Ace Harmon in Caution: Slow Children

Episode 1
In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
recommends an iron,
gets his panties in a twist,
and figures out Victoria's Secret.

They say the city never sleeps. For a city that never sleeps, it sure seems to snooze around dawn. As the light starts filtering through the streets, the drunks are already passed out, the bars closed, and only a couple of choice diners are open, waiting to clog your arteries with food so greasy that if you squeezed it, a bottle of oil would pop out. But when you're wiped more heavily than the display case at a candy store, there's not much choice but to grab some java at a tin buffet. By the time I walked out of Mel's, my favorite early morning haunt, I was my regular Tigger self, bouncing down the street. Depending on how the kid made out, I was looking at a couple hours before I could be planting honey coolers on Dennis's tamale of a sister.

I wasn't about to let the tin man reverse the cuppa I had just tossed down with a pop, so I ducked back down the alley and up the fire escape I had left by. I was winded by the time I dropped a knuckle on the manual doorbell. It's simply a lot harder to go up a steel lifesaver than down.

The old woman wandered into view inside, still in the ghastly mu mu she'd been wearing the night before. Normally, even an average dame would seem pretty after a night of getting knocked around, tossed in a trunk, and taken for a log ride, but between the morning light and her choice garb she looked like an overcooked eggroll. Her half-awake mug squinted at me and shook into a toothy smile when she recognized me.

"Mr. Harmon! You come in. Have tea," she said, shoving the window open and making room for my rear entry.

"Thanks just the same, ma'am, but I'm just here to see James and blow out of here for the next station," I replied, carefully stepping through the window. Without even acknowledging my response, she grabbed my arm and began dragging me toward the kitchen.

"James sleep. You sit. Drink. Feel better. He up soon. School soon."

"Thanks, but I already had some joe on the way over," I snapped as she threw me into a chair and snagged a kettle. "I'm not the bright-eyed and bushy tailed type, if you catch my drift." I immediately regretted my choice of words. I tried to look anywhere but at her, the morning light illuminating her in ways that made me doubt a benevolent god could exist. The walls were plastered with yellowed clippings from some Asian rag, probably chronicling the amazing exploits of her early days, or perhaps those of friends and family.

"James up very late. He work very hard."

"It's much appreciated, ma'am. I'm just a caboose when it comes to the information railway."

"He like computer very much," she said, the tea kettle starting to gently whistle behind her. She turned and pulled it off the burner, deftly pouring the tea into three small cups. As she turned around and passed me a cup, I noticed, to my horror, that the steam turned her from a battleship into the Titanic. I gagged a little as I took the cup from her and turned away.

"You must really like that mu mu," I said sarcastically, keeping my eyes focused on a photo a young man standing in front of a factory somewhere in Asia.

"No. We need do laundry. Need iron."

"Ma'am, I don't think an iron is necessary. I'm sure nothing's as wrinkly as... um... what you've got on." This was dangerous territory. Giving laundry advice to an Asian is a little like trying to teach a dog to bark--it's pretty much their territory naturally.

"I go get James," she said, scowling at me before she headed down the hall. I sipped the tea. I heard her yell down the hall, James's voice immediately responding in kind. Despite the cacophony, it really was damn good tea. After a few moments James waddled in bleary eyed and glared at me.

"What did you say to her?" I shrugged and took another sip, imagining my chakra floating far about the Himalayas in blissful meditation, far away from anything that could distract or upset me. "Whatever you said, she's not happy." I watched my chakra plunge and hit the snow, tumbling down the mountainside as karmic retribution slapped my tea-addled vision back to reality. Luckily, reality was pretty interesting right now and I wasn't really sure what a chakra was anyway.

"Sorry kid. Did you learn anything from Craig or the computer?"

"Yeah. Dennis was kind of brilliant, but kind of stupid too. His password was 'swordfish.'" The kid snickered as he slid into the chair across from me and started sipping his own tea. "Dennis was using his laptop for work. There was an ad up on Craig's List that he had responded to. From what I can tell, he was doing some heavyweight coding for a company Leviathon Games. I don't know what the code is, but whatever it was, he had it password protected."

"You did good kid. Did he have anything else that my get my gumption going?"

"Not really," the kid said as he leaned onto the table. "He had a couple games, some standard software. Nothing of note." The kid paused, as if searching for something in his head. "I guess there was one thing, but it's just a game I've never heard of. I keep up on games, but I've never heard of World of Whorecraft. At first, I thought it was just a modded World of Warcraft server. I tried to play, but almost everything was in Korean." I smiled. The pieces were finally falling into place. "What are you smiling about?" the kid said, confusion spreading across his face.

"I ran into some Koreans last night. They were talking about all things faux."

"It's pronounced pho, Ace. And it's Vietnamese, not Korean."

"No, I mean faux as in French. Faux as in fake. Apparently they've got something that'll fry them up a big chunk of bacon and Dennis was hired to chisel them and produce a knock off."

"So you know where Dennis is, then?" the kid asked excitedly.

"Not so much," I said, watching him sink back down. "I figure since the Koreans don't have him, this Leviathon must. If I drop in and wave the code in front of their shivering peepers, I can catch them behind the eight ball and make them bleed for Dennis's return." I paused, simply for effect. "Or I could trade in the code to the Koreans for a shiny bit of scratch." the kid looked at me rather puzzled.

"Why not do both?"

"Because the code's on the computer, kid. It's not like you can just go off and copy it willynilly."

"Uh, yeah. You can," the kid said, shaking his head as I listened to the cash registers ringing in my ears. Maybe these computers were more useful than I had thought. "I'll make a copy on a disc and hold onto it. You take the computer and get Dennis back. After he's safe, we can trade the disc to the Koreans for the money."

"You've got the makings of a great PI, kid." I beamed as the kid got up and started out. It was clear to me that Mr. Ton was on the level. I didn't need to read code to know that World of Whorecraft was this next big thing he had mentioned. And if it were going to be as big as he thought, half a mil was only the tip of the head of iceberg lettuce heading for my wallet.

After a few minutes of daydreaming and sipping my oh so green tea, the kid slipped back into the kitchen, the laptop and a disc in his hands. "Here's the laptop, Ace. I've covered my tracks so it looks like the computer hasn't been accessed since before Dennis went missing."

"Phenomenal, kid." I stood up and made my way towards the window. "Keep that disc safe now."

"I will," said the kid. "Be careful, Ace."

"No worries, kid. Abyssinia." I ducked out the window and down the alley, hailing the first cab I saw. "You know where Leviathon Games is, mac?"

"Sure. They're over at the Tech Center," the cabbie said, eying me in the rear view.

"Then to the tech center, James. And don't spare the horses." As the cab passed by the front of the building, I ducked my head out the window and doffed my cap at the doorman. "Thanks for the exercise, you loogan!" I called, smiling as he ducked into the road, shaking his fist after me. I watched for second to see if he got clipped by a car before ducking back into the taxi. I rubbed my hand over the smooth outside of the lightbox. Soon I could be sitting in paradise with Ms. Dumont dressed in Victoria's finest. For now though, next stop, the Tech Center.

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of
Ace Harmon, Retro Detective

In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
plays tic tac toe to a cat's game,
has a nightmare at 20,000 feet,
and makes reservations at the last resort.

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