The sea waited patiently for the upstart metropolis to crumble. The city faltered and aged, but found its heart surrounded time and again by new buildings, ever higher and more prideful.
The inhabitants relentlessly rebuilt their monumental hovel, trampling the past into the ground as they did.
The sea knew what the people of the metropolis did not, so it waited both in eager anticipation and uncaring viciousness.
The people remained ignorant of this drama, as the song of aeons cannot be heard by frail, mortal creatures rushing through their busy lives. The insect that lives but a day doesn't grasp the notion of a year.
The sea was well aware.
One day the city would fall.
Richard Dempsey had been trailing his prey all day. He wasn't a professional private investigator by any means, but he sure felt like one after such a harrowing day. Following a man without being seen is a nerve-wracking business. There had been a few close calls, certainly. This Sunder Kaine character was quite the jittery fellow, always looking over his shoulder, as if he expected or sensed Dempsey was on his tail.
You'd think Dempsey would stand out: a big, fat man with a camera shouldn't be too hard to spot. Yet somehow, he had not been spotted yet.
After following Kaine for a whole day, Dempsey was proud of his accomplishment. He was also tired. Mostly, he was very, very bored.
Kaine had done a lot of walking. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to his wandering. He trudged on and on, going left or right seemingly at random and at a steady pace, too.
The most exciting thing Kaine had done all day was when he took a break at the terrace of a bar on the corner of some cosy little street. He paid the waitress without looking at her and waved her away with one hand as she picked up the crowns he’d flicked onto the table. He sipped his tea, arrogantly basking in the sun.
Like a snake, Dempsey thought. A leathery, grey lizard, spending too much time and money having his nails done at the salon, tightly fit in an impeccable suit with matching, expensive tie. The business outfit with that unmistakable hint of class that he wore like a second skin. Anonymous and forgettable, yet stylish, prideful and wealthy.
Magnificent as he looked, it made him one of the soulless thousands just like him. The type of snake that would devour rodents like Dempsey, still kicking and screaming, the same aristocratic disdain condemning his poor taste above all else.
That was the one moment Dempsey was certain Kaine was in fact watching him, fully aware Dempsey was following him, taking pictures throughout the day. The idea Kaine looked like some Richard eating lizard hadn't popped into his head for no reason. Cold sweat gushed off his body when the tea-sipping businessman rested his dark, mournful eyes on him, thoughtlessly looking Dempsey in the eyes.
But the eyes had wandered off, oblivious of the possibility he was actually staying close to him, an obese shadow with long, curly hair.
Dempsey was new to the profession, so he let himself off the hook for panicking rather quickly. Kaine had not in fact spotted him, there was no real need to berate himself. Well, that's what Dempsey told himself at least.
Kaine returned to his car and Dempsey followed, stumbling into his smaller, poorly maintained excuse for one. In pursuit of Kaine's slick automobile, as the sun continued towards the horizon, they each left the intricacies of the metropolis behind.
The day was coming to a close as Kaine finally parked his beautiful vehicle far outside of the city, close to the coast. He left his car and strode towards three gentlemen who were waiting for him on the beach. What a strange place to meet friends, if that’s what they were. Dempsey hadn't been so far out of the city in a long time. The air was different and the incessant buzz of a few million people was gone. There was only the sea and wind here.
Kaine hadn't changed his perfect attire and stood out on the sandy shore, even though his friends wore similar clothes. The four made an odd ensemble. Four perfectly groomed gentlemen meeting on the beach at a late hour.
Kaine had led Dempsey through a veritable maze mapping the entire city. The labyrinthine metropolis stood in the background now, far, far away from this place.
Dempsey's enormous heart was beating fast. His breath heavy, he mopped the sweat on his forehead with his sleeve. He wasn't sure why he was anxious, the nauseating boredom all but forgotten. All day he’d trailed Kaine and it had led to this bizarre meeting. Whatever was happening, it better make for some decent photographs. Pictures that would bag him a well-deserved and fat payday.
Dempsey checked his old camera again, which unfortunately still used film. Considering the job he was on, bringing this particular camera wasn't too bright. In his defence, Richard didn't have a choice in the matter. It was his only camera with the light sensitivity to keep up with his quarry. Dempsey had had the foresight to bring this old, obsolete camera as well as his digital one. He had dropped the newer model last year and it only really worked in perfect lighting now.
Dempsey didn't care for his newer model. He loved the old one and was glad to use it.
What luck! The four of them stood there, all with their arms limp to their sides, talking. There was something off about all of it, but Dempsey couldn't put his finger on what was wrong. Regardless, he started clicking away, taking picture after picture.
Maybe I should get out of the car, get a bit closer to these four chaps, Dempsey thought. He wasn't sure he’d got a clear picture of them and couldn't check on his antiquated camera.
There was something peculiar about these men. Meeting at such an odd place had to mean something and he wanted to find out what. Uncharacteristic feelings of pride and the sheer will to succeed propelled him forward, past any doubts he had. For the first time in his life, he felt elated about making an effort. He was going to earn his fee and no mistake. He'd show them! He would take the best photographs any private investigator had ever taken. He'd get to the bottom of this and he'd weave a story for the world to eat up with his pictures. Raising detecting to an art: Richard Dempsey, PI. He could picture it already: his name on a door, his office, the dame that wanders in with her desperate story.
Richard snuck out of the car. Quietly. Like a professional. Or he would have if he hadn't gotten his coat stuck behind his seat-belt, making a rattling sound as metal hit metal. “Damn it,” he cursed under his breath before smoothly walking away from the car, looking at the four gentlemen out the corner of his eye. They still hadn’t noticed him and kept their dispassionate conversation going. “Excellent,” Richard Dempsey thought with relief. For a moment he had almost messed things up again, like so many times in the past.
Perhaps he was not cut out to be the best detective in the world after all. Becoming a passable one would still be an achievement, surely.
And so Dempsey goaded himself towards the four men, lonely on that forlorn beach, whipping himself with self-doubt and memories of events the rest of world had forgotten.
In the dimming light he could sneak up on them and take pictures from atop a dune. The remaining light as the sun set would outline their figures perfectly.
And that's what he did. He passed them from a safe distance, made sure they did not have line of sight and then changed direction towards them, sneaking up the dune. The sand gave way under his bulk as he ploughed through. Richard debated crawling the last few metres. He went with silently creeping instead. Pulling his massive carcass through the sand would make more noise and the light was receding; he didn’t want to miss this opportunity. These four mysterious businessmen would surely not stick around much longer.
For the fat man, this stealthy approach was an exertion. Sweat leaked from his forehead and armpits. Embarrassed even though no one watched him, he soldiered on.
He managed to get on top of the dune, where he silently lay down, sizing up his prey. He had a perfect sight of all four of them now. He shot a few beautiful pictures as he took a closer look. All four wore nearly identical suits. All four had the same back-combed hair and sharp chins. They were so similar, if not for mild differences, they would have looked identical. Slight details set them apart: their ties perhaps, or their choice of cufflinks. The interchangeable men seemed to have stepped out of the same mould, merely swapping minor accessories, not unlike toy figures.
Kaine's pale features were coloured rose by the setting sun. His face was as emotionless now as it had been all day. Meeting his associates here had not lifted his spirits at all. In fact, all four men wore the same sour expression and as they spoke none of them moved much, if at all. Their hands didn't go into their pockets, none of them moved their arms or hands to accentuate whatever they were saying. They didn't even move their feet. Instead, they just stood there.
If it had been one of them, he would have stood out as especially wooden and peculiar. Noticing the odd mannerisms in all four of them was perplexing. On top of which, it was getting dark now.
Their mouths opened and shut, barely moving their lips as they conversed. As one spoke, the others listened. They did not interrupt each other. Nor did they smile or react to what was being said.
What on earth were those weirdos talking about? Perhaps they barely moved as a form of posturing, like poker players. Was this how wealthy people conversed in private? It had to be some sort of shady deal. If only he had one of those listening devices they used in the movies. Maybe he'd use the money he got from this job to buy one. Well, partially. He had other expenses. Perhaps he'd buy it if it wasn't too costly. He'd need one were he to become a true detective worth his salt.
Straining, Richard tried to make out what they were saying. With the sea so close, he couldn't make out much. His mind wandered as he took in the sea.
As the sun sank further, the natural light coloured the dunes and sea in reds and dark blues. Far on the horizon, the city leaked its false paint into the otherwise gorgeous vista. Vile neons and dead TL lighting were like children trying to get noticed compared to the imperious sun. whose large brush strokes painted the blocks of stone, wood and cemented metal. The human effort paled in comparison, wearing its defeat with petulant and ignorant defiance.
With a whirring sound the camera made it known to the world it was out of film. Dempsey woke from his reveries with a start, his heart pounding. Did they notice? Did they hear? How would he explain his presence and the camera to these four sinister characters?
Why anyone would entrust him with a sensitive matter such as this was beyond him. The idea he could be in real danger had not entered his mind until this very moment.
Thankfully, they hadn’t noticed.
He'd have to change the film if he wanted to take more pictures. He gulped for air and silently changed it, which turned out to be tricky, planted on his belly on top of a dune, the light receding and him sinking in the loose sand. He got dirt on his used film and cursed out loud, regretting it immediately. He had to stay quiet, damn it! He blew the sand off, fidgeted with his camera and messed about with the old film. Getting it into the plastic container wasn't working out as intended.
Dempsey noticed his hands were shaking as he put the film into the camera. At last, the camera whirred contently as it sucked in the new film. He came prepared for this, holding it close to his chest: the noise barely made it out. Richard himself certainly didn't discern the device over his heart's distressed cadence.
After what seemed like forever, he rose his head above the top of the dune, hopeful the men hadn’t noticed his fidgeting and moving. They hadn't. They’d moved off, closer to the sea. Squinting, Dempsey realised the four men stood with their feet firmly in the water.
In a row, facing the sinking sun, standing at the edge of the sea, as the waves wet their pantaloons. The four dark shapes stood out from the lit-up sea. Their shadows danced and faded, clawing towards the dune Dempsey was on. The setting sun painted the sea dark red and all else sunk in darkness. There was no artificial light here, even if they were only hours away from the city, somehow this beach was a deserted place, untouched by human traffic and trash.
The phoney light of the Metropolis never looked more appealing, twinkling in the distance.
Dempsey quickly shot off more pictures of these four bizarre men. In his excitement he noticed his heart thumping loudly in his ears.
All four of them stepped forward two strides in perfect, robotic unison. The sea rose and fell. Dismayed, Dempsey stopped taking photos. What on earth was going on? On top of his dune, he gawked in bewilderment at the four strangest men he'd ever seen.
Events had passed the point where things were odd. This was no longer amusing. Dempsey took a few more shots and debated feverishly if he should call it a night. He did not understand what was happening but it felt off to a degree he would never have imagined. Dempsey was more experienced than he gave himself credit for. He had seen humankind at its worst, many times over. Yet this scene, these men, awoke in him a fear and loathing he was unfamiliar with. Whatever it was they were doing, he got it on camera.
With a sense of foreboding, Dempsey decided it was time to go. Whatever came next, it wouldn't be anything pleasant. Not with these four freaks. This was not some game. These were not some lads having a few too many and a laugh. They stood there, up to their ankles in sea water. Perfectly calm like before when they were having a conversation. Their serious manner made them all the more unnerving. Besides, the light was almost gone. The next pictures would be rubbish anyway.
Yet again, the frightened coward stayed put, despite his craven heart. With grim determination he did not abandon his post. Instead, he chose to stay and face whatever this was. These men were hiding something foul, something evil and Dempsey would bring it to light!
They were up to their knees in the water now, still barely moving. One of them stepped forward. In the dimming light, Dempsey couldn't tell for sure, but somehow knew that it was Kaine who was walking forward deeper into the water, primus inter pares, first among his equals, until he was waist-deep in the water. The sea smacked all four men from all sides but they stood tall and unaffected, like pillars of stone.
The authority of Kaine stood firm, undaunted by the sea as it flowed away from him in hasty retreat after each attempt to topple him failed. His clothes moved with the ebb and flow, but he himself seemed unmoved by the incessant flow of water.
Richard's fear rose to a new peak as he became aware of a clicking sound he could just barely make out above the sound of the sea. As Dempsey listened more closely, he distinguished a rasping that cut off with wet, gurgling snaps. An angry voice that rose in pitch and volume. Kaine… His unearthly screeching became louder and louder. Dempsey could clearly make it out now that he knew what to listen for.
A scream blasted through the wind and noise of the sea. As the light of the sun finally faded, Kaine's howl broke off in a sudden, ecstatic note. All four men were almost gone, merging into the darkness that lay in front of Dempsey.
Suddenly, the four men turned and their gaze fell straight on Dempsey.
Richard could tell they were looking at him because their eyes lit up a hungry yellow, brazen as the sun and the sea. That yellow sheen outlined their passive faces, made all the more gaunt and rubbery by the stark contrast with those glowing, ravenous eyes.
Kaine commanded his fellows with a single, vicious bark, sending them to Dempsey with one pointing finger. They crouched down low, becoming all but invisible amidst the waves on that sunless beach. In the darkness it appeared as if they hopped and leaped out of the sea and up the dune on all fours, three sets of fiery, glowing eyes darting towards Dempsey, silent as they approached at a terrible pace.
“They wore glasses”, Dempsey told himself as he turned and stumbled down the dune before running faster than he’d ever run in his life. They wore glasses and those caught the light, he thought. They wore glasses, must have been glasses. Must have been. Dempsey ran for all he was worth, his mind numb, repeating the same line over and over to himself. In the furthest depths of his rattled mind he was impressed with the speed he mustered, the wind ringing in his ears, sand propelled in all directions.
“They wore glasses,” Dempsey pleaded out loud as he reached his car, opened the door and turned the key in the ignition. As he raced off, he blubbered it again to himself: “They wore glasses.”
Except they moved like animals. Worse than animals.
Except they hadn't worn glasses, no matter how often he repeated it to himself, any of them. He’d had plenty of time to see these men and none of them wore glasses, nor was there any light that could reflect in those non-existent glasses. Dempsey raced home, distancing himself from those four men, those things, but not from the fear that had a firm grip on his poor, struggling heart.

Read the rest in 'Four Men and the Sea'. You can purchase it here Thanks for the support.
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Published on June 06, 2018 11:21 • 131 views • Tags: i-b-thriller-b-i

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