Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Chapter 1

The Black Book

A tribute to

John D. MacDonald's

Travis McGee

Peter Hansen

ã Copyright Peter Hansen 2004, all rights reserved.

To Daphne,
For whom McGee would have given his all.

Chapter 1

When you owe someone your life and they ask you for help you go. It isn’t a matter of choices. McGee was in some kind of trouble, and I owed him my life. I went.

It was just past dusk when I wandered up to the houseboat named the Busted Flush. The address I had, Slip F-18, Bahai Mar, Fort Lauderdale, was correct. I was not expecting any company. I tossed my duffel aboard and stepped down from the gangplank. Then all hell broke loose. The alarm I tripped was the least of my worries. As the houseboat went "Whoop, whoop, whoop," a curvy brunette with a lethal looking little nine-millimeter stuck her head out the door threatening me with bodily harm. I was thinking about the best way to get on her good side when a slightly over-age bear landed on my back and sent me sailing face first into the bulkhead. I cursed McGee for bringing me here, and fought to stay awake as the stars started a slow dance in my head. The stars won.

When I came to, I was laying on the damnedest couch you can imagine. It must have been ten feet long. By my calculations, at least seventy-six inches of the thing were in pain. The brunette was sitting across the room on a barstool, still holding the nine. The bear was sitting in an easy chair sipping a Martini, and watching me closely.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"Murphy." I told him. "Friends call me M., but you can call me Murphy."

"And what, Mr. Murphy are you doing here?" said the girl. She wasn’t smiling, and her trigger finger looked tense.

"I got a letter from McGee. It's in my duffel. Sounded like he could use some help. You look like you might be his problem."

The bear put his drink aside. "My name is Meyer. I am also a friend of Travis', as well as his financial advisor. Several weeks ago, I forwarded an envelope from Travis to a T. Murphy. Would that be you?"

"Like I said, I got a letter from McGee. You can find it in the top of my duffel. He did mention your name, Meyer. Take a look, then we can decide who to be friends with."

Meyer crossed the living room to Murphy's duffel and extracted the letter.


If you get this, I am in deep Kimshe. Come to my
houseboat at slip F18, Bahai Mar. Ask around for a friend of mine named
Meyer. He can catch you up on my life. I am sorry to have to tap you
for the favor after all these years. If I don't make it, consider the
Busted Flush and the rest of it all yours.

Semper Fi. Trav

"I'm the Meyer in the letter. I am frightfully sorry about jumping on you. Travis has been gone for just over two months. Ordinarily, that would not cause us concern. This time, it does. We are worried sick."

"Where exactly did Travis go?"

"It might be a bit hard to explain." Meyer said. "Tell me, do you know what Travis does for a living?"

"Well, as I recall, he told me he was taking his retirement early. Enjoying life, and spending each spring watching a new crop of lovelies. Sounded like pretty good work, if you could get it."

"That is certainly a good exterior view of his life. Of course, there is more. From time to time, when someone has a problem that can't be solved, they bring it to Travis. You might say he is a salvage consultant. Whatever he salvages of a situation, he takes fifty percent. In most cases, the people who come to him could never expect to get back anything. His last job started a few months ago. We haven't seen or heard from him since it started."

"Two things Meyer: First, you have not answered my question. Where did Travis go? Second, friends do not point pistols at friends, and friends do not jump on friends. And third, do you have any aspirin and something around here to drink?"

"Sorry, I've forgotten my manners. I don't know where Travis went. Sue, would you get our guest some painkillers and a drink? What would you like? I can recommend the gin."

"Nah. Got a Budweiser hiding back there? And, could you lose the nine? Or, at least click on the safety. Those things make me a mite nervous."

The brunette wandered back to the galley. "Sorry, Carta Blanca is the best we can do."

"Ok, anything in a pinch. Did I get your name is Sue?"

"Yes. And, you got the other part right. I'm Travis' problem."

"Figures. He always liked to bite off more than he could chew."

"Mr. Murphy, please accept my apologies for jumping on you. It is quite out of character for me. I'm very upset about Travis. The last instructions he gave me were to look out for Sue. I don't think I've done a very good job. I have certainly started our acquaintance off on the wrong foot. I hope you are not seriously injured. Perhaps we could get a doctor in to take a look at you."

I took a long pull on the Carta Blanca and looked at Meyer. So much worry balled up into one little man. The brunette had taken her seat on the stool across the room again. This time with the safety on, but the nine was still within reach.

"Don't worry about it Meyer. I've fought bigger bears than you. I have to admit though; most of them gave me a chance to grin them down. I don't think you did any damage that a night's sleep won't cure."

"Well, let me show you to your cabin. Travis' cabin really. Sue is staying across the hall in the guest room."

He lured me off the couch to a room I may have once seen in a Bordello. The main cabin featured a bed large enough for me and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and a shower big enough for the brass band.

"Perhaps we can get together again in the morning. I'm just down the way on the 'Thorstein Veblen'."

"Fine. Let's do breakfast. Right now, all I want to do is run some hot water over these bruises, and slip between some sheets. Tell Mata Hari she won't need her pistol tonight. At least not for me." I ushered him out, and dragged my duffel in. After five minutes under a stinging hot spray, I switched over to cold water. I needed to think for a few minutes before the sandman came. I wanted to think about Travis, about the trouble he might be in, and the trouble I might be getting into. Instead, I kept thinking about the deep green eyes and soft curves on Sue. Just before I dropped off, I thought about McGee. It was long ago in a different world when he had saved my life.

I pulled the blankets up over my shoulders and remembered that night with McGee. Lieutenant Maclin had called us up to the command post. He was a green ninety-day wonder, and he was afraid. We were old salts, twenty years old, and quietly terrified. They had us surrounded. The wounded were piling up. McGee and I nodded to each other and ducked into the bunker. Maclin saluted then shook our hands. He said, "I've got wounded men to move, and I can't do it. You two are the best HK team we have. Give me back the night."

McGee gave him an unconvincing smile, we saluted back, and we went out into that hellish place where things in the night go bump, and where evil is measured by the tingling down your spine. We went quiet, and we went fast. If there is a god, he must have been watching from a safe distance. The devil was right there beside us. It was a very long night. Just before dawn, McGee and I crawled back into camp. I should say McGee crawled back. He was carrying me on his back. I didn't see him again until we were on the Hospital Ship. Maclin didn't make it. …

The world of dreams is a private place. Once entered, we are alone. He drifted. Old romances, and new beginnings flowed though the night. Scenes flashed before him. Life and death came. There were old men, with torn rotting flesh, and new babies with silken skin. On the eve of dawn, gentle warmth surrounded him. Comfort came in inescapable waves. His life came to center. He felt the throbbing deep in his soul. His world disintegrated into warm moist comfort. Heaven was within reach. He gasped at the pleasure, and lay back in silence. He was immersed in the ultimate. When it was done, he clung to the soft side of reality. Where solid feelings sleep, and no questions are asked.