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Three months after committing the perfect murder, Mafling Yonrungon died of a heart attack. When death came, Mafling was amazed at how much it hurt. In fact, it took him a full three hours to die, which probably helped him survive the experience in pretty good shape. A great many people suffered annihilating disintegration as they died, and were never seen or heard of again.|
"However," said Mafling, picking himself up from the floor, "the world is going to hear and see a great deal from me yet."
For someone who had just died, he was uncommonly confident. Like many of the recently dead, he was in denial, as yet refusing to admit just how radically his circumstances had changed. However, even so, his confidence was not entirely without foundation. He did, after all, have his pre-death agreement with Nenny Chepzik.
After the really unfavorable result of his latest medical checkup, which had suggested that he was in danger of having a massive stroke and dying suddenly, Mafling had done his deal with Nenny. Mafling's personal lawyer had drawn up a pre-death agreement, Nenny had signed on the bottom line, and Mafling had paid off his son-in-law by promoting him to the position of Vice President of Corporate Transportation, which meant that Nenny got to run the car pool.
In retrospect, Mafling should have done far, far more. Despite advance warning, he was grossly underprepared for his own demise. But, once you're dead, you have no option but to make the best of things.
By profession, Miki Tree was a woman. She was twenty-four years old, and had slick black hair which shone like something synthetic from the test tubes of a chemical factory. After a long hard day involving, amongst other things, a manicure, a three-hour origami lesson, a trip to the swimming pool and some demanding decision-making at a shop known as the Cholate Cheese Factory, she got home to her townhouse in Orgil Kusta to find Mafling Yonrungon on her doorstep.
"Miki," said Mafling. "Whatever you do, don't go inside."
"But it's my house!" said Miki, baffled and more than a little outraged.
Ordinarily, Miki was willing to do pretty much whatever Mafling told her to do. After all, he was the one paying the bills. Furthermore, although he had made it very clear that he was never going to leave his wife - honesty, he said, was an important issue - he had promised to leave her comfortably rich when he died. And, although Mafling was only sixty years of age, Miki's astrologer had told her that he was scheduled to die any day soon.
"Go buy yourself something nice," said Mafling. "That diamond ankle charm you were asking me about? Put it on the credit card."
"Okay," said Miki, so alert by now that she had to struggle against the threat of hyperventilation, always a problem for her whenever she got over-excited.
"Call yourself a taxi, why don't you?" said Mafling.
Another anomaly. Mafling was very much an I'm-in-charge kind of guy. If there were telephone calls to be made, Mafling liked to be the one making them.
"Darling," said Miki. "Whatever you say."
"I love you," said Mafling.
"I love you too," said Miki, and flipped open her cell phone and called for a cab.
Miki Tree was not an idiot. She had already figured out exactly what had happened, helped by two facts. One was the fact that the power of Mafling's voice had been cut by two thirds, although apparently it sounded normal to him, as he was doing nothing to compensate for the drop in volume. The other hint that something was wrong was the fact that - and, again, Mafling was apparently unaware of this - his feet were floating slightly clear of the ground. But, under the circumstances, Miki saw no harm in giving her lover's credit card a good workout before she permitted herself to return home and discover his body.
Miki was gone. Good. Mafling was free to head out into the city and go ... where, exactly? The office? Miki's townhouse in Orgil Kusta was conveniently close to the headquarters of Omblock Investments, which were at Styx Lethanus. No, not the office. It would be best to act normal. Go home, then.
Home was in Parkes Pilkem. Like a great many of the wealthy citizens of the city state of Oolong Morblock, Mafling maintained his official residence on that elite island.
"Okay," said Mafling. "Go home."
He allowed himself to drift upward into the night sky. He was ghosting, and he was amazed at how easy it was. Miki's townhouse was ... how far below him? Looking down, he was surprised to see that he could no longer recognize it. He no longer recognized anything, in fact. The cityscape below was a maze of lights, corded with lines of occult energy, strobing with pulsed data. There were luminous structures in the night which had never been seen by any eyes attuned to the daylight. There were pools of molten indigo shimmering with violet highlights ....
And there was the wind.
That was what was hurting him.
Before you're dead, ghosting sounds easy. Float through walls, levitate above high buildings, conquer all obstacles. But, in practice, it was extremely difficult. Like many ghosts, Mafling found that the wind cut right through him. The wind made it difficult to concentrate, but he did eventually manage to sort out his directions, and started to head for the island of Parkes Pilkem.
But, when floating above the night-darkened waters of the Zoylafont Meth, the stretch of water between the island of Glud Hurgus and Parkes Pilkem, he got seriously disoriented, and had suffered an out-and-out panic attack. By the time he made it to the shores of Parkes Pilkem, he felt shattered. He was certainly not ready to play any games of bluff with his wife.
"So," said Mafling. "The hideaway."
Mafling's official residence was in Ostrap, the elite area of Parkes Pilkem where his wife delighted to live. His hideaway was closer. It was a modest house in Subgubber, the closest to downmarket that you could find on the entire island of Parkes Pilkem. This hideaway was officially owned by a corporation registered in far-off Papaya Saitan, and it was in the Subgubber hideaway that Mafling kept his computer, his private video collection, an array of magazines which he did not want his wife to know anything about, and an assortment of highly incriminating financial records.
Half an hour later, he was there.
Darkness. No lights. But, in the bathroom, the illumination of the streetlight outside allowed Mafling to study himself in the mirror. He was pleased by what he saw. To begin with, he was suitably solid, at least to look at. Spectral transparency? No sign of it. Cosmetically, he was fine. Better than ever, in fact. The customary redness of his face, a byproduct of chronic high blood pressure, was gone. Instead, he looked positively healthy. In death, one's self-image was the key to constructing a body, or the semblance of a body. Given a very healthy ego and a very good self-image, Mafling was looking better dead than he did alive.
"You're ready to grab the world by the throat again and shake it," said Mafling.
He was dead, yes, but he did not see that being dead should make all that much difference, providing you were still functional.
"However," said Mafling, "it has to be acknowledged that there's the world's prejudice to contend with."
But, as he saw it, there was an easy way to deal with the world's prejudice.
Drifting through one wall after another, Mafling made his way to his study, where his computer was waiting. As usual, it was on, plugged into a cable modem, continuously connected to the Internet.
"Command - telephone," said Mafling.
To his dismay, there was no response. He tried again. Still no response. He shouted. At last, the computer gave him the telephone screen. This was his first hint that the power of his own voice had diminished. To his own ears, his own voice sounded perfectly normal.
"Command - dial," said Mafling.
But what was the number? For a moment, Mafling almost panicked, thinking he might have forgotten. But, no, the number was there in his memory - 212-3184-3520. He had committed it to memory because it was not the kind of number you liked to have written down. Furthermore, he had never before run the risk of contacting this number via his own computer. However, desperate situations required desperate measures.
"Hello?" said a man's voice, thick with sleep.
"Hello," said Mafling, not sure how to start his end of the conversation.
"Who's that?" said the voice.
"It's me," said Mafling.
"Oh, uh ... so how did it go? Did you get the giraffe?"
"Giraffe?" said Mafling.
"That's you, Ombey - isn't it?"
"No," said Mafling. "It's me. Mafling."
"You know," said Mafling, starting to get a little desperate. "Mafling Yonrungon. The guy with the place in, uh, Orgil Kusta. You were there three months ago. Remember the lilies? In the big vase? The one made of glass? The one that broke? Remember that?"
"Oh, uh ... yeah, you. Yeah, I remember you, now. I remember the job, too. You said there'd be a bonus."
"And there was," said Mafling.
"Ten per cent? That's not what I call a bonus."
"Well," said Mafling, "this time maybe I can do better."
"Cash up front?"
"Physical cash, no," said Mafling. "But, if you've got a bank account, I can make the transfer right now."
A little later, Mafling phoned his wife to say he would be late home. Doing so was an error. What he had forgotten was that it had been a full five years since he had bothered to phone his wife to say he would be late home (or would not be coming home at all.)
"Thank you for calling," said Shimavictus Yonrungon stiffly. "Now don't call again. Ever."
"Why not?" said Mafling, in amazement.
"Because you're dead," said Shimavictus.
"What gives you that crazy idea?" said Mafling, this accusation coming as more of a shock than the fact of death itself.
But he was talking to a dial tone. Shimavictus had already hung up.
What Mafling did not realize was that, during the phone conversation, he had suffered an episode of zorbling. During a zorbling attack - and these attacks are common in the early post-mortal phase - the volume of a spectral's voice rises and falls erratically, and simultaneously the pitch oscillates across an octave or more. As far as Mafling was concerned, he had been speaking normally the entire time.
"Well," said Mafling, when he had partly recovered. "I guess that's a divorce ... kind of."
Then, feeling uncommonly tired, he went to bed, and discovered one of the drawbacks of being dead: once you have been reduced to spectral form, there is no way to get under the covers.
The next day, Mafling Yonrungon showed up for work as usual. When he arrived at Dervish Tower, he was dressed immaculately in his customary grays, the sombre dignity of the cloth set off by a hair clip inlaid with a tasteful sequence of lapis lazuli and dark green nephrite jade.
"I'm sorry, sir," said Telrex the doorman, "you can't come in here."
"Why not?" said Mafling.
"Because, sir," said Telrex, with perfect equanimity, "you're dead."
"I advise you not to make any such comment," said Mafling. "The law of libel is very strict, you know. If you start to slander me in a reckless fashion, you can count on having to deal with my attorney."
"Now, sir, no need to go getting nasty," said Telrex.
Like all the inhabitants of the city state of Oolong Morblock, Telrex had met with a certain number of ghosts in his time, and knew that you could comfortably ignore most (if not all) of the threats that were ventured by a spectral.
"You know," said Mafling, "my company is one of this building's most important clients. If you annoy me too much, I can have you fired."
"With respect, sir, you're dead, and that's all there is to it," said Telrex. "Your wife has already been in touch with the building's management and has specifically asked that you be kept out of this building."
And that was when Mafling remembered that Shimavictus Yonrungon liked to get up very, very early in the morning, a habit of hers which had always annoyed him - never more so than now.
"My wife has gone a little crazy," said Mafling. "You know how women can be. Now stand aside!"
But Telrex stood his ground. And, in the end, Mafling had no alternative but to float right through him.
Mafling's secretary was already at her workstation, and greeted Mafling with her customary bland politeness. Although Shimavictus had succeeded in contaminating the building's management with her rumor-mongering, as yet Mafling's own people were loyal. But for how long could that last?
"Get hold of Nenny," said Mafling. "Tell him I want to see him immediately. Oh, and open the door for me, would you? I've got a touch of arthritis or something in my hands."
And so Mafling was able to enter his office without the indignity of having to float through the door.
The headquarters of Omblock Investments were on the nineteenth floor of Dervish Tower, an ultramodern highrise building at Styx Lethanus. On a clear day, when Mafling sat at his desk he had a view right across the waters of Lake Shalakamarnus to the island of Zisperhaven. As it happened, this was not a clear day. Rather, it was a muggy day, one of those days on which the photochemical smog so blurred the slightlines that you would be lucky to see as far as the middle of Lake Shalakamarnus, let alone make out anything beyond.
"Could be uncomfortable to be encumbered with flesh and blood," said Mafling, remembering humidity.
It occurred to him that, having assumed spectral form, he was in some ways a more efficient entity than the mere mortals around him. He could easily demonstrate his superiority by having the air conditioning turned off. Or could he? Well, no. Omblock Investments was heavily dependent on its computers, and the computers tended to malfunction if the climate heated up.
Nenny Chepzik showed up in Mafling's office ten minutes after being summoned by phone. Mafling looked his son-in-law up and down, watching for signs of unease or discontent, but saw neither. Nenny was a rather weak instrument to pit against the formidable Shimavictus, but sometimes you have to work with what you've got.
"Take a seat, why don't you?" said Mafling.
"Thank you," said Nenny.
"I have a little problem," said Mafling, steepling his fingers together. "My wife has started running round saying crazy things. She's been in touch with the building's management, saying I'm dead. Now, I have to think of what's good for the company. The smartest move, I think, is to get a ... what's it called? A gagging order, that's the thing. I think. From the courts. Have these rumors shut up and silenced. But for that to work efficiently I'll need affidavits from people to say that, yes, I'm alive. I'm a busy man, I don't want to have to show up in court myself."
Mafling paused there, to allow Nenny to make a response. There was a slightly embarrassing pause before Nenny came out with his statement, which was merely "I see."
"If you play things right," said Mafling, encouragingly, "one day, all this could be yours."
And, with a gesture, he indicated the office, paneled in antique twarble wood, and the view over Lake Shalakamarnus.
"With respect, sir," said Nenny, "I think this might all be mine right now. My understanding is that Panatella is your sole heir."
"Then you misunderstand," said Mafling. "If I were to die, which I've no intention of doing, my wife would inherit, not my daughter. And my wife has expensive tastes."
"That's not what Panatella says," said Nenny. "She views your wife's temporary possession of your assets as custodial, merely. Shimavictus is not exactly the kind of person to take it all to the casino, is she?"
"These are complicated matters and you'd be rash to trust your amateur opinions," said Mafling.
"Agreed," said Nenny. "That's why I've already spoken with Ajavanglin, who says it's reasonable to expect the inheritance to come to Panatella more or less intact. Eventually."
"Ajavanglin?" said Mafling, startled. "Ajavanglin Engor? But he's my lawyer?"
"Was, sir," said Nenny.
"What are you implying?" said Mafling.
"Sir, with respect," said Nenny, "I think you're far too intelligent to need me to spell it out for you. I think it would cause unnecessary embarrassment to both of us to go down that road."
Mafling Yonrungon's first impulse was to seize Nenny Chepzik by the neck and throttle him. However, as Mafling no longer possessed a corporeal body, this was not possible.
"We do have a pre-death agreement, you know," said Mafling.
"We do?" said Nenny.
"Are you pretending to have forgotten?" said Mafling. "It's in the safe over there."
And he nodded in the direction of the wall safe.
"Really?" said Nenny. "I don't seem to have any recollection of this document. Why don't you open the safe and show it to me?"
Mafling's first thought was to summon his secretary, to tell her the combination to the safe and to have her open the document for inspection. But the combination to the safe was one of his diminishing stock of leverage secrets. You should always keep tight control of your leverage secrets - Mafling remembered that much from the previous year's bestseller, "How to Profit from your own Death."
As Mafling was trying to work out his next move, the door to the office opened, and a well-fed middle-aged man entered. Mafling vaguely recognized him as someone he'd seen on television. But in what connection? A TV chef, perhaps?
"Elmace Humbrelbonnet, at your service," said the newcomer, rubbing his hands together cheerfully. "So where's the spook?"
That was when Mafling clicked. Elmace! Of course! The celebrity exorcist!
"The spook?" said Mafling. "There!" And he pointed an accusing finger at Nenny. "Exorcise him!"
"Hey, hold it!" said Nenny, throwing up his hands. "You've got the wrong guy!"
"They all say that," said Elmace cheerfully.
And, as Elmace Humbrelbonnet began his futile attempt to exorcise Nenny Chepzik from the room, Mafling did the sensible thing and left his office by the fastest route possible, which involved walking through the wall. He found himself nineteen floors above the pavement. Technically, this should not have made a difference. Technically, he had close to zero physical weight. But, in practice, it made all the difference in the world. Screaming, Mafling fell.
"Mr Engor will see you now," said the receptionist.
But Mafling Yonrungon did not really hear her. He was still badly shaken up, more by his close encounter with Elmace Humbrelbonnet than by his fall to the pavement. He found himself going over the exorcist's insult, yet again. He called me a spook! That fat waddling lump of an exorcist! A spook! The nerve of the animal!
When alive, Mafling had never been a fan of political correctness. For example, he had never seen anything wrong with using the term "walking whalemeat" to describe someone with obesity control problems. But, now that he was dead, things had changed. Spook? The term was intolerable? He might have stomached "ghost" or "spectral", just, but he found he far preferred the politically correct term "post-mortal entity".
"Sir? Sir, Mr Engor is waiting, sir."
The words penetrated, and Mafling went through to see Ajavanglin Engor.
"Take a seat," said Ajavanglin.
"Thanks," said Mafling.
"So, what brings you here?" said Ajavanglin.
"I have a problem," said Mafling.
"Sure you have a problem," said Ajavanglin, never one to mince words. "You're dead."
"What makes you say that?" said Mafling.
"Who do you think you're kidding?" said Ajavanglin. "You've lost ninety per cent of your voice. You're almost impossible to hear. Didn't you realize that?"
Since spectrals had no physical bodies worth mentioning, the question of how they could generate sound at all was an unresolved mystery, one which two or three dozen theories competed to explain. However, the undisputed fact was that if you had the misfortune to die then you could say goodbye to your dreams of a career as an opera singer.
"I've had the flu and I'm a bit hoarse," said Mafling.
"Oh, sure," said Ajavanglin. "Your wife phoned me up last night. She said you were zorbling, and we all know what that means. Face facts. You are dead and your daughter has as good as inherited. Shimavictus is still thinking things through, but the indications are that she's going to sign an enduring power of attorney which will let Panatella run things. Which means, in practice, that your son-in-law is in control. Or will be, shortly."
"Nenny Chepzik?" said Mafling. "All he can control is his, his ...."
But there Mafling stalled, failing to come up with a suitable witticism. The only word that came to mind was "bladder", which was not the kind of word you could use in the presence of Ajavanglin Engor.
"Now, let's get down to business," said Ajavanglin, leaning forward. "Who stole your body?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Mafling. "I'm not dead, so how can anyone have stolen my body?"
"I've got a copy of the police report right here," said Ajavanglin impatiently, picking up a photocopied booklet and waving it at his client. "Miki's statement is in here."
"Miki?" said Mafling.
"Miki Tree," said Ajavanglin. "Your mistress. She got home from a shopping trip, this was at ten o'clock last night."
Miki? Miki was out shopping until ten at night? How much damaged could she have done to the credit card in that time? What shops stayed open until ten? Well, all those high-class gift shops in the Cupid casino area, to start with.
"And?" said Mafling.
"And she found her apartment had been broken into," said Ajavanglin. "Assuming you died there, your body has been stolen."
"So my alleged death becomes entirely hypothetical," said Mafling. "There's no body, no death certificate, no proof of death, no nothing. There are just allegations, that's all. You're my lawyer, you shouldn't let unfounded scuttlebutt derail our relationship."
"Your daughter already knows you're dead and she wants the will probated, pronto," said Ajavanglin.
"Yes, but I've got an agreement with Nenny," said Mafling. "He will certify that I'm alive. He'll oppose my wife if she tries to make me legally dead, and, what's more, he'll restrain his wife from attending to any rumors alleging that I'm a deceased person, that's what it says."
"Verbal contracts are difficult to enforce at the best of times," said Ajavanglin dismissively.
"Not just a verbal contract!" said Mafling. "I had it in writing! You know that! You had the contract drawn up for me! There's a copy in my office safe and you have another copy right here. Are you pretending to have forgotten?"
"Whether there is or is not a pre-death agreement makes no difference whatsoever," said Ajavanglin, waving away the question. "The laws are very clear. Under the laws of Oolong Morblock, the dead have no claims on the living."
"You mean dead people don't have rights?" said Mafling. "I'm sure that can't be politically correct!"
"That's the way things stand," said Ajavanglin. "But, realistically, what does it matter? You're a ghost. A speaking spectre, and that's it. How can you possibly benefit from controlling your company anyway?"
"I can be obeyed," said Mafling sullenly. "I can have people stand up when I come into the room. They can cheer me when I walk to the podium. I can fire them when they're not up to scratch."
"Yes, yes, the Alabaster Emperor thought like that," said Ajavanglin. "But this is the Bungaloosa Era, things don't work like that any more. The living have rights and the dead do not, and that's pretty much the bottom line."
Indeed. As Mafling Yonrungon was finding out the hard way, in this the Sixth Year of the Bungaloosa Era, the dead were regarded pretty much as so much disposable garbage.
Once upon a time, back in the ancient days, the dead had served a host of useful functions. Their wisdom had been venerated. They had served as teachers, advisers, storytellers, confessors and private advisers. But, now, in the egalitarian world of the modern day, a world in which an abundance of trained talent exceeded the demand for such talent, the dead were truly on the scrap heap.
"There is, however, one option still left to you," said Ajavanglin Engor.
"And what is that?"
"You can't win back your company, but you can still take revenge."
"What do you mean?"
"You can have Nenny Chepzik killed."
How the dead can have emotional reactions when they are hormonally juiceless is another of science's unresolved mysteries. But react Mafling did. With shock.
"Say what?" said Mafling, gaping. "Kill him? My, my daughter wants me to ....? What a perverted idea! You're a lawyer! You can't talk like that! I might report you to the police!"
"The testimony of the dead is not admissible in any court of law," said Ajavanglin Engor, imperturbably. "Furthermore, if you do go to the police, you will find that they have very little patience for the baseless rumor mongering of the recently deceased. You are also aware, I assume, that regurgitating malicious allegations made by the dead is a serious criminal offence."
"Well, so I see how you feel free to talk like someone out of a gangster movie," said Mafling. "But you seem to be forgetting the fact that I'm a respectable businessman."
"You had Gloober Zooth murdered so you can just as easily have Nenny Chepzik killed," said Ajavanglin.
"Gloober?" said Mafling. "You're talking about Gloober? My old friend Gloober Zooth the 25th? What makes you think he's dead?"
"Gloober," said Ajavanglin, "was romancing Miki Tree. He was born with a lot more money than you could ever hope to see, and he made Miki an offer she couldn't refuse. Then he disappeared. Abruptly. We assume that you had something to do with this."
"I'm innocent," said Mafling.
"Now," said Ajavanglin, ignoring the protestation, "here's the deal."
"Deal?" said Mafling.
"You have Nenny Chepzik killed," said Ajavanglin. "Have it done discretely. Have done to him whatever you had done to Gloober. If he vanishes inside of the next ten days Panatella agrees to ignore the fact that you're dead. Furthermore, she'll do what's necessary to keep your wife in line. A declaration of mental incompetence is not out of the question."
"And things go on as before?" said Mafling, seeing a doorway opening to the realms of hope.
"Yes," said Ajavanglin. "For a year from today."
"A year?" said Mafling, recoiling as the doorway slammed shut. "That's all?"
"Face facts," said Ajavanglin brutally. "You're dead. And what's the main problem for the dead? Why, image control. At the moment, you've got a pretty good grip on your body image. Frankly, I'm impressed. But unless you're truly remarkable, by this time next year you'll have lost your feet. At the very least. Maybe you won't blob out, but, even if you don't devolve into a protoplasmic balloon, you'll be clearly and incontrovertibly dead."
"So," said Mafling, absorbing this. "So ... uh ... well, I guess I have some questions."
"Ask," said Ajavanglin.
"Why does my daughter want her husband murdered?" said Mafling.
"Imagine yourself married to Nenny Chepzik," said Ajavanglin. "It's self-explanatory, I would have thought. He knows how to shave and he has good taste in deodorants, and that's about it. At least, that's how Panatella puts it."
Knows how to shave and has good taste in deodorants ... to Mafling's ear, that sounded more like a woman talking to a lover than a client talking to an attorney.
"Any other questions?" said Ajavanglin.
"Yeah," said Mafling. "If you want Nenny killed, why don't you just do it yourself?"
"I've never had any criminals as clients," said Ajavanglin. "CEOs excepted, of course. I don't know any professional assassins and it would be dangerous for me to go look for them."
That didn't exactly answer the question which Mafling had asked, but evidently the notion of personally getting his hands bloody was alien to the mind of Ajavanglin Engor.
"Okay," said Mafling. "It's a deal."
Certainly, murder seemed the best way forward. But how was he going to find someone to commit a murder for him? At the moment, he had no idea. Although Ajavanglin thought that Mafling had hired a hitman to take care of Gloober, the truth was the Mafling did not know any assassins, professional or amateur. He had killed Gloober Zooth the 25th personally, committing the perfect murder more or less by accident.
The perfect murder? A simple enough story. All perfect things are simple.
It happened in the spring. Mafling was in Nan Jelbush, attending a stunningly boring slideshow presentation on the advantages of investing in sewage treatment facilities. At 11.09 a.m. there was a power outage, and the presentation came to a grinding halt. Having agreed to resume at 1 p.m. the attendees scattered, and Mafling decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit Miki Tree in nearby Orgil Kusta.
Because of the power outage, the monorail was not running. So, in an unaccustomed fit of irresponsibility, Mafling stole a bicycle and cycled to Orgil Kusta. This was a mistake. The initial glamor of the rediscovery of cycling soon wore off, and it took him all of twenty minutes to pedal to Orgil Kusta.
There, in Miki Tree's townhouse, Mafling discovered Gloober Zooth the 25th, home alone and asleep, Miki having gone out for the day. Discovered and awakened, Gloober showed no shame. Rather, triumph. He told Mafling that Miki was now spoken for.
And Mafling, furious, hit Gloober over the head with the nearest weapon available, which happened to be a substantial block of ice from the built-in bar's ice-making machine.
With Gloober dead and the murder weapon rapidly melting, Mafling realized he had a problem, but not an insoluble one. If the police could establish the time and place of Gloober's death, then Mafling's schedule would give him an anti-alibi which would surely lead to a murder conviction. But if the body vanished, and the circumstances of Gloober's disappearance became suitably blurred, then Mafling would have pulled off the perfect murder.
But how to make the body vanish? Who to ask for help?
The only person Mafling could think of was Tramp Spleg, the destroyer of cities. (Why Tramp was styled as "the destroyer of cities" was a mystery, but so self-styled he was, and he got annoyed if you forgot it.) Tramp Spleg (or, to give him his legal name, Trampetus Holhooza Spleg) was the fellow who ran a storage service known as Yumpetus Humpetus in the largely abandoned dockland area known as Trafferwaddy West. Tramp was the man who had been paid very handsomely to stage a burglary and remove some inconvenient files at a time when the directors of Omblock Investments were under investment for insider trading, and Mafling thought that removing a body might be within his scope of operations.
And so it proved.
That was how Mafling got away with murder. But now his circumstances were different. Having only a ghost's notional body, he could not walk up to his chosen target and hit the guy over the head with a baseball bat. He would need to get a professional assassin, just as Ajavanglin had suggested. Tramp Spleg? Somehow, Mafling did not think that murder was Tramp's kind of thing. Still, there was no harm in asking. So Mafling made his way to Yumpetus Humpetus, only to find that storage warehouse swarming with police.
The police were looking, it seemed, for ten million dollars in counterfeit money, which Tramp claimed to know nothing about. Mafling only hoped that they did not discover a couple of inconvenient bodies in the process. Meantime, Mafling would have to find himself a professional killer by some other means.
"If you want to get a girl, then go to where the girls are," said Mafling, quoting ancient wisdom to himself.
So where were the professional assassins? Why, in jail, for the most part.
And that's where Mafling went.
There are some definite advantages to being dead. If you are a flesh-and-blood citizen, you can't just wander around the nearest maximum security prison asking for an assassin. But that was exactly what Mafling did. And eventually he was directed to a halfway house which was the temporary residence of one Wolf Braxis, a gun for hire.
"You realize I don't work for free?" said Wolf.
"Oh, funding is no problem," said Mafling. "You give me an account number, I'll get you the money."
"I see," said Wolf. "So, who's the target?"
"A lawyer," said Mafling. "A guy called Ajavanglin. Ajavanglin Engor."
"Why do you want him dead?" said Wolf.
"He's been molesting my daughter," said Mafling.
And that - Mafling was sure of it - was pretty much the truth. Ajavanglin had surely been molesting Panatella Yonrungon, admittedly with her consent. Furthermore, this whole one year business was probably Ajavanglin's idea.
Once Ajavanglin was dead, both Panatella and her husband Nenny would get the message. They would realize that death frees you from certain social constraints, one of these being the constraint on murder. There would be no more of this "one year and you're gone" nonsense. They would, both of them, do everything in their power to keep Shimavictus in check and to ensure that Mafling remained the acknowledged master of Omblock Investments. And he wanted to be.
While he was still the boss, he would still have access to his cash flow. And now that he had been reduced to spectral form, he needed money more than ever. He needed a decent cashflow to preserve his secret hideaway in Subgubber, to start with. Otherwise he would ultimately end up sleeping on the sidewalk with the wind blowing right through him.
"You want him to die quickly or slowly?" said Wolf.
"Quickly," said Mafling, resisting the juicy temptation of the alternative. "Real quickly."
That was a no-brainer. Statistically, sudden death tended to be an absolute terminator. The longer the proceedings were drawn out - and Mafling's three-hour death was a case in point - the more likely post-mortal survival was. And the last thing Mafling needed was to have a dead lawyer hanging around haunting his post-mortal existence.
The next afternoon, when Mafling checked back with Wolf, he found it was all set up. For the very same evening.
"That was quick!" said Mafling in surprise.
"Yeah, well, I want my money before you morph into a ball of blood," said Wolf.
"I'm not morphing into anything," said Mafling stoutly, resisting the knowledge that, statistically, most ghosts do suffer from progressive automodification, with results that are never favorable.
"Anyway, it's all set up," said Wolf. "The mouthpiece is dining at your softchick's place tonight. That's where I'll gun him down."
"At Miki's place?" said Mafling, in surprise. "Ajavanglin will be at Miki's?"
"No," said Wolf. "At your daughter's. You want to be in on the ace? You want to be there when I spladderpast him?"
Curbing his annoyance at having his daughter referred to as a "softchick", Mafling considered. Did he want to watch? Yes, he did. There could be no harm in it, after all. He was a spectral, so there was no danger of the police suddenly bursting in and arresting him. Besides, it was difficult for the dead to trust the living. How did the old saying go? The living are a conspiracy against the dead. Or something like that. If Mafling was there and saw Ajavanglin killed, then there was no danger of being conned. An important point, since the funds at his disposal were limited.
"Yeah, I'll be there," said Mafling. "I like to see my money at work. What time is it scheduled for?"
At seven in the evening, they showed up at Panatella's house. To Mafling's surprise, Wolf Braxis arrived in the company of a guy dressed in the livery of a flower delivery company.
"Meet Scribener," said Wolf. "My point man."
"You didn't say anything about a point man," said Mafling.
"Don't worry," said Wolf. "I'm not going to charge you extra."
When Panatella opened the door to the unexpected bouquet, the point man had her handcuffed in five seconds flat. Mafling was surprised again, this time at how smoothly it all went. When you saw this kind of stuff on TV, there was always a lot of shouting and some accidental shooting, but this was going as well as a carefully-rehearsed wedding.
"Good evening, daughter," said Mafling formally, as he followed Wolf Braxis into the house.
"You're making a big mistake, you know," said Panatella, with unexpected calm.
"Oh, I don't think so," said Mafling, who was finding that revenge is one of the dishes which the dead can still enjoy to the fullest.
When they went through to the living room, Mafling got his third surprise. It was Nenny Chepzik, who was sitting in front of the TV watching a program about the history of nail polish. Mafling had been expecting to find Ajavanglin Engor. What had gone wrong?
"Hi, dad," said Nenny, when he saw Mafling.
"I am not your dad," said Mafling, "and you know I don't like that form of address."
"Well, since you're dead, there's not much you can do about it," said Nenny.
"Okay, change of plans," said Mafling, turning to Wolf Braxis. "Kill him!"
"That's not what I contracted to do," said Wolf. "The lawyer is in the back yard, unless I'm mistaken, setting up the barbecue. Nenny, open the door."
Nenny did not seem to be taking the situation seriously. He had a big smirk on his face. Still, menaced by Wolf's gun, he complied with the order, and opened the door which connected the living room to the back yard. Mafling immediately saw Ajavanglin in the back yard, incongruously dressed in a woman's one-piece bathing costume. Ajavanglin turned and smiled at Mafling. He was wearing lime-green lipstick. Really! How astonishing!
"Let's go," said Wolf. "Lead on."
Obediently, Mafling started drifting out into the garden. Then he caught himself. Drifting? Only ghosts drift! With deliberate effort, he made himself walk. But it was unexpectedly difficult, as if his legs had started to forget the business of the articulation of the joints.
"Greetings," said someone.
Mafling turned and saw, seated in a plastic garden chair in the comfortable shadows by the wall, none other than the well-fed Elmace Humbrelbonnet, the society exorcist.
"Kill him!" said Mafling, pointing at Elmace. "Wolf, kill him! Kill all of them!
"The living blood does not conspire against its own," said Ajavanglin, quoting an ancient proverb. "Elmace. Do it."
"You double-crossed me!" said Mafling in amazement.
Wolf Braxis merely smiled. Elmace was rising from his chair. Realizing he should be gone, Mafling tried to run. But found that the art of running had deserted him. Drift, then! But it was too late. Already the exorcising energies were twisting Mafling hideously, and he was being forced out of this world and into the next.
The next world. Well, one of the next worlds, if you liked to think of the astral realms in that way. As Mafling immediately recognized - he, too, had been forced to study "The Book of the Hereafter" at school - he was in the Blue Forest.
"Good news and bad news," muttered Mafling to himself.
The good news was that he had not suffered from terminal disintegration. Even better, in this realm, remote from the normative sphere known as Bedrock, his spectral form had been reinvigorated, and was possessed once again of physical weight. He had become a flesh-and-blood human being once again - or, at least, a passable analog of such a creature.
The bad news was that the Blue Forest was a largely uninhabited wasteland, so far removed from normative reality that Mafling was probably never going to be able to find his way back home. And even if he did, what then? He had been a victim of a vicious conspiracy which had stolen the control of Omblock Investments away from him. And there was no hope of starting over again because, if he did ever get back to Oolong Morblock, the return to normative reality would reduce him to spectral form once again.
"So I'm stuck here," said Mafling. "All alone."
Then he realized he was not alone at all. For who was this coming toward him? Why, it was none other than Gloober Zooth the 25th.
Gloober, whom Mafling had always secretly hated, even though he had always found it expedient to let Gloober imagine that they were friends. Gloober, the most boring man in the universe. Gloober, whose sole subject of conversation was golf. Gloober, who was so dim that, even now, he probably had no idea that he'd been murdered, although he had probably figured out that he was dead.
"Mafling!" said Gloober. "How wonderful to see you. What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same question of you," said Mafling.
"Well, I think I'm dead," said Gloober. "I'm a bit vague on the details, to tell the truth. The last thing I remember was wondering whether to order asparagus."
Asparagus? Mafling didn't bother to ask. He was sure he would get to hear all about it, sooner or later.
"Anyway, you know what?" said Gloober, happily.
Mafling had already taken the full measure of the thing that was in Gloober's hand, and he knew, oh yes, he knew. But Gloober said it anyway.
"I have discovered," said Gloober, waving the golf club in buoyant triumph, "that there is golf after death."
A very early version of this story called "Life and Death in Oolong Jalabar" was first published in Dark Matter, in the Year 2000 edition (ed. Christopher Hennessey-DeRose) (La Canada, United States, ISSN 1098-9420) (pp 4-6; 1,086 words). A radically revised and expanded version of 7,063 words titled Life and Death in Oolong Morblock made its first appearance when posted on Hugh Cook's website zenvirus.com on 2003 January 10 Friday. Copyright © 2000, 2003 Hugh Cook.
Copyright © 2000, 2003 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
LIFE AND DEATH IN GOOLONG MORBLOCK - fantasy story about ghosts, story about life after death - online fantasy fiction - lifeafter death - life afterdeath - ghost - ghost story - ghoststory - lifeas aghost
Heineman was tired when he went to bed. Tired? Exhausted. So it is not surprising that he ghosted in the night.
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