THE LIARS OF THE LAUGHING CITY - RICHARD GODWIN
Previously published on this site on January 7, 2010
I waited for the sound to die down. The screaming had gone on all night, my first night in the Laughing City. I was there on a job, the remit to assassinate Artemus Lime.
No one had heard of him, and he had not been sighted since his murder of the president. Their lies dripped from their tongues like semen from a hooker. Not that I cared, another lying politician out of the way.
The case had been chewed over and effectively buried by the press, since it had coincided with the leak about the missing millions.
Yes, the president had siphoned off a sizeable chunk of the economy. So sizeable that the hungry mobs on the streets committed more murders in yet more savage fashion. Women were raped and mutilated, their body parts sold off to fast food chains that had no other supplies for the hamburgers the soup kitchens fed the workers on. The lies here were worse than those back home. The whole place stank of dead flesh and cover up.
The city was a mess. Anyone out after dark risked dismemberment. And thanks to the president, there was no police force. Only the extremely wealthy were protected by private security firms who shot on sight.
As the cold grey dawn rose like a leper, I looked out at the horizon of the Laughing City and wondered how it had got its name. I hadn’t heard laughter in years. Back home it was bomb blasts and bullshit.
I poured a protein drink and ran through the quickest way of finding and killing him. I’d start at the downtown bars. Lime had a reputation for liking prostitutes and there were some really tasty ones, I heard. The mutations which resulted from the last dirty bomb were endless and threw up some surprising sexual combinations, for those with a taste for that kind of thing.
Artemus Lime, bounty hunter and killer, space nomad and politicians’ whore. If the money was right he’d do it.
I’d heard he was a multi-hole man. I guess it beat golf.
I hired a shuttle downtown and watched as the light changed to that opaque, colourless fog that characterised the poorer parts. The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering. They still hadn’t cleaned up many of the body parts after the last explosion. Silver crows and lizard dogs scavenged in the trash for human parts, chasing each other for bits of spleen and ruptured kidney. The crows usually won, tearing strips from the dogs’ balls.
I found the place I was looking for, my only lead.
‘Horny Holes Fuck House’ loomed out at me beyond the spare rib kitchen. The carcasses hanging outside certainly didn’t look animal.
Felix Baw had been typically unforthcoming with me. I’d worked for him before and he came across as if he despised everyone he employed, giving them only the barest of facts about a case and expecting them to get on with it. Baw, child of the Laughing City.
I got out of the shuttle and a pimp in a white suit walked up to me.
‘Hole or hat? We got em all, juicy hole, multi-hole, can do a hat job if you like, drugs, have you tried free spurt? Come in, we got some inside, want to see my ladies?’
‘I’m looking for someone.’
‘Yeah, I got. Free spurt?’
‘I don’t need it.’
‘You try, you like. Guaranteed.’
I wasn’t about to blow my brains on a plutonium enriched smoke that would give me cosmic come and turn me into one of the gibbering wrecks I now saw walking toward me.
‘How about hat job?’
‘I thought it was illegal, even out here.’
‘We don’t blow all brain into hat for fuck, just some of it, use smaller hat so some brain go on floor, and dancer can do dirty stuff to em.’
I felt like hitting him. ‘Might as well sell a bag of warm vomit.’
‘I do good deal.’
‘I’m going in there,’ I said and pointed to the fuck house.
The pimp switched on his really upset look, but I wasn’t buying.
‘No. I got better ones, come see.’
I walked on, dodging the beggar.
Inside, it was dark and stank of mustard for some reason. Someone or something grabbed my arm.
Adjusting to the light, I made out a hybrid lady with several eyes and tits the size of rocket launchers.
‘I’m looking for someone,’ I said.
‘You find her,’ she said, wiggling her arse at me.
I showed her the picture.
‘Ooh, he real ugly. I no fuck with him,’ she said. ‘Come on, I give you good one.’
She was trying to drag me upstairs when a man dressed only in shorts and with a belly the size of a large animal kicked her so hard she jumped several feet in the air and crashed against the bar.
The blind barman dropped a glass and the only customer sitting there tried to help her up, grabbing hold of one of her tits by mistake.
‘Get off me, you fuck. You pay touch.’
‘Can I help?’ Fatso said.
‘I’m looking for this man,’ I said, and showed him the picture.
He rubbed his chin. ‘Mmm, look familiar. Yes, I have seen this man before. Now, where was it?’
I put a hundred then another one in his palm.
‘Much more for address,’ he said.
I kept throwing them at him, all expenses of course, and eventually he wrote it down on a slip of paper.
‘0 Screech Avenue.’
‘Sure, why not?’ he said. ‘You go. See if I give you bad dose, come back fuck my ladies.’
‘Just one question.’
‘What’s that smell?’
He sniffed the air and then held his arms up. ‘What smell?’
‘Smells like mustard.’
He snorted. ‘Not mustard. P2.’
I was out of there and in the shuttle.
P2 had been developed by Panacea Drugs, which had a monopoly on all medical supplies. It was a chemical specifically designed to wipe out the smell of rotting flesh.
Horny Holes Fuck House should have had ‘Necrophiliacs Welcome’ in neon lights underneath it.
As it was, Screech Avenue turned out to be a good lead. Fatso had been worth the talk. Number 0 was harder to find, located just at the intersection of a shop selling weapons parts and a derelict house. From the street you couldn’t see it, camouflaged as all zeros were, hence their popularity. But when you looked from the air, there it was, all gleaming pole and glass metal.
I took the flier up and saw it the first time. That’s always the way with zeros, if you don’t see them straight off, they use their programmed disguises to throw you off the scent. Popular with all killers and politicians, they had been snatched up when first built and were prime real estate.
I wasn’t going to waste any more time than I had to.
I assembled an A1 bomb back at my hotel and returned at nightfall, just as the tribes were crawling out of the sewers.
The smell of shit and menses was overpowering and after checking to see if any lights were visible from the flier and deciding that even if Lime was in, he wouldn’t be that obvious, I just blew the door off.
Shards of glass and burning metal swept across the street like a tornado, catching in the flesh of the tribes who had now surfaced. Heads and limbs flew through the air as their mouths, stuffed with scraps of human meat, dropped their goodies on the floor and salivated long thick shreds of drool onto their wasted hands. They shrieked like slaughtered animals and ran back into their shelters.
I put out the blaze and entered his place.
Typical assassin’s pad: metal furniture and nothing on display. I mean nothing. Like a display hotel room. No pictures on the wall, no personal effects, save one: a monitor on the wall giving read outs of activity across the city. I flicked the screen: it was focused on the spaceport.
He knew I was here.
Back at my hotel I considered my options and knew that the lead was squandered. I decided to check out in the morning and go underground. This was going to take longer than expected, and I would need more expenses.
I tried Baw, but it was a no go.
Black-out had fallen down below: another terrorist strike.
Except that night, Lime came looking for me.
He obviously wanted this out of the way.
I knew he was a busy man and his services much in demand. I was in the bathroom when I heard the door open.
Through the crack in the sealant I saw his shape move against the wall. He was making his way into the bedroom. I engaged my weapon and crept out after him.
Just as I lined his head up, he turned and the blast caught his ear, shooting it off and making him jump. He leapt through the window and landed down below without difficulty. From the window I saw him disappear.
He had dropped something, a scrap of paper. It made interesting reading. It was a job sheet, ordering my assassination, signed by Felix Baw. Agent: Artemus Lime.
I knew what I had to do.
Staying underground was easy. Second nature. Finding Lime was harder.
And all the time the laughter got louder, more insistent.
At times as I paced the city I wondered whether it was more a cackle than a laugh. At other times it sounded like a guffaw, then it would trill into a melodious giggle, like a little girl’s. Sometimes in the middle of the night you would hear a booming laugh, then in the morning a gentle titter. The noise started to drive me crazy and I was no nearer to finding Lime.
Baw was inaccessible. No surprise there. I kept trying him so that he wouldn’t suspect I knew. The lies mounted up like spare flesh.
Then, one day, one of my leads paid off.
The owner of a weapons shop Lime used called me. I gave him the money and he showed me straight to him: in an apartment at the back of some government buildings.
Artemus Lime was a government man.
It all made sense.
The ease with which the President’s assassination had been forgotten, Baw’s sudden interest in hiring me. He’d made a lot since the assassination, and there was something I obviously knew which bothered him. What?
Meantime, I took care of Lime.
My source said he often took delivery at nights and after a few hours waiting, I watched as an armoured van arrived and two guys went in. After they left, I silently walked down the government corridors and stopped outside his flat. This time I would use a blaster. I had no questions to ask.
The A1 blew the door off, and I saw Lime jump up at the back of the flat and race toward his weapon. I shot him from the blazing doorway, a good first shot that took his head off, spraying brain matter and tissue right across the hallway. It was a pointillist effect and quite becoming to the apartment, which needed a little cheering up, all metal surfaces and nothing homey about it.
As I walked over to him, Lime lay twitching like an insect in a pool of blood. One arm reached uselessly across the wet floor. I think he was looking for his head, which lay in bits several feet away. You only get one shot at me, and he failed. His neck was still showering the flat and it was a little messy, so I just burned him up and looked around the place for any evidence which might be useful, but found nothing.
‘Bye, Lime,’ I said. ‘Can’t shut your door, but I guess they’ll find you in the morning. Hope the tribes enjoy what’s left of you. I don’t know if they like it barbecued.’
I spent one more night in the Laughing City, convinced that the noise was getting louder.
That is, apparently, one of its effects, the volume.
It’s personal, you see, a strangely hallucinogenic experience.
Some people hear a titter, some a whine, but it’s different every time. It doesn’t always start with laughter, as with me. After the screaming, the laughter came at first as a welcome relief. But then it got louder and louder until by the last night it just sounded like an audience roaring at a joke I’d missed.
I went out for dinner and every road echoed with it. At times obscene, at times gentle, it followed me like a beggar.
The waiter must have noticed my disquiet. As I paid, he said, ‘Everything all right, sir?’
‘That obvious?’ I said.
‘Food no good?’
‘Food was fine. It’s the laughter that’s getting me down.’
‘Oh, you get used to it. Tribes are out tonight.’
‘How do you get used to it? Why the Laughing City?’
‘You don’t know? Oh, well, after the war, you know the old one, when the first wave of mutants were created, the noise at night was terrible. Screaming, choking, all night, drove you mad. When people first heard them scream, they didn’t know how they could make so much noise. You take a good look at the tribes tonight when you leave here. Most tourists don’t see them, but have a good long look at them. The noise was terrible, the screaming as they found survivors and dismembered them, tore them apart, flesh scattering everywhere, disgusting, never have that in my restaurant. So they keyed it in.’
‘They run it on a loop. Sometimes, when the tribes are quiet it go down. And sometimes, it get louder and louder when they really tear bodies apart. Then the noise is much worse, you prefer the laughing if you stay here, believe me.’
‘It’s a disc,’ I said.
‘We need tourist. Tourist like it.’
On my way back to my hotel, I saw a tribe descend onto the street like a pack of animals. Their teeth were red with the proceeds of their night’s feasting, blood dripping from their fangs and splattering the road. They’d obviously been on a feeding frenzy, and must have found fresh supplies, even though I hadn’t heard any blasts, but then the laughter would have covered it up. Chunks of flesh were scattered around the street like debris, and as I got into the shuttle, I had a good look. I’d seen the fangs, but there was something I’d missed: not obvious, especially since you only ever got to see them in the gloom of nightfall.
It was as the shuttle sped away that one of them turned its head and that was when I saw it: they had no ears. The mutations had left them without hearing. Only something stone deaf could scream like that.
Now I knew why it was called the Laughing City.
I spent a final night in it, driven mad by the noise and left the next morning.
The silence back home was a welcome relief, and as I got the news, Baw’s plan made sense.
He had financed his own army, a bunch of renegades mostly, and was rounding up all vagrants and criminals and sending them off to the camps. That was why he wanted me dead: I’d worked for him before and he was always a satisfied customer, inasmuch as satisfaction was discernible in the limited range of his human responses. But my criminal record from the old regime was the blot in my copybook and he wanted it to go away.
Baw had plans, all right, and the President had been sitting in his chair.
I knew most of the recruits, having trained and worked with them. I also knew they were mercenaries and only wanted the money. The army was in its infancy and hadn’t even got running yet. But it needed to be stopped.
I knew these guys and knew they had no loyalty to Baw.
And so I took him out.
Guys like him are easy. They never see it coming. He didn’t even know I was back.
I marched right into his office, past the secretary who always waved me on, and found him seated at his desk. Looking up from his computer, he let out a gasp. Even his shock looked like a lie.
‘Surprise,’ I said, and blew his brains across the four walls, leaving them to dry a little.
I collected my pay from his bank account, which took a little hacking into to get, and then proceeded to issue instructions from his office to disband the army.
They all got paid, of course, with a little bonus.
And that’s how I got to keep my friends on my return from the Laughing City.
RETURN TO THE LAUGHING CITY - RICHARD GODWIN
Previously published at Thrillers, Killers N Chillers on March 2, 2011
I was trying on one of the newest suits.
I strapped it on like armour, standard mechanized metals mined from the Azure Fields.
It felt like an Iron Maiden without the spikes.
I never needed that kind of protection, a kill’s a kill, wearing that shit was like fucking with a condom, playing the piano with gloves on.
I took it off and handed it back to the bounty salesman. They were amassing weapons for the new breed of assassins. I thought they were a bunch of pussies.
If you don’t like blood don’t take the job.
I needed to feel every vibration, every fluctuation in the kill, like the tremors in a lover’s body and soul.
I went outside and stared at the Azure Fields.
A pale blue ghost in some hallucination.
They blew in the wind that kicked up from nuclear fall out when the punctured sun bled.
It had a certain poetry, a half orange dripping red from a broken skyline. Beyond it you could see the event horizon of an imploding supernova.
Nothing was real in this desert of scars and broken humanity.
I looked out at the wounded horizon, it felt like witnessing a rape behind reinforced glass.
You want to punch your way through it but your knuckles are bleeding.
This place will strip the flesh from you and chisel your bones.
I thought about the assignment.
Baw had been long forgotten when I took the job.
I’d been smoking a few renegades out and handing them in to local government bureaus where they just shuffled papers and threw them back in the water with a few more scars than they already had.
I’d got my own army by now and these men were hungry for killing.
I’d kept them since I assassinated Artemus Lime.
When I put the suit on I didn’t expect to be going back to the Laughing City.
But then I knew not to expect a fucking thing from the cold comfort farm of my life.
If I was going back I was going naked.
I wanted to move with the air on my skin.
Jarves Long was a fat cat businessman.
He was part tetronium, the new metal that guys were smoking because it gave them erections that lasted for a year.
Painful flaming unrelieved hard ons they could only alleviate by mass fucking.
Panacea Drugs was behind it and once again hadn’t banked on its side effects.
What the fuck did they care?
The hookers were happy, wives less so. I’d made a load of money buying shares in KY Jelly.
It was such sweet pleasure to see their value rocket while men with obscene bulges ran amok in the streets.
The air was full of the acrid smell of spent semen for weeks on end.
Long spent little time with me in his air conditioned office.
He looked like a fat walrus. There was something wrong with his face.
‘I want you to remove this man,’ he said, sliding a photograph across the table at me.
I knew who he was.
‘Do I look like I’m joking?’ he said, scratching his prick.
‘You want me to kill Manuel Blaize?’
He met my comment with a blank stare.
I looked at his face and realised what was missing. He had no eyelashes.
‘Why do you want him dead?’ I said.
‘Let’s say he has reneged on a deal and is a threat.’
Outside, in the lift on the way down, I thought it through.
Manuel Blaize was the nastiest killer you’ll ever meet.
Face covered in scars, Mexican, army trained, half android, liked eating the brains of his victims and good with a knife.
I headed up to the Laughing City.
I had my flame gun with me and my usual array of weapons, hardcore killing machines that can do the job just right depending on the situation and the man.
Always read your man, that’s the way you get to clean up in this business.
If you get him wrong, you’re wasting your time.
I like shootings best, a quick shot, spurt of blood and home.
Home is where the empty metal surfaces are, the lack of human life, an assassin’s pad.
Like a hotel room built for fast exits and entrances.
I live in a theatre of the macabre, and I count the bodies.
I wanted to scalp Blaize.
He’d killed so many men I knew.
I also promised a friend a little something from the Laughing City.
Lynn Queen was after some Crow and I knew just how to hand it to her.
She’d been brave enough to expose the lies of the system down below and I wanted to give her something back, even if she was a Royalist.
I arrived in the City as mercury rained from the sky.
It was crazier than the last time.
The light flickered orange and red like a deranged traffic light and the Lizard Dogs and Silver Crows were out.
I watched one fly off with the mangled remnants of a dog’s penis in its mouth, sit on a burned out car and tear it piecemeal with its claws.
I headed to the hotel where I began my search.
I found two locations for Blaize, one where he met his recruits, young Mexican militaries who would kill anyone for the right money, the other a whorehouse he used.
My hacking showed me he also liked Drip02, the new hallucinogenic drug, a million times more powerful than LSD.
He’d shoved some up a whore’s cunt and performed a little operation with his knives.
As I was about to leave Long messaged me.
‘Dispose of the body,’ was all he said.
I passed by the River HaHa, filled with aborted foetuses. These were the mutated terminations of hookers’ encounters with some of the more extreme customers of the City.
From time to time one of them would float to the surface with a distended hand or an eyeball the size of a blood orange popping out of a collapsed head.
I got a shuttle and headed to Blaize’s headquarters.
It was black there, no light and I figured I’d go in.
Nothing except empty space the size of a hangar.
Blaize never left any trace, he killed with precision.
As I made my way back I bent to check the time and felt something hiss by my ear.
I ducked and saw one of his knives land in the side of a Lizard Dog.
It ripped right through it spilling a mile of coiled and swirling guts on the menses strewn pavement.
I turned and saw Blaize’s scarred face vanish.
I made my way back as the laughter started that night.
It was worse than the last time.
It was as if an audience were screaming insanely at a joke.
A high pitched whine of a cacophony of deranged hilarity took over the air waves until I made my hotel room and closed the door.
I was going to kill him tonight.
I got my flare gun and my A1 which can shoot through reinforced steel.
I ate some powdered heart and made my way to the blood bath.
The Tripped Out Fuck House lay at the edge of the City.
It was the last stop beyond the Whore’s Hole.
The driver wouldn’t take me there and I had to walk.
Some mutant hookers were strutting past some garbage that spilled onto the broken road.
I could make out the tip of the desert beyond the City, the place where no one goes.
‘Fuck me any way you want,’ one of them said.
She wore neon boots and a skirt the size of a rag and put her hand inside herself as she licked her face with her ten inch tongue.
‘It’s OK I’ve eaten,’ I said.
The other one approached me, swaying with what I assumed was intended to be an erotic gesture, although she looked like she desperately needed to pee.
Her eyes were made with beaded jewels and she pulled out an obscenely large breast.
‘I can clean the floor with my clit while hanging from the ceiling,’ she said.
‘I have a cleaner, thank you.’
They squealed with obscenities as I passed them.
The Tripped Out Fuck House was busy.
I don’t know what was worse, the fact that they used lights that turned everything yellow or that they were playing Black Lace.
Even in a good mood, Agadoo made me want to kill.
Its popularity in the Laughing City stemmed from the fact that it encouraged tourists to dance obscenely and make merry, like some grotesque backdrop to the endless tapes of the chuckles and guffaws.
A couple of whores laid their sweating hands on me.
‘You want some wet snatch?’ one of them said.
‘No, I’m just here to push pineapple, shake the tree.’
‘Don’t you like us?’ the other one said.
‘I met a hula mistress somewhere in Waikiki.’
I edged past the whores and disappeared up the back staircase.
I’d checked out the layout and it was simple.
The fuck rooms were upstairs.
I’d timed it right, Blaize had gone in earlier and downed a huge dose of Drip02.
I disturbed a few fucks and found him in a room with a glitter ball hanging from the ceiling.
He was fucking a whore up the ass while another one sprayed him with come.
They saw me. He saw a series of mutant animals and began throwing knives, and as the whores ran out I incinerated him. I fried him to a crisp.
Then I shot him for good measure.
I held my gun against his ravaged face, pushed deep into a cicatrix the shape of a swollen gash and blew his head apart.
I looked around the room.
Shards of obscenities lay among the waste and used condoms, dildoes of all shapes and specifications adorned the fuck room.
Blaize’s jaw bone hung dripping from the glitter ball like a detumescent penis.
And I dragged his smoking body down the back stairs and into the street.
His skin looked like it was covered in burnt potato chips and syphilitic scabs.
Outside mercury rained from the sky and bombed and ricocheted like malign stars falling from a hole in time.
The whores were gone, the Dogs and Crows were out and they were not in a good mood.
I watched a Crow peck a Dog’s eyeball from his head. He squawked in wild delirium.
I walked to the edge of the River Haha dragging Blaze’s body on the ruined ground.
His skin was falling from his bones and lay lodged with chunks of flesh that were skewered on the sharp stones.
The sound was deafening now, the laughter had been turned up full volume.
I leaned down and scalped Blaize, running my razor sharp knife in a perfect circle round his skull and peeling it away like a label.
‘Well, looks like you lost this one,’ I said.
The old assassin’s methods are the best.
I took one last look at his bleeding head, and using the knife he had tucked in his pocket, cut his stomach open, releasing all the gases. Then I tied some rocks and waste metal to him.
‘Can’t have you floating,’ I said.
I threw him in the red and foaming water and watched him sink below the decayed foetuses that hovered like deformed nightmares on the black current.
Then I returned to my hotel where I packed.
I wrote ‘invoice’ on Blaize’s scalp with a marker pen.
As I made my way to the space port I stopped in the street and took a shot of a Silver Crow.
Back home I went to get my money from Long.
‘Good job,’ he said, sliding the cash across his desk.
‘A little present for you,’ I said.
I’ll never forget his face when I laid Blaize’s scalp on his desk.
He had the outraged shock of a meat eater who has never seen an animal slaughtered.
His lashless eyeballs stared into space.
I paid a visit to Lynn and gave her the shot.
She looked down at it and seemed unable to remove her gaze from it.
‘You’re not avoiding eye contact, are you?’ I said.
I could see she was delighted.
Her efficiency never failed to amaze me.
She put it on the cover of her magazine the next day.
I invested my money in some new weapons.
I began training my army for what I had in mind.
BIO: Richard Godwin is the author of crime novel Apostle Rising, in which a serial killer is crucifying politicians and recreating the murder scenes of an original case. The novel has received great reviews.
It has just sold foreign rights to the largest publisher in Hungary.
He is widely published in many magazines and anthologies and also writes horror and Bizarro as well as literary fiction and poetry. You can find out more about him here. His Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse are popular and penetrating interviews he conducts with other authors at his Blog.
His second crime novel, Mr. Glamour will be published in April of this year by Black Jackal Books as a paperback.