Rindge strolled into the briefing room and tossed a water bottle to Lynne, who caught it one-handed and passed it to Memry before holding up a hand for the other one he held. He set it with exaggerated caution in her hands before opening his own bottle and taking a deep swig. She shot him a narrow-eyed look, but he just eyed her back and pushed his hat lower on his head, hiding his smirk.
“I call this meeting to order,” began Lynne with a grand gesture, but Memry whacked her upside the head with a sheaf of paperwork.
“C’mon, be serious. Both of you!” snapped Memry. “We all know why we’re here, but Lynne might as well just give up. I’m taking that SIU spot. I’ve been a detective longer, I’ve got seniority.”
Rindge strolled over to the briefing room lectern, leaning back casually as he rolled his water bottle from hand to hand. “Don’t be so sure. Lynne did better on the detective’s exam. She’s got an eye for this stuff.”
“You know he helped her out somehow,” Memry said, giving Lynne a sidelong look. “He’s got a soft spot for her.”
“Nuh-uh!” Lynne shook her head. “I heard Detective… I mean, Captain Jowd said something about ‘Not this time’ when McCaw asked him how Inspector Cabanela helped me…although they both drilled me until I thought I’d die!” She folded her arms and stuck her tongue out at Memry, “But I didn’t need his help. I’ve been working on this since I was a kid.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard about your star moment in the park,” Memry said with a careless flap of her hand. “Heard your kidnapper guy got out recently; how’s that working out for you?”
Lynne’s response was perhaps a shade too loud, her posture a little too insouciant as she answered, “Oh, him? Nah, no big deal. He’s a changed man these days, mostly hangs out with his fiancée and his… friends. Or so I understand.”
Rindge gave her a worried look but forestalled Memry’s next jibe as he brought in a new topic. “OK, now look, we really do have to talk a little business. You both want the SIU spot, but you’ve got to earn it. Inspector Cabanela has suggested a little… competition.”
Lynne sat straight. “He did? How will it work?”
Memry took a long drink of water, eyes trained on Rindge, but said nothing. He nodded at her and began. “You’ll each work a case as a temporary partner with me. Inspector Cabanela will have full oversight of the case and procedure; he’ll decide which of you does better and the Captain will confirm. As it happens, two fresh ones dropped on my desk this morning, so we’ll be working them in tandem.”
He handed Lynne a green folder. “Meet me after lunch and we’ll go over the details. Be prepared.” To Memry, he handed a red folder. “You’re with me right now. You’ll have to get the details in transit. Go book us out the van and requisition the stuff listed on the first page of the folder.”
“Hey, what is this?” Memry snatched the folder lying in front of her, flipping through it as fast as possible. “So she gets the headstart on the info? How’s that fair?”
“You really want to start this out by questioning me?” Rindge slapped the folder. “I know what I’m doing. I’m waiting for you to prove that you do too.”
Memry’s mouth twisted, but she got up and took the folder. As she flounced out, she shot back at Lynne, “Don’t think this means anything. I’ll do what it takes to get what I want.”
“Yeah, yeah, odd girl,” mumbled Lynne, already poring over her folder. She looked up at Rindge. “Is this for real?”
“Please hold all questions until after lunch.” Rindge gave her a flat look and pushed his cap down over his eyes. “I’ll expect you to meet me with the requested materials at the location.”
“Err, yes, sir,” Lynne responded, taken a little aback by his seriousness, and she was already heading back to her desk as Rindge headed the other direction to meet with Memry.
He found her leaning on the surveillance van, a bag next to her, reading the folder for all she was worth. She looked up as he stepped into the garage. “Are you for real?” She waved the folder. “We have to go to the park? Seriously?”
“Crimes happen anywhere, Detective, even parks,” he answered primly, and gestured her around to the passenger side. As they drove, Rindge nodded to the folder. “Did you read everything?”
“Most of it, I guess,” said Memry, her eyes trained out the window as they curved around the waterfront.
“You gonna finish it reading before we get there?”
“Umm…no?” Memry fidgeted. “I get motion-sick really easily. I really prefer bikes… or roller-blades, those are great. Won’t you please just tell me, your charming and delicate protégée, the rest?”
Rindge shot her a sidelong glance but shrugged. “I can’t imagine there’s much more to it than what you first saw. This park is getting wrecked every day. There’s a guy who lives there, calls himself the Park Guardian, and he asked us to come and look things over, try to figure out who and why.”
“And this requires the SIU because…”
“Because, like I said, this guy lives there, in the park, 24/7, and he’s seen nothing. He’s claiming it’s the work of the gods, and they’re angry.”
“Uh… okay… odd guy.”
“I agree, but we still have to check it out.”
“Yeah, fine, but it’s just gonna be kids or something.”
Rindge pulled into the park and parked the van. “Let’s look at the facts and then decide that, huh?”
Memry stepped out and made a face. “It’s hot. I think I’m overdressed. Why can’t a park be air-conditioned?”
Rindge had to agree. Mid-summer, outside in the park, it was hot. He took his hat off for a moment and ran his fingers through his hair, which was sticking out in about a million directions. Memry took one look at him and snorted. “Too cute! I might fall for you again!”
“Shut up.” He shoved his hat firmly back on his head but loosened his tie in one sole concession to the heat. “Come on, the weird guy said he’d be over by Mino.”
“Is it still hanging out here in the park?” Memry scuffled her feet. “That thing is creepy.”
“Yeah, well, the mess is centered there so let’s go.” They walked further into the park, quickly approaching the central fountain. As they went, they passed the swing set and the spinning jungle gym, both on their sides and looking rather the worse for wear, the accompanying seesaw the only thing that seemed mostly intact.
“Gosh, what happened to this place?” Memry said, looking around. “It used to be so nice here. A kid could come and hang out all on her own and never have to worry about anything.”
“Yeah, well, time is passing.” Rindge gave the park a disinterested glance. “And we should too; we’ve got a weird guy to find.”
“I’m here!” The youth in question popped out of the bushes, brandishing pamphlets at them. “Save the rock of the gods! Their anger will fall upon us all if Mino is removed from the park!”
“Huh?” Rindge, by reflex, took a pamphlet that was shoved into his hands. “Are you the guy who called the police about this?”
“Indeed I am! Unscrupulous people want this rock removed and the park turned into condos, but we are already paying the price! Look, all around you! Their anger is confined to the mischief of the gods now, but soon it will be too late! I’ve written all about in pamphlet number 4, see here miss!”
They looked around. Certainly, the damage seemed comprehensive. Mino itself had been lifted away, presumably by crane, and put back on its stand. Over the years it had been defaced and repainted, its carved features distorted by the hands of vandals and clumsily repaired by someone else, presumably its so-called Guardian. The rest of the park had not fared so well. The fountain spigots were firing haphazardly, spraying water hither and yon. Trash on the ground, blown by the breeze, would lift, momentarily swirl in a fitful spiral, and scatter somewhere new, only to be picked up again.
“So, uh,” began Memry, “why’s it the rock of the gods? Looks like a big dumb sweet-potato face to me.”
“Don’t insult Mino!” the youth said, horror written on his features. “His anger will fall on you!”
Memry waved her hand carelessly. “C’mon, I’d like to see him try.” Before she could say more, her bracelet flew right off her hand and landed in the bushes, and when Memry started after it, puzzled, to pick it up, she tripped over an unfortunately placed ball and fell into the fountain. Dripping, she sat up, looking in bedraggled rage at the youth. “Hey! Did you push me? Was that a dig at saying I’d like to see him try? You didn’t have to help!”
Rindge snorted and shook his head. “He didn’t touch you, Memry. I was watching.” His hat came off his head and went flying into the water. “Hey!” He jumped and whirled. “Who did that?”
“The mischief of the gods! You see!” The youth began bowing and scraping towards Mino, a frenzied dance. “We hear and obey, fated one!”
Memry climbed out of the fountain. “Hear and obey, nothing! This just got real personal, real quick!” Something caught her attention. “Hey, what do you mean, fated one?”
The youth paused his cavorting to point at a nearby darkened spot on the ground. “The loathsome meteor came, and I saw! A piece of it struck the sacred Mino, and he moved, he twirled in an impossible dance! And after that, although no one died, two were injured badly and I knew this park must be forever protected from His curse! Mino’s dark wrath! And now…you see what’s happening?! I’ve written all about the happenings in this park in pamphlet number 9!”
Rindge picked his dripping hat up, wrung it out, and shoved it firmly back on his head, water and all. “A meteor? That was ages ago, wasn’t it? Surely it was removed and taken away?”
The youth stopped for a moment. “No? It’s still there.”
Memry looked at the disturbed earth of the crater. “Are you sure?”
“I think I would have noticed someone digging up a huge horrible chunk of space rock, miss!” The youth drew himself up, offended.
“Because you live here, right, right.” Memry leaned into Rindge’s ear. “OK, Sarge, watch me work my magic. I’m gonna have this figured out, why, what, how, and all, and I’m gonna do it by lunch, even with the weird guy.”
“That’s what I brought you here for.” Rindge gestured her ahead. “Go on, Detective.”
Despite Memry’s bravado, she turned up nothing. She inspected the meteor’s crater, its freshly turned earth suspicious, but nothing appeared removed. Minutely, she checked the fountain, nearly falling in again as she talked to the cavorting, dancing youth, who carried on with his exhortations and pleas to the vast and silent Mino. She climbed on the playground equipment, but she couldn’t move the swing or the jungle gym so she ultimately left it alone; she even looked into the car park and the restrooms, which seemed dilapidated but nowhere near the amount of damage she’d seen by Mino. The entire time she was plagued by misfortune, and the more she struggled the worse it seemed to get. Finally, frustrated, she leaned against the van, fanning herself as she’d dried off long since.
“OK, Sarge, you had your fun. I admit I’m at a bit of a loss here. Can’t you give me a little hint?”
Rindge looked at her, stone-faced. “What’s your working hypothesis? Who’s doing this?”
Memry sulked. “Fine, be that way. All I can figure is sabotage. Or espionage? One of those.”
“Spies.” Rindge straightened, looking at her very seriously. “Why do you say so?”
“C’mon. The only other explanation is ghosts and that’s just ridiculous.” Memry laughed. Rindge didn’t. “Uh… anyway, you know the Azuls use their weird tech for all sorts of strange reasons. That big sweet potato is probably a plant so they can spy on us. It’s what I’d do!”
“So you think it’s the Azuls. Interesting.” Rindge nodded. “OK, Detective, I’ve got to head to my next case. Are you staying here to try to confirm your ideas?”
“I… guess? Anything to avoid that van again. I’ll rent a bike to get back,” Memry said, waving a hand at the racks of bicycles at the edge of the park. “So, uh… I guess I’ll stay here and try to find evidence of bugs or other surveillance. Can I get some of the boys in blue to help out?”
Rindge shook his head. “Sorry, this one’s all you. Check in with the department frequently. You have Inspector Cabanela’s office number? There’s a payphone right over there.”
“Where will you be?”
Rindge hopped into the van, leaning out the window. “Sorry, that’s need-to-know, and you don’t.”
Memry pouted. “You’re so cold to me, Sargeant. But I’ll win you over yet! When I solve this case and join the SIU, you’ll see my charms.” She fluffed her hair and did a little twirl. “Memry’s magic has yet to be truly cast!”
“Yeah, yeah, odd girl, get to work and impress me already.” He drove out of the lot, leaving Memry behind.
Lynne waited near the restaurant, the tantalizing smell of the newest, hottest entrée, the curried chicken, wafting past her. She’d considered getting there early and eating lunch, but given the delicate nature of the case, had opted for a street cart before getting dressed in the clothes the police quartermaster, snickering, had handed her. The short, tight, orange dress with its pink and white apron was cute enough, she supposed, but her hair was nearly unmanageable when she took it down and so the huge poofed chicken hat with its pink ribbon was balanced somewhat precariously atop a mass of frizz. Alas, the pièce de résistance, the orange calf-high boots with roller-skate wheels, were nearly unmanageable for her. Lynne had never learned to skate, her parents not being so kind as to take her to such childhood delights, and so she fumbled her clumsy, weaving way back to the restaurant, arriving just as Rindge pulled sedately into the parking lot. She pulled herself along by the hand-rail, at last managing to stand straight in front of him.
“Uh… wow, Detective, this is quite the look,” Rindge said. “Like a calf learning to walk. Or a chick, I guess.”
“Yeah! Guess we’re going to find out how quickly I can learn to skate!” Lynne said cheerfully, although the man standing with Rindge, a hugely tall man with blue hair cut in a large wedge, gave her a look of sudden doubt.
“I’m not sure how unobtrusive she’s going to be here,” he said to Rindge. “Miss, have you ever been a waitress before?”
“Nah, but how hard can it be? Take the orders, bring the orders, take the money. Don’t eat the food no matter how hungry you get. Bring water when they ring three times. See? Easy-peasy. I eat here all the time.”
“Yes, but all while you’re on skates,” the man pointed out. “I don’t know, Sergeant, I’m not sure this is going to work. Besides, someone might recognize her.”
Lynne peered up at him. “You’re the bartender, right? I don’t normally go upstairs at all, so if this has something to do with that up there, no one’s likely to recognize me… except maybe the chef.” She frowned. “Where is he anyway? Normally you can hear him singing for blocks.”
Rindge shook his head at her. “The lunch rush is over now. Dinner will be starting in three hours, so he went to take a break.”
“Perfect, that’s plenty of time to learn to skate and also how to be a waitress. You can be my test subject.” Lynne tried to essay a twirl and nearly fell, catching herself on Rindge and holding on as she tried to regain equilibrium.
“I think you’re forgetting the point of why we’re here, Detective.” He disentangled himself from her and stepped back.
“Huh?” Lynne looked puzzled. “We’re here to catch some spies or something, aren’t we? It’s my first undercover assignment! She held up the bag of tools she’d brought and dug into it, nearly falling again. “See? Got the bugs and everything.”
“And you know how to use them? And when?”
Lynne looked uncertain. “I wait for the signal from our friend here, then plant one on their food…right?”
“And you turn it on, and make sure it’s transmitting…”
“Er.” Lynne fidgeted with the bug. “I, uh… don’t know how to do that, exactly. Technology and I have an, um, uneasy relationship.”
Rindge sighed. “OK. Let’s do a test run and I’ll teach you.”
An hour later he sat, hat soaked yet again by an unfortunate water incident when Lynne had been unable to stop in time for his table, covered in curry sauce from the test meal she’d insisted on delivering, staring at the sparking, cracked remains of the bug which was all too conspicuously placed on his plate and garnished with a sprig of parsley.
“Why, exactly, did you think the parsley was a good idea?” he asked, trying to understand her thought process.
“It looked like a dot of sauce and I thought maybe it could be like one of those fancy restaurants where that’s all that comes on a plate?” Lynne offered.
Rindge thought about the myriad things wrong with that statement and settled for, “Sauce doesn’t generally spark electricity. Nor does the bug, for that matter. Why is it broken?”
“Oh, I was trying to use tongs to place it and I guess I don’t know my own strength!” Lynne laughed, unfazed. “We’ve got more, so it’s no big deal.”
Rindge put his face in his hands and sighed. It was, really, kind of a big deal. The bugs were expensive and fragile, and he could only imagine how many more they might go through. “You’re… really bad at this.”
“Hey! I’m delicate, you know! That hurts my feelings!” Lynne flounced, pouting, and overbalanced herself, completely losing her balance at last and landing in a crumpled heap. Her beleaguered hat, only loosely moored on her hair, flopped off, letting her hair explode like a fiery dandelion.
“Look, this is really not working,” the bartender said, joining them. “I’ve got six broken glasses up there from her previous attempts. The chef will be here any minute, and we open up in two hours.”
Rindge scrubbed a hand over his face. “OK. Yes. I tell you what. Go ahead and prep the restaurant. I’m going to take Lynne with me to check on my other case and we’ll talk in the car about alternative ways we can still get this done. You’re sure they’re supposed to be here tonight?”
“That’s what the woman with the loopy hair said last week. Haven’t seen her in since but she and her companion were definitely suspicious.”
Rindge drew him aside, out of Lynne’s earshot. “If they come in again, be careful. That “woman with the loopy hair” is one of Azul’s most dangerous operatives. And her companion may come off as the more polite and well-mannered of the two, but he’d kill you as soon as look at you if he thought you were getting in the way. Just do your job and we’ll handle the rest.”
The bartender looked down his nose at Rindge. “I don’t need to be told how to do my job. Let’s see you people in the police do yours. That’s why I called you.”
“We’ll get it done. You called us in, and you did the right thing.”
Rindge walked back to Lynne. “All right, Detective, come with me. Uh… maybe take the skates off first.”
Rindge said little as they drove away from the restaurant, only giving Lynne the tersest of instructions as to what he wanted her to do when they reached their next destination. When they pulled up to the park, she balked.
“I didn’t know we were coming here,” she said, staring out at the playground. “I don’t… I don’t like this place much.”
Rindge nodded. “I know. That’s why I assigned Memry this case, and you the one at the Chicken Kitchen. It seemed at first like that was a natural fit.”
“I don’t need your pity, Sarge!” Lynne sat straight, indignant.
“Not pity, Detective, practicality. You’ve got baggage here, and I thought it would interfere with your ability to get the job done.”
“Oh.” Lynne slumped. “Well, what now? I didn’t get my job done anyway.”
“Hmm. I’d say that remains to be seen,” Rindge said, his tone neutral. “Let’s find Memry and discuss how well she’s done on her end.”
They entered the park to find it empty of the expected presence of Memry, although the Park Guardian still cavorted and danced in front of the fountain, now spewing gouts of water in all directions, seemingly trying to hit him. Lynne laughed in delight to see the improvised water ballet he was doing to avoid the spray hitting his precious pamphlets while still proselytizing to anyone who would listen. Even Mino occasionally trembled on its pedestal, rocking side by side.
She avoided looking at the spot, all too close, where she’d been taken hostage, preferring instead to direct her attention to the effects of the curious chaos in the park. There seemed to be no pattern, except that it all, eventually, involved the statue before settling for a moment or two and then escalating again. Lynne considered how to test her burgeoning hypothesis further, but was interrupted by the arrival of Memry, who screeched in on a pair of roller skates, stopping perfectly in front of Lynne for just a moment, before it appeared the skates themselves began rolling onward, sending Memry slowly careening toward the fountain and the guardian.
“Aw, not again,” yelled Memry. Lynne managed to catch her by the back of her blouse, halting Memry but not, unfortunately, the skate wheels, and they were both brought down in a tumble of long limbs.
“What are you even doing here?” hissed Memry, disengaging herself. “This is my case, you sneaky…” Frustration filled her face, and she looked around wildly. “Or… did you already solve yours and now you’re here to take mine? That’s not it, right?”
“Geez, calm down,” said Lynne. “The only reason I’m here is because he brought me.” She pointed at Rindge, who had ducked and covered when Memry began rolling again, clutching his hat protectively.
He waved at them, gesturing back towards the van. As they entered, the quiet space inside was a huge relief compared to the chaos of the park outside.
“I mean. This is ridiculous,” growled Memry. “I go to get some bugs so I can surveil the park tonight and they tell me that you already checked them all out, and then when I get back you’re trying to take my case too?”
“I’m not!” said Lynne, raising her hands to stem the angry tide. “Uh… if you wanna know the truth, I’m not doing so hot with my case so the Sarge had to bring me along while he checked on you. We have to figure out a different plan.” She paused “Wait a minute! What do you mean I checked them all out? I thought we had hundreds of those things!”
Memry deflated. “Oh. Sorry, but not really? And no, just a few.”
“Oh.” Lynne looked thoughtful. “And… if, hypothetically speaking, I broke a couple…or several…or, umm, a few…”
“You did what?” Rindge interjected. “When did that happen?”
“Hypothetically, back at the Chicken Kitchen…?”
“Just… tell me the damage. How many are left?”
“I thought we had more back at the precinct!”
Lynne nodded, satisfied he understood. “That’s right!”
“What!” Memry interjected. “But what about my case? I was going to use those!”
Rindge frowned. “And we definitely needed them for the op. This is bad.” He frowned at Lynne. “This goes beyond the competition, you know. This is about making sure the citizens are safe. Same goes for you as well, Memry. I hope you have a plan because at this rate, you both fail.”
Lynne shrugged. “This thing at the park seems pretty simple to me.” She pointed at the fountain, just visible through the window. “I mean, whatever’s doing this is in it just for fun. I think. I kind of know, maybe, how it works? I need to talk to someone first.”
“You do?” Memry stared her, mouth open. “But that’s why I needed the bugs! I was going to listen in to the park tonight and try to catch these guys in action.”
“These guys?” Lynne blinked at her. “Uh, yeah. These guys. Sure.” She offered Memry the broken bug she’d removed from the table at the restaurant. “I have this one left! Only lightly crushed!”
Memry stared at her and the bug, taking it gingerly. “Huh.” She inspected it and shrugged. “I think I can fix it; I’ve had to before when I broke one. But you better not break it again.”
Lynne grinned. “I think I have an even better idea.”
Over the next two hours, Rindge watched Memry fix the bug, using the tiny toolset that came in their case. Lynne went and changed back into her clothes in the park facilities, then went to use the payphone, coming back smug and mysterious when the other two questioned her. She placed the restaurant uniform next to Memry and headed back into the park proper. Rindge watched her dodge the fountain and the skidding, wailing guardian and stride with deliberate pace for the crater, kneeling down to inspect it without care for the fitful, tossing breeze that tried to pluck at her hair and clothes, although he noted that she carefully put the toy badge she habitually wore inside a buttoned pocket.
When Memry came out of her concentration fugue, she found the uniform next to her and Lynne sitting and watching her. Rindge was gone, presumably to the restrooms. “What’s this?” she asked, waving the hat at Lynne.
“Here’s my plan,” said Lynne without preamble. “You take this case at the Chicken Kitchen. You already know how to roller-skate and use the bugs, not to mention you can fix that thing if it breaks again. It plays to your strengths.”
“OK…” Memry blinked. “I mean, what do you get out of that?”
“I’ll take over this case at the park. I think I have an idea of what happened already and I’ve called in someone who can maybe partly confirm? And then we’ll both solve our cases.” Lynne gave her a brilliant smile. “It’s a win-win!”
“How is it a win-win, you weirdo?” Memry huffed. “Then neither of us gets what we want.”
Lynne spread her hands. “I’m just trying to help however I can. Plus, you’ll look way cuter in this uniform than I did.”
Memry blinked, then blushed a little as she looked away. After a second, she said, “…of course I will. Fine.” She picked up the hat. “But… are you gonna be OK? You hate this park.”
“C’mon, it’s obvious. You’ve been extra restless ever since you got here. If I didn’t know you, I’d definitely call you suspicious.” Memry shoved the hat on her head, ruthlessly quashing her fluff of curly hair. “Besides, I told you. Everyone knows about what happened here when you were a kid. It was really obvious why Rindge gave us the cases he did when I started thinking about it.”
Lynne wrung her hands, a nervous habit that she hadn’t been able to break. “Yeah, well, I was a kid. We have a job to do, you know, “making sure the citizens are safe” and all that.” Her impression of Rindge was weak, but Memry chuckled anyway. “Anyway, I’m not gonna run into him here.”
“How can you be so sure?” Memry asked, a small frown in her voice.
“Aww! Are you worried about me?” Lynne grinned at her. “He and I and the captain got together over the phone shortly before he got out. We talked about a few things and anyway, long story short, where he is I won’t be, and vice versa.”
“Huh? How’s that work? There’s no way you can be sure of that.”
“Captain Jowd has his ways,” Lynne said, electing not to mention Sissel or Missile. That part of the conversation had been private, just between her and Jowd and Cabanela, after she’d passed her Detective’s exam. She knew this particular act of thoughtfulness had probably not been his idea, especially from the way his wife Alma and the Inspector had hovered over her at the party, but she was grateful for the arrangement nevertheless. “Anyway! What do you think?”
“I think I’m still gonna win this competition,” said Memry, holding up the bug so it twinkled in the light. “But you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Memry got dressed and packed up, saying she’d skate to the restaurant to avoid both the van and the suspicion. Rindge called ahead and explained things to the bartender and the chef, who sang joyfully over the phone of his delight that someone of such ineffable grace and intelligence would be serving both his chicken and justice. None of the detectives had trouble interpreting: he was glad not to have any more glasses broken or chaos caused in his restaurant.
Rindge elected to stay in the park and watch from afar, using the binoculars in the van. It was as close to being in two places at once as he could manage. Lynne walked over to the far side of the park, skirting the chaos at the center as best she could, and met her expert consultant. She couldn’t speak to Sissel or Missile, of course, and she was glad, she thought with a shiver, that she wasn’t in a position to do so at this time. But she’d been practicing, and she thought she and the kitten had come to some kind of understanding. It helped that he’d picked up a smattering of skills in the ten years since the incident, chief among them, at least for her current purposes, the ability to read and, somewhat clumsily, write.
She’d used Captain Jowd as an intermediary this time, only telling him that she had need of Sissel’s skills. She hadn’t worried for even a second that he’d tell her no, and sure enough, he’d listened to her story, laughed his biggest guffaw of a laugh, and told her that if Sissel was willing, he’d come to meet her. Evidently, Sissel was, and he had. The kitten meowed at her in polite greeting as he came trotting through the park. She leaned down and scritched him behind the ears, more for her own comfort than his, although he summoned a brief throaty purr for her and squeezed his eyes in a cat smile.
Lynne explained to him what was happening in the park. He looked around in a way she couldn’t help but see as knowing, although whether that was the natural smugness of a cat or actual familiarity she wasn’t sure. He went and examined the same things she had as she followed, and at last, politely tapped her shoe to make sure she noticed before he went completely limp and still. She picked his body up, knowing he was no longer inhabiting it, and watched the trail of anti-chaos wend its way through the park.
She hadn’t been sure it was Temsik-caused at first. Inspector Cabanela and Detective Jowd, at that first meeting after her party, had told her they’d had the meteor and all the shards they could find removed from the park at first opportunity and placed somewhere safer, leaving only a decoy in its place while they distracted the park guardian. But she’d been watching Sissel and training to understand him for six months now, and she thought she had a pretty good idea of how his powers worked. This didn’t seem to be exactly the same, but she could absolutely tell that whoever or whatever was doing this was enjoying themselves. She’d let Sissel work, and despite knowing it was her competition, she hoped Memry was figuring out her case as well.
Memry tapped her toes inside her skates, bored. The restaurant was dead, with only two guests in the bar area. They were an odd pair, she had to admit – one squinted at the menu nonstop and the other would only ring the water bell twice, as if he expected her to be one step ahead of his request. They appeared to be waiting for someone and had gotten four glasses of water apiece. That was the only thing keeping her busy, besides some rather desultory flirting with the bartender just to keep her hand in. She was sure these two were suspicious, but the signal refused to trigger and so she waited.
“Can I get you gentlemen some chicken?” she offered, with a professional smile. “The curried chicken is our newest house specialty.”
“Nah, sister, just water for now. We got another one coming, though, so just keep an eye out.” The squinty one peered up at her, then went back to perusing his menu.
The other one, who wore the glasses his companion apparently eschewed, gave her a stare he probably thought was imposing. “You’re talking to the next division head, you know. Better make sure you’re on your toes.”
Memry perked up. “Oh? Division head?” she purred, leaning a hip against the table. “That’s sooo interesting. I just looove a man in charge.” Internally she rolled her eyes, but she knew how guys like this worked.
He looked gratified to have someone take an interest and opened his mouth, only to be beaten to the punch by his companion. “Not really your business, sister. Just the water and none of the lip, thanks.”
“That’s so mean,” said Memry, pouting. “I’ve been making eyes at you gentlemen all night, I finally get to talk to you, and you ignore me? Why don’t you quit looking at the menu and look at me, huh?”
“What?” The non-squinter looked owlishly at her. “I can’t have any scandal, miss, not before I’m a director. It’s flattering but better just get us our drinks and be quick about it.”
“Hmmph.” Memry straightened with an indignant flounce. “Fine, two cocktails on me so you know what you’re missing.”
She ignored their weak protests and mumbles of “Odd girl” and “I agree” as she skated back to the bartender. “Two of your best cocktails please, for the gentlemen in the corner,” she said loudly, for their benefit, and lowered her voice. “I don’t trust these guys. Make their drink for them and I’m gonna add a little extra. Just gotta go call Sergeant Rindge.”
The bartender shrugged, and Memry disappeared into the elevator. She called the park’s payphone and managed to get Rindge on the line, telling him to turn on the transceiver but stay where he was unless she called back.
“And, uh… how’s Lynne doing?” she asked, a little nervous that he would say she’d cracked her case and was sitting around making card houses.
“She’s…” Rindge was silent for a while. “Walking around the park with a cat. Guess she found a friend.”
“Huh?” Memry shook her head. “Well, that’s a thing. Well, I think these guys here are with the Azuls so I’m just gonna let you listen in a little.”
“Well, I’ll trust your instincts,” Rindge said, “But I sure hope this isn’t a waste of both our times.”
“Eh, time’s passing all the same, so might as well spend it,” Memry said carelessly and hung up the phone. She garnished the cocktails she found waiting for her with little umbrellas and flowers, and attached the bug carefully to it, making it look decorative before carrying it back over to the men’s table.
“Here you go!” she said, setting them down with a flourish. “Like I said, on me. And just ring the bell three times if you want more water.” She began to roll away; the second man rang the bell twice.
“I’ll need more water in five minutes,” he said smugly. Memry debated turning the pitcher upside down on his head. Instead, she merely nodded and skated away, back to the bar.
A moment or so later, the third member of their party showed up at last, an older man with a prodigious mustache and drooping eyes. Memry couldn’t hear what he said but trusted Rindge would let her know if there was something amiss.
Rindge listened intently to the transceiver as the three men settled. The new one didn’t seem much for pleasantries and got straight to the point.
“Sith’s impatient. Wants us to get the target and leave.”
“What about Beauty?”
“Forget her and Dandy. They made a mistake they’re not coming back from.”
“Hmph, less competition for me.”
“Idiot, it doesn’t matter unless we get what Sith wants.”
“That park is right near here then, let’s just go.”
“Wait. What’s the objective again? Just to make sure it’s clear.”
“You’re never going to get ahead in the Organization this way, you know.”
“Just tell me again.”
“Get the meteor, take out anyone or anything that looks like they know anything about it, and get out. Simple as that.”
“I’ve heard stories about that park. They say anyone who goes there gets cursed with bad luck.”
“Yeah, well, their bad luck is our good luck if we can get the meteor back to Sith.”
“Let’s go then, get it over with.”
“What if there’s someone in the park?”
“Then we do our jobs and you do yours.”
There was a great amount of rustling, as of three men preparing to leave their table, and Rindge strained to hear anything else as they walked away.
“What about our free drinks?”
“Hah, I drank mine already.”
And then they were gone. Rindge dropped the headset. He hadn’t expected the two cases to intertwine this way, and now he had to act fast so his rookies weren’t in danger. He found Lynne at the fountain, staring at a black cat and a large white bird of some sort. They appeared to be in some kind of deep, still communion. Mino had fallen off its post and lay abandoned and cracked on its side. The guardian sat staring at it, mouth opening and closing but silent for the first time that day.
“What happe--is that the Captain’s cat?”
“Uh-huh,” said Lynne absently. “Hey, so I know this is probably out of the blue, but…”
“No, what’s out of the blue is what’s about to happen,” Rindge said, and explained as rapidly as he could what he’d heard. “And now we need to get out of here. Take the meteor if we can and go.”
“The meteor’s gone,” said Lynne, her brow wrinkling. “Inspector Cabanela had it removed because he was worried about something just like this.”
“How do you know that?”
“Umm…” Lynne looked evasive. “Look, it’s not important right now. But I think I have an idea.” She gestured at the bird. “So you missed a lot and I can’t explain much right now, but the meteor grants weird powers when it’s embedded in a body, and that goose has a big chunk of it inside it.”
“OK…” Rindge stared, puzzled. “Shouldn’t it be dead?”
“Questions for another time, OK?” Lynne said. “But anyway, I think we should take it and Sissel and go.”
“Uh. All right.” Rindge picked up the limp body of the kitten. “Hey. It’s dead!”
“It’s not. Just go,” said Lynne, grabbing the equally still goose and the guardian by the collar, dragging him away from Mino. “We need to get to the van and then head to the waterfront. We can pick up Memry on the way.”
Rindge shrugged. “Your case, I guess.” They packed up as quickly as possible and drove out of the park just before the three men from the restaurant walked into it.
There was no one corporeal to watch the three men enter the eerily quiet and still park and dig up the meteorite, nor to witness them take it to the waterfront, but the three detectives watched the submarine surface and the three men enter with their prize. A few minutes later, a massive whale surfaced under the submarine, sending it tossing about like a toy ship in a bathtub. It landed in the water again and valiantly attempted an escape, but began shooting steam from a vent that opened on top for no discernible reason. A few moments later, a small vessel shot away from the submarine, only to be caught, in an improbable chain of events, on a mooring rope attached to a large yacht and stopped dead in the water. Men began to boil from the submarine, and the backup police Rindge had called began their arrests, culminating with the three men from the restaurant and a short gentleman with incredibly bushy eyebrows. The salvage of the submarine was beginning as Captain Jowd strolled up to the scene, Inspector Cabanela sauntering behind. “I see you’ve both finished your cases in spectacular fashion,” Jowd said, reaching out his hand for Sissel’s body.
“Thiiis is what the SIU is about, baby!” cheered Cabanela, watching the goose waddle away as fast as her legs could take her. “You want to give your report riiight now?”
Rindge seemed at a loss for words, and Memry jumped in to explain her theories about spies and their technology and their interest in the park. Lynne was quiet, watching Sissel, who blinked and stood up in Jowd’s hands, jumping up to nestle into the curve of his shoulder.
“And what does my Lynne have to say about it all?” Cabanela said after Memry wound down.
“The park’s safe and so is the Chicken Kitchen—” said Lynne, Jowd interjecting a pleased hum at that, “and we owe it to Sissel, really. He figured out how to convince our friend there to leave the park and come here instead.”
Memry looked indignant. “Excuse me? You may have been lazing around the park with a bunch of animals like a crazy fairytale princess… person but some of us were working hard.”
“You’re right!” said Lynne, grinning at her. “You made a great waitress!”
“Shut up,” said Memry. “I want to make a great Inspector.” She turned to Cabanela. “So who won? Which of us did better?”
Rindge said, “Wait. I still don’t really understand what happened. Did this have something to do with the meteorite or not? I’ve heard about Temsik before but this is the first time I’ve ever been on a case where I had a need-to-know.”
Jowd and Cabanela gave each other a look, and then, inexplicably, looked down at Sissel. If a cat can shrug, that’s what he did. Jowd said, “This is top-secret information. Are we all of sufficient clearance to know?”
Lynne said, “I’d like to tell them if it would be all right! They deserve to know!”
“Why does she—” Memry began. Jowd gave Lynne the nod, and Rindge shushed Memry as Lynne launched into the whole history of Sissel and Temsik. At last, she reached the end and took a huge breath.
“So what does this have to do with today?” Rindge said, frowning.
“I guess the goose you saw got hit at the same time?” said Lynne. “It’s hard for me to talk to Sissel but that was the gist of the story I got.”
Jowd nodded. “He says that’s right.” Memry started, peering at Sissel peeking back at her from the fluff of Jowd’s hair.
“He can talk?”
“Only to the Captain…and to my kidnapper. Yomiel. Anyway, not the important bit here. The goose also has these “powers of the dead”, but they’re different from Sissel’s. It can cause bad luck, almost like a curse.”
“Ohhhh,” said Memry, realizing. “So back at the park? But why?”
“Does it need a reason?” Lynne asked, spreading her hands. “It’s a goose, not a human. It was having fun.”
“But why did it suddenly get worse?” Rindge asked. “It’s been ten years since the meteor fell.”
“They just recently replaced Mino on his stand,” replied Lynne. “And when they did, the goose‘s body somehow accidentally got trapped in the central pillar. She didn’t know how to leave her body before but she figured it out really quick when she had to. And then she was just hanging out in the park without a body and that’s when she figured out how to use her ghost tricks. And I guess the Azuls heard about the “cursed” park and thought the meteor might be the cause.”
“So what happened here?”
“Well…” Lynne looked pleased with herself. “Sissel talked the goose into helping him if he helped her get her body back and he used his ghost tricks to move Mino.”
“His powers have grown and changed a lot in ten years,” interjected Jowd. “He used to only be able to do small things.”
Lynne shrugged. “Not anymore, I guess! Anyway, they went ahead via phone line when those guys contacted the submarine to pick them up, and then the goose used her “curse” on them.”
“So how do we know that the goose won’t just go right back to the park?” asked Memry, exasperated.
Jowd listened to Sissel for a moment. “No, really?” He shrugged. “Sissel told her he’d bring her back to life if she came back to the park and she refused. Vehemently. She didn’t even really care about getting her body back as long as she can keep doing what she does. I imagine we’ll see her again.”
“Bring her back to life?” Memry said. “This is just getting more and more complicated.”
Cabanela said, “Well, congratulations, baby, I gueeess you just got promoted to the SIU, where complication’s the name of the game,” to Memry. “On one condition.”
“Yesss!” cheered Memry. “Whatever you say, sir!”
“You partner up with my baby Lynne here, and work as a unit with Rindge,” finished Cabanela, beaming affably.
“What?” Memry stopped her impromptu wiggle-skate dance of joy. “Work with her?”
“Rindge here kept me posted how each of you solved the other’s problems,” said Cabanela, grinning. “Seeems like the start of a beautiful partnership, eh baby?” he elbowed Jowd, who nodded slowly.
“If you two agree, you can transfer in, effective immediately, and we’ll tell you about what the SIU really does,” he said. “Temsik, ghosts, and Azulian espionage are just the start.”
Lynne turned to Memry. “I’m in. What do you say, odd girl?”
Memry hesitated. She’d said she’d do whatever it took to get what she wanted, but this was so far beyond what she’d expected. And yet, today had been fun. Lynne was fun. Memry had a sudden certainty that work would never be boring with the two of them working together. She made up her mind. “All right. I agree.”
They turned to Rindge. “What do you think?”
He stared back at them, a deer in the headlights. Yes, work would be fun and never boring but it would never stop with these two, he was sure. And yet, only two words rose to mind, and he didn’t plan to regret them. “Me too.”
They left the waterfront and headed back to the station to make it official. Out in the bay, a white goose floated, paddling with some purpose back to the submarine. It had more mischief to cause there, and then a whole lot more than just a park to explore.