I’m not a morning person. Never have been. I wake up like everyone else and I go to my office but the morning passes in a blur. I need coffee and cigarettes to get me out of my waking sleep. Alcohol too if it’s available. Sure, I sit at my desk and wait for clients like every other dick but nobody gets my full service and winning smile until the afternoon. Late afternoon. Everyone knows that. It doesn’t stop bums coming in off the street while the sun’s still low every now and then though.
Like this guy.
He’s wet and dripping all over my floor. I’m not worried because it’s been dripped on before. It’s always raining in the city. That’s a decent overcoat he’s wearing and the hat looks new. The water’s running off the felt in a stream onto my floorboards and making one heck of a racket. You’d think he could have shook himself dry on the way up to the office but I guess some people just have no manners.
It’s hard to work up the enthusiasm to enter into conversation with inconsiderate bums like this and, besides, it’s morning so I let him shake himself dry and pat himself down while I draw on my cigarette and finger the rim of my coffee mug. He’s looking at me now. Probably wondering why he picked me. I’m wondering that too but I’m a halfway decent detective and I’m already detecting a few things about him now that his coat is unbuttoned and I’ve got a good look at his shoes.
"You Rick Rake the private dick?"
Hey! He broke the silence. Good going. I nod back by way of reply and then add "And you’re a cop. Hooray, we all know one another."
"Your dour and dry demeanour is deserved I see," he says, lowering himself into my client chair. He’s getting it wet but I’m trying not to notice.
"Well, I don’t know you but I’m betting you’re known as Inspector Alliteration."
It gets a wry smile from him which is good. Those angry cops who fly off the handle at the slightest jibe can be real painful to work with and I really don’t work well in the mornings.
"You been using any similes in your inner monologue this morning Rake?"
That stops me. It’s not your usual opening sentence and I’m not entirely sure what to say; not a good thing for someone in my profession. I try to hide my surprise my putting on my thinking face. It looks like he’s buying it. I think back.
"You know what? I haven’t."
"Try it now. Humour me."
That’s a difficult request to just do and I’m a little distracted wondering whether I should change my coffee or cigarettes brand but I give it my best shot. There are puddles forming on the floor under the cop like clear jam on a flat thing.
I think dropping my cigarette in the coffee tips off my visitor that I’ve just been shocked but to his credit he doesn’t laugh and that wry smile’s gone and been replaced by a tight-lipped grimace.
"Awful, wasn’t it? It’s happening citywide," he says and then goes on to explain. Overnight there was a heist at the Simile Warehouse. All the best ones stolen in the space of a few hours with no witnesses. I ask where the beat cops who usually patrol the area were and learn that a massive fire a few blocks across at the Expletive Lockup kept everyone distracted.
"So there’s been some damage to the expletives too?" I ask with some dismay. "Scum of a bench!" Maybe the graffiti in the alleyways will improve but it sure won’t make my job any simpler. Sometimes you need to swear at someone to solve a case.
"Well, I didn’t do it," I say but I’m pretty certain I’m not a suspect. He confirms that and gets to the gist of his visit.
"We’ve got every available person out checking into this. Who set the fire? Who stole the similes? Someone has to know. My job? Deputise the dicks, and that means you."
He wants me to do police work and I’m guessing it won’t be for police pay but this is one of those cases where you feel to just have to do your civic duty. Besides, a life without decent similes will be like a butterfly with tiny, grey wings. Urk!
"Is that a new hat?"
It’s hours later but I’m not sure how many. Walking the streets in the rain will take away your perception of the passage of time. The sky’s a stony grey and you can’t tell where the sun would be if the clouds were missing but I’m sure it’s the afternoon now. I’m feeling perkier despite the cold and the rain running down my hair, inside my coat collar, and onto my shirt. That’s the afternoon for you. I’m an afternoon person.
So far I’ve been to see Danny The Weasel and "Hats" Hoolihan. Danny knew nothing but he’d heard about the news all right. Hoolihan was a wreck; he’d been drinking hard and drinking the hard stuff. I knew he’d been trying to get out of the numbers game for a while now and working on his own inner monologue to branch out but he’s not a smart guy when you peel away the layers and the simile problem took a nasty toll. Poor old Hoolihan. I took one of his hats. He was too drunk to notice.
Which is why Jackie "J.J." Johnson is posing the interrogative.
"Forget about the hat," I say, jabbing a finger into his chest. J.J. is one of those guys that nature has decided doesn’t deserve muscles and he bruises easily. I’m not a tough guy but I play one on the streets. "What do you know about the heist over at third last night?"
J.J.’s acting weird. He’s playing with a book of matches in his left hand like a nun molesting a ping-pong ball. Urgh! Yeah, and that smirk on his face; I don’t like it. Like a mouse with a smirk implant. Flip!
"Heist? What heist Ricky? I don’t know anything about a heist." Ricky? He never calls me Ricky. J.J. calling me Ricky is like the Pope body-popping. What the heck is body-popping? This is hurting my brain.
And I think I’m seeing it. I think I’m seeing how this all fits together. But I’m not seeing that brick in the sock because of it and that’s a real shame because J.J.s sneering face isn’t a pretty last sight.
I’ve been in enough trunks to know when I’m in one again. My right eye feels swollen and sore and I’ve got a cramp in my wrist. There’s a knack to tying someone up and whoever won the lottery and got me doesn’t have it.
It’s noisy and warm in a trunk but you don’t mind that so much as feeling every bump in the road. Make that: mud track. I’m hoping that because I’m being taken off somewhere that it’s not to die. J.J. and his invisible accomplice could have finished me off in the alley. The rain’s got a way of washing away minor inconveniences like evidence.
It’s a puzzle but one I should be let in on in a minute or so because it feels like the car’s coming to a stop. I’m entertaining the old kick-out and leap into action when the trunk opens but it’s not a serious thought. Chances are I’ll be outnumbered and only earn myself a swollen and sore left eye to form a matching pair.
"No sudden moves Ricky," comes the muffled voice from outside my temporary tomb. I’m thinking of doing the opposite. Play dead. I can hear the key in the lock but I can’t stop myself from opening my good eye as the blast of cold air hits me when the trunk pops. It’s like a snowman blowing on sunburnt cheeks but far better than that lousy description.
It’s dark out and the rain’s down to a drizzle and I’ve just got a feeling that we’re high up somewhere. Difficult to say how I know especially from my curled-up position but there’s almost a taste in the air that gives it away.
"Looks like you asked the wrong person the wrong question, Mr Detective," comes a voice I don’t know. It’s the guy whose silhouette is standing next to J.J. I blink to pick out features but a spot of rain finds my good eye perfectly and the world becomes a commercial for vaseline. At least the metaphors are still working.
I’m manhandled onto the ground into a kneeling position. Shoot! They’re both wearing gloves and that probably means this is personal and my guess about not dying was way off. I’ve got a fairly good idea where we are now that I can hear a little easier.
"I’m surprised you didn’t just drive the car off the cliff with me still in it."
"And walk back in this weather? Are you crazy?"
He’s got a point. Still, there must have been a reason why I wasn’t finished off earlier. Or maybe I’m deluding myself. Sometimes you forget that criminals are dumb when it gets right down to it.
"Do I get your name before my imminent demise?" I ask gesturing with my head at the man I can’t place. It’s cliched to heck and I admit it: I’m clutching at straws, delaying the inevitable. Hey, last-minute rescues do happen every now and then.
I can make out the two figures looking at one another. I bet they’re smiling but it’s pitch black out here. Night on a cliff edge. I don’t mind nights usually but I’d swap this one for a morning any time. There’s a scratching sound and then a flash!
I know what you’re thinking. That last-minute rescue. What a cop-out. Yeah, if I was a lucky detective that would be the case but here and now it just means two people are lighting up cigars.
"Don’t even think of asking for one because you won’t get one," says the second guy. And as he draws in on his stogie the glow from the end lights up his features like a lighthouse lighting up a dark cave. "Brains" Bellamy. He sounds a little different but the face is still the same.
"Shouldn’t you be in jail?" I ask. I know the answer. He should. I helped put him away. As I recall it wasn’t that difficult. Brains earned his nickname from literally leaving his calling card after appearing in a bank job which co-starred a number of innocent deaths. His particular calling card featured his home address. Smart. Like a stupid plant. Flaming Nora!
"A little dedication to improving oneself goes a long way Rake," grins Bellamy without taking the cigar from his mouth. "You see, I just happened to share a cell with Ronnie K. You know Ronnie don’t you Rick?"
I did. He was the king of irony. Every caper he was involved in had some wonderfully inventive twist of ironic fate attached. Which, ultimately, made it easy to bait a trap and catch him. Ironically. I was putting the pieces together quickly now. Maybe the hardening rain cooling my exposed head in this precarious position was speeding up my reasoning processes.
Brains had finally learnt that his nickname was a joke from Ronnie and had then dedicated his time to escaping. He probably had help doing that but, once outside, he kept focussed and realised that if he was to stay free and continue his life of crime he’d need to get smart – real smart – quick. And if he could hinder the cops and detectives who’d caught him in the first place? Well, so much the better. Hence the similes. In his possession he could compare things to other things in a way he’d never imagined before allowing him to come up with jobs so devious that a police force and army of dicks confused by quick, random actions that reminded them of something else but only in bizarre manners would be rendered useless. It had worked on me in the alley.
I’m looking at the cliff edge because the wind is blowing that way and sheltering my eye is allowing me to finally see clearly for the first time in hours. I don’t know why but J.J. strides up and punches me full in the face. Maybe it’s to look big and strong. Maybe he thinks I’m disrespecting my predicament by looking away. I don’t think he’s going to like the disrespect I show his punch.
"J.J., get yourself to a gym if you’re going to try that," I say. Goading! While tied up on a cliff edge about to die. I must be crazy. But why not? "Did you take my hat?" I ask. J.J. reaches up instinctively like a baby grabbing for a necklace. Sheesh.
"It suits me better than you dick," he laughs. I feel it needs an "and you won’t need it where you’re going" tacked on for good measure and tell him so. He steps forward and kicks me this time. Mother fudge cakes! Yeah, that hurt a lot. I’m chewing wet grass now.
"Maybe we should re-christen you with the name ‘Brains’ before we leave" says Bellamy, puffing out a great cloud of smoke.
Have you ever watched smoke? Really watched smoke? It forms such complex patterns yet it’s following simple rules and it’s all quite predictable given enough dedication. Like monkeys flinging crap in the zoo. No, not like that! Like lemons rolling down the street into a sewer. No, darn it to Holland! Like criminals. Yes, that’s it.
J.J.s too close to me and I’m in a position now where I can strike at him. Big mistake J.J. I swing my legs across the ground and catch him at knee level. Nature really doesn’t like him and he flies – literally flies – to his left. To his left is where the cliff edge is. Sorry J.J. If he’s screaming as he’s falling then the rush of blood to my head is blocking out the sound and all I’m concentrating on is Bellamy’s cigar. Man, that tip is bright. He’s sucking it like an aardvark who’s discovered the last source of aardvark honey. Gah!
Panic. Not mine you might be pleased to hear. It looks like J.J. caught Brains as he left the general area and now our simile-stealing scumbag is off-balance. I’m cold and wet, my eye hurts, my wrist hurts, my shoulder hurts where J.J. kicked it but watching Bellamy flail and topple over the side is like watching a chocolate cake slide down a hill into your hands. I know, but who cares!
I can hear the rain now. I’d blocked it out for a while but it’s filling up my ear and I’m smiling. I don’t know how I’m going to make it back to the city in my condition but I can shelter in the car overnight if needs be.
"I’ll tell you where the similes are!"
Bother! How didn’t I realise that Bellamy was alive and hanging onto the edge by his fingertips? I hadn’t heard anything about a job at the Obvious Endings Emporium. Maybe I was out longer than I realised.
I’m looking down at his face and beyond it the rocks and sea. I know he was going to kill me but I’m no murderer. Looking around there’s nothing with which to help pull him up. What did I expect? It’s a cliff.
"Pull me up!" he shouts.
"Tell me where the similes are!" I yell back.
"Warehouse 6 on the South Dock! Hurry!"
I grit my teeth. "I’m sorry ‘Brains’ but I can’t help you. My hands are tied."
"Was that a joke?" he screams. I feel his pain. I hadn’t wanted to say it.
I never had a last-minute rescue and neither did Brains. Difference is, he never came up with a way to escape at the end. That’s what I’ve just finished telling Inspector Alliteration and his pals and maybe that’s what happened.
The similes were exactly where they were supposed to be and getting them back was like manna from heaven. But I hear it’s going to take a while to repair the damage to the Expletive Lockup and we won’t get any new ones in until the insurers have finished their investigations. Bunch of shunts.