ADVENTURE THE 22ND: WE THREE FAKES
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 22ND:
WE THREE FAKES
I hadn’t planned on company but there they were, and poised to storm the place if we didn’t let them in. Like the big bad wolf with a head cold the size of Denver.
“What to we do?” Mico asks.
It’s a simple question. Every situation has at least two alternatives. She’s thinking, ‘escape.' But I rarely seem to guess beyond the obvious.
“Open it,” I tell her.
She does, even before the bell rings. Two hulking masses poured into regulation blue are surprised by our level of expectation and that suits me fine.
“Come in, gentlemen,” I beckon.
They’re evenly matched – like a couple of clones from the world of the anatomically gifted with synthetic help. Lefty's slightly taller but they both share the same barber and bench press. I can almost read their minds. How did he?…why did he?…should we?
The taller one on the right speaks first.
“Expecting company?” he asks.
“No. But if I was, you wouldn’t be it,” I say, “You boys just look like you won’t take ‘do not disturb’ for an answer.”
I puff out the lapels of my green robe. I’m not wearing much underneath
“I am unarmed.”
Tall man raises a curious brow. His partner shifts his focus to Mico.
“Oh, she’s friendly too,” I assure him.
Shorty doesn’t seem to think so.
“I won’t bite,” Mico confirms.
“Yeah,” I add with a thin grin, “At least not on your first visit.”
The boys step in, filling the hall. But they’re reluctant to go any further. It’s amazing how crowded a couple of cops can make any room seem. In this case, we’ve gone from zero to instant claustrophobia.
“Your name?” Tall man asks Mico.
“Mico Hemmingway,” she tells him.
“You’re the daughter of…” he begins, rifling through his note pad.
“Arthur J. Hemmingway,” Mico finishes his sentence for him. Then, with a slight pause, “Stepdaughter.”
The last bit seems to cast new light on the whole situation for ye of the short term memory. Tall man studies Mico with more curiosity than wit, his eyes riding the contours of her frame. I can’t really fault him. It's a classy little chasse. But what I do mind is the sudden zeroing in from her to me.
“Who’s this?” Tall man asks Mico.
“Who wants to know?” I pipe in.
“The police. Who do you think?”
“Can I see some I.D.?”
This gets his dander up. Good thing too. I hate alley cats on the prowl.
“What do I look like, bud?”
“Well,” I suggest, giving tall man the same visual treatment he gave Mico, “From here you look like a cop. Even from out there the likeness was pretty good. Only, how do I know you’re not some wacko who enjoys the five finger discount at shops like Guns n’ Ammo and Uniforms-R-Us?”
“You can trust me,” Tall man suggests.
“What about him?” I toss a glance in Shorty’s direction.
“You can trust us both,” the tone in his voice, a bit more gruff this time around.
I shake my head. He knows I’ve got him licked.
“I’m Officer Daily,” Tall man says, “This is Officer Charles.”
He’s got a face of granite and heart of stone.
“And your name…” Tall man begins.
“…is for my friends,” I tell him, “Sorry, you’re not on that list. Besides, you’re more interested in the lady of the house. Hadn’t you better tell her what you came for?”
“I ought’a take you in right now, Mr.” threatens Tall man.
But he’s not serious.
“On what charge?” I suggest, “Not that it matters. I’ve known a lot’a cops in my day. For some, the term ‘pig’ fits.”
“You gotta big mouth,” Shorty tells me.
I take my side by Mico.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I muse, “For some it’s just the right size.”
Mico decides to defuse the situation.
“This is my…cousin,” she lies, “He’s recovering from a skiing accident. Now, what can I do for you?”
Tall man studies her closely. I don’t think he buys her story but he really doesn’t have anything else to go on.
“It’s about your stepfather,” he says, “I’m afraid he’s dead.”
“Well, well,” I quip playfully, “That does throw a wrench into things doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” asks Shorty.
He’s all steely and cool, like a great ice sculpture. I’d like to put him in direct sun.
“It explains why we didn’t get any gifts this year,” I continue, “Angel here had her heart set on a pair of brass knuckles.”
“I take it you weren’t a close family,” Tall man replies.
“Good for you,” I shoot back, “Glad to see the Academy still has classes on the powers of deduction.”
“Look it…” Tall man begins.
It’s taken him longer to rise above room temperature than I thought. My mistake. One of many, I’m sure.
“How did he die?” Mico interrupts.
“Complications,” Tall man explains, “We were wired by the New Jersey state police that a train derailed. Your stepfather was on it. They rushed him to Mt. Freedland. But his injuries were extensive.”
“How did you find us?” I chime in.
“Wireless,” Tall man explains, “Didn’t think much, till the old lady at the corner store…”
He pauses, fumbling for his note pad again, “…a Mrs. Ogenbutton made your I.D.”
“…and all this time I thought it was Isobella,” I tell Mico.
“Who?” asks Shorty.
“A cow,” I tell him.
“Of a different kind,” I add.
“Anyway,” Tall man explains, “Our assignment was to contact you with the news and make arrangements for your return to New York.”
The pieces don’t fit. He knows it. I hope to God he doesn't realize I do too.
“New York? What for?” I ask.
“To identify the body,” Tall man replies, “…and to collect the inheritance.”
He’s completely leaving me out’a things now, focusing on Mico because he thinks he can get to her more easily.
“Your stepfather left a sizeable estate, Miss. We’re here to escort you to the station…now.”
“Suppose we’re not ready to go?” I question.
“Suppose you give it a rest, brother,” Tall man tells me.
He’s had just about enough and I’ve run out of strings to keep him dangling.
“Yes,” Mico reasons with a wink, “Besides, you weren’t mentioned in the will, remember?”
I smile. It’s our trademark in unspoken communication.
“Well, daddy always did like you best,” I confirm.
“Get dressed,” says Shorty.
“All right,” I agree, “But suppose you and your partner wait outside.”
“Why?” Tall man asks.
I puff out the lapels of my robe once more.
“I’m the modest type.”
He’s not happy with that answer or about leaving us alone and that’s my next indication that something’s not quite right. I say nothing to Mico until the doors are locked behind them. Then I race to the phone.
I tell Mico to get me my things and to get ready for a quick getaway. By the time she’s back from the closet I have the answer I should have known all along.
“Those guys aren’t cops,” I tell her, “The station house never heard of Daily and Charles.”
There’s a quiet wash of immediate panic that tightens her usual glycerin façade.
“Two questions, Angel. How much do you like this house, and, got any candles?”
While I slip into the grey corduroys and navy pull over Mico picked up for me in town, Mico gathers several candles, a couple of hurricane lamps and a box of matches. As she passes the front window she takes a quick peak outside.
“What are you planning?” she asks.
“A big surprise and some camouflage,” I explain.
. . .
I open the natural gas valves full throttle and shut off the flame on the stove and in the fireplace, instructing Mico to light several large candles and the hurricane lamps in the front room. I also find a couple of big mental gasoline canisters on the back porch, drag them into the kitchen and dump their contents into the plugged sinks, sticking a wobbly candle next to the basin.
“Okay,” I tell Mico, “This is it. Start running.”
We bolt out’a the back door and down the path that opens onto open field. But the snow’s deeper than I thought. Before I know it we’re wading thigh deep through the white and not so fluffy. We’re only a couple hundred feet from the house when the candle by the sink makes contact with the tub of gasoline.
A series of explosions rocks the place from its foundation in all directions. It’s as though all that brick and mortar was no more than a box of matchsticks. I'm in slight awe as the roof rises like one blackening rocket launch into the sky. Chards of glass pierce the night like a million diamond hail storm, showering us and everything within a six block radius.
“That’ll keep them lookin’ for bodies...for a bit,” I tell Mico as we reach the underbrush that frames the edge of the property.
“It was such a nice old house,” says Mico.
“Yeah,” I admit, “But now it’s kindling.”
…we’re just getting warmed up.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure:
Surprise Me on Feb. 1, 2007.