Authors: Keith Hartman,Eric Dunn
"By the way, Calvin-- Is this guy one of your people?"
"What? The poet?"
"Haven't you heard, Natalie? It's the ghost of Justin Weir, out to avenge his murder."
"OK," Calvin said. "Seriously. He's not one of mine. Though I do wish I'd thought of it. Every time he strikes, Stonewall and his cronies at the BNN sink another point with the 15 to 25 demographic."
Calvin's eyes watched the lines of poetry crawl by on the screen, and his face hardened.
"Pity there aren't any Weir fans on the jury," he said. "They'd be sure to give the old man a shot in the arm."
"You really hate Stonewall that much?"
"I hate what he's done to the party. And I don't just mean this latest crap with the murders. Stonewall's been mismanaging the Christian Alliance for years. Draggin' us into his personal vendettas. Gettin' us involved in all sorts of crazy causes that we can't win. Like this whole anti-Cherokee crusade of his. I mean, why are we even in that fight? Sure, it plays great with the voters in Georgia, but everywhere else it makes us look like a bunch of racist bastards. How the heck are we ever supposed to build a national party when we're frittering away our resources on shit like this?"
"Nice speech," I said. "You been rehearsing it?"
He took his eyes off the monitor and looked at me.
"I am grateful for your help, Natalie. And I promise you, once this little family feud is settled, things will be different around the Christian Alliance and BNN."
"I'm counting on it," I said, and departed.
The blond with the crewcut showed me to the door, and I took the glass elevator down to the lobby. I left my car in the lot, hoofed it over to the MARTA station, and caught a southbound train to the Underground Atlanta stop.
Underground is one of those shopping districts that was really trendy back in the twentieth century. It used to be all gift shops and restaurants and tourist traps. But as the neighborhood got rougher, the tourists had moved on to safer venues, and the shops had followed them. Now the place wasn't clean, and it wasn't safe. But it was interesting. Goth kids, and Neo-hippies, and anime clones, and Cyber kids doing geek chic. Half the stores were boarded up, and the other half had been converted into funky bars, and nightclubs that were not for the faint of heart. I headed for the one called
. The bouncer gave me a funny look about the way I was dressed, but I undid two buttons on my blouse and he let me in.
I grabbed a seat at the bar and watched the door for a few minutes, just to make sure that I hadn't been followed. If anyone had been tailing me, they would stick out like a sore thumb in this place. Luckily, I didn't seem to have any unwanted company tonight.
I walked over to the most visible spot in the club, a well lit area underneath the men's room sign. Trying to look casual, I pulled on the lapels of my jacket.
A few seconds later a man stepped out of the shadows. He wore moccasins and jeans, and a buckskin vest with blue beadwork on it. And he had the long straight black hair and brown skin of a pureblood Cherokee. He nodded to me, and pulled on the lapels of his vest.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Tahlequah-- who are you?" I replied, in the formal greeting of our secret society.
"I am Keetowah's son," he answered with the traditional countersign. And then he smiled. "But you can call me Laughing Bear."
He led me to a table in the corner, and we sat down.
"So Quicksilver," he asked. "What news do you bring from the camp of our enemies?"
The mark still hadn't shown up, so I was killing time in the mystery section. It was at the back of the store, but it had a clear line of sight to the front door. A good place to watch for him, without being too obvious about it. And besides, I like mysteries. Gotta have something to listen to during all those long stakeouts.
The store had a bunch of ad cards out for a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, but I couldn't find a copy on the shelf. They must have sold the display paperback and forgotten to print up a new one. The ad cards had a picture of Holmes and Watson sitting up in bed and reading the
, but that didn't tell me much about the plot. The quotes on the back weren't much help either.
"Their sexiest adventure yet!" raved
. But it says that about every book it reviews.
Two shelves over, they had a new Agatha Christie. Well, a new book by that guy out in California who claims to be psychically channeling her ghost. I've always wondered how he ever landed the rights to use her name. Probably something involving an heir who had some big unpaid debts around the time the original copyrights finally ran out. Anyway, I'd read his last book... well, her last book... their last book? Well, whoever wrote it, it wasn't half bad. The final solution was a bit contrived, but I really liked the relationship between Ms. Marple and her lesbian lover.
I looked over the other titles on the shelf, and wound up pulling out a paperback with a rather fetching shirtless blond guy on the cover. What can I say? I'm a man, and we're hardwired to respond to certain kinds of advertising.
Anyway, I skimmed a bit of it and found out that the character on the cover was "Dirk Hunter", a porn star who solves crimes in his spare time. In this particular adventure, Dirk was at a swank party in LA, when a famous director was found stabbed to death in the hot tub. So Dirk was busily interrogating all the principal suspects-- which for some reason seemed to involve getting each of them naked and in the throes of passion. Hm. I would have to remember that interview technique. It sure sounded like more fun than the approaches I've been using. I found the store's order code on the back, flipped on my palmtop, and told Sherwin to download a copy of the audio version.
"Yeah boss. Guess I got nothing better to do."
I turned my palmtop off before Sherwin could squeeze in any additional whining. He really is a sullen little program. Or at least, for something that's not alive he mimics sullen pretty darn convincingly. Last January I actually got so fed up with him that I stripped him off my system and replaced him with a more upbeat agent program, Microsoft's "Suzy-Q". That one lasted for all of four days, until the relentless cheerfulness started to give me a headache. I wound up deleting her and re-installing Sherwin. I guess I've just gotten used to him. But I swear, if they ever come out with a digital version of prozac, I know one program who's going on medication.
I glanced at the door, and then at my watch. 7:25 pm, and still no sign of the mark. It was beginning to look like he'd be a no-show. According to my client, the mark always stops in here for a cup of coffee after his Wednesday workouts. So either my client's information was wrong-- not the first time it's happened to me, but you would think the guy would know his husband's habits -- or the mark had found something at the gym to distract him. I'd give him another half an hour, and then write off the evening as a scratch.
I went over to the store's coffee bar to check on Daniel, the bait for my little fishing expedition. I had left him there fifteen minutes ago with a glass of coke and instructions not to get into any trouble. Surprise, surprise. He wasn't there. Asking Daniel to stay out of trouble is sort of like asking a politician not to waste your tax money. You make the request every so often, even though you know it won't do any good. Well, at least OutBound is a small store. He shouldn't be too hard to find.
According to the ad in the yellow pages, OutBound is a "Gay Friendly Bookstore". But I never felt like that was a good description. I mean, when a place charges you five bucks for a glass of coke and seven for a cup of mocha, you gotta wonder where its real profit center is. And then there's the disco ball. I don't know of many other bookstores with a disco ball. Personally, I'd describe the place as a gay bar with a reading area.
I figured that I'd probably find Daniel in the fitness section. He has a thing for those soft core porn magazines that they market as "workout aids". You know, the ones with all the really buff guys in skimpy outfits demonstrating the proper way to do a pushup.
I got to the section, but there was no Daniel in sight. Just a trio of twenty-something refugees from the fashion wars. Probably slumming it in the bookstore before heading out to one of the dance clubs. They were all decked out in that neo-Romantic clubwear that you see on all the beautiful people these days: pirate shirts, bright sashes, skin tight velvet leggings, and those big floppy suede boots with the hidden pockets-- gotta have some place to put their cash cards and drugs, I guess. And they were all doing that trendy thing with the fuzz under their lower lip. You know, where they shave it into the shape of a diamond or a heart or a club. There's actually some code to the whole thing, and each of the suits is supposed to advertise the exact sexual tastes of the wearer, but I can never keep up with them all. For all I knew, it just meant that these guys were into strip poker.
Well, at least they'd all given up that chest-shaving thing. Apparently whatever fashion gods had decided that pirate shirts were "in" had also decided that a discreet amount of chest hair was necessary to properly accessorize them. And it was a nice change from that whole hairless Ken doll look that everybody was doing a few years back. Still, I can't help wondering about all those guys who'd had their body hair lasered off. Were they all getting hair plugs installed in their chests now? There are times when I'm thankful that I've never had the money to be trendy.
One of the refugees with a spade on his chin looked up and made eye contact with me. I made the mistake of smiling back at him. He rolled his eyes with distaste and looked away, while mentally racking up another point on his evening's score card. Apparently, I had lost that round of
Ha! You showed interest first!
Continuing my search for Daniel, I tried the porch next. A bunch of kids were out there smoking. I don't think any of them had ever actually bought a book. But they're too young to get into the bars, so the gay bookstore is the only place they can hangout. This bunch was all in bad-boy Catholic drag. Big crucifixes, gaudy saint medallions, and t-shirts depicting eroticized scenes from the Bible. I did kind of like the one with the two hunky guys and the apple that said Adam and Steve, and I thought the bestiality scene with Saint Francis was nicely drawn. There was even one kid wearing a real clerical collar. I wondered how he got his hands on that little trophy.
Moving on, I tried the calendar section, figuring that Daniel might be flipping through pictures of muscle men. No dice. The photography section was also a bust. Where could that boy be?
Maybe I had made a mistake by hiring Daniel for this job. He can be helpful. But if I were being honest with myself, I would have to admit that there were ways of tackling this case that didn't require his talents. And if I was being really honest, I would admit that I just wanted the excuse to hang out with him for a while. I haven't been seeing much of Daniel since he started dating some new guy about a month ago. I mean, it's good that he's found someone. It's what I wanted for him. He needed to fall in love with some guy his own age, rather than tagging around with me and getting into trouble all the time. Of course, some part of me still missed the days when he would follow me around like a lost puppy. But just a small part. I'm not the jealous type.