Eddie Mars: The Ongoing Saga of a Guy with Nothing To Lose

A Noir Thriller

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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

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

ADVENTURE THE 42ND: OLD HABITS

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 42ND:
OLD HABITS

In my dream a young man goes to town one night. The world is still full of untapped mysteries. On his way he meets a precocious tot skipping fresh pennies in a large puddle. The child looks up at him wide-eyed and asks “what did you bring me?”

“Go away kid,” the youth replies, “My time’s more precious than you know.”

“Why?” the child innocently asks.

“It’s called seniority,” the young man explains, “…and I’ll always have it.”

. . .

I awaken from a relatively peaceful sleep to recall a summer a few years back when I was as dense as the humidity outside my window on an early July morn. I actually thought I might get married. I was younger then – and unwise in lots of ways, but mostly towards myself. Odd, that any detective ought forget how many dead sweethearts he’s pulled out’a dumpsters, the bottle or pinned to a rebound of a very nasty divorce with all the lead pipes and homemade castrations labeled as ‘self defense’ by some feminist crusaders.

“What are you, Eddie?” my anytime gal, Jeannie used to say, “An enigma?”

“Only on my father’s side” I’d tease. “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”

Besides, I had at least a decade’s worth of friends and colleagues who had traipsed down the isle with some babe drowning in her own euphoria; bouquet in one hand, a prenup’ firmly clutched under the other, only to have cupid’s arrow predictably sharpen into that proverbial thorn in both their sides.

Looking back, I’m struck by the color of a man’s suit on his day of days: black – same as the one he’ll probably wear to his own funeral. It’s only the bride who considers herself lucky, I suppose. All those free samples she’s been dolin’ behind the barn have finally landed her the cash cow that keeps on milkin’. She puts out before‘I do’. He’s puttin’ up for the rest, till death or a good attorney do them part.

Contrary to all the February fourteenth greeting cards and chocolate makers that rely on that perennial holiday that makes everyone a few calories heavier, there’s really not that much mileage between eternal bliss and utter damnation. I’ve seen through the writing on those paper thin walls. I’ve painted a few of my own sign posts marked ‘this way sucker,’ and I’ve had the fatalities of five heart sore pile-ups dripping their oily charm and flatulent rhymes with sticky sweet threats of lopping off choice body parts strewn at my front door.

By now, I can recognize the illness before it becomes a cancer. Back then I wasn’t exactly seeing the world so clearly. My rose-colored glasses had been hand-picked for maximum dullness by Amanda, a rich young goddess with more silicon in her front grill than the vet I drove. I loved that gal, if love be an emotion yours truly is capable of. She idolized the danger I walked on.

Yep, Mandy was a bad girl considerably cleansed by daddy’s bankroll – a first generation heiress with not a care in the world, save which beach resort would be blessed to have her toned tummy lying flat on one of their deck chairs facing the nearest sun or sun lamp. My kind’a gal – then. Maybe, that much hasn’t changed. I still like my women a little tarnished for the cure.

Anyway, Mandy and I were a couple a’ nuts who couldn’t keep our hands off one another. Daddy decided that meant a proposal of marriage and I – stupidly believing the great sex would continue – thought to myself, ‘Why not? It’s time.’ So, I bought the ring, she did the rest and off we went to get hitched on a remote bluff off the Big Sur – her big idea come to pass…well…almost. Except that Mandy never planned ahead or wore a seat belt for that matter.

She never made it to our prearranged rendezvous. Instead a police cruiser pulled up to our picturesque podium forty-five minutes late to inform me that my bride was face down under a ton of limo; talkin’ to the little fishies in the bay.

I remember standing there, looking over the dizzying edge and thinking none of this was worth it – not the day, the hour, the moment or any of that imaginary bliss I had run along side to keep up with this moment. No, the charade had been a damn waste and the best any of us could do was to find something more immediate to be amused by without the expectation that this merry-go-round we call life would go on spinning forever. I think about this now, groggy from my dream and on an airborne plane somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic bound for America with certain assurances that I’m to make it to the other side.

I’m a pawn again; a role I’m intimately acquainted with – only this time for a guy I know too well. They’re on a witch hunt for Karl, but they won’t find him. They seem to think I’ll be able to provide a lead, or maybe just act as the bait. Either way, Talenberg’s fixed for it on a global concern. He hasn’t a prayer – but oh, just enough money to take Satan’s highway while keeping his feet out’a the fire.

As I disembark my gate at the airport and look around for a cab, I catch a glimpse of a family of five crowding into their compact sedan in the parking lot. On their back bumper is a badly faded sticker that reads ‘Smile. Jesus loves you.’ I think about it for a moment and decide the message doesn’t apply to me.

. . .

Deluca Street hasn’t changed. I don’t know why it should…why I expected it to. I liked her just as she was – gritty, dark and full of humanity’s general contempt for one another. She’s honest. There’s no pretext here. She says what society’s really thinking; what we all are under our turned up collars and leather soles – hard pressed and bitter and tired of the pretend that laughingly goes into making this world ‘a better place’. She doesn’t hide imperfections with a fresh coat’a paint and some mulberry bushes planted about the thoroughfare.

No, she’s there, hiking up the promenade and telling you ‘hey, I take it on the chin and come back for more. You wanna know how many have lost themselves from my one end to the other? Hell, I lost count. But the list has been long and distinguished.’

I count myself among the many and the glad to find my apartment still waiting just as I left it. A few more overdues stuffed into the mailbox, but nobody’s thrown me out yet. Thank God for delinquent landlords.

First order’a business; a long slow bottle of scotch.
Second order’a business; a hot tub full’a gin.
Deluca Street. Welcome home.

. . .

On my second day in I decide to do a few loads a’ laundry. Being away for so long, everything has that familiar stale scent of embalming. The apartment’s a blend of moist dampness and moldy paper. I crack open a few windows before dropping downstairs to the coin operated tubs in the basement.

After the first load’s rolling around in soapy mire, I start to think about the pact I made with Karl. We torched the Tipper Maru at sea that night. After all, a good solid cover is second nature. And anyway, those who set her on course were sure to tool around the ocean looking for the wreck after she failed to pull into port with her valuable cargo. With her hull lapping up barnacles at the bottom of an infinite ocean of possibilities and the local gentry feasting on whatever was left of her barbequed crew, who’s to say if one Eddie Mars and the missing list were among her sunken treasure?

I remember standing on the bow of Karl’s schooner as we limped away from the Tipper Maru – naively wishing for that chapter of my life to be closed once and for all.

“We’ve bought some valuable time,” Karl said.

“For what?”

“Time,” was all Karl would repeat.

Yes, I suppose we had. Time to hide. Time to think. Time to regroup. Just time.

“And now you’ll go home,” Karl told me after the blazing glow of the Tipper Maru was but a faint memory on the horizon line.

“Home?!?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to me then. I hadn’t had a place to call my own for such a long while I wasn’t sure that the one I remembered still existed.

“For a while, at least,” Karl explained, “Until I decide what comes next.”

And what did? Not much. A few useless days at sea, the weather ideal, the company benign. Karl fished mostly and talked even less than I remembered. He was cryptic, aloof, mistrusting even as Manuella lay quietly topless in a deck chair facing the prevailing wind. I felt my thoughts drift to nothingness; no idea of the future, barely a recollection of the past, the light bob and sway of a generally calm sea hypnotic to the point of mental paralysis.

It was all so out of character, so rare in my life to have these moments to reflect, only to realize I had neither the inclination nor the golden wellspring of fond memories to come up with something of interest on my own. For the first time in a very long while I was incredibly lonely.

I think Manuella sensed this – almost intuitively, like a clairvoyant with only one client to channel. Because on the last day out, she came to me in the night with the warm broth of human connection, her silken braid of jet black hair loosely falling across my sun-kissed chest as I lay quietly in my cabin.

“You will please to not misunderstand,” she said, laying on top of my covers, her arm extending behind my neck and gently caressing my salty windswept tussle of hair.

“You remind me of something,” I whispered to her.

“Ah yes,” she quietly replied, “Your mother perhaps?”

“Let’s leave matriarchy out’a this,” I suggested, rolling over, face away from hers, feeling the nimble light stroke of long fingers running through the hairs on the back of my head.

“Do not to worry,” she whispered, almost melodically, “You are still among friends.”

“I don’t feel that I am.”

“You are.”

And that was all the confirmation needed to send me off to slumber; a half-cut limb of a fairytale I wanted so desperately to be true.

. . .


Coming up the stairs I get a surprise visitor at my front door– actually one I expected to find sluggin’ back a few whiskey sours at the Vanity Club; Sergeant Mallory.

“Well, look what globe-trotting limp biscuit finally turned up to collect himself a slice’a friendship,” he tells me, grinning from ear to ear like his wife just decided to give it up for old time sake, “And what cat dragged your celebrated hole back into town?”

“Careful,” I suggest, “You’re talkin’ to a G-man now.”

“No kiddin’.”

“On the level,” I admit, “At least as much as I can be.”

We share a laugh before Mal’ gets down to business. He was never a guy for conversation unless it was related to a case. Today’s no exception. So, I get an invite to the Vanity on his tab – an offer I don’t refuse.

But the Vanity’s changed. It’s been cleaned up. The boys in the band kept their gig, only their jazz is more smooth than hot and the gals they’re playing it for all come with respectable looking guys on the side. I don’t spot a single sugar daddy or rich playboy among them – just nice sacrificial lambs slated for their bloody ‘by the power invested in me’ at the altar.

“New management,” Mal’ informs me as we take our place at the bar, turning his attention to the ‘tender and flashing his badge, “Pour me a real drink this time, mug!”

Our jerk with a license doesn’t take kindly to Mal’s request, but he fills the cup just as readily with straight bourbon.

“I could kiss your ass,” Mal’ tells me, “You and the fella yer workin’ for.”

“I’ll take a rain check,” I say, “Besides, I don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about.”

“No?” Mal’ says, curious…like he doesn’t believe me, “Well, you just tell the money man that it’s okay by me that he’s spreadin’ the graft around.”

Money man? Sure doesn’t sound like Karl’s idea of being low profile. And it couldn’t be coming from some real G-man related to the late Gen. Brenfeld…or could it. Then again, who am I to complain if Washington doles out seven hundred on a hammer and two-ninety-six for a toilet seat? I’ve been leaving my deposits in some pretty posh pots lately.

We knock back a few and Mal’ fills me in on what’s been going on since I disappeared.

“Some Chinese fella’ came lookin’ for you about a month back,” Mal explains.

“How’d you find out about it?”

“Fate. The guy contacted your landlord, Busey first with a hot poker in the furnace room one night,” Mal’ explains, “Said you had to answer for some things. Burned poor ol’ Bus’s nips right off. One of ‘em had a metal ring attached. Doc had to dig pretty deep with the forceps to pry out what was left over of that metal burned in. Anyway, I took the report from Bus’. Only the little prick that did this to him disappeared before I could lay my hands on him.”

I remember Shin-Su’s threat to me that night in my apartment and suddenly feel a cold streak of hard candy relief; knowing that he’s been cooked in a courtyard at Shangri-La.

“I think it’s taken care of,” I tell Malory.

No sense in being definitive. Especially since I can’t be sure.

“Anybody else?”

“Yep,” Mal’ replies, the wince gone from his fourth shot, “Some guy who says yer workin’ for him now. Says he needs yer help. Says he’s willin’ to forget everything and pay for it this time on account of whatever situation you two were in abroad’s been reversed.”

It can’t be Karl. Not so soon.

“This guy…” I say, “He have a name.”

“Don’t they all?” Mal’ replies, “Only you know me and names. Sort’a got away from me. I think it all dates back to a girl I used to date in high school. What’s her name, who broke my heart and made me hate the world and everyone in it. Makes me feel important to think that maybe she remembers my name even if I haven’t a clue what was hers. Hey, you…sexy with legs up the kazoo…bend over and smile for your ol’ pal, Mal’.”

Women. Every guy’s loose leash of intimate regrets all stems back to a woman.

“Spain,” Mal’ mumbles.

“What?”

“The guy,” Mal’ goes on, “The invisible man. El Cid with a bank account. He came from Spain. I think. Don…”

It can’t be. Not Alvarez. Not alive. And yet…

I keep my thoughts to myself, the only place I know they’ll be safe and try to camouflage the fact that Mal’s meandering has hit a nerve.

I’m almost certain I know the answer to my question even before it’s out.

“Who?”

But Mal’s too into his next drink to care.

“How the hell should I know? I’m getting all this second hand from Busey. Poor bastard. After the last guy, he didn’t expect to have a head left on his shoulders when this one showed up. Said he was clean cut, polished. Well spoken. Didn’t want much from ol’ Bus’ except to pass along his message. Paid your overdue rent in full. That made up from havin’ no nips…well, almost.”

We finish a few more rounds. By then, my head’s a cloudy mess.

“So?” Mal’ suggests.

I’m at a loss.

“So what?” I come back, slovenly and slurred.

“So, you gonna tell me who yer new paymaster is?”

“Why should I?” I inquire, prudence swimming dangerously close to that ripple in intellect where too many mistakes get made.

“Because I’m not that patient a guy, Eddie,” Mal’ tells me, his left index finger loosely waggling with all the authoritative misdemeanor of a toothless grandpappy warning of the apocalypse in a sandcastle built at high tide.

“Would you believe me if I told you the guy’s a prince?” I say.

“Among men or for real?” Mallory inquires.

But my brain’s soaked through. I have gin and tonic oozing all over every incoherent thought that comes out as lush talk.

“Develop this tomorrow,” I say, standing up but feeling as though someone’s relocated the ground beneath my feet.

“Sure,” Mallory says, “But you better be in my office by noon, my friend. Or I can’t be held responsible for what’ll come next.”

He knows something. Even in my drunken haze I know that he knows that I know. Or maybe I don’t know nothin’ – not even my own limit at happy hour.

Gradually the weight of gravity brings me back to earth. I stagger a bit as I bid Mal’ a good night, but get my legs back fairly quickly on the way out, tipping the hat check girl for my trench and fedora. She’s cute – I think. Better not chance it. At this late stage in the evening’s festivities my idea of best could so easily translate to ‘best in show.’

Outside it’s begun to rain – that slow steady drizzle that’ll keep up for hours…maybe days…with a dense bank of greenish fog blown off the bay. The street’s as empty as my head. The sound of my feet draggin’ through each puddle is amplified into a tidal at sea. Slosh, slosh, slosh – LOOK OUT!

I almost take it on the chin from a crazy motorcyclist. What the hell’s he doing wheelies on the sidewalk? Oh…I’ve somehow made it into the middle of the street. The only wheelies are in my head – none moving at the desired pace that God and physiology intended.

I’m a peaceful drunk – I think. I mean, I don’t shout or cry or even sing ‘Sweet Adeline’ like a Japanese businessman at a cheap Karaoke bar. I don’t curse any of the parked cars for being in my way, even when one nails me in the shin with the sharp end of its tailpipe. Ouch! That’ll hurt tomorrow. Hell, I think it hurts now. Slightly.

The evenly paced drops of drizzle hitting my brow feel cool and good – therapeutic, cleansing, washing my sins away. I’ve so many to account for. Wish I had a bar of soap to hasten the purification. Before I know it, I’ve covered a lot’a ground. I’m home. Well, almost.

I prop myself in the narrow hall leading to my apartment. I suppose I could toss my cookies here only I suddenly remember how much Busey’s been through and decide I can stomach my alcohol until I wiggle the key into my lock.

Inside, it’s dark. I fumble for the light switch. I’m barely inside when I feel a dull loud crack across the back of my neck. Everything goes dark and I kiss the floor.

In my dream a young man goes to town one night. The world is still full of untapped mysteries. On his way he meets a precocious tot skipping fresh pennies in a large puddle. The child looks up at him wide-eyed and asks “what did you bring me?”

“Go away kid,” the youth replies, “My time’s more precious than you know.”

“Why?” the child innocently asks.

“It’s called seniority,” the young man explains, “…and I’ll always have it.”

Nearby, on a stoop an old man cackles, the years of hard-belly liquor and acrid cigars bubbling too near the surface of each sustained boom and gasp until finally he distracts.

“Well?” the youth finally asks, turning to the gnarled fool on his perch, “You got something to say?”

“Want some advice?” the porch rodent asks.

“Not today. I’m in a hurry.”

The geezer looks on. Through and past; even beyond the moment into his reflective crystal ball of shadowy regrets.

“Then go ahead,” he tells the youth, “…and suck the marrow out’a life. Just remember, one day it’ll return the favor.”

THE END…

…not as long as the author’s alive.

Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure,
MIA on July 29, 2008.

@Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).