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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 12TH: I REMEMBER MAMA


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 12th …
I Remember Mama

Well, it wasn’t much of an evening - at first. I kept waiting for Mico to tell me things …all about her afternoon and her father. I waited, alright – in vane, like an alcoholic for last call on Election Day. Either she didn’t know the tune I wanted to hear, or she couldn’t read my notes – ‘hey Mr., there’s a man in my bed who’d like to kill you’…or was she just playing by heart? Only this kid wouldn’t know heart if it reached up and pinched her on the Tchaikovsky. Maybe she was getting ready to sing – but I sure as hell wasn’t her target audience.

With nothing left to do and little to say, we both did our conducting with the same baton – mine. I’ll say this for her – when it comes to hitting the high ones she’s not exactly tone deaf.

I’m no philosopher. I don’t know if you can live on love. But we certainly gave it our best in the long playing mode for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. In between concerts she limbered up a mean entr’acte that drove us both onto the next movement.

Later we ordered in – Chinese, and a paper from the corner drug store. But there was nothing about Cynthia – nothing about any incident at the library.

Then, like nothing in living expectation, as I thumbed through the obits for any confirmation, and with her head resting across my chest, Mico suddenly decided to get curious.

“You don’t care much for women, do you?”
“What?” I say, a bit thrown.
“You’re interested in the dead one’s alright,” Mico says, tenderly pinching the pointed flesh of my nipple, “but the live ones bore you, don’t they?”
“Sometimes,” I agree.
“How about now?”
“Check under the covers if you need a reason to believe,” I suggest.

Only she doesn’t, rolling onto her own pillow with her slender back facing me. It’s a nice back but I’ve bent it out’a shape.

“Hmmph,” she says, “I know what’s there.”

Flattening out like a pancake, all except for those elliptical silicon bubbles, she aims her index finger like the butt of a pistol, tenderly pressing it against my temple.

“I want to know what’s in here,” she admits.
“Oh,” says I, dropping the rest of the evening post over the side of the bed, “Why?”
“Why not?”

“Well,” I whisper, not knowing what else to say, “I’m not used to sharing that part of me.”

She seems unconvinced.

“Try.”

So I try.

“What do you want to know?” I ask, suddenly feeling more naked than nude.

I watch as the sockets of her eyes lazily roll back and forth inside her head, like a pair of marbles from a kid’s play toy in a Cracker Jack box. She’s trying – hard - to find a clever way of excavating my soul. Scratch the surface of any dame and she’ll like it – at least that’s what they used to say. In most cases it’s true. But I’m a closed book with missing chapters I prefer to stay missing.

“Tell me about your mother,” Mico finally says.

I don’t think she has any idea how awkward a request that is under the present circumstances. I suppose if I were to ask about her father, lying as she is, canastas pointed toward the sun, she’d paint me his portrait in a rainbow. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea. So I start.

“Well,” I say, trying to remember someone I’d rather forget, “she was a fat broad with the heart of a stone. She would have driven dad to drink, except that he got wise to her plan and blew his head off with a shotgun instead.”

“You’re making this up,” Mico says distastefully.

But I’m not, and she gets me mad for telling her the truth.

“Do you wanna hear this or not?” I ask.

She smiles a sick little tease of a grin, reaching over to my side of the bed and casually tossing back the sheets so there’s nothing left between us – not even false modesty. She seems to glow from within, like one of those cheap store front tree toppers. I’m not exactly prepared for what comes next.

Mico straddles me for another round, pressing my wrists into her palms and leaning in so I’ll be giving my deposition to her bulbous cleavage.

“Tell me now,” she says.

So I try – harder - and so does she. The only problem is she seems to be succeeding. It’s the most whacked out session of family psychotherapy I’ve ever experienced, and I’m beginning to like it.

“When were you born?” she asks, slightly rocking back and forth.
“Right here, in this room,” I muse.
“I mean it,” she commands.
“When were you?”
“A lady never tells,” she coos, getting into the routine.
“Yeah?” says I, feeling more for my liking, “What’s your reason?”

She lets out a champagne giggle that gives us both the hiccups.

“Are you an only child?” she asks.
“That I know of…”
“Tell me about your mother…”

There it is - ma’ again. What would she say if she could see me now? Hell, she wouldn’t care. I barely do. But this kid wants a genealogy report even as she’s pruning the family tree.

“My mother,” I start between quickening breaths, “drove me out’a the house when I was eleven. Her boyfriend liked to use his hands on her and the strap on me.”

“Sounds kinky,” she muses.
“It was,” I suggest, “But the bruises healed.”

…at least the ones anyone could see.

“I had an aunt in….Duluth,” I keep going, “who thought…I would make something of myself…someday.”

It’s getting harder to talk while enjoying the absolute craziness of it all.

“Did you ever go back?” Mico inquires, reclining on my upper thighs.

“A couple a’ times,” I admit, sliding my hands behind the pillow holding up my brain, “but I got tired of her…fast. We got tired of each other. Why all these questions?”

“I just thought it’s about time we got friendly,” she says, leaning in for the last time.
“What are we now?”

She swoons across my chest without missing a stride. And then, just as I’m about to forget everything – comes the real kicker.

“What brings you to New York, Eddie?” she whispers, gingerly tugging at my lobe with her teeth.

She knows who I am. When did that happen?!?

Her latest probe snaps like an angry mongrel and I’m the kind that can’t help but bite back. To say I overreacted is an understatement. Maybe I had my rights but I seize her in my arms, squeeze for all it’s worth and flip us over like a couple of home-style flapjacks.

“How did you know who I was?”
“Get off me,” she says.

But I’m not about to.

“How?”
“I…I checked your wallet.”
“When?”
“When you weren’t looking.”
“Obviously.”

Playtime is over and she knows it. A gentleman would have just forgotten the rest, but we’ve come too far, and besides, I’m no gentleman. I’ve blown my chance to get the skinny on daddy and I know it. Like a maestro bored with rehearsals, I bring down the curtain.

It’s over without applause. Mico gets up to take her bows in the shower and I roll over to think about my mistakes.

. . .


“Lt. Halver, please…hello, Malory? It’s Mars…yeah, I know. Listen, did you find anything special at the Menendez place?...I didn’t think so. There wasn’t much left by the time I got there…what? Yeah….What do you think? Listen, I’m calling in a favor. Know my car? Have your boys go gentle…especially when they open the trunk… Carolyn Trent’s in it…yeah, I know. I’d love to sit down and explain myself, only you and I both know I don’t have to. It’s that kind of position…you know me too well.”

I can hear the water getting turned off in the shower.

“Listen, Mal’, I’ll explain everything in a few days. Who’s your touchstone in New York? Right. Flannery. Clean?…and he can be trusted?…fine. Oh, and keep Carolyn out’a the papers…because I got a hunch this secret’s worth keeping.”

I hang up the telephone just in time. Mico’s standing barefoot and towel-wrapped in the doorway.

“Feeling fresh, angel?”

She studies me like a vet. I’m either going to be put down or rewarded with a treat.

“Yes, thanks,” she says, taking a seat on the edge of the bed with her back to me again. It’s a nice back.
“For what?” I ask.
“Reminding me what it’s like to feel dirty.”

Our role in the mud isn’t over yet. I relax. I’ve still got a chance to find out what I want to know. She smells like Spring, just like a brazen flower that’s had its petals jerked to the ground by a stiff rainstorm.

“I…” she starts, almost getting emotional, but pulling back the performance at the last minute.

“Suppose we forget it?” I say.

That usually works.

“I don’t want to,” Mico tells me.

She loosens the towel, just enough so that it slides down around her hips. That sheen of a snotty rich girl, the superficiality’s gone. She’s not threatening anymore.

I slide my arm around her neck, slowly pulling her to my end of the bed. She doesn’t resist. We lay there like a pair of love struck teenagers, semi-frightened that at any minute the folks’ll bust in and survey the damage with a couple million ‘hail Mary’s’ and a trip to the free clinic and jeweler’s for an engagement ring. There’s nothing more to say. But for the first time in my life, the moments don’t drag on like an eternity. She’s as still as a corpse, but far more inviting. Then, without cause or daydreams, Mico quietly reaches for my left hand, lightly tugging its ring finger.

“Someday,” she whispers earnestly, “I want to remember this moment without regrets.”

…if only that were possible for either of us.


THE END...
not yet - Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure
"BLACK MONDAY"
on June 16th 2006.

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 11TH: DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS

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 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.
“Vat?”
“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?”
“That depends.”
“On what?”
“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.”
“Do that.”

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.


THE END?
...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).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 10TH: ON THE LOOSE


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 10th: On the Loose

I didn’t see Mico again when we pulled into Grand Central around midnight. Actually, I was hoping for that, going out of my way to get lost in the crowds. There wasn’t anything left that needed to be said between us. I could write a book on that one with no imagination. She had been generous, at least with her thoughts.

After checking my grip, I departed in search of a place to stay. But everywhere was the same story: full up for the holidays.

Outside the light snow had matured into a raging blizzard. The city that never sleeps gave a fairly good imitation that its’ insomnia had been cured. The streets were a morgue. Not even the winos stirred.

I walked the snowy paths through Central Park like the only guy who had left his wallet at home, absorbing the afterglow from those old Victorian lampposts while a strange settling feeling came over me – like I had never left it all these years. I decided to appreciate New York for a change and lit a cigarette near the reservoir; a backdrop straight out’a a catalogue by Currier and Ives or something Gershwin would have rhapsodized with a clarinet solo and snare drum. Those towering penthouse rooftops glowed like a million points of megawatt stardust and somewhere in the distance a lonely ambulance siren was faintly heard. But beyond that, it was a night fit for the angels. The muggers had all gone home to drink or inject themselves to death.

I decided to check out 716 Templer Avenue. But first I needed a coffee to set me up. Bradley’s, the twenty-four hour dump on the corner that had seemed an eternal fixture of the old neighborhood when I was a boy wasn’t there anymore. Neither was the run down thrifty jeweler next door who used to gyp his clientele for thirty-percent. Not that I particularly cared, but at this point the grumble in my gut could have easily dissolved twenty karats in a glass of cocoa. With nothing else to do and no one else to do it with, I decided to cut my losses and find the apartment.

I found it, alright; a dingy five story fire trap with no working elevator and enough grime on the floors to start its own science experiment. For a while, only the echo of my wet shoes - sliding on the worn cracked rubber runners that some well-intentioned super had tact to the tile during the heady lawsuit days of the 1980s - kept me company. The grip in my hand seemed to get heavier with each floor. When I reached number three I waited for a minute to catch my breath. It took a minute.

A long narrow hall opened up on both sides; the security door, missing for some time. I could hear some lazy lightly thumping on the other side of those paper thin walls; probably a guy ready for the late night shift or a cheap date getting frisky with the furniture. Most of the overhead fixtures were burnt out, save one dusty glass shell about half way down and the faint red glow of an emergency exit, barely clinging from the ceiling at the far end.

Number Three C looked like all the rest from the outside – a panel of careworn beat up pine for a door with its white lettering spray-painted over curled chips of stale varnish. I could hear a television on inside.

I tap on the frame – lightly at first, then a bit louder to get my point across. Still, nobody came to the door.

It strikes me that I might be calling too late for the tea and tawdry set but I decide that it’s worth my effort to try again. I take the tarnished doorknob in hand. It twists and the door opens.

Trusting soul.
Dead soul, maybe.

I look around but there’s nobody to ask questions, so I go in. It’s a narrow entrance like the kind I remember as a kid – cluttered with a wall rack for coats and some gaudy rose and lattice wallpaper hidden behind pictures in frames that don’t match.

I put my grip down quietly on the wooden floor, leaving puddles where I stand and place my hand above the knob to silently close the door behind me. I’m almost finished when a flash of silver whizzes past my head with such speed that I don’t even have time to react. The breeze is so intense that for a second I think maybe whatever’s been thrown has grazed my cheek, but it hasn’t. And there, imbedded in the soft wood of the frame, cut clean through the sleeve of my wet trench is a meat cleaver pinning me to the jam. I reach for it.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I’m told in a deep whiskey voice.

I turn in place with my hand still tacked up. There she stands; a seventy-plus frump in her ten dollar bathrobe; gnarled skin as frail as parchment and with the face of a pig that’s been rooting through the swill. But she’s got the carriage of Ma Barker and enough Ginsu’s in each hand to make me coleslaw without the salad.

“Who are you?” she asks.

No point in faking my way out of this one. She looks like a gal who’s known her fair share and has been able to spot about as many fakers.

“Name’s Mars,” I tell her, “I’m a friend of Marysol’s.”

Her attitude suddenly changes to one of anxious excitement.

“Mary?! Oh well,” she says, walking over to me in her oversized bunny slippers with big broad strides, and yanking the cleaver loose, “Gee. You’ll have to forgive. I don’t get much company, see?”

“Yeah,” I admit, relieved, “I see why.”

“Thieves,” she explains, “Four times last month. Turned the place into a five finger discount. Took my microwave, Louisville Slugger and the VCR. I thought they might be coming back for the T.V.”

“You’re pretty handy with a knife,” I say.
“That comes naturally,” she explains.

Her snout spreads with pride.

“Where you staying?” she asks, taking notice of my grip.
“Your guess is as good as mind,” I say.
“Then Mary isn’t with you?”

I shake my head.

“Well, not that I expected her. Still…”

There’s more to that thought, only I’m not allowed in there.

She takes me into her living room – four dull corners of decay and muddle in need of a BFI bin - and shows me a yellowed picture of a cute young thing from the Vaudeville days, laced into her flower and feather-covered corset, standing next to a bare-chested Sandow reject in his leopard-print wooly shorts.

“That’s me,” she says, “Don’t look like it, do it?”

I can’t lie – not to myself anyway. I don’t see a trace of that tiny vixen in this overweight monstrosity standing before me. It’s as though one gorged the other in a fit of jealous hunger, with only the belch of memory to sustain a past.

“You should have seen me in twenty-nine,” she declares, taking a cheap purple scarf and tossing it proudly around her neck, “Ezmirelda and her Flying Daggers…”

She pauses a moment, her face sagging a bit as she recalls.

“…and Jeffries,” she adds, pointing to the strong man in the photograph, “Cuts a good figure doesn’t he.”

I nod.

“Husband?”

Ezmirelda shakes her head.

“Not mine. Oh, it was a good act. We topped Coney Island for six years. Marysol’s daddy.”

She offers me a chair and I’m grateful to take it. My feet feel as though I’ve walked for days. I’m offered a drink and it’s good too. The old horse pulls up her rocker so that our toes are practically touching. She fills up her tumbler for the long tale ahead. So, I settle in for another sob story.

This one is about Ez and Jeff – the cutter and the womanizer. I get the deluxe treatment tonight – a smelly old press book full of yellowed clippings and faded photographs. Ez was in love with Jeff. But Jeff had his eye on the competition – Tenya the Ballerina. So while Ez was busy doing her best to set up a home for the family in between six shows, Jeff was out buying Tenya the world with money pilfered from the act. But Ez was no fool.

“I figured it, see,” she explains, the weight of her years providing insight that probably wasn’t there to begin with, “Guys like that only want you when you’re nobody’s mama. But Mary was his and I wasn’t goin’ no place, see? Only I couldn’t figure how to stop it. You can’t just say ‘I know you’re sleeping with that whore’. He’ll leave and I’d be the evil one. But then it came to me.”

“Did it?”

“The act! See, for the finale Jeff gets strapped onto this spinning wheel and I’m supposed to throw a bunch’a silver at him. Only that night I was aiming for keeps.”

To have Ez tell it, it was an act of martyrdom in honor of motherhood. After pitching a perfect set of blades that traced the guy in eighteen-ten stainless, she decided to let him have it with a homemade castration. He survived - just barely, but there was nothing left afterward to make any woman sweat from the waist down.

“You should’a heard him,” Ez cackles, “Callin’ for my arrest and tellin’ the cops I did it out of spite. But I was smart, see? I had a couple stiff ones in me. Claimed it on the booze. Works every time. Did then, at least. The boys in blue took my side. Only I had to give up the act.”

“How come?”

“Well,” she says, as though I’m dumb enough not to already know, “You can’t pull the same trick twice without going to prison. Not that Jeff could’a done more with what I left him. But I wasn’t willing to take that chance, that I might try it again for keeps. So - hung up the tights. Put away the steel. Got respectable.”

I must look bored because Ez’ decides to stop her curdled fairytale.

“Enough about me. You don’t wanna hear it. Nobody wants to. So tell me whatcha’ come down here for. How’s Mary?”

I lean forward in my chair and feel the brittle frame creak. I’m ready to jump and run just in case the old bird gets unhinged down Memory Lane and takes a header for my family jewels - especially after I’ve spilled the news.

“You’re daughter’s dead, Ez.”

She looks at me sort’a queer – like a cow whose utters have been yanked for the first time. Then suddenly, she laughs.

“Mary? Aw, go on, you fool. You can’t kill that cat. Nine lives, handsome. Nine lives.”

She’s not so drunk that she can’t tell when she’s dropped her own bomb.

“Well, don’t look so goddamn surprised, handsome,” she says, “the night’s young even if I’m not. And anyway, Mary’s pulled that one before.”

“What do you mean?”
“Faked her own death. Did it when she was just a teenager. Wanted to escape Todd….no, Terry?…Tyler? Aw, who’s gonna keep ‘em straight. Jacobs was his last name. Yeah Jacobs.”

At least she seems sure of that.

“Last man who might’a made an honest woman out’a her. She couldn’t stand that kid. But Jeff wanted somebody else to take control so we set things up. What does Mary do? On the day of her wedding the police come to say she fell from the second story open window of the bridal shop. Tripped on her veil during the final fittin’ they said. And they believed it. Hell, even I believed it. Saw the body, face down on the pavement right at the scene. Cried like a baby. The kid too. Went to pieces like a goddamn marionette.”

This sick recollection amuses Ez. She lets a laugh escape along with a few more secrets I probably shouldn’t know. Ez is quite a gal – disturbed and demented and full of neurotic self pity burgeoning on a padded room at Great Neck. She cackles like we’ve both been had and for the first time I’m starting to think I might be.

“Two months went by before I got the letter,” Ez explains, “Two months of misery. Nearly lost my head. Damn near took Jeff’s off too. Blamed the whole thing on him for trying to force Mary into something she didn’t want. Then I get this registered letter one day while Jeff’s at work and it says, ‘Dear Ma, I’m fine and living with a couple of girlfriend’s in Florida. Don’t tell daddy. Love Mar.’ and it comes with some photos too. Wanna see?”

I don’t and I think Ez realizes it too, because she suddenly grows dower.

“Maybe you’re right,” she says, getting up from her chair, “I’m tired. You must be too, Mr…uh…what’d you say your name was?”

“Smiley,” I muse, “Digbert Smiley.”

My alias doesn’t fool her. Ez rattles a ball of phlegm inside the expansive recesses of her chest cavity.

“No, you ain’t, Mr.” she exclaims, “But it’s alright if you’d rather not. I’m weary now but I’ll remember what you said in the morning.”

She pinches my cheek.

“And maybe, if you’re lucky,” she coos, “I’ll give you a call.”

She taps herself on the left temple.

“This ain’t dead yet you know. It just takes longer to warm up.”

. . .

At four in the morning New York doormen aren’t exactly receptive to uninvited callers. So, after I’ve found 21 Park Avenue West from the street, I go ‘round back to the service entrance and pick the lock. Standing inside that imposing granite lobby with its marbled statuary and peeing fountain makes me feel like a heel but I don’t really care. I need a place to crash and Park Avenue suits me fine. Besides, occasionally it feels good to go slumming.

The look I get when Mico opens her door says it all.

“Well, dear God,” she playfully says with a half grin, “The dead has arisen…you’re a mess.”

And so I am – sopping wet from head to toe with a thick fringe of half-melted snow collected across the rim of my fedora.

Mico has a drink in her hand. She’s dressed in the same clothes she wore on the train.

“Baby, it’s cold outside,” I urge.

She steps aside, but just enough to barely let me pass. Only a few blocks separate this apartment from Ez’s and yet I’ve suddenly moved to the other side of the rainbow. It’s a callous art deco palace, sparsely decorated like the tombs of ancient Pharaohs but with black marble, so shiny that I can make out my reflection even in the dim glow of fire light.

“Not bad, angel,” I say, pretending that I’ve seen better, “Where’s my room?”
“A bit presumptuous, aren’t we?” Mico replies.

She doesn’t mean a word. In fact, there isn’t one sincere thought in that vapid little brain. We stand apart, in acknowledgement of one another for a few brief minutes. But then she turns to show me the way and that’s all the encouragement I need. I drop the grip and come up from behind, sliding my icy wet hands along her warm dry shoulders. I can feel my fingers tingle. She doesn’t recoil and I know my instincts about her have been dead bang from the start.

“Buy cheap,” I say, pressing my lips against hers. She drapes like silk around my neck, “Sell high. Cut your losses when it’s over.”

“You sound as though you’ve done this before,” Mico replies in a whisper.
“Just once,” I lie.

It would make us both blush to learn how many bad girls and blue boys have come before.

“You think you’re king of the hill?” says she, as I unzip the back of her blouse.

“How about an ‘ace in the hole’?”

I feel the belt on my trench loosen between her fingers.

“I think you should know I’m not an easy mark,” she confides even as the silken thin straps of her bra ride down around her waist.

“Try,” I say.

The big finish doesn’t come for several hours afterward. By then I’ve seen all of the apartment and Mico that I want to. But I’m too tired to care or move on. We fall asleep in each other’s arms, neither content with our station or circumstance – both in search of a future that neither one wants to acknowledge has already passed by.


THE END? - not until the fat lady sings

Eddie Mars will return May 19th, 2006 in his next adventure:
Daddy's Little Girls

@Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).