It was a bright and cloudless day. I didn't like that. Not one bit. This kind of story almost always starts on a dark and stormy night, and my guts told me that the writer was getting ready to screw with me.
After stumbling out of bed and starting the coffee, I noticed a spider ambling towards me, offering her salutations. I thought back to that last bottle of hooch and drew my snub-nosed .38. After a moment, it suddenly occurred to me that shooting up my own apartment wasn't such a hot idea, and I crushed the thing with the butt of my gun instead.
I headed for the living room, and found the door locked. Opening it, I groaned in despair. The dead body in there was not brightening the day's prospects. I'm no Sherlock Holmes, and I'm not interested in solving locked-room murders. After racking my brains for at least a good ten seconds, I decided I hadn't killed him. As I'm also not interested in doing more jail time, I put the body into an unoccupied trunk, making a mental note to dispose of it later. Preferably before it started to stink.
After breakfast (three cups of coffee, black, poured into a bowl of aspirin and Wheaties), I put on my best suit, the one with only one cigarette burn and not so many wrinkles, combed my hair over the lump on my forehead (still tender, I discovered with a wince), and headed for the office. I stopped to pick up the Daily News on the corner, but the newsboy saw me coming and wasn't going to let me get away with that again. Oh, well.
I was just about done with my third cigarette when I came to the door marked, "Lou, Diamond, and Phillips - Private Investigators." I always felt a kind of pride when I saw Diamond's name on that door; Phillips, on the other hand, had me convinced that he had a screw loose. Me, I'm Lou. Bob Lou. Desk by the window. And I was a bit startled by the figure sitting in front of that desk. Sure, this was New York, but still...
When the elf spoke, it was in a much deeper baritone than I'd expected to hear from anyone that size, particularly a female. "You must be Lou," she rumbled, thrusting a small but powerful hand out to shake mine.
"Yeah, but call me Bob," I responded, glancing around the room. The other two desks were empty. Just like Sam and John to leave something like this to me. Oh, well, again. I looked down at the elf and queried, "Well, what can I do for you, Miss...?"
"Gwendolyn," she answered quickly. "And, yeah, I've got a bit of a problem." I groaned inwardly and took my chair.
"Y'see, I'm not really from your world." Noticing my sudden smirk, she retorted, "Yeah, I'm sure you would never have guessed. Anyway, I crossed a dimensional vortex to get here because I'm trailing a guy with some powerful rings. I'll tell you about it on the way. We should get going." With that, she grabbed my arm and gently pulled me out of my seat.
"Wha- Wait a minute!" I sputtered. "On the way where? Where are we going?" Calming down, I said, "That is, we're not going anywhere until you agree to my fees, lady!"
Gwendolyn loosened a bag that had been hanging from her belt and poured its contents onto my desk. I swear, I'd never seen gold and silver coins that looked quite like these before, and I doubt that I ever will again. I even found one with what looked like a troll's head stamped on it.
A slight cough made me forget the currency and look up. "I believe this should cover your expenses, Bob," she grinned sourly, and after I'd hidden the stuff away in the safe, I grabbed my coat and the suitcase I always kept at the ready and walked outside with the elf.
"Sonofa-" I searched my jacket and luckily found a pair of shades. Did it have to be so goddamned bright outside? Gwendolyn watched me, that same sour grin on her miniature features. I was getting ready to say something to wipe it from her face when I noticed him. Across the street. Conspicuous in his inconspicuousness.
Well, OK, there was more to it than that. The sunglasses with an air of government-issue about them, the all-too-familiar bulge under his jacket, the newspaper he was pretending to read while in fact keeping an eye on me... I patted the Walther PPK in my own shoulder holster. Motioning to the little lady to follow me, I sneaked down an alley (where was Sally when I needed her?) and quickly hailed a cab. "What was that?" Gwendolyn demanded of me.
As we got into the back of the taxi, I sighed and explained. "Ever since I took on the Thorn case a coupla months ago, I've noticed these guys tailin' me, staking the place out, the works. One of 'em confronted me once; he walked away the worse for wear. As if the case wasn't strange enough..." My mind drifted back to the artifacts I'd been shown, the arcane writings, the odd (Satanic?) symbols...
Once again, I was jarred back to my present weird case by a polite cough. "Shouldn't you let this driver know where we're going?" she asked. "Well, maybe if I knew where we were going..."
* * *
Disembarking in Dallas, I tried desperately to keep my mouth closed, but to no avail. "Are you pullin' my leg?" I asked incredulously. "You can do that with those rings?" My mouth, still slack, was also quite dry, and I took a belt from my ever-present supply of gin.
Gwendolyn eyed the bottle with mild disgust and said, "I told you they were powerful. And that's why we must get them back. There will be someone waiting at this place to meet us." While the airport itself didn't bother her too much, I sensed that she still hadn't gotten over her fear and awe of the jet that had brought us here.
"I don't understand how you can know someone's meeting us here, and I really don't get why this hobbit guy would be..." My voice faded as quickly as a Chicago sunset as I spied what could only be our party's newest addition.
She had shapely legs that went up way past her hips, and the short black skirt she was wearing allowed easy confirmation of that fact. Her blond hair and hazel eyes could launch a hell of a lot more than a thousand ships, and those lips... well, let's just say that I know she knew how to whistle. The mint-green sweater she was wearing must've been very happy, indeed.
"Lou- I mean, Bob, I'd like you to meet..." Gwendolyn suddenly realized that she didn't know this goddess' name, either, and stopped.
"Laura," she breathed, and all other sound stopped so as not to drown her out. "Laura Masters. How do you do?" I maintained enough self-control to prevent myself from ripping off her clothes, and just kissed her hand instead. She giggled cloyingly, and I saw a green spark flash briefly in Gwendolyn's eyes. Some dames...
* * *
Later, shuffling through the Texas sand on horses thoughtfully provided by Miss Masters, I struggled to make sense of what little these two sharply contrasted women had told me. Wasn't easy, considering my head was in Mississippi for some reason. "So, Miss Masters..."
"Please," she implored, batting those lashes at me, "call me Laura." I'd call her Adolf if she asked in that voice.
"Laura, then," I giggled, realizing I sounded like a schoolboy and not giving a damn. "What you're telling me is that you've got some kind of psychic connection with Gwendolyn, and that's how you knew she was coming?"
Her brow furrowed for a moment. "Well, it's something like that. I mean, we can't really communicate with each other telepathically, but-"
The air exploded. Looking back, I guess it must have been a sonic boom, but to me it sounded like all hell was breaking loose, and we were near one of the seams. It was all we could do to keep the horses from bolting. I noticed Gwendolyn's awed stare and followed her gaze into the sky. As my own eyes widened, I heard Laura whisper, "My God..."
It was a real, honest-to-goodness flying saucer. That's what it looked like, anyway; two saucers connected at the rims. Red pulsing lights, humming noise, incredible heat, the works. I yanked one of my six-shooters out of its low-slung holster, swung the chamber open to make sure it was fully loaded, then started to yell something to Gwendolyn, and a blinding white flash seared my eyes just before I passed out.
* * *
I woke up with my mouth tasting like cotton. No, wait a minute; that was cotton! I pulled and spit out as much as I could, then got groggily to my feet.
One quick glance around was all I needed to know that I wouldn't find any black coffee or Wheaties here. We were apparently in an empty hold. Brightly lit, at least. Whatever had abducted us was not present, but my companions were. Judging by the nasty bruise on her forehead, the elf must have put up a bit of a struggle. Out for a while, I figured.
As I turned to look at Laura, she began to toss and turn. A muffled scream escaped her, and I rushed to her side, grabbing her hand. "Laura," I whispered into her ear. "Laura, wake up." Her eyes flew open (I swear it sounded like two windowshades shooting up and rolling around), and she looked at me wildly. "Who- Where am I-"
"Relax, sweetheart," I soothed. Realizing I was starting to sound like Sam, I winced, then continued, "We seem to be holed up in a... a spaceship."
She came to me then, her eyes as big as dinner plates, her generous mouth quivering in fear... or was it lust? "Hold me, Lou," she murmured, and of course I obliged. Her body felt good in my arms, felt right. I knew those lips needed kissing, and I didn't fail her there, either. Laura whimpered, "Oh, Lou..." and pressed her heaving bosom to me. For a few seconds, everything else seemed to melt away, leaving only Laura, and me, and some clothing to be removed...
Before I quite knew what was going on, some hideous thing materialized not three feet from the still-unconscious Gwendolyn. I drew my right sidearm and put three lead slugs into it. Nothing. Didn't flinch, didn't even acknowledge the fact that I'd fired. This horrid, oozing creature descended upon the elf, who was now waking groggily.
With a sweeping motion that I would have considered impossibly fast for anything alive, it ripped her left leg from her hip. Gwendolyn screamed; Laura just fainted dead away. Lucky for her. She didn't have to see the thing strip the flesh off the torn limb and eat the bones instead. The amount of blood spurting from Gwendolyn's wound seemed more than she could possibly have in her entire body; still, she fought, or tried to, bravely. She had latched onto the thing's leg with her teeth and stabbed it where its family jewels would be, if it had such treasures.
My stomach churned and almost sent my tonsils a little package when I saw the elf's head crushed into the corner of a crate. The thing then turned, and I saw for the first time that it had no face, none that I could identify, anyway. There was only a white oval there, a white too pure for such an evil golem. My gaze was swiftly drawn in another direction, though.
This newcomer must have been one of our captors. A Little Green Man, not much taller than Gwendolyn had been (with the head, that is), antennae, even what looked like a ray gun at his left side. (Left side; hmmm, wonder if that means anything...) I was overtaken by a sense of outrage and hate, and knew that there was only one thing I could do...
* * *
I took off the helmet, carefully removed the plug from the base of my neck, and keyed, "END PROGRAM." The virtual reality system immediately queried, "SAVE PARAMETERS?" to which I thought hastily, "Hell, no. Not going back there again." Sweat beaded on my forehead, and my mind raced to explain the incredible twists, turns, and settings the program had taken. As I pulled off a VR glove, I could've sworn I felt Laura's lips brush my right hand. I turned around, then laughed, a bit wildly. No way, I convinced myself. I typed, "N" (I know I did!), then gasped in shock.
There's no way I could've known then that this particular program had been uploaded to the Hypernet. My wirehead buddies tell me that I probably hit the wrong F-key just before I passed out, and that I'm really not responsible for its virus-like replication or the hundreds of thousands of jack-deaths caused by this particular sim. I suppose it's possible that I didn't tell the computer to delete it after all, but I'm not so sure. I'm not sure of a lot of things. Y'see, I thought I felt a cool, deathly dry (Martian?) hand grip my left just before that other glove came off.