THE LIARS OF THE
waited for the sound to die down.
screaming had gone on all night, my first night in the Laughing City.
there on a job, the remit to assassinate Artemus Lime.
one had heard of him, and he had not been sighted since his murder of the
lies dripped from their tongues like semen from a hooker.
that I cared, another lying politician out of the way.
case had been chewed over and effectively buried by the press, since it had
coincided with the leak about the missing millions.
the president had siphoned off a sizeable chunk of the economy. So sizeable that
the hungry mobs on the streets committed more murders in yet more savage
were raped and mutilated, their body parts sold off to fast food chains that
had no other supplies for the hamburgers the soup kitchens fed the workers on.
The lies here were worse than those back home. The whole place stank of dead
flesh and cover up.
city was a mess. Anyone out after dark risked dismemberment. And thanks to the
president, there was no police force. Only the extremely wealthy were protected
by private security firms who shot on sight.
the cold grey dawn rose like a leper, I looked out at the horizon of the
Laughing City and wondered how it had got its name. I hadn’t heard laughter in
years. Back home it was bomb blasts and bullshit.
poured a protein drink and ran through the quickest way of finding and killing
start at the downtown bars. Lime had a reputation for liking prostitutes and
there were some really tasty ones, I heard. The mutations which resulted from
the last dirty bomb were endless and threw up some surprising sexual
combinations, for those with a taste for that kind of thing.
Lime, bounty hunter and killer, space nomad and politicians’ whore. If the
money was right he’d do it.
heard he was a multi-hole man.
guess it beat golf.
hired a shuttle downtown and watched as the light changed to that opaque,
colourless fog that characterised the poorer parts.
stench of rotting flesh was overpowering. They still hadn’t cleaned up many of
the body parts after the last explosion.
crows and lizard dogs scavenged in the trash for human parts, chasing each
other for bits of spleen and ruptured kidney.
crows usually won, tearing strips from the dogs’ balls.
found the place I was looking for, my only lead.
Holes Fuck House’ loomed out at me beyond the spare rib kitchen. The carcasses
hanging outside certainly didn’t look animal.
Baw had been typically unforthcoming with me. I’d worked for him before and he
came across as if he despised everyone he employed, giving them only the barest
of facts about a case and expecting them to get on with it. Baw, child of the
out of the shuttle and a pimp in a white suit walked up to me.
or hat? We got em all, juicy hole, multi-hole, can do a hat job if you like,
drugs, have you tried free spurt? Come in, we got some inside, want to see my
looking for someone.”
I got. Free spurt?”
don’t need it.”
try, you like. Guaranteed.”
wasn’t about to blow my brains on a plutonium-enriched smoke that would give me
cosmic come and turn me into one of the gibbering wrecks I now saw walking
about hat job?”
thought it was illegal, even out here.”
don’t blow all brain into hat for fuck, just some of it, use smaller hat so
some brain go on floor, and dancer can do dirty stuff to em.”
felt like hitting him.
as well sell a bag of warm vomit.”
going in there,” I said and pointed to the fuck house.
pimp switched on his really upset look, but I wasn’t buying.
I got better ones, come see.”
walked on, dodging the beggar.
it was dark and stank of mustard for some reason.
or something grabbed my arm.
to the light, I made out a hybrid lady with several eyes and tits the size of
looking for someone,” I said.
find her,” she said, wiggling her arse at me.
showed her the picture.
he real ugly. I no fuck with him,” she said. “Come on, I give you good one.”
was trying to drag me upstairs when a man dressed only in shorts and with a
belly the size of a large animal kicked her so hard she jumped several feet in
the air and crashed against the bar.
blind barman dropped a glass and the only customer sitting there tried to help
her up, grabbing hold of one of her tits by mistake.
off me, you fuck. You pay touch.”
I help?” fatso said.
looking for this man,” I said, and showed him the picture.
rubbed his chin.
look familiar. Yes, I have seen this man before. Now, where was it?”
a hundred then another one in his palm.
more for address,” he said.
kept throwing them at him, all expenses of course, and eventually he wrote it
down on a slip of paper.
why not?” he said. “You go. See if I give you bad dose, come back fuck my
sniffed the air and then held his arms up.
out of there and in the shuttle.
had been developed by Panacea Drugs, which had a monopoly on all medical
supplies. It was a chemical specifically designed to wipe out the smell of
Holes Fuck House should have had ‘Necrophiliacs Welcome’ in neon lights
was, Screech Avenue turned out to be a good lead. Fatso had been worth the
0 was harder to find, located just at the intersection of a shop selling
weapons parts and a derelict house.
the street, you couldn’t see it, camouflaged as all zeros were, hence their
popularity. But when you looked from the air, there it was, all gleaming pole
and glass metal.
took the flier up and saw it the first time. That’s always the way with zeros,
if you don’t see them straight off, they use their programmed disguises to
throw you off the scent.
with all killers and politicians, they had been snatched up when first built
and were prime real estate.
wasn’t going to waste any more time than I had to.
assembled an A1 bomb back at my hotel and returned at nightfall, just as the
tribes were crawling out of the sewers.
smell of shit and menses was overpowering and after checking to see if any
lights were visible from the flier and deciding that even if Lime was in, he
wouldn’t be that obvious, I just blew the door off.
of glass and burning metal swept across the street like a tornado, catching in
the flesh of the tribes who had now surfaced.
and limbs flew through the air as their mouths, stuffed with scraps of human
meat, dropped their goodies on the floor and salivated long thick shreds of
drool onto their wasted hands.
shrieked like slaughtered animals and ran back into their shelters.
out the blaze and entered his place.
assassin’s pad: metal furniture and nothing on display. I mean nothing. Like a
display hotel room. No pictures on the wall, no personal effects, save one: a
monitor on the wall giving readouts of activity across the city. I flicked the
screen: it was focused on the spaceport.
knew I was here.
at my hotel I considered my options and knew that the lead was squandered.
decided to check out in the morning and go underground.
was going to take longer than expected, and I would need more expenses.
tried Baw, but it was a no go.
had fallen down below: another terrorist strike.
that night, Lime came looking for me.
obviously wanted this out of the way.
knew he was a busy man and his services much in demand.
in the bathroom when I heard the door open.
the crack in the sealant I saw his shape move against the wall. He was making
his way into the bedroom.
engaged my weapon and crept out after him.
as I lined his head up, he turned and the blast caught his ear, shooting it off
and making him jump. He leapt through the window and landed down below without
difficulty. From the window, I saw him disappear.
had dropped something, a scrap of paper.
made interesting reading.
was a job sheet, ordering my assassination, signed by Felix Baw. Agent: Artemus
knew what I had to do.
underground was easy. Second nature.
Lime was harder.
all the time the laughter got louder, more insistent.
times as I paced the city I wondered whether it was more a cackle than a laugh.
At other times it sounded like a guffaw, then it would trill into a melodious
giggle, like a little girl’s. Sometimes in the middle of the night you would
hear a booming laugh, then in the morning a gentle titter. The noise started to
drive me crazy and I was no nearer to finding Lime.
was inaccessible. No surprise there.
kept trying him so that he wouldn’t suspect I knew.
lies mounted up like spare flesh.
one day, one of my leads paid off.
of a weapons shop Lime used called me.
gave him the money and he showed me straight to him: in an apartment at the
back of some government buildings.
Lime was a government man.
all made sense.
ease with which the President’s assassination had been forgotten, Baw’s sudden
interest in hiring me. He’d made a lot since the assassination, and there was
something I obviously knew which bothered him. What?
I took care of Lime.
source said he often took delivery at nights and after a few hours waiting, I
watched as an armoured van arrived and two guys went in. After they left, I
silently walked down the government corridors and stopped outside his flat.
This time I would use a blaster.
no questions to ask.
A1 blew the door off, and I saw Lime jump up at the back of the flat and race
toward his weapon.
shot him from the blazing doorway, a good first shot that took his head off,
spraying brain matter and tissue right across the hallway. It was a pointillist
effect and quite becoming to the apartment, which needed a little cheering up,
all metal surfaces and nothing homey about it.
walked over to him, Lime lay twitching like an insect in a pool of blood. One
arm reached uselessly across the wet floor. I think he was looking for his
head, which lay in bits several feet away. You only get one shot at me, and he
neck was still showering the flat and it was a little messy, so I just burned
him up and looked around the place for any evidence which might be useful, but
Lime,” I said, “can’t shut your door, but I guess they’ll find you in the
morning. Hope the tribes enjoy what’s left of you, I don’t know if they like it
spent one more night in the Laughing City, convinced that the noise was getting
is, apparently, one of its effects, the volume.
personal, you see, a strangely hallucinogenic experience.
people hear a titter, some a whine, but it’s different every time. It doesn’t
always start with laughter, as with me. After the screaming, the laughter came
at first as a welcome relief. But then it got louder and louder until by the
last night it just sounded like an audience roaring at a joke I’d missed.
went out for dinner and every road echoed with it. At times obscene, at times
gentle, it followed me like a beggar.
waiter must have noticed my disquiet. As I paid, he said: “Everything all
obvious?” I said.
was fine. It’s the laughter that’s getting me down.”
you get used to it. Tribes are out tonight.”
do you get used to it? Why the Laughing City?”
don’t know? Oh, well, after the war, you know the old one, when the first wave
of mutants were created, the noise at night was terrible. Screaming, choking,
all night, drove you mad. When people first heard them scream, they didn’t know
how they could make so much noise. You take a good look at the tribes tonight
when you leave here. Most tourists don’t see them, but have a good long look at
them. The noise was terrible, the screaming as they found survivors and
dismembered them, tore them apart, flesh scattering everywhere, disgusting,
never have that in my restaurant. So they keyed it in.”
run it on a loop. Sometimes, when the tribes are quiet it go down. And
sometimes, it get louder and louder when they really tear bodies apart. Then
the noise is much worse, you prefer the laughing if you stay here, believe me.”
a disc,” I said.
need tourist. Tourist like it.”
way back to my hotel, I saw a tribe descend onto the street like a pack of
animals. Their teeth were red with the proceeds of their night’s feasting,
blood dripping from their fangs and splattering the road. They’d obviously been
on a feeding frenzy, and must have found fresh supplies, even though I hadn’t
heard any blasts, but then the laughter would have covered it up. Chunks of
flesh were scattered around the street like debris, and as I got into the
shuttle, I had a good look. I’d seen the fangs, but there was something I’d
missed: not obvious, especially since you only ever got to see them in the
gloom of nightfall.
was as the shuttle sped away that one of them turned its head and that was when
I saw it: they had no ears. The mutations had left them without hearing. Only
something stone deaf could scream like that.
knew why it was called the Laughing City.
spent a final night in it, driven mad by the noise and left the next morning.
silence back home was a welcome relief, and as I got the news, Baw’s plan made
had financed his own army, a bunch of renegades mostly, and was rounding up all
vagrants and criminals and sending them off to the camps. That was why he
wanted me dead: I’d worked for him before and he was always a satisfied
customer, inasmuch as satisfaction was discernible in the limited range of his
human responses. But my criminal record from the old regime was the blot in my
copybook and he wanted it to go away.
had plans, all right, and the President had been sitting in his chair.
knew most of the recruits, having trained and worked with them.
also knew they were mercenaries and only wanted the money.
army was in its infancy and hadn’t even got running yet.
it needed to be stopped.
knew these guys and knew they had no loyalty to Baw.
so I took him out.
like him are easy.
never see it coming.
didn’t even know I was back.
marched right into his office, past the secretary who always waved me on, and
found him seated at his desk.
up from his computer, he let out a gasp. Even his shock looked like a lie.
I said, and blew his brains across the four walls, leaving them to dry a
collected my pay from his bank account, which took a little hacking into to
get, and then proceeded to issue instructions from his office to disband the
all got paid, of course, with a little bonus.
that’s how I got to keep my friends on my return from the Laughing City.
Richard Godwin is the critically acclaimed author of Apostle
Rising, Mr. Glamour,
One Lost Summer, Noir City, Meaningful
Conversations, Confessions Of A Hit Man, Paranoia And The Destiny Programme,
Wrong Crowd, Savage Highway, Ersatz World,
The Pure And The Hated, Disembodied,
Buffalo And Sour Mash, Locked In Cages, and Crystal
On Electric Acetate. His stories have been published in
numerous paying magazines and over 34 anthologies, among them an anthology of
his stories, Piquant: Tales Of The
Mustard Man, and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime and The Mammoth
Book Of Best British Mystery, alongside Lee Child. He was born in London and
lectured in English and American literature at the University of London. He
also teaches creative writing at University and workshops. You can find out
more about him at his website www.richardgodwin.net , where you
can read a full list of
his works, and where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his
highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.