The credits come up in the waves at the same time as the saxophone music starts blaring. I’m standing first person, looking at the cell phone in one hand, and the burning crumpled cigarette in the other. The virtual suit is amazing. Sure it feels a little weird having a skull cap on, but the worst part was the torso. It feels like a tight fitting bathing suit the same material they make Speedos from- running from my shoulders to my elbows and down to my groin. The goggles are obvious. They provide full 3D virtual immersion; as do the earbuds. But the gloves were probably the easiest fit. I love how they feel like memory foam as they harden in various points along my fingers and palms, approximating both the phone and the smoke. My senses play tricks on me and both objects feel the right weight in my hands. Jules is right. This virtual game is amazing.
I’ve always loved mysteries, noir even more so- Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Travis McGee, Spenser, Phillipa Graves. I read them all. Now I get to play the first full and I’m stunned by the level of detail. I’d swear my feet feel half-sunk in moist sand. The hot wind on my cheek. The smell of the great lake in the air. The music and credits however, are so out of place they’re jarring on the scene; like life suddenly turned into a music pop-up video. The final title shot “The Last Good Man in The Beaches” fades in as block letters, and out like a ghost, just as the sax warbles a high extended note drifting into the distance finally. The entire scene first fades to a whispy fog and then to black.
When the world around me returns, I’m struck by the colour first. Everything is rendered through some kind of sepia. Something about the rustic palette feels right. It’s more colourful than the beach scene which felt more like shades of grey in contrast. The setting is an office. It’s tight quarters and not much of it- rusted mini-fridge, worn ragged brown leather couch, wooden chair facing an old five-drawer desk. On top sits a well oiled Remington typewriter. I turn around and notice that behind me is an old wooden door, brass knob and bubbled mostly opaque smoky glass. The letters “Virgil Archer P.I.” display in reverse from inside the office.
As I turn, I begin to notice a couple of displays show and remain stationary on the bottom of my screen. On the left, a double-helix in a circle coloured in a deep blue. On the right, what looks like a chrome snowflake in another circle. A little saxophone flourish sentimentally aches in the background as letters fade in green near the top of my vision.
Sit down behind desk.
That’s when the baritone notes of my character’s monologue begins again:
The office… My home away from home that is my home. Who can afford the rent for two places in The Beaches today? Maddy was nowhere to be seen, and by the crossing of the lines on my watch it’s eleven in the Abernathy-MacArthur or more commonly known as the AM. Maybe she left a note for me on my desk.
The green letters grew more bold and flashed a little:
Sit down behind desk.
I move my arms in a walking motion; made some tenuous steps forward and the game obliged. It was awkward marching on the little universal treadmill they give you for the game, but it allows for about a five feet marching space so you can actually go any direction you like. With the floor motion capture, you just feel like you’re walking, jogging, or even running. I almost ran into the chair first and then the desk. I felt like a toddler learning how to walk again for the first time. I wouldn’t win any dance competitions at this rate.
My gloved hands felt at the edge of the desk, it was amazing how the sensors from the glasses and helmet transferred instantly corresponding to both the perceived distance and the placement in my vision. I’m sure if I wanted to, my gloves would go through the desk, but just brushing it with my fingertips the gloves toughened and the surface felt smooth. As Virgil Archer settled into his wooden rolling office chair, I reclined in the simple folding variety I kept at the base of the VR pad just as the manual instructed. I shifted in my chair, and Virgil’s wooden one rocked slightly behind the desk. The view of the door was perfect, and I gave the pull chain for the green shaded desk lamp in front of me a little tug. Yellow light spilled in a “V” formation across the scratched desk. The display pointed arrows and pop-up boxes for all my choices. I could open any of the five drawers, two on the left, two on the right, stacked like mini-filing cabinets with bronze half-moon pulls and a fifth middle shallow drawer that would probably hold pens and paper. I could also load the typewriter and practice my typing skills if I wanted. Other than the typewriter there was an empty coffee mug on the right side. Virgil was a right handed P.I. I guess. Most people are. I’d have to get used to that. I grabbed the mug and looked at it. It wasn’t stained brown inside, but looked to have something more like dirty water in the bottom of it. I mimicked raising it to my lips to drink, and the VR halter I wore shuddered for a second. I placed the cup down noting that along the right edge another light blue small text rose up my sight: “Whiskey +1” it said as it ascended like bubbles up to the ceiling and gone. Left over ‘juice’ from yesterday I guess. Gil responded in the affirmative.
Whiskey. Now if the Devil were really smart, he could’ve been a bartender. Adam would’ve carried Eve out of the Garden over his shoulder for a snort or two at the Joint Just Past the Gates. But no, all he needed was a piece of fruit. Women always go for the cheap showy trinkets…
Well, wasn’t that interesting? Virgil sounds a little embittered.
I reached over to the right lower drawer, the compartment slid back roughly. I wasn’t wrong. A cheap looking half-filled bottle of whiskey lay on its side. The ruddy coloured label had the shape of a grinning pointed beard devil and said “Snakebite Whiskey” in what I must have guessed to be drunken calligraphy. I mimicked removing the cork, filled the empty cup half full and set the bottle on the table. The VR picked up all my motions like a charm. I was beginning to lose myself in the role. I picked up the cup again, this time with my finger in the “trigger” hole and downed the whole contents. After all, it had to be cocktail time in Siberia by now right?
Five tight little blue notifications floated past me like bulging balloons raising to the sky…
Whiskey +1… Whiskey +1… Whiskey +1… Whiskey +1… Whiskey +1…
The world started to warp a little and shimmy. Nauseous, I made a mental note to go easy on the booze, but the bottom right snowflake in a circle glowed on one of the many tree-like arms. The hollow stem partially filled in with white and superimposed the words “Alcohol Tolerance Level 2”. The number outlined my progress. Great, I thought, I’m already halfway to being an impressive alcoholic.
Rifling through the rest of the drawers one-by-one gave me more of a look see at what I had to work with. The bottom left drawer were one full set of clean clothes- minus the pants and jacket. At least the tie was sharp. Beneath the clothes were a pair of chestnut brown wing-tipped shoes which gave me something different than the black polished pair Virgil wore now. The top right drawer had envelopes, loose paper, some pens, a letter opener knife, a stamp for the business with “Rec’d” marked on it, and a P226 (or so the menu pop-up said) with a full clip. Apparently, Virgil keeps a waist holster. I replaced the gun underneath my jacket, which gave me time to inspect better what I was wearing. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Virgil’s pants were warn brown, coarse in design and weathered. The shirt was ivory white, or meant to be. It was more than a little stained and The brown tie and brown pin-striped jacket- while technically went with the pants- were several shades apart to be more mismatched than one complete ensemble. I’d have to go shopping when I had some money. I assumed there’d be money to be had in this game, right? The top left drawer was my cosmetics. Aftershave, shaving cream and a shaving brush, a comb, toothbrush, tooth powder, deodorant, hair gel, soap, and a straight razor. Oh and a mirror beneath my collection of toiletries. I chose to look at my mug and was surprised to see a blond haired, green-eyed square-jawed handsome man staring back at me. It was a little unnerving to see a face so different from my own. I had decided to work some magic on Virgil’s four o’clock shadow with the straight edge and shaving cream. I started by removing both my coat, tie and shirt. But there wasn’t a basin around to be seen. There was however, a door behind and to the left that led to the tiniest bathroom I had ever seen. A narrow basin rested above the toilet so a single pipe could provide water to both. I filled the sink, splashing water on Virgil’s mug and lathering up the brush across my cheeks. It was surprisingly difficult holding the mirror just right while I went at the rough beard with the straight razor. While I took my time, tracing my face- blades had always made me nervous- the lock to the office door clicked and rattled. The straight edge wasn’t so patient. I could see a nice nick across Gil’s newly minted chin. As the door creaked open, I reached for the gun, and found it slide easily out in front of me. The option to lower below my desk meant that Gil might get an element of surprise on the intruder.
Three option blocks opened up along the top of the screen:
Shoot first, ask questions later. Call out to the Intruder. Wait.
I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and all that, and clicked the “wait.” Good choice. First thing through the door were paper shopping bags. They were attached to a blonde with enormous… assets, and a gun moll accent.
Gil?! You’re back? Why didntcha say somethin’. You almost threw out my lumbago!
I chuckled. The cheese. The bimbo secretary. The options:
Respond to Maddy:
Snarky reply. Flirt. Ignore.
Flirt it was. Everyone loves a flirt. I hit the choice and Virgil obliged.
Come on Maddy, you know you always leave me half-cocked. When are you going to pull the trigger?
Maddy giggled and blushed. Her breasts bounced impossibly as she shut the door with a swaying hip and placed the bags on the couch.
Oh you… Got you some bagels and lox, your meal for whatever ails you.
She looked straight at me, and slinked up to the desk leaning over. Her white blouse covering most of my vision. The pink bra underneath was a poor choice of colours. Suddenly, the perspective pushed upwards as Madelyne grabbed Virgil’s chin. Her eyes were a deeper mahogany than the desk she leaned on. In one hand she pulled a lace embroidered hanky, liked it with a equally pink tongue tip, and wiped Gil’s chin.
Eyes up here, boss. You really ought to be more careful with pointy things. You don’t know what kinda trouble that can bring ya.
The door knocked and Maddy blushed that pink colour once more and hopped off Virgil’s desk.
Forgot to tell ya. You’ve got a client.
More options arose:
Ignore and flirt more with Maddy. Ask Maddy who is at the door. Get Maddy to let the client in.
Time for business. Maddy sashayed across the small office. The door opened, and the naked light from the hall created a silhouette of a woman in a conservative dark coloured frock. Gil’s monologue spilled out both on the screen and in my ears. I shut off the subtitles. I was getting into this world now…
She had a small black hat with netting affixed to her red locks with bobbypins. Her eyes were somewhat shadowed by the mourning cap, but the green colour still glowed through like a trapped cat on a darkened street. I pegged her at about forty, but an easy forty. She was the kind of woman who liked to be taken care of, and milked some poor rich boy of everything he built.
Mr. Archer? Yes, definitely an easy forty. She used her gravelly voice with experienced sexuality.
So, this was Virgil’s client. Were all the characters women? The widow stood expectantly as the options arose.
Introduce yourself. Ask who she is. Flirt.
Who are you?
She settled in the chair across from Virgil, the dress of her skirt drifted north from her knees as she crossed them.
My name is Wilma Lively. I was told that in all of Toronto, there’s no better investigator, and I need a good investigator, Mr. Archer. I’m desperate.
She removed her hat and set in on the desk. Eyes red rimmed, but it was hard to tell. She sported naturally auburn eyelashes. I pulled the right hand drawer open and pulled out a tissue. She took it from Virgil’s hand resting her fingers in his palm for an extended moment. My right gloved hand felt warm in the touch.
Thank you… I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be mellow dramatic, but it’s my daughter you see. My daughter, Justine is missing.
She seemed pretty genuine from everything I could tell. I looked for Maddy over her shoulder, but she must have slipped through and shut the door. It was just Mrs. Lively and I. And the options: