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SW2 Starlight

Content Warning: The following work of fiction contains mature subject
matter and graphic sexual descriptions. If this bothers you or if it
is illegal to possess such material in your locality, please hit the
delete button now. This is a work of fiction and any similarity to any
person(s) living or dead is pure coincidence. Under no circumstances
should this material be deemed suitable for minors.

Subject: Someone is stalking a celebrity and Steve is hired to find
out who the stalker is and put a stop to it.

Author's Note: Do not be overly concerned about the #2 in the title.
Each story in this chronicle stands on its own. You do not have to
read #1 to enjoy #2. Those of you who read the previous Whiley
stories will find some ground retraced, but briefly, so it should not
detract from the story. There's not much of a mystery in this story,
but then not every case a P.I. takes is a mystery. :-)

Credits: I would also like to take this chance to acknowledge the
wonderful talents of the anonymous person who proofs my newest
stories. If the punctuation seems crisp and clean, if the grammar
makes sense, if all the words are just right, it is entirely the
fruits of his labors. I would also like to thank Sven the Elder who
pointed out, and rightly so, a hole in the plot. Some minor
modifications were made after the story was returned from being
proofed, any grammatical, syntax, or punctuation errors are entirely
my fault.

Subject Matter: (Sci-fi) (M/F) (F/F)
Rating: (X) Not suitable for minors. May be illegal in some areas.

Author: The SandMan
Copyright ( c ) 1998 sandman@bitsmart.com
Archive: ftp://asstr.ml.org/pub/Authors/sandman/index.html

Distribution Rights: May be distributed freely WITHOUT MODIFICATION on
USENET, USENET II, not-for profit web sites, not-for profit ftp sites,
and news archival services which offer free public access to archived
articles. All other rights are specifically reserved by the author.

Creation Date: 1/16/98
Distribution Date: 1/20/98
Review Date (Celeste: 10,10,10): 1/29/98
Review Link: http://www.qz.to/erotica/assm/Year98/7903.txt

Steve Whiley P.I. - Issue #2
Starlight (By Sandman)

The office was quiet. I hadn't had a case in weeks and my funds were
at an all-time low. I was reading the collective works of Taria, who
many critics considered one of the better erotic authors at the dawn
of the net. Erotic literature was a passion of mine, especially
historical. Oh, people still wrote stories, but few modern authors
approached the greatness of Sven, Pendragon, Hunt, Bronwen, and the
other giants that dominated the early days of the net. Maybe it's the
fact that these people wrote their stories without ever expecting to
see one thin dime; maybe that's what inspired my interest. Today, if
you want to read the latest Naughty Nell story, you have to shell out
a buck to do it. And while Naughty Nell is a good author, she doesn't
write about anything that hasn't been written about before, and
usually the old stuff was written better.

My office door swung open and I clicked the story shut. Of all the
people I expected to see walking into my office, the rotund figure of
Bill Stein was not one of them. I saw him often enough when I made my
rounds at the prescient; a P.I.'s got to keep up old ties, after all.
But, in living memory, Bill had never visited my office. A buddy on
the force might help me out, on occasion, but the reverse was rarely
true. In many ways the cops were just another street gang; they
protected their turf, and I respected that.

"Bill!" I exclaimed, rising to shake his hand. "What brings you this
way, buddy?"

"A bit of unofficial business. A favor for someone," Bill replied as
he took a seat. I was all ears as he began. "You seen Crystal Dawn
on the net recently?"

I nodded. Crystal Dawn was one of the hottest rising stars in
Hollywood. She had starred in the last major VR blockbuster and had a
top-rated net series as well. I didn't keep up all that much with the
latest entertainment, but you'd have to be a hermit not to know who
she was.

"Well, she put a call in to us this morning," Bill continued. "She's
been getting some threatening letters and thinks maybe someone is
tailing her. We don't have time to go after every celebrity stalker;
that's why the stars have their own security forces. But she's still
new to the business and doesn't have a company yet."

"So she gets a company to watch over her," I shrugged. "What's the

"The catch is, I read the letters. They're really sick. But whoever
wrote them is sharp as a tack; there's no way to tell anything about
the perp from what's written, other than the fact that if he ever gets
Crystal alone she's going to be in a world of hurt. I also found a
spot he had used to stake out her home. He's got a DNA scrambler, so
there's no way to reconstruct a physical profile from what he left
behind. Crystal needs a real pro right now, not a bunch of
rent-a-cops. So I dropped your name with her, and she's interested. I
told her I'd drop by and send you over around five."

I considered carefully. My usual cases involved catching the spouse
committing adultery, or, occasionally, recovery of stolen goods. But
before I became a P.I. I had specialized in hunting hunters: serial
killers, terrorists, the most dangerous people who walked the earth.
I had also been younger in those days. I almost turned it down. I
was closer to fifty than I cared to admit, and, while I tried to keep
myself in shape, I really wasn't ready to go chasing after bad guys at
my age. But I hesitated just long enough to feel the excitement, a
special kind of excitement you only feel when you're hunting the most
dangerous animal on the planet. Before I realized what I was doing, I
found I had agreed to take the case, and Bill was pushing a card into
my hand. It was his office card, but it had an address written on the

"Good luck, Steve," Bill said as he got up to leave.

"Thanks for the lead, Bill," I replied. "I owe you one."

"Shit. For the chance to hang around Crystal, you owe me ten!" Bill

Usually I have to root around for my clients' biographies. Privacy
laws and security concerns dictate that there's no central repository
on everybody's comings and goings. But computers tended to collect
data, and if you know the ins and outs of the net you can usually get
a pretty good idea about a person just on the data that's floating out
there. With Crystal there was no need to root; as a celebrity, her
life was an open book.

She had grown up in rural Texas, with a pretty unremarkable childhood.
She wasn't noticeably attractive, even into puberty. But at around
seventeen she came into her own and started developing features that
most women spend a fortune to obtain. She attended the University of
Texas for one semester, but flunked out. She moved to Los Angeles and
worked as a waitress for a year, where she met her future husband, one
Nick Dawn. She also met her agent at the job, and she was soon a
regular cast member on "Virtual Lights", a third-rate net soap opera
that was on the verge of cancellation. The introduction of her
character breathed new life into the show, and it didn't fold until
she left to star in the number one rated netshow "George's Girl".

After two years, "George's Girl" was still the top-rated show on the
net, and, just a few months ago, the VR blockbuster "Dancing the
Flame" confirmed her star status. She would probably be considered
one of the finest actresses of her generation; or maybe not-- Hollywood
and the viewing public are notoriously fickle. I punched in her address
and the printer churned out a nice site-to-site map for me. It wouldn't
be very hard to find her pad. There were still three hours before the
meeting, and so I punched in some commands and read through
a few Douglas stories while I waited.

At five o'clock I stood before the posh beachfront abode of Crystal
Dawn. It wasn't a typical Hollywood mansion; it was a rather modest,
if trendy, beachfront house in a nice, respectable neighborhood. I
was surprised when Crystal herself answered the door, and a bit angry
as well. A person being stalked should take more care with such

"Yes?" she asked, studying me carefully.

"I'm Steve Whiley. Bill Stein said you had need of my services," I

She smiled. "Come on in, Mr. Whiley."

"Steve, please," I insisted, as I stepped inside to a nice, elegantly
appointed foyer.

"OK. Steve it is," she replied.

Trying to keep my mind off her softly swaying hips, so elegantly
framed by a white low-cut dress, I asked, "No servants?"

"A maid," Crystal replied, as she led me into a very cozy living room.

"I was raised to do things on my own, but life's a bit too busy these
days for me to fuss all that much over cooking and cleaning."

As we sat, I forced my eyes away from her inviting breasts with
deliberate effort. An afternoon of reading erotica was perhaps not
the best way to prepare for this meeting. "I'm ready to take the
case," I began. "But my fee is a thousand a day, plus expenses."
Normally I charged five hundred a day, but for wealthier clients I
didn't mind padding my wallet a little. I made up for it by accepting
a case or two where the clients couldn't afford even my regular fee.
It all balanced out in the end.

"That's fine," she said. "Just so you catch the bastard." She
considered me a moment and said, "Officer Stein said you were the
best. Do you think there will be any problems?"

I shrugged. "I'm not good at fortune telling, but I'd say if you're
careful the next few days, such as letting the maid answer the door
instead of you answering it, everything will be just fine."

"Did you really work for the CIA?" she asked.

"Yes, and the FBI, and the police. I've caught men and women who were
trained to be un-catchable," I replied, and not without a hint of
pride in the statement either. "But I'd better get started. I'll
want to look over the letters you've gotten; then I need to scout
around and find out where your stalker has been hiding."

She nodded and pushed a manila folder over towards me on the coffee
table. I took it and glanced through the contents. I leafed through
them. Bill was right; this guy was a sicko. Every last one of them
detailed how she would die at his hands, but not a single one revealed
anything about the man behind the letter other than that one desire.
As I was reading, I heard the front door slam and muffled footsteps.
I glanced up at Crystal, my hand moving toward my shoulder holster.

"It's probably Nick," she said, then called, "Nick, can you come here
a moment?"

A striking man wearing the latest urban fashion appeared in the
doorway. "Nick, this is Steve Whiley. I've just hired him to track
down my stalker."

He stared at me a moment, with an expression that was part glare and
part contemplation, before breaking into a wide smile that, to me, did
not seem at all genuine. "Well, that is good news!" he said, walking
over to me. I rose to shake his hand. "It's about time this
foolishness ended."

I smiled. "Then the sooner I start, the sooner it can all be over,"
I replied. "I'll scout around outside." I handed a card to Crystal.
"The card has my mobile number on it; set it up on your autodial so if
anything happens you can get me quickly. I'll be staked out outside,
so I'll be able to get here quicker than the cops."

She accepted the card and escorted me to the door. She paused in the
foyer and said, "Thank you Steve. I feel safer already."

"Don't." I said sternly and with a bit more force than I had
intended. "Until I catch this guy, you don't have the luxury of
feeling safe. You're an actress; for the next few days, you've got
to play the role of a paranoid woman. Don't even go to the bathroom
without thinking he may be waiting for you there."

Her face hardened. "That's not going to be easy, but I'll try."

I smiled. "Good. I need you alive when all this is over with to sign
my check."

I surveyed the property. The house had a well-tended lawn and a long
line of head-high bushes marked the property lines. It didn't take me
long to find the spot the stalker had used to spy on his target. The
branches of the bushes were broken and a few leaves were strewn about.
It was near the back of the property, with a good view of the bedroom
window. It was also a secluded area where he wouldn't likely be spied

A few men were camped out on the beach at the back of the house. From
the cameras, I judged them to be paparazzi, and I wasn't wrong at the
guess. I walked over and struck up a conversation with them.

"What's the story, Joe?" one of them asked me as I approached. He
answered my puzzled reaction by elaborating, "No camera on you. You
a fan or admirer?"

"Biographer," I lied smoothly. "Crystal's thinking of doing an
authorized biography. I'm just doing prelims now, scouting the

The man I was talking to laughed. "Well, if you've come to find out
if this is a good spot to study your client, you'll be disappointed.
The real action is next door, but they're nobodies; so if you get any
video, it's just for private amusement. If Crystal did what the
people in that house do, you'd have to BUY a ticket to get on this
beach at night!"

"Sounds like this job may have some fringe benefits," I said, not
really interested in the goings-on next door. "But I'm curious to
know if she's got any late night habits," I probed, hoping I could
find some way to ask if he'd seen anyone hanging around, without
raising suspicions.

"None," he said, disgustedly. "She goes to bed early, about eight-
thirty or so, and stays there. We regulars usually break camp about
eleven-thirty. We'd leave earlier, but the show keeps us otherwise
occupied. Ought to be real interesting tonight."

"What about tonight?" I asked.

He grinned broadly. "The quake, man! There's supposed to be a solid
5.0 about nine tonight."

"You're kidding!" I said, honestly surprised. Modern science could
predict earthquakes right down to size and time these days. I'd heard
rumors of people who used that to time their lovemaking, allowing the
rolling ground to enhance the experience, but I usually dismissed it
as fantasy. I always sat in my chair, terrified at the powerful
forces being unleashed around me.

"Not at all," he said with a wink. "A couple of months ago they did
it on a 3.5, and it was wild!"

"Hmm... Is that the reason you're staked out on the beach instead of
out front where you can track her comings and goings?" I asked.

He laughed. "One of them, anyway. The major reason is the paparazzi
law they enacted after Princes Di died in that car crash. We lowly
scum-sucking vermin may not loiter on public grounds for more than
five minutes. But nothing says we can't loiter on the public beach."

The conversation drifted after that and I excused myself. I checked
back in with Crystal and told her I'd be back in about an hour after
retrieving some equipment. I also asked how the letters had arrived,
something that I had neglected to ask earlier. These days deliveries
were always marked and logged; letters and documents were usually
transmitted by e-mail, and the post office only survived by delivering
packages and merchandise. I wasn't surprised to learn the letters
were always found slipped under the door.

That evening I set up camp out on the beach, a ways away from the
three paparazzi. Stakeouts are dull; they always are, and this one
was shaping up to be no different. Through the night viewer, a little
more powerful variant than the ones the paparazzi were using (since
mine was a momento of my days with the CIA), I saw Crystal enter the
bathroom and, presumably after a nice long bath, emerge in a simple
white nightgown and settle into bed. Stakeouts are always at their
dullest when you're watching someone sleep.

A short while later, a murmur of excitement and anticipation rippled
through the men next to me, and I swung my viewer over to the house
next door. A stunningly attractive redhead and an equally handsome
blond where busy at work pushing the bed around to face a different
direction. The man consulted his compass and seemed to judge that all
was perfect. On a whim I had checked tonight's forecast. The quake
would be centered on the Joshua Tree fault and register a 5.0 on the
Richter scale. While the couple in the next house probably had more
detailed information, I'd say they had lined the bed up to point
directly towards the epicenter.

They began to disrobe, each making a show of it for the other. The
woman, however, was far more interesting as she removed her dress to
reveal exquisite and expensively cut lingerie. When they climbed into
bed, the man softly began to fondle her as he removed it. I swing the
viewer back to the house, making a quick scan of the property. I was
torn between wanting to watch the show and the compulsion to keep my
mind on the task at hand. In the end though, it was no contest at
all. Given the choice of watching a dead, lifeless property, or a
real-life sex act -- well, even closing in on fifty, I wasn't dead
yet; I swung my viewer back.

The man had mounted the woman now and was proceeding with slow
rhythmic thrusts, while her hands played along his back. Then the
ground began to move. There was a brief moment of motion sickness as
I felt my body moving, but the image of the viewer stayed rock steady
as the computer worked overtime to keep the image from jerking. An
earthquake, unless you're at the epicenter, is not a sharp jolt.
Rolling is a better way to describe it, like swells on the ocean.
The man had picked up his pace considerably to time the thrusts with
the rolling of the earth. The woman had her legs wrapped around his
and was clutching hard at his buttocks. Their movements stopped just
a little before the earthquake passed.

"Awesome!" one of the photographers muttered. The other two quickly

I shifted the viewer back to the house but nothing appeared out of the
ordinary. The couple next door however were just getting started.
The man had drifted down and was orally stimulating his partner, and,
judging from how she squirmed, he was doing a pretty good job of it.

"They do this every night?" I asked my companions, a note of awe in my

"They usually don't start this early -- usually around ten o'clock or
so -- but, yea. Every night for about an hour and a half. Sometimes
they have friends over; then it gets really interesting."

The couple finished around ten-fifteen and turned out the lights. The
paparazzi packed up their gear. "You coming, bud?" one of them asked

I shook my head. "Not right now. The first night I'll do the whole
ball of wax just to satisfy myself."

"Your time. But, trust me; after two years of watching this house,
I'll tell you: there's nothing to see after the lights go out." And
then he turned and followed his companions back to the street.

And he was right. The only thing which broke up the dull monotony was
when Nick left the living room and retired to his own bedroom. It was
a long miserable night on the beach. I set up a proximity detector
that would alert me if anyone were moving about; it was tied in to the
one I set up front before I started the stakeout. I slept, but it was
not a gentle or easy sleep. By the next morning, I had pretty much
decided that my stalker had staked out the house for one night before
getting bored out of his wits.

The second night I staked out on the beach again, and again Crystal
turned in at eight-thirty. The hoots and catcalls of my companions
indicated that the couple next door were beginning their theatrics,
at around nine. I started to watch, but caught myself. I was on the
job, and I was getting paid. The first night was understandable, but
to satisfy my voyeuristic urges on my client's dime went against my
principals, and I stubbornly kept my viewer locked on the house.

A few minutes later, I was startled to see a movement at the side of
the house and brought the viewer around quickly, zooming in to get a
better view. I almost dropped it when I recognized the face and body;
it was Crystal! I swung the viewer back up to the bedroom, enough to
see that someone was still sleeping in her bed. Either it was another
person, a droid, or a hologram. Unless Crystal had a twin sister, she
was now skulking about outside.

She slipped through the bushes and into the house next door. I
scooted down the beach a ways. The viewer would be useless here, with
the shades all drawn and the doors all closed. I sneaked a glance at
the paparazzi, but they were too absorbed in the neighbors' sex play
to notice what I was doing. Still, when I set up the snooper, I
positioned myself between it and the photographers down the beach.
The snooper was definitely not something you wanted other people to
know you had.

I had known about the snooper long before I went to work for the CIA,
but I had never appreciated how valuable an investigative tool it
could be until I first used one. When a photon or light hits
something solid it generally stops dead in its tracks, imparting a
little energy to the atoms along the way. But sometimes, maybe one
photon in a million just keeps right on going, no matter how dense
the material, and somehow it manages to do this at up to five times
the speed it normally travels.

No one's really been able to figure out why it happens, but at least a
few people realized that light sometimes escaped from enclosed rooms.
They were right; it was almost undetectable, but, when added to the
latest gee-whiz computer technology, the snooper could gather that
light and simulate a picture of what was going on behind a solid wall,
as well as if a video camera had been placed on the other side. It's
illegal to own one. The guys at the agency probably know I have it
(most people would be surprised at how much they do know), but they
give ex-agents some leeway. After all, everyone would be an ex-agent
sooner or later.

It took a minute to get it all set up. An added advantage was that I
now had sound, thanks to the invisible laser that was bouncing off the
glass sliding doors. I frowned at the glow from the display and
quickly switched it off, after a few quick instructions to set up an
infrared link to the viewer. This had the added benefit of allowing
me to face Crystal's house without missing what was going on in the
house where the real action was happening. I wasn't worried that the
paparazzi would pick up the signals; this was all CIA issue, and the
infrared signal was encrypted with a code that would take ten
lifetimes for the most powerful computers in the world to decode.

Crystal was sitting on a couch next to a girl almost as pretty as she
was. "...word?" the other girl said as the audio kicked in.

"Not yet. I'm a little worried that he might find out about us, but I
figured that if we could keep those bloodsuckers at bay for all this
time, he probably wouldn't notice. At least he didn't say anything
about it to me today."

The other woman put her arm around Crystal and pulled her close. "If
he's as good as they say he is, he probably should have noticed, but
I'm glad he didn't. I really didn't want to think about being away
from you for a couple of days."

"Hmm..." Crystal moaned, grasping the other girl's hand. "Me either."
Speech at that point stopped as they fell into a deep passionate kiss.
With well-practiced experience, they removed each others' nightgowns,
only briefly pausing in their kiss when it became necessary. Naked on
the couch, they began to finger each other's pussies. It was a very
slow, leisurely affair, and I was reminded of several classical
portraits of two women embracing.

Suddenly Crystal flushed and she broke away from the kiss to throw her
head back and moan, "Oh, Yes! Oh, God, Yes!" The other girl smiled
warmly and continued her ministrations, while Crystal followed the
explosion of pleasure. When she was done, Crystal smiled gleefully
and then kissed the other girl, resuming her probing touch. A short
while later the other girl responded with an orgasm of her own.

Without words the other girl lowered herself on the floor and,
kneeling between Crystal's spread legs, dove right on in. Crystal
gasped audibly at the oral stimulation and soon threw her head back,
moaning loudly as she lightly massaged her breasts. It did not take
long for Crystal's moans to become hisses of "Yes!" as her breasts rose and fell in large panting gasps. When it was over, Crystal
moved to return the favor, but the other girl said, "No, you'd better
be getting back. No use taking chances when you're being watched so
closely. Tomorrow, maybe?"

Crystal smiled warmly and kissed her before pulling back and saying,
"Tomorrow." She slipped back into her nightgown and in the near total
darkness between the two houses quickly made her way back to her own
room. I switched back to the regular viewer and watched her bedroom
carefully. She must have crawled into the bed; there was a brief
flicker in the sleeping image.

The next morning I sat down at her table and shared breakfast with
her. "Anything yet?" she asked.

"Not really. I'd feel better though if you didn't slip out of the
house for a few days. Visiting Sandra next door is probably OK, but
it would make my job easier if you didn't make any other unplanned

She blushed deeply and studied the table. "How much do you know?"

"You and Sandra are lovers; you've probably been seeing her fairly
regularly since she moved in a year ago. You bought the house next
door around the same time. Vince and Jackie Greenwood, really Bob
Howard and Jean Davidson, are high-priced escorts under your employ.
You probably get them fairly cheap, since all their housing is paid
for; plus they get some additional money on the side by entertaining
people who get a thrill at being with another man and woman. It's
very elaborate, and it's also been very effective at hiding your

"You are good," she said as she considered me. "What now?"

She was probably thinking I'd use the information for blackmail, but
that wasn't my style. Somewhere in life I picked up ethics, and
ethics are rarely good for the pocketbook. "Now I go back and keep an
eye out for our stalker, and you let me know when you plan to make
any unannounced excursions."

She breathed out in relief. "Thank you," she said, with all the power

and force of someone who has just been given the world's most perfect

I smiled. "I guess I'm kinda like your doctor. What I find out stays
between us until you say otherwise."

That probably wasn't the right thing to say, since I spent the next
hour listening to how she met Sandra and how they had hit it off right
at the start. She went into great detail about how lousy a lover Nick
was, always finishing long before she even began; once he had finished
he completely lost interest. But she couldn't divorce him and move in
with Sandra because it would wreck her ratings in more conservative
areas and countries.

As she talked and I sat there nodding, occasionally offering a word of
support, I realized that I was probably the first person she'd met
with whom she could discuss all of this. She could discuss Nick with
Sandra, but she had no one else to talk with about Sandra.

"Does Nick know?" I asked.

She nodded. "Not all the details. But he has his own affairs, I'm
sure. The marriage is a sham, but we keep it up; me for my ratings,
and him because of the prestige of being married to Hollywood's
favorite star of the moment."

With that last sentence, I began to wonder if Nick was as accepting of
the affair as he had led her to believe. Nick had a great deal of
prestige by being the husband of Crystal Dawn, but how secure was he
that he would remain her husband? Where would Nick be when Crystal
finally decided to stop living in secret? He'd be rich; yes, the
divorce courts would see to that. But everyone would know that his
wife had left him for another woman. Arranging a hit and making it
look like a stalking would keep his reputation, as well as ensure that
he retained full possession of Crystal's fortune.

I fished a pin out of my briefcase and handed it to Crystal. "Wear
this from now on; it's a tracking device. If you're in trouble, touch
it; the heat from your finger will trigger an alarm. If you touch it
for longer than a second, to remove it or put it on, there won't be an
alarm. I'm going to be away from you for a while today and I'll feel
better knowing you're wearing it."

She smiled and attached it to her dress. "Anything you say, boss.
I'll be a good girl and do what I'm told from now on."

"See that you do," I said as I headed out.

I spent the rest of the day following Nick and rooting around his
history. Born in LA and lived here all his life, average in school,
certainly no college potential, didn't even try for college, got a
job as a waiter right after he graduated. Struggled a bit before he
and Crystal hit the big time. Nothing unusual, nothing out of the
ordinary. His only true passion in life seemed to be pool, and I was
staking him out at the pool hall when the alarm was tripped.

Murphy said that if something can go wrong, it will. The corollary,
of course is that it will go wrong at the worst possible moment.
Well, the wrong here was that the alarm tripped when I was halfway
across the city, and the worst possible moment was that it was lunch
hour and the streets were packed. I cursed Murphy as I picked up my
cell phone and dialed 911. I didn't know the half of it. Driving
like a madman and an idiot, I had made it a quarter of the way
towards Crystal's house when 911 finally answered the phone.

"I've got a code 11 at 215 Tanglewild," I said, trying to keep my
breath steady as I swerved into an opening, nearly taking off the
front of the car behind me in the process.

"Look, I'm sorry, sir, but all officers are taking another call right
now; a major gang war's broken out and everybody who can carry a gun
is out trying to contain it," the operator said, as frustrated as I

I cursed and thought fast. "Listen... all your calls are going to be
about the riot. Take a break and get the numbers for the neighbors; I
know the system can do that. Get them out in front of the house
yelling and screaming if you can. At the rate I'm going, it's going
to take ten, maybe fifteen minutes, to get over there."

"Hold the line; I'll see what I can do."

I held. And I drove, putting more than a few dents and scratches in
the paint jobs of several cars, not the least of which was my own. I
was almost at her house when the operator came back on the line and
said, "I'm sorry sir; I tried the whole block. All I got was voice
mail or people who just don't give a damn."

"Thanks for trying. I'm almost there. I hope it isn't too late."

"I'll log the call; we'll get someone out there as soon as we can.
Call back when you get there. I'm operator 215."

"I'll do that," I disconnected. I try not to worry about things I
can't control. Things like that are bad for you. But the adrenaline
was pounding through my system, fear and frustration a tangible ball
in the pit of my stomach. I never should have left her. Get the hit
man, then go for the brains. Second guessing yourself is an
occupational hazard when things go wrong.

Finally I pulled into the driveway. My gun pulled and ready, I
slipped into the house, checking each room and straining to hear the
smallest sound. The house was empty. In front of the garage door,
the dress Crystal had worn, complete with the tracking pin, lay in a
crumpled pile. I dropped my head in defeat as I realized the stalker
had won. He had slipped in at the best possible time and made off
with his victim. The letters did not provide much hope for Crystal.

But there was a slim hope, a very slim one. If Crystal had not been
Crystal Dawn, megastar, I doubt if I could play the card I was about
to. Quickly I rummaged through the house until I found the letters
and made my call. The man on the view screen was Jim Green, my old boss at the CIA.

"I never expected to see you again," he said with a note of arrogance
in his voice.

"Yea, same here. I'd love to chat, but I've got a crisis and only the
agency can help," I said, speaking faster than I really should.

"We don't work for civilians." He used the word "civilians" as some
people would use the word "nigger".

"You heard of Crystal Dawn? Well, she's just been kidnapped. I've
got the notes her kidnapper sent. I know the agency can do a deep
probe and find out where it came from. Crystal has maybe five, six
hours, tops, left in this lifetime. If she dies, I'll go public with
deep probe and point the blame for her death squarely at the agency
for failing to use it. The public will hate you for having it;
they'll hate you more for not using it."

"You know the penalty for violating your oaths!" Jim said in the most
deadly threatening tone I'd ever heard before.

"I know," I replied grimly. "But you'll never get me before I reach
the press. There are three reporters camped out on the beach behind
me right now. Use the probe. Tell me where I gotta go. I save
Crystal, and nobody's the wiser."

He gave a grim laugh. "It was a shame to lose you, Steve; you could
play hardball with the best of them. I'll authorize the probe. BUT
we'll discuss the consequences of blackmailing the agency later."

I nodded. I may have just signed my own death warrant. The screen
went blank for an agonizing minute, then Candice appeared. She was
one of the CIA net agents; actually, she was the best. We had worked
together often when I was with the agency, and unofficially on a few
occasions afterwards. Normally she'd start out with a crack about how
time was not being kind to me, but Jim must have said something; she
was all business. "Fax me the letters; I'll get the probe going in a
few seconds," she said.

I punched the transmit button and then we waited. Deep Probe was a
black project, one of the blackest in the agency's list. There wasn't
a computer in existence that wasn't connected to the net, and, years
ago, the agency created a little dormant virus that was probably the
most brilliant piece of software design ever created. The virus hides
itself in the computer, undetectable by even the most sophisticated
virus checkers. It listens to the net, and when the right signal is
found it begins to transmit the contents of every computer to the deep
probe mega-computers. This includes deleted files, if they haven't
been overwritten. For any deleted files that the owner has made a
deliberate effort to delete and wipe, the virus stores them for a full
year, always waiting for the signal.

My connection to Candice started to freeze and break up. The
pipelines on the net were staggeringly huge, able to carry a trillion
trillions of bits of information per microsecond; even that capacity
was stretched to the utmost limit as every computer in LA began to
dump its contents. I sat in front of the view screen for a full hour,
anxiously awaiting the results. Finally the connection stabilized and
Candice turned towards the camera and said, "I've got a positive
match. A quickmap to the location's computer is printing out now.
Be careful, Steve."

"Thanks, Candice. I will." I ripped the map from the computer and
was out the door in five seconds flat.

It took twenty minutes to drive to a low-rent district, and I finally
pulled in front of a dilapidated old house that didn't look like it
could withstand too many more 5.0 earthquakes. My options on how to
proceed were fairly limited, so I choose the direct approach. I went
up and knocked on the door. I was genuinely shocked to find an
elderly lady answering. I double-checked my map and the address
matched. She was still looking at me inquisitively when I pulled my
gun and motioned her inside.

She was terrified, and I didn't blame her one bit. I hated having to
do it. The house was small, so I didn't feel too threatened leaving
her in the living room while I checked the rooms. From all
appearances she lived here alone. I went back in to the living room
and found her still sitting where I had instructed her to sit.

"I'm not going to hurt you," I said. But then a lot of really bad
men have said that, too; I didn't blame her for not believing me.
"I'm a private investigator. One of my clients has been kidnapped.
Your computer was used to generate the notes. You've got to tell me
who's used your computer over the last two weeks."

She hesitated. My explanation and the fact that I had returned my gun
to the holster seemed to calm her, but she had no reason to trust me
and she didn't answer. "Look," I pleaded. "Someone's kidnapped my
client. The notes he sent her are the worst thing you could possibly
imagine. She is going to die, very soon, and very horribly unless I
can stop him. Please."

A look of utter grief crossed her face and she began to weep. "It's
Jerry. My son, Jerry. Three houses down at 915. Don't hurt him,
please; he's the only family I have left!"

I wish I could have comforted her then, but time was my enemy, and as
soon as she had said "915", I was already heading out the door. I
raced to the house and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but
I heard movement inside. I kicked the door; it groaned under the kick
but did not give. My foot and leg, however, felt as if I had just
stepped off a ten-story building. Gritting my teeth, I kicked again,
and the door burst open.

I found them in the bedroom. Crystal was bound and gagged,
spreadeagled and very naked on the bed, with angry black and blue
bruises covering her body. The sheets below her crotch were covered
in blood. Beside the bed, with a gun pointed at her head, was a tall,
thin man with straggly, curly black hair, naked but for a pair of
dirty white briefs.

"Put down the gun, Jerry," I said calmly.

He stood there, arm outstretched and shaking, the gun pointing
squarely at Crystal's temple. He was panting and sweat was forming
on his brow. His finger began to tighten around the trigger. If I
had had time, and more information, I could have built a profile of
him and talked him down; everybody has buttons, if you know how to
push them. But talking blind like this I had as much chance of
saying something wrong as something right.

In less than five seconds after entering the room, my only sure course
of action was clear. With a silent prayer that my old training would
be good enough, I squeezed the trigger. Contact was made, and the
battery powered up the electromagnets, pulling a slug of metal forward
at an increasingly faster pace until, by the time it left the barrel,
it was moving as fast as its gunpowder counterpart. With the bullet
still in mid-flight, I lowered the gun to my new target and pulled the
trigger again. His eyes widened as he realized what I had done. His
jaw dropped a few millimeters and his finger tightened in reflex. The
dice had been rolled, and for a timeless second the world stood still.

My first bullet hit him square in the hand as he was firing, pulling
the shot back so its projectile hit safely in the headboard of the
bed, and not in the head of my client. The gun went flying across
the room even as my second bullet bored its way through Jerry's
kneecap, causing him to collapse on the floor in a screaming, agonized
mound. I walked over and calmly picked up his gun, placing it in my
belt for safe keeping. Jerry would not cause me any more problems;
he was about to lose consciousness, anyway. I checked Crystal
briefly. She was breathing and had a strong pulse, though she was
unconscious. She would live.

I ended up driving both of them to the hospital, the farthest one from
the riots that I could find. I had to call twelve before I found one
with beds open. The gang war really was a war, and half of the
central city was in flames. The army was being brought in, and the
radios gave warning that anyone on the streets with a gun would be
shot on sight. Just another day in the city of angels.

My suspicion of Nick had been just that: a suspicion. In
investigating Jerry, I found that he fit the profile of a fan stalker
to an absolute T: lonely, repressed, paranoid, borderline
schizophrenic. Nick may have wished him well in his endeavors, but
he certainly didn't hire him. Jerry was also a near genius; he was
paranoid enough to be concerned about his DNA, and smart enough to
jury rig a scrambler that still had the guys down at the lab
scratching their heads trying to figure out how it worked.

He was smart enough to go after Crystal on the maidís day off, when I
was off chasing Nick, smart enought to pick the day the riots, which
had been simmering for months, began. Crystal, aside from being
bruised and mentally scarred from the rape and beatings, would be just
fine. Another successful case to add to my resume.

I was at my desk when I decided to finally bite the bullet and get it
over with. I punched up the CIA and Jim glared back at me.

"Congratulations," he said.

"Thanks. I believe I owe the agency a debt," I replied.

"IF deep probe existed, and IF you knew about it, and IF you had ever
blackmailed us into using it for your personal benefit, there would
most certainly be consequences. But, as you and I both know, deep
probe does NOT exist. And my daughter is just enough of a Crystal
Dawn fan for me to think you did a good job." The bastard actually

"Thanks," I said, and meant it.

"I wouldn't try it again, if I were you," he warned. "We can turn a
blind eye towards a few unauthorized toys; a freelancing net agent we
can tolerate, especially when she's the best we've got. But one day
you're going to go too far, and you'll never know when you cross that

He terminated the connection and I stared at the blank screen. I was
suddenly reminded why I left the CIA. The spooks knew far too much
about people for their own good, and they didn't play by anybody's
rules but their own.

"Incoming Call - Crystal Dawn - Memorial Hospital Room 315" flashed
on the terminal, and I hit answer. Crystal's face filled the screen,
still with a few bruises, but mending nicely. She'd soon be ready to
get back to work.

"I wanted to call and say thank you," she said.

I smiled. "You already thanked me," I replied.

"I know. But I've never had someone save my life before; I'm not
really sure how to make you realize I mean it!" She laughed.

"I'll believe it when you pay your bill on time," I ribbed.

Even bruised, she was beautiful when she laughed, though she brought
her finger up to her face when it started to cause her pain. "I
thought about what you said, about suspecting Nick at first, and why.
I've already contacted my lawyer; I'm going through with the divorce.
Nick's really a nice guy, and I don't think he could ever do it, but
a sham marriage isn't worth providing the temptation."

"I think, more importantly, you'll be happier," I agreed. "I did a
background check on Sandra; she's as pure as new-fallen snow."

"My knight in shining armor," she said softly. "Thank you again,

"You're welcome again, Crystal," I replied with a wink.

The office was empty and a long afternoon loomed before me. I sighed
and punched up the works of Friar Dave and snuggled back in my chair.


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