Chapter 1

It's eight fifteen AM and I'm still at my desk. It wouldn't be remarkable if I'd just strolled in, but I've been here for days. My feet are propped up on my desk, the left one crossed over my right. I've got my hat tilted over my eyes, like I'm trying to get a bit of shut eye. I'm not sleeping. I'm waiting, and even if I wanted to, I can't sleep. I'm dead.

I hate reminding myself that I'm dead. I need a drink. I throw my feet off the desk and stroll over to where I keep my gear. I reach past my Colt .45 and grab my biggest gun.

The Regal '45 makes a cool splash in my scotch glass. There is no ice. It melted days ago. It's okay, though, I don't need it. The hard liquor sears my tongue and burns my throat as it passes through me and splashes on the floor, joining the growing stain of good whiskey.

Ah, the rules of being dead, of being a ghost, of being whatever the hell I am. I can pick stuff up, I can move it around, I just can't drink it. I don't completely understand the rules, I didn't make them. I just have to live, or whatever, with them.

I look over at the corner and the broken shards of frustrated dreams that litter it. I dream that one day the scotch will actually stay in me. I dream that it will get me drunk. I toss the glass in my hand, contemplating giving it a second toss over into the wall so it can join its crushed brethren. I put it back down on the table. It's my last glass and besides, my ex gave it to me. Damn, I need a drink.

There's no use going out and looking for the man who killed me. I don't know who killed me. When I came back to life I tried finding him, but the trail's run cold.

I was following up on a case that had already cost me something personal, my ex. I fill another glass and after burning my throat, it widens the puddle. If only that was the only thing the job had cost me.

The case doesn't make any sense from the start. Some Joe hires me to find out who'd dolled up his wife. He brings her in with a before picture and I don't believe they're the same person.

The woman in the picture is far from remarkable. Short and plain, her short brown hair that's put up in a curled bob manages to make her look worse. She's in a long, navy dress that pinches in on her hips, showing off doughy rolls that ring her waist like a life preserver. The dress bells out over her legs that by looking at her ankles I assume are short and stubby. Pudgy arms stick out of two short sleeves and the front buttons up to her neck, leaving only a small hint of skin.

By contrast, the dame drips sexuality. Tall and striking, her long golden lock flow down her back, emphasizing her beauty and height. Modest would prevent calling the black fabric hugging her curves from being called a dress, but lack of a better word forces it to be one. Breasts that could feed an army of babies, or a teenager's fantasies for a year, overflow the top of her dress. The only rolls left around her waist are the perfect curves of her wide, inviting hips and spectacular ass. Towering legs that dwarf the Empire State Building vanish into the dress' short hem.

Joe assures me that the broad is his wife. It seems as if some side effect of the process has driven her sexually insane. I can see his point. While we talk, his formerly prim wife pleasures herself on my sofa.

I'm not a head doctor. I don't know what or who to ask about her new personality, but I know about changing looks from going after a few fellas that tried escaping with a new face. I know who to ask about that.

I take a few pictures of his wife and finally get one decent enough to show in public. Every quack I take the pictures to says a surgery like that is impossible. I believe the guy's a nut job, but he hired me and he's paying the bills.

After a month of searching around, I get a lead on a guy I assume is a surgeon who's supposed to be able to do unbelievable work. I can't get in to see the guy. I figure it's because he only works on the fairer sex.

We'd split up long before, but the ex is the only woman I know that might agree to do it. She's also the only woman I know that won't slap me on sight. There goes another shot. I've got to stop wasting my good stuff.

My ex comes back to me looking and acting like my client's now missing wife. Only, she doesn't come back alone. In my shock, I don't see him come in for the kill.

When I awake and find that I'm not quite dead, but not alive, my killer is already long gone, taking every clue and lead with him. I bust into his office. It was an empty shell. I go back to the surgeon who clued me in. He's vanished and know one knows where he's gone.

Any other lead or idea comes up just as dead as me. I realize I'm just as likely to find what I'm looking for moping behind my desk as I am tiring myself out on the streets. I come back to my office and wait.

I put the scotch glass down and resume my position: feet up, hat down.

Hours pass. It's mid afternoon when a pair of cantaloupes attached to a woman bounce through my door. She's the type of dame you don't want your son seeing before his eighteenth birthday. I could use her figure to help keep track of the time. Her smile tells me I could flip her over and use her again.

Her red dress strains to keep her cartoon proportions from flowing out into public space. She walks with a sexual grace that can give the dead a hard on. I take my feet off the desk and adjust my pants. Golden locks and empty blue eyes complete her look. She's a ringer for my ex. Where the hell did I leave my drink?

"Are you the dick?" she asks me. She doesn't have a clue upstairs, but that's okay, her walking in is a clue enough for me.

I don't answer her. I walk around to the front of my desk and drop my pants, the biggest gun in my arsenal is pointed at her. The lady does this high-pitched squeal and launches herself at my genitals. She passes through me and smashes her face on my desk. The thud of her shock absorbing ass is joined by the clattering of her two front teeth.

"Oppshie," She whistles through the gap in her smile.

As she stares up at me with that uncomprehending look, her broken teeth grow back into place. She is the clue I'm looking for. That's his trademark. Can't let beauty be flawed.

I pull my pants up so I don't torment the poor girl any more. I set her on the sofa and get her my glass. My mouth waters as I pour a nice shot of the Regal. What I wouldn't give to feel settling in my stomach.

The glass clinks in her red talon-ed hand. I enviously stare as the brown liquid slides into her mouth. Her throat pulses as she swallows it down. A tongue that could melt chocolate licks her upper lips clean and she sets the glass on the table between us. What I wouldn't give to have been that glass of scotch.

"Are you the dick?" she asks again.

I point to the door and the cheap gold stenciling that says "Tracer Spiff, PI".

She mouths the words as she reads them. I should have told her to save the time, but seeing that she can still read lets me know she's not too far gone.

"Oh, good," the sex sitting on my sofa says. "I wet to two other offices first and blew half the staffs before they told me I was in the wrong place."

I nod. That's par for the course. Two other women like her had sat in that very spot. They hadn't had her self control. They'd wriggled and wormed on the seat, fingering themselves silly. They were the ones who'd led me to my death, my last case and my ex. I need a double shot, but the dame across from me had already drunk my drink.

"I'm here because my husband thinks I'm cheating on him. I want you to follow me around and take pictures of me not fucking anyone else so I can prove that I'm faithful." The whole blowing an office full worth of people had seemed to have slipped her mind.

Marital disputes. Fidelity. These were the kind of jobs that low level dicks took. In my day, I wouldn't have been above taking them for the buck. Payday is payday. Being dead, though, I have no need for the cash. I just need information. Information that this woman was oozing from her pores like the sweet sensuality of a quick lay. I take the case.

I gather my goods for the road and make sure I got everything. Camera, filled with fresh film: big and bulky slung by my hip. Colt .45, filled with my last four bullets: big and bulky sheathed in my shoulder holster. Flask, filled with undrinkable relief: big and bulky shoved in my coat pocket. Heart, filled with despair and a glimmer of hope: big and bulky hung in my chest.

She wants me to take pictures of her not having sex. That's what the camera's for. I don't point out the fallacy to her. I don't think she'll get it. Just because she's not fucking in the pictures doesn't mean she wasn't fucking five minutes earlier or later.

A woman like her got me killed once. That's what my gun's for. I don't trust her. I can never be too careful. Maybe it's just paranoia on my part, but I'd rather be paranoid and standing over my killer's body than dead again.

The flask is a lot simpler. I may be dead, but old habits die harder.

The dame takes us back to her place. The June Cleaver house betrays the sexpot that ushers me in. The pad is as immaculate. I can feel her former self floating, lingering about the place. It's more than a feeling. I can see what she used to be.

She's sitting on the sofa, but instead of the short dress and the creamy, inviting thighs that it reveals, she's wearing tan slacks. The inflated mounds on her chest are a more reasonable size and hidden by a white blouse. She is June Cleaver.

June offers me a drink, but I decline with the wave of my hand. I don't want to ruin her nice furniture. The dame from the office sits back and sips on a glass of bourbon so expensive that a dick like me couldn't have afforded the sniffer it was poured in. June takes the glass of ice tea away from her mouth and sets it on the table.

It's hard. I've never experienced this before, the double vision. My eyes can't tell who is actually sitting across from me.

The woman leans forward. She gives me a view of slopes downhill skiers have dreams about. June fiddles with her hands.

They start to talk. The kitten's voice jump starts my libido again and June's fearful tone dashes it off like a shower after they cut the hot water because you haven't paid your bills since your wife left. Why'd I turn down that drink?

I can't stand to listen to them. I just put my hand up to silence her. June looks at me with pleading eyes, begging me help her. The bombshell looks at me with suppressed desire, but she remembers the incident in the office. She knows I can't help her.

The pinup fades out as I concentrate on my real client, my real clue.

I can see it all like it's happening before me. Events days old unfold before me like an episode of a bad sitcom. June answers the door to the salesman. He's very convincing. It doesn't take him long to talk his way into the house. The poor girl doesn't realize that it's already too late for her. He's not trying to sell her a new vacuum, he's selling her a new life.

She sits down on the couch. Her slacks have already turned into a skirt. She doesn't see it, but the salesman does. The bastard is getting off on it. He's setting her up so that when he's good and ready, he'll let her see it, too. He loves the confusion.

Fifteen minutes into his visit and she's about ready. She sees that her breasts have grown from "bosom" to "tits". Her sudden shock makes them warble like jello. The scum bag smiles. He could have just taken her, but the torment was his foreplay.

Drool and the desire to stick things in her mouth overwhelm the housewife every time he says a euphemism for penis. He talks about roosters crowing in the morning and she sticks a dishpan finger into her mouth and pulls out a porcelain digit adorned with a red nail. Conversations about LBJ and VP Nixon's popularity take care of the rest of the hand. Talk about car dealerships ripping people off for various axles and instruments finish her other hand off.

Most traces of the stay at home wife are gone when he finally disrobes her. Her new rack could rival mountains. Her hips could span a river. And her sexual appetite could devour them all, but she settles for his manhood.

He ravages her. It's not the tender love making she's used to with her husband. He pushes her over the sofa and enters her from behind. She never knew it could feel this good. She screams with years of unknown passion. The salesman reaches around and tweaks her nipples. She comes around the object invading her. The man throws her off him and he finishes by coming on her.

The new woman is glowing. She could have gone through life without knowing such pleasures. She's awake now, but it feels hollow. It isn't her husband. As good as the man is at manipulating her, he isn't perfect. He hasn't killed that out of her. For that alone I should have realized he wasn't the man I'm looking for.

That night, her husband comes home. Tired and haggard from a long day at the office, he comes home to his naked wife waiting for him with a fresh martini. Like she was ravaged earlier that afternoon, she ravages him. The salesman might not have been perfect, but he knew to change enough that her husband recognized her. But the salesman isn't perfect. Not enough is changed.

June's husband flips. He accuses her of being a hussy and stepping out on him. She knows too much, he says. It was too good. His innocent wife shouldn't know things like that. She'd slept with another man, he accuses. There's something off about it though. It doesn't seem right.

There's something tied around the husband. I don't know how I missed it in their love making, but it's there, a cord that vanishes into the distance. I want to follow it, but this scene is already over. It's in the past. Even if I could follow it I don't have time.

Ignoring her tears and pleas, he storms out on her. Things take a slide from here. For two days, she blows every man that comes to the door. She can't help it. She loves it, but the dame wants her husband back. That's what leads her to the private eyes.

Most of us dicks are just that. I don't bother to count how many screw her and then laugh at her request to prove her fidelity. Why shouldn't they though? They just showed that she isn't. She doesn't give up though. But that's how I see the salesman's cruelest trick. Every man she sleeps with takes parts of her intelligence away. She's barely functioning by the time she hits Harry up.

Harry is a good man. He knew me before I was killed. He knew my ex and he always had a drink for me. I'd talked to him about my last case, he believes her. He sends her to me.

That takes me back to where I am now, sitting in another man's arm chair, watching his wife dildo herself. June Cleaver is starting to fade. The sexual urges of the living Aphrodite are too strong for her to contain. No longer are the too women fighting for me to see them, only one is winning out.

Like I said, I don't know the all rules. I don't make them and I can't honestly say that I like them. I just live in them. In the thin line that connected the two women together, a line so thin a spider would trip over it, I can see the salesman. That's how I saw what happened to June. Through the line I can see everything.

I reach in between the two women and grab the line. They scream and June comes back to me. She's not wearing her slacks and blouse though, she's wearing the other woman. I bend the line more and June gets the upper hand on her sexual self. They battle.

June hits and batters the wanton dame. The pinup defends herself with her sexuality and through me, June takes the woman's defenses. The attacker steals them and absorbs them into herself. She's creating a new her.

While the two struggle, I investigate the remnants of the salesman's touch. Watching him create his play toy, I'd thought of him as skilled. Examining his work closer, I see that he has the deft touch of a blind man wielding a hammer.

He's smashed and banged all over the place until his doll was created. It's the first change that I've investigated, but I can still tell that it's sloppy. He's even left bits of himself all over her. Anything I could ever want to know about him is at my fingertips. Then, it's gone.

The thread joining the home maker and licentious fire ball is gone. I look for the battle, but both of the girls are gone as well. The woman left standing before me is neither of them, yet she is both.

I can't call her June anymore because she's sexually awake and in control. She's got the body of a gal you'd take home to boast to dad about with the smarts of a girl you want mom to meet. Angel is the only thing I can think of to call her.

I'd gotten enough from the connection that I have a general idea of the salesman's haunts. Angel gets in my soft top Mercury with me and we speed back down to 57th and Park. In the twenties, this used to be the nice area of town, the only place to get booze they say. Then the man upstairs sent people some sense and the sweet stuff was free to be had anywhere again. So the classy folk left and now only the scum remains. My office is two blocks away.

We burst into a joint that screamed for some sort of government regulation to be established. I wouldn't be surprised if the stuff behind the counter is left over from the bootleggers. The only thing dingier than the walls are the denizens taking up residence. It makes me wish I'd known about this place when I was still drinking. Damn, I need a drink.

The bartender takes two glasses off the counter, dumps their remains and starts rubbing them clean. He asks us for our orders and I wonder when the last time the cloth he's using to clean our glasses with was washed. Angel orders us both a double whisky. She downs hers and I leave mine on the counter. It mocks me.

A shifty looking guy makes his way over and sits next to Angel. She's not bothered by him. She's not bothered by anyone anymore. Our new acquaintance starts talking about legless reptiles and I know he's a man I want to have deeper conversations with.

I introduce myself by splashing my drink in his face, then shake hands by grabbing the back of his collar and slamming his face into the counter top. I finish our exchange of pleasantries by grabbing his left hand and twisting it up his back.

Angel talks for me. She knows what to ask. She asks him about the salesman, but the snake charmer just knocks his free hand on the bar. Only I answer. I twist his arm up again and he jerks his right thumb towards a back door.

The keep tells us to stay out, but Angel and I ignore him. I send the snake charmer through first, then follow him in with my gun out, the metal one.

I'm greeted by a sight that makes me wish the hot dame at my side had followed the barman's warnings. The salesman is a switch hitter. Angel's man is on his knees giving his dominator's microphone an in depth interview. The air is fresh with the wet slappings of the inept controller's attempt to lay claim on him.

Unlike the thin line between Angel's old personalities, there is a massive rope that ties the three of them together: the salesman, the husband, and the new lover boy. I've seen this cord before. It was there when the lucky schmuck walked out on his newly created wife.

Staring at the connection, it's all laid out before me. I see Lucky taking advantage of the salesman's skills at work. The boss brings the salesman to work on the secretaries and now he has to hire all new girls to do the typing. All of the old force is too busy taking diction.

He takes a liking to Lucky and wants to add him to a collection. Whose collection? That's too deep. I don't have time. The salesman is starting to react. I need to finish finding out what happened. The salesman convinces lucky that he needs to spruce up the missus. It's not a hard task. Without manipulation, the sap goes along. He knows he's a lucky schmuck.

What he doesn't know is the salesman starts to lay the ropes, the ones I see now. He's much better than I gave him credit for. These lines are delicate and carefully placed. He takes time with Lucky. Hundreds and thousands of lines are placed to make the cable. He has to create it so that lucky leaves on his own. That makes a tighter cord for killing the old self, and only the completely changed are good enough for collecting.

I see why Angel was different. She is a side project, something to throw away. He doesn't want her. That is his mistake. She finds me.

The salesman is moving now. He pushes Lucky off of him, trying to distance himself physically while he tries to sever the cord. It's too late. I've already got my gun out.

I'm so intent on the connection between the salesman and Lucky, that I don't notice the snake charmer. He lunges at me. He's ready to knock me into tomorrow. But he doesn't know the rules. And like me, he has to live by them. His fist goes flying through my jaw and it's soon followed by the rest of his body. He lands in a ball on the floor.

My eyes never leave my target. I take aim at the cable and fire. The first of my last four bullets pierces through the lines and buries itself in the wall.

The weave ruptures and tears. I reach out and grab them before the disappear. The biggest clue to my goal will go with them.

Angel's husband is free of the connection. As free as she is. He hadn't been completed and I can see him revert to his old self. Angel picks him up and takes him out of there. She says she'll drink a scotch for me.

The snake charmer is out cold in the corner. For all intents and purposes, I'm alone with my prey. I let a couple of lines go, just to let him know I mean business. He doesn't talk. I can see that he knows my killer, but I can't see a face or a name. I let a few more strands out of my fingers. He's dead as soon as I let them all go. He knows that, but still he says nothing.

I should be looking at his eyes, but I'm not. I'm looking at the remaining strings, even though there's nothing to be found. The first blow to my head startles me. My hands open up and I drop my gun and his life. Smoke curls up from the corners of his mouth and he falls over.

The second blow knocks me to my knees. These aren't the rules.

I try to turn and face my attacker, but the third blow stops me. The world is going black. What's that smell? I know that perfume. I need my flask...

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