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It’s a well-known fact that the human mind is an amazingly flexible thing. It’s especially valid in cases where you want to convince yourself that the awful mistake you just made was absolutely unavoidable and was even a good thing in the long run. In my case, I tried to believe that, due to the terribly noisy and very long fight I had with Lara, probably an army of thugs with heads like anvils and arms like pneumatic hammers were sprinting toward us to rip our asses off. I thought it would be a lot safer if we hopped into the elevator and bamboozled them a bit. That’s why, after agreeing to commit a terrible suicide, I actually jumped into executing it very passionately.

However, as soon as I stepped out from behind the curtains, I realized I wouldn’t camouflage my stupid mistake well enough so I wouldn’t recognize it for what it actually was—an act of madness. Within just a second, I sobered up completely, and my initial enthusiasm disappeared. Nevertheless, nothing really scary happened at first. In fact, nothing scary happened even later on, except that my blood pressure went so high that my eardrums throbbed terribly and they started playing C, B, A, and G, and if I mastered the rest of the notes soon, I could throw a tune together to distract me while I was dying. By following Douglas Adams’s method, if I were lucky enough, I might even forget to die!

Unfortunately, right at this moment, John Lee Hooker decided he had had enough of fooling around and embarked on wild improvising. The nerve-racking chords of “Tupelo Blues” promptly put an end to my fragile start in music writing, and his monotonous shoe-tapping and ominous chanting literally drove me crazy. I began turning my head around, panicking and seeing heavy storm clouds gathering from all sides. It suddenly smelled like a catastrophe!

Still feeling like a cat on hot bricks, I approached the wall with the elevator and reached out my hand to find the secret button. Then I convulsively pushed it a couple of times. Soon, Sesame materialized in front of us, and it cynically opened its invisible door with a quiet “burr”. While I was waiting for it, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe the next gun barrel was waiting for me in the cabin, but unfortunately, it was too late to react now. Luckily, nothing like that happened. No bullets approached my incredibly stupid head when I looked inside. Lara and I quickly stepped on the other side, and the door closed behind our backs, with John Lee Hooker seeing us off with mournful guitar plunking and his promise that nothing was going to be all right ever again.

In the machine, I nervously looked around. The place was quite tight and depressing, and the interior was upholstered with dark red velvet, which made me wonder why everything in this damn building had to be in this range of colors. Even the only button in the cabin was red! I stared at it, frustrated, but before I even got the chance to be properly annoyed, Lara pushed it carelessly as if the elevator was nothing more than a vending machine for candies and lollipops at the funfair.

I shivered unpleasantly, expecting big trouble. Nevertheless, nothing scary happened again. We just started moving downward as my assistant had predicted back in the hall. As we waited to arrive where we were meant to, for a few moments, I felt like a superhero from a comic strip that conquered level after level in the terrible citadel of evil. It felt good because it took my mind off the danger, but unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived. Right after we sank below the first floor and I realized there was no turning back, I was scared shitless again. I had absolutely no idea where the elevator led us, and I prayed it wouldn’t open into a giant colonnade hall full of terrifying monsters.

No more than a minute after beginning our journey, we sensed that we were slowing, and then, quite predictably, the cabin stopped moving. The door gave us a second “burr”, and it opened—cold and indifferent to our fate. Thank God, there was no stone hall on the other side but just another corridor, almost identical to the one we had followed on the upper level. And as a pleasant surprise, it was totally empty. I actually wanted to stay in the cabin a bit longer, plotting our next moves, but my assistant clearly didn’t think so. She promptly invaded the enemy’s land with an expression on her face that shouted, “Geronimo!”

My first reaction was to follow her lead and step outside, but then I sharply turned around to think more carefully. Unfortunately, the elevator door had already shut, and I bumped my nose into it. It immediately brought to mind a bunch of very unpleasant memories of another violent accident, involving vicious drug dealers. Luckily, the situation here was relatively peaceful for now, and the terrible monsters were lingering with their attack, but I could hear strange whistling down the corridor, which couldn’t mean anything good.

I turned around again and looked at Lara quite nervously. Unlike me, she didn’t seem to be worried at all. Swaggering like a peacock in his cage, she confidently walked to the first door—the one on the wall opposite us—and I mechanically dragged after her only because I didn’t want to be left alone outside. However, when I saw her pushing the lock and stepping into the room so carelessly, I promptly changed my mind. She did it as if it was her grandmother’s closet, and she was doing nothing more dangerous there than stealing a jar full of jam!

As I watched my assistant’s ill-considered actions, the hero in me momentarily vanished into thin air. He just put his magic shoes on and disappeared in a split second. On the other side, the man in me stayed, but he literally crapped himself with fear. He suddenly dreamed of being a street vendor in a Carpathian village who sold pumpkin seeds to the kids all day long, and they spat the shells on him and called him a “pumpkin head”!

The detective in me kept total self-control, however. He cold-bloodedly calculated that it was wise to stay outside for a few moments and listen for any shouting, screaming, the noise of tumbling objects, or—God forbid—shooting inside the room, so he could turn around and save himself in time. If the opposite happened, if he heard nothing scarier than gentle waltz music and affectionate whispering, then he could quickly step inside so he wouldn’t be the only one to get hurt outside. He was a shrewd bustard, indeed—the detective in me—but his plan didn’t work either because reality, as it usually is in such situations, turned out to be far more trivial than his imagination. Nothing really happened again!

Even so, I decided to rush into the room after all because “trivial” still looked much better than the situation in the corridor. Or at least I tried to do it! The problem was that until I set myself in motion, Lara had already started to go out, which resulted in me bumping into her and hurting my nose again—this time, it collided with her forehead.

“Boring as hell!” she assured me when I stepped back.

“That’s what I thought too!” I tried to sound at least as calm as she was. “But wouldn’t it be great if we took a closer look at it?”

Honestly, I didn’t believe she would agree with my idea. The chances were really minor, and she didn’t even see it as necessary to consider it. My only consolation in this situation was that I was totally right about it.

“No, it wouldn’t be,” she cut me off uncompromisingly. “We’ll waste too much time!”

Then she roughly pushed me back into the corridor without giving me the slightest chance to peek inside. It annoyed me, but not because this part of our investigation was going to be forever lost for me, and I wouldn’t know what was in the room, but rather because I realized I had lost initiative here, and it made me feel worthless. Anyway, since it was already too late to do anything about it, I had to give it up and hope that my assistant’s impulsiveness and total lack of professionalism wouldn’t kill us too soon.

As I kept staying there, analyzing the countless ways for things to go wrong, Lara, who clearly didn’t understand my reluctance to move away, just skirted around me and decisively headed up the corridor. I slowly walked after her, still rubbing my nose to relieve the pain, and soon we sneaked past the door to the toilets. It was open, and I saw my bellhop friend inside, who pissed in one of the urinals while dancing—probably ardently writing his name on the tiles behind it. It was his whistling we had been hearing the entire time!

We quietly moved on, and after a few seconds, my partner, following the established course of action, sank into the next room without consulting with me about it. This time, I hurriedly rushed after her because I had already slid down the paranoia roller coaster after meeting the urinating thug. Unfortunately, although I had complete faith in her decision now, she unexpectedly stopped again.

“Will you unstick yourself from my ass, please?” I heard her whispering voice. She was irked.

“You know what? I’m not much of a fan of your ass!” I whispered back. “Maybe if you just stopped putting it in my face every time I—”

Instead of answering, she suddenly pushed back, pressing her shoulder blades against my chest really hard, and interrupting my plea. Her action also made me feel nervous because I was afraid my ass, in turn, might collide with something very dangerous behind my back. I was particularly worried that it might be the unfriendly dick of the “bellhop” from the toilets. At this unpleasant thought, I dug my heels in, determined to put up as much resistance as possible, but Lara answered accordingly, playing tough on me. I was just about to enable my turbo mode and blow her out when she angrily turned around.

“Get the fuck out of here, for Christ’s sake!” she roared in a muffled voice. “There’s someone inside!”

It was only then that I grasped the seriousness of the situation. I finally saw the bigger picture, so to speak, and realized what was happening behind my partner’s butt. There were two souls in the room—at its distant end—but they were too busy to notice our presence here because they were panting heavily and laboriously trying to become one. I didn’t know why, but they seemed weirdly familiar to me, and in the second, before we sneaked out into the corridor, feeling guilty for our eavesdropping, I forced my brain to try harder and remember the reason. The poor thing gave its best, and it nearly splashed out through my nose and ear holes because of the stress, but in the end, it delivered the information I needed.

In front of me, the Secretary of State was fucking the Secretary of Health’s ass. He was bonking it vigorously, methodically, and very devotedly. He was bonking it without using a condom and without caring for his own or his partner’s safety. The Secretary of Health appeared delighted with the irresponsible act, and both lovers were totally oblivious to their surroundings.

Lara quietly closed the door, hiding the VIPs from my eyes, and then shook her head.

“Let’s not disturb people during their mating time,” she whispered affectionately. “After all, they say love will save the world—from extinction, at least!”

“Well, this specific kind of love,” I mumbled skeptically, “won’t save it from that. It’ll just bring hemorrhoids to their practitioners!”

“That’s pretty homophobic, you know!” The defender of nonstandard sex looked at me reproachfully. “Besides, it’s all-natural. I mean, it’s in men’s nature to hump everything that moves, and when humping each other, you don’t really need to last more than two minutes. I guess it makes things a lot easier for many of you!”

For a moment, I stared at her, surprised to hear such a ridiculous theory. I had always suspected this woman was a man-hater, but now I knew for sure. However, since I felt offended as a man and she kind of provoked me with her aggressive feminism, I suddenly wanted to piss the misandrist off. I thought it would be an excellent idea to express my hurt feelings by belching, farting, or making any other strong declaration of my manhood, but unfortunately, I couldn’t perform these useful techniques willingly. That’s why I just mumbled, “It’s no wonder that men turn to each other to satisfy their needs with so many of you being sexually as cold as dead fish!”

My assistant glared at me, irritated, but she said nothing. Judging by the expression on her face, she definitely thought I was a jerk, but maybe she couldn’t find the right words to describe that. Anyway, she didn’t react, which was a good thing because otherwise, we would have had quite a stupid fight right here, in the middle of the gangsters’ headquarters.

Without any more discussion or spiteful remarks on the subject, and being mindful that the whistling in the toilets didn’t stop, we continued our search and soon stepped into the third room. Like the first one, it turned out to be empty of people and boring. Also boring were the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh rooms—we checked on them, zigzagging—and in the end, I stopped counting. In general, the entire level seemed empty, and if someone watched us on a security camera or something, he would probably think we were a pair of housekeepers who were also idiots. The only thing we did was to walk into the rooms, do nothing there, and then walk out while tensely listening in the corridor.

Eventually, the entire pointless wondering got me really nervous, and I was just about to explode with frustration, when we opened a door, behind which we found something completely different. We saw a premise with the vibe of a fancy bedroom, and in the middle of it, there was a large double canopy bed. Naturally, its fucking curtains were red! Three of the walls in the room were decorated with paintings of fleshy Renaissance beauties, and the fourth wall had very weird floorboards all over it.

I briefly glanced around and then up at the ceiling. Two enormous crystal chandeliers with thousands of small decorative pieces hung there, and the latter threatened to scatter all the way to Australia and raise enough noise to be heard on Saturn’s moons if we only looked at them the wrong way. They all assumed battle positions and started rustling agitatedly as soon as they realized we were here to violate their sacred shrine.

At first, I took their threat quite seriously, but then I instantly forgot about them because I suddenly noticed the most important detail in this strange room. A stark naked lady lay on the bed behind the gaudy curtains! She remained totally cool and silent at our appearance, not even lifting a finger, which made me think she was probably sedated with sleeping pills or drugs. Even after we registered her presence, we didn’t actually do anything and just stayed in the doorway, surprised and unable to figure out if she was Lara’s sister or some other chick. And right then, we heard the long-anticipated noise of someone flushing a toilet behind our backs!

I shivered unpleasantly and quickly assessed the situation, realizing that if something got wrong, the thug with the red cap would be a far more serious danger than the naked lady on the bed. My conclusion made me rush into the room right away. Generally, it was the right decision, but the problem was that Lara was blocking my way as always. The unexpected obstacle presented two equally unpleasant choices for me: either I could break my nose and bump into her for the third time, or jump to the left and embrace a small glass-topped table, placed a couple of feet beside the door. I chose the second option.

Naturally, the table wasn’t happy about my choice and promptly expressed its discontent with my unprovoked attack by exploding louder than a bomb in a china shop. Still falling, I saw the mess on the floor and realized it would be war. Thousands of shreds, much quicker and more maneuverable than me, had already made up a sharp bed of broken glass that was worthy of the attention of a hundred-year-old yogi who had gone completely nuts contemplating the world for too long. Far from being happy with the nirvana opening up for me, I had to sprawl upon the shrapnel and take it into my flesh. However, for the sake of my self-esteem, I should say here that the shrapnel also suffered some damage in the fight—although very minor.

Lara, who still stood frozen at the door, jumped up and agitatedly turned around to close it. Then she looked back at the accident scene, not believing her eyes. For my part, I nervously cast a glance at the beauty on the bed. In light of the current situation, I didn’t think she had been doped anymore. Maybe she was stone-deaf or even dead, because otherwise, I couldn’t explain her complete lack of reaction to the noise my stupid stunt made.

I nervously clenched my teeth and stirred in the pile of glass. It cost me an enormous effort, but somehow, I managed to hop to my feet and throw myself toward the bed, the nose of my gun cleaving through the air. At the last possible second before the woman screamed, my left hand pulled the red curtain aside, and my right one pushed the Colt into her face. And when I say “her face”, I actually generalize a bit because I literally thrust the barrel into her throat, and the blood from my injured hand trickled down into it, following the weapon’s curves.

The chick woke up at last. She didn’t move again but, in return, said something, although it didn’t make much sense. In fact, it made sense because the only thing I had heard coming out of a rubber mouth was, “Hello! I’m Donald Duck!” and this here was no different. The sole distinction was that the mouth in front of my face didn’t belong to a children’s toy but to the sex doll Blowing Tart, whose only phrase was, “Let me blow you!” Right at the moment, however, due to my evil gun blocking the loudspeaker in her throat, she could only mumble, “Ley ye ylow you!”

After I heard her piece, I drew back and wiped my hands off the red curtains disgustedly. Behind my back, I heard Lara sarcastically click her tongue. The Blowing Tart—there was a label on her forehead that read the name—had obviously turned herself on somehow, and in addition to her jabbering, now she was also making funny noises with her fake vagina as if chewing gum with it. I hastily patted her on the head with the gun handle, and she stopped insisting on blowing me, but she kept munching, which was a problem I solved by stuffing the end of the curtains between her legs.

When I finally restored the silence in the room, I looked around very nervously, still unable to shake the feeling of danger and tensely waiting for someone uninvited to join our little party here. I was thinking about the “bellhop” in particular, but strangely enough, despite the racket I had made, he never came around to see what kind of twisted perversions with glassware was going on in one of the rooms for fucking. Or maybe he just wasn’t allowed to?

Anyway, we hung there for a while, expecting his appearance, but when we eventually realized he wasn’t interested in us at all, we looked around the place with curiosity. It was only natural for us to expect a ton of drugs and other illegal stuff here, but just like in Alice’s world in “Alice in Wonderland”, everything seemed reversed in this strange club. We didn’t discover anything more disturbing than a few packs of powdered sugar and first-class vanilla—the disturbing thing about them being the fact that they were here at all. Among other things, we also found some weird erotic toys, whose purpose was unclear to me.

I kept searching nonetheless, and after a couple of minutes, I bumped into a cute, small volume of illustrated sadomasochistic perversions, and since they seemed intriguingly bizarre, I stuffed the book into my shirt pocket to look at it later. As a result, I acquired a very nice, little tit. However, it seemed kind of lonely and unnatural on my chest so I grabbed a pack of powdered sugar and put it in my other pocket, hoping to gain a more balanced appearance. As I appraised myself in the mirror, I found my silhouette symmetrical enough now, and for the first time in my life, I realized the power of breasts. Knowing how stupid men were, I was sure I would have had a far more successful career if I were a woman with such a nice pair of boobies.

After enjoying my new look for a while, I turned around to see what Lara was doing. She was searching too, but without much success. She was wildly rummaging in the dresser drawers, and since her efforts remained fruitless, the next artifact was my find again. I bumped into a fine piece of art—a lower part of a torso, which intrigued the imagination with both its exquisiteness and accurate representation of details. To put it differently, my trophy was a ceramic woman’s butt with a belly button, thighs, and dark holes where they were supposed to be. While examining the thing, I couldn’t resist the temptation to thrust my index finger into the smaller hole on the backside to see what would happen, and as I did it, I sincerely hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be a pencil sharpener!

Something unexpectedly clicked inside my little ass as soon as I tried the hole. I flinched, startled because I heard a scraping noise behind my back, which made me turn my head around, scared. I was so surprised that I forgot to pull my finger out. Lara promptly raised her eyes to look at me and fixed her gaze on my hand, bewildered. Based on her expression, she clearly thought the noise was my fault and that we were going home with the ass now. I quickly pulled my finger out of the naughty hole to show her that her hasty assumption was completely wrong.

As the scraping sound continued, we both scanned the room anxiously. At first, we couldn’t see anything suspicious, but then I noticed that the wall with the floorboards had started to look uneven, and some of the segments were displaced a bit. When I walked closer to it to examine the situation, I realized the boards were fastened to each other with small hinges, and now they were trying—incredibly slowly—to turn. Soon the pieces divided into two groups, and after almost ten minutes of painful rotating and screeching, they finally aligned in the opposite corners of the wall. Behind them, very weird machinery that looked like the Discovery shuttle control panel appeared. There were a lot of buttons, levers, and indicator lamps on it, as well as a chunky-looking screen right in the middle of everything.

Lara gasped in amazement when she realized what that was. I was pretty much shocked too, but I didn’t utter a sound because I didn’t want her to see me lose my shit. Now, at least, we knew for sure that this room was nothing less than the office of Eternity’s boss. In my opinion, it was also his bedroom because the rubber chick on the bed closely corresponded to his taste in women and reminded me of Marilyn in some weird way. Besides, the machinery on the wall made perfect sense too. From here, the bastard could safely spy on the people who visited his joint and he could obtain compromising materials on them.

After recovering from her surprise, my assistant slowly came closer and joined me in admiring the impressive equipment. Then she cautiously reached her hand out to push what seemed to be a specific button on the panel. Come to think of it now, it couldn’t have been so specific—she probably picked it by the color—because she simply had no way of knowing what the button would do. And it did nothing, as a matter of fact. It just clicked quietly and remained pressed. My partner promptly tried a few more, but the result was the same.

“Maybe it has a memory. Perhaps it should be pressed again!” I suggested authoritatively as an adept electrician who always gave free advice but never did anything without getting paid first.

Lara looked at me skeptically and did what I suggested—but to no avail. Then she grunted unhappily and walked back to the dresser to grab something out of there, after which she returned with a pocketknife in her hands and started picking at the things. Unfortunately, her new approach failed too.

“There must be some kind of unlocking mechanism, just like in cassette players!” After a while, she grunted and threw the knife away.

And as she said that, the chief engineer on our team raised her hands in the air like a crazy pianist and initiated hysterical pushing of buttons around the front panel. Eventually, she ran out of options. The controls—to the last one—were either flipped or clicked, but neither produced any effect. The machinery suddenly looked very sad and kind of crippled.

After watching her for a while, I puffed tiredly, already pissed by her amateur attempts, and I stepped in to take the matter into my own hands. With absolute certainty that Thomas Edison was my granduncle, I bent over the equipment to find an electric cord or something. It was more than clear that the machine wasn’t plugged in, which was most likely why it didn’t work. Soon I discovered what I was looking for, connected it to an outlet, and while pretending I knew exactly what I was doing, I pushed a small red button on the side panel, which Lara had somehow missed noticing. Because of my action, such a massive short circuit occurred that I literally saw a thousand stars dancing before my eyes. Both my assistant and I jumped back, terrified, and we didn’t even know how we found ourselves on the other side of the room with our backs pressed against the wall.

When I got it together after a few moments, I dizzily looked at Lara and then at the burnt machinery, and she, in turn, looked at the burnt machinery and then at me. I definitely saw something in her eyes that seemed to be an accusation, but I ignored it and went to insert my finger inside the hole of the ceramic ass again. At least this button clicked every time I pressed it, and it didn’t have the habit of exploding! The floorboards promptly started rotating and screeching, just as expected, and didn’t stop until every single piece took its initial place on the wall, securing the violated equipment from the reach of our amateur hands.

Feeling we had nothing more to do here, we glanced around the place one last time and sneaked back into the corridor to try the next room. It turned out, however, that the one behind our backs was the last. There were no more rooms, and no matter how unpleasant it was for me, we had to return to the elevator, where the next red button was waiting!

“You try it!” Lara grunted without looking at me when we stood in front of it. “If nothing else, they’ll fall for it when you do it!”

I tensely blew a noisy raspberry and reached out my hand to push it. It immediately put the machine into motion, and to my utter surprise, we started moving upward now. It was quite a button indeed! Unlike the others, it always worked, although it didn’t do the same thing every time!

After that, we just waited. We slowly moved toward the grand floor, having absolutely no idea what to expect there. Lara stood behind me, her back pressed against the wall, and she looked very depressed. I wasn’t sure if she was worried we’d be caught soon or just upset because we hadn’t found any trace of her sister, but I suspected the latter because she never had any issues with closed doors. Usually, she was impatient to try them out. In such cases, I was the opposite. I always preferred to let my Colt move first and prepare the path for my triumphant parade afterward. That’s why I promptly pulled out my iron buddy and urged him to do his job. Surprisingly, though, he was scared too. He clearly felt grave danger because he was shaking even more than the hand that held him!

About a minute later, the elevator slowed down, and after the typical jerk at the end of the ride, it stopped. The door slowly started opening, and I impatiently thrust the barrel into the gap, pointing it feverishly to the left and right. I didn’t even wait to see if anyone was out there. It was very stupid of me because if there were, they could have easily pulled the weapon out of my hand and whacked my hurt nose with the handle. Luckily, it didn’t happen, and I kept possession of my Colt—for a while longer, at least.

We quietly sneaked out of the cabin, and thank God, we found ourselves back in the main hall of Eternity. It was quite natural, in fact, but after so many wonders in the Wonderland of Red Buttons, I wouldn’t have been that surprised if we weren’t! We hurriedly climbed onto the stage, slipped behind the curtains, and I stuck my weapon in the back of my pants, relieved at last. Just before following Lara, I glanced down the hall one last time. At this moment, I unexpectedly saw a shadow move quickly near the exit to the coat check and the toilets. It happened in a split second—it appeared briefly in the passageway and disappeared behind the next corner—but still, it stayed long enough for me to recognize the person. It was Sandra! She had something in her hands that looked like the thing the Asian guy had stolen from the drug dealers in the yard less than an hour ago.

Since I was pretty shocked, I stopped there for a moment, thinking. Out of all the people in the world, she was the last one I expected to see here after hours! It put her in a very unflattering position, and if she turned out to be involved in drug trafficking, as my intuition had suggested lately, it was going to be the end of our romantic relationship. Knowing this fact, I couldn’t have fun with her in her bedroom anymore, and it would be impossible for me to keep the investigation separate from my personal bias toward her.

And just then, as I kept thinking, frustrated, I actually had to stop worrying about anything else and focus on the present moment instead, because I was suddenly pulled back very rudely. When, after a second, I managed to look around myself, I saw my blond-haired, dandruff-laced friend embracing Lara in his left arm. Since she was a small woman, she was clenched between his huge biceps and chest, completely unable to move. At the same time, his other paw clutched the collar of my shirt.

I stared at him, still surprised. There was really no point in pretending we were some of the VIPs who came here to have a good fuck because we looked so cheap and ungainly in our miserable outfits. Besides, the jerk had probably recognized me already.

“I think I’ve warned you, morons!” The mutant roared angrily, leaving me no choice but to make a fool of myself again. “I think I was very clear when I said you only had one shot. The second time is always the last here. It’s the rule!”

I forced myself to smile at him in order to look cool. His words didn’t suggest a significant chance for a positive development in our case, but since it was actually our first shot, not the second, and since I believed he had actually missed the opportunity to warn us properly, I considered it necessary to inform him about his mistake.

“I’m not sure you’ve read the situation correctly, pal!” I opened my mouth to explain, but my voice came out wheezing because he was still pulling at my shirt collar, and the uppermost button cut into my throat. “This is definitely our first try!”

“Yeah?” He showed me his nice teeth. As we talked, he slowly dragged us toward the back end of the stage and then up the staircase to the second floor.

“Yeah! The last time we were here, we were clients. So it doesn’t count!”

“Well, whatever!” The three-leafed wardrobe glared at me and led us along the corridor, with dressing rooms on both sides. I chose not to resist simply because I hadn’t decided on a plan yet, and besides, it was where we wanted to go anyway. “You two will be the first intruders without a second chance then. You’ll be an example for all the other rats!”

I glanced at him, more worried now. Until this moment, I had still hoped he just wanted to kick us out of the bar, but that didn’t seem to be the case anymore. Nevertheless, I played his game for a while longer.

“Other rats? “Are there many of them?” I wanted to know.

“Eternity’s a hotspot, you dickhead! It’s usually full of VIPs,” he replied curtly. “You don’t think you two are the only idiots, who’d want to poke their snouts into their business, do you?”

“You know what? You’re not being very nice, buddy! What’s with all the offense?” I continued monkeying around. “The last time we met, you were also a lot cooler!”

“Well, guess what? I’ve changed a lot since last time. My good side isn’t in demand lately!”

“No? And what does your bad side have in mind for us exactly?” I asked him because I thought I was entitled to know that. Besides, I had a few more minutes to kill.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’ll spoil the surprise! I can assure you, though, that the formula is well-tested. You’re gonna love it!”

“Yeah, I guess I will!” I murmured under my breath and secretly reached out my hand to grope for the gun in the back of my pants. He didn’t notice. “Yet, I think it would be a great idea if you consulted with your boss first. You don’t really know what we know about him, and you wouldn’t want it to swing back at you in the most terrible way!”

“And what is it that you know about him?” He glared at me as we turned the next corner.

“Unfortunately, that’s way above your pay grade, buddy. We’ll only talk to your boss!” I said.

“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what you know. Soon, you won’t know it anyway! Besides, the boss is outta town now. How do you suggest I consult with him? Fix an interview for me on Good Morning America?”

I smiled. Clearly, the moron wasn’t aware of the miniaturized broadcast units that fit in your pocket. Besides, he obviously lied to me because I had seen his boss here less than an hour ago. I had no idea why he would do that, but I figured he was just scared of him.

“Where did he go, by the way?” I kept taunting the thug into lowering his guard further.

“That’s none of your fucking business!” I heard his annoyed response.

“I bet he’s banging Miss Monroe doggie style somewhere, isn’t he? He really seems to be an ass guy!”

“And who the fuck Miss Monroe would be?” My blond-haired friend looked at me with genuine surprise on his face.

“Oh, you know her! She’s the gorgeous chick that works at the coat check. Fabulous hair, a stunning rack, dresses à la Marilyn Monroe—such things. She seemed pretty bored the last time I saw her, so I guess some attention to her rear end would be much appreciated!”

I was deliberately rude. I had a weird idea, actually, and the next moment, I turned out to be right about it. The thug abruptly stopped dragging us along the corridor and fixed his angry eyes on me. They sparked wild with rage, which reminded me of his reaction when I accidentally mentioned the same girl at our first meeting in the club. Back then, I asked him which one of the chicks was his favorite, and he involuntarily looked at Marilyn because he obviously had feelings for her. Now it was the same situation!

“You’re fucking dead meat, you stupid pig!” he hissed, spitting saliva on my face. “I’ll gladly shut your stinky mouth forever! You will forget about the chicks’ racks and dresses and everything else!” And as he said that, he resumed dragging us along the corridor, but more aggressively now.

After a while, we turned the next corner and climbed down the staircase that led back to the yard. Generally, I was okay with that, but there was a small problem. I simply couldn’t know how many thugs might be waiting for us there. I also noticed that the jerk was getting tired already because it really wasn’t a joke to carry around two adults the way he did it. So I decided it was now or never! I stealthily pulled out my gun and pointed it at his chin from the level of his waist.

“You know what?” I started saying it casually. “I guess this little formula of yours hasn’t been tested so well after all. You care to reconsider now?”

“And why is that? You really think you can make me change my mind?” He glanced at me, still furious.

“I do, yeah!”

At first, he didn’t get my drift. He was actually so tall, and his chest was so massive, that he couldn’t see my gun. I was also sure he couldn’t normally see his dick either, but I only cared about the weapon, so I raised it a bit to help him grasp the situation. The moron turned his head down a bit more and suddenly froze. He finally got the picture, slowly letting me go.

I straightened up, still aiming my Colt at him while arranging my shirt collar. Then I nodded toward his other arm.

“She’s with me, you know,” I said. “She and I and the gun—we’re like three fingers in a glove!”

The thug didn’t react and kept his hold on Lara, embracing her even tighter.

“Are you sure you know how to handle this thing in your hand?” he asked me brazenly.

“Are you sure you want to find out if I do?” I replied tersely. “You think you can grind an eleven millimeter with your teeth like a hazelnut?”

“I think that even if you shot, I’d still be able to break her neck!” The jerk smiled sourly and grabbed Lara’s hair with his right hand.

“Well, I think you think too much!” I grunted and took the pack of powdered sugar out of my shirt pocket. Then I used it as a silencer to shoot his right leg without wasting time.

The mutant not only let Lara go but also started screaming in a cloud of white powder like a baby. It really took me by surprise. I didn’t expect such an exaggerated reaction from a big man like him. Since I was afraid that the other thugs might hear him, I promptly pulled the illustrated book out of my other pocket and shot a bullet into his left leg too. My act convinced him to stop screaming—probably because he couldn’t breathe from the pain, he experienced—but it didn’t make much difference. Unlike the sugar, the volume of sadomasochistic illustrations couldn’t muffle the second blast of my weapon so well, and the entire corridor literally exploded with thunder.

I quickly pressed the barrel of my Colt against the moron’s head and pulled his piece out of the holster under his armpit. Then I hurled it down the stairs, grabbed my assistant by the hand, and we ran after it. The bastard carried a smoothbore revolver, redesigned to fire shot shells. I was really lucky he didn’t have the chance to shoot me with it because had he done it point-blank, he would have blown my guts out!

“Fucking idiot!” I murmured under my breath while Lara and I were taking three steps at a time down the staircase. “First, you pat down the intruders, and then you run your damn mouth about not giving them a second chance!”

We were out in no time. Down in the parking space, the cool night air pleasantly brushed our faces, but before we even managed to look around, we found ourselves surrounded by a bunch of unpleasant dogs. I had no idea where they came from because they definitely weren’t in the yard when we first sneaked in, but they were certainly a better option than meeting a bunch of thugs here. Since the level of adrenaline in my bloodstream was already too high, I didn’t think twice and just picked the most aggressive one and took a shot at it. The whole pack immediately cleared the area as soon as they heard my Colt bark. Then Lara and I gave it a second try over that wall—now in the opposite direction—and this time, our performance had nothing to do with our clumsy getting in. We did it like true Olympic medalists in acrobatics—very elegantly and perfectly clean.

After that, we were finally free. Someone tried to shoot at us at the last second, but it was too late. On the other side of the wall, we ran to our Ford and jumped into it, and I promptly stomped on the gas with both feet despite our destination being just two minutes away. However, as usually happens in moments of wild action, one rarely has full control over events, and they often mess up his plans. I was just turning the vehicle around the corner of Eternity when a red Porsche stormed in front of us with tires screeching, and it zipped away in the night as if chased by demons. It was Sandra’s car, which I had seen a couple of times in the Cacadulu parking lot. The hotel owner didn’t seem to have noticed us.

“Go after her!” Lara shouted excitedly, her index finger pointing at the vehicle.

Without even pretending to be considering it, I hit the brakes and looked at her.

“No way!” I refused firmly. “She’ll recognize us!”

“No, she won’t! This is Larry and Bob’s car. She doesn’t know we have it!”

I glared at her, bewildered.

“What the fuck are you even talking about? It’s exactly the same as ours. They’re identical!”

“Go now!” my co-driver screamed furiously, and she angrily stepped on the accelerator, which is to say on my right foot. I literally felt my toes break through the Ford headlights and the poor car definitely didn’t expect that! Obviously, when they saw her outside the factory, nobody had told her she would participate in the Indianapolis 500, and she just didn’t know what to do now. Instead of rushing forward with tires screeching, she set off as usual, only louder. And I could totally understand her; her task wasn’t easy! It wasn’t like taking the whole family on a picnic in the city suburbs, as her makers had probably promised her.

Nevertheless, the desperate chase we embarked on in the next forty minutes, although very difficult, turned out to be a success. Our vehicle gave its best, and Sandra was quite cooperative as well—she politely “waited for us” at a traffic light after we almost lost her in the darkness a couple of minutes before that. At some point, I even started thinking she knew she had a tail because it really wasn’t a joke to follow a brand-new model of Porsche with a twenty-year-old Ford in the middle of the night!

The streets flew past our side windows one after another, and the city gradually blurred into a field as we left the urban area. The speed we maintained was quite serious because the car felt significantly lighter now, and I even got it up on two wheels a couple of times—when Lara and I had disagreements over which pedal had to be pressed at a particular moment. On top of that, I had to drive with the headlights turned off the entire time!

Eventually, I fell into a sort of routine, and my mind slipped off the road for a second, wondering where the hell Sandra was heading so late in the night. Right after that, I almost crashed the car into a road sign, which flashed in front of my eyes at the last possible moment. It read Villa Nueva. Just a minute later, I did it again, but this time, I stopped a few inches from the fence of the place in question. Inside, I saw the flying Porsche parked between two garden sculptures.

When she realized our journey was over, Lara removed her foot from mine, which gave me a chance—for the first time since we had set off—to drive the car without her “invaluable” supervision. I slowly turned the vehicle to the right and tucked it under the shadow of a low-growing willow tree by the side of the road.

“You happy now?” I looked at her angrily after turning the engine off.

She didn’t bother to answer or even register my words. She promptly jumped out of the Ford and nervously paced up and down the fence, obviously, trying to find a way through it. I cursed her in my mind, annoyed, and let her do what she wanted. Instead, I just had a smoke. Ten minutes passed without any change in the situation, and in the end, she came back to the car.

“Are you gonna help me or what?” she asked me contemptuously. “What are you still doing here? This is not your precious bathtub!”

I slowly took a drag of my cigarette and blew the smoke into her face.

“You never listen to me anyway, so what’s the fucking point?” I said calmly. “I’m sure you can handle the situation alone!”

“I normally can but right now, I can’t!” she snapped at me.

“Yeah? And why is that?”

“Get the fuck out of the car, and you’ll see!”

I took another drag and sluggishly put out the cigarette. Then I lazily opened the door. A whole eternity of time passed until my left foot stepped out on the ground, then even more until my other foot followed, and after that, I lingered for two and a half times longer until I finally closed the door and crawled out from under the shadow of the tree like a hundred and fifty-year-old Cayman turtle who had seen everything in her very long life and she was awfully tired of it. I just wanted to humiliate my assistant as much as possible.

Lara patiently endured my mockery.

At last, we went to check out the yard. I immediately realized what her problem was. Along the upper end of the fence, ugly-looking barbed wire was installed, and some cables were interlaced in the wire netting below. I wasn’t sure about their purpose, but they probably measured the electric resistance to alert security staff should anyone try to jump over. Either that, or they were simply supposed to deliver a critical amount of electric power to the intruders’ bodies and grill them like toast on the fence. In any case, it was stupid for us even to consider getting in.

“Well?” I turned to Lara.

“Well?” She glanced at me and looked inside the yard.

“No fucking way,” I just said.

After that, I turned back and went to sit in the car. I still had enough common sense not to commit such a horrible suicide at night. By the way, the horizon had been getting lighter for some time now, and the morning was about to break any minute, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t planning to do it even during the day!

Naturally, my refusal didn’t make my assistant give up her lame idea. She continued her nervous pacing around for about half an hour more; she came back to the car at least twenty times to pull wry faces at me and then returned to the fence to throw at least thirty sticks at it, hoping for god knows what to happen; and in the end, she squatted there, helpless. Luckily, she was terribly afraid of electricity—I realized that back in the room with the floorboards when we tested the weird machinery—because otherwise, she would have definitely killed herself.

When she grew tired of squatting, she suddenly felt the urge to pee—probably because of the strong emotions she experienced—and she hid behind a small shrub to pull her pants down. Her bare ass immediately stuck out at the other end without her realizing it because the shrub wasn’t the right size for the job. After she was done, she came to the car to place her butt in the seat next to mine, and right at this moment, I felt the urge to pee too.

I looked out the window for a suitable place. Unlike Lara, I had no intention of whipping through the task, and I wanted to take my time and find a quiet, secluded spot in the bushes—away from the road, civilization, and all the unpleasant things in my life. I had just grabbed the handle to open the door when, all of a sudden, a loud noise echoed in the night. We heard the voice of a Porsche roaring hoarsely, and in the next moment, the car rushed thunderously through the main gate, which opened just before the vehicle blew it to smithereens.

Anticipating what would happen, I quickly removed my foot from the accelerator, and Lara—true to her nature—didn’t miss her chance to stomp on it. However, what a surprise it was for her when the Ford didn’t move an inch or produce any sound. In her hurry and because of her amateur mind of an unlicensed driver, she had totally forgotten there were such things as keys and clutches. She promptly turned her head to look at me with stone-cold eyes full of hatred. I looked at her too.

“What? I gotta take a leak!” I explained unabashedly after letting her glare at me for about ten seconds.

“You got to take it right now?”

“Nature calls!” I shrugged.

“You’ll piss later!” she cried. “We’ll miss her!”

“Later when?” I wanted to know. “It took us more than half an hour to follow her here! And besides, what’s the point anyway if we know exactly where she’s headed?”

“She may not return to the hotel! She may go elsewhere!”

“Yeah, she may take her dog for a walk, for example! Or she may fix herself up with a quickie. What will we do then? Hide under the bed?”

“You’re such a dumbass!” Lara shouted angrily and threw herself onto the gas again. Only this time, she reached her hand out to turn the key, after which she messed with the gears too. The car shook nervously and suddenly jumped, and then the three of us flew right toward the trees.

“Take it!” my co-pilot screamed the next moment, trying to push the steering wheel in my hands as if it were a TV joystick or something.

However, it was already too late for that. We simply stood no chance of cutting through the forest without hitting at least a thousand trees, and in our case, even the first one was enough. We bumped into its trunk two seconds later.

“Look what you did!” the candidate for a driver’s license cried desperately, spreading her hands to show me.

I craned my neck above the dashboard to see what exactly I had done. The car’s hood was bent pretty badly, as were probably the radiator grille and the front bumper. Due to the accident, the headlights stared at each other now, and our vehicle had acquired a grumpy look.

“Maybe if you hadn’t played race-the-fucking-car-without-knowing-how-to-drive-first, and if you weren’t such a slow and incompetent student, nothing so terrible would have happened!” I said composedly.

The blond-haired Niki Lauda just grabbed her head in her hands and puffed heavily.

I ignored her scene and got out of the vehicle to see if there were any leaks. Fortunately, everything appeared to be all right, and it seemed the damage wasn’t as serious as I expected. Luckily, we met the other participant in the car accident too early—before we gained enough speed—and it worked out in our favor. The other participant, by the way, was a very tall, robust, ten-year-old pine tree—the last model, given how rarely they produce new ones. It had suffered the collision with dignity, soaring above our heads, silent and proud, without threatening to sue us or wanting to know what we were thinking. Except for the aforementioned damages, our Ford was fine too.

I returned to my seat, sat in it, and tried to start the engine. It coughed a couple of times and then purred into action. I started maneuvering diligently between the trees, which proved to be quite a task because, when they sprouted, they hadn’t considered the possibility that someday they might need to move around to help a reckless Ford—parked recklessly among them—find its way back to the road.

Nevertheless, I managed to free the car from the tough situation after ten minutes of trying, at the cost of bringing half of the wood’s foliage with us. At least we had an excellent disguise now, although there was no one to hide from. Lara remained silent the entire time and looked gloomily out her window.

Soon I drove back along the road without commenting on the subject. My assistant didn’t talk either, and at some point, I thought, satisfied, “There’s really a way to make her shut her stupid mouth after all. You just have to let her drive for five seconds!”

A little more than half an hour later, with our front bumper rattling like an old tractor, we entered the city’s outskirts. When we approached our neighborhood, I swerved the car toward the canal, far enough from Eternity and Cacadulu. I found an out-of-the-way place that seemed to be another improvised dumping ground and informed Lara that I wanted to get rid of the vehicle. Instead of replying, she picked up the remaining dope from the glove box and left silently. I got out too. Then I put the Ford in neutral and pushed it down the slope, letting it plop into the shallow water and tumble to one side with its butt sticking up in the air. In the morning, someone was probably going to find it here, but I didn’t care. Everything around was junk anyway.

Afterward, we just walked to our hotel. We quietly moved along the backside of Eternity without anything unpleasant happening to us, and soon we turned toward Cacadulu. In the parking lot, I saw Sandra’s red Porsche, and the look of it made me shiver.

I stared at it dejectedly. I felt like a little stupid mouse who returned to the house for more cheese, totally ignoring the fact that this time, there might be a cat in the basement instead of a treat. I wondered how long it would be until our frequent night walks in the neighborhood came to the attention of anyone concerned, and I decided it wouldn’t be long. Now that Sandra turned out to be involved too, and with our dandruff-haired friend knowing everything about us, things were going to get pretty hot pretty soon. I just hoped we would have enough time to change the hotel before the latter came to break our bones with his crutches!

With such gloomy thoughts in my head, after a few minutes, Lara and I started climbing up the fire escape toward the fifth floor. I felt dog-tired, and my stomach hurt—probably because of all the stress and because I still wanted to go to the toilet. When we finally reached our room and entered, I was barely holding my pee, and I crawled to the bathroom on my last legs, unsure if I would make it there before it was too late. It was a close shave, really, because it literally sprayed back into my eyes when it hit the bowl! Somewhere at this point, I must have fallen asleep.

©2022 S.T. Fargo


Damn you, Detective!—Chapter 18 | a Crime Story by S.T. Fargo

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