Dear readers, tonight we conduct our interview in a bar, pretending to be the bartender for a private investigator and summoner of elementals.
He’s here to tell us about trolls and shape-shifters, witches and femmes fatales, and murder investigations that take him from dangerous dark alleys to the dazzling lights of downtown Yerba City.
What’ll it be, buddy?
Whiskey. Neat. Leave the bottle.
Here you go.
Thanks. Slow night?
It’s early. It’ll get busy later.
Got time to grab a glass and join me for a drink? Today’s my thirtieth birthday, and I’m in the mood for a party.
Thanks, I believe I will. Here’s mud in your eye! …. I’ve seen you in here before. You’re a private dick, right?
That’s me. Alexander Southerland, P.I. Call me Alex.
Sounds like an interesting racket, Alex. Is that something you always wanted to do?
What’s with all the fuckin’ curiosity, pal?
Hey, it’s a party, remember? And you’re the guest of honor. I’m just being sociable.
Yeah, yeah. Okay, pour me another glass and I’ll tell you my life story. This shit is pretty good. Hits the spot. Anyway, to answer your question, no, being a P.I. isn’t something I ever imagined I’d be doing back when I was a kid. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, the kind of place you spend your life trying to get away from. My old man was a factory worker. When he worked at all, that is. My mother stayed home and did her best to keep me out of trouble. Turns out that I had a special talent. Since before I can remember I’ve been able to summon and command air elementals. Nothing big. No hurricanes or tornadoes or anything like that. Just little funnels of air. I used them to find out things I wasn’t supposed to know about. Still do. I also used them to annoy all the other neighborhood kids. That led to a lot of fights. I liked fighting. I got to be really good at it. Anyway, I was an only child, and as far as my parents were concerned, I was one child too many. I guess I was quite a handful.
Sounds like a rough childhood.
Not really. I got nothing to whine about. My parents weren’t going to win any prizes, but they weren’t any worse than most. The only thing my old man ever taught me was that after the fourth drink they all taste pretty much the same. And the only good advice I ever got from my mother was to stay away from my old man after he’d had that fourth drink.
Seems like good advice.
Yeah. I didn’t always take it, though. When my old man was soused he used to beat me silly! But I kept getting bigger, and one day I ended up bouncing him off the walls. After that he stopped bothering with me. Stopped talking to me, too. That was fine. I learned to get by on my own.
What happened after that?
I quit school and joined the army. Gave three years of my life to the state of Tolanica. All hail Lord Ketz-Alkwat! And so on and so forth. I did some time up-country in the Borderland, mixing it up with the Qusco insurgents.
That would have been, what, about ten years ago?
What unit were you in?
I was in the 33rd about the same time. I heard about this wild-ass sergeant with the 27th named Southerland. They say he was a stone-cold killer, but you could count on him when the pressure was on.
You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. Those stories tend to take on a life of their own. Anyway, after spending the better part of two years fighting for the cause, I was rotated into the military police, and a year later I was discharged and sent home. Problem was, I didn’t really have a home.
So how did you become a P.I.?
I bummed around a little, and then I went to see the grandmother of a buddy of mine who didn’t make it out of the Borderland. She was a well-heeled old dame named Mrs. Colby, and she owns a lot of commercial rental property, including some units here in Yerba City. Anyway, she had a rental app from a joe that she had a funny feeling about, and she asked me if I would do a little snooping. I dug around a bit and found out that the guy was a were-rat. Mrs. Colby was impressed with my work, and she not only helped me set up a business, but she rented me an office with some living quarters on the second floor. I’ve been working as an investigator ever since.
A were-rat? Wow! Those guys give me the creeps! They say that they’re all a little nuts!
Yeah, that’s mostly true. But this guy had trained himself to put a lid on his baser instincts. Turns out he’s a pretty fun fellow. Mrs. Colby went ahead and rented him some commercial space and he turned it into a nice business. I invited him to lunch one day and we’ve been friends ever since. He helps me out sometimes. Rats can go pretty much anywhere, and they see and hear everything. And he’s mostly stable, although he’s hinted at some dark shit in his past that I’m probably better off not knowing about.
Your racket must be exciting.
It can be. It’s usually fairly routine, and the cash flow is far from steady. I do a lot of background checks, and I find missing people and missing items. I do a lot of investigative work for attorneys and occasionally for big corporations. Some of the cases can get a little intense. Like this one about a year ago when a gorgeous doll asked me to find her little sister.
There were three problems with that case. First, the client was trying to use me for her own purposes. I couldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. The dame didn’t even give me her real name! Second, some extremely corrupt sons of bitches in the Yerba City Police Department didn’t want me anywhere near the case. This one detective–a seven-foot tall, five-hundred pound troll–tried to get me to lay off it. I probably should have listened, but I didn’t like the way he asked. So I stuck my nose in, and the troll decided to get physical. Actually, he fucked me up pretty good!
A troll? You’re lucky you’re still breathing!
It could have been worse. But, yeah, he rearranged my face a little and threatened to rip out my eye with an icepick. But I’m better off today than he is. I still have nightmares about that troll, though.
You said that there was a third problem with that case?
That’s right. The third problem was that my client was an adaro.
One of those water nymphs from the Nihhonese Ocean?
Yeah, the ones that the government herds into the refugee settlement in the northern part of the city. You probably know that female adaros are extremely attractive to men. It’s part of their evolution, something that stems from the fact that female adaros outnumber the males by about ten to one. And we’re not just talking about physical attributes. They emit powerful pheromones that make lugs like you and me want to get down on our knees and beg for table scraps. It wasn’t easy being in the same room with my client. It was hard not to believe her lies. It’s a good thing that I’ve got a lot of willpower. Or maybe I’m just fuckin’ stubborn. In the end, I guess it amounts to the same thing. I still dream about her, too.
How’d that case go?
It was a clusterfuck from beginning to end. I got myself mixed up in a turf war between two drug-running street gangs up in Placid Point. I met my client’s charming but homicidal sister, and I somehow got my hands on a mysterious locked box that a lot of powerful people wanted. The mayor’s own private fixer threatened to frame me for murder if I didn’t sell the box to him. And, of course, I was tortured by a troll.
What was in the box?
I’m not at liberty to say, and you don’t want to know. Get me?
Gotcha! So what can you tell me about your most recent case? I hear that you were working for the Barbary Coast Bruja.
You hear a lot of things.
I’m a bartender. It comes with the job.
Yeah, I was hired by Madame Cuapa herself, the most powerful witch in western Tolanica. She told me that she had murdered a man, but that he wasn’t dead.
I know. It’s complicated. Anyway, someone had managed to put a compulsion spell on the witch and turn her into a deadly weapon. And when I say deadly, I mean lethal enough to end all life on this planet! That was the only case in which my own client tried to kill me.
The witch tried to kill you?
Twice. The first time, I wound up shooting her in the chest. It didn’t bother her all that much, though. The second time was really weird. I remember following a giant shadowy dog with no eyes right up to the gates of the Azteca realm of the dead. It was a near thing! In fact, lately I’ve been wondering if maybe I actually died. In any case, Madame Cuapa brought me back.
She brought you back? Didn’t you say that she was the one who tried to kill you?
It’s complicated. But that wasn’t even the scariest thing that happened to me on that case. That scariest thing was when another witch tried to sacrifice me to a giant hummingbird.
A…. Sorry, did you say hummingbird?
Well, some kind of spirit in the shape of a winged man with a bright green hummingbird’s head complete with a three-foot beak that was sharp as a spear. Believe me, it was no joke!
I guess not. Hey, do you want me to break open another bottle? This seems like a lonely way to spend your birthday.
Sure, let’s drink up. Don’t worry about me. It’s not that I don’t have friends. It’s just that I’m not in the mood for them tonight. Besides, they’re busy with their own shit. Take Lubank, for example. He and I get along fine, but he’s a real pain in the ass. He’s a buck-toothed gnome with the world’s most obvious hairpiece. He’s my lawyer and I do a lot of investigative work for him. Mostly to dig up dirt for his blackmail files. In return, he comes to my rescue when the cops drag me to their downtown clubhouse and cuff me to the iron tables in their sweatboxes. For my money, Lubank is the most corrupt attorney in the city. But his human wife, Gracie, is a treat! She’s an outrageous flirt who will have you howling at the moon if you’re not careful.
Did you and she ever….
Don’t be ridiculous. She may talk a big game, but she’s devoted to her husband. I don’t know what she sees in the slimy rat, but he’s nuts about her, too. They’re an odd couple, but they make it work.
They sound like a unique pair. Any other women in your life?
Not in the way you’re suggesting. In my last case I became friends with a homicide detective named Laurel Kalama. And before you ask, she’s also happily married. But she proved herself to be a real standup partner when the shit came down. She’s seen it all and isn’t fazed by any of it. She’s rock solid and good with a gat. Too bad she doesn’t have a sister.
Sounds like all the dames you know are married.
Well, there was this one doll I ran into in the bruja case. Cindy Shipper. Looks like an angel, but she’s hard as nails. My kind of sweetheart. The heat between us was real, and if circumstances had been different we might have had some fun fanning those flames. But she may have been involved in the murder of her husband and her stepson. That kind of put a damper on things. Still, you never know.
You sure run into some interesting people.
Yeah, I do. I haven’t even mentioned the two rock-addicted were-snakes. I hope they’re still alive, but I wouldn’t want to go all in with that hand. And then there’s Cody and his pet manticore.
Think two-hundred pound flying jungle cat with huge bat wings and a scorpion’s tail. He and Cody have this strange mental link. You’d know Cody if you saw him. Six five, solid muscle. Likes to dress in skin-tight leather with purple trim. He’s training to be a butler.
Well, it’s been interesting, but I need to get ready for the evening crowd. Are you working on anything currently?
Not yet, but do you see that troll back over there in the corner booth? The one in the suit that would cost you three-month’s salary and tips? He’s been following me all day. I suspect that he’ll follow me when I leave. I don’t know what he’s up to, but I have a hunch it might have something to do with the supposed suicide of that good-looking nightclub torcher, the one who called herself Zyanya. The scuttlebutt is that the canary had something goin’ on with our own Mayor Teague. Looks like I might have to miss out on poker night with the boys.
Best of luck to you, buddy.
Thanks, pal. Finish off the bottle. You’re a right gee in my book.
Dr. Douglas Lumsden is a former history professor and private school teacher. He lives in Monterey, California, with his wife, Rita, and his cat, Cinderella.
You can fix Alex Southerland on the pages of his first case A Troll Walks into a Bar, and his next case, A Witch Steps into My Office.
Join us next week to hear from a tattoo artist from a dystopian, cybernetic near-future. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.