After I was cut off from cable TV, I rediscovered the radio. The device worked the entire time while I was at home, and it boomed louder than a concert of this new band—Metallica—everybody had been so crazy about lately. The thing was that silence oppressed me, and no matter how unbelievable it might sound, listening to radio programs helped me concentrate. Besides, now that my apartment was spick and span like a surgical ward in a hospital, I didn’t have much to do, and I had to pass the time somehow.
In fact, radio has a huge advantage over other media. Its constant blabbering creates an informational background, which you inevitably ignore at some point, thinking of your own problems, but at the same time, it still has bits of your attention, keeping you in touch with the outside world. It’s not the same with television or newspapers since the first usually misses the actual moment of the event because of its innate dependency on video materials, and the latter just lags behind it because of the complex and time-consuming typesetting process. Something like that actually happened the morning after my talk with Scully—I was casually informed and updated on the latest news on technology without any deliberate effort on my part.
As I loitered around my apartment, essentially doing nothing but pretending it was really something, I learned that the Japanese had invented their next exciting gadget called compact disks. As far as I got the idea behind the fancy tech, it was supposed to make vinyl records a thing of the past, and it was digital—whatever that was supposed to mean. They said the gadget was expected to deliver superior quality, storing not only music tracks but also movies and various other stuff. They claimed that soon it would be possible to compress the data, which would allow hundreds of songs and many films to be written on a single disc the size of a small pancake. It was amazing!
As soon as I heard this, I remembered what my crazy bartender friend told me just a couple of days ago. He insisted that in the future, thanks to the aliens, we would keep all the information in the world into one central place, and then if someone needed knowledge of something, he would receive it over the air. I couldn’t even imagine how things from the physical world like sounds and images could be turned into programming code, but these compact disks were obviously the first step. Next stop: pocketsize communication devices and fleets of spaceships to serve them. The revolution was coming!
I wondered how the damn bastard knew about these weird gadgets in advance. It was possible he had read about them in a scientific journal, elaborated on the idea, and then presented it to me to impress me, but that didn’t explain his other crazy visions. He also saw self-driving cars and people having eight dicks in the future—something that involved artificial intelligence and altering our genetic code, which was far beyond the current level of science. Even in science fiction, these things weren’t very convincing yet!
Maybe he was right about the little green men helping us then! Maybe the aliens were hiding on the moon’s dark side and messing with our reality, pushing us in the right direction or stopping us when we took the wrong step. If it were true, it would be quite reasonable that they stood behind the Apollo astronauts’ inexplicable sexual appetite too! In fact, I wasn’t too keen to believe that—especially now that I knew the weird albino guys were just FBI agents and Roswell was nothing more than a story the CIA made up—but nevertheless, the invention of CDs really confused my inner world. From here to my turning into a fucking Terminator with cameras instead of eyes and guns implanted in my arms, it was just “one small step for mankind”. I really hoped I wouldn’t be alive when they started doing these unnatural things to people!
In this train of thought, I had just sunk deep into the future, analyzing my unflattering place in it, when I received another proof of the radio’s ability to keep you updated without listening to it. Having my head full of flying saucers and extraterrestrial invasions, I learned without any transition between facts and fiction that Eternity was burning at the other end of the city. The jump was so sudden that for a moment, I mixed up the events and thought the aliens had set the club on fire to demonstrate some of their marvelous techniques for fire extinguishing.
Hearing about it, I quickly jumped into my clothes and shot myself out of my apartment. I was so agitated that when I stormed outside on the street, at first I didn’t even notice the monstrous heat that suffocated the city. Then it hit me hard. The weather had been really over the top lately, and everything around me was swelling, bubbling, and sizzling—making my neighborhood wriggle in a horrible dance of agony. When I started driving, the silhouettes of the buildings trembled nervously in the shimmering air, the tree branches bent like boiled spaghetti in my windshield, and the streets in the distance rose and sank like a restless ocean. Everything was squirming so wildly that I barely hit the right intersections when I needed to make a turn, and I couldn’t see what color the traffic lights blinked. It was all an undistinguishable amalgam of shades and shapes before my eyes!
About fifty minutes later, when I finally reached the spot, hardly breathing from the heat, I had to stop the car pretty far from the club because the street was literally blocked by brick and other materials. I hadn’t seen such a massive structure burn like that ever before, and I had the feeling someone had stuffed its basement with nitroglycerin and flooded it with gasoline before striking the match and dropping it. From the part of the building still standing, swirls of black smoke rose, and its roof barely held together. Part of the yard’s back wall was also missing.
I quickly jumped out of my Ford, holding an old newspaper above my head because I was afraid I would be the next to burn, and ran to Eternity. There was quite a big crowd gathered outside, and people seemed to enjoy the event as if they thought the club was a circus arena and a few dancing bears would come out of it any minute now and start performing for them. No one hurried anywhere or worried about anything, and everyone just waited to see what would happen next.
And after a couple of minutes, something did happen! Quite expectantly, the police joined the party, followed by a small OB van and a modest group of TV reporters—those of them who were crazy enough to come out and work in this terrible weather. The former promptly tried to block the area around the burning building, and the latter gave their best to obstruct their efforts, playing a game of hide-and-seek with the officers. The journalists climbed literally on top of everything within their reach and teased the cops in every possible way. Some of the cameramen mounted on the roofs of their cars; others climbed trees and road signs; and one overzealous adventurer even perched on an electricity pole but fell on the wires and fried himself there. Unfortunately, his spectacular suicide caused spectacular sparking, and it completely destroyed the film in his camera, so no one of his colleagues bothered to save him.
Apart from running wildly around and shouting like a bunch of agitated monkeys, the reporters also gave totally inconsistent and even conflicting accounts regarding the actual reason for the accident. At first, they trumpeted that the fire had started from the owner’s smoldering cigar and he had died inside the building, but when one of the guys noticed his car was missing in the yard or outside on the street, they all moved on to the theory of his mysterious disappearance from the city. Only three minutes later, someone “spotted” him in the Bahamas, but after a witness reported having seen him badly injured in the hospital, everybody supported this version until two ambulance cars came around, and the paramedics rejected it completely. Eventually, the journalists unanimously decided that the owner’s fate was unclear.
Of all the possible institutions that would normally attend such an “event”, only the Fire Department had no representatives. More precisely, it turned out they had sent a few cars, but the vehicles got stuck in traffic somewhere on their way, and now the firemen had to do their job only virtually—while watching on the TV in the nearby coffee shops what the cameramen and the OB van were broadcasting from here. The firefighters also used the landlines to comment on the most appropriate course of action they would have taken if they were here to take it.
The policemen and paramedics, on the other hand, patiently waited until the fire died out by itself, and then, completely bored, they started a lively discussion about what had happened and whether someone would come out to seek help and tell them. Naturally, none of the victims was spiritually or physically strong enough to do that. Personally, I doubted there was even a single corpse inside that building. I suspected the club had been empty when the fire started, or maybe there was only a bum in the basement—probably already dead—just to support the idea of an accident. That’s why I eventually felt bored too and turned around to go to my car. I slowly drove to Cacadulu, stopping in the parking lot, which was totally empty. Then I looked outside.
The hotel towered above my head, ghostly and quiet—as if abandoned. In fact, maybe it really was, given the current weather conditions. Its front was somehow dark and patterned, as though the paint had burned to the walls and started peeling off, while the downspouts and the fire escape seemed glossy—as if made of marzipan and losing shape. I had the feeling that if I used a pair of asbestos gloves, I could tear them down to scrap metal with my bare hands. Even the window glass had lost its usual transparency and looked opaque and non-reflective now.
I grabbed my newspaper and cautiously opened the car door, trying to protect my crown with it again, but this time it didn’t work. As soon as I stepped outside and the poor thing met direct sunlight, it quickly turned yellow, then brown, black, and in the end, it crumbled to dust in my hands. I shook it off my hair and shoulders and hurried into the hotel before following its dismal fate. On the back of my neck, the first sunburn blisters were already forming!
A dead and ominous silence met me inside Cacadulu. The reception desk was empty, as it had been lately, and the air was stale and difficult to breathe. I stepped further inside, and at first I headed for the elevator, but when I passed the bar entrance, I froze, alarmed. Something didn’t seem right. I walked there to push the glass door open and froze again. There was a total mess everywhere. The place had actually never been fancy, but now it looked like a battlefield. On the floor, I saw broken bottles and glasses as well as the entire annual olive crop of California; the chairs and tables lay tumbled down, some of them smashed to pieces; the air reeked of alcohol; and the curtains were ripped off the ceiling along with their tracks. Everything was trashed, and if the bar were down at the beach, I would have thought a tsunami had devastated it! There were no people in the place, not even my old friend, and when I checked into his room behind the counter, I didn’t find him there either.
I lingered in the bar for a few more minutes and sneaked back into the reception hall with unpleasant shudders still crawling up my spine. The situation in the hotel didn’t look good, and I anticipated finding other strange things soon. Behind the reception desk was the door to Sandra’s office, and I looked at it hesitantly. Then I approached and cautiously cracked it open, sticking my head inside. The corridor behind it was quiet and dark. I quickly passed by the laundry room and moved straight to the third door to my left, where I stopped to listen for a while. Then I opened it.
I found the hotel owner inside, sitting behind her desk, smiling softly at me with her head slightly tilted to one side. Seeing her there startled me. Her hair was ruffled, and she had a mischievous expression on her face as if she had waited for me, and now that I was finally here, she wanted to ask me, “What took you so long?” The weird thing was that she was almost naked, and I would have probably rushed toward her and kissed her because she looked so beautiful in her weird pose if she actually wasn’t dead. I saw an ugly gunshot wound in the middle of her chest from where blood had trickled down and dried.
“Oh, my God!” I gasped and stepped inside, closing the door behind my back. Then I reluctantly walked toward her.
I immediately felt the foul smell and the familiar, suffocating lump in my throat—the same one I feel every time I run across a dead body. Only this time, it was far more intense. Quivering, I approached the desk, instinctively stepping on tiptoe as if I was afraid not to wake Sandra from her eternal sleep. When I was there, I cautiously looked behind the edge. Her hands were tied and resting in her lap, and her bra was twisted around her waist. I saw no signs of violence on the body. Her skirt was still on, but the hem was pulled up, revealing her white thighs, and her black panties were down around her ankles.
I forced myself to reach out and touch her neck. The skin was cold, and the flesh stiffened, with visible lividity marks. The woman had been dead for probably eight or ten hours, and it was only now that I realized why the air in the hotel was so bad. I actually sensed it as soon as I stepped into the place, but I ignored it—probably because I didn’t want to believe what it meant—and I thought it was due to the heavy weather and the lack of ventilation. I looked at Sandra’s face. Despite the situation, she didn’t seem to have suffered in the final moments of her life, as if she had died instantly before realizing what was going to happen. Maybe she hadn’t believed until the very last moment that the murderer would go that far, and maybe she knew him. It felt really creepy to watch her sit here so relaxed and dead at the same time.
With a trembling hand, I reached out again to close the victim’s eyes and briefly searched through the desk drawers. They were all open, and part of their contents was on the floor, as were the contents of the filing cabinet near the desk. The backside of the chair’s lining was ripped, and the leather hung down. When I looked more carefully around the room, I noticed a few paintings in the corner with broken frames and that the linoleum was damaged here and there. Obviously, the executioner had searched for something before or after killing Sandra, and it wasn’t very difficult to guess what it was. They were probably the pictures my ex-girlfriend pinched so casually from Eternity’s boss a few nights ago.
I kneeled down to rummage through the paperwork on the floor and then walked to the cabinet to do the same in the drawers, but it was a pointless effort. The stuff was mostly documents, and it was trivial; none of it caught my attention. Besides, it didn’t make any sense that I would find anything interesting here, given that the murderer had been here before me and he probably took what he wanted.
A couple of minutes later, I gave up searching. Instead, I turned back to Sandra’s body and instinctively caressed her naked shoulder with the back side of my hand. My adorable white arachnid, with whom I had made out in the foliage of her rubber plant when we had sex in her room, was numb and lifeless now. Her skin was clammy and felt like touching cold and wet mud. It was a terrible sensation! I shivered and drew back, after which I quickly left the office because I couldn’t bear staying in the same room with her any longer.
Outside in the corridor, I listened tensely to hear any suspicious sounds, but there was nothing to worry about. The hotel was quiet as a church, and it was only natural. If someone had been here during the murder and survived, the place would have been crawling with cops now. I sneaked back into the lobby with an intensifying bad feeling in my guts and walked to the elevator to check out our room on the fifth floor. The machine sluggishly carried me up, and when it stopped, I stepped out and approached the next door, where I had to listen tensely before stepping in. After a while, I pushed it open with a sinking heart.
Thank God, I didn’t find Lara in our former room with a hole in her chest! Instead, I found the mess I had left, and the air smelled even worse than down in Sandra’s office. The horrible mishmash of unknown ingredients on the carpet was still there, as was my sketchy, unclear message to my ex-assistant. They both seemed untouched, as if time here had stopped completely after my previous visit.
Still shivering, I crumpled the note, put it in my pants pocket, and left the room. I took the stairs because the elevator was too slow and unnerving, and I was just turning to the ground floor when an idea suddenly flashed across my mind. I returned and quickly walked to Sandra’s living quarters, trying the door, but it turned out it was locked. I stayed there for a moment, thinking about what to do. On the one hand, I wanted to leave Cacadulu as soon as possible because the atmosphere was truly oppressive, and besides, someone might come around any minute now and call the cops, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to give up. Feeling too nervous, I just stepped back a little and kicked the door open. Then I walked cautiously inside.
The place was dark and quiet, just like the office downstairs. The drapes were drawn, but they still allowed some light into the room. Clearly, the murderer didn’t know about Sandra sleeping here when she had to spend a night in the hotel because otherwise he would have turned the room upside down too. I looked around it, but it was more of a pose. As soon as my eyes fell on the rubber plant, I knew where I would hide an object that I wanted to conceal from prying eyes if I lived here. The pot was quite big and heavy, and when I raised it a little—just so I could tuck my fingers underneath—I felt something, which I pulled out.
It was a small plastic bag. I carried it to the window to take a better look at it, and there was a film inside—a few separate photo negatives, to be precise. I fiddled with the thing but didn’t open it because I knew perfectly well what it contained. Instead, I just wondered why Sandra lied to Kurvallo when they talked in her office a few days ago. She assured him she didn’t have these shots, but, in fact, she had already stolen them from Tanaka two nights before. Why would she do that? Was it because she wanted to blackmail Kurvallo herself or because she needed insurance if something got wrong? Whatever the reason was, her decision cost her dearly, and I could not help but think it wasn’t worth it. If she hadn’t involved herself in this, we might still be playing Tarzan and Jane in the foliage of her rubber plant!
I thoughtfully put the baggie in my shirt pocket and left the room. Then I headed down for the lobby. I had nothing else to do here because the Cacadulu era was clearly over now. Unfortunately, it ended badly and not just for me—for other people too—but it was too late to do anything about it. I was just passing the glass door that led to the bar, still thinking, when my eyes slipped toward the place, and something gnawed at me from within, making me stop, uncertain. The mess inside didn’t actually add up. It was very unlikely that the murderer had searched for the pictures in there!
I stepped closer and pushed the door open, walking in again, but this time, I examined the bar more thoroughly. It took me a couple of minutes, but eventually, I found what I was looking for. The dead body of my bartender friend was curled under the counter with a baseball bat thrown right next to him, and even though I expected something like that, it still took me by surprise. When, after a minute, I overcame my shock and checked for the cause of his death, I realized that the bat wasn’t the murder weapon. There were no bruises on the guy’s body, but instead, there was a gunshot wound in his chest—just like Sandra’s—which meant he was killed by the same person who killed her. Probably the bat was his weapon, and he tried a desperate but doomed attempt to protect his boss with it. Poor guy! He stood no chance against these ruthless villains, but he was a dreamer; he believed in chances. I really wished he hadn’t tried that shot!
I stood up dejectedly, considering the situation for a moment. Whoever acted here acted professionally, and it wasn’t Boris for sure. First of all, he hadn’t recovered yet, but most importantly, he and I had a pretty honest chat, and I thought he really heard me. I believed he would follow my advice and leave his nasty boss as soon as possible. I doubted it was Kurvallo, either. He was just a clown, plus he didn’t know Sandra had the pictures. Tanaka, however, knew everything! Especially since my ex-assistant paid him a visit, he was fully aware of the moves everyone else involved in this case was making. I actually had no idea if Lara knew about Sandra’s theft, but she probably did, and perhaps it was the reason why Tanaka was pissed off after their meeting. Boris was very clear about that. I just hoped the boss of Eternity hadn’t killed the messenger after she delivered her message to him!
With the thought that only a few players in this terrible game remained alive now, after a minute, I walked out of the place, highly depressed and full of misgivings. I had seen so many dead bodies lately that I felt sick of living! Still on the subject, I stepped into my car and drove down the street, and two intersections later, I suddenly realized with all seriousness what exactly I carried in my shirt pocket. It was the thing that killed four people before me, whose owner now—fifth in line—was I.
I shuddered unpleasantly. The intrigue between John Kurvallo and Jonathan Tanaka was unfolding rapidly, and it was all going to end soon. With the sex scandal raging in the media, Tanaka had no leverage on Kurvallo anymore, and he had obviously started cleaning up the mess before it was too late. The DEA’s chief, on the other hand, had nothing to lose—his career had already gone down the drain anyway—and instead of being a cash cow now, he had turned into a timebomb. He would drag to the bottom everyone who was involved in his perverted sex games or even remotely connected to him in any other way. That’s why Eternity burned across the street!
At this very moment, I knew that exactly the same thing applied to me too. Kurvallo was standing on the cliff’s edge, and if Sonya or even Lara were kept in Villa Nueva, they weren’t going to stay there for much longer. I just had to react because I had no time left. Not after everything that happened!
While still thinking about it, I sharply turned the wheel of my Ford to the right and swiftly pulled to the curbside. Then I opened the door and crawled outside in the terrible heat, which immediately grabbed me by the throat and suffocated me. I had the feeling I was going to die in no more than a few seconds, but I heroically managed to stand for four and a half minutes—long enough to make a brief phone call in the nearby telephone booth. After that, I returned to my car and gloomily continued on my way home.
©2022 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!