Who Put the Ass in Assignation?
Max figured it was all a matter of marketing. Building name recognition was the key. His goal was to put a little assignation in every household, or at least on every computer. Word would spread. Old McDonald used be to some crummy old farmer, now he’s king of burger world. So Max got himself hooked up on the Internet. Hired a geek from the local college and a couple of high school kids to make a web page, and, lucky him, he was soon doing business as www.assignation.net. He was cooking on all burners, Max was. Operating a shopping mall of vice.
Of course, Max didn’t understand squat about computers. He knew lust and cash, and how to make one yield the other. The Internet, Hell, that was just another aphrodisiac, right? The only limit he put on the kids hooking him up to outer space was to avoid kiddie porn. "If the broads ain’t old enough to be your mom or older sister, dump ‘em." No way Max was gonna become some Bubba’s butt boy for pedaling pictures of kids.
The kids who set up his Internet empire and who tweaked it week by week made Max nervous. A nerdy bunch. Pasty looking dorks with hollow eyes and greasy looking hair. Always smelled like, well, a hamper of soiled sheets. Figured the kids couldn’t get enough of the product. He paid them top dollar, or so he thought. Little pencil necked geeks pulling down five or six hundred tax-free bucks a week. He figured he owned ‘em. Told ‘em to keep their mouths shut, and not to spoil a good thing. Max didn’t understand the little dweebs.
One thing Max had was a good ear. He’d be sitting at some diner, and a waitress over across the room would saunter up to a table. "Whadillit be, baby?" with that sleepy sort of bedroom charm. Didn’t matter if the speaker weighed 350 pounds and moonlighted as the dead weight at some weight-lifting club. A silky satin-like voice, now that was hot. Stick ‘em on the other end of the phone, and who’d know what they looked like. Give a pin up of some bimbo to look at, he thought at first. Then he realized didn’t need to tell them what they were supposed to look like. Madison Avenue took care of that. These broads were hungry, too. It didn’t take long for each of ‘em to start hawking themselves as long, lean, sex machines. He paid them half of what he got for each call. A good girl, one who knew how to get the point, could handle three or four guys an hour when things were hopping. Some of the girls made a hundred bucks an hour.
So business was booming, and Max was beginning to branch out, to diversify. He could listen in on the calls, and soon he had a sense of what the market was looking for. He made sure he had a voice for every fantasy.
"Dude, like you won’t believe who’s been doing the nasty on the hot line." Martin Defall, sixteen, was sitting across from his best friend at lunch.
"Yo, yo, yo, give it to me baaaa-beee."
"I was like cleaning the files, and I kept seeing this same cookie, so I back-tracked it and then called a friend at the phone company for help. Like, you won’t believe this, but it’s some high roller on the Supreme Court." Martin was describing the electronic calling card each visitor left at the Internet site. Most users were too unsophisticated to know that they left a fingerprint of sorts on each page at which they leered.
Lester Fuchs was stunned. His step-father, Harmon Fitzgerald, was a justice on the state Supreme Court. He was suddenly able to put his finger on what bothered him about the man. For a moment, he fantasized about throwing him out, and protecting his mother’s honor.
"Dude, dude. It ain’t your step-fodder. I checked."
Lester was lost still in a reverie.
"Like I checked the sites he visited, and then I ran the phone logs," Martin was stuffing french fries into a pimply face. "They guy’s been all over the She Devil’s page. Called her eight times one week. `Oh, whip me, Satan.’" Martin dropping his voice to a deep judicial baritone.
"You, you sure it’s not him," Lester asked. How to refer to his step-father was always a problem. Although he rarely saw his father, he could not bring himself to call Fitzgerald "dad." And he never called him Mr. Fitzgerald; from the day they met, he was encouraged simply to call him by his first name, Harmon. Talking about Harmon with his friends was always weird. This stranger in his home was neither father nor friend. Lester usually just referred to Harmon as "him," and let the context define the content.
"Yeah, hey don’t sweat it, dude. I didn’t mean to rattle you, man," Martin now trying to be solicitous, wiping the ketchup from the creases of his mouth with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. "I even called the number the guy calls from, check it out. He calls from the court. You can hear him. `You’ve reached Justice Spiceman’s private line.’‘ Playing judge again, his voice cracking as he reaches for a low note.
"Spiker?" Lester’s eyebrows arched now, a falsetto of surprise causing others to turn and look. "Yo, dude, are you sure?" Lester whispering now, and suddenly drugged by the irresistible power of gossip. "He’s tight with, with, the H-bomb," that was as close as he dared display any intimacy with Harmon. "He, like, comes to our house with his wife."
""Dude, like, what can I tell you? It’s wired, l mean, it’s him."
Plans were hastily made to meet after school that very day so that Lester could verify for himself Spiker’s secret tutelage to the She Devil.
"Assignations," Max took a drag from a cigarette while the caller explained his purpose. It was Monday morning, early. Not a lot to choose from at this hour.
"Yeah, yeah. This is me." Sitting up straight now. This was no ordinary call.
"Good morning, Your Honor. Always a pleasure." It was Arlen Spiker and love was not in the air.
"What? It ain’t possible."
"Judge, look, it ain’t possible." Spiker was jabbing out sentences in rapid succession. Max was trying to fend off each blow.
"Naw, naw. Look. We got a security system. A fire hall, or something." Max never could keep straight what all the geeks told him about the computer.
"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya."
"You what? Let me hear it."
Spiker was so angry he was panting. He had just told Max that someone had called his private line at the Court, twice, over the weekend, leaving messages both times. It was some kid speaking with a falsetto voice. Pretending to be one of the phone workers. "Deal with it!" Spiker kept screaming.
The two men listened together. Once the panic passed, Max giggled to himself. It was some kid goofing on the judge. No talent in lust-mongering for this kid. Trying to act all hot and bothered and croaking about whips and chains. The call ended with a chilling twist. "This is the She Devil, and I know where you live."
"Look, Judge, I’ll deal with it."
Spiker would not shut up. This could ruin him. If he went down, Max was going with him. Totally out of control. Max was waving the phone around the room to avoid having to listen.
"Judge, judge. I’ll deal with it, all right?"
Spiker cooled some. Max figured he needed to vent some.
"You what?" Now Max was listening.
"Whaddaya mean you think you know the kid?"
Max taking notes now.
"How sure are you?"
Max rubbing his temples.
"He’s whose kid?"
Max looked out the window and wondered whether it was time to fold up shop and head for the islands. He had money set aside. His plan was to bolt before he ever got pinched for keeps.
"You willing to bet the ranch on this one, judge?"
Max was taking notes, and shaking his head from side to side. He was capable of murder all right. One of the geeks was flapping his gums. Max would figure out who.
"Look, sit tight. Do nothing, judge. I’ll deal with it. And, hey, if you need a little something, or someone, to unwind, let me set you up. Anything you want. On me. Okay, pal?"
It took a few minutes more to get the judge off the phone, and then Max sat silently staring at the pad of paper.
Lester Fuchs. Harmon Fitzgerald’s kid.
"Shit," Max said aloud. Another justice’s son goofing on Spiker? Goofing on him with information that could only have come from Max’s computer system.
It was time to arrange an assignation, all right. Max reached for his phone and dialed a number.
"Yeah," Petrine said. It was early and the damn phone was screaming.
"Yeah," it was Max.
Max needed him to have a talk with Lester Fuchs. Just a talk, mind you. Nothing rough. Tell the kid to develop a new hobby.
Piece of cake, Petrine thought.