Some months ago, I began a story on this blog that included a mildly lazy drinker and detective and his sardonic, impatient, and sleep-deprived (female) client. I grew attached to them, and so I continued their story and am now struggling to put an end to the bad guy that preys upon them.
On the new web page (which is still somewhere in my desk drawer) I have decided to create a section of fiction segments: little pieces of bigger projects I'm working on. For that purpose, I asked artist and friend I.M.Lowry to create some illustrations from the prologue to this story, which I'm now calling Views of a Crime. I am really excited about what he created, and I can't wait to show it to you, so I'm posting them here in advance, along with the prologue...
Prologue: Nick and Chloe
By the time the kid comes to me, she’s already half-broken. But she wears broken like a pit bull; she’s a mouthful of glass shards and seven leashes worth of lunging. She’s only spit three words before I’m glad she’s got no weight to her.
“A dream detective,” she spits.
This is how they all come to me: certain I’m a con or a lunatic, but too desperate not to try. And this one is not accustomed to the feeling of desperation.
“Sit,” I offer, ever the gentleman. She ignores me. I shut the door and head to my own seat behind the desk. At the last minute, I decide to keep standing, too. I don’t want this dame towering over me.
“How did you hear about my services?” I try again, allowing my vanity the lead.
“Dr. Saromi.” Her eyes smirk, ever so slightly.
“Dr. Saromi,” I repeat, checking my fingernails. “I was not aware,” I say, finally, “that she found my methods--”
“She doesn’t. That’s why I came.”
“Ah,” I answer.
“What exactly are your methods?” she says, in that same tone of voice. “Of detection,” she adds, just to get that last shard out.
This is actually the part I like. The explanation drives the whole thing right over the edge. Either she leaves in a huff, which is fine, or this is really her last resort, and she gives up, which leaves me to do my work. It’s just a hunch, but I’m betting this one’s at the end of her rope. Though once I start talking, I can feel her trying to stretch it just a little further.
“Tea,” she says, finally going expressionless. “You’re going to detect using tea.”
She’s not bad, this kid. These anxiety-ridden types, they have a certain sinuous quality. It’s either very frail or very muscular. And that aggressive flavor, if you can keep your hands close enough to reign it in when necessary, that can be a very nice flavor. I let my eyes rest a beat too long, and I feel her begin to re-coil.
“Tea,” I confirm, hastily. “This is an ancient process. From Asia.”
“From Asia,” she sneers.
“We drink the tea together,” I continue. “Here, in the office. And then when you sleep--”
“Lavender panties,” she says, almost automatically. She closes her eyes.
It takes a minute, but she opens them. “Ok,” she says.
“What is that?” I ask. After all, it could be important.
She continues to stare straight past me at the wall.
“What is that?” I repeat. “Lavender panties.”
“Anger management,” she says.
“A visualization. Kind of meditation.” Her lip curls: “Like in Asia.”
I tuck the lavender panties away for later thought. “Ok,” I concede. “So: no drugs, no sleeping aids, coffee’s fine in moderation--”
“I’m sleeping at home.”
“Yes, you just drink the tea here,” I reenter smoothly. With the ladies, this question is always the first one. They’re afraid they might not be able to control themselves. I get up and head to the liquor cabinet by the window. I drum on the top, letting the sun burn some sting into my eyes. Probably I shouldn’t have a shot with her in the room. But it’s also true that I probably shouldn’t continue the conversation without one.
“What exactly led Dr. Saromi to mention me?” I ask, still drumming.
She doesn’t answer. The air in the room promises bad times to come.
“Is the tea in there,” she asks, “or does your end require sleeping aids?”
I drum my fingers. Bad, bad, bad.
“It has to be the same time every day,” I answer. “If this is a good time for you, then we’ll go ahead.”
And I wait.
He’s not even gone long enough for water to boil, but he comes back with two steaming mugs. He sets mine down in front of me and eases into his chair. It’s not just that he’s a slouch, you can see that he dreads this almost as much as I do. I almost feel sorry for the guy.
I look at the pale tea.
“Don’t you want to ask me anything?” I say, trying to help him out.
He drums his fingers some more, this time on the edge of his desk. “Well,” he says, looking pointedly at my tea. He gestures sort of over-casually towards it. “Well,” he repeats, “actually, no.”
He returns to drumming.
I sniff at the tea suspiciously. It has no scent. “Are you going to drink yours?” I ask, probably not very politely.
He almost smiles. “Do you want to dream with me, or do you want me to dream with you?” he asks.
I don’t even want to dissect the question, so I decide to just throw in. I take my first sip. It tastes like it smells, which at least kills one source of anxiety. He immediately looks away, towards the window.
I try to focus on the fact that he isn’t coddling my weaknesses, that he doesn’t try to pull little tears out of me or lip-sync all the standard concerned lines regarding the state of my soul or spirit. I try to focus on his obvious leanings towards being a wise-ass, on the fact that the good calming Dr. Saromi lost all pretensions of self-control at the mere mention of his name. I try to focus on anything other than what this is: me drinking warmed-up nothing with this obviously unhinged individual who thinks we’re going to spend the night together on some other plane of existence.
It occurs to me that I might not look like me when I’m dreaming, and one thought leads to another until I’m snickering in my chair like I’m the one with a weak grasp on my surroundings.
He keeps drumming on the table.
“Should we have a secret handshake or something?” I snigger, trying to regain some kind of control. “You know, what if I don’t recognize you?”
He doesn’t answer right away. He slugs his tea like he’s trying to believe it really is what he wishes it was. Then he turns to me, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, and he says, “I’ll know you. Trust me,” he adds, and he grins, kind of maniacally. “I know what I’m doing.”
Technically, my end also requires no sleeping aids, but really, all rules are just suggestions. The path I walk creaks loudly when unoiled, making the mere idea of detective work a farce. So this lady can smell my medicine. It only means she’s conscious.
From the moment she leaves my office, I begin preparing for bed: I open the cabinet.
If only she had chosen to dream with me, now there would be something to look forward to.
The air is filled with a dangerously medicinal-looking fog, under-lit by an eldritch glow. A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird.
I feel my right brow lift, all on its own. That means I'm curious. But just as I shake off my rather slow thought-process to turn and catch her by the elbow for some questioning, I hear the same wild panting back the way she came. Something in my peripheral vision makes me stop and look back.
A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. This time, I notice that her lips are also blue, though not the vivid blue of her gown. Her eyes are peeled wide open in shock.
I let her pass. With my right index finger, I reach up and readjust my eyebrow. Just to avoid premature wrinkles. I wait.
A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. The bird is undisturbed by the activities it’s been forced to partake in, though its bland gaze as they pass does seem to ask why I’m not doing anything about them.
I snap out my left hand and grab her by the elbow, thinking, third time’s the charm. She immediately starts screaming, really shrieking, her eyes not even taking me in, as wide open as they are.
I let go. She reverts to her earlier behavior.
The wild panting starts up again behind me.
“Well,” I announce gruffly to myself. “This is a swell dream.” A door slams somewhere behind all that fog, unhinging my thoughts. I decide to investigate. She passes me six more times on the path before I realize that I haven’t gone anywhere. She passes to my left, I pass a scarred and blackened tree to my right. Repeat. I stop walking, never having been one to strain my body with useless exercise. Slowly, I turn around in a full circle, looking for anything solid other than the woman, her bird, or the tree. The panting starts up behind me again. A thought strikes me. My head snaps around.
“Say,” I address the bird, “you wouldn’t happen to know where she’s taking you, now, would you?”
The bird stares at me balefully.
“Chloe?” I try again. “You know anyone named Chloe?”
They pass, breathily, neither deigning to respond.
I turn in another slow circle. I mull over the situation. I would probably seek help if this were my recurring dream, too. I might have to myself, actually, if this is all that’s going to happen on this case. Surely, the girl dreams something other than this? I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my flask. Just to limber-up my mind.
Just as the flask brushes my lips, the scene goes utterly black. I can drink in the dark, but I pause anyway. Which turns out to be fortuitous, as the sky fills with an explosion that knocks me back several feet.
Metal screams and something roars, and whatever’s on fire tumbles past in front of me, so close it singes my eyelashes. I screw the top back onto my flask and tuck it away, so as not to lose anything. Then I take a deep breath and turn towards the burning car. A man races up to it from the other direction, screaming something. The sound of his voice is horrible, ragged. He lands on his knees beside the car and begins banging on one of the windows.
I draw a breath, thinking I might suggest a healthier distance from what still strikes me as an explosive device. But he gets up on his own and begins turning in broad, frantic circles.
I watch quietly.
He swoops towards the curb, picks up a large chunk of rock and comes back to hurl it at a different window, shattering the glass. Then he starts shoving himself into the car.
This is a dream, remember, and I’m here first and foremost to observe. It’s not just that I’m an asshole standing idly by while someone else goes through hell.
He drags out a small child. The child is missing important pieces, and is most certainly dead, though it takes the man an excruciatingly long time to understand that. Trying to give him some privacy, I turn away to take in the rest of the environment. It’s odd that no one else has come towards him, but even odder is that no one else is anywhere to be seen. And the street is not just full of smoke, but also enshrouded in a fog not dissimilar to that of the last scenario, with that woman and her ever-patient fowl-friend. I have a hunch there’s nothing past the fog. I visit my flask again, for courage, then take a few brave steps towards the edge of the world.
But just then, the man’s voice returns in a howl of rage. The world goes black. There is a pause, in which I realize I’ve stopped breathing, and then the sky fills with an explosion.
So anyway, it’s a long, bizarre night. And this from the point of view of someone who’s daily grind is the realm of the long-winded and bizarre. Thankfully, it’s not as long as I’m sure it should have been, because my downstairs neighbor calls and interrupts at an unusually impolite hour, even for her, to complain about a leak. My leak, which has entered her apartment, by an unfortunate path ending right over her pillow.
Thus the day begins.