Murder in New Eden
by Charles C. Cole
Welcome to New Eden, an isolated city floating in space, whose founders believed the start of the 20th century was as good as it would ever get. Gun-free police supervise from atop their penny-farthings, carrying only batons. Aggression has been chemically suppressed for years. But then violence erupts. In response, the chief of police weighs the prospect of thawing secret soldiers. In the middle of it all, two bright young women push for equality and recognition.
Chapter 16: Wayne’s Office
City Ops. On Schiavelli’s orders, three young male police officers stand at the back of the room, trying desperately to stay alert and interested in the so-far unengaging flickering images before them. Only Schiavelli sits, arms crossed, leaning back on two legs of his chair, sucking on an unlit cigar, rocking himself with the balls of his feet. Lois is nowhere to be seen. The officers notice as the chief’s eyes start to close.
“Don’t get any ideas,” he snarls as his eyelids begin to get even heavier. Then voices float nearby.
“Look at that! That’s not good!”
“Should we wake the chief?”
“Maybe it’s not what it looks like.”
“We should wake the chief!”
Somebody shakes the chief’s shoulder. Schiavelli barely catches himself as he nearly falls over, jumping to his feet as his chair crashes against the wall and then the floor.
“Chief Schiavelli, look!”
“What is it? What’s happening?”
On a particular monitor, around which the three officers have swarmed, a teen-age boy is half-jogging backwards down the center of the Garibaldi Street, being chased by an angry mob of four white-haired septuagenarian men carrying, it looks like, brightly colored croquet mallets held high over their heads in a clearly threatening manner.
“This can’t be good,” says Schiavelli. “I wonder what he did to deserve all the attention.”
It doesn’t take long for everyone see the boy has stolen someone’s ball and is cradling it in one hand.
“Should we go help?” says one of the officers.
“The old guys or the kid?”
The boy tests the handle of a parked car. It opens easily. He climbs inside and locks the doors.
“This could get ugly,” says Schiavelli. “Why is it always old men?”
“Why didn’t he keep running? They would have tired out eventually.”
“I wouldn’t want to be him.”
“Then go! Before they trash the car in their feeding frenzy!” says Schiavelli. “Everyone! Get out of here! Go make a difference.”
“But there are four of them and three of us.”
“And they’re almost three times your age! I do not want another death on my watch. Break it up! And watch your backs! They may be striking out first and apologizing later. For all I know, they’re all high on something. At least there are no guns this time. Don’t wait for me! Go! If we have to, we’ll hose them until they regain their senses. I’ll join you in my car. I’m going to call the fire station. And try not to hurt anyone, including yourselves!”
The three officers race out through the door, one hand on the crowd-control batons tucked behind their belts. One races back for his hat. Schiavelli hisses at him. “Leave it! Get!” Schiavelli is still mesmerized by the comical violence on the monitor. “Damn it, Valdez!” he curses, and follows them.
* * *
A simple orange paper sign taped to the frosted glass in the door says: “Wayne’s Office.” Valdez rips the sign down as he enters. Pelkey rolls a steel gurney in behind him. Boyer lies close to death under layers of blankets on the gurney.
“I hate this place,” says Pelkey, sniffing for the offensive vapors from harsh chemicals.
“Even the dead hate this place,” says Dr. Valdez.
“Do they tell you that?” Pelkey scoffs.
“You’d be surprised what they tell you.”
“What do you want me to do with him?”
“Nothing. I’ll take care of him. Just watch the door. I don’t want help.”
“Shouldn’t you be watching your patients, you know, Bernie’s victims?”
“If I did my job right, all they have to do is sleep and heal. They shouldn’t need me. Not tonight. Watch the door, please.”
Outside, behind a parked police van, a mere thirty feet away, Wayne and Petrillo listen intently for telltale activity from Dr. Valdez.
“Are we going to stop him?” asks Petrillo.
“I don’t want to risk Cody’s friend,” Wayne whispers. “I think we should let Valdez go through with it. At least we found Boyer. That was the assignment.”
“Brandt’s not going to want another soldier.”
“Even if he’s on our side?”
“How do we know that?”
“Because once he sees Cody, he’ll do what he’s told. That’s what they do.”
“What if he does what he’s told before he sees Cody? Something dark and sinister by Valdez or Pelkey. And it’s bad news.”
“Look, Valdez is going to be busy in there for a while. I gave him step-by-step instructions, with illustrations. Even he can’t mess this up.” She shakes her head as a bit of cynicism creeps into her thoughts. “Crap!”
“I had everything organized just the way I like it. What’s the point?”
“We could stop them.”
“Not now. Why don’t you go to Ops and get the chief and his posse? I’ll make sure they’re still here when you get back.”
“You think that’s such a good idea?”
“Yes, I do. Do you really think I can’t handle Pelkey? Lois’s five-year old granddaughter, Tabitha, can handle Pelkey.”
Petrillo stares at Wayne, quite unsure of his next ‘best’ move.
“Everyone knows you’re Chief Schiavelli’s favorite.”
“He’ll kill me if something happens to you.”
“Then get back here before anything can happen to me.”
* * *
Brandt, Nakamura and Cody stand in the Control Center before a large electronic display of blinking white lights and fluctuating numbers. There’s a quaint sign on the wall: “This plant has worked ‘2021’ days without a lost time accident.”
“Impressive, isn’t it? I monitor the heartbeat of the plant, men and water.”
Delumbria sits down behind his desk and leans back. His throne crackles and squeaks like a beanbag chair. It’s his guilty pleasure. He beams as if he’s proud of his custom-made sound effects, like he designed the precise gurgle after weeks of research and product testing. Or maybe it was just a diversion.
Three men in black overalls gather outside the glass exit door on the left and two men loiter outside the glass exit door on the right. They could be having a stretch break except they are not talking and they are clearly, intently watching what’s transpiring in the Control Center.
Brandt notices. “Change of shift? It must be later than I thought. We should probably be going.”
“You like this room? I modeled it after your office, only without the pretty view outside the large windows. Because down here, I am the mayor, the mayor of the underground city. You know what the difference is?”
“Nobody voted for you.”
Delumbria chuckles. “True. But I mean the difference between my city and your city. My city sustains your city. We provide the drinking water, the lights. Even the heat is generated from what we do. Topside, you use and use, but you never generate. It’s a shame.”
“I’ve been thinking that we should rotate new labor through here. Take the kids when they graduate, give them to you for a couple of years, while they’re fit and able.”
“I like that idea! Keep thinking, Mayor Willie. You think fast when you’re in a tight spot.”
“Maybe we should have a brainstorm, up top or down here, and discuss how we can improve relationships, make our mutual lives better. Would you like that, Dom?”
“Who knows you’re down here, if anybody? Does Toby know? Or is this surprise visit... a complete surprise?”
“Quite a few people know. The chief knows.”
“Chief Schiavelli knows?” scoffs Delumbria. “Why would you tell him? Why would he care? He’s got his business and you’ve got yours.”
“Haven’t you heard? We’ve been teaming up lately, pooling our resources. There’s some crazy stuff going on up there, Dom. Maybe because of what’s not in your water, or maybe that’s just making a bad situation worse.”
“What am I supposed to do, Mayor Willie? You three are a threat to my way of life. I want every day to be like the day before. Is that so much to ask?”
“Dom, don’t turn a bad decision into a worse one by doing something foolish.”
“I have to know, before we do something unseemly, when did you learn about the water? Was it Valdez?”
“He’s smart but anti-social. He saw a trend, an uptick in aggressive confrontations. Came right down to see me. I think, at first, he thought he could figure a way to fix it, with his own concoction. He was going to try. Be a big hero. But then he started being more in demand, more important. Nobody needs a doctor when we’re all living in paradise. So he quit working on a cure, grabbed his white lab coat and his stethoscope and became a real doctor. He likes it. A lot. Back in the saddle with that cowboy. But for you, in City Hall, it’s probably just a pain in the ass. More complaints. More whining. And crime! Don’t get me started. We don’t have a prison, so how can we have more crime? That’s a real head-scratcher.”
“Dom, with respect, can you get to the point?”
“How did you know about the water? Usually you’re so busy being mayor that you don’t notice things happening right outside the office.”
“I didn’t say I knew anything about the water, but the place is literally covered with sensors and alarms. You’ve told me countless times. I’ve taken the tour. I can practically give the tour. So, if people are acting funny and alarms are not going off, it’s because they’ve been disabled. Isn’t it?”
“Now, we finally get to something I’m guilty of. Because, until then, I was keeping you in the dark for your own peace of mind; I was doing you a favor.”
“But then you turned all the alarms off and gave up.”
“Satellite City New Eden is not as young as it used to be. Things break. I don’t have enough duct tape or chewing gum to fake my way out of this one. But, hey, we still have water and lights and heat. Three out of four ain’t bad.”
Cody clears his throat politely. “May I say something?”
“That was lovely! I like good manners. They never go out of style. We don’t have a lot of those down here. We’re very ‘office casual’. Yes, say something, Coby.”
“My mistake. I apologize. See: manners.”
“Actually, to be formal, it’s Sgt. Jefferson Cody.”
“A police officer undercover, dressed like a Good Humor man.”
“Actually, I’m a soldier, trained to kill. I’ve killed a lot in my day. More than I can count. The chief woke me up. Said he needed some help. I’ve been mostly training the other officers in hand-to-hand, but I’ve been itching to get back into my true line of work, where I’m an expert, an artist who paints with human bl—”
“You don’t have a gun.”
“I don’t need a gun.”
“I’ve got five guys right outside. You’re one guy.”
“How many people have they killed?”
“You would be the first.”
“Do you want to send them in? Do you want to see what I can do?”
“A soldier!? You tell the chief for me, he cheated. He’s keeping secrets. I don’t have respect for that.”
“I only found out myself,” says Brandt. “You’re right. He’s devious. I told him so.”
Delumbria points at Nakamura. “And, you, are you a soldier, too? Or are you the weak link in this chain? Nobody likes to see a girl hurt, especially me, so maybe we could strike a deal.” He nods, a signal, and two of the men enter quickly, grabbing Nakamura by both arms.
The action is fast. She instinctively head-butts one in the nose and then furiously kicks the knee sideways out from under the other. There is a loud crack. Everyone is shocked, except Nakamura and Cody.
The men start to moan and complain as they grope at their wounds. The other door opens but, with a crisp wave of his hand, Delumbria dismisses the others. They hesitate. “Personal space, gentlemen, please! Personal space! And take the wounded with you. They’re bleeding on the nice carpet.” They all step back out, waiting near the door.
Delumbria stands. He sniffs a couple of times, like he might be holding back some unseen emotions. Or maybe he’s offended by the smell of blood. He takes down the old-fashioned sign on the wall: “This plant has worked ‘2021’ days without a lost time accident.” He licks his thumb and rubs the number off, grabs a piece of yellow chalk from his top-right desk drawer, and writes a large zero. “Goose egg. Square one. Well, what the heck, records were made to be broken, right?” He puts the sign back and sits down, licking his lips, composing himself. “Now, Mayor Willie and company, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole