BOOK THREE – “HEARTBREAK HOTEL”
(Incident Report... draft... of Sergeant Chester Aspid regarding events that commenced Thursday, January 4, 2035 - moments past midnight)
There were eight dead bodies littering the floor of the Phylactery Room on the mezzanine suite C of the sumptuous but decaying old Tulane Hotel when James Elizondo, concierge, entered with a duplicate key kept in the office of the management. Seven of these stiffs belonged to the Comte Vicente Duran-Mazzolo; the eighth was that of specimen collector Conrad Heenes.
Señor Elizondo was a bag of roiling nerves as he led me down the Tulane corridors towards C, at about a quarter past midnight, to the site of the crime. Within, a couple of waiters... a mute and a hebe, a foreigner... waited by the remains of its occupants as did, also, two more hebes... a chambermaid and a sweating chef in that peaked, occupational hat which hasn’t changed in what… five centuries? Two rank-and-file patrolmen, a whitecoat from Ray Angenieux's wire department and a weary-looking Chief John Crum rounded out our little party, poking dead flesh, taking their measurements and voicing their observations.
On the seventh day, as it is said, God rested to watch His Creations at work and at play... and then, in the pit of night, He sent the Cannonball to chastise his willful progeny. Then, on the following morning, He spat unto the dust and, from that slaver, sprang Jatesland. And, then, He put me here, to do His work... I'm a cop. Sergeant Chester Aspid, twenty-eight years on the job after my tours of duty in Baghdad and Costa Rica for what used to be the United States... Memphis P.D., till the K'ball, the Trouble Factory, since.
We get all sorts down here in Jatesland Southwest, all the way from the Strip to joints like the Tulane... grifters and LCs, dooks, doops and, especially, mutes. Phibes, houndogs, you name it... nights like this, you want to flush the whole kebbin' Quadrant, send it downriver to where it is fex goes when nobody wants to bottle it, or primp it up with shellac and perfume on some pink cushion at the auction house.
Johnno's the sort could turn a sweet sixteen party into a wake, just by showing up. Not his fault, he can't help himself for being so ugly, and so mean. "Long day, Chet," he shook his head. "Clarke home... in bed?"
"That's about the size of it." I didn't give a keb. "Where's the genius in the yellow hat?"
"Who gives a k'ball!" Crum gave me back.
Some kebs catch all the luck. "What I wouldn't give for a hot cuppa good old black caffa. Taster's Choice, Chock Full o'Nuts," I'd reminisced, "...even some old kebbin' instant Qualway!"
"Caffeine's been illegal for six years, Chet," the Chief reminded me. Dusty old joints like the Tulane bring back memories, and I hadn't the slightest doubt that there was coffee to be found around, somewhere... other fex, too.
"That it is," I said. "Well, let's get to work."
The dead Mazzolos were dressed alike, jumpsuits... but of a decent material... black, authentic plastic velcro shoes. They seemed about my age, or John's, but with sparkly teeth, and all of their hair. The concierge pointed out one that he thought might be the real Comte, but the waiter as seemed human... or mostly so... shot me a look like I seen off lotsa dooks; think their bosses don't know elbows from their jatesholes. Why they never get to be bosses, themselves, prob'ly Triple-J, God or the King might know, I don't. Doops like those as were turning to worm fodder before John Crum and I, you see 'em on the street, you might envy 'em, but not now... I prodded one with a toe, lifting the cadaver about half an inch, just enough for a swarm of chittering beetles, each about the size of a thumbnail, to spew out from underneath, blanketing my shoe, then scurrying towards every corner of the Phylactery Room. Crum glared at me as if he really needed a caffa, then nudged another body, exciting more brown and greenbacked, chitinous hordes into their impromptu migration.
"Coroner's on his way," said John Crum. Then he turned on Elizondo, but slowly. "You there... any other person leave this room since, since... since, when was the last time you saw any of these gentlemen alive?"
Zook's hands fluttered like he was patting wrinkles out of a wet, clay sculpture of the kebbin' David, figleaf n' all. "Martín," he said, "didn't you bring them refreshments at around... oh... twenty two hundred hours?"
Martín was the human bein'... the hebes, we call 'em, when Compliance is outa earshot, it's a six-day suspension if they catch you, even if the so-called ethnic insult's to your own kind. Who knows what the keb it'll be when they're through messin' with the calendar! Anyhow, he was a surly, swarthy fellow in a Tulane tux - short and balding, with one of those clipped bandito moustaches... I'd put money on his having been born somewhere else, somewheres south and distant, (like the suave Señor E.) somewheres poor and hot. "Mr. Heenes requested... ah, a herbal beverage at around that time..."
"The keb he did," I broke in, "...you brought him alcohol. Or was it caffa... or something sweet, a milkshake? Chocolate? Shows up in the autopsies, you know..."
Elizondo squirmed as if a handful of those corpse-beetles had been shoveled down the front of his shiny hotel-striped trousers.
"I assure you, Officers, you'll find no illegal substance here. If there is contraband in the system, or possession, of any of these decedents," he gave himself an exit strategy, "...it was undoubtedly acquired and consumed before their arrival. Mr. Heenes, you know..."
"No, I don't..." interrupted John Crum.
"He was a wealthy man, sir," Elizondo wheedled, "and wealthy men sometimes tend to place themselves above the law."
"Well, not above somebody's sense of justice, was he?" the Chief observed, then waved at the rest of the hotel staff, lined up at attention like soldiers in some second-rate army. "Who are these other jakes?"
"Martín and Sebastién have each been here over ten years, Fanchette for sixteen. Since the Tulane opened, in fact... two years longer than myself. Rippini... the chef... he's new..."
"Do say?" John leaned forward...
"Six years," Elizondo said, confidentially. "We do weekly and random urine testing here, monthly polygraphs and loyalty investigations... most recently on the twenty-ninth of last month. Of course I'll make every file available..."
He might've been with the Tulane since before the K'ball, but there was something about Martín - he was greasy, like plenty of MexAmericans and SubAmericans. Maybe I just didn't like his eyes, the cut of his tux... or him... but keb the dooks at Compliance! I looked the keb up an' down, figurin' how to get a rise outa him...
"Get plenty of queer sorts here, I'd put money on it..." I finally said
"Two blocks from the Strip? We get all kinds, Officers," and he gave a little nod, and one of them SubAmerican gestures you don't need a diploma to understand, "...salesmen on the fly, donnas, gyps. Had one kid from the swamps down south, givin' birth on the sixth floor, coupla' kebbin' mutes! Some of the private rooms serve as gentleman's clubs..."
"And what club was Conrad Heenes a member of?"
"His own." Worried, now, the waiter looked towards his boss, coupla little balls of sweat glistening on his brow. "Filled out the required charter forms an' paid the tax... Mr. Elizondo will back me up."
"A lot of business sorts do business in private clubs," the concierge explained. "Heenes and Mazzolo... they came here often; they were rival collectors, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't swap fex..."
"I'll bet they did! Anybody else care to add anything?" They didn't, of course. Think they know where it's at, even where there ain't no it and at's a detour through the more veiled quarters of a dump like the Tulane - them darker corners, into which all sorts of bugs disappear into. Of course I'd get each of them alone, break 'em down... crack the shell and see what crawls out. But I already suspected this wasn't no ordinary crime, like robbery, or something romantic... though with so many clones lyin' around dead, you never can tell. Jatesland ain't always what it seems and, in the Southwest, you can toss all your assumptions out the window wit'out breakin' through a single pane of glass. And the Phylactery Room was full of peculiar mirrors, have I mentioned that, and I couldn't help seein' these... shapes... creepin' round the edges, made me jumpy as a phibe. I'd looked towards the other waiter - twitchy little mute, might've had some SubAmerican critter in his DNA, too. A llama, monkey, some burrowing rodent... his English was probably good as mine, but he looked the sort who'd play dumb.
"So," I focused on Martín, "you were the one who discovered this slaughter..."
"No, Officer. Somebody called down for a chef's salad to be delivered, and Fanchette and Sebastién replied..."
John Crum nodded to Sebastién. "And the door was locked?" When the mute continued to stand, staring, the Chief mimed a key, turning in a keyhole.
"It... yes," the mute finally responded. "I knock, but when there no reply, I going straight to Mr. Elizondo, who open door and found, well... you see what you see..."
"And this is exactly what you saw?" he turned to the chambermaid.
"I... I think so. Of course, those policemen recovered the gun, it was on the floor, there!" Fanchette pointed. "Anybody could've dropped it."
"Eight-shot Heston heater," John told me. "One of them with this tracking apparatus that records every shot - on its way to Wire as we speak..."
"Convenient," I said. "Anything else?"
"You were in here from the moment you opened the door," John singled out Martín once more, "while Elizondo and the lady were on the com to headquarters?"
"I.... I did have to run down the hall, I wasn't feeling very well..."
"Get out of here!" John said, abruptly. "Do I have to tell any of you not to leave town without permission?" And he gestured to Elizondo as more creatures of the Trouble Factory arrived... some of Ray's boys from Wire Services, techies. "You, too!"
The concierge looked back over his shoulder in disgust.
"Piss! Piss! It always comes down to piss!"