Q-town Noir

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From the case files of Nick Dice, private investigator:

I was working in the office late that night when I heard a knock at the outer door. It was Trixie, an ex-entanglement of mine from a few years ago. She was distraught. Five days prior she had gotten into a heated argument with her current entanglement: Dr. Rimbaud E. Fosbeck, Distinguished Professor of Quantum Knavery at Q-town U. and one of the top lieutenants for Big Higgs. The most feared gangster around, Big Higgs carried all the weight in this town. The professor had threatened Trixie's pet cat, Mr. Whiskers. Two days after, Mr. Whiskers went missing. Trixie said I was the only one she could trust, and although I normally tried to steer clear of Big Higgs' organization, I couldn't say no to Trixie. I told her I would get started first thing in the morning.

I got started later the next evening. I decided to head downtown and hit up my usual sources to see what I could learn. I swung by Pauli's Club first. You could always expect a wide variety of people there. I walked toward the door, but the doorman blocked the way. "Sorry Dice," he said, "can't let you in. Already got another private eye in there. You know the policy." I just grumbled and moved on; Pauli's was the most exclusive club in town, after all. I went off and tunneled through a few back alleys and dives to see what the word on the street was. I tried to lean on some of my informants for any hidden variables that might be in play, but they were unequal to the task. Either they didn't know anything or were too scared to talk. Finally, I walked over to the park to see if Cy was at his regular spot. Cy could usually be counted on to know the odds for just about anything, at least for a price, but he owed me one. I found him and asked if he'd heard anything. "Yeah," he said, "word has it some of the professor's people were seen in the area at the time of the disappearance. I calculate a 90% probability that Mr. Whiskers is located at the professor's lab, a 9.998% probability he ran off and joined a cat circus, and a 0.002% probability the cat is currently coughing up a hairball while in orbit about the star Proxima Centauri."

"I'll check there last then. Thanks for the help, Cy." I headed off in the direction of the university. I'd really only been delaying the inevitable anyway, but it's like they always say, "There's no escaping the neutrino rain." It was dark by the time I reached the physics building. I took the stairs down to the dimly lit basement/dungeon. I walked down the hallway and turned the corner, and there they were: the professor's grad student goon squad. They were a feral bunch, rarely let out above ground and kept alive on a meager diet of cheap cardboard pizza, week-old leftover seminar donuts, and regular intravenous caffeine injections. Rumor had it the tall skinny guy with the twitchy eye hadn't slept in four years. The five of them were snarling at me, ready to pounce. Fortunately, I came prepared. I slowly reached into the right interior pocket of my overcoat and withdrew a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, I held it out to the side at arm's length and announced, "One acceptance letter for a tenure-track faculty position." Their eyes grew wide; even Twitchy Eye stopped twitching. I released the paper, and it fluttered to the floor. For a moment, no one moved. Then they all dove on it like a massive matter anti-matter collision. No, it wasn't pretty; not much in this town ever was.

I edged around the melee and continued down the hall to the professor's lab. I opened the door and stepped inside to see a large, heavily shielded metal box sitting on the floor in the center of the room and Professor Fosbeck standing at a bench on the other side. He looked up as I entered. "Well, well, I should have known Trixie would send you, Dice, but you're too late! Mr. Whiskers has been in a living-dead superposition state for over three days now."

"Then maybe it's time I put an end to this vicious experiment of yours, Professor."

"Be my guest! Let's find out if we should start preparing a funeral or a welcome home celebration!" He sounded almost giddy.

I went to the front of the box facing the professor, turned its door handle, took a deep breath, and swung the door open. We both stared into an empty box. "Impossible!" he shouted. I looked up. He seemed genuinely shocked. About that time, several cops rushed in. I'd called them earlier just in case, but no one seemed to know what to do now. Then we heard a low, angry growl coming from the top of an equipment shelf on the far wall. Mr. Whiskers, partly concealed among the apparatus, glared down at us. "Impossible," Fosbeck repeated. "I put that cat in the box myself! I'm certain of it!"

A smile slowly began to spread across my face. "Looks like you've been beaten at your own game, Professor," I said. "No doubt you were very precise in fixing the cat's position, weren't you? Which means you had absolutely no control of its momentum. Cat must have shot out of the box as you were closing the door, so fast you didn't even see it."

The cops grabbed the professor and began taking him out of the room. He was furious. "Big Higgs will be after you now, Dice, and don't think you've seen the last of me! You're not safe in this town anymore."

"Oh, that's rich," I thought, "as if anyone was ever safe in Q-town." Well, that is unless you happened to be a blasted Heisenberg cat named Mr. Whiskers.