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MELVIN T. BAGGER'S ROCK HARDICK by ANDRE NAVARRO

By Melvin T. Bagger

---

Being a private detective wasn't going too well for ol' Rock Hardick, as one could tell from his office, covered in a layer of dust so thick you could no longer see the floor. The fan he had over his desk was as functional as a geriatric penis, and the view of New York City through the stained window showed putrid buildings rising like a battalion of middle fingers.

His life was looking uglier than a midget with a mullet. His eighth ex-wife, recently divorced, wouldn't stop bugging him for her share of his worldly wealth, but he had no way of paying her because they hadn't yet invented a 1/3 cent currency. She was the kind of woman who, if someone placed coins over her eyes post-mortem, she'd ressuscitate, pocket them and die again. Hardick no longer had to listen to her demands since his cellphone was broken and the landline cut. Both by him.

Ah, the failure! He could feel it in his bowels, shoveling the feces all over the intestinal walls. Maybe he should use the pistol in his drawer. Shove it in his mouth, point it up and blow a hole through which his pained soul could escape the mortal, fleshy cell it was confined to. He briefly thought about where he'd find the money to buy all the plastic to cover his office in, but then he realized this was only reflex from all the precautions he took before garroting his seventh ex-wife -- the beauty of suicide is that you can just do it.

His desk having been made by a carpenter who probably used nothing but his feet and a rusty nail, he was about to resort to a hammer to open the jammed drawer when he heard a knock on the door. An incredibly SEXY knock.

"Come," he said, and realizing he had described what just happened inside his pants, he added, "in".

And in she came. If the knock was sexy, she was sex itself in female form. Her breasts were so round and large you could confuse them with planets. Also because they inspired the wish to probe them. Repeatedly. Her skin was smoother than a baby's ass after being rubbed with sandpaper for a few hours. And speaking of asses, Hardick couldn't see hers because she was facing him, but he deduced it was equally amazing, for God couldn't have gone through so much trouble only to screw up on that area.

And her face was so heavenly I, the talented author, admit I don't have the skills to describe it.

"What can I do to you," said Hardick, professionally. "For you," he corrected, professionally.

"I believe my husband has been murdered, Mr. Hardick," she said in a voice that Beethoven would have used as an instrument to be played with his penis.

Hardick thought, "Thank God, you're single now," only realizing he also said it out loud when he saw the expression on her face. "Thank God you are singlelarly okay, I mean," he added with his typically skilled wordsmithing.

She threw him a sultry look. It was like having sex with an eye. Which is possible, if you're a necrophiliac.

"Thank you for your concern," she sang along with a choir of angels, at least in Hardick's mind. What he expected her to say next was, "I killed him! Because I am hot and delicious and he was old and rich and now I have money and I can look for a real man and I just found one let me suck it nom nom nom..."

But what she actually said was, "I want you to find out who did it, Mr. Hardick."

"Isn't that a job for the police?" he asked professionally, half a second before realizing professionalism wouldn't get him laid.

"It would be, normally, but I think it was a policeman who killed him."

"Ah!" said Hardick, his mind, as powerful as a locomotive's, deducing many possible scenarios, combined with his testicles' wish to impress her to bed. "He was offed because he had collected dirt on a cop? Or was he a cop betrayed by a colleague?"

"No, he was a black rapper. I don't know why he was killed, that's why I came to you."

"Considering it's the NYPD, maybe because he was a black rapper?"

She laughed at the funny, clever and simultaneously not racist social commentary, and raised her eyebrows in admiration, but not the skirt yet. Patience, Rock. Patience.

"What is your name, (Sex Goddess? Queen Of Titland? Divine Magnum Opus? Oh Nevermind Let's Fuck?) ma'am?"

"How rude of me!" she said, blushing like a nun caught masturbating a choirboy. "My name is Lana Carroll."

"Oh, like the writer of Alice In Wonderland...?"

"No, his name was Lewis."

"... yes. Anyway. And the name of your (Absolute Waste Of Oxygen? Impotent Jackass? Micropenised Dipshit? Oh Nevermind Let's Fuck?) husband was...?"

"Darick Carroll, also known as Pussylord."

Not of your pussy he ain't, thought Rock, this time managing not to say it out loud.

"Mmm," he was Thinking. If he could turn his mental search feature into a software, it would be called Google. "The name sounds familiar."

"Pussy is another name for vagina, lord is..."

"I know what they are," said Hardick, far too rudely. She nervously took a step back. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just want you to know that I know what a pussy is, and how to handle it, and... nevermind, let's f... er, get to work. Where did you last see your husband?"

"In the graveyard."

"I mean, where did you last see your husband alive?"

Upon hearing those words, her eyes suddenly went wide, bulging out of their sockets like albino babies out of their wombs. Rock Hardick thought at first it was just a multiple orgasm from being In His Presence, but when she collapsed drooling on the floor, he had to admit he didn't think his sex appeal went that far.

Hardick knelt next to her spasming body and a few moments later she stopped moving altogether. He wholeheartedly welcomed the opportunity to perform CPR. Interlacing his fingers, he placed his hands on her left breast, then on her right breast, and finally on the sternum, mentally telling himself he just had terrible aim.

Even though the effectiveness of mouth-to-mouth is disputed, Hardick found himself suddenly uninterested in statistics as he glued his lips to her (mouth) lips, waited for the choir of angels to stop singing, and started blowing her. "He started blowing her". She had to live so they could turn that sentence the right way around.

But she had died. He could feel the life leaving her body like an Irishman leaving a pub: forcibly. And Hardick knew what had caused it, too. Hypnotism. Someone had hypnotized her so she would asphyxiate after being asked "where did you last see your husband alive?". This would ensure she would die far away from her actual killer, in this case in the office of an unlucky cunt called Rock Hardick. If he had said "him" instead of "your husband", he'd have cunningly avoided the trigger sentence, and she'd be alive and having sex with him right now! Oh, the guilt.

And this required an amazing hypnotist. The trigger sentence, not the sex. A hypnotist capable of convincing Keith Richards drugs aren't food. And Rock Hardick only knew one man capable of this kind of manipulation. Hardick had hired him to hypnotize his second ex-wife into exploding upon hearing the words "Will you marry me?". This was meant to fuck with a potential new husband, but Hardick forgot he had done it, fell back in love, and decided to marry her again. It took three showers to get all the blood off himself.

Cameron Cain. He was the best hypnotist in the planet, because anyone even slightly better than him would have already hypnotized the Earth's population into beating the shit out of emo rock bands.

But before leaving the office, he had to think of what to do with the Michelangelo-worthy sculpture he had lying dead on his floor like someone from the Louvre had let it fall out of their pocket. But since Lana had been the first person to enter his office in seven months, he figured she'd be pretty safe (for a corpse). Lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice, because if it fails to kill you the first time you're not meant to die.

***

The streets of New York. Rock Hardick walked between the towering middle fingers while actual middle fingers were showed to him by New Yorkers in their typical way of saying "hi". The news that Cameron Cain was no longer in his former address came as no surprise, since Rock Hardick was forty when he required his services, thirty years ago.

He went into a cybercafe and told the owner he had no money but needed to use the web to disarm a bomb hidden somewhere in there. Hardick researched the internet like an insecure teenager looking for the average penis size statistic, but unlike the teenager, Hardick wasn't disappointed. Cameron Cain's address was listed. Interesting. He seemed to have become a big-shot hypnotist, a significant step from his older office, located beneath a bridge and consisting of two bed sheets and four wooden sticks.

Cain obviously wasn't a good man, but neither was Hardick and he always had a soft spot for the hypnotist, perhaps because when he knew him they were in the same situation, which is to say, with enough money between themselves to buy a pack of bubble gum after a few minutes of haggling and death threats. Even after Hardick's second ex-wife exploded in his face along with the promise of a good life and regular sex, he didn't hate Cain, for it wasn't his fault. But now he did feel like he owed Cain a kick in the teeth. No, it wasn't Cain's fault where Lana died, and it also wasn't his fault that he was now successful and rich while Hardick still considered a new tube of toothpaste a luxurious purchase, but there were just too many things that "weren't Cain's fault" for Hardick not to be pissed at him.

He called the number on the webpage.

"Hello?"

"Hi, this is Jonathan Page," this was the name Hardick used whenever his actual name would just result in laughter or a phone being hung up or both because the people on the other side of the line didn't understand True Greatness. "I'd like to schedule an appointment with Mr. Cain?"

"I think we can fit you in about three months from now."

"Okay, tell him it's a friend of Rock's."

"Who's Rock?"

"A friend of his."

"What's his last name, in case Mr. Cain doesn't remember?"

Rock's neurons slapped each other for ideas. "Solidphallus," he said, now wishing his neurons had shot each other's kneecaps off.

Luckily the secretary didn't bother putting the names together just yet. "Okay, sir, just a minute," she did on her way to Cameron's office, judging from the distant but uproarious laughter Rock heard on the phone.

Then he heard the phone being picked up, and a familiar voice exclaimed, "Rock, you bastard! You used to recite entire monologues about how manly and great your name was, and now you're giving yourself pseudonyms?"

"Cameron," said Hardick. If Cameron listened carefully, he would be able to hear the ice crackling in every syllable. "Apparently you've been doing okay."

"Oh, business is booming!" said Cameron, happier than a boy being adopted by a pair of hot lesbians. "If you weren't an old customer and even older friend, I'd be scheduling you to three months from now and you'd have to pay me enough money to buy that fucking bridge I lived under!"

"Good thing I'm your friend, then," said Hardick with the kind of evil smile typically used by the Pope.

"Good thing indeed! It's my lunchtime in one hour. There's a bar right next to my building. You know the address?"

"I know it. See you there. Buddy."

Before leaving the cybercafe, he assured the terrified owner that the "bomb" had been disarmed. Which is why it came as a surprise to Hardick when the place exploded a few seconds after he left. There was also slight disappointment, given the grim path his future seemed to be taking, that it only exploded after he left.

***

People were smoking in the bar, a practice that in New York gets you the death sentence, despite the interior of the bar feeling like a relief compared to the city's usual air quality. The volume of smoke was so thick the smoke could be handcuffed and arrested along with everyone exhaling it. Even the bartender was smoking, and using the glasses as ashtrays.

Cameron Cain was sitting on one of the stools, and flashed his (very punchable) teeth in a broad smile when he saw Hardick walk in.

"Rock! C'mere, you," he said happily, patting him on the back as Hardick sat on the stool next to him and absently realized his ass was sticking to it by... something he preferred not thinking about, and not a priority at the moment anyway.

"Hello, Cameron," said Hardick, trying to sound friendly. The effort caused at least three veins to implode.

"I'd ask how life's been treating you, but I'm sorry to say, it's pretty obvious," said Cameron, with the same tact of a millionaire grabbing the newspaper a bum is using as a blanket and wiping his ass with it.

"Yeah, going through a rough patch," said Hardick vaguely.

"You're still a private detective? Because if you are, then I know this isn't just two old friends seeing each other after a long time."

"Did you hypnotize a woman named Lana Carroll?"

"I can't reveal details about my job, Rock," said Cameron hastily, but Hardick's obsidian-sharp eyes caught his in a brief moment of surprise before he said that.

"C'mon, Cameron," insisted Hardick. "For old time's sake."

"What's it to you?" said Cameron, suddenly more hostile. Hardick hoped he'd stay angry, it would give him a logical excuse to kick him in the teeth.

"I'll open up to you then," said Hardick in the same way you tell a person you trust her, putting them into so much pressure they usually get nervous and let you down even worse than if you had just shut the fuck up. "She's dead in my office. I said the trigger sentence."

"... fuck," said Cameron, rubbing his mouth like he was wiping semen off of it. "Oh, fuck."

"Yeah," said Hardick. "I just want to know who the customer was. Just a name."

"He's a NYPD detective. Nathan Mach. He's called Mach One by his colleagues, because of his efficiency in quickly solving cases."

And his performance in bed, Hardick thought maliciously.

"Never heard of him," he said.

"He's new, but has already made quite an impression."

"Why did he request your services?"

"You asked me for a name only, Rock. I gave it to you," said Cameron defensively. "C'mon, man. Don't put me in trouble. I couldn't have known she was going to die in your office."

"I know," said Hardick, impressed at how utterly Logic was failing to calm his seething hatred.

"I didn't enjoy that particular job, actually," said Cameron. "Such a beautiful girl, wasn't she?"

"Yes she was."

"Lucky I could hypnotize her into having sex with me before I implanted the trigger sentence."

Hardick felt a sting inside his head, and realized the area of his brain responsible for patience had just collapsed.

"Can I try hypnotizing you?" he said suddenly.

Cain let his mouth hang open, like he expected a dick to fill it. Then he laughed so hard the entire bar laughed with him without knowing why, and some old guy in tears venting at his friend on a corner yelled "It's not funny, assholes! I'll lose my virginity whenever I want!"

"Hypnotize me?" said Cain with an amused grin. "Man, try your best. I've got mental defenses for everything."

"Right," said Hardick. "You will spit blood on three."

"What...?"

"One, two, three."

Hardick punched Cain in the face, then kicked his balls. Cain bent over and Hardick punished Cain's teeth with the much desired kick. The hypnotist collapsed on the wooden floor like a man after being punched in the face and kicked in the balls and teeth. Hardick knelt over him and punched him repeatedly.

Five minutes of that and his knuckles started to hurt. Hardick got up, brushed Cain's eyeball off his fist and wiped the brain matter off his face with the back of his other hand. He had an idea, bent down and fished Cain's cellphone out of the bloody chest pocket.

Without saying a word, Hardick walked out of the bar. A smiling patron patted a stunned tourist on the back and said, "That's a New York argument, man."

They proceeded to cannibalize the corpse. When they finished, they were still hungry. So they turned to the tourist.

***

Hardick thought about the many movies he had seen about vengeance, before he broke the DVD player by bludgeoning his fifth ex-wife to death with it. In every one of those movies, the protagonist fulfilled his vengeance but failed to get any satisfaction for it, the hollow spot in his soul feeling even emptier than before.

But the huge, cheerful smile in Hardick's brain-fleckled face as he hopped down the street suggested very strongly that Hollywood is just full of shit.

He settled down and examined the cellphone. Apparently Cain had been trying to extend his abilities by sending hypnotic text messages. Judging by the replies, a staggering number of variations of "fuck you", he hadn't been very successful.

Otherwise, though, the phone was as useless to Hardick as his penis. But like his penis, he kept it, because, who knows, it just might come in handy.

***

The NYPD. Hardick was a known face around these parts. Not just because of the friends he had on the force, but because of the many times he'd been interrogated about his marital problems.

"Hey, Rock," said Cindy, the pretty officer behind the counter Hardick had a habit of hitting on with his typical gentleness and subtlety.

"Hey, Cindy. You are looking gorgeous today. I'd very much like to have sex with you."

"Which is why you never will. Especially when you come to see me dressed in blood. Yours?"

"Nah, accident with a wine bottle. Listen, I need to talk to one of your detectives. Nathan Mach."

"Sure, I'll simply distract Mach One from whatever important case he's working on to come and see the mighty Rock Hardick."

"Cindy, you owe me one."

"You've said this seven times before."

"You owed me eight the first time."

"Rock..."

"Cindy, I am not having a good day. Nobody has been nice to me the entire day. Actually, the entire week. Month. Year. Life. Anyway. Be nice to me? Just to break the pattern?"

Cindy sighed impatiently, the same way Hardick's ex-wives used to do during sex.

"Okay, Rock. Okay," she picked up the phone. "Mach One, get your ass over here."

"Here I am," said a cheerful voice behind Hardick exactly half a second later.

"Living up to your name, I see," said Hardick, with his usual talent for faking a sense of humor.

Nathan Mach smiled. He looked like the incarnation of success. Six feet tall, lean and wearing a suit that fit him like a condom, a winner grin framed by a solid jaw and filled by teeth so white their glow could illuminate a living room. They shook hands firmly, and Hardick could tell that if he wanted to, Mach could have turned the contents of Hardick's hand into bone-powdered juice.

"I'm at a disadvantage, mister...?"

"Hardick. Rock Hardick."

Mach widened his blue eyes. "Now that's a real fucking name."

For a few seconds Hardick allowed himself to like the guy.

"I hope you don't feel uncomfortable if we do this in the interrogation room...?" suggested Mach.

"It's like home away from home to me by now," said Hardick, enjoying Mach's puzzled expression.

They sat across each other in the steely, opressive room that had once managed to instill a hint of fear in Hardick -- actually, out of Hardick, staining his underwear. Now, the private detective could meditate in the room if he wanted to. Mach seemed relaxed himself, still flashing that wide grin that in anyone else's face would be infuriating, but on his it was disarmingly friendly. Hardick forced himself to remember this was the guy responsible for his continuing and undesired sexual abstinence, and less importantly, a dead woman in his office.

"So," said Mach cheerfully, interlacing his long fingers. "How can I help you?"

"I am a private detective, Nathan," said Hardick. "I'm investigating the death of a woman named Lana Carroll."

Hardick didn't catch the slighest glimpse of aprehension or surprise in Mach's impassive face.

"She was apparently hypnotized," Hardick continued, "for when I -- when someone said a trigger sentence, she went into cardiac arrest."

"C'mon. Hypnosis? Trigger sentence?" said Mach, amused.

"The hypnotist responsible, Cameron Cain, has told me you requested his serv --"

Mach's eyes widened so hard that his eyeballs defied physics by managing to stay inside their sockets.

"Nathan?" said Hardick. "Oh, shit. Trigger sentence."

Hardick got up, ready to perform CPR in a slightly less enthusiastic and more efficient manner than his previous attempt, but Mach showed no signs of pain. Instead, he got up himself and threw Hardick a murderous look.

Hardick's sharp instincts made him leap to the side just in time to avoid the bullet from Mach's pistol. Sure, Hardick's face hit the reinforced glass like a train, but still he dodged the shot. He fell to the floor and rolled below the desk as Mach fired repeatedly, the small room increasing the volume of the shots to ear-rape level.

The private detective got up, hit his head on the bottom of the table, fell down, got up again and this time managed to lift the table with him, hitting Mach with it, forcing him against the wall and trapping both the man's arms.

Hardick punched Mach's jaw and heard a sickening crack. He'd broken his hand.

"AH MOTHERFUCK!!" he yelled, staggering back. The table fell and Mach bent down to pick up the pistol. Confused and in pain, Hardick leapt, throwing his entire body against Mach but hitting the wall instead. Still, Mach instinctively stumbled backwards to dodge the move, pistol on the floor.

Having been beaten up many times before, especially by his sixth ex-wife, Hardick recovered fast and picked up the pistol with his good hand, aiming it at Mach's chest.

"Snap out of it, Nathan!" shouted Hardick. "You can do it!"

Mach's drooling face twisted itself into an expression so complicated it could be accurately described as a facial knot.

"I... CAN'T..." he panted. "YOU'LL... HAVE... TO KNOCK ME... OUT..."

Hardick nodded understandingly. And shot him in the chest.

The impact threw Mach against the wall. As he slowly slid down leaving a trail of blood on it, he looked up in utter surprise. "I said... knock me... out..."

"I tried that one," said Hardick, lifting his broken hand, the pinky finger was bent to the opposite side it was supposed to bend. "Sorry."

Just as Mach left out his final breath (which sounded a lot like "son of a bitch"), two officers stormed in the room, pointing pistols at Hardick.

"Drop it!" one of them commanded.

"Fine, but can I keep it afterwards?" said Hardick, placing the pistol on the floor. "Mine is locked in my drawer, and the other I lost a few months back."

Actually, he had sold it to a crack dealer for lunch money, but Hardick wasn't a man to overshare.

***

The police commissioner was a very fat man with a very small head. Actually, his head was perfectly normal for a head, only the rest of his body was kind of twice as normal for a body. He was panting heavily. Not because he was angry -- which he was -- this is just how he usually breathed due to the effort of existing.

Hardick was handcuffed and sitting down on a chair, an officer on each side. This brought many memories of being in the headmaster's office in high school, after well-intentioned but tragically misunderstood actions, such as setting the teacher's hair on fire.

"Who the fuck are you?" asked the commissioner, not looking at him.

"Hardick. Rock Hardick."

The commissioner nodded to one of the officers, who slapped Hardick in the face.

"Don't get smart with the commissioner!"

"Ow! Who's being smart?! That's my fucking name! Check my card, goddamn it. Chest pocket."

One of the officers shoved his hand in the pocket and produced a five-year-old packet of condoms with spider webs on it.

"Try again," said Hardick.

The officer started crying, so the other, braver officer produced the card from Hardick's pocket and passed it to the commissioner.

"Rock Hardick, private detective," read the commissioner. "Right, Mr. Hardick. We've seen the security camera footage. He attacked first, and you defended yourself. But care to explain why you shot him dead when you had him subdued?"

"This guy is known as Mach One, sir. I didn't think having the drop on him meant I had subdued him. He seemed very hostile and I'll admit I was scared and disoriented from several blows to my head and a broken hand which, by the way, is still broken and uncared for."

Hardick could swear he saw wisps of smoke shooting out of the commissioner's nostrils as if he was a dragon with serious diet issues.

"A fair point," he admitted through gritted teeth. "And you didn't provoke the attack. Do you believe it was hypnosis, like you say in the footage?"

"No, sir," said Hardick, for the police wasn't and never would be his friend. Only, whenever the opportunity presented itself, his bitch. "I believe he was suffering from severe stress due to overtime."

"Are you suggesting I overwork my officers?"

"Yes."

Hardick was a little surprised that it was the officer to his right who said that.

"Shut the fuck up, you!" roared the commissioner. "You know what? I just lost my best detective for entirely gratuitous reasons. I deserve a drink and couldn't care less about whatever the fuck you're investigating. You may go. But don't come back, ever. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir."

The commissioner reached out to shake Hardick's hand.

"Er, sir..." said Hardick hesitantly, every broken bone in his right hand trembling in fear.

"You will shake my fucking hand when I offer it to you."

Hardick moaned as the commissioner squeezed his hand as if he wanted to extract lemonade out of it. After he let go several interminable seconds later, Hardick walked toward the door, but remembered something and turned.

"Can I at least have that pistol?"

They beat the shit out of him for two minutes. Actually, fifteen, but he passed out at two.

***

He woke up inside a moving vehicle. The backseat of a car. Every one of his multiple wounds and fractures woke up with him and said "good morning" by way of hurting like fucking hell.

The driver smelled of Cop. He was a middle-aged man, but his features weren't sagged at all and his wrinkles gave him an aura of wisdom. Not to mention his moustache, thick enough to cover his upper lip and manly enough to lift weights all by itself.

"Who are you?" asked Hardick, glad to see the beating hadn't dislocated his jaw, although he was fairly sure his stomach was now located behind the spine.

"Detective Edward Rich. Eddie," he said promptly. "Cigarette?"

"Holy Mary slut of God yes."

Eddie lighted one for Hardick, who grabbed it and inhaled it with so much pleasure he couldn't fathom why he had ever stopped smoking. Then he remembered the charred hole they'd diagnosed on his left lung two years ago, but he chose to ignore that.

"I like you already, Eddie. Where are we going?"

"I'm on my lunch time. Decided to give you a ride to the hospital."

"Very kind of you. I'm Rock. Rock Hardick."

"I know. Currently you're known as 'that fucking asshole' back at the station."

"Ask about me outside the station and you'll see the true extent of that description."

"I saw the footage. Lana Carroll, eh? Hypnosis?"

"You knew her?"

"No."

Lie.

"Not as well as I would have liked, anyway," he added with a insinuating smile.

Hardick raised an eyebrow. It cracked audibly. He refrained from making further facial expressions. "How did you know her?"

"She came by the station. Told me about this guy she thought wanted to hurt her and her husband."

Hardick propped himself up on his elbows, felt every vertebrae disturbingly loose, lied back down. "Her husband? Pussylord? He was alive back then?"

"She didn't mention anything to the contrary. He's dead now?"

"Yeah. That's why she came to me."

Oh, his loud fucking mouth --

"You said you were investigating her death on the footage," said Eddie.

Fuck it. "Actually, no. She came to me because her husband died and she thought a cop killed him. She wanted me to investigate it. I said a trigger sentence and she went into cardiac arrest. She's still dead on my office. It looks nicer now, I must say."

He would have regretted saying the last two bits if it weren't for the many bits of skull embedded in his brain.

"Did she tell you she thought it was Nathan Mach?"

"No," said Hardick. "I happen to know the only hypnotist capable of such amazing work. He pointed me toward Nathan Mach as the customer who required this service of him. Apparently he was lying, as Mach himself was killed by a trigger sentence."

"Actually, you killed him."

"Because the trigger sentence instructed him to kill me, yes. Let's not get into that."

"So I presume that after the hospital you'll be talking to the hypnotist again?"

It wasn't a good idea to share more than he already had, so Hardick just lied. "Yeah."

"You know," said Eddie. "I can tell you've been having a bad day, but... you have the dedication of a true detective. Stay that way and you'll go far."

"In several ways, I've already gone far. Shame none of these ways are very good."

"Keep trying. You'll make it eventually."

"Thanks, Eddie."

It took three tries and five men to get Hardick out of the car carefully enough to prevent his limbs from dropping off. He was stripped of his clothes and possessions, and when they finally found a nurse who wouldn't projectile-vomit when she saw him, he was put on a bed and passed out again, but this time on purpose.

***

He woke up to utter darkness. And utter lack of oxygen. And a pillow being pressed against his face.

As a man constantly living in danger (of bankruptcy, mostly), Hardick was prepared for such eventualities. The pressure on the pillow gave him a good idea of where the agressor was. Hardick knew the exact spot on a person's neck that, if hit accurately, would make them pass out -- and if it didn't, punching the neck repeatedly did the trick.

Hardick just forgot not to use the broken hand.

"OW FUCK" he yelled after the blow, which was still strong enough to get the agressor to back off.

Hardick shook his head and the pillow fell off. The moonlight coming through the window shone on... a NINJA!

"Oh, c'mon!" complained Hardick, sitting up painfully. "Who hires a ninja to kill a patient with a goddamn pillow?"

"I'm just starting in the business, okay?" said the ninja defensively. "Last time I tried using a thread to get poison to a target's mouth I used adrenaline by mistake and it took fifteen minutes and five shurikens to kill him."

"Okay, okay, I understand."

"Thank you."

The ninja let out a high-pitched scream and leapt toward Hardick, who swiftly lied back down. The ninja completely missed him, instead hitting the window, which gracefully let him through by breaking into several shards that politely accompanied him down eight stories.

Hardick decided to think about that one on the next day and went back to sleep.

***

A week passed by as slowly as that typical asshole driver who loves taking his car out for a spin on Sundays to ruin every other driver's day. Hardick could finally move without a chorus of "pops" and "cracks", although he was still on square one regarding the ninja and, in fact, his entire investigation.

He got his possessions back. He had no-one to bring him fresh clothing, and he didn't actually have any fresh clothing on the office -- and even if he did the presence of a beautiful albeit rotting corpse was a very strong reason against visitors.

As Hardick wore his red clothes, formerly gray, he checked Cain's cellphone. There were several missed calls from the same unknown phone number, all made within half an hour, a week ago -- not long after he'd been hospitalized.

There was a text message as well, from the same phone number.

"Cain, Hardick will come see you about Lana Carroll. Hypnotize him into killing himself. I'll pay you double. -- ER."

... of course.

The one guy who had been nice to him since all this mess started just had to be the one who fucking started it. Eddie Rich. Mr. I'll-Drive-You-To-The-Hospital-Out-Of-The-Kindness-Of-My-Heart-You-Naive-Dipshit.

Hardick started Thinking. Eddie Rich couldn't know Cain had been cannibalized by an entire bar and that his present location was at several spots of New York's sewer system. As far as Rich knew, Cain was simply Not Around. Which meant Rich had no idea Cain's cellphone was in the hands of the very person he wished dead.

But Rich had gotten tired of waiting. So he sent a ninja to do the job. But one week had passed since that failed, so why no further attempts were made? Was Rich waiting for Hardick to leave the hospital, the same way Hardick used to stalk his ex-wives?

That turned out to be wrong. Upon walking out of the hospital, Hardick's trained eyes couldn't find any of the typical hints that you're being stalked: no black car with tinted windows, no person doing an amazing effort to pretend he is entirely uninterested in you, no glow of a sniper scope or binocular lens in the sun, no robotic mosquitoes bzzziiiing around you taking pictures.

The latter was said not to exist, but by people much less experienced and wise than Rock Hardick.

***

Eddie Rich unlocked the door to his apartment, got in and slammed it.

"OW!"

He opened it again. Rock Hardick was standing there, pointing a gun at Rich and clutching a bleeding nose.

"Hardick?!" shouted Rich, putting his hands up. "You've been following me?!"

"Too closely, I guess," grunted Hardick, nose-bleeding into the apartment and shutting the door with his ankle.

"You have any idea how much trouble this puts you in?" Rich threatened.

"After a woman died in my office and I killed NYPD's best detective?"

"Point. What is it you want?"

"I know everything, Rich."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, but with every word he turned paler, until you could practically see his internal organs.

"I know you ordered Pussylord's death, made it look like an accident. Then, knowing Lana wouldn't eat that shit up, you had her hypnotized to die if she brought it up, and in order to throw the scent off yourself, you instructed Cameron Cain to hypnotize Nathan Mach and point any investigator, such as myself, to him. Very smart."

Hardick paused.

"Actually, that doesn't make any fucking sense."

Rich shrugged. "What can I say? I have a soft spot for convoluted plots."

"There's just two things that don't add up," said Hardick. "Okay, nothing does, but still -- after you sent the ninja to kill me, why did you give up?"

Rich furrowed his brow. "Ninja? What ninja?"

Hardick was silent for a moment. "Mm. Must have been someone else's ninja, then. Sorry."

"It's okay."

"And the other thing: why didn't you call the police? You knew Lana's corpse was in my office -- I stupidly told you when I was bleeding on the backseat of your car. You could have called the police and pinned her death on me or something."

Rich widened his eyes, then facepalmed.

"Of course!" he yelped. "I'm a fucking moron! Why didn't I try that?!"

He fell to his knees and started crying.

"Wait," said Hardick. "You're telling me that simply didn't occur to you?"

He replied by crying louder.

Hardick shrugged to himself, muttering "Well, they can't all be geniuses."

"So what now?" asked Rich, his face two waterfalls of tears.

"Now? Now I call the police and tell them the truth. I tell them you killed Pussylord and hypnotized Lana Carroll and Nathan Mach and... and..." Hardick realized what he was saying and just shook his head. "Oh, what fucking difference will it make."

He shot Rich in the fucking head.

"There," said Hardick. "Problem solved."

***

It hadn't been a complete waste of time, Hardick thought to himself as he sat on his office's chair, before remembering he had broken the chair on his first wife's back decades ago and was actually sitting on one of the office's many piles of dust. Funny story. She didn't die, she was just paralyzed. What killed her was the kitchen knife a few seconds after the chair.

But anyway. It hadn't been a complete loss. Sure, he'd killed a lifelong friend, lost access to the NYPD for nothing but innocent self-defense and got beaten up until his lung was punctured by his femur, but it wasn't a total loss.

He called in a favor from a talented (and now forever traumatized) friend and now, Rock Hardick had Lana on the corner of his office, naked, forever smiling at him.

He sat back on his pile of dust and praised the wonders of taxidermy.





Dedicated to Warren Ellis and Luís Fernando Veríssimo.

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