The adventures of DICK HARDBOILED in Neo Noir Dark Noir City

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…

“TRENCHCOAT BRUCE?!”

She fastballs a leg into my mouth to shut me up. “IS  HUSBAND,  YES,” she explains in exotic, dulcet, extraterrestrial tones.

 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

DEFECTIVE   DICK.”

We laugh. It’s fuckin terrible.

DICK HARDBOILED and The Meaning of Love

“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.”