A Study in Interruption
Obsession. It’s not just a perfume. It’s been around a long time. Obsession might help explain prehistoric cave paintings of big game. “A Study in Interruption” is taken from The Adventures of Rhesus A. Macaque, Private Investigator (illustrations by Daniel Mawyer). In the science fiction world of Macaque and his partner Guy Poisson, centuries have passed since the Sea Change, an unexpected rise in ocean levels. The Sea Change triggered the breakup of the Federal Empire, but eventually the great old patterns of American settlerism have begun to reassert themselves. As this story illustrates, that future society is obsessed with crime. The last story in this issue of Vice-Versa, it is set in the criminal underworld of Lanta, port city and capital of Dixie, and suggests that obsession will still be a complex problem centuries from now.
L’homme des Ombres
If Guy Poisson really had a home anywhere—not counting granny’s bamboo stilt longhouse in the Arkansas swamps—it was Lanta, the capital city of Dixie. A first-class Texas Seaway ferry ticket to Lanta cost Guy a two inch stack of paper currency, but the company funds of Poisson and Macaque, Private Investigators were over a foot thick and the ticket was worth every pfennig. A generous tipper, Guy’s voyage was pleasant, uneventful, well lubricated and tastily fed. Guy arrived clean and rested, and headed straight for his favorite part of town, Lanta’s famous Broad Street, where there was a nice selection of gentlemen’s flop houses. On the corner of Broad and Mammal Avenue he saw a “For Rent: Make an Offer” sign on the top floor of a classic two-story wood-frame cracker box. Just for laughs he knocked on the door and offered the box-shaped cracker who answered it a lowly pittance of a rent, about half the going rate. The grizzled pink boob, a nervous look on his ugly mug, gratefully accepted at once. To Guy’s amazement he suddenly had the lease on a walk-up office, which came furnished and had a back room large enough to sleep in. This was a supernaturally surprising bargain.
Maybe it wasn’t as suspicious as it sounded. The previous tenant, a professional fortune-teller, had skipped out. There was a creepy sign suitable for repainting on the discreet side stairs leading up to the office. In addition to the usual furniture, the front room included concealed strings and pulleys, interesting mirrors, red velvet curtains, a black light setup, jar of phosphorescent powder, Tarot deck, crystal ball, stand for same, et cetera. The back room included spare clothes in a chest of drawers. Capes and fancy vests, slightly too large, but Guy was absolutely going to wear this stuff. No wonder the previous tenant had to skip out. Over-spender. Abandoned his clothes. Left ten dollars mixed with the socks in the underwear drawer. Inexplicable.
The office came with a cat named Pompilius, a huge, indolent, desperately ingratiating creature hand-trained to the séance racket. Pompilius, maybe because of all that training, suffered from preternatural insight into his utter dependence on cat food. He could not open the cans himself or even infer or deduce where the cans really came from, an existential plight that might ruin a human. The effect on a cat was pitiable. Pompilius was terribly relieved when Guy rented the place.
Guy decided not to remove the fortune-telling apparatus. There’s all kinds of detectives, he decided. The séance setup could be used. Some cleaning was necessary, for instance the nearly realistic blood spatter on the wall and the tacky merlot-colored drag marks on the floor. Maybe that kind of stuff was OK for goth-psychic décor, but not a P.I.’s office. Soon the office sign read:
Guy Poisson, Homme des Ombres
Private Psychic Investigator
Around this point in the business plan, Guy bought his usual weekly copy of The Daily Hominid, the American Exarchate’s newspaper of record. He was shocked to see the face of his partner, Rhesus A. Macaque, or a photogravure thereof, looming above the fold next to DESTRUCTION OF SALT LAKE CITY SOLVED. This was, officially, a very big deal. The pillaging of Salt Lake and Pueblo was widely considered important. For weeks everybody in North America wanted to know: was it politics? Crime? Old Testament stuff? Maybe just a local war? Now the solution was on the front page, cut into slices and laid out like white bread by the Macaque Sleuth. Even the Tedboro horse rustling case, Guy’s most recent personal failure, was mentioned as a sort of footnote or pickle on this detective sandwich, which somehow read like an epic. Nowhere did the article mention Guy Poisson. That seemed grossly unjust. Guy felt he’d very nearly solved this case himself, now that the facts were exposed. Always a step closer than anyone knew. And here he was feeling guilty about spending Reese’s half of the company money. Which seemed fair now.
No sense dwelling on the past though. There was another detective story in the Dixie Times Dispatch, a purely East Lanta mystery. The details somehow involved a buried clock. The DTD went on to liberally criticize Lanta’s celebrated Assistant Chief Detective, Inspector William ‘Ape’ Pagoda, for wasting time on a clock, considering the amount of real crime going on in Lanta, and also for throwing parts of his lunch at the press. Pagoda claimed to have unearthed a vast complex of deeply criminal motives. True, motives aren’t crimes. But when the actual crimes broke out, the motives might be relevant eventually. No imagination. That’s the problem with the news.
The Affair of the Two Phils
About seventy blocks from Poisson’s new office, in the dark of the moon, on an unlit side street seedier than Mexican ditchweed, an individual named Fil walked into the Greasy Gaboon, sat down at the counter, looked at the weekly special on the chalkboard, and sighed. He was the only customer. The Greasy Gaboon wasn’t known for its swell cuisine. If Fil had been smarter… or funnier… or blessed with charisma… or had any positive qualities or even a random smear of general awareness, he’d have realized the weekly special never changed. That’s what made it special. But Fil was beyond those kinds of abstract things. What he was, was hungry. Hungry hungry. So he proceeded to spoon up the hash browns from a puddle of secret sauce, choking it down before it choked him back.
After Fil was full he asked for a re-Fil and pointed at himself and laughed for a sadly inappropriate amount of time. But Flona the night shift waitress had heard it all before, much of it from Fil. She just tipped the coffee pot over far enough to ooze another cup of industrial Joe into Fil’s open mug. As she did so, she dreamed of the beach road north of Sacramento. Because she was from another world—the Opposite Coast—the Land of 1,000 Reasons not to run away to Hot Lanta and work at the Greasy Gaboon. But despite all these reasons to not be there, Flona also had reasons why she was there. She even knew some of the reasons. A truly reasonable person like Flona never runs out of reasons how come this and that.
Meanwhile Fil finally stopped laughing at his own little joke and turned around on his stool to stare blankly around the diner. Work of a moment. The Greasy Gaboon was tiny—only had three small tables and five small chairs. Fil wondered what happened to chair #6. I mean, five chairs, he thought, ain’t even a quartet!
On this particular night, as Fil Feelmore dreamed of more ways to count chairs and crack wise, fate decided to be done with him. Because unfortunately for Fil, he closely resembled his cousin Phil Philmore in looks, posture, and much more importantly where a slobbering bloodhound named Wubba was concerned, smell. Which is why at precisely 01:73 AM Eastern Swamp Time, a professional assassin opened the door of the Greasy Gaboon, politely leashed Wubba (a partly-trained tracking dog of sub-average skills) to the doorknob, and filled Fil full of lead. Which Fil thought was inexplicably sudden and uncalled-for, as the lights went out…
The Brink of the Precipice
‘Ape’ Pagoda sat in his obsession therapist’s waiting room for the third time this week. The Chief was really mad this time. But what was a simian supposed to do about a rival suitor for the girl of his dreams? Farla Buttafuco haunted his thoughts like a crocodile hanging out for buffalo at the water hole. He thought about Farla a lot. When he thought about Phil Philmore he didn’t enjoy that so much. Ape scratched his elbow and started leafing through a homemaker’s magazine that caught his eye. Banana pie. Banana pie sounded great and also photographed really well. The nice secretary, Mrs. Flumpkins, called his name. Her voice had a rough, low register that Ape found non-threatening. He showed his teeth by way of thanks and loped into Dr. Snodgrass’s office.
“Third time this week, Ape.”
Ape nodded and squatted in his usual corner of the room.
“Now really, Ape, you can sit in the chair if you want to.”
Ape shook his head and scratched his haunches, as if to demonstrate that he couldn’t scratch his haunches sitting in a chair.
“OK, Ape, have it your way. The Chief says you lost control of yourself at work and threw things at the newspaper guys again. Can you tell me what you were feeling when you did that?”
Ape blew air through his nose.
“Now Ape, you don’t have to talk if you prefer not to, but we both know you speak English just fine. Was this about Ms. Buffalo again?”
“Buttafuco. Her name is Farla Buttafuco,” Ape said.
“That’s right, Farla. Have you ever actually talked to Farla? Asked her out? A movie perhaps?”
“A movie? Damn it, man, the jungle ain’t no place to take a pretty girl.”
“Sure, Ape, but you live in the City of Lanta. The docks are kind of like a jungle, but…”
“And I’ll just remind you again—you are a human being, and worthy of love.”
Ha. Just what he would say. Dr. Snodgrass was in on it, of course. Ape turned around and showed the doctor his red butt.
This was a bit literal even for a psychotherapist. He preferred his infantile behavior to be more metaphoric. “Ape. This is what babies do. Pull your pants up.”
“Sure, doc, sure, and I guess I’m not covered in fur either.”
“Yes, you’re a hairy guy. But it’s not fur.”
“How’d this happen, anyway? Am I hallucinating? One minute I’m minding my own business in the jungle, peacefully watching the flamingos dip their beaks, and next thing I wake up in a police station in Lanta and I’ve got a job? As Assistant Chief Detective? Can that really happen?”
“Listen to yourself, Ape. Here you are, a respectable public employee wearing a badge and a firearm, third generation public service, half a dozen commendations, two purple hearts, a full-dress peaked hat with a brass eagle on it, union member in terrific standing, got a fabulous pension, countless vacation days, stupendous health coverage…”
Ape knew he needed help with his obsessions, but he felt little respect for Dr.Snodgrass, who wasn’t helping much. Ape had a case to solve, complicated by the fact that Farla, the love of this period of his life, was one of the most likely suspects in a string of closely linked killings that had only just begun. A nasty little tangle guaranteed to include any number of murders eventually. Of course, under all the disingenuous folderol, money was the real motive. Which meant Ape might have to count numbers, or try to count, if he was going to puzzle this out. And here he was with his wits shattered. He needed a cure real bad, not Dr. Snodgrass rattling away like a pair of castanets. Ape slyly reached into the leather shoulder holster concealed under his sports jacket. “Take that!” he yelled, hurling a handful of putrid jackfruit across the room. First time he felt good all day.
A Missing Spirit Animal
The appropriate clients for Guy’s services as a Private Psychic Investigator showed up at once—not horse rustlers or arsonists for a well-deserved change, but working stiffs in clumsy tweed cotton suits and bulky shoes, anxious to communicate with their husband, wife, mistress, minister, pool boy, or other significant relationship.
“All that ectoplasm stuff is fake, basically just these strings you see me working,” Guy told them. “You can’t talk from the Beyond. If you could, you wouldn’t need me. And no ‘make me guess’ nonsense. Let’s write what we want in a good long letter. Put in every detail you know and exactly what you’d like to hear back.”
After collecting the data and scheduling the return appointment, Guy wrote the answers from the Great Beyond in silver ink on purple paper. Mostly the answer was to stop worrying about dead people. He was comfortable with that advice. At the return appointment Pompilius, judiciously touched up with phosphorus, would carry the Letter From Beyond into the black-lit room in his mouth. Pompilius was hard to identify as a cat even in good light without phosphorous. It didn’t hurt that the letters from beyond were dryly scrawled in pathetic fake French. In fact nothing hurt, but it was small potatoes. At least Guy didn’t have to dust the stairs.
Then Shirley Serious came in with a real case.
“Here’s the deal. I have a Spirit Animal,” Shirley said. “Not sure if everybody has a Spirit Animal but one of my ancestors was an Indian about 600 years ago, so I still have one. And apparently I must have done something terrible, because my Spirit Animal has abandoned me. I feel totally unprotected. You can’t go through life as a person who used to have a Spirit Animal. Can you help with that sort of thing, Mr. Poisson?”
“Yes, but I prefair you call it Giii.”
“It’s not funny,” Shirley said. “You can die from being abandoned by your Spirit Animal.”
“I sense your distress. There is a natural homogenesia pervading the Orgone. I must ask one thing. The unknown spirit animal—has it got a name it answers to?”
“Answers to? Why would it?”
“And can anyone else see it? This unknown spirit animal.”
“I have no way of knowing that,” Shirley replied.
“Those answers tell me, madame, that you are serious.”
“That’s my name!”
“And, may I ask, who was so kind as to refer you to me? There may be the discount…”
“I saw the sign. I just live a few blocks away.”
“You understand, l’animal spirituel, it can be obstinate at times, but with ze proper bait…”
“Maybe I’m not explaining this very well. He hasn’t disappeared or anything, he’s guarding the wrong house now. He started guarding the house across the street.”
“What kind of spirit animal is it?”
“No idea. Never seen another one like it.”
“The huge animal?”
“No. Well, yes. Actually, it can be different sizes. Generally you’d call it fairly large for a smaller animal. But as a large animal it would be on the smaller side. Before you go any further, it’s not a dog. I think it’s from another dimension. It appears on Mondays and Tuesdays. Late on Monday and early on Tuesday.”
“The astronomical timing does suggest the transdimensional traveler. But you understand, I cannot summon this spirit animal up and make it speak. The ectoplasm—just strings. The haunting astral music—just Debussy’s Nuages played backwards. The parlor tricks, merde sacre.”
“I’m not an idiot either,” Shirley said. “I work at Police Precinct Number One. I don’t believe in fortune-telling and psychic stuff. I see more lies and deceit in a day than most people see in a year.”
“The not easily fooled. Life for a cop in the wharf district, she is rough, no?”
“Oh, I’m not a cop. I own the snack bar concession.”
“Then you are a wealthy woman!”
“Ha. Cops think the world owes them a living. It’s a constant struggle. I get ‘em back though. Donuts can be stale when they need to be. Don’t get me wrong—some of the detainees are just as bad. The guys in the cells eat an awful lot of swole on credit. Condiment packets ain’t really free, you know. I’m definitely interested in that discount you mentioned.”
The beautiful frightened client with money. The police, they cannot help. Here, finally, was a case for method, for reasoning. The unfaithful—how often they are content just to cross the street! So disillusioning.
Guy knew the time and the place. The first step: determining if the truant spiritual beast was a solid object. By day he scouted the location. Shirley lived in a detached house with a front yard. She certainly couldn’t plead poverty. The front yard even had a bush he could very nearly conceal himself under.
On Monday night, Guy saw lots of things. The house across the street had many tenants. Their stretch of sidewalk was obstructed by bags of trash and garbage. A nice neighborhood; they had trash pickup, one of the most expensive private services. Most of the trash was in paper bags or cardboard boxes, but some folks on Shirley’s street had real trash cans. Shirley’s trash can was brand new. Factory-cast with a nice tight lid. Some would have said it was much too nice to put trash in. But the well-off think differently from the rest of us. Anyway, talk about luxury, a guy down the street had a trash can with wheels. He pushed it out to the sidewalk in his sock feet around eleven-thirty, like a show-off performing an errand he’d just barely remembered in time.
Guy was fine until it started raining. Not all detectives are set up for rain. His partner Reese, for instance, had a trench coat and a hat with a brim. Guy’s full evening dress, on the other hand, absorbed water rapidly, though not as rapidly as the velvet cape he’d thrown over himself. Southern weather, are you kidding me. He went home. No choice really. He promptly overslept. Late Tuesday morning he dashed back to the stakeout. All the trash was gone. The clip-clop of the trash wagon could still be heard two streets away. No sign of any spirit animal.
That’s what happens when you leave early and return late. Nothing to say whether Shirley’s spirit animal was solid, or only visible to Shirley. He’d have liked to ask Shirley about her new trash can, or if she previously used bags like most people, but your clients are not your friends. As a professional, you should stay the hell away from them. He had enough unsolved information already. And they wonder why detectives are so gloomy.
Almost a week later, it was dawn on Monday again, just as humid, but maybe not raining. Around 07:85, lurking behind the bush in Shirley’s front yard, Guy heard rustling, almost as if an animal was stirring. The garbage on the sidewalk threw long brown shadows under the watery sun. A disturbingly misshapen hairy beast emerged between the ripe and splitting sacks of trash across the street. Streaks of left-over phosphorus glowed in its fur.
“Pompilius,” Guy hissed.
Phil Philmore’s Fates
The Greasy Gaboon assassin’s failed play (if you call slaughtering Fil a failure—or a play, for that matter) told Phil Philmore all he needed to know. “You gotta hide me,” he begged Farla Buttafuco, Ape Pagoda’s heart throb. The lovely buxom Farla was alarmed to hear it.
“What about Flona?” Farla asked. “Is Flona OK?”
“Flona Flona nothing, they’re after me, you get it?”
“It’s a terrible risk,” Farla said. “Somebody will have to bring you food. Probably me. Ape will see a gravy stain or something and figure it out.”
“Then to hell with food,” Phil replied. “I’ll live on drink.”
With that objection out of the way, Farla said OK. She had the perfect place, as Phil well knew, which was why he asked her in the first place. Thirty-five minutes later, Phil Philmore was locked in a wine cellar. Locked in from the outside, for plausibility. Half an hour later Phil was shit-faced drunk. This went on for days. To begin with, cadet oenophile Phil thought he could tough it out. Bottle after bottle of twenty-year-old vin d’terroir extraordinaire sloshed down his gullet. When he found the cask of Amontillado all the way in the back of the cellar, you couldn’t say it sobered him up, but it was an uncomfortable reminder of what drinking in the dark can lead to. Best to stay away from that corner. It was awful quiet in the wine cellar. And a touch damp. Cough cough.
For Phil, the line between reality and dreams began to fade. Indeed, his dreams were well lit, unlike the wine cellar. He dreamed of dry mornings, the kinda morning dry you get when you shove a soda cracker into a Southern Baptist t-shirt vendor’s open mouth at the yearly Easter Convention. It was that dry. But he’d earned it. Because Phil had finally lost his mind. A week or ten days in a sealed wine cellar will do that to you. One more bottle and he never would have recovered. But of the Two Phils, he was still the luckier one. Yes, luck, because he didn’t believe in religion.
Meanwhile, on the surface world, Phil’s disappearance was the long-awaited break Ape Pagoda needed in the Case of the Two Phils. All that remained now was to assemble the entire cast of suspects, scare the piss out of them, handcuff the guilty ones and drag them off to the cells to live on Shirley’s swole. Work of a moment. The reporters were all ready to photograph everyone at the big reveal. Ape was momentarily at the top of his intellectual form.
“…so you went to a lot of trouble to make it look like Phil was dead but really he was hiding in the locked wine cellar THE WHOLE TIME, wasn’t he, Farla!” said the Ape Detective.
“So sue me,” Farla replied.
“But you still haven’t explained the letter with the rose petals? And what about the dead bartender?” asked Sharon O’Whosit, the Irish belladonna whose lanky misbehavior set off the Case of the Two Phils to begin with.
“Aha!” said Ape. “Haven’t I?” And he just stood there, staring Farla’s guests and the household staff down, as if daring anyone else to speak up.
Which they all did. “No, no, I don’t think so, must have missed it, didn’t catch the big reveal, etc.”
“Oh. Well, no problem. You see, only Count Henry Cisco had the motive and the resources to bury the family clock and then dig it up again. A good alibi, to be sure, if it hadn’t been Daylight Swamp Time! Daylight Swamp Time’s metric!”
“Oh, Jeez, of course,” they all said. “So it was that obvious. Gosh, why didn’t I think of it.”
And there it was. The clock. The rose petals. The letter. Count Cisco, and the mud on his hand-tooled leather boots. Three dead cats. A deceased bartender with $8,700 in counterfeit New Confederate Money in his bar jacket. Even Fil’s pointless manslaughter at the Greasy Gaboon. It all added up to a life sentence for Count Henry Cisco and his wife, the Countess of Henry Cisco. Everything fitted together perfect, like a Tetris screen. Farla was stunned, relieved, and also seriously turned on… already couldn’t keep her hands off herself… yep, it was gonna be a good night for Ape, a great night in fact, or Ape would be the first person to want to know why not.
“Should we let Phil out of the wine cellar?” said Sharon thinly. “Tell him what happened? Faith, he’ll be after having no idea.”
“Yeah. Ook! I mean, yeah,” Ape said.
Phil, a pale green louche of himself, crawled hesitantly out of the wine cellar. “Ah? Ah?” he said. It was a lot for him to take in. Cousin Fil—dead. The Greasy Gaboon—burned to the stumps. Wubba, the fatal bloodhound—blinded by the headlights on Peachtree Avenue, stepped in front of a steam tractor, crushed. The anonymous assassin who iced Fil—unpaid, bitter, badly missing his dog, a threat no more. Count and Countess Henry Cisco—destined for long prison sentences. And Flona the Night-Shift Waitress was free now, free to walk off down the street and fulfill her destiny if that was what she wanted to do. My God, Phil’s good luck was terrifying. On the down side, Frenchie LaRue had not been pleased at the Annual Police Stockholders’ Meeting about the fruit hurling at the press conference.
Frogpaws Harry Intervenes
Unfortunately for several people, the Case of the Two Phils was not quite over. As darkness crept in, or in Phil’s case rose hauntingly from the wine cellar, Ape prepared to claim as his victory lap the female for whom he drooled and schemed, his long awaited crack at Farla. Farla was game too, but suddenly the fatal appendage cashed out. After a lot of fumbling around and howling, Ape knuckled back to Precinct Number One at a handsome trot, sans pants, foaming at the chops with disappointment. Straight through the door, past Sergeant Jerry at the front desk, through the Whatever Room where the cops hung around when they were at work (empty now, not a soul in the place at this time of night) and into his own office. Ape’s office at the back of the precinct was not really completely dark, but it wasn’t well lit. Ape Pagoda was exrtremely well lit, but that wasn’t important right now.
The important part, Ape and Farla both would have said, was Ape completely missing out on the best sex of his life, hours of fabulous sex he didn’t have. Now Ape was behind his desk on his hands and knees, looking for a revolver. “Two can play at that game,” Ape muttered to himself in a merry Vincent van Gogh mood. But just as he found the revolver and flipped the safety catch off, Ape’s ruined orgie a deux was overshadowed by a second assassin.
Frogpaws Harry was only now getting around to the awfully clever scheme he’d worked out: simple lurking. Precinct security was notoriously weak. Just seconds after Ape shot past, Frogpaws’ lurking skills paid off. He dashed in behind Ape and easily snatched the astonished Sergeant Jerry off the front desk. Revolver in hand, Ape peeked up to see Frogpaws holding a big serrated knife to Sergeant Jerry’s throat. Jerry looked scared. Jerry hated frogs, hated and feared them. It was mutual. But frog-hate, and the deep well of prehistoric consciousness that spawns it, wasn’t important right now. Neither was the humidity. Moist, but not important. A hot, semi-lit evening. Ape struggled to pay full attention to the crisis at hand. When you’re this drunk, it pays to be cautious. Wait… had anyone paid him? Was he cautious? And where were his pants?
Frogpaws was talking. “Smart move snapping off the lights, Ape, but I know you’re in here. I know you are, ‘cause I got your pants. Come out, or Officer Jerry here gets it. And then us’n all are gonna take a ride to the wharf—real quiet-like. Cochise?”
Ape didn’t remember taking off his pants, but he didn’t remember a lot of things. Like his mother’s birthday or which end was up or what “quagmire” meant. But he did remember one thing… nope. Forgot that too. Man, was it moist in his office! So moist his trigger finger slipped and the revolver went off.
Frogpaws screamed as the floor opened under his feet and he fell, or plunged, fifty feet or so into the second basement. Under other circumstances he might have survived but a police station has to store its bear trap arsenal somewhere. The sound of dozens of bear traps snapping shut with meaty thuds was too much for poor Sergeant Jerry, who threw up on the rug. As if things weren’t moist enough.
“Case closed,” Ape said, a remark as literal as it was needless.
The Naked City
It was a new day. Detective Ape Pagoda couldn’t believe it. His pants were lost again. Baskets of Frogpaws Harry were still being passed up the narrow steps from the second basement, at the coroner’s request. All the precinct personnel came around to look at the mess. Fortunately Shirley Serious had spare pants at the snack bar. “Why so down in the dumps, Ape?” asked Shirley. “Nobody’s gonna miss Frogpaws. You could shoot him all you want. Probably get another medal.”
“It’s not that. The doctor says I’ve got Ed. Who’s Ed? Mr. Ed? I hate horses.” Ape threw a handful of nuts against the wall and knuckled anxiously back and forth and up and down.
“Maybe it was a capital D. ED. Maybe he meant your dick don’t work.”
“OK, who’s Dick? One of Ed’s friends? I hope Ed’s happy. What I need right now is a replacement for that so-called psychiatrist Snodgrass. The man’s a Freudian. He’s got no idea how to lift a curse. I need a psychic.” Ape dropped to the floor and curled into a ball, the better to show off his rump. He liked Shirley.
“Go see Guy Poisson, Homme des Ombres. He reunited me with my astral familiar!”
“Damn, that does sound pretty accomplished. Where is he?”
“Can’t miss it, corner of Broad and Mammal.”
Ape was tired after suffering the worst disappointment of his life and then killing Frogpaws, but this was an emergency. Soon Guy woke to a frightful banging on his door. Ape popped the lock and broke in before Guy could finish dressing.
“Shirley tells me you solve witchcraft cases,” Ape said. “She told me you reunited her with her missing spirit animal.”
“It was not missing, nor had it ceased to be Shirley’s guardian on the Plane Astral. Please, come in. As I told the delightful Shirley, when she bought the elite garbage can with the lid most fancy, her spirit animal was forced to appear across the street. Between you and me, it was all about leftovers. But now Pompilius lives at her home and there will be no more trouble.”
“Shirley also tells me I’m the Assistant Chief Detective of the Lanta Police Department. But plainly I’m a monkey of some kind living in the jungle. It doesn’t add up.” Ape flicked a fly off the windowpane with his new trousers, which were already crumpled. “I will come back and shit all over this room if you tell anybody I was here,” he said disconsolately.
“I beg you not to,” Guy said.
“Then you better come up with something.”
“There is always tension in the partnership between the official detective of high local standing and the world-famous private investigator, between the mere professional and the genius amateur. My méthode psychique is secret. I am not to be seen. I tell no one anything.”
“Calm yourself. We can approach your problem by deduction.”
“But that will drive me crazy!”
“It’s a risk we must take.”
“Maybe it is induction. I am never sure.”
Ape curled his lips back to show that it was all the same to him.
“Let us explore the extent of this curse a witch has placed on you. You think this is the jungle, no?”
“Obviously,” said Ape.
“But the jungle has vines and trees. Lanta has cement and asphalt. When you look out this window, what do you see?”
“I see a brick wall.”
“So the asphalt jungle is the metaphor. The naked city. It has a million stories, n’est pas?”
“How does that help?”
“We are leading you back to reality. You think you are the simian, no? Then how is it you have solved the great case, the Mystery of the Two Phils, which has exercised the public imagination all over town for weeks?”
“Is this going to cost a lot?”
“A case of this complexity—I can offer the discount—still…”
“Excuse me a minute,” Ape said, bounding out the door and down the stairs by way of the bannisters.
That, thought Guy, is the end of that. Some people are shy about money. Mention cash and they run away. He never expected to see Ape again. Guy consoled himself with a salami sandwich—sadly, without the mustard, business wasn’t that good—but by the time he finished wolfing his tainted lunch, Ape Pagoda came back after all.
“Just remembered I had a fine to collect,” Ape said, throwing a fat wad of Dixie rag paper on the séance table. “Will this cover your walking-around money?”
“Merde de dieu,” Guy expostulated grievously. “What happened to your eye?”
“Walked into a door.”
“You’re going to have quite a shiner tomorrow.”
“Small price to pay if you can turn me back into a human.”
“Oui. But there is the possibility you have been a human the whole time.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Ape said, ripping off his shirt.
“Incroyable,” Guy said. “Could I ask you to turn around? The back too. Fantastique.”
“Told you so.”
“But this is not fur. This is human hair, though it has the quality, how you say in English, pubic. Except it is all over. This popsicle stick, it has importance for you?”
“I wondered where that went.”
“May I remove it? I find it disturbing.”
“Also, no tail. A monkey, it has the tail.”
“I get this all the time. I tried psychotherapy. It’s not helpful.”
“We have accepted that the jungle is a figurative jungle only.”
“The asphalt jungle. Yeah, I like that.”
“Then while I examine the structure of this curse, you can be the figurative simian only.”
“The asphalt simian? But that doesn’t make any sense, doctor.”
“Please, monsieur. I must have your cooperation to work.”
Rinascimento del Pomodoro
Guy did not spend a great deal of time examining the structure of Ape’s curse, since he didn’t believe in witchcraft. Instead he undertook a program of social rehabilitation for Ape, starting with a poetry reading in a coffeehouse near the university. Things began to go bad during a spirited rendition of “Howl” and the pants came off, but fortunately the next poem was Wordsworth’s “Prelude” and Ape was quite calm again by Book 6 (“Cambridge and the Alps”). The Alps beat Cambridge by quite a lot, 15,781 to 20. Still the poetry reading wasn’t a total success. Guy failed to interest a shy but winsome blonde who was reading Whitman into a date of any kind, and Ape only avoided arrest by his unlimited conditional immunity as Assistant Chief Detective. Even so, the reading broke up with a lot of ill will on some sides.
The next excursion, to the Dixie Museum of Art, went promisingly until Ape saw the Jackson Pollacks. A shocking setback. Guy fled, leaving Ape to wreck the place. But Guy was undeterred. The next night he dragged Ape to Symphony Hall.
“Bonk’s Variations on Shoe Man,” Ape read aloud, his clawlike index nail tracing the words on the program. “I know who Bonk is but what’s this Shoe Man?”
“Merely one of the most celebrated of the Hobo Musicians of ancient times. Back in the 19th and 20th centuries the famous Hobo Musicians wandered from place to place renting pianos and charging admission. It was part of pre-television world culture.”
“Oh,” Ape said. “Pretty smart racket.”
The music was OK for Bonk, but the metal struts in the sides of the narrow seat cut into Guy’s thighs until tears involuntarily streamed down his face. The seat back was designed to slowly crush the nerves under his shoulder blades until his arms went numb. The lumpy cushion cut off all circulation to his legs while compressing his bladder until he thought he might explode. Guy grimaced ferociously, determined not to pass out in agony, but despite the distractions he eventually noticed Ape’s legs were bare once more.
“How’d you get ‘em off?” he asked.
“They fell off by themselves.” Ape still had his plaid sports jacket and luau tie on though, but the front of his shirt was in rags.
“Did you ever own underwear?” Guy asked. But at least Ape wasn’t snapping his empty trouser legs at the other ticket-holders, as he so often did. The trousers were neatly folded on the armrest. Real progress.
“This music is totally disorganized,” Ape said. “Half the orchestra’s just sitting there most of the time. And why does that miserable fiddle player wait for everybody else to stop? He never catches up anyway. He doesn’t even look like he’s enjoying himself. They should just let him go home where he belongs.”
“When to play and when to not play is written in musical notation on the music sheets in front of them.”
“You mean they don’t all have the same instructions? That’s chaos! Well, thank God it’s over. What’s coming up next?”
“Potemkin’s Fourth Piano Quartet.”
The orchestra made room as the piano-handlers wheeled in four massive grand pianos. With great solemnity, the bassoonist adjusted her tuxedo and prepared for the bassoon interludes. If I could only wince my knees out one more inch I might avoid an embolism, thought Guy. But his optimism was in vain. Ape, however, seemed entranced into a strangely civilized mood by the awful din. He even helped Guy to his numbed feet when the concert ended. “I gotta get outta here,” Ape said.
“Now I want you to notice,” Guy replied as he hobbled up the aisle on Ape’s arm, “everybody in this place knows you’re not supposed to walk around in public with no pants. But nobody’s making a big deal about it. Everybody’s had that dream. No pants in public. So they just pretend it’s not happening.”
“Yeah, they just assume I’m dreaming. Hey, wait a minute. So when they see somebody breaking an important social convention, they ignore it?”
“Exactly. It preserves the decorum of the occasion. It’s the civilized thing.”
“Yeah. I kind of get what you mean. Civilized. By police procedure I ought to choke myself to death for public nudity while you beat me with a club, but maybe it’s something to consider though.”
Guy already knew he’d started Ape’s social rehabilitation on too high a plane. The next excursion was a hot dog stand, where a belching Ape ate five hot dogs standing up and then wiped the excess mustard, ketchup and chili sauce into the hair on his chest. But he kept his pants on. Guy praised him fulsomely and Ape beamed with gratification.
It was time to take the great Ape Detective to a movie. Not a stupid movie, a decent famous movie with some mental challenges to it but not enough mental challenges to obscure the story. A historical romance seemed the perfect choice. Fortunately the art house near the college was showing Rinascimento del Pomodoro, directed by the great Bertolli. Ape was entirely tractable and settled down in the movie theater with his popcorn and soda, which he ate and drank in a straightfoward manner free of shenanigans or tomfoolery. Guy, a bit on edge, divided his attention between Ape and the movie, and came away with a peripheral impression of a rocky village high in the Tuscan hills, and a cascade of agricultural terraces thronged with huge vining plants. There were sensuous closeups of budding green tomatoes. Ape still had his tasteless checkered sports coat on, his tie on, his shirt was on, his pants were on his legs, even his shoes were still on his feet. Ape seemed fascinated by Bertolli’s lush Italian imagery. “The critics say this is probably the best imaginary Hollywood Tuscan English dialect in Bertolli’s entire opus,” Guy whispered. “Shut up,” Ape replied. “That’s Michelangelo!” On the screen, in an extended flashback, Michelangelo was explaining art to the hero of the film, a strikingly handsome young man named Luigi.
“Art, thatta all she is,” Michelangelo said. “You can hava da art withouta da world, but you no canna hava da world withouta da art. Pound, he get confused by Mussolini, they gotta lock him up, nobody calla dat art no more. But Harpo, he easy tella the difference between right and wrong only it don’t matter. So he eata da phone. You unnerstand, eata da phone?” “The phone, she no tasta good.” “Basta! You gotta future, kid. You get to Florence, you look this guy up,” Michelangelo said, handing Luigi a business card with the name ‘Lorenzo de Medici’ engraved in gold ink. “Oh, dese guys,” Luigi said. “Buona fortuna, amico mio,” said Michelangelo.
Obviously Michelangelo got it, but nobody else did. The vines grew steadily, draping themselves down the terraces, and the residents of the village laughed. “Luigi, thatta Spanish fruit! Them Borgias no gotta da culture. You gonna be sorry.”
“But I gotta feeling,” Luigi said.
“You a sad case, Luigi,” they answered, and wandered off. But the slight form of old Dr. Piste, the village alchemist, concealed behind his bird-headed plague mask, seemed always to be lurking in the background, paying the most attention of all.
Luigi couldn’t get a date with a girl to save his life, despite his flaming good looks, because of the tomatoes. It bothered him a lot, especially late at night. And his Papa wanted him to make violins instead.
“But Papa, I despisa da violins! A damn violin, I getta my hands on one, I put it inna da fire.”
“O Luigi, cretino! Now I gotta tella da priest.”
There was a tremendous amount of stress in that family. Luigi’s mother would lean out of the second story window groaning, “Oh, whatta we gonna do, my son, he sfigato,” as she hung out the laundry on the village wall. The tension couldn’t last, though. The golden sunlight poured down like treacle over the honey-colored rock, and all the tomatoes turned white, then pink, and finally into orbs of the deepest scarlet coral.
“Luigi, what I tella you?” said his Papa. “Alla dese plants, they determinant! They alla bloom at once, they all gonna fruit atta same time. You gotta grow da indeterminant varieties. And then it still wrong. Whatta you gonna do now? I think I losa my mind about this.”
It was the climax of the movie, Luigi’s dark night of the soul. Tragically, all of these unheard-of mysterious Spanish fruits were going dead ripe simultaneously, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of them. The long, slow strains of an ominous cello moaned in the background as Luigi, his desperate face lit only by a single candle in the umber darkness of his monkish cubicle, struggled all night with the most fateful decision of his life.
The next morning he went into the tomato terraces carrying a boat oar.
“Luigi, you no canna maka da sauce from tomatoes!” his Papa screamed. “They putta you in the asylum for sure!”
By this point the entire village was terrified of Luigi, obvious madman that he was, and now armed with a boat oar. Guy could barely tear his eyes off the screen. Ape Pagoda, enraptured by the drama, was still fully dressed, his hands gripping the armrests of his seat.
“Tella me you no adda da garlic—O Luigi, you maka it worse!”
Old Padre Pio, the village priest, had already called the Inquisition—no choice really.
“I feel like I ought to apologize for even being here,” said a patron of the filmic arts in the row behind Guy and Ape. Damn, thought Guy, are there different realities? Are the critics even watching the same film? The files of black-robed inquisitors in their pointy hoods were suddenly pushed aside by the bird-headed plague mask of Dr. Piste. “Un minuto,” Dr. Piste said. “You got alla dis completely backward. This da besta thing ever happen around here.”
Luigi was stirring a huge cauldron of mashed tomatoes, greatly boiled down. By no means did the mess smell poisonous. It smelled rather good.
“Now I put it onna dese Chinese noodles,” Luigi said, “and I eata it, lika so.”
A shock wave of horror palpably ran through the crowd, villagers, inquisitors, relatives, all of them. Only Dr. Piste seemed unmoved.
“Damn good,” Luigi said.
“We live in the rinacimento,” explained Dr. Piste, “though not everybody acta like they know it alla da time. You gotta open you minds to the learning of the past and the discoveries of the future, and reclaima da classical values of Roman and Greek civilization.”
“Well OK, I gonna try it,” said Luigi’s Papa. “If it killa me, I deserve it.”
“Me too. It smella OK,” said the Grand Inquisitor, who was not such a bad fellow in private life. “Maybe da Church, she can open her mind too, just a little bit.”
“Dr. Piste, how come you know so much about this new fruit, when you so old?”
Dr. Piste pulled off her plague mask, revealing the supple young face of Julietta Piste, the real Dr. Piste’s daughter. “My father’s been dead for years,” she said. “But he taught me everything.”
A sudden fiery look flashed between Luigi and Julietta. “Maybe not everything,” Luigi said.
Tears were streaming down Ape’s face. “This is the best movie in the world,” Ape said. “Dr. Poisson. I’m human again. You did it!”
The Trial of Ape Pagoda
The murder of the famous Lanta Nuisance troubled a very tiny number of people, divided into categories of glad, kind of a shame, and “I can see both sides.” For the overwhelming majority of the population, it meant nothing. The degree of official concern was below the measurement threshold. Should have been the end of it, but murder is murder even in Hamlet, not to mention Lanta. Anyway, months and months after what some called an arguably benevolent side-alley mob execution, newly promoted Chief Detective Inspector Ape Pagoda whimsically decided to solve the Case of the Murdered Nuisance.
Ape was an indiscriminate sort of detective, unconsciously analyzing the physical effects of crime, motivated solely by an advanced sense of primate curiosity. He only needed a few unguarded hours to get himself into serious trouble. His colleagues, alarmed, badly wanted to dissuade him from this seamy investigation but none of them knew what ‘dissuade’ meant.
Maybe some killings shouldn’t be poked at. The case rapidly evolved labyrinthine complexities worthy of a better crime. Some said the governor was involved. Hints became allegations. One thing led to another. Before long, Ape Pagoda found himself trapped on top of an abandoned lighthouse in broad daylight, a hundred and sixty feet off the ground, sweating with embarrassment. On the staircase landing below, Needles Amphibole suggested rushing up and knifing Ape on the spot. “He dropped his heater. He’s unarmed,” Needles pointed out.
“If that’s the play, let’s just throw this grenade up. Hell, throw two grenades up,” replied Bam Washington.
“I hate following orders. I’m gonna start my own gang soon,” said Shrimp McNit, the kind of guy everybody else edges away from unconsciously.
Between them, these three thugs were packing about ten pounds of weapons of various kinds, none home-made. They weren’t innocent of anything.
“How the hell did this happen?” Ape murmured to himself, no longer able to justify the last several decisions he had made. The tide-swept dunes around the old lighthouse were broken only by a single sandy jeep track, with a single jeep, a fancy one, approaching in the distance. It looked like the end for Ape Pagoda.
“Oh shit, it’s Red and Tony,” Rick the Voice yelled up the inverted megaphone of the old brick lighthouse.
“Lemme jump this stiletto into Ape,” Needles begged.
“We’ll never get rid of him if we don’t do it now,” added Shrimp. “Ape ain’t stupid.”
“Throw the first grenade into the far end of the room, see. Ape goes after it of course. Have the pin on the second grenade already pulled, toss it in behind him, it goes off at once, knocks him flat on his face full of splinters, and then the other one blows his fool head off. I guarantee it.”
“You’ll never get me with that old gag,” Ape shouted down the steps.
“I just don’t wanna end up in some situation where he gets away,” Shrimp muttered. “He knows who we are.”
That was certainly true. Ape was listening to them upstairs, grinding his teeth in the last stages of exasperation. He’d have cheerfully wrung all their necks, but that was a mug’s play. Outside, under the cloudless sky, the long Atlantic rollers crashed dramatically on Dead Man’s Beach—and maybe the name was no coincidence.
Nothing happened. The jeep arrived. Two more people came up the steps, one a woman, the other male. The footsteps never slowed. Both these people, Valerian ‘Crimson’ Batt, capo di capos of the Georgia Coast, and the man too proud to be her lieutenant, freelance Tony Bologna, a.k.a. the Rumanian Chopper, were physically fit and could easily walk straight up an abandoned lighthouse. Tony’s antique Thompson submachine gun was in perfect working order, the drum loaded with fifty .45-caliber slugs, which the chopper would empty in about two seconds. And a second drum under his armpit just in case.
“So Tony gets to do it,” Needles Amphibole said peevishly.
“Stand aside little man,” Tony replied.
“He gets a trial first,” replied Valerian Batt. “We do things the legal way.”
A thoroughly decayed dragon fruit flew down the stairs and splattered on the wall. “Take that!” shouted Ape, though his usual bravado sounded a bit strained.
A long pause followed.
“Hey Red…” Tony said.
“A trial?” asked Needles. “I hate trials.”
“Then you can be the prosecutor, Needles. Keep it short and direct.”
“OK. The defendant is guilty of being Ape Pagoda. We should all kill him.”
“Fair enough,” Batt said. “Pretty good argument. Simple. Solid. Not gonna be easy to crack. And for the defense?”
“Oh come on. There has to be a defense. How about you, Rick?”
“Oh hell no,” Rick the Voice yelled up the stairwell. “I’m on the jury.”
“I’m the witness.”
“Does his defense have to be true?”
“Then count me out. I don’t wanna imply like I’m a snob or better than anybody else or anything, but I’m too proud to lie.”
“Real vague, Shrimp.”
“Then I’ll be the defense,” said Tony. “First, Ape’s job is solving crimes, a completely different racket from the cops. He’s the last person on earth who would use threats and violence to enforce the legislature’s authoritarian social norms. It wouldn’t even occur to him. So he’s innocent in that respect, regardless of any grudges we probably have. Second, he ain’t really got nothin’ on us anyway. All our clients are respectable businessmen.”
“Then I gotta interrupt,” said Needles for the Prosecution. “Life in Lanta was easy going. All of a sudden it’s not. And get this—because somebody iced the Nuisance?”
“In Ape’s defense, what happened to the Nuisance—I don’t say it’s right or not—but all Ape’s really guilty of is too much curiosity.”
“The Nuisance had his trial. I’ll decide if that’s relevant or not,” said Batt.
“Now the defense calls Bam as the witness,” Tony said. “Bam, would you say Ape was much of a businessman?”
“Him?” Bam said. “Ape’s paychecks end up in the trash. He can’t write his own name. He has to heist money on the sidewalk like Needles used to do.”
“I was just a kid then,” Needles replied defensively.
“That’s not relevant either,” Valerian said. “OK, I think these cases have been presented. Everybody gets two marbles, one black, one white. Voice, you collect ‘em and bring ‘em up.”
“Do you get a vote too?” asked Tony.
“Of course. They’re my marbles.”
The process took several minutes. All the marbles were white.
“Needles, did you turn in a white marble?”
‘Yeah, Tony was pretty convincing.”
“I was looking forward to killing Ape a lot, but since I’m his defense lawyer it wouldn’t be right.”
“I’m just on the jury. I don’t gotta have an excuse.”
“I was the defense witness.”
“Leaves you, Shrimp.”
“Was I gonna vote different from everybody else?”
“How about you, Red?” Tony asked.
“My motives are my own,” Valerian Batt answered. “OK, I’ll pass sentence now. Ape is hereby sentenced to walk his baggy, bow-legged ass home on foot, because he ain’t got car fare.”
“Yep,’ Tony added. “He can’t afford a stick of gum.”
“But Needles got one thing right,” said Valerian Batt, capo di capos.
“Don’t get a swelled head. This dystopian crap hole would blow up if it wasn’t for us. I know you’re listening, Ape, and you know the deal. We ignore the cops and you guys do whatever you want outta my sight. But our integrity is important. You gotta keep your part of the bargain. It’s the social foundations of a stable situation. That clear, Ape?”
“If you mean full of horse shit, yeah, stable,” Ape yelled back.
“It’s a system. So you mugs, stop looking like somebody stole your lollipop. Precinct One needs to be reminded to behave. Tony’s in charge of that, Shrimp drives and Bam handles the dynamite.”
“Whadda I get out of that?” whined Needles. “I’m a knife man.”
“And we love you for it. Here’s two names in suburban West Lanta who forgot their part of the bargain too. Put ‘em on a tombstone for me.”
“Wow! Thanks boss!” Needles exclaimed.
The unsuspecting names in West Lanta never saw it coming. Meanwhile the police tried to call the structural damage to Precinct One from Bam’s dynamite attack a public emergency of some kind, but the public wasn’t buying it. The balance of life was restored in Lanta, and the wily Ape Pagoda survived again, though all the windows had been blown out of his office by the time he got back to it. The unsolved riddle of who killed the Nuisance was always a sore point with him afterwards. He seldom spoke of it, but he got to keep his ass as a souvenir and from time to time he’d take it out and look at it, wondering could it have been played different.
Edward G. Mawyer, UVa Class of ’97, lives in Waynesboro and is a familiar face in every courthouse in Central Virginia.
Daniel Mawyer lives in Honolulu and teaches at Damien Memorial School. He gave up his career as an independent musician to be an artist.