It was January 29th, two-thousand and fifty-four. I had just finished sending in the reports that enabled me to close my latest case—a string of serial murders targeting prostitutes that had me chasing dead-end leads for weeks—and I was headed home for a long soak, a bottle of red wine and something mind-numbingly dull on the telly. It was well past midnight and the department was deserted except for little old me. Or so I thought. So accustomed was I to all-night workaholic bingeing that it came as a shock to see a light on in Detective Chief Inspector Stanley’s office. I was curious why the old man was still in, but not quite curious enough to delay my date with relaxed stupor. My hand was on the door when I heard him call out.
“Kairos,” his voice was loud but hoarse from years of yelling at subordinates, not to mention the cigars and the booze. “My office.”
I sighed and my head slumped heavily on my shoulders. No way was I getting that soak, let alone the bottle and the stupor. The D.C.I. was standing at the window, staring out into the darkness. He didn’t turn when I stepped into his office, so I stood and waited. An empty glass was hanging loosely in his right hand—I guessed it went with the half-empty bottle on the cluttered desk.
“Mira, have a seat.”
He used my first name. That meant it was even worse than I thought. So I sat in the chair nearest his desk and waited. The entire surface seemed to be covered with stacks of paper that spilled out of a cardboard file box. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have found it amiss—most of the inspectors and investigators in the department had a similarly untidy filing system—but this was completely out of character for Stanley. The desktop was the only area of the Spartan office that was in disarray. I was scarcely able to keep my curiosity in check, but I felt it prudent to wait.
“Good work on the serial case,” the D.C.I. grunted. “You wrapped it up a damn sight faster than anyone else could have.” He chuckled—it sounded like a cough more than a laugh—and slowly turned to face me. His eyes weren’t smiling. “Still don’t know how you managed to pull it off.”
The glass in his hand found its way to the only bare spot on the desk and was soon joined by a twin. He divided the contents of the bottle between the two and lifted one my way. I squirmed a little in my seat, but took the proffered beverage. It’s not that I couldn’t take a compliment, I knew the kind of work I was capable of. But it rarely came in the form of a late-night drink with the boss. He raised his glass in a toast and we drank, slamming back the bitter contents. It was like swallowing lava, burning its way down my throat and into my stomach—heating me up from the inside.
“It’s all in the file,” I mumbled, slurring more than I should have after only a meagre dram. As satisfying as it was to solve a difficult case, I didn’t like to boast. After all, I wasn’t a renowned literary detective, was I?
The D.C.I. tossed the contents of his glass down his throat and gestured toward the file box. I edged my seat closer and glanced over the papers closest to me. They appeared to be department case files.
“What’s all this, then?” I asked, fearing I already knew the answer.
He produced a second bottle and poured himself another shot, then took his drink back to the window. I stared at his back for an uncomfortable moment before he spoke.
“Forty years ago, I was a shiny new detective constable on the force, still on probationary status. The contents of that box and everything around it are the amassed files on a case I was assigned to on my first week.” He took a swallow of the vile liquid in his glass. “It began as a pretty straight-forward robbery/homicide. But the more I looked into it, I came to realise there was more to it. Much more. It’s gone long cold since. Unsolved. Still open, though I haven’t found any new evidence in years. Quite the mystery.”
Curiosity getting the better of me, I sat my glass down and began rifling through the stacks. Sure enough, I soon found a folder that contained a case file dated forty years ago. But beneath and scattered all about were older files—more cold cases from many years before. Some printed out, but most were hand-written. Interviews and first-hand accounts, as well as mad scribblings on mere scraps of paper.
I shook my head. “I don’t understand. Is this all from the same case?”
Stanley nodded and turned back to face me. His expression was dead sober, though I knew he had drank most of the first bottle and a goodly amount of the second. “The deeper I dug in, the more convoluted it became. Those older files are some that I uncovered in connection with the original case, as unbelievable as it may seem.”
We both stared at each other over the mess of papers, neither speaking. I knew what was coming next, I could taste it.
“You’ve been in the department for two years now,” he said, breaking the silence. “Fastest rise to Detective Inspector in the division. Did you never wonder why?”
A cold chill caressed my spine. “I always assumed it was on the merits of my success rate.”
“Partly, yes.” He drew a breath and exhaled deeply. His eyes twinkled in the dim light of his office. “I took an interest in you the moment you joined the force. Pulled a few strings to get you on up the line on a fast track. I knew you would be the one to pass this on to.”
I was struck dumb. At the same time I was flattered that I had been chosen for such a difficult case, I was also a bit angry that my rapid rise wasn’t due to my own efforts. How was I supposed to deal with this?
“I don’t know whether to say thank you or I quit,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could muster.
Stanley barked out a laugh. “Next week I’m taking my pension and getting the hell out of this nasty business while I’m still young enough to enjoy it. Benson’s stepping up to D.C.I. in my place.”
Before I could check myself, I blurted out “Benson’s a prat. Couldn’t find his arse with both hands.” Must have been the drink talking.
“That’s as may be,” Stanley chuckled, refilling his glass, “but he’s next in queue. So you can see why I’m passing this one off on you?”
I nodded, narrowing my eyes in a deep frown. Stanley knew me, knew I couldn’t pass up a challenge. He knew full well I wouldn’t let go until I found answers. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. I didn’t have to ask him what was next—I knew this case was off the books and I’d have to work on it on my own time. But I didn’t care. I stood up and began to gather the pile into something more manageable for transport. The old man’s eyes gleamed, brightening his face and almost making his smile pleasant. For a brief moment, I caught a glimpse of the rookie constable peeking out of the weathered old man. He didn’t want to let the case go, but not knowing the truth was killing him. And he trusted me to get at it, no matter what. In that instant, I knew we were more alike than I had thought.
“I’d tell you to take some time off since you’ve more than earned it,” the D.C.I. said in a soft, satisfied tone. “But we both know you wouldn’t take it, would you?”
I gave him a derisive snort as I hefted my burgeoning load. Stanley raised his glass to me as I retreated from his office and shouted after me, “Keep me apprised of anything you find!”
I smiled inwardly and headed for the lift and the short ride to the parking garage. That night, the trip seemed to take forever. The box grew heavier in my hands and began to feel hot against my skin. I imagined the contents were starting to boil and would soon overflow, bursting forth to consume me. My curiosity became unbearable and I propped the box against the wall of the lift to start reading. Just then the doors slid open, breaking the spell. With a sigh, I shifted my burden and stomped out into the garage to search for my car. Even had the garage been full, I would have easily found mine among them.
In a world where everyone spent their hard-earned cash on the latest and greatest, newest and shiniest automobiles, I drove an old model Jaguar F Coupe from 2016. Antiquated, but hardly an antique—a classic in my eyes alone. The finish was long gone, leaving the dark grey pitted and dull. But her sleek lines were far more appealing than the bland, boxy contraptions that jam-packed the highways and skyways. No, she couldn’t fly, being manufactured a decade or so before that technology was perfected. Nevertheless, she was mine and I thoroughly enjoyed piloting her through the city streets.
I thumbed the switch on the key fob and my grey lady’s lights flickered to life. The left side door creaked a greeting as I swung it open and deposited the file box on the passenger seat, before climbing in on the right. She greeted me affectionately, her leather seat hugging me tight and her engine roaring to life with a turn of the key as my car awoke. And I awoke with her, racing out of the garage and into the night. Even though I hadn’t slept in almost 36 hours, I felt invigorated, renewed and refreshed. My mind was buzzing with excitement as I sped along the streets toward my flat. Once there, I would have a quick shower and a bite before thoroughly immersing myself in the new case. My long soak, the bottle and the telly would keep. And slumber, though long deferred, would have to wait a while longer.