by M. Anton Mitts
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
The butler lowered his gaze to the red and yellow package in the other’s hands. From somewhere far off on another floor there was the sound of gunfire and an explosion. Obviously the children were playing.
“Mr Munnie has been expecting you,” said the butler, who stood aside to allow the quivering figure to enter.
The apartment had once been a well-furnished penthouse, designed for an executive or a government official or a politician or some other sort of criminal, and been built in the expressive spaciousness that only the rich seem to need. At some point it had been fire-bombed, then flooded and apparently laid siege, and so now the only thing that wasn’t cooked, water-stained or riddled with bullet-holes was the window which took up the entire rear wall.
It was the most beautifully hideous sight you could possibly imagine — New-New London spread before them like the biggest, brightest pus-spot in the universe — but Chegg was paying too much attention to Owen Munnie and his bodyguards, the latter being more important, as they toyed with their obviously-not-self-defence related firearms with intent to cause some damage.
Owen Munnie, the Butcher of Westminster, was not — one might imagine — a man to be trifled with. As he sat on one of the room’s ruined sofas, he exuded an atmosphere of decadence and fear almost as palpable as the dry-rot and after-shave. He could have been a bank-manager, with his genteel air and somewhat urbane manner, but Chegg knew Munnie. Chegg had seen Munnie eviscerate a man because he spilt cola on Munnie’s carpet. It wasn’t as though Munnie even liked the carpet. It just happened to be Munnie’s carpet — which made it immeasurably more important than if it were, for example, not Munnie’s carpet.
His grin was the sort of grin a dentist might give, just before he informs you that your teeth are fine. It’s your gums that need to be removed. “Good evening,” he said. The bodyguards fondled their guns. “I take it you have something for me?”
Chegg swallowed, the noise echoing, and he put the package on a coffee table, unwrapping it slowly. Everyone watched. Something wet and slippery slid off the tarp and Chegg tried to prod it back with its brethren.
“Erm... they’re all prime cuts. Good solid... erm... solid...” He wondered whether he should say that forbidden word. Even after all the meetings it was still hard to wrap his head around it. He opened his mouth.
“Meat,” he half-choked.
Munnie pointed at something. “This?”
“Liver,” said Chegg. “Totally clean — well, erm, mostly. Just a bit of alcohol use. But nothing heavy. Just... a bit.”
“Oh, I don’t know whether that’s any good — it has some tumours, but I thought you might be able to... well, to cut them out?”
He picked up the foot and turned it over to show them the offending blemishes.
The organ-dealer waved it away. “It’ll go down well. Some people prefer the added flavour. So what are we looking at here? Four, five thousand?”
“Erm... actually Mr Munnie, I was hoping for seven.” Chegg’s fingers tightened on the foot, head low. “It’s just I have to pay off a man for my earlobes. They’re very nice earlobes, you see, and I really would like to... well, to keep them? You know?”
There was a very long pause, broken only by the window — which broke. This was rapidly followed by the sound of the double-thick, blast-plated securidoor that separated the Butcher of Westminster from the outside world allowing not only the outside world but also a contingent of police to impose their presence.
The fire-fight that ensued was short, brief and bloody, and when the cordite cleared half the bodyguards were sprawled out on the floor and the other half were smeared across the walls. Bits of them twitched spasmodically.
“Dis is da police,” grunted one of the policemen, who even without his cybernetically-connected armo-suit, could have been the butler’s twin. “We are informin you dat dis is a raid. Drop ya guns an put ya ands in da air. Or we will be forced ta open fire.”
“I think that’s already been handled, constable,” said the leading detective.
“As it, suh?” asked the constable. He surveyed the cowering forms of Munnie and Chegg. “I fink I still see sum oo are movin.” He pondered on this and, apparently suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance at the situation’s complexity, scratched his head with the barrel of his automagnum.
“Owen Munnie,” ignored the detective, flashing a holo-badge. “Her Majesty’s Cooking & Excise. Under Section 4 of the Meat & Flesh Act, 2265, I am arresting you for the purchase of, and intent to sell, contraband flesh.”
“RAAAAAR,” one of the constables at the back of the room added. He grinned retardedly for a while, then followed with — as way of explanation — “I like door.”
“I’m not with him, really, erm... I’m not,” stuttered Scott Chegg, although whether he was referring to the policeman or Munnie he wasn’t too sure. He had to admit, his renal self-control was holding up pretty well. It was almost an element of good in a day that had been layer upon layer of excrement.
“Cuff them,” said the detective.
The constables thought for a moment. “Is dat da cuffin where we stick da hancuvs on dem, or is it da cuffin where we crack dere skulls open wiv our fists and play wiv dere brainz an stuff?”
“It’s the handcuff one.”
“Oh.” The constables nodded slowly, their jaws jutting. They all seemed a bit downcast. “Carnt we beat um a liddle?”
Now Scott Chegg’s bowels really did begin their passage towards voiding. It started with his legs. A twitchy, spasmodic feeling, like they’d suddenly had their bones replaced with jelly, and he would have wept if it weren’t for the fact two dozen scary policemen with a poor IQ for a glass of water between all of them, watched with eyes that hinted at brutality if he so much as trembled funny.
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary, constable,” replied the detective. He tucked his badge back into his pocket and turned on one jack-booted heel. “We shall save that sort of thing for the interrogation.”
* * *
There was no daylight in New-New London. Roiling ash-clouds, clumped beneath a greeny-pink sky (created by industrial negligence, NBC weaponry and a failed and unfortunate attempt by a leading toothpaste brand to “dye the sky” for a week — now going on seventy-six years) put paid to that. Those few beams which fell through were probably more scared of us than we were of them, and were carefully taxed and rationed. A man could live his entire life without seeing sunshine, a fact that had reached parliament, and been repeatedly considered a “damn good thing.”
But rumour had it that the sun always shone on Scum Hill police station. It shone because it knew that if it didn’t the police would want to know why. This was called a Bad Thing. Other Bad Things included getting your coat caught in the doors of a transtube as you’re getting off, or sticking your head in something labelled “Head Remover.” Questions about which head would be worse removed was a source of discussion amongst the low-life pubs. Some safely attested that, having been interrogated by the police, they know full well which head was worse.
And like an ant at the bottom of this edifice to public security was Scott Chegg. He stumbled down the black-clad steps, bloodied nose pressed into his handkerchief. His handkerchief, meanwhile, was in his pocket. Hospital beckoned — or at least another dose of credit on his Nu-U account.
It had been a very long night for Chegg, even with half of it gone by the time he’d been arrested for “consorting with known criminals,” an offence that the interrogators had taken delight in telling him wasn’t a crime, but probably implied guilt by sounding suitably legalistic. They’d taken it in turns working him over with a length of rubber-hose, before forcing him into a skin-tight scuba outfit with the bottom cut off, and bringing in the box full of soapy ferrets.
Bail did not come soon enough.
Shuddering uncontrollably, he nearly missed one of the sleek steps, particularly hazardous considering they stretched down another half-a-mile. The sights, sounds and feelings — especially the feelings — were etched into his soul. He pondered for a moment if it was possible to purchase a new soul.
The voice was feminine. Demure. Delicate. Gentle. It was a voice made for the whispering of untold promise; a balance of charm and sexuality. It made molasses look like sandpaper. It poured charm into the ears of weak-kneed masculinity. Chegg knew this because it was Voice #74 “Sexy Sadie” (“$?5000 permanent fixture! Guaranteed or your money back!”), which he’d purchased as a birthday present for the now-gone Gwendy. Chegg turned to the owner.
She was an attractively proportioned woman, blonde, with the obvious fixtures of a Nu-U user. The faint musk of artificial pheromones hung in the air, cloying Chegg’s brain with low-key arousal. “Yeth?” he replied through the hole in his septum.
“Mr Chegg?” She smiled prettily. Eyelashes fluttered like butterfly wings. “I’m Nick Rofillia, from Xavier Cash & Loans. I’m here about your accounts.”
“I’m thowy, Miss Wofiwia, I’m hin a wush-”
The pretty smile collapsed. “Miss? I’ll have you know, Mr Chegg, that such language is uncalled for. As a human-being, it’s my right to choose how I decide to leave the house. Simply because today I’m utilising a female-sexed body, does not imply I am — or ever have been — a female-gendered person.” S/he picked up a briefcase from beside from the floor. “In fact, I’m rather put out by such aspersions.”
“I bibun weawise-”
“Of course you didn’t,” s/he snapped, rifling through the briefcase’s innards. S/he held out a stack of forms. “We’re calling in your debts.”
“By debbs?!” cried Chegg, and as if to highlight it a trickle of blood oozed from the less natural of the holes on his face. “Buh!”
“Oh, no buts, Mr Chegg,” said Nick. S/he shoved the papers into his hand and stood straight, hands on hips, chest bouncing slightly, like the fantasy-teacher of an imaginative schoolboy. “Pay up or pay.”
“If not we will be forced to repossess.”
Chegg flicked through the alien legalese. Then he stopped and stared. “Ah dibn’t sign dis!” he wailed, aghast. “Dere mubst be a mistake!”
“You signed the agreement that agreed to the signing of an agreement for this agreement, Mr Chegg. Xavier Cash & Loans is not responsible if you sign a signed agreement signed by you, and you’ve agreed we’re not responsible because you signed an agreement that said you signed it. Whether or not you agreed to it is immaterial.”
There were a few seconds allowed to unravel that and then Chegg mumbled, “buh ah don’t haff hanyfing uffer dan by howse.”
“Oh no, we foreclosed on that fifteen minutes ago.”
“Fawclawsed?!” keened the unfortunate medical-assistant.
“And it wasn’t remotely enough. The interest clause, here-” s/he tapped a full-stop on one of the forms Chegg had signed but never seen before — “means you owe us over four million, with 5% interest every second.”
“Dat’s a fub stup. Is nawt ah claws.”
“The clause is in a microdot in the full-stop. It’s all perfectly legal and above-board, Mr Chegg.”
Whether it was legal and above-board, Chegg didn’t necessarily think it was fair. He sat down, feeling the bruises on his body burning. “Wut do ah do?”
“Don’t worry,” Nick said. S/he reached out and patted him on the head. “All it’ll cost is an arm and a leg.” And s/he smiled.
* * *
Selma Bodiy was her name.
Being a young, up-and-coming bank-clerk with aspirations towards management, and also being somewhat dim, she’d decided to have it lasered into her forehead with the hottest new fad: “perma-rotating rainbow tattoos.” Her physiognomy glimmered prettily.
After a while she set aside her Nu-U catalogue, pondered on what sort of cranial-readjustment suited her as a person, rotated the “Position Closed” sign, and deigned to look at the first customer in line for the teller’s screen. It took all her effort not to scream.
“Can I help you?” she managed with a squeak.
The brain, bobbing about in its bell-jar, ground forward on robotic treads, its single, leering eye seeming to stare straight into her own. It watched her for a long time. Then it began to blink. It blinked a lot.
It took her a long time to work out it was in Morse code.
“.. / -. . . -.. / .- / .-.. --- .- -.” said the brain.
“I need a loan-”
Copyright © 2008 by M. Anton Mitts