From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett (opens in new tab) wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, justice is coming: Barbie-style. Presumably in several shades of pink, with lots of accessories… to murder. Kidnapping, anyway.
Life in plastic. They say it’s fantastic, but what would they know? Even in a world of glitter and glamour, the dark soul of humanity is always with us, waiting to strike. That’s where I come in. When life in the Dreamhouse turns into a nightmare, they call me. I look up in my office and see a dame whose face says trouble, and I’m just looking at my full-length mirror. The name’s Barbie. And this doll’s only yours for 200 dollars a day. Plus expenses, naturally.
It started like any other day in false paradise. This was the week after I stopped that dyslexic murderer from killing half of Beverly Hills with her deadly make-up. Damn, that could have been a mascara. I guess I could have told Ken, but it’s not like I’m with him for his conversation. Besides, it’s best he think this whole Detective Agency thing is just another whim, like the race-car career, or becoming an astronaut, or running for President. He’d never be able to handle the truth of what we do. He just doesn’t have the balls for it. Or for anything. He’s lucky he’s got an ass to kill for, and I do not speak metaphorically here. Or anywhere there might be a tape recorder running. But that’s another story.
We were at the carnival for the day, just me, him, my partner in crime “Wine Bottle” Becky, and some other chick who reckoned she wanted into the biz. Junior Detective. You know the drill. Could have been any of a few thousand names from A’leeshan or Zabrynah, ’cause the one thing I won’t have people saying is I’m not inclusive. Heck, I set things up to just as well roll with a guy with a name like Zach or Bryan. Can’t say I ever expected that many to sign up, but this material girl ain’t no misandrist.
If the Son of God himself wants to get me coffee, I’m gonna tell him I take it with two sugars, no cheaping out by showing up with fish sandwiches and claiming Subway just ran an offer. Only miracle I want at lunch is a burrito that doesn’t make me fart like a foghorn in the Barbiemobile.
But where was I? Oh, yeah. Becky and I were at this charity carnival for some unfortunate types or something. I wasn’t paying that much attention when Ken explained. You know how it is when he talks, like every sentence is just some variant of “Damn, it’s lucky I’m hot,” and all that?
All that mattered was he was chairman of this event, and as chairman, the man with the money. The money he was carrying when he agreed to be part of some lady magician’s big disappearing trick during her practice show. No prizes for guessing what happened then. This is exactly why I’ve always said to him, Ken, sweetie, there’s only one lady’s mysterious box you’re allowed to climb into, and it’s never going to happen on a stage. Not this side of the Berlin city limits, anyway.
So, the game was afoot. Find Ken. Find the money. Stop anyone snapping off Becky’s head and trying to drink her, again. First port of call had to be our mysterious lady magician, Madame Wanda, backstage in her fancy magic theatre. She wasn’t there at first, but the same couldn’t be said for the clues. Rabbits in hats, playing cards, a hidden spider in a light that was probably also A Clue. It was clear she was a smooth-operating chick with a magical chest. I could relate.
The lady herself wasn’t that helpful. Though she played her part like a pro. “I’m really busy. It’s fantastic! All of the excitement. All of the people! All of the people interested in me! And my act!” If I was a cynic, I might have thought she was up to something.
I smiled politely and wrote her name in the ‘Suspects’ part of my notebook with a little star next to it. Then circled it. Twice. And underlined it. Then realised my pen had been out of ink all along. Still, I figured I’d probably remember. One thing was for sure. If I found out she’d kidnapped Ken just to boost her career, I was going to do to her what I did to that Cindy girl. And I’m not talking marketing here. Microwaves would be involved.
Exploring, I got my Jonathan Creek on. The early seasons of course, before it descended into heartbreaking awfulness. It turned out that the magic disappearing act was done with a lift platform in the magic box, taking the audience member down into the bowels of the theatre. Ken wasn’t there though. Instead, all that awaited was a ride ticket with a ghost on it. Of course, I thought. The haunted abattoir on the other side of town! Or maybe a ghost train. Or, as it turned out, a… slightly spooky props closet?
Charity carnival be damned, this was weak.
It was time to talk to the manager.
Bert here did not seem hyper-concerned about Ken’s fate, merely commenting that he hoped everything would sort itself out before anyone who mattered heard about it. He didn’t say the last part exactly, but he didn’t have to.
Not for the first time, I wished the Barbie Detective Agency had looser policies on water boarding. Like, not completely banning it. More like the Babies Detective Agency. Fear opens more doors than even a pencil and a newspaper. Depending on where you threaten to stick the pencil, obviously.
Thankfully it wasn’t long before a fresh Clue presented itself. Specifically, a Suspect. Following the trail, I soon came upon a man or man shaped object doing his best to blend into the scenery by cosplaying as The Hooded Claw (opens in new tab). Not sinister at all. Also not sinister at all was finding Ken’s clothes scattered around the carnival. Was this entire case just a thin pretence for him to finally explore his exhibitionist side? I couldn’t help but start to wonder.
But not for long. Because then, I made two big scores. First, a crowbar. Nothing better for cracking open a case, boxes, and heads. And second… There he was. Mocking my detective work. The Hooded Claw! Hiding out in the dodgems.
Bad choice. When it comes to bumper cars, that broad Penelope Pitstop ‘aint got shit on me.
Now that being said and all, when I get a Watson to write up my adventures this one’s getting rewritten a little bit. There is little less cool than driving round in a big circle trying to chase down a fiendish foe whose car can’t actually go anywhere. In retrospect, standing over by the exit with the crowbar and a stern look would have been much smarter.
Still, you know what they say; live and learn. He lived. I learned. Won’t be so soft next time. And it could have been worse. I mean, I could have ended up chasing him down on a slide or something, going left and right at junctions until we were finally back on the ground…
Shudder. They never mentioned the lack of dignity in this job when I signed up. But! It’s OK. Because while the foul fiend did ultimately get away from my clutches and his well-deserved beating, he dropped something on his way—the charity money!
I took it straight to Becky for safekeeping, minus a little something for Momma’s new hat fund. And Momma’s new earring fund. And Momma’s donut fix.
Unfortunately, that was an end to all the available clues, with no sign of Ken. I headed back to talk to Madame Wanda, who quickly made it clear that her having given no shits early was no indicator that she in fact had any in storage. At least, none that she was prepared to unload right now. “Do you think I meant to make him, like, disappear forever?” she sniffed. “After someone climbs into the mystical chamber, the platform is like an elevator that takes you into a waiting room.”
“Bitch, I hear you break the Magician’s Code one more time…” I hissed, waving the crowbar threateningly. But it was no good. She’d shut the door harder than I’d shut my heart to the pleas of poor souls begging me not to disclose their indiscretions. My detective tutor was very impressed with that. Apparently most people wait until they’ve at least heard one. That is what makes them Amateurs.
Not being an Amateur, from here the case presented little in the way of problems. Being an obliging sort, as if creating a mystery for Ages 5 and Up, the foul fiend responsible for everything had left an extremely easy series of clues to follow. Literally. Like breadcrumbs, one pointed to the next location and then to the next, punctuated only by the occasional minigame. That’s being generous to the craft of course, but “slightly more interactive clicky thing” just doesn’t have the same oomph, y’know?
Soon enough, I had tracked down beloved Ken and his majestic posterior, both of which had been locked into a funfair ride by our hooded tormentor with the thing for riding their own fairground rides. Who was it?
Pause for drama. A little longer. A liiiiiittle longer.
Well, this time around it was Madame Wanda, though my suspicions were that in other universes it could have been anyone else at the carnival, with a random selection of clues charting a similar but different path.
“Did you ever think it would be Madame Wanda?” demanded Becky. Yes, obviously. Yes, yes, yes. Burn the witch who did the whole thing to draw attention to her crappy magic act! Because there’s nothing that draws a crowd quite like kidnapping and/or demonstrating criminal levels of incompetence. Honestly, there was only one way she could have sunk any lower in my estimation—
“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you nosy Team Barbie Detective kids.”
There she went. Right to the bottom. Elevator, straight down.
And that about closed up the case, with all the glitz and glamour that had started it. So, none. But that didn’t matter. There are jobs you go into for the glory, and jobs you go into because someone has to do them. The life of a private detective is one of those, of crawling through bins and staying up all night watching scumbags and dealing with the lowest of the filth that still gets to call itself human.
The hours are long, the pay is low, the damage to the soul is crippling and endless, but in the end, you know that you are one of the rare few who can say they have chipped a little, tiny slice off the dark heart of humanity. A very small part, mind. And the heart is of infinite size, if not actively growing. Hmm.
On second thoughts, sod it. I think I’ll give that astronaut thing a second try.