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Charles is the name.Nice to meet you, Charles.No. The surname. Charles. Nick Charles.I got the vintage film reference right away. Not the famous detective from the pen of the man who created Sam Spade? You solved the Thin Man case.Well, I and my wife Nora did. And Asta, our intrepid wire-haired terrier. And a few bottles of Gilbey's. Have you ever heard of an intrepid wire-haired terrier?No, only of an intrepid Lhasa apso.Don't know that breed. Sounds rather Shangri-La, something chichi the ladies always go for.As a matter of fact, the breed was sacred to the Dalai Lamas and forbidden to leave Tibet, but an Englishwoman smuggled out a breeding pair decades ago.Ah. The English make the best spies. Look so harmless, don't you know? 'A breeding pair.' I'm always in favor of procreation, so long as it doesn't result in children.This was puppies.Noted. What do you wish to know?What is this noise?I quite agree. Nick Charles took a long swallow of his martini. I prefer Paul Whiteman. That 'noise,' I fear, is at the behest of our host and my estimable employer.Our host?Christophe, of course. Showy fellow, but low-brow. I imagine the man never owned a monkey suit. He spread cheap jerseys paypal his arms to display his handsome tuxedo. After six there is nothing else I'd rather be seen in, except a bathtub full of gin.Godfrey said you could show me around the Inferno. The less public areas.I'm supposed to anchor the bar, but I might be able to slip away for some detecting work. Even better, I have a reliable chum who might be up to an easy break-and-enter job.He gave me a friendly and totally gin-disabled lascivious once-over. Poor fellow. He is always overlooked and eager for recognition. Speaking of which- Nick Charles ran his glance over the line of female CinSymbiants lining the bar. Where's Nora? Nora should be here. She always sees to me and my martinis.Several slinky dames in gowns like mine presented unlit cigarettes, many in holders. Nick Charles dutifully lit them in turn, if a bit shakily.Where was Nora Charles? That woman was the pepper to his salt, Myrna Loy to William Powell, his sophisticated wife. But now William Powell was a split-screen personality: Godfrey at Nightwine's place, the Good Time Charles, Nicky Charles, at the Inferno. And no one had thought to give either Powell CinSim the women made for them in the movies: Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.I felt a chill of apprehension and indignation. Nightwine was right. The CinSims shouldn't be up for sale, ripped from their film environments and partners, doled out among Las Vegas hotel-casinos and clubs as enslaved attractions, without free will or a say in their own usage.Before I could launch into a barside invective about that I noticed that Nicky Charles had ebbed away down the polished if perverse wood.I've been waiting for you, a velvet basso voice said behind me, close enough to send a subtle vibration from my ear down to the soles of my dancing slippers. It was a stage voice, all timbre and open throat and intimate inference.At least he hadn't added the hokey all my life.I turned around to eyeball him and then I wasn't sure he had a life.He was as white as a corpse... whiter. He had white-as-marble clothing, skin, hair. He seemed as tall as the white cliffs of Dover and I was wearing high heels. The only thing dark on him was the rimless sunglasses that obscured his eyes.Dance? he asked. The floor is solid black walnut and very smooth. When I looked around to see some couples in motion around us, I was in sudden motion too, my white-gloved right hand in the custody of his left, my feet forced to retreat to a rhythmic advance.No. The eyes behind the glasses wouldn't be white. They'd be pink. Mr. Foxy Fox Trot wasn't the walking dead (maybe). He was an albino.I don't usually do the senior shuffle, he murmured into the coils of my fancy bun, behind my left ear, but I had to get my hands on that magnificent back.And he was doing just that, getting his dead-white hand on my naked back as we danced. His temperature felt neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. His oddly callused fingertips (maybe horny in both senses of the word) played my spine from nape to bottom curve like a musical instrument.There was nothing vintage about this dude, except maybe glam rock 'n' roll from the seventies. His white hair, shoulder-blade-brushing long, looked spun-glass soft.