Edward is a hotshot detective in the city that people travel from all over the galaxy to visit. He’s been given the uncrackable case and time is running out, but there’s more to Eddy’s story than he’s letting on…
It’s the fifth one this week. Five in a week and everyone in the station’s laughing at me. It’s easy for them to laugh, they don’t have the case no one can crack. I’ve been on it six months and I’m no nearer breaking it.
At least, that’s what they think. They think I’m dumb. They think I should have been moved off it months ago. Maybe they’re right. But whatever they think they know, there’s one thing they definitely don’t. They don’t know the truth.
I glance at the report again. I know it off by heart, but the sarge is gonna be asking questions so it’s best to make sure.
Unidentified male, estimated 23 or 24 years old.
No obvious signs of death.
Coroner’s report clarifies no physical cause of death.
Short and simple. They’ve stopped putting the details on there because we all know what they’d be. The unidentified person, and it’s women as much as men, was found surrounded by every luxury a person could ever dream of. More often than not they were swimming in drugs in some ludicrous mansion high in the clouds. Most in mansions that aren’t even on the planning.
That’s what throws most people who look at this. The real estate up in the anti-grav neighbourhoods is outrageously expensive and planned to the nth degree. It has to be. There are flight paths, both terrestrial and extra, and you can’t go putting houses wherever the hell you want. Yet somehow, most of these kids are being found in unrecorded mansions.
I know the truth, of course, but I’m not letting on. I don’t know why. Actually, I do. I know very well why.
‘Detective. A word?’
He makes it sound like a question, like I have a choice. I amble into his office. I’m not in any hurry. I’ve another day to fill with fake investigations, finding leads that will take me nowhere near the truth, then following them like the bloodhound I used to be before the uncrackable case came over my desk and turned my life upside down.
The sergeant’s sat behind his desk, drumming his long fingers on the plastiwood. I used to sneer at the fake wood. It’s a relic, a pathetic throwback to the days when this job used to make sense. I don’t sneer any more. I’ve grown a little more sympathetic to the things people use to get them through the day.
‘Detective. We’ve got another one.’
‘Yes, sir. Number 145, sir.’
‘They’re becoming more frequent.’
His hand slams down on the desk. I’m not sure where the sergeant’s from, one of the outer worlds for sure, but his hand’s the size of a dinner plate and it makes a wonderful crack as it strikes the wood. I jump, then sit myself into one of his large leather chairs. I don’t want to know where the leather’s come from so I keep my eyes fixed firmly on his.
‘Is ‘yes sir’ really all you’ve got to say?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know what else there is to say.’
‘How about ‘I’m going to catch the killer today, sir?’
‘That would be nice, but I don’t promise things I can’t deliver.’
‘I’m moving you off the case.’
Sweat prickles all the way down my back as I lean forwards and put my hands the desk. They look so small compared to his. ‘You can’t do that, sir.’
‘Really? Please, detective, tell me why.’ He leans back, folding those massive hands over his pot belly and smiling. He has these thick, rubbery lips that make the most wonderful expressions, but I’m not enjoying this one too much.
‘I’m close. I know I’ve said that before, but I’m really close.’
‘Then show me something. Every single person in this precinct thinks you should be off this case. They think I’m mad for letting you work it for so long and they’re right. It’s only because you’re the best I’ve got I’ve let it go on this long, but…’
‘If I’m the best you’ve got, what’s going to happen if you put someone else on it? What will they do that I can’t?’
‘Solve the damned thing.’ He smacks his hand down again. I’m watching him, waiting for the wince that comes with the pain he surely feels every time he does that. There’s nothing, not a flicker. Maybe he has no nerves in his hand. Maybe he’s destroyed them all by slamming it against the desk for the last hundred years.
He lets out a long breath. ‘They’re saying you’ve gone soft, Eddy, and I’m beginning to think they’re right.’
‘Don’t. Please, just, keep your mouth shut for a minute. Eddy, I know about your wife.’
The sweat that prickled when he threatened me becomes a stream, pouring down my back and from my hairline. How does he know about Layla? I almost burst out laughing. Of course he knows about her, he’s the chief of police, it’s his job to know about his staff’s family.
‘And I’m sorry. Truly I am. But I can’t help thinking what’s happening with her has affected you. And I don’t blame you, really I don’t, but this case is too big. It’s tearing our city apart and we need our best brains on it.’
‘You have today. Bring me something concrete today, or you’re off it, understand?’
My mouth flaps and my fingers ache from where I’m gripping the table. He can’t do it. He can’t.
I barely remember getting to my desk. I can feel their eyes watching me all the way back. There’s no way anyone out here knows the conversation we just had, but they’ll be able to tell from the look on my face. Part of me knows I should be fronting, acting like it’s all good, but I just can’t.
I slump in front of my computer and slip my headset on. I pull up something random on the screen and zone out, pretending I can’t hear the conversations that burst into life in the wake of my walk of shame.
I have today. One day to do what I’ve spent six months trying to figure out. There’s no way. If there was, I’d have done it by now. I knuckle my forehead, pressing them into my skin until it aches. There has to be something. I don’t need long, not really. A couple more months, just to…
I scrub the tears away and sniff. I’m crying in the station. When did it come to this? I may as well have fallen on my knees and begged back in his office… begged. A smile that carries no humour spreads across my face. That’s the one thing I haven’t done yet. I haven’t begged. But I can.
Go back a year, before the illness, and I’d have as likely begged as fly to the outer systems. But now, I’d beg at the drop of a hat. Anything for just a little more time.
I slip my head set off, take a deep breath, grab my keys, and leave the station. As has become my guilty habit, I check for tails before climbing into my cruiser and powering it up. I fly around for a while, trying to lose myself in the city. It used to happen so easily. I’d glide between the massive sky scrapers, watching the sun glint off the glass and dreaming of the days that lay ahead of us. I’d imagine what our children were going to be like, or the holidays we’d go on.
I’m crying again. I can’t be crying when I meet him. I can’t show the weakness that’s curled up inside me and shrivelled my heart.
Once I’m convinced no one’s following me, I set course for the seedy side of town and flick the cloaking on. The police come down here, of course we do, but coming alone and unannounced is never the wisest plan. So I sneak in under cloak, park in my usual spot behind the casino, and change into civvies in the passenger seat.
Then I lock up the cruiser and march down town. The streets are busy tonight, filled with people from a thousand worlds, all searching for something different, something to bring them alive again. They come from all over to Earth. This is still the place to be.
There are times, brief moments, when I want to be like them. Times when my house with its lovely garden and views over the river mean next to nothing. I’ve spent twenty years serving the people of this city and my reward is a wife with an incurable, terminal disease and the contempt of my peers. I want to be searching, too, dancing in the darkness with nothing but fellow dreamers around me.
I shift to the side of the road and slither between the crowds and the open shops. They stay open 24 hours down here, whether they’re selling alcohol, drugs or baby clothes. It makes no difference. If you want it, you don’t want to wait.
His current location has been stable for a few weeks now. It’s the longest I’ve known him to be in the same place. He was easy to find. If they put someone else on this case, they’ll know I’ve been lying just because of how quickly someone else will solve it, just the same way I did.
I pull out my reader and check he hasn’t moved. His energy signature, so twisted, so different to anything I’ve ever seen, is right where it was when I visited last month. The door’s open, just one amongst many on the street, and I’m glad there’s no one hanging around outside.
There was someone, a few months back. I nodded to her as I went in, one citizen to another. A week later, I was looking at her face in the coroner’s report. It’s got easier since then. That stretched my morals to the breaking point and I found they had more give in them than I thought. Amazing the way a man can change when given an impossible choice.
The stairs creak. This is an old house. I think that’s why he chose it. His powers seem to work better away from the plasticrete that fills the city.
There’s only one door at the top of the stairs and that hangs open as well. He wants people to come in. Will I be able to convince him to shut it? I enter, swallowing the lump that fills my throat every time I’m here.
‘Edward. Please, come in.’
When did he learn my name? I don’t remember. I don’t even remember if I told him it. My visits here have become shaded, blurry with the passage of time. Or maybe I’ve just made them that way, to block out the truth of what I’ve done.
‘Traveller. How are you?’
He shrugs. ‘Well, as far as you measure these things. I wasn’t expecting you until next week.’
‘I’ve come for a different reason.’
He waits. My words stick in my throat like week old toast as my mouth dries up. I can’t do it, but I have to. I have today, only today.
‘I need you to stop.’
‘I cannot believe it took you this long.’
‘Come on now, Eddy, you’re an officer of the law. You’ve been investigating me. At least, you should have been investigating me. So why did it take you six months to ask me to stop.’
‘I need you.’
‘Indeed you do. But you could have asked, anyway.’
‘I was scared.’ There’s something about him that brings the truth out of me, like drawing poison from a wound. He nods, his perfect face screwed up in what could be sadness or could be mockery. I already know I don’t want to discover which it is.
‘You never need to be scared of me. Please, sit, listen to what I have to offer.’
I perch on the edge of the chair. It sounds like he wants to help, but I can’t believe that. I can’t believe he’ll stop what he’s doing just because I’ve asked.
‘Your wife is dying. I have helped to extend her life a little, and I can continue to do so. But my profit, as you know so well, comes from those poor souls who keep turning up in those reports you get on your desk—’
‘Couldn’t you just tell them the truth.’
‘I do. I told you the truth, didn’t I?’
‘But they don’t believe you.’
‘And whose fault is that? There is nothing I can do if people won’t heed my warnings.’
‘I…’ he’s right. He made it very clear to me. Why did I listen when no one else has? Or maybe it’s just a few of them who don’t listen. I glance at him and see the smile blossom on his face.
‘It finally dawns on you. Did you really think you were the only one with the self control to take it easy?’ he shakes his head and my cheeks redden. Some detective I am. ‘There are hundreds in the this city, living lives they didn’t earn, because they came to see me. Most of them still visit, just like you, losing a year here and there for the pleasures of today.’
‘It’s not pleasure with me.’
‘No. In that, you are unique. A year of your life so your wife may have another month. Your altruism does you and your city proud. Not that anyone cares.’
‘So there are others.’
‘Hundreds, thousands possibly. I lose count. The ones you find are the young and foolish, those too eager for everything to believe I’m taking their lives.’
‘Will you stop?’
He cocks his head to one side and smiles. ‘Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this. I will stop, at least with the lost causes. But you have to do something for me. I’ve been giving her a month for every year I take. From now on, I’ll give your wife a day for each year. You’re forty one, Eddy, and you’ve got till you’re 67, at my last count. So you and the wife can share another 26 days together, added to the end of this week, and leave this world on the same day, or you can turn me in and bid her goodbye on Sunday.’
Bile climbs up my throat and burns the back of my mouth. 31 days. But he’ll stop. The kids in this city will stop dying. Dying or being murdered? Does it even matter? I open my mouth to reply when the first shout comes from downstairs. Feet thud on the steps and I shout ‘NO’ without thinking about it. He looks at me, sad smile on his face, and spreads his hands apart, palm up.
‘That’s a shame, Eddy, that’s a real shame. I thought we had an understanding.’
I turn to the door just as the sergeant bursts in. When I turn back, the room is empty. He’s gone, just like that. He wasn’t expecting me till next week because Layla has five days left. I’d give up all my years to add even one more day to that. But it’s too late, now.
A hand lands on my shoulder. ‘Time’s up, Eddy.’