Clocks and Boxes — Part 12: Music

Alfred generally tried to avoid talking to Jemmy Harrison. Jemmy was the proprietor of the South Hertling Super Centre's music shop, an establishment that had once been known as 'World of G-Strings'. The name had to be changed after it began attracting an undesirable – and disappointed – brand of customer. Jemmy had decided that that the new name had to be something cool and so, against Alfred's advice, he had renamed the place 'Ice Dealers'. Naturally, this caused even more problems.

Now the music store's sign was down, awaiting some new brainwave of Jemmy's. In the meantime the massive display of guitars in the windows did all of the work of attracting customers.

Alfred breathed deeply as he approached the  nameless shop. He knew perfectly well that he was an aging divorcee slowly fossilising in his clock and watch shop. But Jemmy...  Jemmy was boring.

"Alfred, man, how are you, mate?" said Jemmy, leaning in the frame of his front door and sipping a cup of tea.

Jemmy wasn't a malicious fellow by any means, but he had no idea how to use the time of others wisely. He was a skinny guy of nearly forty, whose long greasy hair, slow speech patterns, unfocused conversation and limited short term memory all belied the fact that he had never touched recreational drugs in his life. He'd been a singer in some big-name band back in the 1980s, but now seemed perfectly content to sell guitars to suburban teenagers. His family ran a food processing plant, and Alfred suspected that they just let Jemmy run his perpetually failing business as a tax write-off.

"Hello, Jemmy," Alfred sighed.

"How's the shop?"

"Doing well at the moment, actually."

"Yeah, must be nice to work with watches."

What was that based on? Alfred's brain said. What did that mean? But his mouth said, "Can't complain."

Jemmy sipped his drink. "Cup of tea, mate?"

"Not right now, Jemmy."

"Have you seen Karl around?"

"Karl's been missing, Jemmy. Since the Pyramid."

Jemmy looked up at the Pyramid, its great eye staring down on South Hertling. "Oh, I thought I saw him yesterday. I tried to talk to him, but all I found was this."

Jemmy held up a scrap of paper. In spite of himself, Alfred found himself squinting at it. What was he hoping for? Some clue? But it was nothing but a torn scrap of notepaper with half a phone number in smudged pencil. If Karl were there, he probably would have made something of it but... Well, Karl wasn't there, and that was kind of the point.

"Karl was a conspiracy theorist," Alfred said. "When he was here, I ignored him. But for him to go mysteriously missing… well, that changes things. It means that maybe, maybe there is more going on around here than meets the eye."

"Like what happened to that truck?" Jemmy said.

"Like the truck, exactly," Alfred said, with no idea about what Jemmy was talking about. "Jemmy, do you still have that thing you told me about? Not the Paul Daniels guitar, I mean…"

"Les Paul guitar."

"Les Paul, yes, whatever. I mean that machine you told me about. From your stage act?"

"Oh, yeah, the supercomputer? It's out back somewhere in the storeroom," Jemmy said, gesturing in exactly the wrong direction, as if his storeroom somehow ran from the local radiography clinic to the police station.

"Jemmy, I don’t want to sound rude," Alfred said, "but does it really do everything you said? I mean, I'm a stodgy old shopkeeper and you had an exciting career on stage. No one could blame you for exaggerating a little to impress me…"

Jemmy laughed and sipped his tea. "No, no, it really did all that. It was ahead of its time, you know? My Mum did all the technical stuff before she died, but it was my idea, basically. I saw that 1980s show about computer generated holograms. What was it called? You know… Automan. Anyway, I thought, maybe a computer could make holograms that weren't, like, smug shitheads. You know? It could project the 3D images over real people. I used it all the time in my act. Made the whole band look like male models. I tell you, the girls with the backstage passes were all super disappointed."

And he laughed, as if the best thing that could happen to a young man was to meet women who were disappointed in his appearance.

Alfred looked around. No one was listening, so he leaned in and told Jemmy his plan; the clever plan he'd come up with to infiltrate Stavros' cabal without worrying about his nerve breaking. Jemmy listened carefully and nodded.

"Maybe," Jemmy said. "You'd need someone about your size who's good at bullshitting."

"I'll worry about that. Do you think it would work?"

"Man," Jemmy said, "it will be outrageous."

He looked at Alfred, expectantly.

And Alfred, feeling that he was being called on to say something said. "Oh, good-o."

He hoped… he really hoped that Jemmy would now say something. Something like, 'see you later,' preferably. Instead he just stood there, expectantly.

"So your Mum was a bit of a computer whizz, was she?" Alfred asked.

"Yeah. Runs in the family. My sister's working on an AI to improve the workflow at the processing centre. Should be big when it goes online, I guess. I don't know much about that side of things. She's even building this promotional andr--"

"That's fascinating," Alfred said quickly. Jemmy's anecdotes about his family were even duller than his stories of playing Gold Coast RSLs in the early 90s. "Seems to me that she could do better in a tech business than food processing."

"You got to do what you love," Jemmy said, as he sipped his tea and stared into space.

Next -- Part 13: Trial

Previously -- Interlude: Cats

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