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 31: City Operations Has an Upgrade
City Operations has had an upgrade, though it looks like the complete opposite. Some monitors have been pushed to the sides of the room, even turned toward the walls so as not to be a distraction, while others, those with cameras pointing at critical vantage points, including the four park exits from the water treatment plant, have been stacked like a pyramid sculpture dedicated to witnessing daily life on New Eden.
Nakamura, in a gray ribbed sleeveless t-shirt with disturbed dust sweat-smeared on her exposed arms and nose, has been busy rewiring and “redecorating”, finding unexpected efficiencies. If something bad happens on her streets, she will be the first to see it. Also, of particular note, the only door out, or in, is shut tight and has a recently added dead bolt, which is doing a fine job at the moment, thank you. Being the sole eye-in-the-sky, there’s a chance she could be a target.
Nakamura is hungry, tired, and focused. It’s probably a good thing Sergeant Cody has not stopped by; she would probably feel disrespected. She has a critical role in the city’s defense, now more than ever, and she takes her responsibilities seriously.
Nakamura freezes at a noticeable creak just outside the door followed by someone trying the doorknob and then knocking three quick times in rapid succession. It’s too early for additional support. She looks around for a weapon. The wire cutters will do in a pinch, and they’re already in her hand. Three quick knocks followed by shaking the doorknob again. The door isn’t very thick, but the fact that it opens outward is reassuring.
Would it be taunting some big manly thug to smash the door apart if he knew there was a woman alone, mostly defenseless, waiting on the other side? “I’ll bet there are more moves Jeb could share,” she whispers to herself. “Saving the cool stuff for later, I bet.”
“Please open the door!” It’s Tweedledum or Tweedledee. “Nakamura, are you awake in there? The Chief got me up early to spell you. He said you’d been up all night, but wouldn’t tell me why. If you don’t let me in, I can’t help you. For the record, Lois can be a real bear when she hasn’t had enough sleep.”
He already knows she’s alone, so confirming it is hardly news. Nakamura has an idea. She jumps up and heads to the front of the room to quickly mend the wiring for the camera that focuses inside the room, in case something happens in the next few minutes that needs to be recorded.
“Officer Nakamura, I can hear you moving around, so I bet you can hear me, too.”
“Can’t a girl put herself together? I feel like a slob. I’m sweaty and dirty, and I don’t care but you might. Where’s your partner in crime?”
“Beats me. I was told to get my butt over here, no questions asked, so I did. Are we under attack or something?”
Nakamura finishes her repairs. “No. What makes you think that?”
“Everyone’s so twitchy.”
“Everyone?” asks Nakamura. “Who else did you see?”
“Well, Lois. And now you. Please let me in.” He’s not a good liar.
“What’s your name, officer?”
“Because I don’t know it. Wayne calls you guys Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And it just doesn’t sound respectful. I don’t think she likes guys, at least men in uniform. Too much competition, you know?”
“Roberts. It’s Roberts.”
Nakamura approaches the door. She’s as ready as she’s going to be. The wise choice would probably be to call for help, but he’s only one guy and an inexperienced lightweight. It’s a point of honor. She flicks up one of the stiff door hooks.
Roberts grabs the knob and pulls. He groans in frustration. “The door’s stuck.”
“I put in a new deadbolt last night.”
“Wow! That was pretty smart,” says Roberts. “Everybody’s always giving Wayne a pat on the back and a ribbon, but you’re no dumb bunny. I mean that as a compliment.”
“Thanks.” Nakamura looks back at the black phone on the wall. It would be so easy to call for help.
“Nakamura, are you going to let me in? I don’t want to get in trouble with the chief for not doing my part while everybody else is doing theirs.”
“I broke a monitor. There’s glass on the floor,” she lies. “I was reorganizing.” That part’s true.
“I promise to keep my shoes on,” he offers. “Please.”
“You know, when Valdez first thawed out Boyer, Sergeant Cody’s friend, Boyer was half-mad thinking we were all out to get him. The only thing that kept him from killing everybody was Cody giving him a password that they’d agree to years before.”
“That’s a great story, but what’s it go to do with you and me?”
“Schiavelli liked the idea so much that he insisted we use our own version.”
“Right, I remember now,” says Roberts, agreeing because it feels like the right thing to do.
“Do you remember how it goes?” asks Nakamura.
“I think so, but I might need a little help, like a hint. Is that okay? Do you feel comfortable with that?”
“There’s nobody else there, right?”
“No, why?” asks Roberts, getting impatient.
“I think we’re supposed to whisper, so nobody else hears it. I’m going to get right against the door, and I’m going to whisper the prompt, and you whisper the answer. Then I’ll let you in.”
Nakamura puts the side of her face against the door. She pushes up the second of the stiff door hooks. She can see the doorknob turn slightly. His impatience will be his undoing. She puts her hand on the deadbolt and gets ready to pull.
“Roberts? Are you still there?” she whispers.
“I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
“The secret question is...” Nakamura pulls the deadlock and throws open the door fast with all her might, taking Roberts down along the way. She can hear Roberts, with a brief scuffle, crumble to the floor. She closes the door again and pushes the lock in place.
“Hey!” he manages.
“Are you okay?” she asks with genuine fake concern.
“That was playing dirty,” Roberts answers, clearly surprised. “Not very ladylike.”
“Sorry. Are you okay?”
“Sure,” he answers, though unenthusiastically. “It was just a door.”
“Are you hurt? Can you stand up?”
“Give me a second. Give me a second,” says Roberts, clearly struggling and disoriented. “Almost. There. Take that. I’m back on my feet, you dumb broad.” He’s very proud of his accomplishment. “You should have kicked me while I was down. That’s what a man would have done.”
“Like this?” asks Nakamura, pulling back the deadlock smoothly and throwing open the door a second time, bending her elbows and thrusting until the door hits something immovable, then giving one more shove. She recloses the door, with effort, as it doesn’t seem to fit the frame as well as it did only a short while ago. She tries pushing the lock in place, but she can’t force it to quite line up. The poor door isn’t used to this.
“Roberts?” she calls out. “Roberts?” There is some brief heavy breathing and a weak sigh, but no answer, which is the “answer” she’s hoping for. With her back against the door, Nakamura slides to the floor. “That’s what you get for sending your agents into the field solo, Double-D.”
There is movement on the main monitors. Simultaneously, trucks are being parked, nose-first, right against all of the stair exits from the water treatment plant. Sergeant Cody, now in dry dress whites, steps out of one, while members of his team exit the others. “That’s my guy.”
Someone rattles the doorknob above her head. Nakamura jumps up to force the lock but, by then, the door has already been thrown wide open.
* * *
The apartment of the late Edgar Dumont, victim number one, sits frozen in time. There is a sad, sick stillness in the air. The mayor, dressed in formal office attire, stands on the open balcony, escaping the oppression. He holds a half-full, pink martini glass. Petrillo is lying on the too-short sofa, feet crossed at the ankles dangling over one upholstered arm, with a hat found on the premises low over his eyes in pretence of sleep; it’s been a long night of babysitting.
“Your Honor,” says Petrillo, “if they, say, see you, it will defeat the point of hiding.”
“I know. I know. But somebody died here and, apparently, I’m sensitive to that sort of thing. I feel like it just happened or it’s just about to happen, and I don’t want to be here when it does. Why can’t the chief sacrifice four boys in blue for my protection? We can stay at my place. They can swim. The can play tennis. Hell, we can play doubles.”
“Maybe I can arrange something after this is behind us, like a prize. ‘Win a doubles match against the mayor and his director of communications.’ Something like that.”
“Toby would like that,” says the Brandt, reluctantly warming to the idea.
“I’m talking about me.”
“Of course. I meant, he’d like the concept.”
“You love your tennis.”
“True. It clears my mind. Speaking of, if you’re going to stay in this position, I think it’s high time we arrange some lessons for you with Bjorn, my trainer. Wonderful trainer, Bjorn. He can work magic.”
“We’ve met. He’s very fit. You don’t need police protection; we’ll just get Bjorn a uniform and a badge.”
“There’s an idea I never thought of. I wonder if the chief would agree to it?”
“Or maybe he can be your next director of communications. Sounds like he’s got some of the qualifications already: he lets you boss him around and he’s a tennis-playing god.”
“Ouch! Are you breaking up with me, Nicolas?” asks Brandt.
“Maybe, but only to prevent you from breaking up with me first. I mean, if you’re not going to listen to my advice...”
“Fine,” snaps the mayor, stepping inside but leaving the balcony door open.
“If you really don’t like the essence of death, why would you want to hang out in the exact place where Edgar Dumont killed himself?”
“You’re mistaken, Officer Petrillo; that would be ten floors down.”
Petrillo jumps to his feet. Brandt is expecting an argument and leans subtly away, chin down and shoulders back.
“Look, you’re safe here. Nobody’s going to find you. It’ll all be over soon. You don’t need me. I’ll be more help in the streets. Just keep the door locked and, no matter what, don’t answer it, because the gentleman who used to live here is dead so there’s absolutely no reason he’d answer the door and no reason anyone would come to the door, for that matter.”
“What if I feel like jumping, who’s going to be there to stop me?” asks the mayor.
“Why would you feel like jumping?”
“Because we’re so high up, because I’ve never done it before, because Edgar Dumont is better at committing suicide than I am, and that ticks me off.”
“You’re a real competitive bugger, aren’t you?” Petrillo has a bad taste in his mouth.
“I used to think so.”
“I think you should stay,” says Brandt. “I’ll behave.”
“I never thought I’d say this, but my place is on the penny farthing. I gotta get back. This is higher than I was ever meant to go. If you’re serious about killing yourself, you could always jump from the roof; nobody can do better than that, from the top of the tallest building in New Eden. But make sure people are watching so you get full credit. And, one more thing, if you’re not in a hurry, maybe you could write me a letter of reference first. It couldn’t hurt.”
“Good-bye, Officer Petrillo. It’s been interesting.”
“You’ll be fine. You know why? Your ego is not going to allow anyone else to be mayor, to use your tennis court, your pool, your harp. What if the next guy has little kids with saliva and melted ice cream on their fingertips who want to run their sticky paws along everything? Or what if it’s a woman?” He stage-manages a dramatic shiver down his spine and heads for the door.
“All good, salient points,” agrees the mayor glumly. “You would have made a fine director of communications.”
“Now we’ll never know, will we?” Petrillo salutes and slips out.
* * *
Lois is driving a marked police vehicle slowly through Millennial Park. In the front passenger seat, Police Chief Leo Schiavelli has his window open and is giving public safety commands through a red-and-white megaphone. The general populace does not respond quickly or naturally to orders; in stress-free paradise you do as you please almost every day, with few exceptions.
“Again, we apologize for the inconvenience. There is a strong possibility of power outages. We don’t expect the meteor shower to last more than a day or two. Please return to your homes and stay inside until further notice. This is just a precaution, but it is mandatory.” He takes his thumb from the “trigger” for a moment. “Lois, can you pull over for a second?” She does.
Just outside, a familiar white-suited Good Humor man, and sometime tennis trainer, is already swamped for business. The chief calls over to him. “Bjorn, do me a favor and close up shop. These kids aren’t going home until you’re off the streets. You want that responsibility?”
“I just like making them happy. Is that a crime?”
“Today, make the mayor happy. Make me happy. All right?”
“Sure. Can do.” He starts to remove his apron, a gesture all of the kids recognize. “For my friend, the mayor,” he explains.
The voices of the children react. “No, please! Not yet! Wait! Just a little while longer; I can’t decide!”
“Thanks,” says the chief. “And sorry about the other truck.”
“Everything works out. Accidents happen.”
“Not here,” says the chief.
“Time to go home, my little ones,” coos Bjorn. “We’ll meet here again soon, as soon as our exciting cosmic event is over. Till then, save a little appetite for your friend Bjorn. Go home. And take your parents with you.”
“Thanks, Lois,” says Schiavelli. “Let’s take another loop around. See if we can heard these cats a little faster.”
“What’s Dom waiting for?” asks Lois.
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s got a soft spot for kids. Maybe, instead of sending them home, we should invite them all to the park for a weeklong ice cream-filled anti-Delumbria carnival. I wonder if that would work. At least, until they get tired and whiny. Then we’d have to deal with their parents. Nope: I’d rather deal with Dom.”
“Dom’s crazy,” adds Schiavelli. “This whole insurrection is because he feels underappreciated, that he and his people have the hardest jobs in Satellite City New Eden. You and I know parents have the hardest jobs: lousy hours, they can’t quit, there’s no room for promotion, they can’t fire their employees, and they take the job home with them every night.”
“If that compliment was meant for me, thanks,” says Lois. “It’s at least ten years too late, but I’ll take it. I’m just curious, not to be greedy, but is there more where that came from? Or is this just how you talk when your world’s about to come to an end?”
Schiavelli looks out his open window, concentrating on an arbitrary spot floating in space six feet beyond where he sits. This is hard for him to admit. “Certain people of the womanly persuasion have been lately under-recognized for what they contribute. I can’t fix society, Lois, but maybe I can help it along. We’ll see.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole