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a novel by Vic Plume
The street was alive with a moving, molten mix of bright and colourful clothes worn by people who either seemed to be intently busy heading somewhere, or conversely, lazily browsing through the clothing shops as is expected during the holiday season in a warm and popular French seaside town. Others were sitting at chairs and tables provided by the many cafes and restaurants that lined the thoroughfare, chatting to friends, laughing, some flailing their arms expressively as they told their latest tale. I sat quietly alone, observing while drinking my coffee with a good dash of whisky, yawning from having stayed up too late for more nights than I could count on one pair of hands and feet when without warning a large black tray truck came roaring around the old cobble-stoned street corner it’s engine screaming as a khaki covered commando positioned at the back of the truck began firing a huge, fully-automatic machinegun that was secured to a tripod, directly at a table of dark-suited mafia looking types who either fell dead instantly or dived under the tables knocking chairs out of the way and violently grasping bewildered patrons in order to use them as protective shields while they ripped out pistols from inside their coat jackets and returned fire. I callously watched and waited till every last one of them had been killed then exhaustedly raised myself from my chair, turned off the TV and headed for bed. I’d seen action movies before and this was definitely an action movie.
It was 2 in the morning and this private investigator was absolutely Kangaroo-Edward, A.K.A Roo-Ted. I had a new client coming around in the morning and if I didn’t get some shuteye my eyeballs felt like they’d burst into flames. This meeting was important and I wanted to look my best, which was never good at the best of times but not as bad as my worst, which was always not good at the worst of times. I made my way through the empty scotch bottles and burgers wrappers and sat down on my office couch that doubled as my bed then switched-on my adjustable bedside lamp and reached down for the packet of cigarettes and Zippo lighter with the distinctive Maltese Falcon blazoned across it. I casually lit up, snapped shut the lid of the Zippo and leant back on the couch taking a long draw while watching the red ember glow brightly against my fingers. The blue-ish, lamp-lit smoke billowed from my mouth and disappeared into my nostrils but as I exhaled the smoke from my lungs a horrifying thought crossed my mind... I didn’t smoke! In fact I’d never even seen these cigarettes or lighter before in my life. After 3 or 4 minutes of intense coughing the room again became silent when out of the darkened corner a serious voice dryly stated. "If you’ve quite finished Mr Hogart?" I immediately went for my pistol, which was situated at my ex wife’s house on the other side of town. "It’s alright, don’t panic" said the voice, "I’m your client, Louis Staines, I thought we’d have our meeting a bit earlier than arranged." "Not a problem," I gasped, "thanks for the warning; it’s 2000 bucks a day plus the laundry bill for my shorts." I quickly adjusted the lamp toward the voice, blinding him momentarily. "Please Mr Hogart, I don’t like the light." "I’ve got others if you’d prefer Mr Staines." After tilting the lamp slightly away he lowered his hand from his eyes allowing me to scan this character that I’d spoken to only once briefly over the phone when we’d arranged this little get-together that he’d decided he’d get together sooner than we’d both decided to arrange.
This bloke was bigger than a Texan Weight Watchers convention, short but fat with one of those balding but shiny ‘Mr Sheen’ type heads and sporting a bizarre white shock of hair that stood stiffly to attention in the middle of his skull. He could’ve been anywhere from 45 to 60 years old and his grey eyes showed more concern than a paraplegic alter boy at a Christian brothers nudist camp. "You’ve got a lot of nerve sneaking in here and hiding in the corner of my room!" I announced angrily. "What are you talking about?" Replied the voice, "You let me in half an hour ago and told me to wait in the corner until you finished watching the movie!" "So I did," I replied, "I’m sorry, I’ve had a lot of late nights and these tranquillisers my doctor gave me seem to be having a strange affect... would you care for a whiskey?" "No thanks, I don’t drink," said my newest client, "let’s get down to business, I’ve got to catch a flight in 30 minutes." "No worries," I said, "you’re the boss. What’s the story?" "There’s no story, I just need you to find this person, Lena Lovitch." He handed me a rectangular piece of stiff, white paper. "What’s this?" I asked." "It’s a photo of her, show it to the bar-staff and patrons at ‘The Emerald Green’ nightclub in Vegas and see what you come up with; she worked there for 2-months until she disappeared 3 weeks ago." "She wasn’t a magician’s assistant by any chance?" I asked. "No, she was a masseuse." "It’s not going to be easy," I said, "this photo’s blank!" "That’s the back of the photo, her picture is on the other side." He replied wearily. I turned the photo over and saw a bikini clad female Caucasian aged in her mid twenties, tall and slim but shapely, with blue, bobbed hair and a pierced face full of piercings. "I’ll need a week’s pay in advance, a contact number and a metal detector."
He handed me his business card, a ten thousand dollar wad of cash and a one way plane ticket to Vegas, then looking even more concerned said sternly, "Money is not a problem Mr Hogart, just find my daughter and you’ll be duly rewarded." "Does this Lena Lovitch woman know where your daughter might be?" "That woman is my daughter Mr Hogart!" "Well, she should know where she is then." I said before finishing off my bottle of whiskey and popping another couple of tranquillizers. "One more thing, Mr Hogart, be very careful, there may be some people out there that do not want her found!" "How may is may, Mr Staines?" I asked as the Buddha-like bloke split into two whiskey induced out-of-focus fuzzy frescos. "Very may, Mr Hogart." "Just what sort of trouble is your daughter in?" "He groaned as he struggled to get off the seat and as he wobbled toward the office door I glanced down at his business card, ‘Louis Staines: Chief Government Oil Controller: Western sector’. This guy was big in more ways than one. Chief G.O.C meant that he was one of the most powerful men in the western world I thought as I sprayed air freshener in his wake. But why would he come to an overpriced hack like me when he could deploy a whole government Special Forces Unit to find her? "Oh, and by the way," said my powerful and puzzling client as he stopped in the doorway without turning around, "The reason I’m hiring you is because you’re relatively unknown, other government departments are looking for her and if they find out I’ve hired you they’ll have you followed until you find her then they’ll..." His voice suddenly stopped and as I finished counting the $10,000 wad of cash he continued. "As I said Mr Hogart, money is not a problem, just make sure nobody finds out you’re working for me, or you and my daughter definitely may find yourself lost at sea in a barbed wire canoe with only concrete flippers to help you." He turned around to face me from across the room, paused, then said, "I’ll help you as much as I can Mr Hogart but nobody can find out what your mission is." As he disappeared through the door I pulled out his packet of cigarettes, which I’d secreted into my pocket when I’d blinded him earlier with the lamp, and lit one up using my new Zippo lighter with the distinctive Maltese falcon blazoned across it. These medical authorities weren’t mucking around... smoking really was addictive!
After packing for the flight to Vegas I finally put my head down and thought of my ex wife as I did most times before going to sleep. My ex was a good woman but the sex change operation changed all that. So I moved out of Toni’s, and started my own private detective agency so I could talk to myself while attempting to solve different cases. As I drifted off to sleep my thoughts changed to the latest case, it was definitely a mysterious one but I had a feeling that this case wasn’t going to be too tough.
At 6.45a.m: I woke up. I didn’t have to be on the plane until midday so at 6.46a.m I popped a couple of tranquillisers and washed them down with half a bottle of whisky then, presumably, went back to sleep. 7.15a.m: I woke up, had a shot of whisky to wash down another tranquilliser then checked the clock and went back to sleep. 7.18a.m: Had a dream I woke up and went back to sleep, then I woke up, popped some pills and went back to sleep and had a dream that I got up. 9.45a.m: woke up, checked the clock and went back to sleep. 10.09a.m: didn’t wake up, didn’t go back to sleep, didn’t check the clock. 11.08a.m: wet the bed; my alarm clock didn’t go off but my body clock was working perfectly. 11.09a.m: fell asleep. This case was gonna be tougher than I thought.
Luckily the phone rang, it was Louis Staines making sure I was up and at ‘em because apparently, as he kindly informed me, I only had 15 minutes left to board my plane.
I quickly thanked him then abruptly ended the call as the phone’s extension chord ripped-out of the wall as I whipped-out onto the street. I approached a waiting cabbie and yelled, "Airport! 5 minutes! There’s a lazy hundred in it if you get me their on time!"
By the time I got to the airport there was no time left. I discarded the contents of my flask of breakfast whisky and a plastic bottle of tranquillity down my throat, threw a hand full of cash at the cabbie and told him he’d get more business if he actually had a cab, then I made a dash for the ticket counter. "Good morning Sir", said the rigid baggage/ticket staffer as I hurriedly approached the counter, "Can I help you Sir?" "I’m way beyond help," I replied in a vain attempt at putting a smile on his pruned face in order to hopefully speed up the whole ticketing process. "Any baggage Sir?" "Yeh," I grunted as I placed my suitcase on the conveyer belt. "Have you any metal objects on your person such as a nail files or nail clippers Sir?" "Yes but I don’t like to lend them out," I replied as I reached into my hand luggage before handing over a nail file, a pair of nail clippers, a 12 inch bowie-knife and a Magnum .357 handgun that I’d forgotten I had on me.
He began to ask another inane question but I’d just about had enough so I cut him off by saying, "But wait, there’s more!" Then I vaguely pretended to search my person for a set of steak knives while mumbling, "Thank God I don’t have any gold teeth!" ‘What possible trouble could any one do/cause with a nail file?’ I thought as he placed my metal objects into a security box. I imagined an angry, bearded, 7-foot terrorist waving my nail file in front of a group of passengers mid-flight while threatening, "Don’t anybody try anything silly or I’ll file your fingernails down to your elbows!" Meanwhile, 2 ex army buddies, seated up the back the plane are whispering to each other, "Come on Larry, I reckon we can beat this bastard, he’s only got a nail file and we’ve got 2 pairs of nail-clippers/2 empty beer cans and a plastic fork!"
The baggage staffer’s voice broke in, "Have you anything else to declare... Sir?" "Yes," I replied without hesitation, "I’m not part of the royal family and I’ve never been knighted so please stop calling me Sir." He turned away disgusted and typed up an extended version of the bible on his computer keyboard. After all was done I ran off to gate 672,000 stopping quickly at Mackers to grab a burger and slowing only briefly as I went through the metal detector before sprinting out the other side in a futile attempt to catch my plane, which gave me the ‘brown eye’ as I watched its ass-end disappear into the clouds. "Some days luck just don’t go my way," I thought, just before the plane exploded into a fireball that rose and rolled over and over within itself until all that was left was a mushroom of black smoke and a large piece of wing that came crashing to the ground just in front of the window I was looking through, "...luckily," I thought, "today isn’t one of those days."
After catching my breath I remembered I’d forgotten my toothbrush then I quickly started walking while thinking of how the airplane’s passenger safety demonstration couldn’t have helped the passengers out of this particular emergency because it’s hard to find the exit doors when there aren’t any. I took out my client’s business card, which displayed his personal cellular mobile phone number and entered the digits into my phone and waited while I walked, which is a skill in itself. A healthy dose of paranoia made me wonder if the explosion was an accident or done by terrorists, or whether it was meant for me, and I was more than annoyed, I’d destroyed 2 pairs of shorts in 2 days. After a few short rings of the phone his distinctly dry voice said, "Hello, I’m not in at the moment but if you leave your name and phone number after the beep, people may be able to track you down and kill you." It beeped and in order to divert any suspicion from online eavesdroppers I said, "Hello, it’s not me, so don’t give me a ring as soon as possible. My flight has just been severely cancelled to pieces, so I’ll have to make other arrangements if I’m not going to get to that place that I wasn’t going to go as you didn’t request. Over and out."
I quickly exited the growing congregation of alarmed citizens and airport-staff via the sliding doors and onto the street entering the walkway that lead into the car-park where I hurriedly picked out a hot looking, red, Corvette Stingray. After 35 seconds of fumbling and fiddling under the dashboard I gave the engine a reversing rev and left a short squeal of echoing rubber behind me as I sped forward through the car park for non greener pastures, commonly known as Vegas.
I had a feeling that booking a car, or any form of transport, may not be good for my health besides the airport authorities would want to keep everyone on the premises for hours until they’d interviewed them and found out why planes were exploding. I didn’t like being questioned by people who were more paranoid than me and I could just imagine the powers that be asking me just why exactly I had a ticket for an exploding plane that I decided not to catch and why did I have $10,000 in cash and a photo of a blue haired woman with a face full of metal? Neither of which I could answer honestly due to client confidentiality and the fact I didn’t really know.
As I sped out of the car park and up the road past the 2 sliding exit-doors of which I had just escaped, 2 serious-looking dark-suited guys, one with very red hair the other completely bald, came running out of the sliding doors and onto the street. They stopped and ‘Baldy’ looked around intently for someone while ‘Red’ concentrated on a little hand held device that started beeping like a semi-trailer reversing at 250 miles an hour just as I levelled with it. "That’s him!" Yelled the red headed suit pulling out a pistol and firing a bullet, which simultaneously knocked the whiskey flask from my hand and mouth sending it crashing against the now permanently open passenger window. My nerves demandingly screamed that I instantly down half a bottle of tranquillisers and a full bottle of whisky but, with no time or whiskey left, I downed the accelerator instead. As the car fishtailed into a straight line both of their pistols rang out followed by a string of bullets that couldn’t be tied in a knot. As I disappeared around the corner so did my rear window as well as any trace of white colouring from my third pair of shorts. I had no real idea what was going on but I knew I was in more shit than an epileptic plumber. I’d have to get myself a gun and change into a fresh pair of bog catchers pronto; so off to the ex wife’s place we went, just me, my freshly dyed duds and my newly renovated red Corvette that stuck out like a ‘Come & Get’ Me’ sign tattooed onto King Kong’s coconuts.
In hindsight, with only an ounce of ‘foresight’ and about 2-ton of ‘now’, I had no idea I was starting out on an adventure of which I had no idea I was venturing out on. It was to be the start of the beginning of a journey that wouldn’t begin ending until the end of the start of the beginning stopped starting and began ending. Put simply, I was about to experience an adventure I was far too inexperienced to experience, and only one thing was certain... the sooner I got hold of some more whisky the sooner it would be.
CHAPTER THREE. . .
CHAPTER FOUR. . .
CHAPTER FIVE. . .
LATER RATHER THAN SOONER
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