ADVENTURE THE 43rd: MIA
for the first time reader:
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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 43RD: MIA
When earth, the air and sea in fire remained,
When fire, the sea and earth, the air contained,
When air, the earth and fire, the sea enclosed,
When sea, fire air in earth were disposed…
I awaken to a considerable bump on the back of my noggin and the light tender pat of a soothingly cool facecloth applied to my forehead. I’m laid out on my bed; shirt collar loosened, shoes off, staring up through the pale glint of moonlight filtering through my dusty Venetian blinds and the still unfocused haze of my own reawakening; the last face I ever expected to find suddenly materializing from the darkness, staring down at me: Don Alvarez Domingo.
“My friend,” he quietly says as the receptors in my eyes realign, as though I were the long lost prodigal son returned to his side, “How are you feeling?”
“A little worse for the wine,” I suggest, “A bit better for the baseball bat.”
“Don’t. I’ve been stumped before and by stronger implements than yours,” I tell him.
What the hell? It’s the truth.
I try to get up. Only the room seems a little swishy…or, that is, I’m a little swishy and the room’s just fine. I get that ol’ familiar empty/sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I could use a drink. I could use a lot of ‘em.
“Lie back,” the Don instructs.
He’s like a doting mother hen rustling feathers at my side – worried that I’ll lay an egg in his absence. After a few minutes of straining to see between the shadows I move my head a bit further up against the bank of pillows he’s arranged behind my back.
“Turn on a light, will yah?” I say.
But the Don just shakes his head, raising a polite finger to his lips.
“It would not be wise,” he tells me in his soothing tone.
Though why it wouldn’t, I’m not quite sure. Here’s a man who comes from a place perennially drenched in sunlight and all he wants to do is sit in the dark. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the strange one. After all, I’ve lived in one of the dark damp cellars of the world all my life and my first crude thought is to cast some artificial light on it.
The Don leaves my side for a moment. I close my eyes, listening to his quick footsteps creak along the hardwood floor. He seems to be tiptoeing around the place, like a malcontent housecat who has just spotted a fresh sparrow roosting near the open window. After a few moments I’m brought a mug of coffee to stir me back to consciousness.
I take a few unquestioning sips and reason that if the Don had wanted me dead, the love tap he gave me when I entered the room could so easily have been followed by a bullet or two…or worse. Poisoned coffee doesn’t seem probable at this point and besides, it tastes pretty damn good. For a guy who came from a pampered hacienda, he knows his way around a kitchen. He also happens to know his way rather efficiently around mine in particular which leads me to conclude that he’s been waiting my return for some time.
“We’ve precious little time,” the Don whispers when he sees that my cup is half empty.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I tease, “I’m not planning a daytrip anytime soon. Besides, there’s a heavy fog out tonight. I left my lighthouse and homing beacon back at the Vanity Club.”
“I haven’t time to explain,” the Don reasons.
“Yeah? Well, try,” I demand, “Because I stopped doing good deeds without knowing the reason after Scouter Dan found me smokin’ a stogie out back of a Cub Scout meeting when I was eleven.”
The Don is frantic – at least for him. His thin mustache twitches ever so slightly and those soft brown eyes are darting back and forth as though they were scanning a belfry for bat crap in the birds’ nests.
“It’s important,” he reasons.
“Isn’t it always?” I suggest, “I mean, I never hear somebody say ‘Hey mister, please give me a hand to pull mama and sister Sal’ from the quicksand, only if you don’t it’s okay because I laid the planks that led them to that spot and now I’m trying to cover my ass from incrimination by the cops.’ No, whatever the crisis, it’s always in need of my immediate attention – or else.”
“If I tell you, will you help me?” the Don asks, almost in a tone reminiscent of something as close to begging as this guy probably gets.
I shrug my shoulders. I really don’t know if I will. I’ve come to that point in my life where I’m more into questioning what’s in it for me.
The Don pulls up a chair next to my bed, laying an intricate groundwork of factoid info paint-balled in my direction. I try to keep up. The coffee helps.
“In the summer of 1999 I was contacted by Herr Franz Kreigler,” the Don begins, “You remember him?”
“Vaguely,” I reply, recalling that moment when I discovered half of Kreigler’s gray matter artistically splashed across the back wall of his hotel suite, “How’d he contact you?”
“By special invitation,” the Don explains.
“At the time, it seemed he did it for…shall we say…mutual business interests?”
“Yes,” I agree, “Let’s say that. Legitimate has too illegitimate a ring.”
“You don’t know how right you are,” the Don admits with a thin weary smile, “I was flown to Dubai in the early fall for what I believed was to be a personal discussion.”
“Oh…and it was impersonal instead?”
“It was a conference; a massive assembly of criminal minds operating at the highest levels of our world governments.”
At this point I’m feeling a little woozy. Sure politics makes for strange bedfellows. I’m not naïve enough to think that Washington spends nine hundred on a toilet seat and twelve thousand on a hammer. The money’s always goin’ someplace and not even the anti-Christ could convince me that no one knows exactly where. But this sort of below-board contemplation calls for some liquid protein. So, I motion for the Don to reach into the top drawer of one of my nearby filing cabinets.
“You’ll find what I’m looking for under ‘R’,” I suggest.
And he does. A fresh bottle of Ballantine scotch. The Don grins.
“I prefer paper cups,” I tell him, motioning for the Dixie dispenser on the side of my water cooler.
“You’re not an environmentalist, then?” Alvarez teases.
I’ll give the old boy his due – he knows how to come back with a pithy retort or two.
“Not since Greenpeace became a liberal stick up the conservative ass…” I tell him, “just sick Al Gore on me…only give me my bottle.”
The Don fills a pair of disposable plastic cups to their brims. I’ll say this for him. He’s not stingy with the booze – maybe because I’m buying. When we’ve downed the first bit with a silent toast, he raises a curious eyebrow in my direction.
“Why under ‘R’?” he asks.
“Don’t know,” I admit, “Seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s the romantic in me.”
We have another cup to satisfy my urge. Then, the Don pulls his chair a little closer to my bed and I know I’m in for a long talk. It’s a humdinger too and the more I hear the more I wish I hadn’t awakened from that imposed slumber.
It seems the Don and his focus group were fed some line about a pending futurist empire intent on leveling societal structures as we know them; the same ol’ one world government nightmare…but with a decided twist for the twisted.
“Sounds apocalyptic,” I suggest.
“To fully understand it from your perspective at least, I want you to look back into a terrible moment from your own American political history.”
“Pick your choice,” I tell him, “Any congressional hack or fool will do.”
“The Kennedy assassination, for example,” the Don reveals, and with that single blow he’s suddenly brought a distinct change in the emotional flavor of our conversation.
According his myth, Kennedy was the last independent leader of the United States – the guy pulling the strings instead of the other way around. His Pax-Americana began with an action memo to splinter the CIA but ended when those gallant boys inside the Pentagon set their own wheels in motion for a coup d’etat. So far, just par for the course of any number of rumors, legends and gross speculations put forth by ultra-warped wing-nut conspiracy theorists. Yet, there’s something genuinely unsettling about the way the Don unravels his quiet theory for my benefit. He actually believes this jargon and worse…I find myself starting to believe it too.
“By reducing your president to a transient puppet, capably controlled by our consortium, the rest of your country’s slow divide was all too easily achieved,” the Don suggests, “Black against white; gay against straight; poor against rich; woman against man.”
“You make us sound like a nation of money-hungry, bed sheet toting homophobes and hardcore man-hating feminists.”
The Don turns away. I’ve lost his attention or his favor. I don’t know which. He could take another crack at me I suppose, only then there’d be a lot’a blood and some heavy explaining to do to Mallory’s boys. Not that these fellas are novices at that particular brand of problem solving. Only I don’t think that this is a caper the Don wants to go alone on. He’s come to me for a reason, I reason. Whatever it is, he’s taken a terrible risk in coming here. A risk he fleshes out with a vivid account of his journey across the shining seas.
Brenfeld and Wisenback’s boys took their orders to firebomb Palma Dante to the shale. Only there was a leak somewhere in the information pipeline because news of the liquidation reached the Don a full twenty minutes before the actual assault. He escaped by car to the airport in Barcelona only to realize that his request for a ticket had been intercepted, with more thugs awaiting his arrival at Gate 7.
Using a ballpoint pen to slit the throat of one of the brutes disguised as an airport security guard, the Don broke into the luggage hold, borrowed a fresh set of clothes and a razor to shave his beard and quickly assimilated himself amongst the boarding passengers.
An hour later, his plane landed in England where the Don next attempted to contact Karl Von Talenburg who had been awaiting his communication at the Ritz Carlton even before Palma Dante had been leveled.
However, when the Don arrived at the Ritz he was promptly informed by a suspicious front desk clerk to wait in their cocktail bar where – no kidding – another group of invisible men were peppered amidst the hotel patrons.
“So, whose side is Talenburg on?” I reasoned.
“Ours,” the Don tells me, “…at least, I think.”
Now, that’s comforting.
Anyway, smelling the stakeout, the Don created a minor disturbance to attract the attention of hotel staff and security guards. He was forcibly removed from the bar and taken to their private office where he attempted to explain his actions more fully. Unfortunately, no one believed him. Released with a stern warning not to return to the Ritz, the Don moved stealthily through the street crowds towards Piccadilly Square where he attempted to ring Karl’s room from a phone booth.
“There, a young woman in a business suit, eating what appeared to be a candy bar approached me,” the Don explains, “For a moment I thought it was my Migrya. When she came closer, I could see it was not her, but she suddenly smiled in my direction and, raising the candy bar, blew a mysterious white powder from inside.”
“Poison,” the Don clarifies. “I remember that moment as though it were a slow moving spool of film. I fell to my knees in the confused foot traffic; the powder suddenly turning thin and gauze-like in the air, inhaled by a passer by who, in a matter of seconds, fell to at my side quite dead.”
The innocent pedestrian’s wife screamed bloody murder and the woman assassin vanished in the rush of the gathering crowd, so the Don says.
Making his way to the waterfront, the Don stole a pair of waders and slicker from a local trawler and climbed aboard it to wait for night fall. Then, under the cover of foggy darkness, after the crew had all gone ashore to indulge in the pleasures of port, the Don put out to sea, stopping only briefly to refuel at Southampton.
“I barely made it,” the Don concludes, becoming philosophical, “The ocean is a ravenous teacher. She reminds us of our mortality. She tempts us with it perhaps, and seductively swallows us whole when we accept her challenges…knowing all the while that we shall lose her wager.”
There’s a sudden glassy and dead gray look about his eyes, like the victim of a near fatal stroke. He’s sailed off to some distant recess of the mind that I can’t penetrate. I’d shake him only in this catatonic state he might take a stab at my gullet too.
“Okay. Okay,” I sum up for the Don’s benefit, “Kennedy dies and the country goes to hell. Then what? You mean nobody tried to stop it?”
“Some,” the Don explains, “Few. Nixon, perhaps; though he was ultimately destroyed in his efforts.”
It seems too fantastic too be true…or at least real, but my glibness has brought the Don back from the brink of that deadening eclipse.
“To what end?” I press on.
“The end of all ends,” the Don replies, “You see, nationalism is dangerous commodity. It generates a self-supremacy within the world landscape. The Nazis thought they had developed the supreme nationalism of the 1930s. The English aristocracy before them – more peaceably perhaps, but with the same ‘divide and conquer’ principles applied. Look into your history books, my friend. The Greeks, Romans, the Egyptians, the Mayans; all great free-thinking societies eventually consumed by their own greed transmitted upon the world stage in a futile attempt to grow beyond their own idyllic utopias.”
“Some would call that progress,” I suggest.
The Don reclines into his chair. He seems suddenly and utterly exhausted.
“And you believed Kreigler?” I interrupt.
“I believed his investment.”
“One hundred million dollars deposited into my bank account,” the Don explains, “You must understand, before Kreigler I ran a lucrative money laundering operation right under the fascist steps of the Spanish government. I was untouchable within that tiny cocoon. Highly profitable, but nothing like this.”
“And what did you have to do for this payoff?”
The Don bows his head a moment. I can’t decide whether he’s genuinely ashamed or just regrouping his thoughts for another great lie.
“After the conference we were all given lavish suites at the Burj Al Arab. I was met by our mutual colleague, Karl Von Talenburg and ‘asked’ to apply my skills to the payroll of this invisible organization.”
“How much moola are we talkin’ here?”
“In the hundreds of billions.”
“Nice work if you can get it,” I reason, “And did you?”
“You must understand…” the Don begins.
“Oh, no I mustn’t,” I spit back, “I have two criteria in this miserable life that are a must; I must be white and I must die – preferably later than sooner. Everything else is open for discussion.”
“Then try to understand…” the Don suggests, “What I tell you now I have been formulating for some time and from the luxury of hindsight. But when I agreed to Talenburg’s terms I knew absolutely nothing about the depth of the deal.”
“Only a fool accepts a wager without knowing the game plan,” I reason.
“Yes,” the Don agrees, “…and I was fooled. I preformed a service for a group of individuals I never met. But I suppose I can be forgiven. After all, shortsightedness has taken hold of mankind on a global scale.”
“I don’t believe you.”
I mean it. I don’t.
“That’s your particular malady; malcontent disbelief,” I’m told, the Don pausing ever so slightly to remove a lighter from his vest pocket and ignite a cigarette, “Don’t then. Just examine the facts. Ask yourself – how many of the institutions once nationally syndicated as uniquely American have fallen by the waste side, are wallowing in their own red tape and complacency or have simply disappeared?”
Here, the Don takes into his lungs a deep dark draft of smoke, his eyes fixated up and down my body for a brief few moments, before putting forth a challenge to produce an article of clothing currently on my person that was made in the good ol’ U.S.A.
I’m caught and he knows it. I can’t do it. I confess. Using the increasing absence of home grown manufacturing as an industry is a tangible way of getting to the heart of the matter. He’s identified one way I’ve been complicit in an agenda to deplete American supremacy in its workforce without even questioning the logic or reasons why. It works – even if the thousands who once stitched and sewed will never do so for an honest wage in this country again.
“If it were only an economic crisis I should think you’d count yourself among the fortunate,” the Don reasons, “But couple that loss of goods and services – the crippling of your innate right for the ‘pursuit of monetary happiness’ with a systematic dismantling of genuine self worth, of loss in faith and trust in religion and organized government, and you have a nation on the verge of self implosion. The outward signs are merely symptoms of a much more corrosive disease.”
I feel like my head’s caught in a shutter or a magic lantern show, only the images are constantly changing before my very eyes – moving quickly with an ever so slight though irritating interruption in my persistence of vision. The Don is silent a moment or two – and now I get the distinct notion that he might be enjoying this…control; the luxury of being the only one at the table with a full deck of cards.
“The toppling of those two towers in your New York City on the eleventh of September,” the Don explains, his words thick and heavy, caught tightly between his teeth and tongue like a ball of phlegm that needs to be expelled, “I couldn’t believe it myself. Believed it even less when it became the topic of privileged discussions nearly an entire month before the actual event. After all, who could have conceived such audacious destructiveness? Who, but these devils incarnate?”
So that’s it…multi-national terrorists for hire; a consortium of common hoods with expense accounts and all the high tech hypocrisy to level world markets in one fell swoop.
“No,” the Don interrupts, indignant at my inference, “I am not, nor have I ever been a terrorist.”
There’s a long pause afterward, a numbing silence without any absolution. I sit up straight, as though my back were abruptly thrust forward by a sharp coil of imbedded springs.
“So, who’s pulling the strings this time?” I say.
“I don’t know,” the Don wearily admits, “I would have thought Kriegler. But then… and now, well…it all seems too little too late. Your country – like others - will have an election in November…all for the spectacle of the exercise rather than its outcome…to hasten the inevitable decline.”
“I don’t follow you…” I say.
Inside, I hope that I never do.
“Your incumbents are being funded by the consortium and moved about the game like chess pieces. Your media, too involved in the superficialities of the campaign will not examine or even comprehend the bigger picture. Those, smart enough to try have already been threatened into silence, removed from their posts as cultural mandarins…or have simply disappeared.”
From just beyond my second story open window the tender grating noise of squeaky car brakes echoes inside the back alley. The Don gets up from his chair and stealthily moves to the edge of the open window, cautiously parting the thin semi-transparent curtains as they sway in the night breeze.
“How?” I ask, but Alvarez is preoccupied with what’s going on down below.
“Heart attacks. Suicides. Car crashes. Drug overdoses,” the Don describes, motioning for me to come to his side, “The method doesn’t matter, you see…because the outcome is always the same; a total eclipse of the truth; naïve silence masked by outward noise. We’re living in an age of style over substance, my friend. It’s an era 60 years in the making.
I lace up my shoes and make my way to the window sill, the Don ushering with a hand gesture to slink over to his vantage. He takes me by my shoulder with one firm hand, the other quietly parting the curtains and tipping the blinds ever so slightly downward.
I see a four door vintage Packard; its engine idling. A moment later three officious looking, burly men in trenches step from the front passenger and both rear doors. The Don taps my shoulder, racing away from the window and into my kitchen. He returns seconds later with several bottles of alcohol, a strip of torn rag half sunk into each.
“Remember what Hitler said,” the Don tells me, placing the bottles neatly in a row on a nearby shelf and removing his lighter from his vest pocket, “‘The greater the lie the more people will believe it.’”
“Collective mind control is a myth,” I fire back, “You’re talking about mass hypnosis of an entire country. It can’t be done.”
The Don simply smiles and shakes its head.
“You don’t have to control,” he explains, “You just have to dumb everyone down to a point where they won’t care one way or the other. It’s a slow process, I’ll grant you, but a process nevertheless. You don’t see it happening because it’s being done to you gradually and under the radar. Then quite suddenly you’re one of them…of the flock and fit for shearing.”
“Pop culture is mind control,” Alvarez elucidates, “Movies, television, literature, mass entertainment, media news coverage – all pervasive, all gradually distilling and diluting America’s perception of itself, generation by generation. The more fantastic the fiction, the more it is believed. The more outrageously plied in fiction, the less likely anyone is to suspect those real life conspiracies being perpetrated right under their noses.”
I still don’t believe it. I mean…it doesn’t seem possible. Or does it?
“You’d need a catalyst,” I reason, the wheels in my brain regressing over the last hundred years of evolutionary bing-bang on the shores of America the beautiful.
“You had it,” the Don clarifies, “proliferation of a drug culture aggressively launched from abroad during the 1960s – mind-altering, chemical dependencies from which the world’s youth of that decade and all their subsequent offspring have yet to wean themselves from. Perhaps they never shall. At least, that’s the hope from the outside. Woodstock was billed as four days that changed the world. It has - from a society that used to think for and question itself and its lawmakers to one increasingly accepting of any sound byte as the unvarnished total truth. The bill of goods needs no further marketing on our part. It’s already been sold. You bought it.”
There’s a light echo of heavy footsteps climbing up the stairwell; the sudden appearance of a set of shadows on the other side of my front door caught in the thin horizontal recess between floorboards and jam.
The Don lights one of the rags sticking out of a half bottle of my favorite bourbon, moments before hurling it at my front door.
With the sudden shattering of glass, the cocktail explodes into a ball of flame, licking at the jam and floorboards and creating instant hysteria with the fellas outside. They kick open the door, firing their pistols blindly into my apartment. The Don lets them have it with another bottle of booze. This time the flames catch the cuffs and shoes of one of the men. He disappears down the hall, screaming as his pants quickly dissolve through to his raw and bubbling skin.
“Down the fire escape!” the Don hollers, tossing another bottle into the mix and spreading the flames deep into the hall this time.
I drop the metal ladder outside my window, hearing its rusty hinges clang loudly a few inches above the waiting car parked below. I don’t need an invitation to go first, lowering myself and dropping to the roof of the car. The driver jumps out and gets it in the chin, the hard left heel of my good loafers leaving an unhealthy purple welt across his cheek and broken nose as he falls unconscious into a fresh rain puddle on the street below.
I find the keys still in the ignition and start the engine. The Don clumsily slides down the ladder. He’s clutching his right shoulder where a thick patch of blood has begun to leak through his fingers.
“I’ve been wounded,” he explains.
There’s no time for a self examination. A ricochet of bullets overhead proves that the fireball cocktail hasn’t been as successful as either of us would have preferred.
I catch one last glimpse of my apartment in the rear view, thick curls of frosty gray smoke rising from its open windows; a pair of thugs firing blindly from the fire escape as we peal out and around the corner of Deluca Street – probably for the last time.
For the first time in my life I’m really scared. I’ve been in the duck soup too long.
…not yet. Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure –
on August 28th 2008.
@Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).