Chapter 1: In the Current Time
Pan in. A long shot, down through the clouds of a murky city and into an office window.
Pickle Inspector picks another wilted leaf off the sad plant on his desk. He plucks it, looks at it for a few minutes, and adds it to the growing pile of dead leaves in his waste paper basket. Soon there will be more dead leaf than plant. He is not a good gardener. But he loves plants. He has something colourful in his office and he likes that, even if most of the leaves are more brown than green.
He smiles at it fondly for another minute before considering tea. He has not considered it for long when there is an urgent knocking at his door, soft and rapid. He answers the door himself before remembering Problem Sleuth's reminder that a real detective lets his visitors let themselves in, to show how busy and important he is. Pickle Inspector always forgets that part. Otherwise he thinks he is a pretty okay detective.
He opens the door to a rare sight- something at his eye level. It is not another person's eyes, however, but the top of an extremely tall top hat. Pickle Inspector's gaze slowly travels down, passing over the stitched number and curved brim. Eventually he runs out of hat and meets eyes. They're staring up at him, through him, as if he wasn't there at all; violet shadows smudge beneath the man's eyes. He wears entirely green; green suit with long tails, shoes, spats, hat, bow-tie. His hand remains in the knocking position for a moment, frozen, before he pulls it back, clasping a white doll in both hands, tight to his chest. He is thin, his shoulders sharp and protruding. He looks as if he will shatter into a hundred pieces if he is so much as touched.
His name is Die, and it is the third time Pickle Inspector has met him.
Chapter 2: In the Months Past I
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Pickle Inspector rounds another corner in the green mansion. It seems to be nothing but thin hallways and sharp bends. He has his (keys) in hand, ready. He is not often called into action for Team Sleuth, but he has no choice but to say yes. He rounds a bend, passing a clock with its springs ripped out. He has no idea where everyone is.
He is mostly confident that he is doing his job right. He just has to go look at things. He can do that. He is on a floor full of empty rooms, and he has looked at each of them, including the linen closet in the hallway. He's in front of it now, peering at another poor clock lying on the floor with a footprint through it when there is a sort of pop of air and a slight breeze. He turns his head to see a man appear out of nowhere. He is gaunt and worried, the dark shadows under his eyes made uncomfortably bright by his vivid green tailcoat. One hand holds a white doll full of pins, and an assortment of other pins between his long fingers.
He stumbles as he falls out of nowhere, reorienting himself, and nearly loses his large top hat. He tosses anxious glances over both shoulders and starts as he notices Pickle Inspector. His gaze sneaks back to his doll, then snaps back to Pickle Inspector. They both jump at the sound of someone around the corner, and the man in green pushes a pin into the doll and vanishes.
- - -
Die: Skip a timeline where Pickle Inspector is dead.
You reach for the white pin marked "PI". Hmm. You can't seem to find it. You must have dropped it. That doesn't seem like you.
Those footsteps are getting closer.
Die: Go to somebody else's death, then.
You just have to get out of here. You stick a random pin into your voodoo doll.
It's your pin. This is a timeline where you're dead. Your body stretches out in front of you in the dark office like a shadow and a reflection at the same time. It's mangled and one of your legs is broken and you have pairs of puncture wounds all over your body. A puddle of blood pools beneath your ripped-open neck.
You just notice the pair of white shoes nearby, leading to a long pair of unfamiliar grey pantslegs, when the only other person in the room takes a step towards you with an unholy light in his eyes and a particular satisfied angle to his dark red hat.
Oh god oh god he's coming for you.
"Die," he says, a faint frightening smile clinging to his face. "Do I get the pleasure of doing this all over again?"
Escape, escape! You appear back in your own timeline. Pickle Inspector is still there and somebody's coming down the hall. That was pretty terrifying. At least you don't recognize anything else about that timeline. It doesn't look anything like yours.
= = =
In a universe Die has just vanished from, Crowbar takes a swing through nothing with his namesake. He curses, gives dead Die a kick, and stalks off to both congratulate himself and sulk. Well, it was a nice thought, anyway.
The image for Die's death can be found here (http://s3.photobucket.com/albums/y57/thephoenixweeps/?action=view¤t=Die-itsyourowndeath.png&newest=1).
Chapter 3: In the Months Past II
The air swooshes away, and swooshes right back as the man reappears. Pickle Inspector's long coat waves in the wind. The man in the green suit looks panicked. The footsteps are nearly at the corner. Pickle Inspector opens the door to the linen closet and points in. The green man looks behind him, then at Pickle Inspector, then down to his doll clenched in his spidery fingers.
He rushes into the closet. Pickle Inspector steps in and closes the door silently a moment before the footsteps enter the room. For a few moments, as the footsteps pace around the hall they just vacated, Pickle Inspector and the green man stand together in uncomfortable silence. Belatedly, he realizes that the man is obviously a member of the Felt, whose very mansion he is currently trespassing on. That would make him a dangerous criminal, and a dangerous criminal in very close quarters to Pickle Inspector. He feels a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead at the thought.
He peers out the crack in the door. In the hallway, pacing like a caged panther and wielding all manner of inappropriately illegal playing cards, is the infamous gangster Spades Slick. Pickle Inspector has seen him before, and every time was terrifying. He is rather glad to be out of Spades Slick's sight.
The gangster storms into the room right next to the closet, muttering darkly to himself. Pickle Inspector waits. Beside him, the nervous-looking Felt man shivers, and stares at the closet door. Pickle Inspector regards him curiously and with some pity. If he is a dangerous criminal, he thinks, he seems to be a dangerous criminal who doesn't enjoy what he does.
Spades Slick lets out a frustrated snarl and stalks out into the hallway. The Felt man trembles. Pickle Inspector is rather afraid himself, but the dangerous criminal seems simply pitiful. Pickle Inspector awkwardly steps in front of him, between him and the door, and puts his arms around the fellow's shoulders. The man starts, but after a second, buries his face in Pickle Inspector's chest and continues to shake silently.
They wait, and listen to Spades Slick stomping through clocks his footprints had already shown up on. After perhaps forever, he stalks down another thin angled hallway and disappears into the mansion. Pickle Inspector breathes a sigh of relief and opens the closet door, stepping into the green light and brushing his coat back into order to soothe his still-fearful mind.
He feels a whoosh of air pass him, and when he looks back, there is no-one in the linen closet.
That was the first time Pickle Inspector met Die.
Chapter 4: In the Current Time, Again
Pickle Inspector politely holds the door open for him. There is a moment of nothing, then Die looks over his shoulder, down the hall, and rushes into Pickle Inspector's office. Pickle Inspector closes the door.
Die is shaking.
Pickle Inspector puts the kettle on for tea. There is no problem an adequate amount of tea will not solve. Die stands nervously in front of Pickle Inspector's desk as the water heats, and they both watch the kettle slowly do nothing.
Eventually, it begins to steam. Around the same time, a door at the end of the hallway slams. Die seems to jump out of his skin.
Pickle Inspector begins to suspect that this is not a friendly visit for tea alone.
Chapter 5: In the Past, A Little Further Forward
"You Felt are all the same," Problem Sleuth says. "You think you're real invincible, running everything behind the scenes in the past or future. Well, you guys aren't the only fellows who know how to manipulate that stuff, and it's about time you learned it."
He is getting a real good monologue on. Pickle Inspector can feel the smug confidence radiating off him. If Problem Sleuth became any more eloquently superior, he might begin glowing green and sprouting wings. Pickle Inspector debates whether he might be safer on the other side of the bars.
The Felt behind the bars make it seem unlikely. Doze stands blank-faced, staring at a wall and holding his blue top hat in both hands. Pickle Inspector doubts he could pry the hat out of his hands with a crowbar. There is one on the table beside him, but he suspects now is not the time to try it.
Biscuits sits dejectedly on the single bunk in the cell; on second thought, Pickle Inspector suspects that his expression may just be the way he always looks. He is not sure Biscuits is quite smart enough to understand the consequences of their predicament. Matchsticks looks awfully grumpy in the back, scowling over his leader's shoulder. Crowbar is in the front, arguing with Problem Sleuth whenever Sleuth pauses to take a breath.
Die is also there, standing awkwardly in the opposite corner to Doze and looking mournfully out at his voodoo doll, sitting on the oven next to Crowbar's crowbar. He realizes Pickle Inspector is watching him and starts, then waves. Pickle Inspector waves back. Problem Sleuth gives him a sharp elbow in the side without losing his lecturing stride.
Crowbar follows Pickle Inspector's gaze (it's not like Problem Sleuth is going to stop talking any time soon), and catches Die in mid-wave. An ugly look crosses his face, and he grabs Die's wrist. Die flinches, Pickle Inspector starts, and Problem Sleuth lays into Crowbar for not paying attention to him.
- - -
Die: Try to get free.
Nope, that seems pretty unlikely. Crowbar has a death grip on your wrist and it's starting to hurt. A little like your bones are grinding together, although not quite, because you know what that feels like too. It was the other wrist last time, though.
Nobody else seems to notice except Pickle Inspector, over on the other side of the bars. He looks... concerned?
You're not really that familiar with the expression. But you understand the concept.
- - -
Unfortunately, that's when the officer walks in and brushes brusquely past the detectives. "You're free to go," he says to the Felt members as he unlocks the cell door. His expression takes on a distant look as he holds the door, staring at the ceiling. Problem Sleuth begins berating him for his collusion with known criminals and his abetting their return to corrupt activities. Crowbar stalks out of the cell to grab his crowbar, dragging Die after him. Die scrambles, in the few seconds he has, for his voodoo doll, then stumbles after Crowbar. The rest of the Felt follow. Pickle Inspector stays out of the way.
Die throws a look over his shoulder as he's pulled out of the station. Pickle Inspector waves. Die waves back, and then he is around the corner, and Pickle Inspector is waving at no-one.
And that was the second time Pickle Inspector met Die.
Chapter 6: In the Current Time, Once More
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Pickle Inspector can hear the footsteps stomping down the hall. He starts towards the door, curious and a little afraid, and Die catches his sleeve before he takes more than a few steps. He doesn't say anything, but his eyes are huge and empty and very, very frightened. For a second, it feels like they share a full conversation, held only in eyes and expressions.
His hand touches the doorknob, but does not open it.
Outside, he can hear a voice. "-not going to hide forever, Die. I know you're in here. Fin got me to the door." It's quiet and slow, but with immense tension behind it. He's just barely holding himself back. "So I know you're in here. And it'll be a lot better if you come find me, instead of the other way around."
He looks back to Die, who clings miserably to his doll and looks off to the side. Pickle Inspector peers out the window, trying to stay hidden. He is very good at this, because even though he is tall and gangly and awkward, he is very good at ogling from the shadows.
Crowbar is stalking through the hallway, practically sniffing like a bloodhound. One more look at Die's sick face, and Pickle Inspector is pushing him back across the room to the fort set up in the corner. He opens it, pushes Die inside, and as an afterthought, takes Die's hat off. He's just short enough that his head won't quite reach the space Pickle Inspector usually looks through. He hands Die the hat, and closes the door.
Then, trembling, he walks to the door.
- - -
Die: Hide in the fort.
This is a really nice fort, if a little tall for you. That's for the best right now, though. It's been a long time since you've been in a fort. You've always had a great Imagination score, though.
You'd love to play make-believe in here. But Crowbar has done just about everything to you you can possibly imagine. And you don't want to think of any more.
With some amount of horror, you realize that this was the room you went to, months ago, the first time you met Pickle Inspector. When you fled to your own death. This was the place.
Try not to breathe.
You stare at the door of the fort and wait for Crowbar to find you.
The image for Die's time in the fort can be found here (http://s3.photobucket.com/albums/y57/thephoenixweeps/?action=view¤t=Die-Wait.png).
Chapter 7: In the Current Time, For the Last Time
Pickle Inspector just touches the doorknob again when another voice is heard in the hallway.
"Oh, what the hell," comes Problem Sleuth's voice, one door down. His office door swings open and he strides out into the hall, standing perfectly beneath the light. He is wonderfully dashing. "What are you doing snooping around here, Crowbar? Not spend enough time in jail that you're going to go breaking and entering next?"
Crowbar looks up sharply and a nasty expression crosses his face. "Problem Sleuth," he says, "I should've known you'd be the one holding me up here. Always in my way."
Problem Sleuth gives him a disdainful smile, a little distorted through Pickle Inspector's window. "Listen, kiddo," he says patronizingly, "I've got way bigger fish to fry than you. My only beef is that you show up in the middle of a call and I gotta tell the dame on the other line to hold on, I've got a two-bit criminal out on my doorstep playing hide and seek, and he doesn't know it's olly-olly-oxen-free and nobody else is playing."
Crowbar looks a little baffled and a little angry, and for a moment, Pickle Inspector isn't sure which will win out. After that moment, it's clearly anger. "No, you listen," he says. "You know-it-all nothing detective, you've got no idea what you're getting into. Felt business is Felt business, and you're gonna back the hell out of it before all that Felt business gets dropped in your lap, because we're a hot potato, and you're not gonna want to be holding it when the music stops. "
Problem Sleuth laughs. "Crowbar, you poor second-rate asshole, you think I have time for Felt business? I don't care what pie you've got your incompetent thumbs in. I'm too busy dealing with real gangsters."
Oh wow, thinks Pickle Inspector, they are throwing down some truly sick hardboiled burns. This is really impressive. Problem Sleuth continues to harangue Crowbar until he starts backing down the hallway. Sleuth follows, smirking like a cheshire cat.
Pickle Inspector decides to go out to join his fearless leader. He opens the door and pokes his head out. Both of the hallway's residents glance over. Sleuth smiles, and it loses some of the aggression. "Inspector," he says. "Sorry for the disturbance. I'm just cleaning the place out. Things'll settle down shortly."
Crowbar looks back to Problem Sleuth and disregards Pickle Inspector entirely. Pickle Inspector decides that he is okay with this. Problem Sleuth harangues Crowbar down the hall and out onto the stairs.
Pickle Inspector goes back into his office.
Chapter 8: A Little Further Forward From the Current Time
Problem Sleuth checks back on his way back in. By then, Die is more comfortably ensconced, seated with his feet tucked under him on Pickle Inspector's chair. Pickle Inspector forgets to let Sleuth let himself in, and answers the door himself.
"Afternoon," Sleuth says easily through the crack in the door.
Pickle Inspector nods and smiles with bleary eyes.
"Just wanted to check up," he says. "Everything okay?"
Pickle Inspector nods.
"Great," says Problem Sleuth. "Can't let somebody like that get to you. Felt business." He snorts. "Bullshit. Guy just wants to push everybody else around." He smiles and saunters back to his own room.
Back at his desk, Die is playing with one of the brown leaves the plant shed. His holds it in long shaky fingers and turns it over and over.
Pickle Inspector smiles in a wobbly fashion and puts the entire sad plant in the garbage. After all, all he wanted in his office was something green. He hands Die a cup of tea, pulls up a second chair, and sits down beside him.
Chapter 9: At All Times
Pan out, out of an office window and into the sky. Up, up, out. The city, country, world. Space. Lotus petals. Flower. And then holding it, a mild and passive god, fondly regarding Creation.
Pan in. Tattoos, painted symbols. Robes, hung with gold. And on his lapel, a white pin labelled only PI.