y return to consciousness was impaired by an aching head, but I finally managed it, and looked around.

Me and my knock-out gorgeous secretary, Millie, were tied up on the floor of some kind of big truck -- an old-fashioned truck, too; I could tell it was old-fashioned by the way it jostled us as it moved along. No air-cushion propulsion there! Dim light came from narrow slits in the side walls of the truck.

Mind clear, I worked my head around, trying to get my mouth close to my tie-tack. Wasn't easy, but I eventually worked my shoulders about so the tie stood up from my chest. Maneuvered the tie with my lips and tongue -- the tie-tack was gone! I wouldn't cut any ropes with its hidden laser blade.

Okay, okay; maybe the tie-tack was too obvious. Well, nobody would ever think of looking in my shoe's heel! I twisted, wiggled, shifted about until I could get to the heel. Slid it open to get to the blade --

Nothing!

"This what you looking for?"

I looked up at Millie. Yeah, 'up'; she had slipped out of her ropes and was standing, holding out my 'secret' blade. "Hey -- I'm 'sposed to do the rescuing!" I objected. But I wasn't going to refuse her help; it was just the principal of the thing.

Millie watched in amusement as I cut myself free. "That's so sexist, Mike!" she said -- and then added in an almost-apologetic tone, "Besides, I couldn't have gotten it if you hadn't designed the heel."

That made it a little better. Then, as I finished freeing myself, the truck came to a stop. "Quick!" I said. "Lie back down and put the ropes around you. They took my gun, so we'll have to use surprise to escape."

We lay back down and had finished rearranging the ropes before the back door rattled as it rolled up into the ceiling above us. Brother Jack, head of the cult we had been investigating, stepped up into the truck and was holding my gun. Before I could do anything, Millie lashed out one of her long, lovely legs and kicked a spiked heel into the guy's balls. He fell, and my gun skidded across the floor.

Damn, she did it again! I really needed to have a little talk with her.

Leaping to my feet, I grabbed the gun before Millie could reach it and prodded Brother Jack. "Get up, you bastard," I said. "Your cult is finished."

So we turned him over to the police. It finished that investigation, but it was just a side street we had gone down trying to solve an entirely different case that had started a couple of days earlier.



illie - long legs, short skirt, big boobs and wavy blonde hair - was standing in my office, baby-blues focused on the phone screen. Sound on mute, she said in an awe-struck voice, "Mike! It's the editor of the Interplanetary Times-Union!"

"Interplanetary!" I thought in disgust. "Before the Zonkers landed here, the only 'interplanetary' stuff we did was send rovers to Mars!"

I picked up the phone and said, "Hi, Tommy." Millie's expression showed her sense of propriety was shocked. Hey, that was his name, couldn't I use it?

Tommy D'Angelo sounded grateful rather than offended. "Mike! You've got to solve this Lemming thing!"

Three different bunches of guys had committed group suicide, one set by walking off a cliff, one going for a one-way swim, one marching into a burning building. Since they did it in groups, it became labeled 'The Lemming Suicides'. "Got anything on it?" I asked.

"Absolutely nothing! Neither do the police or anybody else. Mayor Johnstone is furious."

Thanks to the presence of the Zonkers, our city is worth more than many countries, so the Mayor's fury would wash all the way to Washington. "Is he blaming it on the Zonkers?" I asked, smiling. Johnstone had been fighting the 'Expansion' splinter of the aliens for months.

Tommy didn't return the smile. Even on a private line, he couldn't take the chance. "We'll pay you a handsome fee if you solve it, and give us exclusive rights to the story."

I quoted him a 'handsome fee' and he hesitated only a second. "Done!" he said, then cautiously added, "But only if you solve it."

"Wouldn't have it any other way," I said.

I saw Millie making gestures from her desk and lifted an eyebrow. Then I remembered one of the clauses in my father's Trust. Smoothly, I said to the editor, "I'm sure you realize that, since I'm the only PI left on Earth, you will have to pay a non-refundable thousand buck fee up front. You know that, don't you, Tommy?"

Giving me a "We can always write it off our taxes," shrug, Tommy agreed and we completed the call.

By the way: I never had that 'little talk' with Millie. Ever time I looked at her, other thoughts interfered.

I'm a PI because of a big inheritance from my father, who made a fortune in PI stories - short stories, books that were best sellers and went on to be high grossing movies and a few successful TV series - so, well not being able to write, I just had to be a PI. I solved several highly publicized cases in my own inimitable (well, honestly, extremely lucky) manner, including the murder of a Zonker.

One of my sources of info was The Professor. No, he didn't work at a university; in fact, he wasn't a professor at all -- he was called that because he seemed to spend all his time in the public library, reading a little bit of everything. Also, he looked kinda like a professor; grey hair, neat beard, and even a pair of steel-rimmed glasses, since he refused eye surgery.

As usual, he was seated at a library table in a room walled with books. He looked up from what he was perusing when I stood beside him. I started to fill him in on the Lemming case but -- no surprise! -- he was up on it. "No signs of drugs, no connection among the victims, no connections to anything, Mike," he said. "Looks like a real interesting one, doesn't it?"

"Sure does," I agreed. "Any ideas?"

Sliding his glasses back up his nose, The Professor said, "You remember the Jonestown case, back in the twentieth century?"

I scratched my head, then said, "Jim Jones?"

The Professor grinned appreciatively. "Good, Mike! He created his cult, ended up in Guyana, and there was a mass suicide when the government started to close in on him. What if this is a similar cult thing?"

"Worth following up," I told him. "What cults are active these days?"

Well, that conversation led to where our story began and my embarrassment at being rescued by Millie. No answer to the Lemming case, but a cult got crushed anyway.

Now, I have quite a few snitches I consult, but this didn't seem like the sort of thing they would know about. That 'no detectable drugs' bit bugged me, and led me to one help unlike any a PI would ever have had - a Zonker, named Iltoo'toom, the brother of the murdered Zonker. Seems that, thanks to media broadcasts Zonkers had picked up for years before landing on Earth, he was a PI fan. He was always willing to help since I solved his case.

When I returned to my office, Millie said, "You ought to have a wrist-com, Mike -- or at least a cellphone!"

I just grunted. We'd had this argument before. Look, Sam Spade didn't have a cellphone!

Accepting my grunt, Millie handed me a cup of coffee by way of apology.. "Try this, Mike; it's something new I cooked up."

I'm a sucker for coffee, so I gave it a sip, then raised my eyebrows. "Hey, Millie! This is great. What did you do to it?"

"Coffee is your stimulant, Mike. I've added more stimulation to the caffeine -- even included some time-release nano capsules in it. The only trouble is, it'll be hard for you to sleep until it wears off."

I risked a quick kiss. "You're an angel, Millie!" I finished the cup before I called Iltoo'toom.

He was wearing human. The Zonkers were expert at solid holograms, and could appear in any form they desired. Wearing human, they obviously thought, made them more acceptable to us Earthies. The only thing they couldn't disguise was their eyes, which are solid black. "I need some help," I told him. "Something's going on that I think is beyond Earthmen's abilities. Groups are lured into suicide. I think it might be some kind of Zonker drug behind it all. Can I come and talk to you about it?"

"Of course, Mike! I'll look into it before you arrive."

Not wearing a wrist-com wasn't my only throw-back to the Good Old Days; I also drive a car. Millie calls it a clunker, but I call it a '57 Chevy Bel-Air. Totally reconditioned, natch. Yeah, expensive - but, hey! A guy's got an image to project. The real expense was the tires; today, at least ninety-eight percent of the passenger cars are those air-lift things, hovercrafts. Don't matter to them what the road is like, so it don't matter to the city, either. I swear, some of the pot-holes could swallow a guy! Replaced tires on a monthly basis, until I finally gave in and had some special ones made.

The pot-holes are still murder!

Drove the Chevy to see Iltoo'toom. He was coming down the hall as I entered the Zonker ship. "Mike! I have what you need. Come with me." I followed him to another room. Inside, he poured a dash of some powder into his human-looking hand. "This is what you need, Mike," he said, holding up his palm. "Take a look."

I stepped forward and leaned my face down for a better look -- and he tossed the powder into my face!

My mind suddenly became a huge cube of calmness -- except for a box in the center of it, where I was jumping up and down in frustration. Finally I managed a weak, "My ... friend."

The Zonker/human laughed. "He's still in his office waiting for you, Mike. But," he added, bending forward, "I'm now your new friend. Isn't that right?"

He had copied the same human form Iltoo'toom had been wearing, tricking me. That powder, however, was what I had been looking for. Its effect on me made that obvious. But a small part of me was hanging on, enough to know I had to agree. "Yes, that's right," I said softly.

Time passed in a cloudy, hazy fashion. As I fought to maintain a minimum of control, I found that agreeing with what I was told caused my hold on reality to slip, so I tried remaining quiet.

It seemed to work.

Time crawled by and I was only vaguely aware of it as I was trying real hard to hold on to that thin thread connecting me to reality. Then I was told to get into a truck and I did it without objection. Trucks were becoming the trade-mark of this case. Inside were eight or nine others -- obviously designed to be lemmings. One thing jolted me into better awareness: One of them was Mayor Johnstone!

I managed to drift around until I was near him. I noticed he was, naturally, nattily dressed including a flashy gem-encrusted tie-tack, platinum cuff links on his wrist, and a wrist-com -- the most expensive, of course. "Mayor!" I whispered urgently.

His head didn't turn. His eyes didn't move. He was totally unaware of me or, for that matter, anything else. He didn't even respond when I bumped against him.

I noticed one of the others was wearing sunshades, even while indoors. Could be he had been wearing them when 'powdered', but now something happened that made me suspicious. He pointed his shades my way and said, "Any trouble? Maybe I should tell the driver." When he turned to head to the end of the truck that backed the cab, I caught a sideways glimpse of his face --

-- And his solid-black eyes.

Okay, I had to stop him - and I didn't have enough physical control to do it. "You're right," I said, trying the old rabbit-in-the-briar patch reverse-psychology trick. "Should be ... quiet." I said it as if I was having trouble talking - which wasn't too far from true. "Here," I added, pulling my coat open. "Lemme give you ... my gun. It's ,,, real ,,, noisy." He froze as I pulled out my .44, so I was careful to take it by the barrel. He relaxed as I extended the gun-butt toward him.

Now, let me tell you an interesting thing about Zonkers: Their brain is too large for their head, so it's in their chest. I lunged forward, slamming the butt into his chest.

He collapsed.

Taking no chances, I slammed my heel down on his chest several times. I had guessed there was no electronic check on us, since this Zonker was here with us. Must have been right, as there was no rescuer sent for him.

The adrenalin flowing through my body helped clear my mind. I put my gun back into my shoulder holster, switched coats with the Zonker, slipped his shades onto my forehead, then bundled the body into a corner and turned back to the Mayor and shook him.

No response - or was there? Did his eyelids flicker?

I slapped him and, yes, his eyes widened and he looked at me, puzzled. "You ... hit me ..." he said, but without the expected indignation.

"Definitely!" I agreed. "You need to use your wrist-com. Call for help."

He just looked at me, and perhaps a touch of indignation was building. "You hit me!" he repeated.

"I'll do it again if I have to," I said."Call for help!"

When his eyes dulled, I lifted his hand to my face and gave the wrist-com my office number. "Gumshoe Incorporated," Millie said, her voice showing she had recognized the Mayor's number and was impressed.

"Millie!" I said with urgency. "This is Mike. I'm using the Mayor's wrist-com. I've cracked the case, but I need help. Trace this number and send the cavalry - quick!"

Yeah, I'd cracked it all right. All those lemmings that had died, and all but one of this group, had been a bunch of red herrings. The Zonker behind this would be the leader of that splinter group the Mayor was hounding. All the other murders had been to cloak the true purpose - to kill the Mayor. I'd cracked it, but I was still caught in the middle. The Zonker was clever; when I showed up, he immediately changed his plans. I checked my gun belt and, verifying my suspicions, and there it was - a spare clip of bullets.

I was supposed to kill everyone and then commit suicide in apparent remorse!

One other thing was now clear to me. I knew who was responsible for pulling me out of all this.

Millie!

Yeah, Millie did it again. Those time-released jolts of energy in my coffee had enabled me to hang onto a shred of control. But the next question was, would I survive to thank her? When would the cavalry arrive? What would I do if it wasn't in time?

Now I had to do what I hate most - wait.

Unfortunately, I waited less than five minutes; 'unfortunately', because that didn't give Millie time to trace the call and then convince the cavalry to come charging.

I felt the truck settle, meaning the airlift props were stilled, and we were coming to a stop ... somewhere. I slipped the sunshades over my eyes, held my .44 behind my back as I waited for the driver to come around and open the big back door.

It took less than a minute.

When the door rolled up, I stood facing it, anxious. How many were out there? Was there just the driver, or did he have more help. This was a secret operation, so I was hoping for only one.

A 'man' stood there. Best I could tell, it was the same Zonker who had met me at their office. Problem was that, when he spoke, he used their language, which I didn't understand.

I whipped out my .44 and blasted his chest. He fell, and I waited for others to show up.

Nothing!

Grabbing the Mayor's wrist, I called Millie again. Recognizing the number, Millie said,"They should be there any minute, Mike."

Summing it up, everyone was satisfied with my work - except, that is, the Mayor. "You struck me!" he said, showing he had maintained a certain amount of consciousness.

"Your Honor, I had no choice! I needed your assistance. And," I added, as Millie had suggested,"it was your help that wrapped things up. Without your wrist-com, the whole thing woulda gone down as they planned."

Grudgingly, the Mayor accepted my explanation and even awarded me the Key To The City.

Big deal!

More importantly, the newspaper paid their fee. I even used some of the money to buy a wrist-com. Hey, since Millie was really the hero of all this, I thought I owed it to her.

CONTENTS

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