I thought I’d try my hand with a private detective story. It’s a genre far out of my established natural range, but one that has a rich history from Chandler to Hammett to Crais. Nobody minds a crack-zipper of a P.I. book, and a short story of the same vein can help pass the time while you’re waiting for the destruction of the Earth (that is, if you’re waiting in a retirement home for the universe in your head to wink out forever).

“Warm Iceways”

By Xwarper UtopiaX DystopiaX

  •       The old man looked at his face in the mirror, wondering where the years had went. The years from 50-60 had gone especially quickly, when he had been a middle-management type, working for the Canadian subsidiary of a Japanese corporation. In those days, he had called his boss “Otara-san,” and had bowed to him smoothly, like a robot. Life had been confusing in his dual role as Toronto resident and Japan soul-stealer.
  •       The old man had had his gold Rolex watch stolen. In fact, dozens of residents had had their watches, some expensive, some cheap but sentimental, removed from their rooms. The old man was going to set a trap and see what he could find in the ruins of the pincer.
  •       He left his room and tip-toed out. That night, sleeping on the couch in the TV room, he made sure everyone knew he had a new watch and that his room was deserted. From this illusion of reality, he could catch a thief, if his wiles were as good as they ever were.
  •       The clock ticked with deadly innocence, unaware of the passage of real time, just as a mountain is unaware of shifting tectonic plates beneath it. The old man snorted, dozed, woke up a dozen times. His flat ass felt pained by the springy, ancient, decrepit piece of furniture. It was the furniture-equivalent of him, he felt, ruefully, and got up and went to his room.
  •       The door had been left open. A breeze blew from the open window. Shutting his window, he swiveled and took in the room at a glance. His cane was leaning against the closed closet door, and the ceiling fan was thrum-thrumming with steady pleasantness. The guarantee of a good sleep eluded him.
  •       An aspirin bottle was on its side in the sink. The old man crept up to it, a panther long in the tooth looking for information-as-prey. There were smudged fingerprints on it. Why would the thief come in through the window only to knock over the aspirin bottle?
  •       The old man registered the facts and went to sleep, promising himself he would scout around the other residents of the retirement home tomorrow — but for now to sleep, perchance to dream, as Shakespeare said. Maybe the Afterlife would be as interesting as this week was turning out to be.
  •       Dream after dream assailed him, all the same thing: He found the real thief, and the man attacked him to keep his secret. Or: The man was a woman, and she screamed, drawing white knight helpers to save her erroneously, although she was the real criminal. Or: The retirement home banished him for just causing a ruckus. Anything was a possibility in his fevered mind.
  •       When he went into the main living room, with 40 chairs and a full helping of toothless mashed potatoes at every spot, he saw that Nathan and Norman were arguing with each other. Both of them were wearing two watches on each of their arms, a total of eight watches between them. They were waving their arms in heated agitation. But only one of them could be the thief. The security cameras had only caught an image of one shadowy man, and besides that, the weight detectors on the floor only registered 85 kilograms, an old man’s scrawny weight — one, count ’em, one old man’s.
  •       The two be-watched-wearing men continued to gesture and shout. The old detective made his way toward them, leaning on his cane.
  •       Nathan shouted, “I will not wear a pink tutu!”
  •       Norman stared him down. “You will if I tell you to. You’re my bitch!”
  •       “Oh, my chest, my chest! I think I’m having a heart attack.” Nathan leaned forward.
  •       Nathan lived in room 201 and Norman was in 301, directly above Nathan, the old detective knew. Somehow this would reveal who had stolen the watches.
  •       The old detective demanded, “Who gave you those watches?”
  •       “I found them and put them on Nathan,” Norman declared smugly. “He’s my bitch. And not only that — look! He’ll suck my cock any time I want!”
  •       Nathan put his hands over his ears, disgusted and abashed and with a total loss of self-control. He hummed to himself, and his gift watches slid up his super-thin wrists as far as they would go.
  •       The old detective said: “Isn’t there a fire ladder that goes down from the third floor to the second floor? Right outside your window?”
  •       “That’s right,” Norman said belligerently. He had been a cop in a past life, and he kept his attitude problem.
  •       “And isn’t it possible for even a resident to climb down?”
  •       “If he’s slow and careful. He might fall otherwise. Kill ‘im, poor sucker.”
  •       Then the old detective asked the killer question, in a slashing verbal assault: “Then why didn’t Nathan take the fire ladder when the fire alarm broke out last week? He was the only resident to stay in his room. Was it because you were outside his window, waiting for him?”
  •       Nathan raised his head slowly.
  •       “You don’t get it, do you?” the old detective said. “Norman, bastard that he is, saw you stealing the watches. Now he makes you his ‘bitch’ as blackmail. He’s tryin’ to redefine your relationship. He has no life, hell we’re all winding down like worn-out clocks, and this adds a little spring to his step and zest to his life. We’re all sadists in search of a better TV channel.
  •       “You Nathan are the real thief. Norman’s cruelty just marks him as the detector of a grand crime. Come with me, Nathan, you blubbering, simpering klepto. I’m taking you to the housing administrator!

The End: X.