The Curse of Arroya’s Ghost
Story by Paul Lorello / Illustration by Toe Keen
Calibus Blaze jumped up among the crouching, coughing banquet-goers, hopped over the hanky-faced figure of Ambassador Twistle, and arrived at the prostrate form of Señora Presidente’s head bodyguard, Martinez, who lay wide-eyed and still, the deadly arrow sticking out of his bloodied, tuxedoed chest.
“Señora Arroya’s been taken!” someone shouted. It was impossible to tell who it was, as the hall was filled with the choking haze of several smoke bombs that had detonated just as the arrow struck home, and a masked figure threw a muscular arm around Señora Arroya’s neck and dragged her off the dais.
Blaze pulled the arrow out of the man’s heart and sniffed at the dripping projectile’s tip.
“Phyllobates horrendis,” he said, “otherwise known as the Brazilian Cupuaçu Tree Frog, otherwise known as Satan’s Canapé. Secretes enough poison to kill ten thousand Lithuanian lumberjacks.” He looked up and opposite the dead man’s body toward the rafters. “It came from way up there. Men, we’re dealing with rebels.”
“How can you tell?” said Ambassador Twistle, a balding little cornflake of a man and Brumosa’s liaison to Washington.
Blaze stood up so that he was nose to nose with the Ambassador. “The Brazilian Cupuaçu tree flourishes in two places: Brazil, of course, and Brumosa. Seeing as how we’re in Jacynthe, El Capital of Brumosa, I think that it’s safe to assume the poison is local. And the only folks around here who make a regular habit of utilizing this poison are the guerilla resistance fighters in the jungles of our fine little island paradise here.” He threw a crooked smile at the ambassador’s daughter, a redhead with a figure that defied Euclidian geometry.
Twistle glared at him. “You realize how this impacts the situation in Brumosa?”
“I’ll take a stab at it. El presidente gets killed in his bathtub one night. With the help of Uncle Sam, his missus takes over before a coup can take place. Now she gets kidnapped. Word gets back to the rebellion. Commies take over a leaderless Brumosa and everyone’s favorite uncle has one more red menace to deal with.”
“There’s one more thing. Before Manuel Arroya was killed, he had stashed a sizable amount of wealth somewhere in his palace. Señora Arroya may be the key to finding it.”
Calibus Blaze lit up an unfiltered Hornsby Gray and took a healthy puff. “Alright, butternut, seeing’s how I’m the only man in the room with CIA crypto-zeta clearance, looks like this heap of bird droppings is on my shoulders. You have hollandaise on your tie, by the way.”
The ambassador scratched the stain on his tie while Blaze spied something odd about the arrow lying on the floor. He picked it up, unwound a sliver of notepaper from around the fletching. He read the writing aloud.
“Arroya’s ghost has spoken.”
Calibus Blaze looked up at the perplexed faces of his audience. “This, amigos, is the work of Floriano Valor, the bastard son of El Presidente.” A moment later he added, “The dead one, not the kidnapped one. You know what I mean.”
“How do you know it’s Valor?” said Twistle.
“There’s only one marksman in the world capable of hitting a target like that from so great a distance. Plus, this note positively reeks of El Mantillo. Valor is known for drenching himself in that vile cologne.”
“Are you saying the son of Brumosa’s former president is in bed with the commies?” said Twistle.
“Gentlemen,” said Blaze, stubbing out his Hornsby Gray in Twistle’s boutonniere, “if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the Presidential Palace to have a word with the stinky Valor. ¡Adios!”
Outside L’hotel Escoria, Blaze put two fingers to his mouth and blew a whistle that shattered the eye teeth of three hobos squatting ten feet away. A cab sprung out of the evening like a trap door spider.
“El Palacio presidencial,” Blaze said to the driver, who turned around in his seat and shot an incredulous look back at him.
“Don’t just sit there looking at me like I just asked you to whistle ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ with eleven saltines in your mouth. This is a matter of global importance, man! Besides, Captain Midnight is fighting Ivan Shark tonight on the Ovaltine Hour and I don’t want to miss it. ¡Andale!”
In two minutes they arrived at the palace.
“God bless capitalism,” Calibus Blaze said as the cab pulled up to the gate of the immense Neo-Classical structure. “Cabbie, how many proletariats does it take to erect a palace like this?”
The driver stared at him. “¿Que?”
“Never mind. Here.” He handed the driver a hundred pesos. “Buy yourself an ideology.”
Blaze rang the bell at the gate as the cab sped away like it was shot out of a cannon.
“¿Quien esta?” came the static-coated reply.
“Calibus Blaze. Can Valor come out to play, or is he getting fitted for his wedding dress?”
Without another word, the gate clicked and swung open to allow Blaze to enter. Then closed behind him with a clinking permanence.
The door to the marbled palace was open when he got there. He entered the receiving room. Statues and statuettes were scattered about the room in lofty poses. An ornate oak table stood before him–a reception desk, Blaze surmised. Against the far wall, a sideboard with a dozen or so bottles of liquor, and beside that, a rack of what looked to be antique swords. Opposite those stood a fireplace with a hearth at least five feet high and a roaring fire within.
The stench of El Mantillo entered first, and Floriano Valor behind it.
“My dear Señor Blaze,” lisped the bastard dauphin, “how good of you to come.”
“I left an ambassador’s daughter with the figure of a French chair leg for this. This is some hole you got here.”
“You like it?”
“I think it’s a sickening example of bourgeois opulence, a testament to the exploitation of men whose souls and tears form the mortar in its poison bricks.” Blaze burst into a hearty laugh. “Just kidding. What I wouldn’t give to live in a joint like this! But I ain’t here to give the place the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Where’s Señora Presidente?”
Valor smiled, the tips of his waxed moustache glistening. “All good information has a price, Señor Blaze.”
“Is that so. How much?”
Valor walked over to the mantle, took down a foil, examined it, tightened his lips and nodded, then tossed the sword to Blaze.
“Sorry,” said Blaze, catching the foil by the handle and throwing it onto the oak table in one motion, “I don’t fight women.”
“Oh, I insist, Señor,” said Valor, grabbing a sterling epée for himself.
“I’d rather sit down and discuss the matter. Say, over a glass of your fine Brumosan rum, perhaps?”
The dandy dauphin licked his lips and sauntered over to the sideboard. There he uncorked a bottle, took a swig, swished it loudly in his mouth, then spit the coffee-colored rum into a tumbler and handed it to Blaze.
Blaze took the glass and threw it into the fire. Amidst a flare up that lit the room, he grabbed the foil and yelled, “En garde!”
“Le dejeuner!” cried Valor, lunging forth with a Fumé thrust, a move Blaze had not seen in years. Countering with a Flemish Tinker, Blaze elicited a Nicean riposte-saucisse from the man, which he was then able to block with a Marceuse flambé de chèvre. Here he got Valor into a clinch.
Valor sputtered rum-soaked breath into Blaze’s face. “Your mother is a whore with a heart of jackal’s excrement!”
“At least I have a mother,” grunted Blaze as he pushed both forearms against Valor.
“Si,” smiled the dauphin as he struggled, “it was kind of her… to share herself… with my father and me.”
At the height of the dauphin’s resistance, Blaze allowed himself to fall backwards, and Valor with him. As his opponent’s sword clanked onto the floor, Blaze hopped up and kicked the weapon across the room. Still gripping his own foil, he thrust it at the man’s neck.
“Cuvée blanc!” Blaze yelled in defeat. “Now, where is she? You have three seconds before I give you a Belgian tracheotomy. One…”
“Your sister…” panted the dauphin, “sells herself… for Necco wafers…”
Blaze pressed the point harder against the man’s neck. “Two…”
“The boudoir, Señor!”
“The boudoir, huh? You’re going to take me to her. But first, why’d you do it?” Blaze pressed the blade.
“Her back! Her back! The birthmark!”
Another push of the sword’s tip. “What birthmark?”
“I don’t know, Señor! I only do what I am told!”
“Told? By whom?”
“The Russian spy? Nice try. Leibnitz is dead.”
“An imposter, Señor! Leibnitz faked the death!”
Blaze could tell by the grimace on the man’s face that he was telling the truth. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”
The bastard dauphin’s grimace turned into a smile. “Because there is a killer dog behind you.”
Blaze heard a growl, and turned to find himself face to face with a monstrous canine, just as Valor jumped up and ran for his life.
The mastiff snarled, a thick stream of glistening saliva stretching between its massive jaws.
“Easy there, boy,” said Blaze, clutching his sword in his right hand and opening the palm of his left. “I love dogs. Especially… chicken fried!”
With this, Blaze hopped up onto the table, causing the mastiff to bark insanely at him, hopping and champing at the smiling Calibus Blaze.
“Bet you’re sorry your momma never taught you how to climb.” He waved the sword to and fro a couple of times, and the dog hopped up onto the table with him.
“Easy there,” he said, his mouth going drier than a poet’s wit. “So, you’re a gifted student I see.”
The dog lunged, and Blaze jumped and grabbed the ornate chandelier above him. Hanging like a trapeze artist, he kicked the dog with both legs. The canine fell sideways with a yelp and tumbled off the table. Blaze then dove on top of the dog, getting it in a half-nelson.
“I suppose I should have mentioned,” panted Blaze as he rolled all over the floor with the beast, “that I used to wrestle my Aunt Becky when I was a kid. She was twice your size and never had her shots.”
Something was odd here. The dog felt strange.
It hit Blaze now. Its body wasn’t warm. And some parts of it felt… hollow.
As the beast snarled and champed, Blaze felt around the neck. His fingers found what they were looking for, a small toggle switch. He gave it a flick and the dog suddenly whirred to a stop.
“Dammit all,” said Blaze, rolling the carcass off him and regaining his posture, “a robotic bitch hellhound. One of Valor’s little toys.”
He reached down and dipped his finger into the dripping doggy drool and gave it a taste.
“Ah huh. Ginger syrup. I thought his breath smelled like Christmas.”
A thunderous sound echoed throughout the palace. An army was storming the place.
“Crap,” said Blaze, beginning to tire of talking only to himself. “Damn guerillas couldn’t wait ten more minutes to stage a coup?”
Blaze looked around and spotted an arched doorway. Taking the foil with him, he headed through the arch and found a set of marble stairs leading up. Hopping them two at a time, he heard the sound of the marauders taking the palace. Glass shattered. Wood was split.
The hallway on the second floor was a meandering maze of doors. She’s in here somewhere, he thought.
His trusty Webley-Fosberry Automatic was nested in its comfy holster, ready for action. He tapped it lovingly. “We might need you, girl,” he whispered to it. “You just hold tight now.” Talking to his gun was another habit he felt he needed to break.
“Help!” came a voice from within one of the rooms.
If Calibus Blaze was ever sure of anything, it was the that the Brumosan First Lady’s vocal tone range fell between 165 and 175 Hz. This was a perfect match.
He guessed that the voice had come from the third door down. Bracing himself, and patting at his steel doorbusting shoulder plate for good measure, he rammed into the door sideways, which crashed open to reveal the stunning figure of Isabel Arroya.
“Hello,” said Blaze. “I was wondering if you’d ever given thought to how Jehovah can change your life.”
A rogue soldier appeared in the doorway behind him. In the instant he realized this–from the subtle change in the Señora’s face–Blaze swung around like a flash and gave the soldier the old doorrapper right in the nose. The soldier reflexively grabbed at his nose and doubled over, and Blaze two-fisted the back of his head with the grip of the sword, sending him to dreamland.
Blaze turned around. “As I was saying…”
“Who are you?”
“Calibus Blaze, ma’am, CIA, Man of Exceptional Abilities and juggler of pineapples.”
“You’re awfully quick on your feet, Mr. Blaze.”
“And off them as well, but this is no time to discuss the Olympics. It’s not exactly the safest spot in the world right here.” He put a foot on the soldier’s body and rolled it out of the way of the closing door. “I may have busted the lock.”
“Even if you hadn’t,” said Arroya, “it would make no difference. The door locks from the outside.”
“While we’re on the subject, where in hell are we?”
“This was my husband’s private study.”
“A private study with a lock from the outside, huh?”
“It was one of his little games.”
“I guess Parcheesi wasn’t good enough.”
“Never mind. We gotta find a way to get you outta here.”
The sound of footsteps came thundering down the hallway. Blaze reached into his shoulder holster and pulled out his trusty Webley-Fosberry Automatic. Six rounds sat in the revolver. “It sounds like we got about two dozen commie marauders storming the joint. You don’t suppose I can shoot one bullet through four of those goons at a time, do you?”
Isabel Arroya shrugged.
“I didn’t think so.”
“Come with me,” she said, and beckoned him over to a wall of books. She leaned against one section, pressing her shoulder to the shelves, and the section gave way, swiveling inwards to reveal a secret passage behind the wall. “This leads to the master bedroom,” she said. “We may be able to go around them.”
“I like your style, Señora,” said Blaze, holstering his weapon. “Now I see what you meant about your husband and his games.”
They entered the wall and shut the bookcase behind them. Blaze took out his Zippo and gave it a flick, illuminating the narrow stone walls of the passageway. Cupping his hand around the flame, he followed Arroya through the cobwebbed passage, which curved around and took a sharp right turn. The lighter threw jittery flickers against the stone wall where the passage terminated.
Arroya pressed her shoulder against it. It gave way and swiveled, and they entered the master bedroom of the palace.
“So,” said Blaze, keeping a sharp eye out for any sign of anything, “this is where the magic happens. Or, I guess not, if things were bad enough for him to go sneaking off to the study for a little Euripides on the side. Sorry, bad timing. I’m sure you’re a lovely woman. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind giving you the old presidential pardon myself, if you catch my drift.”
Arroya slapped him hard across the cheek.
“Yikes! Easy, sweetheart, that’s the cheek my mother kisses.”
She slapped it again.
“Ouch! For crying out loud, missy kitten, you oughta get your head checked.”
And a third slap.
Blaze drew his gun.
“You don’t frighten me, Mr. Blaze,” she said coldly.
“No,” he said, replacing the weapon in its holster. “If I wanted to do that, I’d sneak in here at night wearing clown makeup and Dracula fangs muttering about how Daddy needs his medicine. I can see you’re a tough broad. But we have to get one thing straight if we’re ever going to get out of here alive.”
“And what is that?” she said.
He tapped his holster. “That I’m gonna need some bullets. I just realized this thing’s as empty as a congressman’s cranium.”
“Perhaps my husband kept bullets in his drawers.”
Blaze looked at her. “Too easy to make a joke there. But let’s have a look, shall we?”
An armoire stood in the corner of the room. It was obviously an antique piece, designed with the bourgeois taste in mind. He opened the double doors of the cabinet.
And the body of Floriano Valor tumbled out.
“Jiminy chimney sweep!” exclaimed Blaze, jumping out of the way of the falling body. “I just crossed swords with this guy not more than ten minutes ago. He seemed like he was in great health.”
He looked over at Arroya, who stared at the body without any hint of emotion.
“This is your son, ma’am. And if you don’t mind me saying, you don’t exactly seem like you’re ready to strike up the ol’ Dixieland band, if you know what I’m saying.”
“He wasn’t my son.”
“True,” said Blaze, kneeling down to get a closer look. “Still, I’m sure he was cute in jumpers. Say, woulda lookee here.” He pulled a dart out of the dead man’s chest and sniffed the tip. He cast a glance up at Arroya. ” Cupuaçu tree frog poison. Same thing that killed Martinez.”
“What do we do?” said Arroya, her voice finally showing a trace of panic.
“Hold on,” said Blaze. “You smell something?”
“Smoke!” she said, looking around.
“Bastards have set fire to the joint!” said Blaze. Then he noticed the fireplace. “Hang on. The smoke’s pouring outta there.” He moved closer to investigate. “False alarm. The flue must’ve fallen shut.”
Calibus Blaze said this with relief, but his relief was short lived, as was the breath in his lungs, for the surrounding air was suddenly thick with gas, and everything went numb and black.
He awoke in chains. And sometime during his sleep, his brain had gotten hold of a meat tenderizer and was now using it in an attempt to escape from his skull. He was in some sort of bunker, his wrists bound in shackles, fastened to the wall, the cement ceiling a mere six inches from the top of his head.
He looked to his right, bleary-eyed and feeling like a finger in a door hinge. His eyes came into focus and he recognized the form of Isabel Arroya, also in chains.
“Lousy service they have here at this hotel. What happened? I seem to remember Valor’s body hitting the floor, then I was knocked out.”
“Someone pumped gas into the room. They dragged us here. I think it’s the rebellion.”
“Commie bastards,” sneered Blaze. “You’d think they were in some kind of rush to solve the disparity between economic classes with a government based on an idealized philosophy of common ownership and social stability.”
“If we weren’t tied up,” she said, her eyes burning, “I’d force you to impregnate me with your child right here.”
Blaze smiled. “Well then, in that case, I can’t help but notice that barrette in your hair. We’ll start with that. I can use it to make a shim for these irons.”
“How do you suggest I remove it?”
Blaze licked his lips and thought. “I got it. Hang on.” He slipped off his right shoe and pulled off the sock with his other foot. Then, using both legs to scale the wall, and hanging against the tension of his wrist shackles, he got both feet on the wall behind him. The shackles cut into his wrists.
“I feel like… an… Irving… Klaw model…” he grunted.
Then, in a feat of unquestionably painful contortion that no doubt impaired his future as a father, Blaze brought his bare foot up to reach Arroya’s head. With his toes, he carefully picked out the barrette. He then flung it up in the air and caught it between his teeth, before letting both legs drop to the floor.
“Watch this, honey,” he said around the barrette. “This little move won me a three-week pass in a Swedish cat house.” With tongue and teeth, he bent the barrette so that the metal tab was extended outward to form a shim, then maneuvered the tool to the tip of his lips. Bending his head forward, the shim extended as far as possible, he was just able to insert it into the locking teeth of the shackle, causing it to spring open, and his hand to drop free.
He grabbed the shim from his teeth and unlocked his other hand, then unlocked Arroya.
“Alright, let’s see your back,” he said.
“Pardon me, Señor?”
“We ain’t got time. I need you to lift up your shirt.”
Again she laid an open-palm against his cheek.
“Lady, I’m getting a little tired of you acting like my Catholic high school principal. She was a hot little number just like you. I got her to spend a week in my apartment doing the old bedspring tango and then another week trying to figure out how to get the smell of Old Crow out of a nun’s habit. Last I heard she was in Miami, waiting tables at some joint where the barmaids don’t wear bras. But I digress.”
She looked at him, and her face glowed like a bad shrimp. He grabbed her then, and laid a kiss on her lips that he felt on the back of his scalp.
He pulled away. “I need to see your back,” he whispered.
“Señor Blaze,” she cooed, “you are a most complex man.”
“I’ll bet you say that to all the complex men. But perhaps you don’t understand. There’s something about a birthmark.”
“Valor said Leibnitz hired him to kidnap you because there’s a birthmark on your back. Ring a bell?”
“I don’t know what any of this means. Who’s this Leibnitz?”
“Only a commie spy with a heart made of mud bricks. Although I hear he makes a pretty nifty Shashlik.”
She tilted her head at him. “So you want to see my bare back. Very well.”
Turning a full one-eighty, she put both hands on opposite sides of the bottom of her shirt. She cast a twinkling glance back at him. “I must really like you, Señor Blaze.”
“Lady, if circumstances were different, you and I would be in a hotel in Zurich drinking seven kinds of champagne and earning our biology degrees.”
She turned her head back around and lifted her shirt. A red lace brassiere strap stretched across a swatch of silky skin like the string on a bakery box.
And an inch above it was the birthmark.
“Great Tamerlane’s nose hair!” said Blaze, observing the runic shape on the woman’s snowy skin. “The infernal Order of the Mongoose!”
“¿Que es?” said Arroya, lowering her shirt and turning around.
Blaze turned away from her. “Sweet knees, some things just aren’t meant for a lady’s eardrums.”
She put a tender hand on his shoulder. He swiveled around and she recoiled.
“Listen, I’ve seen things in this world. Horrible, tawdry, disgusting, putrid things that make the cannibal rites of Papua look like the teddy bear’s picnic. But I’ve never seen anything so nefarious as the Order of the Mongoose. That birthmark on your back, by startling coincidence, just happens to be their sacred symbol. Besides members of the Order, only two people on this earth know of its existence: yours truly, and Leibnitz.”
“So whoever is after my birthmark obviously does not know of the Order, or else they would have no need to kidnap me. Someone must have tipped them off that my back is a key to something.”
“Honey,” said Blaze, taking the woman in a vicious embrace, “your brain oughta be dancing in a peep show booth.”
“So,” she said in a slick, sultry tone, “you’re aroused by IQ.”
“If you’re asking whether or not I’d ever date a Wisconsin senator, the answer’s no. But we have more important things to discuss at the moment. Like where the hell are we.”
“I know where we are,” she said with trepidation.
“Spill it, sister, we ain’t got all night.”
“We’re in my husband’s underground torture chambers. Every one of his enemies has seen these accursed walls.”
“You don’t sound like a fan of the old man’s politics.”
“He was a barbarian and an enemy of human decency.”
“Maybe so,” said Blaze, “but that’s no reason to go tap dancing all over the guy’s grave. But never mind that, how do we get out of this pleasure palace? Surely there must be a secret tunnel or something.”
“There’s only one way out,” she said, indicating the door to the room, “and it’s made of solid steel.”
“Well, sugar, it seems like everything they want is in here, so all we gotta do to get that door open is sit here and wait. Unless you got a travel edition Twister game underneath that dress of yours. But what I really want to know is, what’s the Order of the Mongoose have to do with Leibnitz?”
“This Leibnitz you speak of, he is a formidable enemy?”
“You might say that,” said Blaze. “He my equal in every way, with one exception: He’s a dirty commie who stinks of Kerch herring. Don’t get me wrong, no one ever said I smell like a powder puff, but I least I know which side my Borodinsky is buttered on, if you catch my drift.”
At this, they became aware of the sound of footsteps approaching the door.
“Brace yourself, Señora,” said Blaze. “Looks like we got company for tea. I have an idea. Stand right there in the middle and give us your best cheesecake.”
“Cheesecake. You know. Turkish delight. A little something for grandpa’s dessert.”
“You speak with a great deal of food metaphors.”
“Can I help it if the banquet tonight was a bust? I’m starving here, sister, cut me some slack. Now just stand there and look sexy.”
Blaze took his position at the side of the door by the hinge. Within seconds, it sprung open, and the intruder was treated to the sight of Señora Arroya striking a pose that would have caused a Franciscan monk to flip his frock.
Without having any opportunity to size up his opponent, Blaze sprung forth from behind the door and tackled the masked man.
Until he realized the body was that of a woman.
He knocked the intruder to the ground, sending her crossbow and a quiver of projectiles scattering across the floor. Then he wrestled the woman into submission. Straddling the supple limbs, he removed the mask and beheld the bundled blonde hair and striking features of their intruder.
A voice yelled, “Hold it, Blaze!”
It was a woman’s voice, alright. But it wasn’t the girl.
It belonged to Señora Arroya. And she was aiming the deadly crossbow at him.
“Get your filthy body off Comrade Leibnitz,” she said.
The blonde beneath him smiled a mouthful of triumphant teeth, and Calibus Blaze rose with his hands up.
“I should have known,” he said. “What, hubby left you the spy business in his will or something?”
“You idiot,” said the blonde, her accent coloring the words a bloody shade of red, “there was never any male Leibnitz.”
“What the hell you talking about? Of course there was. I’ve met him.”
The woman gathered up her arrows, replacing them into the quiver. “You met a decoy, Mister Blaze. A chimera. A facsimile. You’re looking at the one and only Leibnitz. When it became necessary for me to elude some of the more bothersome authorities, I killed the male identity. And now…” She took the crossbow from Arroya. “It is your turn to die.”
Blaze threw a look at Arroya. “Uncle Sam trusted you. This is the thanks you give her… him?”
“It’s over, Blaze,” said Arroya, “the enemies of the people are no more. And Brumosa is under new rule.”
“I’m starting to understand it now,” said Blaze. “You’d inherited a pretty nifty position as head of Brumosa. The one difficulty was how to get comrades like Leibnitz into the country without looking like a double crosser in America’s eyes. If you could distance yourself from the revolution, we’d take you in as one of our own, and you’d be in an equally nice position to do a little spy work for your Russkie friends. I got the drop on you now, sister. You kill me, you haven’t got what either one of you are looking for.”
“And what is that?” said Leibnitz.
“The location of Señor Arroya’s money. It was rumored that your husband blew town with over a hundred million dollars. But we all know that he stashed it. The question is, where? Well, I know where and you don’t. So cram that into your kreplach. By that birthmark on Señora Presidente’s pretty little back, I can tell you that the Order of the Mongoose has a stake in this bundle of nickels as well.”
“Order of the Mongoose?” said Leibnitz.
“I see someone hasn’t been doing her homework. Well, my commie cutie, what could be worse than the bourgeoisie retaining control over Brumosa? Would you say, perhaps… the Nazis?”
Leibnitz’s eyes widened.
“That’s right, your old wartime adversary. In 1945, a cadre of those vile pustules hopped an underground train to Brumosa. Their leader was none other than Hans Grippel, Hitler’s personal salad steward. Grippel established a home base for the Order of the Mongoose here in Brumosa with the help of Manuel Arroya himself. They had their base, their government protection. They needed one more thing: A secret symbol. Señor Arroya had an idea. He’d use one that nobody would be able to trace: The birthmark on his wife’s back. So that’s it. There’s no key to this treasure. It’s hidden here in the palace, marked with the sign of the Order of the Mongoose. And as soon as those Nazis get wind that the place is being stormed, they come a’moseying on down here. And something tells me they won’t be in the mood to sit around singing Kumbaya.”
No sooner than Blaze had finished uttering these words, a phalanx of rebels came bursting through.
“Stoyte,” yelled Leibnitz, and the group obeyed her command to freeze.
“They understand you, Leibnitz,” said Blaze, “but they aren’t Russian. These are foot soldiers of the Order of the Mongoose.”
“They’re comrades,” said Arroya.
“And how can you be sure?”
Arroya’s face was a mask of confusion bordering on panic.
“That’s right,” said Blaze, “there’s no way to tell. And as far as we all concerned, there’s only one guy who knows where the money is. That’s me. You knew I knew the location of the money before I even came here, which is why you conjured up this little scheme to draw me out. Well, it failed, because now you got yourself a covey of covetous krauts to contend with.” He cleared his throat and screamed at the soldiers, “Ich weiß, wo das geld ist!”
The soldiers looked at one another.
Blaze approached Leibnitz, who strengthened her grip on the bow. “So, we got ourselves a dilly of a pickle here.” Then, under his breath, he murmured, “I know which ones are the Nazis. On my signal, tell your guys to stand down.”
He watched as Leibnitz’s eyes sparked. He winked at her and flashed his trademark crooked smile.
It was all the distraction he needed when he grabbed the crossbow and swung around.
“Shootenadaisy!” Blaze hollered as he fired the bolt directly at the heart of the soldier in front, who fell to the ground instantly and was dead in a moment.
And just at that same moment, Leibnitz held up her hand, calling out, “Stoyte! Stoyte!“, inserting herself between Blaze and the group of rebels.
Calibus Blaze moved like a fox. “Hate to do this to you, baby doll,” he said, grabbing an arrow out of her quiver with one hand while throwing his arm around her neck with the other. Holding the point of the poisoned projectile at her throat, he slowly drew her back.
“Alright, commie rats and ratlettes,” he said, “it’s been a real peach of an evening, but now we gotta go sow the seeds of democracy in this joint. Outta my way!”
He held the arrow at Leibnitz’s throat and dragged her slowly through the crowd of rebels, which parted like the Red Sea at their approach.
“One false move and she’s dead, Arroya,” he called out over his shoulder.
Once outside of the cell, he said, “Alright, Arroya, come on out.” To Leibnitz, he added, “Do me a favor, will you? Tell your goons to hold off on burning me alive for just two more minutes.”
She strained her neck to look at him.
“Just do it.”
“Ne napadayut, poka ya ne dam komandu!” she yelled in a crystalline voice.
Blaze’s voice boomed in the dank underground chambers. “Arroya, seal that cell!”
Arroya made a move, then stopped.
“Come now, lucky charm, I know you have a set of keys on you. You had them back in the room when we were suddenly gassed. Or was it so sudden at all? I detected a whiff of sodium thalxylmaldimine, known on the streets as One Time Charlie. First time knocks you out cold while your body develops a resistance, the second time, nothing. Ideal for covering evidence of its usage. Am I even in the right ballpark, sugar?”
Arroya scowled at him.
“I thought so. A little trick you learned from hubby I assume. Anyway, let’s hear some keys jingling. And make it snappy. The natives are getting restless.”
Reluctantly, Arroya fumbled through her pockets, eventually producing a set of keys. Then she turned and locked the cell door behind her.
“Place them in my front pocket. And don’t worry, honey pants, I ain’t in the mood. You can back off the minute you put them in.”
She did as he said.
He looked at Arroya. “Now, hand it over.”
She returned his gaze, dumbfounded.
“Don’t play coy with me, bummykins, I’m at the end of my rope. Hand it over.” He made a gesture with his arrowed hand, pressing its tip ever so slightly into Leibnitz’s soft neck.
“He’ll break the skin,” said Leibnitz. “Do what he says.”
With a vicious grunt, Arroya reached down into the front of her shirt and undid something with a snap. She then brought out a small, black device the size of a seashell.
“Slide it on over to me.”
The thing slid across the floor and knocked against Blaze’s boot, which he lifted into the air and brought down onto the seashell device, crushing it with a single crunch.
“That, my friends, was the sound of freedom. That device was connected by radio waves to Señora Arroya’s heartbeat. A little gift from the U.S. Any interuption in its signal and a thousand CIA agents are instantly mobilized to the palace, as well as key security points throughout Brumosa. Boy are they in for a shock when they find out what Uncle Sam’s favorite niece has been up to.”
He peeked over Leibnitz’s shoulder to look at his watch. “They should be here in about ten minutes.” To Leibnitz, he added, “Sweetheart, how about guiding us out of this hellhole and into someplace where we can have a drink.”
She led him up a small flight of concrete steps that terminated at a wall. With a push of his booted foot, the wall swung open and they were in the parlor where he’d had his run-in with Valor.
“Valor helped his dad outfit this place with all these keen little traps. Too bad he met his end in one of them.”
“The traitor had to die. He gave up secrets too easily.”
From outside came the sound of American voices calling out orders, several of which were CIA codewords.
He let go of Leibnitz. “Run,” he said.
She looked at him.
“You heard me, sister. Ostavlyat’!”
She smiled at him. “Till we meet again, Calibus Blaze.”
“The game continues,” he said.
He recognized the head of the Brumosa CIA operatives coming through the door, followed by a swarm of agents.
“Downstairs is a bunch of hooligans from the Stalin Appreciation Society and Chowder Club. Among them is Señora Arroya. She’s chief chowderhead. I’ll explain later. Treat her nicely. You’ll see a holding cell down there. Here are the keys. Along the back wall is a cement brick with a peculiar design etched into it that bears a striking resemblance to a birthmark on Señora Arroya’s back. Don’t ask. But if you take a sledgehammer to it, I got a sneaky feeling you’ll unearth a pretty hefty lode of cash. Oh, and the Señora might babble on about something having to do with Nazis and mongooses. Pay no attention. Just a little fairy tale I cooked up to get me out of a jam.”
The operative gave the signal to enter the passageway. A swarm of agents brushed past them and dissolved into it.
“Was it Leibnitz?” said the operative.
Blaze stared intently at the man. “It was.”
“Where is he?”
A look of tremendous relief came over the man’s face.
“Listen,” said Blaze, throwing his arm around the operative’s neck, “if there’s one thing you can count on with Calibus Blaze, it’s that Calibus Blaze will never endanger the job security of his fellow agents. You got a nasty stain right here.” He put his finger on the man’s checkered necktie, then swiped his nose with a “whoop!” when he looked down. “Great Scott, you guys are pathetic. Anyway, Leibnitz is the best way to justify the agency’s budget. We can’t catch her just yet.”
“Leibnitz is a dame. You didn’t hear it from me.”
The operative disappeared through the passageway entrance, and Calibus Blaze extracted a small notebook from his pocket.
“One commie plot…” he said, writing, “thwarted. Check.” Clapped the book shut. Replaced it in his pocket.
“THE” Edmund Hartley is consumed with the idea of calling forth of an ancient being of mythos. Now, thanks to an intervention of sorts, he will discover the retched truth of the matter. His entire world view will be turned upon its head. Seeing IS believing!