Sable, wired to the max, was not glorst-capable, but she was detonator tense, fear and anger working in the direction of an explosion. Beria. Ibrahim. Semen. Rape. Her sexual health! Room Deep Serpent. This was a really scary horror movie, and merely closing her eyes was not enough to make it go away.
Eyes wide open (eyes a little red and irritated after a long day of particularly bad pollution) Sable sat on a bar stool at the counter of Sober Alibis, a waterfront bar in Taris, trying to summon up the courage to order a drink. She needed a drink, and she needed it bad. But she was a Conflux girl, and she knew that what they said about Conflux girls and alcohol was mostly true. It would be an error to trust herself. One drink inevitably leads to twenty-three.
Besides, what was the legal drinking age on Zisperchilp? On Conflux it was twelve. Twelve on Conflux and sixteen on Woosung Shanghai, but when you got off the ferry at Zisperhaven the rules changed. Different state, different rules.
It was getting later and later, and she would have to head to Ibrahim's place eventually, otherwise it would finally get too late. So get your stockings into gear, girl!
As Sable was trying to persuade herself to get moving, a man sat down beside her, Otto Plossage, a high school teacher who had spent his whole day studiously avoiding acknowledging the female nature of half the students he taught, and who was now in a mood for another relapse from chastity. What Otto saw was not the reality, a quivering human bomb perched on a bar stool, but a cute blonde with quite remarkably appetizing boobies.
"No engagement ring yet?" said Otto, putting his hairy paw over Sable's slender blonde hand.
"Three things you ought to know about me," said Sable, retrieving her hand. "One, I'm an undercover cop. Two, I'm armed. Three, and read my lips on this one, I am not a blonde joke."
"Okay, let's play the three game," said Otto, with an easy smile. "One, you're a blonde, yes, but, two, you're not a cop, and, three, you're most definitely not armed."
He was wrong on three. Sable pulled out her can of mugger squirt and zapped him, then kicked his bar stool out from under him. Should she stomp him?
"Hey, Conflux girl!"
It was the barman who was talking to her. And what was that thing he was pointing at her? It looked awfully like a sawn-off shotgun.
"Uh ... me?" said Sable. "I think I might have been just about to leave."
"Yes, while you still have legs to scamper. Kick him once in the head if you really want to, then get out of here. Once, I said! Once! Stop that, you crazy bitch!"
Yeah, once, she was only supposed to kick the guy once, and once was fewer than twenty-five times, right? Probably. Math had never been her strong suit.
When the guy with the shotgun started to come round from behind the counter to get at her, Sable scampered. Ducked out into the night and fled. Ran until she could run no more, then stopped, panting. Anyone following? No.
How did the barman know she was a Conflux girl? Was it that obvious? Or was he just guessing? But, really, what a wimp! Shotgun in his hands and he never fired it once. Typical Zisperchilp softie, a hicktown hick. Wouldn't last ten minutes on Conflux. Get taken down and scragged for dog meat, him.
"Well, girl," said Sable. "You have an appointment with destiny, I believe."
In point of fact, no, she didn't have an appointment. This was going to be a cold call. But she was blonde, and what else did you need? Sooner rather than later, Ibrahim would lose self-control, and then the horrific inevitable defilement would follow. How exactly would he do it?
"Cut the thinking crap," said Sable. "When did thinking ever get you anywhere?"
And, skipping the rape fantasies, she focused on mentally replaying the Sober Alibis encounter as she strode determinedly in the direction of Pier Nine. That was a wow, really, taking that guy down like that, putting him down on the ground, down where he belonged. Yeah, that was a wow and a half. She was a blonde, yes, but she was most definitely not a blonde joke.
"Next man who mistakes me for his hankie," said Sable, "he's gone. He's going to die."
But the reality was that, tonight, she needed Ibrahim to see her as easy meat, the easiest meat in the world. And, if he proved slow to take the initiative, she was going to have to find some way to inflame him, to egg him on, to unplug his wine cork, to wasabi his sushi and throw him into action.
By the time Sable got to the Adventuring Salt Building, she had recovered her breath. But her pulse had not slowed. Rather, it was quickening as she closed in on her destiny.
The Adventuring Salt Building was in darkness. Ibrahim was out. Or was he? Sable's memory was of a quiet guy, not the kind of person to go nightclubbing. Maybe he was inside. She knocked on the door and rattled it until the CLOSED sign, illuminated by the lights on Pier Nine, shook.
"Ibrahim!" shouted Sable.
So she screamed it, screamed Ibrahim's name, hollered it till she was hoarse.
"Put a sock in it, you mad bitch!" yelled someone, shouting at her from a window somewhere down the pier.
She was making a spectacle of herself, and people could hear her. This was so embarrassing, almost as bad as that time when Fang had thrown her into the trunk of his car, naked, just for kicks, playing kidnap, and then the cops had pulled them over and had searched the car.
"Sock yourself!" screamed Sable in defiance.
People could hear her? Well, people were going to hear more from her shortly.
Five minutes later, Sable had noisily smashed her way into Ibrahim's office. Five minutes after that, she was upstairs, where someone lay sleeping on the bed. After fumbling around, she found the light switch. The man on the bed was Ibrahim. Snoring.
"Wake up!" said Sable, shaking him.
He had to wake, wake up, wake now. He had to do his duty as a man. To save her life. But Ibrahim was out cold.
There was a small glass jar on the bed beside the sleeping man, a scattering of tablets spilling from the jar. Sleeping tablets. About a third of the jar's original contents remained, so how many had Ibrahim taken?
"How the hell many?" said Sable, slapping his face, trying to rouse him.
But Ibrahim was impossible to wake.
Sable checked around, found a toothbrush on the floor. Found, on a side table, an open bottle of Mariner's Juice, a really heavy-kicking rum which Sable had drunk once and once only, at a riotous party from which she had retained a number of "never again" memories.
A filthy green plastic cup stood on the table by the almost empty rum bottle, and there was a little rum still in the bottom of the cup. Sable's hypothesis was that this was Ibrahim's toothbrush cup, and usually lived elsewhere.
He had drunk hard liquor and he had taken a whole heap of sleeping tablets, so had he committed suicide? Was she sharing this room with a dying man? And, if so, what should she do?
"Phone Beria Dag," said Sable.
But she didn't have his phone number.
A sensible person would have solved the phone number problem by looking it up (Beria was in the book) or by calling directory service. But Sable was operating in dumb blonde mode, situational stress piling up on her, reducing her to a function of a stereotype.
"Okay," said Sable. "I'll give this guy one hour to wake up. Then I'll ..."
Then she would what?
She did not have the slightest idea.