PUBLISHED AS A WEEKLY SERIAL IN "THE VALLEY ITCH"
She was a beauty.
I bellied up to the bar and ordered a double V.O. I was ready to move on from Caesars. It was early in the morning and I was taking it easy. I shifted in my stool to get a better look at the stage, and the dynamite view.
The bartender grabbed my arm to keep me from falling, and slipped me a note. "Geez, man you're hammered. This just came for you, Mr. March."
Swinging twice, I eventually landed one on his kisser. I wasn't in the mood for his cracks, and didn't have one of my own. I took the note and flipped a fiver to the 'keep. He flipped me one.
The note was from the boss. He wasn't one to be kept waiting, so I finished my V.O. and ordered a double. It was almost noon.
I was an insurance investigator. The name? Milo March.
The dame on-stage finished her set and was heading towards the back when I caught her arm.
"Where's the fire, honey?" I breathed in her face.
She obviously swooned.
"What's the deal, fella'?"
"I just wanna' buy a pretty girl a drink, that's all. So, how about it?"
I muscled her onto a stool and stared at the view.
"Get a camera, you creep."
"Easy, now darling I'm a tactile learner."
"If Jimmy ever caught you doing that he'd kill me. He'd kill you too. You'll need a body-guard."
"I don't need a body-guard. I don't need anything. I'm Milo March."
Standing had made the blood flow easier, and I was able to focus my vision on her. The dryness in my mouth had overtaken me, and I slammed back another double V.O. She was impressed. I shifted my weight to keep from falling over and held the bar for support.
"What do you say we get out of here?" I slurred.
"Didn't I just tell you..." she said. I don't remember the rest of her sentence.
Or what happened next. But I do remember one thing I kept the boss waiting for another three days.
I awoke in my hotel room. It was three days since I'd picked up the singer.
I'd give her name, but it's too early in the morning. I reached for the glass
beside my bed, thinking it was V.O. It was water. I drank it anyway. I called
room-service for a "breakfast". The V.O. arrived after I got out of the shower.
I was feeling productive.
I called the boss.
"Look, Milo Mitchell ain't in. He's looking for you everywhere. You better skip town, March."
"Yeah? Well I ain't no school-boy, and I ain't learnin' to skip so, if he gets back you tell him I "
Just then, the door burst open. A drunken, slobbering fool oozed his way in.
Now, there were two of us.
Misery loves company and I offered my boss a drink.
"Jesus, March I called you three days ago where you been?"
"It ain't so much a place, as it is a state of mind, Mitchell." I snorted.
"You better get yourself some insurance, March. Jimmy the Fish is after you, and he don't take no prisoners."
"Who the hell is this Jimmy the Fish?" I wheezed, pulling on some clothes and hacking up the night before.
"That's why I called you. He's the owner of The Flamingo's Toes and he saw you with his dame...he's gonna' kill you."
The dame, I thought. Yeah, I seemed to recall a place called the Flamingo's Toes. Something about a girl. Maybe there was something about a boyfriend named Jimmy swimming around in my head as well. But hey, weren't all boyfriends named Jimmy?
That's why I was single.
The name's March. Milo March.
"March? March come on snap out of it."
I focused on Mitchell's face, and he continued.
"I need you in Dallas. Whiplash. Car accident. Check it out."
I slid off the bed and onto the floor. It was cool and the tiles left a funny impression on my face.
You see a lot of things as an insurance investigator. Some folks might even be
envious, if they didn't have the sense God gave 'em. Me? I just wish to God I
could remember how I got where I was.
The plane was empty when I came to. It was just me, a bottle of V.O., and a copy of my boss's instructions regarding a whiplash case in Dallas.
Instructions? I should say: phone-number. I was hoping this "Jane Velvet" turned out to be as smooth as her name. But, I had a job to do and waking up on an abandoned plane was not a way to get results.
I had to get out of there. I went to cockpit, checked the gauge and tallied the points: 20,000 feet to the earth, and it was a long way to Dallas. I collapsed.
5,000 feet later I pulled myself into the pilot's chair.
Viet Nam? Sure, I remember something about a place called Viet Nam. Maybe there was a girl, maybe a boyfriend named Jimmy, but I didn't remember anything about controls like these. I'd brought the V.O. with me and I threw the contents down my throat before I let instinct kick in.
Landing in Dallas was no easy feat. There was a Limo Driver waiting for me. He looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him.
"March?" He spat. "How the hell did you .uh.Mr. March? Right this way. Mr. Mitchell sent me to pick you up."
"Mitchell? Ah, I always knew he had a thing for me. No company fraternizing must be hell on him."
"Can I give you a hand with your luggage?"
There was no luggage but I couldn't tell him that.
"I don't need a hand. I don't anything. I'm Milo March!" I grumbled all the way to the car. Something about this didn't add up. If the plane was empty, somebody didn't want me to land. Why the hell was I in this town, and who's this guy picking me up?
Before I could sort it out, I was knocked in the back of the head. The blackness was a nice distraction to all this confusion.
Slowly the blackness gave way to a dull ache. My entire body felt like it been thrown through an industrial meat-grinder. This was unusual: normally I can still taste booze. Judging from the acid to Base ratio of the foam collecting on my tongue, I hadn't had a drink in 12 hours, fifteen minutes. I knew I was in trouble. I slowly opened an eye and it was quickly closed by a fist.
"I think he's coming around, Chief."
"Good. Good. Hit him again, Dan"
There was a sickening crunch. I think it was my nose. I groaned.
"Uh one more, Dan. I think his pupils are dilating. Break his jaw. See if there's anyone home."
Another crunch. Another groan. I think my jaw shifted to my right ear. This wouldn't look good when I returned to the office. An Insurance Investigator like me has to watch for his reputation.
"Buy a fella a drink if you're gonna' treat him nice" I belched.
"Damn you, March!"
Dan, the goon doing the punching took on a new hobby: kicking me in the testicles. He was good. But, so was I. The name's March. Milo March. I'd been to 'Nam, and I'd seen worse than these guys.
"Come on, Dan we want him to talk eventually."
"Ease up a minute, big fella'. Save some for the chief" I wheezed as Dan took a break.
They were a couple of Texan Cops, and as I caught my breath I figured that they'd been having a good time with me while I was out. If I hadn't had a drink in over 12 hours, I might have been out for days.
"You need a cigarette, March?" asked the Chief.
"I don't need a cigarette. I don't need anything. I'm Milo March." I burbled.
"That's the first coherent thing you've said in days, March. You gonna' tell us what you did to that girly?"
Dan leaned back against the desk and lit a cigarette. He blew a cloud of smoke into my face.
"Girly?" I coughed. "That's a terrible thing to call your wife. Doesn't she prefer it when you call her "Madame" Or maybe, she'd just like it if you call her at all. I know she loves it when I do. On the phone. You know. Late at night. When you're at work."
I grimaced as Dan leaned forward and put his cigarette out on my forehead.
"Smart? Bet you feel real smart now, huh?" the Chief asked, as he grabbed Dan's hand and pulled him back.
"Ok, March. Quit messing around. You're in some serious trouble. Why did you come to Dallas?"
"Jane Velvet. Car accident. Whiplash. I'm an Insurance Investigator. The name's March. Milo-"
"Yeah, March. We know. She's dead. She turned up blue in the river. Strangled." The Chief sat behind his desk and pulled a clipboard from his drawer.
If the girl was dead, what was I gonna' do in Dallas? Would I still get paid? Who was going to collect her insurance? This was big news. I wondered where the nearest bar was. Then, I remembered the bit about "trouble" and "me".
"Here it is March," the Chief politely summarized the plot, and cleared up some of the fog which perpetually seemed to cling to my mind.
"Jimmy the Fish saw you leave the Flamingo's Toes with his dame almost a month ago. Your boss hasn't seen you in weeks and you show up in a parking lot with no pants on shouting at a group of seniors. There's blood on your hands and you won't let anyone take the bottle of mouthwash from you. Jimmy the Fish's girl is missing, Jane Velvet, the dame you came here to investigate is dead, and you can't account for your whereabouts for the last three weeks. You wanna' explain that? Mr. The Fish wants you Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered. Give me a reason not to. I'm begging you, March. I'm on my knees here"
"Yeah well, while you're down there, I got an Itch you can scratch. Bleaghghghahahahaha."
A gun barrel came down and it was lights out.
Smelling salts. Nasty way to wake up. I started swinging.
The old soldier instincts kicked in and I took out a guy dressed like a doctor.
"Who are you working for?" I screamed.
"The hospital, Mr. March! Please I'm your Doctor. The cops brought you in. You've been unconscious for almost "
I didn't let him finish his sentence. Or his day. His neck broke like the seal on a bottle of V.O.
That gave me an idea.
All I could find were tongue depressors and rubbing alcohol. They'd have to do. I put the pieces together.
I was in a hospital. My chart said that I'd been unconscious for some time. Fools. Dropping consciousness was an old trick I'd learned back in 'Nam.
I stripped the "doctor" and donned his outfit. Checking myself in the mirror, I remembered my brief stint at medical school. Dad was always disappointed.but five years was too long to wait just to write yourself prescriptions.
The name's March. Milo March. I'm an insurance investigator. I was in Dallas on a case that had turned up blue in the river. Unless I was careful, so would I. Someone wanted me dead. But I had decided long ago that the bottle was going to be my end.
I stepped outside my room and was stopped by a cop in the hall.
"March? What the hell are you doing in that outfit? Where's the doctor?"
I jammed the stethoscope down his throat, kicked him in the nuts and he dropped like a sailor's shorts on shore leave in Saigon. The disguise had worked.
I bolted down the hall and into the stairwell. Ten flights later I found the last place they'd look for me: the Morgue.
Browsing among the bodies I found a toe-tag that rang a bell somewhere in the space above my shoulders and between my ears. Just below my scalp. You get the idea.
That was the dame I was sent to Dallas to check out. So, it was true. She was dead. I decided to take a look for myself.
Things took a turn when I lifted up the sheet. Instead of a stranger with whiplash, I saw the dame I had picked up at the Flamingo's Toes back in Chapter One.
Something didn't add up. I reached for the nearest bottle.
Three swigs later, I remembered my medical training. This "formaldehyde" was supposed to kill a man. Fortunately, I was already dead inside. I finished it up and reached for another.
The room started to spin, and so did I. I was giggling like a little girl and the shock of the last ten minutes faded like a bad smell.
Suddenly I could hear the voice of my father.
"Milo Milo you should have stayed in school. Take the garbage out. How much is that damn thing going to cost me?"
The hallucinations continued as I heard the voice of my boss, Mitchell. "Whiplash, March. Jane Velvet. Dallas."
Ignoring these hallucinations, I reached for the sheet to pull it back over Jane's face, when she reached up and grabbed my hand. Her eyes popped open like a six-pack on a Friday night.
I stopped giggling and screamed like I'd just wet myself. I had.
The dead girl started talking.
"There are more plastic Flamingos in America than real ones. My sister sleeps with the Fishes."
"She ain't the only one, darlin' "
"It's impossible to get whiplash on a tractor in Boise, March."
"Have you considered"
Dead men tell no tales, but Dead dames talk all night. I decided to get comfortable while she went on. An empty gurney next to her provided me with just the place. I put my old trick from Viet Nam into use, and passed out.
When you've been an Insurance Investigator for as long as I have, you've been
buried alive on more than one occasion. I could recognize the sound of dirt on
coffin in my sleep. In fact, I just had.
I knew I had limited oxygen in this casket, and that meant limited time. I felt around in my pockets and found a pack of matches. My three or four remaining taste buds told me that I had been sucking back formaldehyde. It would have to do. I sparked a match and the air went up like a prom-dress on grad night.
I'd had my tweed flame-retarded years ago during The Case of The Sloppy Snicker. I kicked the lid off the flaming coffin and grabbed the kid doing the shoveling. He squirmed, but I held on and threw him to the ground.
"You're not gonna' get nothing out of me, March. I can take you shot for shot."
I took the challenge. Booze and info that's how we do it in my line.
The bar was a dive, even for Dallas. All that mattered was that they had V.O. This kid wanted to take me on, and I was ready. I threw him into a chair.
"You're in trouble, March."
"Triples, eh? Nice idea, kid."
I waved the barkeep over and placed the order. He wasn't giving me anything I could use. It seemed like all he wanted to do was order drinks. I liked him. I hadn't liked a punk since the Case of the Chunky Chortle. We finished the first round.
"You found out more than you should, March. That's why they're trying ta kill ya'"
"Tequila, huh? Sure if that's what it'll take to get something from you."
Two shots of Gold and I could have sworn he'd be ready to talk. He was good.
"I'm telling you, Jimmy the Fish is working for another guy "
"No, you idiot. Aren't you listening to me? What are you, dumb?"
I'd never mixed Rye and Rum. You learn something new every day.
"Thanks, kid. This is gonna' be real enlightening."
We downed the gas and the kid continued.
"Look, March. I'm trying to tell you what you need to know. That girl Jane Velvet that you were sent here "
"Beer? If you say so."
I waved two lagers over and helped the kid with his.
"Velvet she's not just a twin."
Gin. The old standard. A nice prequel to what the kid ordered next. I had to do a little active interpretation as the kid was slurring, but it sounded good to me.
"They're gonna' put pain on your tail. It's gonna' get bloody, March. They're all workin' for some guy named Boss Caesar from Manhattan. For some reason he's committed making a mockery of you. Wants to put the screws to you, that's why he sent the driver to the airport and the plane but he blew the job. Big Caesar wants your head in a vice, stamped return to sender."
I placed the order: Champagne Cocktails, Bloody Mary's, Caesars, Manhattans, Daiquiris, Screwdrivers, Blowjobs, another Caesar on ice, and the whole thing in a blender. I hadn't drunk this combo since the Case of The Liquid Laugher. This kid was good, but so was I. The name's March. Mmmmmmmmmm..
I was hit with a wave of that disturbing and unfamiliar feeling again -
sobriety. I studied my surroundings as best I could; my vision wasn't one
hundred percent yet. Then again, was it ever?
It was definitely a train I was on, though I was standing in a baggage car rummaging through what appeared to be a suitcase of women's delicates. Searching the case like the bottom of a glass of VO, I found what I could only assume I came looking for in the first place: a small, silver pistol. I slipped it into my tweed folds and moved back to the lounge car, searching for a cure for reality.
To where was this locomotive heading? Is this part of the case? Whose pistol had I just stolen? I decided not to ponder questions I couldn't answer anyway, gave the bartender a dirty look and knocked back a double I thought looked a little light.
Grabbing another, I stumbled back down the aisle like a cripple on a treadmill.
"What, am I not good enough for you now, Milo?" called a blonde from the end of the car. I didn't remember her, but that wasn't unusual.
"Were you ever?" I replied as I slipped into the seat across from her.
"Come on baby, give Misty a kiss." She leaned in and puckered her lips - I met them with the silver pistol, which I quickly assumed was hers.
"Oh please Milo, it doesn't have to be like this. They know you are coming to New York, they'll be waiting for you. They wanted me to take care of you, but, but, I just want to help you." She pleaded further, but I had a quick blackout and missed most of it.
When I shook myself back to consciousness her mouth was still moving.
"Shut it Misty, I'm thirsty and you're already finished." I took her arm and pushed her towards the back of the train, stopping for a quick hit of vodka to clear my head. "You're gonna' fill in some blanks for me."
We stopped in-between cars. She was trembling with fear so I gave her a hit from a flask I found in my jacket. Smelled strong. Her composure reappeared.
"I'm sorry I lied, Milo. But they don't just want you dead, they want you disgraced. And they are willing to pay a lot to see it happen. Jimmy and.." She seized up and fell to the floor.
Looks like the flask was tainted. I put it back in pocket for later (it would need some mix). Her body was firm, I wonder if I had slept with her. I considered taking a look under the sheets, but instead just rolled her into a toilet and hit the lounge.
My head was pounding and confusion was setting in. I leaned against the bar and ordered one of everything. It was going to be a long ride to New York.
March. Milo March. He was exactly as I'd pictured him. Cold. Clammy. And
hanging upside down by his ankles from a window over a busy New York Street. It
was only the best insurance Investigators who found themselves in that kind of
position and could still take a swig from a shoulder-flask. Impressive. That
kind of skill was rare.
The rush of blood and booze to his head made his body shake, and he managed to kick Chico in the face.
"Christ! You idiot! Don't! I'll drop you! You gotta' calm down!"
Chico, the goon doing the holding adjusted his grip and we heard March shout up.
"I don't need to calm down! I don't need anything! I'm Milo March!"
A voice from the shadows spoke up.
"Hey, Valetgive Chico a hand."
I snuffed out my Peruvian and slid over to the window and helped Chico haul him into the room. March was a drunken fool who coughed up blood when he exerted himself. I liked him more and more. He reminded me of someone.
"What the hell do you guys want?" shouted March, as he caught his breath and slumped onto the hotel bed. "And, who's the punk in the shadows?"
"You're a dead man, March. Your body just doesn't know it yet. You've put your stain on the wrong girl."
My employer didn't step into the light and March squinted to try and get a look. He poured himself a strong triple and shot it back. I wondered why he even bothered with a glass. I picked up my Manhattan from the dresser and lit a Cuban.
"The wrong girl, eh?" wheezed March, as he burped up V.O. onto his shirt and wiped it away with his hand. "Which girl are we speaking of?"
It was almost impossible to decipher his speech. There was too much booze mixed in. March started grunting and spinning around in circles. I don't know what he was trying to do, but it worked. Chico was drawn right in. March picked him up like a rag-doll and threw him out the window. Then, he snarled like a caged monkey and came after me with the butt end of the V.O.
"For God's sake, March that thing's not empty! You're spilling everywhere!"
March stopped himself short and realized his mistake. He licked at his arm where the booze had spilled.
I helped him out.
I considered our situation. Two grown men licking booze off themselves while the bottle still had at least a shot left in it. He grunted, looked me in the eyes and smiled.
"Ah, you like me, eh?"
The smell of his breath from this close was like going home. I could have lit it. It reminded me of Mom.
"Let's just say that I have an appreciation for the finer things in life," I replied.
"Who you working for? Who's the guy in the shadows?"
We both turned, but my employer had slipped out while March was going berserk on Chico.
"Mitchell," I groaned.
"Ahco-worker, eh?" He poured out the rest of the bottle and opened a fresh one. "And what's your name, friend?"
"Valet. Jack Valet. We were supposed to hurt you good, and Mitchell wanted to see it happen. It's lucky he doesn't want you dead yet, or Chico would have let you go. You must know something he needs."
"Well he just ditched out on us, Valet. Guess that means we're both freelancing now"
"Better be careful Mitchell will send someone else."
We blasted through the bottle and March fell to the floor. His eyelashes started to flutter and his hands were clawing at the air. I slapped his face until he woke up.
"Thanks, Valet. I probably shouldn't go out today. Think I need to take care of myself."
We ordered up another bottle and checked out late the next day. Taking care of March was like a holiday. This was the start of something beautiful.
There was a grunt from beside me and I felt a heavy head on my shoulder. I
threw out an elbow and there was a sickening crunch as cartilage gave way. The
body leaning against me responded with a reflex punch. I was winded and opened
my eyes. The guy leaning on me was March. Milo March. All I could see was white.
We were on a chair lift over a ski hill.
"March it's me!" I gasped as he threw another swing at me like a High School Principal at a Teacher's Convention. "It's Valet. Jack Valet. We're together on this thing, right?"
March opened an eye and glared at me like a Judge on a barstool.
"Valet? Where did you park my car?
"No, March. We're investigating our Boss, Mitchell."
"Oh, well the goons at the top of the hill will have something to say about that."
March gestured to the top of the chair lift where six or twelve guys were standing. (I usually saw double.)
"They're armed, Valet. What are the odds?"
March moaned as he looked at himself. We were both in ski-gear.
"Do I ski?" He spat, trying to gain sensation in his nose, which had started to bleed like a stuck pig. I pushed the safety bar up and grabbed his arm.
"I hope you didn't fill up on breakfast, 'cuz lunch is comin' up!" I shouted as I pulled him after me. We dropped the forty feet to the hillside. March landed beside me like the dessert tray at an all-night buffet. We looked up and saw the goons at the top of the hill start down after us. March and I were backwards and shrieking like a pair of Orangutans at a monkey-shaving contest .
March's soldier instincts must have kicked in as he picked me up and placed me on his shoulders. "I don't know who the hell you are kid, but I'm savin' your ass!"
I reminded him. "I'm Valet, Jack Valet. I saved your life in New York. We're trying to find our boss Mitchell he double crossed us both March. Jesus."
"Sure. I remember something about New York. Maybe I remember something about a guy named Mitchell "
He was cut short as a bullet whizzed by our heads like a sneeze in a Monastery.
"Hold on kid! This is a little trick I learned in Nam." March suddenly turned his ski's into the trees. He was dodging branches and evading stumps like an epileptic in a tack factory.
I looked behind me and saw goons smashing into trees like a flock of horny teenagers at a hot dog stand.
In a matter of minutes we were in the pub drinking double V.O.'s and March asked me for the eleventh time, "Alright, who the hell are you kid?"
"Valet! What is it that you know that Mitchell needs? You'd better fork it over March, or we'll both be dead."
"You call it making love, but I call it permutations and combinations." He smiled as if he knew something. Period.
"You and Mitchell's girl had something going on?"
"If I can find my wallet, I think there's pictures of the unusual proceedings" he said, slapping at his clothes like a Fireman in a playschool.
There was a ruckus from the corner of the room. Two bearded men had been consuming copious amounts of liquor since we arrived and had chosen this moment to negotiate their bill. March and I shared a moment of admiration. The shorter of the bearded guys was making a grab for the waitress when I was hit from behind and knocked from my stool. It was one of the men we had left in the trees on the ski hill.
He threw a punch which slid off my ear like a greased Bishop in a Movie-house and pulled a gun. The goon turned and fired a round into March's chest. March was thrown back into the two bearded men who were trying to get change for a hundred at the bar.
"You son of a bitch!" I yelled and lay into the bastard with the gun. I got my own piece out and fired six rounds into his face at close range. Perhaps it was a bit much.
"Come on, March. We gotta' get out of here."
"You need a place to go?" slurred the shorter of the bearded beasts who was helping March to his feet. "My folks got a place not far from here."
March kissed him smack on the face and looked down at his bloody torso. He wheezed.
I asked the boys if they had medical facilities at their house. The taller one said, "We got V.O."
It might not save his body, but his soul would be fine.
We hauled ourselves down to the car like a sideshow troupe on parade.
"Who are you guys?" March asked.
The shorter one said, "I'm the Professor. This is Mr. Sanchez."
Sanchez opened the door and March and I crawled into the back of the Cavalier. A haze came over us and we were knocked out quicker than a Narc at a Biker rally.
Lucidity. Tasted strange to me. I knew my name was Jack Valet. I knew I was
investigating my Boss, Mitchell with my doppelganger, Milo March. I knew I was
inebriated and I was in a cabin in the woods of B.C. This much I had figured
out. Who were these strange young bearded men and what where they doing to my
partner, March? They had him in a full body tensor bandage and were pouring
drinks down his throat. He seemed to enjoy it. I decided that consciousness
wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I slugged back the Gin in my flask and
promptly passed out.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A bowling alley. The Valley Alley. I had just hit my head, causing a moment of clarity. March was throwing balls down the lane and screaming something in Portuguese. I didn't know he spoke Portuguese. You learn something new everyday about that guy. Sanchez was spinning something called "The Turkey Wheel" and I could see the Professor at the end of the lane knocking pins down with his head. I pounded back my beer and blacked out.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Fifteen ski-coaches and March was taking them all on in a frenzy of boozing. Three of them were out cold, and there was only one who was truly keeping up. He had blondish hair and a giant beard that matched those of the Professor and Sanchez. A truly monumental Wattle. I didn't have time to get his name as he and March were going shot for shot from a bottle of Absinthe. Sanchez and the Professor kept pouring me drinks and apparently we were playing a card game. I held five aces - was this legal? Someone yelled "Skip-Bo" and I replied with a belch. Jesus was being discussed, and I wondered if these boys were religious. They said, "You bet, we're religious. Care to worship at the alter?" A green haze came next
* * * * * * * * * * *
I was slung over March's shoulder and he was moving at full tilt toward a Cavalier.
"I did it, Valet. I killed them all. It was the only way out of there. As soon as the ski coaches were gone and when the skinny bald guy showed up, they had to die. They were keeping you hopped up on something. Get in the car we're going to Boise."
"Boise? March what the hell are you talking about?"
He hit me over the head, and the last words I heard before the blackness took hold were, "I got it all figured out, Valet. I'm Milo March."
The last thing I remember was being on a train with a dame named Misty. I must have had some adventures since then because I was now covered up to my stomach in Straw. I looked up into the dusty old barn. As far as I could see it was empty. But then, my vision was never that good. The name's March. Milo March. There was a groan from beside me.
"God, March where are we now?"
The kid looked tough. I slugged him in the lip.
"March it's me! It's Valet! Jack Valet! What the hell's wrong with you?"
I shook my head for some remembrance of a Jack Valet. There was nothing. I swung again, and it registered that I had a fresh chest wound. Where had that come from?
Before I could answer, the kid leapt on me and wrestled me onto my back.
"Quit screwing around, March! You'll bust your stitches! Hold still! Quit screaming!"
He rolled me over and pointed a finger to the dead body beside me.
"What the?" I wheezed as I rolled the corpse onto its back.
"The Fish. That's the fish." The kid said. He pulled my hands back from rummaging through the man's pockets.
"Sure smells like a dead herring, "
"No, March. It's Jimmy the Fish. Don't you remember? "
I looked down at the body. There was a corkscrew jammed into his jugular vein. I recognized it as my own and admired the workmanship. It takes real skill to get that kind of result.
"You're crazier than a shit-house rat, March" the kid wheezed.
I looked him in the face. I realized the kid was shaking with something that looked like fear. Was this directed at me?
The barn-door was kicked open and a huge menacing mountain of a man in overalls and a bowler hat, smoking a cigar, and carrying a can of gasoline, wheezed and heaved his way inside the barn.
"Who the hell are you, cowboy?" I called to the grizzled manatee in front of me. He kicked me in the teeth. I responded by spitting them right back at him.
"Boss Caesar, March. But of course, you wouldn't remember that, would you?"
The Orca-man pulled the cap off the gasoline and started slopping it around on the dry straw. He inched his way toward the barn doors.
"Your little good time spree ends here."
He tossed his cigar over his shoulder as he stepped outside and closed the doors behind him. I heard a bolt dropping into place from the outside. Smoke immediately started to billow from the burning straw. Yet again, I find myself in an inferno. It was getting chilly anyway.
"Jesus, March it's getting hard to breath. We better get out of here "
"Wait a minute, Kid. He's got the exits blocked. We better think about this."
I pulled my flask out and took a swig. The kid joined me. As the smoke filled my lungs and I began to pass out, I could have sworn I heard my boss, Mitchell's voice.
"MarchMarchI'll get youI'll get you for this"
“I’ll get you for this, March – “
I came to and opened my eyes. Through the smoke of a burning building I could see my boss, Mitchell, skewered on a pitchfork and blood pouring from his body.
I crawled over and wheezed into his face.
“Mitchell. Who did this to you? What’s going on in here? Do you want me to investigate? I’ve just about solved the Jane Velvet case – “
“March – you son of a bitch – you’re the worst Insurance Investigator I’ve ever – “
I saw red. Then, I saw Mitchell. I put the two together and twisted the pitchfork.
It was the last thing the man ever said. What had come over me? Who was going to sign my cheque?
“March – March – we gotta’ get out of here”
Who the hell was that? Some kid laying in the straw. I kicked him. Hard.
“March! It’s me! It’s Jack Valet! We’re going to die in this barn if we don’t get out!”
“No problem, Kid. This suit’s flame retardant. Don’t get any funny ideas, though. There’s only room in here for me.”
“You sadistic bastard. I was trying to help you.”
“I’m an Insurance Investigator. The name’s March…Milo March.”
“I know – and listen – “
I fired a round into his shoulder. Nice wound. That’ll hurt. Flesh wound. A good bleeder. I stood back and watched the kid lose the colour in his cheeks. If the gunshot didn’t kill him – the flames in this barn would. But, to be sure – another two rounds. One in each knee cap.
As he lay there in an Olympic-sized pool of his own fluids, he managed to hiss:
“It was you, March. It was you all along. You killed Boss Caesar’s daughters – “
“Daughters? I don’t know what you’re talking about – “
“The singer at the Flamingo’s Toes and Jane Velvet – they were twins. You killed them both.”
“Twins. I had no idea. Sounds intriguing”
“They’re dead, March. You’ve been on a three month killing spree! You killed the entire flight crew on your way to Dallas. You killed the driver sent to pick you up. Two Texan cops, a bus-load of seniors, a doctor and two morticians at Dallas General, and Boss Caesar’s girl, Misty. You threw Chico out the window. The Professor, Mr. Sanchez, The entire Panorama Ski Team, Jimmy the Fish, and now – Mitchell. You killed them all.”
God. I had no recollection of any of this. The kid kept talking. I kept trying to remember a single one of the faces he had described. Blank. I couldn’t see anything through all this smoke.
“I was trying to help you, March. Everyone was. We couldn’t get to you to stop you. You kept on killing.”
“Why were you trying to help me?”
The kid’s eyes were going glassy.
“I…I’m…I’m your son…don’t you remember? We just found out - ”
“Son? I don’t need a son. I don’t need anything. I’m Milo March.”
A familiar feeling came over me.
“Besides, kid. You’re little list is missing one person.”
I filled his glassy eyes with lead.
“Consider the list complete.”
When the cops went through the ashes of the Barn in Boise they found the charred remains of Jimmy the Fish, my boss Mitchell, and my son Jack Valet. What they didn’t find was one flame-retardant tweed suit. Because you can’t find a needle in a haystack, and you can never find a Tweed too Tight.
Look for more of the continuing adventures of Milo March this summer at www.monstertheatre.com