Where were the other ones? Where was anyone at all, to be honest? The players in this drama are scattered, and yet grouped together. However, if we are wondering about the duo of house thieves, let us go back to the party fields of Madame Percival.
The other nodded, the crystal fittings glistening in the park lights. “He was invited to a party. Maybe he is still here?”
They looked at the park doubtfully. A band was already packing up their instruments, various droids cleaning, replacing, and resetting the scenery back to normal while others were carrying boxes of assorted machines. A trio of humanoid droids was at a long table, packing assorted trays of food while another one was melting a giant statue of ice with a plasma flamethrower. Groups of laughing people passed by the duo and eyed them with interest, one even slapping a shoulder and complimenting the costumes. Large machines, scattering long, spindly vines and colorful petals everywhere, were mulching mounds of earth and plant matter.
A small lady dressed in white was talking to another person, tall and dressed in a trench coat. One went up to them.
The two looked at the person. “Yes?” the woman said.
“My partner and I,” a hand waved to the other person, “are looking for someone who may have come here. His name is Frederick McAuthur-McGillicuty.”
The other came up to them. “We are wondering because he has something on his person that might be very valuable to our employer.”
The first nodded. “Apparently, he received something in the mail by mistake. We have been trying to find him since this afternoon so we can take the package back.”
The lady looked at them, lost in thought. “I can’t recall such a name, I am sorry to say, Mister . . . ?”
“Six,” the person said. “Number Six. My compatriot is Number Four.” Then, parenthetically added, “It’s Miss, actually.”
A slight smile appeared as she shook her head. “I am sorry not to be much help, then.” She turned to go when the tall man asked, “I take it you two are Tech Junkers?”
The two exchanged a glance. “I would say so, yes?”
The other nodded. “Yes, I think so.”
The man nodded. “Well,” he said a bit harshly, wrapping an arm around the lady’s shoulders protectively, “I was about to escort Miss Arielstal home, so if you do not mind?”
One bowed halfway. “Of course.”
They watched them walk down the path for a moment, and then they looked at the other. “I hate to come back without the package,” Number Six said.
“Indeed. The founder might want to put us in purgatory.”
“I hope not.”
Number Four looked at the retreating couple. “I did notice a faint hesitation when we asked about the gentleman.”
“So did I.” Number Six sighed in defeat. “So, any other place we can find him?”
Duchess looked back at the duo as they were walking away. “They’re still standing, Tony. Why were they looking for Alphie?”
“Shh!” Guilotti said as he forced Duchess to walk quicker. “With Junkers, you do not know what the hell they have with them. Pardon my language,” he added, noticing her stern face.
“Just what are tech junkers anyway?” she asked.
“Junkers are extremely low-circle,” Guilotti said, looking at the figures still there. “Looked down by practically every one. They are machine worshippers.”
“Indeed, Aretha,” he turned a corner and took her down the path a bit slower. “They feel that the machine is the one true form of nature, which is downright stupid, seeing that machines are man-made. They pride themselves for ‘improving’ technology,” he hooked his fingers around the quotes, “even though all they do is destroy it. Rumor has it that they were the ones who started the war back in 2010.”
She snorted. “Nonsense. I was at the protests that tried stopping it. Nothing of those people was there.”
He shrugged. “Be that as it may, Duchess, they have been known to pilfer high-end electrics, including a few of our techs. Remember the five nanocubes that were stolen last year from Hawaii?” She nodded slowly. “Well, the police found the people who stole them, but not the items themselves.”
“I remember you mentioning that,” she said. “You think they are being used?”
He shrugged. “I do not know how they would; although, I shudder to think how they might be.”
Duchess shook her head. “But why were they looking for Alphie? What has he done to them?”
“No idea. Maybe it was a genuine search, but with junkers I do not know.”
They walked a few more yards in silence.
“What was with their names?” Duchess said.
Guilotti snorted. “They eschew names, thinking them ‘unhealthy’; thinking only ‘the mathematics of thought’ can perfect them. Stupidity, if you ask me.”
“You have such hatred in your voice when you mention them, and you seem to know so much about them. If I may ask why?”
He smiled bitterly. “My parents were part of that sect.”
“Oh. I see, now.” Duchess looked up at him and gently patted his arm. “It must have been so hard for you.”
“If by ‘hard’, you mean having them attempt operate on me so that they may try to replace my heart with a pump, then yes, it would be.” The smile grew sharp and brittle. “Thankfully, the police broke in before they could do anything. The last time I saw them also.” He sighed and shrugged. “I’m thankful that my aunt got me, though. She was one of the few of the family that did not want anything to do with that garbage.”
“And look at what you are now,” Duchess said.
He looked down at her and smiled, reaching to her hand and clasping it gently.
The rest of the walk was quiet.
“Here. Drink this.”
Con opened his mouth. A strong, alcoholic taste of apples washed over his tongue, making him sputter.
“Careful now. Do not choke.”
After a few swallows, he pushed the hand away. “Slag and black fire,” he rasped out. “Must I be drowned as well as drugged?”
He heard someone chuckling. “Well, that is a good sign you are okay, babe.”
Con slowly opened his eyes and shielded them from the dim light. Multicolored dots floated in front of his vision. “The hell happened?”
A guttural cough was heard, and someone else was talking, the tones hoarse but clipped. “You were given, to put it rather melodramatically, a knock out drug. I will not go into the scientific lingo, but the compound is very efficient and gets more when blended with alcohol. Apparently, the person who gave it to you was trying to get you into a compromising position, hm?”
“No idea,” Con said. Then he shot up from the bed. “Frederick! Where is he?” He then clenched his eyes and fell back, waiting for the room to stop spinning. “Conniving wrenches of the mainline . . . my head.”
“Freddie’s doing fine,” Billy said, long used to such phrases. “We found him, and Bang’s already took him home.”
“Ah, well, that is good,” Con said, trying not to throw up. “And Lola?”
Billy cleared his throat. “She was not found when the police came into the bar,” he said.
“Wait,” Con said, massaging his temples. “I saw her. She had a gun. I landed on her.”
“We found nothing that could have fitted your description of that lady,” another voice, deep and gruff, said.
Con gingerly opened his eyes, wincing slightly at the lights and waited for them to focus. After a moment or two, he slowly turned his head and saw Billy, dressed in red shirt and plaid shorts, sitting next to him, red eyed and smiling sadly.
“Babe,” Billy said, grabbing a hand and rubbing it against his beard. “I thought you were a goner.”
“Heya…” Con said weakly.
The clipped voice said again, “We can’t let him get too stressed out, Mister Vane. He has had a rather bad night.” A person bent over to place a stethoscope over the chest. He was elderly – a thatch of grey hair and a flowing beard – and dressed in a white coat. “Heartbeat is steady.” He glanced at Con over his glasses. “Let me know if you feel anything.”
“He will,” Billy said, still looking at Con and holding his hand. “Babe, there is a Sergeant G’hent here. He needs to ask a few questions.”
“I will not take too much of your time, sir,” the gruff voice said, the figure coming into Con’s narrow vision. He was short and bald but extremely built, his frame stretching the black spandex of his uniform to the utmost. A large golden badge was clipped at collar of his button-down shirt. “Just routine questions, sir. I do not know if you are in any state of mind to answer any of them, though. Just let me know when you get anything like a headache or something like that.”
“I already have a headache,” Con said, rubbing his head again. “But go ahead.”
“Alright then.” He pulled out a small recorder from his pocket and turned it on. A small red light flashed. “This is Sergeant Mikhal G’hent, badge number Three Five Eight Two, conducting a routine questioning with Conway Forrester Alazhar and William Vane, Junior, concerning the incident at The Caterpillar’s Question, located at Five Seven Three Eastwood Avenue, on October Twenty Third, Twenty Fifty Two. Time is now—” he looked at his watch, “—eight fifty seven a.m. Doctor Castile of Saint Anthony’s Clinic witnessing.” He cleared his throat. “Now, Mister Alazhar, first question, what happened?”
Con blinked a few times in thought. “I do not remember much. I was wondering where Freddie was…”
“Frederick McAuthur-McGillicuty,” Billy said. “One of our friends. We were at a party, and he joined us to for visit to the bar. We were shooting the breeze, having some drinks, and then Lola came in, and–”
“Lola McBlanc,” Billy answered. “The owner of the bar. Con and I have been patronizing the bar for years before we met, then after we married, we have not been there in a year, two years?”
“Okay then. Then what happened?”
“She asked Freddie to dance,” Con said, almost drowsily, his eyelids fluttering slightly. “We started talking about other things. Lola bought us another round of drinks. Why am I imagining you on a bed and dressed in a wrestling singlet, sarge?”
“Ah, the medication must be taking effect,” the doctor said. He flashed a slim light in one of Con’s eyes. “One of the quicker side effects is libidinous daydreams, I am afraid. Do not pay attention to them, Sergeant, and do carry on.”
“Erm, yes, of course,” G’hent said. He cleared his throat. “Now, according to Mister Vane, he tried looking for Mister McAuthur-McGillicuty, and he could not find him. What happened then?”
“I got up,” Con said, “and the room spun. I almost threw up. Lola came up and said I must have had too much to drink.”
“She denied having seen Freddie,” Billy said. “However, the bartender said that he saw him.”
“That was then she pulled out the gun?”
“Yeah…” Con said. “That was when I collapsed on top of her.”
“I see,” G’hent said, then turned off his recorder. “I need to get a few more answers from you, Mister Vane and a few from Mister McAuthur-McGillicuty, but right now, off the record, let me inform the both of you that we found no trace of the woman known as Lola McBlanc when we arrived.”
“What?” Con said, rising up in shock, and fighting the vertigo and the urge to vomit. He ignored the doctor’s squawk of protest. “That can’t be right. I remember struggling with her.” He grimaced when his mental filing cabinet threw up a photo. “I remember that hideous face.”
“What?” Billy said.
“That face.” Con closed his eyes and started to babble. “It was misshapen and covered with holes. The eyes were not set right. The hair was half gone. The mouth was–”
“Wait a moment,” Billy said, “Lola, the residential showgirl, ugly?”
“I do not know if it was a hallucination or not,” Con confessed. “I just remember that face.” He then focused on the police officer again and smiled drunkenly. “Dang, you are a handsome fellow. I am just seeing you on that bed wearing nothing at all…” His eyes rolled back, and he collapsed on the bed.
The doctor came up to Con and opened an eyelid, flashing the light into the eye. “Hm. Out cold.” He looked at Billy. “Nothing wrong, it is just the medication working. He’ll be fine in a few hours.”
G’hent exchanged glances with Billy. “I can’t say this happens often during my shift,” he said dryly.
“Yeah, sorry,” Billy said, rubbing the back of his head. “So, what usually happens?”
“Oh, the usual,” he said, a shadow of a smirk on his face. “Calling for questions, getting hit on by a married man, that sort of thing.”
Billy felt a blush forming. “I am very sorry,” he began, but G’hent waved them aside.
“No worries, kid,” he said. “As I said, does not happen during the shift, though, off the record again, I’m kind of flattered.” He ignored Billy’s blush and turned to the doctor. “I have to ask you a few questions. Please wait for me at your office with a copy of his results.”
“Of course, officer,” the doctor said, walking out of the room.
“I need to ask you a few more questions,” G’hent said, facing to Billy. “But after I do some paperwork. Also, I need to talk to anyone else who had a part in this.
“Uhm . . . yeah, sure.” Billy thought for a moment. “That would be Clarissa, Con’s cousin. She rescued Freddie and me from the room behind the place.”
G’hent nodded. “I’ll be looking into that. I will let you know if I have any other questions.”
“Thanks.” And with that, Billy went back to stay with Con.