ADVENTURE THE 38TH: FLAME OF DISCOVERY
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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 38th: FLAME OF DISCOVERY
“Oh God…” Migrya mutters.
I think it’s hit her for the first time that we both might freeze to death up here on the mountain.
“Don’t even try it.” I tell her.
“That,” I explain, making myself comfy by what’s left of the fire, “Pray for assistance, I mean.”
Migrya gives me a curious once over.
“Not a religious man. I might have guessed. So, how is it that you’re so resourceful?” she asks.
“But I’m not,” I suggest, “I just don’t believe in using God like the tooth fairy, that’s all. Wish and ye shall receive. He wasn’t responsible for getting us here so why should he be the one to save us now?
“Sometimes we may need his help to show us the way,” Migrya reasons.
In the half flicker of amber she takes on the flavoring of Joan of Arc – only her sainthood’s been charred long before I lit the flame of discovery beneath those tootsies.
“I sort’a figure if he thinks I’m worth it, he’ll give me a sign…,” I suggest, “He hasn’t, and so I don’t pray for what he’s unwilling to give."
"Or forgive?" Migrya suggests.
"Life’s too short to give a damn about those who couldn’t care less about you.”
It’s then that I suddenly notice a glimmer from deep inside the cave. I can’t quite make it out so I take a loose branch from the kindling as a torch to light my way.
“Where are you going?” Migrya asks.
But I shush her up with a wave of my hand. I’m just about to be brilliant, or that is, maybe…just maybe…be rich instead. Money – the cleanser for all other shortcomings including personal stupidity.
What am I saying? Money?!? A lot a’ good that’ll do me up here. Then, it catches my eye – a gem stone so big I have to blink twice to get the reflective spackle of amazement out of my eyes. I’d burst into a quick chorus of ‘We’re In The Money’ only I’m speechless at the sight of this bulbous diamond jammed between several pillars of craggy rock. Somebody was very clever when they buried it…or perhaps, just very greedy.
“Don’t touch it,” I’m told.
I turn to see Migrya standing nearby.
“You know what’s this might be worth?”
Migrya is unimpressed. Clearly, her wealth at home outweighs any luxuries this bauble might afford.
“Your life?” Migrya asks, “But certainly not mine. Look.”
She points to one of the craggy support pillars I’d have to break away to get to the stone. Only, as I follow her gaze I see that this one ties into a beam; the primary support for the roof over our heads. One greedy whack and the whole damn mess seals us into a rocky tomb. How much will the money be worth then? I come to my senses quickly.
“Thanks,” I tell her, with a half smile. “Besides, it’d be too heavy to carry down.”
I’m not naïve enough to believe she did it out of kindness or even passing thought for my own well being. But her pretty little neck. Ah, now that’s worth considerable. The babe is into self preservation in a big way. Who among us, pushed to the extreme, is not?
. . .
We make up shelter for the night. It’s cold. I start a small fire with a heap of petrified twigs I gathered from the outside. Migrya tosses me a rescue blanket from her knapsack. She has another two for herself. We lay on either side of the fire.
“I’ll stand first watch,” she says.
I’m mildly amused.
“I don’t know if you figured it yet, Angel,” I suggest, “But we’re in the middle of nowhere. Just who do you suppose is going to call on us first; the Mafia or the Avon lady?”
She’s unimpressed by my lack of imagination.
“Maybe the poor dumb bastard looking for the mate he left behind,” Migrya suggests, kicking the skull we’ve discovered across the cave floor.
“Highly unlikely,” I explain, “That poor dumb bugger’s been here since the 1980s.”
“Then how about the bear that ate him?”
Good call. The altitude must’a gone to my head, but I didn’t think about wild animals in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure we’ve got ‘em…and maybe they’re just as cold and hungry as we are and lookin’ for someplace and someone warm enough to satisfy.
“Okay,” I admit, chivalry kickin’ in at the last moment, “Then, I’ll take the first watch.”
I get no objections. In fact, I get the distinct notion I’ve been suckered. Migrya goes right off to sleep. She’s out in fifteen minutes flat - bitch. I’m not so lucky. My eyes begin to droop almost from the moment I become aware I’m all by my lonesome.
I try my best to keep my mind from wandering but inevitably it does. I hear the wind howl than dissipate to a low sustained timber and forced echo about the craggy rocks. Every time a dull whiff of cloud blows across the moon, the shadow it produced from just beyond the gaping hole momentarily startles me into poking my head outside. It’s a frost-bitter tart slap of sheer in the chops – numbing to the face but utterly startling me to life. I’m awake with thoughts that parts’ll start falling off me if I don’t hightail it to the fire inside. But with that thaw comes a relaxed feeling that could lull a yeti to dreamland.
Somewhere in the night I think I hear the lonely stark howl of a hungry wolf. Maybe it’s just the wind, but it’s a paralyzing sound that continues to echo through my wandering memory and it has me thinking through a myriad of ‘what if’ scenarios. But even I can’t anticipate what comes next.
. . .
Somewhere trapped between the forgotten recess of a hunger induced hallucination and genuine dreamscape I drift into a state of self-induced coma from which only the rather rough handling of a few good shakes gets me remembering exactly where I’m at. I’ve lost time. How much? I just don’t know. Minutes? Seconds? Moments?
“Okay,” I groggily reply, “Give me a minute.”
But the minute’s up a second later when I see to whom my comments have been directed.
We’re suddenly surrounded by a motley weather beaten crew of hikers. If I had to guess I’d say they were Mongolian…but only if I had to guess. That mountain of thick animal fur sitting high atop their heads and framing each burly neck in a dark matted collar sewn onto heavy tarp parkas is hardly a fashion statement, but I’ll bet they’re warm.
By the size of ‘em, these boys could whip the pigskin out’a most professional NFL leaguers. Bathed in the yellowing flicker of our modest campfire these fellas remind me of a ghost story shared on one of my camping trips through the Adirondacks. Only now I’m the one who’s mildly scared.
The leader of the group, an oversized version of the rest steps forward.
I give Migrya a slight kick to stir her to consciousness. She’s annoyed, but brought into full startled clairvoyance when her sleepy eyes focus on the spot we’re in.
“Wake up, Angel,” I quietly suggest, “It’s show time.”
Migrya jumps to her feet like the cat I always knew she was. Her reflexes have the boys quicker on the draw. Spears come out and form a semi-circle, like a broken halo of death. Our situation’s gone from bad to worse. Joy to the world, and pass the harps.
The group leader raises a quieting hand to his men. Like a wave from God, the spears subside. Blessed are the meek, I suppose.
“I am Nazinja,” the big guy tells us, in crisp clear English void of any accent or pause.
I get to my feet – slowly. No sense in creating another last stand that not even Custer would survive.
“My name is Mars,” I begin, “This is…”
Without even looking at her, I sense the muscles in Migrya’s back tense, each vertebra softly clicking into place.
“This is a friend,” I tell Naz’, though whose she is exactly, I’m sure I don’t know.
“Indeed,” Naz’ replies, “We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Mars…and you, Ms. Alvarez.”
So he knows who we are. Clever man and it confirms my suspicion; that our hijacker pilot and these boys play for the same team.
“You will follow me, please,” Naz’ commands.
Outnumbered and polite. Well, one out of two gives me fifty-fifty – better odds than I’ve had in a long time. I’m willing to take them. I suppose I’ve no choice on the matter. But Migrya doesn’t budge. Sensing her continued resistance, and I suspect not wanting to bludgeon her pretty little head just yet, Nazinja decides to sweeten his offer – slightly.
“Please,” he tells Migrya, “I can promise that no harm will come to you.”
In the glint of flame, a thin but growing grin spreads across Migrya’s greedy face.
“I can promise you it won’t either!” she tells Naz.
“Don’t you believe it, fellas,” I suggest, reaching for my parka, “This one has more magic up her sleeve than David Copperfield.”
“Leave that,” Naz tells me, as I slip one arm into my parka.
“I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, Naz’, my friend,” I explain, “But baby, it’s cold outside.”
Nazinja is unmoved by my pithy retort. I can’t read him and that’s always scary. But with a snap of his fingers he employs one of his followers to produce to sets of the good parkas, just like the ones everyone else is wearing and a pair of fur hats and some snazzy lookin’ buckskin boots to compete with snowshoe-like ribbing sewn into their soles.
“You will come with us now,” Naz explains.
What? No ‘please’ this time? I’m a little insulted, but they’re bigger and more of ‘em. So, a snowshoeing we will go. One of the boys picks up the case containing our coveted list. For a moment, Migrya looks as though she might go after him. But then common sense kicks her in the head.
“Do not worry, young Alvarez,” Naz’ informs her, “I will take good care of it.”
When I’ve slipped into my clumsy gear, Naz’ has one of his boys tied a rope around my waist, then another to Migrya.
“So I don’t get lost?” I glibly suggest.
“So you don’t fall over the side of the mountain to your death, Mr. Mars,” Naz’ coolly explains.
Now that’s a comforting thought.
. . .
Outside, the raw bright palette of morning sun has made clear the great height we’re perched at. I’d look down, only with all the outcropping of snowy rock surrounded us, all that I can gather is that we’re ‘nearer my God to thee’ than any living mortal ought’a be.
We trudge through the snow like a gallant troop of fashion victims en route to a Paul Mitchell hair and beauty convention. From what I can make out, Migrya and I have been sandwiched between Naz’s men; half in front, another half or so bringing up the rear. I suppose I should be flattered that such care’s being taken to ensure our safe arrival to wherever we’re heading. Only, there’s about a million places I’d rather be and with alternative company at my side.
Somewhere around the noon hour we pause for refreshments; smoked meat of some sort and a drink that goes down like a bitter thick ball of phlegm.
The men untie us and section into small clusters to speak in a tongue neither Migrya nor I understand. When she’s sure no one’s looking, Mirgrya turns her attentions to me.
“What I wouldn’t give for a steak right about now,” she says, chewing on the petrified strip of meat afforded her by our host.
“Too bad we didn’t bring along your tiger,” I suggest.
She smiles. It’s an innocent smile; quite genuine and very out of character.
“I’m fairly certain we’re not to be harmed,” Migrya whispers.
I’m not impressed or convinced.
“…and just what makes you so sure, Angel? Women’s intuition or killer’s instinct?”
She shrugs her shoulders. Perhaps, a little of both, I reason.
“Well, I suggest in a hushed tone, “If it’s any consolation, I can be fairly certain of one corpse not our own.”
She gives me a curious stare. I pull away the half open collar of my coat and unbutton my shirt just enough to reveal the tiny revolver I managed to smuggle in its underarm hidden holster.
“It’s not much of a gun,” Migrya reasons.
“It does the job,” I reply.
We’re approached by one of Naz’s men, a grunt straight out’a Grunt-ville; his thick sinewy frame and deep scar across his left cheek advertising that he’s not afraid to get down in the mud with the big boys and come up with a mouth full’a swill. There’s honor in a wound that puts all pretty boy cowards to shame.
With an inaudible shout and sweeping gesture of his burly arm, the thug commands us to the center of the gathering. We’re tied around the waist again and set into motion for another great length of journey down the mountain; in for the long haul.
Late in the afternoon the wind kicks up like a bronco buck. The sun vanishes behind a thin line of evaporating mist. It begins to snow – salt shakers, then buckets, then so cloudy and blinding that I’m not sure what happened to the fella directly in front, only I keep feeling his tug around my middle.
As the bright white turns gray and finally, dark under the cover of nightfall, I realize we may not be heading for safety. Migrya doesn’t say much, her head mostly bent to keep that tanned skin of hers safe from the flurries. We trudge onward, blindly – seemingly without purpose.
Then, from out of the deep pasty flat of deep gray a dull hint of light begins to grow in the distance – piercing the haze and flurries like a great seminal beacon. The snow showers dissipate almost at an instant and I can see that Naz’ and his men have led us to a shallow grotto that narrows further onto a very tight precipice. Below us is a valley, so green and inviting that its very presence seems more mirage than a miracle. There’s a palpable heat rising from below. In fact, many of the guides before us begin to slowly disrobe as we make our descent.
The hats come off first, revealing a bobbing row of bald dark brown pates. A little further down and the coats open to reveal proud massive chests stitched into buckskin vests. It’s enough to make any non-native with a Hercules complex feel inadequate. I’ve come to a land of giants, the unhealthy midget of dwarf stock.
Still, it’s getting a little to hot for pride. I take off the coat on loan to me and sling it over my right shoulder. My hair’s a matted mess and I smell like something from the landfill. How Migrya doesn’t rate this same sort of humiliation I’ll never figure. Maybe she just isn’t the kind.
When we’ve made our way down as far as we can go, the men again break off into clusters. Naz’ approaches with the polite and congenial smile of a concierge. He seems please to have taken us here. It’s an accomplishment, no doubt, and, in a place that measures personal achievement on a scale of survival.
“Welcome to Brendyl Valley,” Nazinja says, “Welcome home.”
…not with this much suspense and heat rising.
Eddie Mars will return in his next big adventure
– Bloody Motives
on March 15, 2008.
@ Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).