Chapter 2 Following the Lotus Flower

The blonde soccer mom gave Gregson a hand up; it was as strong as a vice.

“What do you do for a living?”

Oh no, Gregson thought. She’s playing with her hair, that’s a sign of attraction.

“I’m a private investigator.”

“A real one?” She looked at him hungrily.

“Do you ever investigate divorced women?”

“Frequently.” Normally, Gregson would have seen the exit, but there was no escape.

“Are you hurt bad?” She started feeling his back and chest. Gregson was powerless to stop her.

“We’ll take over from here, mam.” A young paramedic gave Gregson an understanding look.

“The husband is upstairs with an ice pick in his chest,” Gregson said.

“How did that happen?” The paramedic asked.

“Dangerous love. Did I break anything doc?”

“Wiggle your toes.”

Gregson did.

“I think your back’s okay; you just got the wind knocked out of you.”

Gregson got up and glanced at the cheating husband.

“She missed your heart by two inches. Are you sure you don’t want to press any charges?”

“Yes, of course not. I’m in love.”

“I’ve had enough of this madness. I have a tee time to catch. We’ll sort this out in 4 hours.”

Gregson sped off in his t-bird, following the scent of the Lotus flower.

Chapter 1 Stakeout on Summer Street

A neighborhood is smaller and larger through binoculars. Gregson spun the dials and Summer Street came into view. It was ordinary; used a lot at 8 AM in the morning and 5 PM at night; quite dull in the middle of the day. A girl was running up the street in a sports bra.

“Emmm, the fairer sex, quite fair,” Gregson said. He reached for his potato chips. Crumbs flaked onto his golf sweater. He had a tee time at 2 pm, which meant that the stakeout couldn’t last much longer. Cheating stay-at-home husbands were not his regular fare, but after surviving cancer and a drastic weight gain, Gregson was ready to take it easy. He was descending into a food comma, so he juiced himself with stakeout coffee. “Strong stuff, ahhh, that’s just about right.” Even with the caffeine, Gregson drifted to sleep. Acorns kept falling on him and into his convertible.

Then a car that didn’t belong, with a driver who didn’t belong, tore down the street and parked. It was a white Lotus and the flower that stepped out of it wore a white tennis skirt and top. She was tanned and curvy–a dangerous temptation. And Gregson zoomed in.

“This job has its perks. Now all I need to do is snap a few pictures for the lawyer and collect my fee.”

He quickly reviewed his mini notepad. Gregson took the wife’s statement, verbatim. “Catch the bastard in the act.”

“Okay,” he chuckled, stepping out of his t-bird and walking to the front lawn. Gregson had to take his pictures fast or someone might think he was a peeping tom. He looked at the rickety scaffolding and decided to risk it. Halfway up, he realized it was a bad idea.

Then he heard sounds… love-making?

She was riding the dad bod and stopped.

“Listen Alex, you agreed to get rid of your wife for the life insurance money.”

“But I can’t, she’s still a good person.”

“It’s me or her; and what’s going on down there?”

“It has trouble standing at attention when you yell.”

“Well… if you can’t take some action, I will!” She used an ice pick and jabbed him in the chest.

“Wow! Gregson said. He snapped the photo.

“Shoot! I left the flash on!”

He fell off the landing. Paralyzed. The air sucked from his lungs. And he couldn’t move.

FOOTSTEPS.

“This is the 21st century old man.” She pulled the film from his disposable camera. Her ice pick flashed in the sun.

He always knew it would be a woman.

But then a minivan pulled into the driveway before the needle could do its work.

The Lotus left and Gregson longed for her perfume; dangerous women were his weakness.

“God, you’re lucky!” A soccer mom said, running over.

“Don’t I know it, but sometimes, I wonder…”

The Old Mail Carrier

Charles catalogued his packages and letters. The job was only supposed to last over the holidays, but somehow the post office convinced him to keep working.

“Holy Hell,” He said. “Zone 9? I’ll be delivering to drunks, pimps, and fools. Talk about a test of my endurance.” He took a swallow of whiskey from his hip flask. Breaking the rules and not getting caught might be the meaning of life.

He drove up the narrow street and a kid rode towards him on a bicycle. “He wants to play chicken, does he?” Charles gunned the engine. “Real lessons are learned the hard way.” The kid jumped out a-the-way between two cars and landed on the hood.

“How’s my driving?” Charles cackled. There were noon ladies standing outside their houses waiting for his mail. He felt his package and grunted, but he still preferred the German Shepherds that bit him in the ass.

“Mail man, you’re late. You got any mail for me?”

“Lady, just give me a second. I’ve got like a thousand packages to deliver in the next couple hours. Wait… nope, I don’t have one for you.”

“I know it’s in there; give me my mail.” She reached for his bag.

“Lady, if you steal the mail, it’s a federal offense.”

“My sister always mails me every Thursday. It’s overdue!” She reached for his bag.

“Get away from the government’s mail!”

“Or what? What-a-ya gonna do?”

“I’ll do this…” Charles took three drinks from his whiskey flask.”

“You drunken fool. Get out a here.”

Charles took his cue and left the street, he left the neighborhood; he left the city, the state. He ran out of gas.

The occasional car saw the old mail carrier walking alongside the road.

“They deliver packages this far out, in the desert?” A boy asked his dad.

“Apparently so, son. Whether rain, or sleet, or snow, the mail is delivered where it needs to go.”

Charles walked into the sunset. He died happy; away from city lights, and the people beneath them.

THE END

Epilogue

Gregson stared at the flames with a sense of foreboding, but Lafayette’s dream kept echoing inside his head.

“Only one man survives—he’s fat with a receding hairline.” He was the last man standing; did that mean he would survive?”

The chief stared into his eyes. There is only one last task for you to do before you become our god.”

“And what is that?” Gregson asked.

“You must beat the village shaman in our pizza eating contest.”

“You get pizza down here?

“Air dropped!”

Gregson looked at the tower of Pizza Hut boxes and suddenly his hunger returned. He gazed at the village shaman, who was fat with a receding hairline.

“It’s not over til it’s over,” Gregson said.

“You got that right!”

“1…2…3…EAT!”

Gregson tasted the cheese and he was his old self again. One pizza disappeared and then another. The shaman couldn’t continue. And Gregson reach for the last slice and swallowed it whole.

“Hail our god!”

That’s all good and well, but I do need to get home. Do any of you know how to get there.”

The chief handed Gregson his cell phone. “Call helicopter.”

“What?” Gregson said. “I thought you people were untouched by human kind.”

“Who are you calling, ‘you people.'”

“What?” Gregson said.

THE END

Chapter 7 The Second Act

Admiral Lafayette left Gregson for the stage and the second act. He started reading his manuscript and the more he read, the more Gregson had thoughts of insanity and suicide. Lafayette’s followers began to sway like a stormy sea. It was horrifying and amazing to watch the will of one man work like a spell on the weak-minded. It was TV and social media and political commentary rolled up into a grand philosophy that numbed the soul and hijacked the mind.

“I leave you now and hope to find you where I left you,” Lafayette said.

The little-big man looked Gregson in the eyes with his beady thumbtacks. Gregson didn’t blink. His life depended on finding the valley of the red flower and Lafayette knew this. He had a sixth sense for dependency. Only mojo could keep the PI alive.

Down river, black clouds blotted out the sun.

“Mosquitos!”

A few more miles and Anacondas dropped from trees. Lafayette pulled a saber from his hip and swung wildly at the coils that squashed his mid-shipman.

“Brace for impact!” A rushing sound made it impossible to hear and Gregson felt his feet leaving the deck. “Waterfall!”

Rather than dropping like a rock, The Marie Delaine glided into the valley.

“Gentlemen, I give you the red flower, untouched by civilized man until only a few months ago.” An arrow pounded into the side of the boat, and then another.

“Take cover!”

The river oozed with blood and bodies. It was hard to spot the red petals among the crimson. Gregson grabbed a handful and stuffed them into his pocket. Little men in tree-trunk canoes paddled towards them.

“Ahead, full!” Lafayette screamed.

“Sir, the engines conked out!”

“What?”

“Get me my side-arm.” Lafayette took a crouching position and started blasting the natives like he was at the fair or in some video game. If this was the end, Gregson preferred to go-out with his boots on, rather than watching the drip of morphine in a hospital bed. He ran to the galley and boiled some water. Soon he had a pot of orchid tea. Gregson took a sip.

“Tastes like love and knowledge.” And suddenly, he had the wisdom of every library in his head. He had opened his brain to something that couldn’t be read. His appetite returned.

Meanwhile… the crew of the Marie Delaine were being murdered.

Lafayette had a smile on his face.

Some measure life and death on a timeline, whereas others see mojo and madness on the same continuum.

An arrow went right through Lafayette’s chest, and he breathed his last. Gregson was the last man standing. There was nowhere to run.

“Gi gi,” the chief said.

“I don’t speak native.”

“Oh, no matter; we speak yours. There is something wrong with your look.”

“What?”

“I see skin and bones where there should be a fat man. You come with us to the campfire to become our god.”

Gregson nodded. If he was to be sacrificed, so be it.

Chapter 6 The Secret to Everything

Gregson looked for his mojo in the mirror. It usually came to him when he least expected it. Now, all he could see were his sunken features.

The thin PI left his room for the deck where Admiral Lafayette was at the controls.

 “The admiral is one of the most alluring men,” a blonde girl said.

Gregson raised his eyebrows. “He has a pot belly and receding hairline.”

“Don’t talk bad about the admiral. It’s his mind that is seductive. You’ll see,” she said. “Just wait for the second act.”

At the Mission, Lafayette was giving a speech… “I know all of you have been waiting to read my second book. I will unveil the secret to everything. When you hear it, you will know it, you have always known it. It came from the valley of the red flower, a place touched by eternity and knowing.”

With that, Lafayette left the podium and went behind the curtain.

Gregson followed.

“You have something, none of us have,” Lafayette said.

“What?” Gregson asked.

“A reason and an emotion behind it. I’ve been searching for what you have, but I can’t get it. I keep convincing others that I have it, but all they want to be is convinced.”

Gregson didn’t know what to say.

“I’ve gotten these most recent answers under the influence of nitrous oxide.” Lafayette petted his manuscript like it was an animal.

“What?” Gregson asked.

“Laughing Gas. I had a few teeth extracted last week. In the jungle, I find it difficult to brush consistently.”

“What did you mean about the valley of the red flower?”

“It came to me in a dream. When we get there, only one of us will come out of the jungle alive.

“Who will it be?”

“He’s fat and has a receding hairline.”

“Do you believe in dreams?” Gregson asked.

“Dreams make life tolerable. We all have to believe in something, whether we are asleep or not.”

Gregson didn’t tell him what he was thinking…

Chapter 5 The Marie Delaine

Gregson looked at the geography; there were notes written between the mountains. “Mosquitoes blot out the sun. Poisonous snakes hang from trees. This journey looks uncomfortable. Where is your Mission, Lafayette?”

“Just up the river, a way. We have some comforts for our VIPs, hot tubs and beautiful women.” Lafayette put his cowboy hat on and opened a box of Cools. He put the cigarette between his lips and grinned. It was a smile that knew how to defeat the day. He opened his door and walked down the dock to a ship moored in the river.

Gregson followed the Admiral on unsteady feet, admiring the Marie Delaine.

“This ship looks like she could sail herself,” Gregson said.

“Oh, but you are mistaken. I have a perfectly trained crew; they observe the utmost discipline.” Lieutenants and midshipmen stood like statues; they didn’t blink. There was something strange in their faces. It was like their souls were depleted in some way.

“What’s wrong with your crew?” Gregson asked.

“Wrong? They are perfect,” Lafayette said.

“A little too perfect, don’t you think?”

“No.”

The ship gave Gregson the creeps, and Lafayette continued to beam like a morning star. His vibes positively glowed when he grabbed the controls.

Honnnnk. Honnnk. The horn sounded and the Marie Delaine left the dock.

Who was Lafayette and why did he want to live forever? Gregson was escorted to his cabin and given an itinerary.

1. Freshen Up

2. Pool, Party, Gambling, Women, General Frivolities

3. The Secret to Everything

“I must be dreaming,” Gregson said. “Perhaps I really do have chemo brain.” But his experience was too real for it to be just a dream. He had surrendered to something that wouldn’t let go. He was in the stream, moving beyond.

Chapter 4 Admiral Lafayette

“Did I hear that you have cancer?” A short man with purple lips asked.

“Yes; it’s terminal.”

“I may be able to help you with that. I’m Lafayette, Admiral Lafayette.” He extended a pudgy hand.

“I don’t need any help,” Gregson said. If it gets too bad, I have a revolver.”

“That’s not what I mean. I unlocked a secret greater than the invention of the wheel and I’m willing to share it with you.”

“What’s your secret then?” Gregson asked.

“Everlasting life; I have a Mission up the river.”

“Jesus, or something else?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. If you follow me, I can help you live forever.”

“Why?”

“Life is an adventure; without adventure, there is no life. I’ve made friends with native bandits who can take us to the red flower.”

“How did you know?”

“It’s a gift.”

Gregson followed the portly man with receding orange hair. He wasn’t sure if Lafayette was delusional, lucky, or devious; maybe a combination of all three. His opinion changed when a Rolls arrived on the tarmac.

“All aboard,” Lafayette said. “Stevens, take us to the H.M.S. Marie Delaine, named after my third ex-wife,” Lafayette explained.

Gregson felt his health declining in the car, even with the air conditioning and the wet bar.

Lafayette mixed a drink. It looked like a margarita. “This will chase your troubles away,” he said.

Gregson drank it and instantly felt like he was 21 again. “What was in that drink?” He asked.

“C-2142, better known as the elixir of life. The Portuguese found it and lost it. Strange, how that works…”

“Then how did you come by it?”

“A recent biologist was picked-up down river. In a water-tight bag, there were red petals pressed between the folds of this map.”

Chapter 3 Stranger on a Plane

Gregson breathed the recycled air and watched the ground get smaller. He was fasting the last 10 days. His goal was to starve the cancer so it couldn’t metabolize. Tumors love sugar and so did he, but he resisted his love to live a bit longer, that was… until he couldn’t.

“Stewardess, would you get me a beer?”

“We aren’t called stewardesses anymore.” Gregson looked at her.

“Oh, what do they call you then?” He asked.

“Flight attendant.” She said this with status. Gregson looked at her tall figure; she was a vase without any flowers. Her long legs flowed into her swollen head.

CRUSH. She popped the top of his beer.

“Too many sleeping pills,” he muttered.

“What?” She demanded.

“Did I say that out loud? I must be tired. I need to rest; I have cancer, after all.”

Her porcelain face broke into teddy bear sadness. “I hope it’s not serious,” She said.

“Stage 4. I’ve got six months left to live, if I’m lucky.”

Tears rolled into her eyes like waves. Why was it that women wanted him dead when he was alive, but when he was dying, they couldn’t bear the thought?

Solving their mystery was worthwhile; it was unfathomable, the type of hard case that confounds a detective until he realizes some mysteries are not meant to be solved.

Gregson sipped his beer and looked out the window at the blue Atlantic. It was always moving. His eyes were heavy. He slept for hours, passing over jungles, long-forgotten ruins, major cities, and the Brazil beach dancing with babes.

We will begin our descent in 20 minutes…

Gregson woke up and buckled his seat-belt. He felt oddly calm, it was his psychic sense reaching out into the world with an eye for things that can’t be seen and suddenly, he knew he was being watched. Somebody was on the plane with similar business; the red flower was many things to many different people; its fragrance was life and wealth and beauty.

Chapter 2 Last Minute Flight

Gregson was more himself, the closer he got to death, and maybe that’s why he chased things that could kill ‘im, but this time he didn’t have to chase anything. It was inside him. Hospital patients looked at Gregson like he was a god, or at least that’s what he thought. He was a spiritual being, closer to his true self than he had ever been before. Men kept staring at his manhood, so he chose to spare their esteem and put a robe on. It made him feel like Sherlock Holmes or a mall flasher; he couldn’t decide. Oh well, the quest for the orchid was dangerous, if not impossible, a fool’s errand. And Gregson was part fool. The foolish part of him relied on luck; when he didn’t know what to do, he trusted it to guide him.

“Sir, will you be checking out?”

“Yes; and I need you to chart me a flight to the Amazon.”

“Stop him. Don’t let him leave!” The nurses shouted.

The intern looked confused. “It’s only my first day. What do I do?”

“They want me to stay while I shrivel into an adult baby,” Gregson said. “Don’t listen to authority.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s got chemo brain.”

“My head has never been clearer. Call me a plane to take me out of here.”

The intern was being pulled in all different directions. She looked right and then left. It was the medical staff on the one hand, and then a man who spoke like a prophet with so much confidence he could have been running the hospital.

She faltered and then punched the red button. EMERGENCY sounds rang out. Gregson lunged for the sliding doors. If he had still been fat, he wouldn’t have made it, and there was a taxi.

“Take me to the airport.”

“Right away sir. You know, I have not been in your country very long, but you are unusually dressed.”

“Just drive buddy and the faster you go, the more I’ll pay you.”

Gregson wished he could take his words back when his driver hit 110 miles per hour, but then the airport was in sight.

“Amigo, wait a second while I check my lock box.” Gregson got his cash and passport. He left the silver six-shooter. “They’d frown if I took that onto the airplane.”

Gregson passed a large tip to the Indian driver.

“Two hundred dollars. I drive you next time.”

“You bet amigo.”

Airport security looked at Gregson suspiciously. “Do you have any items to declare?”

“Just my suit.”

“Where?”

“My birthday suit.”

“Oh, keep your robe on.”

Boarding in 5 minutes…

Gregson never felt more comfortable on a plane. He was 100 pounds lighter and wearing a bed sheet.