Noir - By Robert Coover

YOU ARE AT THE MORGUE. WHERE THE LIGHT IS WEIRD. Shadowless, but like a negative, as though the light itself were shadow turned inside out. The stiffs are out of sight, temporarily archived in drawers like meaty data, chilled to their own bloodless temperature. Their stories have not ended, only their own readings of them. In your line of work, this is not a place where things end so much as a place where they begin. Following the usual preamble: You were in your office late. The phone call came in. You pulled on your old trenchcoat with the torn pockets, holstered your heater under your armpit, and headed for the docklands. The scene of the crime. Nightmarishly dark as it usually is down there, even in the middle of most days, lit only by dull swinging streetlamps, the reflective wet streets more luminous than the lamps themselves, though casting no light of their own. Everything shut up tight but as though harboring unspeakable doings behind the locked doors and barred windows. Fishy smell in the air. Black water lapped the concrete landings and wooden piers somewhere down below. Occasional gull honks: pale sea crows, scavenging. Usual small gathering of gawkers, drunks, cops, bums, their faces shadowed by caps and hats. A perverse and sinister lot. Also scavenging. You shouldered your way through them, hands in your coat pockets. But you were too late. The body had already been removed to the morgue. There was only a clumsy chalk drawing on the damp stones, a red patch at the crotch crudely gendering the drawing. Blue was there. As expected. His beat. What are you doing here? he asked. Just out for a stroll, Blue. Captain Blue to you, asshole. Mr. Asshole to you, Blue; she was a client of mine. Who was? You shrugged and lit a cigarette. The body? The killer? The tipster? No idea. The only connection you were sure of was the phone call. Down below you could see a ferry, backed up against the docks, its carport gaping. Which was disturbing. Could have been anyone. From anywhere. Have to check the passenger list. If there was any. It means things will be messy.

Now, at the morgue, the night attendant tells you a body was brought in, but it’s gone again. Must have got stolen, he says. How the fuck could it have been stolen, Creep? Don’t know, man. I been here all night. It was here and then it wasn’t here, what can I say. You slap him around a bit to remind him of the hazards of losing a body and ask him what she looked like.

Medium tall, well stacked, painted toenails but not much makeup, no jewelry, blondish hair, same color as her pussy.

She was naked?

Not when she came in.

Where are her clothes?

They’re gone, too. Except for this. He hands you a gossamery black veil. You recognize it. Or think you do. You pocket it and turn to leave.

One more thing, the Creep says. You turn back. Her pussy, he says, stroking himself. You can see the sparkle in his buggy little eyes.


Creamy. Soft. Like wet velvet.

IT WAS LATE AFTERNOON WHEN SHE FIRST TURNED UP AT your office. Blanche had left for the day. Which was fading, the lights dim. Maybe she planned it that way, entering as though bringing on the night. Or dragging it in in her wake. She was dressed in black widow’s weeds, her face veiled. You’d seen her type before. But there was something about her. A looker, sure, but more than that. A kind of presence. She was poised, cool, yet somehow vulnerable. Tough but tender. It might just be a social call, you thought, taking your feet off your desk and lowering them into the puddled shadows on the floor. Or she could be hiding a murder, fearing one, plotting one. Fearing one, was what she said. Her own. She wanted you to tail a certain person. She handed you a piece of paper with a name on it. You tried not to wince. Mister Big. How did you get mixed up with this guy? you asked.

He was a business partner of my late husband.

Why late? What happened to him?

I don’t know. I thought you could find out. The verdict was suicide.

But you think it might have been murder, you said. She sat, lowered her head. A nod perhaps. That’s what you took it for. It won’t be easy, you thought. The man is protected by an army