"Picture this. You're walking down the street looking up at telephone poles. Ordinary poles like you'd see anywhere in the world, with wires suspended between them, the kind birds sit on. Only birds don't sit on these wires."
"Nuh uh. Strung between the wires are spider webs — webs thick enough to see from the ground. Every few yards there's another web, and those webs run down the street as far as the eye can see. In every web there's a spider the size of a dinner plate. And these spiders? They live on birds."
"Edison, welcome to ‘Nam."
"N-no way! How long were you there, Yates?"
"Never went. Luckily the party came to an end before I was old enough to get drafted. My older brother went, though. Died in a VC ambush. I still have his letters. Can't tell if he was lying about the spiders, but some of the other stuff he described turned out to be true."
"Must've been horrible."
"You don't know the half of it, kid."
"Excuse me, Officer Álvarez?"
Edison swiveled around in panic as the chief's secretary interrupted them. Assistant Chief, actually, but no one called him anything but 'chief'. Not to his face, anyway. "Um... y-yes?"
"Dunstan would like to see you in his office. Immediately."
The secretary shook her head as she returned to her desk. Was there anyone in the building who didn't think he was pathetic? Probably not, he figured. Edison shuffled down the hall to the boss's office.
No good, no good.
So why'd the dickwad want to yell at him today? He wouldn't want to see Edison for any other reason. Bet he's going to fire me. What'll I do if I lose this job? Edison pondered it. The rent on his apartment was due the first of the month and there was no way he could have another position by then, not in this town. Fullsatt wasn't even the big apricot, much less the Big Apple. No employment opportunities here. They don't even have any decent jobs in New York anymore. Look at all the homeless people there.
They only gave him this job because his father was a cop. He was a top cop pop. I'm a poet and didn't know it.
He'd never get hired anywhere else. Dunstan wouldn't exactly give him a glowing recommendation. Was it Freud or Jung who'd said people position themselves where they can indulge their proclivities? Pedophiles became school teachers; introverts became librarians; bullies and sadists became cops. Surely the boss had joined the force solely to torture people with impunity.
His office was as frightening as he was, and Edison crawled into the club chair near the desk hoping to become invisible. Not hard, since the chair was slightly shorter than normal and the thick upholstery made him sink into it, feeling small. Sports memorabilia plastered the office walls — pennants and vacuum-sealed football jerseys under glass; the bookcase behind the desk sported autographed baseballs and bowling trophies. If you expected motivational posters of serene beaches and tranquil forests, you were in the wrong office. All of it reminded Edison he could never be the kind of über-masculine gumshoe Dunstan respected. What am I doing here? I should've—
"Hollis," the boss said, pointing at Edison, "I have good news and bad. The bad news is I'm reassigning you to a new case. The good news is you might be able to solve this one."
He couldn't just can the snark for once, could he? Grrrrr. Still, it was going better this time versus last.
"Hollis, what the hell is wrong with you? You've been working on the SvenskAir case for almost three months now, but these reports are nothing but crackbrained drivel. I only assigned you to the task force because you were one of the few without a connection to any of the victims, but all you've shown me so far is some fucked up government conspiracy theory, and I'm telling you right now, that ain't gonna fly. What's the matter with you?"
There was probably an agency Edison could complain to about Dunstan's conduct; surely it was harassment. But no, the other cops would find out and badger him. Freud or whoever it was had nailed it — police work attracted a lot of bullies and sadists.
Edison's normal stutter went into overdrive as he saw the case slipping away from him. "P-please give me another ch—"
"No. No excuses. Don't wanna hear it. The Feds are taking over the investigation, so I'm reassigning my officers."
"Feds?" Why did Dunstan always sound like a character from NCIS?
"Yeah, from now on the FBI is handling the whole investigation, so the local police are out of it. The FBI and the NTSB, that is. We're through with the alphabet soup."
"But the crash happened within city limits, sir."
"Not my problem. If they want to take over, they're welcome to it. We don't have the budget or manpower for it. You've got a new project starting today. Maybe you can handle this one. Some wacko murdered a debt collector — obviously a client. Should be open and shut; just find the disgruntled deadbeat. I don't need to remind you your father served with distinction for over thirty years and I expected you to follow in his footsteps. So far I haven't exactly been blown away. Now get moving. Here's the file." The chief tossed a thin manila folder across the desk. "I'll assign a super tomorrow, just as soon as I find someone willing to work with a sorry ass pantywaist like you."
"So what are you waiting for? Get up, get out and get started."
"Y-yes..." Edison jumped out of his seat and returned to his cubicle, where he collapsed in the chair and stared at his monitor. He could feel dozens of eyes watching him with contempt. They'd love to see him get fired, wouldn't they? Raulerson and some of the others, they'd never liked him; hated the fact that his father's influence had landed him this job. Here he was, sitting among them when he hadn't earned it in the school of hard knocks like they had.
Crud, crud, crud.
Dunstan was definitely the worst. Was it Edison's imagination, or did the chief deliberately single him out for persecution? The oppressive boss riding the new guy was such a cliché, but surely it wasn't all in his head. So the task force had bollixed the SvenskAir case... no, actually they'd made significant progress, but the evidence didn't point in the direction Dunstan wanted, wherever that was. How could Edison help that? They had to follow where the clues led.
Fucktard, prickhead, dickwad.
Unfortunately, Dunstan's deck held one ace his cards couldn't beat:
I should've found tangible proof to back my theory by now. Somehow I need to catch who's behind the attack even if it's not my case anymore.
Speaking of case, it'd be a good idea to feign interest in whatever Dunstan had handed him a moment ago. Edison opened the file, but he couldn't stop obsessing over flight SA3571.
“Good evening. I'm Brian Erichsen and this is NewsUpdate for Monday, January ninth. A SvenskAir jet crashed tonight soon after take off during an alleged hijacking by Islamic terrorists...”
“All 245 passengers and ten flight crew, including the four terrorists, were killed when the Boeing 767 plummeted into a field in Fullsatt, Florida. We'll have more on this story as it develops.”
He'd been sleeping on the sofa when he'd heard the news. Fell asleep watching TV after taking Dmytri to the airport earlier that day. One of the signature attributes linking every spectacular death was the means of discovery — there was no personalized call from the authorities informing the bereaved. The widows found out the same time as everyone else...from TV, radio or Twitter. For Edison it was one of those program interruptions for a breaking news story. "High school marching band killed in crash. Film at eleven." In a stupor, he'd risen from the couch and grabbed the remote, then turned up the volume to—
"Hey, Edison, ain't you going home tonight, buddy?"
"Huh?" Edison looked up to find Yates leaning over a wall of his cubicle.
"Look at the time, kid. It's almost four. The next shift is already coming in. Whatever you're working on can wait until tomorrow."
"Okay, thanks. I'm packing up. See you tomorrow, Bob."
Edison shoved the folder into his tattered briefcase and pushed the chair under his desk. Maybe if he solved this debt collection thing, the boss would get off his back. The problem was how to solve a crime when crime itself freaked you out.
Nothing to worry about. Gotta control these panic attacks. Only 85 cops are killed by felons each year, give or take. Eighty-five. Not a big figure at all. A few more than eighty. What are the odds one of those will be me?
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