Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I left off the last time warning you how hard it sometimes is to distinguish me from the bad guys. While that’s true, there is one sure point of distinction: I carry my own bags. I don’t expect anyone else to pick up my tab, and I’ve got a bug up my ass about those who think I’m here to pick up theirs. If you’re trying to get off and get over at my expense or are intent on flying now and paying later then you and I are going to have a serious disagreement at some point, and I’m one badass motherfucker you don’t want perched above your door. I don’t forgive, I never forget, and I like to stir the pot and play with fire. It’s a game I play. I like to compete against myself and everyone else. Competing against myself is usually harder.
Given that attitude and my peculiar skill-set, finding dragons to slay usually isn’t difficult, but the guy who writes me thinks my antagonists and my personal demons — not always one and the same — aren’t enough to keep your interest. He’s determined to mix-in the demons of others for good measure, which probably explains why the cases I work invariably entail not just lost and stolen art of some kind but also tend to have an occult or supernatural strand running through them. The degree and the clarity of that strand varies — maybe the art is considered to be a religious relic by some, maybe the artifact is thought to be imbued with occult qualities, or it could be believed to be the missing key to a larger puzzle or the quest for fame, wealth or power — but whatever it is it’s always there; a recurring theme that muddies the waters and raises the stakes of the game.
I’ve cautioned my author that such fusions of otherwise distinct and accepted genres are not necessarily the recipe for success in today’s blockbuster-driven market, which much prefers formulas that are safe and oft-times proven. In this regard one could say I’ve been dealt a bad hand. My author’s penchant for the epic and the esoteric has been known to keep me awake late at night! The ancient Greeks would say he’s guilty of hubris; an overbearing confidence that he’s a puppeteer gifted enough to actually pull off such lofty ambitions. The jury’s still out on that one, but I do know that his aura of self-confidence is pure smoke and mirrors; the son-of-a-bitch is every bit as haunted as I am — just by different things. Truth is he’s not at all sure of himself in this or any venture, and to make things worse he lacks my hard-boiled skin. Hell, I’ve known him to suffer each and every one of his rejection slips — he’s got folders full of them, filed by title — where I’m inclined not to give a rat’s ass about the opinions of others and would use that depressing correspondence to light my fireplace.
Still, I have affection for him. We’re too much alike in ways for that not to be the case. Like me, he tends to do things the hard way, a rogue agent provocateur working behind enemy lines to restore some sense of grand cosmic order. He sometimes doesn’t stop to think that what constitutes order to him and, by extension me and a handful of others equally twisted is probably terrifying heresy or anarchy to everyone else. Maybe that’s why, like me, my author is given to fighting windmills and shouting at the moon. We're a pair of updated Big Daddy's of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof fame, railing away at mendacity! Trouble is the level of lies has increased dramatically since Tennessee's time, and it could easily become a full time job. So, like it or not, I’ve become my author's mouthpiece — to invoke the ancient Greeks again — the dramatic mask employed in his theater of our collective absurd. It’s a role I’m well-suited to play. When he steps out of his own skin he slips into mine, and vice versa, so in more ways than one we’ve got each other covered. We haunt the crap out of each other.
Piss off if you think my waxing philosophic is out of character for your average gumshoe. When I want your opinion I’ll grab you by the lapel and shake it out of you like loose change. The guy at the controls fashioned that part of me in his own fractured image. Typical of all creator’s, don’t you think? They say power corrupts, and the ability to conjure something out of nothing has been known to go to one’s head. Just ask Zeus, who fathered Athena, fully-formed, out of his skull.
That’s sort of how my author hatched me — a composite of this and that all sown together in a great ball that’s one roll short of unraveling. I prowl the surreal seam between daylight and dark energized by the danger and promise invariably released whenever opposing worlds collide. I live in a netherworld painted in varying shades of gray, strung out in a tenuous split between polar extremes. If you still don’t get the idea suffice to say that for me it’s always twilight time no matter what the hands on the clock say. That might explain my fixation with balance and, by extension, my personal insistence that justice is ultimately done. It's my only way of keeping score. I ride the edge of the razor, and when I see something wrong I get the urge to fix it out of sense of grand cosmic order. Some call me a Quixote-like figure. To others I may seem to have more in common with Yudhishthira of Mahabharata fame, determined to uphold Dharma and always do what’s right. Still others simply call me an avenging angel with an attitude and a long memory. Who am I to argue on any of those accounts? I’m a wise-cracking son-of-a-bitch at war with myself and a fucked-up world I largely disprove of, wearing a chip on my shoulder as big as Gibraltar and an antenna for attracting trouble the size of Arecibo.
My clients seem to like it that way. They pay me well to mix it up and get my nose dirty following up their pathetically poor excuses for leads. I’m a specialized bounty hunter racking up the frequent flyer miles stalking lost and stolen art. Smashing faces and splitting heads just happens to be perks of the job. Just about any art —and any head— will do. I’m not at all particular. I’m a ‘Have Case Will Travel’ kind of guy, and there’s a healthy splash of Paladin in me. We’re both fond of inventive solutions to problems and have our own personal sense of honor and justice that we like to impose upon the world.
The cases I’m on are simply the backdrop to that ongoing mission. I’m not fussy about which ones I take. I just follow the money and the lead of my author. If truth be known I have a decided preference for the kind of old, even ancient art they’re not making much of anymore. Some see this as a decidedly anti-modernist, multicultural bias, but those, like so many others, are meaningless labels I can’t use. Maybe that’s because I have an issue with labels in general, or because I don’t really have a tribe of my own, no insulated racial or ethnic stereotype to wrap around me, like a great woolen blanket, when the world gets cold and dark. I’m a high-wire aerial act and I don’t like people who are too much of one thing and not enough of everything else. I was made more complicated than that. We all were, but we’re usually taught to cut ourselves short into trivial, bite-sized morsels for the sole purpose of mass consumption, playing it safe, running with the herd and acquiescing to majority rule before we know better.
My author prefers to keep us both honest with such sobering asides tossed into this salad we’re writing as if they were seasoned croutons. But like I said, it’s all cool. Unlike a lot of authors I can think of, at least mine let’s me out of the box the written page can become and leaves me free to play. As long as that’s the case I won’t dispute him his claim on some of my time. He envisions me as some sort of recurring fictional character that leaps from story to story, case to case, with the nimble deftness of Nijinsky. He muddies the waters with all kinds of crap — convoluted plot lines, twisted characters and the dark lure of deadly obsessions — then tosses me in to clean up his mess and make everything turn out right in the end.
Well, fuck him on that note. I’m no one’s housekeeper. I take care of the heavy lifting but leave the bright work to him. It keeps him busy, out of trouble. I always make a point of leaving a loose end here and there just to keep it real. I’ve got more important things to do than flash cue cards every time you get stuck and flub your lines. Babysitting isn’t my business. Besides, those loose ends are functional; they’re the threads I use to weave myself in and out of the fabric of my cases. Each case always foreshadows the next one. I’d like to think that helps propel the action forward, and it also prevents the son-of-a-bitch who writes me from locking me out of my livelihood. After all, a man’s got to look out for his future — especially if he’s a work of fiction.
I’m not talking about any aspiration to take a place at the dead-end of a very long line of hard-boiled private dicks, shamus’s, gumshoes and PI’s. He might harbor that kind of idea, whimsically thinking of me as some sort of Twenty-First Century Philip Marlowe, but that’s his load to carry, not mine. He can try to reinvent noir and give it a fresh setting, contemporary themes and a new bag of tricks, but I’ve got my hands full dancing with the bad guys and trying my best to survive from one case to the next.
As I see it, you can root for my success or my failure; it’s no skin off my ass either way. My reputation is that of being a mercurial claims adjuster who, despite the cultured trappings of all the art, eclectic tastes and appreciation for culture can become an explosive force of nature once he gets rolling. Feel free to raise the ante whenever you like; just go easy on yourself — my threshold for pain is greater than yours.