Enigma

December 4th, 2012

Filed under: Prose

I love writing in the tone of film noir, and for this I wanted to mix that tone with more modernized elements. Definitely doing something with this, although it needs a lot of editing to make it more coherent.

I straightened my tie, expecting that dame to waltz on in unannounced, as per the usual. She’d always show after a case like she was tracking me. She was part of why I hadn’t gone insane over that past few weeks; she gave me a break from the macabre that dropped on my desk every morning. Still, my logical side figured there’s more to her visits than just wanting company.

The seconds crawled by, then the minutes, then the hours. I spent them half in my case files, half awaiting the coming break in the day’s routine. Then in came Nelson. “Hey, boss. Got your photos here.”

Nelson was a reliable guy, kept out of trouble, did what he was told. What he didn’t do was keep his mouth shut. “Thanks…you didn’t report these to the commissioner this time?”

He started sweating like a pig. Poor guy can’t lie to save his life. “No sir, went straight here after getting ‘em from the darkroom, honest.”

“Well good then, I’ll put ‘em in the review pile.” I said, making Nelson hear every syllable. “Now to make a quick call to Murphy…” Commissioner Murphy and I go way back, all the way to the Ryder Massacre of ‘88. To each other we’re the most open books around.

“Uh hold on, boss…” Nelson stammered, collapsing like an old bridge.

“Yeah?”

“I…sorta ran ‘em by him…”

I buried my face in my hands. I wasn’t going to call Murphy, he’s in a meeting for the next two hours. This was a test, and Nelson failed.

So I scolded him. “You just can’t do that with every photo we get! Some of those aren’t too…work-friendly.”

“But boss, you and the commish are like brothers right? He wouldn’t mind what you brought him, they’re ju–”

Oh yes he would. “Wouldn’t mind? Wouldn’t mind, Nelson?! What if Carmen died and you saw nothin but dead broads for hours every day?! Wouldn’t that drive you crazy?! Wouldn’t you want to throttle the asshole who made you look at those photos?!”

Stone-cold silence came over the office, my blood pumping and Nelson’s face sinking. “Uh boss…did something happen to the commissioner’s wife…?”

Class A blunder, that outburst. I gave away the precinct’s best kept secret, a twenty-year case that just went cold. Murphy and I would get a ticket to the chair if anyone knew. To this day I couldn’t tell you what made me let it out. I begged Nelson, “You tell no one what I said. Not a DAMN SOUL.”

“Oh of course not, boss, never!” he told me, audibly unsure he was keeping a secret. I didn’t give him any details of course, those would flow out of his mouth like spilled champagne, smoothly and pitifully. Nah, I knew that when the time came all he had was his own rumor. And no one believed Nelson’s rumors.

“Well alright then. Go take a break Nelson, you look like hell. Be back in an hour though, I need your help on the Deborah case.”

“Sure thing, boss!” He waltzed out the door, that pre-break spring in his step. And who else but that oh-so-friendly dame squeezed by him and into my office.

“He seemed happy, you give him a raise?”

Saucy. Like homemade pasta. “Gave him a break. Poor sap overworks himself every day, he needs it. What is it today, huh?”

She moved forward, shutting the door. This time it was important. “Well it’s about the Deborah case.”

I sank in my seat. No one outside of the department knew about that case, just me, Nelson and Murphy. My office is soundproof, she couldn’t have heard it standing outside. I gave her a once over to check for any signs she was lying. She came up negative. “Who told you? Who do you work for?”

She shook her head, wearing that sly smirk she had when she was hiding something. “Need-to-know basis, hon. The details are mighty sensitive, gotta treat them with care.”

I couldn’t read her with a polygraph if I wanted. “…Tell me what it is you’re here for already.”

“You’re not going to like this…”

“Just say it.”

“Well alright…we need you to call off the investigation.”

“‘We’? ‘We’ who?”

“My employer and I.”

The nerve! Who’d she think she was, top brass?! “Of all the…what kinda guy is this employer that he thinks I’ll just stop working at his command?!”

That smirk again. It taunted me like a bully taunts his victims. “Need-to-know, Clive, need-to-know.”

This time her teasing was too much. The smirk faded; a pained, repressed look of shock took its place. “Look, I don’t care how you know it, but if you’ll be using my name now at least tell me yours.”

Not once, not ONCE in the time we’ve known each other did we tell each other our names. That was the unwritten rule we agreed on…she’d never forget that. She sighed heavily, closing her eyes and letting her shock take over. Soon I would know why. “It’s…i-it’s Celeste-”

“Celeste? Did you say-” She was out the door before I got out another word. Celeste was the commissioner’s wife. Was. She’d been dead for a month. The woman I’ve associated with for the longest time, it was her all along and I couldn’t tell! At least, not until she said her name. Then it all came back. Her walk, her slight accent, her mannerisms…this new Celeste hid it all damn well. I was floored. Murphy couldn’t know, Nelson couldn’t know, this was between me, her, and her employer. What did this all mean? Right then and there I couldn’t say, but for the moment it looked like I owed the records office a visit.

Friday night. The detectives and custodians were the only ones dedicated (or lonely) enough to still be here. That’s why I banked on Hershel still tending to the records. “Hello?” I called after knocking, “You there, Hershey?” I saw a silhouette on the other side dart over to the next room faster than I could run. Hershel was 72.

I rammed the door hard, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. Again and again, nothing. Must have been barred from the other side. Breaking the window was my best bet, until I heard something outside. I ran up to a window, someone just got in a car and was driving down 47th with a lead foot. I left a note on my desk, bolted out the door, hopped in my car and put Nelson on the horn. “Follow me down 47th, we’re chasing a Royce!”

“Boss I just got in the car! How did you–”

“Hit the gas already, Nelson!”

We raced down 47th, tailing our little thief all the way to the Rogers Bus Depot, a good 10 miles. All the buses were gone. Looks like someone knew we were coming. Nelson and I parked and followed the thief through the front gate. We both knew this was a trap, but hell, we didn’t come all this way to quit.

“Boss!” Nelson whispered, like a kid playing Spy. “Let’s stay back here, see where the guy’s going!”

“Got a feeling that isn’t a guy, Nelson.” I muttered. We pressed on, sweating bullets that soaked our clothes, the humidity lending a hand. Inching down the asphalt we kept a close eye on our thief as she headed toward the central office building. She’d lead us to either her employer or some answers. Both roads would lead to trouble.

I turned back to Nelson, “Better have your sidekick ready.” Good old Lady Luck kept Death at bay more times than Nelson could count, he didn’t leave home without it. Too bad he tended to leave home without her guts.

“Boss I’m out of ammo…you have any?”

“Do I look like a store? Besides, no one but you carries a damn magnum as a sidearm.”

“Carmen gave it to me on our anniversary, come on–”

“Shhh.”

We were yards from the thief. All she had to do was open the door to the office, then we’d have her! And who but Nelson stepped on a piece of glass on his way up. We made like paper, hitting the ground hard. She took a walk over to our position, I made sure to welcome her. Pointed my pistol in the thief’s face and she returned the gesture, but had another fixed on Nelson. Looked like he was meeting Celeste again after all, even if only I could tell it was her.

“Don’t wave that thing at me! I-I’ll blow you away!”

“You’re empty.” Celeste cocked her pistol with a voice colder than Christmas morning. Needless to say, Nelson got the picture. She did it while keeping her eyes locked on me, she was mad I caught her.

“So Clive…what brings you here?” That voice of hers stayed icy.

“I could ask you the same.” Our eyes didn’t budge, didn’t blink.

“I’m making a delivery.”

“That ‘delivery’ has your name on it. Looks more like you’re making a disposal, but then again, why come all the way here to do it?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Like I said, it’s a delivery. Look, if you two insist on following me you’ll both end up dead. This is bigger than my husband or his precinct. Turn around, walk away. You’ll be better off.”

Celeste was nice enough to warn us, I’ll give her that. She was a hard read, though. All this secrecy, then the threats, then offering a chance to escape? Her old self was coming through again, she couldn’t kill us even if this new Celeste wanted to. I knew that…Nelson didn’t.

“I-I’m heading back to the precinct, I’ll catch you there, boss!”

Eyes still trained on Celeste, I yelled to him, “You better be back soon, and dammit remember to bring your guts this time!”

“…S-sure th-th-thing, boss.” He dashed back to his car with the speed of Jesse Owens, Celeste’s arm following him. I lowered my weapon, she didn’t. Hers were the eyes of a British guard.

“Come on, Celeste. Put it away.” She was frozen in place. “We both know you won’t do it–”

BANG. The edge of my ear was seared like good steak. Smelled like it too. “Leave.” She uttered.

“Celeste, expla–”

BANG, grazed my cheek. She meant business. I went for her pistol and grabbed hold, prompting her to shove the other one in my gut. Luckily I felt it in time and fastened my free hand around her wrist, pulling it away before she pulled the trigger. We stood there, staring each other down. “Dammit, explain yourself! The hell are you even doing here?! The three of us saw your damn face get rearranged, not to mention all the blood…you couldn’t have survived that!”

“Where do you get off, interrogating?! You let me die! All of you just sat back and let him have his way with me!”

Celeste worked her right hand out of my grip, bringing it up for a quick whip. I stopped it dead and folded her arms across her own chest; no more interruptions.

“We were bound and gagged! Just because we were in the same room didn’t mean we had our hands free! But you couldn’t see that, could you! You still believed every word he had to say, even to your dying breath!” I sighed, breathing out that rage I kept in since then. Taking it out on her wouldn’t get me anywhere. I wanted answers, not another victim. “It’s been too long, you’ve gotta fill me in.”

Celeste glanced left, craned her neck a little. I followed her eyes and noticed the office door was cracked, this was it! She looked back at me before I had a chance to move, locked me down with those eyes and told me, “No, I don’t. Not yet.” Her left hand pulled the trigger, she knew how good my hearing was. I recoiled enough that she could break from my hold. She bolted for that door at a cheetah’s pace. I thought about shooting her foot or leg to slow her down, but I knew better than that. Once I brought her to her senses I’d need her in top form. The door shut and locked, from the sound of it I wasn’t getting in without heavy firepower…which just showed up in its car.

“Hey boss!” his call echoed. You’d swear he was trying to wake up the block. I motioned to Nelson to simmer down, his feet competing with his voice box.

“Shhh! Get down!” I said, crouching behind the car along with him. I thought we’d be dropped on the spot, but there we were. I threw my hat behind me, toward the door and BAM BAM BAM BAM! A swarm of high-caliber bullets shredded it. I could hear the sniper rifles cocking back again, they were dying for an excuse. Just one reason to make us Grade-A Swiss, and going back would be it. I wanted her to tell me everything…but we’d have to wait.

“Nelson, get in the car.”

“But boss–”

“Now! You saw my hat, you want it to be your head instead?!”

Nelson shut his trap, shook his head and stumbled into his seat. We still kept our heads down, just in case, but I was sure they only wanted us off the property. When we started leaving, I looked back. I heard them all, breathing easily and packing their weapons away. I got back out and decided to take a little stroll.

“Boss…what–”

I stopped. Seemed like their hearing was as good as mine. I signaled to Nelson, telling him to stay quiet and keep the engine running. They were still antsy, wherever they were. I decided the best course of action was to get outta Dodge and back to the precinct. If we were going to crack this nut we’d need a plan.

We rode with the top down for a while, the crisp, rotten city breeze hitting us hard. Through the wind I heard familiar parts clicking together, the same ones from the depot. They were set up on every street in town. Just what the hell did Celeste get herself into? Her employer would lock the city down for what he, or she, was after…this was big. But I still had to keep Murphy in the dark. He’d run our resources dry if he knew she was still alive.

Nelson slinked out with his feet dragging. His face was sunken, tilted down, eyes wide. A machine like her never had the opportunity to put a barrel in his face. Nelson took this new Celeste’s cold soul head-on, and it threw him off, made him feel weak. He was shaken, but he’d get over it. He’d seen worse. He’d seen her die. But today he thought it was our partner Rose, the former precinct superstar, come back after all these years. The coroner reported her dead the same month Celeste was reported missing. Somehow Murphy didn’t suspect a thing back then, that is, until I told him Celeste was Rose.

If only he knew what was coming.