That persistent psychosis known as human civilization endured right through the weekend and into the following week. There was an antidote for it, some thermonuke stuff you could get from Bunkerbuster Central, but nobody had the balls to take the necessary medicine. Won't get better if you don't take the cure, you know.
Ibrahim Chess had a busy weekend, but got to spend some time doing things he really liked to do, including, on Sunday, eating crab. Imported, of course. Crabs, you can't get them from the Bilge Globulus any more. They all died. Gross domestic product keeps rising and crabs keep heading in the direction of Zero City, eventually getting there. All gone now. Not coming back. But we can still see them in comic books and we can still buy them in cans, so why is that girl crying about it? Is she a blonde softie? No, that grass-green hair of hers is natural, she's Crabgirl Matilda, a whiny girl singer, and crying is her business.
But life is too short to timedabble with the diarylife of every girl singer who would like to see her profile boosted by inclusion in this chronicle, so let's move on.
Monday, Sable phoned. Meet at the Rendezvous Hotel, Tuesday, three in the afternoon? Okay, Sable. Anything for you. Tuesday evening, she was on the phone again: What's your excuse? Had a guy come round to chat about my godson. We'll meet later, Sable. Don't call me, now, I'll call you. Got the number for her new phone, Boydialer, she was very proud of it, kept calling it girlpink, the focus word in last month's peaker song, "Girl Surrender". Was she trying to hint at something?
Wednesday, Ibrahim had a bad dream. He was walking down into the subway station at Luanda Hill, carrying a yellow parakeet in a birdcage, and a cop walked right up to him, no "Hello, how are you?", no "Do you have a prescription for that?", just pulled out his gun and unloaded, one, two, three, four, five rounds, just like that, pulpy bits of blood and brain exploding everyscatter. With Ibrahim dead, there's one round left, and, with it, the cop shoots the parakeet. Cop wipes wet stuff from his face. Says "Avian flu terror", holds out his hand for his reward.
Sable phoned late that night, waking him up.
"I suppose you want to know why I'm crying?" she said.
Ibrahim hung up on her.
Thursday, nothing happened but work, Ibrahim busy right through the entire working week, both boats in action, working for Mashhandler Balachi, the ad agency which was doing a photo shoot for Yachtlife Screwsafer Condoms (twenty-seven different flavors available), big money talking, money big enough to buy the girls with the biggest boobies, and Ibrahim was machinegunning money like it was going out of fashion, big business. Who says you can't make money from boats?
Friday, a bad news day. A phone call, the honeymoon charter thing, that was canceled. Was counting on that! How could they screw me like this? Had to cancel a whole bunch of other stuff to clear the time slots for them. Bastards!
Friday, also, Egon's glorst was in the news again. Had been getting stronger, and had started attacking little kids at the Sekigahara daycare place, the Garden of Innocent Smiles. Chunk out of a cheek, piece out of an ear. The City Exorcist, Gelbert Proctor Tosterburger, was refusing to move on it. Got doorstepped by Esmeralda Arizona, story was important enough for her to get off her silky butt, get herself all the way to House Qorbethelmace, what's the story, Gelly?
And Mr. Tosterburger almost lost his cool and spat in her face, you could see him close to losing it, bad-tempered guy, notorious for psychenuke stuff, for losing his chicken and going apewire. Didn't like being called Gelly, no, that was a no-no, a fart-in-your-face miscue in the realms of politesse.
"The role of the City Exorcist is to preside over federal executions," said Gelbert Proctor. "Finish. Got it?"
So, next, the media went after Gelbert's son, Danzburg Tosterburger. Bad for astrals, the exorcists refusing to pull finger, poor norms got no talents, no way to deghost or deglorst themselves. Something the norms keep forgetting about astrals, right? Everyone's going to die, population of spooks and afterlifers keeps rising, and what state is the city going to be in if you don't have your trusty astral exorcists around to clean up that specter trash?
Danzburg, he hangs tough. Can't do nothing. Court order, okay? Had this high treason thing, on trial for his life. Five years back. Terms of his plea bargain, well, he has to do the presiding bit at Zisperchilp executions, has to reside in Orkel Pariah, one of those places where you have those mutant flesh-eating cockroaches, not fun city, okay? And, the finisher, he's forbidden, under the terms of his plea bargain, to exercise his talent anywhere outside of Zisperchilp.
Which would have been okay, except that Danzburg comes across badly on TV. All too plainly, he's enjoying this, gloating a little about the fact that he has the talent, the power, he's the spook-scarer, and you norms, what you ever do for the average astral? Go screw yourselves, you bunch of overfed sidewalk-lickers.
Ever get the feeling your sanity is edging up toward the glorst line? Unplug your mind. Yeah, that's it. The rectangular thing in the corner, the one with the Splastics Television label logoed on the side of it. Aiming to put a little equilibrium back in his life, Ibrahim did just that, yanked the cord right out of the power socket, stuck the plug in a brown paper bag and wrote "Don't touch" on the bag in big red felt-tip letters. When he played boss, he played a game of no holds barred, and, for this weekend, he was the implacable life's tough so no TV boss. A bit of the dominating fascist in Ibrahim Chess, maybe he should have been a cop.
All through the weekend, Ibrahim kept the TV switched off, didn't want to hear what Egon's glorst might have got up to now, or what line other exorcists might be taking when they, too, rejected pleas to deal with it. Gelbert Proctor Tosterburger had set the tone, and the result was as good as a collective conspiracy. Nobody was crypting on this, sure, but every exorcist understood how it was. We're on strike.
What Gelbert P. was angling for, maybe, was for Olive Valise to beg him for help, to beg him in public when she made her speech at Yapeworm Conference Theater, a part of Urn Angol Wat, the ancient edifice at the heart of the campus of Nash Olish University, right here on the island of Zisperhaven. Yeah, norms. Let's see you down on your knees a little. Let's see you beg. There's some cigarette ash sitting on the sidewalk, norm. Kiss my boots then lick it up, and then maybe we can talk business.
Friday, late, darklate, Sable called.
"What are you doing on the weekend?" she said.
"Me?" said Ibrahim. "I'm going to be shacked up with a married woman, she's got four kids, husband doesn't give her much attention."
"Seriously," said Sable.
"If you don't like the answers," said Ibrahim, "don't ask the questions."
"No, really," said Sable. "What are you doing?"
"Ever heard of the Northern Clinic?"
"It's one of these multimedical places they've got on Sclag, you know, a big box of specialists. Me, I'm going to Deeper Comfort Bioengineering, get my hemorrhoids done."
Finally, Sable got the message. The weekend was a no-way. So how about Monday? The Dead Parrot Bar, did he know it? Could he get there? Dilskartha, okay? Ferry to Koala, then the bus, get on the train at Luanda Hill, any H-train will take you right there, also an I-train, a J-train or a K-train. Yeah, Monday, he could. Could do the meet. Eight in the evening? Sure. See you there, Sable. Don't dye your hair purple, or I won't recognize you.
That was last week, and now it was this week, not Monday but Tuesday, and Sable was on the phone, interrupting Ibrahim as he was trying to get through his e-mail, wanting to know why the hell he hadn't been there at the Dead Parrot Bar. The interruption was unfortunate, as Ibrahim's e-mail was really important, jellyfish ranching options, multi-level aroma sales deals, erectile torpedo drugs, soft sponge parlors offering quick-grab taste treats, free sample facial surgery at the Better Boobies Esthetic Surgery Clinic -- if you didn't work your way through your e-mail, you'd never discover what a wonderful world of opportunities was panting at your doorstep, just waiting to be ravished.
At first, Sable was upset, and making no effort to hide it, as cranky as a buttered cockroach, threw a real hissy fit, but Ibrahim hung tough. After all, what's she going to do? It's a telephone call, okay? Can't kick a guy in the balls by telephone. At least, you couldn't back when Ibrahim last looked at the technology. (Remember when there used to be a time when you couldn't use a telephone to take a photograph, sample music or buy drinks from a vending machine? Are you old enough to remember that?)
"Sorry," said Ibrahim, "my car broke down."
"Car?" said Sable. "You don't have a car!"
"Sure I do. Yandaviba, great car, a classic. Guy sold it to me for parts, four hundred bucks, but it still runs. Sort of."
"Ibrahim, why are you telling me this blatant lie? You can't have a car, you don't have a garage. You've got nowhere to park. I've been to Pier Nine, I know where you live!"
"Hang on to your handles," said Ibrahim. "Don't you know telephones break if you yell at them loudly?"
"You don't have a car, do you?" said Sable.
"I've got me a lock-up garage out at Merv's Storage. Car is there. If you don't believe me, check it out."
"Ibrahim, you're lying like a lobster. You're just trying to avoid me."
"Okay, so what if I am? What are you going to do about it? File for divorce?"
"Ibrahim," said Sable, "I'm begging you. I'm desperate. There's something vitally important I have to talk to you about. We need to do this face to face. It's not something you can do on the telephone."
"Well, I don't know about that," said Ibrahim. "I keep seeing these phone sex advertisements, and if you can have sex on the telephone what can possibly be phone-impossible?"
"Ibrahim," said Sable. "You don't understand my problem."
True. But did he want to understand her problem? No. If she needed counseling, maybe he could put her in touch with Manfred Sphere, great guy, the man with the wheel answers, the wheel, it's not gone yet, but we're holding it at bay.
"Ibrahim!" said Sable, in that too-young voice which, at moments, could get perilously close to a whine, "Are you listening to me? I said I have a problem!"
"Well, you're not pregnant," said Ibrahim. "Or, at least, not by me. That much I know for certain."
"Ibrahim, don't torment me. I'm not a blonde joke. I'm a -- what are those things called? You know, girl, kind of, but not a girl. Better dress sense, more responsible. Know how to put on lipstick straight."
"Woman," said Ibrahim. "That's the word you're looking for. You're trying to say you're a woman."
"Yeah," said Sable. "One of those. Concept keeps escaping on me. I'm a woman and you're a man and I need to see you. This is world-ending urgent, Ibrahim. I have to see you now, today."
"Okay," said Ibrahim. "Come round to Pier Nine, I'll be here all day."
"You're lying to me," said Sable. "I'll get there and you'll be gone. You'll be out all day."
"No I won't," said Ibrahim. "As I speak I'm handcuffing myself to a ringbolt, yeah, and I'm throwing away the key. Gone. It's out of reach. Come rescue me, Sable, darling. My life depends on it."
And, with that, he hung up. All going well, today would send the final "go away and leave me alone" message. And if it didn't? Well, he'd have to try something sterner. Get a little intimate and do an Egon-type thing, bite a chunk out of her backside. Or offer her water but serve her white vinegar, the tradition on Sclag, something the mother did when an unsuitable girlfriend came visiting her son's home.
Sable would come round to visit and Ibrahim would be gone. He would be out all day, and, in the evening, he would arrange it so he went to brother Adolf's place in Fratpong, probably stay the night there, or maybe in a capsule hotel at Styx Lethanus. Yes, the hell with this Sable girl. He didn't know why she'd latched on to him, but there was something seriously twisted here, and he really hoped it wasn't some warped romance novel fantasy, some unspeakably naive blonde bubble misperception of how things were, no telling what kind of crazy make-believe love story a girl might find at the bottom of her bowl of cornflakes.
Sable Tauranga was a Conflux girl, and Ibrahim's image of a Conflux girl was someone who got trashed in vodka bars, did lines of coke in the toilets, hooned around on motorbikes, had promiscuous risk sex and probably sat around on the weekends doing party pills and watching porn flicks.
As if that wasn't bad enough, she was a journalist, and you have to be careful with those journo types, right? It's not your smiling face they're interested in, it's your dirty underwear, and exactly how bad it smells, and who is there who doesn't have some of that dirty linen lying around?
Ibrahim had endured one interview with Sable already, and, in a way, it had been one interview too many. Disturbing. Very disturbing, on occasion, with Sable inquiring about his familiar, sticking in her crowbar where it wasn't wanted, maybe not aware that she was asking a question you couldn't just come out and ask, a question that was off limits, like asking how close are you to your next bowel motion, or asking, hey, do legs too young for pubic hair do it for you?
But Sable had asked, showing no consciousness of error, a major gap in cultural understanding there, and an intrusion sufficiently offensive to make Ibrahim realize that, yes, the stereotype is true, journalism is a vulgar trade, a profession focused on the murder-rape side of life, get your dirt and merchandise it, no magic shell of etiquette to keep certain areas off limits.
Ibrahim had submitted to an initial interview as a courtesy to the people organizing the Omblock Prospadaplus Consultancy Prize. That was fair enough, since Ibrahim was entered in the ballot, and could, conceivably, win a consultancy package for Marine Charters. But follow-up visits, trying to get him to go meet up with her in bars and hotels, trying to get herself invited back to his place again -- what was going on here?
"Blonde bombshell babes with big boobies don't date astral failures," said Ibrahim to himself.
Then felt bad about fitting himself into the "failures" category, a good machinegunner doesn't do that, it's not productive. Still. Be realistic. She was twenty-two (he'd sneaked a look at her ID after she'd scuttled off into the toilet) and he was thirty-four. He got the impression she was hanging out enormously large "rape me" signs in bright red neon, but surely he was doing that thing men do, the radfems say it but that doesn't mean it's false, misinterpret a woman's most modest social overture as an orgy party go-ahead.
"Put a collar on your dog," said Ibrahim. "It's not yet safe for society."
Yeah, lust was the illusion master, and you had to keep control of your imagination. If he told her to lie down and spread her legs, she'd probably spit in his face, tell him he'd misconstrued everything, that girlpink was just another designer decorator color, one of a million on the colorboard.
Or, worse -- much worse! -- she might obey.
If she did obey (it was demented to think that she might, but, hey, don't Conflux girls have a reputation for doing out-and-out crazy stuff?) then would he be better off by complicating his life with a blonde concubine he didn't really have the time for? Or the requisite spare cash, either. No splash money, no. Girl like that, she gets expensive. Wants that saucer of caviar, that glass of sparkling white. Better off? No, somehow he didn't think so.
"If you're really desperate, go buy yourself a pig," said Ibrahim, quoting an adage which had been popular back in his high school days.
But he wasn't desperate, no, he had the weekends, and that, at this stage of life, was sufficient. When you are sixteen years old, girls are right there at the center of the universe, but, as you get older, they move out toward the periphery, eventually assuming distant galaxy status.
So, then, today, Sable would come to the Adventuring Salt Building and would find Ibrahim gone, his "GONE FISHING" sign hung on the door. And maybe she would get the hint. If she didn't, Ibrahim would find a more direct way to communicate with her, such as shooting her in both kneecaps.
And Ibrahim? Today, where would he go? Phone Adolf and make an early start on a trip to Fratpong? Or what?
The next e-mail that he opened gave him the answer. It was from Topaz Atatangle, inviting Ibrahim to a Topaz-organized demo today, at Yapeworm Conference Theater at Nash Olish University. The demo was scheduled to start at the same time at the speech which President Olive Valise was timetabled to give.
"Well, that gives me a mission," said Ibrahim.
He would go to Urn Angol Wat, find Topaz, grab him out of his demo, snatch him right out of the normative space-time continuum, go astral, take Topaz somewhere deep in the astral realms, dump him. How about Angitoto Ototapu? Yeah, haven't been there for years. The place with no water. Gold and jewels in the astral realms? Stuff of comic books. Most places, you were lucky if you could find half a cup of wastewater. Deserts and scree mountains and mosquito swamps -- the hell with the astral realms. City life was best.
In Angitoto Ototapu, Ibrahim would give Topaz his waterless wasteland speech, the speech he had been formulating for some time. Bad boys, demo crazies, they can find they're due for some behavior modification. A couple of days here, on this jumbleland rockwaste, no food, no water, might mellow you out a little, Jellyfish Boy. Teach you the virtues of keeping a low profile.
This was not the time to be doing a demo, no, definitely not, not with Egon's glorst on the prowl, biting the hell out of little kids, not with Danzburg Tosterburger smirking up large on TV, effectively telling the whole community of norms to go screw themselves, not with the President herself aiming to use the Star Chamber to nail someone to the wall for her own self-serving political purposes, not with Topaz Atatangle, one of the Jellyfish Six, already in the hot seat, was the kid crazy or just drunk on immaturity?
It was godfather hour. Ibrahim was going to play godfather, big time, and Topaz was going to discover that the wrath of God, delegated, was a hell of a lot closer than he thought.
"Tough love time," said Ibrahim.
And wondered if he still had those lightweight punching gloves anywhere around, the ones with the chain mail interiors.