“Kaylee brought you some food sometime after you killed me, yeah? She may be too trusting, perhaps a little gullible, but after that she drove straight over to the playground and took a few hi-res pictures of my dead body.”
“So, she’s got a detective streak in her?” said Adam, risking a note of joviality.
“Not really, Adam,” replied Stern dourly. “Before setting off to confront you about your broken promise, I told Kaylee to get some evidence if I didn’t make it back. As a hind-reader, I read people’s secret hopes and fears rather than their futures, but with you, foretelling death is an easy bet these days.”
“Why do you think I killed you?”
“Well, for a start, I had a cookie in my left hand. I was holding onto the ladder with that hand. I would have used my right hand to reach for another cookie.”
“Oh, but that doesn’t …”
“Plus, I was almost gagging after the first two cookies – fucking peasant food. I only ate them to keep the conversation going. No way was I eating another one, whatever the circumstance. You placed it there.”
“What you’re saying is that your whole evidence revolves around a biscuit.”
Stern remained silent for a few seconds before dropping his ‘killer’ blow:
“Oh no, mi vecino loco, there is the small matter of the zipper.”
“My sports jacket had a zippered pocket, which I purposely left open. The plan was that, should my life be in imminent danger, I would secretly zip up the pocket. In the pictures, the pocket was zipped up.”
“I … I could have done that.”
“The toggle was covered in forensic putty. That way I could check for my thumbprint. And there it was, on the jacket and visible in the photo!”
“That’s why you wanted hi-res pictures.”
Another uncomfortable round of silence, and Stern continued:
On top of all that, my last memory of that day was that I was gonna ask you if you were leaving the viro. I’ve always thought that was the secret you got outta the genie.”
“That’s why I killed you,” Adam admitted. “You tricked me into giving the secret away.”
“Tricked you, yeah, that sounds like me,” Stern softly chuckled, finally displaying a shadow of his former self. “And, if now’s a time for secrets, you may as well know that my hind-reading gig is just an act. Oh, I seem to have some unexplained deductive powers, but I get most of the information I need through soft intimidation, wordplay, damn good research, and of course my epic charisma with the ladies … and the men. But, I guess you took that all away with one snap of my neck. You see, Adam, I came back a changed man.”
Adam thought the blurry figure behind the glass was referring to the torture of resurrection – the limitless liquid black, cut through with five slicing lines of agony. Having been through the process many times during his two years fighting the glam gang, Adam tried to offer sympathy and advice, but was cut short by a fiery outburst:
“Take your damn sympathy and shove it where it hurts, cabrón! I’m over that already. You probably have some kind of immunity to the pain, so you probably have no idea how cruel your actions were, but I’m over it. When I say I have come back a changed man, I mean physically.”
“What do you mean by that?” Adam quietly asked, uneasy at what lay beyond the red stained glass. “Can … can I see you? Open the window a bit more so I can see inside.”
“No need to open the window, I can cut out the red tinge with my remote.”
In an instant, the glass became clear, revealing a sparsely furnished room behind. Wearing a simple white t-shirt and blue denims, Stern sat on a lightly cushioned one-piece bentwood chair only a couple of feet from the window - his face, sadness, only one-step from tears.
“So now you know,” he croaked, tendering a mournful stare.
Adam did not reply for some time. No matter how hard he looked, he could not see anything wrong. Perhaps the murder had rendered Stern delusional, or maybe the changes were under the clothing.
“Apart from you looking a bit upset, and I take full responsibility for that, I can’t see any difference. What is it I’m supposed to be seeing?”
Clearly exasperated, Stern pointed agitatedly with both hands to the sides of his head. Adam still could not see anything especially out of place and so winged it:
“You’re totally mistaken, Stern. You look a macho as ever, and I must admit I love the silver tint you’ve got in your hair at the sides.”
Stern howled and bunched his fists, powerfully pounding his thighs before lowering his head into his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Adam frowned, realising his mistake:
“Oh … so your hair isn’t supposed to be grey. Now, this is normally where I would make my apologies, fetch my coat, and leave quietly, but I desperately need your help.”
“But I look hideous,” sobbed Stern, sitting back upright, tears streaming down his well-defined cheeks. “I didn’t turn grey until my TV career was as good as over. My fans expect a young raven-haired sex god, and instead they get this. I’m never leaving this house again.”
In his first life, down and out on the streets, Adam learned to talk his way out of a tight spot. The threat of sudden violence was always present, so the ability to think fast was a necessity. It was not only the threat of the late-night thugs, but drink and drugs could turn even the friendliest bum into a crazed maniac. So, how to convince the vainest man in the world that greying hair was a positive thing? Stern did not need sympathy at this point; he needed firm assurance backed up by a large dollop of flattery.
“I’ve got just two words for you, Stern,” said Adam with brazen confidence, “Connery and Clooney.”
Stern sniffed slightly, and then wiped the tears from his eyes:
“Not quite my generation, but go on.”
“Both men have that manly authority,” explained Adam, avoiding the word ‘mature’. “They have that aura of cool gravitas that only comes with … experience. I mean, you’ve devoted a lot of time to the Hind-Readers Guild lately. Nobody takes a youngster seriously, no matter how good looking he is. I think the AI updated your profile to reflect your new sense of responsibility. To reference Connery and Clooney again, women find that look extremely attractive. I’m sure they won many magazine ‘man of the year’ awards.”
“So you’re saying I’ve got a bit of the silver fox thing going on but not real hot sexiness?”
“You’ve got both; the new experienced authority vibe and a whole busting body-load of sexy … err… sexiness.”
Aware that he was blushing, probably a vibrant shade of beetroot, Adam said no more, Stern stood up and came close to the window. He ran a finger thoughtfully down the glass, creating an almost imperceptible squeak, and said:
“You know, that’s pretty much what Kaylee said. I wanted to believe her, really I did, but I know that girl loves me too damn much to hurt my feelings. So, here I am, putting my faith in a proven liar and a murderer.”
“Do you feel any better? Are you good to go?”
Stern nodded, flexing his biceps and expanding his chest.
Stephen Ayres: Copyright 2012