Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered

by

Here’s Chapter 1 of Bleakly recapped and polished in places. For now, this is the definitive first nine pages of Thomas Bleakly, Private Eye.

It was a quiet night. At least, it was as quiet a night as this city ever saw; post-rush-hour traffic whispered raucously through the blinds, squabbled, honked, screamed, sirens occasionally shouting down the rest of the din… but at least no gunshots. Not yet.

So: quiet enough.

The real problem, as I saw it, was that I had five problems: the first was lead poisoning, in this particular case, not toxic effects of the lead but the fragments buried in my shoulder, waltzing lazily with the nerve endings they could find there; second, the city’s incessant, dischordant snore– I’d say you can get used to it, if that were a true thing to say; third, an acidic memory laced with garlic and bad coffee (cheap cigarettes almost helped to overload my tongue enough to ignore the persistent aftertaste of vomit (or was that the coffee?)); fourth, a bouquet of mildew, smog and mold (not that I’d have paid to remove that smell from my office, it’d just come back- and who cares? I was broke); fifth was the sight of the room scowling at me from every angle, encrusted with all the reminders, remainders and artifacts of the man who’d lived there the last eight months, not at the least the small mountain of bills and notices which could no longer hide effectively on the corner of my desk to which they’d been relegated.

Luckily, I’d invested in a solution to all my problems. I tossed back another slug of my universal solution and pulled my hat over my eyes to expedite the solution to problem number five (which, if you’ve caught on, was really just the possession of that fifth sense.)

It was at that moment that the night stopped being so silent and became a lot more holey (or so I thought.). That sound touched off every nerve and instinct in my broken frame- gunshots, bouncing up from the street like a family of firecrackers making popcorn. Without another instant of consideration I consulted my one and only truly trusted friend Remington. His counsel, while mute, was more comforting than a preacher’s sermon to a troubled soul or a dame’s cool voice warm with desire in the yawning coldness of the darkest part of the night, when nightmares intrude into the deepest parts of your soul and violate the best-laid plans and defenses of your mind.

I barely registered the crashing footsteps approaching my door; I deduced from the amplified, then disappearing bronchitic purring outside that the commotion hadn’t been the expected gunshots but the backfiring of a poorly maintained taxi. I almost regretted the state of my office and desolate self- I could really use the work. But despite my usual abilities to take anything in stride and their allies in my own universal solution, I almost choked when the door opened.

It was a fucking robot. And goddamn was it the hottest robot I’ve seen in my blighted life.

She lit up the room with a synthetic glow under her realer-than-realistic skin; her eyes shimmered darkly- just a suggestion of crimson afterglow deep within- as she tossed blond platinum “hair” across shoulders embraced by a woefully opaque “skin”-tight dress. The air crackled around her, microscopic static discharges that made everything in the room stand on end. When she spoke it was like hearing a comfortably aged vinyl record of every woman you ever wanted speak at once; this fact distracted me so much I asked her to repeat herself.

“I said I’ve got a job for you,” she repeated with anything-but-mechanical inflection, those synthetically luscious lips just tantalizingly out of synch with the voice that issued thence.

I lit a cigarette, partly to give me time to rummage around inside myself and see where I’d left my game face. A few seconds later I discovered it behind the self-loathing and under some exhaustion- no time for those now. “All right, Miss…-”

“Smith.”

“-Miss Smith. You have,” I said, offering and replacing a tacitly declined cigarette, “my undivided attention.”

I steeled myself for the next part. I’d already figured she was just a messenger. Either the next part was going to be very uncomfortable and very deadly, or else I’d be lucky and it’d just be deadly.

Her eyes rolled back and staticky modem-sounds gargled in the back of her throat- that was the part I expected. What I wasn’t expecting was the bit that came next.

I’d fully expected a kill-signal to come across her remote relay. That was why, under the table, I already had my handheld relay prepared to cut the signal and leave her incapacitated.

However, I wasn’t expecting her to start crying. My kind had been doing this ever since it started being romantic to wear a fedora and solve crime, but in all that time, we hadn’t figured out how to deal with a weepin’ dame. Even an artificial one. Especially an artificial one. What was I supposed to say, “There, there, zero zero one, one zero one one”?

So I got her to tell me her story.

I fumbled around in my desk, working through the clutter to find my pen and well-worn notebook.

“Take it from the top, toots,” I said, riffling past the used pages and readying my pen.

For all her tears a few minutes earlier, she was cool now. Collected. Her gaze was firm, if tear-reddened.

“It started two weeks ago,” she began, pausing to use a handkerchief in a decidedly ladylike (though subtly mechanical) manner. “My father- bless his heart- he’d been coming home from work later and later; he was positively engrossed in this secret project of his, he’d never speak a word about it but often muttered equations and calculations under his breath. And now- now he’s gone missing. He didn’t come home at all two nights ago.”

I noted that she considered someone her father- no doubt an elderly, tinkery sort whose domestic android had simply blown a fuse. I’d just get his number and inform him that his defective ladybot had sought out a detective.

“All right, sweetheart, could you gimme his and your commcode so I can get started while we’re chatting?” I stubbed out my cigarette and tapped the codes into my handheld as she reeled them off. For whatever reason, just as I saved the commcodes, I felt compelled to ask-

“And where’d you say your old man works?”

I copied down the company commcodes as well. Something tickled in the back of my head, something familiar about her story- so I asked her something calculated to keep her talking for a few minutes while I checked out the company’s datanet on my handheld. In moments I’d pulled up the company’s info-

| //OFFiCIAL DATaNET-
| NOCTeR PHArMACEUTICALS AnD CRYoGENICS
| >commcodes
| >business hours
| >locations
| >company manifesto
| >legal information
|<secure login (83 BIT ENCRYPTION)

Company like that’s made up of two types- grunts who staff counters and executives who know the game… and from the sound of it, Mr. Smith was no chump player.

Beautiful robodames, powerful men, and drugs. I was interested. I was very interested.

I was satisfied this bionic temptress wasn’t some defective housebot or a cheap trap. Either this was the real deal, or a very expensive trap- and I hate to let somebody spend money on me and have it go to waste.

And so, with that, I got her out of my office. I needed some time to get in touch with the relevant people.

She tried to talk payment, but I waved her away. If I was right, her old man would be valuable enough on his own to pay my retainer- and if there was a real case here, involving Nocter Rx’s very own confidential information, I could be set for life.

After closing my door on her, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything but whiskey in two days. I opened the door again.

“You can buy me lunch, though. Sharkness cafe, two o’clock.”

“Sure,” she said through those synthetically perfect vocal chords, “I’ll see you there.” Her face was unreadable- robot emotions can be hard to interpret.

“You’re a sweetheart. I’ll see you then.”

Nocter’s datanet node yielded more information than I could possibly have hoped. They weren’t just hot on the biotech market, they were hypersonic, and the only people doing better than the stockholders were the employees. Nocter’s biotechnicians were artisans- they were the best and got paid in kind.

I located Old Man Smith in the datanet registry easily enough. He was a big deal- featured prominently in the periodicals prominent in biotech circles. Wrote a monthly column.

Not last month, though. Which meant he had to have been preoccupied enough to excuse himself. He had to have been working on something big- and with these guys, ‘big’ means ‘damn big.’ It was time to get off my ass.

Time to do the footwork.

In all honesty I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into his office. I’d heard everything about him- that he was insane. That he talked to himself. That he suffered delusions of grandeur and persecution.

That he was the fucking best.

So I opened the door (marked in bold “Thomas Bleakly, PI”) and the smell hit me. Stopped me dead in my tracks, eyes watering. It smelled like someone had poured four cans of Lysol behind a filing cabinet and installed air fresheners in every outlet in the room. And under all that, cigarette smoke.

The office was austere and well-lit. His desk was empty, save for a handful of notecards and a cell phone. The walls were bare and it seemed like the carpet sucked the sound out of the air. And for all that, the room was full to the brim, because he was at the center of it.

If his room was monochrome, he was Technicolor. He was slouched over his desk, sucking on an unlit cigarette and drumming his fingers. He wore a faded t-shirt (the design was some comic-book hero) under a brown jacket… and he was wearing a hat. Men haven’t worn hats in almost seventy years, and there he is, looking like he stole that thing from Indiana Jones or Sam Spade. To be honest, in retrospect I could say he looked like he was in a band.

I noticed all of that minutes after I noticed his eyes, though. These blue eyes, I had the feeling was he was looking through me, not at me- hell, who knows what or who he saw.

“I need help,” I managed before I realized that opening my mouth had been a mistake. Everything I’d eat that day would taste of Lysol. His eyes focused on me all of a sudden and I felt a warm chill hit every nerve in me, and suddenly the chemical tang he’d infused his room with for whatever damnable reason was the least of my worries. I could tell just looking at him that he wasn’t just searching my appearance- he was searching my memories, evaluating my emotions. And, for the first time in a month, I felt- strangely enough- safe.

“Sorry, what’d you say?” he folded his hands in front of his face- he wasn’t drumming his fingers anymore but he seemed incapable of ever staying completely still. “I was- I was lost in thoughts, thoughts and secrets and you look like you think you’re in danger ma’am.”

He was the weirdest fucker I’d ever seen- why the hell was he talking like that?- but he was right. I started putting the story together in my head… and everything that’d happened hit me all at once. My cool was gone. My cover was blown. There and then was my last and only chance to be free and dammit I started crying.

I stopped crying a few seconds later, as he’d leapt over his desk and pushed tissues into my hands. I haven’t the slightest why he felt it necessary to keep tissues close at hand that day, but his kinetic urgency and his precognition unsettled me enough to leave me stunned and tearless.

With a fantastically inappropriate grin he chucked my chin, winked, and said “Well, darlin’, what’s your story?”

So I told him.

Everything. My father, his disappearance. And he wanted to know it all, plus a lot of really confusing things.

I sat awkwardly as he paced around the little room, scribbling on notecards and promptly discarding them.

He asked for what seemed like random minutia- phone numbers, hat sizes, favorite types of music. I was beginning to wonder- then all at once, he sat, scooped up his cell phone, and locked me in his gaze.

“Now tell me, with as much detail as you can, exactly how your father behaved and what he spoke about when last you saw him. The most microscopic detail may be of the utmost importance.”

I began to recount the last night I’d seen him, my hopes buoyed slightly- finally, a detectively question! He broke eye contact and began typing rhythmically on his phone… even after I’d stopped talking.

We sat a few moments in silence. I fumbled with a crumpled tissue; he drummed his fingers and mumbled inaudibly to himself.

He looked at me again and asked, “Did your father enjoy golf?”

Back to the weird questions. “Uh… yes. How did you-”

“He’d listen to Elvis and occasionally the Beatles. He owned lots of vinyl?”

“Yeah, he-”

“He was good with computers but said using pen and paper helped him think. He was prone to random flashes of insight and would sometimes break off in the middle of a sentence and scribble some new idea or connection on a napkin or whatever scrap was handy.”

My mouth probably hung open stupidly by that point. How the fuck-

“He dabbled in guitar but never learned how to play well. He was a man of many interests but a few great passions, and would often use his hobbies to better connect with his family, always taking any opportunity to show you something new or take you someplace special.”

“Seriously, where and how-”

“You were afraid he’d miss your piano recital when you were thirteen but he showed up just in time and took you our for ice cream afterward.”

How do you know that?”

He nodded slightly and wrote something down on another notecard. “I found his Myspace page. Now, listen, I need some time to do some footwork, so I’ll meet you for lunch at Sharkney’s at two. We’ll discuss payment over lunch- and I’m kind of broke at the moment so I’d appreciate it if you’d be so kind, uh-”

“Alright, sure, whatever. Do you think you can find my father?”

“I would say probably so yes. I’ll talk to you at Sharkney’s. Now leave, I must brood and walk the streets alone.” He shooed me out of the office and closed the door behind me.

“Tom Bleakly, Private Eye,” I muttered. I didn’t know whether the man was a ridiculous savior or a deranged charlatan… but he was the only hope I had of ever seeing my father again. I blew my nose and prayed Bleakly knew what the hell he was doing.

Walking this city’s littered streets under its brown-gray sky is, like I said, my favorite part of a case. Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t miserable or dangerous. It’s just that this was the part where the bad guys were the thugs holding the guns. The simple part. Everything nice and clear-cut, no moral ambiguity– I didn’t have to feel bad about the things I was gonna do… especially because I was gonna do it in self-defense. And in this part of town, I know it’s gonna be self-defense. Starting to get cheerful there, Bleakly. Gotta watch out, think about the really depressing stuff. Gotta concentrate on that slug in your shoulder. Gotta concentrate on the way the cold cuts through that trenchcoat…

I hit the bad part of town- hit it pretty hard. I stopped at a few of the worst bars and left hastily from more than one. But that was okay- it was important that I stayed miserable; it kept me clear-headed, and kept the innocents (if there were any) around me safe.

I’m not bragging when I say I had a reputation- not necessarily a big reputation, and not what I would call a lot of respect, you understand, but when people saw me around, they figured I was out to catch somebody doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. I wasn’t trying to encourage that assumption directly, you see. But I wasn’t going to discourage it either.

It was a beautiful thing. All I had to do was walk around and wait for the guiltiest conscience to pop up. Whoever had it in worst for me that day probably had a reason, so all I had to do was hope I made it through the day ali-

Hey, check it out. Stars. Last time I saw stars, I’d been drugged. Time before that, I got Tased. The time I got drugged didn’t particularly hurt… guess I just got Tased.

There we go. Good old buddy pain seepin’ darkly up the left side of my back- shoulda been watching more closely. That’s what happens when you get cheerful, Bleakly.

I made a quick inventory of my senses and found that while they weren’t at a hundred percent, I had enough to tell me I was being dragged into an alleyway in which was- aha. Oh yes. Your standard, clichè black van. I can’t be sure, but at that point I probably grinned.

In a few minutes, my faculties started coming back online, and I could tell I was bound, blindfolded, and moving somewhere in a vehicle; they left my nose unplugged, apparently- I could smell the tang of cheap, poorly-maintained android. Not much to go on, but if I needed a lot to go on, I’d be in politics. Or law. Nope- I’m a gamblin’ man.

“I’m guessing they sent you guys because I could probably talk my way out of this if you guys were human. Am I right, or am I right?”

Silence, but for the sound of gears rattling and the dull roar of the road.

“And now you’re gonna kill me somewhere and make sure nobody finds me for a while.”

And you know, some great philosopher or lawyer once said something… silence gives assent. I knew the game, and I had an ace up my sleeve, or more accurately, my collar. And for the first time all day- who am I kidding, all year- I started to feel pretty good.

“Okay, boys- I’m gonna do you all favor. Check my collar really careful-like, ’cause I’m thinking you don’t want me dead as bad as you thought you did…”

And with that somebody slammed on the brakes. That rattled ’em enough to get their attention. The blindfold came off gently, and I smiled up at my glowing-green-and-red-eyed captor. I could tell from the look on his poorly-crafted face that he knew exactly what I was talking about. ‘Bot emotions can be hard to read, but even on his crude features I could tell that the only thing he felt at that moment more than disbelief was fear. Very justified fear, too. The thing he saw at that moment was more or less legendary among synthetics, and just the cultural memory of the ShockCollar was enough to keep most robots from thinking about laying a metal finger on a human being. Which, of course, was exactly what I was counting on, and exactly why I wore the jury-rigged thing.

“It’s a funny thing, the ol’ ShockCollars. They’re illegal now, you know, so it’s usually just the rich or famous who have ’em. But their vitals flatline or they get scared enough and- BOOM!”

They jumped at that and I started laughing.

“Thing is, you know the right connections, you can get one of these bad boys rigged up special. Thing’ll surround you in a field that’ll knock out any human too close and from what I hear they’re fatal one hundred percent of the time when applied to synthetic people… so you don’t wanna piss me off, right?” I let ’em get a look at my molars.

Everything I was saying was completely true. It was very, very lucky for me that I’d saved the ass of an engineer who happened to deal in old and illegal technology. He’d been a good friend… may Something Out There rest his soul.

“But that’s the thing- if this thing were wired to go off when I was miserable or in pain, I’d have long since blasted everybody in my building.”

They were starting to get it about the moment I started chuckling.

“No, muchacos. This thing’s wired to go off when I think something’s funny as hell.”

I laughed, then I laughed some more; I was in tears by the time the ‘bot facing me had stopped twitching. Twenty minutes later I’d worked my hands free, and I went through the van for clues, spare parts, loose change, whatever. I’d take what I could get, and I could probably use it. Also, if my hunches were correct, I’d get everything I needed to start tracking people down and getting to the morally ambiguous part of the case- the long, drawn-out part to which the routine violence had just been a prologue.

The easy part was over. Thank God. I could get back to the miserable, complicated parts, starting by meeting my client at Sharkness Cafe.

At first I thought he was standing me up. I’d been waiting at Sharkney’s for over an hour and had just decided to leave and call the cops when he strutted in looking more than a little pleased with himself.

“Where the hell have you been- oh my god, what happened?” He had a black eye and a smug smile that seemed to hold at least half the explanation for the bruises.

“Library.” He pulled out a stack of notecards. “Now, here’s what I’ve-”

“You got a black eye at the library?”

“Had a bunch of overdue books. Now look- your dad works for Nocter Pharmaceuticals, right?”

The mention of my father pushed his flimsy explanation to the back of my mind. “Do you know where he is?”

“Nope. No, I am afraid I do not know where he is. That is something of which I am not at the moment certain.” He grabbed the waitress’ sleeve as she passed. “Ah yes I would like a sandwich- the expensive one. Yes, thank you, you’re beautiful. Ah ha ha yes.” He grinned up at her, but when he turned to me he was deadly serious. “Your father may or may not be in incredibly mortal danger, and I may or may not be able to assist you in finding him. In seeking him out, I may or may not uncover some incredibly unpleasant things about some very powerful people, and in doing so may or may not put both of our lives at great risk, which in turn may or may not result in me making a very tidy sum of money regardless of any payment which you may be able to scrounge together. And so I will, in exchange for the very expensive sandwich I am about to eat, lay out to you the information that I have culled from the city’s darkest libraries on this day, I shall hint dramatically to you about the things I shall do with said information, and, finally, I shall dictate the terms of the financial agreement by which we shall abide in the course of our professional relationship.” He tapped his notecards against the edge of the table and raised his eyebrows at me. “Whaddayasay?”

What else can I say, Dick? “Okay.”

He stood up and started pacing. “In the course of my research I have discovered a few very valuable pieces of information, namely regarding a chemical called DMSO.”

“What, like a drug?”

“Nope. It’s a colorless liquid, miscible in water, and tastes like garlicky oysters, according to Wikipedia. It’s what’s called a cryoprotectant- keeps living tissue from being damaged by subzero temperatures. It’s sometimes used in treatment of genitourinary disorders. Killed a woman once in 1965- she didn’t have genitourinary disorders, she had something wrong with her wrist. I mean, she might have had a genitourinary disorder, but it’s very difficult to tell at this point.”

I stared at him blankly.

“DMSO. Dee, Em, Ess, Oh. Dimso.”

“I see…”

“Well, it would be very strange if you did, because I haven’t finished telling you why I’m talking about this random chemical. You should listen more.” He paced past me and almost knocked over my drink.

“Maybe you could stop pacing?”

“Nope. Helps me think. Need to think if we’re gonna find your dad. Go ahead and tell me to stop pacing if you don’t want your dad found. Ah? Thought not. So: DMSO. Innocuous. Boring. Common. And Nocter Pharmaceuticals just ordered about thirty years’ supplies of it- that is, thirty years’ at a genitourinary clinic. I mean a LOT.”

I couldn’t tell if I hated him yet, but I was starting to get a pretty good idea.

“A local firm owned by Nocter also obtained several million dollars’ worth of equipment, of an undetermined purpose and origin. The equipment was shipped on the day your father disappeared and didn’t appear in Nocter expense reports, logs, or tax documents- and Nocter is famously scrupulous about its taxes. You know, ever since the whole fiasco with… okay, you don’t know, but still.”

Okay, so maybe not hate. “I thought you said you went to the library?”

“I lied. So my first order of business is to figure out what they’re doing with the chemicals and the shifty equipment. Then, I gotta figure out who it benefits to get a bunch of genitourinary medication and mysterious equipment and also have your father disappear. I’m probably going to need to read everything your father wrote, researched, blah blah blah I’m gonna need to see his stuff.”

Unless you can hate someone while acknowledging they’re brilliant? That’s the one. “That’s fine. Anything else?”

He’d been seated for a few minutes, but I hadn’t noticed him begin to eat the sandwich. Somehow he’d already disappeared half of it. The man’s just full of clever surprises. Tom Bleakly: He can eat a sandwich while your father suffers an unknown fate!

With his mouth full: “The important thing to consider in this case will be expenses. As has been noted by others in my profession, it is never quite certain what expenses may arise in the course of an investigation, all things being interconnected- but in the interest of the preservation of my integrity, I shall be forthcoming in describing to you all the resources I shall require for this case, and have in fact made a list of costs and estimates for those circumstances which I can foresee- it’s here on this notecard.”

I took the card.

“In the meantime I haven’t a moment to lose and must ask you to simply expect me to call at your home at some point this weekend, quite possibly in some state of injury or intoxication and at a highly inappropriate hour. In such a case I beg you not to panic, be alarmed, or become in any manner dismayed: this is all very official detective protocol which I once again assure you is quite necessary to the safe retrieval of your beloved parent and perhaps the acquisition of funds that could be described as formidable. Well, the latter bit is for me. You get the safe return of your loved one. That’s how it works. And in turn perhaps you will try to kill me by trying to trick me into falling in love with you- but of course I am too clever for such a ruse to succeed. Cigarette?”

I took the cigarette and stood. I growled at him wearily,”It sounds like you know what the hell you’re doing, and you are definitely a creepy, annoying little person. Find my dad and I’ll take care of any and all expenses. At this point I honestly don’t know what to think, so I guess I’ll see you at some highly inappropriate hour this weekend.”

The sandwich was gone and he was on his feet. “Hannah. I know I operate differently than you might expect. I respect that my methods might make you uncomfortable. But I just want you to know that I will find your father, and I will figure out what the hell Nocter and their subsidiaries are up to. And I know it’s asking a lot- but please. For both our good- trust me. If anything goes wrong, call me and tell me exactly where you are. My number’s on the card I gave you.”

For just a second, I thought I saw something really human in his eyes. For just a second, I think I got a taste of the decent guy he could be when he stood still for a goddamned second. Then, he started moving again, throwing his coat over his shoulders, always back into motion, and the moment passed- and again, he was merely a creepy guy who just so happened to be my last chance to see my father again.

So I nodded.

He winked at me and in a puff of flimflam, was gone.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 Responses to “Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered”

  1. Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered Says:

    […] Go to the author’s original blog: Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered […]

  2. » Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered Another Found Self: What The World Is Saying About Another Found Self Says:

    […] Recap: Digitally Remastered Posted in June 21st, 2008 by in Uncategorized Bleakly Recap: Digitally Remastered He nodded slightly, writing something down on another notecard. “I found his Myspace page. Now, […]

  3. annoying Says:

    Is the cafe officially “Sharkness Cafe” but called “Sharkney’s” by the locals?

  4. gryfft Says:

    Not telling.

  5. annoying Says:

    That’s your prerogative as the author. If I notice anything that seems incorrect or inconsistent to me, should I mention it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: