Feeding the Eels: the end

I know you hate me for walking away when I did. I hate myself even more. Thousands of rounds were unleashed in that hotel, with the cops rushing in the front while the Blood of the Saint rushed in the back. Had Cello been alive, he would have orchestrated things better, reminding them all who it was they actually worked for. Instead the two gangs chewed each other up.

So much shooting, and Alice in the middle. The .45 APC is the opposite of Alice’s favored ballistics. She prefers a tight round moving flat and fast; the .45 is a beachball to her way of thought. But at 10 beachballs per second she could do some damage. I didn’t doubt for a moment that she had the strength to keep the muzzle down as she did what she does best.

On sixth avenue, treasure map in a bundle of laundry on my back, I considered my next move. I didn’t want the treasure, whatever form it took. I didn’t particularly want to live to see another sunrise. Seen one, seen ’em all. I thought again of Meredith jerking and twitching as the bullets found her, as I dove to the side. Maybe she had it right. Go out grandly.

I told myself that if anyone could survive the hotel it was Alice. A week from now she would be giving me the business for doubting her, and I’d be taking the abuse while hoping not to say anything too sappy. A happy ending.

I walked for a bit, hailed a cab, walked a bit more, hailed another cab, and when I got to Jake’s I had nothing except the suit on my back and a few tired sawbucks. I walked the length of the bar and sat on my favored stool, facing the door.

“The usual?” Jake asked.

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Episode 32: Boiling Blood

A wisp of smoke trailed from the muzzle of Alice’s pistol as she surveyed her handiwork. But someone nearby would have heard the gunshots and would be doing something about it.

Get in the corner and start screaming,” I said.

“I’m not—”

“When they come in they have to see a dame losing her shit. A dame who’s not a threat.”

Alice hesitated. “Do it!” I said as I took the Luger from her hand and bent down to mash it into the mitt of the poisoned bodyguard. Gun and all I hoisted him up and staggered to the nearest window. Pain flared through my shoulder but I ground my teeth and ignored the dizziness that threatened to put me down.

About then Alice started shrieking, mostly incoherent but with occasional phrases. “He shot him! Call the police! Call an ambulance!”

I pushed the dead kid headfirst through the glass and shoved him out in three mighty heaves. Suddenly he was gone, but Alice was just picking up steam.

I collapsed on the floor by the window, sitting in broken glass, just as the door to the room burst open and three heavily-armed men made their entrance. My shoulder was bleeding again, and my hands were a mess. “I tried to stop him,” I said, to a world that felt very far away. Probably no one could hear my lie over Alice’s Oscar-worthy performance.

After taking a half-second to survey the scene, one of the men went to Santiago, the next went to Alice, while the unlucky third was left to look after me. Alice kept it going, probably to annoy them as much as to sell the hysterical-broad angle. She succeeded at both things.

My caretaker was a handsome kid, maybe eighteen years old and holding a Thompson, with the full 100-round drum, a choice that made me assume he was compensating for something. The kid hunched down over me. “I tried to stop him,” I said again.

“No English,” he said with regret. He inspected my shoulder without taking his finger away from the trigger. “You hurt,” he informed me, with a sad expression on his face.

Perhaps my reputation for honesty was simply because no one listened to me.

I fought back the cobwebs and managed to stand. Each second Alice and I were in the room was more likely to be our last. A shrill whistle reached us from the street below; someone on the hotel staff had noticed a corpse.

I staggered toward the door. “Come on, toots,” I said. “Before they get away.”

The gunmen exchanged looks, apparently none of them were in a position to make important decisions. “Wait,” one of them said. “Boss coming.”

“The guy threw the painting out the window,” Alice said, managing to regain some of her composure. “Mr. Lowell needs to go after them.” She was met with stares. “Painting! Window!” she shouted, with an edge of hysteria returning to her voice. “No time!”

Whether they understood or not, they didn’t shoot me as I walked toward the broken door. “You too, toots,” I said.

“I can’t go out like this!” Alice said. “You go. I’ll change and come after you.”

“The boss—” I started.

“Go!” she waved me toward the door. “I’ll deal with him. But you have to find the painting! Now hurry!”

I moved faster and I was out in the hall. At the far end the elevator showed that it was on the way up. I went the other way as quickly as I could and found the stairs. Another dizzy spell threatened to hasten my descent, but I kept my feet under me and breakfast in my stomach and got to the ground floor without incident. The lobby looked busy but I slipped out a fire door into the alley by the hotel.

I turned toward 5th and found it crawling with cops, jacked up and ready to shoot anything that looked suspect. Quietly I reversed course in the alley and decided to take my chances through the alleys to 6th.

I’d taken maybe five steps when something from above nearly hit me. I jumped aside when the bundle hit the pavement with a loud wooden crack. I looked up but all I saw was bricks and windows. I looked back down to discover a splintered wooden box tied with a bedsheet between two hotel pillows. The box was shattered, and the picture’s frame was banged up, but I didn’t stop to inspect the goods; I scooped up the bundle and got the hell out of there.

Whatever window this had fallen from, it was not one from our suite. Alice was resourceful.

As I moved toward the back of the hotel I wrapped the bundle better with the bedsheet. Just an ordinary man taking his laundry for a walk.

I peeked around the corner at the back of the building. The hotel had a loading dock back there, and it was a beehive of activity. There were two long, black limousines and a few other sedans, and a lot of angry men with guns. The Blood of the Saint, in full force, mad as hornets. I had gone to the back of the building to avoid attention, and so had they.

As they moved about their anger was a tangible thing; a blood-red haze I could almost see that filled them with the need to kill.

I was about to turn back toward the front of the building when from some undefinable place above us the muffled staccato of a Thompson echoed among the buildings in a series of short bursts, followed by continuous fire for at least five seconds, then bursts again. Perhaps two of them were firing, maybe more; it was difficult to tell.

On the loading dock orders were shouted, and most of the men charged into the building as glass fell from shattered windows above. While they were moving so was I; I made it across the service street into the alley on the far side. Ahead I could see the busy street that was my best hope for salvation.

Behind was Alice. I wanted to go back for her, but I couldn’t even slow down. The shooting had stopped, as far as I could tell, which meant either she was dead or about to face a very unpleasant interview, which would probably end with her being dead.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling so alone.

 

Tune in next time for… The Kiss of Death!

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Episode 31: Final Offer

A Brief Re-introduction:

Feeding the Eels is a story I used to add to occasionally here at MR&HBI. The process was simple: Write an episode in 90 minutes, leave a title for the next episode, and don’t plan anything. The prose is spontaneous and recreational, occasionally clever, and does not aspire to the lofty title “literature”.

As time passed I regularly began to break the 90-minute rule, but to this day I start writing with a title and no idea what to do with it. In fact, I never went back and even read what had come before.

Until now, of course; it’s been far too long for me to remember more than the biggest events in the narrative. I can see why I stopped when I did, too. I left myself quite a little humdinger of a situation.

You probably want to start from the beginning, or perhaps Episode 2. (Episode 1 was an entirely different exercise, and I will be rewriting it.) Anyway, you can find it all here.

I moaned softly and sat up, lifting my hat off my face and tossing it onto the overstuffed chair that sat next to the couch that had been my bed for far too little time.

The knock came again. Gentle, patient. Surely aware that someone in my situation might be inclined to put a bullet or fifty through the wood of the door rather than answer politely. It was the sort of knock that said that whatever I did, there would be another knock, and next time it wouldn’t be so polite.

Stepping softly I slipped the painting and its box into a drawer in the bureau. The precious pieces of paper that had traveled with the map went under a sofa cushion.

Another knock. “Hold your pants on, sunshine,” I called out. I didn’t have to feign fatigue and annoyance. I slipped the little Walther into my suit pocket and trod more heavily toward the door, remembering that bullets could also pass through it in the other direction.

Civilized behavior carried the day; I opened the hotel room door and nobody shot anyone else. Two men stood there. Spaniards I had met before. The older of the two, his olive face topped by thick black hair going gray at the temples, was heavier, but still fit. The younger was not holding a gun, but was certainly ready to produce one if things got unfriendly.

“That was quick,” I said. I stepped aside to let them into the room.

The older man smiled as he walked slowly into the room, casting his eyes around almost casually. “We own this property. It is fortunate for us that you decided to live it up for a little while.”

I wondered if “live for a little while” was a threat.

“Your partner is also here?” He asked, though he certainly knew the answer.

“Hello, Señor Santiago,” Alice said from the doorway to the bedroom of the suite. She was wearing a silk robe with the initials of the hotel emblazoned on the breast, loosely tied around her narrow waist. Both her hands were empty. “It’s good to see you again.”

Santiago smiled. “Indeed, Miss Alice. I am pleased to see that you are healing from your wounds quite nicely.”

“Thank Dr. Mendez one more time for me,” she said.

Santiago nodded and turned back to me. “And how is your lovely employer?”

I made my way back to the bar. “I’m currently between clients. Can I offer either of you gentlemen a drink?”

Santiago nodded slowly. “Then what I heard is true. A Gin and Tonic would be refreshing. He glanced at my arm and smiled ruefully. Although please don’t trouble yourself. I can—”

“No worries,” said Alice. She glided to the bar, silk flowing behind her. “If you learn one thing working for a detective, it’s how to make a good G&T.”

Santiago studied her for a moment. “You seem… taller this morning.” In all honesty, I had to agree.

She flashed him a red smile over her shoulder as she set to making the drink. “I’ve been trying to improve my posture.” I suspected that perhaps she had instead been hunching down all along.

“To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, Mr. Santiago?” I asked.

He looked at me with mild reproach. “Let us not play games, Mr. Lowell.”

“I just want to hear you say it.”

He sighed. “You have something that belongs to us. A painting.”

“I see,” I said. “I do have one of those. How do I know it’s yours?”

Alice arrived with a Gin and Tonic for Santiago, a soda water for the other spaniard, and then she retrieved a whiskey for herself. Santiago accepted the drink, looked at her, and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry,” he said, and handed his drink to his retainer. The younger man took a sip.

“I’m hurt,” Alice said, but there was a hint of playfulness in her pout.

“You know how it is, Señorita. Guillermo would be terribly upset with me if I didn’t let him protect me.” His smile became less sincere as he turned back to me. “The painting was stolen from my people. It was entrusted to a humble museum that contains many relics that speak to the history of The Blood of the Saint.”

“What saint is that, anyway?” Alice asked.

Santiago chuckled. “Her full name is complex, with decorations and filigrees, but when she was alive, she was called ‘Mireia'”.

“A Catalalonian name,” Alice said. She moved to the couch and sat, inviting Santiago to sit next to her. I moved my hat and occupied the overstuffed chair. I gestured to the wooden chair by the desk and looked at the quiet visitor. He nodded and sat.

Santiago continued. “Yes, We are of Catalunya. I try not to take offense when Americans call me a Spaniard.”

“I’ve not heard of a saint named Mireia,” Alice said.

“Rome is corrupt,” Santiago said. “Mireia was a saint. She was a poor girl with a terrible affliction. She could speak nothing but the truth. Naturally that led to horrifying consequences. There are few who revere souls like that any longer.”

“She sounds like Charley,” Alice said. She stood. “Another drink?”

“Please,” Santiago said, handing her his glass. The he stood also, and then the rest of us. “I wonder. May I see it?”

“It’s intact,” I said. “But let’s not play games. Before I put that thing in your hands we need to discuss terms.”

Santiago scowled. “There will be no terms. It belongs to us.”

“You must appreciate the personal sacrifice Alice and I have made to ensure its safe recovery.”

“And what is it you want for helping to make our recovery task more difficult, Mr. Lowell?”

“More difficult? Without me, that painting would be in the hands of someone much less reasonable than I am.”

“What is it you want, Mr. Lowell?”

“Your handshake.”

Santiago hesitated. “What?”

“You shake my hand and tell me that we’re friends, that on the Blood of Saint Mireia, who could tell no lie, our business is finished. And I promise, based on my apparently-hilarious honesty that no word of this ever reaches anyone else’s ears. And then we’re done, and the painting is yours, and we live our lives.”

Alice had the next round ready; she put a fresh Gin and Tonic and a Seltzer into the quiet one’s hands. After he sipped the cocktail and nodded, she took it from him and handed it to Santiago. When all that was finished she grabbed our drinks. Whiskey for me and it looked like a Manhattan for herself. Finished serving, she sat, and awkwardly the rest of us sat as well.

Santiago studied his drink, and took a sip. “It is a good offer,” the Catalan said. He thought for a moment. “I wish I could say yes. However…” He turned to his bodyguard in time to see Guillermo twist in agony and fall from his chair, foam escaping the corners of his mouth, his eyes wide as he suffocated on his own blood.

Alice had a gun, her Luger 9mm, and now it was trained on Santiago’s chest. She looked at him with sadness. “You say you worship the saint, you say you respect truth, but you are the one with the knife, cutting out her tongue.”

Santiago slowly raised his hands. “Truth,” he said, “Doesn’t exist.”

“What a sad view of the world you have,” Alice said. She pulled the trigger and her gun spat, and I tried to shake the ringing in my ears as Santiago slipped off the sofa and bled on a rug that his people apparently owned.

“That may have been a mistake,” Alice said.

 

Tune in next time for… Boiling Blood!

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