When a galactically inept inspector tackles the world’s most illusive AI, prepare for apocalypse. Determined to find missing programmer Alyson Sweetcheeks, Detective Bob unleashes a war between a tech conglomerate, a covert cyber gang, the mob, and a malevolent time-travelling intelligence bent on world domination. Will Bob beat astronomical odds to save the girl, the world, and his chances for promotion?
All that remained in Alyson Sweetcheek’s hotel suite:
- One cornflower dress,
- one navy dress suit with skirt,
- one flash drive, and
- six Doublemint gum wrappers.
Six wrappers. Crumpled on the bedspread next to her suit. Silver foil twisting in and out of the iconic paper strip: green arrows over mint green mint leaves on a whirlpool printed in green.
Sunlight drifted past the jacket which was draped over the desk chair—its shoulders straightened and lapels flat. Dust motes danced in the sunlight path like fairies in a daydream.
The hotel notified Alyson’s sister Sally. Sally called Alyson’s boss William Zuckerchange. Zuckerchange called the cops. Any sense of urgency collided with the writing on the police department wall: “We see this shit a dozen times a day.”
Another blonde missing from her room? Low on the list of police priorities. In San Noema a missing blonde was as common as a day without rain, as common as open convertibles on Interstate 5 with occupants risking the sulfur-oxide ambiance to tone their rock star tans, as common as baby in bluebonnet photos in Texas and even though San Noema is a California city, in Texas missing blondes would be just as common.
Alyson isn’t blonde. Nor dumb, as Bob would discover, but that fact mattered little. As far as the cops were concerned, if a girl wasn’t attached to the wallets of prominent men willing to write five figure checks to city council campaigns (or the daughters of those prominent men) she couldn’t shake a cop from the schedule.
Instead, they sent Detective Bob.
He skittered across her room. A six-three praying mantis with matchstick limbs and bony fingers probing for clues. He paraded his sleuthing skills in vain. Sally and the hotel manager ignored him to argue over Alyson’s outstanding bill.
Bob’s partner Duffy leaned against the door frame, ankles crossed, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. Wrinkles rode his polyester suit, a suit he bought from the clearance rack of the factory-seconds section at Walmart. He struggled to keep his lids open after a night closing down three different cop bars, which might be why his suit looked slept in. Slept in every night since 1966.
Duffy was destined to make captain. The guy who disappeared when the first bullet flew and reappeared in time to claim the credit. And the commendation. Veins crept from his eyes and down his nose. Five o’clock shadow from the Sunday before last. His hands? Not a tremble or shimmer, petrified by the cheapest booze on the shelf.
Bob probed every inch and surface, flipping the pillows, pulling out drawers. He crawled under the bed, hooked the knee of his powder blue polyester suit on a nail. Tore a hole.
He swore under his breath. “Oh, feathers.”
He stood, brushed the bunny dust and dandruff from his shoulder and continued to probe with his best BIC Pen. He poked through the events guide on the desk, pulled a cloth from his side pocket, wiped the dust from his piano wire glasses and poked through once more.
Sun from the window glanced off the oily spot at the center of his bald pate, fractured like light hitting a disco ball, and blinded everyone in the room. He swore to solve this case. His first solve (far from his first case). A glance at the cornflower dress and the opened curtains revealed the solution like a prize display. “Alien abduction.”
Sally stepped with the precision of a model, legs firm, bronze, a chain tattoo on her ankle. She alliterated perky and petite, from her five-one frame to the gentle slope under her pink crepe blouse to her trim tempting hips.
“Aliens?” She turned to his partner. “Tell me he’s joking.” She smelled of cinnamon and sugar. Bob wanted to sprinkle her on toast.
Officer Duffy pursed his lips tighter than a nip/tuck with Botox. He pulled his iPhone from his jacket and ran his fingers across the screen. “No alien activity reported.” He pleaded in silence, “Don’t say murder. Please don’t say murder.”
Bob ran his hands through the few strands of hair left to comb. “Murder then. It must be murder.”
Phillip T. Stephens attended the Michigan State writers’ workshop. He taught writing and design at Austin Community College for 20 years. His writing and art appear in anthologies, literary and peer-reviewed academic journals. His novella Doublemint Gumshoe won silver in the 2021 Electric Eclectic fiction awards, and his novel Seeing Jesus (soon to be re-released) won three indie publishing awards. He writes five days a week at Wind Eggs.
He and Carol live in Oak Hill, Texas where they built a habitat in the shade of their oaks to house foster cats for austinsiameserescue.org. They found new homes for more than three hundred abandoned pets.
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