Currently I’m writing a series of noir-fantasy stories. At this point they are mostly longer short stories venturing into novella territory at 11,000+ words. This trope is nothing new. I’m traversing well-trodden ground. However, I think there is merit in it. While a lot of the work done in this sub-genre is really good, I think a lot of it also strays from the roots of noir as exemplified by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, W.R. Burnett and others.
When I read noir I have certain expectations based on the American crime-fiction of the 1920’s – 1940’s; a hero who is cynical but holds to a noble code of morality, the notion of explosive violence just around the corner, “justice” as a relative term, and endings that (much like life) don’t always provided definitive answers.
Understand, this is a short list of the characteristics of American noir.
What I hope to do is marry this to urban fantasy in a satisfying way without it being pastiche.
Following is a rough opening to one of the pieces I am working on.
The Good Son
by Desmond Manny
Leaning against the frame of the door into the room I had for waiting clients was a demon in an expensive suit. It was waiting for me and probably had been for some time. It was just shy of noon. I had been up for two weeks straight working a case and at the close of it treated myself to a well-earned sleep. I was flush with success and five-hundred dollars. Trouble could wait.
I got off of the elevator and started down the hall toward my office. All the other doors on the floor were shut tight. It was unlikely that any of the other occupants of the floor recognized the man-shaped thing for a demon. Given my profession they probably figured any man who would waste his bright May morning with the sun shining waiting for a private eye and wearing that suit was likely connected, and likely trouble. I passed the office of the little man with wire-rimmed glasses and an ever-increasing circle of bald pate where hair used to be, and who only ever received women in his office, and heard a high-pitched titter. Business was booming apparently. From behind another closed door came the tik-tak of keyboards from the two girls who ran a small stenography business and sounded for all the world like a plague of insects shut-up in a mason jar.
Reaching my door I took my key from a pocket while the demon shook itself upright, smoothed the lines of the suit and adjusted a tie that was the same gray and shimmer of sharkskin. Then it put a smile on its face that it must have thought was pleasant. I caught a whiff of sulfur but knew it was just my imagination. That wasn’t how you detected a demon. At the end of the hall facing the elevator I had just exited was a window that let in the mid-morning sun and threw long shadows across the floor and walls. The demon had no shadow just as it had no soul. If that hadn’t been enough the fact that it couldn’t enter my waiting room was enough to let me know it wasn’t human. When I took the office I had paid a man a small ransom to replace the original door jamb with white ash, and then paid another man to do fine filigree work on the knob and locking plate, etching them with runic lines of power inlaid with silver. Anything less than human that tried to enter risked it’s very existence. If something inhuman somehow made it into the waiting room there were other treats. Understand, I am a gracious enough host but only to paying clients and card-carrying members of the human race.
Getting my front door unlocked I pushed the door marked ‘G. Poe’ and ‘Private Inquiries’ open and entered. “Mr. Poe.” the demon called after me and I ignored it. I took off my coat, threw it on the short red couch that lined the wall of the waiting room nearest the door and let my hat follow it. I took a cheap but serviceable chair from against the far wall, set it on the floor facing the door and the demon, then sat down. I didn’t smoke even though I wanted to. Instead I waited for the demon to speak.
Pushing it’s lips out at me in a bemused expression the demon put both it’s hands in the pockets of the expensive suit then smiled at me again. Persistence.
“Mr. Poe.” it said, “My name is Abel. Abel Ficks.” the demon pronounced it ‘fix’ and waited for the reaction that probably got but I didn’t oblige. Shrugging, the demon went on, “I represent a party in need of a man of your particular expertise. Make no mistake you’ll be well compensated for your time, and any reasonable effort.”
Smirking I leaned back in the chair until the front legs lifted off the floor half an inch. “Why is it, “ I asked, “that the people who do things like getting demons to be their familiars assume everyone is as motivated by money as they are?”
“Money isn’t a motivator, Mr. Poe,” the demon remarked, “Power is. Money is just an expression of that. One useful to the pauper as much as to the prince.” One expensive shoe toed at the frame of the door but didn’t cross it. “You have found your own power, Mr. Poe. You have a unique skill set that makes you, or rather your services, a valuable commodity. The world unseen, how to navigate it and deal with its various pitfalls, is your power. It could gain you fortunes but you let a quixotic notion keep you in these circumstances.” the demon waved an airy palm at my offices. “Fair enough. But lets not argue that dark magicks pay your bills as much as my patron’s. Some are just more direct about it.”
“Master.” I said.
“You don’t have a patron. You have a master. You were summoned from hell, bound into service by a mortal and you must serve their desires and wishes until you are released or they die. A slave is a slave.”
“That manner of yours is decidedly unpleasant, Mr. Poe”
“No more so than your nature. Keep the cream and tell me what your boss wants. ‘Succinct’ is the word of the day.”
“Right. Ever heard of the Fin?”
Not often, but I had heard the name. Not a gangster but a provider of specialized distractions. Runner of a joy house with a decidedly unnatural bent, but that catered both to people with no knowledge or affinity for magicks and those who had both and sought out the unusual. I nodded to show I had heard the name.
“Then you know about the nature of the House of Eve, if maybe not by that name. My master, has a son who has been going there for the last several months, secretly of course, but now has become entangled with one of the hostesses.”
“As young men will. Pay the girl off.”
“Off course that’s been tried. Why take a payoff when she could have the whole haul with marriage, maybe throw in a kid?” the demon got serious. “Other tactics are needed.”
“And the kid wants to make an honest woman of her, eh”
“The kid has been duped. Through some method unfamiliar to me. And that in itself is quite a feat.”
I cocked my head with interest involuntarily. “How do you know?”
Smugly the demon responded, “Please, Mr. Poe. Do you not think that if he weren’t I wouldn’t have been instructed to deal with this? The boy lies beyond the reach of my influence. As does the House of Eve. I am barred on every front.” It spread both hands toward me deprecatingly. “So we come to you.”
“Needs must as the devil drives.” I said.
© Desmond Manny 2014