The street lamp buzzed and sawed overhead like an angry bee. Sparks leapt from the naked bulb. The Morocco Building was constructed of dirty red brick. About fifteen stories up, a wood and neon replica of an Arab minaret hung awkwardly from its moorings on the roof. It leaned over the street menacingly. I watched as people instinctively darted from beneath its shadow.

Candles colored the building's many windows with an interior orange light too warm for this neighborhood. That light belonged in the hearth of some long ago home-not here on another godless night in Greasetown. My eye caught movement in a window, and I watched as a slack-breasted woman stripped with skinny arms. I turned away and nodded to Elmo. 'Wait in the car,' I said, got out, and then hurried under the shadow of the derelict dome. It was Saturday night, around eleven-thirty minutes after I had killed the Queen. Rain continued to fall in an oily drizzle.

The double door hung from mismatched hinges with dirty light creeping out around it at odd angles. I grabbed the handle; it crawled under my grip. I pulled the door open and was slapped in the face with the reek of urine. I wiped my palms over my coveralls, then moved them up to the gun at my waist. It felt two bullets light. I cursed my carelessness and then did a quick inventory.

Bullets had grown too scarce for such haphazard killing. Authority was doing their best to enforce their ban. But as always, the Black Market picked up any slack the legislation created. The Black Market loved a ban-it drove the price.

I walked over creaking floorboards to a front desk that resembled a battered truck fender. Just behind it was a ruddy balding head with a mixture of black and gray hairs straggling from it like dying weeds.

'Good evening,' I said to the cranium.

A pair of eyes peeked over the counter that were so deep and dark they seemed blurred as though hastily sketched on with a felt tip pen.

'What?' drawled a voice of gargled glass.

'Interesting how you can cut through all the semantics and see the pure essence of the matter,' I replied glibly before continuing. 'I'm looking for a woman-a massage therapist of the carnal kind, I believe. Her name is Miss, Ms. or Mrs. Jan Van Reydner. For that matter she could have been a Mr. with a taste for women's hormones and clothes.'

'Gone!' Growled the eyes before they looked away. 'Gone…' The voice mumbled.

'I can see they don't pay you by the syllable.' I smirked behind my face paint.

Suddenly the eyes whipped toward me and flashed angry little egg-rings of white. A distant rumbling began. The eyes rose, followed by shoulders the size of an ox. His deep chest was covered with bear fur and heaved like an asthmatic's. He stood for a moment looking at me. The face perched high above me was scarred and dented. A baseball bat in one hand smacked the other with a dead meat abattoir sound.

'Fuck off!' he bellowed. My hair curled behind me in a garlicky breeze.

'I'm a detective,' I said, watching the results of years of steroid abuse climb up and down his arms like Swedish mountaineers.

'Okay, fuck off, detective.' I noticed for the first time that he had mastered the art of eye-socket dilation.

'I want to talk to her,' I insisted.

'Did ya hear me, shithead? Or do you want me to cut you another ear. She ain't here.'

'Excellent use of the rhetorical question, very good.' I leaned toward him. 'My name's Wildclown.' I wasn't afraid, but for some reason my testicles were rattling around in my lungs.

He paused for a minute and clenched his craggy face. He was not beautiful. Under an ambiguous cherub nose was a scar where someone had tried to carve a smile across his cheeks.

'Wildclown…' he muttered, scratching his head with a bratwurst finger. 'I heard'a you. You in good with Authority?'

It was a question with dubious implications. For all I knew it was Authority who had decorated his face. I gambled. 'No. If Greasetown were an asshole, you'd put cream on Authority.'

His face blanked while tremors churned his muscular arms. The bat, which had been tenderizing his palm, stopped with a final thwack! My hand slid along my belt nearer the gun.

He smiled and flung the bat behind him, then reached out a mammoth paw. 'Fuckin'-A, Man.' I slipped my hand into his and let him squeeze the marrow out of it. He gave it back and started talking. 'Yah, fuckin' Authority!' He laughed, 'You're okay, Wildclown. Not bad for a little shit in makeup.'

He leaned heavily on the counter. His callused elbows were rough enough to cut glass. He rammed a finger in his nose in introduction. 'I'm Douglas Willieboy, man. I'm from down south.'

Now that he was using more than one syllable, I did detect a slight twang.

'Pleased to meet you, Mr. Willieboy. Can you answer a few questions?'

He laughed and slapped the counter. 'Oh shit yah, for a price, Mr. Wildclown. There was a murder in her room up there, you know.'

Usually, when a mountain tells you this, you prepare to part with a sizable sum.

'How much?'

He looked me up and down. 'Authority is looking for that Van Reydner broad. They got her room closed up tight. I think I'd have to break a law to get you in.' He rubbed his chin. 'How much you got?'


He laughed, 'I'd a done it for twenty,' Willieboy guffawed; his laugh was incongruously high and ladylike. 'Forty it is!'

I pulled out Tommy's annoying plastic mouth-purse and after a short struggle, produced the forty dollars.

Willieboy cackled with glee after he had cast an eye over me. 'Shit, you even got a gun, Wildclown! You're one soft touch.'

I grinned along with him. Beneath my consciousness, I could feel an instinctive pang of anger from Tommy. Apparently his pride was wounded.

'Okay,' I said as I watched the forty disappear forever into one of the sleeves of his T-shirt. 'Where's her room?'

'I'll take you,' he grunted as he wrenched up a section in the counter top and moved his bulk toward the stair. Keys jangled from a chain at his thin waist. His battered denims, with the remnants of bleached out numbers at the cuff, told me of a Southern jail less one prisoner.

'C'mon.' He gestured with a large hand. 'The elevator's fucked. We'll have to hoof it!' He walked to a wide stairway covered in moldy purple carpet-he began to stomp up.

I stomped after him. 'What floor?'

'Twelfth,' he mumbled, laughed, and then lit a cigarette.

'Twelfth,' I echoed, searching my pockets for my own.

Chapter 6

I was gasping and claustrophobic beneath my makeup by the time we reached the twelfth floor. Tommy didn't get to the gym very often. Upon arrival, Willieboy daintily removed the strip of Authority caution tape from the doorframe. He smiled as he did it. Then he wrestled with the lock and key. 'C'mon, bastard,' he growled. The name-calling worked because the door swung open with a hollow warped sound. Willieboy clawed and slapped at the wall inside until a light flicked on. A single dim ceiling lamp lit the room. The light from it etched a dirty yellow star above us.

'There, man.' Willieboy gestured for me to enter with a quick snap of his head.

I walked onto dull brown wall-to-wall that had long since forgotten its original color. Two armchairs framed an ancient television and a tattered sofa bisected the room.

'Thanks,' I said. 'Mind if I look around?'

'Nah,' he grunted. 'Just don't take nothin'. We're holding her stuff until she comes up with the rent she

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