pen all hours…’ the man swished the words around his mouth, gargled, ‘all hours…’ he stretched his neck, spat, scratched a spot that didn’t itch… yet, ‘…open? What does that even mean?’
Detective. Being detective. More detective than most. It’s a condition. A way of life. The man stepped back, craned his neck, his peripheral now encompassing the tall wide triangular billboard.
‘A triangle. Are you nutty? Why make it so obvious you’re hiding something?’
The square drying machine didn’t even fit in the frame. Not by a long shot. The circular door of the drying machine, perfectly centred like a Vitruvian without the man, cut into an oblique squint by the edge of the billboard.
‘Or is it a wink? Gnats. And where, by the saints… where’d the man go? Run off. Problems at home? Where? Vitruvia? Makes no sense…’
He sighed. Some towns are more capacious than others for storing mystery. This one reeked with the stuff. Foul, devious, suspicious. And he was onto it.
‘Shit,’ the man said, squinting like the drying machine, but also raising his eyebrows, so as to avoid being visually impaired. Last thing he needed was to blind himself voluntarily. This town wouldn’t hesitate a minute in slying him a quick one. ‘The dogs. Getting more complicated by the heartbeat. By the breath. By the nail. One of these is not like the other. Get a grips, man. Did they already get to you?’
Detective… No. Best to remain nameless. Best to remain nameless, he thought. Detective… would do, for now. Detective… looked over his shoulder. Or, his head did, anyway. His body never not facing the billboard, not willing to give the bastards the satisfaction. He gasped. Could it be? Nothing. Despite his prodigious spying skills, he saw… nothing. No, wait!
‘Morning,’ a man said, his dog walking him by the leash.
Detective… watched him pass, his mouth communicating a smile, his eyebrows: consternation, his eyes: outright aghastness. Aghastety? Best keep the vermin on their tippy-toes, you’ll understand.
‘How goes it?’ the man added.
‘It? It, it?’ How’d he… damn. They are onto me. ‘The water’s warm in the autumn under the bridge,’ there was no other course of action. End-game so soon? He fed the man the long decided secret passcode. Didn’t think there were any of us left. Maybe this town is already under investigation. Wouldn’t doubt it. These are some filthy dark times.
The man stopped walking, the leash growing taught. The dog obviously had other things to do. Places to be. Cut the chit-chat. Come on. Cooome on. You want food, want to go eat?
Shit, the detective thought, inasmuch as so reflexive a thought as thinking ‘shit’ could be thought of as a thought. Indeed this was a sticky conundrum. Though he had devised the first half of the secret passcode—The water’s warm in the autumn, etc.— he had not gotten around to thinking up a secret response. Much less communicate it to anyone else. Shit, if the sly devil doesn’t answer soon, I’ll have no choice but to divulge all my secrets. Compromise myself. Speak! You Satan.
‘Everything… alright?’ the man ventured, at last.
Detective… almost fainted with relief. While he had awaited for the man’s response, his lips had turned purple with oxygen deprivation. That was definitely not the second half of his secret passcode. Close one.
Remaxed to the lax, Detective… allowed himself to be his normal self. Paranoia to the point of suspiciousness. And verse vica.
‘Why…’ he answered, smacking his face with the flat of his palm, then letting it slide down his face to flip, then release, his lower lip with a wet slap. ‘By god man, where do you come up with such… queries?’
In the interim, the dog was getting impatient with his man. And who could blame it?
No answer from the man. So, Detective… leaned forward swift as a sloth, eyes bulging, corner of lips down-turned. Still, the bastard did not crack. Detective… then resolved to back-hand a non-existent interrogation-room low-hanging lamp, for dramatic effect. Were they to have been in an interrogation room the effect would have been devastating. As it were, the man just dodged lazily. Some habits die harder than most. You cut the head off and still, they wriggle. Like ants, the worms…
‘What… ON earth, would you DO with such information?’ whined Detective…, himself close to cracking, thinking: You flipped the tables on me, you mongrel dog. I’m out of my league here.
The dog chose his moment well. Bye, I’m leaving without yoouu. Ok, ok, I’m coming. Together they loped off.
‘Pshoofs,’ sighed Detective…, ‘close one. Can’t cut loose one jiffy around these boondock parts.’
He watched the dog and the man run away. The man trying to engage with other humans, the dog having none of it. Funny how humans take after their dogs. The cycle of these things never not cycling so that it was virtually impossible to know who had the upper hand in the relationship, dog or man. One day you might be inclined to think:
Dogs have become such an extrasensory affair at the end of their leashes, like feelers, antennas, extended to suss the world about. An extra defence-mechanism layered on top of what the-type-of-people-that-would-want-to-own-a-dog already have. And if the dog has its own mechanisms to boot, which it almost invariably has, then it’s a mechanism on mechanism mess. And a very merry unbirthday to you. Sick, dirty, perverted, overly-protective, repressed-emotion sandwich. A fitting adaptation for the weird evolutionary blip or pimple named humankind in the history of the universe.
And the next day, you might reasonably think:
Humans have become such an extrasensory affair at the end of their leashes, like feelers, antennas, extended to suss the world about. An extra defence-mechanism layered on top of what the-type-of-dogs-that-would-want-to-own-a-human already have. And if the human has its own mechanisms, which it almost invariably has, then it’s a mechanism on mechanism mess. And a very merry unbirthday to you. Sick, dirty, perverted, overly-protective, repressed-emotion sandwich. A fitting adaptation for the weird evolutionary blip or pimple named dogs in the history of the universe.
It’s the world upside down, until down is the upside of the world.
Detective…, rightly parched by so much primo detectivising, stepped into the laundromat. Or more precisely, into the door. Which didn’t budge.
‘Well, I’ll be…’ Detective… said with a grin, thinking this the summit of jest. ‘Haha!’ he laughed, but then was stomped. His thirst only grew. Then, positively aggravated, he decried: ‘What kind of disreputable establishment doesn’t serve drinks at this ungodly hour? Unthinkable!’
Suddenly tremendously weary, Detective… slid his fingers down his pocket-watch chain, raising it to gauge the time. The absence of a watch at the end of the chain did not deter him in the slightest. Some thief had pick-pocketed it long ago. But the joke was entirely on him. Or her. Women do have such slender fingers.
Arm at a perpendicular angle to his body, he studied the dust of the parking lot. His shadow’s arm told him that it was nearing solar noon, which, in this godless county and time of year, meant 12:55. Approx. So either 12:35 or 1:25. He could never rightly tell which side of mid-day he was on.
Next, he flipped through his notes. None. Whatsoever. Never a good sign in an investigation of this magnitude. Detective… then became possessed by the uncomfortable notion that he was somehow on the wrong side of the law. He took in his surroundings. The man and his dog—see how quick these things flip on you?—were long gone. The billboard drying machine still squint-winked. The Vitruvian Man was still MIA. The searing sun seared… No loitering. Ah-ha!
‘Yes. There you are,’ Detective… said, relieved of his suspicion. He was indeed breaking the law. He briefly congratulated himself on so sharp an intuition. Then, he turned plaintive. He turned to face the No Loitering sign and spoke thus onto it: ‘By who’s authority, I beseech?’ The sign did not respond.
Plead the fifth, you Antichrist, thought Detective… See if I care.
‘Kangaroo business, this.’ But Detective… was already walking. Speaking only to buy time while he made good his getaway.
These bizarroos won’t be happy short of me skipping town, he thought.
And if looks were anything to go by, the old people of this town were deeply oppressed. Walking about, cowed, fearful of pedestrians, cats and ladders, bicycles, drafts even. The poor devils were so close to the light, there, where the tunnel was at its most constricted. No wonder they were so stooped. The indignation, the mockery, to be made to crawl at this last stage of life…
‘I just might have a notion of precisely how you feel.’ said Detective… to no one. As he sat, wearing a wig, for inconspicuous purposes; red for further inconspicuous purposes; cut fashionably short for fashionable reasons, fashionable reasons against which he was powerless. An arm and a sleeve he’d been made to pay for it, through his nose. But the wig practically amounted to an invisibility cloak in this mall of malls. In this nail salon of nail salons.
Worth every last dime, he thought, with a smirk.
Newspaper in hand, he winced, glanced over the top edge of the obituaries across to where a young couple grazed on herbaceouses; where 1910s in suspenders people-watched people who dressed to be watched, talked to be watched, and generally were attention-leeches. Vampires.
There’s something for the notepad, he thought, making a mental note to make a physical one.
For now, he could not allow himself the distraction. There was something there, before him, crudely manifest. So blatantly obvious, that Detective… being so accustomed to seeking things that escape the eye, could not wholly grasp.
Cowards, he thought. I should never have agreed to meet in so public an establishment.
He winced once again and his hand involuntarily recoiled. The little scalpel the kneeling boy was using to push back his cuticles had drawn blood. He was afraid this would happen. It was too early in the game to bleed. Especially in a pool shark-full of sharks. Amongst vampire-leeches. Detective… lifted the newspaper to glance under the edge of the obituaries at his manicurist turned assistant turned sabotage-agent.
‘Gimme that!’ Detective… hissed through his teeth, swiping the scalpel. ‘HahaHA! Oh, I see!’ exploded Detective… suddenly seizing upon some slippery notion. ‘I see now. Whom do you work for?’ he said, grammatically erroneous, ‘Whomah do ya worka for?’ again, ‘You little shit. Snake! You’re fired. And you can forget about severance…’
The boy cast him a queer look that spoke volumes in the way of Ididn’tsignupforthisshit or Idon’tgetpaidenoughforthisshit. But those looks were a dime a dozen in this lipstick on the collar neck of the woods. And besides, Detective… was not so easily fooled.
‘How much do I owe you?’
‘Hmm, it’s sixteen plus tax. Like seventeen something.’
‘Extortion! I’ll pay you double that.’
‘Ah-ha! I knew I’d squeal you like a pig. Come on, how much do you really want?’
‘Tshripl, ten-ish… times? Pl-ussss Tax? Of course.’
‘Haha. How you sing, you dog, you goat-fiddler… You disgrace yourself. Of course, plus tax! Who do you think you’re dealing with.’
With this, Detective… held out two crisp hundred-dollar bills, holding onto them when the boy reached for them.
‘IF,’ he began loudly, dropping subsequently to a whisper, ‘If I so much as HEAR that you spent it all in the same place, you rat-scoundrel, I’ll send the grannies after you. The grannies, you hear?’
The boy gulped, not liking the sound of these grannies one bit. On the spot, he made up his mind to diversify his interests. Outside the boundaries of this tale, he would go on to make quite a neat little profit, ten-twelve years down the road. But, by then, the nail-salon boy turned man, had gotten sloppy, deciding to blow it all by sinking it into an unbuilt condo building. A sound investment by all accounts. But that was highly beside the point. Highly. When the grannies got a hold of him… well, let’s just say… and leave it at that. Not. Pretty. The forensics team couldn’t make hair or toes of it. Couldn’t make juice from lemons from it. Denture marks… everywhere. Suffocation by talc and potpourri. Enough to sleep a race-horse. Plastic wrapped furniture cuts and bruises across his back. Needless to say, there wasn’t a single stain on the original fabric. Take the plastic wrap off, careful, careful, now replace it… the furniture is good as new. Preserves its original near-mint bargain store value to the decimal. What inheritances are built on, truly. The backbone of this country. The boy had been warned, after all. Don’t spend it all in the same place. Simplest of logics. God bless the grannies.
Detective… waiting for his change, which, unbeknownst to him was already making its getaway on a public bus; glimpsed his quarry. This was the crux of his investigation. How did he know? Well, let’s just say they don’t call him Detective… for nothing. He might solve the entire mystery of this town, were he to merely catch his quarry. And it was right there before him… but what was it even? Call it a hunch, but every time-honed instinct Detective… possessed flared at the sight of it.
Barefoot, with the little foamies between his toes, he bolted for the revolving door after it, yelling:
‘The rakes. Someone stole my shoes!’
But Detective… was anything if unarsenaled. From the kangaroo pocket of his hippest of hoodies—calculatedly hip—he withdrew his choicest instrument. Never breaking stride, he extended open the telescopic lens of his trusty telescope, and spied through it.
Thing was—and you’ll have to forgive me the intermission in the juiciest juice of the action—that magnifying glasses were a classic trope, a cliché of the hard-cover best-seller detective zealot books. Real, ear-to-the-ground paperback short-listed-for detectives, such as Detective…, used a telescopically extendible telescope. One end for mysteries of the far away genera; the other for mysteries of the in-depth blood-on-the-lapel, hair-on-the-cravate sub-species. Life held not a mystery that a well-wielded telescope couldn’t crack.
But! No one alive could track an elusive detail of a case pointing the small end of the telescope at it, while simultaneously on the run. So… he missed it. Then, quite embarrassingly, proceeded to be trapped inside the revolving door, through which the suspect had escaped. For what seemed an eternity, he revolved, trapped. Plain to all, as he rotated like a wedding cake on display in the window of the pastry shop, who also specialises in teas of the most exotic kinds. China, Amazonian Brazil, Patagonian Chile… are but some examples of countries on a map.
Geography aside, when Detective… had the good sense to take the telescope away from his eye, he made quick work of extracting himself from the devil-spawned endlessly-revolving contraption of a door.
‘Be grateful you came out with nothing more than a story to tell.’ he warned himself, and was. Grateful. With formidable cunning, he grasped at once that his carefully crafted cover was blown. Never one not to be quick on his feet, he instantly pocketed the wig, and was instantly someone else amongst all the other somebody-elses.
‘Close one.’ he whispered-sighed. He had come away empty-handed, sure. His quarry had slipped his grasp, for now. But if he had blown his cover, the whole entire operation would have been jeopardised. Then what would he have told his future children?
Plus, impossible as it may invariably sound, his spying through the telescope was not as fruitless as was earlier reported. He now possessed a pristalline grasp on the hunch that underlined his entire operation. The small end of the telescope, for all that it was essential a completely useless instrument, never failed to enhance one’s sense of suspicion. And suspicion was—or didn’t you know?—the bread of butter of detective work. Detective… patted the telescope fondly as he collapsed it and returned it to the kangaroo pocket of his kangaroo hoodie.
Something was afoot, indeed, in this backwards nekasrofdog town. It was now only a matter of fumigating it out.
It was at about that time that symbols came surfacing out of the woodwork. As is their wont in such royal investigations. The cryptography was so dense that it was all Detective… could do to keep his eyes from swimming.
Aunty Marvin lived on the outskirts of town. That was probably when the whole affair with the symbols began. But who could rightly tell? The prospect of her filled Detective… with loathing and fear. But her gossip, granted that you survived pinched cheeks and dreadfully salty-bitter sweets, normally yielded the graham crust to the key-lime pie of mysterious goings-on. In other words: Marvin was a pro. Under her bristling duvet moustache, much what’s-what and who’s-who, spilt forth. But the trouble with Aunty Marvin was always the when’s-when. Explicable you see, because she had been a veteran for much longer than she had been an operative in the post-war sewers of this dreadful country.
Her house smelled of rust and ozone. Just what on earth was she up to? He met her in the garage soldering a bed frame to the rounded trunk of a collector’s 1968 Volkswagon Beetle AutoStick beet-red. Because, why wouldn’t you?
‘Keep back Aunty.’ replied Detective… sidestepping other dubious welding-things-to-things projects gone wrong. ‘I’m expected for diner. So don’t try anything funny. They’ll nuke the place if I’m not back by sundown.’
Marvin was a cockroach. She’d survive and she knew it. She shrugged, blew him a kiss with her elbow.
Here we go, thought Detective…, no one in the world would do that.
‘How long you been in town W…’
Detective W… was quick to intersect. But perhaps… not quick enough.
‘Don’t even say my name.’ Detective W… said forlornly, knowing that the first letter was already more than he could yield and hope to survive in this cannibalistic hotspot of a dog-eat-dog world.
I’m bleeding chips here.., he thought shaking his head.
He mimed someone writing, and pointed up, and needn’t say more. Aunty was a pro. Get that straight. But you and I, we saw him do it. I’m on to him, as I hope you are too by this point. After all this reading, you should at least have picked up on him being the prime suspect in this whole botched investigation.
Aunty Marvin was jittery, like a kid wanting to pee but also wanting to keep playing.
‘Fine,’ he said resolutely. ‘Get it over with.’
‘Heek,’ she cackled once, excitedly. Then, she reached in the back pocket under her chaps, rummaged, lifting one leg, the other, which succeeded only in giving her the unseductive allure of one publicly scratching one’s own be-hind. She came away holding a hard candy turned soft, and tossed it his way. Detective W… caught it with a grimace. It was warmer than it had the right to be.
Dear lord, just how hot is it back there, he thought, not wanting to, but not succeeding in not thinking it. Torturing his facial features he plastered a wan smile on, and said with a voice full of warm bile,
‘Thanks, Aunty Marvin.’
‘Welcome m’boy.’ she said and winked. ‘Don’t let it cool, or you’ll never finish eating it.’
‘Of… of course,’ he said, swallowing wholesale the acid reflux scorching his throat with the sheer apprehension of the thing.
God, she’s good, he thought. No way to save face now.
He gazed at the greasy candy as one stares down a bottomless well. He tried to buy time by feigning to tie his shoelaces but betrayed himself in the act. Having only one hand free to perform the unnecessary task, he resolved to pop the candy into his mouth, and only caught his critical mistake once the flavour unleashed its voodoo poison onto his unsuspecting tongue. Worse part? By a metric yard? There hadn’t even been a wrapper. Now the salty tang and metallic tar of it garnered a meaning nightmares had nightmares about.
By god she’s good, he thought, crying. No one has the right to be this good.
The woman Cheshired, positively brimming with love, as she witnessed Detective W… succumb to cold sweats and electric panic. She wiped her hands with an impossibly clean handkerchief, which instantly began to shrivel and fume, as it heroically took on the caustic venom caking her large, muscled hands. How much of that was now in his mouth?
In an impossibly agile leap, Aunty Marvin had bridged the gap between them, and was breathing down Detective W…’s neck, moustache bristling. Deft like an… shit, no, nothing could be said to be as deft as an Aunty. She pinched his cheek seizing the hard candy through the thin flesh of his face. You’d never have thought she’d do both—cheek and hard candy—at once, and that’s where you’d be mortally mistaken. Aunty Marvin beats your dad in about anything. She had a PhD in kicking donkeys.
‘Good. Now step inside before you pass out. I’m almost done here.’
She knows, thought Detective W…, full of admiration. She knows it’s poison. Why Aunty Marvin?
He stepped through the door. Blooorpk, exited the candy from his mouth into the soil of a potted plant. Too late. The plant withered and the candy melted a hole through pot, stool and made laudable work of the metal floor. Metal? Even this, Aunty Marvin had accounted for. The room was warping around him.
‘Blast!’ Knowing better than to fight his demons, Detective W… went towards them. Gave into the experience. No way not to, so might as well. He was following a pair of owner-less shoes as they tap-danced deeper into the military bunker. Military bunker? He stumbled and caught himself with the third frame hung upon the slimy wall. The portrait was of him. The him inside it was trying to convince him to trade places and, the worse of it was that he might have accepted, in such a way that he would never again know which one he truly was. The kitchen was on fire. If he crawled he would crawl in fire. If he walked he would drown in smoke. So, the only thing left to do was to lean back and endure the voices in his head chanting how-low-can-you-go with the melody of an old war tune he used to sing hoping it would bring his daddy back from the war. But he never did. Was this the true case? Was everything he had ever investigated somehow subsidiary to this overarching case? Like a drawer extending endlessly, yawning, vacuous with a life’s worth of missing a father?
The heat was unbearable. Detective W… survived only by thumbing the tears off his cheeks and licking them to recover precious electrolytes. If he could only hold onto that truth, he felt the Aunty Marvin bad-trip would all have been worth it. But which truth should he hold onto? The world, in all its multitude infinities, was revealed to him, laid bare in that infernal moment. But his Virgil was only a pair of tap-dancing shoes. And that was no guide. Where’d he go anyway? Did I not keep the corrosive ball of suffering in my mouth long enough to get the full man? The full Virgil to my Dante? Shit, the Vitruvian man. Was he somehow involved too? Where’s everyone hanging out? Virginal pubes, why am I always somehow a step behind!? Is this the wrong place? Or was I just not invited? By Christ, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Wait! Don’t!
He gulped, and the fiendish candy, which had somehow never left his mouth, slip-and-slided down his oesophagus, crowd surfing on the waves of its peristalsis.
‘Don’t cheer for it, god damn you…’
‘What’s that, doll?’
‘Don’t cheer… when am I?’
‘Never could tell.’ answered Aunty Marvin. And just like that, he was back, laying on a couch, much too curiously similar to a confessional couch.
‘Gripes, did I spill the beans?’
Aunty Marvin winked, in an it’soursecret kind of way, which really just came off as lewd. Detective W… shivered viciously, but couldn’t rise. The hypnopompic effect was a bitch to counteract. In Mexico they would say: Se te subió el muerto, or, that a dead person got up onto you. Dad? But Mexico was a hell of a long way away. Is that where you died? Where’d you go? Suffice to say, dead person or not, he couldn’t move. Postdormital sleep paralysis. Maybe I should have led with that. I’ll edit that if I get a chance. Look up, it might already say postdormital sleep paralysis, instead of hypnopompic. No? Well, I’m probably busy at the moment. Please leave a message.
Too late. Detective W… was already out of the house by then. And whatever he learned in there, with Aunty Marvin, will henceforth only be glimpsed at in passing.
‘Circles.’ Detective W…, more generous than I, offered. ‘Circles.’ The world was suddenly vaster than could ever be imagined, awash with symbolisms he was at a loss to cypher. The residential street suddenly turned obscure. Detective W… looked at his hands, for no discernible reason. Then, looked up.
‘Eclipse!’ he exclaimed. Yet another damn circle. Two! A circle within a circle. ‘First, the white ring marks left in the varnish of the living room table,’ he thought aloud. ‘Now, this? Just how deep does it go?’
Cryptography, every detective’s forte, was unfortunately also too cliché for Detective W… He couldn’t suffer it. Couldn’t be seen to suffer it. So, he only dabbled. Think goddamn you! There were too many coasters on Aunty’s table for there to be ring marks. Why? And what was the equivalent of those coasters in the case of the eclipse?
‘Of course!’ he shouted. ‘The clouds.’ He was onto something there. He could feel it. So he decided to make haste for coffee and doughnuts. And in case you’re wondering, that’s somebody else’s cliché which made it okay for him to indulge in. Nice try. You’re a quick study. The art of suspicion. Suspicioning. More suspicious than most…
The only pickle was that there were no taxis in Aunty Marvin’s residential neighbourhood. Making quick work of this paltry excuse at an impasse, he commandeered a kid’s scooter from a family’s front lawn. Not wanting anyone to get the wrong idea, he yelled,
‘Stand aside pedestrians!’
A neighbourhood cat meowed at him, so he spat and took off towards the nearest diner. But, he was never fated to make it. For some reason he could only think had to do with circles, he was accosted less than a kilometre away, by a windowless van. What happened to the scooter left in the middle of the street after that, was anyone’s guess. Some say it’s still there. Other’s say it was never there, to begin with. But talk is cheap.
His abductors were amateur-fools, this much was immediately evident. First thing they did? Taped his mouth. Aunty Marvin, in the end, as only Aunty Marvin could, was the one to save him from this sticky predicament. Her house was so mouldy from the underground moonshine she brewed in the basement, that his nose was completely stuffed with allergies. By the time they arrived at their destination, he had long ago passed out from oxygen deprivation and so had not suffered his abduction one bit. He was as fresh as lettuce when he came to, in an old warehouse.
‘Monty…’ Detective W… uttered ruefully, first words to come out of his mouth since coming to.
‘You’re sharp as ever Q…’
‘DON’T!’ Detective Q… said, but it was too late. Whoever will get a hand on this manuscript will surely never forget that Detective W… was in fact, Detective Q… Aunty Marvin’s clever little piece of fool-doggery, God rest her soul when she dies, was annulled all too soon. He looked up, unable to mime someone writing on account of his hands being duct-taped to the chair. But Monty was wise to the sensitivity of Detective Q…’s name, so he shut his clam and said no more on the matter.
‘I should have known it was you. Monty, you grandson of a bitch.’ said Detective Q… never one not to one-up his insults one generation, reasoning that it only stood to reason that if genes skip one generation, it would ergo be more accurate to link insults to the most similar progenitor, gene-wise. Never one to be caught slacking, especially in front of his arch-nemesis.
Monty, fully naked, whereby his name, leaned forth and tongue-kissed Detective Q… into submission. Detective Q… was powerless against such tactics, so he at least resolved to give as much tongue back, to, if not better, at least equal the effect. The kiss lasted longer than any self-respecting Frenchman or woman would abide. And neither was. French. In the end, there was no telling who convinced who, and who, as a whole, came out on top. Seduced out of their minds, both began to spill their dirtiest secrets, as though under the powerful effect of truth serum. The result, there being no one else in earshot, was nullified since both spoke over one another, more preoccupied in filling the awkward silence than drinking up the valuable trade secrets being revealed.
‘Masterful,’ Monty… said at length. Detective Q… squinted at him, wishing he could use the small end of his telescope against the dog to instantly figure out what he was about. ‘How do you always manage to one-up me?’
‘One up?’ Asked Detective Q… hoping against hope that this was merely a ruse. He couldn’t have figured it out?
‘You’re… a woman!’
Detective Q… just smiled. Her true gender now compromised, she felt drunk with an unexpected sense of relief.
Monty spat. His gay kiss, suddenly converted hetero by one of the craftiest piece of spy work of the century.
‘I can never love you…’, Monty said in a disgusting whine. ‘I can never love you, now.’
‘That’s right,’ Detective Q… said, ‘Only arch-nemeses can share a forbidden love. But now, we’re only nemeses. Your love has no effect on me.’
‘So…’ Monty began appalled. ‘So, all the secrets you just divulged… all…’
‘All false… That’s right!’ Detective Q… said full of unmaintainable mirth at her supremacy. ‘But yours weren’t’
‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe, my friend!’ she uttered in perfect frech. ‘Ceci, n’est pas une pipe.’
‘You… you can’t also be French!’ Monty whispered, wiping his mouth, awestruck. ‘Impossible.’
‘Just proficient, you dog.’ she answered wryly, in another spicy piece of spy disguise within a disguise. Or was it? ‘Who do you think you’re talking to? Pie McBlip?’
Detective Q… pondered this a moment. Then, just who was I running after in the mall? Tits on a banana, this is all way out of my league.
‘Dead, not dead?’ she asked hopefully. But, Monty only sobbed, so she pushed the matter no more. ‘What do you know about circles?’ she asked, trying to change the subject, looking away from the shameful tears of a man known to all as a man’s man.
Monty’s full nakedness now took one a whole different meaning. She had been so deep undercover as a man, that she herself, had not seen his nakedness from the eyes of a woman. Noticing her lusty stare, Monty, went Full-Monty in reverse, unstripteasing himself. It was one of the least attractive things Detective Q… had ever witnessed. She felt double-crossed. Couldn’t fathom what to call the beclothed man before her. The chemistry between them had wholly deflated, like a bouncy castle once the adults start wanting to relive what they perceived as a piece of childhood-innocence so long lost to them, but then, one of the moms forgets that she is wearing heels, for precisely the way it makes her loss-of-innocence feel and look to other fellow adults. That kind of deflation. Full of sadness and shame. Their demotion from arch to regular nemeses lingered, stale and undissipating like a flatulence in a supermarket aisle.
‘Cut the bull’s balls, empty-Monty. Why’d you kidnap me?’
‘I didn’t kidnap you. You kidnapped me.’
With this, both looked at each other squinting and generally making faces. Then, Detective Q… noticed that, in an unforeseen twist, empty-Monty’s hands were in fact duct-tapped just as hers were.
‘You… you can’t also be tied up?! How’d you get dressed?’ Detective Q… whispered, awestruck. ‘Impossible.’
‘Just proficient, you dog.’ empty-Monty answered wryly, in another spicy piece of counter-espionage, disguise within a disguise. Or was it?
‘Tell me all you know…’ they both said at the same time. In that infuriating impasse way, like when you meet a stranger and he goes left when you go left and you go right when he goes right. Infuriating. ‘Tell me all you…’ they tried again in vain. ‘Fuck.’
A chain rattled in the distance, startling them both.
‘Quick, hide inside me,’ they both said as one.
A door screeched open letting light flood in, blinding them both. Suddenly, both their chairs began sliding towards one another, and before their eyes could adjust, there was only one of them left standing in the middle of the warehouse. Curiously untied.
‘Shit… Which one am I?’
Cows began filtering through the wide-open warehouse door, lining up along a wide feeding trough.
‘That certainly explains the smell.’ Detective Q… said. Still unsure, she flashed herself. Flashed herself and the unsuspecting farmboy, who had come following the cows. Finding breasts on her chest, she lowered her shirt and felt around down there. The farmboy froze in stupor at the sight of such sexy stuff. So as an antidote, she lowered her pants too, thinking to show him the inverse and thus cure him of his stupor. But to her own surprise, she found her telescope down there, tucked under her belt and stretching against her leg.
‘Oh…’ she said, suddenly remembering having stashed it there mere moments before her abduction. ‘Great, now I double flashed him. He might never recover, the saint, the martyr. So many innocent casualties in this line of work…’
She stepped out past the petrified farmboy, careful not to topple him.
‘The thot plickens,’ she whispered, short-cutting across a cornfield towards town.
‘Can I help you?’
‘Depends on what?’
‘I don’t know, you seem to know more than I do. How about you tell me?
Canvassing was no small feat, door to door. Much less when considering that Detective Q…’s canvassing amounted to no less than aggravation assault.
‘They all creak under pressure,’ she later whispered to a pigeon on a park bench during her lunch-break. ‘Trouble is, when you push further than confession, it seems the dial resets and you enter a murky arena where the opposite is also suddenly true.’
‘Not quite useless. Though I see what you mean. I tried backhanding a few of ‘em, but it’s like they don’t know the language. Then I tried to backhand myself, in front of them, see?’ she said, showing the pigeon her bloody lip. ‘No good. Either way, they stubbornly refuse to yield. Someone’s gotten to them, and gotten to them good. Bought the highest loyalty there is: ignorance.’ She paused and considered this. Like a hivemind? The frequency linking them all being the complete ignorance of a frequency? An anti-style? Clever. Too clever? Perhaps. Perhaps not?
‘What I need me, is a Kingpin.’ she decided. ‘But where to start?’
The pigeon flapped its wing excitedly at the idea, or at least that’s what she thought it meant, but when it promptly flew off, she was no longer sure.
‘Hey come back!’ she shouted after it. ‘I still got some credit.’ But it was no use. She had either paid her breadcrumbs out too fast or too slow and the pigeon had left. ‘Dang. My only good source of the day.’
She sat on the bench for quite a while, trying to suss a vibe, tune in on the frequency of events. It was then, that she discovered that people around town had begun eyeing her suspiciously. She met all their glances with the same dumbfounded look that never failed to befuddle. But for how long?
They’re onto me, she thought. Or am I really onto them?
She smirked strongly. Noticing the sun was about to set, she decided to try another angle. Something so cunningly ingenious, so impossibly foxy-savvy, that they would never see it coming.
‘Sidewalk canvassing!’ she exclaimed proudly. ‘Witches, that’s smart.’
A few seconds later, she could be found walking inconspicuously through a steady flow of after-work pedestrians.
‘I don’t have a clue!’ she announced, casting far and wide her newly crafted bait. ‘Never heard of it.’
It wasn’t long before she got her first nibble.
‘Can I help you?’ asked a good Samaritan passing by.
‘Bah… I really can’t tell.’ she ventured quizzically. ‘Can yooouuu?’ she said pressing her nose quite unexpectedly against the man’s chest.
‘Huh, sss-sure,’ he said, unsure. ‘I know this town like the back of my hand.’
‘Scram bucko!’ she yelped. ‘You know too much.’ She eyed him as he walked away confused, mumbling to himself.
‘Hell, what do I know? Nothing, that’s what.’ Detective Q… continued, her plan sounding dumber by the word. But she could tell that she was ruffling some feathers, so that had to count as something, no?
‘Beats me!’ she carried on. ‘Wouldn’t know if it beat me in the face. Wouldn’t know if I drowned in the stuff.’
Now she was getting somewhere. She could tell by how no one wanted to know anything about her. They all ignored her as though she wasn’t even there.
Bingo!, she thought.
And sure enough, two hulking men in uniform were barrelling down the wave of people, towards her.
Now, she thought. Now to seal the deal.
With this, she walked face-first into a light post.
‘Alright, alright. What’s all this?’
‘Bno glue!’ she managed to say, through what appeared like a broken nose, eyes watering.
‘Listen, lady, if you don’t stop all this, we’ll have to book you in.’
‘Who are you? Listen sir-s, I non’t blow a fucking fing.’ she explained, blinking profusely.
‘We’re cops.’ said one, exasperated, not sure whether he was being made fun of, or not. ‘Alright mam, you’re coming with us.’
Cops, thought Detective Q…, by gods it runs deep.
‘Mam? Am I your mamy? Sure, I guess, I don’t know…’ was all she said before they took her away.
‘Who the bejudas are you?!’
‘Don’t know. Don’t care.’
Ignorance at a time like this?, thought Detective Q… contemplating the hole where there once had been a concrete jail-cell wall, ears still ringing, face caked in white dust. Can only mean one thing. Kingpin!
‘I don’t know how the explosion happened, or where we should go.’
‘Me neither,’ she answered, careful to observe the unspoken code.
‘Let’s loiter aimlessly.’
And with this, they fled into the night. Sirens wailed in their wake as they made a bunch of wrong choices in their escape. The breakout team seemed, for some unsurmisable reason, to dash through peoples backyards, straight through people’s houses, where they would be met by what Detective Q… could only suppose were sympathisers. All they seem able to manage to say was:
‘What on earth?!’ and ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What do you think you’re…’.
They blazed through so many people’s houses that Detective Q… was thoroughly spun about, not knowing where they were and much less where they were headed. Then it occurred to her that this might very well be the only way to reach their headquarters.
No one seemed to know why they stopped running when they did. From one moment to the next, they were running, and then, were not. Then, Detective Q… looked up and nearly fell to her knees with shock. Before her, like lady liberty on the beach, stood the laundromat sign.
Full circle, she thought, while wrestling against all her instincts to pronounce the opposite:
‘Where the butts are we?’
It all made sense now, the ring marks, the eclipse, circles within circles within circles… It all clicked into place in her mind. She looked up at the circular door of the drying machine, snipped in the corner by the angled corner of the triangular sign. She had always known there was something fishy about that sign. And knowing that, she had still willingly walked away from it. Away from knowledge.
‘Towards ignorance. Crisps on a cross, how long have I been one of you..?’
‘Part of the Ignoranti?’ answered one of the breakout agents, who was catching his breath beside her. For some reason, or more likely through some sort of ignorance, he pronounced the word ignorant-eye. ‘No idea.’
They stepped together towards the door of the laundromat. The sign next to the door still read No Loitering.
Of course!, she thought, remembering the words one of the jailbreakers had said. Let’s loiter aimlessly. It all makes sense now. Enabling ignorance. Paving the path to ignorance. That’s how they move. That’s how they operate!
Then, of its own accord, the door opened. Then it dawned on her: if only she had been stupider and loitered a bit longer, the door would have opened for her then, just as it did now. She had always been told she lacked commitment, but only now did she understand, truly understand in what direction she should apply it. It all made so much nonsense!
The slapdash band of Ignoranti agents filed through the door, and she followed. They walked right past the main room with all the machines. For some reason all the dryers were spinning on empty, the red-hot elements inside them lending the most peculiar glow to the unlit room. Then, they were through, right into the armpits of hell. For some reason she couldn’t fathom, all the vents of the dryers ended up in the back room.
‘Blimeys it’s cooking.’ she expressed. And indeed, you might have cooked an egg on just about any surface and your face. Then, catching herself, she added, ‘I can’t see any reason to be here. Whatsoever.’
With this they all exchanged dumbfounded glances and did the most suicidal thing imaginable, they all plunged into the many disused and disrepaired dryers scattered about the room. And since Detective Q… could not rightly imagine anything hotter than the infernal back room, she followed suit.
There followed pure darkness. She was so much in the dark, in fact, that she couldn’t tell which way was up or down or oblique. So, she walked, listening here and then for the soft pitter-patter of footfalls. And, only when she thought her eyes had begun to acclimatise to the suffocating darkness did it make no sense for someone to blast the lights on. Blinded, she stumbled and caught herself on a wall. She blinked for what seemed like millennia before her eyes final made shapes and outlines from her whereabouts. The first thing she could make out was that she wasn’t leaning against a wall, as was previously announced, but rather a huge square of panelling with a triangle cut out of it. She recognised the missing corner of the dryer door from the sign outside. But there was more. And as her eyes adjusted further to the stark neon lights, she saw…
‘A hand? Now that, I authentically can’t make scalps or nails of!’ she exclaimed with a laugh.
She walked on, deeper into the Ignoranti HQ and was flabbergasted by what she found. Operatives of all stripes were hard at work: manning computers displaying the most complex algorithms she had ever seen; operating the most sophisticated technologies imaginable; ciphering through hours of footage in the most exotic languages; intercepting regular civilian mail and attempting to discover a hidden code between the words… They all seemed to dabble in things of the utmost complexity…
To make sure they maintain utmost ignorance, she thought. Of course! God they all look so tired.
Then one more piece clicked into place.
Open all hours! Of course! All the operatives, they never sleep, they purposefully keep their minds sleep-deprived, blurry, and thus more receptive to ignorance!
Around her, as she began piecing it all together, there was a pervasive din of confused conversation going about. If she listened closely, she could hear excerpts of ‘But what does it mean?’ or ‘It’s all Chinese to me!’ or ‘There’s got to be a deeper meaning.’
‘What nonsense!’ she exclaimed, despite herself.
‘Hear, hear!’ one operative exclaimed.
She wandered over to her sympathiser’s workstation. Before him lay sprawled dozens of punch cards, once used to program washers and dryers. The man seemed to be attempting to read them like Braille. And getting nowhere for all his endeavours.
‘I’m stumped,’ he said to her as she neared.
‘Beats me,’ she answered, getting used to the code of Ignorantsia. ‘I have no clue who the Kingpin is around here.’ she said, effortlessly, because it was true.
‘Kingpin? Hell, I don’t know.’
‘Why, nobody knows who’s in charge.’ said another.
Figures, she thought.
But, just then, a mousy man with a moustache not unlike Aunty Marvin’s, a new recruit by all appearances, poked his head around a printer from which streamed an endless sheet of blank paper, and spoke such ignorance that it went all the way around the dial into coherence.
‘The dumbest loon unimaginable won’t know a pimpled thing about it. You’ll never find him if you look around the throne though. He, himself, probably doesn’t know he’s there.’
These words proved to be her salvation and his perdition. A crew of idiots rose to their feet and escorted the mousy man nowhere and shot themselves in the face, leaving the mousy man to stand amongst the corpses looking dumber than a bag of bricks.
High price, ignorance, she thought. But he certainly learned his lesson by the looks of it.
Detective Q… was on the hunt. Shying away from asking any more questions backwards. Not being utterly ignorant herself, she made short work of finding this throne, the mousy man had inadvertently mentioned. And there he was, as accidentally promised.
‘Kingpin!’ she shouted triumphantly. ‘We meet at last!’
The man turned, surprised at this forward declaration.
‘Dad…?’ asked Detective Q… completely and legitimately struck dumb. And in a whirlwind, all the missing pieces came colliding together to form the full picture. She gazed down at her father’s missing hand. ‘You’re the… the Vitruvian man? No. What? How can it be?’ She glanced further down at his socked feet. ‘You’re…’
‘Virgil, also. Yes. Guiding you along.’ with this, the man tap-danced a bit for show.
‘Hhh… how can it be?’ she asked, her face suddenly aflood with tears. ‘But you left. I was just 5 years old. You went to war. You never came back! Where’d you go?’
‘That’s right. Never could find my way back. Was the queerest thing. To this day… So I found others like me.’
‘You created this?’
‘I don’t know… just happened I guess.’
‘So you’re Kingpin.’
‘Don’t know who’s in charge. Quite confusing really.’
‘Then… who… Shit. It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the Kingpin. Oh no!’ she exclaimed, slapping a hand to her mouth. ‘Was that what my name stood for all along? Queenpin?’
‘Is it? Beats me!’
‘God, it’s all so quacky. Makes no sense, it doesn’t, like really doesn’t, couldn’t be farther from rational… and yet… Aunty Marvin!’, she yelled, as one more piece of this abstract painting of a puzzle appeared. ‘She never could tell the when of things. Knew everything else but the when!’
‘Oh yes. Old Marv’s the ignorance keeper-of-time.’
‘Wait what? You say that like it should make sense…’
‘We all tried to guide you, Queeny. But you needed to unlearn so much before you could understand. Truly understand. That is to say that there is truly nothing to know. Illumination is a void. The absence of judgement, of rationality, of self, of ego. The absence of man. The absence of knowing.’ explained her father, waving his hands emphatically. ‘Ignorance is bliss, is not some kind of futuristic party slogan, it’s real, it’s now.’
‘Wait wait wait.’ Detective Queenpin whispered, trying to contain all this information entering her mind at blistering speeds. But it wasn’t information. It was some kind of goofball topsy-turvy wisdom. Following an illogical rationale, feeding on itself.
‘You’re much more than us, Queeny. Somehow, within you, you possess an incredible power the rest of us can only gawk at. You can travel between both worlds. Ignorantsia and Intelligentsia. That’s what makes you so special, so unique. You’re creation and destruction. You generate mystery and solve it. Both. You’re like… a perfect… sandwich.’
And there it was. Like a setting bone. All the pieces met and she was suddenly at peace. Equanimity. The puzzle was complete. It was so close, she could almost reach it. And then, impossibly, she did. And from it, she extracted a sandwich. And it was the most delicious food she had ever eaten.
Copyright © 2021 by Etienne Robert