Anyway, after getting trolled by Heller, Monte returned to Voltar where he was "busy for a very long time writing the story you have read," only to be told once he was finished that he has wasted his time. His mechanic Shafter produces a map of the Western Ocean, and presumably Monte uncovered the coordinates of Relax Island at some point, because he's startled to look where it should be and find nothing but ocean.
So, road trip. Well, it's a flying car, but... anyway, Monte and Shafter fly to the "exact coordinates" of the island, but can find nothing on screens. They come down through the cloud layer, Monte warning about a sudden collision with Mount Teon, but there's nothing but water and "a batfish being chased by a whole school of toothers." The would-be journalist even has Shafter check in with the Planetary Defense grid to ensure that they're not swatted for traveling into restricted airspace, and ends up being issued a fine for traveling without a map after Shafter jokes about avoiding the mountain. With that, they give up and go home.
I was boggled. This was more than just a cover-up.
What had been the fate of Queen Teenie and Madison, the catamites, the Palace City staff and five thousand people?
Oh, Shafter had been right. I had my wires loose and waving in the air!
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
Monte wonders whether "that archvillain" Heller had the site nuked from orbit, just to be sure, and the next morning does more digging. I'll excise the pampered aristocrat's exchanges with his manservant, but while being shaved and combed by a bootlick, Monte calls the editor of The Planet to ask about earthquakes that happened a hundred or so years ago, and gets nothing. I'm beginning to think that Voltar doesn't have an internet at all. (editor's note from the future: so where did Madison get his information about Relax Island's history last book?)
So Monte further disgraces himself in the eyes of his manservant by planning a visit to the Ink Club in Joy City, that disreputable hangout for journalists and other rude mechanicals - Hound raises "his eyeballs so high they clicked!" The place isn't that bad, though, and has a "huge electronic sign that simulates a river of ink that changes colors and splashes," and instead of its interior being decorated with images of natural disasters and such, it's actually "all soft gray and soothing music, somewhat like an undertaker's." Certainly superior to our Earth journalists' hangouts, all spattered with gore and punk rock.
But maybe not by much. When Monte expresses his intent to speak to a reporter to a "young boy usher" working at this bar... huh... and the kid mockingly asks the other patrons if "any of you splashers qualify" he gets a tup canister thrown at him by a "tough-looking fellow." Still, Monte mans up and sidles up to the bar, buying everyone a round as he explains how he's trying to tackle a cover-up.
"What's a cover-up?" somebody wanted to know. "You don't cover them up. You take the covers OFF. Only then can you see what the girl looks like! You've got to be careful what you're getting into!"
Monte insists that's he's after a highly-ranked politician, which gets him declared "drunk as a Lord" by the rest, but after they have a few more rounds they get mellow and chatty enough to properly converse.
This isn't a drug, by the way. Yes, alcohol is a drug, and these guys are getting "drunk," and the substance they're imbibing is changing their behavior, but they're drinking tup. It's different. Voltar doesn't have any nasty, destructive drugs on it.
Monte still wants to find some archive newsheets about ninety-year-old earthquakes, and is told that the only way he'd get them is by talking to a reporter, not an editor, except the problem is that nobody stays in the reporting business for ninety years, so nobody would have such records. And of course there's no other place to look this stuff up, no libraries or publications, much less some sort of site on a worldwide web of information. But then someone points out Old Shif, a "gray-haired wreck" sitting by himself across the room. Ominous.
So Monte sidles up to offer a cup to the old wreck, who remarks that "Drinks always cost something" and asks what Monte's after. He doesn't show much interest in old earthquakes in the ocean, but...
Old Shif watched the canister arrive. "Maybe you better be more specific."
I decided to confide, he looked so old and wise. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I'm trying to find out what happened to Relax Island."
His head whipped around toward me. Something flashed in his eyes. Was it fear?
Then he did the incredible. He pushed the canister of tup right back at the barman!
Old Shif warns that Monte is in Censor territory and tries to leave, but Monte uses his amateur detective skills to deduce, from the manner of the barman, that Old Shif has an enormous debt. Using the power of inherited wealth, Monte is able to clear Shif's tab in exchange for more information, which turns out to be a name and address: Pratia Tayl, Minx Estates, Pausch Hills.
God. Damn. It.
So... we gotta go to Tayl's house. There's a heart-shaped pool surrounded by statues of nymphs, and a hospital out back. Tayl herself is a 150-year-old pile of furs and make-up failing to disguise her age. And apparently it's customary to just land at someone's house and walk onto their pool lounge, bumping into the homeowner by chance rather than appointment.
Tayl coos over how handsome Monte is, and there's an enormous number of her green-eyed, yellow-haired offspring coming and going in the background, with names like Jettero and Bis. There's some other familiar...ish names as well, a "really old hag" named Meeley, and a deaf butler named Ske who mentions how Old Bawtch finally died. Each time they appear Monte asks if they're "the former landlady/driver/chief clerk of..." and is answered with "That (bleep)?" It is very droll.
Somehow Monte is able to, for the umpteenth time this post, explain that he's trying to find out what happened to Relax Island and its inhabitants. Tayl is startled by this, and says that the King's Own Physician Prahd Bittlestiffender, who owns the Cellology Beauty Clinic out back, wouldn't like it if she told him. But she agrees to tell Monte the story... if he stays the night. "Don't you know a girl can't possibly impart secrets unless it's in bed?" And Monte, glory-hungry amateur investigative journalist that he is, agrees to this diabolic bargain and sends his driver home.
Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! Oh, Gods, what I have been through and how I have suffered, dear reader, getting you this vital tale!
I did not have the least inkling of the shocking experience that awaited me!
I should have read it from the smile on the face of Pratia Tayl when I helped her to rise and go in to dinner, a smile which stayed there all through the meal.
We are at yellow alert for flower pots and decorative figurines spontaneously exploding.
Back to Part Ninety, Envoi I-iv