ADVENTURE THE 58TH: COULD'A, WOULD'A, DIDN'T
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 58TH:
COULD'A, WOULD'A, DIDN'T
Two hours in county lock up can seem like two months, especially without a wrist watch. I don't mind so much. Actually, the lull in frenzy and madness plays like an HBO original series about bizarre stay-cations - especially when there's just me and Jo-Jo; the scum sucker with more tracks than NASCAR - a real winner from the east side, nabbed on a credit card fraud charge and awaiting his court appointed mouthpiece.
"What's yer story?" Jo-Jo asks.
"They say I killed the Mayor of Frisco," I tell him.
This impresses Jo-Jo immensely.
He smiles... a cheap little smile - the kind you find painted on cast off dime store clown heads, three for a dollar, or Pez dispensers; their powdery sugar smiles leering with the beckoning promise of more tooth decay.
I can't decide if Jo-Jo thinks I'm jerking his chain. Maybe he gets off on the idea of having a killer in his midst...or maybe he's just tired of having his taxes jacked up as much as he is. Who can tell? With the intellectually challenged and marginally crazy it's always like flipping a coin...you know the kind: Janus guaranteed.
"You wanna tell me what yer really doin' here?" says Jo-Jo.
He bores me. I liked it better when he was just eyeing at my glutes from across the cell.
"...is for horses..." I interrupt, "Give it a rest. Shoot up. Crap your pants. Just roll over, foam at the mouth and die. Or do you need help with that?"
Jo-Jo slumps down on a cot in the corner of the cell. He's a hungry little mug, all right. He'd try something, only he doesn't have the guts or brain power to pull it off...just stick it in.
"Geez-us," he mutters, "Who spanked your ass without a paddle?"
"Mayor Bridesman," I shoot back, "And look where it got him."
So, what am I doing here?
Well, the boys in blue didn't exactly buy my story about an honest to goodness showdown. We'll see. Forensics is bound to do a number on the gun Bridesman touched just before I sent him sailing through three inches of shattering glass. When it comes back with a good palm and thumb print that should soften the blow to my conceit and possibly lead to an acquittal. Not that I plan to stick around for reasonable doubt. After all, a guy could grow gray hair on his sack waiting for American justice to do right by him.
The jangle of keys in the door at the end of the hall draws me back from the edge of a bunch of 'what if?' scenarios. I don't usually wallow in contemplation. How odd. A minute later I discover a reason to forget once more.
Enter Jessica - my angle; quaffed and perfumed and dressed like a high priced mouth piece who could give mouth to mouth to an Asian Carp and make it look sexy. She's toting a brief case - nice touch - and accompanied by the same narrow minded Officer McGruder who locked me up in the first place.
"You're free to go," McGruder grudgingly tells me as he sticks his long cell key into the stiff, tight lock, "You're attorney's posted bail."
McGruder gives Jess the eye, up and down, like a light in search of its cigarette.
"When they care enough to send the very best," I tell McGruder.
"Nice work if you can get it, pal," McGruder mutters back.
"And if I could I still wouldn't share the secret with you," I reply.
I get no satisfaction from darling Jess. In fact, if looks could kill then rigor mortis would already have set in. I can almost feel my blood congealing as Jessica stares me down, a steely glint emerging from the center of those soft eyes that tells me I shouldn't push any more buttons today.
When we're out of McGruder's earshot and moving quickly down the front steps of the police station I make my first attempt at an inquiry.
"Are we talking or is it a Marcel Marceau kind'a tough love we're exercising for today?"
Jessica pivots in place, the heel of her shoe grinding into the freshly swept pavement below.
"Let's just say that you're lucky I never learned to mime any four letter words."
She's a pistol - cocked and aimed at my head.
"A little too convenient," I suggest.
"You won't think so when you see how much it cost," Jessica argues.
She directs me to a sporty red convertible parked at the curb - a new toy and one I'm sure I've written the I.O.U. for.
It's no use to argue. Hell hath no fury...and Shake's wasn't kidding. I'm barely buckled in when Jess' drops the stick into third like the pro I figured her for. We peel away - a pair of teasers ripe for a traffic ticket.
"You wanna slow down?" I say.
I get no satisfaction - much less a reply.
"We just left the cops," I reason, "The last think we need is a moving violation."
She must agree, because her lead foot suddenly comes off the pedal and we coast to an RPM more in line with the local speed limit.
"So what did this cost me?" I ask her.
"A little over one-fifty," she admits.
"This car cost a hundred and fifty thousand?" I exclaim.
True, I'm a millionaire and it shouldn't matter. Maybe it still doesn't. But I can't imagine anything on four wheels that doesn't come with a couple of Playboy bunnies and a hot tub costing this much.
"The car's the least of your worries," Jessica reasons, "Chump change I was referring to went to Mrs. Griswald."
"Griswald," Jessica repeats, "Bridesman's secretary...you remember? The one you sailed past on your way to the assassi...uh...showdown."
Jess' pulls the car off to the side next to a trendy outdoor cafe with Boca Rattan chairs and umbrella's dotting its patio. We turn a few heads from the A-list set shielding their California angst from the sharp rays of sun with large, dark sunglasses and wide brimmed Rodeo Drive hats. At first I think we're going to get out, but a moment later Jess's hand is on my shoulder, her grip more firm and commanding than I expect.
The chiding she gives makes me feel nine all over again - you know; lost and confused and unable to wipe my own butt without having a couple sticky fingers soak through that cheapo two ply en route to the porcelain bowl.
"I don't know about you, Eddie," Jess explains, "But I don't like the idea of having a rich jail bird for an employer. You think any prison bitch in the country is going to care if you can write him a check while he has you bent over a wash basin at laundry time?"
She has a point - I suppose.
"Now look," she tells me, "I know all about Franklin Jones. 1740 La Place Merianne. Paris, France. You're going there, and don't lie to me about it. I can see it in your eyes. But when you finish with Uncle Frank I need you on a plane to North Korea."
"What's in North Korea?"
"A really ugly hotel with a really important secret I can't hide anymore," she hints.
It's the last bit of mystery I get out of her. For the rest of our ride Jess is close lipped. I decide to let it go, but realize somewhere en route that we're not heading back to Deluca Square. I don't dare ask where we're going or even partake in the guessing game. Jess is mad; not like a sullen wet hen whose nest has just been raided for fresh eggs by the local fox; more like a rabid tigress ready to slice the jugular of a waiting antelope in the green savannah.
Moments later we turn off the main strip and head toward the beach. It's cooler along the coast. I take in the fresh breeze even as the noon day sun cooks the top of my head. About forty-five minutes later we're at a private landing strip at San Carlos Airport, a plane already gassed and good to go. The pilot tips his head and waves as Jess parks along side. She returns the gesture, popping the trunk and tossing out a couple of suitcases.
"He's all yours," Jess tells the approaching pilot before turning to me one last time, "You have exactly seventy-two hours to straighten this mess with Franklin Jones. Whatever you do, don't kill this one until you've convinced him to fly with you to North Korea."
"Just a damn minute," I interrupt, "You said back there that you didn't fancy an employer with a plate of numbers tattooed across his chest. Alright. But hear this: I'm not up for a gal Friday on this one with an over inflated sense of self importance. It's my money we're spending, right? That means you work for me. Well, I just decided I don't need you. Actually, I don't want you. You've brains and a sharp trigger finger on the plus side but that's not enough to make me want to jump through hoops like a trained whale at Sea World."
Jess shrugs her shoulders.
"Well, I suppose this is where you drag me under for the final count," she passively suggests.
I don't see the heavy wrench in the pilot's hand coming fast up behind me, but I sure as hell feel it crack against the back of my head seconds before I black out and kiss the pavement. When I come to a half hour or so later, there's a whirling noise inside my head and a buoyant feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Gradually, I realize that we're airborne. The pilot's down in front where I'd expect him to be. I've been dumped on a chez in the back of the plane. We seem to be experiencing some sort of turbulence...or maybe I just am. My head throbs and I can't quite focus. One thing is crystal clear - I'm not alone. Jess has decided to come along for the ride.
"You don't make things easy," she says, "Did anybody ever tell you that?"
"Only my mother, teachers, a high school principal, two ex-wives, a string of girlfriends and maybe my barber," I admit, rubbing the back of my neck to ease the pain, "I have a problem with authority."
"You thrive on close shaves," Jess teases.
"With a little help from Mr. Goodwrench," I add, "You're boyfriend's got a steady hand and good swing."
"I liked you better when you were in a coma," Jess explains, "Better get your Z's. Paris isn't a trip across the millpond."
And so it isn't. I slump into a reclining chair, kick off my deck shoes and turn up the sleeves of my shirt. Before long, a more peacefully induced sleep overtakes me.
. . .
I dream - bizarrely and without restraint. In this dream I'm an ad executive with a penchant for hot bods poured into form fitting business suits. After some water cooler chit chat I get asked out on a date with a suit who vaguely resembles this Vegas showgirl I once spent a brisk forty-eight hours with. We nibble on some expensive h'or d'oeuvres and then each other and before long I'm having the most insanely triple X encounter of my adult life. But something's not right.
I figure this out in my dream, almost from the moment the condom comes off. My paramour tells me she's invited a house full of friends to meet me and then proceeds to put on an apron and play the part of Donna Reed.
Company arrives by way of a pretty mixed batch of pabulum and milquetoast; a fairly boring, but nevertheless congenial lot who debate politics and pop culture with all the superficial understanding afforded our current brain dead generation.
After an hour or so, one of the funny little men in the group leans across the table to shake my hand before explaining that I've just been set up on a new reality based television program: how to screw a guy on the first date. It's a flood of mixed emotions that follows, ranging from wanting to throw up and die to turning to my supposed lover and burrow a nice solid fist print in the side of her head.
I get jolted back to reality by some minor turbulence shortly before we touchdown in Evry. I can tell by the look on Jess' face that I probably have a queer sort of gaze on mine.
She reads my mind - well, almost.
"Good nightmare," I reason.
. . .
Shortly after checking our baggage Jess and I part company to take separate cabs.
"I'll see you at the Chateau," Jess explains, handing me a map with an address for a hotel on the Rue de la Hutchette, "Make sure you check in as Charlie Gwenn."
"Why?" I ask, holding the cab door open for her.
"Because I'm registered as Patrice Gwenn..." Jess reasons, "Your wife."
. . .
I decide to take a cab to 1740 La Place Merianne to make a hasty dispatch of Franklin Jones. I suppose I could have waited until morning, but somehow the cover of advancing night seems to better suit my darkening purpose. Only 1740 La Place Merianne is hardly what I expected. It's not a house, but a cramped set of ramshackle flats: dirty and disheveled.
I suppose if you could get past the row on row of clothes line laundry dangling between the alley there's a half ass view of the Seine to be had for the price of a croissant and some moldy cheese force fed by the upstairs maid. Only the rough trade lining the streets even at this hour doesn't look as though they'd be able to afford both at the same time.
I get out of my cab in front of a narrow walk. Lining the steps leading up to the front door of a three story apartment are a pair of rent-by-the-hours who look as though they've enough STD's between them to keep every free clinic east of the Arc de Triumph open twenty-four hours.
"Etes-vous sûr que ceci est la rue juste ?" I ask my cabby.
Inside the dimly lit lobby I make out the name 'F. Jones' on a faded gray piece of cardboard tucked into its metal identity slot next to room number 212.
No elevator. No problem. I sprint up the two flights and down a tight hallway illuminated by a single bulb that flickers on the brink of extinction. 212 is just like any other door. Could this inauspicious layout really be the happy hideaway of an underworld titan?
I tap lightly on the creaky wood, expecting someone to ask 'who is it?' from the other side. No one does. Gradually, my tuned in hearing detects the sound of a tiny motor whirling from just beyond the other side. A moment later, the door opens.
I am greeted by a young woman bound for her eternity to a mechanized wheelchair and so horribly disfigured that for a brief moment I have the sudden urge to look away in reviled disgust.
"I'm looking for Mr. Jones," I say directly.
"Oh," the woman politely replies, a friendly smile of innocence poking from beneath her contorted, skin grafted facial tissue, "Of course...you must be from The Tribune."
"Yes," I lie, "Uh...Gwenn...Charles Gwenn."
I extend my hand to shake hers before noticing that there are only three fingers remaining on her right. The woman tips her deformed brow in a relaxed nod instead, reading my best efforts to conceal utter shock.
"Don't worry," she tells me, "I'm used to being stared at. In fact, I would have thought you quite odd if you hadn't. Won't you come in?"
I smile, looking directly into her eyes, soft and brown and perhaps more illusively serene than I ever would have imagined.
"Thanks. I will."
The Jones apartment is modest and cozy - hardly what I would have expected for the command center of an international cartel. I wait a moment as the woman struggles to fondle the small console knob with a red button at its side that controls the driving mechanism of her chair. She backs herself into the room. I enter and close the door behind me.
"Regrettably, my father isn't here at the moment," the woman tells me.
"Jessica Jones," the woman replies, "Can I offer you something to drink, Mr. Gwenn?"
"No thank you," I stutter.
An excruciatingly slow moment passes between us - like the grate of chalk scraping on a board.
"I suppose you're wondering how it all happened?"
"I wouldn't think of asking."
Another lie. Curiosity has peaked this cat's interest. And so, Jessica tells me her story.
"About a year ago I was on holiday with my father in Lucerne," Jess explains, "He was there on business and I had some shopping to do."
She pauses suddenly.
"I liked nice things then..." she quietly reasons, "They used to suit me. Anyway, dad's meeting went longer than expected. He called me on my cell and told me to take his car back to the hotel."
The last thing Jessica remembers is turning the key in the ignition before a gigantic fireball consumed the BMW she was driving.
"I don't remember much else," she explains, "I don't suppose it would make for polite conversation if I could."
Small mercy. When she awoke some six days later in the burn unit of the local hospital Jess' was told that her left leg from the knee down had not been saved. Worse, she was destined to be a circus freak for the rest of her life. Her right eye, now glass, stares upward at the most improbable angle. She has not eye brows and no lips to speak of. Reconstructive surgery has given her back a nose, such as it is without grizzle, and holes on either side of her head with a loose flap of skin where once a pair of ears were attached. Beneath her thin veil of jet black hair is a scalp so unnaturally caramelized that every vein seems to draw undue attention to itself as it runs beneath the brittle parchment that was once her soft, warm flesh.
"I'm lucky to be alive," she attempts to justify, although I can see even now that Jessica's not entirely convinced of that truth, "And later...when the police discovered it was deliberate...that a bomb had been planted for my father...well...they made every attempt to find out who was behind it."
"And did they?"
I suddenly realize that my own sense of avenging authority has been as warped as the body of this tragic storyteller. We chat a bit more, mostly about nothing and by my own doing. I do everything I can to change the subject and make Jessica momentarily forget about herself. I tell her about America - which she's never seen.
"It sounds like a fascinating country," Jess reasons, "I wish I had traveled more before..."
The conversation changes, as conversations do, to her and her father. Franklin met Jess' mother in England, married her in France and had Jessica in Germany. Then her mother died in childbirth and since that time, by her own account, she has been her doting father's pride and joy.
"He's really been a wonderful father," Jess confides, "Even if he hasn't really been much of a man."
I'm perplexed by the dichotomy.
"Why do you say that?"
"Mr. Gwenn," Jess begins, "I shouldn't really be telling you this...and what I say now isn't motivated by contempt or anger. But my father...he's become involved in something terrible. I just know it."
The truth spills forth like a perilous flood on the delta. Jess tells me about a series of coded messages, business trips that have taken Franklin Jones all over Europe, America and Asia, and, those strange sudden meetings in the middle of the night with men whose voices make her blood run cold.
"Once I asked my father where he was going and he told me it would be better for me if I didn't know," Jess explains, "I'm frightened, Mr. Gwenn. Dad was always honest with me in the past. But now I don't know where he goes or what he does. He tells me that whatever he's doing is for me...to ensure that I'll be looked after when he's gone...but that doesn't ease the separation. I feel like I've lost both parents, you see?"
I nod. I want to reach out and embrace her, smooth that clumped matting of tangled hair that clings thinly to some of her scalp and tell her everything will be alright. But how can I? I had planned to murder the man she so worships; so desperately in fact that she would risk telling a common journalist the family secrets - at least, the one's she superficially been privy to.
I decide then and there that whatever the circumstances leading up to Jones' decision to green light my assassination attempt in Italy, his motive was hardly dictated by personal greed or even monetary gain. He's an evil man to be sure, but one I can no longer bring myself to kill. Pulverizing him into a confession and leaving him to the local authorities is another story.
"Where has your father now?" I inquire.
"Oh...uh...the Eiffel Tower," Jessica confides.
"To meet another secret contacts?"
"No," Jess reasons, "This one has a name...Edward Mars."
The hairs on the back of my neck recoil. I've been set up yet again.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure on May 1, 2010.
@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).