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 21: Superintendent Dominic Delumbria
Mayor Willie Brandt has returned to his private pool, attending to his daily ritual of uninterrupted laps, continuing his meditative forward crawl. His uniform of the moment is a baby-blue spandex racing suit, ear plugs, goggles, and a shiny black swim cap. Even while alone and uncontested, he appears to be racing for some sort of supremacy.
The ever-smartly dressed Director Petrillo escorts Chief Leo Schiavelli out of the mayor’s apartment. The two men stand mostly quietly while their host finishes.
“I don’t know how he does it,” says Schiavelli. “He’s the fish that grows to the size of its aquarium.”
“I’ll bet he has a one-size-fits-all guest suit if you’re tempted,” says Petrillo, a little too fraternally for someone who was only recently an undistinguished subordinate in a large department.
“I’m not tempted at all,” answers the chief. “Don’t forget: your predecessor got the boot into the pool before he got the boot into the water treatment plant. Take it or leave it, but I recommend we both sit in chairs a little closer to the living room than the mayor’s smart-pond, preferably chairs that are either too heavy or too irreplaceable to become pool furniture.”
“I support that.”
They back away, Petrillo waving and smiling to his host, though it’s highly unlikely Brandt notices.
“What’s this all about?” asks Schiavelli. “It wasn’t too long ago, I was visiting for the first time. You were here that time as well. I can’t imagine we’ve suddenly merged social circles.”
“If you must know, a friend of yours asked for an audience. The mayor felt things would go smoother all around with you here.”
“A friend of mine? You don’t mean Sgt. Cody? What on earth is he thinking?”
“Superintendent of Engineers Dominic Delumbria has decided it’s time to build a bridge between our two worlds.”
“Dom? Coming here?”
“He asked that you join us. The mayor thought your presence might make him feel more at ease. Whatever he’s planning to say, he insisted that you hear it directly for yourself.”
“Dom or the mayor?”
“The superintendent. Is this... unusual? I’m new to the job.”
“No, not unusual at all. It’s pretty much improbable. I thought everybody knew: Superintendent of Engineers Dominic Delumbria is too big a man for the surface. That’s why we keep him near the core.”
“You’re not serious.”
“You’re wrong, Director Petrillo. I’d have to pull up your personnel files to be certain, but I’m pretty sure you’ve never been more wrong.”
Petrillo is gobsmacked. “Should I tell the mayor to call it off? Is it reckless?”
“You see, when Delumbria moves, Satellite City New Eden’s axial tilt... actually tilts. It has to. It compensates for a shift in our primitive artificial gravity. He has that much mass. This isn’t good.”
“Should I request some backup? We might still have time. I don’t know why, but the mayor gave me the impression that this was a social call.”
Almost as if sensing a need for his brand of intervention, the mayor finishes up. He drops his feet to the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. He removes his goggles and ear plugs and swim cap and, ambitiously, tosses the lot of them, wrapped together, at a nearby white plastic chair. None of them quite make it.
“Where the hell is my towel?” he bellows. “Calling Director of Communications pro tempore Nicolas Petrillo. Squeaky wheel over here. Worse: one with authority. So, pretty please, by the time I step out, find me a towel, preferably a large warm one with a soft, inviting terry weave for optimal absorbency. Thank you.”
“On my way.” Petrillo dashes out of sight into the apartment.
“How do you do, Chief? You’re back again, hopefully under better circumstances from the last time you were escorted into my inner sanctum.”
“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”
The director returns quickly with a large beige bath towel and, surprisingly, a small red hand towel, perhaps the first thing he came across in his quest.
Brandt grabs the small towel and dries his moist face and damp ears. He sighs like a housewife and mother of three on the first day of school. “Damn thing is warm. Good for you. Big brassy points. Keep track. Maybe I’ll let you redeem them for a promotion one day.”
“Thank you, sir, but I just had one.”
“Yes, you did. How’s it working out for you?”
“The new boss is a little quirky and works close to record-breaking hours, but I’ve never felt closer to the wheelhouse.”
Without a lick of empathy, a phrase so dry it could spontaneously combust, also a classic phrase meant for regaining control of the conversation, Brandt offers, “Good for you.”
He tosses his towel at Petrillo and looks dramatically about, pursing his lips for emphasis.
“Seems I forgot my robe as well. Must have been distracted. Go and get my white robe, would you, Toby?”
“If you say so. Call out if you get lost.”
Petrillo backs away, as if scolded for something he had nothing to do with, and dashes off.
“If I didn’t know better, Willie,” says Schiavelli, “I’d think you were trying to find a private moment to share what’s really on your mind.”
“Not a bad idea, but no. The same way flexing my muscles in the pool is good for me, flexing my authority is even better. Don’t want to cramp up when the big moment arises.”
“You’re a bit of a stereotype, aren’t you, old friend?”
“Says the man who’s literally grandfathered into his position.”
Petrillo returns with the white robe. He is catching his breath. His hair is slightly less “formatted” than before, bangs drooping over his glistening forehead. The mayor and chief notice — and silently share their observation — and say nothing. As Petrillo hands off his “package,” the doorbell rings.
“What are you waiting for, Director?” asks Brandt, even while reaching for his robe. “Mustn’t keep the large man waiting. He might grow impatient, huff and puff, and blow the door in. Then where would we be?”
“On my way.” Petrillo pauses, checks in with Schiavelli, looking for some signal that everything will be all right.
“What’s the delay? Oh, I see the chief has been ‘oversharing’, something about an urban myth. We’re perfectly safe. You don’t see the water sloshing out of my pool, do you? Or the ground and sky switching places? Nothing untoward is going to happen.
“Superintendent of Engineers Dominic Delumbria is probably here to ask for a favor, like if we can take Pelkey off his hands or for new floral-scented soap for his worker bees, and I’m going to deny his request, because I can and it’s a kick and there’s no appealing my decision.
“And then he’ll go back, to doing whatever it is he does in the infamous, odoriferous bowels of Satellite City New Eden, assuring his mindless minions that he takes their needs very seriously. And life will go on as it always has, with a peaceful reassuring monotony.”
“Are you sure?” The bell rings again.
“The man is waiting, Director. Don’t be rude; show him in.”
Petrillo reaches up to tidy his hair.
“After you’ve fixed your hair, of course,” adds the mayor. “We are civilized, after all.”
Petrillo can almost tell they’ve been talking about him, but he shrugs the feeling off and goes to the door.
“One day,” says the chief, “you’ll push too hard and he’ll snap.”
“Then he’ll be your problem.”
Petrillo returns quickly. He is followed by a tall walking tree-stump of a man, also known as Superintendent Delumbria. Delumbria ducks through the doorframe to the back patio. Perhaps to soften his look, he carries a charcoal derby in one hand, held over his heart in an imitation of a deferential constituent seeking justice.
“Nice place!” says Delumbria. “I didn’t know they let people live in museums.” Delumbria reaches out.
“Special people, they do.” Brandt makes no offer to shake hands and, instead, ties off his robe.
“Chief Schiavelli, friend to both Law and Order. Good to see you.”
“Dom, welcome to topside. How long’s it been?” They shake comfortably, equals with mutual empathy for the other.
“I couldn’t tell you. We don’t have the luxury of artificial daylight in the water treatment plant, so life is just one very, very long night.”
“Glad you could pull away for a visit,” says the mayor. “I’m sure things are always hectic down below. Thank you for your unending support.”
“Actually, I’ve got nothing better to do, at the moment.”
“Oh? Can I offer you a drink, Superintendent?”
“Daylight and alcohol and a pool? I don’t suppose you have a spare bedroom for a hardworking, humble servant?”
“Afraid not,” says Brandt. “Still, you’re welcome to visit any time, but I’m sure your schedule’s full, as always.”
Brandt is more punchy than ever; not quite prepared for the meeting he never wanted to happen but always expected. “Getting to the point, are we? Why don’t we at least grab some chairs and sit? That way we’re poised to jump up dramatically and stomp off when one of us gets appropriately outraged. Dom, you in on this?”
“If it comes to that, I was thinking, I don’t know, my big gesture would be to lift you onto my shoulders, like Heracles with the carcass of the Nemean lion, and dispose of you into the pool.”
There’s a moment of genuine awkwardness and awe at the vivid use of the rather threatening, yet classical, analogy. The chief, sensing Petrillo is moments from panicking and breaking up the party by calling for reinforcements, chimes in with a bit of office-politics sarcasm. “Then I’ll do you one better with Director Petrillo, only over the side of the building. You tell me which would make the bigger splash.”
Delumbria laughs so hard that his entire body spasms. He points at Schiavelli with his hat-hand while he collects himself. “You! There was a reason I wanted you here. You get me. You are one of the few topsiders still fluent in Delumbrian. What do they say? The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“Enemy?” asks Brandt.
“This way, gentlemen,” says Petrillo, with the tone of an effete, course-correcting maître d’. He directs the gathering to a small black wrought-iron table, two of the chairs still by the door to the apartment where he and Schiavelli retreated earlier. “Sit, please. I’ll bring a few more.” Delumbria and Brandt settle in. Schiavelli and Petrillo soon join them.
“So,” says Delumbria to Petrillo, poking him in the chest, “you must be the new director of communications. I can see the resemblance. I have my own now, you know. You’ll have to send me a copy of your job description so I can keep him in line. I’m not entirely sure of his responsibilities, besides keeping the chief informed of my every goings-on.”
The chief smiles. Why deny it when he can concede the point and move the conversation along? “Do you blame me, Dom?”
“Not at all. You’ve got spies. I’ve got spies. The mayor’s got an army of security cameras. We’re all in the loop. Information is the only dependable antidote to paranoia and suspicion.”
“What information would you like,” asks Brandt, “that you don’t already have?”
“Like I say, you’ve got a director of communications, now I’ve got a director of communications. You’ve got a mayor, we’ve got a mayor, though admittedly not an elected one. You’ve got a professional soldier. I want a professional soldier.”
“Not going to happen,” says Schiavelli, quickly and decisively.
“Why not? I hear there’s five more in storage. I’m thinking, in all fairness, you can have three and I’ll have three.”
“I’ll make it easy on the negotiations: I’ll accept one. And we can all go home.”
“But they’re just going to waste, using valuable resources to keep their fancy ice-boxes fully functioning. What if the power were to go out, temporarily, and they thawed, then suffocated in those little tubes? We’d all be at a loss.”
This time the chief has no witty retort. “I hope that doesn’t happen.”
“Me, too, but you can’t predict the unpredictable.”
“Is that the purpose of this meeting?” asks Brandt. “I see.”
“Mayor Willie, you’re topside’s top dog. Surely, you have an opinion you’d like to share.”
“At last,” sighs Delumbria, “the politician weighs in. This is going to get interesting. I’m willing to compromise, but I’m not willing to leave empty-handed.”
“What would you do with a soldier?” asks Brandt.
“My minions are restless; the water’s not working like it used to. Nobody is aware of that more than I am.”
Schiavelli shares a meaningful “I told you so” look with Brandt.
“I don’t have a chief of police. I don’t even have a police force. We’re getting by, for now. I can be pretty intimidating, believe it or not. But it’s in all of our interests to keep order. I don’t have your security cameras, so I can’t keep a Big Brotherly eye on my troops. There’s a persistent rumor that violent altercations, or the threat of same, are beginning to occur among my many miles of pipes and filtration tanks. I ask you: What are my options? We need the labor, we don’t have a prison, and I can’t be everywhere at once. All I want is what you have.
“I am not asking for the Judgment of Solomon; we don’t have to chop Sgt. Cody in half. Give me one of the other soldiers, and you’ll still have five more to mix-and-match if old age suddenly catches up with Cody or if something happens to him accidentally that takes him off the field.”
“Let me think on it,” says Brandt, quietly, unemotionally.
The chief stands, as if ejected from his seat. “You’re not serious, Willie!”
“Looks like he is,” adds Petrillo, defending his boss. “As someone who works at the discretion of the mayor, you might consider debating the finer details at a later time, after our guest has left.”
“Sit down, Chief,” says Brandt with the cold, basso voice of a superior not used to being questioned in front of others.
“I won’t. For the record, these soldiers are not the mayor’s to give away.”
“Really?” says Delumbria. “Then whose are they? Because I would like to speak to that person if you can set something up. I could make it worth his while.”
“Why don’t you do your job?” demands the chief. “Fix the water treatment plant. Then this argument becomes moot.”
“The chief has a point,” says Brandt, clearly playing both sides. “How’s that going?”
“Dr. Valdez was working on a solution.”
“And now he’s dead,” adds Schiavelli. “Toby and Vittorio thought Boyer would wake up like a vulnerable baby duckling, imprint on the first face he saw, grateful and blindly loyal, and that he’d do whatever they told them to. It didn’t work out that way. Is that what you want?”
“Then let me borrow Sgt. Cody. I hear good things. Let him train my folks like he trains yours. I’ll give him back, none the worse for wear.”
“Train who?” asks Brandt, showing some interest. “Do you have a private army I don’t know about?”
“You know I don’t. They’re just bleary-eyed average Joes with worn tool-belts and a greasy set of wrenches.”
“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” says Brandt. “You’ve got a group of disgruntled workers who are starting to take their aggression out on one another, and you want to train them by a professional soldier so they can, what, do it lethally? I don’t think that’s a good idea, Dom.”
“Then I’m done here.” This time Delumbria stands. Petrillo does as well. “To think, I washed my hands for this. I came up here, out of my element, looking for reasonable support from the kingdom’s two highest decision-makers, before things go beyond my control. Remember that. I came to you, hat in my hands. We could have stopped this from getting worse. Now, I don’t know.”
“Fix the water, Dom,” says Brandt, still seated, “and all of this goes away.”
“I’m trying. You think I’m not trying? We’ve been floating in space for over a hundred years, coasting on the technical wherewithal of those brilliant minds who came before us. Newsflash: They’re not with us anymore. I looked. The last great mind was just discharged out an airlock into space.”
“Fix the water, Dom. I’ll give you a formal ceremony of thanks in front of the whole city.”
“I don’t need that. You think I’d live my whole life below ground if I cared about comfort and recognition?”
“I’ll name a street after you. Hell, I’ll rename the park after you.”
Delumbria squares his charcoal derby back atop his big head, knowing the conversation has gone as far as it can, for now. He glances at the pool and sighs. “What size is your pool, Mayor Willie, 20-by-40 maybe?”
“I think so. I never measured it. It came with the apartment. Perks of the job.”
“Maybe five feet deep, on average?”
“Then it holds 21,600 gallons of good, clean water, roughly speaking. You’re welcome. I’ll see myself out. Thanks for your time.” At that, Delumbria exits.
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole