“Three psych evals in 18 months…” Dr. St. Claire said into the papers he was leafing through, "Says, quote, ‘You were always trying to make the smallest thing about ghosts like back home,’ end quote…”
In one clean arc, I slid a tin flask from my blazer and uncapped it with my thumb. Effortless, economy of motion that comes with years of practice.
“Umph,” I grunted through a long draw of whatever I could afford. Might be Vodka; ruskie shit.
“In the six months since being dismissed from the force, I assume you’ve had some time to rest?”
I nodded blankly. Dr. Enoch St. Claire, my latest shrink, is referring, of course, to me being thrown off the police force for being ‘the spooky guy.’
“And how does all that sound to you after you’ve had a bit of time?” asked Enoch.
“How does all what sound?” I sighed and slouched forward, placing my elbows on his desk.
“Do you think you’ve made any progress on your belief in ghosts or the supernatural,” Dr. St. Claire prodded.
“Have you made any progress in your belief in the mailman?” I replied.
“There is no rational basis for the belief in the supernatural,” St. Claire protested, leaning toward me.
“You know, Doc, that’s pretty rich coming from a guy who lost tenure because he wouldn’t can it with the psychic research.”
“We’re not here to talk about me,” St. Claire said quickly sitting up .
“And my hour’s up.” I replied into my flask.
“That was only 40 minutes.”
“It’s my dime, an hour’s whatever I want it to be.” I said stuffing my head into my knit cap and reaching for the door knob, “See you next week for some reason.”
“We’re going a full hour next time,” Dr. St. Claire said while glaring over his glasses.
“Yeah,” I replied as I pulled the door behind me, making the glass rattle. I liked to make the glass rattle.
The Doc doesn’t understand. The veil was lifted from my eyes. Once the veil is lifted from your eyes you can’t put it back. Trying just results in bourbon and eight ball breakfasts every morning at three P.M.
I started seeing Dr. St. Claire after my first three said they couldn’t work with me. I was too invested in my ‘constructed world.’ I’m required to see a shrink as a stipulation for consideration of my reinstatement. My bartender recommended him. You can’t pass that up. The first day I walk in his office he starts going on about ESP and telekinesis, I’m thinking, “Jackpot, back on the force in no time.” Then he tells me there’s no rational basis for believing I banished an elder god. That seems like seeing the stripes, but denying the tiger. Shoulda stayed in New Orleans. It may be weird, but at least everyone’s in on it. Here they cling tight to the veil. It started to rain.
A city always looks bigger when it’s wet. Shinier. There’s a way you can squint at a person’s reflection in the rain pooled at their feet and get a flash about them. Right now I was squinting at a hollow shell. Something void, like a shadow in the dark. An emergent ghost formed from the rigid adherence to a scant set of basic principles. Might as well have stayed in New Orleans. Looking up I saw a woman peering under wet strands. She was soaking wet, which by all accounts probably doubled her weight. Looked like she was waiting for someone or got stood up. No, she’s looking for someone. Of course, she’s looking for someone.
“Detective Danvers? Ed Danvers?” she said stepping toward me.
“My name is Katherine Culver. A week ago my husband disappeared…”
“So? Talk to the cops,” I grunted through a pendulous wet cigarette.
“They said they’re ‘up to their ears in missing persons’…,” she said shaking her head and turning her face to the ground.
I glided my key into the lock of the street level door to my apartment. Whoever this pitiful waif was looking for, he either skipped out or he bit it. Either way, I don’t want to have to be the poor sap that has to tell her. And I’m sure as hell not going to take her money to do it. I pull the door.
“I can pay whatever you want, I just…” she said grabbing my jacket.
“Look, the guy’s been gone a week, he either walked out…”
“Or he’s dead, I know, that’s why I came to a private investigator. You. I was told you were...discreet,” she said.
“I wasn’t the discreet one,” I mumbled.
“His name is Fred. He’s an engineer...Just think about it anyway.” she said holding out a photo of her old man.
Against my better judgement I took the photo. Normal looking Joe. Big nose. Balding. Otherwise unremarkable. Wears his pants too high. Yeah, this guy didn’t skip out.
“I’ll sleep on it,” I grumbled behind my collar.
“Thank you,” she cooed.
“Yeah, no problem,” I said, turning to go in.
I wasn’t going to sleep on it.
My apartment was a rat hole above my office and Laurel’s shop next door. Laurel was a college kid from the newly sprawling ‘burbs. She dropped out and opened up this shop selling the kind of stuff I left New Orleans to put behind me. But once you’re on the road…Laurel was about 16 when she found her first tarot deck. She was drawn to the taboo allure. Something naughty she could sneak behind her fundie parents' back. Wound up falling ass backwards into magick. Turned out she was a natural.
There was a side door into the store from the foyer. I pushed my head in.
“Laurel?” I called.
“In here,” she called back.
She always sounded like a little bird to me.
“You get anything off this?” I said handing her the photo.
She pinched a corner between spindle fingers, glanced briefly then let the photo alight to the table.
“Photos of dead people have a certain look to them,” she said.
“You think he’s dead?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged and grabbed her deck of tarot cards.
She shuffled them like a nonchalant stage magician. One by one, she flipped them onto the table, face down, in what I recognized as a Celtic Cross layout. One by one, she flipped them over.
“It’s your next case,” she said, ”But that’s all I get. The rest has me beat.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I keep flashing on the old hebrew legend of the golem, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be getting from that.”
“Fat lot of help you are, you know that?”
“Yet you keep asking,” she smirked.
“You’re a sweetheart,” I said over my shoulder as I split the bead curtain to her reading room.
I walked up to my apartment, eager to begin the nightly ritual of forgetting everything I know. My cabinet was down to the cheap swill, but it would do. I collapsed into a torn up recliner and stared at the television. I never figured out television. So I can see Edgar Bergen now? Great, he’s still not funny.
Through the window I could hear a commotion rising up from the alley. It sounded like a couple of cast-outs from the watering hole next door having a drunken scuffle in the trash down below. The Friday night fights. Just turn the tube up and fix another Scotch, neat. The bout seemed to last an entire Steve Allen bit. I heard a loud grunt. Poor sap took it in the gut, I figure. I chuckle.
About the time Bill Dana started doing Jose Jimenez, there was a rummaging noise in the alley below. Sounded like someone was rooting through the trash. It brought me to the realization that I had spent the last fifteen minutes visually lining up the bottom of my glass with the curve in the toe of my Florsheims.
The rustling increased in intensity. I threw the sash and poked my head out. I saw a guy trudging down the alley with a body in its altogether draped over his shoulder. These things usually end with them both passed out in the garbage. The darkened figure looked up and saw me in the window. He dumped the body into the dumpster and darted off into the shadows.
I yanked the drawer open. The Walther? The Walther. I jogged down the steps, robe flapping. I made my way to the dumpster in the alley. The poor schlub had crimson rivers oozing from his eye sockets. Missing his hands too. Ritualistic? Where have I seen this face before? Didn’t have much time to mull it over before my vision erupted into fireworks. Once the pain registered I swung an elbow behind me and hoped to get lucky. I turned around, but only saw the wall. The fog cleared enough for me to remember my piece, but another haymaker met my cheek. He looks a regular Joe and his moves aren’t too fancy. Now that I got eyes on him the Western Union man is delivering every rabbit punch a week ahead. Block the hook, forehead to the bridge of the nose...goddam that hurt. This guy’s face is a wall. I produce my pistol and squeeze the trigger. A slug in the gut is a slug in the gut, right? He staggers back, but doesn’t drop. This mook has to be hopped up. One more slug, two more, three more before he falls to his knees then tilts into a face plant. Two stiffs. Two more than I needed.
I crouched down to take a look at the latest angel. I rolled him on his back. His face stayed put. Where the guy’s mug used be was what looked like a tangle of Christmas lights and the glow of vacuum tubes. Simon would love this. I’ll call in the stiff, but I think I’ll keep this thing for the bartender.
I’ve been off of the force for about six months, but I still keep in touch with some of the boys. One being my old partner Calvin Eller. Cal was married to a woman named Claire and they had a daughter named Cheryl. Everyone’s initials were C. E.. Real cute, right? Not after he told you for the thousandth time. The other was Gabe Esposito, the M.E.. Gabe was stooped low now over the corpse, probing with tools and skinny, gloved fingers. He swiveled his head to give me a bug eyed stare through magnifying lenses. Eyes scrunched and mouth agape.
“The eyes have been removed,” he chanted, turning his head back to his work, "Carefully.”
“Carefully?” I asked.
“Surgically and with precision, preserving the optic nerve connection,” he intoned as he swiveled his head back to me. “Whoever did this wanted them. The hands the same. Surgically amputated.”
If someone needed them for ritual work, they could have just plucked them out. No need for such precision.
“This part is most curious,” Gabe grunted as he rolled the body on its side.
He pointed out a hole bored into the back of his neck about the size of a dime and the entire back of his head was missing and empty.
“Spinal fluid was drained. Syphoned out,” Gabe explained,”And the brain was removed.”
“What’s someone gonna do with that?”
Gabe shrugged and let the corpse roll onto its back. Its eyeless face caught my attention like it did in the dumpster. Where have I seen this mug before? You’d figure you’d remember where you saw a schnoz like that before. Wait a minute, that nose. I pulled the picture of Fred Culver out of my pocket. A dead ringer. Looks like I have a new case. Score another one for Laurel.
It was time for sanctuary. I needed a place where I could kill a few hours and mull the fact that I was getting roped into something bizarre yet again. My hole in the wall of choice was Simon’s. To call it a hole in the wall was being a little too charitable. It looked as though someone had re-appropriated their tool shed. Every square inch of the walls and ceiling were covered in strands of Christmas lights, neon signs and various knick-knacks. There was the ever-present hum of a Lionel train suspended from the ceiling, traveling the same futile loop ad infinitum. It was like a mechanical goldfish always racing to the other side of the bowl hoping for a bit of scenery it might have missed on the last pass. Most of the time the radio on the shelf was crackling out a baseball game no one was listening to or the jukebox was cranking out the same 5 Django Reinhardt tunes. It even had a pool table in the corner. The only thing that queered the atmosphere was a creepy plague doctor mask that was hung from the dart board with a dart. The joint could hold all of about five people, which was fine because it was only ever me and Simon. Simon Vicks owned the joint and tended bar. I guess it was a hobby for him because I never saw him make a dime and he never seemed to want my money. He seemed content to just pour hooch and fiddle with his odd gadgets.
When Simon was six he was grounded for dismantling the family radio. He was then ungrounded after reassembling it and it somehow worked better than when it was new. Picked up some weird foreign stations after that.
At sixteen Uncle Sam told him he had to go fight Gerry in the Big One. By the grace of probability he wound up in the motor pool. One day he was wagering with his buddy over which of them could stuff the most K rations in his mouth. A lone Kraut decided to make a name for himself that day as a sniper. Simon watched a bullet tear through his buddy's head. He says it was like slow motion. He spent the intervening ten years, after the war, grabbing a couple doctorates in electrical engineering and electronics, but still wound up dropping out of the game and starting his little establishment. When it comes to weird tech, he's your guy. And he is over the moon with my latest acquisition.
"The new toy is wild, Eddie," Simon gushed,"Disturbing, but fascinating. The electronics are integrated right into the biological material. It's not too fancy, though. I could think of a few improvements. Like not using human cadavers as a chassis."
"You ever seen anything like this before, Vicks?" I asked.
"No. We used to rap about this kind of stuff back at MIT, but no one really took it that seriously. And we left out the human organ harvesting bit," he muttered, poking around an odd gizmo with a tiny screwdriver. "Before it slips my mind, man. I got something for you."
He pulled out small spindly gadget attached to a watch band. He stretched out the band with both hands.
“Simon, you shouldn’t have,” I said holding out my wrist.
One of Simon's creations were always worth a look. He wrapped it around my wrist and it tightened up. There was what looked like a pencil on the back of my wrist and ran parallel to my forearm. There was also a small button at the base of my palm that I could just about reach with my ring finger.
"Aim at the dartboard and press the button," Simon instructed.
I did as suggested. A small projectile shot out and embedded in the wall beside the dart board.
Not bad. And it was discreet.
“It might come in handy against small dogs,” I said.
"The dart delivers a powerful sedative," Simon said,"It's something I was messing with. I was able to scavenge a few parts from Pinocchio."
"You named it?" I asked.
"Seemed appropriate," Simon said with a giggle.
"Thanks Eddie," said Simon smiling as he turned his attention to another doodad.
"Back to the world, I guess," I said standing up and pulling on my coat.
"Alright, Eddie," said Simon, "I'll drop by the office later if I figure out anything else about Pinocchio."
This is my refuge. After spending fifteen years up to my ass in ghosts and werewolves, knocking a few back with a mad scientist is called R & R.
When I left Simon's it was just about one in the morning. Night walks are good for my head. I needed time to process this new development. I've seen human sacrifice. I've seen organ harvesting for ritual purpose. I've even seen the dead reanimated. But that was a brand of weird I had gotten used to. This was science. Science may be cold, but it's also supposed to be logical. This was madness.
Getting near my office I started to hear a padding sound behind me matching my pace, but with longer strides. I pulled my gun but kept it under my jacket. I grabbed the Colt before I left my place. I had a feeling it was going to get hairy. I let him get a little closer. A few steps more. Close enough. I turned on my heels and pointed my pistol from my hip.
“Who you looking for?” I barked.
The guy stopped about five paces away and held his hand up palm out. I felt the Colt tug. I tightened my grip, but the pull kept getting stronger. I hadn’t run into a telekineticist since before the Big One. This was another one of those tin men. He emitted a barely audible whirring sound right before he moved his joints. He was using a magnet to pull my gun. The magnet grew stronger and eventually my grip had to go. My piece was now in the hand of the robot and he was pointing it at me.
“Where is Fred Culver’s body? The salvage was incomplete” he droned in a tinny voice.
“Police evidence,” I replied.
“Where is Fred Culver’s body? Second request.”
“Police evidence. Go bother them.”
“Where is Fred Culver’s body? Third and final request.”
That’s serious robot talk for I’m about to eat it if I don’t make with the body. And I’ll be damned if I sell Vicks out. Flashing on Vicks I remembered the dart gun he gave me. Sure, it was a robot but Vicks said the computer bric-a-brac was embedded right into the human tissue. Maybe the knockout juice could still work. It’s worth a try. I snapped my arm out to head level and pressed the button. The dart shot out and sunk into his neck with a slap that sounded enough like human flesh. I heard a small, whispering whine. He was about to pull the trigger. I ducked to the side and there was a dense pop. He missed but not by much. There was now a smoking hole in my blazer.
The gizmo turned to face me, but it was like a switch had flipped. His eyes snapped into a locked stare. He was frozen off balance and fell stiff to the pavement. Another one for the pile. Or the morgue. What’s the procedure here? If this is how things are going to go now, it’s time to set a policy. Contraptions go to Vicks.
I was close enough to the office that I could lug the machine there with little chance of being spotted. Vicks mentioned he might drop by with more info on the the last robot. I can unload this one on him if he does.
I dropped my Colt into the drawer on my desk and pushed it shut with my hip. I started to pour myself a Scotch, but stopped. Tonight I needed something a little stronger. I felt around the underside of my desk and pulled out a small leather pouch. I pulled the zipper and allowed the contents to slide onto the table. The rubber tourniquet was the last to bobble out. I prepared the solution to my tastes and loaded it into the glass syringe. I tied my arm off and prepared to drift into the land of nod. I was getting to the point where it had filled my fingers and toes, when a frantic rapping started on the glass. The hand sounded small, long nails with a ring. The ring had a rock in it. A married woman is knocking on my office door at two in the morning.
It has to be Katherine Culver, I thought.
I muscled myself out of my chair for what seemed like a lifetime and lumbered toward the door. I poked my head out.
“Mrs. Culver?” I ask in an exhausted portemanteau, ”Do you know what time it is?”
“Please, I’m scared,” she gasped,”Let me in. Please,” she said swiveling her head.
“Scared? Of what?” I asked.
“Please. I know he’s followed me,” she begged.
"So, now you brought him here." I figured I should let her in before who ever she was on about saw where she was. I could barely deal with the mess as it was.
“Get in,” I barked pulling her in by the arm, ”Now, what’s this all about? Who’s following you?”
“It’s my husband,” she cried, “He’s behind those…”
“Your husband?,” I said leveling my head, “What’s he behind?”
“Those monsters. He builds them. He wants to do that to me,” she turned away sobbing.
“You mean those robot men?” I asked.
“I think you can calm down, lady. Your husband’s body is down at the morgue,” I said.
She turned around and pointed a pistol at me.
“That’s all I needed to know. Thank you detective Danvers. I knew you were the man for the job,” she said. The crying from a second ago felt like an hallucination.
“Before I go,” she said, “I could use a few things from you.”
She squinted her eyes and tightened her lips, “Obviously, not your liver.”
“What do you need with your husband’s corpse?”
“I need it for the final phase,” she said.
Nothing good ever happens in a ‘final phase’.
“Final phase of what?” I asked.
“Detective, my time frame doesn’t include idle conversations. I have a rotting cadaver and few last minute odds and ends to pick up. Goodbye, Detective. I hope you don’t believe in Hell.”
I heard a whirring sound, but I was too rubber legged from the junk to move. All I could do was stare hard and wait for it. A cracking blue light tore the air between us illuminating a thick billow of white smoke from within. The smoke cleared as fast as it appeared, like it was sucked into a vacuum. The end of the arm in which Mrs. Culver once held a gun was now a burned, sparking mass of wiring and bone. A silhouette black from streetlight was standing in my office doorway holding what looked like a starter pistol with a black light bulb screwed in the end. Blue sparks were arcing around the bulbous barrel. Looks like Vicks dropped by after closing up.
“Hey, Eddie. Who’s your girlfriend?” asked Vicks.
“Meet Mrs. Culver, part machine, apparently,” I replied.
Culver let out an inhuman shriek. I couldn’t stuff enough fingers in my ears. The wail concluded with what sounded like a radio detuning. Black smoke poured from her mouth. She leapt at Vicks, knocking him to the ground, and darted out the door. She was on foot, but we’d need a car to keep up. She ran off in the direction of the morgue.
“Sorry I’m not a better shot, baby.” said Vicks regaining his feet.
“What the hell is that thing?” I asked pointing at the light bulb gun.
“Well man, I figured you could use something a little heavier than bullets. Too inefficient.” he said handing me the weapon.
“Looks like she ran off to the morgue to get her husband’s body,” I said,. “I’m headed to her house. See if I can figure out what’s going on.”
“Well, take care of yourself, man. You don’t know if there’s more of them things.” he said.
“What? You’re not coming with me?”
“Too many negative waves for me, jack. I don’t do field work.”
“Let me borrow your car then.”
I headed to Katherine’s house in Vicks’ Chieftain. I wonder if he knows there’s a sandwich in the glove box. When I pulled up to the Culver’s bungalow the porch light was on but the windows were dark. I grabbed Vicks’ ray gun from the passenger’s seat. No matter how much of a wallop it packs it looks damn silly. And I feel damn silly holding it.
I crept around the side avoiding the light as much as possible. I checked the back door. The knob turned, but the door wouldn’t budge. The window was open a crack. I tried sliding it but years of sloppy paint welded it shut. I looked at the gun. It was similar enough to a real gun with a trigger. There was a steady green light on the back where the hammer would be. Remembering what a light show it made I stepped back a few paces. There’s no real need to be ginger about a B & E. I aimed at the door, pulled the trigger and hoped I didn’t lose a hand. A cloud shot from the barrel in a line toward the door, leaving a smoking hole the size of my fist. There was no kick back whatsoever. There’s something unsatisfying about a gun with no kick back.
I was able to undo the lock through the brand new hole in Mrs. Culver’s back door. The place looked normal enough. A television in the living room, pictures on the mantle. Lots of pictures of Katherine and Fred. Two pairs of elderly couples I assume are their parents. No kids, though. I guess they didn’t have time to build them some little ones. It was awful dusty, though. A few weeks worth.
I made my way to the cellar door. The basement had a little laundry area set up. It was dusty down here too. Cobwebs, as well. One of the cobwebs caught my eye. It was flapping gently. I put my hand near and could feel a cool breeze. I pushed gently on the paneling and tried to move it side to side. It slid over and revealed a metal door. I walked in.
The doorway opened into a large square room. Fluorescent lamps flickered on overhead. Several robots were standing about the room in various stages of disassembly. Work benches lined the walls covered in parts and tools for electrical and mechanical work. The centerpiece of the whole scene was a large whirring, flashing apparatus. It was ceiling high with spools of black tape spinning at varying speeds. A pair of hoses extended out from the machine and plugged into a jar sitting on the table in front of it. The jar was filled with a clear fluid. Floating in the fluid was a human brain.
“How about that?” I said rubbing my hand across my chin.
“How about that?” echoed a voice from the doorway behind me.
I paused and turned. A tall skinny fellow in a black turtle neck and slacks stood with his head cocked and smirking. Half his face was metal and studded with twinkling lights. I stabbed the ray gun toward him and squeezed the trigger. Nothing. The green light was now blinking red. The Colt it is. I dropped the gizmo, pulled out the Colt and pointed it at the man in black. He started to pull the same magnet trick the other one did so I fired three slugs. The bullets veered harmlessly either side of him. Fists it is. I put up my dukes.
The fellow leaped toward me, landed on his heel, and spun around with his arm out. His balled hand connected hard on my chin. I threw a haymaker. The fellow in black bent backward at the waist. My swing caught air. He swiveled his torso around and landed a stiff one in my ribs. I grabbed for one of the tools on the table and swung hard. It connected with his head and he somersaulted backward. His hands detached and hit the floor. Blades extended from the ends of his arms.
“Do the magnet trick again,” I said.
The man leaped toward me and pinned my shoulder to the wall. If you never had that happen, it’s excruciating. He raised up his other blade. All I could see was a glint wavering over my eyes.
“Mrs. Culver prefers them alive,” he frowned.
He cracked his elbow across the side of my head.
I had no idea how long I was out, but when I came to I was locked in the workshop with the brain. I pulled myself up and fought a bit with balance. I leaned in to get a look at the brain. All I could think about was how my head was killing me. The machine attached to the brain began to make a cracking sound. Like an untuned radio.
“Help me…” seemed to form out of the white noise.
Pareidolia is when you find a pattern where none exists. Very common with white noise.
“Help me…” the voice in the noise hissed again.
The sound was emanating from a speaker mounted to the side. There was a microphone next to it.
“Who are you?” I asked into the mic.
“Fred Culver,” the voice whispered.
“Fred Culver? What the hell is going on?” I pressed.
“My wife...died...several weeks ago,” Fred’s voice said, ”I work in robotics. I thought I could save her. I made her into an android. She found perfection in that. She wanted the same for me. So we could be together forever. She killed me. She wanted to make me an android. So I ran. One of her henchmen caught me.”
“Jesus, Fred. I’ve heard some sob tales. Listen, if you can help me out of here I can help you out of this.”
“Let me think,” Fred replied.
A low buzz had started, growing in intensity. It was coming from one of the lights above. As it got louder sparks began to arc around the fixture.
“Step away,” croaked the voice of Fred Culver.
I stepped aside and the arcs intensified until finally it arced to the floor striking Vicks’ ray gun. The blinking red light was a solid green again.
“I’ll be back for you, Fred.” I said as I blasted my way out of the room.
I slipped out and beat it back to my office.
I squinted as I hightailed it out of the Culver place. Seemed like forever since I'd seen the sun. It’s been a hell of a night.
The morning traffic should have thinned out by now, but it was still thick as thieves. The closer I got to my office the heavier it got. I was about two blocks from the precinct when I noticed the place was crawling with cops. Cal was pacing around behind the line held by the police.
“Cal, what’s going on?” I shouted as I jogged over.
“Eddie, I’ll tell ya. It’s the darnedest,” he started, “A lady walks into the precinct to identify her husband’s body. She gets there and starts cutting pieces off. Gabe tried to stop her but she launched him across the room. He’s fine. More of the boys try to subdue her and she just goes nuts. Starts tearing the place apart. Grabs the corpse and runs out. We try to stop her out here and she starts wrecking the place. It’s become a public hazard.”
I darted toward the scene. The ray gun was still blinking green.
“Eddie, what are ya doin’?” Cal yelled.
“Trust me,” I called back.
I ran behind a police car and crouched. She’s tearing parts out of cars and appliances in store windows. No sooner does she scoop up an armful of parts than she drops it. Only after she drops the pile it starts hopping around causing mayhem of it’s own. I aimed the ray gun over the hood, held my breath and squeezed. The beam fires and sparks out of existence inches from Mrs. Culver’s dome. A wash of light and sparks surround her then vanish. I got up and walked back to the car passing Calvin on the way.
“Where ya goin, Eddie?” Calvin asked.
“I need to go see my bartender,” I said over my shoulder.
“Eddie, it’s eleven thirty, for cryin’ out loud.”
“Then he’ll be open.”
I needed to make a detour first. What’s a trip to the bar without your best gal? I burst through the door of Laurel’s shop. She was in the back throwing cards for some housewife who knew her husband was juking his secretary, but needed someone to blow smoke for her.
“What did you say last night about the golem?” I shouted as I tore through the beaded curtain.
“Busy?” she said waving her finger between the table and her client.
“Your husband is fooling around,” I said to the lady. Just pull it off like a band-aid.
“Trying to run a business,” Laurel shouted pointing at the curtain, still gently lashing.
“What about the golem?” I pressed, leaning on the table.
“Could you excuse us, please,” she grimaced at her client.
She pulled me into the stock room by my jacket.
“What is wrong with you? What golem?” she snapped in a loud whisper.
“When I had you look at that guy’s picture and you looked at the cards said something about a golem.”
“It’s a hebrew legend,” she replied, ”A clay statue that can be brought to life to do someone’s bidding. You’d write a command on parchment and slip it into it’s mouth.”
“Kind of like a robot?” I said.
“Yeah well, I guess, Ed. What’s up?”
“I’ll explain when it’s over.”
When I arrived at Vicks’ place he had strange bits of machinery lined up on the pool table. He was sitting at the bar sticking a screwdriver into what looked like a human hand.
“You get used to the…...non-mechanical bits.,” Simon groaned looking up over his glasses, "Is it alright that I’ve gotten used to it?”
“Culver is going nuts at the precinct,” I said.
“I heard on the radio. Were you the guy with the ray gun?”
“Mom knew I’d be famous. Your gun didn’t work. I landed a bullseye and it wrapped around her like she was inside a bubble.”
“She must have used the magnet to create a force shield.”
Vicks put down the hand and walked over to his new collection on the pool table.
“Let me show you something,” he said picking up a piece. "There’s a light blinking on this that started right before the news broke in with Culver’s rampage. At the same time the other stiff you gave me got up and took off.”
“This one didn’t try an escape?” I asked.
“I had already started disassembling it. Some of the parts...moved.”
“Think she’s signalling them? Like a distress signal?” I asked.
“Or, like, a call to action,” he added.
“How many of these things could there be? I never saw any before. Now I’ve seen four in the last fourteen hours. One of them is down at the precinct trying to steal a corpse.”
“That’s likely where the other one is going. From what I could tell from this one, I think she maybe has them under some kind of radio control.”
“Vicks, have you ever heard of the golem?”
“That story freaked me out as a kid, man.”
“Got me thinking. Can we get control of one of these?” I asked gesturing at the parts.
“Way out, jack. Yeah, I think I can swing that,” he answered with his eyes darting over the parts on the table.
“How soon?” I pressed.
“Good thing I studied,” he replied looking down at the odds and ends.
Vicks disappeared into his back room and reemerged and hour later wearing what looked like a hat made from Christmas lights and holding a microphone that made him look like he was ready to call the fights. The mic plugged into the hat. I’m going to have to wear that before this is over. Probably in a very public place.
“Enter 24601,” said Vicks into the mic.
A guy walked out the back room with a store mannequin expression and stood next to Vicks.
“24601 identify yourself,” said Vicks.
“Unit 24601 most recent calibration date oh five oh nine fifty five,” the stiff droned.
“You can tell him to do anything, but don’t be a jerk, man. Bad waves,” said Vicks to me, "And I made, like, some special modifications myself, dad. Gave him a nice edge against Mrs. Culver.”
I shook my head trying to remember why I left New Orleans.
“That’s...perfect,” I said sighing.
I put the robot in the back seat of Vicks’ car. Vicks’ got in the passenger side with his new toy.
“The guy on the radio said she stormed out of the precinct carrying a corpse and took off west. Probably home to get Fred,” I said.
“I thought Fred was dead,” said Vicks.
“You’re gonna love this.”
We arrived at the Culver place and the front door was wide open. We sent the tin soldier in first. We made our way to the cellar. There was Mrs. Culver leaned over and cooing softly to the disembodied brain in its jar. She was flanked by the samurai in black, from my last visit to the Culver residence, and the stiff who ran off on Vicks. The body of Fred Culver was propped up with his dead grey eyes opened as if to observe the procedure.
“Stand down,” Vicks said into the mic while fiddling with a knob on the side.
The samurai and the stiff cocked their heads then looked at Mrs. Culver. She met the eyes of the samurai and paused. She waved her in our direction.
“Well? Get them,” she said shaking her head with a cracking metallic voice.
The samurai and stiff began walking toward us.
“Stand down,” Vicks repeated.
The bodyguards paused briefly, slightly wincing, but continued to advance.
Vicks spun the dial.
“Defend us,” he said into the mic.
24601 leapt toward the advancing androids. They exchanged blows, neither side scoring any points. For every blow there was a block, like an aggressive game of patty cake.
Vicks continued his experiment.
“Stand down,” he shouted into the mic.
The samurai and the stiff snapped to attention. Vicks grinned at me nodding vigorously. I gestured toward Mrs. Culver.
“Well? Get her,” I said nodding in Culver’s direction.
“Oh, ah, subdue Mrs. Culver,” Vicks said.
The three new recruits began stalking Mrs. Culver.
“If you could do that to Culver…” I said to Vicks.
“She wasn’t even close to responding. Either her brain doesn’t receive the radio band or she still has her human brain,” Vicks explained.
“Fred Culver must have kept his wife’s brain. That’s why she kept his,” I reasoned.
Mrs. Culver was fairly dismantling our most recent hires and would soon be free to deal with us herself. She put down her final challenger and turned to us. I thought I’d have a better plan by now. The door behind us slid shut. Mrs. Culver slowly crept around the table displaying her husband’s brain.
“Vicks? Got anything,” I asked.
“Bad waves, baby,” he replied.
I could hear a soft humming coming from the fluorescent lights above.
“I smell ozone,” said Vicks.
The lights began to flicker as the hum grew louder. Electricity began arcing around the light fixtures.
“Fred?” queried Mrs. Culver.
“Yes, Katherine?” answered Fred’s crackling speaker.
“What are you doing?” she yelled clenching her fists.
“What I should have started doing after the accident,” Fred’s speaker rasped, “I’m letting you go.”
Arcs erupted from the light fixtures and outlets converging on Mrs. Culver.
“No, Fred,” Mrs. Culver pled as her voice cracked and began wildly modulating in pitch,”We...were going...to be...perfect...together.”
Mrs. Culver slumped to the ground, issuing a thick, black smoke. Her eyes just stared at the floor, wooden. I stood contemplating Mrs. Culver.
“That was my first client,” I muttered.
“A lot of nice stuff down here,” Vicks chirped.
As for Fred Culver, he wasn’t ready to pass on and didn’t want to be stuck in a lab somewhere, so Vicks’ said he knew a guy who could take care of him. Still not sure why I left New Orleans.
Lugging the apparatus wasn’t the issue. If some flatfoot hassles me about it I tell him it’s, like, a pinball machine or something, you know. I got it for the bar. But a brain in a jar is a little stickier. Plus you gotta keep it from, like, sloshing around and whatnot.
When I got to my buddy’s house he was pacing in the lawn, wringing his hands in his bathrobe and slippers.
“Simon. You said you’d be here two hours and twenty one minutes ago,” he barked to me from across the yard.
“It’s a delicate procedure, man,” I called back, “Where do you want it?”
Enoch had me install it in his study. Weirdo.