34. You Trust Us?

“Jesus, what took you?” Duke asked.

“You got the whole underworld there?” I asked.

“Relax,” Duke said. “It’s just Brimsnod. Pimlipper. Graydon couldn’t make it. Danny’s back there from IT, Juliette from Creative. Egbert Lutherson, you heard of him?”

“The thing with the dog. Then he jumped off the bridge.”

“Everybody’s life is a bit of a mess, right, Egbert? Top man in evaluation. Major figure at the University.”

“You’re Fatman,” Egbert said, eyeing me as if I were the oddball. His skull was out of kilter. Most likely that had to do with his leap from the Washington Avenue bridge. After the leaked photos, the samizdat videos from the animal righters, the newspaper stories, et cetera, the bridge jump was a good career move.

“Key people,” Duke said. “Your team.”

“Let’s press some flesh,” Pimplipper said, “then get down to work.”

“No need,” I said. My experience going skin-to-skin with the dead wasn’t great. A little too soft, a little too cold. Death seemed like a disease that you could catch.

“Can’t skip the formalities,” Pimlipper said, pushing Danny and Juliette toward me.

Hipsters, both of them. Considerable facial hair on young Danny, this plus a pork-pie hat, jeans held up by suspenders, a brocade vest and interesting spectacles. On Juliette, two bare arms covered by tattoos, a short, filmy summer dress that might have been sunflower yellow once, a pair of cowboy boots and a post through her eyebrow. No evidence of violent death on either one.

“Drugs,” said Pimlipper. “In case you’re wondering. Makes a pretty corpse.”

“You mind if we come in?” Duke said, this being less than a question. “Mi casa es…mi casa!”

Duke clapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. No funny business. We’re here to serve.”

One thing about Duke: your disbelief is often outweighed by the desire to trust him. He inspires you to be stupid in the same way over and over again.

“Okay. The wine cellar,” I said.

Duke waved me toward the door, out of the sooty bin. “After you, sir,” Duke said with a wolfish grin.

The dead made a crowd around the table. They sighed as they settled on the plain wooden chairs.

“Another case of not appreciating what you’ve got until it’s gone,” said Pimlipper. “Chairs. Who gives them a thought? Then pow, you’re squatting in the dust twenty-four seven. You had a dozen chairs in the underworld, you could make a fortune. Not that a fortune would do you any good. But still…”

“Let’s get some light in here,” I said. A candelabra, outfitted with a dozen white candles, hung over the table.

“The agenda,” said Duke. “Brimsnod: key findings. Next up, Juliette, the Creative perspective. We hear from Danny and IT. Egbert wraps up. Any issues, we resolve them now. We get this buggy on the road.”

“Give me a minute,” I said. “I’m distracted. Doris. You know where she is?”

Duke leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. Brimsnod pulled herself up straight, pointing her dagger-like nose in my direction.

“One of your many issues. Slept in the nursery. Waiting for you to man up and stop pouting. Not our main issue right now. We’re starting with the fundamentals.

“Fatman,” Brimsnod continued. “Opposite of a long-term planner. Emotional. Intuitive. Claims his goal is to exist in the so-called Now. However, wallows in the past. The past: good. The future: suspect. His attempt to live in the Now” — she said this with a sneer — “is basically about fear of the future. What Fatman calls the Now is his unrealistic view of the past and his reluctance to believe the future might be better. A clinging personality, struggling to hold anxiety at bay.”

Duke eyed me. “Fatman?” he said.

“Seems, I don’t know. Harsh. Makes me sound pathetic. Cowering.”

“Then you look at the sexual issues…” Brimsnod added.

I held up a hand. “Stop,” I said. “We’re talking business here. I didn’t sign up for a team counseling session.”

“Well, you did,” Pimlipper replied. “You check section B seven (a) four, client agrees to personality slash aptitude assessment, which may be discussed among relevant members of the development team, including but not limited to so on and so forth.”

“Let’s not get bogged down in legalese,” Duke said. “We’re here to help. We can’t discuss half your case. We need all our cards on the table. It’s a trust issue, Fatman. You trust us?”

Tomorrow: Love, greed, rage

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