Some people claimed that when Revachol spoke, the City took the guise of an old man. Others, a woman. A few even said Revachol did not speak, Revachol communicated through images and scent. Some people said they looked Vaasan, Mesque, Seolite – a hodgepodge of ethnicities traced in the curve of a nose or the tilt of an eye.
Whatever the case, everybody agreed that Revachol loved their cops.
Wrong, Revachol loved their builders and engineers more than they loved cops.
But honestly, love is love is love, and to be a part of the RCM was to invite Revachol’s gaze to fall on you.
Bloody Murder Station, they called the 41st down in any other station that wasn’t the 41st. Everybody that goes in there comes out a bit wrong, was what they said. But C-Wing is the worst. Whatever you do, they advised, avoid being assigned to C-Wing. Their lieutenant’s a real nutter. A genius. A human can-opener. Solves fifty million cases a year and doesn’t break a sweat doing it. (But a ton of beer bottles right, ha ha ha.) Fucking double-yefroiter. But a nutter.
Of course, Judit ends up being assigned to C-Wing.
The reporting order tells her to report on a hot summer’s day to Precinct 41. She can feel sweat collecting under her collar as she strides up the stairs to the rusting iron doors. She can hear the rumble of voices as she nears, a steady flow of civilians and cops exit and enter the swinging doors. Some eyes flicker to her when she hurries past them.
The station stills for a moment when she enters.
Eyes zero in on her, inspect her features, run over her pressed, clean uniform and narrow at the badge that hung by her waist.
She stands in the doorway, feeling her shoulders tense up.
Behind the receptionist area for receiving in-person civilian complaints, the massive floor of the re-purposed silk mill that serves as the 41st's headquarters devolves into a maze of desks, shelves, paper, cops and more coffee mugs than you can shake a spoon at.
There is an attempt at organisation. There are a couple of large signs that indicate that this particular section belonged to Traffic, and that section is Logistics – and, maybe this clump of desks is manned by Public Relations. The windows are all thrown open to let the air flow, yet a smog of pale cigarette smoke hung in a haze around much of the room. She shifts, feeling sweat trickle in a line down her neck.
The lanky, unsmiling man behind the front desk stops speaking to a harried-looking woman, and he unfolds himself from the front desk. There is the remnant of a cigarette clutched between his knobbly fingers.
“Miss -,” His eyes dip down towards his desk, at the multiple sticky notes that fight for space on his equipment. “Judit Minot?”
“That’s me,” she mutters.
“From the Academy?”
“That’s me,” she echoes.
“C-Wing is on the second floor. All the way to the end. Near the loos.” He jabs the ashy butt towards the staircase all the way at the end of the room.
Judit nods her silent thanks and scuttles towards the stairs, feeling the weight of the eyes follow her.
The second floor, if even possible, is louder and messier than the first. But there is a clear, somewhat haphazard line cutting through the desks, delineating department from department.
When she enters the floor, the same happens – a multitude of eyes swing her way, but most fall away, preferring to go back to work and chatter. She catches scraps and pieces of conversation – the 41st is busy. There are criminals to apprehend, snitches to wheedle information out of, and in the moment she darts a curious glance around the room, a redheaded man is upon her, a huge grin distorting his freckled face.
“Hey there, new face.”
“Hello,” says Judit politely, but she can feel herself beginning to lean away slightly, just as the man began to lean in.
“And where are you heading? Rookie like you,” He takes her in, the crisp, ironed lines of her uniform, the shiny badge. “Mm. B-Wing?”
She sighs internally. B-Wings across Precincts tended to be the home of officers who dealt with white collar crimes; they are, as a whole, agreed to be the neatest and the most detail-oriented amongst the different departments. “No. C-Wing.”
He rears back, and he says, far too loud - “C-Wing? You’re assigned to C-Wing?”
“Yes,” Judit says. Her face is kept as blank as possible.
The redhead laughs, and he half-twists to aim a yell towards the absolute back of the floor. “Jean! Your new recruit is here.” He turns back to her, jerks a thumb. “There you go, missy.”
I was walking there before you stopped me, she wants to say but Ma is in her head and Ma says in her exasperated chirp, “Don’t go making enemies on your first day.” - so she chomps her words back down and she mutters, “Thanks.”
The redhead’s exclamation has drawn the attention, and she can feel people peeling back away from her as she beelines towards the end, keeping her eyes straight.
“They’re still assigning people to C-Wing? After what - “
“- how long she will la -”
“Jean’s going to - “
Snatches of conversation whirl away from her earshot as she blew past, her pace increasing ever so slightly.
She crosses the massive hall in double-quick time, and her pace begins to slow slightly as she approached.
There is a separation, even clearer than the ones between other departments – of C-Wing from the other Wings.
C-Wing is located near the loos, and beneath the general smog of cigarettes and coffee, she smells the stink of piss. This is, Judit sees, not so much a wing as a sad cluster of desks that are coincidentally arranged in the same area. She thinks she understands why the redhead had laughed.
There are only two people occupying the desks. A worn-looking man who is already waiting for her, his arms folded across his chest. The other is asleep; every so often, he lets out a wet snore.
“You’re Judit Minot.” The worn-looking man says without preamble. It is not a rhetorical question, and he assesses her with narrowed eyes, lips thinning slightly as he cocked his head. “Who did you piss off to get assigned here?”
Behind him, a loud, snotty snore as the man with the – frankly, amazing muttonchops adjusted himself slightly on the pillow of his arms.
"Uhm,” Judit says.
“No matter.” The man sits himself back on the overflowing desk and crosses his arms across his chest. “I’m Satellite Officer Jean Vicquemare. This specimen over here,” He aims a kick towards the snoring man. It connects, and Judit sees the force behind it. The man does not stir. “Is Lieutenant yefroiter Du Bois, our glorious leader.”
“Okay,” Judit says slowly. “Where should I...” She looks at Vicquemare, at the empty desks with their piled files and stationaries.
“You can take any one,” Vicquemare sweeps his hand nonchalantly over the desks. “Not that one.” He points at an incongruously clean desk with a neat row of small succulents and a framed photo of a very blonde, very smiley family. “That’s Special Consultant’s Heidelstam’s desk when he is in town.”
“Okay,” says Judit quietly. She stands there for a moment, looking at Vicquemare, Du Bois and back again – and Vicquemare has been a cop long enough to infer a whole question from tiny facial expressions and something seems to go out of him as he sighs, shoulders drooping.
“It’s just the two of us now. Welcome to C-Wing, Patrol Officer Minot.”
“It’s worse than I thought, Ma.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Ma Minot says as she taste-tests the tomato soup bubbling in the pot.
“Vance told me Du Bois spat in his mug and that’s why he transferred to A-Wing. There’s nobody there. It’s just me, Vicquemare, Du Bois and a special consultant who only comes in for certain cases.”
“Be a big fish in a small pond!” trills Ma Minot.
“Ma, that’s not -”
Du Bois is awake when she comes into work on her second day.
He is drinking a mug of coffee, and Judit can smell old alcohol on him. He is still wearing the same horrible chequered shirt from yesterday.
Vicquemare is wearing a ratty-looking leather jacket and absorbed in a file. She can see his lips moving as he runs a finger over the paper.
“Morning.” Du Bois’ voice is deep and growling, and Judit blinks. That is something she did not expect.
“Morning,” she offers. And because for the entirety of yesterday’s shift, he was passed out on the desk, she says, “I’m Patrol Officer Judit Minot, the Academy assigned – “
“I asked for someone who had at least two years on the force,” Du Bois says, his eyes never leaving Judit’s. “Not some wet behind the ears rookie fresh from the Academy.”
The file snapped shut with a loud, definitive click. “Are you fucking with me?” Vicquemare asks mildly. “Harry, anybody who’s been on the force for more than a month wouldn’t touch a transfer to our Wing with a six-foot pole.”
“Fuck,” Du Bois grumbles.
“You brought this on us,” Vicquemare tells Du Bois. And then he turns to Judit. “Remember the new case I told you about yesterday? We’ll be starting our interviews today. You can come along.”
“We’re playing nursemaid,” Du Bois says.
Judit can feel her ears reddening.
“You can come along.” Vicquemare says, louder. He looks at Judit, and there is something of sympathy in his eyes. “Get your ledger. We’re heading out now.”
“Oh no. We’re running.”
For a middle-aged man who is pickled in alcohol and worse substances, Du Bois can run.
Judit had aced the running component of her last physical tests, and she had always been the top of her cohort for anything related to running. She takes long jogs around the City every week with a group of running enthusiasts, and even she is having difficulty keeping up with Du Bois and Vicquemare when they hit the streets.
Oh god, a fleeting thought darts across her mind halfway through the shift. Is that why they assigned me to C-Wing? Because I tested well for running?
In front of her, Du Bois jukes into a narrow alley. Vicquemare is just half a step behind. There are still two more people they had to speak to.
Oh my god oh my god
Inhaling deep into her aching belly, Judit grits her teeth and runs.
“Ma, he has a Coupris and he chooses to run all over Jamrock to talk to suspects.”
“Maybe he does it for his health, dear.”
“In the summer, Ma. Under the sun.”
"It does do a body wonders to get some sun.”
“I don’t mean running as an exaggeration, Ma. He runs. He runs.”
“Well, now that - … is a little odd.”
One week later, she still doesn’t quite understand why Du Bois preferred to run around in Jamrock as opposed to driving his Coupris.
She is, however, beginning to understand how Du Bois had came by his reputation of being a human can-opener.
His style of questioning is quite unlike anything she has learnt in the Academy. His train of thought went on strange tangents, looped back on itself, did a funny dance, and somehow or other – always managed to amble straight into the heart of the truth.
But there are moments when he wanders too far, takes a wrong turn, and she sees how Vicquemare corrals and directs him back to the main track of questioning.
She is impressed, against her will.
She goes home late and she wakes up early. The days blur into a mess of running, Jamrock’s streets and people yelling “Pigs!” at her when she jogs past, hard on Vicquemare and Du Bois’ heels. Fifteen minutes gulping hot coffee and gobbling down a hotdog bun and they are off again. Everybody, she realises, seems to know Du Bois and Vicquemare.
They follow a line of inquiry from the Eminent Domain to the Grand Couron.
“She was looking for a better life…”
“I ain’t got no daughter.”
“If you can’t find her head, we can’t give her a proper burial. It ain’t right.”
“She’s got a couple of regulars, innit. One of ‘em bought her out for two nights. March 31st and April 1st.”
“This is a transit hotel. Do you really think we keep track of our customers?”
To the last one, Vicquemare had brought the fellow down to the precinct’s interrogation rooms. One hour later, the fellow had exited with a hand clutching his belly and a promise to turn over all his records to the 41st.
It takes two days to work through the names. Most are terribly, awfully fake. Someone calls himself Richard Thunder. But there are a couple of real names hidden here and there. It takes one day to collate their pictures into a file, and a harrowing few hours for the mamasan of Happy Paradise Brothel to sort through the photos. Judit bears patiently through the reminiscing, while Du Bois takes gleeful part in mocking the appearances of the patrons. Finally, towards the end, the mamasan had her memory jogged well enough with the aid of a real note here and there.
“This one,” she says, poking a picture of a corpulent, moustachioed man with a definite finger. “Him. Loves our Loretta, he does.” She turns it over and over in her beringed hands. Looks at Du Bois, Vicquemare and Judit. “Says she has the prettiest lips he’s seen on a working girl. Maybe he cut her head off to keep him company, hey?”
The address tagged to the man’s ID put him as living in one of the nicer apartments in the Grand Couron, close to the riverside.
The threads, Judit realised, are converging.
They are inching into the hottest hours of the day, and Judit finds herself wondering – what did she do in her past lives to wind up here, in the middle of a murder investigation of a decapitated prostitute with a high-functioning alcoholic and a man who only seemed to be moving because he was so angry?
The sun has hit its zenith, and sunlight streams through the glass windows, illuminating the dust motes. They are in the middle of Revachol’s worst heatwave in five years, and Judit is here, in Thom Boisseau’s house, clutching her ledger to her side.
She wipes her brow. Thom Boisseau had not turned on the air-conditioning.
“It would be very nice if you can help us with our inquiries, Mr. Boisseau,” Du Bois is saying. There is no change in the tone of his gravelly voice, it is drawling and monotonous. “Because after all, we are the police. We are only keeping the law.”
“Slander, this is,” snaps the man. “A waste of my time. As if I’d poke those dirty roaches in the Domain. As if.”
She shifts her weight from foot to foot, letting her gaze wander.
The house is very beautiful and well-appointed, filled to the brim with lush, potted greenery and tastefully selected earthenware and wooden decorations. She suspects Boisseau had paid some money towards designers to make it that beautiful. This man, she had thought when she saw him in his thick jewelled rings and over-sized watch, knew nothing of taste.
Something pushes at the corner of her mind, propelling her to move in a direction.
The hot pant of a man’s fetid breath, the stench of dried urine. Blood flooding her mouth.
“Uhm,” says Judit. She pivots on her heel. Somewhere behind her, she feels movement. Judit points at an otherwise ordinary-looking massive potted plant. It is situated beside a bookcase filled with pristine-looking encyclopaedias.
“I think we should look under there,” her voice falters a little halfway through her sentence.
“Don’t you need a search warrant?” says Boisseau in great distaste. “Look at these dirty cops moving my stock willy-nilly according to their whims.” His belly jiggles in agreement.
“Shut the fuck up,” Vicquemare tells the man pleasantly.
“What do you think, Patrol Officer Minot?” She startles out of her trance at Du Bois’ question. “Do you think we should look under this vase?”
The smell of blood is growing stronger.
“Yes,” Judit echoes. Her voice does not shake. It is a very hot day. She thinks that she feels ready to pass out.
“Well, I never –“ Boisseau swells to an impressive size – which is truly very impressive – because he is a big man.
Vicquemare and Du Bois exchange glances, and something silent passes between the two. They move forwards, and unheeding of Boisseau’s protestations – “Look, this is very irregular!” – they heave the pot aside.
As one, the quartet stare at the revealed trapdoor.
Vicquemare bends down and throws it open.
It is the smell that hits Judit first; the rot of flesh that should have been buried underground a long, long time ago.
She sees Vicquemare gag soundlessly, and he lifts a hand to pinch his nose shut.
“I can explain.” Boisseau clasps his hands together.
“Mr. Thom Boisseau, you have the right to remain silent – “ Harry’s voice snaps out, automatically reciting the rote words every Academy recruit have been made to memorise.
They wind up at a terrible, run-down bar.
On the stage, Harry serenades the unmoving crowd with a stirring rendition of Lilly Dupre’s My Heart is a Small Glass of Wine.
Jean puts down a pint before her.
“It’s tradition,” he tells her, watching her watch Harry.
“Oh,” says Judit weakly. She clinks pints with Vicquemare, and takes a small sip from it. The beer is dark, strong and she feels a wave of light-headedness roll over her. She pushes it away, hopefully – unobtrusively from her. “I, I’m not a good singer.”
“Just sing Itsy Bitsy Spider if you don’t know any songs,” Jean says drily. “No-one is listening anyways. It’s a cop bar.”
She nods mutely, and for a few minutes, they sit there, watching Harry sing his heart out to a group of drunken – or progressively drunken cops.
“Have you, you know – have you ever heard voices?” She doesn’t know quite possessed her to ask that question, but something tells her that it’s a question that must be asked – and she is right, Jean looks at her with an expression that telegraphs, “Oh good she’s finally asking the right questions.”
“A voice,” says Judit. “Uhm.” She fiddles with her fingers. “Told me where to look for the body in Boisseau’s house.”
Jean grunts, tracing patterns into the watermarks left behind by the pint. He looks completely unsurprised. “What did he sound like?”
“She,” corrects Judit. “She … she –“ Judit’s voice fades out. “Blood? She smelt of blood, urine - ...” Inadvertently, Judit shudders.
She has heard of such stories before.
One did not, could not spend a year in the Academy without picking up on all sorts of stories. The weird and the strange seized the imagination – Kuklov’s immortality pies, the eternal loop between the 67th and 68th street, the whisper of a voice in your ear just when things are at their lowest – ...
There have always been stories of lawkeepers who somehow seem to know just where the body is hidden, even when there are no clues leading to it.
Captain James, apprehending the first recorded serial killer in Revacholian history after months and months of fruitless searches. When he is asked who he owed the greatest gratitude for this capture, legend says that he answered without hesitation, “It is the Lady who helped me.”
The press takes note of the capital letters he accorded the Lady – for a time there, the papers called Revachol the Grand Dame - because everybody loved a good supernatural twist to an otherwise mundane story. But there are also other accounts passed down through the years – a gentleman in Suzerain-era attire, with a finely carved cane. An albino waif wearing an over-sized military uniform devoid of insignia, perpetually accompanied by a flock of seabirds. They have many names. The Grand Dame. The Tattered Baron. The Little Soldier.
At the very edges of her hearing, she thinks she hears windchimes tinkling. But there is no wind in the bar, and the bartender would never do anything so girlish as hang up windchimes.
(A poem rising unbidden to the surface of her mind – one with the throat of an angel, swing from my porch eaves – sings with the voice of the storm...)
“He sounds different to me.” Jean looks at the ceiling. “Last time I heard him, he sounded like a knife cutting through the air. Got me out of a bad situation with a drunk.”
Judit’s gaze drifts towards the stage. Harry is doing a jig. Someone whistles desultorily. Jean follows the line of her sight, and he snorts.
“Him? The Baron has a straight line to his head, poor fucked up mess it is.”
He shakes his head, and he reaches out to pat Judit roughly on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Judit. You are now officially a member of the RCM.”
And then he withdraws, pounds down his pint with a practised tilt of his head and rises to his feet. “Now, I’m done with supernatural shit. Let’s go karaoke.”
Harry is not in the office the day after.
He doesn’t come in on the second or third days.
On the fourth day, Judit tentatively asks Jean, “Is he alright?”
She has some hazy memories of the night in the bar.
There had been a truly monstrous amount of alcohol ingested. There was a horrible flashback of her bellowing Itsy Bitsy Spider into a mic, complete with hand motions and Harry and Jean cheering her on.
And she had found herself in her own bed the next morning, with Ma looking down disapprovingly at her and saying how lucky it was that she had nice superiors to carry her drunken behind all the way back home.
Jean doesn’t even look up from his notes. “He disappears once in a while.”
“Oh.” She thinks for a moment, and tries again. “Should we go look for him?”
Jean looks up then. “It’s best not to, kid.” He passes a hand over his face. “He’s alive, don’t worry.”
“Oh.” Judit subsides into silence.
When Harry returns to the office, he has a shoe box tucked under his arm. He arrives into the office at 1100, and beelines towards Judit. She looks up, blinking at him. Close-up, he looked terrible and smelt worse. The eyebags beneath his eyes were dark and heavy.
“For you,” he tells Judit gruffly, plunking the shoe box down onto her table.
FALN, says the label emblazoned across the cardboard.
“The regular boots they issue us are shit for running in, and they take ages to break in.” He taps the box. “Can’t beat FALN.”
“Did you get those with your gym teacher discount, Harry,” snipes Jean.
“Fuck the fuck off,” replies Harry, and he stumps back to his seat, where he collapses into it with a loud grunt.
Judit lifts the cardboard lid, taking in the shoes within. She is no brand chaser or hardcore shoehead but these are good running shoes, the top of the line and guaranteed to last you a good long while.
“Thank you, Harry,” she says, turning back.
Harry already has his head pillowed in his arms, and he waves it off with a grumble.
Before she turns back, she thinks she sees Jean smiling, small and tired and relieved.
Judit removes the shoes from the box, kicks her boots off and puts the new shoes on. They fit snug as a bug.
She thinks of how good someone has to be at observing, to pick up on her shoe size without asking.
“Judit,” Jean says, poking her on her shoulder. “There’s a new case. Villalobos, they say. Someone got between a husband and his wife.”
She nods, tucks her ledge under her arm. Her pens are clipped tightly to her pocket.
Her running shoes feel good, they are cushioned and comfortable.
In front of her, Jean and Harry break into the familiar jog, and Judit follows.