Chandler is a Girl’s Name

My mind kept drifting to the mess of papers I’d had to stuff into the filing cabinet. Brace had called from the phone-box downstairs just moments before and wouldn’t be dissuaded from coming up. There was barely time for me to scrape together my clippings and notes, to get my less-than-sane looking research out of sight before he made it up the stairs. Things had recently come to light that meant I’d been pouring over past investigations into my, let’s say condition, when Brace and the telephone’s rattling dance had interrupted me. Now my notes and clippings sat in a crumpled wad in the dark at the bottom of the dull tower in the corner of the room. Years of asking and looking and digging and hunting, all screwed up in steel because of this impatient, entitled wanker.

Brace’s panicked footfalls barely slowed as he hit the door, flinging it into the bookcase behind. My bookcase wasn’t taking any of that though and gave Brace the door right back. He took a good hit to the leg, cursed under his breath, then closed the door with a hard smack. He brought in the smell of too many cigarettes, of too little soap. He had the beaten look of a washed out carpet salesman. The look of a man who told himself he was doing just fine while he remortgaged a rat-hole shop and worked seven-day weeks. A man under-slept and overweight. A man with haemorrhoids and a stomach ulcer and a gambling problem. His shoes were polished but the suit, tight around his paunch, fit badly. His hat, with its crumpled brim, looked as though it owed the wrong people money.

“Well?” His voice was panic stirred with blame.

“Well what, Mr Brace?”

“You said you’d found her!”

Poor bastard.

I took my feet off the corner of the desk and turned squarely to face him.

I have completed my investigations and you will have a full report by Monday.” I rattled off the message I’d left him in a flat monotone. “Does that sound like demand to see me immediately and don’t take no for an answer to you, Mr Brace?”

“Less of the cheek, lady. You’ve done what you were hired for. Just tell me what you found.”

We stared at one another for a moment. Brace didn’t blink. I let out a grudging breath.

“I’m going to need my fee before that, Mr Brace.”

“You’ll get your money, woman! Just tell me!” His palm slapping the desk.

“Now, normally I wouldn’t demand payment like this” I continued, ignoring him, “but you strike me as a fairly hot headed individual and I have a concern that you won’t want to part with money in exchange for bad news.”

“It’s bad news?” He blurted, his hand still flayed on he desk.

“My fee, Mr Brace.” I said, fishing the invoice from my drawer.

He slid his hand over to take the slip of paper.

“£165, Mr Brace.”

His jaw tightened, eyes falling to the bottom line.

“You’ll see that’s including expenses.”

Brace grunted and shifted in the chair, his hand working it’s way between the seat-back and his arse. He extracted his wallet and started thumbing at the leather and the notes. Once he had selected an appropriate assortment, he pulled them out, folded them once and held the fold out over the desk. As I leaned forward, ready to reach out my own hand, Brace lifted his.

“Where is my wife?” Quieter now, calmer.

I stood, looking Brace in the eye, and took my money from between his fingers. My desk drawer squealed open and I swapped out the notes for a stack of photographs. I closed the drawer, a dull groan this time, and tossed the photos at him.

“I tracked her spiritual adviser to a farm in the dales.” I said, sitting back down as he reached for the photographs. “He’s some kind of priest now, charitable tax status and everything. Runs a commune with a bunch of strays. Some missing kids, that sort of thing, but your wife appears to be there of her own accord. No kidnapping.”

Brace had been looking through the photographs but he’d halted at a particular picture, and I knew just the one. Two bodies, sweaty and writhing. The kind of picture you don’t want to get caught looking at, let alone taking. People talk about free-love, but most still want it in the dark, behind a locked door. I do find parts of my job distasteful, the stacks of filth squirrelled away, the piles of fermenting transgression, but I’m afraid private lives are my bread and butter, and I can’t afford much by way of a conscience.

“She’s with that goddamned hippie?” He stammered. “But I loved her! I bought her everything she wanted. She wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for me!” Shouting again.

“As you say, Me Brace, she’s conducting an affair.” He didn’t look up. “That, along with your separation over the past few months, should see to a quick divorce. She’ll get a big heap of nothing.”

“Divorce?” He echoed, eyes still on the photograph.

“I did tell you to prepare yourself for this very eventuality, Mr Brace.” I tried to sound reassuring.

He finally looked up.

“Come on! That’s just something you say to everyone, surely?” His voice, equal parts desperation and defeat. It could still go either way.

“I do, Mr Brace, and do you know why?” He was still staring at me, over his wife. “I say it because, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that’s the way it is.”

I turned away absently, perhaps to see if the filing cabinet was still there. You never know with things like that. I remembered the bottle I’d put there. And then the stuff that made the bottle necessary. When I looked back, Brace’s was still staring at me.

“At least now, you know.” I added.

Brace’s eyes avoided his wife as his head fell, the photographs flapping their way to the floor with his gaze.

“I’ll have the completed file posted out to you.” I said, standing. “I suggest you pass it on to your solicitor.”

Brace was a heaped pile of defeat, bent over himself like a beaten question mark. It was far past time he should leave. I stomped around the desk, slamming my fist on the filing cabinet at I went. No reaction. I rattled the door knob pulling the door open and letting it bounce with a clatter off the bookcase. Still the sad heap in the chair. I kicked the chair back gently. Kicked it again, hard. Brace’s head jerked up with a start.

“Good evening, Mr Brace.”

He exit was slow but without fuss. And, with him gone, I could finally liberate my mess of papers from the filing cabinet, along with the bottle. And I set about, once more, to making sense of my crumpled life.

Now That It’s Over

The birch trees lining the drive were throwing fits in the drenched night. Their writhing limbs excited the security lamps into action and the lawn was doused in a stark, clinical light. Sheets of crashing rain caught and reflected the harsh glare, throwing a haze of static back at the house, the air filled with crackling, wet white-noise.

Alice sat in the large bay window that overlooked the driveway and gardens, dwarfed by that cavernous shell of glass and wood. She was still and quiet, watching the rain smeared against the window by the relentless wind. Quivering rivers of inky night flowed sideways, like fingers of the storm feeling for a way in. Pulling a cigarette from her lips, she stretched out two smoking fingers to the glass and traced along the water’s course until she reached the edge of the frame. Alice’s hand settled on the latch. The security lamps clicked off and the scene ahead of her was replaced with her own gloomy reflection. She stared into her own eyes, dark circles in dark circles, and then turned the latch, opening the room to the storm. She pulled her legs up onto the sill, crouched and pressed her face into the liquid wind, leaning out into the storm. Her hair whipped about her, the rain striking her one cheek while cold fresh streams ran down the other. There was an iron tang to the rain as it crept into her mouth, minerals and ozone on her tongue. Her cigarette, soaked and battered, broke apart, spilling it’s innards. Loose shreds of tobacco washed down her hand, the tatters of paper clinging to her fingers.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Alice turned, looking into the room from under her arm, still gripping the latch. Abe stood in the hall, lit from behind by a warm yellow glow. She closed the window, sat and wiped her hand on the sodden cushions beneath her.

“Nothing.” She replied. “I just wanted to feel the rain, that’s all”

Abe stepped into the room, resting his over stuffed suitcase against the door frame as best he could.

“Look, if you don’t want me to go, you just have to ask. You don’t have to act out like this.” His voice dripping with that oh-so-understanding salesman tone.

“I want you to go Abe, I thought I’d been pretty clear?” She was going to stay calm.

“Well I still think you’re overreacting. Everyone makes mistakes. I just-”

“It wasn’t a mistake.” She interrupted.

She waited to see if he’d argue the point but he just stared. So she carried on.

“You’re a soulless creep, Abe, masquerading as person. But even though you’re a parasite, I don’t hold it against you. It’s on me for not calling you on your bullshit earlier. You were just doing what came naturally, leeching off a healthy host, worming your way into my life. But you got complacent and you got caught and now we’re done. So you can get the fuck out of my house.” Calm, calm, calm.

Abe’s face attempted to display hurt feelings, his head lilting to one side as his eyebrows tried to work out the optimum angle for sympathy. It was like watching a dog try to walk on it’s hind legs.

“That’s unfair Alice. I understand why you’re hurt, I really do. I mean, what I did was shitty but I’m not a bad person. You’re going to regret saying those things once you calm down.”

“Out, Abe. Now.”

“Ok, ok. I’m gone.” He picked up the suitcase and turned toward to the door. “I just want you to know that I’m sorry. I mean that. I really didn’t mean to hurt you.”

A hell of a time for a first apology. Did he really think she was going to call his name and forgive all that shit? It was all she could do to not hurl everything in reach at the back of his head as he left the room.

Alice heard the front door close and let out a breath that she hadn’t noticed she’d been holding. She picked out another cigarette, lit it and breathed in one long measured drag. Then let her head drop back, lolling between her shoulder blades.

“Fuck your sorry, Abe.” She whispered to the room in bitter smoke.

It Will Help if the Presentation Feels Somewhat Familiar to Them

So Carl wants us to go through some of the lingo again, this vocabulary here, just so that we’ll be as comfortable with it as possible. It’s got to be slick on the day so let’s use English the whole time, ok?

-No problem.

Great. So, first things first, there have been a few changes.

-Changes?

Yes. Not too many though, mostly cosmetic. The meat of the destabilisation is essentially the same, they’re just changing up some specific words. See here? We’ve got to call the humans earthlings now, plus they’ve changed the names for most of our gear, our ship, our home and a bunch of other little things.

-What things?

Well, like this. We’ve got to call our phones communicators now.

-Why?

Carl just said that it’s what they’ll think we’ll call them. We’re all high-tech and futuristic to them, remember. Phone will sound too mundane apparently, sends the wrong message.

-But our phones aren’t futuristic, they’re just like theirs. Theirs were even better until we saw them and decided to put that immersive display on ours. We didn’t even think to have a screen until we started checking theirs out. It’s stuff like their phone ideas that we want the humans for, right?

Earthlings, remember, and I know but Carl said communicators is just better. As it turns out, they dreamt up these future phones years ago, ones kind of like they have now, in stories and stuff, and in those stories they called them communicators, so that’s what they’ll think we would call ours.

-That’s bollocks. They’ve actually got these communicators now, don’t they? They all do, they’re on them all the time. They’re probably even better than whatever each of them imagined when they were younger and they’ve all decided to keep calling them phones, haven’t they? They don’t go around all day on communicators saying hello fellow earthling, do they?

I know it sounds stupid but, I’m telling you, it’s what Carl said they’ll be expecting.

-What do you mean expecting? The humans? No one else has tried a full disclosure manipulation before, right? They’ve not been approached by anyone else?

Earthlings, remember, and no.

-Well there you go, no expectations then, surely.

You’d think so but the weird thing is Carl says they’ve been sort of fantasising together about meeting people from other planets for ages.

-So? Everyone does. Happens all the time. There’s all these crazy ideas they have and then we pull the reveal and they’re all Oh! Er, you’re just like us then, I guess, and we have a good laugh while they tell each other the odd things they’ve been dreaming up. Then we get to business.

Well that’s the thing, you see, they all kind of dream things up together. Carl tried to explain it to me and it’s like, well, remember when we were first learning English and we thought it was a bit odd, it being so full of all the esoteric poetic imagery, those historical and literary references and what have you?

-Yes, bloody nightmare!

Well, Carl says it’s like that because they all sort of decide to have their imaginations agree on certain things.

-How do you mean they all agree? There’s a fair few of them, aren’t there? They can’t all agree. We’re counting on a bit of confusion, aren’t we?

And there will be, Carl’s sure of it. There’s just this general consensus, apparently, on certain concepts anyway, without them even realising it sometimes. There’s these certain things that just become standard for them. Archetypes, Carl said. They share all these ideas, you see, and then the good ones just kinda become the way whatever it is, well, is.

-What? And they all just go along with it?

Mostly. Look, it’s like this: Someone thinks something up, like a story, you know? And everyone thinks it’s a good story so it sticks with them and they all sort of keep it in mind. Then, if they think up any stories of their own, like a new story but along similar lines as that first one, that story they all liked, then they copy the bits they liked from that first one and mix them about with a bunch of stuff they’ve added themselves. Even if they change something big, it just ends up getting defined by the way it’s different from what was decided on before by this collective imagination. Then the whole thing, it all sort of compounds and crystallises as things go along, so that you end up with this sort of general agreement on, say, what a thief looks and sounds like, or a hero, or what the afterlife is, or what little bearded guys living underground might be like, even people from other planets. It’s got something to do with why they’re so inventive, like an organic growth of ideas, you know? The big stuff building up over time. Upstairs think that if we go along with these expectations, at the start at least, we’ll get a good foothold nice and early that we can exploit later. Get it?

-Not really.

Look, it doesn’t really matter why. This is just something that Carl says he and the boffins upstairs have decided on. He says that the huma- sorry, earthlings. The earthlings will take this all a lot better if it fits in with the stuff they’ve decided on already, the stuff in their stories, that’s all.

-It just seems a bit inefficient to me, is all, us spending so much time getting good at English and then having to relearn a bunch of stuff just because they all go around copying one another’s dreams, just because they’ve got these plagiarist imaginations.

I know, I know but like I said, it’s the way Carl and the higher-ups want it, so we’re just going to have to go along with it. Ok?

-Ok, fine. Whatever. So humanity is a bunch of earthlings now, great, and we phone each other on our communicators. Totally normal. What else?