Detective Darby #10 – The Work

I’ve always felt strange in architecturally elaborate banks. It’s much like strolling into one’s tomb to get a feel for eternity. Perhaps, I simply did not like it, because I’ve never had enough money to join their little club.

Waxing aside, I turned my attention to my associate, Conan Gray. Apparently, I’ve taken to referring to my seldom seen cohorts in a manner suggesting that we associate far more often than we do. Beyond that fact, I was delighted to have his assistance in the matter since I’ve had about as much use for banking as it has had for me, as I previously mentioned.

Conan was quite the opposite of Walt. He was a man of impeccable attention to detail and the last person to cast a vote for physical confrontation. My associate was a short, slightly chubby man who was as grumpy in appearance as he was in practice. Conan was always well dressed, wearing a suit, vest, and tie everywhere he went. Also, he always carried an umbrella with him, which functioned as a cane more often than its intended use. His face was a bit round, just enough to call it so, and a different shade of red continuously flushed his cheeks. He had little hair atop his head, a fact typically hidden beneath a flat cap. His clothes were always gray, as was his hair, and I’m not sure I appreciated that correlation until now.

Suddenly, my daydreaming was interrupted by the bank manager approaching me, which startled me more than I cared to admit.

“Here’s the information that you requested,” the manager said, feigning a willingness to help. I’m unsure why the guy gave it to me instead of Conan, but, like I said, Conan is known to be contrary. Maybe it’s only my imagination, but I swear he judged me for having been startled. I could tell from his expression. As I sized the bank manager up, Conan hastily made his way through the revolving door and out of the bank. Luckily, there were no small children in his way. He did, however, nearly plow through a young lady, though she failed to notice the near miss.

By the time I got outside, Conan was standing next to a taxi waiting for me, undoubtedly. “Shall we take a cab?” he asked disdainfully, though I’m not sure he knows any other way.

“Let’s do that,” I replied, as I leaned down into the backseat.

“What’s that, pal?” the driver asked. I assume the cabbie failed to notice that I was talking to Conan.

“Take us to Lucky’s,” I said. He had nodded before he began to drive away. As soon as we got underway, I felt the need to chat with Conan. He has always been a great help dissecting a scene, but I never could get him to tell me anything about himself. That was the one thing that he had in common with Walt. “I appreciate you coming with me to the bar. Sarge was not keen on me going there alone, and I get the feeling that you don’t approve of the idea either,” I admitted, receiving only a stern look for my efforts.

“Your right, I do not approve, but your drinking problem is precisely that, your problem,” he replied, as sternly as the look he had given me. “Moving on, how about I take a look at the information that bank man gave you?”

“You got it,” I replied, as I passed him the papers from the bank. He looked them over rather critically. Honestly, he seemed to be putting on a show, but I wouldn’t dare question his methods so long as the results are sound, as they often are.

“Well, this does not tell us much. It only states that the account belongs to a corporation and that Emily Black is an authorized user of the account,” he mentioned. “There is not a list of other signatories, but there is the name of the company, Paradox Trust,” he added.

“So, we just guess that Emily Black is one of the trustees, right?” I asked, though rhetorically.

“Not exactly, Mr. Darby, we make an assumption based on the facts that we have. How could it be otherwise?” he asked. I wish he could talk to me once without me feeling as if he’s trying to make me look stupid. I know that I’m paranoid, but I can’t be wrong every time.

“Here we are,” the cab driver announced. I paid the fare but not without a dirty look from Conan. It seems that I’m an idiot and a cheapskate. I gave the driver a bit more in the hopes that it would live up to Conan’s high yet unpredictable standards.

I got out of the taxi and tried to help a struggling Conan get out as well. Unfortunately, he slapped my hand away, forcefully enough for a flash of rage to populate my mind for a moment.

“The gods undoubtedly weep for the future of mankind,” he pretentiously remarked. Now that I think about it, his tone was rather typical, for him.

“I’m sure your elders said the same for your generation,” I rebutted.

“Indeed they did and for good reason. If this is any indication of your tipping habits, it’s astonishing that not all of the taxi men in this city have socked you in the face,” he added. I have to admit; Conan is highly skilled at having the last word. Practice makes perfect, they say.

Conan stood by the door to Lucky’s for a time, posing with an entitled, arrogant scene upon his mug. Eventually, I discovered that he was waiting for me to open the door. As I did, he promptly disappeared into the bar as if the threshold were the entrance to another realm.

I lingered for a moment, because, frankly, Conan was boiling my blood with expert efficiency. After a few breaths that I didn’t have to share with my beloved associate, I conjured enough will to enter the establishment. It was eerily quiet, which struck me as odd, to say the least. As soon as I set foot inside the bar, my eyes locked with the elusive Emily Black.

A cacophony of bells and whistles filled my head in unison, emitting a singular, disruptive tone, and the next few steps that I took echoed just as Emily’s had before, unsurprisingly. I could feel Emily’s look of petrified terror on my face. A few more footsteps transformed my countenance into a gaze of terror. I was emitting as much disgust and hate as I could muster. My teeth clenched, as if a dog with a bone, and I was practically snarling.

Suddenly, two men in suits rushed Emily towards a backdoor, so I endeavored to give chase. Unfortunately, as the echoes picked up tempo, they were quickly shattered by a fist, and a decidedly uncomfortable thud replaced my echoes while the full weight of my body crashed to the floor. I rolled over onto an uncountable pile of discarded peanut shells. I told myself that all the crunching noises were from the shells, but my aches told a different version of that story.

“Be careful, Mr. Darby. I fear these two men may work for the taxi service,” Conan remarked, which was about as much help as one might expect. Damn him for being funny at a time such as this.

The man who presumably hit me stood over me, ill intentions laced his eyes, while his backup appeared to be retrieving a barstool. It looks as if I may become the next forgotten shell to populate this floor.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #11. Check out my book, available now on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Detective Darby #9 – The Deal

“Are you going to answer me, or are you going to sit there and try to look cute?” Stan asked. I always imagined what it would sound like if he ever gave someone a compliment. Luckily, I have a vivid imagination. Like me, he likely saved all of his compliments for Alice.

“I’m flattered, but I think you’re taking the brothers in arms thing one step too far,” I replied, having some fun with him. I’m acutely aware that I’m going to have to laugh at my joke.

“Times like these, I don’t know why I bothered to save you all of those times,” he said. If it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t have a sense of humor, I could never tell if he was joking or not.

“I think you’ve forgotten that I’ve seen you run. Even under fire, it leaves a lot to be desired,” I joked, again. My attitude is why people don’t put up with me for very long. I’m not sure that I’d have it any other way.

“We can go back and forth like this all day long, but I’m not here for that. What’s the deal? Are we going to see my guy?” he asked. He looked at me with this look that gave me chills. Apparently, he wants to help me, and he already did. Unfortunately, I can’t shake the combination of the disgust on his face and his piercing gaze. He’s looking at me as if I was nothing to him, rightly so. I think that I’m about to lose him, which is not okay. I always thought Sarge would be the last person to abandon me, and when I think about it, maybe he is the last one left. I wonder if I’ve fallen farther than I know.

“That’s the magic word, the deal. I’ll see your guy, but I need your help first.”

Sarge seemed somewhat relieved. “Okay, I’ll play along. Enlighten me,” he replied.

“I’m in some trouble, and I have a debt to repay,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be cryptic, but I wasn’t as ready to share as I anticipated.

“I’ve never known you to have a gambling problem,” he replied, puzzled.

“No, I don’t; this debt isn’t like that. You had me pegged. I’m a drunk. Linda practically nurses me through it. In fact, she’s seen sides of me that only a wife should, probably more,” I admitted. Thankfully, that awful look on his face and in his eyes was washed away, as if I need to be haunted by something else.

“Alright, kid, tell me what you need,” he replied. When he called me kid, I could feel my eyes welling up and that subtle stinging sensation that accompanies it. That tells me that he’s still on my side if only I deserved it.

“This guy, Link, pulled me out of a burning building the other night. Afterwards, he asked me to help find a woman. Her name is Emily Black, supposedly,” I explained. Sarge looked intrigued. He likes a good mystery as much as I did. You see, I used to be one of his associates, and my door once read Stan Law and Associates. I’m not sure that I’ve ever put it together, but Sarge is likely the most important person in my life.

“Tell me about Emily Black,” he said. I got the feeling that he had more to say but was curious to hear my piece beforehand.

“Well, she came into my office and pretended to hire me. Once we got outside, she, along with two men, ambushed me and tossed me in the trunk of a taxi. Then, I woke up in a burning building. Link saved me. The next morning, he came to the office and asked me to find her. Oh, I also received a check from the same woman,” I said, summing it all up for him.

“Does your breath constantly reek of booze so much so that you can’t smell a rat?” he asked. It was a bit hateful, even for him. Well, maybe not.

“That’s smart,” I remarked. I wanted to fire back with a volley of wit, but Stan had me down and was all too happy to kick me.

“Do you have any leads at all?” he asked, with a heap of doubt in his tone.

“Well, I found the cab driver that knocked me out. That’s when I found the body of the second man. He had a matchbook from Lucky’s on him. Emily mentioned a bar when she hired me, and I’m hoping this is the one,” I explained.

“It’s thin, but it’s not nothing,” he replied. Like I said, Sarge isn’t much for compliments. “You’re pal, Link, knows more than he’s telling you. Did you ever wonder how he found you? Maybe her whole story is right. Maybe he is stalking her, and that’s how he found you. Now, he can use you to find her. Man, this whole thing stinks. I can see this going about seven different ways,” he said.

“Listen, Sarge. Will you help me?”

“Chet, you were one hell of a shortstop, the best I ever saw. If it weren’t for the war, maybe things would be different. You’ll always be one of the boys to me. There’s so many of them that I can’t help now, so I’m not going to turn my back on you,” he replied. Undoubtedly, his words moved me, but I feel a little guilty to be using our past as a form of currency.

“Thanks, Sarge.”

“First, I think we need to look into this guy Link. Since he knows you, I’ll handle that. Even though I hate to send you to a bar, we can cover more ground that way. By the way, do you still have that check? We need to see what we can find out from the bank. What’s your play?” he asked.

I wish I knew what to do next. Then, I had an idea. “I think I know a guy that can help us out,” I said. My brand of clarity comes from being sober. Unfortunately, I’m not sure which is worse, and I usually don’t figure it out until it’s too late.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #10. Check out my book, available now on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Book Excerpt #2 – The Mad Ventures of Bindlestiff Cliff

Check out The Mad Ventures of Bindlestiff Cliff on Amazon. Paperback now available! Enjoy, like, share, and tweet!

“What do you fellas like to do?” Cliff asked, as if grasping for straws, which was precisely what he was doing.

Pedro answered first, and Peter listened before responding. It was obvious they had carved out a dynamic for their relationship, because they definitely had a routine. “Pedro says that there is a carnival in town. We could go check it out,” Peter said.

“What did you just say to me?” Cliff asked. He raised his voice sharply to the surprise of everyone in the car. “This cannot be happening,” Cliff said, as he closed his eyes and then rubbed his face hard enough to make his eye sockets go wonky and expose the weird red part under his eyelids.

“You don’t like carnivals I’m guessing,” John said. He painfully watched Cliff manhandle his face and wondered what the history behind his actions could be. Cliff was notorious for having history with many people, places, and events, but John did not yet know the extent of his mad methods.

“It’s no problem. We don’t have to go to the carnival,” Peter assured him.

“Oh, we are going!” Cliff adamantly proclaimed.

“That is interesting,” Peter commented.

“Why is that interesting?” Cliff asked.

“Pedro is the same way as you, I think. He hates carnivals but he loves going to them. Sometimes he stares at the same carnival worker for hours,” he said, as if he was spreading folklore. “It’s creepy,” he added.

“I realize we only just met, Peter, but what in the world is a carnival worker? You see, anyone you can call a worker is an actual human being,” he began to explain.  After an intentional pause to build up suspense, Cliff readied himself to finish explaining what he meant. “A carny is a person-like being that has been bastardized beyond their former self to the point that their own mother wouldn’t recognize them, thankfully. I have heard tale of mothers that weep for weeks after their child joins the carnival and, every once in a while, one of them will die from it. You can only hope the parents never find out about it at all,” he said, explaining his logical lunacy as best he could.

Pedro spoke to Peter. “They call them gypsies where Pedro is from,” he said and, as he said the word gypsies, Pedro spat towards the ground with a convincing scowl upon his face.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Cliff replied, specifically to the spitting. “Did you know that if a carny takes his shoes off,” he said but stopped to shudder at the thought, “and puts them into the soil, you can’t grow anything but cabbage in that soil for at least a decade?” he continued.

John decided he might as well play along, since Cliff noticed that he was amused. “Why only a decade? You said at least a decade,” he said.

Cliff was surprised by John’s participation. He also enjoyed that Peter was translating everything he said to Pedro. If the sedan and personal driver were not enough to make him feel important, his thoughts transformed into another language certainly did. “The length of time the soil suffers depends on several things: the soil quality, the climate, the amount of rainfall, and, most importantly, the blackness of the carny’s soul,” he explained, as Peter frantically translated his words. Once he had finished, he had the pleasure to translate Pedro’s rather heated response.

Cliff admired that Pedro seemed hate carnies with a similar passion. “What did he say, Peter?” he asked.

“The soul of a gypsy is as black as the devil’s dung,” he said irreverently.

John and Cliff both laughed, as did Pedro once he caught on. “That is funny stuff,” Cliff mentioned. “Remember, it is funny but also true,” he cautioned.

Pedro began speaking to Peter again and gestured for him to translate. Peter did not seem interested so they argued, once again, but Peter quickly caved in. “Pedro says that the urine of gypsies is a secret ingredient in napalm, and the government secretly houses them like cattle to milk it from them,” Pedro reluctantly translated.

“I think Pedro and I are going to be good friends,” Cliff replied.

The car ride was rather quiet and uneventful which, were not words usually used to describe anything having to do with Cliff. Nevertheless, it happened that way and, now, John pulled into the first available and acceptable parking spot near the carnival. This time, everyone got out on their own, and Cliff’s three companions stood aimlessly and waited for some direction.

The parking lot was brimming with moms, dads, grandparents, and, of course, children of all ages. The countless rows of cars in the lot seemed to be herding them towards the entrance. A limitless cacophony of talking and the crunch of gravely footsteps overlapped with the strong breeze and the faint mix of carnival music and screaming, no doubt from the more exciting rides. However, if Cliff had anything to say about the screams, he would likely have an altogether different theory.

Cliff was the last to get out of the car and did so with the most enthusiasm, even though his style of excitement for the carnival was in stark contrast to what a normal person’s would be. “Okay guys, we are going to need a good plan, and I think I have just the thing,” he said confidently, yet cryptically.

“Let’s hear it,” John said. He was really getting into the spirit, though perhaps misguided, of Cliff’s grand strategy. Not only that, they all four instinctually formed a huddle as soon as John spoke up about the anticipated plan.

“For now, we should do some recon,” he said and popped his head up to look around. He was under some assumption that someone might hear him or, less likely, someone might actually care what he was saying. “John, I’m thinking that you know what you are doing. I’m making this plan, so I think I am covered. Peter, you and Pedro team up and look for anything unusual,” he continued. He was taking this matter more seriously than the numerous times he had gone to jail in the past.

“What are we looking for,” Peter asked.

“That’s a fair question. I want you to watch people play the games. Look for games that are especially suspicious and that nobody seems to win. We are going to crack down on them, so don’t bother with the rides or the food,” Cliff explained but Peter was still unsure of his role.

“So what do we do if we see this happen?” Peter followed up.

“Oh, you will see it. Believe me. Don’t take action without finding me first. I will come up with something once we know more,” he explained further.

“Know your enemy,” John added.

“Exactly, is everyone clear?” Cliff asked, although he was still himself unclear since he was making all this up as he went. He took their silence as agreement as they went their separate ways. John in particular vanished quickly while Peter and Pedro blended in well enough.

Cliff walked slightly slower than he usually did. In fact, it took more effort to intentionally walk slowly than to walk at his natural pace. Perhaps he was stalling but, whatever the case, he ceased to walk slowly for fear that he was actually drawing some attention.

After sometime walking normally, Cliff came upon two carnies sitting on the back of a trailer, behind one of the larger rides, on the outskirts of the main area. He felt he may be able to gather some useful information if he simply listened from the safety of cover. He assessed the area as he walked closer to them, making sure he was not downwind from them if possible. Eventually, he noticed an empty food cart behind the trailer that should hide him while maintaining an adequate range for eavesdropping. As soon as he got into position, he thought he might have heard a third voice, one that he recognized. He peaked around the corner to find John standing right in front of the two carnies having a seemingly normal conversation. John instantly spotted Cliff, he is a professional after all, and, as soon as he saw an opportunity, he gave him a signal to stay put. Luckily, Cliff understood the signal and complied.

Suddenly, Pedro came around the corner opposite Cliff and began yelling at the two carnies. John deftly bumped into one of them, distracted by Pedro. Pedro abruptly stopped yelling and walked behind John. As he did, it appeared that John gave him something. As Pedro stormed away from the men, he made a beeline for Cliff as if he knew he was there all along. Pedro proudly presented Cliff with a set of keys and then winked at him before going his own way. Cliff was beside himself, because he had no earthly idea what to do with the keys since he decided, in that very moment, that it was not part of the plan.

As Cliff gathered himself, he noticed that Peter and Pedro were together again, and Pedro was waving him over. Curious, he began to walk over to them, but a hand firmly planted on his shoulder held him up, literally. As he spun around, he discovered, happily, that it was John.

“Take it easy, John. I expected more subtlety and finesse from you here. Remember, Peter and Pedro is the broadsword and you are the scalpel,” he said, his voice lowered ever so slightly.

“Relax, I didn’t make a scene. The trick in a public place like this is to hide in plain sight. There’s no sense in walking next to twenty people and being the only one skulking about,” he replied, making a good point. “Let me have those keys back,” he demanded.

“Fine, but why didn’t you just keep them in the first place?” Cliff asked, as he gladly handed him the keys. He was more than a little disturbed by the number and the potency of the carny diseases that likely enveloped the set of keys.

“I was afraid those men would be suspicious of me, and they were, and they might ask me to turn out my pockets, which they did,” he explained, as if it was obvious.

“Fine, I get it,” Cliff replied. He was annoyed, not necessarily by John, by the fact that he failed to see the merits of the plan before he heard the explanation.

“Thanks, I have to go,” John said hastily and began to rush off.

“Hold on,” Cliff said. John sprang back as if an unknown force shoved him.

“What is it?” John asked, finally conceding the whole sir business, and was possibly more into their insurgence than was Cliff.

“What are you going to do with those keys?” Cliff asked. The mystery was quickly stripping away what little patience he could muster.

John sensed his eagerness and, rather than put his mind at ease, he simply smiled and began to scamper off to whatever mischiefs he had in store. “Trust me,” he said, as he trailed off into the distance. He had convinced Cliff about hiding in the open, because not one other carnival goer even flinched when John hollered back at him.

Speaking of hiding in the open, Cliff noticed that Pedro’s waving had become overzealous to the point that people did take notice of him. With this in mind, and an unhealthy pretension that he matters to strangers, Cliff hurriedly made way to the conspicuous rendezvous.

“Hey fellas, what’s the emergency?” Cliff asked sarcastically. He had an unusually high percentage of sarcasm in his day-to-day dealings, and he meant to meet his daily quota just as he imagined Bob was, wherever he was.

“You said we should let you know if we saw something, so we signaled for you to come over here,” Peter explained. Sarcasm had no effect on him.

“I did say that, so let me hear it,” he replied.

“This game here seems to be unwinnable. People keep trying but nobody can do it. There was one very angry man that I thought was going to hit the worker, and there was a child that cried too,” Peter explained.

“Well, many of the games are going to be like that to an extent. Otherwise, they would not make any money at all, and they might as well leave,” he said. He thought about what to do next, since John seemed to be the only part of the plan that was bearing any fruit. At least he had a set of keys to show for his efforts. “I’m confused because we just got here, so why are you already focusing on this one game?” he asked.

Pedro spoke. “Pedro is right. When you smell a rat, you smell a rat,” Peter replied. Cliff was getting a sense that he may never know who is actually sharing thoughts when it came to Peter and Pedro. It also occurred to him that it might not even matter.

“What do you mean by that, and can he understand what I am saying?” Cliff asked. He was naturally suspicious, as always, and noticed that Peter did not translate any part of his last statement.

“We know this game stinks,” Peter answered, ignoring Cliff’s inquiry about Pedro. “We didn’t just watch. John took Pedro for something and, while they were doing that, I asked some people which game was the hardest. Most people said it was this one.” Peter explained their conclusion rather well, and Cliff seemed convinced of their theory.

“What do you want to do about it?” Cliff asked.

Pedro and Peter conferred briefly. “I will play the game and try to win the panda with the pink fur,” Peter said and felt the need to point to the panda as if it was not as big as a chubby toddler was. Pedro shook his head adamantly, so there was little doubt that he agreed with Peter’s plan, which gave Cliff some insight into their combined thought process.

“It doesn’t matter which one you win, just try to win something,” Cliff said, unaware at the offense he just caused.

It came as little surprise that Pedro began yelling again and mainly focused it on Peter, which seemed to be typical. “No, it has to be that panda,” Peter said, relaying the message.

“Okay, he did it again. I know he can understand me at least a little,” Cliff accused.

Peter, maybe out of habit, glanced at Pedro before speaking and then chastised himself for doing so. “Okay, so he can understand some things but he still can’t speak to you. We never said he could,” Peter explained.

“Forget it,” Cliff said and he sighed out of frustration. “Let’s move ahead with your plan,” he continued and took in the deep breath of a yogi. “Now go win that panda!” he exclaimed. Despite his excitement, he was more interested in motivating Peter and earning a temporary reprieve from the excruciating process of talking to them. Unfortunately, he was yet to be free of them, for Peter crept in and squatted on his bubble of personal space.

“I hate to bring this up, Cliff, but we need a little something to get the plan rolling,” Peter said, making the clichéd three-fingered gesture to indicate money.

Cliff did not reply, because he found it much easier to cover their expenses. After all, he said he would pay them to hang out with him, and this was merely part of that promise. Peter readily accepted the cash. Then, he and Pedro walked merrily away, because they have never had a job that required them to attempt to win a stuffed animal.

Cliff stayed back for a while and observed his cohorts in action. Since neither of them appeared to be having much luck, he decided to take a closer look at the goings-on. To that end, he walked up to the tent and was amazed, not in a good way, at what he saw.

The tent was a sad yellowy color that screamed out as if to convince the world that it actually used to be white. Rusty metal spikes, not unlike railroad spikes, anchored it to the ground. Furthermore, the game itself was an organized chaos of little jugs with the goal being to toss a ring over the neck of the jug. Cliff did not know whether the jugs were formerly milk jugs, but the tent certainly reeked with a rotten milk smell. Of course, the smell certainly could have come from the game’s attendant, who was quite a remarkable sight.

The attendant was skinny with overly knobby knees and elbows, and his fingernails were nearly as thick as dominos and overrun with a sickly shade of brown. In addition, his hair was thin as if he had a terminal illness yet his mustache, body hair, and eyebrows were thick and vibrant. His eyebrows were not technically a unibrow but they had a sporadic organization forming an archipelago of hairs that became part of his eyebrows by default. It was as though his body used so much energy growing all the mustache, eyebrow, and body hair that there was nothing left when it came to growing the hair on his head. In addition, the excessive fueling of hair growth by his body almost certainly had weakened his immune system, because he coughed viciously every thirty seconds or so, like clockwork. When taking the tent and attendant as parts of a whole, the entire setup looked like an eccentric serial killer had retired and used the tools of his former trade to construct a carnival game.

When Cliff got close enough, the carny moved in for the kill, so to speak. As he approached him, Cliff could feel a sense of heat drifting towards him like a fog gently rolling along. Once he got closer, a breeze picked up and blasted Cliff with a fragrance so pungent he could feel it all the way down to the pit of his stomach. Until then, he never knew it was possible to feel a smell, but it covered him with a film similar to bug repellant spray, stickiness and all. It was as if the stank of two centuries worth of medieval warfare somehow blasted him directly in the face.

“Do you think you have what it takes to win the game? Give it a try,” the carny greasily greeted him. Now that Cliff heard and saw him speak, he could see that the state of his teeth had very much in common with his monstrous fingernails. He applied the same theory about his hair to his teeth. It was likely that his breath was slowly killing his teeth with each lethal exhale. Cliff assumed that the carny’s breath had to be registered as a deadly weapon in more than a few states, particularly on the east and west coasts.

Cliff had a witty remark stored in his memory bank for this very occasion but, when he tried to speak, he instead dry-heaved fiercely right in the carny’s face. Peter and Pedro stopped what they were doing, as did anyone else within earshot, and were dumbfounded, though empathetic, by his reaction to the carny.

“Are you okay?” the carny asked.

Cliff was taking some deep breaths to counteract his compulsion to heave but, with each breath, he took in more of the carny’s toxicity, thus a perfect storm was beginning to hatch. “I would love to try your game,” Cliff uttered, as he managed to gather himself just enough to speak.

“That’s what I like to hear,” the carny said. He had a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye that, under the circumstances, resembled a glimpse into the flames of Hades, at least from Cliff’s point of view.

“Not so fast,” Cliff announced.

“Pardon me?” the carny replied.

“I want to see you place a ring around the jug, so I know that this isn’t just a scam,” Cliff explained loudly, before another dry-heave overcame him.

The carny was no stranger to this type of comment, since he peddled his lousy game all over the country, encountering more than a handful of skeptics along the way. “Absolutely, my friend, that is no problem at all,” he said and simply placed a ring over the neck of one of the jugs. “You see? There is no need to worry about that now. You certainly have an eye for things, so I bet you will do great if you decide to play,” he added.

“Thanks for humoring me. I think I will play after all,” Cliff said. Unbeknownst to him, the carny was playing right into Cliff’s hands.

“Here you are, my friend,” the carny said, as he traded a few of his rings for a few of Cliff’s dollars. Cliff stood there for a while and watched as Peter and Pedro failed while the carny was growing quite a crop of cash. After a minute or two, the carny noticed Cliff was not throwing his rings. “Is something wrong?” he asked.

“There’s just one more thing,” he said, as he offered one of his rings to the carny, “I want you to place one of my rings on the jug like you did before,” he continued.

The request flabbergasted the carny. “I don’t want any trouble, friend,” he announced. His body language made it clear that he wanted no part of Cliff’s idea.

“It’s no trouble at all, is it? All I want you to do is put one of my rings on the jug. I will even forfeit the rest of them,” Cliff persisted. “Stop calling me friend,” he added, as he, once again, violently dry-heaved in the carny’s face. To him, his complexion felt like it looked as though he had the late stages of radiation poisoning, but he could only guess how it looked to others.

“How about I give you a refund, and you can go try one of the other games?” he asked diplomatically.

“What are you afraid of? Besides soap and deodorant, I mean,” Cliff said. His insult had instantaneously changed the demeanor of the carny.

Suddenly, the carny grabbed all of the rings out of Cliff’s hand and nonchalantly tossed them over his head. “Oops, it looks like you lose,” the carny said, in an ocular deadlock with Cliff.

“Thanks for proving my point, carny,” Cliff said dismissively. “Everything about you is a scam, save your conception. I find that fact particularly unfortunate,” Cliff added. He was not typically so quick to insult people but, as far as he was concerned, carnies were the exception to the rule, since their status as people was perpetually a matter for debate.

“Get out of here!” the carny demanded.

Pedro quietly conferred with Peter. “Excuse me, carny sir, we were wondering if we could buy the panda with the pink fur,” he said and glanced apologetically at Cliff. “We were unable to win it by playing your game so, can we?”

The carny wasted very little time in making his decision, for he looked upon the lot of them with a disdain as thick as his cartoony mustache. “I don’t think so. Now, get out of here before there is trouble,” he threatened. “I don’t want to have to get Greasy Moe involved in this, but I will and you don’t want that to happen. I promise.”

“Who’s this Greasy Moe?” Cliff asked contemptuously.

“He’s the boss. Why, do you really want to meet him?” the carny asked eerily and smiled similarly.

“Wait, so you’re telling me, this guy is significantly greasier than the rest of the carny scum, like yourself, to the point that you added the term greasy to his name. From where I’m standing, you people all look you would instantly catch fire if you banged two rocks together,” Cliff insulted him further.

“I said get out!” the carny yelled, once again, only this time a flock of his carny brethren backed him up.

Pedro began yelling at the carny and Peter and Cliff, especially Cliff, were all too happy to let him, even though it was unlikely he understood. Soon, Peter and Cliff began to walk away, but Pedro lingered, so he could yell as long as possible. Luckily, their timing could not have been better, because they walked right into John, as if they knew where he was all along.

“Hey, I was watching when you were at the ring toss. That wasn’t exactly subtle,” lectured John. Pedro finally caught up to the rest of them. Unfortunately, he immediately began to rant at Peter.

“Does that ever bother you, Peter?” Cliff asked. Furthermore, if it did bother him, Cliff intended to talk him into standing up for himself, not necessarily because he cared about his feelings, because he cared a great deal about mischief.

“I have gotten used to him,” Peter replied. “He’s not really yelling at me, most of the time, he is just using me as a medium to talk to everyone else. Honestly, he doesn’t usually talk this much when we are on the job,” he added.

“What is he saying? Is he trying to tell us something?” Cliff asked.

“I don’t think so. He is mostly just venting I think,” he explained. “He is still talking about that panda. He wanted it for his granddaughter, she asked for one that looks very much like that for her last birthday, but we could never find one. He keeps saying something about it raining pandas on the carny’s head or something,” he continued. “I think he wants to knock the tent down or shake it until all the animals fall down. I’m not sure.”

Cliff was now utterly convinced that the entire day was the beginning of his path towards destiny. In that moment, he had an idea about as crazy as he thought their little group could handle. He dramatically turned his head and looked at John. “The answer to this question is going to be yes, I can feel it,” he said and paused to increase the dramatic effect of said question. “John, can you fly a helicopter?”

“Actually, yes I can,” John replied, with swagger.

“We must go. There is much to do,” Cliff said, without explanation. Before anyone could ask for one, he was rather far away, showing no sign of slowing down. John, Peter, and Pedro all seemed at a loss for words, so the logical thing to do was simply catch up to Cliff and see where things went from there.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Detective Darby #8 – The Lecture

I never did answer Stan, not that it mattered. He pulled me up by the arm and handled me to the door. What a guy. As the desk sergeant, he practically ran the station. Truthfully, Stan was so respected; he might as well have been the commissioner. Nobody dared so much as butted heads with Stan. I always got a kick out of the fact that he went from Sarge, during the war, to Sergeant Law when he came back home. There were any number of ways to give the guy a nickname, but most people called him The Law when they weren’t sticking with Sarge, which was typical. He’ll always be Sarge to me. In fact, he’s pulled me out of much worse than this.

As Sarge walked me through the station, I could see Eddy watching us. When we got closer, he handed me a rag full of ice. If he wasn’t so close to me, I might have assumed it was a grenade. I’m not going to let my guard down, but this might put off our impending showdown, if only for a few days.

When I put the ice up to my eye, a ringing invaded my ears and, once it cleared, the echoes of footsteps took its place, the same echoes I heard the night I met Emily. The echoes seem to be haunting me somehow, but I can’t put my finger on it exactly. When I think about it, I wonder if the echoes belong to me, or they are simply in my mind. I’m not sure I like either one of those scenarios. They’re excruciatingly loud, like a ticking clock in my head. Perhaps each step is merely a tick on the clock to my demise. That makes sense to me, but it certainly doesn’t bring me the slightest comfort.

“Hop in. I’ll give you a ride,” Sarge suggested, as he opened the door to a squad car.

“No, thanks. I’m going to walk for a bit and clear my head. I’ll catch a cab or dive into the subway later,” I replied. He sighed loudly, and at that point, I realized that it wasn’t a suggestion at all.

“Get in the car. That’s an order,” he demanded, before ducking into the car and slamming his door. I knew that was no suggestion.

Obviously, I got in the car. I’m willing to bet that I’m in for quite a ripping as well. “Thanks for the ride,” I said, hoping it would buy me some goodwill. If not that, maybe it will serve as a down payment. I’ve never been one to hold my breath, and I’m not going to start today.

“Save your thanks. Have you been having a drink, or have you been drinking?” Sarge asked. By the way, he knows nothing of subtlety.

“Gee, let’s get straight to it then,” I replied sarcastically. Suddenly, he slammed on the brakes while pulling off to the side of the street. It seemed a little too dramatic for my taste. Unfortunately, my taste doesn’t count for much these days.

“I just sprung you from a murder charge, wiseass, so the formalities have long since flown out the window. Let me ask again. Are you having a drink, or are the drinks having you?” Sarge asked, again. I’m not charming my way out of this. I’m not charming at all when it comes to Sarge.

I put my head down because I just couldn’t look him in the eye. “I’m not fully in control of it,” I admitted. It was something of a half-truth, but half of the truth was better than none in my estimation.

Sarge killed the engine. Here we go. “Do you remember that I used to coach baseball during the summer?” he asked. I nodded. “During the war, I saw seven soldiers die, kids really, that I coached back when they were all ten or twelve years old. That doesn’t count the ones I didn’t get to see die,” he said, successfully making me feel like even more of a bum.

“Did you want to see them die?” I asked, genuinely curious.

His chin started to quiver, and he took a second before he answered. “Yes and no,” he replied. Then, he stared straight ahead, undoubtedly piercing through everything he saw. I recognize that stare. It knows all of us. It’s as if we’re searching for something in that stare that we knew would never come. It was the saddest sort of gambling somehow. It never pays out. Not once.

“What does that mean?” I asked. I wanted to snap him out of it, but I also needed the benefit of his wisdom, even though I might not want to hear it.

“Well, you know how it goes. Some of the men die instantly, and some of them die slowly, painfully. I’m not an egomaniac, but I’d like to believe that it means something to have someone you know close by when you’re dying, especially in a strange place,” he explained.

“I’d like to think so too,” I agreed.

“As much as it broke my heart to see those kids dying, it hurts more to see you like this, Chet. How do you think the fellas would see you?” he asked. He was honest, but that felt like a low blow, which is fitting. I’ve been feeling rather depressed for quite some time now, in every sense of the word.

“The fellas are dead. We don’t get to see them anymore, so I don’t see why I should have to see them in my dreams. When I drink enough, I don’t have the nightmares,” I explained. Sarge let me finish talking, but he was writhing in his seat all the while.

“They’re not all dead!” he yelled. His face was an inferno, and his eyes would’ve killed me if they were able. Afterward, I was unsure if he was saying that only to me or to himself as well, on some level. “Listen, why don’t you get some help? There are programs out there for this sort of thing. We all have nightmares. You’re not the only one,” he added. I was somewhat touched that he was trying to help, but I was a little annoyed as well.

“I’ll look into it,” I said. Sarge’s face immediately transformed into a disapproving frown.

“Let’s go now. I know a guy. I’ve mentioned you to him before,” he replied, putting me on the spot.

“Who else have you mentioned this to?” I asked, fearing his answer.

This guy was giving me the looks today. This time, he seemed offended in a matter-of-factly manner. “If you’re talking about Alice, don’t worry. I haven’t said anything to her, but she’s not stupid. She’s still single, you know,” he replied, with a not so subtle hint. Like I said, Sarge isn’t one for subtlety.

What a twisted web. The Alice he mentioned was his niece and the love of my life, once upon a time. Obviously, we did not make it to the happily ever after part. Alice Grace was everything a guy could want. She was beautiful, smart, funny, in her way, and she was somehow a pushover and tough at the same time. I may have been too lousy of a detective to know that Greene’s name was Fred, but you can bet your life that I knew that she was still single.

I decided to ignore the topic of Alice. “I can’t meet your guy. Not now,” I said.

“Why not? What’s more important than your health?” he asked, making a good point.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I can’t deny that I owe Link the favor that he asked of me, but I can’t keep up this pace forever. On the other hand, all he’s asking me to do is talk to a friend of his. That doesn’t sound so terrible. I wish he didn’t bring Alice into this because I don’t want her to see me like this. Speaking of my health, I’m not sure that I would be around if it weren’t for Link, but at the same time, I know that I wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for Sarge. In life, situations like these are mired in gray. Any decision that I make will be both right and wrong. At least I can look forward to being a little right.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #9. Check out my book, available for pre-order on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Detective Darby #7 – The Sergeant

There was no way to know how “Ebby” Eddy was going to handle this. I doubt his mother trusted him. Oddly, it was somehow comforting that I knew that I couldn’t believe anything Eddy says, at least I know he’s one of the bad guys.

“I think I’ll give you some time to think,” Eddy said, as he slithered towards the door.

“Leaving so soon?” I asked. I’m not sure why I bothered. I could feel the hatred beaming from my eyes, and perhaps I wanted him to stick around a little longer so that he knows how much he disgusts me.

“I can stay a while. Are you ready to talk?” Eddy asked as he held the doorknob. I guess he thought he broke me already. When you get sacks full of cash handed to you every other day I take it you get used to things coming easily. Unfortunately, he’s living a fantasy; reality isn’t on his radar.

“Since you retreated when I was about to engage in deep thought, per your suggestion, I was wondering if thoughts hurt your ears or something. Maybe like a dog whistle. Are you a dog, ‘Ebby’?” I asked, with the apparent intention of insulting him. I’d insult his intelligence as well if only I were able.

“Don’t you call me that!” he yelled. He made it across the room in a flash and pointed his finger rather close to my face.

“I’m no expert on dogs, but I’d say you’re a lapdog. One thing I know about dog’s, again I’m no expert, but they can all lick their own scrot. You ever do that?” I asked, not that I expected an answer.

“You’d be wise to tread carefully,” he warned.

“Come to think of it, I’ve seen plenty of dogs lick each other. In your case, I imagine you start with the boots and slowly work your way up. Am I right?”

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it but, wouldn’t you know, Eddy socked me square in the eye, knocking me to the floor. Then, he slammed the door so hard that the glass shattered and splashed to the floor like a sack of marbles. As I got back to my feet, I could see Eddy storming through the office. Just before he exited, he cleared the top of a desk with a single swipe of his arm. He’s not classy enough to do that to his desk; I hope that was Greene’s.

Suddenly, Greene walked into the sad little interrogation room, now somewhat in shambles. The glass crumbled and crunched underneath each of his footsteps. More importantly, he seems to have brought a peace-offering.

“Fancy a drink?” he asked, with a bottle and a couple of Dixie cups in his hands.

Was he serious? “Sure do,” I replied. He set the cups down on the table. When he removed the lid from the bottle, I could almost see the scent of the whiskey attaching itself to molecules of air and sailing home for a reunion with my sense of smell. I find myself jealous of the cup for getting a taste of the mania before me. As soon as he finished pouring, I readily snatched the cup as if playing some twisted game of jacks. I finished my cup before he could even pour one for himself. He didn’t make me ask for another but, this time, I let the cup rest unfettered on the table. “Are there any strings attached to the open bar here?” I asked, slightly paranoid but pragmatic to be sure.

He didn’t answer at first, not before having a drink. That’s fair. “I don’t want anything from you, Chet. I just thought I’d offer a battered man in my custody a drink. Call it a gesture of goodwill,” he replied. He didn’t bother looking at me. Frankly, Greene was a grumpy old man. He wasn’t chubby but had a pot belly, in complete opposition with his physique. It was so out-of-place it might as well have been a cartoon belly. He is simply a victim of time. His hair is thin, especially up top, and his eyes were dull. On the plus side, his complexion was good, and he was healthy enough, and willing, to track down the baddies. If that’s not sufficient, he apparently donates booze to two-bit hacks; the biggest jerks get refills.

“So it’s Chet now,” I said as if I was owed anything in the first place.

“Look, I didn’t send Ed in here. He asked me about you and said he could get you to talk,” he admitted.

“Maybe you’re running a game on me,” I replied. I know Greene is by-the-book, but I mostly know him by reputation. With my luck, I can’t be sure he isn’t willing to have a hand in throwing the book at me as well.

“Maybe I am,” he said, as he gathered the bottle and cups. “That crack about the brothel was good. I’m gonna steal that from you,” he remarked, as he entered the hallway. He turned back. “By the way, Judge Cohen is on duty,” he added and winked.

Just as soon as Greene left, the desk sergeant barged in. He nearly plowed through Greene, which wouldn’t hurt my feelings. He turned a chair around backward and sat down as if he were about to lay down the law, no pun intended. His name is Stanley Law, believe it or not, we call him Stan.

“What did you get yourself into, jackass?” he asked, though his concern was unconvincing.

“A foxhole of a different variety it seems,” I replied. Stan was one of the few real men around and one of the fewer whose opinions I cared to know. Suddenly, “Ebby” Eddy casually walked in and plopped a folder down before walking off without a word. Stan noticed my disapproval of his existence. “What’s in the folder?”

“Don’t worry about him,” he said, addressing the tension clutching to the rafters. “Ed processed you. I’m here to escort you out. I think you can agree to that, especially since Ed and Fred agreed,” he announced.

“Who the hell is Fred?”

“Is that what you have to say to that? Really? Fred is Detective Greene, genius,” he replied. “Aren’t you a detective too, smart guy?” His words cut well enough to hit bone. Unfortunately, he made a good point, and I had nothing to say for myself, for once. “Do you need a minute?” he asked, this time with genuine concern.

That was a good question. Was a minute all that I had? Eddy didn’t apologize when he came in here or show the slightest hint of remorse. If he helped get me out, I could only wonder whether I have a target on my back now. It’s not the jitters talking, I just had six fingers, so I pondered the possibility that I’m being turned loose as part of a larger, much more fiendish plan. As the man said, I’m supposed to be a detective, a smart guy, and there’s certainly no shortage of fiends these days.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #8. Check out my book, available for pre-order on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Detective Darby #6 – The Arrest

It took only a few moments for the coppers to funnel into the depot. A few of the officers that I knew had quite a look of surprise on their faces while a few others took it as business as usual. It was already clear that the room was divided.

My heart sank when the first suit I saw was Detective Greene walking through that garage door. Greene was not a bad guy, but he wasn’t exactly good for me. He moved to the city from the Midwest, Kansas or something, and spread his boy scout antics around to a fault. I don’t think he has a reasonable bone in his body.

“What are you waiting for?” Detective Greene asked anyone who would listen. “Pat him down.” One of the officers looked at me apologetically as he slowly approached.

“I am carrying. It’s registered,” I said as I opened my suit jacket. Greene seemed to notice the blood on my right hand and cuff. In my haste, I had failed to see it myself. I hate to admit that it did not look good. “I came here at the request of a client. I’m looking for a woman,” I said as the officer took my gun, emptying the chamber and removing the magazine.

“Where did the blood come from?” Greene asked, almost robotically.

I did not see any reason not to cooperate. After all, I didn’t do anything wrong. “There was a tussle. I got jumped by three guys. My punch was rather on the nose,” I said as I examined my slightly bloodied fist. “I found a body in the trunk of the taxi,” I announced as I pointed towards said taxi.

Greene furrowed his brow and then walked deliberately towards the cab. He did not take his eyes from me until he passed by. Before he did, he stopped and looked hard and deep into my eyes as if he could sense my guilt or innocence by doing so.

“There is a body in here,” one of the officers announced even though Greene was standing right next to him by this time.

“Go radio it in,” Greene commanded. “As for you, Mr. Darby, you’re under arrest for suspicion of murder. Cuff him,” he announced.

“Are you serious?” I asked. I cannot say that I’m entirely surprised given Greene’s by-the-book nature.

“I’m afraid so,” he replied. At this point, nobody had handcuffed me. “What are you waiting for?” he asked. This time, his frustration leaked through his usual icy demeanor.

An officer finally approached me with his handcuffs at the ready. “I’m sorry about this Chet,” he said, as he clicked the handcuffs into place.

I knew his remorse was genuine by how loose the cuffs were on my wrists. “Don’t worry about it. It’s all part of the job,” I replied.

“Take him away,” Greene calmly demanded. The officer complied and I was soon sitting in the backseat of a police car.

I sat inside the squad car for quite a long time. It looks like they put a rookie out here to keep an eye on the perimeter and he gave me the occasional glance. I doubt he thought that I would mount an escape but who could blame him for watching me. It’s a far sight better than trying to explain it had I successfully escaped.

After some time, the crowd around the perimeter had gotten pretty large. Many of the onlookers stared in and pointed at me. Some seemed curious or concerned while others would have been glad to have hanged me from the nearest lamp-post of sufficient height. Speaking of height, after surveying the crowd I saw my pal Walt Hayes towering over them. I imagined him holding the rope that I was hanging from as the crowd cheered and spat at me, he likely had the strength. For some odd reason, I found the mental image quite hilarious albeit morbidly. I began to laugh hysterically at the thought. Some of the crowd noticed as did the rookie cop. I won’t soon forget the look of terror on his face as he looked at me while I cackled maniacally. Tears slowly slid down my cheeks as the laughter turned into sinister echoes. I imagined Walt pawing at me, as a cat would a string while dangling me effortlessly. By now, my ribs and cheeks were sore, my breath was running short, and I was becoming light-headed. Time seemed to slow down so much so that my laughter sounded far more like the roaring of a beast frenzied in a fit of rage. The scene was undoubtedly incriminating. I don’t care. Whatever contempt the crowd may have felt for me, I revisited on them tenfold simply for existing.

Al long last, two officers got into the car and drove me to the nearest station. It was comically close to the depot considering how long I languished outside in that police car. Once we arrived, they rushed me inside, which seemed odd, once again, given the amount of time I had waited.

One of the officers took me to processing, removed the handcuffs, and seemed intent on fingerprinting me. “My prints are in my file already,” I said. He looked at his partner, both of them dumbfounded.

“What’s going on, Chet?” the desk sergeant asked. He looked sternly at the two petrified officers. “Take him to room two. I’ll vouch for him,” he ordered. The officers did not make him repeat himself before yanking me towards room two, presumably. “And take those cuffs off,” he shouted from a distance.

Strangely, as soon as my butt hit the chair, Detective Greene walked in. “Could you recommend a good lawyer?” I asked as he sat down across from me.

“Are you sure you don’t have anything to say?” he asked. I wondered if he cared or not. “Murder is serious business.”

“So is prostitution but you know that. Growing up in a brothel must be tough,” I said, convinced that would get Greene out of the room. As I predicted, he slowly got up from his chair and closed the door behind him. I could see him talking to another detective, Eddy Hill. Everyone calls him “Ebby” Eddy since his allegiance always seems to flow with the tide. The tide being cold, hard cash. Seeing him was almost never good news since the good guys aren’t typically inclined to hand out bribes.

“Ebby” Eddy walked in with his usual swagger. He was the personification of a weasel, tall and thin, almost sickly in appearance, with light brown hair and a pointy nose. “Well, I have good news and bad news,” he announced. His utter corruptness exceeded his originality or lack thereof. “The good news is, it’s Ash Wednesday. The bad news is, the judge on duty is a devout Catholic,” he said.

“What do I care?” I asked. By the way, I didn’t care.

“You care because we have to figure out what to do with you until Monday,” he replied. His filthy grin was almost as disgusting as the dark secrets he must have accrued over his many years as a dirty cop. The fact that he was a dirty cop was almost as cliché as his bad cop routine. Not that him being a bad cop was a routine. Nevermind. I made my point.

If I could ask that question all over again, I might change my answer. After looking into the pin-sized, desolate eyes of that scumbag, I could only wonder where I might end up at the end of the day. If this is merely a tactic, then color me impressed. Unfortunately, I feared the lengths they were willing to go to impress their will upon me.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #7 – The Sergeant. Check out my book, available for pre-order on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Detective Darby #5 – The Trunk

Walt and I were petrified as we continued to stare into the trunk of that taxi. It seemed to have untold depths with only a glint of light captivating us while we squinted in vain to reason out its origin.

“For a second, I thought we were going to find that dog,” Walt remarked. His bravado was unrelenting, but that has always been his defining quality. During the war, I thought the guy had a death wish. More than once he grabbed me by the collar and threw me back into the fray. There never was a particular instance during which he saved my life, but I’m convinced that he did somehow. The cats of this city are undoubtedly grateful, though gratitude and cats are as oil and water in my opinion.

“Is he dead?” I asked, hoping maybe saying so would make it otherwise. The man looked like a typical businessman. He wore a suit and tie with a brown overcoat. His hands and feet were bound in a familiar manner. Unfortunately, I had some personal experience with such bindings. Then, I saw the suitcase, and it finally hit me.

“Maybe we ought to poke him with a stick,” suggested Walt. I asked myself if he was serious, but I’m not going to ask him. I don’t want to hear his answer.

My eyes locked on the man. Just as I feared, the echoes came back. They started off in the back of my mind and gradually intensified until it was the only thing I could hear. Walt’s voice was but a murmur muffled under layers of sonic pollution. Suddenly, I reached for my flask but, as soon as I touched it, the realization that it was empty mocked me. The feel of the cold, hard metal of the flask was an equally brutal reminder. Not only was I an emotional weakling, drowning my sorrows in poison, but I was also too inept to provide myself with the instrument to do so. In truth, my sorrows were drowning. Each time I swam the fermented seas to save them, they pulled me under with ease. Whenever I empty a bottle, I always lose a piece of myself to its void. This pace cannot go on forever, at least not as far as the universe is concerned, but it can go on for my forever, whether it be weeks or years. The universe is concerned as if the universe can spare some concern for a bum like me.

Wouldn’t you know, Walt grabbed me by the collar. I immediately snapped out of my trance. “Snap out of it!” he yelled, which was quite apropos.

I put my hands around his wrists. “I’m okay,” I said as he loosened his grip. Eventually, he let me go, but he did not mention anything. Walt was hardly the sensitive type yet somehow he knew when to keep quiet and when to get in my face. This situation called for the former. “I think this is the passenger that helped toss me in the trunk last night. I won’t lie; I love the irony,” I said as I studied him.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about this. Apparently, you made it out alive. That’s something,” Walt remarked. It never occurred to me to look at the bright side, unless it involved surrendering to the moonlight, and I certainly did not expect to be reminded to do so by Walt of all people. “Are you sure?” Walt asked. I couldn’t be sure whether he asked out of his curiosity or because he doubted my state of mind.

I think it might be time to do some detective work. With that in mind, I approached the trunk and began to rifle through the man’s pockets.

Walt seemed uneasy. “I’m going to get some air,” he announced.

“Who’s a jumpy girl this time?” I asked only to ridicule him. Truthfully, Walt is not a squeamish man in any sense, but he always had a problem with scrounging from the dead. During the war, he beat a man half to death for taking a pack of smokes from a fallen comrade. Eventually, he adopted a pragmatic viewpoint on the matter, but it always made him uncomfortable. At least he stopped piling up casualties of his own before a court-martial resulted.

He winced as I continued to search the man. “I’ll be close by,” he said before disappearing.

My search was rather disappointing. Amazingly, there was not a single drop of blood anywhere in the trunk, and I only found the things I would expect to find in anyone’s pockets such as money, a watch, a handkerchief, and a few other baubles. Suddenly, I had an excellent idea, for better or worse, so I quickly and calmly reached into the inside pocket of the victim’s overcoat to see the results of my panning. I may have been calm in my actions, but inside, my heart burned with the shoveling of a thousand stokers, and the fruits of their labor were bound to erupt from my ears momentarily. I was relieved to find that the man did not carry a flask even though I desired it to be otherwise. Instead, I procured a small brown envelope. I opened it up and found a picture of myself inside. It was an official photo that the Army took of me when I came home. Since that was going on five years ago, I was happy to be recognized by it. I flipped it over to discover that my name and the address of my apartment, which had been crossed off, and the office had been written down. I guess there was no denying that this was one of my kidnappers. For good measure, I checked the other pockets of his overcoat and discovered a book of matches from a local bar called Lucky’s. America’s pastime may well be baseball, but mine was such that I knew my bars all too well. When Emily came to me, she mentioned that she frequents a bar from which a man was presumably stalking her. They say the best lies contain a modicum of truth; this book of matches might be the lead I was hoping to find.

Suddenly, I heard sirens and the screeching tires of hard braking. I went over everything in my mind. I had my investigator’s license, my gun is registered, and I was hired to come here, technically. For the life of me, I can’t remember if I filled out any paperwork regarding Link’s favor. Depending on which coppers come through that door, my life might soon become immeasurably complicated.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #6 – The (insert title here). Check out my book, available for pre-order on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Book Excerpt #1 – The Mad Ventures of Bindlestiff Cliff

Here’s an excerpt from my book for you to enjoy. Keep in mind, this isn’t from the final draft. Check back in the near future for more excerpts. Thank you.

“What’s this all about?” Bob said as he was driving towards a four-way stop sign. It appeared that there were two cars already stopped and they seemed to be in a stalemate in regards to who should go next. “Come on!” Bob yelled as he angrily mashed his car horn to no avail.

“This sort of thing is exactly why I don’t have a license, Bob,” Cliff mentioned, with the understanding that Bob would agree with him.

“You do realize that I was there when you lost your license, right?” Bob asked with a puzzled look on his face. He disengaged from Cliff to give the horn another blare. “Let’s go you jerks!”

“That whole situation was a huge misunderstanding,” Cliff responded but he often found himself mixed up in one misunderstanding or another. Bob knew that better than anyone.

“The judge didn’t seem confused about it,” Bob said, determined to pick at an old wound. “If I remember correctly, you somehow exposed yourself to the lady teaching your DUI class,” he continued.

“What’s your problem, Bob? You know there’s more to the story than that,” Cliff’s tone was noticeably shifting to a place of anger. “You know; I wasn’t even driving the car. I got a ride from a man who turns out was the ex-boyfriend of one of your colleague’s sister. That cop had it out for him for violating a restraining order and he took it out on me because I just happened to be there.”

“Listen, I’m sorry. I was just messing with you,” Bob apologized. “I’m on your side, Cliff. You remember who kept you out of jail, got the fine waived, and the cost of the classes too? They only made you do the classes so the officer involved saved face,” he explained, trying to calm him down.

“Well, I was too poor to defend myself and, I admit, I was lucky that you had my back. Not everyone has a Bob in their corner though,” he said, thanking him in so many words.

“Don’t get mad,” Bob warned. “Refresh my memory as to how you exposed yourself to that lady. I remember the charges were dropped but I actually had nothing to do with that and nobody really told me what happened.”

“Like I said, it was a misunderstanding. I went to the class as they told me and everything was going fine until we took a break. I went to the bathroom and was doing my business when she grabbed my shoulder and started hollering at me. Naturally, I turned around and she starts screaming because she saw my man bits,” he tried to explain and was a little irritated to discover Bob was laughing uncontrollably at his story. “It turned out she came in the men’s room, like I told them, so they dropped the charges. I still got arrested though and they didn’t believe a word I said until half of the people in the class told them they saw her run out of the men’s room,” he continued.

“How does this stuff keep happening to you?” Bob managed to ask as his laughter had tapered off. “Look at this situation. You’re like a magnet for this,” he continued and shook his index finger in the air to suggest he had more to add to the conversation. “You’re some kind of bizarro Rumpelstiltskin that spins situations into chaos.”

“I’m happy I can entertain you, Bob,” he replied solemnly, if not sincerely.

Bob noticed his comments were getting to him so he attempted to turn things around. “You don’t usually let this get to you, Cliff. If I took it too far, I am sorry. Are we good?”

“We’re good,” he answered and nodded as well which boosted both his confidence in his answer and Bob’s confidence in its sincerity.

“Alright then,” he replied. He immediately turned his attention back to the two cars at the stop sign. “Go! You,” he pointed at one of the cars, “get going!”

Cliff, unlike Bob, sat patiently in the passenger’s seat and tried to figure out who the people in the other cars were. On the left side, there was a young girl driving a nice sedan and an older man sitting in the passenger seat. The man seemed to be trying to talk her through the situation but the girl seemed to be scared or arguing with him. It was hard to be sure from that distance.

On the right side, there was a man in one of those tiny little trucks. The truck had an unusual arm attached to the bed with a wheelchair hooked to it. That along with the handicapped sign hanging from his rear view mirror led Cliff to believe he was disabled.

“I still can’t believe nobody is going,” Bob said. At this point, it seemed he was too tired to get angry. Instead, he just shook his head and threw up his hands in disbelief.

“Don’t worry, Bob. I think I’ve got this,” Cliff said confidently.

“I can’t think of a single time you’ve told me not to worry that ended well at all,” Bob replied and the situation flew out of his hands before he knew it.

“Parley!” Cliff shouted as he stuck his head out the window and began to open his door.

“What are you doing? Are you kidding me?” Bob asked in disbelief.

Cliff scurried out of the car but then he turned and looked at Bob. “You remember, from the pirate movies, they’d have a little meeting to hash things out. That’s what I’m doing,” he explained while Bob looked on, helpless to do anything about the avalanche of absurdity except watch it unfold.

The girl in the sedan got out of her car as well, with only slight hesitation, even though the older man was about as bewildered about it as Bob. She walked timidly towards the middle of the intersection, following Cliff’s lead, and occasionally looked back at the car as if doing so would make the ordeal any safer or appropriate.

Eventually, Bob angrily got out of the car to see if he could assist in wrapping up the nonsense. “You do realize that this isn’t some stupid pirate movie, don’t you?” He asked as he slammed the car door hard enough for the others to notice. He was both disappointed and relieved that he failed to shatter the glass of the car door during his Herculean episode.

By the time Bob reached the others, the man from the sedan had joined the girl and Cliff. The four of them watched, in awkward silence, as the disabled man was in the process of using the little crane attached to the back of his truck to retrieve his wheelchair.

“Listen up,” Bob began to speak but Cliff interrupted him.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Cliff said while gesturing him to slow down.

“What is it?” he replied impatiently.

“We can’t start without the other guy,” he explained as he pointed towards the disabled man who was, at last, in his wheelchair.

Bob did not have time to answer because the man in the wheelchair zoomed over with much greater speed than anyone expected. As he got closer, he stopped abruptly causing everyone in the group, save Cliff, to jump backwards to avoid a collision.

“Sorry about that,” he said, looking up at them. “I’m still getting used to this new chair I got from my grandma,” he explained.

“That was really nice of her to do that for you,” the girl replied in that tone people often use when they feign sincerity.

“Oh, she didn’t give it to me,” he said shaking his head, “she died and I took her chair because it’s so much better than the one I had.”

The group of people looked at one other. It was clear each of them was hoping someone would step up to the plate, so to speak, and steer the conversation back on course.

Cliff was all too happy to oblige, although the results with him were a mixed bag at best. “Well, it’s not like she needed it anymore,” Cliff blurted out the first thing that came to mind. To make matters worse, he raised his hand towards the man signaling a high-five and, to the surprise of the others, the man enthusiastically slapped his hand thus completing the aforementioned high-five and eliminating any possibility to leave Cliff hanging.

The situation evolved beyond the realm of what Bob had thought a simple drive from a motel room to his home could entail. He was determined to take control and saw little choice but to play the hand he was dealt. In this case, that was the police card. “Listen up,” he announced in a manner to suggest he was not foreign to taking action. “I’m a police officer and I really need everyone to return to your vehicles and move along. The middle of an intersection is no place for anyone to be standing.”

The five of them continued to stand in the middle of the road. It was astonishing that no other cars had showed up at this point.

“He’s right. Let’s just do as he says and get back in the car,” the older man said, clearly agitated, to the younger girl and attempted to grab her, albeit gently, by the arm.

The girl quickly pulled away from him and turned her attention to Bob. “I’m sorry, officer. It is just that my dad is totally stressing me out. I got my learner’s permit and Dad was going to show me a few driving tips since he is always driving in big cities. We started arguing at the stop sign and then I noticed the truck was there and I didn’t know if it was my turn to go or not so I just sort of froze,” she explained and talked extremely fast while doing so. Her dad suddenly seemed content to let her take the lead perhaps in the hopes that she would learn something or at least gain some valuable life experience out of the deal.

“Okay, calm down,” Bob said and the girl seemed to heed his advice by taking a deep breath. “Does anyone else remember who was there first?” Bob asked. He raised his eyebrows and looked over the two men.

The disabled man pounced at the chance to answer as if he were waiting for the question. “I remember. It stuck out in my mind because about halfway down the street, I almost hit a cat…”

“What kind of cat was it, house cat or feral?” Cliff interrupted. The nature of his question seemed to suggest it mattered one way or the other.

“Cliff!” Bob tried to stifle his voice to keep from shouting but his outburst startled the would-be commuters nonetheless.

“I don’t know. What’s the difference?” he asked.

“Maybe you should loan him your dictionary, Cliff,” Bob sarcastically added. He immediately regretted the suggestion for fear that he might actually go fetch it.

“Well, I’m sure you know what a house cat is. A feral cat is basically just a wild cat,” he explained. “As a matter of fact, I once met a Chinaman who taught me a lot about the virtues of feral cats. You see…”

“Let me just stop you right there,” Bob said as he casually shoved Cliff away from the man. “First of all, nobody says Chinaman anymore. I am not a historian but I’m pretty sure that is offensive. Secondly,” Bob leaned down to get uncomfortably close to the man, “do you know if it was your turn to go or not?”

The man leaned away in vain because the more he did, the closer Bob got. “It was definitely her turn,” he answered.

Bob lingered in the man’s face far longer than he had hoped especially since he had given him his answer.

Suddenly, another car pulled up to the stop sign. Now a car waited at every end of the intersection. A very old woman drove it, one of those older sedans with a hood almost as long as an entire modern car. In addition, the car was at least twenty years old but looked brand new and probably had fewer miles than Bob’s two-year old vehicle. Without any hesitation, the old woman honked her horn, screeched her tires, and flipped the group a very common hand gesture among motorists representing her disapproval of the situation.

“Well, she has a point,” Bob commented as he retreated from the absurd battlefield of wills.

“That’s not the first time an old lady did that to me,” said Cliff with a hint of pride in his voice. He apparently found it humorous.

“Imagine my surprise,” Bob replied and continued to walk.

“Hey, Bob! I think I can see your house from here!” Cliff exclaimed while still standing surreally in the street with three strangers.

“No kidding? You keep that up and you might make detective before I do,” Bob replied and was unrelenting with his sarcasm.

“He really is on fire today,” Cliff mentioned to them and got about as much reaction from them as he would have from a dairy cow. “It was nice to have met you all,” he added and scampered away abruptly. The motley trio of dawdlers finally took the hint and began to disperse.

Cliff quickly arrived back at Bob’s car. What he did not find, however, was Bob. In response, he looked all around the car, in the car, and down the street. As he did, he noticed that Bob was more than halfway to his house. He had walked, abandoning his car.

Cliff thought that to be out of character for Bob but always tried to be liberal in his understandings of people. On the contrary, he lived his life with his own kind of understanding: some things are not meant to be understood. With this in mind, Cliff tried his best to let people be who they are rather than shaping them, in his mind, to what he wants them to be. He quite often found himself on the pointy end of public judgment. Although he did not enjoy that, he took it for what it was and endeavored to move forward.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Detective Darby #4 – The Passenger

Finally, I conjured enough nerve to lay eyes on my presumptuous passenger. I prepared myself to receive quite a shock but, in the end, was rather relieved instead, which was something of a shock in its own right.

It turned out to be none other than Walter Hayes, one of the reasons why my door reads Chet Darby and Associates. Walt is a bear of a man, don’t ever call him Walter. He stands about six-foot four, has impressively broad shoulders, a barrel chest, and hands large enough to cause insecurity in those who dare shake his hand. He maintains that the best use of his brain is to headbutt someone. He always wears the same brown pants and suspenders with a white undershirt. I long assumed the combination of the broadness of his shoulders and chest and the relative leanness of his abdomen made it difficult for him to find a well-fitting button up shirt, though I’ve never asked. He was surprisingly clean shaven, given his temperament, except for a thick, bristly mustache he maintained. His hair was equally thick and deep brown in color, though he often hid it under a flat cap. I first met him during the war. He seemed to show up, like today, when I was alone and in need of backup.

“You’re a jumpy little girl this morning,” Walt said gruffly as if he talked any other way. Truthfully, I was jumpy considering my recent experiences. “What’s the plan?” he asked. Knowing him as well as I do, I could guess what his plan was, it was the same every time.

“I was thinking we’d just storm in there and start punching people in the face until we figured out what to do next,” I replied and expected little argument from Walt on the matter.

“Sounds like a good plan,” he replied. He smiled and began cracking his knuckles. His grin wasn’t even sadistic in nature, which I found to be more unsettling than if it had been.

“I thought you might say that,” I admitted. Unfortunately, Walt wasn’t kidding and even if he agreed to an alternate plan, the result would remain the same. My best play is to keep it simple. “How about this, you swing around back, and I will go through the front. That way one of us should be able to surprise them,” I explained.

Walt grimaced at the thought. “I suppose I can live with that,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll give you a head start,” he added and winked at me.

“How much for the fare?” I asked the cabby. He turned back to look at me, the fabric of the seat groaned as if a mysterious creature. He didn’t speak. Instead, stern uncertainty beamed from his eyes. Perhaps he overheard our conversation. With that in mind, I thought it prudent to overpay, an unspoken agreement that matters remain unspoken. As I opened the door, I looked at Walt one last time as if to confirm the plan. His eyes revealed no hint of uncertainty and I was convinced he’d just assume punch his way out of the cab. I wasn’t going to stick around for that. I hope I’m wrong, wouldn’t be the first time, but I’m glad I tipped him well at least.

I walked up the block before crossing the street. I was surprised I recognized the cabby so quickly, but I have a knack for that sort of thing, wouldn’t be much of a detective otherwise. On the other hand, I had no way of knowing whether the cabby would recognize me so easily. Since I was unconscious, I can only guess how involved he was, or wasn’t, in casting me into that man-made inferno. In any case, I bet I find out sooner than later.

I was within one hundred feet of the depot when a large group of men emerged from the garage. Luckily, there was a phone booth nearby so I casually slipped inside, as if that was my intention all along. I remained incognito by pretending to use the telephone. As I watched, I noticed six men in all, three wearing suits, and three apparent flunkies. They all seemed to be orbiting one man in particular. They followed his lead and hung on his every word. One of the suits got into a car parked nearby, starting the engine, while the other suit opened the door for the distinguished gentleman with the gravitational pull. The flunkies stayed behind as the car sped away. There was no sign of the cabby; it was making me paranoid.

“Here goes,” I said as I exited the phone booth and walked towards the depot. I made it to the garage door quickly enough and kept walking as I peeked inside using mainly my peripheral vision, which revealed nothing. After I had passed the door, I leaned up against the wall and prepared to make my way inside. I hope Walt is at the ready.

I wasn’t actually counting in my head but I definitely felt like I was waiting for a countdown to expire before I rushed inside. This sort of thing annoys Walt and, after mere seconds, it annoyed me too so I dared myself to go inside and obliged all in a single motion. As I took a few steps, I feared my shoes might be the death of me. Suddenly, I remembered the echoes that Emily’s heels made on the staircase outside of my office. Every time I took a step, I could hear that same echo. It haunted me for reasons unknown.

As I turned a corner, I locked eyes with the cabby. I’d swear that my expression neutralized any lie I could imagine to get out of this peacefully. I told myself to say something, but nothing came out. I’m about three seconds away from drawing on this guy. Even I couldn’t miss from this distance.

“Who are you?” he asked. I was relieved that he hadn’t recognized me so far. “You shouldn’t be in here.”

I said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m looking for a dog. Did you see one wander in here?”

“No, there’s no dog in here so move along,” he replied. He wasn’t nice, but he wasn’t rude either.

I’m not sure if Walt’s presence was influencing me but a wellspring of rage began trickling to the surface of my psyche. “Look, I really need to find that dog. You see, I got out of bed this morning and your mom asked me to walk her dog. She’ll be upset if I go back without it and frankly, I’d like to stay on her good side, if you know what I mean,” I said.

Suddenly, the flunkies had me surrounded, and the cabby seemed to be studying my face. “What do you think boys?” he asked rhetorically. He sighed loudly through his nose as his gaze softened. “Get out. This is your last chance.”

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that. And these goons weren’t expecting Walt Hayes. “Are you sure you haven’t seen that dog?” I asked, and the cabby immediately looked disappointed. “If you stare at its arse long enough, you’ll think you’re looking into a mirror.”

The cabby nodded, and the flunkies immediately converged. “Don’t bloody him up. The boss wouldn’t like it,” he announced as he pulled out a cigarette and a book of matches. The cabby’s handling of the situation was intriguing.

Oddly, the flunkies didn’t seem to know what to do since the cabby took blood off the menu. The three of them stood in a circle around me and seemed to be waiting for someone do something.  I shrugged while looking towards the cabby and immediately decked the flunky to my left. My fist sank into his nose so deeply, breaking it to be sure, it felt as if I was pounding my fist into the mud. As I expected, the flunky behind me wrapped his arms around me. He had an iron grip for such a skinny bastard. Unsurprisingly, the remaining flunky began to work my body like a heavy bag while the cabby continued smoking.

I was expecting Walt to intervene any minute but it wasn’t happening. After a few more blows, the cabby looked at his watch and walked swiftly from the building. Finally, I could see Walt walking in from a doorway in the back. Instead of intervening, he casually sat down on the bumper of a taxi and watched with a concerned look on his face, at least he cares.

One flunky was still nursing his nose on the floor while the skinny one held me and the third one was getting ready for another combination. I glanced at Walt and he emphatically clenched a fist as he clenched his face in a similar manner. This was undoubtedly meant to encourage me. Just as another punch was about to come my way, I went limp and crashed to the floor. As I hoped, the skinny one folded under my weight and I instinctively introduced my foot to my sparring partner’s gonads. Once he collapsed, I sprang to my feet and presented the same foot to the skinny one’s face. It was only fair; I didn’t want him to feel like a heel.

I stumbled back to the taxi on which Walt was still sitting. At this point, he was laughing and clapping his hands oafishly, on both counts. The flunkies had gathered themselves by now and seemed ready to start round two. I opened my jacket just enough to reveal my pistol. They scampered like the vermin they are. Thank goodness, I was running out of steam.

“Well done,” Walt said approvingly.

“Thanks,” I replied as he patted me on the back so hard I nearly fell over, stumbling a step or two as a result. I wanted to be mad at him but, truth be told, but I was both proud of myself and glad to have his approval. I turned around and took yet another look at Walt sitting on the bumper. A feeling came over me as I moved towards the taxi.

“Let’s open the trunk,” he said, reading my mind. It was locked so he immediately grabbed the nearest tool and began to pry it open. While he did that, I strolled up and opened the driver’s door. The keys were in the ignition. I held them up and jingled them to emphasize how clever I was. “Have it your way,” he said as he backed away from the trunk and tossed the tool carelessly aside. The tool and the concrete floor composed a clang that resonated and seemed to ricochet inside my skull as a bullet, and with equal effect, albeit temporarily. My mind flashed, trying to take me back to that staircase, but I resisted.

When I managed to regain my senses, I place the key into the lock. Walt’s use of force had mangled the metal around the lock and sporadically chipped away the yellow paint. Despite that, the trunk popped right open.

“I was not expecting that,” Walt remarked as we looked into the trunk. So far, this week had been so strange that if I heard someone tell this story, I wouldn’t believe a word.

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

Like this post on my Facebook Page or Twitter and check back soon for Detective Darby #5 – The Trunk. Check out my book, available for pre-order on Amazon.

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

Detective Darby #3 – The Favor

I wiped the steam from the mirror after draping myself in a towel. Consequently, I was shocked at image looking back at me. It appears that a hot bath cured my ailments except for my incessant need for a shave. Honestly, I didn’t care anymore, but I hadn’t given up on my clientele, not even the cat lovers. This shave would be strictly for business.

As I exited, successfully clean-shaven, I felt smart for having a bathtub put in the office bathroom. I remember Linda was furious when I got it. She warned me that we might not have months as successful as that and I should save my money. Instead, I bought a leather couch, the bathtub, a crystal drinking set, and a new M1911 pistol. I was always a terrible shot with a gun and never even fired one during the war. Since I can’t carry a rifle around the city, I opted for one because I figured that I would need the extra ammo, eight shots are better than six after all. If she knew that I had given up my apartment, she might forgive me the bathtub; I doubt it, though.

Speaking of Linda, I noticed a fresh suit hanging from the coat rack in the corner. I hadn’t noticed it before, but I was a bit preoccupied climbing from the inside out of a bottle last night. Not to mention, I was hit on the head, punched in the face, and nearly incinerated while dodging some rather sinister lumber as well. By dodging I mean the right side of my head avoided while the left side absorbed the blow. By the time I was done coming up with excuses, I was fully dressed and looked credible at least, to the untrained eye.

Since I had been on a tear the last few days, I decided to do a quick inventory of my desk. Luckily, I found my gun, my watch, and a current copy of the books, thanks to Linda of course. She was my wife, big sister, and mother all rolled into one. Just as I thought, there was no sign of whiskey inside my desk, and I was pondering whether that was good news or bad when I heard a knock at the door.

I quickly rushed to the door and, upon opening it, I was rather surprised. I was expecting my new friend Link but was greeted by the postman.

“Good morning, Chet. You’ve got to sign for this letter,” he said.

Our postman was always friendly, which made me feel bad for never remembering his name. “Thanks,” I replied as I signed a form. He handed me the letter, and I quickly inspected it. It was addressed to Chet Darby and Associates; it had been typed rather than hand written. Upon opening, I discovered only a check for fifty dollars, enough to pay my rent, also made out to Chet Darby and Associates. Emily Black signed it, presumably the same woman who hired and ambushed me. I can only assume the money was for Linda. Criminals this classy typically fly around town atop unicorns.

As soon as I sat down behind my desk, there was another knock at the door. I angrily walked back to the door but got it out of my system by the time I got there. As I expected, it was Link, returning as he said he would.

“You look pretty good considering what happened last night,” he said as he walked through the door at my invitation.

“I thought the same thing when I looked in the mirror,” I agreed. Link turned around after walking only a few paces. Last night, I either did not or could not get a good look at him. Link was below average height, but not short, and above average build, but not muscular. He appeared to have a strong jaw; it was prominent and angular, and his eyes were large and somewhat far apart. Also, one of his eyes was blue, and the other one was gray, which was rare to see. His hair was blonde and mostly shaved on the sides and back of his head. He wore long sleeves and pants but some small burn scars, old ones, were barely noticeable above his collar.

“Is now a good time to talk about that favor?” he asked getting straight to the point. A man in my line of work always appreciates that.

I thought about the fact that I had recently paid my rent and just received another payment that would easily cover next month. Now was the best possible time to return a favor, a nonpaying one I assume. “Like I said, I owe you,” I replied confidently.

He shook his head positively. “I need your help finding someone, a woman. Her name is Emily Black,” he announced.

I did my best to keep my composure. It appears Emily shellacked me yet again. “Okay, what can you tell me about her?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.

“Well, she is very fair-skinned, and she has red hair. She’s so beautiful that you can’t help but notice her,” Link described, much to my horror. Truthfully, I was hoping it was a coincidence, and he would describe a different woman altogether.

“Can you tell me the last place you saw her, places she frequents, or her known associates?” I asked, but he just stared at me.

“I’m sorry, but I have already exhausted everything I know. That’s why I’m asking you now,” Link replied and headed for the door. “Look, I have somewhere to be. Can you help me?” he asked while standing in my doorway.

I sighed and threw up my hands. Normally, I wouldn’t do that in front of a client, but normalcy was nowhere in sight lately. “You haven’t given me much to go on, but I will give it a shot,” I responded. At least, he hadn’t filled me full of false information. However, I couldn’t be so sure he hadn’t lied by omission. Then again, I never can when it comes to clients.

He walked a few steps towards me and shook my hand firmly. “I’ll be in touch,” he said. He pointed at me and smiled before closing the door behind him.

I had previously put my holster on under my suit jacket, so I retrieved my gun, checking the chamber and magazine before I holstered it. Then, I grabbed my hat, overcoat, and cigarettes. I don’t smoke much, drinking is my thing, but they have value when gaining the trust of others. I paused for a second and patted the inside pocket of my jacket. My flask was gone. How could I have missed it? Since I was out of whiskey, I assumed the flask would be empty too. But what if it wasn’t? Just then, I imagined tearing my office apart to find it, as I had done before. Instead, I calmly walked over to my desk and stood in front of the center drawer. As I slowly opened the drawer, it sounded as if I was dragging the entire desk across the floor, the legs scraping and screeching hideously across the floor. I’d swear the flask sparkled at me with some unknown source of reflection. I slowly reached for it and then frantically snatched it up. Upon shaking it, I discovered it was empty. I crumbled into my chair, took some refreshingly deep breaths, and noticed my heart beat slowing down, though I don’t recall it speeding up.

Once I began to think clearly, I slipped my flask into my jacket pocket and gathered my coat and hat yet again. I locked up the office and turned around. Apparently, the elevator was back in service. I only use it when I’m too drunk to walk up the stairs since I’m only on the second floor. I started for the stairs, but the echoes didn’t come, which brought a smile to my face.

As I exited the building, I planned on hailing a cab and, as luck would have it, one was driving towards me from up the block. I whistled and waved, and the cab slowed down and pulled over towards me. Boy, I love it when things fall like dominos. Now I just need to remember not to shoot the cabby. I certainly hope I don’t develop a fear of cabbies like some folks have with clowns.

“Where can I take you?” the cabby asked.

I had my own plan since Link was useless as a compass. “Take me to your headquarters or base of operations. I don’t know what you lot call it,” I said with a tinge of disdain.

“Which one?” he asked, and I didn’t have an answer. “There’s the main place and the maintenance depot,” he clarified.

“What’s the difference?” I asked even though I was pretty sure that I knew. Long ago, I figured out that making people feel smarter than you can be a useful tactic to gain information.

“Well, the base, as we call it, is where we all go daily to change cabs and check in. The depot is where they take cabs to be serviced. There’s a lot fewer guys there,” he explained.

If I need information, there are more cabbies to speak to at the base. On the other hand, if someone wanted to take a cab that nobody would miss for a few hours, it would be much easier to take it from the depot. “Should we flip a coin?” I joked. He only stared into his rearview mirror with his droopy face and dead eyes. “Take me to the depot,” I said, and he nodded.

“We’re here,” he announced. As we stopped, I looked out the window and saw the same cabby that punched me in the face walking into the depot. I ducked down into the seat hoping he wouldn’t notice me. “The meter is still running,” the cabby reminded me. He seemed completely unfazed by my actions.

Suddenly, the door to the cab opened, and someone sat down beside me. I was petrified and vulnerable. I thought finding my cabby was another domino falling into place, but I hesitated to see whether I was to be the next domino. People often say that luck runs out, but I don’t believe that. Luck turns good, or it turns bad. When I turn my head towards my unwanted passenger, my luck turns with it. The question is, which way will it go?

Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

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“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

-Albert Einstein