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 28: Sgt. Cody’s Ice Cream Truck
The lights are bright over Millennial Park, approximating mid-afternoon on a clear-sky day. Room temperature is more than the norm; it is a dependable and unwavering constant. So long as the hidden infrastructure is maintained, there will never be a need for mittens or jackets or snow boots or layers. Therefore, every day is a good day for children to run and play and, of course, take snack breaks.
Sgt. Cody parks his ice cream truck and opens all of the doors for his first day of business. He ties a stiff white apron around his waist. Pre-schoolers, toddlers, and even infants pause to take notice. He expects a mad rush, but cautious children, not recognizing today’s driver, are looking over to the nearest parent for final approval. Perhaps he should have started smaller, with a wheeled cart, so he could have gone right over to them.
“Excuse me,” says a little voice, so close to the ground that Cody has to lean forward to find the owner. It’s Tabitha, attired in a knee-length white dress with a pink high-waisted satin sash and an abundance of princess-appropriate ruffles on the hem and sleeveless shoulders. She’s alone.
“Hello down there.”
“I’m Tabitha. We’ve met.” She talks to him slowly, as if she somehow believes that, since he’s only visiting, English is new to him. “You were with Chief Leo. It was over by where the shooting happened. I was with Grammy Lois.”
“Yes, I remember. You’re the beautiful dancer.”
She blushes and, once recovered, asks, “Are you still visiting?”
He nods his head. “Do you blame me? It’s a wonderful world you have here. Perfectish. I’m thinking of staying.”
“Perfectish?” She clearly does not approve of the casual neologism.
“Better than perfect!” He tries to allay her objection.
Tabitha squints up at him as if that will make him more normal in her eyes. It doesn’t help. “Grammy Lois says you’re on our side.”
“I didn’t know we had sides.”
“It’s a new thing, like having teams in kickball.”
She notices the subtle difference in his dress-whites from that of the man who stood here yesterday. “Is that your uniform?”
“Yes. Some would call it my dress whites.”
“It looks a lot like the Good Humor man’s, but it’s not.”
“Good for you. I figured it was close enough to sell ice cream.”
“I bet the kids can tell the difference. That’s probably why they aren’t coming over here.”
“That’s why? Phew, and I thought it was because I’m a stranger in these parts.”`
Cody’s two-way communication device resting on his dash crackles to life. It startles them both.
“Sergeant Cody, Sergeant Cody, please respond.”
“Are you in trouble?” asks Tabitha.
“Well, it’s my first day selling ice cream and nobody’s coming over,” he jokes. Cody grabs the two-way. “Cody here. Over.”
“Hey, soldier boy! This is Ops. Smile for the cameras! Over.” It’s Nakamura.
He stretches the mic to Tabitha. “You want to say ‘Hi’ to Lucy.”
“Hi, Lucy!” she yells.
“Are you calling to fire me?” he says into the mic. “Over.”
“Don’t get your hopes up. Over,” says Nakamura. “We still have plenty of work for you.”
“Here.” Cody hands Tabitha a small case of various treats. “Maybe if you give them away for me today, the kids might be a little less afraid of me tomorrow.”
She minces away. “I don’t think that’s the way it’s done.”
“Let’s try it. What have we got to lose? Will you help me? I’ve got to answer this.”
“Okay.” She takes the box, resting it on her bare forearms. “It’s cold!”
“Better hurry before they melt,” he suggests.
“Or I get frostbite,” she says. She walks away, heading for some other children not far away.
Over her shoulders, she calls, “Hope you don’t get fired! I’ve seen Lucy blow a gasket.”
“Me, too.” He returns his attention to the two-way. “Come in, Ops. Over. Problem?”
“I’m hearing reports of a misplaced Model T Police Depot Hack.”
“Exactly. Either the officer’s completely turned around or he doesn’t want to be the first to admit it’s been stolen.”
“People steal cars here? I thought this was Shangri-La.”
“Probably just a couple of joyriding teenagers. Over. But watch your back anyhow. If it wasn’t, I know what target I’d go after. Over.”
“You’re biased. Over.”
“These are crazy times. Nothing would surprise me. Over.”
Just then a Department Depot Hack comes flying along like a torpedo.
“You seeing this?” asks Nakamura.
“Seeing what?” he asks, looking across the pond, in the opposite direction.
“Behind you! The hack! The hack! Brace for impact!”
Cody turns around. Just then, the hack slams into the ice cream truck, broadside.
“Hey!” yells Tabitha, fortunately a safe distance away.
The driver is one of Delumbria’s men, the one whose nose famously had a run-in with the back of Nakamura’s head. Cody tries to grab something to steady himself, but the tall snack truck falls over on its side. He pushes his hands and feet against the opposite sides of the aisle, preventing himself from being thrown out the serving window.
The Depot Hack backs up and rams the vehicle again, shoving the truck, which is now dragging along the ground, into the nearby pond. He can hear the woosh of the water outside as he plows his way in and feel the truck swaying as it settles down.
Cody struggles to get out from under the debris as the water starts rushing in. For a moment, he actually feels like he’s in a sinking ship. Fortunately, there’s nothing explosive or heavy among the treat-filled flotsam and jetsam.
He grabs for his two-way. “Officer down! Officer down! Ops, you got that? Over.”
“I saw!” replies Nakamura. “Bastards! Backup on the way. Hang on. I hate being right. Over.”
Fortunately, the manmade pond is only four feet deep with a flat concrete bottom; the snack truck is as submerged as it’s going to be. Right now, the only thing bruised is Cody’s pride. He gets to his feet. The water is waist-high. With all of the doors open, he should eventually be able to hoist himself out the side that is now the “top”.
“You hurt? Over.”
“Just wet. They pushed my nice truck into the pond, with me in it! Over. At least we saved some ice cream.”
“Who did you save? Over.”
“Never mind. Any chance they’re still out there?”
“Long gone, I’m afraid. I’m looking for them on other cameras. Nothing yet. They could be just out of sight, watching, waiting for you to climb out.”
“I doubt it. They used the only strategic advantage they had. If they’re still around, they know I’m going to kick their miserable butts.”
“Maybe you should stay put until backup arrives. Over.”
“Nope. I’m standing in cold water. I’m getting out. I’ve had enough.”
“What if they have weapons? Over.”
“Honey, I am a weapon!”
“Sorry. Gotta go. Over and out.” Cody clicks off his two-way and begins his return ascent to dry land. He steps up on one of the counters and pulls himself chest-high through the ad hoc “skylight.”
“Sergeant Cody, are you okay?” calls Tabitha.
“Better than okay, Miss Tabitha. You know why? Because now I’m motivated.”
On shore, all of the children — those who had been hesitant to come near him before — are standing, eating their ice cream treats, and watching quietly, mesmerized. As soon as it’s obvious that he’s unscathed, a few of the parents applaud. He slides down the outside of the truck and wades the rest of the way to shore.
Tabitha grabs his hand and helps him out, though he certainly could have made it without her. She’s trembling, more from anger than fear. “I’ve never seen a car go in the water before. Sideways! Have you?”
“Not with me in it!”
“Was there more ice cream?” She sounds sad.
He’s quick. “A little, but you and your friends got the best of it, I promise.”
“Was that the other team you were talking about?” she asks. She’s miffed.
“I’m afraid it was,” says Cody.
“I don’t like them very much; somebody could have gotten hurt.”
“Somebody almost did. But you’re okay? Right? Everybody’s okay?”
She nods. “I wanted to scream like a little girl, but it was over before I had a chance. They took off as fast as they came. They drove so fast. I never saw anyone drive like that. It looked dangerous.”
“I’ll talk to them about it when I catch up with them.”
“Do you know who they were?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” says Cody. “We’ll get this all straightened out. Don’t you worry about it.”
* * *
In the water treatment plant’s glass-walled Control Center, a.k.a. Delumbria’s bunker, Toby Pelkey, wearing a fitted suit because he needs to feels normal again, pulls a sign down from the wall. “This plant has worked ‘11’ days without a lost time accident.” He looks over his shoulder, rolls the number back to ‘10’, and returns it to its resting place. Then he sits down, pulls paper and pen from a drawer, and begins work on a new inspirational speech for Superintendent of Engineers Delumbria.
The door opens; it never locks, so its opening isn’t completely unexpected. Enter the unnamed soul with the tender nose, thanks to Nakamura, the man most recently responsible for attempting to kill Sergeant Cody. He wipes his face with a white handkerchief before speaking, as if to make himself presentable.
“Where’s Dom?” Clearly he didn’t expect Pelkey.
“I’m not his keeper.”
“I need to talk to him.”
“Well, you can’t stay here; I’m thinking.” As much as Pelkey respects — worships? — authority, he equally abhors bruised-kneed yes-men, awkward and unaccomplished social climbers who remind him of a less successful version of himself.
The big lug is cowed, rather than perturbed, but stubborn. “I’ll just stand by the door.”
“Do what you want, but do it quietly,” says Pelkey. “I’m redrafting a speech. It’s very important, so I want to get it right.”
“Do you want to practice it on me?” asks the guest.
“No, thank you.”
The intruder has an unexpected — though quite natural considering he’s been running — coughing spasm.
“Do you mind?” asks Pelkey roughly.
Pelkey hangs his head low and cups his forehead with his palm, trying to block the intruder from his view and, in so doing, his awareness of the man’s utter existence.
The guest leans forward and peeks around at the deskside scribe. “Say, you were friends with Dr. Valdez,” comments the intruder, not getting the hint.
“Actually, we were more like co-conspirators, legally speaking, than sandbox buddies. Why?”
“My throat’s been bothering me. I don’t know what to do about it.” He’s serious, almost scared.
“While it’s true that I committed regrettable crimes against the state alongside a talented-though-somewhat-disturbed family physician that does not mean, however, that I was ever exposed to a communicable Aesculapian condition.”
“No?” The guest has no idea what was just said. “That’s good, right? That you weren’t exposed?”
“I mean, just because we high-fived a couple of times does not suggest he transferred his medical knowledge through contact with my open pores. Do you have a name, big guy?”
“Dario, if I was a physician, which I’m not, I’m sure I’d recommend that you go back to your quarters and get some rest until such time as you feel better. You are hereby gently banished to your beloved bunk. You wouldn’t want to miss the upcoming raping and pillaging, would you?”
“But I have some news for Dom. He’s going to want to hear it.”
“If you tell me, I’ll tell Dom. And I’ll tell him it came right from you. How’s that sound?”
“Okay, I guess. Tell him I tried.”
“Tell him you tried what?”
“Dario, maybe he won’t. He’s a busy man, with lots of plans on his mind. What did you try?”
“To kill Sergeant Cody, like he told me to.”
“There. That wasn’t so hard. How’d it go? Success? Have we brought down their white knight? Are we ready for the all-out invasion?”
“I didn’t stay to find out. I knocked his truck into the pond. There were a lot of witnesses. A lot of kids.”
Pelkey sets down his pen. He is suddenly very interested. “There were kids?”
“He was in an ice cream truck in the park.”
“So naturally there were children around.” This is not pleasing news to Pelkey.
“A lot of them.”
“Did you happen to hurt any of them, coming or going?” There is nothing casual to this line of inquiry.
“I don’t think so.” Dario is not quite certain.
“You don’t think so?”
“I stole a police hack. After I hit-and-ran, I drove like a shooting star right through the park. I hit a couple of bumps — thump thump — but I think they were curbstones. In fact, I’m pretty sure.”
“You’re sure? Dario, how sure are you? This is important. I know Dom doesn’t like the thought of innocent kids used as collateral damage. He’d be pretty disappointed right now.”
“I honestly don’t know, you know?” admits Dario. “But does it really matter? We’re going to rise up and take over, and people are going to resist, and they’re going to get hurt, so we might as well get used to hurting people, you know? Big people or little people. The topsiders aren’t just going to step aside when we come for their jobs and their apartments. We have to show them we mean business.”
Pelkey finds himself wanting to hurt this man, regardless of the consequences. If Dario will just take the hint and leave, everything will be fine, for the time being. “I think you should go now.”
“What about Dom?”
“I’ll talk to him. Trust me, you’ll get all of the credit you’ve got coming.”
Dario slowly backs out the way he came in. He looks tired. He looks at the sign. “Didn’t that say 11 before?”
“I don’t think so.” Needing a quick distraction, Pelkey tries the personal touch. “Dario, how’s the nose?” He’s trying his best to sound concerned but actually poking the big lummox with a sharp stick.
Dario reaches up to touch it, but stops himself. “You heard about that?”
“Dario, everyone has heard about it,” lies Pelkey.
“Next time, I’ll break her nose, stupid snoop!”
“You’ve got to hit them before they hit you, right?” Pelkey is encouraging him for the sheer fun of it.
“Damn right. She better hope we don’t cross paths again.”
“Dario, one more thing,” says Pelkey, standing, “I don’t know if you get topside very often, but did you happen to recognize any of the kids at the scene of the crime?” It matters.
“A kid’s a kid: screaming and running and eating all the time. They’re pretty much all the same, except one. I’ve seen her around, holding hands with the mayor’s secretary.”
“Tabitha?” asks Pelkey, quietly.
“Sure. Sounds right. Tabitha.”
Pelkey persists, against his better judgment. “Was she screaming and running, too?”
“What? Nah, she’s one of the better-behaved ones. She’s all right, you know, for a kid. The look in her eyes when I drove off after smashing the ice cream truck, though, I’ll bet she’ll break some guy’s nose one day. I hope it’s not mine.”
“Go rest,” says Pelkey. “I’ll send someone to find you if I need you. You’re down by Watney’s Reservoir, right?”
“Me? No! Around the corner from the lower-level pumping station.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole