Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

White Rabbit Noir

White Rabbit Noir featured image

A short story by Chris Page

1

The table in the police interrogation room was rough wood. The chair was brusque alloy, the floor was obstreperous linoleum and the tiles on the walls were downright offensive. They were grouted, if Lester was not wrong, with blood.

‘So, tell me about the rabbit,’ said Inspector Yard. The rabbit was dead. The cops figured Lester killed him.

‘I told you about the rabbit.’

‘So tell me about the rabbit again.’

‘What do you want me to tell you?’

‘I want you to tell the truth, Lester. I want you to tell me you killed the rabbit.’

‘I didn’t kill the rabbit.’

‘So why didn’t you kill the rabbit? You had plenty of reason to kill the rabbit.’

‘So I didn’t kill the rabbit,’ said Lester. ‘Lock me up for it.’

‘We did, in case you didn’t notice.’

Lester lived on the naff side of town, a neighbourhood so run down it was shunned by both dead rats and contagion. His flat was a damning box at the top of some winding, unreliable stairs. The rest of the building, if it existed at all, was made of damp, darkness, despair, and a very sad floral print wallpaper. When Lester got home last night, the rabbit was already in his flat, hogging the whole sofa.

There was white hair all over the place — he was moulting. As ever, the big white one was dressed rabbit standard: waistcoat and fob. He was chomping on a carrot.

Lester didn’t know how the rabbit got in. Burrow? Mirror? The rabbit had his ways. You didn’t ask.

‘Say, what’s up?’ the rabbit said. Lester hated it when he did that.

‘Hello, rabbit,’ said Lester in his best defeated voice.

‘What did the rabbit say?’ asked Yard.

‘He said he was late.’

‘He said he was late? For a very important date?’

‘Hey, I’m not being facetious here.’

‘Hey, I am being facetious here,’ barked Yard, right in Lester’s face and jabbing the dismayed table with a large sausage finger.

‘I’m late,’ said the rabbit. ‘And you’re holding me up.’

‘I’m sorry about that,’ said Lester.

‘I’m late for a very important date.’

Yard barked again: ‘So he did say that!’ 

‘Yeah, but I think he was being facetious.’

‘What date is that?’ Lester asked the rabbit.

‘March 6, 2010.’

‘You are very late indeed. I don’t think you’re going to make it. You’re going to have to hare about.’

‘That would be mad. Anyways, I’m adding it to your bill.’

‘Oh.’

‘You owe us big time.’

‘How do you figure that?’

The rabbit fixed his coal-red eyes — part glowing incredulity, part fuming exasperation — on Lester, as if the man had asked the most stupid question in the history of stupid questions. 

‘I don’t have any big time to give you.’

‘Get some. You have 48 hours. And then we’re coming to find you. Ready or not.’

And that was that. Except that later that night the rabbit was found dead. Rabbit soup: boiled alive in his own Jacuzzi.

‘How can that happen?’ Lester asked Yard.

‘That’s what you are going to tell us,’ said the policeman.

‘Well, I don’t know anything.’

‘Do you have an alibi?’

‘You know I do.’

 ‘We didn’t see it in your place when we picked you up.’

‘No. Well, I guess it slipped out when the rabbit left. I figured it would come back when it got hungry, but now I’m here. It must be starving, probably thinks it’s been abandoned.’

‘Diddums.’

Yard thoughtfully sucked his thumb while the brutal reality of his callousness sank in to Lester.

‘Oi, that’s my thumb.’ 

‘Crap. I thought it tasted funny.’ Yard relinquished Lester’s thumb. ‘Look. I’m going to have to let you go. For the time being. But don’t get any funny ideas.’

‘I don’t have funny ideas. I only have boring ones.’

‘I’m not doing this out of some sweet act of charity. I’m not going all gooey on you. It’s just, er, procedure. The chef, he says —‘

‘Chief.’

‘The chief, he says we have to procedurally let you out for a while. And don’t get thinking this is some kind of ploy where we let you go and then secretly follow you to get evidence. And we ain’t letting you go on the off chance that you’re not the killer and having you on the loose will lure out the real villain.’

‘So why are you really letting me out?’

‘Personally, I’m hoping a piano will fall on your head, saving me the trouble of cleaning up all this rabbit poo.’

Lester was let go from the police station. No one said goodbye or wished him well.

It was a hot, bright morning. Breathing was like receiving mouth to mouth from a gin drunk. Troubles were piling up in Lester’s life like smelly black bags in a bin strike but the oblivious city got on noisily around him with its own thing.

The rabbit was out of the picture but his associates most assuredly were not. Hell, they might even think Lester had topped the bunny to get out of his obligation. Never mind that only a stupendously stupid person would get out of dire straights by murdering his way into extremely dire straights. Like Yard, the rabbit’s associates were only as bright as the rocks they lived under and that is exactly the way they thought. If they weren’t out to get Lester for what he didn’t do to the rabbit, they would be into him for what he didn’t owe, and thanks to Inspector Yard’s interest in him, he was now 12 hours closer to the deadline without being one iota nearer having what they wanted. 

On top of that, the inspector’s rationale for letting him out was hokey baloney. The police had to be watching him. 

On an impulse, Lester stopped and turned around. Sure enough, only twenty metres down the street a dog with an earnestly innocent expression on its face stopped and raised its leg on a supine lush. The dog was clearly flat-footed. Giveaway.

No ploy, schmoy. Yard was full of stuff.

It wasn’t like Lester didn’t have other things to think about. There was his mother. There was the end of the world as we know it. There was the epidemic.

To top it all, there was the kitchen sink. The drainpipe was blocked, as in totally. He had a bucket under the U-bend to catch the drips and a month of newspapers to soak up any accidents, but it was, like, how long ago that he had put them there? The thing was ready to go critical. Day and night it hummed and thrummed. Sometimes it drummed. It was as taught as well cooked spaghetti dangling an anvil twenty storeys directly above Lester’s head. sYou could feel the vibrations down the block. One day soon, the thing was going to go off and wash away the grime holding the building together. His landlord, Mr. Belsen would have him unceremoniously kicked into the next world and probably sue his grandmother for damages. That was sue his own grandmother for damages and then Lester’s too for good measure.

Angry, Lester wheeled around a corner off the main drag and headfirst into the path of a falling piano.

2

‘Tell me about the piano.’

The hospital was made of the bits that had lost the punch up to be included in the police station. The bed was designed for an Indian mystic to use in displays of superhuman fortitude. The walls slouched in resignation and the cracked tiles were grouted, unlike the police station, with fresh blood.

‘He may still be unconscious,’ said a new voice that wasn’t Inspector Yard.

‘It doesn’t make any difference with this one,’ said Yard. ‘Tell me about the piano, Lester. We know you did it. Material evidence: one shattered Schwinn —’

‘Steinway.’

‘Steinbeck. Same thing. Witnesses: several traumatised cockroaches and alley rats, not to mention a urinating flat-footed dog now in need of dry cleaning. Forensics: piano-shaped indentations all over your head. Beat that rap, Liberace.’

‘Liberace was a pianist, not a rapper,’ said the other voice. It sounded like it belonged to someone who was genetically at least 50 per cent wheedle.

Lester kept his eyes tight closed. He didn’t know what was worse, the pain of his injuries, the anxiety of his potentially terminal life predicament or the conversation he was forced to endure.

‘I think you’re faking it, Lester,’ said Yard.

‘He faked the piano falling on his head? That makes sense,’ said the other voice.

‘I dunno. The injuries seem real enough to me,’ said another voice.

And wasn’t this Lester’s life all over?

‘And ain’t this your life all over, Lester,’ said Yard, as if reading Lester’s mind again.

‘Loser,’ he added a nanosecond before the word appeared in Lester’s mind.

A piano in free fall

‘Right. I gotta go, said Yard. I’m bored. I don’t have a head for music unlike our friend here. I’ll just leave the paperwork for him to read at his leisure. Arrest warrants: wilful destruction of one flying piano, vandalism, bleeding on the pavement, grand theft piano, obstructing police enquiries by being unconscious, being a loser. Subpoena: to appear before the City Philharmonic to hear Chopin, or whatever. Affidavits from everyone on the planet in support of the above.’

‘I’ll leave the bill for the piano with him, too.’

‘I’ll leave the bill for his medical care.’

‘Aren’t you the taxi driver?’

‘Sure I’m the taxi driver. I only moonlight here at the hospital as a doctor to make up the tips. Though I find patients are pretty bad tippers. Especially when they die.’

‘Ungrateful bastards. Crims are bad tippers too unless you hang them out of a window and shake them.’

The sink! thought Lester and sort of jumped in the bed as if he had been electrocuted. He had to get back and sort that sink out or … or something, that’s what.

Another voice, a voice like silk and milk and honey and manna right from the promised land, a voice that was love itself.

‘You know you promised me the world? You know you promised me diamonds? How about just a diamond world? Just you, me and a diamond world forever, Doopy-Doos. How about that?’

It was Patsy.

At last, Lester opened his eyes. ‘Hey there, Patsy. You look beautiful. You look just like a radio star.’

‘I’ve had radiotherapy.’

‘I didn’t hear you come in.’

‘I didn’t come in. I was hiding behind the de-ventilator machine waiting for those gorillas to go.’

‘What gorillas?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t see them now.’

‘Have you stopped taking the medication? You know you shouldn’t stop taking the medication.’

‘Yes, please.’

Patsy. Patsy DeKline. Lester’s girl. She may not have been the brightest bulb, nor the sharpest stick, her mind may not have had the straightest aim she may not even have been real, but she was Lester’s girl and she could shoot a mean bow and arrow.

‘I was thinking about the sink. I’ve gotta get outta here.’

‘Well, stop thinking about the silly sink. It will explode all on its own without you thinking about it. And you have to learn to spell. As for getting out of here, the door’s over there.’

‘I hadn’t noticed that.’

While Lester struggled into his clothes he filled Patsy in on the contagion, his mother, the impending end of the world as they knew it and the alien invasion. And he brought her up to date on the sink. At the same time, Patsy enumerated all the things she thought Lester was going to give her. It was a long and complicated list because it included most of the known universe and a lot of assumptions about what might be stashed in the unobserved parts of infinity. 

Lester’s street was long and straight and the ruins on it were short and crooked. There was little light, only a ghostly green evanescence from the puddles and the piles of rubbish.

Nothing stirred. Why would it? There was no coffee or tea to be had anywhere, with or without sugar. Patsy and Lester walked in the centre of the street because that was where the mildew was least aggressive. Patsy kept her face to the full, opalescent moon, which she coveted. She often asked Lester how he was going to fetch it down for her.

Patsy abruptly stopped her list-making. A thought seemed to be occuring to her. The effect was eerie. 

‘But what do you want Lester?’ asked Patsy.

‘I want to get one step ahead — just one step further on, would do.’

‘Now you’re just being silly,’ said Patsy. ‘There’s no such thing in the universe.’

It was Lester who heard the lorry first — though he more felt it than heard it, coming up through the cobbles of the street. It was moving very fast and he knew right away that this behemoth was not just taking lettuces to market or undocumented migrants to the cockle beds.

Lester took Patsy by the arm and quickened their pace, which meant Patsy had to speed up her list making. Lester cast around for a place to hide. And then the lights of the lorry were upon them and the ground trembled and the couple ran as fast as Patsy’s list mania would let them.

The lorry was on them. This was it. Lester pulled Patsy right in a feint and then shoved her hard left, hurling himself after her. Their fall was cushioned by the dense shadows beside the road and the lorry hurtled by, kicking up clouds of dust and thwarted hope.

‘Are you OK?’ Lester asked Patsy.

‘Andromeda. Unrequited kisses preserved inside spheres of ancient glass. A nice frothy cappuccino. A truss made from the purest lapis lazuli …’ Patsy replied. She was OK.

Lester took Patsy gently by the waist and steered her back down the street after the vanished lorry but his foot struck something soft and vulnerable. He knew what it was before he picked it up: small, furry, snout and whiskers all grimaced up; back broken, dead but still warm — it was his alibi. Probably killed by the lorry. Perhaps the alibi was coming to greet Lester, hoping for some food, having been locked out for more than 24 hours. Perhaps Lester had inadvertently killed the trusting creature.

It was possible that the alibi had been the lorry’s real target and Lester and Patsy had merely got in its way. 

And the lorry: what was that about? The deadline was still 24 hours away. And how come the lorry was driven by a big, carrot-chomping white rabbit? Lester had distinctly seen it leaning from the cab window, ears flapping in the slipstream as the truck battered past.

He and that alibi went back years. Kept each other out of trouble. Kept each other company. Now he was all alone in the world. ‘Didn’t you once promise me the Crab Nebula? And a lock cut from God’s whiskers.’ Unless you counted Patsy.

Walking to his flat, Lester took stock. He was into the rabbit for what and how much he didn’t know, except the rabbit was stewed and the world thought he did it. Yard was itching to bang him up, and the rabbit’s hench-beasts would be after him either for what he owed or what they thought he did to the big white one, or, more likely, both. The deadline was 24 hours away tops and he’d wasted as much time in the cop shop and the hospital. Now there was the mysterious appearance of another rabbit, armed with a big lorry and out to kill, and the death of his poor, innocent alibi, the only thing between him and the hangman’s gallows. Disease and economic collapse were threatening the survival of the human race and the whole environment had got up and walked out on the planet. The aliens were coming, as was Lester’s mother, and a freak alignment of the planets was threatening to pull the world into little pieces, rendering Earth as an asteroid belt for the moon. On top of all this was Lester’s sink. Better deal with the sink.

3

‘But you’re dead,’ said Lester bleakly.

‘Thanks to you, you murderin’ object of foul invective.’

The rabbit was on Lester’s sofa, just 24 hours after Lester hadn’t hoovered up the last coating of moult. The rabbit was white. That much doesn’t change in death, but now his red eyes were white, his pink ears were white, his waistcoat was white, even the carrot was white.

‘I didn’t do it, Rabbit, I didn’t kill you, I was right here trying to fix the sink when it happened.’

‘Your alibi,’ said the rabbit, ‘doesn’t stand up to examination. Your alibi doesn’t stand up to anything anymore. Your alibi flops lifelessly to all examination or anything else.’

Lester wanted to cry.

‘It is anyway extremely irrelevant whether you cooked me or not. I have decided you did it, and that’s enough. And if I decide someone else was responsible I will kill them as well and maybe someone else after that, depending on how I decide things. I might get the real culprit one day. Really, you don’t want to be innocent anywhere around me.

‘I gave you 48 hours to come up with what you owe me and now I have come to collect.’

‘But it’s been only 24 hours.’

‘So time flies, get used to it. Tempus fugit, Doc.’

‘Memento mori,’ said Patsy as she whipped out her Magnum .38 recoil-full cannon and fired but the rabbit had already hopped out of the way. He hopped again, knocking the gun out of Patsy’s hand with one flying hind leg and batting her to the ground with the other.

Before Lester had even decided he had no idea how to react to this, the bunny was on him. He rabbit punched him to the floor and then drummed on him with his back feet, Thumper style, and then he was at Lester with his nibbly nibbling teeth and when he’d done that he spat Lester’s nose into a corner of the room.

The rabbit wiped blood from his mouth. ‘You have 24 hours to come up with what’s mine, loser man. Yes, I’m giving you an extension, and not to make up for me shortening your profile. I’m doing this because I enjoy your suffering. No other reason. Twenty-four hours.’ And the rabbit departed, walking ethereally through the wall.

‘What does he want,’ asked Patsy, having had some sense momentarily knocked into her.

‘I’m into him big time,’ said Lester through the blood and pain.

‘Big time? Is that what he meant by tempus fugit? And how come you’re into him so big?’

‘Because.’

‘Crikey. That is serious.’ Patsy stared thoughtfully at Lester for a moment. You’ve got no nose, you know,’ she told him.

‘I nose that.’

‘How do you smell?’

‘Terrible.’

‘I have a plan,’ said Patsy with a resolution that alarmed Lester. ‘Come with me.’ She heaved her mutilated man to his feet and out the door. 

‘OK,’ Patsy said. ‘What next?’

‘What next? You mean that was your whole plan, going out the door?’

‘Did you have a better plan?’ 

‘No.’

‘Well, then. Now. If you want to get ahead, get a hat, isn’t that what they say?’

‘Is that what they say?’

‘Yes, that’s what they say.’

‘Who’s they?’

‘People who have hats, silly.’

‘Do you know anyone like that?’

‘No.’

‘Well, I do.’

‘Lester, when we’re all done here, can I have a hat?’

‘If you get a head, sure.’

‘I love you, boopy-bops.’

‘I love you too, Patsy.’

‘I wasn’t talking to you, Lester. I was talking to boopy-bops.’

Boopy-bops was inspector Yard, who was standing behind Lester.

4

‘So, tell me about the rabbit,’ said Inspector Yard. The rabbit was still dead. The cops still figured Lester killed him and they were back in the interrogation room.

‘I told you about the rabbit.’

‘So tell me about the rabbit again.’

‘What do you want me to tell you?’

‘I want you to tell the truth, Lester. I want you to tell me you killed the rabbit.’

‘I didn’t kill the rabbit.’

‘So why didn’t you kill the rabbit? You had plenty of reason to kill the rabbit.’

‘So I didn’t kill the rabbit,’ said Lester. ‘Lock me up for it.’

‘We did, in case you didn’t notice.’

‘Hey, look, the rabbit’s resurrected, OK, so let me go and leave me alone.’

‘Resur, er, rected-schmected. So who did the Lazarus thing on the rabbit? Boiled rabbits don’t just resurrect.’

‘So who bit my nose off?’

‘I dunno. Cut yourself shaving?’

‘C’mon, Patsy, you were there. You tell him.’

Patsy was draped on Yard’s arm. The inspector absent-mindedly handed her the Star of Africa. He then gave her the title deeds to the white dwarf BPM37093, 50 light years from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus, the biggest known diamond in the universe. He draped on her shoulders a coat woven of unicorn hair and proffered a partridge in a pear tree that was potted in the Holy Grail. Patsy sighed.

‘I didn’t see nothing,’ she said dreamily. ‘Ain’t the rabbit dead, anyways? We had him in a stew with carrots.’

‘May I remind you,’ Lester told Yard with bitterness, ‘that testimony of the figment of a person’s imagination is not admitted in a court of law.’

‘Depends on the particular jurisdiction,’ said Yard in his best legal voice, ‘and the relative reality thereof.’

‘I want to see my lawyer.’

Yard pulled from an inside pocket a crumpled photo of an untended grave on a barren plain.

‘Yup, that’s him.’

‘Anything else you want to see? I can’t show you the future because you don’t have one.’

The police cell began to tremble. The city block on which the police station stood shook. The whole city rocked. A low, scary rumble took the air and the ground both.

‘The sink has gone off,’ said Lester dejectedly.

‘I’ll add it to the charge sheet,’ said Yard. ‘Negligent destruction of a continental landmass. How do you plead?’

‘On my knees.’

‘Do you have an alibi?’ Yard asked.

‘You know I … don’t.’

‘You’re toast. Burned toast that’s gone soggy in the rain. Adios, toast man.’

Yard and Patsy and Lester could feel and hear the shockwave and tsunami of refuse from his exploded sink tearing the city apart as it hurtled towards them.

‘Anyone want a lift outta here?’ Yard asked. ‘Well when I say I anyone, I don’t mean just anyone, I mean anyone who’s anyone. C’mon, Patsy.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *