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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #22 - "Clockwork Orange"


Chapter 3
"Glimpses of the world I'm hitch-hiking through"
by Gregg Smith


---


Book One: Wind Up


Who said, "time is on my side"?
I've got ears and eyes and nothing in my life.
But I'll survive your naked eyes,
I'll survive.

— David Bowie, Survive, 1995


* * *


His father, Joey Merker, had been big news once upon a time. All-round fixer and globetrotting bagman, right-hand for an east-coast racketeer. Joe's career had ended sharply when get greedy over a drug deal across the ocean in Macao. The Red Lightning Tong gang weren't taking any shit. They pulled out his fingernails, chopped his dick off and then gutted him, opened him up while he was still alive probably. So Freddie had been told. Then they packaged him up all neat in a crate and shipped him back to LA. Halfway across the ocean and the body was stinking rotten. The hauliers cracked the case open and dumped the corpse over the side. The poor old bastard was probably lucky that he didn't get sold into slavery. Fucking Orientals. They missed him in Guam, but finally got him five years later.


       But Freddie did fine out of his dad's connections. He'd been rolled by the Sheriffs a few years back for bagging some dope over the state line for his father's old boss. Leaky deal, it was 70-30 he'd be caught. He took the rap like a good boy, named no names. The boss figured Freddie as strong, smart and a future big-hitter, greased more than a few palms. Young Fred did piss-brief time in Q, was now set for life in the family way.


       Roni had been sitting in silence next to him since he'd picked her up, just after the police had stopped him. He kept his eyes on the road, or the door, or the guys he was delivering to. She'd sat in silence as he pulled over, followed him out of the car as they took each of the four cases out of the boot and went up to the front door of a filthy-rich pad in West Hollywood. Gone through the spiel about delivering the Watchtower, in case anyone was nearby. Taken the powder-filled cases inside. And come out with the same cases filled with Christian propaganda, the merchandise no longer theirs to take the fall for. Back in the car, eyes straight ahead both of them. In the end she'd taken out the LA Times and started flicking through the pages, looking at the photos.


       "Oh," she suddenly exclaimed, a few pages in.


       Freddie glanced across at the picture she'd found: A young actress he vaguely recognised, all bandaged up but smiling through, a calm-looking guy in a just-sharp-enough suit next to her. He remembered something about a special effect going wrong the day before, opening-up the girl's lily-white stomach and high-earning bust like an orange peeled with a switch-blade. He saw the headline: SENSATIONAL SURGEON SAVES STARLET SUZY ARDEN. He looked back at the road, grunted his contempt.


       "He's such a genius," said Roni. "And so cute. Can you get us home any quicker? Says he's going to that premier tonight. He may be on TV."


       "I don't know what you see in him."


       "He's a real hero, saved the lives of some of the best people in LA."


       "The richest, you mean."


       "Yeah, well, what's the difference? He's a life-saver and a honey."


       "He's a class act, I'll give him that." He looked at her sideways. "And he knows how to really ride on the backs of the rich and famous."


       "Just give me time, lover. Fact, he may be next on my list." Just more dirt, thought Freddie, and half-grinned.


       "May I see?" came a voice from the back seat.


       Freddie braked the car and pulled out his .38. There was a guy on the back seat of his car. How? Some weirdo: long hair and a fucking weird suit. Bit like a Zoot suit, bit like that smoking jacket the boss had taken to wearing recently. Only a queer would wear that kind of getup: velvet and silk and a pretty-pattern waistcoat.


       "Freeze! What the fuck are you doing?" said Freddie to the stranger.


       "Now there's no need for that," said the stranger, rather offended.


       He'd frozen, sprawled across the back seat, hands and legs in the air like a dog.


       Freddie wasn't sure if it was the gun or the language that had offended him.


       "What are you doing in my car?"


       "Oh, just tagging along for the ride."


       "You a cop?"


       "Mr Merker, what on Earth would a policeman be doing in the back of your car?"


       "How'd you know my name?"


       "It's written on this speeding ticket." The stranger pointed at a piece of paper on the floor of the car.


       "Oh. Right. Well, what do you want?"


       "I just wanted a lift, some pleasant company this evening."


       Freddie raised his eyebrow.


       "Get the fuck out of my car."


       "Now, Freddie," said Roni. "Don't be hasty. And for Christ's sake put away your gun."


       "What? Roni, what the fuck?"


       "Well, I want to hear his story. What are you after, mister?"


       "As I said, I thought I'd like to make some new friends."


       "I don't got friends. Get the fuck out."


       The stranger went to open the door.


       "Wait," said Roni. "What's your name?"


       "I'm called the Doctor."


       "For fuck's sake," said Freddie.


       "Freddie!" Roni slapped his shoulder. He and the Doctor jumped as the gun waggled in his hands, almost firing.


       "You're a Doctor? Really?"


       "Well, yes. How do you do? Miss?"


       "Veronica Hallow." She shook the Doctor's hand.


       "Roni?"


       "That's right, Doctor."


       "Roni, what is this shit?"


       "Freddie, hush. We're making a new friend. Would you like to join us for dinner, Doctor?"


       "Roni!" Freddie was barely controlling himself.


       "That would be very nice, Roni."


       "Freddie, I want you to take us and our new friend here home."


       "Roni, what is it with you? Stray dog or a hopeful fuck?"


       "Freddie, don't be such a bastard. This Doctor is clearly an interesting guy, and I'd like to get to know him better."


       Freddie thought about that, about what Roni's game was. Making him jealous? Or did she recognise this Doctor, one of the guys she thought would get her out of her world in return for a few quick fucks?


       He looked into her eyes. She wasn't backing down. He didn't want another argument. He lowered his gun.


       "I've got another pick-up later. Not sure what time."


       "Well, this time I don't mind. I'll have the Doctor for company."


       Making him green, that was it. He wondered if he'd end up icing this faggot.


       He told Roni that was fine, through gritted teeth.


       Pissed off and with a hard-on to crack some heads, Freddie dropped Roni and the weirdo at his apartment.


       Then he drove to an underground car-park not far from darktown. He parked inside, went to the toilet. In the toilet, he changed his jacket and put on a hat. He left the toilet, and the car park, walked a hundred yards to a bar and waited new the public phone for a call. When it came, he would walk to a private lot, hand a ticket to a security guard and get into a car that wasn't his, big and black and squeaky clean. He would drive to the club, pick up the merchandise and drive out into the country. And, like every Friday night, it would run like clockwork.


* * *


Roni had taken the Doctor up to what was actually Freddie's apartment, though she was sleeping there most of the time at the moment. Over the past couple of days she'd been talking about how, if he packed in his job, the two of them could sell both their homes and get a place together in Hollywood. He'd get an important job in one of the studios, she'd carry on doing what she'd been doing but more high-class.


       She wasn't sure how serious she was. She knew he'd never get a good job at the studios. She knew he'd never be able to do anything but what he did now. She liked to think he could, but she knew he couldn't. And sometimes, lots of times even, she liked what he did. She'd slept with movie stars and politicians and DAs and sports stars. None of them were as exciting to her as Freddie. Not deep down.


       She cooked a little meal - steak he'd been saving and some new potatoes — for her new, classy-looking friend. The Doctor. She was curious about him. He had an air. And she wanted to know what he was all about.


       They'd eaten on the table in front of the French doors onto the unsafe balcony. Candles and something soft on the record player.


       She'd asked him questions. He hadn't really answered them. He'd told her things, seemed honest and sincere, but she still didn't know anything more about him. She pinned his accent down from his home town — Ireland. But he wasn't a flat-foot. He was a scientist of some kind. But much more exciting and wild-looking than any scientist she'd ever met. Not that she'd ever met any.


       Then they curled up with a bottle of wine on some cushions, and she showed him her old photo album. He was very interested - or a very good actor. When he didn't respond to any of her advances, she knew he wasn't acting - he didn't want her to put out, he wanted to get to know her. Some rich eccentric, probably, wanted to see how the other half lived.


* * *


BANNER, LA Examiner, Thursday:
WHERE'D THEY GO?!
HAPPILY MISSING — DIRT WASHED
AWAY FROM LA STREETS, "MYSTERY"

Report merited just three inches, buried deep in the middle pages. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.


* * *


Fifteen years after the fact, Luke had pieced things together a bit. He never forgot that afternoon, what he'd seen on TV. He'd guessed as to what had happened, and it turned out he was right. The grave had been empty.


       Research, top secret stuff that Luke's friend Stanni had hacked out of the net, had concluded the body had been missing for almost seventy years. The details of how the body was dug-up and spirited away, and how it eventually wound up in Central City in 2012, are interesting, but irrelevant.


       There was no sign of the body after 2012. Luke dug up lots on the case, but his editor wouldn't let him run the story. It never saw the light of a TV screen.


       Dodec, the then top secret agency, had traced the body to this address in Central City. Didn't exist by Luke's time. No why or who, just a where. Some cleaner had seen this coffin in a crate, got nosy, read some files, checked the coffin and kept his secret for seventy years.


       When Luke's life went through a big change for the second time, he wanted to go and have a look. The Doctor obliged, and along with Kirena they found the place and time. There was the coffin, the body and a box full of files. Nothing else — nobody breathing there. No real leads.


       They waited around for a few days, but nobody came. If anyone had meant to come back, they'd been scared off.


       Among the files Luke found two possible clues. The first was an agreement leasing the building, an old farmhouse, for a century. It had been paid for by an obscure government department, signed in 1948. It stipulated that the owner wasn't to approach the building, or touch the land (prime silver strip waiting for the industry to pick-up again), during that period. No mention of the deal was to be made, legal gagging. Very hush hush.


       From the plans, the building must have been renovated since. The rooms gutted, non-supporting walls taken down. Walls insulated by metal, air conditioning, lino on the floor and big lights in the ceiling. The Doctor said it was like a giant operating theatre. Seemed to spook him.


       The last night there, they'd gone to a bar, drunk and soaked up some of the atmosphere.


       A man had been watching them. Luke noticed, but didn't think much of it.


       The guy was old, over eighty, trying to look young. Spitting image of Dirk Bogarde in Death in Venice. Except that he was wearing shades. Mirror shades. He'd been waiting for over half his life. And now he was satisfied.


       Luke had looked away, said something to Kirena.


       Unseen, the man had reached up to his temple and touched the flared corner of the glasses. He smiled bitterly. "Little Miss Poetic Justice," he whispered.


       After Luke and his friends had gone, the man sat still for a very long time. A waitress eventually came over.


       "Jerry?" she said. Then she shook him. And he fell forward onto the table.


       Or, at least, that's how Luke guessed it had gone, much /much/ later.


* * *


The Doctor took the dead body they'd come looking for back to the TARDIS.


       He put it in a morgue that Luke hadn't known was there: through the kitchen and to the left.


       Luke quizzed him about it: "How many bodies do you keep in here?"


       "Just the one." He pointed, and Luke red a little card on a door in the wall. He'd turned to the Doctor with his jaw hanging.


       "You've got Hitler in your larder?"


       "I was interested in something in his brain," was all the Doctor said.


       The second thing that Luke thought was a useful clue was a file containing four letters. They'd been exchanged between two offices in Washington, in 1963. The first was from a scientific research department. An urgent request to resurrect something called project CLOCKWORK. Said JFK was an excellent subject, the opportunity provided by his death should not be lost. Luke couldn't decipher the signature.


       The reply denied permission, said CLOCKWORK had been proved a failure and a dangerous fantasy five years earlier. There was no department, no signature, no proper address, just "Washington" and a list of numbers. It had been torn in half and taped back together.


       A second request from the research department. Said CLOCKWORK had been sabotaged, that it was real and the key to solving America's problems. It repeated the plea to re-open research.


       And a second denial, more strongly worded. A threat to cut off funding for the present projects of whoever had made the request was working on; to terminate his employment. Shades of a death threat.


       They'd gone to Washington, 1963, though they landed a few months too early. Luke and the Doctor off to investigate the correspondence while Kirena amused herself. They couldn't get into the research department's offices, got blank faces and implied threats and then a door slammed in their faces. A bit of investigation separately, public records and off-duty officials to check. Luke started to lose interest.


       And that's when it had all gone wrong.


* * *


Luke worked his way through the LA mists, 1958. He passed the odd hophead or whore, glanced at the cars buzzing down side streets wanting to get home. A song ran through his mind: Suede's 'Film Star', wouldn't be written for another thirty-five years or so. Giving it class.


       His hair was like Lennon's in the Sgt Pepper shots. Knee-length leather coat, slightly flared from the waist. Grey roll-neck sweater, prominent stitch, black pin-stripe trousers and polished black Cuban heels. He was still getting used to his second youth, a memento from Conrad. The Doctor said it would fade with time.


       The gun crack hit Luke's ears. He guessed it was Kirena. Not that likely in downtown LA, but it was the best clue he had. He looked around, then back at the Lucky in his mouth. He lit the cigarette. Then he turned right and started to jog to where the sound had come from.


       He trotted round a corner and saw a blue Cadillac askew to the kerb. The street was deserted apart from the car and a fat, old cop limping slightly and manhandling a woman on the back seat. Kirena.


       Luke recognised the cop. A sergeant, bullish looking. Thick set and scowling. He'd been sitting in the black-and-white earlier, while Officer Harris was frisking friend Freddie. Seeing Harris in his uniform, had given Luke a real hard-on. He wondered where Harris was. Nowhere in sight, but chances were he was on his way.


       Luke ducked back round the corner and dropped his cigarette. He stepped on it and took a small silver flask out of his jacket. He unscrewed the lid and took a sip. Vodka. Then he took a little plastic bag out of another pocket. There was white powder inside. He untied it and poured the powder into his mouth, half-emptying the bag. Then he took another sip of the vodka to wash it down. He shook his head a bit.


       He took a few deep breaths, waited for the kick. Then he stepped round the corner again.


       "Excuse me, officer, but I couldn't help noticing you seem to be having some trouble with that unconscious woman. Need a hand?"


       The cop, Hallaghan, looked up.


       "What?"


       "The woman. Actually, I know her. I can take her off your hands, get her home, you know. I assume you just found her drunk, I can't believe she gave you any trouble."


       Hallaghan cursed under his breath. He looked down at the woman.


       "What's she to you?"


       "Oh, just a friend. Don't know her that well. We travelled here together."


       "Yeah, well, your help ain't needed, thanks." Luke thought it was the least grateful 'thanks' he'd ever heard. "Clear off."


       "But she doesn't look very well. I really think I should stay with you. Help you to make sure she's all right."


       "This ain't none of your business. This ain't even your fucking country, kid," the cop spat.


       "Flatterer. Mind you, the last guy who called me kid must be almost five-- no, nearly ten years younger than me. So sweet."


       Hallaghan stepped away from his car.


       "You some kind of faggot?"


       Luke smiled.


       "How many kinds are there?"


       Hallaghan took his billy club from his belt and smiled back. Twelve years on the force, twelve years going nowhere through knee-deep shit, but Hallaghan had never seen anything like this. This fruit needed a lesson. Needed it bad.


       "Two." He started walking towards Luke, swinging the stick into his right palm, blotting out the pain in his foot.


       "Let me guess. Butch and queen?"


       "No. The ones I've killed. And the ones I haven't met yet." He was quite close to Luke now.


       "You're trying to scare me, aren't you?" Luke's smile broadened. "And I think I can guess why. Well, if you really want to fuck me, there are quicker ways of loosening my arse." He started patting his pockets. "I've got some poppers here."


       Hallaghan flushed red. He was right in front of Luke.


       "You don't know when to keep your mouth shut. Well, you made a big mistake this time, you sick fuck."


       Luke was expecting the cop to swing the stick back and hit him with it. He wasn't expecting the cop to push it forward and force the end into his stomach. Luke staggered back, clutching his belly.


       "Twisted little shit," said Hallaghan as he swung the club back and up to his left.


       Luke kept low and twisted his body as the club came back down. He wrenched himself to his left and caught Hallaghan's wrist with both of his hands. He stared into the older man's eyes, while Hallaghan darted his gaze from Luke to the club to where Luke should have been to his own wrist. Luke twisted Hallaghan's wrist and the cop dropped the billy club. In one swift movement, Luke cropped the wrist, drove his left elbow into Hallaghan's face and followed through with his right fist. He wrenched his shoulder with the punch.


       Hallaghan took a dazed step back, blood running from his nose and top lip. His legs buckled and he collapsed heavily. Luke picked up the night stick and tossed it across the street. He looked down at Hallaghan.


       "Now, I know I really shouldn't do this, but..." He kicked the cop sharply in the gut.


       Luke bent over, took Hallaghan's gun from its holster and tossed it over to join the billy. Then he walked over to Kirena, leaning inside the car. There was a livid red bruise on her forehead.


       "You really can be a bastard," she said.


       "Oh, well excuse me." He opened the front door of the car and got inside, leaning over the seat to talk to her. "At least I didn't do any permanent damage. You shot him in the foot."


       "I just didn't think violence was your thing."


       "You'd be surprised how good I am with my fists." He winked. Kirena tried to return it but her forehead was tender.


       "I'm surprised you had the strength in you."


       "The power of benny." He massaged his stomach. "Not perfect, though. Let's go back to the TARDIS and find some pain killer."


       A battered red Chevy pulled round the other end of the street. Luke looked up. He could see the driver. It was Harris, in a sweater and smoking a cheroot. He coasted to the sidewalk, stopped and started to get out of the car.


       "Get in," Luke said to Kirena.


       "What?"


       "We need to get out of here, right now. In." He slammed his door shut and looked at the dashboard. Hallaghan had left his keys in the ignition. Luke started the engine, slipped the car into first and sped off, out of the side street.


       In his rear-view mirror he saw Harris run over to Hallaghan. The older cop swatted Harris' helping hand away, pushed himself to his feet and pushed Harris towards his car.


* * *


Harris jumped into his car as Hallaghan got in the passenger's side.


       "You'll have to drive," said the sergeant. "My face is fucked. We're going to kill those bastards. They won't know what fucking hit them." He started to laugh. "Tourists. Well, they're going to a whole new world."


       Harris' hand went out towards the CB he kept in the glove compartment of his civvie car.


       "Don't call for back-up. We're going after them. Just us."


       "But we're off duty."


       "Fuck that. Drive."


       Harris gritted his teeth and did as he was told, driving after the brown Caddy.


* * *


The first clue: 1948. So, off the three fellow travellers went. Same place, Central City. The rest of the mountain-scape down to Denver was undeveloped at that time. It wasn't much of a city. An old mining town recently resurrected as a cultured tourist venue, with its opera house and famous nightlife.


       They'd checked the same address. Lights on inside, but no answers. Men in uniform turned up, moved them on. They split up to talk to the locals about the house that was so secure.


       They met later, another bar. Not unlike the one in 2012. Not unlike the ones on Venus, or in LA, or anywhere, really. A little local colour, but bars were bars.


       The Doctor had walked in and looked down at Luke's hands. The journalist had been playing with four small envelopes full of white powder.


       "Where did you get that?" the Doctor asked as he sat.


       "From the benny addicts in the corner." Luke pointed to three scruffy- looking kids sitting in a booth - a slightly crazed looking guy with a beard and beret, a painfully thin bottle blonde and a chunkier youth with a permanently twisted grin.


       "Benny?" the Doctor glanced around the bar.


       "Benzedrine. It's an amphetamine."


       "Ah. Yes, of course."


       "Any clues?"


       "Not here. Perhaps in 1963. Worth a look. We'll go when Kirena gets here."


       "What are we doing, Doctor?"


       "Trying to solve this mystery of yours."


       "But the body disappeared in 2012. We stopped any more leads."


       "Yes, we know that. What I want to know is why. And I don't think we'll find the answers in 2012. You solved part of the mystery by looking into the past. Now you have an advantage. I can actually take you to the past. We can find things others have missed."


       "Solving a mystery in four dimensions?"


* * *


Luke glanced at the mirror, at Harris coming up behind him in the red car.


       The road ahead was clear. Luke pushed the pedal further down, speeding up.


       The red car looked older but was running faster. Luke pulled round a corner. A gun shot behind, and then a bullet smacked into the wall above them. He looked in the mirror again. The older cop was hanging out the passenger window, firing a pistol.


       "Kirena!"


       "I know. I'm dealing with it. You'll never guess what I found under the seat."


       Luke risked a glance over his shoulder. Kirena was checking the breach of a shotgun.


       "And he keeps it loaded," she said. She wound down the window, stuck the gun out and fired.


       She aimed low, trying to hit the tires of the other car. The two cops were obviously surprised.


       They swerved and lost ground. Luke grinned and kept going. It then occurred to him that he had absolutely no idea where he was, where he'd come from, or how to get back to the TARDIS. He tried to think, remember which way he'd turned. Orient himself. But all he could think of was when he was ten. When the governments had been moving iconic carcasses to the neutral Lunar colonies, afraid of what might happen in the war always just around the corner. JFK had been one of the first choices.


       He'd been watching the exhumation on TV, just home from school with a bowl of cornflakes on his lap. A crowd in the foreground, a polished chrome vehicle to transport the coffin to the spaceport behind. Men digging-up the body in the middle. The reporter was talking about stuff. He paused, and then kept going. Luke realised that the man was improvising. The crowd was muttering. It was taking longer than it should have. Then the guys in overalls started talking to each other. They shouted to one of the suits in charge. He rushed over and looked. Someone near the grave shouted. Everyone looked confused. More shouts, a woman screamed, and suits were working their way through the crowds. Another scream, loud, near the camera, and the feed cut out suddenly. Luke had jumped, spilling his flakes. The screen was blue. Luke ran to the kitchen, got some kitchen paper, felt sick and afraid of what was going to happen. It was almost a relief when his father finally got home and slapped him.


       A lurch at the back of the car brought Luke's whole mind back to where he was. He swung the wheel, pumped the break and then sped down another road. "What happened?" he shouted.


       "I think they hit one of the tires."


       Sure enough the car was becoming unresponsive to Luke's steering. He turned another corner and almost went spinning off the road. And suddenly the Chevy was right behind them. He looked in the mirror. The old cop was shouting at the young one. Harris was shaking his head, obviously being told to do something he didn't want to. Hallaghan kept shouting. He was re-loading his gun. He pointed at the Cadillac, Luke thought the cop was pointing right at him. And then Harris shouted something.: 'OK'. And pushed the Chevy forward. And drove straight into the back of the Cadillac. Luke felt the car lurch and spin. He felt sick. He glanced at Kirena again. He shouldn't have got her into this. Or the Doctor. It had taken him years to learn how to play the game, to stop caring and play along to the easiest tune. And just a short time with the Doctor, he'd forgotten all that, lost his distance, started to get too interested in things again. Stupid. The car smashed into a wall. Luke remembered the tail-end of a conversation:


       "Solving a mystery in four dimensions?"


       "Oh, at least."


       And then his head smashed into the driving wheel and everything went black.


* * *


Jerry — Doctor Jeremiah Horowitz — up-town headlining surgeon with a killer smile and a thousand love-struck girls on his doorstep. He was dreaming it was 1948 again, in the Rockies. He saw himself, fresh from college, a bright-spark. He'd been recruited, some dark figures thought he showed great promise.


       He made a new friend there, a brilliant young physicist. The scientific leaders of the next generation. And they were up in a converted shack in Colorado, working on something out of this world. And then Nathan got too into it, had a real hard-on for results ASAP. Tried the implants out before even preliminary research on them. Tested CLOCKWORK on himself. Set the project back years. And it cost him big. Jerry saw it, even though he hadn't been there at the time. If he had, he would have stopped Nate. But he was out talking to the security boys - three weirdoes had been snooping round, asking questions.


       In his dreams, Jerry saw Nathan, saw him gouging out his own eyes. Saw things mutating out of his body. Unnatural perversions, demons under his skin.


       That's what Jerry dreamed of, anyway. Demons under Nathan's skin. A new world hidden behind Nathan's eyes. The two young lab assistants, the poor girls, their bodies torn. He'd bitten their flesh. In his dream, Jerry saw Nathan eating their entire bodies, sucking the marrow out of their bones. His cool young friend a mad, slavering mess. A monster.


       He woke up, a phone ringing. He was naked and the sheets got stuck to his sweaty body. There was an animal stench to his upper body. It was Cray on the phone, war hero, family friend and former local boy, of late a big- wig at the Pentagon way back east who wanted to get bigger. And he thought Horowitz junior's part-time project was his ticket, trusted the kid.


       Jerry was happy with the arrangement. It served his purposes, helped his cause — which was, of course, the government's cause. And General Jack Cray's dreams were small-time compared to his own.


       Jerry doodled absent-mindedly on a pad by his bed during the conversation. "The funding committee has arrived. Three reps and a special advisor," Cray buzzed down the phone. Jerry couldn't help smiling at Cray's tobacco-gruff voice, thought it made the General sound like an old Negro.


       Would he sound like that in twenty years?


       "What are they like?"


       "Three college boys in vested tweed suits: black, brown and grey. Typical bug-boys, code-named for their departments, real cute. And an old guy, anadian I think. Very big, lot of clout in shady circles. Probably seen it all, probably see right through you."


       "Where?"


       "I'll take them straight out to the mine. Meet us in two hours, Doc."


       Jerry heard the sarcastic grin.


       "Will do, sir." He returned it.


       "How's your dad?" Old war buddies, fought the Japs together.


       "He's good. We're putting a new plate in his head on Friday."


       "He sure is the lucky one."


       "I'll see you later Jack."


       "Don't be late, kid. I lose my patience with these suits I'm liable to break their necks."


       "I really don't think you get this politics thing."


       "Want to bet?" He hung up.


       Jerry looked at the clock: two am. He'd had an hour's sleep at the most. Hot-footing it from Suzy Arden's bedside to a premiere party at Grauman's, then up to the mine for a private operation. The latest in a long line. Then home and an empty bed: always empty.


       Then he looked at the pad he'd been doodling on. He'd written 'the Eyes are the Windows to the Soul'. He'd written it over and over again, covered the sheet of paper in it. He tore it off, balled it up and threw it into the bin.


       It sat in there with dozens of matching pieces.


* * *


Luke's head was swimming. When the angelic violins started, he didn't feel any better. He opened his eyes slightly, little slits. Red walls and black curtains. He was in an office: desk, filing cabinets, a couple of chairs and a tall blonde in a tight gold dress. Swaying to the music, like caramel. He was lying on his front, on a couch. He could see Kirena slumped in one of the chairs, and a stranger asleep in one next to her. There was an open door opposite him. That was where the violins were coming from. And then a piano, and suddenly: "Volare! Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa."


       Through the door Luke saw a stage. On the stage, a swing band. Pink DJs and black bow ties.


       A singer in white, short and fat and wearing a real cheap rug. Clicking his fingers, shifting his weight and grinning as he sung. Not a pretty sight.


       "Let's go fly, up to the clouds;


       "Away from the maddening crowds."


       But the music was OK, and Luke squeezed the corner of his eyes to the tune.


       Sergeant bull walked through the door, a drink in hand.


       "I always forget how cheap this dive is," he said to the blonde.


       "Well then, you should spend more time here. You fit in so well."


       "Let us leave the confusion and all disillusion behind, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," went the singer. Then the blonde shut the door and the music faded into the background.


       Luke watched the swell of the blonde's hips as she walked over to the desk and perched on the side. She ran her heeled left foot up her right calve. Luke thought her face was too tight, an unnatural slant to the eyes and an uncomfortable stretch of the lips. He guessed there were light scars behind the waves of hair that hid her ears.


       She spoke to the cop: "They seem a little more classy than usual."


       "You kiddin' me, Ramona? It's an act. They're out to impress, nothing more than trash."


       "You're sure nobody will miss them?"


       "An over-the-hill whore and her faggot pimp?"


       Luke stifled a grin.


       "You know it'll probably mean both our necks if someone does."


       "I don't know shit. You won't tell me. All I know is, they're out of my hair. And out of this city." He looked across at Luke. "Another two sick degenerates out of this city, we're all happy." He turned to Ramona. "But where do they go?"


       "Where does your refuse go when you leave it out for the trash-man? Does it matter?"


       "Guess not. It is just waste disposal. They're nobody. No-one is coming looking for them."


       "Tragic."


       "Yeah, well, they shouldn't be out on the streets. Least they can do is work in a classy place like this, eh?"


       "On your head. Here's your money." Luke watched the woman pick an envelope up from the desk. She paused before handing it over. "Less you fancy your due in kind. Plenty of my girls are free this evening."


       "No," he replied.


       "Oh, come on. What about Charley? She'll play little nigger girl to your Big Sir. She's even got some raw cotton, make it real convincing." Ramona grinned.


       "I said no!" He snatched the envelope. "I'm going home to sleep with my wife."


       "Of course. Why pay hard cash when you can have some free. But you only get what you pay for. Don't you get sick of a drab, flabby homemaker?"


       "What?"


       "Oh, nothing. Course, I suppose it's for the best. I won't be complaining, or putting you in touch with some of my connected friends, when you beat up your wife. And it'd cost you lots extra to get away with that here."


       "Don't push it."


       "You're out of your jurisdiction, sergeant. And without me, your profitable little sideline," she pointed at Luke. "Ist kaput."


       "Yeah." He grabbed Ramona's wrist, tight. "You better pray I keep wanting the money more than I want you out of my life. And out with the rest of the trash." Hallaghan opened the door and stepped out. Luke heard the singer making an announcement while the band packed away.


       "G'night, ladies and germs." Even from his position Luke could tell the patrons were mostly men.


       "Hope to see you all again tomorrow. And don't forget our single man's special: all you can drink for a dollar. Come alone, and drink yourself into another world."


       Then Luke blacked-out.


* * *


A car screeched by out on the main road and Harris grabbed for the .38 on the passenger seat. He was jumpy.


       Sitting outside one of the seediest clubs that white guys still went to, The Feeling, just off the Strip. They reckoned you could get anything inside, or in the rooms above it. Cheap bar prices attracted the riffraff, high-class hookers and a specialist chemist attracted the rich thrill- seekers.


       Girls and a few boys for hire upstairs. Flaunting themselves amongst the grass and pills and powder in the dark corners down below. Gateway to another world, so they said. So John said. He'd been in there from time to time. After their bust-ups because he knew it pissed Matt off so much.


       Whenever Matt got a touch of guilt and wouldn't put out at night. He thought back a few months, to when he first met John. Out from the academy, approaching graduation, drinking with a few friends. Talking big and spotting future targets. And John was there, dressed to the nines and flocking with some other young hopefuls. John had a job then. Matt's buddies talked about going on to one of the late-night places. He feigned sickness, they laughed at him and he laughed back and said he was going home. Once they were gone, he sat and watched John. And later, he followed him. John said goodnight to his pals, and started wandering around. He'd known Matt was behind him from the moment they left the club. He led him round some of the shadier areas, before going home. He was testing the kid, seeing how firm his resolve was. They both seemed to know what they wanted — recognised something. A little telepathic connection. But John knew Matt wanted the same as he did.


       Matt wasn't so sure about John. The licked lips when John got to his front door told him. And Matt, high on the booze and the looks John had given him, followed in at a trot, like a puppy John said. They did it on the couch, and later on the floor wrapped in a rug and with the TV set on. Some cop show. Butch guys with badges, buddies who shared a comb and the quest for justice. Turned them both on. For more than the obvious reason. The wannabe actor and the wannabe cop. John was a handsome queer boy who'd come to Hollywood to be a cowboy on the big screen. He'd done a few pictures, been a featured extra with twelve lines in a Mitchum vehicle. He'd played the brave young deputy who got his guts shot out in the first reel. He'd pinched the costume, still wore it some times, when he wanted to impress. Wore that hat a lot.


       He only did one picture after that before work dried up. He had standards — didn't want to pitch himself too cheap, and after speaking didn't want to go back to background plot fodder. He hadn't set foot inside a studio for four months. He'd gone to seed too young. The city had sucked him dry in three years. He was modelling underwear for a mail-order catalogue and dealing a little dope to make ends meet. And after his little run-in with Harris' police partner, the catalogue job was off for a while.


       Matt was a handsome kid who'd grown up in LA and was just experimenting - yeah, right. Aced his way through school, going to make detective before he was thirty. His family's greatest pride, thanks to the things he'd hidden from them. The things he hid from everyone around him apart from John. John forgave his anger and hypocrisy. He knew how it worked, what you had to just to get by. He knew Matt was decent inside, really decent. He was just experimenting. It didn't really mean anything. Unless you got caught. Illegal, sure, and he was meant to up-hold the law, but you had to let some things go. It's not as if he took bribes, beat up hopeless junkies or offed guys just for breathing wrong. Not like some. He could fuck a man (literally) and uphold the law, right? It was only a little crime. He was one of the good-guys. As long as nobody found out.


       After what seemed like an age, Hallaghan came out of the club. He walked across the lot and dropped into Harris' car. He slipped a fifty into Harris' pocket.


       "That's that. Drive."


       Harris turned the ignition, shifted into gear and reversed out into the street.


       "What the fuck is going on, Don?"


       "Nothing much. Just a little less filth on the street. They're going to disappear. Hey, there was even a bonus."


       "What?" Harris swung the steering wheel and hugged the corner into the Strip.


       "That queer we brought in last week. The cowboy. Seems he's going to be disappearing too."


       Harris' fingers dug into the wheel, his knuckles turning white. He gritted his teeth. But he didn't say anything.


* * *


Luke was vaguely aware of rough hands carrying him out of the club, putting him in the back of a huge car with tinted windows. Two bodies joined him. He drifted in and out of consciousness during the drive that took fuck- knows how long. He was awake when the car stopped.


       Luke let his body go limp as the driver pulled him out of the car and dumped him on the ground with Kirena and the other guy. He squinted again, and saw it was Freddie. Typical.


       Freddie got back in the car and drove off, back the way he'd come. It was the only road. Through what looked like orange groves. He was taking it easy, but there was something in the way the car kept speeding up and slowing down that told Luke that Freddie wanted to be away as fast as possible. Fear? Or a need for speed?


       Luke rolled over and glanced in the other direction. He could see a church framed in the moonlight. It was up a short hill that he seemed to be at the bottom of. He heard a groan from his side. The stranger. He moved over to him. The guy had nearly-healed wounds over his face. "Are you awake?" he asked.


       "Yeah. What the fuck is going on? What do you want?"


       "True love and universal harmony. You?"


       The stranger didn't answer.


       "Look," said Luke. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on myself. Only that we're supposed to disappear. So, I'd like to disappear before the people who are supposed to make us disappear appear. Er, show up." He pitched for some local colour. "Capiche?"


       "Queer bashers?" He winced as if he'd given something away.


       "Probably not. I get the impression it's concerned citizens who fancy the idea of a nice, white, straight LA, with only the most closeted crimes left."


       "Great. Vigilantes."


       "Something like that, no doubt."


       "My name's John." He smiled, nervously.


       "Bramley, Luke Bramley. Late of London, England and the planet Venus."


       John giggled. "Yeah, I feel like that sometimes." Luke raised an eyebrow. "You'll have to tell me more. Later. For the moment, can you help with my friend?"


       There was a click to his right. He turned, jumped up and lunged at the guy in uniform who'd crept out of the orange trees. And the butt of a rifle greeted the back of his head. As he fell to the ground, he thought about how many brain cells he must have lost that day. Hands grabbed John.


       Luke saw the moon glint on a needle, and the needle go into John's neck.


* * *


Luke woke up to the sound of voices. His head was positively killing him. He was in pitch black, he could hear people talking on the other side of a door.


       He felt his way off the surface he was lying on, found his feet and wandered towards the only source of light in the room: A small, round window in what must be the door. He peeked through. There was a corridor outside.


       He noticed a marine at either end and ducked his head back carefully. The one nearby wasn't looking in his direction, the one at the other end couldn't see him anyway. Behind the nearby marine was what looked like a lift door. On the opposite side of the corridor, two more doors, one directly opposite, one a way down the corridor. Luke guessed there was another door on his side, further down the corridor. And that that was where the voices were coming from.


       "That is where we carry-out all of our operations."


       "Very hi-tech, Doctor. At least we can see where a lot of our money has gone."


       "Nothing but the best. And this is the city of the future." The voice paused. "That's what our project is all about. The future."


       "Yes, we had the marketing spiel earlier, thank you Doctor Horowitz." Luke could see them now. That last voice had come from a man in a brown suit.


       Two more men, wearing matching suits in black and grey, walked beside him. All 30s-40s. Then a short, stony-looking man in a dark green uniform, lots of medals. An elderly gent in a dapper blue suit. A short, repulsive looking man in a stained lab coat — a poor man's Peter Lorre with sickly skin and a crew-cut. Finally, a tall and supremely confident man in a pristine lab coat, the youngest of the group. This last spoke next - and from his voice, he must be Doctor Horowitz.


       "And finally, gentlemen, the fourth room. This is where keep Nathan Adler, the first head of this project. I believe you are familiar with the details of his incapacitation."


       He opened the door opposite the one they group had come out of. They filed inside. Luke heard gasps, and then Horowitz's voice from inside the room.


       "Dear God!" A new voice.


       "Are the restraints necessary?" Brown suit again.


       "I'm afraid so."


       "Can we get any closer?" That new voice.


       "No. The screen is for our protection. There have been complications in the past. Nathan is the only..." he paused. "The only subject to have gone through the entire operation. Results are... inconclusive."


       "Is he speaking?" Brown suit again. "What's he saying?"


       "Just a second," said Horowitz.


       There was the audible whine of a speaker being switched on, and then Luke heard a gargling voice:


       "Because you only see the world in a certain way. Not for real. That's the point of illusion, of facades. They're right in front of your eyes but you just don't see them.


       "Hollywood! One day, it will consume the whole planet. It's starting, growing all around us. But is the Mechadhatura a means to stop it? Or a way of speeding it up?


       "The Mechadhatura. The mechanical fruit!"


       The strangled voice was silenced, the speaker switched suddenly off.


       "Are you recording all of that, Dr Horowitz?" said another new voice. There was a slight trace of an accent: French, Luke guessed.


       He could see the group coming back out of the fourth room, walking towards his end of the corridor. The three suits were blanched.


       "Yes. But he rarely says anything new."


       "Have you had the transcripts analysed?" asked the brown matching suit.


       "Of course they are, Harker," said the Frenchman.


       "He's been repeating the same sort of sentiments for many years," Horowitz continued. "Occasionally updated by current affairs. I'm not sure where he gets his new information from. He's unresponsive to stimuli, fed by a drip, and... well, you can see for yourselves what physical state he is in. Nobody who has worked here has ever seen anything like it. I am close to being in a position to replicate the original operation, only under controlled conditions. It's taken me and my team a long time, but I think I understand CLOCKWORK the same way Nathan did."


       "Think?" said a different matching suit, grey. Luke thought he was the second of the suits to speak before.


       "I won't be sure until I've done the operation, Mr Hopper. That's why it's called research." Testy.


       They were close to Luke's door now.


       "This entire project is insane. It has to be stopped," the suit continued.


       "But I'm so close."


       "Ten years you've been at this, and nothing but fuck-ups and Hollywood horrors." The third and final suit: the one in black. Luke was sure this was the first time that guy had spoken. "It's a liability, and it's going nowhere."


       Their voices dropped. Luke strained to hear through the crack in the door. The happy guy was speaking.


       "Fortunately, Mr Maxim, you aren't the chief advisor to Delta. Mr Peret, what do you say?"


       Peret was obviously the Frenchman. Luke risked a glance through the small, tinted window. Peret was old, seventy at least. Wiry grey strands of hair plastered over his lined forehead. Liver warts on his hands and temples.


       He wore a blue woollen suit over a white shirt with black stripes and a blue bow tie. His weight rested firmly on a gnarled wooden stick. His voice was grotesquely cracked.


       "Dr Horowitz, while I have grave reservations at the number of subjects you seem to be getting through, I believe this project shows much promise. Of all department Delta's current projects, this is certainly the most interesting. From what we have just seen alone your funding is justified. But, my dear boy, no more soldiers. We simply can't allow it. People will notice. You will have to confine your research to the flotsam and jetsam of the street."


       He coughed sharply and took a handkerchief from his pocket. He barked into it, balled it up and put it away again. "Ma strength is not what it used to be, gentlemen. I think I shall approve your requests, Jeremiah. I also think I shall be taking a personal interest in this project from now on. Yes?"


       "Thank you, monsieur. I won't disappoint you."


       "I believe you. Now, I think I shall go to bed."


       "I'll show you to the quarters we have prepared," said Cray. "On second thoughts, General, why don't you take the rest of our party up first. There is one last thing I wish to discuss with the doctor." Cray, Hopper, Harker, Maxim and Professor Krebs filed past the marine and into the lift. It swished shut out of Luke's view. Peret turned to Horowitz.


       "Firstly, I hear you've brought some of your Hollywood friends here. Rather against both the spirit and secrecy of the project, yes?"


       "It was just once. A field test. They were brought here blindfold. They though it was a joke, actually. Won't happen again."


       "I see. Secondly, Doctor." He paused. "I was almost fifty-five when I came over here. I knew which way the wind was blowing. The Directory was already retreating inside itself." He chuckled at the idea. "I came to work for your government, doing the same job I've been doing for almost all my life. Offering practical views on the paranormal. Helping to map humanity's future. Within months, ma country fell. Our cities were trampled, our women raped. By men like Krebs."


       Luke saw realisation dawn on Horowitz.


       "It's standard procedure. Sir. They are everywhere. And they are very useful. Krebs is a genius. The most capable neurologist I've ever met. And his ideas on genetics are groundbreaking."


       "He is a Nazi. A murderer. A monster."


       "Monster? Sir, is what I am doing monstrous? Professor Krebs is a scientist, not a barbarian, not a soldier. He interrogated spies, he researched new discoveries. For Hitler, yes, but we can't pass up such a skilled man because of ideological failings in his past. He works for us, now, works towards our goal."


       "Watch him, Dr Horowitz. Watch him."


       The lift swished open again. Luke watched Horowitz and Peret disappear inside. "I'll show you an operation in the morning, monsieur." Horowitz's voice, muffled as a door closed. The marines relaxed every so slightly as the lift went away.


       Luke stepped back into the darkened room and felt his way back to the bed he'd woken up on. He found a penlight in his pockets, shone it carefully around avoiding areas he thought visible from the marines' positions in the corridor. It was a large room, lined with dozens of gurneys. He had been on one near to the door, John next to him and Kirena opposite. Most of the gurneys were empty, but four, about half-way down the room, had black body-bags on them. There was a formaldehyde stench. Luke went to nearest of the bags, opened it up quickly and shone the light inside. It crossed the torso first.


       The body was male, well developed and quite hairy. An appendix scar, a cut and two drops of blood tattooed below a rib. The man's skin looked like blue-green marble. Luke shone the torch up to face and gasped. The eyes were missing. The man's brow was furrowed, like a child's, and below it two bloody hollows. Luke was fascinated by it, by the mottled skin and rictus grin. And by the images that flooded his mind. He saw the man strapped to a bed, or maybe a chair, confused and afraid while someone surgically removed his eyeballs. Then he said, very quietly, "bugger", vomited on the floor and passed out again.


---
To be continued...



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