A month or so ago, thedude, myself, and several of our friends took part in a story writing contest. The goal was to write a story in ~a week based on two randomly assigned genres, two randomly assigned plot devices, and a randomly assigned setting. My two genres were noir and post apocalyptic and this is what I came up with. It is currently a two part “serial”, but if I feel inspired I might write more stories in the same setting and/or with the same characters.
They say war never changes, but I beg to differ. What went down two years ago sure as hell wasn’t like what I saw on Guadalcanal. Nobody knows for sure how it went down, but the Reds and Uncle Sam have been gritting their teeth at each other since Hitler bit the bullet, so it’s safe to say that they were the guilty parties. One minute I was sitting at my desk, counting the drops of condensation on my Scotch glass, the next, human civilization is decimated by a nuclear holocaust. Let me just tell ya, the Earth being reduced to a cold, brown, irradiated raisin didn’t really help drum up business. There ain’t much use for a detective when people are busy fighting to the death over a can of pears.
I don’t get too many clients nowadays, but there is still one case I have left to solve; what ever happened to that dame, Natasha.
* * *
The broad crashed into my life in the middle of the night, the night before the fall, banging on the door to my office and wailing like a house cat stuck on tumble dry. When I opened the door I saw her, black streaks running down her face, a mean shiner over her left eye, and a ragged head of golden hair that looked like it had been caught in my Pontiac’s fan belt. She certainly was having a worse night than I was. She was dressed real pretty, all dolled up like she was going on a big date with a string of pearls, a tight black dress, and three inch heels.
“What the hell do you want?” I took a long drag off the stubby Lucky in between my lips and then flicked the used up stump at her feet.
“Please, sir,” she said with a slight accent. I could tell she wasn’t from around here, but I couldn’t pinpoint from exactly where. “He’s right behind me. Please, let me in!”
“Listen, lady. I don’t like getting involved in marital disputes, so if you’d kindly-”
Before I could finish telling her to buzz off, the hysterical dame slip past me into my office and left me standing in the doorway like a damned buffoon. I was about to walk in there and eject her myself, but but the door to the stairway flew open, making a doorknob shaped indent in the wall. Out stormed a gargantuan man, a good foot and a half taller than me, with no hair, no eyebrows, and a face that looked like it had a run-in with the business end of a meat grinder. I’d be lying if I said this gentleman was handsome. He looked around before spying me standing in my doorway and stamped my way like he was trying to bust a hole in the floorboards.
“Can I help you, bub?” I said, craning my head back to look the man in the eyes.
“You. You seen woman go through here,” the guy’s accent was thicker than a cold plate of spoiled borscht.
“Was that a question or a stateme-” he grabbed me by the throat and held me a foot off the ground which, needless to say, shut me up real quick.
“You. Seen. Woman. Go through. Here,” Ivan grunted. “Tell me where she go.”
“Idun-Idunnowhatyou’retalkingabout,” I squeezed out, along with my last puff of air. “Put me down or so help me I’ll,” I mouthed as my vision started to go black.
He dropped me to the ground. My chest burned and twisted, like I just breathed in a piping hot cup of coffee.
“You better not be playing, little man,” he spat at me.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Dracula,” I brushed myself off and before I could get up he was gone. “And stay out. Come around here again and I tell ya what I’ll give ya a mean right hook right across your…” I muttered under my breath. “You can come out now, doll. I got rid of your boyfriend for ya.”
She peeked out from behind my desk, probably checking to see if I sold her out before she celebrated. “Th-thank you, I don’t know what would’ve happened if-”
“Forget about it. My name is Phillip Hawks,” I extended my hand. “What do they call you?”
She grabbed and shook. “Natasha Sokolova.”
“Where’d ya gotta be from to get a name like that one, Jersey?” I lit up a fresh cigarette, offering her one. She shook her head.”
“I’m from… uh, Minnesota,” she said. I wasn’t buying it for a second.
“Well, Miss Sokolova of Minnesota, you seem pretty shaken up,” I grabbed a couple of glasses from beneath my liquor cabinet and gave them a quick wipe with a rag of questionable cleanliness. “You look like you need a drink.”
“Lucky guess,” she said, before falling onto the chair behind my desk. I’d normally object to someone stealing my spot, but she looked like she needed a comfortable place to sit more than I did. Getting roughed up by 7 foot tall Eastern Europeans was a surprisingly routine occurrence in my line of work, so this was just another night.
“What are you having?” I held up two half empty bottles. “We’ve got whiskey and… Scotch whiskey.”
“Whiskey, on the rocks.”
“Excellent choice,” I said, dropping in an ice cube in her glass and pouring three fingers into each of them. I placed the glass down next to her and she downed half of it before I could sit in the plain wooden chair across from her.
“Now, I’m always happy to help a pretty lady like you when she’s in an ugly situation like that, but before we can continue this new friendship of ours, I’d like a little explanation about what happened back there,” I tried to look her in the eyes but she just stared at the brown puddle in the bottom of her glass. “Look, toots, when I almost get choked to death by Stalin’s gardener then I like to know why.”
“I… I don’t know,” she said, her voice and hands trembling. “I was just walking home from dinner with a couple of friends and th-this guy came out of nowhere. I know just as much as you do!”
The caked on rivers of mascara started to run again. Maybe I was being too hard on her. Maybe she was just some lady walking home from dinner through the wrong part of town. I grabbed the whiskey from the cabinet, poured some into the trembling glass, and left the bottle sitting on my desk. I figured that one of us would be needing it again soon.
“Whoa, whoa. Take it easy, pal. Didn’t mean to start something. I just wanted to make sure the mob wasn’t gonna come chop my hands off tomorrow,” she was still looking down. I took the .44 from my shoulder holster and placed in on top of a scattered pile of papers, which got her attention for a second. “Let me take you back to my place for the night. If someone’s trying to find you they won’t know to look there, and even if they do show up I’ve always got this peashooter on me. That sound like a plan?”
She smeared the murky black tears away with the back of her hand. “Yeah, sounds like a plan.”
And that was that. I took her back to my dingy little one bedroom, she stayed the night, and in the morning she and my gun were gone. The only thing she left behind were a couple of dirty glasses and a note. All it said was a bunch of numbers, 15580180, and two words; “Find Me.” I would’ve been more satisfied if it said, “thanks for the booze, sorry I took your gun, see you never,” but of course things couldn’t be that simple. I tried dialing the number into the phone, but the fact that phone numbers aren’t 8 digits long and the world was about to end were large roadblocks in my search.
In the subsequent days, I had very little time to decipher the cryptic message that Natasha left, with scavenging for food and trying to find room in a cramped shelter for the night. Let me tell ya, 80 people packed like sardines in a concrete room without air conditioning with barely a shower between us sure wasn’t sticking my nose in no bowl of potpurri. Whenever I had a free moment, staring at the grey concrete walls in the middle of the night, my mind drifted to Natasha. I would pull the crumpled note from my pocket and stare at it for a few minutes, just to see if anything had changed.
“Find Me.” I can’t for the life of me figure out why this broad in particular was stuck in my brain. I’d been with hundreds of others, and hopefully would be with hundreds more after society rebuilt itself or whatever, but she was the only one I remembered. Maybe it was the vulnerability of that night that we shared, or maybe it was just simply that she was the last connection I had to the old world and finding her would make everything normal again.
The same feeling of uncertainty welled up in my gut every time I thought of her. I didn’t know if she was safe or not, whether she was in an area that was directly hit or was one of the lucky ones like me. That big Russian palooka could’ve finally caught up with her and finished her off, or she could be huddled underneath a library, staring at a blank grey wall.
Months went by and my life in the ruins of LA almost started to seem normal. People were able to spend more and more time on the surface as the radiation levels decreased, and some people already started living up there full time. I still hung around the shelter, but I finally decided to make it back to my old office on the other side of town.
The place looked like someone painted it red and let loose an angry bull. Papers were strewn all over the floor, my chair was hanging halfway out one of my smashed windows, and worst of all, my antique liquor cabinet was smashed to bits, it’s former contents nowhere to be found. I tried to turn the desk lamp on, but the power was still out in this part of this city.
There was a large panel of cork laying against the wall the looked like it had been run over by the entire Rose Parade. I flipped it over and saw that it was my map of the Los Angeles area, more or less how I left it besides some wrinkles and water damage. The thing was dotted with pushpins and thumbtacks of all different shape and size, each one representing a different case. The chapter in the history books covering the last 20 years of my life. A red thumbtack marked the site of the Studio City killings back in ‘47, one of my first big time cases. The worn brass pushpin was on city hall, where I stopped that whack job from putting a bomb in the Mayor’s car. The small blue pin was where I busted those cartel members as they were going over the I-5 intersection at… hold on. I took out the note from my wallet. It had been folded and refolded so many times that it was coming apart at the creases. It was worn, but I could still make out the numbers; 15580180. I-5… I-5, 580, I-80. I ripped the map off of the cork board and flipped it to the other side, a full map of California. Tacks and pins clanked across the worn wooden floor. I-5 goes right through LA, all the way up the West Coast. I followed the road with my thumb until I got to the 580 interchange, which turned onto the I 80, which ended in- yeah, this must be where she wanted me to go. San Francisco.
* * *
Now you’re caught up. Here I am, driving north on Interstate 5, fighting to stay awake as my work windshield wipers fight to flick the rain out of my way, leaving streaks of water with every pass. A ray of sunlight tries to wriggle its way through a small keyhole of cloudless sky, but is blotted out soon after it appears. Every couple hundred yards there is another car, now nothing more than a pile of scrap held together by bands of dying overgrowth. I turn on the radio and flick annoyedly through channel after channel of static before I realize why no music is coming out and click it off.
The mile markers tick up slowly and consistently, like the hands of a clock. 5. 10. 50. 100. Not much to do but count them and think. I’m not used to this long of a silence without a drink in my hand, but this is probably sobering in both senses of the word. I think about what I’m leaving behind back in LA, how I’m probably not going back there soon, or ever again for that matter. I think about what’s ahead. Maybe San Francisco is better off than LA? Maybe they weren’t hit at all. Maybe everything is all milk and honey and Natasha is already there, snuggling up to a new PI. There I go again. It always goes back to her. A large green sign approached slowly to my right. San Francisco 15 miles. I guess I’ll get my answer soon.