If it could be said that he had a regret about how things had turned out, it was simply this: Lily had not stroked-out. He’d done his best to induce one, but in the end she’d proved deceptively healthy. Clearly, high blood pressure was not one of her issues. But Joe had always known that sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. There’s no shame it, that’s just how it plays out sometimes. He was also slightly annoyed that he would never get to find this smoking monkey that had caused him so much trouble. For he was Joe Smote, Private Investigator in ‘the city that sleeps too much’, and he was about to die.
That was okay. Death comes to everyone eventually, and that had been the whole point of the exercise. It wasn’t that he didn’t like being alive, it was more that he was sick of the torture, and the endless stream of dangerously disgusting sandwiches that burned his face, stomach, and lungs. It was time to give Lily the final address on the list of suspected monkey locations; the address that would bring his torment to an end. There were only two left, although he really had no idea if either harbored a monkey. But Lilly thought he knew, and that’s why she’d subjected him to all that questionable catering.
“It’s that one.” His voice was shaky, dry, cracked as if from spending too long under a harsh desert sun.
Lily smiled unpleasantly, and crossed the one Joe had indicated off the list. She’d assumed Joe lied about the locations, and so any he’d pointed to could not possibly have been the correct one. This had made crossing off addresses a protracted affair: there had been exactly nine-hundred-and-eighty-seven addresses on that list. “Very good Joe; that about wraps it all up I should think.”
“And now? What happens?” Joe knew perfectly well what would happen, but if Lily suspected this, she might just continue making his life miserable out of spite. That woman was a seriously evil bastard.
“Now?” Lily pretended to think about it, “now you get to rest for a little before we free you. Perhaps you would like a shower?”
There was a long silence.
“Ummm? A shower sounds good,” said Joe, feeling a little off balance. This was a bit too friendly, Lily hadn’t seemed very sympathetic when he’d asked for a shower three days ago.
“Quite,” Lily responded, glancing at the intercom speaker in the corner of the room. “I’m sure that… perhaps you would like a shower.”
“Yes, agreed Joe, “I’m sure that I would.” Was he actually going to get to have this shower, or was this some new and sinister mind game?
“Sorry, hold on a second.” Lilly moved over to the large mirror that took up most of the wall behind her. She thumped on it with ham-sized fists: “I SAID, PERHAPS YOU WOULD LIKE A SHOWER.”
Right, thought Joe, it’s code for ‘perhaps I might like to be executed now’, that makes more sense. Of course it would be that. That is what he had expected. Had he really thought he was going to get an actual shower? His normally astute powers of analysis had obviously deserted him. He supposed It’s what happens when you don’t get to sleep, and people ask you endless questions about monkeys. He wondered if that’s what it was like for professional primatologists?
Before Lily could bang on the the mirror again to yell the desire Joe might have to get clean, the door clicked open and a young man walked in carrying a plate of sandwiches. He was followed by two armed guards.
“Finally,” she said, “did you forget the signal?” Lily stared at the three new arrivals. These three were not the execution crew she had expected. “Who are you?”
“I’m Finley… from Interrogation Catering.” Finley paused, perhaps this woman needed a bit more information. “You know? I make the sandwiches you’ve been using?” He offered the plate of plastic-wrapped sandwiches he was carrying as proof of what he’d just said.
“I see,” said Lily. “Well, we won’t be needing any of those now, so you can take them back; feed them to the poor or something. On your way out, send in the rest of the ‘shower detail’. There’s supposed to be four armed escorts.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Finley turned to leave, relieved that he was going to get the chance to escape this very awkward situation. This had not been one of the better days he’d had work-wise. Except for the bit where that wanker Sam had been shot. That part had been awesome.
“I don’t think so.” The statement had come from one of the guards – a woman, wearing more than the average amount of hand grenades on her uniform.
“Excuse me,” Lily fumed. “Just who do you think you are to countermand my orders? Do you have any idea who I am?”
The hand-grenaded woman stepped towards Lily, raising a very large handgun. “I think my name’s Trinket….” The gun gave a loud report, and Lily’s head exploded, spraying brain and bone all over the room and its occupants “…and you appear to be someone who’s lost her head.”
“Seriously, Trinket.” Harold looked at his Executive Officer with an air of mild annoyance.
“What?” Trinket replied innocently. “Action heroes always get to give cheesy one-liners after they kill someone. I’m a woman of action, and therefore an ‘action heroine’. I don’t see why I shouldn’t also be allowed to make a bad joke after I kill someone. It’s a woman’s world too, you know.”
“I’m not talking about the Joke. That looked suspiciously like an explosive round you just used. I thought we agreed that we would not be using explosives on this operation.”
“We agreed that I would not use a tiny grenade,” said Trinket, distorting the truth a little. “We never said anything about explosive ammunition. Anyway, it was only a very small explosive round. Look, I make no apologies. I am what I am, and what I am is a woman who likes explosives.”
“I think we’ll have to have a more detailed talk about this later.” While Trinket had a point, this was not the first time she’d gone mildly rogue. As far as Harold could tell, she was more loose tank than loose cannon. It’s not that he minded, just more that it would take him ages to get all the brain out of his hair.
“Harold, is that you?” Joe had begun to piece together what had just happened. It had all progressed very quickly. One minute he was going to be taking that long-shower-goodnight, and the next he was covered in miscellaneous head detritus.
“Hi Joe,” said Harold, turning his attention back to the task at hand: the rescue of one Joe Smote. “You look like shit.”
“Oh? Well that’s a relief, because I feel like shit. It’s good when feelings match appearances, don’t you think?”
Amazing, thought Harold, Joe’s powers of sarcasm are never truly dulled. He looked down at the smoking, headless corpse. He was surprised that Joe hadn’t managed to give that interrogator a stroke. “Okay Joe, let’s get you out of here. Gerard will be starting to fret.”
“I’m sorry to bother you about this, but I was just wondering. Ummm… what happens to me?”
Harold had actually forgotten about Finley, his sandwich carrying hostage. “That’s a good question.” A very good question. What were they going to do about Finley? After all, he could identify them.
Trinket started reaching for one of her many tiny grenades.
∗ ∗ ∗
“You came across these at the installation where I was being held?” Joe looked at the photographs Harold had handed him after Joe had finished the long process of washing the stink and trauma out of his skin. He’d been slightly afraid of the shower at first, but had managed to work through the fear. The jasmine-scented soap had helped in no small measure.
“That’s right. I had Quacks there take these.” Among other talents, Quacks was Harold’s surveillance specialist. Currently, Quacks was seated at the safe-house’s dining table eating a large club-sandwich. At the mention of his name, he’d looked over to where Harold and Joe were discussing his photographs. He smiled at them, cheeks puffed out with sandwich goo. Joe swallowed, fighting off an intense desire to be sick.
Joe turned back to the images. “They appear to be–“
“Monkeys, yes. Most definitely monkeys, although not much like any monkeys I’ve seen before. You don’t get it from these pictures, but they don’t move right.” Harold paused, the kind of pause that precedes a potentially loaded question. “What do you think?”
“I think,” Joe said, “I need a really strong drink. One with extra ice, and then extra drink to go with that ice. I need a pint of extra-strong-extra-icy-drink.”
“I’ll have one of those too,” It was Trinket, toweling her hair dry after her own decontamination procedure. She’d changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The t-shirt had a large hand-grenade printed on it. “I need one to offset the disappointment of hardly getting to blow anything up last night,” she shot Harold a filthy look.
“Technically,” piped in a different voice, “you hardly got to blow anything up earlier this morning.” The different voice had been that of the team’s Logistics-and-Extraction specialist, Clocks. He was big on technicalities.
“Whatever; just go logistic-up-and-extract old Joe and I a couple of extra strong drinks.”
“What? Why should I have to do it?”
“Because I outrank you Clocks,” came Trinket’s response. “And we are still technically operational.”
“Why,” complained Clocks, “can’t the new kid get them?”
“He’s new, that’s why. We haven’t tested him for his drink-fixing skills yet. Anyway, he’s still making us lunch.”
“These sandwiches are really delicious too,” Quacks chimed in, “he’s very good in the sandwich department. I mean, really good. These things are delicious.”
Joe gave another very audible swallow. The sandwiches the ‘new kid’ had made him had in no way been ‘delicious’.
“Clocks, just get the drinks.” Harold was used to Clocks and Trinket bickering, but if he didn’t put a stop to it, it would go on for hours. He returned his gaze to Joe. “So? Apart from the need for a drink, what do you think?”
“I think that these are an army of smoking monkey clones. Quite literally an army; it’s my guess that this is why they were made and why they don’t move right. It’s probably some sort of ‘stealth movement’.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I’m not entirely sure, but they look exactly like the smoking monkey clone I was supposed to find. It also fits some of the information I did learn before I was taken. It does not explain why my captors were so keen to get their hands on the monkey I was looking for, though. They already have more than a legion of them.” Not for the first time, Joe wondered what was so special about Jimson’s monkey. “Given that you found them where you found me, their purpose has to be something really evil. The kind of evil that can’t be explained just by government involvement. No, if we want to learn the truth of these monkeys, we have to find the monkey that started me on this whole journey. But where that monkey is, I have no id–“
Joe suddenly remembered something. It had been in the back of his mind trying to scream at him since Lily had produced the addresses of potential monkey locations. He’d taken that list on the way out, partly as keepsake, and partly because he’d used it to wipe brain of his face. “Quick, where’s the list I took from the installation? You still have it, right?”
“Ummm, yes, I think so. It’s probably in the ‘recovered documents’ pile over there.”
With an energy that surprised him, and startled everyone else in the room, Joe jumped to his feet and ran to the pile of documents Harold had pointed to. Once he found the list he was looking for, he frantically turned its pages until he found the one he wanted. “GERARD!”
Gerard, who’d been in the kitchen making Joe some soup – mostly because Joe had refused to eat anything the ‘new kid’ touched – popped his head through the door. “It’s almost ready Joe. Good soup takes time. I have told you this before. You know this already Joe, what’s with all the yelling? It’s post traumatic stress isn’t it? I’m here for you Joe, should you need to talk.”
“It’s not about the soup. Tell me, what was the brand name for that intercom you bought from that guy in the bar?”
“You mean from Kevin?”
“That’s the one.”
Gerard thought for a little, then he told Joe what the brand name was, at least as best as he could recall.
Joe smiled, the kind of smile a lightbulb has when it turns on over a person’s head. Joe was going to have to take a trip. But not before he’d had his drink, some soup, and then several more drinks.
∗ ∗ ∗
Four days later, Joe stood at the front doors of a mountaintop mansion. He’d often seen this place from the city that sprawled below it. It always twinkled in the sun, and from Joe’s normal vantage point at the mountain’s feet, it reminded him of the glittering eye of some carrion eating bird. He let himself through the doors. No one had come to open it when he’d rang the bell, and the doors had not been locked when he’d tested them. As good as an invitation to go on inside, as far as Joe was concerned.
The inside was quiet. Too quiet for Joe’s taste; he prefered the almost deafening buzz of the street below his hotel room. Still, given time he could get used to living in place like this.
He followed the smell of cigarette smoke down a long hallway until he reached another pair of elaborately carved doors. He pushed the doors open and stepped into the room on the other side. Opposite the doors Joe had just walked through was a gigantic window. In front of the window, with its back to Joe, stood a monkey in a tailored suit. It had been gazing down at the city beneath and smoking some exotic smelling cigarette as Joe had come in. The Monkey must have heard him enter, because as the doors swung shut behind him, the monkey turned around to look at the room’s new occupant. It didn’t seem surprised to see him.
“Hello Mr. Smote,” the monkey said with perfect diction, “I am pleased to see that you survived your ordeal. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Charles. But you probably know me better as the smoking monkey.”
END OF CHAPTER 9