ADVENTURE THE 44TH: PRAYER TO A POET
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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 44TH: Prayer to a Poet
“Where do we go from here?” the Don mutters to himself, tiny beads of nervous sweat collected at the base of his nose and chin.
I’ll bite. Where do we? His guess is as good as mine – maybe better.
As I steer our carriage like something out of an old Keystone Cops serial, I don’t hear any advice or answers forthcoming so I decide it’s time to take matters into my own hands.
“Hey?” I say, louder the second time just so I know I’ve been heard, “HEY!”
The Don turns his head. Given the workout we’ve just been through he’s not nearly as wild-eyed or panicky as I thought he’d be. Instead I can almost see the gear shift clicking in his brain. He’s plotting and I’m just going along for the ride.
“Okay,” I add, slowing down my speed as we coast past the precinct, I’m going to need directions real soon. Two blocks more and we’re leaving city limits and after that I’m not exact on how much mileage this tank’ll take before one of us is out behind pushing. Don’t know about you, but since this seems to be your party, I’ll be the one with the bad back. Get my drift?”
I’m in the middle of an intersection when the Don suddenly grabs the wheel and steers us right and almost right into a semi full of chickens. I swerve a bit and regain control, in time to look in my rear view and hear a burly truck driver tell me what I can do with myself and in how many different ways. He’s creative – I’ll give him that. The Don? Well, at present I’d like to give him the back of my hand and quick Driver’s Ed in how not to be a backseat pain in the ass.
“There!” the Don points to the 11th Street Train Depot, a shiny new locomotive and passenger cars seemingly waiting for our arrival.
The fog and rain surrounding us are getting worse.
By the time I turn into the lot and find a parking space I can barely make out the station, let alone the train. I don’t bother to stack the meter with quarters because I get the distinct feeling we’re on a one way trip. Let somebody else pay for the tow. To help them out I leave the keys in the ignition, but I lock the doors. After all, don’t want to be too helpful.
A few tense moments pass. I look around the station for signs of life. We’re pretty much alone, save a wino in the corner and a couple of dandy boys holding hands by the exit leading to the loading ramp. The girl behind the counter should’a been a looker; twenty-ish, stacked and with her hair loosely tussled about her brow and neck…only with so much green eye shadow and ultra pink lip gloss, the poor thing thought it was Halloween in July or just hadn’t realized that Mardi Gras was over.
As I’m trying to figure out which, she leans in, aware that her bulbous cleavage is tenderly grazing the countertop for maximum effect, smiles and says, “So, where you goin?”
I wanna tell her, her place – to a nice big bed…to hide under, but instead I ask her the most obvious of questions to keep the moment alive.
“Where’s this Daisy chain headed?”
The girl leans back, slapping her tight rump against the vinyl chair and spinning half way around the small cubical for the schedule.
“Well, let’s see,” she says, suddenly bored with her career choice, “First stop’ll be Colorado Springs, about two-fifteen…give er take…then Kansas City at nine a.m….then…”
As fascinating as this Cook’s Tour is, my attention span has begun to drift like the loose fitting band of my BVD’s…south of the equator.
“Where do we end up?” I interrupt.
She still seems confused.
“The end of the line, angel…where is it?”
“Toronto, Canada,” she explains.
I look at the Don. He’s not particularly keen about the deal, but he gives me a nod that says ‘buy those puppies and all aboard.’
I charge the tickets and walk out to the platform. Between the steam from the locomotive and the long tenacious gauzy fog, I barely make out the thin pencil line of a train at all. Only the hiss of the engine tells me how much further I need to walk before I hit either an open loading door or a conductor.
We walk in silence, a real pair of conversationalists – knowing the world’s gone to hell and a hand basket and planning our quick departure for parts unknown. I know where I’d like to end up… on a beach with a blonde and a few shots to fix me up ‘til next Sunday. The Don? He has his own itinerary. When he’s going to share it with me is a matter I leave for him to bring up. He’ll have to, sooner or later. Hopefully sooner. I hate surprises.
I play his waiting game as we board the second passenger car closest the locomotive where we find a family of four and a high school band packed in on either side – their equipment lying all around – in the overheads and by our feet. The Don and I exchange telling glances. I can read him well. That’d be a definite ‘No’ for me too.
We pass through the coupling and onto the next car. There’s a pair of conductors playing cards in the corner. One of them glances up at us as we enter; then turns his attention to his watch before folding his hand.
“Well,” he tells the winner, “I suppose it’s about that time.”
As he stands up to pass us, I reach into my pocket and hand him our tickets. The conductor gives me a curious stare.
“At least you’ll know we’re legal,” I explain.
He doesn’t say a word, but punches a couple’a holes just the same, pointing us on down to the end of the car.
The Don isn’t particularly interested in keeping his company though, so it’s on to the next car, the last one in the chain; completely empty and with a faint aroma of an enjoyed stogie still faintly reminiscent in the air.
“Here,” the Don explains, pointing to the second to last seat on the left.
“You go ahead,” I tell him, “I need some air.
The Don eyes me with sudden curiosity.
“Relax, pops,” I tell him with a firm pat on the back, “I just need some air. Really.”
I step out onto the small balcony of the car, facing the tracks that suddenly seem to fade into a murky obscurity, taking in the faint echo of sounds all around. I hear an ambulance…no, a fire truck. Maybe both. Maybe en route to my burning apartment. Maybe.
A car’s tires screech somewhere nearby, followed by a pair of doors being slammed and two pairs of unmistakable quick light feet rushing to catch the last train out.
“All aboard,” a deep baritone voice yells from the platform, and with a sudden jolt that nearly jostles me over the railing, we begin to slowly pull out of the station.
I sort’a figured on staying out for a bit, when I hear the door behind me open and see the Don’s familiar shadow flickering on the railing beside me.
“Come on in,” I joke, “the breather’s fine.”
Or is it? Through the dense fog, I barely make out the silhouette of a couple of men walking around our parked car in the lot, one of them looking pretty damn familiar – the guy from my apartment.
“Okay,” I reason in a low whisper, “Suppose you tell me what we do once we get to Toronto because I left my Superman Under-Roos back home, so the part of Clark Kent will have to be played by somebody else today.”
“We are going to England,” the Don explains.
“A round about way of getting there, isn’t it?” I reason.
“I’ll hide in the baggage car when we get to the border,” the Don explains, “I haven’t a passport.”
“I’ll join you,” I reply.
Mine’s tucked in a drawer not soon to be opened on Deluca Street. As we pick up speed and the station vanishes into a cloud of swirling gray, instantly disturbed by the thrust of our train, I decide to probe further for the purpose of our next port of call.
“So, what’s in England?” I inquire, “I mean, besides the Queen?”
But on this, the Don is silent – almost leaden – not wanting to divulge too much that might explain not enough.
“When did you lose your way?” the Don asks me.
I’ve a good mind to tell him that now’s as good a time as any. Ditto for my marbles and the good sense God gave a lemon. I’m not sure whose side I’m on or even how many sides there are to this octopus we’re ridin’.
Instead, I opt for a more congenial logic.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, burying the back of my head in the increasing gusts of cool night wind enveloping on all sides, “I guess I just sort’a figured Shakespeare had a bet worth keepin’…you know…life is a tale told by an idiot…sound and fury…signifying…”
I’m not certain whether I haven’t the heart or just the guts to finish that thought. I only know I’ll be hanged if I plant my head any longer in a good thick lump of sand. This is a time for action – not beach balls and tanning lotion.
“There is a purpose,” the Don admits, “…and if he is still alive when we get there, we shall find it.”
“If who’s alive?” I ask.
But I get another cold shoulder to my inquiry.
“Do you like poetry?” the Don says, a thin smile about his face, that wily ‘I have a secret’ glint in his eye pressing me on to answer even if I’m not sure what the question is.
“Yeah,” I tell him, “Sure. A bunch a fruity-toots in their thigh-highs and pantaloons, spouting gibberish about the mountains and a maiden milking her stable boy after the richies have gone to town. What’s not to love?”
So, without further adieu, I get a crash course on the importance of being earnest.
It seems that on a lonely moonless night in 1593 the foremost living English playwright Christopher Marlowe met with an untimely end. No one knows who or how, but the guy took a face plant in the mud. Immediate following discovery of his brutalized body it had been rumored that after a night of drunken carousing at a local pub Marlowe had challenged an unidentified stranger to a duel that he obviously lost. However, in the years that followed his unsolved murder, a group of Marlowe’s diligent peers began to suspect more sinister motives for their friend’s demise.
Marlowe had belonged to a mysterious secret society, given the name School of Night. It had been largely a political front for Sir Walter Raleigh whose pursuit toward all superficial affectations afforded the crown of England seemed to consume every fiber of his being during Elizabeth, the first’s reign. After Raleigh’s exile from Liz’s court, the School of Night was disbanded; its prominent membership of occultists including the Earl of Northumberland, author Edmund Spencer and a man reporting to be Willie Shakespeare. But did this secret society disappear all together?
Well, actually ‘no’ I’m told. It didn’t. It also kept pretty much on the move for the next 500 years, acquiring state control of some very prominent English institutions along the way. At about the time of Queen Victoria’s reign the society needed a front to conceal its more obvious stakes in both British parliament and the throne. So a small troop of hookers in the White Chapel district of London suddenly started getting their entrails spilled in the back alleys and byways.
History would label that brief reign of heinous slaughter as the act of a single madman. But what if it wasn’t just one man, but a quiet army of many – a few assigned the gruesome task to divert Scotland Yard’s attentions away from the real malaise attacking the country and spinning the whole bloody mess on a guy known simply as ‘The Ripper.’
Interesting as it was to note that the Whitechapel murders stopped as suddenly as they had begun, it was even more fascinating to correlate the sudden disappearance of virtually all of the surviving members of the School of Night from London within the brief period of ten years after the murders had ceased.
No…the School’s roster of enlistees didn’t come to such brutal ends. They merely relocated their central hub of activity to that cradle of liberty across the ocean – via the good graces of Martin Beckwyth, a personal attaché to President Grover Clevland. In 1888, Beckwyth brought to America one of his aristocratic buddies from merry ol’ England – John Charles Montgomery. Incidentally, just a few years before, Clevland – acting in the capacity of sheriff – had been responsible for committing to death one Patrick Morrisey – a man accused of murder. Morrisey, who professed his innocence until the day of execution, gave Beckwyth a letter to mail to an address in London.
Whether Beckwyth knew that the person Morrisey had addressed the letter to no longer resided in England, or simply guessed at the connection and decided to open the letter to confirm his own suspicions is a little sketchy, but that letter of secret confession in Morrisey’s hand eventually found its way into the personal effects of John Charles Montgomery – donated to a museum and archived upon his death.
For his part, John Charles Montgomery stayed clear of the political landscape. That is, he remained omnipotent around it, in quiet observance, but without creating a stir that would ruffle any feathers from the wrong birds. It was rumored that Monty was a Count or Duke or some other useless flap of skin from the old home guard, deposed of his assets and lands and forced to relocate through necessity – or hanging - rather than by personal design.
No one knows for sure why he left England, but – so the Don tells me – if he had to make an educated guess – and this guy is full of ‘em – Montgomery’s departure definitely had something to do with The Ripper’s sudden design to take a holiday and stop cutting up ugly tramps from Whitechapel. In fact, the Don even went so far as to speculate that Monty was the Ripper – or that is, one of the guys they paid to play the part. Perhaps Morrisey was another or knew the rest. Just who ‘they’ were and are remains a matter of legend, rumor or even possibly fiction.
However, given the slow political turmoil that gradually ate away Victoria’s reign and gave rise to two well timed and heavily calculated world wars, it seemed to the Don that the School of Night and all its influence were quite well and very much alive – at least during the first half of the 20th century.
So, just what was the School’s doctrine – its purpose – its everlasting strength? Well, as early as the Spring of 1939 when Hitler quietly goose-stepped into Poland there grew a sneaking suspicion amongst the social elite in Washington that England’s reigning Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain had been duly briefed of that pending conquest and had agreed to sit out the conflict in favor of keeping peace at any price.
That the old boy’s appeasement eventually backfired and sucked the country into war was a well orchestrated rouse put forth by the School’s political faction to oust Chamberlain and get one of their own sitting behind the desk at 10 Downing Street.
Hitler, who became obsessed with religious artifacts also, at least so some flippant members of his S.S. were heard commenting loudly after a few rounds of Riseling inside the hotter cabarets in Berlin, was an occultist and heavily influenced – if not directly plugged into the consortium of interests that were dictating which way the world should spin. According to the Don, the School of Night’s membership really didn’t have a problem with Uncle Adolph devouring half the world to suit his own agenda.
Though the cries of outrage coming from America once Hitler started bombing London tended to fall on deaf ears – or perhaps were deliberately overlooked and/or silenced - the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan’s Emperor (not a member of the School and therefore just a bit too much of an opportunist to suit the consortium, and, a personal friend of Uncle Adolph) forced Roosevelt’s hand into signing the declaration of war against Germany, which he had not wanted to do earlier and for obvious reasons.
After the war, the School’s controlling interests quickly disposed of most of their loose ends. Stalin went about the newly re-christened U.S.S.R., drunk on his own power, slaughtering his own countrymen – quite acceptable by the School’s standards…so long as he didn’t start another world wide conflict – and Churchill and Roosevelt went the way of the Do-Do immediately following Yalta – not a moment too soon and serving the School’s interest in creating a pick n’ save out of the four corners of Berlin.
The central problem with maintaining control over this vast political scenery, and particularly in America after the war, at least until the more recent past, had always been that there were more than a few rugged individualists who either believed in democracy as naïvely as a child does in the triumph of good over evil, or, felt that the rules of engagement between them and the School simply did not apply. These men were taken care of in short order after overstepping their boundaries.
We all know what happened to Kennedy and later, Nixon. The latter might have taken a bullet for the cause too, only the sting of two Presidential assassinations – John and would be incumbent Bobby – coupled with the mysteriously similar death of Martin Luther King was then perceived as just too much for the country to bear without generating more than an ounce of skepticism. Another dead President in the Viet Nam era would have raised too many questions that some smart mouth like Dororthy Kilgallen might have had a field day in exposing.
Yes, Nixon had to go. But he couldn’t go as efficiently. This one had to be not so quick and quite dirty and it was. The School plays for keeps and Nixon – despite being a superior diplomatist – was no match for the consortium’s backing of hidden interests. He left by the back door of a very public disgrace. It was enough then for his public to hate him or think he was just a pompous wing nut too blinded by his own power.
And then, of course, there was Chappaquita a few years later. A senator and a nice girl just out for a ride when their car overturned in a few feet of water and damn near sunk the two into the murky historical record. Ted Kennedy’s survival presented its own set of problems for the School, though once again they chose the more humane mode of repeatedly disemboweling his otherwise sterling reputation into that of a red-nosed blue blood, more inclined toward dalliances with a host of women than he was adept at running for the office of President. It was a useful smokescreen and it worked beautifully. Teddy never ran. The public embraced him as an ensconced bit of Washington folklore.
Even after two attempts on President Ford’s life, the country went on believing in the lonely isolated man theory that had suddenly become all the rage, whereby one or more recluses living out of the norm, were simply too touched in the head to be taken as a serious threat. Amidst all the psycho-babble that these fellows had somehow suddenly come forth from a bad childhood to commit single bad acts because they had played their phonographs backwards one too many times, the public perception of such men gradually transferred over from moral outrage to tragic acceptability. David Mark Chapman was one of these; John Hinckley another and even Manson had his moments in waiting for the School’s next assignment, though in becoming complicit to the murder of Sharon Tate, Manson had suddenly become an unfashionable appendage to the School’s best line of offense.
That some or all of these insane individuals eventually started to believe their own press was perhaps regrettable to the School, but it did give the public a reason to breathe easy once they were apprehended, convicted of their crimes and put away – at least from view. And the lavish amounts of continued press on any or all served another purpose in the meantime. It had kept the collective consciousness of the public looking the other way while gradually numbing their expectations of social normalcy.
The media, feeding as a pack of pariah on the ratings game, had inadvertently expedited this swift anesthetizing of the culture by parading a never-ending cavalcade of real murders, suicides, car crashes and other sundry acts of gross violence during the nightly news that gradually ate away at the public’s perception of itself. Where once there had been a misperception of the moral good in mankind, the general consensus now believed in the inherent and widespread evil to be found in each and every one of his neighbors and, as a direct result, began stocking up on rifles and handguns under the constitutional right to bear arms.
Hence, when sunny old Ronald Reagan emerged from his hospital bed a scant few days after taking Hinckley best shot in the chest, he became the latest mandarin of the ‘happy days are here again’ philosophy – a grandfatherly figure whose authority and seal of approval suddenly became necessary for the School to continue functioning without reprisals.
One Hinckley was believable. Two would have been quite absurd. And anyway, as long as Reagan consorted with England’s Maggie Thatcher – herself, having a well-oiled grasp on how much force of authority the School could and would exude on the world stage without stepping on any toes along the way – Reagan could be allowed to persist in his feisty authoritarianism that saw the country back to prosperous economic times.
But following Reagan would prove to be a very tough act indeed and none of the Presidents that came afterward ever went beyond the drawing board stage in their personal policies – the consortium saw to that. What little they achieved respectively, they did under a more stringent scrutiny – a level of political control that finally could begin to rear its ugly head in the half shade of noonday sun without fear that some well intentioned Puritanical hack would suddenly shriek and recoil at the two-headed monstrousness that was now dictating over the country’s political machinery.
This darkness, which had come seemingly without warning or from a distance, rather than from within, was now at its final stage of invisible control en route to having its total dictatorship over the supposedly free peoples of the world. It would not be tamed. It could not be satisfied with the mere tokens and trinkets of faux power it had increasingly received from prior administrations. It was now at a point where it needed to become that invisible replacement for what had once been called a democratic nation.
“Wow,” I tell the Don, “That’s quite a bedtime story. You’ll excuse me if I don’t lose any more sleep over it.”
The Don simply smiles. He knows I’ll be back for more in a short twenty-four hours – just after I’ve had a chance to recharge my batteries…because I’m one of the few – the suckers – who still believe that the world’s a beautiful place and worth fighting for.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure: Das Englander on
September 29th, 2008.
@Nick Zegarac 2008 (all rights reserved).