Reading time: 6 mins
Our detective was smoking under the neon when the stabbing took place. The woman, having bloodied the alleyway quite enough in her attempts to escape, slumped against the wheelie bins. The man, having done the deed, turned round to look at our detective, and ran. He may have been a few drinks in, but to our detective, there was no ambiguity: this man was Dupin, a slippery gentleman who he had been introduced to less than an hour ago at the adjacent bar. The conversation, as he recalled, went something like this:
-And you are?
-What’s your name?
-Do I know you?
-No, not yet, but you are in the process of knowing me. I’m Dupin.
-Is that your first or last name?
-It’s both. Or neither.
-Dupin? Like the detective?
-So you know Poe, then?
-Not personally. But yes.
-Dupin, but not like the detective. Or precisely like the detective. It’s up to you, really.
At this point, our detective paused, processed the name. Who was this man? Why had he started this conversation? How did this man know he was a detective? And what else could ‘Dupin’ mean? He toyed with the syllables, rearranged the letters. He couldn’t find the anagram, so returned to the name’s original form. Dupin, as in, ‘C. Auguste Dupin’, Poe’s detective, the original detective. ‘Dupin’ also vaguely reminded him of the Latin duplus, meaning ‘twofold’ or ‘double’, but that hardly seemed relevant. No, it was much more likely that this ‘Dupin’ was simply messing with him.
-So you know I’m a detective, then?
-I do. That’s precisely why I’ve come to you.
-Do you want another drink before I start?
-Okay. Well, we have a while yet. Let’s just talk for now.
-I hardly know you. We’ve only just met.
-I know you’ve only just met me. But let’s talk first. Chit-chat. It’s vital, I promise.
-What sort of detective are you, if you mind me asking?
-Yes, but hardboiled? Postmodern?
-I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.
-Are you the man to smoke under the neon in the belly of L.A.? Are you the man to recognise that that’s expected of your character in the first place?
-You don’t have to answer. Just think on it. Or think, in general.
-This will all become clearer in time.
-I…don’t really know what to say. When you meant chit-chat, I thought you were referring to sport, politics—
-We can talk about politics if you’d like. Are you on the right, or the left?
-I find it silly to think like that. Some of my views belong to the right, some to the left.
-I’m both, too, but at the same time, with each and every view.
-How does that work?
-It doesn’t have to. But it still happens. The act of choosing both sides of the spectrum at once removes limitations. Everything is a possibility.
-Dupin, you’re not making any sense.
-Fine. I’ll give you an analogy. Take an apple. Now, split it in half. Look at the pips, the contours of its flesh. They’re identical, but opposing. If you take a pip from one half of the apple, the opposing pip remains. And what does that represent?
-That’s it. That’s the analogy.
By this point, our detective was exhausted. He’d had enough of this ‘chit-chat’, these dead-end analogies.
-Dupin. Why have you come to me?
-Okay. What I say next requires your cooperation. It will sound strange at first, but give it time, and you’ll make sense of it.
Our detective realised that Dupin had suddenly become very nervous. His hands clenched and unclenched like a metronome.
-I’m afraid I’m going to murder someone.
-I’m afraid I’m going to murder my wife.
-She doesn’t exist. Please don’t let it happen, please, I beg you.
-And how are you going to do that?
-I don’t know. I haven’t thought about how at all. Or, at least, I haven’t.
The man was clearly unhinged, our detective thought. But, as promised, he persevered.
-I’ve never had a wife. I’ve never so much as had a girlfriend. I’ve always wanted to. I’ve wanted many things. Wealth. Perfect eyesight. But now, now that I have her, though I don’t, I think I’m getting fed up with her, though I’m not, so I’m going to kill her, though I won’t.
-So…what do you want me to do?
-You’ll need to stop me.
-You want me to turn you in?
-No, I want you to stop the murder in the first place. I’m going to kill myself after it’s all over, jump off a bridge.
-But… she doesn’t exist.
-If it happens, this murder, then I’ll both die and be arrested. You can’t let that happen. I don’t deserve to be arrested for something he—I did.
-Slip of the tongue. He is myself. You need to stop this murder. Please. And if you can’t, at least make sure I don’t kill myself, and that I’m not arrested.
-I will, don’t worry.
-Thank you. I’m putting all my faith in you. Goodbye sir. Here’s my address. I might see you again. I have no doubt you’ll see me again, and again. Reflect on it.
With that he allowed himself a wry smile, as if he had made a very witty joke. Our detective thought for a moment about whether he should turn him in there and then. He didn’t, however. He just sat and watched the man leave. Admittedly, our detective didn’t give a second thought about this supposed murder. This ‘Dupin’ was insane, a deranged man who thought he could operate within two spheres, who could both do something and its opposite. In the real world, that simply couldn’t happen, and our detective was sure he was in the real world. The phrase ‘everything is a possibility’ pulled into focus, but it was fleeting, irrelevant. He fancied a smoke.
That was the conversation – or at least, the conversation as our detective remembered it. The memory may have been addled somewhat by the drinking, but then again, all memories are distorted. It now came to our detective’s attention, as he stood under the neon, barely shielded from the rain, that Dupin’s outfit was different to the one he wore during the stabbing. The Dupin he met at the bar was scruffy, had donned a tattered coat that resembled a tangle of threads. The Dupin that stabbed the woman was wearing a black top hat, overcoat, shoes that glistened in the rain. The Dupin he met at the bar wore glasses. The Dupin that stabbed the woman didn’t. Our detective couldn’t make sense of it. He could try later on. For now, he was in pursuit.
He had wasted a good minute recollecting the conversation – and if thoughts moved as slowly as words, he would have wasted a great deal longer. In any case, it was no surprise to find Dupin already out of sight. What did surprise him is that he knew, instantly, where Dupin was headed. It was as if Dupin and our detective were connected by an invisible string.
The chase through the streets of LA was long, arduous, and not worth going into specifics over. Its ending, however, was of great importance. By the time our detective reached the bridge, it was too late. He arrived just as the top hat and overcoat bobbed beyond the horizon, evaporating into the harbour’s vanishing point.
Later that night, as our detective tried to sleep, he was met with an overwhelming sense of guilt. A woman had died, and he was warned it would happen. Why did he not stop the stabbing? Why did he take so long to decide to chase after? Why did he leave the woman to bleed out? Why was Dupin dressed differently? Our detective’s mind turned to the conversation once more; to that question he was asked. ‘Are you a hardboiled detective or a postmodern one?’ He hadn’t really considered it before. He supposed, if he had to choose, he’d be hardboiled. He smoked profusely, drank alone, roamed the streets of L.A.. Yes, he’d be hardboiled. Although, if he was thinking about this very dilemma, surely he was postmodern? Dupin had presented him with a false choice. By asking the question, our detective was forced to retroactively think about the conventions of his role. And by drawing attention to those conventions, he had instantly become postmodern. And with postmodernity? Metatextuality. Parody. Identity. The double. The double? Suddenly, ‘Dupin’ made a lot more sense. Duplus was relevant after all. The man had been an enigma, a smudge in his mind: now, two separate entities, sharply defined. One: the shabby, erratic Dupin, clothes torn, on the brink of delirium. Two: the wish fulfillment Dupin, rich, married, perfect 20/20 vision. They were the same person but existed on opposing spectrums. The two bodies and two minds of one man. ‘Reflect on it’. Dupin’s final words to our detective. A reflection. An in-joke. The analogy made sense. Our detective should have taken Dupin, the innocent one, more seriously. He had often wondered whether he was in charge of his own life. Whether there was a greater power at play. Now he had that answer. For if he was a postmodern detective, and was recognising himself as such, then he had found himself in a postmodern detective story. The very act of thinking about this was metatextual. And in those stories, doubles exist. The surreal is made tangible. This explained why our detective didn’t stay with the woman, why he waited for the guilty Dupin to get away, why he knew, through an otherworldly force, where Dupin was headed. The plot of this story needed him to follow all those threads. It wasn’t bad decision-making on our detective’s part, it was sloppy storytelling. Our detective had realised the truth of his situation. He had solved the predicament. He had used the clues of the conversation to break free from the narrative. He was the protagonist of a postmodern detective story, and following this logic, if he were to knock on Dupin’s door, the Dupin with glasses would answer, and the Dupin without would have washed out into the ocean.
The next morning, just as he expected, the Dupin with glasses answered. Our detective also expected the author of this story to have predicted this. He wasn’t quite so sure the author would predict what followed. He would protect this Dupin from the police. He had it all figured out.
-I’m so sorry. You stabbed her in the alleyway, ran to the bridge, and jumped off.
-I…you promised. You promised you’d stop me.
-I know. I’m sorry, Dupin. But I won’t let you get arrested.
-Are you sure? And you’re sure I died? Did you see my body?
-I saw your hat and waistcoat. I was too late to see your body.
-So I may still be alive?
-No. The jump would have killed you. It’s too high up.
-But what if I didn’t jump? What if I just chucked my coat and hat over the bridge?
Our detective hadn’t accounted for this. What if the other Dupin was indeed still alive?
-What if I come after me? Please protect me. I’m scared.
After the events of the previous night, it was the least he could do.
The days bled into weeks into months. Our detective stayed by Dupin’s side, but there was no sign of Dupin. He was sure that Dupin had jumped off the bridge and died on impact, or failing that, had fled the city, and would not bother Dupin again. But Dupin wasn’t so sure. He grew more nervous of his return each day. Dupin argued that the police hadn’t found his body in the river, but our detective reasoned, in vain, that his body would have long since drifted into the ocean. The police came for Dupin himself, of course, but with our detective’s help, they gradually stopped bothering him. Yet Dupin’s fears of Dupin’s return grew too strong. On the final day, the last time our detective saw Dupin, he was terribly moved by their farewell. Why did he feel this way? He had simply protected a person from themselves. But, no, he had grown attached to Dupin too, and the sight of packed bags and a lone plane ticket was undeniably moving.
-Goodbye, sir. Thank you for reflecting on it.
It was a nice change, our detective thought, to realise he was in a postmodern detective story before the narrative took hold. He imagined how the story would have played out had he not realised. Dupin would be both dead and jailed, and our detective would have ruined two lives in one night. No. This was better.
A few years later, still smoking under that neon, our detective looked back on his memories with Dupin. He realised he had never found out his real name. Just ‘Dupin’. As in the detective. Or duplus. Or ‘duping’, our detective supposed, but that hardly seemed relevant.