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!
Hickey’s apartment was, even to an undiscerning eye, squalid. I’d been here once before, no less than a week before the Portland Pleather Incident. Before another panic attack could surface, I took a quick swig from my flask and pushed aside the rusty gate door. He had no gate, only a door, which is why I didn’t push anything open. I leaned it against a tree so it might ward off whoever it was meant to ward off. Somewhere, a dog howled against the cacophony the storm was wringing; it was barely audible, and scarcely welcome. I tugged on my jacket and adjusted my hat, not in the way you adjust a television, but in the way you adjust to darkness. And, just before approaching the house, I thought discretion was the better part of valor and removed four of my ties. Too much caution could be a bad thing.
I have a checklist I go over in my mind before any confrontation. I call it the 5 Es. Examine. Extrapolate. Elucidate. Exterminate. Eat something beforehand. And, as it was 5 in the morning, my senses were all a bit dull. Except my appetite. That raged with the ferocity of a hundred thousand supermassive black holes. I knew I should have grabbed some tater tots before I had left. No matter, I’d have to just concentrate harder from here on out, or hope Hickey had some Screaming Yellow Zonkers.
His front door loomed ominously, but perhaps even more unsettling were the faint tones of Eddy Grant’s ‘Electric Avenue’ I could hear cutting deftly through the thick air. I put an earplug in the ear closest to the house, figuring I would soon require my hearing, unquestionably, but not really badly. I took one final drag off my cigarette and placed the cigarette on the windowsill. I had a strong hunch I would want something relaxing after the events that were about to take place. My smile had receded into a male-pattern scowl.
I rang the doorbell, and was only nominally surprised that it rang out to the ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ theme song. It was all interconnected to Vaudeville and Japanese Noh, somehow. I didn’t see the connection at first, but before the night was out, I had a firm suspicion I’d know exactly what it was all about. The door creaked open, and the glinting eyes of a woman peered out.
“Private investigator. Open up.”
“Are you Bulbous?”
“Only if I’m travelling near the speed of light.”
There was a pause, then I heard the safety latch come undone. The door opened a few millimeters
further, but only enough for the glinting eyes to become suspicious voyeuristic eyes. They shone with the intensity of two lightbulbs that were not in any way connected to electricity, but maybe had a distant flashlight shining in their vicinity.
“What’s this all about, then? Ringing my bell at all hours of the night? Wearing hats so low I can only just see the bridge of your nose.”
“Don’t toy with me.”
“If I were toying with you, I’d say ‘Here kitty kitty’ and throw string at you.”
An irrefutable fact. Was she shooting straight from the hip or was it all smoke and mirrors? It’s tough to read a book when you can only see the first three letters of every word. It’s why I switched over to children’s literature. Dic and Jan are clear in all their actions. This woman seemed sincere. Too sincere. What was she hiding? Besides the only person who could tell me what happened to the Theme-mail. I had to try another tactic.
“Can I use your potty?”
Hoping she wouldn’t see through my toilet question like I was able to see through Hickey’s father’s, I put on my best pair of puppy dog eyes and even did the faintest semblance of a potty dance. Subtlety was pivotal here, like the keystone in a triumphal arch. She couldn’t discover my absolute need to search every inch of the apartment, even though I already knew which specific room he was in. Sometimes, my intuition isn’t exact, only incomprehensibly close. To my surprise, she opened the door and beckoned me in, possibly because hail was beginning to accumulate on her Dora the Explorer slippers. She closed the door behind me with a dull thud that was extremely loud in my good ear.
She weren’t a dame like other dames are dames. She was small, unassuming. Spoke in a terse but not unfriendly voice. Walked with a gait that made you both sympathize with and ultimately try to undermine her. But nothing about her was like anything else. She was, by the purest definition of the word, incomparable. Though, if I were to try, I’d have to say her arms were like two fleches, reaching only a small ways over the parquet flooring. But that doesn’t quite sum her up, or even begin to. She was an enigma from the moment I laid eyes on her. And that made me uneasy.
She escorted me to the bathroom, where I locked the door and planned my next step. Actually, with the Mountain Dew kinda hitting me hard, I figured I would make lemons from lemonade and go peepee. I had to get my head straight. Was Hickey sleeping? Why didn’t he answer the door? Was he even still here? Maybe Hickey’s father had given me deliberate false leadings to get me here, all while his son had made a daring yet timely escape. It was diabolical, but I’d seen worse before from squirrels. Particularly divisive squirrels, but squirrels nonetheless. Like, there was this one time they used the birdbath for—
I had to concentrate. This place was prying my grip off my own sanity. If I wasn’t careful, I’d end up on a milk carton, probably right below the ingredient ‘Vitamin A Palmitate.’ That wouldn’t behoove anybody. I also had a sudden desire to go out to the glove box and figure out a way that I could manipulate physics into retrieving that rifle. Perhaps I could take it apart by smearing it with egg yolks and—again with the eggs. What was with me lately? I wanted to say there was something to that, but I’m smarter than that. My impulses are rarely wrong, but when they are, it’s pretty easy to tell. Like that time during the Portland Pleather Incident.
I shook off the panic attack before it escalated. How long had I been in the bathroom? A minute? Ten minutes? Is this looking suspicious? I had to go back out there. But what would I say to her when I got out? I figured I’d burn that bridge when I came to it. A flush and a scrub later, I opened the door and let out an in-no-ways disingenuous laugh.
“Thank you for that, ma’am. I love the bathroom reader. Who knew that drunk armadillos…”
My voice trailed off. She wasn’t there. The apartment wasn’t big, consisting of a living room that opened into a kitchen, and a hallway. In that hallway, where I currently was, there were three closed doors, but she wasn’t where I had left her, walking past the sofa. A resident wouldn’t just let a stranger alone in their house without watching him closely. Unless she momentarily popped off into the bedroom, she was gone.
Fear gripped me with its icy vice. I grabbed the first nearby sturdy object I could use as a weapon if it came to it, but it was a globe. The second was a copy of Reader’s Digest. The third was a lamp that was simply too big to wield in an emergency. The fourth was her armoire. This was no good. She had no weapons. Unless… unless she already hid them, or worse yet, had them. I sprinted to the kitchen and saw that no knives were anywhere to be found. I grabbed an egg whisk (AGAIN with the eggs!) and a reasonably heavy cookbook and put my back to the refrigerator. I had to keep all my senses about me if I was to ascertain her position. Maybe she just didn’t like to cook and went back to bed, giving me free reign of her house. Nah, too pedestrian. Bigger things were afoot.
I crept around the corner to survey the room before me, making absolutely sure no crevice was left unsearched. She had to have retreated to the bedroom. Perhaps scared? No, she was too non-descript to exude an emotion as powerful as fear. She had to be somewhere, lurking, probably with sharp utensils at her disposal.
Could she have gone in my car and obtained the gun? Unlikely, but no doubt a possibility. I inched forward. The duplex she lived in was built in the 50s, when they went for function over form. Consequently, the two remaining doors at the end of the hall, after the bathroom, were likely a master bedroom and a smaller room, possibly an office. Or an abattoir. There’s no telling what this dame might be up to. I flailed the egg whisk a few times to get practiced with it. I had to be confident that I could inflict significant damage, otherwise what was the point in carrying it? I wasn’t going to lie to myself, it gave me comfort to have that egg whisk. The cake recipe book? Not so much, though, to its credit, it did contain a great recipe for lemon bisque.
I opened what I deduced was the smaller bedroom, though its current purpose was total conjecture. As a top detective, and this dame likely being a top mastermind, she must have known had intuitive I’d be, and most detectives go right to their #1 suspected location. That would put her in the guest room to give her extra time to prepare. So I, being a master at knowing what mastery truly is, opted to pick the ‘stupid’ room first in hopes of utilizing the element of surprise. Plus, I really wanted to see what neat stuff she might have in there.
Sweat cascaded from my face like… like… I couldn’t even think of anything that would cascade in such a way. That was, as they say in my theology seminars, no bueno. I tried to sop it up using a recipe book, but that was to no avail. Gently, I turned the handle of the door and pushed it in, extending the whisk as a fierce deterrent. No one there.
The room appeared to be a library of sorts. There were sections of books neatly arranged in height order on various shelves. I could see three partitions each with labeled category. The categories froze me to the very core as I read them aloud. The largest of the three sections was marked, ‘Architecture’ and was filled with literally hundreds of volumes all about architecture, terminology, relevance, reviews. It was startling to see this much collected work on architecture in such a rustic setting. Entire encyclopedias on entablatures. Teeming tomes on trellises and tail beams. Copious collections on Constructivist corbelling. I wasn’t sure whether to be in awe or in trouble. I shook like unfastened weatherstripping in a monsoon.
The second section of books, smaller than the first, was labeled ‘Ties.’ I hadn’t even known there
existed a single book about ties, never mind enough to occupy an entire section of shelving. There were books about etymology, history, fashion, and other uses of ties. I was starting to get normal déjà vu now, which was definitely the first time that had ever happened. I looked down and saw that my current paisley tie had been stained. When was it stained? Before I got here? After I got here? My view started to shrink, like one gazing originally from a Palladian window suddenly forced to see the world through only a transom. Another architecture reference? Architecture. How did she know? And ties. Ties? What did it all mean? How was it all connected?
The third section of the library contained books about, by, and starring Word Girl.
It was all too close to home. How had this strange woman known about these things? Was I going to turn around only to see the silvery casing of my fate as it passed straight from the muzzle, through my nasal cavity, out the back of my skull, and into the neighbor’s prized shrubs? I bum-rushed the other bedroom, discretion being absolutely no part of valor, and kicked the door thoroughly off its hinge. It splintered into the room and I jumped in, whisk a’blazin. And what was before me was something I will never, even with years of heavy drinking, forget.
Hickey lay in a pool of his own blood, surrounded by 144 unbroken, white eggs.