Naked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!
Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.
We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!
Episode One: Obsession
Life is full of choices, choices that determine where you end up in life. Currently my choices had me in an office, leaning against a wall, while a man who had to be at least 300 pounds of pure muscle loomed over me. I felt instinctively that I had made a few wrong choices somewhere along the line. Like going into the PI business to start with.
It all started yesterday when I woke up in a gutter, the rain backing up behind me as if I were the Hoover Dam. I ached. If my bones could break, they’d be good for toothpicks about now. Someone had worked me over pretty good, and I had a briny taste in my mouth as if someone had been trying to give me a message at the bottom of a saltwater dunk tank. Which was weird, because how’d they know I like salt in my water?
I pushed myself up and wondered when my head was going to stop hurting, when I realized that part of the problem was that some damn fool was blowing the horn on his car. I groped around for my hat, but it looked like someone had stolen it. At least I still had my coat. It was beige, but the label it had when I bought it said “wheat”. The sound of the horn wrapped itself around my brain and squeezed.
Lurching to my feet, I staggered over to the car to see what this guy thought he was going to accomplish with his dissonant New Age concert imitation. Blowing your horn in traffic around here was like building a signal fire in a volcano. And then I saw the guy and realized that he would never be accomplishing anything unless his goal in life was to help the grass grow.
He was slumped over the steering wheel, blood running down into the seat in a river that rivaled the river of rainwater I’d woken up in. His eyes gaped open, his jaw sagged, and he had bite marks on his neck. Ragged, flesh-tearing bite marks, leaving a grotesque, deep hole.
Great. Just great.
I ran away as fast as I could. I needed answers and I knew several places I could start, but I could only pick one. Starting with Betty was always pleasant, but usually time consuming. Huck often had good information, but you had to find him first. That left Gek.
Gek was one of those funny kids who always seemed to know everything. He pretty much did only two things: read and exercise. He’d decided at an early age that improving your mind and body were the only two activities in life worth doing, and he’d done them both to an extreme that made Jekyll and Hyde look like identical twins.
He didn’t want money or favors, he wanted information. Obscure, useless trivia was his favorite. You could tell him what time it was and he’d tell you the date, but tell him that Simon Bolivar triumphed over Spain in the Battle of Boyaca on August 7, 1819 and he’d tell you your secret admirer’s name, address, phone number, and your choice of a list of turn-ons or escape routes. I wondered what I’d have to tell him to get what I needed and I suddenly realized I knew too much already.
I pulled the collar of my “wheat” coat up a little higher to ward off the rain, which helped about as much as putting up an umbrella under Niagara Falls. I was going to get the bastard that stole my hat if it was the last thing I ever did.
When I arrived at Gek’s place about twenty minutes later, he was sitting behind a large mahogany desk that had been polished to a brilliant finish reading a book. He didn’t bother to look up at me. I cleared my throat.
“I know you’re here,” Gek said in a smooth, deep voice. Despite that acknowledgement he still didn’t look up and continued poring over his book. After about fifteen minutes he opened a drawer in the desk, took out a leather bookmark, placed it carefully in the book and closed it.
He regarded me impassively. “Now,” he said, finally, “what can you do for me?”
I licked my lips nervously. “I’m here about a guy in a car,” I eventually managed.
“He’s dead,” Gek said, “But you already knew that, so you can just tell me what time it is now.”
“It’s ten minutes after 10:00PM.” I said, checking my watch and cursing my luck. I was hoping he hadn’t heard yet. Someday I was going to figure out how he did it.
“I’m glad you’re here, actually,” he said, unexpectedly cutting to the chase. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. A little detail I’ve had some trouble unearthing.” He got up from his desk. And that was how I ended up with this behemoth hovering over me like the goddamned Hindenburg.
“I know what you want to know, Gek,” I said. “But I can’t tell you. I can’t tell anybody.”
“Then we have a problem.”
I considered my options. The future loomed over me just as Gek was looming over me now. Considering where I suspected this case was going to go, I’d be able to spill the beans on the whole thing very soon. But I needed to know something about the guy in the car right now. Gek stopped moving towards me and looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he turned, went back to his desk, sat down, and opened his book.
“You have a train to catch,” he said. “It’s pulling into the yard at midnight. I suggest you be there.”
Nice. Nice and vague. And suspicious. Gek never gave away good information for free.
CHOICE: go to the train yard? Try another informant?