ADVENTURE THE 31ST: IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN
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 31st:
IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN
When life throws you a curve you can either bend like a hair pin or go right off braid. I’m not usually philosophical, but it doesn’t take genius to realize that there’s not a moment to lose. I’m bleeding – badly, and with the very real threat of either winding up dead or in a wanna hump-hump prison where the cockroaches out number the inmates. Under the circumstances, Bryan’s meaty hand reaching out like a life saver seems almost God-like and redemptive. Hallelujah! I say to myself. I’ve been born again. I’ve been saved. Funny…how religion is the last thing we consider on a sunny day, but it’s readily the first thing we turn to when the storm clouds are gathering.
Bryan gets me to my feet and slings my left arm over his right shoulder. I limp with his aid down the garden path and those damn endless steps leading to the beach. Looking over my shoulder I catch a fleeting glimpse of the hotel staff and guests evacuating the hotel and hear the faint sounds of police and ambulance sirens gaining in the distance.
With each step, my foot becomes more dislocated from my body.
“Move!” Bryan commands with a rather thick British accent that I don’t recall hearing before.
He drags me to a nearby rowboat, lazily moored to a stump of weather beaten bamboo.
I’m tossed like a salt mackerel into the back of that leaky tub, Bryan pushing us both out to sea. He grabs at the ores and frantically rows for all its worth. When the sound of alarms and screaming patrons is only a distant memory, I summon up enough strength to prop myself on my good shoulder and assess where we’re headed.
The dim lights of a luxury yacht bob before us in the approaching surf. When we’re close enough, Bryan tosses a rope from the rowboat up and over the side of the yacht. He climbs aboard, then leans far over the side and yanks me to safety, his thick meaty fingers sinking into the soft recesses of my underarms.
I’m shoved into a reclining wooden deck chair. Quite a lay out, from what I can make of it as my vision begins to blur. I get that fuzzy warm feeling, a sickly twinge in the pit of my stomach. I’m not going to be able to maintain my cool aloof exterior much longer. In fact, I can feel the upchuck swelling inside me.
Bryan disappears into the Captain’s quarters. Seconds later, the ship’s engines fire up and we speed away into the invisible horizon.
I unbutton my pullover to assess part of the damage. The bullet’s run clean through. I need a patch up job.
Bryan returns with a medical kit. He unhooks the prop hinge on the deck chair and lays me horizontal.
“Lie still,” he instructs with the distinct detachment of a medical surgeon who sees only a piece of wounded meat lying before him. He use peroxide to clean out the wound. It brings me to, effectively knocking out that losing control sensation. I watch in awe and silence as he begins to skillfully stitch my shoulder back together.
“You were set up,” he explains.
“That figures,” I whisper between winces, “K…Karl?”
Bryan shakes his head.
“Karl’s the reason you’re still alive,” Bryan explains, “There’s a leak in the organization that he’s been trying to get to the bottom of for nearly a year. Shortly after you were deployed to the Bahamas, Karl’s encryption crew discovered that a sniper was being sent to get rid of you before you could reach your target.”
“His real name is William Heggerington,” Bryan corrects me, “He was Karl’s right hand. The money behind the operation. Then he bolted with nearly forty million and leaving Karl in a pretty awkward position with his…share holders.”
I can’t believe it. My shoulder’s already patched, and a damn near perfect job at that. My ankle is another story. Bryan leans me back even further.
“This is really going to hurt,” he declares, seconds before seizing my dislocated foot and jamming it back into the fragments of bone still attached to the rest of my leg.
I’d like to say I was brave, or even, that I saw stars before fading to black, but actually, I squeal like a bitch in labor. I’d a kicked him to death if there was anything left to kick with. Before I even catch my breath, Bryan’s managed to create a splint and reset the bone with all the precision of a skilled surgeon.
“You’re going to be alright,” he reasons, pulling out a bottle of cognac and two shot glasses, “…and cheer up. I’m going to Spain with you.”
. . .
I suppose misery loves company, but she and I were never what you might call soul mates. She’s spent a lot of time hanging around my place, alright – but always as an uninvited guest.
Bryan and I sail away under the cover of night without so much as a single search light cast off into the waters. When there’s nothing but lapping tides on all sides I relax into my deck chair. But relaxing’s not in the cards. Not as long as Bryan’s captaining this ship.
He comes up from the mess about two a.m., bare from the waste up except for a gold medallion dangling around his neck, his shoulders looking much broader unsheathed from that confining concierge’s jacket he used as camouflage.
“We need to go over a few things,” Bryan reasons.
He’s carrying a large dossier that’s like a family album of people I’ve never met. He opens it to a page out of history; an elderly gent whose moustache and chin beard look like something out’a a Tyrone Power movie – all Spanish inquisition and sword play.
“That’s Don Alvarez Domingo,” Bryan explains, “He and Karl go back to boyhood.”
“…and now they’re enemies?”
“No,” Bryan continues, “Quite the opposite. In fact, they’ve managed to remain loyal to one another like an old married couple. Anyway, that’s who we’re going to meet in Barcelona. He’s expecting us to have answers.”
I manage to prop myself up just enough to where the pain doesn’t matter if I whistle a happy tune, but keep it all inside.
“Correct me if I’ve just been shot,” I add, “But we have no answers.”
“No,” Bryan nervously acknowledges, “But we’ve something better, I think.”
“We managed to kill Somerset and his daughter…” Bryan pauses, “Don Alvarez and Somerset were enemies for a very long time. Amanda murdered his only son.”
“Oh, so she’s a black widow too,” I reason, as though there were any doubts. A minute or two out of sync and Bry’ and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.
“Chummy company you keep,” Bryan admits, a half smile of pearly teeth momentarily teasing past his broad lips.
“Well,” I quip, just to show I haven’t lost my sense of humor, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…then beat ‘em.”
Bryan nods, though there’s something behind his casual acceptance that bothers me. Maybe it’s just the cognac taking effect.
. . .
We sail at top speed for a whole day and night, nothing but sun and surf and more flat calm than anything else. At least if there had been some tropical storm to keep us both busy. But instead I find myself drifting – mentally.
“Snap out of it, Mars,” Bryan reminds me, beads of sweat curdling across his brow.
“The brain doesn’t snap as fast as the ankle,” I remind him.
“Maybe faster,” he says.
We’re an odd pair, alright: me with my big mouth, him with his closed lips. I don’t give away – much, but it sure would have helped to pass the time if I weren’t making the trip alone. Bryan spends long hours in contemplation. Actually, he busies himself with chores, but I can tell the wheels inside are doing mach ten like a trio of whirligigs caught in a cyclone. He’s troubled. Who among us is not?
I remember too much…too much that I’d rather forget or pass off to someone else’s consciousness for a holiday. That’s the thing about troubles. It doesn’t matter how far away you move, they’re never further in the rear view than a quick glance over one’s shoulder.
At noon the following day, almost unexpectedly, the coastline begins to appear; flat at first, then bearing the outline of a few tropical palms, some modest cabanas spread along the crowded beach head. Then suddenly, it’s there – Barcelona; that devil-eyed pearl of Spain; a metropolis on par with any of the great European cities – Franco’s fascist playground turned upside down with the waning years of progress and democracy.
I take out a pair of binoculars from the dash and go out on deck.
At the end of such a journey I’d be glad to find a city dump staring back at me, so long as the trash was on solid land. But to discover a bold, fresh and beckoning paradise – now that’s real romance…isn’t it?
I suppose I’d make a hell of a tourist if Bryan wasn’t there to remind me that we’re all business. No sooner are we moored at port, than Bryan’s entering a code into his cell and waiting for the other end to respond. There’s no answer over the wireless, but then we get one, more tangible than a simple ‘yes’ by air. A stretch limo appears in the distance – like a jet black salamander piercing the roasted sandpaper beach pebbles.
When it’s only a few feet away from our dock, two large bodyguards step out from the driver and passenger’s side, a steely-eyed but cordial welcome inviting us to get in and drive away. We do, almost dutifully. It’s only after the doors have been shut that I notice there are no inside handles or locks. I’m not sure I care for Don Alvarez’s hospitality so far.
A cityscape of centuries soon eclipse the palms and beach – towering cathedrals, palaces, gardens and, now and then, the flashy appearance of a supple naked female sculpture, probably carved by some short and balding, horny little Spaniard who couldn’t get it up for a block of marble – but oh, how he knew to express himself with those gifted hands. History is palpable here – like a great tapestry of silken images reminding me how small my contribution to the legacy of mankind is…if ‘contribution’ is even the right word to use. Perhaps life moves at a different pace – or maybe I’m just woefully out of step. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Oh sure, I would have liked to been born with a silver spoon up my ass – the elegant rich playboy of a taffy-nosed and useless lot to whom an improved back hand at tennis was considered a great accomplishment. You have to admit – ignorance is bliss…especially when you already know better.
I don’t say much and neither does Bryan, even though we’re alone in the back with a retractable divider between us and the guards sealed to the roof. Or are we? I spot a mini-microphone conveniently masquerading as one of the black buttons fastened to the leather upholstery. I point it out to Bryan, who nods and gives it several loud thumps with his index finger. I’ll bet the boys in front need their acoustic nerves tested after that.
. . .
Gradually, the tall and imposing superstructures of the inner city give way to more private dwellings nestled in the mountains. Somewhere along the road, we pull into a circular drive, winding to the front steps of a miniature kingdom – turrets and all. To the left, the grounds open onto a lavish enclosure of tropical foliage framing a tiered fountain. To the right, a severe slope is picturesquely embroidered with a wrought iron fence, blocking the curious from plummeting fifty feet straight down.
When the limo has come to a complete stop, our doors are opened and Bryan and I step into a courtyard paved in red bricks singed with genuine gold dust. Overhead, a thick bower of scented floral trees and vines blot out whole portions of the sun, creating pools of cool reclusion.
“Gentlemen!” a voice calls out.
Our attention is drawn to a smiling older man, looking more his image than the image itself. He extends to us both a hearty handshake.
“I am Don Alvarez Domingo,” he formally introduces, “And you are most welcome to my humble home.”
“Yeah,” I reason, forgetting where I am, “Humble doesn’t know this place any better than I do.”
The Don lets out with a hearty laugh. Evidently, crudeness is a characteristic more treasured in these parts than in Karl’s cultured set. I could get real used to Alvy’s hospitality.
Then it happens – she happens; a vapor of tanned leggy excellence, rising from the expiring heat in the distance. I’m held in a sort of paralytic trance, my eyes drawn to fine details that haven’t come fully into focus yet.
I suppose I’m a poor excuse for a covert operator, because we’re introduced in the most superficial way by the Don.
“Friends of mine, my dear,” he says to the girl.
She nods politely.
I get the sense the old man doesn’t like young bucks blowing into his villa with an eye for the ladies. Too bad. He should’a thought about that before investing in the expensive window dressing.
She’s a statue of deep brown marble with raven locks cascading down a muscular back drenched in perfect curls. An auburn bikini barely contains her bulbous cleavage. It’s only when she gets closer that I notice she’s all wet – literally, just in from the pool or the fountain. At this point I’d pay to see an ice cube do a dance around her navel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen beauty so rare or so perfectly pulled together.
“These are associates of Karl,” Alvarez tells her, “Mr. Mars and Mr. Bagland…I believe.”
“Guilty on both counts,” I cut in with a wide white smile, realizing that my tongue’s become an obvious red velvet carpet on which I wouldn’t mind her planting a couple of toes.
Then - the clincher.
“This is my daughter, Migrya (pronounced Mee-Gra),” Don Alvarez warns, leaning in for his prerequisite patriarchal kiss on the cheek, “…and how is the apple of my eye?”
“Rotten to the core,” she coos back with just enough conviction to make it stick.
I like her already. She knows what she is and isn’t afraid to show it to the hired help. Takes more guts than class. Then again, I was never into gals who had their pinkies up on a flute of Bollinger but their whole fist, palm side up spread for a wad’a fifties.
No, Migrya’s all guts, and she proves it too as we head into a solarium beyond the enclosure where apples have been neatly mounted on metal spikes at a distance of some forty feet. On the table before us is an elegant crossbow, embroidered with hand painted laurel leaves and thin golden twine.
“Do you use a crossbow, Mr. Mars?” she asks, loading arrows into the weapon.
“No,” I reason.
“No stomach for a good jab?” she asks.
“That depends,” I explain.
“The target I’m trying to impale,” I tell her.
She lets out a polite giggle, so good that I start to think maybe I actually amuse her – like a jester or romantic fool.
Without much in the way of perceived concentration, Migrya takes dead aim at the first apple on the stake – splitting it clean and leaving only the nimble fringes of its core on the spire. Her smile disappears, replaced by a polite, though telling scowl.
“Just in case you have any ideas,” she tells me, placing the crossbow on the table.
Cute. Very cute. I’m not into clever, though. Not when it extends to having me around only to clean up after somebody else’s sloppy seconds.
I pick up the crossbow, mount another arrow, raise my weapon and shoot on the fly – hoping to hell I hit anything except Don Alvarez. To my amazement, I manage to glean the third post and knock its poised fruit to the ground. It may not be as clean a shot, but it gets my point across.
“Just to make sure,” I reason.
Don Alvarez cannot conceal his sly thin grin. I get the feeling he knows too well how many guys have tried to adopt the role of the agile suitor, only to have their dexterity tested outside of the bedroom.
...maybe, maybe not.
Eddie Mars will return in his next great adventure:
TRAITOR HOOKS on August 17th, 2007.
@Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).