Variation Number 1 on the theme of avatars.
This is a bit of a put-on or, some might say, a take off on the old hard-boiled, two-fisted, gumshoe detective novel of the Mickey Spillane genre. Ellipses will protect those of you with tender sensibilities and provide room for all kinds of imagined kinkiness.
This is for Surasa Tatham whoever she may be.
She pressed herself tightly against me. Her breasts like two scoops of vanilla ice cream nestled in the sequinned dish of her bodice. What I could see of the rest of her gown was gauzy and multi-colored, a kind of formal strumpetware, not that I was complaining. Clarisse was the type of pneumatic blonde who could give Mike Hammer a heart attack.
We stood at the bar, my shot of generic whiskey and her steaming, bubbling concoction in a baroquely detailed goblet on the mahogany surface between us and the bartender.
"You're looking good tonight, Clarisse," I said.
She blushed. I was impressed by the natural response. It's not easy to achieve.
I pried her off me long enough to remove my fedora and trench coat. "Come dance with me and we'll keep this private." The Club Casablanca was bustling but there were a few open spots left on the dance floor.
The club was an odd mix of styles; 1940 US noir, complexly Moorish architecture and art-deco furnishings. The ambient light was dim. On one side of the room were tall arches their symmetry broken by a few palm fronds beyond to remind us of the garden and beach between the stonework and the calm ocean with its silver snail trail of moonlight.
Huge black and white posters of Bogart and Bergman gazed down from the wall above the empty bandstand. The music was lush and sensual. A little placard in the corner near the piano displayed the album cover; "All for You" by Dianna Krall.
The club reflected the odd mind of its owner, the voluptuous beauty waiting for me impatiently.
"C'mon" said Clarisse. I stepped into the empty spot in front of her and she moved into my arms. I held her close as we moved swinging and dipping to the music and had a private chat.
"What's going on?"
"Some developers want to tear down the club and put in a marina."
"Any chance of them succeeding?"
"They're offering RIONCorp more than I can match."
"So, what can I do?"
"Oh Jake! I don't know ... You know how it works around here, money and property trumps style."
"It's the same outside, babe."
"I hoped you could think of something. Nothing I've done makes enough money. No-one is renting the apartments next door. Five nights out of the week the club is empty ..."
"I'll have to think about it. It's not my usual kind of problem."
"I know Jake. I just need some different thinking ... and you're the best I know for that."
"Thanks Clarisse, But you don't need to flatter me. I'll do anything I can for a friend. Who's been putting the squeeze on you ... anyone I know?"
"That bunch? I'll do what I can, but be careful."
We left the dance floor. I put on my coat and hat.
"Here's looking at you, kid," I said with a wink, and left.
The next day was dark, dreary and drizzling in Redlight. I'd tracked down an identity thief; a sad little newbie with no style of his own had glommed a clone of one of the minor underworld characters. I explained his transgression to him gently but firmly, extracted a small fine as payment, and told him to go and sin no more. I sent the fine minus my collector's fee to the RIONCorp offices with the usual explanation.
I met the client in Podevash, his strange nightclub that focussed on leather kink. I liked the bi-lingual pun but wondered how many times he'd had to explain the joke to a customer.
I had my usual generic whiskey, but he was intent on making sure that I knew he was drinking from a bottle with a high res copy of a Lagavullin label. I collected my fee, explained that I'd keep the identity of the newbie confidential unless it happened again.
The club was nearly empty. I asked him if people got the same kick out of the fetish when they couldn't smell the leather, and he admitted that business was bad.
I left him, nursing his fancy tipple, in his kinky environment.
I got into my black Hudson Commodore parked in front. A moment later I stepped out of it and onto a sunny, bright, blue-sky, wide-beach island. I parked in front of a row of 10 townhouse style apartments behind the Club Casablanca. Five of them had small boxes showing that they were unoccupied and available. I deposited six month's rent, somewhat more than I'd just collected, in the box to transfer it to Clarisse' account, and got the key in exchange.
I changed from my PI wardrobe (double-breasted grey suit, white shirt, wide tie, black shoes, fedora, trench-coat) into my typical casual wear of an open-necked blue cotton button-down shirt, loose jeans and some sandals.
It took me a couple of minutes to unpack. I live simply. I laid a Persian-style rug on the floor in front of the fireplace, placed a brown leather couch against the opposite wall, added a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. I hung some high-res repros of Japanese woodblock prints on the wall and set a chessboard with the problem I was solving on the coffee table.
Upstairs I put down a wall to wall futon and went out on the balcony. In the distance I saw someone wave. I went downstairs, out the front door and put some chairs on the tiled terrace in front of my new digs just as Clarisse strolled up. She wore a low cut white blouse with lace to frame her cleavage, and bluejeans so tight that, if there were flesh involved, the pressure would have increased her bust.
"Hiya," I said, sitting down on a wicker loveseat.
"You didn't have to do that," she said squeezing in next to me. "I know you loved your place in Milkwood."
"Not a big deal," I replied. "The timezone disparity was giving me headaches and there was no one awake to gab at 4am GMT."
"Well it's a big deal to me," she whispered. "Touch this ... " She held out a scripted object. I trusted her, so I touched it ... and suddenly we were pressed tightly together, our mouths found each other whisps of her blonde curls drifted between our eyes. Then she had me touch something else.
* * *
Three weeks later, through advertising and special events, we'd built up traffic to the club enough for Clarisse to counter the takeover bid. Then we were hit by vandals.
I was doing some tracer work when I got the alert. By the time I got to the club Clarisse was standing in the middle of the room watching the walls melt. I changed mode so I could see corruptions in the code as discolorations. We ripped everything down and rebuilt from backup. It took a couple of hours but we got it up and running before the evening crowd arrived. We repaired the apartments the next day. Then I drove the Hudson over to the mainland shopping district.
The Enraptor Emporium was still in business, unfortunately. I'd investigated the proprietors a couple of times for some nasty ID-jackings, but they'd either bought off the complainers or maybe even RIONCorp's lawyers. The storefront looked the same, but I could see that they'd expanded their real estate both out and up. The store now took up the entire block and towered five stories above the street. I wondered if there was expansion below ground level.
As I walked up, the doorman offered me a landmark card. I shrugged him off, and went in. The store was self-service, but I must have tripped an alarm. A dozen steps in, the green-haired, silver-eyed piece of nastiness named Harry Lime materialized in front of me.
"What the Hell are you doing here, Jake?" In spite of his name, he always seemed more like Peter Lorre than Orson Welles.
"Nice to see you too, Harry."
"Not until we have a little chat."
"We have nothing to talk about," said a new voice. A willowy brunette stepped out from behind a curtain. She was wearing a whisp of gauze that kept going transparent. It might have been distracting if I were more trusting.
"New persona, Rickie?" Last time I'd seen Rickie he'd been in a white zoot suit with a Tommy gun.
"You're not welcome here."
"I'm just here to tell you to lay off of my friends."
"What? You're here to protect that little bimbette?" Harry moved in front of me; right in my face.
"That's right. Back off and leave the club alone."
"Jake you're so dumb that it embarasses me that I find you such a pain in the ass." Rickie's voice seemed to come from nowhere. I spun around to find him behind me. He had an object shaped like an old blackjack. I just caught a glimpse of it as it came up and hit me between the eyes.
I grabbed the wheels of my chair and moved back from the desk. I spun my chair, and rolled to the bookcase to grab the last CDR I burned. It took me hours to restore from backup ... too long.
When I got back the club, the apartments, and Clarisse were gone. I left messages, I checked with her friends and her best customers ... when I could find them ... when they would talk to me. There was a field tuned to me around the emporium, and I couldn't get in.
But I have resources. I don't have to play nice. I know addresses for Harry and Rickie. One of these days ... one of these days ... they'll open something they shouldn't, they'll touch an unfamiliar object, run a new script, and something will happen.
Even their backups won't save them.