Meet Mike Miller, Messenger Extraordinaire, the Man with the Tightest Lips in America. Mike has made millions in the hyper-secret, slightly seedy Messenger business. His gorgeous wife Tuesday is the hottest TV News personality in Los Angeles.
Life bumps and grinds along, until Mike’s paid too much money to deliver a message to a Wyoming beauty queen who’s been dead twenty years. But posthumous message delivery turns out to be the only halfway sane assignment in this dangerous and convoluted job.
Boston, Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole, Manhattan, San Pedro, and even Hong Kong zoom by in this zany romance-disguised-as-adventure before Mike hears the best and most terrifying news of his life.
I love my wife.
Yes, it sounds corny and insipid and a weak plank to plunge off into a dime-store thriller, but it’s true, and I don’t care, so there it is. Tuesday’s the one good thing to happen to me in the last twenty years. She’s put up with nearly everything I’ve dished out.
No, we’re not talking about womanizing. I just chase a dollar that wedges awkwardly into a middle class existence. The work is uneven, the hours bizarre, the hazards as odd as they are unexpected. If only Tuesday had asked me before hiring a divorce attorney, I might have tossed it all for the love of a good woman.
If it wasn’t for the money maybe. The money is definitely a sometime thing. Not to mention the secrecy and the slavish gratitude of a satisfied customer. Not to mention the travel and expense accounts, the glitzy hotels and restaurants, the fine French … whatever.
Okay, so maybe Tuesday isn’t the only good thing to happen to me in the last twenty years, but on the night of Wednesday, December 6, 2003, in the middle of a driving Boston blizzard, I might have been forgiven for thinking so.
I was waiting for a client in the Lurking Leprechaun, a dingy Irish bar just off Quincy Market where tourists the world over come to watch true Irishmen at play. There were even a few of the old sods on duty, although I couldn’t figure out where the tall black man with the fedora and goatee fit in. I was wearing the brown and tan herringbone jacket, and this was important because it allowed me to stand out for a prospective client without terrifying the children. No one east of Pittsburgh wears brown and tan to a Boston Irish bar, but in the dark, polluted atmosphere of that hellhole, you had to look really close to get more than mildly offended.
What set me off on a sentimental journey over Tuesday was the blond on the muted television. The soothsayers of American cable pseudo-news were yet again pawing through the private guts of the United States citizenry. The latest overcooked scandal concerned a nearly literate football player from USC. The University of Southern California lies twenty-four miles north of my beach house in San Pedro, but I’ve never attended a game and lose little sleep over the sexual orientation of a twenty-year-old Heisman Trophy candidate. But the cable anchor was interrogating a luscious blond reporter perched on a bicycle ramp by a palm tree outside the Los Angeles Coliseum. The blond looked less than thrilled by her role in the privacy invasion, but it didn’t matter to me. Suddenly, inexplicably, from three thousand miles away, swallowed up in a swamp of stale tourist beer, amid an ocean of dreary snow, I wanted her.
Yes, I did, I lusted after her, and I wasn’t the only one. The drunk at the end of the bar hauled his swollen eyes ceiling-ward and choked on a catcall. The black man under the fedora nodded sagely and fingered his goatee. The woman from Iowa sneered with disgust at the man from Iowa and his delusions of life after Iowa women.
“It’s all a show,” a nearby connoisseur opined over his fifth pint of Guinness. “She’s standing in front of a green screen while they run the scene in the background. Look at her. She’s an airhead, all tits and ass.”
“She’s a journalist!” I countered a mite defensively. “She probably works her tail off. And the caption says she’s live.”
“You believe everything you see?” Knowing chortles rippled up and down the bar. Here and there, a precious dollop of beer spilled over the rim of a delirium-trembling glass.
“The screen says she’s live!” I wailed. “What’s the matter with you all?”
What was I, a confirmed teetotaler in the authentic, hatchet-wielding, Carry A. Nation tradition, doing there anyway? I collected the change from a Shirley Temple and backed away from the river of dirty suds on the bar. The blond vanished, but I wasn’t done with her. What kind of client would insist on meeting me in a decrepit hellhole like this? Knowing sneers followed me past the graffiti on the door to the horrifying blizzard outside. The bitter cold flash-froze my fingers, as I fumbled with my cell phone and punched in its favorite number.
“What do you want?” The voice was curt and sleepy, but it was only four PM in Los Angeles.
“I want to make love to the blond on the television, the one with the immaculately conceived boobs. I want to wrap those luscious legs around—”
“Where are you? Did you sign the papers?”
“Boston, remember? I told you I was on a job. What are you doing home? The TV said you were live.”
“I am alive, which is more than I can say for you, if I don’t get that f—ing quit claim!”
Ouch. Tuesday is a true Texan cheerleader, sex kitten, and delightful raconteuse who only uses foul hyphens under extreme circumstances. She paused for effect. She knew what she did to me. I strained to hear her breathing over the racket of falling snow. I could just picture her in the golden sunset of San Pedro, lying there on the bamboo chaise in the living room in her slinky black silk…
“I’ll sign the papers, don’t worry,” I promised. “I’ll be home tomorrow.”
“Oh no you won’t. I changed the locks and bought a dog.”
“What kind of dog?”
“A vicious one. I want that f—ing quit claim. Why Boston?”
Ouch, ouch, and ouch again. “You know I can’t talk about it. Confidentiality is the only thing that keeps me in business. Clients—”
“Blah, blah, blah.”
“You wouldn’t tell Jesus himself the time of day!”
“I told you where I was, didn’t I? You said yourself I was getting better!”
“Stop whining, Mike. Take it like a real man. Go out and buy yourself thirty seconds of meaningless sex.”
“Cabots and Lodges! They don’t do that here.”
“Don’t do what?” a deep voice behind me inquired.
I spun in surprise. Icy fingers pitched Tuesday into a nearby snow bank. It was the tall black goatee in the fedora. I shook in the frigid cold and hoped like hell he wasn’t my next client. “Don’t tell me you’re Confucius,” I prayed aloud.
“Confucius I am not,” the man smiled. “But I do believe the man on the phone asked me to use that name.”
I’m really not this incompetent. Tall buildings might stretch my leaping skills, but within the bounds of self-delusion, I operate at an intense and effective pitch. Some of the time anyway.
“You spotted the brown and tan herringbone,” I assumed.
“It wasn’t easy inside,” he admitted. “Out here it makes me want to reach for the milk and cereal bowl.”
“Let’s go someplace else,” I suggested. It was going to be a long climb to credibility.
“Don’t worry about it,” Confucius say. “I’ve seen what I came to see.”
Shades of enigmatic clouded his eyes. If a predator hid in there somewhere, I couldn’t spot it. I had sensed the delicate obscurity of the man over the phone, when those soft, reassuring vocal chords tickled at the Zen in my neuroses and prompted me to alias my latest client after that ancient Chinese harmonizer. At least they both sported handsome hats and beards.
Confucius reached into his coat pocket and withdrew an envelope. “Fifteen thousand dollars and a last known address. Think that’ll cover it?”
“I would imagine.” Holy cow was the breed that came to mind, even if it was the wrong religion. “What’s the message?”
“Is it true you did some work for John Gotti?”
“Never heard of the man.”
“The Oppenheimer family?”
“Who are they?”
“What about Ivan Boesky?”
The irritation spewed from my mouth like bits of frozen enamel. “Why do people keep bringing him up?” It wasn’t my fault that the infamous Wall Street scam artist had wintered a few seasons in Lompoc as a guest of the United States Government. And all the way back in 1986, for God’s sake! “If Boesky wasn’t so cheap, he never would’ve gone to jail. What’s the message?”
“Tell my wife I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need me for that. Even I don’t need a messenger to talk to my—”
“Tell her I’m sorry I had to kill her.”