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 19: The Vibe on the Street
From the outside, New Eden police headquarters resembles a squat brick schoolhouse, the image made even more convincing by several male officers in gray sweats running on a rubber track out back.
Behind a closed door, sixtyish Police Chief Leo Schiavelli is alone in his large formal office, once again admiring the aging photos of his predecessors on the wall, envying their fabled careers, perhaps silently consulting them: father, grandfather, great-grandfather. They all wear the same charcoal uniform, though the current chief doesn’t have nearly as many ribbons as the first chief. Schiavelli pulls absently at a gray handlebar moustache that looks too heavy to stay on his face. At least they share that in common.
Lois, his secretary, knocks and immediately opens the door a crack. “Is it safe to come in?” She’s joking. They have been “together” longer than many married couples, and a certain amount of acquired professional intimacy is natural between them.
“As safe as it’s ever going to be. Enter.”
Lois is petite and not quite old enough to be his mother, but that doesn’t prevent her from acting the part if she feels the situation warrants it. “I have the mayor here to see you, but I don’t have anything on the books for today.”
“That’s all right. Send him in. I’m too big to hide under the desk.” Awkward pause as he realizes he’s opened himself to a sarcastic assault.
“Are you asking for a bigger desk?”
“I’m never that subtle. That desk has been here longer than most of the people on New Eden. It’ll do just fine.”
“Shall I join you and take the minutes?” ask Lois.
“That’s a lovely offer, but not this time. Thank you. I imagine it’s just a social call.”
She shakes her head silently. It’s never a social call, and they both know it. “Coffee?”
Lois backs out of the doorway and Mayor Willie Brandt enters, followed closely by his newest shadow, Director of Communications Nicolas Petrillo. The two formally-dressed guests could be magazine models for their generations.
Schiavelli welcomes them from the center of the room. Or is that to minimize the sense of being cornered? Everyone is cordial, but something about Petrillo’s wandering gaze, as though he’s measuring the drapes, leaves Schiavelli feeling he’d better stay on the mayor’s good side, if possible.
“Mayor Brandt. Officer Petrillo. I mean, Director Petrillo. Get comfortable and tell me what’s on your mind.”
The two men maneuver to faux-leather armchairs, waiting to sit until the chief has gotten back behind his desk. Everyone settles at once, almost as if it’s a small-government ritual.
The chief smiles. Petrillo is new to the job but he already bears a striking resemblance, in affected manner if not in countenance, to his unctuous antecedent, Tobias Pelkey.
Brandt begins. “How are you, Chief? We had a close call there, but it all worked out. Any residual effects?”
“Last I looked, a couple of people are still dead. Does that count?”
Petrillo intercedes. “I suppose, what the mayor is asking is: ‘What’s the vibe on the street?’ Are people returning to normal?”
Schiavelli bites his lower lip, trying to pace himself, but blunders forward. “The pacifying agent in the water still isn’t working.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” counters Brandt.
“Superintendent Delumbria let the cat out of the bag, which was nice of him, and he would know. The man has his hand on the throttle.”
The mayor continues. “Do you think it’s noticeable? Can we live in collective denial for a while longer? Do we have to tell everyone?”
“Is that why you’re here? To check up on me? Can’t you just check the city’s bounty of security cameras? I bet Nakamura can tell you what I ate for breakfast a week ago, if you ask her.”
“We want to hear it from the source,” says Petrillo. “It would reassure us.”
“You want to know if I’ve been spilling my concerned guts to the boys in blue and my neighbors and Saul at my favorite deli. I haven’t. That’s your call. The announcement you’re tiptoeing around should come direct from the mayor’s office. I just have to deal with the ramifications when everybody panics.”
“Nobody will panic. I think you’ll find it’s not really a surprise.”
“I respectfully disagree.”
“Anyway, if things go south, at least we have a private army to restore order,” says the mayor looking over his shoulder at where he recalls the entrance to a secret chamber. “That’s something some of us didn’t know we had before.”
“The elite team of frozen soldiers to which you’re referring are demolition experts, not professional crossing guards.”
Brandt stands and goes to the wall. He is looking for a hidden button once shown to him. “I was wondering,” says the mayor, running his hands along the wall, “if we can introduce Nicolas to your ultra-private bomb shelter.”
The chief rises, ready to shut the conversation down. Now he knows why they’re here: ambush show-and-tell, to tour his private cavalry.
“I’ve moved them to another secure location. I thought it was best, since the last time I showed someone where they were, word somehow leaked out, and one of them was abducted, nearly gutting my department. You may remember.”
Brandt abruptly stops his search and turns back to Schiavelli. They face each other as equals, the closest thing to “checks and balance” in this small town. Petrillo senses a need for more power on the mayor’s side and stands as well: two against one.
“Good boy, Nicolas,” coos Brandt. “Way to weigh in. Lovely show of force. But I don’t think we need to get into a spitting contest with the chief just now. After all, we’re all on the same side.”
Lois opens the office door without knocking, very likely having overheard the conversation. “Chief, sorry, but Sergeant Cody’s on the phone. Should I have him call back?”
“Saved by your secretary. Nicely done. Two against one and a half.” Brandt is clearly referring to Lois’s diminutive stature, a smidge under five feet.
“Nicolas,” says Schiavelli, “I don’t suppose you’ve formally met Sergeant Cody. If you want to spend time with a living super-soldier, I’ll bet Lois could get him right over.”
“We’ve met.” His shoulders roll up as he winces at the memory.
“That’s right,” says the chief with a cynical smile. “I forgot. Didn’t he brutally kick your ambitious ego a couple of times while teaching the boys 21st-century self-defense? That must have hurt. Have you fully recovered?”
“Touché, Chief,” says Brandt, relenting. “I’ve already lost one director. Let’s take it easy on the new guy. What’s our next steps here?”
“More security cameras?”
“Nicolas, the chief knows my addictions. We should probably leave before he says something hurtful about me next. Sorry for the surprise visit; we were in the neighborhood. Let’s go back and regroup.” Lois steps to the side as Brandt and Petrillo start to exit.
“Nico, there’s more training tonight,” Schiavelli calls out. “Hope to see you there.”
“Afraid I’ve remembered a conflict. Another time.”
They leave the door ajar. Lois closes it, staying behind in the office with the chief.
The chief sits. “With friends like that... Say, what happened to that coffee?”
“Don’t you want to talk with Sergeant Cody?”
“You were serious? Yes, of course. Don’t leave the man waiting. He’s not someone we want to antagonize.”
“Good to know. If and when he calls, you’ll be the first I tell,” she says, meaning he hasn’t, and she leaves.
Fast on her feet, that one, he thinks.
* * *
In the dimly lit medical examiner’s suite, newly christened “Wayne’s Office,” Policer Officer Eartha Wayne, wearing a white lab coat, long blue latex gloves and a bright headlamp, slides open one empty morgue drawer after another, looking for some private stash belonging to her recently deceased co-worker. Inexplicably, she is humming.
She yanks roughly on one drawer and a hard plastic, undressed male mannequin slides out. Supporting the underside of the training cadaver’s head, there is a pillow-sized gray makeup case. “Clever, Dr. Valdez,” she says aloud.
Wayne removes the case and takes it to an unoccupied autopsy table where she proceeds to poke around carefully. Inside, she discovers many vials of tightly arranged pastel powders, all unlabeled, except for a color-coded circle taped on the side of each.
“You will not deter me, sir. You might recall that I successfully thawed a cryogenically frozen soldier, so I can certainly break your secret boy code. And when I do, I’ll have the last laugh, and you, my former mentor and underappreciated madman, will still be dead.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole