The body hanging from the ceiling, with its feet just brushing the back of the tipped-over chair, looked like a pendulum ready to start keeping time. As the two cops gathered it up in their arms, prior to cutting it down to determine cause of death (neck stretched beyond capabilities of bones to withstand maybe?) watching from the doorway I realized that I wasn't even that surprised.
There are some cases you take on that you know will either end in a room like this one, with its chipped paint, iron bed and cheap mattress, sink in the corner that spews out rusty water, and that tipped-over chair, or a back alley. They have the stink of futility rising from them in much the same way the beach smells these days at low tide.
There aren't many private dicks that search for missing muses anymore. It was always pretty much a specialty niche anyway, and for someone to show up at my door they're going to have be pretty desperate. The guy dancing the corpse Congo with the cops right now hadn't been any sort of exception. The look in his beady little eyes, as they swivelled behind his glasses checking out the room, spoke of too many hours staring at blank pages.
It had been one of those days in July where the world has stopped breathing, and no matter how high you have the fan going the air remained stagnant. Smoke from cigarettes smoked hours ago gathered at the ceiling and hung over my desk like a storm cloud. Even if I could have opened the window in the office (some bright spark had painted it shut), the smell of exhaust fumes would have just compounded the issue further.
The rap on the door had been as close to inaudible as possible while still staying on this side of existence. In reply to my "Enter" the door was eased open a crack and he slid into the room. From across the office he was an unremarkable-looking; he nothing really distinguished him from the next guy. His clothes were okay, but they had that rumpled look that only sleeping in them for three days and not changing anything could cause.
It wasn't until he had sat down in the chair opposite me that I noticed his eyes. Aside from them being in constant motion as mentioned before, they had the haunted look of someone who had suffered a great loss. I took a cigarette out of my case and began tapping its end prior to lighting up and increasing the chances of a nicotine shower descending from overhead.
"What can I do for you pal?" Not very original but effective none the less in getting the client to answer – the more hard-boiled they think you are the better. Two years of method acting classes had taught me enough to carry it off. To complete the picture for him I grabbed a wooden match from its container on the desk and struck it off the sole of the foot that crossed over the left leg.
"Do your really look for lost muses, like your add says?" He obviously wasn't used to talking to people, as it took him three attempts to force out the words, accompanied by much throat clearing. Taking a second closer look at him I saw that although his face was ashen with worry, it was obvious that it wasn't much paler than normal. This guy didn't see the light of day or consort with his fellow humans all that much.
I uncrossed my legs and turned in my chair so that we were facing each other directly across the desk. The clients always like a little eye contact when they're just starting out with you; it makes them feel that little bit less of a stranger.
"I've been known to track down missing muses on occasion. I take it yours has gone missing?"
"Gone missing? Gone missing? More like deserted me at the worst possible time." There was an edge of something akin to hysteria in his voice as he answered. That should have set off alarm bells but I'd seen so many almost identical types come through the door that it wasn't until after the fact that I picked up the clues to his desperation.
He had obviously thought she had been his only companion and with her gone not only was his work down the toilet, but he was alone. I don't know if things would have ended differently if somebody had begun this investigation earlier but without her his life was obviously a living hell.
"Two weeks ago, I sat down to begin a sequel to my first book and I ended up just sitting for three hours. I didn't write down a thing. I sat and sat and nothing, do you understand nothing, came. Not a thought, not an idea, not even a picture of where it was all supposed to be taking place would come to me."
He leaned over the desk, and quickly; making sure that we were really alone he continued. "It's been the same every day since; I don't know how much longer I can keep going. My agent and my publisher are phoning on alternate days and they're really putting the screws to me. I was supposed to have the first three chapters finished today, and I have nothing."
He was trembling so bad I though he was going to cry. If we didn't get down to particulars soon he was going to be useless. "All right. I know what happens when a muse leaves you dried-up and shrivelled like a prune; you're not the only author that's wandered through that door you know. A little piece of free advice though: don't ever think your agent is on your side, cause he ain't. He's out to get whatever he can out of you for himself. When he signs you with a publisher, he gets his cut up front off the top of what you're getting but then he has to deliver a book from you that's as good as he said it was going to be.
"What I'm saying here is, don't trust your agent to have your best interest at heart once you've signed up. He's now working for the publisher. You have to learn to tell them it will be ready when it's ready"
"But I don't know if I'll ever finish unless you can help me. Can you help me find her, my muse I mean?"
"That's what I do. Now I'll need to know what the project is that you're working on, and of course who your muse is and what she looks like. Or at the very least I need you to think real hard about what she looks like so that I can get a good idea of who or what it is I'm looking for."
He sat opposite the desk from me, staring open-mouthed for a second. Then very slowly he stood up and began to back away from me. "Why do you want to know what I'm working on – huh tell me that? What's that got to do with anything? What are you going to do with this information?"
"Don't think I don't know who you are just because you hide here in this office pretending to be an investigator when you're really a writer too. I've seen your face on enough dust jackets to remember now. If I told you what my novel is about the next thing I'd know is you'd have published it."
He was almost at the door by the time he finished, and he was reaching out for the door handle when I stopped him with one more question. "Why do you think I opened this detective agency?"
He looked back at me, still angry, and said "So you try and milk people for their ideas and not have to come up with any on your own."
"That's the problem when you make accusations without knowing the facts. The facts are that I lost my muse ten years ago and I opened this place as a means to try and find her. I haven't had any luck yet but I'm still looking. I figured since I was looking for mine, the least I can do is do the same for others and make a little money as well."
He stood staring at me with one hand on the door handle during the time I was speaking. When I finished he just stared at me in horror, mouthed "ten years", then he pulled the door open and was gone.
I sighed as I ground out my cigarette and wondered how long it would be before I got the phone call about this one. So many take it real hard when they find out that what they thought was a muse wasn't, and on top of that how long it takes to hunt for a muse. You see they've mistaken a spurt of inspiration that carried them through a book, maybe two, as a muse, stupid fools. That's like mistaking a chippie who rents a room by the hour with a call girl who comes to a permanent arrangement.
Of course you can't secure a muse for any amount of cash, and panicked searching is just going to scare her away. First it's gotta be a long respectful courtship – no wham bam thank you mam for her. Hey, she's not gonna' invest a lot of time and money in just any yahoo; yer gonna' have to earn it.
Which means work, sitting behind a typewriter or at a computer terminal and click clicking away at them keys until you're fingers bleed and you get calluses on the blisters; and you've gone through that carpal tunnel and back again so many times your wrists are permanent puff balls. You start showing that kind of dedication to what you do, and she might just decide to cast an eye in your direction. Once you got her attention you're pretty much set as long as you show yourself willing to keep working. Unless of course you happen to piss her off somehow, and the less said about that the better. Cause you never know when her eye is going to turn your way and you don't want to be talking about her in a negative light just at the moment she's looking over.
Hunting a muse isn't like hunting anything else, ’cause you don't go out after her. Running around like a hophead is only going to bore her and keep the eye averted. Your best bet for luring and enticing her is to sit still and focus just on what you're supposed to be doing.
When the phone rang about a half hour after the last fella had left, I knew what it was going to be, except for the means and the address. After all my years in the business you get a feeling about this. I've ended up standing in this and many other doorways and alleys watching the demise of another poor sod who thought there was someone out there just waiting to feed him so he could grow fat off art.
I turned my back as they finished cutting him down, struck a match off the door jam, carefully pocketing the match so I wouldn't pollute the scene of the crime, and after nodding to the sergeant on duty, left. It was time to go sit at my typewriter and see who else might show up today.