Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.
The only problem is: He and Stephanie don’t have one of those.
Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray only to find that they are way out of their depth. They stumble upon a web of missing people that are curiously linked to a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time. And unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and fix the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, no longer exist.
Read an Excerpt
Hot Date With Destiny
Michael Duckett was a young man with a decent head on his shoulders and a crippling anxiety that prevented him from ever using it. He had just slogged his way through another day at work, punching numbers into a computing box for no reason besides enriching his corporate overlords. It was a dreary, soul-crushing job that left his bank account only a little less than empty and his body a lot more than tired and drained every night. Tonight was no different, aside from the fact that it was Wednesday and that meant it was laundry day.
A holdover from his childhood, the "Wednesday-Laundry Day" mantra had been championed by his micromanaging mother. Despite the fact that she — now in her self-dubbed "sexy sixties" — was immersing herself in whatever horrifying bacchanalia they got up to in Boca Raton and was not around to badger him, Michael had the laundry day itch branded onto his soul. Not to mention a myriad of other more socially debilitating neuroses he had yet to work through.
Still, Laundry Day had its share of perks. That is to say, one perk in particular that went by the name of Terri Bradshaw. In a rare stroke of luck, Terri and Michael happened to have the same laundry schedules. She had introduced herself some weeks ago over the folding tables, and Michael found her very easy to talk to, which, for someone who used to suffer minor panic attacks before making phone calls, was an even rarer godsend.
"So, do you come here often?" Michael had asked.
She chuckled and turned back down to the jeans she was folding. Her auburn hair swished to cover her face and a smile. "Nice one."
"Uh ... yeah." Michael wasn't sure what joke he had made, but he leaned into it. For the first time in a long while, his innate fear of being judged unfit by the opposite sex was nowhere to be found. This was an opportunity he refused to miss, so he leapt on it. "I'm Michael. Michael Duckett."
"Terri. Nice to meet you." Terri placed her jeans neatly into her laundry bag. "So, Michael Michael Duckett, what do you do?"
Michael deflated a little. The mere mention of his boring job sent his stomach into an involuntary stress gurgle. He hated being asked about it almost as much as he hated the job, "Oh, I'm an Analyst ... at The Future Group."
"Oh, you work for The Future Group?" Terri leaned back a bit, eyebrows raised. She was still interested. "My brother works there! Do you know Jacob?"
"Jacob? I love that guy. Of course I know Jacob!" Michael did not know Jacob. In fact, as unlikely as it seemed, Michael had never met anyone named Jacob in the 24 years he had skulked about this Earth. The Future Group employed over 7,000 people. Perhaps one or more could have been named Jacob. He didn't really know. Either way, he'd gotten himself in deep already, so he just smiled and nodded.
"He loves working there," Terri continued. "Says it's the best job he's ever had!"
Michael did not share Jacob's assessment. He fidgeted with his glasses, running his fingers along the thin frames. "Yeah, uh, it has its ups and downs."
"Hah, well Jacob doesn't stop raving about it."
"Yeah, that's ol' Jacob. He's always ... always ... raving ..." Michael trailed off. He had no idea what else he could say about Jacob, besides the fact that he had good taste in sisters. Luckily enough, the conversation took a turn and Jacob was never mentioned again. And so it went with Michael and Terri sharing a good time amongst the fumes of noxious chemicals synthesized to mimic the pleasant scent of spring meadows.
As the weeks passed, they spoke more about their days (usually uneventful), their old college roommates (the worst), their favorite wines (hers rosé, his a dry pinot grigio), how Haagen-Dazs made the only good kind of chocolate ice cream (it was sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet, and thus a delight to the palate, even when re-purposed for Rocky Road), and other topics Michael assumed normal people talked about.
Terri had a habit of good-natured ribbing, which Michael found endearing. Their rapport was fun and flirty, but Michael still possessed the underlying fear that it could turn on him at any moment, so he never asked her out, of course. Each subsequent Wednesday, he hoped it would be the day he would overcome the mental programming that had held him back since high school, but it never was. Today, though, this today would be that day.
Carting his wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, Michael thought of Terri, whom he had not yet seen today, though his time at the laundromat was half over. It broke with the tradition they had established. Well, he had established, anyway. The wet slops of seven identical powder-blue button-downs slapped against the porous metal cavern as he moved on to his unmentionables and inserted a handful of moistened boxer briefs, all gray.
After his clothes were safely spiraling into a state of dryness, Michael bussed his cart over to a set of hard plastic chairs that had been designed for maximum lumbar injury. He sat for a while, shifting his weight into increasingly painful positions, figuring the distraction would keep him from obsessing over Terri. Meanwhile, the television hanging above him spoke dire warnings of missing persons. A local doctor had mysteriously disappeared from his bedroom in the middle of the night and the police, as usual, were baffled. All that and what an upcoming spate of thunderstorms would mean for his weekend would follow after a few messages.
Michael's attention, however, was drawn to the irritating fact that a single piece of clothing remained in his cart: another pair of underpants that had camouflaged against the side. This one, however, was conspicuously dry. The corner of his eye twitched with the impotent rage associated with the thought of having missed a single item of laundry. But perhaps it was unwarranted. Maybe it was a clean pair that had stowed away with its filthy brethren. Only one way to be sure. Michael raised the underpants to his nose and gave them a cursory sniff. He was met with the fading scent of faux mountain air. His suspicion was correct: they were quite clean.
What Michael had inconveniently forgotten was that he was in a public laundromat. Public laundromats tend to be occupied by people, and this one was no different. Michael was sucked back into the moment by a short burst of stifled laughter. Across the way, Terri leaned against the detergent vending machine, wearing a green top and a knowing smirk.
"Nice one, slick." She shook her head.
"Yeah, well, they were clean!" Michael removed the underpants from his nose and tried to sound authoritative, but his declaration ended with a sort of yelp as he walked towards her.
Terri giggled. He could marry that giggle. "I'm sorry, did I embarrass you?"
"Um ... no. No! Not embarrassed at all. How're ... you?" Michael pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"I'm alright," she said, loading her washing machine. "Just a bit late today."
"Oh, are you?" Michael pretended not to have noticed. He feared the implication that he had been keeping track of her schedule and their usual rendezvouses. He had, but still. Also, he didn't think his joke about a "laundrez-vous" would land. His jokes rarely did.
"Hey, listen." Terri looked away. "I'm in a bit of a rush today, so I'll just cut to the chase and ask: do you want to get dinner sometime this week?"
Alarms went off in Michael's brain, signaling a code blue. Never having had a code blue before, there was no plan of action in place. So all that came out of his mouth was a slow, droning "Uh ..." followed by "... dinner?"
"Yeah." Terri smiled and Michael's heart quickened to a pace just short of a serious medical emergency. "Do you have a place you like? I could do anything."
"I know a great Italian place down on Concord Street! Let's go there!" He wasn't certain how he knew of it, but, similar to the way a surfer's life might flash before their eyes before a shark attack in an attempt to glean information that could prevent their death, Michael, in a more mundane application, recalled a slew of reviews he had seen on the internet. A restaurant on Concord Street stuck out as the only place that was infestation free after last month.
Terri smiled again and her hazel eyes sparkled. "I can meet you there at 6:30 tomorrow. Does that work for you?"
"Great. That's great!" Michael's grin froze on his face and began to hurt his cheeks as time passed. Had that really worked? As his mind wrapped itself up in questions, he hardly noticed as a full half-hour sped by. Still transfixed and, honestly, confused by what had happened, he folded and packed his dried clothes and slung his bag over his shoulder. He waved goodbye to Terri as he slipped out the door. The smile persisted. If it continued for four hours or more, he would have to call his physician.
* * *
It was dark outside by the time he left. Michael couldn't see his watch, but it was definitely around 9:30. He walked down the street past a row of cars, neatly angle parked. At the end sat Michael's 1982 Mercury Zephyr, a car that he lovingly referred to as "the Garbagemobile." The otherwise red car had a canary yellow passenger's side door that failed to function since its previous owner had opted to weld it shut for undisclosed reasons. Still, the trunk worked well enough. Michael thumped his fist on the corner and it popped open, allowing him to toss in his laundry. Or was it clothes, now? When did your laundry stop being "laundry" and become "clothes"? When you folded it? When you brought it home? Or when you put it in your dresser? Michael enjoyed this pointless line of questioning brought on by the euphoria of his potential date with a beautiful woman, as it distracted him from overthinking about said date.
Michael slammed the trunk shut and turned to find the crazed blue eyes and wild hair of an entirely different, entirely angrier woman who had definitely not been there a second ago. He jolted backwards and tumbled onto the asphalt. A jeep whizzed by his head at what felt like 50 miles per hour, but was probably more like 5.
"Oh my God! What the hell, lady?" A situation in which panic was natural. Michael almost felt at home.
"You're Michael Duckett!" The woman declared in a voice so far from Terri's melodic tones, it would need a GPS to get within striking distance.
"Uh ... yeah?" was all he could muster. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"
"I need your help!" She seemed less interested in his questions than her own agenda, whatever that was.
"You need ... my help?" Michael pulled himself to his feet by leaning on the Garbagemobile's rear bumper, which shuddered against the rusty nails holding it on. "For what?"
"I saw your ad. I need to hire you. It's urgent."
"Sorry. My ad? I think you have the wrong guy. I'm not for hire." Michael brushed himself off and, being certain his life was no longer in any significant peril, took stock of the situation. He sidled past the woman, who was wearing medical scrubs beneath the folds of a long brown coat, and onto the sidewalk. If she had escaped from a mental hospital, killed an orderly, and stolen his clothes, that would explain the scrubs. It was a bit of a reach, but not an unreasonable conclusion given the circumstances.
"I have a case for you," she said. Her eyes had a cold fire behind them that complemented the harsh red lipstick that popped against her dark olive skin. She would have been beautiful if she hadn't been completely off her rocker.
"Yeah, a ... nut case." Michael winced. Another joke that didn't land tonight, but there really wasn't much time to workshop it. "Lady, I can give you bus fare or ... uh ... whatever you need. But I'm pretty sure you have the wrong person."
"No. I definitely don't. You're the detective!" Despite her manic motions, the woman's frizzy, curly blast of bright blonde hair refused to move very much.
"Detective? What the hell are you talking about?" Michael inched toward the door of the Garbagemobile. "I'm not —"
The woman slapped her hand on the door, blocking his escape. With her other hand, she removed a smartphone from her purse and thrust it at him. "I recognized you from your photo."
Michael left the smartphone in her hand and awkwardly scrolled down with a single finger. It was not often that Michael got to use a fancy smartphone. His own was an elderly flip affair with a creaky hinge. The screen on this one was brighter and boasted a higher resolution which allowed the bold black headline to leap out of the bright white background in all-caps, silently yelling at him:
"MICHAEL DUCKETT AND STEPHANIE DYER – PRIVATE EYES FOR HIRE – NO CASE TOO TOUGH, NO CASE TOO CRAZY – REASONABLE RATES – ANY TIME DAY OR NIGHT."
It was a simple internet classified ad — the Hail Mary of desperate schlubs seeking used leisure suits or unlikely missed connections. Below the headline was a picture of him and his oldest friend – and roommate two years running – Stephanie Dyer, standing side by side. It was cropped to focus only on their chests and heads, so Michael couldn't place where or when it had been taken. Stephanie was making overenthusiastic gun fingers at the camera, while Michael seemed aloof in an attempt to appear cool. It had not worked.
"What is this?" he asked, even though a sneaking suspicion was already forming in his mind.
"This is your ad." She pushed the phone into his face. "I found it on the internet. I want to hire your services as a detective."
"I'm sorry, lady." Michael stood up and gently guided her away from the car. "This is a fake ad. I'm not running a detective agency." The very idea of him being a detective was ludicrous. Except for the one time in grade school when he and Stephanie had tried to solve the case of who had been sneaking cookies from the cookie jar. It had been his dog. No charges had been filed.
"But, then who do I go to for help?" She continued, "My fiancé is —"
"Whatever it is, you should probably go to the police. I'm sorry for wasting your time. So if you could just —" Michael had been taking silent steps back toward the Garbagemobile. Upon reaching the door, he wrenched it open and slipped in, with one swift motion.
"Nff! I ndd tuh hurr yu!" The woman's voice was muffled by door, window, and labored chugging of the car's engine. Michael waved a halfhearted goodbye as the Garbagemobile lurched out of its parking spot and out into the night.
As soon as Michael saw the ad, he knew what was up. He'd have been stupid not to recognize another dumb scheme in a long line of dumb schemes from the mentally regressive couch potato he'd been saddled with. He grumbled to himself, tightening his grip on the steering wheel, "Stephanie ..."CHAPTER 2
Duckett & Dyer
Michael carefully inched the Garbagemobile between two cars across the street from his apartment building. Since he had parked on a hill with an angle of greater than 25 degrees, Michael made sure to place the brick he kept in his trunk beneath his rear tire before leaving the car unattended.
When Stephanie and Michael had first decided to rent the place, he was enamored with the listing's description of exposed brick walls in the bedrooms. What the listing meant to say was that the landlord, an angry Greek man with a nigh unpronounceable name, had neglected to put up drywall, and the exposed brick was quite literally the only thing between the tenants and the elements. One had fallen out of the wall in his room, and the hole now served as a makeshift air vent. The brick had found its new home beneath Michael's right rear tire.
Sighing, Michael balanced his seventeen pounds of laundry on his back and trudged up the stairs to his apartment, each step straining with a groan so drawn-out that they had to be faking it. As one could have expected from the so-called exposed brick, the entire complex had seen much better days. It had been advertised to him as a pre-war building, but the agent had conveniently forgotten to mention which war. Michael's best estimates put it somewhere between Franco-Prussian and Spanish-American. Merely running one's fingers across the wall caused flakes of mint-colored paint to flutter to the ground. Yet, with Stephanie's unfortunate habit of perpetual unemployment, it was the best apartment they could afford. Michael had several fights with the landlord where he argued that, given the building's conditions, he shouldn't have had to pay rent at all. However, Mr. Dupopolous — neither Michael nor Stephanie were sure of his real name — felt the exact opposite.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ducket & Dyer"
Copyright © 2019 G. M. Nair.
Excerpted by permission of G. M. Nair.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.