Great Bear Month in Retrograde

Every year, I try to post a comic, art or prose piece, publication, or essay once a day during the month of June in honor of the first month of Great Bear Comics and Stuff. However, this year, June kicked my life in the face – with a combination of multiple freelance gigs, Denver Comic Con, and Zine Fest on top of my ordinary part-time jobs. So, this year, I’ll be turning July into Great Bear Month, which seems more appropriate given that my birthday is this month, as well. If all goes well, future Great Bear months will be in July, too – but, for now, let’s see how things go in this year of 2016!

Today, I’ll be posting a couple of older pieces to cover July 1st through 3rd. Then, we’ll pick back up with two more posts on July 5th to make up for the holiday. First up, here’s the official cover and preview first chapter for The Color of Truth: A Reverse Gender Noir.

Color of Truth ROUGH

I originally posted a much rougher form of this story about a year ago – wherein the various characters had much simpler backstories and motivations. Plus, the mystery was underdeveloped – as I left the outcome unknown. And it’s first incarnation was an entirely different novella that I finished back in 2008 or so – in which all gender pronouns were reversed but nothing else was different.

This current version picks up with Detective Griffin Hunger as she starts on the case of the missing Mister Green – one of many mob bosses that we encounter in the story that each identify by a particular hue of the rainbow. There’s ever-creepy Mr. White overly aggressive Red, darkly practical Black, bubbly but insane Blue, reliable Goldie, and a few others. Given that this is a fictional world where women dominate over men, I decided to build the world that I wish we had – so, there’s a great deal of gender fluidity and acceptance of alternative sexualities. There’s still discrimination based on gender, but it looks very different from what we’re used to.

Let me know what you think in the comments – and keep an eye out for the full version, which I’ll be publishing later this month or in early August.

 

The Color of Truth (PREVIEW)

Chapter 1

The woman on the street was wearing a double-breasted suit of a deep, vivid blue with brown stripes that padded her shoulders. Her brown felt hat matched her suit nicely and kept the sun out of her pale blue eyes. Even in her fine clothing, she did not stick out among the rabble of strangers meandering down the street. Her black, curling hair was up under her hat, hidden. Griff did not want to be seen, as usual.

Above her, on the fourth floor of the nearby Serapeum Building, Detective Griffin Hunger’s first client of the day was waiting, watching her from the tiny waiting area in the office. He was not so thick that he didn’t see Hunger’s handsome features, even if she had cloaked herself with wool. In the gray of this particular Monday, the detective stood out to him, perhaps only because she might bring about his salvation. The man who had signed in as Mr. White hoped that Griffin could untangle the winding riddle of his life with ease – revealing truth, beautiful and ringing. He watched her walk across the street and up to the building, leaving his line of sight as she approached the entrance. The man squeezed his ivory-capped cane in his left hand and straightened his white bowler with his right, readying himself to meet the detective.

Griffin meanwhile was taking her time walking up the three flights of stairs, considering the day to come. She wondered how long she could hold off on paying that month’s rent, as it had been weeks since her last case. At the same time, she hoped no new clients would come in today because her sleep the night before had been restless. Griffin had been having the same dream for months – a woman with black hair followed her through the ruins of the world until, running now, she pulled the detective down, covering her eyes, ears, and mouth – suffocating her. Griff would awaken roughly – sucking in air as if she’d been drowning. It was unsettling, especially for someone whose ability to understand – to see through the chaos of life – was so central to her sense of self.

At the top of the stairs, Griffin paused and opened the heavy wooden door to the hall of offices that included her own. There, seventh on the right, was her office – with the name “Griffin Sorge Hunger, P.I.” painted in black on the glass in the door. As she entered the office, her assistant Kamili gave Griff a glare and then a nod of the head to indicate that there was a client in the waiting area.

“Mr. Hunger, a Mr. White to see you at your convenience,” Kamili said dryly. They were wearing their standard, smartly-tailored blouse and suit jacket with pants. Once Griffin had nodded in return, her assistant turned back to the typewriter before them, along with a set of case files on the desktop. It was likely from their previous assignment – interviewing and investigating a divorcee on the lam who’d killed himself with rat poison.

“Mr. White, I presume?” Griffin said, turning to see a man dressed like a billionaire’s step-child or a stage magician. His white three-piece suit was cut salaciously slim, and his metallic gold shirt was unbuttoned to the opening of an ivory vest, tufts of black, curly hair spilling out. She looked him up and down, noting sparkling gold boots, an ivory cane, and a white bowler cocked just the wrong side of reasonable. Even the way this Mr. White held himself seemed inherently lascivious to the detective. Griff noted all these details quietly, preventing herself from showing any judgement that might make the man feel uncomfortable.

After a few beats, Mr. White replied, “That’s right.” For his part, the man in white looked Griffin up and down as well, noting again the handsome form beneath the stiff yet stylish suit. He thought for a moment on the sorry state of the female gender, who felt fashion a bad word and seemed unable to dress themselves stylishly.

“What can I do for you?” Griff asked, folding her arms over her chest. Her stomach rumbled, and the detective wished that she had eaten more than a stale bagel and coffee that morning.

“I’m looking for…a friend,” he replied, seeming to have trouble breathing between words. “I seem to have…misplaced him. And, I’d very much…like…to get him back,” Mr. White finished. He had started to lean onto the cane. Between the cough, the difficulty talking, and the cane, the man was clearly in poor health.

“Well, give me a moment to grab a cup of coffee, and we’ll go through the details. Dare I ask if you’ve contacted the authorities?” Griff asked, realizing as she did so that, even with his odd clothing, the man could be a law-abiding citizen all the same.

“Ah,” White replied, coughing into one gloved hand before he continued. “I’m afraid I’m a bit…beyond the law…at this point. Will that…be a problem?”

“Not at all,” Griff replied, smirking as she took her hat from her head and backed toward the door into her office proper. “Not getting my second cup of coffee, though, that could be the end of the world.”

“I…understand,” Mr. White replied, looking down as she turned to enter the office. Suddenly, the phone rang, and Kamili picked it up, holding up their hand for Griff to wait a moment.

“Griffin Hunger, private dick – please hold for one moment,” they said into the handset, pulling out a manila folder and holding it out for Griff. She reached out and took it from them, pausing momentarily to check the name at the top: “Case File #126: Mr. E. White.” Griff nodded to Kamili, who nodded back and then continued, “Thank you for your patience. How can I help you today?

Griff read the file briskly as she opened the door, walked in, and then shut it soundly behind her. Placing her hat on the coat tree, she glanced at the desk to see her old, brown mug sitting on the desk – the steam from the black coffee rising in the morning light that streamed in the through the windows. The detective walked around her desk – taking the long route as she read the file’s brief contents, which were written in Kamili’s tidy cursive:

Mr. E. White: 5” 8’ / all white suit, pants, vest, & gold shir, boots / nice ass, white fedora-black (ribbon) / missing persons: re: Mr. Green: 5”6’ / green jeans, tank top, cowboy boots, green & brown striped vest – employer: Mr. Rainbow

Griff paused for a moment when she’d finished reading, looking out the window to see the buildings opposite her own. In the ordinary world, women got up at 6 AM to alarm bells, took the trolley to work, and spent their days behind desks barking orders at their errand boys. She wasn’t interested in that life, but she sometimes wished for some other option.

Griff saw the people across the way but didn’t, remembering everything she knew about Rainbow and his colors. Mr. Rainbow was the local mob moss for the Midwestern city of Auster, which was somehow both “The Cleanest City in the Union” and “The Corruption Capital.” The Hue Empire, as they were known, spread over the entire metropolitan area, including the central metropolis and outlying regions, mainly manufacturing districts and farming villages. Once, when working with her long-time pal and local cop Cris Mezuk, she’d had to do a full profile on him and trail the man for days. So, she knew all too well that anything to do with Rainbow was trouble.

He worked through various color-coded sub-bosses, each maintaining a particular area of the metro area and reporting back to him. Rainbow himself reported to a larger crime network run by the legendary Dutch gangster, Mondrian. Although Griff suspected the old man had long gone senile, leaving Rainbow with the reins, his reputation was maintained with regular mob killings and the like. That was how Griff and Mezuk had gotten mixed up in his muck – when a baker looking for protection from Rainbow’s thugs wound up dead. In the end, Mezuk had been kicked off the corrupt police force and left for a small New England town called Ryaleigh. Griffin, though, had personal ties to Rainbow’s crime syndicate – the kind you couldn’t simply cut.

But that was as important as the price of chai in India.

The detective pulled her gaze back to the mostly empty file before her and picked up her mug of black, sugary coffee. Sipping that dark but heavenly drink, Griff pulled her coat off and let it hang on the back of her chair. Then, she shouted brusquely, despite the closed door, “Come on in!”

After a few moments and the sound of footsteps in the lobby, the door opened, and Mr. White walked in, gingerly shutting it behind him. He walked over to the chair across from Griff’s, though she quietly noted that the once-difficult limp had disappeared. White did lean onto his cane and then sit, as if with difficulty, before turning to face the detective. His bowler sat atop his head again, tilted just so to cover his eyes – another detail that Griff noted suspiciously.

“So you’re looking for your friend, Mister White?” Griffasked, firmly establishing eye contact. Something was bothering her about the man in the white suit; something in her gut told her that White was not who he pretended to be. Given that he was a member of Rainbow’s intricate criminal network, though, lying likely came as easily as breathing to the man seated before her.

“Quite right,” Mister White said, his breathing still labored.  “My apprentice, Green, disappeared…2 weeks ago after getting…into some kind of trouble, and,” White said, stopping for a moment to take a deep breath and then cross his legs alluringly. “I mean to find out,” he began, batting his eyes as he paused yet again, “what kind of mud…he wound up tracking into…my home. And if he survived…the experience.” As the man across from Griff finished, he sat up straighter and leaned toward her, adding, “If as fine a lady as yourself…knows what I mean.”

Griff looked down and recorded a few notes, including the disappearing limp and the exaggerated gestures, among others. She paused, placing her pen in her teeth for a moment in an attempt to make the man before her nervous. Instead, he merely uncrossed one leg and then crossed the other, shifting slightly in his chair. However, when Griff looked back up, she caught him frowning. In that moment, he seemed almost desperate. But he seemed to quickly catch himself, and the sultry, suggestive smile returned as he tipped his hat’s rim lower.

“I’ll do what I can, sweetheart,” Griffbegan, pursing her lips and looking straight at Mr. White. “But I’m afraid people like you and your friend disappear every day, what with the sorts of things that you and the other hues tend to get up to,” she said, hoping to discern why exactly a crime sub-boss would come to her for help. In her mind, there were only two options: either White was there because he was being blackmailed or to distract her from something else. Either way, it would be trouble. “I don’t mean to offend you,” she continued, “but this is hum-drum, everyday stuff for you and yours. You get my drift?”

“Yes, detective…I understand,” White replied, nodding. “I was told you were the best…and I appreciate your setting aside…the bullshit. This is every day….for me. I have lost a friend…But, I think…you might understand…money more than sympathy,” he said, pulling a roll of bills from his jacket and placing them on the desk. He added, “I hope these Sojourner Truths…speak better than my words.”

Griff picked up the wad of bills and ran her thumb along the side, estimating around 400 dollars in cash – a good sign for a poor detective, crime boss or no. She raised her left eyebrow and set the money back on the desk, on top of her notes. Then, she clasped her hands and looked more seriously at the man before her. There was no arguing with money when you needed to pay rent; that was a truth that anyone in the world could understand.

“Indeed, Truth has always been a role model of mine,” the detective replied, still staring at the man in white.

“Ah, good then. Please…find him if you can…and I will compensate you…accordingly. Am I right to think…your daily rate is 200 plus expenses? With…an additional 500 upon the closing…of the case?” White asked, no longer making eye contact. Instead, he looked down at the desk, his eyes hidden by his bowler’s brim.

“That’s right, but I can’t make any promises,” Griffsaid. She wanted to ask more questions but figured there was little chance of finding a lost gang member, much less one of Rainbow’s more minor colors. The detective had never even heard of Green, though she had, at least, heard rumblings of Mr. White, albeit with little detail. Besides, she could see that White was ready to leave; sweat glistened on his face, and he was tapping his good leg now, clearly waiting for the meeting to end. On the other hand, though, she could press him for more information and possibly get him to self-incriminate. That way, she could keep the money and get in good with the police.

“Good – that should…just about cover the first two days…But, I should say…if you made promises…I wouldn’t believe them,” White said, leaning on his cane and standing up to leave. Griff quickly profiled the man before her, but there were too many inconsistencies – too much unknown. She wanted to keep him there a bit longer – but she needed the money more. As the man in white opened the door, she remained seated and grimaced at him. As he opened the door, White turned back and said, “Oh, and, nice ass if I do say so myself.”

As the door closed behind him, Griff smiled quizzically. Her new client was certainly salty, she’d give him that. At the very least, his case was a curious one that would keep her busy and the rent paid.

But to leave without providing more information about the man she was supposed to find – that was either ballsy or idiotic. Given White’s place within the Mondrian mob family, the detective had to assume ballsy – and that her client was using her to distract and unnerve her fellow hues. Furthermore, he had to know that Griff had a connection in Mr. Rainbow’s syndicate – that she had once been in love with the violent man known as Violet.

That meant, in short, that she’d have to be careful.

“Griffin,” Kamili said, waking the detective from her reverie. Griffin looked up and smiled at her assistant, glad to be distracted, if only momentarily. “From what I gathered in listening to you talk,” they started, “I made you an appointment to meet with Violet at the Pot of Gold. But he said it has to be now – or, rather, 30 minutes from now.”

“Good,” Griff replied, standing up immediately and grabbing her coat. “As much as I’d rather not, talking to him is probably the best way to get started.” Griffknew what to do from here on out; Kamili had made the first leap, and now it was her turn to get the jump on the case.

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