ADVENTURE THE 25TH: SMALL MERCIES
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 25TH: SMALL MERCIES
Now, you know as much as I do. It’s not much, I’ll grant you; just enough of the carrot to keep the right sort of bunny nibbling. You know - the kind that winds up in a stock pot with the dial turned on high. Only, I’m not that timid. After what I’ve been through there’s not enough lettuce in the garden to make me hop over the fence.
But now I’m home; back where I belong or at least exist. The old view from my second story fire escape facing DeLuca Street is a welcomed sight; the alley with its perennial foot traffic and street walkers keeping time like a metronome; green neon tubing flashing through my Venetians from Archie’s bump n’ grind across the way and that damn fool mutt still howling from his perch on the wood palettes collected in stacks at the chipping plant.
Yep, home never looked so good. Not all of ‘em come with white picket fences and an engraved mailbox that reads ‘Oprah stayed here’. But I sometimes think that the man upstairs gives us these moments just for his own cosmic tease. He likes to play with us – only I’m not the pliable pawn. Even if I didn’t know it now, I was about to say goodbye to Sally of the skid row for a very long time.
As I unbutton my collar and slip out of clothes that have a date with the incinerator downstairs, I’m sure of only one thing – that I don’t wanna see another pair of high heels digging into my backside for a very long time.
I get into the shower - alone for a change - and lather up from head to toe. I can feel each bead of pulsating water from that head shatter my consciousness, taking me to another place where life doesn’t carry the stench of hypocrisy as its carry-on. It’s then that I make myself a solemn promise – ‘Eddie,’ I can almost hear myself say, ‘If you ever get the urge to be frisky, just remember this moment…then reach for a centerfold and a box of Kleenex instead.' Less mess that way all around.
I order in – Chinese; just enough to get full on but not too much to make a gross pig of myself which is how I still feel even after I’ve shaved. On the run travel takes its toll, you know. I’ve been dropping my coins in the booth for too long and it shows.
Anyway, it’s an early night. I hit the sheets after a few rounds of solitaire and a quick read of the latest racing sheet. Palhopper in the ninth looks good. Maybe I’ll watch him work out tomorrow...only tomorrow comes a little earlier than I planned.
. . .
The faint sound of a phone ringing sets my limbs fumbling for the receiver at three in the morning. When I finally pick up, there’s nobody on the other end but I can still here ringing close by. In the pale moonlight I make out the edge of my bed, and just beyond that, a rather small Asian man with thick Coke bottle glasses in half shadow reaching for his cell.
“Who let you in here?” I say, rubbing my eyes and turning on the lamp by my night stand.
The cast temporarily blinds me. I hate surprises – especially when their not blondes. Last time I checked the register, this was a single.
“Good evening, Mr. Maas,” a polite voice with a clipped Oriental accent says, “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Shin-Su.”
He’s seated on a chair brought in from the hall; tailored in white linen, with a tie no less, and a wicker cane casually placed at the base of his alligator shoes. The plaster of palmade in his jet black hair shines like a Tesla coil, second only to that flawless pearl China closet grin that could like greater Bangkok.
He’s holding a corrugated box on his lap that’s almost as big as he is - tied neatly with a raw bit of black string.
“I’ve heard of the sandman,” I reason, “only mine’s usually taller.”
Shin lets out with a big toothy smile. Great dentist, but overcompensated by those magnifying lenses that tell me he couldn’t find his own ass without a good optometrist.
“You are…” he pauses to find the words, “we say…most humorous.”
“We agree!” I tell him, “But this is nothing. Hand me the bottle and I’m strictly for laughs.”
I don’t go over so well.
“Shall we….get down to business, as you Americans say?” Shin suggests.
I reach under my pillow for my spare gat. It’s the old Boy Scout in me - always be prepared. I take dead aim at Shin’s forehead.
“Your turn,” I tell him, “Suppose ‘we’ say how ‘we’ got in ‘our’ room.”
Only Shin’s not moved by my sudden show of fire power. In fact, I detect a decided note of condescension as he reaches into his pocket and produces my magazine full of bullets. Son of a bitch. I didn’t see it coming.
“You must’a been something around the campfire,” I razz.
I can tell by the slight raise of his brow that he doesn’t quite get my drift.
After a long pregnant pause, where I bet even money on either of us dropping the first set of twins, Shin decides it’s time to proceed with what he came for. He gets up and walks toward me, placing the box on my sheets before resuming his seat.
“You left something behind in New York,” he tells me.
I’m fairly certain he’s not Kamikaze so I open it. It’s not a bomb, but it does have a kick – literally, and, wrapped in plastic; a human foot severed just above what used to be an ankle - nail polish, painted toes. The blood around the wound’s been cauterized and there’s a telling bit of sparkle to off set the gruesomeness – an anklet inscribed with Mico’s initials.
“She…” Shin begins, “The lady…did not suffer…much.”
“No,” I reason, keeping my temper and my stomach down as I put what’s left of her back in the box, “Where’s the rest?”
Shin smiles again with those nice set of choppers. I wonder if they could’a hacked through bone if they had to. Maybe they did.
“It would…I believe…be better if you were…not to know,” he replies.
“Suppose we get down to business, as you say,” I prod.
I get a polite nod for that one. Top marks from my pint size assassin.
“I represent a consortium of interested parties,” Shin explains.
“Indeed. Tell me, are they all cannibals or just the ones who break into people’s apartments at three in the morning?”
Shin isn’t amused but he pretends to be. Got’a hand it to whoever sent him. He’s been told to handle me with a velvet glove instead of a Ginsu. He follows directions.
“You have been on a very dangerous mission, Mr. Maas,” Shin tells me…like I don’t know, “We…that is, my associates…wish to extend our invitation toward forging new mutual alliance.
He’s gone into riddles. But I’m a fairly good punster.
“You want the list,” I reason.
“I haven’t got it.”
Now I’m the one to launch into a pregnant pause.
‘Do the math, Mars’, I tell myself. Shin gets close to Mico. How? That cat had nine lives. One way – she worked for him or his consortium or his associates who don’t like little girls with little curls and diabolical little minds. Double-double cross. Dangerous and it backfired.
That’s what happens when you roll fixed dice. She crapped out and now it’s my turn. Only my hairy ankle won’t look as good in that bloody Hallmark greeting…see, I don’t care enough to send the very best.
“I’ll bite,” I say, “Where does that leave us?”
Shin shrugs his slender shoulders, grinning from ear to ear.
“That depends,” he tells me pointedly, “If we agree, you will begin most fascinating new journey. If not, you will not leave this room alive.”
He means it too. I know it. He knows it. That phone call was probably a signal to some Red Chinese hit squad waiting in their laundry truck out back. It’s rather pointless to press my luck, especially when the fortune cookies are not stacked in my favor.
“Under the circumstances, I accept.” I say.
Shin removes a plane ticket from his breast pocket and lays it at my feet.
“You will board Flight 118 for Dubai,” he explains.
“I’m not a good traveler,” I suggest, reaching for my ticket, “Hmmm, first class. Maybe I just haven’t been doing it right….racking up those frequent flyer miles.”
“We believe in the best of everything,” Shin tells me.
“Yeah,” I agree, checking out the bill fold slipped into my ticket sleeve. It’s bursting with crisp new hundreds, “Who’s we?”
A polite nod is the only reply I get, so I press on. Only a fool enters into any agreement without first establishing the rules.
“For the time being,” suggests Shin, “It will be of…most benefit to you to follow instructions. We promise – no harm will come to you, if you obey.”
“Same promise you gave her?” I say, kicking the box.
Mico’s foot rolls around inside.
“The girl,” Shin explains, “…did not follow our rules.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” I reason, “But I gotta tell you, I’m not exactly all-team player either. Sometimes the blockers are having all the fun. So, suppose we cut to the chase.”
But I get no more out of my mysterious travel agent. In fact, he picks up his cane and the box and heads for the door.
“Hey,” I shout after him, “This ticket’s dated for ten o’clock today. That’s less than seven hours from now. You got’a give me time, you know. I need to pack.”
Shin turns to face me one last time. He’s still got that stiff grin that I’d like to knock off his face with a two by four.
“You needn’t bother, Mr. Maas,” he explains, “Everything you require has already been provided upon your arrival.”
I guess Shin sort’a figures now is as good a time as any for the house rules, because I get them in rapid succession.
“We await you most generously in Dubai, Mr. Maas. But please, do not bother to phone ahead. Make no contact between now and ten o’clock tomorrow. But be on time at gate twelve where you shall receive further instructions. It is my…duty to inform you that you will be watched.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I agree, “But suppose somebody calls me? You expect me to just sit here and not answer my own telephone?”
Shin’s smile disappears.
“Failure to comply will result in…shall we say…most unhappy circumstances. Goodnight.”
The door closes behind him. I hear the lock click. I’m alone…I think…at least with my thoughts.
Who the hell can sleep now?
No. Guess again.
Or just tag along with Eddie Mars on his next big adventure
– Player’s Privilege
on March 30th, 2007