Naked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!
Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.
Episode Seven: Madness
The car pulled away from the curb, leaving Abigail and Gus behind us. For someone who hated cars so much, I sure seemed to be spending a lot of time in them lately. Guess it’s my accommodating nature. Not everybody likes to walk everywhere like I do. I looked out the side window and watched the world go by, a blur of people all moving about in their routine. I wondered if they felt as out of control of their lives as I did in mine.
The Nazi dame sat next to me in the back seat. “What’s the matter, detective?” she cooed. I didn’t answer.
It had felt wrong to leave Abigail back there, but I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her why I had gone. Gus had been prepping for a fight, and he just might have been able to take our dear fraulein friend even with the pistol she’d been holding. What they hadn’t noticed was her three goons lurking in the shadows.
The entire situation was beginning to get on my nerves. A vicious murder, crazy Nazis trying to create their own master race, Abigail, my long lost brother. What next? I closed my eyes and tried to figure out how I’d gotten into this. Then I decided I didn’t care. It was time to get out. Literally. As the car slowed for a traffic light, I unbuckled my belt, threw open my door, and vaulted out into the street. I dodged a car coming from the other direction, threw myself forward into a roll, and launched myself forward.
Behind me I could hear the Nazi dame screaming, apoplectic with rage, yelling for them to get after me, but they’d never catch me. I had a head start, was in better shape than them, and have a kind of springy gait that gives me a little extra edge when I’m on the run, something which feels like it happens a lot. I just hoped that Abigail had had the brains to get away from the Empire Night Club, because it was a safe bet they’d go after her to get to me. Assuming her goons hadn’t just scooped her up after we left. She clearly knew too much anyway.
I ducked into a doorway and listened for the telltale pounding footsteps of pursuers and heard nothing, so I allowed myself to breathe for a minute. I looked around the immediate area and saw some bum sitting on the ground, leaning against the brick wall of the building, but nothing else. These guys are everywhere. Down on their luck, out of time, and up against the wall, in this case literally.
It was this kind of thing that made the Nazi dame’s plan almost appealing, if it weren’t completely crazy. It wasn’t like things were rainbows and sparkles out there now in the Naked City. It was grimy and gritty and you could find yourself with a knife between your ribs shortly after breakfast if you looked at the wrong person the wrong way or end up like this poor schmoe if things didn’t quite break right. Breed a master race and maybe things improve. Care enough about your population and maybe you take better care of them. Maybe I should just let them get about their business and look out for myself.
The interesting part about bums like this guy was that they were often the best confidence men in the city. They had persistence, could convince you of all kinds of things when they were sober, and could own the world for a song if they could just get their act together. Their downfall was usually substances or madness. Impossible expectations and an inability to compromise could lead someone to turn down the golden goose while they were holding out for diamonds and end up with nothing.
The bum looked up at me, as if seeing me for the first time, and stared. Stared a little too long.
“I almost had it all,” he said.
“What’s that, old timer?” I asked, looking around nervously. Getting distracted while on the run was a sure way to get dead.
“All of it. Every bit. The fountain of youth. The Philosopher’s Stone. El Dorado. The Holy Grail. You name it, I almost had it.”
“So what happened?”
“Turns out you don’t have those things. They have you.”
With that he lunged towards me and shoved a stick of gum in my hand before I could react. He stared at me with a knowing look in his eye, although what he knew was anybody’s guess, and then opened the door and ducked inside. I went to follow him, but he’d locked it behind himself.
The next thing I heard was the sound of screeching tires. The Nazi dame’s damn black car backed into view at the end of the alley. They’d found me somehow.
I turned to run, but the other end of the alley was also blocked. Damn. I looked around. No ladders. I tried the other doors that were close by. Locked.
“Detective!” I heard the Nazi dame’s voice cut through the sound of the idling motor of the car. I turned to face her. This time she’d probably just go ahead and put me in handcuffs. An intriguing thought, but the circumstances were wrong. But when I got my head around in her direction, I saw that Abigail was with her. Double damn.
“You are much more problematic than I’d anticipated, Detective,” the dame hissed. “Now get in the car.”
“Detective, I know you’re going to get in the car because you’re just the kind of noble fool who tries to rescue the damsel in distress,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes. “But I’m telling you anyway that she’s a liar and that you should run away back down the alley. There’s only one guy there. You can make it. Don’t worry about me. You need to go to your brother. He’s at the park. He’ll explain when you get there.”
I looked and saw that she was right. I probably could make it. But I’d hate myself in the morning.
CHOICE: Run away to find my brother or go with the Nazis to save Abigail.