The Unfinished Story. A short stand alone Tex tale.
It was a quiet night with no other company for Tex than his good buddy Jim Beam when the dame walked into his office breaking the doldrums.
“Somebody needs your help.”
Tex raised his head, arms up as the woman burst into his office carrying a massively covered bulk. She strode over to the desk and with a metallic clang that rattled Tex’s fillings, she dropped it in front of him. At this point she was able to take a breath, and Tex was able to look her over.
She was a mutant. You could see the ghost of the normal genes inside her. Maybe her parents had been norms, hoping that whatever lingered inside them wouldn’t pass to their child. Their hopes were ignored. Her body was slender and trim, clad nicely in simple black dress, ala Audrey Hepburn. But her face, where a smooth, unbroken complexion was expected, there were ridges, dips and valleys. Her eyes, although bright blue and intelligent, were set much too deeply into her head. Tex brain had to slow down for a second, deciphering her words to him. A malformed palate made speaking difficult for her.
Tex stood behind his desk, eyeing the object that was taking up a sizeable amount of room on the blotter. He gestured for her to take a seat, but before he did, he pulled away the fitted leather drop cloth that covered it.
“Wow, this a great little find.” Tex thought about the noir vids he enjoyed watching so much, and he could see this little piece of work in his mind’s eye in any of the classic film backgrounds, or at his beloved writers' desk. It was a vintage manual typewriter. The body was Gunmetal gray with dark green accents. The keys were black with little white letters. The m button was cracked and broken, only a fraction of the piece remained. The carriage return handle was a little rusty, and the name across the top “Olympia” was slightly worn off. That wasn’t surprising, Tex guessed that it was probably 100 years old. A crisp white sheet of paper was drawn into the carriage. Tex cast a fleeting thought about the quick brown fox jumping, and wondered about how those smooth keys would feel under his hands.
Audrey did not sit. She made it a point not too. She fingered her hair and spoke quickly.
“It’s yours. I bought it to recondition and to flip. But I don’t want it.” She eyes dropped. “I thought about throwing it out, but I just couldn’t do it.” Her voice trailed off.
She avoided looking at Tex and turned to go.
Tex stood hurriedly and tried to follow her. “Wait. You said someone needed my help. Do you have a case? What’s your name?” Tex floundered. He needed some cash, and few clients had crossed his path recently. He wasn’t ready to let this chance to work slip away.
“Don’t!” Audrey flinched, backing away from Tex. “I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll find out for yourself, maybe. I can’t just be dreaming this.” She grabbed the door knob like it was a life vest. She bolted, and was gone, leaving Tex with nothing but questions, and a neat new piece of office furniture.
Three nights later.
Tex turned over on his cot, fedora falling off his head to rattle on the floor. At least he had made it to his bed that night. He had passed out at his desk quite a few times in the last week, and it was doing a number on his lower back. Knowing that his massage therapist wouldn’t take an IOU, he tried to stifle the pain as best he could with medicine and Jack Daniels. His mouth felt fuzzy and a little slimy, as if a family of squirrels had stopped inside to shed and do their evening constitutionals.
His brain didn’t register the noise, and he drifted back off to sleep until it happened again.
“Click, click Click, DING!”
He heard a ratcheting noise and the clicking settled in earnestly. Tex looked around, wondering where it was coming from. He shuffled slowly up and out of bed, and wandered into his office. The noise fell silent. He stumbled around rubbing his eyes. The fax machine was still, the little red light staring at him, unbroken and reproachful. There hadn’t been anything spitting out of it for weeks. Next he wandered by the window. The night was quiet.
The city council of San Francisco was pondering on shifting the am/pm work day to help prevent exposure to the damage brought after the devastation of WW3, but it hadn’t happened yet. The streets were dark, the News-stand locked away, only Louie’s would be open this time of night. But his mind was still pondering the noise that awoken him, so he turned back, looking for the culprit.
He had moved the typewriter to a side table, it had taken up too much valuable desk space. He squinted as he got closer to it. The paper was fed further than he remembered previously, and lines of text appeared on the once blank sheet. He pulled up his chair, and looked closer. There was a half page of writing on the machine. Without pulling it out or tampering with it, he scanned the first few sentences.
It was raw and gritty text, a woman tied up in a dirty basement, and from what he could gather, not nice things were happening to her. He looked back to his desk to see that he had finished off the whole bottle of Jack that night. True, he was bitter as hell towards Sylvia for crushing his heart, but he hadn’t even remotely entertained thoughts like he read on the page.
One thought that he DID entertain however, was that he was most assuredly still drunk, and when he awoke in the morning, this would be some strange sort of alcohol induced dream, and he would swear off the bottle, at least for a few days.
Stumbling back into his cot, he fell back into fitful sleep. Soon after, the clicking resumed, carriage lurching with every capital letter, the quiet ding of the bell siginifying the start of the next line, the keys pressed by silent and invisible hands well after the page ended, typing onto the empty reel, the ribbon's ink melting into the bar, keeping the words hidden to anyone but the machine ….
It would be waiting for him when he awoke.
Tex slid down into his favorite booth at Louie’s. The smell of coffee stirred him slightly, but he knew he wouldn’t reach full alert without a least half a cup of bean juice. The page he found from the typewriter was folded in his pocket twice over. He had read it several times earlier that morning, but needed a clear head to make any sense of it.
“What’ll you have Murph?” Louie poured a full mug of his magic blend, and slid in the booth across from him. “I don’t normally see you this time of day.”
Tex looked around the restaurant. It was between breakfast and lunch. Most of the booths were empty, and Yolanda was handling the few people still lingering at the counter. Tex had no idea what he should do about last night, and whether he should tell anyone about what occurred.
“Louie, give me your opinion on this.” He dug the page out of his trench coat pocket and passed it over. Louie unfolded it, and settled down to read. Tex watched his friend’s brow furrow at the paragraph concerning the broken wine bottle. The page hung midsentence, and Louie turned it over, looking for more on the back.
Louie pondered it. “Well, either it really happened or it’s a powerful piece of fiction. I don’t
know if I’d call it Noir or S&M.”
Tex was shocked by the fact that Louie had any idea what S&M was.
“Course, it might not even be that. After all, it doesn’t say specifically what happen right there.” Louie highlighted a sentence with his finger.
“You didn’t get a hit on the google?”
Tex was too ashamed to tell Louie that his modem service had been shut down for weeks. And no one else at the Ritz had an unsecure network he could hop onto.
Tex shook his head.
Louie thought it over for a bit. “My nephew, you know, majored in English Lit over at the University. I bet there’s someone there that could help you. If it’s fiction, anyway.”
Tex perked up a bit, Louie’s idea sounded like a fantastic one. He quickly downed the rest of the mug of Armageddon, and thanked him. The sooner he could figure this out, the happier he would be. Tex didn’t want to spend another night with that thing in his office. He chuckled to himself as he had thought Sylvia was the only thing on earth that could make him say that.
Thankfully few students were on campus when Tex pulled up his speeder. There in fact was a professor who specialized in Genre literature. When Tex tapped on Dr. Olsen’s door, a small, bookish student was leaving, grade sheet tucked under his arm with a triumphant look spread across his features.
The professor caught a glimpse of Tex and gestured him in.
“Thank God, not another student wrestling me for a percentage of grade point average.” He removed his reading glasses, polishing them on his sleeve. Dr. Olsen took in Tex’s outfit.
“A True Detective? I think you’ve just made my day.” He repositioned his glasses, and cracked his knuckles noisily. The professor was well in his sixties, and his wardrobe looked it. A bow tie adorned his Oxford and a leather elbowed patched blazer hung over his office chair. His smallish office was covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves, and those shelves were stacked to almost collapsing with paperbacks, magazine and digests, and as a centerpiece, a complete bay with nothing but rich leather bound editions.
Tex answered. “I came here for your advice and expertise.”
He beamed. “Then you most assuredly have.”
Tex took the paper out of his pocket, and handed it to the professor. “It’s a long shot, I know, but I wondered if you knew anything about this piece.”
“It’s like the young men in the record store. Often all I have to do it hum a few bars, and they know just what I’m looking for.”
Tex agreed. ‘I’m hoping anyway…”
Dr. Olson quickly scanned the page. By the time he finished, his brow was furrowed, and his smile was gone.
“Did Bradley send you here?”
Tex honestly seemed confused. “Bradley? No...” Tex realized that he didn’t really want to tell him why he was here. He didn’t want to be pegged for a raving lunatic.
The professor looked Tex over again, and knew that Tex had no idea what he was talking about. He eyed a stack of boxes next to one of the bookcases, and plopped it onto his desk.
Tex watched as he pulled out handfuls of small press books. Some were paperbacks, some simple chapbooks, saddle stitched or stapled, and a few galley proofs. He thumbed through the stacks until he found the one he was looking for.
“Dark Horizions. That’s the one.” The professor tucked everything else away and put the box back on the floor. “I was an editor for almost all of the small West Coast presses at one time or another. After the conglomerate publishing houses shut most of us down, I went to teaching. The pay was almost as dreadful.”
He sighed. “My only perk was a bit of a secret. I always managed to get a copy of everything I worked on, whether I was proofing, editing, or whatnot. And not always by fair means. This book was never to see the light of day.”
“Why not?” Tex was confused.
“Because it’s a series of exploitation pieces, plain and simple. Most of the authors used pen names on it, but that’s not a safe thing to use anymore. Not with computers these days.” He nestled in full lecture mode.
“Everyone in this volume has an almost unmistakable voice. Hemingway is Hemingway no matter what the storyline is.”
Tex interrupted. “You mean Hemingway wrote stories about tying women up in basements?”
“If he did, wouldn’t it ruin his career if the mainstream community found out about it? No, this book was a mistake, no second guesses about that. There was to be a small press edition and Bradley and myself made sure that the remaining copies were destroyed. I never thought he knew about the copy I took. As far as I’m concerned, it’s out of my hands now.”
He thrust the chapbook at Tex.
“These stories should remain dead.”
Tex thought about what he had seen last night and mulled it over in his mind.
“Any thought to who the author was on that piece?”
Olsen paused. “Only Bradley knew, and the authors of course. My guess, I would have to
narrow it down to two. Edward Morris or Patrick Martin. “
Tex pondered it. “Was there anything you knew about the authors? Their lifestyles or quirks?”
“Well, both of them were recluses, in Hollywood no less, and very difficult to work with. I think Martin had a bit of a crush on Bradley, but Morris would always bug us at the oddest hours with questions. As far as I know he worked only at night.”
Tex got what he needed. “Thanks Professor, I won’t take up anymore of your time.”
Tex hurriedly left his office. He swung by the Ritz to pick up the typewriter, and after a call or two to directory information, was on his way.
Tex arrived in West Hollywood. The address listed on the paper was a condo residence. 40 years ago 500 square feet of living space here was priced at a half million dollars. Back then it was considered an up and coming, well tended neighborhood. But times had moved on, and the place seemed to be falling into disrepair. There were still flowers and shrubbery, but they looked overrun and untended.
The sun was always shining in California, but this place seemed anything but shiny. Not squalor or slums by any means, but on the downturn of its cycle. Tex gathered up the typewriter and the copy of the chapbook, and rang the first floor doorbell.
After talking to the slender blonde woman that answered the door, he was ushered inside to the cool darkness of the living room. The place seemed not much bigger than a studio, and she gestured for him to have a seat. Tex placed the typewriter on the coffee table and the book in his pocket.
He fussed for a minute, wondering if he should take off his hat when the blonde rolled Morris in on his wheelchair. His voice boomed down the hallway and preceded him by a good few seconds.
“Good lord Gracie, you’re right. I haven’t seen a gumshoe in 30 years or more. I didn’t know they still were kicking around.”
Morris was at that stage of life where he was only known as old. His hands were twisted with arthritis and stained with decades worth of cigarette tar. There was not much hair left on his head, and what remained was scattered, too long and pure white. He wore tattered brown corduroy slippers on his feet, and a plaid flannel robe that he probably never took off except to bathe.
“Eddie Morris. But you knew that coming in.” He offered his hand. Tex didn’t want to place any more strain on the older gentlemen, so he remained seated, doffing his hat, and offering his name.
“What bring you to my humble abode Tex? My nurse didn’t inform me, and honestly I don’t get a lot of visitors these days.” He grinned widely, and Tex was grateful that Mr. Morris had taken the time to put in his painfully bright yet perfect set of dentures.
Tex decided to cut to the chase.
“Well, I believe that I have a thing or two you might remember. I thought you should get to see this again. I'm guessing you spent a lot of time with it.” He reached over to the table and pulled off the cover to the typewriter.
Morris broke out in an even wider grin. His hands twitched, wanting to reconnect with his old and obviously well loved machine.
“My old Banger, for Christ’s sake, I never thought I’d see that again. Does it still have the M thingy???” his voice trailing off while searching the bottom row of keys.
“Holy Christ, it does.” Morris started to tear up for a minute. He tried vehemently to wipe them away before Tex could notice. He leaned forward, gazing lovingly down.
“So many memories. That thing got me into Omni, hell that thing got me into Asimov’s, can you believe that s h i t?”
He broke off into a long and somewhat scary coughing fit. He fumbled with a pale worn hanky, and wiped away the loose tendrils of phlegm. It was only then that Tex noticed that Morris was wearing an oxygen feeder in his nostrils.
“I never had a one like her before or since. An Olympia SG1. That is a classic. I never took to the computer. "
His face twitched in disgust, as if technology had killed his craft.
"Dear Lord, it was 30 years before I upgraded to an electric. I lost that little gem right there” he gestured to the typewriter, “about the time you were born. I already had my 1st Hugo by then.'
He tapped the keys tenderly.
" Man, I tore the moving company a new ass for losing this baby. How did you know it was mine?”
Tex decided not to mention what had been happening; he thought the second item he brought might help clear things up.
Reaching inside his pocket Morris looked on happily until Tex’s pulled out the copy of Dark Horizions, and handed it to him.
Morris dropped it like it was in flames. The smile vanished and his hands shook, fumbling into his robe pocket, where he pulled a battered pack of smokes. He shut off his oxygen tank and pulled out the tubing. Neither one spoke as he fumbled for his lighter, and took a few shaky puffs.
“Man, that’s not a welcome site. I thought they were all destroyed.” He looked worriedly up at Tex.
“They are all gone. Except this one.”
Morris exhaled and the smoke dribbled out of him as if it were his last rattling breath.
“Bradley? He tell you?”
Tex shook his head. “I am a pretty damn good detective.”
He puffed again, and again, slowing down. “Well, you read it?”
Tex nodded his head.
“Kee-rist.” Morris exhaled again. He stubbed out his cig. “My career would have been shot if that piece ever went out. It’s like that American Psycho guy. It was hack fiction, almost a damn satire, but it ruined him.”
He shook his head. “And I was such a smartass kid; I thought a pen name would protect me.” He stilled for a few moments and pulled out another cig.
He paused, filling his lungs with stale smoke. Tex was afraid he might rip into another hacking fit, but after a second, Morris continued.
“The thing of it was, I pussied out on that poor thing. I was planning so much more for that story. It was one of the few times in my life that the piece seemed to want to write its god-damned self.
You ever have that happen?”
Tex shook his head.
“Yea, hardly happened for me either. Now the years are gone and no one in this damn town will work with me cause they’re a buncha business minded idiots. And my old publisher…..ah, just never mind.”
He shook his hands disgustedly. Then leaned down and picked the chapbook up again. Morris seemed completely focused with it.
“This one right here. “ He shook the book. “It’s a hard piece of work no doubt about it, and some parts of it are god-damn shameful, but there was so much more to it than what made it into this chap."
He closed his eyes and look a long drag.
"And like this piece of magic, I let it slip away.” His voice trailed off looking at the typewriter forlornly.
“I lost it. I wrote a lot of stories in my life, and some of them were worth more than the paper they were printed on. But not a lot of them."
The thing is, every writer, hack job or not, thinks they have “The Great American novel” in them. And at some point, a long time ago I might have had it. It might have been with this little friend of mine right here."
He tapped the machine again, cranking the carriage return. He paused and eyed the book.
"It might have been right here in this sad story about a woman who wouldn’t give up. Even after being chained, starved, beaten and broken. ”
Tex nodded. “Mr. Morris. Do you believe in muses?”
Morris nodded his head, and this time he didn’t hide the look of sadness on his face.
”More than you know. It felt like there was this presence working along with me for years, and somewhere along the way I lost it. I don't remember when I first noticed it was gone, and by now, it's probably forever."
They both sat in silence for a few moments and Tex remembered what Audrey had said the moment she walked into his door. Someone had needed his help, and it was in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.
Tex cleared his throat and shook his hand. They said quick goodbyes and Morris slipped him a handful of c notes. Tex wanted to refuse, but the look on his face said he would entertain no arguments.
Tex served a parting shot.
"About the muse being gone for good? Don't be so sure of that Mr. Morris. Eddie."
With that he closed the door and walked back to his speeder.
Although Tex read much more from and about Mr. Morris in the coming years, he never saw him again.