Disclaimer –Derek's work has been registered at the U.S. Library of Congress, so it would be a terrible financial idea to plagiarize or use any of the material found on this website for your own purposes. Nevertheless, enjoy the writing!
It was a Thursday at 8:30 when the dame walked into my office. I could tell by looking at her that something wasn’t right. I stole the cigarette from my mouth and tapped the ash out in my Word Girl ashtray. It was one drag from finished, but if there’s one thing this job taught me, it’s that nothing ever gets done completely. The cigarette, though, had other plans. It surrendered its final ember and choked itself dry. That didn’t bode well. Things always had a way of boding very poorly on Thursdays.
From under my brim, I couldn’t see the dame’s face well, but her audible sniveling told me everything I’d need to know about her face – it weren’t pretty no more. Once, maybe. She might have been a seven – those gams might have looked more like a section of colonnade and less like the chipped pilasters I saw before me. But time had weathered her. I could tell without a second thought that this dame had a tall order for me, and one I probably wouldn’t have the time to fill. Without invitation, she reached out and touched my placard.
“Theodore Bulbous, Private Investigator, I presume?”
I’d already had enough of her. Dames like her are a dime a dozen in domes, I deemed, and I had a few dozen already in my refrigerator. Unless I was confusing her with eggs. It’d been a long week. I sucked at my teeth a bit, something I had become accustomed to when my cigarettes decided to go out on their own and things were boding all over the place.
“What do you want?”
She took the extinguished cigarette from my ashtray and lit it back up, using what I could only assume was a stick and flint, judging by how long she took. It was as if I was the first human contact she’d had in years, and she knew it would soon be coming to a close – grabbing onto whatever small comfort she could find before it was too late. She was forward, I’ll give her that. But she seemed defeated already; stress had pressed on her like a balustrade with a fat kid sliding down it, rapidly approaching the newel. Then with unnecessary aplomb that bordered on cockiness, she extinguished the cigarette. Right on Captain Huggy Face’s face. She was certainly going to be heard.
“Are you Bulbous?”
“Depends on if my wife made her stuffed shells.”
Sure it was a stock answer, but I wasn’t in the mood to hear her plebian pleas. People in this town, see, they need me all the time. ‘Cause I’m the best there is. But I don’t work for chicken feed, and I could tell that’s what this dame had – chicken feed. Unless I’m confusing her with eggs again. She might have had it all, once. Now, all she had were questions, and I wasn’t much a fan of questions. I tugged at my hat in a way that, I’m absolutely sure, indicated that I would like her to turn her shoulders, that looked like withered cornice, and march out of my office. She was not as adept as I’d hoped at picking up my less-than-subtle overtones.
“I want you to find the Theme-mail.”
I did a spit take, which was all the more impressive when you know I hadn’t a drink in my mouth at the time. I hadn’t drunk since the Portland Pleather Incident. I swore it off after that blot on my illustrious career. But there was a time and a place for everything. I reached under my hat and retrieved a flask, from which I took a long hearty pull of the fiery drink. It felt nervous as it eased its way down my esophagus. I placed the flask back and cast a long look at the dame, bobber and all.
“You’re wasting your time, lady. The Theme-mail is dead.”
She fixed her bosom in the way you fix a boxing fight, not in the way you fix a dog.
“That’s where I think you’re wrong, Teddy.”
Nobody’s called me Teddy since ’85, and only then they did it because they mistook me for a talking child’s toy. They didn’t make that same mistake when their tongue had fifty staples in it, I made sure of that. But I wasn’t about to take it out on this helpless dame, she didn’t know any better. The sorrow in her eyes was as heavy as rusticated stone.
“It’s as dead as disco.”
“I have strong reason to believe the Theme-mail is still alive, even if it isn’t at all well.”
She plopped a burgundy binder down on my desk, stirring up dirt that had become quite comfortable there since taking up residence mere weeks after I moved in. Where she pulled the binder from, I will never know as her slinky dress didn’t exactly include binder-sized pockets. The folds of her dress clung to her sides like ornate drapery masking a scuttle.
I knew exactly what this tome was – the legendary Collection of Theme-mails – 140 of them. It was an impressive manuscript composed over a dozen years. It had enough scripts to keep a B-rate actor set for any audition he might ever encounter, and probably even some recipes for lemon bisque. My lip twitched as I opened it; it happened whenever I opened something red. Meanwhile, she pulled a fresh cigarette from her brassiere, which was like a delicate Classical lattice. She lit it, the cigarette, reveling in a satisfying drag.
“What’s your point?”
“The Theme-mail is alive.”
“The Theme-mail was alive. If you ask me to find a dinosaur because you discovered a bone, that doesn’t mean I will dig in my backyard and find Rex. Peddle your little dead-end to someone who has a decade of their life to kill. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Seriously, it closes very fast. I gotta get a carpenter to look at it.”
I took the cigarette from out of her hands and extinguished it on my tongue. I had thought it would be an impressive exclamation point to my statement. In reality, it hurt like hell and tasted of old people’s furniture. She was duly unimpressed.
That’s when she plopped a briefcase on my desk. If it was a riddle from where she pulled the binder, it was an outright conundrum where she hid the briefcase. I opened it, resisting like hell the urge to swallow. An eerie stillness came from inside the briefcase, because money doesn’t move. Inside, there were enough Benjamins to garishly wallpaper a house in the
“Bulbous is on the job, ma’am.”