This is an excerpt from a short story called The Truth, featured in my new book Inaugural Games. Buy it here.
Ryan Darabont discovered The Truth at the age of thirty-five.
Up until then his life had been an aimless, half-hearted quest for fulfillment. He hadn’t been entirely sure what he wanted out of life, but he’d had a long and continuously growing list of things he was sure he didn’t want. He’d made an effort to be tolerant of all views and beliefs, mostly because he lacked any firm convictions of his own, and had more or less drifted through his thirty-five years taking things as they came while avoiding any long-term commitments.
He graduated from James Madison High School with a high-C average, then moved on to community college, taking whatever courses were recommended by his advisor. When his two-year program ended, he transferred to Monroe State University where, in a technical writing course selected to fulfill his science requirement, he found he had a considerable knack for investigative reporting. Upon receiving his diploma three years later, he took a job as a filing clerk in a police station. This, he told himself, was just a temporary gig, something to pay the bills until he found his dream job. However, the months stretched into years, and while he got along just fine with everyone at the station, and really didn’t mind the work that much, he got no closer to figuring out what he wanted to do with his life.
It was during his third year at the station that his career, and his life, took a turn for the unexpected. One day, while eating his lunch in the staff cafeteria, he was approached by a tall, stocky man in a blue raincoat. He wore thick horn-rimmed glasses, and had a receding hairline. He needed a shave. It was Tom Hobbes, a tenured detective who had been with the force for over twenty years. The two had only met briefly in the past, but Hobbes was something of a legend around the station. His work had led to the apprehension of over forty-five murderers. He’d also busted the head of a crystal meth racket on the lower east side, and blown the cover of an oil tycoon who’d been dumping waste next to a public school. He’d even managed, just in the knick of time, to unravel a plot to assassinate Senator Joe Delacroix. It turned out that the whole thing had been masterminded by a fanatical anti-abortion group called the Warriors of Life. What’s more, their bank accounts were sponsored by Delacroix’s wife Shirley, who wanted him out of the way so she could collect her inheritance and marry her hairdresser. That one had shocked everybody, including the hairdresser.
Hobbes stuck out his hand, and Darabont shook it. He had a firm grip.
He explained to Darabont that Melis, his personal assistant, was out on sick leave. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, as he was right in the middle of a case, and it was turning out to be a real bastard. He hadn’t gotten more than ten hours’ sleep in the last four nights, and was slowly but surely losing his mind. He said he wanted to talk to Darabont because he’d heard three of his superiors comment on his organizational skills and meticulous attention to detail. He wanted to know if, assuming it was OK with his boss, Darabont would be interested in filling in as his assistant, at least until the regular girl came back.
Darabont was flattered. He was happy to hear that he was regarded so highly by his boss, and even happier that, of all people, Hobbes would choose him for such an important job. He’d never looked for advancement opportunities within the station, as he still maintained a hope of finding a job somewhere else, something more in line with his goals and interests, whatever they were. Still, working with Hobbes sounded exciting, and who knew, perhaps it would lead to something he’d never even considered before. The next day he tracked him down and accepted the offer.
Hobbes and Darabont turned out to be quite a team. Darabont organized notes, made calls, arranged meetings, tracked information, and ordered take-out when the nights ran long. Hobbes worked tirelessly, trying to track down the whereabouts of a pet store clerk who’d gone missing a month before. The last the guy had been seen was just before he’d been scheduled to close up the shop by himself. After a month and a half of grueling labor, the case was finally solved. It turned out that the guy had been abducted not by a friend, relative, or vindictive ex, but by a woman he’d never met before. She’d snuck up behind him as he was locking up the rear entrance, knocked him unconscious, and thrown him into her trunk, along with all the money from the register and a five-month-old cinnamon ferret. She’d taken him back to her apartment, where she held him prisoner in her guest bedroom, and proceeded to play out an elaborate psychosexual fantasy. He was forced to pleasure her on a daily basis, and if he failed to give her an orgasm, she would not only withhold his food for a day, but mix a small amount of chlorine into the ferret’s water bottle. The man, God bless him, was still alive when the feds raided the house. The ferret unfortunately did not survive.
The whole experience had been an incredible thrill for Darabont. He felt so privileged to have worked with a man of such caliber. He was equally proud of the fact that he had contributed to something of such great importance, that because of him, an innocent was saved and a criminal behind bars. It was certainly disheartening to return to the menial drudgery of his regular job. As he went about his business, organizing the station’s Kafkaesque hard copy file system, he daydreamed about the days when he’d almost been a detective.
However, his brief stint with Hobbes had planted a seed that came to fruition less than two weeks later. One day he came to work and the office was abuzz with rumors that Hobbes had quit the force. People differed on the whys and wherefores, but one aspect they all agreed on is that the whole thing came to a head when Hobbes punched the police commissioner in the face. He then allegedly threw his badge down on the other man’s desk, gave him the finger, and stormed out of the building. Darabont knew it was true when Commissioner Cosby passed through the office later that morning, sporting a noticeably fresh shiner on his right eye.
He ate his ham on rye alone in the cafeteria that day, wondering what could have possibly made Hobbes punch Cosby in the face. He wondered what the force was going to do without their star detective, and how many lives might be quite literally hanging in the balance. Also, he couldn’t help but admit, he was in awe of the guy’s swagger. Never before had he met a man who wielded such control over his destiny, whose drive and focus placed him leagues above everyone else in his field, leaving him free to call his own shots and take crap from no one.
When he got back to his desk, there was an envelope waiting for him. There was no writing on the outside. He opened it, and read the note:
I guess you’ve heard by now. I’m going into business for myself. How’d you like to come work with me? If you’re interested, call me: 443-555-1170.
He read it three more times. Of course there was nothing to consider. His days at the office were numbered the instant the synapses fired in his brain as he read the third sentence. He was particularly flattered that Tom had chosen the preposition “with” rather than “for.” He phoned him the second he got home, and put in his two weeks’ notice the following morning.
What really blew his mind was that Tom meant exactly what he wrote. He assumed the guy would need a personal assistant now that he’d turned private. That was true, but it wasn’t going to be him. Melis had worked with Tom for almost a decade, and when he left, it hadn’t taken much persuasion for her to follow. He wanted Ryan to be his partner.
That was the great turning point in Darabont’s life. Before, the most thought he’d given to becoming a private eye was when he was six years old, watching Murder She Wrote at his grandmother’s house. After he teamed up with Hobbes, he was amazed at how many of the special skills he’d developed over the years rendered him fit for the job. It was as if all that time, his inner snoop had been just around the corner in a dark alley, waiting for the right moment to step out of the shadows and flash his badge.
For the first time in his adult life, he was almost content. The work was exhilarating, and every night, as his head hit the pillow, he knew he was contributing something of great value to the world. However, for all his little victories, he still felt that something was missing. He had no idea what it was. There was a subtle emptiness that was impossible to pinpoint, a quiet nagging doubt in the furthest recesses of his mind. His inability to nail it down made him a little sad. Solving mysteries was, after all, his job. Eventually he decided that it was a question with no answer, a void he would just have to learn to live with, and went about his business without giving it another thought.
That is, until he discovered The Truth on May 12, 2011.
Read the rest in Inaugural Games.
Read the rest in Inaugural Games.