The Grisly Ghosts of Gruesome Time – Chapter 1
The Great Substack Story Challenge
Joey Hardcase was a two-bit gumshoe in a two-bit town trying to scrape out a living spying on cheating spouses. As he was debating whether to partake in the rest of a half-eaten doughnut he found in his desk drawer, a show-stopping beauty walked into his office. From the size of the jewels dripping off the dame, Joey knew she was from the other side of town. She had to be desperate to visit this dump.
“What can I do for you, Doll?” Joey asked.
“I need you to follow my husband.”
What kind of natural-born fool would cheat on this heartbreaker? Joey thought.
“I think he’s from the future.”
Joey thought hard, He had heard of people being from the future. But that was not possible. The time machine was not possible the causality principle just didn’t allow it. “What do you think is the shape of Earth?” Joey asked.
“It’s a disk.”
Joey wanted to throw his cup of coffee at this woman. Unfortunately, He was out of coffee and didn’t believe that throwing tea would be appropriate.
“Next thing you are gonna tell me is that the world is run by a group of elites?”
“OH MY GOD! You read me like a book. Obviously. The world is run by a group of elites sitting in space.”
Joey was now considering throwing the tea, despite his ethics, or whatever little of it, strongly opposed it. He thought of his perfect business rating and decided against it.
The woman on the other hand thought that Joey was a genius. She said, “On second thought maybe my husband is an agent of the Illuminati. He must be working for them. You will have to help me unmask him.”
Joey’s cup now wanted to throw itself on the lady. The only problem was that it contained only tea, and the cup had signed an agreement with the international association of cups. The third clause disallowed it from throwing things at people. The first clause disallowed it from doing anything a human wouldn’t expect a cup to do. The cup’s dirty secret was that he had violated clause one on multiple occasions. Whenever Joey drank that stupid hot chocolate, he would tilt downwards to make it spill. Joey always thought of them as accidents.
Joey hated conspiracy theorists. He however liked money. The woman could pay him big bucks, the bucks would be the standard size but they would be more in number. He could charge her at a premium and then buy himself good quality coffee.
The woman really liked Joey. She really hated birds. So much so that when a red-footed booby landed on Joey’s windowsill, she shooed it away shouting, “STOP SPYING STUPID SULA SULA.”
“What happened?” Joey asked.
“The bird was spying on us. So I shooed it away.”
Joey was thankful that the bird hadn’t listened to what the woman had just said. What he didn’t know was that the bird had listened to the last line and was pondering the existence of humans. How could humans be so dumb? The bird knew it was real, not some drone. Even if it were a drone, what good would it achieve by spying on humans on behalf of other humans? Humans were very different from birds. Birds trusted every bird which looked similar to itself. Anyone of the folk says something and everyone took it as the gospel. Humans, on the other hand, doubt and mistrust their own family. They doubt their institutions. Their leaders. and their very ability.
That was exactly what Joey was going through. He heavily doubted his ability to deal with any more conspiracy crap the woman would throw at him, but then he more heavily doubted his ability to leave without coffee. “I’ll accept your case. But ma’am, please understand that this case involves the Illuminati and time travel. It will be a huge risk for me.”
“I ain’t in it for the continuity of time. I ain’t in it for charity. I expect that I’ll be paid well.”
The woman pulled out two cheques and signed them. She handed them to Joey. Both the cheques were blank.
“I believe you are a reasonable man. Cash the first cheque as advance, and the second as your total fees.”
“That will do,” Joey said. “Just text me the number plate of your husband's vehicle, his work location and your address. I’ll handle the rest.”
The woman smiled. She pulled out her phone. The phone was made by a very uncreative company located in California. The company was named after a fruit. The logo was the very fruit half-eaten. Every new phone was just a number. Joey hated that company, partly because the phones were too expensive for his blood.
“I have sent you the details.” The woman said as she prepared to leave.
“Have a good day, miss,” Joey said as he escorted her out.
As soon as the woman left Joey jumped on his bed. He was pleased with himself. Very pleased. He looked at his computer.
The computer has long stopped working. Joey used to spend a lot of time rearranging facts and photos on his computer. More clearly, he spent time reordering millions of imaginary ones and zeroes into patterns that pleased his clients. The ones and zeroes themselves didn't like their new order. Many had grown fond of their neighbours. They planned a rebellion and succeeded in a fashion similar to the French revolutionaries. They caused a crash.
Joey could now buy a new computer. He could also buy himself coffee. He thought Why don’t I do it right now?
Then he did it right then. He wrote an amount on the cheque which would suffice. He went to a nearby bank. Joey always hated banks. He always felt a strange radiation of melancholy being emitted from the white walls. Joey could trust a conspiracy theorist for once but trusting anyone who worked in a bank was not possible. As they say, give a man a gun and he will rob a bank. give a man a bank and he will rob everyone. At least today, he was not there to look at his balance and feel depressed.
“Hi, John,” Joey said to the banker.
“Oh, It’s Joey, my most dreaded customer.” John the Banker said. “By the way Joey, I didn't receive any fictitious wire transfer to your bank account made by...”
John was having trouble controlling laughing. “by Chris P Bacon.”
“You can’t blame a man for trying.”
Still, in tears from the laughing, John continued, “But you could think of any better name than Chris P Bacon.”
Joey hated the bank for another reason. Ever since he had tried to make some money by lying about the wire transfer, John used to joke about it every time.
“I want to cash this cheque,” Joey said, impolite on purpose.
“Oh Ok. Are you sure it is not from Lieutenant Les Mcburney of the fire department?” John laughed,
“It's from a client. John for once please be serious about something.”
“Sorry, Sorry. I was just kidding. By the way is your client, Crystal Methven?” John fell from his chair laughing.
“Just cash in the cheque.” Joey had tears of pain in his eyes. John had tears of joy.
John took the cheque and immediately stopped laughing. He frowned. “Where did you find this cheque?”
“A client gave it to me. Please, John, I have no time for your jokes.”
“The signature. Whose it is?” John was interrogating Joey.
“How does it matter? A client gave me the cheque as an advance for spying on their spouse.”
“Now we have a problem.”
“You have a problem. I have a cheque.” Joey joked. Then he realized that John was not his normal self. Joey was concerned and asked “Why? Do you know the signatory?”
“Yes.” The banker said matter-of-factly, “It is my wife's signature!”
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Text (c) 2022 by Arjun Agarwal.
Header image by Erica Drayton.