The Sleuth

I started the day with a cup of cold, stale coffee and a few rancid puffs off the dirty butt of a cigarette of indiscriminate origin. The small room I had rented at some point in the last two weeks was so small I could nearly touch one wall while my palm was firmly planted on its opposite, not that I would actually put my hands anywhere near the hole riddled walls or their moldy, puke green wallpaper. I dropped to the floor to search under the bed for another butt, realizing my mistake far too late. While the room’s floors were bare wood covered in black paint and filth, there had been, at one time, carpeting. This ancient carpeting had been worn away from most of the room except for the very edges and a rectangle that had collected the unwanted fluids, rotting foods, pharmaceutical powders and other debris that the previous occupants had drooled, dropped, spilled or spewed while laying semi-comatose on the ratty foam mattress that passed for a bed. Gagging, I lurched backwards, almost hitting my head on the small, broken, shit filled toilet that sat in the corner of the room. The image of an entire colony of large, sentient insects living in small fungus houses, happily parading cigarette butts and apple cores between mounds of used prophylactics and crushed beer cans elbowed its way into my head, saving my last shreds of sanity by edging out the actual traumatic reality of what had been festering underneath me all night for a over week. Shuddering, I decided quite suddenly that it was time to move on and find, if not better digs, at least a fresh package of smokes and a beverage that didn’t taste like the inside of a dead hobo’s mouth.

I hadn’t always lived in such squalor. I had been a pretty damn successful Private Investigator in my previous life – you know what I mean: a dedicated wife, a loyal dog, 2.5 deviant and gorgeous mistresses. I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard of me since part of my success was being extremely discreet, but I’ll have you know that at one time, I had worked for some famous and powerful people, dutiful collecting information about other famous and powerful people. I had lived in expensive hotels, driven expensive cars, slept with expensive whores. I had snorted coke made from leaves hand picked by tear stained Bolivian orphans and hand ground in the skulls of royalty off of the backs of movie starlets. In short, my life had been a lot more fun and a quite a bit less disgusting.

Nowadays, I spent my free time carefully counting change to get into the bus station to check a small metal locker to see if my employer had remembered to leave a dingy brown envelope containing my meager expense fee. Fortunately for me, he had.

I made my way to a grubby cafe some time later and sat, sipping from a large caffeinated beverage topped with steamed milk. The milk tasted like it may have even come from something bovine and this side of fresh. I puffed on a cigarette and scratched at some lice bites near the top of my ass crack which my belt was irritating to no end. This was as good as it got lately and I was enjoying myself immensely. I had been chasing my current quarry for… well, I had no great trust in my perception of time but this felt like a a month or more. The jobs lately I had taken out of sheer necessity and therefore had been small time: hunting down morons for idiots and getting barely enough scrape to survive. This job was different. My employer was powerful. Powerful enough that he could afford to stiff me on expenses half the time, talk to me like I was dirt and still, out of fear and desperation, get me to shove my nose so far up his ass I could count the festering nodules on his prostate. I sighed, ashed my butt and casually glanced to a table across the cafe. There was a nice piece of work idly sipping something from a small cup, all leg from her dainty feet, which were forcibly restrained by the kind of heels that stilt walkers learn their craft on, to her massive, artificial cleavage which would prompt your average ogler to take up stilt walking just to get a better vantage point. I stared at her, making it apparent that I was a typical, hormone driven scum bag, but I was actually looking past her to a doorway across the street. I hadn’t planned on her sitting down at that particular spot, but it was advantageous since I could now actively watch the doorway without making it too obvious to the casual observer. Additionally I got an occasional glimpse of some of the best cleavage that back alley blow-jobs could buy.

I caught sight of one of the guys I was tracking as he walked around the corner. His furtive glance scanned the cafe, but stopped at the meter of leg and two dozen pounds of silicone on the other side of the room. After an almost ridiculously slow and exaggerated double take, he shook his head slightly, cocked a small grin, hugged his package tighter and entered the door. I was positive that I had found my guys. My opinion didn’t matter though, I was going to need good hard proof that my employer was being betrayed and he was sparing no expense to get it. I had in my possession a small digital camera of the sort that would make a gadgetophile hack out his own liver with a rusty spoon for a chance to use. This thing had some kind of high tech zoom lenses that were so miraculously good that the guy who delivered it swore that they were ground and polished by a one eyed shaman on peyote for use in some nefarious ritual. I told him to stop sleeping with syphilitic whores, gave him a fiver and kicked his ass out of my room. The camera not only had a zoom that would have made Hitchcock orgasm, it also had some kind of transmitter which would allow the pictures to be sent to my employer immediately. I knew this because a day after taking a picture of my cock, I received a shoe box with what I assumed was a severed penis in my bus locker instead of a small envelope of expense money. I hadn’t used it since.

I walked around to the back of the building I had see the smallest of the trio enter. The alley I passed through was a stench filled valley of refuse, most of it bags of rotting trash, some of it on two legs. Grubby hands grabbed at my ankles and legs, their owners unseen as they blended in with the ambient garbage. I beat most of them back with a splintery 2×4 I had found at the mouth of the alley as I scrambled over the warm, composting heaps. There was a small clearing where four identical buildings faced each other supporting a pitiful excuse for a tree, a rusty swing set that looked more dangerous to play on than juggling tainted junkie syringes, and a scattering of empty cans, broken glass and miscellaneous debris. I edged around as well as I could, slowly and quietly, keeping to the shadows. Fortunately the breeze made a whirlpool of papers and smaller bits of trash, depositing the worst of it in the center of the clearing and obscuring the view of any but the most dedicated observers.

The building across from my target’s was identical, a brick box with a baker’s dozen stories, broken windows of jagged glass like rotten teeth, the wailing of the wretched mingled with the shouts of of the angry, the bitter and the bored. I climbed the back stairwell, kicking aside used hypos and a small bouquet of dried dandelions spattered with what I assumed was blood. Fortunately for me, it smelled like someone had butchered an elephant in August and left its carcass to rot so this side of the building was relatively uninhabited. I made it up several floors, carefully looking for rooms with a good view, a lack of living occupants and a smell that wouldn’t make me vomit on myself. I was lucky enough to find all three on the seventh floor, as well as a bit of unusual luck in the form of wicker chair that was still usable. Pulling out the camera, I sat and scanned the other building, looking for my trio of turncoats.

I found them immediately. I have learned a few things in my profession, not least of all that guilt makes people careless. The reason some lunatics get away with heinous crimes and deviant behaviours while other people immediately get caught comes down in no small part to guilt. Those who feel no guilt and feel justified and righteous in their own mind don’t have any fear of being caught – that would imply guilt – and so they don’t give any of the cues that show on the guilty like glow in the dark paint to a good P.I. People who feel guilty, on the other hand, make careless mistakes. Part of them wants the world to know how clever they are and how they outsmarted authority. Part of them subconsciously expects to get caught, dulling their edge as time goes on. Eventually, someone who feels guilty questions if it was all worth it: if the running, the paranoia, the stress and the fear, the lying and the excuses were worth alleviating whatever need or want or lack had caused them to wallow in sin in the first place. If you have patience, everyone makes a mistake, but the guilty ones, those who know they’re wrong… well, they make them a lot quicker and much more often.

The big one had left the drapes open after dumping the bucket they were using as a toilet. I could see the freshly scrubbed walls behind him, the light from a small lamp with a red, velvety shade giving off a warm glow and making the place a little more homey. The small one, still more than a half a foot taller and a few hundred pounds heavier than me, was doing some kind of cross stitch. Zooming in, snapping photos the whole time, I could see it was a pair of puppies playing at the feet of a rosy faced and smiling child and I cringed out of habit. Medium was listening to some kind of music, orchestral I guessed, since he was waving his hands about like a parody of a conductor but looking more like a puppet whose puppeteer was having a grand mal seizure. His forked, reptilian tail bounced in time with his hands, and his sharp toothed grin was ecstatic. I slowly scanned the rest of the room, still snapping off picture after picture, until I found the large one. Switching between a chamois cloth and a large rasp, he was shaping and buffing one of his cloven hooves, occasionally using a small pick to dislodge a small stone or bleached knuckle bone. I moved the viewfinder up and was shocked to see that he was wearing two small bows on his head! Having thick scales instead of hair, it appeared that he had used small screws to attach the small, pink satin ribbons underneath his massive charred horns.

As I was clicking the shutter in a flurry of gape-mouthed disbelief, I noticed the camera getting warm. I ignored it at first, assuming that it was just the battery warming up from overuse, but it suddenly became too hot to hold without getting a blister and I dropped it to the floor where it landed with a wet smack and began to turn molten and white-hot. I glanced up quickly at the red, burning sky and saw the gigantic column of flame before I heard its thunderous approach. I ran down the stairs, putting holes in the walls with my shoulder at every turn, making it to the ground floor as the heat started to rise and it became as bright as remembered daylight in the small clearing. I sprinted down the alleyway, using heads, torsos and any hard bits I could now see in the glare as stepping stones to get over the trash as quickly as possible. Glancing behind me I could see the pillar of flame crashing down on the building, the top floors vaporizing instantly. I dove headlong into a gutter which I had earlier noticed ran down the road along side of the cafe, a moat thick with wet excrement, urine and blood. I dove in head first, taking as deep a breath as I could manage without gagging on the effluvia wafting from the stagnant waste. The heat hit immediately, crystallizing the surface and creating an inch thick shell that sealed me under. I strained against it with all my might, trying desperately to fight the natural compulsion to open my mouth and gasp, not wanting to drown in shit yet again. I felt a crack and renewed my furious beating and straining until I was able to push my head and bloody shoulder out of the muck and suck in a deep, horrible lungful of foul air.

After pushing the dusty corpse of the waiter to the side and pumping the well arm behind the bar of the gutted and smoking cafe, I was able to get enough sulphur-tainted water to wash the most severe clumps of feces from my face and torso. The four buildings were completely gone leaving nothing but a gaping crater and a hot breeze that tasted of ash and burned bacon. The surrounding area had surprisingly little damage that I could see, although it’s always hard to tell down here. I found, much to my delight, a crumpled and slightly singed but otherwise unscathed packet of cigarettes under the bar. I lit one off of the end of a smoldering femur jutting out of the remains of a charred, shapely leg and started on the long walk towards the bus station, looking forward to the package of money that I would hopefully find. I needed a bath, a fresh pack of smokes and a new set of scalpels. You see, I too have a few deviant hobbies. I just feel no guilt about them, whatsoever.

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