Mapping the Glades – A Thriller.
N 33:58′:49″ Latitude
W 118:27′:04″ Longitude
Tracy Manning rolled over and stared into Raul Geoshay’s sleep stupefied face. She hated him the morning after, even if he did pay her a grand and was a good lay, too. She sat on the edge of the bed for a minute to work through the booze of the night before. Her thin nose wrinkled at her own smell.
After a shower, she stood naked and dripping by the bed, a plush black towel draped over broad shoulders and generous breasts. She brushed her short blonde hair and stared down at Raul.
He was a good-looking dude when he was fixed up. In the morning, though, his sun-tanned features were slack and ugly. He snored through the corner of puffed up lips as his body worked to repair the coke and booze damage of the night before. The bite marks she left on his shoulder were clear in black and blue. That had been his best orgasm of the night. She made a gun with her thumb and index finger. Pointed it at Raul’s head. “Bang, you asshole.”
Dry, she dropped the towel on the floor. Wandering through the huge walk-in closet, she found Raul’s favorite burgundy silk shirt. Put it on. Looked in the full length mirror. “Bitchin.”
The safe built into the back of the closet opened to the combination she’d seen two months ago when Raul, high on coke and himself, insisted on showing her a real Uzi. Besides the usual cash and guns there was a large brown case. Tracy opened it. She had a head for numbers. Automatically she figured the hundreds and twenties in the case added up to a million two. Give or take. Raul had tucked a black address book into the top of the case.
Tracy stared at the money. She had learned long ago to take an opportunity and run with it. The long-term consequences did not concern her until they arrived. She dressed and lugged the case to the door. On the way out she picked up the keys to Raul’s Porsche, too.
* * *
Tracy entered the small apartment in Santa Monica she shared with Pauly Allister. In the cramped bedroom, she set the money case on the floor where she could keep an eye on it, pulled a battered suitcase out of the closet, dropped the case on the bed and began packing.
Pauly’s groggy voice mumbled from under the covers.
“Tracy? What’s going on?”
“I’m packing.” She inspected an orange mini-skirt then dropped it on the floor. “You need to do the same.”
Pauly rubbed his eyes and sat up, leaning against the bare pitted wall. His sleep smooshed hair stuck out in tiny curly cues.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, not quite with it yet.” Where’d you go last night? I waited for you.”
Tracy wouldn’t meet his heavy-lidded gaze. She dropped a red mini-skirt on the floor, picked it up, considered, dropped it again.
“Raul came by the club last night.”
“Jeez. I wish you wouldn’t go with him anymore. I’ve heard he can be mean.”
“Well, you’re getting your wish. Last night was definitely the last time. Pauly, please get up.”
Pauly sat up more and focused on Tracy. Two deep furrows creased his narrow brow.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“We. Where are we going?”
“Where are we going, then?”
“You’re the map maker. You tell me.”
She stuffed tube tops along the edge of the suitcase.
“Jeez, Trace, I can’t go anywhere. I just got that job, and I like it. Besides we need the money.”
Tracy held up two pairs of red spike heels. She sighed, and let them drop to the floor. Face pinched, lips pressed tight, she lifted the money case onto the bed and opened it.
Pauly was awake now. ” Jesus Christ, where . . . ? Oh, man. Take it back.”
She slammed the suitcase shut.
“He’ll be awake by now. It won’t make any difference.”
She looked at the peeling ceiling with closed eyes. With another sigh she sat on the bed. She gently stroked his face. “Pauly, don’t you want to go to all those places on those maps you like so much? I mean you were born and raised in Florida. Three years ago you drove to L. A. That’s all you’ve ever seen. Don’t you want to go to Europe or South America? Hell, even Mexico.” She stood up, flopped her hands in the air and let them hang. “Pauly, I have to go. Raul won’t believe you don’t know where I am. Come with me.”
His eyes caught hers. His face softened. Tracy let out a mental sigh of relief.
“I don’t have a passport,” he said, rolling out of bed.
“Oh shit. Well, you’re the geographical genius. There must be some place we can go.”
He looked out the window at a panoramic view of the parking lot while he scratched his bare ass.
“Yeah, there is some place. But my old Toyota will be lucky to make it across town, let alone across country.”
Tracy felt like she’d been asked to the prom by just the right boy. She jangled Raul’s keys.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got that part covered.”
N 25:51′ 26″
W 81:23′ 15″
Harrison Park typed THE END with a flourish. He had finished the first draft of his tenth novel in record time. A milestone of sorts, a tenth novel should be cause for a celebration. He raised his arms to receive the applause. There was none. Three years ago there would have been. Not now. He thought about starting on the second draft. It was three in the afternoon. He could get a few hours, or days or weeks in before he had to do anything else.
He ran all ten strong fingers through his thick brown hair two weeks past due for a haircut. The sideburns that grew from not shaving with a mirror had a touch of gray in them. Harrison didn’t care.
He saved the last chapter on a flash drive then wandered into the kitchen. Mountain Dew and pretzels in hand, Harrison looked out from the screened in rear deck of his modest two-bedroom house. Since Mangrove Point, Florida slumbered three feet above sea level, all new houses had to be raised ten feet off the ground to protect from storm surge.
Harrison had a narrow view of the Gulf of Mexico between the huge Banyan Tree separating him from his neighbor to the west and the Mangroves that grew thick and high across the narrow channel in back of his property. The channel connected to the Barron River a hundred yards to the west. A 23 foot Boston Whaler rode easily at a small dock.
Chokoloskee Bay had a few whitecaps visible, kicked up by a passing thunderstorm. The north end of Mangrove Point was getting dumped on.
At his desk fifteen minutes later, Harrison heard the front door open and shut. He turned down the jazz from his ancient stereo that had an actual turntable on top and listened to soft footsteps come down the hall.
“Buenas dias, Teddy,” he said as the footsteps stopped at his office door.
“Hi, Mr. Park. How are you today?” a Hispanic accented female voice said.
“Muy bien. I finished the first draft of the book.” His chair squeaked as he rested his feet on the desk. His heart skipped as he gazed at the girl in the doorway.
Teodora Magdalena Ruiz Santiago was as beautiful as a seventeen year old girl had any right to be. Everything about her sparkled and shimmered with life. Dark hair curled carelessly below a strong jaw line. Large, clear eyes that soaked in everything around her and smiled even when full lips did not. She had the clean cafe au lait skin from a melding of a Cuban father and a black mother. If her body developed any more, Harrison figured, her father was going to have to lock her up for her own protection. For a year, she had come twice a week to clean, sometimes cook, and generally keep him organized and from degenerating into a total slob. She had read all his books.
“Terrific. May I read it now? I bet I can figure out the mystery this time.”
“Wait for the second draft. Even I can’t figure it out yet. How is Victor?”
“Ohh, Victor.” She pronounced his name Victooor with all the teenage angst and yearning that Harrison remembered from his own youth. Teddy wanted Victor, a tall, handsome, seventeen year old semi-nerd white boy, so bad Harrison’s house gleamed from her pent up energy. Victor was a nice sensible boy and wanted Teddy, also. Who wouldn’t? But Teddy’s father, Carlo, already had a nice Cuban boy picked out for her. He forbade her to even see Victor, let alone let him touch her in the way she wanted him to. Being a dutiful daughter, Teodora would not consider going against her father’s wishes. Though she might dream of it, want it, imagine it and desire it most hours of most days.
Victor had his cross to bear, too. His single mother had a grudge against Cubans. He did not know why and suspected his mother did not know anymore either. Yet, some of her hate could not help but rub off and his struggle with his feelings for Teddy caused him great pain. Harrison felt for the boy. He had felt the same way about his wife ten years ago. And he did not have the excuse of youth to act like a love sick teenager.
The kids’ remarkable restraint had been going on for two months. Harrison doubted it would last three.
Harrison cared for Teddy and hated to see her in pain. For three years she was the only person he did care about, including himself. But despite her exquisite, earthy beauty that drew men’s stares like a red sports car, she was only seventeen. He wanted her to be happy, yet he could see only heartbreak ahead when Victor’s inexperienced fumblings finally gave Teddy the womanhood she so desperately wanted and her father found out. As he would.
“No luck on changing your father’s mind about him?” “No,” she pouted. “He wants me to see Julio. Who is Julio? He is nobody. A fisherman when there are no fish.”
“Your father is a fisherman.”
“But there are no fish to catch. Victor will be a big success with computers. There will always be computers. We will live in a big house with big bright rooms and the bedroom will look out on the water from a big bed. . . .” Her voice faded away as the thoughts inspired by the big bed turned to erotic fantasy. She pressed her palms against her belly and, fingers splayed, rubbed downward, her desire almost palpable in the closeness of the small office.
The phone rang, saving Harrison from his own thoughts.
Before he answered the phone he said, “Teddy, why don’t you go clean a toilet or something. I’m sure that will inspire more appropriate thoughts than what you were thinking about Victor.”
Teddy sighed audibly, stuck out her tongue, flashed him a smile and went to find a dirty toilet.
Harrison kept a long silence after the voice on the phone stopped talking. Then he said with little enthusiasm, “Sure, Pauly, you can come visit, for a little while.”
N 34: 58′ 47″
W 118: 22′ 18″
“Tracy has skipped,” Hackett, six feet of wiry muscle with short blond hair, told Raul Geoshay. “Nobody knows where she is.”
“You mean nobody’s talking,” Raul accused from behind his cluttered desk.
He worked two steel balls in his left hand. At fifteen he’d seen the movie Caine Mutiny and thought the thing with the balls would make him look dangerous. He was dangerous, but not because of that: He held a grudge and had an oversized ego. Now he just rolled the balls in his hand when he was thinking, or worried. And he had plenty to worry about.
“We’re leaning as hard as we can, Raul. If anybody knew, they’d have told us.”
“Fucking bitch!” Raul smacked the desk with his palm.
“Hackett, if I don’t get that money and that book back by Saturday, I’m fucked, permanently. And if I’m fucked, you’re fucked, so take whoever you need and do whatever you need to find them.”
“What about Tracy when we find her?”
“Bitch! Bring her to me. And if she hurts some on the way, who the fuck cares. Jesus Christ. What about that nerdy guy she lived with?”
“Pauly. He’s gone too.”
“Find them, Hackett. I have obligations or I’d be out there myself. This thing has me wound as tight as Margaret’s pussy. Send Shirley in here or I’m going to explode.”
“Shirley’s in Hawaii.”
“What the fuck’s she doing there?”
“You sent her,” Hackett said, bracing himself in case Raul really exploded. A not uncommon occurrence. “Her and her kid, so he could recover from his operation.”
Raul softened, even managed a fond smile.
“Oh, yeah. That Ben is a good kid. The doctor said he’d be fine now. No more problems with his foot. He’ll be a soccer champion in ten years.” His expression tightened. “If I ever get my hands on his shithead father I’ll cut off both his legs and stick them up his ass until he chokes.”
The steel balls grated under the pressure of his grip.
“You want me to call someone?” Hackett asked. “I know this girl, she’s the Blow Job Queen, I’m telling ya.”
“Why don’t you call that cunt Tracy and tell her to get her ass back here with my money.” Raul waved him away. “Find her, Hackett.”
Hackett left. Five minutes later Margaret Primrose, five per cent partner and second in charge of LA Cars, entered his office. Brown hair pulled back in a tight bun stretched the fine-skin of her thin face taut. A simple, plain business suit showed off a firm body sculpted by two hours of disciplined workout every day. She ran the day to day operations with schoolmarm efficiency.
Raul knew by the extra pinch around her thin lips she brought a problem with her. The pressure in his groin increased. Christ, much more stress and he’d even consider screwing Margaret. Not that she’d let him. Raul thought she was probably a lesbian and had had Hackett follow her for a couple weeks, but she never saw anyone, man or woman.
“What?” he asked, resigned. “Can’t you handle it?”
“It’s Mr. Manchester.”
“Christ! Did he blow the BMW’s transmission again?”
“No. He wants to move up to a Ferrari. He thinks he deserves a little more status.”
“He’ll be dead in a week in a Ferrari. He ought to be driving a Suburu.”
Margaret came as close as she ever came to smiling in Raul’s presence.
“True. But his brand new twenty million dollars dictates a Ferrari. And you know he won’t deal with anyone but the President of the company.”
Raul swiveled his thousand dollar leather office chair so he could look out from the second story window over the lot of LA Cars, an upscale “previously owned” car dealer. Despite the disapproval of his father and Antoine, his older brother, Raul had built the business from scratch in a completely legitimate manner. When he made his first million dollars his father said he was proud of him. Even his brother had expressed grudging congratulations.
LA Cars, while a profitable, legal business in its own right, was not Raul Geoshay’s main business. The Geoshay family ran, among other businesses, a five state car theft ring that shipped stolen cars and trucks and, before gas prices went through the roof, most profitably, sport utility vehicles to other countries. Margaret knew of the steal and smuggle business, but had nothing to do with it. Raul ran the operation while his father was the brains. Etianne Geoshay had the contacts on both sides of the border, and the law. Expenses were high for payroll, pay offs and the actual suppliers. Once a month money came in from the overseas sales. In cash. The last month had been a good one. The case in Raul’s safe had held a million two hundred and six thousand dollars, and change. Raul did not have the cash on hand to make it good. If his old man found out he’d been ripped off by a part time hooker he would be back loading containers on the docks at two in the morning. If he was lucky. The elder Geoshay was a strict disciplinarian and showed no favoritism to his sons. If they fucked up, they were fucked.
Raul had built LA Cars on personal service. He was always available to the rich and those-who-wanted-to-look- rich. He handled requests for specific cars, taught people how to get the most, or at least adequate, performance from their new performance automobiles. He held their hands, reassured them, and fixed their screw ups when they didn’t listen to him.
Mr. Manchester had bought almost half a million dollars worth of automobiles so far, not to mention fifty thousand in repairs. He had to be dealt with.
Raul stood up. “Where is he, Margaret?”
He followed her out of the office, trailing the faint click-clack of the steel balls behind him.
N 32: 14′ 56. 6″
W 106: 43′ 37. 6″
To Pauly’s relief Tracy gently stopped the Porsche in front of a truck stop restaurant on the outskirts of Los Cruces, New Mexico. The car scared him. Tracy’s driving scared him. She loved to punch it and spin the tires at eighty miles per hour. Full on or full stop was her driving style.
They had jammed across southern Arizona and New Mexico after a high roller night in Las Vegas. Tracy had worn a red dress that nobody could take their eyes off. He lost three hundred dollars in bits and pieces, wondering where the fun was in losing money. Tracy dropped twenty grand of Raul Geoshay’s money with abandon.
When he tried to make her stop she pulled him aside and said in his ear, “Relax, Pauly. For what I did for Raul in bed, that I promise I’ll do even better for you, tonight, he owes me.” Pauly did not want to hear about Raul. He tried to pull away. She held him tight. “Besides,” she continued. “Sometimes you’re down. Sometimes you’re in the chips. I promise you, this is a chips night. So lighten up.”
Two hours later, and eight thousand ahead, Tracy made good on both her promises.
As soon as the car stopped Pauly bailed out. He leaned against the car as if about to puke and sucked in hot, dry air as if he had held his breath for the last three hundred miles. He concentrated on the screen of his hand-held GPS unit, hoping the information beamed down from Global Positioning Satellites would slow the whirling in his head.
“Are you okay?” Tracy asked, as she stretched her dancer’s body beside him. Pauly had no doubt every male with a clear view was looking in her direction.
“Yeah, fine. I think ninety miles an hour is my limit.”
They had been doing a hundred plus through the last two states. He could not understand why they had only gotten two tickets and those in the middle of empty spaces on the map.
She leaned her hands against the car by him. Just two people, coughing up road dust.
“We need to put as much space between us and California as possible. Fast.”
“I know, but what about the tickets?”
“Christ, Pauly, we can afford the tickets.”
“That’s not what I mean. If Raul reports the car stolen it goes on the computer. When you get a ticket and they find out the car is stolen. . . .”
“We’re screwed. Okay, I get it. Though I doubt he’ll report it. He probably stole it in the first place. In any case, fuck, look at the map. Texas is a big ass state. It’ll take forever to get across.”
“I’ve looked at the map. I had a job looking at maps that I liked, a lot. In case you’ve forgotten.”
“I know, Pauly. I’m sorry. I thought you–.”
“No, you didn’t think. You just, on the spur of the moment, stole a million bucks and a hundred thousand dollar car from a guy who will most likely kill us when he finds us. There wasn’t any thinking going on. Certainly not about me.”
“Pauly, I did it for you.”
“For me? It took six months of ass kissing to get that job. I already got a raise. In a year I’ll be running the damn section. Or I would have been.”
“Fuck, Pauly, is that how you want to spend your life, wasting time sitting at a desk in a windowless office staring at maps of places you’ve never been and will never go to?”
“It’s not a waste of time. I correct and update maps from all over the world. It’s important work, Tracy. People rely on them to get where they’re going.”
“Well, I know where I’m going.”
“Well, go then.”
Tracy threw her hands up. She walked in little circles on the hot asphalt, hugging herself. Pauly did the same thing a few feet away.
A couple of guys in a battered pick-up drove by. “Come ride with us, Honey,” one of them said to Tracy. “If that city dude is giving you trouble.”
“Fuck off,” she told them.
“No need to be rude, Honey.” He laughed.
Tracy gave them her beat-it stare and they did.
Tracy said to Pauly, “Where do all those corrections come from? Somebody must send them in to you. Why can’t you do that? Say we go to Paris. You could get a map and check it out. Send the corrections back to California.”
“Paris, France?” Pauly asked.
He thought about it then shrugged.
“I like doing the detail work.”
Tracy mouthed the word fuck, then said, “I have to pee,” and headed for the restaurant.
Pauly followed a step behind. “You know the map of Paris is really interesting. Napoleon laid out the city and….”
Pauly paced back and forth by the phones. Jeez, Tracy could take forever in a bathroom. But that wasn’t all he thought. He stopped in front of a phone and stared at it for ten long seconds, then turned and paced some more. The third time by he lifted the receiver and dropped in a quarter.