*** Not a Social Call *

"Leaping lizards, Punjab, you look like horrible," Annie said.

Punjab looked up, his eyelids heavy with opium smoke. Annie stood above him, as slender and lean as an angry cobra, and swaying nearly the same. Her ginger hair had been straightened and pulled back into a tight pony tail. Freckles covered her nose, full breasts were cupped tightly in a sports bra; her smile turned the heads of the other opium fiends who lay in twos and threes on their side smoking. "Annie? How long has it been? You . . . you're all grown up," he said. Behind her, he noticed a dog, he could see wolf and German Shepherd in the creature's pedigree.

"Twenty years," she said.

"You don't look more than twenty yourself," he said, and sat up. He was a huge man, enormous compared to the others. Eight feet tall, perhaps, nine with his turban (which lay in a wadded pile as a makeshift pillow.

"I was born on the 29th of February, don't you know? My birthday only comes once every 4 years."

Punjab rubbed his eyes. "Is that Sandy?"

"Sandy number three, the Sandy number one died of old age on a ranch in Texas, Sandy number two took four bullets for me in Morocco, Tangier, in the international zone. Gee whiskers, did I feel bad."

She offered her hand, and Punjab took it and stood up. Sandy number three sat on his haunches, licking his lips in away that made Punjab feel slightly uncomfortable. Despite his height, he was thin, wasted from too much opium smoke, and too many days doing his sleight of hand routine in the Indian sun. Annie wrapped her arms around him, and gave him a squeeze.

"I missed you," she said. "I never thought I'd find you. Usually it's you looking for me."

He squeezed her back, briefly, then picked up his unraveled turban. After a running his palm over the shinny bald spot on the top of his head, and scratching at the tiny curls around his ears he began slowly winding the broad ribbon of fabric around his head. The sloe-eyed opium fiends went back to their pipe dreams. "What are you doing here? I get the feeling this isn't a social call," Punjab asked.

"There's a situation. In case you don't know I've been working with the United Nations---"

Sandy lay down, his eyes bright, his head between his paws.

"---as a kind of ambassador to Africa. They have so many orphans over there they don't even know what to do any more."

"What business is it of mine?" Punjab asked, and tucked the final bit of his turban in on itself.

"Only hoodoo, and it ain't pretty. Two years ago forty-three orphans ages seven to sixteen were taken by force for a small South African orphanage. Of course we thought they were probably destined for the Sierra Leone diamond mines," Annie wrinkled her nose, and tightened her ponytail, "Two weeks ago we found them."

"Allah is good, eh?" Punjab said, and yawned.

"Not so much for them. We found them in a mass grave only a mile from the orphanage. They probably weren't even dead two days. Piles and piles of little bodies. Leaping lizards, what a sight---"

"Doesn't sound like hoodoo to me, it's a hard knock life, no?" Punjab said with distaste.

"---one detail," Annie said. "Somebody took their eyes. All eighty-six of them, Punjab, all eighty-six eyes are out there somewhere. And I need you to help me find them."

Sandy sat up, again, cocked his head to the side, licked his fangs, and said _arf.

"Will you help? For old times sake? It's gotta be sorcery, why else the eyes?" Punjab nodded.

"I'll help," he said gravely. "I'll help."

*** Hop Sick *

Punjab held his stomach and wretched into a small bucket. They'd been in the air for two hours, outside the oval windows framed blackness.

"They saw 90% of withdrawal is in your head," Annie said. "You have to think positive."

Punjab nodded, and braced himself against another wave of stomach cramps, and scowled at Sandy who had an undue interest in the bucket.

"I'll keep that in mind."

They traveled in a 1955 first run B-52 gutted to provide a traveling meeting room, a small medical station, and bunks for five people. Annie let her ponytail out, and scratched at her scalp.

"I hope I didn't pick up head-lice, but that's why I stock up delouser," she said. Punjab responded with dry heaves. "Get up on the gurney, I have an idea."

"I'm not dead yet," Punjab said. "And there is nothing that can be done but wait."

Annie winked, picked up the phone off the wall.

"Put it on auto pilot," she said. "And come on back, bring your needles." She hung up the phone and, like an ant wrestling some oversized lump of sugar, and moved him to the table where she helped him lay down. The gurney ended where his knees began, and his long legs touched the ground. Annie started removing his clothes.


"Just sit still, you're sick."

The door opened, a small Asian man entered, he had small, much battered leather case.

"Asp," Punjab said. The Asp bowed low.

"Most honorable Magic Man Punjab. I am at your service."

"Why am I the only one who aged? You still look like you did twenty ears ago, and don't give me that ancient Chinese secret crap, either."

"Ah ha ha, most honorable Punjab, my secret is Hollywood plastic surgeon and daily herbal enemas. Yes!"

Annie worked off Punjab's loose pants, leaving him in nothing but his much tattered and torn underwear. "Gee whiskers, Punjab is awful sick from opium withdrawal," Annie said. "Can you fix him up?"

"Yes, yes! I can."

The Asp wasted no movement, found a place on the opened his case and started arranging his incense and acupuncture needles. When satisfied with the arrangement the Asp went to work sliding needles into the muscles in his legs, between his eyebrows, in the webbing of his hand, into his chest. Punjab jerked at first when the needles broke through the flesh, but soon he found it was nearly painless and soon the cramping and aches of the withdrawal began to fade and he fell into a blissful sleep.

*** Of Pedigree *

Punjab woke up feeling refreshed. The muscle cramps were gone, his eyes and nose had been running, now they were dry and clear. He sat up slowly. Annie was a round meeting table that was bolted to the floor; she was scowling at a newspaper. Her lips moving as she read the text. Sandy was at her feet, his paws crossed, easily mistaken for sleeping, his eyes were bright. "Arf!" said Sandy as Punjab sat up.

"Morning' Red," Punjab said. "Morning fleabag."

"Easy now, Too-tall," she replied as he wobbled a bit. "You'll find some fresh clothes on that extra large bunk. You can guess who that ones for? The shower is over there," she pointed to partition area, "and you'll find some razors and soap."

The plane hit turbulence and all struggled to keep their balance.

"Okay," Punjab said.

"I'd be careful with the razors though. I was working on my bikini line one day and we hit a rough patch, I gave my myself a dilly of a cut. The rug was matching the drapes that day. Red!"

Punjab found no reply, so unraveled his grubby turban. Annie just grinned and went back to studying her newspaper. Twenty minutes later Punjab was clean and drying his crown of curls with a big white towel that was monogrammed with Warbucks Enterprises. "You look so much better," Annie said. "I could give you big guess on that big brown nose."

"I feel better."

"There are some rations in that cupboard."

Punjab sat down.

"Maybe later."

"It's been so long, Punjab. Last time I saw you and Mrs. Punjab were on track for a fourteen day cruise around the world."

"Short story: turns out Mrs. Punjab wasn't such a nice lady. When we split I developed a problem with depression. I started working the streets in New Delhi, doing sleight of hand, pickpocketing, you know. What guy's got to do. Started a habit with hop pretty quick. And I think that brings us up to speed.

How about you? Last I heard you were going to find your parents."

Annie shook her head.

"Gee whiskers, let me tell you. Daddy forbid it, of course, you remember that? Well, I looked everywhere, detective work, city records. Turns out, it was under my nose all the time. I finally gave up, and went to make my amends with Daddy. We hadn't spoken in ten years. I hate to break it you this way--but he's dead Punjab. His insides were all eaten up with the cancer. They said it was probably growing in there for a long, long time."

"Oliver is dead?" Punjab said.

"I'm afraid so. But he told me Punjab, and the DNA testing proved it. I was his real daughter this whole time. He said my mother was . . . well, she was a friendly lady, let's say, and she lived in a houseful of friendly ladies. And her and Daddy got friendly. You know what I mean?"

Punjab nodded.

"Well, I felt so bad I developed a problem with depression myself, almost took the cure in the form of a .357 caliber lead pill---"

Annie's green eyes were as hard jewels.

"---but pluck got me this far, didn't it? I came pretty close, but now I'm on the Prozac, and gosh, do I feel better. You want some?"
Punjab shook his head; Annie slapped a pill into her mouth, dry swallowed, and then grinned. The Asp's voice came over in-plane intercom system.

"Buckle yourself in, we're going in for a landing."

*** A Welcome Party *

"Nuts," Annie said, and pulled the plane door closed.

Punjab cocked his head in a knowing query.

"Jeepers, looks like we have a small welcome party out there, but I don't see a see any balloons."

The Asp looked out one of the oval windows, and Punjab stooped to see the Asp was seeing.

Two limousines were parked the long way across the landing strip. A couple of thugs in expensive suits stood with uzi sub-machine guns hanging from their shoulders. Punjab could see the sun reflecting off the their knuckles, apparently adorned with some very shiny rocks.

"Mr. Mack's goons, he might even be in one of those limos. Advice for most honorable Punjab: if they get to you with those rings and you'll need a Hollywood plastic surgeon too--but I'm not bitter."

"Took them twenty hours of surgery to reconstruct his face," Annie said cheerfully, and looked out another window. Sandy joined her, and she petted him gathering her thoughts. "He's not the real Mr. Mack, Punjab. It's one of his bastard sons."

"Arf!" said Sandy. "Sandy! Behave. I'm afraid Sandy's got a bit of a sweet tooth for human---"

Mr. Mack's goons opened fire on the plane. Bullets dinged the reinforced hull, the windows cracked as lead slammed into double paned windows. They all hit the floor and rolled to the other side of the cabin.

"Applesauce," Annie said. "There are only four people in the world that I can find to work on this plane."
She crawled to one of the bunks and pulled out a case, opened it and started piecing together a M9 anti-tank rocket launcher. Punjab stayed low.

"Can you handle that thing?" he asked. "It must weigh as much as you do."

Annie showed a rare sneer.

"Oh, I can handle it," she said and clicked together the final bits, stood, went to the door, flipped the lever and walked out amongst the hail of bullets.