chair. I liked the sound of it. Mr. Billings screwed up his face. He didn't. He began.

'I was visiting a friend-er, a specialist, she's a massage therapist who treats me for a back problem…'

'Bucking hips syndrome,' I thought, and grinned at the idea of a dead man trying to cover up his living tracks. He continued.

'It happened in the older part of town-the Downings-47th Street. I met with her for a treatment and must have fallen asleep. I woke up around three a.m. and I guess I was dreaming, because I thought I heard a baby crying. I was up, so I decided to go to the washroom. I went-the washroom adjoins the bedroom-and when I was through I heard the sound of a door opening and closing.

'There must have been another blackout because I tried to turn on the overhead light. When nothing happened, I felt around on the bed and found my therapist. She was in a deep sleep-we'd shared a bottle of gin earlier, so I grabbed a candle from the nightstand-lit it-and walked out into the living room. The candle didn't throw much light. I took about six steps, felt a minor pressure at the back of my head…then it was B-b-bl-blacktime.' His newly deceased tongue machine-gunned the word. 'Blacktime' was the catchphrase for the amnesia dead people experienced in the moments between life and death. The length of it varied from person to person.

'How long were you out?' I asked.

'I don't know, you'll have to understand my condition, having just been shot, I was rather frantic. Though I do not remember the moments immediately following my waking, I know it was morning. But the impressions I have of that time are funny-fuzzy.'

I nodded my head, lit a cigarette of my own. 'So your therapist found you.'

'No, I was alone. I can remember wandering downstairs…it was a horror! I spoke to someone then, a little fellow-the night clerk, I think…'

'So,' I said. 'What happened to your therapist?'

His face drooped like someone had yanked the bones out of it. 'I'm afraid that is a problem. She disappeared.'

I clicked my tongue and felt adrenaline prickle the hair on my scalp. The prickling caused a distracting shiver to itch quickly down the length of my back. 'How long?' I drummed fingers on the desk-enjoyed the feeling.

'You must understand, that being newly deceased, my mind was preoccupied with many details. I spoke to Authority, told them what had happened. They've investigated, I'm told. My wife had to be notified…it was a very strange time.' He studied his fingernails like they were unfamiliar to him. Maybe he was realizing they would never grow again. Billings would soon find out there were varnishes on the market designed to thicken and preserve them. 'They told me about you though.'

'Who?' I tried to imagine a single Authority Investigator who hated his career enough to recommend Wildclown Investigations.

'You were recommended to me by an Inspector Borden. He interviewed me later, after the initial questioning.'

'Don't know him. When were you killed?' I snatched a notepad and pencil from the desk, wrote Borden.

'It was two nights ago, Thursday, the first,' he said this in hushed tones, as if we were at a funeral in the rain. 'The Authority Investigators said they tried to question my therapist, but she has simply vanished. They're still investigating-said they'd contact me if anything turned up. Jan Van Reydner is her name-my therapist. She hasn't been seen since that night. Left her valuables and everything-apparently.'

'It will cost you a hundred a day to find your murderer, plus expenses.' I murmured, jotting the therapist's name beside Borden's.

The dead lawyer smiled and shook his head. 'I was told you worked for two hundred dollars a week on your last case, Mr. Wildclown.' I could tell that for a moment at least he was feeling like his old self. 'Nevertheless, I'll pay you seventy-five dollars a day to get my killer. Authority is too big and clumsy; they're investigating too many murders now-others that are more-more important. I'm at the back of the line. 'Be patient,' they said. Patient! It's not right! It's not right! I've been murdered, and they ask me to be patient!' He rose to his feet, dead voice alive with rage. He shook his thin arms at me. 'Well, I'll show them patience! I want my murderer dead! There's a ten thousand dollar bonus in it if you make sure he experiences…that he feels what it's…only his death is good enough for me!' He rasped-his face was strained and oily in the lamplight. A last wave of anger caught his fists and pounded my desk.

'Be careful.' I gestured to his fists, then the desk. 'You've got to learn to take things easy. You don't heal any more.' I spotted Elmo's face peeking in the door. I shook my head-he vanished. I lit a cigarette.

'I'll tell you what, Mr. Billings. I can't guarantee I'll kill him, but I'll find him for you. Killing is still illegal in the eyes of Authority, and I don't want to experience one of their jails. I'll find him.' I smiled. 'I'll need your massage therapist's address and a number where I can contact you.'

Billings fumbled in his vest pocket and produced a business card. He scribbled something on the back. It skimmed across the desk, hit the phone.

I read the address. 'The Morocco Hotel?' I looked at him. 'That's where she lived?'

'No. That's where we got together.' Billings' eyes trembled under the weight of disclosure. 'I first met her at the gym I belong-belonged-to.' He paused, saying goodbye to another facet of his life before continuing. 'She convinced me to try one of her treatments.'

'How long did you know her?'

'About three months.' He looked away.

'She didn't have a phone number?' I put the card on the desk.

Billings deflated. 'Jan called me to arrange treatments. I assumed she was married too.' His hat had fallen to the floor as he had risen. He shuffled over, bent to retrieve it. From my vantage point, I could see that his left buttock was indented like a punched pillow from a wayward spring in the chair. It looked like Mr. Billings was in need of a lot more re-hydration therapy.

He cocked an eye over his shoulder as he set his hat over the mortal wound in his forehead. 'You'll contact me,' he whispered like he was exhausted.

'Yeah,' I said and watched his back go out the door.

Elmo came in and took his seat opposite me. His face looked anxious, but it was always hard to tell what was really going on in his head.

'Warm up the Chrysler, old boy. It looks like we're working again.' I grinned through a cloud of smoke and watched him leave the office.

Seventy-five bucks a day wasn't much, but it would buy us a few more of these dismal days and-what did Tommy say, more senseless arguments. A lot of whiskey! The phrase floated up through my mind from the depths where Tommy's spirit lurked. 'It will buy a lot of whiskey,' I agreed then pulled the bottle out of the desk and took a barefaced snort from it. I relished the burning pressure in my throat and the cool slap on my face and neck where I spilled it. I took another belt and smiled wildly at my reflection in the door's dimpled window. I put the bottle away, checked the action of my gun and left the office with a cigarette clamped between my teeth.

Chapter 4

'Sleazebags will be sleazebags 'til the end of time,' I said, gesturing to a pimp who counted money in the dim light of a flickering street lamp. Two foxy lady corpses in tight red skirts leaned provocatively against the front fender of his mint-green Cadillac. I lit a cigarette.

'No kidding,' muttered Elmo nodding his knobby head. His hands moved in swift practiced motions on the wheel. 'The way I see it,' he continued. 'Everything's going to be everything 'til the end of time.'

'Just my luck.' I chuckled at the absurd humor and flicked ash out the window. I imagined an eternity playing mental leapfrog with a loser who dressed like a clown. 'No thanks!' I sneered at the idea and blew a thin stream of smoke between my teeth.

Our sleek retro 1965 Chrysler Newport roared past a group that stood on the crumbling curb. A gang of dead youths with spiky hair and pierced faces dressed in studded leather and chains made threatening gestures as we passed. The light from a truck they'd set aflame had the pavement at their feet glowing illuminating a body there. The tires of the Chrysler hissed like cobras over the damp streets, still wet with rain. Dark alleys yawned on either

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