THE BLUE BLOOD OF BOURBON-PARMA
Arthur Beaugeard '23
There I was: standing on the street, leaping, shouting, screaming with joy because I had a lottery ticket worth 50 gazillion dollars in my hip pocket. A horrible ringing came out of the sky, and I jerked up, hitting my head on my desk, as I often did. Moments spent blindly fumbling around for the alarm clock atop my desk proved futile, and that forced me to get up and look for myself. It turns out the me of yesterday had stuffed the little clock in a drawer to coerce me into waking up fully during the search. I put the sign back on my desk: Roger Roger, Private Eye. My mother was a big fan of the military.
The stubble hung from the greasy wrinkles and folds of my face like half the crooks I had thrown in prison. I sat in my chair and didn’t bother changing my suit. I fumbled through the other drawers for saltine crackers and ate them accompanied by a little filthy water leaking out of the sewage pipe with a whiff of expired nail polish.
That’s a manly breakfast, you see. But who was I kidding? The only reason I wasn’t out catching a bite at the diner or a rat on the streets was because I had lost my drive. I was stuck in a tiny one-room in the city’s decrepit, shameful little slum, like an expensive cat in a trailer park. Like a diamond ring in a pile of manure. Like a saint in hell. Okay, you get my point: I’m a great person and there’s no two ways about it.
I needed a case like a clown needs kids to traumatize when a dame walked through the door in a fluffy blue coat. She was called Hagia Sophia. Her parents wanted to name her after the famous church in Istanbul, but for short, people just called her Hagia, which is the word “hag” and a Greek suffix. I told her the coat looked expensive, and she said she got it for a good price.
“What animal is it?”
“They say it’s a yeti. An endangered species in the Himalayas.”
“Where’d you get a good price for something that fancy?”
“The man on the street corner sold it to me, Roger.”
And then I realized that she wasn’t very rich at all, and Lenny, that sly dog, had just pawned off an old carpet on her or something. She was probably wearing old, raggedy clothes underneath with more holes in them than those poor yetis after the poachers catch them, as she told me with a quivering sadness in her voice. I asked her why she came in, and she told me about her jewels being snatched by thieves who left a trail of blue blood.
We immediately sped back to her apartment, and I began searching around the place. There were, indeed, trails of blue blood leading from the broken shards of her window to the street below. We saw someone leaving a trail of the slimy fluid behind them while shuffling along at a middling pace, like a sloth with diarrhea on their way to the restroom.
We scrambled down the stairs and forced some random jerk out of his car.
“Stop, this is police business,” I said as I yanked him out and very authoritatively sat in the driver’s seat. My hands slowly wrapped around the steering wheel as the lovely lady sat next to me.
“What are you waiting for? Start up the car.”
“I can’t drive.”
“What are you talking about? A detective who can’t drive?”
“I’m never sober at the driving test, all right?” I squirmed out of my throat. What the devil was I doing? I had a crook to catch, and they were getting away. I hit the gas and started whizzing down the road like a bullet, swerving from lane to lane along the way. Hagia started shouting because we had passed the criminal and were now going straight towards a park that was currently holding a circus—packed to the brim with young kids.
Paralyzed with shock, I merely started quickly and quietly mumbling that God works in mysterious ways. Hagia rolled down the window and yelled: “ICE CREAM TRUCK TO THE LEFT!” before grabbing the steering wheel and turning it to the right. We narrowly avoided the flock of children, and I retook the wheel, sending us straight into a pond of ducks.
We emerged, drenched and covered in feathers, and found our target. We could distinguish, at this point, that she was a woman. The closer we got, the faster she ran, until we found ourselves way out in the country—Tuxedo Park, New York.
Things grew quiet—she had slipped out of sight. We crept into the local library through a window that we found broken for mysterious reasons, and we slid betwixt stacks of sordid dime novels with the most ridiculous mystery plots imaginable—completely unlike the mundane, unforgiving realities of the job.
Then my sight went black as someone pounced on me and wrapped a rag around my head. All I smelt was mustiness, and I got some serious rug burn as I was dragged around, slowly losing consciousness due to asphyxiation despite my best efforts at writhing away. I woke up after what seemed like hours in a dank dungeon with Hagia. Bats hung from the ceiling, and a thin ray of blue light fell upon a figure outside the bars.
“You wretched creature,” quoth a wretched creature. “I am Zita of Bourbon-Parma, exiled Empress of Austria and last Queen of Hungary.” Zita’s face contorted in anguish. “My home was invaded by the vile Germans! My family is living off of leaves and flower petals!” Zita's voice rose in pitch. She screamed, “Yet you think you are worthy of diamonds! No, it is I who need them, city woman with a forked tongue!”
“I’ve been living off a soup kitchen—” Hagia began, before being interrupted by the rambling madness emitting from Zita’s mind and mouth. She left, and it seemed as though we spent a lifetime in that dungeon, pacing around and looking at the turquoise sky outside, longing to breathe its air. The bats were only so conversational, and interactions with them quickly grew stale. My mind was eventually completely empty. First I thought to myself, then I talked to myself, then I began obsessing over the words, and I finally forgot the meaning of the words. I forgot who I was. For a dozen days, our only visitor was Zita, who sometimes spoke softly and quietly and at other times yanked the words out of her raspy throat like loogies.
Then footsteps started to ring on the stones, and I pulled my starving body to its feet. A young man, slightly balding, approached us with a complacent smile and handed us the keys out and the stolen jewelry. We thanked him profusely, and he said not to worry about his silly mother. This happened to her often, and sadly the family had a history of manias and personality disorders.
“Everything could change on the flip of a dime,” boomed Otto, one of the royal children. “Nobody can be trusted,” Otto ominously whispered, and I laughed, for Otto was noble to give us such advice. I patted him on the back and told him to give me a call if he was in New York and too stupid to find a cheaper and more competent detective in the phonebook.
Hagia and I started to walk off into that great land under the blue sky with the jewels in our hands, on our way home. It seemed like a perfect ending, but one thing my old man taught me is that life is never that easy. He taught me that lesson by running away with an exotic dancer to Belize when I was three years old. In a cruel twist of fate, our beloved sky was turned against us when we saw Otto whizzing around in a stolen Nazi plane overhead. We leaped in opposite directions to avoid Otto swooping down in an attempt to murder us.
We ran, panting and wheezing despite our relatively slow speeds, as we listened to the mad laughter of Otto above, not unlike snails narrowly avoiding a lawnmower.
“What does he want?” I said.
“I hear him yelling something about the family starving and needing jewels.”
“I don’t understand why he can’t sell the plane—” I ducked under the plane as it nearly hit us again. I sweated both cold and hot beads. I yanked Hagia as we ran and pushed us into the church as the wing of Otto’s plane yanked off half of her hair.
There was utter chaos outside. Signs were being knocked down by the plane; villagers were screaming.
“Hagia, I loved you from the day I met you. Bald spots and all.”
“I’m really not feeling the chemistry.”
The mad devil’s plane crashed into the church’s spire, and its bell tumbled down upon us, tolling for ruin as it smashed the walls. The church collapsed in a fiery inferno of death and destruction. Bones were cracked. We were trapped inside the bell as the fire and smoke started to seep in. We wondered if the dull vibration caused by Otto’s body smacking against the bell was another act of foreshadowing from that charming young fellow.
We seized one side of the bell and began to tug because we were both going to hell and we knew it. We pulled and pulled, but it was no use. At the very moment when all hope seemed buried with my childhood dreams of becoming an archaeologist in Belize, the bell started to move. We saw the blue sky through the fire, and we thanked the ones who had raised the bell: Zita and Otto.
Yes, they had reverted to their more pleasant personalities. We decked them immediately afterwards, without hesitation, like they were garbage collectors mistakenly picking up someone’s garden gnomes. We left them there, sleeping peacefully among the wreckage and flames, and I finally got paid in full.