7 Fanta and Mickey

Hartog stepped away from the taxi and ran a smoothing hand through his hair as a hot breeze picked at it.

“Slow news day,” he said, motioning to the digital tickertap NewsFeed between the bar name and the top of the door. “Best we keep this quick so you can get back to making waves, huh?”

“That’s not news… it’s digital drivel.”

“Next you’ll be telling me what you do is art.”

“Compared to-”

Hartog snorted, and thrust his hands into his jean pockets.

“As if you’d know the difference, Detective.”

“You never know there, Newsmaker, I just might.”

Benjamin left Hartog for dead next to the curb and strode into the bar. He scanned his hand and looked around for a table in a semi-private area. Hartog caught up with him when a yell cut through the idle buzz of the chit-chat.

“Hey you. You can’t come in here with that.”

A middle aged woman, with badly dyed orange hair and a black Bonds singlet pointed at the two of them from her strong-hold point behind the bar. Hartog looked to Benjamin to see what he was wearing which could be in breach of some obscure dress code.

“No you pretty boy.” She pointed a bloated finger at him. “You can’t come in here in that coat.” Hartog frowned, caught out by his own tactics of disarmament, as Benjamin fought to suppress a smile. “There is a cloak room just off there.” She pointed to a tiny window with a red button beside it.

Hartog hesitated. He was never without his coat in public. Walking slowly to the cloak room he looked around him. Atop each table an interesting array of knives, guns, stunners, even a few targeted biological weapons lay forgotten beside their owners as they argued, laughed and drank. He was simultaneously annoyed and impressed at the bar’s open arms policy. It was a sure fire way, no pun intended he told himself, to avoid a blood bath in your establishment. Somehow he couldn’t see it catching on in the First though.

Taking a deep breathe he pressed the button and slowly took his coat off. While he waited, he divested the pockets of the most important items, stuffing his hologram badge into the back pocket of his jeans and the InfoCap into the front pocket.

Without warning the grille shot up and a teenage girl, before he could reconsider, snatched the coat, scanned the back of his hand and slammed the barrier down again. Hartog stood stunned, staring at the cross-hatched steel and wire.

Benjamin was surprised to see Hartog was well dressed beneath the tattered coat. A clean pressed white shirt clung with tailored perfection to his wide shoulders and narrow waist. The jeans looked new, no fraying at the pockets or hems, and if he wasn’t mistaken, they too looked ironed. But on closer inspection Benjamin saw the shirt was perhaps just an inch longer, the collar a slightly different shape and the jeans a shade or too darker than current fashion.

Hartog stripped naked strode to the bar and tried to park his arse on the nearest bar stool.

“Don’t sit there!”

Hartog wanted to yell ‘Why the fuck not?’ On the other side of town the bar wenches knew who he was. They didn’t scream across the room to take his coat off. They came to him with smiles,  plunging cleavages and his usual order.

He paused with his arse cheek midair. He wasn’t going to be pushed around by a woman with foul tangerine hair and a lip stick smudge masquerading as a mouth. Fanta – Fan-fucking-tastic. He placed one cheek on the bar stool.

She lent over the bar, her tuckshop lady arms taunting him. He tore his eyes away from the cussing mass of anaemic, cellulite-pitted flesh to return her stare.

“I said you can’t sit there.”

“No you said don’t sit there.”

“That is not your stool.” Come in Tokyo – the message was being received loud and clean. “That’s the cat’s.”

It was all the prompting Hartog needed, twisting around to pull his badge. He didn’t care if there hadn’t been a single reported infringement of a health related nature since the Department of Civil Welfare subsumed the Department of Public Health in a hostile merger. The by-laws were still on the codex and a live domesticated animal on a premise where food preparation took place, including a bar, was illegal and punishable with large fines and imprisonment for repeat offences. Faded Fanta looked like a repeat offender.

Benjamin grabbed his hand before he could pull the badge and hissed into his ear, “Leave it. You want to go down as the first officer in 10 years to charge someone with a public health violation.”

Hartog stopped and instead turned, made a mock display of tipping a hat. “As you wish ma’am.”

Benjamin walked off to the furthest booth.

“Are you always a prick?”

“Are you always so uptight?”

“My sister was murdered. What’s your excuse?”

The same young girl from the cloakroom came to take their order. ‘Mickey’ flashed the digital name badge pinned to her flat chest. Her mouth worked hard at a lump of greenish bubble gum which she blew the occasion bubble through. She grunted something Hartog construed as “Can I get you something.” But it was just a guess.

No smile. No whiff of customer service. Just enough metal pierced in every conceivable location to cause a metal detector to meltdown. Hartog’s eye took in the proliferation of studs, spikes, rods and guessed at the piercer’s showpieces waiting in other regions.

It had to hurt.

Pain playing at pleasure.

Disfiguration traded as cool.

Should he point out they had a way to fix her condition? Take the fucking lot out. He’d be a cranky bitch too weighed down by all that hospital grade stainless steel.

“You got surly on the tap here, right. I reckon I could go a pint.”

Her hand moved with lightning speed to the old style tazer clipper to her filthy café apron.

“Excuse my friend,” Benjamin butted in, leaning across the table as some type of peace keeping act. “He doesn’t get out much. We’ll have two pints of your home brew.”

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6 The Rain

The two of them swayed down the alleyway, doing the drunken two-step, Hartog fighting to keep the older man on his feet as they came around the corner of the alleyway and out into the scrutiny of the main street. Hartog got his good ‘ole drunk voice out and they were transformed into two derby supporters who’d returned from leaving their mark on the wall of the apartment building.

“What about them girls, eh?” Hartog said to the door man who raised one eye brow, as the two of them staggered through the door.

“Can’t say I know, Detective,” the doorman said, the disdainful smile playing over his ultra bright teeth. “It may be the National Sport now, but myself sir, I’m a hockey man through and through. Good thing my father’s passed on. He’d be appalled to see what’s happened to the state of hockey in this country.”

“State of hockey, yeah,” Hartog slurred and dragged Joe off to the elevator before the doorman could draw out their exchange any further. Hartog had seen the way the doorman did it with other tenants when he was investigating something he considered unsavory. Nothing annoyed Hartog more than than a zealot for protocol.

“Yah – go girls!” Hartog howled just to piss the doorman off, who shook his head and picked invisible flecks of lint from his immaculate coat. The power punch punctuated the frigid wheeze and the doors opened and the two of them toppled into the safety of the elevator.

With the door closed, Hartog carefully propped Joe up in the corner. The old man’s head bobbed of its own free will as though the tendons had turned to rubber bands. The elevator groaned to a halt at the fifth floor, his head shot up and bloodshot eyes on Dirk.

“I wish I ha’ a son like you, Dirk.”

“No you don’t. Don’t mistaken random acts of kindness for some kind of inherent goodness.”

“Random acts don’ happen twice, m’boy. No… no, no they don’”

Hartog dragged him out of the elevator and tried not to think what three random acts of kindness would actually mean. Joe was his secret and no one need know – no one other than Joe’s daughter. Hartog was mentally pencilling her in for a visit tomorrow, as he keyed in his security code.

***

Benjamin looked up, squinting into the sun. His gaze settled on the top of the building across the road and the spinning turbine of the water mining units topping it like an architectural disaster. Round and round the blades went, faux momentum, because the trajectory never changed. Stuck.

As a kid he thought the city looked like it was trying to escape. He expected one day the buildings would gather enough lift from the massive propellers and fly away. The buildings would flee to Somewhere Else. A place where the rain would wash away the City’s sins. Where wounds would be salved. A chance to recover and move on. The building would take him and Portia away with them and they would start again. A new beginning.

Portia had loved the rain. She was always reminding him how cathartic it was to cry. Mother Nature cried and she never got it wrong Portia said. Even now, knowing the flood of good hormones which would follow, Benjamin could’t bring himself to cry. To cry was to admit Portia was gone and he was all alone. That the small light, which had raged in his life, had gone out.

Portia never got over the fact it would never rain again. When the water crisis threatened to end civilisation as they knew it, some bright spark invented a system to mine the moisture from the air and turn it water. Atmospheric aqua mining upset the balance of condensation and evaporation in nature. Precipitation became a thing of the past – a meteorological relic. Portia was just ten the last time it rained – old enough to remember and forever miss it.

The last time rain fell she pulled on pink gumboots and jumped in puddles. Portia had said she wished she’d stayed out playing longer. If only she had known it was the last time. Benjamin knew all about last time regrets.

But Portia had never seen it that way. There was never time nor the inclination for regrets in her life. She’d believe the City had the ability to redeem itself but the city sucked the life from Portia and then spat her out in a filthy alleyway among broken crates and bags of garbage.

She had been too good for a place like this.

A job like her’s.

Maybe if only he could cry something would move inside him. His heart might actually break and if it broke maybe it had a chance to heal. Or the lump in his throat all these years, might finally choke the life from him.

What life it was.

Benjamin turned his attention back to the street level, and the ebb and flow of pedestrians stepping around him. A taxi eased into the lay-in and Hartog stood half in and half out of the taxi haggling over the fixed fare until he finally allowed the flustered drive to scan the back of his hand for payment.

Hartog stepped away from the taxi and glanced at the digital tickertape NewsFeed above the door of the bar and then to Benjamin.

“Slow news day?”

Image: Angels and Olives

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5 Redemption and Alleyways

The taxi door shut followed by cheers and booing, drifting down into the canyon of the road from the apartment buildings. Hartog was glad to be out of the taxi. The digital air freshener dispensing an invigorating spray of pine every three blocks combined with the plastic slip covers on the seats and foot wells left him feeling as though he were transiting in an artificially, fragranced body bag.

The taxi eased down the lay-in, waiting to re-enter the flow. A space appeared, the tracks moved to connect and the taxi merged into the slow lane joining others taxis moving across magnetic repulsion rails which crisscrossed the city.

Taxi was a hangover terms related to the concept of individual public transit. While the body shape was similar to the now defunct car, the taxi Hartog had just stepped from would never shoot down a side street looking for a short cut. All taxis were fixed into a locked transport grid. Here on an arterial there were three lanes of taxis, each lane moving faster and stopping less.

Big fares were not made in the slow lane and Hartog wondered how any driver piloting there could make a living.

Home was three block away and now Hartog wished he’d continued on rather than getting out to walk and clear his head. The night air was heavy and moist after the airconditioned overkill of the taxi. Sweat ran down the back of Hartog’s neck, pooling and soaking the collar of his shirt. Even the Stadium with its 70,000 bodies crammed sardine-style was cooler.

Hartog walked beneath the halos of the solar-powered streetlights, berating himself with the same line of thought.

Over- confident. The hard work of the set up undone.

But Benjamin recognised the InfoCap.

It didn’t matter – he’d lost the upper hand. Tomorrow Benjamin, on his home turf, would be calling the shots.

Victorious roars descended through the night air, and up and down the street like an audible Mexican wave.

Hartog looked at his watch –five minutes left of the derby – or maybe longer if they went into overtime. Did derby have overtime? He didn’t really care now. He’d only learnt what he thought was necessary and now he just wanted to sleep.

Sleep deprivation put you in the path of stupid mistakes and he wasn’t going to be the roadkill of bad decisions again. Sleep then he would be able to deal with Benjamin tomorrow.

Hartog crossed two streets and was almost home. He paused at the alleyway between his building and the next. It was habit now, so on the nights when he returned home unburdened he was reminded the city was still a dark and murderous beast, even where the ‘nice white people’ lived.

For the past few months the alleyway had been empty, since they hauled the hopper at the end away. But tonight, like that night back in April, there was a body hunched halfway along blending with the shadows. Hartog went into the alleyway slowly, trying to be quiet.

“Joe?” he called. The shadow against the wall moved slightly. “Joe?”

When he got to the end of the alleyway he recognised the coat. Hartog pressed his head against the cool concrete blocks wondering what to say.

“What are you doing here?” he said finally.

“Sleepin’ – carn a man ge’ some quiet.”

“You know you can’t sleep here.”

“I slep’ here for months ‘fore you stuck your nose in my business.”

Joe’s words were slurred and the smell of cheap scotch rose pungently from him.

“C’mon, get up Joe.”

Hartog bent to grab the man who shrugged him off.

“Thought you going to give up the grog, getting a job. What happened to hostel room I organised for you.”

“Jus’ piss off.”

Hartog bent down and dragged the man to his feet.

“Jus’ leave me. I wanna die.”

“Not in my neighbourhood you don’t.”

Vagrants were tolerated in other districts of the city, but no one in the First slept rough. If you did, you weren’t on the streets long. Hartog knew Street Patrols who took delight in beating the homeless to death. It had been the hopper at the end of the alley which had saved Joe originally.

The two men wobbled in a drunken pas-de-deux until Hartog got a strong arm around the man. They took a few faltering steps together and the old man began to cry. His sparrow shoulders shaking violently as the sobs tore through him. Hartog propped him up against the wall.

“Pull yourself together. You can sleep on my couch tonight, but the doorman won’t let you in like this.

“I don’ care.”

“Yes you do.”

“No… I wen’ to see my daughter today.” The words came out in between each sob, sounding as though they were strangling him on the way out.

“That’s good Joe. This was what you were working towards. Putting your life back together. Everyone has bad times, and then you pick yourself up.”

“No,” he shook his head and the paper-thin hair falling into his eyes. “No’ wiff my daughter.” He started to cry again and the words blurred into one another. “She tol’ me ta bugger off. Tol’ me if anyone eva foun’ out her father wa’ homeless she’d neva have a chance fo’ pro-pro-motion. She’d be bl-bl-black li-li-listed.”

The man dissolved into long weazing sobs and Hartog waited while the emotional tempest raged.

“So your daughter hates you,” Hartog pulled Joe from the wall and gave him a shake. “Never let the poison of a someone who is meant to love you get under your skin.”

Joe tried to push Hartog away and fell to the ground. “Jus’ leave me Mis-tar Har-tog,” the words were once again broken apart by sobs. “Led’em fin’ me here. It can’ be any worse than this. I’d be beta of’ dead.”

Hartog hefted him to his feet again.”

“Not on my watch you don’t. C’mon. It’ll look better in the morning. It always does.”

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4 Blood Sports

Hartog turned to Benjamin who was quietly fuming at being man-handled by Mustard Fingers next to him. A small snort came out of Hartog’s nose, as he enjoyed his guest’s discomfort and his face twisted into a dysfunctional smile, one corner behaving as nature intended it and the other slack, as though struck by Bells Palsy. Hartog could have chosen to have the nerve damage repaired quickly and easily, but he’d chosen not to.

Anything and everything could be repaired. The blood derby girls would be patched up like new after tonight’s bout, ready to skate next week. The trick was to keep the heart pumping. Sometimes the ref’s whistle ending the bout came too late and all the blood had drained away, the heart stuttering to a heroic end. Or the girls were caught out in the Danger Zone.

He’d been out in the Danger Zone long enough and he didn’t want to forget. He didn’t want to be patched up. Didn’t want pretend he was OK. He liked his scar… liked being reminded. It kept him honest and others uncomfortable.

“Never been to the blood derby?”

Benjamin shook his head with a violent movement more emphatic than any words he could have mustered. His pale face stood out amid the red faced sea of fanatics surrounding him.

“I’m a hockey fan. This is barbaric.”

“Only if you go down in the first minute and your team mates can’t or don’t want to defend you before you make it to the Blood Zone.”

Hartog kept smiling and Benjamin looked away, unsettled by the asymmetrical smile.

“You know they can fix that,” Benjamin’s said, his eyes glancing down to the massive electronic bill boards encasing the inner fence of the rink, advertising the two major sponsors – leading biomechanical firms.

“I was going to say the same about our razorblade belles there.” Hartog’s face ached from the effort of smiling. “Just as long as you keep the heart pumping. I hear the fans show their loyalty in the number of pints of blood they donate each week.”

The injured Penetrator inched her way across the rink on her belly, one hand pressed hard against the gash in her thigh, blood leaking from between her fingers and the other fist clenched, as she used her forearm to brace and drag herself towards the inner sanctum of the rink – the Blood Zone – where she would be able to bleed free of the fear of further injury. If she could make it before the pack returned.

Hartog imagined Portia had employed the same manoeuvre, broken and cut up by her attacker, trying to escape. The finger tips on her right hand had been torn – down to the bone on one digit. Soft pink fingers scrambling to make purchase on the coarse grey concrete. Dragging herself away as she bled to a terrified death. Whoever had murdered her had meant it to be a painful and undignified end.

Benjamin shifted in his seat. Hartog was certain Benjamin had the technology and the expertise to find out the exact manner of his sister’s death. Only select details had been gifted to the feedos… crumbs to the pigeons.

Benjamin’s stared down at the rink and the wounded woman’s desperate attempt to remove herself from harm’s way. “She’s haemorraghing.”

There was an unmasked urgency in Benjamin’s voice that heartened Hartog – he could not have scripted the bout any better. And so early on in the bout too. With any luck they’d both be out of there before quarter time. The Penetrator’s movements were slowing as the pack sped towards her, the blood slick behind her growing wider.

“Why don’t her team mates do something? Shit.”

Team mates, regardless of personality clashes and disparity in corporate sponsorships, kept each other safe in the finals . The blood letting always happened in the opening rounds when scores were settled and sponsorships were still in flux. Two Penetrators cut from the pack to run defensive sorties across their injured team mate’s path. There would be no sudden blood in the semi final.

“They just exposed themselves to an unwarranted attack to protect her,” Hartog said, feeling the fifteen minutes of study on the way there in the taxi a fruitful use of time. Benjamin’s eyes were fixed on the bleeding woman crossing into the blood zone.

“You just don’t understand the intricacies BenJin.” Hartog noted with satisfaction his guest flinched at the use of his name.

“It’s Benjamin. I’m not here in a professional capacity.”

“I thought this was the sort of thing you feral feedos got off on.” Hartog put his hand into the inner sanctum of his trademark overcoat and wrapped his fingers around the InfoCap.

“That’s where you braindead coppers don’t understand the different between hype, sensationalism, voyeurism and integrity. Look at any of my news feeds and you’ll know I’m not interested in this -” waving his hands about at the rink “propaganda of the irrelevant. It’s just another fucking Coliseum.”

Hartog seized the moment to make his move. Without shifting his eyes from Benjamin’s, he reached slowly into the inner pocket of his jacket and took the Infocap. Keeping eye contact as Benjamin continued his rant, Hartog lay his hand in the Benjamin’s’s crotch, so only the two of them would see, and allowed his fingers to open just enough for the Info Cap to be visible

“What the … Shit!” Benjamin’s voice softened. Hartog’s fingers closed and he put the INfo Cap back in his pocket. “I told her not to.”

“Will you agree to talk to me now.”

Benjamin nodded and then stood after one last glance down to the rink. “Not here. Meet me tomorrow at 11am at The Eucharist in the 3rd. Don’t be late. I won’t wait for you Hartog.”

Before Hartog could say anything was off forcing his way through the baying crowd.

Image: Blood Splatter by Mr Goh via Photobucket.

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3 Welcome to the Blood Derby

Last week Hartog completed his interview with Miss Amanda discovering the device found during Portia’s autoposy is an “InfoCap”. He uncovered two important facts: Portia had been the favoured girl of the Minister of Defence Howard McClean and she was the sister of the most notorious of feedographers “BenJin”.

“Zero one hour and fifteen minutes … and holding.”

The bass thundered and Melody MC’s “Dum Da Dum”, the retro 90’s dance mash-up began, pumping the crowd, who needed no additional priming. But it was tradition.

The semi final bout had drawn a capacity crowd of fanatics and another record bidding match for the broadcasting rights.

Blood Derby had become the official National sport earlier in the year after the ice was pulled on the Hockey League – the Elders citing environmental concerns. The water conservationist applauded it, as did the derby sponsors. The hockey managers said they couldn’t compete with short skirts, plunging cleavages. The cynics whispered private visits from the Derby girls to the Elders had sealed the deal. Hartog didn’t really care. After tonight he was unlikely to ever set foot in another derby arena.

Hacking into Miss Amanda’s client base hadn’t been easy, but it had been worth it. He was learning. Learning quickly, aided by pass codes he could only have ever dreamed of possessing which were falling into his lap. Portia Nader’s case was opening previously guarded doors and while Miss Amanda had assured him she had friends in high places, Hartog was beginning to think so did he. This was no ordinary flasher/slasher case torn straight from Vice and Device case files.

Coming across Richard’ Newnham’s name on the brothel’s files had been like mana falling from digital heaven. A quick call relieved Richard of his two season derby tickets, bought Hartog the perfect meet-up venue and gave him ammunition to throw at Lucinda should she ever crow Richard’s virtues in his presence. A promise to a man like Richard was a flexible notion and he knew he never intended to actually stay mum about Richard’s extra curricular love life. It was amazing what you could learn from an itemised bill. He was planning on seeing Lucinda any time soon though. She’d made that abundantly clear.

Hartog slipped his hand into an oversized foam hand he’d bought from a stadium vender. The middle finger was upstanding in a singularly unpatriotic pose. He laid it across his lap and tried not to image it was a huge penis resting in his lap, reminding himself he was determined to look the part, without going all out on an overpriced t-shirt and hat.

Hartog’s visitor sat ramrod straight next to him, even as he was sideswiped by the huge arse of an overweight man, trying to return to his too small moulded seat, mustard oozing over his hand from his second hotdog in ten minutes. Hartog wasn’t counting.

The ref’s amplified whistle shot outward from the centre of the rink like a line of gun powder, racing towards the keg. A cheer exploded from all sides of the stadium as the two Jammers, skating ten feet behind the main pack accelerated forward to make their first jam.

The Scarlet Penetrator’s jammer in her diamante encrusted red tutu and black leather bustier nudged ahead with two huge strides. A naughty peek of ruffled black lace knickers showed, as she bent down. Her fishnet clad legs criss-crossed as she cut directly across the path of her rival, tacking for the outer most edge of the pack. Hartog caught a split second flash of the blades on the hubs of her wheels.

His guest remained unnaturally still, obvious, in the seething maelstrom of Penetrators supporters, hands folded in his lap, knuckles white in the roaming strobe lights.

The Betty Buster’s ‘blockers’ at the centre of the pack, kitted in skimpy lycra nurses dresses barely containing their iconic large breasts, drove at opposing points in the centre of the pack, forcing open a rush space. The Buster’s ‘jammer’ hurtled through but was caught at the last moment as the Penetrator’s ‘pivot’ threw herself against The Buster’s ‘block’, forcing both of them into the ‘jammer’s’ path.

The ‘pivot’ and ‘block’ won the battle to stay upright. The ‘jammer’ fell as the pack sped past.

First blood!

It splattered the white uniform and flowed out onto the pristine, polished floor. The howl of protest from The Busters camp on the opposite end of the stadium was reflected and amplified on their side by cheers.

“This should be interesting,” Hartog said, leaning into his companion’s ear to ensure he was heard.

The injured ‘jammer’ clambered to her feet and after a few wobbling strides, gained her equilibrium and rhythm. The blood flowing down her leg pooled at the top of her boot and then down the sides, leaving red tracks as she sped towards the pack. The blood slick made the coming lap more dangerous.

“The lame duck flies again.”

Hartog got to his feet and rooted with his arms in faux animation, taking the piss more than finding solidarity among the Penetrator’s fans. He thrust the ostentatious foam finger in the air just for the hell of it. Christ, he wished, somehow, that his boss was watching. He shoved the rubber digit in the air one more time, because he could hope and then sat down.

On the opposite side of the rink a Penetrator was down and from the huge real time screen above the score board it was obvious she wouldn’t get up. The tide of blood beneath her was spreading quickly.

The fans were on their feet screaming out in protest and outrage, then in encouragement. Her injuries had the potential to be fatal. The seat beside Hartog was suddenly empty.

“Time out. Time out. You can call that?” He looked hopefully down to Hartog who shrugged his shoulders. “Surely you can call time out. TIME OUT.”

“Shut up, dickhead,” the guy with the mustard stained hands yelled, grabbing at Hartog’s companion and shoving him back down in his chair. “Our girls ain’t pussies.”

There had been two reasons to insist his guest meet him at the Blood Derby. Firstly Hartog had heard, this man had a penchant for girls iwith long legs, short skirts and big boobs. A bit like Richard. There was plenty of those here tonight. Secondly, Hartog was counting on the sight and smell of the blood to loosen Benjamin Nader’s tongue.

Thanks to the Brisbane roller derby bad girls, Sheryn and Gabrielle ,who first introduced me to roller derby via their Facebook Statuses. Looking forward to seeing you girls in the flesh at the Convention Centre!

Image from Crude City Roller Derby located in South Texas.

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2 Miss Amanda

Miss Amanda’s eyes lowered and her gaze held the warp and weave of her suit pants as she contemplated her answer.

“As you can appreciate, Detective – my business is of a delicate nature and we normally protect the identity of our clients. But in this case…” she leant across and poured herself a glass of water. Long French-manicured fingers curled around the crystal glass. She drank slowly then replaced the glass. “Portia had a number of high profile friends through our agency.”

“Miss Amanda,” the words fell out Hartog’s mouth before he could catch them. He felt like he was addressing the old bitch who was his third teacher. “We both know these are not friends, you run a business, you have clients. But you know what, you can have your weasel words. Just give me a name.”

“Let me remind you Detective you were invited here for this discussion.”

“And I can walk out right now and come back with a search and seize warrant as well as a tribe of Feedos.”

“You seem to be having lapses in social graces from all angles, Detective.” Miss Amanda’s pointer finger, rubbed at a spot on her breast bone, but Hartog kept his eyes screwed into hers. “Surely you realise I have friends who sit in places much higher than you.”

“Touché.”

Hartog stood, reaching out for the recorder and turning it off.

“Strictly off the record. Who?”

“Howard McLean.”

“The Minister of Defence!” Hartog rocked forward, his face crumpled into disbelief. “You are telling me the Minister of Defence, the former leader of the Puritan party pays for sex… and is implicated in the murder of his favourite call girl.” Hartog laughed. “I’m sorry Miss Amanda, but I just don’t believe that any more than I believe he was in love with a prostitute.”

“Detective, you seem to be caught in the notion we traffic flesh here. Let me remind you for the second time, my girls are not employed to just have sex.” She sighed and drank the rest of her water. “Mr McLean has a penchant for smart, witty women. He likes conversation. Portia was good at conversing. You only have to look at his wife to know he’d be seeking stimulation outside of his marriage.”

“Are you sure we’re not talking about sex?”

Miss Amanda ignored him. “I am telling you Detective someone got to Portia as a warning to the Minister. And I imagine that would be of interest to you and your colleagues at the Department of Civil Welfare.”

“You are the model Citizen aren’t you, Miss Amanda.”Hartog turned the recorder back on and placed it on the table between them.

“Was there anything special about Portia?”

Miss Amanda reached out and switched the recorder off.

“You insult me with such a question Detective. Come back when you’re prepared to actually listen to what I have to say.”

Hartog stood again, slipping the recorder into his deep coat pocket.

“Thank you for your time. I will keep you updated as to the progress of the case. And I do appreciate our little chat.” He emphasised the final words, mimicking her faux politeness. Smiling a crooked smile he left before she could get out of her chair.

As he rode down in the elevator he slipped an ear pod in and waited for the phone call. He was sitting further down the street drinking bad coffee when the call finally came through.

“They do have Hartog on the case. Your source was correct.”

“Did he mention anything about the InfoCap?”

“He said nothing about anything found on the body and I didn’t want to venture with leading questions.”

“Did you really think someone like Hartog would whip the InfoCap out onto the table and ask if you knew what it was?”

“I did as you asked. I invited him in and feed him the information. Now what?”

“We wait and see. Did he mention Portia’s brother?”

“He’s got no idea. He never mentioned her surname. He thinks it is just another whore being cut up – quote unquote.”

“The department would not put Hartog onto a whore slashing. Sit tight. You have done well Amanda.”

“My pleasure, sir. Would you like me to book you someone for this week? I think you’ll enjoy Portia’s replacement.”

Hartog smiled, pulling the earpod out and took the tiny capsule out of his pocket again. So it had a name.

An InfoCap.

He charged his coffee streaked mug in mock toast to Miss Amanda and waited while his NoteBook brought up all the information the City’s database had on Portia, tapping a link and wirelessly hacking, via the NavSan, into the last known address for her neurologist brother Benjamin. It also bought up all other associated files.

When the photo came up Hartog had to look twice. Portia’s brother wasn’t any old brain boffin, but BenJin, the city’s most notorious Feedographer.

Feedographer! Even mouthing the word felt made him feel dirty.

Hartog was a purist and he made no apologies for it. Too much fell through the cracks of a media culture of 10 second sound bits. It was nothing more than 24 hour news-tainment. The worst type of bull shit. Paparaazi-styled intrusion broadcast on everything from electronic billboards to the microwave ovens.

The hybrid offspring of journalism, the cult of social networking and the cultural assumption everyone had something important to say.  It didn’t free society to give everyone CC TV styled technology and the means to upload for mass consumption. A boon for the Big Three Network Bosses who got programming on a miniscule budget, employing editors and scruinteers to control the constant deluge of footage. It was nothing more than the Propaganda of the Irrelevant.

The Politicians and public loved it. No one had to think too hard. And no one certainly questioned anything.

He did admit, BenJin did make it work for him and had made more than one City Elder or Politician cringe. The ten second sound-bite was BenJin’s kingdom. He’d brought down at least two corrupt corporations and a smattering of lesser city officials. BenJin took his job seriously, more so than the average two-bit freelancer.

And now, BenJin’s only surviving relative was dead. The game had just become a whole lot more interesting.

Crystal Tumber from Warwick Crystal Designs UK.

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1 In The Whore-House

The leg lampHartog stood at the brothel door holding the tiny capsule between his bent pointer finger and thumb. He turned it over allowing what little sun penetrated through the smog haze to bounce off the titanium covering, then slipped it back into the inner pocket of his coat.

It was too hot for a coat like his but it was the one thing Global Warming couldn’t make him give up. Hartog felt naked without it. Hot and smothered in it. Still he wore it.

He pressed the buzzer on the intercom and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve.

Before the receptionist could, reply he said, “Detective Hartog here to see your boss. She knows I’m coming.”

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