2011-02-10

Chandler in the Wind-Up

As Reverend Jen says, you don't get rich being avant-garde. Thus a pastiche should be a real money-spinner. By its very nature it preys on the prior and established (otherwise none would know it was a pastiche) work of others, and is hence very much arrière-garde. Unfortunately, the fact that nobody wants to buy cutting edge need not mean that they'll want to buy the trailing one either. What use is it? Last century, the take-off of the hard-boiled private detective was all the rage so this century should see it so-unfashionable-it's-valuable. If you wants more, you gots to pay for it. But you won't want more.

It made no sense. He picked up his scotch, or scatch, as they said, and fingered his automatic (or ardour maddock) and watched the door. A fresh new client might knock on it and waft in. A new client with some new mystery to solve which they felt, for their own reasons, worth their money and somebody else’s time and effort.

But there was no knock. There were, apparently, no more mysteries. Everything was clear, transparent, pellucid. It was the end of mystery. The fall of the Merlin Wall. Everyone knew exactly what they wanted to know and didn’t want to know any more than they already did. Which is why he was fingering his automatic. If anybody had come through that door, he’d’ve shot them right where they stood and would’ve yelled down at them “How’s that for a mystery?”

Well, maybe not. It might be considered a little unfriendly. Not to mention the inconvenience of losing a client so early in the game. He thought back to his last client. It seemed a hundred years ago now but had only been last week. She’d called him on a Friday and herself Miss Bumberly. She’d wanted to track down her brother, last heard of in Las Bodegas, so that he could pay his alimony to his deserted wife. It wasn’t that he’d deserted her - she really did live in the desert - more that she liked the word alimony and preferred the sound of it to the word housekeeping. But he wasn’t having it and had skipped town in a fit of lexical pique.

Had Miss Bumberly’s story to him been believable? Paul wasn’t convinced, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell her that. “So what’s your brother’s name?” He’d asked her. “Why, Master Bumberly.” she’d responded. “Is there a Mistress?” he asked. She’d shot him a glance which would’ve frozen his yoghourt if he’d had any to hand - “Do I look as if I come from a happy family?” He let the following silence weigh heavily for a few seconds, then asked her where the family residence was. He wanted to know just how much money this unhappy family might have. “Yuma.” she returned, giving each syllable equal weight. He sighed, internally, and made a mental note not to rely on Miss Bumberly for his pension. Instead, he’d said that it must be a nice place to live. “Well, I suppose so,” she said “but I’ve no real sense of it”. Paul nodded. Then he asked if she had a recent photo. After a few seconds establishing that he’d meant of her brother rather than of Yuma, she pulled one out of her haversack and unfurled it. It was a large one; a ten by eight - the units were in feet - which she’d pulled off of an advertising hoarding. “My brother’s a local second hand car dealer,” she explained, “and this ad’s the only thing I could lay my hands on in the time available.”

Paul reached into his desk drawer and snapped open a six-pak of bluetack. They attached the poster to the office wall and he stood back. It was a friendly face. One you could trust. The nose was patrician, the mouth sensuous and the chin prominent. His eyebrows were like caterpillars rampant, guarding with their very lives each one of a pair of grey and intense eyes. For some reason he was wearing a tassled fez - rather like the one worn by Tommy Cooper - but Paul didn’t pursue the matter. Fortunately the poster sported a big slogan encouraging everyone to ‘Just Trust Ted Too’, so he didn’t need to further attempt to get her to tell him his brother’s name. He’d just assume it was Edward Bumberly II.

Whilst he was pondering the problem of how he’d manage to carry the poster around in his wallet, Miss Bumberly spoke. “It’s not that Bea, that’s his wife by the way, wants him back, you understand. It’s just she wants to know where he is and what he’s up to.” This had struck him as odd at the time. Why had she provided a reason as specific as that? Why did he suddenly feel that there was, in fact, no such person as Bea? Well, what did it matter? As long as he was getting paid. He’d then outlined his fee rates and expenses, inviting to seat her before doing so. It would take him a couple of days to find Ted, easy money, and what business of his was it what she’d do with the results of his efforts? She’d be paying him not to care. But would it be enough this time?

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