The Wooden Baby

Illustration by Michael Komarck, from Realms of Fantasy

A hard-boiled private investigator with a talent for twisting dimensions … a beautiful dame … a changeling baby made of wood … the perfect ingredients for the first of The String City Mysteries, a series of fantasy noir detective novelettes that form a prelude to my interdimensional thriller novel String City.

I wrote The Wooden Baby immediately after devouring a Dashiell Hammett anthology. I’m not the first to mix up the fantasy and detective genres, but it was such a juicy collision I couldn’t resist it. Later stories in the series explore the strange city where my nameless gumshoe lives, but this first adventure just places him in an anonymous office in the middle of, apparently, nowhere.

The Wooden Baby by Graham Edwards was first published in the April 2005 edition of Realms of Fantasy. Illustration by Michael Komarck.

Extract from The Wooden Baby

I’m hard to find. Don’t ask me why, it just works that way. I don’t place ads. I’m not in the phone book. I don’t have a website and there isn’t a search engine that even knows I exist.

But I exist all right. And people who need my services badly enough, well, they track me down somehow. Like the woman who burst into my office last night. Tall and sleek and muffled up in furs, she crashed through the door with the same bemused look they all come in with.

‘Did I just take a wrong turn?’

‘You tell me, ma’am,’ I said, fixing her accent as English, someplace in the south.

I didn’t bother to take my feet off the desk. For all I knew she was from the tax office and believe me I don’t treat them any nicer than they treat me. If she was a client, well, I’d find out soon enough.

She stood there in the doorway, rain pooling in her shadow, dithering from one foot to the other, not saying anything. I let her do this for a minute or two, then I said,

‘Can I help you, ma’am?’

‘Um …’

She didn’t complete the thought. Instead her face crumpled up like an old paper bag and she started to wail. I hate it when they do that. I counted to ten. When she didn’t stop, I heaved my boots off the desk, scratched about in a drawer for a box of tissues and dropped them in front of her.

‘Take your time,’ I said, adding, ‘but close the door before I die of pneumonia.’

She shut out the rain and sat down. By the time she’d dried her face and blown the snot out of her nose I’d figured out she wasn’t from the tax office. That meant she was probably going to hire me, even though she didn’t know it herself yet. I gave her another minute before saying,

‘What do you want to talk to me about?’

Up close, I could see she wasn’t as sleek as I’d first thought. Her blue eyes were bright enough but the bags under them were grey and dead. Her cheeks were flushed but the rest of her face was pale as cheese. This woman looked as if she hadn’t slept for a month.

‘It’s my … oh dear, I really don’t know where to start.’

‘The beginning is good for me.’

The String City Mysteries

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