Friday, June 18, 2010

The Case Files of Tobias Finch--Note & Chapter 1

Editor's Note

As you've read, Velma gave me a manuscript written by an investigator for hire named Tobias Finch. From what I can tell he operated in New York City from the mid-20's until the late 50's. Although he could have had a longer career, I am not privy to any of that information at this time. 

I'm not exactly sure if any embellishments have been made on his part, but this particular case he calls, The King of the Empire State involves his initial meeting and partnership with our good friend, Velma Graydon. According to her this is the first in a series of case files he wrote but never published.

His chapters are on the short side and my plan (fingers crossed) is to post a chapter every Friday. I have taken a couple of editorial liberties with the spacing and paragraph structure to make the chapters easily readable on a blog. I'm also psyched that Courtney volunteered to do an illustration for each chapter, when she can, which will help to make the whole thing more appealing to the eye. This is Tobias's own blog Each chapter will have a direct link to that entry on the Tobias Finch site.



The Case Files of Tobias Finch: The King of the Empire State



Friday, June 11, 2010

A Humid Lunch with Velma-Fin

"Nick, it's always a pleasure to see you," I said stepping into the office. 

It was everything I had imagined with a blue peacock and a whiny 29-year old assistant thrown in for good measure. The room was an ample size for one person's workspace, at least 500 square feet. The walls were buttressed stone and on them where old maps of New York City, ancient maps of Mexico, South America, and Europe, a framed diploma from Barnard dated 1935, an assortment of black and white photographs with some framed and others just tacked up. Where ever there weren't maps or photos there were bookshelves. Volumes upon volumes of books in all shapes from all ages and stacked up at least 7 feet high. 

Nick had his own desk. It was flat and white, very sparse, most likely from Ikea and on it was a silver iMac with a ridiculously large screen. Velma's desk was directly opposite Nick's and it couldn't be more contrary: huge piles of scattered papers, two weighty volumes of who-knows-what opened with post-it notes wedged in over a dozen spots. No computer. No phone. Just a green bankers lamp. I couldn't even see what the desk was made out of it was so blanketed.    

"The pleasure is, of course, all mine," he said sipping on an iced-tea, no doubt left over from lunch. 

"So what do you think?" Velma said throwing her arms up. "A real dump huh? But it's my dump." 

"No I love it. It's so... you." I pointed to the vaulted ceiling which was covered in maps of the cosmos. "What is all that?"

"Those are the stars, sweetheart."

"I know that, but what are they there for?"

"Stargazing is a hobby of mine." Nick choked a little on his last sip of iced tea. "You alright there, chief?" She said beating his back with her flat palm. 

His shoulders cranked up in discomfort. " Yes alright, alright. I'm fine." 

Rudy, the blue peacock, was hovering close to Nick's desk chair. He seemed to be in a defensive posture against me. I guess Nick had told him a couple of tales. "Is that Rudy?" I said pointing.

"It is," Velma huffed. "He's more Nick's bird now. Barely pays attention to me anymore. Did Mimi come back?" She asked Nick.

"No she left a little after you went to lunch."

"She's probably flirting with some tourists," Velma grunted. 

I stood quiet gazing at the star maps on the ceiling. It looked as though someone was taking notes on them. I was trying to make out the handwriting when Velma clamped down on my left shoulder, "Alright, time to give you a new job." She walked over to a book shelf in the far corner of the office and bent over to pick up a brown file box. It looked ancient. In faded black ink I spied the words, "TOBIAS FINCH." I recognized the name. That was the detective who was trailing her in the journals. "So good ole Toby. He was my first and favorite mentor. The man I spent a couple years on the tail of and right before he died, he handed me this box." She passed it over to me. 

I opened the lid and dust erupted into a cloud that washed over my face. After it cleared and I took a hearty sneeze, I discovered a mound of yellowing type-written pages.      

"Who knew he fancied himself a writer," Velma said in a laugh. 

"What are these?" I asked scared to touch the papers for fear they might disintegrate. 

"Finch wrote out some of our cases together. They're pretty good, that old dog."

"And so I'm..." 

"Puttin' em up on the computer."

Nick chimed in: "We all know how well that worked the first time."

I wasn't about to let that slide, "Yeah. It seems NONE of us were able to keep that up."

Velma jumped in quickly, "Who cares? The journals we can do later. These are fun. Real fun. He was a character."

I slid the box closer to me in a vain attempt to lift it. It wouldn't budge. There had to be thousands of pages all shuffled about and out of order. "Velma, I can't carry this whole thing on the train." 

"Well, boy genius, thankfully Nicky arranged the first manuscript for you all nice and neat."

He pulled a substantially smaller shirt box from under his desk and waved it at me quite disrespectfully. "Because I didn't have enough to do."

"I'm pretty sure you can handle that right, precious?"

I stood up and snatched the box out of Nick's terribly small hands, "Yeah this I can do." I tucked the box under my arm.

"Good. So go. Read 'em. Post 'em-"

"Sometime this century," Nick interjected.

"Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself?" Velma spat.

"Not really," he smirked.

"I'll try my best. Just for you, Nick."  

He faked an awful smile. And Velma punched me in shoulder. "So you can find your way out right?"

"Yeah just up 28 steps in the dark. Or you could leave the door open so I have at least a little light."

Velma opened her oaken office door and shoved me out. "Practice. Practice." She slammed it shut leaving me in complete darkness. Clutching the shirt box and counting slowly with each step, I kept wondering how I always seemed to find myself in these situations.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Humid Lunch-Part II

After I scarfed down my tuna sandwich, we both packed up our trash and headed toward the cathedral. Velma said my next project would be waiting in her office. I  couldn't imagine what she had cooked up this time and whatever it was, I doubted that either one of us would be able to see it through to completion. I noticed that trend with all of our projects. They sounded good in the beginning but neither one of us could devote the kind of time needed to get them done.

As we climbed the stairs to the main entrance, a large maroon bus with high tinted windows was slowly spewing out tourists. It was a real weekday crowd: A steady stream of older men and women in bright colors wearing assorted head coverings, some visors, others baseball caps. Somewhere on their person were pouches for their cameras and stainless steal water bottles. The cathedral was a logical stop for many who came to the New York City. Not only was it one of the largest cathedrals on the planet but it was also an architectural oddity being constructed in a half Gothic and half Romanesque style. Put simply, it was a gargantuan stone mish mosh. 

I had visited St. John the Divine at least 3 or 4 times before and every time the initial height of the Romanesque knave always caught me by surprise. This time was no different. It was by far the highest indoor expanse I had ever been in with its  hundreds of uninterrupted footage soaring into the air. The top of the vaulted ceilings were nearly undetectable because they were so high. Since the Romanesque windows in the front were so high and comparatively small, it was almost completely dark with the exception of a few lone shafts of light. Velma didn't even slow down to let her eyes adjust to the darkness that enveloped us. She didn't even look up to pay homage to the enormity of the space. This was her office and her everyday routine.

I, on the other hand, was stumbling through the dark with my mouth open like a baby bird. "Come on, sweetheart, we don't have all day."

"I haven't been inside since they finished the repairs." The knave was damaged by a bad fire back in 2001 and subsequently closed off to the public for 7 years.

"Yeah, yeah, come on. We get enough tourists around here." She said this as she breezed by an older couple standing in the middle of the transept admiring the blue rose window. They overheard her barb and looked at each other in horror.  

"Ignore her. She has bad gas today. It's making her cranky." I said to them. They giggled.

When I turned around a paper airplane made of a "Music at the Cathedral" pamphlet hit me square in the forehead. It dug into my skin like with its razor-sharp nose. "OOOWAH." The couple started laughing hysterically at my misfortune. Turn coats.

"I'll give you gas," she hissed.

"How did you make that so fast?"

"There's more where those come from so stop giving lip." She shouted right passed a group of singing children. They stood in a perfect arc at the foot of the cathedral's massive choir. Some of the people who had crowded around them turned to look at our little sideshow in disapproval.

I stopped to listen to the music. Not just to agitate Velma, but also because it was eerily beautiful and... I swore I could place the melody. It was a heavenly combination of major piano under the minor harmony of those 15 or so cherubic voices. Then I did, indeed, recognize the tune. It was John Tavener's piece "The Lamb" based on William Blake's poem. Dissonant but really quite bright in spots. Full disclosure: I had a John Taverner station on my Pandora. Creepy choral music helped to focus me. 

Suddenly a bony hand grabbed my arm. "Move it! We both have things to do and these brats are here every first Monday of the month." She dragged me down the right passageway behind the choir and stopped abruptly at at a black iron gate. It was the guilded entrance to a dark spiral staircase. Velma swung open the gate and darted down into the shadows. 

"How do you not kill yourself going down these things?" I was cautiously placing my left foot onto the first stair.

"I count them. You know how many years I've been doing this? Close the gate behind you."

I did as I was told. "No flashlight? Nothing?" I had never been to her office before and I was brimming with anticipation for the opportunity. I just knew it would be a treasure trove of New York historical artifacts.

"Quit the whining, fancy pants. Just count! There are 28 steps." She was already at the bottom jingling keys.

"Well I don't know which step I'm on now." I honestly didn't get very far. "Now I have to go back up and start all over."

"By the sounds of it you're on 8." I heard a key click into the lock and then a slow turn was made. It sounded like she was unlocking a massive bank vault

In my mind I counted from 8 and once I labored to 27 I took one more step and cautiously felt for another, but there was only floor. She was spot-on. The very second my foot made contact she flung open the door and light quickly spilled out onto the staircase. "You couldn't have done that sooner?"

"I wanted you to know I was right."

"How does Nick do this everyday?"

Velma said, "He counts. Like I do."

I quickly heard a second familiar voice from the other side of the door blurt, "I use my cell phone."

Velma jumped a smidge at the sound of his voice. "Oh Nicky. You're home." I was still standing at the bottom of the stairs anxiously waiting for my invitation in. "Well, come on. This is where all the magic happens, sweetheart."