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 32: “Officer Nakamura, welcome to the game.”
In a small dark bedroom, Nakamura has her legs lashed to a wooden dining room chair and her hands tied behind her back with a gag around her mouth. For the moment, she is none the worse for wear. Delumbria sits heavily on the edge of the bed, in long-sleeved white t-shirt and black coveralls, hat humbly in hand.
“Officer Nakamura, welcome to the game. It pains me to see you mistreated,” says Delumbria. “Sometimes it pains my minions. You did quite a job on Dario’s nose. He’s still embarrassed about how the whole thing went down. But we didn’t know about your private kung fu training back then. I apologize for calling you the weak link in the chain. That wasn’t quite accurate, was it?”
Nakamura curses into her gag, but Delumbria gets the gist.
“You’re probably wondering why I ‘borrowed’ you. It was Officer Roberts’ idea. Speaking of pain. Who uses a door as a weapon? I don’t think either one of them is ever going to be quite the same. His father works for me. He’s been very sympathetic to what we’re trying to achieve.
“Your abduction serves multiple goals: nobody’s watching our movements and, if your friends find you missing, they’ll all be a little distracted, a little heartsick, maybe make some poor decisions, especially the soldier boy, the chief, Officer Wayne. I may have to ‘remove’ a part of one finger so they take me seriously. I tried to get a volunteer but, alas, no takers. You have my word, I’ll do everything I can to make it as painless as possible.”
Nakamura is calmly staring into his eyes. She refuses to flinch or to moan or to show fear.
“What do I want?” asks Delumbria as if in response to her unspoken query. “For a long time, I thought I wanted the mayor’s job, but that’s just trading ione pain in the butt lifestyle for another, although the pool and the tennis court are pretty tempting.
“I could ask that the mayor and the chief and the boys in blue toil in my world for a year while we enjoy the lavish lifestyle of you topsiders. But they’d probably break everything I’m so proud of or send us crashing into a random moon. Assuming we’re all still alive after a year, no one’s going to want to go back to their old dark and dreary world.
“So what does that leave us? The satisfaction of taking away your pleasures, one by one, bringing you down to our level. Your apartments become ours. Your jobs, if we want them. Your lovers. As below, so above; mirror worlds. I can live with that. It’s not a nice world, but it is a fair world.”
Nakamura speaks slowly around the washcloth stuffed in her mouth, though Delumbria can’t make out a word.
“This better not be a trick, Nakamura. I’m willing to remove your gag temporarily, so we can have a civil conversation, but if you try to scream, I will smack you so hard with the back of my hand that you’ll probably lose a couple of teeth, and I’ll break a knuckle. Are you willing to behave?”
She nods. He leans forward, pulls her gag toward her chin, and removes the washcloth from her mouth. Nakamura has a moment of dry-heaves. Delumbria wipes some spittle from her lower lip gallantly.
“Thank you,” says Nakamura.
“Speak and be quick about it.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s another option. The chief told Jeb—”
“Sergeant Cody,” says Nakamura. “Schiavelli is planning to find a habitable planet to orbit. And anybody who wants to go to the surface will be able to do so.”
“Pipe dreams!” Delumbria swats the idea away as too good to be true.
“Wouldn’t it be best for everyone? Room to stretch, with real sunshine and real grass. No artificial gravity. No moon-sized satellite requiring constant care and feeding. Not to mention naming rights: Mount Delumbria, Delumbria Lake, New Delumbria City.”
“Assuming you’re not lying, has he seen something on a star chart? Because I haven’t heard anything. Is there anywhere out there in our neighboring cosmos that would even have us?”
“I honestly don’t know,” admits Nakamura.
“No? It’s a lovely idea, really, but let’s stick with the plan we have for now.”
“I hope Jeb kills you. I hope it hurts. I don’t even care if I’m alive to see it.”
Delumbria is shocked, but he tries not to show it. “He may want to, by the time this is over, by the time I’m through doing things to you. Now let’s get your gag back in place, please. Don’t bother to struggle; you’ll just get hurt. You need all the strength you can muster...for what’s to come.”
* * *
In her dimly lit “office,” her home away from home, Wayne, wearing her preferred uniform of buttoned-up white lab coat and a bright headlamp, kneels delicately over a large box on the floor. Three teeny eight-weeks old black and white kittens lie on a couple of thick towels, cuddled and sleeping, ignoring the troubles around them.
An unexpected car pulls up just outside. Sergeant Derek Ambrose backs his way through the unlocked alley door into the medical examiner’s office. He is pushing a gurney with a white sheet draped over a supine body.
“What happened?” asks Wayne. “Who is it?” She reaches for the sheet.
“Don’t!” warns Ambrose.
“I’m going to have to look at the body eventually!” snaps Wayne.
“Be that as it may, I was told to ‘deliver and scram’. That this was need-to-know, and I didn’t need to know. So do what you’ve got to do, but let me get out of here first, before I get in trouble with the bigwigs. Mine is not to question why. Maybe they’re protecting my feelings. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.” Ambrose backs for the door. “If that’s me under there, I don’t want to know. Enjoy your work.” He leaves, closing the door quickly behind him.
Wayne puts on her long blue latex gloves, snapping them into place, and cautiously pulls back the sheet from around the victim’s head. It’s Pelkey. He blinks both eyes at her and smiles.
“Idiot!” curses Wayne, dropping the sheet back over his face. “You couldn’t find a better way?”
Pelkey pulls the sheet back and sits up. “Sorry. I’ve heard we have moles among the topsiders. It’s going to get harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys pretty soon.”
“That’s because there are no bad guys, Toby! There are good people downstairs being manipulated by Delumbria for his own dark purposes. They don’t know better. And some of them are going to get hurt very soon.”
Pelkey climbs down. “I said I’m sorry.”
“I heard you the first time.”
“Have you got the meds?” asks Pelkey.
“Everything you need is over there on the counter.”
“Will it work?”
Wayne rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Not a chance,” she answers dryly.
“But I thought... You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Well, that would have been too bad, because the doctor is MIA.”
“Off the grid, huh? Well, you’re not the only one. Delumbria’s missing. I think he’s already up here. And your pal, Nakamura, but you probably already knew that.”
“What about her?”
“Nobody knows where she is.”
“Why didn’t somebody call me?” demands Wayne.
Pelkey shrugs. “Maybe they thought your work was too important and that you should focus.”
“If he hurts her, I’ll kill him.”
“You may have to stand in line for that honor,” says Pelkey. “The chief said the same thing and Sergeant Cody and Lois.”
“You have a way to get back?” asks Wayne, pulling off pieces of her uniform and dropping them on the counter.
“They shut down the elevator. Boyer’s going to get me in through one of the park doors. He’s a lot less scary when he knows we’re on the same side.”
“Then grab your stuff and go.”
“I’m figuring when all hell breaks loose, it’ll be too late to find a place to hide. So this is probably good-bye.” Pelkey holds out a hand.
Wayne refuses. “You’ll be fine, Toby. You’ve always known how to take care of yourself.”
“Can I have a handshake anyway? I’ve been trying to make up with everyone, but I feel like you don’t want to let go. Dr. Valdez betrayed you far more than I did. I’m not saying I’m squeaky-clean innocent. But since he’s gone, I feel like I’m a convenient target for your loathing. What did I do?”
“You lived,” says Wayne softly.
“Right. Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to correct that oversight very soon, and then the slate will be clean between us.” He grabs the supplies. “You’ll be sorry you didn’t shake my hand when you had the chance. But I get it. I hope you find Nakamura. She’s a good kid. My guess is: find Delumbria and you’ll find her.”
Wayne tries harder. “Take care, Toby. You’re a brave guy.”
“Brave good guy or bad guy?” He smiles broadly, bouncing his eyebrows playfully, to help her with the decision, but she refuses to answer. “Guess the jury’s still out on that one.” He gives up and slips out.
* * *
Police Chief Leo Schiavelli sits silently at his desk. He has never seen his office so full of people, all talking at once, few listening, some unconsciously hip-checking his antique desk. Lois is squeezed against the opposite wall. She hoists a cup of fresh coffee above her head, hoping to force a path, but she’ll never get through. The chief catches her eye and just shakes his head. He winks sarcastically as if to say, “Imagine capturing the minutes to this freak show, in real time.” She smiles acknowledgment and backs out of the room carefully.
At a moment like this, Brandt and Pelkey would typically be front and center, tag-teaming, encouraging the chaos, advocating for the rights of their constituents first, agreeing with their every utterance, then taking sides with the chief when the dust settles and the policy makers finally have the place to themselves, crafting an artful compromise which ultimately leaves the status quo unscathed and unchanged. Where are they now?
People want to know about the meteor shower, how it snuck up on them. Why was an ice cream truck in the pond? Why is the park closed? Why are there trucks parked tight up against exits from the water treatment plant? Who are the new men in uniform, and where did the come from? Why did the power go out? Why do we expect the power to go out again? What’s really going on?
Schiavelli stands and coughs, as if that subtle grade-school teacher gesture will hush his audience, but nobody seems to notice. His father had a handmade gavel for times like this, which has since been misplaced. Thank you, Tabby. From the back of the room someone uses a penny whistle to call everyone to order. It does the trick. Thank you, Lois. I owe you. He knows the silence and the attention are temporary.
“First off, thank you all for coming. And spontaneously at that. I haven’t seen this many people squished together since the mayor’s last re-election pool party.” It’s an ice-breaker joke. Nobody laughs. “Seriously, I understand there are some questions and concerns about recent goings-on. And rightly so. I will be taking one question at a time. Who’s first?” More hands go up than there are people in the room. “This may take a while.”
He points at a white-haired woman safely situated in one of the room’s free corners. She is decked out in white pearls and flashy earrings and a tad too much makeup to his tastes, with perfect poise. He knows they went to school together. She used to stomp on his toes on the playground in second grade as a primal sign of affection. Chase me, Leo! “Start us off, Marisa.”
“Where’s Mayor Brandt?” she asks. The one question he can’t answer. He can, of course, make up a reasonable half-truth of an answer.
“Where’s Mayor Brandt?” echoes Schiavelli, stalling for time. “That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked it.”
“I’ll take that one, if you don’t mind, Chief,” calls Brandt from the back of the room. The mayor looks as fresh as if he was just removed from the package. His skin has an uncanny radiance. He is calm and eager to perform his favorite dance before his favorite fans. He walks to the front of the room, shaking hands with familiar faces. The crowd parts as much out of awe as respect.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I deliver unto you the man we’ve all been waiting for, the Honorable Mr. Mayor.”
Brandt grabs everyone’s attention. He sits on the front edge of the desk and clasps his hands as if he’s about to lead his congregation in prayer. All eyes are on him.
Schiavelli whispers, “If you need me, I’ll be having my long-overdue morning coffee with Lois just outside.”
The mayor beams and nods, never taking his eyes off his doting audience. “Marisa, you look lovely! Doesn’t she, everybody? I don’t know how you do it. But I think if we all felt on the inside like you look on the outside, New Eden would exists as a beacon of tranquility for the rest of the universe to aspire to.” He takes a moment for everyone to imagine his vision of a better life.
“So, it’s been crazy around here lately, am I right? But we know Chief Schiavelli is doing all he can to keep us safe. We know that. Because that’s what he does, every single day. But maybe he’s not such a great communicator. And that’s why he has me. Let’s talk.”
* * *
City Operations has been “normalized.” The door, though battered, is ajar. All of the now-dusted monitors sit in parallel, aiming to the back of the room, evenly spaced, row by row. Two young male police officers stand, attentively, against the wall, scanning from screen to screen. One is trimming and cleaning his nails. The other is stretching his back. Wayne enters. They jump to attention as if she were the chief.
“What happened here?” asks Wayne, taking in the reorganization. “I thought Nakamura was going to focus on just a few areas of the city.”
“It was a mess,” says the officer busy with his nails. “It looked like someone had been playing with the monitors like building blocks. We fixed it, though.”
Wayne declines to correct them.
“Any word on Officer Nakamura?” asks the second officer.
“No. Not yet.”
“I don’t know how she did this every day, for hours,” he adds. “She’s more man than me, that’s for sure.” He means well.
“Anybody else come by?” asks Wayne.
She winces at the words. “Don’t mind me. I’m going to look around. See if there’s anything that might help us find her.” Wayne steps out into the hall, gets down on her hands and knees, looking closely at the door and around the immediate floor.
“Let us know if we can help,” says the department germaphobe. “We cleaned the area up pretty good. You wouldn’t believe what it looked like when we arrived. One of Delumbria’s men really trashed Officer Roberts. He must have surprised them when they were trying to kidnap Nakamura. They say he’ll recover okay. We sent him home.”
Wayne stands, disappointed. Every well-intentioned thing they’ve “accomplished” has only made matters worse: destroying clues, helping the assailant escape, mixing up the monitors so that the same area of the city is now spread across four tables on both sides of the room. The only thing left unchanged, maybe, is the “selfie” videocamera in the corner of the ceiling. She walks closer, stares. The red light stares back. It’s wired up, working. “You didn’t touch this camera, did you?”
“No, sir,” says the stretching officer.
“You know,” offers Wayne, finally losing her cool, “I’m a woman.”
“So you don’t have to keep saying ‘sir’ like it’s not obvious.”
“It’s not that, sir. I don’t know the word for the female version of ‘sir’, that’s all, sir.”
“You can call me ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss’ or Eartha. I’ll answer to all of them.”
“Cool, sir. Good to know. I’ll try them out next time we work together.”
Wayne steps up on a chair and then up on a table. She can see Nakamura’s been busy making repairs. She pushes up on the camera and turns the unit, and it drops into her hand.
“Cool!” says the male officer. “Who knew?”
She rewinds the recording and plays it forward on the tiny built-in viewing screen. Her companions are strangely nervous.
“What are you doing?” says the germaphobe.
“Watching the captured footage.”
The two male officers point accusing fingers at each other and turn instantly pale. “Do they all do that?”
When Delumbria appears in frame, Wayne snaps, “You bastard!”
“Are we on that, ma’am?” pipes up the germaphobe, suddenly feeling very embarrassed. “We were just fooling around before. We didn’t mean anything by it.”
Wayne puts the camera back in place, high against the ceiling. “One day, officer, you’re going to realize life isn’t all about you.” She storms out.
The neatnik officer turns to the stretching officer. “Was it something I said?”
The stretching officer cracks his neck and grunts. “This is what happens when you put a woman on the police force.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole