As had become my routine every morning since I’d taken the job with the St. Louis Police Department, I took a deep, centering breath before I stepped through the doors and faced what I’d come to think of as the gauntlet. The walk from the front door of the building to the archive room where I worked all day wasn’t a very long one, but the whole way I got to endure the comedic stylings of my fellow co-workers. It was like I was in high school all over again, and I’d hated high school with a passion. The irony was that the same jackass that tormented me then was still leading the charge close to a decade later, which is just further proof to support my theory that God hates me.
“Uh-oh! Better shape up boys! Taft is in the house!”
Back in high school Phil Dreskill had been a prime specimen of athletic conditioning that had all the ladies and college scouts clamoring after him when he wasn’t trying to make my life a living hell. After a football injury ruined his college career Karma must have caught up to him because the years since certainly haven’t been kind. He was still a mountain of a man at six and a half feet tall, but where he’d once been two hundred and thirty pounds of finely sculpted muscle and stupidity, he was now more like a homage to Al Bundy. His six pack had long since degenerated into a keg. His hair apparently didn’t like its position on Mount St. Stupid, and had moved south in the form of a 70’s pornstache, leaving a trail of baldness down the middle of his head to mark its passing. The ridiculousness of his appearance didn’t keep him from still trying to be the life of the party, however. Phil and his three stooges, Marko, Rollins, and Gerbalski, liked to serenade me every day as I entered the precinct in what I’m sure they thought was a witty and hilarious riff on the Shaft theme, much to the amusement of most of the department, who would cheerfully chime in as backup:
“Who is the man that would give his life for the blubbered man?”
“Who’s the man that won’t cop out when there’s junk food all about?”
“He’s a complicated man, and no one understands him but his grocer!”
“They say that Taft’s one fat mutha-“
“SHUT YO MOUTH!”
“I’m just talkin’ bout Taft!”
“WE CAN DIG IT!”
The desk Sargent, trying unsuccessfully to hide his amusement, would bellow “Cut that shit out!” and then they’d all break down into fits of laughter and back slapping while I ignored them and made my way to my dungeon. You’d think that they’d get tired of doing the same thing every day for a month.
You’d be wrong.
That morning Nora was already waiting for me by my work desk decked out in her patrol blues and leaning against one of the filing cabinets. Her arms were crossed in front of her and her face was bunched up into a scowl. Even with her arms crossed I could see her fists reflexively tensing and relaxing, like a predator at the zoo wanting to pounce but being held back by the protective glass.
Nora never wore any make-up, but she didn’t need any. Her looks are what I’d describe as “classical”, like something out of a painting or a Hollywood starlet from the 30’s and 40’s. In fact, I’d always thought that she bore a striking resemblance to a young Grace Kelly, but not many people from my generation would get the reference. It’s a shame that people don’t appreciate the classics any more. That day her brunette hair was pulled up in a no nonsense bun that she could hide under her uniform cap. She had a petite frame of five feet and some change, but you could see well-toned muscle under the arms of her uniform. I’d seen Nora subdue suspects twice her size without breaking a sweat, and even if she hadn’t been the Chief’s daughter, Phil and his functionally retarded lackeys still would have avoided her like the plague out of self-preservation.
Her face was red with anger and she huffed as soon as the door clicked closed. “I don’t know why you put up with those assholes every day!”
I smiled sweetly at her and adapted my very best stuffy British accent. “Why good morning to you as well, Madame Charleston! It is ever so lovely to see you on this fine morning!”
She rolled her eyes as she pushed off of the cabinets. “I’m serious, Nick. It’s been a month. If you don’t stand up for yourself it’s just going to keep happening.”
I shook my head as I put my backpack and cane down on top of my little desk in the corner. “The best thing to do with morons like Dreskill is to ignore them, otherwise it just gets worse. I’ve learned that through many years of personal experience.”
“Your grandma is a district court judge and you graduated with top honors and a degree in Criminal Justice. Couldn’t she find you something better than working as a file clerk with the same asshole that tormented you in high school?”
I made a point of turning on and logging into my computer to keep from having to face her. I didn’t want her to see how much it actually did bother me. “Your dad owed her a favor, and it’s not like a lot of places were busting down my door to offer me work with all the medical issues I’ve got going on.” I shrugged. “I just have to make the best of it for now.”
I could hear her knuckles pop behind me. “Well, I could go have a discussion with Phil and his cronies.”
I smirked and turned back around. “Thanks, Nor, but I don’t think an assault charge in your file is going to help you get promoted any faster. I handled Phil in high school and I can do it again here. I’m just biding my time.”
She didn’t look convinced, but at least her face had faded from beet red to something resembling normal. “Uh-huh. So, speaking of my promotion, have you given any thought to what I proposed yesterday?”
Her “proposal” involved us playing detective and finding a jewelry thief that the media had dubbed “The Ghost”. Original, I know, but as creatively bankrupt as the nickname was I had to admit that it was fairly apt. Four large jewelry stores in metro Saint Louis had been robbed in four months. Each time the thief was able to get in and out without triggering an alarm, being caught on film, or leaving behind any evidence at all. The case had the boys and girls in robbery stymied and I was intrigued, but that didn’t mean that I thought it was a good idea to get involved directly.
I flopped down into my office chair and tried to hide the apprehension, but apparently the look on my face spoke volumes because she made her “sad kitten” face and started the shameless begging.
…Okay, that last part is a lie.
She actually gave me a death stare until I flinched.
“C’mon, Taft! You know I’m going to be stuck directing traffic and answering domestic disturbance calls for the rest of my life unless I give up and quit or do something that is so big that even the great Chief Charleston can’t block my promotion without being overtly obvious about it.”
She squatted down next to me so that our faces were level with each other. When her hand touched my shoulder I’m not ashamed to admit that a little shock went through me. “You’re the smartest guy I know. You’re crazy scary observant. You’re like a modern Sherlock Holmes- the Cumberbatch version, not the action star. If anyone can see something that the others have missed, it’d be you.”
I snorted. “Oh please. I’m hardly Sherlock. There’s nothing special about me, Nora. I’ve just had to learn to look at things from all the angles. It’s my survival mechanism.”
“Yeah, and that means a lot of the time you see things that other people miss. This plan isn’t going to work if I don’t have your help.”
While I love to have my ego stroked by a beautiful woman just as much as the next guy, I wasn’t fooled. “And my access to the case files.”
Her earnest expression twitched just a bit. “Yes, but that doesn’t make any of the rest less true.”
I snorted. “Riiiight, but like you just said I’ve only been here a month. Don’t you think I should wait at least half a year before doing something stupid that could get me fired?”
I have to admit that, apprehension aside, the thought of doing actual detective work did scratch me where I itched. Besides, it was Nora who was asking. Had it been anyone else there wasn’t a chance in the world that I’d even consider it, but Nora was the only real friend that I had and I loved her to pieces. She could ask me to take a swan dive off of Mount Everest and I’d do it gladly with a dopey grin on my face all the way down.
Wordlessly, I turned away from her and reached into my backpack. Her expression lit up as soon as she saw the blue file that I pulled from within. “I looked over the case file last night.”
She did a good job of playing it cool, I’ll give her that. The corners of her mouth quirked up into a sly smile as she goaded me. “Aaaand?”
I sighed. “And I’m pretty sure that robbery missed a few things that we could check out care-ful-ly.”
I emphasized that last word as heavily as I could. Still playing it cool, she nodded wordlessly as she slowly stood up, bent down to give me a light kiss on the cheek, and whispered, “You’re the best, Nick.”
“Uh-huh. Make sure to put that on my tombstone.”
She slapped me on the back hard enough to make me lurch forward as she headed for my door. “I gotta report for duty, but we’ll get started tonight. I’ll meet you at the Baker Street Grill, say around seven? My treat.”
She didn’t wait for my response and had disappeared through the door before I had sat up all the way. I rolled my sore shoulder a few times and muttered, “Just for that I’m ordering steak. A big, fat, juicy steak. It’ll be a fitting last meal.”