We rounded the top of the mountain and started down. The road dropped a thousand feet in the next mile. It passed at lightning speed. The road was like standing waves at the bottom of a big set of rapids. We kept flying over the top of the hills but I was in a company car so I didn’t care.
When we came over the top of the first big hill in town, his car, then mine lifted, hitting after a short hop with a bang.
On the next hill, and the next, we flew up and crashed down again, neither willing to give an inch. Traffic was light, which helped. He cut across my bow and dove to the right onto a ramp leading to surface streets.
Swerving sharply, I followed him down.
The green Ford pulled into the curb. He got out and started running on an angle, sort of towards me somewhat. I stopped a hundred feet away, looking to see if he had a weapon.
The son of a bitch jumped down an open manhole cover. My reaction was to look around and see another manhole. It was right there.
Running over and sticking a finger down the hole, I lifted the heavy thing enough to get my other hand underneath and lift the cover. Dragging it aside, exposing most of the hole, I clambered down a narrow metal ladder into the sewer.
He must be off to the right, and in that direction I heard splashing and other noises. As I ran in ankle-deep water, a pillar of brilliant sunlight appeared. This was the way, I was sure of it. I kept on, seeing in the distance a flickering and then another pillar of light coming down from above in the foetid smog of the tunnel.
I splashed to a stop.
There was a ladder and I climbed it without hesitation. Bracing my legs and feet on the slippery painted steel rungs, I shoved the cover up and aside even as the wheels of a bus rumbled past my head. I ducked for a second and then climbed out, thinking that now people in cars would at least be able to see me.
His head stuck out in a crowd of pedestrians and his eyes locked on mine, even as his face and shoulders dropped furtively. He ran through traffic, dodging oncoming cars, and then running through cursing pedestrians until confronted by a subway entrance. He plunged down the stairs as I followed at full tilt.
He disappeared into the crowded station and I paused, looking around at the train about to depart.
Someone thrust something into my hand and then strode away.
It was a telegram, I’d only seen pictures in old books.
The thing was in Swahili, as far as I could see.
Crumpling it in frustration, I tossed it in the general vicinity of a nearby trash receptacle and strode into the echoing space, looking all about for my quarry.
I had a funny feeling I knew what the paper said, I had a funny feeling I knew who sent it, and I had a funny feeling that since I couldn’t read Swahili, the bastard was tormenting me and I meant to have a word with him about it.
I lay on the couch, phone beside me on the coffee table, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, an ashtray and a pack of smokes and a lighter.
I waited for two return calls, one from the Ministry of Love. I was hoping Melanie would call so I could relate how I had the quarry in my sights and was hot on his trail—although really I was laying on the couch waiting for phone calls.
The other call was my intellectual property lawyer. I had written a sushi cookbook, with a fairly high heat rating which might sound nonsensical but the romance hacks know what it means, and of course some knucklehead publisher wanted it; which was just what I didn’t need right now as moonlighting from the Ministry is frowned upon, and contract negotiations take more time than I have these days.
Also my impression of our subject was twofold: one, he wasn’t really well-suited to marriage, never mind that he had ignored our summons and had failed to appear in court. What was the point? That was my question there. I had a second point, didn’t I? Sorry.
The phone rang, as I suspected it would sooner or later.
“You son of a bitch!”
“What? Who is this?” The computer started talking but I waved it off.
“Fuck, Mister. Why are you chasing me?”
“You are under advisement. Anything you say can and will be taken down and used against you in Social Court…”
“Stuff it—and lay off. I got a girlfriend—a real one.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then you should have shown up and told the judge. You should have filed the documents. Anyway, you can’t prove it by me. You’re always driving around real fast and popping in and out of manholes. I don’t see no girlfriend. Where do you live? I’ll come around and have a look.”
There was a long silence.
Finally he spoke.
“Fine. Be that way.”
It was all I was going to get out of him, but was it enough?
See, when a man says he has a girlfriend, it means one of two things. Either he is lying, or he must show up at the mall from time to time.
Oh, you know what I’m talking about: standing there with his hands in his pockets as she holds up dress after dress in front of herself, and asking him what he thinks, right?
Trying real hard to look interested and not gay if you know what I mean. It’s not like we haven’t all done it, right?
I sat in a coffee shop that had the advantage of covering two major avenues in our local mall, with the bonus of an actual good cup of coffee, which, quite frankly, I can’t get at home. Never mind the price. I’m on an expense account.
If I was stuck in the office I’d have to drink the coffee there. They say it’s free. Half of them are bald and sweaty. Their opinion means nothing to me.
Sitting and listening to Yes, Starship Trooper on my ear-plants, I had a disposable plastic celebrity e-magazine on the table in front of me and good cover from a series of Boston ferns in planters along the railing that set the place off from the mall proper.
Sure enough, Buddy showed up. It was perfect, I’d only been there fifteen or twenty minutes, but I am well trained after all.
Somehow he made me. It was uncanny. I saw him, and kind of looked away when his head swung around to speak to the lady at his side. When I looked back involuntarily, hoping to see him engaged with her, his eyes were locked right on mine and he was already grabbing her arm.
His mouth opened.
I shoved my chair back, and taking three powerful strides, I threw myself at the barricade and flew over right in front of a fellow in a powered chair who threw himself to the ground in sheer fright, but them’s the breaks and the chase was on again.
Right up until I ran past the girl, intent on Buddy, who was fifty metres away, running as fast as he could and probably faster than I could…she swung her big purse in a roundhouse that caught me right in the mouth. My feet flew up, the last thing I remember for a second or two anyway, and then I hit the floor, a loud crack coming from the immediate vicinity of the back of my head.
She stared down, yelling at me and I had no idea what she was saying. It was all gibberish at that point.
When I regained my equilibrium, I got to my feet, wobbled, then set off in pursuit as his beau hurled foul epithets, retreating in the direction of Provincial Food Court.
He was just ahead of me, running back and forth in a panic. A door opened and he leapt in.
Buddy was in a semi-cylindrical transparent elevator just heading up beside mossy waterfalls and curving balconies on the boutique level. There was one standing empty, so I grabbed it. Hitting the button, I stared up through the curving plastic sides as he stared down at me.
The Mall of the Two Canadas, which is in Cobourg, the nation’s half-capital on the edge of the Blow-Up Lands, was relatively familiar, as I had pursued suspects before and…we passed the first level and kept going. I knew the place a bit, and I had a hunch he couldn’t get out of the elevator and go left.
My elevator was on the right of his. I was a good ten or twelve seconds behind him. Interesting prospect.
We went past the next level. He looked wildly around, and I took a quick glance at the line of numbers above the elevator door. There were twelve more floors, but then I had a com-unit and he had to get back down again…
Speaking of com-units, maybe it was time I used mine. He stared, mouth working as I held it up and spoke into it briefly.
The elevator stopped and he slapped the button as my heart rate ramped up in anticipation and the one I was in came to the fourth floor. I stabbed the button. The wall separating us was formed and textured concrete. His elevator was empty.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped to the door just as running footsteps came belting along just beside me. He must have thought I couldn’t do it, and that all he had to do was keep running at top speed and he would be safe. I let him have it right on the jaw as he went by.
Out cold, it took him a long time to crash, as he bounced and spun along the opposite wall, rubbery legs carrying him along as he sank lower and lower to the pavement, coming to rest about ten yards from where I stood. The light at the end of the hallway darkened and a familiar form beamed at me in silent approval.
“Can you stand between me and the elevators? His alleged girlfriend is still out there.” I wiped blood off my mouth with the back of my hand.
I think Bert was originally enhanced with a view to circus strong-arm acts or piano-juggling or something, but with his metre-wide shoulders in the way, she would hopefully think twice about interfering with our duties. It was our only recourse, as women of child-bearing age are exempt from most criminal statutes.
I knelt beside the suspect to put the radio-tracking plasti-cuffs on. His eyes were moving and his left cheek was all scuffed and bloody from the wall. He offered no further resistance.
“Buddy 0997-334-B, you are under arrest for evasion of matrimony and failure to report to the court as specified.”
“But I told you…bastards…”
“Yeah, yeah, you got a girlfriend. I think I might have just met her. Look, Buddy, I ain’t judging you.”
I finished reading the spiel. It’s the law.
There was a commotion behind me as an elevator door opened up and then the lady was clinging to Bert’s back and trying to beat him into submission, clinging to his hair with her left hand and swinging the purse like there was rocks in it.
He gave me a look.
“She’ll give up in a minute.”
Hauling my prisoner to his feet, I led him back to my elevator of choice, where the lady decided she didn’t feel like riding down with us after all, and hence down to the main floor for transport to the Ministry of Love holding facility on Holbourn Avenue, where our subject was booked and would be held for the statutory bail hearing and arraignment in Social Court.
It's all in a day's work, and it takes all kinds to make a world, I suppose.
Photo: Inspired by the film 'Bullitt,' Wikipedia, fair use/parody.
For more on the world of 2030 A.D. and the Ministry of Love, go here.