Author : James Smith

Murphy took a bench and pulled a paperback from his coat pocket. He dialed down his shades to read better, and sipped his coffee. After a few pages, he became aware of a presence on the bench next to him.

“Oh, wow. Paper. You drive gas, too, huh?”

He looked up. White girl, half his age, red hair cut into some sort of n-dimensional shape that confused him and made him feel old.

Murphy smiled. “Digital paper. The real stuff’ll get you thrown in jail.”

“Mm. What are you, a cop?”

Her eyes widened a bit when he told her he was a detective. She leaned closer, their knees touched. She asked if he carried a gun, if his job was dangerous. She saw the scar on his cheek. He wouldn’t tell her the story of how he got it; she was sure it was something fantastic. He had the kind of body you’d imagine a dangerous man to have; she told him her hotel room wasn’t far.

In the hotel. She sat up in the bed, rolling a joint. Murphy lay on his back with his eyes shut.

“You wanna smoke this with me?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve got to meet my ex-wife later.”

“You really a P.I.?”

“You really a redhead?”

“I think there’s a few real ones left. A generation to go, at least, before they’re all bred out.”

He asked her how she got into the business. Most Modern Girls were depressives looking for some way to hurt their parents, but feel like they were hurting themselves. This girl, who called herself Pepper, claimed to really have DID, and had gotten the chip implant to referee her various personalities. She had three, she said: Pepper, August and Katherine.

It was a cliche’, she admitted, to get the chip and become a Modern Girl. But the freedom people talked about, to simply turn that person on, to do whatever you wanted in that body, and then- at will- to shunt it aside like it never happened… Well, not many people had that option. It was hard to pass up.

His phone rang. It was the one ringtone he couldn’t ignore, so he crossed the room and pulled it out of his pants. Pepper licked the spliff and watched Murphy as he talked in clipped, cryptic phrases. She watched his shoulders. He didn’t get tense or upset; she figured it wasn’t his ex.

He finished and turned to look at her.

“I’ve got to go.” He took a wad of bills out of the same pocket, already clipped together, and put it on the dresser.

“Mm hmm. Same thing next week?”

“Why don’t we try a little older. Maybe Asian. Japanese?”

“Thai would be more convincing, with my bone structure. And the melanin tweak will run you extra.”


“You gonna let me read that book one of these days?”

“No,” he said. “Every good romance needs a bit of mystery.”

He dressed and left.

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