Thursday, December 22, 2011

16508--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 14)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.


Chapter 14
It seemed to take awhile. I certainly walked past a ridiculous number of mirrors, but I never got tired or lost the spring in my step. I’d have to get confirmation to be sure, but I was willing to give the Wayfarer’s Arcanum credit for that.

Being damp was nothing new to me and I knew I’d get dry eventually. I’d dried a lot during my walk in the hall of mirrors, so I didn’t stop to change clothes. In spite of my assistant’s protests, I only took time enough in passing through my apartment to get the name of the hotel where I was headed. I entrusted the Wayfarer‘s Arcanum to Jonni and made the rest of my trip the way that suited me best.

The rumble of the Charger’s engine shook through me like electricity. It was always invigorating, jolting me to life every time I shot off in another pursuit. Anyway, I finally made it to the Ambassador Hotel. The golden griffins were standing guard out front just like Richard Taylor had said. The place looked so ritzy I’d have bet that even paying by the hour was pricier than a whole night in most other places. When I pulled up to the front, three valets fought to get to park the Charger.

“You want to be helpful?“ I asked them. “Any of you recognize her?“ I asked holding up one of the pictures of Sheila Taylor and Alex Gold.

Two of ’em were silent, but one couldn’t hold back a “Well…”

Even a bad gumshoe knew what that meant. I waved off the other two valets as I climbed out of the car and flashed a sovereign at the third. The look in his eye told me that the gold was already working its magic on his conscience and loosening his tongue.

“That’s Ms. Farr,” the valet said, his eyes darting from side-to-side. “Sheila Farr. Real nice lady, but I haven’t seen her in a few weeks, I swear.”

Farr? Probably a maiden name. Whatever, it was a start.

“Her friend, though, I don‘t know his name,” the young man continued. “Most of us just call him…‘Grumpy’, but please don’t tell them.”

“My lips are sealed, bud,” I assured him. “How long since you’ve seen him?”

“About…thirty-five minutes ago…with another woman.”

“Thanks, kid,” I said. “Keep the car close.” I grabbed an envelope from the valet station and went inside to the concierge. With a quickly borrowed pen, I wrote Sheila Farr‘s name on my envelope while I waited for some assistance.

“I have an important message for Ms. Farr,” I said, handing over the envelope.

“I show that she‘s out,” the clerk said, “but I‘ll see that she gets it.”

“Thanks,” I said, watching the clerk put the envelope into one of the numbered mailboxes. Hmmm…tiny numbers. “I said Ms. Farr.”

“Yes, sir,” the clerk said. “Sheila Farr, 1102.”

All too easy. “Oh, I see. My mistake. Thanks.”

An eleven-story elevator ride later found my dainty left foot kicking open the door to suite 1102 and letting my gun barrel lead the way inside. “Freeze, Gold!” I shouted.

“Brick!” Harmony called out, battered and a bit disheveled, but sounding better than she looked. “You found me!”

“What? No! You drop your gun and get in here!” he counter-offered, grabbing Harmony’s arm and pulling her in front of him. “Do it now or I’ll blow her head open!”

“I’m coming,” I said, letting the door close behind me. “Calm down.” Harmony had a shiner turning purple above her left cheek and there was a trail of blood running from her pouting lips. Even with the psycho holding her up, the wobble in her legs said she was having trouble standing.

“Drop the gun!” Gold commanded again. “And don’t tell me what to do!”

“Oh, I thought we were giving each other instructions,” I said. “Well, if you’re not calming down, I’m not losing the Roscoe, so that doesn‘t really improve our situation.” The first part of the suite, the receiving area, was a well-decorated, tidy living room, but a glance told me the master bedroom wasn’t faring as well. My nose insisted that either it or Gold himself was getting more than a little ripe. “Maybe you’d settle for cracking open a window and giving us a little fresh air.”

“Funny guy, huh? Well, I’m not playing around! I just want to know where the money is.”

“The money you stole? What kind of an idiot are you?” Harmony asked him. “You really don’t know?”

“No, I don’t,” he admitted.

“Maybe you quit your day job too soon,” I told him. “Larceny is obviously not one of your strengths.”

“Just tell me where the money is!”

“We thought you would know,” I said.

Damn!” he shouted. “Sheila had it. She was supposed to keep it safe.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have shot her,” I said.

“She was laughing at me!” Gold said.

“Well, in all fairness,” I said, “I’m barely holding it in myself. You‘ve got to learn to lighten up, man, or stop being so amusing.”

“You really shot her?” Harmony asked. “Wow, good call, Brick. You‘re a lot better at this than Lew…was.”

It had been a lucky guess, but I’d take it.

“Yeah, freaking brilliant. Now, you were working for her,” Gold said, “so I thought you might know what she‘d done with it. She must’ve hidden it somewhere she could keep an eye on it and that it couldn‘t be traced. She brought the Conditum Paradoxum here to keep it safe, so if she didn‘t hide it at home--”

“Wait. The what?” I asked. “C’mon, man, that’s not even English!”

“I didn’t work for her,” Harmony said. “I worked for the other guy you killed, Lew Manning.”

“Who?” Gold asked.

“You lost track? How many people have you killed?” Harmony asked.

“He dressed like us,” I said. “He took lots of pictures…”

“That guy? I thought he was with the Crows,” Gold said.

“Who?” Harmony asked. “What crows?”

“The Society of Crows,” Gold said. “From Corvus? They have the weird eyes.”

“Oh, them,” Harmony said. “The creepy stalkers.”

“Crows are carrion eaters,” Gold said. “The society uses the dead.”

SOC. Society of Crows. Got it. “No, he wasn’t with them. You’re just paranoid. Well, overly paranoid, anyway.”

“Oh, God,” Gold said. “Well, then, who are you two?”

“Brick Stone,” I said. “She hired me to keep her safe from creepy guys. What‘s the story on the crows anyway? Something to do with reanimating the dead?”

“Corvus has been trying to save money for years,” Gold explained. “Since most of the day-to-day functions that are performed in the company are simple and repetitive, the executive director realized that he could cut expenses if he could find a way to get the work done with an army of robots. Robots are expensive, though, so--”

“So they came up with a way to turn people into zombie office workers?” Harmony asked.

“Yeah, that big, brass crow in reception has something to do with it,” Gold continued. “It gives Moss control over legions of simple-minded reanimated workers.”

“That can shake off bullets,” I pointed out.

“No, that’s the Conditum Paradoxum talking,” Gold said, pointing out a bottle of orange wine and the jeweled wine glass from Taylor’s on a table in the corner. “It’s enchanted. When the reanimates drink the wine from the glass, they become…like, super zombie soldiers.”

“Weird,” I said. “And if they don’t drink it?”

“Then they stiffen up and die all over again after awhile,” Gold said.

“I knew there was something Moss wasn’t talking about,” I said. “Since you took the wine, he’s having to keep getting new candidates. If it’s any consolation, your old boss is getting desperate over at Corvus. The money they borrowed is running out and they really want back what you took. At least now I have a better idea why.”

“Wait, if you’ve got the wine glass…Did you kill that sad Mr. Taylor, too?” Harmony asked.

“No, I went back there to search again and see if I could get anything out of him,” Gold said. “He wasn’t home when I shot Sheila and now that I’ve had a chance to talk to him I still don’t know who’s got the money!

“That does seem to be the missing piece of this oddball puzzle,” I said. “She didn’t tell you anything at all?”

“Sheila? Tell me anything?” he asked, getting even more frustrated. “That bitch? That bitch! It was always jokes with her! Always so clever…so very clever…Look, before I faked my death, Sheila converted the cash into a dozen old, gold coins. Gold for Gold, see? That was her sense of humor.“

“And then, you shot her,” I said. “I can see that.”

“Not then, later. All she was supposed to do after my fake death was hide them,” Gold continued, “and keep them safe. Was that asking so much?”

“No, of course not,” Harmony said.

“When I asked her about them, she said I’d taken them with me,” Gold said angrily, “but she’d never tell me more than that. Funny for her, but torture for me. I didn‘t know where they were, but I was supposed to have them. I was keeping them safe, but I had no idea how!”

“From the looks of things,” I said, “I’d guess that you stopped buying new clothes.”

“Or throwing out old ones,” Harmony said.

“It meant not throwing out a lot of things,” Gold told us bitterly, “and searching everything…over and over and--”

“Crazier and crazier?” I whispered to Harmony.

“Then, she said she was going to move it,” Gold continued. “She said it would be better to hide it in plain sight, whatever that means. I have no idea! Oh, but she thought it was soooo funny! Always laughing, laughing, laughing! I’ve been here going out of my damned mind, but she’s been living it up and happy as can be!”

“Till you shot her.”

“Yes! Yes, I shot her!” he admitted again. “I killed her! And she still got the last laugh because I don’t know where the money is or why she--”

“Hold on. Why did she even help you steal from the company in the first place?” Harmony asked. “It couldn’t have been to live a life of insanity in the shadows.”

“I stole the money for the same reason she helped me cover it up and stole the Conditum Paradoxum later! Corvus had to be stopped,” Gold explained. “Their evil plans were…just so evil!”

“Wow,” Harmony said, “you were right again, Brick.”

“What plans?” I asked. “What were they doing?   Enslaving people as corporate drones wasn‘t enough?”

“Mad science! The way Corvus reanimates the dead they aren’t technically zombies. The reanimates don’t fall under the anti-zombie codes, so their use isn’t technically classed as evil here just distasteful misuse of the dead.”

“OK, no active decomposition,” I conceded, “and no cannibalistic rampaging. I suppose I can see that. Still…”

“Corvus was going where we weren’t meant to go, doing unspeakably inhumane experiments,” Gold went on. “Isolating the shaving cream molecule wasn’t enough for them. They were working on isolating cuteness!”

“Cuteness?” Harmony asked.

“Yes, the very essence of what makes things cute, cuddly and adorable,” Gold said. “If they could synthesize it and infuse it into other things, they could manipulate masses in undreamed of ways! They were doing experiments on bunnies, kitties…all sorts of cute, little things. And that was only the start! They‘re planning addictive, mind control chemicals to put in foods, low calorie snacks made from sawdust…oh! Oh! How do you feel about the hypertrophied organs from lab animals being treated with radioactive isotopes and reconfigured for marketing as cream cheese?”

“Glad that I don’t eat cream cheese,” I said, “but still a bit ill over the concept.”

“The fiends!” Harmony said in disgust. “How could they? It sounds like they‘re one step away from dredging the sewers and feeding the sludge back to their customers.”

“Moss glossed over the bits of information that painted them as psychotics when we talked,” I said. “I guess he couldn’t bring himself to speak of the unspeakable either.”

“Pete Moss is a corporate drone!” Gold said. “He’ll burn with the rest of them. Without that money they’ll go down hard and if the public ever gets evidence of how evil Corvus truly is, they’ll never get back up again! Now, who wants to die first?”

“Not it!”

“Oh, thanks! I don’t want to die at all!” Harmony protested. “I thought we were talking here. We were getting to know each other. What happened to that?”

“Well, that leaves you, Al,” I told him. “First one in, first one out. We‘ll be on our way and just send a maid to tidy up after you.”

He started turning his gun toward me again and his eyes hadn’t gotten any less crazy.   Fortunately, I was faster than the smelly lunatic and a .44 magnum slug in the chest was enough to drop him and keep him down.   I took the fact that he stayed down as a good sign that he hadn’t been dragged into the Society of Crows.   “You OK?”

“Yeah, thanks. I think he’s dead this time,” Harmony said, looking down on the body as she wiped the blood from her mouth.

“He’d better be,” I said, holstering my gun.   “I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

“And those bullets aren’t cheap,” Harmony pointed out.

“Yeah, it‘d be bad for business if I had to start charging extra for re-shooting guys.”

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