Ace Harmon in Caution: Slow Children

Episode 1
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.

The beauty of a large apple like this one is all the various nooks and crannies around town. Whether you're looking for a drink, a pub brawl or a fine lass to bed you down, the South end's got everything Irish. For raw fish, massages, and the best hot and sour soup this side of the Pacific, you've got Chinatown, Japantown, Koreatown and Little Vietnam, though the idiots think dim sum is what you get when you add all the Asian IQs up. The wops have got Northie cornered thanks to a few mafiosos who turned a mean cannoli and some wicked tasty pasta into political careers that make Tammany Hall look tame. The Dominicans, Latinos and Hispanics have built their own little burgh by the edge of the burbs, where our floundering pro soccer team the Piranhas enjoy a surprisingly vibrant fan base. Even the blacks have turned the projects here into the greatest NBA training camp in history.

Then there's the work districts. In addition to the retail downtown, you've got Government Hill with the blue bloods and civic centers; Fisherman's Dock and Angel Island with the amusement park and beaches; Thyme Market complete with the giant New Year's ball and fresh produce; and Kingsbury and the Starbucks' Metro Bowl, home to the NFL's Trolley Dodgers and the MLB's Cabbies. The Tech Center isn't exactly in the same vein of attraction for the camera flashers, but it's probably got more work there than anywhere else in the city. And from the way those shiners dress, they're making bank.

The cab pulled up to the front of Linstead-Rogers Plaza in the heart of the Tech Center. "Here you are, bub. That'll be 16.75." I tossed a Jackson at hack and slid out the door.

"Hey mac," I said, leaning back in to the passenger window. "Which building's got Leviathon Games in it?"

"It's up in 30 Linstead-Rogers Plaza, by the TV studios," he said, counting out my change.

"Thanks, mac. Keep the change." I held the lightbox close as I skirted the empty rink that anchored the plaza, staring at the towering skyscraper I was about to enter.

30 Linstead-Rogers Plaza was one of the great buildings of the city. In the 1930s, the plaza was commissioned as a wedding gift for the union of John J. Linstead's son John J. Linstead Jr. to the famed German actress Elena Hitler (who later changed her name to Rogers shortly after the start of World War II). 30 Linstead-Rogers Plaza was the centerpiece of the whole shebang. Above the doors sat the famed inscription: "Abandon All Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here." It was originally supposed to be a bible quote, but as people in this city are known to do, someone pulled a prank and replaced the text before the stone masons got to work. Linstead thought the motto was aces since it was exactly the kind of business he ran. He even laughed about that right before he was lynched by the newsies in the 40s. The rest is history.

I pushed my way through the spinning doors and headed for the elevator. Leviathon Games was headquartered on the 27th floor according to the directory, so I popped into the lift and began rehearsing the pitch in my head. By the time I walked into the lobby, the muzak had left me binged in the head. If you ever have your own building, splurge on something other than bad renditions of <i>The Girl From Ipanema</i> for the lobbies and lifts.

"Welcome to Leviathon Games, we're entertainment software on the grandest scale," the bird behind the desk tweeted. "How may I help you?" Her smile was off. Sure, it was pretty, but there was something missing from the equation, and it felt like the numbers.

"I'm here to see the head honcho. Mind getting him on the horn?"

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked politely.

"Do I need one, Ms...?" Her smile faded slightly, a little confusion speckling her mug as she pointed to her name plate. "No, Ms. Jackson, I don't have an appointment. Now can you get him?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but you must have an appointment. Mr. Butler is a very busy man."

I slammed my free hand down on the desk, causing her to jump back in fear. "Listen, dollface. You see that painting over there on the wall?" She followed my gaze as I nodded in that direction. "That painting is pretty. It's here to make the people waiting to see Mr. Butler feel better about waiting. You and that painting have a lot in common. Now I have something very important to talk with the big cheese about, and if you won't at least tell him I'm here, then I'll ignore the fact some tapestry is trying to give me the third degree and help myself to the office. Dig?" The girl leaned forward, never taking her eyes off me, and pressed a button on the phone.

"I'm sorry to disturb you Mr. Butler, but there's a..."

"Friend of Dennis Dumont," I filled in.

"Friend of Dennis Dumont here to see you and he's very insistent." I couldn't hear the response through her headset, but from the girl's nodding and movement, I could tell I had rattled the man. The dame got up and said, "Follow me."

Through the double doors behind reception were cubicles galore, each one filled with some geek slapping away at his digital typewriter. Along the outside of the building were offices with glass walls so that no move could go unmonitored. I counted at least twelve security cameras as I followed the bird through the office. The door at the end of the offices divided the one wall you couldn't see through. The receptionist yanked the door open as I read the name Richard Butler, CEO off the brass plaque on the outside.

The room was massive. Along the right side sat a full bar while the left had a putting green. Directly in front of me sat Butler, his back turned towards me dramatically and a fake fire place glowing behind him.

"Have a seat, Mr. Harmon."

"Are all executives this theatrical?" I asked, slipping into the chair with a smirk. He slowly spun his chair around revealing a small four-eyed mug perched atop a pudgy torso. On the upside, he had the money to be well dressed.

"Not in my experience. Hell, this is my first time playing the villain. Let me have my fun, alright? I mean, I couldn't even find a cat rental on this short notice. I figured it'd take you a few days at least to track me down."

"Listen, Dick. I was up all night, I'm joed, and I'm in no mood for games. Either we talk shop or you turn over Dennis and call it quits with the megalomaniacism." I tapped the lightbox impatiently.

"I wouldn't really call it megalo--wait, what? What's joed?"

"Joed. You know. Tired." He scrunched his face in a way only chows and pugs can do.

"So you're telling me that when you're joed, you're tired?"

"Now you're on the trolley!"

"So when you're joed, but just have to stay awake, you drink some joe and then you're not joed anymore?"

"Yeah," I nodded tentatively.

"Why aren't joed after you drink your joe? Shouldn't joed be awake?"

"Listen, bub. I don't make up the slang. If you really want to know, use some of your fat cash to hire an etymologist or a linguist. As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't involve Dennis, I don't want to hear another word about it." Butler leaned back dejectedly. "Let's cut to the chase. I know Dennis was your gunsel and he was reverse engineering some program. So talk to me."

"Can I at least give you the long, overly complicated explanation speech?" I stared angrily into his sad puppy dog eyes. "Please? I've been practicing for the last couple days. It has information about Dennis."

There's something about an insecure nerd that just tugs at my heart strings. "Fine."

Butler smiled and clapped. "Ok, hold on. Let me get into character." After a few deep breaths, Butler waved his hand in front of his face. I was surprised to see his expression actually matched that of a movie villain. "You're a much better detective than I gave you credit for, Mr. Harmon. I suspected you'd get here eventually, but only a day after I hired you? That's impressive."

"What do you mean you hired me?" Butler chortled at my question.

"Apparently you skipped a few steps in my ruse, Ace. You see, Dennis did most of his work here. Just like his sister works here. For me. I was the one who sent her to hire you. You see, Dennis is a savant. He's brilliant when it comes to programing and game design. But he's also a creature of habit. Despite working here, he primarily used his own computer via a virtual machine. That left us with the problem of having all that precious code floating out there somewhere." Butler's face flashed and he was back to the innocent geek. "How am I doing? Are you following all this?"

"Not really. This whole thing is off the cob. If you had Christie hire me, why not just go get the laptop yourself?"
"Actually, that's kind of a funny story." Butler's face switched back into evil genius mode. "You were hired because you're the only PI we could find who's so inept with technology, you wouldn't be able to figure a damn thing out. Christie's actually already wiped the laptop. It doesn't have anything incriminating left on it. I was hoping it'd be destroyed in the fire in your office, but you obviously had it elsewhere. Bravo for that, by the way."

"Then why hire me at all?" I asked, genuinely befuddled.

"It's all in the story. You see, Mr. Harmon, you were supposed to find Dennis's body in Koreatown after you traced the clues we left by your office. We've got him in a vacant warehouse on Lee street. He's not dead yet, but he will be soon enough. Then, when the authorities roll in, you explain how he was killed by the Koreans. Christie fills in that he was working for us. I say it's because he had evidence, now lost in your fire, that showed the lawsuit the Koreans had filed was false. And there you are, Bob's your uncle. Leviathon is free and clear. No lawsuit. No problem." He cackled maniacally. It was pretty convincing for an amateur.

"Ok, I follow all that. But why would Christie agree to have Dennis killed?"

"Perhaps, Mr. Harmon, you should ask Ms. Dumont that. At least, if you want a better answer than money." The fire popped ominously on screen behind him. "Sorry. That's really all I've got. She said something about having to take care of him and being a big baby. But I'm pretty sure it was primarily the money. We told her we'd give her a share of the profits from our new property." It made sense. Used to be that you could drown your retarded sibling and call it an accident, but in this day and age, everyone was far too PC for that. And hell, if there was dough to be made, at least I could sympathize with the girl.

"Are you done?" I asked, measuring the value of the information on that laptop.

"Yeah. I didn't actually think you'd find any of the truth, so I didn't prepare for this scenario." He pushed his glasses up a little. "It wasn't too long, was it?"

"Little bit. Mind if I smoke?" I pulled out a butt and torched it as he nodded his approval. "You seem to have some of the facts wrong." He looked at me in confusion. "Either Christie was planning on double crossing you or you were on a trip for biscuits, cause your code's still on this box."

"How would you know? If I asked you to use the mouse, you'd say what for and offer to lay down traps."

"I may have gremlins, but I've got pals who don't." Butler's mouth dropped open. After a moment he put his game face back on.

"But Mr. Harmon. If I was planning on killing Dennis and Christie before, what makes you think I won't kill you?" His hand rose from behind the oak desk holding a zapgun. "Well, I mean, I won't kill you personally, but I have people who will do it for me."

"There's the rub, Dick. We're both in a tight spot so I suggest a compromise." I stood up and gently set the laptop on the desk. backing away with my hands where he could see them. "You take your lightbox, I take myself, Dennis, and Christie, and we all go our separate ways. No harm, no foul."

"It's nice to dream, Ace. But you three could still tell the authorities."

"Without evidence, who would believe the Butler did it?" The suit burst into fits. He was laughing so hard he was slapping the table.

"Oh my god! I totally should've thought of that line! Butler did it! I'm the Butler!" His glasses rolled off his nose and hit the floor like chimes signaling the winds of change. I dove behind the chair as he fired his taser. Sparks flew as it hit the lightbox, probably frying anything on it. I charged quickly before he could get his wits and slammed my fist across his face. He crumpled like a wet sack of potatoes. Except without any potatoes. Cause if there are potatoes in there, it doesn't crumple very well. I guess that's the problem with that simile.

"This is where you say 'Curses! Foiled again!'" I said as I took the taser and used the cable to tie him up. Composing myself and searching my memory for the receptionist's name, I hit the intercom. "Veronica, I'm sending Mr. Harmon out. Please meet him and escort him the rest of the way," I said in my best impression of the dork now out cold and roped.

"Yes, sir," came the muffled reply.

"Oh, and Veronica?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I'm going to take a nap. Please make sure no one disturbs me."

"Yes, sir."

"I'v been having nightmares the last few nights. If you hear any yelling, ignore it."

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you."

I booked it for the door, leaving the fried laptop as a consolation prize and some incrimination against Ms. Dumont, if anything was still on there. With Butler out of the way for now, the rest would be easy: get the duplicate to the Koreans, get Dennis from the warehouse, and get it all out in the open so James, Dennis and I are in the clear.

The tapestry met me halfway down the hall. "You don't happen to have two bits, do you, doll?"

"Fifty cents?" she asked, escorting me back towards the elevator.

"Yeah. I need to drop a dime and don't have a mobile phone."

"No cell? Are you for real?"

"I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson. I am for real." As she shoved me into the open elevator, she grabbed 50 cents from a pocket and tossed it to me. "Thanks, doll," I said, smiling. I flipped one quarter to keep myself busy. When you're this high up, it's always a long way down.

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

In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
deals danger within 100 yards of a school,
puts the scotch back in hopscotch,
and gets an education in betrayal.

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