Murder in New Eden
by Charles C. Cole
Chapter 20: Chief Schiavelli Receives a Warning
To whom it may concern: Please see that this letter makes it to the exclusive eyes of Chief of Police Leo Schiavelli.
Dear Chief Leo,
It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that most of the workers down in the water treatment plant are good guys, just trying to get by. It’s dark and damp and confining. What I imagine a leaky submarine back on earth would have felt like, if it were stranded on the bottom of the ocean with a limited supply of food and negligible hygiene. Gloom and doom.
Dom says, for what I did, I should consider myself lucky that we have no prison on New Eden. But we do. And most of my fellow inmates are serving life sentences. They just don’t know it. The absence of artificial sunlight seems to have reduced social interactions to grunts for “Hello” and jagged head nods for “Thank you.”
Dom and I have our disagreements. Personally, I think most of his constituents are dead on the inside, even though they continue to move and repair what needs repairing. Dom, on the other hand, is convinced there’s a fuse in each, waiting for an opportunity to be lit. They just need to be reassured that there’s more to existence than the dreary sameness which they’ve been experiencing. He has started a traditional campaign of overpromising, which is where my old skillset comes in. “Campaign for what?” you ask.
Ironically, I think the most dissatisfied dweller in the dark may be the one with the most power, the self-appointed mayor of all things vibrating and industrial. Dom feels, not entirely inaccurately, that years of station stability has earned him the right for an immediate and overdue promotion of unprecedented consequence. He wants to come up for air. And he wants to bring all of his loyal subjects along for the ride.
Dom strongly desires that the comfortable people blandly receiving the benefits of our labor swap roles and responsibilities with his worker drones, soon and for an indefinite amount of time. He says we have the equivalent of eight station days before we act on our impulses. If you can account for and lock all of the doors and tunnels between your world and ours, you should definitely get started.
One more thing, and probably the most important: I’m pretty sure Dom knows I continue to communicate with you, though I do my best to be stealthy and professionally two-faced. I still have respect and loyalty for the way you and Mayor Brandt manage operations topside. So do we really have a full eight days? Or is that what Dom wants us to believe? Maybe we have only five days. Maybe he delights in thinking of you counting down to your apocalypse with a heavy heart, knowing you can’t possibly prepare for what he has in mind. Or does he want the historical benefit of a major surprise attack?
If I were you, which I’m relieved to say I’m not, I would let Sgt. Cody assess the armory vault, distribute a few well-chosen weapons, and find a place to hide the women and kids. Option two is to get Eartha Wayne to whip up a huge batch of some anti-aggression formula. If anybody can do it, she can. Option three is to wake up the rest of the “band” and let them do what they do best, but I think that’s the messiest choice available. Against all odds, you got the genie back into the bottle once. Could you do it again?
Good luck, Chief. My best to you and Brandt and even Petrillo. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like things are going to get worse before they get better. Just “how worse” is anybody’s guess.
* * *
Officer Wayne stands in the hallway, outside the closed apartment door of the late Dr. Vittorio Valdez. The building manager, Malcolm Lawry, skinny and bespectacled, is gawking unabashedly. With a book closed around his thumb so he doesn’t lose his place, he watches Wayne strip out of her uniform and suit up before going further. She zips herself into a rare New Eden hazmat suit, hooded with a large clear facemask.
“Do you really think that’s necessary?”
“I’m not taking any chances.”
“What happens when you’re done looking for what you’re looking for?”
“I have a special bag to zip the suit in. And I walk out of here in my uniform.”
“It doesn’t look comfortable, the suit.”
“It’s not supposed to be.”
“You don’t think the rest of the residents are in any kind of danger, do you?”
She zips in, and it’s impressive. “Do you have any more of those suits?”
“Not on me. Just stay out here and close the door behind me, and you should be fine. Dr. Valdez and I didn’t get along toward the end of his life. For all I know, he may have booby-trapped the place to get the last laugh.”
“That’s not very funny.”
“No, it’s not. Okay, let’s do this.” She drops the large hood over her face.
Lawry unlocks and opens the door. He steps back hurriedly, with a hand over his nose and mouth. Wayne steps inside. Walking feels like wading through waist-deep water. She doesn’t hear the door click shut behind her so she turns around. Lawry is frozen, watching.
“Close the door behind me, and you should be fine,” she repeats. She reaches for the inner knob to assist him, but he finally responds.
“I’ll be out here, reading,” he says. She gives him a goofy-for-him/impatient-for-her smile and a thumbs-up. He returns the gesture and loses his page, dropping the book. The door closes. The latch clicks.
Wayne reaches for a switch to turn on the ceiling light, decides against it, and unhitches a large LED flashlight from her belt. The light slowly phases from white, to blue, to black. She heads for the kitchen, hoping a loner like Valdez will keep all his supplies in an organized and logical place versus, say, in some inconvenient hidey-hole under the carpet or behind the bathroom mirror within the wall.
There is a small metal scale next to the toaster indicating she’s on the right track. She opens the cabinets above the white kitchen counter and sees more vials of more varieties of colorful pharmaceuticals than she’s ever seen in her life. They have the same color-coded circles, a few with 4-digit numbers, but no human-readable text and no convenient legend.
She spies a lidded picnic basket on top of the fridge, takes it down and begins to load it up. She tests the weight; it’s doable. When she’s done, everything has fit. She doesn’t have answers yet, but she can resume in the comfort of her lab and feel confident that she has all of the ingredients he had.
“Last looksies.” The refrigerator and freezer are only lightly populated with condiments, drinks, and a leftover casserole. No surprises. Across the apartment, the one bathroom medicine cabinet is limited to nail clippers and tweezers and spare reading glasses. Wayne tugs on the cabinet with both hands, just in case there’s something hidden behind in the wall, but it won’t budge.
She steps to the still-closed front door then spins about for one final assessment: no and yes. No, there’s nothing lurking under some vaguely threatening lump in the carpet. And, yes, the place is roomy, nicely decorated and convenient to the municipal lab. “I call dibs.”
But not yet; that would be disrespectful of the many contributions Dr. Valdez has made over the years, as evidenced by the three honorific plaques above the arch leading from the living room to the bedroom hallway. “When did things go wrong?” She can’t help herself: she approaches the awards for a closer look and, maybe, a regretful gut punch.
Framed articles and three photographs of three staged public handshakes with Mayor Brandt. The most recent one is from five years ago. Nothing for miraculously saving the Benoit twins when there were unexpected birth complications. Nothing for reattaching Sergeant Derek Ambrose’s hand after he’d tried some, retrospectively, foolhardy do-it-yourself automobile repair. Nothing for creating the vaccination that kept Satellite City New Eden from going dark during the pandemic, the year of the meteor shower.
“I get it. I’m sorry. You were the better man.” She takes the plaques down, stacking them, and planning to mount them back at the office, despite his jaundiced final hours. As she scoops them up, she loses her grip, letting one fall to the floor. There is a colorful paper folded and taped to the back. She opens it carefully: it is the decryption key for all of the pretty and, occasionally, volatile powders, certainly in combination. “Mission accomplished and a little more! Thank you, Dr. Valdez. Your accomplishments will not be forgotten. But I’m still keeping my mask on, and you would, too.”
She administers a brief, perfunctory knock on the inside of the hall door. Lawry opens it into the hall and backs far away, giving her more than ample room for her safe exit.
Wayne strips down to her simple white undergarments fast, without time or thought for modesty, stuffing her bulky hazmat suit into something akin to a large orange, lined gym bag, removing a set of latex gloves last of all, and zipping the whole outfit up neatly.
Lawry, a lifelong gentleman and devoted mother’s boy who finds women unbearably interesting, holds out Wayne’s uniform with arms fully extended, while politely closing his eyes and even restricting his tempted olfactics until she’s fully redressed.
“You’ve got quite an apartment building here,” says Wayne.
He’s confused, perhaps thinking she’s been peeling back insulation. “Thank you.”
“If that is a typical unit, you can count me among your future apartment suiters. It’s just lovely! Beyond words. Dr. Valdez had no idea of the cozy bomb shelter he went home to at night.”
“What about the” — he has a hard time using the crass word — “booby-traps?”
“The booby-traps? Right. No sign yet.” Still, the apartment is lovely and available. “But you better hold off showing the place just to be safe, until I can come back; I might have missed something. You never know.” She’s teasing.
“Okay. Good idea. Should I put a notice on the door? ‘Do not open unless accompanied by the police!’ That sort of thing?”
“I like it!”
“How will we know, in the long run, that someone else can move in? I don’t want to be cavalier?”
“I have my own hazmat suit,” says Wayne dryly, with a barely discernible twinkle to her eyes. “Maybe it should be me. I can wear it like pyjamas, for the first couple of weeks, ready for the unexpected worst.”
“You would do that?” he asks, impressed by her story of mock-heroics.
“I’m a police officer now, Mr. Lawry. We’re expected to put the safety of others first. I honestly couldn’t stand the thought of someone else living in there.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole