Not Much Fun

Not Much Fun

Yeah…  So it has been a complicated few weeks.

I popped into see the GP to get my bi-annual blood pressure check.   Oh, you know that I’m a cripple… right?  Y’know the whole MS thing?  I’m sure I mentioned it at some point.  Anyway, the test was a bit high.

Now, I’m kinda lucky.  I have managed to find myself a Doc that actually gives a shit about her patients.  I turn up (roughly) on time for my appointments.  But I know for a fact that, no matter how early the appointment is, she will be running at least half an hour late.  AT LEAST!  But it is very rare that any of her patients bitch about it.  They, like me, appreciate the fact that she treats you like a person, not an appointment.  And people do not slip neatly into a 15 minute slot.  They don’t run in, shout their symptoms, grab the prescription off the printer and run out again.  Some of us like to sit down and exchange pleasantries.  To discuss stuff that may not necessarily involve how which bit has hurt for how long.  I’m not suggesting that we get all conversational.  But she is the kind of Doc that, if that is what the patient needs…  she will let them, to a certain degree.  She is not a production line doc.  So for me she is a keeper.

Anyway, I have digressed.  And that is so unlike me.

My test was a bit high.  So the Doc, rather than just going ‘Meh, yeah.  It’s a bit high.’  Wacked me down for a raft of tests.  If you ever get the opportunity to have a 24 hour blood pressure cuff attached to yer arm, go for it.  It is a complete day of shits and giggles.  No, honestly… it is!

So all of the uncomfortable tests came back fine.  I know, right?  All of that and I still aren’t gonna die!!!!

That shit, and a bit of cold has put me on my back for most of a fortnight.  But when I finally emerged, I got some unsettling news.

tearsA friend of mine is dead, and his funeral is next week.

This is unsettling on many and varied levels.  I have known him for 7 or 8 years.  We were bar buddies. 

Think Cliff and Norm in Cheers, but less regular (and way cuter).  There was huge regularity involved.  But our crossover was less frequent.  And we weren’t scripted, so we weren’t as witty.

Ok, I was.  But we didn’t do the double act as well as them.  I guess that is why they are famous and neither of us quite got there.  Oh, the lack of corporate backing, media coverage and the fact that we are real people and not doing our shit in front of a camera, with direction, may also be a factor…  But when we were in the same place at the same time, we got on well.

We both, in our own way, had pain.  But we came down the pub for a small moment of escape from it.  We talked about unimportant shit, if we weren’t busy talking the other regulars propping up the bar.  But… most importantly for me…  We occasionally shared.  We vented.  We took the opportunity, when needed, to talk through our hurts.  We never needed to discuss or agree on the fact that it would never be brought up again.  It wasn’t about solving issues, finding solutions for problems, fixing the wrongs.  It was about having someone that understood that listening was enough.

A few weeks back his wife died.

Yeah, that was the source of his pain.  She had been ill for a long time.  And it was a slow and steady decline.  He had to struggle to live… to keep a roof over their heads and food in their fridge, while she slowly stopped.   Then she did.

And now so has he.

How and why I don’t know.  But, honestly?  I don’t care.  I saw his pain before she died.  She was his everything.  Now both of them are gone.  Neither of them are hurting here anymore.  She had no control of the matter.  I don’t know if his was by choice or from loss.  But I cannot judge.  I have glimpsed his pain.  I helped where I could.  At least I hope that I did.

I do not know if he committed suicide.  But I suspect that he did.

Before today I was convinced that ending yourself was ultimately a cowardly act.  Selfishness at its worst.  But now I realise that there may be situations where the pain and loss is so acute, that it is the only perceivable option.

It is not.  There is always another option.  But I can now see how people can only see the insurmountable pain, and cannot envisage a life living with that.

I still cannot say that I condone it.  The pain it causes to those that love you is wrong.  But do any of us have the right to say that another should live in pain that they cannot endure?

I ought to sort out a DNR.  Not for now.  But so it is ready for when I need it.

You don’t feel the need to do that?  Treasure what you have.  All of it.  Every single moment of it.  And not just your moments.  The moments of those that you love as well.  Cos they are all good… even when they look a bit shitty.

My first Intermission

My first Intermission

A small intermission.

I have been indulging myself a lot in the horror and mythology of the yesteryears. Questions have crossed my mind recently about the influence of this gore and psychological terror in my daily life. I will get back to those later.

The root of all my evil (I love the sound of that) comes from a few authors that not many people know about. Moreover, those who do never lived to tell the tale…. Booh etc.

I have for no apparent reason stayed away from the low hanging fruits and never sat down to read Stephen King or Koontz. Instead I have sought the older manuscripts of pioneers of their time like H.P. Lovecraft, C.W. Chambers, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, Ambrose Bierce just to name a few.

Reading through these artists masterworks (…in my opinion although they are often fucking boring) I have quickly understood the bulgy underline of suspense created by fear of the unknown and harmful. They often speak about things that are worse than death, but never truly explain what that would be. That makes the terror even more potent. If it is their inability to grasp anything worse than death or on purpose, they leave, such monumental details out we won’t truly know! Nevertheless, the horror of the untold is amplifying the means. Leaving something unsaid will make the reader come up with five different things that could be worse than death. Five different things that would shatter the human mind and turn our bastion of blind hope into a playground for the harmful objects of the black veil.

I mentioned that I often found their stories boring and that is as much a fact as anything you would find in a cookbook. Many of their stories have a point to make and it is often a good point, no doubt about that. It is their story construction that is mind-draining obvious and transparent. Some of the artists aren’t subtle and I get the experience of someone running towards me with a mallet, counting down loudly when they are going to strike… and that is just not good storytelling. Subtlety and half-told gimmicks are giving the reader a sense of the world being larger than it is. There is nothing behind the doors of those houses we never enter. There is no sustenance in the food that is never eaten in a story. It is our mind that builds the world and giving hints instead of explaining everything painfully detailed will let the reader use their imagination and they will thank you in their silent mind for letting them be smart enough to take part in the mental visualization of your story.

Half the story is five times bigger. This is a point I have discussed with people who can stand talking to me for more than 5 minutes without their eyes glossing over as if they have a fever. The concept of leaving things out on purpose for the reader to make their own assumption is in my opinion smart. But with great responsibility comes the fear of me with a bat if you finish that tortured sentence like every fucking else… god I hate that sentence. If there were anything I want to slap Stan Lee for, it would be for his abuse of obvious puns to draw in the drones. The comic book mastodons have poked a dead badger for years now… when it gets too mushy and decomposed; they discard it and find another dead animal to poke. I know you are desperate for money, but please… let some of them die already and nail the lid with their bones!
Not that I am being tangential… half a story, I can give an easy example that can lead to many different outcomes. Since the outcome is indifferent to the main plot it will make the reader either easily discard the note or make half a conspiracy website about it.

“He had been sitting in the living room all night. Sunrays breached the stained windows gleaming off the barrels in his lap. Dozing off for a moment, he heard a noise from the basement. He forgot to barge up the small hatch to the coal sleuth. Two deer slugs, ought to do the trick he thought as he entered the kitchen and rounded on the basement door.”

This story is longer than “A man walked over a manhole…” but I want to set a mood and several outcomes. There is a story in there by itself, with rather obvious intents and easy to guess that he will end either in a gunfight or something harmless entered like a cat. The overly active mind will then say that it is a diversion and they will kick down doors and windows, catching him off guard. Other psycho’s would say that the cat is an alien getting his trust before probing him or killing him off. I would probably leave it a cat just to create fake suspense… or have the cat strapped with a bomb or nuke the entire place because I can… it is my fucking story… muahahaha etc.

No, it is not my story when I present it to the public. It becomes a joined experience. Go read on the modern development of pulp literature and fiction. Something like Harry Potter had millions of people wanting their opinions heard on how to end the book. How the characters should develop and who fucked whom! I am not sure if Rowling took any advice at all or just ignored it all to tell her story, but when it becomes that important to make a grand finale on a heptalogy you tend to listen just a tiny bit to the populous to make sure that you get the last couple of millions of pounds in the bag. I know it is not all about the money though, she took pride in her work and I think we all take pride in the hard work we do. It doesn’t have to be in writing, just in general.

Horror for me is three major factors. If you can fuse them gracefully, you will have a great story.

  1. Horror has to be subtle. Screamers are for the weak artists, there is no long-term sustenance in having something scream in your face for a minute and then leave stage right. That is why books are better at this genre than movies.
  2. The untold story. Never tell the definitive reason to the story. The man behind the curtain is only awe-worthy as long as his true existence is concealed. Hint to the plot and use the characters mindset to further their depth by giving an insight to their thoughts about the plot. They are often wrong and blinded by horror, it will give an interesting insight to their mental status and maybe a new way of thinking about the plot you are trying to hide.
  3. The grasp-less fear. Many of the old writers worked with the concept of alternate worlds, monsters we could not see and things that attacked or manipulated people when they are weakest. Often when they slept. A man with a hatchet or a face on the killer is reducing the horror to a vague thriller. If the killer can die, it goes Darwinian in seconds and you might as well make an action movie with a thriller twist. The ultimate fear of humans is mainly the things we cannot defend ourselves against.

The ultimate fear of humans.” What fear humans the most, is their limitations in life. Even in early writing, being inferior and powerless was the basis of human fear. We act upon instinct if we are threatened and can’t we help ourselves or is restrained beyond help we break down. It is as simple as that. Evolution and countless generations learning each other that we are the master race, has created the desire for power and dominance. We have always desired a certain power over our lives and even in this modern society, power is more important than ever. Physical and verbal tools are used all the time to dominate others by pushing our opinions upon others. We often see suicide in the lack of control over one’s own life. Oppression is a killer and we crave the freedom to make our own decisions. This is well known and horror writers feed off that information. Take a movie like SAW, people nearly masturbated over the first couple because it was a gritty display of power and insane tools. Not subtle, but yet effective to prove the point about despair in lack of freedom. I know there is more to it with those movies, but they are not my point at the moment.

Another thing that will make people shit bricks is things we cannot resist or fight against. Back at the instincts, we fight ferociously to survive and if we cannot grasp our opponent, we often buckle under mentally. Things like ghosts and aliens are used beyond boredom and stands as veterans of the oppressing forces we fail to grasp and recoil, but what about someone like Pennyworth and Kruger. The ones assaulting the sleeping or the weak (often displayed as children…) they are a new level of ghosts, although used as an overpowering gimmick that we tried endlessly to defy. (They are desperate to show the power of humanity victorious for some reason… they ought to put in some clips of the people killed in the Middle East by crossfire and make a point about the power of humanity spilling on the ground.) It is all in the context of what is presented to us.

At last, I will answer those questions I threatened with at the beginning of the post.

Q. Has your daily life been influenced by the dark places you sought inspiration?

A. I try to distance my life and my hobby, but it is not easy. Of course, it will make you think twice before you go into the cellar at night.

Q. Are you more afraid of the darkness now?

A. No! I am the worst thing you can meet in a dark cellar. So it is quite the opposite actually, I have partially conquered my fear of the dark and unknown by making up worse shit than I could ever cross me in a dark alley.

Q. Where do you seek inspiration and has it evolved, from just searching horror to a more specific subject.

A. Books and the internet are two good resources to find “pants on head retarded” things that can be converted into a horror idea. As my stories progress I find myself looking more in the direction of mental illness than aliens and zombies to be honest, so I guess I have become more picky with my subjects.

Q. What made you write about Exillion and where did it come from?

A. The king in Yellow by C.W Chambers are a fantastic fiction from 1895 is a starting point, but their means are different. I always like the concept of inanimate objects having a life on their own, manipulating etc. I think the reason I created Exillion is because it was cluttering up my mind. Exillion is not the book; the book is titled Exillion… that is different!

Q. Have you ever had a point with the way you write your short stories?

A. Yes. Everything has a purpose and every development has a deeper meaning.

Q. What is your favorite short story of the lot?

A. The one I am writing now. That girl be’ crazy… I love craziness in the harmless shape. People talking nonsense is just cringe-worthy and hilarious.

Q. Are you going somewhere with these stories?

A. I want to say yes, but mostly it was to get the clutter out of my head. Making these stories gives me room to refine the concepts that work and maybe bring them to new and exciting places. If I may use a nerdy simile this is my “pensive.”

Q. Anything else you want to add?

A. Yes, why am I about to break the forth wall by asking myself why I made this like an interview. I am talking to myself and asking/replying like it was a test.

If any of this makes sense, please call up a random friend a say “Your milk only has seven days to live!” 

Ink’d

Ink’d

So last week I got my first tatoo.  'What?', I hear many of you cry.  'At your time of life?  You're in your 70's!!!'.

I know.  Oh, and shut the fuck up!  I'm not that bloody old!

I've been thinking about it for many years.  But could not come up with something that I wanted emblazoned, for all eternity, upon my perfect body.  Skinny, pale and ginger body (the hair is ginger, not the flesh…  in case you were confused.  That would just be wierd!).  But perfect none the less.

Ok, adequate body.  Moving on…

Seriously though, I have honestly thought about getting a tat for many years.  But having seen other people get shit that I would be embarrassed to walk around wearing, I told myself that I wouldn't unless I was DAMN sure that I would be proud to wear it til death.  (Have you seen the pic on the interweb of the guy who had, tattooed across his forehead in a beautifully rendered gothic script, the word 'RACIST'…  with not enough c's and too many s's?  Case and point, on several levels.)

So that kinda ruled out a Pokemon (although Pikachu is dead cute), the name of a significant other (which is lucky, cos they in't so significant now) or the logo of my fave band.  Instead, I designed my own thing.  It's not overly delicate.  It's not particularly pretty.  It's not even hugely original (I took inspiration from a couple of places and then completely ripped off something else).

But for me it has meaning.  It represents something significant to me.  But only to me.

A few buds have seen it, and asked 'What's that then?'

They didn't seem to appreciate my sparkling wit, when I told them 'It's a tattoo!' But when they persisted in wanting to know it's meaning, they weren't too keen to share in return.

'So what is you're darkest nightmare?  Your most soul shattering embarrassment?  Your deepest joy?  Your most erotic moment?  No?  Not willing to share?  So why do you think that I would, about something so important to me that I would get my body indelibly marked with a symbol that represents it?  Oh, and the fact that it's on the inside of my arm, rather than somewhere more prominent…  Does that not suggest that it is there for me, rather than for you?'

Yeah.  I didn't say that.  But I always come up with dead eloquent repartee about two hours after it would be useful.  But in the moment of expressing a cutting put down like 'your mother' (the Brit version of 'yo mama!!!'), I always feel smug in the knowledge that a few hours later I would have been able to shred that bastard with one inspired sentence!

The best I have managed so far was when a complete stranger pulled my arm round so he could see it, and said 'Nice tat, what is it then?'

He kinda stole my sardonic thunder by opening with the fact he recognised that it was a tattoo.  Fortunately, I was a little drunk (I was in the pub, it's allowed).  So came back with 'It's the hebrew symbol for "feel free to grab my arm".'

He was obviously a bit drunk too…  or really fucking stupid (the jury is still out).  Cos he replied 'Really?'.

ink pic

I have him my best grin and good natured chuckle.  'Nah,' I said.  'It's sanskrit for moron'.

[Incidentally, the pic has nothing to do with this post (other than three letters).  But it is a beautiful (low budget, independent) film.  And well worth a watch.]

Chapter 04: Inept Investigations

Chapter 04: Inept Investigations

At this point, I wish to draw the reader's attention to the fact that I was initially unaware of the private investigation of the Jonas affair although I latently believed that the harpy would pull off something like that. Before we get back to the shady suitor that regularly visited Jonas, I wish to digress and describe Ron's involvement in the ordeal. Early in the morning, I had a brief and very informal meeting with June. It almost felt necessary, part of the morning routine. She had very little to report besides the lack of a key to the master bedroom and her intents to return to Jonas' house later that day when she got off work with Lara to get in through a window from the outside. That plan was reasonable as the bedroom door had been unyielding thus far and the windows were overgrown by vines, plants and everything else that grew in the rampaging garden. The girls reasoned that surely one window must have been rotten or loose and that entry that way around might be quicker than calling in a lock pick although Lara had already requisitioned one. No one but Lara and the lock pick herself knew of that. "What've you got for me today?" June asked with a smile. "Well, it seems we have a few applicants for internships arriving at 11 o' clock. They need a tour." "Wouldn't it be a better experience if you gave the tour yourself?" "Sure it would. Care to take my meetings? We're brokering a deal in Africa and with the Russians." She sighed. "The big tour?" "Just the offices." With a reluctant sigh, she agreed: "Fine. I'll tour the freshmen." "I thought you'd jump at the opportunity. You usually do." "Why?" "Why not?" "There's only so many hipsters that can hit on you before you tire of it." "Is it that bad?" "It is." "I can have someone else do it?" "And what? Have me lounging around all day? No. I'll do it. What else?" "Weekend's coming up and I'm going out of town. Important transaction up North." Silence. "Oh, I need you to get my dry cleaning." "Again?" "Yes, and if you have time I need you to make a quick delivery." "Where to?" "There is a boat coming in down at the docks at a quarter past ten. You can make that, right?" "Sure." The docks were at most 30 minutes away if the traffic was dense. It rarely was between nine and eleven. I handed her a briefcase and a note. "What's this?" "That's the delivery and a number. Call that number if you lose the briefcase." "Sure. Anything else?" "No. That will be all." She smiled: "Short day. Early weekend. Lara's gonna be thrilled." "And you aren't?" "Of course I am."

She set out for my dry cleaner to pick up my clothes. This was just labour to keep her going and pass time. I could have easily picked it up after work and truth be told I did not need the clothes this weekend. Everything was already planned except for the airline ticket. I watched June hurry off into the morning commute and hail a cab. A cab stopped immediately, she entered swiftly and off they went. The cab quickly disappeared in the dense cluster of cars. I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes past eight in the morning. She had ample time.

The dry cleaner's shop was a small and humid place. It was not well decorated. It was not bright and it was most definitely not inviting. Good service speaks for itself and it was by all accounts the best dry cleaner in town. The job was nothing short of perfect every time and the prices were not steep at all. It was run by a German guy and his Korean wife and the decor held trinkets from every country between Germany and Korea. Inside the humid shop, four different armchairs from four different countries were gathered around a coffee table that looked equal parts Victorian and oriental. It was beautifully ornamented and a piece of art in and of itself, but its splendour faded in the glow of every other piece of furniture in the shop. The seating area was lit by a few pagoda lamps and an ancient gaslight. The area was located to the left of the door and two windows allowed seated people in two of the four seats a limited view of the traffic outside, limited by large curtains blocking out most of the light and the view. To the right of the door coming in was a counter that was as old as the shop itself. The German had bragged several times, about how he felled a mighty oak just outside time with nothing but an old and dull lumbering axe and he had carved, polished and made the counter himself. His physique did nothing to discredit the plausibility of that story. Behind the counter was a door leading into the laundry area and I cannot tell you how it was furnished, not even the layout of the area. For all I know magical elves could be employed in slave labour back there forced to use magic to clean clothes. It would explain the cheap cost and the superior quality. From the counter only one window was visible besides the main door and this window was also limited by curtains albeit a different style of curtains. These seemed of Indian origins while the curtains on the seating room side of the room seemed either French or Italian. Dark spruce wood decorated the ceiling and brown faded lino covered the floor with various carpets littered around. Real carpets. Come to think of it, the store is actually rather luxurious in a way although it appears a mess at first.

June went into the store and immediately leered right to the counter. She had done this before. The Korean poked her head around the corner of the cleaning area into the shop itself and immediately noticed June. "Ah, yes, yes, Dave's clothes. We have your clothes ready. Just a second." In a moment her head had vanished around the corner from whence it came. "Dave's girl's here," June heard the lady say presumably to the German. June seated herself in a chair that seemed Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian in origin. To her credit, it can be hard to tell the difference at first. The usage of blue, white and black embroidery would have given the exact origin away, had the chair been in a properly lit room. After a minute had passed a young guy walked in. The Korean woman poked around the corner again. "Is it ready yet?" he asked. "What? No. You only came in here t–" "When will it be ready?" Her lips tightened briefly: "Maybe 20 or 30 minutes. If you let us work, yes?" He sighed and assumed a seat opposite June in a Victorian chair. That particular chair seemed to go with the table leading the customers to suspect that the furniture were part of a set once, a long time ago. "Don't you just hate the waiting times in these places?" "Actually, I just got here." "And they're already getting your clothes? You rich?" June knew better than to brag of her or her family's wealth. "I do alright," she answered after some consideration.

The boy was just beyond adolescence. 20 years old. He was pale and short red hair covered his forehead. He spoke with a slight Irish accent and in the dim light, June could just about make out a few freckles at his cheeks. He was a ginger. Further than that he was tall, much taller than June, and while not exactly pumped he was a sturdy character. Clearly he did some exercise although not fanatically. His eye colour was hard to make out in the dim light. At times, they seemed brown, then blue and every now and again green. Truth be told they were grey, but his contacts reflected the surroundings. He leaned forward: "I'm Donald." June smiled and replicated his gesture: "Jane." "Jane?" "Here comes the Tarzan jokes," she said with a sulk as she fell back into her chair. Although I am proud of her for taking my advice not to give out her name to complete strangers I do wish she was more imaginative. "You get that often?" "You wouldn't believe it." "Tell me about it," he said with a smile. "You're not here to hear me ramble." "I'm not?" A hair on June's neck rose. "I take it you're here for the dry cleaning?" He glanced sideways briefly. Very briefly, but June noticed. She took out her phone: "Sorry, a text." The boy waited patiently for her to finish. "Now I have a hard time believing a girl like you does menial labour for a living," he continued. "Girl like me?" came the reply almost automatically. "Well dressed and pristinely beautiful." She did not reply. "Modelling? Acting? Singing?" came the suggestions. Still nothing. "Now allow me to paint you a word picture," he continued. "A word picture?" "If you please," he replied beckoning for her silence. "Considering the money that goes into looking that good, you should not be here, so I guess you are here by request of someone. Obviously, that cannot be just anyone, so I'll go with close family. I bet your mum sent you here?" She grinned: "My dad did." The Korean girl entered the shop from behind the counter and addressed June: "I got your clothes right here, miss." She held up two wrapped suits. "Fantastic," she remarked and got up. As did the boy. A chill went down June's spine. "Care to join me for a cup of coffee?" he asked briefly after noticing the terror in her eyes. "No, thank you." "I insist," he said and gestured for her to proceed towards the counter. "I'm rather busy, maybe when I get off work?" "That doesn't work for me. I got work as well." "Maybe tomorrow then?" she asked as she walked towards the door. The German entered the shop and stood at the counter: "Is there a problem, miss?" "Well, no," she stammered: "Thank you." "You're forgetting your clothes," remarked the Korean. The traffic was dying down outside and a sedan pulled up to the curb. "Listen, June," began the boy. Two large suits burst in the door and in a split second, the boy was incapacitated. "Thank God," June remarked with genuine relief: "Listen, 'Donald'," she started with great sarcasm as she picked up my clothes from the couple at the counter: "You're coming up a bit strong and quite clearly you knew who I was before you came in here." She tipped the couple well for their timing and picked up the suitcase. "These men might ruff you up a bit, but trust me when I say that pursuing me will only bring more of them." She thanked the workers, left the store and got a cab. "Fell free to let me go anytime you want," said the boy. The suits did not. These were bodyguards hired to protect June and I. They were the best of the best and a squad of two were always watching both me and June, ready at the drop of a call, or a text.

June returned to ZenTech H.Q. and after I finished a meeting, she took a seat on the couch. I was typing up a summary of the meeting as June related the brief encounter at the dry cleaner with 'Howard'. After typing up the summary and listening to the very last of her encounter, I turned my attention to her: "Honestly. Jane? Really?" "Why not?" "The Hamming distance between Jane and your name is one. If it gets any lower you would've given him your actual name." "What? Brunhilda would've been better?" "No. No reason to get cross and irrational. He wouldn't have believed that." "What do you think his intention was?" "Oh, that is obvious. Think about it." She did. Nothing. "Was he there to assault you?" "Like murder or rape?" "I guess." "He could've been, but then again he probably wouldn't choose a location with witnesses. Or a large burly German that looked like he could snap the kid like a twig." "Is that all?" "He had ample time to carry out the attack, I guess. I did send a text to the guards." "So?" "He was there to either talk to me or distract me." I walked over and checked the contents of the briefcase: "Everything in order here," I remarked. "So, he was there to talk? That doesn't make sense. Although he did ask me out for coffee." "Don't every guy you meet?" She paused. "Not Jonas." After a while, she returned to the topic: "So, he knew where I was and when. He knew why I was there. How?"

The following account of Ron's adventure that day was later supplied by him personally. It was meant for June, but it is necessary to this story. Slightly worse for wear, Ron found himself alone in a back alley. It was not anywhere close to the dry cleaner. "Shit," he mumbled to himself. Disappointed he looked up and around for the landmarks of the city. Tall towers, clocks and remarkable buildings. Finding nothing immediately visible, he clapped on his pockets. His phone was gone, but his wallet was still there. His cash, ID and credit card were all safely still inside the black leather wallet. He put it back in his pocket. "Hey!" he yelled, but no reply came. Nothing happened. He tried again even louder. More nothing happened. He started making his way from the alley when he saw three hooded figures up ahead. He swiftly turned around and walked the opposite way before any of the hoodlums had the chance to notice or catch up to him. He made his way out into a small street with an unknown name to Ron. Once more, he looked around for landmarks. His sight was slightly less obstructed by large buildings now and he noticed a water tower on a hill not far away: "No way," he said on his breath and ran towards the water tower. There were no cars, no bicycles and not even any pedestrians on the street. He heard a faint echo of a dog barking in the distance. As he arrived at the water tower at the top of the hill, he watched down the valley and as he expected the outskirts of the city stretched below him in the valley. In the far horizon, the city stared back at him, like the moon rising in the evening shining a guiding light from its seat unfathomably far away. He knew where he was, an abandoned industrial quarter outside the outskirts of town. It would take him hours to get back without a phone. With a sigh, he walked down the hill and towards the town hoping he could make it there before sunset.

Around three hours of hiking later, he made it into the outskirts of town and found a pay phone. He threw in two quarters and called his father. As soon as the phone was picked, up with a brief and hushed: "Yes? Who's this?" the stream of oppressed anger flowed from Ron into the phone: "You bastard! I got beaten up by two half men half rhinoceros and was left in a fucking gangland outside town. You never said they were any danger!" "What dumber are you calling from?" hissed the reply. "I'm on a fucking pay phone at the outskirts of this hell because the goons took my fucking phone!" "Alright, you listen to me, egg head," came an angry reply: "You do not take that tone with me, or I will make sure you end up in a gangland three states over without phone, wallet and clothes, are we clear?" "Crystal." "You give me your location and I will be there shortly." Ron looked around eventually locating two street signs and provided the street names to his dad. "The GPS'll get me there, useless sack of–," and a click ended the call. Around lunchtime, James picked up Ron and headed back into town. Much was said on the trip, but the details of the scolding are largely irrelevant to this story.

"So, who're you gonna harass next?," asked James. "Well, I am done for today." "What? Why?" "Because June is currently giving the tour around ZenTech to some interns. I had hoped to disguise myself as an intern, but that ship has sailed. As has June's by the way." "What ship?" "Delivery." "Ah, then go talk to that police chick." "No doubt June already told her what happened." "Disguise yourself then." "You think I can fool a police officer?" "Yeah, most of them are dumb as a lamppost anyway." "Only fools generalise. And you shouldn't underestimate them. Hubris'll do you little good." "Hubris? What are you, never mind, just, go investigate Lara, but could you be subtle this time?" "I'll try." James slapped Ron across the face briefly: "What the fuck!?" "Don't try. Succeed!". "Fuck you." A second slap: "Don't take that tone with me." The rest of the ride to Jonas's house not one of them said a single word. 

"Knock knock," said Ron as he entered the house. It was remarkably clean much against all his expectations. The rampaging garden outside was a stark contrast to the interior of the house at the time. A muffled scuffle could be heard coming from inside the house, then silence. This was not what Ron had hoped for, but he would have to make it work. He made his way into the living room and said aloud for Lara to hear: "Anyone here?" He knew she was there, somewhere at least. From the kitchen, he heard a window creak open and before he could make his way into the kitchen, the window slammed shut again. Though he hurried to the overgrown glass panes and stared outside in an attempt to make out any resemblance of a person outside running or sneaking away from the house, he found to his dismay that nothing but plants could be seen outside. With a sigh of defeat and walked back into the living room where he was greeted by Lara pointing a small handgun at him: "Who the hell are you?" "Wow. Wasn't expecting that." "You've got nothing to do here. Nothing to loot. Now bugger off before I call for assistance." With her left hand she drew and showed him her police batch while the right hand held the gun pointed towards him. He stuttered for a bit and when it finally dawned upon him what she meant he said in a forced offended tone: "I'm not a thief!" "Why are you here?" "I," he started and hesitated for a while. Eventually he caught a train of thought: "I'm just a gardener. A trainee. Master sent me here to offer our services." Regaining confidence he continued: "I mean, just look at it outside, it's a mess. I've never seen anything like it." Lara's gaze was fixed at his eyes like a stone gargoyle. "A trainee gardener," she repeated. "That's right. Me mum always said I had green thumbs," he offered. "Irish now? Or Scottish?" Ron was scolding himself internally trying the best he could to conceal his improvisation. He did well considering he only had a three-month course in drama from back in high school to draw upon for this task. Lara was not convinced in the slightest. She had seen and conducted interrogations and she could tell without a doubt he was bluffing. "My pop was born in Killarney, but moved to the States." "And your mother?" "She was born and raised here. American through and through." This was only half a lie, as Ron's father James was born in the States, although he hailed from L. A. and Ron's mother was Irish, born and raised in Killarney. She died in labour and his father raised Ron alone to the best of his abilities. That is to say poorly as James took to the bottle after Ron's mother died. "What's your name?," asked Lara. "I'm Howie." "Howie?" "Yeah." "Your father?" "Jim." "Your master's?" Ron paused. For a brief second he met Lara's gaze with a questioning glance and what he saw scared the colour out of his skin. It was not much colour that left him as he was naturally pale, but it still accounted for his terror. He saw a sense of satisfaction spread across Lara's face as she quickly holstered the gun with her right arm and sent Ron to the floor with her left elbow. After a brief tumble across the living room he checked his jaw was still intact. It was. Not a bruise. "What the hell?," he exploded and got back on his feet. "You're lying. Why are you here?" "I told you, I am a gardening apprentice and this house looks shit," he insisted. She drew the gun again and aimed at his leg. "Alright. Okay, okay. Just, please, lower the gun." He held up both his hands and walked backwards. "Sit down," she barked and nodded at the couch. "You people are psychotic," he murmured as he assumed a very uncomfortable position on the sofa. "Why are you here?," she asked gun in hand. "Look, I came here to see you." Anger cracked in Lara's eyes like thunder across the sky. She took aim: "You're some sort of stalker?" "Oh, no. Not like that," he quickly explained: "I wanted to know about this Jonas guy." Lara smiled as she noticed a drop of sweat run down Ron's forehead. She lowered the gun: "Who sent you, how did you know I was here and how on Earth did you know about Jonas?" "Well, I got a tip," he started and was immediately interrupted: "By whom?" "Whom? British, eh?" "No, and don't change the topic." "I just got a call on my cell. Look I am just a smalltime P. I. trying to earn an honest Bob. I was promised a modest sum to snoop around here. I don't know if it was a he or she that called, the voice was distorted, but whoever it was knew you were here and wanted intel on some guy named Jonas. Does that make sense to you?" Lara was still not convinced, but Ron came across earnest in his explanation this time. "Judging by your reaction, gun and all," he continued and nodded at the holstered gun in Lara's belt: "I get the feeling I should stay out of this. Drugs? Murder? I don't Anna know." "P. I.?," asked Lara intrigued. "Yeah. It's a rough business." "I know." "Look, if it's any dangerous business I'll get out of your teeth," he said and got up. "Sit," barked Lara. "You know how to pick doors?" "No." "Shame."

Ron remained seated on the couch across from Lara in dead silence for a good twenty minutes. A rap on the door broke the silence. "It's open," yelled Lara. The door opened and a middle-aged balding man in overalls entered the room with a toolbox in his hand. It was not immediately clear which item was the oldest, the main, the overalls or the toolbox. It was equally unclear which of the three had been washed the latest judging by the odour. "Jim," said Lara with a smile and nodded at the door. "Care to give us a hand?" "Sure thing, sweetie," groaned the man in a strained voice: "I'll have it creakin' in a minute, just you watch." He winked at Lara as he summoned a cluster of tools from the toolbox and kneeled before the locked bedroom door. In a second it was over. The small cracks and a shriek from the lock later the door swung open. "Where's your puppy?," he asked with a smile. "Pouncer," called Lara and the dog emerged from a bush outside. Pouncer's tail wagged and he quickly approaching Jim and received a treat. "He's in good shape, this one," commented the locksmith with a smile cracking from ear to ear: "Cute, too." The locksmith lit up as he hugged the dog. He then proceeded to gather his tools and his toolbox and headed for the door. "Jim?," asked Lara holding out two one hundred dollar bills. "Thank you," he said with a smiled, bowed quickly a few times and ran off. "What a strange guy," commented Ron although he had yet to encounter one regular person that day. "He's a gem. Can't do much of anything in teamwork, but he's an amazing locksmith. Best in town I'll wager." "Can I go now?" "No," she said: "Whoever sent you is going to come around eventually to check up on you. You're not going anywhere." "What's to stop me?" Lara looked at Pouncer sitting in the doorway.

Jonas and June arrived at the house at the same time: "Lara, you here?," yelled June. "Sure, in here," called Lara from the master bedroom: "You're not going to like this." "What is it?," asked the girl as he took off her coat. "More dust." She entered the living room while Jonas was still taking off his coat and saw Ron, or Howard, on the couch. "Lara," she called in terror as she summoned her cell. Ron quick sprang to his feet and Pouncer started to growl moving slowly towards Ron, his teeth barred. "June," said the surprised Ron. "Howard," she replied in a spiteful tone. "What?," asked Lara as she entered the living room. "What's he doing here?" "You met him?" "Creep stalked me to David's dry cleaner's." "So you are a stalker," said Lara with glee. "Look, I can explain," said Ron as he seated himself. Pouncer sat down as well scowling at Ron. "Get talking. You know what happened last time." He offered his innocent P. I. story to June equally as convincing as earlier when he offered the same story to Lara. Jonas had seated himself in the living room chair and was immersed in an old episode of Cheers. It had gone unnoticed by both June and Jonas that the bedroom door was open and that Lara had hurried from within when she heard June's distress. Finally June noticed and completely forgot Ron on the couch. She hurried in there and looked around, although she had no idea what she was looking for. "Find anything in here?," she asked casually doing her best not to touch anything. The interior was delicate and a closer inspection lead June to conclude quite correctly that every single piece of furniture in the room was handmade, from paintings on the wall, the hand carved wooden planks on the ceiling to the dusty carpet. "That's strange, I don't see a loom or any tailoring equipment," she remarked. "Me neither," answered Lara entering the room. "I haven't found anything that might tell us where the parents went." "Except that no one has been in here for years on end?" "True." June's cell purred in her pocket. "Diane's on your back?" "She doesn't like me hanging around here." She read the text and looked to Lara with a disappointing face: "Lawyer bastard'll be here to pick me up shortly." She sighed: "Damn it." "Lawyer?," started Ron anxiously in the living room. "Guns, psychotic dogs, lunatics and psychotic dogs. Sure, throw a lawyer into the mix. What are you trafficking?" "First of all," burst Lara exiting the bedroom and entering the living room: "Don't talk that way about Pouncer. Secondly, who is the lunatic here stalker dude? Thirdly, you said you didn't Anna know what's happening here. Why the change of heart? Finally," she said standing in front of Ron mere inches from him: "I told you to keep quiet." With a gentle shove Ron sat down on the couch again. "The looney here is the guy absorbed by the TV," he said with a gesture towards Jonas who did not react in the slightest. Ron continued: "Sorry, the dog might be a furry ball of sodding sunshine when he's drooling at the sight of you and wagging his tail when you scratch his ear, but that hellhound bars his teeth whenever I move an inch and the savage look in his eyes hints that he would like nothing more than se my throat as a chew toy. That is not a cute little puppy!" Outraged Ron rose from his seat, but as the dog stood up with barred teeth, growling at him and proving his point he sat down once more: "Could you, please, kill the bloody TV? If I have to hear the theme music one more time I'd rather take a tumble with the dog." Lara complied and turned off the TV and VCR. It took a second for Jonas to take notice. In an offended tone he turned his head to face Lara: "Wh– what the hell are you doing?" She nodded at Ron on the couch and the reaction was as she expected. Jonas pulled himself together in the chair: "Who's this?" "I'm Ron," he answered and started his story a third time. Jonas cut him short: "Yeah, I know who you are, but why are you here?" "Job gone sour," he answered nodding at Lara and Pouncer. 

Jonas noticed the open bedroom door. "Mother? Father?," he called entered in the dusty bedroom. He only found June inside going through the contents of the closets. "What are you doing?," Jonas started quietly. "Your mother had–" "Don't you talk about my mother. Where is she?" "I haven't seen her," June replied truthfully and thrown. "Must be out shopping. What about father?" "Jonas, I don't think he's been here for a while. Look at this," she said and drew two suits from a closet." Lara appeared in the doorway. A short growl hinted that Ron was curious as well. "Your dad had amazing taste in clothes," June started: "These suits were expensive and tailored to him specifically." "How do you know?," asked Lara. June summoned a receipt from a pocket in one of the suits and handed it to Lara. She took it, read it and after an impressed whistle she said: "The date. Five and a half years ago?" "That can't be right," answered Jonas: "He bought it about five months ago when–," and he grew pale instantly. You could have heard a pin drop to the floor for a moment. "Get out," groaned the boy from the bottom of his throat. The voice sent shivers down June's spine. Ron, too, was nervous: "Care to call of your dog?," he asked in a slightly higher pitch than usual. Lara clicked her tongue twice and the dog rushed to Lara's side. In a demonic voice, Jonas repeated himself. A car pulled up to the curb outside and both June and Ron legged it not a moment too soon. Jonas summoned from beneath the head of his parents's bed a steel bat. June would have been the first target had she not left the room. Instead he turned his attention to Lara and what happened thereafter is a story we will return to later. Promise.

The car outside was the harpy's lawyer bastard there to pick up June. His timing was good. Both June and Ron sprang into the back seat of the car. The lawyer was surprised to see Ron there: "Well, good evening, Ron," he commented. Ron sighed as June protested the obvious: "I thought your name was Howard? Or Howie?" The lawyer perched his lips briefly and then burst into a smile: "Want me to drop you off at your dad's place?" "How do you know his dad?," asked June. This was one of the rare occasions she asked her mothers boy toy a legitimate question without any sarcasm or ulterior motive of her own. "Oh, he's just a casual acquaintance from work." "So, he's not a P. I. hired to seek out me, Lara and Jonas?" "Yeah, you can drop me off at my dad's," interrupted Ron hoping to change the subject. No luck there. The lawyer nodded at Ron and cleared his throat: "That's right, but you don't need to worry about that. Your mother got your a sw–" "Stop lying to me, please," interrupted June politely. Ron sighed: "What gave it away?" The lawyer's smile cracked and withered into a stern expression: "Not taking after your dad, I see." The comment was directed at Ron, obviously. "Your dad's the P. I," nodded June and after a moment continued: "Why are you spying on the three of us? After, oh," she said and interrupted herself: "Diane put you up for this." "You shouldn't call her by name," corrected the lawyer: "She's your mother." "She thinks something's wrong with Jonas?" "We're looking into how or why his parents vanished," explained Ron. "Another lie?," asked June with a smirk. She believed him, but she was still angry that he had lied to her in the first place. "We just want what is best for you," said the lawyer. "Anyway, we have nothing to go on," continued Ron. "Go on? What are you trying to prove?," asked June. "Well, smart money says he killed them." "That makes no sense," she responded: "Do you have a motive? Does his profile match that of a killer? I hardly believe so. He's so kind." "The Devil's greatest trick was convincing the world he doesn't exist." "So because he's not like a killer, he's a killer," she nodded: "Load of bull." "Language young lady," corrected the lawyer from the front seat. Ron continued: "That's why he's not arrested yet. We are gathering evidence." "How does that make sense? Look hard enough you can find evidence for anything, true or false." "We're professionals, trust us," commented Ron with a reassuring expression that quickly cracked under June penetrating gaze: "Okay, my dad's a professional, trust him?," Ron tried, but the scepticism stayed on June's face. "We're trying to keep the police out of it to avoid it coming back to you," explained the lawyer and continued: "We don't want you to suffer the rest of your life just because of a run in with some bad company." "Bad company? Have you even talked to Jonas? He's not a fiend." "Not exactly stable either, you must agree," commented Ron. June looked down. He had a point. "Still doesn't prove anything," she muttered to herself. "Well, it could very likely be conditional on a feeling of guild or remorse, if he did kill them," continued Ron: "Tell me, does these incidents happen whenever his parents are brought up in conversation or memory?" June thought for a moment and reluctantly admitted: "Yes." "There you have it," said the lawyer to June's displeasure. "You could've told me," she protested. "Why keep me in the dark?" "We needed unbiased information from you," said Ron and the lawyer cut in: "Yeah, you're not always cooperative." "I would've been if you had levelled with me and explained these things." "Unbiased information, how'd that go?," she grinned. "I've some way to go before I match the skill of my dad, I'll admit that," said Ron with a bold face: "I learned a lesson, but your friend," he continued and paused. June broke in: "Lara?" "Yes, Lara, she is insane. She held a gun to my face." "You broke into a house you had nothing to do in," explained June. She did not know that he had also been calling out Lara's name when he entered. Ron turned to the lawyer: "Could've told me she was an officer of the law." "Thought you did your research before staking out, then again your father boasted about your abilities. He made it sound like you were a pro." "I did some research into ZenTech, but I found nothing buy fancy worded bullshit." June grinned: "Dad runs a tight business." Then her smile melted away: "But you failed." "I know, I'm incompetent," Ron nodded. "Not that," said June: "You tried to keep the police at bay. Lara already has a case typed out at the station." "As long as it remains a single report with no inquiries, I can handle that," said the lawyer. "They had a locksmith over today." Silence.

The rest of the ride took place in stone silence. They dropped off Ron at his dad's house. It seemed empty with no lights inside. Then they drove home and as they pulled into the driveway the lawyer locked the doors from the front seat. "Do you know what you have done?" "You will be questioned, your name will prop up in police reports now." "Why?" "Because everything in that case now has to be revised by their accounting department to make sure the locksmith is paid what his work is worth. Fair is fair and you tarnished your reputation." He then stormed out of the vehicle and went inside. June followed him hastily. "It's Friday night, why did you pick me up in the first place? The agreement was I could hit town on Friday nights and do whatever the Hell I want." Diane was waiting inside: "Not a moment through the door you're already protesting. Sweetie, I got you an audition tomorrow morning. Action play, so you need your rest." She told this with a calm demeanour that did nothing by annoy June. "That's not our deal. Who shoots on a Saturday morning anyway? Do these people hate sleep and fun?" "These people are hard workers who know that sleep and fun is something that should be earned through hard work, but provided and given to you as if you were entitled to it by just breathing." "Don't care, I'm not going." Diane sighed. They had been dancing this dance countless time before. The dance always started with the same three words: "Yes, you are."

Had they come to me, I could have told them right away what was ailing Jonas, but I had my own game to run and my own battle to fight. Everything that happened that Friday was of vital importance and I could have provided Lara with the evidence she needed to clear Jonas's name of all future trouble and charges, had she come to me. In hindsight I should have done so and if I ever had the chance to do everything over again, the neglect of the information at my disposal would be rectified. It should also be noted that June made an assumption. Specifically she assumed the locksmith had been at Jonas's house to unlock the door by means of the police work. She did not know, nor did Lara tell her, that it was a personal favour strictly off the records.