ADVENTURE THE 35TH: THE BACK PACKERS
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 35TH:
THE BACK PACKERS
It was an unpretentious and uneventful next day. I made sure my prints were nowhere in the suite before carefully locking up with a polite ‘do not disturb’ hung loosely on the outside door. No sense in giving housekeeping a fright first thing in the morning. On my way out I planned to pay that lime green vixen another visit – but she’d vanished from the promenade by the time I returned. So, it was off to Palma Dante for a bit of ‘R’ and ‘R.’
Discovering the Don reclining pleasantly enough in his backyard, I informed him of my bloody findings. He didn’t seem surprised.
“In our profession…” he began, shaking his head, then trailing off into some inaudible tangent that neither intrigued nor stimulated my interests.
Save Herr Kreigler’s flashy obit’ in the local times and a few choice radio sound bytes about a prominent German industrialist dying under ‘mysterious circumstances’ the news was mediocre at best.
With nothing to do and nobody to do it with, I finally decided to take full advantage of the Don’s hospitality with a dip in his Olympic size pool.
The day was like any other – hot, parched and stifling - humidity filling my air passages and making the relatively cool splash of chlorine somewhat more appealing to inhale. I did laps, feeling the thrust and separation of rippling waves part on all sides before reverting to a full-out flop in the lazy floating recliner at the center of this oasis, allowing the sting of sunlight to bake me brown. But leisure time was not in the cards.
“I’ve just received word,” the Don informed me, casting a giant shadow across my face and chest, “That a man answering to the name of Michael C. Trent has checked into the Hilton in Tokyo.”
Where do these guys get their information? ‘Well connected’ is a gross understatement.
“We haven’t much time,” he adds, “You would do well to dress and join us in the atrium.”
I’m not big on orders unless I’m the one giving them. But I do as the Big ‘D’ asks. After all, it’s his abode. He has player’s privilege.
. . .
As I slip into my light and khakis upstairs – my head, a balloon-full of past life daydreams and nightmares yet to come - a fleeting thought suddenly brings me down to earth. I’ll bet it’s snowing in America. I’ll bet their fattening the bird for Thanksgiving and decking out for Christmas without a silly care – so happy, oblivious and unaware that the fate of the world gets decided by the hour and without a vote to make it official.
. . .
“We leave at six,” Migrya tells me in the atrium – a cold concrete and steel room with glass walls and ceiling that mimics the fortress-like solitude of the Kremlin than Spanish terracotta chic.
“We?” I ask with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m sending my daughter along,” Don Alverez explains, “She knows the language…and other useful things.”
“No doubt,” I add, my mind not really on my business.
But oh, it would be nice work if I could get it…and if I could get it, I’m sure as hell gonna try.
“You’ll take my private jet,” the Don explains, “Refuel in Naples.”
I think it over. It doesn’t make sense.
“Why Naples?” I inquire, “Most crates should be able to make it half way around the world on a tank.”
“You forget, Mr. Mars…we are being watched. If I give you a full tank, someone will know that Naples is merely a stopover. But, if I give you just enough to make it on fumes, they might believe Naples is your destination. I have booked you into the La Grande in Naples, but you won’t be staying there. Your reservations will be picked up by a friend and you will refuel at their airport for your next port of call – Odessa.”
“What’s in Odessa?” I ask.
“Tiaang,” the Don replies, “A very useful guide. He will see you through to Tokyo.”
We shake on it. The Don is big on handshakes. He still plays by the old rule book – a man is as good as his grip. Mine still carries the weight of my convictions.
. . .
At the air strip I’m introduced to our pilot, Marcel – a very angular and severe looking fellow, chiseled like something Chagall might have sketched in his spare time with little regard for the details. We board a sizable twin engine Cessna.
“Enjoy your flight,” the Don tells me, “When all points touch down, the work will truly begin.”
The Don has something there. In the sky everything looks simple. At a certain altitude, people vanish from the equation and you’re left with hazy topography and white fluffy reminders of the great beyond we’re all destined to become a part of eventually. How fine a prospect would it be if we never touched the ground again – if we never made Tokyo or even Odessa, but just kept sailing around willy-nilly in the magical weightlessness of clear sky? And then, it comes back to me. That nagging little thought that interrupted my casual drift in the Don’s pool.
“I’ll bet it’s snowing in America,” I mutter aloud, almost without knowing I’ve said the words – then, realizing that I have.
“Do you miss your native country?” Migyra asks.
It’s the first time she’s taken any sort of interest in me as a person rather than a plaything.
“Not particularly,” I reason – unable to qualify my ramblings, “I just bet it’s snowing there.”
I study her face for a hint of recognition…something that says, ‘hey fella – I think it’s time we admit we’re attracted to one another’…but all I get from my built-in radar is platonic static. So I decide to change the subject – slightly.
“You lived all your life in Spain?”
“No,” Migrya explains, “I was schooled at Oxford, then lived abroad for several years.”
And she’s just the broad to do it too – a real woman of the world, well traveled, perfectly preserved and in touch with ‘who’ and ‘what’ she is. She’s a sparkler. I only wish I were the match.
“You?” she adds, expecting a portfolio as diverse and stimulating as her own.
“Never went beyond my second year of college,” I tell her, “Didn’t see the need or the point. Had my experiences, same as everyone else. Drove a taxi. Boxed professionally. Did time in a copper mine in Montana. Knocked about until something finally got knocked into my head. Then I did a bit a’ night school to get my PI’s license – spent most of my life above a drug store in a seedy little nothing part’a town and sifting through other people’s dirty laundry.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Migrya replies, but in a way that I can’t tell whether she’s being funny or sincere.
“You’re foolin’” I say.
I’m still not sure that she is.
“Autonomy has its privileges, Mr. Mars.”
It seems silly to be so formal.
“Couldn’t you break down and call me Eddie?”
“I could call you Eddie,” she admits, “But I could never break down.”
I believe her. She isn’t the type.
. . .
The plane lands in Naples around seven-thirty. Marcel encourages us to get out and stretch our legs before the next league of the journey.
“How ‘bout it?” I ask Migrya.
She agrees and we start a long meandering walk down a rocky incline away from the plane. It’s a strange sort of electric neon sunlight that casts horrid orange across everything including us. I feel like the Great Pumpkin just threw up on me. There’s also a strong breeze of salty air that blows like a minor windstorm in all directions.
We don’t say much, but we understand one another a great deal. It’s a perfect friendship. Well…it’s perfect, at any rate. I finally work myself up enough to ask the question that’s been on my mind since we left Barcelona.
“Why did you come along?”
“You heard my father,” Migrya replies.
“I did. But that doesn’t mean I believed him.”
She stops in mid-stride, her face full of an uncollected pain and a sudden flash of glossy tears.
“You should,” says Migrya, pulling a wayward shock of ebony hair caught against her face.
“You’re very close,” I reason, finding myself suddenly becoming apologetic, “I mean, there’s not much distance there…is there?”
Migrya shrugs her shoulders.
“No,” she admits, “My mother died when I was four. My father’s been my whole life. When I was nine he married a woman who despised me. She sent me off to boarding school until I was eighteen – then university for another four years.”
“What became of her?” I inquire.
“She died of tuberculosis,” Migrya explains – thinking it over for a moment, “How I wish I had been the one to kill her.”
I underestimated this one. She’s an angel, alright - angel of death.
. . .
We board the Cessna around eight-ten. The plane starts to move slowly down the runway at a half past and before I know it we’re off into the wild twilight once again.
“Well…” I suggest, not knowing exactly what to do or say until we reach Odessa, “What now?”
Migrya smiles, playfully.
“You’d like to make love to me, wouldn’t you?” she says, confidently, clinically, without any reserve or emotion attached.
“I don’t think that’s possible,” I suggest, “You have to be able to feel, to be able to love.”
“Well,” Migrya explains, “I’m nobody’s idea of a distraction.”
“How long’s it been?”
The question is distasteful to her.
“Perhaps you wouldn’t mind answering first,” she tells me.
“Too long,” I willingly suggest.
“Not long enough,” is her cool reply.
Interesting. So, who was he…this guy who took more out’a her than any man should from a gal – and this one, with so much to offer up on the altar of grand amour? He must’a been a first love. The best thing that ever happened to her and the worst thing that could’a come from their brief association.
“I was in love,” Migyra explains, “With a friend of my father’s…many years ago. I was twenty then. He was young and handsome and very full of himself.”
She pauses for effect.
“You have that in common,” she adds with flourish, a sort of ringing endorsement to kill off any interest I might think she has in me, “But he was wild and dangerous. He didn’t care as much for me as he did for the work he did for my father…”
There’s a long pause in which I can almost see the waves of discomfort come crashing down over her tender head.
“…and then he died.”
She’s truncated the story – deliberately…leaving out the rest that might have made perfect sense if only in the context of some tinny ring off a tinkling bar piano and a ‘hey Mister…I met a man once…’ sob song.
“He was mortal,” I suggest, “Happens to the best of us.”
“Not just the best!” she snaps back, “…but yes. I suppose so.”
“So life began at twenty-one,” I imply.
“Death began,” Migyra admits.
“Stop it,” I tell her, “You’re still too young to play the part of a grieving widow. Besides, you don’t really mean it!”
I’ve touched a nerve – only it’s dead just like the rest of ‘em.
“What would you know?” she says, a cold bitterness from each leaden syllable.
“Plenty,” I reason, “I’m just the type for a widow.”
Now’s as good a time as any to grab her by surprise, or just grab her. But I’ve suddenly lost my appetite and I let the word play end on my sour note.
. . .
We’re expected to make Odessa by eleven – but as the hours pass I have the strangest feeling we’ve veered off course. Migrya’s nodded off in a corner, her mind a cluttered attic of cobwebs stirred.
She’s a wounded tigress – strong and angry, but with looks to kill and the guts to spread carnage on cue. Maybe she would have preferred to die in place of her idealized stud – wrecked her for all time without actually ruining her just the same. She only packed a couple a’ suitcases for the flight. But I have a sneaky hunch there’s more baggage stuffed between her ears.
I tap on the door separating the cockpit from our living space, but Marcel doesn’t seem to hear me. So far as that goes, he’s closed off the intercom too. There’s something fishy about that. So, I decide to go to the rear of the plane and pull down my luggage from the overhead rack. Inside the top pocket of my knapsack I find the tiny compass I packed just before boarding the plane in Barcelona.
My suspicions are confirmed. We’re nowhere near Odessa. In fact, we must’a sailed clear over it an hour before on a fast route to China.
I rush the cockpit, pounding for all it’s worth on the solid door before realizing I’m wasting more energy than time. Migrya stirs in her seat.
“What’s going on?” she asks with a lazy eye coming fast into focus.
“You tell me, princess,” I snap back, “Your pal, Marcel is flying us into uncharted territory.”
“Check out my map,” I tell her, “Compasses don’t lie.”
But there’s nothing we can do about it. The pilot has a mind of his own and the plane is on a course with some great unknown destiny.
Eddie Mars will return for his next big adventure:
MYTHS & LEGENDS
on Dec. 30th, 2007.
@Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).