I first saw the gray man in Temptation Square, the nefarious tourist destination in East Buffalo. He emerged from one of the crepuscular alleys that are instinctively spurned by even the most jaded tourists. He nodded and smiled. The gray man was ordinary and forgettable. He was nobody. He was everybody. He was evil incarnate.
I met Detective Tim Rizzo for lunch at the Deco Café, a conveniently located beanery on the edge of Temptation Square and adjacent to my private investigator business. I passed him an envelope of hundred dollar bills and ordered an Irish coffee. It was a monthly tradition.
“You should eat something,” said Tim. “You never eat. You don’t look so good.”
“I need you to ask around about a man I’ve seen in the Square.”
“Who is it this time?” Tim’s eyes remained focused on his roast beef.
“He’s genuine evil. Sin clings to him like ivy.”
“You’re just being judgmental again. Every few months you seem to find Satan and his minions lurking in Temptation Square. Real evil operates outside the Square. Don’t do anything stupid. I can’t afford to get caught up in your self-righteousness. We’ve been through this before. Temptation Square has been a godsend to the community.”
Thirty years ago, when East Buffalo had more abandoned warehouses than rats, the city planners optimistically rebranded it Old Towne. Artist lofts were constructed and trolley tracks were laid. Then it was relaunched as Silicon Valley East. Next it became Craft Beer World. Finally, desperate and bankrupt, it was rechristened Temptation Square. Sin was embraced, promoted, licensed and taxed. The bygone glory days of steel manufacturing were finally forgotten.
“Evil lives in the alleys where children are rented and sold,” I said. “I see him where there are murders. I see him …”
“Stop babbling. You keep forgetting that Temptation Square is make-believe. No one is rented or sold. All transactions occur between consenting adults. What you call murders are assisted suicides. It’s death with dignity. Suicidal guests are matched with guests who want to experience killing. New York State guidelines are strictly followed. Fees are collected. It’s a win-win situation. The police department works hard to maintain the ideals of Temptation Square. Buffalo’s economic health depends on it. My economic health depends on it.”
“Let me just show you a picture of evil. Someone must have seen him. I’m not doing this to make money or make a name for myself. I’m a concerned businessman.”
Tim laughed. “So how is the private eye business? It can’t be too good if you’re spending all your time tracking mysterious evil men.”
Tim knew my PI business was on life-support. Customers, men and women desperate to learn if their significant other was cheating, were an endangered species. Thirty years ago, when I inherited the business from my father, I worked a sixteen-hour day. The women cried when I showed them incriminating photos. The men clenched their hands and sometimes smashed inanimate objects. Now my infrequent clients only express mild disgust at their spouse’s poor choice for a dalliance.
“You’ve got to be more proactive,” said Tim. “Many Temptation Square novices believe they just want to vicariously experience pleasure until they are enticed to participate. That’s how the Square gets repeat customers. It’s not named Temptation Square for nothing.”
I withdrew my iPhone from my sports coat. “Just look at him. Pure evil.”
Tim wiped his plate clean with a slice of rye bread and swallowed. “You should register in the Square as a paying customer. It would do you a world of good. Research at the best universities has demonstrated that the mental health of the guests measurably improves after spending just three days in the Square. Blood pressure drops …”
I impatiently pointed at my iPhone.
He glanced at the screen. “Are you serious? Did you take a selfie?”
I looked at the photo of the gray man. It was a blur. The other photos of the gray man were also distorted and unrecognizable.
“You never were good at new technology.” Tim stood and gently touched my shoulder. “I’ll ask around about your evil man, but don’t hold your breath. And thanks for lunch.”
“I’ll see you next month.”
Tim stopped. “I could get you a job in the Square. I know people. It might be the solution to your economic challenges. There are always openings. You’d be good at it. And the benefits are excellent.”
I feel like this is a real place, having driven through certain sketchy parts of Buffalo on a dark, dark night.
A "nefarious tourist destination in East Buffalo" is a marvelous location for a dystopian black comedy. I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, too. Nice twist.
Good story, very well written. I really enjoyed it.
Great story, well written. Smooth and captivating, my kind of mystery!
I found this to be a weird story. Well written but I guess I didn't care for the evil theme and fantasy square concept. It just didn't leave me satisfied as a reader:)