Gumshoe

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Fiction

Work makes me feel like an amateur detective sometimes. I have to look at people and size them up pretty quickly so I know what to try to sell them. Sometimes I get more information than I think people want me to have, but they’re broadcasting. I’m just a receiver. It’s pretty fun being able to guess at someone’s occupation and hobbies. Guy comes in with blackened fingernails and rough hands, and then pays in large bills? I’m guessing he’s got a small time mechanical operation. Tells me he’s down from Vail or someplace like that, and he’s buying a bunch of Fox merch. I guess dirt bikes or snowmobiles, and he confirms it. Makes me feel smart. Anyway, thinking about that kind of thing reminded me that I had abandoned a kind of detective story not too long ago. I can’t leave it the way it was; my protagonist doesn’t even have a name yet! It’s been a minute, so I’ll just repost the whole thing as written so far. Enjoy my first real post on the new site.

I knew that dame was trouble the minute she walked through my door. Nobody who looks like that has ever been good for my health. It’s always some story about how she’s in trouble with the mob, or she needs to know if her professional-athlete-husband is cheating on her, or something equally bad for my health. The worst part? I know exactly what’s going to happen, and the girl bats her eyes and I get a bad case of the stupids. Sure, honey, I’ll protect you. Christ, I’m an idiot. I duck into the nearest alley. It’s dark and wet and filthy, but the air has a lot fewer bullets in it so that’s a plus. I duck down behind the first dumpster I get to, and slide to the ground. I need a couple minutes to get back in fighting shape if I expect to watch another sunrise.

I reach into my vest and pull out a small toolkit. It’s not easy to do, but I get it unzipped and opened in front of me. I lay my right arm in my lap, and pick up the utility knife with my left. I hate this part. I press the blade into the skin of my arm. Blood pulses out in time with my heartbeat. I carve a nice Roman numeral into myself, and open the flaps. I love trying this kind of thing in the dark. Wait – I fish out my lighter. Laugh at me for having a Zippo all you want, but that little spark wand they sell at the gas station wouldn’t cut it for this. I curl my right hand around the lighter using my left. The motion coincides with a wet grinding noise. Guess I know what at least part of the problem is. I ignite the wick. The guttering flame shows me a red glittering mess. It’d be kind of pretty if my life didn’t depend on my ability to fix it.

I take a small rag from my toolkit and smear it around inside the wound. Not exactly hygienic, but it helps me find the plastic casing for all the machinery. I grab up the utility knife and slice a hole in the casing. Inside is a tangle of wires that snake a trail through a series of metal rods. I drop the knife and poke around with my fingers. There it is: a bullet is lodged between a couple of the rods. I feel around a bit more and find some severed wiring too. Fantastic. My fingers come out covered in something that feels like Crisco. I haven’t been covered in both blood and machine goo in a while. I take a pair of needle-nosed pliers and tug at the bullet. It’s stuck in there pretty good, but I can’t really afford to give up. With a squeak, it pops out. Now for the really fun part. I count about six loose ends in there, and I still can’t move my right arm. I squint in the flickering light and start trying to figure out which one goes to which.

I’m so busy working out my little wire puzzle that I guess I didn’t hear the footsteps. I look up to the sound of a voice in the dark. “Look what we got here,” it says. One of the big guys who were chasing me found me. I can’t see him because I’ve been looking into the light for the past couple of minutes, but he’s close. Probably got a gun trained on me too. I know I would.

“Gimmie a second,” I say. “I’m almost done with this.”

“Take yer time,” he says. I hear the sound of motion, and everything goes white for a second. He punched me in the face. My head bounces off the wall I’m sitting against, and everything goes black.

I must’ve only been out for a second. I’m still sitting up against a wall, and I can feel something dripping from my nose. It takes effort, but I hold still and listen. The ape who hit me is still here, and he’s talking. I don’t hear the other side of the conversation, so he’s on a phone. I risk opening one eye. He’s not looking at me. I feel around with my good hand, slowly, and find my utility knife. I gather it up and hold it along my forearm. Now for the waiting game. I can’t get away with charging the guy. For one, he’s huge, and for another he has a gun that’d bring down an elephant. He’s saying something about how he found me, which means they want me alive. That can’t be good for me. It also means he’s gonna have backup. I don’t have long to make good on my escape. Ok, I’ve got a plan. I saw this in a video game once.

I test my right arm. Nothing. Damn it. Didn’t quite get my wiring fixed. There’s also the matter of the open wound I created to get at it, but all that will have to wait. Ok, here goes nothing. I groan. Loud enough that he can hear me. I hear, “Hang on a minute,” followed by footsteps. I listen to boots crunch on gravel and broken glass. He’s coming closer. “Hey. You ok?” he asks. He leans in nice and close and I feel the cold barrel of a gun press into the underside of my chin. The smell of stale cigarette crawls into my nostrils. Here comes the tricky part.

One-one-thousand.

I worry that he can hear my heartbeat. It pounds in my ears like a jackhammer. My mouth tastes like pennies.

Two one thousand.

My grip tightens around the knife. I pop open my eyes just as he’s turning his head away. That’s a small blessing. My little forced nap gave my eyes time to adjust to the darkness. I loop my left hand over his right, and press the knife into the tendons on the inside of his wrist. I have his attention again. His hand springs open and I strip the bazooka he’s calling a gun. It thumps into my lap. He’s had enough time to breathe in now, and he howls. I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy though. I’m so busy not having sympathy that I don’t see that he’s swinging at me with a left hook. I go down like an undermined wall, but I stay conscious. He cocks to hit me again, and I stomp on the side of his knee. You always hear how the break is supposed to sound, but I don’t hear anything. Well, I hear him scream again, but there isn’t that crunch or whatever.

He crumples to the ground as I scramble away. The last thing I need is to be pinned under an angry mountain of thug. I kick the monstrous gun as I go, and grab it. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with my left, but my freshly handicapped friend here doesn’t know that. I work my way to my feet, and inspect my work. The brute is on the ground, clutching at his knee with one good hand and moaning. I aim the hand cannon at him anyway. My toolkit is scattered all over the place. No way I’m gonna find all of it in the dark, and I don’t want to waste time trying. I spot the man’s phone. “Hey, I’ll need to make some calls.” I tell him as I take it.

“Fuck you,” he tells me. Fair enough.

“You want me to call an ambulance or something?”

“Fuck you,” he tells me again.

“Tell you what, I’ll call one anyway. You aren’t exactly going to walk that off.” I grin at my own joke. My face hurts when I smile. I turn and jog down the alleyway. It’s a long way home, and I’m in no shape to rumble right now. As I get back to the street, I tuck the big man’s gun into my belt and un-tuck my shirt. I roll my right sleeve back down to cover up my filleted arm. I lick my lips. They don’t feel busted. I fiddle with my new phone. It’s got some sort of pass code on it. Damn. Oh well. I wander over to the nearest bus stop and slump down. My arm thumps the bench beside me. I need time to think. At least it’s not raining.

I figure out how to call nine one one on my new phone. I did tell that enormous man that I would. I fill in the terminally bored sounding dispatch operator on enough to get a bus sent to that alleyway. She asks for my name. I give her the name of the real estate agent whose face I’m sitting on. Mr. Steve Robinson is gonna have to answer some awkward questions tomorrow. I hang up and laugh a little to myself. This’ll probably bite me in the ass at some point, but there may not be too many laters for me anyway. I keep working on the pass code until the phone tells me that I’ll have to wait five minutes to try again, then slide it back in my pocket.

The air starts to smell like rain, and the night goes a little hazy while I wait for public transportation. I’m there for almost half an hour, and the bus finally pulls up as the clouds finally lose containment. I roll the sleeve of my jacket down and wrestle my right hand into the pocket and stuff my shiny new gun into my belt at the small of my back. The driver looks like he could use a couple of years on a treadmill and an intravenous full of espresso. He yawns as I fumble my change into the slot, and I stagger into a seat as the vehicle lurches forward. The bus is done up in browns and oranges that look as inviting as a poke in the eye in the flickering fluorescent light. I sniff. Smells like piss too. I wonder for a second where I’m now headed, but it doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is that I’m warm and dry and moving away from my last known location. That’s good enough. My next move is to find replacement parts and get my arm working again. Then I’ll worry about why these guys are so keen on finding me.

I fish the ill-gotten phone out of my pocket again. It’s gonna start locking me out for a long damn time if I can’t figure out the unlock code. I have an idea, but I really need two hands for it. I sigh, and put it away again. I ask the driver, “There a Wally-world around here?”

“Yeah. ‘Bout five stops down.”

“Let me know?”

“Sure,” he says.

Hate the company all you want, but man, that place has everything. That ought to solve my limb problems, but it looks like I’ll be getting wet after all. Fucking rain.

Five stops fly by, and Fatty tells me it’s another few blocks down from the intersection I’m at. “Have a good night,” he says. I grunt and step into the downpour. Wish I had my hat. Water immediately slides down my collar and soaks my shirt. I put my head down and start walking.

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