Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Body Count part 2 (Joe Hannibal) by Wayne Dundee

Here's the concluding part of the Joe Hannibal short story by Wayne Dundee...

I picked Myra up around seven and took her out for supper at a little steak house I frequent. Over two of the best sirloins in Rockford, I reported on my afternoon’s activities and then worked my way into some other things I had on my mind.
“A couple things have been bugging me,” I said. “For one, it’s obvious Mardix has had you under pretty close surveil¬lance ever since he swore he wouldn’t allow another man to touch you. Any idea why you were able to give him the slip this morning?”
She shook her head. “No. I never really thought about it.”
“Then it wasn’t anything you did intentionally. Did you change your regular routine in some way?”
“Well, sure. I went to meet you. Otherwise, I’m almost never up before noon.”
I nodded. “Okay, it’s probably as simple as that. He has to sleep and eat just like everybody else, and he’d have been doing it to fit your schedule. You changed your routine and threw him off.”
“What else? You said a couple things.”
“Any idea what made him fall so hard for you, become so possessive in the first place?”
She shrugged. “Because I helped him over his sexual hang-ups, I guess. When he first came to me, he had a lot of problems. It’s not uncommon for guys like that to fall in love with a hooker who has the patience and expertise to help them in ways a straight chick can’t—or won’t.”
“Sort of like falling in love with your psychiatrist or a doctor who’s saved your life.”
“You make it sound corny but, yeah, something like that.”
“Was he over his hang-ups completely, or just with you?”
“I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I’d say just with me.” Her mouth curved in a dubious little smile. “Is all this really necessary or are you being a teeny bit voyeuristic?”
I shook my head. “I’m just trying to get a feel for the guy, that’s all. We know so damn little about him. Where does he live? What does he do? Hell, Earl Mardix apparently isn’t even his real name. There’s no phone listing, published or private, for anyone by that name. And from what Mrs. Renman said it sounds as if her husband met him at a car dealership, yet there’s no vehicle registration or city sticker issued to a Mardix. The judge sure as hell hit it on the head when he called him a man of mystery.”
“There’s one thing that might help.”
“What’s that?”
“I think he was in the war. You know, Vietnam. He had a bad dream one night, and he called out some things in his sleep. I couldn’t make sense of what he said, but there were a lot of Asian-sounding names and phrases, you know? When I tried to ask him about it later, he got really uptight.”
I made a mental note to pass that bit of info along to the judge. It could be another angle for him to have checked.
“I’ll take you back to the St. George when we’re finished here,” I told Myra, “and then I’m going to spend the night at your place.”
“What on earth for?”
“If we’re right, if your change-up maneuver is what gave Mardix the slip this morning, then by now he’s got to know he lost you. It’s a safe bet that that will have him riled. With any luck it could rattle him enough to make him do something dumb. Like maybe break into your apartment and try to find some clue as to where you went.”
“And you’ll be there waiting for him?”
“Won’t that be dangerous for you?”
“Could be. But if I play it right, it’ll be a lot more dangerous for him.”
We finished our meal, passed on dessert, and I drove her back to the St. George. On the way she asked me to stop somewhere so she could pick up some overnight things.
When I turned into a K Mart, she commented dryly: “Gee, Hannibal, you take me to all the finest places.” I saw her to her room, and as we stood facing each other in the doorway, I was again acutely aware of her raw sexuality. I fantasized briefly about saying to hell with Earl Mardix, sweeping her up in my arms, carrying her into the room, and hanging out the “Do Not Disturb” sign for the rest of the week.
Instead I settled for a quick peck on the cheek from her and a huskily whispered, “For luck.”
Myra Caine’s apartment was on the third floor of a luxury condo just off East State. I went up the back way from the parking garage and used every trick I know to make sure I wasn’t observed. It was a little before nine when I let myself in.
I locked the door behind me and left the lights off. Guided by the thin beam of a pencil flash, I made a tour of the apartment, familiarizing myself with the layout. She lived very well. Elegance without extravagance.
By half past nine I was ready to take up my post. Early in my tour I’d noted the doors to a large walk-in closet just off the living room and had decided on that as a likely spot. It was centrally located without being readily visible to anyone entering the apartment. I plucked a couple sofa pillows from the couch and carried them over along with the thermos of coffee I’d brought. I slid the doors open.
He exploded out of the closet with a nerve-freezing combat cry. He threw three lightning kicks to my chest, knocking me back, then a fourth wiped my legs out from under me. I crashed down across the end of the couch. I rolled, trying to escape his stamping feet. An end table got in the way, and I turned it into splinters. His face was just a blur in the darkness, but I knew it had to be Mardix. The sneaky sonofabitch had gotten in ahead of me somehow and had lain in hiding all the while I was prowling. I could hear his grunts of effort and feel the breeze as his heels whistled past my face in near misses.
I managed to get my knees under me, then my feet, and lunged up into him. We bounced off the wall in a clinch. I tried to throw a knee into his groin, but he blocked it with his hip. He head-butted me in the face and jerked away. I swung a roundhouse right that hit nothing but air.
I lost him in the dark. I stood in the center of the room with fists balled and eyes watering from the head butt, and the only thing I could hear was the puff of my own labored breathing. I felt as if I were fighting a goddamn shadow.
And then he was behind me. The bloodcurdling cry again, and in the same instant a length of piano wire slipped down over my face and bit into my throat. He slammed a foot against the nape of my neck and pulled into it. I bridged and thrust back like a man hit by high voltage, but he moved expertly with me, never lessening the pressure. I sank to my knees with a strange sound filling my ears. I realized it was a roar of pain and rage and panic trying to escape from deep inside me.
I had only seconds before the piano wire did its trick. It was already embedded so deeply in my flesh that I could barely feel it with my clawing fingertips. I reached for the .45, but my hand found nothing but an empty holster. The big gun had fallen out sometime during the struggle. And the derringer was out of reach now with my legs pinned under Mardix as he rode me down. I sagged forward. My head felt ready to explode, and my throat burned like fire as the wire bit deeper and deeper.
On the carpet just ahead of me something glinted dully in the almost nonexistent light. My thermos. The one I’d brought along, filled with coffee to keep me awake through what might have turned out to be a long, uneventful night. I reached out and gripped it with rubbery fingers, slipping my right hand through the plastic handle. I had time enough and strength enough for one attempt. If it failed, I’d never get another chance.
I whipped the metal-cased cylinder up over my head, then back and down. I heard the sharp crack of metal striking flesh and bone and felt the shock of the impact vibrate through my wrist. Mardix emitted a different kind of cry this time as he released his grip on the wire ends and toppled off my back. I fell forward, flames flooding down through my chest as I sucked in great mouthfuls of air. I tore away the wire and spun to face him. We were both on our hands and knees. Dark blood ran down over his left eye, and he was poised catlike, as if ready to pounce on me. I lashed out with the thermos again. His reflexes were still good, and I managed only to graze the top of his head. I belly-flopped with the effort. He rolled away, scrambled to his feet, fumbled for a moment with the door lock, then ran out. Bright light poured in from the hallway, stinging my eyes as I lay there and listened to the sound of his retreat.
I hauled myself up, relocked the door, turned on every light I could get my hands on. I found the .45 amidst the rubble of the destroyed end table. I sat for a long time with it resting in my lap while I caught my breath and gently rubbed my scraped, bleeding throat.
It was well past ten when I killed the lights and quit the apartment. I walked down to the parking garage with my hands thrust deep in my jacket pockets, the right one firmly gripping the .45. I felt restless and angry. Angry with myself. I’d had Mardix right in my hands and let him get away. Damn it all. But at the same time a part of me was in no hurry to meet up with him again. Twice I jumped at shadows and silently cursed my skittishness.
The city was a kaleidoscope of rain-blurred neon, with cars hissing across the shiny pavement like darting reptiles. I drove without knowing exactly where I wanted to go, until, abruptly it seemed, I found myself in front of the St. George. I parked and went in with my collar flipped up to hide my bloodied throat. I called Myra’s room from the lobby to let her know I was coming up.
She was waiting for me in her doorway, wrapped in a powder-blue quilted robe. She hadn’t been to sleep yet, but her hair was pinned up and her only makeup was a touch of fresh lipstick. She looked more gorgeous than ever. I told her what had happened, coloring my narrative with plenty of four-lettered adjectives. When she saw my throat, she called down to the desk for a first-aid kit and, at my insistence, a bottle of bourbon.
When they arrived, I belted down some of the whiskey while Myra played Florence Nightingale. I don’t know exactly how what happened next came about, or even who made the first move. It wasn’t what I had gone there for. Or maybe, on some subconscious level, it was. I don’t know. But suddenly I had her in my arms. The robe slipped away, and beneath it she was even more splendid than I’d imagined. We fell back across the bed and, for a frenzied span of time, lost ourselves in each other and the immediate needs of our flesh.
“What was that?” Myra said afterward. “Reaffirmation of life after nearly dying in that dark apartment?”
“It was just sex,” I replied. “No need to read anything more into it.”
“Well, it doesn’t seem to have cheered you up a whole hell of a lot.”
I sat on the edge of the bed and reached for a cigarette. “That sonofabitch is still out there somewhere,” I said. “I know next to nothing about him, and the one chance I had to get my hands on him, I blew. I’m not likely to get real cheery until I rectify some of that.”
“That reminds me,” Myra said, sitting up behind me. “The judge called just after you left. He said he’d learned some things about Mardix that you should know. I explained to him that you’d be at my apartment with the phone switched off, so he said if I heard from you before he did, to have you get in touch with him right away.”
I smoked my cigarette. The restlessness and anger hadn’t abated much, not even with the help of booze and sex. The latter, in fact, had added a twinge of guilt to my already tangled emotions. I knew I wasn’t ready for sleep.
I got up and walked over to the phone, dialed Hugh Farrow’s number. A busy signal burped in my ear. I tried four more times in the next twenty minutes with the same results. A nagging fear crawled through me. It was past midnight, hardly the hour for lengthy phone conversations. I began pulling on my clothes.
“Where are you going?” Myra wanted to know.
“Out,” I told her. “Keep the lights low and stay away from the windows. Lock the door when I leave, and don’t open it for anyone but me.”
I pulled the derringer from my boot and handed it to her. Her eyes flicked down to the weapon, then back up, wide with uncertainty and a trace of fear.
I said, “Mardix is running scared now, maybe completely out of control. At best, there’s a fine line between love and hate. There’s a good chance he’s crossed that line, and that means his obsession for you may have changed from lust to fury.”
“You mean he blames me for the trouble he’s in?”
“I’ve seen it happen that way.”
“I’ll wake Grissom and put him right outside the door. I’ll be back as quick as I can. Try to relax, but remember everything I said.”

It was a twenty-minute drive from the St. George to North Park. I spotted the Farrow house from six blocks away. Every light in it was on.
I slammed the old Mustang to a halt in the middle of the driveway, left it rocking back and forth on worn springs with headlights still on and the door hanging open as I raced through the stinging rain up to the front door. I went in with the .45 in my fist.
There was blood on the walls of the front hall, and Bottin lay at the foot of the open stairway with his throat slit open like a second mouth. He was beyond help. I leaped over him and went bounding up the stairs.
I found the judge in his bedroom, on the bed, feet and hands lashed to the cornerposts with torn strips of sheeting. His chest was a crisscross of black and red welts, and I could smell the burned flesh. A poker from the smoldering fire¬place lay nearby on a patch of singed carpet.
He rolled his head and looked up at me through pain-dulled eyes. “Jesus Christ, Joe,” he said hoarsely. “Jesus Christ.”
I knelt at the edge of the bed and began untying his hands. “Easy, old buddy,” I said. “Everything’s going to be okay. Don’t try to talk.”
But he had things he wanted me to know. “His real name is Evan Maddox,” he said. “He was a Special Forces war hero in Vietnam. He was part of an elite penetration team that specialized in assassination and subversive tactics behind enemy lines. He became an artist with silent weapons— garrote, knife, bow and arrow, bare hands, you name it. They thought they had him deprogrammed after the war and sent him home to his family in Michigan. Everything went okay for a few years, but then something snapped in the winter of 1980. He killed his parents and wife of six months and three neighbors before fleeing in a stolen car. The Army formed a special team to track him down. They came close a few times but never could close the lid. They learned he hired out for mercenary work, using aliases such as Earl Mardix. Nine months ago they lost all track of him. My inquiries came to their attention, and the team is on its way here now.”
“Swell,” I said. “They can take over this whole mess. Nobody’s better than those military boys when it comes to smoothing things over.”
The judge grabbed my sleeve. “You don’t understand. We can’t wait for them now.”
“Why not?”
“Don’t you see? Why do you think Mardix came here tonight and did this? He must have been following Myra when she first contacted me. After you spooked him at her place, he returned here and forced me to tell him where she is.”
“Damn!” I exploded.
“I tried to hold out, but I . . . I couldn’t.”
“Nobody can blame you for that. How long ago did he leave here?”
“I’m not sure. I think he left me for dead. I sort of . . . drifted in and out.”
“Listen, can you hang on long enough to make a phone call?”
“Damn right I can.”
“Call Bill Grissom at the St. George; he’s the house dick there. Tell him what’s coming down. Tell him to get Myra out of there if he can. Then call the cops and anybody else you can think of. I’m on my way, and I’ll take all the help I can get!”

On the return trip, I cut my previous time in half. The Mustang’s half-bald tires wouldn’t grip the rain-slick pave¬ment, and the front end jumped the curb in front of the St. George before the brakes held. I bailed out, repeating my door-left-open-and-lights-on routine, plunged into the lobby with the .45 drawn and ready.
The desk clerk was sprawled half in, half out of his chair with his neck twisted in an impossible way. Déjà vu. I pounded up the stairs and down the second-floor hall toward Myra’s room. Grissom lay on the floor outside the shattered door. An old revolver lay beside him and I could smell the stink of cordite, so at least he’d gotten off a shot. But it hadn’t done him much good. He was as dead as the plaster on the walls.
I went into the room with my heart thumping up in my throat. I was half afraid of what I would find and half afraid of what I wouldn’t.
Nothing. The room in shambles but nobody there.
And then I spotted the open window.
They were out there, on the flat, tar-papered roof that stretched out over the hotel’s single-storied dining and kitchen unit. Myra, naked except for satiny briefs, was backing up with the derringer, gripped in both hands, held at arm’s length in front of her. I could hear the repeated snap of the firing pin falling on an empty chamber. Mardix was moving slowly but relentlessly toward her. He seemed slightly unsteady on his feet. I guessed that at least one of those bullets—either from the derringer or from Grissom’s old revolver—had found its mark.
I went over the window sill and cat-footed across the roof, moving to a point where Myra was out of my line of fire.
Mardix was talking. The wind caught his words and tossed them around, but I could hear most of what he was saying.
“All I wanted was to love you,” he told Myra. “Do you know how long it’s been since I felt love? Why couldn’t you try to return it? . . . Why make me do those things?”
“Mardix!” I called out.
He spun to face me. I could see the crimson stains on the front of him now. He’d taken two slugs and was losing a lot of blood.
“She’s not the one who made you do those things,” I said. “You’re sick, you need help. It has to end right here. One way or another.”
“I shouldn’t have left you alive,” he snarled.
“Maybe not,” I replied evenly. “But I won’t make the same mistake. This is a .45 in my fist. Take a good look at it. One wrong move and it will blow you in half.”
I could hear the whine of sirens now, not far off. Mardix heard them, too. His eyes flicked around, scanning the rooftop.
“You don’t have a prayer,” I warned.
The eyes came back to me. And then he did a strange thing. He smiled. And in a flat, emotionless voice he said, “Yeah, I know.”
Even with two bullets in him, his speed and reflexes were incredible. His right hand blurred up, reaching behind his neck, and the arm snapped down in a throwing motion. I caught the glint of the blade as it whirled from his fingertips, and in the same instant I fired. I saw his body jerk and hurtle backward as if yanked by invisible wires before the knife thunked into my shoulder and spun me around.
I went to one knee with fiery pain boiling down across my back and through my left arm. My head swam, and for a minute I thought I was going to black out. Myra’s screams gave me something else to focus on, helped me cling to consciousness. When my head cleared, I stood up.
Mardix lay in a heap near the edge of the roof. I walked toward him with the knife handle jutting out ahead of me like the jib boom of a listing schooner. The .45 was still in my hand, and I kept it trained on him every step of the way. He’d nearly killed me twice this night; I half expected him to leap up and try again. But the gaping hole over his heart convinced me I had nothing more to fear from him. No one did.
Myra’s screams had deteriorated to ragged sobs. I put my good arm around her. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s over.”
We stood there leaning on each other until the cops arrived.


No comments: