Authors: Johm Howard Reid
“Never leave home without one!”
“Toss it over!”
He did so. But clumsy me missed it and the biro dropped to the floor. I bent over to pick it up, drew my pistol from under the desk and shot Mr. Julio in the head before he woke up to what I was doing. The old army training finally paid off!
“Now you, Mr. Darin, and you whatever-your-name is, you have only two choices. You can help me cover this up or you can be shot down by me or the Mafia. Well, that’s three choices actually!”
“How the hell can you cover this up?”
“Well, we’ve got a dangerous road outside, Mr. Darin, full of snakes and turns as it winds down the hill. And Mr. Julio would insist on driving! But he lost control and the car plunged over the cliff somewhere on the way down. Poor old Julio. I’m sure he’ll be sent off with a grand funeral. But, frankly, I don’t think he’ll be missed somehow!”
“The Mafia will miss him,” argued Darin. “They won’t let this rest! Thanks to you, all three of us will end up on their death list.”
“That’s true – if we’re not extra careful. So the first thing to do is to get rid of my bullet. One of us will have to dig it out of Julio’s head. And that one will not be me!”
“It shouldn’t be too hard. The late Mr. Julio is sure to have a knife on his person somewhere. And it doesn’t matter how much you cut him about. His body will be such a mass of cuts and contusions, three or four more won’t matter.”
“We’ll have to do it in the car,” said Darin. “Blood anywhere else would be a dead giveaway.”
“That’s good thinking,” I agreed. “Smart!”
“You got anything to drink?”
“Don’t touch it myself but Dune-Harrigan was fond of Johnny Walker.”
It took Darin and the Manning look-alike almost an hour, but finally they recovered the bullet. Darin then drove the car down to a dangerously narrow but reasonably secluded turn and jumped out just at the right moment. Unfortunately, he missed his footing and rolled down the embankment, injuring his leg. Escape was now impossible.
“Where’s that other guy?” I asked.
“Still in the car. It’s much better this way. Julio never drove himself anywhere.”
“You took care of him on purpose?” I supposed.
“Just try to prove it. We’re in this together now!”
“You’re in this solo, Mr. Darin. You forget, I have powerful friends.
friend, however, is now under water at the bottom of the cliff.”
“So that’s the whole story, Peter. I’m relying on you to square it with the Mafia.”
“I will do just that, Mr. Manning. But what about the police? I have no direct influence with them at all.”
“I’ll handle them. No problem. They’re not dopes. They can put two and two together when they recover Mr. Julio’s body. But they’ll be so mighty glad to see the last of Mr. Julio, they won’t pursue their investigation too far or too thoroughly. I’m far more frightened of the Mafia’s hit list than the police. I rely on you to spread the word that Julio was cheating
“And was he cheating?”
“You can bet your life on it. Thugs like Mr. Julio think they’re a law unto themselves.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“They’re sure to find something that will get them off my back. They might even give me a medal.”
“I think you deserve more than a medal, Mr. Manning.”
“Let’s just say I deserve a good friend, Peter.”
“Aren’t you afraid of ghosts, Mr. Manning?”
“My friends call me, ‘Merry’, Peter.”
No, I am not afraid of ghosts. They are all around me: Anubis and Amon-Ra, Seth, Isis and Thoth. They are fashioned of gold and silver, gessoed wood and lapis lazuli. They wear pendants of pearls and porcelain, crowns of turquoise and carnelian, and three-ringed earrings of solid gold. They drink from jeweled cups, anoint themselves from jars of exquisite perfume, and occasionally stare into bronze mirrors to adjust their ivory headbands.
They decorate their hair with lotus blossoms, dance and sing, play games of hounds and jackals, and take care to amuse their children with wooden toys on wheels and lots of balls thrown from one to the other. Everywhere, there are dogs and cats and monkeys joining in the fun, while slaves make bread, merchants sell beer and wines, poets tell jokes, and barbers gossip.
Tonight, I am giving a feast. My meats are boiled and roasted. My wine stands ready. My slaves and servant girls wait at the door to anoint the guests as they arrive, and to wash their hands and feet.
The merchants arrive first. Then the scribes. Then the nobles and kings. And last of all, the priests.
I greet each guest at the door. My slaves anoint him with the oil of gladness, and offer him a garland of lotus flowers. Tonight as we feast, we will enjoy music and dancing girls, mimes, jugglers and clowns. We will play the games of the serpent, of hoops and forfeits, of blind man’s bluff, and checkers.
Before the cock crows, it is all over. I lay aside my woolen cloak, gather up all the gods and priests of Ancient Egypt, plus mighty Pharaohs and their queens, generals and nobles, plus, of course, slaves. Back into the big, dry, air-conditioned series of cabinets they go, with all their goods and golden chattels. For a few brief hours, they have lived. Now they lie in the dry, heated darkness until I summon them again. The door of the drying room is closed tight, then locked, bolted and padlocked.
I walk down the hill, rev up the old Ford that will no longer make the climb and drive the weary miles to Gower Street, Hollywood.
An impudent Volks has dared to park in the spot reserved for Boss Kent’s Cadillac.
“Goddamn it! That’s the second time this week.”
“Yes, sir. Yes, Mr. Kent, sir! I’ll attend to it at once, sir.” I jot down the number of the offending Volks and hurry off across the parking lot to find its owner.
“That penny-ante space is too goddamned small anyway,” he shouts after me. “I want it widened three feet. You hear me, Jack?”
I turn around. “The name’s Merryll!” I yell.
But Boss Kent has already disappeared.
by John Howard Reid
Merryll Manning Meets Death At His Private Zoo