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 the following Thursday at 8:30 when the dame walked back into my office. She wasn’t the last person I expected to cross that threshold, but with Ferdinand Magellan having been long dead by that point, she was as good as any. Her melancholy radiated like the circles of an archivolt in a Gothic narthex. 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. I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. That didn’t bode well. Things always had a way of boding very poorly on Thursdays.
She was dressed head to toe in a luxurious black – a sultry ninja with all the allure and none of the martial arts skills. I could probably take her down with my ashtray, but why would I want to? It would just muck up her fancy threads. But I will say this, the dame could make an entrance. In another time, another reality, I would have wanted this Trojan horse dropped off inside my city walls, and I wouldn’t have minded discovering what lay inside. But not here, and not today.
Even less than last time, I didn’t particularly care about what she wanted. She wasn’t getting her money back – I did what I could, but even she would concede that the probability of finding what happened to the Theme-mail was now infinitesimal. I chewed on the tip of my cigarette, seriously considering switching to candy ones because chewing on the butt end of a cigarette was truly making me nauseous, and doing no small favors to my dental bills. And if she had another cockamamie scavenger hunt for me to go on, the briefcase she’d have to plop on my desk would have to be so big—
She plopped herself on my desk instead. In my head, I ran through all the possibilities for her visit, not like you run through a third base coach’s stop sign, but like your scimitar runs through the breastplate of a Visigoth warrior before he could capture your flag. What was that look in her face? It wasn’t sadness anymore, it was something harder to discern. Was it anxiety? Eagerness? Dare I say, was it hope? What could this woman have hope for? With Hickey eviscerated, the legend of the Theme-mail went with him. It was as dead as the Colonial revival use of gambrels. She could sing her pretty little canary songs all she wanted, but they still sounded like Lady Gaga to me. I was done with her, and from what I could see, so was common sense.
“Hickey ain’t dead.”
I straightened my ties and let a confident laugh barrel out of my mouth. The dame didn’t know when to quit.
“I beg to differ.”
“He faked it.”
“Lady, you’re nuts. You didn’t see him like I saw him.”
“I didn’t need to.”
“You know what I say? If it bleeds like a duck, and has part of its intestines dangling from his mouth like a duck, it’s a dead duck.”
“I think you’d better take a gander at this.”
She plopped, in a very broad sense, a photograph on my desk. It was one of them Polaroid jobs, and if it had been done up in sepia tones, I’d have figured she just went to an old timey photo booth and played dress-up. Lord knows the dame like dressing up. She must have spent her daddy’s fortune on slinky dresses and hip replacements. She was older than she looked. I didn’t even want to look at the photo – I wanted to lean in, give her a very long, passionate kiss, and throw her out onto the streets, never to see her again. In all senses of the word, I was finished. While it wasn’t a failure on the scale of the Portland Pleather Incident, it weren’t an episode I was gonna put on my résumé, that’s for sure. But the funny thing about dames, when they’re sitting on your hand, you’re inclined to do what they ask of you.
My jaw positively hit my desk when I saw the photo. I recognized the place immediately – it was Hickey’s bedroom. On the back of the photo was jotted the time it was taken, less than a half hour after I left the scene as the sunlight began drowning the obsolescent darkness; I had grown tired of waiting for the local police to show and make my unheralded exit. I did a double-double take, in case my first series of spastic head jerks weren’t convincing enough. It couldn’t be – this had to be a case of simple trick photography.
It was a picture of one gross eggs, strewn about exactly as I’d seen them, and a chalk outline that I’d drawn around the lifeless body of Hickey. Only there was no body there, nor was there any blood. But what was most eye-catching was the apparition in the center of the frame. It was Hickey’s father, waving at the camera with a Cheshire grin, waving an egg whisk at the camera with a playful maliciousness. It cooled my soul to gaze at the photo.
“You know what this means?”
But the dame didn’t hear me. Actually, nobody heard me. The dame had disappeared. Her car was no longer parked outside my office. With an unwelcome suddenness, I could again hear the taunts of the congregation, scatting in unison their acrimonious derision. The walls seemed to close in on me just then in a claustrophobic phalanx-like advance. I tried to reach my flask, but it shirked the reach of my ever-shrinking arms. Oh no, it was happening again. It began to rain inside my office, my sprinkler systems activating because of the abundant smoke swirling around. Was that a pot-bellied pig?
“There’s no business like show business, like no business I know!” Why is my right foot my left? Honk honk!
A shot rang out.
I woke up, startled, and looked at the clock. It was still Thursday at around 11:45pm. As hard as I tried, I could never seem to fully grasp Thursdays. So was the entire visit a dream? Did the dame really come back or were those hash browns as unsafe as I feared before I ate them anyway? The answers never came. I lit a cigarette and approached the window with reservation. The air was pungent with autumn, and the street lights appeared to oscillate in brightness in time with my heartbeat. In the distance, a hot air balloon silently cut through the night sky with the stealth of a hundred ninjas on a hundred well-oiled tricycles. The streetlights hurt my eyes, and I pulled my hat lower to shade my poor retinas. They’d seen some horrible things in the last week.
I’d asked before, but it bore repeating: what does it all mean? My dreams were rarely wrong, except that one where I saw Fred Savage winning the World Cup – even then, he’s still alive and the World Cup is still happening, so I don’t rule anything out. If my intuition was as sharp today as it was the day I discovered the secret to the Bermuda Triangle was an elaborate fraternity prank, then I had to at least give some credence to the possibility that Hickey might be alive, no matter how slim. I had forgotten about Hickey’s father, a man capable of acts that would bend the fabric of space and time itself into an origami heron. It made my skin waltz.
If Hickey was alive, what did that mean about the Theme-mail? Did the Theme-mail still have life? Would anyone ever see the Theme-mail again? I suppose only time would tell.