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Dick Fletcher: the Case of Dr. Harlison

Fletcher opened the door to his dark office. Most nights he was greeted by a chesty, leggy blonde broad, distraught yet demure. She’d tell him of her woes, they’d engage in some innuendo-laced banter (his gruff, hers coy), he’d take the case, find it oddly tangled, cut to the damn truth like Alexander through the Gordian Knot, and then collect his payment. Rinse. Repeat. Good system.

Tonight was disappointing. Smooth face, greasy hair, pale skin, scrawny limbs, beady eyes behind glasses. Just a fine specimen all around. He was clutching something wrapped in a blanket to his chest. Fletcher didn’t say anything, just stared while he took his trench coat and fedora off and hung them on the rack by the door.

The man finally ventured to speak. “Detective Richard Fletcher, I presume?”

“Dick.”

“P-pardon?”

“Name’s just Dick. Call me Fletcher. Only my mother calls me Dick.” Fletcher turned the naked bulb on – why does no one turn on the damn light? – and walked around to his desk.

“Er… Fletcher, then. Allow me to introduce myself.”

Fletcher kicked his legs up on his desk. “By all means. Permission granted.”

The man frowned at the tactless statement. “My name is Duncan Ward, assistant professor of physics at Miskatonic University. I came here because I think you may be just the detective I’m looking for. I’ve heard you’re sangfroid, which I think will be indispensable for this case.”

“‘Fletcher’ is English, actually.”

Ward frowned even harder. “Perhaps I was mistaken. I’m sorry to have wasted your time, Detective Fletcher. Good evening to you.” He made to leave, but Fletcher just shook his head and pointed back to the seat. Ward wasn’t just frowning now — he was scowling — but he sat back down. “Fine. I don’t know who else to go to. I’m here because the head of my department, Dr. Edward Harlison, has been missing for more than a week. Prior to his disappearance he exhibited uncharacteristic erratic behavior.” He glanced down at the object he was holding. “I think the trouble all started when he began to study this… thing.” He spat out the last word distastefully and firmly set the swaddled object down on the desk. He began to unwrap it. “I’ve also brought you his most recent journal. I figure the two of them together ought to give you some leads.”

Fletcher took his feet off his desk and leaned forward to see what Ward was unwrapping. There was a normal enough looking bound journal. Beneath that, the ugliest book Fletcher had ever seen. Frayed and yellow pages were sandwiched haphazardly between two leathery, pockmarked covers. It smelled like a back alley hobo toilet. Basically the book version of some of the guys he knew down at the wharves.

“Miskatonic ya say? Up in Essex County?”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t normally do jobs outside of Providence… unless the money’s right, of course. Travel expenses. Supply and demand. You understand.”

Ward fixed him with a dubious glare. “Yes, of course. You will be well compensated, rest assured. Miskatonic is blessed with a most generous endowment.”

A mirthless grin spread on Fletcher’s face. “And here I thought I was the only one.” Ward definitely hated that one.

This is almost fun.

***

Fletcher asked Ward all the usual questions — description, last known whereabouts, enemies, medical conditions — and saw him out the door.

He sat back down behind his desk. Loosened his tie. Rubbed at the prickly stubble on his jaw. Took a healthy swig from his flask. Lit his cigar, sucked in fire, blew out smoke. He considered the unremarkable journal and the hulking leather-bound tome.

He picked up the journal first, flipping through it and scanning the entries. A neat but hurried scrawl covered every page, with some mathematical equations that he couldn’t make sense of. What he did notice was that the writing became increasingly strange. Dr. Harlison began by talking about non-Euclidean geometry and parallel dimensions, but devolved into ramblings on cyclopean structures sprawled across eldritch landscapes and old gods tootling woodwinds of madness. Well, that was the gist of it anyway.

One passage in particular seemed pretty ominous and momentarily lucid:

This book, the Necronomicon, was not meant to be read by the likes of me. The Mad Arab should never have set down the twisted knowledge contained inside. I’ve looked into the abyss in my insatiable lust for enlightenment and found only the sprawling chaos of the cosmos, the gnashing maw of oblivion, and a watcher in the dark. They’re coming for me, I can feel it; they’re scraping through the fabric, pulling it apart and squeezing through inch by inch, contorting themselves to reach me, frenzied and ravenous!

It fell back into incoherency from there. Fletcher tossed the journal on the floor next to him and took to the so-called Necronomicon. Still smelled like a back alley hobo toilet. He opened it to a random page. Seemed like it was covered in blood or feces or something. There was a drawing of a flayed corpse with a bunch of Arabic notations.

He turned the page. This one had some pictures of constellations that Fletcher didn’t recognize.

He flipped the page again. This one was just a bunch of black scribbles, like someone had tried to cover up what was underneath.

Around this time, Fletcher began to hear whispering. Well that’s going to get fucking annoying real fast.

He took another swig from his flask, rubbed his stubble again. He was about to give up for the night when he heard the doorknob to his office rattle. He looked up and saw a blackened silhouette standing there in the hallway. Something seemed off about it. Wasn’t shaped quite right.

Fletcher eased open the right side drawer on his desk and pulled out his snubnosed Colt .38 revolver.

Now, that thing may not have looked right, but with the reassuring weight of his beautifully polished .38 in his hand, Fletcher really didn’t give a damn what it was. He was the hunter and it was the prey.

——-

Ah! Cliffhanger! I guess.

*ahem*

Surprise, surprise, another writing exercise: the subgenre smash-and-grab, courtesy of Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The challenge: roll two random subgenres and meld them together into a thousand word flash fiction piece.

My subgenres were “Lovecraftian” and “Hardboiled.”

I stopped because I neared the word count (and due date), but also because I wasn’t sure where I was going. There was no way I was going to find a satisfying conclusion to any of this in under 1000 words. For that reason, there may be more parts to this story. I think I may have started a series. We’ll see. Kind of depends on if I can think of a way to proceed.

I do like Dick Fletcher, though. Hell, the name alone makes me smile. Am I just puerile? Probably. In any case, I’m planning on having fun with this guy. Given that most characters, when set into the Lovecraft universe, are unable to cope with the horrific developments that take place, I think it’s a fun exercise to place a purely level-headed, even-keeled, and cynical tough guy into the mix. Someone who’s more likely to punch a Cthulhu cultist out than to run. Someone who’s more likely to take things as they come, all stoic-like, rather than turn into a mushy puddle of gibbering mind soup. I’m thinking if I can’t figure out a way to move forward with this particular entry, I may just start a new story with him that I’ve set up with something long-term in mind.

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1 Comment

  1. Mom says:

    Hey, you had me hooked! Keep going with it. I enjoyed it & I don’t generally like hardboiled detective stories.

Give it to me straight.

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