The streets of the city are always dark, especially when it’s raining. And they just put a fresh coat of grime down 67th street. It got all over my office window. Not that you can see anything out my office window anyway. And if you could, you wouldn’t want to. I’ve seen it all, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. I’m Rip Luther, Private Eye, and this is what I do.
The light from the hallway was just enough to cast a silhouette on the cracked window of my door, so I knew she was coming even before she knocked. It was some dame I’d never seen before. She was wearing a dress like one of those housekeepers who work for the swanky broads on the upper east side. The rain hadn’t even touched her hair. She looked kind of like Loretta Young, only the hair was cut in a bob. Not bad.
“I hear you’re a guy who knows how to find the answers to tough questions,” she said.
“Yeah, well.” I swung my feet up onto my desk and lit another cigarette. “You can’t believe everything you hear on the street, lady. Specially not this part of town.”
“I know,” she said, arching an eyebrow; “what’s a chick like me doing in a place like this, right?”
“You said it; I didn’t.”
“You thought it.”
“Nah,” I said, “Film noir clichés aren’t really my thing.”
“This from the guy wearing a trench coat and a shoulder holster in a dark office with frosted windows, a manual typewriter, a ceiling fan, and a single light bulb over your head.”
I ground my cigarette butt into the ashtray. I had to admit, the dame had a point.
“Observant,” I said. “Rip Luther. Private eye.”
“I know,” she said again. “It’s on your window.”
“For a dame with questions, you know a lot.”
“Not enough. I need some dirt on a guy who’s been hanging around me lately.”
“Guy trouble, huh?” I said. “A girl who looks like you, I’m not surprised.”
“Cool it, big shot,” she said. “This fella’s been giving me a hard time. I don’t know where he comes from, but he says he knows the only right way to interpret the Bible.”
“We don’t get many theological questions in this business, lady,” I said. “But believe it or not you’re in the right place. Would this be a guy about five foot six, weasely little eyes, a scar on his right hand, and no sense of humor?”
She put a gloved hand to her mouth. “You know him?”
“I know the type. And in this case, I also know the guy. I’ve been watching him for years now.” I reached into my desk and pulled out a dusty manila file folder full of photographs and newspaper clippings. “You’ve definitely got yourself involved with the wrong crowd if you know him. He’s nothing but trouble.”
“That much I guessed.”
“He’s a double agent for the mob. Right now he goes by the name of Literally. Augustus Literally.”
“That’s what he told me. It isn’t his real name?”
“Well, back in the day they called him Gus ‘The Spork’ Tortellini.”
“You don’t want to know. Anyway, he made a name for himself—Literally, in this case—during the big mob war between the Fundies and the Modernistas.” I pointed to an article clipped from the religion page of some ancient news rag. “See there. The Modernistas were all saying that all those miracles and resurrections and things were true only in a spiritual sense. But Gus here said, ‘No, when we read an account of things, we can’t depend on some ‘spiritual meaning’ that the author clearly didn’t intend. We have to take them literally!”
“Hence the nickname.”
“The Fundies loved him and made him one of their own.”
“Then things started getting ugly. Certain facts coming to light that our friend Mr. Literally would have preferred to keep quiet.”
She couldn’t disguise her interest. “Like what?”
I pulled a sheaf of press clippings out of the folder. “Read these.”
Bo Jackson literally blew up all the defenders.
I’ve had children just literally tear my heart out.
Britney Spears is literally on a roller coaster to hell.
She drew her breath in slowly. “That’s some pretty gruesome stuff.”
“And there’s more. There’s no limit to what a person will do once he starts disregarding the laws of grammar. Mr. Literally was trying to play for both teams at once, figuratively speaking of course.”
“Well. After the scandal broke, people started looking into Literally’s theory a little more closely. It came out that there were plenty of things in the Bible that Literally just didn’t have the right way to explain. Like ‘I am the door.’ ‘If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.’ ‘Do not throw your pearls to swine.’”
“So, wait. You’re saying we shouldn’t take the Bible literally?”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that that guy Literally is a weasel. Sometimes he says he means ‘in reality,’ and sometimes he says he means ‘very,’ and sometimes he says he means ‘without figures of speech,’ and half the time he doesn’t mean either one. The man shouldn’t be trusted with anything that even looks like it might be a hypocatastasis.”
“Skip it. The point is, something can be true and accurate and factual without always having to be word-for-word literal, whatever this guy Augustus has been telling you. Just because you can’t take it literally when I say ‘You’re breaking my heart,’ it doesn’t mean I’m jumping for joy. These days, you can’t find hardly anybody who agrees with him. The Modernistas and the Skepticis and the Fundies all say that if you trust Literally, you’re—”
“What, even the Fundies?”
“Especially the Fundies. I can show you a document signed by all the leaders of the Fundie mob…”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a cigarette. “Do you have a light?”
“Speaking of film noir clichés.” I struck a match for her and for a while the smoke floated over our heads, diffusing the light into shadows.
“So, how do you read the Bible?” she said, after a time.
“What would be so bad about reading it like a book?”
“That’s it.” She threw her cigarette down on the threadbare carpet and ground it out with the toe of her shoe. “I’m going to kill him. When I get through with that rat he’s going to wish he never heard the word hermeneutics.”
“Easy there, sister,” I said. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“Don’t worry.” She walked toward the door resolutely. “I won’t.”
“Hey lady, I never got your name.”
“I never told you.”
“Do you have one?”
“Bed— No. The less you know, the less you’ll need to worry. Night, Luther.”
I watched as she pulled the door shut behind her, and shook my head. Then I checked my gun, pulled on my fedora, and followed her out into the night. There was no way this was going to end well.
Originally posted May 2009. I forgot all about it and managed to crack myself up.