He propped his leg on the chipped windowsill as he emptied what was left of the pill bottle past his lips.
Clouds in the sky. Gray clouds.
Looked like rain.
He hoped it wasn’t rain. The integrity of the roof in that dilapidated building couldn’t take another washout.
Cracks in the ceiling were spreading. The leaks were decaying the walls.
Thank goodness he didn’t keep too many of his important files there.
Time for a new office.
He reached past the powder vial in his breast pocket to draw his stuffed envelope.
A faded picture fell out of his pocket and onto his lap.
He picked up the picture and stared at it a while before placing it in his pocket, closest to his heartbeat, once again.
Rest easy, Sister Nanci.
He stared at the wrinkled envelope.
It’s an envelope he’d been carrying around for weeks. An envelope some street fiend would have gutted him to get their hands on. An envelope he should have used to repair the moldy roof, or a lease on an entirely new office on the North Side of town. An envelope he thought of gifting to someone far more deserving than he was instead of pissing it away on another commercial space.
She can do so better than this dump.
He stuffed it in his pocket before washing down the pills with a mix of two day old cup of rancid coffee, melted ice with a splash of vodka.
His vacation was imminent. It was seven days away and no amount of old joe, case files or expensive street pharmaceuticals were going to keep him in the city past seven days. It wasn’t his reservation to cancel. The vacation was happening whether he wanted it to or not. And, something told him that it would be a trip from which he would never return.
“Your desk is full,” My assistant said from the doorway behind a cart with a single file.
“Sorry.” He turned to face her and nearly kicked a tower of files from his desk. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Into the office?” She asked.
“Into work,” He replied.
“I’ve been here since morning, Malone.”
He was buried so deep in his thoughts, so focused on his works, that a marching band could have set off a fireworks display in his living room and he wouldn’t have noticed.
“Have something for me?” He asked.
“Work.” She handed him a file.
“I was hoping for coffee.” He stared into his empty cup.
“You’re out of coffee,” She said.
He placed the empty mug on his desk. “I figured… If you have time.”
He hadn’t left the office in a few days. Maybe weeks. He couldn’t recall the last t..ime he hit the market for food.
“I’ll buy coffee,” His assistant offered.
“That’s kind of you,” He said.
“It’s nothing,” She took his mug.
He hadn’t eaten in days. He’d been so distracted in his mad rush to solve cases before his vacation that he kept forgetting to eat.
He felt normal. He felt no pain. No weakness. His stomach was unusually silent for someone who is starving themselves to death.
“Anything else?” His assistant gestured for the empty pill bottle he was squeezing.
He was gripping the bottle so tight it had left his fingernail dents in the empty white label.
“No thanks.” He pocketed the empty bottle. “Just coffee.”
She cleared old cigarette butts from his desk and ashtray. “There’s a client.”
No time for any new cases.
“Uh huh.” He flipped through the new file. “Where?”
“The waiting room…”
“Will you meet with him?”
He had more important things to do than to take on a new case. Also, it wasn’t like he needed the money. He had more money than he needed to take care of himself and to pay for a new faucet for the bathroom and paint to cover up the green fuzz growing on the walls.
He felt her staring at him. “Yes?”
Her posture was like one of those billboards in Time Central. Blaring, bright and boisterously advertising her innermost thoughts. All she needed was a cigarette and an over the top pose.
“Ask me anything, alright?” He faced her.
She huffed. “Are you leaving again?”
“Yes.” He returned his attention to the file. “Soon.”
“How long this time?” She asked.
Wish I had answers for you.
“Last time it was weeks.” His assistant cleared all the solved case files from his desk. “How long this time?”
“A few days, hopefully,” He answered.
“That’s what you said last time,” She answered.
“Sorry,” He replied.
“Need someone… to water your plants?” She asked.
He shut his file and clasped his eyes. “Yes…. Please. That would be appreciated.”
He loved his plants. His plants were colorful and too beautiful for that world. He would hate to return from his vacations to see his beloved plants dried up.
His assistant perched her lips. “Okay.”
“Slip this into a red folder.” He drew a pen and wrote a few notes in the file before placing the file on top of the pile. “File it under solved.”
“I just handed you that file,” His assistant opened the file.
“I know.” He replied. “It’s connected to the big arson case we just solved.”
He remembered the Arson case being an open and shut one. The Police Chief wanted to give him credit and the keys to the city for that one. He refused. He neither wanted nor needed anymore accolades from the city.
“I’ll have the courier collect it,” She placed the file evenly atop the tower of solved cases in her cart. “And I’ll tell the client in the waiting room you solved his case.”
“Thanks,” He said.
“How much should I charge him?”
“Nothing… Tell him it’s on the house.”
“Will do…” The little lady shuffled quietly out of his office before he could reply to her insistence on seeing the client in the waiting room.
He faced the window again but didn’t bother reclining.
He thought about his cases were getting easier to solve, and how there was no need to leave his office anymore to solve them. Much like he never needed to see a chess board for more than a second to beat the pants off of a park hustler. He learned early in his career that people in that city were walking-talking game pieces– at most, wind up toys. Everybody’s movements. Everybody just played their positions from sunrise to sundown. Wake to sleep. Birth to death. People in the city were like flesh-carved chess pieces, and Rose city was the overcrowded, noisey, polluted game board, tearing at folds in the center and barely being held together with flimsy tape; and all he needed to see was a first move. One move and then he could step away from the table, and call in checkmate from a pay phone from the South Side of town.
He grabbed his scarf, hat and pistol.
He once considered himself lucky for his omniscience. He once considered himself God’s favorite– if a God existed. It took him six vacations to realize the truth.
Truth was, he was cursed. He was being force-fed things his tired mind and deteriorating body could barely handle.
He needed some air.
The one case he couldn’t solve was his own– what’s happening to him. The human brain wasn’t built for what he was being forced to carry. There was no way to stop it. His next vacation was going to kill him.
He needed a cold shower and a hot meal.
He threw on his hat, holstered his pistol in his pocket and wrapped his scarf around his neck before leaving his office.
He waved to his Assistant as he walked past her and some other guy in the waiting room. “Take the rest of the week.”
“Malone…” His assistant chased him into the hallway. “Are you leaving now?”
“Just heading out for some air,” He paused allowing her to catch up.
“And you’re coming back, right?” His assistant questioned. “For your coffee.”
He peeked back into my office and noticed a small, jittery looking man slouched over in our rickety waiting room chair.
“Maybe tomorrow,” He said.
“I won’t make it until then.” She painted a smirk across her face. “The coffee.”
“Thanks.” He pulled the fat envelope from my pocket and handed it to her. “Take the kid out for a steak.”
The contents of the envelope would allow her to buy steak dinners three times a week for the next month. Knowing her, she would use forego the luxury and spend it on something more responsible rent and groceries for the next six (months).
She took the envelope. “He doesn’t eat steak.”
“Pie then,” He said. “Get pie.”
She nodded while examining the envelope.
The envelope he handed her could be severance pay. He hadn’t decided yet. It may not be his decision after all after he goes on his forced vacation.
“Thank you,” She said.
His assistant didn’t even check the envelope. She just held it in her hand like an empty pack of cigarettes.
He called the elevator.
He didn’t deserve her. Not only was his assistant the lifeblood of their agency, she was the most honorable, warm-hearted person he’d ever meet. She was a partner, a friend; the closest thing to a wife and family he’d ever have in his waking life.
“I’ll buy fresh coffee.” She tapped him on the chest with the envelope. “And some new chairs for the waiting room.”
“That would be nice,” He replied.
The elevator arrived.
He stepped into the elevator.
She waved at him as the door closed and the elevator descended.
He stuffed his hands in his pocket instead of waving back.
He was never good at goodbyes.
The elevator rumbled down to the first floor. He saluted the door man before leaving my building for the darkness and the drizzle.
His car was parked out front.
He tightened his top button started his way up the damp street in the opposite direction from his apartment.
The Stockton’s had a monopoly on refueling stations. On all energy in the city. He’d sooner walk in the rain and catch pneumonia than to give those gluttonous bastards another cent of his cash.
“Sir,” A sheepish voice called from his flank.
If he had to guess based on his voice, his stalker was an unimposing man. The nail-biter from the waiting room must have been following him for a good mile.
“Mr. Malone, I was hoping you’d take this case,” nail biter said.
“It’s closed,” He replied. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
He wasn’t even in the mood to humor nail-biter.
“It’s not,” nail biter insisted.
Arson. A hospice ward full of coma patients incinerated by a lone wolf lunatic. It was an open and shut case. One of the easier cases to solve.
“Mr. Malone, you’re the only one who can solve this case.” The stout little guy positioned himself in front of him.
“Nothing left to solved,” He said. “The arsonist is getting the chair in a week.”
Executions were speedy in that city. Trials were quick and efficient. To save space in the overflowing jails. Soulless but practical.
“No…” Waiting room man blocked his path. “You locked up the wrong guy.”
“What’s your name?” He asked.
“Cyrus,” Waiting room man replied.
“Okay Cyrus,” He jabbed his finger into Cyrus’s chest. “I caught the right guy.”
“Not this time,” Cyrus said.
That Cyrus fellow was really trying his patience.
“Get home safely.” He stepped around Cyrus and started walking.
“You’ve got seven days right?” Cyrus said. “Your sleep cycle. Seven days until you go on your vacation.”
He paused. “What did you say?”
“I know what happens when you sleep, Mr. Malone,” He said. “Where you go….”
He drew his pistol grabbed Cyrus with his free hand and slammed the portly man against a store gate.
“I have visions too!” Cyrus pleaded as he gasped for air. “You and I are the same!”
He pressed his pistol against Cyrus’s temple. “Choose your next few words carefully.”
There was only one person in the city who about his vacations and she’d died months ago.
Rest easy, Sister Nanci.
He nearly Cyrus’s front teeth shoving his pistol in his mouth. “Say something useful.”
If the man know about his… then he’d know about how to fix it. If Cyrus didn’t know how to fix him, then he would have to immediately remove Cyrus from the equation.
“The arsons… my visions… your Insomnia…” Cyrus coughed. “Where you disappear to twice a year…Its all connected.”
He removed the pistol from Cyrus’s mouth and took a step back. “Connected how.”
Cyrus hunched over, trying to recapture his breath.
“Connected how?” He asked again. “Answer now.”
Cyrus stood tall and handed him an envelope. “You’re the only one capable enough to find out.”
He opened the envelope.
On the inside was a tape labeled Sister Nanci, and it was dated on the label as recorded seven days ago.
“First, we listen,” Cyrus said. “Then we bring her back from the dead.”