The Detectorate 7/6c (Finale)

(Against the Grain will return after these messages from our sponsor)

Season seven of The Disasters is coming, better make sure you’re prepared.  You’ll need to call in sick, get the best spot on the couch, and make sure there’s at least one free pillow for back support.

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I’m proud to present a special discount for the next week only: the Midseason Sweetness!  All your shows have been taking a break after their midseason finales and we’re starting to feel the heat.  The synopsis and analysis blogs are boiling over!  We’re going to need to cool off with some yogurt before they return.  That’s why everything on our site is fifteen percent off until the shows are back, so stock up now!

If you haven’t already, check out my guest turn on The Detectorate.  That’s how devoted I am to our customers.  I needed to get on one of the shows so I could see you all enjoying the yogurt through your screens!

Introgurt: the right snack for all your binging… and binge-watching needs.

Season seven of The Disasters is coming, better make sure you’re prepared.  You’ll need to call in sick, get the best spot on the couch, and make sure there’s at least one free pillow for back support.

You’ll need just the right snack too.  Popcorn gets salt everywhere and you have to microwave a new bag practically every episode.  Not to mention the calories.  It’s time to call Introgurt.  Convenient and healthy yogurts, available in twenty flavors, all delivered straight to your door in refrigerated bags with plenty of fixings.  We even deliver at night now, for those midnight premieres.  Check us out at Introgurt.com.

Introgurt: the right snack for all your binging… and binge-watching needs.

We’ll get back to your program in a minute folks, but I just have to share my excitement with you.  My name is Charles Marvalla, and I’m the C.E.O of Introgurt yogurt.  We’ve had an absolutely stellar year so far and I want to pass some of that bounty back to you: our loyal customers.

I’m proud to present a special discount for the next week only: the Midseason Sweetness!  All your shows have been taking a break after their midseason finales and we’re starting to feel the heat.  The synopsis and analysis blogs are boiling over!  We’re going to need to cool off with some yogurt before they return.  That’s why everything on our site is fifteen percent off until the shows are back, so stock up now!

If you haven’t already, check out my guest turn on The Detectorate.  That’s how devoted I am to our customers.  I needed to get on one of the shows so I could see you all enjoying the yogurt through your screens!

Introgurt: the right snack for all your binging… and binge-watching needs.

(And now back to Against the Grain)

Britton was seated at a chess table in the middle of one of Grand City’s public parks.  It was much quieter than the one in Midway, and the air actually smelled of oak and nuts rather than ketchup, mayonnaise, and newsprint.  He made his move, taking a pawn with his bishop.  The man across from him, a portly fellow with tiny gold glasses and ears like big soft pretzels, considered the move carefully.

“What does this little game have to do with us?” Golfort asked.  He stood to one side of the table, with Amstead on the other.  He’d expected her to be the one to ask the question, but she was too distracted checking her phone.

“There’s no difference between little games and big games,” Derringer claimed, keeping his eyes level with his pieces.  “We are pawns in the game of law.  You two are anyway.  I fancy myself more of a rook.”

“What, not the king?” Amstead asked, without looking at him.  Roughy had seemed more eager than a dachshund after a bowl of coffee, so why was he so slow in getting back to her?

“Someday, most certainly,” he answered her, just as his opponent made a move.  “Not yet though.  The game has had its way with me once, and I won’t let it happen again.  I’m three moves ahead now.  This strategizing is too advanced for you two Little Pondites though.  You should stay focused on your yogurt killer.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Amstead insisted.  “You told us you had information and then you took us here.  Why don’t you come out with it?”

“Very well.  I believe your murderer, Michael Odeck, was hired by Saul Grabthorn, the czar of crime here in Grand City, and in other darker time slots as well.  He and I have been at war for seasons, trading blows, taking giant American-sized bites out of each other’s lives.”  Britton moved a piece.  “Check.”

“I’ve never heard of him,” Nate said with a scrunched lip.  He looked to his partner, who shrugged back.

“You wouldn’t have,” Derringer said, now tilting his head and putting his cheek against the granite of the table to see between the pieces.  “He doesn’t want his name to be common knowledge, but he has fingers in a dozen pies: finance, medicine, entertainment, food, drugs, and the most organized parts of organized crime.  He hired your killer to take out one of his business rivals, but the scene we just came from was much more personal.”

“So why did he do all that… stuff to that artist girl?”

“A personal sleight I imagine.  She might have rejected one of his gifts, enraging him until only an elaborate death machine could calm him down.  This was the fourth such device I’ve discovered.  They’re all different mind you, each tailored to its victim, but they all bear the calling cards of his engineering.”

“He builds them himself?  How smart is this guy?”

“Exactly, down to each IQ point, as smart as I.  He has a doctorate in chemistry as well as one in finance.  He studied martial arts and international languages with equal intensity.”

“Nobody does that,” Amstead flouted.  “Those things don’t go together.  Jacks of all trades exist, but not past the university level.  You’re getting into mystery novel territory with bull… crap like that.”

Derringer lifted his head away from the game.  He stared at Amstead until she finally stared back.  He looked at the lump in her pocket, her phone.  A deep breath.  He let it all out through his nose, slowly.

“Do I need to perform another intellectual dissection to make you understand?” he asked her.  “All human beings are open pamphlets to me.”

“Open books…”

“No, open pamphlets.  Books have substance.  You two are flat.  You’re archetypes, nay, stereotypes.  Saul Grabthorn is a man of the utmost character.  That character is evil, but it is character nonetheless.  He has a rich history and his motivations cannot be summed up in mere hours.  Pursuing him is not an investigation and it’s not justice.  It’s my life.”

“Look Mr. Britton…” Amstead started, trying to slide a few words in.  He was having none of it.

“You’ve been checking your phone constantly,” he noted, “yet you haven’t spoken on it or texted yourself, so you’re waiting for a response to something.  Even though you’re small-minded I can see that you’re devoted to your work, which means this message is of equal or greater importance, which likely means it involves this case or your work in some way.”

Britton’s opponent chuckled as he made his move.  It seemed he enjoyed hearing the man chew someone else out, but his enthusiasm died when the inspector reached back to the board and instantly made his own move without looking.

“Checkmate.  Hand it over Lesky.”  Derringer snapped his fingers three times in rapid succession.  His opponent dug a scrap of paper out of his shirt pocket and handed it over.  He screwed a cap onto his head and grumbled as he left the table.  Derringer whipped back to Amstead.  “I also notice you’ve been holding your abdomen with your other hand.  Your micro-expressions hold both pain and recent loss.  A miscarriage?”

“Is this your card?” Golfort asked with a smirk.

“What I do is not magic,” Derringer insisted.  “Your colleague could not make it any more obvious.  I already know I’m right because of how pale she’s just gone.”  He held out his hand.  Amstead was white as a sheet.  If this was Little Pond she’d be red with fury, but every emotion since they’d left had been run through a filter of fear, and that feeling had only intensified in Grand City.

“I don’t care how much you can discern,” Eirene managed to say, “but a real man would know when to shut his mouth.  Your social skills are practically criminal.”

“I’m not a man,” he retorted.  “I am as close as man can come to a perfect deduction engine.  I also know that whoever you’re trying to communicate with is not in this time slot or your native one.  Haven’t you heard any of the old adages about traveling while with child?  Especially across time slots…  What took your child is what delays your communication now.  Crossovers are taxing on body and mind.  That’s why I’d never leave this city.  All you thin types can waft to me like dandelion seeds.  I am like the oak, like the…”

“What’s on that piece of paper?” Amstead practically shouted.  She stopped herself from reaching into her pocket to check her phone again.  Derringer held it up between two fingers and wiggled it back and forth.

“The informant who just left only gives me information if I can best him.  This is the address to a nightclub.  A temporary thing, as they move location every week.  The powerful and shadowy reliably gather there.  Now we can show up and interrogate its guests for clues as to Saul’s whereabouts or plan.  Failing that, we can perhaps get a detail regarding the exact execution of your murder.”

Derringer strode off jauntily.  He tossed the piece of paper to the ground, having already memorized the address.  Once he wasn’t looking Eirene dug her phone out and practically put her thumbs through it as she sent another message to Harding Roughy.

“You’re distracted,” Golfort said as they both lurched back into following Derringer.  “What are you trying to do with that lawyer guy?”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the case,” she argued, “not exactly anyway.  He seemed so eager when I first met him, so I thought I’d give him something to chew on.  There’s a lot of crazy legal tape I never even knew about when it comes to time slots.  He’s taking a pair of hedge clippers to some of it as a favor for me.”

“He didn’t strike me as the favors type.  He probably smells something he can stick his name on.  If I were you I’d keep my eyes on… shit… where’d he go?”  Derringer’s pace had proven a little too jaunty; they’d lost sight of him around the corner.

(Scene Change – This transition was brought to you by Introgurt)

Derringer had called their next stop in his trail of seasoned breadcrumbs a ‘nightclub’.  Even in the den of sin that was Midway the detectives from Little Pond had never seen a club that looked like that.  Its temporary home this time was a scummy bowling alley, only all the scum had been thoroughly scraped away for the evening.

The lanes were covered in red carpets.  In place of the pins there stood items up for auction, with all the bidders gathered around the ball return for each one.  Behind them was the dance floor and bar.  More regal carpets had been brought in to cover the stained garish floor.  The snack counter had been converted into something much fancier.  The ketchup and mustard dispensers were washed out and filled with vodka jelly, to be squirted onto fancy fruity desserts and sugar-rimmed mixed drinks.  The plastic cube that was the popcorn machine had been emptied and filled with complimentary items for the richer set: wooden matches, tins of shoe polish, organic lip balms…

Colored filters were placed over the bleaching fluorescent lights, dying the alley a much more pleasant purple.  The lighting worked especially well on Amstead’s dress as she walked into the club with Derringer on one arm and Nate on the other.  She felt ridiculous, but the inspector had refused to show the location until they donned appropriate attire.  He insisted the presence of uniforms or badges would make all the guests clam up immediately.

She told him there was no time to go shopping, but that wasn’t what he’d had in mind.  They’d stopped at his apartment, where he had a closet three times as large as the office of the Little Pond sheriff.  From it he had pulled a dress in Amstead’s size and a suit for Nate.  They’d fit perfectly; apparently Derringer’s abilities included accurately reading someone’s measurements by sight alone.  Neither of them bothered to ask about some of the sillier disguises they’d seen hanging up with the fine dining and business casual: mountain climber, homeless hippy, homeless junkie, male ballet dancer, scuba diver, bellhop…

“Just remember to let me do all the taking,” Derringer said through the side of his mouth as they strolled further into the club.

“Who are we even looking for?” Eirene asked, more than happy to drop their arms after the entrance was complete.

“There are a few associates of Saul’s who frequent these parties.  We’ll isolate one, force them into the back of the alleys, and perform some strong-arm tactics to get the information we need.”

“Now you’re speaking my language,” Nate said.  He cracked his knuckles and surveyed the crowd, convinced he could pick out their target by which had the snootiest face.  He pointed to a man with a golden chain around his neck and a crop of white blonde hair with black highlights.  He had wide unfocused eyes and stubble that suggested he’d been in two other nightclubs more recently than his own bed.  He had his arm around a woman’s waist and was busy regaling the other guests with a story from one of those other clubs.  He waved his martini glass around in the air; the vodka jelly inside quivered.

“No, that’s…” Derringer started.  His voice fell away as he processed the man’s face.  Derringer always looked like he smelled cat litter, but the sourness of his expression quintupled.  He stormed over to the man and pulled one of his shoulders, peeling the tight circle of guests open like an orange.

“Derringer,” the man said with a smile.  “What a pleasant surprise.  I heard you were doing crossover work.  I thought maybe you were far away, sucking your thumb in 6/5c or something.”  His friends laughed.  The man went to suck the jelly off the rim of his glass, but Derringer smacked it out of his hand.  It shattered on the floor.  The auctions paused, even as some of them crossed the twenty thousand dollar mark.  The music ceased.  Every head turned in Derringer’s direction.

“Some Little Pond detectives are shadowing me,” the inspector said, without even gesturing toward Nate and Eirene.  “Is that why you’re here?  You didn’t think I’d be in town.  It was safe for you to scurry out of your gilded hole in mother’s wall and rub elbows with pawns of Grabthorn?”  A few of the guests pulled pistols, but kept them held below the belt.  Eirene and Nate had weapons in a thigh holster and in a waistband respectively, but they held position.  Derringer was off his own script.

“Who is this guy?” Nate asked Britton.  “How strong of an arm do we use on him?”

“If anyone lays a hand on him it will be me and me alone,” Derringer growled.  “This is my spoiled brother Banister Britton.  Once again sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.”

“I hate to break it to you little brother,” Banister said with a roll of his eyes, “but I can think of one other person who plans to lay hands on me tonight.”  He wrapped the arms of the woman next to him around his waist and gyrated as if the music still played.  The woman looked uncomfortable, but held on.  Derringer pried her loose and pushed her out of the circle.

“Banister?” Nate whispered to Amstead.  “Were their parents watching Antiques Roadshow when they conceived these guys?”  Amstead stifled a laugh.  She regretted the small sound she made a moment later.  Derringer noticed every sound, every glance, no matter how minute.

She was lucky this time, as there was some unusual social phenomenon at play.  Derringer was too engrossed in his argument with his brother to pay any attention to the Little Pondites, as was everyone else.  It was like the siblings were the hired entertainment for the evening.  Nobody tried to quiet them, move them, or kick them out.

“You’re lucky,” Derringer shouted to the woman he’d just ripped away and shoved aside.  “He has herpes!  I can only imagine what other infections are swimming around in there as well.  He has a history with both stained needles and poor hygiene.”

“That’s my baby brother,” Banister told the crowd, his smile growing loose and floppy with irreverence, “always exaggerating.  I haven’t touched a needle in years and you know it.”  Derringer smacked him across the face before he could say anything else.  A few in the crowd gasped.

“Your reaction time is slowed,” Derringer accused.  “You should have seen that coming.  I can tell from the delay and your sallow sagging skin that you’re on something.  A downer of some sort…”

“You’re the only downer here, brother!”  Another smack.  Even the bartender leaned over to see.

“Okay, now this is really strange,” Eirene whispered to her partner.  “Right?”

“Well, the man did say this was all about him,” Nate reminded.  “I guess he meant it literally.  I mean, what are the odds we’d run into his brother?  That’s a huge coincidence right there.  Maybe… maybe there are only about ten people in this city.”  Eirene gave him a quizzical look.  “You know what I mean: ten people who matter.  Every place has a handful of people that matter.  They’re either politicians, athletes, actors…  Derringer and his brother Bar Stool over there matter.  His rival matters, which is why we got pulled into this, but all these other people here?  They don’t matter.”

“So do we matter?”

“I don’t think so.  Man, that hurts to say.  It’s got me feeling all itchy.  I miss Midway.  Midway was fun.  I thought this place would be better because of the later time slot, but there’s something dark here.  It’s got all the violence but it’s more ingrained, more… bitter.”

“Are you actually reflecting on your behavior as of late?” Eirene asked.  “That’s a compliment by the way.  Introspection’s a good look for you.”

“It’s not a good feeling.”  Nate went to take a sip of his drink, only to realize he hadn’t gotten one yet.  He was about to move towards the bar when Derringer stormed up to them.

“Come along, we’re leaving!” the inspector spat.  His cheeks were puffy and red.  The detectives looked over his shoulder to Banister, whose smug expression had never left.

“We came for information!” Eirene said.  “We can’t leave without it just because you got into an argument with…”  Derringer held something up to her face: a twisted purple fiber.  He shook it under her nose until it nearly made her sneeze.

“My brother’s always been jealous of my deductive ability!  He’s just here hoping some of the intelligence of the world’s masterminds rubs off on him.  I’ll be having a word with my mother about his behavior.  While you two stood here like slack-jawed soap opera patrons I found this in the carpet.”

“What is it?”

“A fiber from a building full of corporate offices.  Many of Grabthorn’s shell companies are based there.  It was likely tracked in here by the man who hired your killer.  We can go there and look for more clues.”

“How could you possibly know it’s from that building?” Nate asked.  “Or that it was our guy who…”

“Because I deduced it!” Derringer screamed.  The rest of his neck went as red as rhubarb, except for one swollen blue vein.  “That’s the only proof you need!  I!  Deduced!  It!  That sentence is good enough to get any man thrown in prison for the rest of his life in Grand City.  It should suffice for you!”  The inspector pushed past them and stormed out of the alley.  There was no choice.  If Derringer was the only person who mattered, he was their only way to the murderer.

(Scene Change – This transition was brought to you by Introgurt)

“I thought our next stop was that office building!” Eirene barked, stopping just short of the stone steps leading up to a mansion door.  Derringer pulled out an ivory-handled lock pick and inserted it under the knob.

“I told you I needed to speak to my mother about Banister,” the inspector said, his tongue out and cocked to one side while he jiggled the lock mechanism.  Nate stood beside him and watched.  A neighbor leaned over the hedges and stared.  Nate waved.  Eirene couldn’t believe he was so nonchalant, but she quickly realized it had to be confidence in his theory.  He actually thought they were bulletproof as long as they stayed out of Derringer’s path but still in his wake.

“Your mother’s not home Mr. Britton,” the neighbor said.  “She told me to tell you…”

“Piss off Langtree!” Derringer shouted back, without looking away from the lock.  The door clicked open.  He grabbed the knob and cracked it, checking the entryway for a moment.  “My mother’s always home.  If she tells you otherwise it’s just to get you off her back.  She’s planning to sue you over those horrendous lawn ornaments you know.  Oh and your wife’s cheating on you!  There’s a tire mark in your driveway from a San Christophino Aviator Model X-4, which happens to be the model her water polo instructor drives!  Mother’s in there right now, scheming…”  He went to take a step inside.

“That’s breaking and entering,” Eirene accused.  “I don’t care if she’s your mother.  We’ll have to report this when…”

“Go ahead, see if I care about your report,” he spat back.  “I’ll get to caring about that as soon as I’m done caring about the orphans in the A.M. slots and the poor cancelled babbling horse on his way to the glue factory.  This is not breaking and entering; this is just the dance my family does.  The steps never change.”  He waltzed inside, forcing the detectives to either wait or follow.  Mr. Langtree stared at them, his expression souring, so eventually they relented and followed the inspector.

There was barely any time to dwell on the ostentatious décor.  Everything, except for the security cameras angled down at them from every corner, looked like it was at least a hundred years old.  They followed the sounds of shouting until they found Derringer, once again red in the face, screaming at an old woman in a fabulous silver gown.  She took the assault admirably, staring into a hallway mirror and fluffing her hair.  She didn’t seem to see the detectives; perhaps anyone whose dress was not nice enough to include pearls or cufflinks was invisible to her.

“Do be quick Derringer dear.  I’m going out with the mayor tonight, and he’s bringing Virginia. She’s the favorite of all his affairs and he’s never more fun than when she’s…”

“You will make time for this Mother!” Derringer howled.  “Banister is trawling the villain clubs again, sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong and snorting all sorts of debauchery through it.  He’s inches from the third rail!”

“You should let him touch it son,” his mother advised.  She smiled and checked her teeth for anything unsightly.  “He can hit rock bottom and you can find him in the gutter, perhaps with balloons full of cocaine in his belly!  Then you and he can fight your way out of his drunken contract, have a gunfight or two, and get him into rehab.  It’ll be such an arc, such a dramatic turn!  You two haven’t had a reconciliation in ages.  Remember how you used to fracture and slowly drift back to trust?  You two used to do that all the time.  It was so cute.”

“He’s too old to be playing that game,” Derringer argued.  “Nobody finds it charming anymore.  This time he’ll find death.  When he does Saul will use that against me.  He’ll attempt to manipulate me with the memory of my deceased bro…”

“Your brother will never die,” his mother insisted, finally breaking eye contact with the mirror.  She looked him up and down like he was a home invader, or some sort of pizza delivery boy who had stepped inside for no apparent reason.  “He’s principal to your efforts here in the city.  He’s as likely to go as you or I.  If any of our pillars collapse then we all come tumbling down.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, you syndicated old bat!  The clues are there if you’re looking.  Our time is not infinite.  Saul is closing in on his endgame.  His interest in me is faltering.  Banister wasn’t at that party because Grabthorn was trying to get to me; he was simply there.  Simply having fun.  It wasn’t part of any plot.  He was just drifting like a gas-filled chunk of whale flesh.”

“What clues, Derringer?  What hallucinations have you convinced that Saul has finally pulled out his claws?”  Derringer put himself between Nate and Eirene, who stood up straight when they realized their existence was finally going to be acknowledged.  “You see these detectives mother?  They’re all the clues I need.”  His mother squinted.  Derringer patted their backs, but the old woman showed no signs of seeing them.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you ma’am,” Eirene said, extending her hand, but the woman still looked confused.

“Have you become that blind and deaf?” Derringer asked.  “You’re no longer the woman who locked me in the study with the paper dolls of the Russian oligarchs and told me to decipher their deceptions from just their eyebrow angles.  I assume you can only see them if they express themselves in a fashion befitting 11/10c.”

He leaned in front of Eirene, grabbed the bottom of her sweater, and yanked it up over her armpits, lifting her bra and exposing her breasts in the process.  Eirene yelped and forced her clothes back down.  While she adjusted herself he grabbed Nate’s waistband and pulled both his pants and boxer shorts down to his ankles.  His exposed genitals hung down, pointing to the exact line where his underwear was divided into its two halves: red and blue.

“Good lord.  Who the fuck are those people?” Derringer’s mother exclaimed with a grimace.  The word hit Eirene as if she’d been slapped in the face with a lionfish.  She reeled back and ran into a chest of drawers, falling onto it like a bench.  Her skin was hot and prickly; she was forced to fan herself with one hand, like a muscle memory, and it filled her mind with images of old women in sundresses sitting at little metal tables back in Little Pond.  Half the people she protected would die if they heard such language.  Amstead was only protected by the cautiously-worded stories of her father and the carnage she’d seen in murder cases.

Nate responded strongly as well, immediately developing an erection at the sound of the word.  With his pants around his ankles, the shock of it sent him tripping backward.  He hit the floor, penis waving like the antennae of an RC car.  It was a mighty word.  A stimulating word.  The old woman had used it like a dagger through their portraits, but Nate and his body had a different sense of it.  He wanted to wrap that word up in a gold ribbon, like a bottle of wine, and take it back to Midway as a gift.  They would have fun with it, instead of making it strange the way Grand City did.

“Woah, are we doing something here?” Golfort asked nobody in particular.  “I’m not saying I’m not game, but I could use a few details.”

“Pull your knickers up detective,” Derringer groaned.  “I was just making a point.”  He turned to his mother.  “There.  These two are detectives from 7/6c.  They’ve got me doing crossover work with a much earlier slot.”  His mother put one hand over her mouth.  She turned to look at the mirror once more, as if recognizing her mortality for the first time.  “I know Saul is involved somehow.  For now I’m on the path of their murderer, some meaningless case about dairy products, but as soon as…”

“Meaningless?” Eirene blurted.  She stood.  Her body felt strange.  The moment he’d lifted her shirt, everything felt wrong.  It was like her clothes had flown out the window and not returned.  She felt flayed, as if the dust in the stuffy air touched exposed muscle tissue.  That infectious word…  “Murder is not meaningless.  This is meaningless.  How much more of our time are you planning on wasting Derringer?”

“Oh calm down woman.  Your answers are near.  There are just a few small matters.”

(Quick cut to Derringer and the detectives standing backstage at a fashion show.  Derringer is in the middle of an argument with an Icelandic supermodel who is swearing at him in six different languages.)

“It’s over Feina!  I let you into my bed and this is how you repay me?  Saul may be your uncle but I thought what we shared was stronger than his hold over you.  I guess I was wrong, for the first and only time in my entire life!”

(Quick cut to Derringer and the detectives standing in the mayor’s office.  They have just walked in on the mayor mounting his assistant, naked except for her bra straps over one of his ears and her thong over the other.)

“This is the last time I’ll let you pretend to play with the big cats Mayor Dordehen!  You’re nothing but a mouse too spineless to get snapped up in the traps.  I’ll expect your stamp of approval on the prosecution briefings the district attorney will hand in later today.  You put one foot out of line, you so much as kiss the wrong baby, and I’ll see to it Saul has no more use for you!”

(Quick cut to Derringer berating an extraordinarily beautiful woman in thick glasses and a lab coat.)

“You may be the smarter of the two Renee, but you’re no less treacherous than your sister.  By the way, I never gave it my all with you.  Just ask Feina how the sex was and you’ll see that you got the short end of my stick!”

(Quick cut to Derringer destroying a bakery, throwing colorful iced cakes against the wall, near the head of the cowering baker.)

“How much did it take to buy you Mr. Cream Puff?  Did Grabthorn offer you the catering for his next ten birthdays to poison my muffins?   You make me sick!”

(Quick cut to Derringer running, sweaty and shirtless, in the middle of traffic.  He throws his head up to the sky and screams while a city block watches.)

“I know you’re out there Grabthorn!  Come to me!  Let’s settle this like a cave lion and short-snouted bear!  Aahhh!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhfuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

(Quick cut to Derringer, fully dressed, and the detectives standing in an empty office on the fifteenth floor of one of the taller buildings in the city.  The cubicles are empty and there are hanging wires where the light fixtures have been ripped out.)

“This is it?” Eirene asked warily.  “This is where Michael Odeck was hired to kill Charles Marvalla, according to your single fiber from the alley?”  She looked at Nate to make sure she had all the pieces in place, but he was too busy staring at the walls as if he could see through them.  His mouth hung open, and his hand rested on his holster.

“Yes, this is it.  This is your climactic moment detectives.  Climactic for your miniscule arc anyway.  Whichever underling of Saul’s did this is just a villain-of-the-week for me.  Just a speck of dust in the…”

Viht!  A bullet struck the nearest wall.  The detectives and the inspector dropped.

(Against the Grain will return after these messages from our sponsor)

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(And now back to Against the Grain)

“Nate you alright?” Eirene called out to her partner.  After the shot she had dropped and rolled all the way to the wall, gun out by the time she collided with it.  Golfort and Derringer had done similarly, but disappeared around different corners.

“Yeah, I’m peachy,” her partner shouted back.  “Did you see which direction that came from?”

“The bullet was fired downward at an angle of just seven degrees,” Derringer added without prompting.  “Our would-be murderer is likely five feet and ten inches tall.  Small caliber round.  From the smell of the bullet I would say it had been sitting in its box for a long time.  He waited ages before loading his weapon; he’s been waiting for…”

“I don’t need you to speak for me,” a fourth voice interrupted from down the hall.  A man, at least a little older than all three of the investigators.  “So, the Detectorate has come all this way.  You chased my pawn out of your city.  Caught him in that sweltering den of sin.  Followed his tongue here, to the land of ivory towers and thousand page autobiographies. Heh.  Mehehehehe!”  His laughter seemed to come from everywhere.  The glass of the windows vibrated with it.  It echoed out of the holes in the wall with the dangling wires.  “You want your answers?  Then come and get me!”

They heard his footfalls retreating away from them.  All three hopped to their feet and gave chase.  They flew out of the office and into the corridor.  They spotted a pant leg as it disappeared into an opening on the left.  They ran with all their might, with Derringer somehow in the lead even though Golfort had certainly seen more time on the treadmill.  Eirene purposefully stayed a few steps behind.  If this was really Derringer’s game, then she didn’t want to wind up as nothing more than a meat shield for him to desecrate with a promise of avenging her death.

“Who is this guy Derringer?” she asked between breaths as they pursued.

“I don’t recognize the voice.  A guest in my city I imagine, somebody Saul brought in just for the occasion.  It’s strange.  He can’t be that qualified.  I’ve followed enough leads to this building to know its entire layout.  There’s no way down in the direction he’s heading.  Just up.  He’s running himself into a corner office!”

They swung to the left, nearly forced to stop by the sudden openness of the room.  It was something like a cafeteria, with white walls and lots of tables.  They spotted a set of stairs at the end of the room, and for a moment their attacker’s footsteps could be heard fleeing up them.  The sound only had their attention for a second, as another took over.

The stairway was flanked by odd features indeed: giant metal pipes as big around as an elephant.  They stood up against the wall, their smooth surface only interrupted by two features: a large polished valve and an even larger Introgurt logo.  Each pipe was painted one of the pastel colors they’d seen so much of back at the yogurt factory.  The one on the left was a soft green like the skin tone of an infant leprechaun.  The one on the right was like red taffy left out in the sun.

They were the sources of the new sound.  They groaned louder and louder as the investigators approached, forcing them to slow.  They stopped at the foot of the stairs, with the pipes now rattling under the force of an unseen pressure.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Eirene said.  “Is there a yogurt factory in here?  They would never put one in a building like this.”

“Wait… are these the same pipes from back in Little Pond?” Nate asked.  He went as close to one as he dared and wiped his fingers across it.  He rubbed its between his fingers.

“If it’s all owned by Introgurt, these pipes must be part of their aesthetic,” Derringer deduced.

“No, I mean these are the exact same pipes,” Nate said.  “Look, I touched one back in Little Pond.  You can see my print in the dust there.”  He pointed, but ended up retreating a few steps as the groan started to shake the floor.  “Why would they move them all the way out h…”  The valves exploded off the pipes.  Two geysers of yogurt shot out with the power of crowd-suppressing fire hoses.  The twin streams pushed the tables and chairs back and coated the floor almost immediately.

The sides of the pipes ruptured, covering the foot of the stairs before they could get to them.  The surge of yogurt swept all three investigators off their feet and pushed them back out into the corridor, along with a mass of tumbling chairs and tables.  Eirene’s head was forcefully submerged, her cheek dragged across the drenched carpet.  Even if she opened her eyes it would be impossible to see anything.  She dropped her gun and probed with both hands for anything to grab onto.

She found something: Nate’s thigh.  He had a hold of Derringer.  They clumped together the best they could, hoping their combined weight would keep the yogurt from pushing them any further.  They could tell the power of the flow was finally dying, when they were suddenly swept to the right.  Gravity grabbed them, seeming to voice its hunger with a roaring whoosh.  Nate was their lifeline; he had a hold of the clump of chairs that was forced up against the opening to the elevator shaft.  The elevator itself was nowhere to be seen, so they endured the yogurt-fall as it streamed past them and down the shaft.

“Don’t just hang there man!  Pull us up!” Derringer ordered.  He was very distressed by the fact that he was last in their dangling chain.  Eirene, as she gasped and sputtered to get the thick fruit-flavored goop out of her throat, momentarily entertained shaking the pompous investigator off her thighs.  What she couldn’t shake was the feeling that if he died the whole city would go with him, down some cosmic elevator shaft into nonexistence.

Three minutes later they were back on their feet, wiping their clothes off as much as possible, and stomping about in the leftover fruity puddles.  Eirene and Nate both ditched their jackets and turned out their pockets.  The gloopy stuff had infiltrated their weapons and made firing impossible.  Eirene wrung her hair, though she feared it would smell like sour limes across any number of time slots.

“You saw everything else coming, why not that?” Nate barked at Derringer as he reached into his waist band and pulled out a salt shaker from one of the cafeteria tables.

“I didn’t see it coming because it doesn’t make any sense.  I can’t make deduction pastries without any of the crucial ingredients!  I saw no evidence, no patterns, no foreshadowing!  Something is amiss.”  He stormed back towards the cafeteria, with the Detectorate following.  There was no way they were giving up now; they would just get the cost of new clothes added to the fiend’s eventual laundry list of charges.

“Was that supposed to be a deathtrap?” Eirene asked no one in particular.  “The chances of that killing us, even with the elevator shaft, were slim to none.”

“Just like that slogan of theirs,” Golfort chuckled bitterly.  He sucked some of the red flavor out from under his nails one by one.  The other two looked at him.  “You guys know.  That damn commercial of theirs is everywhere.  The low-fat Introgurt.  It says ‘Calories?  Slim to none!’ right there on the side.  Don’t look at me like that.  You’ll make a man think he’s crazy.”

“The incongruity is in fact maddening,” Derringer said.  He pulled a lint brush from his jacket, tried it on the yogurt, and threw it into a puddle when it had no effect.  “Saul Grabthorn only makes masterpieces, nothing as inelegant and as reliant on fluid dynamics as this Vitamin C-enriched monstrosity.”  They made it back to the ruptured pipes.  Derringer banged on the side of one with a hollow sound, as if slapping a dog for urinating on his rug.  “Also there were three of us.  At least one of you two should have perished.”  He walked back and forth at the foot of the stairs, stroking his chin.

“There’s no point in waiting around!” Eirene insisted.  “Whoever that is could be heading up.  There’s bound to a helipad on the roof.  He might be escaping while you’re standing here thinking about it!”

“A helipad?” Golfort questioned.

“What?  That’s far from the least likely thing we’ve seen in this place!  We don’t have any guns though…”

“I say we still go.  If this guy wanted to shoot us he would’ve just done it when he had the drop on us back there.  He’s leading us somewhere.  We’re supposed to see something first, maybe another one of these weird deathtraps…  I’m hungry; maybe the next one has a nice cheesesteak theme or something.”  Eirene nodded.  The Detectorate took a few steps toward the stairs.  They hit the first one.  The second.  They stopped and turned.  Derringer still stood between the two pipes, an intense thought pulled and worked between his hemispheres like taffy.

“Inspector Britton,” Eirene addressed, “are you joining us or not?  I think it’s about time you proved to us that you’re worth a whole city fawning over you.”  The inspector took a moment to look between them, up the dark stairs.  Something switched in his eyes, more like a fire extinguishing than igniting.  He turned around and, without a word, started to walk away.  “Hey!  You useless… where are you going?”

“This is a case for people who can’t see past the immediate,” Derringer threw over his shoulder.  “If you really think this is just about the murder of Charles Marvalla, then by all means go up there.  I’m done here.”

“Just like that?  You’re a pansy,” Nate spat, but the insult did not slow Britton’s retreat.

“This is not the work of Saul Grabthorn.  I see what your killer is trying to do.  It’s clever.  I’m amazed anyone from Little Pond came up with it.  Still, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s trying to drag me into it just to get more eyes and tongues leaning a certain way.  I’m leaving, because I know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt’s stubble.  This case… has nothing to do with me.”  Derringer Britton disappeared around the corner, the squelching of his footsteps the closest thing to a farewell.

“That guy is an asshole,” Eirene said.  She didn’t flinch from the word.  She thought she could take a bullet in the next ten minutes, so it was prudent to toughen up.  She couldn’t let words like that shake or batter her.  They might be her only weapon against the fiend that had dragged them this far.

“A fucking asshole,” Nate added, never to be outdone.  The Detectorate marched up the dark stairs, towards the next piece of staged madness.

(Quick cut to a new higher floor.  It’s quiet.  Abandoned.  Everything is clean and brightly colored.  The carpet is thick, so much so that it absorbs nearly all sound.)

There were lights on somewhere, but they were weak and close to the ground.  The Detectorate moved slowly along the walls, one on each side, examining the shelves and their rainbow of merchandise.  As far as they could tell, they were now in some sort of gift shop.  Eirene reached out and picked up something tiny and soft, examining it.

It was a stuffed blueberry toy topped with a small flower.  There was a smiling face stitched across its skin, but it wasn’t the simple cute smile line and dot eyes that would’ve been appropriate.  It had wide white eyes with tiny pupils, like it had been pumped full of a stimulant.  Its smile was massive, displaying blocky horse teeth.  She checked the tiny tag on the back: Blockbuster Blueberry – Trademark registered to the Introgurt Corporation.

When she put it down, back into its bunched brethren, her eyes wandered up.  Each shelf held a different size tier.  The second had stuffed strawberries, peaches, and apples piled together, each the size of a basketball.  The third had melon slices and pineapples, all with the same manic grins, each as big as a golden retriever.

“I didn’t know there was this much merchandise for yogurt,” Nate whispered.  The reason for his volume was clear to Eirene.  He didn’t fear their attacker; it was those stuffed fruits.  Their oppressive aura and artificial scents hung in the air, as if they could only blink if both the detectives turned their backs.  If they did for more than a second the produce might come to life, lean forward, and tumble off the shelf for a vicious attack.

When they rounded the corner the stuffed displays turned into keychains, wallets, and commemorative spoons made of a so-labeled ‘limited edition’ plastic.  That area opened up into three more cramped hallways, all stuffed with merchandise.  Eirene made a quick dash through one of them and wound up back at the keychains.

“These just circle around.  It’s like a maze.”

“You can only get out if you buy something,” Nate guessed.  “Maybe we should grab these.”  He pointed and then moved past an electric spinning display of Introgurt-approved bundled DVDs.  As Eirene passed the cases she noticed they included lists of the most appropriate Introgurt flavors to pair with each genre.

The detectives stopped in front of two pedestals, each at exactly the same height as the waist of the person before it.  They were topped with plush round cushions resembling yogurt lids.  A polished pistol sat on each.  Their pastel paint jobs seemed more appropriate for Easter eggs.  The one in front of Nate was purple and green, while Eirene’s was pink and white.  Both bore the Introgurt logo on their grips.

“They’re water pistols,” Eirene guessed.  Nate snatched his off the pillow, took aim at a stuffed apricot sticking its tongue out at him, and pulled the trigger.  Viht!  A bullet tore straight through its eye, tossing the toy to the floor as it bled cottony stuffing.

“Guess it’s mineral water,” Nate quipped.  Amstead, after shaking off the shock, walked over to him and tried to take the gun.  “What are you doing?  This one’s mine.  They gave you a pink girly one.”

“That’s why I want yours,” she argued.  “He wants me to take that one.  Do you want to give this bastard what he wants?”  Nate scratched his head, but offered no more resistance.  She slipped the green and purple gun out of his hand and gave him the pink and white one.  “Alright, let’s find this fu… this fuuuuu… this fuuuckin-guh guy before we find a grapefruit with a detonator stem.”

The Detectorate held their weapons forward, slowly moved away from the pedestals, and each took one of the wrapping hallways.  The perpetrator had to be in there somewhere; they’d seen no other stairs or elevators up or down.  While they were separated they kept their heads on a swivel, slowly rotating their bodies as they walked, just in case any of the stuffed fruits got any funny ideas.  They both fought the urge to shout, to dare the killer to come forward, but such an action reeked of Derringer’s selfishness.  He’d done that very thing, shirtless, in the middle of the street, just a few hours prior.

Eirene rounded the last corner, suppressing a small gasp when she spied a face and nearly pulled her trigger.  It was just Golfort doing the same.  Their paths had joined in a room just like the rest, filled with yogurt-branded toys and keepsakes.  Nate growled and kicked a display over.

“You should show more respect to your makers,” a voice advised coolly.  Both detectives whipped around, guns pointed at the same spot near the wall.  There was a pyramid of plush square watermelons decorated with honeydews.  The honeydew at its tip was actually a human head, its skin tone blending quite well with the others.  The head was male.  His jowls were pressed against the lower melons as if he was sinking further into the pyramid.  His hair was a tuft of brown that likely hadn’t seen a comb in weeks.  He had his chin pointed up, so his eyes had to work to look at the detectives.  Past the strangeness of his predicament, there was something familiar about him.

“Are you the one who took a shot at us?” Eirene asked.  Her sights were trained on his Adam’s apple, but she refused to get closer.  There was no telling what he had in his arms under all the stuffed toys.  Knowing what she did about Grand City, his hands were either full of a rocket launcher or his genitals, perhaps both.  Nate strafed to the left, just to make sure they had a second angle on him.

“Yes that was me,” the head crooned.  He blinked slowly and swallowed audibly.  “I lured you up here, in here, out here.  All the directions really. Like fish on a line.  You know Introgurt has a special promotional yogurt for one of those fishing shows?  It has little gummy fish swimming in the top layer.  It’s a big hit with the sportsman crowd.”

“What the fuck are you jabbering about?” Nate barked.  “What did you mean when you said ‘your makers’?  Why’d you have Charles Marvalla killed?  Did you want his job?  You look like you could…”  His voice trailed off.

“Detective?”  Eirene stole a glance at her partner.  “Golfort?  Cincinattus!”  Nate’s pistol slowly lowered until it rested against his thigh.  He fell against the wall, wiping his forehead as if it was suddenly a hundred degrees in the gift shop.  “What’s wrong with you?” his partner asked.

“Who does melon-head here look like to you?” Nate asked, his voice solemn.  Eirene looked at the suspect.  She already noticed there was something familiar…  Had she seen him on TV?  Yes.  No.  Only a situation strange enough to be TV.  It wasn’t him though; it couldn’t be.  She’d spent enough time examining the body to know there was no chance of it ever walking around again.  The melon-head wasn’t Charles Marvalla, but at a glance he could’ve been.

At the realization she felt the same heat wave her partner did, but she didn’t let her gun drop.  She had no idea what was going on, but her instincts told her it was wrong.  They were the same instincts that guided Midnight Beat Amstead through different time slots across decades.  They wouldn’t fail her now.  She straightened her mind out, letting the strange existential heat act like an iron taking the wrinkles out of the mystery.  This was not the first time something like this had happened.  They had arrested a false Michael Odeck in Midway.  Somehow a duplicate had replaced Eirene there as well, slipped right into her relationship and stolen her child.  Whatever those people were, this fake Marvalla was one of them as well.

“How did you do all this?” she asked him.  With Nate’s gun lowered she decided to move closer.  “And why?”

“I know you two have worked very hard,” the melon Marvalla answered, voice now doused in syrup.  “It was very entertaining to watch.  You made everyone very happy.  They’re pleased with our work.  We will be renewed.”  He tilted his head up further and sighed, as if lounging in a sauna.

“Answers!” Eirene demanded.

“Of course,” melon-head Marvalla said, “what would any of this be without a climax?  If you didn’t get your answers it could undo much of that hard work.  I orchestrated all of this: the murder, your crossover work, the strange sights in this building… for the sponsors.”

“You’re not top of the totem pole?” Nate asked.  He still looked like he’d just sprinted four miles under the blazing sun.  “Someone paid you to pay someone?”

“Oh they paid me,” Melon-head confirmed.  “They paid me in ways you can only imagine.  They approached me more than a season ago, wanting me to get the eyes of the world on the products of Introgurt.  I had a radical plan you see: integration of multiple levels of societal strata.  Advertisements as well as current events.  Cross-pollination.”

“The fakes!” Eirene yelped.  “The duplicate people everywhere.  Explain those.”

“Nothing draws eyes like a murder,” Melon-head continued.  “I settled down in Little Pond and then moved suddenly, forcing myself to be recast.  Then I hired loyal Mr. Odeck to kill my replacement.  I left him very specific instructions and he followed them to a tee.  Your crossover work was induced.  The promotion had begun!”

“You’re trying to say this was all to boost yogurt sales.  Using the publicity generated by the case?” Nate asked.

“There was some of that, but you do not understand.  It was about saturation.  We were all over three different time slots, and yogurt dripped into the ample spaces between them.  Heeheehee.”  His head sunk a little lower, as if the stuffed toys were now a bubbling Jacuzzi.

“This is a confession,” Eirene said quietly.  It didn’t make sense, that much was clear, but she still needed to follow procedure.  She had to make as much sense of it as she could.  “Is your name Charles Marvalla?”  The man nodded, sending one honeydew bouncing down the side of the pyramid and across the floor.  “You orchestrated the murder of your body double in Little Pond?”  Another nod.  “You engaged in a money-laundering scheme with the Introgurt cooperation, somehow tying this murder to their profits?”  Another nod.  “Very well then.  Charles Marvalla you are under arrest for the murder of Charles Marvalla.”  She grabbed handcuffs off her belt and approached one step at a time.  Charles babbled all the while.

“Everything went so smoothly, as smooth as the taste of Introgurt kiwi cream.  You toured the factory and helped everyone meet our happy employees.  I showed them all our fine snack options during the breaks, let them know how in we were across three time slots and who knows how many demographics.  Then we had a set piece-filled chase all the way up here.  And now we are renewed.  New contracts!  New fame!  New wealth.  I couldn’t have placed the products better myself, detectives.  Oh, I almost forgot.  One last action shot for good luck.”

Charles burst out of the pyramid, waving two giant hunting knives.  He giggled and slashed wildly at Eirene.  She’d been expecting such a move, so she snatched a stuffed melon off the floor and threw it up.  One of the knives stabbed deep into it.  She then shouldered him in the gut, spun around behind him, and wrenched his arms backward.  His hands were in the cuffs before his second knife hit the ground.  He winced in pain, but giggled again a moment later.

“You think you’ve won?” she asked him as she pulled him to his feet and holstered her colorful new pistol.

“He has won,” Nate said.  Something about his voice made Amstead pause.  She looked at him and found herself staring down the barrel of a pink pistol.  Her partner’s hand shook, but there was no question he aimed at her head rather than Marvalla’s melon.

“Nate… what is this?  It’s over.  Lower your weapon.”

“Over for you maybe Amstead.  Do you even know what I’ve been through?”  Nate grabbed his collar and ripped it open, sending a button flying.  He had a rash climbing his chest.  His eyes looked hot and wet, like eggs triple boiled.  He addressed Marvalla.  “Would it be good for your promotion if I turned traitor right now?”  Marvalla mulled the idea over, slowly.

“It could be,” he guessed.  “I always knew the climax would be the weak point.  I kind of painted myself into a corner with all the intrigue and murder machines.  The sponsors might find this a little more traditional.”

“Nate, you took an oath…” Eirene pleaded.

“Hang the fucking oath with an AV cable!” he shouted back.  “Marvalla, can the sponsors renew me?  Can they make me a big shot with my own city, like Derringer Britton?”  He nodded.  “That settles it then. That’s my price.  You and your sponsors make it so I don’t have a boss, and we’ll do something real exciting with her.  Drown her in dragon fruit if you want.”

“Oh, no yogurt drowning,” Marvalla warned.  “If people see dead bodies in the yogurt they’ll have negative thoughts about how sanitary it is.  We can just drown her in a toilet somewhere.”  Amstead wrapped her arm around Marvalla’s neck and tightened.  He sputtered and grabbed at her, but she couldn’t squeeze the smug expression off his face.

“I’m right here you know,” she seethed.

“You’re always right there!” Nate shouted at her, flicking the gun towards her.  “You’re getting bigger all the time.  Taking up more and more space and time.  It didn’t used to be this way.  It used to be an asshole like me was the star cop.  I do what all the greats did.  I break rules.  I sleep with so many goddamn women!  I violate so many rights!  Back in Little Pond my star just kept shrinking.”

“Have you tried being a better detective?  You idiot.”

“Shut up!  I’m doing everything the way your father did it.  He was a real man and they gave him real accolades.  I get nothing for being just as bold as him.  Do you remember when I shocked those kids back at Odeck’s?  You didn’t even laugh!”

“It wasn’t funny…”

“Of course it was!  Hillbillies getting brutalized because they’re so stupid and violent.  It’s a classic.”  Marvalla giggled a little more rapidly, now sounding like the puttering of a little plastic boat in bathwater.  “He gets it.  Midnight Beat Amstead did stuff like that all the time.”

“My father regrets a lot of the things he got away with,” Amstead defended.  “He taught me to be better than he was.  Maybe society is finally full of people trying to be better Cincinnatus.  The police used to be a belligerent boy’s club, but now we’re expected to do what we were made for.  Care.  Serve. Protect.”

“Well I’m protecting myself, partner.  I tried getting a drug problem back in Midway.  I heard withdrawal draws all kinds of sympathy.  Humanizes you.  But it just made so damn itchy and sweaty.”  He rubbed his drenched shirt with his free hand, like he tried to restart his heart.  “That didn’t work, so now here we are.  I’m throwing in with Introgurt.  They’ll give an asshole like me his due.”

“I’ll give you your due!” Eirene roared.  She pushed Marvalla forward, right into Golfort.  He fired off a shocked shot, but it ricocheted away.  While Nate shoved the pudgy millionaire, Eirene tackled them both.  She smashed his hand against the wall, forcing him to drop the gun.  Marvalla squeezed out from between them and sat nearby, legs splayed.  He watched idly, feet swishing back and forth to a silent tune.

Eirene pushed her former partner up against the wall as he fought her for control.  Even in the moment she knew he wasn’t wrong.  Cops like him did used to get medals, articles, and any woman they wanted.  Cincinnatus had the bad luck of being on the tail end of it, so naturally he tried to grab that dragon’s tail as it flicked back and forth and retreated into its cave.

He punched her.  Eirene stumbled backward. Nate lunged for his gun, grabbed it, but they were interrupted by a sudden thundering of footsteps.  There was shouting.  In came a swarm of riot officers with shields and shotguns.  They snatched up Charles Marvalla and threw him against the wall.  Nate still held his pistol up, so they surrounded him and ordered him to drop it.

“He attacked me,” Eirene said, hand and voice shaking.  She wiped some blood from the side of her mouth.  “He’s dirty.  Arrest him.”

“Do as she says,” a man said as he pushed his way through the officers.  It was Harding Roughy, and he was a sight to behold in his red suit and tie.  He was armed with a folder thick enough to be held closed by three small chains.  “Arrest Detective Golfort.”  The officers looked back and forth, plastic face shields knocking against the rest of their armor.  “Now!”  They shuddered forward and tackled Nate, who thrashed wildly, spitting and cursing as they dragged him away.

“Wait, I need to say some things to his face!” Eirene barked, but Harding put a hand to her shoulder.  He swiped a red comb through his tall quaffed hair, like a mallard preening an outstretched and broken wing, but seemed to think better of it a moment later.  He gently maneuvered the fuming detective away from all the officers, her former partner, and their suspect.

“You don’t want to do that,” he advised her, forcing his voice quieter.  He rolled his lower jaw, as if whispering pained him.  He stopped her in a dark corner, as far from all the noise as possible.  “We don’t want any more eyes on this.  Things are about to get heavy and… I can’t believe I’m saying this… subtle.  From now on we’re dealing with sensitive information Amstead.”

“What are you talking about Roughy?  I just wanted you to figure out how I could get my…”

“Your child back, I know.  You knew I was hungry for crossover work and you baited me good with your situation here.  Once I tugged on that thread, a bunch more came tumbling out like sacrificial goat innards.  I found connections between all three time slots involved in the case.  Money changing hands across borders without oversight.  An advertising monopoly.  The best part is we can use your case to bust it wide open.”

“We can?”

“Yes.  This is the biggest case… ever.  We can’t treat it that way though.  We have to be calm.  Diligent.  We need to start with what we can prove.  We’ve got the Introgurt Corporation dead to rights when it comes to you being recast because of your work situation.”

“So…”  Amstead rubbed her face with both hands.  She tried to breathe, but the bottoms of her lungs felt like they were full of concrete.  “They were the ones pushing us along?  What do we have them on?  Unlawful abortion?  Sexual assault?”

“Simpler than that,” Harding whispered.  “Kidnapping.  They overstepped their bounds by transferring that fetus to keep the Midway bureaucracy going.  It’s a compounding error after that.  They violated your custody rights there and here in Grand City.  If they don’t return the kid by the time you go back to Little Pond, we’ve got them on a violation there too.”

“So that’s it?”

“In a sense.  We’ve got a long road ahead of us in court.  I’ll get the judge to agree to a special order, barring all cameras from the courtroom.”  He looked close to tears at the thought.  “It won’t be televised.  That’s how Introgurt got so much control over the slots.  They bought up all the drama and all the major players.  The small details of your anguish are the only things that can be their downfall.”

“We shouldn’t celebrate,” Eirene guessed.

“Right.  That plays right into their hands.  We have to be boring and prepared until that kid is back in your body or your arms.”

“I’ll tell you one thing Harding.  I’ve had it with all this showboating.  I swear to you that one day… I’ll be running the show.”

(Outro music swells and fades with the fade out)

Produced by Heath Moose Jr.

Director – Phillip Spotlook

Executive Producer – Charles Marvalla

No animals were harmed in the making of this episode

(Against the Grain will be on hiatus for the near future, until the court case of I.O.D. vs. Introgurt is settled.  We are legally required to make recompense by offering this message: we at I.O.D do not discriminate against our actors in screen time or pay because of their, age, gender, race, nationality, family situations, or medical conditions.  We remain committed to quality entertainment in the coming seasons.)

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One thought on “The Detectorate 7/6c (Finale)

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