There are certain things in life that are mistakes but you don’t really know they are mistakes because the only to recognize a mistake is to make that mistake and say, “Yup, that was a mistake”.
That was the way Ben Wright felt about his assignment to the Miami Police Headquarters. All you need is one mistake and, bam!, your ass is hauled out by the powers that be. In Ben’s case, his mistake was doing a good job; maybe he’d done too good a job. The brass higher up had noticed him and they had concluded that his talents were being wasted in the Grapelands Heights Substation. And now he was being paid for his hard work with a transfer to HQ as a replacement detective.
Detective Ben Wright pulled into the parking lot in front of the sprawling Miami Police Headquarters building. The only available space was between a blue-white patrol car and a white Chevrolet. He guided his Chrysler into the marked area. Detective Ben Wright wasn’t much of a drinking man. That phase of his life had died prematurely when a medical doctor who also happened to be his girlfriend had told him that the only trip he would go on while mixing his medication with booze was to the mortician’s slab downstairs.
Contrary to media depiction, Miami is not one giant beach populated by bikini-clad blondes, sunshine, and teenage pregnancies. Since moving into his apartment at Hialeah two days ago, he had had a nagging feeling that he was being watched. If there was anything his years on patrol had taught him, it was how to discern danger way faster than the average citizen.
That was the problem. He could not pick up any hint of danger. He only had this funny feeling that there were two of him. Without much to go by, he chalked it up to the change in environment.
The green dials on the dashboard clock changed to 07:50 am. He was five minutes early. Detective Ben Wright prided himself on punctuality. He stepped out of the car into the early morning Miami sunlight.
The uniformed cop at the receptionist’s desk checked her appointments log and was satisfied to see ‘Detective Wright Ben’ first on the list. She smiled and told him Chief Peterson’s office was upstairs, last room straight down the hall.
Even from the transparent screen fixed on the plexiglass door, Ben could tell by the brightly interior that the office had a wonderful view.
He knocked briskly and a voice told him to “come in”.
The office did have a nice view. The entire left side was one wide glass screen that revealed a stunning view of the downtown Miami landscape. Fisher Island was a large sphere of green and brown in the distance and the Miami Beach looked close enough to touch.
The office itself was dotted with framed pictures of the Mayor and past Chiefs of Police; a long line of stern faced old and balding men interspersed by short lines of younger men with a full growth of black hair.
The woman standing near the glass screen was not wearing a uniform, Ben had not expected to see one, of course, benefits of earning the title ‘top brass’.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She said “No matter how long you’ve been here, you just never get used to it”.
She turned around to face him. Her face could have easily been gracing the front pages of the magazines on the magazine rack at the lobby. Her body showed signs of her exercise regimen but this didn’t interfere with her curves slightly accentuated by the black plaid skirt.
“Detective Ben Wright,” she said. It was not a question.
Detective Ben Wright nodded.
“Please sit down. Today is going to be one of the busy ones.” She sat behind the desk and motioned towards the chair in front of the desk. The desk was devoid of paperwork and the only occupants were a framed picture facing Peterson’s side of the desk and some stamps. That was when he saw that the name plate on the desk proudly announced the area as belonging to ANN Peterson.
“So, you’re the replacement for Detective Kyle Kent. You must have really impressed some top brass. Kyle was one of our finest.” She said. “We need you to get acquainted with the terrain pretty fast. This is not Grapeland Heights. Miami is a port city and as a result, there is a lot of smuggling and gang action around here. Put your ears to the ground and don’t ruffle the wrong feathers”.
There was a slight knock on the door.
The door opened an instant later and a man with the shiny golden badge of the Miami PD hanging around his neck stepped into the room.
“Chief”. He said, covering the distance to the desk in five strides.
“Detective,” She muttered to Wright, “Meet Detective Adrian Watts, Kyle’s ex-partner”.
Wright stood up to shake hands with the newcomer. He could feel the weight of the measuring gaze on his face. Whatever Watts concluded, he sure wasn’t showing it on his face.
“Please, call me Adrian”.
Adrian turned to Chief Patterson. He dropped a manila folder on the desk.
“This is the latest on the Norte Del Valle cartel”.
“The debriefing is by noon. Collate your findings”. She looked at Wright “Watts is continuing Kent’s investigation into the cartel’s smuggling ring. I want you two to work together on this”.
“Alright, Chief, I’ll get right on it”. He left the office.
Ben could tell that his debriefing was over. He stood up to leave. “I’ll get right down to work.” He shook Peterson’s proffered hand and made for the door
“One more thing” Peterson said. Wright stopped at the door, hand on the handle. “The memorial for our fallen officers is tomorrow. Watch your back out there, Detective, Kyle is the tenth man we’ve lost this month.”
The life of a detective is not as glamorous as TV and books will have you believe. It’s half filing of paperwork and half reading of paperwork. The only women they come in contact with in their line of work are not all journalists and madames willing to offer their nubile bodies in return for a little bit of inside scoop. The ones that do offer their bodies are not the hot women shown on TV. They are aged hookers and disheveled drug addicts looking to wriggle out of a rap…literally.
Detective Ben Wright had spent the better part of the day scrolling through documents detailing the hot spots in Downtown Miami. The illegal activities in the district were controlled in most parts by the Puerto Rican Mafia’s Wes Solano Organization and Negri’s Organisation. This ranged from bookmaking to illegal dog racing. The drug trafficking market itself was controlled by the Bolivian cartel, La Corporacion.
Slightly overwhelmed by all the information, he shut down the computer. He stretched and chuckled when he heard the satisfying crack of idle bones falling back into space. His new office was a little spacious but experience told him that in a matter of weeks, the empty surfaces will be filled with paper.
It was just a few days to Christmas and his office was decorated to suit the spirit of the yuletide season. Strings of twinkling colored bulbs ran along one side of his office. A squat Christmas tree adorned with golden wreaths sat at a corner of the office.
Ben wasn’t one for aesthetics but he trudged on with the knowledge that all the adornments would be pulled down pretty soon. He stepped out of the office and made for the men’s room down the hall. The department was abuzz with activity. He had to constantly sidestep rushing bodies outfitted in the uniform of Miami PD officers or the casual wears that marked out the civilians.
A framed photograph filled a part of the left side of the hallway. The officer in the photograph wore the black uniform of the Miami PD officers. His African American features were set in a grim and stern stare. The memorial photograph bore an inscription:
Detective Kyle Kent
“Good cop, that one”.
Ben recognized the voice instantly. It was Watts, the ex-partner.
“You two were close, no?”
“He was the brother I never had”. Watts smiled though it didn’t quite extend to his eyes. “We‘ve survived so many gunfights together that I’d almost assumed he was invincible”.
“How did he die?” Wright asked
“Food poisoning. Look, man. I don’t want to talk about it. Every day, I go into my office expecting him to just push his head through the door and try to get me to ask the receptionist downstairs out on a date”. He sighed “I have to go. The briefing starts in three minutes”.
They headed in opposite directions, Watts to the debriefing room and Wright pushed open the door to the men’s room.
Inside, two cops were arguing fiercely. One had a bag of onion bagels open in front of him and he was talking through mouthfuls. Snatches of “The Mets”, “The Marlins’, and “Don Mattingly” made it obvious that their argument bordered on baseball.
Ben ignored them and headed for a faucet. The cold water on his skin was the stimulus he needed. He looked up and stared at his reflection in the mirror. His grandma had told him he looked like a 60s movie star but Wright believed his forehead was just a tad too big for Hollywood. He pushed a few errant strands of hair back into place.
A fourth cop entered the room. He nodded at Kent and went into one of the stalls. Seconds later, the sound of a steady stream of water hitting the toilet bowl and a drawn out ‘aaaah’ leaked out of the stall.
Ben turned back to the mirror. Now, there was something different about it: what looked like black smudges were gradually gathering at the edges. He could have sworn that those had not been there before.
His eyes widened in horror as the smudge widened out to spread across half of the mirror. That in itself was not unsettling. The smudge had congealed to form the outline of a human face.
“What the f…” He mouthed as the shade of black spread out and settled beside his reflection. Ben shuffled backwards in confusion, he felt his back itch as strands of hair stood on end.
But nothing else changed about the room. The arguing cops were still shouting, oblivious to the spectacle unfolding before them. The bag of bagels was almost empty now and the ground was littered with strips of onion. The cop inside the stall was going about his operations quietly.
Wright turned back to the mirror. The smudge was getting thicker and this time, the face was more discernable. Then it hit him! The face before him was one he had seen just moments before stepping into the restroom.
“Hey!” Someone called out behind Ben. The sound only registered in Ben’s consciousness for a micro second before it was suppressed by the humdrum inside Ben’s head
A light tap on his shoulder jarred him back to life. He wheeled around to stare in white faced horror at the visage of the cop he had seen enter the stall earlier. Ben had not even heard the door to the stall creak open.
“Are you alright? You look so white!” The cop exclaimed.
“Did…are…di..” Ben stuttered. “Are you seeing this?” Ben forced the words through his lips.
“See what?” The cop inquired just as Ben turned around to the mirror.
His reflection stared back at him. He did look white but that was the only thing he could see in the mirror. The black smudge had vanished just as suddenly as it had appeared. Ben blinked his eyes open and shut impulsively but the mirror only reflected the room back at him.
Suddenly, he burst out in uproarious laughter. What had he thought was happening, a ghost attack? He laughed even louder.
The cop looked on in confusion as the new detective laughed all the way out of the rest room.
For all we know we might not get tomorrow. Let’s do it tonight
The cold night air brushed past his face. The city was sprawled out before him. He could see the lights in Little Havana and the silhouettes of private yachts and Miami PD patrol boats on the West Little River. The sickly bitter-sweet smell of the sea wafted up to his 2nd floor apartment.
Don’t care what they say or what games they play.
He pulled the windows shut. The freaky incident in the afternoon was all but forgotten.
The shrill vibration of his phone rattled the center table and he hurried over before it could topple over to the tiled floor. The caller ID displayed ‘Claire’.
Take advantage of tonight. Cause tomorrow I’m off to Dubai to perform for a princess
“Hey, babe”. He piped.
“Hi. So I was thinking we could go to that restaurant over at the Gardens. Say eight?” Claire wasn’t one for chit chat and catching up.
But tonight, I can make you my queen and make love to you endless.
Ben frowned. The room had suddenly grown darker as if the stream of moonlight into the room had been obstructed. He turned around and he could almost feel his heart beat faster as he realized that the window he just shut was totally darkened.
The drapes were still up but the moonlight could not penetrate the opaque darkness on the window. He moved closer to the window.
“You still there?” Claire said.
This is insane: the way the name growin’. Money keep flowin’.
“Yeah babe,” he replied distractedly. “I’m here. Dinner at the Gardens, yeah?”
“Yes. Then we could go over to the beach after. We never have time to go during the day anyways”.
Husstlers move aside. So, I’m tiptoein’, to keep flowin’.
Moving closer, he realized it wasn’t mutated fog, it was the same black smudge from earlier in the day.
“Holy Shit!” He muttered. “What the hell are you?”
“Ben? Who are you talking to?”
He moved across the room to silence his stereo as if that would make his thoughts more coherent. When he turned back around, the smudge on the window was gone.
“I think I’m tripping, Claire.” He voice quivered slightly. “Been seeing a lot of weird stuff all day.”
There was silence the other end.
“Hello. Claire? You there?”
When the speaker crackled, the voice that emanated was definitely not Claire’s. The bass had dropped a few notches.
“Who the hell is this?” Ben inquired, instantly alert.
“It doesn’t matter. Listen to me”. The cool, calm voice retorted.
“Who the hell is this? You have three seconds to return the phone to Claire or I will gouge out your eyeballs and skullfuck you!” Ben screamed into the phone. He knew his words were not making much sense but he could not do anything to prevent the outpouring of emotions.
The voice on the other end laughed. It was gritty, slightly metallic and downright disturbing.
“You’ll have to catch me first”. The calmness of the retort only served to inflame Ben even more.
“If anything happens to Claire, I will burn your goddamn cartel to the ground!” Ben spat. The word ‘Cartel’ had come out without much thought on his part. “Then I will come after you. I will see to it that you spend the next fifty years in prison getting anally violated. And if the case gets thrown out because my arrest was borderline murderous, then I will personally hire men to anally violate you for the next fifty years. You don’t want to mess with me. You had best get yourself together or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck”.
The laughter accompanying this outburst was more strained.
“Look here Ben; I’m not your enemy. I need your help”.
“I think there are better ways of asking for a man’s help than bloody kidnapping his girlfriend”
“Claire is fine. I took over your phone, not hers. She probably thinks your phone went off”.
“I swear to God, if anything happens to Claire…” Ben barked.
“Tsk tsk. More threats. I need you to listen to me carefully. Go near a mirror”.
“You heard me. Go look for a damn mirror”. Ben could feel the other man’s calm exterior slipping. He stopped pacing around the room and instead strode towards the window. The cool night wind blew against his face and he breathed in deeply before throwing his phone out of the window.
His years of experience as a cop told him that that was not the most rational thing to do at the moment. But Ben was not feeling particularly rational at the moment.
Almost immediately, the white lights on his stereo’s controls came on as the machine seemingly turned itself on. The speakers boomed:
“That was rude”.
The suddenness of the sound made him jump. He felt his heart beat harder. He could almost feel the blood rushing around his head.
Fear was not an emotion that Ben was used to. Over the course of his years in the force, Ben had stared death down more than five times. He had taken a slug to the guts but he had faced all of these without as much as a whimper.
But this, whatever this was, reacquainted Ben with a long suppressed emotion: fear. Detective Ben Wright felt fear for the first time in his adult life.
He slowly drew the window shut again and he watched in open mouthed amazement as the smudge started forming on the surface again.
“This is not happening. This is not happening”. He kept repeating to himself. He squeezed his eyes shut and imagined that he was back at his old precinct.
He opened his eyes. The smudge had become a face.
“This isn’t possible. You’re dead”. Ben said. His voice sounded strange to him. It sounded like what he imagined a teenager on his first hallucinogen-induced trip would sound like; slurred, otherworldly.
The lips of the apparition moved but the sound came from the music player’s speakers.
“IT’S COLD HERE.”
“Huh.” Ben mumbled. It sounded like the thing to say.
“AND TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION, YES, I AM DEAD.”
“But how are yo…”
“I DON’T KNOW EITHER. I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE. IT IS DARK AND COLD AND THE ONLY THING I CAN HEAR ARE YOUR THOUGHTS.”
“I don’t understand. How is any of this possible?”
“I WAS HOPING YOU COULD HELP ME WITH THAT.”
“BUT FIRST,” The shape paused, “I NEED YOU TO SOLVE A MURDER.”
“A murder? I don’t even know anything about this deadbeat city!” Ben protested. “I don’t think I am your best…”
“I KNOW THIS.” A part of Ben was angry at this. Who was Kyle to decide that he was a terrible detective at a whim? “BUT YOU ARE ALL I HAVE. I DON’T KNOW HOW I DO THE THINGS I DO, I DON’T WHY I CAN ONLY SEE THROUGH YOUR EYES! I DON’T KNOW!” The strength of the outburst made the sound system assume a slightly metallic and strained quality.
The room was very silent after this, even the noise of traffic from the nearby intersection was muted.
The absurdity of the situation was overwhelming for Ben.
“You want me to investigate a murder.” He started. “Whose?”
With that one word, the whole scenario became even more complicated.
“You died of food poisoning, man. Holy shit, I’m actually talking to a ghost.” Ben bended over double. He lowered his face into his cupped palms. “Food poisoning is a pretty shitty way to die but the coroner’s report had nothing related to foul play.”
“SOMETHING MUST HAVE BEEN MISSED. I NEED YOU TO GO THROUGH THE CASE FILES AGAIN. THE REPORTS. EVERYTHING.”
Ben stood up slowly. He turned away from the window and the ghostly apparition on it.
“Now that you’re here, wouldn’t you like to see some people from your old life? I don’t really know how this works but your wife?” He had read in his briefing that Kyle Kent had left a widow behind. “Watts?”
Slowly, the smudge started disintegrating. The visage broke off into black spots that receded gradually towards the edges of the window.
Just then, the speakers boomed:
“THAT’S WHY I NEED YOUR HELP. I BELIEVE THAT ONE OF THEM MURDERED ME.”
“Is that all you require, sir?” The records superintendent asked, looking up from her computer. It was early in the morning and the newcomer’s request was a tad unusual.
“Just send everything related to Detective Kent’s case to my computer”. Ben looked at her intently. “Everything”.
“Of course, sir”. She replied, tapping on the keyboard. “I’ll send the files we have here to you right away. The other ones are from the Mayor’s office and I need authorization for that. They should be on your computer before evening”.
“Thank you, Mrs…uh, Myers”. Wright said, stealing a glance at her nametag.
“Just doing my job, sir”.
Ben smiled at her but she was already bent over her computer. He turned briskly and left the fluorescent- lit room. Taking the short walk to his office, he mulled over the events of the previous night. Kent, better yet, Kent’s ghost had told him to look into his death. Kent couldn’t remember the events from a week before the event leading to his death. Ominously, Kent had told him not to trust anybody.
Kent could only appear to him, only him, through reflective surfaces. Kent’s ghost had bonded with Ben and as such, could only see and hear through him. With Ben’s acquiescence, Kent could take over his body. That was all Kent, and now, Ben, knew
The last part sounded trippy and Ben hoped it would never get to that.
Ben, guided by Kent, had decided to start the investigation the logical way; Kent’s personnel file.
Ben slumped into his chair and lit up his computer’s display. He clicked the first file open.
It announced that it was ‘FOR AUTHORISED USE ONLY’. The file detailed Kent’ bio:
Name: Kyle Kendrick Kent
Years of Active Service: 2006-2015
Cause of Death: Food Poisoning
“There’s nothing new here”. Kent, as Wright, hissed.
He scrolled rapidly through the other files. Dissatisfied, he slammed his fist on the desk, sending stationeries scampering for shelter on the ground.
He opened the on-the-scene report by Watts.
According to the report, Watts and Kent had reported to the scene of a simple convenience store robbery gone wrong that had resulted in the death of the store’s manager. The pair were questioning witnesses and the attendant on duty during the robbery when Kent had suddenly slumped to the ground.
The doctor on duty at the Our Lady of the Saints hospital pronounced him dead at 11:57pm, just hours later.
There had been no signs of foul play, the only complication the medical report stated was related to digestion. Therefore, the death was chalked up to food poisoning.
* * *
There was a slight knock on the door. It was pushed open and Watts stepped into the office.
“Hey, partner”. He began.
“Yeah, you can come in”. Ben murmured. He looked up to see Watts smiling.
“And what could possibly be so funny?” Ben snapped.
“For a while there you sounded like Kent”. Watts smiled wanly. “Pardon my rude entrance. The memorial starts in a few hours. Would you like to go pick the misus up”.
“Misus? You mean Mrs. Kent” Ben corrected sternly. He wondered while the overt familiarity with Kent’s wife was getting him on edge.
“Yeah. Sure you had enough sleep last night?” Watts observed. “You look a little green”.
“I’m fine. Just not feeling completely like myself. Let’s go.”
* * *
Detective Kent had lived in the upscale Winchester part of Miami with his wife and a maid with just enough room left to fit his ego in. The car pulled up in front of a yellow garden house. Watts spoke into the intercom and, seconds later, the wrought iron gate opened.
The door to the house was opened by a short Puerto Rican woman in a white apron. She told Watts crisply albeit coldly that Mrs. Kent was getting ready upstairs. Watts introduced her as Maria, the maid. Mrs. Kent walked down the stairs shortly after. She had the most beautiful eyes that Ben had ever seen. But that was secondary to her seeming youthfulness. She came across as being younger than thirty years old.
“Hello Adrian”. She smiled at Watts. “Ever the gentleman”.
She turned to Ben.
“And you must be my husband’s replacement”.
“Please, call me Ben”. He said. He wondered why he was being shy in front of this woman.
“Hmmm. First names. I like that”. She chuckled “I’m Christine”. She held out her hand. Ben did not extend his hand, instead, he bent to kiss the back of her outstretched palm.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss”. He said with a heartfelt sincerity that shocked even him. He was unsure of how to act around this exquisite woman and that in itself was saying a lot.
But for someone going to her husband’s memorial, she looked absolutely fabulous. Ben would have said this but he did not want to appear even weirder than he was sure he already.
Her black lace gown swirled around her knees as she stepped outside. They walked to the car in silence. Ben held the door open for her and she smiled her gratitude.
The memorial service took place on Coral Island and Watts made the journey. It was an unlawful use of
Captain Peterson was just rounding off her speech when they stepped into the cold auditorium.
“…these brave officers laid down their lives for the peace and safety of our families. They are survived by children. They have young wives. Their families need our help.
The war against organized crime in Miami is intensifying and we need all hands on deck. All units have to coagulate into an organized whole if we are to stop the shipment of drugs and weapons and God-knows-what-else from spreading into the countryside.”
Her eyes searched the crowd and for a while, they lingered on Ben and his small contingent cramped between the sea of officers in blue and their families.
“To the families of the fallen officers,” she continued. “You should know that they died as heroes.” She paused. “Thank you all”.
The end of her speech was accentuated by deafening claps. A lot of the officers had a set and determined expression plastered on their visage. Their slammed each palm against the other as if to generate a clap loud enough to resound across the island and across to the bases the gangs were operating out of.
Christine stood up to move towards the other widows seated in the front row. Watts followed her dutifully.
* * *
Wright’s second visit to the Kent Residence proved to be a much longer trip.
Maria scowled visibly as she opened the door for Ben. She looked surprised to see him standing at the door alone.
“What do you want? Mrs. Kent isn’t back yet”. Her English was very good, only the slightest musical tinge reminiscent of Spanish gave her away as being from across the other side of the border.
“I’m not here for Christine. I came to talk to you. I can’t stress how important this is but Maria, I really need to go inside Mr. Kent’s room”.
Ben had expected a more spirited opposition to his rather unusual request. He had rehearsed a couple of lines in the car in preparation for this.
Maria frowned. There was a clang of metal as she reached into her pockets and brought out a bunch of keys.
She maneuvered the various turns of the house the way only an experienced stead would. Ben never let her out of his sight.
The earpiece angled around Ben’s ears crackled to life.
“I REALLY NEED TO FIRE MY MAID!”. Kent said through the speakers.
“Here”. Maria said, as she held the door open for him. Ben stepped gingerly into the room.
“I’ll be downstairs if you need me”. She turned away from the door and her retreating footsteps echoed through the door way. Ben pushed the door shut.
The room Ben stepped into was more of an exhibitionist’s item than a bedroom for a mere human being. Each item in the room seemed as if it was placed there after careful selection and an even more meticulous thought process.
Small light bulbs in the ceiling gave the room an atmosphere of airiness. The bed itself was big enough for seven people to sleep comfortably with space to spare. Ben moved towards the nightstand beside it.
A small waste bin was propped up beside it. Ben cursed quietly when he realized that it had been emptied. Ben had learnt over the years that the waste bin was usually a treasure trove of valuable information. It was a marvel the things people throw away.
A mini bar was across the room. Ben scrutinized the labels. The bar mostly housed different brands of whisky and bourbon.
A row of boxes of Cuban cigars sat a few inches away from the bottles of alcohol.
“Lived quite the life, huh.” Ben remarked.
“SADLY, I CAN’T REMEMBER MUCH OF IT.” Kent replied.
The room had obviously been cleaned after the death of the primary occupant. Ben wondered if Christine still slept in the room. He doubted he could find what he was looking for in the room. Even he was unsure of what exactly he was supposed to be looking for.
He went through the drawers built into the nightstand. They only housed rows of neatly arranged legal documents, reports, and deeds.
These documents did not reveal anything that Ben did not already know. He slammed the last drawer shut in exasperation. Suddenly, the earpiece crackled back to life.
“OPEN THAT BOTTOM DRAWER AGAIN”. He did.
Nothing had changed since the last time he checked. He told Kent this but the voice in the earpiece told him to try again, that he had an inkling that they were overlooking something.
Ben could feel a familiar anger rising. He ruffled through the sheaves of paper angrily.
“I know you were some kind of hotshot detective in your days. Kyle Motherfuckin’ Kent.” He sneered. “But none of that gives you a right to talk down to me. I’m the one doing you a bloody favor here!” He lifted the last bunch of paper up and slammed it down against the wooden panel at its base. The sound echoed against the room and this simple act of aggression seemed to calm Ben down some. It always did. The sound seemed to go on and on forever. Then it hit him!
He threw out the documents in the drawer and stared down at the wooden paneling. He ran his hands along the length of the drawer feeling for uneven surfaces. It was smooth all through. He was not deterred. He knocked his knuckles against the sides of the drawer. He was rewarded by a dull sound that was muted almost immediately. When he knocked on the bottom of the drawer, the sound that resulted was hollow and shrill.
‘I’ll be damned.” He muttered as he peeled away the wood paneling at the bottom of the drawer to reveal a secret compartment.
There was a short whistle. Ben was not sure who had whistled: himself or Kent.
The compartment housed a red manila folder. This was filled with a small collection of documents and a large amount of photographs.
The first document was a page from an official briefing on the drug smuggling activities of the notorious La Corporacion ring. This was followed with pictures of different gang members. They were easily identifiable by the penguin tattoos on their body. The larger percentage of the pictures captured a face that Ben had ingrained into his memory.
El Torio, the leader of the criminal organization. He was called ‘The Third Horseman’ by the press and the name had stuck. There are different versions of the story of how he got the nickname but none of them were good.
There was a smaller envelope in the folder. From the texture, Ben could tell that it contained even more photographs. However, when he saw the first picture, both he and Kent screamed.
Captain Peterson was prominently displayed in several of the pictures laughing and conversing with gang members. In another picture, the captain was passing a folder with the top half of the Miami PD logo clearly visible on it, to a stern faced El Torio. The last picture showed Captain Peterson staring straight at the camera. At the back of this picture were the words: SHE KNOWS.
Ben reached for the last pile of photographs with shaky hands. He was unsure of what he was going to see, or even if he wanted to see it.
The very first picture made him stagger backwards. The room started to spin slightly around him. Some of the pictures slipped out of his grip and onto the floor.
He was afraid to look down at the pictures in his hand. He wondered if that was his reaction or Kent’s. But look he did, at the piece of paper that showed his wife, sorry, Mrs. Kent, locked in an embrace with Watts.
He dropped to his knees. He could feel a sob rising from somewhere in his guts. He crawled towards the photographs on the floor. Each showed Catherine in different states of undress with Watts, the ex-partner of Detective Kyle Kent.
“Who dies first?”
The words were his but the murderous thoughts, definitely, were not.
The memorial service ran on longer than expected. The cops had disappeared in ones and twos as the night wore on. Now, the underground parking lot was desolate. The only sound was Watt’s shoes echoing against the concrete as he made towards his car.
He looked down at his watch. It was a gift from his wife, a memoir from the good old days. Now, the wristwatch, just like the ring on his finger, was an adornment to be one out of a sense of duty rather than any feeling of attachment. A quick look at his wrist told him that it was already a few minutes past 9pm.
Watts had got a squad car to take him home. He would have offered to, of course, but he did not want to raise suspicion from unwelcome quarters. The affair had been going on for the better part of a year now and so far, nobody had a clue about anything.
Well, except for that snotty maid but Christine had said that her discretion could be counted on. She had made sure of that.
He pulled open the door to the driver’s side and settled down in the seat. The interior of the car lit up as the door was opened.
He pulled off his tie and reached up to adjust the rearview mirror. That was when he saw the black shape waiting patiently for him in the passenger’s seat.
“What the…” He started, veering back to face the stranger. A beefy right jab to the jaw sent him reeling forward. His head connected with the steering wheel and he felt a rush of warmth in his mouth as his cheek was cut open.
The blow disoriented him, but not enough for him not to identify the sound of a safety catch being turned on.
He raised his hand slowly to show his assailant that he was no threat.
“I have money. You really don’t want to kill a cop”. His brain started functioning albeit slowly. What gang could possibly attack a detective so brazenly?
“Really? But you had no difficulty killing me though”. The voice was vaguely familiar but Watts could not put a face to the voice. His head was still throbbing from the violent kiss of the steering wheel.
“Who are you?” He tried to keep the tremor out of his voice.
“Hello, partner.” The stranger said. “Heard you’ve been taking good care of my wife for me”.
The voice, this time, was unmistakable.
“Kyle? This is impossible! You’re dead!” Watts tried to get a better view of his passenger. As he turned, the gun was slammed hard on his face. He groaned in pain. He could feel the cartilages in his nose give way. Warm blood rushed down his face, down the front of his shirt.
“No sudden movements”. The voice was calm and confident. Whoever was in the backseat knew he had his quarry cornered. For the first time that night, it occurred to Watts that he would die in the car; one more poster to adorn the walls of the headquarters.
“I thought we were friends, Adrian. Why did you kill me?”
Watts could not think clearly. All he could think about was pain, searing, mind numbing pain. Whoever this was in the backseat definitely had no qualms about killing a police officer. That much was simple enough.
“What are you talking about, man? I didn’t kill you. Nobody did.” He managed. This stranger really thinks he was Kent. “You died of food poisoning”.
The gun cracked down on his skull again.
“Don’t lie to me!” His passenger screamed. “You know I did not die of food poisoning”.
“I had nothing to gain by killing you, man. You were my friend. Christine was going to leave you anyway”.
“Don’t talk about my wife! You don’t know anything about us”. Watts knew his attacker was slipping out of control. The calm in the voice was gone and all that was left was anger. Angry men make mistakes.
“She stopped loving you, Kyle. You chose the job over her and your relationship suffered. You were never around for her, man. I was. She was going to file for a divorce”.
He heard the click of the hammer against bullets.
“I love her, man. But I didn’t kill you. You were my best friend”. Watts groaned. “You died in my arms”.
The silence that accompanied this was deafening. Watts could hear his heartbeat. If this psycho doesn’t kill me soon, my heart will.
He closed his eyes, expecting the sting of the bullet anytime. He squeezed his eyes shut and for the first time in his adult life, he prayed to a God he didn’t believe in. He opened one eye tentatively, expecting to be hit again but nothing happened. The sudden cold draft on his skin told him that a door was open. He turned to the passenger’s seat.
It was empty.
* * *
“So, what now?” Ben asked.
He skipped a stone over the water. Ten skips.
Ben was calm. That in itself was strange enough. Punching through the speed limits was enough to give him an adrenaline high but here he was, just about ready to beat Watts to death and he was calm.
The wide expanse of the Miami Beach was spread out before him. There were a number of tourists out but he knew that in a few hours, they would be sleeping peacefully in their hotel rooms in nearby Brownsville and Westchester. There would be no rest for him though. Not until his new partner’s murderer was found.
The visit to Watts had given him the necessary catharsis but he was still no closer to solving the case.
“Now we pay the Chief a visit”. Kent replied.
* * *
Fountainbleau is home to a queer assortment of people including but in no way limited to gangbangers, aspiring hip/hop artistes, professionals and the newly rich.
Chief Peterson’s apartment was on the upper levels. Like most of the other apartments, the lights were out inside. The chief was a divorcee and some quick digging around had revealed that she stayed alone in her apartment.
Ben could not just walk up to the security guard at the lobby and knock on her door. He did not want to announce his presence for good reason.
That was why he was on the fire escape. He moved stealthily to avoid drawing unwanted queries from the other tenants.
He levered himself up to the terrace of her apartment. He narrowly missed sending a flower pot careening to the sidewalk. Her bedroom window was the only one with raised blinds and it opened easily. He hopped in nimbly.
The room he stepped into was dimly lit by light reflecting from other parts of the house. The lone bed in the room was empty, although the sheets were already in place to admit the rightful occupant.
The sound of music filtered in from what Ben rightly assumed was the bathroom. The captain was enjoying a late night shower. Ben took out his .38 and screwed the silencer on. He was going to enjoy this.
Captain Ann Peterson walked into the bedroom minutes later, still humming Celine Dion’s ‘I’m alive’. She shut the door and the room was thrown into darkness, a darkness that was only tempered by the slight moonlight.
“Hello Captain.” The sound startled her. She wheeled around suddenly, so suddenly that her towel started slipping. She turned towards the source of the sound but she could now see into the gloom. However, there was one thing she could identify quite clearly and that struck the first chords of fear into her heart.
The glint of moonlight on a .38 Smith and Wesson.
“Don’t be scared, Cap’. I’m only here to talk”. She could not quite place the voice. Her trained ears, however, deduced that the Southern accent was forced.
“You don’t need to bring a gun to talk to me. A lady might get the wrong idea. Besides,” She smiled wanly at the intruder. ”Visiting hours is 8-6”.
“I’m not here to talk shop with you Cap. I’m here to ask why you murdered me”.
Captain Peterson stopped. She took a small step towards the shadows. The step was short enough not to seem menacing to the intruder but at the same time, it communicated a clear message: ‘I am not afraid of you’.
“What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“I think you know who I am, Cap”. Peterson could hear the squeak of a chair as the intruder stood up.
“It’s too late for crazy. I suggest you go back to whatever hellhole you crawled out, I’ll forget this little, accident, happened. But if you don’t…”.She took another step forwards “I will send you to the hottest parts of hell”.
Ben leveled the gun at her.
She hesitated. He turned off the safety catch and the sound of this, more than anything, spurred her to action. She sat at the edge of the bed.
“You are going to die tonight Captain.” His voice had suddenly adopted a steely edge. “I can make this fast and easy for you or I could draw out your suffering for so long that you will beg me to kill you. Now, all of this hinges on the response you give to my next question: why the hell did you poison me?”
“Who are you?” She almost shouted. The intruder was quiet. “Kyle?”
In response, an object flew out of the darkness and landed on the bed. Despite her best attempts to be in control, Petersen jumped away from the object. But it did not explode.
It was a folder. One of the clasps were broken and the edge of what looked like a photograph peeked through the opening. She picked it up gingerly.
It was a shot of her dropping a folder off with El Torio. To Ben’s surprise, instead of a look of surprise to cover her visage, she heaved a sigh of relief.
“This doesn’t prove anything”. She said with a note of finality.
“That was all I needed to know”.
She watched in horror as the gun was raised a few inches in the hair and steadied in her direction. From that angle, she knew that her brain would be splattered all over her freshly cleaned sheets.
“It was a covert mission.” She said quietly. She squinted, trying to see into the gloom. The gun was still leveled at her. “Kyle and I were working together”.
“You don’t believe me? Fine. Check my computer, I have files with information that corroborate this.” She pushed on. Quite surprisingly, she did not feel as guilt wracked as she would have imagined at the fact that she was divulging sensitive information.
“There’s been an investigation on the Bolivian drug cartel for over eight years but every time we get close to making an arrest, El Torio disappears. There was a mole in our ranks and we knew that the only way we could get him indicted was to go deep undercover. Kyle was gathering information and we would have had enough to put El Torio away till his grandson’s fiftieth birthday.
Then Kyle died.”
“How do you explain this then?” The voice finally said from the gloom. She turned to the back of the picture. The words ‘SHE KNOWS’ were written there.
Peterson paused. She had more difficulty talking about this than she did discussing sensitive police business. But finally, she let loose.
“Kyle and I were having an affair”.
“Hell no, we weren’t!” Kent roared before Ben could even say a word. His outburst rang out against the walls. His voice sounded distorted, surreal even.
“It was a one-time thing.” Petersen said. If she was scared by the outburst, her voice did not betray anything. “We were both drunk and having issues with our relationships. He was wracked with guilt and he believed that his wife knew. That” She pointed at the picture “Was his way of letting me know”.
Ben was even more confused now than he was at the beginning of the case. Deep in his guts, he knew that she was telling the truth. And then, one other thing was equally clear, he had to make his exit soon. There was a moment of silence as Petersen tried to figure out what her assailant was thinking.
“Who else knows about this mission?” The question came from another part of the room; the open window.
Then she felt a rush of the cold night air on her naked flesh. Her curtains fluttered helplessly against the assault of the wind.
The intruder was gone.
* * *
“Unfinished business, huh, detective?” the night shift sergeant asked
“Something like that”. Ben replied, trying his best to infuse a cheer that he did not feel into his words.
He signed the log and walked as fast as he could without attracting attention to himself.
He had taken the case on a full spin and now he was right back where he started. However, he could not shake off the feeling that there was some vital fact he had overlooked while going through Kent’s files.
He had reduced the half-hour drive from Westchester to the Police Department to less than five minutes. His detour through the Virginia Garden would have resulted in an arrest a few hours earlier but now, the only occupants of the gardens were the few pigeons that were homeless by the looks of it.
The parking lot at the department was half-empty but he still had not park the Chrysler properly. He unlocked the door to his office hastily and turned on the laptop. He willed the Windows to start up faster.
When the home page lit up, it was with an announcement of 10 NEW MESSAGES. The records superintendent had come through right on time.
He decided to start with the coroner’s report.
The medical officer’s report read that no toxic elements had been found in the deceased’s system, therefore, foul play could be ruled out.
Residues of phenelzine were found in his system but this was as a result of his prescribed nardil medication. The fitness report had documented a history of OCD and anal-retentiveness.
Ben browsed through a few other documents but he had already seen what he was looking for.
“Hey, partner”. He whispered “I think I know how you died.”
Ben examined himself in the full length mirror. His hair was tussled up and it made him look like he had not had a bath in a week. The black spot, now fully Kyle’s face, was at a corner. Now that his anger was spent, Kyle looked dour.
Ben had had a very long telephone conversation with his girlfriend, Claire, after examining the various documents and reports. Claire had just finished her night shift at the hospital downtown and she sounded even more tired than Ben felt. However, she had confirmed
A phone call to Wright’s girlfriend, Claire had confirmed his hypothesis.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are anti-depressants prescribed to suppress OCDs. They are prescribed when other medications haven’t work. Medical practitioners keep them as a last resort because they can have serious side effects and as a result, MAIOs require a strict diet.
Kent had died as a result of the accumulated interaction of phenelzine with booze which led to an overload of the norepinephrine neurotransmitter.
I KILLED MYSELF?”
“It would appear so”. Ben pushed open the door to the men’s room in the police department. “So, are we done here?” It was quite deserted at this hour. Only a handful of officers were stationed to the headquarters for the midnight shift and it was still a few hours away before the patrolmen returned to hand over to the next shift.
To the few officers around, it would appear as if Ben was engaged in a telephone conversation through the earpiece.
“I WISH IT WERE THAT EASY, BEN. FOR SOME REASON, I JUST CANNOT LEAVE YOU ALONE.”. Kent piped into his eardrums “SEEMS WE ARE STUCK TOGETHER.” Kent continued. “YOU KNOW, FOR A NEW GUY, YOU DID NOT DO SO BAD. YOU SOLVED A MURDER IN LESS THAN FORTY EIGHT HOURS.”
Ben smiled humorlessly.
“Considering there wasn’t much to solve in the first place. For what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty smart for a dead guy”.
“Let’s shake on this”.
Ben moved towards the mirror. To the casual observer, it would seem like Wright was rubbing the mirror but in actuality, it was the first step in cementing a lifelong partnership.
“Merry Christmas, partner”.
“I GOTTA POOP.”