"Yes, this is Tanzer Silverview, who the hell are you?"
"Tanzer, it's me. For god's sake. It's Scales, your business partner of several years."
"Scales! I didn't know you owned a telephone."
"Jesus Christ. Let's cut to the chase. You've got a job."
"Don't you mean we've got a job? Partner?"
"No, you've got a job. And it's not a paid job, so don't go getting your hopes up. You need to go track down Luke."
"Someone's hired us to find Luke? Who in the world would want to find Luke?"
"Nobody's hired us, he's just missing. He isn't answering calls and his landlady hasn't seen him in over a week. Says he's behind on rent."
"So what, he skipped town 'cause he ran out of money? Or maybe… stamped his own ticket?"
"I dunno, maybe. Neither of those feel like him to me. I think more likely he's just dying slowly in some horrible depressing opium den."
"Sounds about right. Someone probably ought to go and fish him out."
"Yeah, 'someone.' Someone like you."
"Why me? Why can't you do it?"
"Tanzer, I have work to do for my actual clients, and gigs, and I'm a single father. I don't have time to run around town playing hunt-the-junkie."
"I have commitments too, y'know."
"Oh, you do? Like what?"
Tanzer looks down at the half-eaten coconut macaron shedding crumbs on his comic book. "Things. Rich guy things."
Scales exhales, making the phone line crackle. "If you want to leave Luke to die, Tanzer, go on and be my guest. I don't care. We'll just hire another actual real psychic medium what can talk to ghosts and turn into a ghost and all that spooky mumbo jumbo. Those're a dime a dozen in this town, ain't they? What do we need Luke for anyway? Yeah, you forget I said anything, just relax. Go ahead and spend the weekend eating quails and fucking corgis or whatever it is you people do. Besides --"
"Alright, alright! Jesus. I'll do it just to shut you up."
"Good. And see that you do, or you'll be the one explaining to little Annie how her Uncle Luke choked on his own vomit under a bridge, or something equally traumatising for a young girl to hear. Not that Annie's delicate, she's very tough like her old man, she's seen a lot, probably too much, but still. I forgot what my point was. Just find him." Scales hangs up.
Tanzer sighs and stuffs the rest of the macaron in his mouth. Luke might very well be dead already, he thinks. A week is a long time. Then again, he might be alive. Either way, nobody else is going to bother finding out.
He puts the phone back down on the tray and gestures for the maid to take it away. Then he tosses his comic aside and heaves himself off the divan. "I won't be back for dinner," he yells, already pulling on his driving gloves as he strides towards the door.
Tanzer looks at himself in the rear view mirror. He slowly angles it down, studying his hair, his brow, lingering for a while on his stormy eyes before travelling down his nose, moustache, serious mouth, serious jawline, the serious knot of his tie.
He doesn't look like a detective the way Scales looks like a detective. He looks like detectives ought to look. He looks good. He looks just in time to see the light turn red and slam on the brakes.
He idles at the traffic light, watching extras cross the street, wondering where to start. That's the only problem; looking good doesn't solve cases by itself. You still have to go out there and talk to people you otherwise wouldn't even have to look at.
"So you haven't heard from him since then?"
"He must have taken it pretty hard."
The witness squirms away from the detective's cigar smoke. "I don't know how he took it. I'm not his psychiatrist. I'm just his -- was just his publisher."
"Publishers publish, Mister Fermor." God, that was a good line, thinks the detective. Punchy.
And the witness rises to it. "We publish science, Mister Silverview," he says, going pink. "We have always been extremely open-minded and supportive of Brightwatcher's more radical ideas, even when others would have dismissed him as a lunatic."
"Well, I'm sure that's very charitable of you."
"But we do not publish science fiction. There are plenty of pulp magazines that would be more than happy to serialise his novel, and we told him as much."
The detective feels himself start to scowl. "How do you know it wasn't all true?"
"Because I'm not a fool, Mister Silverview," the witness snaps, "and I'm not a dope-addled daydreamer. I can distinguish fantasy from reality."
"Luke may be dope-addled, but he's not a liar, and he's certainly not a novelist."
"If you're so convinced, maybe you should go and look for him on an alien planet, hmm? Or a parallel dimension?"
"Maybe I will," says the detective, shoving his chair back. "Maybe I will do that." He stubs out his cigar a little too hard and marches out of the office.
Down on the street, the detective turns up his collar, even though it's not very cold. He looks up at the sky and tries to think of what a detective would try next. Combing the opium dens one by one doesn't sound very sexy, but in the absence of other leads, it might be his best bet.
Suzanne hovers over him and wrinkles her nose. "This is not the man I married."
"Well, it's been a long time, my dear. Things change."
"When was the last time you bathed?"
"I don't know. A while ago."
"Your little friends are going to be disappointed."
"Eh, maybe. They'll manage. They never really needed me in the first place."
Suzanne sighs. "That's not true, dear."
Luke sighs right back at her. "It is. I think they just let me tag along because they felt sorry for me. They won't mind that I'm dead."
"You're not dead, Luke."
"I know, I know, but I will be."
She shakes her head. "Someone will save you."
"Not this time."
"Stop contradicting me, Luke. Someone is coming to save you as we speak."
He closes his eyes until he's sure that she's gone. Then he keeps them closed. He feels the universe beat slowly against his body, relaxes, allows it to slide through him.
Someone's coming alright, he thinks. He's too high and too cosy with death to be afraid of it. Then she'll see, when they're together again, she'll see that there was never anything keeping him here except inertia.
At least some of his work will live on. His place in history is assured as the foremost medium of his generation, if nothing else. Not as a paranormal investigator, that's for sure, not as a detective, not as an envoy to the stars. Nobody will ever know what it was really like, the things he saw, the things he did. Nobody would believe it.
Scales and Tanzer will remember, and Raleigh. Raleigh will write about him, he thinks, with a warm feeling in his chest. Raleigh will write about him and get laughed out of the room. He makes a mental note to visit Raleigh if he ends up as a ghost.
If Scales were here, Tanzer would tell him how demeaning this is and how much he hates it. Later on he'll probably say that, when he tells Annie the story. Right now, he only marvels at how the grime looks on his shoes. They were so shiny when he left his apartment this morning, and now look at them. His father would throw a fit.
It's after midnight by the time he finds Luke, passed out and drooling on a ragged mattress with two other lowlifes. Tanzer checks his pulse and gives a relieved little laugh.
Lifting Luke would be too easy even without super strength. He’s like a damp towel. Tanzer kicks away his pipe, throws him over one shoulder, feels his ribs through his shirt and gags loudly. “You need to eat something, fella,” he says, trudging out the way he came.
The funniest thing about Luke is that he still has the air of a dignified man, even though for as long as Tanzer’s known him, he’s been a junkie and not much else. His dignity is so ingrained that he manages to sell it to strangers, sometimes -- day-drunk in his vomit-stained kimono, turning up his nose at tarot cards or ruminating on life and death like a proper smart guy.
Maybe deep down he knows he’s a joke, or maybe not. Tanzer can never decide which is true, or which would be funnier.
Right now he looks like a drowned rat, folded up in a corner of his chaise longue, sipping chicken soup out of a mug. He shudders and groans. "Thank you, Tanzer."
"No problem. You'd do the same for me. Except I wouldn't need you to, of course."
"You might, someday. We all fail eventually. I was just as healthy as you, when I was your age."
"Yeah, but I'm not gonna get addicted to opium."
"My dear boy, anybody can get addicted to opium. It's not hard. In fact it's extraordinarily easy."
Tanzer laughs nervously and stands up. He wanders around Luke's apartment, picking things up and putting them down again.
Every surface is completely swallowed under diverse trash: carved figures of unfamiliar animals, straw voodoo dolls, complicated little ceramic fountains, apocryphal orreries, improbable taxidermy, boxes of pebbles and ancient coins, fossils, woodcuts, goblets, bells, dozens of bottles, hundreds of books.
Gathering dust on the desk, beside a huge old-fashioned typewriter, is the manuscript. "Don't touch that," Luke snaps, as Tanzer flicks through it.
"I just want to see what you said about me, that's all."
"It doesn't mention you specifically. It's a report on the supernatural phenomena we encountered, not a personal memoir."
"Right, right." Tanzer puts it down and wanders over to the bricked-up fireplace.
In a dusty frame on the mantelpiece is a photograph of a couple. The man looks like Luke, about fifteen years younger, or maybe only five years of a certain lifestyle. He’s not handsome, exactly, but his eyes are bright and carefree and incredibly charming. He’s got his arm around an older woman in a rumpled party dress.
"Is this your mother?"
Luke doesn't look up from his soup. "That was Suzanne."
"Oh, gosh, sorry." Tanzer puts the picture down and flounders for a moment. "She's, er… beautiful."
"No, she wasn't."
"She was brilliant," Luke slurs. "She was an architect."
"We were both brilliant. We were happy."
Tanzer walks back over to the chaise longue and sits down. He clears his throat. "You must… you must miss her very much."
"You don't have to do this, Tanzer."
"Oh, thank god." Tanzer laughs, leans back against the wall and crosses his legs. "I just thought, maybe, y'know. 'Cause you seem like you're in a bad place right now. Which is saying something, 'cause I've seen you in some bad places before, but this is a new low. No offence."
Luke snorts. "None taken, I guess."
"Are you okay? Is there anything me and Scales can do to help? Apart from snatching you out of the jaws of death, I mean."
Luke looks thoughtful. "I don't know," he says. "I suppose a case would probably help. It usually does, especially if it gets us out of the city for a bit."
"I know what you mean. At the end of the day, we're detectives, aren't we? We live to detect."
"Well, I'm an academic who does some detection on the side." Luke slumps even further in on himself. "I mean, I was. I thought I was. To be perfectly honest, I've had some setbacks in that department recently."
Tanzer nods, but doesn't say anything.
"I suppose I'm just a detective now, if you could even call me that. Scales is the only real detective out of the three of us. I don't know what that makes me."
"Oh, please. Scales doesn't even want to be a detective, he wants to be a lounge singer. You and me, we're in it for the love of it. That's the real deal."
"If you say so."
"I'll sort it out for you, Luke, I'll get us a new case. No aliens this time, I'm sick of aliens. Something with loads of ghosts, yeah? You'll like that. A haunted house, or a haunted hospital, or a haunted hotel or something."
Luke smiles reluctantly. "That does sound fun."
They sit up for a few more hours, eating biscuits and smoking and reminiscing about cases. In practice that means arguing about details they remember differently. Tanzer's pretty sure it was Luke who pushed Tayana out of that window, while Luke insists it was just a freak gust of wind. If Scales were here, they agree, he'd have a third version of events to offer.
As soon as night turns more or less to morning, Luke phones up Scales to report that he's not dead.
"There's a turn up for the books," says Scales. "I thought for sure Tanzer was gonna get into trouble trying to find you and I'd have to come bail you both out."
"Terribly sorry to disappoint, as always, but we're both fine."
"I'm glad to hear it. Good thing, too, 'cause it looks like the three of us might be in for another little road trip soon."
"Yeah, telegram came through last night. Something about a haunted house in a town upstate, or a hospital or a hotel or something."
"Could just be another headcase, but I thought it might be worth checking out. If you two don't have any important drugs to smoke or inheritances to squander, obviously."
Luke smiles tiredly. "I can safely say that neither of us has anything better to do."