“Mr. Johnson, I know we probably seem like a sci fi kind of operation around here, but we’re really just a hometown police department. They should have taken care of that for you out front. Were they just too busy, or didn’t they understand your request or–?”
It was a blatant effort to put the civilian at ease, yet not that far out of line.
Harlan Johnson did smile at Homer’s sally just a little, yet he still looked uneasy. “I–excuse me, Sergeant, but when I stated my need, the response I got didn’t make sense. I don’t mean the people out front were really weird or anything, not like the antique Twilight Zone episodes–nothing really sci fi, to put it in your terms. At least not like your Twiggie Go Home poster.”
He paused to admire the fantasy artwork that covered a full quarter of the wall space behind the policeman’s desk. Homer decided to wait him out. There were times to push and times to pause; this one felt like the latter.
It didn’t take long.
“Thanks for being so patient.” The visitor pulled an oversized blue bandanna from a hip pocket and mopped his sweaty brow. Odd. The temperature in these offices was always kept at a precise seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. Malaria? Wrong gender for post menopausal hot flashes. Something was definitely not right with this guy, though. “I started to leave and than changed my mind. Since I felt something was off kilter, I just sort of slipped on by the front desk–I mean, after I turned around at the door, I did. Slipped on by, and slipped on in here. Your office felt…like the right one, somehow. Oh, Hell, it was the first one past that big open bay, okay? So I stopped in to–to get your opinion, at least.”
Johnson stopped, then muttered under his breath, “I dunno if that fits the sci fi mode, but I sure sound psycho.”
Arbogast doubted he’d been meant to hear that last part.
One way or the other, the ball was in his court. “You’ve got me curious. Go on.” After all, if the front desk wasn’t handling John Q. Public courteously and efficiently, there would be Hell to pay sooner or later anyway. Ha ha. “What, exactly, made our folks out front seem off kilter?”
“The Corporal out there told me I’d have to file the missing person report with the Sector Chief of Police.”
“Say what?” Homer asked, stalling for time and thinking fast.
“That’s what I said, say what? Even your commercials, you know the Prop Up A Pig series, not one of those tell people to ignore the front line public servant in favor of trying to get an appoinment with a Sector Chief, of all things. Can you imagine the backlog?”
Homer’s eyes twinkled. It suddenly seemed absolutely crucial to make sure this man did not reach Chief Courson. Internally, his red lights were flashing all over the place. Adrenaline coursed through his system like a flash flood during the Arizona monsoons.
Fortunately, he’d been able to fake relaxed and friendly and bonding with you, buddy, from childhood.
“Indeed I can. Would you like to give me the report instead, Mr. Johnson? If you like, I can even see that a copy of the report lands on Chief Courson’s desk.”
Harlan Johnson finally laughed. “Your bedside manner is very good, Doctor Arbogast. Okay. Shall we? Just so you’re not going to use my signature to have the Twiggies track me to my den and abduct me for an anal probe, no sci fi stuff like that.”
“That,” Homer replied dryly, “Would be way beyond sci fi and into the Nutcase Zone. Now, my computer’s all fired up and ready to rock, so fire away. The missing person has been gone how long?”
“Two months and three days. Hasn’t been seen since February 12.”
“Okay. Your relationship?”
“I was his Supervisor at work.”
“No, I’ve got yours. The missing–”
“Garrett Di Marco.”
“Date of birth?”
“Eleven three seventeen,”
“One of your sci fi things. Di Marco’s a Senior Guild Rep, uh, sometimes known as a Seeder.”
Homer stopped typing. “You’re Guild? And you’ve got a missing Seeder?”
The Guild Supervisor nodded. He looked sad. “It happens sometimes, and usually it’s like they dropped off the face of the Earth. But Di Marco was different. I’d worked with him before I was a Supervisor. Never been a work problem with that man; he was punctual and competent and more than good with the people he de-Seeded. Records indicate he had fewer client complaints than any other Seeder in the past thirty years, and I believe it.”
For a split second, Homer felt sure Johnson could read his face, knew that Seeders dropping out of sight was hardly news to the Frog. No. No, that went beyond paranoid. Seeder work was definitely sci fi stuff, but believing the Guild was targeting him personally was the stuff of psychosis. He wasn’t ready for the loony bin.
“Hm. And it’s the Supervisor’s job to file a missing person report?”
“No.” Johnson’s voice was suddenly sarcastic. “Not any more than it’s a Sector Police Chief’s job to take a missing person report. It’s just that I know the man and like him and something just doesn’t…”
Homer’s voice went soft. “Doesn’t feel right?”
Guild Supervisor Johnson left the Muni Bulding feeling a little better. The same could not be said for the police Sergeant he left behind. The original report would go to the Chief as promised…in the late afternoon mail pile. In a Routine envelope, it probably wouldn’t even be seen by Courson for two or three days. It would have all the look of one more chunk of nothing handed on up the line without comment after the Frog had plowed through his pile of routine paperwork.
Before stuffing the original in the envelope, he made two copies and reduced them to wallet size, shrederating the leftovers. It would take one doozy of a magnifying glass to read the pocket sized versions, but he had one at home.
Now, he did. As Nails Hendrix and her anti-Guild attitudes absorbed his thinking, his entire life was turning into a sci fi holovee.
Not science fiction; that was too pure and rarefied for the likes of what had been going on lately. No, the mass market, nitty gritty, way-too-exciting-to-be-real kind of stuff. Sci fi all the way. Tell a purist science fiction writer that he wrote sci fi novels and he’d punch your lights out…but no other term described the world into which he, Sergeant Homer “The Frog” Arbogast had been summarily plunged through his obsession with one unbelievable female.
Okay. He hit the Delete button and erased the missing person report form from his computer without having Saved it. Save it, there’d be a record any good hacker could reconstitute. This way, probably not. Or at least he hoped not. Taking a sixteen pound sledge hammer to the hard drive and scattering the resulting pieces in a number of different high mountain lakes, that would have been a surer thing, but he rather thought the Department might get a bit cranky about that.
Hopefully, he’d done enough to make it seem he’d simply followed departmental directives regarding something that was none of his business.
No need to email Nails, either, so there’d be no record of that. They were scheduled to meet at a Mexican restaurant for lunch. Mexican was hardly his favorite cuisine, but Nails loved it and the Green Enchilada was within walking distance of the Municipal Building.
His walking program was continuing to treat him well: Two seventy-three on the scale this morning. Fat continued to drop away, a slower pace now, but steady.
Edsella now included a joke in her routine about once having been fat and being determined to reach her original weight…of seven pounds and eight ounces. No one would ever believe that sexpot had truthfullly experienced a weight problem, but audiences laughed anyway. It was becoming almost a signature thing with her; she could walk onstage at the Railway, yell out, “Seven-eight!” and the regulars would applaud like crazy.
A lot had happened in the past two months. The NBA had a new set of champions called–believe it or not–the Sci Fi Jupiter Jumpers, a team that was not composed entirely of African Americans and who were based in Great Falls, Montana, of all places. Of course, no one used the full team name; even the Great Falls Tribune referred to them as simply the Jumpers.
Not that many highly skilled players were left after the War. What remained intact were old grudges. With Jovians out of the way, one of the Middle Eastern countries–he could never keep them straight–had bombed its next door neighbor with Jovian spore warheads the industrialized countries had thought were destroyed after the War.
Beyond that, the UN had finally been disbanded. The Ugly Nothings had gotten away with utterly corrupt and brutal behavior before and during the Jovian War, but amped up nationalistic fervor in the early postwar years had finally yanked its bloodied, muddied charter.
Even the talking heads admitted joint militia-government task forces had much to do with that one, which was another change.
Closer to home, Homer’s kitten Sheba had matured enough to yowl up a full blown heat cycle, thus earning a visit to the vet to avoid an eviction notice from the landlord. Most importantly, Nails had prgressed from being a stunning stranger to being his only T&L partner since Nora.
Caroline, the PD mail girl, had once asked about that: What did T&L stand for?
“Trust and lust,” he’d explained.
“Hey, I like that.” She’d thought a moment, then added, “The guys I run into are more R&R.”
“Rest and recreation?” He suspected she was setting him up but tossed her the straight line anyway.
“Hell, no. Ram and run.”
The Green Enchilada was busy, but that was all to the good. They’d have a nice time, no sci fi stuff, talking about inconsequential things and sharing a few drinks like normal people. He’d palm her a copy of the missing person report. Later in the day, she’d drop by his place after he got off work.
It hadn’t mattered before, but now his apartment was protected with state of the art debugging and jamming devices. Some of what he’d installed might add up to a whole lot of EMP for sensitive types unable to handle high levels of electromagnetics, but they could now speak (relatively) freely in a (relatively) secure environment.
He saw her coming down the street. A homeless type, huge, hulking, and filthy, exited an alley and confronted her.
Homer’s alarm bells were clanging all over the place, but he was too far away. She saw him, though, and flicked a hand gesture that warned him off.
Dismayed, he stopped in his tracks, unsure what to do. From behind, the street person appeared to be even bigger than he was–now, anyway–twice the size of the obviously affluent Nails.
Robbery attempt? Mugging? Rape?
Most of his beloved was now blocked from his view.
Fuming helplessly, he crosssed his arms, leaning against a lamp post as he waited impatiently for whatever came next. One meaty hand clutched the .380 in its armpit holster. A long shot for a gun like that, but still…
Then she was around the guy and once more headed his way, the Unwashable Hulk disappearing back down the grimy alley from which he’d magically appeared. Her brilliant smile lit up his day as it always did. Tension? What tension? Today, her eyes were green, the usual daytime lenses.
“The guy?” He asked quietly.
“No money,” she said. “I gave him a twenty.”
“Twenty nuds?” He was surprised all over again, and here it was barely noon. “He’ll only drink it, you know.”
“No he won’t.”
“No? Why not?”
“Because he’s a JJ. That twenty is going straight into his bloodstream.”
She took no offense, merely laid a proprietary hand on his arm as the host waved them to their favorite booth.
“I do it all the time,” she said after they were seated.
“But why, if you know–you know what Jupiter Juice does.”
“Your–that–” She shook her head at his attitude.
“Uh-huh. My. That.”
All through lunch, despite thinking furiously, Homer only managed to reach one inescapable conclusion: He still knew next to nothing about the magnetic young woman whose knees touched his under the table. He was getting in way too deep. He was already in way too deep, had been from Day One. Sci fi wasn’t in it. He was living a fantasy beyond most men’s wildest romantic dreams, but there was no free lunch. Fame? Fortune? Honor? That first day together, he’d thought none of those mattered.
He hadn’t changed his mind.
He felt rather proud of himself for waiting until dessert was served before palming her the report.