“You did say you made over 300 jumps right?” Josh Cochrane turned his wrinkly face towards his passenger in the back.
“Well over.” Edward Small said, knowing he hadn’t made it past twenty. The undeniable rumble in his stomach was drowned out by the engine sound. Every other part of his being felt sedated, like he was incapable of doing anything beyond his prime intentions. He wondered about the pilot, the guy wasn’t young anymore. What if he had a heart attack? At least the guy looked the part with his confident eyes and manly moustache. But in his heart Edward knew most of the risk was on himself this night.
His thoughts were on the last days in Papeete. A friendly tropical town with the green Orohena mountain as it’s backdrop. The colourful market that made him shoot pic after pic. The lovely smiles of the cute local girls a couple of barstools removed from him in the hotel bar. It seemed like such a good plan back then. It seemed even better when he walked into his agents office in Los Angeles two weeks earlier.
“I’ve got something Sal, please listen to me because this will be a blast.” He had said. “Two words: Michael Desonchi.”
Sal Barruchi looked up from the photostrip he was inspecting, put away his magnifier, and shook his head in disbelief. “You got the pictures to prove it?”
“No but I know where he's hiding.”
“It’s been over four years since anyone has seen anything of him Ed.”
“I know but have you ever heard of San Simeon Gran reserva IV?”
“Sounds like an expensive wine to me.”
“No but you're close. It’s a cigar and some time ago I found out it's the only one Michael Desonchi used to smoke.”
“Lots of people smoke cigars Ed.”
“Not the 900 dollar a piece kind. In fact they are so rare that Desonchi made a deal with the distributor that whenever a case of these cigars becomes available at any of the selling points, and we are talking only top of the line cigar stores here, the ones frequented by the happy few, that the cigars are bought back and immediately shipped to Desonchi. Apparently these things are eighty years old and they are completely out of stock. But I got a lead from someone. They send me this picture of a receipt for five ten piece boxes and they were shipped on a plane to Tahiti.”
“It’s the old Tahiti story again.” Sal looked at the picture and shook his head avidly. “Why don’t you give it to me straight that you just want a paid vacation?”
“It is the last place where he was seen Sal.”
“There’s one picture out there with his image and it’s not a clear one and its four years old. Must have been two dozen journalists that pursued this lead and none of them came back with anything even remotely substantial.”
“There’s one more picture. Maybe this one will do it for you.”
“Ok Eddie boy, I’m ready for it, show it to me so I can get back to real business and not freakin’ Elvis at a gas station."
“This isn't anything like that. But you have to promise me, that I get a really good deal.”
“Edward come on.”
“I mean it Sal. I didn’t get my money’s worth on the Madonna pics.”
Sal pointed at Edward and said with a raspy and hoarse tone. “The same pictures everyone else had, those Madonna pictures?”
Edward was gesturing wildly. “This is different. This is the Michael Desonchi. Seven time Academy Award nominee. The legend said to have bridged the gap..”
“Please shoot me now.” Sal said. Ed continued to speak, a little louder this time.
“Who bridged the gap between theatre and natural acting and who disappeared from the world stage at the top of his craft.”
“I almost forgot about him, this legend of yours. Didn’t he quit because of this sadly over publicized blowjob pic where he was the one doing the blowing, apparently. But come to think of it Ed, didn’t that picture turn out to be a hoax?”
“I don’t think that pic is the reason he left Sal. He had an argument with his director, Louis L Turret, and now he’s being sued for abandoning a hundred million dollar project.”
“You don’t think that picture hurt his career?” Sal scratched his head.
“He was already well in his late sixties when he disappeared and now he’s what, seventy two? He’s not exactly a teen idol anymore, now is he? And what does it matter, this is the nineties.”
“Geez, maybe I should come out after all Edward, what do you think?”
“Personally I think you already burst out of your closet the moment you hit puberty Sal. But now let’s get to the point I am trying to make.”
Edward laid down the second picture on the table. It was a picture of a twenty something man. An undeniable model type seductively posing in a tank top with a narrow waist, broad shoulders, defined arms and a face with the bluest eyes and waviest black hair.
“This young man boarded the plane with the boxes of cigars and little else.”
“Very similar to the guy they said Desonchi had an affair with.” Barruchi said. “Looks like some kind of Armani model.”
“Sal. I really think Desonchi takes his boys like he takes his cigars.
Sal chuckled. “Yeah we’ve seen the proof of that.”
“No really. Two other guys came forward after he went awol and they all have very similar features. Here, take a look at these magazine shots.” Edward handed a magazine with large teasing captions on the front page to Barruchi who leafed avidly through the magazine pages.
“They do look similar I must admit Edward. These sharp cheekbones and arrogant chins. Exquisitely groomed appearances for sure. What I would give to be young again. Barruchi contorted his mouth and swiveled restlessly with his chair. “No backbone these boys nowadays. Anything for a quick buck.”
Edward was grinning. “Not everyone has the same ethics we have Sal.”
“Funny. But it’s you who adores this guy Ed. Do you really want to ruin your chance at a proper studio shoot by exposing him to your peeping tom antics?”
“I thought about it. How to handle that I mean.”
“I was thinking of hiding out, making the pictures and then asking for a deal.”
“Really?” Sal looked at Edward with piercing eyes. “The issue is, my young friend, we actually get a better deal when you make these pictures in hiding, by exposing something we are not supposed to know. If we get his consent it will be less interesting.”
“Even after four years? Even when people think he may be dead? Any picture of him will be making headlines.”
“Edward what could you possibly be thinking? This is Michael Desonchi. He’s a genius actor but he’s also quite the fruitcake, a barrel of testosterone induced anger waiting to explode. He is notoriously difficult to handle. That pigheaded self proclaimed genius Turret couldn't tame him and you think you may be able to strike a deal with him?“
“I would be willing to try.”
“Think of the assignment at hand. Think of your true north. You came to me and let’s face it you aren’t exactly Helmut Newton.”
Edward's face grimaced. “A minute ago you said the opposite.”
“There is a difference in who you would want to be and who you really are. Come on Edward, this is your calling.” Sal pointed at the magazine. ”To bring people the news they crave. The hidden lives of the A-listers. You can leave that pompously static artsy stuff to when you're my age.”
Barrucci poured drinks for the both of them. “But anyway, my dear associate, how did you get this information?
“I got it from the pilot who flew over this delicate, as you might say, young man to another island somewhat removed from Tahiti. I asked him why he had a picture of the bill and he said he always made a copy to avoid issues with customs.”
“And why did he contact you?”
“I was doing some investigation on the disappearance. In fact I spend some serious hours on this. He must have found out because he called me. You know I’m a fan of Desonchi’s work. He’s the one guy I really want to have in front of my lense. Regardless.”
“Of the fact whether it’s artful or not.”
“So what's the plan, Ed?”
“Well it's a bit tricky. The pilot flies me over there at nighttime and I jump out of the plane.”
“You mean parachute?”
”Yes, with a static line because we need to come in low to avoid detection. There's no time to pull the cord myself. But don’t worry. I did it before.”
“Isn’t there a landing strip?”
“Yes, but it’s dangerous at night and I won’t be able to do this undetected if we use it. They will arrange for a boat to pick me up three days later. It only needs to make a small detour from its normal route.”
“How much is this all going to cost?”
“Well the pilot wants some money of course.”
“Some? I would call that quite serious.”
“This will bring us at least ten times as much. This could bring us well over a million.”
“Did you check him out?”
“The pilot? Sure I checked his licence.“
“His licence is not what I’m worried about. What if we split the risk Edward?”
“You mean we both jump?”
“What if I go someplace else....associate?
Soon the monotonous sound of the engine would be a distant memory. Soon the point of no return would be passed.
“Ok Edward, it's a fairly sizeable stretch where I will drop you so it shouldn’t be too difficult, it's a wide beach. Just remember to be back at the right location in three days.”
Edward looked out of the cargo door. He saw a big dark shape appearing on the horizon as he glanced over the glistening sea. His feet were dangling over the edge of the doorframe and the oceanic wind was blowing in his face. For a brief moment he could see the contours of the whole island as they were flying at the edge of it. A long spiky shape, like some kind of tower, was looming in the middle of it.
“Ok when the light goes green just drop out immediately.” Cochrane, the pilot, said.
At the moment of the green flash Edward threw himself forward. Soon the plane was gone behind him. The rushing wind lasted briefly as the parachute opened with four hundred meters to go. He looked at the wild waves breaking on the reef a couple of hundred yards into the ocean making it impossible to make use of a sea plane from this side of the island. Edward looked straight down and kicked his legs to lessen the discomfort of the harness straps on the innerside of his thighs. The beach looked so much smaller than promised. He managed to stay in parallel with the strip which definitely widened and had a visibly diminishing curvature as he was getting closer to the ground but there were some darker spots breaking up the almost white looking stretch of sand. And he knew these were rocks. He bend his knees as they grew closer to them and put his feet at a sloped angle not sure if he could avoid a collision. At first he seemed to gently touch down on the sandy ground but it was rather loose and the wind pulled on his parachute, destabilized him and tilted him forward with additional gravitational forces pulling on his added front pack for his camera equipment and supplies. As he toppled he managed to break the fall with his arms but his left leg hit a boulder. A sharp jolt of pain surged from his kneecap and he cried out as he slowly rolled himself upwards in the sand. Then he started to undo his parachute after which he tried to stand. He succeeded. His knee didn't feel that bad. It was probably just a bruise but enough to make him limp. He rolled up his leg pant and as he shone his flashlight upon his skin he saw that it was intact but swollen at the knee with a dark purple hue. To prevent further damage Edward rolled some stretch bandage around the knee. He looked at the wind pulling on the parachute. With a stagger he collected it ,folded it together and put it in the pack. It was awe inspiring to look at the starry sky, which reminded him of abundant unevenly sprinkled sugar over the celestial dome and it was almost comforting to hear the creaking of the tall curved palmtrees as they were being bent by the wind.
He sat on a large branch for a moment. It was six miles to the other side where he would find the beach house of Michael Desonchi, close to a secluded bay. That had been the way it had been described to him anyway. He wondered what it would look like. Perhaps it would be even possible to sneak in.
Edward carved himself a walking stick and ate a powerbar. There would be plenty of food for at least three days. He looked at his compass, but considering the small size of the island he could hardly go wrong he thought. He went on his way inland with his flashlight leading the way.
There were all kinds of noises and he was wondering about animals as the bush grew thicker and thicker. Every couple of minutes he stopped because he thought he heard something like a branch or a sigh. But most of the times it was his own breath. After an hour he saw something white appearing through the trees which appeared to be a manmade structure. Edward dimmed the light and came closer.
It turned out to be sea containers. They were big and white and stood side by side, dozens of them, all remodeled or built for the specific purpose of housing people. As far as he could see most of them had windows on the side and there was a wooden terrace in the foreground with folding chairs and some wooden picnic tables and benches. Some of the doors were open and the containers appeared empty. After he had carefully circled the location he sat still for twenty minutes, his senses focused on detection.Then he quietly went inside one of them. The spartan dwelling was furnished with a table and also some cupboards and at the back there were bunkbeds. A French magazine called ‘Lui’ with a scantily clad woman on the cover lay on the table. He gathered from the date that it was six months old. By accident Edward stumped with his foot against an empty Coke can on his way out. He sat still and hid beside the door for a moment, his heart pounding in his chest, even if there still wasn’t any sign of current habitation. With his flashlight he looked at his map again spread out on the table. There was no building complex anywhere to be found on the island other than the supposed location of Desonchi’s hideout by a laguna up north. Beyond the row of containers there was an large open space covered with big metal plates and lined by palmtrees. There was a concrete road leading northwards and only now, as he peered into the distance he could see the structure of the tower he had glimpsed from the plane again. He took out his small field binoculars and he realised the tower was much like an oil tower used for drilling. It looked very sturdy with heavy diagonal and horizontal beams and it was painted in a horizontally banded red and white color scheme. Since he had to go in that direction anyway he started walking towards it though he kept at a distance from the side of the road under the coverage of plants and trees as it was already starting to get brighter. It wouldn't be good if he was detected now.
The closer Edward came the more details became apparent.
He saw a sign on the other side of the road. He tried to read what it said but he was at the wrong angle and he didn’t want to expose himself. With some guesswork he could read the following:
‘Debut de la zone chaude. Seule la route est classe froide’.
Edward knew little French. Zone meant zone or area and a debut must be something like a beginning. So it was obviously the beginning of some kind of area. Cautiously he kept on walking but used his binoculars from time to time to ensure he was alone.
As he came closer he realized the tower was in the midst of a clearing with at least five hundred meters in diameter. The tower itself he estimated at sixty meters in height. But it was hard to tell. Surrounding the tower were some low container buildings, similar to the ones he had seen earlier, and some pipes lay piled upon the ground as well as a small number of tubes with quite a large diameter. Edward looked at the map again. Even though he clearly knew there would be no indication whatsoever of this unexpected setup. Would this be illegal drilling? He took some pictures from a distance. Maybe these pictures could also have some use if he could find out more. But he would have to come closer to capture more detail in spite of the powerful zoom lenses he carried. Closer was always better. You cannot be Helmut Newton, or more befitting the situation a Robert Capa or Larry Burrows from a hundred yards as real documented evidence is to be found up close in the details of withered faces of man or the weathered intricacies of machineries. In all likelihood Michael Desonchi, being the sociological and environmentally aware person he was know to be, wasn’t aware of these secluded proceedings and he could warn him in which case he would for sure be grateful. Perhaps he could have this exclusive studio shoot after all Edward thought with a smirk on his face.
He waited for thirty minutes for the light to become brighter. One final gaze through the field glasses convinced him that there was not a single soul in sight. But he decided that he would do it as fast as possible. If he was spotted he would possible be captured and it could all be game over since these invasive companies usually had little sympathy for other intruders. He walked as fast as possible to the base of the tower. For a moment he gazed at the top. Then he began pointing his camera to the various structures and he began making a circular movement with his camera, his eye stuck intermittently to the viewfinder almost as if he was attempting to gun down everything in the vicinity. He stopped when he saw a camera on top of a small pole fixed to one of the containers. How could he have missed this?
As he walked towards it, nearing the tower, he noticed a wide lane of asphalt to the right, previously blocked from view, perhaps a hundred meters wide leading to a structure well into the distance. With his zoom he could make out a huge concrete building with a sloped front and tiny windows.
It was a bunker.
He realized this wasn’t an oil drilling operation.
Suddenly yellow lights were pulsating from all over the place and a whining alarm was sounding. In less than a blink Edward was encapsulated in utter despair.
Almost instantaneously an enormous rumble came from underground as the ground was moving upwards and at the same time a big stifling cloud erupted from a big hole underneath the tower rapidly surging over the surrounding skies with unmatched speed. The heat was intense and all light was blocked. The ground wobbled like the ocean in a heavy storm.
This force could not be countered he realized.
There was nowhere to go.
In one minute moment Edward felt his skin burn from his body with an all absorbing excruciating pain.
It didn’t last long.
He was no more.
Cochrane tapped the man sitting by the pool on his shoulder. Michael Desonchi took a draw from his cigar, averted his gaze from the glistening athletic body in the pool and turned his head. “My dear friend Josh, was the package delivered?”
“Yes but I may need to exchange the plane again as he may come looking for it when he’s back in Papeete.”
“Couldn’t you spray paint it like last time?”
“Yes but I can’t change the registration marks. So I’d better move this one to Hawaii or maybe Middle America, that would be even better.”
“Whatever it takes Josh. On a side note, did you hear they started testing again?”
Desonchi tapped his cigar. “It was just on the radio. The damn French. We’re lucky it's six hundred miles southeast.”
“Southeast? But it’s been four years!”
“So what if it was four years? It was bound to happen sooner or later. They have to destroy paradise. What is it? You’re turning white all of a sudden? And that's no mean feat over here. But tell me Josh, do you really feel Edward Small got to close?”
“I would hope not.”
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Eric Jakobs.
Published on e-Stories.org on 05/13/2016.
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