Short Story: The Time-Travelling Private Investigator Who Couldn't Stop Thinking About His Ex-Wi
Hi, my name's Damien Rice (no relation) and I'm a time-travelling private investigator who can't stop thinking about my ex-wife. And that's the end of my story. Thanks for reading. Ah, hold on, I've travelled in time to the wrong part of the composition of this story, let me hop back to the beginning of the story and try again. That's one of the problems with time travel, it's really easy to take a wrong turn and end up at the end of the story instead of the beginning.
Carol always loved my stories. Carol's my ex-wife. Anyway, on with the story. One of the things people say to me the most is “Good morning.” I mean, I get that a lot. One of the others that comes up a lot is “How did you learn you could travel through time?” Well, it all started about a year ago when I woke up one cold, misty morning in my Brixton bedsit thinking I might pop to the Londis and buy a Twix later that day. Rubbing the sleep (figurative) from my eyes, I was surprised to see none other than myself stood at the end of the bed, a Twix in my hand. Same battered old trilby, same shabby mac, and – and this is crucial to my realisation it was me – same worn, tired-looking face. It was like looking into a mirror if my reflection had climbed out of the mirror and bought a Twix and changed out of his pyjamas and then stood at the end of my bed. As it turned out, I didn't do those things in that order.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, then realised that was gramatically incorrect so asked “What am I doing here?”
“You're not going to believe this,” the Twix me replied, “but you can travel through time.”
“I do believe you,” I said. “It's the only reasonable explanation. Why did you tell me I wasn't going to believe it when you knew I would?” The Twix me shrugged.
“I thought about saying “You are going to believe this,” but I remember me saying “You're not going to believe this” and I didn't want to create a paradox just because I was trying to be pernickety.”
“Fair enough,” I replied, “Goodbye.” The Twix me then walked out, satisfied that he'd done his job. I changed out of my pyjamas, went to Londis, bought a Twix and then travelled back in time to that very morning to tell myself I could travel through time.
Carol loved Twixes. Carol's my ex-wife. Our first date was a picnic in Eaton Park, Norwich. I lounged under the biggest spreading tree in the glorious sunshine, my grubby old mac buttoned up tight and the brim of my battered old trilby pulled down low over my eyes to keep that damned light off my weathered face.
“Where the bloody hell is Carol?” I grumbled out loud to a passing toddler on a tricycle. My bad mood was uncalled for, as she turned up barely ten seconds later, a wicker picnic hamper balanced on her head, playing the fool as was her wont. Inside the picnic hamper were 36 Twixes and nothing else. Two years later, we were married, although the events were unrelated.
I shook my head to dismiss the flashback of Carol eating Twixes in Eaton Park to focus on the case in hand. I had been hired to find a missing person – the Mayor, in fact. The Mayor's wife had dropped by my office the previous night, all dolled up in a ball gown, as she was off to a ball.
“The Mayor's gone missing, Mr Rice,” she wailed, repeatedly thumping her entire bodily weight against my office wall in despair. “I've nobody to go to the ball with!” I tried as hard as I could to find a not-too-contrived way of dropping that joke about the skeleton into the conversation, but by the time I'd thought of how to word it I realised I'd been silent for over a minute and the Mayor's wife was staring at me, and now was no time to crack jokes.
“Are you going to go to the ball anyway?” I asked, lamely.
“Yes,” she said, “I'm sure I'll be able to meet some people there. After all, I am the Mayor's wife.”
“I'll take the case,” I said, and walked out into the chill night air, locking her in my office to keep her safe. A ball is no place for a lady, after all. I stood in the street for ten minutes, my breath pluming in the air in front of my face, and turned over the many twists and turns and complexities of the case in my head. Where had the Mayor last been seen? When did his wife last see him? Is there anybody who might have a reason to kidnap the Mayor? Had he in fact just planned a weekend away that she had forgotten about? There were so many unanswered questions. Eventually I unlocked the door to my office, out of which cartwheeled the Mayor's wife without a word, and I went to bed.
Carol and I had bought the bed together a couple of years ago. Carol's my ex-wife. “If we're going to carry on being married,” she'd said one morning, “we're going to need to buy a bed.” I couldn't help but agree with her, so we went to the bed shop.
“One bed, please,” I'd shouted as we got out of the car outside the bed shop. I repeated it again inside, at a normal volume. We drove home with a bed dragging along behind the car. I remember the glance we exchanged as we parked up in our front drive, the bed proudly dangling from the rear bumper. The things we were going to do with that bed...
But that's all over now, of course. Carol's gone, and I'm all alone. These days I just stand on the bed every night to get a bit of sleep, but I can no longer really bring myself to enjoy it.
The next morning, I travelled back in time to the week before and set off for the Mayor's house. Stood outside, on the patio, were none other than the Mayor and his wife. They were conducting imaginary interviews with some imaginary press, to practice for the next time the press came to interview them on the patio.
“Lima,” said the Mayor in response to an imaginary question.
“Brazzaville,” said the Mayor's wife in response to another imaginary question. I slowly approached the steps to the patio, beaming with pride.
“Looks like you're safely home, Mr Mayor,” I remarked. He smiled at me, a big, gleaming politician's smile.
“Yes indeed, Mr Rice,” he said.
“Well, that's great. I'm happy to see you safe and well. I'll be taking my fee, then, Mrs Mayor.” The Mayor's wife looked very confused.
“Fee?” she remarked. Ah. This old problem had reared its head yet again. The great problem with being a time-travelling private investigator is that, while travelling back in time to before a crime is committed is a great way of solving the crime, it proves very difficult to persuade the client to pay you for your work. I've learned some pretty persuasive tricks over the years, though.
“My fee, Mrs Mayor,” I demanded, stamping my foot down hard onto my other foot. Disconcerted, Mrs Mayor fumbled in her wallet and handed me a tenner. Another good day's work. Happy that she had her husband safely home again, I turned around and walked off their grounds, wondering what the next day would bring, making a mental note to skip the day that the Mayor's wife first came to visit me and go straight to the day after as I'd solved that case already.
God, I miss Carol.
STUDY QUESTIONS FOR YOUR BOOK GROUP OR ENGLISH CLASS:
1. How did the story make you feel?
2. What is art? Is it the same thing as good art?
1. If you had to guess (and you do), why do you think Carol and Damien Rice split up? Whose fault do you think it was?
2. Do you think Damien Rice actually did solve the mystery of the missing Mayor?
1. Do you think Damien Rice is a good detective?
2. If you knew Damien Rice, would you want to hang out with him?
3. Do you think the Mayor does his city proud and takes his civic duties seriously?
4. What is Carol's job?
5. Did the Mayor's wife appear in the story?
1. What is time travel?
2. Is this statement true or false: “Love is an energy. It makes water happy.”