The 3rd volume of Duncan MacMaster's hugely popular Kirby Baxter series is published on FRIDAY 26th FEBRUARY 2021 and to whet your appetite we're posting this exclusive extract.
Chapter One: A Hazy Shade Of Winter
“Any idea why the lights went out?” Molly asked. The blackout had only lasted about a minute, and when the lights came back on, it was like the Atlantic Comics Company Christmas Party had just reappeared out of the darkness as if by magic.
It didn’t take long for the music and dancing to start again. The rumours of something going on across the hall started almost immediately after that. Within one minute; guests were muttering about hotel security, and within three minutes, there were whispers that police had arrived and formed a cordon in the hallway.
“For the first time in years,” said Kirby Baxter, Molly’s boyfriend, “I don’t have a clue.” Kirby used to work full time for Atlantic Comics as an artist and writer, but things had changed radically for him a few years earlier. While Baxter still worked making comics independently, other things tended to get in the way.
“Hello, everyone,” announced Ben Ginsberg, the recently appointed publisher of Atlantic Comics, from the stage at the front of the ballroom, “I would like to say first that there’s no danger, but there was some kind of incident at the ballroom across the hall, and hotel security and police want us to stick around, in case they need to ask anyone any questions.”
“Oh dear,” said Miriam Green, who was at the party as Gustav’s date. The hulking Czech worked for Baxter as a driver and general helper during the periods Molly called ‘The Normal Moments.’ More often, during the times Molly called ‘The Anxieties,’ he acted as Kirby’s bodyguard and when necessary, the muscle.
“I hope no one is hurt,” said Molly, really, really, really meaning it.
“Should I ask someone what’s going on?” Kirby asked.
“If it’s anything major,” said Molly, “they’ll come to you.”
Molly looked toward the door and saw a uniformed New York City police officer open the main door, and a tall black man in a grey suit entered. Molly recognized him immediately. He was a detective named Chapman, and Baxter had helped him figure out how a celebrity gossip blogger ended up dead in a rival’s closet a little over a month ago. Chapman spotted Baxter at their table and masterfully weaved through the dancers and went right to him.
“This is a lucky break,” said Chapman, “as soon as my boss saw you on the guest list, he sent me right over. Lt. Castillo has a real head scratcher on his lap, and if he doesn’t solve it quick, the media will be all over it like six kinds of stink.”
“Don’t tell us someone’s dead,” pleaded Molly.
“No one’s dead,” said Chapman, “but some really big diamonds have been stolen, possibly by a magician.”
The clouds that had gathered above Molly’s head suddenly parted.
This actually sounded like fun.
This was the fun part, thought Michael Powell.
“I tell you man,” said Myke Penobscot as he reloaded his vape pen, “Hÿp is more than just a business. It’s a complete lifestyle for the world’s elite. HÿpKnoSys handles their money, HÿperDrive will handle their transportation, and HÿpStar will handle their entertainment.”
Michael Powell actually enjoyed watching Myke Penobscot work a room. In this case it was a private dining room at Hasa K., the New York home of sushi master Hasa Kumayama.
Eating in the main dining room with peasantry like movie stars, and Wall Street moguls, costs about six hundred dollars a person just to walk in the door, food and beverages not included. This little room, lined with bamboo panels, contained a table of rare hinoki cypress, and air laden with the cherry scented steam of Myke’s ever-present vape pen. Entering this room costs a minimum of a fifteen hundred dollars a head, and even then, you need to book it months in advance, yet somehow, someway, Myke Penobscot managed to finagle it out of the master, for this spur of the moment meeting with Paloma Fairbanks, and Barry Eubanks. Paloma spent her life swimming in money. Her mother’s family left her big chunks of Brooklyn, and Queens, and recent gentrification had been very good to her. Daddy’s side of the family didn’t own much real estate, but held the commanding heights on Wall Street, and then there was her late great first husband. That fellow, who died before either Powell or Penobscot met her, came from money that was both old and large. There was even a swank university on Staten Island named after one of the dead man’s ancestors. Her current husband was no slouch in the money department either, but he worked for that money, and couldn’t make it to this meeting.
Paloma’s cash flow could be described as a cash flood. Eubanks wasn’t that level of rich himself, but he was a financial manager for a lot of people in situations similar, if not quite as grand, as Paloma’s. They had lots of cash to play with, and that was probably why they were always the first people Penobscot went to when he had a new idea to pitch. Around the office at Hÿp Central Myke would call these meetings with them ‘a quick visit to my favourite Banks.’
Paloma had her own vape pen, but had barely touched it, much like how Myke had barely touched his plate of tuna sashimi. Michael Powell never understood why his boss loved taking people to this place. Sure, it was the most elite restaurant in the most elite neighbourhood, of the most elite city of the world, but for Myke Penobscot, it was a game of dice with potential death.
“The key to getting people using HÿpStar is getting people knowing HÿpStar,” continued Myke, after unleashing a little ring of steam. “To do that we need attention, and the old paradigm for getting attention with magazine and TV ads, doesn’t work with Hÿp’s elite, sophisticated audience.”
“What’s your magic bullet?” Eubanks asked, pausing from putting a precariously balanced California roll into his mouth.
“Influencers,” said Myke. “People with outsized footprints in the worlds of social media. Folks who can change the paths of fashion, pop music, or movies with a posting on apps like Flutter, or Ultragram. We woo them, the rest will follow. But to influence the influencers, we need to do something big, something dramatic.”
“Like what?” asked Paloma, her famous blue eyes, which once graced televisions and cereal boxes across the nation, looked at Myke with something Michael could only describe as adoration.
“A music festival,” said Myke, “this April, to coincide with the release of HÿpStar. Big acts, top influencers, and over five thousand guests, all at the former hideaway of a notorious drug lord named Sandoval Blake.”
“I heard of him,” said Eubanks. “He was a scary cat.”
“He owned an island off Mirabella in the Caribbean,” continued Myke, his smile beaming with confidence, “I completed the purchase of that island this morning, and I’ve already started work on converting it into a permanent resort and performance space for HÿpStar’s most elite clients. People find a whiff of danger sexy, and there was no one more dangerous than Sandoval Blake.”
“And you think this will be ready for a show in April?”
“Absolutely,” said Myke. “April the first is going to be lit!”
The rest of the meal was spent discussing numbers, big numbers, that Myke Penobscot extracted from them with ease. He had a magic way of dealing with investors, with an appeal that went beyond simple greed, to something deeper, a desire for acceptance, belonging, maybe even greatness.
The Two Favourite Banks left the private dining room to make arrangements to transfer the money, and a white clad Hasa K. waiter with a shaved head and an impeccably starched white linen uniform appeared at the door, the bill for the meal was enclosed in a small folder hand made from chamois leather, with the Hasa K. logo embossed in gold on the front.
“Could you get that,” asked Myke checking his black blazer with the initials ‘MP’ monogrammed in gold thread on the left lapel, “I left my wallet at the office. Use the company card.”
“Sure,” said Michael, slipping his own HÿpKnoSys card out of his jacket pocket. The card itself was a glossy rectangle of black metal with a white circle at one end. He tapped the card against the reader, and a receipt containing some very impressive numbers came grinding out from inside it.
“Can we have a second?” Michael asked the waiter, who just nodded and disappeared silently out the bamboo-panel lined door. Michael Powell then turned to Myke Penobscot and asked a pretty obvious question: “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
All this waiting was driving everyone out of their mind.
“How long are we supposed to wait here?” Dmitri Volkov was growing increasingly pissed off. It was almost midnight, almost three days before Christmas, and the last thing he wanted to be was stuck in some waiting room with common patrolmen staring at him like he’s some kind of common criminal. “Madame Dragomiroff is extremely upset.” Svetlana had maintained a steady stream of tears since the lights went out and an unseen hand wrenched the Three Sisters from her neck.
“Lt. Castillo is in charge of this investigation,” answered the common patrolman at the door. “When he wants to see you, or release you, he will tell you.”
“What is he doing?” Svetlana Dragomiroff managed so say between tears. “We gave our statements, we even submitted to that humiliating search, there’s nothing we can add.”
“I have to say,” said Victor Graff, the owner of the hotel, “that this is very upsetting to my guests.”
“Damn right I am upset,” snapped Svetlana, “do you know that my family managed to hold onto those stones for over two hundred years. The Bolsheviks could not take them from us, but one hour in your damn hotel!”
“Please calm down,” replied Graff, “we’re trying to get to the bottom of this.”
A radio attached to the coat of a common patrolman with two stripes on his sleeve came to life and crackled. Some distorted gibberish came out that only the two-stripe patrolman could understand.
“All right,” said the two-stripe patrolman, “we’ll bring them in.” The patrolman then turned to the guests and said. “You’re in luck. The lieutenant says that a special consultant would like to see you, and then you’ll be able to go home.”
“A consultant?” Svetlana was confused. It had been less than half an hour since the lights in the ballroom went out. “He got here quick, especially at this hour of the night.”
“Yes,” said the two-stripe patrolman, “turns out he was attending a party in the other ballroom.”
“Really,” said Graff standing up from his seat. “That’s very odd.”
“What’s so odd?” asked Hayden Miller as he helped his wife, Althea, get up from her own seat. The couple headed the biggest advertising and marketing firm on Madison Avenue.
“The other ballroom is being used for a Christmas party for a comic book company,” answered Graff.
“Maybe he’s the Batman,” said Svetlana Dragomiroff with more than a hint of a sneer as the last of her tears drained away, “I just hope he’s fast, because I must call my lawyer as soon as possible. I have a massive lawsuit to file.”
Less than two minutes later they were back in the ballroom where this mess all began. Cops and hotel security were standing around every exit, Lt. Castillo was standing next to a tall gangly fellow in a tuxedo that fit his unusual shape too well to be off the rack. Next to the tall gangly man was a petite woman in a ridiculous gothic parody of a ballgown, and looming behind them was a hulking bald man in a tuxedo, standing next to a tall slender woman in a very conservative sky blue gown.
“Hello,” said the gangly man. “My name is Kirby Baxter, these are my associates, Molly, Gustav, and Miriam. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
An awkward silence fell over the room.
“Really?” This Baxter fellow seemed bemused. “I was in the news a lot over the last couple of years, anyone?” Baxter then shrugged. “Maybe you can do a google search later.”
Baxter then took out his phone.
“I did a google search on all of you,” said Baxter, “the five of you were the closest to Miss Drago—”
“It’s Duchess,” said Svetlana. “My title is Duchess.”
“No one in your family has been referred to by title in over a hundred years,” said Baxter. “I’m not going to change the habit of a century. I did some research on the stolen diamonds themselves, they’re most impressive. Given to your family by the Tsar to commemorate the birth of triplets. Three identical stones with a cut weight of ten point six carats each, and the necklace was called the Three Sisters. You were offered over seventy million dollars for them last year. Most impressive.”
“And someone stole them right off my neck,” snapped Svetlana.
“An outrage,” piped in Dmitri, rising to his girlfriend’s defence.
“I’m sure it is,” said Baxter walking over to the place in front of the ballroom’s aquarium that ran along the entire length of the wall. “I’ve been going over your statements, and the five of you were all standing here. Most of the other guests were on the other side of the room.”
“We were discussing business,” said Hayden Miller, “the Duchess was in talks to become the spokeswoman for Excelsior Hotels in Europe.”
“As if I would ever work for the hotel responsible for this atrocity!”
“We will recover the stones,” pleaded Graff. “There’s no need to hurl accusations.”
“I’ll have my lawyer do that for me,” replied the Duchess Dragomiroff.
“Mr. Graff is right,” said the skinny man Baxter as he took off his tuxedo jacket, passed it on to the tuxedoed gorilla, and started rolling up his sleeves. “The security at this hotel is extremely tight. No one was able to leave this building the moment the lights in the ballrooms went out, and the lockdown was ordered, and the security videos show that no one left this room without being searched, and without a police guard.”
“What are you saying?” Hayden Miller was pretty obvious with his impatience at this weird little bit of performance art.
“I’m saying,” said the man called Baxter, “that the Three Sisters never left this room.” A police officer then passed Baxter a small net with a very long handle while another cop placed a little step-stool in front of the aquarium. “You see, our thief was very clever. They planned this with great attention to detail. They even found a way to bribe the janitor to play with the lights in such a way as he couldn’t identify the person, or persons, who paid him.”
Baxter then climbed up on the step-stool, lifted a section of the lid, and stuck the end of the net into the aquarium. To reach the very bottom, he had to lower his arm into the water up to his elbow.
“They also made sure that the person wearing the necklace was close to this aquarium,” said Baxter as he used the net to probe the bottom of the tank. “Why would the thief do that? Well the answer is simple, and it lies in an old cliché that I’m surprised people don’t try more often.”
Baxter probed a little more, then he let out a little squeak.
“Gotcha,” said Baxter. Everyone peered closer at the net scraping the bottom of the tank. It looked empty, but something was weighing the little net down. “Like magic, the three diamonds reappear.” As the tiny net emerged from the water, three large stones, linked by a thin wisp of a metal chain just appeared inside the net.
Most of the people gasped at the sudden appearance.
The petite woman in the ridiculous gown approached Baxter and whispered something into his ear.
“Oh,” said Baxter, “that’s excellent.” He then stepped off the stool and turned to his little audience of five. “You’re in luck. My associate here, just happens to have a bottle of Lumiprexin spray. Which means we don’t have to wait until some gets here from the crime lab.”
“What the hell is Lumiprexin?” asked Dmitri.
“It’s a harmless spray that reacts to certain organic elements,” explained Baxter. “In the case of blood it makes it glow under ultraviolet light. Now there’s an organic element found in fishtanks that has a different reaction to Lumiprexin. Anyone who handled anything connected to the fishtank, like the lid, or had contact with the water itself will have the skin on their hands turn blue. It’s a harmless, painless procedure, and the colour fades away in about twenty minutes.”
The petite ridiculous woman was fishing through her little sparkly handbag and pulled out a tiny atomizer bottle.
“I knew I had one with me,” she said victoriously. She passed the bottle to Lt. Castillo, “If you will do the honours.”
“Will all of you just put out your hands,” said Castillo, “then we can wrap this up.”
“Certainly,” said Graff who stepped forward holding his hand out flat before him. As Lt. Castillo approached the hotelier, Dmitri Volkov decided to run for it.
He didn’t get far.
The next thing Dmitri felt was a broad wall of humanity standing in his way. The impact of Dmitri’s body against another body that seemed to be made of concrete drove the breath right out of him, and he found himself falling backwards to the floor, only to have his descent stopped by a pair of strong hands, the size of catcher’s mitts, that quickly pinned his arms to his side.
“Let me go you Cossack!”
“What is going on?” The Duchess Svetlana Dragomiroff recoiled from her boyfriend.
“Your boyfriend stole the Three Sisters,” explained Baxter as he unrolled his sleeve, “he tossed them into the aquarium so he could hide them from the police.”
“Unhand me,” bellowed Dmitri as he was handcuffed and Gustav released him from his steely grip.
“Did you just really say ‘unhand me?’” Molly asked, unable to suppress the urge to giggle. “That’s just so precious.”
“Sorry to interrupt your precious moment,” asked Lt. Castillo, “but how was Volkov going to retrieve the diamonds without attracting police attention?”
“I’m betting that he had no intention of coming back for these,” said Baxter, pulling one of the three diamonds off the thin chain and holding it up to the light. “And it all has to do with something everyone believes is true, but the reality is a just a little different. Gustav, could you help me here?”
The hulking man nodded and walked up to Baxter, slipping on a pair of leather driving gloves.
“You see,” said Baxter placing on of the three diamonds in the big man’s hand, “some diamonds really are invisible in water, there’s a scientific explanation to this, which I won’t bore you with, but not all diamonds react that way. Especially cut diamonds that are this big.”
The big man Gustav closed his gloved hand over the big stone and squeezed. They all heard a muffled crack, then he opened his large hand, revealing that the stone in his hand had cracked into two pieces.
“What the hell,” gasped Althea Miller.
“Gustav is very strong,” said Baxter, “but even he isn’t strong enough to break a flawless diamond.”
“It was a fake!” Dragomiroff covered her face with both hands, so only her wide blue eyes were visible.
“They’re all fake,” said Baxter. “The real ones are probably hidden away someplace safe so you could stage this rather melodramatic theft, then claim the insurance, and file a hefty lawsuit against one of the biggest hotel companies in the world. After that, you would be able to sell them on the black market if you haven’t done so already.”
“I would never!” The Duchess Dragomiroff was just about ready to turn and run, but found a policewoman standing in her way, with her handcuffs out. “He forced me to go along!” The Duchess jabbed an accusing finger at Dmitri.
“You stupid cow! We could have won in court!”
“It was all his idea,” pleaded Svetlana Dragomiroff.
“Read them their rights,” commanded Lt. Castillo, “and take them to the station.”
The couple declined to invoke their right to remain silent and hurled accusations at each other as they were dragged away.
“This one was actually fun,” said Molly, taking Baxter’s hand.
Myke pulled his new custom made Christmas blazer on and admired himself in the full length mirror in his office. It was a brilliant garish red, and dotted throughout with bright green Christmas trees. In one tree, on his left lapel, the letters ‘MP’ were spelled out with little embroidered Christmas lights. The jacket was provided a sharp contrast to his shirt, a plain black tee with his initials emblazoned across his pecs in thick gold letters.
Even his jeans, handmade by a guy in Aspen Colorado, had ‘MP’ stitched into the left back pocket. Myke Penobscot was a man determined to leave his mark on the world, and he started with his possessions.
The clothes fit pretty well, though the jeans and the shirt were getting a little tight in the waist. Which probably meant a little more time on the treadmill before April. His face, with professionally mussed hair, and a tightly maintained day’s growth of beard, was still television ready. In fact, he was going to appear on CNN in about two hours. The excuse was to talk about hot trends among the rich and famous this Christmas, but he was going to use it as an excuse to talk up the Hÿp Festival.
“You look hot,” said a familiar voice behind him.
“I thought you had work?” Myke turned to see Yuki Samara smiling at him. She was standing at his office door, despite the grey suit, matching skirt, and dyed blonde hair pulled back into a severe bun, she still looked like she just strutted off a photo-shoot for Vogue.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” said Yuki striding toward him like a catwalk. “Even the overseas markets treat this day like a total wank.”
“Oh right,” said Myke, “are you all set for New Years?”
“I can’t make it,” said Yuki. “A big client is coming in from Shanghai that week and he’s looking to make some investments in America. It’s going to be all hands on deck crunching numbers for him.”
“Too bad,” said Myke, adjusting the collar on his shirt, before flatly adding, “I’ll miss you.”
“You’ll be on a Caribbean island with a bunch of models,” said Yuki, “you’re going to be so miserable.”
“It’s a promotional shoot,” said Myke kissing her cheek as he passed her at the door, “strictly business.”
“I have no doubt.”
“I have a hard out, and I got to give a little speech to the minions before I go,” said Myke and he stepped out into the hall.
“Fine,” she sighed.
Julian Ackroyd was waiting for him in the hall, springing from behind a potted fern like a goddamn ninja of annoyance.
“What is it Jerry?” Myke said that deliberately, just to see the wince cross that perfectly groomed face. Julian Ackroyd, née Jerome Banacek, was one of the oldest people working at Hÿp Central, at forty-seven, beating even founder and CEO Myke by eighteen years. Despite his carefully tailored pretences to being a Colin Firth character from some twentieth century-set period drama, he was, in fact, just a half-Polish kid from the East End of London. He acted as a sort of general diplomat for the company, dealing with matters that needed more grace and tact than Myke’s hard-sell skill-set could provide.
“It’s the permits for the promo shoot,” said Julian.
“What about them?”
“The person in charge of them is saying that we haven’t given them enough time process the necessary visas,” said Julian.
“That’s the wiry blonde woman we met last week,” asked Myke, “the one that kept giving you the eye?”
“Yes, her name is Jenkins,”said Julian.
“She seemed particularly charmed by you,” said Myke, “perhaps you should fly down tonight to, um, straighten things out.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” said Julian.
“I know, the ticket will be expensive, put it on the company card.”
“I see,” said Julian.
“You’re a good team player Julian,” said Myke giving him a pat on the arm. “You’ll be the hero of this story.”
“Sure,” said Julian.
Myke continued down the hall, and was met by Zpeter Haller and Raymond Malarek. Zpeter was in his personal uniform of a billowy yellow dashiki and painted on skinny jeans. His long ash blonde hair was tied up in a man bun, and Myke could see a worried frown lurking beneath his sculpted beard. Malarek, dressed in his bland business casual khakis with a face to match, also looked worried, but then again, Malarek always looked worried.
“I got a letter,” said Zpeter, “from my credit card company. They’re saying I owe money for charges made on my company cards.”
“Oh,” said Myke, remaining nonchalant, “that’s just a technical glitch.”
“An eighty thousand dollar technical glitch,” said Zpeter. “Eighty thousand dollars I don’t have.”
“I’ll call the CEO himself,” said Myke, “HÿpKnoSys is still a new system, there are bound to be bugs in the process. I’ll get it all straightened out before dinner. Don’t worry about it.” Myke then turned to Raymond Malarek, “What’s worrying you?”
“It’s the island you wanted,” said Malarek, “the one you insisted on telling investors that you owned.”
“You were able to rent it, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” Malarek nodded, “but Monica Rendell has us paying through the nose. We could buy the rest of Mirabella for what we’re paying her.”
“But we have the house right?”
“That’s my next point,” said Malarek, “there’s no house.”
“She had the whole thing torn down three months ago,” answered Malarek. “The only building left standing on that little island is the old distillery, and it’s mostly a ruin.”
“This is not a problem,” replied Myke with a smile, “we can handle this.”
“You’ve already promised the house to some of your influencers,” replied Malarek.
“You know who you’re starting to sound like?”
“Michael Powell,” answered Myke Penobscot, “we only need one worrier in this operation, and he does an excellent job.”
“But what about all the money and promises?” asked Malarek.
“We will meet them,” answered Myke, “we have this thing in hand. Remember, no great enterprise ever went off without a few bumps along the way.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Malarek.
“Where my dawg at,” bellowed a voice from the elevators, everyone knew that bellow. It belonged to Kid Ty-Rant, who strode regally into the office resplendent in his purple puffer coat, the expansive legs of his JNCOs swishing as he walked. He was a little old to still be called “Kid,” most of the people working at Hÿp Central were still children when he was dropping hits like a boss, but no dared bring it up, since it was rumoured that he still carried the gold plated Beretta M9 he brandished on all of his album covers.
“Right here my dawg,” declared Myke as he went in for a hug. “You ready for television?”
“I was born mother-fucking ready dawg,” pronounced Kid Ty-Rant.
“The wind out there is horrendous,” said Alexander Walsh as he strode into the Fairbanks lodge. “They’ve closed the slopes after Mindy Sinclair was almost blown off the mountain…” Alexander’s voice trailed off. The lodge was eerily quiet.
“Sorry,” she replied, “I’m in the kitchen.”
Alexander stripped off his boots, and took off his Bogner ski jacket, hung it on a hook by the door, then slid out of his matching Bogner salopettes. The fire was out, and the clouds riding the high winds into Aspen had darkened the sky, casting a greyish pall over the room’s normally warm earth-tones. He strode past the climbing wall that went up to the second floor landing, and into the kitchen.
He found Paloma sitting in the breakfast nook, still in her housecoat and pyjamas, her fingers gliding over her iPad. She wasn’t wearing her wig, but he decided to not mention it.
“Oh,” said Paloma, drifting gently back to the real world. “Myke sent me these pictures of the festival site.”
“He’s actually going through with that?”
“Yes,” said Paloma, “he is. Isn’t it beautiful there?”
Alexander looked over at the monitor. “It is,” he was forced to agree, “we visited Mirabella once. When, about three years ago?”
“Just before my diagnosis,” said Paloma, her thin hand ran up her arm, as if looking for all the old injection sites. The nails on her hand were bitten down to stubs.
“That doctor was a quack.”
“We should go,” said Paloma.
“Back to that quack?”
“No,” she replied, “to Mirabella. To see the festival, swim on a beach, to dance like fools again. We haven’t done anything like that in so long.”
“You really think you’re up for it?”
“I’m not dying,” said Paloma, “I even have a paper that makes it official. It’s time we took back our joy.”
“I see Myke’s going to be there,” said Alexander.
“Of course,” said Paloma, “it’s his event. He’s going to be all over it.”
“I guess he would be all over everything.”
“He’s so enthusiastic about everything,” explained Paloma, “it’s like he radiates powerful electric energy.”
“I thought he just radiated vape clouds.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Paloma. “It’s invigorating just being around him. You should get to know him better. Like you, he knows how to motivate people. I think you would both get along so well.”
“I’m sure we would get along famously.”
“This is some great work Terry,” said Molly as she scrolled through the final coloured pages on her extra large computer monitor. Terry nodded and made a little note on his pad. “Make sure to tell Mitch he did a good job. If I tell him, his head will swell so big, it will pop right off his shoulders.”
Terry laughed. Molly had been editor of The Vengeance Sisters, one of the top titles at Atlantic Comics for about three years. Her job entailed recruiting and overseeing the writers and artists working on the comic series, making sure their scripts didn’t contradict each other, and that everything makes some kind of sense. That was especially important when your leads are battling a talking gorilla riding a T-Rex down a major city street.
“Let’s send these to Ginsburg for final approval,” said Molly, clicking on her computer to forward the files farther up the company food chain.
Molly’s phone rang.
“Molly Garret,” she answered.
“I tried your cell,” said Kirby, “ but couldn’t get through.”
“Oh,” said Molly, “I might have murdered the battery. It’s on life support right now. What’s up?”
Terry picked up his stuff, nodded to his boss, and scurried off to his assistant’s desk in the main bullpen area outside her office.
“How are things going?”
“Pretty good,” said Molly, “how is your magnum opus going?”
“I got the test runs from the printers,” said Kirby, who was spending a little of his considerable personal net worth to self-publish a passion project that had been stewing in his mind for years. “Everything is looking really good, but that’s not why I called. Remember the Christmas Party?”
“It was just a week ago,” said Molly.
“Well,” said Kirby, “the owner of the hotel has offered us a reward.”
“You don’t need the cash,” which was true.
“It’s not money,” answered Kirby, “it’s a vacation. You have some time off at the beginning of April, right?”
“Yes,” answered Molly.
“Graff’s offered us two villas at his new resort on Mirabella,” explained Kirby. “Two weeks of pampering in the sun, which sounds like a great way of celebrating the release of my book.”
“Are you serious?”
“Very,” said Kirby, “at first I was thinking about turning him down, but then I thought about two weeks in the Caribbean, far from any police departments who know who I am, is pretty tempting.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Well the timing can’t be better,” said Kirby, “the town library’s closing for two weeks for renovations, which means Gustav and Miriam could have a villa for them…”
“One for us,” said Molly.
“If anyone deserves a little luxury pampering it’s Gustav considering all I’ve put him through for the last five years. It’s not like he’ll take it as a gift from me, I had to argue with him for a week to get him to take a salary.”
“For some reason I just can’t imagine you and Gustav arguing,” said Molly.
“Really? We do it all the time. What do you think of my plan?”
“What hell,” said Molly, “let’s do it.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Michael Powell was simply confused. Violet Chang was supposed to be back at Hÿp Central, not here, not on Mirabella. Yet there she was, standing by his poolside table, looking very uncomfortable in a pair of jeans and a Harvard sweatshirt in the island’s tropical swelter.
“Saving my job,” Violet answered, “I was at my parent’s house in Queens and I get this call, it’s Myke, insisting that my job was on the line if I didn’t drop everything and get on the plane.”
“Ah jeez,” moaned Michael.
“He said I didn’t need to pack,” added Violet, placing a little boutique shopping bag on the table. “This is what he provided me.” Violet dipped her hand into the bag and pulled out a red bikini that contained so little material it ran the risk of being disqualified as an item of clothing. Despite being gay, even Michael Powell knew that the itsy bitsy teeny weeny horn-dog frat boy’s excuse for a bikini would have looked very good, if wildly inappropriate, on young Violet Chang.
“Ah jeez,” said Michael. “Where is he now?”
“He’s taken his ‘influencers’ and the camera crew straight to the cay,” said Violet. “He sent me here to change, in his suite, of course.”
“Ah jeez,” said Michael.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Here,” said Michael putting his extra key-card on the table. “There’s a gift shop in this hotel that sells clothes. Get yourself something that’s not embarrassing, and charge it to my room. There’s a spare bedroom in my suite, you can get changed there.”
“Thank you,” said Violet, the nervousness disappeared from her voice.
“I would suggest you do whatever you can to steer clear of Myke while we’re here,” said Michael. “I’ll make the excuses, tell him you’re doing work for me.”
“Thanks,” said Violet.
Michael stood up. “I have to get to the cay.”
“Myke said he’d send the boat back for me,” said Violet.
“I’ll be taking that boat,” said Michael, “I have to go carve Myke a new one.”
Twenty minutes later Michael was stepping onto the white sand of the cay. He didn’t have to search the little island, just follow the sound of cheers and a pounding electronic beat. He followed a narrow trail up the slight hill at the centre of the island, and, in the shadow of the long abandoned distillery, Michael was greeted by the sight of Klaus, the bartender from Myke’s favourite Manhattan nightclub, arranging bottles of expensive liquor and red plastic cups on a long table. Klaus’ incongruous outfit of a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and Panama hat made the shaven headed teuton look like a gestapo henchman on holiday.
“What are you doing here?” Michael was confused. Klaus belonged in New York, specifically a former department store that had been converted into a dance club, because whenever Michael attempted to imagine Klaus being anywhere else, his imagination would fail him utterly.
“Herr Myke brought me,” answered Klaus, as if Michael had asked him why water was wet.
“This is supposed to be a promo shoot,” growled Michael as he continued down the path to the oceanside beach, and the source of the racket.
“I do believe Herr Myke mentioned that,” said Klaus.
Michael stormed down the other side of the hill, the music got louder, the squealing and laughing got clearer.
Myke Penobscot’s head appeared above a gaggle of well tanned female figures in tiny swimwear. That damn vape pen dangling from his mouth. He was wearing a big Panama hat with his initials MP embroidered in gold on the black hat band.
“Michael, my man!”
“We need to talk,” said Michael.
“We’ll talk later,” pronounced Myke, “the tide’s coming in, and we need to spend some time in the water.”
It’s always later with Myke.
Later never seems to come.
“Now,” demanded Michael, storming his way into the centre of the group to grab Myke by the arm.
“We’re filming here,” said a guy holding a video camera.
“Take five,” commanded Michael. “Right now!”
The camera-guy took the hint.
“Same with the rest of you,” said Michael.
“I’ll be right back,” said Myke, finally breaking away from the gaggle of girls. Once they were away from the group Michael finally had to let it loose.
“What the hell were you planning to do with Violet?”
“Aw hell,” said Myke, “you are the most prudish fruit I know.”
“She’s an intern that’s not even twenty years old,” snapped Michael, “and you gave her a bikini so small it could turn into a massive sexual harassment lawsuit against you, and Hÿp. Do you want that?”
“You can’t sue for being invited to a party,” said Myke, “and she’d fit right in, even though she’s a bit of a spinner-”
“Stop it!” Michael had heard enough. “Have you read any of my reports?”
“Some,” said Myke with a shrug.
“We are trying to put together a massive event with half the usual time,” said Michael, “and almost none of the money.”
“We have plenty of money.”
“No,” said Michael, “I’ve crunched the numbers, we haven’t even started selling tickets, and we’re already in the hole over seven million dollars.”
“Picture it,” said Myke draping his arm over Michael’s shoulder and gesturing over the expanse of the island. “Luxury accommodations as far as the eye can see. A gourmet dining hall and bar. A stage with some of the hottest acts rocking all night, and that old distillery building will be the hottest dance club in the Caribbean.”
“The smelly pile of bricks?”
“Yes,” said Myke. “This will be the biggest thing ever.”
“Need I remind you,” said Michael, “is that all these dreams of yours cost money and time, two things we don’t have.”
“Time’s irrelevant when you have enough money,” said Myke, “and there’s a hell of a lot of money out there for the picking.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I wouldn’t be rich if I wasn’t right all the time,” said Myke with a massive shit-eating grin. Myke then patted Michael Powell on the back, and walked back to the cluster of models who cheered at his return.
“Are you?” Michael muttered to himself.
Read the rest of Kirby Baxter's latest adventure in DROP THE MIKES - published next Friday and available for PRE-ORDER now at a specially reduced price.