John the Baptiste

Peep my words

The Detective and his Double

The finished item.

The Detective and his Double.

Advertisements

Episode 10

It was an oddly quiet class, given the time of day and what was usual for the yoga school – uncanny if you think about it. The dark eyed yoga teacher didn’t seem to mind though. Actually, that was another strange thing: this was the first and only time anyone ever saw her. If you asked other staff about it (even the ones who’d been doing the desk at the time) they’d say they forgot and firmly laugh off any attempts to demonstrate it couldn’t be anyone on their normal roster. But there were so many of these oddities around there would be no point dwelling on this, so anyway, as this teacher had everyone on their backs and was doing the normal pep talk… “Find your breath; take it in deep, breathe into your arms, your legs your internal organs; feel the sacrifice of speech you are making with your breath and honour yourself for it; feel the speech being driven out of your arms, your legs, your heart, your liver, your skin as you breathe through these places. Know that what you are sacrificing is work, and prepare to engage in movement without work, movement as pure production…” Anyway as she was saying all that, Randall shuffled in.

He was in a full suit and hadn’t bothered to get himself a mat. He tossed his jacket and shirt against the side-wall (he had a vest on underneath) but kept on his suit trousers and shoes. He knelt down with a grimace and adopted a rather stiff child’s pose. And he stayed there the entire practice – except to take what he thought was a sly swig of whiskey every now and then.

Things got underway, and the dark eyed yoga teacher was doing the poses as well. She gave of the impression she was holding back – just playing – even when that was impossible. Like, she was doing the splits with both legs flat on the ground and still you got the sense she could sink deeper – much deeper. And you couldn’t even explain what you meant by this, but it was how you felt. Still something was working, since the class was mesmerised. They were going through the poses with liquid bodies, hitting that sweet spot where your sense of self – the boundary between skin and air – starts to soften. Where your breath isn’t your breath anymore – it’s just your passive reception of the universe’s gentles pulsation. The ether pushing a part of itself inside of you on the inhale and on the exxxhale… pulling it out again.   “Keep breathing through your organs,” the instructor was saying [she was really dragging out the words she emphasised so that’s how the italics are to be read]. “Remember that breath is the one bit of pure production you have. The organs are all work, desire, action – their so-called movements always derivate upon their ends. Breath flows for the sake of it, taking in far more of space into the body than could ever be any body’s business to engage with. Let your breath dissolve your spleen, your stomach and your arteries. Let no organs reside inside you, but take in a new set with each inhalation, arranged in a new way each time – your lungs in your scull, your bladder in your rib-cage – and release them on the exhalation. New organs with each motion – only then will you really move.”

The atmosphere in the room was changing. No, I mean literally the atmosphere: every bit of air that had been through the instructor’s lungs had a faint taste of blood and bile. But in a reassuring way. Like well cooked offal. Her skin was translucent and you could see the breath fizzing through it – along the collarbones and down the backs of the legs. Even her hair was rippling with each inhalation. The air she’d fortified came to fill the whole room and the effect was positively intoxicating. Everyone had been inching closer and closer together; and now they climbed on top of each other, getting into a stack of deep deep pigeons. The amateur trapeze artist – who’d only come along to show off her contortionist credentials – was at the top of the pile, ecstatic. The dark eyed yoga instructed walked over, like Shiva, and placed what seemed to be four arms on the back of the acrobat, who screamed but didn’t resist. Everyone folded up, sank even more into themselves and into each other; and it was like they were becoming less human with each breath.

And then the session was over and everyone disentangled. Reality wasn’t returning just yet and so they sat in the garden of the, at this hour closed, café downstairs. Silent, happy to make eye contact with strangers, but mistakenly directing glazed and sloppy stares at each other’s cheeks. Randall was the last to get up – only he hadn’t moved into the centre. The instructor came over to ask him how it had gone “Everything feel good? Any injuries?” And Randall replying: “I’ll dissolve my stomach with my breath just as soon as you teach me to eat out my asshole.” But when he got home he stayed up writing until past dawn.

Episode 8

Bret Easton Ellis was staking out Randall’s apartment – a virtually suburban street in Winter Hill. He had on a $2000 Burberry trench coat, a $5000 ‘50s style Dior suit – though a bit slimmer cut than was authentic, since he had to make some concessions modern aesthetics – fedora, and pocket-handkerchief whose prices he did not recall. He checked the time on his Asprey watch – well, er, first attempt he realised he’d just been admiring how the gold hour-hand twinkled and had to take a second look to actually see the time. Then he settled down to thinking about what kind of a man being on a stake out made him – ahem no sorry I mean, he settled down to focus on Randall’s movements with a steely, single minded determination.

He was sitting uncomfortably. This wasn’t something they told you about being forty – that you’d still not be able to find a comfortable way of settling your body. He’d always assumed that once he’d left adolescence completely (you know, around thirty-two), he’d transcend these kinds of distractions. That was the way the serious men he’d observed as a child presented themselves: free of such petty troubles. But no, his adult mind was still at the whim of inconsequential valences – he could be typing some of his most inspired material and still not be totally absorbed in the moment because his pants were riding up. He felt cheated out of decades of his life – since the number of worthwhile thoughts per year he was capable of producing was a fraction of he’d anticipated as a youth.

For a while he chain-smoked, but he stopped without even realising he had and just breathed. As he relaxed, his breath slowed and deepened; and, lubricated by his exhalations, time started to slip through him more easily. Its passing lost the usual connotations and started to merge completely with the progression of the music on the radio – a seamless endless mix of disco instrumentals. The peripheries of his field of vision gently contracted and expanded, just slightly, in time with the beat. The scene in front of him slowly pursued its path through the night. Bathroom and hallway lights calmly pulsated on and off to the neighbourhood’s secret rhythm of midnight pisses. Front gardens sat quietly content in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be disturbed until morning; the blades of grass, motionless, tensed every cell until they were brittle as a flake of chalk – a secret nightly yoga ritual – ready to return to normal at the first light. A cat padded silently across the panorama, so horrifyingly omniscient at this unfamiliar hour. The noise of cars on the adjacent main road, though not any quieter than would be expected, felt surreal and very distant. Ellis was in a deep enough reverie that there was no longer any awareness of himself observing these things. There just were these objects making their way through the hours. Randall’s light stayed on, and it seemed that the tapping of the keys on his laptop and the hum of the idling engine mutually propelled each other forward.

Bret Easton Ellis dreamed he was working in Newcastle. Like most Americans, he had virtually no knowledge of the north of England so he imagined the city as a Queens detached from the rest of New York and set down in the middle of some generic New England countryside. He drifted past boarded up corner stores and faceless mothers.  Strangely, though he’d never heard of the statue, the Angel of the North had intruded on the vision – overlooking the town from on top of an old quarry. He saw a group teenagers stabbing a cat and without thought started chasing them. They went through an alley of leafless trees, and as they ran at an ever more languid pace a fog descended. Finally the fog cleared and Ellis found himself in a huge indoor swimming pool (he didn’t call it ‘the baths’ because he was ignorant of the real Newcastle, remember) – empty with only the red emergency lighting on. The light on the water was meant to be jarring and malevolent, but he didn’t have the imagination to actually visualise this.  The teenagers, now all girls in club gear, were floating facedown in the water. He turned around to see Randall strolling in. “I couldn’t save them, I tried but I just couldn’t get hold of them” Ellis said, silently weeping. Randall laughed “Of course not. You’re dead. You exist only for me. You can touch nothing.”

Outside, the 1369 resident weirdo came dancing silently down the street, still smiling. He paused at the car, and very deliberately tapped the roof three times with his knuckles, nodding vigorously to himself as he did, then slid off into the dawn. Bret Easton Ellis woke uneasily, the mystery of the night had dissipated, and his surroundings now looked bare and thin. Randall’s car had gone from in front of the house. Ellis had let him get away. So feeling groggy and slightly ashamed he headed for home.

Episode 7

Junot Diaz was in his office looking forward to a luxurious afternoon to himself after his office hours were unexpectedly freed up. All the students had cancelled their appointments last minute (funny that) reporting symptoms of “undifferentiated sickness” in rather abrupt emails. He slipped off his shoes and started to loosen up his brain so as to make progress on his new novel. Given that this time was a gift, he wasn’t going to slog his way through it. This was a chance to explore and sharpen his associations, see what happened – no real goals in mind. He’d start running the key concepts and motifs through his consciousness, firing up the neural pathways between them, seeing what connections emerged. This wasn’t a time for great chunks of writing – brief notes only, no full sentences. It was through this process that he got the instincts for how a book wanted to be written.

But – no, are you fucking kidding me? – there was a knocking at the door. Had one of his students not been invited to the orgy, or whatever, they all got sick at? (Though this was MIT, much as he tried not to buy into the stereotypes, so it was probably some group-meet wank session over an eight-foot high sculpture of a rubix cube.) At the door though, was a rather dishevelled middle-aged man who he hoped to God was no student of his (it was Randall as well you know). He smiled the honest smile he always offered to his Public – it was the very same one he gave to his closest friends – and started explaining that it was against protocol for him to see fans while in his role as an MIT professor, though he’d happily sign something quickly since he was already all the way up here (and no he didn’t silently congratulate himself on his own magnanimity.) But Randall cut him off: “I’m no fanboy ace, and unless you’re about to go daft and write me a cheque I’ve got no interest in your signature.” Confusion and apprehension on the part of Diaz followed – as you would expect – but when he found out the intruder was a private detective, his eyes greedily lit up. The opportunity to talk with such a specimen man-to-man offered almost pornographic intrigue to any writer – and Diaz was no exception. Randall was being invited in, offered a seat, a drink “you guys love your whiskey, ha ha ha”, Diaz was babbling about the university administration and asking what he could do for the guy.

“So you’re writing something – memoirs of some of your most exciting cases?” But Randall shook his head deliberately and Diaz felt his stomach turn a somersault and then take a bow. Right then he was sure that something wasn’t right about this guy and he was seriously regretting letting him through the door – how had he known to come at this time anyway? Randall explained that he was writing a novel and no it wasn’t a fictionalization of some of his experiences. “It’s about Antwerp, and there is no crime.” Junot Diaz had started sweating and couldn’t look the detective in the eye. Unpeterbed, Randall offered him some typed pages to inspect. Diaz rolled his eyes across them without anything sticking. But wait, there was a description of a girl strangled: “I thought you said there was no crime, what about the girl?” “That’s what isn’t a crime. I’ve just got find a way to explain it, only I don’t have the words to do it – that’s why I need you.” And OK, Diaz was really freaked out now and had to find a way to end this – whatever it was – immediately. Luckily his body provided a solution of its own volition as he found himself throwing up in his bin under the desk. When he was able to look up finally, the detective had gone. However, it was a good week before he was able to even think about writing again.

Episode 6

“So I’d been at the Hawthorne for a drink…Oh it’s in Boston, Back Bay… Yeah, right, everyone asks me that. I moved to Boston because I think it fits my image and I can relax there. It’s a place you can spend money without being too cool – without people inflicting more and more ideas upon you the more you spend. Obviously New York is fucking hell, and L.A. has gotten so self-conscious of its own trashiness, that it’s now tacky in this reflexive avant garde kind of a way – and I want just plain trash. And in Boston the people are too old, stupid, or downright fucking provincial to offer you anything but. So yeah as I was saying I was at the Hawthorne, drinking a Mission of Burma – not their drink but a good drink, a Boston drink. Grand Marnier base. I could talk to you for hours about Grand Marnier, this is a liquor for people who know what their doing and absolutely no gimmick to it so it’ll never take off with the hipsters – so at the Hawthorne and then on to Neptune Oyster for dinner – I can make a reservation there.

“But when I get to Neptune and I’m just looking through the menu – I’m looking it at it for the thrill of repeating the words to myself, especially the prices, I know everything that’s on there – and I notice these two guys who were also there back at the Hawthorne. I’m thinking something’s not right about them. They’re all done up like frat boys, Lakers caps, tight t-shirts, meathead hench – only they move their muscles a little too easily, like they know what to do with them, like they’ve got them for a reason; they haven’t just mindlessly squeezed them out at the gym to waddle around in like a peacock on the lawn. Anyway, before I have any more time to think about what’s up with them, they’re strolling over to my table. ‘You Bret Easton Ellis?’ the one says. Weird fucking accent: half unreconstructed Southie like you don’t hear much of these days; half genuine fresh off the boat Irish. Anyway, I tell them that I am and they say that they’re here on behalf of someone, needs my service. At this point I’m feeling disappointed since this is looking like the same old story I get everywhere, and I tell them I’m very sorry but I don’t write vanity biographies – not for anyone. And they say that it’s not that, that they need someone to follow a man and that I’m uniquely qualified for the job. Well at this point they’ve got my interest I can tell you. I leave with them without even eating – I chuck a good couple hundred dollars on the table though, to make sure I’ll be getting a reservation next week.

“They take me to some building in Roxbury projects, but the apartment inside looks like it’s fucking Christ Church college or something – oak panelled, all the drinks in cut-glass decanters, curtains you could lose a kitten in, you name it. And there’re these two old men in armchairs that I’m brought to sit down beside – no desk between us, as though this is friendly, not an interview. Both expensively dressed but practical wear not suits, which tells me these guys are the real deal.  It’s the younger one – I’d say 65 – does most of the talking. ‘I trust you’ve noticed that something has gone awry in this city’ – this is English English, and so self assured, he doesn’t at any point pause for me to nod in agreement – ‘you feel tense, but you can’t say why. All you know is that there’s been a violation of the natural order. Well we, and our partners, are more attuned than most and we’ve conducted an investigation. We’ve discovered the root of the matter: a private detective named Randall. The PI is writing a novel.’ I started to express my confusion when the other guy – 80 at least – raised his palm to cut me off. His voice was startlingly high but clean and unwavering, and he was reciting from memory:

‘As long, verily, as a person is speaking, he is not able to breathe. Then he is sacrificing breath in speech. As long, verily, as a person is breathing, he is not able to speak. Then he is sacrificing speech in breath. These two are unending, immortal oblations; whether waking or sleeping, one is sacrificing continuously, uninterruptedly. Now, whatever other oblations there are, they are limited, for they consist of works. Knowing this very thing, verily, indeed, the ancients did not sacrifice the Agnihotra sacrifice.

When he was finished the younger man chipped in ‘Moreover, the ancients despised writing; they would resist doing it whenever possible. And if they absolutely had to write, they would hold their breath for the duration of the exercise. Randall, however, breathes freely and deeply while he’s typing for hours at a time. And as a detective – a man so profoundly entangled in action, in the works of everyone in this city – the implications are terrifying. So you see, you need to investigate him, and bring this to an end.’ ‘But why me?’ I ask. ‘I mean why not just have him killed if it’s so bad.’ ‘You know how dangerous it to wake a sleepwalker, the violent effects it can have? Well it seems right now like whatever delusions the detective is experiencing, the whole of Boston is caught up in them.’ I couldn’t believe that he seriously thought that we’d all become figments of the detective’s dream world and I told him so. ‘Quite.’ He replied. ‘But I do think that it’s near enough to the truth that we should heed the warning. Accordingly, we want someone to approach him gently. And who better than a novelist – a man who has experienced the perversion first hand – to do this.’ And that was that, I was escorted back out, no talk of payment, no talk of how to contact them again. Just dumped back at Neptune with an address and a photograph sweating in my palm.”

Episode 5

As the detective continued to write, things started to go awry in the Boston metropolitan area. It wasn’t that the crime got any worse – or better – it just stopped making sense. There’d be best friends murdering each other with no motive, not even an explanation, though they readily confessed; perverts wanking in school assemblies but not even enjoying it, barely able to get hard “what can I say, only mountain landscapes really turn me on, but I’ve got to do my bit, you know, keeping up appearances”; cops and criminals equally inept in their cat and mouse so that who got caught and who got away just depended on which blunders cancelled out which; the defence attorney standing up to give his closing statement with a visible erection, the judge changing her tampon behind her stand and  slinging the old one at the clerk and hitting him slap on the ear, the jury (no messing about here) just plain fucking each other right there in the stands, and the defendant begging someone to give him the chair right there and then. Worse, no one could quite register what was so weird about these developments – despite its staring them in the face, naked, right there on the end of their fork – instead there was a worrying collective blindness and everyone just felt a tightness in their chest, and a murkiness in their thoughts. Volvox, still, was untroubled – as really she belonged to New York.

Episode 4

Police HQ. The Chief’s shouting snaps Randall out of his revere, and he realises he’s being hauled ass first into the office for a ripping. “Relatives, journalists, the worldwide electronic music community, the Christian Fucking Scientists all calling me up to tell me I’m the biggest piece of shit since the dinosaurs were around to empty their asses. And you know what? I don’t blame them, the freakshow shit’s been going down. But wait, every man’s got his own account of things. No point in me bringing you all the way here and then not listening to what you’ve got to say for yourself. Sheer prudence you know, not to waste my breath shouting when you might have some explanation for all of this. [It’s the tired old calm down before really letting them have it routine; you can tell the chief’s impatient to get back to shouting as soon possible – shouting long and loud enough he’ll be able to sleep tonight]  Now I’m a reasonable man — I don’t like private dicks, but I think we can all agree that that’s entirely reasonable — [‘This is tired – pretty much verbatim off of the Wire’] – but what reasonable explanation is there of what to you did, taking the body of that dead singer, wheeling it down in front of the old town hall, injecting it with someone’s blood…”

“It was my blood”

It was your blood. Oh well in that case head right out, Randall, I’m sorry to have misunderstood you so badly…OK I’m being facetious, and can you blame me you must understand just how much stress I’m under right now. But I’ve got it out my system, I’m ready all jokes aside for you to give it to me straight, because what you did must have been some sort of insane forensic shit that’s going to solve every crime this city’s had the past twenty years, I mean what else could justify a stunt like that.”

“This wasn’t connected with any crime”

“Please, don’t say that; my pancreas is about to pop”

“It was research for my novel. My writing mentor says I have to act out my key ideas – that this is the only way to add depth to my writing.”

— Sophie Podolski, Tyneside starlet. Strung up from the Angel of the North. And obviously the statue was just a prop. Theatrics. But still with the crowd transfixed on it, cameras flashing… no it’s ridiculous… but still you swear you could detect a stirring in its rusty loins. By some quirk of her record contract – US health insurance – the girl’s body had to be taken to Boston for the autopsy.

“What the fuck you fucking freak, you’re more of a pervert than the angel of the fucking north, and that thing’s got lichen growing on its balls. Get out of here you’re through. Fuck it I’m through, when this gets back to the commissioner. My daughter’s going to community college, scratch that probably stripper school thanks to you. I’ll be pimping out my own collapsed asshole just to put food on the family table.”

“I know I fucked you captain and it’s nothing personal, but I just have to follow my urges as a writer, that’s the only way…”

The Chief’s shouting becomes indecipherable. Randall exits; serene.

Episode 3

On the subway: Greenline running towards Allston – which branch exactly you don’t need to know. Randall sits typing in a workmanlike fashion. The train judders on, slow and ugly. That unrefined type of inefficient transport even lacking some sort of redeeming anachronism. He is unbothered by the progress, not so much Zen patience as lacking in imagination. Opposite sits the amateur trapeze artist. She’s dressed up like a gothic ragdoll – though in a decidedly amateurish fashion. Her mouth is starting to curl in distaste, and the mock stitches around it – they’re not quite scratched on in biro but that’s what you’re tempted to think looking at her – the stitches wrinkle up like woodlice. Why she is so revulsed is not clear – we have no reason to think she’s aware of Randall’s transgression. He looks up and meets her eye; her sneer wavers, and when she notices this happening she overcompensates, her whole face puckered up like an arsehole.

“Don’t even think about touching that mothballed dick of yours, pervert,” staring at the detective with proud nervous eyes.

Now Randall is all Tathagatic repose, a man in his element: “Let me tell you darling, I’m as a big a sleaze you’ll find this side of Revere; but these days without a quart of whiskey in me my dick’s bout as dangerous as an indoor firework.”

A pause – Randall resumes typing. Concrete, and haggard BU students flash past the windows. You could call it scenery; I wouldn’t. Memories of a train journey across Belgium slip through the detective’s mind. The countryside is where a train should be – suddenly the thing glides rather than lumbers. The old European air welcomes it, allows it to cleave through without resistance. Inside the carriage men wear full suits and read the newspaper. One remarks that the land in America is still too young to allow meaningful travel. Randall pictures himself weeping as this is said to him – though in fact he did nothing of the sort. At the edge of the forest, hunchbacks stare in through the windows, completely motionless. These recollections go no further because the amateur trapeze artist has grown restless.

“You know I’ve got an 8 inch plastic penis strapped to my leg right now pervert. How do you like that? Don’t think just because I’m a freak I’m going to let you near it – I’ll scratch your balls and draw blood.”

“Well at least if it’s plastic you won’t have to worry about moths. Would be difficult getting circumcised though – need a sculptor not a surgeon.”

“I don’t care about your stupid jokes. I’ve got a whole gang of circus performers who work with me – we’re family. And they’d all laugh at you, even more than I am.”

They stop talking, for good this time: Randall silent and serene; the amateur trapeze artist contorting ostentatiously, making little squeaks to convey a deranged persona, and glancing up to check if the detective’s seen what she’s doing. No one’s noticed the independent scholar watching over the whole episode from the corner of the carriage. Muttering to himself  “Aristotle said it was the telos of man to acquire a plastic penis…”

Episode 2

Spring. Outside. It’s Boston so there’s chattering birds, blossom, and perfumed air – no scent of jizz intruding on this vignette since we’re dealing with the jejune imaginings of a dilettante novelist, remember? Typing noises float out of Randall’s open window. Well not float exactly: the keystroke sounds more kind of topple over the ledge and plummet downwards but catch themselves just before they’re about to smack the ground, as they shake off the plodding specifics of the detective’s tiresome prose and become an abstraction rising up – simply an aural metaphor for the idea of writing in the springtime – fit now to permeate the air and (gaining more confidence as they go) wrap themselves round the rustling leaves, slip into the sparrows’ lungs, coming back out a song. Randall’s mind is pure since he is oblivious of his transgression, and this purity shapes all that’s audible in his keyboard’s clattering. However, there is also an undertone or perhaps a harmonic – not a sound on any conventional understanding, it’s too subtle for any of that – a jarring undertone that speaks of the unnaturalness of the act. The birds hear only the innocent intent and so strain their voices ostentatiously in its honour – this would be in danger of spoiling the unselfconscious beauty of the scene were it not done with such joyous bombast. The trees, however, are older and more attuned, with an ear for the uncanny. So instinctively the leaves strain against the wind, tensing forward and periodically being slapped back against themselves, an orgy of whips on arses. People outside slowly become restless, and without knowing why develop excuses to leave. Old academics find themselves in gaudy bars knocking back – “what on earth could have gotten into me” – Evan Williams of all things; the languid and uncomplicated youths rush into bedrooms and fuck a little more violently than they had any desire to, uneasy in each other’s company until cleansed by the serein that descends right after Randall closes his window; the ageing hipster just holes up in his kitchen and drinks coffee until he’s unspeakably lonely. Only the self-professed freaks – the amateur trapeze artist, the 1369 resident weirdo, the self-styled beatnik (raves about Bukowski, but has never touched Ginsberg or Burroughs), all the bloodless Kantians, provincial artists, repressed coders – these knock-off weirdos stay on the streets, claiming to embrace the discomfort as Realness but only enduring it so they can say they have. Volvox sits in her study contemplating deep house and senses the wrongness. She alone has the fortitude to locate it wholly outside of herself. Intuiting that there is nothing else to be done she lies in the window and sleeps, untroubled.

Episode 1

No one could say quite what he could have been thinking, but One Fine Day the private detective sat down to write a novel… Obviously an act this unnatural could not pass without consequence.

* * *

Inman Square, Cambridge MA

Randall was sat in the back enclave of 1369 Coffee House, his frame crumpled in sympathy with his suit. The staff were all round the corner dealing with customers so he snuck a quick glug of whisky. Grimacing, he glared at the garish cheap bottle: it seemed to like him just about as much as he liked it. In front of him was a pad of paper. Yellow foolscap. If you had to guess, you’d probably say he’d put it there himself. On the top page, three words were written – a couple of lines of space between each.

Breath

Bliss

Antwerp

But they were scratched on in biro – not Caps with a marker, as you might expect with such sparse pronouncements. You got the impression that nothing else had been written in the book, but you couldn’t be sure – since only that top page was visible, obviously.

Uncanny, but there was some seriously deep house being played through the cafe’s speakers – not the usual mix of Pixies and same ten hits from the fifties that passed for edgy out here in the provinces of the East Coast. Not that it meant anything to Randall; you’d think he’d been smoking through his ears all this time, the amount he could distinguish musical tastes. Anyway, on top of a disco bass line sounded like it had been filtered through the bowels of Shiva, came that Kerri Chandler vocal line, looping with an intent to keep incanting until the words had lost all meaning: “Deep house provokes thought…let’s take it back to the real; let’s take it back to the raw…” What was this mix? — Too contemptuous of the audience to be Chandler himself. It looked like the staff were asking themselves the same question since they were clicking through iphones, seeking out the ends of cables, trying to work out how to change it. But the source couldn’t be traced so they gave up – some new management initiative maybe.

Well God knows what thoughts had been provoked in Randall but he started attacking the paper in front of him like a man possessed. You wanted to toss the notebook a weapon of its own just to make it a fair fight. While he was lost in the savagery, the 1369 resident weirdo walked in. Soiled beret balancing on the south-west corner of his strangely wide head; gut peeping out of an ill-advised plaid shirt; permanent film of sweat aglitter – he proudly slapped a randomly purchased secondhand paperback (Melanie Klein) down on a nearby table. Sporting the kind of lopsided grin made you consider giving up smiling for good, he danced to the counter knowingly, and started making intrusive comments to the girl working behind it. But before he could hit what by his standards passed for a stride, he spotted Randall.

He crept over with what he took to be conspiratorial eyes and stood over the table until Randall looked up. The 1369 resident nutjob aimed for an uncomfortable silence; but when he saw Randall preparing to return to his writing totally uncurious, he started talking:

“Well aren’t you the private dick who spent two months tailing me last summer?”

“I’m the private dick spent two months wishing he was a contract killer tailing you last summer.”

“I didn’t have you down as the note taking type. Well I’m flattered that a certain well to do family whose name we needn’t mention at least saw fit to hire a professional. Still with all that unpleasantness safely forgotten, we can talk man to man as players in the same game.”

Just then he caught a couple of lines of what Randall had written and froze. His film of sweat thickened and coalesced into droplets. He staggered out of the shop dripping and forgetting the book he was never going to read anyway. Randall resumed writing, more calmly than before, and stayed until the cafe closed.