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February 13, 2014 Fiction

The Investigators

Willie Fitzgerald

The Investigators photo

Inside the restaurant two beams of sunlight hit Spencer’s table at seemingly impossible angles. They meet on his butter dish, which has a single olive pit in it. It seems like outside the sun could be doubled.

Adjacent to his table are two terrible rich young women lingering over their check.

“I’m struggling,” one of them says, pausing to finagle a final almond into her mouth, “to believe it.”

“The place she works at has an all-white boardroom,” the other agrees, “and their conference table is a grand piano.”

This place, the French place where he goes, occasionally, has two new planter’s boxes out front, which have steadily begun to fill with empty beer cans and cigarette butts.

Spencer chews through the heel of his bread, still amazed by the intersection of light. To Spencer’s other side is another pair, hairdressers judging by the insignias on their shirts. There appears to be a mentor-mentee relationship between them. One of them starts to say something and the other, older one stops her and then builds a pyramid in front of her face with her hands.

Above the bar are three televisions mounted on the wall, two showing a football game and the other a film noir, a murky movie from the late ‘70s that Spencer suddenly recognizes. The film is called “The Investigators,” and it stars a distant relative of Spencer’s, an uncle who died when Spencer was very young. The actor had a face tailor-made for authority. A loose and incomplete filmography of the actor’s career goes cop, cop, cop, naive young football coach, army grunt. Then he was a detective, a salesman, and then an aged cop, an aged detective, a youngish judge, a prosecutor, a doctor, a doctor, a well-respected defense attorney, and then he was a general. Then a judge. Then judge, judge, doctor, mortician, doctor, CIA director, God (straight-to-video, mostly tongue-in-cheek), doctor, judge, navy admiral, sorcerer (voice-acting for a children’s show called “Wiggle Wizards”), and judge. Lots of daytime TV, a few ads for a hair dye for men and a brief tenure as the official spokesman for a cruise line.

“The Investigators” is regarded by many as the apex of the actor’s career. It centers on a trio of detectives, one of whom is repeatedly murdered – every time the other two solve the crime, the film returns to the opening shot: the three investigators bathed in pink neon light in the rain. Each time, the third detective dies in new, unpredictable ways.

One of the men at the bar asks the bartender to turn the sound on for the football game and the café suddenly fills with crowd noise. The TV’s aren’t hooked up to the sound system in the café, though, and the feed each receives is just slightly out of time with the others, and this creates a dissonant echo.

“W-what th-the C-Cardinals N-need H-here i-is d-diligence.”

After a few minutes of this, there’s a long honk and a thud that reverberates through the restaurant, and the people by the window stand up, cup their hands around their faces and press them to the glass in order to counteract the glare. Seated where he is, in the farthest corner from the door, Spencer can only guess at what is happening on the street.

 

If Spencer stays in the café and watches the movie, if he ignores the idle chatter around him and blocks out the doubled sounds of the football game and the commotion outside, focuses on the lone screen playing the film, will he be moved? Will he identify with the characters more closely than he would otherwise were he not related, however distantly, to one of the movie’s principal actors?

 

Outside now, Spencer sees a number of police cars parked around a flatbed delivery truck that has tipped onto its side in the middle of the street. The truck has destroyed both of the café’s planter’s boxes, and the street is full of shattered vanity mirrors. The police ring two men in red and gray uniforms. One of them is sitting on the bumper of a police cruiser. He has a gash on his head and is squinting in the direction of a balloon shop. Next to the man on the bumper is a youngish police officer offering the seated man a green wool blanket. Across the street the police are getting a statement from a man standing next to his minivan.  The other delivery driver is on the phone and turning slowly in circles. His arm is held straight out and as he speaks he is turning his palm up, and then down, up and then down.

Two days ago, a sign on a local business read, “The Best Flowers on Jackson,” and now it reads, simply, “The Flowers on Jackson.” Does this suggest a conflict with the flower shop immediately adjacent to it? Modesty on the part of the florist? Or is it simply the natural erosion of the superlative into the expository? What can we infer from the business’ decision to simply paint over the word “Best” and not replace the sign entirely? The mirrors send reckless light everywhere—every face is lit from below, as though each person were discovering something valuable.

One of the cops is talking to the owner of the cafe, who’s just come out to inspect the damage.

“Tough physics,” the cop says to him as another crate slides off the bed of the truck and onto the sparkling street.

 

 

image: Caleb Curtiss


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