Richard Swift and the Small Dog
In the corner of a dark and dingy room there was large pile of bed sheets. Of course, the viewer could be forgiven for mistaking them for, say, a dangerously large bacterial culture given the dark nature of the room, the utter filthiness of the sheets, and the truly awful pattern that adorned them.
It was midmorning, and the light of the sun was still valiantly attempting to break through the grime on the room's single window. Having already had its progress severely impeded by the healthy smog outside, it wasn't doing all that well. At one point, a particularly plucky ray broke through just long enough to illuminate an arm as it shuffled out from under the sheets. The arm was that of Richard Swift, private detective, gentleman explorer and narcotics enthusiast. The arm ceased its shuffling, and somewhere under the disgusting sheets, another arm clutched at a head. The head had just reached full consciousness and was attempting a scream, but achieved little more than a hoarse whisper and a few short sobs.
After another hour, Swift emerged from under the sheets and stood up, wobbling quite a lot. The figure vaguely silhouetted by the almost-light of the window was that of a tall man with quite broad shoulders and a slightly sparse but muscular frame. His skin was pale and his hair was jet black, longish, and slicked back over his head. He was completely naked except for a single glove safety-pinned to his right thigh. His legs quickly gave way, and Swift tumbled to the ground in a shower of flailing limbs, dislodging the glove and producing quite a lot of blood in the process. He groaned. Somewhere in his room, an ancient sound system came to life and began to play Clair de Lune from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque.
"All the sounds are... too bright," he mumbled, "need nic'tine now." He crawled across his room in search of cigarettes. He found one lodged in a pizza that looked at least a week old, fished a lighter out of a half-empty wine glass and sparked up.
The coughing went on for some time.
“Best smoke of the day, I’d say,” said Richard, wiping away the tears.
He got slowly to his feet and hobbled around the flat, collecting his clothes (a shirt of indeterminate colour, black slacks, blackish shoes and a very weather-beaten trench coat) and put them on, eventually doing it in the right order. Suddenly the phone rang. The noise felt to Swift like he was being beaten over the head with a large pigeon, and instead of answering the phone, he made his way over to the bathroom to nurse his hangover and do some more sobbing.
"Aspirin, that's the ticket!" He stopped hugging the toilet and tore open the bathroom cabinet. He grabbed a packet of pills and gulped down five of them in one go and then shoved his head under the running tap as sparks started going off behind his eyes. What he'd failed to notice was the label on the packet, which read simply "KickBrain."
KickBrain was a stimulant, similar to Speed, but where Speed was a small puddle, KickBrain was a roaring ocean. It was banned as a weapon of war in most Cities, and had been likened by users to dipping one's head in a lake of electricity and then running very fast at the nearest wall. A single pill would keep most people awake for over a week (or until they got arrested for kicking priests and small children and tranquilised in a jail cell). Richard Swift was not most people; however he had taken five, and the effects tended to multiply exponentially.
After a hearty twitching session, Swift decided that the best thing to do now was to have breakfast. His favourite diner, the Greasy Spoon, was just on the other side of the Shafts, and he’d be able to beat up on the Charity Robots on the way there, which was always a laugh, especially if you were hopped up on enough stimulants to keep an entire army fighting for several days. He went in search of his hat, and was deeply frustrated to find it wasn’t anywhere in the flat.
“WHERE’S MY FUCKING HAT!?” bellowed Swift. “I can’t go out without it! It completes my fucking IMAGE!” The phone began to ring again and, screaming with rage, he hurled it clean through the partition wall. There was a string of expletives from next door, and the phone burst back through the wall and clocked Swift squarely between the eyes. Barely registering the phone, Swift noticed that a note had been tucked under the door. He picked it up and, swaying, read it.
“swift – you now owe me two months back rent. pleaz pay as soon as poss. or we will have a repeet of what happend with the ferrit. –jeff (landlord)”
“Shiteyes! My fat landlord wants the rent and he’s holding my fucking hat hostage until he gets it! Well I’ll show that rat bastard wankstain!”
Swift ran to his desk and pulled out a box of tacky-looking roman candles and a pocket-sized cattle prod, with which he stuffed his pockets. He then located a crate of cheap psychedelics – now half empty – that he had purchased the night before. Using one of the fireworks, he set fire to the whole thing and held his head in the smoke and breathed deeply. Ten minutes later he was running down the stairs screaming and brandishing a violently combusting firework.
When he reached the door to the Landlord’s office, he stopped, kicked it down and then rolled to the side. He lit three of the roman candles and lobbed them into the room, along with the one he was already holding. Suddenly a confusion of light and some very shrill screaming erupted from the room, and Swift leapt through the doorway, clearing the desk and landing right on the terrified Landlord’s chest.
“Where’s my fucking hat, you tubby bastard?” roared Swift, brandishing the first thing to hand, which happened to be a computer keyboard. All around them, the fireworks continued to sputter out their colourful flames.
“What?” shrieked the Landlord.
Swift walloped him in the side of the head with the keyboard, snapping it in twain. “You fucking heard me you waste of atoms! What have you done with it?”
The Landlord wrestled his arm free and punched Swift in the chest, sending him flying backwards into what was left of the door.
“I ain’t got yer hat you nutjob! And if you don’t get me the rent by the end of the week, and a bit extra to pay for what you just did to my damned office, you won’t have an apartment! Or thumbs!”
Swift cursed and stood up. He threw his last firework at the Landlord’s crotch and then dashed from the office and out of the building. He could now no longer ignore his hunger and he had to go to the diner, hat or no hat.
On the way over, a Charity Robot approached him and asked him if he would be interested in donating to the Religious Foundation for Sexual Repression. Swift stood there for a moment, staring off into space, and then suddenly he tore the robot’s legs off. He picked up the shrieking automaton and used it as a club to assail every Charity Robot he could find (and the occasional pedestrian) until he reached the Greasy Spoon. By now both sets of drugs had completely set in and the effects seemed to be combining. His hallucinations were happening at five times faster than real time and he and the diner appeared to be rocketing into the stratosphere. Shaking slightly and looking a little paler than normal, he sauntered into the diner and sat down.
“Mmmffmffmf!” said the man he had just sat down on.
“Oh, sorry!” said Richard. “Don’t worry, I’m sure those tomato stains will come out.” He climbed over the top of the booth and fell into an empty one.
“Capital!” he exclaimed.
Just as he looked up to find a serving robot to shout at, he saw a man come in through the door. There was something about him, apart from the fact that he clearly didn’t belong in a dive like this, that held Swift’s attention. The man was wearing a very fine and well-cut suit, polished shoes and a black hat. Swift couldn’t quite work out what was strange… the hat! That was Swift’s hat! It was totally identical! The flash bastard had to be from the Special Accountancy Corps. They were probably after him after he set off that glitter bomb in their building last week. The wanker had nicked his hat and had now come to finish the job!
Richard Swift, private investigator and professional bastard, was buggered if he was going to let that happen. He leapt up onto the table and dove straight at the Suit.
“Take this, Scumarse!” he cried, and applied the pocket cattle-prod he’d stored in his pocket to the man’s nose. The man shrieked and dropped to the ground, convulsing. Chuckling, he pulled out the man’s wallet and extracted five crisp hundred dollar bills. This would tide over his bastard Landlord for a while, he thought to himself. Then he picked up the hat and inspected it.
“Gods be damned!” he shouted. “This isn’t my fucking hat! It’s too clean! And where’s the bloodstain on the lining? Shit!”
Swift decided that he’d better get out of there quick-sharp, having nearly killed an ordinary civilian, and left the diner via the nearest window. Despondently, he trudged home, taking only a small amount of pleasure in the robot parts strewn across the walkways and the remaining Charity Robots cowering in crawlspaces and behind ducts. He made his way back to his room, lit a cigarette and collapsed on the couch.
Just then, the phone rang again. Swift looked at it and noticed there were 15 missed calls registered on the display. He sighed and thumbed the “receive call” button.
“Richard Swift, private eye and erotic adventurer, how may I help you? This better be good, else I’m going to come to your place of residence and cut you.”
“Ah, Mister Swift!” said the timid voice on the other end of the line. “We’ve been trying all day to reach you! This is the Mayor’s Aide speaking. I’m just calling to let you know that we’ve now extracted your hat from the Mayor’s Yorkshire terrier, Waggles, and we’d appreciate it if you could come down to City Hall so that we can discuss the bill.”
Suddenly, the memory of the previous night came flooding back. Richard Swift had a lot of explaining to do.
Apologies for the length of this one. If it's too long I'll talk to Withiel and get some webspace to host most of it and just put a few paragraphs on the main page.