Saturday, December 15, 2012

The ninth chapter of my new novel. Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome. 
Wayne C. Grantham


      The battered yellow-brown HumVee exited the San Diego storage garage, Mars driving. He’d taken a few minutes to take some money out of his safe and some gold and silver in a money belt “just in case.” He paid his storage rent for a few months in advance against the possibility that he could figure out a way to get the Olds across the border Wall.
He drove the HumVee out of the storage garage and left. He drove along the streets of downtown San Diego, into the Gaslamp District, and parked the HumVee in front of the building which contained Valerie MacDougal’s loft.
      He picked the security lock to get into the place, and was not terribly surprised that the crime scene tape had been pulled off the door and was hanging limply down to the floor. It could have been like that for many days, since no one would enter this hallway except to enter this apartment.
As soon as Mars opened the door, he saw that Valerie's loft had been trashed. It was almost unrecognizable as the one he and Regis had examined....only a couple of months ago. He paused and listened, his sidearm in his hand. Shortly, listening and hearing nothing, he realized he was alone in the apartment, and holstered his weapon. Furniture was turned over and torn apart. Knick-knacks and books were strewn about the floor. After scanning the room for anything interesting that might have been left behind, Mars stepped over the rubble and carefully made his way to the bedroom.
      The bedroom was torn up in similar fashion, with the bedding torn off and the mattress and box spring cut open; innards strewn about. The computer was gone and her clothing was torn up and tossed about the room.
      Mars pulled his sleeve back and entered instructions to his cuff. He aimed the cuff at various items in the room, and waved it up and down, side to side. As he neared a broken stereo receiver on the floor, the cuff beeped.
      Mars popped the back cover of the receiver open, to find a mini cd stuck to the inside of the case. He pressed a key in his cuff; a slot opened. He slid the disc halfway into the slot. Amid winking led's, the cd spun for a few moments and was ejected into Mars’ hand.
The screen on the cuff said, "Disc copied," then "Data sent." He pocketed the disc.
      Mars tapped in more commands. He punched in a number. A phone buzz was heard.
      There followed a click and a voice, “Hey.”
“Are you in the market for southern electronics?”
      “Who's askin'?”
      “You lost your contact,” Mars muttered. “I'm a contact.”
“I’ll need face time. Meet me at Waltzing Matilda on Fifth at eleven. You know it?”
      “I know the place. Eleven tonight.”
While the San Diego theater crowd was in the theaters, the dark mustard HumVee moved slowly along Fifth in heavy traffic. Cars were cruising, their drivers looking for what men look for at night. The sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians, going in and out of the many restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies. There was a lot of activity, with many small groups of friends clustered here and there. Some had money, others were trying to get maybe a little more than their share of it the easy way.
It was a warmer-than-usual summer evening, with a clear sky and no fog. Light jackets, or no jackets were the norm. Women took full advantage of the warm evening to show themselves off to, and maybe a little beyond, what modesty allowed.
Mars turned the HumVee onto the less busy J Street, then into a parking space on the curb. He got out and looked back at the HumVee he’d been driving. That had to be the ugliest-colored vehicle on earth, he thought. He turned and got lost in the sidewalk traffic.
      He stepped into an alcove under a carved wooden sign in the shape of Australia, on which was written, “Waltzing Matilda” bracketed by images of a pair of kangaroos. It was a fairly clean, upscale place, not smelling as badly of stale liquor as many, similar barrooms. The pub was hosting a moderate crowd, many of whom were lined up at the bar. Most of the rest were dancing jerkily to classic techno played by a bored, yet absurdly animated DJ at the side of the room, opposite the bar.
      Mars stopped the first cocktail waitress he saw. She was a buxom thirty-five or so, attractive but for too much makeup and too many tattoos. He waved a fifty in her face.
      “Booth in the back?” he shouted over the music.
      She took the fifty, stuffed it into an already well-filled bra. “Sure,” she said around a wad of chewing gum. “Follow me.”
Watching the waitress’ exaggerated hip movement, Mars couldn’t help a quiet chuckle, as he though of the phrase. “Walk this way.” She showed him a booth with a view toward the front door. “Name’s Linda,” she continued as he sat down. “What’ll you have?”
      “Iced Bushmills. A man'll be looking for me. Short blond hair. Forty or so.”
      As Linda walked away, with the same well-practiced, exaggerated hip motion, two rough-looking characters slid into the booth, a thin, wiry, much tattooed guy beside him; a sneering, unclean-looking young woman with several piercings opposite.
      “You the electronics man?” asked the punk, his foul breath following the sound of his reedy voice.
      “Yeah, I sell brain implants to morons.” Mars smiled sweetly. “You in the market?”
      The punk threw a shoulder, pinning Mars against the wall. The girl produced a straight razor.
      Mars looked at the girl. “Does beer leak out from the hole in your lip?”
      “We work for Willie,” she hissed. “He wants your resume.”
      “Then he can ask me.”
      The punk grabbed Mars' throat, banged his head against the back of the booth.
      “He wants us to get it.”
      Mars grabbed the girl’s wrist. “That’s just about enough from you two dipshits!” He pulled her arm, followed by the rest of her over the table, slashing Art's cheek with the razor, just under his eye and across the bridge of his nose. He broke the girl’s forearm as he threw an elbow into Art's throat. He shoved the gasping, bleeding Art onto the floor.
      “A little about my experience.” Mars sneered as he got up from the booth, giving the girl’s wrist a little twist as he released it. She gave a quiet squeal as she dropped the straight razor.
      “I guess Willie doesn’t want to see me after all,” he said as he turned toward the front door. Before he reached it, he found himself facing Linda, who put her hand on Mars’ bicep, stopping him. “Willie still wants to talk to you.”
“Funny way to show it,” he said sarcastically.
Linda guided Mars to a door behind the end of the bar. Mars drew the SISA as he opened the door.
      Linda left him as he passed through the doorway into a large card room with several tables, most of which had games in progress. Several of the poker players ducked under their tables as the saw Mars’ pistol held pointed upward. A bouncer approached Mars, his hands held clear of his body.
      “Excuse me, senor.” Said the bouncer; the biggest Latin he’d ever seen. “There will be no problems in this room, senor. You will not need your weapon,”
      Mars gazed about the room. Seeing nothing immediately threatening, he holstered his handgun. “Then it’ll be up to you to see that there are none.” He spotted Willie Hahn playing solitaire at a corner table. He followed the bouncer between the card tables to Willie’s location.
      Willie watched Mars approach, looked down to place a black jack on a red queen; looked up again as Mars reached his table.
He smiled one of those automobile salesman smiles. “You”
      Mars remained stoic. “That was a shitty welcome.”
Willie kicked out a chair. “Wanted to see how you react.”
“Well, ya little shit,” Mars growled as he lifted Hahn out of his chair by the necktie, upsetting the table, cards, drink and all. “I reacted on those two little turds of yours, and I can react on you, too.”
Mars dropped the necktie. Hahn fell back into his chair, barely keeping from going over on the floor.
“All right. I apologize.” He wheezed, loosening his tie around his throat. “Sit. Whaddya got that I need?”
      Mars spun the chair around and sat on it backward. The bouncer, who came up quickly, but not quickly enough, picked up the table and put it back into its place.
“You need a new welcoming committee, but I ain't got that,” Mars said. “One of the things I do have is a covert surveillance system. A lot better than the one you have now.”
A waitress placed a drink that looked like whisky on the table in front of Mars, which he ignored, and a replacement for the one that spilled. He skipped a small button across the table toward Willie, who slapped his palm down to stop it.
      “Stick the input button anywhere. As you see, it looks like the head of a Phillips screw. You put a few of ‘em around the room, they give you audio and video--very clean. I have....”
      “I got bugs up the ass,” Willie said. “Whaddya got that I don't have?”
      Mars chuckled. “Bugs up the ass? ‘Fraid I can’t help you with that.” He played with his glass, but didn’t pick it up. “You don't have this bug. Scatter three or four buttons high on a wall in the bar. Run the output through the software. You can zoom it in so that you can read the denomination of the money a guy's waving at the bartender. You control volume and magnification from your computer in your office with a joystick that comes with the package.”
      “Zoom? Directional control? Impressive, if true. Ok, what about the sound?”
“The bug picks up everything. The software can isolate a voice in a crowd. A Harley goes by in the street, you can isolate it and make it sound like it's in your office.”
      “You're bullshitting....”
      Mars interrupted. “Maybe you don't need this kind of resolution. I know I can interest Brinks; Pinkerton....”
      “Wait a minute! I'll hafta check. What’s it gonna cost? How do I get aholda you if I--“
“You have my number,” Mars continued to idly play with his drink. “A package that’ll fully cover the barroom here will cost $1,400,000.”
      “A lot of money.”
“In gold, at current market rates.”
“In gold! You’re kidding!” Willie said loudly. He lowered his voice as he noticed several card players turned to look. “Where am I gonna get a mil-four in gold?”
“C’mon Willie.” Mars said calmly. “If you really are that stupid, you don’t want to let your friends know it....”
      “If you don’t have more than that in your safe right now, I’ll be surprised.”
      Willie gave Mars a look. “Just how well do you know me, anyway? And how did you find it out?” He tensed as if to jump out of his chair. “And just who the fuck are you?”
      “I just know your type, Willie.” And a lot more than that, Mars thought, but he doesn’t need to know that.
      Mars got up. “I have some other stuff, but I thought you might like something like this. How about glasses that can magnify faraway objects like binoculars, but look like ordinary eyeglasses? Anyway, I gotta go. Give me a call.”
      “Wait! Can I get a demonstration?” Willie asked, examining the button closely. “I need to see how it works.”
      “Sure.” Mars took a liquid crystal screen, about 7 inches by ten, a little over an eighth of an inch thick, from inside his jacket and set it flat on the table.
      “Press the button onto the wall behind you. It’ll stick.”
      Mars touched “buttons” on the screen face, and it lit up with a panoramic view of the room. Sliding his finger in little patterns on the screen face, he was able to bring up the image of a card player about four tables away. He focused on the man’s poker hand: two aces and ten-four-deuce.
      “....And raise you fifty,” was heard coming out of the device.
      “Shit, that’s incredible!” Willie muttered as Mars maneuvered the image to show a hundred dollar bill peeking out of the waitress’ cleavage.
      Mars picked up the screen and stood abruptly, leaving Willie, still gaping with his mouth open, at the waitress across the room.
Minutes later, back in the driver’s seat of the HumVee, Mars worked with his cuff. Tuning in the pickup from the button he left with Willie, he listened to a conversation between Willie and the Governor.
“....And if that thing is anywhere as good as you say, I want to fill the state capital building with bugs. This’ll be too cool!”
“I’ll try and get ahold of the guy and make a deal.”
      “Try, my ass! Get him! And get me that system.”
      The phone clicked off. Mars smiled.
      “As I thought,” Mars muttered. “Straight to Sacramento.”

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