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 Three: Hate
Sometimes you just never know where you’re going to end up. Sometimes choices can be a real bitch. And sometimes you make the wrong one. Currently I was faced with a choice where both options were suboptimal in the extreme. On the one hand I could head down to the train yard, following a free lead from a known selfish prick who never gave away anything for free. On the other hand I could follow the mug in the doorway who was frantically motioning for me to come over there. The flames from the recent explosion down at the train yard were billowing up into the air like Marilyn Monroe’s dress over the grate, except a lot less attractive. I could already see the guards scurrying around like heavily armed ants over a mound that had recently met the business end of a sturdy boot. And I could see the mug in the doorway being impatient, his long trench coat and hat obscuring most of his features.
I glanced at my watch. It was a heavy pocket watch, engraved with some poor schmoe’s retirement message. I’d picked it up from a pawn shop. I guess retirement hadn’t gone all that well for this guy. The watch face read 11:59pm, one minute until I was supposed to meet this supposed informant that Gek had sent me to meet. Or had he? All he’d said was that I had a train to catch. Maybe he meant for me to go up in flames, roasted like a cheap scallop dredged from the ocean floor so it could become dinner for a species that only considered itself dominant because it acted like it hadn’t heard of insects.
I glared at the shadow in the doorway. Its motions were becoming more insistent, more frantic. Clearly he wanted to be out of there before the guards started their inevitable canvass of the surrounding area. I inwardly rolled my eyes and began the laborious process of getting up off the street and flinging myself into the doorway to see what the mug wanted. Once he saw me moving in his direction, he darted off and ducked through a doorway. I followed, knowing in my gut that I would regret it.
On the other side of the door was an extremely large room that was mostly empty except for a man sitting in a plain wooden chair with something furry on his lap. The mug was shedding her trench coat and hat to reveal a woman in a brilliant red dress so tight it looked like someone had bled on her. She had hair as black as der fuhrur’s soul, eyes as green as the envy in a man’s heart, and legs that went on and on and on…like a PBS pledge drive. A dame. This was about to get a lot more complicated.
The man looked up at me, his rheumy eyes clearly bloodshot even from across the room. The bundle of fur in his lap opened its eyes and stretched a long orange tabby paw, its claws raking the air. And that’s when it got a LOT more complicated.
“Good evening, detective,” the woman said. She had only the slightest trace of a German accent in that soft, lilting voice of hers. I made no reply.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re here,” she continued.
“Yeah,” I said, my eyes not leaving the cat on the old man’s lap. I wasn’t afraid. What I was was curious.
“I will come straight to business,” the woman said. “We want you.”
“Get in line,” I replied.
“You jest, but you have something my employer needs desperately.” She took a cigarette from a small table nearby and lit it, the smoke encircling her head like a halo. I couldn’t help but think that that was an accessory she would never be able to wear effectively.
“That him there?” I asked, indicating the old man.
“Of course,” she said.
“Tell him to get rid of the cat and we can talk about it.”
The woman looked puzzled for a moment, and then burst into laughter. “Detective, the cat is my employer. The man with him is just for warmth and companionship.”
“I hate those things,” I said, deciding not to mince words.
“The fact that you are not surprised tells me that you are exactly the person we need,” she purred.
“What do you need me for?” I asked, knowing I would hate the answer.
“My employer and I are of a similar mindset. We feel that, given certain technological advances recently, that humanity is on the verge of a new age. But it will be an age of bigotry and hatred, repression and segregation. We think we are so enlightened because we have integrated all races, religions, and creeds into a universal tolerance where everyone gets along. But people are inherently distrustful and are always looking for the next group to oppress to make themselves feel superior.”
“What’s this got to do with me?”
“You know perfectly well,” she snapped. “You are only the first member of the next group to be shunned and feared. You already experience it daily.”
“And what do you and your…employer intend to do about it?”
The cat yawned. The dame continued talking “We intend to follow in the footsteps of one who knew all about hatred and oppression, but got the details wrong. There isn’t a master race…but there could be. And we will create it together, the three of us. What do you say, detective? Will you join us in creating the next step in the evolutionary cycle and prevent another hundred years of violence and hatred in the process?”
I thought it over. She had a point. It was tempting. If I joined them I could forget about the poor jerk murdered in his car. Clearing my name wouldn’t matter anymore because in this scenario I’d be in charge. But could they do it? Could I do it? I had to decide – continue with the case and worry about these two stabbing me in the back, or join with them and worry about what would happen if they failed…or if they succeeded.
CHOICE: Continue with the case? Help the dame and her feline employer create a new master race?