Ace Harmon in Caution: Slow Children

Episode 1
In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
searches for clues,
discovers a hidden talent,
and gets a little help from his friends.

There've been a couple times some ritzy broad had waddled into my pocket paradise offering me a lure I just couldn't lay off of. Usually, I get tossed a name of some big lug who'd been making her his footrest and leaving her beaten worse than an old mule on a slave-driver's farm. I, of course, ignore my better judgment and head out, pick a lock or two and end up at the business end of a 200 pound gorilla with a baseball bat. Since then, I've been real cautious picking my way into a place. There are three simple rules to staying alive when breaking and entering: first off, always have an exit strategy, whether it's leaving the door open or knowing where the fire escape is; secondly, make sure you're armed, be it a roscoe, a sticker, or something fancy like pepper spray or a taser; and finally, pay attention.

Unfortunately for me, I had an angry doorman with a brass hangover hot on my tail.

I slipped the key in the lock, flung the door open and quickly blew inside. The click as the door swung shut was quiet and I flipped the lock behind me, leaning closely to listen for the goon's heavy footsteps. After a few moments, I heard him stomping up the stairs. I thought I could hear his wheezing, but it was probably just my imagination.

"You bastard! You best find another way out or I'll break you like twig!" The yell echoed to the door. Break me like a twig, huh? Could a guy use a more outdated colloquialism?

I turned around and gave the place the once over. The floors were dusty but bare. Skid marks in the dust led to a ratty pair of pink bunny slippers. They looked comfy enough, but I still wouldn't be caught dead in something like that. The couch had a big Superman pillow on it, a giant drool stain keeping me at bay like a clove of garlic to a vampire. The table was strewn with dirty dishes, dried up milk stains, a box of Malted Milk Balls--generic brand of course--and a pile of letters addressed to Dennis Dumont. At least now I knew I was in the right place.

I ran a finger over the screen of the idiot box leaving a trail of dust floating in the air. The apartment hadn't been cleaned for a while, but there wasn't anything to indicate foul play, or, for that matter, a recent occupant. I took a moment and drew a smiley face in the dust on the TV. I figured it added a little happiness to the drab cave.

I wandered towards the bedroom, but all I needed to see was a used diaper sized XXL sitting on the floor next to the bed to spin me right round and send me scampering in the opposite direction faster than a cat with a dog on its tail. Note to self: leave the bedroom for last and make sure to charge that dame extra in one way or another.

The kitchen was pristine, something that just didn't jive with the rest of the apartment. No spills, dirty dishes... it was as if no one had ever come in there. Then I noticed the keep-away box. What kind of wacky bastard padlocks his icebox? I wiggled the lock but it was firmly in place. Unless I has a key, the kitchen was a dead end.

I gave a quick peek in the bathroom, but besides a kiddie toothbrush and a terrible smell, there wasn't anything of note. This wasn't exactly the ring-a-ding-ding I had hoped for.

I took a deep breath and headed back to the bedroom dreading the stench. The diaper sat there like a warning. Don't come in here you schmuck, it told me. Just chalk it up to a clean sneak and get on with it. I carefully stepped over it hoping there'd be a Chinese angle beyond the malodorous barrier.

The room was a hole. There were rags strewn all over. It felt like I was in a Korean laundromat and the head dame had skipped town. I pulled my pea shooter and started tossing clothes out of the way, hoping not to get their greasy leavings all over my mitts. Like a bloodhound in a fox hunt, eventually my muzzle found the scent and scrapped across something metallic. I clipped the sheriff's's vest with the tip of my heater and tossed it aside--and I'm being literal here, it was actually a sheriff's's vest with a little star and everything. The smartbox lay there blinking at me like jaguar ready to pounce.

If you couldn't tell, I'm an old fashioned guy. When I was a pint-sized troublemaker I wanted to be a watch repairman like my pa. He always had little tools and gadgets lying around and he would build me these little whirligigs that I showed off to the other boys. It only lasted a couple years though. See, I was gifted with gremlins. Everywhere I went, little green men would pop out and break any technological wonder I touched. I learned pretty quick that I was the wilting wallflower with two left feet and technology was the prom queen. I might be able to ask her to dance, but she always ended up with a bruised calf, a torn dress, and half a mind to get me some punch from Spike, the older biker she was going with. The last thing I wanted was some of Spike's punch at the prom.

I took a step back, considering a course of action. I pinched my nose a drew a deep breath, trying my hardest not be overwhelmed by the Eau de Toilette permeating the air. I almost yakked at the stench, but something caught in my plugged nostrils. Floating above the smell the diaper dandy had deposited by the doorway, and slipping around the already drying smell of blood and vomit coming from me, I caught a slightly woody scent, not unlike a full-bodied Cabernet after a 10 hiatus in the open air turning into vinegar. Actually, I just say that because it sounds so much nicer than saying I smelled spoiled milk and rotting food. Bet you're glad this story ain't scratch n' sniff.

I gagged back another cookie and wandered towards the origin. An air vent sat inside the closet staring at me like a slotted robot from the radio plays. I slipped my revolver back into it's holster and pulled out my dice-all. I slide the blade under the edge and pried the top off. Inside sat an open gallon of milk and a few boxes of cereal. With the icebox locked, it must've been Dennis's secret stash. I dropped the grate on the floor and headed back towards the desk where the newfangled lightbox glared at me.

Did I really come all this way for a run-down flophouse, a stash of rotten malt balls and a computer that'd just as soon pump me so full of sparks as be left there?

There was a bang at the door. I tapped my way past the diaper and out to the foyer and slid next to the door, grabbing at my rod and ready to toss lead at whatever fiend lay in wait. The knock came again.

"Dennis boy," the high voice rang. "I know you in there! I hear you!" The door rocked again with another tap. I slipped it open and peeked. "Dennis, open... who are you?" The old lady looked like she hadn't left the building in ages. The flowers on her mu-mu looked faded and wilted on her like two saggy breasts staring you in the face... I mean, like... oh screw it. Those things were drooping like raisins on the vine.

"The name's Harmon, ma'am," I said, trying to avoid staring at the dinosaur husks crinkling under her pale yellow gown. Hell, you'd need an archaeological dig just to identify what those were, and even then, you'd probably end up with a misclassification like the Brontosaurus--which, I might add, never actually existed, but was rather a combination of the Camarasaurus and Apatosaurus.

"What in hell you doing in Dennis apartment? I call cops on you!" She clutched her mu mu closed and began backing away. I sighed in relief that her scraggly arms now blocked that which threatened to devour my eyes like the Aetos Kaukasios, ever regrowing with each blink to see hell again.

"Ma'am, please," I said, flashing my badge at her slit-like bespectacled eyes. "I'm a private dick. Dennis's sister hired me."

"Dennis not into sex with men! His sister bad girl!" I heard the patter of tiny feet coming down the hall.

"Grandma!" A small Asian boy slid into view.

"Keep away, James! He bad sex worker!" The woman continued her tirade in long drapes of some foreign language, the boy responding and trying to calm her.

"Alright!" I finally yelled, sick of the alien chinning. "Can you translate, kid?"

"Yeah, sure," he replied, his grandmother's face awash with fear.

"My name's Ace Harmon," I began, the boy following quickly behind my every word. "I'm a detective. Dennis is missing and his sister is worried. I was hired to find him." The woman spat something back at me.

"She wants to know where Dennis is," the boy translated.

"That's what I'm hear to find out." The woman visibly relaxed at this answer. "Can you jaw for moment, answer some questions?"

The woman nodded reluctantly and pointed to herself as she said, "Uchida."

"Mrs. Uchida," I said nodding respectively. "When was the last time you saw Dennis?"

"Last week. Before weekend," the woman said, skipping our young intermediary. "He give me order for new milk. I supposed to get for him Friday, but he no answer door. Milk in my fridge now."

"Did Dennis have any visitors recently?" The woman jumped right back into conversing with her grandson, snapping back and forth.

"I'm usually his only visitor, Mr. Harmon," the boy said. "Dennis isn't all there. We play games together. On the computer. He's real good." I rubbed my forehead, tipping my cap up in frustration. The last thing I needed was a typist with a tech fetish to keep me from a solid payoff and a chance at Ms. Dumont's spring salad.

"Does he have any other hobbies?"

"Just eating," said the boy.

"He love my spicy Udon noodle," the woman chimed in, her toothless grin seamlessly blending with my memory of Mrs. Song's greasy lo mein. I shuddered, realizing I'd probably need a couple of weeks off before coming getting Chinese again. "Very special dish."

"I guess he sometimes did some programming for people. I know he got jobs from Craig's list."

"Do you know where I can find this Craig?" I asked, turning back to the boy. He laughed at me and waved his grandmother away.

"Craig isn't a real person, Mr. Harmon," James said, his grandmother carefully watching as she walked backwards toward their apartment. "It's a website that's a little like the ads in newspapers. You can find jobs, friends, trips and all sorts of stuff there." I leaned against the door exasperated at the prospect of going digital for some analog tail. "Listen, Mr. Harmon. You're obviously not a computer person. Let me help you. I'm good with these things."

"Listen, Short Round. I ain't Dick Tracy and you ain't the Kid. I work solo."

"Short Round? Isn't that a little politically incorrect?"

"I got time for two things, kid. Solving cases is one and you're not old enough for the other. Being politically whatchamacallit isn't in my schedule." I headed back inside, swinging the door closed as I walked. The door bounced of the kid's hoof like a dodgeball off a fat kid.

"Mister, I don't care what is or isn't in your schedule. If you don't want my help, perhaps our doorman does." It was a vicious blow; far more vicious then the blindside I had popped the goon with downstairs.

I hung my head and shrugged. "I guess you're getting deputized today, kid." I could feel the smile beaming at me from his twelve year-old face. "Just try to stay out from under my soles. And for god's sake, hold your nose. This entire case stinks like a public restroom."

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of
Ace Harmon, Retro Detective

In which our Hero, Ace Harmon,
learns some Japanese,
discovers a new flame,
and takes a guided tour of the city at night.

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