The Detectorate 7/6c (Part One)

This program is a work of fiction.  Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

Intro Narration: Law enforcement is taken seriously in the township of Little Pond, Massachusetts.  A new crime wave, worsened by local corruption, has convinced its people that elections are now necessary for its detectives as well as its sheriff.  The first two candidates for this experimental program, called the Detectorate, are Eirene Amstead and Cincinattus Golfort.  These stories are the evidence of their efforts, conviction, and dedication to their constituents.

Intro theme tune by Zizi Caraway

Produced by Heath Moose

Episode 17: By the Horns

The idyllic path towards the cabin was in such stark contrast to their task that the detectives nearly forgot why they were there.  Moss hung over the cobblestones.  Butterflies with heavy rounded wings of a single color fluttered between tiny purple flowers.  The last of the previous night’s rain hung in the air, too sleepy to return all the way to the clouds.  None of it changed the fact that at the end of the path, inside the $900,000 cabin with the Jacuzzi, sauna, trampoline, and badminton court, there was a dead man.

The door was forced open, its beautiful red wood splintered all over the carpet.  Once they were fully inside they realized how much of the cabin’s wooden exterior was just a disguise.  The air conditioning and fans gave the place an oddly sterilized atmosphere.  The soundproofing kept out the whispers of the pine trees rustling.  There was a curled spider in one corner that looked like it had starved to death and fallen into its own web.

“Why even get a cabin if you’re going to turn it into this?” Detective Golfort asked as he popped a piece of red gum into his mouth.  Even with the bite of cinnamon it didn’t rid him of his urge for a cigarette.  His teeth certainly looked the part, as he’d bleached them nearly to neon.  He was a little younger than his partner, thirty-three to be exact, but always tried to step foot on the crime scene first.

“It’s the same reason you have a kid and then give them a nanny as their new parent,” Detective Amstead, a tall woman with yarn-like red hair, said.  She followed just behind her partner.  They’d been elected simultaneously, but they didn’t run together and their platforms were quite different.  She’d focused on communication between police and civilians; he held firearm demonstrations and raffles.  She already dreaded their first real case together.  If he shot first it meant she had to ask questions later.  “It’s just part of these rich guys’ images.  Look like a family man.  Reminisce like a lumberjack.  Then go into the office on Monday and threaten people via E-mail.  Right, Cincinnatus?”

“I told you to call me Nate.  Cincinnatus makes me sound like I died of eating bread with too much sawdust in it during the Civil War…  Well, at least he died like a real man,” Golfort said as they reached the sitting room and found the crime scene technicians hard at work.  “Looks like there was a struggle.”  The body was seated up against the front of the couch.  The victim was a man in his late fifties with hair dyed too dark to believe.  There was a television remote clutched in his hand, its plastic casing cracked and the batteries popped out of the back.  A little dried blood was splashed across the moonlight-colored buttons.

His red satin pajamas mostly hid the puncture wounds across his torso, but they couldn’t do much for the ones on his face and neck.  Though there were many wounds, they were likely made all at once.  The murder weapon sat on its side next to the body: a taxidermy moose head mounted on a wooden plaque.  Each antler point was tipped in blood.  Detective Amstead looked around and found a discolored patch on the wall where the head normally hung.

“I… I didn’t think moose antlers would be sharp enough to do something like that.  Aren’t they covered in felt normally?”

“I think Mr. Marvalla had them sharpened,” one of the technicians said, gesturing to the corpse to indicate it was Mr. Marvalla.  “Perhaps he wanted his conquest to look more intimidating.”

“Marvalla?  Why do I know that name?” Golfort muttered as he stuck his finger up the moose’s furry nose to see how far the hole went.

“He’s a CEO,” the tech said.  “His company has a new plant here and they just put a couple hundred people back into work.  I think he was going to have his picture taken with the mayor tomorrow.  Instead it’s up to me.”  He raised a camera and snapped a photo of the corpse.

“What do they make?” Amstead asked.  Another tech handed her the CEO’s wallet once she’d donned her gloves.  Rifling through his cards, most of them coming in shades of gold and platinum, she found a driver’s license.  Charles Marvalla.  Green eyes.  Five feet ten inches tall.  Not an organ donor.  That didn’t matter much, given that the antlers had pierced every valuable squishy thing he had.

“Yogurt!” Golfort exclaimed with a snap of his fingers as he remembered where he heard the name.  A little moose dust flew off his hand.  “They make that Introgurt stuff.  You know, yogurt for introverts!  It’s like snack boxes for all the pathetic types who don’t go out on Friday.  You get them delivered to your door in refrigerated bags.”

“That’s a big enough business to keep a couple hundred people working?” Amstead questioned.  The tech shrugged.  Must have been good yogurt.  She moved around the couch and surveyed the rest of the scene.  Strange as the moose was, there were still other elements to the crime, like the knocked-over lamp.  Like the shattered glass table.  Like the dent in the wall.  There was some expensive-looking art on the wall between a few other pieces of taxidermy.  They were crooked, but otherwise untouched.  Mr. Marvalla had a ring on his finger with three smoky diamonds.  “This wasn’t robbery,” she guessed.  Another quick look at his wallet confirmed it had three hundred dollars inside.  “Walk me through it.”

“You got it,” the tech said.  He handed his camera off to another one of the blue-jacketed nitpickers.  The detectives didn’t know his name, and they wouldn’t know the name of the next one they asked, but the walkthrough was the most important part of his job before he vanished from existence behind the lab door.  All the tests took too long for anybody to bother visiting.  His performance here had to shine.  “The forced entry was done with a pistol; he shot the lock off the door and kicked his way in.”  The tech moved from the door back towards the corpse.  “We had a shell casing just outside and another on the carpet here.  We think the perpetrator missed his first shot at Mr. Marvalla and after that they struggled for control of the gun.”

“Did you find the weapon?”

“No, but I doubt the blood on the remote is Mr. Marvalla’s.  We can test that for type and DNA.”

“Get to the moose,” Golfort ordered.  “Why was he killed with a moose?”

“Well, what do you think?” the tech asked exasperatedly.  They couldn’t just let him have the walkthrough without any interruptions.  “At some point in the struggle the moose was knocked from the wall.  The perpetrator likely saw it as a weapon of opportunity, held it in front of him, and charged Mr. Marvalla against the wall right… here.”  The tech framed the dent with his gloved hands.

“He didn’t even shoot the damned thing,” a voice moaned from the busted front door.  The detectives looked over and saw a woman in an expensive peach-colored robe dabbing at her face with a handkerchief.  Past her red puffy nose it was obvious she had a face for modelling.  It didn’t take a detective to notice her wedding ring and guess that Mr. Marvalla had landed himself a trophy wife at least ten years his junior.

“Are you Mrs. Marvalla?” Amstead asked.  She nodded.  “I’m very sorry for your loss.”  The detective used her arm to direct the widow back outside by her shoulder.  She carefully positioned the grieving woman with her back against the cabin so she wouldn’t be tempted to turn back and see the body again.  “I’d like to ask you a few questions, but I can come back later if necessary.”  The widow shook her head and snorted back her anguish.  Amstead suspected it was the most disgusting sound that woman had ever made in her life.

“Our guide shot that moose,” Mrs. Marvalla started.  “We were hiking in Canada and it just showed up in front of us.  I wanted nature, but not that much nature.  They should corral all those things elsewhere.”

“Were you the one who found the body?”

“Yes.  I spent last night with one of the neighbors; she’s a friend of mine.  We had a little too much wine while we were watching a movie.  You know how it is; you can never get the boys to watch the romances with you.  I decided to stay in her guest bedroom rather than walk home in the dark.  When I got back I found him there… gored!”  She sputtered and dragged her handkerchief back and forth across her nose like she was trying to buff a scratch out of a car hood.

“Did your husband have any enemies that we should know about?  Were there any disputes in his life?”

“Charlie had a very one track mind,” she said.  “Once he started work on a project he couldn’t relax until it was finished… but his new project was yogurt!” she howled.  “Who gets whipped up over yogurt?”

“So everything was fine at work as far as you know?”

“Yes.  Everybody loved Charlie.  We moved here so he could keep an eye on the new plant.  I think he shook the hand of every employee the other day.  He came home with a chafed right hand!  Honestly.  He was so friendly he ended up hurting himself.  Whoever did this was a monster as heartless as that stupid stuffed beast in there!”

Back inside the house, Golfort leaned back and angled his head so he could get another look at Mrs. Marvalla through the window.  He snapped a pair of gloves on after the tech waved them aggressively in his face.

“Hey,” he asked the tech, “would you… you know… the widow over there?”  He made a hole with two fingers and moved a third in and out of it rapidly.  The gloves squeaked.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” the tech said.  Golfort scoffed.  All the techs were sexless like that.  They couldn’t tell a hooker from a street lamp.

“Don’t worry,” Cincinnatus mocked, “I’m wearing protection.”  He wiggled his gloved fingers in the tech’s face.  All he got in response was rolling eyes.  That was strange.  Usually his jokes could turn any situation into a party.  That was how he got elected after all.  Everything he said was just taken as the final say.  It could’ve been the new wet blanket: Amstead.  A real reverse raincoat she was.  Until he broke in his new partner, he just needed a better joke.  He walked around the moose head and the couch a few times, contemplating the humor more than the crime.  He dropped into a crouch and stared deeply into the dark glass eyes of the murder weapon.  “Well that’s what you get…”

“What?”

“That’s what you get when you grab a bull moose by the horns.”

(The Detectorate will return after these messages from our sponsors)

You’ve just dropped thousands of dollars on a 3D television to impress your friends and family.  You plug it in and find… uh oh!  There’s no 3D programming.  You’re stuck with the darn thing.

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Rhonda’s got a secret that she’s been keeping all year and she’s ready to explode.  Everyone will be together at Nicholas’s and Sherry’s pool-uncovering party.  Even Kelly’s ex-con son is showing up.  Now it’s time for everybody to find out what… Rhonda’s… got… up… her… sleeve.  Tune in for the traumatizing season finale of The Real Soccer Moms of Chesapeake Bay.  This Friday at 6/5c.  Only on I.O.D. television.  We put your eyes on drama.

“What’s that you’re wearing?  Cologne?”

“No, it’s natural.”

“What’s that you’re driving?  Your father’s car?”

“Bought it last year.”

“Is this your home?  It’s so big.”

“Actually mine is the larger one over there.”

“I heard music from through the door last night.  Is that what you like to listen to?”

“Actually I was playing that myself.  You’re welcome to listen though.”

“What’s that you’re drinking? Cola?”

“No.  It’s Pucker First energy.  It helps me get things done and get them done first.”

“Wow.  I should try Pucker First!  Are you busy later tonight?”

“I sure am, but I can make room for you.”

(And now back to The Detectorate)

Detectives Golfort and Amstead had a few extra obligations compared to the rest of the police force.  As elected officials it was their job to show up to community meetings populated by their constituents and offer progress reports on the Detectorate program as well as their current caseload.

There they both sat, under the fluorescent lights of one of the community college’s conference rooms, waiting for the public official to show up.  He was a small man who brought the image of a worm creeping out of an apple to mind, and he was such a bore that most people couldn’t remember his official title, whether or not he was elected, or exactly how much power he had.  All they knew was that he always called the meetings to order.

Amstead had just finished counting the attendees of this meeting, fifteen, when he finally squirmed inside.  He was five minutes late, a bite out of their day that neither Amstead nor Golfort appreciated.  Both would’ve preferred to be hot on the trail of Mr. Marvalla’s murderer.  Even the citizens seemed irritated, enough that the little man tried to earn some good will.

“Look at all these good little people showing up to do their civic duty,” he said with a wrinkly false smile like an obnoxiously pink gum wrapper.  “You know, it’s such a beautiful day that we could just have the meeting outside on the quadrangle.  Who wants to do that?  Let’s have a vote?”  Many rolled their eyes, but a slightly greater number raised their hands.  Outside it was then.

There were no chairs, so the detectives and their audience were forced to sit in the grass with crossed legs.  The only people above them were the woman in the mobility scooter and the administrator himself.  He elected to stand and pace around everybody like a herding dog.  He called the meeting to order.  Amstead and Golfort gave their progress reports.  In a perfect world the only response would have been nodding heads.  Instead a few hands shot up.

“So you’re telling us there’s a killer on the loose and you haven’t found him yet,” one man with a belt buckle the size of an ice cream sandwich said.  He had his cell phone raised and was videoing the detectives.  It was clear from his mannerisms he thought it normal behavior.  “What I’m hearing is that we should be arming ourselves.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Amstead cautioned, though she immediately felt like she fought a forest fire with a spray bottle.  “We don’t believe the motive in the crime was robbery; it’s unlikely the person involved will strike again.”

“But he absolutely could,” Golfort interrupted.  “That’s why we need to get back out on the streets as soon as possible.”

“But you don’t think we should arm ourselves?” the man asked again.

“We all know you’ve already taken care of that Murray,” Golfort said with a mischievous smile.  “I saw that new shotty on your truck the other day.  She’s a beaut.”  The man nearly blushed and lowered his phone.  “Don’t you worry because you all have already armed yourselves.  You elected us.  We’re all the guns you need out there.”

“Which is not to say we act as weapons all the time,” Amstead interjected with another bucket of ice water.  “We adapt to what each situation requires to protect our community.  Golfort and I have been working together and we’re confident we can get this solved soon.”

“How?” a woman asked.  She left her mouth hanging open.  Everyone waited to see if anything else came out of her, but nothing did.

“Well…” Amstead started, “this crime is unusual.  We don’t get a lot of this sort of thing around here.”

“Could be one of the thrill killers,” Nate said, “thinking they can find easy prey in a small wholesome town like Little Pond.  We’re going to let him know what it’s really like out here.  Right everybody?”  A few members of the small crowd cheered for him.

“It’s not a thrill killing,” Amstead said matter-of-factly.

“The murder weapon was a moose head,” Nate blurted.  “Definitely a thrill element.  A disturbing element.  Somebody with serious mental sicknesses.”

“It’s not a thrill killing,” his partner said again.

“Detective Amstead,” a little old woman said, adjusting a big blue pair of glasses that looked like two dog dishes, “how do you know it is not a thrill killing?”

“There are several small inconsistencies with that theory,” Eirene began, praying Nate wouldn’t interrupt again.  “The… head… was a weapon of opportunity after their initial attempt with a firearm failed.  A thrill killer would also have much easier targets to choose from.  Almost any person on the street was more vulnerable than our victim.”

“We all know it was that nice Mr. Marvalla,” the old woman said.  “He put his faith in our town and he gets killed for it.  They might move their factory now.”  That started some murmurs.  Murray’s phone slowly rose back into the air.  “I voted for you young lady and I expect results.  Our town needs to stay appropriate.”

“I’m sorry,” Amstead said.  She didn’t quite know what the woman was getting at.  “Appropriate?”

“Appropriate!” she repeated, her foot stamping in the grass.  “For families.  For our children.  What would happen if they started seeing this sort of thing on the regular!”

“We’d be just like the city!” another citizen shouted.

“Well I’m sure there are children in the city,” Amstead said with a chuckle, but all she got in return were stares like hot irons.

“Not like our children,” the old woman spat.  “I can’t imagine what those… urban youths see all the time.  What they do as a result.  Our children still have their innocence.  We don’t want the state stopping by, seeing… moose-head murders everywhere… and putting up warning signs!  Dangerous inappropriate town!  Keep out!  Tourists beware!  We’ll lose what little business we have left!”

“That’s blowing things out of proportion,” Eirene said plainly with a raised index finger.  She held that finger with more confidence than she ever did her gun.  When somebody was wrong, they got the finger and they were shut down.  The old woman recoiled like a wary snake at the sight of the disapproving digit.

“Nice control,” Nate whispered to her.  “I’d be using a different finger.”

“It’s not my job to sensationalize,” she went on, ignoring her partner.  “It’s my job to enforce the rule of law.  While stopping a thrill killer would certainly make for some good campaign slogans, it would be irresponsible to label this single crime as the beginning of a wave of terror for Little Pond.  The fact is: we can’t draw many conclusions yet and we certainly shouldn’t draw ones that are unfounded and create panic.  Like you said, this isn’t the city.  What’s more urban than a fictitious headline with exclamation points trailing it like ducklings?  Hmm?”

That quieted them.  As much as Eirene liked to think the people who voted for her were better than the camouflage-wearing, blue-moon flossing, child support skippers that Golfort embraced, her constituents had their own quirks.  Instead of the passionate professionals she courted she got the people with nothing better to do.  There was always a flock of silver-haired women whispering concerns over ‘appropriateness’ or ‘wholesome behavior’ or ‘small town charm’ as they handed over courtesy casseroles and seating charts.  It seemed they were more interested in the town looking friendly than being friendly.

Amstead checked her watch.  The meeting was dragging on.  At some point they would have to stop settling nerves and start doing the actual work.  She threw a glance Nate’s way.  He was happy to catch one from her that wasn’t annoyed.  They didn’t have much in common, but they both hated these things.

“I can get us out of here right?” he whispered to her while somebody stood and posed a nearly-hysterical question to the rest of the group.

“You do your thing,” Eirene Confirmed.  Nate rubbed his hands together.  He stood up, which immediately forced the question poser back down, as if he’d emitted a great gust of wind.  He put his hands on his hips and angled himself so they all could see his holster.  In another life he probably would’ve been great in Westerns.  His pose alone suggested there was a formidable villain standing behind the crowd of concerned citizens, ready to gun down the friendly outdoor gathering.

“You’re all like our deputies,” Nate started, his eyes cast to the ground.  “That means you’ve got to act the part.”  A few of the women held their hands over their racing hearts.  Amstead locked her eyes in place so they wouldn’t roll.  “You need to let us take charge when it’s time… and it’s that time.”

“What should we do?” one of them asked breathlessly.

“Go home!” Nate nearly shouted.  He had to be careful.  He could probably cause a heart attack or two if he wanted.  “Go home and be vigilant.  We need to chase after this killer, and every moment spent here is another twenty footsteps he’s got on us.  You want us to catch him, don’t you?”

“Yes!”

“Oh yes!”

“Definitely!”

“Then we’re on the hunt,” Nate said, his voice softening again.  He could make a tree lean forward and back enough times to wiggle itself out of the ground.  “But I’ll see you all at Richter’s tonight.  As usual, the chicken wings are on me.”

Eirene inserted herself into his shadow and followed his lead.  He took the bullets for her: the handshakes, the hugs, and even a few pecks on the cheek.  Once they were free of the crowd she could finally relax her face muscles.  Perhaps it wasn’t right to let people think she was more wholesome than she actually was, but the only way around a rigid mind was a slick well-oiled one.

She patted Cincinnatus on the back.  They had a job to do and, at the very least, they could agree when people were stopping them from doing it.

(Scene Change)

Mrs. Marvalla hadn’t been much help.  A man like that, a corporate ladder climber, had to have at least a few nominal enemies.  There’s always someone lower on the ladder who resents the dirt coming from the tread of your shoes.  The detectives had just walked through the front door of the Introgurt factory, but already they worried there would be no dirt to track.  The place was immaculately clean, even for a food processing plant.

The visitor’s entrance walls were white, with brighter colors on the bottom half flowing like gentle waves: lime green, blueberry, and strawberry pink.  The waves of color lapped at the edge of, and wrapped around, a curved desk so artistic in its construction that they half expected it to have a title and a price listed.

Behind the desk sat a receptionist who had thrown herself into the role completely.  She was every bit as artistic as her surroundings, with her red hair done up in a tight bun (with a single curl as the stem) and her bright green blazer.

“Two possibilities,” Golfort whispered to his partner as they approached her.  “One: she’s new and still thinks corporations care about what comes out of their doors.  Two: she’s worked a job like this so long that it’s the only thing she knows.”

“Are we betting?” Amstead asked.

“My money’s on her being an old hat.”

“I guess I’m taking new leaf then.”

“Welcome to Introgurt!” she chirped at them in a voice like a caramel apple snapping open.  “My name is Appalachia.  How can I help you?”

“Weird name,” Golfort whispered.  “Could still go either way.”

“Yes hello,” Eirene started, “I’m Detective Amstead and this is Detective Golfort.” She flashed her badge.  Golfort wiggled his like it was a tiny stuffed gecko in front of a toddler.  “We’re investigating the death of Charles Marvalla.”

“Oh, yes, of course.  What a tragedy,” Appalachia said.  “Charles was the soul of the company.”  A tear formed in the corner of each eye.  She dabbed at them with a napkin shaped like a slice of watermelon.  “He lives on of course.”

“I’m sorry?”

“In every box of yogurt we send out,” she clarified.  “His vision lives on.  People have something to nourish them while they enjoy their television.”

“A truly noble goal,” Nate said, hoping to cap her quickly before she gushed tears, or perhaps fruit juice, all over the place.  “We would like to speak to associates.  Anyone he worked with on a daily basis.”

“Oh there’s no one like that here Mr. Detective.  Mr. Marvalla was the only executive who came to the plant regularly.  He cared about us little people.”  She folded her napkin into a tiny triangle and soundlessly discarded it in a bin next to her desk.

“He never spoke to any of the employees?” Eirene rephrased.

“He shot the breeze with a few of the packers whenever he sampled the next batch that was going out,” Appalachia said.  “Hank, Ryan, and Michel.”

“Can we speak to them?”

“I don’t know about that,” the receptionist wavered.  “They’re working right now and I’m not supposed to let anybody onto the floor.  I used to clear that sort of thing with… with Mr. Marvalla.”  She took another paper slice from her desk and touched her face again.

“We belong here just as much as anybody else,” Nate said.  His tone caught both of them off guard.  It was just a hint of indignation.  “I’ve been a fan of Introgurt since the stuff came out!”

“You have?”

“Well what else am I supposed to eat when a new season of Mansion Swap is out?”

“Oh,” Appalachia practically moaned.  “I didn’t know you were a customer.  That changes everything.  I know Mr. Marvalla would want you to see how the magic is made.  It’s brilliant.”  Eirene could hardly believe her ears.  This woman talked like boxed yogurt was her religion.

“Say,” she started to ask as the receptionist dug something out of a drawer, “how long have you been at this sort of work?”

“Oh years now.  I used to work for the popcorn people over at Sweetie Pop, but they just didn’t have the same kind of vision as Introgurt.”

“Vision?” she queried, trying to ignore Golfort’s flapping eyebrows and gentle nudging.

“They weren’t forward thinking.  You’ve got to adapt to your audience.  They’re still only selling at groceries.  Everybody whose brain has been microwaved the right amount knows the future is in delivery.  Fewer interruptions.  Ah, here we go!”  She pulled out three translucent plastic bags.  “Hair nets!”

Three minutes later Appalachia and her newly bagged guests opened the doors to the final part of the Introgurt process: packaging.  Giant vats, all color-coded for flavor, piped their contents off to adjacent chambers.  A group of men and women stood between the two rows of vats, manning both sides of a conveyor belt.  Plastic cups of yogurt, frightening in their size, like gas station sodas, worked their way down the belt.  Each one had its foil lid delicately tapped by a gloved finger to check for air bubbles.

“I’ll take peach, you take key lime,” Nate whispered to her, referencing the colors of the employee uniforms.  She nodded.  Key lime was a rotund gentleman with a cracked red nose.  Even as he stared down and tapped yogurt he wore a faint smile: the kind worn when one of your jokes lands, but the punchline had mostly faded.  She decided it was a look of self-satisfaction.

“Excuse me sir,” she started, flashing her badge.  Lime did not look up from his yogurt.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  “I’m Detective Eirene Amstead.”

“I know who you are.”  His voice was soft, as if the cups contained chicks he did not want to awaken.  He still smiled faintly.

“You do?”

“I recognize you by your voice.  I’ve heard you speak on the television.  You’re looking for Charles’s killer.”

“That’s correct.  Are you… Hank?”

“I am Hank.”  Apparently nothing would make him look up.

“I’m told that you spoke with Mr. Marvalla often.”

“Charles and I were confidantes.”

“Did he ever mention any enemies to you?  Or perhaps an argument that got out of hand?”

“Charles and I never argued.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Charles talked about Introgurt and I agreed with him.”

“Alright.  What did he say about Introgurt?”

“He told me there were new contracts coming.  They were going to get aggressive with the advertising.  I thought that was good.”  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

“Did he explain what he meant by ‘aggressive’?”

“He said there were untapped markets.  No wait…”  Hank thought so hard he nearly missed a tap.  “He said there were untapped regions.  He also said they were going to include some of us in the marketing.  Can you imagine?  Me in a commercial?”  He burst into a fit of high-pitched giddy laughter, but still did not look up.  None of the other employees did either.  Golfort flashed her an inquiring scowl and all she could do was shrug.  She caught a glimpse of the rocket ship her partner was doodling on his notepad and guessed he wasn’t getting anywhere with peach-colored Ryan either.  Hank’s laughter finally faded, his weak smile completely refreshed.  Tap.  Tap.

“If you’d like I can take you to see the fruit pulpers,” Appalachia said, seeming to forget she wasn’t a tour guide.  “Their smashing is delightful.  Sometimes I just sit near them during lunch break and I just watch as they smash the ever-living…”

“You mentioned one more person… a Michel,” Nate reminded her.  “Where is he?”

“Oh.  I think he was having lunch.  He should be back any… oh, there he is!”  She pointed behind them.  The detectives whirled around to see a man in an Easter-egg purple jumpsuit and a hairnet over a mostly bald head.  In one hand he had a silver lunch pail and in the other a crumpled napkin.  His wide eyes, stubble, and drawn lips made him look like a ghost terrified to find himself caught out in daylight, as if he’d simply missed his cue to wander the grounds by twelve hours.

“We’d like to ask you a few questions,” Nate said as he held up his badge like a flashlight and stalked toward the man.  “Go on, run.  I want you to,” Eirene heard her partner whisper.  Michel obliged.  His eyes widened more, something that had seemed impossible, he dropped the pail with a clatter and the napkin with a less dramatic pendulous drift, and took off through the doors he’d just walked in.  “I got him!  Go around back and cut him off!”

Golfort ripped out his gun with one hand and tore off his hairnet with the other.  He apparently thought it would slow him down or make the capture less dramatic.  He took off running after the man, his coattails flapping wildly.

“What constitutes ‘around back’ in this place?” Eirene asked Appalachia.  The stunned woman pointed to another door between two vats.

“You can’t go down tha…” she started to say, but Amstead had already taken off.  Golfort was always doing it to her; it was only fair she got to do it to someone else from time to time.

Michel had the advantage of knowing the plant’s layout, but Nate had the advantage of craziness.  He was conceited and forceful in his everyday life, but entirely sane.  The chase was the excuse he needed.  If someone ran from him he cast aside his sanity just like the hairnet, it was a pointless safety measure anyway, and moved that much faster for it.  Michel and his plum uniform snuck under a metal guard rail.  Nate vaulted over it.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” he warned the man.

“Don’t shoot!” he whined in return, but didn’t slow or turn around.  Nate, confident his last obligation as a civil person was fulfilled, fired a warning shot wide of the man’s head.  It sparked against one of the vats, spewing a jet of pressurized pink yogurt all over the floor.  Michel slipped in the dairy-based sludge and slid into a wall.  Nate embraced the obstacle and intentionally dove into it so the path of his slide would match Michel’s.

He collided with the man and pulled a pair of handcuffs.  They wrestled on the floor, with Nate already reciting the man’s Miranda rights even though he didn’t have either hand behind his back yet.  The yogurt complicated matters, helping Michel slip out of Nate’s grip several times as he whined and sputtered through the pink stain on his face.  Eventually he got one hand on the gun.

“Oh no you don’t,” Nate growled as he fought for control of the weapon.  It rose into the air and danced on their fingertips, now so fully coated in yogurt that it looked like a child’s water pistol.  A little of the pink slime landed in Nate’s mouth.  “Hey this stuff is actually pretty good.”  Paf!  The pistol fired as one of the fingers in the tangle caught the trigger.  It struck another vat and produced another stream of yogurt, this time green.  The initial gusher blasted Golfort in the eyes and forced him to relinquish the weapon.  Blind, but angrier than ever, he threw himself in the direction he guessed Michel to be.  He collided with a body and knocked it to the floor.

“Golfort it’s me!”  Eirene protested.  “Get off me!  He’s getting away.”

Once he cleared his eyes of the calcium-rich snack he spotted the little man running off.  Curiously, he’d left the gun behind.  If he was the murderer as the detectives now suspected, why give up one of his only chances at fighting back?  There was no time to think it over, so they rushed to pursue him again.  Eirene was in the lead, as it took Nate a few false starts to get out of the Introgurt puddle.

By the time they caught up Michel had burst through another set of doors and into the open sunshine of the plant parking lot.  They followed his rainbow of footprints as far as they could, but he was already in his vehicle, a burgundy van, and out the gates before they reached his final pink footfall.

Defeated, they rushed to their own vehicle and plopped themselves inside.  Eirene picked up the radio and called in the vehicle’s description and direction.  Nate dug a few napkins out of the glove compartment, brought out a comb from his pocket, poked its tines through one of the napkins, and proceeded to try and comb the yogurt out of his hair.

“You’re paying to get that seat cleaned,” Eirene commented lamely.  She didn’t have the energy to be mad.  A man as bumbling as that shouldn’t have escaped one detective, let alone two.

“Ehh, I’ll just have another barbecue fundraiser for you,” he said with a wave of his hand that sent yogurt droplets across the windshield and rearview mirror.  “Didn’t think that stuff would spray the way it did.”

“Obviously you didn’t watch enough Saturday morning cartoons as a kid.  That Michel guy…  I’ve seen him before.  It’s time we paid someone a visit.”  Golfort smiled after licking his fingers.

“Nooooo,” he rumbled falsely, clearly ecstatic at the prospect.  “Old ‘Midnight Beat’ Tom?”

“Yes,” she confirmed with a sigh.  “It’s time to visit Dad.”  She twisted her key and started the engine.

(The Detectorate will return after these messages from our sponsors)

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This week on Medical Monstrosities…

“I couldn’t stand up at all at that point; it had gotten so big.  It just took over my whole life.  You think it’s a little problem, you think your hygiene isn’t that bad, and then wham!  There’s this forty pound thing hanging off the side of you and it smells like a raccoon that’s eaten out of ten different garbage cans.  And at least three of those cans was seafood.”

“The only option will be surgery.  We’ll be flying in experts from all over the state to observe.  It’s important that people see this extremely rare and unlikely condition, so they’ll be prepared for it.  It’s Mr. Ahhad’s only chance at a normal life, and it’s a slim chance at that…”

Tune in tomorrow at 5/4 central on I.O.D.  We put your eyes on drama.

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(And now back to The Detectorate)

Tom ‘Midnight Beat’ Amstead had been on the job for more than thirty years.  He was a shoe-in for sheriff, but he shrugged off the support of the mayor and a hundred other community figures for the quiet retired life.  As to why he did it, nobody really knew.  All he ever said was that he wanted plenty of time to reflect, to re-watch his old life and learn how to fast forward through all the bad memories.

He was reliving the glory days even before his retirement, which meant plenty of stories regarding the steely determination of the law flooding young Eirene’s mind.  With that kind of saturation she could have wound up a cop or a criminal, and only one of those came with health insurance.

Tom came into his lounge, he called every room in the old family home a lounge unless it had a bed or a toilet, with a tray of ginger snaps fresh from the girl scouts’ finest cardboard box.  There was a tall glass of lemonade for his daughter and Golfort, as well as something a bit harder for himself.

Once the tray was in place he flopped back into his armchair with a satisfied groan.  It was clear he wanted to evoke the image of the tired old warrior, a man who earned his creaking joints in epic battles, but he could hardly conceal the truth.  Tom Amstead was a man born like a log out of the lumberyard.  He was a tough kid, an imposing man, and now an even more imposing old man.  If he were to shave his moustache, still without a hint of gray, you’d only find a slightly lighter moustache underneath.  Even though he tried his best to eat like a goat after retirement, his stomach was still flat as ever.  He was old, but nowhere near as tired as all the soft chairs and flannel implied.

“What exactly is it that you’re looking for?” he asked his daughter with a voice like a pencil sharpener making short work of a beef jerky stick.  Eirene rifled through a filing cabinet in the corner, grabbing the occasional slip of paper out of it and examining the faces printed there.  Golfort was hard at work as well; he had already downed half his lemonade.

“The guy that got away from us,” his daughter said without looking up, “looked really familiar.  I can’t place his face though and I thought maybe your old records could help.  I know I’m always scolding you for keeping these, given that they should be in a police facility, but you’ll get an apology if I actually find him.”

“I had to keep something,” Tom said, looking at Nate and holding out his hands in a shrug.  Even that gesture didn’t work as intended, as it just helped Nate notice that Tom’s hands were too callused to wrinkle.  “Her mother, rest her soul, didn’t want me keeping the gun around.”

Nate’s eyes stopped wandering.  He’d been looking for the gun and thinking it had to be in a glass-faced case somewhere.  He’d heard stories about Tom knocking thugs out with the butt of it.  Tom Amstead always got his man, and only ever fired warning shots.

“I still can’t believe it,” Nate pondered aloud, “that you stopped that hostage situation at that barbecue joint without killing those guys.  I would’ve dropped them in five minutes and called it a day, but you dropped on them from the air vents right?  How’d you stop them before they killed anybody?”

“There are certain things you need to keep in mind,” Tom said sagely, happy to have an eager ear.  Now that his daughter had transformed into the detective he’d groomed her to be, he realized he missed having an empty mug to fill.  “Fear and anger will try to push these things out, but you have to keep hold of them.  You need to remember what time slot you work in.”

“Ten is the devil’s pen, Nine is just fine, Eight is great, but Seven is heaven,” Eirene recited.

“That’s my girl,” Tom said with a smile full of perfect teeth like ivory kissed with tobacco smoke.  “I was always telling her that when she was in training.  We work in 7/6 Central, and that comes with unique responsibilities.  It’s our job to avoid bloodshed, but to still show the bad guys what we’re all about.  You have to beat them at their own game without using half the pieces.  Otherwise, we would lose what makes Seven Seven.”

“Sir, I think you were what made Seven Seven,” Nate said respectfully, even through a mouthful of cookies.  He swallowed them down.  “I mean we’re doing our best, but some guys around the stationhouse are saying that they’ll be doing away with the time slot system soon.  They think violent crime is seeping in everywhere and it’s gotten sort of pointless.”

“Hogwash,” Tom said as he sipped at his stiff lemonade.  “You just need good people.  Good detectives.  Good captains and sheriffs don’t matter.  They hardly do anything except look for rules that you accidentally broke.  If you forget to imply the period at the end of a guy’s rights they’ll be there to point that out.”

“If time slots stopped being a thing, we would need a lot more help a few seasons from now,” Eirene commented.  “Otherwise Little Pond would lose its…” she hated herself for dropping into the word that was really the only sensible choice, “wholesomeness”.  She stopped her search because she found something that didn’t belong.  “Dad, one of your clippings got mixed in here.”

“Let me take a looker,” Tom said and pulled himself from the chair, forgetting to groan like the old man he was supposed to be.  He took the L-shaped newspaper column out of her hand and moved it back and forth in front of his face.  It was no use; as much as he tried to need reading glasses he could see it with perfect clarity.  “Oh yeah.  Now how did that get in there?  This was the time I busted up that prostitution ring with those poor twins from the Ukraine.  Remember those girls?  Let me put this where it belongs.”

Tom shimmied by his daughter to the back wall, where a hundred similar clippings were pinned to a corkboard. His hand drifted back and forth like it was caught in the tide, his mouth the muttering motor of a lazy fishing boat.  Eirene rolled her eyes, for she knew he would do that all day until Nate said something.

“There’s an empty spot right there,” her partner pointed out.  The L-shaped hole really was impossible to miss.

“Oh, so there is,” Tom said as he grabbed a pin with a felt green head and very carefully put the clipping back in its proper place.  “I’ve got to be careful with these.  I don’t even know if I should be pinning them.  Might affect their show value.”

“Here we go,” Eirene groaned as she pulled more papers from the filing cabinet.  If she hurried she might be able to find the guy before he got to the end of the pitch.

“What do you mean show value?” Nate asked, right on cue.  Tom shimmied by his daughter once more to make sure Cincinnatus could see the full glory of the board.  The old man act was gone completely as he crouched like a young father telling his son a bedtime story.  He kicked the reclined bottom of his chair to make room for himself, and it snapped into its compact form with a shudder.

“It’s this idea I’ve had rattling around in the old rock tumbler for a while,” Tom said as he tapped one of his temples.  “See I was at a charity dinner about… oh two seasons ago.  It was the firefighters.  I worked with those guys a few times when we had that arsonist around.  They were making their chili for the dinner in this big old pot.  I can smell that thick red sauce and all those beans now…”

“Beans have nothing to do with the idea Dad,” Eirene interrupted.

“They have something to do with the pungent atmosphere,” Tom said, suddenly taking a critic’s tone.  “I’m just setting the stage for your friend here.  You kids never take the time for any dramatic build-up anymore.  You want everything done in eleven minutes so you can do it ten times before bed.  Where was I?”

“Red sauce and beans,” Golfort reminded.

“Right.  I was leaning into the pot and getting a face full of the steam while a couple of the guys argued about which wood was better for smoking the meat.  That topic got around to forests, which got around to that time I chased that man-hunter up through the woods by the nature center.”

“I wonder who brought that up,” Eirene said.  Tom and Nate ignored her.

“It wasn’t just the boys who were listening,” Tom told him.  “There was this little reporter fella with a big nose and round glasses covering the dinner.  He liked the story.  I was thinking he wanted to write something up about me, but when he came up to me after we each had a test bowl of the chili, he had something else in mind.”

“What?”

“A clip show.”

“A what?”

“That was my reaction the first time too,” Tom said.  “It was after I told him I kept all these newspaper clippings of my work on the force.  He told me I had a flair for dramatic storytelling and that I could use that.  All I needed was a showpiece to separate me from the one-man show crowd that just talks.”

“I still don’t quite get the picture.”

“What he was saying was that I could go on the road with these clippings.  Get them blown up, framed, turned into slides, whatever, and go do it like a dramatic show.  Relive each story with the clip there to frame it.  Take people under my wing and escort them into these crime scenes.  It would all be dramatic license of course,” Tom said, slightly misusing the term.  “Just to relive the memories.  Anyway, he called that idea a clip show and I think it’s a damn good one at this point.  It had to roll around for a while,” he said tapping his temple again, “and let some of the bigger ideas finish up first.  Now it’s pretty much the only one up there though.  All the best of Tom Amstead in one place.  What do you think?”

“I think it sounds fantastic,” Nate said, but there was a slight worried tilt to his smile.  “The only problem is that nobody will ever talk about us if Mr. Midnight Beat is still busy running and re-running all over the place.”

“Ahh, you’ll get your time in the spotlight,” Tom said casually.  He grabbed one of the remaining ginger snaps and popped it in his mouth.

“You’ll give people the wrong idea about police work,” Eirene said.  “They’ll think you were the only person on the whole force.  Especially the way you tell it; they’ll think you actually had permission to do all the things you did.”

“Dramatic license,” Tom dismissed with a wave of his mighty hand, like a wooden oar swinging through the air.  He noticed the picture Eirene held up for them.  It was a mugshot, nearly fifteen years old, of the man Eirene and Nate had chased out of the Introgurt plant.

“I found our Michel,” she said, “and apparently his real name is Michael Odeck.  I knew I’d seen him in your stuff before.  Why do you suppose he lied about his name?”  Tom could read every word of the printout, but he grabbed it anyway and scrutinized it.

“Uhuh.  One of the Odecks.  If I had a wooden nickel for every time I collared one of that family, I could rebuild the tree.  I doubt he lied about his name so much as embellished it.”

“And is there a motive for that?” Nate asked.

“Just a silly one.  The Odecks are a bunch of yokels who have it in their head that their ancestors were French royalty.  The Odeck fathers keep naming their kids like normal Americans and the Odeck mothers whisper in their ears for their entire childhoods so that by the time they get out of school, all the Michaels fancy they should be named Michel.  He probably frenched up the last name for that Introgurt job too.”

“It says here that you arrested him for…” Eirene snatched the paper back and squinted to make sure of what she read, “public lewdness and petty theft… at the same time?”

“That’s the Odecks for you,” Tom said.  “I remember it.  He was drunk out of his waders and, on a dare, walked naked into the fresh fish market.  He tried to argue he wasn’t naked because he’d grabbed a rainbow trout and jammed its dead stiff mouth onto his… you know where.  Somewhere that isn’t in the neighborhood of 7/6 Central.  He ran through all the aisles, little purple toes slipping and sliding on the loose chips of ice, fish dangling between his legs…”

“Not exactly one for the clip show, right Mr. Amstead?” Nate asked with a chuckle.

“More like the bloopers of my life,” he answered.  “Even if Michael’s on the run, the first place he’ll go is the Odeck family compound, over by the abandoned church.  The Episcopalian one.”

“Compound?” Eirene asked with widening eyes.

“That’s what we always called it anyway.  It’s two houses that were built really close together.  At some point the Odecks managed to own them both and they kind of stitched them together with their own brand of carpentry skills.  There are probably three or four generations of them still living in there.”

“Wait.  This isn’t the family you always used to call the inbreds over Mom’s fish casserole is it?”  Tom took the mugshot and filed it back into his cabinet.  If they didn’t want to talk about the clip show there wasn’t much more to talk about.  He’d probably finish that stiff lemonade and give that reporter a call.  He probably knew a guy who knew a guy who could help get him started.  You could always rely on the Little Pond guy network.

“You two have fun over there now.  Make sure to bring your non-lethals.”  Tom hugged his daughter tightly, like a flannel-covered Olympian.

(continued in part two)

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