ADVENTURE THE 29TH: BAHAMAS STAKES
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 29TH:
I take a plane to the Bahamas the next afternoon – unable to erase yesterday’s events from my mind even as the plane begins to dip toward the glistening surf on its final descend. If I close my eyes I can still taste the sweat salts trickling in jagged streams off my brow, with the only relief coming from that cold silencer nuzzled into the side of my head. Time, I bought my own small parcel of it by agreeing to kill a man I’ve never met.
“What’s his name?” I asked Karl on the road trip back to the hotel.
“He’s traveling under Somerset.”
“No,” I clarify, “His real name.”
“It will be better for you if we leave names out of the equation.”
So, I’m given a photo instead; a mug shot of a sixty-ish portly gent who looks like the guy that used to do my taxes. I’m told by Karl he was one of ‘our’ own – a congenial fella whose specialty was death by untraceable poisons. Only, friend Somerset became greedy and started skimming off the top – a little, at first. Then a lot, until there just wasn’t anyway to conceal the deficit.
I suppose he figured, steal little/steal big and get out while the collars and cuffs match. The man’s a walking corpse and he doesn’t even know it. That’s Karl’s specialty. Give ‘em enough rope to hang themselves, then tighten the noose and watch ‘em swing.
“Remember,” Karl tells me, “Whatever his disguise, he always wears this ring.”
I’m shown a picture of that too…and a nice ring it is, brushed white gold braided strands with one bulbous diamond set on top.
“Sentimental bastard,” I suggest.
“Trophy collector,” Karl clarifies, “The ring belonged to the agent he was working with – the man I trusted and sent to retrieve the money he stole.”
“You picked the wrong guy for the job,” I reason.
“I chose a friend instead of a killer,” Karl corrects me, “My mistake. His too. Bring back the ring.”
“For sentimental reasons?”
“To prove you haven’t failed,” Karl coldly replies.
The assignment’s pretty straight forward. Get in, get out – and somewhere in the middle leave a body with no ring for the concierge to discover. Only time doesn’t seem to favor my itinerary.
. . .
I arrive at the Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort just before sunset. Money – suddenly thrust into the deep end of culture makes me nervous. I play it big but feel small inside. Maybe it shows, but I still have an ace in the hole; one I use with discretion to pump the bright young thing sitting behind the front desk for information on a Mr. Somerset.
“You see,” I reason, “We were supposed to get together yesterday, only my flight in was delayed.”
“That’s too bad,” the clerk reasons, leaning in, “He’ll be gone until tomorrow evening.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know where?” I press a bit further.
“Afraid not,” my compliant Miss replies, though I’m not convinced she couldn’t pull up a few new facts – even if I have no lasting interest in her figure.
. . .
As per instructions, I unpack in my suite and send an email to my contact. I’m advised to stay put and take in the scenery as an inconspicuous tourist.
That’s when I catch sight of her – a rail of a girl, bumped out in all the right places, poured into a paper thin burgundy gown. She meanders between the swaying palms, her soft arms loosely dangling by her side, black tresses caught in the gaining breeze off the water. A minor distraction, I suppose.
I put on some evening clothes and saunter to the gardens where I find her leaning against an ornate gazebo. The brush of magic hour is upon us now – lurid purple and orange hues tainting the real into the imaginary; an effortless hallucination for play.
She doesn’t see me coming but I’ve memorized every line as I make my way to the gazebo steps.
“Extraordinary view,” I call out.
She pivots on one heel, eyes tracing the contours of my body with considerable interest. But she’s hardly impressed by the double meaning in my words. I’ll give her that. When I’m looking for diversions, dialogue is cheap.
“Do we know each other?” she coolly asks.
“Tragically – no,” I reply, giving her just enough of a thin smile to know that there’s a passing interest, but not enough to disappoint me if she decides we’re a washout at low tide.
“Let’s keep it that way,” she tells me.
She returns her attentions to the crashing waves upon those distant rocks. Maybe I’m out of practice, but I doubt it. She’s just twenty degrees cooler than her surroundings.
“My mistake,” I tell her, “I thought it was stormy out there.”
I start to walk back to the resort. It’s late and I am not that starved for companionship. Almost out of earshot when I hear her thin voice call after me.
Ball’s in my court and I intend to play it. I stop in my tracks and wait for a moment, unconvinced that if I turn around she’ll be facing me without the attitude. But I do and she is. So I play up the winning hand and give her some of her own.
“Do we know each other?” I ask.
She accepts the snub like a sport.
“No,” she reasons, this time approaching without her armor, “That’s why I said ‘stranger’.”
“Well, maybe it’s not what you say, but how you say it,” I explain, giving her the other half of that smile on credit but still keeping it serious.
“As though we aren’t going to be strangers much longer.”
I’m about to solidify our pact with an invitation to dinner when we’re interrupted by – of all things – the jangling collar on another mutt – a black and tan daschund, enthusiastically trotting up our path. He bypasses me entirely, nuzzling up against the girl’s shapely ankle with a soft caress of his fur about her patent leather. I don’t envy him that privilege - so much for ‘man’s best friend’.
“How cute,” she says, gingerly picking up the little fella, holding him in the palm of her left hand while allowing her right to be licked like a lollypop, “Yours?”
I shake my head. Upstaged by a dog…that’s class.
The girl checks his collar, then laughs.
“No,” she agrees, “I guess not.”
The collar reads - ‘Poopsy.’
. . .
At the front desk we find the night manager, Bryan, a strapping island boy who seems to know more than we do, even as we approach with our new found furry friend in hand.
“There you are,” Bryan says.
Poopsy obediently jumps from the girl’s hand onto the counter top. He is quickly removed and placed out of sight by Bryan before anyone else has a chance to complain. Bryan then reaches into a bowl just below the counter, feeding Poopsy a handful of rather odd looking, milky white kibble.
“Interesting diet,” I comment, “Whose animal is it? Yours?”
“No sir,” Bryan nervously explains, “He’s by way of being something of the hotel mascot. He was left behind by a guest several seasons ago. We adopted him. But he’s not supposed to wander the grounds freely. I hope he didn’t disturb you.”
“Not at all,” the girl replies, her playful roving gaze returning to me, “I enjoy animals.”
. . .
The rest of dinner’s a blur. It feels so good to have a conversation that I momentarily forget myself and laugh at her silly jokes. I don’t think about me for a change or what I’ve been sent to do. I let my guard down and it’s the first time in a long while that I don’t experience that crushing need to pretend.
Her name is Amanda and she’s vacationing with her father, Edward - who’s returning from a business trip in Miami. They have no permanent residence, but he owns a yacht moored at the club docks.
“I’ll take you sailing,” she says, “There are some really private spots where a girl could get lost when she wants to.”
“What about a fella?” I inquire.
“On what it is you do for a living,” Amanda explains, “You see, I don’t do anything. I’m just here.”
“…for the asking?” I tease.
“For the taking,” she admits.
. . .
We’re in each other’s arms before midnight – like a pair of moths beating our frantic wings against one another’s white hot flame. There’s years of experience in her every touch. She’s a girl who likes to push buttons, but I’ve never met one who knew exactly where each finger should go – until now.
We migrate in various stages of undress from the couch to the carpet in my suite. I lie back and kick away the coffee table, feeling the cool night breeze blow the sheer curtains across her back as I fumble for her button holes.
“You’ll never get it,” she reasons, straddling me while reaching for the awkward clips that hold her dress together.
“Oh, so that’s how it’s done,” I say as the satiny straps slink off her shoulders.
“You want me to show you, how it’s done?” she coos.
Why not? I’ve had every other kind of tutor.
“Lead on, professor,” I say.
She’s a fifty year old woman in a twenty-something body. A bit of invisibleness disappearing from my touch, only to reappear seconds later with gem-like sparkles of electricity caught glistening in her eyes. I find myself in unfamiliar territory – actually savoring the moment without letting the mechanics get in the way. We give each other a tune up and test drive – the open road of mutual possibilities tangibly real for the very first time.
“You’ve given this some thought,” I tell her.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” she whispers into my ear.
I couldn’t agree with her more.
. . .
When the dawn breaks anew, I find myself feeling liberated from my past only to be deceived bydaydreams yet again.
I awake beneath the soft silken overlay of tussled sheets, feeling the light and island breeze tickle its way up and down my exposed spine and neck. I’m alone in bed, the wreckage of clothes strewn about the place the night before now neatly pressed and stacked on a nearby end table. Efficient young miss. I’ll give her that. But I gave her plenty more last night.
Damn the daylight. There’s nowhere to hide all the imperfections that the moon makes adorable. I’m suddenly aware of that thin scar of anxiety creeping in beads across my sweaty brow. I should crawl out of my cocoon and back into my shell - only I’ve too much cheek and bravado to consider what a mess I’ve made. I suppose there’s an appropriate time to declare one legally dead. Just how many years I’ve lacked a pulse is open for discussion.
There’s a knock at the bedroom door, distinct – instantly identifiable, and a moment later Amanda’s voice echoing from just beyond.
Breakfast arrives on a rattan bed tray – coffee, grapefruit, orange juice and toast with blackberry jam. It’s all placed for my approval across my sheathed waist, Amanda leaning in with her soft slender hands pressed tenderly against my chest and sealing the offering with a passionate good morning kiss.
“Well,” I conclude, “This hotel is definitely improving. You give ‘complimentary breakfast’ a whole new meaning.”
She pulls back a dark shock of hair that’s getting in the way of her eyes. They’re suddenly sad and tired. There’s something wrong behind that smile. I can’t figure out what.
“My father’s coming home,” she whispers.
“In an hour or so,” Amanda reasons, “I just received a call from the yacht club.”
A moment of awkward silence passes between us.
“I’m not the sort of girl who brings strange men home.”
“Oh,” I acknowledge, sitting up in bed, “So that’s it. Well, I suppose check out time, then.”
“Breakfast first,” Amanda explains, leaning me back into the pillows and smothering with a litany of wet kisses, “You can work up quite an appetite in an hour.”
. . .
The afternoon is hot and sticky. So was the morning – for different reasons. Breakfast was the last thing on either of our minds and we proved it by satisfying another basic hunger.
Human sexuality is a curious thing. It’s total surrender – a place removed from time and space where you completely lose yourself. With all the powder behind that keg, one would think the fuse was lit for an explosion worthy of any stick of dynamite. It is – only occasionally, the detonator doesn’t seem to have as much of a thrust in the charge.
I replay the morning in my head while browsing the quaint and colorful shops for a trinket. Odd, I reason. She was distracted today. Maybe it was daddy’s arrival diluting the thrill. Or the daylight; seeing everything in living color without the escalating luxury of half shadow to conceal those less than perfect stabs at pleasure.
Afterward, I showered, shaved, and decided to do a bit of leg work for the man I’ve been sent to kill. But he’s a no show again, leaving me with thoughts of how to impress Amanda’s father when we meet later this afternoon for lunch; a casual accident cute meet-on-purpose – her idea.
I find myself playing the part of the nervous suitor – you know, the awkward buck who rings the doorbell for his prom date only to discover some burly ex-cop blocking his path to true lust with folded arms and a glower that sends limping shockwaves from the waist down – combing my hair just so and changing outfits three or four times for maximum effect, or rather - a disguise of truer intensions already expressed.
I’m batting zero with any ideas for what to bring to our luncheon date. Flowers would be obvious; jewelry a waste; an invitation to the casino stakes appearing as though I were grand-standing to bilk the old geezer out of his other assets too. I decide to go the cool approach – just me, in casual white cotton knit and khakis, looking as though I haven’t given the matter a second thought. To hell with first impressions – they’re cheap and fleeting and say nothing about the sort of beast lurking just beneath that veneer of pretend.
It’s been a long time for me since meeting any girl’s father was the issue and it’s a bit unsettling – I’ll grant you. I reason that none of this can come to any good, and my instincts are right on the money as I round the corner up the path to the open air plaza where I suddenly find myself face to face with my target – set out just so, and in the last place I would have thought to look; arm around her waist, sun glistening off the thick gold band wrapped around his ring finger, and telling her lies about his ‘business’ trip.
So she’s Amanda, is she? Amanda Somerset!
Eddie Mars will return in his next great adventure –
DOGGIE TREATS on June 29th, 2007.
@Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).