Saturday, February 9, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody", Pt. 4

By the following morning, Alex awoke to the realization that today was the fourth day since the ghosts of the Brendons had entered his life, but already he was becoming accustomed to the new habits they introduced. He didn’t meander through his morning routine anymore, careless of the odd minute wasted here and there. He was struck by the new goal emerging to make it into the police station before Ted and Marlo appeared—why, if it was so easy for him to do it now, had he never done it before?

Even Marnie was beginning to resign herself to this new-and-improved Alex Davis.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” she demanded brusquely.
For a moment, Alex feared she might suspect something about the ghosts—but how could she know? “No,” he told her—at least, he was about to, but Officer Tony Barelli—a loud-mouthed, ambitious senior officer who often took 18-hour shifts with the hopes of impressing his superiors, and performed all his duties with finesse that made all his fellow officers jealous—heard Marnie’s comment and called out, “I know what’s going on!”
Conversation in the vicinity quickly hushed, even as people continued going through the motions of whatever they had been doing. Alex felt on edge; what did Barelli suspect? Surely he would have heard about the events of that night. What spontaneous, bravado-laden story was Barelli going to spread about Alex now?
Barelli, for his part, had everyone’s attention and knew it, but continued as if he, Marnie, and Alex were the only ones in the conversation. He clapped Alex on the shoulder, “See, Marnie? Alex is a game-player; he always has been. He thinks three steps ahead of the competition.”
This was not true, and everyone knew it, especially Alex; but Barelli was selling, and when Barelli sold, truth was a guideline, not a foundation.
“Now, I don’t know how he knows it, but Alex must have heard that he’s got a professional review coming up soon, where he’ll be considered for a promotion.”
Alex was surprised; he had no idea about the review, so how could Barelli possibly know? It felt good to know that he might be promoted, though. He couldn’t wait to be handed more responsibilities, like following the detectives on criminal investigations and the like, instead of just being a regular beat-cop.
“So,” Marnie wondered, “the fact that for three mornings in a row now, Alex shows up on time--is all in preparation for becoming a senior officer?”
Alex opened his mouth to join the conversation, since they were talking about him as if he wasn’t there, but Barelli got in before he could say anything.
“Not Senior officer, Marns,” Barelli shook his head, “that’s too short for a guy like Alex.” Barelli turned his keen blue-eyed stare on Alex and murmured conspiratorially, “Word on the beat is he’s got a straight shot at Lieutenant.”
Alex shook his head; from junior officer to lieutenant? That was Barelli’s theory? Well, maybe Barelli himself would attempt a feat like that, but certainly not Alex! The gossip intrigued him, though; was that really what people thought?
“What makes you so sure I’d get something like that?” Alex asked the officer.
Barelli winked at him, “Take a look at your case-load, Casanova; there’s no way the socialites that know your name will let the mayor promote you to anything less!”
Alex flushed as the cops in the area snickered. Marnie shook her head.
“Davis, you’re patrolling downtown today,” she told him, handing him his schedule. “I know it’s not quite your style, but—“
“It’s fine,” Alex said quickly, eager for anything that would take him away from the station full of smirking juniors and frowning seniors. He grabbed the stack of files and headed to the garage.

Working quickly and efficiently, Alex hopped into his fully-prepped patrol car and switched on the scanner as he pulled out of the station.
“Where to, guys?” he asked the Brendons.
Ted eyed him warily, “What do you mean? Aren’t you going to just keep picking the calls?”
Alex hesitated; he could claim this as an opportunity to get back at them, an excuse to continue to ignore them. There would be nothing Ted and Marlo could do if he just chose to act the way he had always been acting.
Then again, he felt compelled to acknowledge the dramatic improvement of yesterday afternoon, when he was so jaded by his own foolish choices that he allowed Ted and Marlo to take over. The number of cases had exceeded his usual average, but at the same time he had finished them with more energy than usual. After that afternoon, Alex realized that he almost didn’t want to return to his old, lazy, flirting self.
“Nope,” he told Ted with firm resolution, “I think I’ll let you guys tell me the best ones to pick.” He grinned ruefully, “I guess I’m not fully recovered from yesterday morning, you could say.”
“Not to mention the fact that your habit of taking the high-profile cases has attracted teasing from your fellow cops!” Marlo remarked.
Alex chuckled, even as his cheeks burned. “Yeah, I, uh, think I want to keep things on the down-low for now. I’d be okay with quieter stuff, I think.”
“Why not take a rural patrol loop?” Marlo suggested.
Alex fought back a cringe, “Really? I mean—“
“Unless you think you know what’s best,” Ted interposed.
Alex caught himself, “No, no, that’s fine!” he responded, shuffling through the files Marnie had given him to find a quiet loop that needed patrolling. He found one that circumnavigated several residential areas, and headed in that direction.

For a “quiet” route, Alex was surprised to discover just how busy those back roads were. There weren’t any flashing neon signs or crowds bustling in and out of doors like he saw so frequently downtown, but he did come across a few motorists in need. One was a family whose car had run out of gas; Alex willingly let the dad have the reserve can of gas he always carried in his trunk as a cop. They thanked him profusely, with far more genuine gratitude than he had gotten from any lady recently.
Further on, he came across a senior couple sitting in their car with the windows rolled down, talking as if this was not something unusual. Alex stopped by and asked how they were. As it turned out, the car had blown a tire, but neither one of them had the capacity to be able to change the tire, even though the car was equipped with all the necessary tools, plus a spare tire. Hence, they had no choice but to sit and wait for some motorist to stop and help them, and they did so willingly.
While Alex changed the tire, the woman informed him, “We’ve been sitting out there for three hours now, and we’ve seen many cars whiz by us, but none of them stopped until you came along!”
Alex couldn’t believe it; three hours, and no one had thought to even ask if the couple needed any help? How many times had he been one of them—and he was a cop!
“I’m just doing my duty, ma’am,” he replied, heartened by the fact that this was true; he was doing his duty, and not just looking for a more efficient way to pick up dates.

After sending the couple on their way, Alex finished the loop and began heading back toward the downtown area, when Marlo cried out, “What’s down there?”
Alex quickly applied the brake and peered down the side street where she pointed. It was a turnoff into another neighborhood. Alex could see nothing out of the completely ordinary.
“I don’t see anything,” he told Marlo.
“Well,” Ted suggested, “why don’t you check it out? You can loop back to this road, I made sure.”
Alex considered that perhaps there was something he was meant to do here, and the Brendons knew what it was, since they had been through this neighborhood ahead of him and probably seen something.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt,” he said, pulling into the neighborhood. He drove down the street, glancing at everyone he passed. A father walked several yards behind his toddler daughter pedaling her pink tricycle with glittery tassels on the handlebars. A young woman in a tracksuit jogged by him, followed closely by her golden lab. Alex glanced at one yard in amusement as he saw a housewife in a big, floppy hat directing her three teenage sons in cleaning the front yard.
“Suckers,” he muttered.
“What was that?” Marlo queried quickly.
“Nothing!” Alex called back just as quick, resolving to avoid talking to himself while on-duty.

Alex made the second turn and was headed to rejoin the road he had been on when the flutter of a yellow scarf caught his eye. The scarf was on the head of a young woman in a familiar (merely because he had seen it so recently before) forest-green skirt. Alex smirked to himself, noting the way he considered this girl in terms of “young lady” instead of “chick” or “hottie.” She was neither of those things!
She was walking on the sidewalk toward the main road in the same direction as Alex was driving. He grinned to himself, wondering how freaked-out she might be if he honked as he passed her. Was she the type to jump in fright, or would she just look at him funny? In the end, as Alex drove past her, he decided not to honk. He merely kept going.
“Wait!” Marlo cried.
Alex looked back at her without stopping, “What?”
Marlo was staring out the window with an urgent expression on her face. “Slow down!”
Alex glanced in his rearview mirror and saw the girl approaching, still with her head down as if she hadn’t noticed the unusual sight of a police car in her neighborhood.
“Why should I—“
“Look out!”
This time, it was Ted, and Alex reacted immediately, slamming on the brakes—just in time to see a bright-red rubber ball bounce against his front bumper and into the street, and a young boy run after it.
“Holy heart attack!” Alex sighed warmly. He rolled down the window to yell at the kid, but the boy had his ball and was gone.
“Ah, forget it,” Alex muttered.
Alex looked up to see the young woman standing right there on the sidewalk; she’d seen him.
“It’s you,” she gasped.
“Yeah,” Alex felt his ears burn, “Hi.” Alex was used to being at ease with the ladies, Mister Smooth—what about this girl made him so uncomfortable? She just stood there, smiling.
“Talk to her!” Marlo piped up brightly.
Alex fought the urge to glare at the ghost-woman; he had no interest in this girl, and he could not fathom how or why this girl would ever take an interest in him.
“Um,” he stammered, “How are you?”
“I’m good,” she answered, still grinning. She gestured to the vicinity. “No thugs here!”
“Oh yeah,” Alex mumbled, “that; well—“
“What’s her name?” Marlo again.
“W-what’s your, uh, your name?”
The girl brushed her hair behind her ear, blushing furiously. Small wonder, having such an awkward conversation with a cop!
“Daphne,” she answered.
“Oh, okay,” Alex could visualize the end of the conversation, and this made it easier. “Well, have a good day, Daphne!”
“And don’t go walking after dark!” Ted added, even though she couldn’t hear him.
Alex laughed as he rolled up the window and pulled away.
“I don’t know what you guys are up to,” he told the couple grinning at him from the back seat, “but that was just awkward!”
Marlo chuckled, “Oh, but you handled it so well!”
“Okay, just don’t make me do that again!”
Ted and Marlo shared a glance, but Alex was not paying attention to them anymore.
“Dispatch, this is 145,” he told the dispatcher, “I’m headed for the I-60 speed trap right now.”
“Patrol 145,” the dispatcher responded, “you are just in time. Go for it; out.”

Alex merged onto I-60 and after a short distance, pulled over to the side of the road. He chuckled to his passengers.
“Did seeing a patrol car ever make you check your speedometer?” he asked.
“Nope,” Ted responded right away, “I always made sure I was matching speed with the flow of traffic.”
Marlo looked uncomfortable and examined her nails (which could not be anything other than perfect, since she was dead.) She twisted her wedding ring on her finger, “Well, I, um—“
“I was just asking,” Alex saved her from having to respond, “because I think it’s funny how even though I haven’t even gotten my radar gun out, already traffic is a lot slower than it was!” He laughed, grabbed the large scanner, and stood outside his car. He caught a few cars that would speed until they came within sight of him, at which point they would immediately slow down to a more reasonable speed. One of these was a powder-blue Mazda Miata. Alex dove into his car when he saw it coming. He fired up the engine when it passed, smiling widely as he flicked on his lights to let the driver know she was being pulled over.
“The car wasn’t going that fast, was it?” Marlo asked as Alex slowly emerged from his car and loped easily to the driver’s window. A slender brunette turned her chunky Prada sunglasses on him.
“Are you serious?” she whined.
“Do you know why I pulled you over, ma’am?” Alex leaned casually on the roof of the compact car.
The girl took off her sunglasses and began inspecting her manicure. “Let’s just get this over with, okay? Just tell me what I did wrong, give me the ticket, and—“
“It’s Addie, isn’t it?” Alex asked her.
Finally, she looked at him, peering closely. Her eyes widened. “Ohmigosh!” she cried in excitement, “It’s you!” This was the second time he’d heard that today, but somehow it sounded better when Addie said it. “Adam, isn’t it?” she winked at him.
Alex flushed, “Actually, it’s Alex.”
“Oh…” Addie squinted at him against the glare of the sun through her windshield. “Was I speeding?”
Alex shrugged sheepishly, “No, I, uh, actually just wanted to ask you out on a date.”
“Oh, that’s so cute!” Addie gushed. “Of course I’ll go out with you! What time?”
“Umm, how about eight—“
“Think very carefully, Alex,” Ted appeared, warning him. “Eight is when you’re supposed to be clocking out; how can you be picking her up from her apartment before or at the same time you clock out?”
“—thirty,” Alex finished.
To Addie’s ears, it was as if he had not hesitated when he said “eight-thirty.” “Great,” she chirped, “I’ll see you then!” She started her car up again, but glanced at him slyly, “Can I go now?”
“I’ll let you off with a warning this time,” Alex joked, “I’ll be at your door by eight-thirty, Addie!”
“Bye!” She merged back onto the freeway and sped away.

Five hours later, at 8:05 PM, Alex wearily dragged himself to the scanner to clock out.
He should have known the Brendons would want to retaliate for the way he went behind their backs to pursue a relationship with Adelaide. They had run him almost ragged with calls all the rest of the afternoon; they almost forced him to accept nearly every call the dispatcher took. She was shocked, but when she saw that Alex would not refuse, she continued to give him assignments in addition to the files Marnie had given him that morning. Ted and Marlo didn’t even seem to mind when Alex was repeatedly called to break up brawls, chase down shooters, and pick up perpetrators.
At last, his shift ended, the Brendons wished him a good night and good luck on his date, and disappeared. Alex vaguely wondered where they went at night. At any rate, he knew where he was going! He changed into a fresh shirt and sport coat and caught a cab over to Adelaide’s address in Pentomino Heights. At precisely 8:30, Alex knocked on Adelaide’s door.
A butler opened it.
“I’m here to pick up Addie Donahue,” Alex told him.
The butler glanced over him dubiously.
Miss Adelaide,” he responded with icy condescension, “is expecting you; follow me, please.”
The butler led Alex into the front sitting room of Addie’s house.
“Wait here,” he said, and left the room.
Alex glanced around as he sat on the plush, suede leather sofa: silk throw pillows, glass and china sculptures and knickknacks, famous paintings in gold-plated frames—everything reeked of riches. However did he get so lucky?
After about ten minutes, Alex began to wonder if he was indeed so lucky. Why would Adelaide keep him waiting for so long? The house was strangely silent as the old-fashioned mahogany grandfather clock ticked away the seconds.
Finally, he heard the familiar clomping of tall, chunky heels on the stairwell. Addie appeared, wearing her customary signature clothing: this time a slouchy, brightly-colored chiffon shirtdress and black, heeled gladiator sandals.
“Arthur!” she gushed when Alex came to stand at the foot of the stairs. “I’m so excited! Where are we going?”
“It’s Alex,” he reminded her for the second time that day, “Come on, let’s go.”
He held the door for Adelaide, and followed her down the front steps to the sidewalk. Adelaide stopped and glanced up and down the darkened street.
“Where’s your car?” she asked, puzzled.
Alex shrugged, a bit embarrassed, though he had never been before. “I, uh, don’t have a car, since I spend most of the day in my patrol car. I take a cab.”
Addie’s mouth smiled, but Alex keenly detected the disgust in her eyes. “Oh,” she murmured. “Well, then,” she grabbed his arm and led him toward the parking garage at the end of the block, “why don’t we drive one of mine?” She stopped by the booth at the gate and said, “Hey, Mack, we’d like the keys to the Lexus, if you don’t mind.”
“Takin’ another one out, Miss Addie?” Mack joked, grabbing the keys off the hook. “Careful with this one, now; not like last time!”
Addie laughed carelessly and tucked the keys to a luxury Lexus into Alex’s hand.
Alex, meanwhile, began to feel slightly uncomfortable as he wondered what Mack meant by “another one”: was it another car…or another boyfriend?
“Whatsa matter?” she asked, and Alex realized that he was frowning as he thought.
“Um, Addie,” Alex stammered, “What happened last time?”
Addie rolled her eyes as she waited by the passenger side for Alex to open the door and help her in, “Nothing really happened! Mack was just being silly…you know how those guys are.”
Alex did know—that when a crime happened in the vicinity of a parking garage, the man at the gate usually knew the most out of any other third-party witnesses. Suddenly he was very nervous about being out with Addie—particularly at the wheel of a car that probably cost more than his life was worth. Car or boyfriend, Alex didn’t want anything terrible to happen to either one. However, there wasn’t much he could do about that; his only option was to focus on enjoying this opportunity—however long it lasted.
He headed to the eastern side of the city, down Boylan Avenue, intending to take Addie to the nicest dessert place he knew of, but as soon as he did, Alex saw her wrinkle her nose.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her.
“Why are we going down here?” she demanded.
“Don’t worry,” Alex sought to reassure her, “I know a nice place down the block here.”
“Oh Alvin, honey,” Addie cajoled him, “you can’t possibly be trying to say that there’s anything nice on this side of town!” She stuck out her lip in a pout. Her neon bangles clacked together as she laid her manicured hand on Alex’s leg. She rubbed his knee tenderly. “Here,” she whispered in his ear, “Let me take you somewhere fun!” She scanned the block ahead. “Take a right at the next light.”

Alex ended up following Addie’s directions to Chez Paris Riche Lounge. Alex had a moment to gawk as Addie touched up her makeup. He rarely had the opportunity to come out to this block, even for work. Every business establishment had valets and security staff standing on the curb.
“There!” Addie’s hand appeared in front of Alex’s face, and he reflexively veered the car to the curb where she pointed. The valet approached the car, and Alex rolled down the window.
“Hey Todd!” Addie waved at him.
Todd smiled, “Howdy, Miss Adelaide; welcome back!”
Todd opened the door on her side as Alex got out of the driver’s seat.
“Have a good night, Miss!” Todd waved as Addie latched onto Alex and the two of them walked into the lounge.

The barrage of recognition did not stop there. The minute Addie entered the lounge with Alex on her arm, she became Miss Adelaide and guest, the hostess immediately led her to her favorite table, the bartender came around to their table and Adelaide smoothly dismissed him almost immediately by telling him, “We’ll just have the usual.”
Patrons pointed and whispered, but Alex knew they weren’t even paying attention to him. For that matter, neither was Adelaide. She talked on and on—more of a giggling prattle—about so many things, inserting a question every so often, but largely just focusing on reapplying her makeup (as if it could have worn off in the short walk between the curb and their table) and checking to make sure any paparazzi shots would still present her in the best light.
The waiter brought them both drinks, and Alex assertively asked for the dessert menu. He couldn’t help noticing that the waiter glanced at Adelaide before complying; did she treat all her dates this way?
Whatever the initial hesitation, it had evidently disappeared when the waiter returned with the warm apple crisp Alex ordered. He vaguely noticed that there was also another drink on the tray for Adelaide, but he ignored it and instead offered to share the crisp with her. She consented and they traded bites for a while, until the warmth of the food and the fatigue from the day, coupled with the soft cushions around him—Alex jerked back to semi-wakefulness with the realization that he’d almost dozed off. He glanced at Adelaide, who was still babbling away as if he was hanging on her every word. There was only one glass on the table, and she was busily polishing off another, but Alex knew when somebody was drunk, and Addie was no exception. The waiter had probably removed all the other glasses; there was no way to tell just how drunk the young heiress was.
She was just trying to signal the waiter for a refill when Alex sufficiently recovered his presence of mind to cut her off.
“Juss one m’drink!” she slurred, “Is good stuff!”
Alex shook his head and put his arms around her, “No, I think you’ve had enough.”
“Don’t matter! I c’n do wha’ I want!” she protested, even as Alex guided her chair away from the table. She stood and instantly stumbled. He caught her and began leading her toward the door. Instantly, Todd was at their side with the Lexus.
“Hey man,” Alex told him, “do you know the parking structure on Adelaide’s block?”
Todd eyed him warily, “Yeah; what about it?”
Alex dug some cash out of his wallet, “Drive the car back there and leave it with Mack, would you? I think Miss Adelaide needs to walk some off.”
Todd shook his head; the previous guys never acted like this, but money was money. He pocketed the bills. “Whatever you say.”
“So warm out tonight!” Addie gurgled rapturously. She leaned on Alex heavily as he guided her over to her neighborhood. “Fun date! You’re a mushroom, Albert!”
“Mushroom?” Alex echoed.
“Fungi! Fun guy, get it?” Addie hooted. Then she moaned, “Ooh, stop—the ride! I wanna get off!” She reeled and wobbled around in front of Alex.
It took about an hour, but at last Alex returned Addie to her butler, who latched on to her quite capably, as if he was used to her coming home like this.

Alex wearily dragged himself back to the apartment. It was well after ten o’clock by the time he laid down in bed. He knew he wasn’t usually this tired by the end of the day. He would have probably not fallen asleep on his date of all places if Ted and Marlo hadn’t—
Alex popped awake again; there was some unfinished business he was curious to know about before he fell asleep. Alex rolled out of bed, grabbed his laptop, and returned to the covers, propping it open on his lap. Opening the Google page, he entered Ted and Marlo Brendon. He was amused but not surprised to find several social networking posts concerning their unfortunate demise, from various neighbors who described them as “the nicest couple on the block,” from various local charities and ministries who claimed that “their presence would be missed.”
“Yeah,” Alex muttered to himself, “try being haunted by them for twelve hours a day!” But he read on.
“Ted and Marlo were the best things that ever happened to this town!” someone wrote, “I would not be the sort of person I am today if it weren’t for them!”
Reading through the anecdotes and memories shared by many others, it became clear to Alex that the Brendons weren’t just a couple of people; they had an astounding network of friends from various walks of life. The computer screen seemed to dim and the text faded, and before he knew it, Alex was fast asleep.