Aphelion Issue 239, Volume 23
May 2019
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

One Man's Meat

by C. E. Gee




Cochran’s red-rimmed, pig-like eyes fixed his young charge with a contemptuous and haughty stare. Growled the lieutenant, jowls flapping. “Git in here. I gotta job what’s right up your alley.”

Rick Reall took a chair at the front of the Lieutenant’s desk.

After chewing a cheeseburger, Lieutenant Cochran noisily slurped a soft drink.

Cochran put down the drink. Leaning back in his plush swivel-chair, he crossed his arms, supporting them with an ample paunch.

"So, Detective Reall, you like vice duty?"

"It’s all right."

Scornfully Cochran said, "Yeah, I’ll bet. Lotsa drugs, women, booze, filth. You’re in hog heaven, ain’t jah Reall. It was more a statement than a question.

Cochran lifted a manila folder, tossing it forward. The folder landed with a plop near the front edge of the desk. Papers slid out. Rick gathered them together before he picked up the folder. The folder disclosed much about the lieutenant, who still used paper not computer files.

“His voice oozing contempt the lieutenant asked, “Ever been to the Blue Garden?"

Thumbing through papers in the folder, Rick replied, "Sure. "It’s not the busiest strip club in town, but it has its attractions."

"That’s right," said Cochran. "An’ for the record, as of this morning, we got on file three different anonymous tips alleging the Blue Garden has been puttin’ on live sex shows."

Rick raised his eyebrows. "Now why would they do that? They could lose their dance permit, maybe even their liquor license."

Cochran shrugged. "I don’t get paid to unnerstand slime, only ta bust ‘em."

While Rick scanned briefing sheets Cochran issued his orders: "Both the Chief and the D.A. are hot to trot on this case, you’re authorized anything you need. You’re so new to the department, maybe nobody at the Blue Garden will recognize yer ugly mug. Case the joint, set up a raid, bring it on home. Think you can handle it?"

"Yes, Sir," answered Rick, standing. "No problem."

Again the Lieutenant fixed Rick with a haughty stare. "Don’t blow this, Reall. If these tips are on the up-and-up, we need a conviction. Unnerstand?"

"Yes, Sir."

Rick backed out of the lieutenant’s office, walked up the hallway. At his desk he read through the file. Three anonymous reports clearly indicated the seriousness of the allegations. These were no reports of overly zealous lap dancers or back booth trysts. All three reports gave compelling descriptions of live sex acts performed on the Blue Garden’s stage.

Rick signed out, walked a couple blocks uptown to a Chinese restaurant where he often lunched. In the era of cell phones there was little need for payphones but in a quiet nook near the restaurant’s restrooms a payphone booth gave Rick privacy.

Rick deposited a quarter, punched in the telephone number of the Blue Garden. After several rings a matronly voice responded with, "Blue Garden lounge."

Pressing a forefinger to one side of his nose gave Rick’s voice a nasal twang, to which he added a slight lilt. "Say," he said, "I hear rumour you all put on a mighty interestin’ show."

The response was an ominous quiet. Rick was about to try another question, was brought short with, "Who’s asking?"

"Just a fan of, uh, exotic dancing."

There came another pause before the voice announced, "Friday and Saturday nights. One-thirty a.m.. Double sawbuck cover charge. We close at two a.m.. Capeesh?"

"Yeah," replied Rick. "Thanks."

The phone clicked quiet.


*****



Midnight Friday found Rick comfortably sprawled in a back booth at the Blue Garden. At department expense he happily nursed a beer and gobbled an endless parade of bar snacks. A BLT from the club’s grill served as supper.

Rick watched the club’s stable of dancers go through their routines.

Rick’s innate perceptiveness easily discerned the hardened, bored expressions and the listless grace of the girls as they went through their routines. Rick saw nothing that might provide a prelude to any sex act.

Music blared from a boom-box, tended from behind the bar by one of the bartenders.

Poles, popular in other clubs were absent from the Blue Garden.

The club was packed. Belying his youthfulness, Rick possessed the senses of an old time beat cop. He expertly assessed the club’s clientele. Middle-aged men and older predominated. There was also a few younger men, Rick did his best to judge their temperament. If there was to be some future raid, older men were likely to sit through it, making jokes and verbally harassing the officers. It was younger men who chose to flee or fight.

The hour grew late; the stage had been vacant for several minutes. Soft background music sounded from the boom-box. A middle-aged woman, plump, garishly made up, circulated among the tables and booths, collecting the cover charge.

Her fist full of bills and debit card receipts, the woman stopped at Rick’s booth. "Stayin’ for the show?" she asked.

“Why not?" Rick replied, fishing a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet. "Got nothing better going on."

The woman sniffed derisively at Rick’s comment, though she seemed happy enough with his cash. "Picked a good night to take in the show," she commented, tucking Rick’s twenty in with the others.

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Bill made a buncha changes. It’s all new. I seen the rehearsal this mornin’." The woman sidled over to the next booth.

Rick had no idea who Bill was, focused his attention back to the stage. A mousy-looking man with thinning hair combed over wheeled a bed through the slit between two stage curtains. A sprinkling of applause and catcalls greeted his efforts. The man smiled good-naturedly as he precisely positioned the bed to the center of the stage, squinting down toward the stage floor as he jiggled the bed back and forth.

Satisfied with his efforts, the man fished long bolts from one pants pocket and a small ratchet wrench from the other. Kneeling in turn at each one of the four legs of the bed, he secured the bed to screw anchors set into the flooring.

After the work was completed the man went to the head of the bed, grabbing firm hold of a couple of railings. He shook the bed violently. The club’s crowd laughed and clapped its approval of the auspicious gesture.

The man waved to the audience, jumped offstage, disappearing through a door. Cued by the stagehand’s departure, one of the barkeeps placed a CD into the boom box. The theme song of a recent movie, a romantic comedy played from the boom box as the bartender adjusted the volume and cranked down the houselights.

The music went on for a few minutes. The bartender paused the CD. In expectation, the audience’s attention focused to the stage. Rick’s interest was as keen as he stared at the slit between the stage curtains.

A bearded and bespectacled man stepped through the slit, out onto the stage, to be greeted with friendly applause. Past middle-age, broad-shouldered, the man was dressed in boots, cargo-pants, tee-shirt, a white, knee-length lab coat.

The applause died out. "I’ve a special treat for tonight," the man called out, his unamplified voice deep and forceful enough to carry across the club. "I figured it was time for some changes. I think you’ll appreciate what I’ve done." The man condescendingly smiled.

Rick focused on the man’s lab coat. Though Rick’s booth was all of 10 meters from the stage, to the detective’s sharp eyes the lab coat appeared smeared with dried streaks of blood.

“Maestro!" Bill shouted as he waved flamboyantly to the barkeep manning the boom box, "A little music, if you please!" Bill retreated through the slit between the curtains. The music resumed.

The stage curtains billowed outward, a young woman stepped through the slit. The club filled with ecstatic applause and hollering, for the woman was none other than Roberta Jules, movie star of great popularity.

Rick could scarcely believe his eyes as Roberta slowly strolled downstage, into the full glare of the footlights. That it was her, there could be no doubt. The shy smile and downcast eyes were practically a trademark.

Rick’s eyes did not linger long on those features. His interest was quickly drawn to the soft curves of the woman’s alluring form, for her yoga pants could not have been any tighter.

Roberta casually strolled back and forth at the lip of the stage. Occasionally she would twirl about or move her hands in graceful patterns. To Rick’s puzzlement, these simple movements drew scattered applause from the audience.

Rick considered himself a pragmatic and logical person. He made no sense of the fact that a star of the magnitude of Roberta Jules would perform at a dive such as the Blue Garden.

The music faded out, replaced by a monotonous drum beat. The audience cheered wildly, some stood. The drum beat was familiar to Rick. Then he remembered, it was the theme to a fantasy movie about a prehistoric barbarian.

No!" muttered Rick to himself as he remembered who had starred in the epic. "How could they?"

Unseen hands pulled apart the stage curtains, revealing a man of heroic proportions who was dressed in jack boots, cuffed blue-jeans, a white tee shirt, a tight fitting motorcycle jacket. The man was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. The man was Harold Swartzendruber.

With slack-jawed incredulity Rick stared as the club’s crowd howled their delight. Realizing his calm demeanor was conspicuous, Rick clapped and whistled too as he peered across the club, trying to see if Harold’s weapon was a stage prop. Rick pressed his left bicep in against his shoulder holster.

Ponderously, with an awkward gait Harold walked downstage. His unlit cigar was clamped between his lips. When Harold reached the edge of the stage, he shifted the AK-47 to his left hand, used right hand to remove the cigar from his mouth. He held the cigar aloft, smiling a sardonic smile.

Perhaps because of Harold’s imposing presence, the club’s patrons calmed themselves. Polite applause answered Harold’s smile. He returned the cigar to his mouth, moved over to stage right.

The blaring boom box faded to a piano concerto. Roberta sashayed her way to center stage. She turned toward the house and began to remove her clothing, graceful movements following the gentle rhythms of the concerto. Despite the woman’s grace, Rick noticed her fumbling with the buttons and zipper, wondered if she’d been drugged.

When completely nude, Roberta kicked her clothes under the bed, then strutted back and forth across the stage, proudly displaying all she had to offer.

The music shifted once more, making an abrupt cut to the theme of a science fiction movie that some years ago had been Harold’s first major hit, which was now a cult classic.

Roberta turned toward Harold. Harold handed his weapon offstage to the stagehand, swaggered over to Roberta, unlit cigar still held jauntily in his mouth, his hands on his hips.

Roberta began to strip off Harold’s clothing. Again, Rick noticed the inept handling of buttons and zippers, Harold’s jackboots presented a genuine trial. They must have been tight, for it took Roberta an unseemly amount of time to yank them off.

When down to tee shirt and jockey shorts, the massively built movie star began flexing his muscles, positioning himself into poses that best displayed his musculature.

When Roberta peeled away Harold’s tee shirt, his sharply articulated form seemed godlike.

Roberta knelt before Harold, slid off his jockey briefs, there came no response from the audience save for astonished gasps.

The mysteries of nature were much in evidence for what remained of the night’s performance. Rick sat, quietly spellbound at what he saw during what little time remained before the club closed. Roberta and Harold rapidly performed a quartet of couplings that culminated in a strenuous session on the bed. It was during this final session that the reason for the floor bolts became obvious.

At exactly the 2 a.m. closing time, Harold and Roberta ended their performance. Hand in hand, they walked to the lip of the stage, bowing theatrically to the applause of the audience. As the applause died out the couple turned in unison, trotting upstage and through the slit between curtains. The audience seemed impressed by the trotting exit, for the applause returned, only to again fade out.

The houselights came up, most of the crowd jostled toward the exit. Rick fell into the back of the line of patrons filing through the door. The woman who had collected the cover charges was standing to one side. "Come again," she said to a departing customer.

"Did you have a good time?" she asked of another.

"Tell your friends," she instructed one young couple, who seemed to be in a daze as they clung to one another.

When Rick came up to her, the woman pleasantly asked, "Enjoy the show?"

"Very much," replied Rick, who leaned in toward the woman, murmuring out the side of his mouth, "I’ll be back." The woman laughed.

Rick strode out onto the parking lot. The cool night air cleared his head. He walked toward his car, mulling over the night past. As he drove home to his apartment, he mentally outlined the report he would make to the District Attorney.

When Rick arrived home, Cynthia Ann was still awake in their bed. She had a light on, the bedroom TV was spewing out some sitcom.

Nervous of Rick’s safety, Cynthia Ann never slept when Rick was on late-night assignments. This night, as soon as Cynthia Ann saw the look in Rick’s eyes, her concerned expression transformed to a knowing smile. She snuggled down into the warmth of the bedcovers, watched her boyfriend undress, her eyes lovingly assessed Rick’s slender, sinewy physique. Not a word passed between them as Rick climbed into the bed; no words were needed.

Later, as Cynthia Ann slipped into an exhausted, contented sleep, Rick planned the next night’s raid.


*****



Saturday night found Rick and Cynthia Ann in another of the Blue Garden’s back booths. Rick had received permission to use Cynthia Ann as cover. With her slight but bewitching form packed into a tube-top and a short skirt, with her pouting features slathered with makeup, Cynthia Ann looked like a hooker, which she had once been.

When the cover charge woman came by to collect, her shrewd eyes appraised Cynthia Ann. The woman snatched Rick’s proffered bills as she said, "Look’s like you got more goin’ on tonight than last night."

Rick’s smile was tight. "I guess you could say that."

The woman tossed a couple of drink chits on the table. The chips slid against Cynthia Ann’s forearm. "On the house," announced the woman, broadly winking at Cynthia Ann.

The woman waddled off to the next booth. Cynthia Ann shivered, then shoved in against her boyfriend, seeking his warmth.

"It’s okay," whispered Rick. “You’re no longer a professional."

The show began. When it reached the point where the players climbed into bed Rick reached into his jacket pocket, found the transmit bar of the handheld radio hidden there. He pressed it twice. After the couple climbed onto the brass bed, began the most energetic portion of their act, Rick tapped the bar frantically until a phalanx of uniformed police officers swept into the club.

The music stopped, replaced by disgruntled mutterings of the audience. Rick rose, marched to the stage. He vaulted onto the stage. The houselights came up.

Both actors seemed frozen in place. Rick loudly recited his carefully rehearsed statement: "Harold Swartzendruber, Roberta Jules, you are under arrest for misdemeanor charges of participating in the unlawful display of sexual conduct in a live public show. You have the right to . . ." Rick’s voice trailed off.

Neither Harold nor Roberta had moved a muscle. Rick pushed the tip of a forefinger against Harold’s massive shoulder. The shoulder seemed covered by vinyl plastic.

The stage curtains parted, Bill walked out, whistling a nonsensical tune, he strolled over to Rick.

His voice dripping with sarcasm he stated "Pardon me, officer, "I believe you’ve made a mistake."

Warily asked Rick, "Who are you?".

"Bill Grimm, the producer and director and creator of our friends here."

Rick’s nimble mind came to a conclusion. "These are robots, aren’t they?"

"I prefer to use the term bio-oids," replied Bill. "In reference to your speech, I believe the legal definition of sexual conduct specifically refers to men and women, not automatons."

Bill shoved Rick against the bed. "Go ahead," ordered Bill, "Poke about all you want."

Turning toward Harold, Rick again reached out, slid the flat of his hand down Harold’s massive back, Rick cocked his head, asking, "What’s that whirring noise?"

"Pumps used for the circulation of blood."

"Blood?" Rick quickly withdrew his hand.

Bill smirked. "Yes, blood. For you see, my bio-oids are comprised mainly of flesh, beef, for the most part, though I occasionally use finer cuts of pork or lamb, the delicate musculature of the hands, feet, and face requiring an artful blending of tissues."

To Rick’s questioning expression, Bill continued: "You doubt my words? Perhaps you’d care to take a look?"

Rick nodded. Bill backed through the curtains. The curtains parted. Bill stood at far stage right. Revealed backstage were two large tables, both piled high with computer cases and equipment racks packed full of electronic gear. There was a control panel with a keyboard, joysticks, knobs and switches. Mounted on insulating pedestals there was an array of whip antennas, their extreme shortness indicative of ultra-high frequency transmissions. Several video monitors displayed images of the stage or of telemetry readouts.

Bill went over to the control panel, typed on one keyboard, deftly worked the joysticks.

Harold came to life, then strode slowly off the downstage side of the bed. Rick backed away, one hand slid under his jacket lapel, his eyes narrowed.

"No need to panic, officer," chuckled Bill. "I assure you, my friend here is totally under control. Indeed, bio-oids have no minds of their own. Their movements are controlled directly by me or these computers."

Harold stood tall, faced the audience, froze into a position of military attention.

Bill swaggered downstage. From a pocket of his lab coat he fished out a short metal rod, which he used to lightly stroke the length of Harold’s spine.

Bill beckoned for Rick to join him. Rick warily circled the bed, keeping his distance as he made an inspection.

A thin slit had appeared the entire length of Harold’s spine. Bill thrust the fingers of both hands into the slit. As if he were a butcher opening up a carcass, Bill pulled to the side both edges of the slit. His efforts formed a large aperture.

Rick leaned forward, his stomach in contact with Roberta’s torso. Seen within the boundaries of Harold’s aperture were small pumps feeding rat’s nest of plastic tubing. Rick saw gel cell batteries, printed circuit boards, a skeletal system composed of metal girders and trusses, which were perforated with holes and slots. What most held Rick’s attention were transparent plastic bags, enclosing cuts of meat. The bags were penetrated by wires and tubes and within the bags were more wires and smaller tubes, what appeared to be wire mesh crossed much of he meat’s surface area.

Bill strode to the lip of the stage. His outstretched arms quieted the crowd. "Just a few more minutes, folks."

Some quipster, perhaps emboldened by liquor, hollered in a falsetto voice, "If that cop keeps rubbin’ up against Roberta, maybe we’ll get more than what we paid for."

Uproarious laughter swept the club. Rick stepped back, his face red. "I’ve seen enough," he said to Bill. "How ‘bout we go backstage?"

"Certainly, officer."

Rick following close behind, Bill strode backstage, closed the curtains. A bartender put on background music, which merged with the excited talk and laughter of the club’s patrons.

"Okay, officer," said Bill, "let’s hear your little speech so I can get on with my show."

Rick glared.

Bill swung his arms up and out, presenting Rick with his wrists. "Going to arrest me? Wish you would. I can make more in one false arrest settlement than I can with 50 performances."

Rick took one menacing step forward, thumping Bill’s chest with a finger. "Listen, buddy," the detective snarled, "I know you’re in violation of something here. I just gotta figure out what."

Bill smirked. "I’ll save you some time, officer. To date, I’ve been served at least a dozen times with injunctions or writs involving alleged copyright or trademark violations: all of which are outside your jurisdiction.

"I’ve got civil actions against me in four different states. Twenty percent of my gross income goes to lawyers. Fortunately, it’s all deductible, I might add, totally fruitless. You see, I’ve been clever in my depictions of celebrities. Are you aware that the real Harold Swartzendruber is only five nine? My bio-oid, which I claim has absolutely no semblance to Harold, is six-foot-four."

Scornfully, Rick interrupted. "No resemblance? How can you say that? Your robot looks exactly like Harold."

With a flippant wave of hand Bill sniffed "To untrained eye, perhaps. However, I assure you, in a proper court of law my lawyer shall call forth legions of doctors and anthropologists who, after taking the appropriate measurements, will find absolutely nothing in common between the likeness of any celebrity when in comparison to my bio-oids. Understand? "Besides, what do I care? It’s out of your jurisdiction."

There came no immediate reply, for a uniformed patrolman came backstage. "Scuse me, Sarge," said the patrolman. "Some of the customers keep giving us a bad time. Okay if we withdraw to the parking lot?"

"Go ahead," ordered Rick."

Rick turned to Bill. "I’ve a couple more questions."

“Certainly, officer."

"Why haven’t I heard anything about your show?”

Bill’s smirk fell into to a wry smile, his voice softened. "Like I said, I’ve all kinds of civil actions pending against me, I don’t need more. By playing two-bit clubs and keeping a low profile, makes it hard for the lawyers to chase me down, word of mouth deletes any need for advertising."

"Sounds plausible," replied Rick. "So, what’s the deal with the meat?"

Bill snootily appraised the Detective Sergeant. "Are you quite sure all this questioning is necessary?"

"You can answer the questions downtown if you prefer."

"Very well," Bill sighed. "For what it’s worth, I’ve had a lifelong interest in robotics. I’ve also grown very fond of the, ah, erotic arts.”

"I’ve spent half my life experimenting in the fields of pneumatics, hydraulics, electromagnetism—all with the intent of perfecting robotic motion to the point of what you witnessed here tonight, I might add, with a notable lack of success. There is currently just no way to duplicate the smooth fluidity of movement of living tissue.

"A half-dozen years ago I was vacationing at my brother-in-law’s ranch. He raises, butchers his livestock. As a lark, I participated in the cutting up of one of his cows. It was then that I had the inspiration that has brought me to my current level of success. Need I say more?"

"Humor me."

"Very well. It took a few weeks for me to perfect a method of interfacing with motor nerve axons. I won’t bore you with the details, I doubt you’d understand much of what is involved. Suffice to say, my skills in implanting neurons culled from pig fetuses to bovine muscle groups is truly remarkable.”

“I’ve developed a unique, quick, proprietary system of directing and delivering control signals through myelin sheaths that insulate nerve fibers. Now officer, my audience awaits. I insist that you either take action or leave me to my performance."

Rick turned, strode through the slit between curtains, glanced briefly at Harold and Sandra in passing, then leapt off stage.

Cynthia Ann was dutifully waiting in the booth, Rick went to her. "Let’s go," he ordered, his hand reaching for hers.

Grabbing wrap and purse, Rick’s girlfriend slid out of the booth. Catcalls and whistles accompanied the couple to the exit.

In the parking lot, Rick left Cynthia Ann shivering in the chill air while he walked to the clump of patrolmen. "Might as well call it a night, guys. Thanks for your help."

One officer asked, "That’s it? No bust?"

"’fraid not," answered Rick.

Rick’s ears burned at the grumbling and cursing that accompanied the patrolmen back to their cruisers.

Cynthia Ann did nothing to raise Rick’s spirits. On the way to their car, she abruptly asked, "Did you screw up?"

Rick’s mouth snapped open, ready to deliver some nasty retort. All that came out was a curt, "Yeah."


*****



Monday morning found Rick at his desk. Rick typed at his terminal, forming a report of the weekend’s action. The other occupant of the squad room was Officer Diana Giddings. Rick’s ears followed the sound of heavy steps.

Lieutenant Cochran clopped into the room, held a frosted doughnut in one hand, a paper cup in the other. Without a word in greeting the portly officer went to Diana’s desk, sat heavily upon one edge, his plump posterior practically in Diana’s face.

Cochran took a bite out of his doughnut before placing it on the desk. Idly gazing about the room, he sucked at his fingers, took a sip of coffee, finally said. "I hear you people on the twat team had a problem last weekend."

Lieutenant Cochran twisted his bulk awkwardly about so as to leer at Officer Giddings. She kept her eyes on her work.

Replied Rick, "You’ll have a full report within the hour, Lieutenant."

Cochran retrieved the remnants of his doughnut, stuffed the entire thing into his mouth, washing it down with another swig of coffee. Sucking his fingers, the lieutenant fixed Rick with an insolent stare. "I can hardly wait," he sarcastically announced.

Grunting in effort, the Lieutenant scooted himself off the desk, then swaggered back down the hallway.

Officer Giddings looked up from her work. Gazing wistfully at Rick, her bright eyes a comforting beacon from across the gulf between the two desks, she sweetly said, "I think I’m going to miss you." She sounded as if she meant it.

“I’m not going anywhere," blandly announced Rick.


*****



The following weekend, Rick returned to the Blue Garden. The detective had transformed his appearance to that of an aging war vet. A wig, false beard, wire-rimmed glasses and Cynthia Ann’s help with makeup had dramatically changed his appearance. Faded camouflage pants, a begrimed and torn army field jacket emblazoned with military patches, a jungle hat, worn out boots worked well in company with strategically placed padding.

Rick limped across the club to take a stool at the far end of the bar. He carefully counted out a few wadded up one dollar bills and change before ordering a beer and a tuna melt sandwich. Rick’s use of cash rather than a debit card indicated his assumed age.

When the woman came round to collect the cover charge asking, "Stayin’ for the show?" Rick coughed into the back of one sleeve, wiped his nose with the other. "How much?" he hoarsely replied.

"Double sawbuck."

"Double sawbuck? That’ll bust me. How ‘bout five bucks?"

The woman inspected the patches on Rick’s fatigue jacket. "I lost an uncle over there," she commented, nodding toward the service patches. "He was a Marine. Keep your money pappy, it’s on the house."

"Thankee ma’am," Rick said before again coughing into the elbow of one sleeve.

When the show started, Rick’s hand was in the side pocket of the fatigue jacket. He pressed twice upon the transmit bar of his radio. Rick pressed several more times when the show reached its climax. uniformed officers streamed into the club. This time the officers were accompanied by a couple of deputy sheriffs, distinctive in their brown uniforms, followed by a man and woman in civilian garb, both carrying small tablet computers, the man additionally encumbered by a couple of Styrofoam ice chests.

The music stopped. The houselights came up. Rick removed the wig and glasses and fake beard. He unzipped his jacket, reaching inside in order to adjust the positioning of his shoulder holster, he marched to the front of the stage.

Above the grumbling of the audience and the orders of police officers, Rick barked, "Come on out, Bill! Show’s over!"

Bill appeared, a fierce scowl marred his features. Bill walked downstage to Rick, the cover charge woman came scurrying across the club, her wide hips knocking aside tables and chairs as she shrieked at Rick, "You jerk! I want your badge number!"

Rick unclipped a badge from his waistband.

While the woman peered at Rick’s badge, another woman joined them. Well dressed, an attractive thirtyish, holding a tablet computer to her chest, the woman sidled over to Rick until they stood shoulder to shoulder.

"Ma’am," announced Rick to the huffing and puffing woman glaring at his badge, "have you ever met our County Health Officer?"

The woman tore her gaze away from Rick’s badge, suspiciously eyed the Health Officer.

The Health Officer, well dressed in tweed, extended a hand. "Name’s Kelley Foster, you own this establishment?"

"Yeah. Me an’ my hubby. Useta belong to my folks."

"For the record, your name is?"

"Barbara Reynolds. Say, what’s goin’ on here?"

Through a grim and unconvincing smile, Kelley proclaimed, "Well Barbara, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. It’s important you be truthful in your answers. Presenting me with false or evasive responses can cost you up to a thousand dollars in fines and up to thirty days in the county jail. Understand?”

"I . . . I guess so." Barbara backed her considerable bulk a couple of shuffling steps.

Using a finger, Kelley checked off something on her computer, asked "Do you prepare or serve meat or meat based food products for human consumption at this place of business?"

"Yeah, sure. We run a grill here. So what?"

Kelly made a notation then asked, "Has all of the meat within confines of this place of business been inspected?"

Barbara opened her mouth as if to answer, then closed it. Her eyes narrowed as she looked up toward Bill, who was standing at the lip of the stage. "No," Barbara firmly answered.

"No? Am I to understand that you freely admit to violating county, state, and possibly federal regulations?"

There came a long pause before the answer of "Yes."

Kelley, with her finger, scribbled furiously on the computer screen. She then pulled a small note pad from a pocket, wrote on it, tore a page from it, handed the page to Barbara. Kelly said, "Call the telephone number listed at the top of this citation. They will set a date and time for your hearing. I suggest that when you appear before the judge, you bring along a lawyer."

Barbara nodded.

Kelley turned to one of the deputy sheriffs, standing nearby. "Soon as this building’s cleared, I want the doors locked and proper signage affixed."

The deputy nodded.

Eyes flashing, Kelley threw Rick a becoming smile. "It’s been a pleasure, Rick."

Rick bowed slightly. Kelley traipsed off, her heals beating a sharp tattoo upon the hardwood floor.

Rick’s attention focused on another as Barbara was approached by a man dressed in a white lab coat. The man wore a ridiculous looking pillbox-style cap.

The man presented credentials as he spoke: "Name’s Reily; I represent the Federal Food and Drug Administration. I understand you have some uninspected meat on the premises?"

Voice quavering, Barbara answered, "Yes."

"May I be allowed to see it?" asked Reily.

"Talk to him," replied Barbara, pointing a trembling fat forefinger at him. "It’s his, not mine."

All eyes fell upon Bill. Uncharacteristically, he seemed to shy away from the scrutiny.

Reily asked, "Sir? May I see the meat?"

"I don’t suppose I have a choice?"

“Afraid not, Sir."

Bill beckoned Reily to the stairs. Once again, Bill opened Harold at the spine; Reily used a penlight to inspect the robot’s innards.

“Do you declare this meat to be yours?" asked Reily.

"I do," replied Bill.

“Is this meat for sale?"

"Certainly not." Bill seemed insulted by the question.

Reily pulled a small notebook from a coat pocket, then turned toward Bill.

In an formal tone of voice, Reily asked, "I can only assume this meat is from a custom slaughter?"

"My brother-in-law and I did all the work, if that’s what you mean."

Reily announced, "Are you aware that custom slaughtered meat may be allowed in an establishment such as this only when it’s clearly labelled with indelible ink as not for sale?"

"I was unaware of that," admitted Bill. "I’ll take care of it first thing in the morning."

"Perhaps," commented Reily. "However, this particular lot is now the property of the Federal Government. Would you be so kind as to remove the meat from the containers?"

"What?" exclaimed Bill, his face a deranged projection of stunned disbelief. "It takes me a couple days to put one of these together."

"I fail to see how that has any bearing upon these proceedings," blithely responded Reily.

Angrily, Bill faced Rick, growling, "I had you pegged for a jerk the first moment I laid eyes on your sorry face."

Rick smugly smiled.

Bill stared at Rick. Bill snorted.

"I want you out of my town," Rick said with derisive mildness.

Officer Giddings was onstage, inspecting the robots. "Hey Giddings," Rick called out. She turned. An elfish expression of bemused disbelief enhanced her pleasant features.

"I’m done here," Rick announced. "Stick around until the place is cleared"

“Sure."

Rick strode off, through the door, out into the night.

Bill went to his robots, began the task of removing chunks of meat from his creations, carefully detaching tubes and wire mesh before placing the meat into Reilly's ice chests.

Officer Giddings stood nearby.

In a melancholy tone of voice, Bill said to Giddings, "I believe I’ve seriously underestimated your friend."

"It’s easy to do," Giddings murmured.


*****



Rick entered his apartment; he found Cynthia Ann curled up on the couch. Under a warm and fuzzy blanket, she was halfway through a recording of a Harold Swartzendruber movie.

"Get dressed," Rick ordered. "We’re driving out to that steakhouse by the freeway. They’re open 24 hours, we’re going to get us a couple T-bones."

Her eyes firmly locked to the television screen, Cynthia Ann dismissively replied, "You know I don’t eat meat, honey. You shouldn’t either."

Rick moved to the side a little, blocking Cynthia Ann’s view of the television screen. "Yeah?" he questioned archly. "Well I feel like celebrating, so you’re eatin’ meat tonight.

Their eyes met, Cynthia Ann smirked. She lowered the blanket.

The television blared on and on. Harold slew all his foes. To a rhythmic beat the credits scrolled up and off the screen. At the end of the credits the DVD player clicked off, the loving couple never noticed.



THE END


2019 C. E. Gee

Bio: C.E. Gee aka Chuck misspent his youth at backwater locales within Oregon and Alaska. Chuck later answered many callings: logger, factory worker, meat packer, Vietnam war draftee infantryman (1968), telecommunications technician, volunteer fireman and EMT, light show roady, farmer, businessperson. Retired from the electronics industry and also a disabled veteran, Chuck now writes Science Fiction. His blog is at https:kinzuakid.blogspot.com.

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.