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Maniacs Of Con City - Excerpt Two

Detective Corino parked in front of Brickton Central and climbed out of the car. He gently shut the door and looked up at the old clock high above the entrance. The minute hand sat firmly at the three o'clock position, while the hour hand pointed just below four o'clock. Two pigeons rested on the minute hand and looked straight down at Corino. He waved to them with one hand. One of the birds cocked its head as Corino's fresh new partner emerged from the car.

`Accurate,' Hackett said, nodding at the clock.

`Yeah,' Corino said. `Twice a day.'

Hackett turned his head to Corino and raised his eyebrows. `How's that?'

Corino met the kid's gaze. `Seriously? You need me to explain it?'

Hackett pointed up at the clock. `It's seven hours late. Or five hours too fast. How is it accurate twice a day?'

`Tell you what, why don't we go talk to the Station Manager, and after we're done, you can see if the pigeons are still here?'

Without even waiting for Hackett, Corino walked up to the entrance.

`The pigeons?' Hackett said. `What about the pigeons?'

Corino pushed the door open and walked into the station concourse. On his way to the only open ticket office, he heard Hackett's rapid footsteps behind him.

`Hey, Corino, what about the pigeons?'

`Nothing,' Corino said, without turning around. When he reached the till, he showed his badge to the cashier.

`Good morning, Detective,' Tanya said before Corino had to say a word. `Miss Knowles will be with you shortly. Please have a seat in her office. It's open.'

`Much obliged,' Corino said, and turned around. He crossed the concourse with Hackett in tow. Out of habit, he knocked on the door that said, `Station Manager,' then opened it and let himself in.

The air in the office smelled faintly of strawberries. A newspaper rested atop the desk next to the fruit bowl which very much lacked strawberries. Corino took a seat in one of the three chairs by the wall. Thankfully, Hackett held his tongue about the pigeons and quietly sat down beside him. Much to Corino's displeasure, he only managed to stay in silent mode for about a minute or so.

`Has this place always been so lifeless?' Hackett asked.

`Pretty much,' Corino said. `Got worse when the nuke cut the county off from the national rail network. But to be honest, it's been bad since Greekhorse first got elected ages ago.'

`That's a shame. My uncle used to be a conductor. He'd cry if he saw this place.'

`He ain't alone with that, trust me.'

`Speaking of Greekhorse, I've been meaning to ask: who will you vote for?'

`My great-grandmother,' Corino said.

`Really? But isn't she...'

`Dead? Yeah. That's why she'd make a great Mayor.'

Hackett took several seconds to formulate a reply. Corino was glad that the kid was thinking before speaking, for once.

`I know it's none of my business who you vote for, but if you don't want to tell me, just say so.'

`Are you kidding me?' Corino said, no longer sure Hackett had really done any thinking. `Who am I supposed to vote for? Stanley Taxman? Or Jeremiah Roarke's great-grandson?'

`Well, I don't know. I mean, Mayor Greekhorse and the Chief are best pals, so...'

`Just wait until he gets reelected and invents a new tax to screw us out of our hazard pay,' Corino said.

`So you're saying you'll vote Roarke?'

`Hackett, have you passed any history exams? Do you know what Vincent Roarke's great-grandfather did during his reign as Mayor? Raised income tax to seventy percent. Seven-zero, not one-seven. Do you really think this apple fell far from the tree? Newsflash, genius: it didn't.'

`Okay, so you don't want to vote for either?'

`No, I don't want to vote for either.'

`But you know it's illegal to refuse to vote, right?'

`I know. I will attend, sign on the dotted line that I was there. But I'll be handing in an invalid vote.'

`Right. And how will you make it invalid?'

Corino considered that for a moment. There were certainly plenty of possibilities. He could tear the ballot paper in half, mark both candidates, that sort of thing. But he felt he needed to do something a little more drastic to get his point across.

`I'm going to draw a cock on the ballot paper,' he said.

Hackett burst out in laughter. `Wow, Corino! Really? Isn't that a little immature?'

`Immature, coming from you, is a compliment.'

`Hey, I didn't say I disapprove. But what if you get caught?'

`I'm gonna wear rubber gloves and use one of their own pens to do it, and I'll lean over the paper while I draw. And yes, I'll make sure to leave with the pen and throw it in the incinerator, along with the gloves.'

Hackett narrowed his eyes. `Have you done this before?'

`Unbutton your shirt,' Corino said.

`What?' Hackett shook his head like he'd just heard Corino speak Chinese. `Why?'

`Because, cretin, I want to know if you're wearing a wire before I may, or may not, admit to multiple felonies.'

`Right. So you do this all the time.'

`Maybe I do, maybe I don't. Now what about you? Voting for the douche, or the jackass?'

`Uh, which is which?' Hackett said.

`Take your pick.'

`Well, I don't know. Is Greekhorse the douche because he talks as fast as the water comes out of a shower head?'

`Hey, that's some actual wit there. I'm impressed.'

`Thanks. But that would imply Roarke's the jacka...'

The door opened and Hackett quickly shut his mouth. His face flushed while the Station Manager walked into the room and nodded to the both of them.

`Officers,' Marcia said.

`Good morning, Miss Knowles,' Corino said, and stood up. `Detective Corino from the Train Guardian Task Force. This is Detective Hackett.'

`How do you do, ma'am?' Hackett said. Belatedly, he stood up and reached for his badge.

`You're new,' Marcia said to Hackett, then turned to Corino. `What happened to your previous partner?'

`Suspended. Indefinitely.'

Marcia nodded. `Take a seat, gentlemen.' She closed the door and walked behind the desk, then sat down.

Corino picked up one of the chairs and took it closer to the desk. He sat down, removed the recorder from his pocket, switched it on, and placed it on the edge of the desk.

`Detectives Robert Corino and Sid Hackett, interviewing Station Manager Marcia Knowles in relation to Train Guardian activity,' he said while Hackett brought another chair for himself. `Miss Knowles, please tell us what happened last night.'

`Certainly. A fare-dodger tried to take the Midnight Express to Brickton West without a valid ticket. The Train Guardian kindly prevented this from happening.'

Marcia stopped talking. Corino waved her to go on.

`That's all,' she said.

`Is it?' Hackett said, in the harshest tone Corino had ever heard from the young stud. `There was nothing kindly about the way the Train Guardian prevented the victim from taking the train. The victim is still in the hospital with broken ribs, a broken jaw, and a concussion. If you have any further information to share about this violent crime, you need to share that with us right now!'

Marcia leaned forward, hooked her fingers together in front of her on the desk, and gave a polite smile to Hackett. `Detective, neither myself nor any members of staff witnessed the event. I'm afraid I can't help you any more than I already have.'

Corino opened his lips but Hackett beat him to the next question. `What about the security cameras? It is your duty to supply us with the footage of this incident!'

All Corino could do was stare at Hackett. He had not seen the sudden shift in demeanor coming. He'd only been burdened with his new partner for a week, and the kid had not been this aggressive when they were dealing with street thugs.

Marcia, meanwhile, remained calm and nodded in response. `Of course, Detective. However, as your partner is no doubt aware, Brickton Central does not have the budget to operate security cameras. If you want security camera footage, you'll have to make do with that recorded on the Midnight Express. Which is operated by Roarke Rail.'

Hackett responded with the swiftness of a viper yet again. `We've already obtained the footage from Vincent Roarke earlier this morning. There is a very convenient gap in the recording at the time of the assault. Clearly, the Train Guardian gained access to the footage and deleted it, or found a way to disable the cameras. That implies a technical expertise that a brute like the Train Guardian can't possibly possess. Since Roarke Rail operates its trains with self-driving engines, there was no conductor on board. If anyone accessed the footage for the Train Guardian, it was a member of staff right here at Brickton Central! You need to tell us, right now, which member, or members, of staff were on the train or even near the train immediately before, during, or after the assault!'

Even after that rant, which left Hackett's face lobster red, Marcia remained calm. `No, Detective. This was the Midnight Express. Roarke Rail handles the ticket checks at Brickton West. Which is good because we only have one staff member working evenings, and her shift ends before midnight.'

`Very convenient, Miss Knowles,' Hackett said a split second before Corino could take over the conversation. `We'd like to talk to that staff member. Likewise, you need to tell us where you were last night.'

`Dial it back, Hackett,' Corino said. `Miss Knowles is not a suspect, nor are any members of staff. Just take it easy.'

`Are you nuts?' Hackett said and he turned to Corino. `How else did the footage get wiped, if not because the staff here are in cahoots with the Train Guardian? And why would the last member of staff leave the station before the last train departs?'

`Just relax, okay? The Train Guardian is not an idiot. He's been at this for seven years by now. Never been caught, no one knows who he is. No reason to assume he doesn't know his way around trains, old or modern.'

`Never been caught, that's right. You know why, Corino? Because every cop's been too soft on these people,' Hackett said, and pointed at Marcia.

Corino picked up the recorder, turned it off, and pointed at the door. `Get out.'

Hackett recoiled. `What?'

`Go outside, get some fresh air, maybe go ask the pigeons if they saw anything. Most of all, calm the fuck down.'

`I am calm, Corino. You're the one swearing. And we're far from finished here.'

*

For more, please proceed to the novel Maniacs Of Con City.


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