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The Pearly Gates: A Modern Noir

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“It’s the hottest new date rape drug on the market.”

I tapped the screen on my phone, Johnny’s thick Brooklyn accent filling my den as it switched to speaker. I deposited the device on a throw pillow as I reached for the notepad and pencil on my coffee table.

He continued, “They call it Pearl.  It looks like a little ball, you drop it in, it disintegrates. Works kinda like a hard core muscle relaxer.  But you had enough in your bourbon to kill someone.  Super lethal in high doses like that.”

“Did you find any prints?”

“Only one set.  None that matched the system.”

Probably Miranda’s.

“Is it expensive?” I asked as I jotted down some notes, “What type of clientele are we looking at?”

He barked a laugh. “Not as expensive as the actual drink.”

Good point. I had googled the brand. Over $10,000 for the bottle. Must’ve been to die for.

“Look, like I said, it’s very hot right now. It’s newer, so we’re still learning how to trace it. Looks a lot like some other pain killers on the tox screens.  But lots of Jane Does been popping up with this in their system. So it’s your typical sleezeball on the street, no special demographic,” he ranted on before his voice grew softer, “You gotta be real careful at the bars.”

I chucked back politely, “Don’t worry, no drinks with strangers, and I always carry my mace with me.”

“Still, if you need someone to come with you or go out sometime, you got my number.”

Look, Johnny had been a huge help, once for an article on recreational use of rat poison (don’t ask) and now on Miranda’s case.  He never asked questions, even when I had clearly lied that a bottle full of apparently super illegal drugs had just been mysteriously and anonymously delivered to the Mirror as some type of story lead.  But alas, the crime lab technician had not stolen my heart.

I glanced at Miranda sitting next to me on my couch. Based on the look on her face, she did not seem overly impressed with his wooing tactics either.

“Thanks. I appreciate your help. Gotta run, hope you have a good night,” I awkwardly called out before stabbing the ‘end call’ button.

I stared down at my notes.  Pearl.  A drug with enough punch to kill.

“If you won’t say it, I will,” Miranda drawled next to me.

I looked up at the woman who had crossed her arms and legs, the sharp stare and polished suit an odd contrast against my lumpy sofa. The diva was insufferable now that she had successfully managed to sit on my furniture after two days of practice rather than simply moving through it. Walls and objects were still another story.

“I was right,” she crooned, “I did not attempt to take my own life.”

“I never doubted that part,” I replied, twisting the pencil in my hand, “But I can’t believe someone seriously tried to murder you.”

“You speculated, surely.”

“Having it confirmed is like something else completely,” I sighed as I leaned back into the couch, “I don’t know if the cops will reopen your case. They could just reason you used this drug instead to kill yourself. I can’t say a ghost told me it was from an outside gift.”

I tossed the notepad and pencil back to the table, not budging from my reclined position. I had an answer but no real proof. 

“Now what do we do?” I asked helplessly, staring at the yellowish white void of my old ceiling.

“We, indeed,” was the surprisingly gentle answer murmured beside me, “I suppose it’s up to you.”

I groaned, “I hate that I need to know. That’s what always gets me in trouble.”

“Well, you can do anything.”

I flopped my head over to inspect Miranda from the corner of my eye while I still lazily sprawled back on our shared couch.

Last time she had told me that, it had been sarcastically uttered in a proclamation of a duel, an episode I had titled ‘The Manuscript’ in my memory. A battle I had valiantly won, thank you very much.

She seemed completely genuine now, nothing on her face suggested malice or even teasing. The posture had relaxed, the arms no longer crossed, one hand cradling her head as it sat on the armrest. Locks of hair fell across her eyes. We were close enough on my small sofa, the stupid thought crossed my mind of how easily it would be to brush them off her face. 

I instinctually sat up, almost about to reach forward before I stopped myself.

No. Even if she wasn’t ethereal, I couldn’t. It was way beyond an impossibility of physics.  She wasn’t here for me to dig up my deeply buried feelings. She just needed me to do my job.

I instantly diverted into making a show of stretching, tilting my head and rolling my shoulders before hunching down and looking at my notes.

“Ok, let’s think. Who could it be? Husband number one?”

“It’s been years, we get along fine for the girls’ sakes.”

“Husband number two?”

“Divorce finalized. My death no longer brings him a large inheritance nor am I blocking any rendezvous with his mistress. Typically one murders their wife while they’re still married and cannot get rid of them,” she declared haughtily.

Stephen, what an asshole.  But she had a point, he lacked motive.

“I guess that just leaves the rest of the fashion world,” I muttered, tilting my head at the notebook,  “They did make you choke on a pearl, in a way. Death by fashion.”

“Save the dramatics for that little paper you write for,” Miranda huffed with a wave, still lounging in the corner of the couch.

I shook my head and explained, “If no one has a clear motive, then it was for revenge, and that means there’s gonna be dramatics. Meaning. Symbolism. This person did it for their own catharsis.  There was no guarantee when you’d drink the stuff, so it wasn’t on a timeline, just a really messed up desire. There’s gotta be a subtle note we’re missing,” I frowned before shooting her a look, “Who even knows you like whiskey? I’m the Miranda expert, and I didn’t know.” 

I was met with a very histrionic sigh.

“Firstly, it was bourbon, which is entirely different when prepared properly. Secondly, perhaps you’re not the expert you assumed.”

I narrowed my eyes. “You never drank anything that wasn’t clear in front of me. I loaded you up on gin and tonics like water for a fucking camel at all those functions.”

She sat up and straightened her back, looking down at her fingernails.

“If you must know, it is a special indulgence I take in the seclusion of my study after a trying day.”

“And who would know that?” I countered.

There was no answer.  We both knew she had no idea.

I glared at the TV in front of me; I had muted the volume when I saw Johnny was calling. Flashes of images from a trashy reality show on MTV flickered by. People laughing, tossing back drinks, dancing at some dark and blurry club.

The bourbon bothered me. Not because of the obvious, you know, attempted murder. But because it was an intimate secret of Miranda’s I had never known. Which was just silly, honestly. There was bound to be stuff I didn’t know, and yet…

I was a little jealous. Of a killer. Because they had known.

“What else do I not know about you?” I asked aloud before I could stop myself.

She eyed me carefully before chiding, “I am not that predictable.”

“Oh yeah?  Ask me something you think is a super secret about you.”

“When’s my birthday?”

Miranda Priestly, ladies and gentlemen.

I scoffed playfully, “Don’t insult me.  Who do you think set your doctor’s appointments and picked up your prescriptions?  You’re a celebrity, ask me something not on Wikipedia, please.”

She rolled her eyes and looked away at the wall.

“This is childish.”

“Then admit I’m right,” I practically sang, crossing my arms and leaning back into the couch.

Her head whipped back immediately.

“My favorite tea?”

“You hate tea, you just drink in front of certain foreign clients you need to impress.  You will tolerate a very mild black tea.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Favorite film?”

My Fair Lady .”

Her eyes widened ever so slightly.

For the record, I was extremely proud of that one. I overheard Miranda humming in the office late one night when she must’ve thought I had walked away. It took seeing an Audrey Hempburn inspired photoshoot weeks later for me to connect the dots. 

“Harry Potter house?”

I smirked. “Your Hogwarts house is Slytherin.  You don’t know what that means, but the girls told you about it, and you know how much they love the books, so you go along with it.”

Her shoulders deflated almost imperceptibly. She glanced away with a hollow laugh.

“Caroline said they’re the evil ones.”

“They’re...often evil.  But mostly just ambitious,” I replied with a small, reassuring smile.  She must miss the twins.

Her eyes moved back to meet mine, a slight wrinkle forming at the corners. Not wincing, not glaring, simply observing and contemplating. It felt oddly intimate being this close and having her inspect me, as she once did, always looking down at my body and assessing my wardrobe. I swallowed. 

Her chest rose as she inhaled, as if she were about to speak, but no words came. Instead, the corners of her lips turned upwards into a bewitching smile.

I immediately recognized it.

Everyone wants to be us.

She really was haunting me.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t sleep. Her steps made no noise, and I could never smell perfume or sense any body heat. But her presence the past two days was starting to consume me again nonetheless.  She was constant, in my home, by my side.  A team. Partners.

Us.

No.

Even in a world where ghosts were real, it was impossible. She just wanted an assistant to match her ambition. My love held no place then, and it didn’t now.

I shot her a quick grin before turning back to the TV, desperate for any distraction.  I simmered in my awkwardness in silence as voiceless mouths moved on the screen.

After a moment, she snarkily asked, “Do you actually enjoy this drivel?”

I shrugged, thankful for the subject change. “Sometimes it’s nice to know no matter how bad my life might be going, at least it isn’t that bad.  Like look at that botched fake spray tan?  My pale ass doesn’t seem so tragic.”

When I glanced over, I expected a frown or judging, raised eyebrow. Instead, she nodded once, refocusing on the TV.

Interesting.

I picked up the remote and unmuted the sound.  We watched for another hour or two before we went to bed. 

Miranda Priestly actually snorted in laughter. Twice.