Sunday, July 5, 2015

The City of Dreadful Night

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by many kings, kings who were indistinct and tenebrous.

There is a knock on the door and a silhouette behind the glass, curves outlining the black letters of your name and the words "private detective." You had the sign installed...when was it? You don't remember. You don't remember when you moved in here.

But that doesn't matter. There's someone outside the door. A dame, in fact. More importantly, a customer.

"Come in," you say and when she walks through the door, it takes some effort not to wolf whistle. Her body (and those curves) is clad in a black dress, the folds of which you could get lost in, and she's wearing a veil above her face, her eyes obscured, only the dark lipstick of her mouth visible. She says your name in a questioning tone. Her voice is melodious, like warm milk at bedtime.

"That's me," you say, moving from behind your desk and pulling out a chair for her to sit down on. "Can I help you with something?"

"Yes," she says. She crosses her legs and places her purse on her lap, then pulls out a picture from inside. It's of a man, his suit and tie wrinkled, the hair on his head thinning. "This is my husband. He's been missing for two days now."

"You think he's stepping out on you?" you say, thinking that he would be an imbecile of he had. "Taking up with some moll in a motel?"

"I don't know," she says. "He's never done anything like this before...I think. I don't exactly remember." Something hazy appears on the edges of your vision, but you ignore it. "He's never done anything like this," she repeats in desperation. "You've got to find him, mister."

"Okay, okay," you say. You quote your price, expenses and all, and she doesn't hesitate as she pulls out a wad of cash from her purse and hands it over to you.

You pull out your notepad and say, "Tell me everything about him. His habits, what he likes to eat, what picture shows he likes, what bands he listens to. Anything that could be helpful." You sit there, the cash burning a hole in your pocket, your pen scratching against the paper, the ink bleeding through the pages as you write what her warm milk voice tells you about her husband, the sorry sap.

It takes you three days to find him. Three days of footwork, of following leads, and it was simple dumb luck you found him. You took a break from your investigation and went to a diner to get some coffee and there he was, same crumpled suit and tie, same thinning hair. You can't believe your luck and you try not to stare at him as you get a booth and crack open a newspaper. You watch as he patiently eats some bacon and eggs, glancing at his watch every few minutes. Is he waiting for someone? Perhaps or perhaps not. You sip your coffee slowly, until he takes one more glance at his watch and gets up to leave.

You try not to hurry after him. Tailing someone is a fine art, making sure that they don't know they are tailed requires skill. Always stay far enough behind them that they don't get suspicious, but not too far that you lose them in a crowd. This one, the husband, he looks around, very paranoid, but he hasn't spotted you yet. He doesn't appear to be looking at people at all, in fact. You can't tell where he's looking sometimes or why.

Finally, he takes another glance at his watch and stops walking. He's in front of a cinema now. His wife said that he disliked going to the cinema -- something about being afraid of the dark -- but now he goes inside without a problem. You follow and buy a ticket for the next show. You follow him into the theater, down the steps, until he turns around unexpectedly and grabs your wrist. "Hey, pal," you yell, but his grip tightens.

"You have to remember," he says, "you have to remember or it won't matter. I went willingly. I knew it was going to happen, but I went anyway. We're all puppets, you see. We're windup people to them. You have to remember!"

"I don't know what you're on about," you say, trying to pull away from his hand.

"The Chiaroscuro Kings," he says. "They arranged all of this. It's like a play, you see, a film. They want to watch it happen over and over again, changing the details around sometimes. And nobody remembers. Except me! I saw them! I saw them because they wanted me to see them! They told me what will happen! The time of my death!" You pull away finally, but he grabs you by the shoulder. "Don't let them make you forget! The city shouldn't be like this! Don't let me die in black and white!"

There was a crack and suddenly his head was twisted around. His legs bent at extreme angles, his arms twisted backwards.

And out of the corner of my eye, you see them. You see the Chiaroscuro Kings.

You need to remember. Don't forget this, you tell yourself. This is real.

But then they reach their smoky fingers into your head like needles and...

There is a knock on the door and a silhouette behind the glass, curves outlining the black letters of your name and the words "private detective." You had the sign installed...when was it? You don't remember. You don't remember when you moved in here.

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