BOOK FOUR – “WITCHCRAFT”
(Friday, January 5, 2035)
Henry Hat, having procured a hydro with a mere fingersnap, directed Corporal Norlin to drive, "just drive." In such roundabout fashion, they proceeded to the Third Fifth Bank, to Blue City, the Tulane Hotel and, finally, Philip Said's deserted apartment. At each station he viewed... or re-viewed... the scene of the crime through his funhouse looking-glass, both from a distance and at close range, frowning often, taking measure of the scene from different perspectives... paying especial attention to the winter's interplay of light and shadow, also the presence, duration and location of surveillance cameras... and collecting samples of crud, depositing these in the specimen vials apparently lifted from the Depository.
"A savant of linearity and decaying flowers once expressed the proposition that authentic art is that created only upon the spot where it is exhibited," the Solar Policeman remarked in the lobby of one violated bank. "Now substitute crime for art, Corporal, and we have the germ of a self-defeating integrity." Norlin asked him to clarify this - but a private security guard loomed up, ordering them to leave the building. Rather than expose their status with the Trouble Factory, Henry Hat urged them away.
"He's right," allowed the suncop. "The criminal has left. And we must be gone."
"Your robbery suspect didn't actually touch the money, is that right?" he demanded of the balding, mustachioed usurer of Third-Fifth, twenty minutes later.
"No... he had this gun on Ruth, one of our tellers, and directed her to leave the money in the dumpster behind Oady's Egyptian Grill. The red one," specified Jatesland's banker to its clones and mutes. "Fellow didn't look right, I'll say that. Seemed sort of... pixillated?" Suddenly the banker blanched, pointing past the two policemen, through the window to the street. "By Jates... that's him!"
A spectre in a dark overcoat and low-hanging hat had pressed his face to the window briefly, flashing a theatrical sneer... squashing his nose and lips against the glass. Before their eyes, the suspect began to dematerialize... by the time they had reached the street, he was gone. Henry Hat squinted, raised his scalpel and scraped a gummy resin off the window where the suspect's face had touched, depositing it in one of the little pilfered glass vials.
"My teacher also affirmed that, during the Atlantean and Lemurian epochs, hebes rose with the dawn and retired at sunset. Then, disharmony of nature entered... which, of course, provoked a natural retaliation. We must not see life, nor art... nor crime... as beginning, or ending, with this universe."
"And what the keb do you mean by that?" Norlin frowned.
"Perhaps our felon has consorted with a whore... with a sore," Henry Hat nodded, placing a stopper on the vial and the vial into a pocket of his yellow greatcoat. "In a box, with a fox. And perhaps your Mr. Angenieux will have more to say upon that!"
Returning to the Phylactery Room of the Tulane Hotel, they braced concierge Elizondo and his close-mouthed waiter, Martín.
"Haven't we co-operated sufficiently, Officer? I mean... these terrible crimes, terrible..." Elizondo wheedled, "but weren't they solved?"
"Apparently," Henry Hat acknowledged, "but there's still one detail I am curious about... Martín, you served refreshments to the Mazzolo/Heenes party..."
Surly, almost defiant, the waiter fingered a button on his jacket, snapping: "Ain't nothin' wrong with that..."
"I'm not interested in lifestyle crimes," Henry assured him. "In fact, I would go so far as to advise that... if you do have any contraband on the premises, you remove it forthwith. Though the Trouble Factory is presently overwhelmed, when things return to normal, after Jatesday, they will follow up on their customary inclinations... and you may expect a visit from Dr. Skark, his teatray and, probably, several well-coached pigs..."
Elizondo gulped, in spite of himself. "Answer the officers' questions, Martín..." he urged.
"When you did... no, try to remember..." the man in yellow corrected himself, "did you serve all of Mazzolo's clones or, perhaps, was there one who did not accept your hospitality? Someone perhaps different, even for a clone, a clone apart, you might say..."
"How'd you..." Martín started, "I mean yeah, there was this one standoffish doop... over there..." he pointed.
Norlin followed his finger to one of the Phylactery Room's tall French windows... Henry Hat unsheathed his scalpel, fingered the drapes and, finding something suiting his temper, smiled and carved a sample out of the fabric. Meanwhile, Norlin took Elizondo aside...
"Different matter - might be important, might not. Not so long ago," he prodded the recalcitrant memory of the concierge, "there was a gentleman checked in with a lady, sort of phibey, if you understand..."
Elizondo immediately betrayed his offence. "Him! He was not a gentleman, and that... that thing definitely was no lady. We threw them into the street, well, her... the other keb never showed up after paying the first week's rent. We're still trying to lavage their stink out..." and his voice dropped to a confidential insinuation, "...if it is lifestyle crime you're looking for, she brought meat into that room. There was rotting flesh all over... probably... nothing, but..."
"No, that's sufficient. Oh... mind tellin' me what room Frank Desperate's holed up in?" Norlin asked, as if a mere afterthought.
A brown and white goat, sauntering past, in the corridor, caused Norlin to leap towards the door, look up and down the hallway. Nothing. He turned back to Elizondo.
"Li'l freckled keb..." the Corporal clarified, "says he's shacked up with a donna, more likely a stim. Stinks like a sack o' dead cats?"
"You must be mistaken, we would not permit such other thing in my hotel... under that name, or any other. This is a reputable establishment."
The morning's excitement having drained off like the last few drops in an LC's bottle, Percy Said's apartment building lolled in late-afternoon slumber... manager absent, the derelict on the lobby sofa a genuine article, no Trouble Factory undercover. The eleventh floor hallway, still bedecked in yellow "CRIME SCENE" tape, was deserted... although a distinct odor of dog remained. Henry Hat trained his illicit magnifying glass upon the newspaper charger built into the CI's door, turned to a bewildered Norlin.
"You know, with all the morning's excitement, I'll wager that nobody's actually bothered to read Mr. Said's Journal..."
"You can't..." Norlin warned, "that tape's sensitized, the charge will kill a man..."
But Henry Hat had already grasped the yellow police tape. There came a sputter, sparks flying from the suncop's ears and nostrils, a smell of burning microtransistors... and then, with a nod and a tip of his yellow hat, the suncop opened the unlocked door and beckoned Norlin to follow him inside. Something small and dusty-looking remained dozing on the carpet until Norlin prodded it with his foot - then, it scampered under a couch...
"Missed one! Wrecked the place good, but they forgot... this!" said Henry Hat. Holding up Philip Said's mediawand, he activated the pleader... dented by the Trouble Factory, but still operational... and summoned up the morning's Jatesville Journal. Headlines and photoscans flashed by: nothing out of chronological ordinariness... an exaltation of sunspots, advances and retreats in the ongoing Battle of Jerusalem, the WestAmerican President calling his First Lady "my Number One"... to which she replied: "...and you're my Number Two." But, on the editorial page, the morning's commentary had been usurped by a criminal's derision...
TO THE DISCERNING CITIZENS of BARATARIA!
You know who you are...
I, Mondretto, decree a New Epoch of Style, New Crime and New Plasma governed by invisible statutes discernable, yet, by a discerning elite who, plucking offense, stand, eyeless now, against the Psalms and Elvis Presley.
The bar is open! Follow Me towards the Above - surmounting Jatesist scholarship, which imposes circular thinking, leveraged expedience and lies forcefully as swill crammed down the gullet of a Strasbourg goose.
As on those moons of Saturn, across which course rivers of liquid, methaneBarok!,, art shall be elevated to Fart, Fex devolved to -Ex, and "X" shall mark the spot beyond which surfaces are reduced to planes, planes to lines and then... transcending the morphoplasticity of lineage... a morphoplasmic punctual Becoming through Fashion and Jas and the New Sacrament of "Protein X" shall devour the pointillism of my orbular adversary whose congealed Empyres enclose valences, enclosing spheres, enclosing surfaces.
Our only reward - the rapture of martyrdom, a burning one thousand times fiercer than the fires at the heart of the fiercest Solar Furnace! What brave autopsies we'll make, the weird sister pointed down the path - everything all which ways in our bowels!
Cede, to me, the Iatollah of Incunabula, your rooftops... let Triple-J wallow in the madness of his walls, clotted science and tabula obscura.
Have you thevissure to seek ineffability, the sovereign Fashion of the New Plasma?
Augment your attentiveness!
"I am increasingly convinced that Herr Kleervogl's comment regarding Sherlock Holmes was not coincidence," Henry Hat pondered, as the pixels on the pleader... having performed this task their maker had set them to... decayed into gibberish, then, mere electronic snow awaiting the news of the morrow. "There is much in these instances to recommend that eminent detective as, for example, in the case of the dog that did not bark..."
"Sir?" Norlin failed to comprehend.
"I must give thought to the matter - and you must return to C-Squad. Shall we rendezvous tonight, at a location hospitable to deduction? Shall we say... the Prancing Pony?"
"How do you... how did..." Norlin started, guiltily, mimicking a man electrocuted as the suncop tipped his hat, opened Said's door, kicked ineffectually at a rabid, barking little ball of froth and fur that had zeroed in on his cuff, and stepped into the hall... hearing doors softly close as Philip Said's neighbors, still curious, retreated behind their fortifications.
"There is particular training implicit in appointment to the Solar Commission. We come to approach particle energies as masters, not servants, through strict adherence to such practices and policies as were set down by Jeremiah Jezekial Jates. At least you do not squander your off-duty hours at Moe's... nineteen hundred hours? Agreed!"
And without awaiting reply, only whistling a snatch of "Teddy Bear", Henry Hat turned his back on Norlin and sauntered towards the elevator which, of course, groaned open at the precise instant of his arrival.