BOOK THREE – “HEARTBREAK HOTEL”
(Incident Report... draft... of Sergeant Chester Aspid regarding events that commenced Thursday, January 4, 2035 - moments past midnight)
I clock in Wednesday morning... I think it's still Wednesday (unless the kebbin' City Council took all their weekly and yearly namings back, changing Wednesday back to something else, overnight)... anyway, I'm only twelve minutes late. Not so bad, considering the paperwork and with the driving back I get maybe three, three and a half hours' sleep and Vurleen whomps me on the side of the head, comin' into bed. Clock docks me a kebbin' twelve Jeans, though, on the grounds that what's good for the bovi works for bonjovi - as the Roman used to say - they use smart clocks at the Trouble Factory, smarter than the cattle as have to work all hours of the night, overtime, get no pay an' get docked comin' in the followin' morning. I am starting to see twelve becomin' a really bad mojo number on this case... Clem Clarke, though, comes in hot and furious because Captain Modesty has told him that the yellow fellow, that Henry Hat, is off collecting evidence on something... maybe leftovers from Pearson, maybe something else... and that I'm designated to represent the Detectives on this case, not some zook of Clem's own choosing (like Minoso, or Sabrett). His fake eye's probably busting out of its socket, behind that black patch, when he says the Captain wants me stayin' on the case and, because Norlin's rat mentioned the idea of multiple murders in the first place, I'm supposed to take the biggest Departmental keb out of C-Squad and do rounds. It's probably Norlin that steams Clem more than myself... Chief was close to blowin' his top, even takin' that scummy eyepatch off and thrusting his yellow, pitted ol' Jates pre-K'ball Fireball up against somebody's face, like he does when he's really losin' it. I got nothing against Norlin myself... stupid, sure, but, in time, the one detonatingly self-annihilatory abstract is time. Not a traitor, prob'ly... but I play ball. That's how survival rocks and rolls at Trouble Factory.
"Kebbin' zook went over my hay-yahd!" Clem sputters. "Fahled his report with the Captain about some kebbin' informant, says he reads the papers and gets tomorrow's news yesterday, or somethin'. Norlin! Guy can't take a haint. Nobody wants him here, not on the force, not anywahr in Jatesland, doin' to Max like he did..."
"Can't get any lower than C-Squad..." I say.
"He's up to something, dirty keb." And the chief gives me this one-eye, homegrown Baratarian hoodoo like I'm the hebe in bed with the regimental disgrace. "Captain Modesty says he wants Norlin in the loop, it was his intelligayence... it was his dumb, kebbin' luck. Wants to weasel his way back into society... but he ain't doin' so at my expense. You let me know ev'ry move that boy makes, Chet, like that nutcase with his tomorrow's news today, I want to know what he's doin' tomorruh, and yesterday, too..." the Chief says.
"Understood." I'll say kebbin' anything, just so he gets his face outta mine and doesn't take off the patch. Did I mention that old socket stinks up to Jates in heaven, like it died when he didn't, an' has kept rottin' ever since? He's one filthy keb, Clem Clarke is.
"Meanwahl, stay out of trouble, hear? An' I got just the job for you and Corporal Norlin," he smirks. "Go out and keb up some doops... you know the kinda places they hang. Shake 'em upside and down... see if you can get Norlin to take a shot at one hisself, wit'out greasin' any of his winesses into shootin' at another with kebbin' arrhs! 'Member what happened to Pearson!"
Anyway, I go down into the basement, past the holding cells (which are quiet... L.C.'s already sent off to work wherever the keb they're workin' today). Past the interrogation two-ways and rooms that they store lightbulbs and toilet paper in, and fex to fix what's always broken down, I go into broke-down ol' C-Squad itself. Norlin's on the autocom, to one of his frequent flyers, I think... won't let him off the phone. Eric Ice is bangin' on the digiclock... stopped at 0446 hours - ambitious kid, but there ain't much upstairs, know what I mean? So I try to help him out...
"Hittin' it won't work, sonny, you got a dead battery in there..."
"Keb! Where the keb are k'ballin' replacements..." Eric whines. "Everything around this dump is busted, an' somebody's been drawing all over my papers again," he adds, holding up one of the old files, defaced with savage lines and violated spirals. Moron!
"You gotta fill out a requisition, then a couple more forms, maybe get called into a hearin' upstairs. Better to just pay out of the Benevolence Fund, buy 'em yourself, what I mean..."
"I ain't in the Benevolence Fund, since I get sent down here! Not all of us get set loose in the Chinese Market to shake down vendors..."
Kid rubs people the wrong way, you know? So I stop feelin' sorry for 'im – it’s the bad attitude what gets you the one-way ticket to C-Squad. Anyway, I gather from Norlin that his caller's this Vona Rae Slentcher... something like that... petty thief and sometimes-donna with a fexatious taste in johns. Thinks her piss oughta be worth somethin', always crying out 'bout how it oughta be listed on the FexMarket on account of her kebbin' some dook as kebbed this other donna got emptied into or onto by some jesk'ballin' pre-K minor celebrity nobody cares about, now. Some lawyer to a nephew of a bodyguard of the King's now-decrepit backup drummer... or a nephew's bodyguard's lawyer, maybe, I'd just tell her we don't enforce financial directives... which is only partly true. Norlin, he'd rather shine her on with delusions and paperwork...
"Vona," I hear the unlucky dook say... he's got the speaker off, probably something to be thankful for... "you're supposed to file an eleven fifty one with the primary colorians, not a seven oh three. Well, if you can't pay the sixty Jeans, file a motion pro pauperis, that's only twelve... form fifty one thirty six... Vona Rae, I didn't say thirty-six Jeans, I said twelve. Well, that's not my problem..."
Meanwhile, I see Homer Sack trying to tidy his desk up before liftoff... futility, that is, simple futility. Take my whole life, too! God made New England full of stones and Iowa full of pigs... he made Barataria full of headcases...
"Mornin' Homer," I try to make conversation. "Getting ready for the big liftoff?"
"I am, Sergeant..." says the big mutt.
Eric Ice gives the clock a final chop. "We were thinking about throwin' a party, maybe Friday afternoon. Seein' Homes off. Little artificially sweetened choc'late cake... might be the last we'll ever see (winking) and some Integral. Not too many speeches..."
"I'll come by if I can. No promises though... some of us gotta work..."
Eric's pleader's displaying the morning fluctuations of the FexMarket... good mornin' for the oldies. Syva, Pharm-chem, BRI... beaucoup brands, prized by collectors.
"Roger that!" he gives me some inane, moonlighting gesture.
I give Norlin this look and he picks up the tempo, getting rid of Vona Rae...
"... everybody knows the City Council's bent, but they don't fix the FexMarket, that's the job of the collectors. One of those pan-American ventures. You need a kebbin' passport even to go up to Yorktown, now. If it were me, I'd lurk round the auctions, you can find a lot of players there. Oh... there's a bunch of 'em comin' up in honor of Jatesday, but you'd have to call the Jatesaneum... health, security and property!" Norlin kills the com, lookin' like he'd rather be outside, vomiting, but I didn't get to be a Sergeant by coddling people's feelings...
"Mornin', Norlin," I say. "Clem tells me you got a funny sort of rat on the commons, tells you 'bout crimes before they happen. He say whether we made a collar on the killer yet?"
"You mean a killer-collar..." Ice looks up from his fex transactions...
"Shut up, n' go back to your piss, Eric. Clem says the Captain's idea is that you're turning into mushrooms, here, that I should take you upstairs and out into the sun. Keb up a few doops, and maybe get a few answers... unless you know somethin' I don't..." I start to crowd him
"No, I tried my informant but he wasn't home. He's not exactly the soul of reliability..." Norlin admitted.
"Rats seldom are..."
Then, we're interrupted by another com for Norlin, which Eric takes over the speaker, just for spite. Sounds just exactly what it is... some snotty kid pretending to be a loony, pretending to be a citizen with a complaint..."
"My name is uh... Jezemiah Jates, I've been alive... bein' held prisoner..."
"Who the keb is this?" Norlin barks...
"Uh, Triple-J... like I..."
The Corporal was out of patience. "The keb you are, you're one of them snotty brats from the tour... what was your kebbin' name, Billy?"
"It is, isn't it... Billy Frokes? Frakes? I gotta memory, you know... your teachers get to that part about where people get LC jackets for makin' phony calls to the Trouble Factory? They will... hello? Billy... keb you!"
"Kids!" I say. I'm vampin'... had three of my own, drowned in the k'ball wit' my first wife, Jane. "Crucifixion ain't good enough for 'em. Get your coat or don't... it's almost seventy out there. Freakin' weather!"
Homer Sack, like a radio, volunteers his forecast. "There's a front coming through, rain tomorrow, then turning clear and colder..."
"Who the keb asked you... oh, right, clear skies and rocketship weather Saturday..."
"I think you mean Venuday..." Norlin says, keb hasn't lost all his sense of humour...
I'm still kebbin' tired, so I say: "Somebody go ahead and rewrite the kebbin' calendar while I was sleepin' already? I miss somethin'? Get the keb out of that chair, Norlin, clones awaitin'..."
"What about that loaner from the Solar Commission?" Eric needles me.
"Henry Hat? Clem says he's out sherluckin' somewhere, pursuing clues. While we're supposed to walk roun' Southwest Twelfth, shakin' down clones. Sack, get your head out of space and come with us, too, you can talk to some of these... creatures... the way we can't, know what I mean?"
We park in a shabby neighborhood where clones saunter down Southwest Twelfth Street in threes and fours, mutes singly, furtively... Homer Sack, like myself, in uniform, Norlin in street clothes with this light, beat-up old tan jacket, made him look like a bum. It's warm and foggy - we turn into this greasy spoon, the Wide Angel, where more than a few patrons were in shirtsleeves. Hark! these angels are hairy, so the song goes... bare arms, insolent, amateur tatts. Over the counter reposed a somber portrait of the martyr Drazen Blount, the first clone harvested for a heart-lung combo for his primal; a dozen pairs of hostile eyes in booths or around a few tables settling on us cops. Start something, one of you, I pray. The chef was a mute... reptile DNA, probably, his face and forearms scaly and pitted with whorls and ridges as he raised his spatula and thrust it towards one of those "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service" signs...
"We don't serve the unclean," he grunts... more like a pig than a lizard, if my opinion matters. "You..." and he nodded to Homer, "...you here to eat or just keb wit' my customers..."
Funny how a quiet mute like Sack draws in confidence like a kebbin' sponge when he's among his own queer kind. "The latter," says Norlin's man. "Just looking for a little information. Mazzola... name mean anything to you?"
He's got it wrong, too. I think there was somet'in with corn, used to be innat. Corn syrup or corn oil - before they made those things illegal...
"Never came in here..." says the snake, so, I guess, his sympathy for mutes stops at the door where business starts. It's time to get official...
"Mind if we check that out for ourselves? 'Course you don't," I say.
So I start circlin' the joint, lookin' for... I don't know, lookin' busy? Homer Sack trailed me like a shadow, Norlin bringing up the rear. Saying nothing, tryin' to look, somehow, more official in his plain clothes, which was not helped by all the wrinkles and gravy stains. A table of three clones, better dressed than the others (one wearing a vintage artificial eye with little red lightning bolts, a genuine Triple-J, a collector's item... expensive) caught my attention, so's I picked up a chair, scraping it along the floor before sittin' down facing them - Homes and Norlin standin' over me, one to my left, one to my right.
I thought we made a pretty good triangle of intimidation. "Mind if we join you?" I say.
"Do we have a choice?" the doop with the eyeball groans. Wise-ass!
I just shook my head. "Let's see some identification."
Not fortunately, all of their papers were in order. Suspiciously so... showing each of the clones to be Roger Falls... Roger Fallses, Falluses?... numbers 2, 5 and 6. I passed their papers to Norlin, who tossed them back on the table.
"Lotta people workin'," he said, "this time of day..."
"We're medical," says the eyeball-doop... Number Two by his papers, and a real number two in person. Guess he was the oldest of the gang. If they were medical, there probably was a good explanation why Number One happed not to be with 'em.
"Ree...eeally?" I say, drawin' out the vowels so these doops can catch my drift, you know, in case the chemists put cotton candy in where their brains oughta have gone. "Sounds like a round deal... nice crib to stay, food, maybe some walking-'round money and all for just hanging round, not even having to work..."
"Until we're harvested..." Number Six interrupts. Must be the kid, try steppin' over a cop that way. Tho' he does have a point.
"Yeah, that's gotta be a problem," I admit. But a young fellow like you... eighteen months old, right?... you got a lotta livin' to do, yet. Shouldn't be so bitter... maybe the real Roger Falls comes down with somethin' can't be replaced, or falls out a window, catches a bullet in a wrong place where the medics can't transplant in time. Lots of that goin' around. See? You... on the other hand... looks like one of Triple-J's finest, there, by the master's own hand?" I bait the leader of the pack. "Thousand Jeans, maybe? But you'd rather have kept the original..."
Roger Falls Two recoils, as if from bad cheese...
"...you've been jukin' the system for seven years, nearly. Might be that your primal's ready to call on you for another cornea, a kidney? Or maybe a heart... do I make you nervous? Are you nervous, talking to the police... you look nervous..."
"If you are going to talk about..." the doop said...
"Death? Yeah... I see your point. Be convenient if Mr. Falls passed away suddenly," I say, "nothing that anybody could do for him. 'Course it wouldn't be easy... giving up the nice clothes, nice crib in the Northwest, lot of your sort don't have it so easy. Their primals expect them to work for a living, dangerous work, sometimes. You know the Mazzolos? Must've, there used to be twelve. Not so many, now..."
"We knew of them," Number Five corrects me. That fastidious one, the middle doop. "We never met them, personally."
"Word gets round quick, doesn't it? The freaks, the clones, the mutes... lightnin' drinkers an' chlorophiliacs... all have your own little networks, right boys?"
Young Number Six looked upwards towards the ceiling. "Next, you're gonna tell us you're seriously investigating the murder of... wasn't it seven of us, Officer?"
"Seven little doops," I started countin', then ran out of fingers, "truckin' down to the ol' Tulane to parlee with one fex collector on behalf of another, keb the royalty. Seven don't come back, go in bodybags, into the morgue. With one human being... kebbin' piss collector, just between you 'n me, boys, Jatesland's better off without 'im..."
"Well it's still murder. Killing one of us... well, that's less of an offense than drinking a glass of wine."
"Bet you like a glass of wine now and then," I kept at him. "Probably Falls gets it for you, an' you all get tipsy together, up there on Northwest Twelfth. A little smoke, a little shot of sleepy dust and caffa in the morning to get started... Jates knows what we'd find if I were to ask you to drop and give me specimens..."
"Mazzolo must've run through twenty clones by now, he's a real spare-parter, older than the K'ball," said Number Five, huriedly. "Knew Triple-J personally..."
"Thought you said you never met any Comte de Mazzolas," Norlin jumped in. "Ain't nice, lying to the cops..."
"I said we didn't know any of the present Mazzolas," Falls Number Two covered for the younger doops. "There were..."
He looked down at the table and his voice broke down, into sobs...
"Hey... I unnerstand! Really!" I say. "Just doin' my job... an' if somebody goes down for Conrad Heenes, no matter that he's a puke, well, they go down for the Mazzolas, too. I know..."
I even offered the kebbin doop one of the napkins from the table, but Falls Two made a brave show of refusing it...
"You don't know... you..." and he glared at Homer Sack with especial venom, lingering on those long, droopy ears, "...you ought to know better than to waste your life working against your brothers..."
"I have found fulfillment in the complex information and proportion of Jezekiah Jemaliel Jates," Officer Sack replied, like the self-important, shot-into-the-sun keb he was. "As Jatesians, we recognize all who walk the gently curved, virtuous path of lifestyle virtue as brothers... human beings, clones, mutes. Ours is no simple crusade against Substance, but a jihad, rather, against substance-abusers. Clarity and the universal liberate us from mortal failings, acute angles and feminatedness and, when I begin to question my faith, there's always a meeting going on... there's one now, only a couple of blocks from here..." he suggested.
"Thanks, but we're alright," Number Six sniffled. "I guess you can quote more Triple-J to your killer... when you find him."
"If I can, I shall..." Homer promised, "... after I have placed him in restraints."
I figure everything's blown, good time to get up to move on, but Homer's the tenacious one... must be a spot of bulldog behind the bloodhound in him, tho' he doesn't have that jowly look, more like the old Elvis standard. Probably never caught a rabbit for Jates, but he tried...
"Many clones find what is absent from their lives by taking Triple-J into their hearts and making devotions, attending meetings. Clones, mutes..."
I get an inspiration - I know Clem, Clive 'n Germany will like it... and it gets me out of this situation. I don't consider myself a mean person, tho' I have done mean things, sometimes. Hey, Norlin deserved it. What he did to Max Bend and those guys, he deserved anything short of the long sleep and, I'll tell you, there's zooks at the Trouble Factory who wouldn't mind if Norlin got on the wrong end of a heater or fell out a window, somethin' like that.
"Well, Norlin," I say, "sounds like you ought to go with Homer and check this gathering out..."
He looks at me like I'm the mean kid as snatched his teddy bear away. Can't help myself. There's just somethin' about Norlin... since Max... that makes people want to keb 'im up. He's a loser. That's just what some people are, and there ain't nothin' they nor anybody can do about it.
"Be sure to send me a draft of your incident report before you send it on to Clive." I add, just twistin' it in, just a little. So I'm happy... Homer Sack is kebbin' delighted, though you'd never know it to look at him... the giglios will be happy. Even the kebbin' doops in the Wide Angel are happy, 'cause we are gettin' up to boogie on down the road.
Like I said, the Trouble Factory's about protectin' turf, after, of course, your own butt. So it's that IR which I'm reading off, back to the boss, at fifteen-thirty, couple of hours later. I'm so tired I'm almost fallin' over, at first, I'm hoping that the Chief will recommend me for a shot of Police Serum, but Clem has this metal toothpick... pickin' fex out of his teeth as I read it, gruntin' and spoutin' Franco-Baratarian fex like "centralicity" and "perp's most metahminded colors" as if he's got some plan, spinnin' behind that kebbin' black eyepatch. Plans... why he's a Chief and I'm only a Sergeant. A tired Sergeant.
Jates!... I really gotta do some serious editing on this IR before turning it in!