Murder in New Eden
by Charles C. Cole
Chapter 19: The Vibe on the Street
Lois is away from the office for a rare extended lunch. She stands in line in the park with her five-year old granddaughter, Tabitha, hoping for some soothing, decadent ice cream.
“Your mother and father are looking much improved,” says Lois. “I think the rest is good for them, don’t you?”
“Look at that!” says Tabitha, pointing almost straight up with her outstretched arm.
From immediately in front of them, a man in sunglasses with a black fedora and white scarf, cranes his neck to watch an accidentally released helium balloon float up and away.
Nearby, a couple of imaginative children run around with both hands out pretending they’ll catch the balloon if it starts to fall back. “I’ve got it. No, I’ve got it. Look out!”
In his efforts to follow the ascent, the gentleman backs right into Lois.
“Careful there,” she warns him, “or I’ll fly off the handle, too.”
He spins around, apparently startled, and drops a large manila business envelope to the ground. Then he abruptly leaves the line and walks quickly away without looking back, as if to distance himself from any further incidental human interaction.
“Hey, mister,” cries Tabitha, picking up the envelope, “you left your mail.”
He doesn’t acknowledge her or even slow down.
“Funny man. Why are adults always in a hurry, Grammy Lois?”
“So much to do and so little time, I guess.”
“Less time than kids?”
“It probably feels that way. Don’t worry about him. I bet he has another copy at home,” reasons Lois aloud, though she knows this is not the case. Toby Pelkey, amateur spy, has just made his first clandestine delivery for Police Chief Leo Schiavelli.
“Then can I have what’s inside the envelope?”
“I tell you what, we’ll get you an ice cream and we’ll give the envelope to Chief Schiavelli. That way he gets something, too.”
“Is that ’cause he’s in charge of Lost and Found?”
“You guessed it. That sounds pretty fair for letting me take a nice long lunch with you. Doesn’t that sound fair?”
“Sure, but I get to deliver it. Deal?”
* * *
Wearing his dress whites, Sergeant Cody concentrates grimly as he pedals a police department penny farthing, while Nakamura protects him like a fabled Secret Service agent, walking between him and any approaching vehicular traffic. A young girl, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, stops and stares, pulling hard on her mother’s arm, making her crouch, to receive a not-so-subtle whisper.
“I bet somebody wants to know in which pocket you hide your ice cream,” Nakamura surmises.
“Your children are obsessed. I think you need more municipal servants in white uniforms or at least make the Good Humor man wear something decorated with fudge swirls and brightly colored sprinkles. He’s the one who’s causing all the confusion, not me.”
“How’s the weather up there?” she teases.
“Do you have weather in a space station? What would be the point?” He, briefly, risks looking around. “Break up the tedium of another perfect day?”
“It’s a joke. I was joking.”
“You know, I feel I can see farther from here. If there’s some kind of a disturbance, I’m going to know about it before anyone else, and I can alert City Ops through the two-way radio on my handlebar. Is that the intention, or am I exaggerating?”
“I think you have the general idea.”
“Then I approve, though I may be too worn out by the time I catch up to subdue anyone.”
“We’ve made some real progress today. I can’t wait to tell the chief.”
“Is that a joke, too?”
“No, I honestly think you’re acclimating to our ‘backwater’ ways. Not every incident requires firepower. Most of the time, the people just need to see a peace officer to be reminded of their better angels.”
“That was rarely true where I came from.”
* * *
Director of Communications Nicolas Petrillo visits City Ops. If one didn’t know better, one would think it was a busy broadcasting television news station with data feeds from everywhere important, keeping the local citizenry current and aware. But, in reality, it’s just the arbitrary surveying eyes of Big Brother as originally organized by Toby “There’s no such thing as a right to privacy” Pelkey.
Two male police officers stare at the many active monitors, taking occasional notes with date-time stamps, as well as creatively doodling in the margins of their paper, and glancing frequently at the wall clock for the approaching end of their shift.
Petrillo’s arrival has gone unnoticed. He coughs loudly from the back of the room. The two uniformed patrolmen jump to their feet. “Good day, Director Petrillo!”
“Good day!” echoes Petrillo, though it feels like management code for “Ten-hut!”
“How can we help you, sir?”
“Have either of you seen Lucy Nakamura? I think she was expecting me,” he lies.
“Not in a while,” answers one.
“She was going to expose Sergeant Cody to more of our city,” says the other. “Give him an appreciation of who he’s defending. They didn’t say where they were going.”
“With all of those monitors in front of you, you don’t think it would be obvious where they went?” asks Petrillo.
“Didn’t think of that,” answers one.
“There are a lot of people moving around this time of day,” rationalizes the other one, “a lot of kids.”
“Does he look like a kid?”
“Did you happen to see someone dressed like a Good Humor ice cream man, all in white, without a Good Humor ice cream truck? That would probably be him.”
“Makes sense,” answers one, without turning toward the monitors, almost like he’s waiting for Petrillo to give him permission to move.
“Did you see him?”
“Which cameras look at the park?” asks Petrillo. “That’s probably where they are. The Village Green at Millennial Park.”
“That makes sense.” The uniformed officers are still frozen in place.
“Are you going to help me?”
“When they get back, which should be any minute now, we’ll tell her you were looking for her.”
Something catches Petrillo’s attention. “What about that?” Petrillo points to a glowing red light on a camera in the corner of the ceiling. “Which monitor does that feed?”
“That’s just for looks. It’s supposed to keep visitors in line by intimidation.”
“Well, hook it up to something. Don’t tell her. This is an important room. You’re doing important work. We should know what goes on in here.”
“Do it before she gets back. And the next time I stop by, you better have more answers than you did this time.”
“Yes, sir!” they answer.
Petrillo shakes his head and exits. With the director finally out of sight, both of the uniformed police officers more or less collapse into their respective chairs.
* * *
Wayne sits alone in the waiting room of the chief of police. She wears a police officer’s dark blue uniform, complete with slacks — cuffs rolled until she can find someone to hem them — and shiny, laced black shoes. She fidgets in the squeaky swivel-chair behind Lois’s desk, one knee tucked under her.
If the police force is a locomotive train, this is where the engineer sits. The chief is the guest of honor. He can demand catered custom services and personalized attention, but eventually he will deboard for another guest of honor. But the engineer will work here, underappreciated, for the remainder of her life, until she is finally forced out by the withering effects of senescence.
Someone fumbles with the knob to the closed corridor door, and Lois enters with her grandchild, Tabitha. Wayne stands, more out of respect than out of guilt for being in Lois’s seat. Though they’ve never had a candid heart-to-heart, these women, traveling in the same circles for a number of years, understand each other.
“Are you expected? I would have been back sooner.”
“No.” Wayne focuses on the next generation of self-empowered girl. “How are you, Tabby Cat?”
“Is there anything wrong?” asks Lois.
“Nope. Just reporting in. I figure the chief and I should catch up. But I guess he’s out.”
“Look at you!” says Tabitha, jumping in. She’s staring, as though Wayne were wearing her undergarments on the outside.
“Truth be told, the chief wanted a long lunch to clean up his apartment while his new roommate, Sgt. Cody, was out and about with Officer Nakamura. He’s not used to company. So Tabby and I were able to squeeze in a little lunch date.”
“Good for you. I wish I still had my grandmother.”
“He should be back any minute.”
“Grammy Lois and I were at the park,” says Tabitha, with eyes as big as badges. “Somebody lost a balloon. Again.” Her disapproval is evident.
“What’s the matter, Tabby?” asks Lois. “You know Eartha Wayne.”
“I never saw a girl in a policeman’s uniform before. Is that really yours?”
Wayne appraises herself objectively: two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet. Standard issue human. “Do I look funny?”
“Not funny. Just different. For one thing, you have a lot of hair on your head for a man.”
“Tabby, I’m still a woman.”
“But you have pants on, like my dad wears.”
“Is that what’s wrong? I see. Defying expectations. I thought you were telling me a woman can’t wear a uniform.”
“Sure she can, but maybe a slightly different uniform, one for girls.”
“I see. Maybe a different color. How about pink?”
“That would be silly. Just not pants.”
“I’ll make sure to mention it to the chief when I see him. Maybe you can help design it. Would you like that?”
“Do you want to wait in his office?” asks Lois. “I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“That’s all right. Tell him I’ve got a meet-and-greet with the building supervisor for Dr. Valdez’s old apartment. I want to see if he left any notes lying around regarding his homemade pharmaceuticals. Even though we stopped distributing his counterfeit anti-anxiety candy, since it clearly wasn’t working, I want to see if I can break it down and maybe reverse-engineer it for mass production at the water treatment plant.”
Lois wilts under the assault of dry techno-verbiage. “Do you want to write that down?”
“It’s okay. Just tell him where I went. He’ll figure the rest out.” She heads for the door.
“So long, Officer Tabby Cat.”
“So long, Officer Wayne.” The title is new. It comes out easier than anybody in the room expected, almost a natural fit.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole