Chapter 7: At The Warehouse
Detective O’Farrell slouched into the 23rd Street NYPD precinct looking like a man wearing someone else’s suit. Police officers milled around nursing their coffee cups, observing him out of the corners of their eyes, except for the rookie cops, who let his photons stream directly into their eyes. But then they were rookies and didn’t know better. Everyone was wondering where he’d disappeared to after his trip to Brooklyn. There had been rumors he was seen emerging from the Divine Goddess Ashram on 4th Avenue wearing paisley pants and beads, but they wrote that off as impossible. Another source said they’d seen him sitting in the lotus position on the beach at Coney Island, playing a guitar and singing “Across The Universe” by John Lennon. The two reports seemed to add up to something, but – O’Farrell? The sexist dick who once got drunk and climbed the Statue of Liberty and punched her in the face because some perp got off on a Miranda-rights violation? The mind couldn’t accept it.
Feral slouched down behind his desk and lit a cigarette. He knew he was being watched but didn’t care. That was when Captain Quartz moved in on him.
“So here’s our wild Irish rose, come to pay us a visit. We’re honored, Milord.”
“I been working the case, Captain. It’s a real puzzler.”
“You thinking about maybe filing a report later this year?”
“Cut me some slack, sir, I think I’m getting close to something.”
“Slack? You’re close to getting sacked, wise guy. I want a report by 5 P.M. or your ass is grass.” Quartz snorted and retreated to his desk in back. He knew O’Farrell was his best detective, even if he did have a taste for chemical substances. He was responsible for 91 convictions in the last six months. Quartz just couldn’t stand his cocky attitude.
An hour later, Quartz had a carefully written report on his desk that basically told him nothing, which was how O’Farrell wanted it, and the big cop had slouched back out onto the hard streets of New York. He’d agreed to keep an eye on Laurie that afternoon, so when she streaked out of the garage around 4 PM, he was there to see her. He turned the ignition on his unmarked cop car and carefully tailed her uptown. After they crossed into the Bronx she turned toward the Hudson. Traffic was light, and he thought she might have spotted him. He grabbed a cigarette out of the pack of Salem menthols in the pocket of his stolen jacket – the guy must have been gay – and reached down to shove in the lighter. The car in front of him pulled over to park, and now he was directly behind her, not good. He reached down for the lighter and put it to his ciggie, but the damn thing was cold. Now Laurie’s chopper was slowing down. He’d have to pass her or…now she jammed on her brakes and pulled over too, so fast he had to hit his own brakes. What was this, some kind of trick? What the hell. He pulled alongside her bike and rolled down his window. She smiled a killer smile at him and her eyes buried passion-spears deep into Feral’s brain. “What is it, officer, was I speeding?” He wondered how she knew he was a cop. Maybe some sort of android clairvoyance?
“What makes you think I’m a policemen, sweetheart?”
“That flashing light on your roof?”
He thought back. The cold lighter! The flasher button was right next to it. It all started to add up now. He’d been tailing her with the flasher on! Not good. It was so hard to function without at least a couple white lines off a mirror. He had to think fast. Fake it, he thought. He swung open the door and walked around to her Enduro, looking it over carefully. He looked into those devastating eyes again. No wonder Ayers had lost control riding behind her on the bridge. “Driver’s license and registration, please.” Everything was in order. Laurie Lucid, that really was her name.
“There’s been a few Enduros hijacked from trucks lately, so we have to check them out when we see one. Sorry to bother you ma’am.”
“Anytime, detective,” she bubbled. Those eyes, drilling into his skull. “You’re a detective, right? That’s so exciting! Here’s my card, call me sometime.” Feral felt a warm sensation spreading though his lower intestines. A robot romance. Maybe she could help him forget Moon Crystal. He took the card and smiled grimly. “You can go now, miss.” Laurie smiled mischievously, gunned her bike and took off. Smooth operator. If she had suspected anything, she didn’t show it. O’Farrell smiled too. Another cop would have lost the trail, unable to follow her in a car she now recognized. But while Laurie had been digging into her jacket for her license, Feral had clipped a GPS unit under her seat. All he had to do was kick back and watch where she was headed.
He kept about three blocks behind. She was driving toward the West Side. Her signal finally stopped moving at a warehouse near 58th and West End Avenue. He parked his unmarked on 56th and sauntered toward her location. There was a trailer pulled up to a dock, a couple guys unloading some crates. He got out his mini-binoculars and saw they’d come from some city in Japan he’d never heard of. “Osaka.” He’d have to Google it. Anyway, Ayers would be interested in this. He stepped back quickly into a doorway as the Enduro came whizzing around the corner, right past him. Excitement welled up inside him. He turned and punched the building hard. It felt good. He strode back to his unmarked and noticed his flasher was still on. So that’s why all those cars had kept pulling over.
O’Farrell called me later that afternoon, and now the two of us were back on the job, approaching the warehouse in his unmarked cop car. All he talked about was Laurie.
“Her eyes, Legion, I can’t forget her eyes.”
“She’s programmed like that. Danger lies that way, O’Farrell.”
“You seem to have survived.”
“I had a cucumber.”
“Never mind. Here we are.” The warehouse was dark and shuttered as we pulled to a stop.
“We’ve got to get in there,” Feral growled.
“No problem. Keep a lookout until I call for you.” I crossed the street, threw a 3rd millennium move on the door lock and slipped inside. Then I pulled my night-vision glasses out of my backpack and looked around. Crates and boxes were piled almost to the ceiling, but it looked more like an assembly plant than a warehouse. There were conveyor belts everywhere and what looked like some kind of welding devices too. I moved carefully over toward the machines, and that’s when I saw her, a naked woman lying perfectly still on the conveyor belt. I knew what she was. The missing hand was a major clue.
I made my way deeper into the cavernous space and now I saw rows and rows of plastic cases about the size of human beings stacked up to the ceiling. It didn’t take much to figure out what was in them. I reached for my iPhone23s, and that was when a hand grabbed me from behind – by the balls.
“Eeek,” I said. He started pulling me backwards, I had to step slowly, very carefully with my legs wide apart. “Eeek,” I said. “Eeek, eeek!” I looked like a spread-legged square-dancer going in reverse, except I wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat and I don’t like Hank Williams XXI. The guy pulled me against a metal post and secured me there with some wire cable, and then he came around and I got a look at him. He looked exactly like me! The only difference was he was wearing a light blue jumpsuit uniform, like he was a warehouse employee. Even more bizarre, the uniform had a name stitched into it: Newman Ayers. What was going on? He began to speak.
“Whatchu doing-doing, whatchu-whatchu,” he said.
“Whatchu-whatchu doing-doing-doing whatchu?”
“You mean, what am I doing here?”
“Yeah-yeah, whatchu doing-doing whatchu.” My alter-ego was great at imitations and ball-grabbing but had definite speech issues. I had to think fast. “Look,” I said. “I’m the Company Night Inspector. I’m just doing my rounds.”
“But there’s no no-no ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-night insp isnp isnp insp…” He was going to go on like that for a while. I tried to wiggle my hands free but no luck. That was when something heavy hit me, like an atomic bomb (“Stranded In The Jungle,” the Cadets, 1956). The blow twisted me around the pole like I was in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I looked up and there was Feral getting ready to hit me again.
“Feral! Feral!” I shouted, “It’s me! Legion!” He was winding up for a killer punch. Then I realized – I was still wearing the night goggles.
“Take off the goggles,” I shouted. O’Farrell started feeling his face. “But I’m not wearing goggles,” he said.
“No, look at me! I’m wearing goggles.” Feral looked confused and turned to the clone.
“Ayers,” he said, “Who is this guy?”
“He’s a, he’s a, he’s a ro-ro-ro-ro-ro-ro botbotbot, he’s a robot.”
“Hey, man, are you OK? You sound funny, Legion.”
“Feral!” I shouted. “HE’S the robot – take off my goggles!” O’Farrell looked down at me.
“Where are you from, man?”
“The 3rd millennium,” I snapped.
“That’s imposs-poss-poss-possible, FeralOFarrellOFarrell,” the android said. The creature, though flawed, was relentless. Finally, Feral reached down and tore off my goggles. “Far fucking out,” he said, whirled and threw a haymaker at the android, who ducked effortlessly and then smiled…a smile from hell. We were in deep shit.
“We’re in deep shit,” Feral observed.
“Maybe not,” I said. “Untie me, man, but real slow. And keep talking.” I winked at him, hoping he would understand. Feral got it.
“You’re not the real Legion Ayers,” he shouted at me. He turned to the robot. “This guy is trying to fool us, Ayers. I’m going to take him to Laurie and we’ll find out what the story is.” He got me loose and then grabbed me by the balls. “Eeek,” I said.
“Shut up, pal. You’re in big trouble now, breaking into our warehouse. Isn’t that right, Legion?”
The android looked back and forth between me and Feral. He didn’t look convinced. “I don’t, don’t know, don’t know-know-know…”
Then I got a brainstorm. A long shot, but we had to try it.
“Tickle him!” I shouted.
“What? Are you crazy?”
“Tickle the sonofabitch!” I yelled again and moved in on the attack. As soon as I put my fingers on his tummy, he keeled over and started yelling for me to stop. Feral got his nerve up and joined in. “No, no!” the android was yelling, but he wasn’t trying that hard to stop us. He was an android, he didn’t have to put up with it. He liked it. “OK, that’s enough,” I said.
“No, tick-tick-tickle me more!” the robot says.
“Just a minute more,” I say, and we go at it again. The sonofabitch looked so damn happy, but I knew he was still deadly.
“OK, now Uncle Feral and I are going to go get some tickle powder and come right back, OK?” The android’s eyes opened wide. He’d never heard of tickle powder before. Hell, I hadn’t either. You could probably market it on EBay and make a killing. But this was no time for merchandising. I signaled to Feral and we headed for the door. Outside, we jumped in his ride and skedaddled, pulling away from my faux-Ayers, who had emerged and was trying to chase us down, shouting, “There’s no-no-no-no such-such thing as tick-tick-tickle-tickle-powpowpow….” His voice faded as we picked up speed and we finally lost him.
“I think I need a drink,” I told Feral.
“I could use a cocaine-laced caramel macchiato up my nose.”
“Those days are over, man,” I said. He looked at me and smiled. “So the big bad time-traveler is ticklish, huh?”
Forget it, Feral, and don’t try any funny stuff.” I giggled suddenly, then pulled myself together. “Man, just think what we learned tonight. They made a copy of me! They screwed it up, but he looked real enough to fool you. How the hell did Laurie do that? And why did she do it?”
“Maybe she scraped something of yours from her love canal after your bridge party. You look like a leaker to me.”
“What a horrible thing to do.”
“Hey, why you picking on Laurie? She’s not that bad. I’d like to get to know her. She’s got some nice qualities.”
“You looked into her eyes, didn’t you. She’s an android, Feral. Don’t go there. Besides, it’s been done: Blade Runner, Ridley Scott. Definitely off-limits, both as regards personal danger and plagiarism.” But now I had something else to worry about. She’d thrown her spell over my partner. As for how she cloned me, his fluid retrieval theory was probably a good guess. I remembered the babe on the assembly line. How many more like her were out there, sampling human DNA? It boggled the mind.
“Anyway,” Feral added, “I’m waiting for you to thank me for saving your sorry 3rd millennium ass.”
“Thanks, Feral, I especially liked the punch in the jaw.”
“My pleasure, tough guy. Where you want me to drop you off?”
It dawned on me. I had no place to go. What was I going to do, broke and penniless in a cold-hearted town like Gotham. I started feeling sorry for myself, tears began welling up in my eyes. Then I remembered: my universal credit card!
“O’Farrell,” I said, “Drop me off at The Waldorf.”
Chapter 8: Fast Forward To The Past
I woke up the next morning in a lavishly appointed bedroom, my body freshly washed and clean, in crackling new pajamas. I had been dreaming about Laurie. She’d been in 1960’s era hippie clothes, sitting on a hilltop with the wind in her long hair, “All You Need Is Love” pulsing in the background, a peace sign tattooed on her shoulder, and two bloody scalpels in her hands. I quickly turned my head to check the $10,000 Elizabeth Clock from London Timepieces, and banged into Laurie’s head. “Ouch,” she murmured, half asleep but waking quickly. “Why you treat me so rough, baby?”
OK, I thought, Laurie’s in my bed at the Waldorf. Such a worthy opponent. How did she find me? How did she slip in unnoticed? And what does she want now?
“You said I’d know where to find you, not you knew where to find me,” I said.
She started gently rubbing my chest under the covers. I felt whatever resistance I had fall away like a rocket booster. There I was, in orbit around Venus. “You’re an easy book to read, in more ways than one,” she whispered.
“You get your hands on a guy’s DNA, I suppose that’s a piece of cake,” I said, pulling away the blanket to reveal Laurie in a skimpy lavender negligée and snap-off lace panties.
“And you think I have yours because…?” she asked, throwing a perfect leg across mine and squirming closer.
“Come on, Laurie, we both know your Newman Ayers clone reported my visit to your freak factory last night.” I slipped my hand under the sheer fabric that cradled her exquisite derrière. “A one-legged duck doesn’t swim backwards.”
“Never mind,” I said, with a sharp intake of breath as her warm hand enclosed my family jewels.
“Speaking of jewels,” she said, “there were some nice things in that saxophone. I need them back.” She drew my hand to her incomparable breasts, all the more alluring trapped within her gauzy negligée. Ah yes, Manny’s jewels. A piece of information less interesting than it used to be, but useful nonetheless. Laurie placed her sugary lips half an inch above mine and breathed a sugarcoated “Pretty please…?”
“That might be manageable…” I said. She sighed and pressed her delicious mouth onto mine as her business hand twisted and pumped my pulsing personhood. ‘Androids?’ I caught myself thinking, ‘What’s the problem? They’re my kind of people.’ Then, as our kiss broke, I got back on message. “…if, that is, you can tell me what you and your team of robots are up to.” My fingers made little circles lower and lower on her downy-smooth tummy until it found the sylvan glen concealing her saucy secret. She gasped and whispered a soft, “Oooh.” An Ooh beats an Oof any day, I thought. I leaned up and over her, one hand carelessly playing with her tender aureole, the other easing two well-manicured fingers into her tight, pulsing Chunnel of love, as the Brits call it. After a few pints.
“Oh, God, Legion, I want you so bad, I don’t care anymore. Take me away from all this, I don’t want any part of it.” That sounded promising. I rebooted my digital operating system, moving as soothingly as I could. “Yes, yes, I’ll tell you everything,” she cried. “Come inside me, come into me now!”
That was when the solid mahogany door to the bedroom exploded open with a single blow, like an explosive had gone off. Laurie and I leaped upright in bed. There stood Feral O’Farrell in a blind rage, distraught, looking like he’d snorted too many Caramel Macchiatos. There goes my scoop, I thought, in both senses of the word.
“Don’t go there, huh, Ayers? It’s been done, huh? Just like Blade Runner? Hah! You sleaze-ball traitor! You pathetic excuse for Harrison Ford! How could you do this to me!”
“Calm down, Feral, calm down! She just showed up in my bed. You know how overpowering she can be. Hey – don’t forget Moon Crystal!” I had to think fast. O’Farrell got a far-away look in his eyes, then snapped back, still angry.
“I like your friend, Legion,” Laurie put in. “Maybe the three of us…” She shook her luxuriant hair once and let her eyes wander up and down Feral’s rugged frame. O’Farrell recoiled. “N-no way,” he stuttered. “I don’t go that way. I don’t want to have to watch, I mean, look at Ayer’s, you know, his…”
Laurie stepped out of the bed and glided over to O’Farrell like every teenage boy’s dream. She put her arms around his neck and her head against his chest and the fragrance from her silky hair enveloped him. “Now, Feral, don’t you want me to be happy? It could be so nice.” She took his hand and led him, stunned, back to the bed, pushed him down on it and hopped atop his swarthy loins, her legs spread wide apart by his mannish girth. I made a diplomatic retreat to one side of the room. Laurie leaned down, her delectable breasts brushing against his chest. “Now, you big sex machine, just focus on me. Is that so hard?” She reached down to where his personhood was beginning to throb and rage. “Oh my! This certainly is.” She began to cover his rugged face with tender kisses, then plunged her tongue into his mouth for a moment and breathed out another of those soft “Oohs” that I was telling you about before. She started unbuttoning his Land’s End shirt – up to now I hadn’t known he shopped there – and pressed more wet kisses onto his neck and now-heaving chest. Light glistened off the blond hair that covered his chest – (I hadn’t known he had blond hair on his chest either!) – and then lower, onto his rock-hard stomach. Then lower. Now came the Descent of the Zipper, far warmer and more pleasurable than any descent of Everest. O’Farrell’s enormous love obelisk sprang out, putting to shame the legendary column of Ramses II in Cairo and, to tell the truth, surpassing my own largess, which began wilting in apprehension.
As if sensing this, just as her moist lips began to worship at the Leaning Tower of O’Farrell, Laurie whispered, “Got your cucumber ready, Legion?” Such cruel mockery! I racked my brain for a solution, then found it right before me. Laurie had reached back and pulled those lacy panties halfway down her milky, sculpted legs to reveal Manny Perril’s finest work. It’s rosy pinkness was radiant, and from this sanctum the most irresistible fragrance was filling the room. It reminded me how McDonalds used to spend billions perfecting the taste of their French fries. This was impressive technology. Perril might have made it at Apple after all. My Yucatan Peninsula once more fattened and extended itself upward toward Cuba. Some Cuba, I thought, advancing at the ready, more inspired than intimidated by Laurie’s gulping sounds as she relished my partner’s Irish banger, his eyes closed in bliss. I took a deep breath and dipped Cancun ever so slightly into Laurie’s West Caribbean straits. An electric thrill shot through my body. Our android moaned, Feral grunted, I growled…
That was when the bellhop strode in.
“Someone reported an exploding door. Are you folks – oh, Jesus!” Laurie turned around, looked past me at the dark-skinned Latino man in a Waldorf uniform that barely hid his weightlifter’s body and started talking about foursomes, but I’d had enough. “Why the hell are you busting into my bedroom, Bozo?” The guy retreated with abject apologies, but my magic, confessional moment with Laurie was over. She was back to her old calculating self. But we did have a deal. I turned back to my new sexual intimates. “Look, you two,” I began, “I promised Laurie here I’d retrieve a little item for her, so I’d better get a move on. You can have a nice private party for all I care.” I gestured to my impassioned friend. “Feral, just a word or two, buddy.” We stepped outside the bedroom. “Look, whatever happens after I leave, remember, she doesn’t know who I really am. Don’t spill the beans.”
“I know – she might clone me!
“No, not those beans. I mean, don’t tell her I’m from the future. But as far as that goes, yeah, you should probably come out the window. Can you do it?”
“I’m known all over New York for that.”
“Never mind. But Legion…no matter what happens in there, you’re still setting me up with Moon Crystal, right?”
“Sure, Tiger.” The guy was insatiable. I patted him on the shoulder and headed out, saying, “Fix that door before you leave.” I stepped out into the hallway and sprinted into the elevator. Before the doors opened onto the lobby, the elevator was empty.
I found myself in a verdant meadow scattered with a profusion of wildflowers, surrounded by a lush evergreen forest. It was still early morning, the air punctuated with the cries and whistles of a hundred birds. I was breathing in the cleanest air I had in ages. It smelled of the sea, as it should have, for I was standing on the island called Manna-hata by the Lenape Native Americans. It was the beginning of what white people call the 16th century. I looked straight up and there was Perril’s body and the saxophone. The altitude was too great for me to assess the condition of the body, but it floated there alone and apparently undisturbed.
I saw an aged native man emerge from the nearby trees and slowly come toward me. He was using an ornate carved walking stick. As he neared me I could see various pouches and ceremonial objects draped about his native garb. I guessed, hoped, he was the tribal shaman, stationed there by his tribe to observe with this inexplicable phenomenon. Now we were face to face, he resplendent in his shamanic attire, me in my Brooks Brothers pajamas.
“Have you come, strange visitor, from another world, to claim something you have misplaced?” he asked, or rather thought to me. I love dealing with shamans because they can do that, and sensitive Third Millennium guys like me can get down like that too.
“Yes, you have spoken the truth, great seer of the Lenape People. With your permission, may I bring this suffering soul down into the meadow?”
“Yes, but if this man is dead, we must perform the proper ceremony, meant for those who have left this plane of existence.”
“This is wise and just, my friend. What do your customs require.”
“We shall commit his remains to the holy fires, that his soul may return to wherever it is destined.”
“Then let this be done. I only desire to reclaim the golden horn which was his undoing. I have been sent here by my chief to do this.”
“You may do this thing. We have no desire to possess it.”
And so I slowly relocated Perril to the ground in front of us. His remains looked strangely unchanged. The shaman signaled to the woods and three warriors came running out emitting little whoops, gathered up their grisly burden onto a deerskin stretcher and headed back into the forest. The saxophone lay gleaming at my feet.
The shaman “spoke” once more. “Now come and rest from your journey in my tent, oh great one. I have but simple food to offer, but it is yours for the taking.”
“Actually, I should be going, so if it’s OK…”
“But it is necessary that you attend the burning, for it is your own compatriot whom we send to the other world.” I should have guessed. Everywhere you go it’s rules, rules, rules. I picked up the saxophone and followed the old man to his village, about a one-hour hike. By the sun and the lay of the land, I figured I was somewhere in the South Bronx. The people of the village shrank back in fear at my coming, shaking sticks or little dolls at me.
Luckily, I managed to talk the shaman into having the cremation at sunset the same day. It was a good thing I attended. A really good thing. They had quickly constructed a platform, raised in the air on wood poles, and placed the body there. After some drum-pounding and chanting they set the whole thing on fire. White smoke and flames rose up in the air, but as the fire began to lick at Manny, the smoke turned black, an acrid smell filled the air, and some sort of bubbling black viscosity began to ooze down the burning poles. The natives turned and ran in horror. I stood there stunned into a new awareness. Perril was an android too! Or, wait a minute – maybe it was Manny’s clone that Laurie and I found in her room!
If that were the case, where the hell was Perril? And why had he orchestrated his own violent death? I picked up the saxophone and left the Lenapes to clean up the mess. Black smoke was towering into a formerly pristine sky. Chunks of blackened, unknown materials were dropping from the ceremonial platform. White people, I thought. We screw up the environment everywhere we go.
Chapter 9: Come For The Jewels, But Stay For The Wafers
Wouldn’t you know it? I insert myself back into the hallway outside my room at the Waldorf, and the same Latino bellhop is five feet away from me and coming fast. What are the odds? The poor guy let out a scream and fled in the other direction. These things happen. There was the time a drunken Salvador Dali was wandering down that street in Pamplona where the bulls run. He was going to get crushed, but I missed my insertion point and had to take a bullet for surrealism. Luckily, I grabbed the bull by the horns and rode him into the stadium. The crowds went crazy and…okay, I’m making it up. It wasn’t Pamplona, it was Topeka and the running of the prairie dogs. Very minor artist, too, not Dali. He made these felt portraits of JFK.
What was I talking about? Ah, the saxophone. Back in my possession. I needed to examine it before I gave it back to Laurie, but she and Feral – were they still in my digs? I got the Walleye paste out of my backpack and rubbed it on the wall for a look-see. Everything looked quiet in the main room. I moved farther down the hall and applied it again. The bedroom was empty too. What a mess, though. I saw five condoms scattered around the room before I stopped counting. And a half-empty jar of peanut butter. What was that about? No matter, the coast was clear. Cautiously, I turned the key to my lavish suite and checked the pad to make sure I was alone. I set the sax on a beautiful Louis XVII sofa and examined it. Not a jewel or a diamond visible anywhere, nothing down the bell, nothing stuffed in the neck. Mouthpiece looked normal. What the hell did Laurie want with this thing?
Suddenly, a hunch. My first in six months. With an extended life like mine, hunches come fewer and farther between. I’ve tried to increase their frequency. I bought a Toyota hunchback and drove that around. No luck. I even joined a football team and played left hunchback. Zero. Anyway, a hunch. I had one. I had to get back into Laurie’s apartment! But I was tired of sneaking into her place. I’m a bold man at heart, and I always favor the direct approach. I headed over to her building and took the elevator to the top floor – the 58th. It wasn’t hard to find the door to the roof, and in minutes I was on it. The wind was howling, as wild and free as the wind, but I didn’t care. I had to get into that apartment. I took my faithful lariat out of the backpack and tied it to a railing and began rappelling down. Just above the 55th floor, holding on with only one hand now as the wind tore at my lithe body, I reached back and pulled out my time-traveler’s periscope and slowly extended it down for a look-see into Laurie’s apartment. A shock ran through me. Two men were lying naked on the couch locked in a passionate, upside-down embrace, their heads pumping up and down like oil wells. Then it hit me. Wrong condo. I rappelled laterally against the fierce wind to the next apartment and lowered the scope. Laurie! I saw her in profile on her couch, her legs spread wide, one hand plunged between them, her head thrown back, a look of ecstasy on her face. That android was insatiable. She was probably thinking about Feral. A wave of jealousy shot through me. I pulled myself up to the roof again, hunkered down in the cold for another hour, then tried again. I was in luck. No sign of my adorable killer robot. I had to take a chance. I went back to her floor, but as I stood outside her door getting ready to make my move, I heard a sound like someone clicking drumsticks. I looked down. It was my knees. Suddenly the door opened and there she was in a silk chemise! She must have heard my knees! Her eyes grew wide and she reached out and grabbed my arm and yanked me in, slammed the door shut and slapped me up against the wall. Was I toast?
“Oh, God, Legion, I knew it was you!” She pressed her perfect body against me and pulled me into a long, tender, searching kiss, the kind of kiss you remember from high school when all you could do was kiss, when kissing was everything. I finally pushed her away. Despite the incredible danger, I wasn’t going to put up with her hypocrisy.
“Don’t give me that love stuff, after what you put me through with O’Farrell. And then you and him…how many times did you do it anyway?”
“Oh, Legion, he means nothing to me. He’s just an animal. You’re the only one I feel any connection to. I can’t explain it. There’s just something special about you. Remember? I was going to tell you everything.” While she was talking she had slipped my backpack off (I didn’t like that. I need my backpack, I always wear my backpack) and was unbuttoning my shirt, kissing and licking my chest like it was her favorite ice cream. As her hands fumbled to undo my belt, she pulled me over to the couch. “Don’t you think I saw you out there with your little periscope? Don’t be like that anymore, sneaking around. If you want me, take me. I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.”
“Hey, isn’t that the second verse of the Beatles’ Help?”
“We’re programmed to know Beatle lyrics,” she protested, unbuttoning the top of her negligée. “What’s wrong? I felt it, so I said it!”
“Yeah, but mmmmffff!” My mouth was suddenly smothered in soft, bare breasts, as if two giant mushrooms in a light Béarnaise sauce were crushing the filet mignons of my lips. After that, there wasn’t much to say. She and I went to a place most have only dreamed of, where troubles melt like lemon drops high above the chimney tops. That is until, in a paroxysm of sexual creativity, I decided to plunge my tongue into her left ear, at which point she collapsed onto the couch in complete silence, senseless and limp. I was clueless. “Laurie, are you OK?” Nothing. She was breathing slowly and steadily. Her skin color was normal. She was just gone. I got up and slipped on my clothes and sat on the chair staring at her. It took a minute to figure it out, but when I did, it had the ring of truth. I had found her off switch! Perril again! What a perverse genius! Now my mind snapped back to the game plan. What about that hunch? I tip-toed into the bedroom and began to search the closet. No luck there. There was a guest room down the hall. I checked it out, listening for any sounds from the living room of Laurie waking up. The closet – I felt around inside, pushing aside the clothes of a guy about Perril’s size. I tapped carefully along the walls and – yes! – a hollow sound in one corner. There was a line in the wooden paneling a little wider than the others, and I pressed against it. A small door sprang open. I felt around inside in the darkness. A handle to something – I pulled it out. Just as I’d figured! The other sax. The first one was a decoy. Why would he have left it lying around with his clone? Laurie probably didn’t even know this one was here. Now what? Get the hell out. She fell asleep during sex – not my fault. I eased my way back into the living room, got the backpack, switched horns and put the first one back in the secret compartment. Laurie was still gone. Would she ever wake up at all? I decided to leave a note.
Baby, tell me, where did you go?
It felt so good that you needed me so
Why did you go deep into a trance?
I wanted to call you an ambulance
I’ll check back tomorrow and see if you’re better
If you wake up, please send me a letter.
But if you don’t, though you’re made so ingeniously
I’ll help you by feeding your bod intravenously
It wasn’t that romantic, I know, but it was my first real love poem. I figured it would do the job. As I turned and stole out the door, I hoped the case I was carrying would hold some clues.
It did. I headed uptown and got cheap accommodations at the Hotel Alexander, way out on 94th. There in my room, I took out the horn. Again, no jewels. But then I noticed the condition of the leather pads under the keys. They looked fresh, like the horn hadn’t been played. I took my sax repair kit out of my backpack and carefully unscrewed a rod-and-key assembly. Usually, pads are set with a glue you have to heat up, but I was able to simply pry the pad off its key. What I found there answered one question, but caused a lot more. It was a miniature silicon wafer. A baby like that can hold maybe 200 microchips. I figured the other pads concealed more wafers. I got out my iPhone23s and called my Irish-American pal.
“Feral? You alone?”
“Look, what are you up to now?”
“Thirty six, how about you?”
“280. Meet me in an hour at 12th Street and Vine.”
“That’s in Kansas City.”
“OK. How about 12th Street and 7th Avenue?”
“You mean the Village Green?”
“How would I know? I’m from the 3rd Millennium.”
“Well, it’s a good choice. There a little park there. I’ll be there in 45 minutes.” And he was. I’d stowed the sax in my backpack again. I know – it’s a hell of a backpack. O’Farrell and I stood back-to-back under a tree, not looking at each other, like in the movies. I slipped him the wafer. I spoke out of the corner of my mouth. “We need someone who can analyze the information on this, someone who can keep his mouth shut.”
“I got the guy you want. He lives uptown in a walkdown.”
“He lives in this rundown uptown walkdown. Or there’s another guy who lives in an upscale downtown walkup.”
“Whatever. Let’s go.” We walked together to his car on 12th Street. Feral cruised up 7th, past Central Park. On the way he punched a phone number on his mobile. “Gus?” he says, “O’Farrell. You owe me, remember?…Yeah, I’m on my way over now. Got something for you to check out. I’m with a friend, so try to act normal, OK.” He reached West 120th Street and turned east, parked, and we got out. A typical brownstone. We went down some stairs and knocked on a door. Whoever was in there had to undo about fifty locks. The door slid open and we went in. It was dark inside, real dark, with green florescence everywhere, old 21st century computer screens, LED lights, the works. Post-modern hip-hop reggae was floating down from an invisible ceiling. Someone was playing conga drums somewhere in back. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech started up at high speed like he was a black Alvin the Chipmunk. A holograph appeared of Barack Obama dancing around in leotards and a pink tutu. Now Nirvana was screaming “Rape Me” and “Lithium” simultaneously. It was all getting louder.
“Cut this shit off, Gus, now!” Feral yelled, and the wall of sound petered out. “Turn on a couple lights, man!” And Gus did. I can see him now, a bespectacled black guy sitting at a computer with greenish spiked hair sticking out a foot from his cranium and a huge kinky purple beard. My kind of guy. “What is happening, cosmonauts?” he smiled.
“It better be you, man,” Feral said. “This is my man Legion. He’s a time-traveller from the future.”
“And I’m the Prince of Darkies. I mean Darkness. What up?”
“Just this.” Feral handed him the wafer. “Wanna know what’s on it.” Gus looked it over. “Interesting, I’ll need time. Can you leave it with me?”
“No,” I told him. “Can’t let it out of my sight.”
“Well, let’s see.” He took the thing over to a complex machine with a transparent plexiglas screen on top and slipped it into a slot. The device woke up and started purring. “Vat does ze probe card tell us,” he said, in a German accent. The plexiglas screen lights up with a magnified image. “Ve can see ze architecture of ze microchips all blown up – very complex. Hey, there’s a tiny memory chip inside the main section. Now, look, my mini nano-slicer can pull off just one chip from the edge. No one will miss it. They’ll think it’s a manufacturing defect. Let me rip it. That’s the only way I can access whatever data are in there.”
“Pitiful,” I said. “Where I come from, we breathe information. Literally. Yeah, OK, rip one out. But don’t break it. There’d be hell to pay.” Gus took out the wafer and placed it under this device that looked like a big microscope with robot tools he controlled with a computer set-up. He made some gestures on a trackpad. A minute later he shouted,
“Zere! I haff got vun little chip!”
“When can you finish analyzing it?”
“Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
“Don’t fuck with us, Gus… ”
“OK, maybe 12 hours. I really will call you, man.”
We left it at that. We both gave him our “watch-your-step” detective stares. As we climbed the stairs we heard the music come up again. This time it was from Fragmentes de las Noches, the Argentinian fission duo that died playing for the troops in the 4th Falklands war while singing their monster 2026 hit, “Oh Shit, What If The Beat Doesn’t Go On, Then What?” Which was what I was thinking. In other word, what next? O’Farrell had started in with his “Can I go see Moon Crystal” whining again. Then it was, “Can’t I have just a teeny bit of meth? I know where to get it! It’ll help you relax!” Next it was, “Where’s Laurie? I wanna fuck Laurie again!”
The guy was making me nuts. Where do I get these partners. He reminded me of Throg, the prehistoric pain-in-the-neck I worked with when I was assigned to save Mobo-Mobo, who invented fire. Mobo-Mobo was depressed all the time, suicidal. We were supposed cheer him up and get him to rub sticks together as therapy. Meanwhile, Throg stole my cigarette lighter and started screwing all the cave-men’s wives. “Look – I invented fire,” he tells them. He had five or six guys trying to kill him. Eventually he got clubbed to death. What help was that?
Anyway, Feral’s running on about Laurie, and that’s when it finally hit me. How had Laurie found me at the Waldorf? Did she have a tracking device on me? I started searching in my pockets. No, that was a long-shot. You don’t put a tracker in people’s pockets. They just pull it out with their keys, right? Wait…of course! My backpack! I had Feral pull over and I dumped the contents out on the back seat. Here was Manny’s sax, my lariat, the Krishna pills, two cucumbers, sleeping-bag-in-a-test-tube, Walleye paste, antacid pills, night-vision glasses, periscope, sax repair kit, a bunch of other stuff, but no, nothing. Nothing. I dug way down inside. Nothing. Just a little device with an antenna and a red light blinking on and off. Funny, I’d never seen that before. I showed Feral. “Where’d you get the cool tracker,” he says. What help is that? I rolled it under a passing car. Crunch, and it was history.
We skedaddled out of Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel into Jersey to put some distance between us and Laurie. I needed a break. It had been a hell of a day. That crazy scene at the Waldorf Astoria with Feral and my android – well, I guess she wasn’t exactly mine anymore – then my trip to Lenape Land to find out that Perril wasn’t Perril. Then more sex at Laurie’s, finding the other saxophone and the wafers and dealing with freaky Gus. Far too much for one day. But we couldn’t do anything now until we got the lowdown from him. Might as well take it easy. I looked out O’Farrell’s window. We passed through Secaucus, then Lyndhurst, then Nutley. Towns I’d always dreamed of seeing. When I was a kid, Nutley: Yesterday & Today was a real favorite. Look – there was the Van Riper House, built in 1708. I felt a thrill run down my neck. Life was good. Maybe we could stop at a McDonalds. I hadn’t tasted a Filet O’ Fish for a hundred years.
That was when O’Farrell’s police radio kicked on. Big fire in the city at West 120th and 7th Avenue. Feral and I looked at each other. It couldn’t be, could it? I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. O’Farrell hung a U-turn and we raced back to the city using the flasher. I don’t mean we got out of the car and jumped on the shoulders of some pervert in an overcoat and made him carry us through the Lincoln Tunnel. No, I mean the flasher on top of his unmarked cruiser. Well, maybe you knew that, but what about the other guy standing behind me, always criticizing me, reminding me of the mistakes I’ve made in my life, the foolish decisions, the failed love affairs, like the time I invested my life savings in an Internet cat-food website and wound up holding fur-balls. Maybe he took my use of the word flasher the wrong way. He’s very picky. So I cleared it up for him, ok? Don’t break my balls over this.
Soon as we hit 7th Avenue we could see the smoke uptown. It was a big one. As we came up past Central Park, the smoke had died down, so I figured they’d put the fire out. By 115th, traffic was snarled, but we wove through to 118th, parked and hustled up through the fire trucks and ambulances. Lots of them. By then, my guts told me it was Gus’ place. His walkdown was gone, the stairs a pile of rubble where part of the first floor had caved in. I had the distinct feeling Laurie wasn’t asleep any more.
“Looks like an incendiary bomb, man,” Feral observed. Blew in his door and pulled down the ceiling on top of him. Probably a drive-by thing. I let out a low whistle.
“Haven’t seen anything like this since the OWS uprising back in the early Twenties.”
“Occupy Wall Street. You don’t remember that?”
“I was just a kid then. How did that turn out?”
“Man, I feel bad. This is my fault, dragging Gus into it. I loved that German accent of his. He was a soulful dude.”
“You realize this is the work of the lady you needed five condoms for this morning?”
“Ten. But yeah, you’re right. She is one crazy chick. Well, let’s have a look around for what it’s worth.”
It wasn’t worth much. We were just in the firefighters’ way and everything was still too hot. Including us. We decided to head north this time, crossed over the George Washington, and headed up Long island. Feral asked me to take over the driving. He slumped down in his seat, took out his phone to check his mail, then let out a whoop.
“Shit! There’s a message from Gus here.”
“Talk to me. What’s it say?”
“He says, ‘Hey man, better come back and take a look. It’s all about how to make botch…’ That’s all. He got cut off. What the hell is ‘botch?’”
I had an idea, but I didn’t want to go into it with Feral. If my hunch was right, it spelled big trouble. For everybody.