ADVENTURE THE 33TH: COOL RECEPTION
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…
When the chips are down and every moment counts there are only two kinds of people; those that choke on their own insecurities and those who invest in finding out what went wrong.
I’m type two: 'O'-negative and with a cynical streak that makes for some bruisin’ times between punches. I always have been…and a good thing too. Because, while the rest of the Don’s guests are either rushing towards the body or looking for the nearest exit, I spot a quick flash of belt buckle darting behind parting tent curtains.
I’m out of there so fast you wouldn’t be able to find another guy who had the time to come to the aid of this party.’ Even in the dead of night, with only soft faint glow of lanterns to guide me, I spot my assassin down in front, zigzagging about the pencil thin embankment of towering trees that mark the edge of Palma Dante.
He moves like a kangaroo – around the decorative statuary and guarded spires, using one like a javelin to hurl his own weight down the other side of the embankment.
It’s too quick a drop, straight down about thirty feet, then another twelve or so of pebbled slope. I weigh in my options. Do or do not – gee, how prophetic and simple.
I do. My tux doesn’t – tearing between the tails as I drop with a grunt like an invading commando whose parachute failed to open; landing ass first onto a rough patch of dirt and stone. I’ve made a tactical error. My fleeing cutthroat knows he has company.
I’ve only seconds to react. There’s a glint of cold steel in the pale moonlight, a lunge by this dark hooded figure and a concerted heavy thrust toward my middle. I roll like a drum, turning my heels to him and letting him have a good set of dress shoes in kisser. Frankly, I’m surprised the move works, but it does and he falls a bit further down the embankment. It’s only then that I focus in on an expensive import parked about fifty feet away; headlamps signaling for my sparing pal to get his shake on and hurry up.
There’s only one chance and I know it. Setting my risks aside, I use the balls of my feet to thrust myself off the steep edge of the embankment, catapulting through the air and landing on my assassin from behind. I’m lucky. He’s stunned. I snap his neck without much effort, leaving him face down in the thistle and rock, before prying the knife from his cold dead grip.
The driver of his getaway doesn’t seem to have noticed all this excitement. Big and stupid…just the way I like ‘em. He’s got a fat head – literally. It fills the entire frame of his side rear view mirror as I creep along side the sedan and watch him light a cigarette. The radio’s tuned to a canasta festival clickety-clackin’ like several hundred set of loose choppers at the retirement home.
I come up low and sneaky from behind. By the time he sees me in the rearview, I’ve already managed to swing open the back door, grab him around the neck from behind and jab the jagged tip of his pal’s blade loosely into his Adam’s Apple. I’ll let him live – a bit. At least till I get some answers.
I got’a hand it to whoever recruits these hapless bastards. They do what they’re told without question or fear – big, dumb and sittin’ pretty.
“Okay, friend,” I tell him, “You have some explaining to do.”
He tries a bit of squirming. I dig the blade into his flesh a bit, just barely breaking the skin. A thin trickle of blood feels warm and hot as it oozes under his white starched collar.
“I give you nothing,” he tells me.
But I beg to differ.
“Ah, ah, ah,” I coyly reply, “You never know what you’re capable of till you try.”
‘Chauffeur boy’ reaches for the glove compartment, but I put a stop to that with a punctuation of my own. I let him have the blunt of steel in the soft meaty flesh of his hairy arm, just above the elbow. He lets out with an inaudible muffled yowl. His arm drops loosely by his side. I lean in and open the glove box for myself. Inside; a shiny new loaded revolver.
“Quite right,” I tell my captive, “I prefer the big bang to slice n’ dice too.”
I toss my borrowed knife out the open passenger window and bury the gun barrel into his left temple.
“All right…” the driver says between sustained grunts and labored breathing, “I tell you what you want to know.”
But there’s a defining silence that follows. Even the local crickets seem to have dropped out of the jam session.
“Out with it, then,” I press on, “My trigger finger’s getting fidgety. Who hired you?”
I tap him in the head with the gun.
“Mike?” I suggest, “Mike who?”
“Trent,” he says, with more than an ounce of conviction in his tone.
“Mike Trent hired you to kill Mike Trent?” I suggest, “Come on, dough-brain…you’re not makin’ any sense.”
He raises his good arm, sliding his fingers into his breast pocket.
“Cigarette,” he says.
“No thanks…” I reply, “Trying to quit. You go ahead.”
He does and in a moment’s flash it’s all over.
He sticks the realistic looking cancer stick between his teeth, but bites down hard. I watch in the rear view as his eyes rock back and forth like a pair of aggies, feel the weight of that massive head suddenly slump into my shoulder, pulling the rest of him into a wobbly pile of fleshy goo in the front seat.
I loosen my grip and let him find room temperature. Cyanide again. Can’t these guys ever come up with anything original? Then again – a classic never dies. It just kills you and moves on to the next available dead head for temptation.
. . .
After rifling through his pockets – and coming up with nothing except a nudie pic’ of some dancer from a local café, I drag the body of the assassin I killed and stuff it into the boot of his buddy’s car. Then I lump dead weight number two on top and drive the Bob-see Twins to a spot even more remote than the one I left behind.
If I’m lucky they’ll be nothing left of them by the time the local police get through at Palma Dante. I make sure the car’s parked in neutral before it goes over the edge of a steep hillside, cascading beneath the imbedded thistle and vine slope like that kiddy toboggan I used to race when I was five. It disappears from view, swallowed by wild underbrush of thorns, trees and overgrown grass – nature claiming the unnatural for its own.
. . .
By the time I get back to Palma Dante Mike’s body’s gone – and so are the police and most of the guests. I’ve lost my golden opportunity to question Herr Kriegler. Bryan looks rather wide-eyed as I stroll through the front doors. I chalk up his sudden curiosity to my own disheveled appearance; dust covered, sweaty and with a few choice tears in my coat and trousers – maybe it’s a good thing the cops decided to take a powder with the body.
Don Alverez approaches quickly from the sidelines. There’s a look on his face – almost paternal and loving. I can’t understand why.
“Where have you been?” he asks.
“Takin’ out the trash,” I explain.
“Then you know who…”
“Where are they now?”
“Not even God knows,” I admit.
We do speak the same language – the Don and I; a pair of wild jacks who don’t enjoy it when someone else plays the trump card.
“Come,” the Don says, “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
. . .
I shower in guarded privacy – feeling suddenly not alone and slightly haunted. At one point, I actually think I see the faces of my latest two hits reflected in the steamed glass, bursting forth from the vaporized spray overhead and beating down on my conscience like a million chronic reminders. I mull over the events with remarkable clarity for instant replay. “Mike Trent hired you to murder Mike Trent?!?” Crazy suggestion. But who were they working for? Maybe Herr Kriegler. Maybe the Don.
I open the shower door, steam in sustained curling clouds tickling my body. Nobody’s there. ‘Get a grip,’ I tell myself, ‘You’ve come this far without crackin.’ Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m on display.
‘Show and tell’ seems slightly dangerous for the first time. I’ve been looked at before and, damn it, I’ve something to advertise. But it’s the lack of audience participation I mind. You’ve seen mine. Let’s see yours.
My gated anxiety finally gets the better of me. I shut the water and get out’a the stall in a huff, wrapping a thick terry-cloth about my waist and wiping the fresh beads of water from my eyes with a hand towel. Yep, I’m alone. The door’s still locked. Silly me – paranoid and friendless. But I feel my nerve kick in, and leave whatever anxiety I harbored a few moments before in a heap on the cold tile floor along with my towel and inhibitions. I’ll sleep well tonight – just like a child…one with a blow torch, hack saw and price on his head.
. . .
At three in the morning I have a dream – or is it real? I crack open a lazy eye and notice the reflection of sheer drapes through moonlight blowing in the soft summer breeze. Then I remember…I didn’t leave a window open.
I hear a slight, soft purr and growl at my bedside and suddenly make out the fuzzy striped silhouette of a white Bengal tiger lying next to my nightstand.
“Don’t be afraid,” I hear Migrya whispering, “She’s tethered.”
“Are you?” I inquire – rubbing my eyes for more clarity.
Her dark shape vaporizes in a silken teddy at the foot of my bed, crossbow in hand. Before I can react, she’s taken dead aim at some wisp of a person floating past the French doors to the left of my bed. A moment later there’s the sound of painful anguish from my balcony as some poor unsuspecting fool gets it in the arm.
Migrya jumps onto my bed, straddling my frame from on top of the covers.
“Keep your thoughts to yourself,” she coos.
“Gladly,” I tease, “Anything I’d have to say would be highly censurable anyway.”
She throws herself across my body, her hand reaching for, and snapping off, the tiger’s tether. That passive little kitty goes absolutely wild. It leaps through the open French doors, a fit of angry man-hungry roars that are followed moments later by the panicked surprised screams erupting on my terrace.
Migrya follows them outside. I grab my robe and hurry behind.
I don’t suppose one is ever ready to be mauled to death, but this dumb bastard, rolling back and forth with his hands flailing about, is about as ill prepared for his up close and personal with one of Jack Hanna’s beasts as any. Migrya and I watch at a distance as the Bengal viciously attacks and devours its selected prey, tearing flesh from frame – peeling her victim like a hard boiled egg shell.
In a moment, that battle is won, rusty orange bricks of my terrace running red with my would-be assassin’s blood.
A bustle of sustained chaos erupts. Every light on the estate is turned on – flood lamps that I don’t remember seeing on my ride in suddenly transform the grounds into a garrisoned fortress of artificial light. The tiger finishes her meal, lying across the slashed open torso of a puddle of something that vaguely resembles a human body.
Don Alvarez bursts through my bedroom door with a gaggle of servants and armed guards – disheveled, but curious. I’m a good judge of character. He’s not in on this attempt.
Everyone is present and accounted for - except Bryan. Then I realize why.
I throw open the door to Bryan’s suite and discover his lifeless corpse, throat slashed, eyes wide open and rolled back in his head. Someone else sure as hell knew we were here!
…I beg to differ.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure…
@ Nick Zegarac (all rights reserved).