Yolanda was already missing Lady Mischief, who was such a beautiful thing. Lady Mischief was a slow loris, an animal a bit like a monkey but with no tail, a creature of delicate slowness, deliberately meditative in all its movements, a partial antidote to the speed of a world which, for Yolanda, moved too fast.
Lady Mischief was gone, and Yolanda missed the pet more than she missed her husband. But, even so, she wanted her husband back. And she was starting to think she wasn't going to get him back. Both her husband and his pet had been missing when Yolanda awoke, and her analysis was telling her that there was no reason to expect that she would ever see either of them again.
Yolanda Effigy was alone in her hotel room, busy missing Lady Mischief, when her cellphone, for which she had an international roaming plan, began to ring. Her husband?
"Hello?" she said, answering it.
Nobody there. Oh, an e-mail! Sender: Imperial Embassy of Yam. But how would they have her cellphone number? Kuro must have gone and registered them with the embassy, just in case, that was one of the things about him that annoyed her, he did too much fussbudget stuff, whereas she would have preferred to sail through life more freely.
What was the e-mail?
"Because of the deteriorating security situation in the Federal Republic of Oolong Morblock, the Imperial Government of Yam advises all citizens with non-essential business to evacuate immediately."
Security situation? Yolanda had been watching television, the magic box that tells you all the things you need to know in life, everything from the name of the latest diet book to the fact that your breath smells, and if there had been a security crisis then she would have known about it. But there was nothing special happening in Omblock, just the usual big city stuff -- starlet pregnant, major fashion show announced, a couple of bank robberies, a highway collision involving a tanker carrying liquid petroleum gas and a terrorist dead someplace in a shootout with the police. None of it end of the world stuff, so no need to panic.
Yolanda put the e-mail message in her "does not compute" basket and, pretty soon, had forgotten about it. She had her husband to worry about. For a long time, she had been afraid her marriage might be heading for a divorce. So it was ominous that Kuro had gone out but had left his passport and wallet behind. He had even left his credit card.
No credit card? He couldn't possibly be out and about with nothing but cash in his pocket, could he? Nobody does that in the modern world -- use cash. Kuro must have another credit card.
Yes, the necessary implication was that Kuro had conspired in secret to terminate their marriage, and must have a second set of documents, including a credit card. Logic forced you to the conclusion -- there was no avoiding it -- that Kuro had changed his identity and was aiming at getting lost in this city of twenty millions. He was going to become one of those alimony dodgers that you read about, just as her lawyer had warned her.
Husbandless, and suspecting this might be a permanent condition, Yolanda ordered a second breakfast, because she was experimenting with the chocolate snack second breakfast diet, the one where you ate coconut pies on every third day, and worked out at the gym on Sundays. Then she sat on her bed in her room in the Red Stockings Hotel and did her tummy exercises.
If Kuro had done a vanisher, and she would assume he had if he wasn't back by lunchtime, what would she do with her remaining time in Oolong Morblock, the three days before she got on the plane to fly back to Yam?
The original plan had been that they would spend their time in Oolong Morblock at the International Exotic Pet Fanciers Convention, the event which had brought them to Omblock in the first place. But the Convention, unfortunately, had been abruptly canceled on the very day that their plane touched down at Manbrock Airport. It was not clear whether they were going to get refunds on their attendance fees -- the organizer had, without warning, gone bankrupt -- and Kuro didn't think their insurance would pay.
So, with her husband missing and the Convention canceled, what was she going to do with herself?
"Get a guide book, I guess," said Yolanda, without enthusiasm, "and go do tourist things."
They had bought a guide book, but Kuro seemed to have gone off with it. At least, it was nowhere in sight.
However, the truth was that she had no appetite for tourist things. The disaster she had long feared, the end of her marriage, appeared to have come upon her, and she felt as if the stuffing had been kicked out of her.
But something she should do, and could do easily, was phone the police and report Kuro missing. She phoned the front desk to ask for advice, and got given the number of the Missing Persons Bureau run by the Conflux Constabulary, to which she reported Kuro's absence, and got the usual police response.
People go missing all the time, and usually they show up safe and well, and usually the guy has an explanation ready for his wife, though not always an explanation which the wife finds credible. If Yolanda's husband was still missing in seventy-two hours then there might be cause for concern, but perhaps he'd just stepped out for a walk and would be back by lunchtime.
After making the call, Yolanda realized she had only reported the absence of her husband. She had said nothing about Lady Mischief, who was also missing. Maybe she should call back. But, no, that was probably not a good idea. The police guy on the phone had not exactly been rude to her, but he had, plainly, been exercising that kind of patience that you bring to bear when you find yourself having to deal with people who are not properly oriented to reality. If she phoned him back and started pestering him about their pet, then he might give her the rough edge of his tongue, and Yolanda hated anything that got confrontational.
"They're gone," said Yolanda. "They're gone, and the police can't help."
Her husband and Lady Mischief, both gone. Never to return. Swallowed alive by this horrible city of concrete and exhaust pipes, this city where the sky was a kind of filthy gray ooze, and you had to really scrub your neck with a loofah when you took a shower, to get rid of all the itty gritty bits of black stuff that settled into your pores.
Thinking about how horrible it was, her husband and Lady Mischief, both gone, both swallowed, Yolanda started to cry. She wept.
After having a good cry, Yolanda washed her face, switched off the television set, and curled up in bed with her latest self-actualization book, Boudoir Blood Ecstasies, a self-help guide to the acquisition of eternal energy which was from the pen of Dubya Ranchhand, a serial killer in Relsh Strasborg, currently five years into a sentence of incarceration which was mandated to last for 27,596,203 years.
These serial killers, you read a lot about them, all that plotting and planning and situational engineering they get involved in, but you never ask yourself where these serial killers get the energy for all that effort. Well, Dubya's book raised the question and promised to answer it, "indoctrinating you into the secrets of the inner soul core, the heart of fire and ecstasy which is waiting within you, like a cherry hidden in a bowl of yoghurt. The toothpick will discover it!"
A creepy statement, that one about the toothpick. Yolanda had watched the TV special, Capture's Aftermath, and the things Dubya had got up to with that silver toothpick of hers, well, creepy didn't begin to describe it. But she reminded herself that Dubya was now a guru, and, what's more, he had become her guru, the one she had chosen from the shelves of Flamethrower Girl, her local bookshop, which specialized in personal growth and self-empowerment. A necessary first step in learning is to humble yourself before your guru, and if you are too bitter with pride to do that then you will never get anywhere.
"Reading enhances the universe," said Yolanda.
And was soon comfortably engrossed in the tale of how Dubya, aged nine, had made his first kill, his sister's best friend, then aged five. Most serial killers warm up with small animals, but some start out with the main event when they begin their amazing careers, careers that are designed to astonish the world.
As Yolanda read, peaceful in bed, the great city state of Oolong Morblock hummed forward into the growing heat of the day, gathering its energies for a killing spree greater than any the average serial killer dares to dream about.