LMNO-PICHAPTER 1: In the Office. Morning.
The City. Cold, grey, full of angles jutting at odd, predictable angles. A place where anarchy lays just a gunshot away from the uneasy order that has slowly taken over. Gee, I miss the suburbs.
It was a grey morning, as I groggily lifted my head from my desk. I vaguely wondered who had cracked open my brain pan & replaced it with charcoal in mid-burn, when I noticed the bottle next to me, a half-inch of amber liquid left. Right. Another night of self-pity, in the City that doesn’t care. Coming fully into painful consciousness, I grabbed the bottle & poured the rest of the cheap scotch into last night’s glass, fighting the nausea of a new day.
I leaned back in my chair, and looked out the window, at the concrete prison of Ideas that is the City. There was little traffic this morning, as most people only come to the City when they have to. Government, Inc. had proclaimed today to be a holiday for tax purposes, so the worker bees stayed in their hives, fearing to tread in the unpredictable streets.
Hearing the outer door open, I ran my fingers through my hair. Graying already, my temples turning the color of the pavement. The knock came as I straightened my tie, trying to make it look like I didn’t spend the night passed out in an alcoholic haze.
When She walked in, it was like a Krakatoa sunrise. Short red hair trained to hold the curves of her skull like it was the president of the Clara Bow fan club, and a dress to match. Legs that went for miles, all standing unsteadily on a pair of heels that could be used as weapons. What the fuck was she doing here, in this room, in this building, in this City? She was the kind of woman who threw the unfeeling vastness of the City into pure focus, just by standing there, radiating life.
“Are you LMNO?”
“Some call me that, yeah.”
“I hear you’re a dick. I need someone to be a dick for me.”
“Did I mention I’m a fan of double entendres, as well?” She smiled, a quick, no-teeth smile of condescension, but I could tell from her eyes she was holding something back. It took a lot to stand the City. We all have our armor; some of us just hide it better. “What can I do for you,” I asked.
“It’s this,” she said, tossing a playing card on my desk. I picked it up, and noticed it wasn’t a playing card, but a Tarot card. The Tower, to be exact.
She looked worried, and in that moment, it seemed like the entire Universe wanted to protect her, reassure her. “What is it?” she asked.
“Are you trying to tell me something? Dames like you don’t just walk in here and throw Tarot at me. I usually leave that to the Gypsies.”
“Someone slipped this into my box last night.”
“What did I tell you about entendres?”
“Look, LMNO—What kind of name is that, anyway?”
“My parents were librarians. They liked keeping everything lined up.”
“I… See.” She gave me a look like she wasn’t sure whether to believe me. “Well, I’ve been getting mysterious phone calls over the past few weeks, and now this. I’m frightened.”
“What kind of phone calls?”
“It’s embarrassing. I won’t tell you, unless you want to take the case.”
I thought about next month’s rent, and the dwindling case of scotch in the closet. What the hell,
I thought, at least it’ll be interesting…
“Sure, dollface, I’ll work with you. Now why don’t you tell me about it from the beginning…”
She sat down in an old, creaky wooden chair. She looked down at her hands, slender and tipped with nails like rubies.
“It all started 23 days ago,” she began. “I started getting calls on my cell phone. At first, there was this buzzing, squeaking noise, like a mouse trapped in a fax machine. I thought it was just some sort of weird atmospheric thing, but after a few times of this, I started to hear… messages… Oh, I don’t know if I can go on.”
“Relax, have a seat. Would you like some pie?”
“Sorry. Inside joke. Drink?” I grabbed a glass from a desk drawer, and wiped down the rim with my shirttail. I stood up, feeling the joints in my knees pop, and the labor union that was my lower back decided to go on strike. Wincing, I made my way gingerly to the closet, where the last lone bottle of scotch lived. I cracked the seal, & poured her a finger or two. “Now, what did these voices sound like?”
She sipped on the liquor, and made a face. “Do you have any ice?”
“What? Do you prefer crack?”
“…I’m not sure I—“
“Ice? In scotch? You dames…”
Dagger-eyed, she choked down another sip. “The voices,” she continued pointedly, “were more like muttering. Whispers. But gurgled, like they were getting over a head cold. But also distorted, like a Big Black song.”Wonders never cease
, I thought. Where did a classy broad like this find out about Big Black?
“So, what did these… eldritch… voices say?”
“I couldn’t figure it out, so I wrote it out phonetically.” She reached her delicate hand up, and teased upon the neckline of her dress, slyly slipping her fingers between the fabric and her skin, allowing not so much as a square centimeter of flesh to show, but making anyone looking believe they had seen the hills of the Holy land itself. This chick is a born tease.
Her hand withdrew from her cleavage, and between the index and middle fingers was a slip of paper. She unfolded it, and the light scent of her flesh filled the narrow and dusty office.
At that moment, the weak light bulb, not the most friendly of appliances at the best of times, decided to revolt against its electrical masters. With a flash and a pop, the office grew noticeably darker. Even with the bright morning light, the grime and soot on the office windows was reluctant to improve the optics inside the room. Startled, she took a step back, and raised her hand to her delicate ivory throat.
“Fuck,” I muttered eloquently. Reaching into my pockets, looking for a match, or a witticism, I finally produced a lighter, and used it to beat back some of the shadows encroaching on us. “It’s ok,” I said. “The wiring in this place sucks, but at least the rent doesn’t cost me a kidney.”
She smiled uneasily, then bent her head to peer at the paper in her hand. “The voices said… ‘Aye, eeyo. Kootooloo fagthan. Better check on the baby. Eevoh-hay, Pan-janitor. And that’s how I saved Christmas.’ LMNO, what does this mean
?” She quickly lifted her head, and looked into my eyes. I felt like time would stop as her green eyes locked into my blue, it felt like she was crawling up my optic nerves and into my brain, driving those perfect fingers into my cortex, twisting my brain stem around her little finger.
Grunting, I broke the eye contact, shaking my head like some beast with a nose full of porcupine quills. How did she do that?
I took the slip of paper from her, desperately hoping our fingers didn’t touch. “Let me look at that. Oh, and if I’m going to take you case, I better know what to call you.”
“You can call me Erin.”
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