ADVENTURE THE 40TH: THE WHEEL COMES AROUND
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 40TH:
THE WHEEL COMES AROUND
I wonder what Bogart would have done in this instance; a stranger in an even stranger land and with a mighty strange Oriental sandman at the foot of his bed; that benevolent smirk plastered across an otherwise granite façade of faux iniquity. Yep, in tight places, Bogie was the man – brains and style and with a good square head lumped like a glob of sheer guts on top of those stocky shoulders. He must’a been ten feet tall in life – at least tall enough to figure out what the hell was going to be his next move.
I try channeling his spirit while I lay there like a helpless babe who’s just realized he’s been given a piranha for playmate. I suppose there are moments in every man’s life where he finds himself in such a hostile or hopeless predicament that he simply chooses to surrender even the prospect of salvation and instead reverts to that ol’ cliché of ‘why me?’ for assistance.
On the morning I awoke with a corpse in my bed I had that familiar ‘why me?’ feeling. It was fast accompanied by the very real circumstance that I might not live to tell my tale – though what exactly had happened between the night before and the dawn at present was entirely open for discussion insofar as my own memory was concerned.
“You will dress and report to me in the courtyard,” Nazinja explains, arms folded as though to conceal the pistol that made that fatal hole through Migrya’s forehead.
I nod my acceptance of the terms, grateful not to find another bullet reserved for me. It’s at this moment that I suddenly realize I’m buck frisky beneath the covers. So, last night wasn’t just a fantasy. My imagination’s not so hot but the body never lies.
But when did those fleeting pleasures of the flesh give way to these nightmares trapped in my soul? Ah, now there’s the mysterious thread that’s missing from my tapestry of life; my penchant for living without reservations or any real meaning beyond the moment. In another time – maybe Shakespeare’s – I should have been labeled the town fool; reckless and wandering, unaware how manipulated, scorned and soured I had become on that venomous grace note from someone else’s palette – a pawn on the great chess board, the patsy locked up in the book depository, dunce of the ages without the cap to mark me as that sucker textbook example of ‘one born every minute.’ Had I always been so utterly ridiculous. Or was I just accustomed to having a lot of help?
We are all on borrowed time, I reason as I wander into the shower to rinse the fright from my bones with lavender soap. But in this instance, I could wish to borrow just a bit more than the next fella. I wait for the enveloping lure of steam from the oversized shower head; its pulsating swirl and splash, almost stifled inside my lungs with thickening steam clouding up the glass doors as I expel it all into the next room.
Then suddenly, I feel as though I’m not alone – that from out of the heavy cloud of misted water there’s movement and dark flashes of a shadow caught between the light.
It’s a good guess. For when I return to the bed chamber I discover that Migrya’s body has vanished without a trace. The sheets are clean. The bed has been made. There’s even a faint hint of rosemary and heather to mask whatever disquieting stench of mild decomposition might have occurred in the interim.
She’s no more, as though she never existed and it sends an ominous chill trickling down the muscles of my back - to speculate how quickly the past and those doomed to remain in it can so easily be expunged from the public record. Who was she? Where did she come from? Where has she gone? Who?
Across the smoothed comforter I find a freshly pressed short sleeved cotton knit and khaki trousers cut to my size; a pair of penny loafers at the foot of the bed. My old clothes, the ones strewn everywhere in our passionate flailing the night before are nowhere to be found. I have a new identity now, half preppy wretch without his plaything to keep him comfy/half tennis pro, lobbing his balls into someone else’s racket.
. . .
Down the hall I hear the echo of an almost angelic voice singing ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’ in fractured English. It soothes as it entices. Something I faintly remember from my school days in a land that I cannot forget.
Despite Nazinja’s command, I decide to follow this queerly erotic and thin strain down a long narrow corridor. At first it grows fainter and for a moment I think I might lose it all together – end the imaginary connection I’ve established to convince myself that I’m not that far from home. Then, again, and louder, it grows in lilting repetition. ‘Bring buck…bring buck…bring buck my Bonnie to me – oh, my.’
I listen intensely and for a second I almost feel the gurgle of that song swell like unwanted gas pressure building just below my lungs. My discomfort is perforated a moment later when I round the corner to discover one of the natives, dutifully stripping Migrya’s rigid body bare of her clothing and jewelry as she lays horizontal on a metal slab ominously poised before a large wall furnace. I stand there, paralyzed in the afterglow as the native continues ‘Bring buck…bring buck…bring buck my Bonnie to me.’
Then, pleasantly enough, ‘Bye-bye, lover.’
The native seizes Migrya’s body by her ankles, thrusting her head first full into the open flames and closing the large steel door behind her; casually spinning the pressure valve to its maximum density. I can hear the deep rumble of flames cook the brittle flesh of my lover; listen to the raw dense crack of bones pulverized by the extreme heat. The swell of some great demonic breath draws a hollow draft into the pit of the furnace. The cremator turns to me, his face as jovial as that of any wanton devil’s child at play with his favorite voodoo doll.
He’s gone – through a small door in a nearby wall, oblivious to anything but the fact that he’s performed a hearty job well done. I find myself strangely wanting to rush to furnace, throw open the door and crawl in behind her – not for love or loss or even to forget the hour of her extinguishment but to just put an unholy period to it all for my sake. Where have I come to and where am I going?
These questions and their unlikely answers are reserved for the moment. I arrive in the courtyard to find a most patient Nazinja sitting next to a rather officious Caucasian dressed in his business best; navy suit, polka-dot tie, crisp white shirt and glossy black dress shoes. The mystery man is also sporting a pair of thick lens glasses in designer frames – the unmitigated hallmark of a capitalist upbringing. Only in the ‘first world’ would style trump content; that the concave glass restoring his sight might somehow prove inferior unless its bearings are designed and trademarked by Gucci.
“Mr. Mars?” the man asks as I approach.
“That’s what the monogrammed underwear says,” I reply, “Still, I suppose there could’a been a mistake at the laundry.”
My tone and comments don’t seem to strike the right chord with Office Boy, though I detect a subtle note of pleasure from an ever so slight twinkle in Nazinja’s eyes.
“We haven’t much time,” the man coolly explains, “I’ll brief you along the way.”
“To where?” I ask.
I’m given a half smile and directed with the wave of Office Boy’s hand to walk down a long corridor at the opposite end of the courtyard. Turning my head ever so slightly I suddenly realize that Naz’ isn’t coming with us – his willowy form in flowing white silk a God-like monument to human artifice in an otherwise lush natural setting.
“You know,” I suggest to Office Boy, “I’ve sort’a given my word on a few things before I arrived here. I mean…there are a few people around the world who’ll want to know what’s happened to me and why I haven’t reported back to them.”
I don’t get a reply.
“I mean,” I continue, trying to cover my bases “These guys are…well…not friends…but I’ve sort’a been given their clearance without a price on my head. That is, unless I’m about to lose everything from the neck up in which case I suppose this is all okay.”
I stop walking.
“Mr. Mars, please,” I’m told with a note of impatience by my guide, “Time is of the essence.”
“I can promise you this,” the man tells me, “Whatever ‘assurances’ you were given elsewhere no longer carry any weight whatsoever.”
At the end of our long walk the corridor ceiling suddenly opens onto the raw dawn and I make an unsettling discovery; a bloody wall with chains and leg irons from where several limp bodies bound in an upright position cling precariously to the last vestiges of life. A muscular guard, sheathed only in a loin with a large saber strapped to his leather belt ominously towers over us. In the center of this area is a large bucket with a wooden stick floating loosely inside a murky liquid.
Office Boy reaches for the submersed wood. On the submersed end is a large sponge-like rag fastened with rough twine. As it’s removed from the bucket a trail of the liquid spills across the rough cobbled texture of pavement beneath our feet and I detect the faint odor of vinegar and pure alcohol emanating off its sopping wet bulb.
Office Boy applies this wedge to the scarred bloody cheek and mutilated torso of the first prisoner we encounter. The prisoner stirs in a limp writhe. He’s still able to contemplate pain, his eyes so puss-filled and swollen that I barely recognize him at first. Then suddenly, I want to throw up. It’s Karl’s right hand assassin; Shin-Su – his familiar features materializing out of the dark as they did not so long ago in my apartment on DeLuca Street.
“Do you know this man?” Office Boy asks me.
Shin props his head up for a moment, the crusted debris from those battered slits cracking open just enough to reveal one functioning eye in his left socket. I don’t know what’s become of his right eye. I don’t think I want to. Then, as though to acknowledge an old friend, Shin smiles at me, almost quaintly. His teeth have been torn from his gums. I don’t think he has his tongue either. Perhaps in grinning now, he recalls his own superiority that night - how if ever we were to look upon one another ever again I was to have been the one in his predicament.
“I know him,” I tell Office Boy.
“Shin-Su,” I quietly reply.
Office Boy tosses the stick back into its vinegar/alcohol mixture. He turns to the guard, more the pensive bean counter than ruthless assassin and directs him as though he’s managing a money marketing account for the Dali Lama.
“If he doesn’t die of heat stroke before noon today – kill him!”
The guard nods.
Office Boy motions for me to follow him past the wall. I do, unable to reason by what hand of fate my life remains in tact.
“It’s quite a system these fellas have,” Office Boy explains as we walk on, “That area we were just standing in may seem cool-ish now, but wait till twelve and those walls heat up to well over a hundred degrees. It’s like cooking on a grill. They don’t last long. Frankly, I’m surprised this one made it to five days. Most go after two.”
“Yeah,” I mutter, “What a system.”
I’m led into a dark room with a double mirror. On the other side is a state of the art operating room. From this vantage I can see another alumni from the Karl Fritz Von Talenburg society – his tailor Saiti, strapped in leather restraints while a trio of butchers in doctor’s garb peer over his bloated naked form – taking perverse pleasure in performing some sort of botched lobotomy. I watch for a few brief seconds as Saiti’s hands and feet loosely wiggle in their restraints; the men in white tapping into his scalp with great refined pleasure in their ‘craft’.
“Do you know this man?” Office Boy asks.
“The question’s old,” I suggest.
I don’t offer up a name and this mildly annoys my tour guide.
“Under the circumstances, Mr. Mars, I think it would be highly practical of you to fully cooperate.”
I choke on my reply, but it comes out just the same the second time around.
“Name’s Saiti,” I suggest, “I only knew him as a tailor. What’d he ever do to you? Put a crease in your pants?”
“This way,” Office Boy directs.
We leave the merry medicals to their wicked work and proceed toward what appears to be another debriefing room at the end of another dark hall. However, when the door opens, it reveals a large shiny veranda built mostly from marble that overlooks an uncharacteristically calm sea. A canopy of teak slats shields us from the virgin grace of morning sunlight, creating prison bar patterns across the shimmering floor. There’s a cool breeze blowing. Beyond our shelter the light above makes the water below sparkle like an ever-changeable field of diamonds.
I approach the railing’s edge and observe the slope and grade of the land leading to the water from this perch; both steep and peppered in large protruding cacti, their thistles making it virtually impossible to descend without being cut to shreds.
“Have a seat, Mr. Mars,” I’m told, “The boys’ll be with you in a moment.”
Office Boy disappears back from whence we came, locking the door to the veranda behind him. It’s a long moment that follows. Without my watch I’d have to guess it’s more like twenty minutes.
I have time to think – always a dangerous thing to do. I contemplate tossing myself over the side of the rail feet first and taking my chances that I can maneuver between the thorns on my way to certain drowning. If there’s an option I don’t see it and as the minutes continue to collect in clusters inside my mind I find a litany of unseen tortures I might have to endure before someone’s paraded past a wall or window to identify my restructured remains.
Then, the sound of footsteps grows louder from the other side of the door and a moment later there’s a creaky twist in the lock. A pair of military personnel acquit themselves of an introduction – one; a gregarious crew cut giant with enough glistening medals plastered across his chest to light half the coast; the other - all together less impressive with a perpetual scowl across his square jaw.
Gregarious lets me have it.
I nod. Greg’ takes my arm by his meaty fist, swallowing my palm into his and shaking the hell out’a me.
“Glad to know you. You’re one of ours. Isn’t he, Sam?”
Square Jaw nods.
A moment later a foursome of Nazinja’s boys swirl around us; setting up table and chairs with a fairly large buffet at our disposal. The bustle’s all over in a few minutes. I’m encouraged to sit and partake in what is likely to be a hearty feast.
“We had to be sure,” Greg’ explains. “You see, you’ve been consorting with some unusual company.”
“Yeah,” I mutter, “I guess I have. Who am I ‘consorting with’ now?”
“Major General Eric Brenfeld,” Greg’ tells me, “This is Captain Morris Wisenback. We’re United States Covert Military.”
I’m put slightly at ease by the introductions – though not quite.
“When we learned you were in Von Talenburg’s camp we weren’t sure what to make of it,” the Major continues.
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a choice,” I explain, “I mean, a fella turns up at my bedpost in the middle of the night with a plane ticket and a box of threats and I say to myself, ‘Here’s my hat and I’m in a hurry’. Now boarding – gate six.”
That one gets a slight chuckle.
“Mr. Mars,” the Major explains, “We’ve recovered the attaché you and your…well…that is, the woman who accompanied you had in your possession. Are you aware of its contents?”
“Uh-huh,” I say confidently, “It’s the reason Uncle Karl had me kidnapped to Dubai.”
I catch myself in thought.
“…the reason for a lot a’ things, I suppose.”
The Captain leans in for his share of the inquest.
“…and where is Karl Talenburg now?” he asks.
I can see where this conversation’s going – but fast. I’m in trouble and two steps away from the Ginsu and a nylon stocking over my head.
“Oh, now wait a minute,” I suggest, feeling my defensiveness kick in, “You boys are in the business of making fellas disappear better than Houdini. After all, that’s his hit-man tacked to the wall outside and his valet dreaming of Francis Farmer in the next room. How should I know where he is?”
“They didn’t tell us?” the Captain reasons.
“Maybe they didn’t know,” I reply.
“And Maybe they do and just aren’t talking,” the Major suggests.
“You mean to say you haven’t been in contact with Talenburg since Dubai?” the Captain prods.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” I spit back, “Central intelligence aside, you got’a know I’m tellin’ you boys the truth or I’d have my nuts fastened to some electro-shock gizmo in Auntie Lucricia’s hall of torture. You might have been able to coax a little something out’a the lady, only that dart somebody shot through her cranium doesn’t make for a conversation piece. Anyway, I passed another stop on my way in. The ye ol’ Nazi cookhouse. So, here’s a thought. Why not get the lady’s father to read to you from his roster of accomplishments by poisoned dates and candlelight.”
“Her father?” the Major asks with a hint of curiosity.
“Yeah,” I reason, “Don Alvarez. I’ll bet the man’s a storehouse of secrets. With the right clairvoyant and baseball bat, who knows what you boys’ll find out?”
The Major performs a silent conference with the Captain – eyes engaged and darting, muscles in the cheek and neck tightening, a facial tick here; eyebrow twitch there. Boy, I sure wish I could read their invisible brail. A moment later, I don’t have to.
“Mr. Mars,” the Major explains, “We hit the Don a few hours after your plane took off. That’s how we found you up here on the Tibetan plateau. Or, tried to. You were hijacked at Milan by one of Talenburg’s boys before you fell our off our radar. Anyway, the Don won’t be talking.”
Oh, so that’s how the game’s played. All along I thought it was ‘bait and switch’ when actually it’s been ‘process of elimination’.
“Now…” the Major concludes, “…you can find yourself on a plane home to DeLuca Street in a half hour. All we want is the whereabouts of your one time pay master, Karl Talenburg.”
“I told you, I don’t know,” I reason for the last time, “Look – you boys have the list. I don’t know where all the pieces fit and I don’t care. I never have. The mystery’s over.”
“The mystery’s only begun,” the Major informs me, “…and unfortunately for you…you’re now an integral part of it.”
I don’t think so.
“Listen up, General,” I say, my dander curling like a bad perm, “I was a private dick living on scotch and shitty hamburgers until all this crap hit the fan. Since then, I’ve been the public enemy for as you please, any number of damn fools who thought I was their ‘Any Time Annie’ prison bitch. Bend over and ye shall receive! Well, you can forget it. I’ve taken it up all I’m going to. Staple gun me to a hill of red ants and drive spikes through my nipples. I don’t want what your peddlin’ I never have. And if you think I’m keeping myself for some sunny day where espionage is a classy four letter word you got another thing coming. I don’t know what you want to know. Get it?!?”
The General smiles. Now he really is more dangerous than ever before.
“That’s okay, Eddie,” he tells me, the black beady center of his eyes burrowing deep into my conscience, “Because you’re just the sort of oracle our side needs. Crystal ball or not – you’re working for our side now. Get it?”
We’ll see! Eddie Mars will return on his next big adventure,
Pawn’s Grove on May 20th, 2008.
@Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).