NOTE: My Forthcoming book has 7 or possibly 8 pieces of tea-flavoured fiction included. Here’s one in draft form. Your comments are welcome.
I’m in a seedy, not exactly legitimate establishment. I’m wearing a trench coat and a hat.
The problem with being a Private Investigator is that sometimes you have to look like a cliché in order to have the client take you seriously.
Even if your client is a known criminal.
When I say “known criminal”, Little Clarence is a respected businessman. Despite their best efforts, the Force have never managed to convict him, or even arrest him, for anything.
No, the reason that I say Little Clarence is a known criminal is that his selling of illicit substances is known to me. Personally.
I’m one of his biggest clients.
Hey – if doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, electricians and politicians, just to read the last six months’ headlines – are out there buying and using, then don’t judge me, OK? Sometimes, the law should just leave well enough alone.
So, Little Clarence calls and asks for “a favour”. I’m not really in a position to refuse, am I? So, I amble into LunaLatte.
I sit down where he has a large table to himself, covered in books. A stout walking stick rests across the top.
He passes me a latte. He has a short black himself. I grimace as I taste the fake coffee and fake milk.
“It’s a beautiful sight, isn’t it, Baycroft?”, he asks, pointing at the planet swimming into view through the long, long plastic window that makes up the entire wall of the public parts of this place.
“Sure is, Clarence.” I sip the latte again and regret it again. It’s worse because I know what’s really available here. “But you didn’t ask me in here to watch Earthrise”.
“Let me get straight to the point”, Clarence rasps. “I’ve been robbed”.
I’m immediately concerned. “When you say robbed…”
“All my Lapsang. All my Yunnan. A little Silver Needle. And two artistic balls I was saving for a special occasion. And my A through M order book”
I slumped back as though slapped.
“So you see, Baycroft, you’ve got some skin in the game.”
I considered the situation “It wasn’t The Force?”
“No, the cops are clueless. I’ve walked through customs 29 times now with contraband. Not once have they figured it out. They even stripped me after that ChaSniffer dog went ballistic. Found nothing.”
I make a mental note that I also had no idea how he did it. Turned out to be an unnecessary mental note.
He stood up, grabbing the cane to balance himself.
Of course, he wouldn’t have needed the cane if he still had two legs.
Back in my office, I pondered what I had just learned.
Little Clarence was called ‘Clarence’ because his parents were unkind. He was called ‘Little’ because he was very tall, and we appreciate that sort of subtle humour out here at Mooba Cinquo.
He’d just told me he’d started life as just plain Clarence, and as a young adult, he was about 180 tall. Then he hatched a plan. He had his legs amputated, and hollow biomech legs installed. As long as no-one knew the legs were fake, he could stuff them full of contraband.
While he was at it, he increased his height to 202. That’s when he became “Little Clarence”,
He is the guy they can’t catch. It took him two years to afford the coffee lounge, another one to build the Sipeasy out the back. With seven exits across three levels from the lounge and a Rubik’s door into the Sipeasy, the cops can never prove what was going on.
And yes, I am a regular. I never claimed to be a saint. I’d be there two, three times a week, sipping away, not looking at anyone else, just drawing that hot nectar into myself.
So half my income goes on illicit tea. So what? I have no family, so responsibilities to anyone other than myself.
I find in life, someone always wants to interrupt you mid-ponder. And as always, it’s that time.
The buzzer sounds and again I wish that I had a full-time receptionist. It seems she’s never here when I get a visit from a client.
I rise from the desk, somewhat unnecessarily, as the door is kicked in and The Force’s finest stand at my threshold.
“May we come in?”, asks Delaine, his huge bulk smirkingly falling back a tad to allow Crompton ingress.
Ah, Crompton. Not many people know we had a thing going on back when I was on The Force. Small and powerful, androgynous looking, expressionless face.
Known as “The Robot” behind her back. Even by robots.
She sweeps into the room, grabs the leg of my chair and upends me onto the floor.
It’s going to be one of those days. I roll under the desk as Delaine aims a kick. He viciously kicks the metal desk and howls in anger and pain. He draws his Taser.
I press a tricky little button I’ve installed under the desk and roll out.
“Ouch!”, I say, plonking myself back on my chair. “Can I offer the Moon’s finest a cup of coffee?”
Delaine punches me in the stomach but he is off-kilter, and besides, I have implants.
I breathe out suddenly.
“Cocoa? Some water?”
“Listen, Baycroft”. Crompton puts her face near mine.
“We don’t want coffee or cocoa. This is not a social call. What we want is information”.
“There’s an information station just down the hall. On the left, you can’t miss it”, I wheeze, slightly exaggerating my discomfort.
Delaine slaps the back of my head, but then, he’s not much of a conversationalist.
“You just met with Clarence, and we want to know why”, Crompton continued.
“Lost cat”, I said, extemporising in a less plausible manner than I’d hoped. “Back on earth, in his Lima home, he’s lost his cat”.
Crompton puts her face very close to mine, and it’s a less pleasant experience than it once was.
“We asked him, you know? And you know what he told us, Baycroft? He told us he had lost his dog. From his Canberra property”.
“Ah, that’s why I’m not still on The Force”, I observe. “I’m not good with detail”.
This time Delaine’s kick catches me square in the ribs. I tip off the chair, and pretend I’m stunned whilst sprawling across the floor. A great bit of acting, if I do say so myself.
Crompton bends over, and says very deliberately: “We will be back. And you will talk”.
She flounces from the room, Delaine trailing her like a pet rhinoceros.
I right my chair, download the stored kinetic energy from my implants, and press the button again to stop videoing. Two minutes later, the vision is with the Chief of The Force, and that should keep Crompton and Delaine out of my hair for a while.
Next, The Hand Of Lenny.
Sorry about the capitals, but if you’ve got a secret mummified hand, it deserves them.
Back in ’06, when the Mexican Shoe Cartel built the Mooba, they hired Lenny. Leonard Q. Leonard of Arkansas, as he used to introduce himself.
A security expert of some note, he was also a career criminal. He’d just never been caught.
He told me this in a letter I received after he died. Also, he left me his mummified hand. It’s not often that you get a special delivery that both clears up the mystery of your parentage and has a preserved appendage.
He was the ultimate security expert and exposer of white-collar criminals, famous the world over for bringing the very worst embezzlers, hackers and con artists to justice. His only ever failure in a long and industrious career was to track down the White Whale, the greatest criminal of his time; his arch-nemesis, and, it turns out, also him.
The secret died with him. In fact, The White What ran a criminal enterprise for two more years, then vanished – thanks to Lenny’s skill with Artificial Intelligence.
So, he built the security systems up here. And what is shown on the map as a disused and filled in aircon shaft that runs through every room in the entire city is, in fact, a private, secret passage. With a few listening devices, cameras and even a few refreshment stations and a bed or two, if you need to hide out. It’s also scanproof.
It can be entered via secret doors scattered around the place, or access hatches in most rooms.. As long as you have Lenny’s handprint.
It’s easy to see why I am the best PI there is. I can go anywhere, see anything, hear anything and enjoy a beer along the way.
With a suspect in mind, I stepped into the shaft in the usual way, and turned around, only to be pistol-whipped by a vision in blue.
Blue corset with odd panels. Pearl-handled revolvers. Serious headache.
All reasonable thoughts, given the circumstances.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Jupe”.
What? I open my eyes fully and there she is. In blue: two guns, small yellow bag dangling from belt. Dark hair, air of menace. The sort of woman us Private Investigators are supposed to consort with all the time, according to the stories, although you shouldn’t believe all that you read.
It wasn’t a dream.
The lady in question really did offer both something special to look at and a definite air of mystery.
I also had a shrewd idea who she was.
“Yes, yes, I’m the Goddess of Tea”. She looks impatient. “Get your head together, we’ve got work to do”.
While I struggle to be less sprawled across the floor, she checks the time and seems to be consulting an LPS – she obviously doesn’t know these tunnels as well as I did.
“I need you on Earth. I figured you’d want to sort this first, so let’s go check on Arkady”.
I still seem to be a bit behind on current events
“Yes”, she says, her impatience obvious. “It’s this way, Jupe”.
There it is again.
I finally get vertical, just as she disappears around the corner. I wobble after her. I’m thinking of those reports of the Goddess of Tea, the vigilante that has upset NestCo ‘s applecart more than once. Sort of a Scarlet Pimpernel, but with added tannins and more sex appeal in the media.
When I get to the corner, she is twenty metres ahead of me. My limbs are starting to feel co-ordinated again, but she’s still halfway up the ladder by the time I get there.
“Stop hanging around, Jupe”. She jumps the next dozen rungs and heads toward AccomoThree.
Four minutes later, we’re at a grille. Arkady’s room is there for both of us to see.
No Arkady. No tea. But there’s something on the bed that tends to hint at the suggestion of a rumour that we’re on the right track.
The missing leg.
Well, this will be easy.
“Sort this out, Jupe, and I’ll see you later”, says my odd companion, ambling back in the direction we’ve just come from.
I start by pulling out my little box that kills every video feed at Mooba Cinqo for about four minutes. It’s very handy for when I’m worried about appearing to have gone from one room or another without popping up on a security screen. I check the monitor, press the button, and use The Hand Of Lenny to enter the somewhat unhygienic digs of Arkady Mott. I remove my hat and pull my mini-taser from the lining.
Whilst waiting for him, I ponder my new and somewhat exotic acquaintance. I think I’ve avoided doing so until my head came back on line.
Okay, she was in the tunnels. The only way into the tunnels was with The Hand of Lenny. Or was there another way? Unlikely. Lenny was a freak.
My brain turns to where I didn’t want to go.
The Goddess of Tea has turned up in MY corridor. An international fugitive; she’s not only annoyed the NestCo board who had made Chindian teas illegal in the first place so much that there was a bounty on her head, she’d upset the Democratic People’s Coalition of China, India and Mongolia so much that, at least officially, she was wanted there as well.
Even though she was an international hero to billions of frustrated tea drinkers, I suspected that that was because those billions hadn’t actually met her. Up close she was bossy and a tad violent. I could add presumptive and lacking in social graces like patience, kindness, polite introductions and not hitting people. It seems that the thorn in everyone’s side is now a thorn in mine.
My mind was filling in the backstory. It needed to go deeper, and I was a tad unwilling.
I was six. My sister was five. We’d lived in the home our whole life. When Nic was adopted, we had twenty minutes to say goodbye. She cried. I didn’t understand why she was leaving me. I slapped her and left the room. I never saw her again.
The door opened and interrupted my reverie.
“Arkady!” I exclaim, mildly tasing him. “What a delight to see you again”.
He demonstrates the verb “to crumple” with admirable conviction.
“I didn’t do nothing”, he mumbles from the floor.
I do so hate a double negative.
“Great”, I say. “As long as you’ve done nothing, and therefore I haven’t found this leg in your room, I guess no-one will ever be able to say I beat you to death with it, will they?”.
I shove the leg under Arkady’s arm, take a photo, smile at him, then stash the leg under my coat. I pull open his bottom drawer, fling his tacky clothing on the floor, and find the stash taped to the back.
“You know I get a double bonus if I deliver you to him, right?”, I mention quite conversationally to Arkady, who has the good grace both look ashamed and to wet himself. Perhaps it was the tasing; perhaps not.
“One day, Arkady, you’ll be useful to me. And on that day, I’ll destroy that photo. Until then, stay away.”
I leave through the front door, and make my way across a few blocks to LunaLatte. This time, I go into the bathrooms, select the end cubicle, flush three times and turn the lock counter-clockwise. I open the door, and I’m in The Sipeasy.
The décor is underwhelming, the lighting dim, and the whole place just looks like somewhere I don’t want to be.
There it is, the tannins, the leafiness, the impossible anticipation of a cup.
There’s Little Clarence. Or Lopsided Clarence, as a stupider man than me might rename him.
I sit down in silence. He waves, and a small cup of tea arrives in front of me. I can already see it’s a Darjeeling.
I look Clarence in the face, and slowly take a sip.
I withdraw the tea. Then the leg.
He looks grateful for about half a second.
Then two goons appear at my back.
“Finish your tea”,
It all clicks into place.
I know about the leg. He’s not going to let me live.
My mind is racing. What to do? Offer to work for him full-time as trusted goon? Attempt to tase all three of them.
I take another sip.
“I’m grateful, Baycroft”. I can sense the goons reaching for weapons.
I consider throwing the tea in their faces, but, hey, it’s too good. Time to use the old charm. I clear my throat.
“Baycroft, you are not to talk. I like you. I feel bad about this. I don’t want to hear it. Business is business. Arkady is already dead; you were spotted coming from his rooms. Now finish that Darjeeling. It’s as good as it gets. The last of my ’22 First Flush”.
I calculate angles. Trajectories. Rolling. Tasing. Shouting. Stomping. Crying. Laughing. Phoning my elected representative. Calculating pi to 47 decimal places. Conjugating Latin verbs. Let’s face it, I’m low on ideas.
I reach s-l-o-w-l-y under my coat, and pull out The Hand of Lenny.
I figure a mummified hand will buy me some time. I drain my cup with a flourish and bang it down. I was hoping it would shatter, but pseudochina is a little too tough.
“You can’t buy more time with a mummified hand”.
Clarence starts to nod. All hell breaks loose. Sonically as visually.
Goon One pitches forward. I’d begun to throw myself in that direction. So he just lands on top of me. Goon Two has the good manners to look surprised before collapsing.
I see the counter attendant reach for a cupboard. The hand that is doing the reaching pulls back; it’s now doing some bleeding.
Clarence leaps to his feet – make that his foot – and promptly falls sideways. He looks as bit embarrassed as we both glance at the leg still on the table.
No-one expects projectile weapons on the moon. No-one is insane enough to fire them here. Which makes the two smoking guns, the two dead goons, the counter attendant with the hole in his hand and the ringing in my ears all a bit hard to process.
She points at the counter attendant. “Over here, now”.
He trembles and obeys. She sits him down next to Clarence. A smoke shrouded blue Goddess with twin revolvers.
“Me, I love a bit of violence”, she smiles at them. “So, if it was up to me, I’d just shoot you both.”
Clarence starts to speak, and she shoves a placemat in his mouth.
“Shhh, Clarence – don’t speak while I’m being overly dramatic.” He looks like his eyeballs will explode.
“You see, I need my brother here to help me on Earth. And he’s not that comfortable with killing as a means to an end. So instead, I’ll take your memories”.
Quickly and efficiently, she plunges a syringe into each. They slip into unconsciousness.
I stand up. After giving the inert Clarence a kick – I’m only human – and removing the tea stash from the table, I turn to find my rescuer opening another hatch – with Lenny’s other hand. She slips it back into the dangling bag at her hip.
“Go pack”, she says. “We leave on the next shuttle.”
I quickly exit the Sipeasy, emerging from the bathroom in LunaLatte and consider my next step.
I don’t consider for long.
I’ll be on that shuttle.