Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The guy driving this bus seems to be changing his mind about which road to take to the opening of my next case. I’m getting the feeling I may be on my way back to New York sooner than planned.
I should have guessed as much from his delay in getting the case underway. He’s been giving me the stall while encouraging me to amuse myself watching sunsets at this beachfront resort on the Gulf of Mexico. Admittedly, the scenery has been picture perfect at the postcard resort, especially whenever Kyoko’s part of the view, but I was supposed to be in Mexico City by now. A bunch of high-ranking officials in the Mexican government are curious about the quality replicas that turned up as part of a sealed shipment of Pre-Columbian artifacts sent to a museum in New York. Those officials insist they shipped the genuine articles, so I’ve been brought in as a two-legged bloodhound to track down what got lost on the trail. The Consortium holds the paper on the exhibit while it’s in NYC, and isn’t thrilled to be on the hook for irreplaceable objects they contend they never had.
The forgeries are just for openers, of course; the ole MacGuffen again. Blood Rituals — that’s the working title of my next case— promises to be a very different kind of adventure than my last. Portrait of Deadly Excess was, as I’ve already mentioned a cut and paste job. In a nutshell, I was the cut and paste. Inserting me into an already finished story, as the new leading character no less, caused considerable disruption, and the reconstruction effort took almost as long as the one that followed the Civil War. My presence, as lead, created numerous ripples in even the most innocuous backwaters and eddies of the story. It wasn’t merely my gamesmanship with Kane that prompted those changes; it was the very nature of my presence. I was the lead, not Kane, and not Latimore, the one originally telling the story. Being the protagonist and a gumshoe, it stood to reason that I had to be the one tracking down the key leads and clues, and I had to be the conduit through which most information ran. I had to be the one earning my fee, living up to my reputation and piecing the puzzle together. The entire story had to be retold, from a different vantage point, and with a very different structure. It was no small undertaking, and the process gave author-dearest fits.
Blood Rituals, on the other hand, is being conceived and written from the ground up with the basic cast and plotline already in place. The preliminary notes and outline I’ve seen of the case has me in the proverbial shit from square one, but the story follows a more traditional noir trajectory, where the private dick methodically picks the scab of what seems to be a fairly straightforward and innocuous job and, before he knows better finds himself knee deep in a classic nest-of-vipers caper that gets more complicated with every step he takes.
I’m down with that kind of action, but if the story is to build to a boil then someone better turn on the flame. That’s not likely to happen while I’m sitting on a veranda sipping Balvenie. All the prolonged wait is doing is stoking my latest case of bad feelings, a nagging suspicion that our tour guide was losing his way. We’re not talking a strobe light and siren warning, folks, but more of a quiet, unsettling feeling deep inside my gut that warned something was radically wrong. You know the feeling. You calmly walk down the stairs to a subway platform and see wall-to-wall people and know right then and there that the trains are all fucked up. You don’t need to ask a lot of fool questions of strangers who know less about what’s going on than you do, or bother waiting for an garbled announcement not one of the one-hundred sixty four languages represented on the platform can clearly understand to know that your whole afternoon just dove, head-first, into the crapper.
My own radar for trouble has been much-written about. I seem especially attuned to things that are ‘off’, and I was having such misgivings about my extended sojourn at this resort. I could sense it. Author dearest was spinning his wheels. There was a mood of indecision in the air — always as bad a sign for writers as it is for detectives. In both professions, you either know what you’re doing or you’re lost.
Exactly what was taking him so long?
Well, sure enough, turns out he was having second thoughts. Not about me, or about my next case, but about its location. The guy who writes me seems to be debating whether I need to be or belong in Mexico at all. Just like him to spoil my fun. I’m not talking about my prolonged holiday with Kyoko. She’s a Christmas gift I get to open all year round, regardless. I’m talking about my consternation over possibly missing an opportunity to mix it up south of the border with some people whose threshold for pain — giving and receiving it — might be equal to my own. The carnage in Mexico isn’t getting much play in the States, probably because we’re scared shitless to have a failed-state controlled by drug cartels and a cult of the dead at our doorstep, but the prospect of setting me loose in such grisly killing fields clearly came with a certain amount of risk
It was a concern over my propensity for upping the ante and causing mayhem that seems to be what gave the man behind the curtain genuine pause. He’s afraid of what I might do, what I might have to become simply to survive in such blood-soaked surroundings; potentially taking me over the edge as a viable, somewhat sympathetic character and thrusting me into a realm of pariahs like Pol Pot and Vlad the Impaler. I appreciate the fact he’s looking out for my interests, but he might have bothered to ask me what I thought before pulling the plug on my visa.
When I voiced my displeasure he went on to confide that he thinks I’m intricately connected to my home turf of New York City. He’s of the opinion everyone, us fictional characters included, are products and embodiment of their time and place; inexorably interwoven with and inseparable from their surroundings. He invokes Philip Marlowe’s umbilical connection to L.A., Sam Spade’s to San Francisco, Jules Maigret’s to Paris, etc., etc. to illustrate his point. He tells me I’m hopelessly bound to New York and that taking me out of my milieu and on the road will do me irreparable harm. He thinks who and what I am, what I do and how I do it won’t necessarily translate to Des Moines — or Mexico City — and that placing me in these alien locales would be like transplanting Joe Leaphorn from the Navajo lands in the Four Corners to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Author dearest may have a point. I don’t necessarily like it because it confines me, sets limits to where I can go and what I can do, but I may have to concede the issue; although I can rattle off a list of detectives who have in some degree run away from home. Just how well they managed such roadshows is a topic for debate. Truth is, even I have to admit there’s no way I could be from or of anywhere else than NY. I need the three-dimensional world of ever-climbing skyscrapers, congested streets and dark, forbidding undergrounds of New York as my personal playground. I need the fast pace and unbridled ambitions of the big city, need the diversity of its potential antagonists, drawn from the pressure-cooker of ethnicities as varied and as mixed as my own.
Let’s face it: I’m a night creature even in daylight. I feed on the competing avarice and greed of the city’s murky shapes and shadows. Tracking their nefarious schemes is what helps define me and keep me on my toes. I earn a living assuming the worst of people and by cutting through the crap they dress up in fancy clothes. Why do some people think that by gilding their warts in designer labels they somehow change their nature or make them harder to see?
My author thinks there’s enough craven insanity here in New York and that there’s no need to travel to Mexico to find it. I humbly concede the point. He’s afraid my own proclivity to the dark side might be excessively stimulated by the current mayhem south of the border, and here, too, I bow at the waist to his authorial wisdom. He thinks I’m dangerous enough as it is and don’t need encouragement, and to that I’m sure Kyoko would agree.
But let’s face it, people; I’m not as stupid as I look. I'm as much a 'fixer’ in my world as author dearest is in his. If I can’t travel to the mayhem then the mayhem will just have to travel to me.
Now, where the hell did I put my suitcase?