[untitled]

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?

e had been birthed by a collection of pop-culture myths. Coca-Cola had been his mother’s midwife. Pale Dr. Warhol in his white fright wig had nodded sagely in the background. A second attending, in Lycra and hair gel, may well have been Superman. This was how he remembered it (or, more accurately, misremembered it). His birth, beneath the warmth of neon signage. Dragged by the fingernails into a room of bright color and repetition. How could he help where he was going, if this was where he had started out?

Today, however, he was in a state of zen unhappiness, a state that might in ordinary circumstances have led to a productive morning. At least a few thousand words of memoir were waiting to be written, mostly anecdotes from the ’80s, but today, the nagging depression couldn’t coax even the shittiest sentence out of him.

He switched on the TV. Daytime cable. In yellow Colorvision, William Shatner was investigating an alien threat of some kind. Spock raised his eyebrow and the phone rang.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing, man. Trying to come up with a chapter for the book people.”

“Mmhmm. Cool.”

Josh had nothing to say. Josh had never had anything to say. Every day, Josh called him and asked about the memoir.

“You come up with a title yet?”

“The publishers wanna call it Just the Kid,” he delivered in monotone. “But I think that’s a fuckin’ stupid name.”

“Mmhmm.”

Eventually the Enterprise floated across the screen on invisible wires, and Josh hung up with an ‘alright, yeah, bye’.

He added a few lines to the Word file that had been languishing on his hard drive, and then picked up the remote control.  Weekdays, 1 p.m., reruns of the show. There he was: curly-haired, big-eared, his weak chin never destined to grow into square-jawed manliness. From ages ten to fourteen, he had grown inside a television tube into a surly teenager. After four seasons, the network had pulled the plug on Just the Kids. There was no public outcry against the sitcom’s cancellation, no words of consolation for his character, little Rudy Salmon. Just a life cut short, transferred onto VCR, and banished to Best Buy bargain bins. Suddenly, Sam Freeman had become a ‘former child star’.

The pop culture echo onscreen delivered a punchline and then exited. His television family continued their dinner table conversation. The baby face looking back and forth between television mom and television dad, a pink, tennis-ball of a child, would grow into Josh Reitenscharfer. Sam didn’t know why he was still in touch with Josh. Out of a sense of misplaced fraternity, perhaps.

“Hey… Hey, Sammy!”

He started, looked behind him. His Spidey sense told him that a jovial killer brandishing a lens-flare knife was waiting to pounce. No one was there.

“No: over here, asshole.” On the screen, Baby-Josh’s round cheeks lip-synched to words spoken by the adult Josh. He was staring out of the TV and right at Sam. “The fuck are you doing, watching this shit? Are you high or something?”

He wasn’t high. Was barely drunk. The scene around Josh had gone out of focus as though the camera lens had been smeared with Vaseline. Like when Shatner saw a beautiful alien he wanted to fuck, Sam thought.

“I… No,” he said. “Josh?”

“This is not the time to be thinking about getting your end away with some green-ass alien chick,” Baby-Josh said. His face was grainy like only ’80s TV could be. Sam was afraid that if he blinked he might be sucked into some static non-existence. Eventually his eyelids gave in, and the television family came into focus and went about their business. The slow cuts warmed Sam’s insides, and he went back to his laptop.

andall Pryce, the soft-spoken Midwesterner who had played Just the Kids’ father John Salmon, had been a poor man’s Jimmy Stewart. During filming, Sam could squint beneath the studio lights and almost make out the real actors trying to escape from beneath the TV family facade: here was James Stewart, opposite him a glamorous but homely Lucille Ball; the mailman was a Bogart, but without cigarettes (it was, after all, the era of political correctness); and their neighbor was Elvis, with sideburns turned grey.

He and Josh had always worn primary colors; they were the crew of their own starship Enterprise.

“Mr. Freeman, this is Sandra Killington, from Gotham Publishing.” He had picked up the phone automatically. It wasn’t Josh.

“Hello, what, er…”

“How are you today?”

“Fine, I’m just working on the memoir.”

A laugh. “Don’t worry, we’re not checking up on you. We had some more ideas for the title.”

“Okay.”

“How about Sam & Salmon?” She paused. In the background, a Twilight Zone star scape swam on the flatscreen. “We can include Just the Kids in there, too. Maybe as a subtitle?” Sure, he said, whatever. Sandra-Killington-from-Gotham-Publishing had no more interest in Sam Freeman than Rod Serling did.

After he hung up, he asked: “Rod, what’s the twist at the end of this one?”

Rod’s pixellated features looked out at him and said: “Picture the interior of an apartment, daytime. Samuel Freeman, 36 years of age, a minor star now supernovaed into obscurity. Like all things burned into their component atoms, Freeman may be destined to languish… in the Twilight Zone.”

he Chantilly Place Diner was his Holy Grail. It seemed almost to glow. It was red and silver, a toy racing car. As Josh slid out of the booth and waved a nonchalant goodbye, Sam noticed that his mustard-yellow polo shirt was torn in the back. He let Josh go without saying anything.

Behind the counter, a server polishing coffee mugs with a dish cloth asked: “Can I get you more coffee, hun?” She floated over to his table, silent as a silver screen Dracula, coffee pot held menacingly at head-height. Sam shook his head, asked for a strawberry shake instead. Drinking alcohol had been prohibited on a family show such as Just the Kids, and as such, the Salmon family’s only vice had been the occasional trip to a soundstage diner where Rudy slurped a milkshake and his parents sipped coffee. Since they had reconnected, he and Josh had gravitated toward the Chantilly Place out of some sense of nostalgia, he supposed.

He pulled his computer out of his bag and set it on the Formica table top. The still-open Word file blinked a cursor at him.

In the delivery room, Superman’s forehead creased, the midwife lit up with a red, familiar glow, and a newborn Rudy Salmon clawed his way into existence. Next to the impassive Dr. Warhol, Sam Freeman looked on, confused. Was this Rudy’s birth, or his? He felt like William Shatner wearing a William Shatner mask on Halloween.

The milkshake slid onto his table and he began to type: I had been birthed by a collection of pop culture myths. Coca-Cola had been my mother’s midwife. Pale Dr. Warhol in his white fright wig had nodded sagely in the background… [ends]

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[untitled]

Losing It

he height of the counter and its angle in relation to his swivel chair aggravates James Coverstone. He is not a tall man, but all things considered, he is far from short. And yet, behind the lobby desk, his eyeline sits barely two inches above the highest point of the counter. Occasionally he extends his spine and peers out into the large foyer, watches the self-consciously sentient crowds come and go in tandem with the train schedules.

A woman with a long floral print dress and a nose piercing has just exited the Joseph Beuys exhibit and is heading toward the sloped counter. Her hair dyed red and frayed at the ends, she passes him a black rectangle with earphones wrapped around it, smiles, tells him that the Ipod is, like her, divorced from its other half. She found it, she explains, on a seat opposite a Beuys self-portrait.

Coverstone thanks her, notes down the time and the location of the lost item, and then places it in a drawer alongside three cellphones, a pair of glasses, a hotel key card for room 119, a flash drive and an expired university ID card. The drawer has a Post-It note reading “Lost Propperty” stuck to its front. The supplemental letter is another source of frustration for Coverstone.

*         *        *

is night is haunted by electronic ghosts. Feverish dreams persist on the subway ride to the museum the following day: the amputation of an Ipod, an Iphone, of eyeglasses, walking sticks and other prostheses, from faceless people. He should note this down for his next therapy session, he tells himself. Instead he scribbles in a Moleskine notebook the narrow outline of an Ipod Nano.

As the day passes, the drawer fills a little further. Coverstone records a pair of sunglasses that complement the other already in the drawer, and a woman with a small child hands him a thin, blue sweater that she found in the bathroom.

If it wasn’t bright pink I don’t think I’d have seen it. The man wearing a t-shirt with a strange swoosh of colour passes Coverstone a cellphone found in a video installation upstairs. Isn’t the Marley stuff amazing? Coverstone nods in response. Later, an unsheathed umbrella scuppers the “Lost Propperty” drawer, and he has to lean it between the corner of his desk and the wall. It is, he discovers, another Beuys orphan.

His shift ends at 8 p.m. As he rises and looks out into the lobby, he opens the drawer and extracts the black Ipod, before collecting his things from the staff room and leaving for the day.

*         *        *

he subway car jolts out of the station the next morning. The earphones are in his ears, but so far Coverstone has been too busy scrolling through the list of artists to actually listen to any of the mp3s. An item out of context, he thinks, might still reveal something of its owner.  He recognises most of the band names.

Postal Service
Pulp
Radiohead
Rainer Maria

Instead, he chooses a band named Sandsturm and presses play. The thrash of guitar accompanies the shunting tracks and the train arcs into a tunnel. Perhaps the monochrome gaze of Joseph Beuys caused the Ipod’s other half to abandon it in the exhibition space of a moderately successful museum.

Behind the slanted desk, Coverstone spends the day playing solitaire at his computer. The PC is pure artifice. It does not have internet access, and is there merely to suggest that Coverstone’s job is more important than it really is. Over the course of the day, several items – including a contact lens case, a baseball cap, and another pair of eyeglasses – are added to the drawer. A child’s shoe lands on the counter and slides onto the table before Coverstone can look up to examine its source.

As the rain falls outside that evening, he steps out and opens the orphaned Beuys umbrella over his head. Water patters onto the plastic canopy, and Coverstone imagines that he is someone else, that he is more important than, in actual fact, he is.

*         *        *

t is the end of the day. The man says: James, I’m sorry. Coverstone takes the envelope, lifts the unsealed flap, and pulls out the letter. It is not even signed. Let me know if you need anything. The man walks away from the lobby desk, and Coverstone slumps in his chair, his eyeline sinking beneath the angle of the counter. He reads no further than “We regret to inform you” before understanding what this means. He has been cast off, fired, laid off, retired, disposed of, he is the equivalent of an unwanted Polaroid or a worn-down shoe.

Coverstone smiles, then tosses the pink slip into the trash. He then disposes of the Post-It reading Lost Propperty, and then opens the drawer.

Minutes later, he walks into the Beuys exhibit. The space is empty, the lights dimmed. From his bag he withdraws the thin Ipod, its battery expired and its screen dark, and he places it on the cushioned seat opposite a screen-printed portrait of the artist. In one corner of the room, Coverstone leans the umbrella up against a pedestal that is supporting a sculpture of a typewriter.

In the women’s bathroom, he drapes the sweater over the paper towel dispenser and, after checking the list in his pocket and seeing that the university ID was found in one of the stalls, drops the card with a plink into a toilet bowl.

Within an hour, Coverstone has dispersed his collection with care, examining the list and placing each item in the appropriate location. The permanent collection houses three cellphones and both pairs of glasses, while he installs in the rest rooms both the contact lens case and the hotel key card. Finally, the last cellphone, the baseball cap, and the flash drive find their respective homes.

Back in the lobby, Coverstone retrieves the small blue and white tennis shoe from his bag. A single, child-size sneaker divorced from its companion. He places it on the counter and watches it slide onto his desk, then smiles, and heads for the exit. [ends]

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Choose your own adventure!

Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod Curse

“Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod Curse” hits full stride this week, as Delaney begins to track down the mysterious figure who has been hounding him out of Malmouth, Massachusetts. Are they responsible for Eddie Elderthorn’s death? Who is Agent Link? And can Delaney trust Detective Hadley? Read the latest installment and decide for yourself! Remember to vote, and to return each Wednesday for a new chapter.

Chapter V

r. Delaney.”

“Sergeant.”

“Call me Silas.”

“Ray.”

“Ray, you look a little worse for wear. If you don’t mind my saying so.”

Delaney nodded, and as Silas took a seat he flagged down a waiter to order cheap bourbon. The hotel bar was like the embers of a fine cigar, its grandeur burned up into dust.

“You know why whiskey’s always been a detective’s drink?” he said. Silas shook his head. “The glass is always half-empty.”

Delaney told Silas about the incident on the drive back from the Elderthorns, how he had seen the same silhouetted outline on the road behind him, standing idle in the rain, the same outline from Devil’s Point. Silas nodded sagely and asked the returning waiter for a glass of iced tea. “Apart from the anonymous note, there’s no evidence, nothing we can use to trace this guy, to find out who he is.”

“Definitely a man?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“So at least we can be sure it’s not Miss Anna Carmilla.” Silas sighed, and pulled from his pocket a crumpled photocopy that he lay on the table. “Agent Link’s badge. As promised.”

Delaney picked up the xeroxed image. A black and white version of the woman he had seen at the police station stared up at him, with the name Carmilla, Anna K. printed beside it. The title Special Agent preceded her date of birth and sex in a narrow column to the left; on the right hand side a crest featuring a black eagle read United States Secret Service, Division 21.

“Secret Service?” said Delaney. “You could be in jail right now, Silas.”

“She went out for a smoke.” The policeman smiled and his face contorted. “When one door closes, another opens.”

Neither Delaney nor Silas knew what Division 21 might be. But at least, Delaney thought, they had a name. Special Agent Anna Carmilla.

*        *        *

dging toward unconsciousness later that night, Delaney had visions of a black nothingness in the shape of a man, a man who was climbing in through his hotel window and chloroforming him out of existence. But before sleep took hold, he was woken by a polite rapping at the door. He climbed out of bed, and thought of his gun. His gun, which lay in a filing cabinet in back in Boston.

“Yes?” he called out.

“Ray? It’s me, it’s Janet.”

He exhaled and pulled the door open. His sister, a false dolphin smile pasted to the bottom of her face, stepped into the room. “You need a shave,” she said.

“I’m untidy, unwashed, unshaved and unsober. And I don’t care who knows it.” Delaney grinned and Janet’s smile grew teeth.

They sat at the table in the corner of his room, Janet drawing a finger loosely across its fake wooden top. “So?” Delaney said, pouring a half glass of wine out of a miniature mini-bar wine bottle.

“There’s something I haven’t told you… about Eddie. It might be important, but, you know, Bob wants to keep this in the family.”

Delaney raised an eyebrow.

“I know, I know. Well, about six months ago, I got home from work, and Bob was there. He’d taken a day off. And he told me that he’d found something in Eddie’s room, hidden under some clothes in his closet. He’d found… drugs.” She whispered the last word.

“Drugs?!”

“Well, the stuff that you would need to make drugs. Methamphetamine, Bob said.”

Delaney exhaled. “And you haven’t told the police about this?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, I guess you inherited some Private Investigator genes, too,” Delaney said. “So you think that Eddie was running away from something, something to do with these drugs?”

The visions were returning. His Buick, spinning in the rain; the mysterious figure following him. Was it the killer, following him, trying to do to Delaney the very thing that he had done to Eddie.

“Well.” He paused and Janet finished her wine. “Whatever happened, Eddie was trying to figure it out. He was coming to see me, Jan, coming up to Boston.”

“You don’t know that, Ray.”

Delaney rose and went to his suitcase. From the outside pocket he retrieved the CD that he had found in Eddie’s desk, and handed it to Janet. He explained that it was apparently just a copy, but that it sounded as though Eddie had been on his way to see his uncle Ray. “Listen to this when you have a chance. And let’s keep this in the family,” he added with a smile.

Janet returned to her wan dolphin expression. “Don’t be an asshole, kid.”

*        *        *

ello?” Delaney’s tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. The clock read 7.42 a.m. The voice was familiar, rough at the edges. Even in half-sleep he could infer anxiety on the other end of the phone.

“Silas?” he said. “What’s wrong?”

The policeman’s voice bristled, and said:

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Choose your own adventure!

Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]

[untitled]‘s new Choose Your Own Adventure continues! In “Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]”, our PI protagonist is investigating the death of his nephew Eddie, and has stumbled across a spate of mysterious murders happening on the Cape. With no suspects and no motive, how will Ray crack this one? And will he beat Agent Link to the punch? Check back each Wednesday for a new chapter! And if you haven’t already, take a look at [untitled]’s sister site, PULPable, with a new post on Choose Your Own Adventures!

Chapter IV

he Elderthorns deserved it – ask Detective Hadley. Drop the case. Or Private Eye becomes Private Die!

There was no signature. Just letters, cut haphazardly from newspaper headlines, rearranged into words, and pasted to an ordinary sheet of paper. The large, ornate letter T that began the note – T for Threat, thought Delaney – was frayed at the edges. So were Delaney’s nerves.

He folded the note and stuffed it into his pocket. Standing at the hot drinks station just beyond the reception desk, he sipped hotel lobby coffee that tasted like the underside of a bus. His eyes flitted between the different figures idling near the revolving doors. Outside, slants of rain popped against the glass.

Delaney reversed out of the parking lot minutes later, glancing in the rear view mirror. A curtain of rain turned the outline of the hotel into a barcode, and then into white static. The Elderthorns deserved it – ask Detective Hadley. As much as his gut lurched every time he spoke to his brother-in-law, even Bob Elderthorn didn’t deserve to outlive his own son.

His foot hit the accelerator, and tires spat water onto the sidewalks. Malmouth police station was just a five minute drive away. It was time to meet Detective Hadley.

*        *        *

ou’re Sergeant Silas Hadley?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Ray Delaney, Eddie Elderthorn’s uncle.” They shook hands.

“Oh, I’m… I’m very sorry for what happened. The investigation is still ongoing – we’ll let you know once we have some more information.” He made to turn away.

“Sergeant, I’m also a private investigator up in Boston. And last night, your name landed on the windshield of my car while I was out at Devil’s Point.”

Silas raised an eyebrow, asked: “What would you be doing out there, Mr. Delaney?”

They took seats around Silas’ desk, Delaney feeling as though he were on the wrong side of the table. Pulling out his PI license, he explained why he was on the Cape, how he had found the CD recording in Eddie’s desk, and how a mysterious figure had tucked a note with Hadley’s name on it under the windshield wiper of his car.

Clearly, Silas said, someone was out to implicate him. “I hardly knew your nephew. Or their parents.”

Delaney looked at Hadley. With his thin frame and crooked nose, he was an unlikely detective. Silas had maybe a few years on him, his cheekbone bristles peppered with a little more grey than Delaney’s own five o’clock shadow. The note, he figured, was pure obfuscation. Incriminate both the investigator and the victim’s family.

“Whoever’s trying to get me off their back,” Delaney said, “has something to hide. Any idea who might have wasted their evening cutting up a Boston Globe?”

The station doors swung open and a gust of wind puffed into the room. Agent Link strode through right after it.

“I think I may have an inkling, Mr. Delaney.”

*        *        *

ruised puffball clouds were obscuring the morning sunlight. Silas had told Delaney about Agent Link and his mysterious informant as he walked Delaney to his car. They agreed to meet later at the hotel, Silas ensuring Delaney that he would somehow make a copy of Link’s ID badge. Delaney didn’t know what to do, so told Silas he’d make some calls. A line he often used with clients.

After a lunch with the Elderthorns that consisted mainly of laconic conversation over cups of coffee, Delaney decided to head back to the hotel and wait for Silas. As the Buick pulled out of their driveway, the speckles of rain had started again, and he felt uneasy beneath the grey sky.

Several seconds of pressing the accelerator into the footwell, and the storm began to worsen. The pop-plip of water on the car’s roof soon turned into a steady stream, and the windshield wipers could hardly keep the rain away from the glass. The odometer, he realised, was still hovering between 35 and 40, despite how far his foot was buried into the carpet beneath the pedals; the breeze outside had turned into a gushing wind that was pushing against the nose of the car.

His knuckles whitened slowly against the steering wheel, as though he were turning into a ghost. His stomach churned. The harder he pressed against the wheel, the more the rain obscured his view, and the stronger the wind pushed against the Buick’s hood. About to lift his foot from the pedal, the car spun amid a waterfall of squeals and crunches, and, for a brief moment, Delaney thought that he too was about to be flipped upside down, crushed between cold steel and the wet vinyl roof.

He pushed the driver’s door open and clambered inelegantly out. Rain sloshed over his feet. Delaney circled the car, scanning the street for some sign, some clue as to why the car had skidded. Then he looked up, and saw an outline of a man, the same outline that he had seen last night at Devil’s Point, several hundred feet behind him. He was starting to wonder if this silhouette might be behind the Cape Cod [noun].

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Choose your own adventure!

Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]

Ray Delaney’s life has become much more complicated. The mysterious Agent Link seems to be investigating the same case, and Delaney has uncovered evidence of his nephew Eddie’s own investigation on the Cape. Did Eddie Elderthorn’s discovery lead to his untimely demise? Place your votes to determine what happens next time in “Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]“!

Chapter III

here’s no Agent Link working out of this office. Sorry.” Silas thanked his acquaintance, lay the phone back in its cradle and made his way out into the makeshift office that had been set up in the incident room.

“Agent Link,” he said. The woman looked up, feigning boredom under lilac-colored lids. “You say you work out of the FBI bureau in Boston?”

“Yes.” Link moved her gaze back to the document spread out on the desk. Silas knew she was lying. His friend at the Bureau had confirmed that there was no ‘Special Agent Link’ currently employed by the Feds.

“What do you do up there?” he asked. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

She straightened. “Federal prosecution, Sergeant. Same as the FBI does all over the country.” Silas nodded. “This body you found out at Devil’s Point beach. The death of this boy, Edward Elderthorn. They’re just two more incidents in a larger investigation. With each death, all signs point to homicide, but there’s never any sign of suspect or motive. At Devil’s Point, the boy was alone on the beach, correct? Forensics show no sign of anyone else having been present?”

Silas nodded. “There was nothing. Bruises around his throat suggested asphyxiation, but there was no evidence to link the death to anyone else, and no water was in his lungs.”

“And the Elderthorn boy. He was on Route 6, it was nearly 2 a.m.. There were no other vehicles, and there was no reason that his car should have flipped.”

“So what are you saying? They did these things to themselves?”

A shake of the head, and she bent back down to the document. “I don’t know.”

His shift nearly over, Silas retreated into the rear of the office. But before he could pull on his coat, the phone jangled at his desk. He looked at Agent Link. She hadn’t looked up. Silas lifted the receiver.

*        *        *

limbing out of his car and gazing down onto Devil’s Point, Delaney felt like a toy balanced on top of a giant sandcastle. The incline was steep and narrow, rolling down towards the sea and creating a thin peninsula as it reached the Atlantic. Thinking of Eddie’s voice ringing through the car speakers, he began his descent, first across the grass and then onto the slippery dune-like sands.

The weather was turning grim. Dark thunderclouds like Gothic cotton candy floated over the coast. His brown loafers, the ones that looked like a thousand dollars but cost twenty bucks, were filling with sand. He shimmied down, then slid, his feet came out from under him, and his coat wrapped up and around his back, flapped over his head. Then thunk into wet beach at the base of the cliff.

“Swell,” he muttered. Looking back up, maybe twenty or thirty feet, the Buick was still visible, but only from the wheels up and only in stark silhouette. To the left, the tip of Devil’s Point curved around and continued up the Cape, but on his right, Delaney saw the pepper grey and sandy outlines of stones and caves. He crunched across the beach towards them.

Eventually he reached the entrance to a large cavern, leading back into darkness and into the Massachusetts rock. A pocket flashlight shone into the hollow and illuminated nothing but stones, moss, seaweed and sand. The body that he had heard Eddie describe was nowhere to be seen. Most likely in the local morgue. Behind him, his own footprints led back to the dunes and the tide was beginning to wash in.

Then Delaney flipped the light back in the direction of the Buick, and caught a man-shaped silhouette disappearing behind his car.

*        *        *

ilas hung up and stared for a glassy-eyed moment at an unremarkable filing cabinet in the corner of his office. Then the floodgates opened and his mind was awash with questions. Her name isn’t Agent Link, the voice had said. Silas had tried to interrupt, but the muffled words continued to spill from the receiver: Her name is Anna Carmilla. She is not an FBI Agent, but she does work for the government. Don’t let her play you for a sucker, Shamus. Then the dial tone punctured his eardrum, and the voice was gone.

As he made his way out, pulling a coat over his uniform and bidding Agent Link goodnight, the same bruised, puffball clouds that Delaney had seen at Devil’s Point drifted overhead. The evening air was sharper than a butcher’s cleaver.

*        *        *

elaney let the sand fall through his fingers as he pulled himself up the incline toward his car. There was a concave indent in the convertible‘s roof, as though a giant had pressed a finger gently against it. The silhouette had vanished, but wedged between the windshield wipers and the glass was a sheet of paper. He pulled it out and read it in the arc of the flashlight.

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Choose your own adventure!

Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]

After a tie in last week‘s vote, Ray Delaney begins to unearth clues and signs in the death of his nephew, Eddie, on a Cape Cod highway. At the end of the chapter, place your vote to determine what happens in the following week’s installment of “Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]“!

Chapter II

ddie’s bedroom was directly above the Elderthorns’ kitchen. Windows facing south and east looked out onto white crests breaking against the evening shore, while inside, lost in a tiny bubble of his own, Delaney trod the creaking floorboards of his nephew’s room. Janet’s voice perforated the dropped ceiling tiles one floor below and hummed around him.

Five years his senior, Janet had married Bob Elderthorn, a real estate broker with a grey mustache that looked like a well-worn shoe shine brush, almost twenty years ago. Bob and Delaney had never liked one another. On this point, at least, they agreed.

That afternoon, his tone unchanged even in tragedy, Bob had greeted Delaney with a terse: “Raymond.”

“Robert,” Delaney had replied. He had then hugged Janet and divested himself of his overcoat.

His nephew’s room was, on police orders, strictly out of bounds. Delaney had headed straight upstairs. A handkerchief now hugged his palm as he extracted from beneath a pile of school books a thin plastic CD case. The disc inside was unremarkable but for the word COPY scrawled on it in Sharpie. Lain so conspicuously hidden underneath in a desk drawer, and under several school books, Delaney was certain that it was important.

Later, downstairs, dinner was blanketed in silence, and the strange darkness set in around the Elderthorns’ house.

*        *        *

he Cape air was thick with intrigue and doubt. Detective Silas Hadley watched as the woman with the vulpine features and the dress that hugged to her hourglass hips strode into his police station. Two officers flanked her. After flashing a badge he didn’t have time to read, she said:

“Mr. Hadley?”

“S’right,” he replied.

“I need your station.”

“What for?”

“For the foreseeable future.” She looked around. In her right hand was a small plastic box, buttons across its top, a transparent window on the front. A dictaphone.

Behind his desk, Silas mustered something approaching indignation. “This may only be Malmouth, Massachusetts,” he said. “But this is still my station. Who are you? Who do you work for? The staties?”

The woman smiled, and her teeth shone under the halogen lights. “I’m with the FBI. Special Agent Link.” She placed the dictaphone on the table top. “Get this transcribed for me, would you, Sergeant?”

*        *        *

howl of air whipped the hood as Delaney’s Buick rattled along the street. He slid the disc into the CD slot and pressed PLAY. The low hum of the engine and the whistle of Atlantic were suddenly accompanied by a voice. Eddie’s voice, set to the familiar soundtrack of the ocean waves. Delaney grimaced in the rear view mirror as his nephew spoke.

I’m [crunching of  stones]… I’m at Devil’s Point. It’s still in the cave. I thought the sea might have washed it out, but it’s, like, stuck on the rocks or something. [Pause]. I think it’s – well, he’s dead. He looks young. [A sniff, then static].

The same Cape air, brisk and almost salty to the touch, surrounded Malmouth Police Station as Delaney was making his way to his hotel. Silas had left a message with an acquaintance at the FBI office in Boston – he wanted to check on Agent Link’s pedigree – and then sat down to transcribe the tape. At intervals, he glanced across at Link, who had settled into a desk chair in the corner and was speaking into a cellphone.

When he idled toward the woman with the transcript in hand and said, “this is evidence in an ongoing inquiry,” she drew the phone away from her ear saying, “I’ll call you back.”

“A boy was found dead at Devil’s Point beach about a month ago,” Silas explained. “It’s a mile and half from here, looked like he drowned.”

Agent Link snatched the paper from Silas’ hands, and read:

… I think it’s – well, he’s dead. He looks young. Shit… I need to get to Boston, to uncle Ray. [Wind grows louder]. What the… [Footsteps on stones, voice gasps for air, a sound like chattering teeth]. No, I… It’s… [The click of a dictaphone button]. Okay, I think it’s gone. Looked like a cloud, or a storm. It seemed to be following me. It must have been drawn to the… to the body. [Static.]

“Doesn’t sound so much like an accident anymore, does it?” Agent Link raised an eyebrow.

The wind outside Delaney’s car seemed meagre by comparison to the hiss of dead air, the crunches and desperate breaths on the disc. Eddie Elderthorn had died trying to bring this recording to him; he had to find out what had happened at Devil’s Point, and more importantly, what had happened to Eddie. This had been no traffic accident.

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Choose your own adventure!

Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]

[untitled] welcomes you, readers old and new, to “Ray Delaney & the Cape Cod [noun]”, a new Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that takes P.I. Ray Delaney to the Cape on a mission to solve a mysterious spate of deaths. Vote at the end of each chapter to decide Delaney’s fate, and check back each Wednesday for a new chapter!

Chapter I

treetlamp reflections like quotation marks rolled across the windshield of the car. Eddie Elderthorn’s face was blue with cold and worry. He had taken the vinyl convertible roof down before pulling out of his parents’ driveway, and his fingers were now pressed to the point of whiteness against the steering wheel. The chill evening air buffeted his face and drew goose pimples out along his forearms.

The road was widening. On the drive up to Boston, the ocean always began to dissipate after you passed Malmouth, the Atlantic waters moving off to the left as the highway grew wider. They’re going to kill me, Eddie thought. His teeth chattered in time with the words.

He glanced into the back seat. A smile broke his face in two. The small rectangular box lying behind the passenger seat was his ticket out of here.

Eddie turned back to the highway and took his last breath, a deep intake of salty, acid, Cape Cod air. And then, fear gripped his windpipe. The plastic moulded steering column seemed to fuse with his fingertips. In front of the windshield, a large cloud of black hovered over the car.

His screams breached the spring evening as the maroon convertible pivoted on its front bumper, arced in the air, and came to rest roof-side down against the tarmac. The black cloud dissipated. The small box bounced out of the upturned car and landed in a sandy divot at the side of the road.

*        *        *

The woman’s legs were curled so tightly around one another that Delaney feared they might never get untangled. He could make out a phantom reflection of her in the coffee shop window, a blurry arrangement of limbs. If he looked left, he would see her, would know whether she had an aquiline profile or whether her jaw jutted in a stiff V below her mouth, whether her eyes were set far apart or her cheekbones high on her face. Delaney didn’t look to the left. He preferred to preserve the sense of mystery.

As he made to turn to the next page of the Globe, his cellphone buzzed against the table top and flashed the name JANET up at him.

“Hey.” He flipped the phone open, and sobs trapped his sister’s voice on the other end of the line. “Janet – what’s wrong?”

“It’s Eddie.” A whelp and a swallow. “He… he’s dead, Ray. He was in a car accident last night.”

Delaney suddenly felt inanimate; the voice was just a disembodied spirit on the other end of the line.

“He took Bob’s car, the police said that he was on Route 6 and heading up the Cape.”

“Eddie’s dead? Stay at home, stay with Bob,” Delaney said. “I’ll drive down this afternoon.” He got up, leaving half a cup of coffee burning a ring into the table, and headed for the door as Janet explained. One minute later the tightly wound legs to his left disentangled themselves, and followed him in silence.

*        *        *

The silver speck in the rear-view mirror went unnoticed as Delaney sped onto the highway. His thoughts drifted above the cars and along I-93, twisted across treetops toward the sandy Cape, and came to rest above the ruined maroon Mazda Miata and the remains of his nephew tossed so carelessly onto the roadside. He couldn’t quite believe that Eddie was dead. Why had he been heading to Boston? And he had lost control of the car? Even at 17, Eddie was a good driver. Stop making a mystery out of everything, he cautioned himself.

As the rotary span him onto Route 6, the sky darkened and the clouds seemed to hang lower.  Thunder storms threatened all the way to the Elderthorns’ house, and a distracted Delaney sped past the small, black box that lay buried behind police tape and men in high visibility jackets.

Within ten minutes, the silver speck trailing Ray Delaney had grown in size. An angular, unmarked car made its way along Route 6 and drew to a halt across from the wreckage of the upturned convertible. Limbs and then a torso unfolded, stepped out of the car, and crossed the road. The woman from the coffee shop flashed a badge and ducked under the tape.

A moment later, she sifted from the yellow-and-green roadside a scuffed rectangular box. And later, at the Elderthorn house in Malmouth, Delaney pulled from his nephew’s desk drawer a small clue of his own, as the Atlantic winds blew darkly in the distance.

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