(reading time: 46 minutes)
It was awfully quiet for a place where so much money changed hands. There were tons of poker players there that night; as a crowd they tended to know how to keep their eyes down and their mouths shut. Half of them wore sunglasses even though it was the middle of the night. The other half had toothpicks in their mouths, just enough of a disturbance to make their tiniest smiles or frowns undetectable.
It was a private apartment, high above the streets of Midway, so excessive noise wouldn’t have helped anyway. Still, it didn’t feel like much of a party. The loudest noises were the clinking of glasses and the brief scrapes of USB drives docking and undocking from various ports. Every dealer had a box next to them with at least four ports, perfect repositories for the digital currency while the guests gambled. Should the police burst in the boxes would automatically cancel everything they held and wipe their own memories.
That might have been excessive given the foggy legality of the various crypto-currencies the casino accepted. Much of it, according to the government anyway, had no legal value at all. The boxes at the tables and roulettes contained digi-dollars, video game cosmetic items, and coupons for a hundred shell company websites. There was more than a million dollars moving from drive to drive between the games, but only about a fifth of it was genuinely illegal. Still, it was enough to draw attention.
“Everybody freeze!” an officer yelled immediately after another busted the door down. Cops in full riot gear stormed in, one line of them taking each wall. Only a few of the guests gasped. Only one toothpick snapped. The party had been free of noise complaints, so they all hoped the arrests would be as well. The money was virtual. The games were friendly. There was no reason to make a fuss.
There was, in fact, a reason. That reason had Eirene and Cincinattus entering the apartment as well, wrapped tightly in bulletproof clothes and uncomfortable boots and gloves. They had neglected to enter with their helmets, but they were positive the twenty cops entering prior would’ve noticed any guns that happened to come out from under the table. Dena and Marshall were there as well, escorting a technician inside who wore giant headphones and carried some sort of portable branching antennae.
Eirene had scowl lines pressed into her cheeks. Nate’s hair was a touch thinner than it was when they arrived and he had an uncomfortable collar of sweat just inside the riot gear. Eight weeks in Midway had taken its toll. They’d never planned on staying that long, but somehow poor Mr. Marvalla had become even more important. Their chief had called and told them that some of the man’s hidden assets had been uncovered and there was now even greater pressure to close the case. There were so many eyes on the department now that the whole of Little Pond quaked nervously.
Eight weeks in and the representatives of the Detectorate still had nothing to show for it, nothing relating to Michel Odeck anyway. There were no tips putting him out of the city, but they’d dragged the nets through every casino and alley ten times over with no results. The idea that he was here, among the retired poker players and champagne swillers, testing the waters of digitized gambling, was laughable. Still, it was something to do that made it look like they were trying.
The technician with the antennae wandered around, holding it up near the USB boxes and occasionally gasping. The officers began to break formation and make arrests of anybody they could actually tie to the illegal currencies. It was a chaotic mess of handcuffs and attempts to scroll through smartphones with gloved hands.
While Eirene and Dena oversaw the most high profile arrest, Nate wandered off to a corner where some of the guests quietly awaited dismissal. The detective recognized one of them as a frequent world tournament card player on his favorite channel, so he positioned himself next to the man and considered asking for an autograph. The man, a bald fellow with a head shaped like a melting chocolate egg and an undone blue tie around his neck, ended up addressing Nate first.
“Hey. You a detective?”
“You don’t look like you’re from around here. That or you been here too long.”
“I’m out of Little Pond. Doing some crossover work. We’re on the Marvalla case.”
“Marvalla? No shit…” Nate blinked as if a fly had hit his pupil. “You alright?”
“Yeah. Long day. I’m sure you know how it is.”
“Actually I don’t. I’ve just played cards since I was fifteen. I even played with your boy Marvalla a few times.”
“Really? Any information you can give me? The heat’s really on and I can’t even find the edge of the pan.”
“Sorry, I don’t talk much during games. He never bet money though; he just promised handshakes and meetings with the right people. Glad I never took him up on it, seeing as he must’ve shaken hands with one of the wrong ones. Listen… I’ve got another game to get to tonight. Any chance we can speed up this whole questioning thing?”
“That depends,” Nate said, his mouth making a shape like a closed mailbox. The sweat was getting worse. He wanted the raid over as well. He needed to meet someone, someone who could… moderate his perspiration somewhat. “Are you offering something?”
“Offering? No,” the player said casually, leaning back on the short red sofa where he sat and putting his hands behind his head. “I was just telling Missy here a coupon code for threeofakind.pkr. I might have to repeat it though, since she’s not a very good listener.” He pointed to the woman sat next to him, who was busy sharing a video on her phone with the woman next to her. “That code is good for more than a grand. Easily exchangeable too. I’m sure she’s going to love it.”
“Yeah, that’s a great gift. You know, I’m sure you weren’t involved in the murder. You have my permission to head on home, though we might call and ask questions later. Or we might not.” The man stood up, retied his tie, and donned his jacket, popping his arms out in front of him and wiggling his hands to make sure it fit just right.
“X-Q-7-7-5-R-E-3,”he whispered. Nate nodded and looked away. The player swaggered off, passing Eirene as he did so. She stopped and scrutinized the man. Nate thought he was so clever, squeezing money out of Midway that he could eventually spend back in Little Pond. He was taking bribes to shore up the number of rounds he could buy for his constituents. At least that was what she thought.
“What was that?” she asked in a hushed tone when she reached him.
“What was what?”
“Did you just give that guy a pass on questioning? What did he give you? How much did he give you?”
“That guy’s been on TV,” Nate said, in the same tone he would use to justify dismissing a member of his church. “Lots of people know his face. He’s not running around committing crimes.”
“Half the government got arrested in this city,” she hissed. “I’m pretty sure most of them were famous.”
“Politicians. Different animals. They feed on shit, so there’s no way they can avoid it. That guy was clean.”
“Would you stop saying that word? I think it’s poison.”
“What, shit? You’re out of your mind. How can a word be poisonous? Besides, I heard you say it two days ago, so don’t act like Commissioner High and Mighty.”
“That was an accident Nate. I said it because there was too much of it around me. It infected me. I washed my mouth out with soap; I washed that sh… stuff right out of there.”
“I bet you liked the taste.”
“You know, Cincinattus, I did. It was better than all the meat-grease-pockets people around here eat. And… stop changing the subject. You need to stop taking stuff from suspects. It’s going to follow you back to Little Pond.”
“I may not even go back,” he said smugly.
“What do you mean?”
“I like it here. I’ve put in a request for transfer.”
“What about your constituents?”
“They can impeach me for all I care. Things are a little more independent around here. We won’t have to kiss up to anybody, just dominate the competition. Most arrests wins and there’s never a reason for a recount.” Eirene was about to dump a massive counterargument on him when he preemptively derailed her. “And you’re not going to say anything about the gifts I’ve accepted from my friends because I’m not going to say anything about what you’ve been getting out of Midway.”
She flared her nostrils, but she didn’t dare say anything else. He had her by the hair. It was nothing like taking bribes, but if Little Pond found out it would be worse for her than Nate’s transgressions. They both eyed a passing champagne bottle in a bucket greedily. Drinking it would have been great, but pressing it against their foreheads would’ve been better. The apartment was too hot in all the wrong ways. They each needed to relax, so they shared one last bitter look before splitting.
Nate left and headed for the elevator. Eirene put herself at the top of the red carpeted stairs and tried to think things through. One of the lights in the hallway was out, courtesy of their rude interruption of the party, and it provided just the right amount of shadow. She pretended she was resting in a black hole of a Jacuzzi, relaxing as her body sank into a hole in observable reality.
“We’re not going to find anything here,” Marshall suddenly said from the doorway. He startled Eirene; her hand moved toward her gun for a split second. When she realized it was just him she rested the back of her head against the wall and closed her eyes. “I guess you figured that already.” He joined her against the wall.
“As did Golfort,” she told him. He nodded. He was well aware of her partner’s transgressions, but didn’t seem too concerned. He’d said that very few officers got suspended in Midway for that sort of thing. “He actually threatened to tell on us this time,” she added.
“Speaking of which…” Marshall twisted the knob of the door next to them. It creaked open. He took her by the wrist and pulled her inside, shutting the door behind them. They were in one of the apartments, but it was gutted and blank. The only visible structure was its giant window looking out onto the city’s glittering skyline. Eirene stared at it. Where were all the billboards? Down on the street it was advertisements everywhere you looked. Soda can labels were always turned towards your eye. Up there, something had changed. She couldn’t see a logo anywhere. The lighting was downright suggestive.
She grabbed Marshall and kissed him, pushing him up against the window and pulling his jacket down. She tugged it off his arm and flung it across the room. His hat flopped off as he bent down to kiss her back. His hands ran through her long hair, expertly navigating around the stress knots the crossover work had put there.
Eirene had never been with a man like Marshall before. There were men like him, but it was the relationship itself that felt new. It felt dangerous, like taking a nap next to an active table saw. Yet there was also a certainty that it couldn’t hurt her. She wasn’t vulnerable when they were together, in any sense of the word. The heat of their passion was some sort of protective shield against the grime of Midway. When they intertwined it turned their perspiration into sealing wax, forcing all the stresses and pressures to slough off.
They dropped down onto the hardwood floor and removed their clothing at a breakneck pace, though they didn’t need to hurry. Eirene now had experience enough to know they wouldn’t be interrupted. The other officers would be leaving the raid site just as they finished and donned the last pieces of their uniforms. They would catch only the tiniest glimpses of the color in their faces before it was gone.
Eirene had lost her virginity in her early twenties, but when you made love in Midway you lost something else. The cliff edge of your soul crumbled some and tumbled into a tumultuous sea. Lovemaking back in Little Pond was so formal; married men and women walked hand in hand into their bedrooms, closed the doors, and did what you assumed. There was never anything to see because the door was closed.
Here they were, behind an equally closed door, but on display before the city. She felt like an actress living on the stage, the spotlight her sun and the curtain her night. The whole city and no one member of it watched as they wrapped around each other and smacked their palms down on the hardwood. She knew what her own body looked like, and she knew his. Some of it remained obscure: her chest, her buttocks, his equipment. She thought she loved him, but this was still only 9/8c. The kind of love she now yearned for was far away in 11/10c.
They rolled right into the window, their bodies leaving prints and smudges against the glass. The detective stared out at the city and its plunging depths. The buildings were clean between their circular splashes of flaring light. She wondered again where all the ads had gone. Were they scared of their lovemaking? Did they know none of their goods or services could compete with her goods or his services?
All their escapades over the past weeks played out in her mind. She couldn’t find an advertisement in a single one, but… they all had been public. They’d even done it on the chief’s desk once. How had he not come back? It felt like they’d been there for hours, staring up at his fluorescent lights like a starry sky. The desk had been so clean that day. Where was his coffee mug? Where was the wrapper for the bagel he got every morning from Upper Crust bakery?
The light flared even brighter out the window of the empty apartment as they finished, collapsing back into their uniforms and letting their fingers trace the grooves in the hardwood floor. She doubted her father would approve of the relationship, but that wouldn’t matter if she couldn’t take Marshall back with her. He had a life in Midway; why would he give it up to get stared at back in Little Pond, to get wreathed in whispers and backhanded compliments?
Golfort could stay in Midway, but she couldn’t. She liked the taste of soap too much. She needed a more effective rule of law, even if it came from the stodgy belt-tighteners back home. She was thinking about the price of apartments in the city, zipping up her jacket, when one of their fellow officers opened the door and told them they were all leaving. He saw them without their hats, covered in wrinkles, but didn’t even give them a knowing wink. Eirene wished someone in town would at least blush once in a while.
Golfort was four blocks away by the time his partner finished knocking boots. He was hunched over, sweating bullets despite the chill in the night air, and muttering something about her being a hypocrite. She broke the rules, fraternized in a way practically incestuous in the eyes of a police chief, and still expected him to take none of the city’s offers.
He’d only done the same as her. His lover was a fickle greedy woman, all passion and eyes for someone else, named Vice. He liked the city’s liquor better than Little Pond’s beer that tasted like river water and skunk dandruff. He liked the high heels on Midway’s lady shoes. He liked the way the cars roared. Little Pond had tractors that looked bigger and tougher, but they didn’t roar.
Vice occasionally gave him gifts. He liked the hard stuff the best. He liked it so much that he had a taste every other night. His tongue was dry and his forehead was sopping because he needed another taste. He had a guy for it, someone he’d opted not to bust after he found him holding three weeks back. His corner wasn’t far. Golfort had used up all his blackmailing leverage after the first week, and was now deep enough in the habit that he had to pay. There wasn’t much cash left in his wallet, but that coupon code would have him ready to go again by tomorrow.
When Golfort reached the alley he leaned up against the wall just outside it. He knew the dealer was just around the corner; he could hear the guy breathing. He dug out his wallet and folded the last few bills between his fingers. He inhaled deeply and wheezed to make sure he had the dealer’s attention. A cough answered him from around the corner. A glob of spit shot out and hit the sidewalk.
Golfort slid his hand around the side and let the corner of the bills dangle. It slid out from between his fingers. Something else took its place. The detective snatched the item and brought it close to his face, hiding it behind one side of his jacket. It was a plastic bag full of white powder. The hard stuff. There wasn’t much of a drug problem back in Little Pond, mostly moonshine and illegally imported cigars, so Golfort had to do a lot of catching up with his new habit. He’d bit his tongue every time he’d looked at one of the bags. He just couldn’t shake the sense he was looking at baking soda. The first time he’d bought some, after a few trial runs of the soft stuff, he’d nearly beaten the dealer because he thought he’d been scammed.
He popped the bag open and sniffed. It had no smell, yet his whole body shook when he breathed it in. A little on his finger, and then a little on his tongue, finally allowed him to relax. It tasted like baking soda too, but his body knew how to respond: shivers of pleasure, warm shallow breathing, and some of that good old golden fog in the front of his brain.
“Price is going up next week,” the man around the corner said. Golfort closed the bag and tucked it into his jacket.
“Wait. Where’s Hector?” he asked. That wasn’t the voice of his usual dealer. He didn’t like the idea of anyone else knowing about his habit.
“Hector’s sick. I’m filling in.”
“Is Hector raising the price or are you?”
“Whoever Hector’s slinging for is. Don’t ask me. Like I said, just filling in.”
“You guys have good sick leave here in Midway?” Golfort joked. He wanted the man to say something else. There was something about his voice; it kept him from fully enjoying the taste of the hard stuff. His mind told him he tasted a little bit of something else.
“Wouldn’t know,” the voice answered. Golfort could hear him flipping through a stack of cash. “I’m not from Midway.” It clicked. That taste in Golfort’s mouth was yogurt. It was a tiny sensory memory from the last time he’d heard that voice.
“Michel?” There was no answer. Suddenly the detective heard feet flapping down the alley, away from him. He hopped around the corner and saw Mr. Odeck in frantic flight. Golfort had a taste of the hard stuff in him. That golden fog would keep him from thinking about burning lungs or leg muscles. There was no chance Michel could escape him this time. He gave chase, arms pumping as fast as his legs.
Michel’s feet were like blocks of Styrofoam in comparison. His only hope was to collapse into a pile of fluid like last time and hope the slipping and sliding worked out in his favor. As soon as he could he rolled himself over the top of a short wall one street down. Golfort ran up the wall in one swift motion and vaulted over it. He stumbled forward and landed in cold water.
His suspect had dropped him into some sort of public pool. It was closed for the season, so the two of them also battled its heavy cover as they tried to stay afloat. Golfort wrapped a corner of it around Michel and dunked him under the water. He kept pushing down, waiting for the bubbles to shrink. Eventually they did. His grip didn’t loosen.
Michel’s hands slapped weakly at the detective’s wrists under the water. Could he kill someone in 9/8c and get away with it? He could, but there would be trouble. He’d visited in on enough of Harding Roughy’s trials in the past few weeks to get a sense of how it would go down. A dirty cop would have a long trial. They’d bring in character witnesses for ages, probably twenty minutes or so. At the end there were only two options: conviction or suicide by self-inflicted gunshot. If he wanted to he could off himself at home before sentencing or he could do it right there in the courthouse. Everyone would turn away at the last moment of course. Blood wouldn’t hit the surface of a single eye.
No, he couldn’t kill Michel here. He needed a later time zone. The temptation was almost too much. Because of Odeck he now knew what he’d been missing. He could never go back to the yawns, handshakes, and town halls of Little Pond. He couldn’t go back even if he did want to. His life was all hard stuff now. All of it except for the actual bag of hard stuff, which had popped open and now leaked its cloudy contents into the pool, obscuring the top of Michel’s drowning head.
“Shit!” Golfort barked at the moon, nearly hidden as it was by the lights of the city. He dragged Michel over to the diving board and pulled the sputtering man out of the water. He could be a detective for a little while longer. At the very least, he had some soggy answers gasping for air next to him. They could finally learn why Mr. Marvalla had to choke on his own yogurt.
Eirene gently closed the door to the interrogation room behind her. It clicked shut. Golfort stood in the corner, thumbs tucked into his waistband. Michel Odeck was handcuffed to the solitary table. The female detective was silent for a moment, and simply stared at the floor. This was their case, so Dena and Marshall had let them have some personal time with the suspect. Nobody else watched through the mirror.
She looked at herself in the glass. She knew what Golfort thought. He thought it was a tactic. They would stay silent and stern until Michel felt forced to blab something. The truth was that she couldn’t find any words at the moment. She’d dropped them all along with the pregnancy test she’d taken in the bathroom six minutes earlier. She wasn’t thinking about Michel or Charles Marvalla.
“Okay. I did it,” Michel said. That pulled her away from the glass. Golfort’s thumbs flopped out of his pants.
“What do you mean by that?” Eirene asked.
“I killed Mr. Marvalla. It was… messy. There was this moose head…”
“You don’t give this to us that easily!” Golfort shouted, slamming his hands down on the table. “We haven’t even started yet. My hands aren’t even around your throat yet.”
“Nate what are you doing?” his partner asked. “Let the man talk.” She shoved him back and neutered him with her bloodshot stare. This needed to be over. It was still very early, but there wasn’t a chance in hell she would pop out a kid in the streets of Midway. For a moment she wondered where she did want to have a child, and no place she’d ever been came to mind. “Why did you do it Michel?”
“I was hired to.”
“Who hired you?”
“I don’t know. They just told me to kill him… and to make it dramatic.”
“Dramatic? How much did they give you?”
“It wasn’t money. They… assured me my family would be taken care of. As long as Introgurt stays in the black, they will be provided for. That’s what they told me, and they proved it.”
“Wait, someone at Introgurt hired you to kill the CEO? It was a colleague of his? You know you’re going away for a long time Mr. Odeck. You might as well give us the whole story now.”
“I… I might’ve said too much already. Oh… except I didn’t. I was supposed to say something else.”
“Supposed to?” Nate blurted.
“Yeah, when you two caught me. It took you long enough by the way. I was worried I’d get away in the pool. I’m supposed to tell you that I don’t know who hired me, but that they live in Grand City. If you want to solve this case you have to go there. Okay. I’m done. We don’t need to look at me anymore.” Michel took a deep breath and spread his hands as wide as the handcuffs would allow; then he stared at them as if surprised to find he was still chained down.
“We need to get him a psych evaluation,” Eirene said, not entirely convinced of her own statement.
“He’s not leaving this room until I hit him once,” Golfort threatened. He positioned himself behind Mr. Odeck, who didn’t bother to turn around and see the seething hatred in Nate’s eyes. The suspect’s face was largely blank. He removed some dirt from under one of his fingernails and, seemingly disappointed it wasn’t the bright color of one of the yogurts he worked with, flicked it aside.
“What good will that do?” Eirene hissed. She was losing her grip on everything. Were they even police anymore? She felt more like a character from a soap opera waking up in a portable toilet after a music festival. She couldn’t remember a single positive thing they’d done since arriving in the city, at least not for its people. Everything in Midway was brutality, greed, and lust. Everyone deserved a good smack in the mouth, but delivering one made you just as deserving.
“It’s not about doing good!” Nate practically shrieked. “This case is about us, but we’re getting dragged around by the neck like dogs being told where to shit! I know I’m supposed to hit this guy. Then, and only then, do we find out that he killed Charles Shitting Marvalla.”
“You two should try working for Introgurt. They’ll take care of everything,” Michel said. Nate grabbed the man by what little hair he had left and slammed his face into the table. Blood immediately pooled. Eirene stepped backward slowly, as if watching a stick of dynamite explode in slow motion. Nate lifted the man’s head over and over, slamming it down and splashing his blood everywhere.
Eirene found the door with her back and opened the knob. She slipped out, closed it, and then breathed for the first time in thirty seconds. She could still hear the flat packed sound of Michel’s forehead on the table. She checked the left and right; nobody else in the station seemed concerned by it. Why wasn’t Michel screaming or crying? Had he been instantly knocked out?
Two minutes later the sound finally stopped. Nate emerged covered in blood and closed the door behind him. He leaned up against it, breathing hard and deep like he was trying to suck the water out of a well just by leaning over its edge. She barely processed it when he said something about the beating being more satisfying than the hard stuff.
“I killed him. I killed the murderer. I’m the good guy. Who’s got my reward?”
“You killed him,” Eirene repeated. She recognized some of the symptoms of shock in herself. She couldn’t help but picture a fetus inside her, far more mature than it actually was, being struck by lightning.
“We can’t go back until it’s finished,” he said. “We’ve got to go get whoever hired him in Grand City.”
“You’re not going anywhere Nate. You killed a suspect for no reason… and I watched. There was just… there was something wrong with him. I have to turn you in.”
“Relax Amstead,” he said, a crazed smile spreading across his face. “I’ll turn myself in. I’ll go down to the chief’s office right now and do it. Everything will be fine. I’ve been training to do that this whole time. It’s the first time I’ve been on my arc since my election. The first time the world has let me cut loose and I can just tell they’re not going to punish me for it. What I did was tough justice. Masculine law. It’ll get rewarded. It’s the only thing I can do that anyone will ever bother to reward.”
Eirene didn’t know what else to say, but moments later Golfort picked himself up off the door and ambled towards the Midway chief’s office. She was certain they would both be placed under arrest. She had to tell Marshall before that happened. He had to know about their child and she wasn’t going to do it through the bars in lockup.
Marshall’s apartment was close. Eirene had changed out of her uniform. She was still supposed to be working, but it was all over now anyway. Midway had gone to her head and her heart and while it didn’t make her as rabid as Nate, she still knew she was changed. This wasn’t like her father’s crossover work. He always came back exactly the same. The other time slots were just dust he could brush off his shoulder. Was she just weaker? Or had 7/6c gotten weaker? Could it not hold up against the tide of urban shit?
One more corner and she’d be in front of his building. She wore a yellow jacket, something he had bought for her. Her hands squeezed receipts in the jacket pockets for meals they’d shared and movies they’d seen. She couldn’t have the baby in Midway, but it probably wouldn’t be welcome back in Little Pond. Was there a place between the time slots? A river she could float the child up, swaddled in a basket of apologies? She was still choosing her words for Marshall when she rounded the corner and saw him at his door, closing it behind him. She smiled, but that smile vanished in a flash.
He looked happy, his arm wrapped around the waist of another woman. Eirene had not consented to an open relationship. He’d never mentioned anyone else, any other woman in his life, aside from his partner Dena. Eirene squeezed. The receipts were gone. She turned her pockets inside out, but there was no trace. Now she was losing things. Her teeth chattered even though she was hot and sweaty. She didn’t lose things; she was careful, attentive. They were being taken.
The other woman wore the exact same yellow coat. The straps that adjusted the hood hung at the same lengths: one far lower than the other. Apparently Marshall reused gift ideas… and he had a very reliable type when it came to his women. Her hair was curly and red, just like Eirene’s. It was pulled back the same way. They had the same skin tone. Eirene just stood there, staring, while they shared a kiss. It clearly wasn’t their first. A hot tear rolled down the detective’s cheek.
The other woman’s face turned. Eirene stifled a gasp. Their faces were strangely close. She was reminded of that old game Telephone, where messages became garbled as they were whispered between many sets of ears. It was her face over on those stairs, just interpreted through a chain of four or five minds. This woman was good enough to be a body double, but she wasn’t Eirene.
The double laughed and ran a hand across her stomach. It stopped there. Marshall’s hand moved over hers and stayed there as well. It was as if… no. The odds were too long. Eirene was having his baby. Detective Amstead was pregnant. This was her struggle, her conflict. Nobody else’s. She stormed forward, drawing closer to the doppelganger’s joy. She was going to rip it apart, right down the middle, and fling the cheap copy away like…
The other woman moved her hand into her pocket. She noticed something there and pulled it out. A crumpled movie stub. She flicked it away. Eirene stopped. The ticket hit the sidewalk, and then blew away. Gone from her pockets and into the other woman’s. Something was very wrong, but she felt her ability to do anything about it draining away. She could do nothing against forces like this. She cursed every part of the city’s air; one element of it had to be responsible for these hallucinations. The smog. The heat. The smell of fry oil or motor oil. She needed to get out. She needed to get herself and her fetus out.
There was still the matter of her inevitable arrest. If she turned herself in, perhaps they’d give her choice of prison. She could pick somewhere far away from Midway. Fine. Anything was better than standing there watching the false Eirene throw away trash she hadn’t made.
Amstead’s head spun. She leaned against the wall just outside the chief’s office. She could barely breathe; her lungs felt stuffed full of dusty rags. How did she even get there? Moments ago she was on the street, staring at her double and the man she thought she loved. Midway was speeding up. It was eating chunks of her life. Out. She needed out. Prison wouldn’t be so bad. It would be fine compared to this hot whirlwind of sex, drugs, and profanity.
“I’m ready!” Eirene exclaimed after she peeled herself from the wall and threw herself into the chief’s office. The chief was in there, standing behind his desk, leaning forward with his spread fingers supporting him. Golfort sat in a chair on the other side. He was not handcuffed.
“That’s excellent to hear,” the chief said, somewhat bamboozled by her interruption. “I’m not sure how you found out so soon… Nate did you text her?”
“Yes, I texted her,” Nate said with complete confidence. “I couldn’t wait. I knew she’d be just as excited.” He glanced at her, directing her into the second chair with his eyes. She felt a hundred things, but one of them was dizzy, so she dropped into the chair. Breathing. She focused on breathing. If anything else grabbed her attention she might attack it like a cornered animal; it was better to just let the heat wash over her now, to pretend it was some kind of spa and that she could just sink into it without burning or melting.
“Well, to recap,” the chief said, “you two did great work with Mr. Odeck. Pulled that great Grand City lead right out of him.”
“Well I missed the end,” Eirene said, her voice thin and flippant. “Did Nate pull anything else out of him? Intestines? Gallbladder?”
“Anyway…” the chief replied, staring at her. Apparently she was far more confusing than a detective who recently, she wasn’t sure how recently thanks to her spinning head, murdered a suspect within the walls of the precinct. “I’ve been on the horn with your chief back in Little Pond and the guys over in Grand City. It’s official. You’re to head over there immediately and follow the trail while it’s fresh.”
“More crossover work?” she asked, mouth agape. She looked at Golfort; his eyes were blank except for the vague air of satisfaction. “We’re getting more crossover work? Who in the hell thinks that’s appropriate? Michel Odeck is dead… about four rooms down that hall. How do you think that happened?”
“You should know how we do things here by now,” the chief said with a small snort. “Your partner got a little rough. It happens. It means we’ll have to deal with one more pissed off lawyer. We don’t mind handling that for you guys while you chase down your killer. I’ve got to say, we’ll miss you around here. Normally we do parties for this kind of thing, get real shit-faced, try on each other’s uniforms….” His voice trailed off. “But! Your tickets are already arranged. There’s a train leaving tonight. The next day you’ll meet up with Grand City’s greatest crime-solver. I hear he’s a real pain in the ass, so I’m sure you two will love him.”
“Michel Odeck is dead…” she repeated weakly.
The air conditioning of the modern train helped some. The detectives were near the engine, with most of the other seats abandoned. Eirene rested her head on a small complimentary pillow and sipped at a ginger ale. Nate had a piping hot coffee instead. He shook a sugar packet by the end, like it was a drenched sand-covered beach towel, and then poured it all in. His eyes were bloodshot and his fingers fidgeted against the armrest whenever they weren’t on his coffee.
“You were so calm after you killed him,” she croaked, barely turning her head to face him. “Why are you on edge now?”
“I’m weaning myself off the hard stuff,” he said, taking another swig of his coffee. He adjusted himself in his seat.
“You were on the hard stuff?” she asked, too fatigued to manage shock. “I thought it was just the soft stuff you had tucked away. It makes sense now. That stuff made you crazed. Made you kill Odeck. Was the whole precinct on it? Were they putting it in the air vents?”
“It’s just a different culture,” Nate said. “You’ve got to be more open-minded partner. Good work over there is fast and loose.” She wasn’t going to object. They were still within Midway’s city limits. Their next crossover assignment hadn’t begun yet. She sipped at her bubbly drink and chewed on the plastic edge of the cup. She hadn’t said goodbye to Marshall. She was taking his baby to Grand City, and he didn’t even know it existed. Of course, he seemed to have his hands full with his other expecting…
Amstead’s stomach knotted itself and rose. She felt very much like vomiting, so she threw herself into the empty aisle and rushed to the tiny bathroom. She closed the door, lifted the seat, and stuck her face closer to it than any face should ever be to a public toilet. It felt like the bubbles had seeped into the lining of her throat and then caught fire. Her insides knotted some more, making her legs quiver. She was forced to support herself on the seat.
She dry heaved a few times, even sticking a finger down her throat to get things moving. Something was trying to get out. She whispered to it repeatedly. She told it to hurry up and get out. She would be happy to leave any part of Midway that lodged in her gut behind. As soon as they made it to Grand City it would be nothing but salads and smoothies for her. No meat. No grease. No ice cream flopping over in its cone because of the heat, like someone drunk, giddy, and promiscuous spreading themselves across a piece of modern furniture.
There was a roll of toilet paper, the edge of a piece hanging off the tiny counter in front of the mirror, offering its aid. She snatched it up and used ten pieces, just to mop up the sudden cascade of sweat. She belched: a taste of ginger and bile. She had a new theory. It was withdrawal symptoms, just like Nate, but it was from the city itself. Her body was dying on the stuff, but it craved it all the same.
The bottom of her soul wanted to be part of the brutality. She wanted to rip Odeck apart as much as anybody else, but she’d been too concerned about her morals, about her future, to act. Golfort had been able to destroy him without a second thought. He could break the ultimate rules, the ones their badges were made of, and still get a pass. At least, he could in Midway.
A fresh pain struck, right in her guts again. She grabbed at her navel and moaned. A memory struck her: the memory of her mother giving birth to her, even though she’d never seen a tape of it. There was no mistaking the moan for anything else though. The sound of birth had been ripped out of her; it had fallen down the train’s drain. She collapsed against the side of the toilet, panting.
“No, no, no…” she hadn’t expelled anything worse than a string of bile, but there was an undeniable emptiness inside her now. It couldn’t leave Midway. It wasn’t sanctioned for crossover work. Only the bosses and their bosses could make things transferrable. Eirene got to her feet, opened the door, and stumbled back to her seat. She collapsed into it and wept noisily, pressing her red cheeks into her hands along with a few curls of her hair.
“What’s got your panty tags twisted?” Nate asked, stealing a sip of her ginger ale while she was distracted. He quickly decided he didn’t like it and put it back.
“I think… I think I just had a miscarriage,” she sobbed.
“You were packing heat in the oven?” he asked, the bite in his tone drained from withdrawal. “You didn’t tell me. I guess it was Marshall’s. Did you tell him?”
“No,” she answered weakly. “I don’t understand what’s going on Nate. I… I saw him with another woman. She looked so much, so much like me and she held herself like she was… like she was pregnant too.”
“You didn’t have a miscarriage,” he said plainly, grabbing another sugar packet and flicking it to break up the clumps. He poured it all in even though he had but three steaming sips left.
“What do you mean? I know my baby’s gone. I know it. I heard… you wouldn’t understand, but I heard my mo…”
“Okay, your brat’s gone; I believe you,” he said, draining the cup into his mouth. He looked around for an attendant; when he didn’t see one he shoved the cup into the back of the seat in front of him and crushed it against a few magazines. “But, you didn’t have a miscarriage. You don’t have any blood on you. I didn’t even hear you flush in there.”
“It has to be a miscarriage,” she muttered, shaking her head back and forth as she rocked, feeling out the empty space in her guts. “There’s no other explanation.”
“You’re the only one who doesn’t get it,” Nate accused. “Well, maybe you and that lawyer. What was his name? Toughy? Roughing?”
“Yeah, you and him. He’s too determined and you lack that survivor’s instinct. Midway threw some stuff at us and you tried to dodge. You were supposed to take the pie to the face Amstead. You were supposed to let them laugh and point; you would’ve been laughing and pointing at yourself soon enough.”
“I don’t know what you’re taking about.”
“Your kid’s fine,” he said. “They’ve just got a new oven to sleep in. You’ve been recast.”
“Nate, are you seriously making fun of me right now? You ‘ve said a lot of sh… junk since we’ve been partners, but I always thought you had my back. I’m hurting here; they ripped…”
“Nobody ripped anything. You’re not bleeding remember? They recast you. Simple as that. You’re leaving Midway and Marshall isn’t. The city got a new Eirene to take your place. It’s her baby now. The kid didn’t have clearance for crossover. You would’ve learned some of this if you had at least a taste of the hard stuff, but you should’ve figured it out from Odeck. Remember, he had a double too. Midway needed an Odeck of its own, maybe for stunts. That’s why the chief didn’t care that I killed him; Midway still had another Odeck knocking around. So relax. Your kid’s fine. It might not be a nice neighborhood to grow up in, but if their mom is half as smart as you they’ll be fine.”
Eirene found herself too numb to respond, the ragged edges of her new wounds hanging heavily, drenched in futility. She wasn’t going to be a mother after all. There would be no swaddling, cradling, feeding… no curating their entertainment when they got older. No late nights, up worried because her baby was off taking a joyride into another time slot they weren’t ready for.
Time slots. It was nearly over. 11/10c was the last stop. The party that had hired Odeck and his double would be cornered there. It was a dead end because there was nothing past eleven. All the attention, all the money, all the sense… it stopped hard right there. These would be the worst days of her life, but the Detectorate would get their answers.
Produced by Heath Moose
Executive Producer – Bijou Knitt
Director – Reese Vick-Hangel
No animals were harmed in the making of this episode.
(Will Amstead and Golfort finally end the mysteries of Charles Marvalla? Tune in for Against the Grain at 11/10c for the crossover of the century. I.O.D. We put your eyes on drama.)
This program is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
Intro Narration: Derringer Britton is the greatest detective who has ever lived. Police departments around the world begged for his assistance. The only problem was his attitude. Unwilling to acknowledge the rules, he committed multiple felonies in the defense of an innocent. Only one department will take his services now, and he has to be brought to each scene in secret, as the scandal could bring everything crashing down. Derringer Britton will forever go against the grain.
Intro theme tune licensed from Wet Reed Media
Produced by Heath Moose Jr.
Season 3, episode 14: The Last Drop of Yogurt
The ordinary people were in the midst of their ordinary mornings far below. Derringer Britton stared down at them like a falcon from the balcony on the seventy-fifth floor, rubber gloves barely disguising his talon-like fingers. How little those people down there understood. Most of them had never even heard of crimes as gruesome as the one in the apartment behind him. He had half a mind to toss the body over the side and let it splatter against the sidewalk, let them feel the blood that spilled around them at all times.
He might’ve considered it, but he needed everything exactly the way it was for now. He could feel the clues wafting off the corpse behind him, tantalizing him. That person lived to die, lived to become a rotting puzzle for him to fondle. Derringer turned around, took a deep breath, and strolled back into the art studio.
None of the officers would dare get close to the body. They stood in the corners, hands over their mouths and noses, even though there was no smell. The killer had been meticulous, as always, so even though the scene before them was extremely gruesome, almost every surface not coated in blood was sterilized with bleach. On his way out the murderer had turned the air conditioning to its lowest possible setting and even left an additional portable cooling unit to slow decomposition. Even though the temperature was quite pleasant outside, everyone in the apartment was covered in goosebumps and saw their breath.
Derringer Britton stood with his nose just two inches from the pale face of the deceased. She was a young woman with dark hair. The bruises around her eyes suggested the killer had knocked her out initially with a quick blow above the bridge of the nose. Derringer poked her frigid cheek with a gloved finger.
“A little respect for the dead please,” one of the newer officers complained. Derringer whirled around on his feet, letting the novice take in his fashion and his investigative composure. Derringer was a tall man with a long neck and eyes like glass. His nose was naturally upturned and his hands had a habit of clasping behind his back. He wore a silky brown waistcoat, matching pants, and green shoes, all custom made and perfectly fitted.
“Respect?” Britton scoffed. “Do you think the murderer had respect for this young lady when he bludgeoned her? Do you think he had respect when he arranged this sinister contraption?” He gestured toward the elaborate scene around the corpse. The woman’s body was suspended in the air by four metal cables wrapped around her wrists and ankles. An artist’s canvas was tied to her back. A series of tubes, stuck deep inside her chest cavity, led to a standing machine that was itself positioned in front of another canvas, this time on an easel. The machine was tipped with a paintbrush. It had finished its work hours ago, before the arrival of the police: a portrait of the woman, her face drawn in agony, created in her own blood.
“No, of course he didn’t,” the officer defended, “but that doesn’t mean you should…”
“What shouldn’t I do?” Derringer shot back. “I shouldn’t touch her face, which, from the springy response I got, allows me to accurately estimate her time of death as sixteen hours and and forty minutes ago?”
“You can’t possibly know…”
“You can’t possibly know, officer. Your understanding of criminology is a drop of honey while mine is the buzzing hive far above. As further examples, can you tell me what any of this means?” His hands moved all about the side of the horrific scene, like he washed the windows of an invisible van.
“It means there’s a sicko out there.”
“Does your mother know she raised a child with the intellect of a five pence biscuit? Look over here and try to follow. Our killer is making a statement. The canvas on her back is tied there, with her shoulders and neck positioned as if she had carried it a long way. It was her cross to bear.” He walked along the tubing. “She put too much of herself into her work, so her blood was harvested for her final image. Then, this machine, utilizing technology similar to 3D printers, scanned her face at set intervals during her death and created an amalgam of her suffering upon the canvas. In a way he gave her what she wanted. She suffered and died for her art, and everyone will see her pain.”
The officer stood there, slack-jawed. His goosebumps intensified to the point where his arm hair nearly popped out of its follicles. He’d never heard anything so… pointless. Surely Derringer was right, but crime didn’t really work that way. He was new to Grand City, but still… Crime was for money, rage, drugs, or politics. It wasn’t art. It wasn’t statements.
“So even a blind fool of a crumbly biscuit, like yourself,” Derringer continued, “should see what is necessary to solve a crime like this. I have to get into the killer’s mind. I have to think as he would. I have to disrespect this woman, to save her soul.” He went back to the corpse and smacked it across the face. “This isn’t Derringer Britton.” He smacked her again and her head flopped to the other side. “This is an evil mastermind, bent on drawing the eyes of every mind in Grand City, bent on drawing me out to…”
“Are we interrupting?” Detective Golfort asked as he knocked on the doorway. Eirene stood behind him, face pressed against her phone, which was buried in her hair.
“Okay Roughy. You get those papers. I have to go; we’ve just arrived,” she whispered before hanging up and walking inside with Nate. A moment later she was stopped by the gruesome crime scene. “What fresh hell is this?” She waited for the woman’s dead eyes to hit her like a shockwave, but nothing came of it.
“Your coats are not suited to the fashion of Grand City,” Derringer observed. “Your bleary eyes suggest sleep issues due to time slot travel. The way you barged in here suggests you know nothing of my process. That leaves only one logical conclusion: you two are the Detectorate.”
“You got it,” Nate confirmed. “Judging by your limey accent, you’re Derringer. We’re supposed to consult with you on our murder case.”
“Yes, I read the file last night, between my sensory deprivation swim and my ultraviolet heat lamp yoga. You think you’re here looking for the slayer of one Charles Marvalla: CEO of the Introgurt yogurt company.” He glanced at Eirene, whose empty stare moved through the crime scene like a ghost drifting on the air conditioning. “I take it this disturbs you, Detective Amstead?”
“It really should…” she answered. “It’s like the set for a horror movie.”
“What did you mean,” Nate asked, “when you said ‘you think’? We are here to nab the Marvalla murderer.”
“Oh detective, how simple life must be in your quaint little 7/6c. Tell me, do you even see blood over there, or do you have to look away? I’m imagining a complete lack of imagination when it comes to your own innards. Sickened by your own soup, as it were.” He sneered. “You have been led here by a body, by a hired goon, like a dog choked on its leash. You have no idea where we’re actually headed.”
“And where is that?” Eirene asked.
“To the finale. Your body in Little Pond, your crossover work, this miserable helpless creature before you, and her last work of art… It’s all connected.” With that he marched straight through them and out the door. There were experts to visit, books to consult, and cogs to turn in the Rube Goldberg machine.
“What’s it connected to? What’s all of this about?” Eirene asked the back of Derringer’s head. He turned just enough to give her a sideways glance and half a smile.
(continued in the finale)