ADVENTURE THE 26TH: PLAYER'S PRIVILEGE
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 26TH: PLAYER’S PRIVILEGE
I’m on my best behavior for the next several hours.
I’ll be watched.
Shin said it.
I believe him.
So what should I do?
I reason that I’ll look fairly suspicious boarding a Boeing 747 without carry on, so I get up and start to pack – not much, just enough to keep up appearances. The last thing I need is overly zealous airport security thinking they’ve just found Osama Part II. Besides, a full body cavity search is not on my itinerary.
I grab shaving cream and a tooth brush - paste too; some fresh underwear, socks, pants, a couple of my favorite work shirts…and something to read. What’s the weather like in Dubai? Hot! I’ll pack light. It’s a good excuse, if anyone asks.
By 5am I’ve got all I’ll need for a pleasant trip to nowhere. I dress too and, as ol’ lady Martha would say, it’s a good thing - since I start getting sleepy around 5:30 – my lids so damn heavy that not even a shot of adrenaline would fix me for the long haul. So, I set my alarm for eight and nod off.
. . .
By nine-fifteen I’m checked in at gate twelve by a cute little number who thinks she’d like to get to know me better. Only I don’t think so. I’ve been a good little boy until now. Just before I left my place the phone rang…plenty… practically off the hook. No kidding – it was a test. But I wasn’t about to blow it – not for Hugh Hefner and all the Playboy bunnies under 30 left in the world.
Instead, I nod politely, put my head down and take a seat in the V.I.P. lounge. A waiter comes by and asks if there’s anything I want, but I just shake my head and stare at my shoes. I feel like a fool, but I can’t let my ego run away with my head or both might wind up in somebody’s duffle bag at the baggage check.
I’m approached by that same tempting little entrée that met me at the Ticket Master. ‘Go away, little girl.’ Only, she doesn’t and I’m forced into another exchange. Noticing the small carry-on by my side, she bends over and quietly instructs, like a school teacher handling a petulant pupil.
“Open it,” she says.
“Go away, will yah?”
But again, I get told.
“Please,” she says, “Open it.”
“You open it,” I tell her, still not making eye contact, “I’m suffering from a deplorable lack of curiosity.”
A pair of familiar snake-skin shoes stops next to hers. I look up. It’s Shin-Su – different suit/same smile.
“Bad manners, Mr. Maas, the inevitable indicator of most certain…downfall in western culture.”
“Yeah,” I reason, somewhat relaxed, “We’re going to the paddle closet over a done deal with Miss Manners.”
Shin takes the seat next to mine. For the first time since she entered the lounge, I notice that the girl is holding an envelope on a silver tray. Shin hands it to me. The girl nods politely and goes back to her station.
“Inside is everything you will need,” Shin explains, “Your passport has been taken care of by…friends. Upon landing, you may move about the country freely. See anyone. Talk to anyone. You may, however, not discuss any details you are given from this moment on.”
I open the envelope. Insides’a hotel key and credit card.
“To the Burj Al Arab Hotel,” Shin informs me, “…most fortunate, sir. You will have several days to do as you please. Whatever you require – food, clothes, travelers checks, money for…shall we say…entertainments…you may obtain using this card.”
“Suppose I go over the limit?” I suggest.
That sickening broad grin of his returns.
“That is not possible, Mr. Maas,” Shin explains, “There is no limit.”
Nice group plan. ‘Triple A’ doesn’t give these sorts of perks.
“Are we sharing or is it a suite of rooms?” I tease, “Don’t think I’m stingy. I just have my vanity to consider.”
Shin shakes his head.
“I do not go to Dubai.”
“My services are at an end. Should we meet again, mine is the last your eyes shall look upon. You have my word and the promise of the consortium.”
“You’ll forgive me then,” I muse, half serious, just so the record get put on with my own long playing needle, “…if I ever do see you from a distance – shoot – and ask questions later.”
Shin gives me a polite nod.
He stands up like a short proud peacock, arms politely stretched.
“And now, I wish you…most safe journey.”
He’s gone like before, a turn of the heel in place and without so much as a handshake for all that we’ve meant to each other…my little Oriental sandman.
I’m on my own and it’s suddenly not a trip I’m looking forward to.
. . .
When my plane hits the tarmac in Dubai it’s the smoothest all points touchdown I’ve ever experienced…maybe my last…but for now, just the first. I disembark to discover that I don’t have to wait in line or go through customs. Everything’s been arranged. There’s a tall slender chauffeur with hat tucked under his arm waiting for me at the gate. He jumps to attention when he sees me coming – like royalty just defecated in coach because he wasn’t there to escort them to the shed.
“I am Winstag…” he tells with a slight stammer, “…Bernard.”
“Mars,” I reply. He’s stunned when I stick out my hand to shake his, “Eddie.”
I get into a stretch limo that has more luxury between four wheels than my place had between four walls.
For a minute or two, the ride’s so smooth that I’m not even sure we’re pulling out of the parking garage. I guess I act like a yokel tourist, because after a few long minutes of observing my gawking in his rear view, Bernard decides to speak.
“First time in Dubai, sir?”
“Yeah,” I tell him, “How’s things here?”
“Very good, sir,” I’m told, “The economy is booming, the climate is fair, and, the last of a hostile rebel insurgence have been put to death in a public hanging by our most gracious Prince Ahkam.”
I can’t tell whether or not he’s pulling my leg. That’s comforting.
Outside my window, we pass an endless parade of dapper men and elegant women on holiday, set against the moneyed backdrop of upscale amenities that make Rodeo Drive look like a pick n’ save. I’ve really fallen into a tub of butter. Let’s just hope I don’t get cholesterol and drown.
From behind a barrier of transplanted palms, I see what appears to be a large pointy albino banana steadily growing in size on the horizon line.
“What’s that?” I ask my man.
“That’s the Burj Al Arab,” the driver tells me.
But it’s more than that. It’s Disneyland for those who left their mouskateer ears at home. We pull into a sparkling drive of white ivory and marble. There’s nothing of the dust or dessert about this place. It’s an oasis with luxury beyond anything I could have imagined for myself or that was ever written about in those Arabian nights.
I check into my suite atop the rest of the world, overlooking the flat horizontal blue calm where sky meets gulf water. It’s a sultan’s welcome I’m in for.
The walls are decorated with inlaid gold coins and a tapestry made of crushed velvet. It reminds me a bit of Vegas but with infinitely more class. Room upon room opens onto palatial appointments. In the bathroom there’s a sunken tub that’s more like a mini pool, with a cathedral glass roof casting white sunlight across the alabaster and ivory architecture.
The bedroom has a large circular mattress framed in mahogany and shaped like a giant raspberry, big enough for eight. It sure beats the hell out of that ol’ box spring I’m used to.
Everything is too fantastic…and, no doubt, this will all come with a price more costly than the one being charged to my card. But for now, I go along…even though I haven’t the faintest idea what the plan is.
I spend most of the first few minutes in my new world wandering around in dumbstruck awe, head tilting in all directions - like the orphan who just died and went to Daddy Warbuck’s heaven.
Where to begin? I could use a drink. For that I’ve got my own fully stocked bar and a gal that suddenly appears out of nowhere to ask if I want a cherry instead of an olive.
“Cherry, I guess.”
The mystery gal proceeds to mix me a drink. Pretty little thing, most likely imported from the West Indies. She’s a thick silky mane of jet black hair lying like a beautiful cord of ebony down her slender back. I’ve never had a servant girl. This one’s quite accustom to waiting on a man.
“Do you come with the room?” I tease.
Her tone gets very serious.
“You will please not to make love to my body in this fashion,” she tells me directly in her indirect fracture of the English language and with a flash of fire in those deep chestnut eyes that tell me she means business.
I want to say, ‘What about your soul, baby?’ but instead I nod in agreement as though the thought had never crossed my mind.
“Oh, pardon me,” I explain, “I meant do you stick around for happy hour, or is this just a complimentary gesture on the part of management.”
That seems to cool her off – slightly.
“I am Manuella,” she explains, “Please, to find for service and for waiting as private secretary.”
“Can I call you Manny?” I ask.
“You will please address me in my most proper English-American-Christian namesake.”
“Indeed,” I tease her, “…and just how private does the private secretary get?”
She gives me a tiny smile, though it’s quickly replaced by a very curious eyebrow.
“You are not luxury business man?” Manuella inquires.
“Maybe,” I suggest, “It’s just that I don’t know too many private secretaries back home who know how to mix an Old Fashion.”
Manny gives me another curious glance.
“They must to be very stupid and unprepared!” she exclaims.
I couldn’t agree with her more.
. . .
Dinner is its own entertainment. About two hours before I even have thoughts of being hungry, a large Haitian man with Hitchcockian girth and wearing white gloves enters my room, followed by a pair of gaunt, but immaculately tailored Vietnamese boys.
“I am Saiti,” the Haitian introduces, “You will stand and be measured.”
“I am your tailor, sir” Saiti further explains.
Not like any I’ve known. Come to think of it…I haven’t known any. I usually get my wardrobe off the rack and not the designer rack either.
Outside of five minutes, my good man Saiti shouts out measurements to his two apprentices who disappear in a flurry of hushed activity behind closed doors.
“I shall return to you shortly,” Saiti explains.
His minions depart in a silent hush.
An hour effortlessly passes before they suddenly reappear behind their master again, rolling several long clothes trellises loaded with shirts, pants, shoes and accessories of every shape and kind.
Saiti’s my guide on this journey into fashion-land. He reads off a list of fabrics, some I’ve never even heard of – but it all sounds good as the racks pass by in rapid succession en route to my closet. Saiti’s boys fill up the empty space in no time and find another closet in the hall to continue their stocking. In less than forty minutes I’ve gone from a few overnight clothes to a menagerie of things to wear straight from the GQ catalogue.
“If I can be of any further assistance,” Saiti explains, handing me his card, “You need only call this number.”
“I’m sure it’ll all fit,” I reply.
We politely bow to one another and its over. I’m alone in paradise once more, only now I don’t have to play Tarzan.
. . .
By six o’clock, hunger kicks in. I give myself the once over in a full length and decide to find something more dressy to wear. God and Saiti know…it won’t be hard. I settle on a beige linen suit and lime green cotton twill shirt. Everything fits like a glove, right down to the Rolex and cuff links I find neatly tucked in the left pocket of my dinner jacket. This is going to be fun – maybe. However, before I can slip into my choice of an endless line up of elegant foot ware, the doorbell to my suite rings.
I am greeted by a tall Asian beauty with tanned skin, wearing an evening gown of sparkling red feathers, cut so low in back that for a moment I’m almost certain she’s on the A-list to someplace better.
“Welcome to Dubai, Mr. Mars.”
She speaks perfect English – tinged with a slight British accent. I better polish my rough edges and fast. After all, a skunk poured into Armani is still apt to give off a distinct odor.
“May I come in?”
I’m suddenly aware that I’ve been standing with my hand against the jam, barring her entry, like some virgin fluff-ball school boy who’s in awe of his first rented date.
“Yeah,” I mutter impolitely, “I mean, please do.”
My gal is followed by two stewards rolling in enough food to feed all the homeless in Chicago. My…um…date, reaches inside her handbag for a fresh stick of red lipstick while her friends set up dinner. I just stand there, like a moron, but definitely like someone who could get used to this lifestyle real fast and without much trouble.
“I am Selina,” the girl finally says.
Her servants disappear into the hall, closing the door behind them.
“Shall we eat? I am famished.”
“You’re not like girls back home then,” I suggest.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, they don’t eat much,” I explain, “Watching their figure.”
I give Selena’s the once over with my roving eyes.
“No,” I say, “No worries there.”
We have a perfectly cordial meal.
I don’t do any more hinting and Selena doesn’t offer – so the evening ends on a confusing note. I chat her up about the place and the city I’m expected to call home. She offers to act as my guide the next day. After dinner Selena takes me onto the balcony and points to various destinations far below that she’ll show me in greater detail the next day. Then it’s a polite handshake and a pleasant “goodnight.”
She’s gone, leaving only the faint scent of her captivating perfume for me to remember her by.
After ten long uninterrupted minutes of gross silence, my door suddenly swings open and Saiti walks back in with a look of concerted worry plastered across his otherwise dull brow.
“The girl…” he begins, “She was not to your liking?”
I don’t get him.
“How’s that?” I say.
“Selena,” Saiti replies with a tense immediacy, “She did not please you?”
“Oh, in so many ways,” I suggest, “That is, we satisfied our appetites to a point. Tomorrow she’s going to be taking me out on the town.”
Saiti acquires a look of wounded pride.
“If you would prefer another girl…” he begins.
“No,” I interrupt with some emphasis, “I’m happy with that one. Wouldn’t you be?”
And now I’ve really done it. I get the scowl of death. Saiti’s brow dips so low that he can almost touch his lips.
“She is my daughter,” Saiti explains.
I’m beginning to get what Shin meant by ‘entertainments.’
. . .
I spend the next two days driving all over the city with Selena in a little white foreign import that really kicks up the dust in third. It’s a fascinating backdrop alright, a city from nothing, rising like a mirage out of the parched sands. I can’t imagine the staggering amount of wealth it must take to make this manufactured daydream of steel and concrete a glittering reality.
We’re like a couple of lazy heads floating about the ether with only the moment to live for. Still, I can’t work up a passion for Selina – knowing, as I do, that at any moment Saiti might pop out of the trunk or glove compartment with a bottle of Bollinger and present me with his tab.
. . .
On the third day that I ring for Selena, I get three very burley attendants dressed in expensive three piece suits instead. The biggest of these three is a monster of a man whose cousin is probably standing petrified with a club over one shoulder at the Smithsonian. He sports a long black pony tail and thick gold earring protruding from each earlobe.
“You will come to the deck, please,” he says.
It sounds much more like a command coming from him. So, the four of us squeeze into the elevator. It’s a disquieting few moments as the pressure in my head goes to my feet.
When the doors open, we are high above the cityscape, perched on a dizzying and windy precipice overlooking the gulf. At the far end of this outer extension is a rather slender gent chipping golf balls off the side.
We walk in silence toward this man. I’m flanked on both sides and the rear by my guides. When we’re within earshot, I watch as the man with the club chucks his last ball off the platform.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll hit something important down below?” I quip, “Like the manager’s Ferrari?”
The man with the club looks me straight in the eye. It’s a cold critical character study. He has eyes like a camera.
“Excellent,” he declares with a slight German accent, “Hold him.”
I’m seized by my arms and forcibly brought to kneel before this authoritative Arnold Palmer. My pony-tailed custodian places one hand on the back of my neck, forcing my head as low as it will bend, while his two pals stretch my arms outward like the fragile wings of a child’s toy bi-plane.
Pony-tail takes hold of the scruff of my cotton knit and tears the shirt from my back. A pair of slender female legs suddenly appears before me. I look up and see Selena with a thin strip of bamboo on a silver tray.
“Bite this,” she says politely, “It won’t hurt very much.”
I take the bamboo bit between my teeth. What comes next hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt. I’m caned. The sting is so intense that I almost bite the rod in two. I let out a few pathetic screams, the wind in my ears, and watch as the spray of blood flies past my head. Sweat from my brow clouds my sight but not my mind, desperately trying to recall what I might have done to deserve this. I can actually feel my flesh splitting apart, but after the first ten lashes things start to go black and I don’t feel much of anything anymore. It’s game over. Paradise lost.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure
– TEST PATTERN
on April 20, 2007.
@Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).