A MAN OF NO CONSEQUENCE

By AEIU

Peter Avery could not understand why given the amount he paid in bribes, he could not have the 'Hardcastle Matter' taken care of; preferably in a way which included a shallow grave in a secluded area.

Senor Franco DeLuiz, the upper Lieutenant of Criminal Procedures for San Rio Blano, sat patiently and allowed the man to fume. Avery brought a lot of money into his country and was more than generous in the gifts he gave for the small considerations which were normally his pleasure to fulfill but Avery, and men like him, failed to understand that there were, sometimes, other considerations which had to be taken into account.

"I wish you had come to me with your problem at the beginning, Senor Avery," said DeLuiz as he pressed his fingers together in a contemplative pose. "The men you asked to handle this matter were too messy. Senor Hardcastle is too important of a man to be handled in such a manner. Already my office and the Office of the President have been receiving multiple telephone calls from many personages of your country; all of them inquiring of the status of the case, the well-being of Senor Hardcastle, and none of them believing he would be in possession of drugs. Even his arrest at the hotel has caused some of its other guests to question the circumstances of his arrest and their and their own well-being. The Minister of Tourism has called and is worried this event could harm the amount of tourist dollars which are brought to this country." DeLuiz shook his head. "Much, much too messy."

"Hardcastle has been a pain in my side for years," complained Avery. "I thought I'd finally gotten rid of him when he retired." Avery's voice began to rise as he listed Hardcastle' transgressions. "But he's invaded my sanctuary, embarrassed me in front of my buyers, stole my property, and turned over certain papers to the authorities which will make things difficult for me to say the least. I want him dead and I want to do it, myself. I'll pay extra but I want my face to be the last thing that old man sees before he dies."

DeLuiz's ears perked up at the promise of additional money. "My friend do not misunderstand me. I am sure we can accommodate your request. All we need is some misdirection to satisfy all of the other interests in this matter. Fortunately, Senor Hardcastle has brought the perfect fall man with him. A Senor…," DeLuiz paused as he read the file. "Mick Cormick."

"You mean Mark McCormick. I don't know what that guy's problem is. Hardcastle brought him over here as some sort of indentured servant. He seemed to understand things better than the judge and wanted to keep his nose out of my business. I thought he'd be gone like a shot after we threw his boss in the clink but he's been hanging around and stirring things up."

"Yes," agreed DeLuiz. "Your Senor McCormick has been very loudly protesting the arrest of Senor Hardcastle. He has filed multiple petitions regarding the arrest and requesting to see Senor Hardcastle to verify his wellbeing. I understand Senor Hardcastle fell down some steps shortly after he was taken to the jail so perhaps it is for the better that he was not able to receive visitors right away."

"I told you he stole some papers from me. I wanted a chance to retrieve them before he handed them off. Unfortunately they appear to have already been given to the authorities. But my men were told not to leave any long lasting marks."

"Excellent, I will approve Senor McCormick's visit request and we may set the new plan in motion."

"What plan is that?"

"Senor McCormick's cold blooded murder of his benefactor, Senor Hardcastle."

"How are you going to fix that?"

"Senor McCormick will meet with Senor Hardcastle unaware that an officer is listening in on their conversation. The officer will report how he overheard Senor McCormick confess that he planted the drugs in the room and notified the police in an attempt to get out of Senor Hardcastle's control in a nation without an extradition policy. The report will result in Senor Hardcastle's immediate release from his current accommodations."

"What?" said Avery incredulously.

"Of course," DeLuiz continued as if he had not heard the outburst, "he will be cautioned not to attempt to contact Senor McCormick but allow the police to bring him in. Unfortunately, I do not think Senor Hardcastle will listen to the warning. He will be found in that shallow grave that you mentioned earlier. I am sure there will be ample evidence to prove Senior McCormick killed his friend after he was confronted about his betrayal."

"And then McCormick will have a fatal accident in your prison?"

"Senor Avery, we are not a backwater banana republic. Senor McCormick will have a fair trial and will be legally convicted of murder. He is a man of no consequence and given his background, no one will question his involvement in the murder. Some of the people who have called inquiring about Senor Hardcastle have already suggested he was the one responsible for the drugs in Senor Hardcastle's room. So I will be able to fulfill your request and uphold San Rio Blanco's reputation for excellent police work and judicial fairness. It is unfortunate that no one was able to save Senor Hardcastle from his poor choice in companions."

"I like how you think," said Avery as he lifted his glass of Tequila in a mock salute. "Here's to the end of both of our problems."

"And the beginning of Senor McCormick's," said Deluiz as he completed the toast.

"Whatadonkey, whatadonkey, whatadonkey," McCormick mentally repeated the mantra that he had started ever since Hardcastle had the brilliant idea to track down the CIA trained arms dealer, Peter 'I can kill you with a paperclip' Avery in San Rio Blanco, one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

"And would the world's biggest legal jackass listen to the sensible advice of a simple parolee. Oh no, he knew better. He had said its San Rio Blanco or San Quentin. I should have done us both a favor and chose San Quentin."

As he sat on the bus riding back from the prison that held his friend, he thought back on his recent conversation with the judge after days of worrying, which had been perfectly justified after seeing that Hardcastle had been obviously roughed up, and finally getting permission to see him. He had accessed the situation, already tried the legal method, and informed the judge that the best, no only solution, was a prison break.

"But would he listen to reason. Oh no, not Saint Milton of Assisi. He believed this was only a small bump in the road to his full exoneration. He thought the legal system always worked in the end. Hell, it barely worked in Los Angeles and he expected it to work in San 'Money Talks' Rio Blanco. He refused, flat out refused, the idea to go over the wall because he didn't want to break the law in a place that has no laws."

As McCormick continued his internal critique of Hardcase's lack of common sense, he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck prickle; a sign of immediate danger in the area. He cast his eyes at the other people on the bus. Evidentially his mutterings had been louder than he thought as most of the other passengers were openly staring at 'the crazy American'. Everyone except for two people who sat at the front of the bus. Their seeming disinterest was immediately suspicious. Their clothing, a few shades better than the others, the air of arrogance around them, and the tell-tale bumps in their jackets identified them as San Rio Blanco cops or Avery's goons which were pretty much the same thing from what he had seen.

McCormick hadn't known if he should be grateful or insulted by everyone's lack of interest in him but it appeared that the situation had changed which made him think the danger to Hardcastle had increased. He knew he would need to perform some evasive actions so he could get out of the watchful eyes of his new minders if he was going to get Hardcase out of jail which he would do even if he had to drag his carcass over the fence listening to him bray the entire way.

Fortunately his preference to keep his back to the wall in strange places led him to sit in the rear of the bus. Mark kept up his angry muttering against the judge as he cast his eyes down the road for a place to make his escape.

The age of the bus combined with the many ruts in the so-called roads meant the vehicle was not traveling too fast. Mark spotted a heavily dense forest area near an intersection where a farmer was moving his livestock across the road.

"The power of prayer," thought McCormick as he grasped his Saint Jude medallion and gave silent thanks. He couldn't have wished for a better situation if he had written the story himself. As the bus eased its way through the herd of cattle, McCormick grasped the handle of the emergency exit door and jerked it open. He quickly jumped to the ground and turned his attention to creating a diversion.

"Go cows, go!" he shouted as he shooed them toward the front of the bus. The cattle, also wary of the crazy American, engulfed the bus in a gentle tidal wave of beef flesh. Mark turned and started to run for the jungle. He heard the bus screech to a stop and someone yell something at him in Spanish. He assumed they were ordering him to stop but he had no intention of following the order. He heard a shot from a gun which had been fired somewhere behind him. He didn't know if it had been a warning shot or an attempt to kill him but it had the benefit of spooking the cattle even more and adding an additional level of confusion as the passengers on the bus fled from the emergency exit to mix with the cattle and farm workers who were trying to corral the animals.

McCormick entered the jungle and ran through the underbrush until he was sure he was not being followed.

"Safe," thought McCormick as he stopped to catch his breath. "Or as safe as I can be in a foreign country where I don't speak the language and people with guns trying to find me." Mark took stock of his supplies and was disgusted to find only about ten dollars in American money; not enough to get him out of the country much less get Hardcase out of jail. He knew who ever was after him probably had the American Embassy and Judge Ramirez's office staked out. He reached down further and pulled out a crumbled business card for Wainwright Aviation. He thought back on the pretty woman who had taken an obvious interest in the judge despite his seeming lack of interest. The card contained an address which he hoped was someplace nearby. Right now it was the only card he held in his hand and he hoped it was going to be enough to win the game.

McCormick did not know how far he had traveled nor how long; he knew he had stopped worrying about snakes and other nasty creepy crawlies a few hours ago. His inability to speak the native language was a real liability but his winning smile and a few friendly senoritas, who had read wainwright's business card, had gotten him pointed in the right direction. If it hadn't been for the last one's unfriendly brothers, he might have gotten something to eat.

If the signs were correct, he had finally found the right road. What he didn't know was how far he still had to travel, how many people were looking for him, and if Mrs. Wainwright would even help him. "Just playing it by ear," thought McCormick. "Just like I've been doing since I teamed up with the judge."

He ran along the side of the road but close to the forest, ready to run into the foliage at the first sign of traffic. He had already counted eleven official police cars since his escape from the bus. He had, also, noted a drop in temperature as night approached and the darkening clouds which threatened an eminent storm. Common sense told him to find a dry place to hole up for the night but his sixth sense warned him Hardcastle might be running out of time so he continued his jog along the road.

Aggie Wainwright cuddled up in her most comfortable chair as she read her book, sipped her tea, and listening to the storm rage outside. She thought back to the craggily handsome man she had run into at the hotel as she tried to drum up business for her scenic island helicopter tours. He had reminded her of her first husband. There was definite interest there; a no on his lips but a maybe in his eyes. His young friend, McCormick, had seemed to like her and encouraged the older man to ask her out. Between the two of them, she was sure they could talk Milton into something; maybe Mark could ask out that pretty brunette he had been chatting up and they could all go on a double date.

As she continued to sip her tea, she closed her eyes and thought back to Milton's bulging biceps and his strong muscular physique; he unquestionably rated a return trip to the hotel and a second try. Slowly she became aware of a pounding sound at the front door. It was too rhythmic to be the wind but she couldn't imagine who would be out on a night like this.

"Better get out old Clint," she thought as she pulled a loaded 9mm Beretta from her desk drawer. Her money brought her a certain level of protection but it never hurt to be too careful in San Rio Blanco.

She carefully peeked out of the curtain and discerned an unidentified figure leaning against the door as he pounded it with his right hand. She squinted her eyes and made out the features of Milton's friend, Mark. She opened the door and watched as the man half-fell into the room; shivering and soaked to the gill.

"Mark, what is it?" she asked as she helped him to his feet. "What are you doing her? Where's Milton?"

McCormick forcibly stopped his teeth from chattering as she helped him into a nearby chair. "Judge is in trouble. Need help."

"Shh. Drink this. It will warm you up," Aggie said as she put a cup of hot tea in his hands and guided it to his mouth.

The taste of sweet tea mixed with bourbon tasted heavenly to McCormick as he felt it light a warm fire within him. He tried to repeat his request for help, but Aggie shushed him as she brought his a towel and started to remove his soaked clothes.

"You can tell me what you need to tell me after we get you dried off," Aggie said in a motherly tone. She realized something bad must have happened to draw this young man to her home in the middle of the night but she needed to get him dry before he made himself sick.

Between the onslaught of the warmth and the bourbon, McCormick realized how tired he was. He hadn't slept well since they took Hardcastle away in handcuffs and his run through the jungle had depleted all of his reserve energy. "Hardcastle's in jail. We need your help," Mark forced out as he fought to stay awake.

"Milton, in jail! That can't be right," thought Aggie. "He must have angered some high official and got himself framed on some false charge." Unfortunately it was a common occurrence in the country she had made her home. Milton looked like the sort of man who liked to create trouble when he saw something wrong or it could be some official was trying to raise extra money with a little blackmail against a wealthy American. Usually this sort of thing could be handled by handing the right amount of money to the right official.

"Don't worry, Mark," Aggie said as she covered him with a blanket. "Rest now and we'll take care of it when you wake up."

As McCormick felt himself pulled into sleep's gentle embrace he dreamt of helicopters and flying donkeys.

X

Upper Lieutenant of Criminal Procedures Franco DeLuiz was not a happy man. There had not been any reports of the elusive Senor McCormick since his disappearance from the prison bus and Senor Avery wanted to deal with the Senor Hardcastle as soon as possible. He would have preferred to keep an eye on the young man and his activities prior to his arrest for the murder of the judge but it appeared not to be in the cards.

He didn't like it. It was messy but he wasn't too worried about the anticipated outcome of his plan. After all what could one man of no consequence do?

THE END