Chapter One: A cold wind blows.
The sun was warm. Too warm. So the curtains were drawn and the shade enjoyed. At least until the sun was missed. At that point the curtains
were opened again and the sun got hot again and then they were closed again and the cycle went on and on until the day came to a close, which wasn’t for
another eight hours. Lance sighed and opened the curtains again, reconsidered, closed them again, reconsidered his reconsideration, opened them, started to reconsider, decided that too much reconsidering was going on, and fell asleep at his desk. The desk was not mahogany, or wood for that matter, it was a cheap plastic desk with a cheap plastic seat. The desk sat in room 10 of the Canadian National Library of Los Angeles California located in London, England. Outside the cool Seattle air was cool and wet, as Seattle is always wet due to the rain and other things like…moisture. Inside, however, it was dry and humid due to the rain, even though it was cool. This fact, among many others, made the window decision a hell of a thing.
The library itself was an extremely ugly piece of architecture, with lime green pillars and fluorescent rainbow steps. The colour scheme and design had been the choices of the self-proclaimed overseer of the construction of the library back in 1934. The actual project manager of the job had gone out for a quick drinking binge when Charles (that was his name, the self-proclaimed overseer) made all these decisions, which were not argued seeing as how the manager was drunk in a field twenty miles away. One day the manager retuned, saw what had happened, and quickly and quietly moved to the Ukraine. Charles went on to influence other great structures such as Jeff‘s Pizza Emporium and the Sky Dome in Toronto, Canada. The funny thing is that 50 years later when the site was proclaimed to have historical significance a fresh coat of paint was thrown on to make it more presentable. The colours were matched 100% for historical significance.
Inside the library it was a Wednesday. This is important to note because in the rest of the world it was a Tuesday. The library ran on a 20hour cycle just to shake things up a bit and also as a publicity stunt to get more people to come.
It didn’t work.
The library got an average of 20 customers a week, and on any given day only four of them would take out a book, which was amazing in and of itself seeing as there were only three people who had memberships in the whole city, and one of them was dead. This fact, among many others, made Lance Salstone’s job very boring. Lance Salstone was the library’s detective.
His job consisted solely of tracking down un-retumed or late books (actually, they’re really one in the same) and that‘s it. So you could easily say that he got paid to do nothing, there hadn’t been a late or un-retumed book since he was hired, which got the upper management types wondering why they had hired him at all. None of them really wanted to let him go though, mostly because they didn’t want to deal with his severance pay. So Lances day mostly consisted of trying to figure out three things:
1: What time of day it was.
2: Where exactly he was on the earth, and
3: If he should open or close the curtains. He usually ended up doing these in order and then falling asleep on his desk, which is how Gertrude found him.
“You asleep?” asked Gertrude in a loud yelling like voice.
“Of course not, what ever gave you that idea?” said Lance, yawning and wiping away some drool.
“Well the drool for starters, not to mention the snoring, and also not to mention that all you ever do is sleep in here.”
“True, come to think of it, I think this trench coat was a waste of $200…” said Lance, fingering his coat where it lay, the coat had no objections.
“Maybe not for long,” said Gertrude as she handed Lance a large brownish envelope. Lance took the envelope and put it on his desk, turned around and grabbed his pipe. He had bought the pipe a year ago to make himself appear more sophisticated, it didn’t work. He reached around for some matches, found them, and lit his pipe. After a few minutes it became apparent to Gertrude that Lance had forgotten about the envelope.
“Are you going to look in it?” she said.
“What” said Lance, “are you talking about?”
“The envelope,” said Gertrude.
“Looks more like a file to me,” said Lance.
“Well I guess it is at that,” she replied, “well?”
“Eventually, not to be rushed I think,” he said and started fiddling with the curtains, which turned out to be, on closer inspection, blinds.
“I guess it’s up to you,” she said in a nasty tone and walked out of the office.
“Could you bring me some ‘Sweet ‘N’ Low’ in about two hours?” Lance called after her, and got no response. After he was done his pipe, Lance opened the file that was on his desk and discovered it to be empty. Lance closed the file again, lifted it up and felt the weight. He put it down and opened it again, it was still empty. He considered this for a minute and then looked again, still empty. Lance reached over and flipped an intercom switch.
“Gertrude, could you please come in here for a sec,” he said over the library‘s P.A system. A minute later Gertrude came in with an annoyed look on her face.
“What do you want?” she said in another nasty tone.
“Did I interrupt something?” asked Lance.
“Yes, a nice young gentleman was trying to pick me up,” said Gertrude in a ho-hum kind of way.
“Physically?” said Lance with some shock in his voice.
“No, the nice man is interested in a date,” she answered proudly.
This thought disturbed Lance more than the other.
“Enough of your sexual escapades Gertrude, what’s the deal with this envelope?”
“It’s your new case, your first I believe,” she answered.
“But it’s empty.”
“Exactly,” she said.
“I see, I see, Okay Gertrude, thank you very much,” said Lance boisterously. Gertrude left with a groan. Lance considered what she said and looked at the file again, and again, and the third time he looked away and then back really fast… nothing. He made another pipe, smoked it, then dozed off for a while. When he woke up he tried looking at the file again, nothing.
“Gertrude, could you come in here for a sec?” and Lance turned off the P.A. A minute latter Gertrude came in wearing different clothes.
“Still talking to your gentleman suitor I see,” said Lance.
“What? That was yesterday. What do you want?”
“This file” said Lance, “is blank.”
“That’s the whole point!” exclaimed Gertrude.
“Yes. It’s not the file, but what’s in the file that’s important!” she said.
“I see,” said Lance. “What are you talking about?” he added.
“That file held a report in it, the report was taken out three weeks ago and has not yet been returned.”
“And I was supposed to get all this from an empty file?!” exclaimed Lance.
“Of come not idiot, it’s written on a sticky pad on the back,” sighed Gertrude impatiently.
“Oh. I didn’t see that,” said Lance as he unstuck the stickily placed pad. “Thank you Gertrude.”
“If you have any more…”
“I said THANK you Gertrude,” Lance interrupted pleasantly, “you can leave now if you wish.”
“Yes I most definitely wish.” said Gertrude and stormed out. Lance picked up the yellow sticky note and read it over, it said: ‘This file held a report in it, the report was taken out three weeks ago and has not yet been returned.’
“Hmmm.” thought Lance aloud, “umm,” he continued. And then stood from his desk and walked out into the main room of the library. The library, as always, contained lots of books and no people. In fact there was one person here today though, and he was just asking directions. After Gertrude had sent the poor man in the totally wrong direction Lance walked up to her desk/bar thing that all librarians sit/stand at.
“Intercom not working?” asked Gertrude.
“Enough of your foolishness Gertrude, I need some answers,” said Lance and slammed his fist down on the desk/bar in a show of emotion (Lance had worked summer theatres back in High School).
“On the report?” asked Gertrude, now used to Lances sudden emotional outbursts.
“Of course not about the report, I need some coffee and I need it now!“ he exclaimed in frustration. Gertrude took out a pot of coffee and poured Lance a cup.
“Thank you!” he said in an out of breath voice and drank the coffee down in one gulp, “I’m leaving for the day,” he added after he had completely burnt his tongue. Lance hurried to his office, grabbed his trench coat, dropped off the file, and headed out the front doors and towards the pub nearby.
It was 9:30 am.
The bar that Lance Salstone frequently visited was more of a dive than a bar. It was called ‘Va-Va-Vooms’ and no one there ever fit that description. Lance liked it though, no pressure to look good because everyone else looked so bad, but sometimes Lance would think that other people thought along the same lines as he was thinking about him, and that thought deeply disturbed him. It was now raining viciously outside and Lance was in no hurry to do anything about it, but kept wondering if he left his window in his office open. After spending too much time on that thought, he ordered another Vodka Martini. Lance didn’t like Vodka, or Martinis for that matter, but he thought it made him look cool and made all the ugly people look up to him. of course everyone else ordered Vodka Martinis as well for almost the exact same reason, this created an interesting side effect.
Two years earlier the management of ‘Va-Va-Vooms‘ saw that almost no other drinks were being ordered so they put down a strict ‘Vodka Martini Only‘ rule and forced all patrons to drink this drink. If anyone complained about their limited options the sign above the door was pointed out to them, it read: ‘The management is always right’. Also, when the complaining customer had his or her back turned to read the sign, the bartender would quickly pickpocket them and then show them out the door.
Lance was drunk.
He staggered to his feet and made a beeline for a particularly ugly girl who was sitting alone and picking her teeth.
“Hey there,” said Lance in a deep growl.
“Um. . . hi,” she replied with shock.
“Tell me, and be honest, do you know anything about an empty file?” he said, all traces of his fake deep growl gone from his voice.
“I’m going to have to say no to that one,” she said and turned away.
“Okay, fair enough, Okay. But how about this…would you, in any way, want to have sex with me?” Lance swayed back and forth, as if he were drunk, which he was.
“No,” she said simply and walked to the bathroom. Lance turned back around and walked towards the bartender, who was at the bar, tending it.
“Another Vodka Martini please good sir,” said Lance.
“I think you’ve had enough Vodka Martinis Mr. Salstone.”
“Okay then man, give me something else!” exclaimed Lance.
“We don’t serve anything else sir.”
“And why” said Lance, “don’t you serve anything else?”
The bartender (who had stopped tending the bar) pointed up at the wall behind Lance. Lance slowly turned around and read the small blue sign, it read: ‘The management is always right’. Lance turned back around and the bartender grabbed him by the scruff of his neck.
“What,” asked Lance, “do you think you’re doing?”
“Throwing you out sir,” replied the bartender as he dragged Lance to the door.
“Okay, Okay, I understand that you must, but before you do could I ask you one question?”
“Um…l guess that would be alright,” said Vick (that was his name, the bartender), and stopped walking.
“Have you seen, no wait…have you know… DO you know anything about a brownish envelope? More specifically a file, and not it per say, but what‘s in it, or rather what’s not?” asked Lance with a slur (which did not aid his lisp very well, which Lance also had, which he has had since he was eight, now he was thirty, tall, and currently drunk).
“Well now let me think about that one,” said Vick and set Lance down at a table. “Hmm. . . brownish you say?”
“Yes, and large, the size of a file about.”
“Hmm… I…think…maybe…that…I…saw…something…kind…of… like…that…here…no wait that was a box.” And with that he picked Lance up again and chucked him out into the wet, rainy, street. Lance stood up in the wet outside and shook a rude gesture in the general direction of the bar, actually the gesture was not rude, or even a gesture, he simply frowned, and walked away. The library was two blocks from here, but so was another bar, just in the opposite direction. Lance had a big choice on his hands, walk two blocks to the library, or walk two blocks to the bar with the knowledge that it meant a four block back track. Lance chose the library, only one thing was more convincing than more Vodka Martinis, and that was more walking then necessary. On his stagger back Lance decided to stop halfway at a Denny’s restaurant. The menu was vast and expansive, and Lance was having trouble focusing on any of it. The waitress came up and asked if he would like anything to drink, several dirty thoughts crossed his mind and in the end he blurted out the dirtiest of all.
“Pepsi please,” he said and continued to look at the menu.
“We only have Coke sir,” said the waitress, whose name was Heidi.
“How dare you!” Lance exclaimed and pounded on the table. Now Heidi was not familiar with Lances sudden summer theatre related outbursts and this one took her completely by surprise.
“Excuse me sir, but I’m going to have to ask you not to be so loud,” she said after a second.
“Okay,” said Lance meekly, then added “Coke’s fine, and also a Western Slam please.”
“You got it!” said Heidi and bounced off, more specifically the front of her shirt bounced off, the rest of her just walked with a slight limp. After munching down his Slam and Coke Lance came to a decision. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his wallet but it was not there, it had been there earlier, he had paid for his martinis with it, but it was gone now. ‘Hmm’, thought Lance, and slipped out the back. About an hour latter Lance finally got back to the Library. Gertrude was deep in a novel called ‘Mammoth Smut Stick‘ and looked like she was enjoying it.
“Gertrude!” exclaimed Lance, “put that smut away, I need to talk to you!”
“What do you want now? Did you find that file?” asked Gertrude.
“Almost,” said Lance, “but first things first, I need a partner, a side kick. a shortround, a…what’s his name…? The guy who dies at the start of The Maltease Falcon…? A What’s His Name to my Sam Spade.”
“A partner?” replied Gertrude, “what on earth for? You don’t do anything!”
“This is a tricky case, I need some assistance, some assistance that isn’t you, or anything like you, maybe kind of like you, but thinner and possibly male,” said Lance as he waved his hands wildly at Gertrude.
“Take it up with Mr. Goyaz,” said Gertrude with a sigh and pointed towards his office. Lance walked over to the door, stood tall, stood proud and asked Gertrude to page him out so he could deal with him on neutral ground in full view of the public. After being paged, Mr. Goyaz came out into the main grounds of the Library, saw Lance, and rolled his eyes. Goyaz was a giant middle aged man whose love of cigars was only matched by his ability to intimidate Lance.
“What is it Salstone?” asked Goyaz with a huff that would send most men running. After realizing what he was doing and walking back the short distance he ran, Lance confronted Mr. Goyaz.
“I want a partner, if I may sir, if it’s okay and everything with you and all that.”
“A partner! What the hell for?!” After walking back again Lance said, “This case I’m on is particularly tricky, and I feel I’m in need of some assistance.”
“A case? You mean you have a case? Well by all means boy, why didn’t you say so?” Mr. Goyaz was so glad to see that all the money the library had put towards Lance may finally be paying off that he agreed to allow Lance a partner. Lance didn’t see the connection, but thought it was pretty neat anyway. After having some drinks with Mr. Goyaz, Lance headed out and into to his office. Once inside he closed the blinds and tossed his trench coat on the floor, only because other then his chair and desk there were no other furnishings. After a minute of thinking about where he was, he hit the P.A button.
“Gertrude, stop playing with your smut stick and come into my office right away!”
“What do you want?” asked Gertrude. who was already in Lance’s office dusting.
“Gaa!” said Lance (gaa was what Lance liked to say when he was surprised so he wouldn’t look stupid). Lance steadied himself and asked Gertrude to take a memo.
“I want this in all of tomorrow’s newspapers Gertrude, and this is what I want: ‘Attention All Sleuths! Are you tired of the boring old crime circuit? Why not try Library Detecting? It’s fun, easy, and any idiot can do it! So if you want to be a ‘What’s His Name’ to Lance Salstone’s ‘Sam Spade”, and live in the Seattle area, then come to the Canadian National Library of Los Angeles California located in London, England any time you wish between the hours of 9:00am and 12:00pm Mondays only!'”
“Is that all?” asked Gertrude as she copied down the last of it.
“No, also state that if they show up a backrub would not be out of the question, and also take out that ‘any idiot’ part, I don’t want people thinking I don’t earn my keep around here,” answered Lance, not earning his keep.
“Is that all?” she said again.
“Are you mocking me Gertrude? I ask only because I think you are.” said Lance with a suspicious glance. Gertrude sighed.
“No I’m not Lance, stop worrying about that.”
“Now, now Gertrude, it’s okay, I’m sure you will meet someone someday, then you can stop criticizing those of us who are comfortable with our sexuality, and Mr. Salstone is more appropriate thank you very much.”
“All right look you crazy mother fu-”
“Thank you Gertrude, that will be all.”
“Will you just-”
“Thank You Gertrude,” said Lance, “That WILL Be All!”
Gertrude walked out mumbling some obscene unheard remarks about Lance’s upbringing and physical appearance. Lance sat in his office looking out the window, which he was now able to since he opened the blinds. His thoughts went something like this: ‘Poor girl, must be hard being that old and fat, especially on the heart, and the eyes of us beautiful people. Poor Gertrude, how she longs for the warm touch of Lance, poor Gertrude. Hey look at that! Wow what a dish! Star Trek collectable I think, mint condition too. Is that a bird? 1 think it is, but what do I know? Is it just me or is the phrase ‘eat shit and die’ rather rude? I think I might get one of those instant tans, the ones that come in a bottle, yeah that would be groovy. I think that I’m in Cleveland, but that doesn’t explain the London part, and it’s 2:30 here and we’re on a twenty hour cycle and the rest of the world is on a 24 hour cycle, so that means…The blinds are nice open. I think they should stay open, maybe closed a little, but mostly open. Wait…no…closed, yes definitely closed…my, how my eyes hurt. I think I’lljustrestthem forasecond and………
And Lance fell asleep.
TO BE CONTINUED!