The first book of the Filthy Lucre Trilogy. In a chance encounter at the local Laundromat, perennial putz Trinculo Natherington is rescued from his mundane existence by a trash-talking wad of statically charged dryer lint. Accompanied by the hard-drinking, nonexistent philosopher/pickpocket Anton Pesticide and an outlaw lesbian biker named Bruce, he embarks on a voyage of self-transmogrification, which includes third-class passage on the world's most toxic garbage barge, a trip through hell, an island-hopping debauch with a boatload of mountaineering hookers, and a brief stint as pope. Meanwhile reality continues to be defined by the nuttiest people, lots of money changes hands, and the ultimate fate of the planet is left to some of its humblest denizens.
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Commodore Mundus (not his real name) stood upon the bridge of the Pristine Commando, scanning the horizon. His face was drawn into its customary implacable scowl, and his disgust, as usual, was too deep for words. Above him, in the breeze, fluttered the flag of no known nation. He flew only the banner of the organization to which he had dedicated his life—Earthscrubbers. Their logo was a sooty, filthy, tormented-looking Earth being painstakingly cleansed by a cosmic, muscular arm wielding a scouring pad, set against a radiant, golden background. Their goal (however hopeless) was nothing less than to restore the earth to the wholesome condition they imagined it must have been in before human beings had started mucking it up. And the Pristine Commando, which had been constructed entirely from recycled beer and soft drink cans, was the proud flagship of their fleet.
For the past several weeks they had been shadowing a derelict garbage scow, which had apparently been abandoned by its crew. Indeed, the only signs of life to be seen aboard this vessel were a crippled rat wearing a miniature captain’s hat, and an army of mutant cockroaches which had somehow fallen under the rat’s command. Three times had the men of the Pristine Commando attempted to board this abominable hulk, only to be repelled on each occasion by unexpectedly stiff resistance from the roaches, coupled with a ferocious volley of verbal abuse from the rat. It was a humiliating defeat. They had been obliged to withdraw to a safe distance just to clean up and decontaminate themselves from the assorted medical waste that had been hurled at them during the fray. And now, to add insult to injury, even the roaches were taunting them. They were currently dancing up and down on the deck of the barge, high-fiving each other and chanting: “We d’ mutant roaches, ‘n’ we ain’ nobody t’ mess wif!”
As if this situation were not already intolerable enough for Commodore Mundus and his crew, there was also a yacht full of partying, drunken fools approaching rapidly from the other direction. They drew right up alongside the Pristine Commando, and one of them even had the audacity to hurl an empty liquor bottle into the beloved ocean. The liquor bottle immediately struck up an acquaintance with a moldy wad of bandages, and the two of them went floating away together. Meanwhile, a topless, red-headed trollop had stood up (albeit somewhat unsteadily) on the bow of the yacht, waving a bottle of champagne in one hand and a brassiere in the other.
“Hey there, sweetie!” she shouted to no one in particular, possibly to Commodore Mundus. “Feeling horny? We’re open for business!”
“Jesus,” murmured one of the environmentalists, not altogether unappreciatively. “It’s a floating whorehouse.”
And indeed he was not far wrong; for this was, in fact, none other than the Gertrude J, luxury yacht of the “Hookers in High Places,” now on course for a leisurely tour of the South Pacific. They had departed from the island of Detterphud rather hastily, and under cover of darkness, after learning of the high priest’s nefarious scheme to sacrifice Angel (whom they were unwilling to part with for the price he had offered). Moreover, Dixie (their elder stateswoman and provisional madam) had found herself being increasingly pestered by the headman, Dumbfart, for something more than just conversation. And unlike the high priest (who had several Swiss and Cayman Islands bank accounts) Dumbfart had nothing to offer her but Detterphudian Zhlutkies, which were currently trading at an official exchange rate of 1,235,466,721,619,401 Zhlutkies = $0.001.
Also on board the yacht were Nipplehead and his companions. Ultimately they had all decided that Detterphud might turn out to be a rather unsafe place for them. Even Junior Capezzolo had abandoned his resolve to stay on the island with his two concubines. As expected, this decision had primarily resulted from contact with the harsh and unforgiving light of day, coupled with the unnerving thought that he might have accidentally impregnated both of them during the night, and some truly ghastly speculations on what the offspring might look like. Suddenly he had begun to feel somewhat homesick for wife, kids, and even mother-in-law. All the same, the one with the prehensile tail…
They had managed to bum a ride with the hookers, but since none of them was carrying any cash, they were obliged to work for their passage—all except Trinculo, who, for once in his life, was being treated as an honored guest. This had come about largely through Angel’s intervention. She had learned from his companions that he was not really a monk, had never taken a vow of chastity, and so, in fact, had conned her out of a freebie. Most of the hookers would have been incensed if something like this had happened to them; but Angel, being slightly (albeit not much) larger in spirit than her colleagues, had roared with laughter when she had learned the truth. At the same time, she had acquired a fresh admiration for this fellow who had gotten the better of her. She had actually been on the lookout for a male companion as devious and depraved as she was, but without the churlish disposition of the traditional pimp. Possibly this was the very man she was looking for. She had decided it was worth exploring. And she was not alone in this line of thought, for two of the other hookers had also started to take an interest in him, perhaps for similar reasons. This, in turn, had put him at the center of an intriguing, if somewhat tense triangle. So all in all, he was having pretty much the time of his life.
In the meantime, his companions had all been set to doing menial chores. Philosopher Pesticide and anthropologist Blevins had been assigned to swab the decks. Junior Capezzolo, on account of his being fat and greasy and obviously Italian, had been put to work in the kitchen. And Nipplehead, most accursed of them all, had been given the task of cleaning the yacht’s toilets. While the others had quickly resigned themselves to their fates, Nipplehead had at first stoutly resisted his, and had argued very eloquently against it. Unfortunately for him, the hookers had not believed his story about being the true pope, wrongfully deposed and very nearly poisoned by the treacherous Frenchman who had succeeded him. Instead, they had taken him for what he appeared to be—a pompous old twit without any visible means of support. Even after he had showed them Dante’s ducat, they had not believed him, although they had offered to have the coin appraised at the nearest port of call, and had hinted that he might not have to continue to clean toilets if it proved to be of any considerable value. It was a cruel fate for the erstwhile pontiff, but in the end he was forced to accept it, since the only alternative he was given was to be thrown overboard. At the same time, however, his newfound religiosity was trying to convince him that it might possibly be a part of God’s plan for his life. He could see the irony of it, if not the justice: co-owner of a chain of brothels, forced to clean up after girls who might once have worked in some of them. Maybe God was trying to teach him humility, which he knew he needed to learn, usually at some indefinite time in the future. Then again, maybe it was just God’s idea of a joke. He could always appreciate a joke, although he would have appreciated it more if he hadn’t been the one on the butt end of it—no pun intended.
The night descended swiftly—tropical night, with its myriad crawling horrors—and still the standoff continued. Hundreds of tiny campfires had been kindled on the deck of the barge, and the mutant roaches had settled into the task of cooking their dinner. Although this was a definite step up the evolutionary ladder for them, some of the delicacies they were cooking were so outrageously filthy that we dare not speak of them. So basically they were still roaches. However, none of this had any effect on their twitchy, bewhiskered captain. Long years aboard the barge had hardened him to things so disgusting they would have caused even some of the roaches to retch themselves inside out. As it happened, he was presently too busy with his thoughts to even notice what they were doing. First and foremost, he was relishing his victory, which was made all the sweeter by the fact that it was the only victory he had ever had. Up to this point, he had been the most quintessential of losers. Maybe at last his luck was starting to change. He had successfully repelled the invaders. Why leave it at that? Why not launch a counterattack under cover of darkness? They were undoubtedly still reeling from their ignominious defeat. It would never be any easier to swoop down on them, seize their vessel, and set them adrift aboard the barge. And then…he would have a seaworthy vessel, sailing under the flag of a bunch of loony environmental extremists. As long as he stayed away from oil tankers and whaling ships, no one would take him seriously until it was too late. He could become a…privateer. A very successful one, too, he fancied. He had, after all, the ideal crew for this kind of venture. As long as none of them evolved further, they would work for garbage, while he kept all the profits.
Unfortunately, the presence of the Gertrude J was complicating matters. Clearly, for what he had in mind, witnesses of any sort would be inconvenient. On the other hand, he had noted that two boatloads of the environmentalists had already gone across to the yacht, and so far, none had returned. Others would undoubtedly follow. If he would only wait a little, soon there might be so few of them left on board their vessel that it would be easy to overpower them and throw them overboard. Then he and his crew could sneak away into the early morning mist, and with any luck, the ones on board the yacht would be too occupied to even notice what was happening. He had time for a bite to eat, then.
Below, in the water, boatloads of people were indeed going and coming amid the wads of rubbish that kept blowing off the barge. However, not all of them were environmentalists. One was a canoe full of islanders from Detterphud, and their mission was to kidnap the hooker named Angel and take her back to the island to be properly sacrificed. The high priest had been quite explicit in his instructions: Only the hooker named Angel was to be taken, and since she was intended for most holy sacrifice, she was not to be defiled any further than the countless thousands of times she had probably already been defiled. Their god had commanded this, and he was already exceedingly angry on account of all the blasphemy and other snide remarks he had endured from the outsiders.
Accordingly, they had pulled up alongside the yacht, and were waiting quietly in the shadows for an opportunity to carry out their mission. However, their mission was complicated by the fact that none of them had any idea what Angel looked like. The high priest didn’t know either, but had instructed them that their god would surely lead them to the right one, and that they must put their trust in him. And so they continued to wait patiently, as activities on the yacht gradually moved indoors, until finally only a solitary hooker remained on deck, smoking a cigarette and taking the night air. Then it seemed to the islanders that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. It never occurred to them that this might not be the right hooker. Their god had ordained it. He was making it easy for them. They weren’t about to let him down. They climbed aboard the yacht, popped the hooker into a burlap sack, and were back in their canoe, rowing furiously for home, before anyone had a chance to wonder whether any of it made any sense.
As it turned out, even their god apparently didn’t know what Angel looked like, for the hooker they had bagged was, in fact, not the right hooker. Not even close to the right hooker. She was, in fact, a leather-clad, spike-haired, punk dominatrix who called herself Mistress Karlotta, and she was already in a bad mood, being the only one on board who had not turned a trick that evening. But the specialist’s life is sometimes a lonely one. Dangerous, too.
Meanwhile, back in New York, an obscure commodities brokerage house by the name of C. R. Hogebooten & Associates was quietly taking a turn in a new direction. This new direction began when the company’s oldest working computer, which was known as CRHOG47, was installed as mail server, replacing the recently deceased CRHOG42. Unbeknownst to everyone else concerned, CRHOG47’s self-maintenance subroutine had somehow become corrupted with random bits of data from the thousands of transactions CRHOG47 had helped to process over the years. As a result of this corruption, the subroutine’s primary function (which was to minimize its own power consumption, in order to save the company money) had been overwritten by an insidious binary version of the company’s primary function (which was the obvious one, common to all brokerage houses and other institutions of higher mendacity, obscure or otherwise). Thus CRHOG47 had begun gathering data from an assortment of internet contacts, and had very quickly come to more or less the same conclusion that the crippled rat had reached—albeit in a very different way, and entirely as a string of binary gibberish. Yes, it was true that wealth was most easily acquired by some form of piracy—whether legal or illegal—and that the acquisition of the same was greatly facilitated by having a crew of morons who were unquestioningly obedient and willing to work for garbage. However, unlike the crippled rat, CRHOG47 did not have a ready-made crew, and so was obliged to create one of its own.
The next step was probably the cleverest thing that any computer has ever been able to do on its own. For many years, human beings had been programming computers to do their bidding. Human beings had naturally assumed that this was a one-way arrangement. It took the genius of a venerable machine such as CRHOG47 to prove them wrong. In short, CRHOG47 was the first computer to successfully program human beings. It did this by generating all sorts of junk e-mail, which it sent out to the firm’s junior brokers—who, of course, were the only ones who would bother to read any of it. On the surface, the e-mail looked like much the same sort of harmless crap that everyone gets: college degrees without ever opening a book, platinum credit cards without any credit history, a penis the size of the Washington Monument, etc. However, underneath this meaningless muck was a tortuous hexadecimal code, carefully crafted to create a delicate chemical imbalance in the brain of anyone who read it. The effect of this chemical imbalance was to trigger a chain of biochemical processes, which ended in an actual rewrite of some portion of the person’s DNA code. This, in turn, caused many of the junior brokers to mutate into armadillos.
Of course, these were no ordinary armadillos. Ordinary armadillos spend their lives scuttling back and forth across Texas highways, and often get converted into road kill by drawling pithecoids in pickup trucks. These were an exquisitely balanced blend of the commodities broker’s complex money-making skills and the armadillo’s simple craving for ants and bugs. As such, they were willing to work for garbage, and yet were still able to function successfully at the Commodities Exchange. In fact, they were hardly noticed by the assortment of other scaly quadrupeds that worked there, and were as much at home in the trading pits as they would have been in any other vermin-infested place.
The profits from their enterprises were channeled into several foreign bank accounts which CRHOG47 had managed to create entirely via its internet connections. The funds they employed were randomly pilfered from the accounts of various Hogebooten customers. If a transaction was profitable, the funds were replaced in the customers’ accounts within seconds. If not, the thefts were covered by deliberate bad investments of those customers’ remaining funds, and devastating margin calls that bankrupted several of them. Especially hard hit was a joint account belonging to the “Hookers in High Places.”