Date:  Tue, July 9, 1996 9:57 PM EDT

From: Bottlenekk

Subj:  CHAPTER FOUR

To:     Edmundkaz, FifiOToole, SecraTerri

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Misfortune clung to Frank Peking's life like second-hand BVDs to a fat guy's ass.

In July. In Birmingham.

Nothing ever turned out the way it should for Peking. Take this damned Brokenjaw business, for example. He had envisioned the high-profile case as the big break that would finally put Frank Lee Peking on the map. Instead, it had put him flat on a hospital mattress that was lumpier than boarding house gravy. And now it had put him on the concrete steps of the Trailer Town Tabernacle, staring at a street address scribbled on a scrap of paper in his hand, and comparing it to the Gothic numerals on the church doors in front of him.

The numbers matched.

And Peking cursed under his breath.

This was simply the latest indignity that the Soup Bowl of Life had splattered all over the lap of Peking's Sta-Prest pants.

Things had started to go wrong back on the bus. Peking had made a near-fatal error in his selection of a sidekick. It wasn't that Peking disliked the cloying aroma of Hai Karate. The problem was that Peking had always been a Canoe man himself. And when his new partner's thick cloud of Hai Karate collided with Peking's own fogbank of Canoe, a strange and exotic hybrid gas was created.

Curiously, Peking was the only person on the bus affected by the halleucinogenic hybrid. Or so it seemed. Because none of the other passengers noticed when Amelia Earhart got on the bus in Louisville. Yes, THE Amelia Earhart. Peking's lifelong dream woman. Looking as young and vibrant as she'd looked on that MovieTone newsreel. It was her, alright. In the flesh. And when she slowly peeled off her flight suit and did a sensuous bump and grind down the aisle of the Greyhound, none of the other passengers noticed that, either. Which was probably why none of the other passengers stuffed all their folding money into that G-string with the tiny propeller on it.

The gas continued to cloud Peking's mind even after they arrived in Trailer Town. Emotionally exhausted and financially ruined after his encounter with Amelia, he'd collapsed in some sleazy video joint, desperately crying out for the only thing that he knew would restore him to health.

A big glass of sl....sl.....sl...........

Sloe gin.

But some mentally defective samaritan had misunderstood, and had forced a two-quart Slurpee down Peking's throat.

And not just any Slurpee.

A CHERRY Slurpee!

As the syrupy liquid hit Peking's taste buds, someone switched off the house lights in his brain and began projecting a mental movie on one of his dark cranial walls. "The Frank Lee Peking Story" was flashing before his eyes, in Technicolor. And the establishing scene showed young Frankie, a skinny seven-year-old, clothed only in white J.C. Penney Towncraft briefs and a pair of baggy blue socks, sitting on the edge of a white porcelain examining table.

Old Doc V., the kindly town allergist, was standing next to Peking, studying a clipboard and stroking his chin. The old man furrowed his brow, muttered something unintelligible, squinted one eye, rubbed his nose, then stroked his chin again. (Doc wasn't much of a physician, but everyone agreed that his Lionel Barrymore impression kicked some serious ass.) Finally, the old man sighed heavily and peered over the tops of his ancient spectacles.

"Frankie," he said. "I'm afraid I have some very bad news for you. Some very, very bad news."

"Just give it to me straight, Doc. I can take it," the brave young Peking said.

 

"Okay then," Doc V. replid. "You're deathly allergic to Cherry Slurpees."

"Cherry Slurpees?" Peking asked.

"That's right. Cherry Slurpees. I'm terribly sorry."

Peking absorbed the news quietly before he spoke again. "Uh.......Doc?"

"Yes, son?"

"What the hell's a Cherry Slurpee?"

"It's a beverage, Frankie. Or at least it will be. It hasn't actually been invented yet. Hell, this is only 1959, son. But when they do invent that drink - and believe me, they will - you stay away from it. Hear me? Because it'll kill you deader than a goddamn doornail. Why, giving Frankie Lee Peking a Cherry Slurpee would be like giving Superman a Kryptonite Blizzard."

"What's a Blizzard?" Peking asked.

"That's another drink that hasn't been invented yet," Doc explained.

"Yeah, I figured."

They both sat in silence for a moment. Then young Peking looked up again at the weathered, benevolent face.

"Golly, Doc. With all the drinks that haven't been invented yet, it sure is lucky for you that Mogen David is already here, and only two bucks a jug, huh?"

Old Doc V. chuckled good-naturedly and toussled the boy's hair. "Listen you little shitbox," he smiled. "In that freezer over there, I've got a cure for anybody who's got a bad case of smartass. It's a suppository the size of a bean burrito, and it's frozen solider than a Fudgesicle. In Fairbanks. In February. And if you don't stop screwing up this flashback sequence by calling attention to the anachronisms, I'm gonna show you what it would feel like if they held the goddam Ice Capades in your lower intestine. You catch my drift, Pencil Dick?"

Peking could still hear old Doc's gentle words of wisdom as he lay dying on the floor in Trailer Town, right next to a rack of "Hudson Hawke" videos.

The team of paramedics rushed in with the wicker stretcher, and the cologne gas played one last cruel joke on Peking's mind. He cracked open his eyes and saw Amelia Earhart standing in front of him again. She had her clothes on this time. And her hair was a little longer and a lot redder than he remembered. And she was wearing cowboy boots. And she was doing an enthusiastic little dance step, like she really had to pee or something. But just before he blacked out, Peking thought to himself that there was no more beautiful vision a man could take to his grave.

Fortunately, that wasn't necessary.

The Trailer Town Medical Center staff included the world's foremost expert on Slurpee Death Syndrome {SDS}. (Ironically, this same physician had gained his basic pharmaceutical knowledge in college, serving as Refreshments Chairman for the Students for a Democratic Society {SDS} - but that's another story.) So three days after the emergency Slurpeectomy, Peking was sitting up in his wicker hospital bed, taking sips of sloe gin through a hollow wicker tube, and accepting phone calls.

Phone calls?

Who the hell knew he was here? In Room 324 of the Trailer Town Medical Center? Peking grabbed the phone on the third ring, knocking the Trailer Town Times to the floor and revealing a front-page headline in 48-pt. Bodoni Bold: "Balding But Great-Smelling Detective Hovers Near Death in Room 324 of Trailer Town Med Center."

The voice on the other end of the line was ragged and gutteral. Like a guy who gargled with battery acid and flossed with barbed wire. "Hullo? Is this Frank Lee Peking, the detective?"

"Maybe. Who wants to know?"

"Listen, Peking. Don't give me that 'who wants to know' horseshit. Nobody really talks like Dick Powell anymore, in case ya hadn't noticed. So if ya wanna play games, there's a video arcade right across the street. But if ya wanna make a buck, I suggest ya bag the tough-guy act right now. I need ya to find a missin' broad for me. And money is no object. Interested?"

"No way in hell," Peking snapped. "I'm completely tied up in a big case right now that involves a well-known TV anchorman. I got no time for any one-horse-town, two-bit-babe, three-time-loser, four-on-the-floor, Five-Blind-Boys-from-Alabama missing persons case."

"I'll give ya fifty bucks. Cash"

"Give me a complete description of this missing woman," Peking interrupted. "And don't skimp on the details."

Barbed Wire Voice told Peking everything he wanted to know, and then some.

"Okay, then, I'll meet you Tuesday night at 7 p.m., at the address you gave me," Peking said, scribbling the street number.

"Ya ain't gonna forget the code phrases, are ya?"

Peking sighed. "No, I won't forget. No matter how much I might try. But there is one more thing I need to know."

"Yeah? What could that be, I wonder?"

"What's your name," Peking said. "And what do you look like?"

Barbed Wire Voice hesitated a minute . "Don't worry yer pretty little head about what I look like. I'll find YOU. And as for the name, ya can call me......Huge Tony."

 

 

"Huge Tony, where the hell ARE you, babe?"

Wanda Pike had been asking herself the same question for four days now. Something was obviously wrong. After summoning her here, her Cyber Love Cookie had simply disappeared. Vanished. Like Boomers who left AOL and went to the Internet.

She had Huge Tony's phone number, but he wasn't answering. She had his mailing address, but it was only a box number. And she had his photo.

Ah, yes. That gorgeous photo.

She took it out of her pocket and looked longingly at it once again. There couldn't be THAT many people in Trailer Town who looked like Warren Beatty, she figured. So she'd begun walking methodically up and down the streets of this crappy little town. Scanning every face. Peering through every restaurant window. And showing the photo to everyone she met.

She'd been at it for four days, without a trace of him. Nobody recognized the photo, either. (Although a chunky woman in a U.S. Postal uniform with a name badge reading "MaryPhil" had tried to lick it.) But Wanda wasn't worried. She'd find Huge Tony. Sooner or later, she HAD to find him.

And tonight was Tuesday, her Lucky Night.

"I'm getting closer to him now," Wanda said. "Tonight feels SO right."

 

 

Walking throught the doors of the church five blocks away, Peking muttered to himself, "Tonight feels SO wrong."

Clandestine meetings between detectives and clients were supposed to take place in smoky bars along the wharf. Or in the back row of a seedy movie theatre, maybe. But not in a church basement. And sure as hell not in a church basement where a Cub Scout Pancake Supper was in full swing.

Someone thrust a cafeteria tray into his hands, and Peking was swept along in a four-foot-deep stream of fourth graders in matching shirts and kerchiefs. Small feet trampled Peking's toes as a scrawny woman in a hairnet served him a pancake pile that was same approximate size and weight as a set of Sears snow tires.

A dirty-faced Cub Scout lunged into Peking from behind. And instead of apologizing, the kid said, "Nanny, nanny boo-boo."

Peking froze.

No. It couldn't be. It was some horrible coincidence.

But the kid slammed into him again. A little harder this time. "Nanny, nanny boo-boo!" A little louder this time.

Peking sighed. This was so goddamn degrading. But there was no question about it now. He had to give the memorized reply code. So without turning around, Peking muttered it through his clenched teeth: "Stick your head in doo-doo."

"Jesus H. Christ on a trampoline, Peking. They told me ya was bald, but I didn't know ya was deaf, too. Or did ya forget the damn code?" said the Cub Scout in a voice that sounded like he'd been gargling battery acid and flossing with barbed wire.

Peking whirled around.

That wasn't dirt on the Cub Scout's face. It was five o'clock shadow. And this "kid" had Size 12 crow's feet around his eyes and pot gut that was straining the buttons of his Cub Scout shirt. He also reeked of Brut and Swisher Sweets. He was 50 if he was a day.

"YOU'RE Huge Tony????"

"Say it a little louder, would ya, Peking? Some people in the back of the room couldn't quite understand."

"And you're a MIDGET?" Peking asked, still dumbfounded.

"Boy, Miss Marple ain't got jack shit on you, does she, pal? But if ya don't mind, we prefer 'Little People.'"

Trying to look as unobtrusive as possible, Peking hustled his three-foot, eight-inch client over to a folding table in the corner, where they plopped down their trays. Huge Tony immediately began shoveling pancakes into his stubbly jowls.

"Before we get down to business," Peking said. "I just have to ask. Could you POSSIBLY have found a stupider place to meet?"

"Yeah, I probably could've," Huge Tony said, syrup running from the corner of his mouth. "But I happen to like pancakes. And I already had the disguise."

Peking almost choked on his first bite of pancakes. "Disguise? You call THAT a goddamn disguise?"

"Hey, pal," Huge Tony snapped. "YOU try finding a convincing disguise in a 28 Short. And besides, chicks dig guys in uniforms."

Peking momentarily considered whether Maine had specific laws against murdering a midget with a plastic fork. "Okay, okay. Let's get on with it. Tell me about this woman you want me to find. When was the last time you saw her?"

"I've never seen her," Huge Tony said matter-of-factly.

"Beg your pardon? You've NEVER seen the woman you want me to find?"

"That's right. I've never seen her. Not face-to-face anyway. We met on computer. She sent me her picture, and I sent her......uh.........a picture, too. I asked her to come to town four days ago, but then I got involved in this top secret cloning project we're doing, and I couldn't get away from the lab for four days straight, and now she's probably in town, but I don't know where to find her. That's where you come in." Huge Tony paused to catch his breath. "You gonna eat that sausage?"

Peking opened his mouth, but the reply froze on his lips. His eyes glazed over like day-old donuts. The fork slipped from his fingers and clattered to the floor.

"Hey, if you don't want me to have your goddamn sausage, just SAY so," Huge Tony growled. But when Peking continued to stare mutely past him, Huge Tony turned around to take a look for himself.

She was standing there, less than 20 feet away. At the head of the stairs leading down to the serving line. Eyes closed, as she breathed in the aroma of hot pancakes.

"Amelia!" Peking cried.

"Wanda!" Huge Tony gasped.

 

 

 

 

To be continued. By our very own Edmund Kaz.




Chapter Five!

Chapter Three

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