are buried out back.

“You’re late!” Carolyn says again, more pronounced than the first time; too pronounced, in fact.

“You said that before,” I remind her.

Somewhere in another part of the house a faint echo of classical music pierces my acoustic nerve like a staple gun.

“Mood music?”
“Suit yourself,” I’m told.
“Thanks” I tell her, “I always do.”

I leave her standing with her arms folded like a pile of spaghetti while I go off in search of Stokowski. Besides, it gives me a chance to case the place. Fairly lavish, with lots of pictures belonging to somebody else’s family tree. Either the place came like this or we’re trespassing on a summer retreat. I look around for any sign that I’m being set up, but the place looks legit.

After a two room detour with no misdirection, I finally get to the reason I’m supposed to be skulking around – a gentlemen’s library with all the comforts of the arts. I take the needle off its long-playing maestro; Leon Schyvatz – a classically trained pianist who could put most of the highbrow set to bed but keeps the critics awake just long enough to write him a few Jeremiahs. The jacket says it all, his virtuosity, his musical stealth, his great gift to the world. At twenty-six, he’s too young to be that good. His press agent’s the real star.

I bury the young protégée under a pile of Bing Crosby records and get back to my little fortune hunter in the living room. She’s still waiting like a spoiled child who’s just been told she won’t be allowed to drink a mint julep at her sweet sixteen.

“You’re late.”
“You know, you should have that recorded,” I tell Carolyn.
“Well?”

She’s expecting some explanation so why not give it to her. Because I’m stubborn – that’s why. Instead I give her my ‘don’t try it, baby’ look and drop my overnight on the floor next to the couch. I find a little mirror on the wall closest the hallway and preen a bit – something I haven’t done since I left sixteen behind.

“I could use a shave,” I wax calmly, remembering the massage and the cute thing that gave me it with honors before my trip.

What sort of foul mood Carolyn’s in I just don’t care. But I’ll be damned if I’m the Jolly Rancher to cleanse her taste buds. I finally break – not to be magnanimous, but because the whole ‘I hate you to death’ angle’s grown old…fast.

“Oh, that,” says I, tossing my grip on an old couch while glancing around for the bar, “Marysol paid me a visit.”

Her demeanor abruptly changes – not to jealousy, but concern.

“Marysol?”

She paces in that slow angular strut of a runway gal who needs a burger and a good spank.

“Seems as long as I’ve got the list I’ll never be lonely,” I add.
“Except you don’t have it,” she reminds me.
“Well, Marysol didn’t know that,” I prod, “Anyway, I got what I wanted.”

The dig gets her like a pickaxe. She whirls around, pretending her way out of a tough spot but with no glue and cardboard backing to make it stick.

“Men!” she seethes.
“Yeah,” I say, lighting a cigarette for effect, “You sure know how to pick ‘em…maybe you should switch.”
“To what?”
“Whatever’s your pleasure.”

But even that doesn’t seem to break her down to my size. She’s a block of granite tonight. Maybe I should sharpen my chisel and get to work.

“What are we doing here, Mars?” she snaps.

I can tell that daylight hasn’t begun to glimmer yet under those long blonde tresses. It’s open season on grouse and I’ve got all the fire power.

“I was invited, remember? Don’t know about you…” I tell her, direct and pretending to be a little miffed, “…but I did one-twenty in a sixty just to get here. The green-eyed monster doesn’t suit you, angel – not without a scotch and soda waiting.”

She pivots on those puffy stiletto-heeled slippers before slinking over to a nearby credenza. You can always tell what a gal’s thinking by the way she pours your drink. Heavy on the ice and stingy on the booze…that, brother, says it all. I come up from behind and reach for my choice.

“Better make it a bottle of each,” I explain, “I’ve been a very good boy.”
“Hah!” she laughs, taking the drink in her hands, “…and now you want to be bad?”

I shrug my shoulders as though nothing matters. Nothing actually does. Another rumble of thunder outside and the lights flicker.

“Isn’t it romantic?” I wax.
“Only in spots,” she tells me.

I leave the bottle where it stands and take Carolyn in my arms. She feels right, just like she did the other night – coiling her arms around my neck and leaving a puddle of scotch on the carpet next to us. I give her just enough to keep her waiting for the rest.

“That’s what I like about you,” I tell her sweetly, “You know something’s wrong but haven’t any lasting interest in how to fix it.”

She loosens her grip, pulling away with deliberate wounded pride. What an actress.

“I feel so alone,” she pretends to confide.
“You too?”
“…and strange, some how…”
“You are,” I admit.
“I feel…”

This could go on forever.

“Suppose you leave feelings out of it, angel…especially when you can’t comment from a point of knowledge.” I say, coming from behind with a soft touch around her waist, “Don’t think it isn’t that I don’t care, because I don’t. Only I’m the kind that doesn’t put much stock in my emotions.”

“How come?”

“It’s a feeling,” I smugly reply.

Carolyn slides her hand over mine. She’s hoping I’ll let go. But it’s not going to be that easy for her.

“I’m tired,” she explains.

So am I. I tighten my grip and spin her around to face me. She’s shocked but not surprise, so I let her have a light smack across the cheek – nothing to leave bruises, just enough to really get her attention.

“Out with it,” I demand.

She hasn’t counted on this. I can tell.

“With what?” she says.

Her breathing gets deeper.

“My patience or your teeth, angel. You decide. Either way we’re going to get to the bottom of things.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you don’t. Just like you don’t know anything about Hemmingway looking for that same list. Tell me, who’s into that beady little heart of yours, angel? I already know who’s got dibs on your soul.”

“You’re insane.”

“Maybe,” I admit, “But at least I know my way around the nuthouse. I didn’t the night we bolted out of our own funeral like a couple of nags marked for the glue factory. Oh sure, I knew it was too easy, but I went. I had to see where it would all lead to…and it leads right here.”

“Let me go!”

I haul off with a pretty decent coin toss, sending her face first into a couch full of mildewed pillows. Carolyn reaches for a vase on the nearby coffee table but I’m quicker on my feet. I grab her wrists. She tries to sink those porcelain fangs of hers into me but it’s no use. I’ve straddled my prey. I’ve got her cornered.

“But then I remembered the turn off the main road,” I tell her, “Funny how on a moonless night you managed to find that spot almost as though you were looking for it. How you never once got lost or ended up wrapping us both around a tree.”

“I’m a good driver.”

“You’re more than that, angel. I went back to our spot the next day. Barely found it with the sun out and all my pistons firing. I then went to the hall of records to catch up on my reading. The property belongs to Hemmingway.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Just like you didn’t know Menendez Construction did the job a little over a year ago. That road, angel, it goes nowhere. Only a guy named Frank Brody, who wasn’t exactly winning points with your husband, seems to have disappeared at around the same time Hemmingway got the itch to pave paradise and put up his parking lot; a dead end for Frankie. And that’s how it was meant for me too.”

“Let me explain.”

“You don’t have to, angel. There wasn’t anyone coming for us. You were supposed to take care of me the way you did Rigor and his boyfriend in the backroom. They double-crossed Hemmingway too, along with Tony. You remember Tony. Big fat hypocrite, so desperate to get his hook under your silk n’ lacies he didn’t see the worm attached. But I did. Only you didn’t have the guts to do it, or did and just felt like a bit of foreplay instead.”

Carolyn stops her kicking and whinnying because deep down she knows it’s no use. I may be the dumbest jockey to ever enter the race but I slacken my reigns just enough to let her regain her stride. I don’t think she’ll run but you can never tell with her kind. They like to get out in front before going into home stretch. But I value my lead.

“You’re not working for Michael, angel. I’m having seconds on whether you’re even married to the old bugger. I know you. Another forty minutes would be too much. Forty years? You’re not the anniversary type. But you did care about Tony, or that is Tony and his list.”

“You don’t know how wrong you are,” Carolyn says, her eyes all hard and glassy, just like the first night I found her.

“Yeah?” says I, backing away from the couch with my hand on my holster, “Well, there’s one way to settle it for sure.”

I throw her my piece – cocked and ready, for old time’s sake. It lands with a thud on the wooden coffee table just inches from her hand.

“Go ahead. I’m a gambling man. If I’m wrong I’ve got nothing to lose and if I’m right you’ll be doing me a big favor. You’re not the victim. You’re a cold-blooded assassin.”

“And you’re a fool,” Carolyn tells me.

She reaches for my gun, seizing it in her hot impatient little fingers and devouring the moment like a hungry lioness marking her kill. I watch her pull the trigger without thinking twice, but my gun’s empty – like I didn’t know - and she realizes now that I’ve won the coin toss.

“You broke my heart, angel,” I tease before I grit my teeth, “Yes, you did.”

She recoils like a snake. I get my piece thrown back at me, followed by the vase and a lamp on the end table. She’s fast and accurate with her pitch. By the time I’ve recovered my gun she’s already through the front door. I make with the chase, loading my weapon before venturing into the storm. Alive would be preferred, but I’ll take dead if she presses the point.

Outside the wind’s gathered its strength, pouring buckets of pain that would wash away most any sin - but not hers. A few feet from the garage I find the broken heel of her velvet green slipper. The rest turns up, muddy and soaked through near the edge of the road leading out of this lost paradise. I don’t see her anywhere, but then again, in all that brush and raging teardrops I don’t see much of anything.

She wouldn’t be crazy enough to try it in her skivvies on foot, would she? I make the decision to sprint up the trail for a bit but it’s no use. Any foot prints left behind in the mud have been washed away by that minor flood rushing towards me. It’s as though someone took the pug out of the whole island and the land’s slowly being lowered into the ocean. The ground beneath my feet turns to mush. I can feel my weight pressing my shoes down into quicksand.

In between wind gusts I think I hear a few failed attempts to start my car, and remember only then that I left my keys in the ignition. There’s no time to think. I race back toward the house, gun pointed, ready to take aim at the tires of oncoming traffic. But it doesn’t happen and I start to wonder why.

Back at the plantation the lights have all gone out. I make the decision to see if the phone’s still working when the sound of a car door closing echoes past my ears. By the time I get to my convertible Carolyn’s slumped back in the driver’s seat, a bullet neatly imbedded at close range in her left temple. No use checking for a pulse. She’s taken her secrets to the unknown. But at least now I’m the one who’s channeling the clues.

THE END?...we're just getting warmed up!

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure

- TRAVELER'S PRIVILEGE

on April 20th, 2006.

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 7TH: RACKING UP POINTS


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 with how the entries in this blog will be posted and how best to follow the series from this point on. And now…


Adventure, the 7th: Racking up points

Carolyn moved like a lynx – smooth and silent, leading the way to a back spiral that went down into a parking garage beneath the club. I watched her hotwire a Caddy with all the ease of plucking an eyebrow - a real pro. I was impressed and in this line that takes some doing.

We peeled out’a there like a couple of bruised bananas thrown to the chimps. I was alright. A bit sore and groggy in spots. Still trying to shake the last bit of whatever they gave me from my system – but otherwise feeling frisky. There were still a few blanks in my head that needed filling. Carolyn didn’t hesitate.

“Suppose you’re wondering about the list?” she said.
“You suppose good,” I replied, “Tell me, how long have you been in the game?”

She smirked with a sort of rancid pride creeping up like a cat on your favorite hamster.

“I’m not what you think,” she told me.
“Oh, I never assume anything,” I explained to her smugly, loosening my tie to let some of that cool salty air in, “except five’ll get you ten, ten’ll get you twenty and a bottle of Jackie D.’ll leave you heart sore for another in about twenty-four hours.”

She grinned like a researcher’s assistant who’d just discovered a cure-all for jock itch. Believe you me, all she’d have to do is help a guy scratch. I assessed the damage. It was minimal. Good face – kissable in spots but always ready to take it on the chin.

“Suppose you leave the thinking to me?” I suggested.
“Suppose I do…”she played along, “Then what?”

Now I’m the one with the cockeyed gush stretched across my mug - feeling stupid and simple and full of nothing but hot air.

“Then we’d still be back in that upstairs bedroom or stuffed cold in a crawl space marked ‘do not open till 2020,” I sassed back.

I liked her style. She had none, but that was just my style.

“How long do you think we have before they realize we’re gone?” she asked.
“Long enough,” I reasoned, “Now, how about that list?”
“I never saw it, Mr. Mars.” Carolyn explained. “You know a man called Ted Adams?”
“Digger?” I asked, even though I knew exactly who she was talking about.

Cool company. Ted Adams was an alias, one of many for a guy known throughout the underworld only by his moniker - ‘Digger’ because he got underneath just about any secret and could easily bury everyone associated with it in the aftershocks of scandal. He was more a ghost who came and went with all the autonomy of a shadow.

“Michael…” she paused, as though it panged her to admit the truth, “my husband…hired Digger to get his hands on one half of a list.”

“What good’s a half?” I questioned.
“Plenty, if the government knows you’ve got it and they want it back.”
“And Digger had it?”

Carolyn nodded as we turned off the main road.

“What’d you do that for?” I asked.
“In case we’re followed,” she reasoned, “Michael didn’t want the trouble of getting the list so he pegged Tony for a hefty retainer to be his go-between.”

We were on a lonely stretch I’d never been down before. With the sound of surf fading fast in the background and a canopy of long heavy redwoods closing in from above, the road ahead became moonless and dark – like a black hole that drew in the headlamps and made them seem as useless as our eyes. Still, Carolyn drove at a fairly good clip. She knew where she was headed.

“Tony get greedy?” I asked.
“We both did,” she admitted, “You know what a list like that is worth on the black market?”
“Enough to keep you in ermine and gin till the next century.”
“Yes…well, looks now like I’ll be doing my shopping at the pick n’ save.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Her – a cheap thing in cheap clothes: she’d never be able to pull it off.

“So, there never was any intention of ransoming the list back to the Feds?” I asked.

But on that score she was as non-descript and neutral as a Switzerland.

“I don’t know what Michael would have done with it,” she explained, “But Tony was sure he’d be the fall guy. His plan was to give Michael a fake and use the original as leverage for some quick cash.”

We were now cruising at the maximum this bucket had been set for. I could feel the doors start to vibrate just a bit – kept together only by the manufacturer’s seal of luxury at a luxury price.

“What happened that night at Tony’s?” I asked.
“You tell me.”

“Look,” I said – directly with a bit of vinegar, just so we’re doing fine copy on the same set of proofs, “In the last ten days I’ve been lied too, chased after, drugged and screwed over…and not in such a way that I’d be the one smilin’ afterwards. I’ve had just about all I’ll take especially since I’m not on the take for any of it.”

Carolyn glanced my way, sizing me up in her head.

Do I mean what I say?

She knows enough about me to know that I do.

“I went to Tony’s because we were seeing a lot of each other. I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“No, of course not,” I shot back, a bit too direct this time, because she takes her mind off the road to give me more than a piece.

“Believe what you want. But a woman’ll suffer just so much. Michael thought I was working Tony for the list. He used me like he uses everyone. Like he used you. I didn’t think Tony was my salvation but he was looking out for our interests, and that’s more than Michael ever did.”

She’s got a bitter little crocodile tear attached to that one eye – it’s spiteful and loaded with a few million daggers, but even that inside fury pales to the very fatalist prospect of wrapping us both around a tree.

“Suppose you pay attention to the road,” I suggest.

I’ve lost that emotional edge I had on her. But I’ll get it back. I’m a clever guy.

“When I got to Tony’s that night,” she begins, rethinking closely, “I went upstairs, took off my clothes and waited for Tony in his bed. And ‘no’, Mr. Mars…I wasn’t in love with him. After a few minutes I heard a sound from the bath. I thought it was Tony.”

“Who was it?”
“The man I put a bullet into back there. Before I knew it he had given me something. I don’t know what. But a few moments later I fell on the floor - paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I heard voices. Then came a couple of shots from the master bedroom. I rolled onto my stomach and propped myself against the wall. There were sounds but I can’t say for certain what they were. I crawled up the wall and stood there with my heart pounding in my head. It was dark. The room began to swirl.”
The last part comes slow, soothing, almost inviting to the average guy with a quick one tattooed in his mind and a pair of clean shorts tucked under the visor.

“Then I saw you,” she said.
“Careful,” I quipped, “You might hit my soft spot.”

She smirked at me.

“I didn’t know you had a soft spot where women are concerned, Mr. Mars.”
“It’s in the back of my head.”

She laughed in a way that made me think I might be getting through to her. We were now officially in the middle of nowhere, a province of no place, at a time unspecified by any hour.

“How about callin’ me Eddie?” I suggested.
“Why?”
“Seems more friendly.”

Her foot suddenly lifted from the gas. We coasted to the edge of the gravel embankment, stopping near a ditch and some tall grass.

“You haven’t forgotten I’m a married woman?” she said.
“Baby, I don’t care.”

. . .

“Well?”

I can see by that glazed look in Malory’s eyes that my story has completely captured his attentions. He’s like a kid on his grandmother’s lap waiting for Tinkerbell to sound her chimes so that he can turn the page. Pathetic to the end - he hasn’t had the touch of a good woman or even a lousy one for some time. There’s just so many wholesome ‘three meals a day’ any guy can square away with the wife before his nerve gives out and he’s left with his manhood in a jar on the shelf next to the preserves.

“Use your imagination,” I suggest over the last crumbs from a couple of day olds in the precinct cafeteria, “thirteen years of marriage. You’ve had practice.”

It’s late. The pick of the vending machine proves it. I’ve a cold Styrofoam cup of something masquerading as coffee.

Malory gets a look of guilty disinterest; the kind that traps every altar boy caught by his pious Catholic mother while looking at those glossy fold-outs for the first time.

“Where’s the girl now?” asks Malory.
“Writing a sonnet about last night,” I tease, “…maybe singing my praises to a couple a’ cocoanut trees somewhere between here and Key Largo.”

Malory’s look changes to one of sloppy indignation.

“You let her get away?”
“Only slightly…” I explain, producing a perfumed letter from my coat pocket, in the middle of which Carolyn has taped a house key, “I’m expected.”

“And the list?”
“Let’s just say I’m working on it.”

I swish down the last drops of caffeine before giving Malory a solid punch to the shoulder. I’ve really nothing more to say to him and he knows it.

“Hey, Mars,” he offers with a twinkle in his eye, “Not too fast, eh?”

He knows me too well.


...the end? Not even close, Mack.

Eddie Mars will return in his next and greatest adventure yet
- Death in the Tropics on April 1, 2006.

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 6TH: THE VERY BRIEF RETURN OF RIGOR M.


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 6th: The Very Brief Return of Rigor M.

“Did he give you any trouble?”
“He didn’t recognize me.”
“It’s almost too easy.”
“It’ll all be over soon.”
“As soon as I find out what he knows.”

I’m caught in a whirlpool of echoes, voices entering and leaving my consciousness before I can get a handle on what’s being said and who’s been saying it. I feel numb. My head’s moving only the rest of me’s standing still. I’m lying down – I think. I hear music, again - I think.

“Bring him too, Simms.”
“Yes, Mr. Hemmingway.”

I get hit - but good. It starts to bring me out of whatever they gave me at the bar. I fight like hell to shake the last bit of aftershock from my drooping lids. Gradually, the whole scene comes into focus.

Well, if it isn’t old home week. I’m surrounded - and not by friends. I look down. I can see my shoes and Jock Hemmingway’s standing at the foot of my bed. Or is it my bed? No, it’s not even my room.

Where am I? Hemmingway’s got his hands tucked into his coat pockets. Even in an Armani he looks like a five dollar leach.

Appropriately propped against the wall behind him is my old pal, Rigor Mortis still looking as though death claimed him last month, only somebody forgot to bury the body. On a stool next to him there’s some other poor bastard fit for the slaughter; shoulders slumped, head covered in a black velvet bag. The two make for a pretty lifeless pair.

Nobody moves at first. It’s like Dali threw up in here, full of misshapen misfits, fractured - and pieces missing.

Marysol’s there. So’s Cynthia, standing next to some neck-less hulk I’ve never seen before. At Hemmingway’s command the thug takes another whack at me.

“Take it easy, Muscles,” I say, feeling a warm crisp line of fresh blood running from the corner of my lip.

“That’s enough,” Hemmingway tells his stooge, “Welcome back, Mr. Mars. Did you have a nice trip?”

“I can’t say as I remember much of it,” I admit groggily, “Though I’m not too keen on who’s in my party. I must be traveling coach.”

Hemmingway smiles, that gruesome little Cheshire grin that could freeze water.

“First class, my friend…first class,” he says, “Only that’s about to change for some of us…”

I try to sit up but realize my hands have been tied to the bed.

“Purely precautionary,” I’m told.

“Yeah,” I mutter, unable to think of anything else to say.

Hemmingway leans in.

“You’re a fascinating character, Mr. Mars,” he admits, “Dumb, but interesting in the breadth of your stupidity anyway.”

“Albeit,” I tell him, “never seem to learn from my mistakes.”

I glance over at Cynthia. She’s unimpressed.

“I’m a very busy man, Mr. Mars,” Hemmingway explains, “and I’m neglecting my guests. So why don’t you make this easy on us both and tell me what you’ve done with the list.”

Maybe I’m not as sober as I thought.

“What list?” I ask.

I know it’s the wrong answer even before I say it.

“Oh, dear,” Hemmingway waxes facetiously, “We’re going to go that route, are we?”

But for once I’m on the up and up. I really don’t know what he’s talking about.

“Look,” I begin, “All I know is I’m hoofing it down the highway when some broad in a convertible decides to give me a lift. She pulls into the club, buys me a drink and sets me on my ass before I can say ‘last call’.”

“That broad happens to be my daughter,” I’m told.

“We all make mistakes.”

Muscles gives me a good back of his hand but I take it without giving him the satisfaction that he’s getting through to me. Hemmingway calls off his Pitt Bull and lays down the law.

“Mr. Mars,” he says with the glassy dead stare of a shark, “You and I both know what I’m talking about. Regrettably, I can’t afford you the opportunity to last the night. You’ve made that impossible, not I.”

Hemmingway gives a nod to Muscles but keeps him at bay.

“You see Simms here is the brother of the man you threw off the scaffold at my warehouse. It was you at the warehouse, wasn’t it?”

I give him a nod of satisfaction, turning my attention to Muscles.

“You’re brother was out of shape, big boy. What’s a’ matter? Not enough steroids to go around?”

He’d take care of me right then, only Hemmingway staves off the inevitable with a light wave of his hand.

“Incredible,” I say, “Does he sit up and roll over when you snap your fingers?”

“You’re already a dead man, Mr. Mars” says Hemmingway, “But suppose you tell me what I want to know? Clear your conscience.”

“Why should I? What’s in it for me?”

Hemmingway motions for Rigor to step in. He does, bringing the bagged mystery to its feet and forcing it down on the bed next to me. I suddenly realize what the trump card is. It’s Carolyn. Stripping off the head covering I can see that she’s terrified. For the first time in her life, behind those eyes, all pistons are firing.

“You work for Mr. Trent,” Hemmingway explains, “Think of what it will do to him if she winds up with a toe tag. I’m appealing to your sense of chivalry now, when I say she’ll be unharmed if you cooperate.”

“That’s no guarantee,” I say.

“It’s the only one you’ve got.”

Rigor sticks a thirty-eight in her ear.

“We’ll count to three,” Hemmingway says.

What a cliché.

“You can count to a hundred,” I tell him, “The answer’s no.”

“One,” Hemmingway begins.

Does he mean it? I can’t tell. Why the elaborate set up? Carolyn should already be dead.

“Time is of the essence, Mr. Mars,” Hemmingway explains, “Two.”

There’s a light tap at the door. Marysol opens it and a waiter steps in. He’s unmoved by the cheap theatrics playing out before him – chummy…real, chummy.

“Excuse me, sir,” the waiter implores, “but you’re wanted downstairs.”

Marysol nods and motions for Cynthia; the two vixens slinking off like a couple of cougars getting ready to pounce on the next availably hapless male.

“I detest a show of force, Mr. Mars,” says Hemmingway, “So I’ll leave you in more capable hands.”

To Muscles: “Do what you will. Only get me that list.”
To Rigor: “Kill him when you’re done.”

But the rope on my left hand is letting go. I think I might be able to get some leverage on the situation. I let Muscles go to work because with every violent shake that knot loosens a bit more – hopefully it snaps before my neck does. In between whacks I spot a glass pitcher on the nightstand next to the bed.

That’s it, Muscles. Come on. Another toss up and I’m free. Instead, he gives me a fist full of hate in the left eye and it stings like a poisoned poker. The rope lets go. But before I can recover, Carolyn gives out with an unexpected and fairly swift kick; the spike of her left heel digs into Rigor’s gut and knocking the gun out of his hand. It’s a surprise – for us both.

Muscles lunges for her, giving me the perfect opportunity to let him have it with the pitcher. He’s bloodied and disorientated, but it won’t keep.

Rigor tosses Carolyn to the floor. He’s not as dead as I thought, but neither is she, nailing him in the crotch with her pointed toe before retrieving his gun from the floor. Silencer ready, she lets him have it with a couple of hot ones in the belly before taking care of Muscles too with a bull’s eye in his brain.

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“Never mind.”
She unties my other hand.

“Let’s get out of here,” she says.

I grab her firmly by the arm.

“Not so fast,” I explain, “I just came from your old man’s place. He thinks you’re sunning your ass in Biarritz.”

“Is that what he told you?”
“Well, he said you where far away.”

This amuses her. I can’t figure out why, but she finds it funny. She smiles, her dimples fit to be licked like a lollypop.

“Then he’s got a surprise coming, hasn’t he?”
“The night’s full of surprises,” I tell her as she finishes untying me.
“Then here’s one for you, Mr. Mars” she replies, “Michael Trent isn’t my father. He’s my husband.”


...the end?!? ...not by a long shot!

Eddie Mars will return March 17, 2006 in his next adventure
- Racking Up Points

@ Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).