...remember that whole Sweet Charity thing?
This is for you, trascendenza. I'm, er, sorry it's eight months late. *coughs* But at least it's a bit more than the 1500 words I promised you, right?
Five Months On: Murder, Intrigue, Stuff I Should Have Noticed Before, and a Really Great Espresso Machine, part one
Fandom: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Pairing: Harry/Perry, background Harry/Harmony
Rating: R, mostly for language
Notes: Takes place five months after the movie.
So it’s been three hours, twelve minutes, and sixteen seconds since we started the stakeout on Jimmy Warwick’s palatial estate, and I really wish I’d brought a deck of cards. Perry would just look at me, employ one of the many disparaging why’d-I-bring-you-along expressions and/or gestures, and go back to surveilling or whatever it is you call it, but I could probably play Solitaire on the dashboard. I’m pretty good at Solitaire. Crap at poker, because I’m crap at hiding what I’m thinking, and crap at blackjack, because I get overconfident and I say hit me more than I should, but I’m pretty good at Solitaire, because there’s no pressure and nobody bothers me. I’m actually pretty good at acting under pressure, to a certain extent, but it’s nice when I don’t have to. I like cards, actually. Used to use them a lot. I still remember how to hide them up my sleeve. Good times, man.
So it’s been three hours, thirteen minutes, and four seconds since they started the stakeout on Jimmy Warwick’s palatial estate, and I still wish I’d brought a deck of cards when, swear to God, I cannot make this shit up, the house fucking explodes. No warning, no sudden smell of gas, just boom. I don’t have a lot of time to think about it, though, because Perry swears a blue streak and floors the gas pedal and the car skids 180 degrees so fast my head almost knocks against the window and I would complain but this really, really isn’t the time for that.
Instead, I say, “What the fuck just happened and why are we leaving?”, and I probably already know the answer to the second question but I’d like to be sure, anyway. Sometimes Perry’s motivations are difficult to discern.
“I don’t know and because he didn’t pay me enough to be crazy,” Perry replies, which isn’t actually very comforting. If Perry doesn’t know what’s going on, things can’t possibly be good. The last time Perry didn’t know what was going on, we ended up trapped in this huge vat in a chemical factory and we were both out of bullets and we had to be subjected to the worst and longest Before I Kill You speech ever before Perry just threw his gun at the guy and knocked him into the vat with us and even then, it’d taken an awful lot of threatening to get out of there. I’m not good at being threatening. I’m good at keeping my cell phone charged, though, which helps when you need to call first the police to round up a mass-murder suspect tied up at the bottom of a vat in a chemical factory and then Harmony to pick you up from said chemical factory, because our car had at the time been at the bottom of a river and Perry’s too proud to ask for a ride from the police. Perry and Harmony have this bizarre thing going on where he doesn’t hate her and she thinks he’s funny so it’s sort of like they’re friends but not by the regular definition. Mostly, she provides what backup assistance she can and he buys her dinner eventually. I would be jealous, except, well, for the obvious reason, so mostly I’m just vaguely nervous about what they talk about when they have those dinners. Harmony usually just comes back grinning and refuses to tell me. I never have the nerve to ask Perry about it.
“No, but he did pay us to, you know, investigate, and I’m pretty sure this is the sort of thing that needs investigating,” I say. Okay, I’ve only been on the job maybe five months, but five months is a long time and I’ve picked up a lot of things and one of them is that it’s good when people pay you. People do not pay you when you fail to do the job they requested of you. Sometimes, in fact, they don’t pay you so much that you actually end up poorer than you were when they hired you in the first place—mostly because they’re so adamant about the not paying you that you need to replace the windows or maybe go to the hospital, both of which are more expensive than Perry likes. The thing about being in a gunfight, Perry says, is that it’s 1) a really bad idea and 2) really unlikely to end well even if you manage to win, because collateral damage is a bitch. During those five months, I had to learn that the hard way. Replacing the windows or painting over the bullet-holes in the wall is one thing; getting shot in the stomach—which is one of the more unpleasant places to be shot in—is really definitely another. So’s watching Perry get shot in the stomach. Having already experienced both the pleasure of being shot and watching him being shot before we started working together doesn’t make it any easier. It’s not the kind of thing you get used to.
“We can investigate it when the house isn’t crumpling under a flaming ball of death,” Perry says, and I do have to admit that he kind of has a point there. Better to take the risk of getting shot at later than to take the risk of getting covered in fiery rubble now. Besides, it’s late. And it’s entirely possible that Harmony might be waiting, unless she’s at a party or no, actually, she’s filming something this week, she won’t be back until tomorrow. Bed’s waiting, anyway. It’s been a long, boring night and Perry has this thing about getting work started at exactly 9 o’clock in the morning, which I think is insane but Perry has this really great espresso machine and I’ve gotten pretty good with it. Waking up early isn’t so bad when you can make high-quality liquid crack to take the edge off. Adds an entirely different set of edges, when you think about it, but at least you’re not tired any more. And Perry’s always in a better mood after he has some, which makes me feel useful. I doesn’t feel useful very often—though I have gotten better at shooting things and not freaking out about it—so I take what I can get, and if that’s making really great espresso, I’m fine with that. It’s better than an office job, anyway. Office jobs don’t usually have really great espresso machines.
“Was it Lila? She was pretty pissed at Jimmy about the girlfriend thing.” The epic tale of Jimmy and Lila Warwick is full of tragedy, passion, and mutual domestic violence, and the girlfriend thing is only the latest of many things for them. The girlfriend thing in question is named Clara Cabrera—really sweet lady, doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets from either of the people she’s managed to tangle herself up with. Jimmy’s this big TV producer, and he might be a vindictive asshole or he might not be but either way, he’s got a lot of people gunning for him these days, and he decided hiring some people to look out for him might be a good idea. He’s got a security staff, of course—these big, nasty-looking guys with various European accents and a tendency to crack their knuckles alarmingly—but we have finesse. We notice stuff. And we’re very good at it. Except apparently not as much as we thought we were.
“Lila’s out of town,” Perry says, frowning. “She’s visiting her lawyer.”
“About a life insurance policy?” In this business, you learn to be wary of people who take out life insurance policies on their spouses. It’s practically the first sign.
“About a divorce.” Perry stares off into the stretch of road ahead. Palm trees appear and disappear periodically. I think I hear sirens in the distance.
“Why would she divorce him if she was just going to kill him? She’d lose rights to half the property.” It doesn’t make sense, which means that this is going to be one of those long, complicated cases that ends with us being shot at or thrown through a window or almost hit by a car. On the other hand, those cases usually pay really well and Harmony loves hearing about them. Back on the original hand, those cases make me skittish and Perry grumpy and when that happens, it just bounces back and forth and escalates to the point where we’re yelling at each other and we don’t even know why, and that makes everything really awkward for a while. I hate it when that happens, because I still feel obligated to show up for work in the mornings and it’s weird to have Perry actually ignore me. I’m used to abuse. (One time, Harmony got me drunk and tried to convince me I’ve developed Stockholm Syndrome, but I definitely wasn’t drunk enough to admit it. Not that it needs admitting. I mean, it definitely isn’t true.) When abuse is not present, it’s a little unsettling.
“Maybe she didn’t have anything to do with the explosion. She wasn’t the only person with a grudge against him.” Criminals, disgruntled colleagues, former girlfriend things—Jimmy Warwick definitely isn’t the most popular guy in LA. Any one of them could have had sufficient reason for it.
Perry makes this sort of snarly grumble noise that he does when he’s frustrated. I’ve heard it so often that I can identify the different, subtle variations and inflections: this one means something along the lines of Christ, I Wish People Would Stop Trying to Kill Each Other. Sure, I think, it’d be nice, but then we’d both be out of a job and we’d have to live off Harmony’s not-entirely-wildly-successful acting career, which doesn’t pay enough for really great espresso machines. It kind of sucks that my only way to make money is to profit from other people getting in trouble, but when you think about it, that applies to cops and doctors and lawyers and a whole lot of other jobs so it isn’t that bad. And it is better than working in an office. Even if there’s roughly the same amount of paperwork.
I don’t actually know if it’s a good idea for me to say anything right now, because, well, first off, I don’t have anything interesting to say, and secondly, it looks like this might be one of those times when my saying anything is just going to annoy Perry even more, but I can’t help it, I talk too much, it’s probably a disorder or something, so instead of saying nothing, I say: “Well, at least we know Jimmy was right.”
Perry keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead and says, in the kind of voice that makes me wish I’d kept my mouth shut after all, “Shut up, Harry.”
Now I should consider that to be fair warning and actually, y’know, shut up, but seriously, I think it’s some kind of mental condition. Maybe someone should write a paper on it. “I mean, if he was just worrying about it for nothing, he might not believe we did a good job and then he wouldn’t pay us any more, right?”
“If he was just worrying about it for nothing,” Perry says, still not looking at me, “he wouldn’t be dead and we wouldn’t have to sort through the entire Los Angeles phone book to find the twenty people with the means and motive to do this, and then we wouldn’t have to tell the women who ostensibly loved him that that he’s dead.”
He kind of has a point.
Here’s the thing about being a PI, or about working for/with one (I’m not sure I could actually qualify for a license, but I do what I can and Perry gives me half the money if I do something useful, which I usually do). We don’t like interesting cases. We like boring cases. We like the cases where a guy thinks his wife is cheating on him and we look into it and either she is or she isn’t but she doesn’t try to kill him and he doesn’t try to kill her and there aren’t any high-speed chase scenes and nobody gets shot, especially not us. If we’re solving a murder, we prefer it when the killer’s stupid and shell-shocked and gives up the moment we find them. If we’re on a stakeout, we prefer that we spend a long night being bored. Interesting means dangerous means someone’s probably going to get killed and one of these days it’s going to be one of us. A few times, it almost has been one of us. So we don’t like interesting cases.
They keep happening to us, though, maybe because God is really amused by the idea of a gay detective and his (relatively, relatively) hapless sidekick/partner solving improbable and complicated crimes in the City of Angels with the occasional help of said sidekick/partner’s amazing actress girlfriend, or maybe because He has it out for us and wants to get rid of us as quick as possible but we’re too smart for Him. Or lucky. Most of the time I just think we’re really, really lucky. I mean, we’re still alive, aren’t we? Counting the Christmas stuff, I’ve been shot twice and Perry three times and there was almost this nasty accident with a power saw and I’m not even going to mention the finger thing, but we’re both still alive. It’s weird when you think about it. Perry says his job used to always be boring before he met me. That makes me feel guilty, but my life really sucked before I met him and found Harmony again, so I’ve decided it’s worth it.
We talk to cops sometimes—usually because they make a much better cleanup crew than we do—and I’ve asked them about it, and they say getting shot isn’t that common for them. It happens, and there are a lot of times when it almost happens, but three times in five months is a really irregular statistic. So maybe we’re both lucky and unlucky. Or maybe our lives are completely insane and if we had any sense we’d move to
So here’s the thing about Perry. I know he’s gay, I’m not bothered that he’s gay, because it’s not like he hits on every guy he sees and it’s definitely not like he hits on me. So it’s not weird because he’s gay, because I know that has absolutely nothing to do with this and it’s not even a really big factor in my life, I mean, he doesn’t make it obvious and he only teases me with it sometimes. It’s not even remotely important or even relevant to the subject at hand, which is: why do I think of us as being a team now? Last Christmas was one big crazy ordeal but once it was all over, I could have just stayed with Harmony and we probably wouldn’t have seen him again. But somehow we all ended up staying together and now I think of that as being our natural state. If something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.
When Harmony had this big audition for—well, okay, it wasn’t that big an audition and it wasn’t that big a part but it was a part with lines and everything and even a little interaction with the main characters, so she was really excited and I was really excited and Perry was actually happy for her. And then she got the part, and I swear to God she literally wouldn’t stop bouncing. Not that I minded that so much—did I remind you that Harmony’s pretty well-endowed in certain departments? She’s a really great girlfriend—but it was sort of infectious, and we ended up throwing a party with all of Harmony’s freaky LA friends. And me. I’m not shy or anything, but at that point I’d only been living in LA for like a month and while my new job is great for meeting people, it isn’t really great for meeting people you’d want to stick around with, so I don’t have any freaky LA friends. Just Harmony. And Perry.
Harmony invited him, of course, because they had that weird sort-of-friendship thing going on and because I think she knew he was honestly happy for her. And later she said she also invited him so that I wouldn’t be completely out of place, but she didn’t tell me that then. So I had acquired a strategic spot near the food table and was completely failing to catch anyone’s interest beyond a vague sort of ‘oh look, I think that’s the guy she lives with, and I guess he really likes chips’ type of thing, and Perry came over, and we talked about Harmony and it turned out he was really happy for her, which I still found strange because, you know, he’d only known her for a month and he’s not really the friendly type anyway, but he was happy for her and I was ecstatic for her and that was as good a conversation-starter as any. It was right then, sitting and talking to him about Harmony, that I realized I was thinking of the three of us as being this kind of Group. Not family, not really, because Harmony had a crappy family and so did I and Perry never talks about his so I’m not sure any of us would be any good at being part of a family, but more than just idle friends, you know? And not in that way, no, because of the aforementioned gay thing so I don’t think he’d be particularly into Harmony and he doesn’t even like me in a normal way, let alone in a sweaty and exciting way—but that’s not the point, it really isn’t, and I’m getting off-subject again.
My point is, there’s Perry and there’s me and there’s Harmony and I don’t know, it just kind of feels like we’re a group, you know? The rest of the party went pretty well—Harmony came over to us sometimes, even—and it was like midnight or something when Perry gets this call on his cell phone. And he mostly listens and he doesn’t say a lot but at the end of it he says, “Fuck it, I’m on my way over,” and clicks the phone closed, looks at me, and says, “Margouli’s at the restaurant with Boardman, wants to make a deal, cops are already there but he’s asking for me. Come on.” So he’s leaving and I’m explaining to Harmony as fast as I can and I think she understands it better than I do and then I’m following Perry out the door and into the car and before I know it, we’re there. We’re there and so are a lot of cops but more importantly, the guy holding the Vice President of this big insurance company hostage is also there. There’s this whole great big story behind this, something to do with a guy named Horace Margouli defaulting on the loan he used to pay for his restaurant—it was a pretty good restaurant, actually, I went to it a couple times before this happened, it had these great fried cheese things—and, through a series of improbable and complicated events, stalking first the agent who gave him the loan and then the manager who authorized it and then the local head manager who oversees all of that stuff and then, of all things, the higher-ups of the company itself, but that’s not really the point either.
I keep getting off-subject with this. What happens is, Margouli isn’t so much asking for a deal as trying to kill the sons of bitches who made his stalking a lot more difficult after they were hired to do so—us, if you haven’t gotten the picture yet—and he’s gone completely psycho at this point, doesn’t even care if he makes it out alive, pretty much wants to kill everybody, especially as many of the insurance company guys as he can and, well, us, so I swear to God, he pulls out a grenade and then all the cops plus Perry plus me aim and shoot as fast we can because, well, grenade, and he’s down, Boardman’s got a few shots in what I’m pretty sure aren’t vital areas but Margouli’s down except he’s not quite dead yet and this is the point where I get fucking shot. Again.
Christmas was enough, okay, getting shot in the chest is not an experience I’d like to have again, but God’s got a nasty sense of humor so this time I get shot in the stomach. Which is, let’s be honest, a lot more fucking painful. 911, yadda yadda, Perry calls Harmony and the ambulance gets there before she does so he’s the lucky one who gets to go with me, at this point I’m under as many painkillers as they’re authorized to give me—which wasn’t enough—and everything goes hazy before it fades away entirely and when I wake up again, Harmony’s looking worried and Perry’s looking vaguely annoyed but also kind of worried, which makes me even more worried. But it all works out okay—what, it’s my story, you think I’m gonna die in it?—and I get the honor of not being allowed to do anything that might tear my stitches. There are a lot of things that can tear stitches. There aren’t a lot that don’t. I end up with a stack of books and DVDs a mile high and all the applesauce I can eat, which isn’t a lot. Shot in the stomach, remember?
The movie people don’t need Harmony for at least another couple of weeks, so she mostly stays home and makes sure I don’t try to do anything stupid like sit up too fast or walk more than ten feet in one go. And Perry comes over sometimes. Says he has to make his own coffee now, that sort of thing. Over a one-week period, the three of us make it through three different screenings of Touch of Evil, Casablanca, The Big Sleep, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Thin Man, L.A. Confidential, Toy Story, and half a season of The X-Files, and by the end of it Perry says he’s ready to shoot me again but whatever, I like those movies. It’s soothing to know that we’re not the only ones who have to go through this kind of shit. And Toy Story’s just really funny. X-Files creeps the hell out of me, but Scully’s hot and Perry didn’t seem to have any objections to David Duchovny. I mean, who would?
So what I’m trying to say is—even if I take a really long time to say it—during that whole thing, it felt like we were all in it together. I mean, there are friends, and then there are friends who go through the complete works of Humphrey Bogart with you against their will. I won’t even go into the other times Perry got shot, mostly because they’re kind of uncomfortable to talk about. We’re a group. We’re important to each other. And that’s really, really cool. Harmony would laugh and Perry would do that glare-sigh-walk-away thing he does if they heard me say this, but I think this is probably the best set-up I’ve ever been in, even with the shooting and the potential dying. Seriously. Way better than what I had in
But I should probably get back to what we’re actually doing right now.