ADVENTURE THE 56TH: A DIRTY BUSINESS
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 – as 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, you will be able to read this continuing drama in the manner and order it was intended. For this reason and purpose each subsequent adventure in the ‘Eddie Mars’ serial is marked by a number. If you follow these numbers 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 56TH:
A DIRTY BUSINESS
I arrive back home well after two in the morning, most of the night spent on moons and Junes and wishing wells - having suddenly adopted the mantel of patronage and bliss after being told that money was indeed no object. In fact, I had long ago cultivated the mindset that it was the only possession worth having - because it made people notice you and not just out of vanity.
No, cold hard cash cut across party and class lines like a blue ribbon sow awaiting news that the slaughterhouse was too full to accommodate such precious girth. Money equals status that, in turn, gives rise to the misrepresentation that those having it are somehow more worth knowing, loving or just be seen with in elegant - or even not so gentile - company. A politico could find himself in a compromising position with a ten dollar whore, only to exonerate himself of any wrong doing by simply throwing a few hundred at the 'lady' in question, or possibly a few hundred more at the right hit man to get rid of her.
Anyway, I had been a 'have not' for all of my childhood and youth and most of my adult life. Even when I began to live like the other half, it was all just a smoke and mirrors. Somebody else was pulling the strings. But now, I suddenly found myself the Gepetto of this group; a puppet who had at long last learned how to walk on his own.
Before leaving the corner of Braymore and Allison my lady reveals her true identity to me - one Jessica McDougall. Not that I believe her. She doesn't look, act or sound like a Jessica and if there's any Scott in her, he's left only a hint of his bagpipe tucked neatly somewhere for the next unsuspecting fellow to squeeze and play with. No, she's not a Jess' or Jessie or even a Roberta - although, I confess, I knew a 'Bertie once who had flashes of her that still leave a fond memory for middle aged cougars and the teenage studs they fondle.
I don't get much more out of my Jessica than a name and the offer to meet her for breakfast at the Plaza the day after tomorrow - time enough for this heady business of my being rich to bypass any sudden urges to buy any old insanity my heart, head or loins may gravitate toward without proper direction or at least some attempt to educate me about the 'responsibilities' as well as the glories of wealth.
It's just business, I'm told and on that score at least I believe my lady. She's remote. There's no hint of the playful harlot out to for all she can get between the sheets. This should be interesting; a woman uninterrupted by love. I can't wait.
I don't think I'm such a bad egg on that latter score. I've been on both sides of the fence - the side where the grass is, in fact, greener and the other, where none ever grows. I know my own mind. I have no heart and the loins aren't what they used to be. Well...maybe my technique just needs to be brushed up against. You know what they say...like riding a bike.
But I've another prime reason to get back on that particular exer-cycle when I arrive at my apartment on Deluca Square. Martinique's fallen asleep on my pillow, fully clothed and still clutching the remote in lieu of at least one other object she would have preferred in its stead.
I creep along the wall like a penitent drunk who'd rather his wife not know he's been tipping the bottle. Opening the closet, I take off my tuxedo jacket and shirt, then my pants - intending next to reach for a plum bathrobe. But as I slink out of my drawers, my keys slip from their left pants pocket, with a loud clattering thud upon the hard wooden floor just at my stocking feet.
Martinique stirs, suddenly rubbing her eyes and reaching for the light switch. I'm there, in my undershirt - a fairly prime prospect on any other day of the week. But not tonight. My heart isn't in it and what the heart won't sustain neither will the back...well, maybe.
"I guess I fell asleep," Martinique mumbles through the clearing fog in her head.
"That would be a good guess," I say, slipping into my robe and taking a seat on the recliner opposite my bed.
We eye each other for a moment without saying a word, neither quite sure of what comes next or into whom as the case may be.
"You waited up," I begin, "I'm flattered."
"There was a good movie on TCM," she tells me.
"There's always a good movie on TCM," I suggest, "That's no excuse. Besides, you've a television in your apartment too."
"Okay," Martinique reluctantly replies, "So I waited up for you. So what?"
I decide to shift gears. I'm really not in the mood to attempt a seduction.
"Tell me, have you ever slept with a millionaire before?"
The joke doesn't reach her the way I thought it would. She stretches a moment, her arms bunching up the pillow shams behind her, her long shapely legs digging into my plush comforter.
"You've forgotten," she tells me with a half, lazy smile.
"I have? What?"
"My rule," she clarifies, "We once said, no questions. I still say, 'no questions'."
I had forgotten about our little 'don't ask/don't tell policy' of days of yore. In point of fact, I knew what Martinique was when I met her. It didn't matter. My predilection for danger, coupled with a young man's natural curiosity for smut made our earlier union one of mutual agreement. She was the easy guarantee. I was the paying customer who eventually got it for free. But even then, the 'no questions' rule remained intact. Probably better that way. No jealousy.
"Relax," I tell her, removing one sock at a time and loosening the soft belt of my robe ever so slightly, "I'm not asking for a Rolodex, your little black book or the text messages of your next blackmail. I don't even want a name. Just a 'yes' or 'no'."
"Let's call it healthy curiosity."
She thinks a moment, unconvinced that we ought to be having such a conversation.
"Well..." she begins, her eyes carefully studying my reaction, "I can't say for sure. There've been a few. Well, maybe a few more than I remember. But if I had to make an educated guess I'd have to say probably not. I mean, I'm not exactly living it up, am I? If there was a Diamond Jim in the club he certainly didn't let me get near that other bulge in his pants. The one that pays out in dividends."
I ought to tell her what's just happened, but I don't think she'd believe it just yet.
"How are you on fairytales?" I probe.
"Cinderella and Snow White bore me," she admits.
"What about Sleeping Beauty?"
"As far as I'm concerned that bitch can go back to bed," Martinique coldly replies, "Waiting a hundred years for one man to kiss her...now, that's tragic!"
"She was under a spell," I remind her.
"The spell that crap literature like that casts on all little girls expecting to find their prince someday."
I sense we've gone off track. I've tapped a vein where cider, not blood, runs true and deep.
"What's your idea of a prince?" I ask.
"A guy who doesn't need handcuffs, Viagra or a strap on to get the job done," she quips.
I can't tell whether she's kidding or serious. Maybe it doesn't matter. I've decided to keep the money to myself for the time being.
"I'm tired," I reason.
It's an easy out.
"I suppose you want your bed back," Martinique suggests.
"Without you in it."
. . .
I don't see much of her for the next day and a half and it's probably for the best. I spend most of my time down at the Hall of Justice going through some musty old records about a land deal involving our current mayor and my old pal Mallory. Seems the deal sold a bunch of fertile orange groves outside of Anaheim to a private investor some ten years before for an 'ecological preserve'. But just what was being preserved outside of a large metal warehouse that daily had shipments coming in and going out was open for discussion.
The interesting part doesn't really involve the warehouse directly, but rather a lawsuit from a nearby llama farmer who claimed that noise from the warehouse at all hours had caused his male llamas to lose interest in their female counterparts, thus presenting a tangible problem for the farmer and all those pre-sold llama burgers. The interesting part wasn't the lawsuit itself which, quite frankly, struck me as frivolous bordering on the absolute absurd. No, the really interesting part came after the farmer had filed his claim.
It was only after the youngest of a family load of tourists driving passed the farmer's property on route to their vacation destination had noticed that two of the farmer's 'furry giraffes' appeared to be lying face down in the dry red earth that the papa of this group decided to cell phone their discovery to the local authorities after pulling his car to the side of the road and stepping out for a better look.
Upon closer inspection, the man did indeed discover that both llamas had been dead for some time. The innards of the first had been unceremoniously hacked into and strewn about by either a pack of wild raccoons or wandering coyotes. The whole mess was very much infested with a glistening array of maggots, ants, flies and other insects who evidently took the animal's death in stride and with great carnivorous pleasure. From this advanced state of decomposition an animal coroner could easily have deduced that the cause of death of both animals was from starvation.
However, upon closer inspection, the second dead llama appeared to have a bullet hole through its head, suggesting a more calculated cause of death from an animal walking on two legs. But who would want to murder a llama?
After warning his family to remain in their car, the man took it upon himself to make his way toward the farm house for closer inspection. In the light of day, and with his family observing from a distance, the man must have felt a sense of not only duty but safety in numbers. Failing, of course, to reason that the sheer prospect of 'numbers' alone had hardly saved either llama, the man proceeded to approach the front porch of a large enclosed paddock off to the side of the main house - a quaintly gabled turn of the century home much better preserved for posterity than its wooly occupants.
However, as the man began to walk toward the large barn doors loosely swinging in the soft summer wind, he became acutely aware of a series of dry brown patches splattered about the hay before him and just beyond the entrance. Casually opening the paddock doors, the man noticed no other strangeness about the place - its stalls having the appearance of just been cleaned for the early morning round up.
It was only after stepping on a small boy's sneaker, loosely buried inside one of the dry patches of hay that the man suddenly had cause to turn his gaze upward to the vaulted high rafters directly above where he was to discover the half rotted dead corpses of not only the farmer, but his wife and their two children - one boy and one girl - dangled from a series of bailing hooks deeply imbedded into their spines.
The police arrived and the man gave testimony before hurrying on his way. Whether he told his family the extent of the carnage is debatable. After all, it wouldn't have made for particularly engaging camp fire banter. But two days later, while camping in Yosemite that man and his family met with an untimely end of their own.
The details here were even more sketchy than those left behind at the farm house, but nearby campers recalled a great glowing light in the woods late one evening that eventually began to loudly crackle and take on the first vestiges of a raging forest fire.
This being California, where brush under blaze is a very definite threat to the general safety of all inhabitants, concerned campers alerted the ranger's station. Upon rushing the scene, they were to discover that the man and his family, whom some had befriended as the Bensons, had apparently been murdered as they slept, then set on fire to conceal the act.
Their half charred remains were removed for what little autopsy could be performed. Yes, before being cooked alive, the remains were actually those of Chuck and Judy Benson and their two children, Allison - age twelve and Nolan - age nine. No correlation between the two sets of murders was ever ascertained and no one was ever brought to trial for either crime. Hence, in the history of homicide neither atrocity registered as anything more than a minor blip of embarrassment for local law enforcement.
However, it's not lost on my own powers of deduction that documented annotations in police reports on both cases placed telephone calls of inquiry from the front desk of then Sergeant Detective Mallory. Perhaps he was just following leads on another crime in his own district. But the reports failed to document the particular curiosity served, leaving open ends on two cases with a suspicious 'what if?'
. . .
After getting lost several times amongst the orange groves, I make the right turn on an unaccredited street with a lonely, faded barn overlooking a land filled foundation where once an adjoining farmhouse stood. Today, two rather beat up and slightly rusted over flat beds are parked on that spot. The narrow thicket of tall trees that used to modestly separate the Benson's former abode from the warehouse is now a flat, undistinguished piece of land, raped of all its life giving foliage; made clean in an unclean way.
The warehouse overlooking their property is busy. I park some distance down the road and pull out a pair of binoculars from my dashboard before making out open shells of four shiny new semis inside the open hanger with a barrage of workers in white HAZMET styled suits bustling back and forth.
From my vantage, and, at this pace the whole mess looks very much like a line dancing instructional session gone hopelessly awry; the Boot Scoot Boogie or Chicken Dance for people with two left feet. I can't quite make out why they're all milling about so willy-nilly. Nothing seems to be getting done. If I didn't know better I'd swear they were members of congress.
I don't have much more time to think about what I've seen. In my rearview, another semi approaches. I tuck my binoculars away and move to Plan B - popping my trunk and stepping out from the driver's side. I remove a plastic can and pouring spout, then proceed to raise the hood of my engine to add a bit of water to the radiator. It all looks innocuous enough - except that I notice the semi slowing down.
When it's close enough, the driver shouts from his open window.
"No," I suggest, "Just a little overheated. I'll be alright as soon as I top up."
I'm not sure whether he believes me, but he pulls away just the same and into the loading area of the warehouse. He's hardly traditional truck driver's material. In fact, analyzing him at a glance, he looks more like a scientist or professor - clean cut and with that far away academic look in his beady little eyes.
Donning my dark sunglasses while pretending not to look around, I notice the driver step out from his cab and pointing to one of the men in the HAZMET suits. The two regard me and my car for a brief moment. I've outstayed my welcome. So, before I attract any further unwanted attentions, I toss my can and spout in the backseat, slam the hood and hightail it out of there. In my rearview I see the warehouse loading bay doors mechanically closing.
This is a job for a night owl.
. . .
Returning to my apartment, I find Martinique administering her particular brand of fractured new age philosophy to a pair of touristy country bumpkins out on a lark. The man is a swollen grape of a glutton with a pair of fatty arms poking limply from an otherwise solidly rotund body. The woman, with her thick coke-bottled glasses and a pair of Dame Edna orange lips that refuse to remain shut, matches her tubby hubby pound for garrulous pound. Neither can put their thighs together standing up, much less cross their legs sitting down. My only consolation is that they also won't be able to reach other appendages in the vicinity, necessary to procreate their particular insult to the gene pool of humanity.
I can see by the look on Martinique's face as we exchange casual glances that she's had quite enough of them, but cannot bring herself to make a quick exit, lest the whole ten ninety-eight they might spend in her shop go as part of their contribution to that all-you-can-eat buffet across the street. Retail: man's inhumanity to his fellow man. If only she knew I could buy her shop several hundred times over and set her up with a near endless tab at Neiman Marcus I'm sure she'd tell the Fatty Twins to go Crisco themselves into coronary oblivion.
I hurry up the back steps to my apartment, changing post haste into a pair of black cotton knits and long sleeved black pullover. It'll be dark soon and I've at least a fifty minute drive back to the warehouse for my second look.
"Going somewhere?" I hear a voice from behind.
It's Jessica McDougall, or some gal who pretends to be - dressed appropriately in a business suit with a rather high slit up the left thigh.
"How did you..." I begin.
"The landlady let me in," Jessica explains. "I brought the fund transfer papers for you to sign."
"Oh," I mumble, suddenly realizing that I've missed our prearranged appointment at the Plaza, "Did you...?"
"No," Jessica cuts me off, "Frankly, it's none of her business. Besides, wealth has a way of bringing out the worst in people."
"I'm ahead of schedule then," I reason, "I've been bad for some time."
My Jess' is not amused. In fact, she's suddenly quite curious.
"Where are you going?"
"Out," I tell her bluntly.
It's a curt one word reply that I wish she'd leave alone. She doesn't.
"I can see that, but it's too warm for long sleeves and too black to go clubbing," Jessica admits. "Stakeout?"
I'm not sure that I appreciate her powers of observation, but I respect the intelligent thought that went into nailing my motives down.
"Want to go for a ride?" I suggest.
Jessica raises a skeptical eyebrow.
"Strictly business," I add.
. . .
We're off without too much more explanation on my part. I take the briefcase Jessica brought with her and stow it under my bed, removing a long gun case from the same place before shuffling us down the back stairwell. I don't want Martinique to see us leave and she doesn't. It's a small mercy and the only one I'm likely to be afforded for the rest of the night.
Only after Jessica and I are strapped into our seatbelts and well on our way out of the city do I fill her in on the point of our journey. I don't see the harm. If she's for me - as she earlier has said - then I've nothing to fear and if she is working for the other side, she's out of range to alert whoever she is working for that I'm on to them.
. . .
By the time we pull up to the warehouse the sun has long since set. Without the benefit of street lighting, the road ahead is an endless pool of midnight blue. I turn off my headlamps a good mile from the warehouse, relying on the brilliant moon glow above to guide me. It's not as difficult as it seems actually. After a few awkward moments of readjustment, my eyes switch over to keener perception. Jessica is vigilant in her silence, scanning her side of the orange groves for the building.
Suddenly, we come upon it, somehow from behind. I must have taken a wrong turn, but it works, because the back of the facility is a solid mass of metal without any exit doors to be concerned about.
I tuck the car between two narrow rows of trees in an orchard just beyond the warehouse and tell Jessica to stay put while I move myself into place.
"What do I do if I'm discovered?" she asks.
"Shoot the bastard who finds you," I suggest, "Then shoot yourself."
I disappear into the night without further instruction. It's best if she just sits and waits.
The warehouse is easily three stories in height, but around the side its roof slopes down to just a little over a story, with a fire ladder securely fastened to the end that I can just barely reach; thanks to a row of large metal drums parked underneath. My rubber soled shoes grip the still warm metal roof shingles tightly as I pull myself up and make my way to a set of half open louvers. At the second story, streams of florescent light jut out in all directions from the well lit warehouse interior. I peek inside.
The semis of earlier today are all gone but the shipment they left behind is still here. Even from this distance, and without the benefit of binoculars I can tell what it is: cocaine - enough to send all the drug addicted youth in L.A. into a snorting frenzy or fund a private war in Nicaragua.
Drugs; the age old smuggler's bit alive and well and fully funded under the watchfully less observant eyes of the law. I'm beginning to see Mallory's interest in the Benson case. Perhaps he's just the front man for our Mayor's illegal hobby or maybe this is something even Bridesman doesn't know about. Either way, it's a dirty business.
I spot a familiar face - two actually - coming out of an office across the tarmac; the daughters of Governor Mills. They're better looking than even I remember from last night; the blond working the room for all its worth in a tight tank top that shows off her toned arms and a pair of jeans that appear to have been painted on by Levi himself. Her brunette headed sister isn't quite as obvious, but she's nevertheless the one giving instructions to a pair of rather burly henchmen following them around.
Maybe it's my own dumb luck, but I've never been able to refuse a pretty face and this time it costs me dearly. I'm clumsy in pulling away from the open louver and accidentally tap the edge of its outer frame. This sets off a security alarm that has more bells and whistles than a national weather warning system. I've seen what I came to see, but now it's time to get the hell out and preferably in one piece.
I don't much care who hears my footsteps on the ceiling, slaloming down the last third of the slanted roof, before jumping feet first to the ground. I'm met by a rather tall, square jawed security guard who doesn't let the element of surprise throw him. He grabs me by my collar and attempts to put me in a choke hold. I'm not that easy and we wrestle for a few moments. I back him into a corner between one of the metal drums and the warehouse wall, throwing my weight against his in an attempt to knock him free of me.
It doesn't work, and with each passing moment precious getaway time is literally getting away from me. I've one other chance to break free, wheeling around in place so that I'm facing the wall. I'm all set to let tall and ugly have it in the ribs when I suddenly feel him gyrate twice before falling to his knees. Turning in place, I see his mouth filled with fresh blood, his eyes loosely ricocheting in opposite directions before he keels over.
"What are you waiting for?" I hear Jessica call to me from the black abyss just beyond, "Get in!"
Peering into the open louver has wrecked my eyes for staring at the dark, but I sprint in the direction where I remember I parked and practically throw myself across the front hood of my car. From the passenger side I see Jessica dismantling my rifle, the one she used to shoot the guard. I'm oh so grateful on several levels - not the least of which is to acknowledge her marksmanship.
Before anyone else can emerge from the warehouse I put the car into reverse and dig my spinning rubber wheels into the dry crust of the earth beneath them. We raise quite a cloud behind us; fortunate, because just moments before I turn us around to get out of there I make out the vague approaching shadows of several ominous figures.
When we're back on the main road, headlamps blazing, Jessica turns to me with a look of amusement about her face.
"You're one hell of an interesting first date, you know that?" she tells me.
"For an encore what's say we throw hand grenades at the Governor's mansion in our birthday suits?" I quip.
It's only for the briefest of moments, but Jessica doesn't quite know if I'm actually serious or not. That amuses me.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure on March 1, 2010.
@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).