Detective Darby #14 – The Awakening

Upon waking up, the first thing that I noticed was, once again, the blinding brightness of the light. I cannot seem to escape its assault on my senses, sight specifically. Secondly, the realization that I was on a couch hit me, but it was not the couch in my office. As a matter of fact, this place had all the tells of a woman’s touch. No offense to Linda, but it was on a whole new level and even smelled of candles, baked goods, and potpourri, I assume. My expertise lends itself more to liquids and wisecracks than decorating although I do often precede my name with the word detective for a reason. And I don’t mind reminding people of that fact, even myself.

I leaned up placing my elbows on my knees so that I could bury my head towards the floor. As I stared at the thoughtfully chosen rug, my thoughts dug their way into the cold, dusty earth, approximately six feet down. Despite the fact that someone, at least one person, cared enough to scrape me from the sidewalk outside of Cavanaugh’s should have been uplifting in some way. Unfortunately, that’s not at all how misery operates. Better that I’d have fallen through the concrete and reeked my last bit of havoc clawing helplessly towards an escape that was not to come. I fail to think of a more fitting end since that is precisely the manner in which I have lived life since I crossed the Atlantic.

There was a coffee table just in front of me and, before I knew it, someone slid a cup on the table right in front of me.

“Thanks,” I replied without looking. I grabbed the mug and held it close to my nose. The aroma of the beans reminded me of the relief that typically followed such a scent and seemed to have triggered an endogenous reaction. I can safely accuse myself of overthinking things, perhaps that’s why I’m a halfway decent detective, but, whatever the cause, the smell of that coffee cheered me up even if it is just enough for me to notice. That’s twice now that I’ve patted myself on the back for my sleuthing skills despite the fact that I had no idea whose couch in which I was cutting a groove. It’s funny how the mind functions, malfunctions in my case.

“You’re welcome,” replied a woman’s voice, which made the hairs on my arms seem as if they were intent on running away. As my heart began thumping, I wondered for a second how I haven’t died from a heart attack, considering my addiction and the war especially. “It’s two sugars, just as you like it,” she added.

I knew that voice quite well. I’d like to think that it sounds exactly as I remembered it from my dreams, night or day, and as I had imagined it many times. It was Alice Grace. Now seems like an excellent opportunity to skip mentioning how good of a detective that I am.

“I think he likes it better with a bit more Irish in his cup,” Stan sarcastically announced. I’m not surprised that Sarge is here, he’s her uncle after all. There was undoubtedly a lecture to follow, but I can’t say that I appreciated being embarrassed on so many levels so early in the day if at all. If only I possessed a skill set germane to avoiding surprises.

“I don’t think that’s helping,” Alice remarked, kindness lining her words. Maybe I just hear what I want to when it comes to her. Truthfully, as cruel as it might sound, her voice was the last one that I wanted to hear today.

“Do you suppose he’s helping himself?” Stan asked, raising his voice. “He’s certainly helping himself to a bar stool,” he wittily added. As I finally lifted my head, I was greeted by the angry face of Sarge, complete with hands on his hips.

“I don’t know, but yelling at him isn’t helping. When you told me that you saw him the other day, wasn’t it you that mentioned how long it had been?” Alice asked, laying down the law. No pun intended. The anger drained from Stan’s face, and shame began to fill that void. I appreciated her defending me, but this isn’t something that I wanted to see. My problems being laid at the feet of another, one that I cared for no less. “Didn’t you tell me that he still uses your old office? I can’t imagine it’s all that hard to find,” she continued, multiplying the shame further. When I saw Stan begin to put his head down, I felt that I was sharing his humiliation at this point, rightly so. I had seen and heard quite enough.

“Hold on,” I announced as I began to stand. An intense pressure rushed to my head as I rose to my feet, and I can only imagine the funny face that I made in an attempt to fight it off. It certainly undermined the credibility of what I was about to say, not that my credibility accounts for much these days. “Listen, guys, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say,” I said, not the eloquence that I was hoping for. I saw a flash of anger return to Sarge’s face, and he pointed towards me as he opened his mouth to speak. However, he stopped at the last second and said nothing.

“What happened to your partner?” Stan calmly asked. At this point, he seemed content to jump on Alice’s bandwagon by finding some more excuses on my behalf. I am indeed coming up on rock bottom.

“Well, he left about the time things got heavy. I spotted the girl, but I lost her,” I explained if only a little.

“That’s unfortunate. What now?” Stan asked. Before I could even begin to think of an answer, Alice slammed her mug on the coffee table. The spoon clattered against the cup as the act got our attention, undoubtedly its intention.

“Are you really going to talk shop—now?” Alice angrily asked. She had a point. Any question as to whether the elephant in the room had been addressed was just answered.

“She’s right, you know,” Stan agreed as he walked towards me. “There’s a man that I want you to see. Remember?”

“Now?” I asked, my disdain evident.

“We had a deal,” Stan sternly replied.

“This deal is getting worse all the time,” I muttered aloud. Based on their expressions, I don’t think that Stan and Alice cared for that comment, yet another example of my exceptional skills. “Okay, what did you have in mind?” I asked, conceding the standoff.

They both seemed happy to hear my surrender. However, with me, it was unlikely to be unconditional. Stan finally sat down to relax, and I noticed Alice slowly moving towards me. She seemed as unsure how close that she would get to me as I was. Honestly, my stomach immediately knotted up as I approached petrification. Once she got within a step of arm’s reach, I circled away around the coffee table and sat down in a chair in the corner.

After all this time building up to this moment, I was infinitely confused about my feelings having finally seen and spoke to her. It was not at all how I had imagined. Alice did not collapse tearfully into my arms, slap me in the face, or give me the cold shoulder. Instead, she was willing to help me and lived alone. It doesn’t take a great detective, luckily, to see that Alice Grace might still have a place in her life for a bum of a man such as me.

Copyright © 2017 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

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“I’m not the person that you think I am, and I’m not the person that I thought I was. Let’s see who I will be today.”

–  Adam L. Cobden

Detective Darby #13 – The Quench

As the bartender humored me with a refill yet again, I took a moment to ponder that first drink of the morning that started me down this road. To clarify, it is not a path to redemption or anything as uplifting as that but a fork in the road and very much a beaten path when it comes to personal experience. I’ll tell you one thing; the bartender is playing perfectly to my paranoia with his silent treatment. I swear that he hasn’t said a word to me, but it is entirely possible that I have simply been too far gone to notice.

By this time, the bar had been something of a whirlwind. Patrons had come and gone appearing, disappearing, and sometimes reappearing in and out of a hazy hurricane of which I had become the eye. At times, it was quite crowded but, as far as I was concerned, there was only me and the glass sitting on the bar in front of me.

I stared reverently at the bronze tint of the liquor as if it were primed to reveal lost secrets from a time forgotten. Perhaps the shadows covering the dark corner in the room were harboring them, and one need only shed some light on them. But how? To that end, I hoisted the glass once again to my lips and let its majestic contents slither down my throat. I’m not going to lie; it felt fantastic, almost euphoric. After the usual gulp, however, I immediately felt the crushing shame of the act.

The burning wetness slowly crept into my eyes and sinuses. The warmth of the emotion was cruelly cold and the more that I thought about it, the more I perpetuated it. Suddenly, the sight of the glass in my hand was something of a shock, and it jolted me as if it were hot enough to melt. When I set it down, I looked up and caught the reflection of the mirror behind the bar. It reflected back to me an image that was all black and white save the golden color of my drink and the natural color of my eyes. The rest of the scene was like an abstract watercolor painted in an infinite variation of gray shades. It wasn’t as clear as real life, but real life was rarely clear and often without beauty.

The bartender was right on time. As he began to pour, I clutched the bottle, stopping him. He did not say a word and showed no emotion one way or another. We both held onto the bottle, and neither one of us attempted to claim it away from the other. I hesitated to meet my eyes with his, but something convinced me that it needed to happen. I slowly lifted my head to look into his eyes and quickly discovered that his eyes were nothing more than a black void. After mere seconds, he turned loose of the bottle and quietly walked away, the sound of his footsteps disturbingly absent.

I pulled the bottle close to my body, embracing it. It might have been my imagination, but every patron in the bar appeared to have stopped and stared at me. With an audience, I began to pour until the glass overflowed. The voice in my head told me to stop, but I continued to pour until the bottle was empty. A large puddle formed around the glass and quickly spread to the left and right. The act seemed to satisfy the onlookers because none of them appeared to notice the mess that I had made. That or none cared.

I stumbled out of my barstool and to my feet, reached into my pocket, and half-heartedly counted out a few dollars for the barman. After carelessly tossing them on the bar, I realized that they landed in the puddle that I left behind. I didn’t care but had enough presence of mind to know that I probably should have. For a moment,  I watched as the bills soaked up the liquor and began to sink into its depths which were physically shallow but psychologically immeasurable. For some reason, the sight of the alcohol soaked money sickened me with an unjustifiable disgust.

In my haste, I turned towards the door and promptly bumped into a patron. Before I could make an apology, the man turned to dust and scattered to the floor. I raised my hands to eye level in disbelief as the remaining patrons all began to stare at me just as before. One notable exception was the bartender who was preoccupied wiping down the spillage from atop the bar. He paid no attention to me or the pile of ashes at my feet.

By now, I am more than a little spooked and increased the speed of my exit. Upon doing so, I bumped into another patron and two others that seemed to be blocking my path, and all three collapsed to the floor just as the first one had. The rest of the patrons continued to watch me, but none said a word or tried to stop me.

At last, I came to the large, heavy door and leaned face first into it with moderate force. My heart pounded with such a fury that some of the beats blended.

“Why didn’t you stop me?” I beseeched the door. Suddenly, I fell helplessly forward blinded by the purest light and felt the thud of hitting the ground. The force was unmistakable, but the pain must have been absorbed by the impurity of my blood. Then, I felt myself being carried away not unlike the previous time that ended with me in the trunk of a taxi. While my cup runneth over with poison, the people near me crumble to ashes and fate carries me blindly away to uncertainty.

Copyright © 2017 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.

I’d appreciate a like and/or share on Facebook. I’ve provided a convenient link to this article’s Facebook post below. Thanks!

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“I’m not the person that you think I am, and I’m not the person that I thought I was. Let’s see who I will be today.”

–  Adam L. Cobden

Detective Darby #12 – The Thirst

I suppose you could say that I woke up caught in the crossfire of depression and an intense thirst for all things fermented. Truthfully, I did not sleep at all. The gears in my head clanged and ticked with a mechanical precision somehow achieved despite the chaos. While we’re on the subject of truth, I never even made it home after my showdown at Lucky’s. That seems like such a stupid name considering how things have unfolded for me in my experiences there. The best scenario for my trip to Lucky’s, hypothetically speaking, would be to end up blind drunk and let circumstance decide whether I sober up in an alley, bathroom floor, or on the couch of my office. If I’m actually sticking to the theme of truth, there was nothing hypothetical about that scenario, it is only a matter of time.

The dawn was creeping up over the horizon and finally splashed upon my face. I squinted and grimaced at its unwelcome welcome. Speaking of welcomes, a man was walking towards me. “Good morning,” I said as we met, but I did not hear him answer. Perhaps he nodded or mouthed the words, but I could not see his face for the blinding of the sun.

Disgust quickly overtook me as I assumed that the man just ignored me. I was quick to judge him and at the same time, I wondered why I cared at all. I don’t even like people unless they stood beside me and pointed a rifle in the same direction as I did. They’re the faceless drones that I call Dick and Jane Public, the sun might as well blot out the lot of them. They’re never more than someone that stole a cab, inhabited the last barstool, or lied about something that could help me on a case unless it involved a lost cat. Many people are more interested in helping animals than people. The only problem with that, not the only, but the biggest problem with that is that Dick and Jane Public always seem to forget that people are animals too, often the most cunning and ferocious.

Of course, there was a flaw in my thinking. What if the guy was an average Joe? These guys are the construction workers, plumbers, bus drivers, and factory workers. They are the same guys that I served with in the war. Even if they didn’t serve, average Joes are my people. Suddenly, my smugness transformed into shame, and I wondered if all people dwell on something as ordinary as that. It’s enough to drive a man to drink as if I needed an excuse.

When I finally let go of the likely imagined injustice, I noticed that I was across the street from a bar. It is one of those quaint establishments with a sign that just says Irish Pub. For those who know, we usually refer to the bar as the name of the owner or sometimes the bartender. In this case, the place is called Cavanaugh’s. If I ever get lost in the city, I can always reason out where I am when I spot a bar. I’m not sure if that is clever or pathetic, but for now, my journey had come to an end.

I crossed the street in a stupor and received the blare of a horn and unintelligible scolding for my efforts. As I put a foot on the curb, I could hear a car engine angrily revving past, the sound and the rush of air that it created seemed to be begging my pardon. I stopped in front of the door to Cavanaugh’s for a moment. I remember the door vividly because it was so much wider than the typical door. Placing my hand on it was almost a religious experience. Upon pulling it open, my muscles seemed to remember the weight of it because it was significant not only physically but the heft of the door was somehow supernatural or tuned into a plane of knowledge and existence that none of us could dare to comprehend. Perhaps it also knew what was about to happen inside. Maybe my struggle had long been etched into the metaphysical edge of the door as if a notch carved into the wood with splinters of space and time falling away and forgotten, never to exist again.

My shoes and the wooden floor made music as if a chime to inform others of my arrival, or warn them. The interior of Cavanaugh’s could likely pass for an antique shop, even the smell carried wisdom. The wood of the stools, tables, chairs and the bar itself appeared to be an extension of the fabled door and beckoned gravity with greater effect than did ordinary wood, or so it seems. I sauntered towards the bar and pulled a barstool away, unsurprisingly so I could sit. It was as sturdy as it looked and made no creaks and did not even shift in the slightest when I sat down. Oddly, it was as if I slid right into the whole setting as if a cog fitting perfectly in its place. In truth, it felt infinitely more right than it did wrong even though the wrong, in my case, was infinitely more potent.

The bartender ascended from a hatch in the floor behind the bar and carried a box full of unknown spirits, assuming there were still any foreign to my palate. As he put down the box, the bottles clinked out a melody so beautiful that it inexplicably justified my presence. He placed a glass in front of me and raised a bottle up to show me while he raised his brow as if asking for the approval to pour. Neither of us broke the silence, so I merely nodded in keeping with the dynamic that we had instantly carved out. The cork rubbed squeakily against the glass until a very satisfying pop resounded as the cork freed itself. When he began to pour, the liquid flowed mystically into the glass and kept secret whether it came to wash away or usher in the sorrow. In my experience, it is all too often both as if a tide ebbing just long enough to allow the faintest blossom of hope before crashing back and claiming it despite having no capacity for emotion. I wonder if I can drink the entire depths of that ocean one glass at a time and finally find that blossom and see that it has grown strong roots. Unfortunately, the dilemma lies in whether the roots are that of hope or corrupted by the waters of my affliction. It is all too often both.

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

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“I’m not the person that you think I am, and I’m not the person that I thought I was. Let’s see who I will be today.”

–  Adam L. Cobden

Detective Darby #11 -The Warning

As I laid helplessly on the floor, my mind was beseeching me to move, but my body refused to do as instructed. All I could do was wince as the second goon walked menacingly towards me, dragging the legs of that barstool across the floor. The stool fiercely screeched as if mired in agony, and its only respite was to unleash all that it had built up at the end of its journey. Unfortunately, the stool’s destination was a crown that I highly coveted.

Suddenly, the man stopped, and “Ebby” Eddy came into view, smug as ever.

“That won’t be necessary,” Eddy said as he waved off the stool wielding jackal that was intent on bashing me in the head.

Though skeptical at first, I soon slid through the peanut shells and pulled myself up from the floor. It was far from my finest moment, but also far from my most shameful. My mind was fuzzy but tuned in enough to want to get up on my own, especially since I had an audience. The problem is, my body simply did not have enough steam to make a go of it. Ironically, I used a bar stool to aid me in this endeavor. As I wobbled to my feet, I was forced to listen to the jackasses cackle at the spectacle of my weariness. My instant rage gave me enough spark to return the favor to nearest jackass, by punching him in the face. Unfortunately, the combination of his size and my reduced effort was not enough to take him off his feet. Eddy quickly got between me and the stool jockey, who had it cocked and ready and seemed more upset by my vengeance than the brutish recipient. I suppose he accepted that he had it coming. That, if not the man, I can respect.

“Let’s all just take a minute and calm down,” Eddy suggested.

The brute leaned casually against the bar and claimed a mug. Blood crept freely from his nose and eventually mixed in with his beer as he slowly drank it in its entirety. Upon bearing witness to his vampiric moment, I began to wonder with whom I had been trifling.

“I’m all right,” I stated as I raised my hands in the air as if under arrest, perhaps my way of flying a white flag. The situation evolved well beyond awkward as the four of us seemed to be staring at each other waiting for someone to move things forward. “What is going on here, by the way?” I asked, bewildered.

“You’re wandering through hostile territory, prick,” replied Eddy. There he is. I was beginning to wonder why he cared enough to prevent my demise or at least significant maiming. Strangely, it was comforting to hear that he did not care after all. I’m not sure how much more surprises that I can handle.

“Here we are again. Now, you’re a guard dog. Like a good boy, you’re here to run me off,” I said smugly. I’m sure the guy knew that he wasn’t going to get a medal for doing his job. Especially when that job is low-level grunt work that flies in the face of the fact that he is a cop, technically.

Eddy refused to fall into my trap. “I would love to exchange insults all day, but I was sent to do a job. Once that’s done so am I,” he replied, professionally. It was good to see that he was capable of it sometimes, even though he failed miserably back in that interrogation room, where it counts.

“I also would find it comfortable to match wits for the better part of the afternoon, assuming I could find a suitable opponent,” Conan said, chiming in. I nearly forgot that he was here. In his defense, the way that this all went down was very much outside of Conan’s wheelhouse.

“What job is that?” I asked, attempting to get this train back on the tracks.

Eddy thought it prudent to get uncomfortably close to me. Like so many other times and other people, I could only wonder what he was thinking and why he even bothered. “Stop looking for the woman. You’re already too close,” he warned.

I typically laugh at Eddy when he tries to be intimidating. This time, however, there was a depth to his gaze that seemed to stretch inexplicably inside revealing a vast, desolate space as if the entire expanse of a lifeless tundra acted as a buffer to the rage that undoubtedly boiled behind his beady eyes.

“Why are you doing this, Eddy?” I asked, frustrated. I’d never admit it, but he succeeded in his efforts to intimidate me. Even the big galoot standing next to him seemed a meek contrast. Eddy’s vibe was one of loathing, desperation, and unwillingness. Thank goodness for long sleeves, because, frankly, the guy gave me goosebumps.

“Just heed my words,” he replied and began to turn to walk away.

Unsatisfied, I grabbed his arm and felt a collective jolt between the three of us. Hostility surrounded us as if a hot, misty fog. I raised my hands as though one of them had pointed a gun at me. Truthfully, it felt just as threatening.

“Really, why do you care?” I asked, again pushing for some semblance of closure.

Eddy looked at me yet again. His scowl was there but seemed softer somehow. “I don’t care. Call it my penance for an act lacking forgiveness. I deal with it, and I suggest you do the same,” he somberly replied.

My shoes scratched and scraped against the sidewalk as Eddy’s pals impolitely escorted me outside. It was a moment lined in silver with small victories. First, I managed to slide and skate on the concrete, keeping my balance, while avoiding another fall. Second, I managed not to get punched in the face again, albeit temporarily. With that in mind, along with Conan’s ridiculous theory, I decided not to hail a taxi.

Instead, I began a lonesome walk in the general direction of my building. The fact that I had just left a bar without taking a drink made me proud but only until I played back the events in my mind. If someone had always assaulted me each time that I walked into a bar, I might have, sadly, lived a fuller life because of or in spite of it. I’m sure there’s a punchline in there somewhere, but I was far too preoccupied with licking my wounds, my tail firmly tucked between my legs.

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

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“I’m not the person that you think I am, and I’m not the person that I thought I was. Let’s see who I will be today.”

–  Adam L. Cobden

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.

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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

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

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.

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