(reading time: 47 minutes)
Eirene wondered if her father had more of a literary talent than she had initially thought, because the two houses that made up the Odeck family compound did appear to be stitched together, like the arguing children of a mad scientist. They were bound by a tunnel of unpainted wood, with nearly every board having come from a different source. There was one window on the tunnel, its frame an actual picture frame.
It was a nightmarish playhouse already, but the image was further enhanced by the entertainment and sport debris littered all over the yard and in the branches of a giant twisted elm tree, the roots of which crawled into the gray asphalt driveway and broke it into chunks like lava rock.
There was an above-ground swimming pool with one side collapsed. A partially-deflated raft with the cartoonish face of a manatee hung over the side like a drunk waiting for his vomit to rise. A tire swing hung from the tree, which would have been normal enough if there wasn’t a hubcap still inside. A trampoline stood off to the side of the twin houses, one of its legs corroded and loosened into a spear point likely to drive up through someone’s foot at the first jump. Baseballs, Frisbees, and shuttlecocks decorated the tree like Christmas ornaments.
In and about all of this ran twenty or so children, ranging in age from one to seventeen. Some looked too old for the diapers they wore and others looked too young for their sneakers with flailing laces. The crowd hooted and screeched, children being passed back and forth between three different games with constantly changing rules. To the detectives it looked like the daycare in Hieronymous Bosch’s hell, and they could think of nothing to do but grimace.
They were hailed by a few elderly Odecks in rocking chairs as they approached the front door, but their accents and lack of teeth made them impossible to interpret. To Nate it sounded like they tried to speak French, but a French cobbled together from foreign gossip magazines that had been tossed in a storm drain. He had taken two semesters of the language himself in high school, but all he could glean from their lip-smacking was something that sounded like poo-kwa with an inexplicable emphasis on the poo.
“Lovely meeting you all,” he said with a stiff smile, “but we’re here to speak to Michel.” He nudged Eirene. She knocked on the front door after finding the doorbell produced no sound. They felt both the eyes of the elderly and the young ones on their backs as they waited. In fact, the sounds of the children playing had stopped as soon as Nate had mentioned Michel. He glanced over his shoulder to see the older children frozen in place, mouths agape, eyes narrow and hateful.
“Why’d we stop playing Nah-poleon?” one of the younger ones asked. His only answer was a smack across the cheek.
“I don’t like this place,” Nate whispered to Eirene. “It’s like Children of the Corn meets Jerry Springer. And you know that would never air in this slot.”
“I have the feeling Michel isn’t even here,” she whispered back. “I think they might be tackling us if he was, but we still need to try and find out. Ten minutes.” The door opened to a dark interior, the detectives stepped inside, and so began the most eventful ten minutes of that season so far.
The Odecks seemed intent on confusing and separating the two of them, more by predatory instinct than design. Though there was a web of Odecks living there, at least two had been assigned the duty of answering the doors and handling guests. They were a married couple: the man shaped like an overripe pear and sporting one curl of hair combed forward on his balding head like a stem and the woman a stiff broom-like creature with a mouth that suggested the lack of every oral talent from speaking and singing down to whistling and kissing.
They quickly learned Michel was her brother and he was not, in fact, in. A whiff of skepticism passed between the detectives, given the labyrinthine nature of the Odeck burrow, and they seemed to pick up on it. They too communicated with soundless glances. This particular Mr. Odeck snagged Nate with a line of conversation about Michel and managed to move the male detective into a different room. There was some mumbled excuse about letting the hens peck about.
Eirene ignored the behavior because she thought she could glean more information from Mrs. Odeck one-on-one. The material of the conversation was pleasant enough to start, but there was suspicion in Mrs. Odeck’s voice that soured the whole affair. Eirene occasionally moved to swat at a fly, only to realize there was no fly and she was simply annoyed by the woman’s voice.
“What is it you want with our Michel?” she asked.
“Well ma’am, we need to speak with him regarding his relationship with his employer. I’m sure you heard about the murder. When we tried to speak with him at work he ran from us.”
“He isn’t a coward if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I promise I was not thinking that.”
“He has poured his life into that Introgurt place. He’s practically an ingredient.”
“Do you have any idea where he might have gone?” Eirene asked, trying not to picture Michel being peeled from his uniform like a banana and dropped into a vat of yogurt.
“Not far,” she said vaguely. “He’ll turn up soon. He’d never leave his nieces and nephews.”
(Quick Cut to Cincinattus)
“So you don’t have any idea where he is?” Nate asked Mr. Odeck. The man shrugged and said he never kept track of his squirrely brother-in-law. Then he mentioned that he preferred to shoot squirrels and brought out a black rodent rifle to show it off. Nate’s hands instinctively went toward his own weapon, but he kept it holstered. He remembered that Tom Amstead only fired warning shots. Every bit of extra effort he put in would make for a better story somewhere down the line. Simply killing the man would be a five second somber retelling, hardly material for a clip show. Nate did him the courtesy of examining the rifle appreciatively.
“How many have you bagged with this bad boy?” he asked.
“Twelve this year. Fifteen if you count chipmunks. Larry’s done me ten better though. Isn’t that right Larry?” Nate turned to see one of the many children standing behind him. This one was maybe fourteen years old, already with a thin oily moustache. Nate couldn’t even guess what sport his oversized blue jersey was for.
“You Larry?” the detective asked as he handed the squirrel rifle back to its owner.
“It’s Laurent,” the kid said indignantly. His mouth hung open at the soft end of his name, as if he expected to immediately be rewarded with a croissant.
“Sorry,” Nate apologized. “But you are the crack shot with that rifle?” the kid nodded.
“What do you want with Uncle Michel?”
“I’m a police detective kid.” Nate dug out his badge and showed it off. “I’ve got a few questions for your uncle.”
“He got away from you at Introgurt,” the kid said, his voice full of snot and vinegar.
“That’s not exactly what happened.”
“He told me. He said you were fat slow pigs.”
“Your uncle was here after that?” Nate asked, pointing a finger at the ground, but quickly retracting it as if he’d stuck it into a gloppy witch’s brew.
“Larry shut your mouth,” Mr. Odeck warned, but the child was not dissuaded. His mouth hung open as ever and he started to wail like a siren.
“Slow piggy, slooow piggy, slooooow piggy!”
“You French kiss your mother with that mouth?” Golfort muttered.
“You’re pissing me off kid.”
(Quick Cut to Eirene)
“You have to admit Michel has something of a history with us,” Eirene said of the man’s arrests, trying to elude the mention of either nudity or fish.
“That don’t make him a murderer,” Mrs. Odeck said with a shaking head, her stiff curls swishing back and forth. She kept her head moving much longer than she needed to.
“Why would he run from us then?” the detective asked, hoping she would snap out of whatever trance had her head moving in such a way.
“You’re the police. You harass innocent people all the time. That or you just shoot them.” Mrs. Odeck nervously lit a cigarette and blew the smoke in the opposite direction of the room’s one open window.
“That sort of thing might happen in other time slots, but not here,” Eirene insisted. “We at the Detectorate are publicly elected officials. We have no chance of getting re-elected if we’re caught being violent to our voter base.”
(Quick Cut to Cincinnatus)
“I’ll let go if you let go!” Nate barked. He had young Laurent’s head caught in his vice-like underarm as the kid grabbed at the detective’s belt and threatened to bend the buckle. A stunned Mr. Odeck simply stood in the corner, the squirrel rifle hugged close to his chest. He never did any of his own fighting. Besides, Laurent would receive reinforcements shortly. Mr. Odeck had armed them with ten dollars’ worth of balloons just that morning.
“It’s just like the revolution!” the kid said from under his sweaty armpit. “No one was alone in the revolution!” Nate was about to ask him what the hell he was talking about, and what it had to do with his weird yogurt-worshipping uncle, when the other revolutionaries, roused by the commotion, arrived.
The detective was pelted with water balloons in a variety of colors. He was forced to relinquish his hold on Laurent. He took a hot pink round to the face, then a neon green one exploded against his gut, and a flame red one smacked against his left temple and burst. The wet pop rang in his ear.
Nate gritted his teeth and held out his hands to stop the barrage. He managed to catch one of the balloons without it breaking. A wicked smile split his lips.
(Quick Cut to Eirene)
“We’re not afraid of you,” Mrs. Odeck snapped. She was already near the end of her cigarette. “Michel knows what he’s doing and I won’t betray his confidence. Introgurt will sort itself out.” Without meaning to she had armed Eirene with several more questions.
“His confidence? So you do know where he went. Ma’am you have to tell me what you know or you could be hit with a couple of charges: namely obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting. And what on Earth do you mean by ‘Introgurt will sort itself out’?”
“I’m not afraid,” she repeated with a shaking smoky head, like something between her ears was short-circuiting.
“We exist to help. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
(Quick Cut to Cincinnatus)
A little Odeck girl twitched on the ground as the electricity passed through her. Biting the detective’s pinky finger had not been a wise move, but what choice did a revolutionary have when he returned balloon fire?
Her brothers immediately tackled Golfort to get revenge, beating him about the ears and shoulders. Something wet hit their eyes and they quickly realized it wasn’t water. They flaked off his back like dying beetles and Nate made sure they got both eyes full of pepper spray. Tom Amstead had told him to bring the non-lethals, so that meant he was authorized to use them.
“Any of you little freaks want another taste? Come on! Try and hit the law with one more god damn balloon!”
They shrieked and charged him. He howled back.
(Quick Cut to Eirene)
“Mrs. Odeck…” Eirene stopped mid-sentence. There was some kind of fight going on in the other room. The detective shot up from her chair and ran to her partner’s aid. She found him dripping wet over a mound of defeated children. Several of them rubbed their eyes and bawled. He had a fierce look on his face, like a lion shortly after the killing bite.
“Oh my god!” Mrs. Odeck yipped as she entered the room behind Eirene. Apparently one of the children was hers. “Fine, you brutes. Michel’s probably in Midway. He likes that city. He always goes there when he’s in trouble!” She rushed over to comfort the Odeck brood. Eirene was still staring, wide-eyed, at Golfort as he caught his breath and shuffled away from his opponents. He looked at her.
“You tazed a little girl,” the sheriff said in disbelief as he dropped the incident report on his desk. As soon as they’d been chased off the Odeck compound a call had been made. Apparently the yokels were not so backward as to avoid cell phones. Both detectives were seated before the sheriff’s desk in exceptionally low chairs. His office was a dreary room with the smell of plywood and felt. The sheriff, a man with small eyes, puffy lips, and a mustache that couldn’t downplay them, rubbed his forehead. “I told them a thousand times. Letting people elect detectives was the dumbest idea this side of GMT.”
“You didn’t even ask me why I did it!” Nate barked in his own defense. “She attacked me. Bit my little finger. Look, you can still see where it’s pink.” He tried to stand and shove his hand in the sheriff’s face, but the sheriff held him at bay with one hand. He did a double take as his head bobbed towards the report on the desk.
“It says here that you threw a water balloon at her before you tazed her. You thought it was appropriate detective behavior to electrocute a soaking wet child?”
“There may have been some moisture present on the girl’s exterior,” Nate said, suddenly forgetful. “Those mole rats swarmed me all at once.”
“And you used your pepper spray on four young boys.”
“Criminals come in all shapes and sizes Sheriff. They were impeding the investigation. Besides, we found out where Michel went! It’s all right there in your little report. You could read those parts if you actually felt like it.”
“Yes, I see. That’s good work Amstead.” Eirene nodded curtly and said nothing. Golfort made a scoffing sound and let his mouth hang open like he was auditioning to become an Odeck himself. “Don’t give me that look,” the sheriff told him, pointing a chubby finger. “I’d fire you if I could Golfort. You’re a loose cannon… and you’re an even looser fire extinguisher filled with pepper spray. Unfortunately for me, thanks to the Detectorate rules, you have to be recalled by an unsatisfied public. Until then, we’re stuck together. Luckily, you’ll be out of my hair for at least the next few days. I’ll be praying at my bedside tonight that it’s more like weeks.”
“What are you saying Sheriff?” Eirene asked, rising to her feet alongside Golfort.
“I’m saying that the powers that be have decided this is your case until the end. You’re going to find Charles Marvalla’s killer.”
“So we’re following Michel to Midway?” Golfort clapped his hands and did a jig. “What’d I tell you,” he said right in Amstead’s ear. “Yeah I used a pinch of extra force on some kids, but now we’re moving up because of it!”
“Midway isn’t moving up,” she argued. “It’s lateral. We’re going from a small town to a big city. This is pretty unorthodox Sheriff. Are we even cleared for duty outside this time slot? It’s someone else’s jurisdiction.”
“Not for this case it isn’t. I received notice an hour ago that you two were cleared for crossover work. You’re off to Midway tomorrow morning. Pack your bags for 9/8c.”
Produced by Heath Moose
Executive Producer – Nancy Kugras
Director – Artemis Stevenson
Special Guest Appearance by Charles Marvalla
No animals were harmed in the making of this episode.
(Will Amstead and Golfort be able to track down the millionaire’s murderer? Tune into Interim P.D. at 9/8c for the crossover you’ve all been waiting for. 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: Midway was just another long-suffering city of America until the local government exploded in a criminal scandal. The governor, the mayor, and nearly everyone else has been sent to prison. Until replacements can be found order is being shakily held by the police department. Nobody is happy about the chaos of a police state, but it’s all they have for now. This… is Interim P.D.
Intro theme tune arranged by the Valdi Brothers
Produced by Heath Moose
Season 2, Episode 15: Little Pond Overflows
The smell of Little Pond’s pine trees was gone, swallowed up and burned away by the car exhaust and heated air surrounding the city of Midway. Amstead and Golfort were crammed into a tiny department vehicle, taking short breaths and hoping each one would taste better than the last.
Cincinnatus was behind the wheel because Amstead had already done her half of the five hour drive. She had hoped to catch a small nap, the prospect of work in Midway had kept her up and jittery most of the night, but the foul air on that last stretch of highway made sleep impossible. She tried to stretch her stiff legs, but they could only move about an inch. She nervously checked a roadmap against the directions she’d written down. As much as she stared their destination X did not shift on the map. It was firmly planted on a cheap motel and that was where it was going to stay.
That was where they were going to stay, courtesy of the department, until Michael Odeck, alias Michel, was in their custody. They had nothing to go on except his two names, his mugshot, and his sister’s tip. When it was clear the motel X absolutely refused to budge, Eirene’s mind wandered back to the thoughts that had kept her up and branded dark circles under her eyes.
“Don’t you think it’s strange that they want us to crossover? We don’t even have much to go on,” she asked her partner.
“Of course it’s strange,” Golfort answered without looking away from the road. “This is a strange case though. How many rich guys get murdered in Little Pond? Our cases usually involve a guy in safety orange somehow, miraculously, shooting another guy in safety orange on accident.”
“We’re not even that experienced yet.”
“You can’t get experience in Little Pond,” he argued. “This time slot is the experience one. It’s where you really see things. So I’ve heard…”
“You haven’t been out here either?” she asked, wincing at how much she sounded like a teenager nervous over a driving test.
“Well no, but you hear things. Your pops worked here a little while right? I heard he’s even been to 11/10c. That true?”
“He doesn’t talk about those days. There’s a reason he always talks up Little Pond’s slot.”
“Well the first thing I’m going to do when we get in is get myself a big old… flamingo!” The car swerved as he twisted the wheel, but it was too late to avoid the collision. A plastic flamingo bounced harmlessly off the windshield. It was followed by two others. The truck in front of them, an ancient beast with a wooden back overloaded with gardening supplies, sped up. It had barged its way onto the highway and in the process spilled a few lawn ornaments.
The blare of sirens came up behind them as two police cars merged. It seemed they would be meeting the Midway P.D. a little sooner than expected. Nate straightened the car out, as if standing tall in front of a beautiful woman, and dug around near his feet with one hand.
“What are you doing?” Eirene asked as she crumpled the maps and forced them to her feet.
“This is our chance to make a good impression,” he said with a grin. He pulled up a small cone-shaped light and switched it on. It flashed red and blue with bothersome brightness. Nate pressed one elbow against the steering wheel as he sped behind the truck, freeing his second hand to roll down the window. Eirene grabbed the side of the wheel to help keep it steady. “Woo!” he declared once he’d placed the light on top of the car, as if he thought he had to make the siren noise himself. “Let go of the wheel and grab your gun! If I’m driving you need to shoot!”
“What would I shoot?”
“That’s not procedure! We don’t even know what this guy’s done!”
“Oh but you apparently know he’s a guy? Come on Amstead. This is Midway; I bet he’s done something real bad.” She was about to admonish him further when one of the two police cars pulled up beside them. She looked past her partner’s face and saw the two people inside. The driver was a black woman with a strong jaw and wrists as thick as rolling pins. The passenger was a black man, just tall enough that he had to bend his head down to be comfortable. She didn’t get the best look at his face because she was too busy staring at his gun, which was cocked and ready to go.
“I guess that is procedure around here,” Eirene muttered. She drew her weapon and squeezed past Golfort into the backseat. The fleeing truck was staying to their left, so if she wanted a good angle she had to lean out an opposite window. Nate helped her out by moving the car as far to the right as possible. She tried to beat the Midway officers to the punch, but they were already leaning out by the time she had the window rolled halfway down. Her head was barely out a second when a fourth flamingo struck her in the face and nearly made her drop her weapon.
“This guy’s getting crazy! He knows there’s no way he’s getting out of this!” Nate shouted with glee. The wind whipped even Eirene’s heavy hair into a flurry, forcing her to hold it back in a bundle with her non-weapon hand. The city air certainly didn’t smell any better as it washed over her face and made her eyes tear up. Another flamingo targeted her head, but she shot it out of the air with true Amstead aim. Pieces of pink plastic spun away and vanished behind them.
Nate brought her closer. She tried to focus on the tires, but she’d already decided she wouldn’t take the first shot at them. She needed to be extra sure things really were that insane around here before she plunged into it.
Waiting for the bang to come, she snuck a few looks at the man leaning out of the car next to them. To her his face seemed full of dignity, like a person petrified to granite by the rigidity of their own moral code. His close-cropped hair looked like velvet. Despite the intensity of the situation, there wasn’t a bead of sweat on him. Halfway through her analysis she caught her body becoming too lax, forcing her to drop her hair and steady herself. Since she’d nearly fallen onto the highway in the process of examining him, she had to face a certain fact: she found him very attractive.
Bok! He fired his sidearm at the tires. He just missed, but the truck swerved out of the way like a cat at the pop of a firecracker. A moment later it swerved back. The truck bounced as its outer wheels climbed back up onto the road; its wooden bed broke open and spilled things far deadlier than flamingos. Out came shovels, soil aerators, bags of fertilizer, and a riding mower. The mower rolled across the road spreading sparks. Nate had to pull hard to the left to avoid it, which pressed their car up against the vehicle holding the attractive officer.
Eirene didn’t want to be crushed, that would not reflect well on her department, so she ducked her head down. The two cars scraped against each other, the force of the impact knocking Eirene out of her window and into the other car’s. She landed in the backseat of the Midway vehicle. Her nose was smashed against the fabric; she smelled cigarette butts, greasy pizza cheese, and the grime of pennies and nickels left between the cushions to turn green.
“You alright back there?” the woman driving asked without turning her head. It was the man who actually made eye contact. His eyes were deep but bright, like those on a jaguar. His round dimpled chin looked like it didn’t know the definition of quivering.
“Say something,” he said to her with a voice just high enough to sound friendly. “If we got another concussion in the back of this car we might get written up.”
“Uhh… I’m Amstead! Fine! I’m Detective Eirene Amstead from Little Pond and I’m fine!” She barely stopped herself from pulling out her badge and flashing it. “My partner and I are heading to your precinct for some crossover work.”
“So you’re the fresh fish,” the woman said, her lips splitting into a big smile. She stuck the tip of her tongue out from between her teeth. “What a coincidence. Us two are supposed to be your liaisons! I’m Dena Fellarocker and this is Marshall Upps.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Eirene said dumbly.
“Son of a bitch and his chrome bassinet!” Dena swore as she was forced to swerve out of the truck’s way. Now that its back was damaged the vehicle’s tail rocked back and forth dangerously, taking up both lanes. “I’ll tell you what fresh fish… I won’t say I’m pleased to meet you just yet. First you have to make this shot. Then we’ll tell you we like you.”
“You mean his tires?” Amstead asked. Neither of them looked worried. Nate had just dodged a mower that could have gone through the windshield and turned him into lawn trimmings, yet these two were all smiles. One quick glance at Nate revealed he was still on the criminal’s tail, still as determined as ever. How common was the violence of Midway if this didn’t make them bat an eye? “What did this guy do?”
“He’s a drunk driver,” Officer Marshall answered her. “Almost religiously so. You could call it a lifestyle choice. Now take his wheels away.” Amstead may have been from a small town, but the perils of drunk driving struck there as well. Emboldened by memories of an accident she’d arrived at on her third day on the job, a car crashed through a storefront and a little old lady rushed to the hospital, she leaned back out of the window and took aim. Bok!
She shredded the back tire like soft cheese. The truck swiveled and groaned one last time before careening off the road, grinding against a concrete barrier, and coming to a stop. Nate was all over it in a moment, out of their car and pointing his weapon in the window. He dragged the inebriated man out and flattened him against the crinkled hood before throwing a thumbs-up Amstead’s way.
“This means you’re alright Eirene,” Dena said. “Welcome to Midway.”
(Interim P.D. will return after these messages from our sponsors)
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(And now back to Interim P.D.)
The Midway stationhouse was a sight to behold; Amstead was reminded of a livestock auction her father took her to when she was a teenager. The procession of handcuffed thugs in the back was a lot like the cattle being pulled through the dirt paths surrounding the main pen, distinguished from the rest of the ground only by thousands of footprints. Their captain barked and droned simultaneously like the auctioneer, handing out assignments to people who definitely did not bid on them.
A crowd of sweaty officers, their cheap blue shirts plastered to their armpits and necklines, shouted for the captain’s attention, waving arrest reports, incident reports, or pieces of broken equipment. Amstead and Golfort stood at the back of the crowd, awaiting their chance to speak with the chief. They were flanked by officers Dena and Marshall, who had just returned after storing the flamingo-spilling drunk in a holding cell.
“Is it always such a madhouse?” Eirene asked, practically yelling as she stood on her tiptoes and asked the question into Marshall’s ear.
“What did you expect?” he asked in return. “We’re basically the government for the entire city right now. We put the drunk in with the treasurer who violated his parole.”
“I don’t see how we’re going to be able to find our guy if it takes an hour just to talk to the chief,” she said.
“You’re right,” Dena agreed, her head leaning in. “We’ll just have to start on our own, talk to the chief later.”
“Expedited!” Nate hollered as if requesting his favorite song at a concert. “I like the way you think! Hey what are they…” The detective noticed two handcuffed men behind them just as they slipped their cuffs under the legs of the chairs they’d been placed in. They tried to sneak away, but Nate leapt on them like a hunting tarantula, knocking them to the ground and holding their faces to the tile. “This place is great! Nobody ever tries to escape back in Little Pond.”
Eirene watched, her mind pure concern, as Dena sauntered over to Nate and gave him a hand by rapping the criminals on the back of the head three or four times. Surely it was a violation of conduct, but even with a hundred officers around nobody else seemed to notice. This was why her father never talked about his work in later time slots. She’d been in Midway less than a day and already she was seeing bruises on both suspects and the rules. She tried to suppress the thought that she was dealing with a city of cheaters.
If they even had their own rules, they certainly weren’t very civil. Amstead’s mind wandered back to their car ride into downtown, when she was seated next to the drunk driver as his head reeled back and forth and he complained about the constant disappointed glare of all those flamingoes. There was a word used. Amstead would never repeat it. She could barely think it: shit. Her mind thought the word as fast as it could, so it could be over.
She couldn’t believe people still said it. That word had gone out of fashion before she was even born. It was supposed to be something mankind had hung up and put behind a glass wall, like mustard gas canisters. Worst of all, it hadn’t come out of the criminal’s mouth, but officer Dena’s! She didn’t even look surprised when it issued.
Back in 7/6c, when people got really upset, usually the farmers who were told they had to graze on different land, they would almost say it… but they would change their minds at the last moment and turn it into slurry in their mouths before forcing a different ending onto it. She’d heard holy sham, piece of shingles, and shin sandwich, but never… shit. She couldn’t help but look at the watercooler in the back of the stationhouse and see it as more of a septic tank. The officers weren’t getting drinks; they were washing their mouths out. Even now cursed snippets drifted by her ears and pinched at them like aggressive little fiddler crabs. Some of them chewed on the same vile word over and over again like it was a piece of spicy cinnamon gum.
“We should go somewhere quieter,” Eirene suggested to the others. They nodded their heads in agreement.
“So do you want to fill me in on this case of yours?” officer Upps asked Amstead. They’d left the station house and split into pairs in order to do a little canvassing. Currently they strolled along a filthy street, pretending the colorful stalls on either side filled with produce that had been plastic-wrapped just moments ago constituted a legitimate farmer’s market.
“Why would people get so worked up over avocados?” she asked in return, eyeing a weasely man who looked ready to throw the fruit he waved around. “Was it like this before the government collapsed?”
“He seems friendly enough to me,” Upps replied. He brought out his wallet, dropped a few coins on a stand counter, and snatched a golden apple. He bit into it with gusto, accustomed to the exhaust smell ingrained in its skin. “We’re just outside the park. Everyone is calmer around here. In fact, we’re going to pass through there to get to the establishments on our list. You’ll love the swans… as long as they’re not having an ornery day.”
“That sounds… pleasant. You asked about the case didn’t you?” She finally pulled her eyes away from the bickering of the market. She craned her head in search of the treetops from the alleged park, but couldn’t see anything aside from a few pairs of shoes draped over a powerline. She didn’t even recognize the logos on the shoes. Marshall grabbed her by the shoulder and steered her out of the way of a bike messenger. Apparently, ‘up’ was not a safe direction to look in for more than a second.
“I did. And you need to be a little careful around here. Midway has a lot of heart, but you don’t want to get in the way of its beating. There’s a shortcut to the park through here.” He gently pulled her between two booths, between an argument, and out of the market. The air immediately freshened, but not by much. There was a hint of grass, buried under cigarette butts and the gamy grease of a nearby Turkish food stand.
“We’re looking for a murderer. Has more than his fair share of names. Is probably going by Michel Odeck. Midway was our only lead, other than the notion that he likes to gamble.”
“I suppose that’s why we’re hitting these places,” Marshall said, checking the list from his notepad. “We’ve got three of the local illegitimate casinos here, while Dena and Nate took the two legit ones. If you don’t mind me asking… why the crossover work? You could’ve just sent us his mugshot.”
“I don’t fully understand the reasoning myself,” Amstead answered, trying not to sound like she was drowning in Midway’s filth. “His victim, Charles Marvalla, was a very wealthy man. He operated a yogurt company that has a plant in Little Pond. Maybe you’ve heard of it…” She doubted it as soon as soon as she said it, recalling the strange sharp logos on the hanging shoes. “…Introgurt.”
“Oh yeah,” he groaned. “I know that stuff. Those commercials are everywhere these days, trying to convince you to stay home all day and get goopy food delivered to your door.” He demonstrated his disgust by taking a few wide strides forward and holding out his hands to indicate the grandeur of the space around him. “There’s plenty of great food out here… and entertainment too.” He took the first step onto grass. They’d turned a corner and entered the park suddenly, so suddenly that Amstead was taken aback. She couldn’t deny it was a park, but it bore so little similarity to the forests of Little Pond that she could barely imitate a smile. There were trees, but without a root outside their fenced-in plots. There were bushes, but they were neutered and homogenous, without so much as a thorn to defend themselves. She was reminded of sad zoo animals that had gone years without being able to walk straight for more than ten yards. These plants were stripped of their wildness, just like a case of plastic-wrapped tomatoes pretending that the vine connecting them still nourished them.
“This Michel guy… we really don’t know what could have motivated him,” she explained, afraid that any comment on the city’s ‘entertainment’ would come across as an insult. “He’s no professional. He was just one of the workers in the plant. If anything, he seemed very devoted to the company.”
“That ought to make him stick out around here,” Marshall offered. “We take pride in our city, not so much our work.” He stopped, letting a young woman with six leashed dogs cross in front of them. Even the animals seemed strange to Amstead, prominently displaying their backsides and urinating with disgusting frequency. “Not to say we don’t work hard,” he quickly added.
“You’re nice enough to be from Little Pond…”
“They’re bringing in people from Little Pond now?” a brash voice interjected. Amstead looked over to see a pale man in his thirties, presenting quite the conflicting image as he both jogged in place in running shorts and snacked on a loaded hot dog. His dusty red hair was untamed despite it being an extremely tamable length. His acorn of a face was red with exertion and slick with sweat, but his eyes did not look tired; they were positively ablaze. “I’m glad I ran into you.” He smacked the front of Marshall’s uniform playfully. “Talk a little shop with me!”
“Eirene, this is Harding Roughy. He’s the assistant district attorney who does the most work with us. We can’t keep him away in fact.”
“The only reason I’m in this get-up and pretending to relax is because it’s my day off,” Harding declared. “Mandatory day off. Enough about me. Your name’s Eirene and you’re from Little Pond… what’s that about?” He continued to jog in place, dislodging a sliver of onion from his hot dog that he snatched out of the air with his other hand and placed back on top.
“My partner and I are doing some crossover work,” she answered. His eagerness was strange to her; in Little Pond the court people barely ever showed up around the stationhouse. “There was a murder…”
“Charles Marvalla,” Harding guessed, but it was more like an accusation with the way his index finger jabbed towards her. He stopped running.
“How did you know?”
“I try to keep up on high profile cases. I’m the one who put away half the higher-ups around here. Had to go after my own boss too. Brought him down like a weed whacker on a thistle.” He smacked his palm against the hot dog-wielding wrist. “If you find your guy try to arrest him around here. I might get to prosecute then. Hell, I’d be happy to come out to Little Pond and do it for you. I’ve been eager for crossover work myself, but they’re not exactly handing it out like Halloween candy.”
He dug around in the pocket of his shorts and produced a business card, the corner bent and darkened by sweat. He handed it to Amstead before taking a bite of his hot dog like it was a refreshing gulp of spring water.
“You even carry those in your exercise clothes?” Marshall asked with a chuckle. “Excuse Harding. He never slows down.”
“Not until I get my man,” he said, “and all men are guilty. I expect you to call me Eirene, day or night, if you need some prosecutorial advice. We’ll work great together. We’ll rip your murderer to shreds. Absolute shreds.” Eirene suppressed a chuckle as he smacked her on the shoulder, as if he’d known her as long as Upps, and jogged past them. They resumed their route through the park, but their pace was interrupted twice by Upps stopping and staring at Eirene in slight befuddlement.
“What? Do I have something on my face?” Eirene finally asked. She instinctively touched her cheek and only then realized the warmth in it. Midway did seem oppressively hot, but the tingle in her cheek was something she was much less used to. She thought it was perhaps envy of Dena for having a partner more committed to the work. Nate’s enthusiasm certainly came in handy sometimes, but it also occasionally got the under-aged electrocuted. For a moment her mind wandered to what the rambunctious Golfort and aggressive Fellarocker were getting up to together.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Marshall said. He rubbed the back of his head and nearly knocked his hat off. “This is going to sound strange, but I get déjà vu every time I look at you. We haven’t met before have we?”
“No, I would remember.” Her cheeks got a little warmer. Were they at the end of the damn fake park yet? She felt like she was at the center of a cheap snow globe overheating in the window of a theme park gift shop.
“It’s not normal déjà vu. I look at you and I see somebody with your face… but with different hair and a different attitude. This person, whoever she is or was, wasn’t a detective either. I say that, but I can’t remember what she does actually… other than loiter in the corner of my memory.”
“I don’t have any sisters or particularly-similar cousins if that’s what you’re asking.” She really wanted him to know that there were no others like her. The closest being in all the world was her father and the resemblance there certainly wasn’t strong. Eirene had done her best to make her mark in Little Pond, to stand out from the crowd, but she was suddenly discouraged by Upps’s confusion. Were there a handful of other people around that were just as distinct? Was she only special because Little Pond was so isolated by its wholesome shores? Perhaps Midway was the proper place for her and she was actually barely qualified when compared to her doubles.
“Shouldn’t have said anything,” Marshall mumbled after another moment. “Come on. These are the last trees here. Park sure did feel strange today.” He looked around. “Usually it’s much busier here. Frisbees and dogs everywhere. Today it was just you and me… and Harding. Course, I didn’t even hear him run up.”
“Me either,” Eirene added. She stepped in front of him and walked under the branches on the last row of weak trees. Some sidewalk and screaming car horns would get them back in their right mind. It couldn’t quite pull the heat out of her cheeks though, a heat that flared up every time she looked at Marshall Upps.
Officer Fellarocker and Detective Golfort had their man. Specifically, they had their man in an interrogation room and handcuffed to a table. He had asked for a lawyer and Dena had pretended to call legal aid on her cellphone. She shot a glance at Nate and he picked up her thread with pleasure.
“Pffffff,” he scoffed, “legal aid. It’ll probably take those bums a few hours to get here. They’re too busy with the guilty people to come defend an innocent man like you.” Nate slid a plastic cup of water over to the man. He grabbed it and tried to bring it to his mouth, but the handcuffs wouldn’t allow it. He was forced to lean like a bird and sip noisily at its edge. He stared at Dena as the phone slipped from her ear a little.
“Don’t look at me. I’ll let you know when they take me off hold,” she said. “You talk to him. He’s the one who thinks you’re innocent.” She pointed to Nate, who nodded along with her words. Before he said anything their suspect looked around at the bare room: the new fluorescent lights, the metal table, and the creaking chairs. There was a dripping stain on the left wall, looking like the exact amount of water in his little plastic cup at the moment.
“You think I’m innocent?” he asked Nate.
“I do. I absolutely do. Legal aid might not even believe you, but I do.”
“Good,” he said, staring at the lights and then the stain once again. “That’s good… I mean that’s appropriate. I’m innocent right now. I haven’t done anything wrong at all.”
“And like I said, I believe you,” Nate insisted. He put his hand over his heart and spread his fingers wide. “But we’ve got to clear some things up Mr. Odeck. You ran from me and my partner back at the Introgurt plant. That doesn’t look good, especially to these suspicious city types.”
“Very suspicious,” Dena added. She swapped the ear the phone was pressed against and sighed. She checked her watch under the table, a watch that didn’t exist.
“What are you talking about?” the suspect asked. He sipped at the water again. “I didn’t run from anybody.”
“You don’t remember me Michel? We fought in a giant pile of yogurt.” He turned to Dena. “How do you forget something like that?”
“Makes no sense,” she answered. “Neither does the yogurt part. You’re going to have to explain that to me later. I hope it’s nothing too weird because if it is… well then I don’t want to be trapped in a small room with the two of you.”
“Why do you keep calling me Michel?” the suspect asked. Dena dropped the phone onto the desk. This was not the confusion they’d sought to sow.
“Have you finally gone back to Michael?” Nate asked. He leaned forward.
“I’ve never been a Michael or a Michel!” the suspect insisted. Nate hopped up and grabbed the plastic cup. He squeezed it violently, throwing all the water into the air. It spilled onto the suspect’s pants; he tried to back up but the cuffs prevented his movement once again. The whole table groaned across the floor.
“Do you mind me laying hands on this guy?” Nate asked Dena without looking to her. He snatched the man’s shirt and pulled him up into an awkward stance.
“Oh I think legal aid is about to pick up,” she answered, putting the phone back to her ear and standing. She wandered off into a corner and hummed to herself. Nate pulled back a fist and gave the man one last chance to spill the information he wanted. All the suspect did in response was snivel. His punch would have connected a moment later if Eirene and Marshall hadn’t burst in. Nate dropped the man back into his chair and then straightened out his clothes like he was the man’s mother, simply disappointed in him for wetting his pants.
“You’re finally back,” Golfort said to Eirene. “I know you weren’t finding Odeck because… well see for yourself.” Eirene stared at the terrified man handcuffed to the chair. She spared a moment for the poor cracked cup on the table, another casualty of her partner’s eagerness to see justice served.
“What are you doing?” she asked, hands struggling to stay away from her hair. If they touched she was definitely going to pull some out. This scene was the exact opposite of what she needed. Their return to the station after they struck out at the casinos should have been a grounding experience. It should’ve helped clear her head of thoughts of doppelgangers and cities so strange they were like other planets. Instead Nate added to the chaos in his own special way.
“What do you mean ‘what am I doing’? We got him! Right outside one of the places on our list, waiting for his chance to go in and throw that hard-earned yogurt-slinging money to the wind. Isn’t that right Michel?” The suspect shook his head violently, his cheeks making weak slapping noises.
“That’s not Odeck!” his partner exclaimed.
“What do you mean? Of course he is…” Nate took a good hard look at the man. The head was mostly bald. The lips were thin. The eyes were wide. Those were all features of the Mr. Odeck they’d chased out of the plant, but this was not Mr. Odeck. “Holy shit…” Eirene gasped at the swear word and Nate recoiled. He grabbed the tip of his own tongue like he expected it to break off and crumble in his palm. “Shit,” he repeated, quieter this time.
“What would your voters say?” Eirene asked in an attempt to shame him. It worked to a small degree. “You shouldn’t crossover that much Nate.”
“Did I miss something?” Dena asked. “What did he say?”
“He said… he said that word,” Eirene explained.
“What? Shit?” Dena asked with a grunt. “What the shit is wrong with shit?”
“It’s not a Little Pond word,” Nate said. He licked his lips. “It’s a Midway word. I do like the taste of it though.”
“Seriously, what’s wrong with saying shit? Don’t you have big old piles of shit in Little Pond?” Dena asked. “You don’t have shitty parts to your lives? Not even speckles or fleckles of nasty brown sheeeeeeiiiiiit?” She leaned in, urging Eirene to say it with her wide eyes and something-specific-eating grin.
“We just don’t say it,” Eirene argued, leaning in herself. “I mean… it’s fine that you say it because this is your town. It’s in you.”
“Should we stick to the shit going on right here?” Marshall asked. Eirene whirled around and clasped her hands over her mouth. “What? You said it was fine if we said it.”
“I… I didn’t know you said it too…” Eirene stammered. “You seemed so…”
“What?” Marshall urged, irritation furrowing his brow.
“Nothing. It’s fine,” Eirene said. “It’s your procedure; it’s fine. You’re just less wholesome than I maybe… never mind. I don’t even care. What actually matters here is that this man is not Michel Odeck.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell these crazy people,” the suspect honked. “I don’t even have a part yet! I was just waiting, minding my own business, when he tackled me… getting his cues from who knows where.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. Now that I squint… it’s not him,” Nate admitted. He turned and squinted once more just to make sure. “You can’t fault me. Tell me this guy isn’t the shittin… spitting image of Michel Odeck.” He had her there; the resemblance was as clear as the wet spot down the man’s pants. It was so close that her first thought was that they had to be half-brothers or cousins.
“Déjà vu…” she muttered, putting her thumb to her forehead and feeling for a fever. She felt hot, but not ill, like she’d been waiting in line under the sun for a glass of lemonade only to find an out of business sign on the little girl’s wooden stand. “We’ve got to let this guy go. It’s not a crime to look like a murderer.”
“You feeling alright?” Marshall asked, wrapping a hand around her shoulder.
“It’s just too much,” Eirene admitted in a hushed tone. “Things are moving so fast but we’re not getting anywhere. Life shouldn’t be like this. It isn’t. I need a break.”
(Interim P.D. will return after these messages from our sponsors)
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“If you can’t hear me through those headphones how do you even know what I’m asking?”
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We’ll get back to your program in a minute folks, but I just have to share my excitement with you. My name is Charles Marvalla, and I’m the C.E.O of Introgurt yogurt. We’ve had an absolutely stellar year so far and I want to pass some of that bounty back to you: our loyal customers.
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If you haven’t already, check out my guest turn on The Detectorate. That’s how devoted I am to our customers. I needed to get on one of the shows so I could see you all enjoying the yogurt through your screens!
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(And now back to Interim P.D.)
(continued in part three)
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