ADVENTURE THE 27TH - TEST PATTERN
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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.
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ADVENTURE THE 27TH
– TEST PATTERN
I wake up…pity. I was expecting seven virgins and a harp. Instead, I find Saiti hovering over me like a great nattering crow, dangling his udder of smelling salts just under my nose. Why smelling? They stink!
“All right,” I stammer, coughing as the impenetrable odor rides up my nostrils.
The only way to ignore the stench would be if I was dead.
Saiti pulls back and I focus in on where I’m at; back in my suite on my back in my bed and with Selena by my side, a cold compress plastered across my forehead.
“You did very well,” she says encouragingly.
“What?” I ask, attempting to straighten up.
The blunt sting of fresh wounds opening up again brings on a queasy feeling.
“Lie down,” Saiti says, “The medical officers will be here shortly.”
Sure enough, in a few minutes two tiny men in white arrive. They roll me onto my stomach and go to work with a needle and thread, stitching together what’s left of my flank and shoulders. They do this without a local. The effect is enough to make me lose consciousness once again.
This time when I come to, only Saiti is waiting at my bedside.
“They tell me you took thirty-seven lashes before giving in,” he says with a discernable amount of pride.
“I stopped counting after…” I try to remember, “I stopped counting.”
“I only took twenty-one,” he confides ashamedly.
I’m groggy, not comatose. What reason would this guy have for taking anything but a tray from my bedside?
“What for?” I ask.
But the question catches him off guard. I try to sit up, but everything aches. After plumping my pillows and propping me like a battered sack of cornmeal, Saiti takes my hand in his.
“Very brave,” he tells me, staring me down.
“Yeah,” I reason, “And very stupid. I should’a given out at twenty-one too.”
“They would have known,” he reasons.
“Who’s they?” I ask.
But on this matter he’s as close-lipped as an epileptic who’s just swallowed his own tongue.
“Alright!” I say, defiance returning to the scene of the crime, “I’ve just had the worst thing a guy could endure…well…maybe.”
I reason that being raped in a prison cell by four guys who haven’t seen a woman in ten years is probably worse, only those wounds wouldn’t show.
“Now I want some answers.”
Saiti is quite unnerved.
“You shall have them…” he stammers, “You shall have all answers in a few days. I cannot tell you.”
“Or what?” I press on.
Saiti makes a motion with hand as though he’s casting either a fishing rod or a whip in my direction. I’m not terribly bright, but I don’t think sturgeon’s on the menu.
“You mean they do it to you more than once?” I say.
The fear and trembling in my voice surprises and scares me.
“No, my friend,” he explains, “Never again…unless you cross them.”
I try to adjust my position on the bed pillows. But I feel like I’m going to go crazy from the itchy tensions in my back. Saiti reaches in his breast pocket and produces what appears to be a tiny white mint. He places it between my lips.
“Swallow,” he tells me.
I do, and a minute later all pain and most of my nerve endings are left behind.
. . .
I awaken the next afternoon. Saiti’s at the foot of my bed, an arm tenderly wrapped around Selena’s shoulder. It’s funny. Apart - I never would have pegged these two from the same family bloodline. Saiti’s not smooth or well formed. He’s been squeezed into the discomfort of a three-piece just for show, but I have to say that he’d be more at home with a mawashi stuffed between his cheeks or strumming ‘Tiny Bubbles’ for the tourists. I’ll bet when the girdle comes off at night…well…all bets are off.
Selena? She’s alright. Better than alright, in fact – a textbook example of the gal you’d like to meet over diamonds and a panther named ‘Snooky’, or just have some ambitious niche manufacturer take an interest and cast her into a series of inflatable playmates for the sexually deprived and socially homely.
“Brave man,” Selena whispers.
“I’m not so hot,” I reason, wishing I were back in my sweatbox above the storefronts - but with a cool drink and hot blonde in either hand.
The awkward silence between us makes me uncomfortable.
“Get to the point,” I mutter softly, feeling the sting of my wounds returning, “Why am I so brave…I left my cape and spandex with the big ‘S’ in my other suitcase.”
“It is a test,” Saiti tells me.
“You passed,” she says.
. . .
I’m not big on tests. Oh, I was an apt pupil in school, I suppose: no failing grades. But I’ve reached a point in my life where I set the rules. Jack of all trades – that’s me. It’s rather humbling to realize I’ll never be the master of some.
I spend the next two weeks – healing - in my hotel room. I see quite a bit of Saiti but not so much of Selena.
“You are recovering most well,” Saiti explains, “Soon you will be ready.”
But that question never gets answered. Whenever I press the point I just get a nod and a smile – like he knows what I’m in for and can’t wait to see my look of surprise when I find out.
On the Friday of the second week I feel good enough to go for a midnight swim in the private pool – less guests after hours – less to explain what happened to my back. I check my closet for trunks. I find nine pair, all designer, all neatly laid out – loose…looking like they don’t care. I decide on red ones with the black stripe down each side. Black is slimming.
Wearing a terrycloth robe to cover up in the elevator, I run into a pair of tourists who eye me up and down with some disdainful curiosity. It’s like they know what happened or, at least, realize that I don’t belong. It’s true. I don’t. I’m like those dying palms on Rodeo – appealing enough to the naked eye but sorely wishing I were someplace else.
The pool area’s dark and vacant and I suddenly realize why. The dessert scorch gets pretty cold at night. There’s a stiff breeze off the water. But the pool is heated and lighted. Good enough for me. I dive in a do a couple of laps before I suddenly realize I’m not alone.
A pair of slender female feet greets me from the edge. Nice toes, and a ring. I look up. It’s Selena in a flattering one piece with a towel slung over one shoulder.
“You disappointed me,” she says with a smile.
“Uncharted territory,” I tease.
Selena seems confused, so I clarify.
“Most ladies say I’m quite satisfactory.”
“You misunderstand me, Edward.”
It’s the first time anyone other than my mother and fifth grade teacher has called me by my full Christian name. I’m surprised how much I like the way it sounds. I hated being called ‘Edward’ back then. It meant two things – you’re in for it, and get ready. It might mean the same tonight, but I’m sure I’ll leave with a smile across my face – even if she’s into rulers across the knuckles.
Selena steps into the water. But before I can get close to her she darts under the waves like a torpedo. I watch her do the length without coming up for air, resurfacing briefly at the other end before shooting back to my end and coming to rest just beside my legs. She rises like Venus, smooth and silky, her perfectly white teeth beaming from between her lips cutting the surface of the water. Her long slender arms, tiny finger tips probing, touch and caress my craggy back. It would be hot, only she’s doing it more as an examination of sorts.
“Your wounds have healed nicely,” she says.
“I came to your room tonight,” she tells me.
“Well, there’s nothing we can’t do here that we might have done there,” I say, raising an eyebrow, “I think we’re alone.”
“But I’m cold,” Selena reasons.
She’s also a tease. Before I can argue with her, she’s out and over the side and wrapping herself in her towel. She’s right. I find out how right she is as I hoist myself onto the cold cement edge. The breeze off the water has a good spank to it. I bundle up in my robe and hurry us both into the elevator. But the car stops one floor below mine. Selena pats me on the shoulder.
“Goodnight, Edward,” she coos, exiting before I can launch an objection.
When I get back to my room I find an engraved card propped against the pillows of my bed. Inside it reads, “You presence is requested, tomorrow. The penthouse. – K.V.T.
. . .
I’m an early riser but a late bloomer. It’s taken me this long to catch on that I’m in way over my head. I don’t know what I’m in for today, but if it’s another round of whip the wonder boy I think I’ll just look for the nearest balcony and save them the leather.
After a quick shower I stroll out in all my God-given frankness, not expecting to find Manuella pouring fresh coffee from a silver service.
“Good morning,” she greets, pleasantly enough but without making eye contact.
She turns to leave.
“Oh, don’t go,” I tell her, throwing on my robe.
“You have most ambitious schedule this morning, Mr. Maas,” she explains, “You please, will put clothes on and go upstairs.”
She’s out like a sprite getting lost in Shakespeare’s forest. I don’t have much of a choice. I’m apparently in high demand. So I find a linen suit in the closet and put on the dog for a reception that I’m fairly certain won’t be just for the food.
. . .
By the time I reach the elevator, my hands have begun to shake. Damn it. I despise a coward. I despise myself even more for acting like one. When the doors open I get quite a surprise.
“Welcome,” he says.
It’s my slender golfer buddy, this time beckoning me to a comfortable chair.
“Sit down” he tells me, pausing for effect, “…now that you are able to.”
It’s his polite way of suggesting there might be some other time I won’t. He’s cultured – short, forty-ish but in excellent physical shape and with a full head of gray hair. Maybe he’s got a few years on me, but in the end we both speak the same language.
He’s staring out of his window – one of about a hundred with a breathtaking view of the sea. I wait for the conversation to continue, only – it doesn’t, and each passing moment leaves me feeling unnerved. I officially move from the discomfort of a guy who may or may not have mismatched his socks, to the moron who makes party crashing his hobby until he’s suddenly found himself at a Presidential gala with fifteen butch Secret Service getting ready to shout ‘Oswald.’
But my friend doesn’t take notice. In fact, he’s become completely absorbed in some sort of deep meditation that I can’t quite get a handle on. I’m about to open my big mouth and say something to shake him out’a it when he suddenly pivots on his heel, pointing a big smoking cigar in my direction.
“You lasted just over three minutes out there,” he says with great pride, “I must tell you, no one has impressed me in a very long time.”
I can’t tell whether or not he’s making a joke. Yeah, it’s true I took my lashes until my head gave out. But the spirit never did. Three minutes. He makes it sound like a commercial break. He makes it sound shameful. I decide for myself he’s making a crack and let him have one back.
“Maybe we should call Guinness,” I suggest, “I don’t think there’s a category yet for endurance by a short sadist.”
My golfer studies me with great curiosity. He has the eye of a camera, absorbing every detail in my face and body language. He walks toward me, that hot flat end of his cigar growing nearer and nearer. I’m ready to take him on, prospect of more lashes and all, when he suddenly changes hands with his cancer stick and extends his right to me for a hearty shake.
“I am Karl Fritz Von Talenburg,” he says.
I see no reason not to shake his hand, so we exchange the gentlemanly gesture. Odd, I don’t feel any apprehension on his part. It would be so easy for me to take a crack at him. He must know it, and yet, he’s not afraid. I stand down and release his hand.
“You endured three minutes, Mr. Mars,” Karl reiterates, “What would you say about three years?”
Is he serious or fooling? I can’t tell.
“I’d say, no thanks…” I tell Karl, “I already gave at the office.”
He grins, nodding.
“Ah,” he reasons, “That’s because you have a choice. But that is precisely how long I endured my punishment from the Khmer Rouge. I was young then, and full of myself. I thought I could save the world. I ended up by merely saving myself.”
So he gives me his biography. Lonely kid; father unknown until he was a teen; mother, a fair looker from the wrong side of the money pit. He enlisted in the army and went off to pay his respects to a bowl of rice. Only his outfit gets wiped out in a night raid.
“I watched them die,” Karl explains, “My hands bound with chicken wire, head pulled back for a good look. One by one they sliced off the heads of my friends with their Machettis, deriving such pleasure from the pool of mixed bloods collecting at our feet. I thought then I was not long for this world.”
There’s a great pause and vacuum of suffocating silence that follows – excruciating…as though he never left the jungle behind. Then…
“Some people remember their youth fondly, Mr. Mars. I’m just not one of those.”
No kidding. Frankly, I’m surprised Karl’s not swinging from a chandelier at the county hospital and shouting ‘the British are coming’ with a pencil ‘tween his teeth he thinks is a bayonet. I’ve watched men die, alright. It keeps you up nights. Slaughter? Mass genocide? Now, that’s a separate story - one unsuitable for anyone’s bedtime.
“You’ve done alright since then,” I tell my host, “There’s not too many who get out, or do and still have all their marbles left to shoot.”
I think it pleases him to discover that I’m not ready to hold a grudge.
“You and I are quite similar,” he explains, “Men who have seen much, done much. We do not care for the outside world.”
“It has its’ moments,” I suggest.
But I know I’m not fooling him, so I add quietly, “No.”
Again, I’ve won points, because Karl’s whole demeanor has changed. He’s more relaxed in a friendly, ‘hey, let’s have a game of backgammon in the drawing room’ sort of way.
“Good,” he tells me, “That’s a start.”
“…and the rest?”
So I get all the details – well most - just enough to satisfy my immediate curiosity. Karl yada-yada-yada; exiled German prince – title bought and paid for after he tracked down his delinquent daddy and realized the old stains reached right up to the hem of real Hapsburg royalty.
In Cambodia: captured, tortured, defiled, escapes. Vowed never to return and didn’t. Snuck in under the wire and killed the son and only living ‘legitimate’ heir who liquidated his own father’s fortunes; then, for all intensive purposes, disappears off the face of the map with enough money to make Trump blush.
It’s fairly lurid history, I’ll grant you. But Karl makes it all sound like some forgotten chapter in an outdated historical romance with a killer ending. When he’s finished, he sits back in his desk chair and waits for my reply. I’m not clever that way. I can’t think of anything but the obvious to say.
“You’ve been through hell and back,” I reason, “So where does that leave us?”
Karl smiles, politely. Everything about the man oozes culture. If you saw him on the street you’d take him for an investor. Come to think of it, I know a bevy of gold diggers who’d take him for anything based on his current surroundings and ask for specifics later…much later – at least after the pre-nup’. What’s so fascinating about the man is that there’s no hint of the ugliness he’s endured; no trace of its biting sting or searing stain written across his face. Circumstance has been brutal, but the hands of time – most kind.
“Work for me,” Karl says, enthusiastically.
“As what?” I reply.
Karl shrugs his shoulders.
“That depends entirely on you. Starting today I will afford you every opportunity to prove yourself.”
“Oh,” I say, “Well, no offense, but when the odds are even and it’s a fair fight, I’m pretty good at looking after myself.”
“That isn’t the point,” Karl explains.
“Then what is?”
“To be able to look after yourself even when the game has been rigged,” suggest Karl, “I will offer you lessons, Mr. Mars. Not only in how to handle a weapon but how to behave as though the world has been placed in the palm of your hand.”
The sudden inflection of power in his voice is invigorating.
Karl nods approvingly. I’ve continued to please him throughout this meeting somehow.
“You have already been working on the case, Mr. Mars,” he explains.
At first I haven’t the foggiest what he’s referring to. Then, the whole world suddenly comes into widescreen focus.
“You mean, the list?”
I get up from my chair.
I’ve let him down – but not really. With all he’s been through, Karl’s not a guy to disappoint too easily.
“Well,” I reason, pacing back and forth with my hands in my pockets, “I’ve had about all I can manage of screwy bitches and grease-balls who wanna see my head mounted on a plaque in their games room.”
“You were dealing with amateurs, Mr. Mars,” Karl tells me.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I reason with my usual dry sarcasm, “I’d say we were pretty evenly matched.”
“Then I cannot help you,” Karl admits.
He rises from his seat like a great mother phoenix who’s just decided she’s given birth to the proverbial ‘ugly duckling.’ I’m mad. Confused too, but more angry than anything else and I let Karl know it.
“Oh yeah? Well, who asked you to?”
I’ve overstepped my grounds. I’m afraid of what might happen next and he knows it.
“You’ve had rather a bad time of it, then?” Karl reasons.
It’s funny. There’s great sympathy in his voice and I suddenly feel sick to my stomach – the way you do when coming home from grade school with a bad report card and your mother doesn’t scold, but just shakes her head – assessing that it’s the best you can do.
“No kidding!” I say, “I’ve covered most of the east coast looking for that MacGuffin and it’s not worth getting my head blown off. I like to show a little profit at the end of the day and there’s no economy in dying before the money’s been spent.”
“Touché,” Karl agrees.
I’m rather shocked that I’ve gotten through to him so quickly. Now I feel like I’m being played. But I’ll let the sonata go on for a bit…just in case.
“Why won’t you allow me to make it a fair fight?” suggests Karl.
He pauses. For a minute I think it’s because he really doesn’t know. Then I realize it’s because he knows it all. He tells me about Hemmingway and Marisol and Mico and Mike. We go through the list of suspects with a fine tooth comb. By the end, its teeth need a good cleanin’.
“You were a pawn,” Mr. Mars, “An accidental one, I’m afraid.”
“Well, I’m not any more,” I tell him, “I declare my independence. Eddie Mars – 1776.”
I turn to leave.
“Interesting,” Karl calls out, “1776…and what would you say if I told you that your patriotism would be well served by accepting my offer?”
I don’t get him at all. He’s like an enigma inside a riddle inside a mystery – getting recycled, distilled, convoluted and reconstituted before you can figure out which one he actually is.
“You seem to think I want the list,” Karl explains, “I do. But not for myself. You see, whatever wealth and luxury is before you today, now, would not have been possible without, shall we say, personal guarantees and assistance.”
“In this case, your government’s,” Karl tells me.
“You work for the Feds?” I suggest.
“I work for no one but myself, my friend,” Karl clarifies, “Occasionally, however, your government contracts my associates for assignments they dare not have their ‘good name’ associated with. Items best left off the national agenda. This is one of them.”
“They must want that list pretty bad,” I suggest.
“They do” confirms Karl, “Four days before your Christmas, the United States ambassador to Britain and his wife were kidnapped in London, butchered and placed in the trunk of a chauffeur driven car with a bow on top, and parked in front of the embassy where their eighteen year old daughter, Daniella discovered their remains.”
“Somebody’s idea of a sick joke,” I reason.
“When the trunk was opened a bomb was detonated, killing the girl, two guards and a kitchen maid who was impaled when shards of metal and glass shattered through the embassy windows,” Karl explains, “Sick…we are dealing with a criminal mastermind. You dare think of me as a sadist? This man – whoever he may be - is the angel of death.”
I think over my options – carefully and quickly. Maybe, just maybe, I can swing this whole mess in my favor and make it back home minus the body bag.
“What do I do?” I ask.
“Whatever you are told,” Karl replies, “For the time being that includes learning to speak Arabic, Russian, French and German…I am assuming you can speak nothing except your fractured English.”
“I get by,” I suggest.
“You’ll have to do more than that to come out the other side of this,” Karl clarifies, “But have no fear. You will have tutors for everything. You will train in classical studies. Have a smattering of fine art and wine and women…not like the one’s you have been used to, my friend. No money will be exchanged.”
Cute…Karl’s got a sense of humor.
“When you are ready,” Karl reasons, “you will be assigned.”
Not my own man. I’m not sure I like that, but I like it a hell of a lot better than being fish food.
“And just what do good manners have to do with killin’?” I inquire.
“An assassin is also a gentleman,” Karl coolly explains with a thin grin, “…or have you not heard of James Bond?”
THE END? …
Sorry – wrong number.
Eddie Mars will return in his next great adventure –
on May 11, 2007.
@Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).