The world swam out of a painful void and became both bright and antiseptic. Officer Ken Small blinked his eyes against the light, but the pain was unavoidable. Off to his right, something moved and he tried to focus on it.
“Are we awake, Mr. Small?” a friendly voice came from the motion. “I’m Kathy, one of the nurses here. Don’t strain yourself, dear. Just relax. You were pretty badly banged up, but you were lucky. No internal injuries and nothing that required surgery.” As his focus resolved, the nurse had straight greasy hair and a huge overbite. “On the other hand, you have a bruised kidney, a broken right forearm, three broken ribs, a sprained ankle, strained ligaments and bruised muscles all over the place. Oh! And you lost your big toenail.”
“Is that all?” he groaned.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Try not to move against the casts. It’ll just hurt. I’ll let the doctor know that you’re awake and he’ll give you the full rundown. Oh! I almost forgot, we had to catheterize you while you were out cold, so that might be a bit uncomfortable.” The woman forced an exaggerated smile that made her look even more like an unfortunate cartoon.
He wasn’t sure if he blacked out or not, but when he came back around to thinking about the world outside of his own pain, there was an athletic and very tan woman a skirt suit hovering over his bed. “Officer Small? Good afternoon. Can you possibly answer a few questions for me?” The woman smiled. It was a gentle smile with lots of teeth and to Ken it shined like the light of an old friendship. “Questions? Sure. Just don’t make me pee.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” She smiled. “Look, we are in the middle of a fast-moving investigation here so I’m sorry that we can’t wait until you are better. Could you give us your account of what you found at the Nestor residence before it blew up?”
Through the pain in his side Ken choked out, “Yeah, yeah, hippie. Blonde hair. Seen him before.”
“There was someone there?”
“Yeah. It was all pretty weird. Kid I’d just talked to.”
“So, what did you see, Officer Small?” The woman’s voice was slow and even, almost hypnotic, in a friendly way.
Something about the sound voice drew the story from Ken Small and he started to talk. “Hmm, when I got there, the door was open, so I investigated, thinking there was a robbery or something. Backup was in route so I went in solo. The place was a total mess of paper which was really strange. After identifying myself as a police officer, I heard this guy scream about a bomb from the back of the home. I found a guy dead on the floor and this guy… He was sort of holding a rope and bracing himself against a hole in the wall.”
“The blonde hippie, right?”
“Yeah. The name… ah… what was it…” Ken coughed and the ribs gave him a new definition of pain.
“Just think about it. I’m sure it will come to you. Just relax, That’s good. What did he do then?”
“It was unbelievable. He … sort of … jumped, and then the rope pulled him through the hole. I could hear a crashing sound upstairs so I quickly checked the victim and went to pursue. The guy had been dead for hours, judging by the stiffness of the body. ”
“Did you report your observations?”
The question struck the officer as odd, but through his pain and drug induced haze he continued. “No. I should have, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to reveal my position to the hippie with the rope or let him get away. I turned off my radio. I’m not going to get in trouble for that, am I?”
The woman stopped writing and said, “Not from me. So, what happened next?”
Feeling a little freer with his thoughts and wanting to get it all out, Officer Small continued to recount the events. “Well, I went up the stairs past the second and third floors and found myself in the attic. He was there and…”
“And what, Ken?”
“And it was like he was waiting for me. It was all wrong. I had my gun trained on him, but he didn’t react like a suspect that had just been caught, rather, he was talking about how there was a bomb next to the victim.”
“A bomb?” The tan woman’s eyes shot up from her writing to meet Ken’s. “Did you see this bomb, Officer Small?”
“No… Maybe… I’m not sure. There was so much shit in that place … there could have been a full-grown yak in there and I wouldn’t have seen moo.”
The woman laughed a lyrical, almost melodic laugh. It warmed Ken’s insides to hear that laugh and he wanted dearly to hear it again.
“You are funny, Officer Small. So, this person was talking. What did he say? What do you remember, exactly?”
“He said that he wasn’t sure why he was there and that the bomb was going to go off. I thought he…Goldberg!” The name just popped into Ken’s head. “He’s the guy I saw. Ryan Goldberg.”
“The guy who killed Mr. Nestor?”
“No, the hippie. He was standing over Nestor’s body, but there was no way. The guy on the floor was stiff. Not a fresh kill.”
“So, this guy, Goldberg, you are sure he’s innocent.”
“Of murder, yes. He may have B&E going on, but that doesn’t make sense either. I’d just talked to the kid outside and he didn’t seem the type, just on drugs or something.”
Ken had hoped to get another laugh out of the woman, but she just wrote quickly in her book and knitted her brow.
“Is there something wrong?”
“Not at all,” she said, not stopping her writing. “You were just very observant! Please…” she lifted her head and flashed that white smile again. “… Tell me what happened next.”
Ken felt warm all over from that smile and the story of the encounter continued to spill out of him. “According to … standard procedure, I told him to keep his hands in the air and … well the damnedest thing happened. Something came charging out of the rafters, hit me dead center, I fell back, tripped and smashed into a window. Then Boom! That’s all I have … except for waking up.”
“That’s really good. So, we’re looking for Ryan Goldberg. Did he have anything with him or say anything else?” The woman flashed her teeth again and slowly said, “Did he take anything with him?”
Ken tried to shake his head but the pain of his body made him stop. “Ugh! No. Really, the whole thing happened so quickly, I didn’t see much. He didn’t have a backpack or anything and very little time. He might have picked something up. I’ve no idea what he was up to.”
Ken frowned. The woman, her smile and her laugh would be going soon. “No… I guess not. But how is the investigation going? I haven’t seen you before. Is this now a State thing or are you Fed?”
The woman flipped her notebook closed, smiled and walked up to his bedside. A click by his right ear brought his head around.
Ken Small noticed an empty syringe sticking in his IV line. The woman took it out and replaced it with a different, full syringe and pressed down on the plunger. He started to feel very sleepy but fought against the swirling haze.
“I am from an organization that is very interested in what you have to say. Thank you for your deposition. Why don’t you sleep now? You have nothing to worry about.” The woman smiled, but there was a cold hard malice in her face now. All trace of the former warmth vanished, replaced by evil and ice. This woman was killing him, he was sure.
“Wait!” he tried to say, but it came out as a croak.
He wasn’t sure what happened but he knew he had said too much, and knew too much. Must have been drugged! The woman soon dashed out the door, which confused him, but Ken was afraid and becoming increasingly confused. He fought against a feeling that felt too much like death.
The walls of the room had become suddenly unsquare, like a thing made of jello. Small realized he could barely move which was just as well because he wanted to run but physically couldn’t.
Turning his head, he saw a small child in the doorway. The boy walked to the side of the bed and Ken could only see his little head. In a tiny voice, he said, “I’m Timmy. I’m three. Who ‘r you?”
The officer could only manage a whisper and croaked out. “Small”
“I visiting my Grandpa. His heart broke. Did your heart break?”
He thought about the woman who had drugged him. It seemed so long ago, though he knew it had been only a minute. “Not yet. But if I don’ get out ‘f here I think – might.”
The little boy’s eyes grew impossibly wide. “Broken hearts bad. Momma cried.”
“Yes. Bad. C’n you get ‘r momma for M’ Small?” He felt his battered and bruised skeleton sink through the bed and used all his will to fight its pull. He knew this wasn’t real, but it was very compelling.
His head swam even more as the drug started to take hold. “I need t’ get. t’ go.”
“Mr. Small? Why are you so big? Not right. You wanna be small? Been making things small today. Little things, but…”
He tried to be as clear as possible. “Yes, Timmmmm… That ‘ud be great.” As he started to give in and slip under the heavy blanket of catatonic crazy he said, “Why don’ you go make me really small. So small … no one would see me … get me…”
As Officer Small’s vision began to fracture into a myriad of self-dribbling crystalline machine elf basketballs, his last vision was of the little boy, Timmy, reaching his tiny hand out to touch his leg.
A crowd of blue uniformed police men accompanied by a few men in plain clothes trickled out of the door of Commissioner Painter’s office. The meeting had lasted exactly three minutes. No notes were taken.
The last person to walk through the door didn’t actually walk. It was more like he waddled. Having had both his knees injured in a failed pursuit, Sargent Brine had acquired this penguin-like waddle and had, over time accumulated a low-slung belly to match.
The graying officer hefted himself up the three stairs and onto the dais that held the receiving desk. With the additional height, even as he was sitting he could look down at people who walked up. In a sense, he was like a judge, and in his own way, he was. He was the gatekeeper, the public access point to Hogtown’s police department both in person and on the phone. He smiled as he sat in his seat and felt its power to obstruct. The smile grew as he put on his telephone headset.
A single light blinked on the phone and the headset beeped. The Sargent cleared his wet throat and pressed the button.
“Hogstown’s finest, Sargent Brine.”
The man’s face contorted as he listened to the line.
“You want to do what?”
The line chatted, and the Sargent looked around the room from his high position.
“And how do you know this?”
A look of concern spread across his face.
“So, if you were in the home, how did you get out.”
He let the voice on the end talk for a long time, only responding with the customary verbal nods. As the call went on his concerned look became less concerned and more skeptical, landing firmly at amused.
“I see… Shot like out of a cannon.” He nodded and waved with his pen. “Must have been some rough landing.”
His eyes went wide with incredulous mirth. “You say a fat girl broke your fall. Ah! Look, kid, we’re all pretty busy here. The case is already closed on this and, quite frankly, you need a much more believable story.”
The line argued back quickly and the officer responded. “Yes, we did have an officer on the scene. He was overcome by fumes and taken to the hospital with injuries. Thank you for repeating common knowledge”
On the phone, the voice tried to talk but the Sargent cut it off. “Look, I said the book is closed. There will be a press conference within the hour. Please feel free to watch it on TV. … I don’t care that you don’t have a TV kid, go to a bar or something.”
At that moment, Detective Clive Brace came charging through the door and rounded in front of the receiving desk, waiting for Sargent Brine to open the door for him.
“Do you want me to trace this call and arrest your stupid ass for filing a false police report?” The Sargent was looking at the telephone and hadn’t noticed the Detective’s impatient stare.
“OK then. Next time you decide to prank phone call someone, try not messing with the police. You don’t want that kind of trouble, kid.”
“Hey Brine, what was that?” Detective Brace said.
“Some jackass with too much time and not enough brains. Crank call. Nothing.” He smashed the button to open the door and let the Detective inside.
“Should we get the tech guys to trace it? I’m going by that desk.”
“Don’t worry about it, Slick. Just make sure you are ready for the press by noon. The PR guys will expect you back at the site by eleven.”
Clive Brace grimaced. “Eleven? How fast do you all think I can type much less deduce and fill out paperwork?”
“Yeah, well. That’s why you guys get the big bucks and us uniforms get beer money, sir.”
The Detective pushed through the door, wondering.
Goldberg sat on the bench and looked at the phone. He had the splayed and slouched posture of a stick figure and the expression of someone who had just been slapped with a fish. The phone rode his arm to the bench and his head leaned back on the railing. Were he less stoned, this position would have resulted in something being horribly pulled. As it was, his special sight was now telling him that he had, most likely, attained the least amount of potential energy he could have and still actually be on the bench. He blew out a sigh and stared at the underside of the porch’s roof.
“Well? They fitting you for prison stripes yet?” Joy pushed open the screen door and passed through, letting it smack closed behind her.
Goldberg rejected the notion of moving from his optimally relaxed position. “Would you believe I actually feel dumb for calling? Like I put them out or something?”
“So, what? They don’t want to interview you?”
“No, the case is closed. Not only did the guy not want to talk to me, he thought I was making a prank phone call.”
“Weird,” Joy said, the streaks of purple in her hair becoming lighter and more pronounced on the bright porch.
“Yeah, came up just short of threatening, really.” he snorted. “It’s funny, I’ve spent all this time trying to avoid the police in this town, only to feel a little insulted when they ask me not to bother them.”
She brightened. “But at least this means you are off the hook, Right? I mean, they can’t say you didn’t try to help.”
“I’d guess so. I hope so. They are cops, so who the fuck knows.”
She picked up a book that was left upside down and open at the edge of the bench. “And besides, what you really should feel dumb about is your choice of reading material. I mean, come on. You actually buy this Sci Fi pulp crap?”
He grinned. “What’s wrong with it? At least it’s not a comic book.”
“Depends on where you find your comedy. I mean, look at this.” She flipped the book around and read the cover copy. “They almost parody themselves. It’s ridiculously long for the amount of story it purports to tell, and that woman’s uniform is anatomically impossible.”
He smirked. “How do you know that?”
“I’ll show you some day,” she smiled and turned to go back inside. Looking over her shoulder suggestively, she added, “… if you’re a good boy. Now quit gawking at my sweet ass. Don’t you have something to do today?
“Nah. Not…” He looked up over the rim of his rose-colored glasses. “I probably should finalize the whole lottery thing, eh?”
“Probably. We didn’t notice, but those numbers have been out there for a week! Deadline’s today,” she agreed as she walked through the screen door. The satisfying thwack of it closing left Goldberg on the porch with his thoughts once again.
“Can’t say I totally trust the cops. I don’t care what that guy said. It’s just not right.”
From behind his eyes, what he now recognized as his power spoke at him. ‘Probability that the police are compromised: 75%’
‘That’s a pretty fluffy looking number’
‘Every bit as fluffy as the question.’
‘Touche. Seventy five percent. So, what does that mean?’ He realized that was a question and quickly thought. ‘Don’t answer. Instead, tell me this: What is the most likely plan for getting my lottery money as soon as possible while staying away from police?’
The power went to work and he could see odd combinations flashing before his vision before it responded. ‘Insufficient data. However, all plans start by using the business card Dan is using to prune his pot.’
‘Business card?’ he thought, then called out, “Hey Dan! Do you have a business card that you’re using on the rolling tray?”
From inside the screen door, over the hum of the fan Dan yelled back, “How did you…?”
“Little bird told me. Mind if I look at it?”
Dan shambled through the screen door. “No prob, killer.”
“Please, man. I’m still a little weirded. Talking to the man was not exactly cathartic.” He took the card from Dan as the shorter man sat on the other section of the bench. It read “Vic Goodman – Florida Gaming Commission.”
“Where’d you get this?”
“That? From the guy that fired me this morning. Looked like he stepped right out of ‘The Godfather.’ Gave me the creeps.”
“Yeah, well, this creepy guy is the guy who is going to give me my money.”
“Well, I hope so. It’s worth a phone call. Mind if I use your phone again?”
“Sure no… again?” Dan stammered. “You used my phone to call the cops!”
“Well mine got smashed up at Bill’s house.”
Dan shook his head. “Still dude! … You dick!”