ADVENTURE THE 53rd: MY LOVER'S OASIS
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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 53rd: MY LOVER’S OASIS
I stood before my judge last night,
and prayed for sentencing, swift and sure,
unbowed, I awaited to take my lumps,
for the disease was most worthy of its cure...
What a difference a year makes. I discover this almost from the moment America comes into view off the port bow, materializing from the early morning Frisco fog, looking different somehow – changed; a lot less gritty and conflicted than the shore I left behind and very much more like the inspired ideal I remembered her as a boy. Weaned on Howdy Doody and Leave It To Beaver reruns will do that to a guy. Also, drinking plenty of milk and not losing your virginity until the age of seventeen. But I digress.
After my ship docks I don’t waste any time taking a cab to the police station. On the surface, the city still looks the same. The finer points still shine, only the darker ones seem less prominent. I start to think I’m viewing the world through rose colored glasses only I haven’t had that much to drink in the ship’s lounge.
Sergeant Mallory is now Captain Mallory – a trifle heavier than I recall, a little more jovial it seems and a hell of a lot more shocked to see me propped in his doorway.
“Dear God...” he mutters between the chomp on his cigar, “...the dead has arisen.”
I suppose it’s true enough. For all intensive purposes my living memory had been sealed for the records.
“Aren’t you going to ask me how I’ve been?” I say, approaching Mallory’s desk with a certain sly drag to my walk.
Mallory takes notice.
“I can tell how you are,” he reasons, offering me a chair, “Where have you been?”
“Europe,” I say.
Better to leave the particulars to pure conjecture.
“The foreigners were rough on you I see,” Mallory replies as I slowly ease into a large leather chair facing his desk.
The captain’s office is a lot more posh than a sergeant’s; wall to wall carpeting, an imposing mahogany desk where I envision the Magna Carta being signed and a nice big window trimmed in stylish drapes to let the sun stream in.
“You’ll never know,” I admit, “I walk with the cadence of an ol’ Southern gent who recalls with a twinkle in his eye what life was like in the land of cotton before the war.”
“How do,” quips Mallory, “Get you a mint julep or alcohol rub?”
“Yeah,” I tease back, “Preferably from some southern belle frocked in her cotillion dress and cut so low down front that I can see her Mason/Dixon line when she bends over.”
“Well, glad to see you haven’t lost yer touch,” Mallory tells me.
It’s odd. He seems glad to see me only I sense that he’d rather be doing it through the plate glass window of an observation deck at the zoo.
“It’s okay,” I assure him, adjusting my back into the soft buttery comfort of that supple leather chair, “I won’t bite.”
I can tell that curiosity has taken hold of the cat by the tail. Mal’ has about a hundred questions he’d like answered only I have a keen mind and the good sense God gave a lemon not be give him anything more than a few tart replies. Keep him happy, make myself scarce and invisible. It’ll be better for both of us that way. After all, in his heart he’s still a cop walkin’ the beat. It wouldn’t do for him to be friendly with a murderer.
“Where are you staying?” Mal’ asks.
I detect a note of genuine concern. He needn’t bother. I have all the dough I need to stay in the best hotels indefinitely if I set my mind to playing the rich fop. Somehow, though, I have a hankering for more simple pleasures.
“I figure I swing by Deluca Street,” I tell Mallory.
It’s the one kernel of information that’s undeniably true. Those are my plans. But the news seems to have hit Mal’ like the cold nose of a Cocker Spaniel in his crotch before Sunday morning coffee.
“Deluca Street?!?” he exclaims with raised eyebrows.
. . .
Deluca Street is now Deluca Square: an outdoor market where starving artists and fresh farm produce share the spotlight with a bizarre blend of retro chic snake oil peddlers. The streets are now closed to anything but local foot traffic, with large decorative awnings jutting proudly into the street from most every shop lining the avenue. On the site where my apartment building used to stand is a brand new depot to pick up the red car trolley and a trattoria so damn colorful it looks like a Mexican fiesta designed by Walt Disney.
Mallory was kind enough to take me there, only nothing about the place reminds me of home. So, Stephen Leacock was right. Bastard!
“When did all this happen?” I ask Mallory, still with a note of disbelief caught between my teeth.
“Not long after your place burned to the ground,” Mallory explains. The dozers came through and flattened just about everything that couldn't walk, crawl or give head in the next district. All part of the Mayor’s urban renewal project.”
“I didn’t think McNorton had it in him,” I reason, “I mean, there were times when I used to see his car in these parts. And you and I both know he wasn’t here to soak up the local color.”
“More like get sucked by it,” Mallory concurs, “But Micky-N ain’t Mayor anymore.”
“Then who is?”
Now there’s a name I never thought to hear in reference to public service. Wendell H. Brideman was a self made millionaire. The origins of those millions was open for debate and certainly over the years the codger was rumored to have been in deep with the mob; swimming with sharks until eventually they ate one another and only Wendell was left behind…like the grand old man of the yarn to tell the tale as though it were some forgotten chapter in the history of San Francisco.
Only, those types of influences never die. They just move on to another dark watering hole where their interests can continue to go unnoticed. But now Bridesman’s the mayor. It had to be next to impossible to hide all that prior filth in between squeaky clean manicures and glowing speeches – even if the venue had changed from back alley pubs to political arenas. Even so, there was no denying Bridesman had tapped into some good public works.
Deluca Street for one. Though I left my heart behind on the crumbling wet cobblestone of the old street, the new square is a place to lose one’s self in the bizarre quaintness of California life. I take notice of a psychic shop with its huge red neon eye flashing proudly atop a front pylon of bricks carved to look like an ancient pyramid. We’re standing at the corner now where Deluca Square intersects with a new street cut into the landscape: Marshall-Pepper.
“Mal’…” I start off, “I need your help.”
“That, I figured,” Mallory tells me, “You look like you can use all you can get. Incidentally, I knew you when and you used to get plenty without reprisals. How yah fixed these days, stud?"
I catch a glimpse of myself in the window reflection of a nearby book shop. In the pure light of day my recovery doesn’t look nearly half as complete. I’m thin and flat and my skin has the pasty pall of a wax dummy from Madame Tussaud’s. I don’t remember myself looking quite so peaked back in Montenegro. In fact, although it’s only been a year since I left this place I suddenly find myself feeling as though about nine more have passed.
"I've had about all I can take," I reason, "Now I'm ready to commit myself to the house of the Lord."
"You already look as though you've donated a couple a' kidneys to medical science," Mal says.
He's being a jerk deliberately. I'd hate him for it too, only I'm spent and tired and more tired than spent. He can go to hell inside somebody else's handbasket. Mine's full of determination to get back to nature's goodness - if only to ditch the whole damn sunshine mess right back into that burning ball of hydrogen.
Revenge isn’t going to be easy, though. Not now. I’m not ready for it. I need more time. I need to build myself back from the ground up. All in all, I suppose it’s not a bad place to start. I’m standing smack dab in the middle of my ol’ ground zero.
“You know what?” I tell Mal’ with a soft pat on his back, “I’ll be fine. I just need a little time by myself.”
“Come on, I’ll drop you,” Mallory says.
"Where?" I reason, "On my head?"
"Would it help if I did?"
He knows damn well that it wouldn't.
Only somehow I feel as though I’ve been dropped – hard and from a great distance.
“No,” I quietly reply, “I’ll find my way. You better get back to the office. I wouldn’t want the Mayor to have any good reason for firing you.”
Especially when knowing the captain of the guard might be extremely useful to my own master plan.
Mallory isn’t quite sure about leaving me behind – still, he does. But before that, he makes me promise to come to dinner that very night – a fancy new address on Knob Hill. He scribbles it down on a piece of paper and gives me a firm handshake before disappearing into the crowd.
I wait for a few moments, observing the pedestrian traffic as it filters past the booths and through the byways of Deluca Square – so unaware that the ground they now walk on with stylish heels was once the famed dumping ground for fresh kills and left over body parts that the mob needed to dispose.
Urban renewal…a fancy name for a fresh coat of paint and a few more cappuccino makers cranking out overpriced brew to the rich and gutless.
The electronic eye of the psychic shop seems to be bearing down on me. I wonder what it sees that I don’t. What the hell? It never hurts to explore the possibilities. Besides, there’s a ‘room for rent’ sign tucked in the lower casing of the window with an arrow pointing to the second floor of the shop that I just might be able to take advantage of.
I venture beyond the merry, multicolored daisy head patterned door jam. Inside the brightly lit shop is a glass counter full of books on everything from the occult, witchcraft and how to become a vegan to experimental age rejuvenating therapies – more myth than fact - and ‘how to’ guides on tantric sex exercises.
Just beyond the wooden beaded curtain that leads to the stockroom there’s the distant tinkle of some new age piano and flute music and gurgling water sound effects that make me need to use the bathroom. There’s also the faint aroma wafting off lavender incense burning from a few lit candles on a corner shelf, guarded by a protective plexi-glass façade to keep sticky fingers and fire bugs at bay.
“Make yourself at home,” a female voice calls out from beyond the beaded curtain, “I’ll be out in a minute.”
The voice seems familiar; welcoming, even. A few brief moments later I get the shock of my life when an all too familiar face and form materialize from just beyond that backroom hippie nirvana: Martinique Chezwyck – the only working girl I ever lost my heart to.
“Oh my God!” she says, understandably just a shaken as I am – maybe even more.
She’s wearing a sexy little white and navy silken kimono, a set of worn platform shoes and a pair of gold paint hoop earring I recall as being her favorite. Even with all her clothes on she’s still the vision most men would cream their wheat over given half the chance, an ounce of encouragement and only a few quick light strokes.
“Edward,” she stammers, collecting her thoughts and approaching me as though I were a stray that needed to be shoed out the door, “It is…Edward…isn’t it?”
“Martinique,” I whisper softly, “You’re still the girl most likely... "
"Don't I know it," she admits, folding her supple arms before her ample bosom, "Well...you can't be here for a freebee. Besides, my time is precious - remember?"
"And by the hour," I add.
"For you, by the minute," she teases, her face softening a moment as she studies me from horn to hoof.
"Just what the hell are you doing here?”
"I've come to have my palm read," I say.
Her harsh look of disbelief dissolves. She reaches over, taking my face in the smooth palms of her two hands and softly pressing her lips to mine. Her kiss, innocent and mesmerizing, sends a sudden numbness down from my head to my arms. I want to take her in my arms, but can’t seem to move. The kiss only lasts a second or two, but I keep replaying it backwards and forwards over the next few moments – determined to get as much playtime out of the memory as linear time will allow.
Afterward, Martinique takes a step back, surveying the wreckage that is my body.
“I’ve aged,” I admit.
It’s easier to defuse the truth that way.
“You have,” she admits, “But I don’t really mind. I just wish…”
She catches herself in her own daydream and reverts back to the form of a shop keeper.
“So,” she says, lips pursed as a young couple in their late teens breeze through the open door, “Can I interest you in something off the shelf?”
“Hey,” the man-child calls out to Martinique with his giggling plaything firmly in tow, “You got any books on kama sutra?”
“You’re not old enough to know what kama sutra is, sonny,” Martinique reasons.
“Then isn’t it about time I learned?”
With speedy restraint, casting her eyes upwards a moment or two, Martinique whisks the couple over to a bookshelf near the counter, pulls out a few choice volumes, while motioning for me to step into her backroom with a polite nod of her head.
“Can we get a psychic reading?” the girl asks as I move beyond the beaded curtain.
“Not today, sweetie,” I hear Martinique tell her, “The planets are not aligned in your favor.”
Some more small talk ensues.
Beyond the beaded curtain the mood of the shop takes on the dark and cozy appeal of a new age whorehouse. The walls have been painted in a dark velvety gray-lavender. A brief narrow hall opens onto a rather large sitting area with all four walls slightly slanted inward and covered in soft silver sparkles. A few dim sconces and one decorative table lamp provide what little light there is. There’s a rather large circular pin cushion-like seating arrangement in the center of the room with a series of gargantuan peacock feathers protruding from its center in a bizarre fountain-like arrangement.
In one corner is an old time gramophone on an ornate wooden carved circular shelf and just beneath it a beat up two speaker radio/CD player piping in some flute and water noise that I suppose is supposed to be feng shui.
In the other corner, an inviting chez lounge built for two is trimmed in the same plush red velvet fabric as the pin-cushion. The old hard wood floor beneath my feet creaks slightly, its sound muffled by the careworn Oriental rug that fills most of the space in a garish swirl of more flavors than a Baskin Robbins.
There are only two other doors in the room, one leading to a back stairwell going up to the second floor above the shop and the other opening onto a much welcomed lavatory so cramped that my legs barely fit on either side of the porcelain bowl. I can practically do my business and wash my hands in the sink at the same time.
I finish up and discover Martinique waiting for me on the chez; her kimono hitched just enough to reveal those celebrated gams of hers and a set of firm calves ageless to the life she used to lead.
“It’s okay,” she reasons, all business and no heart, “They’re gone and I’ve locked up for the day.”
Suddenly, however, the invitation doesn’t seem quite so enticing. In fact, I’m rather ashamed of my rumpled self.
“That isn’t why I came,” I admit, “In fact I didn’t even know you were here.”
“Then why…” she stops short.
“Your sign in the window,” I explain to her, “Room for rent.”
“To anyone but you,” she coolly tells me.
So much for that kiss. More like a kiss off.
“Okay, doll,” I suggest, pouring on the bitterness, “In my next life I plan to be born with the perfect bod’ and enough notches on the ol’ inch worm to satisfy even you. But in this life you get what you get. Neither may live up to your expectations. But you may want to start filling out your own wish list right now. Because I got’ta tell you, honey – there’s a lot a' room for improvement.”
A thin disruptive smile teases its way across her frozen puss until she can’t help but grin with admiration for the fact that, if nothing else, at least I haven’t lost my salty edge where women are concerned.
“Would you care to put your mouth where your money is?” she teases.
“Not even with a prescription,” I say, “Besides, if memory serves me correctly, you were the contortionist in our relationship. Now, how about that room?”
I’ve won her over with a good tongue lashing.
"You're all wet, Eddy," she reasons, "But that's the way I like you."
"How?" I tack on for good measure, "With eight to ten shots of Tequila and pass the worm until it's cut into tiny little pieces?"
"Mister, you got yourself a room," she tells me.
Without further delay, Martinique shows me up the back stairs to a brightly lit loft with a single bed in it that looks kitty-corner onto Deluca Square and Marshall-Pepper with large curtain-less windows. There’s a mini-fridge in one corner and enough space to fit some workout equipment and a small desk – both of which I’ll have to hunt down for myself. Martinique gives me a few brief minutes to make up my mind. She knows I don’t require much more than that to get started – especially when the host is so enticing.
“It’s five hundred,” she tells me.
“You’re a little steep in your pricing, aren’t you?” I suggest, eyeing her.
“For the room,” she coldly replies.
“Just the room?”
“Just the room!”
Room to grow - I hope. I open my wallet and fork out a cool thousand.
“Here,” I say, “That’s for first and last. We can discuss what comes in between when I’ve had a chance to settle in.”
“How long are you planning to stay?”
Long enough to answer my lover’s prayer – at least, I think.
No way. Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure on Nov. 1, 2009.
@Nick Zegarac 2009 (all rights reserved).