I knew right away it was going to be one of those days. Port Charles was interrupted by a speech from the President about Somebody-or-other doing something in some place that, three weeks ago, I'd never even heard of. Then Mom called with the usual half hour of guilt and depression. And as if things couldn't get bad enough, the cat knocked the Clorox bottle off the shelf and into a basket full of clean laundry. My Sailer Moon shirt was a total write-off. Boy, was my therapist going to get an earful tomorrow.
I try to have the store open by noon, but I never have any customers until one or two in the afternoon, and then it's usually the closet freaks in suits looking for the latest copy of Barely Legal on their lunch breaks.
But, that's what I do. I sell porn.
When I left San Francisco four years ago, I had no marketable skills. Fortunately, I was able to fall back on my experience managing an adult book store, and opened one of my own. Annie's House of Bondage, adult toys, videos, and reading material of every persuasion, conveniently located on West Grand Avenue, just off of 184. Stop by and see me.
As I said, I never have any customers before one, so I was kind of surprised when, around noon thirty, a cute asian man entered the store. He kind of looked like Gedde Watanabe, but there was something odd about him. I'm a hands-on kind of person when it comes to my customers, but when I asked for help, it was clear he was a little nervous, so I left him to wander around the store. That's when the Fantastic Female came in.
That's the other side of my business. I've always had a knack for finding bargains on items that most people wouldn't know existed, things like stun bracelets and electronic pocket boomerangs; the usual superhero knick-knacks. It's been a nice side business for me. It's also the reason I left San Fran, but that's another story entirely.
"Hey, Annie," the Fantastic Female said, sashaying through the door. Seeing her always made me smile, mostly because I knew her father was a deacon at Second Methodist, and he would have an absolute heart attack if he saw her in here.
"You know," I said, giving her my best mischevious grin, "I got a shipment of fishnets in, and there's a leather bustier on the rack over there that's just your size. How about we do something about that Miss America look of yours?"
"Not today, Annie," she said. She's so up tight, poor girl. "I actually just came in to get a bottle of vinyl oil for my costume."
I rolled my eyes and reached down to open the back of the glass case.
"Oh," she whispered, "and is my 'special order' in yet?"
Her 'special order' had been on my shelves for almost a year, but I could charge her a little more if she thought I had to make a few calls to get it. After grabbing the bottle of oil, I headed into the back and threw a box of extra-strength laxatives into a paper bag. Well, you didn't think she stayed Fantastic for a decade with diet and exercised, did you?
I came back out and sat the paper bag on the counter, then rang up her total. As I did so, another of my favorite customers came in. He was The Stallion, and, although the only thing equine about him was the tail that dangled from the back of his suit, he still fit the name perfectly.
"Annie," he said, flashing his sixteen-hundred dollar grin, "how's your love life?"
"As fulfilling as chinese food," I said. "I've got your special order."
The box of extra-extra-large condoms was the size of your average cereal box, and still only contained six condoms. The Fantastic Female's eyes almost fell out of her head and rolled across the counter as I sat the box down. She looked from the box to the Stallion and back several times, all the while turning the most amazing shade of red I'd ever seen.
"Well, they don't call him the Stallion for nothing," I told her.
She plopped a twenty down on the counter and ran out without waiting for change. The Stallion and I exchanged grins and I rang up his purchase on the register.
"Thanks Annie," The Stallion said, "now she'll never be able to make eye contact with me at the League meetings."
The Stallion flashed the smile that sent girls everywhere into cardiac arrest, then headed for the door. As the Stallion was leaving, I noticed that Gedde had disappeared.
It was close to one-thirty when Terry and Mick came in. Mick did some sniffing around town for me on occasion, finding out which heroes were going bankrupt or hanging up their spandex, setting up meetings with brokers, things like that. The trouble with Mick was that he had a lead foot, and lost his license. Terry was his brother, a total moron, but Terry had a license, so wherever Mick went, Terry went too.
"Terry," I said. Acknowledging his presence made him feel important. "Mick, any news?"
"A shipment of pocket-sized vibroguns," Mick replied.
I shuddered. The man had absolutely no concept of secrecy. I shushed him and reached under the counter where the signal jammer was. The trouble with signal jammers is that, if someone really is listening to what's going on in your store, turning one on looks really suspicious. They also play hell with your TV reception.
"How many?" I asked.
"About thirty," Mick replied.
That wouldn't do. Those things have small batteries and die after just a few uses. I usually sell them to the younger heroes cheap.
"No no no," I said. "Shock whips are so Eartha Kitt. I'm not running a Hollywood prop store here. Gimme some good news, there has to be something interesting."
"That's all I know," Mick shrugged. "He listed that stuff and said 'other stuff.' Wouldn't tell us no more."
"Fine, fine," I said. "This is why I hate dealing with freelancers. You get such better deals at foreclosure auctions, and you always know what's up for sale. If this West guy didn't come so highly recommended by my friend in Ottawa I'd never agree to this. So when and where is this meeting?"
"Five-thirty, in a warehouse on Muldoon," Mick said.
"Five-thirty?" I choked. "As in the evening? That's ridiculous. I have a business to run besides my business. Besides, John Edward's on then. What ever happened to clandestine meetings in the wee hours of the morning?"
Mick shrugged helplessly. I noticed Terry was fondling a key chain shaped like a boob, so I slapped his hand.
"Fine. Be back here in four hours."
"You're taking us along?" Terry asked.
"Unfortunately," I said. "My Kia's in the shop."
West had the place all decked out when we arrived, and was beaming like a Hyundai salesman. He looked like Steve Irwin would look if Steve Irwin had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood in Montreal.
There were two rows of crates, a wide walkway down the middle. I felt like I was shopping at black-market Ikea. The first box was the pocket vibroguns. They were about three inches long, and topped with the mouthless face of a well-known cartoon cat. I decided to buy all that West had.
I turned to ask West a question and noticed Terry and Mick giggling off to the side. Terry was holding a small, red ball attached to a leather strap. He had the ball in his mouth and was attempting to tie the leather strap behind his head.
"Don't touch," I chastised. "You don't know what that is."
"It's a grenade," West smiled. "Quite powerful. Will take out most of a city if you light it off."
He picked one up and showed it to me. The ball was about an inch in diameter, it looked like a jawbreaker except that it was coated in red wax. The strap had a hook at one end and a loop at the other, like a wrist watch.
"You tie this strap around your arm or whatever other appendage is handy," West continued. "The ball pulls off easily. You scratch the coating, then throw. Doesn't matter how far you throw it because you can't throw it far enough to get away."
"Sorry," I said. "Not my bag. I don't deal in weapons of mass destruction."
"You're sure?" West asked. "They're some mighty powerful grenades."
"Quite sure," I said. "That's the kind of thing the super villains would use, not the heroes."
West put the grenade back and picked up a pillow shaped like a male organ.
"This here," he said, holding it out where I could see it, "is a pocket speed boat. Pull this cord here and it inflates into a cigarette boat about eight feet long. Enough fuel in the two chambers here at the bottom for about twenty minutes of continuous, high-speed sailing."
"Interesting," I said. I looked into the crate to see what other colors they came in. If they came in black I could sell at least three of them to the Grayhound.
Or, at least, I could have, if I'd been able to buy them. Unfortunately, the purchase was interrupted by a giant ant and an extra from Flight of the Valkyries, both of whom charged into the warehouse with rather large weapons on their persons.
"Freeze!" the Valkyrie yelled. "Galactic Customs, you're all under arrest."
I panicked. I threw my hands over my head and dropped to my knees.
"Don't shoot!" I yelled. "I'm a bleeder! I surrender!"
This wouldn't be the first time I was 'apprehended' during a sale, but it would be the first time I've had to deal with Galactic Customs. From tales I've heard, they don't mess around. Apparently they were some kind of international government agency, and they usually showed up with tanks and jets and giant robots.
I looked up and noticed West, reactionless. I had thought he was alone when we came in, now I noticed there were a dozen or so men around the warehouse, also holding large, angry-looking weapons.
"Kill them," West said, then turned around and walked away.
Before the first shot was fired, I was hiding between two crates as best I could. Terry and Mick had apparently had the same idea I had, they were both hiding behind the same crate I was. Terry was holding a leather strap in his hand. He had a look of total fear on his face.
"It's ok," I told him, ducking as part of the crate above me exploded into splinters. "We'll deal our way out of arrest."
"It's not that," Terry said, holding up the leather strap. That's when it hit me.
"Where's the ball?" I asked.
"I swallowed it," Terry replied, forlorn.
"It's ok," I said. "I got something in the shop that will help."
The gunfight was short. Apparently the giant ant and the Valkyrie had done this kind of thing before. West wasn't even out the back door before he was trapped in a quick-drying foam. I wondered where they'd gotten it and if it was better than the brand I carried.
"Mr. Perry," the one in the suit said. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was Carmen from Guiding Light. He gestured toward the crate of grenades while filling out a form on a clipboard. "These grenades are banned weaponry. You are hereby placed under arrest for violation of Galactic Treaty T-655, code ST-643, section 41, sub-section C, attempting to purchase contraband weapons, and code ST-631, section 48, attempting to purchase off-world technology on a quaranteed planet."
"But I wasn't going to buy the grenades," I protest.
"We have the whole thing on tape," he replied.
"If you have it on tape then you know I wasn't going to buy them."
"He's right," the older one said. "Let him go, Roger."
"Roger" grimaced and walked away.
"Thanks," I said.
"Don't thank me," he said. "You lead us right to West. Now get out of here."
"You're not going to neuralize me, are you?" I heard Terry ask.
"I could if you wanted me to," the redhead next to him said.
"No!" Terry shouted.
"Come on," I said, pulling his arm. "Let's get you back to the store."
"You're sure about this?" Terry asked, looking at the size of the pill.
"Just be thankful it's not a suppository," I said. "These are the most powerful laxatives in the world. Swallow this and in less than an hour you'll no longer have to worry about that grenade in your belly."
Terry made a face and popped the pill in his mouth. He chased it with a swig of water.
"Don't tilt your head back," I said. "It makes the pill float to the top. Tilt your head forward."
Terry did, and then swallowed.
"Good," I said. "Come back in a week when you've got something for me that doesn't involve getting shot at."
"What about our fee?" Terry asked.
"Your fee," I said. "Ok, I offered you fifteen-hundred, right?"
"So that's fifteen hundred to you. But," I said, holding a finger up, "the dealer you lead me to was being watched by government agents and got busted, which means that I lost all the merchandise I was going to buy. So that's thirty times forty for the vibroguns, and, I'll be nice, four hundred for each of the inflatable boats. The way I figure it, you still owe me nine-hundred dollars. Now, you can either pay me, or get out of my store and we call it even."
"I - er - think we'll call it even," Terry said.
"Good man," I smiled. "Now get out of here."
It wasn't twenty minutes after they'd left when Gedde came back in. He was followed by the short redhead and that Roger guy in the suit that I'd seen at the warehouse. Now it made sense, Gedde was working for Galactic Customs.
"Looking for something for off-hours fun?" I asked.
"Hardly," Roger said. "Nothing you have in here would work for me anyway, and Carla would be too embarrassed to use any of it. Shimo on the other hand -"
"Hey," Shimo said.
"Anyway," Roger continued, "That's not why we're here."
He held up the leather strap for me to see.
"Apparently, you weren't very honest with us, Mr. Perry. Where is it?"
"I didn't take it," I said. "My associate swallowed it."
"What?" all three said, simultaneously.
"That's a good act," I said. "You should take that on the road."
"Did you say he swallowed it?" Roger asked.
"Yes. But, he'll pass it, flush it, and that'll be that."
"No," Roger said, "that won't be that. Do you know how they work?"
"'Fraid not," I said. "I don't deal in things like -"
"Yeah, I know. The saint routine," Roger said. "Well let me give you a quick lesson. The core of those grenades is highly reactive to air. Once it touches air, the reaction begins. If it touches air long enough, it goes off. That core is also is protected by only a thin wax layer, which I guarantee will not be able to stand up to your associate's stomach acids and internal body temperature."
"So the air inside his stomach -" I said.
"Is mostly methane," Shimo said. "What little oxygen may be in there won't be enough to complete the reaction, but enough to start it."
"So he goes, the grenade falls in the water of the toilet and washes away," I said. "No air."
"Until it reaches the waste processing plant," Roger said. "At which point a good portion of Boise disappears in a close approximation of a solar flare."
"Ugh," I said.
"So where is he?" Roger asked.
"Little Dick's Halfway Inn," I said. "It's a bar next to the Hilton on River Road."
"You have to identify him for us," Roger said. "Besides, it won't matter if you're here or there if it goes off."
"I guess not."
The bar was crowded. People were dancing around on the dance floor, and mingling in various places around the room. I looked around quickly, trying to spot them. If I knew Mick and Terry, they'd already have been slapped by most of the women here. Fortunately, my guess was right, and Mick was standing alone at the bar. We hurried over and grabbed him.
"Where's Terry?" I asked.
"I think he's in the bathroom," Mick said. "That laxative you gave him -"
"Laxative?" Roger yelled. "Where's the bathroom?"
"Over there," Mick pointed.
Roger grabbed my arm and we ran for the bathroom. He pushed the door open. We shoved our way past the crowd of patrons waiting for a urinal and headed for the stalls. Roger's hand went flat and slid into the gap around the first door and lifted the latch. The guy on the other side wasn't too appreciative when we opened the door on him.
"Hey!" he protested.
"Sorry," Roger said, then repeated his amazing trick on the next door.
Terry was sitting on the toilet, a pained look on his face.
"Terry stop!" I yelled.
Terry looked up in terror.
"Annie," he said.
"You said there's a hotel next door?" Roger asked me.
"Yeah, a Hilton."
"Do they have a pool?"
"Yeah," I said. "Why -"
Roger grabbed Terry and pulled him out of the stall. Shimo put his hand under Terry's other arm and they dragged him out of the bathroom. The bar patrons erupted into hysterics as they pulled Terry through the room with his pants around his ankles.
"If this is one of your initiations, Annie, I'm not interested!" Terry cried.
"Hold it in, Terry!" I said.
"I can't!" Terry yelled.
"If you don't it's going to explode," I said.
"I know!" Terry said. "That's what I want!"
"No," I said. "I mean explode as in BOOM explode."
Terry went white.
"The grenade will -" he said. I nodded.
Outside the bar, Roger stopped. He looked up at the hotel, then he and Shimo started leading Terry to the gate surrounding the pool.
"I can't hold it any longer," Terry moaned.
The gate was locked, but Roger pulled out a gun and shot it open. Fortunately, there was nobody in the pool. Unfortunately, we had a large crowd following us from the bar. Carla shut the gate behind us and the crowd complained. Roger and Shimo pulled Terry over to the pool and threw him in. Terry made his way over to the steps and sat down.
"Why am I -"
"Ok," Roger said. "Now you can go."
"Go?" Terry asked.
"Yes," Roger said. "You can - um - go potty."
"I uh-" Terry said. "I can't."
"I'm in a pool!" Terry yelled. "And - and there's all these people watching me."
"Terry," I said, kneeling down on the pool. "You have to. You can do it."
"I can't," Terry said, tears welling up in his eyes.
"I can't, I want to take this all back."
"You can't take it back, Terry. Just push."
"I can't push, it hurts!"
"You have to push. Take a deep breath."
Terry inhaled deeply.
"Now push!" I told him. He did. "You can do it, push!"
"I - ngh - I can't!"
"You're doing fine," I said, rubbing his forehead. "Take another breath."
"I hate you for this!" Terry growled. "This is all your fault!"
"One more big push for Daddy," I said. "Deep breath."
Terry took a deep breath again and bore down.
"I caaaaaaan't," he groaned.
"You're doing it," I said. "It's almost here."
"Aaaaagh!" Terry cried.
The grenade shot out from under him and skittered across the bottom of the pool. Then, so did everything else he'd eaten since.
"You did it," I said, cradling his head in my arms. "You did good. I'm proud of you."
The audience erupted into thunderous cheering. I heard the gate open and looked up to see the older Galactic Customs agent walk in, followed by a stereotypical jarhead and a goth chick with long, black hair.
"What's the situation, Roger?" he asked.
"Right there, Jack," Roger said, pointing into the pool. "Well, at least, you could see the grenade a few minutes ago - when the water was clear."
"So go get it," Jack said.
"Me?" Roger asked.
"Well," Jack said. "We could send Carla in."
"I - uh - forgot something in the van," Carla said, then ran away.
"Shimo?" Jack asked.
"I have to - um - do - something - with the computers," Shimo said.
"No," Rhino said.
"Well, Roger," Jack said. "You could always ask Phil if she would do it."
Roger looked from Jack to Phil and back to Jack.
"I want hazard pay for this," he said, then hopped into the water.
"Take this card," Roger said, sliding the business card across the counter to me. "Next time you come across something that seems out of the ordinary, send an email to [email protected] and we'll show up."
"Gotcha," I said, tucking the card under the drawer of the register.
Roger grinned, then walked out of the shop.
"So," I said.
"So," Mick said.
"How's he doing?"
"He'll live," Mick replied.
"Good," I said. "Take one of those inflatable hemmorhoid seats for him."
"Will do," Mick said. "Still, I think he'd rather have you send flowers."
"I could kill you and he'd have all he wants after your funeral."
Mick grinned and walked out.
After Mick left, I locked up. I'm usually open until three, but tonight I decided to close early. In the back room, TIVO was happily blinking at me. I picked up the remote and sat down and John Edward appeared on the screen.
Ok, can Everyone still alive?
It's ok, the shaking will stop shortly.
Will John Edward actually make contact with the ghost of the mother of the woman in the third row?
Will Roger file a request for reimbursment for his drycleaning?
And when the hell will JR be back?
(I know you're all screaming that last one)
Tune in Next Time for:
JR's Triumphant Return
Guest Spots Are Best Done by the Sane
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