It took me approximatey fifteen days to get a lead on his whereabouts. That was on a wednesday. Wednesday the 5th, to be more specific. Fifteen days after the annoucement of his disappearance, after the definitive closing of the bar, the police interrogations, and after that strange man wearing a suit and tie scouting the neighborhood. Some said he might have been from the IRS. I doubted Nick ever had or owed that much money to be dealing with such people, but you never really know anyone; that is what I got from the whole story.
That wednesday, I stepped into JoJo’s and the same old company was there. The same usual guys were playing pool and complaining about women, the usual record of Creedence Clearwater Revival was on. Martin, the barkeep, nodded when I came in. Jefferson, the stool keep as they called him, raised his arms and yelled “FINALLY” across the room as he saw me enter. He jumped from his seat in the right corner and then proceeded to briskly run towards me, a huge grin on his face. For better of for worse, I had become popular around the place. Not for the task at hand however, but because I meant drama. You have to understand that, if it wasn’t for the bar, the usual fights and the hockey matches, those guys wouldn’t be living half a life. Me? I was bringing them the other half; the action, everything, they saw it all : the corpse, the investigation, the chase and the guns, the pretty blonde with the nice curves. Everything. They always got riled up for that. And they probably pictured me, idealised me even, like a modern day Philip Marlowe.
Truth to be told, the reality was altogether not that glamorous. Nor adventurous for that matter. For the better part of five years, I had been working in this town, in this particular neighborhood, and nobody really seemed to give a crap until that story. Sorry, pardon the language. Pragmatically however, as far as the job was concerned, that was a win-win. The anonymity, I mean. But my ego, sometimes, felt desperate. I was the man who solved the Riddlette case, I was the man who apprehended Rollins, who dismantled the List. But in each of those cases and more, all the credit went to the police officers. I can’t really complain though, it got me a lot of money. But something was missing.
Anyhow, for that better part of five years, I used to take my breaks, drinks and lunchs, at the same bar, every day. That bar, The Waverider – a terrible name for a joint if you ask me – was owned by one Nick Nolt. Nick was quite the known fellow in low circles. Some said owning a bar, and alcohol as a whole, was a Nolt family tradition, which had been inherited from Scottish ancestors. There was a sort of aura of respect in that rumour, people felt he was a true one; whatever that meant. Some others claimed Nick had been a writer, and of that I have proof, but it wouldn’t serve my purpose to go into that in full details just about now. Besides, if you ever were to meet him, Nick would probably tell you all about it after a drink or seven.
But anyhow, one afternoon, as I came for lunch, I found the bar closed. The same happened the next day and the one after that. After a week had passed, I started to give phone calls to well informed acquaintances, and no one had heard about or seen him anywhere. That in itself was difficult to believe. You see, Nick was a strong fellow. He was over 6’2, and had massive shoulders. And somehow, he carried himself like a huge gorilla. That was very distinctive, you could spot him anywhere. And it was usually added to the fact that he had a tendency to drink himself to dumbness, and he would generally create scenes wherever he went. A couple of days after I did that, the young girl from the tea house across the street from The Waverider decided to call the police : she was used to seeing Nick roaming around, winking at her while opening the bar, and as it had remained closed for next to two weeks, she got worried something bad might have happened. The police looked into it, and although they had to admit they couldn’t find any trace of the man, they did not really care about the disappearance of a bartender they knew all too well. Upon hearing and seeing that, obviously, I could not resist; you know me. And since I did not have any burning cases on my hands, I decided to look into the vanishing of Nick Nolt myself.
Jefferson grabbed my hand, the right one, and shook it frantically for two long minutes. The longest couple of minute in my entire life. Martin told him to let go and he did, but he kept staring as if I was holding some mysterious answer to his inherent problem.
“Lucky, really lucky,” he ejaculated.
“Why?” I groaned back.
“You, you just missed him. That drunk. Baldwin. Always talkin’ ’bout his poems. And his dong. And his sorrow.”
I looked at him gravely; Baldwin was an arse.
I went closer to the bar and Martin poured me the usual scotch neat and placed a paper tissue right next to it. A phone number was scribbled on it. I looked up to Martin and grinned.
“I’ve seen better approaches, you know?” I said.
“After you left last night, the Indian fellow told me to give you that,” he gave back.
“I’m still not used to guys giving me their numbers though.”
Jefferson sat next to me, ordered a scotch too. Neat.
“The guy. The Indian Guy,” he blurted out between convulsive movements of the head.
“He’s a guy. A movie guy. Works in movies. The industry. Stars and fake tits and shit.”
“Oh, does he?”
He nodded frantically. It seemed like he did everything that way, in a rushed manner, as if he’d been shaken up as a baby and never recovered from it.
But anyhow, the whole thing intrigued me and it wasn’t long until I got to a public phone and called the number. Three drinks; it wasn’t long. And yes, a public phone – there’s nothing wrong with keeping it old school sometimes, you know? The Indian guy picked up almost right away and he was not speaking with an accent. I introduced myself and explained the situation in a few words, to which he simply laughed as an answer. He then went on a tirade about how he had heard details about me looking for something, ironically, not going into details himself.
“I think you should come visit one of my sets”, he said. He explained he owned a bunch of places, they served as locations for B rated movies and TV shows.
“That’s really nice of you but I’m not much of a film guy,” I said.
“There’s something you need to see.”
And just like that, we leaped forward : I took down the adress and got home to get myself ready.
An hour and a half of train and twenty minutes of bus later, I was greeted by the Indian guy, Nash, who was waiting for me at the corner of two similar looking streets. One was desert though, the other full of children playing ball. He extended his hand, and then showed me the very odd-looking building behind him with a sign of the head. Nash was an interesting fellow, with a bit a mysterious side. There are people whom you can easily judge; very shallow, you get them at first sight. They’re this, they’re that – defined by their jobs, kids, wives or husbands, not really interesting, no hobbies, nothing. On the other hand, there are people like Nash; not saying much, apparently not doing much, taciturn and guarded. He barely spoked, but he breathed loudly, as if he was constantly gasping for air, or constantly surprised – which in a way, could work as a whole.
Anyhow Nash led me inside, and each of our steps made the dust blow up in waves. There was a strange sense of abandonment, and we were just crossing the hallway. We went up the first floor, going through an old stairway that I deemed highly questionnable in terms of security. It cracked and some stairs seemed to be on the verge of self destruction, tortured by our weights. Nash stopped in front of the first door on the left and turned around, facing me.
“Inside, you go straight ahead. Don’t turn anywhere or touch anything. Everything’s fake. And it costs money.”
He opened the door for me, and all of a sudden we heard a loud BAM, and the noise of a body collapsing and falling down on the floor. Those noises I was used to hearing – professional hazard. I looked at Nash, unnerved, and almost yelling asked what was the meaning in any of this. He smiled, bent his head for a moment then looked at me and whispered “movies”. I eventually decided to step in and do as he told; I wasn’t used to taking orders from people I did not know, but curiosity has a tendency to make you do reckless things, like going through a tight corridor such as the one I found myself in. As I walked, I drew nearer to other people, I could hear voices, and a particular voice yelling. A strange accent, and yet a familiar tone of voice.
“I TOLD YOU IDIOTS TO MOVE THESE GARBAGE CANS!”
I stepped into the room and there he was. I could try as hard as possible, there was no way to believe the scene taking place in front of me.
“Can we try to get this right, people? I don’t wanna be here all night!”
He turned around and went back to a chair in which he sat with conviction. People around moved and placed themselves in different spot. I was in a middle of something, and it still remained unbelievable. I looked at him, talking to a girl holding a clipboard; there he was, Nick Nolt. Unbelievable. I rubbed my eyes, and he was still there; barely three feet away from me, that same guy that used to pour me drinks and draw man’s genitalia everywhere he could, was apparently directing a movie now. How he came to do that, I had no idea. I stood still for a while, processing, when he suddenly laid eyes on me. Nick bolted out of his seat and made his way towards me in a manner that felt totally different from what I knew of the man. I grinned, and as I was about to say something, he grabbed me by the collar.
“What the hell?!” he said.
“Hey calm down” I yelled.
The actors on set gathered around us and called for him to stop, to let me go. One of them took him by the arm and tried to reason with him.
“Rip! Stop! What’s wrong? Rip!”
“Rip?” I asked.
“Rip Hunter” someone whispered.
He was calling himself Rip Hunter now. And his look was not one that I used to know.
“You shouldn’t have come here” he said.