When it came down to a choice between keeping himself entertained or doing his work, Private Eye Mark Mammon (AKA: Fix) always opted for the former not the latter. Unfortunately, stakeouts were just the sort of inactivity needed to trigger the part of Mark's brain that rationalized why he should be playing solitaire on the passenger seat of his '86 Nippon coupe. Spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, were suddenly made more important than monitoring the suburban apartment building to watch for the woman his client had hired him to find.
Fix's client, Dr. Harold Naspy (or "Cash Cow" as Mark referred to him) had given him a long list of people to locate. Instead of paying Fix to work full time, as most clients preferred, the doctor had opted for a cheaper, less work intensive method. Mark was paid $150 per person located, as their addresses and phone numbers were found.
While on the first day of the case, Mark finished 23 of the 78 people on the list by phone and Internet. Naspy eagerly paid Mark, all cash, much to the detective's delight. He left Naspy's lab feeling like he should've given the scientist a bigger discount.
Over the next week, the next 16 names came to him through various channels. Naspy was too busy to see Mark, but by the time he did, two weeks later, the list had swelled to 29. With the previous 23, that meant he had only 16 names to go.
As Christmas rolled around, Mark put Naspy's case on the back burner. Three more names trickled in during the holidays, but the detective didn't even realize it until he checked his email after New Year's. Again, Naspy was too busy to see Mark and he suggested that the detective put his case aside for a few weeks until the scientist had time to see him.
Unfortunately, for Naspy, this was the absolute worst thing anyone could say to Mark Mammon if they wanted him to get work done. The detective promptly shelved Naspy's case file between a pile of obsolete video game cartridges and a dying potted plant on top of his filing cabinets.
Naspy started emailing Mark in early February, but the detective was currently in the habit of deleting any messages whose return address he didn't recognize. (A previous client, dissatisfied with Mark's work, spent 90% of his free time signing the detective's email addressing to every electronic mailing list on the Internet.) Eventually, Naspy's emails became so demanding and threatening, sometime around mid-March, Mark actually read one of them.
Unfortunately, the detective had forgotten the case and promptly replied to the email with a list of his rates and a suggestion that Naspy take an anger management course. Infuriated, Naspy reminded the detective who he was and threatened to sue. Mark then remembered Naspy and, as a peace offering, offered to find the last 8 names on the list at half price.
As the weeks wore on, the names became more and more difficult to match with a person and Naspy himself, who had initially been a fountain of information, drew a blank on almost every question Mark asked. Mark became convinced the scientist was doing it on purpose and Naspy became more and more agitated with the detective's slow progress.
It was for this reason, Mark now played solitaire in the Nippon. With the lower rate he had promised Naspy, spending days tracking down the names on the list was no longer cost-effective. He was secretly hoping the scientist would fire him and hire another P.I.
Out of the three names left on the list: Dawn Barrett, Gerald Thompson and Wayne Burrows; Thompson was dead, Burrows was in prison in Arkansas and Barrett, unless Mark missed his guess as was so often before, was inside one of the suburban apartments going down on whoever had called her escort service.
Call girls are notoriously skittish, and with good reason. Booking her as a client was out of the question, since all escorts which to retain anonymity. (And besides, who wants to spend $300 to make 75?) Mark needed to catch Dawn just as she was coming out of the building and pretend like he knew her personally. Any whiff that he might have once been a client and she would most likely tear out of the parking lot like it was on fire.
Dawn discreetly exited through the fire escape door and headed for her car, which was parked near the second apartment building. Mark recognized her immediately from the escort service's website. She had this tacky, poofy blonde hairstyle that was so obviously a wig. As Mark casually approached, he also noticed that the wig was so covered in hairspray that anything short of hurricane force winds wouldn't knock it over. Her overcoat partially covered a shear blouse, which at a distance, was demure, but close up had a plunging neckline that went all the way to her waist.
Mark had left his black trench coat in the car. He was wearing jeans, an "F" baseball cap and a T-shirt for a Maryland, grunge/pop band called "Felonious Crabbe". He had wanted to appear to be entering one of the other apartments, so on the way to the stakeout, he stopped by the liquor store to buy a 6-pack. Unfortunately, he hadn't stopped at the ATM machine, so rather than paying the service fee for using the one in the store, he opted to create the appearance of a 6-pack. Behind the store was a pile of empties awaiting recycling, so Mark assembled his own brewskis consisting of rainwater and a mismatched group of 6 screw top bottles in a faded cardboard carrier.
"Hey," Mark said curiously, after passing Dawn by a few steps. "Dawn Barrett?"
Dawn took another step and looked around to assure herself there wasn't a police car nearby. She stopped in her tracks and examined Mark with bemused curiosity.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Mark Mammon. We met at one of the clubs on Delaware in Philly. Evolution, wasn't it?"
"I'm not much into Goth," she replied, still suspicious. "Remind me what it is you do again."
"I'm a Private Investigator," Mark smiled roguishly, hoping to entice her with all the romantic notions his occupation brings. "You're a model, right?"
Something clicked behind Dawn's eyes.
"Something like that," she said, flashing a business card. "You can view my portfolio and my rates on this website."
Mark took the card, surprised by her brazen display of occupation. She moved close and looked Mark over like a side of beef.
"My ex-husband sent you, right? The man's insane. Tell you what, split that 6-pack with me and I'll do you right in the car. Then you can tell him what he's still missing."
"Wow," laughed Mark, impressed with her sexual bravado. "You really like to turn the screws, so to speak."
You know it, honey," she said, grabbing Mark by the crotch. "My ex was a real Bible thumper and now I'm just a real thumper."
For a moment, Mark was so distracted at the prospect of a lewd, on-the-job bonus, that he nearly forgot why he was there. But when Dawn grabbed him, the thought of his girlfriend, Mindy, finding an empty condom wrapper and chasing him with a chainsaw or similar nasty weapon, caused him to snap back to reality and guide her hand away.
"Actually, a friend of yours, a Dr. Harold Naspy, hired me to find you."
"Harold Naspy. Medium build, bad hair--- Very intense. Kind of like Dr. Frankenstein if he was overworked and never used hair conditioner."
"I don't know 'em. What's he want?"
"He's putting together some sort of memorial for his wife, Lydia. Her maiden name was Jaspers."
Dawn thought for a moment. She was about to dismiss Mark and get back in her car, when, suddenly, she remembered.
"Oh, my God. Liddie? Is that who he means? No."
"She was my best friend from Kindergarten until the third grade. You have a picture?"
Mark showed her the picture of Lydia that Naspy had provided. Dawn studied it closely.
"My God, that could be her," she smiled, then thought. "Aw, but she's dead? And I haven't seen her in over 20 years, what sort of memorial?"
"Don't ask me, but he's interviewed just about every person his wife ever met."
"Well, no offense," she replied, handing Mark the picture back. "But if he wants my time, he'll have to pay like everyone else. $300 for one hour. My pager number's on the card."
"Aw, c'mon. It's not the like the guys wants to--- Y'know."
"No," said Dawn innocently, getting back in her car. "I'm just a model."
Naspy's lab was set in a run down industrial park on Route 73 in Southern New Jersey. Mark knew the place, since he had been an office temp for one of the businesses that sold kitchen cabinets and other paraphernalia there during the late 80's. Obscenely expensive and overly landscaped, the owners quickly drove the renters out of the spaces or out of business within two years. Eventually, bits and pieces of the park were sold off to pay off the original builder's bankruptcy. A Chunky Chicken franchise bought the first building nearest the highway and a storage company bought most of the units in the back. Naspy's lab was situated in two of the remaining buildings that almost no one would rent. The new owners refused to spend any money on them and the once pristine landscaped bushes and plants grew wherever they could get a foothold on the medians and in the parking lot.
Mark parked in a space which was currently occupied by an abandoned Chunky Chicken meal. The stench of rotting chicken wafted from a nearby dumpster. "Suite 200A" was stenciled in faded letters on a glass door at Naspy's lab. The only light was from the Chunky Chicken Drive Thru sign nearby. Naspy had given the detective a key since the door buzzer no longer worked. When their working relationship deteriorated, he asked for it back, but the detective lied and said he lost it. He used it now to enter, as if to defy the scientist's carefully ordered world. He planned on giving it back, provided the scientist didn't do or say anything that would serve to piss him off.
Making his way through a room of abandoned cubicles and office furniture, Mark approached the door to the warehouse that now served as Naspy's lab. A bundle of cables, which ran from a fuse box somewhere else in the building, held the door ajar, allowing the light to guide the detective inside. Mark found Naspy huddled over a console full of buttons and dials. His wispy hairline followed his head like leaves caught in the wind.
"Hey, Nappy," greeted the detective, purposely mispronouncing his name for maximum obnoxiousness. "Is Frankenstein ready? The villagers are gathering pitchforks."
"Frankenstein was the scientist," corrected Naspy, allowing his irritation to show. "What do you have for me, Fix?"
As Napsy approached Mark, he flipped over a chalkboard which contained a line chart with the names of the people from the list and dates going from 1965 to 1999.
"Dawn Barrett, your wife's grammar school buddy. Seems she made a career out of, you-show-me-yours, I'll-show-you-mine."
Naspy pulled a sheet over a monitor, which contained a 3-D CAT scan of someone's brain. He then turned to give Mark a confused look.
"She's a prostitute?" he asked, aghast.
"An escort, it's not quite the same thing," corrected Mark. "The good news is, she'll come whenever you want. The bad news is, it'll cost you $300 an hour. $500 if you want two."
"Fine, whatever--- Just get her here. What about the other two?"
"Burrows is doing 7-10 for robbing a car wash in Arkansas and Thompson is dead," Mark read from his notepad. He snapped it shut. "And that concludes Mark Mammon's Case from Hell. I'll expect my $150 check in 30 days."
"Thompson's dead? How?"
"That plane crash in Florida. What difference does it make? He can't contribute to the memorial."
"Then I need a replacement for him."
"What kind of memorial has this many people in it?"
"You said, no questions."
"Then get your own replacement."
The detective turned to leave. Naspy leapt over a PC he had bastardized for parts and stood in front of the doorway.
"We had a verbal contract. 78 people."
"78 names. You've overstayed your welcome, Nappy. I want out or more money."
"Fine! I'll pay you the full rate."
"In advance, plus $100 bonus for my aggravation."
"You're blackmailing me!"
"And you're boring me, so pay up or get out of the way."
Naspy reached into his sweat stained lab smock and pulled out a wad of $100 bills. He placed it in the detective's hand without even counting it, then grabbed his hand and looked him straight in the eye.
"This is all I have left," he said intently. "$1200. You can have it all, but you have to swear to bring me this last person, no matter what the cost."
"As long as it doesn't exceed $1050 or two weeks, fine."
Naspy screwed his face up in frustration. He needed more a commitment from the detective to guarantee success.
"You know, Fix. I have spent the better part of a year paying you in cash. You strike me as the sort of person that would let that slip past his accountant."
Mark couldn't help it. He stopped himself in mid-grimace, but it was too late. The detective's face had betrayed him and Naspy knew he had Mark where he wanted him.
"You find this last person no matter what the cost or spend the next few months explaining your creative bookkeeping to an IRS auditor."
"Fine, just give me---"
"I mean it. I'll report you."
"I said, fine! Just give me the fuckin' name!"
Naspy handed Mark a torn manila folder which contained information on the last person he needed to trace. Mark ripped it out of the scientist's hand and headed for the door. Naspy chased after him.
"He dated my wife in the early 90's. They were co-workers."
"You want me to look up your dead wife's old boyfriend for her memorial? What the Hell for?"
"That is my business. You said, no questions."
"I say lots of things. I'll be saying, goodbye forever once I find this loser."
And with that, Mark stormed out of the decaying office building into a misty rain. Naspy promptly locked the glass door behind him. In the driver's seat of the Nippon, Mark examined the file. Then, the case that he didn't think could get any worse, suddenly jumped several notches beyond worse. The file contained information on a mental patient from New Jersey named James Dean Vern.
"Shit. Of all people," muttered the detective. "J.D."
James Dean Vern, or J.D., as he preferred to be called, was, at that moment, sitting in a Holloway Township meeting. The local zoning board was discussing the fate of Lot 382, otherwise known as Gatts Falls. It was a tiny strip of land nestled in the Pine Barrens that had, for years, held a little stream and waterfall. It was positioned at what eventually became a busy intersection along the 543 Spur.
For 34 years, Wilfred Gatts had owned the plot of land and used it to sell his crabs to the tourist going to and from the Jersey shore. But 3 years ago, Gatts died and his estate was contested by his survivors. Meanwhile, Gatts' friends had been using the plot to continue selling crabs and other wares. Unfortunately, the land had to be sold to pay back taxes on the Gatts' estate and was now in the crosshairs of the DWT Corporation. DWT's accountants decided the plot, the stream and the falls should be cleared to put up yet another drug store, when the highway only 5 miles away was already choked with them.
This is ridiculous," muttered dark skinned Greek next to J.D. "I sold sunglasses on that lot for ten years. Wilfred would've never sold it!"
"Calm down, Mr. Bakouvi," instructed one of Holloway's zoning officers. "You're not a resident, here. It hardly effects you."
J.D. wanted to tell the zoning officer that he lived in Holloway. But living amongst the Pines, sleeping on the ground and foraging for your own food only meant that you were homeless, not self-sufficient. He was also reluctant to attract the attention of two state troopers, who were also in attendance. J.D. kept to himself in the back of the room.
"DWT Corp is building a drug store for the community," assured the DWT rep. "The lot has been zoned commercially. What's the difference if someone sells drugs or crabs or sunglasses?"
"But we don't need another store," argued Pricilla Hansen, an octogenarian who lived up the street. "Your company has built hundreds of drug stores all over the state. Half of them get abandoned or turned into 99 cent stores."
"My company can't be responsible for the economic decline of neighborhoods. We bring jobs and goods and products."
"What about my business?" interjected Bakouvi. "You sell cheap. How can I compete?"
"DWT wants to be an important part of the community," insisted the rep.
"You all have a point," admitted the hesitant head of the zoning board. "However, the DWT Corp does have the money to pay the taxes on the lot, so---"
"If it's so important for DWT to be an important part of this community," interrupted J.D. causing the room to go silent. "Why doesn't your company refurbish one of the already existing buildings on the nearby highway?"
"Well, I, uh--- I'm sure it's been looked into," assured the DWT rep. "If it was cost effective, we'd implement that idea---"
"What you mean is, that it's cheap to tear down some trees and build over a stream, than it is to refit or rebuild on an already existing lot. What you mean is, this is about lining DWT's pockets, not helping the community, as the vendors of Gatts Falls have clearly done for years," corrected J.D.
A cheer went up from the side of the room. Mr. Bakouvi and the other vendors, who thought they were in a losing battle, suddenly found a voice.
"Hmm, you have a point too," the head of the zoning board mused.
"It doesn't matter. There's $8700 due in back taxes on the lot. It's due in a week or else the lot must go up for sale," reminded the DWT rep. "We can wait and buy it then."
"Then wait," said J.D. standing. "Unless, of course, somebody has the money in a week."
"We've raised $5300," said Mr. Bakouvi. "They won't take it."
J.D. did a mental calculation in his head. He had about $2400 left from the money he robbed from those heroine couriers. But it had taken him two months to plan the robbery and several weeks of tracking their movements. Making $1000 in a week would be tough for him, but not impossible.
The wishy-washy zoning board adjourned for another week, while J.D. headed out of the meeting room ahead of a state trooper that had eyed him suspiciously. Bakouvi caught up with him in the parking lot.
"Hey, you know Gatts? What's your angle in this?" he asked.
"I like the stream and the falls. My father used to stop here when I was a kid," J.D. replied. "I think I can get the rest of your money. Do you think the vendors will put up another $500?"
"It's not worth it to them. They say if they had to put up that much, we might as well move."
"Give me the week. I'll get your money."
"Just like that? Just for the falls? You must want something. I get you sunglasses. Anytime."
The state trooper and his partner walked out of the Holloway Township Meeting House. They immediately spotted J.D.
"I'll see you in a week," assured J.D.
Holloway had its own police force, but these two troopers, both of whom lived in Holloway with their families, took special interest in the town. Twenty minutes later, the troopers were following J.D., at a distance, in their patrol car. The hermit knew that it was just a matter of time before one of them constructed a reason to search him. He had no I.D., which meant they were likely to bring him to a police station for fingerprinting. If they found out who he was, it was back to the hospital or worse, prison. J.D. would rather die.
The troopers had surmised, mistakenly, that J.D. parked his vehicle somewhere on the empty streets of Holloway. This time of year, the November chill drove away any potential business, so most of the stores closed early. Main street was full of parking spaces, but no cars, dozens of store fronts, but no customers, tens of payphones and no callers.
Just when it seemed that the troopers were going to catch up to J.D., something truly odd happened. The payphones on Main Street began to ring, one of the east side of the street and one on the west side, then back and forth all the way down the street. The troopers looked at each other, perplexed. The hermit grimaced in annoyance.
"Fix," he muttered under his breath. "Just what I need."
J.D. grabbed the nearest payphone.
"I'll give you $1000 for an hour of your time," Mark said quickly on the other end. "Look, all I need is---"
"Fine, just run your computer program again and keep ringing these phones," muttered the hermit. "I'll meet you at your office."
"Are you kidding me?" the detective said, incredulous. "You never take money. The only reason I offered you that much is because you usually say no."
"What can I say? You caught me on a slow day. Now run the program again."
The troopers stopped looking around curiously and refocused their attention on J.D. It was him. He must've made the phones ring.
"Will you take $500?"
"Just run the program!" hissed the hermit hanging up.
J.D. turned a corner, just as the troopers were about to stop him. The first ran back to the car, while the second hesitated just long enough for Fix to run his phone-dialing program. (The program had every pay phone in the Pine Barrens in its database and would ring them each once until J.D. or someone else picked up.) The trooper picked up the nearest payphone.
"Uh, hi," said Mark, trying to think of something to make the trooper hang up. "Can I interest you in a Florida time share, 30% savings on long distance and the word of Jesus?"
The trooper promptly slammed down the receiver and continued back to his car.
J.D. hitchhiked his way north, eventually arriving in the decaying, Pennsauken shopping plaza that contained Mark's detective agency, Inevitable Investigations. The detective, however, was at his usual spot next door at the Tally-Ho Arcade playing the latest video game, Grudge Kill.
"If you can tear yourself away from the bright, shiny lights and funny noises, I'd like to get my money now," informed J.D. upon entering.
J.D.'s entrance caused Mark to miss a shot, abruptly ending his game. He grabbed the soda from the nearby cup holder and sighed in exasperation.
"Leave it to you to ruin a high score." He took a sip. "We said $800, right?"
"Fix," J.D. said in annoyance. "Don't mistake me for one of your gullible, college buddies. I'm not your lackey. And don't ever forget, I know your secret and then some."
"Big deal, so you know about the Stuff," scoffed Mark. "Look at ya. Nobody'd believe you if you said the sky was blue."
"Yeah-yeah-yeah," countered Fix, waving him off. "Follow me if you want your money."
While Mark explained, the twosome got into the Nippon and headed to Naspy's lab. Mark stopped at the Chunky Chicken on the way in and bought two specials.
"For me?" said J.D. curiously.
"Live a little," Mark said, getting out of the car. "I don't want you hunting down squirrels to eat. We're in civilization, here."
Just as he was about to take the lab key out of his pocket, Mark noticed Dawn Barrett's car parked nearby. He smiled mischievously.
"Looks like Nappy's already got someone here," smiled the detective.
"Are we interrupting something?" asked J.D. with a mouthful of chicken.
"Let's hope so."
The detective swung the lab door wide when they entered, hoping to catch Naspy with Dawn's head in his lap. Instead, the twosome found Naspy standing over Dawn, who was sitting in what looked like an extremely plush electric chair.
"Fix!" said Naspy, startled. "What is it? We're busy."
"Dr. Naspy," said Dawn in a little girl voice. "I'm sleepy. I want my daddy."
Naspy ushered J.D. and Fix out of the lab and into the cubicle area. Mark giggled uncontrollably, as J.D finished his sandwich and surveyed the lab. Across the room, J.D. spotted a tank full of a semi-transparent fluid. It was made from glass and was partially covered with a sheet, but underneath with the unmistakable shape of two feet inside the tank.
"Jeez," Mark grinned to J.D. in the cubicle room. "He must've paid for the full two hours."
"What do you want?" demanded the scientist.
"This is James Vern. Hello!" said Mark, further taunting the scientist by knocking on his forehead with his knuckles. "Hello, McFly! Hello!"
"I'm sorry," he said, shaking J.D.'s hand. "Harold Naspy. My wife was Lydia Jaspers."
"Lydia, sure," remembered J.D. "She was something. I'm sorry for your loss. How did it happen?"
"Drunk driver, hit and run. She was everything to me. Everything," Naspy pondered bitterly. "But you can help me bring her back."
J.D. and Mark looked at each other confused.
"To the world, by honoring her memory," finished Naspy. "I, uh--- I'm sorry. It's been a long day."
"Well, we don't want to eat up your, uh, spanking time," said Mark, trying to speed up the conversation. "We'll come back in---"
"We'll come back tomorrow," informed J.D.
"Tomorrow?" objected Mark.
"Tomorrow," insisted J.D., giving Mark a threateningly look. "You and I have that appointment. The one that if we miss, someone gets his head kicked in."
"Oh, that appointment. Uh, yeah. We'll see you tomorrow, Nappy."
Back in the Nippon, Mark contained his contempt until he got back on the highway, heading to his office.
"All right, what was that all about?"
"Don't you see? Naspy's hiding something."
"So? He's got a little girl voice fetish thing? I mean, I like Mindy to wear cheerleader outfits, but---"
"Not that. Do you even know who your client is? Did you even bother to run a background check or make sure he actually was married to Lydia?"
"Hey, listen hermit-boy, the only thing I checked is that his cash was green."
"Something weird is happening and I'm not participating in this so-called memorial until I find out what it is."
"God dammit!" snapped Mark, punching the steering wheel in frustration. "This fucking case never ends."
The twosome went back to Inevitable Investigations. In most detective agencies, reviewing a case file was as simple as pulling a manila folder from a filing cabinet. Unfortunately, the Mark Mammon Filing System involved something akin to "out of sight, out of mind". Mark had attempted to continue the system of filing by alphabetical order of the client's last name (a system devised by his ex-secretary). But, over the years, there were cases Mark investigated that had no clients, so Mark stacked them on his desk until the pile became so high, he shoved them in the nearest drawer during one of his half-ass office clean-ups.
Once the system got knocked out of whack, Mark contributed to the chaos by shoving case files into the most convenient drawer on some days and remembering the filing system on others. He had made the costly mistake of filing the 78 names by the last name of the person Naspy wanted to find, rather putting under one big file under "Naspy". After twenty minutes of trying to decipher the labyrinth of old files, J.D. grabbed the ten folders they found and placed them on the desk blotter under his secretary's desk lamp.
"We'll start with these," instructed J.D. moving the dusty "Back-in-10-minutes sign" out of his way. "Call them up and find out what this memorial is all about."
"I'm really sorry about the files," apologized Mark meekly. "I've been meaning to have Mindy come in here and reorganize."
"The phone, Fix. In this lifetime," urged the impatient hermit.
The first name was Adam Vendel, Lydia's cousin and close friend during a painful break up before she met Naspy. Mark had located him in the second go-round and remembered running into him at the lab.
"Hi, this is Mark Mammon, we met a few weeks ago at Harold's lab."
"I'm sorry, who?"
"Mark Mammon, I'm the detective that located you. For Harold Naspy. For your cousin's memorial."
Nothing but dead air on the other end of the line. Mark gave J.D. a confused look. He was sure this was one of the names on the list. Mark remembered talking to Adam about the PC version of Grudge Kill. They had traded video game war stories. They had virtually bonded right there on the stoop of the lab. The voice was the same. It had to be the guy, but it was clear he was clueless.
"I'm sorry, whose cousin?"
"Yours. Lydia Naspy, her maiden name was Jaspers. We talked about video games at the lab."
"I don't have a cousin named Lydia," replied Adam carefully. "I do, however, have a form of amnesia that I'm being treated for. If this happened within the month…"
Mark rolled his eyes. Rushing Adam off the phone, he apologized for bothering him and began dialing the next person. J.D. shook his head in disbelief.
"I'm telling you, that was him."
"Right," scoffed J.D. "With your filing system, how the Hell could you tell?"
Mark called the next nine names. On four, he got no answer, not even an answering machine. Two of the names on the list had suffered some sort of mental breakdown. The other three calls were answered by worried spouses that hadn't seen their better halves since the night they went to visit Naspy.
"This is screwed up," said the stymied detective. "I didn't have this much trouble contacting 90% of these people and now their all gone?!"
"Naspy did something to them," insisted J.D. "He's hiding something."
"I'll find some more names," said Mark, reaching for the filing cabinet drawer.
"We'll be here all night. Does Adam Vendel live close by?"
Ten minutes later, the twosome were standing in front of Adam Vendel's condo. Mark had given J.D. his old beige trench coat in a vain attempt to make him appear more civilized.
"Let me do the talking," muttered Mark, ringing the doorbell.
"You can, until you make an ass of yourself," said J.D. wary of the detective' abilities.
"Just so we're clear," quipped Mark.
Vendel opened the door. He was wearing a bright red sports jacket, matching pants, striped shirt and a skinny tie. The style was at least 15 years out of date, ill-fitting and faded. Mark stifled his amusement at this fashion faux pas, then proceeded to identify himself.
"Hi, Adam. Uh, sorry to bother you at home. I'm Mark Mammon, this is Jay, we called you earlier about Harold Naspy."
"Oh, yes. Please come in."
Vendel's house was modestly decorated. The living room was stacked with old newspapers, encyclopedia yearbooks and other old newspaper clippings. Hooked to the television was an old Betamax VCR with a home video of Adam in the clothes he was wearing, when they were new. The stereo was playing "I ran" by Flock of Seagulls on a real record player, which looked like it had been pulled out of the attic with the Betamax.
"I tried to keep you on the phone, but---"
"Yeah, I'm sorry I rushed you off there," apologized the detective. "But it's kind of urgent and if you have amnesia…"
"But that's just it, you may be able to help me," explained Adam. "The doctors say my amnesia is very selective and unique. I have only forgotten things from 1985 on up to about a year ago."
"And you don't remember meeting Fix or Dr. Naspy?" added J.D.
Adam shook his head in puzzlement. Fix flipped through some of his notes.
"Wait a minute, you knew Lydia in 1985," explained Mark.
Adam shook his head again.
"No, you did. You were cousins, but you didn't actually meet and becomes friends until then. Lydia died about a year ago," Mark told J.D.
"The memorial to Lydia must involve people's memories of her," deduced J.D. "But why would he steal people's memories?"
"How could he?" asked Mark.
"I'd really like to know if you can find out," said the exasperated Adam. "In the meantime, I have to try and put my life back together."
"Here's a start," offered Mark. "Burn that suit."
A few minutes later, the twosome were back in the Nippon.
"Naspy's trying to bring his wife back to life," concluded J.D. "What he said in the lab. And that woman."
"Oh, my God!" thought Mark. "Dawn was Lydia's friend in Kindergarten! She wasn't putting on a voice!"
"Naspy erased her memories, her whole life," said J.D. grimly.
"How the Hell could he do it?" said Mark incredulous. "I mean, that's just cold!"
"There's only one way we can find out the nuts and bolts," noted J.D.
"Oh, no!" insisted Mark. "I'm not taking the Stuff! No way! Last time it turned my skin transparent. I could see my lunch being digested. Blah!"
"If Naspy could build a machine that can steal people's memories, there's no telling what's in the lab. I'll watch out for you," assured J.D.
"Oh," replied the detective, momentarily touched. "That's nice you. There's really no one else who could do that. Y'know, who knows about the Stuff. Well, I suppose Mindy could, but I wouldn't trust her with my car keys, much less---"
"Just pull over and take the Stuff, Fix," interrupted J.D. impatiently.
Mark complied and stopped the Nippon in a parking lot for a water ice stand that was closed for the season. He opened a hidden pocket on the inside of his overcoat that was sealed with Velcro. Inside was a test tube containing the mysterious glowing green goo. It was corked with a wad of paper and two band-aids. J.D raised an eyebrow.
"I ran out of stoppers," explained Mark.
"Fix, I don't know what this Stuff is, but I do know it's dangerous. Remember our deal."
"Yeah, I know," said Mark in exasperation. "Just because you were there the night I found it---"
"It was in my woods and I'll take it back there if I have to---"
"Look, I'm not going through this every time we meet. You didn't want it, it's mine. Besides, you couldn't be bothered figuring out what it is. What do you care if I blow myself up?"
"Fix, contrary to what you might think, I--- I consider you an ally," said the hermit hesitatingly. "For what its worth."
"An ally?" laughed Mark. "You hard-assed, son-of-a-bitch, you just can't admit it, can you?"
J.D. stared back at him in silence. After a few seconds, Mark realized this was as close as J.D. every got to admitting they were friends. Mark figured, why push it? He'd rather have New Jersey's most dangerous outlaw with him than against them. Mark did a shot of the Stuff in one quick move.
Mark's brain was immediately overloaded with images of the past, present and future. He is three years old and decides to ride his tricycle down the stairs. It is two hours from now and he stands in the parking lot of Chunky Chicken looking dumbfounded. It is some time in the future and he is playing cards with the leader of the Philadelphia Yakuza. It is thirty years from now and he sleeps soundly on shuttle back to Mars. Tastes, sounds, smells, touches and sights assault his senses, until finally the white noise clears, fog billows from nowhere and the vision comes.
Driven over the edge by the death of his wife, Naspy decided to clone her and bring her back to life. Unfortunately, the clone had no knowledge or memories of the life of Lydia Naspy, so Naspy developed a machine that would transfer memories into the clone. Unfortunately, in order to fully extract the memories, they had to be erased from the "donor" brain, which left side effects depending upon the age and the amount of information obtained.
Mark's 78 names were a list of people from Lydia's life that could connect her memories from beginning to end. Naspy had destroyed the minds of everyone who he placed in his machine. Their early memories stolen, the later memories collapsed and became useless. This left Dawn Barrett with the brain of the Kindergartener and many others, like Adam Vendel, missing decades of memories.
But the biggest problem for Naspy's experiment was that there was one small period of memories still missing. It was the brief period when Lydia dated J.D. Without those memories, the delicate thought patterns from the beginning to the end of her life, Naspy felt, would crumble and he would be left with a life-like zombie of Lydia.
Mark relayed all this information to J.D.
"He's mad, Fix," J.D. said sadly. "He has to be stopped."
"Wait a minute, think about this for a second," considered Mark. "You dated Lydia before you, well---"
"Went nuts and moved to the woods?" finished J.D.
"Yeah. Think about it. If he removes the memories of Lydia, you'll be back where you were before you went crazy. You'd be…well, normal again."
"Think about it! You had a life before you decided to become the great defender of the Pines. You could go back to 9 to 5 and television and family barbeques. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad this time. And if Lydia got her life back, wouldn't that be good?"
The hermit looked out the window. His face had suddenly grown tired. Life inside the Pines was liberating and everything he wanted, but there were times--- Times when he slept out in the rain or couldn't find food or froze during the winter--- The harsh reality was, J.D. knew he couldn't live in the outdoors forever.
"No," said the hermit, sadly, letting a tiny whisper of emotion betray him. "I can't. I can't destroy one life for another."
It was then he noticed the detective's skin turning black and wrinkly. It almost looked like leather, but not quite.
"What?" said Mark, not realizing.
The detective looked in the mirror. The Stuff, as usual, had given him a very unusual side effect. Every time he touched something, his body took on the properties of the material. The black, fake leather covering of his steering wheel, now infused every atom of his body.
"Cool," said Mark, impressed. "I can't feel my clothes."
"We'll wait until it wears off and---"
"Are you kidding?" said Mark. "I've got superpowers. Let's get 'em before it wears off."
Mark park the Nippon in the Chunky Chicken parking lot and the twosome approached Naspy's lab so they wouldn't be seen through the glass doors. On the walk over, Mark's sneakers and socks slid off.
"Fix, be careful," whispered J.D. "We don't want to spook him."
"Ah, crap," said Mark as he stepped on the asphalt.
Almost immediately, Mark went from being made from leather into being made from asphalt. His body was now twice as heavy with the same strength. It made for slow going. J.D. spotted a branch laying in one of the parking spaces. He handed it to the detective, who promptly turned to wood. It lightened the load somewhat.
"Well, this is just great," whispered Fix as they approached the door. "What am I? The wooden detective? This doesn't help us."
"I told you to wait, just give me the key."
"I'll get it."
But Mark, again, wasn't thinking. When he pulled out the brass key from his pocket, his entire body turned into brass and he toppled over and right through the glass door with a crash.
J.D. struggled to pull the now, brass detective to his feet, but he was too heavy and had fallen on top of the key.
"Mmmmm!" added Mark in protest.
Changing the plan, J.D. decided to see if he could sneak in through the back. But, as he turned to leave, a dark figure stepped out of the overgrown shrubs and cold-cocked him with a baseball bat.
When J.D. came to, he was sitting in Naspy's chair in the middle of his lab. The scientist was pushing buttons and switches on his equipment with the sort of hurried desperation Han Solo used on the Millennium Falcon while escaping the Deathstar. J.D. struggled against the straps and the scientist turned to look at him.
"Don't do this," warned J.D.
"I have to. It's the only way to save Lydia," informed Naspy, continuing with his work.
"Yes, but not for long."
"At what cost, Naspy? You've destroyed the lives of dozens of people for nothing."
"Not for nothing, for Lydia. For science---"
"For yourself. Or are you actually so blinded by your own needs that you don't realize this can't work."
"It will work! The memories are real!"
"They're not hers! I barely remember her! What good could my memories do?!"
"No! That's not true! Lydia's a treasure. You'd never forget."
"She's a phantom to me. A ghost from my past. I didn't remember her until Fix said her name. You need someone else. Someone who was intimate with her."
"There is no one else! Just--- I'm sorry."
At that moment, J.D. and the scientist became aware of the steady tapping of glass against cement. It was Mark. He had managed to drop the key and his power had turned him into glass. Steadying himself into a standing position, he drew his gun and quickly aimed. His entire body turned into the same black metal.
"Let him out of that chair," Mark order, his voice echoing in his metal cheeks.
Naspy reached for a switch and Mark fired. His arcade-enhanced aim shot the wire just above the metal cap on J.D.'s head. The blast of the bullet caused Mark to topple backwards, his metal body cracking the cement floor. Naspy's delicately rigged memory contraption began to spark and overload. He immediately recovered a CD-Rom from one of the drives and fled out the back door.
Approximately 20 minutes later, there was a sputtering and a popping sound. Mark Mammon abruptly returned to the human race, his bizarre absorbing powers having left him. He unstrapped J.D. from the chair. A quick search of the lab revealed the glass tank J.D. had spotted hours earlier, but Naspy had already moved the clone to another, safer location.
Mark had no other addresses or leads for Naspy, so he paid J.D. his $1000 and prepared to leave the lab for good. He stood in the parking lot, dumbfounded.
"What?" asked J.D.
"All this," explained Mark. "He destroyed the lives of so many people and for what? We're never gonna find him and he goes completely unpunished for his crimes."
"Actually, I don't think we have to worry about Dr. Naspy going unpunished," concluded J.D.
At that moment, in Naspy's second lab, miles away, the prototype of his chair surged to life. As the machine finished it's job, the clone of Lydia Naspy opened her eyes. She immediately recognized the man strapped to the chair as her husband. Her love had done it! Harold had brought her back from the dead.
"You did it, darling!" she cooed, pulling the smoking helmet from his head. "I have all my memories! I am everything that makes Lydia Naspy and finally, we can be together forever!"
Harold got up from his chair carefully. He looked around the unfamiliar lab. Lydia looked up at him with hopeful eyes, but Harold seemed distant.
"I'm sorry," said Harold in confusion. "Do I know you?"