BOOK ONE – “A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION”
(Tuesday, January 2, 2035)
At 1440 hours, Norlin lays the last of the paper files down, switches his pleader off, and gathers up the single sheet of paper on which are scribbled a certain few lines relative to open complaints that, he figures, might impact Automatic Slim's debriefing. (Or, at least, might seem so to Clive and Germany.) Interrogations are conducted in Trouble Factory basement rooms down the hall from C-Squad - where there also appear to be busted pipes behind walls and ceilings; brown stains proliferate, exuding a stink that's probably not accidental. Automatic Slim, tall, thin mackdaddy in his beige faux fur overcoat over a faux silk, silvery shirt and more junk jewelry than a Hamorite stripwalker, cools his four-inch heels behind one-way glass that's been stamped, on both sides: "Approved for Law Enforcement Use Only by the Household Research Institute." His long, beringed fingers tap at the tabletop... now and again, the pimp stares gravely at the placard next to the Trouble Factory's faux mirror:
"A certain number of persons must, as a restraining influence, be executed for murder every year; and, if detectives aren't able to really detect anything, illusion of their success is all that is necessary, and it is very honorable to give up one's life for society as a whole."
- C. H. Fort
"Know you're behind there, jesk'ballers!" Slim snarls at the glass. "Kebbin' sumbitches... I smell you..."
Behind the mirror, Chief John Crum of Patrols assures Norlin and Germany Smith...
"He's lying. Can't see a kebbin' thing! Can't hear, either, unless I open this com..."
He flips a switch, picks up a microphone...
"Peter Marcellus Proctor, aka Strip Wizard, aka Sweetlick Daddy, aka Automatic Slim... it's your old friend... John... what say we call you Slim for the duration..."
The player's rage and contempt congeals into a caustic grimace of jolly resignation. "Heey!... old-timer... Slim'll do fine. How's the wife n' kids?"
"Tolerable, Slim... got my boy over there in Florida fightin' the Caribs, another joinin' the Trouble Factory, soon as he gets out of Man Ray..."
"Jatesful! Kebbin' Barataria would fold without cash sent home by its mercenaries, what's left after my honeys get through wif' 'em. Like no other on the Strip, ol' man..."
"Runnin' donnas bound to land you in deep fex, Slim..."
"Don't run donnas!" Behind the lightly tinted glass, the big man smiles, flashing several gold teeth (probably installed in South America, to evade the sumptuary laws). "I am a manager and provider of Executive Escorts. Take a letter if you dictate... or they can do some dictatin' on your ass, know what I mean? But John... I got a problem, wouldn't be here if I didn't..."
"That's what we're here for. The Trouble Factory courts trouble, so you don't have to."
"Yeah... well, this luv-doctor's hip-deep in fex. Think I ain't, all you behind the glass, take a google yourselves..."
And he rises, turns and removes his overcoat, then the silvery shirt with vines and thick, black berries and incongruous fishes slithering around the contours of his back, biceps and shoulders. He poses, flexing vainly like a model in a mack tuke-zine, shows half a dozen long, deep slashmarks running diagonally down his back. He turns, then, to face the policemen... more recent, red scars crisscross his abdomen.
"Ain't gonna show you what her teeth n'claws did downstairs, ask your pissmen... they do my intake specimen an' that blue freak nearly lost his breakfast. Can only guess how I feel..."
Germany smiles, Norlin looks away. Even John Crum looks down.
"OK, Slim, you got a problem. Tell me about it...."
"Started 'bout a year ago, after King Jack goes down and my fortunes improve; one of my ladies, Robin... you know her... wants to surprise me wif' somethin' nice for Jatesday, cuz I'm the measure of sex-you-all pleasure. So she goes to the Chinese Market..."
"That's never a good idea... by the way, what ever happened to Robin?
"Tell me, Chief! Brought back one of 'em wake-up li'l Sheela frog-pole things, what they sell out of tubs? Say how, if ya kiss one, phibe turns into anything your heart's desire in just three days and three nights... three kisses, three dreams..."
"Old wives' tales, Slim..."
"So you say. See... the way I see it is that your common dook can't keep two thoughts apart in his head wakin', let alone sleepin'. But I am a focused entrepreneur. I told you... no old wives or kebbin' ear-cuttin' Zeuts..."
"You forget your LC jacket, back in '31..."
"False positives... ibuprofin, anna poppy seed bagel. Vicks Vapo-rub. Don't know whose ol' wives you been drillin', but ol' Slim's just been killin'... so I chill, do the drill alright, then, fourth morning, I's just wakin' up round 1300, commencement of my entrepreneurin' hours, an' I lean over to wake Robin, get me my breakfast... and there's this new honey in the sack. Not to incriminate myself, now, but there was a time when I might wake up, not rememberin' and such, so I am not out of sorts until she turns over and... k'ball!... I'm in the sack with a kebbin' phibe!
"Don't want to sound foolish, man," John ventures, "but did you kiss her?"
Slim seems insulted. "Well yeah... course I did... s'in all them ol' stories you know, my mama used to tell? Kiss a frog, an' princesses slide out th' other end. Legends! Well they're true, sort of, 'cept this Sheela, she's a mighty fair looker by night, under the moon? Can't hardly see the phibe 'cept her face runs sorta flat and there's those teeth... an' that tongue! Let her take ya roun' the world, any man in his right mind would!" the procurer of Executive Escorts challenges his unseen questioners behind the glass. "Sunlight... well, that don't get along so well with the phibes... skin puffs up, more bufe than rayna, I mean, an' the smell..."
"Ever hear anything from Robin?" the Chief of Patrols persists. "We've been lookin' for her too, by the way..."
"Nadja! Which brings me roun' to my problem, you know, the phibes ain't heard ‘bout Triple-J or, if they did, don't much care for him. Phibes dig meat, man, and I'm not just talkin' 'bout getting your chimney swept. Took lots of flies to keep Sheela satisfied, she's a big girl. So, again... not that I'm coppin' to any lifestyle crime, if I were it'd be possession, not consumption of meat... you can get anything at the Chinese Market when you're willin' to pay for it. Anna' thing is... this Sheela was loyal, she was in love, man... never went out on the Strip, not once..."
"So, what's the problem, Slim?"
"Well, in the nature of my business it becomes awkward when my talent starts turnin' up... like Robin... missing, you know? Betty the Flip, Garage Jane," Automatic Slim tolls them off on his fingers, "they were hard workers, moneymakers... not that I's 'criminalatin' myself, jus' statin' a fact o'life. So I'm startin' to have this cash flow problem on both ends, see? Sheela, she goes down to the Chinese market, brings back four more phibes..."
"And they repaired your finances," John prompted.
"Well, they went into the clubs... Duluth, the Squawk... not the Pony, them having those problems of their own, roun' 'bout that time," Slim says, drawing his slinky, viny shirt on, again, "...performing administrative services, you might say. And each of them goes to the Chinese Market and comes back with four more phibes for the luv-doctor to perform his magic upon, and they go to work, if you know what I mean? I just let 'em crash my crib... know what I mean... they wanna show gratitude, I ain't refusin'. Ain't easy wit' all them phibes hangin' round waitin' on sundown... spearin' flies, croakin' for meat, stinkin' up the place... I finally moved out, in fact, checked into the Tulane with only Sheela..."
John Crum looks from Germany to Norlin, nodding as if everything's become clear as prohibited beer. "So it was jealousy that caused them scratches..."
"Well, yeah... that ain't my real problem," explains the pimp, buttoning the top button of his twistily, silvery shirt. "See, what it is... takes a year after the Becoming for a phibe to fully mature, you know, in the Biblical sense... maybe a few days more or less? An' whoever conjured them up out of DNA here and there must've thrown in a little bug, you know... scorpion, praying mantis? 'Cause for the fertilization to take, momma's got to bite off poppa's head and eat 'im... whole!... down to the root!"
And Automatic Slim raises a forefinger, tapping his temple, then points it downward...
"... know what I'm talkin' 'bout?"
In the observation booth, John Crum and Germany look at one another with revulsion, then both turn towards Norlin with sick, sadistic grins. Crum picks up his microphone...
"OK Slim, this sounds serious. Gonna let you talk with one of our... special... officers, name of Norlin. It's what he does best... cases like yours..."
And Germany Smith, still smiling, points out the door to Norlin who sighs, then walks through, extending a hand, swelling with artificial bravo...
"Mr. Slim? Norlin... C-Squad, I'll be handling your complaint..."
"Uh, C-Squad? That's "C" for..."
"For... uh... Conjugal. We handle domestic disturbance of a... well... special nature..." he winks.
"Lookit... ain't no kebbin' domestic disturbance. Phibe wants to rip Li'l Slim up by the root, gobble him down like a cock-a-roach. An' if I keep away from Sheela for a couple weeks, there's four more gonna be comin' into their time... know what I mean?... then, a couple weeks later, sixteen more..."
"Are you still at the Tulane?"
"You some crazy Jateshole?" Slim steps back, eyes popping, shuddering. "She's up there... sleepin' off another night out, covered in daylight warts... brrr! I got the clothes on my back, few dollars in a safe place and a homie in a hydro. Just a guy on the fly!... an' this fly don't mean to land on any one fex long enough to get tongued. Not meanin' to point fingers, but I been roun' the Trouble Factory before; you got your share as ain't quite human on that Force, know what I mean?"
Norlin glances at the one-way mirror and then answers, sternly...
"Whether an officer is a clone, a mute or other minority population may not affect his status with the Trouble Factory, Mr. Proctor. That is the Compliance Doctrine... the same as mandates all citizen complaints be accorded respect and dignity. I'll have inquiries made at the Tulane and... what is... was... your home address where the rest of the phibes are staying?"
Slim clenches and unclenches his fist... a perp's natural reluctance to give up his crib. But the impending demise of Li'l Slim wins out. "Big purple lozenge off the Strip... five-hundred Tenth, Southwest..." he adds, almost in a whisper.
"Since you lack a reachable address, here's my card... call me in about a week. Needless to say, try not to draw attention to yourself," Norlin counsels, recognizing the uselessness of the words as they fall out of his mouth... Slim might be a walkin' pile of fex, but he ain't one of C-Squad's woolly-brained girlfriends. It's real-world police work, makes him want to run for the crapper. "If there's an emergency, is there some way I can contact you without alerting... you know..."
"Uh... I still check in with the clubs, you know... on the Strip? I's a day-playa now... why not leave word with Molly at the Prancing Pony. Word on the Strip's out that you’re sweet on her..."
"Yes... yeah, that'll do," Norlin says, awkwardly, holding the useless card between a thumb and forefinger. "Dr. Skark'll be along... your patience is appreciated in the cause of a substance-free Barataria..."
He shakes the playa's limp hand and quickly retreats behind the door, shutting it on a guffawing Smith and a stolid (but near-strangling) John Crum...
"Compliance, gentlemen, dictates that someone go round to the Tulane," he appeals to them.
Germany Smith is still almost choking with laughter. "John... that's your department... I'm sure you can find a patrolman up to the task..."
"I can think of a few deserving candidates," the Patrols Chief admits. "That's all, Norlin... don't forget to write up our strict compliance with Compliance in your report..."
"I'll expect it on my desk as supplemental to your daily report by 1700 hours," Germany adds.
And, before Norlin can hurry out of the interrogation room, both Chiefs explode into laughter again, waves of it... rolling and sputtering waves of knee-slapping, red-faced mirth. Automatic Slim has come to the mirror and pressed his face against the glass, smooshing his lips and nose into something like what his phibes intend to do to him... the sight strikes him as a vision worse than anything out of Frank Desperate's trick bag.
"Serum, mirrors... serious, mira!" he mutters to himself, stumbling out the door, the mirth of his superiors trailing him down the corridor like one of Terushka's little yapping dogs that will not let go of his pantscuff until he's back in his own lair, with Eric and Homes, with his files and his pleader... and Frankie... and more girlfriends waiting on the com.