The Russian Always Screams Twice

©2004 Jane, Helmboy, Meg, Britta, Rocky, Wildcat, Jungle Kitty, Lene Taylor

Part 1 (by Jane)

It was a dark and stormy night, the kind of night that makes meek little tribbles wish they could grow teeth. I decided to stop by the Nexus All-Night Diner for a donut, a cup of joe, and a bit of flirting with Uhura.

Harry Mudd was in the parking lot as usual. I waved him off, and made like I didn't see Janice standing under the diner's neon sign, wearing a fake Starfleet uniform that didn't even cover the gap between her nylons and her red panties.

Inside, I sat down at my usual table by the door to the men's room and slid a five credit piece under the dirty plate the busboy was about to collect. "Later, Pavel," I said, like I always did.

It was past midnight, and the diner was quiet. Nyota was polishing glasses behind the counter, but 'Sawbones' McCoy, the owner, threw a cigar butt at her ass to get her attention. "Get the deputy a donut and a cup of joe," he drawled. She glared at him, but by the time the coffee was slopping over into my saucer, she was all smiles.

"You're working late, Deputy Sulu," she said.

"Someone lifted a crate of D from the cargo pad down at City Hall," I said, "and vaporized two deputies and a data input clerk. There were three force fields with their own backup generators around that pad, but whoever did it walked straight in." I thought about some of the characters who'd been hanging around the scene of the crime when I arrived. "Or maybe slithered."

"A crate of D... that's not something you can sell to a bunch of high school kids. Sounds like someone from off station," she said. "Someone bigtime."

"We don't have a thing to go on," I said. Then I lowered my voice. "Is Jim here tonight? We need some help on this one."


Part 2 (by Helmboy)

She sighed. I noticed. Her eyelashes fluttered just so, like butterflies alighting on milkweed. That led to impure thoughts and I had no time tonight to diddle. So I watched her mull over my request, considering whether to tell me or not. It bugged me just a little but then this whole thing did. Bugged me, that is.

"He's out back."

I started to rise.

"But he's not alone."

I sat. A frown formed on her smooth brow, the one that I wanted to touch for so long, that perfect blend of mocha and L'Oreal. "What?"

"He won't like it. You coming here. After..."

She let it hang there, like laundry on a clothesline. "It can't be helped. I need him to look this one over."

"He won't be up to it. You know... since that time..."

She let it dangle there, twisting slowing in the wind of her rhetoric. I had a premonition that things were going to go from bad to worse but there was no other way. I had to do what I came here for. "I'm going back there."

She shook her head then nodded slightly, her full red lips pursed just so. I felt it in my inseam, that old sensation pouring back into me like buttermilk. I quashed my thoughts, focusing on my footsteps as I walked past her, moving toward the back room. The door opened and Janice walked in, her cold gaze sizing me up, one professional to another. Go ahead, sister, I considered, moving past her, squeezing by as she stopped close to the counter.

I could see down her jacket, the fabric straining to hold her in. She was hot and she was cold, a woman with a cash register for a heart. It had been that way since... I didn't continue the thought, pushing it back into the in basket of my brain, another piece of unfinished business for later. She smiled a cold smile, the 'warmth' never reaching her eyes and I continued on, the smell of the artificial hormones she wore as a 'business necessity' wreaking havoc with my libido.

Such is the life of a lawman.

The door was cracked partially and I could see a vague outline within. A man was kneeling and another was standing, the two of them working out something between them. I flashed on Chekov, the steamy image of that piece of steak tartare splayed out and ready to carve coming to me against my will. I pushed the door, the two men freezing into a tableau that I had seen too many times in the past. The taller one, a handsome man with a nice body sighed, shaking his head, a look of disdain forming on his perfect lips. "What the hell, Sulu? Why don't you knock?"

The other, a disheveled drunk-looking hobo glanced up, his watery eyes blinking as if to focus. "What the--do you want, Sulu?" he asked, as if knowing I was there for him all along.

"I need to talk to you, Jim," I said, watching as he lurched to his feet unsteadily. "Oh," I said, "you can let go of that." I pointed and Jim blinked, staring down at the salami in his hand. He handed it over and staggered toward me, pausing by the door. "I want mustard on mine," he said with a belch. Then he stepped out and past me, leaving the room to Fireman Bob who would have to make sandwiches for the two of them by himself.


Part 3 (by Meg)

I told Nyota to bring some strong coffee to sober Jim up, although I suspected nothing short of a photon torpedo would penetrate his pickled brain. Couldn't be helped. Nyota was still scowling when she brought the coffee, although her shapely ass waggled ever so temptingly as she walked away, as if to let me know that she might just be willing to consider forgiving me later. It was a delicious thought indeed. Unfortunately, I had a crime to solve first, and a conversation with Jim that couldn't be avoided.

I knew Jim still blamed me for what happened last time I was here, when I phasered a lowlife bimbo named Antonia who had been dealing quadro-triti-cocaine in the back alley. Although I hadn't wanted to do it, the dumb dame left me no other choice, waving around a Klingon disruptor in front of her chest like it was her latest boob job. Anyway, if I hadn't shot her, Harry Mudd's gang would have--they claim this side of town as their turf.

Not my fault Jim has such lousy taste in women.

Steam rose from the coffee cup as Jim stared morosely into it. "We were going to spend our golden years together, riding horses on a ranch in Idaho." His lower lip quivered.

Pathetic, I thought. Even a crummy movie script couldn't come up with something this pathetic.

Probably the best thing was just to pretend I hadn't heard a word of his pitiful tale. I bit into another donut that Nyota had thoughtfully provided, the powdered sugar falling to the countertop around my saucer like tasty drifts of virgin snow, and started to explain why I was here.

"I'm working on a tough case, Jim. Someone found a way to get through the force fields around the cargo pad at City Hall, lifted a crate of D, and disappeared, leaving no sign that anyone had ever been there. Nothing but a few smears of organic paste where they blasted two deputies and a data input clerk, that is. There's nothing at all unusual in the computer logs. I need your help with this."

Jim blinked, rubbed his eyes, and took a long gulp of the scorching coffee. Piercing hazel eyes then stared toward me with great interest from beneath his furrowed brow. Or maybe it was just an expression of pain from drinking hot coffee too fast.

"Tell me more."


Part 4 (by Britta)

"There's not much more to tell; there wasn't much left of the victims," I said. I dipped my donut into my coffee so I could watch the sugar float around. "The new station manager, Baris, is putting on heavy pressure to get this solved fast. That amount of D is worth a fortune, and he wants to look good. I was hoping you could help."

He was interested, I could tell by the way his body language changed as he thought it over. Nyota topped off his cup with more steaming liquid clarity and I watched him subtly transform into the super-spy playboy I had always suspected him of being.

He let out a deep sigh and straightened his spine. He looked at me hard, and in his glare I saw that he knew that I knew his position as a fry cook who waxed poetic about Federation-issue spatulas was only a cover. And it was a damned good one. I didn't know exactly what else he did but I knew he had contacts everywhere.

Before he could speak, we were disturbed by a commotion.

I turned around and spotted Kevin Riley, the town drunk. He had waylaid the new waitress just as she'd begun her shift, and was singing loudly as he tried to cop a feel. "Kathleen--"

"I told you, my name's Christine!" she said as she tried to evade his imitation of an octopus.

He obviously thought the way to Eden was up her skirt by the way he was dancing her around. She twisted in his grip then dropped a coffeepot on his foot, and he let go of her just as Bones McCoy came surging out of his office shouting about getting his shotgun.

Just what I needed, a guy who was hot under the collar brandishing a heater. I wondered which deity had it in for me that night.

Kirk and I watched as McCoy threw Riley out. Our tension level dropped, and while everyone else was still focused on the drama by the front door, he murmured, "Janice tells me things, you know. She's not one of Mudd's women."

I mentally flinched at his mention of Rand. She was a sole proprietor in a world of corporations.

He continued quietly, "She was with Cyrano Jones earlier tonight."

Damn, that meant I'd have to talk to her. I dreaded it. After once overhearing her refer to me as a 'minute man', which I'd thought had something to do with the station's militia until Scotty set me straight, I tended to avoid her if at all possible. She didn't know that I had learned how to stretch time so to speak, and I had no intention of showing her. However, Cyrano Jones was an information broker notorious for wanting his own piece of the action, whatever action it might be, and he just might have some new information--for sale, of course.

I stirred the sludge in the bottom of my coffee cup and replied, "I'll buy her a sandwich. She has to eat sometime."

With a spark of speculation in his gaze, Kirk said, "I'll pick Spock's brain in the morning."

"Spock?" I asked. The name was familiar but I couldn't place it right away.

"He's an investment banker who stops in for breakfast every day on his way to work. He might know who would have liquid assets of the magnitude needed to acquire that much D."

We rose from our seats, the conversation over. "Thanks, Jim."

He nodded and we went our separate ways.


Part 5 (by Rocky)

I was halfway across the parking lot to my flitter when it hit me: I remembered who Spock was, all right. The bit about the 'investment banker' had thrown me; the guy I remembered was an arrogant, cold-blooded little prig, who'd used his daddy's connections to get his position. It may have been the first time the ambassador, one of those high-profile politicians who seemed to get his name in the papers at the drop of a hat, stepped in to help out his boy, but it certainly wasn't the last. I remembered hearing rumors a few years ago: about how Spock, jilted at the altar by his equally stuck-up (and probably frigid) fiancée, had gone absolutely apeshit and tried to murder his best friend. The whole thing was hushed up like you wouldn't believe, but I've got my sources. I was surprised Jim was even on speaking terms with the guy afterward, but he's always been too soft-hearted for his own good. I was even more surprised ol' Bones let Spock in his diner, but I suppose a little latinum goes a long way toward forgiveness.

What I didn't understand was why Jim insisted on bringing Spock into all this. Like most Vulcans, he was as logical as all get out, but that didn't always translate into common sense. And like I said, he was just too cold-blooded for my taste. I'd seen him in the diner, now that I thought about it, on more than one occasion. That new dizzy blonde waitress, Christine, seemed awfully taken with him. He used to act like she wasn't even there, most of the time; the rest, he treated her worse than sehlat crap on the sole of his boot. But she just ate it up, kept coming back for more. Some dames just have no self-respect. I couldn't imagine Uhura ever acting like that. Then again, no man in his right mind would ever dream of ignoring HER.

I expected to find Kyle dozing in the flitter, like he'd been when I left him. I thrust the sack of donuts at him and was surprised to see his eyes were already open. That should have been my first clue something was wrong. The second was he didn't immediately start stuffing the Nexus Patented Super Saturated Fat Specials in his face.

"What's up, Kyle? You been replaced by your evil twin again?"

Kyle didn't even grin. His eyes shifted around nervously like a tribble on a sugar high. "We've got problems, boss."

"Problems?" I snapped. "You think a case of D gone missing isn't enough?"

Kyle jerked his head toward the comm unit in the console. "HQ called. Harriman wants to speak to you right away."

I'd thought my evening couldn't possibly get any worse, but now my mood plummeted like a shuttle locked in a decaying orbit. "That so?" I demanded, fumbling around for my tri-cigarettes. I'd quit the previous week (for the thirteenth time), but some things are just too much to take without any outside assistance. Harriman was one of them. The 'Loo', as he was called (ever since someone walked into the john to take a leak and caught him in a red thong and tasseled pasties), had taken command of the precinct about eight months ago. Under highly suspicious circumstances. Jim wouldn't talk about it, wouldn't say one damn word, but it was an open secret that he'd walked away from the job, leaving this lowlife, who wasn't even fit to wipe his boots, to step into the center seat. Rumors said the higher-ups were behind the move, that they'd made Kirk step down, but I didn't believe it. Nobody ever made Jim Kirk do anything he didn't want to, and they sure as hell weren't going to start now.

Getting back to Harriman, he was a mean son of a bitch, jealous of anyone who showed a glimmer of ability greater than his, and believe me that was just about anyone. "If Harriman wanted to talk to me," I said now, "why didn't he just comm me directly?"

Kyle shrugged and struggled to swallow. I knew he couldn't resist those donuts for long. "I asked him the same thing, but he said he didn't want to comm you while you were in there." Kyle jerked a sticky thumb in the direction of the brightly lit diner.

Typical Harriman. He really gets off on this cloak-and-dagger stuff, even if he is a rank amateur. I looked back at the diner, and noted absently that Janice wasn't anywhere to be seen. Maybe she was off doing some business or maybe she had gotten cold. I did see Christine, standing by the side of the door, obviously on break, exhaling a thin plume of smoke. She caught me looking, glared, and vanished from sight.

I turned back to Kyle. "Might as well get it over with."

Kyle obligingly punched in the code for me. "Sulu," I said, when Harriman's mug appeared on the cracked monitor.

"About time you checked in," Harriman grumbled. "We don't pay you to sit around flirting with waitresses, you know. What you do on your own time is your business, but we've got a situation."

I felt, as so often when dealing with the guy, like punching his face in. (That was how the flitter monitor had gotten cracked on a previous occasion, if you want to know the truth. Though Scotty kept promising to replace it when he'd get around to it). But I kept my cool, and said, "What do you think I was doing?" You dumb wart, I added to myself. "I was tracking down some leads."

Harriman looked skeptical. I decided to rub it in. "Talked to Jim Kirk; he's agreed to help."

I was disappointed when Harriman didn't react. Normally just saying Jim's name guaranteed him going off like a Klingon in full berserker-mode. But now, nothing. Not even a twitch. Kyle stared as well, a chunk of jelly donut suspended halfway to his mouth.

Harriman just shook his head and looked numb. More numb than usual, that is.

"What's this situation?" I said, a cold shiver starting to work its way up my spine. "What's going on, Harriman?"

Harriman cleared his throat. "We've found a body. In HQ itself. Sulu, it's not a pretty sight."

I had a bad feeling about this. "Who?" Before Harriman could answer, I heard a high-pitched scream. And it was coming from the back seat of my flitter.


Part 6 (by Jane)

I glared at Kyle. "I thought I told you..."

"He had a client, boss."

"This is the last time!" I vowed, twisting to look over the back of my seat, just as Khan Noonian Singh straightened up, pulling his hair back into a ponytail and buttoning his fly with the arrogant ambidexterity of the genetically engineered.

"No one does a Brazilian quite like your little apparatchik," he told me. "You know, I've never seen him in daylight, but I'd recognize his handiwork anywhere in the galaxy." The new growth in my crotch bristled jealously against my underwear as the door of the flitter slammed shut in Khan's wake. Too late, I made the connection I should have made three hours earlier. Khan. Of course.

"I will clean the wax off the seats in the morning, Mister Sulu," Chekov assured me earnestly, as he too prepared to depart.

"Stay there and shut up!" I ordered, hitting the central locking.

Harriman was sneering at me. "I see you worked it out, Sulu. Yes, there were Ceti eels all over. I'll see you down at the precinct in two minutes. Oh, and Sulu..."

"Yes, boss?"

"Tell Pavel I'll have to cancel my appointment. I'm going to be busy."


Part 7 (by Wildcat)

The ride to the precinct was a long one. I could hear the scrape of Chekov's fingernails as he tried to remove evidence of his earlier activities from the threadbare fabric of my back seat, and Kyle's appreciative grunts with each bite of donut he took. But mostly it was quiet. Too quiet. Someone like me, who's seen it all, can't help but get lost in the grim reality of what can happen in the seamier side of life. Hookers and pimps and dealers and thugs were my everyday companions, and sometimes the line between the law and the law-breaking was as thin as the eyebrows painted on Janice's face.

When I parked at the station, I told Pavel to scram, and he obliged. I waited until he vanished around the corner, and then I told Kyle to come with me. Harriman was waiting at the door. He looked even more pale than usual. Whatever had happened had shaken him up, but it didn't take much to shake up Harriman. He always tried to act like a tough guy, but his act didn't fool me. He wouldn't take a piss without someone there to help him shake it afterward. I knew that this current situation was no exception. He needed someone to tell him what to do, and that someone was going to have to be me.

I couldn't help but think about how Jim Kirk would have handled things, if he were still in charge here.

"Who is it?" I asked, walking past Harriman.

Harriman hurried to catch up with me. "I think you need to see it for yourself, Sulu."

Icy fingers crept up my spine. This was the second time I'd asked that question, but it was clear that Harriman wasn't going to answer.

He led me toward the evidence room. The first thing I noticed was that the lock on the door had been phasered. The second thing I noticed was the disarray. Five boxes on shelf 6A had been pulled down and emptied on the floor, as if an angry five-year-old child had gotten tired of his playthings. I knew there had been a struggle. The third thing I noticed was my old pal Scotty, sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, a blank stare on his face, a trickle of blood running out of his ear, and the lid to one of the boxes still clutched in his stiff fingers.

I swallowed hard and knelt beside him, and I remembered all those nights we'd spent down at Guinan's, blowing off steam while we tossed back whiskey and traded banter with the working girls. I thought about Mira. Before this night was over, I was going to have to tell another woman that this crummy job had made a widow out of her.

"He put up a fight," Harriman said.

"Yeah, he's had to clean up this kind of mess too many times not to know what he was in for. Poor bastard."

Something squirmed on the other side of Harriman, and I felt satisfaction when Harriman picked up his foot and turned it into a puddle of mucus.

I looked up at a sound behind me to see that the coroner had walked into the room. I was just getting ready to move out of his way when I noticed something sticking out of the corner of Scotty's mouth.

"Hello. What's this?" I muttered.

I pulled down Scotty's lower lip, then reached into my pocket for a handkerchief and extracted a wad of paper from Scotty's mouth. Careful not to smudge any possible fingerprints, I unfolded it.

All it said was, "Meet me at the dock. Three a.m."


Part 8 (by Jungle Kitty)

The dock? Nexus City doesn't have a lake or a river, much less a dock.

"Must be code," Harriman said, grabbing the paper and destroying any fingerprints it might have yielded.

I stifled a "Well duh," partially because I didn't want to talk to him but mostly because Marla McGimme had just wandered in. I remembered the first time I saw her, fresh out of the Academy and thinking she'd make detective within a week. She showed promise, even helped crack the Reset Button murders, but then she took up with Khan. Now she was just a love-struck dispatch clerk with a stupid smile on her face, shoveling data all day long (when she wasn't lasering big hearts with a K in them into the desk). It made me sick to see a colleague let herself be treated like a shore leave prostitootsie. Even Christine had better sense about men than Marla. Better sense about jewelry, too. Khan liked to see her all decked out and tonight she'd outdone herself. I hadn't seen that much plastic masquerading as platinum since we busted Janice Lester for identity theft and credit disk fraud.

"Hey, Sulu," she said. "I been looking for you. Khan wants to talk to you."

"I'm busy."

I knelt down next to Scotty's body, wondering if there was any more evidence for Harriman to taint. And sure enough... there was something pink and wispy in Scotty's hair. Not too many people knew about Scotty's frou-frou fetish but I did and I also knew he wouldn't be caught dead in pink. It was green or nothing (and I didn't want to think about the time I'd inadvertently walked in on "nothing".) I touched it carefully. Sticky. A bit came off on my finger. I tasted it. Sugary.

"You can't be too busy for Khan," Marla whined. "You better get your butt back to the diner. He's waiting in the parking lot."

"The parking lot?" Harriman repeated. "Are he and Kirk fighting again?"

"They weren't when I left but McCoy was hiding the Crisco. Said he'd be damned if he'd let them grease up their chests again just to make it look good."

"Guess I'll just wait for someone to phone it in." Harriman shrugged and left.

I sat down next to my dead buddy and had a think. Somewhere in this whole mess there was an answer but I could hardly keep the facts straight, let alone figure out how they all fit together. I felt like I was on a merry-go-round spinning out of control at warp 12. Marla interrupted my thoughts by shaking her bracelets in my face.

"Khan doesn't like to be kept waiting, you know."

"Khan can get off his genetically enhanced high horse and--"

She shook her head, her earrings jingling emphatically. "Khan is not like that!"

"Marla, can you turn down the volume on your jewelry?"

"I wouldn't if I could. These were gifts from Khan."

Every time I thought she'd hit rock bottom on the pathetic-o-meter, she found a new low. You didn't have to spend a lot to impress her. Just give her something flashy you got out of a box of Cracker Chaks.

"Marla, you deserve a lot better."

"There's no one better than Khan."

The earrings rang out again.

"I meant better jewelry."

"Don't be silly, Sulu. I know this isn't worth anything like MONEY but I'll never forget last night! I wish you could have seen him! He just kept winning and handing me jewelry and winning some more--"

"He won it?"

"At the arcade! He was incredible! He won every prize at the Red Shirt Shooting Gallery, including the Big Rabbit and the Hobby Horta! He even beat Kid Mitchell at arm-wrestling!"

I stared at her, scarcely able to believe that Marla and her tacky winnings had given me the clue I needed. It all fit--Scotty meeting someone at "the dock" and ending up dead with cotton candy in his hair... Even Khan needing a Brazilian made sense. Yeah, it was all coming together and chugging around in my head like those little boats in the kiddie lagoon, one of which had taken my friend on a ride to Deadtown.

"Marla, I could kiss you!"

"You better not try it! Khan will--"

"Screw Khan! Now listen, I need a favor."

My mind was racing... I still didn't know who had lifted the crate of D but I had a solid idea about how they planned to slip it past the Neutral Zone patrols. And I'd have to pull in every bit of help I could to stop them.

"Why should I do you a favor? You've insulted my jewelry and my boyfriend. Did I tell you he bought a bottle of Chateau Picard for my birthday?"

"Marla, do this for me and you'll never have to drink that cheap swill again. Now, go to the diner and tell Kirk to put his shirt on and meet me at the Space Carnival."

Harriman barged in. "You're taking off to go to the carnival? I'll have your badge, Deputy!"

I ignored him and told Marla to have Kirk bring a dozen donuts with him.

I hate all that superspy stuff, codes and what-have-you, but it was the only way to let Kirk know how serious this was without frightening Marla. And it felt good to let Harriman think he wasn't getting any of our tri-Krispy Kremes.


Conclusion (by LT)

The Space Carnival. I should have known. All the bad cases end up there, and this was no exception. On the midway, you could get anything you wanted--women, men, tribbles, drugs, lime-flavored Jello, connections, information--for a price. I knew the answer to the puzzle was there waiting for me, lurking somewhere between the Betazoid Fortune Teller's booth and the funnel cake stand.

It was past midnight now, but things at the Carnival would just be heating up. I ran back to the flitter, woke Kyle up from his sugar-induced coma, and broke every speeding law on the books as we raced towards the outskirts of town.

I don't know how long the Space Carnival has been around, but it's been coming to town once a year ever since I could remember. You'd see the huge silver ship touch down one summer day, and then for four weeks it was all lights and noise and greasy food (if you could hold it down after a turn on the Null-Grav Roller Coaster). Then they were gone, leaving behind broken hearts and windshields. Nobody knew who owned it, but whoever they were, they were in the deep green, because at the Carnival the house always wins.

Kyle and I made our way through the huge parking lot while I turned a blind eye to the seventeen different kinds of illegal activities going on. First order of business was to visit the arcade, where Khan had "won" those armfuls of ersatz latinum that Marla liked so much. I sent Kyle off to find Jim Kirk, and to bring me a candied Keferian apple.

The arcade was just like I remembered it--cheap, dirty, and irresistible. There were crowds at every booth, but the line was longest at the Starfleet Academy Simulator, where everyone was waiting for the current champion to blow his new assignment and get sucked into a gravity well. Next to that was the Whack-a-Slime-Devil game, and that's where I was headed.

The carnie who presided over this mess was a skinny guy with a big furry mustache. He ran the game well, but he seemed like he might be easy to scare. I decided to go with the bad cop act.

"Hey guy, Deputy Sulu. From the police," I barked, flashing my badge. I was right; he looked scared.

"What? What? How'd you know my name?" he stuttered, as the Slime Devils popped up their evil little heads and laughed.

"Your name?"

"Yeah. Do I know you, man?" Now he looked positively frightened.

"Look, guy--" I began, but he cut me off.

"Nobody is supposed to know my name! I'm Carnie Number Six, and that's all! What do you want with me?"

I realized that his name actually was Guy, and that he was just another loser running away from his past. I cut to the point. "Khan was in here last night and he won. Won big. I know your games are rigged, GUY," I said it again, just to make him nervous. "So do you mind telling me why you let him get away with the loot?"

He looked around nervously and leaned close. As if anyone could hear us over the screams and shouting from the Octo-Ferris Wheel.

"Boss's orders. Let Khan win, whatever he wants. And when the Boss talks, I listen."

"The Boss? Who's that?" I knew I was getting closer.

"I'm not supposed to say." I thought of Scotty, lying dead with cotton candy in his hair, and I got mad. I grabbed the front of his velour shirt.

"Listen, Guy, I don't have time for this. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. And right now the hard way is looking pretty good to me," I snarled.

But just then the night erupted with screams and roars and I knew I'd have to leave Guy for later. I dropped him back to the ground. "I'm not through with you. And if you still don't feel like talking, you and the Mind-Sifter will have an appointment."

He was still squeaking when I turned and hot-footed it toward the Big Top, where all the commotion was. "Siegfried and Shahna with Their White Sehlats", the neon banner said, but when I got inside, all that was left of Shahna was a silver boot. Siegfried stood next to one of the sehlats, stroking its huge head.

"Police!" I announced. "What happened here?"

Siegfried looked at me gloomily. "Poor little Poopsie has ein tummy ache. I don't tink she vent down too vell."

"It ate her? All of her?" I knew sehlats liked shiny things, but this was ridiculous.

"Ja. But she had it coming. She vas never dat nice to Poopsie and he vas so hungry, so much hungry." Poopsie burped and bugged out his eyes, and then made the most horrible gagging, coughing, retching sound I'd ever heard. Thirty seconds later we were all staring at a wet silver furball steaming on the ground. Poopsie looked vastly relieved.

"Good boy! Now we get you some Tri-Alka Seltzer and du bist all better," Siegfried cooed. The crowd, having seen the end of the act, was slowly filing out, in search of better entertainment.

"Do you want to file a report, or...." I left it hanging. I'd never encountered a sitch quite like this and wondered what Harriman would want me to do. Collecting evidence was out of the question.

"Nein. The Boss vanted to sack her anyway. She vos an Aqua Net addict, you know. Bad habit." That was an understatement. Aqua Net, that most potent of hairsprays, had been all but impossible to find in the aftermath of the Great Hair Care Wars of the last decade. Supplies of all hair care products were dangerously low and therefore impossibly valuable. An Aqua Net addict was nothing but trouble.

An idea began to form in my brain, a tiny, tenuous connection between that missing case of D, Shahna, and the mysterious Boss running the Space Carnival. I was on the right track, I knew it. I just needed more information.

"Detective?" A jolly voice spoke in my left ear and I spun to face its owner. A gift from above: Cyrano Jones, the best information broker in the quadrant. He knew what I needed to know; I knew it, he knew it, and I knew he knew it. Etc.

"Mr. Jones. Can I buy you a drink?"

Five minutes later we were sitting in the Babbit's Place, the heart of the Carnival and the only place you could get real Romulan ale this side of Risa. As soon as we were settled, Jim Kirk showed up, holding three glasses of the stuff and looking very pleased with himself. "Gentlemen."

"Okay, Jones, what have you got for me?" I asked, taking a sip of the blue poison.

"Sorry about your friend Scott, my boy, but sometimes these things can't be helped, can't be helped at all." He grinned coldly. "Who knew that so much trouble would come from a simple crate of D?"

"Why was Scotty whacked?" Kirk cut in impatiently.

"My dear Kirk, isn't it obvious? He knew too much, and he was about to find out more. It's a dangerous game, and even having this conversation with you puts me at great risk. But I have friends too, and my friends are the enemies of the Boss." He took a large sip of the ale and smacked his lips.

"The Boss? Who is he? And how is he involved?" This was getting crazier by the minute.

"Think about it, Sulu," Kirk said. "If you had a crate of D, how would you smuggle it off world? What's the one place where a crate like that wouldn't raise an eyebrow?"

"It's here," I said suddenly.

"Of course," Jones laughed affably. "Your Mr. Scott figured that out, and he was this close--" he held up two fat fingers so that they were a micron apart "--to finding out who the Boss works for. That's why the Boss had Khan kill him. You see?"

Khan had killed Scotty. It hit me like a ton of plastisteel. That's why he'd been winning at the arcade, why he'd been able to beat the unbeatable Kid Mitchell at arm-wrestling--that was his payment. And I was betting that his Brazilian had been a gift, too. I made a mental note to have Chekov imprisoned in the Agony Booth, that traitorous Cossack.

"If you don't solve this soon, you'll be next," Jones continued breezily. "You're smart boys. Follow the credits."

"Say no more," Kirk said decisively.

"I can say no more. Only that Janice is on your side. You can trust her." At that moment, as if on cue, Janice appeared behind Kirk, looking more alert than I'd ever seen her. "She was supposed to meet Scotty at the dock."

"Say no more," I said.

"I can say no more. I can't tell you who the Boss is--that would mean instant death. But I can tell you this: You'll find him under...the big W." Jones finished his drink and prepared to leave.

"Please, say no more," Janice begged.

"I can say no more. Au revoir." He put his hand on his round belly and sauntered out.

"What in bloody hell is a big W?" Kyle asked from behind me, scaring me out of my wits.

"It should be a big K. That's the most important letter," Marla piped up, plopping her jangly self down at the table in the seat Jones had just vacated.

"You'll never find it alone, me buckos," Harry Mudd put in, clapping Kirk a little too hard on the shoulder.

"Does EVERYONE have to know about this?" I shouted. This earned me a glare from the bartender, who bore a striking resemblance to the 20th century movie star Mitzi Gaynor. Come to think of it, the bouncer looked a lot like Eve Arden, too.

"Sulu, belay that frustration. We have to solve this tonight, before more people die. Just for once, let's all pretend we're on the same side here. If we all search the Carnival at once, one of us is bound to find the big W. Spread out, check every booth, every dark alley, every alien popsicle stand. We rendezvous at 0300 hours, by the Shuttlecraft Crash Adventure ride." With that, he rose and led the way out. At the door, I paused and looked closely at the bouncer.

"Aren't you--" I started, but she cut me off.

"Yes, honey, I am, and that's Mitzi. Time travel accident. Working at the Carnival isn't like making movies, but at least I don't have to put up with Darryl Zanuck or that bitch Barbara Stanwyck."

As soon as we were outside, we split up. I had two hours to find the big W, the Boss, and the solution to this case.

I started with the main attraction. Inside the Big Top, the Ringmaster, Mr. Galadriel, was directing a bunch of Elves riding oliphaunts around the ring. The audience was cheering and clapping, the acrobats were whirling and jumping, but the Elves just looked stuck up and bored, like they always did. I hate semi-mythical beings. I got a crick in my neck from looking up into the high wires and support struts, but there was nothing even remotely resembling a W.

Next was the Talking Horse show, where Mr. Ed (who was wearing a hat) was in the middle of telling a fantastically filthy joke about these three shapeshifters who walk into an art supply store. His assistant, Comet, was doing a brisk business selling vids of the performance along with specially enhanced Purina Horse Chow.

I skipped the tribble juggling and the android races (first one to make the android's head blow up wins), and edged past the crowd waiting for a guy known only as Super Middle-Aged Boy to be shot out of an astro-cannon. I looked at every sign, every banner, every arrangement of flowers. Nothing.

I stuck my head into a little tent that was supposed to look like a cabaret. Inside, a slim-hipped man in a bad Shirley Temple wig, knee socks, and a plaid schoolgirl outfit was singing, "Skippity doo dah, skippity day, my oh my what a wonderful day" to the bored-looking audience. He couldn't sing, but he was doing a great job prancing around in those purple platform saddle shoes. The guy at the ticket desk, presumably the promoter, was wearing a brown pinstriped zoot suit that complemented his dark skin and the crazy-ass tattoo on this face. I scanned the room. No Ws.

"You paying?" he snapped at me. I shook my head. "Then get out."

The singer batted his heavily-made-up eyes at the promoter in the zoot suit. He grunted and ripped open another bag of fake pork rinds.

I was getting discouraged. It was almost three a.m. and I'd found nothing. I needed to clear my head and recharge my fuel cells, so I wandered over to the Food Court and stopped at a “Lembas 'n' Tranya” stand.

Something Kirk had said rattled around in my brain. 'What's the one place where a crate like that wouldn't raise an eyebrow?' he'd asked. It had to be hidden in plain sight. Some place that wouldn't look unusual, but where no one in their right mind would explore. I stared at a blinking neon sign in front of a dark café, willing myself to find the answer. The sign kept flashing "Hot Plomeek Soup--Now...Hot Plomeek Soup--Now..."

Of course! Who the hell eats plomeek soup at a carnival? Nobody but Vulcans can stand that crap, and Vulcans never go to carnivals, not even on their honeymoons. It had to be there. I finished my lembas and went to find the Boss.

But one thing still puzzled me. Where was the big W? I knew that the others were racing around the Carnival trying to find it and probably having the same dirty luck I had. Had Cyrano Jones lied to me? I stood facing the door to the café and noticed up high a hand painted on the old wood--a right hand giving the traditional Vulcan salute, third and fourth fingers split and thumb held slightly out. Instinctively I raised my own right hand in response (we're well-trained that way--never hurts to try a little diplomacy in police matters) and I saw as I held it up that when I put my thumb next to the painted hand's thumb, the two salutes formed a perfect W. I knew where I was now, and I didn't bother to knock.

Inside was hot as a greenhouse and decorated like a New Orleans whorehouse, with flocked red velvet and brass statuary everywhere. A huge desk dominated the room, and behind it, facing away from me, was a tall captain's chair.

"The Boss, I presume," I said, and my words fell like acid rain on to the carpeted floor. The chair spun around.

"Correct," Spock intoned, his fingers pressed together. He looked perfectly groomed, as always, though I didn't much care for the black-on-black tie and shirt combo.

"IDIC my ass," I said with as much scorn as I could muster. "You had Scotty killed, you turned HQ upside down, you sent me on a wild goose chase all night long, and for what? A crate of D. You've got thirty seconds to explain it all to me, and then I call in the heavy artillery." It was a bluff, of course; Harriman would never send reinforcements in time, and I still might end up dead. Fortunately my trusty two-way wrist radio was set on record, so whatever Spock said would give plenty of ammo to the next lousy detective on this case.

"Mr. Sulu," he said smoothly, "I would advise you to stay out of matters about which you have no knowledge. A crate of Dippity-Do is missing. Is it logical that I am in possession of it, or that it is even on the premises?"

"Look, Spock, I have enough probable cause to get a search warrant and turn this Carnival upside-down right now. Is that what you want? Not going to look good to have the whole Nexus City force out here, looking through everyone's garbage. No telling what they'll find."

He seemed to consider this. "Perhaps you have a point. Detective, let me try to explain this another way. Powerful forces are at work here. Have you heard of the ShiKahr crime family?" I nodded. "Then you also know that Don Sarek is the head of that family. Mr. Sulu, Don Sarek is my father."

That was news, no doubt about it. It explained a lot--his money, his job, his suit--but I still didn't get the connection to Dippity-Do. He must have sensed my confusion, because he continued talking in that annoying, condescending monotone that all Vulcans seem to use.

"The Don's orders were to get the Dippity-Do back to Vulcan. As you know, Vulcans have no need for hair care products, but we understand the value of them to other species. If you remember your Earth history, Mr. Sulu, you know that the great Dippity-Do production plants were all destroyed in the Hair Care Wars. The secret to its manufacture has been lost, and the galaxy is much the worse for it. But certain scientists in the Vulcan Science Academy have developed a means to reverse engineer it--provided they have a pure sample. I will be providing that sample.”

It was all clear now. “And once you do that, it’s only a matter of time before the ShiKahr family controls supplies of Dippity-Do throughout the galaxy.”

“An excellent deduction.” He looked smug. I wanted to slap him.

“I can’t let you do that, Spock,” I told him. He raised an eyebrow. “Hair care products should be freely and widely available to all that want and can afford them. Think of all the poor souls who have been waiting for D to come back on the market! Think of all those who lost their lives in the Wars! For one family to make such a profit off other people’s misery is just wrong. What would Surak say?”

“Surak? Surak was bald. Detective, I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the situation. As you may know, I had a brother. Sybok. He endangered the family business, and I did what was necessary to protect it. Now he sleeps with the fishes. I would not hesitate to do it again."

He hit a big red button on the desk and the sides fell away to reveal a small car, painted with red and white polka dots, with a big horn on top. A clown car.

"Good-bye, Mr. Sulu," Spock said, and folded himself quickly and gracefully into the car before I had a chance to tackle him.

He put the car in gear and raced past me, right out the door and into the night, still thick with partiers. I chased him, weaving through the crowd, trying to get ahead of him, but he was a good driver. I glanced to the left and realized we were passing the Shuttlecraft Crash Adventure ride, and Kirk, Kyle, Janice, Marla, and Harry Mudd were all standing together, talking anxiously. "Follow that clown car!" I yelled, pointing at Spock, and they took off after me.

Spock made a feint toward the sideshow, where there were several transporter accidents on display, but I stuck with him, through the midway, past the Gamesters of Triskelion (they didn't take credits, only quatloos), and when we got to the Adult XXX Theatre (currently showing the All Nude All Singing and Dancing Silmarillion) he floored it and, honking madly, took a sharp right, the tiny wheels sending up clouds of dust. I turned the corner, my heart pounding, lungs aching, and thought: Damn, I lost him.

Just then Jim Kirk barreled out of nowhere and stopped Spock cold with a flying leg kick, right in front of the Live Underwater Klingon Targ Wrestling exhibit. The car turned over, its frame squashed by the weight of its occupant, and the little engine fizzled out. Kirk got up, brushing himself off and grinning. His shirt was torn, showing a well-muscled, gleaming shoulder and pec. That was funny; I didn't see it tear when he landed on the car. Oh well.

Together we grabbed Spock and lifted him out of the remains of the clown car. It would never honk again. At that moment Janice, Kyle, Marla, and Mudd came rushing up and when they saw Spock in custody, they executed a simultaneous four-way double-take.

"Thank you, boys, I'll take over now," said a cool voice from the darkness. Uhura stepped forward, pointing a phaser at Spock. She motioned another woman, tough-looking with short blond curly hair, to take control of the suspect. "Take him away, Brandt. And put out an APB on Khan."

As she left, hustling Spock ahead of her roughly, Brandt threw a leer and a wink at Kirk. He blushed.

"Just what the hell's going on here, Uhura?" I demanded. She holstered the phaser and shook Kirk's hand.

"Good work," she said to us. "Sorry, Sulu, I wish I could have told you before. I'm Special Ops, and we've been working for years to bust Don Sarek and his boy. This was just the break we needed, and it couldn't have gone off better."

"Special Ops?" I said. I had heard of people's minds boggling, but up until that point mine never had. Kyle seemed equally dumbfounded, and I noticed that he'd acquired more donuts while chasing Spock.

"Head of Special Ops, actually," Kirk told me. "But you can call her Captain Uhura. Everyone else does. And her All-Girl Band," he added, laughing.

"Kirk, everyone knows women make better intelligence agents. I surround myself with the best. Just your luck they all happen to be women."

“But what about the Dippity-Do? Did you find it?” I asked anxiously. “We’ve got to get hold of it before Spock moves it off-world--.”

“Oh, we had that hours ago,” Uhura said. “Sam Cogley was using it for a three-card monte table. It’s back on the way to its original destination. Remember the Shore Leave planet? Those machines can duplicate anything, and this is no exception. Soon there’ll be enough for the whole Alpha Quadrant, and then some. Thanks to you, Sulu.”

I grabbed the bag of donuts from Kyle and inhaled a few, then offered them to Kirk, who was leaning over, his hands resting on his knees, as if he was itching for another fight. Harry Mudd pounded him on the back again, nearly sending him sprawling. "Ah, laddie buck, there's always more to you than meets the eye. Till we meet again." He threw a jaunty wave over his shoulder and left with Janice and Marla in tow, while Kirk gave his back a sour look.

Dawn was just beginning to break and the clean-up crew had arrived--four skinny guys in identical 8-button Western shirts, one with a wool hat, one who could have been Chekov’s twin. They were riding polo ponies and carrying brooms.

“I think my shift is over,” I said, feeling weary. The adrenaline had worn off and I realized I hadn’t slept in two days. “I’m headed over to the diner for breakfast. Anyone want to join me?”

“Let’s all go. We’ve got some things to discuss,” Uhura said, taking my arm. “We need you to keep quiet about this, for now. You know what they say: What happens at the Space Carnival, stays at the Space Carnival."

Back at the diner, McCoy treated us all to big bowls of cold cereal (Triticale Crunch, with snozzberries) and we continued to chat while we watched Chekov scream in the Agony Booth. Since it was ten minutes for a quarter, and McCoy had thoughtfully supplied the entire tip jar, he'd be in there for a while.

“Thanks, Bones,” Kirk called across the diner.

“Damn it, Jim, I’m a retired fry cook, not a doctor! I’ve told you a million times.”

“Sorry. What do you want me to call you?” Kirk asked.

McCoy looked hurt. “Cookie.”

I needed to get some sleep, but first I had to clear up a few details. "I don't get it, Jim. I knew your working here was just a cover, but I thought you were through with the 'fleet. How did you hook up with Special Ops?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't work for them, I work WITH them. I'm a consultant." He handed me his card. It said:

James T. Kirk
Intergalactic Playboy, Soldier, Diplomat, Polo Player, Super-Secret Space Spy, All-Around He-Man
Daily or Hourly Rates
You've Tried the Rest, Now Try the Best

"You're an independent contractor?"

"That's right, sugar," Uhura said, setting down a fresh cup of coffee in front of me. "Special Ops likes to outsource the work whenever we can. Less overhead, better skill sets. And we don't have to pay for the funerals if something goes wrong."

"So how about it? You ready to ditch Harriman and join the ranks of the independents?” Jim continued, “You know, Sulu, when you're not working, you get to sit at home with your dog and watch the Sextasy Channel's 'Talk Dirty To Me' all night long."

Uhura slid a non-disclosure agreement across the counter. "Come on, Sulu, Special Ops is always looking for a few good men. And we pay ALL your out-of-pocket expenses, including meals." Uhura smiled at me and that smile held all the promises I could imagine. I slapped Kirk on the back and raised my coffee cup.

"Jim, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."