This piece was inspired by a podcast I sometimes listen to, “Hollywood & Crime” by Wondery (look it up if you have the opportunity, it’s pretty cool). I wanted to try my hand at a story based on film noir tropes, albeit with a little twist of my own.
The girl in the back room was young and pretty, with blonde hair in swept-back rolls and lips as red as the blood covering her white dress. Her arms were limp as she rested them on the table before her, except for the twitch of her fingers as she dug her nails into the cold metal surface.
Private Investigator Campbell whistled in disbelief as he stared through the one-way window. “Where’d you find her?” he asked the old police chief, putting a hand on the glass.
“Wandering down Gardenia Street in a daze,” his companion answered. “Half a mile south from where we found the latest victim.”
“What did the body look like?”
“Just like all the others. Front of head smashed in, torso ripped open and gutted.”
Campbell nodded. He’d seen the pictures, kept a pile of them in his office desk for when…but this was no time or place to be thinking about that. “Do we have a name for the victim yet?”
“Clements. Gary Clements. He still had his military ID on him.”
“What about the girl?”
The police chief shook his head. “Been here all night and hasn’t said a word to anybody.” He glared at the woman through the window. “She’s got her reasons, I’m sure.”
“Are we calling her a suspect? Just a copycat or the real deal?” Campbell clenched and unclenched his hands, feeling his blood grow hot at his own suggestion.
“She’s a witness at the very least. The first we’ve had since this Dissector case opened up.”
Campbell went back to squinting at the girl. “Right. So I guess I’m here because your boys can’t handle her.”
“Only because you’re good with people, Campbell,” the police chief snapped. “If anyone can get her to talk, it’s you.”
Campbell pulled a box of cigarettes from his pocket. “Anything special you want her to say, Chief?”
“Every last thing she knows, and I don’t care how you get it out.”
Campbell lit a new cigarette, inhaled deeply and left it hanging in his mouth as he shooed the officers away from the door to the secluded room. “This won’t take long.”
The girl didn’t move when Campbell first opened the door, nor when he walked across the room and took his seat at the table. Her thousand-yard stare at the wall behind his head never wavered.
Campbell drummed his fingers on the surface of the table. When that received no response, he cleared his throat. “Hello, miss.”
The police chief and all his men crowded around the window to watch the show now unfolding before them.
The girl blinked a few times and finally looked at Campbell. When the haze in her eyes cleared, she nearly jumped back. “What are you doing here?” she demanded in a sharp, high voice.
I should be asking you the same thing, Campbell thought, raising an eyebrow. He scolded himself at once. Probably just in shock. Can’t be too hard with her. Not yet.
“And…and what am I doing here? Where are we, anyway?”
“The police station,” Campbell said. “I’m here to ask you a few questions. You can call me Detective Campbell. Now what shall I call you?”
“…Georgette. Georgette Baker.” It had taken her a few seconds, like she was trying to remember or inventing a lie.
Campbell decided to leave it alone for now. “Thank you, Miss Baker.” He leaned back in his chair and blew out a puff of cigarette smoke, as he always did when preparing to get to work. “Now, do you know why you’re here?”
“No, sir. I’m afraid I don’t remember much.”
“At eleven twenty-three yesterday evening, you were picked up in a stupor half a mile away from the latest victim of the man people are calling the Hollywood Dissector.” Campbell pronounced the name with emphasis, searching Georgette’s face for a reaction.
“I see,” she said, and that was all.
Her voice had gone soft, and her strong gaze was now dissipating. Campbell could tell she had barely heard a word he had said. And yet, when she had said those two small words, he had believed her. She was seeing something, alright: her eyes seemed be staring right through him.
No, not through me. Right into me.
He got rid of his cigarette. “Where were you yesterday evening, Miss Baker?”
“The Hollywood Canteen,” she said without hesitation. “I volunteer there every Friday night. It’s nice to offer a bit of friendship to the soldiers, you know? Such a good place to meet people…”
“And that was where you met Mr. Clements, I assume.”
The corners of Georgette’s mouth made a slow tilt upwards, and the rest of her face didn’t move an inch. “Oh, yes,” she said.
Campbell tried to ignore the chill that had just run down his spine. “And can you describe for me what sort of interactions you had with Mr. Clements this evening?”
“We danced the whole time. You’re only supposed to have one dance with a girl there, but he was so kind to me.” Her face remained solemn and rigid, and her voice was a quiet monotone. “Then he asked if he could walk me home. We met outside after closing.”
“And when was that?”
“Just a little past eleven.”
Now they were getting somewhere. “Can you tell me what happened when you reached the intersection of 5th and Gardenia?”
Georgette’s face twitched, as though there was something churning beneath her skin. “They…he whispered in my ear…”
“They? What do you mean, ‘they’?”
Georgette closed her eyes, and her face settled back into its placid state. “I shouldn’t say any more.”
Campbell slammed his fist down on the table. “Keep talking!”
Georgette’s eyes snapped open. “You sit here and accuse me, Detective,” she said, “but where were you this evening?”
Campbell jerked back and lost his train of thought. The girl’s voice rung with a harsher tone, like someone else had taken over. “I’m still asking the questions here,” he managed to say at last.
“I say to you again, where were you this evening, Campbell?”
“I can smell the liquor in your breath,” the girl said. “Whiskey. Stronger than usual. You drink every night but you were feeling especially sorry for yourself yesterday.”
“Shut up!” Knocking over his chair as he stood up, Campbell hurried towards the door. When he tried the handle, however, he found it locked. “Hey!” he shouted, pounding on the metal. “Let me out!”
The police chief and his officers were still crowded around the window. Through the glass they only saw Campbell and the girl seated at the table, still in quiet conversation.
Campbell pounded on the door yet again. “I said get me out of here!”
“Answer one question of mine first.”
Something in the terrible voice compelled him to turn around. Georgette – or whatever was speaking through her now – was looking at him with half-lidded disdain. “Come back and sit down,” she commanded.
He obeyed, unable to resist. Righting the fallen chair, he took his seat again.
“Tell me what you find so fascinating about dead people, Campbell,” said the interrogator. “I imagine it’s how they look. All bruised and torn up, like the others I’ve spoken to look now. Don’t be ashamed. They all agreed with you.”
Campbell thought of the horrible pictures in his desk, and of the worse ones taped to his bedroom ceiling. The more broken, the better. “They always look so powerless,” he murmured, half to himself and half to his companion. “They’ve had it all taken from them.”
“Power is a valuable thing for a man such as yourself, I imagine.”
He nodded. “I want to know how the sons of bitches do it.”
“So you can stop them?”
“So I can know how it feels. To have someone’s life in your hand and then just…” Campbell clenched his trembling fist. “What’s inside a person who can do that?”
“I could let you see inside me, Mr. Campbell. And you wouldn’t even be guilty afterwards.”
His eyes lit up. “But how…?”
“It’s really quite simple.” Georgette’s lips slid apart as she grinned, showing teeth stained with blood. “Just step back and let me handle things.”
She exhaled, and a wisp of black smoke trailed out from her mouth. Campbell shot up straight, gasping for breath as it suddenly flowed into him. In only a second it was coursing through his veins, numbing his joints and dulling his frantic thoughts. Spindly fingers seemed to wrap around his neck and squeeze, choking him until he could stand it no longer. Down he slumped, into nothingness.
The entity flexed its new fingers. Strong and thick – good, very good. This one would do nicely.
On the other side of the table, Georgette blinked and came out of her stupor. She looked around her and then, as the memories returned, down at herself.
Her scream pierced the strong glass of the window, making the gathered officers recoil. Such a lovely sound, the entity thought. But it could not be allowed to go on.
The shrill noise was cut off by a sharp crack and the thud of bone on metal. The police chief’s jaw dropped as his hands clapped over his mouth. “Oh my god, Campbell!” he shouted when he found his voice again. “Someone get him out of there!”
The entity slammed Georgette’s head against the table again and then again, oblivious to the already-limp body and the spreading pool of blood. “You wanted to see what was inside, didn’t you?”
Its lips curled as it heard the door slam open. Half a dozen coming now. Perhaps it was time to make a few more jumps.