Chapter 1: A Long-Awaited Fantasy

For the ten years Dashiell Dent spent as a private investigator, he held onto one dream, that one day, his assistant would knock on his door to introduce a beautiful "dame." It was a dream born from too many hours watching old Film Noir and reading and rereading Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett (the writer his parents named him after). In at least half of these stories, a beautiful woman would come seeking the help of the private dick, and the hardboiled hero would play it cool even if inside he was blindsided. Dash went over his internal narration a dozen times, waiting for the day for the gorgeous girl to come in and say, "mister, I need your help," going all doe-eyed and innocent. Or maybe she would size him up and go "I heard you know how to find things. Or people." Dash would reply, "Big difference between a thing and person, darling." It sounded cool in his head. He didn’t care how she looked at him, what she said, or really much else. He just wanted to have that Film Noir moment once in his career. He already had his "Girl Friday," even if her name was Wednesday. He just needed the dame. Just once.

And today, it was finally going to happen. Not that Dash knew this. He was filling out an invoice from his last job, trying not to fall asleep from boredom and hoping a new case came his way soon. He didn’t need the money--he and Wednesday ran a lucrative operation--he just hated downtime. Downtime meant Philadelphia was too quiet. Too peaceful. A peaceful Philly never ended well. But downtime wasn’t going to be a problem. He could already hear Wednesday talking to someone in the waiting area outside his office. A woman with a fine voice.

This was it. He could feel it. Any minute, Wednesday would open his office door (she never knocked) and introduce an impossibly beautiful woman. He waited for this since he was 24. The race, height, weight, hair color, accent, and just about everything else changed a dozen times. Now it was happening. He just had to stay cool about this. That’s all. Stay cool. Just needed to channel some Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. Get into his best Humphrey Bogart persona.

The door opened, Wednesday came in.

"Boss, you got a client."

And in she came, standing just a few inches over the small assistant. Purple hair, obsidian skin, eyes like amethyst. She was the drop-dead gorgeous dame Dash always dreamed of, internal alliteration-filled narration and all.

"You’re not entirely human, are you?" With those words, he felt his one fist ball up and punch himself in the dick. Ten years, the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen enter his office, and he basically calls her a freak.

"Seriously?" she replied, looking to Wednesday who shook her head.

"He’s smarter than he sounds," Wednesday reassured.

"Is he smarter than he looks too? I imagined him to be taller...and maybe have a little more hair. And he says I don’t look quite human. Hmm."

"Can I help you, or did you just come to shatter my ego, Ms...."

"Xanthe."

Dash rolled over the name in his head. ZANN-THEE. Odd name.

"Ms. Xanthe."

"No, just Xanthe. With an X."

"Okay, Xanthe with an X. What can I for you do?" Both women gave him an odd look. "Do in you--do for you." This was not how this scene was supposed to play out. Somewhere in Hollywood Heaven, Bogie wept.

"Let me start over," Dash said. "I’m Dashiell Dent. This is my assistant Wednesday Iyu."

Xanthe looked at him in frustration. "Yeah, I know who you are. I came to your office. And she introduced herself to me like ten seconds ago."

Wednesday leaned towards her. "I’m like the only hot chick he talks to, and he’s known me since I was 13. He doesn’t exactly know how to respond to women."

"Wednesday! What the hell?"

Xanthe puts her hand up. "Okay, I caught you off guard. I get it. My appearance does that. How many people do you meet with glowing purple eyes, right?"

Xanthe sat in one of the client chairs. Wednesday bounced onto the couch, putting her feet up and forgetting the term "professionalism." Dash wanted to blame it on her being a millennial, but according to sociologists, he was technically a millennial too. Slowly, he sat behind his desk and took out his notepad and pen.

"Better?" Xanthe asked.

"Sorry," was all Dash could think to say. He botched his own fantasy. Now it was time to work. "So, what did you come in for?"

Xanthe smiled at him like a kindergarten teacher smiles at a five-year-old for tying their own shoes for the first time. At least, that’s how Dash felt.

"My brother went missing," she said.

"And by the eyes and the hair--which I’m guessing isn’t a dye job--I can assume he has some kind of powers?"

Xanthe nodded. "Yeah. The Sci-epidemic hit us both. I got nothing. Cool eyes and cool hair. He got...well, I’d rather not say. He’s always been a bit gullible. I never liked some of the people he socialized with. But after getting his powers, he barely talked to anyone, afraid to go out in public in case he lost control. It wasn’t until recently that he even went to one of the help centers for Scifians, something I was asking him to do for years. He met some people there, I think, and started going out more. I was getting hopeful until he stopped telling me where he would go. Three days ago, he left the house, and I haven’t heard from him since. He’s never gone this long without calling home."

"Okay. Which Sci-center did he go to?"

Xanthe looked down. "I don’t know. I never actually went to one myself. I just thought it would be good for him."

"Can’t say this is the least information I’ve had to go on. Okay. You know my rates?"

Xanthe nodded. "Yeah, Wednesday gave me all the information. Word is you’re worth every penny."

"Well, that’s because I cuddle after."

Xanthe actually laughed a little. Dash made a mental note--his fantasy was only 94% disastrous.

"Okay..." Wednesday said, breaking the silence. "Xanthe, follow me and we’ll get the paperwork done and then we can start trying to prove that we’re not a couple of morons who just happened to have a fancy office in Rittenhouse Square. I swear, we’ve earned it. You should have seen our office when we were in Port Richmond, right before the hipsters took over. That was a disaster worthy of bad hooker jokes."

Xanthe gave Dash one last smile and followed Wednesday out.

He looked at his notes. There wasn’t much, but that didn’t bother him. He always managed to figure out his cases. Just took some digging and some time.

A few moments later, a door shut, and Wednesday came back into his office, again collapsing on the couch like she was right at home.

"Well," she said, "that was mighty embarrassing, boss."

"It wasn’t that bad...was it?"

Wednesday rolled her eyes. "Come on. Your interracial fantasy just walked in and you totally lost your cool. Not that you had much to begin with."

"What do you know about my fantasies?" Dash shot back.

"I’ve seen your porn folder, boss. Quite a rainbow in there."

"Stay off my computer."

"Ha...I knew your pasty white ass had a porn folder."

"I’m not pasty. I’m like vaguely middle eastern white."

"Next to that ebony enchantress that just walked in? You’re liquid paper. Acted like it to."

Dash shrugged. "It wasn’t that bad."

"Wasn’t that bad? You screwed that up so badly, I’m pretty sure you ruined my chances of fucking her too."

"Look, you’re like two inches too tiny for me to have an adult conversation about sex with you."

"I’m 24, asshole."

’Your birthday says 23; your height says 12."

"I’m not the one who nearly botched the gig."

"We still have the case, right?"

Wednesday looked at him. "You realize you’re the only private eye who works with Sci-cases? Did she have a choice?"

The phone started ringing. On the second ring, Dash looked over at Wednesday. "You going to get that?"

Wednesday shook her head. "Sorry, I’m apparently not tall enough to have a job yet."

Dash sighed. Yeah, it was a good comeback. He picked up the phone.

"Dent Investigations."

"Dent? Did you just answer your own phone? Where’s that little Chinese girl?" The voice of Commissioner Simmons boomed, micro-aggressions and all.

"Busy. What do you need, Simmons?"

"Well, we’re going to need your expertise on a little bank robbery."

"Look, I just picked up a case--how little are we talking about?"

"You remember where that bank on Ardmore Ave and Lancaster used to be? By the Chipotle?"

Dent took his pen and got ready to write, but then stopped. "Wait...what do you mean ’where it used to be?’"

"Maybe you should just come out here and see for yourself."

"Fine. We’ll meet you there in an hour."

"Thanks."

Dent hung up and looked over at Wednesday who was starting to sit up.

"They’re dumping another sci-case on us, aren’t they?" She groaned.

"Yep."

"At least they pay us well. And I’m getting some Chipotle. That, I can promise you."

Dash stood up with her, grabbing his notebook, wallet, and keys.

Two jobs. It just had to turn into a two jobs kind of day.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Worst Cataclysm Ever