Before we begin, let me say something: I am not a very good Noir detective.
I don’t own a large coat, trench or otherwise. I’ve always thought that both fedoras and trilbys make the wearer look like they are trying way too hard. I take generally good care of my combination office/apartment. I wasn’t kicked off the force, but rather laid off due to budget cuts and a consultant not really seeing the need for a “Supernatural Crimes” division. I passed on picking up smoking, and don’t own a liquor cabinet. The last time a sultry femme fatale wandered into my office with a sob story that would inevitably lead to us sleeping together was, let’s see, never. The list goes on.
All the same, I do love me a good Noir intro. Which is why it is a huge disappointment, when Ned called ahead, scheduled an appointment, and showed up on time like a normal human being. Admittedly, this also meant that I had time to change rather than literally being caught with my pants down, so, you know, small mercies.
Here’s the thing about Ned. I could go off on the force here in Vegas, how they are all either neck-deep in the casinos’ pockets or just so apathetic that the paperwork doesn’t even get filed right, but Ned has his head screwed on straight. He’s one of the good ones, minding the law and seeing that it is carried out in such a manner that people actually get helped. He follows the law as though it were testament, and expects the same from others. When they inevitably disappoint, he quietly makes sure they meet justice with such efficiency that the overall process is just boring enough to avoid becoming a newspaper headline. Metaphorically speaking of course. I can’t even remember the last time that I saw someone reading a physical newspaper.
Which is why it was such a surprise to me when he brought me this case.
“So, let me just make sure I’m getting this right,” I said, leaning over my desk and massaging my temples. “A cult, which somehow managed to fly under the radar on the Strip of all places, manages to get off a ritual to open a portal to some unspecified Chaos dimension without setting off any of the city wards.”
“Yup,” Ned offered, blowing steam lightly off the surface of the paper cup of crappy office coffee.
“Said ritual happened all of, what was it, a month and a half ago?”
“Mmhm,” Ned agreed through a sip.
“And now,” I said as I looked up, “I, the only person on the force, former or otherwise, who got their degree in Meta-Criminal Justice, am finding out about this a grand total of four days before the portal actually opens up and who-knows-what crawls into our world?”
“Sounds about right,” Ned confirmed as he emptied his coffee into the trash can with a grimace.
“What the actual fuck, Ned?”
“Hey,” he said, putting his hands up defensively. “You know procedure as well as I do. Find that kind of mystic garbage, send for a specialist from the county office, then wait for results. We only get to hire civilian contractors in emergency situations.”
“I would say that this qualifies as an emergency, yeah!” I said, equally irritated and bewildered. “So what happened?”
“Bigwigs at county sent their specialist,” Ned said, casually tossing the crumpled paper cup into the trash. “He dithered around for three or so days ‘identifying the ritual’ before getting busted for cocaine possession. Thing like that causes a lot of paperwork for inter-department scandal.”
“Which, naturally, made county less than pleased about sending a replacement,” I ventured.
“I can’t do anything about it in four days Ned! This isn’t some high-schooler checking out the wrong book from the library and growing a few extra limbs. You’re talking about some serious magic here!”
“I believe the preferred source of dangerous magic these days is the internet,” Ned interjected mildly, toying with his notepad. “Besides, you have three and a half days. Today counts.”
“Alright, alright, sheesh,” he said, straightening in his chair. He tossed the notepad onto my desk, where it promptly spun into and knocked over my novelty floating pen. “You haven’t seen what you’re getting paid yet.”
“My rates are on the website, Ned, and even for you I can’t…” My voice trailed off as I turned the notepad to face me. I confess, my jaw went more then a little slack when I saw the number written there.
“Good enough for you?”
“Now, don’t get too excited,” Ned scolded as I wiped away the thin stream of drool that had collected in the corner of my mouth. “That’s not all for you. It assumes you’re going to be sub-contracting, and you’ll pay that out-of-pocket. Which I assume that you’ll be doing due to the rather rushed nature of the contract.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know a ritualist who could help me out. She doesn’t come cheap, but… wow. Where is this kind of cash coming from?”
“Easy,” Ned said, relaxing in the chair once again. “Standard contractor rates, a discretionary bonus for the short time-frame, and the extra-dimensional nature of the threat means that I can tap the Emergency Apocalypse Fund.”
“The what now?” I asked distractedly, still running over what I could buy with that kind of money.
“It got set up after you left. Something the consultant thought would be a good idea since, with your position terminated, the department is woefully under-equipped to deal with large-scale magical incidents.”
“Wait, what?” I tore my face from the notebook to stare incredulously at Ned. “So they cut my job with zero warning, only to put twice, three times my salary into a fund for hiring people to do my old job?”
“Well, not just that,” Ned said, rolling his eyes. “It doubles as petty cash. Better it go to you than another set of the Chief’s golf clubs.”
“Ok, ok,” I muttered around my sudden and throbbing headache. “Fundamental idiocy of bureaucracy aside, what do I have to work with, besides the cash? Did the mystic from county actually do anything useful before getting busted?”
“It’s all right here,” Ned said, drawing a depressingly thin manila envelope from his bag. He set it on the desk, tapping his finger on it once as he withdrew his hand. “For what it’s worth anyway.”
I undid the tie cord and started pulling the few reports out as Ned got up to retrieve his coat. It was a beautiful, light-tan canvas trench, slightly stained and worn, but still nice enough for business meetings. In truth, he looked more the part for my job than I did.
“What, really?” I blurted as the envelope surrendered a few Polaroid photographs. “Has this guy never heard of a cell phone camera?”
Ned chuckled as he tossed on his coat and hat. “It’s alright, just think of it as the setup for one of those terrible black-and-white movies you love so much.”
“Dashiell Hammet is a genius and I will force you to sit through The Maltese Falcon one of these days,” I said without looking up from my desk.
“Eh, I’m not pretty enough to be one of those girls that bursts in unannounced to give you the case anyway,” Ned said over his shoulder as he opened the door. “Maybe another time.”
“Hey Ned?” I called, glancing up to meet his eyes. “I’ll solve this. I mean, I’ll try my best, but this is some pretty nasty stuff. Might be worth looking into taking some vacation time for this week, just in case.”
“What, and miss your triumphant victory over the forces of darkness?” Ned said with a grin. “I don’t think so. Besides, it’s just a small end of the world. No pressure.”
“Right. No pressure,” I said, mostly to myself as the door closed with a click.
My eyes stayed fixed on the door for a long moment after Ned had left. My door, of all things, was my pride and joy. An ancient artifact from a lost time, stained wood with an inset window of frosted glass, the classic detective’s door. I was working on getting the gold-lettered plate for it, but for the moment, it was bare. Still, it was a start.
So, yeah. Maybe I’m not the perfect Noir detective, but I’m getting there. As soon as I could tear my thoughts away from the style of plate I would equip the door with after this payday, I pulled off the collared business shirt, tossing it on a laundry basket, and retrieved a simple white t-shirt. I turned up the A/C, set my phone to vibrate, and sat down with the contents of the folder. As if showing off for a camera, I violently cracked my knuckles, and got to work before the sound of impending arthritis stopped echoing through my studio.