18 February 2011


By Curtis C. Chen

"So," Jake said, "who killed Abraham Lincoln?"

"And what's his full name?" Andy asked.

"No ID on the body," said the uniform standing just inside the police tape. His name tag said HOLLISTER. "Found the hack license under the front seat. Looked like the killer was in a hurry to leave."

Andy nodded. "So, robbery?"

Hollister shrugged. "Whoever killed him did clean out the car. Glovebox was empty. Took his wallet, cell phone, GPS—even the meter." He pointed to a blank spot on the dashboard.

"Why would anyone take the taxi meter?" Jake asked.

"Data," Andy said. "The meter tracks how far the cab's traveled. Even without the GPS, we could have guessed at where Abe picked up his last fare."

"He's got to have a chip, right?" Jake said. "Where's the ME?"

"Already been here," said Hollister. "Didn't have the right scanner. Said we'd have to wait for INS to show up."

"That's going to take all day," Jake grumbled.

Andy bent down to look at the wrinkled mass of the dead Varna'ut behind the wheel of the taxicab. The alien would have stood over seven feet tall fully upright, but they compressed their boneless bodies to fit into human vehicles. This one had kept its lower body extended, to reach the control pedals and to put its tentacles at the same height as the steering wheel.

Andy reached into the car and touched one of the tentacles still wrapped around the wheel. He pressed his gloved fingers into the spongy flesh and watched as the purple inkblots in the translucent gray skin broke into smaller bubbles.

"Still warm," Andy said.

He followed the ripples of purple up the tentacle into the Varna'ut's torso, and saw a small slick of something brown and opaque—almost like mud—underneath the spot where the limb attached to the body, where a human's armpit would have been.

"Son of a bitch," Andy muttered. "Hey, Jake!"

The other detective walked around the car, followed by Hollister, and leaned over to look where Andy was pointing. "What am I looking at?"

"You see that brown spot there, right under the base of the tentacle?"

"Please tell me that's not anything that starts with 'p'."

"Regurgitation," Andy said. "It's how the Varna'ut greet each other. Honest Abe knew his murderer."

"That's a bit of a reach, isn't it?" Jake squinted down at his partner. "I mean, I say hello to the greeter at Wal-mart, doesn't mean I know the guy."

"This is gastric secretion," Andy said. "Stomach acid. You can smell it, can't you?"

"I'm trying not to."

"Only friends and family get actual regurgitation. Strangers are greeted with saliva—just spit, not vomit."

Jake frowned. "Is there some reason you know so much about this?"

"My kid sister's dating a Varna'ut."

"You're joking."

Andy stood up. "You know, it could be worse. She needs to get the rebellious streak out of her system, and at least an alien can't knock her up."

"Okay," Hollister said, "now I'm going to be sick."


Photo: detail from Taxi queue at King St Station by Oran Viriyincy (via GIMP's "Newsprint" filter), April, 2010