End of Summer
 
alt.showcase.94

A Familiar Ring

Featuring Jamm

by Chaim Mattis Keller

Jamm walked confidently along the beach. This, he felt, was his true home. Here, he didn't have to contend with warring parents and step-parents, with demands on his time and energy over which he had no control. Here, his only challenges were those he chose for himself. The surf, or…

"Hey, baby," he said to a fine-looking girl who was sunning herself undisturbed (until his intrusion). "You ever seen anything you want inside you as much as the Jamm-inator?"

She didn't even look up. "Not since the last Aliens movie," she shot back.

"Uhh…hate to break it to you, babe, but that wasn't a guy in that movie…it was…ohhh!" he suddenly said, a realization entering his mind. "I get it. To each her own. No problemo! That's me…Jamm the tolerant man…"

Now she looked up, disturbed that others would take Jamm's clueless misperception as truth. "Hey, wait a minute!…"

But before she could get Jamm to understand that he'd just been royally dissed, Jamm's attention was elsewhere. More specifically, it was on the approaching figure, that of a male, slim but well-toned, who, to Jamm, carried an air of menace about him. As he drew closer, Jamm began to back away slowly from the man, whose cut-off T-shirt showed off his biceps, which were liberally sprinkled with tatoos. "Easy dude," Jamm said, "I didn't touch her! I swear!"

"What?" both the man and the girl said simultaneously. Neither of them knew one another.

The man raised his hand toward Jamm…and, smiling, slapped him on the back. "Hey, man, remember me?"

Jamm searched his memory. The man definitely looked familiar, but he was sure he would have remembered encountering him. Heck, if this guy was his friend, he would have made a point of hanging with him, since being in his orbit would have discouraged other people from hassling him. "Ummm…could you help me out a bit?"

The man laughed and shook Jamm's hand. "Name's Rico Gutierrez," he said. "I guess you don't recognize me with my body bulked up and my mouth not frothing."

"That was you?" Jamm exclaimed. "Freak! You are definitely new and improved!" Jamm recalled how three months earlier, he had been mugged by a wild-eyed heroin addict. He'd been riding through L. A. on his special skateboard when suddenly this dude holding a gun, obviously strung out, had appeared before him. The guy forced him into an alleyway and threatened to kill him.

What the mugger…Rico…hadn't known was that Jamm had a special talent. If he put his mind to it, he could get anyone to do anything he wanted them to. Months earlier, Jamm had been attacked by some weird alien and traveled through time to one thousand years in the future. A scary blue-skinned lady in the future had rather strenuously impressed on him the importance of using this power responsibly, but surely this was a situation in which it was warranted. "C'mon, man, put down the gun," Jamm had ordered him.

A glazed expression, familiar to Jamm, settled over Rico's face, as he said "O. K." and dropped his weapon. As soon as he had complied with Jamm's order, though, the desperate junkie repeated his demand. "Give me your money," he said, but his words lacked force when not backed by a gun.

Jamm could tell that Rico was not rational. "You know, you really ought to get some help," he told his attacker. "I don't know exactly what you're on, but you'd be much better off never taking it again." When Rico responded "O. K." and walked away, Jamm realized that he had accidentally used his power to back these statements as well.

And now, here he was, acting like his best bud. "You saved my life, dude," Rico told Jamm. "I don't know what you did to me, but suddenly I had to lay off the smack and go home and beg my parents for help. They checked me into a rehab clinic, and I've never been happier. It's almost two months since I've had a hit."

Jamm smiled. "Always glad to help a guy, y'know?" he said. "Anyway, how'd you find me here?"

"Well, I was able to track you down. This is one of your usual haunts."

"That's me, Jamm the beach-goin' man. But wow, man, you hunted me out just to thank me? Wild!"

Rico looked downward. "Not really," he admitted. "I need your help."

"Sure thing, Rico," said Jamm. "What's happening?"

"Remember the gun you made me drop?"

"Sure."

"Well, it was later used in a murder, and it had my fingerprints on it. I've been arrested for it, and I'm out on bail for now. I didn't do it, and you're the only one who can get me off the hook."

"That's me, Jamm Spade," Jamm replied. "Let's get in our van and solve the mystery, dude!"

"No, no," replied Rico. "All you need to do is testify that I dropped the gun earlier that day, and that'll prove that I didn't do it. The murder happened later."

"Sounds good to me," said Jamm. "Let's do it."

But their encounter with the police was disappointing. "He makes a good witness," the police detective said of Jamm, "but the fact that you can prove you dropped it doesn't mean that you didn't pick it up again later. Remember, the only fingerprints on the gun are yours."

"But you've got to believe us!" Jamm protested desperately.

Suddenly, that familiar look came over the detective's face. "O.K.," he said.

Rico turned to Jamm. "What did you just do to him?"

"Same thing I did to you," Jamm replied. "I…have super-powers." Jamm explained his story.

"That's so cool!" said Rico. "So that's why I didn't take any drugs after meeting you?"

"Yeah," Jamm said. "I didn't mean to force you into anything, but I was kind of scared, and when I'm not consciously suppressing it, my power kicks in. Sorry."

"Sorry?" Rico asked, incredulously. "If you didn't put the whammy on me, I probably woulda been dead by now! You oughtta do this as, like, a public service or something!"

"I dunno," said Jamm. "It sounds nice, but I can't just decide on my own to zap people. When I went to the future, someone…convinced me not to."

"Well, look into it. Meanwhile, what do we do about me?" asked Rico.

Jamm thought. "The cop believes us now that I zapped him," he said. "Maybe he'll help us." He turned to the detective. "Could you tell us more about the crime? We've got to figure out whodunit."

The detective obediently got his files. "The victim, Lola Rosario, was shot on her way home from work, at 4:42 PM. Her pocketbook and jewelry were missing. The gun with which she was shot was found two blocks away, along with her pocketbook, which contained no money or credit cards. Fingerprint analysis showed only yours," the detective concluded, looking at Rico.

"I didn't do it," said Rico. "Did the jewels ever turn up?"

"Not to our knowledge," the detective replied.

"No way was she robbed by a junkie like me," said Rico. "I mean, like I used to be," he quickly corrected himself. "Someone like that is desperate for cash."

"So what do you think?" asked Jamm.

"Either the robbery was a cover-up to a murder for a different reason," said Rico, "or someone wanted the jewelry itself."

"I'd go with your first guess," the detective chimed in. "Someone wanted us to think you committed the robbery. That's why they dropped the gun rather than kept it. They assumed that once the police had their man that no one would go after them."

Jamm turned to the detective. "You're helping us out?"

"Well, Rico here sure didn't shoot her," the detective said, echoing his Jamm-induced belief. "That means there's a murderer loose on the street. Let's see what we can find."

"All of us?" Jamm said, surprised.

"I'm not going to let Mr. Gutierrez walk around unsupervised if someone out there framed him for murder," the detective said. "And as for you, that talent of yours can come in pretty handy if we've got to do some detective work."

"You mean I should get people to tell us what we want?"

"You can force them to tell the truth," the detective clarified. "You're almost a living lie detector, do you realize? You could be quite an asset to law-enforcement that way."

Jamm liked the idea. "Let's go," he agreed.

The three of them walked out of the police station. The detective led the way. "Whoever did it was very careful not to get his fingerprints on the gun," he said, "so this couldn't have been a spur-of-the-moment thing. When the murderer picked up Rico's gun, he or she began planning the murder. She was murdered on her way between her workplace and her home, so the murderer was most likely using the same route when he or she discovered the gun. Let's go see if anyone at her workplace has any issues with her."

The trio walked into the office building where she had worked as a secretary, eliciting more than a few stares. They signed in with the security guard and headed up the elevator to her office, which to all appearances was normal. Jamm and Rico looked around, wondering what dark secrets this place could possibly be hiding. While the detective went to talk to her boss, Jamm spotted an attractive secretary and began to chat with her.

"Hey, babe, ever think about makin' it with a detective?" Jamm asked her.

She looked up and smirked. "Sure," she said. "Care to show me where I can find one?"

"That's me, Jamm the detective man," he replied proudly. "That cop I came in here with? He's my partner."

She snickered. "Give me a break," she said. "You're a beach rat. I know your type; my brother's one also."

"Really?" asked Jamm. "I'll bet I know him. What's his name?"

"Wally Winters."

"Cool! You're Wally Bear's sister? Next time I see him, I'll tell him I saw you…" Jamm looked at the nameplate on her desk "…Joanne. Wow."

"Wally Bear, huh?" she smiled.

"That's what he goes by on the beach," Jamm told her. "Nice guy. Fairly good surfer, but hasn't jumped into skates like yours truly."

"In-line?"

"Skateboards. I'm the ultimate thrashing man."

She smiled again. "So what's a thrashing man doing in a non-thrashing place like this?"

"I told you. I'm a detective right now. There was a girl who worked here…"

"Lola," she said, the smile vanishing. "If you're really detecting, you must be here about Lola."

"Yeah. You knew her?"

"Who didn't?" she said. "Good riddance to bad rubbish. I mean, maybe we shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but she was a total witch. Always yelling at everyone. Us co-workers, her mother, her husband…"

"Her boss?" Jamm asked.

"She was too smart for that," she said. "But everyone hated her."

"Enough to kill her?" asked Jamm.

"No way," she said.

Suddenly, Jamm realized that this was why the detective had brought him along. "Tell me the truth," Jamm told her, exercising his power. "Did anyone here hate her enough to kill her?"

Her eyes glazed over, and she responded, "No."

Jamm relaxed his power, knowing that she no longer had the capacity to lie to him. Before he could restart conversation, the detective came out of her boss's office and signaled to him and Rico. "Let's go," he said.

Jamm looked confused. "You don't need me?"

"Not this time," the detective said. "Her boss was very forthcoming, and he didn't appear to be fudging on anything."

Rico joined in. "So where are we going?"

"Her husband stopped by the office very often for a period of time before her death," said the detective. "We need to learn why."

"Well, as I understand it, they didn't get along too well," said Jamm.

The detective snapped to attention. "Who told you that?"

"One of the secretaries. Joanne Winters."

"Interesting," he said. They went to the security office on the ground floor of the building, where the detective asked to see the sign-in sheets for the time period leading up to Lola Rosario's death. After flipping through them for almost half an hour, he handed them back and announced that he was done.

"After half an hour? What did you get out of that?" asked Rico.

"No proof of anything, of course," the detective said, "but definite reason for suspicion. On the sign-in sheets I looked at, Mr. Rosario's name appears quite regularly near the end of the workday. Now, it's always possible that he'd begun picking up his wife from work, but it's also possible that his wife regularly leaves work early…and that he was there to see someone else. Add to that the fact that Lola was constantly yelling at him and that no one at work hated her enough to kill her, that means we have someone outside the workplace with a definite motive who may very well have come across the gun on a casual walk."

"So where to now, Sherlock Hemlock?" asked Jamm.

"We'll have to investigate the widower," the detective said. Let's see how much he's really grieving. And let's see if the missing jewelry is in his possession. He lives in a fourth-floor apartment, so we'll need a search warrant before we can see anything, but…"

Jamm interrupted. "Why not just look in the window?" he said, brightly.

The detective looked at him like he was crazy. "Don't tell me you can fly also."

Jamm pulled out his most treasured possession, his anti-gravity skateboard, which he had acquired during his time in the thirtieth century. "Not by myself, no. But this little baby can float, and I'll bet that's good enough."

The detective and Rico were amazed. "Fine!" the detective said. "Let's see what we can find."

First they returned to the police station, where the detective gave Jamm a description of the missing jewelry, so he knew what to look for. Then they went to the apartment building, and Jamm got on his board and willed it into the air. That part was easy enough, he'd always used it to float about a foot off of any given surface. Going higher was a bit more nerve-wracking. He hunched low on the board, keeping his hands firmly on it. He counted floors as he rose, slowly and tentatively, careful not to look down. Soon, he found the set of windows he was looking for. After carefully looking around, he returned to the ground to report his findings.

"Man, that was cool, dude!" marveled Rico. "You could be flyin' around on that thing, like some kind of space god or something! You could be out there looking for new planets and stuff!"

"Thanks, man," said Jamm, "but this board is strictly for thrashin'." He turned to the detective. "I'd be way surprised if that guy killed his wife," Jamm said. "One whole room is like a shrine to her. Valentines, and pictures, and flowers all over the place."

"Really." commented the detective.

"Yeah," said Jamm, "and I didn't see any signs of the jewelry either."

"Well, I don't think we could have realistically expected that to be lying in plain sight," the detective said. "Hmmm. For now, I'm not sure what our next step is. Jamm, here's a number where you can reach me," said the detective, handing Jamm a card. "Call me tonight after nine and I'll tell you what we'll do next. Other than that, you might as well go home for the night. Rico, you come with me, and I'll try to get your situation settled down at the station."

Jamm, thus released, returned to where his day had started. He worked the beach for a while, thinking all the while about his eventful day. Apparently his power had its good uses, he realized, responsible ones that maybe even the future shadow-lady wouldn't rag on him about. His train of thought was interrupted when he spotted a face that had been much on his mind since earlier in the day.

"Yo, Wally Bear!" Jamm shouted.

Wally Winters returned the greeting warmly. "Hey, Jamm. What's cooking?"

"I was wondering if I'd see you today. I ran into your sister earlier. You never told me you had such a babe-alicious in your family."

"Yeah, like I want you to know that?" Wally teased. "Anyway, strictly hands-off to you. She's engaged."

"Lucky guy. What's his name?"

"Actually, she hasn't told us anything about him, even that." Wally said. "She says she doesn't want us meeting him yet, though I don't know why. Lord knows, she's been flashing around her engagement ring for the last three months."

"Oh, yeah," Jamm said. "I think I do recall seeing a ring on her finger. And you don't even know the guy's name? That's weird city, dude."

"Yeah, it's kind of freaky," said Wally Bear. "But she's always been weird about men. Beautiful women, I guess. You know?"

"Tell me about it," said Jamm, deep in thought. Something that Wally said disturbed him, and he didn't want Wally to notice. He hopped on his board and floated to his favorite skateboarding pit. It was crowded, and despite his renown in the area, he couldn't get through to do any seriously fancy wheelwork. He took off again, trying to clear his head. After some apparently random wandering down the street, he found himself in front of the office building where he. Rico and the detective had been that morning. Obviously, he realized, something about the murder was still weighing on his mind.

He stared up at the towering structure, remembering his conversation with Joanne Winters. She didn't hate Lola Rosario enough to murder her. But she did dislike her. She disliked her for her constant yelling, at her co-workers, her husband and…her mother in law? Jamm recalled.

Why would her mother-in-law have come to her workplace? Or was the yelling over the phone? Especially if they didn't get along well…

It didn't make any sense to Jamm. Jamm walked into the security office where he and his companions had been earlier. "I want to see the sign-in books," he told the man in charge.

The man looked at him like he was out of his mind. "Who are you? I can't just hand over that kind of stuff to just anyone."

Jamm didn't want to waste his time on this man. He concentrated and repeated, "Show me the sign-in books."

This time, the man robotically obeyed. Jamm looked at the books for several months preceding the murder, noting, as the detective had, that Lola Rosario's husband made frequent late visits to her office during that time. But as he sat there looking through more and more books, he noticed two things that the detective either didn't notice or didn't mention. Two weeks before the murder, her husband stopped coming. And, there was no one else named Rosario, which would have presumably been her mother-in-law's name, who had come to her office.

Suddenly, a thought struck Jamm. "This is a book of visitors," he told his new slave. "Tell me how I can find out when regular employees came and went."

"Each company keeps its own records," the security man told him. "Probably those records are in their offices."

"Can you let me into an office?" asked Jamm.

The security man complied. He led Jamm into the office where Lola Rosario had worked, and, with his help, he managed to locate the employee time sheets. As he looked them over, he scratched his head in confusion. He rushed to call his police detective friend.

After the detective picked up the phone, Jamm explained his problem. "I met Wally, the brother of that secretary I was talking to. Something he said went ding! in my head, and I realized that she's wearing a ring which I think is the same one that belonged to the dead chick. So I went back to the building, and looked up some stuff…"

The detective interrupted him. "How in heck did you get access to this 'stuff', Jamm?"

"Ummm…I sort of 'persuaded' them to give it to me?"

The detective sighed. "Jamm, this is an official police investigation. We can't gather evidence without a search warrant…"

"Sorry," said Jamm sheepishly.

"Well, don't go off on your own again," said the detective, his patience obviously strained. "Maybe we can still get some valid evidence. What have you got?"

Jamm continued. "First of all, that secretary babe left late every night that the dead chick's husband was there."

"Good thinking, Jamm," said the detective. "In fact, looking at the employee records was going to be my next step. So it's likely that she was the one he was having an affair with…"

"But here's the other thing," Jamm said. "He stopped about two weeks before his wife died."

"So far, so good," said the detective. "A 'Fatal Attraction' scenario. Jamm, you've got a good head on your shoulders. You ever think of joining the department?"

"Me? A cop? I'm…not an establishment type, you know?"

"Suit yourself," said the detective. "Now, if you haven't completely tainted all the evidence, I think we've got a case we can take to the grand jury. All we have to do is…"

Jamm stopped him. "But that's impossible," he said. "She couldn't have killed her."

"Why not?" asked the detective.

"Remember the conversation I told you about earlier? She told me that no one at the workplace killed the chick, and I made her tell the truth."

"She could be deluded," the detective pointed out. "She's going around telling people that she's engaged, presumably to Mr. Rosario, when he obviously is still pining for his late wife. Are you sure your power can make a delusional person tell the real truth?"

"Mmmm…not sure," admitted Jamm.

"Sit tight," ordered the detective. "You've done good. And one more thing, Jamm?…"

"Yes?"

"Try 'victim' instead of 'dead chick.' It looks a lot better on paper."

Jamm felt proud of himself, but still uncertain. Could he trust his power truly reveal the truth? Once upon a time, this wouldn't have bothered him. His power was something he kept locked away so that the shadow-lady from the future wouldn't come back and zap him for using ot badly. So he went his merry way, surfin', skatin' and shmoozin' the babes, pretending that he was no different than the ordinary Joe-on-the beach. But now he used his power just once, in self-defense, and he unwittingly caused a junkie to go straight and cleared him of a murder charge. His power was something that was going to be a part of his life whether he wanted it to or not. He had to find out before he ended up getting involved in even more crazy stuff.

When he had gotten into the office and looked at the employee records, he had taken note of Joanne Winters's home address. He headed to her apartment and rang her doorbell. He heard her approach the door from inside and look through the eyehole, registering his presence. Then he heard her walk away without even asking who he was. Try as he might, he was then unable to hear anything else.

Jamm knocked his hand against his head. Moron! he told himself, She must recognize you from earlier, and if you're back, she knows you know she did it! Jamm realized that if he didn't somehow catch her, she'd hit the road and get away with it…and on top of that, the detective would kill him. He ran down the stairs as fast as he could and found the building's super. When the super opened the door, Jamm immediately took charge.

"Your tenant, Joanne Winters, is running away from here. You've gotta help me catch her!" Jamm said.

"Okay," the super complied, unable to resist Jamm's request. He showed Jamm where the fire escape was, and sure enough, she was trying to get out that way. She ducked back inside.

"You take the front and I'll take the back. Don't let her get away!" Jamm ordered him. The two of them split up, and within five minutes, the super, holding her tightly, brought her to Jamm.

"Don't try to escape," Jamm told her, and she responded, "Okay."

Jamm knew she couldn't lie to him, since he had earlier given her an open command to tell him the truth. "Tell me, did you kill Lola?"

"Yes," she admitted.

"Then tell me how could you tell me earlier that you didn't?" he ordered.

"I never said that I didn't kill her. I just said that no one in the office hated her enough to kill her."

A realization began to dawn on Jamm. "Then tell me, why did you kill her if you didn't hate her that much?"

She broke down in tears. "Because I love him," she said. "He deserved better than Lola. I would be the girl in his life, but not while she was around. So I did him a favor and got rid of her."

Jamm was horrified. He might have an immature handle on human relationships, but he knew enough to recognize that there was something fundamentally wrong with Joanne Winters's view of the world. "Go back to your apartment and stay there until the police come for you," Jamm ordered her. "And do me a favor and pretend that you never saw me tonight."

Jamm than gave a similar order to the super so that the detective would, hopefully, not realize that he had almost blown the whole case. He then flew off on his anti-gravity skateboard, trying to clear his mind. By asking the wrong question and relying on his power to tell him the answer, he had almost let a murderer go free. His once-promising career as a detective was suddenly seeming like a less wonderful idea.

On the other hand, some of Rico's ideas sounded really great. Maybe some drug rehab center would find his power useful. He'd check that out in the morning. Right now, he was more interested in Rico's other suggestion. Cosmic space god, flying on his skateboard. That sounded cool.

Jamm clung close to his board as he willed it higher and higher. Soon he was over the city, but his clutching the board looked totally dweebish.

He tried to stand up. Suddenly, he felt a wind. He grabbed the board again and soon figured out how to adjust himself. Gingerly, he stood up again, this time setting his legs and leaning his body differently so as to keep his balance. This time, he was ready for the air currents and managed to stand them. He was flying! The ultimate rush! He could see the highways below him, and the cars looked like ants. Wow!

Soon, he picked up speed. But before he could enjoy his newfound sport for more than five minutes, a blast of wind harder than any other he had yet experienced hit him. Hard.

"And now we go to John McKay in our traffic chopper. John?"

"Yes, I'm flying over the Santa Monica freeway, and it looks like it's flowing smoothly for a change. Over to…holy cow!"

"What? What is it, John McKay?"

"Well, it seems that right below us, what appears to be a man has just now appeared on the freeway, apparently falling out of thin air! The cars are stopping, and it looks like it's going to be a pretty bad tie-up now…"

"How does the man look, John?"

"Hard to tell from up here, but he doesn't appear to be moving. No one is making any resuscitation efforts…I think it's safe to say that he's dead."

Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.

 
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