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Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Twilight of the Gods: A Story of Mantra, Chapter 11



A story of Mantra and Black September

By Aladdin and Christopher Leeson 


I was amazed by how grown up
she appeared to be. She looked about seventeen and was the image of Eden Blake. To think that the last time I’d seen her she was only seven years old and a second grader.

I checked first to see if she looked underfed. Everyone else I’d seen in this tortured land had appeared hungry.

But my daughter's clone had not arrived alone; an excited Jamie stood beside her. Warstrike was looking at them. I wondered how he felt about his little girl breaking her promise
so quickly.

"Evie, Jamie, come in," Brandon said. Evie now saw me and was apparently struck speechless.

Tark drew his daughter away from her – sister. It was still hard for me to put my mind around the idea that the family I knew had been expanded. "Jamie," he asked, "have you dreamed about the Flaming Woman again lately?"

She nodded. "Yes, Daddy. I wanted to tell you, but when I met Aunt Jennie I forgot about it."

"That's okay,"Tark said. "But it's important that you tell us what you dreamed. Mantra thinks that maybe a real-life Flaming Woman is coming. We have to learn as much possible about her before she gets here."

The little girl glanced back my way. "Have you met the Flaming Woman, Mantra? Is she coming to hurt us?"

"I do believe she's coming," I said, "but I don't know why. I'm hoping we can all make friends with her. I have a big favor to ask of her."

Jamie frowned confusedly. "But she's bad, isn't she?"

I tried to reassure her with a smile. "I'm guessing the Flaming Woman's not so much bad as mixed up. When she was back home, there was a big explosion where all her friends died. She hasn't been acting herself since that bad thing happened."

Jamie smiled uneasily as if her child's mind was trying to reconcile the idea of someone being both good and evil at the same time. When her age, I had mulled over things like that myself.

"B-Brandon," stammered Evie. “Our mother didn’t have any sister named Jennie. Didn’t you know that?”

"Aunt Jennie has explained quite a few things to me," said Warsrike, "but you ought to talk to her yourself. But first, Jamie has to tell us about the Flaming Woman."

"But this person can't really be Mantra!" Evie insisted.

"Speak to her. Decide for yourself," Brandon told her.

The father and his young daughter left then, and the guards shut the door to give Evie and me privacy.

"I refuse to believe that you're my mother," Evie said, her chin high and expression determined.

"My name is Eden Blake, but I'm not your mother. I come from an alternate dimension."

She blinked perplexedly. "An alternate dimension? Like in the science fiction books?"

"Yes. Your stepfather believes me, and I'd like you to believe me, too."

“Why are you here?”

"I have a job to do. When I left my own Evie and Gus at home a day or so ago, they were still in elementary school. To me, that was only hours ago, but when I look at you, I know what my daughter will look like when she's almost grown up."

“There aren’t any alternate dimensions!” she declared.

“Maybe if we talk for a while, the idea won't seem so strange."

She grimaced. "Whoever you are, you look exactly like I remember you – her."

She looked so full of hurt, but I thought it was too soon to take her into my arms.

"I dreamed a thousand times about my mother not being dead, that she would be coming back. But if you're not my real mom, nothing at all has changed."

"I'm sorry. I thought you might feel that way, so I decided not to meet with you. I knew that even if I could make you feel better for a moment, the hurt would come back even worse than before when I had to go away again."

She pulled back and broke eye contact.

“If you come from another place, why are you in this world?" she asked.

"I'm looking for the Flaming Woman, the one Jamie keeps dreaming about?"

"But they're only dreams, aren't they?"

"No. The woman is real, and she's an ultra with a unique power – a power that can save untold billions of lives."

Evie suddenly looked hopeful. "Will she save our world, too?"

I decided to hedge that question. "I'm not sure. I hope so."

“Was there any volcano in the world where you came from?”

"No, not yet. Maybe there won't ever be. As soon as I get home, I intend to do my best to stop it from happening." I might have to kill a few dozen Deep Staters to do the job, but I was game for that!

"I wish I could believe you."

"I know this is hard, and I think you've had too much hardship already. How badly have things gone for you?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I think the rebels are going to attack the castle soon. They want to kill Warstrike and Necromantra. Maybe they'll kill the rest of us, too. I don't know."

"Do you think that your – stepdad – is can win the war?"

She bit her lip. "No, I don't."

Reaching out, I took her by the shoulders. When my daughter reached her age, I wanted her to be enjoying a happy life. This world was a bizarre parody of my own; too many ghastly things had gone wrong here.

"I'm going to try to talk to the rebels and see if that helps," I said. "But the first thing I want to know is how has Warstrike been treating you?"

"He's been all right. He's good with our sister, too. He’s done some bad things, but I can't forget how he loved our mother so much. I can guess how much it must hurt him to look at you knowing you're not the person we both loved."

"I wish things could have worked better for you, Evie, but please tell me about yourself. Have you been keeping up with your studies?"

She stared into my face. "How can that matter to you?"

I forced a smile. "Because I'd feel better if you could have all the things I want her to have."

The teen girl shrugged. "I can read and write and do arithmetic," she said. “Brandon has made sure that we know about the world, at least how it used to be. I don't know why that's important. That world is gone, and what's left so terrible."

"What kind of a king has he been?" I asked.

Instead of answering, she glanced back at the door.

"Do you think someone out there is listening to us?"

"I – I don't know," she replied haltingly. "People are always spying. Stepdad has executed a lot of rebel spies, but he spies, too. And Necromantra spies on both sides."

Just the sound of that witch’s name sank my more tender feelings.

"Yes, I’ve been wondering about Necromantra. How has seen been treating you?"

Evie gave a shudder. "I hate her! She killed my mother."

"She killed Mantra? Are you certain of that?"

"Maybe she did, but I know for sure that she killed my first mother."

I nodded. "Has she tried to harm you?"

"She keeps her distance," said Evie. "She showed up right after Mother – Mantra – was killed. She ignores us, mostly. It's horrible that my first mother's murderer is living in the same house with us."

"Why does your stepdad put up with her?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. She's powerful, and Brandon needs power on his side. But it makes me crazy that they decided to get married."

“It makes me pretty crazy, too. Do they get along personally?"

Evie glanced to the floor, frowning. "I don't think he trusts her, but she has a way with people, even Dad." Evie lowered her voice. "There's all kinds of stories about her. Some people say she used to be a man. Does that make any sense?"

"Does she act like a man?" I replied evasively. I thought that Evie already had enough weirdness in her life.

"Not that I can see."

I smiled. "Well, then, maybe those rumors aren't true."

"Mom – Mantra, I mean. Are you just like my mother?”

“In what way?”

"She once told me that she had the ghost of a man inside her." Evie was watching my expression as if to see my reaction to the bomb she'd just thrown.

I sighed. When Necromantra attacked, Eden had been in her own body, and I was in the body of a male clone. Having no magic of my own, I was no match for the witch's sorcery. Eden, wounded and dying, urged me to reenter her body. I had to do it to defeat Necromantra, but Evie had been watching it all and knew something wasn't right. She asked me if I was really her mother. Rightly or wrongly, I very briefly explained what had really happened. After that, I was surprised that she hadn't asked for more information.

"By the time you grew up, I hoped you'd have forgotten what I'd said," I told her softly.

"I almost did. I didn’t want to know about something so strange. Whenever I thought about it, it worried me. I wanted you to be the Mantra I had always thought you were -- an incredibly special woman. I could never understand why you behaved so much like my mom when you were a completely different person. After a while, I didn’t think about what you'd said at all."

"I did my best to act like Eden Blake whenever I could. But I truly did like having a family after living alone for such a long time."

“Did you live a life just like the real Mantra’s?” Evie suddenly asked.

I smiled. "I've always thought of myself as being the real Mantra. I never knew your mother existed until today."

"Being with you makes me feel like Mantra has come back. Do you have to leave?" she asked with a hint of urgency. The poor kid was hoping for a redo of a life that had gone so haywire.

"Yes, I do. I don't have any choice about that. Many people on many worlds will die if I don't get help from the Flaming Woman."

"Then please tell me that you're a bad person so I won't miss you."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"If I hate you, I won't miss you when you’re gone."

"It's all right if you hate me if it will make you feel better."

"If you were really a man?" she asked. "What kind of a man were you?"

I could have told her many disgraceful things about myself. I had lived a very long time, and in trying to do good in crazy circumstances, I had gone into some dark places.

"Evie, I've made mistakes, and maybe your mother made those same mistakes. I'm far from perfect, but I'm not a monster either. Evie is my daughter now, and I do my best to make her happy. I only wish that you could have known a much better life than the one you've had."

"I still want to know if you were really a man?"

I sighed. "If I said yes, would that make you want me to go?"

"It would be strange and hard to understand. What kind of a man were you?"

I glanced away. "I was a soldier. Your mother and I met, fell in love, and wanted to be married."

She stood in front of me quietly before saying, "I'm not surprised you were a soldier, not after all the times I've seen you fight."

I very much wanted to change the subject. "What happened to your father, to Gus Blake?"  

She shivered; I'd touched a sore spot. "We never found out. He was away on a business trip when the volcano exploded. There was hardly any communication at all. Mobs, mostly illegals, started breaking into homes, stealing, and killing. Mantra took us to Brandon's house. The only thing I could take with me was Mr. Paws."

You saved Mr. Paws?"

"You know about Mr. Paws? How could you?"

"My Evie has a Mr. Paws, too."

"I still have Mr. Paws. He's about the only thing left to remind Gus and me about how life used to be. I love Jamie, but I didn’t let her play with Paws until she was big enough to take good care of her toys."

"Did you ever go back to your old home?"

Evie shook her head. "There was nothing to go back to. The looters didn't just steal and murder, they seemed to want to burn down the whole Los Angeles area."

I straightened. "Time is running out, and I have a lot to do. As bad as things are, be strong, be wise, Evie. Take care of your brother and sister. Also, let Brandon know how much you like him."

Evie nodded, wiping her eyes. "I will. Goodbye...Mom."

Carrying an ache with me, I started for the door. Before I could touch the knob, I heard Gabriel's voice:

"I decided to join you, Mantra."

I looked back and saw Gabriel, but that was all I saw. The room I'd shared with Evie wasn't there! The two of us occupied a misty, insubstantial place. "Where have you snatched me away to this time?" I asked.

"This is a location in zero-time where we can talk," he explained.

"Did you fix what was wrong with your communications system?"

"There wasn’t much to do. The psionic blast the ultra attacker gave you damaged your nano-receptors, but they're self-repairing. Though you couldn't hear me, I could hear and keep track of you."

"I messed up and involved myself with the folks here. It's hard to keep focused when I'm surrounded by people I think I know."

"You've proceeded splendidly. Your task was to contact the local leadership and get assistance with subduing Amber Hunt.  Warstrike has already agreed to help, and you are preparing to meet with the opposing faction. I commend you, Mantra; you have a natural instinct for time agent work."

"Spare me the flattery.  When is Hunt coming?"

"From all indications, she will arrive within several hours. We need to use our available time to establish friendly channels with both sides."

"What's going to happen to all the people here?"

Gabriel gave back a glum look. "If Amber Hunt takes the Time Gem away from this world, the local reality will be eliminated."

"That's it?"

"I'm sorry."

"Gabriel, I have a request to make."


"We can't rescue everybody, but can't we take a few people away with us? I mean, take away Evie and her family?"

"It's possible. Do your best. I'll leave the details to you."

"I’ll do what I can! What now?"

"You should go talk to the rebel leaders, as Warstrike has asked you to do."

"I'll do that as soon as you start time again."

An instant later, Gabriel was gone, and I was back in the room with Evie. I heard her gasp.

"What's wrong, dear?" I asked.

"You blinked out of that spot and reappeared where you are now?" she said incredulously.

"What happened to me is one of those crazy ultra things. They're always hard to explain, Button."

Evie gave me an odd look. "Nobody has called me Button since – Mantra – died."

"That's probably because it's not a nickname that fits a grownup girl like you."

"Maybe not, but hearing you say it makes you sound just like my mother."
"I've got good news," I said. "When I vanished, I went to talk to a super-scientist ally I have. He says you and your whole family can come with us when we're ready to leave."

"Are we going to live together?"

"Not forever. I have to go back to my own family. But I promise we won't part until I find you a safe and happy home."

She smiled the kind of careful smile that children smile when they've already had their hopes shattered too many times to count.

"Can't we go now?"

"We could, but there won't be a happy ending for anybody unless we do some major league world-saving. In the meantime, find out whether Gus will be willing to leave with us. Do you want me to ask your stepdad to come along, too?"

"Yes, please!" she said.

I kissed her cheek and then made another attempt at leaving the room. My knock summoned a guard who unlatched the door in about five seconds flat.


Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Twilight of the Gods: A Story of Mantra, Chapter 10



A story of Mantra and Black September

By Aladdin and Christopher Leeson 



"Just what do you expect to accomplish by coming here?" Tark asked suddenly.

"I'm here to find someone. We have reason to believe that a very powerful ultra is going to stop here soon."

"Are you working alone?"

I didn't want to tell "King Warstrike" too much. I had to be on guard. This wasn't the Tark I knew and wasn't sure if he was a good egg or a rotten one. Tyrants are notorious for double-dealing. "I'm working with a group from the Godwheel. A kind of super-scientific race of geniuses. They have information that the woman can help us, but it will be tricky handling her since she's been a loose cannon and has trouble accepting discipline and teamwork."

"I don't care about her. I have enough crazy ultra-women right here in L.A. to worry about. By the way, if this disaster didn't happen in your reality, what's going on in the America you know?"

"Where I am, Brandon is president."

"Brandon!" he exclaimed. "In this world, he's dead. But is there any chance that Yellowstone will go off back where you come from!"

"Anything's possible, I suppose. We've got a dirty Deep State back home, too. But now that I know the danger, I'm going to be doing my best to prevent it.

Then there came a tapping at the door.

"It's open!" Warstrike yelled.

A uniformed man entered with a little girl. I saw at a glance that it wasn't Evie.

"Daddy?" she said, looking at Warstrike.

"Shut the door behind you, Maverick," he told the guard. Then, to the girl, he said, "Come here, Jamie."


The tyke approached the king without fear, and then she noticed me.

This lady," the child began, "she's dressed like pictures of …"

"She's your aunt, Jennifer," her father told her, lying. "She's your mother's twin sister."

Jennifer? For some reason, I'd never like that name. If this Brandon knew that, it went to show that he had a rotten sense of humor.

The brown-haired youngster stood looking at me as if I were something marvelous. "I didn't know that Mommy had a twin."

"Ah, yes she did," Brandon said. "She was vacationing in Mexico and when she didn't come home, your mom and I thought she must have died. I never mentioned that you had an aunt Jennifer so the bad news wouldn't make you sad. But she's here now, so why don't you give your auntie a nice big hug?"

I knelt to make things easier for her. She came up and gave me a long, strong hug before easing a step back and looking into my face with wonder.

"Can I see what you look like without a mask?" Jamie asked.

I obliged.

"You look just like my mommy! And you also look like my sister Evie!"

"I never met your sister, Evie," I said. "But she can't be as pretty as you are!"

I couldn't help but wonder what, truly, was my relationship with this child. If her mother was my temporal clone, one could consider us identical twins That circumstance would truly have made me Jamie's aunt. I kind of liked the idea; since it made us close, but not so close as to create a messy relationship.

At that point, I looked to Warstrike. "Brandon, we've got to talk about serious things. Maybe Jamie shouldn't listen to them."

He nodded. "Maybe not. Jamie, I'm going to have the guard take you back to your room."

"Can I tell Evie and Gus about seeing Aunt Jennifer?" she asked.

Tark sent me a questioning look.

I said to the tyke, "Why not hold off for a little bit? I’d like give them the same kind of a fun surprise that I gave to you. What do you think?"

Jamie laughed and continued looking back at me while her dad led her to the door.

When Tark and I were alone again, I said, "Your Mantra must have been very different from me if she decided to marry you.

"Why? Am I so bad a catch?"

"Let's just say I'm still I'm a long way to go before I catch up with the Mantra you had."

Had? Damn, I hadn't put that right!

At least Warstrike wasn't smirking. "Even may lady had problems with the idea at first, but it was a forced decision. There was a baby coming."

"Perfect," I said sarcastically.

"Those were terrible times," he said. "We were becoming the de facto leaders of a city with a lot of very powerful and very traumatized people in it -- probably because we both had military experience. It was a lonely job. We had no choice but to shut people out emotionally so that no one would realize that the two of us were just about as messed up as everyone else. We didn't have anyone to turn to for support, except for each other."

"I get the picture," I said, not wanting to get into the subject of love and marriage.

"We lost so much when Mantra died. Nothing seemed to go right once we lost her."

"If she was like me, she was a great person. But just keep in mind that that other Mantra and I were two different people."

"How different are you?" he asked.

"Well, I’m the version who isn't going to jump into bed with you. No offense, but that's not where my head is at. Brandon Tark and I were just friends. Very good friends."

Tark and I had gotten along so well because he reminded me of my fellow knights of Archimage, whom I had worked with for so long. Now I could see that our relationship was one that I had to be very careful with.

The version of Tark in front of  me changed the subject. "Once Jamie talks to the other kids, I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing Evie. Of Gus, I'm not so certain. He's a hard kid to predict. What are you going to say to them if they drop in? They’re never going to buy into the auntie idea."

"It's best that I don't see them. I have a job to do. If I fail at it, history is going to change so much that the whole Big Bang might as well have never happened."

"Bing Bang? You come from the Dark Ages. When did you start believing in the Big Bang?"

"Not until the Twentieth Century, actually."

"Well, I used to believe in that scientific nonsense, too, but a lot of polluted water has flowed under the bridge since then."

"Ain’t that the truth?

"I just had a thought," Warstrike said. "Is there a possibility that you could go back in time and stop the Yellowstone thing?"

"Possibly, but it wouldn’t help my world and it wouldn’t help your world either."

"Why not?"

"Because changing past events doesn't change what's already happened. Meddling with past events will only create a clone timeline that will follow from any historical change. But the events that have already happened in other timelines are going to stay the same."

He scowled. "Well, aren’t you the good news kid!” He paused almost imperceptibly and then asked, “What about that woman you’re looking for? Have I ever heard of her, or does she come from outer space?"

"I don’t know if she ever existed in your world, but in my world she’s called Amber Hunt."

"Whoa! Amber Hunt? I know that name. She almost burned this planet to a cinder with gamma rays. How can an out of control nutcase save the Multiverse -- if there really is a Multiverse?"

"The people I'm working with think that she's salvageable. Horrible things happened to her and made her what she is. From all I can tell, she didn't start out bad. If there’s any part of her mind that isn’t crazy, we have find it and tap it."

"Well, horrible things happen to all of us," he said with a wry grin.

Then he stopped smiling.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I remember that converting energy is her big ultra power. Is it possible to describe Amber Hunt as a 'Flaming Woman'?"

"I suppose so. Why?"

"My daughter keeps dreaming about somebody she calls the Flaming Woman."

My brow furrowed. "Tell me more."

"Lately, Jamie's been saying things that make me think that she may have inherited my power of precognition."

"If she can predict the arrival of a 'Flaming Woman,' why haven't you done so, too?"

"You know how quirky my power can be." Then he looked up. "Or is your Tark different?"

"No, he's not different."

He shrugged. "Anyway, Jamie has been dreaming that a Flaming Woman will come and she's going to “take me away."

"What would Amber Hunt want with you?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Did she have some sort of relationship with Brandon Tark back where you come from?"

"None at all, as far as I know."

"If she shows up, doesn't it make sense that I should kill her before she kills me?"

I shook my head. "No! If you kill her, the whole universe is going to be lost. She’s the only ultra we know of who has the right ultra power to stop a creature as powerful as the one called Nemesis. As things stand, the future timelines tell us that she will partially impede Nemesis, but she'll arrive too late to stop the Multiverse from collapsing in a couple of centuries. Our hope is that we can capture Hunt and give her information that will make her more effective in battle."

"And you’ve seen all this by time-traveling?"

"Yes! I've seen that final battle. If it plays out the same way again, we're all doomed. Here’s the deal. My allies’ information tells us that the Amber Hunt who will be coming here will be the Main Branch version of Amber Hunt out of her proper place, just like I’m the Main Branch version of Mantra."

"This is hard for me to put my mind around it.”

You?” I said. “How do you think I feel?’

“Well, excuse me if I leave that problems I don't understand to you. What I need to ask is whether you can do anything to help us out here.”

"I wish I could help. As far as I understand the situation, a lot of good people on both sides have been acting wrongheadedly. I have no clue how to fix an implosion that’s been going on for years during a stopover that's only about an hour long! If you’re taking suggestions, would it help if you relinquished power?"

"If I did that, the whole city would be out for my throat. History tells us what happens to most fallen kings."

"Sad but true."

"Listen, I'll make you a deal."

"What kind of deal?"

"I'll let everyone know that some kind of Flaming Woman is coming very soon and she is to be subdued and captured, but not harmed. The trouble is that the rebels control most of the city. The rebels might get her, so you'll have to negotiate with the rebels before she shows up. It might help a little if you inform them that Hunt is going to be sent away with you, and that I’m not planning on using her as any sort of a weapon."

"That last part might help. There’s a lot of dug-in hatred around this city that can mess up everything. But we've been skipping around the crucial question," I said.

"What question?"

"Am I a prisoner here, or what? If you want me to talk to your enemies, you’ll have to give me freedom of movement. I've got a lot of loose threads to tie together and I can't do that from an interrogation cell, not even a convivial one."

"I see your point," he said forlornly. "But if I let you go, what will you do to...well, help my regime?"

"You shouldn't assume that I can do anything at all. All I can promise is to act as an honest broker. But the time that I can spend in this crazy place is limited. I still have plenty of ducks to get into a row."

The sad thing was that I was snowing him. The hour of failure for the Time Gem coming fast and there was nothing I could do about that. If I told Tark the hideous truth, it was just possible that he would throw off all restraint and do something that was apocalyptic and really stupid. Crazy in, crazy out.

"Mantra was the only person who never let me down," he declared resignedly. "It's torture looking at you. It's devilishly hard to remember that you're not the wife that I loved and cherished."

More than most people, I know how much the loss of a beloved mate hurts, but what could I do about it? “I appreciate the sentiment. But for now, what's next?"

"You're free to go. What do you need to get started?"

"First --"

My intent to speak was interrupted by another tapping on the door. I could feel a familiar bio-signature looming on the other side of it. A shiver ran through me. Was I up for this sort of poignant encounter?"

Warstrike went over and checked the security slot. Without saying anything, he opened portal.

Standing on the threshold was this universe’s version of Evie Blake.


Saturday, February 10, 2024

THE BIG SWITCH by Christopher Leeson Chapter 23




By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 23


The Narrative of D.C. Callahan, continued

Martin suddenly changed the subject. "In the office, you said you loved me. I was so shocked that I didn’t realize that I should have told you that I loved you, too."

"You told me. In your Honda. Yesterday morning. But I didn't believe you."

"Why not?"

"I thought you were only looking at my body. If I was a fella, and I saw this bonanza of booty, I'd go bonkers, too."

He laughed. "I knew you were beautiful from the first day I set eyes on you. But it never grabbed me as being anything important until I found out what a brave and wonderful person you are, especially on the inside."

I looked away. Would I always have to put up with guys telling me mushy, embarrassing things?

His fingers closed around my wrist. "Too often folks don't level with the people that they care until it's too late. I’m not going to happen with us. Not this time; it's too important."

I shrugged off what he was saying. Who wouldn’t say that to a girl as gorgeous as me?

Just then, Martin put his fingers under my chin and turned my face his way. Suddenly his lips were coming in like a Mustang fighter and I tried to shove him away. "No! You don't know what that smoochy stuff does to me!"

"What I know is that you're a warm and responsive person, and I know that  you’re going to do the right thing."

"Maybe, but it's not nice to exploit a guy's weaknesses," I complained.

"So, do you want me to leave?"

"No," I heard myself saying.

That “No” was the most important two-letter word I’d ever spoken before or since. My dad had always told me that a gentleman has to accept a lady's "no" for an answer. And that is exactly what Gentleman Martin did with my no. The next thing I knew he was under the sheet with me.

I sat bolt upright. "Martin, listen . . . !"

"Listen to what?" he murmured, shimmying closer.

"To what I’m saying. This is high risk. I think you should get a box of condoms."

My God! I should have asked him to get just one condom, not a whole case of them! Now I’d given him the wrong impression about me. Oh, blush!

"Don't sweat it, Princess. It’s not like I need a billfold to carry the little money I have around. I’ll go get my wallet."

Before I could offer an opinion, he was off to the living room. A minute later, he came back carrying his wallet. When he pushed down his shorts and started preparing for action, I rolled over, to stare at the wall with eyes as large as saucers.

If felt the mattress sink under Martin’s weight and in a wink he had me in his arms with his hands sliding down to my waist. He must have been an amateur magician, considering how quickly the lech managed to make my briefs disappear!

“Yipes!” I cried out when those fingers of his made contact with my guy-magnet!

"Sheila," he whispered, "is this your first time? I don’t want to be coming on too strong."

This was the moment when I had to either exit by the window or man up and take the medicine. I’d never done the deed as a girl been before, but I was no wimp. I was a man about town who knew how the sausage was made. "You talk too much," I answered. "I can take anything you can dish out!"

Had I really said that, or it is just something that I wished I'd have said?

In a flash, he was lip-nibbling my nipples; I felt his hands riding ‘home on the range” all over over my body. Just when my boobs were beginning to feel extremely well loved, he shifted his weight and pinned my shoulders to the mat, making me sink down into the mattress. I was very curious about finding out what a girl feels, but asphyxiation was something that I could do without.

Though startled at having his weight on top of me, instinct told me to lie still and let things happen. And what happened next was that something long, warm, and hard skittered across my thigh.

I couldn't help but lurch. This was getting fast and furious awfully quick!

Martin used a ton of foreplay to calm me down and he soon had me purring like a kitten. His hands were still doing their thing all over my body. It was like they could talk. I mean, they were telling me to relax and spread my thighs. My whole life seemed to flash before my eyes just then. What a sensation! Without my yet being brought to the proper mental state, a well aimed thrust let me know that I wasn't in Kansas anymore!

"Ay-yi-yi!" I yelped.

"You feel good, Sheila," he was whispering into my year."

"Yeah, ooooh." That was all I could say. Two words. One slang, one not even in the dictionary. Those were two words that were telling Martin Dewitt deed that he had just received title to my body and soul.

Like the pioneer he was, he began to develop his property. He started going up and down like a windmill with a big job ahead of it.

My dad had told me that if you find something you like to take more than you think you need, because a person always needs more than he thinks. I was doing that on pure instinct because I capable of putting me need into a coherent thought.

What I did know was that this was no Romeo and Juliet thing; this was an Operation Barbarossa! What Martin was doing to me was making my mind spun like a quarter on its edge. I'd lost all control and was running on automatic.

For about a quarter hour, we did everything that could be done with two bodies -- biting and clawing, kissing, licking.  When that woman thing, that rush of pleasure, came, my brain went totally blank. What a man feels only in his Johnson, was was feeling all through my body. My hips jerked repeatedly and my nipples felt as hard as pen points. My mouth, wide open, gulped for air; my tears were in competition with Angel Falls. I must have swooned before the sea stopped surging, but when I got my wits back the two of us were wrapped in one another's arms. I snuggled up to Martin's fantastic hard body, feeling tingly all over . . . .

THE BIG SWITCH, Chapter 24

The General Narrative Continued….

Martin and Sheila had to do a lot of shucking and jiving for the next few days, but once the alien affair had finally been put to rest, the two of them got a needed rest and set their minds to making a new start on the rest of their lives.

Sheila had started wheedling -- not quite nagging -- for Martin to start dressing like "a real detective." Martin, because he already thought of himself as a real detective, dug in his heels against the idea until Sheila had put on the table a deal that he couldn't refuse: If he'd loosen up and start dressing like a real detective, she'd start dressing like a real detective's secretary.

"I thought you were already doing that," Martin had said. "I’d say that your office style is something that can't be improved upon."

Sheila gave no reply, just flashed him a smile that seemed to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet, big boy!"

Martin was made curious enough about that reply to experiment with the idea of dressing like Nick Baxter. He had plenty of choice items from D.C.'s old wardrobe to draw from, and accessories were plentiful at the Goodwill store. Though he still disliked ties and the hats, he really liked the outfits that Sheila was coming up with. The two of them looked like a cover painting from Spicy Detective. And the change of fashion proved to be good for business. Clients didn't mind cooling their heels in the waiting room, not with Sheila wearing a tight mini-dress and plying them with steaming hot joe.

At the moment, Martin sat watching Sheila filing documents, bent over the lowest drawer of the file cabinet. She presented a wonderful view. "Don't you feel it, sexy?" he finally asked.

"Feel what?"

"Don't you feel a sort of ... presence...around this office? I'd swear that D.C. was still in here with us. It's like he's so close that I could reach out and touch him."

And he did reach out and touch something just then -- the snug stretch of her miniskirt.

Sheila, straightening, set aside her filing and looked his way admonishingly. "You've got to let go of the past, Martin. D.C.'s gone; we both have to go on without him."

The P.I. met Sheila's gaze quizzically. "Is that what you've done? Have you let go of your own past?"

"Yeah. That's what I've done. Why not? The past was never mungo on its best day, was it?"

Martin sighed and rested back into his swivel chair. "Maybe not. But the world is still a mess! Think of it! The government is full of human-hating infiltrators, obsessed with money, sex, and power –"

His secretary laughed. "What you're describing is politics as usual, Martin."

"I wish I could be as cool about problems as you are, baby."

Sheila stepped so close their legs touched. "I think you're plenty cool, too, big guy. Maybe even as cool as – well, as Kari Lake."

"Well, that a cool dame, I admit, but I don't exactly see myself in the Kari Lake image."

I mean that she is another person with with her head on straight," Sheila said. “But forget about that. We’ve got something important to talk about."

He regarded her keenly.

To his surprise, the girl slithered onto his lap.

"You sure know how to get my attention, sweet stuff,” he said. “What do you want to talk about?" Then a terrible thought struck him. "Oh, Christ! Don't tell me you're pregnant!"

She swatted his cologned hair with an open palm. "No way! I'm not really for kids -- at least not yet."

"Then what is it?"

"I worry about you! You've been working too hard."

"Sure I have, hon. But, if you notice, I'm making up for it by not charging very much."

"I think it's time you took on a new partner."

"And why do I need a new partner? I don't want to be sharing you with some dude off the street."

She tossed her head. "Business has picked up now  that we don't have Adam Schitz in Congress always bad-mouthing us. But more cases means that you've been working all the time. You need a back-up, you need relief."

"Are good help is hard to find."

She shook her head. "Not as hard as you think."

"What? You're not trying to push one of your cousins off on me, are you?"

Sheila was looking excited. "No, I’ve got a much better person in mind. It's somebody who knows the PI setup already."

He smiled. "Somebody like you, maybe?"

Her lips spread wide. "Sharp insight." She tousled his hair, like she thought he was a good boy.

"I'd hate to lose the best secretary that I’ve ever seen. Anyway, you haven't learned much about the gumshoe game just by filing and answering phones."

"I've learned a lot more than you give me credit for," Sheila pressed. "'Think of how it sounds: Dewitt and, uh, Coffin.'"

"More expense! I’ve already  had the door glass painted with 'The D.C. Callahan Private Investigating Agency'. A repaint job is going to cost plenty. All the sign painters are unionized."

"We can get a set of rub-on letters at the art shop. They're cheap."

"Too cheap. I'd hate to look tacky! Anyway, the closest art shops have all gone out of business because of street crime."

"Crime can be blown away like dandelion down if we get the right man into office. You just have to have faith," she said.

"He pecked her cheek. "I've got plenty of faith in you, but I'll need time to think about giving you a partnership."

“You might end up with plenty of time to think if we’re not sleeping together.”

“What? You're going into the sexual blackmail thing? I thought you were a higher class dame than that.”

“Life is a rough game.”

“It is! But if you pull a stunt like that we’ll see who'll breaks first!”

“What’s your objection to progress?” Sheila asked. “Didn't I handle myself pretty well with the aliens -- for a dame, I mean. You said that I did."

Martin puckered his cheeks. "Well, I did, didn't I? It must be true then. But the street is a mean place and I can’t stand the idea of you being in danger all the time."

"The way I look at it, danger is my business."

"That’s another habit you picked up from DC. You keep working book titles into your conversation"

"So I’m literate. Sue me. But I haven’t even mentioned the real clincher to my idea.”

“What’s that?”

“If I were your partner, you could stop paying me a salary."

He looked genuinely amazed. "You'd want that?"

"Not especially, but I'm a gambler willing to bet high on the changes of our success."

Martin sighed. "I’m telling you Sheila, you shouldn’t want to get into the P.I. dodge. It's no fun watching a dark building from a stake-out car all through the night."

"As long as we're watching together, we'll do all right."

"Says you! How can we sight all the comings and goings if we're both distracted?"

“We’ll work out a technique. Just think about it.” Sheila kissed him abruptly and went back to her filing.

 Martin Dewitt eased back, feeling relieved. He’d much rather have Sheila angling for a partnership than leveling with him on the secret that she’d been keeping for the last several weeks.

From now one, whenever the detective got too swellheaded, he only had to remember how clueless he'd been over those first couple days. It was only when Sheila had gotten up after their first night together that Martin had noticed that she seemed to act lost in her own apartment. He had watched her floundering around looking for things and he had supposed that sex and danger had left her dazzled. But when her difficulty persisted -- at finding the coffee, the cups,the dishes, the pans, and even the spatula -- he began to worry that the terror of the alien encounter had traumatized her. But then another idea started to nag at him.…

What if this woman wasn't the real Sheila? Lately, she hadn't been acting at all like the Sheila whom he had known for almost a year, neither at home nor at the office. Was she an alien? That thought sent a chill through his blood.

But, no, that couldn't be. An alien would have switched with him and/or murdered him by now. On the contrary, this girl had actually killed three aliens -- two of them to save his life. Besides, the spacemen always took with them not only the body but also the memories of their victims, making them perfect impostors. So why were there so many little things that this version of Sheila Coffin didn't seem to know?

If Sheila wasn't Sheila or an alien, could she be some ordinary person, one whom the aliens had switched into a new body for some reason?

But if that were the case, who could she be? Why was she pretending to be Sheila instead of admitting to her true identity? Martin tried to reason it out. What, exactly, might be stopping her from coming clean? Whoever this person was, she couldn't be just somebody off the street. She knew plenty about Callahan and Dewitt's everyday business.

Suddenly, a light went on.

Oh, God!

Martin, saying nothing, made an excuse to get out of Sheila’s proximity so he could spend the rest of the day alone. For hours, he simply shuffled around the city park, kicking at the pop cans in the grass, trying hard to come up with some alternative theory that would cancel out the one he had. By early afternoon, he’d decided that it wasn't possible to deny the truth any longer.

D.C. Callahan was alive!

D.C. Callahan was Sheila Coffin, and she'd remain Sheila Coffin for the rest of her life!

As soon as he accepted that idea as a fact, so many more things began to make sense!

The poor guy. He was keeping mum out of sheer humiliation.

But what should Martin himself be thinking about it? And why couldn't he shake the idea that it wasn't actually that much of a tragedy after all?

No! In fact, it was something good. Very good. Callahan was still alive! On the other hand, Martin Dewitt felt bothered by his own feelings about Sheila Coffin. Even now, knowing the truth, he couldn't turn those feelings off. Part of him was actually angry with D.C. for letting him fall in love with her -- him! Why had he – she-- let him treat her the way that he'd been treating her?

Well, he thought, it might just be that she was suffering from the same loss of sexual control that had overwhelmed Adam Schitz? It might be nothing personal.

Did that mean that Sheila didn’t actually feel anything special for him?

Anguishing brought him no answers. Instead, Martin began to cheer up again. Having Callahan still alive and kicking overrode everything else. It was like the dark and terrible avenue he'd been following had turned into a street with all its light posts lit. Wasn't the truth, as he now saw it, something to cheer about?

He started walking back to Sheila’s apartment.

Although he had intended to go back to his own digs right after checking on her, that damned chemistry they’d been sharing came alive as soon as he laid eyes on her again. Soon it had the two of them under the covers again. But Dewitt was a conflicted man and it showed in his lovemaking. When Sheila asked him why he was holding back, Dewitt could only yammer something about suffering from delayed shock.

By the third night, without any real effort on his part, Martin's original passion for Sheila had revived, but a sense of awe at the situation yet clung to him. His hostess, sensing it, had asked: "Are you making love to me, Martin, or is this some kind of worship service?"

The fourth time was the charm. The dark past faded under the bright light of the future. Martin was working his way toward forgiving himself. He had never had the hots for either Callahan or for the original Sheila. This person with him now was someone totally new and she was an absolutely wonderful...girl...gutsy, knowledgeable, caring -- and she had a personality that could make him laugh without even trying.

Martin kept asking himself if it was possible to love her knowing what he knew. Was this strange, urgent, and powerful thing inside of him really love? Martin tried other terms -- happiness, completion, satisfaction, contentment, attainment -- but none of them hit the spot like the word love did. If this wasn’t love, then love a thing absolutely beyond his ability to understand.

But that was then and this is now. Martin was holding this person, the new Sheila, in his arms, able to feel her heart beating. So far, he didn’t resented her lack of candor about her true identity. In fact, if keeping the secret made things easier for her, it everything easier for Martin, also. But Dewitt didn't suppose that D.C. would want to keep him in the dark forever. Even so, it worried him that her confession might change their relationship. Would those old ghosts from their past come fluttering up to get between the two of them?

He sighed. Until the moment of reckoning arrived, he didn’t intend to obsess about it. Martin's game plan was to keep doing his level best to make D.C. -- to make Sheila -- as happy as possible. He was hoping that she would decide that running into the aliens was the happiest day of her life.

"Do you love me, pudding?" Martin's partner suddenly murmured.

"Ah-huh," he whispered, inhaling the perfume placed with feminine precision behind her ear. Simultaneously he enjoyed the tickle of her hot breath on his neck.

"How much?"

"Much, much, Princess. Now let me taste that ruby lipstick of yours again; I'm still trying to figure out whether its flavor is cherry or strawberry."

"If you like it that much, maybe I should paint my whole body with it," she offered huskily.

The two of them kept on smooching, oblivious to time, until the clock in the tower hit noon. They would take a break. A special meal at the nearby Burger King would be able to restore their energy and give them the pep necessary to pick up where they'd left off.


Sunday, January 7, 2024

THE BIG SWITCH by Christopher Leeson Chapter 22





By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 22


The Narrative of D.C. Callahan, continued

I had a lot of explaining to do, so I gave Martin some crapola about being victimized by alien mind-control. Telling him the truth was absolutely out of the question. I didn’t want him to find out that I was somebody weird.

"Did you mean what you said, Princess?" he suddenly asked.

"Mean what?"

"About loving me."

An awful question! I almost said I didn’t mean it, but I was tired of pretending to feel things that I didn't feel. And vice versa. "Yeah," I said, "I guess I meant it. So what?"

He showed me so what. Before I could say, "Hold your horses," he was lip-smacking me, clawing at my naked body, reducing me to a helpless, groaning victim of an unnatural, all-consuming lust. . . .

No, scratch that. That was what I was doing to him. It was more he was a hare trying to get away from a wildcat.


Well, that was then and this is now. Here I sit writing a letter. I've always hated to write letters with feeling, but never so much as I hate writing this one:

Dear Jack,

If you've gotten this letter, it means that I've bought the farm. By now you’ve probably heard that I’ve been neck deep into some bad stuff. That’s not exactly the straight skinny. Before I step through the last door, I want to set the record straight.

The prospect of dying isn't what scares me most. The real hurts comes from knowing that my name is going to be Mudd for a while. It'll hurt you, too, I know, but I think you’re the kind of man who can stand up and take it on the chin. I just want you to know that the stories you’ll be hearing aren't going to be true. What happened is that I have to take a bad rap so that decent people won’t be hurt. I became a detective because I wanted to be a knight in shining armor and this is my big chance to take my final bow the right way.

Things didn't work out for me because those are the breaks. Plenty's gone wrong around my gopher hole lately, but I don't think it's because I've been a bad guy. I hope that you’ll eventually believe that, too.

I'm glad that Mom and Dad aren't around these days to have to face the neighbors at church. There’s just me and your family now. I love your kids, but the way it’s turned out, I'm glad that they've never had a chance to know their uncle very well. What a stranger does can’t disappoint them very much. And I'm especially glad that your wife never liked me. That will keep her from feeling too badly about what’s going down.

Maybe you won't be all that busted up about it, either, Jack. We've grown apart lately and I've been sorry about that, but in the present situation that’s for the best. You always thought I was a chump for giving up my shoe job, but my time in Iraq helped me to understand that a man only has so much time, and while he's between stage left and stage right, he needs to move quickly if he's going to get around to doing what he really wants to do.

It’s true that my P.I. job in Washington hasn't been very remunerative, and I can't say that it's been all that exciting – except to some person who considers that dodging creditors is exciting. On the other hand, if things had stayed dull I wouldn't have to be writing a letter like this one. Excitement can carry a hefty tab. I wish I could tell you the whole story, but I can't. To say too much is to create collateral damage. When the Chinese curse you, they wish that you have "interesting times." I feel like I've been zapped by that Chinese curse.

The one thing that I don’t regret it going out as a real life detective. My becoming a P.I. was all about job satisfaction. I've made plenty of mistakes, but putting up my private investigator shingle was the high point of my life. How can I explain to some everyday Joe what a life of crime-detection means to a guy like me? When somebody says, "I'm a plumber," does he ever feel the same sense of pride as I did when I was finally able to say, "I'm private eye"?

You’re not going to be privy to the whole story until you’re with me in Heaven. When you finally get served the full meal, you’re going to stop feeling sad. You'll feel more like giving me the hee-haw than punching me in the jaw. And it actually is a funny story when you come right down to it.

Maybe, when you read this letter, you'll just toss it in the can and say, "What a jerk!" The trouble is, Jack, I don't think you’re going to have such an easy time of it. I'm awfully sorry that the good name we share is going to be crapped by the news services. But life has its speed bumps and we just have to get over them, Bro. Feeling good and loving life is all that you need to do to keep me happy in Cloud City.

Before I check out, I'm passing this letter over to a friend. She’s a wonderful girl who loves the detective business as much as I do. I told her to send it to you if I don't make it though the next couple days. And the odds are that I won't.

That's about it. I guess this is goodbye.

Your brother,

Dennis Charles Callahan

I'd only gotten about halfway through the first paragraph before I started bawling. What is it about the way women are wired that makes them so emotional?

It almost killed me to have to sign off with Jack, but I couldn't have it both ways. I had to make a clean break with my old life before I could start living my new one. I chose to put Callahan away because his life didn't have any deep roots. Sheila, on the other hand, has a big family and there’s a lot of people who would miss her. She has a mother, dad, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents -- the works.

They're all still strangers to me, but as far as I know, none of them are bad people. I've found some really nice letters and Christmas cards in Sheila's keepsake box. I’ve never been part of a large family and having one for a change might be fun. I'm thinking about dropping in on the Coffin clan over the Holidays and getting to know them. I'm not sure how I'll pull off the impersonation, but I'll probably take Martin along and introduce him to all and sundry. That will be the clincher. If the family crowd knows that Sheila is having a love affair, it will go a long way toward explaining why their little girl suddenly is talking like she has some screws loose.

It's time for the summing up.

When the ersatz D.C. died, the alien threat to the Callahan and Dewitt Detective Agency ended. They're still a menace to the world at large, of course, but I'll be damned if I know what I can do about it. It’s a toss up whether the aliens are worse than the people who are running the country now. And if they get the reign of terror they want, it can't possibly go on for long. The aliens seem to be the same boneheaded mob that took over the old U.S.S.R. When they fouled their nest so much that they themselves couldn’t stand the smell of it, they moved west. After they’ve sucked the marrow out of the bones of the old USA, maybe they’ll pull up stakes and head out to Japan. In that case, Sayonara.

The one good gob of good news came in is this: A week after the phony Callahan bought it, I checked the mail and found a letter addressed to my "deceased boss." It turned out to be a contract offer for one of my "Nick Baxter" novels. Three thousand smackers and the promise of royalties! Wow!

Martin was less than ecstatic.

"That's nice," he said, "but the money has to go to D.C.'s brother Jack. I suppose he can use it, but wouldn't it have been great if Callahan could still be here to enjoy this? Having a book in print would have meant even more to him than money in the bank."

I must have looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.

"What?" Martin asked.

"It's not Jack's money."

He looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"Check Callahan's will, sweetie. I happen to know what's in it -- ah, because I typed it out for D.C."

"Well, what's in it?"

"He left everything to his company, including his copyrights, and you're the company now."

"Why would he do a fool thing like that?"

I threw up my hands. "Give the guy a break, Marty! When D.C. was drawing up his will, he didn't have two sticks of gum to rub together. He had no legacy except a debt-ridden agency and a stack of manuscripts that no editor would touch! He didn't suppose that he was doing you much of a favor by leaving the whole disaster to you."

Pard lost his gloomy look and glanced up hopefully. "Do you think that the publisher would want any more of D.C.'s novels?"

I shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, Callahan's success really encourages me. If he can do it, so can I. I'd like to try my hand at doing one of those Nick Baxter adventures, in fact. I guess I'll have to license the rights to the character from you."

Martin laughed.

"What's tickling your funny bone?" I asked.

"No girl in the world can write like a tough guy!"

"Oh, yeah?"


"You're such a chauvinist. Just watch my smoke, buddy!"

And since then I've been as good as my word. I'm pecking away at my latest N.B. adventure. Practice makes perfect and I can only get better. Anyway, what publisher wouldn't love to have my picture on the jacket of a book he's trying to sell? If it’s a full-body shot it will sell even better.

By the way, I think my recent experiences have made my female characters realistic. I mean, I’m writing less about feminists committing robberies and committing murder and featuring more likable women, such as cocktail waitresses and insatiable nymphomaniacs. Erotica is something that women writers can get away with without drawing critical scorn. I haven’t sold a second book yet, but I won't sweat it. When the publisher starts making millions off the first one, opportunities will come knocking. Both Martin and me are keeping our fingers crossed.

Now for the bad stuff.

During the inquest, Martin and I did our best to smear as much muck as possible on Callahan's coattails. According to our spiel, D.C. got involved with a bad woman from across the hall, Leigh Spielman. The two of them started killing for thrills. We told the cops that D.C. died in an attempt to murder Dewitt and me after we found out what he was up to, a fact that Latisha Jones could more or less corroborate. Unfortunately, because Latisha had such a big mouth, I had to confess that I was the one who'd hit Spielman with the snow shovel. But that was dismissed as unintentional and justifiable homicide.

As for the stiffs drawing flies in B.J.'s apartment, well, we lucked out there, too. We claimed that Blackjack's dying words accused Callahan and a blonde woman of killing the wino in the kitchen. As for B.J., the coroner decided that he'd died of natural causes. Witnesses placed Callahan and the dame at the scene of the crime not once but twice, and the dead wino had, in fact, been seen entering the building in their company.

The stiffs in the dumpster have been chalked up to the deadly duo, too. It was a big help that the false Callahan had shoved D.C.’s business cards into both of their pockets. Right on cue, the boys in blue had a new Bonny and Clyde to saddle to the with the bum killings. The papers took the thrill-killer story and ran with it, calling Callahan and Spielman the "Death Wish" assassins. The woke Fake News used the angle that they were a White Privilege couple with a vendetta against the city's poor and disadvantaged. By the time Gina and Evelyn surfaced, the whole affair was an open-and-shut case and nobody was much interested in what they had to add to the matter. Because the police had been defunded, they had too few investigators to be wasting them on closed cases, and the reporters wanted to keep pushing the racially-charged angle that they already had.

But it was Adam Schitz or -- more precisely, Latisha Jones -- who gave the crucial testimony that saved both our necks. By the way, a little research confirmed that there really had been a Latisha Jones, one with a long rap sheet for soliciting. We suppose that the real Latisha must have been the hooker who had been originally born into that knockout body of hers. The aliens must have kept her data and fed it into Schitz’s head when they brainwashed him – or is that her?

After the investigation, social services tried to sequester Miss Jones inside a home for troubled women, but she was just too restless and kept running away. Martin and me found her back in the “life,” doing what she liked best. We didn't want to leave the deluded dolly working for a lousy pimp on the mean streets, so we fixed her up with one of my -- one of Callahan's -- old contacts in the West. He was managing a posh Nevada ranch, one called the Corral 69. It was a business, not a criminal operation, and the girls there were treated more or less decently. It was the best we could do, since Latisha was determined to keep on selling sex.

But the fact is that Jones stayed bunked at the Corral for only six weeks. She’d never really settled in, too much missing the exciting interplay that goes on between a ho and her pimp. Also, the wide-open spaces of the desert bored her stiff. One day, she hitched a ride into Las Vegas and never came back.

I’ve wondered since then what might happen to Latisha Jones, aka Adam Schitz, if the brainwashing ever wears off.

As for the aliens' secret war on the U.S.A., I’ve been checking the voting record of the space monkey who switched with Schitz and it's amazing. What he's been doing so far is indistinguishable from the nutty votes that the original Schitz used to make. Considering that the old Schitz was pretty much like everyone else in Congress, I wonder why the aliens think they need to take over Congress. Things seem to have been going their way ever since the New Deal.

A funny accident happened to me lately. I turned a corner and almost stepped on the high-heeled pumps of a red-haired hottie wearing dark glasses -- and not much else.

The girl sitting on the edge of a street fountain recognized me, too.

"You is that secretary from the Callahan agency!" the girl declared in liquid Black English tones. I could only stare at her. It was B.J. and he – she – had on a barely-legal black lycra-spandex, ladder-cut job with a hemline worth writing home about. I have to say that her outfit was sinful enough to keep a mega-church minister up all night praying. What exactly he’d be praying for I’d blush to say!

"Hi, Shiela gal,” she called out. “Has anyone turned y’out yet, sugah?"

I winced and replied, "Ah, no. I'm still doing the same old job."

Her moue told me that she didn't approve. "You're in a rut, gal. A real woman needs a sweet man."

"The man I already have is sweet enough for me," I let her know.

"That handsome dick in the leather coat? He'd make a good pin-up, honey pie, but for serious lovin', his sort don’t rate. He's not a player."

"I'm glad he's not," I replied stiffly. "I don't want to be played with."

She shrugged, as if she thought I was stupid.

"How -- ah -- how are Evelyn and Gina?" I asked.

She smiled. "The wife-in-laws are both fine. We're working for this new mack man, the one that Evelyn found for us -- Bogota Rico."

"I've heard of him," I said. Rico was a Columbian, a nasty up-and-comer making his way skyward on the mean street. "Is Rico one of your old friends?" I asked carefully.

A tinkly laugh floated from her pipes. "Not hardly! We always hated each other's guts and were always trying to take one another's girls away. Well, a couple days after I last saw you, Evelyn brought Rico over to our motel. He said he was taking over my operation and me with it."

"And Evelyn set that up?" I asked.

"Yeah. At first, I thought she'd double-crossed me, but it turned out that she was doing me a favor. Lordy, is that man ever good in bed!"

"Then you're making it all right as a woman?"

"As right as rain, honey. I only wish I’d had the chance to start sooner!”

I asked my next question delicately. "Do you really like -- the work?"

She frowned. “Not at first, but after a couple days of Rico giving me all his attention, I realized that there was nothing not to like about it. I’m cool."

"Cool? You’re sure?"

Her cheaters flashed the autumn sun into my eyes. "Yeah, cool. I got a sweet man taking care of me, treating me like I'm something special. The outfits are incredible and I'm taking hour-long bubble baths every day. What’s not to like?"

"I’m not in a position to say," I told her.

The air went out of the conversation about then. Hoes and non-hoes really don’t have very much to talk about. After a few minutes, B.J. stood up.

"Well, gotta rush, Baby-o. Rico is on my back for a thousand dollars a day. "At the start, he only expected five hundred dollars, but now he knows how much I can pull down when I try."

"He raised your quota? The greedy rat!"

She smiled in a superior way. "No, you still don't see! Upping my tally shows how much he respects me. To be one of his top girls is a big honor!”

“By the way,” I asked, “what do you call yourself now?”

“I’m Betty Jo." Then she added, "My friends still call me B.J."

It didn't take a genius to guess why.

"Good luck!" I said as she started away. I stood there for a long minute, watching her firm bottom swivel away into the distance, listening to that nutty song she’d started to sing:

"Some say that I'm tacky, that I wallow in sleaze,
But I'm earning a living and I do what I please.
Most wives don't respect me, them that's happily wed,
But I know all their husbands, 'cause I met them in bed!"


That being said, let’s get back to the important part of my story.

Martin and I were told not to leave town after our first police grilling, Martin drove me to my -- to Sheila's -- apartment in Falls Church and put me to bed. He stayed overnight, bunking down in the living room.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt more depressed than ever. I just lay there staring at the ceiling, not knowing what to do with myself, confused about what my life was supposed to be from now on. I had two choices. I could either mix myself a strychnine cocktail or start learning how to sing, “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

I felt bummed out, big time.

Suddenly there came a rapping-tapping on my chamber door. It was Martin, and no one more.

"Sheila, are you all right?" he asked in that incredible baritone of his. "You sound like you're crying."

"I don't cry!" I yelled back. "I wouldn't know how to cry even if I tried. Go away, you big dumb Belgian! I don't want to talk!" Along with all my other problems, I’d been saddled with a partner who was having auditory hallucinations.

Martin opened the door carefully, as if expecting that I would throw something at him. I saw that he was wearing just his shorts and so I rolled over, refusing to look at his six-pack abs. My cheek touched a clammy wet spot on the pillow that hadn't been there before. I could only think that I must have been drooling.

"I can see that you're taking it hard, Princess. Well, I'm pretty busted up myself," he said softly. "The worst thing is, I miss Callahan."

I sniffed. "Yeah, well, you can't miss D.C. half as much as I do. He was something special to me."

"To me, too. I feel like I have to do something special for him."

"D.C. wasn't a sentimental guy,” I said. “He'd be glad to let you take over the business. You were his buddy and pal. To a manly man, that's as good as being a brother."

"Yeah? And how do you know so much about manly men?"

I extemporized. "I -- I read romance novels."

He laughed softly. "Well, that's nice. Every guy wants a girl who understands his kind of man."

I didn't answer.

"I wouldn't blame you if you feel like taking off after all we've been through, but I hope you don't. You've got grit. I think you have the makings of a good detective. I also can't imagine wanting to go back to that office without you there."

I shut my eyes, not wanting any pep talk. I'm the type who gives out the pep talks. I don't like listening to them.

"For a while it'll be just you and me," he went on.

"Yeah," I said with a snort, "it'll be hard for you to find a new partner. Most people aren’t dumb enough to take on half of an agency’s debt with no prospects of a livable income!"

"It's not that. It wouldn't feel right bringing in an outsider, not for a while anyway. I wouldn't want to make Callahan's ghost feel crowded."

I shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, that's a pretty good description of what Callahan is right now."

To Be Continued in Chapter 23

Thursday, December 7, 2023

THE BIG SWITCH by Christopher Leeson Chapter 21




By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 21


The Narrative of D.C. Callahan, continued

I suddenly remembered the old-fashioned steel snow shovel stored in the maintenance closet -- not one of those plastic jobbies they sell down at Costco, but a good, heavy bone-breaker. I dashed down the hall to claim it and returned to the door less than half a minute later, armed and fabulous.

I mean, armed and dangerous.

Just in time! The door swung inward; at the first glimpse of a head poking out, I brought the shovel down.


The alien Spielman fell back into the office, as limp as a rag doll. Her gun flew out of her mitt and skidded across the terrazzo floor. I plunged into the room where Martin was duking it out with the false Callahan. Man! He was pummeling my impersonator as if he’d taken lessons from Andy Ruiz Jr!

I hated the idea of my handsome face getting bruised and bloodied, but I knew the score. Meanwhile, Latisha was cringing behind Sheila's desk like the useless politico she still was at heart.

Muttering coming from the hall outside made me go and check both ways. There were people at every office door along both sides of the corridor.

"No problem, folks!" I yelled. "The boys are just going after a rat! Isn't it a crime that we have to do our own pest control?"

I shut the door again, just as Martin shuffled up to me. "A-All right, Sheila, we've got him!"

It looked like he had Callahan down cold on the floor. "Don't say anything," I told him. "People are listening."

"Yeah," wheezed Martin, “okay."

I glanced back at the bogus Callahan. "Keep that monkey quiet," I told Martin, "we don't want him calling for help from those dumbbells outside!"

Martin nodded and fetched some duct tape from Sheila's desk. Meanwhile, I was checking out Leigh's body. No breathing. No pulse.

"Holy shit!" I gasped. "I killed her." To keep from falling down, I staggered back against the door.

Martin caught me before my knees gave out. "Sheila, you couldn't help it!" he was saying.

"That poor, mean-spirited, bad-tempered, frigid girl!” I babbled. “I was waiting for the day when she'd get her head on straight, but now she's dead!"

He shook me and made my teeth rattle. "It’s not Leigh! Its an assassin from outer space. You're a heroine."

Though my eyes burned and my breath came in tremulous snatches, I slowly got hold of myself.

I said shakily. "Everybody and his uncle is going to say that I should get the chair!"

Martin frowned. "Sheila, listen. The police work in this city is terrible. We'll just dump her body somewhere and Leigh Spielman will a boring statistic by the time some Maryland camper digs her up."

I slumped into Sheila's desk chair and sat with my face in my hands. Martin put his arm around my shoulders. "It’s terrible, but you're not to blame. I figure that we can pin the killing on Callahan!"

I looked up, horrified. "Pin it on -- who?"

Then I got his drift. In fact, if my double had been planting evidence to make my real self look like a murderer, he'd out-smarted himself. With multiple homicides already on his scorecard, he'd have a hard time beating the Spielman rap. 

But this was the dilemma: I wanted back into my old life, but the last couple days had smashed that old life of mine to smithereens. I wasn’t sure what I should do.

"Your first idea is best, Martin," I muttered. "Like you say, take Leigh somewhere and dump her! But I don’t like blaming things on Callahan. The real man was a sweet guy and if we hurt him, we hurt his family. We need to come up with another story."

"What other story?"

"I don't know."

"Were you able to get the evidence out of the dumpster?" he asked.

Giving a shudder, I said, "No. The rot and the odor was too much for me. I guess I'm not as tough as I thought."

He smiled. “I’m not surprised. You're the wrong type to be getting involved in his dirty stuff."

"No, Martin! I’m on the spot and I have to see it out," I told him. "Is there any booze around here? I’ll need a big one if I’m going to do what I have to do."

He was looking down at the dead girl again. "I don't like breaking the law," he said, "but I'll do it. For Callahan's sake."

“Well, just the kind of scum that makes the laws around here and it ought to be a lot easier,” I told him.

With a shake of his head, Martin sneaked the stiff to the back to the fire escape, unobserved as far as we could tell. With Leigh Spielman off on her last date, I took stock.

From what I'd overheard the aliens right, they hadn't reported to their bosses. That means that only the Callahan guy is left to finger us to the space invaders. Unfortunately, killing him was out of the question so long as he was wearing my body. I needed to get that body back!

I called Latisha into the reception room and got her help in snagging the prisoner into the main office. Now that he was sprawled on the floor, I had to face the tricky part. I had to do some parallel parking with him without so I could switch us back. But that would leave a possessed Sheila on the loose while I'd be left tied, gagged, and at her mercy. Not good! Think, Callahan, think!

Then the solution slammed me in the noggin. I got Latisha's help in stripping off his duds, a thing she didn’t seem to mind doing at all. Then I cut the man's tape bindings with a jackknife and replaced them with lengths of strong cord we had on a spool. This time, though, I was using a special removable knot that I’d learned from an amateur magician, so that Callahan could get himself free in a jiffy.

Now that he was down to his boxer shorts I felt queasy. Were my thighs really that thin and hairy? If real girls had rated that body the way I was rating it, no wonder I I hadn’t been getting very many Happy Hours. On the other hand, Latisha seemed turned on by what she saw. The Martians had really done a good job of twisting her mind.

"Yuh is a woman afta mah own heart!" she said. "De only ting Ah cain't understand is why a fancy lady lak yuh gits de hots fo' a bad-ass dude lak dat!"

Agitated and short of breath, I gasped out the explanation: "You don't understand. The nutty way he's acting isn't what Callahan normally does. But it’s normal for him to go crazy if he’s not getting the right kind of sex and plenty of it. You'll see a big change in him once I deliver what a real man needs."

"If'n dat's so, why dontcha let me do it instead? For dis, I’m the doctor in da house."

She had a point there, but that idea was a no-go for me. "He's my man and I’m not letting anybody climb on him except me. Got that, lady?"

She showed me her palms and backed off. "Sheesh! Hab it yor own way, Sweetie!"

My next problem was making myself feel sexy about a hairy guy with skinny thighs. The aliens had told me that the treatment I got was going to make me into a nymphomaniac, but I sure didn’t feel like one just then.

"Latisha," I began tentatively, "could you get him -- excited -- for me. When I start, I want to come on and finish it off fast."

The black girl blinked in puzzlement. "Well, Ah guess Ah'll jes' nebber undastand yuh white folks. Since y'busted me outta dat cop tank, dough, an' yuh 'uz such a good friend ta Blackjack, Ah I figure Ah owes yuh one!"

To make a long story short, when the alien woke up Latisha was on him like a hog going to slop. She wasn’t showing him much mercy, but from all I could

 tell, the fake Callahan wasn’t feeling much pain.

Oh, no!

I had suddenly realized that I was taking a big chance! What if the Martian switched with Latisha? If that happened, she’d be free to come after me!

Just like Macbeth, I had to screw up my courage. It was time to get naked!


I started shucking off my clothes. "That's enough warm-up," I told Latisha, handing her a pair of handcuffs. "Here, snap these on my wrists, quick, before he settles back down." I obligingly turned around and put my hands behind my back.

"Handcuffs? Baby-o, y'really lak doin' thangs wild!"

"Keep the key and don't lose it," I reminded her. "And don't pay attention to anything I say after I'm finished giving him the works. Having great sex always makes me go nuts."

"Wow!" she said with a blink. "An' Ah taut Ah wuz de baaaaad sister, but yuh could teach me a few things!" She obligingly snapped the cuffs on me.

"Thanks, Latisha,” I said, breathless with either excitement or loathing. “Now, one more thing: Tape my mouth shut and don't take Mr. Gorilla off me until Callahan is up and around and talking like a good guy. Don’t worry about the things I might be saying. Having sex always makes me lose my mind for a little while."

"I didn't know dat dis was da kind o’ fuckin dat white gals did. It shor 'nuff makes me glad dat I'm black. D’ya want me tah let him go affer yuh gits his rocks off?"

"No! He'll be able to untie himself. Once Callahan comes to his senses, he'll remember how to get out of that special knot I used on him." Latisha was still looking like a California politician in the headlights, but she darted off and fetched the tape from the desk without asking any more silly questions.

“Tape my mouth shut,” I told her.

"Tape yor mouth shut? Damn! Hangin' 'round wi' yuh detectives types sho' is an edjacation!"

"Please don’t do anything that will hurt either me or Callahan for the next few minutes."

"I git you, but I don’t git it!

"Put the tape on me," I said impatiently. "I can't do it myself, not with these derbies on my wrists."

She did a double take. "Derbies? I don’t see no hat anywhere, chickadee."

I sighed. "Derbies are what detectives call handcuffs!"

She wrinkled her brow. "Wha fo’?"

"Please, Latisha!"

"Okay, okay. But jes' use the kind o’ English Ah know, so Ah don't git awl mixed up."

She cut a strip of tape off the dispenser and pasted it over my lips. That done, she backed away bemusedly.

"Do yuh uptown people aways do dis when the light are out and da door is closed?"

I nodded.

"'Magin'! If'n the nice gals are all as crazy as you is, wha' do awl de johns wanna come down ta mah part 'o town fo’?"

With a toss of my head I signaled that I wanted Latisha to wait in the other office. I what I had to do next I didn’t want an audience. The black girl left the office and closed the door behind her.

Callahan was conscious and staring at me like a snake, but I'd taken every precaution and now had to get this rotten business over with. I knelt in front of him, but then hesitated. My problem was that there was still too much of the man inside me. I closed me eyes and tried to imagine that the Callahan alien was a girl that I’d just met under a lamppost.

I started rubbing my cheek against his stubbly face and, frankly, it gave me a “yuck” reaction. Where was that Dame Curse when a person really needed it? I wanted to be somewhere else -- anywhere else. For the first time, I understood why so many women refuse to do this sort of work without being paid good money for it.

Suddenly, the alien's arms shot free and he was clutching in a suffocating squeeze. I would have screamed, except that, like an idiot, I'd had myself gagged!

"Too bad, Sweetheart," the Martian said as he shoved me away and got to his feet. "You forgot that I know every thought in your pretty little head. I remembered that trick knot of yours!"

Struggle was useless the way I was fixed up. My face burned with indignation. I was going to die now, and all for the silly reason that I had been too mortified to tell the truth to my best friend.

The phony Callahan suddenly reached down and ripped the tape off my face, almost taking my lips with it!

Latisha heard my yell. "Yuh awl right in dere, sweetie?" she inquired through the door.

"Tell her it's all okay or I'll kill her," my deadly double threatened.

"It's all right, Latisha!" I shouted. "Doing it this way just feels so good that I had to scream. I screamed so loud that my gag came off."

"Do yuh want me ta put it back on?"

"No, that's okay. I don't need it anymore!"

"Okay, suit yorself!"

Now that Latisha had settled down, my captor sneered and poked my hip with his toe. "You are just so dumb, chicklet!"

"Hey, what if I slipped up!" I said. "I can't think of everything! I've had a lot on my mind lately."

He sneer became a smirk. "This is one hell of a way for D.C. Callahan to cash in -- as a jingle-brained twist."

I flared. "I hate being called cute names!"

He cocked an ironic eye. "I’m just talking the way you talked."

"I knew how to talk like an urbane, lovable man-about-town! You talk like a jerk!"

"Sorry, Babe, I can't turn the faucet off. Wearing this body, the lingo comes naturally."

"There's nothing natural about you! Just answer me one question."


"Where do you come from?"

"My race is from a planet in a star system that you can't possibly have heard of."

"Well, duhhh. I didn't suppose you were Lithuanian!"

"Quit stalling, Callahan. I have to kill you; that’s just the way it is."

"But why be in such a hurry? Do you have an appointment or something?"

Without replying, he went over to Martin's desk and picked up Spielman's gun.

"I’ll give you credit for one thing -- you’re capable of causing a lot more trouble that I would have given you credit for."

"Yeah, well, trouble is my specialty.”

"Stow it I’ve got a busy day. I have to kill your partner and then find B.J. so I can kill her, too."

"You've got a full itinerary."

He snorted. "Covering up mistakes is hard work."

"Wow! Sometimes you aliens sound so much like Democrats."

"No more talk!" he snarled. "Just so you know it, your plan never could have worked. Sex only makes the transfer of our bio-plasmatic memory engrams easier; it doesn't force it to happen. I can bang all day without ever switching."

"All day?"

"A pity I’m too rushed to give you a demonstration."

"Why be such a gentleman? You could make today something to email home about.”

He laughed. "Is there anything you wouldn’t do just to stay alive for another ten seconds?"

I forced a contemptuous smirk. "Ten seconds? A second ago you were talking about ‘all day.’"

My impersonator laughed again. I gave his weasel face a glim, trying to come up with a good idea how to play him.

"What are you waiting for, big guy? Here I am, handcuffed, naked, and helpless."

No dice. The only rod he was pointing at me was a metal one.

"I got no time for parlor games, sister. Any last words?"

I stared into his face, formerly my_ face. "Sure. Give me time to compose something that will live through the ages."

He shook his head took aim.

"Okay, okay!” I said. “Last words. Something quick. I mean, something _average_ quick. Let me see...ahh." I closed my eyes, trying to pull a catchy epithet out of the hat.

Rats! Nothing worthy of Shakespeare was coming to mind, so I just shrugged and said what was at the top of my head.

Or was it at the top of my heart?

"Goodbye, Martin, wherever you are. I love you!"

My evil twin snorted. "Ain't that sweet! Well, that’s it! Farewell, my lovely. . . ."

Suddenly, the door swing open, its glass breaking as it slammed into the wall.

A gunshot exploded and the hardware in the alien's fist leaped away like a frisky trout. The false Callahan glanced about for a weapon and grabbed the high-school football trophy off Dewitt’s desk. Martin, my would-be rescuer, snapped off another shot, but his lousy aim only managed to put a spider web of cracks into the plaster wall behind the assassin's head.

"No, Martin, don't kill him!" I pleaded.

Dewitt came at the body snatcher using his roscoe like a blackjack. When the alien swung the trophy at him, Dewitt swerved, catching only a glancing blow on one arm. Before the bad guy could regain his balance, Martin brained him with his piece and drove home a knuckle sandwich. That one-two punch knocked the spaceman for a loop, but the crafty saucer-jockey kicked Martin's legs out from under him on his way down. They both landed hard and started to struggle for control of the smoking popper.

As for me, I was still checkmated by the steely grip of my nippers but, fortunately, a Latisha barged in just then.

"Latisha! Get the gun!" I yelled. "Shoot the -- shoot Callahan!"

She stared wide-eyed. "Ah don't wanna touch no gun!"

"Then get the handcuff key! Get me out of these things!"

She hovered indecisively. "Y'said not ta listen ta you!"

"That was before!"

She nodded. "Okay!"

The black girl fumbled the key into one of the shackle locks. "First y'wanna be in bracelets, den y'want out! Den doz two handsome white guys start fightin' agin! Jes' wha' is it dat's wrong wi' yuh, people?"

While Latisha was chattering, the phony Callahan, now on top of Martin, was forcing the gun barrel to the Belgian’s temple and struggling for control of the trigger.

When the hooker-wannabe popped one of my bracelets, I made a leap to snatch up the alien's dropped Betsy. I guess I wasn't thinking, because I pulled the trigger with a direct aim at the alien's head.

Damn me for getting all that target practice!

Callahan's conk burst like a melon on a firing range.

I screamed with dismay when I realized what I’d done.

The room went dark....


"Sheila!" Martin was yammering. "Are you okay?"

My unfocused dead-lights were staring at him. When I could see properly, I was in the desk chair and Martin had hold of me as if he was trying to take my pulse.

" he dead?” I asked, scarcely able to breathe.

Martin took one look at stiff on the floor from where we were sitting, and then shook his head. "Oh, yeah, he's had it."

He's had it?

Everything started to go dark again.

"Baby, what is it?"

I moaned, "Whatya think's wrong? I-I've just committed suicide...!"

Once I'd come around, I asked how Martin had gotten back so soon. He told me that  the more he thought about what he was doing, the crazier it all seemed. His misgivings got so bad that he turned around and drove back to the office, gambling on the chance that the two of us could a few years off our sentences for cooperating with the investigation.

Fortunately, things weren’t as bleak as we at first thought.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

THE BIG SWITCH by Christopher Leeson Chapter 20



By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 20


The Narrative of D.C. Callahan, continued

"Incredible, Martin, we pulled off a caper -- just like in the books -- movies, even!"

Martin's reply came thick and unsteady. "I don't ever want to have to go through anything like that again! Give me a good, sordid divorce case any day!"

I wasn't about to let anyone rain on my parade. I just felt too good. "Wow! I could write a book, but who'd ever believe it?"

"Write it as fiction," he recommended.

I shrugged. "It's too crazy even for fiction!"

Just then, the lift doors opened and we came into the hall outside of our detective office door.

"Yuh gonna take me back ta mah Blackjack right away?" Latisha broke in.

Good question. We hadn't given any thought to exactly what we were going to do with Schitz once we had her. We'd saved her, but saved her for what? She obviously wasn't the crooked, loudmouth, lying congressman that everyone loved and it didn't seem right just to slap her on the back, show her the gate, and wish her lots of luck. No good ideas were coming from Martin; he was just hanging back and letting me handle the "girl talk." What a skunk!

The aliens had left the door unlocked. I ushered the girl into the reception area. "Latisha, doll," I began, "we couldn't tell you back at the -- jail -- because we were afraid that you'd get upset and do something foolish. The truth is, something awful's happened to Blackjack."

"Wha' y'tailing me? Wha' happen ta mah precious B.J?"

"You weren't with Blackjack very long," I said carefully. "Maybe he never got around to telling you that he had a really bad ticker."

"Ticker?" She frowned. "Now dat y'mention it, Ah think Ah did hear one o' mah wife-in-laws say sumpin' 'bout dat. Ah didn't tink it cud be true, 'cuz dat man could go lak a DC9!"

"I guess he went like a DC9 just once too often. His doctor'd warned him to drop the booze, the smack, and the girls, but he'd never listen. Right after you left his place, that bad pump of his blew a gasket."

Now Martin cut in: "We were with him when it happened, Miss. His dying wish was that we bust you out of jail and help you get along afterwards. Don't worry about anything. You can stay with Sheila here, until you know what you want to do next."

I shot the bastard a basilisk glare that could have turned a rhino into a boulder. While I was all for saving Schitz's life, I didn't intend to be Sheila for the long haul, and so there was no possibility of me taking in house guests.

"Poor B.J.," Latisha was saying, "he 'uz one mean bastard, but jes' ta know dat he 'uz tinking 'bout me up ta de end shows how special he tout I 'uz. Poor fella."

"Maybe he'll be reincarnated," I suggested, knowing that he already had been.

The black girl returned a puzzled stare. "Is dat when dey burn yuh up in a stove an' put yuh awn a shelf, inside a li'l jar?"

"Yeah," I said.

"What Ah gonna do?" Latisha asked, sitting in a visitor's chair and thinking out loud. "It ain't safe fo' a gal ta sell ass w'out a big, strong man takin' care o' her."

She turned hopefully toward Martin. "Yuh is a studly male, jes' lak B.J. 'uz. Y'got a stable of yor own, handsome? Got any use fo' a new gal?"

"No," replied Martin squeamishly. "I'm not in that line. I'm a private dick --"

"Ah don't know nothin' 'bout how private yor dick is, huun-ee, but Ah'm anxious ta find out."

"You kin learn, tall, white and wicked," she coaxed. "A man kin mak a lot mo' money runnin' hustlers den he ebber cain doin' wha' yor doin,' Ah betcha. Dere's a lot less chance o' gittin' hisself killed at work, Ah tink!"

My pard sucked in a deep breath. "Maybe you should take a vacation from that kind of life yourself," he suggested. "You ought to be able to do a lot better."

"What else Ah gonna do? Ah can't read or write much. Don't know nothin' 'sep' fuckin'!"

"Maybe you've got an aptitude for politics," I ventured hopefully, but immediately regretted it. I wouldn't want to set Schitz back on the wrong track, not now that she had luckily gotten away from money, fame, and power. She had a golden opportunity to walk the straight and narrow and I didn't want to  be suggesting anything that would ruin that for her. While streetwalking isn't something I'd recommend to any daughter of mine, it has deep traditional roots and, historically, it's never sunk so low as what goes on in closed door sessions.

"Don't you remember anything -- about the past, I mean?" Martin asked.

Her long, heavy lashes fluttered. "Ah remember everything! Do yuh tink Ah got 'nesia, lak in doz soap operas?"

"Then maybe you remember a man named Adam Schitz."

She tittered. "'Fraid Ah got no haid fo' names. Mostly de fellows jes' call demselves 'John.'"

"But isn't the name familiar to you? He's very well-known."

She wrinkled her nose and asked: "Wha' team do he play fo'?"

I smiled commiseratively and put my hand on her shoulder. "Maybe what you need is a good night's sleep."

She nodded. "Ah is all fo dat. It's jes' dat Ah don't lak sleepin' alone so much. 'Specially not tonight! Ah got de hots so bad, Ah could take awn de whole Navy base down in Baltimore!"

I knew exactly how she felt. I was in need of so many cold baths that I might as well buckle down and become an Olympic swimmer.

Schitz wasn't our only problem. It wasn't safe to hang around the P.I. office, not as long as the aliens were looking for us. But first, I had to search around and salvage Sheila's house keys, checkbook, and credit cards. I also found her car keys. Being able to use our secretary's wheels was a stroke of luck, since my own used Chevy had gone away with my alien impersonator. It was a small loss, though; it had needed transmission work that would have cost me a lot more than its $1.98 book value.

I found Sheila's bag still inside her desk drawer, which put me about fifty bucks ahead. A couple credit cards had possibilities, too. While Latisha kept Martin busy in the other room, I busied myself trying to learn how to forge Sheila's signature. While I could have passed any fingerprint test, a handwriting analysis would have tripped me up.

Luckily, Sheila had been one of those natty people who balance their checkbook after each draft, and so I knew I had over fourteen hundred on deposit. She probably would have had a savings account, too, and the number and balance would be on her last bank statement. To get it, I'd just have to crash her apartment in Falls Church, Virginia.

Hearing a doorknob jiggle, I shoved my penmanship lesson into the wastebasket just as Martin scooted out of the main office, trying to shake off Latisha's clinging hands. I suppressed a grin. While I didn't wish Martin ill, misery loves company.

"Miss Jones -- please! You're not someone I want to start something with," he was saying.

"Wha' dat white girl, Miss Sheila, got dat Ah ain't got?"

"I'll tell you what she's got, Martin!" I said, standing up. "She's got gas money!" I showed him the credit cards. "I found Sh -- my -- purse and it's loaded! I mean, I'm surprised there's anything left in it at all. I thought that those alien creeps would have robbed me!"

"Great!" my partner muttered distractedly, still disentangling himself from Latisha. "Look, lady, I've got to talk to my employee. Go play by yourself!"

"Glad to, if'n yuh wanna watch," she teased.

Martin's face flushed. Until now, I didn't know that the man could blush. I thought the color made him look vulnerable and damned cute.

Just then, the finality of Martin's rejection sank in for Latisha. She put her nose up and stalked back into our office, slamming the door behind her.

"That dame is a twenty-four caret problem," I sighed as I sat down again.

"You're telling me? Maybe we should have left her with the aliens!"

I shook my head. "That's uncharitable, Martin. Whatever else she is or was, she doesn't deserve to be put out on the street to sell herself, only to be murdered later. If you hadn't rescued me, I'd be just like her."

"I think I could stand being sexually assaulted by someone whom I liked, but that cuckoo bird is driving me crazy! What are we going to do with her?"

I leaned back in the swivel chair. "I thought you had all the angles figured out. You were going to fob her off on me, and then wash your hands of the case."

"It was the best solution I could think of. At least she doesn't want into your pants!"

I glanced at the closed door. "I don't know; she seems sort of AC/DC to me. But if we can't live with her, we'd better get her out of town for her own safety. Those bad guys aren't going to stop looking for a missing congressman, not if I know my Martians."

"But you don't know any Martians."

I sniffed. "Maybe not, but I read science fiction. Only one thing bothers me; what will Schitz do in her present state of mind? Nobody seems to care if a politician sells out his whole country, but to sell one's own body, well, that's a jailing offense."

Martin's mouth twisted distastefully. "I hate to think what my day will be like if I can't get that crazy dame off my back! Do you suppose she's ever going to snap out of it?"

"Search me. But since when did you become such a Puritan? Latisha is not only a hooker, she's a looker, and it's not like you haven't gotten your share of jing-jang before. And the way you came on to me at B.J.'s place was no evidence for the defense."

"What are you going on about? I never talk to girls about the hookers I've...occasionally run into in my line of work."

"Well, uh, I've heard you bragging to D.C. These walls are paper thin, you know."

He grunted.

"Look at the bright side, Martin. What can Latisha do to you, except feed your ego? Are you prejudiced?"

"About blacks?"

"No. I mean, about guys with sex-changes."

"Yes!" he replied in a low, throaty grumble. "I guess I am! I suppose the people that you hang around with would call me a Nazi for that."

My neck stiffened. "What do you mean 'the people I hang around with?' I hang around with you. Don't we go to the same bars, don't we enjoy the same movies, and don't we vote alike?"

He looked at me quizzically. "I never saw you in any bar or movie hall I've ever gone to, and I sure don't know how you vote. I've always figured you for a lefty, like most unmarried chicks."

Futz! Blunder Number Two-Hundred and Twelve! I was mixing up what I did and what Sheila did, again. Nobody knew Sheila's politics, since she never chatted for more than ten seconds on any subject. But from what he'd said, I was glad that I hadn't given him the straight dope about myself. I couldn't stand the thought of Martin acting "yuck" around me just because I was a freak of nature.

"Isn't it strange that the police haven't been swarming over this place?" Martin said, changing the subject. "Haven't they found those two bums in the dumpster yet?"

"Blame the city's lousy garbage-collection," I suggested. "Poor Callahan and Leigh might become compost before the sanitation truck comes around. And any civilian who spots them beforehand would just shut the lid and run."

"If they planted evidence to incriminate Callahan, shouldn't we go recover it?"

"Now that's an idea! You take care of Sadie Thompson and I'll go frisk the stiffs before the cops show up!"

He stared at me, appalled. "You? You want to paw through the pockets of a couple day-old corpses? It's filthy work, Sheila. Let me do it!"

I shook my head emphatically. "No, you can't. If you touch them you'll be in as much trouble as Callahan."

"What about you?"

"I don't matter!"

He blinked incredulously. "What are you talking about? Why don't you matter?"

I didn't dare explain. "I'm not going to argue about this, Pard -- I mean, Boss."

I got up, glided around the desk, and then gave him a backward glance. "I'm awfully glad that you worry about me, guy, but, like they say, there are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio. A woman has to do what a woman has to do."

'And the first thing she has to do,' I thought, 'is to make sure she doesn't end up looking like a brunette Barbie for the rest of her life!'

I left the office, went out the door, and took the fire exit down to the alley door. The coast was clear, and so I ran to the dumpster and lifted the lid; it felt as heavy as lead. That's when the odor hit me! Aye-yi-yi! Two cadavers slowly baking inside a metal sun-oven at high summer can go bad fast -- and these two stiffs probably hadn't smelled none too good even while they were still walking around!

Disgusted, I let the lid slam shut. For love or money, I just couldn't make myself climb inside that trash bin. I'm as tough as they come, but this was something that crossed the line. What I needed was a gin and tonic to brace my nerves. Let's face it; I could only get myself to rifle the pockets of a rotten cadaver if I were absolutely plastered.

If that makes me girly, well, then I'm girly.

Chagrined at having found out that I wasn't such a hard case after all, I climbed the stairs back to our floor. But just outside our office, I was surprised to hear voices. We had visitors.

Visitors of the worst kind!

"Where's Sheila?" somebody snarled.

At first, I supposed that the cops had finally gotten into the act, but quickly realized that it couldn't be them. If they'd known about the murders, the dead wouldn't still be inside the dumpster.

"She's a long way from here!" Martin was telling them. "You can kill me, but I'm not giving you anything to hurt Sheila!"

"We can switch you," Spielman warned him, "then we'll have every secret in your head. What would you rather be, a whore on the street or a dead man in the ground?"

I knew Martin and he'd rather die than be turned into a hookerfied version of Leigh Spielman! I had to do something fast, but what? Like a dummy, I'd left my roscoe inside Sheila's desk drawer.

"We can't hang around here," the phony Callahan said, "not with those bodies still waiting to be found. Let's take these two to one of our safe houses."

"No! We can't!" protested Spielman. "The caretakers will make a report and the Committee will know how badly we've messed up."

 "Don't sweat it, Roissar, said the bogus Callahan. "I know of a locked house with no staff. It's off Brinkley!"

"Okay," Spielman -- "Roissar" -- agreed. "The neighbors around that neighborhood won't be making any fuss about a few screams in the night."

From the sound of that, they'd be coming out of the office at any second -- and here I was, empty-handed and flat-footed.

To be Continued...