This weeks flash fiction challenge over at Terribleminds.
We had to pick (randomly. preferably) two subgenres; one from either list of twenty.
The RNG gave me 13 and 18. Which translates to Superhero and Noir.
Now, I’ve blurred the lines here a little, but hey, as far as I’m concerned Hercules is the archetypal Superhero.
Which leads me nicely into part three of – The Twelve Labours of Herc.u.Lees
The Second Labour
I awoke to a pounding inside my head. I felt like my brain had been dropped from the tenth floor. It took a few minutes before I realised the thumping in my head was an echo of the thumping at my door. I got up and stumbled across the room. I opened the door; the thumping stopped, but the light from the hallway hit me like I owed it money.
‘Oh, Mr Lees!’ she exclaimed, barging past me.
‘Come in’ I said to myself
‘Mr Lees, I’ve been trying to contact you’ she said in a panic ‘something terrible has happened’
As my eyes readjusted to the dim of my office, I got a look at her; impeccable as always.
‘Are you listening to me Mr Lees?’ she asked
‘Sure’ I said with a wave of my hand walking back to the couch ‘terrible things’
I picked up the cigarette packet from the table, and set to killing myself slowly.
‘Mr Lees’ her tone demanded attention
‘Herc’ I said
She rose an eyebrow in distaste; I couldn’t tell if it was the cigarette, yesterdays suit, or the informality of my suggestion.
‘Mr Lees’ she continued ‘I have rushed here with great urgency; I told you I have the most distressing news, and you don’t seem to care, have I placed my trust in the wrong man?’ she asked sternly
‘Most people place their trust in the wrong person, but they don’t usually know until it’s too late’ I quipped ‘this might very well be one of those occasions’
She snorted in derision, taking a seat in the armchair opposite me. Her golden hair shimmered in the rogue strands of light that filtered through the venetian blinds.
‘You said you would help me’
‘I said I would take a look and let you know’
‘I looked’ I said ‘No’
‘No?’ she seemed hurt
‘Miss Athena’ I tried to be tactful ‘I’m not the man to help you recover your horse’
‘Pegasus’ she said
I ignored it and continued ‘This goes way over my head, and I don’t feel you’ve been straight with me’
She frowned, her thin deliberate brows came together as she sought her most innocent of looks. It was good.
‘I don’t understand Mr Lees, I told you everything I know’
She looked down at the handbag she had rested on her lap, toying with the clasp distractedly; like a child.
‘I didn’t think you’d take the case if you knew who my father was’
‘You’re right, I wouldn’t’
‘I wanted to find Pegasus before he knew what had happened. I believed it to be petty criminals. But if Daddy knew…well’
I took the last drag of my cigarette and stubbed it out in the astray.
‘Well it would seem that the culprit is anything but a petty criminal’
‘You know who it is?’ she sat forward, her eyes lit up at the possibility.
‘Nope’ I said ‘I don’t want to, that sort of information will get me killed, and despite the contradiction’ I gestured to the empty bottle of scotch, and the ashtray ‘I like being alive’
She seemed deflated, as though she was slowly accepting the fact I wasn’t going to help. She opened the clasp of her bag, and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
‘I received it this morning’ she offered it to me across the table.
I don’t know why I did, but I took it. I unfolded the paper, and the same crude letter cutting had been applied to this one too, it read:
IN LERNEA LIES THE SERPENT TONGUED MESSENGER
‘Who?’ I asked
She shrugged ‘I’ve never been to Lernea’
I was getting too old for this, and I wasn’t likely to get any older if I continued poking around in shady waters. But something about the sad eyes of a beautiful woman make me do the craziest things.
‘I’ll see what he knows’
She looked up at me, the tears glistened in her eyes; she smiled, though it was an exhausted smile.
The sign in the window read:
Paul Hydrakampf – The Answer to Your Legality Issues
I smiled to myself. Should’ve known a serpent tongued messenger would be a lawyer. The fluorescent beacon in the door said open. I went in. It was a typical office; a reception desk sat in front of an arrangement of chairs.
‘Can I help you?’ The receptionist asked
‘I’m looking for Mr Hydrakampf, is he here?’
‘One moment please’ she picked up the phone on her desk ‘There’s a gentleman out here for you’
She eyed me over the rim of her glasses ‘he looks like a dick’
‘No, a private detective’
‘One moment’ she moved the mouth piece away from her lips ‘your name please?’
She spoke back into the phone ‘Mr Lees’
She looked at me again ‘What’s your business?’
‘Detective work mostly’ I said with a smile
She stared at me unimpressed.
‘I’m here on behalf of a client, Miss Athena Athens’
‘Uh-huh, okay’ she said to the phone before placing it back in its cradle.
‘He’ll see you now, go on through’
She gestured to the doorway off to the left. I followed it through to his office. I knocked once, and then entered. The office was mahogany; floor, walls, furniture. He sat behind his desk, the proverbial saw thumb: he wore a dark purple velvet suit, a mauve shirt, and a bright green tie.
He gestured to the seat adjacent to his. I obliged and sat. His smile was as wide as it was false, and his lips were so thin, they were almost non-existent; while his amber eyes clashed with his attire.
‘Sorry about all the questions, but in my game, you can never be too careful’ he extended his hand across to me ‘Paul Hydrakampf, but most people call me The Hydra’
I shook his hand and replied ‘Is that because you’re slippery?’
He laughed. ‘No’ he said and swung his foot up on the desk ‘on account of these’
I stared at a snake skin boot until he lowered his foot.
‘Now, what can I do for you?’
‘I’m here on behalf of a client; she received a note stating you might have some information for her’
‘I see’ he said ‘I write it?’
‘Nobody wrote it’ I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the note, and slid it across the desk to him.
He unfurled it, studying it with a squint. He leaned back in his chair.
‘You see Mr Lees’ he said ‘In my profession, sometimes you have to do some things for people who are’ he paused looking for a suitable word ‘suspect’
He must not have found it.
‘I understand that’ I said
‘Good, because I wouldn’t want you to take this personally’ he opened a draw in his desk. I half expected him to be holding a .22 when his hand came up, but instead he held envelopes. He laid them across his desk, placing each one down with equal importance. When he was done there was nine manila envelopes on his desk; each one identical.
‘These are your options Mr Lees. Only one of these envelopes contains the information you seek: the truth’
‘Almost certainly death’
‘That’s a lot of promise for such a small envelope’
He chuckled. ‘The information inside is not like to kill you, but rather where that information should lead you might’
‘So what’s to stop me from taking all nine envelopes?’
‘Certainly not me’ he replied ‘but when you open one, it will release a toxin into the air. If you should open the others, the toxin will react with the ink, and you’ll be left with nothing but blotted paper’
‘Of course, why didn’t I think of that’ I said ‘So I’m just supposed to pick one, open it, and follow the information, with an eighty-nine percent chance I’ll die’
‘No greater odds than life; every decision we make can lead to death’
‘Do I get to ask some questions, or am I just playing lucky dip?’
‘You may ask me three questions, to which I will answer yes or no’
‘Great’ I said
He smiled at me. I smiled back.
‘Did you write these?’ I asked
‘Were they delivered by the writer?’
‘Yes’ he smiled ‘Last question, do ask wisely’
I eyed the nine envelopes in front of me. Each one a duplicate; even the way he placed them made them seem like the limbs of some ominous creature. The words of Nemean began to ring through my mind. “She will always get her way”
I took a deep breath, and noted a scent in the air. I picked up an envelope. The Hydra looked perplexed as I sniffed it, placed it down; smelling each one in turn. When I was done I sat back in my chair.
‘Got any good places to eat around here?’
He looked stunned, and slightly bewildered
‘Is that your final question?’
‘Yeah, I’m starving’
Confused he replied ‘No’
I shrugged ‘I’ll wait until I get back into town’
I stood up and made my way to the door.
‘Mr Lees’ he called
I turned and gave him a questioning look.
He gestured his hand to the desk ‘your envelope’
‘Ah, yes’ I said.
I walked back to the desk, and chose the envelope directly underneath his upended hand. He looked up at me astonished.
‘It was the one I was going for, since it had the strongest smell of perfume, but you just confirmed it for me’
I gave him a wink and a smile, and walked out of his office; leaving the snake alone with his lies.