Rain pours from clouds like malt whiskey, except it’s water. This is my city. Neo Noir Dark Noir City. It’s always been this way, and it will never stop raining. How did I, DICK HARDBOILED, end up here? That’s the thing: I’ve never left or known anything else. My office is gray and glum and I call it home. I haven’t cleaned this place in 36 years. Hard to believe I’m almost 37. Time goes fast, chain-smoking, crime-fighting, narrating a neo-noir story.
A flurry of footsteps hurries up the stairs, followed by machine gun fire, which ventilates my door and my window. Sunlight hits me in the eye, it sizzles, burns right through. Needed a new smokehole, anyway. “Come in,” I swallow an unlit cigarrete. Fifty legs pour into my office. Fifty… dangerous legs, belonging to a dangerous dame. Seven cubic meters of pure danger.
“ＤＩＣＫ ＨＡＲＤＢＯＩＬＥＤ?” “What can I do for you, miss…?”
“ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ.” Her voice, shrill like breaking glass and warm like a sputtering shower drain, pierces my ear drums, the sound of her name stabbing my nicotine heart. I swallow seven more cigarettes and light up three. “Want one?” She breaks her tommy gun in half and feeds it to two of her mouths. I put them back in the pack. “Non-smoker, I take it?”
“ＹＥＳ. ＢＡＤ ＦＯＲ ＬＥＧＳ.” In the awkward silence that ensues, I inhale my ashtray’s contents to impress her. She screams in delight, destroying my body with a sonic blast. A sudden realisation hits me just as hard: Legs Woman? That means her husband’s…
She fastballs a leg into my mouth to shut me up. “ＩＳ ＨＵＳＢＡＮＤ, ＹＥＳ,” she explains in exotic, dulcet, extraterrestrial tones.
“Ｉ ＴＨＩＮＫ ＨＥ ＳＥＥ ＯＴＨＥＲ ＷＯＭＡＮ ＷＩＴＨ ＭＯＲＥ ＬＥＧＳ ＴＨＡＮ ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ.” Swallowing her leg, then a cigarette, I respond: “And you want me to find out if that’s the case?” I point at the case of Thompson submachine gun ammunition next to her. “Well, is it?”
“ＳＨＵＴ ＹＯＵＲ ＦＵＧＧＵＰ ＦＵＮＮＹ ＭＡＮ.”
“I’ll take the job, ma’am, but it’ll cost ya. Your husband’s a powerful man, y’know. He’s got fifteen arms; that’s seven more than I do.” She extends a leg for me to shake, I operate it like a lever in contractual and sensual agreement. It’s like we’re having a moment. I exit my office through the window, propelled by a legendary leg, freefalling six stories high, lighting a cigarette on the way down, breaking most of my arms on the wet and whiskeyed pavement. I push the cig through my seventh eye, keeping it safe for later.
“I’ll go visit my friend, John Mountain, for information, in his mountain bar, inside the mountain.”
John welcomes me with a rumbling sound. I take off my hats and dislocate my still-unbroken arms, squeezing through the entrance fissure of the bar he runs, ‘JOHN MOUNTAIN’S INSIDE CAVE’. I give the place a quick scan: seven bats perched upside down on an array of stalagtites, a married couple of two puddles of tar, and twenty corpses – all dead, I checked. Yep, business is booming.
“Hey John, I’ll have the usual.” Immediately, three boulders slam into my stomach: Stacy, Cyber Stacy, and Radioactive Sven. John’s kids, they help the old man out from time to time. I cough up seven liters of blood into a nearby 40m3 barrel of cigarettes and down it all in one go. I’m very particular about my martinis.
“John, I need information.” John doesn’t respond. he never does. He’s unfazed. like a mountain. A… strangely attractive mountain. “Listen. Where does Bruce Trenchcoat live?” Silence again. It’s a painful question: he and Bruce… their love was strong and flowing, like a mountain and a trenchcoat. Still, I have to ask.
A fissure cracks the earth open. I nod, inject an epi-pen of smoke directly into my lungs, and kiss the kids – Radioactive Sven’s gamma radiation abjectly turns most of my atoms into gold, a rich experience, and Cyber Stacy downloads a new body for me to settle in. I wave the rocky family goodbye by wobbling my shoulders around, my arms still broken, and hop on a nearby motorcycle. It’s not stealing. You get to call dibs as long as you claim and narrate for centuries and longer you’re the first to have found it, even when the original owners are right there and they’re crying. I’m a detective.I follow John’s geological lead as half of Neo Noir Dark Noir City plummets into hell, the worst department store on the planet.
Driving through a crumbling city on a motorcycle made from parts of sad helicopters and broken but still beating hearts, I’m reminded of my first case. I’d just turned one, and I was weak. Doc said I was more oxygen than nicotine. My fathers committed and subsequently solved murders to cope with the stress of having a fully aerosolized son. Then it happened. In the dead of a night darker than black, where chain-smoking angels drank bourbon and huffed bits of God:
I was murdered.
This was it, my one chance at redemption, at proving my mettle, at replacing most of my body with metal from ashtrays. I asked Dad and Pops for important hints and tips. They made rusty factory noises for three minutes. Of course! Examine the corpse and eat it when you’re done. The ways of a true detective. Judging from the cause of my death, I’d say I was dead. My trenchcoated body spelt out “check teh[sic] sewers for clues” – the only person I know in Neo Noir Dark Noir City who doesn’t have an integrated autocorrect just so happens to live in the sewers. That’s where I needed to go next for clues.
When I arrived, I was stopped by Liquid Gary. He was the fiercest puddle of bubbling unknown liquid in the city. I showed him the one thing – the only thing – I knew, and what I’ve since long forgotten: true love. Love goes through man’s stomach, and the sewers are the elephant graveyard for all ingestion problems. Wading through liquid nicotine and stepping over tables of poker-playing rats, I could feel my murder solving and my body dissolving with each step.
“MY MURDERER, TRENCHCOAT BRUCE!” I read from the dim neon sign that said ‘my murdrrer[sic], trenchcoat bruce’. My murdrrer[sic], Trenchcoat Bruce, smiled. But before I could even confront him about this very rude act, I woke up. Hooked to Cuban cigar inside of a medical ashtray. It was the hospital. I was alive again.
I crash out of my reverie by falling off my bike, absolutely destroying a pedestrian. This case… thanks to ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ, thirty-six years of chain-smoking were about to come to a close. I walk up to Trenchcoat Bruce’s hideout, my jeans chafed into assless chaps.
His hideout is just like I remember it: a huge packet of Marlboro cigarettes with windows and a door drawn on the exterior. I kick down the fake door, my leg gets stuck in the cardboard. His henchmen, all trenchcoats, fly off the coat racks and wrap around my leg. They inject me with liquid noir – it’s how detective are made. My leg broils with hot scoops. I scoop some up and taste it, yeah ‘s pretty good. I rapidly solve the cases of the henchmen’s unresolved feelings. They let go and leave, seeking out new and peaceful lives as store mannequin jackets.
“WHAT IS THIS BACCANO?” I hear from the mezzanine. I spit tar on the paper-mache walls, carefully writing ‘i don’t know what that means sorry?’ in Impact.
“Oh, it’s Italian for ‘ruckus’.”
Five trenchcoats stacked on top of another with one arm missing seated on an ashtray sofa. That’s him, alright. “Thanks for the translation, Trenchcoat Bruce.”
“I know why you’re here. I can read you like an open book.” I quickly close my pages, flustered. Nicotine gushes from my cheeks. “B-baka…” “I know you were hired by ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ. Do you think me unsequined?” He opens his fourth coat and fifty legs pour out. Fifty… dangerous legs. My god.
“ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ!” I exclaim, overstating my auditory boundaries and receiving divine reprimand for it. I get a second wind. “I mean, ahem, ｌｅｇｓ ｗｏｍａｎ…!” Bruce jumps up, dame in tow, and ties her to the seat. It takes ten minutes to get all the legs straps properly fitted, but I am a patient man.
“Let her go, Buttons. This is between you and me.” I peek at the ink smudge on my hand. “Oh yeah also she wants to know if you’re cheating on her I guess.” “Defeat me, DICK HARDBOILED, and I will let you close this case, once and for all.” I accept this challenge, regardless of damsel in distress trope.
He begins to spin, each coat arm rotating at different speeds, until he is a tornado of sharp leather and wet newspapers with long obituary sections. His tempest pulls in a soot-black Mark II Jaguar from outside his hideout which momentarily stuns me – not because it hit me, but its raw sexual mystique is too overwhelming for any car lover.
Recovering from my paroxysm, I speed-dial dry-cleaning and from my pocket pull out a single, loosely-rolled Aruban cigarette. The winds stop. “Don’t do it, DICK–” he forgets to mention my surname and he knows. Anger covers my body like a boiling shower – goddamn the water’s hot. I light the cigarette. And just like that: he has fulfilled his narrative purpose. Finished, a fate worse than dead. Not a trace of him remains. This is my story, so no matter what I try, I can’t undergo the same. It sucks, I know.
I crabwalk up to ＬＥＧＳ ＷＯＭＡＮ and offer her a hand, or three. “You okay?” “ＹＥＳ Ｉ ＦＩＮＥ ＴＨＡＮＫ ＹＯＵ.” She eats two and saves the third for later.
“So,” I says to her I says, “I never did find out if he cheated on you or not.”
“ＯＨ， ＤＩＣＫ ＨＡＲＤＢＯＩＬＥＤ，ＹＯＵ ＴＲＵＬＹ ＡＲＥ ＯＮＥ
We laugh. It’s fuckin terrible.