ADVENTURE THE 28TH: TACTICAL MANUEVERS
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 28TH:
What is the measure of time; seconds, hours, days, weeks?
Or is it in the moment – drawn out in heartbeats? I don’t know time. We’re not old friends. I can’t quantify the purpose of it either; born – live - die. I only know that the next three weeks of my life go by in a blur – not that I mind, only I usually pick the libation that leads to fade out.
But this time I’m not in control. Instead, I’m fed through an endless meat grinder of tutors who strip my past layers to a thin base core, then coat the wellspring with a new, if even thinner veneer. It works – at least, on the surface. I take it all in – my mind and body growing stronger; built for the inevitable purpose drawing closer with each breath to murderer’s row. Because, there is a purpose to all this – a dark purpose. There always is.
Their a mixed lot – my ‘teachers,’ rough hewn and good natured…again, on the surface. Mr. Manners, in matters of form and refinement, is my most annoying; effeminate, immaculate and meddling. He thinks the world’ll end if I don’t use the right fork with my salad.
On my sixth day in his flamboyant care, I’m given a full body wax from his trio of his associates - all women. Smart guy. He knows better than to try it himself, though he’s constantly circling the room as they glue and tear at my flesh until I’m as raw as a stock-potted lobster. I don’t flinch – much…and this rather impresses him.
“You show considerable restraint, Mr. Mars,” Manners tells me.
“You should try it sometime,” I reply while toweling a few droplets of blood collecting just under by right nipple.
That raises a fairly curious eyebrow.
“You are mistaken, Mr. Mars,” Manners suggests, “I take no formal pleasure in this exercise.”
“Yeah,” I agree, feeling the sting as that cotton twill brush like sandpaper against my baby smooth skin, “That makes two of us. Tell me, what’s the purpose of making a hairless wonder out’a me? I thought the only thing naked in these parts were the cats.”
Manners gives me his once over, his hands raised in the air as though he were ready to pluck a harp. He looks upon me as though I were something he created from scratch and I suddenly feel a bit like a capon.
“Don’t you think the ladies will like this better?” he asks.
“Some gentlemen too, no doubt,” I say.
He glows red like Rudolph, only in his cheeks.
“You may get dressed now, Mr. Mars,” he coldly tells me, disappearing into his office for a splash of cologne and a cool face towel.
I enjoy playing him. He’s relatively pliable that way, but smart enough to know that if he ever got the wrong idea he’d have that bottle of aftershave crammed down his throat before you could say ‘Barbesol.’ Still, I make my notes. Every once in a while he actually does tell me something useful.
. . .
I was a fairly apt pupil in my youth. But I impress myself with how easily it all comes back. Memory’s a strange phenomenon. That instant recall that makes you relive your past when you least expect it. But I’ve no regrets. At least, none that I’ll admit to.
Ace Fairschot is my marksman instructor; a big beefy guy who could probably crush most adversaries with his bare fists, only he prefers the cold calculation of steel; an automatic with a silencer. Why not…keeps the finger nails clean. I sort’a guess I impressed Ace on my first day when he tossed me his weapon and pointed to this wax dummy some thirty feet away.
“Kill him,” he tells me with a polite grin.
Three shots – wrist, stomach, head; all with casual precision it’s taken me years to perfect. It’s all over in a matter of seconds. Ace takes a look at my sharp-shooting.
“Why did you shoot the wrist first?” he asks with great curiosity.
“To disarm him,” I reason.
“To give him something to think about while he bleeds to death,” I say.
“I thought it would be impolite to start off with a straight kill,” I tease tossing him a half smile and his gun back.
Ace nods with a grin. He’s only half impressed. Then, I see why. Without dispatch, he puts a one hole right through the mannequin’s heart, another bull’s eye in the neck. Then, almost too quick to imagine, he does a perfect pair inches apart into the piercing eye sockets.
“Lungs,” Ace exclaims, tossing me his gun, “To immobilize your victim before he can reach for the weapon of his choice. Voice box – so he cannot scream for help. Eyes – that you are the last thing he will ever see before going straight to hell.”
What a loveable chap, I reason. For him, killing isn’t a job. It isn’t even a sport. He genuinely loves it.
. . .
I get tested; scenarios mostly. Like riddle me this – you’re in a mall with several dozen shoppers when a lone wacko decides to thin out the herd. He threatens to execute six before you can get close enough for the kill shot – then you realize he’s the Afghani defector with military secrets you’ve been trying to get your hands on since you can’t remember when. What do you do?
Humanitarian common sense says, ‘kill the terrorist.’ A military strategist would think otherwise.
So far, I score high – or so I think, because I don’t hear anything back…and no news is always good. But then I get a summons to Karl’s suite one afternoon and I’m a little put off when I take note that the boys waiting for me in his elevator are the same duo who had me caned.
When I get to Karl’s, he’s not exactly pleased to see me. He’s going over a dossier of my test sheets with critical disdain. I start feeling edgy, just like the kitty whose litter box needs a good cleaning.
“Sit,” Karl commands.
“No,” I tell him…at least not without a please.
Karl’s not into pleasantries today. He snaps his fingers for Brutus Number One to make me sit.
But I’m caught up on my Karate. I catch big boy in the neck with the back of my hand, then twist his arm behind his back – kicking his feet from under him and let his forehead do the ceremonial bows with Karl’s mahogany desktop. Out cold and maybe, if I’m lucky, with a concussion.
Number Two’s sneaky - he grabs me from behind. I wrestle back and forth, then bend like a snake and flip him on top of his partner. But he isn’t quite finished with me. He’s up and ready to lunge, only Karl gives him his walking papers with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Enough!” Karl tells him, “Go!”
Then pointing to that unconscious lump of muscle lying face-down on the floor, “…and take him with you.”
I’m fairly impressed with myself – agility in motion without even breaking a sweat. I must thank my personal trainer when I get back…if I get back.
I’m offered a seat once more, only now with considerably more respect.
“You’re improving,” Karl says.
“Just not enough,” I read him like a book.
He places the folder with my test scores on the desk between us.
“Do you know the purpose of these tests?” Karl asks.
“You tell me,” I say.
Karl eyes me up and down like prey ready for the kill. He wants something. He expects something. I’m about to learn what that is.
“In several scenarios you refused to kill an eleven year old Malaysian boy, even though he is a drug mule,” he explains.
“He was a child,” I say.
“A drug mule!” Karl reasserts.
He’s not getting through to me, just yet. But Karl’s more persuasive in his little pinky than most men are with a fist full’a brass knuckles.
“And if this child,” Karl reasons, “…were strapped with enough explosives to decimate a small village; if this child had been programmed to assassinate your entire family; this child…was an angel – not of mercy, but death; a carrier of level three biological warfare that would kill thousands if he ever escaped into the public…if this child, were the devil himself…you would still spare his life?”
All good points, I’ll grant him.
“Hypothetical,” I reason.
Karl shakes his head.
“Not in this profession.”
And suddenly it all clicks for me. I’m at play in the field of the big boys. There is no sympathy in the majors. Heart comes a distant fourth to cunning, stealth and restraint.
I’m open to reconsideration.
“Spare me your middle class morality,” Karl explains, “It is a luxury we cannot afford.”
We’ve reached an impasse. I concede that circumstances are everything. But I refuse to whitewash the possibility that tomorrow’s generation should be exterminated today because they might wreak havoc some sunny tomorrow.
“Come,” Karl commands, “I want to show you something.”
. . .
We take the elevator down to the garage. There, a stretch limo that seems to roll on for a full city block is waiting and inside, so are the two thugs I humiliated upstairs. Brutus Number One has come around and is nursing a golf ball size lump on his forehead with a bag of ice. Number Two glowers in my direction, looking far too frisky for my liking.
We pull away from the hotel. It’s the first time in almost a month that I’ve seen the city in all its crowded, bustling glory. Even though we’re air cooled, the strain of scorching sun outside can be felt penetrating the tinted windows. I don’t ask where we’re headed and no explanation is offered. Apparently we’re all suffering from a complete lack of curiosity.
Gradually, the moneyed playgrounds subside into the real heart of the city; a labyrinth of dirty little byways where life is cheaper than the accommodations. I catch sight of a gnarled skin and toothless old woman, crumpled like a dark bead against stark white stucco. Is she smiling because there’s nothing else to do, or does she honestly believe that things will improve?
The memory of her gaping grin sticks with me long after the slums are just a tiny speck in our rear view. I don’t know exactly why I see her now. Perhaps, it’s because I still have my conscience. Maybe, it’s about to be tested.
. . .
We drive for almost an hour into the searing white heat of the desert. There’s nothing but flatness on all sides – a mesmerizing anvil with the pale blue unattainable horizon rising ahead. Somewhere along the way, we turn off the road, the wheels picking up pulverized sand crystals and turning them into a white chalky cloud behind the car.
After, what seems to be an impossible stretch of nothingness, the limo’s GPA tracking system begins to register a faint blip ahead that grows more prominent by the second. Our driver slows the car as the spacing between pulsations grows shorter, until it is one grating sonic binging in all our ears. We roll to a complete stop, and Number Two opens the door on my side, pointing for me to exit.
Most people think the desert is a metaphor for deadening nothingness – a paralytic lost spot on the world map that time doesn’t regard as its own and God left to the scorpions long before that. But the wind in the desert is something quite tangible and quite strong, just as stifling as those crippling rays of sunshine. It’s only after a few moments, as my eyes adjust to the staggering glare of that flat surface that I begin to make out the shape of a vast rectangular pit directly in front of me.
As the scallop of blow raises restless granules across this gaping hole, the mangled heap of bony finger tips, tibias and ribcages, half petrified, with the occasional skull cropping from its mess of limbs come into focus; a mass grave of epic and humbling proportions, and I wonder… have I been brought here to mingle with the rest?
Karl casually lights a cigar, expelling deep acrid fumes into the swift gusts, suddenly made sour with the stench of fresh kills.
“Who are they?” I ask.
The words get choked between shallow dry breaths.
“That depends,” Karl explains, “…on one’s point of view. Yesterday they were somebody’s mother, child, aunt, brother.”
He punctuates each familial relation as my eyes dart about that reckless carnage. I observe the ritual of corrupted life, as a scorpion diligently picks away the last juicy remnants of an eyeball from someone’s blood-crusted socket.
“The minions of progress, Mr. Mars,” Karl continues, “Working, building, selling their souls in trade for bread and a dry hovel to sleep in…but today, they are the honorable dead.”
I feel the tip of a gun silencer pressed into my left temple and realize that time has run out.
“There are lives, and then, there are lives,” Karl reasons, “Only some are worth living. So decide for us both - now…death today…or tomorrow?”
We’re all living on borrowed time. The only question is do I permit myself the luxury of a few more hours?
THE END… not quite.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure,
Bahamas Stakes on June 1, 2007.
@ Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).