This is the labyrinth. In here are many stories, most of them involving innocent Greeks being devoured by the Minotaur. As I sit here in the faltering light of my candle, I can only hope that, in my case, mastication will be a less featured player. Otherwise, I may be forced to admit that I, Detective Jack Dweeb, have finally bitten off more than I can chew.
Before I got here, I worked out of Athens in a small office near the marketplace with my assistant. Farraday has most of the qualities you’d want in a subordinate: industrious, quiet, unassuming, and an anonymous appearance. One wouldn’t mistake him for a Greek god, but he does look like the anonymous human form a Greek god might take if he wanted to go undercover in search of tail. You could say we have a symbiotic relationship. I make him the butt of my jokes and he covers my ass. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.
It all started two months ago when I was arguing with a papaya salesman who loves to haggle. I was just trying to walk through the marketplace and, as usual, he started an argument with me. I said it was a nice day and he said it wasn’t. I don’t even like papayas, and he argued with me about that. I was saved by the sudden appearance of a disheveled, desperate looking middle-aged man whose unwashed sandy hair and beard had that hurricane blown look. He grabbed me and spouted the following clipped phrases into my ear: “Son pushed off cliff…a bird in the hand…jealousy a killer.”
I slapped him a couple of times and said to stick to the facts. I’ve devoted my investigative career to editing out clients’ suppositions, guesses, opinions, etc. because you know you’re skating on thin ice with such things. And only a fool would skate on ice in southern Greece. I’m no fool. I’m a Dweeb.
On his second try, he was surprisingly articulate. His name was Menongitis, though he preferred to go by Menon. His son, Talos, had been pushed off a 200-foot cliff. The suspect, an uncle and brilliant inventor named Daedalus, had disappeared. Menon wanted to hire me to find Daedalus and bring him to justice. I immediately sent word to Farraday to join me at the scene of the crime.
A half hour later Farraday and I were peering down a forbidding precipice. Nothing could have survived that fall except maybe a batch of my ex-wife’s nutmeg cookies. I turned to the family, who had gathered en masse, all twelve of them, including four knockout young daughters, and said, “This is a clear case of push coming to shove coming to plummet like a lead balloon off a 200-foot cliff.”
Farraday asked if there was a reason Daedalus wanted Talos dead. I believe Farraday’s reason for asking this was to impress Menon’s daughters. I myself am not a big motive man. The guy pushed his nephew off a cliff. Does it really matter why he did it? Do people ask why Zeus castrated his father? No one stops and speculates that maybe he didn’t want another brother like Hades. The crime was committed and you go from there. But Farraday persisted in his line of thought, adding, “What if Talos was trying to murder Daedalus and Daedalus was just defending himself?”
I pulled Farraday aside and said patiently, “We’re trying to deal with the some questions here by supplying appropriate answers. And what are you doing? YOU’RE COMING UP WITH MORE QUESTIONS! You’re muddying the waters, Farraday. You can lead a detective to water but you can’t make him drink it if it’s muddy. Though I have half a mind to make you drink it to make an example of you.” Farraday said he agreed I had half a mind. I could see he was upset so, to indulge him, I suggested we try to ascertain if indeed Talos might have wished the death of his uncle. Ten minutes of questioning revealed that Talos worshipped Daedalus and the only time he might have wished for his uncle’s death was just before the latter pushed him off the cliff
“Now that we’ve established that, tell me exactly when the crime took place?” I asked.
“About two hours ago,” Menon said.
“Just two hours ago? So no one’s even inspected Talos’s body yet.”
“Talos? He’s in the house.” I thought I misunderstood him, but before I could question him further, he rushed to his humble dwelling. Breathless, he returned with a partridge.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Talos, Jack Dweeb; Jack Dweeb, Talos,” he introduced us. I looked hopelessly at the bird, thinking, we’ve got one guy off a cliff and another guy off his nut. Then I glanced at Farraday, but he was wearing his poker face, the only one he had. You could tell Farraday the world was going to end in five minutes and he’d think for a minute then say, “I’ll raise you five.” There was nothing to do but talk to the Partridge Family.
“So, your son is a partridge,” I said, my eyes rolling down the river. “It might have been a mistake on your part to assume I was aware of this. Was your wife on medication when he was conceived? Birdseed or something?”
Menon, his suddenly brusque manner implying I was the crazy one, said, “He wasn’t a partridge when Daedalus pushed him off. His life was saved when Minerva, who is partial to creative people, turned him into a partridge.”
Farraday tapped me on the shoulder. “Who’s Minerva?”
“Minerva, Athena, Pallas Athena, Parthenos. Same thing,” I said.
He shook his head. “You know, I’ve always wondered why most Greeks have only one name but gods have about 27 of them?”
I turned back to Menon. “You saw Minerva do this?”
“No, Talos told me.”
I nodded. “Let me write this down. ‘A little bird told me.’” Farraday suggested we interrogate the partridge. I said, “Sure. Why don’t we just ask him where Daedalus went?” Menon said he already had. He pointed to a short trail of bird shit. It pointed south…toward Crete.
I didn’t believe that bird as far as I could throw him. On the other hand, I was afraid not to go after Daedalus because if I didn’t, Athena might construe it as sign of disrespect. I sent Farraday down to the docks to make the arrangements for a trip to Crete. My parting words were, “Don’t let them rip you off.” An hour later he came back with the news that we sailed in two days at sunrise. and he’d gotten an excellent travel package.
Two days later Farraday and I got up before the sun and rushed to the docks. I knew something was wrong when I saw the name of our ship, The Flotsam. It also seemed rather Spartan, a no-no in Athenian circles. My growing fears were compounded when, as I stepped onto the gangplank, an armored pug ugly guard grabbed and threw me onto the deck, causing me to drop my knapsack on the dock. I picked myself up and turned to my unwanted usher.
“You know, I’ve been walking for 35 years and have managed very well without your help.”
“Shut up!” he snarled, spraying me with his slobber and spilling me to the deck again. I looked forward to many a night comparing Homeric epithets with this moron. In an act of preventative altercation, I asked him to kindly throw me my knapsack. He grunted, picked up my bagged belongings and tossed them errantly into the sea. “Must have weakened my arm throwing you,” he muttered. I just smiled, took his tip out of my pocket, and tossed it overboard. Fortunately, Farraday got onto the ship unmolested while the booted barbarian was giving me the sum total of his attention. I tried to report my treatment to the captain, but no one wanted to talk to me. I went up to a burly fellow patching a sail and he acted like I was dead. I went up to someone swabbing the deck, a heavily scarred young man who couldn’t have been more than 18, and he also completely ignored me. I thought, how can this ship stay in business? Before I could get any further, I ran into my gangplank nemesis again. With his right claw he grabbed my ear and, for balance, clasped Farraday’s lobe with his left. He led us below to a small, dank room, inside of which huddled five disconsolate men and seven equally disconsolate women. They seemed completely unfazed by our sudden landing in their midst, courtesy of the guard’s drop kick. I could see they weren’t going to start any conversations, so after I picked myself up, I said, “Do you think they have any folding chairs in storage?”
The oldest man of the group looked at me pityingly. “Don’t you know what’s going on here? We’re the fourteen Athenians to be sacrificed this year to the Minotaur of King Minos.” I recognized one of the reparations Athens had to pay to Crete for losing the last war.
I glared at Farraday. “How much was the second cheapest passage to Crete?”
The days passed with a numbing sameness, though once land was out of sight, the crew loosened up. While at night we had to stay in our damp, depressing community room, during the day we were free to roam the ship as long as we didn’t disturb the sailors. Lack of sleep left me with little energy, however. One of the captives had a recurring dream of being a discus thrower. Every night he won the Olympics while I got whacked in the jaw. I finally told him if he didn’t switch to chess I’d start dreaming I was the javelin champion in his direction. Farraday and I spent most of our day sitting on the deck looking out at the Aegean Sea. It was hard to keep up our spirits.
“How many gods have you prayed to?” Farraday asked, giving me an incredulous look when I said I hadn’t prayed to any.
“Every time I pray to one god, I piss another one off,” I explained. “If I asked Poseidon to send a tidal wave to overturn the ship and let us escape, Aeolus would get insulted and blow us back to Crete. If I prayed to Zeus, he’d say, ‘What are you bothering me for? I’m busy.’ And punctuate it with a lightning bolt. And then there’s all those minor sea deities like Triton, Proteus, and Nereus. You can’t win. I just try to be an equal opportunity polytheist.”
Farraday nodded and said, “Oh yeah. Nereus. That’s a good one. I forgot about him.” He closed his eyes and silently mouthed a few words.
Intrigued, I asked him how many gods he’d prayed to. He thought for a moment. “Poseidon, Athena, Zeus, Triton, Proteus, Ares, the fifty sea nymphs, and Dionysus.”
“Dionysus? The fertility god? What did you pray to him for?”
“In case I hear something from the fifty sea nymphs.”
It took us five months to reach our destination, a speed only Odysseus, when he took ten years to get from Troy to Ithaca, would have approved of. My pet duck could have gone faster and I had him for dinner eighteen months ago. I have no doubt some god was having fun with us, most likely some of the same ones Farraday conversed with. As the craggy hills of Crete appeared in the distance, we were once again banished to our quarters until we reached land. My only hope was to try and get sight of King Minos himself. I had heard he was a man who called a spade a spade, the kind of guy I like. If you see a spade and call it a pick axe, I don’t like you. I had to wonder about someone whose wife preferred the sexual favors of a bull to her husband, however, but that was not my affair. Having been in the business for twenty years has clearly shown me that detective work and sex with bovines do not mix. As I saw it, my opportunity lay in the fact that Minos was a man with some experience being on the wrong side of a god–his theft of a bull meant for Poseidon resulted in the birth of the Minotaur in the first place. Perhaps I could persuade him to allow Farraday and me to continue in our search for Daedalus, it being an errand sanctioned by Athena.
The door of our crowded room opened and we were herded off the ship like cattle, or, more accurately in our cases, cattle fodder. Walking down the gangplank I passed my friend, the guard, one last time. “Keep up the good work. You wouldn’t want to lose a plum assignment like this.” It was all I could think to say, but it was more than he could think of. The fourteen of us marched to Minos’s palace where, to my surprise, we sat in an elegant dining room filled with fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish, and a few meats, though beef was conspicuously absent. In the center of the room stood a commanding looking man with a neatly trimmed gray beard and a jeweled crown on his head. Next to him stood a fat man with a forced smile, who spoke to us in a sonorous voice.
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Windikis, official spokesman for the king. You have been selected by Athens to fulfill one of the reparations of her recent loss in war against Crete. King Minos and I are here to praise you for your individual efforts in preserving the peace between our two great city-states. It is our pleasure to have supervised this feast in your honor.” He then gave us a long, boring history lesson on the greatness of Crete. I could tell Minos was embarrassed by the whole thing and would have just as soon made Minotaur burgers out of us immediately. After Windikis finally finished, Minos said to us, “May your sacrifices be quick.” He was about to leave when I shocked everyone by saying, “King Minos, I’d like a word with you!”
Windikis gave me a withering look. “It is now time for the Athenians to eat, not talk.” Clearly it was not time to Minos to watch us eat as he was almost out of the room when I used my ace in the hole. “I have been sent by Athena to capture the murdering fugitive, Daedalus.”
That got the king’s attention, though not for the reason I thought.
“You know Daedalus?” he asked me, suddenly very interested.
“He murdered a young competing inventor and supposedly fled to this island.”
Minos turned to his Windikis. “Send this man to me after the feast.”
We then began eating as if there was no tomorrow.
Sated, I was taken to my private audience with King Minos. The room was much smaller than the banquet room, though with its longish table in the center, it appeared to be a place where meetings happened. Minos sat at the head of the table, flanked by two fearsome-looking guards. I was placed in a chair to the king’s right. He looked even more tired and bored than when Windikis led us through Crete History I and II.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
I introduced myself and told him about Farraday, then explained our case.
“We have something in common,” he said. I was about to lay on the flattery, saying what could a great king have in common with an Athenian commoner such as myself, but he motioned for silence. “We are both looking for Daedalus, though your search is based on money while mine…mine has a deeper source.” With pain in his voice, he proceeded to explain the story whose outline I had heard, how he had promised to sacrifice a beautiful bull to Poseidon but decided to replace it with an inferior one. In punishment, Poseidon made Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the original bull. “Rather than help her resist, that swine Daedalus, who had been working for me, secretly designed a wooden cow for her crawl into and indulge her unnatural inclinations. This resulted in the Minotaur, lower half man, upper half bull, and complete freak. Zeus knows I tried to be a good father to this…this thing, but I can’t even talk to him. The only word he responds to is ‘Olé.’ So I had Daedalus design the labyrinth to hide my shame. I was pleased with Daedalus, until I found out about his wooden cow. As a result, I threw him and his son into the labyrinth.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The problem is, I need closure. I can’t rest until I’m sure Daedalus is dead, but as he knows every turn of the labyrinth, better even than the Minotaur, I’m sure he’s still alive. As you are a private investigator, I would like you to go in there and find him. Do this and I will spare your lives.”
I wasn’t convinced. “I thought everyone who goes into the labyrinth gets lost. Even if we find Daedalus, how are we supposed to get out?”
“Daedalus knows the way. You’ll have to convince him to tell you.”
“What if he’s dead?”
“Then I won’t need your services.”
With that, I was taken to the entrance of the labyrinth. The other prisoners were already somewhere inside, but I saw Farraday was talking to a beautiful young woman I’d never seen before. She pressed something into his hands just before twenty guards chased us with spears into the winding corridors. Once we were out of sight of the guards, he held up a ball of string.
“Who was that woman?” I asked.
“Ariadne, the daughter of Minos. She said not to trust her father and gave me this ball of string so we can find our way out of the labyrinth.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know how you do it, Farraday. You’re plain looking, you have no personality, and yet, women like you.” For which I could only be thankful.
Not wanting to entrust Farraday with such an important task, I relieved him of the ball of string and carefully measured it out as we began our search. Our newest prison wasn’t nearly as dreary as it might have been. Daedalus, perhaps suspecting that his mercurial benefactor might one day place its creator inside, left plenty of holes in the ceilings to let in light, though they were too high to serve as exits. We had no idea which turns to make but occasionally were helped by the distant roars of the Minotaur. If his utterances came from the left, we went right. Hours of this didn’t get us anywhere except to the end of our string.
I looked at Farraday. “I’ve always wanted to say this: I’m at the end of my tether.”
“This certainly is a big day for you,” he said despondently.
“I think the best thing to do now is weigh our options. We can stay here. That accomplishes nothing unless Daedalus comes to us. We could go back, but the guards would just try to stick their spears into us again. Or we could continue. I say carry on. We’ve got this string laid out through quite a bit of the labyrinth. Chances are, even with the worst of luck, we’ll eventually stumble onto it again, unless the Minotaur decides to fly a kite or something.”
We continued walking. Two more hours passed, and not only didn’t we see Daedalus; we didn’t see the string either. The light was fading. I was about to suggest we find a place to set up camp for the night, when suddenly I heard what sounded like the fluttering of wings, and then an admonishing human voice. It came from our left. Like madmen we dashed in that direction, only to plow into a dead end wall. We then dashed in the other direction, took our first left turn, and came face to bearded face with Daedalus and his son Icarus. Both of them had strapped to their arms large wax wings, the span of which nearly filled the corridor.
“Oh no, not now,” Daedalus grimaced. “Who are you? Keep back or I’ll brain you with a poisonous comb.” He pulled from his cloak a spiked shell. Though it explained his wildly tangled hair, I was suspicious.
“Why would you carry a poisoned object in your pocket?” I asked, advancing.
Instead of answering, he threw the shell at me, but it splintered harmlessly against the wall. He then commanded Icarus to start flying, and to our amazement, both of them lifted off the ground. Above us loomed an opening in the ceiling large enough for them to fly through. “Grab them!” I yelled to Farraday. “They’re our only chance of escaping!”
I jumped for Daedalus while Farraday latched onto Icarus. I felt two distinct sensations, that of being levitated and being repeatedly kicked in the head.
“You’re ruining everything. These wings weren’t intended to carry the weight of two people,” Daedalus cursed. But as I watched the walls of the labyrinth fall below me, intentionally or not, we were flying tandem. Outside it was twilight, but plenty light enough for two of the strangest looking birds in the history of ornithology to be spotted. A confused mob of people milled below us, but we were well out of spear range. Soon we were over the sea. Away from the guards, we dropped to an altitude of about thirty feet, and Daedalus was having a none too easy time maintaining that. Icarus was having even more trouble ten feet directly below us.
“Where are we going?” I asked, in between kicks.
“We’re not going anywhere if you don’t let go,” Daedalus retorted. “Who are you, anyway?”
“My name is Jack Dweeb, Detective. I am here to arrest you for the murder of Talos. It is my duty to inform you of your rights. Anything you say will be ignored in a court of law. If you desire an attorney and can’t afford one, you won’t have one.” I was interrupted by another kick in the head. The heck with his rights. More important now was grabbing both of his legs before he covered my skull with sandal prints. We made a sudden swerve and, to my surprise, I looked up to see Daedalus swatting away what appeared to be a crazed partridge making repeated dives into his face. Talos? Was it possible he had come all this way? What other explanation could there be for the bird’s otherwise inexplicable attacks? With a fateful plunge, the partridge avoided Daedalus’s outstretched hand and landed a bloody peck just below his uncle’s right eye. With a bellow of pain, Daedalus interrupted his already shaky flying movements, and we hung in the air for a second, then fell like bird droppings. With a sickening thud we landed on top of Icarus. Farraday, Icarus, and I plunged into the sea, while somehow Daedalus regained his balance and continued flying. The last I saw of him, he was soaring to an altitude out of reach of the partridge.
Farraday and I swam to shore. We saw nothing of Icarus after he hit the water.
I told the whole story to King Minos, explaining that Daedalus’s escape was no fault of mine, but the king was not in an understanding mood.
“If man was meant to fly, he’d have wings.” Minos said.
“He did have wings,” I pointed out.
Farraday and I were returned to the labyrinth. Maybe I shouldn’t have called Minos a Cretan.
So here I sit. As I told Farraday, it’s strange how things have turned out. We have many corridors to choose from. Some go somewhere, others are dead ends. There is always a chance that the Minotaur will find us. In some ways the labyrinth is a microcosm of life. Farraday, who is of a less philosophic bent, has only this to say on the subject: “I hate sad endings, especially when I’m in them.”
By being vigilant, finding a makeshift knife in Daedalus’s work area, and stealing its food, Farraday and I successfully avoided the Minotaur for eight months. At that time Theseus, one of the annual fourteen Greeks to be sacrificed, freed us and killed the misbegotten beast. Minos, in fear for his life, fled Crete, spending what little time was left of his life in pursuit of Daedalus. He tracked him to Sicily but died when one of his political enemies gave him a bath in boiling water. Farraday and I caught a ride on the Flotsam with Theseus back to Athens. Accommodations were much improved. Back in our home city-state, we continued our detective practice. Farraday eventually married one of Menon’s daughters, who gave him two boys, two girls, and no partridges.
Richard Zwicker is an English teacher living in Vermont with his wife and beagle. Besides writing and reading, he likes to play piano, jog, and fight the good fight against middle age. He lived in Brazil for eight years but is still a lousy soccer player. His short stories have appeared in “Poe Little Thing,” “New Myths,” “Writing Shift,” “Golden Visions,” “The Rejected Quarterly,” “Speculative Mystery Iconoclast,” and “Ray Gun Revival.”