August in Twin Lakes was never particularly pleasant, as far as Officer Dooley could remember. The Dog Days brought with them an inescapable heat and a humidity so oppressing that a gremlin may as well have been squeezing your rib cage. Dooley shuddered at the thought. Or maybe that was just the heatstroke setting in.
In a desperate attempt to keep himself from melting, Dooley got to the precinct early. Well… Earlier than his usual nine PM arrival. When you work the night shifts, what good does it do you to come in at four in the afternoon?
"Paperwork," would be Detective Francis McQueen's answer, but Dooley was never one to finish filling out his reports. Much to McQueen's dismay.
So Dooley sat himself in front of the lazy oscillating fan in McQueen's office. The ancient window AC unit clacked uselessly behind him. He once asked McQueen why, in all the time since Chief Scully created the Darkside Division and stuck the two of them in this long-forgotten office, the window unit hadn't been fixed.
"Because there's no windows in here, Dooley." McQueen shouted from behind a mountain of half finished paperwork.
"Then why have a window unit at all?"
"Chief says it's regulation. I told her it takes up perfectly good wall space, but then she said, 'it's regulation,' very slowly and ignored me until I left her office."
"What would you put on the wall if it wasn't there?"
McQueen peeked through a tunnel in the paper-mountain, considering the wasted wall space. "Dunno. A picture? A certificate?"
"A picture of a certificate?"
"That could be nice." And then he disappeared into the mountain again.
That was last week. The unit still hadn't been fixed or removed, but at least the elevation of Mount Paper Work had come down. It looked more like a Paper Hill now. A Paper Mesa. A Paper Dune… A clock chimed from some unseen corner of the office. Dooley craned his neck looking for the timepiece. Nothing. Must be some cursed clock from a yet-to-be-filed case, and it probably hadn't made its way to evidence lock-up. Because of the yet-to-be-filed case.
Or maybe McQueen had kept it so that he'd finally have a clock in his office. Clocks, unlike window AC units, were not regulation according to Chief Scully. Dooley leaned back in the creaking chair in front of the Detective's desk and looked at his watch. Four thirty-seven PM. Why would a clock chime at such a strange time?
"Probably cursed… For sure cursed…" Dooley mumbled to the empty room. "Wait…" he said aloud, to a still empty room. He sat up, the wooden chair squeaking its complaint.
Where was McQueen?
Mister Detective Francis "please Dooley, get here on time to help me with the case files" McQueen was never late. At least, he was always here by the time Dooley showed up around nine-ish. But now it was four thirty-eight, and no McQueen.
Or maybe he’s fallen asleep behind the Paper Plateu? Dooley shushed his chair as he got up and much to no one’s surprise, McQueen wasn’t slouched over on the other side of the desk.
“Huh…” Dooley reached a hand out and waved it around in the space just over the desk where a sleeping detective might have laid his weary brow. Much to Dooley’s surprise, no one was sleeping invisibly on the other side of the desk. That had happened once. McQueen being invisible during work. That had been a hard case to crack, what with McQueen running off in all different directions invisibly, and not telling Dooley where he’d gone. It was only when McQueen eventually circled back for an unassuming yet particularly useful item that —
A crash came from the hallway; a door slamming open and the cheap plastic blinds fluttering against the glass window. Dooley knew that sound all too well, but usually it was McQueen’s door crashing open framing a flustered Scully.
“McLame!” McKing’s voice flowed down the hall and through the half open office door like a silky smooth river of chocolate. Maybe. That’s how Dooley had heard other people in the precinct describe McKing’s voice. To him, it sounded like McKing had just been scared out of staring at his reflection in his trophies.
McKing continued to shout at McQueen, but Dooley wasn’t paying attention. He was thinking about how the other officers described McKing, and was just coming to the conclusion that McKing looked decent enough when footsteps approaching the door interrupted his train of thought.
The door creaked open. Slowly.
“There you are!” Dooley sighed in relief. Backlit by the fluorescent lights of the hallway was McQueen, trench coat and all. “You’re late, I was worried SICK!”
“Uh… Right…” McQueen mumbled the word... More like let it fall out of his mouth, like he wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. When he did finally manage to close his mouth, he grit his teeth, slowly working his jaw back and forth and back and forth and back…
“So?” Dooley put his hands on his hips.
“So…?” The detective parroted back, but dragging out the word. Back to grinding his teeth.
“So paperwork. You always want me to come in early to help with it, so let’s get to it!”
“Stop doing that, you’ll give yourself a headache.”
“Stop grinding your teeth. It’s annoying and you’ll hurt your head.” Dooley said.
“Uh… Huh." And the detective stopped. Just stopped. Weird... The heat must be getting to him.
"Are you going to sit down?" Dooley asked, motioning to McQueen's old rolling chair. "And maybe take your coat off. Aren't you melting in this heat?"
McQueen opened his mouth and a low grumbling sound bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him. He shuffled from the door frame toward his desk, still grumbling the whole way. Dooley sat back down and folded his arms across his chest. He considered McQueen a very close friend, someone he could exchange more-than-casual banter with while simultaneously complaining about their shared woes. But even close friends can get under your skin sometimes… Dooley astutely deduced. He was getting better at this "detective" thing.
"Well, huffing and puffing about it isn’t going to get it done." Dooley said indignantly. "The only way work gets done is if you put in the time to get it… Done." Is there an award for using the same word three times in one thought? Probably not. Dooley thought. He watched as McQueen flopped into his chair, arms dangling at his side. In the light of the desk lamp, Dooley could now see McQueen's face. "Whoa, uh… You okay, Francis?"
The skin on the detective's face was sickly pale, almost waxy. It was as if he'd taken a handful of that weird hair product he'd been using recently and smeared it all over his face. The stuff had been doing wonders for his hair, even if it did give off a scent that made Dooley… Uncomfortable… What is it about that smell?
"You're messing with me, right? You put in too much hair wax to stink up the office. But since it's so hot it melted down your face," Dooley said with a grin in his voice. More top-notch detective work right there. "Joke's on you! Literally! You look ridiculous!"
McQueen grumbled again.
"Better luck next time, Frank. It'll take more than some weird hair gel to get me out of your hair."
McQueen grumbled. Again.
"I know, you're right. A hair joke right there was the most obvious… I can do better and I will do better. But first," Dooley leaned forward and delicately slid one of the taller mounds of paper towards McQueen, "your joke was worse. So you get to go through the bigger pile."
"Uh…" McQueen put up a waxy hand to brace the wobbling tower that moved toward him.
"Don't complain, be glad I'm here to help at all today," he picked up two damp sheets of paper. A summary of one of their cases from a month ago… It was something about a clock, but Dooley found he was having a very hard time reading. He was trying to remember if paper could sweat. In this heat… Yes.
This dangerous line of thinking was interrupted by McQueen, who had reached over and was weakly tugging on the report. A cold sweat had broken out across his forehead. He probably doesn’t want to rip it…
"Hey, if you wanted this one you could have just asked. I'll grab another write up. I don't know where you put the clock from this report anyway. It keeps going off -- "
As if on cue, the unseen clock chimed from its hiding place in the office. McQueen sprang to his feet, Dooley looked at his watch.
"Four forty-six. Weird clock, McQueen. Really weird." But McQueen wasn't listening. He’d started ripping open his desk drawers in a panic; taking deep, ragged breaths as he moved to the row of filing cabinets dominating the far wall of his office.
“Uh… McQueen? Those, uh… Those don’t open. You know those don’t open…” But the detective wasn’t listening. Again. He was pathetically pulling on the permanently-locked cabinets, his breathing getting heavier with the effort as sweat spotted the back of his coat.
That’s just sad… Dooley let this go on for another few minutes.
“Alright. Frank. This isn’t funny anymore. Cut that out.” Dooley finally rose from his chair and the cry the poor old thing let out grabbed the detective's attention. McQueen's neck snapped completely around to glare over his shoulder at Dooley. His torso slowly followed a second later, but his legs didn't seem to get the message and stayed facing the wrong way around.
"Uh…" said Dooley, who'd never seen Frank do that before.
"Uh…" rumbled McQueen, who Dooley now suspected wasn't actually McQueen.
"Aaahhh!" came a muffled scream from somewhere down the hall.
The maybe-not-McQueen-person raised his arms towards Dooley and took a shuffling, threatening step forward. Or is it backwards? Dooley still hadn't wrapped his mind around the mechanisms of a half-twisted person when the office door crashed completely open. Backlit by the fluorescent lights of the hallway was McQueen again. This time without his trench coat and dripping real, not waxy beads of sweat from his forehead.
"Uh…!" for-sure-not-McQueen-thing turned its attention to the very real detective and took a step. And sank into the floor. No that's not right… He's…
"Melting!" McQueen practically jumped for joy. "Ha! Take that you Hair Gel… Harrier!"
"I don't think that's a thing," said Dooley without taking his eyes off of the melting carbon-copy (wax-copy?) of his friend. "Hey, McQueen? What's… That?"
"That's my hair wax."
"Uh…" wax-McQueen let out a final grumble as he continued to collapse in on himself. It left a hum in the air for another moment before he was nothing more than a silent puddle of wax and a rumpled trench coat in the middle of the floor.
"Turns out it's sentient," McQueen said as he walked to the puddle and pulled a small jar out of his pocket. "It can - apparently - assume an almost human form after continued use. So it looks like you were right."
"What?" Dooley watched as McQueen scooped as much of the wax as he could back into its container.
"About it being 'weird.' Didn't you say it made you uncomfortable?"
"Oh yeah…" Dooley absently walked over and picked up McQueen's trench coat. He shook it out as best he could, but the stubborn hair wax wouldn't budge.
"I think it was looking for something. Something that I've got here in the office. Did it say anything to you? Or do anything funny?" McQueen stood and placed the jar carefully on his desk. The rest of the goop would have to be mopped out of the carpet later.
"Not much, kinda just grumbled a lot," Dooley handed the detective his coat, "so, you know, I wasn't really suspicious of him to begin with."
"Ha. Oh man… He ruined this."
"You could get it dry cleaned?"
McQueen held the coat up. Considered it. Wax would be easier to explain to the cleaners than ectoplasm, but they all stopped taking his calls months ago…
"Nah," he shrugged and hung it on the coat rack. "Thanks for being here, who knows what that wax was up to. But you stopped it, so… Help me with the case-file?" McQueen brought out a blank report, because of course this would have to be reported.
"Sure," Dooley huffed and sat down hard in his chair. He pushed away the damp case file he'd grabbed previously and started recounting the tale of the Wax Man, with all the proper flourishes and embellishments that would surely keep the Chief entertained when she read it. After a moment he stopped.
"Wait… I only know how this case ended. Shouldn't you at least write the beginning?" Dooley slowly handed the file back. The detective looked at the file, then at Dooley, then at the jar, and then at the ceiling as if the answer somehow, miraculously was there. It wasn't.
McQueen sighed and took the file. He circled around behind his desk and disappeared behind the Paper Butte as he took his seat. Dooley proudly leaned back with his hands behind his head. Somewhere in the office, a clock struck four fifty-five.