By W. Fraser Sandercombe

She smelled like a pile of dead skunks on the roadside. It was rape-repellant.

I picked her up in the worst warren in the East End, in front of a bar at Pape and Gerrard. According to my print-out, she wanted to go to the west entrance of the dome. If the dispatcher hadn't given the go-ahead, the comp would've rejected the client. It never took orders from that area. But anyone who wanted to go to the dome would seem safe enough.

As soon as I smelled her, I tried to crank up the air conditioner. The vents weren't working properly. Those idiots back at the garage wouldn't put a nickel into repairs so long as the cab was running and the meter recorded the fare. Sometimes, you even had trouble getting them to fix the comp when it screwed up. They'd demand to know, "What kind of driver are you? Can't you work the streets?"

Nobody works the streets. Not in the East End, anyway. It was too rough for that. A lot of guys tried to whimper out and get themselves hired to drive inside the dome, but that wasn't for me. All the cabbies in there wear monkey hats and gray uniforms with maroon velvet trim. They have to say "Sir" and "Madam" and hold doors open and drive those stupid electric carts that couldn't get you away from the cops or the highjackers if your life depended on it. Which it would. Even though they say they don't have any crime inside the dome. Sure, I believe that. My mother's a virgin, too.

And on top of all the indignities, they wouldn't let you actually live inside the dome. A cabbie? In the dome? That'd be like keeping a sewer rat for a pet, taking it for daily walks on a leash.

Anyway, since the order came from the office, I couldn't tell this walking sewage to bugger off, not if I wanted to keep working. I flicked on the backseat scanner so I could keep an eye on her. You could see the dirt smeared and ground into the ex-black coat she was wearing, and the smudges of crud on her face and hands.

I bloody near rear-ended a bus looking at her. My roadway scanners and warning beeper were worn out. I should've been watching the road but you get dependent on all your gear, you know? You start to rely on it. I'd been too busy wondering what a bag like that was doing in my cab, where she got the money to pay for it and why she would think she needed rape repellant. Who the hell'd want to rape someone who looked like that? And what's a woman who smells like a dead rummy doing with money?

I had a feeling I was about to get burned for another fare. It isn't even worth taking them to the cops when you get them where they're going and they say they "ain't got no money." The time you lose off the road ends up costing you twice as much as the fare. You pay for your fuel, then you pay a rental fee for the cab. Whatever's left is yours. Sometimes, that's damn pitiful.

So you stay out on the streets as long as you can stand it. And you know that half the jerks who rip you off maybe wouldn't do it if they knew they weren't ripping off the company but only the driver, who was some poor slob just like them. Some companies even made the driver pay for the car anyway, after a robbery.

I've been ripped off by the best of them.

But back to the stuff in my back seat. She didn't speak, just stared out the window. I saw her eyes get wet. Tears were running through the dirt on her face, which was surprising. Most of the street grubs I've seen were so burned out they didn't have enough emotion to build up a decent lump in their throat, never mind tears. If she hadn't smelled so bad, I might've said something comforting. I was more worried about getting her and her stench out of my car.

I pulled into the passenger drop-off by the west gates and shut off the meter. An LED in the back told her how much and she put the money into the cash drawer, saying, "Keep the change."

Five bucks was a damn' good tip.


I released the door for her. When she was out I left the door open, then opened the other three, stepped out of the cab.

"Hey, buddy, you can't stop there," said one of the guards, a pompous prick in a green uniform, while the other one let the woman walk into the dome without even asking for an ID card.

"I have to stop here, man."

"Move along."

"Come over here and smell this thing. Maybe you'll change your mind."

He laughed and jerked his thumb at me. It wasn't any use arguing with him. He could write me up. Nobody did this job for fun, and fines cut into the profit.

I tossed him a finger in response to his thumb, got back in with the smell, put her in gear and gave the guy the stink of burning rubber to breathe for awhile. I couldn't help wondering who the hell that woman was that she could just walk into the dome like that. Hell, if I tried to do that, all I'd get would be a boot in the ass and an armed escort to the bus.

The next time I saw her, I was cruising along Gerrard. She was sitting on the cracked sidewalk, surrounded by weeds outside a booze-camp called Bobby Joe's.

I almost stopped but a call went out for cars around Logan and Gerrard. I booked on the order.

Next, I saw her down by the Orchard Park Tavern, across the road from the race track. She wasn't sitting this time.

The races had just finished. A crowd was going into the bar. She grabbed a guy by the arm. He snarled something at her, knocked her down and went inside.

Usually, I'm good at minding my own business. It keeps you out of trouble. But there was something about her that didn't make any sense. I got sucked in by curiosity.

I climbed out of the cab to help her up, tried not to breathe too deeply as I asked, "You all right?"

She frowned at me.

"You were in my cab the other night," I explained.

"Oh, yes," she said, sounding like her head was all stuffed up. She glanced around nervously. "Can I get in it now?"

Damn, I thought.

I got in and hit the button for the back door. She ignored that. She stood by the front door looking so sad and pathetic that I actually let her in. In the front seat. Nobody lets anybody in the front seat.

As she sat down, a wave of air pollution rolled over me. I almost puked.

She noticed me gagging, reached inside her coat, saying, "Sorry. The smell will disappear soon."

"Not everybody can afford nose filters, you know."

"Sorry." She grinned, showing some spaces where teeth used to be. "Why'd you help me up?"

"I don't know. Something about you. What's a..." Hag, I thought. "Lady like you doing walking into the dome like that?"

"I live there."


"Drive," she said, with that obnoxious imperious tone of voice that petty bureaucrats and minor royalty get.

I stared at her.

"Please," she said.

I hit the meter and off we went along Queen Street.

"Where to?"

"The Worker over on Broadview."

"Don't get caught hanging out in there. They'll kick you out of the dome."

She looked at me is if to say, "Shut up and drive."

I was getting mad by then. Help some putrid old sack of crap up off the sidewalk and she treats you like a servant.

"Listen, lady..."

"Can I hire your cab by the night?"

"It's been done before."

"I'm looking for someone. It'll be easier to get around if I have some help. You'll have to stay in the background, but close enough to get me if I do need the help. Nobody'll notice you. Who ever notices a cabbie?"


"You know what I mean."

"Sure. But I haven't said I'll do it yet. We got the money to talk about. If you hire me by the shift, you have to make it worth my while. It has to be the best night I ever had."

"Just keep the meter running."

"No. When I'm standing still on the timer, I only get about one tenth of what I get when the car is moving."

"A hundred dollars on top of what's on the meter."

"A hundred and fifty and you got a deal. And one more thing. Stop using your repellant. Whenever I get the urge to breathe sewage, I'll go down to the waterfront or forget to flush my toilet for a few days. Okay?"

She actually giggled then. It was grotesque, hearing that crone giggle.

"Are you armed?" She asked.

"Lady, who the hell are you looking for?"

"Are you?" She insisted.

I didn't answer.

"I'm not a cop," she said, like she was reading my mind.



"I'm not too sure I want this job anymore, lady..."


"Lady Susan, whatever. Enough trouble comes with this job without me looking for more."

She looked at my picture card over the visor and read my name. "Mr. Falkner, I need help. Especially from someone who really knows the East End. Will you help me?"

"Do what?"

"I just need you to get me to all the bars until I find who I'm looking for. And if I need physical help, help me. You're big enough and you look tough enough, and if you're armed..."

"Who are you?"

"I'm a woman alone..."

"That's what my ex-wife said, just before she went after everything I had."

"I need help. I've been robbed. And I have to find the one who robbed me. He took something very precious, something I can't live without. Will you help me, please?"

"Why don't you hire a detective?"

"I can't."

There were tears in her eyes again. Nice eyes they were, too. Almost a real green, not like those yellow-brown things that people call green. Maybe her face wouldn't be too bad under all that grunge. As for her shape, well, that coat could've hidden anything. I started having fantasies about what might be under it. An automatic rifle. Twelve marines. Maybe just some fine white skin, a pair of lovely breasts, rounded hips...

"Okay, lady."

"Susan... Smith."

"Nice name. When'd you make it up?"

She smiled and I saw there weren't really any gaps in her teeth, just black paint.

"Does it matter?" She said.

"Guess not."

I took the job, against my better judgement, which was usually absent anyway. I could screw up anything. A marriage. Child-rearing. Friendships. Jobs. Places to live. I grew up in the dome. I'd had a shot at moving back in with a good job as a communications analyst for the Police Commission but I just couldn't take the orders, all that yes-sir, no-sir, three-bags-full-sir crap that goes with having bosses. Superiors, they called them. Give me a break.

So I was out here driving a cab where nobody ever told you what to do and where you didn't have to take any crap from anybody. A passenger dumps on you, you throw it out of the car. The comp only cares if you make the pick-up. What happens after that is your own business. And the dispatcher used to drive a cab. She knew what you had to put up with and what you didn't.

First, we went to the Worker, which was a Chinese restaurant/tavern where every communist/socialist revivalist in the East End hung out at one time or another. Personally, I always thought the communists were just something the fascists tried to scare you with so you wouldn't notice what they were doing. But anyway, they were an ineffectual lot. There were probably as many fascist cops hanging out undercover as there were communists.

I parked down the street, watching my rear-view screens while Susan Smith leaned against a cracked, crumbling brick wall and studied the patrons.

A couple of drunks hammered on the door of my cab, trying to get in. I ignored them and watched the meter click over another dollar.

Smith came back and said, "The Broadview House," which was a building that had stood on the corner of Broadview and Dundas since 1854 when it was the home for a gang of stage coach robbers called the Townsend Gang. It looked its age, too. I'd been in there once. The place smelled like wood-rot, urine, vomit and roach powder. How could you swallow a beer in there?

I mentioned the history stuff to Smith, just by way of making conversation. She frowned and I could tell she was watching my face as I talked.

"How do you know all that?"

"Just interested. Toronto's always been sort of interesting."

"Do you like it?"

"The city?"


"No, I hate it."

"What about driving a taxi? Do you like that?"

I made a face.

She laughed and asked, "Why do it then?"

I shrugged my shoulders. You can't go around telling people you drive a cab because you're too proud to take welfare and because you hate bosses. It sounds pompous.

She got out of the cab by the Broadview but she didn't wait there long. We went up to a joint on the Danforth called the Black Swan, which was a members-only gay place.

When she came back, I said, "Instead of flitting about like a fly on a body wagon, why don't you pick one place and wait there?"

"Well, right now, when I go somewhere, they don't really notice me. All they notice is an old wretch who smells bad. If I were to remain in one place too long, they might start seeing me. And besides, as far as I know, this person we're looking for doesn't stay still very often but he visits all these places."

"What is he? Your pimp? Your dealer?"

She glared at me. I got that shut-up-and-drive feeling again.

"The Commodore," she said.

"Right then, lady."

As we pulled away from the curb, I saw a guy watching us. I figured he was wondering what the baggage was doing in the front seat.

"Maybe this guy you're looking for switched operations to the West End," I suggested.

The look she gave me could have blown a monitor.

We started across the Danforth. The stretch between Broadview and Pape was always busy, night and day. Nightclubs, bars, coffee houses, restaurants, pool halls, bowling alleys, all with their neon flashing. Of course there were grocery stores and lawyers' offices, even a politician's office, two churches and a temple, but these were for the daytime people.

Night people crowded the sidewalks as they shuffled from joint to joint. A crap dealer with a woman on each arm tried to flag a cab. A beer bottle shattered across my hood, thrown from a gang of kids that glittered with studs and rhinestones and probably smelled like leather and plastic. Cabbies cruised like vultures and cops cruised like vampires and vampires cruised like hookers. And there was a guy selling roasted chestnuts on the corner of Pape and Danforth, in front of a butcher shop where dead sheep were hung with their heads in plastic bags. Actually, he was selling more than chestnuts. You could place a bet with him on just about anything, or get a girl, or a boy, or something to shoot, snort, smoke or swallow. I'd heard that pregnant women were in vogue now, as hookers and as strippers, and that there wasn't a strip joint on the Danforth that didn't have a pregnant dancer or two, willing to jerk, blow or squirm in some guy's lap. Must get interesting near the end of her term when the milk is flowing. Somebody told me that if you actually wanted to screw one of the dancers, you'd have to do it on stage.

A few blocks beyond Pape, the neon ended. Most of the shops were out of business, boarded up, their windows smashed. A lot of derelicts, the rummies and bums, the aging hookers and bag-ladies, found shelter in all the empty places. Nobody cared. The owners were stuck with the buildings. They could never sell them and they could not be operated as businesses until the bar scene spread.

The Scene picked up again over by Woodbine. Eventually, the dead zone in the middle would be gone. Until that time, all the bums would find shelter. So would the skunks, rats, raccoons, feral dogs, coyotes, foxes and cats that were overrunning the area, keeping the streets clean of dead rummies.

The Commodore was our first stop beyond Woodbine, then the Wembley, Tramps, the Danforth Hotel, Noah's Ark and on and on until four a.m. when the tears were streaming down my face from all the yawning. I don't normally work much later than two. Ten hours is usually all I can stand.

"Okay," Smith said. "You can take me to the gates now."

"`Bout time," I muttered.

"And pick me up at four sharp this afternoon."

"Say please."

"Stuff it. I'm too tired."

"Close enough."

I wasn't intending to show up. I considered having the night off. After all, the meter came to just over a hundred and sixty dollars and she gave me another one-fifty. After paying for the car and the fuel, I went home with about four times what I normally made. But I couldn't drop her. I figured that if I could make that much every night till she found who she wanted, then I could take a month off, go up north and learn how to relax again. It'd been a long time. And besides that, I really wanted to know what was going on. At least, I thought I did.

I was almost there on time but the day driver was late with the car and it was a long way from the garage to the west gate. She started to bitch at me for being late.

I said, "Do you want to walk?"

She shut up. She turned on the stink for a few seconds, shut it off and laughed uproariously when I gagged.

"Give me a break," I said. "Where to?"

She sighed, "I don't know. I've been looking for over a week. The closest I came to anyone who was even associated with the, uh, gentleman, was at the Orchard Park when you picked me up."

"You never did tell me what happened there."

"That's right, I didn't."

"You know, I'm not really in a hurry for you to find this guy. I mean, the longer it takes, the more money I make. But if you told me something about him, I might be able to help. I know the territory and I know a lot of the people in it."

"His name's Alfred Moyce..."

I pulled over to the side of the road by a no-stopping sign.

It squawked at me.

Ignoring it, I said, "If you get out of my car now, I won't even charge you what's on the meter."

"You know him?"

"Lady, you're going to get yourself killed. And me, too. If you mentioned his name to that guy at the O.P. then all you have to do is stand on a corner somewhere. Moyce will find you."

"I didn't mention his name or anything. All I did was take the guy's arm and say excuse me."

"Well, that's good. So you still have a choice. You can quit now and get to wake up tomorrow."

"I can't quit now. Won't you please help me?"

Rolling my eyes upwards, I said, "I gotta be out of my mind."

"You'll do it?"

I lit a smoke, sat there gazing through the window, watching a couple of rummies hold each other up while they sang to the pedestrians, which included a pair of leather girls with bald heads and work boots, a couple of guys in dresses with green hair, three holy rollers, two cops and a partridge in a pear tree.

"Yeah," I said eventually. "But if I end up dead, I'll never forgive you."

She smiled. I wanted to see her with her face washed. She seemed a bit older than me but that was okay.

"When we find him, I'll pay you a bonus."

"How much?"

"A thousand."

"Have you got it on you?"


"You're going to see him tonight."

Her eyes widened. She reached inside her coat...

"You turn that thing on," I said, "And you'll be walking."

She didn't turn on the stinker. Her hand came out with a gun in it, a small-barrelled, mean-looking revolver with big bullets.

"The last guy who pointed one of those things at me needed an enema, lady, not a taxi."

"Do you work for him?"

"What the hell gave you that idea?"

"The way you said I'd see him tonight."

"Relax and put it away."

She thought about it, then did it.

"Next time you point that thing at me you'll be eating it. How do you get it past the sensors at the dome gate?"

She didn't answer.

"You a cop, lady?"


"Then how'd you get a pass card to have weapons inside? They don't issue them to anybody but cops and politicians. And even then, the cop has to be pretty special. Even the ones stationed out here don't get to take their guns when they go in at night. You must be a cop. You aren't stupid enough to be a politician."

She turned away from me, asking, "How come you know about the cards? It isn't exactly public knowledge."

"Sure it is," I lied. "You can hear anything in the streets." I didn't want to tell her about the job I'd had at the Commission. I don't like talking about my personal life with people I don't know. I'd rather hear about their's.

"You said I was going to meet Moyce tonight. How can you arrange that?"

"Well, I can't exactly arrange it. I just know where he goes. I don't know where you got your information, but he doesn't hang out in the bars and he doesn't do his own collections. He sends people. You can find him in the coffee shop at the corner of Pape and Danforth every night of the week. That's where people pay their debts. That's where his people make their reports, where his bag-men drop off the take. He holds court."

"Isn't that dangerous for a man in his position?"

"You kidding? There isn't a cop in the East End who could touch him. And anybody with the balls to try and move in on him is either dead or working for him. He's got it wrapped up, lady. The East End belongs to him. I'd really appreciate it if you pay me before you go in to talk to him, `cause you won't be coming back out."

"I have to try."

"Why? What's he to you?"

I didn't really expect her to answer me and I wasn't surprised when she didn't.

"Please take me there. I have to try."

"You plan on killing him?"


"Then leave the gun in the car. An old bag like you walks in there with a loaded gun and the rats and raccoons'll be chewing on you before morning."

She stared at me for a very long time before she took the gun out of her coat and offered it to me.

"No, thanks. I don't want my sweat on it. Just slip it under the front seat."

She smiled faintly. I didn't trust her much anymore. Not that I had in the first place. Only an idiot trusts people he doesn't know. It's okay to be a gambler, but keep your senses tuned.

"All right, Mr. Falkner... May I call you Alex?"

"Falkner will do."

"Okay. Will you take me there?"

"Okay, honey... May I call you honey?"

"Why on earth would you want to?"

We both laughed. She had a nice laugh. It came from somewhere deep in her throat and made things move inside you as long as you didn't look at her. A blind man with fried sinuses would've been in love with her. I know a woman's looks aren't supposed to matter. I mean, we're all just people, right? But show me a man who doesn't respond to a nice looking woman and I'll show you a corpse or a gay guy. The other edge on that sword is, show me a man who responds positively to someone who looks like Smith and I'll show you a man who's either a prevert/pervert/aftervert or a few bits short of a byte.

I put the car in gear, pulled a U-turn through the pot holes, cut off another cab, shot up Broadview and around the corner onto the Danforth. Traffic was slow. As we passed the donut shop at Pape, you could see a crowd near the back. I made a left on Pape, pulled another U-turn, and dropped Smith, saying, "Just go around the corner and you're there. I'll pull up out front but right now I don't want them seeing you in my cab. When you come out, if you aren't running, don't get in the car. I'll pick you up down the block."

"Right... Boss."

"Get lost, lady."

She did that. I made a note of what was on the meter, shut it off so my roof light would go on and make it look like I was for hire. When she came out, I didn't want anyone noticing a hired cab with only a driver in it following her down the street.

I went around the corner and stopped in the no-parking zone outside the Prince's Donut Shop. Smith was already inside.

She came out with an escort, one guy on each arm. They gave her a shove as they reached the sidewalk. She sprawled on her belly. I almost got out of the car, regained my senses in time.

She got up slowly, calling them bastards as they laughed at her.

One took a step towards her.

Smith started down the sidewalk, limping.

I thought I'd give her a few minutes before getting her. One of the guys looked at me. I recognised him. He recognised me, too, from last night outside the Black Swan. He took a step in my direction. I pulled away from the curb but not before he read my door number.

My mouth went dry then. Next to buying dope, tracking down a cabbie has to be the easiest thing in the world. The Licensing Commission had so much information on each driver that they probably knew your pulse rate, knew when you crapped your first diaper. The Commission treated cabbies like something the dog left on the rug just before you killed it. They'd always be helpful to someone who wanted to nail a cabbie for something.

It was tempting to drive right on by Ms. Smith but it wasn't in me to actually do that. Besides, I had no place to go. It was time to quit the cab business. I couldn't even go home. Moyce didn't fool around much. So much for being a gambler. Even the backstreets wouldn't be safe.

I picked up Smith and asked her what happened.

"I couldn't get near him. They threw me out."

"Well, we have a couple of problems," I said gently.

I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the limo ease into the traffic behind us. I made a hard right into a one-way street, going the wrong way, another hard right into an alley, booting it. A raccoon got in the way. You heard his bones crunch under the tires and it was hurting you almost as much as it had hurt the animal as you bounced through the potholes and tried to keep off the fences.

At the end of the alley, I saw the limo come into view, made a left and shot the right way up a one-way, praying there weren't any latenight kids in the street. Killing an animal was bad enough but I don't think you'd ever get over killing a kid.

Anyway, I knew the area north of the Danforth pretty good. It wasn't a problem losing Moyce's lackeys. In fact, it was fun... when you didn't think about what would happen later.

As we went, I told Smith about how I'd been recognised.

"You were too, I expect. I'm sure that guy put us both together. You're lucky. You can get rid of the rag-bag look and they'll never know you again. Me, I'm screwed..."

"I'm sorry..."

"Forget it. It was my choice. Anyway, I have to get rid of this car. I'll get it back to the garage."

"Why don't you just ditch it?"

"I might want to drive a cab again someday," I told her, hoping like hell they weren't heading for the garage to wait for us.

I wandered east through the backstreets, getting out of the warrens and into the more suburban areas. I parked the car by a boarded-up MacDonald's and walked down to the corner to check out the garage. No limos. Nobody who shouldn't be there. I told Smith to get her gun, then left her in the parking lot, hooked the car up to the natural gas line, cashed in and walked back to meet her.

She was gone.

And then she wasn't.

She came out from behind the dead restaurant. Her coat was missing, her face was clean, her wig removed. She was wearing blue leather jeans and a low-cut t-shirt and she looked okay. Soft around the middle, maybe a bit big in the rear, but okay. She could never rent herself out to haunt houses. And I liked her face a lot. I just stared.

She laughed quietly. The lines around her mouth and eyes suggested she had more than a few years on me and enough reality about her that she wasn't into designer surgery. Unless she'd already had it. Maybe the wrinkles were growing back and really she was pushing a century.

"Where to, lady," I said, putting a hand on her upper arm and guiding her to the bus stop.

A cab came around the corner and I flagged it. As we were getting into the back, I noticed one of Moyce's limos and said a short prayer. Maybe it was a curse, not a prayer.

"The west gate," Smith told the driver.

"Stay in the curb lane as much as you can," I added.

When the limo passed us, the guys in it saw Smith but not me. I kept my face turned away.

Smith paid the cab as we got out at the west gate drop-off.

"Now what?" I asked.

"You might as well come in with me."

"They won't let me in without a pass."

"With me they will."

"Okay." And I turned my back to the guards, pulled the gun out of my coat, saying, "Put this in your purse. I'll never get it through the sensors." It was an antique .44 that I'd taken away from a guy who had shoved it in my face a few months ago. There were four original bullets in it, each one notched across the tip. I'd never used it but sometimes it felt good to have it.

Eyebrows raised, she dropped it in her bag with her own. We walked past the guards and all they said was good evening. Through a corridor and we were inside the dome. I tried not to gawk and rubberneck like a tourist but it was the first time I'd been inside since I'd graduated school. They'd finished construction on it just after I was born and my parents had given me the right to grow up in there. The old man had been the manager of one of the electrical companies who'd wired the place. But when I graduated, I had to take a job outside. I was in police communications and none of the divisions inside had needed me. Available space on the inside was in short supply and since I didn't want to live with Mom and Dad forever, I had to go. I took an apartment in suberia, got married, got a permit for a kid so we could do it all legally, and ended up blowing a few chips, hating the system and backing away from everything round about the time they wanted to promote me into the dome. None of it made any sense anymore. The cops were corrupt. The politicians were corrupt. The crooks were corrupt. The lawyers were normal. The welfare bums were corrupt. To be anyone in there, you had to kiss butt, take the gifts, give gifts, and wear a bag over your head. I just couldn't do it. I took an honest job, hacking through the streets. Now, it seemed like that was screwed up too.

I have to admit, though, it was a pleasure to be back inside. The air was clean, the temperature constant. The scenery was cute. There were quaint old iron streetlamps and red brick sidewalks. Trees lined most of the streets. The grass grew green and stayed that way all year. The birds had healthy features, no maimed and scarred, one-footed pigeons, no patchwork mangy crows. It was almost paradise. And because garbage disposal was so efficient, they didn't even have the rat, skunk and raccoon problems that were going on outside.

"Have you ever been in here before?" Smith asked.

"Uh-huh," I said, letting it go at that.

She hailed one of those electric cabs. The driver bounced out to open the door for us and I chuckled. He didn't look at me. I was the scruffiest thing under the dome that night, long-haired, unshaven, wearing faded denim and black leather.

When I saw Smith's apartment, I knew she was "somebody."

It was large, with high arched doorways and windows, a few different levels, a sunken living room, a roof garden. Then I knew who she was. Susan Smith. The Susan Smith, high society, owner of about eleventy-seven different companies, one of which just happened to make the pass cards for the cops and assorted politicians who didn't dare go outside, or even stay inside, without a gun. Guns on the inside were supposedly rare. On the outside, the cops didn't even try to control them anymore. Probably an order from above: Let them kill each other off, it'll save us the trouble. They'd be glad if that happened. Then they could forget about us completely, the way they tried to do when the dome was first erected.

"Make yourself at home," Smith said.


"Help yourself to a drink," she said, pointing to the wet bar. "I'll be right back."

Sinking to my ankles in white carpet, I poured a shot of Glenlivet, real single-malt, not that mouthwash they sell on the outside.

She left me alone so long I decided to go looking for her, found her at a compsole, reading my life history.

"Why'd you do it?" She asked as I stepped into the room. "You had a future. Why'd you throw it away?"

I just sipped my drink and lit a smoke. "What does the Susan Smith want with Alfred Moyce? Or better yet, what does Alfred Moyce want with, or have on, the Susan Smith."

"We have to get him," she said fiercely.

"You get him. I'll just stay here and watch how you do it."

"You have almost as much to lose as I do, Falkner."

"Just my life."

"That's what I meant."

"Almost as much, eh?"

"I can lose more than that."

"Seems to me I read something about the Smith Group having some financial difficulties. This wouldn't be related to that, would it?"

"I needed a lot of cash in a hurry."

"And Moyce ripped you off."


"Anybody who deals with that parasite..."

"Spare me, Falkner. I know what you're saying. But I was desperate. We needed a lot, right away."

"You tried to borrow from Moyce?"

"I did borrow from him. But he wanted collateral, which I gave him. When I went back with my repayment, he laughed at me. He said I didn't owe him anything."

"What was the collateral?"

"The compgram for the weapon pass cards. It was a one-only gram. No back-up allowed."

"You asshole," I told her, going to the bar for a refill. Smith followed me and fixed herself a Black Russian.

"Please understand," she said. "I had no one around me that I could trust. The company had to have that cash input or it would've gone pecker up. Sue Smith would've been outside looking for cheap accommodations. Our accounts were gone. We had codes inside codes inside codes, protecting everything but they'd all been cracked. All of them. Even the Swiss ones and the Free Montreal ones. We had nothing. I found a comp-wizard who said he could get everything back for us... for three million. And he did it too. But Moyce had the..."

"What the hell'd you think you'd do on your own against him?"

"If I could get to talk to him..."


"... then I could have kidnapped him and maybe I could have gotten the stuff back."

"Kidnap him? Well, good luck." And I set down my empty glass, headed for the door.

"Falkner, please help me."

"Give me a break."

"I have to put a receiver on him. If I can do that..."

"They've finished that?" I said, surprised. "The last I heard, it was all just a rumour."

"I have a prototype. And it works."

"What've you managed to move with it?"

"Mice, rabbits..."

"No people?"

"No," she said quietly.

"You could kill Moyce, you know, moving him."

She gave me a look that said it really didn't matter. She explained, "In theory, there's enough power to move a mass up to around three hundred kilograms."

"You know, your idea might work."

"Sure it will. But I can't move him here without planting a receiver on him."

"But there's no way to get close to him."

"You could, Falkner."


"Just let him catch you. When he interviews you, you plant the receiver and set off the signal. I'll bring him here."

"Right. And leave me sitting there with my finger up my ass. Forget it."

"I could move you too, after I secured him..."

"No thanks. But maybe after you get Moyce, we could get them to give me the compgram. Then, when I get back with them, Moyce goes free." As I said it, I could tell she didn't like the idea of me having the gram, which was roughly what I'd had in mind. What was to prevent me from disappearing with it?

She actually came right out and said she didn't like the idea of me getting my hands on the compgram. Isn't trust a wonderful thing?

"Hire somebody," I said.

"I can't. Too many people know about this already."

"We have a problem here, lady. I don't mind helping you, if it's worth my while. But I don't want to end up as rat bait."

"I can get you a good position... a place inside... anything you want, Falkner."

"Won't do me any good if I'm dead. It has to be my way, or I'll just leave here and let you take your chances."

"How can I trust you?"

"You don't have to."

"What do you mean?"

"First of all, you haven't paid me yet. You can do that later. And we'll change the plan. Do your sewer rat act again. Let them get you. You'll get your interview and I'll man the comp. As soon as you plant the transmitter, I'll move Moyce. They give you the gram and you bring it back while I hold him here. That way, you don't really have to trust me, much. Of course, if Moyce should die while he's being moved, you'd be screwed."

"I guess I would. Maybe there's a better way."

"Maybe," I laughed. "But you were willing to take a chance with my ass. Why not gamble your own?"

She sat down with the aforementioned ass hooked on the edge of a bar stool, swished the drink around in her glass. She gave me a speculative glance now and then while she thought things over. I walked around the room, studying her art collection. She had about two dozen paintings and it was first time I'd seen that many pieces together when I couldn't find one I liked.

"What do you want for helping me?" Smith asked.

"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it," I lied. "But since you aren't a friend of mine, it isn't likely I'll help you for free."


"I don't know. You paid a wizard three mill for his help. Make me an offer."

"He was a highly specialised technician, Falkner. You're only a cab driver."

"I really don't need insults. Do you want me to leave?"


"Well, I don't know yet. Why don't we settle it later? I don't think you're likely to rip me off. You don't need any more problems than you already have."

She looked up at me sharply when the tone of my voice registered but she didn't say anything; the threat wasn't overt enough to require a reaction.

"Tell me something, Smith. Did you ever consider the possibility that Moyce orchestrated his whole thing?"

"How could he do that? He'd have no way of knowing that I'd come to him for the money."

"Are you saying it's impossible?"

"Not impossible..."

"Suppose he used a wizard to rip you off in the first place? Where'd you get the name of the one you used to get the money back?"

"From my personal secretary."

"Okay. And when did you first hear of Moyce?"

"How should I..." She broke off, looking startled.

"Well?" I insisted.

"My secretary did mention that Moyce would be a good one to go to when we needed that quick cash. Obviously, I couldn't go to any of the usual sources when this happened. If any of our competitors had found out our money was gone..."

"So how'd you get in touch with Moyce?"

"I had my secretary put out the word that I wanted a meeting. He's worked for me for years. I thought I could trust him."

"So after you made contact with Moyce, he made his play for the compgram."

Smith nodded her head, drained her glass.

"Okay, before we go any further, what were the security arrangements for the gram?"

"It was kept in my vault. The vault's mechanical. I'm the only one with the combination."

"Did anyone have access to the gram besides you?"


"Because you're paranoid enough to look after the corporations more vital possessions yourself."

"Not for the entire corporation. Just for Smith Developments."

"All of which means that if Moyce had started out wanting what you gave him, he would've had to cook up some sort of scheme to get it. He couldn't just raid the comps."


"If I were you, I'd have a word with your secretary. And check out the computers at the Entry Permit Issuing Department. I thinks it's more important to find out why Moyce wants to move guns into the dome than it is to save your hide."

"You should have been a cop."

"Yeah? Well, I'm not."

"Why don't we just bring Moyce here and ask him what we want to know?"

"And if he dies in transit?"

Smith was silent.

"Personally, I don't give a damn what happens in here or out there. But it seems to me that if Moyce has been making pass cards for a week..."

"Closer to three weeks."

"So his plans are likely complete."


"How often is the frequency changed at the gate?"

"Every month."

"So every month you get an order for new passcards with the new frequency programmed in?"


"Good business."

"You bet."

"When will it be changed next?"

"Four days."

"And you care more about saving your own ass than about stopping Moyce at whatever he's up to?"

"Well, whatever it is, if it's ever discovered that I made it possible..."

I turned away from her because I didn't want her to read the expression on my face. "Check out the computer. With your connections it won't be too difficult to learn how many entry permits've been issued recently. Then put an anonymous alarm into the cop comp about a possible invasion of armed men. Then get the frequency changed on the sensors at the gates. I wouldn't doubt that Moyce is planning a takeover."

"How could he do that?"

"If he got control of the computers at City Hall there wouldn't even be an alarm sent out..."

"There's an all-members council meeting coming up."

"So, Moyce's guys filter in with their pass cards, guns and entry permits, and it's all over. But you can stop it, Smith. It doesn't have to happen."

"After I get the stuff back, not before."

"Okay. Show me how everything works and we'll get started."

In the computer room, she showed me the prototype for the dial-a-move or whatever they called it. It was smaller than the compsole and had only half a dozen keys. It seemed fairly primitive but if it worked on small animals, it would most probably work on a man.

Smith showed me how to operate it, explained how it worked. The gist of it was, when the signal went out from the miniature transmitter, it would home in on it. Whatever mass of organic material the transmitter was touching would be moved to the receiving chamber, which was behind a screen that Smith removed when she finished explaining.

"He'll end up here," she said, indicating the plexiglass chamber. "And he can't get out unless you let him out. You'll be able to talk to him through this." She held up a small remote mike. Pointing to a key on the console, she told me, "That will cause a gas to be released inside the chamber. Sort of a truth serum. Moyce will answer your questions. You can use a good old fashioned gun to take him to the telephone so he can call his people and give them their instructions. When I get back, we'll alert the police and the council."

"Good enough."

"Please, Falkner, can I trust you?"

"Well, you can't pay me until you get back, can you?"

She smiled, looking relieved and something else. I had a feeling she had something more in mind for me later, nothing I would care for. "So just tell Moyce he'll be released as soon as I get back with the stuff. Chances are, he won't argue much. If you're right about what he's up to, then he won't need any more pass cards."

She went away to change into a bag-lady outfit.

When she went to get Moyce, I set to work on her computer. It didn't take much to get into the Permit Issuing Department. I got a print-out of over two hundred names of people who had been issued permits for tomorrow. It was even easier to get into the police comp, the general one, that is. It wasn't used for security, just ordinary communications. So I sent the alarm message, plus the list of names. I didn't think I'd be able to get to the gate controls. That would be high security and I was somewhat pedestrian when it came to breaking complicated codes. To the cop comp, I added a recommendation and an explanation that read: Prime suspect, Alfred Moyce. Gained possession of schematic disc and printing plates for weapons pass cards. Further information to follow.

I put an alarm on it so they would be sure to notice, then I programmed an anti-trace code. They would crack it but not right away.

All that done, I poured myself another shot of that wonderful, dusky Scotch and waited. It was a few hours before the signal came through. I was starting to worry that the cops would trace my warning and show up at the door before Smith planted the transmitter.

I hit the keys in sequence and Alfred Moyce was in the chamber. He was fat, with bright red stretch-marks across his belly, his weight obviously pushing the limits of the machine. He was naked and without his glasses, since the machine only moved living, organic material. I looked at an empty eye socket and wondered how many people knew he had an artificial eye. I pictured his employees suddenly confronted with a pile of clothes, a pair of glasses and an eye.

It was funny.

Moyce was yelling in the chamber, hammering on the glass. I couldn't hear him and I didn't want to.

I called into the police comp again and told them where they could find Moyce, then I released the truth stuff so they wouldn't have any trouble questioning him. I felt sort of sorry for Smith. If she was still alive, they'd get her when they raided Moyce's place.

I had a few pangs of regret for all the money I was losing by not getting her out. But, you know, I just didn't want to be like them.

The End

Copyright 1997 by W. Fraser Sandercombe

Fraser lives in Burlington, Ontario and can be contacted at:

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