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, August 23, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 17TH: THE NARROW ESCAPE

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 17th: THE NARROW ESCAPE

In those split seconds following my own damn fool notion that death by derailment would somehow have been instantaneous and painless, I found myself sailing around on my celebrated ass in a room doing a complete barrel roll. The world had become unhinged and it was every man for himself. I hung on to Mico for as long as I could, but felt the centrifugal force tear us in half. She disappeared out of view, buried under several racks of costumes and a couple of heavy mail bags. I didn’t see Hemmingway airborne, but suddenly I looked up and there was Marysol like a great white terrified vapor staring me square in the face.

We knocked our brains together with such a force that I don’t remember the rest. I felt my legs wedged against the wall and hoped nothing was broken. But beyond that meager and fleeting thought for self preservation, I didn’t much give a damn one way or the other until a few moments later, when the thunderous rumble from beneath ceased and my eyes slowly stop ricocheting inside the back of my head.


. . .


A blast of cold air and some wet sleet pouring in from the busted doors brings me to. I can hear the faint sound of steam from the boilers and dim echoes of confusion and panic from the survivors in the next car. But I haven’t got a moment to wonder who didn’t make it. It’s dark inside, except for the faint flicker of an emergency lamp that barely makes things visible. I wait for my eyes to adjust then have a quick look around. In the few seconds it took to wreck an entire train, I managed to cover the span of forty feet on my back and I shows. My spine feels like the wishbone on Thanksgiving.

I’m stuck, but not too tight in a corner with a couple of shelves laying across me - sore but alive which is more than I can say for Marysol whose shattered skull greets me as I roll over to wiggle out from under my trap.

Yep, she’s dead alright. If that sunken half of her head didn’t tip me off then that thickening pool of blood pouring like a can of Mott’s tomato from her nostrils gives away the mystery. And it’s a good thing too, or I’d have to bash that puss of hers into pulp. I wouldn’t mind…not after what she’s put me through…only my fist is bloody enough without help. Funny…I didn’t think this cat had used up all of her nine lives just yet.

I get the second shock of my life a few minutes later when a battered hand begins to stir from under a sack of mail. It’s Mico and she’s still breathing. Even with that hole in her she’s managed to hang on to some forgotten daydream for a better tomorrow – or at least a tomorrow. I crawl over to the mess covering her up and gently peel the bundles and loose letters away until I hear light sighs and feel her warm breath on my knuckles.

“Angel?” I whisper.

Her eyes flicker like a pair of searchlights hooked up to a dying battery.

“He…help me,” she barely stammers.

“Hang on,” I tell her, brushing away a few strands of her matted hair from her forehead.

I begin to pry back all the junk surrounding her.

“Glad you stuck around for the encore,” I quip, trying to convince myself that it’s ‘happily ever after’ from hereon in, “We’ve had our ups and downs, baby but this is the first time they came at us at the same time.”

How can you refuse that face, ivory white, angelic and so close to death that for a moment I think I hear Gabriel’s trumpet gaining from behind – then I realize it’s a conductor’s whistle coming up from the rear.

I don’t have time to look for Hemmingway as I dig his kid out’ta the rubble and try to straighten myself enough to pull her closer to me. From under a trunk I dig out Mico’s hand. She squeezes mine just to let me know she’s with me still.

“Hang on, Angel,” I reaffirm for her again, “Just stay with me.”

Her eyes never leave mine and I know she hears every word.

“I’m not going to leave you,” I tell her.

There’s not that much blood around her wound. It’s as though the shock of impact and all that junk being dumped on top cauterized it.

“We have to go,” I tell her.

“N…No.”

“Afraid so, Angel. I don’t know where but there’s still a few pieces of the puzzle unaccounted for.”

“I ca…can’t,” she whispers.

“You don’t have to,” I explain, kissing her forehead “I’ll do all the work. You just concentrate on living.”

She nods. She trusts me. But it doesn’t last long.

“Is anybody here?” a voice calls from the other side of the car. Mico tries to make a sound. But she’s weak and no match for my fist cupping over her mouth.

“Anybody, at all?”

I observe as a pair of flashlight beams dart back and forth about the crumpled recesses of this room. They’d see us for sure if it wasn’t for all that steam and night fog that’s flooded the place. I lay quietly across Mico and whisper into her ear.

“Be still, Angel,” I tell her, “We don’t have a chance of explaining this away if we’re caught.”

That seems to work, or so I think until I realize that Mico’s passed out, her face a portrait of peaceful slumber in some forgotten moment childhood left behind.

The conductor climbs into our car. His accomplice is ready to give up when they both hear what neither they nor I expected.

“Here!” Hemmingway’s voice calls out loud and clear. My glances dart about the room, frantic to locate the direction of his pleas. He’s stronger than I thought and probably twice as warped as before – like a vinyl record that’s been left out in the afternoon sun, “Damn it. Here!”

I spot him a minute later, clawing at a wire clothes rack that’s pierced through the window nearest where the old car door used to be.

“We’ve got a man down,” the conductor shouts to his friend, prying back the wreckage from Hemmingway’s crumpled body, “He’s broken his leg I think. Go to the dining car. Get me any cloth you can find that I can use for a bandage.”

One of the shafts of flashlight suddenly disappears. It’s then that I realize I’m close to the other exit. I watch as the conductor becomes completely absorbed in his rescue efforts. With all the stealth of an alley cat desperate not to get the boot thrown for pilfering fish heads from the ash can, I wait until I’m certain neither will notice as I sling Mico across my shoulder and slip quietly out of the baggage car.

Outside it’s a lot colder and windier than I’d imagined. A curtain of sleet keeps me lucid and awake like I haven’t felt in years. I start down the embankment, away from the train. We must be in farm country because from what I can make out there’s not a tree in sight; just a lot of flat land with no good place to hide. My feet begin to sink into the mud along side the tracks as I look around for our means of escape. I don’t know where my second wind’s coming from but I’m fairly certain it’ll weather Mother Nature.

Somewhere off in the distance I think I see a dim echo of light from a farm house. It’s only after I’ve walked fifty feet or so from the wreck that I’m certain of the fact.

“Don’t leave me now, Angel,” I whisper while giving Mico a slight pat on the ass, “I couldn’t handle it.”

THE END?
...no, guess again.

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure
- There Was A Farmer
on Sept. 15, 2006.

@ Nick Zegarac 2006 (all rights reserved).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ADVENTURE THE 16TH: UNCOUPLING


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 16th: UNCOUPLING

There is a moment in every man’s life when he realizes he’s been played like a cheap Cajun fiddle at Mardi Gras. In my case, the instrument of choice came with a set of keys and a heap of trouble, but the tune’s still the same; ‘mister, I met a man once…’

By the time I make my way down the ropes to stage level half the auditorium’s cleared out, leaving behind a fantastic five finger discount for any usher with sticky thumbs. There’s even a couple of minks gone astray in the wreckage of handbags, lost high heel Prada’s, programs and the errant but polite candy wrapper. The balconies are empty too.

Schayvetz is cowering in a corner. But before I can get to him, he points a couple of badges in my direction.

“There,” he tells the cops, “He tried to kill me!”
“Don’t be a fool,” I try to explain, “It was the other guy’s assassination. I saved your ass.”

“That so?” copper number one asks in his thick Irish brogue, nodding in the direction of my dearly departed nemesis, “Suppose you tell us all about yer friend at the precinct.”

“Suppose you stop dumbing me up with the Jack Ruby’s of this world,” I suggest, “After all, we were never socially introduced.”

“And suppose you get wise to yourself, smart ass,” I’m told by copper number two with an even thicker accent, “You know, you got a hell of a lot of explaining to do.”

“Answer me this, piano man,” I offer a cryptic message to Schayvetz as my escorts shove me backstage, “If diamonds are a girl’s best friend what’s Steinway doing in bed with Cartier?”

I watch as his eyes grow big and glassy with a new kind of fear. But that’s all I’ve time for before being taken to a waiting squad car out back. I’m barely thrust into the back with the door slammed behind me when I hear the faint dull echo of a couple of slugs going long and deep with a silencer.

I turn to see my escorts kissing dirt, the back of their heads matching the Kennedy assassination for quality marksmanship. Marysol appears from behind a dumpster. She opens the door to the squad car.

“Get out, Mars.”
“Why not just do me here?”
“I’m not sure I’d ‘do’ you anywhere,” she replies, a smug tight little grin eluding to happier days.
“Ah, but you’re not entirely convinced,” I suggest, “That’s good. Leaves room for expansion. Mine.”

The leer disappears.

“You take chances, buddy boy,” Marysol admits, “Besides, I’ve had better.”
“I’ll bet you have,” I agree, “…and everything in between.”

She’s smiling again. That’s good. But she presses the butt of the silencer against my forehead – not so good. She’d use it too if her heart hadn’t been pulled to a lower calling.

“The boss has plans for you,” she explains, “Get out. I won’t ask nicely again.”

Under the circumstances I do as she says. Why not? The night’s full of surprises. The next one comes as Marysol tosses me the keys to a sedan parked in the alley.

“Open it,” she says, pointing to the trunk.

I do, not knowing what to expect. A minute later I play the part of the fool once again – that black dizzy feeling coming on strong from behind as Marysol buries the butt of her pistol in the back of my head. I fall loose and hard into the boot, forgetting that we’re not playing for the same team and for once, not giving a damn if my side wins.

. . .


I come to with a lulling sensation that makes my gut do a somersault. There’s a loud distortion in my ears, almost like the sound of a raging train. In fact, it is a train. I’m tied to a wooden chair inside the baggage car, facing a wall full of props from some road show opera company and riding the classics backwards.

I sit there for a few long minutes before noticing a small mirror in the upper right hand corner. It gives me my only perspective on the rest of the car; crowded messy and full of junk and mail bags. I can see the door leading to the adjoining car and listen for the sound of another human being heading my way. There isn’t one. It’s dark and cold and a bit like waking up inside an oversized coffin. Then, the lights come on.

“Well, well, well…” I hear the voice of my old pal Hemmingway gaining on me from behind, “Yet another surprise. You’re full of them tonight, Mr. Mars.”

“Yeah,” I suggest, still a bit woozy, “We won’t talk about what you’re full of, boss man. Only you and I both know it isn’t diamonds. Poor Schayvetz. He’s probably singing Rigoletto for the boys in blue by now.”

Hemmingway comes around to face me, looking taller and more sure of himself. I suppose there’s not much too it. With both hands bound to the armrests I’m about as intimidating as Melba toast and a honeydew melon. It’s unsettling in a way, although I’m not sure how just yet.

“You underestimate me, Mr. Mars…”

He pauses, as though his words are supposed to resonate some deeper meaning. But I’m a single syllable guy – the perfect fit for a one dimensional ape hopped up on his hind legs.

“This is the last run,” he tells me.
“How so?” I wax.
“Well, until tonight I only thought of you in passing…no…that’s not quite right…let’s say as a bug – how about a roach? Something to be squashed, eh?”

“What?” I prod, “You suddenly don’t fancy myself the Orkin man?”

I amuse him - my one salvation. Let’s see how far it’ll stretch.

“So you contract your exterminators,” I suggest, hoping to get a rise out of him. But it doesn’t happen that way and I’m starting to wonder why.

“And now?” I press on.

Hemmingway grins, sure and confident and ushering for the rest of his party to join us. Marysol appears with a small briefcase.

“Tonight, you proved me wrong, Mr. Mars,” says Hemmingway, “I had no idea how much you enjoyed the classics. Perhaps you’d like a souvenir.”

Marysol pops opens her case with a look of thorough satisfaction pursed into those fleshy lips of hers. I lean forward to take a good look and don’t expect what I find as she tips the case forward for my benefit. Placed just so inside is a pair of human hands chopped at the wrist.

The red velvet backing hides most of the blood but the cut’s fresh and juicy around the ragged edges. This wasn’t clean– it was a hatchet job by a butcher with long fingernails. Marysol gingerly removes the limp left hand from its case, letting her gloved fingers spread the damp digits before resting them upon my knee.

“No, Mr. Shayvetz isn’t playing his song for the police, Mr. Mars,” Hemmingway explains, “In fact I think we can safely assume that he’s given his final performance.”

“Look ma’” Marysol coos, while wiggling the other paralyzed appendage, a thin wicked grimace teasing its way into those rotten apple cheeks, “No hands.”

For the first time in a long while I can’t think of anything to say. I was sort of counting on Schayvetz’s chicken-hearted confession for starters.

“Now, now, Mr. Mars. It isn’t every day that you get this close to greatness.”

“Yours or mine?” I suggest.

“You’re hardly great,” Hemmingway offers, in case I haven’t figured that out for myself, “Just a bungling idiot who couldn’t even keep his job on the force.”

“The bill affair didn’t seem to suit my style,” I admit.

Funny the things you’ll confess when it looks like the end of the line.

“The law wasn’t exactly cut out for guys like me,” I tell Hemmingway, “You know, simply minded boys who figured that wife beaters should take a powder in a cell with a guy named Buba or thought that any freak who diddled kids should be minus an appendage or three without the benefit of a ‘fair’ trial.”

“They tried that sort of thing in Nazi Germany,” explains Hemmingway, “The final solution wasn’t particular revered here in the west.”

“Their mistake was in the selection process,” I confide, “Mine was in assuming that the guilty shall always pay for their crimes.”

“Guilt. Innocence. You speak in finites,” Hemmingway replies, “The world is never cut and dry. You justify your brutalities as readily as I. It’s all so cliché…but I suppose expected. Any last words, Mr. Mars?”

I’m about to swallow my pride when I catch a glimpse of Mico in the mirror on the wall. She’s cringing from around the corner. I don’t think Hemmingway or Marysol have any idea she’s there. I shift my knees apart, knocking Schayvetz’s claws off my pant legs. They topple against the floor like a pair of wooden puppets. I kick the one closest my left foot in Hemmingway’s direction.

“You should have more respect for the dead,” I’m told.

“I do,” I reason, “For instance, right about now I’m feeling sort of guilty about whacking your youngest. That was a mistake.”

“Indeed,” Hemmingway acknowledges, “She was only supposed to distract you.”
“From what?”

Hemmingway smiles – a friendly sort of familial nod.

“You know, Eddie, you’re not nearly as clever as you think,” he explains, “If only you’d pushed a bit to the left instead of the right we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

“Oh,” I reason, regaining my cool.

Now I know just what sort of sicko I’m dealing with. He’s not a handmade murderer or a self made thug in a three piece – but a warped frustrated old man driven mad with delusions of power; pure psychopath.

“How does it feel to know that you used your own flesh and blood as a decoy?”

“I didn’t kill my daughter, Mr. Mars.”

“No. You had me do your dirty work for you,” I admit, “Why? How bad was it at the family picnic last year? Was she always a problem child or did the bloom start to rub off when she started taking up with your musically inclined smuggler boyfriend?”

I catch a glimpse of Mico. She’s paralyzed by the realization that Schayvetz was double dipping from the family blood line for his own part time kicks.

“See,” I explain just to dunk her head a few more times into the cold unsanitary truth, “The way I figure it, you and the maestro were more than partners…that is, ‘partners.’ Either Cynthia didn’t know and didn’t care or did and wanted to get in a bit of revenge. She wasn’t at the library that day as your decoy. She was tailing you. I just happened to push a little too hard to the right. My mistake. Hers too.”

“It’ll cost you both,” Hemmingway confides.

Just then Mico makes her presence known.

Damn fool. She was my one chance for getting out of this. Now that daddy knows she knows she’ll be next in line for that one way ticket on the Orient Express.

“I hope you’re takin’ notes, angel,” I say bitterly.
“I thought I told you to stay in the dining car dear,” Hemmingway annunciates in cold dead tones predicting her future.

“You murdered your male lover?” Mico stammers, half bewildered by the discovery, “What sort of man are you?”

“The kind that doesn’t kiss and tell,” I goad, “He’s the kid in the candy store – a finger in every pie…oh, he’ll take a lick from the cone now and then, but it would never cross his mind to have a legitimate reason for sweets.”

“Go back to the dining car,” Hemmingway instructs, rolling his eyes in Marysol’s direction, “See that she gets and stays there.”

Marysol takes Mico under the arm, escorting with all the gentle tenderness of a viper about to throw her eggs into the Grand Canyon.

“Yes,” I prod, the pace of my words quickening as I spill out the goodies, “See that no harm befalls the other precious offspring…though whose she is, remains open for discussion.”

The last bit stabs like a dull rusty blade between the shoulders. Mico spins in place.

“What?”

Apparently angel’s never heard the old adage that you sometimes have to be cruel to be kind.

“That picture of your late mother that you’re so fond of keeping on the mantel…she may be somebody’s mother alright, but I don’t think she’s yours.”

“Shut up!” Hemmingway snaps.

It’s the first time I’ve seen him genuinely unnerved. But I can’t stop it now. We’re all dancing too close to that campfire of forgotten pasts - hand in mitt - a saccharine-kiss of Kumbaya turning the spit of memory until there’s nothing left but an echo to fall back on.

“What do you think I was doing in the library,” I tell Mico, “Not catching up on my reading…at least, not fiction. That photo got me thinking because it looked a bit too poised, too polished for some forgotten nobody who spit out a couple of kids and then died with her ankles frozen in a mining shack in Montana. That’s how the bio reads anyway. But a closer look didn’t produce a marriage certificate. Alright.”

I turn my attentions to father of the year.

“So you weren’t married. It’s not a crime. Hell, it’s not even a sin. But you were footloose and frequenting Asian brothels for very young boys in trade in those early entrepreneurial days. Nice work if you can get it, pops.”

“Shut up!”

“You ran through as many of those kids as you could – promising each one the world, face down in a rice patch - execution style. You needed them then to establish those lucrative drug connections. But then came the time to transcend that past. You crossed over and got respectable with a couple of store-bought babies and the legacy of a conveniently dead wife to add respectability to your surface sheen. It worked – for a while.”

“I’m warning you, Mr. Mars,” he says.

Only now he’s not so sure he means it, gun shaking in his fist, eyes glazed over, all those years catching up in the rear view and making crater-sized pit marks in that Teflon coated façade.

“Go ahead,” I defiantly suggest, “We’d all be better off. But you’d need one for yourself.”

I tilt my head just enough to give Mico the advantage.

“Because, then came that struggling sterling young talent into his grimy midst…” I tell her without taking my glare off him, “Schayvetz the great, the magnificent, the virtuoso…your great winter romance. He liked to play your piano and you just liked to play. So you hooked that fish…it was so easy…just long enough to realize that in order for things to stay status quo you’d have to toss him back into the sea. Only you couldn’t let him get away. Not you. Not on the chance that he’d rat out the whole mess one fine night in between sonatas and give away your family secrets to a packed house. So you made him a legitimate partner – corrupting his soul as well as his loins. But he was never going to see his cut through. Curtain boy was supposed to take care of that – for his share – until you needed to cut him out…just another optional extra you wouldn’t need to do your touring in a stripped down model, no power steering but plenty of horsepower left to peel out’a there on all fours…tires, that is.”

Marysol takes Mico by the hand. I watch in the small mirror as the two disappear from view. Hemmingway’s gray and sweaty. That’s as much fear as he’s ever known. Not bad for someone whose heart had been cut out a long time ago and cast like a piece of coal into the stokes.

“She knows,” I tell Hemmingway, a minor threat that wins me no time.

He picks up Schayvetz’s hands, opens a tiny half window and tosses them into the careening night.

“Charming discovery for some local hobo,” I muse.

“Well,” Hemmingway admits, “they could have stayed. I don’t suppose anyone will be able to connect them with the rest of the carnage by tomorrow’s light. You see, much as I like, I can’t just kill you and walk away. I’ve a ticket on this train and someone other than you is bound to be smart enough to put two and two together. ”

“So what?”

“So, I’m going to have to derail this train,” Hemmingway explains without a drop of emotion, “Oh, it’s a couple of hundred innocents who’ll never see daylight again, but in all that mess I don’t think anyone will miss you, Mr. Mars.”

Hemmingway reaches into his coat pocket and produces a tiny badge that reads prop manager. Affixing the clip to my lapel with a stick pin, he reaches over to a nearby cabinet and removes a lengthy spear. Propping its rod between two steamer trunks and tilting its sharp point downward to just under my chin.

“When I pull the chord Mr. Mars you will be just a memory.”
“And you’ll be thrown along with the rest,” I suggest, “Don’t be a fool. It’s suicide!”

“Oh, I’ve thought of that. You see, I’m going to be safe inside the stall at the end of the block. After we flip I’ll come back and untie your hands so that the authorities can discover you in your appropriate state of grace. Goodbye, Mr. Mars. For the last time.”

He’s insane. He’ll never survive the derailment. Neither will I. I watch in the mirror as Hemmingway disappears from the car. He really means to do it. I’ve maybe a minute before I find myself holding my own head in my hands.

So I try in vane to loosen the ropes that bind me to the chair but it’s no use. I stick my feet out in front and kick upward, just missing the staff of the spear. If I can kick it loose, I might at least have a chance at living through the wreck. I try again, giving everything I’ve got. Again, I miss the spear by mere inches.

“Here,” comes a familiar voice from behind.

It’s Mico, working her nimble fingers quickly to unfasten my bonds.

“How did you…?” I begin.
“I told Marysol I was going to be sick,” Mico explains.
“And she bought it?”

Apparently, even the happy murderess has a heart.

She’s good. And fast. I can feel the stitches grow lax around my wrists.

“They’ll kill you when they find out,” I tell her.
“That’s right,” another familiar voice calls out from behind, “They will.”

The rope undoes and I’m free. Only now we’re cornered by Hemmingway and Marysol, both with their pieces drawn.

“You treacherous little bitch,” Hemmingway seethes.

“I’m not going to let you kill him,” Mico explains, making her person my shield. But she’s wrong, as wrong as she can be and she’s about to find it out.

“Then how about you?” Hemmingway playfully inquires.

He fires one quick shot that makes confetti out’a that firm little midsection of hers. Mico folds like an accordion in my arms with a look of utter disbelief clinging to her fading strength. It’s then that I notice the emergency cord inches away from my side.

“Prison gray doesn’t suit your kind,” I tell him, “How about modeling a body bag.”

I sling Mico over my shoulder, before grabbing hold of the emergency release and pulling for all its worth. In the next instant, all hell breaks loose.

THE END...

Don't you believe it!

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure:
THE NARROW ESCAPE
on August 25th 2006.

@Nick Zegarac (all rights reserved).