The boundary between Babylon and bohemian heaven ( Round 1 : Page 9 )

August 3rd, 2007

Well, it’s not a disaster. Obviously the Order, enhanced by my large “offering,” moved to more spacious and luxurious quarters. Maybe Melvin knows where they moved. I knock.

There is no answer, and I am about to turn away, go back down to the Row and find a glass bottle to break, when I hear the faint rustlings of a magazine and zipper being closed. The door opens to reveal the sweaty beady face of a small, older man with ridiculously anachronistic spectacles and thin white hair. His white clerk’s shirt has a pocketful of pens, complete with plastic inkguard, and a shirttail is hanging loose from his trousers.

“Come in, come in,” he implores with an intensity that makes me reconsider being on the same side of the door as him, but I can take the little pervert, if it comes to that; I probably outweigh him. Besides, he looks
pathetically harmless.

“Well,” he says, “I have to say, you don’t look like a very good bet to me. What are you, twenty? But maybe you know something I don’t know.”

I know a whole world of things you don’t, I think; but ask, reasonably, since I haven’t got the most fucked-up idea what he means: “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Well, family history of premature demise. Deadly genetic diseases that turn up early in life that you currently don’t show signs of. Someone out to kill you. I’ll take out two policies on you if you can show proof that you’re the target of a mob hit.”

“Well, I just escaped from a mental hospital, and I have a lot of thoughts about suicide,” I offer. “My, uh, friend killed herself.” No need for this creep to know I’m a lesbian. It might turn him on.

He shakes his head. “Suicide’s no good; everybody knows they don’t pay on that. But perhaps you could make it look like an accident? Some policies pay double for an accident.”

“Say, how did you get a lease here, anyway, selling insurance? I thought you had to be non-prof.”

He chuckles. “I am non-profit. Haven’t made a dime yet. Anyway, I don’t sell insurance; I buy it. I take out policies on my clients, and they take out policies on me, and whoever doesn’t die first wins.” He winks. “I come from a long line of old people. No heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nothing. I can retire by the time I’m fifty, for sure, as soon as I can cash in someone’s policy. I plan to live at least until I’m ninety.”

“You’d better get on it, then,” I say irrelevantly. “Not much time.” This is probably insensitive, but I’m surprised to hear him talk about his fiftieth birthday as if it lay in the future. He looks at least sixty.

“What do you mean? I’ve plenty of time. I’m only thirty-seven.”

Something else bothers me. “Isn’t it dangerous, letting random strangers take out life insurance on you? Aren’t you afraid something might, ah, happen to you?”

He looks thoughtful. “I’d never considered that. I suppose it would be a problem, if I had any clients.”

“Look,” I say, getting to the point, exasperated by this ludicrous exchange, “I’m not here to buy insurance, or have you buy some, or whatever the hell you do. I came looking for the prior occupants of this suite. The Institute for Genetic Notification.”

Melvin draws a blank. How am I going to find a secret society without giving up the secret? But maybe they’ve gone public by now. I try again. “The Order of the Wheel.”

He brightens. “Oh, yes. Some sort of hoax, wasn’t it? I recall a scandal, fifteen years back or so. Promising people they could help them carry their memories into the next incarnation, or some such swill for the gullible. What are you, doing some kind of research paper on metaphysical fraud?”

I glare at him. “I’m a member,” I say tersely. “I’ve recovered my memories.”

Melvin mulls on this paradox for a moment. “Well, Carmen Reece was involved in that, but I don’t know if she’ll talk to you about it. The whole thing is a bit of a sore spot with her. She testified against the others at the trial.”

I grab Melvin by the knot of his tie and bring his pallid, wrinkled face close to my own in a gesture no one but a dom-and-sub freak would mistake for amorousness. His sallow eyes bug with fear.

“Where is she?” I growl, practically asphyxiating him before remembering that the poor old twerp is trying to be helpful. I let him go and take a deep breath.

He steps back, pulling his shirt straight and adjusting his tie, eying me nervously as if I’m a rabid dog.

Mental hospital, I’d said. Escaped, I’d said. I can read his mind.

Maybe the insurance business is too dangerous after all. Deciding that telling me is the surest way to be rid of me, he stammers, “She’s the editor of the Snake-Oil Chronicle. They have offices down at the other end of the Row, on Objective Blvd. She’s not very popular with the most of the locals; they’ve done a series of exposes on nearly all the groups here, at one time or another. Even ran a piece on me, which is one of the reasons I don’t have any clients. You’re going to blow her head wide open.”

When Melvin says this, it doesn’t even sound like attempted slang. It sounds like a suggestion to be taken literally.

Apparently he’s not a fan either.

I take the address and realize Carmen’s new racket is directly across from Cafe Ennui, the last commercial enterprise before the realm of Crazy Bear and his nutty non-profits begins. A border, of sorts. The boundary between Babylon and bohemian heaven. Right back to where I started.

I storm back down Religion Row, building a nice head of steam and bile for Carmen Reece. Boy, has that bitch got some explaining to do!

* * * * * * *

~ )))0((( ~

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