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21


I spent the entire evening shopping for clothes and trying the local food. I had brought nothing here—not even boxer shorts, except those on my ass—and the situation was urgent. Incidentally, it didn’t happen to be such a terrible experience as I had thought it would be. I generally despise shopping because I never know what I want to buy, but in this hot weather, what I needed was just ordinary shirts, some underwear, and a spare pair of pants. If I were an indigenous man, I wouldn’t even need half of these things because local people didn’t bother to put anything on except for a pair of shorts. I was a newcomer, however, and I still wanted to dress according to the northern fashion, so I bought an abundant amount of shirts and t-shirts. Most of my clothes had local motifs stamped on them—palms, flowers, yachts, lonely beaches, and bitches on lonely beaches. I looked like a clown, and I felt like a clown, but here in Tutuila, it actually meant elegant dressing!

As for the food, the situation turned out to be a little bit more complicated. I didn’t know what the local food had been like before the Indian invasion but now, it was so spicy and so hot that every time I tried it, I had to breathe like a dragon—spitting fire and ketchup everywhere around me. I also had my doubts about the food quality and its origin. Local Indians were eating just everything, including rats, a specific kind of cockroach, and palm worms—the last one, they even considered a delicacy!

After a few unsuccessful experiments and a lot of wandering the streets hungry, I made my peace with the children’s menu—the food they fed to little children here before they started eating “normal” food. It was not so spicy and it was less extravagant. Everybody looked at me weirdly when I ordered it but I didn’t care—it was a matter of my survival. I also found a cute little restaurant near my hotel where they served Korean food. It was weird too but it looked safer. Most of the time, however, I had to rely on the cooking gondola in my room—the 3D food printer. It printed pretty decent sandwiches and snacks.

Early on the next morning, I went to a special marketplace behind the yacht port to meet another urgent need of mine. I had to buy a weapon. Merchants were predominantly Chinese here and they offered semi-legal or even illegal pieces in open carts right on the street. I needed a gun because after the turbulence of the previous day, I was starting to feel unsafe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend much because I didn’t know how long I would stay on the island and how much money I would need. I was in a true dilemma—good positron pieces were too expensive, but the cheaper guns were unreliable.

I wandered for almost two hours around the place and the experience was thrilling. There was a true variety of weapons, including old alien technologies, which I wasn’t going to buy but I was curious to see. Except for the famous positron guns, the rest were more exotic than efficient. They harmed specific alien organs, which people didn’t have and I wondered why the merchants were selling them here. Then I thought it was most probably because of the weapon collectors—there were many of them around.

Eventually, I decided on a piece, which had three totally unreadable Chinese symbols as the trademark, and although I had some doubts about it, it was cheap enough at least. The merchant assured me it could blow up a man to a thousand pieces but it looked rather funny and threatened to blow me into pieces if I had the recklessness to use it! Nevertheless, I paid for the thing because I suspected my weapon’s permit was not valid here and I hoped that in a situation with the authorities, the police would consider my “toy” to be just that—a toy.

In fact, I didn’t feel much safer after I had bought it. As everywhere else on Earth, villains here were using positron guns, which were capable of evaporating your heart or brain in a second and leaving just an empty space in your chest or scull. I was only going to enrage my enemies and make them revengeful with my funny little thing, but I had no choice—it was better than no gun at all.

After getting so improperly armed, I went back to my hotel and tried to find something on the Internet regarding Greenspace and their weird trade activities in the region. I didn’t dig up too much. Aside from the ordinary deals like rare animals and exotic meat from endangered species, lately they had started buying up ammonia in their purchase hubs throughout the world, one of which was located here on the island of Ofu as Peularia had informed me. Nobody knew for sure why they needed the ammonia. According to some people, they were trying to make explosives and methamphetamine out of it through Birch reduction, but there was no evidence to support such a conclusion. I kept surfing but I didn’t find anything interesting about Menelaus’ projects either. There were only speculations. In between other things, however, I came across some news about the upcoming auction for Britain.

It turned out they were really doing it after all! At first, I had thought someone would eventually reason with Ranganathan but no—he had already set the date—the next afternoon, and the company to conduct the auction—Sotheby’s. Two bidders had expressed readiness to participate. One of them was an Indian corporation, behind which the Indian Central Bank stood, and the other was a Chinese conglomerate of firms. China had disintegrated almost eight years ago but it still held a huge portion of the world currency reserves and it had very strong chances. Quite naturally, President Ranganathan supported the Indian firm but the result of the auction was rather unclear. And the funny thing actually was that virtually, Britain had already been an Indian territory for at least a decade—half of its population were Indians now!

After almost an hour of searching on the Internet and reading some other news, I managed to hit something in relation to my case at last. I was studying the map of Tutuila, when I came across a very small island named Swains some four hundred and fifty kilometers north of here. It was where the Spitting Champion from the harbor had wanted to carry my fake stuff to! The coral rock was part of the Pirate Territories in former Indonesia, and there was a docking station on it—the only one in the region, in fact. As I thought about it, I suddenly remembered that Menelaus’ company was doing the rounds between these stations in space and I wondered why the captain of “Mountain Cougar” had made that offer to me. Obviously, the place was very special!

“The arrival of my Greenland ‘friends’ here just can’t be a coincidence!” I thought puzzled. “There must be a good reason for their coming and maybe Menelaus had had something to do with the ammonia trade before he died. Maybe they’re trying to build on his plan now!” Moreover, Bjornson had all the means to do so in terms of contacts in the region and knowledge of chemistry, and besides, she had clearly allied with Sengupta!

Somewhere around noon, the heat in my room became truly devastating and I got terribly tired and sleepy from all the reading. After considering the situation, I decided that speculating would lead me nowhere and that I needed some help. I quickly put on one of my brand-new shirts—the one with the sexy mermaid riding a motorcycle—then I hopped into a pair of jeans, and went down the stairs.

The heat immediately hammered into my forehead as soon as I stepped out of the hotel. I stopped and looked about for some shadowy street to go along but there was no escaping from the sun because it was right above the city. I strolled for a while without following any particular direction, and in under ten minutes, I already wanted to shoot myself in the head. With the weird device in my pocket, however, I was afraid I would just suffer more! Fortunately, very soon I saw a car rental agency and walked into the office to pay for the cheapest vehicle they had—an ancient Ford-Laser GLXi with a tank full of fuel. My idea was to leave the concrete capital of American Samoa, at least for a couple of hours, and hit the province. I quickly arranged all the formalities and shortly after that, I was driving on Route 001 to Fagaitua Bay where the house of Inspector Gzundis was. At least her business card read so and I really hoped she would be home when I arrived.

As soon as I left Pago Pago, I felt significantly better. I rolled down all the windows and the air was breathable again. After a quarter of an hour, my car started coughing terribly and its radiator was giving off a little bit of smoke. I felt a bit sorry for being so stingy and not taking my time to choose a better vehicle but it was too late now. The car ran on petrol and it wasn’t automatic—the model was from the two thousands and I didn’t even know such cars still existed. Despite the smoke, however, the poor thing kept moving.

Incidentally, the road I took turned out to be weird and somewhat hard to follow. They had obviously patched every one hundred meters of it to the previous part and the “stitches” between the sections were not quite even. Because of the bumps, I reduced the speed and the my Ford performed better after that. The slower pace also gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery more and I saw a couple of burning huts in the villages near the road. This time, no ideas for helping anyone flashed across my mind. Some half an hour later, and an incidental radiator water refill, I successfully reached my destination, as the primitive navigation system informed me. I tucked the car under the shadow of a tree for a well-earned rest and then I stepped outside to look around.

A magnificent bay stretched out before my eyes, with the town of Fagaitua in the distance on my left and Alega Beach on my right. The terrain seemed strangely terraced and resembled an Asian rice field. A little bit down the slope ahead of me, I saw a beautiful lonely house, perched on a small hillock, in which Inspector Gzundis presumably lived. There were no other houses around and a narrow, paved path was winding down toward it between the heavy shadows of old fig trees. On both sides of the path, there were lines of low-grown flower shrubs. The area seemed very nice and peaceful. I slowly walked down and thought what it would be like if I lived here. I wondered whether I would have been a different Murphy—not the one who did nothing but get himself into trouble. The tranquility of the place almost made me believe I could change here. A few minutes later, still dreaming, I crossed the carefully trimmed front lawn of the house and pushed the button beside the massive, red oak door. Then I waited.

At first, nothing happened and I thought Gzundis was not home. Perhaps I should’ve given her a call before coming, as good manners demanded—I could’ve used the telephone in my hotel—but I hadn’t done it. I didn’t know why. Probably I was hoping to surprise the inspector and her charming assistant in the middle of something; they were both so hot that I still couldn’t drive the scene from the lobby bar out of my head. I had even fantasized a little about it while driving here!

I stayed there for a couple of minutes, to no avail. Then I turned around, disappointed, and wondered whether to head back to my hotel or wait in the car up on the road. I had just taken a few steps back, still hesitating, when I sensed someone’s presence behind the large wooden door. It was very weird actually. I didn’t hear any noise but I had felt it in some strange, transcendental way. Then the door suddenly opened and Nereidi appeared in the doorway. I looked at her and caught my breath, stunned.

The girl had her long brown hair loose and the breeze was scattering it across her beautiful face, while her green eyes looked at me mystifyingly from behind. Her smile was somehow secretive. On her tall, slender body, she had a short white dress, the length of a long t-shirt, and the fabric was so delicate that it was almost transparent. The girl wore nothing underneath.

We looked at each other silently for a while and then she smiled again, before turning around and leaving the door open behind her. As she walked inside, her silhouette seemed to float in the semi-darkness and the whiteness of the dress made her look like a ghost from an erotic dream. The girl was barefoot and she walked on her toes, barely touching the ground.

I stayed in the doorway, hypnotized, and I didn’t know what to do. After a while, Nereidi turned her head back to see if I was following—she did it pretty much in the way people would look at a puppy—and her eyes urged me to do so. In a state of trance, I took a step and walked after her but I felt empty inside—my head was veiled in a cloud of white smoke and my feet were moving automatically. I had totally lost my ability to think.

We slowly walked through a long hallway and various rooms passed by me on both sides. The air was cool and fragranced and what was most weird—none of the rooms had a door attached. Even the bathrooms and the toilets were open to the whole. I had never seen a place like this before! At its end, the hallway poured into a very large living room, which seemed to be even weirder. It was partly open to the environment outside of the house and it was fascinating. The room had just one solid wall and a ceiling and the walls on my left and right were white curtains, gently waving in the breeze. The one in front of me was missing too but it was open to the restless ocean, framing it in a magnificent way. To a point, the room resembled a porch but it was actually part of the house.

“Come on in, Mr. Mellrow!” I heard the voice of Gzundis as soon as we entered the room. She was standing upright by a large movable table in the middle of the space with her back to me. She wore fluorescent orange overalls. “Have a seat here on the couch. I didn’t know you were coming, otherwise I would’ve dressed more appropriately, you know!”

“Oh, please, don’t worry!” I mumbled, almost inarticulately. “I was just driving by and I wanted to see you for just a moment.”

I walked to the couch to take a seat but stopped when I passed the table, looking at it terrified. Peularia had elbow-length rubber gloves on and her arms were sunk deeply into something on the counter, which looked too much like a dead body. It was rather unidentifiable but it couldn’t be anything else.

“Would you like something to drink?” the inspector asked me without looking up. “Tea, coffee, fresh juice? Nereidi will serve you!”

I turned my head to the Indian and she smiled innocently at me. When the curtains waved and the bright sunlight flooded into the room, her white dress virtually disappeared, leaving her naked. She had small dark nipples and a little tattoo around her bellybutton. Her crotch area was bald.

“I could have…a cup of…coffee, I guess!” I faltered. I really needed one so I could focus on something and stop staring at Nereidi.

“Of course! I hope I’m not bothering you with my work here!” the inspector went on. “It’s not easy to live in paradise, you know. It’s too peaceful and sometimes you have to push things a little in order…to get some fun!”

I sat silently on the couch and looked at the movable table again. The thing on it was about a meter and a half long and it was skinned. Weirdly enough, there was no smell in the room. At first, I had embraced the idea that it was some kind of training corpse—for autopsies—but after her statement now, I was not so sure anymore.

“I hope you didn’t kill this one personally and it wasn’t just for fun!” I said in a hollow voice, trying to pick up some distinctive idea about the flesh on the table.

Gzundis suddenly raised her head and sharply pushed her protective glasses aside. They swiveled to the right of her face.

“But I did!” she fixed her grayish eyes on me with a deadpan expression on her face. Her look was cold and somehow remote—it made the skin on my back itch. Then she suddenly laughed quite vocally. “Oh, I’m just joking, you should’ve seen your face! Don’t worry, this’s a goat here!”

She pushed her glasses back onto her nose and went on digging into the corpse, unabashed, while leaving me in complete darkness regarding which part of my question she was joking about: about killing the goat, about it being fun, or about both.

“So what brought you here, Mr. Mellrow?” the inspector asked a few seconds later, still absorbed in her work. “How can I help you?”

I looked around the room, confused, and at first, I said nothing. I just didn’t know where to start and I didn’t know whether I could trust her. Eventually, I decided I could. She was certainly the most trustable person on this island, at least of all the people I knew here. For what it was worth, she hadn’t arrested me or turned me back to Greenland, even though she’d had a good reason to do so.

“You know, I need some help, Miss Gzundis,” I started hesitantly. “I need to find a woman and since you gave me your business card yesterday, I just thought—”

Peularia promptly stopped her work and pushed her glasses aside again, but she did it slowly this time.

“You promised you wouldn’t investigate murders here, Mr. Mellrow!” she reminded me coldly.

“And I’m not!” I said evasively. “But I’m kind of unable to go home right now. Things are rather complicated there.”

“You’re unable to go home because the police want you?”

“Well, not exactly,” I didn’t like her assumption but I didn’t want to bring up my Chinese problem either. “I need the woman to clarify the possibility of some other woman inheriting DuPont’s business. This is a possible motive for the latter to carry out the guy’s killing, and knowing the answer would help me a lot. Then I could go back to Greenland.”

“Is she a legal heir—the other woman?”

“I don’t know—that’s the problem! She might be Menelaus’ wife but I’m not sure because she’s using a false name.”

“You know, I don’t quite understand your story, Mr. Mellrow,” the inspector shook her head disapprovingly. “It sounds ridiculous! In particular, I don’t understand the ‘maybe’ part. Is this other woman an heir or not? And why would she use a false name if she is? And besides, inheriting claims are easily verified; it’s a straightforward process!”

“You see, the problem is that their marriage is kind of fictitious. It took place on Mars and it has no legitimacy here on Earth. However, now the woman’s in a relationship with a guy who almost certainly has something to do with Menelaus’ murder and this makes me think she’s using him to change the situation!”

“How could she change something so strictly described in the legislation?” Gzundis pursed her lips, not convinced at all.

“I don’t know. It’s quite complicated, as I said,” I mumbled uncertainly. My explanation was very stupid and I knew it but unfortunately, I couldn’t deliver a better one. Besides, my hands were tied here without the inspector’s help.

“Yes, I can see it’s complicated,” Peularia noted thoughtfully. “What’re the names of the people you’re looking for?”

“The maybe wife is Sharon Vorderbruggen, or Sharon Alebruggen, or any other Sharon in fact—she tends to use various names. The other guys are Marty Cork and Bobby Bjornson. The first one is Sharon’s lover and the second one is the woman who can throw some light on the events.”

“And you’re certain these two are real names?”

“Bjornson has a record with the GBI so that’s real for sure. GBI is the Greenland Bureau of Investigations,” I explained. “As for Cork’s name, my source of information is quite reliable too—I’m almost sure about it!”

Gzundis looked at me for a good twenty seconds without saying anything. Her eyes were examining me very closely.

“Well, I could probably do the search for you,” she said at last, slowly removing her glasses and putting them on the table, “although I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s not good, mostly for your safety, you know. I think you should go back to Greenland before you get yourself in serious trouble here!”

At this point, Nereidi quietly came back into the room carrying a cup of coffee and a little plate with a brownie on it. She slowly walked to me as if hovering above the floor and knelt down to put the plate on the carpet near my feet. As she did so, her virtually naked right breast lightly brushed my knee with the tip of her nipple. The girl smelled of gardenia, which was very nice. She handed me the cup of coffee and walked to her boss, standing behind her back to cuddle her but all the while, she kept eye contact with me.

“You know, I can’t go back to Greenland, Miss Gzundis,” I said, stupefied by the presumably innocent gesture of the girl. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m in terrible trouble both here and there. You see, in Greenland, I’m kind of wanted by the Chinese mafia because of this case. I have to find a way out of it but in order to do so I need to talk to at least some of these three guys here!”

Peularia had been listening to me with her gloved hands still raised over the corpse and ready for work, but now she slowly lowered them. Meanwhile, Nereidi’s hands had moved to her boss’ belly and her lips were gently kissing the inspector’s shoulder. Both the women were looking at me fixedly and it felt insane because I couldn’t concentrate at all!

“From the very beginning, I knew there was something terribly wrong about your case!” Peularia admitted still showing no reaction to her assistant’s cuddling. “In fact, that’s the reason why I didn’t send you back to Greenland as the professional ethics demands. I’ve been a PI once and I know that when you work alone, things can get messed up quite easily!”

“When I started this case, Miss Gzundis, it looked like a simple job and I didn’t think even for a single moment that I would be involved in a murder case. However, at least two of these three guys I’ve told you about, knew it and worked very hard for it!”

“That’s what I’m saying!” Peularia turned her head slightly to give Nereidi a brief kiss. “The anonymous call, which I received about you, came from a woman. She said you were wanted by the police in Greenland and you were coming to hide here. Then she hung up. I had to check it up of course and I checked up on you too, and when I found out you were a PI and not exactly wanted by the police but rather a witness, I knew that something had probably gone wrong.”

“You’re a very smart woman, Miss Gzundis,” I said quietly, trying not to look fixedly at what her assistant was doing. “What was the voice like? I mean was it high-pitched, or low-pitched, or what?”

The inspector looked at me, not understanding.

“High-pitched or low-pitched compared to what, Mr. Mellrow? You obviously differentiate between the voices of the two women, but one of them, I haven’t heard. It was neither the first, nor the second!”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I admitted thoughtfully. Sharon’s voice was a bit lower but just a tiny bit—Peularia definitely couldn’t know the difference. “By the way, whoever warned you about my arrival, also warned a guy named Sengupta? Do you know him? He seems to be a local man.”

Gzundis gave me another dubious look. Her assistant’s left leg embraced her thigh from behind and the girl’s lips were on her boss’ neck as she ruffled her hair.

“Yes, I do, of course! It’s a common Indian male name here. In fact, I may know quite a few!” the inspector said.

“No, I mean a Sengupta who can afford a limo as big as a submarine.” I desperately tried to stare at the corpse on the table.

“Then, I assume you’re talking about Chandrakant Sengupta.”

“Yeah, I think so! I think that’s the name!”

“And what did he tell you?” Peularia slowly took off her left glove and stretched her arm to caress Nereidi’s thigh. Her hand went up, and for a moment, it bared her assistant’s hip. It didn’t matter that much because it was virtually naked even before that, but anyway, it made me look aside.

“Well, he had me in his limo,” I said vaguely, “and I think he wanted to warn me not to mess with him. I just wondered why he thought I would and why I should care about him.”

Gzundis pulled her hand back and started taking off her other glove. Nereidi’s orphaned thigh tried to follow, seeking contact. She had truly gorgeous legs!

“Oh, you’d better care, Mr. Mellrow!” Peularia looked at me meaningfully. “Formally, he’s the boss of ‘Sengupta Transports Limited’ but his official business is rather a cover. In fact, he’s the boss of the South Pacific branch of the Indian mafia. But you know what? With your Chinese friends back in Greenland and this one here, you can actually brag about being wanted by half the crime syndicates in the world. It’s quite an achievement! Isn’t it funny?”

The inspector quietly laughed at her own joke. Nereidi laughed too but her voice was almost on the verge of ultrasound. I barely heard an undistinguished bubbling mixing with the sound of the ocean coming from the outside. If she hadn’t moved her mouth, I wouldn’t have known it was her at all.

“And what’s the business of the South Pacific branch specifically?” I chose not to react to the joke. “What do they do here?”

“Oh, it varies! It’s mostly gambling, female flesh and drugs—as everywhere else in the world, but there’s illegal garbage disposal too and some other things. Many of the islands hereabout are dumps, you know; it’s a very profitable thing. Why’re you asking about his business?”

“I wondered whether it could have something to do with the ammonia fuss. You said the entire region was crazy about it.”

Gzundis looked pensively at me for a moment, but then she shook her head.

“No, I don’t think so. He’s not that kind of a person.” She slowly turned around and ruffled Nereidi’s hair gently. “You should understand that Indians are not strictly business orientated people, Mr. Mellrow. They’re not all about money like the Chinese. Money is just a means for them to seek beauty and pleasure. I think the guy wants respect, and the chemical madness is not his thing. Do you actually know what his name means?”

“No, I don’t!” I answered in a hollow voice, wondering what this all actually meant. Was it a show intended for me or was it just for them—to increase their excitement?

“Chandrakant means ‘beloved by the Moon’. Isn’t it beautiful? Both Indians and Indian names are very poetic, Mr. Mellrow!” Gzundis tenderly drew Nereidi’s head closer to her and gave her a kiss on her mouth. This time it took much longer than before and I had to watch the game of their tongues for a while.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I mumbled vaguely, thinking about the “poetry”, I had seen on the harbor. I said this mechanically because I just had to say something—I couldn’t stay there and watch them silently!

“His name also means ‘a lucky guy’,” Peularia went on rather absentmindedly because her thoughts were already on Nereidi’s body. She was helping her assistant lose her dress; it fell to the floor by their feet. “But ‘there’s not much luck around a lucky guy’ Indians also say. I would be very careful if I were you, I mean!”

I made a gesture of understanding, which no one saw.

“Years ago, it was all different here; there were no Indians around,” I heard the inspector’s dreamy voice after a while. “It wasn’t so hot then and the island was bigger but it was also more boring. And then they came and changed everything! Fagaitua now climbs half a meter up the hills every single year and they partly rebuild Route 001 once every three years!”

This time I didn’t answer. Suddenly, I realized I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say—it was ridiculous to discuss climate change while watching two gorgeous women getting undressed and slowly preparing to have sex. Peularia lovingly started to caress Nereidi’s face with the back of her left hand and the fingers of her other hand entangled with her assistant’s fingers.

“They’ve changed absolutely everything! Nothing is the same anymore!” she kept talking without looking at me. “So if you have no further questions, Mr. Mellrow, you may go now. Nereidi and I intend to take a bath and utilize our lunch break. I’ll check on the guys you want and let you know accordingly. Meanwhile, I wish you a really nice day!”

I awkwardly stood up. With smooth movements, as if she was swimming underwater, the Indian girl had already started unbuttoning Peularia’s overalls. Neither woman was paying any attention to me and I think they wouldn’t have even noticed if I’d stayed there watching them. I didn’t want to, however, because I felt redundant. Exactly three minutes later, after passing by all the doorless rooms and bathrooms in this weird house, I quietly stepped outside onto the front lawn.

The heat immediately slapped me right in the face. The air was like a hot soup and the contrast was shocking. I thoughtfully looked at the ocean, still under the influence of the scene I had just witnessed. The water was splashing restless and wild at the foot of the steep terrain, on top of which the house was perched. While watching it and recalling Peularia’s words, I suddenly realized why the shore had resembled an Asian rice field to me. It was not deliberately terraced—it was quite noticeable how Alega Beach had shrunk many times and climbed up the hills after the ocean had repetitively bitten at it. They were really competing with time here!

I slowly turned around, sweating, and walked dizzily toward my car up on Route 001. I hoped my ancient Ford had gathered enough strength in the shade to take me back to Pago Pago because I myself had none. The extreme weather and the hot scene in the house had sucked me dry entirely. Funnily enough, Indians were to blame for both of those things. It felt weird because back in Greenland, we tend to blame the Chinese for everything!


©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!
(www.stfargo.com)

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 21 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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