Max Elderberry was an undoubtedly a vain, self absorbed, yet remarkably clever man. He was clever enough to know that he was unlikely to survive the night. Elderberry was also clever enough to have shredded unmercifully any doubt he may have held related to running for his life and surviving at all costs. Problem was, running wasn’t an option.
Elderberry sat with his back to the doorway. he realised this wasn’t the most flattering perspective from which his body could be viewed, however he remained this way because it allowed him to appear less affected by the acid churning terror currently assaulting his senses. Elderberry was used to being tailed, but this time was different. It felt different.
Someone in the diner knew him and disconcertingly, should they be sitting behind him would also be able to see his less than perfect rear profile fringed by the substantial love handles he inherited from his mother’s side. As he waited impatiently for his off menu order, Elderberry wondered about his ability to request that the dish be priced below the level of it’s most similar companion on the menu. He quickly concluded with withering logic that he had missed his chance to dive through this doorway of negotiating opportunity as he had already placed his order.
As he sat there sweating from the exertion of maintaining a thin veneer of aloofness, Elderberry felt a hot piercing gaze drilling into either the side or back of his head. As he wondered if it was the back or the side, his thoughts turned to his hair and not for the first time he wished for a hairdresser’s mirror he could use to check how appropriately tousled it would appear to his potential assailant. Some part of Elderberry though there was a slim chance it was a broad stalking him and if so, his hair might well play a crucial role in securing his freedom.
He twitched with anticipation and could feel his skin expanding and contracting at an accelerating rate with each breath he took. Each closer to his last. His coffee was now stone cold and looked tasted like tepid river water. Elderberry’s racing mind wondered in passing whether caffeine somehow lost it’s zing when coffee was left to die in such an undignified way.
As a Private Dick, Elderberry had become accustomed to making the private affairs of others his core business through what he impressively described as ‘expert subterfuge’, but at this moment, he felt like his assailant owned him and was wearing him like a cowhide glove. Why, he wondered was a cowhide glove the only type of glove people were ever impressed by when it fitted well? For the love of Jehovah, thought Elderberry why must a cow be slaughtered for the feel of a snug fit? Elderberry’s committed vegetarianism had made him a laughing stock amongst the Private Dick Fraternity, however it made him feel proud. Intruding on his pride though was the disconcerting kowledge that he would not shake this tail tonight and that tonight could well be his last. In actual fact, to describe this knowledge as disconcerting would be like saying it would hurt if a Bull Elephant with worms decided to sit on you.
Elderberry tracked the zig zagging path of this thought as it bounced off the walls of his increasingly fragile mind. He’d pissed someone off big time and the letter he’d found on his doorstep earlier in the night confirmed it. Never in his life had be opened an envelope and found only a pitch black piece of paper and a bullet inside. What’s more, his piece had gone through the wash the day before and it was about as likely to fire sucessfully as George W Bush was to have an original idea.
Slowly the Dick’s and Jane’s began clearing out one by one and melted into the night. It was closing time at the Diner and Elderberry was running out of time. There was only one stiff left in the place now. A dark figure seated across and to his right. Elderberry could see the guy in his peripheral vision and could tell he hadn’t moved all night; just stared at him like a hawk, black hat pulled down over his eyes.
The staff at Joey’s Diner never bothered to tell people when it was time to shove off. They acted like the only had regulars who ate there. Elderberry wondered at this given he’d never seen the same person in the place twice. As the kitchen lights flicked off and the neons out front fizzed out, Elderberry’s stomach knot tightened to breaking point. The sweat was soaking through his jacket and dripping from his armpits now. He now knew that leaving here meant certain death. He didn’t consider himself a victim of paranoia. As he turned fractionally to the right, he could sense Hat Man moving as well. Elderberry reached down under the table to pretend to tie his shoelace. As he did this, his hand caressed the pistol he had holstered under his sock. Sweet Mother of God, he thought, let my piece work. Thoughts of the night before came flooding back.
On his way back from a standard surveillance job, he’d been knocked over by a guy jogging and had landed in a puddle in the gutter. Being the appearance-conscious sort, when he arrived home Elderberry had ripped off his wet clothing and thrown what he could straight into the washing machine (including his socks which contained his holster and pistol) without thinking twice. Of all of the times to have put his piece through the freakin’ wash.
Elderberry knew he had to come up for air soon or risk arousing suspicion in Hat Man. He slowly counted himself down from three and on one with a swift movement he hit the deck on his left sid, kicked the chair out to his right and came out his roll firing. With mind blowing relief, Elderberry heard his gun fire and saw he’d hit the guy. He then lay crouched under the table for what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds at most. Hat man lay still, bu his breathing was heavy and rasping.
Who was the guy? Elderberry had an itching need to know so Instead of turning an hotfooting it out of there like he kew he should, he found himself flanking in from the right near the counter. Joe the diner guy came up from behind the counter and stood there frozen like a wax dummy. Elderberry nodded to him and motioned for him to stay quiet. As he approached Hat Man’s body, Elderberry’s blood began to chill. He could feel his hackles rising and goosebumps forming all over his body. There was something askew about this guy. He was dressed all in black. Black coat, black pants, black hat and shirt. Even his socks were black. As Elderberry reached down slowly to flip the guy’s hat off so he could ID him, the guy’s clothes started to ripple and bubble. A loud gasp let Elderberry’s throat without his permission and his heart seized up like a cramping muscle. The guy was disappearing in front of his eyes! Elderberry turned quickly to see if Joe was seeing this as well, but before he had even completed his movement, he felt a blackness enter his body through his eyes like frozen oil. The last thing Elderberry felt was a blooming coldness stiffening his body like tiny liquid rods were spreading an multiplying. Blackness overtook him then and with that Max Elderberry the Private Dick was no more.
Later, Joe the Diner guy would report to Detective Sam Brown and his partner Cody Chestnut that when he came back from making the 911 call, he’d seen the guy dressed all in black walk out of the diner with a pile of clothes in his hands. Joe told Detectives Brown and Chestnut that he didn’t see Max Elderberry leave the diner, but he definitely saw him shoot the guy in black with his own eyes. He swore black and blue that’s what had happened. To say that the cops were at a loss would be like, well saying that Joe the Diner Guy’s story couldn’t possibly have happened. After all, it’s like the guy in black didn’t bleed at all! The only evidence left behind were prints belonging to one Max Elderberry Private Dick and one empty shell casing that matched the gun registered to Elderberry. No body, no blood, no evidence of a crime at all. For all the cops knews, it might as well have been Johnny Cash. No identifying featured as all were reported by anyone in the diner that night. Nada!
And so ended the case where the only possible explanation was that Max Elderberry shot some unidentifed guy dressed in black, they guy’s body disappeared and his essence somehow entered Elderberry transforming him into an identical figure in black, leaving only a pile of clothes behind! Try proving that in a court of law, thought Detective Brown. Elderberry was now officially a missing person, not a wanted man and Joe the Diner guy was being checked out by a shrink for good measure. What a mess, thought Detective Brown as he sat sipping his coffee, unease blooming in him like a dark flower. What’s worse, he was sure someone had tailed him into the diner. Some guy in a black hat.
This story is inspired by a Douglas Adams novel I recently read called The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. It’s a Dirk Gently Private Detective Novel. I’ve always enjoyed the language and style of the Private Eye genre so I thought I’d give it a try. Nothing like Adams I realise, but just a little bit of fluff which will hopefully give you a chuckle or two.