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Post subject: In The Land of the Midnight Sun
Post Posted: Aug 29, 2006 3:39 pm
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Location: Des Plaines, IL

In The Land of the Midnight Sun
A Tex Murphy Novel

Day One

Episode One
The Big Stink

The smell first showed up four days ago. It wasn't so volatile in the beginning, just a light and pungent aroma that seemed to follow you around, unwavering in its inability to dissipate. Then it got bad. Real bad. The switch was more of a spur of the moment. There was no actual transition from tolerable to intolerable. Instead it was the kind of thing that would suddenly hit you with a belt to the face the moment you set foot into the lobby of the Ritz Hotel, as if you had walked from a hot room into a cold room.

On the fifth day, Tex Murphy received a knock on his door. At the time Tex was getting ready to drown out the smell with an old favorite; three fingers of bourbon, dry all the way down. He'd poured himself a glass and was just about ready to knock it back when Nilo Paglio, the landlord of the Ritz, knocked at his door.

"Come on, Murphy! Open up!" It was then that Tex had to make a decision. On one hand, he could be a good tenant and answer the door, but he knew he wasn't a good tenant and Nilo didn't deserve one. And, to stack the odds against Nilo's favor, it had been three months since he'd been able to pay rent. It had been six months since his last check from Gordon Fitzpatrick, and that was all spent five months ago. So, Tex sat and waited as Nilo banged against the door. He thought Nilo was going to leave, or get tired, take a breather and leave, but he stopped and offered a clincher. "I know you're in there, Murphy! I can make a deal wit' you on your back rent!"

Tex shrugged his shoulders and took the bourbon down in one gulp. The familiar alcohol made quick work to burn at his gut. After he set the glass back on the table and capped the bottle, he stood up and walked over to the door.

Nilo stood on the other side of the door. He was attempting to portray a smile; Tex was sure Nilo had seen a smile in one of his dirty magazines and was trying to imitate it now.

"Alright, Murphy," Nilo starts, "I don't like you, and you don't like me."

Tex shoved off a lofty grin. "I like you."

"No you don't."

"You got me there. It must be the smell getting to my head. You forget to shower for a few too many days...months?"

"Shove it, Murphy! My other tenants are complaining about the smell."

"You have other tenants?"

"Yes, Murphy, I do. I run a business. I've figured out which room the smell is coming from, and I'll drop the money you owe me if you just go in there and figure out what's causing it."

Tex looked back in his office. Business might pick up, but the horrible stench that choked the room might make it difficult to keep clients inside long enough to write him a check. He turned back to Nilo and said, "Alright, I'll do it. Which room?"

"Room two - A."

"What's the code?"

"The code is four - seven - nine - five."

"I'll get right on it."

The room was on the second floor, just beside the staircase. Whatever the smell was, the location was a prime spot to sprawl the smell from top to bottom. Tex typed in the code and stepped through the door.
It took two seconds for Tex to dig out a handkerchief from his coat and mash it over his nostrils. However bad the smell was on the outside, it was much worse on the inside, even if that didn't seem possible. But he'd been in worse places than this, and a detectives work is never done until he starts working. Tex opened his eyes and breathed through the handkerchief slowly.

The room was a mess. To put it better, the room looked like a tornado had walked through and took it's time to knock every single thing over, and to tear as many holes as it could on the way.

A discarded and thoroughly rotted pizza from Corliano's was in the corner of the room on the floor. The closet was mostly empty. Two shirts, one red and one green, were hung next to two pairs of denim jeans. A few changes of underwear were at the bottom of the closet, unused. The previous owner apparently didn't think much of fashion, although the well dressed tended to avoid the Ritz Hotel in the first place.

With the bedroom empty, that only left the bathroom. Tex tried the knob. It was locked. He moved back to give himself some space between him and the door. He'd never had much luck when it came to knocking down doors, but that didn't stop him from trying. With his shoulder braced for impact he hit the door. The wood splintered and the door flew open.

The dead body was on the floor next to the bath tub. A male, probably no older than twenty five. Tex was thankful that the guy had died with his clothes on. There was no easy way to tell how long he'd been there, but with the rot on the face and neck, it had to have been a long time since the man breathed his last. Judging from the spent needles on the carpet, the bag of Semperf and the needle marks on his arm, the cause of death was an overdose.

Nilo stepped into the room and walked up to the body. "Holy $#it!" he cried out. "I knew he was a user."

Tex turned to Nilo and said, "Alright, here's your cause. I'm going back up."

"But you ain't done here! You still go work to do! We've got to get rid of this guy!"

"Why don't you call the police? I'm sure they'll do a good job at that."

"I can't do that. If the other tenants find out they'll think this place is just another semperf hole! I'll lose tenants!"

"That's too bad. But don't worry; I won't move out."

Nilo grimaced and said, "Alright, help me get rid of him and I'll give you another two months over the three you already owe."

In a few minutes Nilo and Tex had the corpse wrapped in garbage bags and duct tape. They carried him through Tex's office and down the fire escape of the Ritz. It was getting late; the sun had already begun to climb over the horizon. In five minutes they managed to toss the body in the dumpster behind Rook's Pawn Shop. When Nilo and Tex parted ways, Nilo almost seemed grateful. Almost.

That night Tex stayed up late. He pulled down the curtains to block out the midnight sun. He sat back in his desk chair and poured himself another bourbon, straight up. He couldn't help but think of the dead man and wonder who he was. What had gotten him into the Ritz. Why no one could help him. Tex fell asleep at his desk that night, empty glass in hand, empty bottle on the floor.


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