Murder, My Sweet

Murder, My Sweet (2050)

“He is a natural medium.
They are rare—like diamonds,
and like diamonds, are
sometimes found in dirty places.”
—Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely

I stood in the room for a minute or two—with the faint obscure feeling of being watched. There was probably a peephole somewhere—I didn’t care. The room in the Titan San Bernardino Prescott Motel was rigged—I could feel it. I listened to my breath. But I couldn’t hear anything else.

A door slid silently open in the wall. I shrugged and walked inside. It was round and draped in black velvet. In the middle of the room there was a coal black lusterless rug with an octagonal white table—with two white barstools on either side. No windows—no other doors. I sat down on one of the stools—I figured that’s what I was supposed to do.

I sat there awhile—and then an invisible door in the wall opened. A man stepped through and the door closed behind him. He went straight to the table and sat across from me. It was Jules Amthor—the nefarious psychic villain of Murder, My Sweet.

Amthor had beautiful long hands—probably from caressing and stroking crystal balls and cute bellboys all the time. He had a profile like Walter Pigeon—moody Morbius from Forbidden Planet. He was thin, tall and straight as a steel rod—sitting there across from me.

Amthor’s eyes were the dead eyes of a stoned somnambulist—they were deep, far too deep for me to gaze into for very long. You could drop a rock into them—and wait. They were like a well—you could listen and wait and then you’d give up waiting. The faint, minute splash would never come—his eyes were bottomless and deep.

Amthor was smooth, sophisticated and obviously telepathic—along with being a deep space clairvoyant, parakineticist, precog, resurrector and reanimator. Any prolonged proximity—would probably result in one-way osmosis, a suffusion between our mentalities. His cephalic activity was particularly good—making for an unfortunate one-way passage of protophasons from him through me.

You too can be a movie star—
just sing out for Ubik. Yes you
too can be like Otto Kruger—star
of Stage, Screen and psionic
Televideo. Perk up pouty Titan
blues with new miracle Ubik—
and put on a Saturn smile!!!

Amthor’s face was expressionless—without soul, feeling or compassion. He wore a silver-smooth jumpsuit and stared vaguely at my hands.

“Don’t fidget,” he said. “It disturbs the wavelengths and dulls my concentration.

“Yeah, but they can make ice cream melt, lips drool and girls squawk,” I said.

He smirked a faint snarky smile. “You’re a cocky, impertinent one, aren’t you?”

Amthor had the mean looks of a Count Dracula—giving me the impression that he’d like to either suck me dry or throw me to the wolves and let me scream all night with my eyeballs popping out.

“I guess you must be the welcoming party for the Triton Mob, hmm Mr. Amthor?” I said.

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Flambeaux. “You won’t be here on Titan long enough to say either hello or goodbye.”

For a moment I almost believed him—his face was smooth and as evil as a fallen angel.

“You’re a natural medium,” Amthor said. “Your kind are rare—and you’ll be good at finding gold and diamonds for the Saturn Rings Corporation. They’ll pay you well—they’ll fly you out tomorrow.”

“I dunno,” I said. “Those Saturnian ring-jobs sound pretty dirty to me. I’m used to space hockey games—and goofing off the rest of the time.”

“That’s because you’re stupid,” Amthor said. “You’re a very stupid person. And you were in a stupid business. And you ended up here in a stupid town on a stupid moon—in orbit around a stupid planet.”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “I’m stupid. It’ll sink in after awhile.”

“My dear, Flambeaux,” Amthor said coldly. “Don’t take it personally. It’s just that Titan Town doesn’t need any more amateur precog or telepaths hanging around. The Mob likes to do its business—without any outsiders sticking their noses into wheeling and dealing out here on Titan and the other moons.”

“Yeah, well—it can’t be much different than the wheeling and dealing in the Space Hockey League. The Heinlein Franchise’s got everything pretty much sewed up too—you know what I mean?”

Amthor nodded knowingly. “Well, it’s this way, Maurice. May I call you Maurice? You see, I’m no fool. I’m in a very sensitive profession. I’m a quack. That’s to say I do things that doctors in their small frightened guild cannot accomplish. I’m in danger at all times—from people like you. I merely wish to estimate the danger before dealing with it.”

“Pretty trivial in my case, huh?”

“Yes, trivial, indeed.”

“But tell me this, Mr. Amthor. What’s your cut in all this? I guess you must own this dumpy No Tell Motel—the San Bernardino Prescott Motel? How about all the other Triton flop-houses and gambling joints? You own them too?”

I didn’t like the way Amthor tapped his fingers on the table. I blocked out his nasty little mind—it stunk with aberrations and black market deals. He blackmailed the miners in Triton Town—with their drunken escapades in the various houses of ill repute. All their comings and goings—that’s how he operated.

“That’s your picture?” Amthor said aloofly. “Your picture of me? I’m slightly disgusted, Maurice. I’ve got pics of you and Tex playing games, you know.”

I leaned forward until my face was up against his. “You’re in a racket. Dress it up all you want to—but it’s still a racket. And it’s not just bad boyz, is it Amthor? You’ve got a deal with Rings of Saturn Corporation, don’t you? Gold and diamonds, right?”

Amthor smiled bleakly—but I hardly saw it. He pushed a button—and the lights went out. A pool of darkness opened at my feet—it was far deeper than the blackest night.

I dived into it—it had no bottom.

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