An Ernest Mistake

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 15

Challenge #7*: Write a story from the perspective of an existing detective character in collaboration with another author. It must include a red herring and a film noir style inner monologue, but must not take place in a typical film noir setting.

This story was produced in collaboration with Joe Wright, and features his character, Yves Carabin.

I knew she was trouble from the moment she walked in. It was the way she pushed open the door. The way that she walked. This was a dame who took nonsense from nobody, with legs that went all the way up and boobs that went all the way down. Also her hat was on fire, or I might just have had a shade too much opium. It was almost four o’clock by the time she paid me that visit—the end of a very slow day—and by then it was hard to tell.

“The name’s Barbara Beckwith.” She took the seat in front of the desk, patting down her grey curls with a white-gloved hand. “I hear you’re a man who can take care of problems.”

“I’m a man who can solve problems,” I explained. “If you want a problem taken care of, you want a man from Lower London. One with a wrench or a length of pipe.” I did actually have a derringer, myself, but it was purely for protection. I didn’t like people to get the wrong idea about my profession.

“Like a plumber?”

Well, that was promising. One needed a certain level of wealth to maintain such a level of naivité. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

“Because I don’t need a plumber! I need someone to find my beloved Ernest!”

“I see,” I said. It was easier than trying to explain. “How long has he been missing?”

“I last saw him at one-thirty at the Hyde Park Dog Show. Just by the sausage-seller, to be precise.”

I double-checked the clock. “It’s been two hours?”

“Yes.”

“It’s been two hours and you’re hiring a private eye?”

“Well I would have got here sooner, but the monorail was delayed, wouldn’t you know!”

“Mrs. Beckwith, is there any particular reason you think your husband is missing and not merely lost?”

“Husband?” her eyes widened. “Goodness gracious, Ernest isn’t my husband!”

Realisation dawned on me. The dog show. Ernest’s interest in the sausage-seller. “Ah. I do apologise, madam. You had me a little confused for a moment there.”

“To answer your question,” she said, skipping over the awkwardness, “I thought it exceedingly unusual for him to simply vanish like that. I usually keep him on quite a short leash, as it were.”

“These things do happen, no matter what care one takes. I’m sure he was merely drawn away by the commotion of the show.” I leaned forward. “And if there’s anything more sinister to it, you can rest assured that I shall find your beloved Ernest.”

“Oh, thank you!” Mrs. Beckwith pressed a hand to her forehead. “That does put my mind so much more at ease!”

“All I need is a description and I’ll be on my way.”

“I dressed him this morning in an absolutely darling little waistcoat: blue with gold pinstripes. It’s really quite distinctive. You’ll know it when you see it.”

If I saw it, that was. I’d have preferred to at least know what sort of dog I was looking for. However, one didn’t become the most famous private eye in London Superior by asking clients questions: one became famous by solving the trickiest cases with the littlest to go on. I bade farewell to Mrs. Beckwith and made the journey to Hyde Park Upper.

I began my search, naturally, at the sausage-seller’s cart. It having passed four-thirty, it was now closed. And locked. Fortunately I always carried on my person a small selection of power tools. I gained entry and was surprised to find quite a quantity of water swilling about the floor of the cart. More surprising still, it seemed to be trickling from an arbitrary patch of thin air, as though somebody had left open a window in the world.

A cursory examination of the cart revealed all: the sausage-seller employed a relatively new model of cooker—operating using superentangled filaments of high-velocity anti-phlogiston, rather than the more conventional hyperpressurised pneumatic solenoids—and a calibration fault in the third inner timing gear had resulted in a harmonic feedback loop between the counter-rotating ontological containment shaft and the ill-fitting grease trap. In short, the sausage vendor had accidentally created a portal to a parallel universe.

Or it was the opium again. One or the other.

Either way, I stepped through and found myself in a most peculiar place. It was a city, of sorts. The buildings weren’t nearly as tall as in London Superior, and they weren’t nearly as clean either. Even though it was very, very rainy.

Hearing barking, I headed towards the source of the noise. However, simultaneously, the source of the noise headed towards me, and I was very nearly bowled over by a small, squashed-face dog in a blue and gold waistcoat. Nevertheless, I succeeded in grabbing the animal.

For a case involving a gateway to a parallel dimension, this had all seemed remarkably convenient and risk-free.

Then a hideous, undead monstrosity rounded the corner after the dog. It was a nightmarish thing: a corpse with a pulse, and one terrible, burning eye.

If ever there was a time to use that derringer, I thought, this was it. And so I unloaded a swift five shots into it, none of which appeared to do anything whatsoever.

“Monsieur!” the creature shouted. Or maybe it was “Monster.” Or maybe it was just the opium again.

Whatever it said or didn’t say, I stepped back through the gateway and put my last bullet into the phlogiston condensation tank of the sausage grill, permanently sealing the portal and undoubtedly saving the lives of everybody in London Superior and especially poor, trembling Ernest.

I took him back to my office, where Barbara Beckwith anxiously waited.

“Madam,” I announced, holding the animal aloft. “I have recovered poor Ernest, though truly this was Alfonso Debonnaire’s most astounding adventure to date!”

“But…that’s a dog!” she cried. “Where on Earth is my fiancé?”

Realisation dawned once again.

“Ah.” I set the dog down. “About that…”

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

Support it here!

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