The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces by Ray Vukcevich
The first victim is found dead with a number painted all over his body. The second victim is also murdered by strangulation with a computer printer cable. And there seems to be something fishy about beautiful Prudence Deerfield, the woman who brings the case to Skylight Howells. Skylight confers with Dennis, and they both discuss the case with Scarface, Dieter, and Brian Dobson's other personalities before taking the case. Once they do, we're in for one of the wildest, wackiest mysteries to come down the pipe in years. You won't need six heads to crack this case, but they probably wouldn't hurt.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||339 KB|
About the Author
Ray Vukcevich grew up in Arizona and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. His short fiction has appeared in The Year's Best Fantasy&Horror, The Magazine of Fantasy&Science Fiction, and elsewhere. The Man of Maybe Half-a-Dozen Faces is his first novel.
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The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces
By Ray Vukcevich, Gordon Van Gelder
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Ray Vukcevich
All rights reserved.
Because she looked like something I'd make up myself, it took me a couple of blinks to convince myself she was real. Low-slung faded blue jeans and a lime-green sawed-off T-shirt. Bare midriff and (gulp) a ruby in her navel. Her eyes were brown or green or both or maybe they just handled the light well, and her reddish brown hair was stylishly windblown. Maybe early thirties — make that thirty-three for symmetry. Ice-country skin. She held a couple of trained seals on leashes. The seals balanced red-and-yellow beach balls on their noses.
No, wait a moment. I really did make up that bit about the ruby. And the seals. Kill the seals. I mean forget the seals. What was I thinking? There were no seals.
I quickly deduced that the feet leaning like drunks in their scuffed black PI shoes, alongside the remains of what may once have been tacos atop the old wooden desk, must be mine. Off to one side dragons, one right after another, were shot out of canons to fly with silent screams from one end of the computer screen to the other where they splattered and oozed down to gather at the bottom as Technicolor goo. I don't want to tell you how long it took me to jungle chop my way through the instruction manual to get the dragons shooting just the way I wanted them to shoot and splat.
I cringed at a sudden irritated honk from the street three floors below. Honking in Eugene, Oregon, is so rare that I'll bet there were people hanging out of windows all up and down the block to see what the hubbub was about.
I discovered a cigarette between the first two fingers of my right hand and sucked in a little smoke and then let it run out of my mouth and up my face to pool under the brim of my hat. Coughed.
Hey, hold the phone. Didn't I quit smoking? Yes, I definitely did quit smoking. So that was phantom smoke under my hat. I'd been sucking on a yellow number-two pencil, but the cough was real.
"So who am I?" I demanded. "And what do I want with you?"
"Skylight Howells — Private Investigator." She hooked a thumb over her shoulder at the backwards letters on the cloudy glass of the door. "You want to help me with my brother."
She walked in, and as she moved, little zips and zaps of electricity fired all up and down my body. She pulled up a chair in front of my desk. I moved my feet and sat up. There was a can of Tecate next to the remains of my lunch and I picked it up and sipped. The beer was warm, but at least there weren't any soggy phantom cigarette butts floating in it.
"Look into my eyes and read my lips," she said. "You're a private investigator. You are, in fact, a world famous private investigator. You come highly recommended."
"Well, okay, you're in the yellow pages."
"You found me in the yellow pages?"
"I said you came highly recommended," she said. "A foreign gentleman in whom I have the utmost trust said I should talk to you. I just looked up your address in the yellow pages."
"And you are?"
"Prudence Deerfield," she said and leaned over the desk and put her hand out for me to shake.
"Call me Sky," I said, getting into the spirit of things. When Sky comes on the scene, I have to hit the ground running. I took her hand in both of mine and separated her fingers and examined each neat bloodred nail and shivered at the cool loveliness of her skin, then turned her hand over again and gently traced the lines in her palm.
"Hey!" She snatched her hand back. "Don't get fresh, gumchew."
Had I heard her right? I waited her out with a straight face, but she gave not the slightest indication that the crack had been a joke. A slip of the tongue? Maybe English wasn't her first language, or maybe American wasn't her first culture.
"You're not from around here, are you?" I said.
"Er ... What makes you say that?"
I decided to let it go for now. "So, what's the deal with Pablo?"
"First things first." She leaned down to dig in her bag. I could feel my neck growing up and up and as it did I could see more and more of her, but then she sat back up, and I turtled down and polished off the rest of the warm Mexican beer.
She flipped open a steno pad, slapped it down on the desk, and pushed it in my direction. There, in painfully neat handwriting, was some math.
f (y2) = (y + 1)2 (y - 1)5y3
"Calculus," she said.
"I want you to calculate the derivative," she said. "Use logarithmic differentiation."
"You want me to use logarithmic differentiation?"
"I want to be sure you've got the right stuff to help Pablo," she said.
"But detective work is nothing like calculus."
"So you say." She picked up the stingy yellow stub of a pencil I'd earlier been smoking and tossed it to me.
"I don't suppose you'll let me use the computer?"
"Use your noodle," she said.
"You want me to cook?"
"My noodle?" I said.
I watched her eyes dart left and right like she was scanning her database of idioms. A few seconds later, she said, "The one on your shoulders."
I wasn't ready to give in yet, so I gave her a puzzled look.
"Your head," she said, "use your head."
She was the real puzzle. I couldn't get a handle on her. I looked long and hard into her eyes, calculating if this would even be worth the trouble. I did, after all, have a couple of other cases — a dangerous one and a ridiculously easy one. I might not have taken the dangerous one in the first place if Prudence Deerfield had showed up last week, but now that I had taken it, could I afford to be distracted? I looked so long and hard that she squirmed a little in her chair. Then she sighed and slumped back and suddenly looked so helpless and alone that I knew I was hooked. How could I not help?
Okay, it's true I didn't have to do it right in front of her face, but I did want to see her reaction, so I ripped off my mustache.
"Ouch!" she said.
I turned my back, ran a comb through my hair, put on a new nose, and Dennis, "the Math Guy," poofed into existence, but couldn't really see diddly without my glasses, so I pawed around in the top left desk drawer until I found them and put them on and took a look at a moderately interesting equation. I glanced up at the pretty woman on the other side of the desk, and she smiled at me. Nice teeth.
"Piece of cake," I said. "You want it simplified or not?"
"Your choice," she said.
I wrestled the equation to the ground and twisted its ears until it coughed up the derivative, which I then copied directly under the equation itself. No stinking scribbling around the edges.
"Here you go," I said and pushed the pad back across the desk.
She looked it over. "Not bad," she said, "not bad. Now, suppose a train leaves ..."
So, we did a few word problems.
Then she made me straighten out a Rubik's Cube which was nooo problem.
"Next," I said.
"That's enough," she said. "Let me tell you about the case."
"Wait," I said and turned my back. I pulled off my nose and put on my mustache again. Dropped the bottle-bottom glasses back into the desk drawer. Put my hat back on. "Okay. Tell me."
She dug in her bag again and then put a thin volume on the desk and turned it so I could read the title.
Gerald Moffitt and Pablo Deerfield
"Is that relevant?"
She put her finger on the byline. "Gerald is dead," she said. "Murdered. Strangled with a printer cable."
"You know," she said, "a standard IEEE-1284 compliant parallel interface cable."
I glanced over at my own printer. "You mean the one with the little 1284-A connector on one end and a big 1284-B connector on the other end?"
"Exactly," she said. "Then the killer wrote all over the body."
"The police didn't give me the details," she said. "I don't know if it was Magic Marker or what, but there was just one word over and over again on every conceivable patch of skin."
"And the word?"
"Exceptions," she said.
"So what does it mean?"
"It's a computer term," she said. "It has something to do with when things go wrong."
"Hmm," I said.
"Just hmm," I said. "That's detective talk for the wheels are turning. Go on."
"I'm sure the police think Pablo did it."
"Pablo's well ... missing." She looked away quickly, and I decided to watch closely in the days ahead to see if she always looked away when she lied. Sure, I had no reason to believe Pablo wasn't really missing, but I had the gut feeling there was more to it.
I watched her lower lip quiver, and I thought she might cry, but she pulled herself together. "Actually," she said, "he's probably in hiding. He and Gerald were partners in GP Ink, a company that produces these manuals. If Gerald was killed because of the business, Pablo could be next!"
"And what do you want me to do about it?"
"Prove Pablo didn't kill Gerald," she said. "And find out who did!"
"Have we talked about money?"
"Money's no problem," she said.
"It's always been a problem for me."
"I can pay your fee," she said. "Whatever it is."
"I may be too busy for this," I said.
She looked around the room. The shabby couch. The dusty shelves with my collection of phone books from other cities, the bound volumes of American PI magazine, the silver tap trophy I'd won more years ago than I'm willing to say, the three big wall maps — Oregon state, Portland city map, and Eugene city map — the latter so covered with colored push pins you'd think I was having trouble keeping it nailed to the wall. At least the bare bulb above us wasn't swinging in a wind from nowhere.
"I can see you're up to your ears," she said.
I could understand how she might not be overwhelmed by feelings of frantic activity.
But everything depends on how you look at it.
"As it happens," I said, "I'm right in the middle of a very juicy divorce investigation. I can't wait to nail this one. You wouldn't want me to lose my focus."
"You can do this, too."
"Maybe," I said. "Why don't you get out your checkbook?"
So she got out her checkbook. I mentioned a figure and she didn't even haggle, which made me kick myself for not mentioning a higher figure.
"You know," I said, "I'll probably have to run Pablo down in the course of this investigation." I noticed the address on her check was a post office box, and she hadn't included a phone number.
"Just be careful," she said. "If he's hiding I don't want you finding him for the police."
"You know where he is," I said, and looked her right in the eye. What the hell, it was worth a shot.
"I do not!"
"Okay, but there is the possibility that he did kill Gerald Moffitt."
"I have to consider it," I said.
I turned my eyes down before she could crisp my face with the glare she was beaming at me across the desk. I pulled the ASP*+ book across the desk and opened it.
"What's Asp ... this?" I asked without looking up. "A book about snakes?"
"A computer language," she said. "A net navigation language actually. You say each letter: A and then S and then P and then Star and then Plus — ASP*+. Stands for 'A Special Protocol.' Geeks tell me it makes it a breeze to wiggle around on the Internet."
"I say that affectionately and with respect."
"I can hear the affection and respect in your voice," I said.
"So, when can I expect you to actually do something?"
I put my finger on my place in the book and looked up at her. "Why don't you go somewhere where I can get ahold of you," I had to take a couple of deep breaths to get past the thought of getting ahold of her, "and cool your heels until you hear from me? You got a phone?"
"I'll call you," she said.
"Or you'll just drop back in?" I said maybe with too much naked hope in my voice.
"One more thing," she said. "The police have locked everyone out of the GP Ink office. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
"You figure the place is full of clues?"
"Wouldn't you think?"
"I'll check it out," I told her.
She got to her feet and I watched her leave. After she'd shut the door, I sighed and bent back to the book. I turned to the index to see where I might find some talk about "exceptions," but the word didn't appear in the index. Nothing is ever straightforward.CHAPTER 2
I never go off half-cocked on a new case until I've run it by my therapist. Here, in Eugene, you can go out on the street and pick a pedestrian, any pedestrian, and chances are good you'll get a therapist of some kind. From photo therapy (ever notice how people change when you point a camera at them?) to guided origami and everything in between. And if you don't get a therapist, it's a good bet you can at least get a fancy massage, but I didn't do local therapy. I had trouble being myself in person. My man Roger was on-line.
Earlier someone had been covering up covert action with a phony hacking cough out in the hall, but whoever it was had moved on or at least slipped out of sight by the time I looked. I locked the door, settled back down behind my desk, peeled off my mustache and touched the tender place under my nose and winced. I tossed my hat onto the desk and pulled the keyboard over in front of me and logged on to the net. My standard browser windows divided the screen into neat squares. An e-mail window, the call-waiting alert, in case anyone had anything to say to me on the phone, and a couple of portals. Dennis called this doing many things at once "multi-tasking," and we were pretty good at it.
My animated persona for therapy looked a little like one of those Mad magazine spies, but with more colors available. I was blue when I popped into existence outside Roger's office. I had to wait a few minutes, and as I stood there twiddling my cyberthumbs, whistling tunes and looking right and left and up and down into cyberspace (not to mention among and through — directions not ordinarily encountered on the outside), I got sprayed in the face with purple varmint gas, and the nasties I hadn't noticed I was carrying made a dash for the hills, yapping like newspapered puppies.
Roger's door pulsed and a sign flashed on saying PLEASE COME IN, so I clicked on it. Roger sat in a simple wooden chair. He had a beard, of course, and an old-fashioned suit, and a nice smile. When he spoke his words appeared above his head: "Hello, Mr. Face (my therapeutic code name). Please sit down. How can I help you today?"
I walked my spy guy across the chat room and sat him down on the chair in front of Roger. Typing, I said, "A murder case has just been dumped in my lap."
Meanwhile, in another window, I popped on over to alt.dicks to see if maybe one of my colleagues had posted anything on the murder. It didn't take me long to discover that the case had generated enough interest to spin off a new group of its own. The new group was called alt.dead.gerald. I popped over there to see what was what.
Roger said, "And how does a murder case in your lap make you feel?"
"I'm not sure I'm up to it, Roger."
"What makes you say you're not sure you're up to it?"
"I mean, one of my other cases, for instance, is following that bozo Frank Wallace for his wife."
"Go on," Roger said.
"Well, the payoff for that one will be the look on Frank's face when he finds out it was me who made his divorce so tasty."
"Well, the new case is, I guess you would call it serious."
And over on alt.dead.gerald, I learned that Gerald Moffitt was a well-known figure in the tech writing world. One post referred to him as a prominent "documentalist." I liked that word so much, I began thinking of the people who burden the rest of us with instructions for computer programs as documentalists.
"Can you elaborate on that?" Roger asked.
"I get the feeling," I said, "that conspiracy is in the air."
"Why do you say conspiracy is in the air, Mr. Face?"
"I can feel it, Roger."
"How does it make you feel when you feel it?"
In the other window I scrolled through the nasty rumble-mumble of posts about how it was an open-and-shut case. Pablo Deerfield did it, of course. Jealousy. Money problems. Something to do with GP Ink. The damning fact being that Pablo was missing. There was a lot of talk about what might have been going on behind the scenes at GP Ink — drugs, prostitution, software pirating, bad grammar.
Someone named COSMO pooh-poohed the talk as the ravings of conspiracy nuts. The weird thing about that post was the address: anon firstname.lastname@example.org. I didn't recognize 4e4.com, but I was pretty sure I'd seen it before, and I noticed that several of the posts in alt.dead.gerald came from there. It's like once something lodges in your mind, you see it everywhere.
"Tell me more about your anxiety, Mr. Face."
I thought about it, and as I pondered, I drifted away from the experience of Roger's animated chat room and our multi-tasking and became aware of the computer screen and our conversation marching along above two animated characters, became aware of my fingers, my typing. I typed, "It's not so well defined. I'm noticing, for example, that the fact there is an x in the word anxious is making me very nervous."
"I'm getting the feeling," I said, "that everything is connected."
A beep. An answer to my query about 4e4 had arrived. It turned out 4e4.com was an anonymous remailing service based in Russia. I sat back and took a couple of deep breaths. If there was a conspiracy afoot, who better to be involved than the Russians?
Excerpted from The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces by Ray Vukcevich, Gordon Van Gelder. Copyright © 2000 Ray Vukcevich. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a pretty hilarious read. I thought it might be hard from the description, but Vukcevich is a master: he draws the reader in and doesn't let go. From the tap-dancing addict to the crazed chefs intent on keeping their secrets secret, The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces just doesn't stop. There are some laugh out loud moments here. I hope there's a sequel!
Whether Ray Vukcevich's first novel 'The Man Of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces' is intended as satire or not, it is an extraordinarily funny book. I admit, I'm not computer savvy, but I do know a lot about tap dancing, frustration about faulty instructions/directions, and Mexican food; it all makes perfect sense to me, in the same zany way that it makes sense to live in a world shared by both crocodiles and kittens. This book is surprising and hilarious, and anyone in the mood for that kind of a wild read will rejoice.
Private Investigator Skylight Howells hangs his hat in Eugene, Oregon. Many sleuths call Oregon their home, but none have the various personalities like Sky has. In fact Sky is only one of Bran Dobson¿s personas. These include Dennis the math nerd, Dieter the chef, Scarface with the hideous visage, Lulu the one who goes where others cannot, and Tag the common man. Perhaps Mr. Dobson suffers from multiple personality disorder or maybe he is just an eccentric actor who buries himself in his role. However, whatever the cause does not matter since each of the personalities work towards the same common goal of solving a case whether it is a cheating spouse or computer hackers. This novel is one of the most unusual tales ever written. The personas constantly switch roles and the narration changes from first person to third and back again. This makes for a wild ride for the reader trying to absorb everything as the protagonist(s?) keeps the story line moving. The scene where all the personas meet in some sort of ethereal place is humorous in a Mad Magazine sort of way. Fans of Monty Python or Mel Brooks (the early works) will enjoy this eccentric mystery. Harriet Klausner