Saturday, October 18, 2008

Season One, Episode Five: Charlo'

The man who emerged from the car was obviously wearing reinforcement under his cheap suit. He had a motorcycle helmet on, as if he had taken the wrong vehicle. The gear made him look fatter, heavier and slower than he actually was. His arms hung straight along his body.
Instead of heading for the desk and demanding the cash, he paid no attention to the clerk who thought better not to complain about the damage.
‘Moses, man.’
Markus felt the man's gaze on him. The driver came right for him, he knew it.
Markus needed a weapon now. A gun. This wasn't O.J. coming to get his memorabilia back.
The man wasn't brandishing a gun, he was one of those Marine types with big fists. He was obviously unaware of Markus Bentley's past. If he thought he could tackle Markus with his bare hands, he was wrong.
Bentley ran backward as he saw the driver approach. He looked behind him, but there was no exit at the back.
He grabbed one of the big, yellow, plastic-coated flashlights. His pursuer didn't grin, but kept pressing on without running.
Markus didn't want to run either. Look composed, even when you know you're staring death in its grubby face. At the back end of the store, he turned right. The gardening section. He pulled a bag of organic chicken feed or whatever into the middle of the walkway behind him.
His pursuer stepped over it like he would've done over pigeon shit. And a lot faster.
Markus began to lose it. He started grabbing objects off the shelves and throwing them at the hulk. Cans of pet food, wooden bird cages, plastic flower pots made in China. What a waste of good material. Markus dove for an outsize pair of scissors which looked good to trim the hedge, if he had any. Markus turned back and decided he had the weapon to fight the enemy.
The driver of the destructive car finally moved his arms, and it was to stop Markus Bentley's brazen attack in its tracks. He took the scissors sideways with his left arm and pulled them away to the left, out of Bentley's control. Markus put up his leg to kick his assailant in the groin, but the man swung sideways, ripping the scissors out of his hands and out of his reach.
‘Who the hell are you and what do you want from me?’ Markus finally found the courage to ask his pursuer the question he didnt understand.
The hulk remained silent and grabbed Markus by the pulses, flinging him around with his head in the middle of the flower pots. Just as the driver was about to get hold of his legs for some more nasty gymnastics, Markus leaped forward like a frog, taking half the rack down with him. He swung around, keeping his back against the floor, and kicked both legs into the oncoming attacker. That was tough. He felt like he was pushing up a truck with his legs. But he managed to stop the man's trajectory and then change it around, kicking him back onto the walkway.
Markus retraced his steps and nearly tripped over the feed bag.
‘You called the police yet?’ he shouted out to the store clerk or to whoever had the misfortune of still hanging around inside.
He heard a vague grunt which sounded like it belonged to the Moses freak. Not that Bentley wanted the police to become aware of his existence, especially with what he was about to do.
If the cops didn't come, there was only one solution left. The row of glass cases at the back of the store. The shock at the front when the car rammed the store hadn't damaged them.
Markus stood defiantly in front of the frozen fish as if they were worth defending with his life.
His pursuer came around the corner from the gardening section. Carrying a fresh pair of scissors. So that's why it had taken him so long. The man snapped the scissors as if to show Markus and himself they were working.
The hulk pulled his right arm back and then struck the scissors forward as if he wanted to knock a bull off its feet. But the bull ran. Markus jumped away to one side and the arm with the scissors landed in the freezer window instead. The glass shattered and showered both men. The driver was the least affected, he dropped the scissors but just turned around and grabbed Markus by his shirt and pulled him toward the glass.
Precisely at that moment, when the two men approached each other in front of the freezer, Markus launched both his fists and pulled the helmet over his pursuer's eyes. He then rammed his elbow into the man's stomach. Not a brilliant idea, because he had pads under his suit protecting that vital part of his anatomy.
The man took Bentley's right arm in his left and pulled it toward the freezer. Some shards of glass were still left in the window frame. The man was tugging Bentley's hand ever closer to the glass, as if he wanted him to pick up a coin from the floor. Markus licked his lips. He could do with some marzipan. He was sweating. His attacker was staring him right in the eyes from under his helmet.
‘Moses,’ Markus shouted out.
He didn't know why. He heard a grunt. His hand was touching the glass. Five more seconds and it would be cutting into his body.
They both heard the gun's safety. The man looked away and that was what Bentley didn't do. Instead he kicked his pursuer in the shins, rammed his knee up between the guy's legs, and worked his left arm free from his grip.
Markus pulled off the guy's helmet completely, revealing a bald-shaved head and the tattoo of a dragon in his neck. The vulnerable part. As the man was getting himself together again and pressing Bentley's arm against the glass, Markus was going for the jugular, literally. With his left hand, he grabbed the man's throat and pushed it back. Back against the frame, against the glass. With his final residue of power, Markus pulled back. Reculer pour mieux sauter, as the French saying goes. Take one step back so you can leap further forward. Markus applied all of his power to pushing the guy's thick neck back into the shards of glass, in one go. The man screamed. Markus nearly let go but he knew he couldn't. He bumped the man repeatedly into the glass until the blood streamed off the back of his head. Markus hoped this was the last time he would ever have to do something like this.
He stood up and turned around to see the clerk standing with the gun pointing at the floor.
‘Sorry for the mess,’ Markus said. ‘Was that gun loaded?’
‘Moses, man.’ The clerk shook his head. ‘It's just to scare people like him.’
Bentley went for his Honda and drove off without bothering to put a clean shirt on. He looked for a motel or a restaurant on the way where he could change into something fresh, but he still needed to hit the Q before midnight.

Markus didn't exactly fit in with the line of mostly young, wealthy-looking females on their night out, but this was the place Riot had mentioned to him. The Q bar across the street from the Brother Hotel before midnight.
He looked up at the hole in the middle of the roof structure, like the country bumpkin he had pretended to be for the past two months would've done.
Inside the place was a lot smaller than he had expected. A bar with one row of stools, most of them occupied. A wide dance floor and booths on the outside and on a second floor. He would be an easy target if there were a hitman in the house, he thought. The house was pulsating with funky house or with whatever they called disco nowadays. The public was mostly young, 60 percent female, half Caucasians, one third Hispanic and the rest African American. Bentley wasn't here to do an ethnic profile study.
He found himself the only free barstool, between a Hispanic couple in a lovey-dovey mood, and two women engaging in an enthusiastic conversation. He ordered a cider because he wanted to start the evening on a low key. The Long Island ice tea was for later, if he ever got there.
‘I got a four out of five this morning.’
Markus didn't have a clue what the woman on his right was talking about, but he was interested. She wasn't tall, but had a slender body and long dark hair. She looked slightly Hispanic but not markedly so.
‘Wow, you're getting better,’ the other woman, a truly American blonde, replied.
‘Drag racing?’ Markus ventured.
The two ladies turned around as if a deadly insult had been fired off. But they relaxed when they saw Bentley's smile. His oldest trick.
‘Guns,’ the darker woman said. ‘A woman's got to be prepared for everything.’
‘Markus Bentley,’ he introduced himself.
‘Bentley, like the car?’ the blonde asked.
Markus nodded. The conversation started, swung around the place and the latest city news, until it got more personal.
‘By the way, I've been rude. My friends call me Charlo' and you can too,’ the dark woman said.
‘Charlotte, but it sounds too French, too medieval, too guillotine,’ she told him.
The other woman was called Ingrid but she left another ten minutes into the night.
‘To be honest with you, I'm here looking for someone who owes me money,’ Markus whispered into Charlotte's ears.
‘That's funny. I think he's more the type who thinks others owe him everything.’
‘Where can I find him?’
‘You can't. Not without me.’
‘You know him so well,’ Markus said, smiling his magic smile.
‘He's got something with women. We all know where he lives, but none of us has ever been inside,’ Charlo' said.
‘Why don't you point out to me where he lives, so I know where to find him if he doesn't pay.’
‘You wouldn't hurt him, would you?’ she asked.
‘Do I look like the hurtin' kind?’
She smiled, they finished their drinks and went for the exit. As they left the club, Charlo’ touched his shoulder.
‘Wait for me outside, I need to go back.’
She walked off to the ladies' restrooms, found a free booth, locked the door, sat down and flipped open her cell.
‘We're on our way to the kill.’

NEXT: Markus Bentley looks for his sister's killer in Episode Six of Concentric before November 1.

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