Hard Boiled Test #2: Entries

Entries — entering rooms, meeting people, perception, observation, interpretation. These are disconnected and are just practice.

The rose bushes weren’t visible from the road, only after you committed yourself to walking the length of the driveway. It was this big looping thing, double entrance, central grassy semicircle in the center you could hardly throw a dollar across. The rose bushes were on the inside curve, telling people to buzz off, this grass isn’t for kids, it isn’t for picnics, it isn’t for you. It was show grass only, and doing a slap-poor job of it because like everything else in this City it wilted in the dark. Little lanterns on tall iron posts along the driveway curve lit the way. They had these stinging cyan bulbs in back, facing the grass, trying to get it to grow. One of those bulbs was out. The roses nearest the busted lamp were just sticks and thorns.

“You need to fire your gardner and hire an electrician,” I told the stooped man in the doorway. Here at the white plaster house, the light was positively painful. Near as bright as day, but with that eery shadowless quality that a thousand LEDs and plus-alby paint casts, so you can see everything but nothing looks real so you’re disconnected, floating in an image that moves with you.

The stooped man didn’t respond. Maybe he raised one of his steel-wool eyebrows, but with his wrinkly forehead and eyes squinting against the glare I certainly couldn’t tell. Maybe he was a bit synth. At his age, maybe it was the only part of his brain still ticking. Direct approach then.

“Ms. Stevens. She home? I’d like to talk with her.”

“She is not expecting you, Mr. (Sonntag|Vogelmann|Sochacki|Jankovics|Kowalski).”

I didn’t see any scanner on the door or just inside, but it was likely concealed. Even more likely, a place like this has an identity feed piping in the names and backgrounds of everyone who passes by on the street.

“Yeah, I didn’t call ahead. It’s about work. She home?” I asked stepping in like I was invited. Stoops backed up a bit and let me by, but he wasn’t too happy about it.

Inside was money, but not the grand show-off of one who had scraped himself up from a hole and now wanted to seclude himself by throwing a house between him and any visitor. Also not the regal social nexus of someone born to wealth. This was more solid, a stepping stone, a lawyer or MBA working his ass off and pulling down a salary five times what his men make, but still a salary.

The foyer had wide free-floating stairs curving upward off to the left, leading up to the private rooms. The entryway was cramped as a reception room, but it was decked out like one with two red velvet highbacked chairs with a short table between sporting a single travel magazine. Looked like real wood panelling along the walls, high ceiling and white curved plaster with no art, just a couple plants doing better than their outside cousins. The far side opened up without doors or pillars into a wide open plan, where the living room and chandeliered dining room and a couple other who-knows-what rooms were just separated from each other by a single step up or down, like some Frank Lloyd Wright neo-Japanese pastiche. Without pillars, the second floor seemed to just levitate there, resting lightly on the floor-to-ceiling seamless glass wall that circled around, framing the glittering Antipodes skyline, a faint green aurora curling above.

I first thought the skyline must be a projection. I’d been all over this City, never seen that kind of view.

I removed my hat and coat even before Stoops thought to wave me to the chairs. “Don’t worry, I got it,” I told the back of his head as I hung them on a doorside rack. He had shuffled off to a pair of wooden doors to the right, knocked twice and leaned in before there was an answer.

Iron bars had been sunk into the concrete years ago. Seawater rust bubbled out between the cracks in the orange striped paint they were coated with. They were decaying, but they did their job and no car had passed into this part of town in pretty much forever. But the road kept going, down a hill and around a corner where it was being pulled apart one teaspoon at a time with each ocean wave that came slouching in. Steam seeped from a manhole, jetting out every ten, fifteen seconds when some wave down beachside slapped against the open maw that now dangled at sealevel. The jets coincided with a bass thump, thump, the waves turning the sewer system into a mile-long tympany drum.

The buildings were rotten and every couple weeks one falls into the water or loses a wall or a few floors to the eroding, rising sea. A knot of cables and fiber overhead connected to dozens of rooms here, feeding power and data into the squaters’ hovels. They would be empty now, dead of winter, when most squaters had sold their stock and got real jobs or had figured out a way to be arrested for the duration of the dark. A man can’t live like that, keep a family like that, cold, wet, offline, never knowing if the building you called home was going to just wash away.

So these brick and steel ghosts were empty, but all wired up and waiting to tempt next summer’s crop.

Hard Boiled Test #1

I’ll be experimenting with styles in the next batch of writing. The novel I plan to write for NaNoWriMo is based on a science-fiction noir screenplay I wrote a while back. As film noir detective stories owe a lot to the hard boiled detective serials from the 30s and 40s, I thought I’d see if that style fits. This is my first attempt to write in the style, and even if I can master it I think it’s dated enough that I’ll explore some sort of modern hybrid. This story is just a beginning and not a whole story, and is shorter than normal because as an experiment I did a lot of deleting and trying again.

Bernard Fennelly wasn’t pretty. Sure, he filled out a sharp suit and a nice looking hat with a banded brim that kept his hair out of the wind. That’s about all the positive I ever noticed. He sported these shoes big enough to scuba dive with and painfully round shooter-marbles for knuckles. He once shook a fist in my face and I swear I heard them rattle. The ugly man pursed his lips to the side, and with his hook nose he looked like he’d taken a punch to the face and then stopped half way through to think about it. He wasn’t liking much the direction the conversation had taken.

“No gun. No gear allowance. No expense allowance. No goddamn allowance. You’re a cop, man. Salary’ll get you through.”

“Should’ve talked to me eight years ago, then, when that would have made sense.” Bernard’s assistant was silent, standing behind him, all wired up so that he hardly seemed present, like reality was just an option. He was built for the job, too: short, and barely enough mass to keep his pants up, with a phone clip in each ear, cam-scanner clipped on his glasses, and a three-leaf tablet he kept shuffling data on. Regular geekborg.

“Look. Rick. We could use your help. People are missing. Not here in the city. Not my beat, but before they got here so it’s not really somebody else’s problem either. We figured, Rick’s in Immigration, used to be a cop. Night’s coming, so he’ll be counting the ceiling tiles for a month. Itching to stand up, explore life outside the cube. Maybe he’d like to lend some insight.” Bernard leaned against my desk. “Unless you enjoy sorting through sacks of some FOB granny’s underwear for that salary you’re keen on.”

He was flattening some paper with his palm. I moved the stack of forms to the other side of my desk. They weren’t better over there. I just wanted to make him lift his hand.

Envisioning himself a radio serial hero, Nico Janssen swooped in from nowhere and slapped the corner of my cubicle. This guy was the tallest, greyest guy I’ve ever known. But not tall and big, just stretched a half meter beyond what you’d expect. If you saw him standing next to anyone regular you’d probably wonder when you accidentally stepped into the fun house.

He was my boss, head of this little department of that little division of Customs & Immigration. “All set up,” he said. “A little cross-departmental dalliance. I like it.” No smiles, but obviously pleased, he slapped Bernard on the shoulder and then moved on with his office patrol when Bernard didn’t seem to notice.

I dropped the paper stack into a locked bin. “Appears I’ve made up my mind.”

Bernard smiled. I didn’t think he could get any uglier. “It’s not like I’m asking you to the prom. Sedova’ll get you set up,” he said, jerking his thumb toward his assistant. He stood, rattled his knuckles then filled his pockets as he turned around. The LED light in this place took a dive toward blue, then shifted back toward something scientifically appropriate for ambient office work. The shadowless glare gave me a scientifically appropriate headache. I probably shouldn’t blame it all on the light.

Sedova caught his master’s eye and they briefly conversed. Bernard hadn’t practiced his whisper voice much, and though Sedova’s voice was an ID card slid from a fine alligator skin wallet, I could easily follow one side of the chat. The word “body” came up three times in as many seconds, and Bernard went for the door throwing a billowy coat over that nice suit.

Sedova looked up at me. “We’ll be out front in seven minutes.” He left too.