Oh What the Hell!’ A Short Story Alan J. Fisher The man sat down at his desk, fiddling with his grey leather notebook. He was square-jawed, with blue eyes and neatly cropped black hair. He was also very worried. He looked at his notes again, stared off into the middle distance as he tried to organise something in his mind, then back at his notes again. Something was not right. Detective Max Bullion (he'd always had wondered about that name) had been on this case for years, or at least it felt that way. He was a loner and would barely even share what he’d watched on TV last night with his colleagues, let alone the details of this case but there was something going on that even his razor-sharp investigative mind - honed further by years and years of street experience – could not wrap itself around. He shook his head and rubbed the three days of growth on his large chin, his metaphors were getting clumsy these days too. The Pointless Killer, the press were calling him; he had twenty notches on his murderer’s belt so far and was sure to add more if Bullion didn’t find a way to stop him and stop him soon. It was strange though, as soon as somebody around town became in any way pointless, a little boring or humdrum in even the remotest of fashions Boom! Up the killer would pop and take out said individual in what was often a rather dramatic and excessively violent manner. Last guy had made sense at least, thought Bullion, studying his brown notebook. Wait! I could have sworn it was grey only five minutes ago…am I going crazy? Maybe he needed a brea- he stopped himself right before he uttered that evil word which meant the opposite of fix. He needed another opinion, not a euphemism for a state of disrepair. Oxblood leather notebook in his hand, he straightened his green tie and strode down the box-filled corridor to where he’d find the bearer of said opinion. Special Agent Mulally. Mulally was a pale, red-haired Irishman who looked nervous all of the time. He was seconded to the SCD (Serial Crimes Division), which Bullion headed, from the FBI and seemed like the feebies were in no hurry to get him back; he’d been here for something close to ten years, always down here in Records. Mulally seemed to live in these boxes of files and photographs, or at least he was incredibly familiar with them. Bullion could casually mention a case or individual and Mulally would fall into a moment or two of deep thought. After this moment or few, he would immediately exclaim something highly pretentious and disappear into the deepest depths of his box jungle, be heard cursing and fighting paper for a few moments, only to emerge with the key piece of evidence held triumphantly in his hands. Mulally looked harassed and hangdog as usual as he remained oblivious to Bullion’s ten-minute knock fest and had to be yelled at from three feet away as usual. Bullion wondered whether the man even slept. He reminded Bullion of that lethargic bloodhound from the cartoon, his curious patch of auburn hair was even more dishevelled today than usual and his small glasses perched too far forward of his thin nose. “Oh! Detective Bullion!” Mulally’s every statement sounded like an exclamation of surprise. “I’m sorry I have been so busy! Busy, busy, busy!” Bullion rolled his eyes and took a calming breath. “I need your genius Mulally, this Pointless Killer case…” “Oh? The rapist you mean?” He bustled around with a mess of papers. “Number twenty-one? The one who got hung up by what normally hangs down?” “Yes him. Got what he deserved that one!” Bullion grinned, eying the hyperactive man. Just watching Mulally made one feel exhausted. “I’m trying to find a pattern and I just….I just…damnit all Mulally…I can’t find a damn pattern!” “Yes! Yes, yes! Pattern! Pattern!” Mulally effused. “Pattern? There isn’t one! I know! That’s why we called him The Pointless Killer! Who came up with that anyway?” Bullion shrugged and consulted his sage green notebook for a moment, feeling a strange sensation of discontinuity. I am going nuts! Next thing, I’ll be thinking this lovely blue tie of mine was green earlier on or something! He came up with nothing. Just an entry for Killer, Pointless but no explanation as to why he’d called them that. There was a big list of the deaths, the circumstances thereof and his observations but nothing more. “Some of the deaths just seen so….so” He made a searching gesture with his hands. “Pointless! I mean, it’s like he wants us to notice some of them! Like he does it for drama or something!” “Yes! Yes! Drama!” Mulally was making Bullion want to have a drink, although the hard-boiled detective had been on the wagon for close to ten years now. “What do you need?” “Some of your magic, something which will give us an idea of what’s going on here.” Bullion muttered. “In the worst of chaos there is always a pattern, it’s just knowing how to find it!” “Yes! Yes! Yes! Give me five minutes, Detective!” Mulally turned in mid-panicky retreat. “There’s bound to be something in here somewhere!” Bullion smiled and sat down to review his notes. Of course there would be, there always was. Bullion woke later that night in a cold sweat, shivers coursing down his spine and his heart pounding like the drum of a speed addict. His dream had been weird and that was being generous. He’d seen himself in a dark room, following The Pointless Killer’s trail to an old abandoned warehouse on the East side by the docks (why did they always hide out in places like that?), he had his gun in his hand and had been following a strange like and sound. He had been sure he’d heard voices, men’s voices, talking about him…about how they’d kill him…that he was becoming difficult and annoying. That readers were considering him too much of a stereotype and that maybe it was time to finish the series off on a high note before fans lost interest. Maybe rework him out as someone new in a different series? What did they mean by readers? Talking about books and series…he checked his bedside table in the half light of the passing elevated trains which thundered by, making his rickety apartment tremble and shake. No drink or bottle there. He never did drugs, unless one counted the odd cigar. He’d never had a dream like that one before but it made him feel curiously frightened and uncomfortable. He was a practical man and had no time for strange superstitions like dreams having meaning or being visions from some other realm or something! Dreams are just dreams! The brain doing a re-file during the night! He had to admit that this night-time fact fixing had helped him solve some of his toughest cases but that was just his brain doing its thing undisturbed while his body was resting, nothing magical. This was nothing like that…He mused, looking for the cigar he knew he didn’t have, the stores wouldn’t be opening for another three hours or so. Odd! That half bottle of whiskey definitely wasn’t there earlier…. Bullion sat at his desk reviewing the files that Mulally had magically produced from his kingdom of boxes towards the end of the day yesterday. Things had started to get weird since last night. He started doing strange things and thinking odd thoughts. At times he was sure he’d had a drink of something but could remember neither buying nor taking a slug of any form of alcohol… Ten years ago he’d been a drinker, he’d done all the usual stuff; woke up in the gutter or inside one of his own jailhouse’s cells, had blackouts, did things he should have been ashamed of at the time and was now. It had almost gotten him killed when he’d had to pursue a murderer while still half cut and bent his Bentley around a big lamp-post one night. He’d had a talk with the doctor who’d saved his life and decided that the old and bespectacled man had a point; it was the drink or him. So he’d joined the AA, took his Twelve Steps and hopped onto the wagon. He’d been there ever since. He would be lying if he said there hadn’t been times he’d sat too close to the edge of that wagon and almost fell off but he never dismounted. His iron determination to stay alive and be a good father to his daughter – she was fifteen now and a handful, her mother still refused to speak to him – by sticking around a lot longer than he would have. He would always be an alcoholic but he’d never take even a sip of liquor again! So why these odd thoughts? It’s like something was trying to take him backwards and back to the Bullion he used to be, not this safer and steadier older man he’d become. He liked being steadier and safer, maybe not older so much but nothing to be done about that! Mulally had actually ventured out of his cave and was stood nervously beside Bullion’s desk. His eyes were twitching and jerking around like he was watching every shadow, afraid something would jump out and bite him. He was sweating and rubbing his arms and chest impulsively, looking to all intents and purposes like a junkie in need of his fix. Right down to his patch of hair being darkly plastered to his funny little head. He fiddled with his glasses and folded himself into the chair Bullion offered to him. “Try not to die in front of me and make me investigate a murder without your skills will you?” Bullion joked. Mulally reacted as if the Detective had pulled his S&W special out and stuck it into his mouth. He actually yelped and retreated down into the chair as if he were trying to imitate a startled turtle. “I had a dream last night!” He almost whispered. “We all dream Mulally.” Bullion smiled in what he thought was a reassuring manner, he always felt he lacked what people called empathy these days, couldn’t really adapt to the feelings of others or recognise them. “Part of our human condition, isn’t it? I dreamed last night too.” “That…that…that…t-t-that p-p-people were talking about killing you?” Bullion’s hand stopped half way to conveying his much chipped coffee mug to his mouth so quickly that he slopped some of the foul brew onto his pants with a curse. At least it had been cold. “What did you say?” His voice was quiet, almost as if the words were afraid to come out. “I…I...I w-w-was in my…you know the place I work in?” He stammered out his story. “Late at night? I was alone but th-th-that’s nothing u-u-unusual!” He accepted a tepid cup of coffee from Bullion’s desk-side brewer with thanks and took a shaky sip or two to calm himself before resuming. “I heard voices Mack, voices back where I always find the files you need, what I call my magic area. They were talking about me.” He took a few more delicate sips of coffee, grimacing at the bitterness but glad of the distraction. “Saying I was getting too predictable. That it’s always the same; you get a case, you can’t solve it, you run around roughing people up until you get annoyed and think about drinking again - one of them muttering something like ‘He was much more interesting when he drank’ or something then, by the way – then you come to me and then, after a suitable period for you to check through your notebook and link some facts you’d missed together, I emerge triumphantly with the very thing you need! No-one knows how I find it, how it got there or when the FBI is going to take me back to Quantico. Getting much too predictable, they said, needs to change or finish it off, end the series and kill him in an exciting way! Last case kills them both but they take their biggest case to hell with them!” Bullion’s mouth could not have been open wider if he had been a snake and not a man. He was sure that if he looked down, he’d see his finely chiselled chin on the floor. He just stared right and through at Mulally. His expression shifted and flickered like one of those old slide projectors he used to employ when victoriously presenting his evidence to the Chief, who’d doubted him all along right up until Bullion had his man and proved it all to his boss as modestly as he could manage, which was not at all. Smug is not modest but he’d never cared. Amazement, eyes wide and mouth wide. Shock, mouth and eyes wider. Fear, eyes narrowed and mouth tight, lips a bloodless white. Suspicion, fairly similar to the former but eyes moving around, side to side. What-the-hell, eyebrows raised then relaxed, mouth and face bland. “Well doesn’t that just pluck the chicken and boil it!” He exclaimed what had become one of his signature phrases around the Department. He looked Mulally in the eye for a full minute before speaking. “Feel up to venturing outside? The sun’s up and I'm worried about you exploding into flame or something.” Mulally said nothing but made his haha very funny face and nodded. Braggadocios Ice-cream Parlour was a blast from the past. It has been discussed, by some on Don Braggadocio’s younger nephews, that changing the name to Gelateria would bring things nicely up to date but the old man would hear none of that. People came here for ice-cream and milkshakes and that’s what they’d get, none of that fancy-schmantzy hip rubbish! Old man Braggadocio was sat where he always sat, same avuncular smile on his wrinkled face around his moustache. He welcomed Bullion and Mulally in and took their order for milkshakes, scribbling Mulally’s Super-Schlooper-Sundae onto his pad with one of his understated eyebrow raises. He repeated their order back to them; despite having been in America for close to four decades, his accent appeared to get thicker with each passing year. Odd that thought Bullion to himself. I’m observing a lot more than I used to, being critical almost…. His blue imitation leather notebook was of his favourite booth together with the heavy envelope Mulally had brought along. They waited silently until the pretty young waitress, one of Braggadocio’s nieces Bullion believed, had finished setting down their milkshakes, Mulally’s sundae and wishing them a much more pleasant day than they were sure they were going to have. “What we talk about now is going to go no further than the two of us, Mulally, are we clear?” Mulally, his mouth full of ice-cream simply nodded. “So, let me get this clear, you had exactly the same dream like I did. You dreamed about some people discussing killing you off and our cases being just way too predictable.” He consulted his notes, tapping them with his much-chewed pen. “And I quote ‘Bullion the drunk was much more entertaining and popular’, among other things?” “Yes!” Said Mulally, pink milk-shake moustache in clear evidence. Bullion made gesture, circling his mouth with a finger. Mulally nodded and removed his moustache with a napkin. “Same dream I had, without the poor reviews on my personality changes.” He added simply, taking a large suck on his straw, savouring the vanilla sweetness of his milkshake. “Same dream, same night, same content. Odd.” Mulally nodded and spent a moment demolishing his sundae. Bullion left him to it, knowing his old friend was thinking. Watching Mulally eat was always a surprising thing, the thin man could eat in a way which any fat man would be proud of. Bullion had no idea where all that food went! He put his spoon down and reached for the envelope, opening it with the flat end of the spoon. “I know you don’t believe in coincidence, Mack” He said through chilled lips. “But I managed to find a big one.” He produced a battered paperback and showed Bullion the cover. Mack Gold, Detective. It said. The Case of the Wandering Cat-Stealer. Underneath there was a name he did not recognise emblazoned on a dramatic scene of feline theft. “So you’re a crime-solver who likes cheap crime novels.” Bullion smiled. “Possibly shameful but not earth-shattering. How is this relevant –“ “I marked you some of the pages you should read, Mack.” Mulally had never cut him off before, Bullion blinked in surprise. “Never wondered why I started calling you Mack and not Max?” “Always thought it was a speech impediment or something.” “Please,” Mulally stirred his ice-cream soup with the spoon and considered eating it. “Read the pages I marked." He ordered coffees for them as Bullion raised his eyebrow and opened the battered little book. The coffees arrived and were consumed with Bullion barely noticing. Mulally ordered another round and these went the same way as the first. Still he did not lift his head from the pages. Four hours later, coffee stone cold and the sun having long dipped below the horizon, he looked up and took a mouthful of stale coffee. “Well that's just shit in the cookie jar....” Was all he could say. It was late now and the Department was quiet and almost empty. Everyone knew they worked there so none barred their entry. Bullion checked his watch but realised he wasn’t wearing one. The two retired to Mulally’s cave where the file hoarder had hidden a very special bottle he’d been saving; an original and unopened Rogerbucks cinnamon and apple coffee syrup! Oh! We really are rolling out the barrel tonight! Mulally was on the wagon too so pleasures had to be substituted and Rogerbucks was the best there was. “Tell me you have some of their triple roasted Hawava Bean roast in here too…” “Whole beans,” He tossed the bag onto the littered desk. “And burr grinder right here,” He indicated the compact little electrical device. “Best drip filter maker on the market right under the desk.” “Why did I never find out all of this about you before Mulally?” Bullion shook his head. “Jeez I don’t even know your first name!” “Patrick,” Mulally said, emptying beans into the grinder and plugging it in. He adjusted the dial to correct coarseness and switched it on, so Bullion’s reply was lost to us all. Of course it had to be Patrick! He mused as Mulally busied himself with water, filter and emptying the ground beans inside. Within moments, the bewitching scent which only fresh coffee can create replaced the old-paper musty smells of the place. Bullion almost forgot what they had learned that afternoon. Patient as he had always been he waited for the coffee to brew. Give Mulally his moment; it was probably going to be close to their last anyway. He let Patrick (how strange to even think of him by his first name) add syrup to the coffee with great ceremony and then, after quite the affected pause produce a device. “Le Pièce de resistance!” He announced in the tone of voice Bullion would have expected someone to use when presenting Excalibur. Not in French though, he was sure that hadn’t been invented back then. He held up a small box with a rod attached, it looked like an egg whisker but he knew it was not. “To puccino the cap!” He offered the device to Bulllion who thought what the hell and frothed his coffee up like a pro. As weird as this all was, nothing could top the reason they were still here. “So tell me again.” Bullion said with a rather decent cappuccino moustache gracing his top lip. “What the hell all of this means.” He took another sip. “This is incredible by the way; I have to say you surprise me.” Mulally took the compliment with a modest smile and took a few sips himself. “I have some amaretto biscuits in her somewhere you know.” “I wouldn’t say no, buddy.” As Bullion munched on his almond cookie and slurping his sweet coffee, Mulally explained. “You remember that movie from years ago? Had that rather unexpressive actor fellow in it. Wore a lot of black, sunglasses and did all kinds of mind-bending kung-fu stuff?” Bullion had never noticed that Mulally was actually Irish and spoke with the accent, not some fake 6h generation pretend Irish guy who sounded like everyone else. “Are you trying to tell me we’re living inside a computer game or something equally odd?” “Don’t you find how out of character we’ve both gotten over the course of the afternoon a little bit odd?” This interrupting Mulally was certainly different . “That book I gave you at least slightly in-bloody-sane?” “Out of character?” Bullion sipped more coffee. “Here you are acting like you’re relaxed and off duty for – what? – the first time in your life right? Usually it’s one case after another, one high tension chase, shootout, argument with the Chief, dark chats with me; problem solving, puzzle piecing, edge of the seat, non-stop unlikely buddy action, right? I’m surprised they never made a film. I want Ed Byrne to play me; he’s a craic and would do a perfect Paddy Mulally!” Bullion looked into his coffee cup and sniffed it. Apart from caffeine and an awful lot of sugar there was nothing harmful he was able to detect with his finely honed detective senses. “I think De Niro could pull off a great version of you, although he looks nothing like you.” Bullion checked his coffee again, just to be sure and decided that if Mulally was the killer and had poisoned him after executing his highly elaborate fiction, he was dead already so he might as well enjoy it. “We’re relaxed and off duty because He’s asleep.” Now Bullion was sure there was something illegal in these mugs and set his down deliberately. “Listen Pat, mind if I call you Pat? No? Good. Well; the book, I admit, is more than slightly strange, no idea how that could’ve been done. The fact we had the same dream.” He was counting off on his fingers. “That so many odd and frankly out of place things have been happening recently, things I cannot explain. That I have started to have some frightening thoughts. The fact that every case seems to follow the same formula, just like in the book…” He saw he was running out of fingers. “Shit, that’s too many fingers! Ok, just tell me.” “He is the writer of this,” He flourished the novel he has shown Bullion earlier. “Except not this version of it. In a blazing stroke of hubris he created the alternate versions of his books inside of our universe, the one he created, as a nod to his own ego and to give the readers a chuckle.” He took a slug of coffee concoction and sucked his teeth; Bullion noticed the silly little glasses were gone. “See I was on the internet earlier and I looked up this here fella’s name. The webpage I found told me your man’s in a coma after a car accident. Or he was. He woke up this afternoon, to general celebration among his fans, of which there are still hundreds. Thing is, before he had his wee misfortune, he was talking about scratching his popular Mack Gold series because he was tired and his fans were dwindling. All this new crime fiction coming along was more interesting, modern and engaging. No-one wanted the episodic crap anymore. Then, after he wakes up following a three month kip and sees how popular all these team-based detective shows have become he hits on a masterstroke. Kill off me and thee and have this super-duper, glamorous and loveable investigative team of fellows get spring-boarded into the spotlight by investigating, connecting and solving our murders. At least characters in this thing,” He flicked the cover of Mack Gold. “Who, you will admit, bear a remarkable resemblance to our good selves right?” “Right.” Was all Bullion could say. He was tired and had enjoyed this day of freedom like nothing he could remember ever enjoying before. Not even that brief and ultimately disastrous relationship he’d had a few years ago, back when it was good, could compare. “See, your man’s been writing about the two of us for - what? – close to fifteen years now? Something like fifty books he’s written about us in this time. Got to know us pretty well and gave us plenty of space in his brain to live in. Bet he swears blind we write ourselves when he does interviews on the telly and everything. Because we do! We’ve been doing it while he took his long nap. At first we were following out our roles but limited by the fact that we’re us and, you know….it’s like complicated, how do you write yourself thinking you’re real. Which you are, pretty much but not in the way you thought you were.“ He popped an amaretto not his mouth and crunched it up, giving Bullion time to make sense if tgat last sentence. “Today, the oddness got so great that we both decided to just be the us we always thought we were.” “So we’re in a book?” “Whole series of them. Fifty ‘adventures’ I think, last count. I think we should get a TV program if this arse does kill us off.” “We’re made up people in some nutcase’s head?” “That sums it up yes. Just a very wealthy and successful nutcase whose talent is appreciated by so many.” “Well bugger me…” “No thank you, Mack, if it’s all the same to you.” Mulally winked. “Despite reams of unbelievably awful fan-fiction to that effect we never – ahem – did the deed and never shall for you, sir, are not my type, not even the right gender there fella.” Bullion opened his mouth and closed it again. Too shell-shocked to even get angry. He just sighed and made himself another drink. Hardly the staple of the hard-boiled Detectives now was it? Tastes incredible though so screw those guys; when you ditch one obsession, you usually have to find another to replace and and he knew that there were worse things than coffee…De Niro? De Niro could do me justice alright…Need an actor of his presence and scope to take in all of my complexities….Wait, wait, WAIT! Was he accepting all of this…well what other explanation was there? “So what do we do?” His voice sounded like that of a lost child suddenly, powerfully afraid. “What can we do? Enjoy this time and hope your man decides to keep us on, not murder us creatively. Maybe pray for that TV series and film, or films. Maybe someone else will rent us space in their head and pick the series up or revamp it?” He shrugged sadly. “Not like we have anywhere to go is it?” He sipped his coffee. "I’m well enough stocked in this to keep us going for a while at least. I plan not to miss a single minute of this and waste not one on sleep, just in case. What do you say? Ya with me?” Bullion considered this for a moment, finding no arguments against the Irishman’s reasoning. He sipped his coffee and munched his biscuits, enjoying the contentment. “So we solved the Pointless Killer case then!” He smiled and saluted with his mug, it had a cat wearing socks on it. “We did at that! Shame it’ll never make a book though, might be a bit high brow for his usual crowd of readers.” “Wait!” He seized Mulally by the arm urgently. “Say that last part again.” Mulally looked confused and a bit irritated at being man-handled in this way. “Might be a bit high brow for his usual crowd?” “That’s It! That, my genius of a coffee-master of a friend is IT!” “What is what?” Mulally blinked like a startled mole. “Oh thanks for the coffee bit, I try, like but never get to share with anyone usually and –“ “We can, sort of do what your said writers claim their characters do with this guy right?” “What write ourselves? But we have been –“ “Influence him! Have him promote us into one of these high-brow, high-tech special investigation teams everyone loves and all the hilarity that would create. Us old-fashioned, hard-boiled traditionalists mixing up with these fancy-schmantzy new-fangled folks!” “Comedy gold…" Mulally breathed. "Well you are a clever fe-" The black of heavy mug meeting in salute and slopping some frothy coffee on floor, conveniently kept his comment both family friendly and somewhat amusing. “Let’s do it!” Bullion announced. “But how –“ “Let’s figure it out, eh, good old mate of mine!” They sat up the rest of the night drinking sugar-laced coffee concoctions and munching down almonds and more sugar. They talked about old times, old cases and how they’d make a future happen, though neither of them had any idea where to start but oh what the hell what did they have to lose?