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.
“Why am I here again?” Not that I need a reason to be here. In the office of my first-ever partner. I’m supposed to be working on a case – case fifteen -, but she said it was an emergency. A single grandfather clock ticks cinematically.
“You ever had one of these?” I don’t know what she’s talking about. Her back’s turned to me. She’s busy staring out the window, looking at a painting of thousand colours of gray titled ‘The World’. Wouldn’t even buy you a nice dinner if it happened to sell. All I can see is a vest covered in claw marks, of spirits she vanquished when she popped open a bottle of gin, rum, vodka. She drinks for the thrill, that soft promise of death. And her hair. God, her hair. A blonde spider web, trapping a collection of antique handguns. Blunderbusses shoot blanks in panic and revolvers spin for a mercy that’ll never come. Like flies, they still struggle to escape. If God was still around, I’d pray to Her to be killed by those furious locks.
There’s something different about her pose, though, like she’s hurting. Maybe not physically, but… existentially. “What are you even looking at?” The cold shoulder. I flash-freeze, taking a while to thaw. “Alright, leaving then,” I shudder. Though long before I stand up to leave, and years before I even send the signal to the rest of my body to get up, she fires all seventeen guns into me and I splash back into my chair.
“Loira, I’m allergic to bullets,” I remind her after I recover from mild anaphylaxis.
Storms and quakes begin ravaging Neo Noir Dark Noir City as she turns her back to the world; it whines like a toddler for her attention again. Dangling in her leftmost hand is a single cigarette. Aruban, her signature death catalyst. “You know I don’t smoke.” I grab a handful of cigarettes and shove them into my mouth. She laughs, shattering the window. Her mandibles drip with venom and some of it splatters on my face, melting it entirely. I put on another face, this one’s a giant cigarette lighter. “No, DICK–” I weep ligher fluid until she says my last name too; I am beyond dehydration. “–HARDBOILED. I got this from a lover, before we even met.” “Who, Annalise?” “Nah, I smoked her directly.” “Right. Josephita, then?” “Yeah, she gave it to me as a gift – you ever had one of those? A gift?” I shake my head, tobacco spills out of my ears. An arm creeps out, grabbing as much as it can before slinking back in. “That’s when someone deems you worthy of owning more property, right?” I had an easier time solving my own murder than trying to understand this.
Loira slides over her desk, a rectangular amalgam of plastified men who failed to please her, and is now sitting on the edge closest to me. Crossing her skirted legs, a black haze springs forth and attacks my eyes, preventing any scopophilic descriptions from turning her into a sexual object. I wouldn’t want her to turn into a sexy cube or triangle because of misogyny, anyway. For the duration of her entire lower body moving, I take light, patient swigs of nicotine extract. Three minutes pass and the mist recedes. The first thing I see when I open my eyes is the digital clock on her desk counting down, currently at 00:05 minutes. Thanks to my male gaze, I now have a deep desire to Fuck it. Maybe later, though. Her eyes lock with mine; mine begin to sizzle.
She may be old, but she’s beautiful. Five eyes, my favourite amount number of eyes on any dame, and a chitinous hide like that of a diamond ant, literally. We’ve been through much. “Think back with me. Remember when you were the cicisbeo of Noirmaster Rochefort? Attending to his every whim and need for no reward or pleasure but his? Imagine how he must’ve felt.” “Loira,” I sigh, toxic fumes escaping my mouths, “I literally cannot feel anything.” She looks puzzled, trying to come up with another explanation. Grooves sink into her face until an unsolvable jigsaw.
“It’s like when someone puts some flowers and box of ammunition on your grave. To honour your memory, except you’re alive. Well, YOU’RE not, but you’re there to witness it. It’s like saying, “I’m glad you’re still around”, y’know?”
“What about when clients pay me? They give me money, sometimes they put a single gold coin underneath my tongue. Some even call me ‘daddy’. Isn’t that a gift?” Her eyes flicker with the flame of kinkshame. I deeply regret my own cogency and retroactively remove any and all trace of possessing sexual knowledge. I am cleansed of carnal sin through the pure fires of kinkshaming. Her jagged tongue runs along her insectoid lips. “That’s a reward for a service, an action. Something tangible. A gift is more like a reward for existing.” She tugs at her suspenders with her thumbs, and I am intimidated by her thumb strength. “It’s saying ‘thank you’ to an abstract – you dunno how it’s influenced or impacted your life, but you’re sure as moonshine that it did.”
I shoot an empty laugh, restoring the window to its original form. “Well, thanks for reminding me no one thinks about me like that.” A hand shoots into my mouth, shutting me up and destroying many vital organs. “Any brains left in that knucklehead of yours?” My knuckles retreat timidly. “Can’t fault folk for being scared to show affection. It’s an expresson of love, after all.” She coughs up a pint of blood, having said the L word.
The clock on her desk says there’s one minute left. Her eyes shimmer with a sad gleam. For the first time in all the ages we’ve both been alive for, I have seen sorrow in her eyes. She turns away from me. The reflective surface of my new face must’ve confronted her with herself, and she walks towards the window. She’s had her share of feelings – I know because I felt vicariously through her. There was a time, a while back now, that I could feel emotions, thanks to her. All five of them, in fact: two mugs of bad coffee shared in pleasant company, an empty bus-stop out in the rain, an ash tray with a name crossed out, old scotch pooling on a tongue, and plaster peeling off a bathroom wall.
But never had I felt sorrow, so neither did she. She had never been sad about anything, be it about the lurching past or the vindictive present or the uncaring future. Time flicks us away like cheap smokes, why worry about that? I ask her that exact question. It ain’t fun when it’s ending, DICK HARDBOILED. She doesn’t say that: it’s a thought that hangs in the room like a cloud of ash. I briefly choke on it. “Gifts ain’t just about showing you care. It’s something to be remembered by, too. Like sneaking your ghost in someone’s trenchcoat pocket. Everytime you put your hand in, it haunts your fingers and drains into the rest of you.”
“Loira. I accept.” She laughs. The window stays intact this time, and she tosses her cigarette at me. It’s slightly crumpled, but it’s mine now, just like that. “Thanks.” We both say that. We both mean that. Why bother with three words when just one can do the trick.
The grandfather clock strikes a number – I can’t read analogue – and the alarm clock hits 00:00. It doesn’t yell, it doesn’t do anything noteworthy. It’s just completed its function in the narrative. Just like Loira. I stand up and make my way to the windowsill. Seventeen guns on the floor, but not even a dent in the carpet of where she once stood. I light my cigarette and take a drag. “What a shitty view.”