Professor Arturo was in the seedy part of town.
An eye bar slid back from the other side of the weatherbeaten wooden door. "Yes?"
"Yes, um, I was told this was the place to come. Gavin sent me." Arturo said nervously, glancing up and down the alley he was standing in. It was past midnight and he still had it to himself. He had been pacing back and forth past this door for the past thirty minutes, debating the moral implications of what he was about to do.
His angel and devil had been debating that entire time.
'But it's been so long!'
'It's illegal on this world. In this country, anyway.'
'But I'm stuck on this world for another four weeks! I can't take the thought of waiting that much longer!'
'If you get arrested you're going to be waiting a lot longer than four weeks.'
'How could I get arrested? Gavin assured me this is the most discreet establishment in the red light district! Besides, the others would get me out, they merely have to visit me right before the Slide.'
'That's an unnecessary complication. And what if they can't get the timer past the checkpoint into the visiting room? In any case, how would you ever live this down with them even if they do rescue you? You'd be better off if they left you to rot in prison.'
Arturo had finally rushed to the door more to silence this endless debate than for any other reason.
"Are you an undercover cop? You have to tell me if you are, I know my rights. It won't do you any good even if you are, we run a clean shop here."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. I am not a police officer, I assure you."
"Are you an undercover reporter?" The door guardian went on. "You're going to be searched, if we find any kind of recording device, we're keeping it."
"No sir, I'm not a reporter either."
"Did you bring anything?"
Arturo raised a brown paper bag to eye level so the door troll could see it.
The Professor sighed and tipped the bag 90 degrees with the open end pointing at the eye slit. The nature of the contents was such that he had to support the bag with his free hand.
There was a flash of light as the other man inspected the interior of the bag. "Wow!" There was a rude whistle. "You're a high roller, eh? You got the white AND the brown stuff!"
The door was unlocked with an audible click. "Come on in!"
Two men approximately the size of armored cars appeared on either side as soon as the door was secured behind him. His body and the bag were subjected to the most thorough search he had ever experienced, including the time he visited Prince in prison several dozen Slides ago.
"He's clean." One bulldozer grunted with effort, as if talking was his second language.
"My name is Oz," the door guardian said in a considerably more pleasant tone. "Let's get a couple things straight. This is a science laboratory renting service, no more, no less. What people do behind closed doors is their own business. We don't ask, you don't tell. You may or may not find some strange supplies in your rented space, items that might seem out of place in a normal lab. These are items that have been brought in by previous tenants. We have nothing to do with that, even to the point of not throwing away anything left behind. You may use anything you find in your rented space, but nothing you find is endorsed by Rerent Industries.
"Now, we have some rules. #1, don't hand me the
Arturo shook his head. He was fighting the urge to bolt out of here. Apparently the authorities on this world were not playing around when it came to this kind of thing.
"Groovy. Then I'll lead you to your lab."
The lab was a tight six by eight room filled with waist high counter space. The only part of the wall not covered with counter was the doorway. In the middle of the far counter was a sink, and sitting next to it was a two foot wide portable oven.
"The oven is only for baking certain mixtures in certain scientific experiments, nothing else!" Oz said hastily.
"Indeed," Arturo replied mildly, setting his bag on the other side of the sink. "So is this where I quote tip amounts?"
"If you wish."
Oz's voice became smooth and practiced. "For sixty dollars I'll leave the door at the end of the hall unlocked. I noticed your bag was missing a key ingredient."
"I take it this key ingredient is behind the unlocked door?"
"What about eighty dollars?"
"For eighty dollars I'll accidentally drop certain items outside your lab door, in addition to leaving said door unlocked." Oz produced a photo of three items, presumably the items in question.
"What about a hundred dollars?"
"For a hundred dollars, I'll throw in this." He pulled a tall thin can from his jacket pocket.
Arturo's eyes widened. "You've got yourself a deal!" He pulled a wad of bills thick enough to choke Madonna from a pants pocket. "Let's see, I'll need this 'lab' for about 90 minutes, so that's $225. Then another $100 in tips." He counted the money out and lay it on the counter near the door.
Oz scooped the money up and stashed it in his pocket. "Have a good time." He leered before shutting the door behind him.
Arturo quickly removed his coat and hung it from the doorknob, his hands shaking with excitement.
"So, what are you in for?" The largest man Arturo had ever seen asked three hours later.
Arturo sighed bitterly. He'd noticed that the other dozen people in this holding cell were deferring to the questioner, who was roughly the size of the Oakland Raiders ... all of them. Much as he was inclined not to, the truth would probably be his best course of action. "I was baking PIES."
There were muffled gasps around the cell. One old man burst into tears and buried his head into his hands. Another man started hammering the bars and demanding to be moved to another cell.
"An addict, aye?" The questioner commented casually, taking a seat next to Arturo and resting his beachball sized hands on his knees. "We've all been there pal."
"So what did they get you for?" Maximillian Arturo asked to deflect attention away from him.
"I strangled Maximillian." The giant man explained.
The behemoth shrugged, his size making the movement remind Arturo of a landslide. "I strangled some guys named Maximillian."
Arturo swallowed noisily. "More than one?"
"Yeah, I got as many as I could before they caught me. More than I have fingers and toes to count, so I'm not sure how many. I hate people named Maximillian! What kind of pretentious nitwit would have a four syllable name that starts with a cat name and ends with an absurdly large dollar amount?" He opened and closed his hubcap sized hands as if dreaming for one more neck to squeeze them around.
"Well, money is not the only thing counted by the millions, my good man..."
The granite wall of a man focused his glare on Arturo. "Like what? What else comes in millions? All I ever hear people talk about is a million bucks! Hey Andre! Did you ever hear someone say 'Honey, pass me the million boxes of sweet deprived, milk color changing cereal please?'"
"Nah Tonk." Andre called out, not looking up from his card game. "I don't eat that
"See, Andre's never heard of a million anything except dollars!"
Arturo glared at Andre for a second (had he heard right? This land monster was called "Tonk"?) before craning his neck back up so he could met Tonk's eyes. "What about people? The news is always reporting a million people die from smoking per year or six million morons tuned into 'Doctor Jerry, Medicine Man' last night, etc, etc."
"Huh." Tonk grunted, running a enormous paw through his blond hair. "You really think that many people watch Doctor Jerry?" He clenched his fists tightly, making them resemble twin anvils. "That show is so annoying I wanted to strangle all Jerrys but I ran across a Maximillian first and got sidetracked."
"I can easily envision that."
"Anyway, my name's Jerry Tonker. What's your name?"
"John. John Arturo." Arturo said smoothly.
"Nice to meet ya!" Tonk said as he slapped Arturo's shoulder.
The Professor gasped between clenched teeth and waited for the sound of snapping bones. It didn't come but he'd been kicked by horses less powerful than this gorilla. "Pleasure meeting you, Tank - er - Tonk."
"Arturo!" A guard called from the bars. "Maximillian Arturo!"
The Professor sat still as a statue, face impassive.
"Maximillian Arturo!! Come here!!"
Tonk was peering at him. Arturo kept his attention strictly on his feet.
"Hey you! Fat boy! Fat boy with the bushy beard sitting next to the Jolly Blonde Giant!"
Arturo leaned forward so he could looked around to Tonk's other side.
"No! Don't look around anywhere, I'm addressing YOU, Maximillian Arturo!"
Arturo's allowed his eyes to slowly, innocently, crawl to the guard. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, sir. My name is John Arturo. I have a brother named Maximillian but he tragically died four years ago. Awful incident, really. He was shot by this buffoon-."
"I don't care if your brother choked on a weasel's
Arturo jumped up and rushed over as quickly as possible. Anything to make this Keystone reject stop parroting his name. "What the devil is it?!?"
The guard handed him an envelope. "Here. You hit the random drawing. Fill it out and hand it in before you leave, Maximillian."
The Professor ripped open the envelope and found a feedback questionnaire.
"Maximillian, our goal is to provide the best possible service to the public. Your honest feedback will help us meet that goal, Maximillian."
Arturo glanced around, discovering to his horror that Tonk was now standing right behind him, face mottled with rage. "Yes, well, if my head is not twisted off like a fizzy pop cap in the next couple minutes I'll be happy to provide you honest feedback." He glanced down at the questionnaire. "I see they have a section that allows me to score you guards. Excellent."
"Don't get me wrong, I've seen people purchase WATER, but no one is this
"'Trim' is the most popular video game the industry has ever seen." Wade's new boss, Sid Meier, countered. "The hard core fans will stop at nothing to get celebrity skins inserted into their games. You should see the numbers, there are a LOT of hard core fans."
Wade wasn't swayed. "But they're buying NOTHING! I can see buying a CD or even spending money to watch a movie or play. It's all entertainment but you're getting something tangible. Well, unless it's a Tim Allen movie, that's also buying NOTHING."
"They're getting something tangible. They get a character in their game who looks just like their favorite star."
"But they've already shelled out fifty bucks for the game! How can you make them pay another five bucks per skin?"
"Because so far a quarter of a million people have slipped us a fiver to look like David Anchovy or Michael Jackson. Though in her case we're tripling our money because some people want Michael Jackson when he was black, or white like now, or the future projected version of what he's going to look like if his metamorphosis continues unchecked." Sid called up an image on the screen.
Wade shuddered. "He's going to end up looking like John Madden's asscrack?!??"
"Opps! Sorry, I hit the wrong key! That's actually Mick Jagger. A common mistake though." Sid hit another key. "This is the Jackson projection."
"Ewww! He's going to turn into Tom Green?"
"I'm afraid so, the computer is very accurate on these things. We knew ten years ahead of time that Lisa Marie Presley was going to swell up into a Hungry Hungry Hippo."
Wade was pale and shaking. "Can you hit the back button? I'd rather look at Madden's asscrack over Tom Green's mug."
Sid did so, then straightened. "Anyway, just set up the auction page for the new celebrity skins, please."
"Oh, what are your plans for Thanksgiving?" Sid asked her.
"Oh, um, I'll just be hanging out with some friends of mine."
"Do you think they'd want to come over to my house? I'm throwing a big party, the more the merrier!"
Wade shrugged. "I can certainly ask them."
"How about you? Interested in coming?"
She met his eyes frankly. "Mr. Meier, you're old enough to be my twin brother! I hardly think-."
He quickly cut her off. "Hey, I admit I have an ulterior motive but its nothing like that. You see, Santa Claus is going to be there and I'd really like you to meet her."
"Why?" Wade blinked. "Um, pardon me? Did you say 'her'?"
"Of course! Why wouldn't it be a girl? As for why you, I think that will become obvious once you see her." Sid grinned mischievously. "Good! It's settled then! I'll see you there! I'll email you directions to my house."
"But - I - ... nuts." Wade turned her bleary eyes back to the screen again. She'd been working double shifts all week to pay for what she and Remmy had done to their hotel room. She forced her thoughts away from the horrible memory of THAT incident. "Keith Richards? People actually want his skin?" Her forced her eyes open wide and inspected the tiny text below the image. "Oh, just a yak autopsy photo! Too bad, I thought for a second he'd been taking care of himself on this world."
"Would you mind removing that from my ass?" A female voice called out over the din.
Quinn looked up, startled. Then he jerked the long handled flashlight away from the leatherclad woman standing next to him. "I'm sorry!" He gasped, face turning crimson. He realized belatedly that the library had become packed over the last hour. So packed that this woman had been pressed back against his table and, apparently without him feeling the pressure, against his flashlight.
The woman took the seat next to him at the table. She was wearing black leather pants, a black tanktop, and a red bandanna which had been tied to cover her short hair. The sleeveless shirt revealed tattoos on both arms. The one on her right arm depicted a striped housecat leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette. In its other paw was a broken whiskey bottle, still dripping whiskey from its jagged bottom. The highly stylized lettering beneath the drawing spelled out "Bad Kitty!"
He hadn't gotten a good look at the tattoo on her other arm.
"Hi, my name's Kitty!"
"Whacha working on?" She inquired, eyeing his timer and the scattered tools surrounding it with her smokey gray eyes.
"Um, it's a TV remote. I can't get anything but CBS, a horror beyond all imagining. So I've taken it upon myself to fix it."
Her eyes twinkled with amusement. "Okay, now that we have the story you give the lames out of the way, whacha working on?"
Quinn held up the timer. "Look at it! It's obviously a TV remote!"
"If that's merely a TV remote I'm an ex Biker Slut current 'Phowl' groupie hitching my way around the country so I can watch every one of their 300 concerts this year." She retorted.
Quinn's eyes lit up. "Wow, really?" His eyes dimmed back down. "I knew I shouldn't have given up playing the trombone! As it is I have no musical talents. Oh wait! I can play the triangle! No, I suck at that, that's right.
Kitty shook her head patiently. "No Quinn, you missed my point. Anyway, I'm actually a science groupie and I've been following Professor Snape around the country so I can watch every one of his anti gravity demonstrations. He is SO HOT! If it's the last thing I do I'm going make him let me use the machine to turn my ankles over my head!" She eyed his timer again. "So I know the difference between a TV remote and something far more cool."
She reached over and snatched his drink. Never taking her eyes from his, she slowly sucked some of the iced tea through the straw and into her mouth. Then she slid the glass back over to him. "So, Mr. Non TV Remote Repairman Quinn ... whacha working on?"
Quinn had been sketching notes as he peered inside the opened timer with his flashlight. At this moment the pencil he had been using snapped between two of his fingers. "Well, since you put it like THAT-."
"So, it's out." Tonk said between clenched teeth. His footlong hotdog fingers squeezed together in anticipation, the cracking joints sounded like machinegun fire. "Your real name is Maximillian!"
"Actually, it's not, my good man."
Tonk grinned. "'Soon the shroud shall lap thee fast, and the sleep be on thee cast, that shall ne'er know waking.'"
Arturo stared. When he could speak again, he said. "Hang on! You were just pretending to be an abject moron!"
Tonk's grin turned rueful. "I admit it. I always have fun with the people I'm contracted to murder. Since I knew what your first name was, that was how I chose to rattle your cage."
"You really had me going- ... what was that? Someone contracted you to murder me?"
"Oh yeah! Seventy five thousand dollars. Say, could you do me a favor and remove your tie? It'd be a lot easier to strangle you without that getting in the way."
Arturo started to take his tie off. "Sure, no problem. So who was it that wants me dead?"
"Sorry, I never tell and kill."
"Oh, what could it hurt? In a couple minutes I'll be dead. Who am I going to tell?"
Tonk shrugged. "'Remember Lot's wife.'"
"Yeah, but I can't die twice." Arturo shot back.
"Good enough." Tonk said as he settled his fingers around the Professor's neck. He leaned forward and whispered, "it was Santa Claus. She put the hit on you." He leaned back again and spoke in a normal tone of voice. "Now, do you have any last words?"
"Actually, yes. They are: 'look down.'"
Tonk frowned and looked down.
As he looked down, Arturo grabbed Tonk's testicles with both hands and locked them in a deathgrip. "Sure, you can strangle me, but by the time you're done you're going to be the biggest and ugliest woman south of Paula Poundstone."
Tonk swallowed noisily. His hands flew from Arturo's neck. "What's your master plan? Hold my sack the rest of the time you're in this cell?"
"But we could be in this cell together for weeks!"
Arturo's eyes glinted malevolently. "In that case you might want to shop for an engagement ring. But I can assure you I'm not letting go for an instant. Come on, let's go sit down."
"Is that all of it?" The Chancellor's Manager sniffed.
Remmy grimaced as he set down a very full garbage bag. "Not really. I have another garbage bag filled with lamp fragments, three with the shredded carpet, and a box filled with mirror shards."
"I should have had you arrested." The Manager moaned. He turned to the contractor who had come down with Remmy. "Well, how bad is it going to be?"
"Well Paul, I figure five thousand to replace all the windows. The new bathtub's gonna run you four thousand. Another two thousand to snake all the pieces of chair that had been flushed down the toilet. Three grand for the new toilet. I can't tell you how much getting the bidet removed from the ceiling is going to be because I don't know yet how we're going to remove it without the floor above coming down on us. How the hell did you stick the bidet up there in the first place?" He asked Remmy.
The Cryin' Man shrugged. "I've been working out."
"Removing the burn marks from the wall below his bedroom window is gonna cost-."
Paul gasped. "I just remembered, I need to get someone to bring that effigy down!"
"Oh, don't worry, there's nothing left of it now. It burned completely up." Remmy offered helpfully.
"Oh thank God." Paul said, one hand to his heart. "If any of the other guests had seen that hideous thing I can't imagine the fallout."
Remmy sighed. "Well, I guess I better get back to cleaning up the room."
"I want the money by the end of the week of I'll have your ass in the slammer so fast you'll say 'wow I can't believe how fast that was!'"
"Just lemme know how much it ends up being." Remmy groaned agreeably as he headed back up the stairs.
"Lemme put it this way, pal." The contractor grinned. "I took one look at that suite and called my wife to let her know we'll be able to get that 300 foot yacht after all!"
Remmy had just finished scraping the pig guts from the living room wall when Wade arrived. She circumnavigated the three foot hole in the floor just beyond the entrance and waved at him. "Hi."
"Hi." Remmy said as he put his reddened slop bucket with the other twelve already filled buckets.
"My new boss invited me to his house for Thanksgiving. I said you'd come. I pretty much had to, he was kinda pushy."
"Hey, I'm not in a position to gripe about anything you three do for the next ten Slides." Remmy said with a tired smile. He was rummaging around a wheelbarrow. He found a pair of welding glasses and slipped them over his eyes.
Wade's eyes widened. "What do you needs THOSE for?"
"I can't get the bathroom floor clean." He pulled an arc welder from the wheelbarrow. "It's time for drastic measures."
Quinn arrived as Wade watched Remmy head for the bathroom. "Wow, this place is looking a lot better!"
"At least we can get across the room now." Wade agreed. "Look, I had to accept an invitation for all of us to go to my new boss's house for Thanksgiving. I hope that's okay."
"Sure, if he doesn't mind me bringing a date along."
"YOU have a date? You were supposed to be working on the timer! Not dragging the bars!"
Quinn smirked. "Hey, she came on to me. And anyway, I'll have you know I was at the library. But it was odd because the library was packed with hot chicks. They were all there to see some touring genius."
Wade glanced at the scraps of fridge scattered throughout the kitchenette, living room, and foyer, then sighed and fished a drink out of the white Styrofoam cooler on the counter. "So what did you find out about the timer?"
"I think it was just overloaded. I'm going to try replacing the fuses tomorrow and see if that does it. We do know that we have over a month before we Slide so we're in good shape. Bad Kitty told me where the closest Hawking Hut was, they should have all the parts I might need."
"Her name is 'Bad Kitty'?"
Quinn scratched his chin selfconsciously. "Ye-ah."
"With a name like that she probably doesn't mind you calling women 'chicks.'"
"She insisted on it, actually. Say," he began, desperate to change the subject, "do you think it's a good idea to bring along Demolition Man? What if he goes off the hook again at your boss's house?"
Wade suddenly became preoccupied with the cartoon demon pictured on her can of Diet Spite. "He'll be fine. He was just a little ... irritated the other night."
"Irritated? Wade, our hotel room looks like downtown Nigeria! German football fans jacked up on CRACK couldn't have done this much damage! The Beastie Boys called yesterday wanting him to give them pointers on how to do it right!"
"We don't have a choice, Quinn. Which reminds me, where is the Professor? I haven't seen him in a couple days. If he doesn't show up my boss is probably going to be offended!"
"You're taking this way too seriously. He probably invited the entire office. Who could keep track of everyone?"
Wade kicked half a couch cushion over to her and sat down on it. "Even if I wasn't worried about what my boss would think, I'm still worried about the Professor."
"He's fine, he said he had a money making scheme to make up what you and I can't earn. So he's out doing that. Which reminds me, I need to change for work." Quinn disappeared into the less ruined bedroom. A couple minutes later he emerged wearing pink bicycle shorts, yellow socks, a lime green tee shirt with "Filthy Dick's Fine Foods" emblazoned on it, and a pink baseball cap with fuzzy pink ears sticking out of the sides.
Wade couldn't contain her giggles. "Jesus Quinn, I couldn't do it. You are my GOD."
Quinn grinned goodnaturedly. "Hey, we need the money. And if I stay cheerful I get better tips! See ya in the morning."
After he was gone, Wade stared at her soda can. "I don't think Arturo's fine." She pouted to the cartoon demon.
Author's note: Chapter 7 was a long scene in which a guard orders Arturo to release Tonk's nuts and the Professor refuses. I thought it was funny when I wrote it but reading it now it just comes across as one long gay bashing party, which is not where I was going, so I've removed it. So now Chapter 7 starts with Arturo already in the hole for refusing to let go of Tonk's genitals.
The window cover slid back suddenly, admitting blinding light. Arturo groaned and sat up.
"Rise and shine, Princess! Someone's here to see you!" Carl snickered.
Arturo shielded his eyes. "About my accommodations, I specifically ordered a personal rat to be in attendance and instead you've provided me with two spiders. I am very displeased!"
"You're gonna find out what happens to wise asses in here, Princess! Just come up to the door so your visitor can speak with you."
He slid the window cover back in place.
Arturo made his way in the pitch blackness to the door.
"Professor Arturo?" It was a female voice. A very familiar one but he couldn't quite place it.
"I've paid your bail, Professor."
"Thank you, my dear. To whom do I owe my heartfelt thanks?"
The voice chilled. "Thanks? I'm getting you out of here so you can be properly murdered. I'm going to enjoy dancing on your grave, you dirtbag!"
That was followed by rapid high heel clicks on the tiled floor.
But she was gone. Arturo had just navigated his way back to his stone cot with the door to his cell was unlocked and opened. "I guess you're going to get improved accommodations after all, Princess." Carl sneered.
"So I've made bail?"
"Someone must love you! Come on, we need this hole anyway, there was a Jello riot on D block."
Arturo considered doing something to keep himself in here, giving Carl the Apeman here a wedgie past his forehead came to mind, but this woman could probably reach him even in the hole if she tried hard enough. He'd be better off on the street with his life in his own hands.
"So," Arturo said casually as he was led to the property room, "what did my visitor look like? Can you give me a description?"
Carl cackled like Ted Kennedy trapped in a wine cellar. "Even if I hadn't been well bribed I wouldn't tell YOU, Princess."
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