Discover more from Adversarial Metanoia
Sam was vaguely tall, somewhat morose-looking, and, under a certain light, he worked as a detective. And his name, after all, was Sam. His wife had nicknamed him Mr. Spade before her love of old movies had contributed to his love for her, before their marriage had given another twist to the joke, and before he had began to keep a bottle of whiskey on his nightstand for the nights when the nightmares woke him up.
The nightmares had begun after her murder. Disappearance according to her bosses at Interpol; they still pretended to not know she was dead and who had killed her and why. You should never play poker against an international institution, although apparently you could play hardball and get away with it.
Sam kept pen and paper next to the whiskey. The whiskey kept his hand steady enough to write. Writing was how he worked on things he could not use his computer for. Working was how he postponed the matter of killing himself.
His wife hadn’t liked alcohol. When the nightmares woke her up she had made herself coffee and worked on her laptop, not to keep herself alive but because that was what she was alive for.
Sam thought that if she had used pen and paper she would have been alive. Sam knew this wasn’t true: she had been not just the best-known forensic accountant in the world but also the best. People in and outside Interpol had called her Sam Spade long before she had met and married a vaguely tall colleague named Sam who now never thought of her name because he never stopped thinking about her.
She was deeply missed by her colleagues. She had been the best, and her disappearance had stalled long-standing investigations on very powerful and wealthy people with a colorful story of kidnapping and murdering the inconveniently good. Sam’s nightmares were, in that sense, understandable; as understandable as Interpol’s prolix refusal to do the obvious. They continued their plodding investigation on the disappearance of the woman who had been anything but slow on her own research. Fast enough to be dangerous, dangerous enough to be dead.
They had given him their condolences and time off, and had been less surprised by his haggard looks when he returned to work than by the speed and cleverness of it: Sam had been Spade’s husband, good but not her. Now he was, even if he had not taken her wife’s last open case. Everybody understood why, those who had killed her and those who were deliberately not pursuing them. All of them had access to his work files and his personal computer.
None of them had read the paper notepad where he worked while he drank the hours between nightmare and dawn. His wife had never told him about her nightmares; he had deduced her special genius was in her subconscious processing of financial information and the price in the nightmares from which she woke, fresh insights to pour into her computer braced by the first coffee of many.
He had either deduced wrong or their nightmares were different. His were of bloody crimes: ghosts whispered to him account numbers and bank codes, but the price paid by ghost and man was relieving their deaths of intimate violence of institutional neglect — it was all the same. Greed and blood. Blood wanted back.
Sam hadn’t really understood his wife until after her death and before she started whispering to him the financial information that would bring down those who had killed her with a cruelty he now knew with the hallucinatory detail of long-redundant nightmares. Other ghosts told him their own deaths and their own numbers, and although he only cared about hers there was still the memory of the smell of coffee coming from her bedside table, so he took note of what they said and everybody thought he was quick and clever and morose-looking. When somebody called him Mr. Spade he thought about punching them but the guy had a mug on his hand so he didn’t.