Friday, December 03, 2004

Chapter Two - 3

"Display," Norm commanded. The display windshield snapped on; the road ahead now bright as day.

"An unfortunate miscalculation, Norman." Henry was breathing heavily, still not recovered from his dash across the parking lot and unfortunate encounter with the police cruiser. "Perhaps you could overlook my report tonight; I could write you out of the incident. I'm sure I can think of something to explain the damage."

Norm didn't answer as he gunned the cruiser through a red light. Henry was no ordinary partner. Norm had been around long enough to have seen it all, including all types of cops. But Henry took the cake.

Henry Bartholomew had joined the force about ten years ago right out of university. Why a brilliant young scholar with a major in English would want to become a cop wasn't something the police academy entrance committee could understand at first.

He showed a great aversion to sports, not a team player by all indications. His personal philosophy leaned towards some peculiar old-fashioned ideas, including some dangerous socialist tendencies; his only hobby listed was reading books.

"Mr. Bartholomew, it says here that you like to read the books." The committee chair stated. "That's a very unusual hobby. What value do you attach to such a pursuit, young man? Surely the more traditional sources of information and entertainment are more than adequate to provide you with all the material you need. Why waste your time on a dead medium?"

"I don't see it as dead, sir, only interrupted. There is knowledge buried in those books that will be lost to us if we're not careful to preserve it. Knowledge is power, as they used to say, and don't forget, sir, if I can find these sources, well...we all know there are some brilliant criminal minds out there, always on the lookout for a new twist to the old artful dodge."

"And do you think, Mr. Bartholomew that you know better how to conduct a police investigation than we do?"

"Of course not, sir," Henry didn't miss a beat. "All I'm saying is that there are a few tears beginning to show in the great cloak of human knowledge; the stitching is coming a bit loose, so to speak. We've already lost a few buttons and are in danger of losing a pocket or even a sleeve if we're not careful. The fine arts, as they used to be called, especially literature, history, and philosophy are in danger; science has taken over the universities and consumerism is the teacher of the masses. I consider myself a kind of keeper of the cloth. Someone has to make sure the old words and ideas are guarded and used properly. It's always been a hobby of mine.

"Well, we'll all sleep more soundly tonight knowing that, Mr. Bartholomew, I'm sure," he arched a shaggy white eyebrow and peered over his reading glasses, "but wouldn't some post-graduate field at university be more up your alley, something related to your interests?"

"I want to be a cop, sir."

The committe members exchanged glances, some smiling, some shaking their heads at the foolishness of youth.

He was interviewed again and again. No one could put a finger on why they were having such a difficult time making their decision until it became obvious to them all that they had encountered a kind of paradox. Henry was one man on paper and another in person. On paper he should have been run out of the recruiting office the first time he had set foot in it. But once he started talking they had changed their minds and sent his application along to the academy entrance committee. Let them deal with it.

In person he fit the profile of the perfect cop, at least what the city fathers deemed the latest politically correct version of the perfect cop.

Henry was sensitive, articulate, and seemed capable of defusing most of the traps the committee had set up to test his breaking point. With some work in the weight room he would turn out to be rather imposing, and he did seem eager to learn about weapons and self-defence.

What more could you want in a cop? The decision was made. Henry was accepted into the academy.

"HIGG'S, get an update on that call, will you?" Norm was looking at Henry, concerned.

Henry wiped away the thin film of moisture that had beaded up on his forehead with the back of his hand and smiled reassuringly at his partner.

"Unit twelve to control, display. Away to the ocean, away to the main, away to the pleasures of Sea Shell Lane.

Henry had found his voice again and Norm began to relax.

"That voice command is not recognized by Police Standard Protocol," the display answered. "Please consult Help for the appropriate voice commands of your dedicated Net system."

"I know someone who will help us, Norman."

Henry switched on the backup radio with a flourish and opened a mic channel.

"Unit twelve to control..."

"Go ahead, unit twelve," a woman's voice responded.

"Ah, could it be? Is this the lovely Lucy? The warm heart beating at the centre of the terrible machine? Is their still hope for mankind after all...”

Norm was grinning now.

"All right, Henry," Lucy was annoyed. "This channel is dedicated to emergency calls only, you know that. You're going to get me in trouble one of these days."

Norm turned to his partner, feeling much better.

"We'll just say one of the Russian gang members from downtown must have kicked the door in when we were having coffee, O.K. Henry? Don't worry about it."

Henry smiled one of his satisfied smiles. "I knew I could count on you, old friend."

Henry stabbed a tubby finger at the mic channel button.

"Any more on that shooting, dear Lucy?"

The radio crackled to life again.

"This is control to unit twelve. You won't believe this one. We just got another call from a wrap standing outside the apartment. Wait'll you see the image he just linked us to."

The vu.screen in the centre of the display windshield lit up a 3-d thumbnail projection of the holo-wrapper's link. The weird translucent toy miniature hovered over the hood of the cruiser.

"Jesus Higgs, will you look at that. He looks like some kind of perv. He's wearing woman's socks, what's he saying?"

"Volume plus three," Henry orderd.

"...nothing to be alarmed about, just move back now, I'm a police officer - move back there please!"

"We've got a live one here, Higgsy," Norm said in disbelief.

"Some people's children...wait a moment Norman, that man looks familiar to me...now where have I..."

Henry grabbed his police issue holowrap and slipped it onto his face for a better look.

"Go in closer, wrap."

"That voice command is not recognized by Police Standard Protocol. Please consult Help for..."

"CLOSE-UP PLUS ONE, ALIGN CENTRE!" Henry snapped. "Oh no, it couldn't possibly be...is that Inspector Monday?"

The display started to flicker on and off, lighting up only long enough to see the socks in the hologram flash in pink 3d bursts. In between bursts the darkness of the night ahead filled the windshield as they sped down the road.

"You lousy piece of shit!" Norm pressed his face close to the now clear windshield, trying to see the road ahead, eyes not yet adjusted to the dark.

"I can't see a damn thing, Higgs!"

Henry tore his wrap off and threw it aside. He gave the dash a couple of good solid kicks. The display lit up again, then died completely.

"Always worked before, Norman," he gave it one more boot, to which the display answered with a spatter of looping pink sparks over the hood before going down for good.

"Cheap chips, Higgsy. They don't make 'em like they used to. Nothing works right these days, you noticed?" Norm turned on the exterior floods to light the way.

"Yes indeed, old chum, that I have, that I have." Henry eyed the dent in the dash. Oh well. That wouldn't need explaining. All the cruisers had similar markings from officers frustrated with faulty gear.

Fact was, the whole city was beginning to look a little kicked in. It had been gradual, but Henry had become aware of the decline over the past several years. The autumn of the empire. He smiled to himself. Secretly he hoped this world would just collapse. Please, release us lord, Henry prayed to himself.

Norm pointed the cruiser's nose down Dollar Road towards the harbour and as they turned at the bottom of the short hill they could make out the small knot of people gathered at the end of Sea Shell Lane. Most of the crowd slipped nervously behind the cover of the patrol car as it came to a stop in front of the apartment, the reality of the situation finally starting to sink in. The two officers exited the car cautiously, using their open doors as shields as they confronted the man now sitting on the apartment stairs, socks still blinking in time to the boom box.

"Inspector...are you all right?" It was Norm. He spoke gently but he had his hand on his revolver as he stood crouched behind the car door.

"I couldn't be better officer." Harry didn't feel well at all. It occured to him to take off the smart sox as the pink flashing light was making him sick to his stomach. He ripped them off and tossed them towards the crowd which responded with a collective gasp.

Norm gripped his gun tighter.

"Inspector Monday, please don't make any sudden moves!"

Harry leaped up from the steps and starting walking in his bare feet towards the cruiser. The crowd surged back, gasping again. Norm and Henry looked at each other, unsure how to handle the situation. They both started to draw their guns, the crowd finally lighting off like a flock of dark birds into whatever cover the street could provide them.

"I need a lift home, boys." Harry saw the drawn guns and and the hard look in the eyes of the two men and froze in his tracks.

"It's O.K., you guys. Everything is O.K. Look, take my gun if you want and check the suite upstairs. You’ll want the manager to let you in. After you've done that I think you'll want to get me out of here A.S.A.P. Suite 304."

Henry took Harry's gun while Norm went looking for the building manager. "Sorry Inspector, but I'll have to hold this until my partner gets back, I hope you understand."

"No problem, Bartholomew," Harry was squinting at Henry's I.D. badge, "just let me sit in the car, my bloody feet are freezing."

Henry opened up the back door and locked Harry inside. He took his seat in the front, feeling much more at ease with the situation. They could take their time now and sort things out.

"Someone should blow that sign away, Bartholomew, it's a disgrace what we've come to, allowing such an eyesore..." He was nodding towards the gyrating naked woman that stretched the entire height of the hotel across the harbour.

Henry was watching the inspector in the rear view mirror.

"A disgrace is what it is, sir." Henry was beginning to feel on familiar ground again.

"I was just thinking to myself that in the end it's not injustice and evil that is responsible for every great civilization's downfall, but the pettiness and shallowness of the human condition. We create a world that is secure within its borders, a potential centre for the highest forms of art, a society where the greatest impulses of humankind can flourish. Then day by day, year after year, we pick away at it like peevish children until it all collapses in ruin."

Henry heaved his great body around in the seat so he could see his passenger face to face.

"In the end, sir, I'm afraid it's trivia that always wins. How do you guard against it? The great minds and institutions of the day are above it all. They don't understand the basic human appetite for pettiness and mindless pursuit. Even if they did, how could they protect the people from themselves? The public can't get enough nonsense to satisfy them it would seem, they have their collective heads stuck firmly in the shifting sands of dissolution."

He hooked a thumb towards the towering fulsome obsenity.

"I fear there's not much time left for us."

Harry looked at Officer Henry Bartholomew with new found respect.

"You're all right, Bartholomew."

"Call me Higgins, sir. That's what everyone calls me."

Norm was hurrying out the door of the apartment now, waving people away as he crossed the street towards them. Henry knew the look in Norm's face well enough to know there was trouble.

"We'll be wanting to get out of here, Higgins, believe me."

Henry twisted around again to give Harry a curious look as Norm pulled his door open and jumped in the car.

"Let's get the hell out of here! Wait..."

Norm grabbed the mic on the backup radio.

"Lucy, unit twelve here. Come in, please."

"Go ahead, unit twelve"

"Lucy, it's Norm Stern. Did anyone else see that link you showed us earlier?"

"Negative, Officer Stern. I'm all alone in control tonight."

"Okay, Lucy. Listen and don't ask any questions. Erase any record of it - have you got that? If you value your sweet ass, erase it. "Don't let anyone else see it. And all records of the call as well."

"I don't follow you, Stern. I should erase it? That's a breach...

"Just do what I'm telling you, O.K. You'll have to trust me on this. I'll explain it all to you later, when we can talk privately."

Harry reached over Norm's shoulder and grabbed the mic from his hand.

"Lucy, this is Inspector Harry Monday. Do what Officer Stern has requested. I'll take responsibility for it. Do you understand?"

"Uhh...yes sir, if you say so, Inspector. This is totally against procedure, but if you guarantee you'll take..."

"Yes, yes, Lucy. I'll talk to you later."

Harry gave the mic back to Norm, who closed the channel.

"Now just what the hell is going on?" Higgins looked at one and then the other. Norm finally answered.

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry, Higgs. Christ I think I'm gonna cry after all."

"Just shut up, Stern. This doesn't go beyond the three of us, got that. I'll think of something to tell Lucy." Harry was feeling ill again.

"Pull over up there for a minute. I've got to get some fresh air."

Norm drove down to the end of Sea Shell Lane and pulled over to the edge of the park there. Harry staggered out across the grassy field towards the waters edge.

"Don't ask me, Higgs!" Norm retreated from Higgin's questioning stare. "You'll have to ask the Inspector."

Higgins pushed himself out of the cruiser and followed Harry down to the water's edge.

"Inspector, do you want to tell me what this is all about?"

Harry had been sick on the beach and looked up at Higgins' question, feeling a little better now.

"You won't believe it if I tell you, Higgins..."

The fog was drifting up onto the rocky shore and had piled up thick and high enough out on the water to blanket all but the lewd face of the virtual billboard hustler across the harbour. In another moment that was gone too. Off in the distance, the first low note of a big old fog horn filled the night with its mournful warning. They faced each other, surrounded now by the restless silent fog.

Higgins smiled, the question in his mind forgotten for a moment. It could have been a hundred years ago.

3 Comments:

Blogger BUGGER blogger said...

hey, tanks for the tag.. i come to this site so frequently. almost everyday. but i understand creative juices needs coaxing and not everyone has the luxury to sit in front of this eville thing we all call computers everyday doing this. oh well.. i'll still be waiting...

December 9, 2004 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger BUGGER blogger said...

well, i read alot and i really like science fiction and detective novels. this is like a combination of both, in my opinion, so yeah... i mean, i am the only myopic in my family due to too much reading, i think.

December 15, 2004 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Travis said...

So listen. I've waited as long as humanly possible to bug you about your next post. I hope this is something your still into because within these few posts you have put up I've become obsessed...okay, not really but close enough. I hope you get the inspiration to put up the rest of your story soon because I'm going kinda nuts. Good luck (to you and to me).

December 30, 2004 at 9:01 AM  

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