enjoy the work on the rare occasion that it came. I guess it would bother me too.

I was in no rush to take over just then. It had been a while since our last case and I spent the time between them in my invisible, odorless state. The longer I did that, the more complicated my love-hate relationship with corporeality became. I enjoyed my time in Tommy Wildclown's body, but I had a habit of getting hurt when cases came up and I was no fan of pain. Neither was the clown and he was the one stuck with the bruises at the end of the day. But understanding it didn't make me stop.

Chapter 2

I walked to the desk, set the empty glass down and refilled it. Elmo fidgeted across from me. His eyes were fixed in a slack-lidded stare unaware that anything had happened to his boss. I pushed the glass against my lips-ran its cold pucker over them for a moment-then drained it. A good drunk was always tempting in the first giddy moments of possession. There is nothing like drinking as deep as a fish and feeling it when you spend most of your days hanging around ceiling fans with cigarette smoke for company. But as usual, Tommy was running at a fair intoxicated clip already and I had to be sober enough to handle the interview with the lawyer. I had an impulse to knock another one back anyway, resisted it for a second and then gave in. That's the way of it. I'm not back in a body for five minutes and I'm all impulses. I could argue that the booze kept my host sedated wherever he lurked at the back of his mind. But the truth was: I became addicted to sensation at the first itch.

'Elmo,' I said, pleased with the sound, pleased with the sight of the dead man-even pleased with the bite of the fiery hemorrhoid that dictated terms to Tommy's nether regions. 'When this lawyer gets here, I want you to keep a close ear to the door from the outer office. I never trust a dead man. Present company excepted.'

'Sure, Boss. I'll keep an eye out for him.' Elmo nodded and climbed to his feet. No offense was taken.

He left to take his seat by the lamp in the waiting room where he kept a pile of yellowed newspapers and tattered magazines. I had told Elmo the truth-I didn't trust dead men. They had different motives. Things outside of normal human experience governed their actions. I couldn't figure Elmo. He worked slavishly even though Tommy was a good six months behind on his paycheck. I couldn't figure me. I made the claim that I hated injustice, but there I was taking over another man's body. What could be more unjust? Of course, justice is a word and any word can be conveniently lodged in a web of semantics. I also made the assumption that I was dead so it could be argued that the words required definition before the debate could ensue. So my unique perspective made me a little protective of Tommy Wildclown. It's not that I liked him but he was my only doorway to the land of life and limb and though the rigors could be painful, I knew that to remain in my incorporeal state-devoid of sensation-would drive me mad in time. I raised the refilled glass, finished it off in one lusty bite then slid the bottle back into the right hand drawer of the desk. I stretched and flexed my borrowed musculature.

Tommy stood about six-one when he didn't slouch. His shoulders were heavy with long arms made strong from lifting whiskey bottles and chronic masturbation. Yes, they broke the mold before they made him. He had an almost constant erection. As always it was urgently present beside the. 44 automatic that was thrust through his pink skipping rope belt. For a moment, I imagined Tommy's warped and buckled soul residing in that particular part of his anatomy during possession. It wouldn't surprise me-of course, nothing does.

I yanked open the top drawer and pulled out his mirror. I studied what I could see of my purloined face. The eyes struck me right away. They were painted black and sinister as though drawn on by the devil himself. I noticed the makeup was smeared on the left side and mended it with pancake and greasepaint from the desk. I had tried to remove the stuff the first time I had possessed Tommy, but his psyche had bucked me off like a bronco at the very idea. I had been poised with cold cream and towels when without warning he appeared as a memory of rage. I was flung from him like a sneeze. Life is full of compromises. The deal was I could inhabit his body to do my detective work, but I would have to do it dressed like a clown. Oh joy.

Tommy lived life simply, slept and ate at the office and wore functional if austere clothing. He kept another spotted white coverall draped over the coat rack in the waiting room, and one in the trunk of his car. Fashion free and painfully utilitarian. I had made the mistake once of thinking the others were clean. Tommy went to the airing out school of laundry.

I carefully re-drew the tall false eyes on my forehead. When in Rome, right? Then, I put the makeup and mirror back into the drawer and closed it, before sitting and kicking my big black boots onto the desk.

Elmo poked his head through the door. 'Client's here, Boss.' He disappeared with a snap of skin and was replaced by a tall thin gentleman in the early stages of death. His face was a mottled blue and gray hue with stains of dark purple shadowing each eye. It took a long time for oxygen to leach out of blood when it happened from the inside out. It made for some startling skin tones. From his complexion, I judged him to be recently deceased. His almond-shaped face was crowned with an expensive fedora that hung low over his brow-I immediately liked the hat. A crisp gray sharkskin suit showed off a lean and angular form. His large wool overcoat was draped across thin shoulders.

I rose and reached out to shake. The dry skin on his extended hand tickled the hairs on the back of mine and I giggled reflexively. I quickly covered my hypersensitivity by coughing and gesturing to the chair I kept across from me for clients. He set himself into it like a jeweler would a prized gem in gold. It was common among the dead to act like that for a while-all eggshells.

I returned his gaze across the desk.

'Mr. Wildclown?' His voice was not so thin and reedy that it couldn't carry the tone of genuine disbelief. He looked at my painted face with something like horror.

I nodded, 'and you're…'

'Conrad Billings.' He screwed up his eyes, and then tilted his head from side to side. His chin dipped, lips forming an ugly triangle. Carefully, he lifted the hat from his dead head with his dead hand.

A ragged hole sat high in his forehead about the size of a penny. By the shape, I figured it was the exit wound from a low-caliber bullet. Apparently he had decided to charm me with the sight of it because he set his hat softly in his lap.

'I've been murdered!' His words knifed out at me.

I pulled my bottom lip. 'Looks like the bastard shot you from behind, too.'

Billings made fists of his dead hands and pounded the arms of the chair. 'I want him!'

Chapter 3

'All right,' I said. 'How'd it happen?'

Mr. Billings looked uncomfortable as he squeaked around in his seat. I knew the look; he was about to be fairly dishonest with me.

'You must realize the importance of-confidentiality.' His eyes did a conscientious little roll of self-possession until they came to rest on me again, quivering and uncertain like bad actors. They were indefinite and restless on either side of his hatchet nose. Perfectly unconvincing so far.

'You may not believe this, but under all this makeup, I'm a god-damned angel,' I sneered. 'Besides, there are few people who take my word seriously.' I flashed him a quick idiot grin.

'May I ask?' The dead man nervously pulled out a package of cigarettes and lit one.

'The makeup?' I cut him off. 'It's none of your business.' In truth I only had vague suspicions myself. The clown's thoughts, public and private, were only dull impressions to me. I reached into the desk drawer over my knees and pulled out a photostat of my license. I had three copies. One I kept in Tommy's egg-shaped plastic change purse, the other in the Chrysler's glove compartment. I threw the license across the desk. Billings leaned forward, studied it for a minute then pushed it awkwardly out of the lamplight with his numb hands.

'Very well.' His face held an uncomfortable, chastised look. 'I'll have to trust you.'

'Yes, you will. Besides, even if I am just another asshole who thinks he's a detective and happens to dress like a clown, you could use me to get whatever's bothering you off your chest. It's free for the time being.' I could feel echoes of Tommy's psyche rise angrily within. I released the ire through a pair of clenched fists. I squeaked my

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