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Previous: Episode I

Co-authored by Chris Giacca and Lauren Blake

Wilson lay shattered on the floor. His handle in ten pieces, body in twelve, no hope of repair. It seems odd to be so attached to a piece of poorly-made pottery, Valentine thought to himself rationally, as he stood regarding the remnants of his ex-partner’s coffee mug, the shadow of the past clouding his dull, brown eyes. He was so engrossed by what lay before him – the broken mug, his ex-partner’s unknown whereabouts, the possibility of actual witches being behind Day’s disappearance, the appeal of lamb rogan josh for dinner that night – that he didn’t hear Hart reappear in the doorway on a unicycle, holding a box of glazed donuts.
      ‘O shit, waddup,’ she said.
      ‘Is it early to mid twenty-sixteen already? Seriously, dat boi is a dead meme, Hart. Why don’t you just go out, buy a horse, dress it in a green morphsuit, strap it to your fucking unicycle and flog it to death in the town square? It’s people like you that are the reason we can’t have nice things, Penelope. You killed Pepe. You killed John Cena. Their blood is on your hands.’
      ‘It is mid twenty-sixteen, Valentine, and for the record, John Cena was never funny. Oh, and speaking of blood on hands, the Spanish woman has been taken care of,’ Hart said, as she made quotation marks with her hands.
      ‘Oh my God, you killed her?’
      ‘Yep. Standard procedure.’ Hart shrugged. ‘Anyway, what are we doing? Why haven’t you cleaned up this mess yet?’ She crouched down to scoop up the shards with her hands, clasping one of the donuts between her teeth. As she ushered the broken chunks of clay into a dustpan, Valentine reached down to interfere.
      ‘Wilson!’ he cried.
      ‘What the actual fuck is wrong with you?’ she asked, the words barely coherent.
      ‘You just killed a perfectly functional Spanish woman, and you’re asking me what’s wrong? Oh, that’s rich, Penelope, that’s REAL rich!’
      At that precise moment, Commissioner Deakin Archibald’s bald head appeared in the doorway. By a rather unfortunate quirk of positioning, his gaze was drawn to Valentine’s comparatively slim figure, standing with his arm outstretched in the general direction of his attractive, dyed-blonde assistant, kneeling seemingly with her head exactly in the vicinity of his crotch.
      ‘Jeez, thanks for the invite,’ he grunted, nodding towards them, as Hart peered around from Valentine’s legs, her mouth still bearing the remnants of a vanilla iced donut. The Commissioner shook his head and added, ‘Oi get this, somebody’s just reported a shipment of stolen air guitars – isn’t that a stitch?’
      Hart laughed, as she stood up and emptied the contents of the dustpan into the bin. ‘What a loose unit!’
      Rorschach’s face fell. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘How many?’
      Both the Commissioner and his partner turned to face him. Deakin shrugged. ‘They’re claiming half a million bones against their insurance,’ he said. Hart snorted. Valentine looked at her sharply.
      ‘There’s nothing funny about this Hart,’ he snapped. ‘I had an air guitar once. Or that is to say I should have had one. But, you see, there was a little matter of it getting stolen before my dad could give it to me. It was meant to be for my birthday. A brand new Gibson, right off the shelf, never been played. I was so looking forward to that, I even started reading guitar theory books in the newsagents, until the owner told me to “fuck off and stop making weird hand movements”, if I wasn’t going to “buy something, you weird little prick”. I never actually met him, but it broke my heart when dad wrote me and told me I wouldn’t be getting it because it had been stolen, and I vowed that day to become a detective, to stop this exact sort of thing ever happening again, to anyone, ever. Or, y’know, at least in my jurisdiction, anyway. So, Hart, you could say that this theft is the culmination of my whole career, that one case that really brings me back to why I got into this gig in the first place. You could say–’ Rorschach reached into his pocket.
      ‘Don’t you do it. Don’t you put on those fucking sunglasses, you no-good, Horatio-ing sonofabitch,’ warned Hart, her patience with Valentine’s penchant for showboating wearing thin.
      He put on the sunglasses. ‘I was born for this case.’
      Hart and the Commissioner groaned audibly in tandem, a perfect harmony resulting from their complimentary notes.
      ‘You know I won’t allow you to investigate this,’ the Commissioner said sternly. ‘There are more useful ways to piss money up against a wall. For instance, I could go and buy a bottle of Dom Perignon, drink it, wait a few hours, and then record myself literally pissing it up against a wall, and that would still be a better use of Police time. This won’t fly, Valentine, and I’m not explaining why I’ve sent you out on a frivolous assignment to the Police Minister. Especially not after last time.’
      ‘Look, there were nip marks consistent with a goose’s bill, a bunch of goose feathers, and plus, some kid told me that it was totally a goose that did it. How was I supposed to know that it was actually him, and the goose-related items were a … what’s the word?” Rorschach searched for the appropriate idiom, unsuccessfully, whilst clicking his fingers in an attempt to jog his failing memory.
      ‘Goose chase?’ suggested Hart, pointedly.
      Rorschach shook his head. ‘No, I don’t think that’s right.’
      The Commissioner threw his hands up into the air. ‘That’s it! I will not allow you to do this! You are not allowed to go and retrieve the file from my desk – from the second drawer to be exact. This case is off limits, purely because it is not a case! Just to be clear, Valentine, if you take this on, I will bus your arse back to parking meters so quick, your blood pressure will double.’
      Rorschach frowned. ‘What?’
      ‘You heard me! Now get out of my sight!’
      ‘But this is my office …’
      ‘No it’s not, not this time. Get out!’

The dim light reflected weakly off Valentine’s badge, as he rifled through the Commissioner’s desk – the second drawer, to be exact. The desk was a large, teak monstrosity, strewn with various case files totally devoid of any actual filing system known to man or beast, coffee rings marring its otherwise flawless veneer. The file – marked ‘Peerless Guitars: Theft’ – was to be found precisely where Archibald told him not to look for it, on pain of severe demotion. The moon shone in through the solitary window of the Commissioner’s office – it was well after office hours, after all – and Rorschach had a mind to get to sleuthing, post haste. Clutching the file in his hands, and being careful to put the rest of the drawer to rights before he left the office, Valentine clambered into the driver’s seat of his beaten up minivan, a large decal on the side depicting Jesus of Nazareth, with the text ‘Have You Heard The GOOD NEWS?’ in large, block letters. The white paint was flecked and cracked, as a result of having thousands of crudely drawn penises scrubbed from just about every panel. Not all of them had been removed, as a few triumphant phalli of a somewhat recent vintage still graced the sides of his beleaguered van. He drove to Hart’s apartment, wherein he found her practicing Tuvan throat singing, the guttural overtones resonating from her living room.
      ‘Hart, get your stuff, we’re going sleuthing,’ he said, without pause.
      Hart fell silent and looked at him in surprise. ‘How did you get in here? I never buzzed you in.’
      Rorschach frowned. ‘What are you talking about? I’ve always had a spare key. I’ve been walking in and out of your apartment for years.’
      ‘You have?’
      ‘Yeah, you just happen to be awake this time.’
      ‘Oh true.’
      ‘Yeah, so anyway,’ – Valentine gestured at the file in his hands – ‘come on. We’re gonna drive to the other side of the city and suss this place out.’
      ‘But it’s like one in the morning,’ Hart pointed out.
      ‘Can we at least get pizza first?’
      Valentine rolled his eyes. ‘Fine.’
      ‘And coffee?’
      ‘Can you choke me a little too?’
      He looked at her. ‘What?’
      ‘You heard me.’
      ‘Jesus, Hart, at least buy me a drink first.’
      As they exited Hart’s apartment, she couldn’t help but notices the numerous dicks scrawled haphazardly onto the side of Valentine’s piece-of-shit van. Hart frowned as she got into the vehicle. ‘Why are there dicks all over your van?’ she asked, pointing to a particularly large, vascular appendage signed ‘Dicasso’.
      ‘I dunno,’ Valentine grunted. ‘People are jerks I guess.’

They drove to the other side of town, only getting lost once. The Peerless Guitars building was wedged between a laundromat and a Chinese takeout joint. It was close to 2am when they arrived – the street was deserted apart from Rorschach’s ugly ass, dick-laden van. They pulled to a halt just across the road from the store. Hart pointed out – somewhat redundantly, given the double deadbolted doors – that they probably weren’t open at this time of night.
      ‘Duh, Hart, honestly,’ Valentine grunted. ‘We’re here on a stakeout. We’ve gotta watch for any suspicious activity.’
      ‘Suspicious as in “lying about a stolen shipment of air guitars just so they can claim insurance”, or suspicious as in “parking outside of a closed establishment for six hours – in a van with a bunch of wangs drawn on it – for no good reason”?’
      Valentine grimaced. ‘I really wish you’d take this seriously.’
      ‘Oh, I am. I am as serious as they were when they lodged that claim,’ she returned, Valentine missing the clear sarcasm in her voice.
      ‘Good.’ He nodded, half to himself, half to her. ‘Now watch and learn, Rook.’

Six hours later …

Hart sighed, rubbing her eyes tiredly. ‘Well that was riveting. I could have been giving my throat a workout instead of sitting in a cock-drawn van with you,’ she mused. Her thoughts began to drift to her cute neighbour, and the fun she could, nay, should have been having, had Valentine not shown up uninvited.
      ‘I thought you were done practicing when I showed up, to be honest,’ replied he, genuinely apologetic.
      ‘Yes, uh, that’s what I was talking about. Singing. Right.’ Hart’s face turned a faint shade of red.
      ‘Shut up,’ Valentine snapped. He pointed across the street. ‘Look, somebody’s coming to open up the store.’
Sure enough, a guy dressed in a black shirt with the Peerless Guitars logo embroidered proudly at the breast rounded the corner, and strode purposefully towards the large double doors, keychain in hand. Through the van’s open window, he could be heard singing a song to himself, the lyrics seemingly centred around ‘I’m off to open Peerless Guitars, because I work there and it’s my job for which I am paid to do’.
      ‘What a loser. Homeskillet can’t even sing two notes at once. Amateur,’ Hart observed derisively, as she and Valentine disembarked from the dilapidated van, and made for the entrance of Peerless Guitars.

A guitar chord twinkled as the pair pushed through the two-way door, before being greeted by the very same employee whom they had witnessed opening the store about five minutes previous. His name badge read ‘Karl’, but his face read ‘Carl’, on account of the incongruity between the abrasive ‘K’ in his name, and his conservative, classical features. He had a jutting, strong jawline, and russet hair covering most of his face, which offset his somewhat diminutive stature, and fine bone structure, resulting in a strange combination of old-world masculinity, and new-world androgyny.
      ‘Hello valued customers, I’m an employee of this store. How can I help you, as per my job description?’
      ‘Hi Carl, I’m here to speak to your boss.’
      ‘Yeah sure thing. It’s “Karl”, by the way.’
      ‘And you don’t want to speak to the boss, you want to buy this guitar.’ He waved in the general direction of many guitars. Rorschach followed his wave and frowned.
      ‘No, I don’t.’
      ‘Yes you do.’ Another employee appeared, dropping down from the ceiling. ‘Did you know [insert random political fact here]?’
      ‘No I didn’t know that, that sure is interesting. No … wait. Tedious,’ replied Rorschach, his eyes glazing over from total, unfettered disinterest.
      ‘NAME THE TOP TEN GRIND ALBUMS,’ yelled another, unzipping himself from a bass gig-bag.
      ‘What?’ Rorschach frowned.
      ‘TIME’S UP.’
      ‘What … the fuck is actually happening here?’ murmured Hart.
      ‘Hey do you wanna see this picture of my dog?’ asked another, coming up to stand beside her. ‘She’s really cute, see? Look how cute she is. She’s such a cutie. Mad, even. Just a mad dog. I love her.’
      ‘Wow that actually is a really cute dog,’ answered Hart.
      ‘ENOUGH!’ Rorschach yelled, throwing his hands up into the air. ‘I want to speak with the boss!’
      The boss in question, Liam Jewstein, emerged from his office, a look of utter vexation on his face. As he fixed his yarmulke, his confused expression changed to one of annoyance, as he registered the presence of a veritable plague of salesmen in his store.
      ‘SHOO! Go on, get out! You don’t even work here, you pests,’ he raged, gesticulating animatedly towards the exit, and herding the salesmen out the door, and onto the street. ‘They’re like fucking flies, I swear. You leave the door open for five minutes, and then they’re in here, hawking all kinds of shit to the customers, scaring off my sweet, sweet profi–’ He stopped abruptly, noticing the detective duo anon. ‘Oh, actual customers! What can I do for you? Mind the salesmen droppings, I’ll get Carl to sweep them up momentarily.’
      ‘It’s “Karl”,’ said Karl.
      ‘I don’t care.’ Liam stepped forward. ‘So, what will it be?’
      ‘We’re here investigating the shipment of stolen air guitars,’ explained Rorschach.
      ‘Oh yes … that. Just a moment.’ Liam Jewstein, sweating profusely, promptly opened a trapdoor and disappeared. The trapdoor swung shut, leaving no visible seam whatsoever. Valentine and Hart stared at the spot where he’d just been moments before, the unmistakeable patter of urgent footfalls coming from underneath the shop floor.
      ‘Did … that actually just happen?’ asked Hart, as the sound of car tyres screeching just outside caused them both to turn around, towards the road that was bearing Jewstein’s car away from the establishment at great speed.
      ‘Yep. It certainly did,’ replied Rorschach. They both sighed and moved to see Karl.
      The salesman laughed awkwardly, steering the conversation back to a more profitable subject. ‘So about that guitar …’
      ‘You mean the air guitars?’
      ‘What? No, air guitars don’t exist. You’re kidding, right?’ Karl was visibly perplexed.
      ‘Wait, so, you mean to tell me that my dad was lying to me?’ Valentine asked.
      ‘Your dad? What are you even talking about? Why are you here?’
      ‘Ah yes, Carl. Buddy. Pal. Given that you’re the only person left here, and are now effectively the owner, and have just admitted to the non-existence of air guitars, and completely ruined my childhood, you’re under arrest for fraud. And also for making me sad.’
      ‘Awww nuts,’ Karl replied, crestfallen. ‘Well, I may not have been the boss of this company for very long, but it’s been a wild ride. Also, it’s “Karl”.’
      ‘Was that legal?’ whispered Hart to Valentine, behind her hand, as he affixed handcuffs to the redhead salesman-cum-manager’s wrists.
      ‘I dunno, yeah, probably. What am I, a judge?’ replied Valentine, shrugging indifferently. He ushered Karl into the van and shut the door. Hart crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.
      ‘Well, I told you so, you know.’
      ‘There’s no such thing as air guitars.’
      Rorschach rolled his eyes and nodded. ‘Yeah, okay. Whatever. I guess you’re not that bad of a detective after all, Rook. In fact, I think you deserve a new nickname.’
      Hart frowned. ‘What is it?’
      Rorschach shrugged. ‘I dunno, I’ll come up with something … Slick.’
      ‘Kill me.’

They returned to the station shortly afterwards, detouring only to pick up a coffee, and made their way to the Commissioner’s office. Upon entering, Rorschach announced;
      ‘Sir we’ve solved the case!’
      The Commissioner, who’d been sitting at his desk, looked up and frowned. ‘What case?’
      ‘Um … that case you explicitly told me not to solve.’
      The Commissioner removed his glasses and gazed hard at the two detectives. ‘What are you talking about? We detained Liam Jewstein earlier for fraud. Caught him speeding and discovered his links to an inventory fraud ring. Different stores were selling stock and then not accounting for it and then trying to claim it on insurance. It was funny – it was like he just walked straight into our hands. We never found out why he was speeding along the motorway though.’
      ‘Oh.’ Valentine scratched his head. ‘Well … what do we do with Karl, then?’
      ‘Karl … the guy … you know, the dude … who we may or may not have arrested for no reason.’
      The Commissioner grunted. ‘You let him go, that’s what you do, before I take that badge and shove it so far up your arse you’ll be sweating brass buttons.’
      ‘But sir, he ruined my childhood!’ protested Valentine, petulantly.
      ‘That’s not my problem, Valentine.’
      ‘But – UGH YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD!’ Valentine cried, storming out of the office with Hart close at his heels. She stopped in the doorway to watch him go, and sighed. The Commissioner joined her and together they shook their heads. ‘‘You should go easy on him sir, it only just occurred to him today that his dad was a total loser.’
      The Commissioner looked at her, a single tear rolling down his cheek. ‘I am his dad.’
      ‘Lmao.’ Hart smirked. ‘Hey daddy.’
      ‘Oh fuck off,’ the Commissioner said. He gestured in the direction Valentine had gone. ‘You should go after him – make sure he doesn’t do anything rash.’
      ‘Yes daddy.’
      ‘My eyes are up here, Hart.’

She found Rorschach in the car park, walking in circles and muttering ‘Oh god oh god oh god.’ Hart sighed.
      ‘Yo chill,’ she said. ‘These things happen, dads lie, then they become Commissioners and like heaps sexy …’
      Rorschach stopped and looked at her. ‘What? What are you talking about?’
      Hart blinked. ‘Never mind.’
      ‘We have a problem, Hart. A big problem!’
      ‘Is it the Commissioner being your father?’
      ‘No! Wait – what?’
      ‘Nothing.’ Hart coughed. ‘I’m gonna bang your dad.’
      Rorschach pointed at the car. ‘Carl is dead!’
      Hart frowned. ‘Oh shit. Also, it’s “Karl”.’ She peered over his shoulder at the vehicle. ‘Really?’
      ‘Really really.’ Valentine ran a hand through his hair. ‘We only left him in there for two hours!’
      ‘With no water.’
      ‘And no air.’
      ‘Yeah.’ Rorschach grunted. ‘People are so inconsiderate. Now we have to deal with this as well. I mean, think of the paperwork!’
      Hart shrugged. ‘Or … you know, we could just pretend this never happened.’
      Rorschach nodded. ‘Sounds good.’

They returned inside and surveyed the office before returning to their regular duties. Much later in the day, as the work day drew to a close, Rorschach placed his hands on his hips and sighed. ‘Another case solved, hey? We’re pretty good at this.’
      ‘You’d hope so,’ replied Hart.
      ‘Yeah, well, there is still one case I haven’t solved. It haunts me to this day.’
      ‘What is it?
      ‘Your predecessor, Quinton Day. He went missing, totally inexplicably one day, and we haven’t seen hide, nor hair, of him since. I’ve been wracking my brains, exhausting every avenue, plumbing every depth, abusing every idiom possible to find him, but to no avail.’
      ‘Have you been to his house?’
      Rorschach frowned. ‘Well yeah, a while ago. He wasn’t there. I found a broom though, so I suspect that it’s witches.’
      ‘Yeeeah,’ Hart said, twirling her finger around her ear, ostensibly to brush her fringe behind her ear, but lingering to make the ‘cuckoo’ motion. ‘Have you ever considered he might’ve just been out at the time?’
      ‘Yeah, but, how do you explain his absence from work, then?’ asked Valentine.
      ‘I dunno.’ Hart shrugged. ‘What do you want me to tell you, that he was abducted by aliens or something?’
      ‘Oh my God.’ Valentine’s eyes widened. ‘That’s it. Hart, you’re a genius.’
      ‘Well I won’t deny that,’ replied Hart. She paused momentarily. ‘What are you talking about, though?’
      ‘Aliens! Aliens are behind this!’
      ‘Valentine I was joking -’
      ‘There’s no time for jokes, Slick! We’re closer than ever to solving this case.’ He grabbed her arm in excitement. ‘The truth is out there.’
      Off in the distance, the pair could hear a muffled ‘Ayy lmao’, fading into the twilight like so many unsolved crimes in the city they called home. But, with the close of another chapter, they were getting closer to the truth of what really did happen to Quinton Day. Who knows what the next day will bring …