Things That Are Not There

Things That Are Not There

by C. J. Henderson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781892669087
Publisher: Marietta Publishing
Publication date: 08/28/2002
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

About the Author

C. J. Henderson is the author of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies and the creator of the Jack Hagee private detective series and the Teddy London occult detective series. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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The Things That Are Not There


By C.J. Henderson

Elder Signs Press

Copyright © 2006 Elder Signs Press, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9779876-1-0


CHAPTER 1

London stepped off the uptown F train with a shudder of relief. He had boarded the subway downtown in the Village where he lived to travel the few miles uptown to his office. The cars had crashed by him as always when they arrived in the station, screeching harshly, noisily, each one littered with papers and cans, smashed bottles, ruined food scraps, grease, mud, urine, as well as the brown and yellow lumps that let him know the homeless had camped in this train until it had been pulled into service that morning. He would have preferred it if the Transit Authority workers who had assembled the train earlier in the morning had hosed it out first.

"Well, hell," he thought. "They'd already made it to work. I guess it didn't matter to them what the trains look like."

The dark, grafittied tunnels leading to the surface were overflowing with the same filth as the subway. As always. London took each breath in shallow, open-mouthed gulps with the practiced ease of any longtime New Yorker, not taking in a deep lungful until he'd passed through the excrement-stench of the underworld and reached the pavement above.

Coming out up above was no better, however. He hit the streets only to find a misting gray rain, a wet blur of soot-heavy water sliding down out of the sky in constant dirty rivulets. Pulling his hat's brim down and his jacket's collar up, he dodged the umbrella points stabbing at his ears and eyes, fighting his way to his 31st Street office.

A business-suited careerwoman pried her way through the crowd toward him with practiced arrogance, using an umbrella the size of a parachute as her crowbar. London unconsciously prepared to dodge, the corner of his eye catching one of the umbrella's extended tines flashing for his face. Before he could close with the woman, however, she collided with the man in front of him, raking his face with her weapon.

The man, maybe ten years London's junior, screamed foully, swatting the stinging edge away with his fist, knocking the whole device out of her hands. The umbrella snapped, collapsing under the trampling herd around them. The woman screamed after him, letting him know in shrill, raging curses just who she was and how important she considered herself.

Some of the passersby laughed; some applauded. There were some to take each side, hooting and barking, shoving at each other in the street, causing more of a jam, more accidents, more bad temper. London took it all in without saying anything. What was there to say? It was just another dark, humid, angry morning in Manhattan.

Coming into the lobby of 132 West 31th Street, a building named decades earlier as the Greeley Arcade, he joined the crowd milling in the lobby, waiting for an elevator. They were all of a kind — burdened by umbrellas, or wet hats and coats, or both, slopping their ways up and down the blackly wet tiles, waiting in bad humor for just one of the solemn, vault-like sets of doors to open.

Everyone took their turn slamming the buttons on the wall until finally one elevator returned to the lobby, allowing them all to jam in, body on body, repeating their commutes in miniature all over again. At least, thought London, the elevator floor wasn't covered with garbage. And then he smiled — half at the realization that it always helps one to get through the day by finding something to be grateful for, half at the fact that it was not always an easy task to do so in the city.

Getting out at his floor, London walked the fifteen paces to the front door of his office. "Theodore London, Private Investigations" — the words stared back at him from the wire-meshed glass of the door's window as he undid the deadbolt and started through the doorway. He hesitated as he did so, though. Something felt wrong as he passed through the entrance. His gaze flicked over the outer office, assessing the situation, looking for the disruption setting off his internal radar.

Secretary's desk and chair, normal — quiet, still longing for someone to occupy them once more. Waiting area couch and table, right-angled to the wall, formal, uninviting. Door to the consultation room open at the correct slant — no one had gone in or out of it. Back-office door closed, carpet in front of the door discolored — darker — only slightly ... wet?

London moved forward, stepping out of his coat, dropping it on the couch without watching it fall. Old habits forced him to unconsciously flip the door open from the side, out of the line of fire. His head peered in, two feet lower than the average man's would — less of a target. He cursed what he found.

The storm had annihilated his office.

Several windows were shattered, glass littering the room, wicked shards sticking from the opposing wall like daggers. Rain was slanting into the room, miscellaneous drops lighting here and there, filling the carpet with water. It sloshed as London moved into the room, retaining the shapes of each footprint, the steps puddling full.

Conscious of the puddles he was standing in, the detective moved back to the dry carpet of the outer office before trying the lights. He unconsciously made certain his hand was dry, then reached in and flicked the switch. None of the lights responded — the wall switch clicking uselessly in his hand.

Lightning had burned its way through the room, maybe more than once. Jagged charcoal scars etched his desk like the shadow of a tree branch, each fingering twig pointing toward a follow-up crater burned into the plaster of the opposite wall, across two of his three client chairs, his filing cabinets, and everything else along the far wall except his mirror.

His eyes took in everything in the first few seconds, his nose telling him there was more damage. Smoke hung in the air, not wood smoke from the desk — something stronger, more chemical, traced with metal ...


Crossing to his filing cabinets, London pulled open the drawers, bottom to top, both for balance and speed, finding the same unexplainable shock in each. All of his files were smoldering ash. He covered his face with one large hand, rubbing his forehead in disbelief. Gone — every one of his files, all of his records — gone. His caseloads for the past six years, his snitch files, map indexes, out-of-state and overseas contacts — all the facts, notes and references, every bit and scrap of information he needed, that he had compiled throughout his career, destroyed in an instant. Burned, finished.

Gone.

The detective sat heavily in the wet chair behind his desk, too dazed to think straight for the moment. What worse could have happened? Could it have been something other than the storm — human intervention of some kind, taking advantage of the weather for cover — some old grudge resurfacing now?

No, he thought, people didn't work that way. No one planned such elaborate revenges, or such intelligent ones. London smiled grimly to himself. None of his enemies had the brains to think up such a horribly clever revenge. Whatever it had been, however, he was ruined, set back years now. Part of his mind wanted to get to work on sorting everything out but, considering the massive extent of the damage all about him, he could not see any starting point at which to dig in.

Moving more slowly, he checked the contents of his desk's drawers one after another only to find the same, strangely thorough destruction. Everything had been destroyed — burned, water-logged, ruined — left useless. All the things on the top of his desk corresponded; his answering machine, personal computer, radio — junk now. Even his Mr. Bean coffee mug was lightning-shattered.

Automatically he reached for the phone to call building management, only to find it as unresponsive as everything else he owned. He wanted to curse — hurl the now-useless machine across the room — but saw no reason and cradled the dead receiver. Taking stock, he realized the only functioning piece of equipment left to him was the address book he carried on his person at all times ... and, of course, Betty and Veronica.

Pulling each object from his person, address book from his inner-jacket breast pocket, Veronica from the reverse sheath clipped to his boot, Betty from her shoulder holster, he spread the three before him across the solitary dry spot remaining on his desktop, shock at the fact that he had been reduced to so little still setting in.

Sure, he thought, the building's corporate insurance would come up with some physical replacements, and some cash ones, but really, what did it matter — what would it mean? He was ruined. It had taken him years to get to where he had been the day before. It would take him years to get back.

If, he thought, I even care to try.

The detective had sweated the proverbial bullets putting together his agency — recognizably the city's finest one-man operation. As of yesterday, outside of the large corporate security agencies, with their hundreds, sometimes thousands, of permanent employees, everyone in the game had known that Theodore London was the best.

Now, however, it was today, a today that found him back at square one, alone in the pile of ashes that used to be his business — his life. The detective sat for a long time, his eyes flickering from this bit of ruin to that. Then he sat for a longer time, his eyes staring forward, seeing nothing.

He turned his options over in his head, amazed he had so few. He had made too many enemies at the big companies to go to any of them now asking for work.

Wouldn't Del Rehill over at A.S.S. love to see him crawling for a job? Or Dann Thornton at American Protection, or Mark Russell, or Sheila Harvey ... that bitch, or ... he stopped himself. Why go on further — what was the point?

The only answer he could find being "none," London began replacing his address book, Betty, and Veronica on his person when a knocking came on his outer office's door. His shout of "come in," brought him one of the building's staff, Paul Morcey, a slightly overweight man somewhere in his early forties, dressed in drab but sturdy workclothes. The man was balding but unpretentious about it, pulling back what crop he could grow into a gray-and-brown ponytail.

"Hey, Mr. London — just a routine check-up ..."

His voice trailed off as he saw the damage London's inner office had sustained. After a moment, his gravelly twang came back again.

"Sweet Bride of the Night, what happened here?"

"You want the truth?" When Morcey nodded his head mutely, London answered, "I honestly don't know, Paul. My guess is Mother Nature's got it in for me as much as every other woman I know."

"You gotta use more sweet talk."

The detective grinned. Giving the janitor a shrug, he asked, "So, was there this kind of damage throughout the building?"

"No. I mean, a few broken windows, a little water here and there, but nothin' like this."

"You covered the rest of the building yet?"

"Not alla it, yet. I've been over the bottom twelve, 'bout half this floor. Been routine so far. Nothin' like this, though. I mean, nothin' like this."

London stood up from behind his desk, walking around to the side Paul was on, telling him, "Well, you look it over. I'm a little out of it. I'm going down to the Cosmic for a while."

"What're you gonna do?"

Not knowing if Paul was referring to London's immediate or distant future plans, the detective said nothing, merely waving goodbye, heading out the door. Even in the hall, though, he could still hear the maintenance man muttering;

"Nothin' like this."

CHAPTER 2

London sat in the Cosmic Coffee Shop, a small diner situated in the streetfront of his building. He paid scant attention to the half-empty, lukewarm cup of brew in front of him. He had forgotten about it for the most part, forgotten about his office, even the rain outside, though he seemed to be staring out the window directly at it. Beyond it might have been a better description, however.

The detective was lost in thought, using the noise and look of the drizzle outside to clear his mind, or at least to help him sift through the clutter within it. He had retreated from his immediate problems far enough to return to one of his old, pet curiosities — namely, why had the owners of the Cosmic Coffee Shop given it that particular name? It was a problem he had never given any really serious consideration, but one that he had never figured out, either.

The place had no curious artwork or posters on the walls, no black lights or flickering strobes. There were no power crystals or Ouija boards, no healing herbs or good-luck charms for sale. There was no fortune teller in attendance, no crystal balls near the cash register — none of the paraphernalia one might expect in a place with such a name — not even as decorations. As the old Greeley Arcade joke went; they don't read your tea leaves at the Cosmic Coffee Shop ... it's too hard getting them out of the bags.

No, London knew, the Cosmic wasn't a New Age bean sproutery, or an acid den drug reference left over from the sixties. It was just a standard New York diner, one of the last remaining which hadn't been driven out of business by the never-ending parade of chicken and pizza and burger and ice cream and taco and noodle fast-fooderamas that were turning the city into a culinary wasteland for everyone without a very large wallet filled to overflowing with uncommitted cash.

London had thought several times to just ask the manager why the owners had named the place as they did, but he never bothered. Hearing the real reason would restrict the truth to a single possibility. And that, he reasoned, would take all the fun out of the ones he made up.

Eventually, however, he ran out of distractions, allowing his thoughts to return to his bad fortune. What exactly, he asked himself, was he going to do next? Start over? From scratch? Go back to the beginning ... rebuild the same files, travel all the same roads, refind all the faces he'd already seen? All of it from the ground up? The detective had thought plenty of times in the past of getting out of the business altogether. Now, the little voice in the back of his brain pointed out, would be a great time to finally do it.

No more danger, it told him. That'd be nice. No more cheap, stupid jobs, no more lonely nights spent in parking lots outside rundown motels or walking a warehouse security beat. Being your own boss, I will remind you one more time, doesn't actually mean much when not only don't you have any employees but even you don't want to stay with the company.

The thought of chucking his private agency began to look appealing. Despite the bad blood between him and some of the larger firms in the city, London knew he certainly could link up with a corporate security agency somewhere in Manhattan.

Good, steady work in a clean, banker's hours environment, he told himself, that'd be a nice change.

He considered the idea seriously. A nice corporate work station — one where there were other people around once in a while, some of whom might even be half-way decent individuals, not the never-ending list of cheating husbands, small-time embezzlers, and all the other types of gips and grifts and petty losers his current occupation kept him involved with constantly.

London half-jokingly believed in a balancing karma, an unseen force that kept everyone's ledgers even. Considering the quasi-mystical explanation to his problems for a moment, he wondered, as most people will when tragedy befalls them, whether what had happened to him signified that some old wrong he had committed had finally been paid for, or if something so good was coming his way that his life had to be as significantly altered as it had been just for him to be able to accept it.

He put aside choosing an answer as he saw Paul Morcey enter the Cosmic. The bald man's craning neck was a cue that he had come looking for London. The detective put his hand above his head, waving, giving Morcey something to zero in on.

"Mr. London," said the maintenance man, "you've got a customer."

"What?"

"Yeah. Weren't you expectin' her?" When London signified that he had not been expecting anybody, Morcey continued.

"Oh. I thought maybe you was 'cause you told me where you was gonna be. I figured I'd get your phone goin' for you again. Got it, too. I mean, but, anyway ... I was there when she came in ... I was just finishin' up puttin' in some plastic on your windows — it's rainin' heavy again. Anyway, while I was trying to get a handle on everything that happened to your office — this babe comes in looking for you. I told her you'd be right back. Then I hustled down here to get you 'cause, like you said, you'd be here."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Things That Are Not There by C.J. Henderson. Copyright © 2006 Elder Signs Press, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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