Ace Manheim stood at his office window and stared out onto the streets of Los Angeles, his eyes focusing on nothing in particular. A lonely, distant streetlight flickered valiantly for a few seconds before joining the rest of the burnt out streetlights of Cosset Drive. Another one down, Ace thought. Maybe now the city'll finally send someone out to replace those bulbs. But he knew it would never happen. City folks don't often make it down to Ace's neck of the woods. Ace's town was for the lonely, the broken and anyone else that made a career out of doing the wrong thing. It's where you go to drink yourself to death in peace. It's where you go to hide out from city folks, respectable folks. It's where you go when you've got more bad intentions than money. It's where you go if you're ... Trouble.
Three soft knocks were heard on Ace Manheim's office door, the graceful knocks of a dame. A pretty dame. Told you trouble was coming.
"Come on in," Ace began, "the door's unlocked." A woman with fiery red hair and a set of legs you wouldn't mind getting to know a little better stepped in and took a deep pause before speaking. She's accustomed to giving men a moment to catch their breath before diving right into business, and Ace appreciated the courtesy. He lit a cigarette. It was all he could do to keep his hands from shaking.
"I'm sorry to barge in without an appointment," the woman began. Her words reached Ace the same time as her perfume, and the two got together in a dark tango through Ace's senses, the kind of dance that makes even a good man woozy. And Ace wasn't good on his best day. "My name is Mona. Mona Boulevard."
"Ace Manheim, and if you're here sellin' something I should let you know up front I don't have any money. I'm afraid I'll have to send you on your way, as much as I'd hate to see you leave. Save the new view, of course." Mona smirked. There is nothing in this world more dangerous than a woman who knows what her body can do to a man.
"I'm not selling anything, Mr. Manheim," she began. "I have a case. Is it true? Are you a detective?"
"That's what it says on my door," Ace began.
"Thank goodness," Mona began. "I'm desperate and I didn't know where else to turn. I have a case, detective, and I need help. Badly."
Ace took a long drag from his cigarette and walked away from his post at the window, around his desk, toward Mona Boulevard, the stranger that he knew was trouble the second she knocked on his door. Careful Ace, he told himself. This is exactly the kind of woman who could bring you to your knees. In more ways than one, if you play your cards right.
"Can I stop you for a second," Ace began.
"I ... wasn't actually saying anything, Detective."
"No, not you, you're fine. I actually meant the- Whoever is writing this, currently."
Yeah ... What?
"We're clearly in some piece of fiction right now, did you not- Did I spoil that for you?"
Mona thought about this for a moment.
"We are fictional, aren't we, we're in some kind of story! Goodness. I suppose I thought something was off," Mona began, "but I hadn't suspected that until you pointed it out. Guess that's why you're the detective. Is there something wrong with this situation, though? I wouldn't mind if we continued. Why not make the most of our situation? I'm really eager to know what my case is all about."
"No, sure, it's just- Well, for starters, we won't get into how played out this kind of opening is, I can let that slide. But every time we talk, it's always 'he began,' or 'Mona began.' We can't always be 'beginning,'" Ace started, "especially when we don't continue after we 'begin.' It might be nice just to change things up a little, that's all I'm saying. I'm not trying to offend or-"
"No, no," Mona initiated, "it's a good note; I think things will be a lot stronger going forward. And, as long as we're making requests, I wouldn't mind some more detail, some description. Just so it's not all dialogue." The sound of a neighbor's radio, reduced to a low hum, oozed through the walls of the office and filled the silence that was growing between the two. Ace's cigarette and Mona's perfume engaged in a battle of willpower for scent superiority, both trying to dominate the room, neither backing down. Outside a dog barked. Each of the people blinked. And so forth.
"Better, I guess," Mona said, and it was clear that she meant it.
"Right. Well, at any rate, let's take a look at this case," Dave said. He was already itching for another cigarette, and he hadn't even finished his first yet.
"Better be careful, detective," Mona began, "you're displaying some pretty addictive behavior there, with those cigarettes. Remember: It's not a guilty pleasure if you do it all the time -- then it's just a bad habit. Also I thought your name was Ace."
"Who said I felt guilty and- Oh, I- Yes, it was, 'Ace,' obviously. Jesus, man, come on, it would have taken, like, two seconds to read the first paragraph to remember my name," Ace said. His name was Ace, but he just preferred to go by "Dave."
"Really? My given, born, actual name is 'Ace' but I prefer being called 'Dave'? Who would choose that? No, I find that hard to believe. Or, a different thing: I find that stupid to believe. That's idiotic."
"Yeah, bad call," Mona added. But then suddenly ...
"Oh, hey, actually, there must be some confusion. I'm Dave, sorry, hello! I'm an additional person in this room, and I said that thing before." He's been here this whole time. "I've been here this whole time, you guys just didn't notice me, so I decided to speak up and say that we should take a look at the case. I'm Ace's ... also detective."
"So there are three of us now?" Ace asked, even though there'd been three people the whole time. "Fine. Ms. Boulevard, forgive me for not introducing my associate, detective Dave, I don't know where my manners went."
"Quite alright, detective Manheim, we all make mistakes, let's just ... get through this."
"Right. As I was saying, detective Dave and I would be happy to take your case, Ms. Boulevard, provided the ... figure, is right."
"You're referring to my money, I trust?"
"Let's say I am. For now."
Ace smirked. Mona blushed, her cheeks a healthy, deep red. Her whole face, in fact, and down to her neck. Ace couldn't verify whether or not any of her other body parts had taken a similar color turn, but he liked letting his imagination fill in the blanks of what it might look like, if they did. Mona was accustomed to such looks and didn't exactly shun Ace's attentions. But business was business.
"I can offer you three thousand up front, and another three when you solve the case, plus expenses and, if everything goes well, a bonus. How's that for a figure, detective Manheim?"
Ace liked the figure, very much. It was enticing, and satisfying, large in all the right places. It had everything Ace looked for in a figure, plus a few perks.
"That'll be fine, Ms Boulevard, but I wouldn't be a good detective if I didn't at least get a clue about what these...bonuses might entail."
"I really hope it's butt."
"Why, detective," Mona said, advancing. "I thought you'd never asked." She pressed her body into his and the office filled with their collective warmth. Their hips moved in unison, their bodies in perfect rhythm already. They sensed each other's eagerness."
"Are you sure you're ready for this, detective?"
"Sure I am, yes, but hey, before we get into this, real quick -- did Dave leave?" Nope! He's right- Oh, actually, you, uh, should probably-
"Nope," Dave said, "I'm right here! Sorry, hello!"
"See, now there, that's a problem."
"I don't think so," Dave said, his hand already clutching his belt buckle.
"Sure, not for you, you're a pervert, apparently, and there's nothing wrong with that, but as far as the story goes, the writing is a shit show. You can't just forget about a character in the middle of a scene." A dog barked somewhere.
"That's not going to help you, this time. Plus, I mean, I know I said I wasn't going to bring up how tired the detective stuff was, but you've already sort of done the whole noir thing. Once or twice." Don't forget this one! "Right, but that's my point. There's a finite amount of stupid, comedic noir things you can put your name on before you've pigeonholed yourself. Do you have any interest in changing this up a bit?"
Suddenly, the three travelers were transported to a completely different world, even though a lot of people really LOVE pulp detective stories, and even though the noir detective is a timeless, iconic character. But whatever, I can make compromises, I guess ...
"Oh my GOD this is so much better," Ace shouted. But, like, really? "YES, this is great, look at me punching, I love this!"
"But I'd still like you to take my case, though, looking down now, it appears I'm holding a literal case, like a suitcase. And it's, hold on ... yes, it's full of dinosaur eggs."
"You let me know the second those things hatch," Ace said, "because I am going to punch the ever-loving shit out of those little bastards."
A pterodactyl swooped down, seemingly out of nowhere, and screeched the screech of a mother pterodactyl scorned. (It's a very specific screech, it's pretty unmistakable.)
"She wants her eggs back," Mona cried. "Quick, Dave, cast a paralysis spell on her."
The Pterodactyl continued without even slowing down. She dove and swooped, shrieked and clawed at Mona.
"It's not working," Dave called. "It must be immune to my magic spells. Also I wouldn't mind a last name," Dave Bulgerock added. "Bitchin'!"
"Let's see if she's immune to punching!"
"She is not," Dave said, dryly.
"Of course she's not," Ace bellowed. "She isn't immune, nor will she ever be. Nor will any creature, ever, as long as there is time and fists. Let this be a lesson to things."
"This isn't working for me," Mona said.
"Maybe some fisting will-"
"What we've gained in novelty, we've lost in plot, and atmosphere and character development. And Ace has clearly gone mad with fisting."
"There is a small chance that that is true, yes."
Mona made a good point about the way that life had been progressing recently, although it should be mentioned that, in general, people aren't allowed to question and impact their own reality. They should really appreciate a creator that's so benevolent and open to feedback that he's even entertaining their suggestions at all. It's hard to create worlds, and they're not exactly being sensitive or understanding. Mona and Ace stared nervously at the floor, thinking about how rude they'd been.
Dave opened a door-
"In the middle of the jungle," Ace asked.
Dave opened a fucking door in the middle of wherever I say, and the adventurers entered it, for Christ's sake. Man.
"And then," Mona asked.
"Yeah, where did the door take us," Ace added. And then they all just waited for a few seconds, they just stood there and- Hang on, just give me a ...
The operating room was surprisingly dark but, then, this was no ordinary operating room. Dr. Ace Manheim sharpened his scalpel as he spoke to Mona Boulevard.
"The type of medicine we practice here isn't, strictly speaking, legal," Dr. Manheim said. "We lose certain luxuries afforded to hospitals that are officially registered with the Government. Luxuries like up-to-date equipment, for example, and full, qualified staffs. If something were to go wrong during your procedure -- and I mean worst-case-scenario wrong -- we may not have the manpower and resources necessary to handle that. Don't get me wrong; what we lack in equipment we more than make up for in discretion, but if safety is a concern, then I-"
"I knew the risks when I came to you, Dr. Manheim. I didn't come here for safety. I knowingly came to an unregistered hospital with unlicensed doctors completely of my own volition. I've made my choice, and I'm prepared to deal with your consequences." Mona thought about the good old days, when going to a doctor didn't need to be a guilty, black market affair. When a simple checkup didn't require alibis and bribes, and an understanding that no checkups are without risk. But that was a long time ago. Before the Government completely took over. Before the government decided that medicine -- all medicine -- was reserved for only the wealthiest politicians. Before the wars.
"Oh, it's like a future thing, cool."
The Government claimed that they'd restructured the world's healthcare system for all sorts of valid, globally beneficial reasons, but everyone knew the truth. Health was a valuable commodity, and the Government wanted all of it. That's why women like Mona Boulevard had to sneak around to underground clinics like the Manheim Institute. That's why she had no choice but to turn to wild, unpredictable doctors, the ones who refused to sign up with the Government and were since deemed traitors. That's why, instead of a full, competent staff, she was looking at one rugged doctor and his single, terrified nurse, Dave, who-
-was 28-years-old, but didn't look a day over 16.
"What is it, Nurse Dave? I like this one."
"Yeah, it's the future, we're like a bunch of freedom fighters of some kind. You guys are sneaking around and giving medicine to the poor, risking your lives just to-"
"I'm a nurse, guys. First I was an 'also detective,' and now I'm a nurse, I'm always just a lame sidekick."
"You were a wizard ..."
"My powers didn't even work. I cast one freakin' spell and it didn't do anything."
"That's true. Maybe we could beef up your role here, a little bit."
"Actually, since we're changing things, I wouldn't mind some clarification on the whole ... world, life. What is the Government trying to do? Steal all of the health? How do they profit off of that, exactly?"
"Yeah, we might want a new setting, that's actually some pretty bad writing, when you think about it."
"Speaking of bad writing," Dave began, "which one of you said which of those sentences?" They scanned the above lines and noticed the lack of attribution.
"Huh," Ace said.
"Huh," Mona added.
"So, clearly, we need a new world. And let's not get so ambitious with our backstory this time, I'm not sure this is the writer to handle it," said big fat Ace Manheim. "Whoa, hold on now, since when am I fat," Manheim chubbed, but it was hard to make out his words, as his mouth was full of uncooked ham.
"Guys, I think we've pissed him off," Mona said with a fart. "Oh, real mature." More like real manure. Another fart.
"This is getting worse," Dave said, his pants falling down, exposing his diaper. "Alright, now you're just being ridiculous."
"Seriously, I'm not a fat guy, I was hardboiled detective. I was punching dinosaurs, like, two minutes ago."
Speaking of dinosaurs, look out! The dinosaurs are here now and they've got guns, and there's nothing your punches can do to stop them.
"You take that back," Ace burped, flecks of ham flying everywhere. The dinosaurs silenced him by cocking their guns a few times. "There's no reason to cock your guns 'a few times,' that doesn't even make any-" The dinosaurs silenced him.
The dinosaur leader, with a wag of his tail, made it clear that the three stupid heroes were going to do exactly what they were told and say exactly what I want them to say or else the dinosaurs would get the greenlight on Asshole Hunting Season. OK?
"Fine," Ace sighed, "we'll do whatever."
"Yeah, agreed," Mona added. "We're sorry, do whatever you want, we were wrong."
"Totally wrong," Dave added. OK. Good. Good good good.
"Roar," roared the Head Dinosaur, "roar roar roar, ro- I'm sorry, excuse me but, one second- Do you really want to use 'roar' there, as my action? Like, I roared 'roar,' is that really want you want to say?"
"Right," added a particularly fat Triceratops. "While we're on the subject of the writing, I could use some more character development. Or, like, any at all."
"It's really weak," roared a ... one of the other ... fucking ... dinosaurs.
This fucking book is over!
For more from Dan, check out O'Briographicon: The Wave of the Future and So Book-like, You'd Think It Was a Book (but it's not).