A couple of people managed to see this on my new blog before it went down. Since it’s going to be a few days till it returns, I thought I’d give you this 2000 word story based on three random-number generated items – who, where and what’s the problem!
Hell Hath No Fury
I finished wiping the glasses and putting them away. I gave the counter a cursory wipe with a grubby cloth, glaring at the two freaks in the corner, still wading through a final bottle of brandy. They held a shot glass in each arm and juggled them, drinking the contents as it poured from the overhead lob. They were good at it – years of practice, mainly with my shot glasses.
I activated the security screen on the drinks behind the bar and pulled down the metal grating that wouldn’t keep their arms out of mischief if they fancied another drink. Most times the grating was sufficient, but with them, the forcefield was vital. Light-fingered octopuses. Who needed them anyway?
I did, it so happened. Before they’d got to drinking, Octavius had tipped me the latest theory on the Barramundi murder. The Stasi had got around to thinking whoever killed the husband had killed the wife too. Strange. I’d got there about ten weeks ago. I’d been following leads for all that time and more. Trouble was, there were two freaks that were prime suspects. Both were dead. That doesn’t stop anything around here, just adds a level of difficulty to making a living. If you’re a part-time detective, that is. Or was I a part-time bartender? I could never really decide. Neither of them was my day job, after all.
“Hey, Zito,” called Octavius, while his buddy stopped for a burp. I held my breath until the airjet had passed me. “’Nother bottle here, quick!”
“No more tonight, Octo,” I replied, coming out from behind the bar and locking up behind me. “Night is young and all that, and I’m off to enjoy myself. Go home.”
“Home, bah, we’re a long way from home.”
“Yeah, we all are. Come on guys, off you go now.”
I didn’t have time for them tonight. The part of the investigation I’d been putting off was now, undeniably, essential. I had to go and check on the dead suspects.
I locked up behind us, crossed the street, and slid down an alley to a black wooden door with a trident etched in it. I knocked in code. A six-inch square panel slid back and a pair of yellow eyeballs with black centres gazed out. They dropped down to my height, blinked, and the panel slid shut.
I slid through the door as it opened precisely wide enough to admit me.
“State cause of death. If you are not dead, state the required date of your death. Terms and Conditions are non-negotiable. Sign here.” Yellow eyeballs did not wait for any answers, and signing was required. I’d been through this routine before.
I signed, stepped forward and went into freefall. It can be disconcerting. You should never come here on your own the first time. You could have a quite a conversation with anyone you were with when you went into freefall. Cover topics ranging from legal niceties to how one should best wear a parachute, but then if you –
I reached the bottom and landed on my feet just like I’d jumped off a tram in motion.
“Have a nice day,” said the clerk at the bottom as he ticked off my name on his book. I stepped to my right then turned back.
“Say, have you seen Oliver Michaels recently? Or Shady Gazzara?”
The clerk looked at me vacantly. Maybe he’d always looked vacantly at people, that was why he was here, doing the same job for eternity. I shrugged and moved on.
The red flickering light and screams that assaulted my senses as I walked along the gallery were just for effect. I knew that and ignored them. I stepped around a blubbering idiot whimpering “no, no, I don’t belong here,” or words to that effect. The atmosphere was certainly getting to him.
At the end of the gallery, I pushed through the curtain into Eagles Cavern. People stood around, shivering, teeth chattering, hugging themselves and beating their sides with their arms as if it was going to warm them up. Never mention Hell freezing over, it won’t do you any good. I was nearly through to the next chamber when I got lucky.
“Shady? Shady Gazzara, is that you?”
I hardly recognised him with his hair all frosted and his skin blistered from the cold.
“W-Who’s as-king?” he stuttered through clenched teeth.
“Zito, Zito Fassbender. You remember me.”
“Come through here with me, I need to talk to you.”
He looked around, furtively.
“It’s ok, you can leave here for a genuine appointment. I do it all the time. Got the permit from Big D himself.”
Once he decided I was for real, he practically apparated out of there.
I loved doing business in the next cavern. Soft sound of waves on the beach, smell of palm trees and suntan cream. The pool surrounding the bar was filled with sharks, the hungry kind. All those poor sods wanting a nice drink while they lay on the beach were doomed to lie in the sun forever, without so much as a Mai Tai.
Visitors could pull up a plastic chair and sit at a table under a nice umbrella. Best to put a towel on the chair first though, if you could find one. I found one, Shady didn’t. Hell was like that for inmates.
“So, Shady, the thing is, it’s either you or Oliver did it. We know that. Everyone knows it. Either you tell me the truth now, or you get rough justice and your body gets hung, drawn and quartered, fed to the fishes and you lose whatever hope you had of getting out of here and returning to it some day.”
“Oliver did it.”
“How do you know? Where were you that night anyway?”
“I was on my own, in my bed. I told everybody.”
“Yeah, you told everybody, but plenty of everybody say they saw you at the entrance to the Barramundi villa.”
“It wasn’t me. I keep telling you, I was in bed. Alone.”
“When did you last see Mr Barramundi?”
“I told you before. I saw him drive past in his flitter.”
“And where was Mrs Barramundi?”
“Dunno. Ain’t seen her since she married him.”
“Word is, you saw plenty of her before.”
“So did everybody.”
I had to grant him that one. Mrs Barramundi had been a showgirl before old Fishface had married her.
“When did you last see Oliver Michaels?”
“On the way down here.”
“What, in here?” I said, looking around the eternal sunbathers, wondering whether I’d recognise the playboy among these shrivelled prunes.
“No, on the way down, when we’d been turned away from the other place.”
“Oh.” I stood up. “You’ve not been much help, Shady. I’m not gonna be able to help you either.”
Shady didn’t look as if he’d expected any help. It was just a nice change for him, warmth, sunshine. He shuffled back to the Eagles Cavern, wrapping his coat about him, trying to capture some of the beach atmosphere next to his skin before he froze again.
I gazed at the beach a while longer, wondering where Oliver might be. One of the clubs, perhaps. Sounds good doesn’t it. “Clubs.” Yeah the Underworld has all mod cons. Name your poison; you’ll swallow it all day and all night, and never achieve your desire. There’s even a Room 101.
Oliver was in the second place I looked: Hell’s Kitchen.
You’d think it was a restaurant or fast-food joint. Hell, no. Just Big D’s idea of a joke. It was a casino, but you could never check out, and you always lost. I found Oliver playing the roulette table. All the numbers on the wheel were zero, bar two – and they changed from spin to spin. I slid onto a seat beside him.
“How’ ya doin’ Oliver?”
He grunted, toying with his chips. They did red chips and black chips. Oliver had just red chips.
“Word is you didn’t do the Barramundi murder.” I paused to allow him a further grunt. I was used to his style.
“Word is you’re going to hang for it, though. No body to go back to if you ever get out of here.”
He eyed me, kissed a chip and placed it on 13. The wheel spun, the ball settled on zero. He received more red chips from the croupier. Interesting twist, I thought.
“Thought any more about your alibi?”
“Still maintain you were in bed, asleep, on the night in question?”
“So how come Mrs Barramundi paid out five grand from her account and five grand arrived in your account three microseconds later? “
“I’ll tell you what I think, and you can decide how much you want the chance of your weasely little body back, ok?”
He shifted in his seat, playing another chip, this time onto the zero. Clever. It came up 12. More red chips came his way.
“I think you and Shady were paid to fix Mr Barramundi. When you got there, you found he’d killed his missus. You reckoned you wouldn’t get the cash, so you skipped out, leaving Shady to get the lot.”
“Nah. I knew I’d get the cash. Old man Barramundi had already pegged it. Mrs B had seen to that herself. Then she wanted to fix it on us. Shady kinda objected to that. Violently.”
“So he topped her?”
Oliver fell off his chair as a red-dressed she-devil stormed between us. “That’s a lie!”
She jolted the table setting off the alarms. The croupier cradled the wheel, while the players threw red chips away, or grabbed black ones and made for the cash desk.
“Do you think I’d be so stupid as to let that ass-hole frame me for my old man’s demise?” Mrs Barramundi was in full flow. “It was Shady and this worm together that did for that cold fish. I’d had enough of his bitterness, his bullying ways. They found me, told me they’d fix him for me! Of course I went along with their plan. I was at my wits end. I didn’t know what to do. They said they’d rescue me. Barramundi told me I was useless, I’d never be able to get away from him. He scorned me every minute of the day, every hour of the week. But I fought back.”
“So you got them to do it?”
“It was their idea.”
“Why would they think of it?”
“They owed me, from the old days.”
I could see Oliver’s eyes narrowing. He didn’t think that much of her, I could tell.
“She’s making it up,” he said scornfully. “She hadn’t got the nerve to do it herself so she asked us.”
Mrs B kinda erupted. That’s when the place started to break apart. Big D came in, which made the whole place collapse, since he’s not called big for nothing. He picked Mrs B up by her necklace, threw her into a corner, which opened and sent her down a slippery slope somewhere else. He picked up Oliver, yelled at me to follow him, and we went back to the Eagles Cavern.
“Did you, or did you not kill Mr Barramundi?” he roared at Shady and Oliver together. I waited carefully behind him, not wanting to draw too much attention to myself.
“N-No!” Shady was terrified but spluttered that out
“Well, er, no,” Oliver conceded.
Oliver nodded furiously in agreement.
We heard a humungous roar, making the ground tremble. “Shut that damn woman up!” Big D bellowed. “She’s guilty all right,” he said to me, quietly. “I can always tell. There’s too much fury there. What do you make of these two, though? Shall I send them to another place?”
“No,” I said, remembering something I’d seen in one of the books in the library. “They may not be guilty as charged, but they’re definitely guilty.”
The floor trembled again as more noise echoed round the chambers.
“You’d better get going before things get worse,” Big D said. He was right, so I ran for the entrance, the echoes of a woman’s rage following me. I’d enough to close the case. Scorn was the trigger. Barramundi had pulled it. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
(c) J M Pett 2014
The three factors were – a Bartender-detective, in the Underworld, with an unsolved murder.