Michael C. Goodwin - ASFA

                                 

THE DICK’S HARD-BOILED DILEMMA

by E.A. Johnson

    There I was: a fly on the wall. Just like I’d always wanted to be. Every few minutes I’d get up and buzz around the deserted hallway. These damn nanotech wings tend to freeze up if you don’t keep them moving. But with the air as hot and heavy as it was, I preferred crawling along the walls whenever I had a chance — even if they were the color of foaming piss.

It wasn’t hard finding the right place. The words were acid-etched right onto the frosted-glass door:

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Although it was after midnight, I spotted someone’s shadow moving around inside the office to a distorted beat spitting from a cheap radio. I swear it was the Fine Young Cannibals singing "She Drives Me Crazy," but maybe I just imagined it. The shadow stopped moving in the middle of the office, obscuring the words on the left side of the door. The new sign read: III Eye Investigations. I buzzed closer.

The shadow sat down behind a desk. I could hear the noisy clacking of a typewriter. It sounded just like an old Underwood Model Five. Lost in the music created by the flying typewriter keys, I didn’t even hear the click-clicking of her high-heels until she was at the door. She rapped several times on the glass with her knuckles. The typing stopped.

As we waited together for the door to open, I looked her over. She was a one-two punch: the kind of dark-haired girl that hits you right in the guts and makes you go weak in the knees. She had more breath-taking curves, more death-defying drops than a roller-coaster ride.

Kaye opened the door and I could just about hear his heart stop. I followed the dark haired girl’s swaying hips into the office. Her black-and-white dress seemed to have been air-brushed on. She carried a matching purse that looked like an oversized wallet in her ringless left hand.

"How may I help you, Miss — ?"

"Tasso."

She held out her slim hand and peered at Kaye through the black veil that cascaded down from her pill-box hat. He shook it, careful not to scratch himself on her long, sharp fingernails. They were manicured to look the color and shape of blood drops.

He offered her a seat. She refused.

"This will only take a minute. I’m looking for a man who can tell what’s real from what’s not. One who won’t be deceived by simple appearances. Does that sound like you?"

Kaye reached into his jacket pocket and handed her a small card. I buzzed in closer to get a better look. He swatted at me. I dove and he missed.

I got a good look at his business card. At the very top, I could see a logo incorporating the Ajna Eye. And there, underneath his name, address, and telephone number, I could make out the two questions that were his principle areas of investigation: "What is real? What is human?"

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After she had read the card, Kaye motioned for her to flip it over. The handwritten words scrawled on the backside read: "What is real is human. What is human is real." The dark haired girl shuddered.

Something was about to happen. I buzzed even closer. He swatted at me again. I dove but this time he connected. I kamikazied right into the worn hardwood floors. It took my nanotech systems a couple of minutes to repair the rather extensive damage.

By the time I was ready to fly again, I looked up to see Kaye embracing the now hatless girl. He kissed her hard on the lips, his tongue groping the dark inside of her mouth. The girl stiffened at first but then I watched her melt. Her left foot slipped across the floor before rising into the air, tautening the single seam of her silk stocking. I must have missed something while I was out of action.

"I want you," Kaye said, breaking the embrace. "I want you bad. But you’re not real. You’re nothing but an illusion — a product of my own obsessive imagination."

"But couldn’t you just pretend? Who would have to know?"

"I would know."

With unfathomable sadness, Kaye opened his third eye and I watched the dark haired girl fade away into nothingness. One moment she was there: the next, she was gone.

A single tear welled up in Kaye’s extra eye. When he finally closed it, the tear slid down his forehead, rolled along the center of his nose, and disappeared somewhere in the thickness of his salt-and-pepper beard.

Kaye walked over to his file-cabinet and pulled out a dirty glass and a half-empty bottle of single-malt scotch from the top drawer. He sat down in his old leather chair with a loud creak and poured himself a triple shot. He drank it down in a single swig as if it were medicine that could dull his senses and help him forget.

He stared down at the keys of his typewriter and then over at the huge manuscript piled beside it. The slow-moving fan rustled the pages, stirring the thousands of words that covered hundreds of pieces of paper. It took Kaye several minutes to notice the pill-box hat abandoned on a corner of his desk. He picked it up, held it to his nose, and breathed in as if he could recall her by the simple power of her scent.

Kaye tossed the hat into a metal waste basket. It might have landed with a hollow thunk if the trash can hadn’t been filled with several similar hats. As he sat there, I could almost hear him thinking: maybe, just maybe, the next dark haired girl would be the real one, the right one. He sighed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and continued typing.

 

[E.A. Johnson survived Clarion West ‘96. "Rolling LettuceChicken" is a pre-Clarion story while "The Dick’s Hard-Boiled Dilemma" is post. Johnson’s first two books (illustrated fairy tales) are available from the author at: PO Box 15181, Washington,DC 20003-0181. THE STONE-DRAGONS OF METSAMAA goes for only $5 (postage paid) while THE COLOR THIEVES is $7 (postage paid) — or get both books for the low price of $10 (postage paid)]


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