The coast comes into view, all grey water and snow-smothered dunes, and suddenly you realise you’re going to have to tell the truth. The best time to tell him was probably before you left, when it could still seem more like a surprise and less like you tricking him. Or, you could have just not lied at all, but then what kind of cop would that make you?
“So,” You say, tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel of the Coupris that directly competes with whatever it is the radio is spitting out. “Turns out there is no case in Martinaise. Crazy, huh?”
Sat neatly in the passenger seat of the motorcar, Lieutenant Kitsuragi doesn’t stir, which means that either he already knows, or that he is so viscerally disappointed in you that he has briefly lost control of his motor functions. The only way to find out which is to wait patiently, keep driving the car. The car, not your car, as everyone likes to remind you. The only reason you’re even driving is because Kim is here, promising a few months back that if this vehicle got so much as scratched the blame would fall on him. You like to think you understand why he does these things for you, but that matter is a small part of a bigger case, one still very much under investigation. Unlike this Martinaise Case which, as you have just revealed in a flawlessly nonchalant manner, doesn’t even exist.
“I had a feeling,” Kim finally replies, “When I asked you for the brief…” Oh no, he’s fishing into his jacket pocket. The notebook. He’s going to make a point with that thing, like he always does. He flicks through, stops at a page, scrutinises his notes over his spectacles. “Just some real fucked up shit man. Like you wouldn’t believe. A whole orgy of corruption and debauchery.” He squints, hesitates, “And things to pick up.”
“We can still pick things up,” You say as Kim returns the notebook, though it sounds incredibly like you’re asking for permission.
“I wasn’t going to humour you, detective, but I’ve been made aware that you want to…” With the sheer amount of stuff portrayed in Kim’s sigh, it could be studied by linguists and anthropologists for decades. “Do something nice? I imagine it has something to do with the date.”
“Aha! So you do remember!” You knew he would. Somehow this bodes well for the case. The real one, that is. The Kim Case.
“A year ago today, we started working The Hanged Man.”
“No no,” You correct him, “A year ago today’s when we met.”
He blinks at you. “I don’t believe there’s a difference.” But to you, there is. It’s something difficult to quantify or even explain but it’s there, thick in the air, and you’ve not been wrong about that kind of thing before.
“I just thought it’d be nice, y’know,” you explain, “To visit a couple iconic locations from that good ol’ tour de force. Dust off some memories. Nothing crazy this time. No funny little surprises that almost get us killed this time.”
“I suppose I wouldn’t mind that. I would have thought it might be hard for you, though. To remember...certain things.” He’s choosing his words very carefully, just for you. Aren't you special?
“I’m a shark, baby,” you reply, “I gotta keep going forward so I don’t choke and die.”
Finally the Lieutenant shifts, putting his weight on the side farthest from you and gazing out of the passenger-side window. From now on you’re going to be talking to his shoulder, not his face.
“I thought you were a cockatoo,” he says, concealing a little smile. Very selfish of him to deprive you of it. Every time Kim smiles because of you, you feel like the first dumb fuck ape to ever snatch fruit from a tree and tear that shit clean open into its mouth. Absolutely fucking feral.
“Then I must be some kind of shark/cockatoo hybrid, the first of its kind. Another once-in-a-lifetime discovery, courtesy of Revachol’s most handsome and most smartest professional cryptozoologist.”
You eagerly wait to see if Kim’s correction of your post-ironic grammatical error comes before his correction of anything else. In the meantime, a crackle of static breaks up some jazzy, kind of melancholy song being carried to you over invisible radiowaves, and the predatory purr of the Coupris’ engine does little to frighten a particularly ferocious gull cawing its woes to the world outside. That bird doesn’t know how easy it’s got it, you think to yourself, that bird’s probably never had a real worry in its life. Meanwhile, it’s the humans and the sharkatoos of the world that get dragged, kicking and screaming, into dealing with all of the big problems, like poverty and centrism and confusing working relationships.
“I probably would have said yes, if you’d just asked me,” Kim finally says, voice slightly muffled by his hand where he's leaning into it. “Martinaise might have improved now that it’s corpse-free and not overshadowed by the threat of an all-out faction war.” Not likely, he thinks, he’s trying to convince himself.
“Oh, but it won’t be cops-free once we get there, though, right?”
“Corpse-free, I said.”
“Huh. Think I still qualify.”
“Right. Well,” Is he smiling again? Motherfucker. “if it’s any consolation, you do smell a lot better this time around. ”
You immediately bury that eternally-swollen nose into the sleeve of your jacket and sniff, finding yourself pleasantly surprised when you don’t immediately recoil in disgust. You look up just in time to see that Kim is glancing over his shoulder to watch you, but before you can make any kind of meaningful eye-contact his head snaps back around the other way. It’s all very weird after that, and as you straighten up and squeeze the steering wheel a little bit tighter, you find yourself wondering when exactly it got like this.
It’s not a when, it’s a what., comes from whatever part of your poisoned mind it is that is in charge of delivering you difficult truths, and the what is that fucking library. You should have burned it to the ground when you had the chance, preferably with you still in it. After that, the part of your brain dedicated to manufacturing new and increasingly malicious forms of self-deprication chimes in with its latest piece of poetry titled, You’re An Unloveable, Pathetic Fuck and Everything You Touch Turns Soggy Like Wet Cardboard, You Nasty Little Garbage Man (It All Is Ruined, Forever and Ever). Both are right, in a roundabout way, even if they’re not being very nice about it. The library is the one thing you keep coming back to, or the thing that keeps coming back to you. It’s the bullet in the head of this case; the one Kim doesn't know about because it's entirely to do with him.
You thought this was going to be a good idea. You thought you were a disturbed enough individual that you would be unaffected by the Great Reckoning of Time. You thought you were going to simply park up outside the Whirling, roll your head over to your abnormally endearing cop-friend on the passenger side and say, with a million reál smile no less, Bet this is all starting to feel a bit familiar right about now, huh pal?
“Grokay,” you say instead, inexplicably, the sound leaving your mouth like it’s being strangled out of you.
“Grokay.” Is the immediate reply, until Kim looks at you after a beat and realises this is a particular brand of nonsense and not the regular, relatively harmless kind that he occasionally humours. He blinks at you. “You know, it’s not too late to go back, Harry.” He says your name very gently, maybe even delicately. It's a sound that stands out, suspiciously so, and then overstays its welcome. Could this be related to the case as well? He doesn't say your name as much as he ought too, that's all you know right now.
“You're telling me to turn around. Like a coward." You feel a bit sick, and you can definitely taste year-old booze on the back of your tongue. Your body is probably still purging itself of all that shit, probably won’t ever stop until you’re dead in the ground for real this time. “You’re asking the renowned cryptid hunter and Lieutenant Double-Yefreitor Harrier Du Bois to back down? Do you even hear what you’re saying right now?” For a split-second, familiar, throbbing pain shoots through your shoulder. Just in case you forgot, you were shot there.
“Alright, well,” he’s not convinced, “Just take it slow. I’m ready when you are.” He’s also watching you openly, now he has the excuse to. He’s going to make sure you don’t do something completely inane and dangerous to combat the panic. A lesson learned from a multitude of past experience. “Oh, and now I think of it,” Kim folds his arms, the sleeves of his jacket rustling and scraping against each other. “It might be a good idea to not mention to anyone that we’re RCM, so long as we’re off duty. It could make the people here nervous, especially if they choose to believe we’re hiding our reason for being in Martinaise.
“Oh...so basically you’re saying you wanna go undercover?”
Kim nods solemnly. “I think it might be our only option, detective.” A blink. He's broken your cover already and only just realised it. “Sorry. It’s a habit.”
You click off the engine and savour the Coupris’ final sigh before stepping out into the air. You almost expect the sea smell to bowl you over worse than the sight of the Whirling did, but it’s actually kind of comforting; makes you feel lucid. You look to the east, where once a dozen cargo trucks were a permanent fixture of the town. The road looks bare without them now. There isn’t a soul on the streets, not even the massive graffito outside the Whirling is intact but rather scrubbed and scrubbed into little more than a few flecks of red paint. You can feel Martinaise mourning her abandonment, or maybe the wind rattling over you is nothing more than a despondent sigh. Great, he’s back.
“Sure am, babe. Did you miss me?”
“What’s that?” Kim is just climbing out of the car himself, pushing against the small of his back for a moment to stretch it out.
“Kim, where is everyone? Do you think they’re all...hiding from us?”
“The smart ones, maybe.” He’s surveying the view himself, something peculiar glinting in his eyes. You wonder if he can taste something as well, and if so what it might be. Probably not booze. “This is what it must be like, when nothing’s going wrong. It’s…”
“Haunting,” you finish.
“A little bit, yes.” Kim flashes you a soft smile.“At least we won’t have any trouble getting rooms.”
Together you recover your bags from the trunk and leave the car behind.
“Good afternoon, officers! How can I help you?” This girl, this bartender. She smiles brightly at the two of you as if she doesn’t realise what she’s done. Ruined ten whole minutes of deep cover, is what she’s done. You look at Kim, waiting for him to do something. This undercover side-case or whatever, it was more or less his thing. Plus, you didn’t want to admit it before, but you were always going to crack the moment you opened your mouth anyway.
“Ah, you must recognise the lieutenant,” he says, with an edge so subtle that you’re definitely the only one to notice. It’s in the way he adjusts his glasses, doing something with his fingers so they don’t clench into a fist. As for his wording, it’s not unusual. He’s always been very strict about avoiding the fame attached to the whole phasmid thing, despite your best efforts to put him front and center for every single interview. Oh, I didn’t do a thing. Kim here’s the real hero, he’s the one that took the picture. I just stood there like a dumb fuck and stuck my hand out. After that would always come the part where you would contort your face into something resembling a smile, parts creaking beneath leathery, pallid skin.
“Not really, I’m sorry.” The Whirling’s new bartender does look genuinely apologetic that she doesn’t know who you are. “Actually, I have this thing? My head goes all light and wavy whenever someone from the RCM is nearby. I don’t know why it happens. But I started to feel dizzy as soon as I heard your motorcar pull up outside.”
Kim opens his mouth, and either remembers he can’t just frivolously ask questions off-duty, or simply decides this isn’t a matter worth pursuing right now. Well, if he won’t, then you sure as shit will.
“Hey, I think I’ve got the same problem!” You prod your swollen, ever-aching head a couple of times. “Like, when I’m working a case with my buddy Kim here, sometimes my head goes all light and wavy too. You think it’s ‘cuz he’s RCM?“
“Actually, I think it might just be because you’re old.” There isn’t a single shred of malice in the girl’s smile. If anything she probably just feels sorry for you. Either way, that doesn’t sound right. You know what being old feels like and this isn’t that. If anything, it’s quite the opposite.
“We’re both RCM,” the lieutenant sighs, “If you really did suffer from this condition, which I’m almost certain doesn’t actually exist, you would find yourself permanently light-headed by virtue of existing within your own body.”
"That's a good point," you chime in, turning to her. "Do you think if you joined the RCM as well, you would be stuck in some kind of whirlwind-dizziness limbo? An eternal vortex of vertigo, if you will?"
“Uhm, I'm not sure. Is somebody in trouble, sir?”
"Well..." you stroke your chin and inspect her demeanour. Her smile has only slightly diminished since before you started talking, but apart from that she doesn’t seem uncomfortable. Still…
“Maybe you are?" She’s probably done something wrong, at some point in her life. She’s probably killed before. “In fact, I'm arresting you right now, just in case. That’s right, you’re going away for a long, long--”
“He’s joking, he’s only joking,” Kim interrupts you, “We’re not even on duty. There is nothing to worry about, miss. He's only joking.”
Now, the girl’s smile has significantly diminished. She actually looks a little pale.
“Alright, well, uhm…”
“We just want a couple of rooms for the night, if that’s possible.” Kim is on full damage control now, so he has no choice but to justify your reason for stopping by in this nothing-and-nobody town. “We worked a case here, a long time ago, and we wanted to come back to relive some memories. I can assure you, we’re not looking for trouble.”
“Oh, okay, sure, so,” She seems to be struggling to get back on track, “We do have a couple of rooms, it’s gonna be, um,” she glances at you, “25 reál each. That’s per night.”
“Now hold on just a minute there,” you raise a finger, while the words not looking for trouble still very much linger in the air. “It was 20 last time! What is this, Kim? This is like, extortion, or something!”
“At worst, it’s profiteering. More likely it has something to do with inflation, profit margins, that sort of thing…”
“You don’t mean…”
Kim looks at you. “I feel like you’re waiting for me to say capitalism--”
“CAPITALISM!” The finger is pointed at the girl now. You’ve finally pinned her down for something. “Kim, we can book her for doing capitalism, can't we?”
The Lieutenant sighs, and pulls out a wallet from inside his jacket. “As of ‘54, no, but keep on fighting the good fight, comrade.”
You huff, and shove your hands into your coat pockets, a sea of crumpled notes and filthy centims dancing amidst your fingers. Just as you’re about to slam an approximation of 25 reál on the counter, the bartender remembers something else.
“Oh, and there’s a ten reál refundable deposit, as well. Sorry. It’s just that, uhm, this one time there was a guest, and, well…khm. Since then, we started taking deposits."
“I’m sorry,” you say, in a sudden bout of compulsion similar to a gag reflex. Out of the corner of your eye you see your partner pinch the bridge of his nose.
“Oh, no, it’s okay,” the girl smiles weakly, “It was before my time, I only started working here in December. So I didn't have to deal with any of that.”
“And I think we’re all glad for that.” Kim passes her a stack of notes that are undoubtedly supposed to cover your costs as well. Then he turns to you. “We can resolve the money issue later. We’ve taken up enough of this poor woman’s time as it is. Isn't that right?”
"I swear it won't happen again." Shit, you're still going. Fortunately the bartender doesn't question it, she's too busy taking the cash and swapping it out for a pair of keys.
"It's the two furthest down the hall."
Because of course it is.
"Kim, I just thought of something."
"What is it?"
He's leaning in the doorway of your room, waiting for you to finish inspecting the place. It's so far from how you remember it being a year ago that you're not even certain this is the same room as last time, even though the view is identical. They’ve swapped out quite literally all the furniture, re-papered the walls...personally you thought it looked just fine after it all got cleaned up last year. Apparently though, once you left, some part of you, your fucked up essence lingered enough that it warranted a complete refit of the room. There’s always a chance they renovated all the rooms, of course, though that doesn’t make you feel quite as special.
"So…what if it's the hole making everything extra quiet? What if it...you know…got bigger, already."
This is exactly what your get-away was missing. A reminder of the imminent, inescapable, utter annihilation of reality.
"You could have a point," Kim looks suddenly troubled by that. He'd probably been trying to forget all about it up until now. "But we don't know if it’s...there's no way to say if it’s going to..." Maybe he thinks that saying it out loud will somehow manifest a worst-case scenario. If it was that bad, they would have Martinaise cordoned off, that’s what he’s telling himself.
"But if it is? If it does?"
"Then I suppose,” he straightens up from the doorway, “we better hurry up and get to sightseeing, before the hole consumes us entirely." He smiles, and for the first time today you're finally allowed to bask in it fully. You stand there, a couple of meters apart, all-out basking like an affection-deprived lizard, and follow through on the sudden urge to escape into the bathroom.
There’s a new mirror over the sink, and for a moment it feels like they've replaced your face as well. But no, you're to blame for the face, for the long-term disguise you've been hiding behind since you took up the Kim Case. Actually, was it before that? You don't even remember. All you know is that, either way, it is important to have as much of your bloated face obscured by beard as possible. Otherwise you're worried you might never get anywhere with this.
You run your hands under the faucet and splash your face a bit, trying to get a grip on your nerves. You were already feeling anxious enough, sans the impending doom. Maybe this was all a terrible idea after all. Your shoulder hasn’t stopped aching since you stepped outside, and now your thigh is starting to chime in as well. You could have easily died in this room, and then no amount of fresh wallpaper or fancy furniture would rid this place of you. And yet still, here you are. A year later and you’re haunting Martinaise like maybe you were always supposed to be.
When you emerge again, Kim is out in the hall, his back to you where he’s looking out over the railing. It hits you suddenly, how impossible it seems that you managed to do this for 18 years without him. Or maybe you were this dependent on all your partners, and you just don’t remember. This is probably why you’re spinning your wheels over this case now. No partner on the case when your partneris the case; no one to consult. Of course, you could just ask him, but you don’t exactly know what you’re supposed to be asking in the first place. All language melts into nothingness around this particular subject. It’s your own, personal 2mm hole in the world, bullet in the head, etc, etc. The question is: what is the question?
“Are you ready to go?” The Lieutenant doesn’t turn, so he can probably just feel your beady little eyes on him.
“Oh yes, absolutely. Let’s tear this shit up, partner.”
It strikes you that he sounds a little bit distant all of a sudden. You really shouldn’t have brought up the hole whole thing. Or, wait, whold on, what’s h(ole)appening all of a sudden? You feel weird. Time to get some air.
You take a couple of coffees out with you, courtesy of Amalie (the dizzy headed bartender girl, her name is Amalie) and proceed to take stock of the town. The Frittte is still there, different worker. The tree is still there, albeit in two pieces. You both conclude lightning must have done it in- probably during the storms last summer- judging by the blackening around the bark and the way no one’s bothered to do anything with the half that broke off. Your secret route into the docks has been well boarded up, obviously, so you can’t even find any evidence to suggest that Cuno is still lurking around, in his shack or otherwise.
Your art, though, that’s definitely still there. Something beautiful is going to happen. It’s a little weathered, and accompanied by some of the locals’ additions (one simply reads ‘shut up’) but no one has found the need to completely deface or remove it as of yet. After seeing the fate that befelled Cindy’s magnum opus, it’s a pleasant surprise. You’re cheered up significantly by seeing it, and to make matters better you even spot someone sitting out on the balcony to those apartments next door. No one you recognise, sadly, but you were a stranger even to yourself once.
“Hey man!” You indulge the sudden urge to call up to him, but it takes a few more tries before he works out where the sound is coming from. “Hey! Yeah! You! Down here! In the shit and the dirt!”
Finally the guy spots you both, but he doesn’t really acknowledge it. He just takes a swig of his beer and watches.
“Did you know,” you continue to say, undeterred, the cold carrying your voice further than it ought to as it unfurls as steam in the air, "I painted this!”
That gets the stranger to his feet- eventually, anyway. It’s a slow and painful affair, by the looks of it. You know the feeling. Once he’s at the railings he leans over, cranes his head around to see what it is you’re talking about.
“You did that?” A gruff voice, straight out of Graad. Still leaning, he drinks again. “The fuck is your problem?”
What?! Immediately your chest puffs full of defensiveness, and you hear Kim say quietly, “Oh no.” He knows better than the stranger about what comes next, but someone has to protect the honour of your beloved creation.
“HEY! YOU WANNA KNOW MY PROBLEM, ASSHOLE?!” You yell up, animated and shaking your fists. Almost on reflex the Lieutenant grabs one and pulls it down, trying to get you away before everything escalates out of control. “Alright, come on,” he's saying.
What exactly is your problem, anyway? Poverty? Centrism? “I'VE GOT A COMPLICATED WORKING RELATIONSHIP! YEAH, A REAL FUCKIN’ PUZZLER! THAT’S MY PROBLEM!”
“Oh God…” Kim groans, not brave enough to look up at the drinker. There isn’t much to see, in fairness, if anything the weird response has stumped the guy. He’s probably used to arguing with normal, low-grade alcoholics, not hardcore,Triple-Quadruple-Yefreitor ones like yourself. Maybe the stranger rolls his eyes, it’s too far to see, but soon enough he’s slinking back into his apartment. Not worth it, is probably his thinking.
“No one gets me, man.” You shake your head and look up at your masterpiece once again. It’s not too late to set it ablaze, you think. It’s not the library, but it might still do something for the case. Hell, you’d probably find a box of matches in a trash can, or a fishing crate, or some other quaint, improbable location. That could be fun.
“I get you,” Kim offers, eyebrows raised above the curve of his glasses, “At least 60 percent of the time. Is that enough?” He’s torn between reassuring you and getting you out of here, probably thinks the drinker is coming back with a gun.
“Kim, it never happened, did it? The beautiful something.”
“I’m not sure that’s true, detective. What about the phasmid? You could probably call that beautiful, certainly in the moment it was.”
“That was a miracle. That’s different.”
“If you say so.”
Your eyes refuse to tear away from the mural, as though if you stare at it long enough the letters might rearrange into something more and give you an answer, or at least a question. “Tell me, please," you say out loud, “What do you mean?”
“Ah, I think you’ll need to be more direct than that,” Kim says, and when you look at him he explains, without a single indication of expression, “I have a lot of experience talking to brick walls.” He finally removes his hand from your fist, and you turn back to the painting to see if his advice is of any help.
“So, then...what is the beautiful something, brick wall?”
Suddenly the wind picks up, carrying the smell of salt and seaweed in its wake. Kim shudders and nestles into the folds of his jacket.
How should I know? You’re the one that wrote it, idiot. Yeah. Fair point. But if the brick wall doesn’t know, then who does?
“Maybe it wants you to work it out for yourself,” your partner offers, when you don’t say anything for a while. Probably he’s just sick of standing out in the cold doing nothing.
Working it all out yourself doesn’t seem likely, at this point. Another dead end. Damn.
The dock is there, the boats aren’t. The bookstore is gone, too, but you already kind of expected that one. What was more surprising is that it seems something else is in the process of taking its place, as of now it’s hard to say what. The doors are locked, but through the window you can see crates of fruits and vegetables, but also huge piles of clothes. What’s that about, and did Plaisance tell them everything about this place? You can’t see it happening. You try to knock on the dicemaker’s window too, just in case, but you don’t get an answer. It seems dark inside. No answer on any of the buzzers; you weren’t going anywhere without trying every one again.
Slowly the two of you wander further south. Roy’s is still open! It’s not like you were ever particularly close, but it still feels like something over nothing. That is, until you go inside and try to talk to him. He’s still coherent, even tries to sell you on some massive, antique stringed instrument until it comes to light that he is not selling it at a very cop-friendly price. The thing is, when he speaks to you, it’s as if you’ve never met before and he’s just running through a script. He doesn’t acknowledge it when you try to bring up something from the past. Despite being right there in front of you, it still feels overwhelmingly like he’s somewhere else.
Kim thinks he’s switched out the Pyrholidon for something else, he says so as you pass the water lock and emerge onto the ice. He must quickly notice that his observation has done little to elevate your mood, because he’s suddenly trying to compensate. He sidles up next to you, nudges your arm with his elbow, starts nodding over in a certain direction to try and get you to look. Anything to stop your wistful gaze across the sea.
“Look, our favourite spot,” he offers, and you finally see that he’s talking about the swing set, the one that offered you somewhere to sit while you waited for...actually, this isn’t your favourite spot at all, now you think about it. You have no idea what he’s talking about. “Come on, I need a shuffle-break.”
As a way to encourage you further, the Lieutenant goes on ahead and puts himself on the rightmost swing so you don’t really have much choice but to follow. Your body collapses into the free swing, you can almost hear it groan. There must be parts of you that have become detached somewhere down the line, they lumber and rattle around inside you until you suck in another generous helping of sea air.
The remnants of your old Coupris are no more, it’s no surprise. The ice has healed over like nothing ever happened, putting it miles ahead of you, emotionally speaking. You’re not exactly sure why, after everything, the car is one of the things that still hurts the most. It’s definitely the task force’s favourite pastime, reminding you of that whole stunt. And Kim loves cars.
“I didn’t deserve her,” you say suddenly, drawing great sweeping arcs over the ice with the toe of your boot.
“Come on, Harry, I didn’t know her, but…” he finally sees where you’re looking. “Oh, you mean the Coupris.” Then I agree, is definitely what he’s thinking, but he cares about you enough to not say it out loud right now. “It was just a car,” is what he says instead.
“Kim, don’t say that, you’re starting to scare me.”
Your partner chuckles and starts to swing himself, only slightly of course- enough to maintain his dignity in front of you and the ice and the birds. A year ago today, he was watching the tide pull away from the wreckage. It probably took a lot not to criticise you, let alone comfort you as he did. You really wouldn’t have got through that case without him. Not a chance.
And so, here you are again, back waist-deep in this same fucking dilemma. He can’t help you with a case that’s about him, that’s something you’re going to have to move on from. But, what would he do? Or, rather, what did he do back then? The first thing that got that whole nightmare careening towards you, what was it?
Inspect the body. Autopsy report. Yes! You need to be more organised about this! You have fuck all at the moment, which is scarcely more than nothing at all, but that just means it won’t take very long to get all the facts straight in your head. And alright, Kim isn’t exactly a corpse yet, but you don’t really have any better ideas right now. Living autopsy it is. Or, maybe visual interrogation is the correct phrasing.
“Kim, is it living autopsy? Or visual interrogation?”
“Hmm.” He considers it for a moment, “well, I suppose of the two, ‘visual interrogation’ is less contradictory.” He’s enjoying the view, and the swing, and his straight, decisive answer makes you wish even more that he was in on this case with you. He would crack it in an instant. Oh well. This is one visual interrogation you’re going to have to do alone. Here goes nothing.
So first, the basics: Kim Kitsuragi. Male, Mid-40s. One year younger than you. Maybe three inches shorter than you. Definitely three inches slimmer than you. You can see that better when he isn’t wearing his jacket. The subtle curve to his waist. His thin but still very much masculine fingers, hands, etc. The gloves accentuate them, is the point to make here. And while it’s right there, you should make note of his jawline. Sharp and refined. Reflective of his mind, perhaps? 60 percent was definitely a modest estimate, before. If there’s anyone close to 70, it’s him. You found him, didn’t you? The one person on this whole godforsaken isola that doesn’t cramp your style. Oh, and you should make a note of this as well, he does have a very nice--
“Harry, you’re not visually interrogating me right now, are you?” You must have missed the part where Kim has been watching you stare for God knows how long. Your mouth puckers into a tight pout. Play it cool, sire.
“Oh, alright.” He’s sporting a smile which, up until now, you thought he saved only for your games of Suzerainty. For when he wins, specifically. “So when you asked me, before…”
“T’was merely a thought experiment.”
“Right, right,” he removes his spectacles and begins to de-fog them with a white handkerchief. “I’m glad you cleared that up, because visual interrogations aren’t actually a thing. As far as I know there’s only the regular, verbal kind. You know, the kind where you ask someone a question and they answer it?” He replaces his glasses and looks at you. Then keeps looking. It almost seems like he’s waiting for something. Maybe you should just let him break you, and own up to the whole Kim Case thing. In fact, why have you been hiding it from him? You might not know how to ask him what you need to ask, but you could have at least explained the dilemma by now. So what’s the hold up?
Then it hits you- it must be the hole in your head. It’s worse than you thought. Not only has it swallowed the Question, it’s starting to swallow the fact that there even is a question. That’s why you can’t quite find a way to tell him anything. You’ll probably forget that there’s even anything to tell, eventually, and then you’ll be left with nothing more than a strange, nagging sensation that something isn’t quite right. An eternal itch that will still be there the day the world collapses in on you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Wrong. Something inside you says, You can still burn it down. That will stop it. You just need to stop running from it first.
Of course, you’ve known all along. That’s where it started. If you destroy it, it won’t be able to swallow anything any more. Then you’ll remember what the question is, and then you can ask it to him. But how can you go back, without running forward?
“Kim.” It’s impossible to say how long the two of you have been staring at each other.
“Yes?” The Lieutenant is very quiet.
“I’m sick of this misery-porn bullshit. I wanna go party, I wanna get crazy with it. C’mon, let’s go see if the club’s made it. Let’s go right now.” You don’t even give your partner a chance to react, you simply jump to your feet and start making a beeline for the church.
“Harry, hold on,” he’s following, but not with the urgency that he would have if he knew what was about to happen. Soon enough the fishing village is upon you, a dozen tin-roofed shacks which might as well be derelict, given the state of the rest of the town. “I was just thinking about it, I’m not so sure we should go off that way. I wasn’t sure it was the hole before, but you’re right, something’s off. It’s too quiet. It could be dangerous to get too close to that church.”
“This again?” You scoff, “I told you once already today! The renowned cryptid hunter and blah blah blah Harrier Du Bois does not back down! I’ll meet you back at the swings, if you’re too scared to come with me.” Up ahead, you can hear the throb of bass, the eclectic rhythm of anodic dance music. Like a siren’s call, she’s drawing you in. If you were somebody else, someone who could choose to back down if they wanted to, it would be too late to do so now anyway. “You hear it? The boys are in there partying without us!” There’s something more than music riding the wind. Something warm, that can’t hurt you. It smells like old, yellow paper and makes your nose itch.
“I don’t hear anything,” Kim sounds afraid now, “I can barely hear you.” He stops and so do you, just for a moment. You’re standing on the makeshift wooden bridge that spans the canal. “Harry. Let’s just go back.” The church is right in front of you. It’s all there is. The ice and the sea and the other buildings have all peeled away to make room for an expanse of nothing, of not-church, that’s the only way to describe it. Every window of the building is lit in a different colour, a colour that changes in time with the noise coming out of the place, frantic and desperate. You swear you can hear laughter.
“Yeah,” maybe you only say this in your head, “Let’s go back.”
You carry on. Every step you take now feels like you’re sinking deeper through the ground, like you’re wading through solid ice. It’s slowing you down like a bad dream would, your legs are so heavy. It takes an inhumane amount of effort for you to make it to the decking of the church, even more so for you to crawl to the door. At least, it feels like you’re crawling, but when you look down your feet are on solid ground. If you can just get inside, you have a feeling everything will be okay. It’s much too early for a sunset, but you can feel the low light of one keeping your cheeks warm. You place a hand on the great door of the church, and push.
Except, it’s not a door you’re pushing. It’s the spine of a book, leather-bound and time worn, and you’re sliding it back into place on its shelf. There are a lot, and you mean a lot of shelves here, each one crammed with more books than you’ve ever seen in your life. Or at least as much of your life as you remember. You could never have known how much reading you would need to do as a cop. Really, just an inordinate amount of reading.
“Still nothing,” Kim sighs. He’s sprawled out on an armchair in the middle of the library, in a position that looks oddly comfortable, surrounded by so many stacks of books you might not have known he was there otherwise. The building is small, and the definition of abandoned; it’s a miracle that you could get the generator going in the basement so that you could coax a bit of heat and light into the place. Bookshelves close in on you from all sides, and you’ve dragged furniture from various other places to form a makeshift base of operations. What you’re looking for, you’re not entirely sure. All you know is that it needs to be important and it needs to be here.
Kim adds another book to his latest pile and removes his glasses so that he can rub at his eyes, exhausted. Massive clumps of dust float by, illuminated by last light where it’s peeking through a windowpane. The window is also very dusty. Everything’s fucking dusty here really; the carpet, the shelves, the tables and chairs that haven’t been used since this place lost its funding. In fact, as an antique yourself, you almost feel at home.
“I think it might be a good idea to call it a day soon,” he replaces his spectacles just so he can glance at the clock on his wrist, “Maybe come back tomorrow and pick up where we left off.”
“I’m going to burn this place to the ground,” you say.
“That's very tempting, yes,” he finds the willpower to pick up another book, flick through it briefly and then add it to the stack. “But aside from making us feel better in the short term, I don’t think it would help the case much at all.”
“Actually, I think burning this place down is going to help the case a lot.” Isn’t that why you returned to this place?
He doesn’t look at you but he smiles at the next book he checks, then stacks it on top of the last. “You’re just tired, and frustrated. Keep looking. We’ll get there.”
Burning down the library is definitely a better option, but why don’t you humour him for a bit longer? You pull out the next book along on the shelf and flick through it like how Kim is doing. Nothing strikes you as odd about it. This time you don’t even put it back, you only toss it to the ground with a thud, causing a cloud of dust to erupt in front of you and disperse through the air. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the Lieutenant waft a hand in front of his face and hear him grumble your name.
Another unremarkable book. Then another. And another. And another. And another. Fuck this. Let it burn. It feels like you’ve been here for a year already, stuck and looking for an answer.
You reach for the next book, but just as you hook your finger over the spine you notice the weight of it. It’s far too heavy for its size. Could it be…? Your hands start to shake with anticipation as you hold the thing in your hands, sizing it up. Then it creaks mechanically as you begin to open it and that makes you realise this isn't a book at all. It’s actually a very cleverly disguised container, stashed away in an abandoned library where no one would find it out of place. The question is, what is this sneaky container containing?
“Kim?” You say, quietly. You don’t take your eyes off of your discovery, half afraid that in doing so it will disappear from your hands.
“What is it? Did you find something?” He unfolds himself from his chair to see what it is you’re looking at. From his angle, sitting in front of you, it probably still seems like you’re staring at a book. “If this is one of your jokes I swear-- oh.” Standing by your side, he takes one of the countless, identically cut gems from the book-container and puts it right up close to his face. “These are diamonds. Harry! Diamonds! Do you realise what this means?”
“Means we cracked it, is what it means. Means we fucking did it.” You didn’t quite know it then, but you remember how this goes.
It takes a moment for Kim to add everything up: the jeweller, the note hidden beneath her desk, the robberies.The cult stuff- it must have been a red herring. There are still a few loose ends to tie, a few more side-cases to solve, but now it all fits together so perfectly. You know he’s worked it out when he laughs, and covers his mouth with his hand. “Unbelievable.” It’s been two full weeks of no progress. The relief is palpable for the both of you.
You watch him take the container carefully, like you might pick up an infant, and slowly snap it shut. Then he looks as you like you just said something, but you’re pretty sure you didn’t. But then again, everything is starting to feel foggier the more he stares at you. His form eclipses the light, and specks of dust dance drunkenly around his head, like they’re rejoicing his being there. It appears that your hand is on his. Wow. No idea how that one happened.
Kim’s mouth starts moving, and the corners of his eyes crease into a smile. You want to do something about it but you still don’t know what that something is. You still don’t know the question, you still didn’t burn the place down.
“I don’t know shit,” you admit to him, “I’m sorry, Kim, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. This is all just one big, fucking joke.”
With that, his face falls. You watch as something essential leaves him, like you’ve just pushed a fucking knife into his gut. Or maybe you’ve just killed yourself, it’s impossible to tell. But it definitely hurts. His mouth starts moving again, still no words, but not silence either. Just a sound this time: snap snapsnap snap...and then a chill rushes through you.
Sitting on your ass in the middle of a snowpile will do that to a guy, after all. You squeeze your eyes shut, and open them again. Kim is squatting down in front of you and he looks more than a little uneasy, to say the least. He keeps clicking his fingers in front of your face. Snap snap snap…
“Oh God...am I okay?”
“I don’t know, are you?!” His eyes are darting wildly about your face. He knows what pale radiation looks like in people and he’s yet to convince himself that you’re not suffering some unknown form of it after... whatever that was. “You collapsed a couple feet from the church, it was like you weren’t here, suddenly. I dragged you back as far as I could...God, Harry, I was about to call for back up.”
“I was in the library…” you keep going, trying to explain, even though the Lieutenant is shaking his head like he doesn’t understand, “And you were there, and I was going to burn it down but...mmh. This was a bad idea.”
“Yes, I think I remember someone telling you that. Right before you went and did it.” Even when he’s this worried about you, he can’t stop being him. “Please just tell me you haven’t lost your mind for a second time, detective.”
“Baby, I never had it to begin with.” You attempt to finger-gun him but your bones are all cold and stiff and it’s a painful, grumbly affair that leaves you unable to aim higher than his kneecaps. Still, it seems to satisfy Kim, because his shoulders relax and he sighs his relief, stretching up to his full height soon after.
“I think you might be right.” He offers you out a hand to help you to your feet. Slowly, you take it. He feels just as real as he did back in the library.
Once the night rolls into Martinaise, it appears that whatever life still remains deep beneath the streets rises closer to the surface. You’re out on the balcony, savouring your one cigarette of the day, and occasionally a peal of muffled laughter can be heard from within the Whirling. Sometimes it’s a yell instead, or the clatter of cutlery, or the chorus of a song that would probably be familiar to you if your taste in music wasn’t so pathetically fixated on the 20-30s. Once you’re done here, you decide, you could maybe go see what all the commotion is about. Maybe they only hid the karaoke stuff and didn’t pawn it outright, though now you think about it, you might have seen a strikingly similar machine back at Roy’s, next to the old instruments.
About the cigarette- Kim was reluctant to let you in on the practice at first. Not because he didn’t want the company, but rather because he thought you couldn’t handle it. Which, of course, made it a challenge where before it had been more of a flight of fancy. Outright refusing you would be too much like admitting the self-flaggelating nature of the whole thing for Kim, so, now it’s your thing too.
And oh yes, it is as awful as you first imagined it would be, but there’s always a certain camaraderie that comes with mutual suffering. You had plenty of the stuff before, buckets and buckets of camaraderie, more than any one person could ever sensibly need but, you know. Whatever. Now you have extra. Plus you get a free cigarette out of it most days.
“I think we should talk more about what happened on the ice.” Kim is trying to make it sound not personal, like he wasn’t really worried about you. Like he didn’t make you sit out the rest of the afternoon in your room so that you and the town wouldn’t trade any more blows with each other. You scar her with graffito (art), she tries to pull you into the pseudo-pale, real petty shit.
“Wait, what do you mean?” You turn away from the balcony railings, but the Lieutenant is still leant forward, smoking, looking down to where he saved your life a year ago.
“What I mean is, I don’t understand why I wasn’t affected by the hole, or whatever that was. I know you’re more receptive to that kind of thing than me... what do you think?”
“Honestly? I have no idea.”
The Lieutenant takes in a long, pensive drag and knits his brows ever so slightly. “It can’t be pale radiation. It happened too quickly.” His mind is still on this being a pale thing; extended periods of sensory deprivation can trigger vivid hallucinations of your past.
“There’s another thing, though.” You watch him tilt his head towards you, curious and waiting for you to explain. “I don’t really know how to explain it,” without admitting to one or two things, at least, “But I somehow knew what was going to happen if I got too close.”
“Really?” A sigh, “That explains why all of a sudden you were so eager to run off.” From there, you can pinpoint the exact moment he realises it doesn’t explain much at all. It’s all in the brow. “And what did happen, exactly? From your perspective, I mean.” You already told him out on the ice, but he must have dismissed it as inane rambling at the time. Now that he’s determined you’re very much lucid, you have his full attention. You can feel a snare beginning to tighten around your throat. It’s just like Suzerainty- you’re still in control for now, but it’s all going to come tumbling down in a turn or two. You’re really shit at Suzerainty, too, so you have no idea how to stop the tumbling from happening, or how to avoid walking into it.
“I’m telling you, Kim, I went to the past. Like, I didn’t just see it, I re-lived it. I was right there, talking to you. Past you, from the past, if that wasn't already clear.”
“You mean, you went back to the last time you were at the church?”
“Well, uhm, no. Actually, I was back in that abandoned library, you remember?” You really fucking hope he doesn’t, but also, you sort of do. Maybe that’s why you didn’t lie about it when you had the chance. “The one where we found--”
“The diamonds. Yes. The Case of the Missing Jeweller.” Kim is suddenly blinking quite a bit.
“And, um, yeah, basically. It was that, all over again. Nothing, uh, nothing else to note, really.” What you’re doing right now is tugging at that wire around your neck, a futile attempt at escape. Nothing to be ashamed of. Every animal ever caught by every iteration of man has tried, and some might even have succeeded down the line.
“So, just to summarise- you know I’m a little slow with these supra-natural matters- we were on the swings and you strictly weren’t visually interrogating me. Then you suddenly thought of a way to relive what happened in the library. Something which, it seemed to me, you were suddenly very eager to do.” The hunter is closing in, and he's smiling about it.
“Well yeah, you know, I mean, those diamonds, man…”
“Mmhm…” He’s watching you struggle, just for a moment, before you hurt yourself.
“Do I really have to tell you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, detective.”
“I sort of feel like I have to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” He’s enjoying this way too much. Wait until he finds out he was being visually interrogated after all.
“Alright, alright, alright,” you stab the remnants of your cigarette into an ashtray set between the two of you, really digging it in there so you have a few more moments before you have to keep talking. “There is a case. All along, this whole time, there’s been one.”
“There isn’t a case--”
"No really, Kim, I mean it. I'm telling you there's a case under investigation right now that required me to previously lie and tell you that there was no case."
He’s half-suspicious, thinks this is just a better attempt at deflecting than the one you made before.
"Fine. For arguments sake, let’s say there is. What’s this case called?"
You hang your head in shame, if not for the subject then for the alarmingly uninspired title. Not very conceptual at all. "The Kim Case."
"The Kim Case." He’s visibly holding back laughter at this point. "And what, exactly, is the crime you're investigating on this case?"
"There doesn't always have to be a crime."
"Oh, there really does."
"Okay, so maybe I just haven't worked out what kind of crime it is yet. Maybe something just feels off. Uh. With you. The point is, I thought that going back to the library and burning it down would help, but I didn’t do it. And now I don’t know what to do."
“I see.” Kim shakes his head and folds his arms behind his back. On the surface he seems very relaxed about all this, smug even. But he’s started tapping his foot- is that a sign of tension? "I don’t really understand your thinking there, I have to admit. But I suppose the library was one of the more obvious incidents. I can see why it would stick out to you."
Wait, incidents of what?
“I know you remember, detective,” Kim continues when you just look at him dumbly. The tapping of his foot might be impatience. “You did, apparently, just re-live the whole thing, after all. Tell me what happened."
"Well…” there’s no reason to be sheepish about this now he knows about the case, so why are you? “we were tired, and then we found the diamonds, and then you said something to me but I couldn't hear anything. On account of the 2mm hole in my head."
The corner of Kim's mouth twitches. The tapping of his foot is definitely impatience. "No, it's on account of you not listening. Or maybe you were listening but you didn't understand, your mind decided it was unimportant, and now you think you can’t remember.”
"But then...what did you say?"
The Lieutenant sighs. It’s clear he didn’t want to spell it out this plainly, and now he has no choice. "I said--"
"Unbelievable.” You watch him take the container carefully, like you might pick up an infant, and slowly snap it shut.
“You’re unbelievable," you find yourself saying. It sounds right. The dust is dancing around him, he’s smiling at you. You are basking. For one single moment you’re hyper-aware of every mistake, every disaster, every grand exhibition of your absolute failure to exist peacefully in this world. It’s all brought you to to this point, here, with him, and you’re so fucking glad for all of it. You take Kim’s hand, the one clinging to the container of diamonds, and savour the way your thumb glides over his knuckles.
"Really," you hear him respond, only to find that he’s grinning up at you with one eyebrow raised. You can sense apprehension, but not discomfort. "You’re doing this now?”
For some reason that sends you into frantic retreat, all at once. There's a feeling in your chest that you don't have a name for when you snatch your hand away.
"And then you swore and apologised a lot and said it was all just a big joke. That was more or less it."
"I don't get it."
"No, you don't. Why don't we do another one?"
"...There's another one?"
Kim nods. "Perhaps something earlier. Remember when we fitted the Kineema together?"
It takes a good hour of fiddling with wires, but it's all worth it when the two of you find yourselves illuminated by the Kineema's new, blindingly bright headlights.
"Alright, we should probably turn them off now." Kim shields his eyes from them, but for a moment there you caught how the harsh light illuminated his features. The cut of his cheek, the handsome curve of his nose, you can't get it out of your head. You want to do something about it. Your fingertips go to his hairline, barely but definitely making contact. You just can't help it.
"It seems my hand is touching your face, Kim," you say.
"Yes, it does seem like that is the case." The Lieutenant's eyebrows are halfway up his forehead, but he doesn't object at all. He might even be smiling, but there are orbs of light swimming in your vision from where the Kineema blinded you. Oh, right. The car. A moment passes, and then you pull away so you can go switch off the headlights.
As you finish recounting the story, Kim holds a hand out towards you, a gesture that implies he's expecting a conclusion.
"So I wanted to touch your face. No biggie."
“That’s right, I touch my homies’ faces every day of my life.”
“Harry, I’m starting to think you’re being willfully dense, here.”
Kim stares at you, trapped in utter disbelief. His open palm is still hanging there, in anticipation of a conclusion that probably won’t ever come. Then, unexpectedly, without moving an inch, he says, “Oh my God. I’ve just worked it out.”
“What? What? What?” Now you’re animated, bobbing your shoulders and shuffling towards him, desperate for some of that sweet, sweet, breakthrough dopamine. You knew he wouldn’t let you down; he never has.
Kim’s eyes are tilted towards the stars where he’s seeing if it makes sense in his head. When he finally refocuses on you, he doesn’t look very smug any more. If anything, he looks a bit embarrassed.
“Detective, don’t take this the wrong way but, khm…” it takes all of his willpower to keep looking your way, “Did you forget what flirting is?”
You draw back and let the question linger between the both of you. Apparently, you did, because you have no idea what that word means.
“It sounds familiar. It sounds like it was something I was very good at.” For some reason, that makes Kim roll his eyes a little bit. “Is that why I feel like this? Because you were doing flirting this whole time?”
“You were doing flirting!” he snaps back, squeezing his eyes closed. If there is any end to his patience, you get the feeling you’re nearing it. “Okay, yes. I suppose I could have done more to deter you, but…” That, Kim doesn’t have an easy explanation for, his mouth just hangs half open.
“And this so-called flirting, it’s…” you search for a definition deep in your gut, where, a year ago, all semblance of memory and knowledge was crammed into a single messy pile. “It’s something people do to show how much they value and appreciate their cop-buddies?”
“No. It’s a way of showing that you’re romantically interested in someone.”
You tap a finger against your forehead; that great, hollow skull which contains nothing that saw this coming, somehow. Maybe you should start thinking about changing the name of the case. It's starting to feel more like The Harry Case now. You mull it all over, try to see if the pieces all fit from this new, unexplored perspective. You are awfully fond of him, in a heightened and addictive sense of the word. You would very much like it if he smiled more often. Maybe he could say your name more frequently...
“Oh? I’m homo-sexual?”
Kim always brings just two cigarettes out with him every night, one for each of you. Right now, though, he is checking the empty carton in his pocket, just in case. I really shouldn’t be here for this, he’s thinking. Suddenly, you grab his arms and shake him, trying to get his attention back while you feel the panic rise from within you.
“Kim, pay attention! I could be romantically attracted to you! What do I do?!” He got you into this mess, so he can probably get you out of it as well.
“Look, I don’t know!” How long has he been blushing? He was doing a very good job at hiding it until you pulled him into the light. “I mean, obviously the RCM wouldn’t be impressed if they knew, to say the least, and you can probably imagine what the others would say…” He stops himself when he notices you’ve started pleading silently with your eyes. A last resort tactic, but these are dangerous times you’re living in. “Harry, I can’t just tell you what you’re supposed to…” Full throttle on the eyes. Maximum capacity for patheticness. All out I’m-Lost-Without-You mode. “Alright, alright, fine. Listen, there's always a chance this is just one of your…moods," Like how you regularly swing wildly from one end of the political compass to the other on a whim, yes. This could very well be that. "Really, there's only one way to find out."
"And that is…?"
Kim pulls a face. “You’re a smart man. I’m sure you can work it out.” Something is stopping him from just telling you outright.
“Okay, okay, so, for argument’s sake, let’s just pretend, hypothetically, that I am not a smart man. Let’s imagine, for all intents and purposes, I’m literally the thickest piece of shit to grow limbs and pull itself out of the primordial soup bowl. What would you say then?”
Kim is quiet for a moment. He’s really holding back on saying something smart in response to that. "Okay. You need to ask me something. Does that help?”
It doesn’t really help at all, but you feel like it should. You’re going to let him down again, aren’t you? That is, unless you spit out the very first thing to come into your head while spending nary a single thought or care as to what that thing might be. Yeah, real innate shit, that’s never let you down. It will start in your lungs and vibrate upwards, moulded by your larynx into something resembling sound, and then it will pass over your tongue, your teeth, your lips...are you ready? Here it comes...
“Buuuuuuuh Kim can I kiss you?”
What the fuck was that? You fucking psycho? You let go of his arms and take a step back, as if to distance yourself from the consequences of what you’ve just said, what you’ve just done. You’ve changed your mind. You are not, and never were, even the slightest bit competent at flirting. This is a nightmare, you want to go back to the library.
“Oh. So you didn’t forget everything, then,” Kim actually looks half impressed, maybe even a bit relieved, when he folds his arms at you. Honestly, you might not have forgotten anything. For all you know this whole case thing was just a way to avoid facing some particularly difficult feelings. Regardless, you haven’t heard a ‘no’ to your question yet. He also hasn’t stormed back into the Whirling out of sheer repulsion. Maybe you were too quick to judge yourself before. Maybe you’re actually the smoothest motherfucker on this isola.
“So yes, you mad animal,” he finally breaks and smiles, before sobering himself slightly to add, “but quickly, before anyone sees.”
“Hoo boy. Alrighty.” You smooth a hand over your hair to flatten it and fiddle with your collar. You are, in essence, not very quick about it. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? How does it go again? For some reason, you start dipping down onto one knee, but it doesn’t feel right and then Kim starts shaking his head ‘no’ and gesturing for you to stand back up. You stand back up. Not sure what that was, honestly.
“Alright, okay, never mind,” he says and comes over to you, grabbing you firmly by your coat’s lapels. “Here, let me put you out of your misery.”
There’s a very brief moment that you think maybe he’s offering to help you avoid embarrassment by killing you, but then he starts leaning up towards your face. Up close you realise he isn’t at all confident in any of this, he’s just been doing a very good job at pretending. His mouth is a line glued in place on his face, like it’ll start trembling if he relaxes it at all.
“Wait! One more thing!” Kim isn’t much impressed by your stalling, but you thought of something important. “Won’t it be better if you take off the glasses? Y’know, so you don’t have to see this,” you gesture to all of your face, “whole problem?”
“Oh, that whole problem, yes.” You couldn’t quite say why, but this is undoubtedly his loveliest smile yet, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, Harry, but it is much too late for that.” Then, he kisses you. And honestly, it’s pretty underwhelming.
That was a joke, obviously. This warm, chaste kiss is actually the best thing to happen to you since the fucking conception of disco itself. This is the beautiful something.
It's different to what you remember kissing being like; there's a firmness to how he does it, but it evokes the same kind of reliability he's exhibited since the first day you met. All of a sudden you're overwhelmed with the notion that he's not going to let you be hurt by all of this. If only you could believe that, if only there wasn’t some nagging thought at the back of your head telling you that this, this is the thing that’s going to do you in, and not like how it did your hanging man either.
That all being said, you’ve never really been one to heed the consequences of your actions. And it is a very nice kiss, until Kim breaks it off.
“Alright, that’s enough,” he says quietly. He’s telling himself, not you. He straightens his glasses so that they’re sitting properly on his face again. It takes a second for him to bolster his courage but after a moment he glances at you, searching for some kind of conclusion in your expression.
“I, uh, don’t think this is one of my moods, Kim.”
“No,” he pats your chest twice, “I don’t think so either.” There’s something unusual glimmering in his eyes, behind the glasses. He wants you to do it again. You dip down before it can disappear and catch him in another kiss, a gloved hand still pressed to your front as if he can feel how your lungs are glowing.
For as long as you try to hold onto the moment, Kim still manages to be sensible about it and pulls away before long. He keeps glancing around, down below and then towards the balcony doors; he’s the only one out of the two of you with half an awareness of his surroundings right now.
“C’mon, Kim,” you practically whine, your hands going to his waist to keep him there, “I’m really starting to dig this whole thing of discovering myself, I think if we keep going we might finally crack the case.”
“Yes, and ideally I would prefer if we didn’t crack the case out on the Whirling-In-Rags’ balcony, in the middle of February, for every man, woman and child of Martinaise to see.” It’s the tone he uses when he’s scolding you, but he’s also smiling so it’s all a bit confusing. You watch as that smile softens into something more gentle before he continues, “I also think you might not fully understand what you’re getting into, yet. After everything that you’ve been through…” he shakes his head, “honestly, I don’t have much experience with this kind of thing. I just get the feeling that it could be bad if you just rush into it.”
“But...I love rushing into things, Kim. I don’t know if you noticed, but it’s kind of, like, my thing.”
“Believe me, I noticed.” Kim sighs, and takes in the skyline one more time. From here, Jamrock is just an arrangement of tiny flickering lights in white and yellow. “I’m not saying we can’t keep investigating this case of yours. But why don’t we pace ourselves, take on a few side-cases along the way? Something tells me this one might be a little bit bigger than you first thought.”
Kim leaves you to go open the balcony doors, and the warmth that tumbles from inside makes you realise that you’re freezing out here. Without saying anything more, you step inside with him.
“Well, I suppose we should both get an early night,” The Lieutenant says, “I thought we could leave early tomorrow, since it’s probably not a good idea to stay in Martinaise for too long. I’m surprised that more isn’t being done here, honestly. Wasn’t Soona on top of all this?” He looks at you once he realises that you haven’t interrupted him yet. “What’s wrong, detective?”
“It feels surreal, doesn’t it? Just going back to normal, like nothing happened out there. Dunno if I like it.”
“Oh? And what do you suggest?”
You scratch your beard pensively. “Perhaps you could start calling me ‘babe’?”
“Under no circumstances am I going to start doing that.”
“No circumstances? What if there was a guy with a gun to your head and the only way he wouldn’t kill you would be if you called me ‘babe’?”
“Okay, In that one, highly specific case, yes. I suppose I would--” Kim notices your attention has moved past him, towards somebody climbing the stairs. It’s one of the travellers from downstairs, swinging the keys to his room around a finger and whistling to himself until he notices there are two very flushed men staring at him.
“Uh,” he glances around nervously. He’s just some drugged-up kid. “Can I help you, officers?”
Kim is silently boiling over next to you. He probably could have come to terms with being seen kissing you, were it not for the fact that everyone in Martinaise seems to know you’re RCM. You, on the other hand, feel more capable right now than ever before. That moment on the balcony has given you a massive, temporary buff to your cop abilities and you’re not about to squander it. What you’re going to do is ask the best damn question of your professional career. You’re going to ask a question so good, so fire, that it solves a case that doesn’t even exist.
“Just one thing, boy,” Leave a pause for dramatic flair, and then…”How much did it cost for you to rent out that room for the night?”
“Oh, uh,” the kid looks at his keys briefly, “Like, 20 reál I guess.”
“Seriously?” Kim just sighs, but he’s laughing too, “I’m going to bed.”
The first thing you think of when you wake up is that it must have all been a dream. Things usually don’t go this well for you; there’s no other explanation. It’s something you struggle to come to terms with while you dress yourself and pack your things, but the moment you see Kim waiting for you outside your room you realise immediately that you were worried over nothing. You can’t quite explain what’s different between the two of you this morning. It’s something difficult to quantify or even explain but it’s there, thick in the air.
“Good morning, detective.” Formalities over, he goes on, “I imagine you’re intending to tell Amalie of your, uhm, discovery last night.” He realises his poor choice of words and corrects it before you can get a joke in. “About the room charge.”
“No stone unturned, Kim, you know that.” You watch him nod stoically.
“Alright. But promise me we can go home after that.”
“Kim,” you say as you head downstairs, “I’m starting to think you’re not very fond of Martinaise.”
“Actually, I was thinking more that Martinaise isn’t very fond of us.”
The bartender girl is working this morning, fortunately. She’s cleaning glasses from last night when you slam your keys on the counter and startle her. “Twenty five reál, is it?” You make sure there's a little more bass in your voice than usual.
Shoulders hunched, Amalie slowly turns, blinking at the both of you. “Oh, good morning officers! You wanted to pay for another night?”
“Miss, please don’t play dumb with us,” Kim says gently. For five reál, he was probably going to let the whole thing go. “We spoke to another guest. We know you overcharged us for the rooms.”
“And we can totally book you for that,” you’re eager to add.
“O-oh! Okay! Hold on, I can explain this!” She’s flustered all of a sudden, and starts fumbling beneath the counter for something. A gun? Damn, and you didn’t even bring yours. Why do you never have your gun? “Here! Look!” She holds a flimsy piece of paper out towards you; a newspaper clipping. It’s been cut so nothing but the photo and the headline remains: SUPERSTAR COPS DISCOVER NEW SPECIES OF INSECT. A shame the rest is missing, it was a masterwork of an article. The picture is of the two of you; Kim is standing on the left, light reflecting off of his glasses and arms folded properly behind his back. You are leaning into him, an arm around his shoulders, cracking out The Expression one last time and yucking it up with the fingerguns for the camera. Totally cool. The only difference between this version of the photo and the one displayed in the office is that your face in this copy has been circled in red pen, a dot placed between your tired eyes, likely for emphasis.
“My old manager,” she explains quickly, “He showed me this photo and said, if a man like this ever comes back, I should charge him extra for the room.”
Kim is the first one to get in there. “And you didn’t think to question it?”
“Well, uhm, I wanted to know why, but whenever I asked he would just start staring into the distance, like he was remembering something really bad. He seemed super serious about it and I thought maybe it was some Union thing or, I don’t know really.” The two of you look at each other and she adds, “I did ask if it would be better to just not let you atay outright, but he was really hung up on just charging you extra for some reason.”
“That explains how you recognised us, then,” Kim says while he pats your shoulder in consolation.
“Um, yes. Sorry about the dizzy thing. I’m not really a good liar, it felt bad doing it. And for the record, sir,” she’s looking at him specifically now, “I wasn’t asked to overcharge you, only your partner. But I kind of had no choice.”
“And I bet the whole deposit thing was just for me, too,”
“No, no,” she sucks in a breath, “That is actually a thing. Let me get that for you, actually.” As she wanders over to the till, it seems she really doesn’t know that, in all likelihood, the deposit thing was because of you. Garte must have not told her.
“Can we...still book her?” You murmur to Kim. Maybe he’ll let you, just to cheer you up.
“No, we can’t. Sorry, Harry.” He shrugs his shoulders, “Maybe next time.”
Sometimes, you just have to let ‘em go. It’s for the best.
The Coupris is waiting for you outside.
“I’ll drive,” Kim says, and when you toss him the keys he catches them without looking. It’s a flawless performance, one only the two of you, in this new, unique situation, could pull off.
You both climb into the car, but he doesn’t switch on the engine right away. Somehow, Kim finds himself in the same position you were yesterday, frozen in the driver’s seat and stuck staring at the spot where you were shot twice.
“You know,” he says, “That moment when you were lying there, and I thought you weren’t going to make it...I think that’s when I realised.”
You love him, you really do, but sometimes you just have no idea what the hell Kim is on about.
“Alright. Don’t worry,” Kim smiles, when he sees not a shred of understanding in your eyes, “We’ll build up to that.”