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 3: At Home With Mayor Brandt
As Brandt nears his office, he notices a male figure trailing a few doors back, too far to make out a face. He crosses the street to the golden-arched entranceway of New Eden Towers. Officer Petrillo stops across the street, standing under a simulated black wrought-iron gas lamp.
Brandt calls over. “I’m not used to being followed. It’s rather spooky. I suppose this is Leo’s idea: extra protection in these uncertain times.”
“No, sir. It was mine. He doesn’t know I’m here.”
“I appreciate the thought. Too bad it wasn’t his. And I appreciate the spirit of skullduggery.”
“You’re obviously not just a servant of the people, are you? You’re my servant of my people.”
“If you say so.”
“Don’t you have a place to be? Someone to make you dinner? Why are you here?”
“Honestly, I figure we can afford to lose a few beautiful people in their beautiful outfits with their beautiful drinks, but a ship without a captain is a recipe for disaster. We might as well plow through the atmosphere of the nearest planet and fireball what’s left of us.”
“Well said, officer. I’m sold. Let’s get off the street, shall we? The security cameras bother me. We’ll talk in my office.”
Inside his elegant abode, complete with an enormous crystal chandelier in the foyer, a working 1912 Steinway piano in the rotunda conference room, and an electronic pedal harp programmed to play autonomously, Brandt pours a couple of drinks. “Sit down. Sit down.”
Not expecting to get comfortable, Petrillo pulls out a formal mahogany dining room chair and lowers himself into it. “It’s quite a place.”
“A little ostentatious, I know, but perks of the job. I wish I could say it took some getting used to. Well, that’s not entirely true: I wore white cotton gloves for the first two days and a small towel over my forearm like a goony waiter in case I spelled something. I’m sure I looked charmingly eccentric.”
He starts to hand Petrillo a glass of spirits, then hesitates. “You’re off-duty, aren’t you? On your own time?”
“I wouldn’t take it if I wasn’t, sir.”
“A man who follows the rules. That can come in handy, if you’re consistent. Are you consistent, officer?”
“I’d like to think so, Your Honor.”
“Good. Drink up.” Brandt stays standing, still on-duty. “The old world’s coming to an end, and we need to give it the send-off it deserves.”
Petrillo gulps the contents of his glass impulsively. He’s startled when the alcohol burns his throat.
“You were expecting sarsaparilla?”
“No, sir, I just... I don’t know what I expected.”
“Would you like another?” Brandt teases.
“Yes, you are.” Brandt admires the officer’s inner strength against outer adversity. “We were talking about rules, weren’t we?”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, sir, I think rules are like artificial gravity: we can get around without them, but life would be a whole lot messier.”
“Quite so. Officer...”
“Quite so, Officer Petrillo-sir.” Brandt pauses as the joke goes right over Petrillo’s head. “I need someone on the inside of this investigation, Petrillo. I’ve just learned Chief Leo has been keeping secrets from me. Good for him. Bad for me. Possibly bad for business, yet to be determined. Though it may add to his wily charm, the only secrets I like are mine. It’s the nature of politics and politicians, you understand.”
“You’re the elected mayor; people trust you to make decisions on their behalf. If you think we’d be better off not knowing something, then I’m sure we’d be better off not knowing something.”
“Exactly. And our friend Leo, who was appointed by me, not elected by the people as I was, is venturing into unexplored territory. He’s going to need a second set of eyes, someone who sees the big altruistic picture, for perspective if nothing else.”
“Respectfully, sir, why would he listen to me? I have no rank, no authority.”
“I have all the authority you’ll ever need. You can’t tell, but this room is loaded with it. The walls and the floor are thick with it, even the lampshades are thick with it. And don’t let me forget the drapes. You want something done, come to me.”
Petrillo stands, impassioned. “I don’t want to sneak around. It’s not becoming.”
“You’re not sneaking now?”
“When you sneak around, people think you’re up to no good. The only way to make this work, as I see it, is for you to promote me. Make me your right-hand man.”
“Interesting. What does that make Toby? My left-hand man? Or can I have two right-hand men?” Brandt is starting to lose Petrillo. “It doesn’t matter. You’re right, of course. We’ll create a new position: the Mayor’s Special Liaison to the Chief of Police. A political response to a political problem. Does that sound important enough to you?”
“Yes, sir. I think that will do just fine.”
“Good. Let’s shake on it, shall we?”
“Does that mean we’ve made a decision?”
“Yes, Officer Petrillo, that is exactly what it means.” They shake. “You work for me now.”
* * *
Alone in the dim morgue, concentrating under a single fluorescent magnifying lamp, Medic 1st Class Eartha Wayne examines the body of Bernie Ketchum on a steel autopsy table. Wayne is five-foot six with a long, boyish face, perhaps because she seems to lead with strong, knitted brows. She wears a white lab coat, surgical mask and blue latex gloves. She checks his pockets and removes a vial of pills prescribed by Dr. V. Valdez.
“Anti-anxiety pills, Bernie? They work only if you take them. Sorry. We didn’t know each other very well, but I knew your wife, Muriel. Lovely lady, but you probably knew that. Now this won’t hurt a bit.”
She carefully swabs the inside of his mouth and places the sample on a slide already in place under a powerful electron microscope.
The image is enlarged and projected on a screen. As a computer program runs, the image freezes and certain distinct shapes are automatically outlined in red rectangles. Beside it, a series of comparative images flash as her forensics software looks for an identifiable match on file.
Wayne backs up a step or two to take it all in, bumping into Petrillo who has entered unannounced to watch.
“Sorry for startling you. You were focused. I called your name, honest. Something wrong with the lights?”
“No, they’re just off. I like them that way. How can I help you?”
“I’m not here to get underfoot. Just looking for leads. Where’s Valdez?”
“He’s always busy.”
“You noticed. I hope more people notice.”
At a raised-eyebrow gesture from Wayne, Petrillo grabs a surgical mask from a nearby box and holds it over his mouth, without actually putting it on, an amateur tough-guy gesture that doesn’t impress Wayne.
“So, what have we got, Eartha? Any clever ideas?”
“I haven’t had the body long.”
“In your gut, though.”
“The first thing that jumps right out at me, vivid as an artificial sunrise, is the classic symptoms: restlessness, impulse disorder, an utter lack of awareness of personal space.”
“All this from witnesses’ statements?”
“What witness statements?”
“Then how did you—”
“It all points to what we in the profession call ‘governmental interruptus’. You know what that is, don’t you?”
“Sounds vaguely familiar. Just tell me. Is it contagious?”
“For those with political aspirations, yes. Who sent you? Mayor Brandt? Communications Director Pelkey? Not Chief Schiavelli; he knows better.”
“Nobody. I wanted to be here. I was there when it all went down. I guess I needed the closure.”
“It’s a nasty business.”
“Besides, I didn’t know how you were going to respond, to the blood and gore, the violence. It’s pretty intense.”
“I’m sorry. Am I not being squeamish enough for you? Did you come all this way to hold me and offer some manly fortitude? Are you trying to pick me up?”
“I just thought you’d want—”
The computer alarms.
“That was quick,” says Wayne.
“You know what it is?”
“I know what it’s not; almost as good. Chief Schiavelli’s going to want to hear this.”
“I’ll tell him. Save you the time.”
Wayne dismisses the idea. “That’s all right.”
“Tell you what, you tell the chief and I’ll tell the mayor.”
“I think the chief’s going to want to tell the mayor himself, thanks.”
Petrillo has his own loyalties, his own priorities, and he’s not a fan of subtlety. “The mayor deserves to know.”
* * *
Back at the office of the chief of police, Schiavelli sits behind his desk. It is littered with papers.
Lois hands him a hot mug and removes an old one. “Anything else?” she asks sweetly, glancing at the disorder.
He almost expects her to unfold a napkin and place it across his lap. “I’m fine, Lois. Thank you.” His impatience with Lois is a signal between them.
Lois leaves, closing the door.
The chief catches a cynical look from Wayne, rocking on her toes in a corner. “Don’t start with me, Wayne. It’s been a long day.” She says nothing. He sips his coffee. It’s evidently delicious and just what he needs.
Wayne steps closer to the chief, barely containing herself, but hoping for his complete attention.
“Is now a good time?”
“Don’t wait for me. Fire away. Sorry, bad choice of words. We’re all a bit punchy.”
“Chief, there’s only one answer.”
“Anyone else know?”
“Officer Petrillo was in the room, on your orders I suppose, but I didn’t tell him what the alarm meant.”
“Interesting. Not on my orders.”
“I just assumed—”
“It didn’t match anything in the database?”
“Nothing. Which could mean we’ve found something brand new to the station. Unusual but not impossible. Or it could mean—”
“Which would indicate a lab with better tools than I’ve got, for starters.”
“Looks like we have a competitor with common interests in microscopes and dead bodies.”
“Why would someone do this? I thought we were family.”
“No idea. Maybe to rock the boat, force a change in leadership. If anything happens to me, keep an eye on those who step forward, especially the bright ones like you, with labs of their own.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“But if it does.”
“You’re the last Schiavelli. Who would be in line to be the next chief?”
“Use your imagination.”
“God help us all!”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole