Banksy rat, London trash can – foto by Smith

This is my third and last Smokey Grey Private Eye story, which I wrote five years ago in Croatia. The original version seemed to go a bit awry, although the last third’s rather sweet with Lady sitting down and talking with Smokey. Hopefully this rewrite flows better.

Lady wrote two more Smokey stories in Morocco — The Case of the Wet Bandysnatch and Smokey Grey and the Great Rat Mythsssss, plus a vignette titled Smokey Grey, segue #1: Irony Board. I’ll check with her about posting them. Like these three, her’s are built around our actual conversations, but have an entirely different flavor.

About time I did some new Smokey stories, see what he’s been doing these past five years. He’s one strange dude

~ ~ ~

Okey Dokey Smokey Grey

Ever since he’d worked with the sentient plant stalks of Pod Central on the Fennel case, Smokey had a bad pack of pod puns running around his brain. Like, do pod people listen to Peter, Pod & Mary? Did a pod perv pound Peter Prod for pod porno? Could a pod piper placate a pickled pepper’s pink peccadillo?

It made him tired sometimes. He found himself watching folk more closely, trying to see if they were pods, or people. Strangely enough, some seemed both. So far he’d found three pod phylum: Plant Pods, Pod Pods, and People Pods.

Then there were the strange defectives, the none of the aboves. Smokey thought of them as the Pod Won’ts because they chaffed at hive behavior and mocked the mass ought they were taught. They could also mask their musk of must — unlike their counterparts the pod wannabees, humans who wanted to be pods; and most times wishing was enough, hence the passive packs of Pod People plodding along.

Pod Central was run by the Plant Pods (the good guys), while their adversary Pod Centrum was run by Pod Pods (waaaaaaay bad). Centrum also controlled the TV programming. Most humans didn’t know of either camp, but did watch TV, so were part of the poop.

Part of Centrum’s policy was to hunt down and destroy all pod defectives, lest they infect the sheep and make them bleat. Smokey thought he’d met one of their best weapons, a failed pod they let run free in order to trap defectives who gathered around him.

His name was Radish. Smokey knew him because he attracted good smoke. They’d met in Amsterdam and talked awhile while sharing some White Widow weed laced with black gungy hash. Radish was the only person he’d met who smoked as much as he did.

At the time, Smokey had been researching a case for the Demoplants – they’d hired him to trace Pretend Bushit and Vice-Torturer Chainy’s diseased roots. Turned out Chainy had been a mediocre Plant Pod working in Pod Central who’d soured and defected to Pod Centrum. Plant Pods gone bad were the worst because once they went to the dark side, they became tubers. Bushit was just a sad pliant momma’s plant that couldn’t grow right in sunlight because his brain cells wouldn’t glow, which made him dangerously susceptible to the dark tumor Chainy’s machinations.

In his investigation, Smokey discovered Central used birds as information collectors and messengers, while Centrum commingled with the rats of Rodentia for the same service.

He was following a blue bird following a black rat which was keeping tabs on Radish when Smokey first saw Lady K in Sektor 7. The sight of her lifted his weighted heart in unknown ways, so he kept following them on his off hours. Not stalking exactly, just . . . watching.

He overheard Radish telling Lady about being a Judas Goat for the Pods; how he was a defective pod, but *they* let him run free because other defective pods were attracted to him and they watched to see who responded and weeded out the non-programmables. Lady insisted she wasn’t defective, merely efficient. He said she certainly had efficiently escaped her pod sektor. She asked if he were going to take her in and he said no – her efficiency interested them, they were letting her run free to see if her defectivity had any potential military applications. She asked how they knew she wasn’t a viable pod and he explained she’d never worked right pod-wise, ever, not even as a child. She’d always been rogue: had lost her assigned weight, assigned husband, assigned profession, assigned possessions, assigned prejudices. And now she was unpredictable, couldn’t be run for guilt nor money; she had even stopped watching the same brain planners’ daytime TV, which was the final tip-off straw that broke the camel back in the haystack because not watching TV was definitive proof of defective podhood.

She was first attracted to Radish when he’d claimed Republicans tasted just like chicken (because they were) and that the voters would rise in November and eat them all because Radish had promised them one in every pot. Radish said he was sad he was being used as magnet for defective pods, but was glad he’d escaped Podville where everyone watched pod TV and TV talked next pod day at pod work over pod walls in pod buildings with pod parking and hot pod dogs patrolling their pod premises.

Smith and Lady K’s joking brought to mind Freud’s saying there are no jokes, so Smokey checked around. Radish did indeed appear to be a free range defective pod Won’t-Be whom Centrum should have sent to the Brain Camps years ago for root chopping and replanting but hadn’t; definitely Judas material.

Normally Smokey didn’t care and wouldn’t have interfered; but there was something naive, sweet and innocent about Lady K. He thought of her as the Woman from the Elf Woods; wanted to save her. Perhaps save himself in the process. Maybe even get laid. But more than that, he wanted to help her. For free, no strings attached. Smokey felt he should at least tell her what he knew, but didn’t know how to go about it. He was fairly shy and socially inept for an old dude who’d been around, so he kept following them, discreetly.

Sitting in yet another coffee shop (Radish seemed as enamored of coffee as he was of weed), Smokey watched as Lady K got up and walked over to his table, sat down and said “That’s your third cookie this morning. You have quite the sweet tooth. Why do you eat so many sweets?”

“They’re ready made food units. I don’t have to prepare them, they’re there when I need them.”

“Then why not eat carrots, apples, toast, bananas?”

“Toast is good, but it has to be prepped – needs cooking, buttering, leaves crumbs. I like bananas; they come with built in wrappers to keep your fingers clean. Carrots and apples aren’t real food, don’t satisfy, while apples are slimy, juice the fingers.”

“So what do you eat?”

“Coffee, cookies, ice cream, candy, pizza.”

“But that’s so bad for you.”

“No, that’s a misconception. We’re all the same thing – protons, electrons, quark by-products. All this difference is illusion. Doesn’t make any difference what I eat except for convenience.”

“Then you could eat rocks.”

“Yes, if I could get my mind in the right place. Rocks are the same stuff we are, they just move more slowly. Actually I need to get to the place where I can absorb what I need directly from the air. That’d solve my problems.”

She searched his face awhile, then said “You’ve been following us for a week now, and I need to know why.”

So much for discreet. He sipped his coffee, watched her. She was even more attractive up close, didn’t appear angry. She watched him back, polite, waiting.

“Mostly you,” he finally sighed. She sat there, silent. “You tug at me and I don’t know why, or what to do about it. But if that were all, I’d not be following you like this. I’ve stumbled across stuff you should maybe know.”

“Such as?”

“Radish. This is awkward. He has a checkered past.”

She laughed. “I know, he told me… said not only does he have a checkered past, he has a checkered present. Mentioned stolen cars, two armed robberies, a year in jail, drug use, adulteries. He says he’s the danger side of possible, and I believe him.”

“What about his being a Judas Goat for the Pods?”

“Told me that too. Not sure I believe it.”

“You okay with this?”

“Radish honors me, treats me with respect, tells the truth, is interested in what I do, and listens to what I say. Makes me laugh. Loves me. I never know what he’ll do or say next. You must know how unusual that is with men, being one.”

“Yes. I don’t respect many men. Or women. Do like plants and animals though; and children, as long as they’re someone else’s and go away. Okay. I’ll stop following you, leave you two alone.”

“What’s your name?”

“Smokey Grey.”

“Don’t you think I’m a wee bit young for you?”

“Way too young. Can’t help that. But I can still help. If you need me, call.” He handed her a Go Thee & Suffer Less card from his Church of Not Quite So Much Pain & Suffering after writing his number down.

She held the card, looked at him, watched his face awhile, silent. Smiled. “Okey dokey, Smokey Grey,” and walked away.

Smokey watched her disappear. Looked down, saw a cookie crumb. Ate it. Looked around. Saw a black rat watching him. Looked about for the bird.

— Steven B. Smith
written in Liznjan, Croatia 11-2006
rewritten Cleveland, Ohio 10-2011

Bluebird – foto by Smith

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