side of us and passed quickly like gaps in the giant bars of some terrible cage. I caught glimpses of figures moving jerkily in the amber light of bonfires. They were silhouette monkeys clambering through a grim jungle of twisted steel and night. In the air, there was the thick scent of oriental oils dead men used to keep their skins supple. Burned rubber colored the reeking breeze black. A group of pariah dogs quarreled over something that waved a walking stick. A shot echoed out of an alley. This was Greasetown after dark. The city's original name was left behind with the world it belonged to. Greasetown had been adopted soon after the Change and it stuck, it was said, because after a walk down one of its streets, you got something on you that wouldn't come off.

A graffiti sign three stories tall screamed DOWNINGS. The letters were painted in neon orange on the wall of a burned out warehouse. The residents of this fair neighborhood had put it up for reasons of their own-either as welcome or warning. Authority had little influence in this section, which was good, because it gave a guy like me freedom I never had in the controlled parts of town, like New Garden. Authority, which was all that remained of law and order after the Change, had reprimanded me a few times about my occasional excesses. I usually just shrugged like a bad little boy and kicked my heels whenever I was dragged in. For the most part my cases were nickel and dime divorce stuff, lean on the odd creditor-nothing worth mentioning. After all, I knew they needed guys like me. Poor slobs who bust their knuckles and cheekbones because they think they know what's right and don't have the sense to become newspaper reporters or social workers. Guys like me who did the dirty work, bush beaters.

The car fishtailed silently through the puddles, and I had to lend Elmo a hand on the wheel. It was no trouble. The force of his turn had put me into his right hip pocket.

'Thanks, Boss,' Elmo chattered as I inched back to my seat. 'That was one wild mother corner.'

'Just keep her between the curbs, Fatso.' I stared hard out the window and tried to unclench the muscles in my back and shoulders. My spine felt like a rusted spring. Elmo had a tendency to be a little brasher than other dead men I'd known. The majority of them walked around on tiptoes, trying to keep from scratching a body that wouldn't heal. As one dead acquaintance, Smilin' Riley, had told me, 'A hangnail on a dead man. Fuck, you might as well sew a zipper on!'

I chuckled at the memory and vaguely wondered what had happened to him. Smilin' Riley got his name because he had thin lips. Death had shrunk them to the thickness of a rubber band and stretched them back to his ears. I looked at Elmo's full lips and knew he was one of the lucky ones-of course, he had to take care not to bite them. I watched him from the corner of my eye. He was a mystery. I knew only that Elmo used to be grossly overweight, and went by the uncomfortable nickname Fat Elmo. I suspected he worked as a detective or private eye at some time because he behaved more professionally than I did. I couldn't prove it because the dead man's memory was hazy and in some places blank. Since my time in Wildclown's body was limited, Elmo's full pedigree was a puzzle I didn't have the leisure to investigate. I believed that Elmo and I were brothers in a sense. It was my assumption that like him I was dead. Our major difference being that he had a body; I did not. As a result I was forced to hitch a ride on Tommy's square-wheeled wagon.

I had few clues to where the two of them had met and they, true to form, shared the ignorance-or were reluctant to discuss it. I had hoped that casual conversation elicited by me, and eavesdropped from my place near the ceiling would fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle; but they seemed to be disinterested in the past in any way other than how different things were now in comparison to it. I was in business with the pair for about six months before I quit trying to find out. Now, two years had passed. I was still pretty sure that neither of them knew I existed.

Elmo slammed on the brakes and I took a mouthful of dashboard. I came up cursing and spitting and looked out at a long roadblock that stretched burning across the street. Poisonous black smoke billowed from it.

'Queens!' Elmo shrieked in a voice that would have shamed a choirboy. My gun was already in my hand.

'Back it out!' I barked before throwing my head around to see a truck was pushed across the road behind. The cab was burned out-the windows were black and puckered like scar tissue.

Against the flaming barricade before us, strange shapes suddenly began to appear. Except for a few short squat forms, the majority of these Queens were tall and burly. They wore pink silk panties and black leather chaps. Brassieres cupped muscular chests while skirts of chiffon and taffeta curled and licked at the smoking wind.

I stifled a giggle. I could feel Tommy's hidden mirth tickling at the back of my mind. True, they were as dangerous as hell, but they looked like assholes. Elmo began to chatter to himself-frightened. He knew the stories of Queens dismembering the dead as climax to their experiments in the necromantic arts-heavy on the romantic. I casually patted his arm with my gun, hardened my nerves, and stepped onto the street.

The pavement was greasy under me as I glared into the whiskered faces of the hormone freaks. The Queen leader stepped forward. He was huge, made taller by a mountainous blonde Afro. He completed the picture by sporting a leather pantsuit with studs.

'Fucker, you…!' He shouted through thick painted lips, then twisted his face in recognition. 'You're that Wildclown asshole.'

'Unfortunately for you,' I growled. 'You'll never see the real McCoy.' Inside me, Tommy's spirit tittered wildly. My hand clenched the gun nervously. 'You all look lovely tonight. But why don't you girls find something else to amuse yourselves; go do your nails.' I was about five feet from the car. I could sense the approach of other Queens behind me. In all, I think I was facing twenty of them. The only thing keeping me virtuous was the. 44 automatic that was plainly visible where it snaked around in my hand. Still, I only had ten shots in it and would never get another clip in. If these guys were glueheads or PCP freaks they might make a rush for me.

'I've heard a lot about you, Wildclown.' The head Queen had a very good growl of his own. 'I hear you're crazy as a Varsol drinker.'

I smiled beneath my painted grin. 'You girls and your gossip.'

The Queens had gathered in a thirty-foot ring around the Chrysler and me. Their leader moved smoothly toward me letting his spiked hormones work for him. His face was obscene.

'I'll tell you another thing, my sweet-assed clown. I've heard that you like it like a woman. I bet you'd beg for it if we spanked you hard enough.' He drew nearer. 'I've heard about your hard on, boy, I know you like to use it.' I noticed that as he approached he was slowly inching his lace panties down. He was now close enough that I almost choked on his cheap perfume. It smelled like turpentine and sweat. 'I heard you like fuckin' like a bird likes flying.' He dipped his whiskered chin and looked at my gun. 'I also heard, my sweet baby boy, that you don't kill people.'

'One thing you pasties have to learn about gossip,' I stared at the garish false eyelashes over his sick eyes. 'It's never a hundred per cent true.' I fired a single shot into his chest that lifted him off his feet and dropped him six feet away.

I spun on my heel and jammed my back against the car. 'Next one of you sisters that moves gets it- Blacktime!' I waved my gun at them. 'I don't play games like your dear leader, so whoever wants to be the runner up in the dead queen contest, step forward!'

Elmo gunned the engine. I swung the automatic around, trying to give them my 'I eat nails for breakfast' face-not easy in clown makeup. 'Go! Now! Run away!' I yelled. 'This isn't the real world any more.' I fired a slug and tore open the thick calf of a bearded Queen in perverse yellow tights. He dropped shrieking. 'Eight of you can still take the death walk!'

They turned and ran as a unit, taking their wounded comrade with them. Their ridiculous hairy asses bobbed beneath thin silks. My eyes glared after them then fell on the dead Queen. He lay in the street like some ill-fated Hollywood starlet. All he needed was a bouquet of withered roses and a shoebox full of yellowed love letters-maybe a princess phone, receiver off the hook. I felt like I'd done the world a favor.

I slid into the car next to Elmo. The engine roared hungrily. 'Sorry, Fatso.'

'That's okay, Boss. I never seen a man needed killing more'n that one,' Elmo muttered this as he drove onto the sidewalk and dragged past the barricade with a scrape of painted steel.

As we moved through the scene of death and destruction, I could feel Tommy's soul glowing within. It was as though he were happy for the first time in his life.

'The Morocco Building,' I muttered and began to wrestle with thoughts of my own.

Chapter 5

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