by myron x
thanks to all who gave notes. this is the second installment. any suggestions?
|THE WINTER CONFERENCE
It seemed too good to be true, even after the plane landed. Jacob Calibri, CEO of Calibri Media International, invited me to a writers conference in the south of France. Though he wouldn't publish me on his scholarly imprint, The Calibri Press, he said he had a good friend in Europe who insisted on meeting me after reading some of my short stories on the internet. Calibri even had me named as an honored guest, with a free first class ride and a twenty five hundred dollar honorarium.
We were at a place called the Chateau Eza, in Ez, France, on the Mediterranean. Two days ago, it was sunny and seventy eight degrees. Now it was London weather; foggy and cold. The hotel was in a tiny village, with narrow walkways and uneven cobblestones. My room was almost claustrophobic, except for the view of the fog-shrouded sea, and the small courtyard garden outside the door.
It was chilly, but I had a fifth of Jack Daniels and a six pack of Coca Cola. The only thing I didn't have was ice. Here, you have to ask for ice specifically.
I saw a guy I had seen at the reception earlier approaching the table.
"Good evening, Myron X. Lovely night, isn't it?" he said. He said his name was Upchurch. He claimed to be a rare book dealer, but he had eyes like a cop. He was too well built to be a real bookworm, and I overheard him talking into his cell phone three different times in weird foreign languages. He had a British accent, but I was beginning to think that was a fake too. He sat down and I poured an extra shot.
"It's great. I'm wondering what I'm doing here."
He sipped the Jack. "I've read some of your stories. Don't underestimate yourself. You must remember, to these people, you are of the streets, but you can put a sentence together. You are their Charlie Parker, their John Coltrane."
"I was always more of a Miles Davis fan myself."
"Saxophones always do well in France. It matches the tone of their suffering. Just smile at their jokes, and always have a good story on your lips. You'll have to sing for your supper, but oh, what a feast it will be."
"Calibri won't publish me."
"He doesn't have to. He bankrolls his mistress Mena and her publishing company Promenade Press."
"That's her company?"
"Oh, yes, it is. She may look like a Penthouse centerfold, but she's got a degree in journalism from Columbia. She worked in acquisitions at two Random House imprints. She's sharp, no bimbo."
"She wasn't at the reception?"
"No, she'll be here tomorrow. You meet her, you will be smitten. Most men that meet her are."
We both heard the click-clack of heels. I looked over Upchurch's shoulder as a beautiful woman with jet black hair approached us. Her jeans and her red turtleneck were tight on her curves.
"Mister Upchurch." she said. He turned and stood as she approached the table. I stood up, leaning on my chair.
"Ah, Hello Mena, this is-"
"I know, Mr. Upchurch. It is very nice to meet you, Myron X. I've kept up with your adventures on the internet. Your writing is very entertaining."
"Myron X, may I present Madame Mena Aligheri-"
"Spelled the same. My father always contended we were family, but I am less convinced. This is your first time in France?"
"My first time anywhere."
"I must apologize for just arriving. I thought I could get out of Paris sooner. We drove, and it rained the whole way. I hope you will join me for breakfast-"
"Well, we'd love to-"
"Not you, Mr. Upchurch," she said, looking at me. Her ice blue eyes were difficult to look away from.
"I'd like that," I said.
"Very good. Gentlemen, good evening." She turned and walked away and I watched her until she disappeared into the darkness.
Upchurch smiled. "Careful. Calibri is a jealous man." We sat down and poured two more shots.
"Aaah, what for? She aint in my league; barely in the same sport-"
"Still, a man like Calibri, you want to stay on his good side. He got connections on four continents; government, law enforcement, the works."
"So what about you, Upchurch? What are you doing here?"
"Just hanging out as it were...looking for a good story. A sort of professional fly on the wall."
"That sounds like a spy, Upchurch."
"Yes...it rather does."
I heard my cell phone ringing. I sat up and realized I was on the floor. There was an empty bottle of Jack Daniels bottle next to the bed, which I remembered saying was too soft.
I stood up, still dressed from last night. I was sore all over and my left arm was numb. Was I having a heart attack? Jesus, not in a foreign country, no way. I couldn't find the cell phone, but the phone on the night stand rang, or rather buzzed like a travel alarm clock.
"Yeah, yeah, hello?"
"Miseur Xavier? Madame Aligheri is in the salon-"
"The what?" It sounded like the guy from the front desk.
"The room next to the lobby."
"Give me fifteen minutes, tell her I'll be there."
I took a cold shower, not because I wanted to, but the hot water was taking too long. It did clear the booze fog, but after I got out, I could not get warm. Even with my heaviest hoodie and a skully, I was still shivering.
I went to the front desk and saw the restaurant on the other side of the room. There were only a few people there. I saw Mena at the far end, reading a newspaper. The room looked out on a deck, and just past that was a steep hill side, shrouded in thick fog.
"Good Morning," I said, approaching the table. Her straight black hair was down around her shoulders and she looked even better.
"Good Morning," she smiled, motioning me to sit. She folded the paper as the waiter approached.
"I'm not much of an early riser," I said. "Could I get some hot tea with honey and lemon?"
She spoke to the waiter in French. He nodded and hurried away. She wore a silk scarf around her neck and I thought I saw some kind of scar underneath it.
"You were were an athlete? You look like a football player, or a boxer."
"Just a little when I was a kid. By high school, other things had my attention."
"I'm picturing your jacket photo. You don't look like other writers."
"Well, I don't own a corduroy blazer, if that's what you mean."
"You're more...like New York. I used to live there."
"Yeah, me too. Lemme guess, somewhere in the West Eighties, Manhattan?"
"Eighties? oh, no, I was in a loft in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from New York University."
"What kind of books do you publish?"
"Well, I got lucky with a couple of textbook contracts that pay the bills. I'm designing an contemporary imprint with an old roommate of mine. She's a movie producer in L.A. and she just closed a contract with Paramount. Why would you want to be a writer? Most of the writers I know are miserable people."
"If they're miserable, it's not because they write. You heard of Chester Himes?"
"Of course. Coffinhead and Grey Digger Holmes."
I laughed. "Close. Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. Those are some of my favorite stories. William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch and Interzone-"
"I understand. They were both published in France. You like the dark horses of literature."
"I don't know, maybe. I can only do this one way. I will say if you walk with me, you will be entertained."
The waiter brought a tray of croissants with square tabs of butter and four kinds of jellies. I took one. They were warm too.
"You're a bit of a character. What did you do before your great calling?"
"I used to be a record producer. And a journalist...and a few other things. My eye tends to wander a little."
The waiter brought back a bottle of champagne and a carafe of orange juice. I smiled at her.
"You're trying to take advantage of me."
We sat there over and hour until the fog lifted. I had only one mimosa. She had three. She leaned back in her chair and her eyes were drooping.
"Jacob is bored with me."
"He thinks you're boring?"
"No, he's bored with me. With my body."
"He's tired of fucking me, okay? I'm his mistress, his other woman. His wife lives in West Palm beach. She's at Calibri's place in Manhattan because of the hurricane warnings. She's always threatening to divorce him."
"So what? sound like they'd be better off-"
"It's not that simple. There's too much money involved, a great deal of it hers. She's on the Board of Directors for Calibri International and owns twenty percent of it. The only larger shareholder is Calibri himself. The only reason I'm still in business is because I actually made some money. She called me 'Jacob's Whore' at the one Board of Directors meeting I went to."
"Damn, in front of everybody?"
"Very matter-of-factly, like that was my name. Everyone was so shocked, they pretended they didn't hear it. Jacob had to wheel her out."
"Wheel her out?"
"She's in a wheelchair. Paralyzed from the waist down. A terrible car accident years ago. That's the other reason they won't get divorced."
"Jacob was driving drunk. He flipped his Porsche at sixty miles per hour and destroyed her spine. You know what happened to him? Nothing. Not even a papercut."
The waiter came with another bottle of champagne. I shook my head no. He started to pour her glass and stopped. She scowled at him and he filled it.
"I need you to do something for me," she said, looking sleepy, "Don't you fly back to New York?"
"Yeah, tomorrow afternoon."
"I have a package I want you to deliver to her. No one will stop you, she'll know it's coming-"
"What is it, a letter bomb?"
"It's a proposal. Just drop it off. Do that for me and we'll discuss giving you the Jimi Hendrix treatment."
"You know what I mean, you're a music guy. Jimi Hendrix wasn't getting anywhere in New York, so his manager Chas Chandler took him to England. His first two records were put out in Europe. By the time he came back to the states, he was a star."
I smiled. There's no way this chick could be this hip.
"Just you watch. I'll make you a rock star."
I was on my way to a bar called The Catalyst in the West Village. It was a basement watering hole populated by former political prisoners and hip hop dissidents who'd been unceremoniously kicked out of the culture they helped create.
I still had Mena's package in my bag, where it had sat since I'd touched down four days ago. She said to deliver it, but she didn't say when. Maybe I'd get Gypsy or Marty G to ride uptown with me later.
It was after nine in the evening, and the bar was getting full, mostly college types grousing over their education debt. I pushed past them to the last table in the back. I found Marty G, Chomsky the Poet, The Priest, and this big, bearded weirdo everyone called Ginsberg. He looked like a cross between Allen Ginsberg and that guy they used to call "Meathead" on Archie Bunker.
"Myron X," Marty G said, as I sat on an uneven chair. "How was the international jet set?"
"If you think Hollywood is full of self important scum, then you need to hop over the big pond."
"I attended a dinner with the Queen of England," Ginsberg said, "At Buckingham Palace and everything. Shook hands with Margaret Thatcher."
"What did Calibri say about putting you on?" Marty G asked.
"He didn't. He doesn't do commercial fiction. He puts out scholarly journals; people he can submit for the Nobel Prize."
"Bullshit," Chomsky said, I'd rather read a plumber than a scholar. What the hell does a scholar know about other people's theories?"
"Dead people," The Priest said, "Bear in mind in the next decade, there will be more writers than readers."
"Shit, there already is. All the internet has done is make slop more accessible," Marty G said, waving at the waitress. Everyone was drinking Budwiser and Coronas, except for Ginsberg, who would only drinks Coors.
"I met Calibri's mistress Mena. She's got a publishing company too. Fine as hell, like an anchor on CNN. Got an ass like you wouldn't believe-"
Chomsky said, "Calibri's whore publishes books? Jesus Christ."
"Yeah, and she's way more successful at it then you ever were. That's half your problem, you don't know how to talk to anybody."
"There is no place for the poet," Chomsky grumbled at his beer, "The poet is dead. I am dead."
"Never mind him," Marty G said, "She got paper like that? You should talk to her into investing in my new record label-"
"No, she's not down with Hip Hop. I told you before, nobody wants to hear from a forty-two year old rapper, nobody. The modern age is completely visual-"
"So what the fuck man, we need a platform-"
"There was the underground Press," the Priest said, "but that was many moons ago-"
"Exactly," I said, "All that shit is internet based now. If you aint on You Tube, then forget it."
"The technology is most of the problem," Ginsberg said, "Look, television was an invention of the fifties, right? Look at the writing before then, and all the writing since. Look forty years in both directions. Which one is better?"
"Before, of course." Chomsky said.
"Exactly. The technology will dictate terms from now on."
"You know what?" I said, "All of you talk like somebody without a mortgage. All of you are taken care of by a woman. You two live with your girlfriends, and you Chomsky, you still live with your mother. All of you are on some kind of tit or another."
I felt a hand on the back of my chair.
"I happen to be a great fan of tits. What about you fellows?"
I looked up. "Jesus Christ. Upchurch."
"Hello Myron X. We must chat."
Upchurch was walking briskly up Sixth Avenue and I struggled to keep up. It was getting darker and colder and I left my drink tab with Marty G again.
"Hey man, slow down, or I'm going back to the bar."
"We can't. You can't. I think you're being followed."
"Followed?" I said, looking behind me, "By who?"
"I don't know. Maybe the Russians."
"The Russians? What Russians?"
"Did she give you anything?"
"Mena. Did she give you anything?" Upchurch said, still walking and looking at his phone. I stopped walking. Upchurch walked another ten steps, then stopped. He rushed back to me.
"I said come on."
"Fuck you Upchurch, this is bullshit. How the hell did you find me?"
Upchurch grabbed me close, weirdly close and opened his jacket just enough so I could see the gun holstered in his armpit.
"No, Myron X, this is no bullshit, I assure you. You can run if you wish, but I already found you once, and I will not be pleasant about this again."
He pulled me by the arm to the curb and flagged down a cab. A yellow cab screeched to a stop next to him and he pulled open the back door.
"Did she give you anything?"
"I wanted her to give me some pussy, but she didn't."
"Who the fuck are you Upchurch? You aint hardly no rare book dealer."
"Oh, I am a dealer, after a fashion. Let's just say I have a government contract."
"Government? Christ, you're a fed? Are you serious? What the hell do you want with me?"
"I want to know if Mena gave you anything before you left France."
"Look, the only thing she gave me was an offer. She said she would publish my stories in Europe if I wrote some crime stories like Chester Himes did. Where are we going?"
"To my place. I have a story to tell you."
The cab stopped at a high rise on the west side of Central Park. I followed Upchurch out of the cab and past a uniformed doorman that called Upchurch "sir."
The lobby was all marble and antique furniture. We took the elevator to the eighteenth floor to down a long hall to a door that had a gold plate that read 1812. He knocked on the door.
"Thought you said this was your place."
"After a fashion. It belongs to a friend."
The door was opened by a tall thin man, almost seven feet tall, pale as baby powder, hairless and shirtless.
"Where have you been? Cattin around in some alley? Who's your little friend?"
"Myron X, this is Rex. He plays Pro Beach Volleyball." Upchurch said, walking in past Rex. I walked in and pushed the door closed.
"The APV tour is pretty popular." I said, "It's becoming a big thing."
"You watch the tour? Then you've seen me and my partner Christian. We were in the finals last year. Blaine, I need another thirty minutes on the Lifecycle, then I'm in the hot tub until further notice. There's some Becks in the fridge."
I walked into a small, but nicely decorated living room that featured two leather couches facing each other, separated by a mirrored coffee table cube.
"Have a seat. You want a beer?"
"That and some answers. What's all this about?"
Upchurch came in with two icy beers and handed me one.
"This is about spies. Calibri is one and I think Mena might be also."
I sat down and drank. Spies? Like for real spies? You bullshittin-"
"I'm afraid I'm not. Calibri ferries information out of the U.S. and London and sells it."
"Jacob Calibri is a Russian spy? C'mon-"
"No, not just Russia. He's got a partner in arms sales in Africa and Southern Asia-"
"C'mon, there is no more cold war. Reagan flat-lined all of that years ago."
"And what do you think has happened since? Since nine-eleven, right here? Now that the Russians are using your capitalist blueprint, they are flush with cash. Cash that buys a lot of information. A whole new cold war is well on it's way, Myron X. The spy game is bigger than ever."
I drank down more beer. "And you say Calibri is one?"
"Mena also. She has an uncle that was arrested by the Mossad in 1998. He was trying to sell satellite access codes."
I looked at him. "You're serious about this."
"I need you be aware of this because you have an in with them. Calibri is laundering money for at least two terrorist organizations, some of it through his publishing company-"
"I know the cat, but we aren't like that-"
"Mena might know something-"
"So? even if she does, what do you want me to do?"
"Just let me know if you talk to her or Calibri. Find out what their plans are. Do this favor for me, Myron X; I do not forget favors."
My cell phone rang. I fished it out of my pants pocket and looked at the screen. It said Jacob Calibri. I pressed talk.
"What do you say, Mister C?"
"Myron X. I didn't get a chance to see you before you left France. All was well?"
I was pointing at the phone. Upchurch was signaling to keep talking.
"It was fabulous sir, and I want to thank you for your hospitality."
"Your lecture on fiction caused quite a stir. You could do that for a living."
"Ahh, no big deal, it's just talk."
"I disagree. I have an offer for you. Six lectures like the one you did. Are you available for lunch tomorrow?"
"Sure. What's good for you?"
"Have you been to Nobu, downtown? How about one-thirty?"
"I will be there sir," I said, ending the call.
"Ahh, what's the big deal," I smiled, "This spy stuff is easy."
I don't know why I still had the envelope Mena gave me. I should have dropped it off three days ago. But between running into Upchurch and trying to hustle up a new gig, I was feeling compressed. The music business had gone from a five star restaurant to a cheap cafeteria. Production and engineering production gigs were drying up all over town, and the only way I was going to make any coin was with words, not notes.
Writing wasn't much better. Most of the magazines I worked for had been replaced by blogs, which didn't really count, especially on the federal pay scale. Now there were too many people willing to give bad writing away, undercutting the whole market.
I was in a cab riding downtown to Soho to meet Calibri for lunch. I did enough to shake off my hoodie and my shooters vest for white button down and a tuxedo jacket that used to belong to my uncle. Calibri wore seven hundred dollar tailored suits and I felt like I needed to step up my game. I said I'd never wear another necktie after selling cars for three years and I was holding to that. Calibri was my best shot at any type of gainful employment.
I could feel my phone ringing in my pocket. I took it out and looked at a number I didn't recognize. Could be a bill collector.
"This is Myron X."
"Myron, myron, this is Mena," she said, out of breath and jumbled, like she was walking and talking at the same time.
"Hello Mena, are you-"
"Did you give that envelope to Calibri's wife?"
"I haven't been able to link up with her. I left a couple of messages, but-"
"Don't let me down, Myron X, do you hear me? Do not-"
"I heard you. Where are you?"
"I'm in Dubai right now. On my way to the airport."
"You're in Ireland?"
"Dubai, in the Middle East, not Dublin. I'm on my way to New York. Take the envelope to my personal assistant Tauren. I sent her address in your e-mail. She lives in Greenwich Village, near NYU."
I looked at a street sign as we crossed fourteenth street and Eighth Avenue. Another couple of blocks and I'd be near NYU. Get this done after my lunch with Calibri. should I mention my lunch appointment?
"I'm not far from there now" I said, "I'll drop it off later today. In fact, I'm on my way to have lunch with your boyfriend right now."
"Whatever he tells you about me is a lie. Do not trust Calibri, Myron X. I think he might be trying to kill me. He is a snake with a lot of money. I will call you when I'm in the city. Be careful."
She was gone. I started to flip through the phone browser to my Hotmail account, but I cleared the screen and put it back in my pocket. I'd get the address after I was done with Calibri. I was was too involved with these people already. Now Mena was talking about getting offed; I wouldn't put it past Calibri--he had the bread and the connects to dump a body in the river and make it look like an accident.
My phone rang again. I looked at it. Marty G.
"What up, you ever been to Nobu?"
"Nobu? The restaurant? You kidding me? I eat the dollar menu at McDonalds. You owe me thirty bucks, dickhead-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I gotta hit you back later. I got a lunch meeting I'm on my way to-"
"At Nobu? Excuse the hell out of me. Look, I got a problem, the computer's down and I need to make more CDs-"
"Down, what do you mean down, your computer?"
"Yes, yes, my computer is down, dammit, the screen is all blue-"
"Are you serious? You got the blue screen of death?"
"The what? Aw man, why you call it that, why you call it that? Goddammit-"
"Dude, turn that fucker off right now, unplug it and let it sit for thirty minutes."
The cab was stopping near Hudson Street. I could see the restaurant near the middle of the block.
"So you're saying I have nothing. No album, no pictures, no bio...this is bullshit!"
"Look, look, I gotta go. I'll call you back before sundown."
I snapped the phone shut. I'm sure he was still talking, but I didn't have time for his computer snafus. I paid the cab driver with my last two twenties, crawled out and walked up the block. The street was still crowded with the tail end of rush hour.
I slid past a crowd of people congregating either on their way in or out the door and told the host I was meeting Jacob Calibri. He nodded like he was impressed and walked into the dining room. I followed him with my hands in my pockets.
I was never one for upscale dining. I spent too many nights eating out of styrofoam and cardboard. I'd been to six A list restaurants in my life, and every time I ended up eating a Big Mac on the way home.
"Mister Cailbri told me to seat you and he will be along shortly. Your server will be right with you."
"Thanks very much," I said, sitting at the table. I wanted to take my jacket off, but I thought I better not. Nobu was rich in wood textures, warm birch tree partitions and soft lighting. All the tables were full, and no one was sitting alone, except for me.
I'd only taken one swig of my Corona when I saw Calibri walking toward me with a cute little blonde behind him. I waited until he got to the table before I stood up.
"Hey, Mr. C," I said, shaking his hand.
"Hello, Myron X. This is my assistant Lisel. Please, let us sit."
She was cute, with her boyish blonde haircut and demure navy blue suit. Even in a professional sense, she looked way too young for him. Calibri held out her chair for her to sit, then he sat.
"You did very well in France. Have you thought about teaching?"
"A couple of times. I don't think I could sit through gradual school."
"Gradual?" she said.
"That's what my mom used to call graduate school, because you gradually realize you don't want to go to school anymore."
Lisel laughed politely, covering her mouth with two fingers.
"I see. You have an interesting employment history, Myron X. In addition to writing, you've been a photographer, a record producer and a...used car salesman?"
I smiled as the waiter approached. He knew Calibri by name and spoke what sounded like Russian. Calibri pointed at the table while he spoke.
The waiter looked at me. "Another Corona?"
"Just one." I said. Lisel ordered a iced green tea. I waited for the waiter to leave.
"Three Fifty Five Auto Imports. I learned a lot at that gig."
"Like what?" Calibri asked.
"I learned about myself; how to make friends quickly, then ask them for thirty thousand dollars; how to tell when people are full of shit; how to hustle them. By the time I got good at it, I got another job."
"And you were a journalist?"
"I was stringing pieces for a few years. Internet rags mostly. I don't think any of them survived the dot com bubble bust."
"Have you heard of Mode Magazine?"
"I've seen it on the stands, but I've never read it."
"It's one of four magazines we publish. The others are trade journals. I want you to contact the editor Eden Kendall-"
"Eden Kendall? Are you serious? I know Eden. I don't know if she'll hire me. The last time I worked for her I wasn't...as duty bound as I am now."
"Don't worry, she will-"
"Um, look Mr. C, I gotta tell you something. I'm glad you dig my writing and all, but you've been dangling carrots in my face for a month now. Believe me, I appreciate it, but I have the feeling you want something more than just a byline."
Calibri saw the waiter approaching with plates. "I hope you don't mind that I ordered for the table. I like to order several things and share. Those are kelp rolls, that is shashimi, that is rock shrimp timpura, and that is mushroom salad."
Great, another Big Mac, I thought, watching the waiter arrange all the plates on the table.
I ate a couple of shrimp and drank another beer. I used a fork. Calibri and Lisel used chopsticks.
"One thing fascinates me. You are a licensed private detective?"
"Yeah, sort of. It was an online course I took for a story I was writing years ago."
"But you were trained?"
"More or less. I passed all the tests."
"Well, consider this your first case. I want you to find my daughter."
"Your what? Get out of here."
"My daughter. Her name is Danielle Calibri. She's twenty three years old and she's a junior at Hofstra University. A business major. She asked me for a large sum of money around the holidays last year and I refused her. I haven't heard from her since. Find her, tell me where she is and what she's doing. Do this for me and I will make sure we take care of you."
"You are off the grid, shall we say. You have the skills I require and I think you're greedy enough to deliver."
"What's the pay?"
"This is for credit, not cash. But as far as expenses are concerned, Lisel will issue a company credit card."
"Oh, right, what's it good for, two hundred dollars-"
"No, it's quite unlimited. Let us try the honor system," Calibri said, as Lisel opened a leather binder and handed me an American Express gold card. It had my real name on it. How the hell did he find that?
"Please sign here," she said, angling the binder toward me.
"Is this a contract?"
"An agreement," he smiled. A deal with the devil, I thought. This signature put me in Calibri's pocket, a gilded cage full of what must be very interesting people. Lisel gave me a large manila envelope, unsealed with "Myron X" written on the front.
"You have your cell phone?" Calibri asked.
"Yeah, right here."
"Take it to the iPhone in midtown store and ask for Tanya. She has a new phone for you, already programmed. Alert me of your progress."
I finished my beer and went looking for something to eat.