D E C E I T
A dull crack preceded the inevitable sound of glass splintering. The boy watched, his shoulders tensing as the pieces hit the verandah and his ball vanished from sight. Terrified of what the witch would do to him, he scampered through the hedge that divided their gardens, and back into the front yard of his house.
Confronted by his father, the boy stood there with both hands in his pockets, his olive features widened with surprise. Suddenly he found himself alone. The friends he’d been playing happily with a moment before now hid out of reach. Vince could see them through the foliage, four sets of eyes and a couple of hands. A cloud passed overhead obscuring the heat of the day and he noticed the wind shift toward the south.
The boy adopted an angelic façade, pointing to the house next door to swear on the life of his new bike that the window had broken on its own. He, of course, knew absolutely nothing about the Frisbee that had been discovered on the TV antenna earlier that day and, to his knowledge, cats often developed a crew cut in the summer months...
Vince had to admire a child’s attempts at deceit. It was the one thing you never had to teach them how to do. Lying was a product of instinct – raw and primal, one of the only things to survive the millennia intact.
He wanted to believe his seven year old but detective Vince Moretti of the C.D.P. (Colonial Department of Protection) was not so easily fooled. You see, it wasn’t what you claimed that mattered when constructing a bit of white; it was what you promised to forfeit. Generally speaking, the bigger the forfeit the more extreme the lie. He bent down and took his young man by the shoulder, ignoring the inevitable ‘but dad…’ The kid was caught and knew it. Now came the tricky bit.
Bret apologised to his father then glanced hastily over to the house next door. His complaining escalated as the inevitability of the situation dawned on him. He did not want to apologise to her. “No – she’s a witch!” he protested through Vince’s disapproving glare. “She cooks people and eats them.”
Vince fought to hide a grin, “Don’t be ridiculous, now go apologise.” His kid feigned a look of death at the sentence, possibly imagining the largest cliff in the universe stretching out to replace the lawn. Bret mentally clung to the edge, refusing to jump forward onto the suspiciously grass-like rocks.
“No.” The kid shook his head firmly, staring at the green expanse.
Parenting took longer than expected sometimes. The daddy bent down to rest his knees on the ground hearing them click unpleasantly. Gods, thought Vince, I’m only forty. “I’ll cook you in a minute. Now go.”
His kid traipsed off. Vince watched with a crooked smile only another parent could understand stretching his partially damaged skin. He was a Caprican man, born and raised a couple of hundred metrics west of Delphi. The sun was hot out there, especially if you were determined to spend all thirteen hours standing around in it.
The poor woman next door, who was probably still wondering why there was a Pyramid-ball sized hole in her window, didn’t really eat people. She was head priest at their local temple and in his son’s defense, a bit scary looking – especially for the kids. They didn’t like her mass of dark, plaited hair or the statues littered around her house. Hell, Vince didn’t like them either. It unsettled him to know that he had old grave statues lurking about the lawn.
She gave him once last year for Mars Day and now it sat next to their sprinkler at the corner of the garden amongst the moonflowers. His ex-wife told him to get rid of it on multiple occasions but some childish part of his conscience was frightened the gods would punish him if he did.
He could see it now, a heavy flower leaning over its twisted body – glistening form this morning’s watering. Staring at him. He stared back, refusing to be afraid of a misshapen piece of metal.
His son crossed the lawn and climbed the steps of the woman’s house while his friends that had racked off earlier, peered through the succulent hedge. Vince watched for a while then retreated inside, away from the midday heat, to call his insurance company. Sadly, he doubted that his elaborate policy covered offspring and their spineless friends.
He wasn’t an accident prone man. “Never claimed on anything,” he assured the old man on the phone, who happened to have a screen displaying all of Vince’s previous incidents. Vince backtracked, quickly bluffing his way through several unfortunate events. The verdict was not good. The list of Vince's misfortunes went on until eventually the insurance guy said he'd have to check the records and get back to him. Worth a try anyway, he thought, putting the phone down and stealing a look at the clock on the oven. It flashed the same error message as it had the hour before. He sighed. Maybe he should call the electrician. He’d never been any good with anything that had the potential to have a pulse.
The sun overhead fell, well, more correctly - the planet spun until it was afternoon. As was the case on weekends, the phone rang to inform Vince that his dreary desk job down at the 86th precinct had lapsed back into its addiction to hard core amphetamines. By the time Tess got to her ex-husband’s house, Bret was playing with the TV and Vince’s glass of Ambrosia lay abandoned on the coffee table. Tess picked up the glass and finished it, sighing rather dramatically. “Same old Vince.” she collapsed, filling his chair to muse the many reasons why she'd left him.
* * *
It was a couple of hours before the afternoon contemplated sunset, and the President was roaming quietly around his office, admiring the administration’s collection of L’Mark when the phone rang. He picked it up and listened for a while, unable to get a word in. Once politicians got going they were frakking freight ships – the President should know, he had been one once.
“Frak, Jim,” he interrupted, “I know what I said, so you don’t have to repeat it every frakking second.” The President of the Colonies resisted the urge to slam the plastic phone on the desk as his Minister for Immigration berated him over his comments at yesterday’s Quorum meeting. “I know, I – look,” he said irritably, fast losing interest, “just tell them to forget the whole damn thing – you don’t think so? Then do what I hired you to do!” A frantic rebut about ‘being elected not hired’ was audible as the phone hung itself up rather violently. Jim would fix it. The President was sure he only called to complain about ‘Them’ these days, not because he had an actual problem.
President Paul Stravos stared at the phone in disgust, wondering what on Kobol had pissed the Quorum off this time. It wasn’t his comments earlier; they were just an excuse. Something else had their collective undergarments tangled and he didn’t like it. It meant more hassle for him when he introduced his legislation tomorrow.
In any case, it was after five and he had a few hours before the press conference. Hours that he was determined to spend not dwelling on the intricacies of Quorum P.M.S. The President took a pile of staff evaluations off the desk and buzzed for his secretary.
The usually placid Virgon woman entered without knocking. Her solid figure approached the couch that he stood behind, flipping through a couple of folders. She didn’t speak – that’s what he would remember most about this scene when it played back for the thousandth time in his head.
Paul didn’t look away when her generously deep brown eyes glistened with salt or when his security detail entered from several of the doors in his office and simultaneously pushed past her before she could speak. Time stopped except for the red and yellow of the Presidential flag, draped over the wall behind the desk, which spilt in – staining the peripheries of his vision. It dripped like blood down a wall, first in droplets but then – then the curdled mass followed collapsing over itself as gravity tugged it further downward. Its dripping was louder than the men swearing and panting in his office. Louder than the thumping of his own heart.
The branches outside the window scratched the pane with a passing gust of wind, pulling the storm outside forward. In a few hours it would arrive over Caprica City and prod the buildings with surges of lightening, silhouetting their oblique figures onto the mountain range behind. He’d watched it as a child and already felt the distant thunder pound through him. His Head of Security, Matthew Lenard, entered the office at a run. After that, the President remembered the papers in his hands. Paul moved his thumb over their texture, the thin sheets sliding until they fell and scattered in a chaotic pattern, forgotten on the floor.
“Mr. President,” Matt’s breath wrenched in his throat while he fought to stop his forward momentum. Sweat poured down over his closely shaven head and the gun in his belt perched uncovered where his jacket opened, caught under his arm. “The First Lady is dead.”
* * *
“You look like shit.”
Vince dripped all over the Presidential foyer, a puddle quickly forming from the waterfalls at the base of his trousers. He pried himself free of the plastic poncho and thrust his umbrella into the hallway where one of the people swarming there took it. “Thanks Matt,” he replied, shaking his hair until it bounced up, sticking out in damp spikes at odd angles, “it’s good to know old friends are still honest.”
The Head of Security handed Vince a dry jacket which he took, stripping off his own soaked garment. “It’s a bit big but it will have to do.” Vince stretched his arms out to prove Matt’s point – his hands hidden underneath the heavy, fine wool sleeves, “I guess you’re just smaller than I remember…” Matt ducked as Vince took a swipe at the back of his head. They’d been in the room together three minutes and it was already like twenty years ago.
“The President’s waiting for you.” said Matt more seriously when a woman in tears pushed past them and threw the double wooden doors of Parliament House open. Wind and rain forced themselves inside the hallway. Leaves rode the currents of air and the darkness outside flashed once, ripped apart by a jagged river of light, before the doors slammed closed.
Matt led Vince through several hallways. Vince had seen this place on TV – those movies and shows where people ran down the corridors with terrorists on the line or aliens inside the building, but they must have been shot on sets because the real deal was beautiful despite the drapes having been pulled shut. As they walked, he noticed that the carpet runners changed when they passed into different sections of the building with each pattern mimicking one of the colony’s emblems. At the moment they were walking all over the bull of Tauron. The background was a deep blue that accentuated the ivory horns of the repeated image. The eyes of the individual bulls were stitched with gold laced thread matching the gold inlaid on the floorboards beside. Walking anywhere in this building felt like an act of desecration and Vince subconsciously tried to catch a look at his shoes in one of the full length mirrors – examining them for evidence of mud.
“It’s a hell of a storm,” said Vince as they rounded another corridor and the floor became bright yellow with red fish embedded in pairs alternating their way up the hall in a tightly packed courtship pattern. Matt made a snark remark but didn’t shift his attention from the security details that hugged the walls in a heavily armed, ear piece enamored design which was decidedly less beautiful than the sweeping runners. He made sure to nod at each one and they nodded back after a quick glance at the security tag hanging from his jacket. The Parliament Security knew Matt on sight, but tonight there were close on a hundred new faces slotted into Parliament’s walls. Given Matt was only promoted to Head of Security a couple of months ago, his face wasn’t always familiar to them.
Vince tried to look serious and non-threatening as they continued to walk. He’d never liked the general force – they were a trigger ready pack, raised to shoot and kill. Tonight their hands were curled around the butts of their semi-automatic weapons, just in case.
“Do they look tense, or is that normal?” Vince shoved his hands into the new coat pockets before withdrawing them again as he judged himself ‘suspicious’ upon passing another mirror. “I don’t envy you,” he continued when Matt nodded, “but then, you were always a team player.”
“Team leader.” He corrected. “You just didn’t like getting your sorry ass kicked around that’s all. It’s why you’re a detective, isn’t it? The lone warrior in the fight against crime and all that. No one can touch you. You’re just out there,” his hand ran upward over the air, “by yourself all the time. You and the Universe as I recall.”
Vince knew Matt was milking it and he probably deserved it. Though it was funny, Matt would have been a detective too – they’d talked about it once. A long time ago now. They were out on a mission, middle of gods damn nowhere with the frakking rain belting their skin and Matt, turning to face him despite the chaos that surrounded them. Then he just said it. He never mentioned it again after that. The army promoted him to mission leader where he stayed through the third of Caprica’s civil incidents and then Vince lost track of him. They read about each other, glimpses in the Caprica Times – ‘young policeman infiltrates Caprican crime ring’, ‘military captain named service man of the year’ and so on. From time to time Vince thought about calling him, arranging a drink or something – but the time was never right. Maybe Matt thought about it too but when it came down to it, neither made the call. So here they were, twenty-two years later, acting as if today’s rain were back then and they were in the middle of the jungle pushing each other in the mud, howling.
Matt smiled at the last security guard. They entered the final hallway, wooden – carpet as vacant as the security. “You want to catch a drink when we’re done?”
Vince grinned, moving his hands back into his pockets, “Sure.”
* * *
They found the President slumped in a chair, hands threatening to slip from the almost empty glass of Ambrosia. The bottle and the silver tray that usually sat on the table at the side of the room had been moved to the smaller table beside him. Vince saw the stain on the vessel where the alcohol level had dropped swiftly, most likely within the last hour or so. The room was dark and the curtains behind the Presidential desk, drawn. A lamp next to the tray provided a reddish light through its shade making their black suits seem brown in the afterglow.
Moretti, not fond of this distortion, flicked the switch on the wall next to him. It felt clinical – the harsh white light that now invaded every space within the room. The President didn’t flinch, instead swirling his glass around, finishing it. Matt and Vince waited as he poured another from the crystal jug, eleven glasses Vince noticed. An odd number, eleven.
“A drink, officer?”
“Detective,” corrected Vince before nodding. He watched the President select another glass and fill it generously. Matt declined as he was on duty – not that Vince wasn’t, but it was his own personal position that a man should never decline a drink. To the President’s credit, it was good Ambrosia.
The light softened as their eyes adjusted until it seemed quite reasonable. There was nowhere convenient to sit without venturing more then twenty paces, so Vince stood in front of the President sipping his drink. He detected the faintest spice on the air and soon after located the burnt out incense stick standing blackened in a bowl of sand on a small shelf above the fire place. Beside that was a statue, about the size of his index finger. Its metal figure was twisted and gnarled – protrusions which he assumed were arms reached upward while its legs tucked under it and its knees kissed the ground. Vince shuddered. It was a smaller version of the figures in his next door neighbour’s garden.
The President watched Moretti catalogue his possessions, “Are you religious Detective?”
Vince’s eyes lingered a moment longer on Athena, “No.”
“You would have liked my wife then. She wanted me to get rid of that.”
Vince didn’t blame her but was guilty of keeping worse. He knew the President was religious – the Quorum of Twelve had been major sponsors of his electoral campaign. Vince just wasn’t sure how religious yet.
There was no doubt about the First Lady’s position though. He’d heard her speak out against the Quorum last week at a function on Canceron. Vince remembered briefly wondering if that had been a problem, the First Lady off doing her own thing but they seemed to have worked out an arrangement, so each to their own. Politics gave him a headache anyway.
Paul Stravos set down his empty glass, took a lighter from his pocket and lit another incense stick. A different scent this time. It clashed a bit with the first but quickly filled the room and strangled the older. The woody smell reminded Vince of something, but he couldn’t quite place it. Something you smelt once on holidays and then stuck with you, coaxing feelings rather than memories.
“I’m here to investigate the death of your wife, Mr. President.” Vince kept his tone apologetic. The President’s hand was holding onto the shelf. “I know this is probably the last –”
“It’s okay Mr. –”
“Moretti, Vince.” They shook hands, both with a firm, practiced action.
“Mr. Moretti, I’ll answer your questions now if you don’t mind, get this over with.” The President walked back over to his desk and sat behind it. Vince instinctively followed and took up one of the chairs resting in front. There’d been a few people in this room today – officers, generals, politicians, friends… “Matt – would you?” He hinted at the door.
“Yes sir.” Matt left, closing the door behind him leaving the President and Vince alone in the great big office, slowly filling with gentle blue smoke.
* * *
“So,” Matt ordered another round from the waitress who smiled at them before disappearing back into the crowded bar, “what did the President have to say?”
They’d managed to find themselves a suitably dark underground hang without much effort. The name was a little concerning though, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the walls were hidden under folds of fabric. A fire burned in the corner, more of an insurance hazard than anything else, but if you insisted on filling the place with hundreds of candles a perfectly contained fire wasn’t much of a worry. Matt almost chocked on the perfume heavy air, “What is it with you Capricans and your incense?” he muttered. “Anyway, what did he say?”
Vince turned his soggy coaster over, ignoring the black ink leeching out onto the plastic table. “Classified,” he replied, leaning back as the waitress returned with their next round. They were both quiet for a minute until Matt called his bluff. “Yeah, alright,” they both laughed, the alcohol happily settling in their stomachs, “what you’d expect, really. I went through the basics, he offered me another drink and then I listened. He talked for a while about Cris…”
“Cris?” Matt seemed surprised.
“That’s what he calls her, ‘Cris’. They take it from her last name. I thought it was odd too but whatever, you know?”
“I know. I’ve just never heard him call her Cris, only her friends when they came around.” Matt smiled sadly then attacked his third round, or was it his fourth? Vince was losing count. Starting behind had him at a disadvantage.
“I’ll have to interview you at some stage too, Head of Security and all.” Vince grinned, watching his friend spill a bit of liquid over the edges. “Not until you sober up though.”
“I’m not bloody drunk.”
Touchy. Matt’s mother was an alcoholic; she died back on Scorpion when they were all still kids. He hoped his friend hadn’t followed her down that path at some time or another. The pressures of the force and the pull of sweet release, it wasn’t worth losing everything for – there were more important things to die for than a night of nothing but the sound of your own soul beating in the darkness.
“Aw shit,” Vince’s head hit the table and he felt its sticky surface cling to his forehead. Speaking of souls, “Tess’s gonna kill me.” Tess the ex. She said she’d mind Bret until six but had a date, so he’d better be back, or all his girlfriends would find out about the kid and the evil ex. All he needed now were girlfriends. The clock he glanced at on his way to the table surface made it nine.
“Ex,” he managed, head still rolling on the table.
“You never frakking change, do you? Still the same old Moretti.”
“Still the same old Matt.”
“You’re three days older than me, so don’t go calling me old.” He picked up his glass and took a swig.
“Two days, sixteen hours and thirty-two minutes actually.”
“Yeah – old.” Matt grinned drunkenly, failing to notice the coaster stuck to his glass as he waved it around.
Vince left a pile of money on the table and stumbled out of the bar.
* * *He found his ex-sister-in-law curled up on the couch and a note from Tess on the fridge.
‘Don’t know if you’ve eaten. Leftovers are in the oven. Adri’s here – send Bret to bed if he’s snuck back down again. Love, Tess.’
So it was true, you couldn’t ‘unmarry’ each other. Vince checked on Bret. He hadn’t snuck anywhere because he’d rigged the old TV in his room to play games. The kid was already taking after his mother and Vince was okay with that. Better her than him. When he came back down, Adri stirred. He thanked her for minding his first born on short notice. She said it was fine and that they should come over for the holidays – he said ‘maybe’ and she left. Holiday’s already? Where had the frakking year gone?
“Where it always goes,” he answered himself and made for bed. The newspapers would have the story by tomorrow morning, ‘First Lady Murdered!’ So much for taking leave early this year.
The rain outside fell heavier now, pouring off the gutters – probably flooding his pristine lawn. Vince was too drunk to care. He mused a few more newspaper headlines that got more exciting as his blood alcohol level rose and then fell into a sound sleep.
* * *
He particularly liked ‘Blood in Parliament’ on the cover of the Morning Star. Vince got a mention in that article, but that had nothing to do with his preference of course. None of the press actually knew what had happened yesterday afternoon just after three and most were incorrect on the particulars of the crime. Location spanned planets, but full credit to them. The House of Parliament released a confirmation of the First Lady, Colette Procris’s death and the reporters were left to fill in the rest with their amply overactive imaginations. They wrote about everything – knives, guns, strangulations, beating, rape in one article, but the real scene, the actual murder – was more brutal than their fantasies.