Feeling All Right

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Image Credit: Adrian Clark

His partner was missing, and P.I. Stamens didn’t know how to feel, so he went to the local branch of the Emotion Store.

“Ninety minutes of Pensiveness, please,” Stamens said to Jack Condon, the proprietor. “Actually, make that three hours.” Stamens’s tall, standoffish calm contrasted with the squirrely Condon’s jerking movements. A tag hung on his chest that read: My name is Jack Condon. Feel the difference.

“Oh, you don’t want that,” Condon said. “I have some prime Exhilaration, which just happens to be on sale for—”

Stamens reached over the counter and grabbed him by the collar. “Why don’t you sell me what I asked for?” Ninety minutes of Pensiveness cost a fraction of Exhilaration. “Then you can take the Exhilaration to console yourself for the difference in profit.”

“No need to get sore, buddy,” Condon said, straightening the folds on his shirt. “I could sell you that too, by the way.”

“You’re a funny guy. It’s probably costing you a fortune in mirth.” He held out his credit disk. “Pensiveness. In bottles.” Liquid was more cumbersome, but Stamens didn’t like to think of himself as a pill popper.

Condon retreated to a large dispenser that nearly filled the area behind the counter. Humming a light tune, he punched in some numbers. Two blue liter bottles appeared in the dispenser’s window. He handed them to Stamens. “You’re only as good as you feel.”

Every time Condon said that, which was every time he sold something, Stamens resisted the urge to say, “Feel this.” Condon brought out the worst in him, with his long, stringy hair and a top-of-the-head bald spot looking as if it were pressed with a cookie cutter. What also bothered Stamens was that Condon was right. You were only as good as you felt. Every so often Stamens tried to do his job without augmenting his regular government-subsidized cocktail of emotions, but the difference had become like night and total darkness. Without a little help, he just groped, putting him at a disadvantage with the bad guys. His partner, Flip Dumpheys, had been missing for two days and he needed to think. He twisted the cap off his bottle, then glanced at Condon. “You don’t mind if I take a hit right now, do you?”

Condon smiled. “Don’t fight the feeling.”

Stamens tossed back the tasteless liquid. He immediately felt yawning vistas of possibility filling his brain. “You haven’t seen Nick Gorse lately, have you?”

Condon’s eyes glazed with admiration. “What a guy! No, I am rarely honored with his presence.”

Gorse controlled the distribution of emotions and had a well-deserved reputation for efficiency and secrecy. On his own time, Dumpheys had been investigating Gorse, convinced that the powerful drug czar used violence to ensure his monopoly. However, anything Dumpheys thought lately had to be taken with a grain of salt, as he’d been suffering from an intestinal virus that temporarily prevented him from ingesting any artificial emotions. Stamens feared his partner’s un-bottled state had gotten him into trouble.

“What do you want him for? You have a problem with our product?” Condon asked.

“Not at all,” Stamens said automatically, though later he wondered why the drugs had allowed him to get so ruffled.

When Stamens walked into his office, Nandy Sontines, his secretary, nearly took his head off and used it to practice kicking field goals. “Don’t you ever check your goddamned cell?” she asked. Normally cool as a cucumber, her sudden change to a prickly pear alarmed him. He knew it was important to keep his phone on, but lately he’d been receiving so many solicitations from the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association—even the American Coccyx Association had been tailing him—he’d switched it off.

“You heard from Dumpheys?”

“No. I heard of Dumpheys though.” She stood up from her desk for emphasis. Barely five feet tall, what she lacked in elevation she gained in volume. “One of Chief Inspector Rausch’s detectives found him. He’s in Ascutney Hospital. They don’t think he’s going to make it.” With that, she let out a sob like a sonic boom.

Stamens closed his office and drove the two of them to the hospital. As Nandy veered from dread to hysterics, he suggested they pick up some relief.

“I don’t want to feel artificial emotions right now!” she snapped. Stamens, on the other hand, wished he hadn’t gulped down all of the Pensiveness.

When he saw the bruised body, Stamens thought it might be better if Flip Dumpheys didn’t survive. His partner’s face looked like a failed student test paper stomped on by dirty hobnail boots. The rest of his body didn’t look much better—broken blood vessels gave him the appearance of a black, blue, and yellow patchwork quilt. Whoever did this had little use for the kinds of beatings that left no marks.

Nandy burst into a fresh stream of tears. Stamens realized he should be feeling more than he did, so he stepped out to the restroom and took a hit of Empathy. He soon matched his secretary in waterworks, but unfortunately he took too much. He felt sorry the nurse had to work long hours in a building full of sick people. The overhead flat screen was on and he felt sorry for the losing contestant in a reality show about unhealthy diet called “America’s Got Toxins.” He also felt really bad for the elderly man in the bed next to Dumpheys who had to watch it. Trying to control himself, he leaned over Dumpheys.

“Flip…” He didn’t know what to say, and that made him feel sorry for himself for having such a limited vocabulary. “Who did this? I won’t rest until he rots in jail.” Then he started feeling sorry for the assailant. He vowed never to take Empathy again.

Dumpheys had a faraway look on his face, that six-feet-under look. His lips fluttered, and out of them oozed the name “Anna.”

“Anna, who?” Stamens asked. “A woman did this to you? C’mon, Dumpheys. There’s hundreds of Annas in the city.”

Dumpheys’s lips fluttered again, and Stamens waited patiently. “May.”

“Anna May? Is that her last name or her middle name?” As Dumpheys lost consciousness, Stamens wondered if these would be his partner’s last syllables.

“Wait a minute,” Nandy said, gaining some composure. “What if he wasn’t saying a name at all? What if he was saying a-n-i-m-e?”

“What the hell is that?”

“Japanese animation. It used to be very popular.”

He shook his head. Dumpheys was a basic, no-frills guy who didn’t even like Japanese or Chinese food because he thought anyone using chopsticks was showing off.

Nandy started shaking again. “We have to figure out who did this.”

“We will,” Stamens said. One place to start was Gorse—what a guy—but why would that respected businessman try to murder an un-medicated man? More likely, Dumpheys lost control of himself and picked a fight with the wrong person. Feeling his own control slipping, Stamens reluctantly returned to the Emotion Store.

Just as Stamens was about to walk into the Emotion Store, he collided with an immoveable object, which he mistook for the side of the building, but turned out to be Emelda Rausch, Chief of Police.

“Chief Rausch, what brings you into my neighborhood?” Stamens gasped. Rausch, as befit her authoritative manner, was a formidable-looking woman. Her large chest made Stamens think less of sex and more of a hammerhead shark.

“I’d like you to know that I have some of my best officers investigating the beating of your partner.”

“Thank you,” Stamens said, not sure what else to say.

“He wasn’t able to say much when we tried to interview him, but there’s a rumor that he suspected Nick Gorse—what a guy.” Rausch placed her heavy hand on Stamens’s shoulder. “Let the police department take care of this.”

“You know best,” Stamens said, as he watched her amble into her car, which was parked right behind his. Stamens and Dumpheys’s relationship with Rausch had been tolerant at best. That she’d come out to his locality in person to tell him the police were handling things seemed more like a warning than an assurance.

As Stamens trudged into The Emotion Store for the second time that day, Condon said, “You look like somebody died. You should take a hit of Animated.”

“No, I look like my partner is going to die!” Stamens said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Condon said.

Stamens felt his anger rise again. “You’re so sorry, what?”

“Huh?”

“You’re so sorry that you’ll give me a discount? You’re so sorry that you’ll donate fifty percent of your profits to the Flip Dumpheys Memorial Fund?”

“You lost me, pal, but…didn’t you buy some Pensiveness earlier? Too much of that stuff will kill you. Don’t buy why when you can get wow.”

Stamens again found himself with his hands around Condon’s collar. “I hate glibness. Would you like to know why?”

Condon nodded weakly.

“Because with glibness how and when you say something is more important than what you say. I think this cheapens thousands of years of oral communications, DON’T YOU?”

Condon wasn’t getting enough oxygen to add to the thousand years. Stamens let go, wondering if he was wasting his time getting angry at someone whose sole purpose was to sell. How much better was he, a detective who solved crimes only for a paycheck? Dumpheys’s imminent death was different though, and he felt the need for justice. But he had no idea if the chaos of emotions he felt was artificial or real, or if it mattered. “Give me a bottle of Righteousness.”

Condon brushed himself off, coughed a few times, and seemed none the worse for wear. “Coming right up. Just do me a favor, will you? Wait until you get home to toss it down. That stuff can turn a deaf-mute into a rapper.”

Stamens watched Condon press a code into the dispenser. Then suddenly he remembered “Anna May.”

“What did you say when I came in?”

Condon looked up blankly. “Good afternoon?”

“No, you said I looked like death and I should take some Animated.”

“Oh, right. I was joking. It’s very expensive.”

“I heard that stuff animates the dead.”

“No, nothing does that, but it animates anything that’s left.” He looked grimly at Stamens. “Not for long though.”

“I’ll take your entire stock.”

Condon’s jaw dropped, then he smiled. “Detective, you’re making me animated. We accept major credit disks.”

Stamens paid. “What’s the largest recommended dose?”

“No more than a thousand mil per hour or your head will take off like a flying saucer.”

The moment Stamens got back to the hospital and saw Dumpheys’s unmoving body, he knew the only way he’d get Animated into his partner was by injection. Even the doctor, who normally called a half empty cup “overflowing if you used a smaller container,” gave him little hope of recovery. After the doctor left, Stamens stuck Dumpheys’s arm with three thousand mils of animated. One of Dumpheys’s eyebrows arched, as if to say, “Yeow-za!”

Stamens didn’t have time for body language though. The side effects of animated were nausea, vomiting, and the recreation of the Suez Canal in your stomach lining. Figuring Dumpheys’s days of spicy meatballs were over anyway, he injected him with another three thousand. His partner’s eyelids shot up like defective window shades.

“What did you put into me?” he asked, his voice wavering like a musical saw.

“Six thousand mils of Animated. How do you feel?”

“Christ, how don’t I feel? Wait a minute. You injected me with emotions? What about that flu I had?”

“It was your suggestion. Besides, these are desperate times. The doctor said you’d live a long life if we could just figure out a way to stop time. With Animated we just might squeeze a few minutes of coherence out of you before your virus reacts to the drug.” He grabbed Dumpheys’s hand. “Look, I’m sorry if this sounds draconian.”

“I don’t even know what that means. Stop wasting time.”

“All right. Who beat you up?”

Dumpheys tried to relax his body, but it was as if a samba band’s percussion section was building to a climax. “It doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean, it doesn’t matter? This is life or death. Actually, it’s death or death. Look, Flip. You’re my partner. We’re detectives. Our lives revolve around finding out things people want to know.”

“That’s just it. Nobody wants to know this. We’re happy. I’m so happy I could explode.” Dumpheys grimaced, turning away.

“Are you in pain?” Stamens asked.

“As if someone conducted acupuncture on me with truncheons.”

“Who?”

“I didn’t get a good look at him, but I’d recognize his fist anywhere. I hate to say it but it all goes back to Gorse—what a guy.”

There it was, this obsession with Gorse again. No one worked harder or could do a better job of distributing emotions. Life might suck and then you die, but Gorse was something you could depend on. “Are you saying Gorse beat you up?”

“Not directly. They got me before I could get near him.”

“Who is they?”

Dumpheys’s body sagged like an old couch. The Animated was wearing off, but Stamens was afraid to inject his partner with any more. “It could have been…anybody.”

“Flip, these weak pronoun references are going to kill us both. I can’t just arrest anybody.”

“You might as well.” Dumpheys was either getting delirious or someone had mixed in some enigmatic with the animated.

“At least tell me why you did this rogue investigation.”

“Because they’re cutting corners. Haven’t you noticed the drugs aren’t working as well as they used to? So we have to augment more often. And God help you if you complain. Someone will beat the crap out of you. And it’s not only that. We’ve lost something. We don’t have to earn our emotions anymore. They no longer warn us about anything. We’ve never been happier about nothing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at yourself. You’ve got no family, no real devotion to your job. You don’t even really care about me, unless you take your cocktail.” Suddenly, his body seized up.

“That hurts me, Flip. At least, I think it does. Do you want another shot?” Stamens asked hopelessly.

Dumpheys shook his head. His mouth opened wide as a glassblower and with his last bit of strength said, “Cold turkey.”

The percussion solo ended. There was no encore.

The funeral was an odd affair. Dumpheys had many admirers, all of whom paid their respects. Some were naturally grieved and allowed their feelings to show. Others less close to the fallen detective, or less emotionally connected to events in general, took some artificial grief to appear appropriate. Still others reasoned grief is a drag and compensated with less negative emotions, ranging from detachment to glee. Later, everyone went to the home of Dumpheys’s widow for the post-funeral dinner. Stamens was munching on a meat cookie when Nandy said for the twentieth time, “It was a beautiful funeral.” Stamens remembered Dumpheys’s bloated corpse looking as beautiful as an impacted tooth. When he emitted a soft growl, Nandy asked what was wrong.

“Dumpheys is dead.”

“I know that. I made the funeral arrangements.”

“And I have to make the solving-the-crime arrangements.”

Her mouth dropped. “During his post-funeral dinner? Can’t you show a little respect?”

“Respect for what? The food? His last words were ‘cold turkey’.”

“He wanted to die without another shot of Animated.”

“That’s what I thought at the time, but I think he was telling me to get off the emotions.”

“Why would he say that? If he’d stayed on them, this never would have happened.”

“You’re right. He found out something while he was off them, and it got him killed. I have to retrace his footsteps. I haven’t taken an emotion for three hours.”

Nandy grimaced. “That’s why you’re acting like such a jerk.”

Everyone was connected to Gorse by their emotions, but no one knew much about him. Somehow Stamens had to penetrate the inner circle. He knew only one person who’d ever seen Gorse.

“Detective Stamens,” Condon said, flinching as the detective entered his store. “You’ve been beating a path to my door lately.”

Stamens leaned on the counter. “I thought I’d try something new. Give me a two-hour bottle of love.”

Condon nodded slightly. “Ah, what the world needs now, and I’ve got it.” He punched several buttons on his dispenser.

Stamens motioned at Condon’s wall. “How old is that picture of Gorse?” It showed a profile of a smiling middle-aged man with a strong chin and bushy eyebrows.

“Oh, that came with the shop ten years ago. But he’s got enough money to take care of his appearance.”

“Do you happen to know where he lives?” Stamens asked.

Condon blanched. “Well, no one knows that. He’s so busy though, he spends most of his time at the main factory.”

Condon placed the bottle on the counter.

“Which is where?”

“I’m afraid I can’t divulge that,” Condon said.

“I understand,” Stamens said, unscrewing the bottle cap. “You don’t mind if I use this now, do you?”

“Well, to be honest I’d prefer…” Condon stopped as Stamens grabbed the proprietor’s lower jaw, held it open, and poured down the contents of the love bottle. Choking, Condon slapped his customer a couple of times before his arm drooped and a dreamy smile came over his face.

“Who do you love?” Stamens asked.

“Baby, you send me.”

“Good. Let’s go find your boss.”

Stamens drove, though it was debatable which man was the more reliable driver. In the throes of emotion withdrawal the P.I. felt like a two-hundred pound corn husk. Condon was blowing kisses to each passing motorist and every time they came to an intersection, he said, “Junction, junction, what’s your function?” The love drug seemed to have wreaked havoc with Condon’s sense of direction, and Stamens feared the proprietor didn’t actually know the factory’s location. With each mile the neighborhood seemed to deteriorate.

“Why does he hide his factory in a slum? Is he afraid people would break in?” Stamens asked.

“He could afford to have the Marines stand guard if he wanted them. Besides, for the most part, he keeps the basic cocktail inexpensive and available, so there’s no reason for anyone to steal from him.”

They passed a particularly burnt-out area. Gutted buildings stared solemnly at them like petrified jack-o-lanterns. The car inched over a narrow two-hundred meter bridge, the far half of which lacked any guard rails. Stamens wondered how anyone could live in this kind of poverty and why he’d never noticed it before. The answer, of course, was artificial emotions.

“Follow that truck!” Condon demanded. Stamens looked up to see an Emotion Store delivery truck crossing in front of them. He sighed and signaled for a right turn.

They followed the truck for five minutes when another delivery truck dashed in front of them on a perpendicular route. “Follow that truck!” Condon demanded. Stamens hesitated, then made an abrupt left turn, the wheels screeching. Before long, it was as if every vehicle on the road except theirs was from the Emotion Store. His mind on fire, Stamens zigged, zagged, zipped, and zoomed. Soon the delivery trucks and the roads themselves followed suit. He was hallucinating, and if he didn’t stop the car immediately, he’d soon be able to continue his last conversation with Dumpheys. Stamens tried to step on the brake, but someone else’s foot was on it, or maybe it was his. He could no longer remember why it had been so important to find Gorse. He just wanted the exploding emotions in his head to stop.

Suddenly, Stamens’s body lurched against the door, and everything went black.

Stamens woke in a hospital room. Most of his limbs and appendages were covered in regenerative gel, making him look like Semen Man. Nandy, Chief Rausch, and a nurse flanked his bed.

“I’m afraid I didn’t get the license plate number,” he said, grimacing.

“That’s all right, Stamens,” Rausch said. “We got yours. How do you feel?”

“Like a quality control tester for iron maidens.”

“I could ask the doctor for more drugs.”

“No, I need to be pure if I’m ever going to find out what happened to my partner.”

“You’re already full of painkillers. As soon as you’re out of danger, I insist you resume your regular emotion regimen. As for your partner, we already know what happened to him—the same thing that happened to you. Once he went off his emotions, he became delusional. You crashed your car, he provoked a fight with a mob of people.”

“Did you arrest them?”

“We questioned and released them.”

“What did he do? Say something bad about Gorse?”

After both Rausch and Nandy commented, “What a guy,” the police chief said, “I don’t know exactly what he said, but I do know Dumpheys had been prescribed substitute meds to be used during his recuperation from the flu. He decided not to take them. That wasn’t a wise option.”

Stamens shook his head. “Am I the only one who feels there’s something wacky about the brain choosing its emotions?”

“Boss,” Nandy said. “You’ve got to go back on your emotions. You could have killed both yourself and Mr. Condon.”

“Luckily for you,” Rausch said, “Mr. Condon suffered only minor injuries and decided not to press charges. He, as well as anyone, understands what can happen if someone goes off their emotions. He also sent you a box of chocolates.”

“Wow, that love bottle was concentrated,” said Stamens.

“Let me remind you of something, Mr. Stamens,” Rausch continued. “Our concern is order. When someone interferes with the dissemination of emotions, that order is threatened. We’ll never get it perfect, but at least now when violent emotions can’t find an outlet, we can change the prescription.”

Stamens grimaced at his reflection in the window. “Does Nick Gorse exist?”

“What a guy! Of course he does,” Rausch said. “But if he is to do his job effectively, he needs privacy. We make sure he gets that.”

Even with his brain muddled by painkillers, Stamens sensed Rausch was lying, but what should he do? If life was about the pursuit of happiness, the Emotion Store was where to get it. Dumpheys was dead, however, and it seemed so wrong.

“I don’t seem to believe in anything. Maybe I need some Reverence.”

“That’s one thing the Emotion Store doesn’t carry,” Rausch said. “The company doesn’t want you worshipping false idols.”

Yeah, we wouldn’t want people worshipping someone besides Nick Gorse , Stamens thought. He is an idol I will take down…tomorrow.

end article

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Richard Zwicker

About Richard Zwicker

Richard Zwicker is an English teacher who lives with his wife in Vermont. His short stories have appeared in "Penumbra," "Plasma Frequency Magazine," "Perihelion Science Fiction," and other paying markets that don't all begin with "P."