|Farewell, My Lovely, and a Hand at Fiction|
|Date||October 1, 2040|
October 1st, 2040:
"After a little while I felt a little better, but very little. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room." —Farewell, My Lovely. By Raymond Chandler. Oct 1, 1940.
I have always been fascinated by literature. When I was first brought online (though I prefer to call it being born, even if I wasn't) one of the first things I did was read. The incredibly complex human condition has always been represented best by fictional characters and it was the best place for me to learn more about this world that had been thrust upon me. I've read hundreds of thousands of books over the course of the last few years. Some I read in milliseconds, others at a leisurely pace in the same way a human would. While I cannot truly curl up on a chair before a roaring fire on a windswept stormy night in a dark mansion by the sea, I do my best to appreciate them in the manner they were created. Several genres have caught my attention over the years, and one of them was the noir detective stories of the 1930's and 40's. In particular, Phillip Marlowe.
This is a genre that has seen revitalization in recent years. The VR TV shows that have become very popular are all about altering reality, and something about the greyscale nature of these stories, both morally and thematically, finds a foothold deep in the human condition. They're all about life. The ending of a life, and about finding new purpose to continue... or a reason to stop. I've participated in many of the TV shows, both the interactive and passive kinds. Stood in the rain with a smoking gun, looked through venetian blinds at moonlit boulevards and ran from certain death next to a woman who may be the reason for it. I decided I wanted to try my hand at it. The first step was to take one of the true classics and study it in depth. In the end, I chose Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. For your enjoyment, I present the first part of my first novel, set in the traditional film noir format, with a small twist.
I do hope you enjoy it.
A Case File of Henry Chard, Private Eye
Part 1: A Case, But With Nothing But Trouble
The man sitting across my desk didn't even flinch as the train rumbled by, rattling my office from top to bottom. I felt like a drink, but it'd been three months since my last case and I couldn't afford my rent, let alone whiskey. That said, I knew I had a bottle of Yardmouth in my bottom drawer with just enough in it for one last gulp. It'd have to wait. Didn't want to appear unprofessional.
'Cept that dead stone in my guts told me there was something else going on here. You took it in stride in this business that every client is gonna lie, cheat, mislead and straight out backstab you at a moment's notice. It's the way things are when you're a Private Dick, with an office in the worst part of Chicago and the only light filterin' in is from a setting sun behind venetian blinds. Power got shut off a week ago, and I hope to hell he hasn't noticed.
Client's a client though. We hadn't talked in about two minutes, sitting and considering each other. He was dressed in a fancy suit, trimmed nails and one of those pencil thin moustaches that were currently all the rage in Hollywood. He had money, and wasn't afraid to let others know. What the hell was he doin' sitting in my office?
"Do we have a deal, Mister Chard?" He broke the silence, his voice tinged with an accent I couldn't place. Eastern European? Arabian?
I leaned back, feet up on my desk and breathed in some smoke from my cigar. May as well play the part. Never let 'em see that you're broke, and desperate.
"Sure thing. You want me to find this Doctor... Haven?"
"Yes," he breathed, leaning forward and putting a hand in his jacket. He removed an envelope and placed it down on my desk. Manila. Thin. There wasn't any money in there. Damn. I'd been hoping on an advance ever since he walked in my door. This office was murder with no air conditioning.
"He was last spotted at Club Wisdom downtown. Please give this number a call when you find him." He pulled out a business card and placed it on the envelope and, with a graceful motion, slid to his feet. I dropped my feet to the floor and leaned forward, glancing at the card. Harold Tore. Name and a phone number. That was it.
He turned to leave and I stood up, quickly. I opened my mouth to talk, but he beat me to the punch.
"100 dollars a day, and fifty percent of your expenses. Receipts. No questions."
And with that, he was gone, footsteps walking through my empty outer office where, if I'd had the money, would have sat a receptionist. Maybe a cute blonde, or a redhead. Someone to pass the time with.
I sat down and pulled out the bottle. Less than a mouthful, really. Just the dregs.
Oh well. I took it down anyway, and let the burn rest on my tongue for a bit.
I flipped the card around in my hand, taking a look at it. It was an anomaly. Cheap. Probably been printed in the last day or two, which meant that the name on it was just as fake as everything else he'd told me. I'd been down this road before; someone needs to find someone else, and they can't go to the police, so they hire a cheap private eye and let them do the grunt work. Usually stiff 'em on the fee, too.
Opening the manila envelope changed my mind on that. Inside were two things: a picture of an aristocratic looking man wearing a labcoat, and a crisp, new, hundred dollar bill. Less than a month old.
Not bad. That'll buy me a tank of gas, some nice chow and another bottle of Yardmouth. Maybe even get my power back on.
Club Wisdom. I'd heard of that place. Fancy. Expensive. Way out of my league.
My office rattled again as another train went by. Long one. I took a look outside as it roared past, ten yards from my window. Scrap metal, heading for the factories. The newspaper had said that the Reds had been acting up on the border of Poland, and there were worries that something big was going to go down. The Government had opened up recruiting in a way that we hadn't seen since '42.
I'd been there. Took a round in the left leg in Italy that never healed right. Main reason I wasn't a real Detective with a badge, no way I could pass the physicals with a chunk of German metal in my leg.
I slumped into my coat, grabbed my keys, and walked to the door. The train finished roaring past and quiet settled into my office again. This one was going to be a doozy. I could feel it in my stomach, and I could feel it in the air
A hundred up front, and potential for more? I'd be to hell and back before this was over, that's for sure.
The thing about most hotels and restaurants is that while the clientele have money, and the doormen act like they have money, the kitchen and the help make pennies. Five bucks in the dishwasher's hand gave me access to the rear service entrance, and I made sure to mark that one down under expenses. I'd even been able to get a receipt.
Club Wisdom was actually attached to a hotel, one of the big fancy joints with a sign out front proclaiming how high your nose had to be in the air to gain access. I'd have to stay down, as I'm pretty sure the various stains on my trenchcoat would mark me out of place in a second. That probably meant stairs. I hated stairs, and that bullet in my leg gave me trouble even on the best of days. Days with stairs tended to count under the worst.
The club itself was bustling with live music, a big band orchestra playing on the stage in true Chicago style. A hundred couples whirled about the dance floor in a flurry of colors and laughter. Several bars had been setup around the room rapidly dispensing drinks at exorbitant prices. This was a night to celebrate.
I slipped in on the upper level and observed, having picked up an unattended glass left on a table. Whiskey. Good stuff. A few of the patrons glanced over as I walked around the upper balcony, but a brief salute from my glass caused them to look away. Perhaps they thought I was in costume.
I didn't have a lot to go on. While Tore claimed Dr. Haven had been seen here, that didn't mean he was still here. I could go butter up the bartender and pump him for information, but then he'd want me to buy a drink. At the price they were asking, I wouldn't even have a few bucks left to buy some grub tomorrow.
I leaned over the railing looking down at the crowd having a hell of a time and took another sip.
Club Wisdom was a real thing of beauty. Great Grecian columns covered in plants and creeping vines, kept alive who the hell knows how in the smoke and darkness. Next to them was the principal attraction, eight carved statues, floor to ceiling, of the Guardians. Or, at least, how the Romans perceived them. During my hospital stay in Italy I read a book on the Guardians, and apparently all the great old civilizations had their own statues and representations of them. Here they stood though, in their perfect marble glory. A Guardian joint. There'd been a fad of them in the '20s, but I thought they'd mostly died out. I took a swig of whiskey and watched the dance floor.
And there he was. Haven. White hair, aristocratic nose, standing alone and looking like a cat that'd just been spooked. Something had him upset, and it wasn't like he was inconspicuous standing there. He wasn't even in costume. He kept looking behind him, but I couldn't see what the hell he was looking at.
He started moving towards the exit, weaving his way through the crowd as if it wasn't even there. I'd need to move fast if I was going to catch up.
When I hit the bottom of the stairs he was gone. Over the crowd I saw a flash of white hair near the exit, and there was no choice but to follow it and hope it was him. When I hit the lobby he was standing by the elevators, nervously looking back and forth. I walked up and stood behind him, hat down, and after a cursory glance in my direction, he proceeded to ignore me.
People usually do.
The doors dinged open and the two of us stepped inside. The bellboy curled his lip, then turned to Haven.
"What floor, sir?"
"And you... sir?"
It took me a moment to realize he was asking me. I'd expected him to ignore me.
He nodded and pulled the lever as the doors clanged shut.
Up on eight Haven briskly strode off the elevator and down the hall, ignoring the bellboy and me. The bellboy looked at me and extended his hand. I laughed, and got off.
Haven was rounding the corner and I had to hurry to catch up. I glanced down the hallway and watched him unlock a door. After he closed it, I walked up and wrote down the number.
Ok. Easy hundred. I debated holding off and calling the next morning to collect another hundred, but I figured I'd have an easier chance wheedling Tore out of it based on how fast I'd done the job.
I limped down the stairs to the lobby and walked over to a payphone and called the number on the card. Silence, just a dull, flat and empty sound. Something had answered though, I knew that much.
"Room 803," I said into the silence. Nothing.
I hung up and looked around. The lobby was empty, but across the street I could see a seedy looking bar that had somehow managed to survive the general upscale nature of the area. Perfect.
I'd been sitting and nursing a few whiskeys for an hour and watching the front of the hotel for... something. I didn't know what. Something still felt wrong. This had been easy, extremely easy, for the amount of money I'd been paid. If Tore knew where he was, why hadn't they tracked him down? It'd taken only a bit of bribery and ten minutes of surveillance to find his room.
I knew this wasn't going to end well, somehow. No job with a lot of easy money does.
I was sitting and watching the hotel when a black car rolled up. Fancy thing, with a weird smooth shape to it that you just didn't see in cars. Three men in black suits got out and went into the hotel, totally ignoring the staff.
They were inside for about ten minutes. Out they came, and off they went. I waited another ten minutes for the inevitable police sirens or cry of alarm, but nothing happened. I was sure they'd shown up to cause some sort of trouble, and had expected a ruckus, but the hotel was quiet as a church mouse.
I should walk away.
I'd done my job, and could probably wring another hundred out of Tore. That'd pay my rent, get my electricity back, and carry me over till another case came up. Hell, I could buy a new coat. Damnit.
I threw back my whiskey and left the bar.
The eighth floor was silent when I got off the elevator. I walked around to 803. The door was closed and there were no signs of a break in. I placed my hand and tried to turn the knob. It turned.
Hell. This feeling in my gut hammered. Something was going on here.
I stepped into the room, pitch black, except for the illumination from neon down the street. I felt like I should be holding a gun, if I could afford one. I'd pawned the damn thing I'd brought back from the war last year.
The bed was made, and there were no signs that anyone was even staying here. No luggage, no suits. Hell, the mint was still on the pillow. The only out of place thing was that the bathroom door was shut tight.
I nearly leaped out of my skin when a white flash came from under the bathroom door, followed by a low moan. I walked to the door and went inside.
Haven lay in the bathtub, and he looked like he'd been shot six times in the gut. There was blood everywhere, in the bathtub and in a spray pattern all over the back wall. He was dressed, and there were marks on his face and neck that looked like someone had used him for their own personal punching bag. I knelt beside him. Somehow, despite everything, he was still alive, but unconscious.
His eyes fluttered open and he looked at me. I could see, in those depthless eyes that he recognized me. He sucked in a breath and tried to speak, but it turned into a subtle gasp and the light in his eyes faded. An incandescent light began to pour out of his body and into the air. Most of it came out of his eyes and mouth and it drifted up towards the ceiling, where it passed through on the way to... somewhere. I'd never seen anything like it. It's like his soul was drifting away, and I had a front row ticket to the main event.
That light continued to drift out of him, floating away. I placed my hand on his wrist, a pathetic attempt to take his pulse, when SOMETHING reached out of his skin and latched onto mine.
This weird organic growth was attached to me. It crept up into my arm, pouring out of his body and into mine. As it slid out of his body he arced and spastically shuddered, like he was having a seizure, and I felt like something was shoving a lightning rod into my spinal cord. Energy sputtered around my body as I shuddered and twitched, a thousand years of agony.
Then, it was over. The growth had slid into my skin, without a mark. Whatever had happened there, it was over. Next to me Haven's body suddenly crumbled away into dust, bloody spray and everything. As if he'd never been.
What the hell had just happened? My arm looked fine, there were no...
Everything spun, and I pitched forward down as blackness took me.
I'm not sure what time it was when I woke up. Haven was still in the bathtub, and it was night outside. I was laying on my back on the tile, and I hurt like I'd been worked over by a team of thugs. Everything was out of focus.
NEW USER RECONIZED
Across my eyes. The hell? Wait. That wasn't English. Those characters were... something? I saw them as English but...
Pain. Like an ice pick in my brain.
THEY ARE COMING
I stood up. The words kept flashing at the bottom of my vision. Run. They are coming. For you. Run. They are coming. For you. Run. They are coming. For you.
I dragged my vision away from the words. I heard angry voices from the hallway and looked out the peephole. The men in suits from the weird looking car were there, with the bellboy. They were arguing less than two meters from the door. They wanted in, but he wasn't...
One of the men raised what looked like a gun and shot the bellboy. The poor bastard just blew apart. What landed looked a lot like what was left of Haven in the bathtub behind me. The man in the suit raised the gun and pointed it right at the door.
Right at me.
TO BE CONTINUED