Title: Dead Men Tell All Tales
Summary/Notes: A Noir tale written for Artemis of the Crows on gaia. Gritty Detective, Raymond Chandler-drawing on, and all that. x)
Chapter 1: The Beginning
5:30 on a Friday afternoon, and the sky is as dark and dim as the sleet black sole of Mr. Tirani’s shoe.
Trees outside dead and bare as a corpse. The people besides. Winter.
The moon’s too bright and everyone’s huddled indoors.
I don’t like to think much about nights like these. They remind me too much of old cases…the Dwayne case, the Elliot case…
But most of all, the Lichian case.
What a fucking mess.
I still see her standing there now, Mrs. Isadora Lichian, standing delicate and firm and fragile yet haughty in her slicked down dress with the red ruffled skirt and the delicate waistcoat with those always shiny little gold buttons, her blonde, tightly curled hair blowing in the wind, the moon shining on her face.
That sight will haunt me forever.
The thing started innocently enough.
It was two minutes past nine'o clock in the evening, mid December, three years back, with the streets bleak with cold and no snow to be found. I was wearing my old slate-black suit, with cement-grey shirt, crumpled-bright-blue-striped tie, old gray slacks and shined shoes. I was sloppy, a little dirty, and sober, and that had been my default for this time in the evening. I was everything you'd expect the private detective down on his luck to be. I hadn't called on money or had money call on me in twenty years.
Twenty years ago, I wasn't a PI.
Nothing happening, and nothing to see. Three minutes past nine'o clock on a Tuesday evening. Not a respectable time for any dames worried about cheating husbands or husbands worried about cheating dames to show up. Not a reasonable time for most who've lost something to knock on my door. So I put my foot up on my clock-metal gray rusted old desk and stared at the clock. Exactly half-past nine was my leaving hour. So I did what any self-respecting, bored PI would do, half-closed my eyes and daydreamed of being a Chandler character, blue-suited, competent and in a depressing world full of intrigue and beautiful broads.
Better than this world. Just as depressing, no pretty broads.
Suppose I'd was a Chandler character. I'd be dressed in powder-blue pin-striped suit, down to the nines. I'd be sleek-jawed, steel-nerved, and the broads would love me. I'd sit at my desk and a knock would come at the door.
I'd call in a deep voice, "Enter."
And just then, a beautiful woman would walk into my office. She would have long dark hair, down to her chest. She'd have smouldering eyes, black as tar. She'd be wearing a long blood-red silk dress with big dark-maroon-red feather hat and be watching me. I'd take one look at her and know that she had money. Lots of it.
She'd have a murder case.
She'd give me an impish look and I wouldn't be moved. She'd say slowly, in a deep, dark, breathy voice, "Mr. Detective."
She'd take a little breath, a little whiny noise with her throat. She'd look with those dark eyes at me and say, "I've a case for you."
I'd reply, "Oh?" , as cool as can please. She'd want to move me, to affect me. She'd sit her plush behind on my desk, kick her long legs, and lean close. "Mr. Detective, please," she'd breathe, and put a hand on my chest. She'd trail a hand down my chest, and kiss me-
Except she didn't?
Even daydreams are uncompliant. Heh. That's life.
Dumb daydream. Shouldn't bother. World's so bleak sometimes that it needs a little light, though. I straightened my tie and sat up, eyes still closed. Wasn't the first time daydreams became dreams. "Dumb daydream," I muttered to my bare, empty office. "Didn't even let the dark haired broad kiss me."
Annoyed, dark voice. Felt like I heard it before.
"Excuse me, MR. DETECTIVE!"
I opened my eyes a crack. The dark haired broad from my daydream was standing before me. Imperious. Elegant. Mad as all hell. I put my feet down. Sat up.
"My apologies," I told her. "What seems to be the matter?"
Not sure if this is reality. Generally, beautiful women with money don't walk into my office. She'll have a murder case, then I'll know I'm still dozed off.
She glowered at me through those dark eyes. "As I said, I have a case for you." She walked to the dirty-asphalt-gray window, her stoplight-red heels going click click on the dusty gray floor. She looked out into the dark streets. "My husband has something in his manner lately. A bit of a twitch- a little different gaze. I fear that he is cheating on me. Please follow him."
Ah. Reality then.
She turned to me, nervousness in those dark eyes. "I'll pay you for it now."
Nervousness is an odd thing to see on such an elegant woman.
She put a stack of green bills on my desk, an address, a schedule and a photo.
"I want you to watch his every move until I am satisfied he is not cheating on me. I will be satisfied if you can keep tabs on him until January 14th. I'm paying for your services upfront."
"Sure," I said.
"The name is Isadora Lichian. My husband is Dart Lichian. I've given you his general routine and our address. Is there anything else you need, Mr. Detective?"
"No, that's fine," I said.
She eyed me up, and walked out of my office.
...Nervous, wasn't she.
I glanced at the clock. Quarter to 10. Picked up my slate-gray coat and briefcase and kit, packed the bills away. Time to go on home. Maybe have a drink beforehand and do my usual relaxing routine.
I shut the door behind me and locked it.
That was the start of it all, I guess.
Notes: Gaia Commission for Nao's cat character.
“Who’s that Bert?” asked a newcomer to the tavern, staring at the landlady with much concentration. “The landlady and owner of this ‘ere tavern. She’s got the final say. An’ you daun want to cross dat lady, nosah! She’s got a mean headlock, and ‘er ‘usband an’ barkeep ar’ jus’ as strong as ‘er. She know’s ‘er notes too, sings the auld song o’days oftentimes.” the aforementioned Bert replied, drinking some beer, as his soft gray wolf ears twitched. “Fer a tavern, this place ‘as got pretty good beer. Aiev ‘eard she doesum ‘erself.” The newcomer’s soft gray striped ears perked up at the mention of singing.
“Landlady… hmm…” the newcomer replied, gazing at the aforementioned mistress. “She still runs the old tavern, hm…” The newcomer got up, and stretched like a cat. His gray tabby ears twitched in excitement. “Wot?” murmured Bert puzzledly. The newcomer walked towards the tavern missus. And then he ran towards her. “Mom! Mom!” shrieked the newcomer in excitement. The landlady dropped her tray and hugged him. “Issat? Issum, me auld boy? Oh, darling, I missed you! ‘Ow was Uneeversity, dear? Learned all the magic an ropes? Bartum, dear! BARTUM! Issum’s come ‘ome! ‘Ees ‘ome!”
A big old gray beard poked out of the floor below. “Issum! Come ‘ere lad, to Dad! Oooh, I missed you so! Why didn’t you come?”
“I went to our own place, Mom, Dad, but it was gone. No signs. I had to search everywhere, and finally…” Issum broke into tears.
“Ow, it was our auld fault,” sobbed Bartum. “Dee Polleice of dee ‘orrid Emperor ‘ound us out, and dee-clared us ee-lee-gal, an’ we ‘ad to pack up quick. We’d thought Ida’d tell you…”
“Ida left town.”
“Oh, sweetheart!” sobbed Issum’s mother, and hugged him. Issum’s tail waved.
“Well, alls wall that ends well, lad.” Bartum eyed his son up and down. “Oo’ve grown to bee an ‘andsome young man. Got me auld white an’ yer mom’s black, mixed to be gray. Well, show me wot you’ve leeirned at the University.” Issum looked up eagerly. “Allright!”
Issum concentrated, and then muttered some words. Within his hands grew a spiraling ball of light. He threw it up and it danced in the air to an invisible rhythm. Then the whole tavern clapped in beat. Barnum turned to the tavern. “Let us celebrate the comin’ ‘ome of my son, Issum with a good auld song!”
And so they sang jubilantly all through the night. And door and window of the Tavern glowed a warm, bright light.
Robert Mark, Private Mechanic of Metal & Gears, held up a lantern over his head and grimaced as he peered at the inner-workings of the Giant, 200 year old, (and 200 year neglected) Olde Clock Tower, that rose above the city's old Town Hall, now a museum. The museum was paying him to make it work again. It had stopped working about fifty years ago, and no one had come here to oil the gears, clean it, or clear off the five inch dust that had collected everywhere in the small room at the top of the tower that housed the clock's mechanism. He winced at the rust collected on the gears. Five of the gears needed replacing, and every one of them needed oiling. Robert was glad that he had thought to rig a pulley system before hand. He had checked out the clock tower a few weeks before and had already ordered the parts.
Robert looked down into the dark hole of the center of the clock tower. The precarious climb up to the top was not quite as bad as last time. This time he knew where to hold, and where everything is. It could have been worse anyway. Although the railings were made out of rusting iron and crumbled at his touch, the steps themselves were safe, solid (albeit a bit eroded) stone. Really, it wasn't all that intimidating at all, although the atmosphere was a little creepy. (And there were a few steps missing.) At least up here, the giant clock face filtered light through into the room, casting sunlight on the old gears. It's pearly gleam brightened the room.
Okay, to work. Robert inspected the gears carefully. In this case, the best thing to do was to remove the rusted gears first. And the axles... He lightly brushed a finger along the rough surface of the axle. The clock had already stopped, but it had stopped because the gears had gotten stuck. Robert tapped a finger against his chin thoughtfully. There had to be a switch somewhere that stopped the clock.... there! He went over to the switch and attempted to turn it. It would not budge. Of course. The clock *had* been neglected for fifty years. The mechanic quickly oiled the hinge of the switch, and used a wrench to grip it as he pulled it upwards. With a click, the mechanism of the clock stopped straining against the impossible gears, and stopped.
Tired from his exertion, Robert panted a little, then went over to the gears. He oiled the gears and the axle that he was about to remove, and set a few metal pipes to hold the mechanisms in place as he went to remove the large central gear that had rusted so badly, it was falling apart. Robert gripped the gear and pulled. He hadn't removed it further than one inch when his body froze up for no apparent reason. Then the clock suddenly, somehow started working.
Only it was going the wrong way.
The gears turned, the huge mechanisms moved and Robert struggled with the main gear as the clock slowly operated, hands moving backwards at a slow pace, then faster. And faster, and faster. For some reason the gear he was tugging remained unmoving, even as all the other mechanics of the clock moved, a giant mechanical being, all working together, all moving, faster and faster, backwards and backwards and backwards.
He tugged and tugged but it would not budge. And his strength was getting weaker, so much more weaker... Were the gears always that big? The clock face seemed to loom up at him, filling his sky. He couldn't even fit his arms around the gear anymore, and resorted to tugging at one notch on the huge gear. Robert took a step back and tripped over his pants. Huh, since when were they so loose? He recalled that when he bought them they fit perfectly. He was with his wife...
He looked to his right to see a kid, reflected in the black surface of a recently oiled gear. Whatever was a kid doing here? Odd. The kid looked exactly like him, when he was six, six and happy and crazy and exciting, playing tag with his best buddy Dave- laughing and jumping around and being dragons, and teasing Betty... wow, he hadn't thought of Dave in years. How was he? Where was he? Last they saw each other, he was in that town in Oklahoma, with his cousin, his cousin and they were... and they were... what were they doing? And Betty! Betty, Betty who had disappeared after elementary. What was she doing now? Where was she? What was her job?
All these thoughts ran through Robert's mind as he stared at the kid, this kid who looked just like him when he was little, tugging desperately at a gear, in a pair of pants and shirt much too big for him, the same shirt that Robert was wearing. Robert collected his wits, and snapped out of it. "What are you doing here?" he asked concernedly. He started in shock. His voice was not his own! Out of his mouth had come the voice of a six year old- a child's voice! "What are you doing here?" Robert asked again, faltering at the sound of his own voice.
The kid's mouth moved with his, but nothing came out of the kid's mouth. Robert stared, and realized he was talking to his own reflection. This kid, was him. He was six. He was... somehow.... getting younger, and younger and younger. Robert let go of the gear slowly and looked down at his shrinking hands, as the clock hands spun backwards and the gears turned and creaked against each other.
And as the hands of the clock moved backward rapidly, his mind swam with memories that had no right to be there, and thoughts simultaneously of a 30 year old and a child....
This wasn't possible, he couldn't be turning into
Where was he anyway? At this big place. This huge unreal place inside the clock... It's like an adventure! The greatest adventure ever!
Robert smiled a big grin. He had to tell Dave. And they'd play, and it'd be their secret hideout just the two of them, and they'd rule the world
Lucia, what would Lucia think? They were going to be engaged... He could see her now, her weeping, sobbing... Don't cry Luci- Don't cry-
Who was Lucia?
This place was so big...
Mom, Mommy... where's Mommy? Where's Daddy...?
I'm scared... Mommy... Daddy... I'm- I'm in this big place... all alone....
The wrench lay on the floor next to the crying baby lying on the mass of dirty, oil stained clothes at the top of the clock tower. The gears slowly came to a grinding stop as the cries of the small baby echoed through the empty tower.
An hour later they found the baby in the Clock Tower, and sent the baby boy off to the orphanage. They found no trace of the engineer they had hired. The story was that he had disappeared, left town, was a crook. None were correct. The museum hired another engineer, who said that the clock tower was beyond repair. The several others they hired after that simply could not get the clock tower working again. It had come to a permanent stop.
The Legend of the Baby in the Olde Clock Tower was added to the strange assortment of stories about the tower, and faded into the mists of fairy tales.
The Clock Tower itself was abandoned as useless for another fifty years, then converted into a fancy hotel, using the legends and the tower as advertisements and promotion, and to charge a high price.
The hotel ran out of business, due to many strange incidents.
And once again, the Clock Tower was abandoned.
On certain nights, people say they can hear its ceaseless ticking, going backwards in time, to a special time. And they say never to go near, for what happened to him could happen to you.