THE ALL-STAR ANNUALLY CONVENING COZY DETECTIVES CLUB in
PARTIALLY NAKED CAME THE CORPSE!
AN AHOY COMICS FIFTH ANNIVERSARY EPIC SERIAL
PART ONE by GRANT MORRISON
1. Try Stopping Me Now!
The facts in the case were all too obvious; Murder had strolled in like it owned the joint, pulled up a chair and made itself very much at home.
Some of the sweeping swathes of blood on the walls seemed so suggestive of a secret assassins’ alphabet they were crazy dead ringers for graffiti tags, thought Detective Jim “James” Toledowski. He’d already thrown up once into a cheery, accommodating trash can and would do so five more times until only dry retch and stringy bile acids remained to vex him.
Say, does that look like “I2LUVu2”? said Special Detective Rince Cormoran in charge of Violent Crime. How the hell do I explain something like that to the DA’s office, let alone my wife and mistress?
Your wife and your mistress are one and the same? Police Sergeant Emo Verbiage interjected in that broad ham and pastrami accent he had no control over, emphasizing his point with a bright jagged clash of the brass cymbals he kept for such occasions. That’s crazy talk, chief! We’re looking at a psycho who likes to vandalize living human meat with specialist tools! There’s no getting away from it, this poor dismantled asshole’s blood and brains got swiped across the wall by a wiper as long as, or most likely longer than, Betty Grable’s fabled legs.
Now that was the kind of image that could stick in “James”Toledowski’s brain like a thorn in his big paw and because of that it did. All the damage was done that day, his first on the job in the Big Apple, as Fort Wayne, Indiana was known long before New York. At least as far as he was concerned.
“James” hadn’t known then who the hell Betty Fable was, and he didn’t care to know now neither. All he knew for certain was he’d been thinking about those damn grabled legs of hers for decades since that day when the Osiris Killer’s gory work had motivated the queasy lawman to display for inspection his radically deconstructed lunch with its parmesan stink of butyric acid.
Why the Osiris Killer? Something to do with how the god Set cut his brother Osiris’s body into pieces was all Toledowski could separate out from a steaming mess of speculation.
The shot glass rattled nervously in his hand the way the anxious bell above the door of a General Store does. How long had he been talking to himself anyways?
Legs shuttling and back and forth, the 30-denier of her expensive sheer stockings squeaking and sweeping a rainbow of brief clarity through a windscreen wet with Missouri raindrops, the kind that fell salt blue with all the tears of all those tender-hearted cowboys like him who rode a lonesome rig on a rhinestone highway!
Try as he might to put it out of his mind, the insistent mental picture of those multiplying lady limbs working in vain to clear an accumulating glass bead dazzle on his windshield would only kick its spurs and dig in deeper, throbbing, until his thoughts were left to limp along distracted as his mind grew feebler by degrees.
He wished some kindly Androcles would one day come along, take pity, and bring the whole damn attenuated metaphor to a merciful end by extracting it completely from his memory, then disinfecting the puncture wound it left with an injection of positive affirmation before PTSD found its way in . . .
2. Slim Jim vs Irrelevance
Slim Jim Toledo raised his glass to one eye and peered through it reflectively. Seen from the far side, Slim Jim’s distorted, pale blue peeper resembled a ghastly new species of goldfish, swollen and debauched, cyanotic with nausea in its cramped and Bourbon-filled shot glass aquarium.
That’s how I got my start. Quit the Force that day and set off in the direction of cozy crime. Got myself some spurs and a drawl. Found my niche with the likes of Death Rides the Rodeo, Death Dons a Stetson, Death Stalks the Grand Ole Opry. I had the genre all to myself! Then this global shit, this damn warming . . .
Turned out thanks to all the global warming there were now so many honkytonk tunes swirling up there in the whatthefuckosphere it had begun to have a measurable, some might say catastrophic, effect on climate and the ozone and what have you.
Enormous rotating masses of moist country and western music meeting cold fronts moving on down from Canada and Toyland were responsible for some of the most self- pitying musico-meteorological storms the midwestern USA had ever had to suffer through.
The immediate aftermath brought a nationwide shortage of shoulders to cry on, hearts to break and tissues to handle the torrent of tears and for the first time, the tide of public opinion in the USA was 100% in favor of a moratorium on new country music while emergency services dealt with the horrific consequences of its release into the atmosphere.
Even the reigning Queen of Nashville renounced her back catalogue and moved onto troubling musique concrete and weird avant jazz that was about as far away from Blue Ridge Mountain Boy as Dollywood is from the innermost D-ring of Saturn.
For Slim Jim Toledo, the Rhinestone Detective, life on the wrong side of the climate debate was the kiss of death. Country-themed cozies came rarer than good ole boys without serious convictions these days. Truth to tell, it got so bad, he was only 24 hours from squeezing his outsize balding head in the microwave oven, dialing the timer to 10 minutes, and rolling the dice, when a most unexpected invitation arrived to disturb the cobwebs in his mailbox.
It was a guest invite to the prestigious All-Star Annually Convening Cozy Detectives Club that saved Slim Jim’s life as he prepared to cook his own head from within. This exclusive group of well-known married or divorced sleuthing duos, ex-policemen and various gifted amateurs who tended to make regular fools of the ‘so-called professionals’ was considering him for membership!
That gift of grace brung him whistling all the way up from Tennessee and all the rest of the way here to the Nightview Hotel in North Dakota’s forbidding Backlot Mountains where he vowed to prove to the assembled Kings and Queens of comfy crime that Slim Jim Toledo still had what it took to live up to their inexplicable faith in him.
Joining that exalted court and solving a relaxing, bloodless murder mystery would be just the ticket for Slim Jim’s flaking self-esteem!
That’s what Slim Jim Toledo thought.
3. 3 Comes After 4, Right?
The opulent bar was filling up now with its dandy clientele. They all seemed so individual, theatrical, extravagant in their mannerisms and dress, as if drawing attention to a distinctive limp, a Tourette’s tic or some other subtle but defining idiosyncrasy, say, a passion for forensic lepidoptery or a Jungian approach to ballistics.
Worse, they all seemed to know each other the way all the bees in a hive do. Conversations like spring flowers were erupting and blossoming in every corner while he babbled into empty air.
Slim Jim’s newfound confidence was fading fast.
The laconic McConaughey cowboy charm he’d relied on as his passport into people’s private pants seemed to have deserted him. And no wonder! What were cowboys but a sour reminder of climate apocalypse? In his mind’s eye he looked like a publicity photo of the great Gene Autry some ex-fan had left in the rain for a week. He smelled like an unknown animal where the heat was bringing up the rich barn guff from those well-worn cowhide chaps he now wished he’d never packed.
The glacial blonde to his left at the bar affected not to notice his clumsiness, his confusion, or even the primeval steams that puffed from Slim Jim’s crotch area every time he shifted in his seat. Her disinterest was total and devastating.
Only the dog by her side appeared to take any interest in what Slim Jim had to say. Barking in its engaged and enthusiastic Morse staccato, it seemed to welcome the rolling billows of sweat as a child would novelties from an Xmas stocking!
They sure train them well, these service dogs, thought Slim Jim, ordering with a flick of his fingers another Jack and Jill shot for his health as he glared at the amiable hound.
I’m guessing you’re like me, he tried once more with the chilly Hitchcock blonde.
The dog barked so hard Jim jumped.
One of those detectives with a gimmick, he carried on, with rising irritation in his voice. This is my first time . . . got an invite . . . saved my life . . .
Two barks. The animal was a goddamn unruly pest and no mistake. As far as he was concerned, the mutt was only still alive thanks to Slim Jim’s Cowboy Code against killing. The Cowboy Code, it must be said, had been carefully worded so as to make most living things fair game in one way or another, but he’d been compelled by state law to include an exemption for utility and service animals, alas!
I know you guys meet up once a year to solve a cozy crime— and sometimes induct an—uh a new inductee—so uh— What’s your quirk if you don’t mind me asking? Aside from the dog I mean . . .
She sipped from her drink, went on ignoring his questions while the dog began to howl mournfully, wrinkling its wet black strawberry of a nose in puzzlement.
The burly, outsize bartender, whose salted ginger rainforest of a beard was sprouting visibly before Slim Jim’s eyes, looked from the cowboy to the cool blonde in her dark Jackie Os and wide-brimmed hat.
Her quirk is she’s deaf, dumb and blind, the crafty host explained. Can’t smell. Nothing.
Say, that’s terrible! Slim Jim exclaimed, but all things considered he felt a whole lot better now. It wouldn’t have mattered to her how mixed-up and pungent he was after all!
But get this, the bartender grinned, seeming to grow even more massive, ever more devious, a disgraced wrestling champion fisting a pint mug with a cloth. The dog is telepathic. Does all the hard work. She can see through his eyes, although it’s mostly in black and white. But the nose? He tapped his own spongy red hooter. 100,000 times better than the average human . . .
You know Barker and the Blonde from TV?
Even he forgets which one’s which, he says. The giant extended a hand as big as a saucepan. Geoff Procrustes at your service! Say, you look like you could use a drink, pal.
I’ve been here drinking for two hours straight, Geoff. Still got 15 shots lined up, Slim Jim observed truthfully. And we already met about a dozen times so far.
I won’t tell if you won’t! Mr. Procrustes winked. What say you, one for the road, cowboy?
Slim Jim gave in.
Ah, what the heck. Let me finish up these bad hombres, Geoff. What’s the road drinking, anyway? he joked, but it fell flat again like the front of a building in one of those old silent comedies no one laughs at.
Mr. Procrustes winked. He looked around, tapped his nose.
If I know the road, it’ll most likely want TWO of everything you’re having!
4. Nobody Move or Else!
As if trained by a robot arm on a production line, Slim Jim threw back his shots until his bicep started to hurt from the exertion. He kept his tat hidden but imagine an unfortunate, indelible misspell of his vainglorious rodeo nickname—‘His USA-Ness!’
Near enough partway satisfied with the way things were going, Slim Jim leaned back against the shaky bar to survey the grand interior. For all its fancy scrolled pillars, decorative moldings and tasteful application of deco stylings, the place had the look of a hastily thrown together movie or theatre set as far as he could make out.
Truth to tell, with its trembling, crudely painted trompe l’oeil balsa wood facades, the whole elegant illusion appeared ready to collapse at the slightest hint of a breeze to reveal the sterile corrugated tin walls and cement floors of an immense hangar glimpsed beyond!
I sure don’t know what it is about this here venue. He had that feeling in his sinuses he always got when mystery was up to no good. Something screwy about this whole thing, don’t you reckon?
Way it’s reminding me less and less of a hotel and a whole hell of a lot more like some kinda disused abattoir . . .
That’s just how they used to make these big fancy ho-tels, Geoff Procrustes said with a smile that was more like an exploratory dagger thrust to the face. Made the cattle men feel at home back in the day!
Off Slim Jim’s suspicious frown, he continued—All this round here was once cattle-growing land until, well—and here the eyes of Procrustes narrowed, and he hunched across the bar top, with a shifty glance in every direction. What’s grown’s gotta get reaped, right? This followed by an abrupt heart-stopping cackle—
Slim Jim, too busy looking at the jagged mountainous terrain that stretched for 40 miles in every direction to factor in the demonic peal of laughter on top, muttered, Cattle- grazing land, huh?
Mountain cattle, grinned Procrustes. Far as the eye can see! AH! There you are, old chap! Splendid! Splendid!
And so it was that Slim Jim’s perfectly reasonable qualms were slain in their infancy by a rich and theatrical voice as it resonated from the mouth hole of a handsome, hawk- featured English man who’d appeared as if from next to nowhere to hold court on the bar top by the complimentary nuts and crackers.
You’re Slim Jim Toledo, right? The man’s tanned features stretched like a spring chest-expander into a disconcerting smile. Veneers resembling a boxer’s mouthguard were exposed, making it look as though he only had two long teeth, one on top, one on the bottom. Welcome to the All- Star Annually Convening Cozy Detectives Club! I hope you love cozy crime as much as the rest of us do!
The voice seemed synthesized, muffled, well-nigh robotic, but Slim Jim was eager not to offend. Perhaps the man had undergone some kind of throat surgery and if cancer was involved, he was anxious not to put his foot in it inadvertently.
The Right Honorable Aloysius Quartertone KC, at your service, old chap! the garrulous, dead-eyed silver fox announced as though alerting passengers to the departure of the train from Platform 5. I won’t shake if you don’t mind.
The Gent Adventures! Oh boy! Slim Jim said enthusiastically, withdrawing his proffered hand. The Gent in New York was the first one I read! The Gent Says Yes. After the Gent. The Gent Lies Down on Broadway . . . guess you could say I’m a fan!
Well, that’s ever so sweet of you! Look here’s what it is, you look like a man who could use a drink! Step lively, Mr. Procrustes! This poor fellow’s practically dying of thirst! What’ll you have, Slim Jim?
Slim Jim surveyed the multiplying ranks of empty shot glasses piling in crystal heaps on the counter.
I still have one or two of these bad boys to get through but sure—why not? Same again!
You got it, smirked Geoff Procrustes, pouring first one drink, then another, then another and another . . .
The Gent winked and went on. Which of our merry band have you met, Slim Jim? That’s Bookworm Brown over there chatting to the Gay Boy Detectives, of course . . .
. . . indubitably, I with my idiomatic grandiloquent perora- tions and nigh-Falstaffian personal charisma had insalu- brious expect . . .
A loud sawing crash cut the stout ex-child-star’s carefully constructed sentence in two like a magician’s act. This overture was followed by a tumbling ferocious storm of fur and knuckles, fang and rolling bloodshot eye. One misshapen paw stuffed a mess of stolen cake into that awful screaming pit in its face. The other flung a raw and bleeding human scalp against a wall that shuddered with the impact.
Caesar Smiles, the Simian Sleuth—came the Gent’s laconic introduction. He doesn’t always make our gatherings but when he does, there’s no mistaking that marvelous sense of humor.
Are you sure he’s a quirky detective? Slim Jim said, aghast as carnage unfolded.
You think he looks normal? He swears by a sly tipple in Business Class, that’s all.
I ain’t so certain . . . Slim Jim protested. He sure looks to me more like some random aggressive chimp got loose and ran wild in the hotel . . .
Ah, let him blow off some steam, he’ll be fine! Be thankful you’ve never had to suffer jet lag the way an ape does!
Slim Jim bore witness to delirium.
Trailing a tablecloth and a clatter of cups and saucers and shattering wine glasses, a screaming chaos of meat, muscle and bristling hair barreled past a glamorous society couple as they sailed obliviously into the bar like yachts into a fashionable marina.
How about those two?
The dapper man affected a pencil-thin mustache. As if to outdo him, his pretty wife wore two. One above each eye in lieu of eyebrows.
Well, I’ll be a rattlesnake’s knees!
Dick and Darcy Nemesis! the Gent chuckled. If you ever thought there was no limit to the amount of witty banter the human mind can stand, think again . . .
5. Death Gets a Little Lovelier Each Day!
. . . well, how was I to know there’d be apes? I didn’t pick the hotel or choose the guest list, Darcy, whatever you may think of me!
Oh, tish and tosh, Dick! You didn’t mention my chimp allergy even once to the concierge and now here we are without an antihistamine, halfway to Shit Springs, excuse my French! Heaven knows no one will excuse the hives!
Don’t remind me! Last time you ate Raw Chimp’s Face Pie, you blew up like a flesh zeppelin! So much for our so-called anniversary cruise down the Rhine! Next thing you know, we’re up to our necks in the Affair of Ludwig’s Lampshade! You remember those moonlit nights, darling? At least one of us has to!
Do I ever! Affair of the Busted Rubber is more like it, you heel! We had to resort to Agent Orange and a flamethrower to shift those crabs of yours!
Maybe I saw something in them you never could! If it was up to me, I’d have kept them as pets! But what do I know? Anyhow, if your body bloats like that out here, I guarantee they’ll scramble the Royal Canadian Mounted Air Force!
Oh, they will, will they?
And you can bet your bottom Canadian dollar those pilots, and their jockeys both, will have you shot outta the sky straight back into my arms! How would you like that, huh?
Why! You’re one to talk! If it wasn’t for your addiction to recycled paper, we’d be squillionaires! Maybe one day that winning lottery ticket will show up unexpectedly in your dung drop, buster, and then you won’t have to be sorry you never learned to tell the difference between numbers and flavors!
Oh, you’d like that wouldn’t you? You’d love to see me trying to reconstitute a winning lottery ticket that’s been in my digestive system for six months. Well, I will if that’s what it takes to make you fall in love with me all over again!
Don’t try to sweet talk me, buster!
I just need you to tell me one thing. Say you didn’t forget to pack my trademark mustache, like I told you to, honeybun!
She folded her arms and shook her head patiently as he commenced a frantic search for the missing face fuzz, flipping a personalized toiletry bag with embroidered D&D monogram upside down to spill pills and condoms and magnifying glasses.
Tell me you packed my mustache! This whole weekend’s ruined if my face has nowhere to hide!
Darcy Nemesis tapped her foot as Dick Nemesis pecked among the debris. She rolled her eyes like so many bells on a one-armed bandit, ostentatiously checked her watch as though examining something taking root on her wrist.
Dick, rejecting panic as too tame in the circumstances, had proceeded directly to hysteria and now had 99-proof martini tears brimming in his anguished eyes. He’s gone! He’s lost! I’ll never see him again! And then what’ll become of me?
Dick realized Darcy was shaking her head on its elegant Clue-card neck, arching one of her own elegant brow ’staches.
Say, I know that look! Why are you looking at me like that anyway?—he paused in his flustered search for his treasured trademark facial hair.
You mean like you’re some kind of chump who does this every single time, huh?
Yeah! That’s the expression—and I don’t like it!
Darcy held up a compact mirror. Perplexed but smiling with relief, Dick raised his fingers to touch the thin line of bristle on his lip, a negative image of light snow on a windowsill on a Christmas card.
Holy cow! How did this wind up here? Of all places! Thank God he’s alive!
With a smooth and well-rehearsed swing, Darcy unsheathed a MacGregor club from the caddy, brand- ishing it with the kind of mock menace that extreme intoxication could all too easily transform into genuine life-threatening violence.
Watch that smart mouth, wiseacre, unless you want me to smash a window through to your so-called brains with this 5-iron!
You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Me with a window in my head so people could see for themselves how stupid you think I am! Well, I’d take a hammer whack to the medulla any day if it meant you still loved me!
I do love you, darling and always will—more than the moon loves a cigarette!
I have no idea how much that is, but it sure sounds romantic . . .
May I have a cigarette? I have such a thirst for smoke . . .
And I’m ravenous for cocktails!
Let’s guzzle a toast to a wonderful weekend of cozy crime!
And a second toast to staying drunk forever!
6. God Help the Living!
They can keep it up all day and night, the Gent chuckled. You’ll all get to know one another soon enough! The fun really starts when there’s been a bloodless murder but— well, I’ve always wanted to see the Rhinestone Detective in action—the Gent continued with a slight impatience in his plummy Speak & Spell voice. How about turning some of the old sleuthing skills on me, Slim Jim?
Swelling with pride, Slim Jim lifted his drink in a tipsy toast. It looked like the Gent was encouraging him to audition for the Club right there and then!
This was it! Slim Jim Toledo’s dream shot at the big time!
Eager to please, he licked dry lips and cracked his knuckles once before subjecting the genial Englishman to the Rhinestone Cowboy’s trademark ‘hawkeye’ investigation method . . .
As I recall, the Gent wears a fine-looking tailored suit with pinstripes, a cravat and rose in the buttonhole, a silk handkerchief, and let’s not forget the monogrammed cufflinks but you . . .
Yes? Do go on, my good chap! Let’s hear it for those renowned skills of observation!
With you, there’s something missing . . . I can’t put my finger on it . . . Jim cocked his head to one side, but he couldn’t square up what should be there with what he was seeing, and, good-hearted as he was, Jim was equally blind to sarcasm. He blithely took the Gent’s upper-crust sneer for sincere admiration.
You have a real knack for seeing what others miss!
Slim Jim Toledo knew something was wrong, somewhere, but he couldn’t for the Heck of him say what the fuck it was . . .
Aside from your steely flourish of hair and—and the aristocratic nose and the teeth and well—there’s trademarks and attributes I’d expect . . .
Just what is it about me, Slim Jimzzccttt!
Something popped and fizzed before the Gent’s head lit up from within. His veneers had caught fire and begun to melt from the sides of his mouth into a puddle of tarry oozing gore on the bartop, where his severed head sat like a novelty candle.
Well, I’ll be damned!
It didn’t take long after that exclamation for Slim Jim to put two and two together, making one decapitated upper- crust noggin. With a cheap transmitter in its mouth that was still broadcasting beehive threats!
You zzzsay that every time—hahaha—in the endless Bardo Wars—except we were on an asylum ship of lunatics floating in the orbit of Uranus! You remember? We were plugged into the Actual Reality Grid—trapped in a hall of knives made of revolving mirrors—in an impossible world where cowboys are hated! All of this just a little boy’s nightmare in HELLLLzzzxxPOO
You’re telling me this whole thing is some kind of experiment? Slim Jim was getting his dander up now.
Geoff Procrustes, the barman, shook his head like he was trying to grind a huge hairy boulder from his shoulders and poured Slim Jim another few drinks—Think you must have booked the wrong weekend for cozy. This is hardboiled madhouse horror and I’m afraid our policy is to tailor the guest to the experience not the other way around . . . my name’s Geoff . . .
ffzzkk when you finally see it all together—when you know it for the Frankenssskknns monster it is! zzzunderssstand Mr. Toledo! Only then will your story even begin to make sense because God only knows it hasn’t tried too hard so far . . . xvv
With that the Rhinestone Cowboy just couldn’t take no more of this smarmy disembodied discombobulation. He had to lash out.
Before the defenseless upper-crust cranium could react by blinking or screaming, Slim Jim struck the hideous relic with all the force he could muster. His meaty fist connected with the Gent or what was left of him, which mortal remnant shot across the floor like a bowling ball rejecting all the rules!
Now I reckon there’s been a murder! Slim Jim said, setting out with a calm steady voice that ended its journey as a high-pitched childish scream. Nobody leaves until we found the rest of him!
The dog, Barker, or possibly the Blonde, barked four times but no one there could translate dog language. They couldn’t hear, “FLY! FLY, YOU FOOLS!”
Which was ’round about where what had already started to go wrong just kept getting worse…
Or was it better?
PART TWO by BRYCE INGMAN
7. The Barker and the Blonde
It’s not easy being a woman with only two out of five senses who uses her psychic link with a dog to solve crimes and star in a weekly “reality” television show, but the Blonde had been doing it in style for nearly ten years now. In short, the Blonde was a badass.
Thirty-two years ago she was born deaf, blind and without a sense of smell. This was, to be sure, a rotten deal. Even Helen Keller could smell a flower. Luckily, the Blonde had one substantial advantage over boring old Helen Keller; she had a talent for linking her consciousness to various psychic animals and “borrowing” their senses to interact with the world.
When she was 23, the Blonde and her then-current companion, a psychic lobster, heard a knock at their apartment door. Simple tasks like hearing knocks or answering the door were difficult because the psychic lobster, while certainly charming and friendly, had blurry eye-stalk vision and a nearly nonexistent ability to hear sound. But the lobster could see well enough for the Blonde to recognize what was on the porch. A puppy. A puppy that immediately began to psychically communicate to the Blonde its fear, loneliness, and passionate interest in detective work.
The next morning, the Blonde, the puppy and the lobster took a bus to the beach where the Blonde thanked the crustacean for its months of service and tossed it into the sea. The puppy barked enthusiastically as both the lobster and its psychic connection to the Blonde disappeared under the waves. Right then and there the Blonde named the puppy Barker. And he liked the name.
Since that day, the minds of the woman and the dog were mixed and blended together, intertwined like hair in the shower drain of a college dormitory, every second of every hour, for nine years, seven months and eleven days.
Physical distance did not diminish their psychic bond. Nor did sleep, injury or illness. The only thing that could sever their connection was unconsciousness. And perhaps death. But who knew? The Blonde sometimes wondered if their bond might be stronger than life itself. Barker was ten years old. A senior dog. So she would learn the answer to the death question sometime relatively soon . . . and that terrified her. How could she live without him? The woman and the dog were linked more tightly than any other pair of creatures on the planet.
Sharing the dog’s powerful sense of smell was one aspect of this link. The portion of the canine brain devoted to interpreting odors is over forty times larger than the analogous structure in a human. So when Barker deployed even half of that scent capacity, the Blonde’s brain had to use every single cell in its olfactory bulb and then shanghai other, non-olfactory brain structures to help finish the job. This brain overload always made the Blonde feel dizzy, nauseous and more than a little “buzzed.”
Before Slim Jim, the clammy, half-witted cowboy detective to her right, impulsively punched the severed head off the bar, the Gent’s cranium had mainly reeked of snuff tobacco and formaldehyde—an unpleasant combination of odors but not anything particularly remarkable. But post-punch, the smell had changed, and Barker’s nose had immediately investigated. And so now, in this freak show bar, the Blonde was experiencing, for the first time, the overwhelming sensation of what it felt like when Barker engaged all 100 million sensory receptor sites in his nasal cavity.
The head’s true smell had been unmasked. It was unearthly. Wicked. Wrong.
A detective often encounters corpses and, through Barker, the Blonde knew the hollow smell of death well. But the stench now emanating from the Gent’s severed head was much worse than a normal death odor—it was the scent of death multiplied by three hundred million. It was a black hole of stench and if she and her fellow Cozy Detectives didn’t immediately get away from the Gent’s severed head they would find themselves pulled into the smell, made part of it. This prospect seemed impossible, but the scent told its story convincingly, and the Blonde was certain that if she didn’t act quickly they would all be absorbed into this reeking abyss.
She’d tried to warn the other detectives, but no one had understood Barker’s barks.
Now, using Barker’s superb 270 degree peripheral vision, the Blonde scanned the room. Geoff Procrustes’ massive, shifting face regarded them with its unsettling grin. Slim Jim was shout-bragging to the disinterested assemblage about his “potent and productive hawkeye investigation method.” Dick and Dora Desmond were lost in delightfully witty banter over which of their three mustaches was the most fabulous. Caesar Smiles, a known beheading enthusiast, was approaching the severed noggin with interest. But Bookworm Brown and the Gay Boy Detectives, glassy looks in their eyes, were heading toward it as well. And the four boys were not known beheading enthusiasts.
There was no time to lose. The Blonde sent a mental suggestion to Barker. Immediately, the dog leapt from its perch at the bar and barreled toward the still sizzling head. Just as Caesar Smiles began to reach out for the Gent’s severed coconut, Barker arrived, slapped the chimp’s hand away with a diamond-studded paw, grabbed the dome in his teeth, and headed for the exit.
One of the Gay Boy Detectives yelled, “Halt!” and stood blocking the dog’s path, but Barker dove between the young investigator’s shorts-clad legs, banging the Gent’s head against the flimsy saloon door, swinging the exit open, and leaving behind a bloody imprint of the Gent’s dissolving face.
As the door swung closed behind Barker, the Blonde felt a weather-beaten, sweaty hand on her bare shoulder and assumed it must be Slim. The hot wind of his breath on her face told her he must be yelling. She felt an impulse to bite him but that was just the Barker in her. It was easy to resist this canine urge because Slim seemed far away. Most of the Blonde was with Barker—hearing what he heard, seeing what he saw, as he ran, the severed head clutched tight in his jaw, for the hotel exit.
Seconds later, the Blonde heard an awful, preternatural voice address her friend.
And then everything went blank. Barker’s senses clicked off. The Blonde was alone.
The producers of the Barker and the Blonde show had created a fiction about the Blonde. The show claimed she was dumb—unable to speak. This lie was prompted by the reaction of Hollywood focus groups to the show’s pilot episode wherein the Blonde occasionally spoke. Hearing people describe her speaking voice in terms such as “unattractive,” “abrasive” and “duck-like” had made the Blonde feel self-conscious about her voice, and so she had willingly gone along with the public fiction that she was “dumb.”
It had been over eight years since the Blonde had spoken to another person. Now, in this moment of peril, separated from her companion, she knew she needed to speak again. The Blonde grabbed Slim Jim’s head, pulled his ear to her mouth and carefully repeated the words she’d heard the voice say to Barker. She hoped Slim understood. Their lives depended on it.
And then, fearing the worst had happened to her beloved, heroic Barker, the Blonde put her head on the bar and began to cry.
To be continued
Part Three by Carrie Harris—in Black's Myth: The Key to His Heart #4
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