(Sunday {Venuday}, January 7, 2035, and After)






The rain never lets up and, in fact, has intensified by dawn when a yawning Norlin is released from his Trouble Factory basement cellblock.  Nodding to the trusty LCs, even the waxbot, he crosses the hallway and - after hanging up his overcoat (the arresting patrolmen, a pair of brain dead mutes, having neglected to find even the knife wrapped up in Lisa Marie's panties) - clocks in, late, at 0802 hours.  There is no answering click or reminder… those clockworks are dead… he turns on the lightswitch, but no light illumines empty C-Squad.  He opens the bottom drawer of his desk, removes four candles, also, a HRI-approved Flamo (license #2283-03-674), complete with warning: NOT FOR IGNITION OF TOBACCO, MARIHUANA, OPIUM OR COCA-BASED COMPOUNDS; WORMWOOD, BLUEGRASS, KAT, EPHEDRA OR OTHER FLAMMABLE SUBSTANCES OR THEIR SYNTHETIC SATELLITES WHEN PROSCRIBED BY BARATARIAN OR LOCAL LAW.  He codes in 04 - "BUSINESS OR PROFESSIONAL USE"... strikes up the Flamo and holds it to a candle, using this to light three others, placed strategically around the room.  His reader blank, Norlin trips the Emergency Power override only to have a sick, green message pop up...


General Failure – clock


The override has activated seven seconds of Elvis on the speaker, and the King asks, repetitively, obsessively: "Such an easy question?"  Norlin picks up the topmost of his futile, insane paper files and tosses it aside at a knock at the door...

          "S'open," he grunts.

          It's Eric Ice, visiting his old digs with an apologetic half-swagger...

          "Sorry, Corpse.  Wouldn't be a man if I let somebody else deliver this in person..."

He drops a paper headed NOTICE of TERMINATION HEARING on Norlin's desk.

          Spitting on the job's against Compliance, but Norlin spits, anyway.  "Working for Clive?  C-Squad's low, Ice, but... Compliance?"

          "Lateral promotion.  What can I say," Ice shrugs " wanna take a swing at me?"

          "You're protected now, of course," the Corporal sneers, "...who's your new rabbi?"

His answer comes in the rattling of the teatray, heralding the approach of the Blue Man, Gray Man and Dr. Skark...

"You were always too smart for your own good, Corpse.  Speaker's broken," he adds as Elvis Presley's ghost warbles "Such an easy question?" over and over, again.  "Now drop your pants and give up a specimen," Eric charges, nodding at his new kapo as the Blue Man removes a paper cup from the tray.  "By the way, it's Sergeant Ice, now.  I outrank you..."

"This is for your own protection... a post-incident, pre-interview specimen," Skark begins to explain.  "It'll be kept cold stored until termination, just to rule out any claim of irregularity during your confinement..."

          "Access to Departmental jizz, Eric?"  Norlin raises an eyebrow, not disrespectfully, after spraying wildly – finally depositing a painful few drops into the cup.  "I underestimated you.  Gonna steal my piss, now, put it on the market?"

          "I don't need small change... jezk'ball!"

          "Sorry, feelin' shaky today," Norlin zips up, grinning ruefully towards the long, brown stains on the wall - pulsing now, slime dripping inexorably from the pipes and crevices and crannies in the Trouble Factory plaster.  "Humidity, maybe.  Don't know what's got into me..."

"The long, long weasel end of the law's what'll be gettin' into you.  You'll feel it, soon enough.  End up in Feliciana, most likely, or maybe your daddy's surviving friends can wrangle you a crib in Stimwood, right?  Tomorrow, fourteen-hundred hours.  See ya there!"

          Eric Ice gimps away, his bespattered leg dragging across the filthy linoleum of C-Squad.  Dr. Skark and his entourage are also leaving when the Law Firm's worst lawyer, earnest young Mufquq… known derisively as Mufquq the Malthusian for the predilection of his clients to involuntarily depart the gene pool  manifests in the corridor, knocking for admittance...

"Corporal Norlin, I am your Departmental-appointed counsel.  Before we consult, I have that you please to understand if you wish to choose private man-lawyer, is your right..."

"Private man-lawyer, yeah?  And what would I pay him with?"

"Point taken."  The lingering Dr. Skark pauses, pondering a shakedown of the attorney for more piss, then shakes his head in disgust and motions his legions to follow him back towards the sub-sub elevator bank.  "I am also regret to inform you," earnest young Mufquq advises, "that the Department chooses not settlement under any terms that you leave the Trouble Factory.  However, there possibility of pleasing in the criminal matter - six months in Feliciana, two years community labor or a commitment to Stimwood.  In my advice to accept, a civil issue filed by your former wife..."

          "Unnerstand!  I'll represent myself, thank you..."

          "Sir - as your Compliance-appointed Counsel, I..."

          "You can tag along and get your timeslip signed," Norlin relents, but only a little.  "I'll do the talking.  Now get out..."

The emergency generator fails as Mufquq sidesteps puddles on the floor of Crazy-Squad; Elvis finally stuttering to a horrid end.  The Corporal ostentatiously picks up one of his paper files, reads by candleglow and by the unimpeded fluorescence of the corridor, just outside C-Squad's grimy window, until he can begin to feel the sewage, seeping upwards through his shoes.  At 0940 there is a rattling of pipes and the lights and reader come back on, though tentatively, as Henry Hat arrives with his paint-by-number puzzle wrapped in brown paper, lodged in a grimy portfolio of sketches purloined from the garbage dumpster at 450 SW 8th.  These are duly spread out across Homes' and Eric's vacated desks... Norlin sweeping the dried-out remnants of Homer's party into the trash... some bad greasepencil copies of Mondrian but, also, incriminating rough drafts of criminal landscapes: banks, the Tulane and Professor Pearson's library, even the reception station at C-Squad, and the Jatesaneum.

"Wet enough for you?” inquires the suncop who, Norlin sneaks a glance, has donned yellow shoes with Cuban heels that allow him to float above the fex.  “Seems our deceased friend, Mr. Topple, may have supplemented his larcenous income by observing and photographing locations which Mondretto had an interest in," suggests Henry Hat.  "As a sort of... what do they call it... advance man?  Like those drifters roaming these parts a century ago, pasting up posters and distributing handbills for circuses and medicine shows.  Unfortunately, he'd taken only three photographs with this particular camera..."

And Henry Hat lays the first snapshot down upon the portfolio... it is a peaceful, daylight composition of the Mad House Conservatory in Mormentz.

          "This is... interesting..."

          So interesting, in fact, that Norlin decides to withhold Jody's contention that Henry Hat is unknown to the roster of the official Solar Commission personnel.  After all, many Baratarian agencies have agents working incognito...

          "You may note that it is neither the HRI-approved spherical-pixel, nor the more common digital imaging widely used by East and WestAmericans… who no longer revere Triple-J… but an example of ancient silver-nitrate photography.  There are only a few clandestine laboratories that still develop such," the suncop nods, slapping the remaining two photos against the edge of Norlin's desk, "my gentleman of the Wire Department, fortunately, is on speaking terms with the proprietor of one.  These others are, perhaps, more revelatory..."

          "K'ball!" Norlin exclaims.

Henry Hat slaps down both photographs, side by side.  The first is a simple snapshot of the fridge in C-Squad but, in the other, a very dead, very unhappy-looking Frank Desperate lies, face-up, on a scrubby patch of ground at the South Node, the Telecom towers rising behind him...

"Does time or perspective imply anything to you?" challenges Henry Hat.

          Norlin squints, then stumbles to the fridge and leans against it, looking outwards from the perspective of the deceased funhouse glass smuggler.  "Jezk'ball!  Frank Desperate was a setup."  He nudges one of the gummy stains on the floor with his wet shoe, several flakes of wet, silvery crud break loose and begin eddying lazily downslope towards a deepening brown puddle under the Departmental refrigerator.  "A substitute, not a clone but..."

Henry Hat sweeps the photographs into his pocket, as a bad magician might dispose of three dead rabbits, and lays a second small packet down upon the table.  "Here are those which you... uhm... acquired last night.  I couldn't help myself," the suncop apologizes.

"Mean anything to you?" Norlin inquires, riffling through the prints.

"What they are," Henry Hat replies, replacing Mondretto's rough drafts in the portfolio, setting a few sketches aside.

"I suspect the mortal remains of Frankie... unlike Igor Topple whom our Coroner now possesses... subsequently disappeared into that fish-pond of Mormentz which you described to me.  That, or Philip Said's refrigerator.  Note the minor homages in the margins of these sketches - this chrysanthemum, that row of bottles, this trumpet.  Mondrian loved the jas hot of a century past... when we approach his disciple's building, there probably will be an EastAmerican quba playing, music escaping from an open window...

          "Criminals despise music... except for Elvis, of course," Norlin demurs.  "Everybody loves the King."

"But Mondretto's an artist, and artists are... by definition... criminally and contrarily inclined.  Think of those old Dutch masters - every one of them up to his armpits in the banking, piracy and slave-trading schemes of the Seventeenth Century that begat Jean Lafitte, himself. Lifestyle criminality… beyond all petty, pale presumptions of our pallid age.  Is it any wonder that their work even used to be found on... cigar boxes?"

"Well, if that's so, why doesn't Mondretto just paint money directly?"

"Because money in these days is not so valuable as is shit, and piss," Henry Hat reminds the Corporal.  "And this felon is not so talented a forger to create fex that would withstand the scrutiny of professionals... absent the crutch of Protein X, which brings his criminal enterprising to fruition.  Remember: he used to forge credit cards... and failed.  A moderately clever fellow... these rejects are harmless but, when he paints with colors infused with Protein X, his genius shines through.  A reflected, stunted genius... borrowed, to be sure... but genius, nonetheless..."

"Well, I think I have a name for our genius," Norlin steps away from the refrigerator, "...Andrew Kowl.  One of those quicksketch artists at the West Node Mall... he was tracking me through my own son's eyes; I mean, on paper... I destroyed it, of course... I think I did..."

"Too bad, though it might not have been admissible evidence.  But Kowl will confess..."

"How can you know that?" Norlin wonders.

"He is an egoist.  He will boast!" Henry Hat predicts, with the authority of a seer, or great white hunter drawing conclusions from the spoor of wild bears or tigers.  "Oh... I have reasoned and confirmed that method by which he was able to make off with the Veronica.  A clerk in the Specimen Depository... thinking to gain the favor of a lady."

"A lady who... didn't exist?"  Norlin savours the thought, letting it roll round and across his mind like a tongue massaging a rotten tooth.

"You have already grasped Mondretto in his spirit," the solar policeman nods.  "Now, it is time to lay our police hands upon his flesh."