September already, and quicker than expected, here's Part Six of The Cephalopocalypse! I know, right? It'll all be over by Christmas...
The earlier parts are available via INDIGO ON DEMAND using the links below:
Prologue: Early Whispers Of Christmas
Part One: Definitely Inside The Lines
Part Two: The Wisdom Of Invertebrates
Part Three: Ready To Tell The Tale
Part Four: Before I've Found My Slippers
Part Five: Under Endless Blue Skies
This is a hat-tip to my favourite movie.
The elegant office is cool in the late afternoon. The fading sun through the Venetian blinds throws horizontal stripes onto the cream wall behind me; the breeze stirs these gently.
Would you like me to close those blinds, Mister Roth? asks my company from behind his desk. Like the rest of the office furniture, the desk is mahogany, heavy, and well made.
I shake my head, No, that's fine Mister... I hesitate; I've never been good with names.
Call me Jake, interrupts the private detective. He's a handsome man in his early thirties, his hair swept back and oiled. The fast, intelligent eyes watch me, and tho he sits with practised ease, there's a coiled, explosive energy about the man. I eye his clothes appreciatively; the suit is immaculate and expensive, his necktie rich and flamboyant. His smile is warm and almost genuine.
Besides, the view is impressive. I'm not kidding.
The 1930s Los Angeles skyline is simple, and dominated by City Hall. Very different from the skyscrapered, post-millennial metropolis that stands there in my time; I've only been here a few days, and I like it.
Thank you, he says dismissively, steering me back to our discussion. You were saying about wanting us to find your friend? This… he glances at his notes, Mister Tunguska?
I nod, continuing the tale. Max and I got split up soon after arriving here. During an escape from a Chinese restaurant, in fact. I shrug, We were hungry and stopped for some food. It was only when we came to pay that we remembered that our money was no good here. So we…
How's that, Mister Roth? interrupts Jake sharply, though the smile holds its place and shape. This makes sense; if our money is no good, how will he get paid?
I give him my brightest smile. Don't worry, it was a temporary problem. We have money now. I've been back to settle up since. I recall those circumstances clearly; I still have the stitches in fact; the right thing is not always the easy thing. I reach into my pocket to retrieve a thin bundle of well-worn dollar bills. I place this on the table, careful to not be flippant. Will that cover your first few days?
The gumshoe glances at the bundle and doubles his smile.
It would be helpful to have a recent photo of Max.
I slide a sketch across the table. I don't have one, but this is a good likeness. It took me a few attempts; Max has a shaved head but wears a beard, and my efforts kept looking like he was trying to swallow a badger. I think I nailed it in the end. Jake picks it up and studies it, smiling.
It looks like he's trying to swallow a raccoon.
Yes, he gets that a lot. It's almost true, and besides, I'm fairly sure they don't get badgers here. Well, only those ghastly honey badger things, and they're not proper badgers anyway.
So, Mister Roth...
Indigo. It's my turn to interrupt; Jake grins and shrugs, as if he's decided to play along with a joke.
So, Indigo, " he asks, how is it that you and Max are in town?
I sigh and scratch my head absently. That's a much bigger story. And this is 1930-something. I'm not sure a tale of evading pursuit across dozens of Realities and eras while recruiting help to defeat an insidious network of sentient cephalopods will hold a lot of water. Enough to fill a leaky bucket, perhaps. And to be honest, the bit about Abbey's trip with Elliot and who they're looking for tests my credulity, and I'm steeped in this kind of nonsense.
I decide to lie.
Well Jake, it's like this... I begin. Across the table, the detective chuckles and holds up a hand.
Mister Roth, you seem a smart guy, if a little bit unconventional. I nod politely, accepting what I see as a compliment. I'm a pretty good judge of people, and I think you're about to tell me what I expect to hear. He waits a moment for that to settle, perhaps satisfying himself with something in my reaction. I'll be able to help you far more if you tell me everything. The whole truth. His gaze drifts to the window and the sunset skyline beyond, and his tone becomes reflective. I've seen a lot of strange things over the years here...
He returns his eyes to me, and waits for me to bite.
And I bite. I tell him everything. The CephNet, Max's transformation, the events of the past few weeks, dimensional travel, everything. Even Abbey and Elliot, and the latter's backstory.
It takes a while. To his credit, Jake listens carefully to it all, laughs - perhaps in disbelief - at a couple of points, and pours himself a drink after I'm done; I decline a silent invitation for one of the same.
There's a moment of calm in the office, and a clearness in the air; honesty at work.
Indigo, says Jake, smoothing his broad lapels absently, I believe you. It's a crazy tale, but you believe what you're telling me. So, either you're crazy, or I am for listening. That said, this broad...
I frown and cough; this is bad form.
Excuse me, says Jake, correcting his unintentionally-disrespectful slang, this lady Abbey sounds formidable. As does her companion.
What can I tell you, Jake, I grin, you’re right. And when you're right you’re right. And you’re right.
The telephone rings, a third interruption. Jake frowns, and looks apologetically my way as he takes up the receiver. He listens for a moment, slightly moving the handset from his ear; I can hear the loud frantic tone at the other end. The call ends abruptly.
Mister Roth, the strange events of your story have come to visit us, rumbles Jake, standing and moving to a tall mahogany cupboard. That was the guard in the lobby. He says he's just been attacked by... by a flying devilfish...
I frown, Devilfish? The word is familiar, but elusive.
Sorry, a local fisherman's term. Octopus.
The pennies drop into place. Ah. I stand.
Yes, it chased a rather eccentric man into the building. He was wearing a tinfoil hat and screaming for someone called Roth. Jake removes a baseball bat from the cupboard and gives it an experimental swing. He's heading upstairs now, he says quietly.
A commotion in the outer office, a flurry of thumping steps and the screams of Jake's receptionist conclude as the etched office door bursts open. A ragged and puffing man stands there, a mixture of terror and delight on his face.
It's Max, sporting a very fetching tinfoil pirate hat. Roth! he bellows cheerily as he slams the door shut. Good to see you old son, sorry to intrude, but we need to get moving. Now-ish, please. Immediately, in fact. Hello, he smiles at Jake who nods cooperatively to the window.
Fire escape's over there. Max, I presume?
Yep, we both say as we start our escape. The detective takes the roll of banknotes from the table and slips it into the pocket of his fabulous suit. There's more than a twinkle in Jake's eye now, Not at all. He removes his jacket as the arch-genius exits via the window. The secretary's screams start up again as a vast and menacing shape approaches us through the smoked glass. Dark tentacles writhe and thrash, and a high-pitched hiss emerges from what I know is a beaked mouth.
Not octopus, Jake, I mutter as I head for the window. Squid.
It's all seafood to me, he grins, as a first lock of his hair flops forward. Good luck, Roth.
Thanks Jake, take care of yourself.
The door glass shatters behind me as I slip through the window. There's no time to glance back; I descend the emergency ladder down from the platform outside the window. As I hit the next landing, I hear a defiant shout from above.
Is that the best you got, you son of the beach?! * Are you in a hurry?! roars ours champion, to the sound of breaking glass and furniture. YOU'RE CHEWING LIKE A CHINAMAN!
I offer up a kind thought for Jake; he's giving us the time we need.
[ * I think this is what he said. ]
We hit the ground and sprint off down the wide, empty road. Minutes later, Max retrieves the dimensional jumper from a trashcan; the mass of circuit-boards, blinking lights and cables is very retro, but is covered with what looks like soy sauce.
I really hope we've giving Abbey the time she needs, he says, flicking sauce away casually. I nod at this bigger picture, stepping aside to avoid the flying brown globules.
We're keeping them busy, I concede. I wonder where she is right now?
Hopefully where she needs to be. Max straightens his swashbuckler's hat and raises his eyebrows. I nod, and he pushes the button. His sentiment echoes as Realities swirl around us.
Where is Abbey?
TO BE CONTINUED
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