Tuesday, August 9, 2011
The realization you’re working the trapeze without a net can be very liberating. You’re not allowed mistakes so you tend not to make any, and you savor every swing of the bar because it could well be your last. Just like every case can be your last. Maybe that’s why Kyoko’s been trying to get me to hang up my six guns from day one. She’s one to take chances herself, but has long thought my cases as a freelance snoop were a little too dangerous, especially for an action junkie like me. She says I make them more dangerous than they need to be, says I push myself and the situations I find myself in too far. She objects to my ‘Doc Holliday’ death-wish mentality of inviting disaster and risking everything on my ability to get out of tight jambs.
I take exception to the ‘Doc Holliday’ association on grounds that, unlike Doc, I don’t really harbor a death wish. Holliday spent most of his adult life looking for someone to kill him, but he never found anyone good enough to get the job done. I suppose I do share the same inherent challenge of pitting my best against that of anyone else, but I’m not a hopelessly sick man in a hurry to wind up on a slab in the morgue. I’m in perfect health and aim to stay in one piece despite my author’s machinations. Besides, it’s only lately that the threshold of mayhem has started to ratchet-up out of control. My early cases weren’t quite so menacing. This or that painting was stolen so I was hired to find and reclaim it. Straightforward enough, right? It didn’t matter much whether the piece went AWOL from the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week during an asset inventory, stolen by the Nazi’s during the Second World War, or looted by one ancient empire in the process of conquering another; my job was to find it. The trail could be very hot or very cold, it didn’t matter. I sift through detritus, remember? Finding traces of what was once but is no longer there, sniffing the ground like a bloodhound in search of a scent to follow, and tracing the faint imprint of footsteps and uncovering where they lead were what defined those early cases. It was a lot like when I was on the force. I was cutting my teeth, and so it’s probably a good thing that I lacked a Dr. Watson to chronicle my early missteps, and yet even though those initial exploits were never recorded they still loiter in the recesses of my memory, like so much of the exposition and background of any story or its characters looms just off-stage, on the near borders of the action. The past crops up through the blanched topsoil of what hasn't been written and, like stubborn weeds taking root in a garden, grows to spawn shadows that haunt the words that are left behind on the page.
That’s because the past is never far away. Not for me, not for any of us. Shakespeare said that “what is past is prologue”, and he usually knew what he was talking about. I’ve always suspected that much of my past and my family history has been extensively mapped and charted by the guy who writes me for the sole purpose of it later being mined in future tales. Those details usually work themselves into the story in subtle ways, and sometimes not so overtly that the reader will notice, but they’re there. Take my word for it. The guy at the wheel has written down the details of my life from birth. He can tell you what schools I’ve gone to, what I like to eat, the clothes I like to wear, the books I read, and the music I listen to; all to help him ferret ever deeper into who and what I am so he can better animate me to himself and to you.
Frankly, it’s a bit awkward, even embarrassing, to have all your personal shit ‘out there’; a veritable billboard advertising all your dirty linen for total strangers to gawk at. Besides being a product of someone’s imagination I’m also a walking, talking, transparent middle-aged anachronism carrying around satchels full of crap. Why do you think I resist carrying your baggage? The bags I’m toting around are heavy enough; full of all the background my author has gifted me. It’s as if I was one of Eldon Tyrell’s latest Nexus models from Blade Runner, implanted with memories not my own. My past is precisely that kind of blatant fabrication, a composite meld of an actual childhood memory given me by my author, appropriated from other characters from a book once read or a film once seen, extracted from a newspaper or nightly news story, a line overheard in a crowded subway or otherwise grafted from a cluster of associations specifically invented for my later use; to give me greater depth, wider berth, or to amp up my already cutting attitude.
It’s all made up, the same way all our pasts are made up despite illusions to the contrary. Be honest: you're no less a piece of fiction than I am. I’m not the only one treasuring old Polaroid’s in an album somewhere. I’m a patchwork quilt sewn together from “stray associations, scalpel-sharp insights and dulled recollections — the rusted shards, bitter regrets and warmed-over remains of memories wrapped, in a great ball, like so much leftover string.” That’s how my author put it when recording my last case, and he wasn’t describing only me when he wrote it. Like you, I remember what I can use, discard what I can’t, and distort whatever falls in between. It sounds like Kane all over again, doesn’t it? I warned you I’m not the only one haunted by memories and bad feelings.
Expressing them may come easier to me than they do you simply because that’s part of my nature. I wouldn’t be worth spit as a character or a gumshoe if I left the reader too much in the dark. Am I a bit self serving in the way I impart that information? Hell yes. Aren’t we all? Distilled down to a pitch point even a Hollywood mogul can grasp, my job is to bring to light what’s hidden. I find what’s been swapped, stolen or lost. I solve problems and, like Theseus, follow the unraveling string from one end of the labyrinth to the other; hopefully without becoming the Minotaur’s next meal. That I’m often forced to solve my cases out of chronological sequence, sifting through snippets of information and deliberate misdirection, with hands tied behind my back, makes my track record all the more noteworthy. This shit isn’t easy. I’m working under a sizable handicap here. I not only have to track down the bad guys and see justice done, but I have to do it with considerable panache to keep your fickle attention. Worse, I have to do it while holding your sweaty hand, walking you down every dark alley --- your personal Moose Malloy while you go searching for Velma --- and letting you borrow my size double D 13’s every so often to kick-in the locked doors of the case.
All that and spoon you Pablum, too? You must be kidding me! This isn’t Alice in fucking Wonderland. I’ve got no little pills up my sleeve to make you big or small, but one way or another you’re going down the rabbit-hole with me. So better keep your wits about you; I have better things to do than carry your dumb ass along as dead weight.