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The Seaweed Pool

"Seymour, you gotta come see this! There's a mermaid in the bathtub!"

Most of the time, my brother Guido is a dependable kinda guy. For a professional henchman, I mean. He's ideally suited to this kind of work -- he just ain't got the imagination to get sidetracked or distracted. Confused, maybe, from time to time.

This, however, goes beyond simple confusion.

The two of us are exploring Frankie's rental. One of the perks of this job is travel -- running all over the galaxy, all expenses paid, gettin' to know interesting people and killing them. At the moment, we're on the Iridian coast and Frankie's off with some business associates of his boss's. No muscle along for the ride, meaning me and Guido have been left to our own devices in the apartment that Frankie'd hired out.

He sure spared no expense, seeing as how it wasn't his money. This place coulda held a family of thirty with room left over for a couple battalions of Secuban mercenaries. I'm lookin' at the gold kitchen fixtures when Guido comes running in, waving a gun around and hollering about mermaids.

I react like the supportive brother than I am.

"You off your nut, Guido?"

He looks at me all wild-eyed. Guido's eyes occupy an extremely tiny portion of his skull -- like I said, he's ideally suited to the henchman line of work -- so I can't even imagine where his blood pressure must be at to get 'em to pop like that. "Seymour, there is a fucking mermaid in the fucking bathtub."

"No call to go swearin' at me," I tell him mildly, pushing off from the sink. "Let's go see this here mermaid of yours."

At this point, I figure Guido's either found a stash of some kind of drug that he ain't sharin', or else he probably means a carved mermaid, like rich folks put on fountains and stuff. I could see a place like this having a jet pool with a mermaid.

The bathroom's about the size of most folks' living rooms. It's got appliances that I don't even want to know what they're for. The tub looks more like a swimming pool. And right in the middle of it, there's a mermaid.

A live one.

She's got green hair and a really impressive set of ... floats. Naked as a jaybird, not a stitch on. This fact is kinda hard to miss, seeing as she's floatin' on her back with her hands on top of her, you might call, assets. She's holdin' a little portable holoreader and wearing a headjack, and just kind of rotating slowly out there in the water. On one of her turns, she sees us and loses the bored look on her face. She flips her hinder tail parts to rotate herself upright in the water, and paddles over with the 'reader in one hand.

Guido hides behind me. Big fraidy cat.

"Howdy ma'am." I'm not sure what is the proper etiquette for meetin' a mermaid, but Mama taught us boys to be polite except where we meet a stranger in the line of performing our professional duties. I gotta admit I'm having a bit of trouble keeping my eyes on her face, however.

"Hi boys," she says, perky as you please. I notice that she's chewing gum, which is not something one expects to see on a mermaid. "You the boys that ordered a mermaid? Jackson, party of twelve?"

It occurs to me that lying to a figment of my imagination is probably not wise. "No, ma'am."

Her eyebrows draw down and she gets a sharp, petulant cast to her rather horsey face. She's probably about thirty or forty, assuming that mermaids age the same as the rest of us, and she kinda looks rode hard and put away wet, so to speak. Not that I really spent much time thinking about this, but if you'da asked me how a mermaid ought to look, I would have pictured something quite a lot girlier and honestly a bit better looking. I guess the real world don't live up to expectation in most cases, though.

"Is this The Seaweed Pond?" she demands.

Me and Guido look at each other, both of us trying to remember the address where we are currently at. All these vacation bungalows have these cutesy little names for the tourists. "I think it's The Seaweed Pool," I venture at last.

Her eyes roll and she flings her arms up in the air, which causes interesting things to happen to her assets. "Oh, that stupid delivery driver! I knew it wasn't a good idea to go with the lowest bidder. I told Marty, but did he listen?" She snaps her fingers at me and Guido. "Where's the nearest comm?"

I point, somewhat numbly, at a terminal on the wall. Why some people need a comm point in the bathroom is beyond me, but there it is.

The mermaid looks at the comm, then at the expanse of floor between herself and it. She gives us both a glance of withering scorn, flicking her tail beneath the water with beats like a ticking heart. Sort of a nervous twitch, like pacing. "A portable one."

Guido fumbles around, finds an old plugin in his pocket and gives it to her. She takes it without a thank-you and snaps it in to her holoreader; a minute later she's got someone on the line. "Marty, where did you idiots deliver me to? No, this isn't the -- What? Oh --" And she lets fly with a string of cussing that makes Guido blush.

From her side of the conversation, we can figure out that she was supposed to be at this other place, but instead she's been swimmin' around in our pool -- I mean, bathtub -- for the last three hours. So these other guys canceled their contract with her company and want their deposit back, and her boss is pissed, and she's really pissed.

By the time she hangs up the call, I've finally figured out what I'm looking at. She's got body-mods. They're real good body-mods -- can't even see a seam at the top of the tail -- but she's a custom pleasure girl. Never could figure it, but some folks like 'em that way: cat heads, mermaid tails or whatnot.

I sort of get the impression that she's not exactly commanding top dollar these days, and she's not real happy about this little mix-up costing her a client. After she hangs up the call, she glares up at us like it's our fault. After a moment, she snaps, "You boys got a smoke? Or a stim?"

Guido's got a package of stim-sticks and she takes a couple when he offers them. Taking out her chewing gum, she looks around, finds the incinerator port is all the way across the floor, and sticks the gum to the side of the tub instead. She flicks up her tail and leans her head back against the side of the tub, floating while gnawing vindictively on her stim stick.

Me and Guido exchange a look. "Uh ... you need a ride somewhere?"

She gives us another one of those looks, and lifts the finny part of her tail out of the water, pointing to it. "See that? It's not like I can just call a cab. I need a specially built tank, and it so happens that the company's tank hopper is halfway across the planet delivering a batch of dolphin girls to some politician's private party. They won't be able to pick me up for hours."

I decide that I really don't want to know about the dolphins, and sit down at the edge of the tub. "You could hang with us for a while."

The look that she gives me lets me know exactly what she thinks of that idea. "Like I've got a choice?" she mutters, and goes back to biting on the end of the stim-stick like it did her a bad turn.

Well, that's not so great for a guy's ego.

"You got a name?" Guido asks her.

"Of course I do."

After a minute or two goes by, we both realize that more prompting is gonna be necessary.

"I'm Seymour. This here's my brother, Guido."

"Andersen," she says, a bit reluctantly.

"That's ... different."

She gives us an exasperated glower. "As in, Hans Christian? Little Mermaid? Are you people completely illiterate?"

"Not completely," Guido protests. Now it's my turn to glare at him. He glares back at me. "What?"

"Well, they made my legal name Ariel when they changed me, but I'm sure as hell not using that. At least they asked me what I wanted for a last name. So it's Ariel Andersen, and don't you dare call me Ariel."

Turns out Andersen's got a lot of interesting stories, most of them more than a little off-color, and she also plays poker. When Frankie gets back a couple hours later, me and Guido are still in the bathroom, playing strip poker with the mermaid hooker. Now, you might think as we'd be at a bit of an advantage, seeing how we're wearing clothes and she ain't. That's what we thought, too. All she's gotta do is lose once and she's out of the game.

So far, I'm down to a T-shirt and boxers. All Guido's got are his socks.

Frank looks at this scene for a while and then, very slowly, backs out of the room.

"You need somethin', boss?" I call after him.

"A drink. A stiff drink." He slams the door.

"Who's that?" Andersen wants to know. "Call. Let's see what you got."

"The boss, the guy what pays the bills." Guido groans as she turns her cards over, and reluctantly strips off another sock.

She might be a mermaid, but her grin as she collects his sock and my T-shirt looks more like a shark's. "Well, if you boys' work ever brings you back to town, look me up. You're a hell of a lot more fun than playing teenage fantasy for a bunch of aging securities brokers."

"Count on it," I promise, dealing out another hand.

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