He wasn’t insane, not in your traditional sense. He had been a bit mad, or perhaps angry is a better description. Furious would be an even better way to describe it. Somehow, Orson Jimson had gotten the impression that I’d voiced concerns over his grasp of reality, and that I had done it right to his face. I may have done this, I’m not saying I didn’t – but I’m not saying I did, either. Although, if I had, I’m sure I did it on purpose; I imagine I also enjoyed it. I’m tricky that way.
I’m tricky that way because certain domestic events have turned my soul an inky-black. Yep, my inner transmigrating self is as black as a piece of coal; one that’s been dyed black, and then had the words ‘as black as it gets’ written on it with use of a fountain pen. A pen that is also black. I’m okay with this: I am what I am, and am – therefore – at one with it…
“You know you’re not really like that, Joe?”
Gerard, as had become his habit, was asking Joe this question by yelling it at him from the comfort of his own desk in the front office. Somehow, Gerard had perfected the technique to such an extent, that anything he said could transmit through walls and closed office doors. Remarkably, walls and doors tended to amplify and equalize the sound. This gave anything Gerard said in the front office the rich timbre of a Shakespearean actor by the time it reached Joe at his own desk.
“I’m working in here, Gerard.” Joe wondered what kind of timbre his voice had by the time it forced its way into the other room. Then he wondered: “How can Gerard hear me out there? There’s a whole lot of walls and a door in the way.”
“You’ve left the intercom on transmit, Joe; that’s how I can hear you.”
Apparently, Joe had given his sense of wonder a voice that was not of the ‘internal dialogue’ type. He was going to have to see a professional about that when this case was over; the kind of professional that is classically trained in all aspects of the Dramatic Arts.
Joe gave the intercom a dirty look and switched it off – making sure that its switches received some of the look’s emotional force as he did so. They needed to know that they had betrayed him. He turned this look to the recording device that sat next to the intercom; partly to make sure it was still on, and partly to let it know he was not going to have it behave as badly as its rebellious sibling. The recording device’s red light looked back coldly. It was on, but clearly indifferent to Joe’s mood. The device’s light seemed to say: ‘Relax buddy, I’m a machine; I’m not even sentient’.
He clicked the transmit switch again. “Just out of curiousity, Gerard, how long has the transmit been in the on position?”
“Not sure. Perhaps a couple of weeks.”
“So why didn’t you mention it to me, or turn it off?”
“Well… ummm? Now don’t get cross… it’s just that I find your stories very soothing. They are also quite entertaining. It’s kind of like having the radio on while I work.”
“It’s a compliment. Really.”
“You know, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually used this intercom. To be honest, I don’t even remember purchasing it. How long have we had this?”
No Shakespearean voice was forthcoming.
“Gerard? That was not a question of a rhetorical nature. How long have we had this intercom?”
“I can’t be sure.”
“I’m not convinced by that response.”
“Are you sure? I think it sounds quite convincing.”
“Probably a couple of weeks… at a guess.”
“Did I really leave the transmit switch on?”
“That’s what I thought. I’m going back to work now. Perhaps you might consider switching on a real radio. I hear talk-back is very good. Lots of important people offering valuable insights into the state of the country, the fate of the modern game show, and other worthwhile subjects.”
Joe clicked transmit off, sighed, and tried to remember what he was engaged in by way of ‘work’. He looked at the fat manilla folder in front of him. It was a copy of the one Jimson had shown him on Sunday night. He’d received it by courier yesterday afternoon.
Joe still found it suspicious that it was copy of the orginal file. Why hadn’t Jimson wanted Joe to look at the one he’d seen at the meeting? Why couldn’t he have just given Joe a copy at the time he’d upset Jimson with remarks relating to the rich-man’s sanity? Why take that folder at all? Joe had only been allowed to see the parts Jimson had surreptitiously extracted from the folder’s innards. And then that had only amounted to one picture and a handful of pages. It was curious, but perhaps not important. The bit about the monkey was interesting, though. Joe pulled out the cheap print of the ‘smoking monkey’ for use as contemplation fuel.
Once he’d calmed down, Jimson gave me an explanation about the monkey that would have made a good premise for a B Science Fiction film. He didn’t want me to find just any monkey practicing cancerous habits, he wanted that particular monkey – the one from the painting. He’d owned that monkey; it’d disappeared from its habitat the previous week. Jimson’s intuition told him that the monkey had been stolen by professional monkey-burglars. But that’s not the weird Sci-Fi part.
No, the weird part starts with the date of the original painting. A hazy smog-like date, soft around the edges, with a lack of any hard detail in the middle. The kind of date that gives even the least fastidious historian a stroke: Circa 17th Century.
Now, I’m not au fait with the average lifespan of most monkeys, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t stretch to five centuries; especially if that monkey is a slave to the demon tobacco. Occasionally, I hear stories about how this or that simian’s grandfather lived for a long time, despite having been a heavy smoker and drinker from an early age. But those are exceptions. If I was was prone to gambling, I’d lay even money that the monkey from that painting was way beyond dust by now. This would mean a lot of travel for me if I was to complete my commission – dust has a habit of scattering in light breezes. The dust scenario seemed unlikely.
Yet Jimson was clear: I was to search for the actual monkey whose likeness had been so skillfully captured centuries ago. With the ‘dust’ scenario busted, this left only two alternatives; both of them variations on a theme: the monkey in question was immortal.
The first way that this monkey could have been immortal was as simple as it was terrifying. Although it was probably a normal monkey when it was born, at some point it had met a tall darkly strange person – in a tavern, in the small hours of the morning – who had befriended it. The monkey, captivated by this stranger’s mysterious past, and charmed by his extensive grasp of alternative philosophies, came to view the stranger as both mentor and friend. Too late did the monkey realize his strange friend’s true nature. And only at the point where the stranger turned this most naive tree-dwelling creature into a vampire.
Yes, it seemed plausible: the monkey was immortal because it had been turned into a blood-drinking prince of the night, and had been rescued from its cage by one of the lonely teenage girls it had seduced. She would teach the monkey the nature of true love, and how to practice the vampiric equivalent of vegetarianism. Plausible, but again, unlikely.
The second alternative was that the monkey had been born immortal. Its true nature only realized when it fell off a roof and didn’t die. Cast out by the the town-folk after they’d been unable to burn it as a witch, the monkey had roamed the Earth, fighting injustice where it found it, and chopping off the heads of other monkeys – but only the ones that, like itself, could be executed in no other way. In this scenario, the monkey had been stolen by one of its rivals, for the purpose of righteous head-chopping; probably to avenge the death of a lover.
Joe noticed that the intercom was on again. At least, that’s what the green light next to the transmit switch told him.
“Gerard, I don’t know how you’ve turned that thing on from out there, but I’d be very much obliged if you’d switch it off again.”
The light winked out.
An immortal monkey; there could be no doubt. There was no doubt. I know this because Jimson admitted as much. Not immortal because of tried-and-true supernatural plot devices, though. I had been slightly of the mark there. I’m man enough to admit that my scenarios were a bit too fanciful, although I’ll own to feeling a little disappointed. I’ll be having a few choice words with certain novelists and screenwriters later. The kind of words even the profoundly deaf would not be pleased to hear.
This was not what your average fan of fanciful creatures would call a true immortality, however. It was more a partial, pseudo-longevity, and produced with one of the big guns of scientific intervention: genetic engineering. The monkey was a clone.
The fact of its ‘clone-ish-ness’, is what made the monkey’s disappearance a sensitive matter. Strictly speaking, the production of primates in this way is a legally ambiguous area. Outside of black military projects, it’s not really clear that civilians are allowed to make monkeys at all. This is why the matter had not been taken to the police, and why my services had been engaged.
The question as to why I was hired in particular is, as yet, unresolved. I’ve never even been to a zoo or the jungle, and have no friends that are organ-grinders. In short, I know nothing about monkeys; though my mother used to call me one whenever she would forget my name. My father had other names for me.
Joe reached over and turned off the recording device. He watched the light for a bit, just to make sure. Satisfied that it was going to stay in a powered-down state, he turned his attention back to the folder, and flicked it open.
While the folder was still technically fat, it was less fat than the one Jimson had presented him with over expensive drinks. It was as if a really lazy plastic surgeon had given up halfway through a liposuction procedure, and gone off to play golf. Clearly, there were missing pages. Again, Joe was troubled by the fact that the original folder had been shown to him in all its cellulite glory. Why would Jimson bother with that?
The folder’s contents were much as Joe had expected: interviews with the habitat guards, one with the monkey-keeper on duty that night, various theories put together by Jimson’s Chief-Of-Security about how the theft had been executed – a professional crew in his equally professional opinion. There was also a set of the habitat’s blueprints, accompanied by color photos of each of the habitat’s rooms. This annoyed Joe, he lived in one room – a hotel room. The monkey, on the other hand, lived in suite-like complex with many rooms and annexes. One, Joe noticed, had the appearance of a Victorian Gentleman’s study. He’d have to visit that habitat and conduct his own interviews; Joe was not a man to trust other people’s reports, no matter how many color photos they had. But that could wait until later.
No, what seemed more pressing was understanding the clone-monkey’s origins. If his fanciful speculations about immortal-vampiric-head-hunting-love-monkeys had suggested anything, it was that there was a vital clue hidden somewhere in the way it had been brought into the world. Yes, the origins of this species were a key part of the puzzle.
Fully committed to an immediate course of action, Joe fossicked around his desk draws for a piece of scrap paper. Target-paper acquired, he copied a name and number from a list appended to one of the folder’s reports, then locked the folder away in his desk’s ‘active-case’ draw. He grabbed his coat and headed to the front office.
“I’m heading down to the corner diner for lunch,” Joe informed Gerard once he’d arrived at Gerard’s desk. As usual, Gerard’s desk was immaculate; Joe wondered how he did that.
Gerard looked up at Joe, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he just sort of sat there with the countenance of a wounded, slightly guilty looking, rabbit. A rabbit that was also listening to someone on the radio explain how government was basically a game show, and to think otherwise was the essence of being foreign – foreignness being the cause of all the world’s ills, and the greatest sin against the godhead the speaker could think of.
“While I’m out,” Joe continued, “I need you make an appointment for me to see this man.” He handed Gerard the paper with the hastily scrawled name and number on it.
Gerard looked at the paper, doing his best to decipher the name. “Dr. Sebastian Inklestatz?”
“Okay boss, I’ll get right on it.” The rabbit had the voice of a depressed bird.
Joe had a sudden attack of empathy. “Look, the intercom is a really good idea, we’ll keep it. Just, you should have mentioned it to me. In future, try not to listen in on my ‘process’. Okay? You know I’m a little sensitive.”
“You are famous for your sensitivity, that’s true. I’m sorry Joe, I was only trying to show some initiative.”
“Well, no harm done. As I said, it’s a good idea. Where did you get it from, anyway? It’s an unusual design.”
“Ummm… let’s see? Oh, yeah, I got it from a guy that Harold and I met in bar.”
Joe was gripped by a sense of terror. “This guy, he wasn’t a tall darkly strange person with a deep knowledge of alternative philosophies, by any chance?”
“No, he was a guy named Kevin that worked at an electronics store. Why?”
“No reason. Tell you what, when you’ve made the call for the Inklestatz appointment, why don’t you meet me at the diner for lunch? My treat, just to show there’s no hard feelings.”
Gerard’s face brightened, “Oh, that would be great! I’m famished. Thanks!”
“Good, I’ll order your usual; should be ready by the time you arrive. You know what the service is like there.” Joe moved towards the door, but then turned back. “Just to satisfy my own curiousity, how did you manage to turn my intercom unit’s transmit on from out here?”
“I’m sorry?” Gerard looked confused.”I didn’t Joe, really. I turned the radio on, as you suggested. Not quite as relaxing, but still entertaining.”
“Odd. We’ll, never mind, it’s probably just the sort of tech-glitch you get when you buy something from a guy named Kevin. I’ll see you in a few.” Joe moved back towards the door, his mind already on lunch.
He was going to order the most unhealthy dish he could think of, one that would be more than averagely aromatic. So aromatically unhealthy, that – with the exception or Gerard, who was immune – it would take years off the lives of anyone seated near him due to environmental stress. Joe was tricky that way.
END OF CHAPTER 4