Murder, My Sweet

Trouble is My Business

“All I felt was trouble
like the smoke over dry
ice and it was seeping
all over me.”
—Mickey Spillane,
Kiss Me Deadly

Trouble was in the air—Trouble on Titan.

I could feel it—the shadows of vast Saturnian rings. Gliding slowly overhead—down through the troubling Titan orangeish scudding clouds. Bathing the ruins of the old deco villa—where we’d parked for a little other-worldly smooching and getting down.

Afterwards leaning back in the seat of my Jet’ab limousine—I was relaxing and thinking about everything that had happened so quickly back in Titan Town with my new android-lover.

Her name was Christina Bailey.

But I could also sense Trouble—the kind of trouble I wasn’t looking for. But it was still trouble—and it was coming our way. There was something attracting it—like Martian bumblebees zeroing in on sweet Ganymede honey-pot.

“Are you wondering what it’s all about?” she said.

“Not particularly.”

“I was…” she hesitated…

I nodded as if I understood.

She shook her head slowly, getting the meaning of my gesture. “Maybe I’ll find somebody who will understand me someday. I thought maybe you would.”

“Nothing bothers me, kid. Now shut up.”

“But you believed I was a woman.”

“Well, yeah. But like you’re twice the man I am—and three times the woman I’ll ever be. Does that make you happy?”

Her smile got a little bit more relaxed.

I looked at her—she was beautiful in the glowing Saturn ring-light. There was something about her—that reminded me of somebody else.

Velda? My secretary back in Titan City?

“I really like ambidextrous android dames.”


“Nothing,” I said. “You’re good at it.”

Her face softened and she seemed almost happy.

“You,” she said. “You're probably one of those self-indulgent Titan Town males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.”

I looked over at her and smiled. I couldn’t help it. Usually I never smile—I just give a dame a smirk or a bitch slap. I wasn’t like Spade or Marlowe. What’s in it for me?—that was my motto. I’d seen too much.

Titan wasn’t SF or LA—I wasn’t nostalgic for that kind of pulp fiction past. None of that retro-noir stuff for me. If anything I was nostalgic for the future—a future that could never be. I felt mock-heroic about everything—things only got worse.

The ruined deco villa up on the cliff—its gaunt silhouette loomed up in the darkness. Once it might have been the haunt for some rich Titan millionaire. But now it was just an abandoned old wreck—outlining itself against the sickly pale Dayglo yellow-orangeish night sky.

“I could tolerate flabby muscles in a man—if it'd make him maybe a little more friendly,” she said. “You're the kind of person who never gives in a relationship—who only takes. Ah, woman, the incomplete sex. And what does she need to complete her?”

“Not some slob like me,” I snarled. “Who could live with a selfish Titan private dick like me?”

But that’s not what was bothering me. I felt trouble coming down. Maybe it was my neo-nor sixth sense or something. Maybe it was some kind of latent precog flashback—niggling me from out of my haunted past.

All I knew was that I usually didn’t have to look for trouble. Trouble always had a way of finding me. And it was coming after me again—from somewhere close.

I got out my Laser-luger just in case.

It was a sleek dark Cadillac Jet-sedan—that came down behind us. There was no scream of fins against concrete—like my adventure with the girl. It was all done quietly—quietly and deadly professional. Somebody was after her—and probably me too.

This time the trouble happened all at once—it was worse than I expected. The gun in the first guy’s hand spit out a laser tongue of flame—glancing off my car and into the night. I kicked the door open—just in time to see some other dark shadowy characters piling out of the black sedan.

The first one never got a chance for another shot—my fist split his face wide open. I went for the one behind him—but something hissed through the air missing the back of my head. Then another grazed one of my shoulders.

I spun the second hoodlum around—and let him have a taste of that same hissing thing. It whipped through the air whatever it was—and caught him in the forehead. It was sickening to see him ooze out his brains—like whipping cream or oozing pudding.

I hit the ground—pain pounding across my head too sharp and too deep to be bearable. It was the kind of hard pain I could feel with each heartbeat—sending me into spasms of white-hot pain. It was so painful that it kept trying to get out—oozing out my body. Trying to pop my eyeballs—out of their sockets. Even through my eyes—were squeezed tight as I could.

I wanted to shout something—but there wasn’t time for it to come out. The spectral Saturn rings that had been hiding behind the clouds—came out long enough to let me see a quick splash of pale yellow light that threw grotesque long shadows across the villa.

And slithering among those shadows—lurked dark figures that really didn’t even seem human. Moving with a series of jerks and nasty squishing sounds—coming out of the sedan after us.

There weren’t any screams of tires on pavement—it was another kind of scream but not from retro-jets or metal tearing into metal. It was a more nasty tearing sound—like splintering bulletproof glass. I didn’t seem to lie there for long—the pain that was pounding in my head kept pulling me down into the dirt.

In back of all that was a muffled screaming—her android choking sobs along with thuggish harsh, angry voices. The words were indistinguishable at first—the roaring motor of the Cadillac sedan faded. We were inside the villa—pain was chewing up the words and the screams were much worse than jangling metal against metal.

I tried getting up—but only my mind could move. The rest of me was limp and dead—lying in the dirt. When movement came back to me—it wasn’t me doing it. Gloved hands and fists got me around my waist—and my feet were dragging and scraping across the cold villa floor. Somewhere she’d stopped screaming—whatever they were doing to her had stopped.

It’s hard to think when you’re zapped by a raygun—paralyzed from head to toe. You try to remember things—like how you got there, the sedan floating down quietly behind us, the sense of being zapped and losing consciousness, the pain that has no beginning or end.

All of that you feel or try to feel—you don’t really have time to think. When you try to think—the pain only gets worse. Fire explodes in your head—and you pass out again.

They left me on the floor—there were feet and shoes shuffling around me. My hands and sleeves—and the back of my head were sticky with blood. It was bloody and sticky in my mouth too—four separate pairs of feet were all pointing to the same place. My eyes followed them—and then I saw her in the chair and what they were doing to her.

Do androids feel pain—when they’re tortured by no-good sadistic thugs? Her trench coat was gone—her pale white skin had ugly blotches and bruises all over it. She was tied to the chair—her mouth making uncontrollable helpless sounds. The hand with the pliers had done something horrible to her—pulled out her android vocal cords. Her mouth kept opening and closing—without screaming.

“That’s enough,” one of them said. “These imperial androids don’t last long. They aren’t programmed for interrogation—like the fighter droids. She’s dead.”

Another voice said—“Okay, we’ve got orders. We get rid of them now. Both of them.”

A third voice said—“It’s a shame to dump her. She’s cute. We’ve still got some time to mess around.”

“You pig,” the first voice said. “Do as you’re told.”

I tried to scream something—my mouth felt like cursing them with every filthy name I could remember. But they all stuck in my throat—I started gagging at what I saw. I couldn’t open my eyes again—all I could hear was their voices spilling over my dead body. I didn’t need to see or hear them—to know what they were doing to her. The bastards, the fucking bastards.

Hands reached under me—and for a second I could feel my body again. But I blacked out from the pain—a black curtain fell over my eyes again. It was like sleeping but not being able to wake up—even though you wanted to. But then your body was aching so bad—maybe you didn’t want to wake up again to the horror of it all.

I started to wake up anyway—suddenly realizing it wasn’t a dream after all. It was a living nightmare instead—something even more terrifying once I started waking up.

They dumped me in my car—beside the dead android. Its head was lollygagging against the window on the passenger side. Its eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling—how could anything once so alive be so dead? He/she jerked against me.

They were pushing the car—toward the edge of the cliff. The car was moving slowly—getting rammed from behind. Somehow I got awake—grabbed the wheel but saw the edge of the cliff only feet away.

I reached for the door—but the wheels went over the edge. The nose dipped down—over the cliff into the dark hungry void…

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