Saturday, February 16, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody" Part 5

Alex awoke slowly the next morning. He was dimly aware that, whereas he usually awoke lying on his side, he was currently still laying on his back, with the sensation of an object on his legs; what could it be? Alex shifted his legs and rolled over, feeling the weight leave his legs—
            He snapped awake and lunged forward just in time to catch his laptop before it hit the floor. He flinched at the sight of a person standing in his room, but it was only Marlo.
            “Morning,” she said gently. “Sleep well?”
            Alex laid his computer on the bedside table and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Is it eight o’clock already?” he moaned.
            Marlo smiled, “Well, technically, yes, but Ted and I—and now you—“
            Alex stood up, “Never mind, I get it,” he muttered, heading for the shower.
            When he emerged, the Brendons were waiting for him in the kitchen. Alex paused as they watched him, and he realized that this morning, he was seeing them with new eyes. They weren’t just a couple of random ghosts that had shown up to teach him a lesson any more; it was almost as if reading all the stories, eulogies, and obituaries the previous night had brought them back to life again.
            “Why are you staring?” Ted broke the silence. “Are you going to get breakfast?”
            Alex turned to the cupboard and took out a bowl and a box of cereal.
            “Where—where do you guys go when you’re not around me?” Alex asked uncertainly as he poured the cereal into the bowl and went to the refrigerator for a carton of milk.
            Ted and Marlo glanced at each other. “We just—“ Marlo began.
            “It’s like we close our eyes,” Ted tried to explain.
            “To be honest,” Marlo finished with a shrug, “we don’t understand it ourselves. But we do honor the agreement we made when we first met, Alex, don’t worry.”
            “Wait a minute,” Ted grinned, “were you hoping we didn’t see how your date went last night?”
            Marlo laid a hand on Alex’s arm sympathetically, “Oh, was it that bad? I’m so sorry!”
            Alex shrugged, “It wasn’t terrible, I just—“ he stopped, but finished in his mind, I was snooping around about you, and I kind of don’t want you to know.
            “Let me guess,” Ted supplied with a grin, “she got drunk again?” Alex nodded. “Come on, Alex; what makes you think that being in a relationship with you will make her any different? Isn’t there anyone you can think of that would be better than chasing after a spoiled, rich—“
            “Drunkard?” Marlo finished bitterly.
            Alex hung his head and extended his hands defensively, “Yeah, okay, so she is in the habit of going overboard—but I aim to change that!”
            Ted chuckled, “How are you going to get her to keep going out with you long enough to do that?”
            Alex shrugged and grabbed his cap and badge. “Forget I asked, then!” he spat.
            The young man jerked back for no apparent reason—until he noticed Ted’s hand on his shoulder. “Look,” the older ghost said, “if you’re really that worried about it, Marlo and I will stay out of your way during your off-duty hours.”
            Alex nodded, “Thanks,” he replied.
            Marlo rubbed her hands together, “Now, let’s get you to work!”

            Alex clocked in and got right on his shift. He noticed that his list of patrols was much longer than normal, taking up most of his on-duty time instead of only half or so. He chuckled to himself; word had probably gotten around that Alex Davis was accepting more duties. Did he mind? A bit, he had to admit; but with the ghosts around, they actually made his job a little easier. On domestic disturbance calls, rather than having to chase the perpetrator through the house, he could ask one of the Brendons to go ahead of him and let him know if the coast was clear. In case he needed to search a house, the two ghosts could go through every cupboard and drawer without the owner knowing, and they could let Alex know if there was anything for him to “find.” Missing persons cases were a bit trickier, but Ted or Marlo were willing to visit the time in question when the person supposedly disappeared (provided they knew approximately where to look), and verify the witnesses’ stories.
            In the late afternoon, the dispatcher called because the silent alarm at the Beautiful Sun Bakery had been triggered. Alex headed right over, reveling in his newfound sense of efficiency.
            Siren wailing, lights flashing, Alex pulled to a halt right at the curb in front of the bakery. He jumped out of the car just in time to see a man with a gun dash out the door.
            “Hold it right there, mister!” he ordered, whipping out his sidearm.
            The man whirled toward the young officer and nearly pointed the pistol in his hand at him, but thought better of it. He insisted on trying to back away. Alex clearly saw his pockets and his jacket bulging with cash.
            “Stop where you are,” Alex told him, “kneel on the ground, and put your hands behind your head.”
            The man dropped the gun and took of running down the block.
            “Dangit,” Alex muttered, taking off after him. He clutched the call button on his radio. “This is Officer Davis, I’m on Turnkey Avenue, pursuing robbery suspect on foot, heading east.” The man turned south down Everine Boulevard, which Alex called in and added, “Somebody please be waiting for us on the corner of Everine and 53rd!”
            “I’ve got your back, Davis,” Derby’s voice crackled over the radio. “I recall you did the same for me once last week.”
            Thanks, Derby, Alex thought to himself, too worried about keeping tabs on the fleeing suspect to bother replying. True to Alex’s prediction, the man turned down 53rd Street, and there was Patrol Unit 823, waiting for them. The passenger door opened and Chris stepped out, training his gun on the man with the stolen money.
            “Freeze,” he instructed calmly.
            The man stopped, gasping for breath, and dropped to his knees.
            Chris slapped cuffs on the miscreant while Alex dug all the cash out of the man’s jacket.
            “I’m going to return this to the bakery,” he told Chris.
            The junior officer shook his head. “First you take a silent alarm call, then you chase the guy down three blocks, and now you’re gonna walk all the way back to return the money?” He winked at Alex, “Who are you and what have you done with my buddy Smooth Davis?”
            Alex playfully punched Chris in the shoulder, “Hey, a guy can have a change of scenery once in a while, can’t he?”
            “I dunno,” Chris responded, guiding the guy into the back seat of the patrol car. “In your case it’s more like a paradigm shift than just a change of scenery!”
            “See you back at the station, Chris,” Alex said, walking away.

            It took him fifteen minutes to cover the distance he’d covered in about ten, running the other direction. He imagined the proprietor was a bit worried about the stolen cash, and he relished the admiring gaze he would get when he showed back up with the money.
            He stepped in the door of the Beautiful Sun Bakery. He couldn’t see anyone, but he clearly heard the sound of someone crying.
            “Hello?” he called.
            A young woman immediately stood behind the counter, wiping her face furiously. “I’m sorry; can I—oh!”
            She gasped when Alex silently laid the stolen money on the counter in front of her. Finally, she lifted her face and looked at him. Her brown eyes sparkled as a smile broke over her features, “My hero!” she exclaimed.
            Alex started, “Daphne?” he cried before he could stop himself.
            She laughed, “I must be your lucky victim or something, always getting into trouble when you’re around!” She sighed as she accepted the money and sorted it back into the register. “I was so flustered with orders from customers that I wasn’t even looking at them till he was up at the counter with the gun in my face.” She closed the drawer. “I only thought about getting the police over quick enough before he noticed, so the trick-bill was one of the first I pulled out.” She wiped a hand across her face, “It’s a good thing you got here when you did! I never expected to be in that kind of situation, and I never want to go through it again!” She moved over to the rows of bagels, cookies, doughnuts, and cakes in the display case. “So what can I get you?”
            Alex shook his head, “Oh, no, I shouldn’t—“
            “Please?” Daphne begged. “It’s the least I can do after you chased down that guy for me; pick any one, on the house!”
            Alex glanced toward the Brendons, who had joined him in the little bakery. Rather than gesturing him back out to the car, Ted nodded and said, “Go ahead and pick something, Alex; you’ve earned it. Marlo and I will make sure you don’t miss anything important.”
            Alex glanced over the choices, “I’ll take the turkey sandwich and the brownie,” he said.
            “Coming right up!” Daphne chirped. “You can have a seat at one of the tables.”
            Alex waited, fidgeting, while Daphne prepared his order.

            “Go on,” Marlo hissed in his ear, “Make conversation!”
            “So, um,” Alex fought for something to talk about, “You… like baking things?”
            Marlo rolled her eyes as Daphne laughed, bringing his sandwich and brownie and joining him at the table. “Not entirely, but it pays the rent.”
            Alex glanced around, wondering how a small place like this could generate enough of a salary to afford the rent on even a small apartment. “Really?” he queried skeptically.
            Daphne fidgeted nervously with the corner of the napkin, “Well, this and a few other jobs—but someday I’m going to own a house of my own, free and clear, and not have to worry about rent or mortgages again!” This last was said with absolute finality and infectious enthusiasm.
            Alex chuckled as he bit into the turkey sandwich. “So what other jobs do you have?” he asked.
            “Well, in the mornings I start out at the Mall,” Daphne sighed, “then I come here and work the afternoon shift. Actually, in about five minutes the dinner crew is going to get here, and I’ll move on to my next job, cleaning some of the houses in the downtown block.”
            Alex nodded out of courtesy as he finished the sandwich; inside, he nearly choked on the sandwich as he calculated how much work Daphne must do in a day to afford to live in her apartment. He always considered himself lucky to be able to live in the apartment block owned by the police station, and drive his patrol car for most of the day. He never realized until that moment just how lucky he was.
            “How can you stand it?” the question was out before he had even finished thinking it.
            Daphne cocked an eyebrow at him, “Stand what?”
            Alex shrugged, “Doing all that work!”
            The girl—who looked not much older than Alex, in fact she was probably a few years younger—shrugged, “I’m used to it, I guess,” she sighed. “I’ve had to work like this since I was eighteen years old.”
            Alex found the brownie moist and easier to swallow than the sandwich. “Parents kick you out, eh?” he guessed.
            Daphne fidgeted awkwardly, “Something like that,” she muttered.
            Instantly, Alex regretted his words. He finished his brownie and stood up quickly. “Ah, thanks for the lunch break,” he told her, “and you have a good day.”
            “Thanks for bringing my money back,” Daphne said waving to him as he left.
            Alex climbed back into the car. As he sat down, he saw the Brendons in his rearview mirror. They were both grinning like they had a secret.
            “What?” he asked suspiciously as he pulled away from the bakery.
            “Nothing,” Ted responded dismissively.
            “Turn up your scanner, dear,” Marlo informed him, and that was the end of that matter.
            They directed him through calls for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Once or twice, Alex would decide to listen to the calls carefully for himself, listening not for the kinds of calls most likely to involve beautiful women as he used to, but trying to see if he could pick out the sort of calls the Brendons would call his attention to before they in fact did so. Ted and Marlo were both impressed as Alex took this initiative near the end of his shift, never knowing that Alex was using as a guide his knowledge of the kind of people they used to be, which he had gleaned the night before.
            Before they left, when Alex returned to the station at eight o’clock, Marlo turned to him with a grin.
            “Earlier today,” she mused, “you stopped and helped that elderly lady load the bags into her trunk.”
            Alex eyed her warily while trying to hide his wariness. “Yeah,” he responded, “what about it?”
            “Did you know her?”
            Alex was able to honestly reply, “No.” The woman had been the recipient of numerous good deeds from the Brendons. He had only recognized her from the picture in the news article he read about her.
            Marlo was not convinced he was telling the truth, “It looked like you did,” she accused.
            Alex laughed and shook his head, “Nope, I don’t know who that lady was,” he slipped his hands in his pocket casually, “I just noticed she needed help.”
            “Oh, you noticed?” Ted repeated, as unconvinced as his wife. “Well, it looks like our training has done some good, Marlo!”
            “Good night, Alex,” Marlo smiled at him, a genuine, warm smile. “See you in the morning.”
            “Good night, you guys,” Alex replied.

            As soon as the ghosts left, Alex waited a few moments, then returned to the station bullpen. Hard at work at his desk was Detective Morgan Haversham. He was usually out of the station before Alex came in, and doing his deskwork when Alex returned and checked out for the night. Alex approached him cautiously. Haversham looked up.
            “Davis,” he cried with a smile, “I thought you’d left already. Did you need something?”
            Alex swallowed and tried to formulate his request as innocently as possible. “I, um, I heard you were the detective on the Brendon case.”
            Haversham snorted, “You mean the Brendon murders, don’t you?” Suddenly, his face became grave, “Where did you hear that?” he asked suspiciously.
            From the Brendons themselves, Alex thought, while he tried to remain vague, “Oh, I heard some of the other guys talking about it. Hey, I was wondering—could I possibly have a look at that file, do you think?”
            Haversham, a heavyset, balding man with a thick handlebar mustache, leaned back and grinned at the young cop. “Oh, I know what this is about!” he cried, “Next-of-kin probably called you about the loot, didn’t they?”
            This was not entirely what Alex was expecting. “Well, I sort of wanted to see the insurance list—but why would the next-of-kin have to call it in here?”
            “See, kid,” Haversham rubbed his mustache as he dug the Brendon file out of the desk drawer and laid it on the desk, “The wife, Mrs. Brendon, had a bunch of heirlooms that belonged to her family, and she had them all insured—but it was through a private company, with some really unorthodox policies.”
            Alex saw the short piece of paper he sought, just barely protruding from the file. Perhaps if he engaged the detective enough, Haversham would let him see it. “Unorthodox, how?” he asked.
            “Well,” Haversham finally opened the file and rubbed his forehead. “I called the agent who set it up, and the way I understood it, only the wife could get any money out of the policy if the loot was stolen or if she decided to sell the heirlooms.” He shook his head,
“Almost as soon as we put the word out that she was dead, she had brothers and sisters and cousins coming out of the woodwork, calling to see if they could get any money off of the insurance on those heirlooms. But the way the policy worked, they would have to get the loot back to collect the money, since Mrs. Brendon was dead. Of course, they all didn’t want to have to find the things to get the money, they just wanted the money, so they gave up after a few days.” He rubbed his chin, “Odd thing happened two days after the murder, though.”
Alex’s pulse raced briefly, “What happened?”
“Well, I’d sent the bodies off to the morgue to be claimed by family members, but I guess when the wife’s family went to claim the bodies, they were already gone.”
Alex furrowed his brow and frowned, “So the bodies were claimed two days after the murder happened, but there’s been no word on the stolen property?”
Haversham paused and closed the file. “Well, not till you came along, son. So what happened, did you or one of your buddies get a call from the family or something?”
            Alex saw that he wasn’t getting that list tonight; he would have to try something else. “Oh…no,” he replied, “I just heard about that case and I was curious about what exactly got stolen.”
            Haversham smirked, “Derby tells me all the officers think you’re gunning for a promotion to lieutenant, and I didn’t believe him, but you’re really sounding like it, Davis!”
            Alex flushed at the observation, and tried to shrug it off, “I guess you could say that,” he pretended to admit.
            Haversham chuckled, “And you think finding the stolen loot will get it for you? Not likely!” He winked and pulled a copy of the insurance list out of the file. “But have at it, for what it’s worth; I’ve got too many other cases to handle to worry about tracking down lost items on a closed murder case.”
            “Thanks, Detective.”
            “Don’t mention it,” Haversham waved his hand dismissively as Alex walked out. “Seriously, Davis,” Alex stopped as the older man continued, “The Chief will have my hide if he finds out I gave that to you. Don’t ever tell anyone.” He wagged a beefy finger. “As far as anyone knows, you’re not on this case—unless of course, something turns up; you let me know!”
            “Right, I will,” Alex promised, and left the station. On his way back to the apartment, he tried calling Adelaide, but she never answered. Alex left her a voicemail, letting her know that he was interested in a second date. He then walked home and went to bed.

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