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Nick Zegarac is a freelance writer/editor and graphics artist. He holds a Masters in Communications and an Honors B.A in Creative Lit from the University of Windsor. He is currently a freelance writer and has been a contributing editor for Black Moss Press and is a featured contributor to online's The Subtle Tea. He's also has had two screenplays under consideration in Hollywood. Last year he finished his first novel and is currently searching for an agent to represent him. Contact Nick via email at movieman@sympatico.ca

Thursday, October 09, 2008

ADVENTURE THE 46TH: A FOGGY DAY AND NIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

DISCLAIMER for the first time reader:

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 46th:
A FOGGY DAY AND NIGHT
IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

“Edward?” I hear a voice call me by my Christian name, “Where are you, Edward?”

It sounds so familiar, so inviting, and yet I can’t place it anywhere in my memory. How strange to be tempted in a dream; to imagine a moment never lived or find yourself as real as the rain, caught in the taste of blood slowly oozing from a split lip.

Who is it? I seem to be asking that question as I wander like a fool, a candle in one hand, through some dark and undistinguished hollow. It’s black, so black. And noiseless. Or am I really there at all.

My mouth is dry. My lips are cracked. I seem to be an old man with one foot on a very slippery precipice leading to the great beyond. Am I dead? If so, I wish this angel of mercy would reveal herself now and not hide in the recesses of my mind’s eye where only her soft turn-of-the-last-century trill beckons, like the methodic pace of a metronome. Tick, tick, tick, tick…

I awaken to an unnerving silence at the Dorchester the next morning. I suppose if I were philosophical I’d define that nothingness simply as my own anguished and hollow soul crying out for validation. Then again, I’m not so introspective or transcendental – at least, not at the dawn’s early light. It takes more than a few stiff ones to get me to the point where my mind runs away with my head.

No – more than likely I finally drifted into that deep coma-like REM that ought to have overtaken me immediately after my bath, but didn’t come for me until sometime around five a.m. Perhaps it was the realization that I was bedding down for the night with a guy who didn’t think twice about performing homemade tracheotomies – not exactly conducive to my slumber.

True, the Don hadn’t tried that trick on me…yet. But I wasn’t about to let him try either. That’s why I slept with the sharp metal letter opener I found inside the roll top writing desk under my pillow. If I was going to safe then he sure as hell was the one to be sorry.

As it happened, the Don slept like a baby with a blow torch. It was still ‘lights out’ and on his stomach for the happy hole maker, more beat than beaten and making sounds like a plumber’s van on cobblestone.

Returning the opener to its rightful spot, and feeling somewhat ridiculous about taking it in the first place, I decided to lather up for a quick shave. Half way through this daily ritual, with the subtle sound of a key turning in the front lock, I wished I had kept it at my side.

“Yes?” I call out, cream faced, as though I were a pug-ugly frothing over some fattish chorus girl from the West End follies, “Who is it?”

I’m greeted by a Teutonic valet who is just as surprised to see me come around the corner dipped in foam from ear to chin as I am to catch a glimpse of his chest full of shiny gold buttons – each meticulously polished so that I can see my reflection multiplied.

“Oh…I beg your pardon, sir,” he tells me, “…I was wondering what you might like for breakfast?”

It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of room service taking such a concerted interest in hotel guests. Then again, it’s one of the few times I’ve ever stayed at a hotel where they don’t rent the rooms by the hour.

“How did you know we were up?” I ask my attentive servant.

He looks like something out of an Alan Mowbray movie where the butler; crisp and impeccable - the very model of ‘English service’.

“The rooms are equipped with motion sensors that alert us when to come up and make inquiries,” the valet informs, “All special guests of the hotel are attended to in this manner.”

“Really?” I say with a hint of curiosity, “…and all this time I thought an Englishman was never attended to at breakfast.”

The valet stiffens his resolve for a moment.

“Are you English, sir?” he asks.

“Not in so many words,” I shoot back.

“Well, there you are then…” the valet concurs, “Besides, even if you were, we wouldn’t hold it against you.”

There’s something too slippery about his barb, too glycerin in his smile that I don’t like. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but if I could, I know I’d have to amputate at the knuckle.

“Oh,” I say, letting my nerves relax, “Well, I don’t know exactly what I want. I mean, I haven’t seen the menu yet. Any recommendations?”

“Black coffee and fresh figs are a specialty,” the valet suggests as I suddenly drip a big wad of cream from my chin onto the pristine carpet at my bare feet.

“Damn!”

“Allow me, sir,” the valet continues, removing a small bottle of what appears to be stain remover from his vest pocket and then a clean hanky from his pants pocket.

Be prepared! Good motto. And this guy means it too. I observe as he tidies up the creamy dollop curdling on the carpet, but feel more of the same getting ready to drop off my cheeks. I hurry back into the washroom to finish the job and hear the sound of the valet’s light quick heels hit the tile floor close behind a few moments later.

“About those figs,” I say, toweling off, “I’m not exactly a fig sort’a guy. I mean I left my leaf at home. Besides, pancakes were always more my style. You know what I mean?”

“Very good, sir,” the valet agrees, “…and for the other gentleman?”

“Better give him the figs,” I reply, “He’s made for ‘em. But give me thirty or so before you haul all that up. I want to run down to the lobby for a pack of luckies.”

“Luckies, sir?”

I’ve confused him with my lingo.

“You boys over here call ‘em ‘fags’,” I clarify, “Only I’ve never been comfortable smokin’ by that brand.”

“We also call them cigarettes,” the valet corrects with a coy grin, “We’re very progressive at the Dorchester.”

Another condescension that strikes a sudden sour chord I don’t much feel like sweetening.

“Well, suppose you progress to the kitchen for those figs and flapjacks and come back when I tell you.”

“Yes sir.”

And just like that, he’s gone, I’d say with a puff of smoke and a smell of sulfur, only I know he’ll be back and soon enough.

. . .

As I pass the Don’s room I take a peek inside. He’s still out cold.

I dress quickly and then swing by our private terrace, throwing open the French doors to breathe in a thick morning dew. Looking over the balcony, there’s a haze clinging to everything just a few floors below; the street quietly veiled by a nondescript stubborn fog that refuses to burn off. London…what can I tell you?

Actually, I haven’t had a cigarette in six years. No need to tell Mr. Fancy Pants that. I just wanted to run downstairs for a copy of the morning paper and read what else they’re saying about the murder at Heathrow.

My descent by elevator is interrupted on the sixth floor with the boarding of a happy couple obviously on their honeymoon.

She’s generic beauty – firm in all the right places but with the meter running on just how many good years are left. The flounce and bow tucked just under her chin is stiffly perfect.

He’s typical runway masculinity; square jaw and shoulders, a thick shock of pomade-slathered hair atop a strong forehead and that ‘I’m too sexy – and I know it’ cock of the walk mentality that says ‘the world is definitely mine!’

Apart, they belong in a Sears catalogue advertising cheap clothes made in China. Together, they’re flirtatiously insufferable and heavily tinted by the charged afterglow of morning sex.

Eyeing me a moment with minor curiosity, the woman turns to her beloved and informs him that the stain of her lipstick is still lightly smudged across his cheek. He raises his hand to wipe it off, but at the last minute she beats him to it with a Kleenex pulled from her purse; slowly caressing his cheek with her index and middle fingers and looking as though she could take him once more around the world in this cramped space – if only it were not for the annoying stranger standing by.

When the doors open onto the lobby I have to excuse myself to get past them.

“Sorry, mate,” the Rugby stud explains, getting out of my way.

I don’t reply but hear a distinct sigh and giggle from Cutsy-girl as the doors close behind me. I’m happy to be rid of them and I suppose the feeling is mutual. I have better things to do and they have each other.

Inside the lobby I notice a few more valets milling about, their chests of glistening silver casting sparkled high beams like Cleeg lights at a Hollywood premiere.

“Excuse me,” I ask a rather officious stuffed shirt working behind the front desk; his few strands of lengthy hair slicked back across his bald pate with enough grease to catch a few flies – if they’re even permitted inside the hotel.

“Where’s the closet news stand?”

“Across the street, sir,” I’m told, “But we can get whatever you wish.”

“That’s all right,” I reply, “I’d rather get a little exercise while I’m at it.”

“Very good, sir.”

Exiting the Dorchester, I cross the street to a small cluttered shop with a rather gaudy marquee marked ‘McFaddin’s.’ I take notice of the continued silence outside – sleepily interrupted by the faint, yet steadily increasing sounds of morning traffic. As it turns out McFaddin’s is a rather elaborate emporium of local and world newspapers. Somewhere between the cluttered discount bargain bin cast offs of Spice Girls and Charlotte Church CDs and cheaply reproduced ‘everything’ related to the Royals, I catch a glimpse of a massive wall of flesh poured into plaid from knickers to noggin and coming towards me.

“Help you today, sir?”

It talks, with a head the size of a basketball and lips that look as though they were caught in a bear trap.

“Morning paper,” I say.

“This way, sir.”

Here’s a guy – mid-sixties, Hitchcock build - who looks as though he’s spent his entire life behind the counter – and happily so, without a care or thought for bettering his station. He’s a spry old bugger too, hopping up a couple of steps and getting behind the counter, bending for fresh copy from an as yet untouched bundle resting on a shelf near the floor.

The Daily Mirror catches my eye first; an appropriately garish color shot of a body being wheeled out on a stretcher with a twin pair of bobbies flanking it in a vane attempt to block the view of blood soaking through the thin coroner’s cover sheet. The headline reads, ‘Headless at Heathrow.’ God bless the yellow journalist. He keeps everything just real enough for the masses to buy his lies.

“It’s a right old shame what some people will do to other people what’s on vacation,” the shop keeper tells me.

“How do you know he was on vacation?” I ask.

“I read the story inside,” the keeper replies while making change, “Seems he was a bloke of means from New Guinea and here on a bit of business with the British consulate…but I don’t think so.”

I’m intrigued.

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

The keeper points to the picture on The Mirror’s front cover, directing my attention to the victim’s two feet sticking out from under the sheet.

“Look at ‘em soles,” he tells me.

I do and they look fairly worn and scuffed.

“You don’t tell me that some millionaire businessman ain’t got what’s in his head for the price of a good pair of dress shoes,” the keeper explains, “Them’s the shoes of a workin’ man like me-self. And if I had ta guess, them’s also the shoes of a local place not too far of Tuttingham Court Ro’ where you and I can get just as good. I think I got me a pair at home just like ‘em. New Guinea, my old lady’s fanny!”

“You should have been a detective,” I suggest.

The old bugger smiles as though I’ve just made him an honorary of Scotland Yard.

“I had me daydreams same as everybody else, I did,” he tells me, “You can’t live on ‘em but you also can’t live without ‘em. Remember that, next time you feels as though the world’s been takin’ you for granted.”

I tell him that I will. It reminds me of an old proverb my Wisconsin grandmother used to say; If you want to see how the other half lives go to a great house and have yourself a good look around at the riches you’ll never own. But if you want real hospitality and a good home-cooked meal, invite yourself to the peasants’ hovel for the afternoon. They won’t have much to offer you but they’ll share everything they can just to make sure you don’t leave the place hungry.

McFaddin’s has filled me up with curiosity, even before my breakfast’s arrived inside the ‘great house.’

As I stroll back towards the hotel I take notice of my two elevator companions exiting the Dorchester. His hair isn’t quite as tidy as I remember. In fact, it’s been distinctly mussed. The starch in her flounce has gone out too and the bow’s missing. Only the afterglow on both from the neck up has intensified. Looks like I got off at just the right floor. Where they ‘got off’ is open for discussion.

The Dorchester’s doorman leans in to open the door of a waiting taxi for this gushing duo. He has the same chest of silver buttons – a hotel trademark. Only now I’m suddenly aware of a detail I didn’t even pick up on the first time around; silver buttons. Silver buttons! The valet that entered our room this morning was wearing a chest full of gold!

I run the rest of the way, bursting into the hotel lobby and attracting the attention of just about every staffer and guest inside as I dart toward the first available elevator. Going up doesn’t seem nearly as fast as going down and with each passing second I want to get out and ride the pulleys myself.

I find the door to our suite ajar and explode into the room with all the clumsy tenacity of an incompetent clod attempting to put his pants on after he’s just realized the parents of the high school girl he’s been diddling in their upstairs bedroom have come home.

I can smell the scent of fresh coffee and pancakes from the Don’s bedroom, grab an iron from the fireplace for self defense and rush inside to discover him on the floor and gasping for air. He’s been poisoned with breakfast.

I reach for the phone on the nightstand but suddenly realize I’m not alone in the room. The valet lunges at me from a corner I forgot to check. We wrestle for the iron in my hand.

Though he looks double my years he’s strong for his age and not as easily warded off by the few light taps I give him. He knocks me back into the French doors leading to the terrace. I trip on the raised patio cobblestone and tumble; lying on my back, iron being forced down and across my throat. The valet straddles me for leverage, but I remember a maneuver I learned in Dubai, a trick kick that topples him off to my side.

He reaches for a nearby planter and then a deck chair, tossing both in my direction with haphazard fear. I dodge, then attack with the fire iron firmly in tow. This time I get him good; first in the shoulder, then the head. He reels backward toward the balcony’s edge, dizziness overtaking him at the last moment.

I’m too late to grab hold of those shiny gold buttons and pull him back from the brink. Over he goes, screaming loudly and attracting the attention of just about every living soul within two blocks vicinity. His body snaps like a plastic Mattel toy on the roof of a waiting cab at street level.

I hurry back to the Don’s room - he’s still alive - and telephone hotel security and then an ambulance. For the first time since I’ve known him, the Don looks helpless. He gazes up with longing; like a little lost puppy I once saved from the dogcatcher when I was just eleven.

“It’ll be alright,” I whisper into his ear, raising the Don’s head off the floor with a pillow and stroking the few clammy beads of sweat that have collected across his brow.

I don’t know if I’m right, but I’m certainly going to pretend like I know what I’m talking about – for his sake as well as mine.

“It’ll be alright.”

. . .

It isn’t. Not entirely, anyway. Hotel security arrives first. The look of terror in their eyes is matched by that of the pomade goon from the front lobby who’s hoping to hell all this won’t debut in tomorrow’s Daily Mirror.

Everything moves with lightening speed.

“He’s been poisoned!” I say.

Two paramedics pump the Don full of something with a needle that looks more like a javelin. I watch as the Don’s body winces slightly – too weak to convulse or even flinch. Then comes Scotland Yard; officious and restraining and full of questions about the strange dried blood stain on the couch in our living area.

“A cut on the hand,” I explain.

Number One Detective coolly nods, then suddenly seizes both my hands in his, flipping palms up, then palms down. I pull away – not impressed by the strong arm tactics.

“Care to revise that explanation?” I’m asked.

“Not mine, you idiot,” I spit back, “My pal whose just been carted downtown with a quart of cyanide in his belly.”

We go a few verbal rounds, the detective and I. Why the Don? Why poison? Why the valet with the unhealthy shade of rouge, splayed on a westbound to nowhere.

“I was attacked,” I explain as the burly detective jots down notes in his pad.

“Why?”

That’s a popular question of his, but I don’t have any of the hit parade answers he’s looking for.

“You tell me.”

I’m ‘asked’ relatively nicely to come down to Scotland Yard. I suppose I better, to deflect from the Don and his wounds and see if I can’t think of some plausible fiction to square it all away for the bobbies – at least until I can do as much for myself.

. . .

There’s not much difference between an interrogation room at Scotland Yard and the ones I’m used to back home – except that this one’s cleaner, newer and more comforting in a strange way. No high key ‘where were you on the night of the fifth’ lighting or ‘good cop/bad cop’ routines to make the tap dance palpably obnoxious. Even the chair I’m asked to sit in is cushioned and fairly comfortable. I could take a nap in it if I weren’t so charged up like a battery with only one transistor.

Burly Dick takes his seat at one end of a rather smartly laid out desk, removing a pad of paper and a tape recorder before beginning with more questioning.

“Now then, what is your name?”

“What’s yours?” I fire back.

“I am Det. Richard Burlingame,” he tells me.

“I’m Det. Eddy Mars,” I reason, adding to detour to the fact that my practice is private, “…from the good ol’ U.S. of ‘A’.”

I seem to have garnered instant respect with that one line. Det. Burlingame reaches across the desk and shakes my hand.

“How do you do?”

“I’ve been better,” I admit.

“Yes,” Burlingame agrees, “…and who is the other man in your room?”

“A friend. Is he going to be all right?”

Burlingame nods.

“I spoke to the hospital before coming in here to talk to you,” he explains, “Arsenic but not enough to kill. It’s a good thing he didn’t finish breakfast or it might have finished him.”

There’s a slight pause and then an awkward segue.

“Oh,” Burlingame adds, “how about you? Would you like some coffee?”

“I’ve sort’a lost my appetite,” I reason.

Burlingame twitches a clumsy half smile, as though he sympathizes, before resuming his interrogation.

“Are you here on a case?”

“No.”

“And who was the man you threw from the balcony at the Dorchester?”

I hate interrogations. They’re full of loaded questions to which – nine times out of ten – the accused doesn’t even know the answer.

“You tell me,” I reason, “A guy breaks into our suite with enough poison to kill a small pony. Then he takes a poker, a potted plant and a lawn chair to my head before jack knifing to his big finish. If he’s Dorchester staff, I’d say they need better employee pre-screening and if he’s not, I’d like to know how an imposter gained that much high level security access to their kitchen and key room.”

“Are you thinking of suing?” Burlingame asks with a slight note of concern.

“No,” I shoot back, “I’m thinking of applying for his job and the employee discount on poisoned figs.”

There’s a big sigh from Burlingame. He’s tired of me already and I haven’t even warmed up yet.

“No one knows who he is,” Burlingame informs me, “He had no identification on his person and none of the hotel staff remember seeing him before today. But this sort of thing does not happen at the Dorchester!”

“No,” I add, “Only in Heathrow men’s rooms.”

I’ve insulted English law and propriety and my slum prudery comes back on me ten fold.

“We’re decidedly different, Mr. Mars,” Det. Burlingame tells me. “As an Englishman, I am appalled by the murder at Heathrow and will do my utmost to uncover the identity of the killer. However, if I had to make a blind deduction, I’d say that the body at Heathrow tends to fit in rather nicely with what you Americans treasure as your Wild West mentality.”

“I didn’t kill your vic’” I say, knowing too well who did.

“No one is suggesting that you did,” Burlingame explains, “But you are, at the very least and in some way responsible for the death of an unarmed man at the Dorchester Hotel. Now, we can debate the extent to which English law will deal with your actions all day long. However, if you want to see your friend at the hospital before close of business today, then I would suggest you cooperate as much as possible now or I will detain you indefinitely.”

He has me over a barrel and I know it. Okay, so we’ll play by Queensbury Rules. Yikes and tally-ho…but with all the good and juicy bits quietly left in the mushroom patch out back.

. . .

I get to the hospital around five p.m. By then I’ve had all I want of Burlingame and English law and psychotic nobodies popping out of pancakes Barbara like Mary Poppins on crack.

I’m tired. I’m hungry and I’m not in a very good mood. Great starters – all three!

The nurse at the front desk, a portly ol’ broad shaped like a half deflated football, looks me over for good measure. I’ll bet she hasn’t seen a real man since Churchill left office.

“I get that a lot, angel,” I say, giving her the same roving eye she’s offering me until I suddenly realize that her left one just lazes about like a poor-fitting aggie.

…must be glass. I try and stop myself from wondering what sort of bloke poked her for fun on a Saturday night and then just poked her till she lost it, but it’s too late. I’ve painted a mental portrait of an act nobody should have to envision without a few stiff ones to back it up.

“What room?” the old rum pot asks, apparently oblivious to my insinuations.

“The one where they brought in the guy from the Dorchester earlier today,” I tell her.

Her dead eye points toward the ceiling while the other searches for a room number in the admission’s log.

“Six-nineteen,” she tells me, leaning over her desk and pointing down the hall, “Through those doors and to your left.”

. . .

I find the Don groggy; in and out like a Chinese light bulb that should have been made in Taiwan. He’s been pumped full of something to keep him happy, or rather to keep the staff happy. I shake him gently and he comes to, slowly realizing who I am and where we are.

“You must go to Harrods,” he mutters, his speech thick and slow.

“Thanks,” I reply, thinking the stuff’s clearly gone to his head, “But their White Sale is over and it’s too early to start my Christmas shopping.”

In an instant, the Don’s body convulses – angular gyrations and unnatural twists of the neck that remind me of something out of The Exorcist. His arms burst forth from under the carefully tucked bed sheet, grabbing me by my lapels.

“Listen!” he sputters, half gurgle/half hiss, “Listen to me!”

“Okay!” I say, prying the Don’s hands free and slowly lowering him back into his pillow.

“Harrods,” the Don mutters, “Lower floor, past the mezzanine. Maryilla Vega. Maryilla Vega.”

The Don fades out, his wrinkled brow a creviced fortress of clammy beaded sweat, his mouth loosely gaping in crooked repose as his body goes limp.

. . .

I hate the medical profession. They call it a science but actually it’s an experiment and we’re the lab rats. They try a remedy and if it doesn’t work they keep on trying until they get it right – or wrong and you’re stuck with a toe tag and unexplained ‘cause of death’ that gets quietly swept under the rug. Along the way, they screw with your meds, vitals and livelihood and in the end there’s no guarantee that what they offer you is anything better than what you’d find in a cupboard of ‘Ma Winchell’s’ Home Remedies.

“Say, what the hell did you give my friend in there?” I ask the glassy-eyed gal at the nurse’s desk.

“A mild sedative,” she tells me.

“Mild, my ass!” I shoot back, “He’s out of his head – and not by choice.”

“If it’s what the doctor prescribed…” she begins.

I’ve had enough.

“If that’s what the doctor prescribed,” I interrupt, “then I want a second opinion and the name of the college that quack graduated from. My pal has a flesh wound; not stage four mesothelioma.”

“You’ll have to take that up with his physician,” the nurse replies curtly.

“And don’t think I won’t” I tell her, “Only I’m going out, but when I get back my friend had better be lucid enough to count to ten and get the same number twice or baby, I’ll strap you down with a bit of the same until both your eyes are pointing in the same direction!”

I leave her to her duties – such as they are – and to contemplate the pluses and minuses of that experiment.

. . .

It’s raining – again - still. Doesn’t it ever do anything else around here? Dumb question. Guess not.

I tuck the collar of my trench up and around my ears to block out the chill of early evening air and make my way to Harrods. Even if I knew where I was going, which I don’t, it isn’t hard to find – an elegant ancient structure cheapened by the millions of electric lights outlining its front façade. Commerce meets culture. I don’t have to tell you which one won.

Inside, stately elegance meets a bizarre mishmash of commercialism run amuck. There’s a cozy other worldly, other timely feel to the place. You could spend days tooling around its tight, immaculate corridors and never hit the same corner twice.

I can’t say much for the staff. I wander for a good twenty minutes through a dense crowd before some sales girl catches my eye.

“May I be of some assistance, sir?” she asks, her Hindi accent soft and beguiling.

Another time, another place and she could have done more than assist. She could have partaken. But now I haven’t the time or even the inclination. Actually, strike that last part. I’m always inclined.

“Maryilla Vega,” I say, observing as one thick brown brow rising with great curiosity.

“Whom shall I say is calling?” the girl replies.

“A friend.”

I’m not exactly certain that’s true, but I’m sure I’ll find out in short order.

“One moment, please,” the girl says, backing slowly into the crowd, “Don’t go anywhere.”

“I won’t, angel,” I tell her, leaning back on a display case and waiting for what comes next.

The ‘what’ is actually a ‘who’ – a tall, gaunt Asian gent bumped out in his businessman’s finery with a lot of shoulder pad.

At first I don’t think he’s for me, but as his head rises about the crowd like a balloon, it’s continued trajectory matches my own. I realize he’s someone who’s taken an interest in my inquiry.

“May I be of some assistance?”

Same old question.

“Not unless you’ve eaten Maryilla Vega for breakfast and are ready to puke her out for me right now.”

I’ll say this for the guy. He can take an insult without so much as a ripple of criticism showing.

“I’m afraid…” he begins.

“No,” I interrupt, “I’m afraid I don’t have time for games. Now it’s alright if you want to play ‘guess who I am?’ until Easter, only the fella who sent me here isn’t doing so hot inside his hospital room right now. He came here to see Maryilla Vega and that’s exactly who I’ve come to see on his behalf. Either you produce her like the Jolly Rancher – with kisses – or just get the hell out of my way. Because time is of the essence and it’s running out!”

“Will the Don survive?”

Well, good for him. He has the same playbook and isn’t afraid to run through the roster.

“That remains to be seen,” I reply.

I’m summoned with a polite hand to follow my lanky guide down a couple flights of stairs, past the memorial placard and framed photo tribute to Dodi and Princess Di, around a few more corners to a small mahogany door marked ‘Staff Only.’

A light tap on the door and a very deep female voice calls from within – “Come in.”

The door swings open and inside I find the last person I ever expected to see again – Migrya Alverez. Or is it?

When last I recall, some happy-go-stupid was stuffing her bullet pierced corpse into a furnace. I suppose I wear my general shock and surprise too freely.

“You look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” Maryilla tells me.

Her voice is different; like a Bacall knock-off with more timber than enticement.

“Maybe,” I explain.

I pause. No sense in letting the others in on what appears to be our shared little secret.

Maryilla waves my guide away and without turning I can hear his steps softly retreat on the tile floor and then the door slowly close behind me.

After gesturing for me to take a chair, Maryilla leans back into the soft leather recliner behind her desk, rubbing a pair of supple nylon legs that extend into eternity like a very enticing cricket about to sing me a sonnet.

She doesn’t miss a trick and she knows it. Two years earlier and I might have been dumb enough to buy what she’s selling. Only her stock’s gone just as low as the rest of ‘em – but especially for me. I’m not the same forgiving jackass I was.

“How are you on your feet?” Maryilla asks, reaching to the left and back of her to a portable CD player with two small speakers poised in opposite directions.

“Oh, I don’t know. Pretty good, I suppose,” I say, “But you’re slipping.”

Maryilla raises a curious, but playful brow.

“And how’s that?”

“Don’t you wanna know how I am, off of ‘em?”

Maryilla smiles.

“At last,” she declares, rather loudly and pronounced, her soft index finger reaching for the play button on the CD player, “A man who understands English!”

“Oh, I speak in tongues,” I tell her, “Forked and otherwise.”

With that bit of double entendre the play button is clicked. The room suddenly fills with a rather heavy bass noise that drowns out any other ambience in the room. It’s like a Stone’s rock concert in here. I can’t get no satisfaction!

Maryilla leans across her desk, her mood suddenly changed from tease to tense.

“Follow me,” she says, without the slightest hint of sexual ennui.

I’m glad. Another notch I don’t need, but I just might be able to add this Brit to my butterfly collection.

THE END…

…not quite. Eddie Mars will return on Dec. 1, 2008 in his next adventure.
@Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).

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