Queensland writer Pauline Yates loves the challenge of a creating a story within a time limit and set word count. With the ability to write across the genres, her achievements include being a finalist in the NYCMidnight 2015 Flash Fiction Competition and placing fourth in the Writer Unboxed 2015 Flash Fiction Competition. A selection of her stories can be found at The Casket of Fictional Delights.
I’m the first to enter the debriefing room, but when I see the empty chair next to my usual seat at the front, my heart aches. Turning around, I dodge my colleagues and sit at the back. But when the two chairs in front are left vacant—a show of respect from Chicago’s finest—my determination to find my partner’s killer strengthens.
“All right, people, listen up,” our captain says. “It’s been three days and Daniel Kowalski’s assassin is still at large.” He pauses when a chair squeaks. “I know your shock at losing one of our own, but now is not the time to let emotion interfere with the investigation.” He clears his throat. “First up—”
I tune out. I know what follows. Footwork—canvassing the scene of the crime in a ten block radius. But ten blocks of what? My partner was murdered in a decrepit building in the middle of an industrial estate. The sole vagrant who calls it home had been questioned. His statement confirms what I already know—there was no drug deal on the night of the shooting, as we’d been led to believe. That leaves one of two scenarios—a random shooter or a setup. There are no leads for either.
A late arrival sits next to me but when I see my ex-lover, I look away. Whatever Jack Anderson wants to say I don’t want to hear it.
“How are you?” he asks.
Why did it take death to soften a strained relationship? I don’t answer.
“Kat,” he says. “I know how you’re feeling.”
I grit my teeth. “What I feel is no longer your business.”
He lowers his voice. “I’ve read your report.”
“Then I don’t need to elaborate.”
I slide my hand to the Glock on my hip and rub my thumb over the trigger guard. A jagged chip in the metal lines up with a wound on the back of my hand, but the pain of my injury pales in comparison to the guilt I feel knowing my partner died from the bullet that ricocheted off my firearm. Were my actions to blame? I fix my eyes on the captain and will him to approve my request. I know the rules, but—
“Wilson!” the captain says.
I stand up. “Yes, sir.”
He flicks at a document in his hand. “Request approved. Take Anderson with you. I want a full report on my desk by noon.”
I approach his desk. “I asked to go alone.”
“You know that’s not protocol.”
“Then give me a rookie.”
The captain leans forward. “Whatever beef you’ve got with Anderson ends here. I don’t want to see personal relationships interfering with professional judgment. Dismissed.”
I suck in my breath at the attack on my work ethic and stride from the room. Outside, in the corridor, Jack falls into step beside me.
“I asked to be assigned to you,” he says.
I don’t look at him. “Why?”
“Kowalski was my friend longer than you were his partner.”
I want to call him a bastard but I keep my mouth shut. I hadn’t asked to be assigned with Kowalski. I earned my promotion through hard work and dedication to my job as an officer of the law. But Jack’s increasing jealousy at the seamless way Daniel and I worked together ended our relationship. Despite the captain’s inference, I’d sepearated personal from professional six months ago. I wasn’t about to let it interfere now.
I grab a newspaper from a desk as we pass and walk faster. “You missed the captain’s instructions due to your late arrival,” I say as I tuck the paper into my jacket.
I stop and turn to him. “No. Don’t let emotion screw up this investigation. Since you claim to be so close in friendship, maybe you should step aside and let the rest of us do our job.”
Jack’s mouth twists into a tight smile. “That’s what I love best about you. Your passion to the job knows no bounds.” He pulls a set of keys from his pocket. “I’ll drive.”
Six months of tension fills the silence between us on the drive to the industrial site. I consider abandoning my investigation. I still feel Jack’s jealousy. But as the building comes into view, Daniel’s voice pierces my thoughts—I’ll always have your back—his promise to me on our first day on the job. I can’t stop now. I’d always had his back. Every passing minute makes the killer’s trail colder.
I duck under the police tape that crosses the doorway and enter the building. I don’t know what I hope to achieve by re-enacting the crime but all we have is the bullet from Daniel’s neck and my version of the incident. What if, in the shocking moment of Daniel dying, I’d missed a crucial detail? I had to be sure.
Jack nods at a man lying on a blanket under a stairwell. “Thought you’d relocated the drunk.”
I walk over and crouch beside the man. “Manny? You shouldn’t be here.”
Manny sits up when he recognises me. “Me home, girly.”
I smile. “Thought you’d come back.”
He looks past me. “You got a shadow.”
I glance over my shoulder. Jack stands behind me, his nose crinkled at Manny’s liquor stench. I’m swamped with sadness. Daniel wouldn’t have cringed from a drunk. I pull the newspaper from my jacket, but as I tuck it under the blanket, Manny catches my wrist. “You hurt again?”
I roll my hand upwards. There’s a scratch on my thumb from where I’d rubbed the chip on the trigger guard of my Glock. Fresh blood stains my skin. I clench my fingers together. “Bullet gouged a scar in my firearm.” I shrug. “Guess it hasn’t healed yet.”
His grip tightens. “Some scars don’t heal for a reason, girly.”
Jack kicks Manny’s leg. “Hands off.” He grabs my shoulder. “We done here?”
I jerk away from his hand and stand up. “This way.”
“Waste of a newspaper,” Jack says as we enter another part of the building.
“It’s for warmth.” And trust—the homeless are our eyes to crime—Daniel’s words. But then I stop at a chalk outline on the floor. The memory of Daniel dying tightens my throat. I reach for my firearm—rub my thumb over the scar, but this time, instead of guilt, I feel warmth. Daniel? Help me. What didn’t I see?
“Waiting for a resurrection?” Jack asks.
I stiffen. I want to re-enact the shooting, but I can’t do it with Jack. I turn to leave but Jack has his firearm out—aimed at me.
I frown. “What are you doing?”
“Re-enacting the crime. Isn’t that why you’re here?”
“I never told you that.”
“I read your report, remember? I know what you want to do. You want to find what you missed. I can help you.” He nods at my holster. “Draw.”
His familiar stance to the shooter puts me on edge. I draw my Glock.
“Higher,” he says. “I couldn’t see your face last time.”
I look at him, confused, then realisation twists my gut. “You’re the shooter?”
“Did you think it ended six months ago?”
My hand shakes in anger. “You bastard. You murdered Daniel because we broke up?”
He smirks. “That’s what you missed. That bullet wasn’t meant for him.”
Warmth from the scar steadies my hand. “You won’t get away with this. The captain knows—”
“The captain knows your emotional conflict with this case. All I have to say is your behaviour turned irrational on returning to the scene of your partner’s death and I had to shoot in self-defence.”
“Ballistics will match the bullet from Kowalski to your firearm.”
“You mean this?” He pulls a second firearm from his jacket. “Your drunk friend should have stayed away. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure he gets three hots and a cot.” His mouth curls to a sneer. “You can tell Kowalski when you catch up to him. Goodbye, Kat.”
He fires, but as I shoot in defence I’m blinded by a shadow then shoved sideways and knocked to the floor. Rolling onto my back, I aim in Jack’s direction but he lies on the ground. Manny stands behind him.
I scramble to my feet. “Stay back, Manny.”
Manny spits on the ground. “Heard what he said, girly.” He wipes his mouth. “Don’t like them prison beds.”
I check his hands but he’s not holding a weapon. Creeping forward, I press my fingers to Jack’s neck. There’s a weak pulse but blood spreads over the floor from a wound in his neck—just like Daniel. I sigh in relief for Manny. This is my kill. But I look up. “Did you push me out of the way?”
“Don’t you listen?” Manny says. “You got a shadow.” He points across the room.
I glance over my shoulder. A translucent figure hovers above the chalk outline. I gasp.
. . . I’ll always have your back . . .