The lonely streetlamp just up ahead made a yellow brick road out of the silent street. A slim, dark man, seated languidly in a black sedan, had his binoculars trained on the attic window of a house just up ahead. Inside, a lamp cast a dim light as a woman undressed, slowly, carefully, luxuriously. She was waiting for someone.
The binoculars caught a flit of movement to the right—a man landed lightly on the attic roof and crawled a foot to the left. He was waiting for someone. In the attic, the woman’s naked ivory arm, swathed in dim yellow, pulled at something up above, and the man fell through the trap door into the room.
The man in the car quickly put away his binoculars and pulled out a fancy recording device. Toys to sate his thirst. This toy would sate his stomach too, when he hands over this tape of the Judge’s wife to John Smith & Co.: the city’s leading detective agency where he had long ago proved his indispensible mettle.
Art often imitates life; but he knew better than that. If you look carefully enough, life itself becomes art. The Judge’s wife was screwing the wrongly-condemned: there’s your free television show, more drama and intrigue than the idiot box can ever produce. You simply have to know where, and how, to look.
Digging out dirt came naturally to him. It was easy to see why. When your life has no tether, you learn to tether it to others’s lives. Live out their stories, make their mistakes, feel their pleasures and their pains. The sordid filth of the city yielded in his storytelling hands, morphing into earthly films of clay. And what did he get in return? Why, the pleasure of being a selected audience. Selected, always, to be the audience. But would he ever be the actor?
“Good night, darling,” he said to himself, because no one ever said it to him.
After his toy quenched its thirst, he drove home. Even though it was a hotel room, as it was every night, he liked to call it home. If life imitates art, and art imitates life, then fiction can become reality, can’t it? The lights in this hotel room were the same yellow of the streetlamp; but confined indoors, without the inky black expanse above and around, the lamppole’s loneliness poured out through the yellow. Sigh. He poured himself the same shot of Monk that he had every day, and put in exactly three pieces of ice. Gulp it down quickly. “Good night, darling,” he said to himself, because no one ever said it to him.
That night he had an unusual dream. The hotel room was identical in his mind to the last brush-stroke of the kitschy wall-art. As he opened the door, waiting in the room for him was the Judge’s wife, transported from her attic to his alcove. He undressed and sidled quickly next to her expectant form. And behind the darkened window, nothing but a silhouette: it was himself! Watching, recording, binoculars in the other hand. Was he the actor or the audience? Both. He awoke with a start, sweating uncomfortably in the dead of the night.
Tomorrow, in the morning, when the gold of one streetlamp pales under the gold of a bigger one, he would move quietly, invisibly, to another part of town. Invisibility was his profession’s cloak. And so skillfully wrapped up was he in its stitches that the world had long since made him a perpetual outsider. And so, in the morning, there would be another hotel room, as identical as any other with another toothbrush and another set of empty white linen. When you’re a detective as good as he was, you see, you don’t want to leave behind many traces of the self.
And he had become a very good detective indeed. So good, in fact, that he ceased to exist, except as a medium to uncover people’s covered-up lives. He was a detective par excellence: an artist, really, moulding stories that needed a helping hand to form. But to be the perfect detective, you don’t want to leave behind any traces of the self.
Another hotel room. Another night. Another completed painting of life, sketched with untethered loneliness. Sigh. He poured himself the same shot of Monk that he had every day, and put in exactly three small chunks from the bottle labeled ‘NaF’. Gulp it down quickly. “Good night, darling,” he said to himself, because no one would say it to him ever again.