Online for the first time, it's time to begin the chilling and suspenseful tale of Mike Koral's Shorts. Mystery! Intrigue! Hemming! And plenty of fourth wall breaks...
I sat in my office and looked out at the street below through the blinds. Red lights from cars passing by in the rain glinted up at me, and the sound of the tyres gushing through the puddles lent the city air an element of anonymity. It was a heavy kind of evening. The kind of evening where the great old city could chew up an innocent bystander and spit him out before he knew what kind of nonsense he’d gotten himself mixed up in. An evening laden with promise. I’m about to tell a story, is what I’m getting at.
Dusk had fallen but I hadn’t yet turned on the big light. Just the lamp on my desk. I preferred the darkness anyway, plus this way the lights from the shared hallway shone through the glass in the door, picking up the name of our detective agency and silhouetting the letters against the wall. It just looked really cool, you know? Like something from a movie.
It had been three days since I’d last seen my partner. There was talk that he’d upped and gone to another town, looking for trouble. I wouldn’t have blamed him if that was true, we hadn’t had a case in months, but that was his business. I tried to stay out of it. Apart from the times that literally meant our business.
A polite cough from behind me snapped me from my trance, and I spun my fancy swivel chair around. From the very first moment I laid eyes on her in the doorway, I knew she was going to be the start of something. Platinum blonde hair. Ruby red lips. The kind of dress that meant she could only have been on her way to a fancy joint. Or maybe just a halfway decent joint. But fancier than my office, for sure, so what had made her stop by?
The way she hovered at the door and looked at me was haunting. ‘Hey there handsome, I have a case for you,’ she said with her eyes. And then did say with her mouth.
“Hey there short stuff, I have a case for you.”
I took a drag on my cigarette and gestured to chair on the other side of my desk.
“Please,” I said, “take a seat.”
“Thanks, but I have plenty at home,” she replied, sitting down nonetheless, “so, which one are you? Strohs or Larok?”
“Hm? Oh, no. That says ‘Koral & Shorts’. We put the letters on the wrong side of the frosted glass in the door when we started up. But in answer to your question, I’m the Shorts of this outfit. Or, well, I’d be the shorts of any outfit, I guess.”
“I see,” she purred, pulling a cigarette out from her purse, “got a light?”
“Well, I do yeah, but if I turn them on it kind of ruins the noir aesthetic, you know?” I was beginning to suspect she didn’t appreciate the way the letters silhouetted against the wall at all.
“How about a drink, then?”
“Sorry, fresh out. Been legless too many times to risk keeping it in the office anymore.”
“Oh,” she said slowly, looking at my legholes. “Well, I’m going to need a drink to tell this story, so perhaps you could accompany me to the bar over the road? I’m sure you’d enjoy turning heads with a girl like me on your arm. Or, leg, or whatever.”
She flicked her head in the direction of the door and I felt like it would have been pointless to resist. I put on my fedora, and made for the door. It’s probably best you don’t think too hard about how a pair of shorts wears a hat. Or smokes. Or drinks, for that matter. In fact, you should probably suspend your disbelief for most of this to be fair.
It was a smoky old joint of a bar. Dirt in the windows, sticky patches on the floor, deliberately low lighting to avoid having to face yourself in the reflection at the bottom of glass number five. You know the type. We took seats up at the bar and waved the barman over.
The lady ordered a vodka tonic. The barman raised his eyes at me.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” I said, looking at a man nursing his scotch in a booth in the corner.
“I can’t do that, sir, he’s already paid for it,” he replied.
“Oh right. Sorry. A new one, then.”
We received our drinks, and I gestured at the dame to tell her story.
“Well, short stuff. It’s about Jacko. I believe you’re acquainted.”
“Jacko? Yeah, I know him. Through my partner, mostly, but yeah I know him. Pretty boy. Nice hair. What’s the deal?”
“Turns out somebody’s smashed up his mug.”
“Not such a pretty boy now then, huh.”
“No, I mean, literally. Someone smashed his mug.”
“As in, crockery?” She nodded once in response, and I scoffed, “So, what’s the fuss about? Just get him a new one. Hell I’ll give him the pocket money myself.”
“Well that’s just the thing, short stuff, turns out there’s no finding anything like it. Besides, it was more about the emotional connection.”
I took a sip and narrowed my eyes. Again, it’s best not to think about how I did so.
“So you want me to do what exactly? Find the culprit? Find a new mug?”
“Just the culprit will do, thanks.”
“But why you? What’s your involvement, Ms...? I don’t even know your name, doll.”
“Oh, no it actually is Doll,” she replied.
“You don’t need to know my involvement, short stuff,” she continued, “just think of me as a concerned citizen. I came across the story and I want to make sure the right thing is done by the mug.”
“You ‘came across the story’?”
“I see. So, where is Jacko now?”
“That’s a good question,” she smirked at me, “it should probably be your first line of enquiry.”
“So, let me get this straight. There’s a broken mug in a kitchen bin somewhere, and the owner is nowhere to be seen, but a concerned citizen wants me to step in and investigate?”
“Something like that.”
I leaned back in my seat and frowned. I didn’t like it. Her story was so full of holes it would’ve held less water than the goalmouths at the Barton Stadium.
“So,” she said, taking out her purse and lighting a cigarette with the flick of a wrist, “will you take the case?”
“I dunno, Doll. Feels a bit like a wild goose chase. I’m not sure I have the legs for a job like that since my partner left.”
“No, you’ve already done the ‘legless’ joke.”
“It’s fine,” she said with far more patience than I deserved at this stage of proceedings, “you’re new to this.”
“But, what’s in it for me? What’s the compensation like?”
“As much cash as you can fit in your pockets,” she replied.
Mm. Now that was tempting. I was broke since Koral walked out. Hollow. An empty shell of my former self.
“So what do you think, short stuff?” she continued, “Can you accommodate me?”
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking on my feet, “I think the sofa in the office pulls out into a futon but there wouldn’t be anywhere to keep all your stuff. Plus the cleaner comes in early every Tuesday so depends if you’d be okay with h-..”
“No I mean, will you take the case?”
I hesitated, thought about the hassle, and then thought about the money and crumbled.
“Sure. Why not?”
She smiled and moved to finish her drink only to find she already had, so she leaned over and finished mine instead. Didn’t seem fair to me, if I wasn’t allowed that other guy’s earlier why was she allowed mine now? I paid for our tab - I didn’t want to appear any tighter than I already was - and we left.
The rain had gotten heavier, and we didn’t say anything once we were on the street. She simply handed me a card with her number on it, and then turned and went her way with a flick of the dress. I pocketed the card, pulled up the collar on my coat, and went mine.
I still didn’t like it. It felt like more trouble than it was worth, but what choice did I have? I had nothing to lose except my drawstring, and there was a mugbreaker running free through the city. And once you think you can get away with mugs, where do you stop? Plates? Saucers? Complementary beer festival glasses? It didn’t bear thinking about.
The wind was cold, but there was no time to lose; I’d have to get to work and visit the scene of the crime. First though, back to the office to pick up my things.
I narrowed my eyes against the rain and looked up at my office window from the street to see silhouettes.
And not just from the letters on the office door either, but from a head and shoulders too. A big set of head and shoulders. Someone was inside. Someone big.
To be continued...