ADVENTURE THE 60TH: A LA CARTE
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 60TH:
A LA CARTE
I have no head for heights. Having said that, many a time have I been out on a ledge without a harness, wondering just what the hell got me to this point in the first place. Usually it's my own stupidity. Right about now I feel like I'm dangling off a high cliff with my tail tied to a daisy. I hate my life.
I weigh the pros and cons of continuing the itinerary Jess and I had outlined at the start of our journey. It all seems so unnecessary now. I try to file my thoughts under the old adage of ....well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...only my conscience won't let me dismiss all that's gone before quite so easily.
After all, what me worry? I've enough money to buy a small European principality. And maybe that's not such a bad idea. I mean, after Frisco I can't very well go back to the U.S. - at least, not for a long while. It doesn't matter that I put a period to a guy who slit throats by proxy and not just in the political arena either. In the eyes of the law I'm a vigilante, not a hero and someone who probably ought to be fitted with a muzzle and/or silencer. Maybe both!
Vengeance isn't pretty. But neither is penitence. It makes you take a good, long, hard and unflattering look at yourself - even when there's no mirror around. In the dark you see what you've become more clearly and it forces you to reconsider just how far from a centralized ideal you've veered. In my case, I don't even see the middle anymore. There's just glaring variations of 'oh God, what have I done?'
Jess...where ever she is...wouldn't think twice about ditching me for my millions and buying a schloss on the Rein. I imagine her somewhere far, far away, elegant and without my constant screw ups to worry about, sipping champagne and effortlessly juggling three flawed relationships while she diddles the gardener to indulge her risqué side for living on the edge with a garden hose and pruning shears. She'd find happiness too. She's just the type to keep searching until it effortlessly came to her.
I make up my mind to put in an anonymous call to the authorities in Verona and then quietly disappear into the night to parts unknown...even to myself.
I'm tired - well, sort of. Bored is more like it. I know...you're thinking with all I've been through and everything that's supposed to follow, how could anyone be bored? My heart should be pounding out of my chest with excitement. But it's not. I just want a place to crash; somewhere where life has an even cadence and people don't come to call unless they just want a few hours of friendly discussion: no hidden agendas, no price on my head, no time for playing the guessing game that never comes with any finite answers. Just peace, palm trees and a pina colada. That's my idea of heaven.
Can you understand boredom such as this? Probably not, comfortable as you are in your nine to five, punch clock, PTA and Four H, looking forward to the weekend mentality. I envy you that. Mediocrity has its privileges. All I can tell you is that when your time is your own, your life really is not.
. . .
I don't get much sleep on the train. In fact, I take on a fairly good representation of a guy who's had insomnia his entire life. By the dawn's first crack the next morning I look like a tree full of owls and about as chipper in mood as I am in stamina. Fertuk (pronounced Fair-tooook) shares my concern as we sit silently across from one another in the dining car, eating warm porridge and cold orange juice. Our waiter glances at us both periodically, as though he can read what's going on in our minds. He's a curious one. And something else...I don't know...but strangely familiar.
Nothing seems to help my demeanor. Funny. I thought I'd lost my ability to care for anyone but myself long ago. Perhaps I'm confusing lust with loss. I do that now and then. Jess isn't my type but she was fairly distracting last night and now, without her to tease me into a frenzy, I seem to have lost interest in everything but finding her. Perhaps I've simply become a Higgins in my middle age. I've grown accustom to her face.
That last image I have of Jess, disappearing into the bathroom with an unhealthy greenish tint about her cheeks seems to stick in my mind as the most indelible form of brain cancer. I can't close my eyes to blot her out. She's there. Ever-present. Haunting. As though she might provide some clue as to... I decide to play a hunch.
"How'd you manage it?" I ask Fertuk.
He seems genuinely confounded by my question.
"How did I..."
"The drug you slipped Jess last night to get her out of our dinner," I say.
He's suddenly incensed.
"Why should I..." he begins.
"Because you liked her even less than I do," I suggest, my mind beginning to wander, "And because...just maybe...I've been a fool for lesser and greater things and now just want to be a fool alone. Humor me. What was it? Not poison. No. That would have been too obvious. And messy. Having to explain a body with its head stuck in a tank full of crap at the Cafe Gritsch. No. I'd say just enough of something disagreeable to get her out'a the picture for the night - maybe two - but not kill her."
Fertuk rises from his chair, ripping off the cloth napkin he's stuffed into the collar of his crisp white shirt and tossing it to his chair.
"I shall never forgive you for this!" he hisses before departing the dining car in a huff.
"Then don't," I mutter loudly, "You drug-inducing bastard! Where is she?"
I do a quick scan of the room. Our waiter is frozen in time with a pitcher of ice water rigidly extended in his hand. I give him a good, long stare. It says 'Go ahead, lucky...try and offer me the check. I'll cram it down your skinny little throat!' All eyes are on me - just the way I want it. I throw the napkin from my lap across my half eaten bowl of porridge and storm out of the dining car.
A few moments later I reduce my jaunt to a stroll as I make my way to Fertuk's drawing room for an apology. I knock politely and he opens the door with a blood-pressure red face full of rage - his cheeks bulging like a pair of ripe beets but his eyes brimming with hurtful tears.
"How dare..." he begins.
"I had to," I say, politely forcing my way into his car and quickly shutting the door behind me.
Fertuk's two steps away from ringing for the porter so I lay my cards on the table. I start with an apology - sincere...well, as sincere as I can get...and I'm genuinely impressed that the patina on my words rings true even to my own ears. I segue into an explanation for my behavior. How I suddenly remembered that the waiter on the train is one in the same as the server at the Cafe Gritsch and how he must have been the one to spike Jessica's drink. How I needed a distraction just now to make it appear as though I hadn't figured this out for myself and how using Fertuk as a scapegoat was the best alternative I could come up with on short notice.
I observe the suddenly look of relief wash over Fertuk's face, his color effortlessly returning to normal, his eyes less likely to shoot daggers in my direction. He's forgiven me my crude outburst and even cruder apology.
"Then, my friend, we are still very much in danger" he reasons, asking the obvious question, "Why?"
"Well, that part I still haven't had time to iron out," I admit, "But it's about time we asked the only man I know has all the answers. I think you should order something a la carte."
Fertuk nods, ringing for the porter. A few moments later, an immaculately dressed portly gent with a handlebar moustache you could hang coffee cups off of arrives at Fertuk's door. I duck behind the closet so that the porter can't see me.
"Tell the waiter I want some black coffee and figs sent to this car," Fertuk commands.
The porter nods and disappears down the narrow passage. We've only a minute or two to iron out our plan. Afterward, I hide in Fertuk's cramped washroom, pensively waiting for our unwelcomed guest to arrive.
I press my ear to the door and listen, the soft clickety-clickety of the train beneath my feet offering a sort of lulling massage to my tense muscles. I could sure go for a nap right about now. Damn inopportune moment, so it is. I try to envision a few scenarios. But it's impossible to think about anything clearly when all you really want to do is sleep. Maybe I'll just beat the son of a bitch senseless, tie him up first and ask questions later.
There's a soft tap at Fertuk's outer door.
"Come in," Fertuk says, and I hear the muffled but familiar voice of the waiter announce Fertuk's breakfast tray.
As per our instructions, Fertuk get up from his seat and locks the outer door to his compartment just as the waiter begins to set up his tray. That's my cue. I immerge from my hiding place. The waiter suddenly aware that he's been ambushed, freezes, his eyes locking with mine.
"Now, my friend," Fertuk reasons with a glint in his eye, "The real fun begins."
The waiter gets this cockeyed dopey smile. It doesn't last. And neither does his laconic stance. He turns for the door and I jump him from behind. He's a skinny bugger but wiry and not as easily subdued as I imagined, throwing his weight and sending me hurling back into the bathroom stall. Fertuk lunges toward the waiter and gets a kick in the jaw for his efforts. We three struggle unprofessionally in these cramped quarters, like a trio of WWF tryout rejects with coffee and figs sailing through the air and limbs intertwined in a game of Twister gone bad.
There's the flash of a gun from beneath the waiter's waistcoat, my wrist on his, shaking the pistol back and forth upwards, a couple of rounds going straight through the vaulted ceiling and another shattering the window. Fertuk jumps into action, sinking his teeth into the waiter's clenched hand. There's a scream and the gun falls to the floor. I make a stupid decision to reach for the fallen weapon and that affords the waiter the opportunity to get to his feet, run out the door and into the hall.
"Stay here," I tell Fertuk, before making chase.
The gun fire's attracted curious guests in the hall, a few pointing me in the direction of the fleeing waiter. As I near the end of the first car I notice that the outer door has been left open and stupidly peak outside before considering that it might be a trap. It is, and I get a fist in the gut that knocks most of the wind out of me. Between gasps for fresh air I see the waiter grab hold of the side rail and climb up to the roof of the train. It's all or nothing. I'm going after him.
Outside the early morning wind bites into my skin. We've entered a mountainous area with tall pines lining either side of the track and a shadowy mist blowing past on all sides like the steamy entrance to the gates of hell. In this narrow passage the downdraft blows in large heavy gusts that threaten to inflate my long sleeved shirt and pants and make me airborne. I haven't exactly dressed for climbing. But the soles of my shoes are rubber, good for grip on the otherwise smooth metal roof.
A car's length ahead is my assailant, struggling in his smooth soled dress shoes to stay on top of the slightly curved roof. Fertuk was right. Now the fun really begins. The track we're travelling on coils sharply, the train never travelling in a straight line but twisting back and forth as if to say 'Get off me you silly bastards!' as it writhes beneath us with serpentine flail.
I have the waiter's gun tucked in my pants, but hesitate to use it. I need this guy alive - at least until I get some answers. Even so, a dead 'would-be' assassin is my solid Plan B. A few steps at a time, and I make the successful jump between cars, landing on my knees and popping the gun from my belt. It rolls over the side and is lost to the mist and pines. So much for Plan B.
The train now begins to bend sharply to the left, the sound of its wheels gliding on the rails below suddenly intensified with full reverb, which can only mean one thing....tunnel!
It's just mere seconds, but the snapshots are burned in my memory. I look up just in time to see the waiter's paralytic body language meet with the side of a mountain, wiping him clean from the roof's surface with a resounding splat - like a juicy little beetle that's met with the oncoming windshield of a semi.
I let go of my tenuous grip on the train roof, the downdraft sliding me back and over the edge in between cars, sinking my fingers into the lip of the metal frame and dangling there as the world suddenly goes black around me.
I hear the echo of every bone in the waiter's bony little frame dislocating as his unconscious body slides over and past me like a rag doll before it's violently knocked into the side of that cavernous stone wall. A few seconds later, a strong spurt of his blood sprays across my finger tips and downward into my hair and face. I'll say one thing for him. He's left one hell of a bloody impression!
THE END? - not yet.
Eddie Mars will return in his next adventure:
Verona by Moonlight on July 5th, 2010.
@Nick Zegarac 2010 (all rights reserved).