“One thing I could never do,” Agent Soren said with a wince, “is lie to you. Ronald Flemming will be the lead investigator on this case. So, if there is anything you need analyzed, tested, or scrutinized, now would be the time to give it to me.”
Captain Hitchcock bit back an inappropriate comment as Smoke shot him a ‘keep it to yourself’ look in anticipation of the comment.
“I need some tissue samples analyzed as well as a piece of brick from that wall,” Smoke instructed as he pointed to the area where he found the note lodged. “How soon can you get back to me and when can we be expecting Agent Flemming?”
“Well,” Agent Soren thought momentarily, “Flemming will probably be here early to mid afternoon tomorrow. I can have the analysis results back to you before then. What are you hoping to find?”
“Not sure yet,” Smoke replied. “I’ll know when I see it.”
Smoke retrieved the samples he needed analyzed and gave them to Agent Soren then sent her on her way. There was no time to waste especially on the age old ‘catching up over drinks’ then ending up in bed together. She was right. He had married his job instead of her, but what was done, was done, and as much as he would have liked to change the past or give their relationship a second chance, he knew it was not possible. There was always going to be a bad guy to chase. He made his decision seem as selfish as possible, those many years ago, to try to make her hate him. It was less complicated that way. The truth was he did not want to put her in danger. Not that any of it mattered now. At this point it was a fog of confusion on an ocean of doubt which Smoke was trying to avoid. Right now, he needed clarity which he found inside a foil wrapped piece of chocolate candy: DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD.YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO THINK IF YOU DO, the message on the wrinkled foil read. The chocolate candies were fortune cookie knock-offs that contained less interesting messages with more tasty treats. The message in Smoke’s piece of chocolate made him chuckle. What were the odds?
Smoke took the foil wrapper and pinned it to the cork board in his office. He was sure it would serve as a healthy reminder later on in life. It had been four hours since he found Mr. Ken Yokohama’s headless body and over 48 hours since he slept. The sleeplessness was taking its toll and causing him to nod off while he sat at his desk waiting for a call from forensics. If the killer was watching him, as Agent Soren suggested, then Smoke was better off behind his desk than out on the street, according to Captain Hitchcock who ordered him to stay in his office for the time being. Smoke was not usually one to challenge authority but he disagreed completely with Captain Hitchcock’s order which was the how and why of the matter of the two guards posted outside of Smoke’s office. Captain Hitchcock knew Smoke well enough to know that he would not stay put for very long unless forced to do so. Of course, the ever transparent ‘they are there for your protection’ line was used to try to assure Smoke that the guards were there more so for his protection than his detainment.
What bothered Smoke the most, more so than the detaining guards posted outside of his office, was the lack of connection, thus far, between the two murders. From what he could tell, according to witness statements, intuition, and a little common sense, Brutus Ackerman and Mr. Ken Yokohama knew nothing of each other. In fact, the only thing they commonly shared was the cobblestone alleyway behind Brutus’ bar. Smoke’s desk phone jangled to life with a quick two tone ring.
“Detective Smoke,” he answered.
“This is Trudy from the forensics lab,” a deep female voice replied. “We’ve found something, well, out of the ordinary to say the least.”
“We were able to lift a set of finger prints from the note you found and the chess piece that was on Mr. Yokohama.”
“Why is that out of the ordinary? That’s a good thing.” Smoke said listlessly as he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
“They both have Brutus Ackerman’s fingerprints on them.”
As Smoke quickly leaned forward, the unintended jolt from his chair stopping nearly knocked the receiver to the phone out of his hand. “Really?” he said in awe.
“That is,” Smoke pondered a suitable word, “odd.”
“I’ll send the reports up to you ASAP.”
“Thank you,” Smoke said as he began to hang up the phone then remembered his manners. “Good work, by the way. Didn’t mean to seem rude, it’s just I haven’t slept in two days and…” the phone line chirped three times followed by the dead hum of the dial tone. “So much for clarity,” he said to himself as he hung up the phone and pondered the possibilities of the newly discovered evidence.
Minutes later, Captain Hitchcock arrived in Smoke’s office followed by a lab technician with the reports promised by Trudy from forensics.
“The wife brought over some pot roast,” Captain Hitchcock said as he plopped down a steaming Tupperware bowl on Smoke’s desk. “Said she was sad that you couldn’t make it to the house for dinner then yelled at me for not being there.”
“You made it kind of hard for me to take a piss without one of those uniforms at the door knowing about it,” Smoke replied. “Tell Bertle thanks for the roast though.”
“Come on, Smoke. I did that for your own good. I can’t have you out gallivanting around the city if this murderer is following you.”
Smoke chose his words carefully then spoke, “we don’t know for sure that the killer is following me. It could have been just coincidence which is wishful thinking, I know, but it is also called keeping an open mind. This roast is delicious.” He said as he chewed between words, “Kudos to your wife. Anyway, forensics found something rather interesting.” Smoke opened the file the lab tech had left and flipped to the correct page, “see here, Brutus Ackerman’s fingerprints found on both the chess piece and the note I found in the wall.”
“How is that possible? He couldn’t have killed Mr. Yokohama.”
“Never said he could have,” Smoke smiled, closed lipped, as he chewed more of Bertle Hitchcock’s delectable roast.
“So?” Captain Hitchcock said impatiently.
“So, what do you know that you aren’t telling?”
Smoke’s cell phone lit up and began to ring, “Talk about timing,” he said. The caller ID displayed Agent Soren’s name across the face of the cell phone. “Hello?”
“So you do answer your phone differently,” Captain Hitchcock grunted.
“I’ve got those results for you, Cillian,” Agent Soren’s silky voice melted through the phone. “But you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”
“They turned up nothing unusual. The tissue samples had no traces of anything out of the ordinary; same with the sample of brick.”
“Can you email me the results?” Smoke asked.
“What for? I just told you there was nothing out of the ordinary.”
“And I told you when you asked what I was looking for that I would know when I see it. Since I have yet to see the results of the analysis…” Smoke trailed off feeling that he had adequately made his point.
“Fine,” Agent Soren said sorely. “They should be to you in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Smoke replied kindly. “We’ll talk later. Catch up over drinks or something.” A proposition Smoke knew he could not keep.
“Sure, sure,” Agent Soren grumbled. “Take care of yourself, Cillian.”
With that, Smoke closed his phone and stared at it for a moment then realized Captain Hitchcock was still in the room and staring at him. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m zoning out. Really tired is all.”
“Alright,” Captain Hitchcock said with an exaggerated huff, “time to clock out and call it a night. You look like something I did in the men’s bathroom earlier and that’s not a compliment m’boy. This city is going to need you well rested and at your best tomorrow when Agent Flemming arrives. Go home and get some sleep.”
“Please tell me you’re not going to send a uniformed officer with me?” Smoke groaned. “I won’t be able to sleep if I know someone is watching me.”
“Fine, fine. Now scram.”
Smoke went straight home and was asleep before his head could make it to his pillow which is why he ended up with a neck cramp the next morning. He fell asleep while taking off his boots and his head lolled over the edge of the couch, staying that way for most of the night. A nuclear bomb with a megaphone could not have woken Smoke up. A stream of water to the face, however, could and did wake him out of a graveyard sleep. Smoke sat up while wiping the water from his face wildly. It was a brisk, cool morning which was evident from his front door standing wide open. Smoke tried to look around but his stiff neck only allowed for a robotic shoulder turn of his upper torso. He got up and crept around his apartment, going from room to room in a methodical manner and finding only emptiness. As he returned to the entrance way, he noticed a small trail of water that lead from his couch to his front door and beyond. It was then that Smoke irrationalized that someone had broken into his apartment, seemingly, just to spray his face with water. He followed the trail of water which ended at his weather-worn metal mailbox. The sun was just making its climb over the horizon and provided enough light to see clearly but all Smoke saw was the ordinary sights of his apartment complex’s parking lot which was a huddled mass of cars and two industrial dumpsters. Beyond the lot was the main road that led straight into town and was already bustling with commercial vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Smoke took a breath then turned back to his mailbox. Out of curiosity and habit, he opened the mailbox and found a note sitting loosely inside.
He opened the note and read it quietly, “Two is a couple, three is a crowd.”
Without hesitation, he threw on his clothes and headed to the station. Another head was sure to be missing somewhere in Bethlehem.
Smoke’s foot did not let off the accelerator as he wove his unmarked cruiser in and out of the commuting morning traffic like a possessed crochet needle to a ball of yarn; horns and flying fingers were left in the wake of his motoring indecencies. He reached for his cell phone to add mayhem to the traffic fiasco he was already creating and swerved to miss a construction barrel unsuccessfully. The barrel popped into the air and caught some hang time on the car behind Smoke, then rolled into the ditch. He was in a rush, not because he knew whose head was next on the chopping block but, because he had clumsily forgotten to check the analysis Agent Soren had sent him the previous night. His intuition was telling him there was something on the analysis that would only make sense to him. It was that gut feeling he had learned to trust over these many years and for good reason: it was never wrong…so far.
Smoke burst into his office and found a welcoming committee of five federal agents, headed by none other than Agent Ronald Flemming.
“Detective Cillian Smoke,” Agent Flemming said with a tone of unimpressed snootiness as he seated himself behind Smoke’s desk. “You’re late.”
“Fashionably,” Smoke retorted with a half-cocked smile.
Agent Ronald Flemming was a short, balding man that thought there was sex appeal in his badly formed comb-over and polyester, pin-striped suit. He stood apart from the other five agents in the room by looks alone. He also had a bad habit of not trimming his nose hairs which could be seen hanging out of his hooked-beak nose without even standing near him. For this reason, many people dared not get close enough to be caught staring. He also had the bad habit of stealing other people’s work and claiming it as his own.
“Where’s my computer?” Smoke said as he looked around his office with an unbreakable scowl. “And the files that were on my desk? What happened to those?” He knew the answer without having to ask the question but he wanted to hear it from Agent Flemming.
“The bureau has taken over this case,” Agent Flemming replied as he leaned back in Smoke’s chair and waved his hand around like a listless magic wand that made all of Smoke’s notes on the murder cases disappear. “Poof! I have confiscated all of your investigative information on this case and made it mine.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Smoke growled. “A poof like you is pretty good at stealing other people’s work and claiming it as his own.”
“Come now, you’re not still angry about that are you? That was over four years ago.”
“I’m not going to make the mistake of threatening to punch you in the face,” Smoke said as he approached his desk. “I’m just going to do it.”
Before the other four agents could stop him, Smoke jumped on his desk, grabbed Agent Flemming by the tie, and punched him hard enough to dislodge his gelled comb-over from his forehead. Captain Hitchcock had come into Smoke’s office just in time to see the comb-over dislodging first punch and pulled Smoke off the desk before he could connect with a second devastating blow. Despite his age, Captain Hitchcock was still as strong as a young ox and managed to life Smoke into the air then plop him on the ground like a satchel of potatoes.
“What’s going on here?!” Captain Hitchcock exclaimed while looking around at the room for an explanation.
“I’ll knock the pin-stripes off that silly fucking suit of yours you little prick,” Smoke said as he scrambled to his feet and tried to get at Agent Flemming again.
Captain Hitchcock pinned Smoke to the opposing wall with a forearm to the throat, “You need to calm down, son,” he said with a quiet but aggressive tone then looked back at Agent Flemming.
The four other agents huddled around Agent Flemming and were offering their handkerchiefs to help stop his nose from spraying blood. He forcefully declined all of their attempts to help him, letting the blood drip through his hand and onto Smoke’s desk.. “‘ju better get ‘cuntroll of ‘jur boy ‘Capin ‘Hisscoch. He’s lucky I ‘dunt ‘pwess ‘sharges,” he said with a pinched nasally whine.
“That would be a little hard to do seeing as how you would have to press charges through this city’s police department. We protect our own, Agent Flemming. Just a word to the wise.” Captain Hitchcock replied.
“City?” Agent Flemming laughed. “This is a TOWN ‘Capin Hissoch. You ‘backwuss ‘hwillbillies are ‘awhl the same. ‘Inbed and dumb as ‘sheit.”
Captain Hitchcock began to walk toward Agent Flemming with a wild look in his eye but was stopped by Smoke grabbing his elbow.
“Are you going to confiscate my chair too?” Smoke said.
“What? No?” Agent Flemming replied.
“Good. Then get out of my chair and stop bleeding on my desk.”
Agent Flemming smiled maliciously then wiped his hand across Smoke’s desk and chair as he stood up. His entourage followed him like ducks in a row as he walked to the door and paused by Smoke. “Have fun ‘inbestigating missing cats for the rest of ‘jur life, ‘Depective ‘Ssmopke,” he said as he walked out still pinching off his bleeding beaked nose.
Captain Hitchcock turned to Smoke, “You want to tell me what in the name of hellfire that was all about?” he said angrily.
“A lot of things.”
“Well, we’ve got plenty of time to talk since you’re off the case and taking a two week leave of absence.”
“A what!” Smoke yelled. “What the hell for?”
“I just witnessed you assault a federal agent, Smoke. You expect me just to pat you on the shoulder and say good job? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to but I can’t. So, why don’t you tell me what that was all about and I’ll see if I can’t shorten that leave to a week.”