How I Got Into this Mess


~ Pt. I ~


"Watch out - You might get what you're after"

"Burning Down the House" - Talking Heads

They say sometimes if you want to kill a man, the best way is to start by destroying something he loves.

Not just loves, really: something he obsesses over. Something he worships with every little bit of his heart. The sort of thing he worked hard as nails to get and now, since he's got it, he ain't letting go. The "girl whose face launched a thousand ships" kind of thing.

In this case, the thing was a car.

She was a sweet little thing: a vintage, '57 Chevy with all the chrome and red paint lovingly preserved under a dustcover, sitting abandoned in an old, secluded barn way out of town. It was like being in a tomb, kind of. Like one of those places in Europe where you bury your dead and come back every year to say hi and bring fresh flowers.

I took the dust covers off and stared. Even at night, with a teeny-tiny flashlight to show me what was where, the sight of it was hypnotic. I could remember being a kid and seeing older folks cruising around in these babies, acting like they owned the whole road. It was a piece of history, here, hidden way out of town.

Of course, I was there to destroy it, so looking at it one last time took a long, long time to do. I couldn't get that one song by Rush out of my head as I started pouring gasoline on it, even if it wasn't a Barchetta. And when I lit up the book of matches and threw it on, that piece of history went up just like a dime-store Christmas Tree.

I put my hat down over my face and tried to walk away as nonchalantly as I could. I kept trying to tell myself that I didn't need to have been as careful as I was: parking my car about a half a mile away, walking through the woods with just a tiny little light to show me the trail, and even sneaking up to the barn by moonlight, no less. No one knew I was out here - at least no one living - and I doubted that anyone living had been down this road since the car took its last trip out this way.

I heard a shimmering noise as the windows cracked and burst. I imagined the crisp, smooth upholstery igniting, and I was sure that what little oil was left in the engine would have caught onto the act, creating a yule log effect under the hood. I'd seen enough cars burn that I didn't need to stick around and watch it go, even though I really should have stuck around to make sure the job got done right.

But the weight of what I was doing was so heavy that I didn't want to take the chance. The fire behind me made my back sweat under my coat, but I'd been sweating a rainstorm all the way up here anyway.

As it was going up I could imagine its original owner burning right along with it, screaming in horror and pain as his baby was licked by flames and turned to slag. Most people wouldn't do that, of course: they'd get pissed off enough to shit out a cow and call the cops, and their insurance company, and then their lawyer.

But then, most folks aren't dead, and if they are then the cops and their old lawyers and insurance agents aren't going to be able to do too much for them. These folks, they're just going to scream and fall down into something called a "horroring," and maybe not come back out the other end. And what are their old attorneys going to do, then? File a lawsuit for wrongful second death? Malicious destruction of something no one living owns anymore?

I didn't want to think about it, and I still don't. I got what needed to get done done, and now I'm going to get my reward from my new friends for being a good boy.

And praying to almighty God that they don't get hold of me again anytime soon.

My name's Harry, and I'm a private detective. If anyone tries to tell me any different I tell them to fuck off.

I'm not a bounty hunter and I'm not a paid voyeur, though I've had to drag in enough assholes and peek in enough windows to last a lifetime. And yes, in case you missed what I was just saying, a little bit of property damage isn't out of the question either. I used to live in Chi-town before I moved out to the Emerald City: out there you're either hard-boiled or you're scrambled all over the street.

So I'm a private dick. I have a sign on a marquee downtown and my name painted on the outside of my door. People come to me with problems that the cops can't touch or won't look into, or maybe just haven't been able to do squat about, and I try my best to solve them. Sometimes I do it, and sometimes I can't.

It's no charity, of course; I get paid whether I do good or not. But I got into this business because, deep down, I wanted to try and help folks out. A lot of my chums back East were just fuckheads who got drummed out of Police Academy for thinking it was going to be like that movie, shower scenes and all. Then they get slung out and they don't know what else to do, so they get a license through the mail, take out a loan, hire some secretary with big tits and a bad habit of giggling over the phone and then BAM - they're in business.

And maybe they do solve some cases, at least the ones that don't involve too much thinking. It's all pictures of middle-aged guys doing the same thing to their secretaries that these PI's want to do to their own, or maybe already are, and a couple cases where fathers skipped out of town with child support to pay. Anything that smells like real work they try to shoo off with scary tales about costs per day and the evil catchphrase "plus expenses." I use the same words, of course, I just don't use them to scare off the customers. I tell them that so they know what they're in for. They want it free, they get the cops, but you know what you say about you get what you pay for.

And yes, smart-ass, I know taxes pay for cops. How much did you fork over last year?

Oh, you got a refund? Then shut the fuck up: I sure didn't. I pulled down enough to have the IRS crawl up my ass with big wooden spoon looking for every last cent. That's what you get for being good and honest, I suppose.

But... okay. You got me. Maybe I'm not as honest as all that. I didn't tell you the real reason why I got into this business. I'm not going to tell you the whole thing, of course, because that's none of your goddamn business.

But I got into looking up stuff that was buried under a long time ago, when I was ten. That's when I knew I had that same problem that my Grandfather was supposed to have had. The sight, they call it.

I think it was my tenth birthday when I realized that the weird feelings I was getting and the voices I kept hearing when nobody else was there were connected. I know I heard my grandmother tell me to take a deep breath and wish for something good when I was blowing out my candles on my cake, and here she'd died a month before. Stupid me I wished she'd come back. When I told her that she clammed up and I never heard from her again. That just kicked me, hard.

Anyway, I lived with that secret for my whole life, and it wasn't easy. I could hear them talking and I could sense when they were nearby but I was always too fucking scared to say anything. I was afraid of making them run off too, I guess. Having them around made things seem okay. Not comfortable, but okay.

And you know, when you're a kid and your mom's a cast iron bitch and your dad doesn't know whether to yell at you or ignore you so he does a little of both, having that one little thing to hang onto makes you feel good.

But yes, I have done things for dead folks before this. And I'm not going to bore you with the story of how the first one happened, or anything up until now. Those ones, I felt like I was the one in control. Now... now I feel like I got a short leash around my neck and someone's wanting some "walkies."

And I'm no Iggy Pop, if you get my drift.

Okay, this last one.

It started about a month back. I had this lady who was convinced that her ex-husband had stashed a whole lot of money somewhere and then claimed he didn't have it when he filed for divorce and ran off with some gal half her age and twice her chest size. To make matters worse, this running-out business was ten years ago, and he'd just dropped dead of a heart attack on vacation in Pago Pago. I guess Chesty's string bikini must have broken at the wrong moment.

So she wanted me to look and see if he'd dug a hole and hidden some of their money in it. And me, I got a soft spot for women who say "I do" and get run out on, even if they do smoke like chimneys, dress like Joan Crawford and look like an ape: it's the principle of the thing. So I agreed to take the case and see what I could dig up.

Well, guess what? It turned out the guy was a real estate developer, and he had all these properties out of town that were just sitting there, vacant. Now, you ask me, if there's a bunch of places that could be making good money but aren't, then either there's something seriously wrong with them, or there's some other reason no one's living in them. So I checked with the sort of people who know about these sort of things, and as it turned out there was nothing wrong with them at all, other than the fact that they were now all tied up in litigation while his former partners fought over his remains.

After that, it was a simple job of B&E on a cloudy night. There were five nice, small houses up on a court, all of them sitting on prime real estate, and not a one of them had a family to them. Fucking shame. I gambled a stamp and went into the first one on the right and figured I'd check out the basement and the attic crawlspace. Something about the guy told me that he didn't have much imagination when it came to hiding money.

The back door was already open when I got there, and I started to get that creepy feeling, but I wasn't sure whether it was a "weird stuff" feeling or a "danger - Will Robinson" feeling. Stupid me I went with the second, got my gun out, turned out the flashlight and went in. There wasn't enough light to see by outside, but as soon as I got in I saw that someone else had a flashlight on upstairs

So I walked up that way real, real slow, and all the time I was getting that really bad feeling. The one like you're supposed to get when you're about to walk into a set-up? I'd been through enough of them that I knew that I was in the shit, so I took a step back and decided to just sit and wait. There was a little nook by the stairs by the front door, so I just slid back into it, had my gun and my light ready, and waited.

I didn't have to wait long. There was this tearing noise upstairs, like someone was pulling the ceiling apart, and then a minute or two later there was this THUMP THUMP THUMP like someone was walking down the hallway and not being too careful about it. Their flashlight lit onto the stairs and there was the sound of someone coming downstairs, and I waited until I figured they were about halfway down and then I spun out with my gun in one hand and my light in the other.

'Okay pal,' I said, 'Let's not be stupid, here. Put the light and whatever you're carrying down.'

Of course, I got to the last word there and then I almost fell down myself. Because, standing on that staircase, right in front of me, has to have been the nastiest looking guy I think I've ever seen.

How ugly? Let me put it to you this way: you take your average guy and throw him out on the street and what happens? He tries to make his life a little better for half a year or so, and maybe he gets out. The people who don't get out get stuck in this rut where they're scrounging free meals at the mission, panhandling when the cops aren't nearby and then spending it all on booze to make the pain go away. After a few years of that you just look like shit. Like you're walking dead and waiting to croak.

Well, this guy... he looked like he was through waiting.

He was dressed like a bum. He had hand-me-down pants tied up with a belt, a Seahawks t-shirt he must have gotten from the mission, stocking cap, old coat, and a greasy beard down to his navel. He was fat and bloated and pale too. But his eyes were on fire, somehow. It was like his body might have been slowed down with nothing really good to eat and too much booze, but his mind was way above all that.

And he sure didn't move like a bum, either. By the time I'd looked at his face and seen what he was about, he was charging right at me with his fists out and screaming.

I told him to stop. I'm sure I did. I wouldn't have fired if I hadn't told him to stop. And since I fired I know those words came out of my mouth. But he didn't stop for my words or my bullets. I put one bullet into him, and then two, and he kept coming anyway.

The last thing I remember before he had his hands around my throat were those eyes of his. They were real scary things. And I also remember someone who wasn't there saying Break him quickly, we need to be gone.

I felt my throat pop, somehow, and then I was down on the ground and sinking under, with those eyes following me down.

Hell of a way to go.

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