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 20: Chief Schiavelli Receives a Warning
Back from their trip to the park, Nakamura and Cody enter City Operations. Though she is out of uniform, self-consciously, Nakamura decisively unweaves her right hand from Cody’s left. He doesn’t resist; he’s familiar with the protocol. The lights are off, the monitors are on and, unexpectedly, nobody’s home.
“Odd that they’d leave,” says Nakamura, “without a word.”
“Any chance there was a disturbance?” It’s code. They both know what he means.
“Nah. It would be ‘all hands on deck’, especially your hands, for an emergency. They’d find us.” Nakamura walks up and down the aisle looking for a note left for her attention, maybe sticking to a monitor. There is none. “For the guys who like mingling it up with civilians, tipping their hats to little old ladies, role-modeling for the pre-teen boys with their chins up, strutting around the high school girls, this assignment is like Saturday morning detention. They probably left as soon as we were out of sight.”
“Not very smart. And it leaves the city vulnerable.”
“No, but I get it. There’s not a lot of space in here, not a lot of recognition for the uniform.”
“I think what you manage in this little room is amazing!” He’s being genuine; there’s not a false bone in his body.
“I appreciate that,” says Nakamura, blushing.
“I mean it. Nobody can be everywhere at once, but you come the closest. When it happens, we don’t want to be late to the party. Every minute of warning you can give us will save a life, even more so than my yelling and charging into battle.”
“Thanks. I don’t get that kind of acknowledgement very often, though the chief means well. When Director Pelkey was about, he was more interested in naughty behavior than criminal behavior.”
Cody shakes his head, as if breaking loose any lingering references to the less-than-virtuous Pelkey. “I never asked: Is there a curfew?”
“Not at the moment. Do you think it would help?” In her lifetime, she has never seen a civil restriction imposed on her neighbors.
“Most violent offenders, in my experience, don’t want an audience. The veil of night is a big temptation.”
“You don’t understand the locals like I do. We’re creatures of habit. Except for the recent spate of violence, people around here have a rhythm: work, eat, sleep, repeat. It helps that the mainframe computers operate with programmatic precision. No change of weather, as noted. No change to the number of daylight hours. I suppose it would be boring, if it wasn’t all we know.”
“Sounds like paradise.”
“I’m pretty sure that was the goal.”
“I won’t recommend messing with the formula. You’ve achieved something that wasn’t available to my generation. Or any generation that came before.”
“I forget: you’re an old-timer. You hide it well.” Nakamura smiles affectionately.
He’s serious now, almost solemn. “You know you never would have achieved this perfection without the sacrifices of those who came before.”
“Point taken. And that’s why I stand in my virtual tower, dedicated and undistracted, ready to shout the alarm if anything goes boom.”
“Undistracted?” He catches the intended and unmistakable hint.
“Thanks for the time in the park.” Nakamura transitions quickly. She has begun “reporting for duty.”
“I could volunteer a second set of eyes,” Cody offers coyly. “Sounds like you have your work cut out for you.”
“You could. Or you could visit the chief. There’s got to be more to your ‘campaign of readiness’ than Self-Defense 101, curfews aside. Maybe you can bully your way into a tour of the armory. That’s more than I’ve ever had. I have to hope that there’s a non-lethal tool locked away that could help us take the higher ground, like a dart gun that leaves the bad guy incapacitated with a case of itch-rich hives.”
“That would be different. New to me. But, then again, I’ve been off the grid in a cryogenic stupor for at least three of your lifetimes. Maybe you’re right. There could be something useful. I’ll go make a nuisance of myself at the station. Don’t miss me.”
“I’ll see you at the end of my shift.”
“A kiss for the road? You don’t have your uniform on yet.”
“Not in here. Later. When we’re away from all this creepy, snoopy technology.” She gestures to the flickering blue-gray windows.
“I guess it depends who’s doing the watching.” He bows in reluctant agreement and steps toward the exit, taking a moment to straighten his uniform. “For what it’s worth, if the roles were reversed, I’d be the same way: duty first. Don’t beat yourself up.”
“I’m not.” She winks at him.
* * *
Chief of Police Leo Schiavelli is heard before he’s seen. He’s whistling a cheery nonsense tune as he approaches the closed door with the frosted window to Lois’s office, his anteroom. If his symptoms are to be believed, he’s had significant success in neatening his humble apartment for his new extended guest. In truth, Lois fully expected to receive the unofficial assignment while the chief offered to manage the office without her for the afternoon. The chief, at least temporarily, is evolving into a “working manger”; life is looking up.
Schiavelli swings the door inward to discover Lois, standing, filing paper records in a 5-drawer vertical metal cabinet. He bows in greeting. “What did I miss?”
“I don’t know because you told me I could take an early lunch,” says Lois.
“If I did, I did. You remember our conversations much better than I do.” He shrugs and steps toward his nearly closed office door. “Why’s the door ajar?”
“You have a guest.”
“Is this good news or bad?”
“Don’t know yet. Tabitha and I bumped into Toby in the park. Don’t worry; she didn’t recognize him. He dropped an envelope on the ground in front of us and took off, practically running.”
“I take it he was trying to be subtle.”
“He wasn’t, if he was. I’m assuming he wanted us to get it to you. Tabitha wanted to deliver it.”
“She’s a good kid, that one. Maybe she’ll take your job one day.”
“I was sort of hoping that she’d take yours.” He doesn’t immediately react. “It could happen.”
He beams. “Of course. Maybe after Wayne retires.”
“Great idea! How about some fresh?”
“Just made it.” She reaches back to hand him a pre-poured mug, but he’s already continued into his office, leaving the door wide open for her to follow: each considerate in his/her own way.
In the chief’s office, Tabitha sits in his swivel chair, feet on the desk, arms crossed, eyes squinting in a judgmental manner: play-acting disappointment. “Chief. About time. I’ve been waiting.”
In a good mood, he is willing to entertain her, briefly, and responds in kind, as the archetypical overapologetic and underachieving underling. “I had an unexpected assignment. I’m here now. Sorry.”
“Yes, you are.”
“May I have a seat?”
“You may.” Lois stands just outside with the coffee, waiting for the right time to enter, enjoying the performance.
An unfamiliar large envelope is in the center of his desk. “I understand you have a package for me.” He leans forward and reaches for it. Tabitha sits up and lunges for the delivery, grabbing it first, and pulling it beyond his grasp.
“Now we are at a stalemate,” says Tabitha. “I have something you want and you have something I want.”
“Intriguing. What do you want? Name it and it’s yours.”
She scans the room. He has nothing she wants, not really, so she’s looking for something interesting. She spies a shiny metal pencil sharpener carelessly left on the window sill. “The pencil sharpener.”
“But I need that. Lois needs it. What will I do if my pencils need sharpening?”
“Not my problem. Yes or no. Do we have a deal?”
“You drive a hard bargain, but I’d give almost anything for that package.”
“Anything?” Tabitha drums her little fingers as she considers raising the stakes. She scans the room again, her glance alighting on Lois. Lois, using the side of her forefinger, presses her nose from side to side, a family gesture that means “enough.”
“Do we shake on it?” asks the chief.
“Pinky swear.” She gets up on her knees, grabbing the desk she won’t roll away, and stretches her right arm. They connect. The deal is done.
“You won’t regret it,” she says, then she jumps down, grabs the pencil sharpener, and leaves. The show’s over. Schiavelli swings around his desk and fills his familiar throne.
Lois puts his coffee down within easy reach. “Shall I close the door?”
“Please. And lock it.” He doesn’t look up. He has transitioned. Blame it on the gravity of authority. Play-time is over. She closes the door. He grabs a pewter letter-opener on his left, jammed in among his pens and pencils, with a momentary tremble of relief that Tabitha ignored it, and rips open the package from former Director of Communications Toby Pelkey. It’s a typed note, written with all of the formality of a Dear John breakup letter.
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole