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Basement Noir

by DeAnna Knippling

If you didn’t want me to find out, you shouldn’t have made me a detective.

Private Investigator Spade comes up from the basement to investigate the death of Gramps in an old hotel run by a monkey and populated by lunatics. But sometimes the person who hires you insn’t the one in charge. And sometimes the crime you’re investigating isn’t the one that needs to be solved.

I was born in an instant. It didn’t feel like being born. It didn’t feel like jumping, fully formed, out of a god’s head like Athena did, either. But that’s what it was.

As far as I can tell, I was reading a newspaper when the phone rang. It was more like a dream of reading a newspaper than actually reading the newspaper, if you know what that’s like. At the time you’re doing it, you know you’re “reading” it, but if you try to think about what the words are on the page, you’re screwed; you can’t make out a bit of it. Anyway, I picked up the phone, which was black and had a long ridge all down the back where the sides of the plastic had been stuck together. The ridge was filled with grime, and the plastic was tacky from being touched and never cleaned. The mouthpiece was full of brown grime, too. I put the phone to my ear, where it bent the small hairs, and saw that the headline of the newspaper now readMURDER in 144-point font. My five o’clock shadow scratched across the mouthpiece.

Before the phone rang, I hadn’t noticed anything. So that was what it was like being born.

“Hello?” I said. My voice was unfamiliar to me. A man’s voice when I’d been expecting a woman’s.

“We need you.” It was a woman’s voice, husky, like she couldn’t help being a sexpot over the phone. I wondered if she’d sound the same in person. As it were.

I tried to remember who I was, but it was just beyond me. “Yeah? Who is ‘we’? For that matter, who am I?”

“Nevermind. Just come to the main entrance, stat.” She hung up.

Stat…stat…a doctor word.

I stood up and looked myself over as best I could. The dame might say “stat,” but the hell if I wasn’t going to get my bearings first. I was dressed in pants and a jacket. The pants were dark brown and had a small split in the seam near the crotch and were frayed at the hem, but they were clean and pressed. I made a mental note to fix them seam later. I knew I had a sewing kit around somewhere. Jacket, same, getting worn around the elbows and across the forearms. I was a leaner. I probably ate with my arms on the table, too. The tie was scarlet with tan stripes. Polyester. I smelled like I hadn’t bathed in the last few hours, but I wasn’t too bad. A light cologne. The white cotton shirt underneath the jacket was rumpled from wear but not wrinkled. Brown belt, brown shoes, brown socks.

I felt my face. I needed a shave and my hairline was receding. I looked around the room: black file cabinet, desk with peeling veneer on top and a heavy black manual typewriter shoved to one corner, worn phone book sitting under the phone. An open tin can with pens and pencils stuffed in it. A stack of legal pads in a top drawer.

The front door was marked with my name, but I couldn’t read it.

I grabbed a tan trench coat and a fedora off a cheap wooden coat rack near the door. The coat rack threatened to fall on me, and I set it right and turned it so if it fell, it’d fall on the plaster of the wall, which was pale green with dingy white trim near the floor and ceiling.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and came up with unreadable driver’s and private investigator’s licenses in a brown wallet, some keys, some change, and a small hole in my right pants pocket. I moved everything into my left. I had a revolver, but it seemed unresolved as to whether it actually existed or not; I could see through it. I put it back in my shoulder holster under my left. I don’t think I was sure about using it.

I opened the door with my right, turned out the lights with my left, closed the door, and locked it. I used the right key on the first try.