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Читать онлайн «The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny»
Автор Саймон Грин
Simon R. Green
Simon R. Green
The Good,the Bad and the Uncanny
The good, the bad, and the uncanny. We're all in there somewhere. This is the Nightside.
Hidden away deep in the hollow heart of London is another city, another world, another reality. Where it's always night, always dark, always three o'clock in the morning; the hour that tries men's souls. Rain-slick streets, gaudy neon signs the exact colours of childhood candy we always knew was bad for us. Bars and clubs and private establishments, where you can find everything you're not supposed to want. Love for sale on every street-corner, love, or something like it. And the constant roar of traffic that never, ever stops.
Angels and demons lurk in shadowed alleyways, arranging deals and making decisions never to be shared with Humankind. Nightmares go walking in borrowed flesh, and not everything that looks back at you with human eyes is really human. Who watches the watchmen? Who preys on the predators? Who gives a damn, in the night that never ends?
I'm John Taylor, private investigator. Tall, dark of eye, and handsome enough at a distance. I take the cases no-one else will touch, because I have a special gift for finding things. Most of my clients say they want me to find the truth; but they don't always mean it. I wear a long white trench coat, like a knight in cold armour; and I have fought monsters, in my time.
You can find monsters in the Nightside, and gods, too, if they don't find you first. Forbidden knowledge, appalling pleasures, sex and death and everything in between; all yours for the asking. As long as you remember: buyer beware. If you can't spot the patsy in the deal, it's almost certainly you.
This is the Nightside. Don't say you weren't warned.
Into the Dragon's Mouth I was out and about that night, taking my trench coat for a walk, when a sudden fog came rolling down the street towards me like a grim grey tidal wave. I stopped, and studied its progress cautiously. We don't get many fogs, in the Nightside. We get lots of rain, and thunder-storms, and the occasional hail of frogs, but we don't really do weather, as such. Weather and seasons are part of the natural order of the world, and we don't really do natural either. So a sudden fog always means trouble for someone.
People on the street were already running ahead of the fog, or disappearing into sheltering doorways, as the thick pearl grey wall rolled relentlessly on, enveloping clubs and shops and soaking up the neon light, till only the merest Technicolor glints showed through, like so many half-blinded eyes. A growing silence moved with the fog as it ate up all the life and laughter in the street. I could see dim shapes moving, caught in the thick mists, struggling slowly like insects caught in hardening amber. The fog smeared itself across shop-windows, filling the night and hanging heavily on the air, surging forward in sudden, billowing clouds. Up close, the pearly grey mists were full of shimmering sparks and uncertain shapes that came and went in a moment. I seriously considered running.
This had all the makings of a flux fog.
Such things are dangerous. A flux fog means the corners of the world aren't properly nailed down any more, and reality is up for grabs. Inside a flux fog, all certainties are thrown into question, and all the possibilities that ever were are suddenly made equal. Take the wrong turning, in a grey world where every turn looks just like every other, and you could end up walking out of the fog into a whole new place. With no guarantee you'll ever find a way home again. Everything looks blurred and out of focus in a flux fog because you're seeing a dozen different dimensions, a hundred possibilities, for every object or person or direction. People and places can change subtly even as you approach them; familiar faces can become strangers, and in the blink of an eye you're trapped in a world that never knew you. The only real defence against a flux fog is not to be there when one manifests.
I should have known better than to be out and about on such a night. The weather forecast had been Changeable, with a side order of On your own head be it. But I felt the need to go out, to walk up and down the Nightside, to see what there was to be seen and think a few very private thoughts. Some thoughts can only be properly considered when you've removed yourself from your comfort zone. A melancholy had come upon me over a period of weeks, and I wasn't sure why. Things were actually going well, for a change. I was wealthy enough that I could pick and choose my cases, pursuing only those that interested me; and I was respected enough that no-one had tried to kill me in weeks. And Suzie and I were… closer than ever.
I had everything I'd ever dreamed of So why was I so restless? Why was I waiting… for the hammer to fall?
Suzie was out pursuing a case of her own, hunting down some poor bastard for the bounty on his head, and the house had seemed very still and quiet without her in it. I'd felt strangely agitated, disturbed, uneasy… as though someone, somewhere, had me in his gun-sight. So I left the house and went out for a walk, to think and brood, and hopefully tempt any possible enemy out into the open, where I could get at him.
And what I got, for my trouble, was a flux fog.
The mists really were getting quite close now. People stepped out of the grey wall before me, vague and indistinct, their details only firming up as they left the fog behind them. A giant teddy bear in a World War I British Army uniform looked confusedly about him, clutching his rifle with his furry paws. A scientific person in a pristine white lab coat stalked right past me, gabbling to himself in low Coptic. And a gaggle of Russian tourists in Chernobyl Health Spa T-shirts started to take photographs of me, before they realised who I was and decided to take a sudden interest in something else instead.
Nothing out of the ordinary, for the Nightside, where some days you can't trust anyone or anything to stay the same for ten minutes in a row. All the people here have some nasty little secrets, something cold and unpleasant clutched greedily to their bosoms, some special need or fascination that could only be revealed and satisfied in the neon-lit streets of the Nightside. A private face behind every public mask, a hidden meaning peeking through whatever words they choose to share with you. Even I had turned out to be… not who I thought I was.
The flux fog surged forward, filling the street, and I opened my arms to it, embracing the bitter, tingling mists as they rolled over me. A reckless, stupid thing to do; but the restlessness was so great in me, I felt a desperate need to do something, anything, out of character, just to prove to myself that I was still in charge of my life. That I was still making the decisions. The mists felt hot and clammy, like the steam in a sick-room, where the fever burns like madness and inspiration all at once. Shadowy shapes skittered all around me, like sharks circling a body in the water; and somewhere far away a great bell made of ice tolled the hours before dawn.
And then, just like that, the fog was gone. The street was back, in all its wild and gaudy details, the clubs and bars and private establishments as loud and raucous as ever. The bright primary colours of the neon signs blazed as sleazily as ever, and the huge oversized Moon shone coldly in the clear night sky. People spilled back out onto the pavements, once again intent only on tracking down their own particular heavens and hells, their very own private rewards and damnations. Nothing had changed, least of all me. I lowered my arms, feeling faintly foolish and obscurely disappointed. The flux fog hadn't touched me. Perhaps because of my not-altogether-human nature; perhaps because it was afraid of me. Or perhaps because it wouldn't deign to touch anyone who wanted it…
Why was I so restless, that night of all nights? Why did I want so badly for my life to change? Was it because I'd finally got everything I ever wanted, and all I could think was… Is this it?
Perhaps fortunately, my mobile phone rang, playing Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells." I finally got rid of the Twilight Zone theme; you can run some jokes into the ground. I took out my phone, hit the exorcism function to keep out the really determined ad mail, and did my best to speak cheerfully and normally.