Private eye Clyde Umney awoke that morning realizing something was wrong. The neighbors, the Demmits, weren’t tossing loud zingers at each other like normal. Their yapping dog, you know the kind that drives a knife into your nerves with it’s high-pitched barks, was silent. The elevator operator was coughing sprays of blood, cancer, and talking about retiring to move west with his sister.
It got worse when he reaches the corner and the blind newsboy, Peoria Smith, is happily talking about his mother winning forty thousand in a Mexican lottery and he was getting an operation to fix his blindness. The boy gets mad when he senses Umney is not happy about and runs off screaming he never liked Umney anyway.
His favorite restaurant, Blondie’s, a fixture forever, had closed up on him.
It was all wrong. Things never changed in his world. They were always the same.
At his office, he finds the hall being painted in a bright white color. Those dark corners were gone forever. His secretary, Candy Kane, was gone, leaving a note saying she had never liked his making fun of her name and the bouts of slap and tickle they went through.
It really was all wrong.
But when the man entered his office, things really got weird. Umney couldn’t even look at him. The voice was familiar, but not familiar. And he saw why when the man insisted he look at him.
The face was the same one he stared at every morning while shaving, except about twenty years older. He carried a very thin brief case with the smallest zipper he’d ever seen. And it didn’t look to be made of metal.
That’s when the story descends into one of those King has done several times over the years with a writer interacting to his own creation.
This tale is an homage to Chandler and Macdonald’s private eye classics from the thirties on into the seventies. It first appeared in the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection in 1992. This edition is a small book, eight-eight pages of story, published as part of Penguin 60s celebrating the publisher’s sixtieth anniversary.
For more forgotten books, as always, go check out Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase.