Amerikano Hiaika, (c) 1990 by Wil McCarthy, Part 2

They cracked him on the head before stuffing him in back of the police car, and the bruise was a hard lump now at the base of his skull.

Poor Billy-chan just couldn't stay out of trouble, you know? The Edoyu bathhouse had been wonderful, fully worth his last two hundred yen. He'd sat on a stool and hosed off weeks worth of grime and sweat, then settled into a bath cranked all the way up to 50 celcius. The water had boiled away his stiffness and most of his pain, allowing him almost to forget. The trouble came while he was getting dressed. The thought of climbing back into Billy's reeking garments had been less than appealing, but he'd found some much nicer attire in a basket near his, along with a wristwatch, telephone and wallet. He was slipping on a new pair of shoes, almost ready to go, when somebody started yelling.

Nice timing, Billy.

Neon billboards and particolored streetlights whirled by now, as the cops rode him in. Nick allowed himself a flicker of smugness through his new pain; they'd taken all the stuff out of his pockets, but were in too much of a hurry to remove his new clothes. Somebody at the ol' bathhouse was going home naked, or else in Billy-chan's suit.

His glum mood settled back upon him. He was going to jail! Of all the things that could happen, this was the worst. There was no way... His eyes locked on a street sign, glowing with the pale green and white of solid-state fluorescence. Jingu-dori street! They were taking him to Americatown, then. What else to do with a scrawny, drug-addict gaijin? A trace of hope brought his mind back to life.

Rubber squealed in protest as the cops pulled a tight corner, throwing the handcuffed Tanner sideways, into the door of unyielding ceramic. The side of his face connected solidly. He recovered his balance quickly, but jerked his hands painfully behind him, trying to free one. His cheekbone! Another bruise, probably, for Billy-chan's collection. The desire, the need to touch it, was palpable. Bastards, he thought. He could hear their laughter through the opaque, centimeter thick partition partition.

He tried to think. Had he ever treated a collar this way? Busted him up, tossed him around like a bale of hay? Images occurred to him, the scruffy faces of a hundred A-town losers, the very lowlife it had been Tanner's job to control. A year ago, what would he have made of Billy Geist?

When the cop car screamed to a halt, Nick was ready for it, leaning back with his feet braced against the partition. They wouldn't get him twice, at least.

The left-side door popped open with a pneumatic whoomp, and rough hands grabbed him and hauled him off the seat. The cops, straight downtown types with blue-lacquered samurai armor, each grabbed an arm and hauled him up the front steps of the Americatown Keisatsu. "Go easy!" He protested, with Billy-chan's less-than-adamant voice. "Hanashitekure, you bastards!"

He was hustled through the airlock and into the reception area. He sighed quietly. The familiarity of this place, the phony wood paneling, the potted palms on either side of the main desk! It was almost like coming home. Across the room he could see his old desk, and all around him were people he knew.

"Kono otoko ga Edoyu de tanin no fuku to saifu totte irutokoro o tsukamaeta," one of the cops told Raymond, the man currently behind the main desk. "Omaesantachi no mono daro. Tsuretekite yattazo."

Here is one of your citizens. Take him.

The two cops threw Tanner to the floor facedown, turned around with almost military precision, and marched out the way they'd come.

"Your mamas," Nick heard Raymond mutter. Then, to Nick: "Well, what are you waiting on? Go on, get up."

New pain, fresh off the grocer's shelf, coursed through Tanner's rented body. He groaned, and struggled up into an awkward kneeling position with his forehead still resting on the floor. Suddenly, his wrists were jerked upward violently, and he found himself in a bent-knee standing position. Fire raced up through both arms.

"The man just told you to get up," a voice behind him said. Sounded sort of like Takahumi Smith.

He was led forward, still painfully bent over, until his stomach was resting against the front desk. Raymond had out a pencil, and was scribbling in a 340A arrest form. "Place of incident, Edoyu bathhouse, go-san-ichi Takanodai." He looked up from the form. "You stole a man's clothing?"

Raymond's face, so familiar to Nick after their years together, held an alien hardness. His black skin seemed somehow sinister, and his eyes surveyed Nick dispassionately, with no sign of recognition.

"Ray," he said hoarsely. He straightened up. "Ray, it's me. It's Nick Tanner."

A look of tired irritation swept across Raymond's features. Nick glanced over his right shoulder at Takahumi, and saw the same expression there, perhaps a little grimmer.

"The man standing behind you is officer Smith," Raymond said wearily, looking back down at his form. "He's going to remove your handcuffs, and then you're going to place your hands on the glass plate in front of you."

"It's me Raymond," Nick tried. "The guy who whips your butt at raquetball every time. I'm encoded in an overlay drug--"

Officer Smith gave the handcuffs a good hard jerk, so the manacle squeezed into Nick's wrists like a narrow vice. "Shut up you dirtbag. We don't wanna hear it."

Tanner sucked in a sharp breath, but made no sound. He closed his eyes and held out his wrists behind him. After a few excruciating seconds, Takahumi unlocked the cuff and removed it. Blood flowed back into Nick's hand.

"Put your hands on the plate," Raymond instructed with evident disgust, not looking up from his report. Feeling lost, Nick laid his palms out on the cool glass rectangle, straightened out his fingers.

The desk beeped. "Geistu, William R." It stated in stiff feminine tones, thickly accented. "Two-three-dzero-dzero California Street, capsulu fo-one-nine. Americatown, Tokyo. Prior arrest, foteen. Prior conviction, five, misudemeanor. Currently wanted for possession of illegal material, criminal nonpayment of housing cost."

Raymond cleared his throat. "Well," he said, still not looking up. "We got us a regular dirtbag. Take him downstairs."

Takahumi took hold of his arm and pulled him away from the desk.

Nick looked at him helplessly. "Smith, come on. It's not all that hard to believe, is it? I mean, you know how well the overlay drugs are selling out there. Seepee, they call it."

Officer Smith said nothing. Tanner's eyes fell on a familiar

figure as he was led through the main office. "Dave!" He called out, holding his hands out before him like the heroine in a silent melodrama.

The man, Dave Huntington, turned around, raised his eyebrows. "Billy-chan!" He said, with a tone of delighted contempt. "Hey, nice to see you again, you little fuckup!"

Nick recoiled, his head spinning with contradictions. It was not only Nick Tanner who had strong memories of Dave. Dave was the beat cop around the Best Eastern hotel where Billy lived, and had arrested him no less than four times! What an asshole!

Takahumi dragged him through the room at a steady, unrelenting pace. Dave fell into the background. The "dungeon" staircase loomed.

Nick felt himself on the verge of angry tears. "What's going on here, Takahumi? Why won't you guys listen to me?"

"Downstairs," was the man's only reply. He pushed lightly on Tanner's shoulder, indicating that he, Tanner, should go first. He did so, descending the staircase in sulky silence. Once downstairs, he turned to face Takahumi, to look into his eyes and see what was going on there.

"Listen to me," he insisted, trying to overpower Billy-chan and speak as much like Nick Tanner as possible. "I'm your friend Nick Tanner. I've had my personality encoded in a CPO narcotic. This guy" (he rapped his chest with the fingers of both hands) "took a dose of it. I have two, three days left in here before I start wearing off, and--"

"I know all about it," Takahumi stated, pulling a keyring off his belt. He pointed at an empty cage. "Over there. Come on."

Nick stood his ground. "Listen to me! I'm trying to find the killer, okay? Was I supposed to rot there in the hospital for the rest of my life? Some bastard is walking around this city, and he murdered my Karen!"

Something passed briefly across Takahumi's face, a trace of sympathy, perhaps. But it vanished, and a stony anger took its place. "I don't want to hear another word out of you, okay? Nick Tanner was crazy when he died, not that I blame him. But you, you are a punk drug addict loser, and you have taken a drug that makes you walk and talk like a crazy Nick Tanner.

"And do you think you're the only one? Christ and Buddha, man, we get five of you in here every goddamn day! You're a regular one-man crime wave!"

Tanner took a step back, let himself fall dizzily against the cinderblock wall. Five of him every day? He had thought he was the only one. He was the Nick Tanner, right?

"Smith, it is me." There was an edge of hysteria in his voice. "I'm Nick Tanner!"

Takahumi snorted. "It's going around, buddy. You'll get over it." He jingled his keys and nodded in the direction of the empty jail cell.

"Officer Smith!" The voice echoed down sharply from the staircase, accompanied by the rapid slap of leather-soled shoes. A figure appeared in the archway, then stepped out into the light. A man in gray businesswear, white shirt, red tie. Hair greased back. A typical A-town lawyer, in other words.

"Officer Smith," the man announced crisply. "This person is to be remanded into my custody. I believe your instructions on this were quite clear."

Takahumi grunted, looking troubled. "Are you still here?"

"Yes." The attourney replied with a snarl. "I'm still here, and I intend to stay here until this crisis is resolved. The D.A.'s office has given me full authority to persue the matter."

"So I turn these guys over to you. What happens then? You let them go! These are dangerous people, mister!"

"Yes, so you've told me." The lawyer turned toward Tanner. "Mr. Geist, my name is Rodriguez. I'm the public defender assigned to your case. Computer set bail on you two minutes ago, and I've put down a conditional bond. Are you prepared to behave yourself if I assume custody of you?"

"Uh, sure," Nick agreed, thoroughly confused. As a rule, the wheels of justice turned slowly. Why would a city attourney take such unusual steps on his behalf?

"Well," Rodriguez said, smiling politely. "Let's go then."

He pointed an arm up the dark staircase, like a butler showing a guest to his room, and Tanner mounted the stairs and climbed. The echo of Rodriguez' expensive shoes followed him up.

"I better not catch him again!" Takahumi called up after them. "I better not catch any of 'em, Mr. Rodriguez, or it's your ass! You hear me?"

They walked out of the station in silence, and Tanner found himself ushered into Rodriguez' car. The lawyer climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine, and pulled out into the nighttime traffic.

"Here," he said, tossing something into Nick's lap. A manilla envelope.

Nick looked at it, startled, more puzzled than ever. He felt as though he were walking in a dream, the sort of dream where the scenery is constantly shifting, where doors open magically for you, and slam behind you when you go through. "What is it?" He managed to ask.

Rodriguez glanced at him and smiled. "Relax. You're Nick Tanner, right?" He stuck out a hand. "Me too. Nice to meet you."

Nick stared at the hand. "What are you talking about?"

"Whoops!" The lawyer replied, retracting the hand to steer around a mini-scooter. "I hate those things. They ought to make a special lane for them or something, you know?"

Nick knew. Scooter drivers behaved for all the world as if they wanted you to wipe them out. And of course, about ninteen times a day somebody did. Number one cause of fatality in Tokyo.

"Anyway, welcome to the Old Boy Network." Rodriguez continued. "What's going on is that I'm the Nick Tanner in charge of recruitment, and you're the Nick Tanner who'se just been recruited. I'm glad I caught you; we've got enough mavericks in this city now to fill a subway car."

"Mavericks," Nick said. He was beginning to catch on. "You mean like me, running around trying to solve things on my own. You've got some kind of coordinated effort going?"

"Right!" Rodriguez agreed, slapping the steering wheel. "We've got about fifty of us working together on it, and things are starting to fall into place. We have a witness who says the killer was a short man wearing black clothing. After the murder he ran down Azabu-dori. He threw the monowire sword away in a trash can

near the corner of Azabu-dori and Jingu-dori, and we've lifted a set of partial fingerprints off it."

"Fingerprints!" Nick exclaimed. "What kind of amateur leaves fingerprints!"

"We're not sure," Rodriguez answered. He was silent for a few moments as he negotiated a turn. "The prints seem kind of strange, and we're having them checked out. They may be some kind of trick to make us think the killer was an amateur. Anyway, we have a few leads we're following up. We've got people talking to the Yakuza all over town."

Nick frowned. "Wait. This is all happeneing too fast, I need to think. This sounds real organized. Where do I fit in?"

"Well," (another pause as Rodriguez pulled onto California Street) "That's not up to me. You'll find your instructions in that envelope there, along with a hundred thousand yen and a telephone number. Call in four times a day, and again any time you find something important. You can call if you have a question, too, but your job isn't to know everything. Okay?"

"Uh, sure." Nick said. He paused. "I, uh, I don't have a telephone, by the way."

"Take mine," Rodriguez told him, fishing in his suit pocket. He pulled out a black plastic case, about the size of an old cassette tape, and handed it to Nick. "I'll pick up another one in the morning."

"Expensive one," Nick observed, slipping it into his shirt pocket. The dreamy feeling was retreating, reality was asserting itself. It was funny, really, the way strange things started to seem normal after a while.

The car slowed, pulled over against the row of parked vehicles on the left side. Rodriguez put it in PARK. People honked angrily behind them, gave up and drove around. Traffic in the opposite lane protested briefly. Outside the window, a flashing sign announced: Best Eastern Hotel. Low Rates. Vacancy.

"What are we doing here?" Nick asked. Surely, this couldn't have anything to do with the investigation.

Rodriguez shrugged. "You live here, right?"

"I used to," Nick replied without thinking. "I, I mean Billy- chan used to. Got kicked out for not paying the bill."

"So pay it. You look dead, my friend. I imagine you've had a tough day, and I'd advise you to get some sleep."

Nick started. "Sleep! You're crazy, I'll be dead in three days! I've got to get working!" He paused. Working. What a frightful euphemism that was. What he really meant, of course, was that he had to go track down the man who'd sliced his wife in half. The thought was like an icicle through his heart. His eyes filled with sudden tears, and he choked back a sob.

"Whoa," Rodriguez said softly, putting a hand on Nick's shoulder. "Easy does it. I know how you feel, Nick. I know. But you've got get hold of it. Channel it."

Nick wiped an eye with the heel of his hand, sniffed. "It's okay. It's under control."

Rodriguez nodded. "Yeah." A pause. "In the envelope there, you'll find another dose of the CPO. That, plus your current dose, ought to last you through the week. Buy another hit when you can. You'll be okay."

Another dose! Nick clutched the envelope tightly to him. It hadn't occurred to him that he could prolong the overlay. "Thanks," he said, his voice almost a whisper. His deadline was gone. Suddenly, he felt very tired.

"Don't mention it." Rodriguez looked out through the window at the car parked beside them. "Have you got room to squeeze out?"

Nick tried the door. It opened about half a meter. "Yes," he answered. A thought occurred to him. "Hey, what makes a public attorney like you want to take a personality overlay drug, anyway?"

It was an important question. The RNA extraction process was lethal, so that any overlay personality was, by definition, suicidal. Who would want somebody like that driving their body around for three days?

Rodriguez shook his head. "Search me, Nick, I only work here. CPO is the hottest thing since designer cocaine, and I'll be damned if I know why. Look, I have to get back to the police station now. Take care of yourself, okay?"

"Sure," Nick said, getting out of the car. "Keep in touch."

He slammed the door. The car pulled out into the flow of traffic and was swept away.

Click here for Part Three.

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