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“Hey, you there?” The man sounded impatient like they had repeated themselves a few times. I found myself hunched over the phone like I was trying to make myself a smaller target. “Yeah,” I answered, still trying to figure out who the hell it was. I ignored etiquette and cut through the small talk. “What do you want?” I asked gruffly and pretended I didn’t have a thousand sirens screaming at once in my head.
“Ha, take that!” Steve laughed at me, completely unsympathetic. “Karma’s a bitch.”
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The train we waited for was due in just under an hour, the tick of his open pocket watch placed on the dash where we could both see it became loud when the wind finally blew itself out.
My cigarette barely had the chance to glow brighter before she burst through the door without knocking. The fact that she didn’t even have to look around should have told me everything, but I wasn’t thinking much about anything anymore. It wasn’t because of her looks, because for sure, she was a pretty enough dame, well- presented in spite of the late hour and the thick misty rain that continued to fall outside. No, it was having a gun trained on you would do that to a man.
Luca turned the picture around and held it at arms’ length and squinted to see it better, too vain to admit the need for spectacles. It was the one that had been taken downstairs. He opened his mouth, and from the set of his face, I knew it was about to be some weak denial, so I shook my head. In the mirror, my face hardened and the expression said, don’t, just...don’t.
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I gritted my teeth and cursed both her and Adler under my breath. I shook my head and sighed. It wasn’t her fault really, it was mine...I should have expected this in a roundabout-Murphy’s law kind of way, considering the line of work I was in and the company I’ve been keeping since the war. In a sick way, I was sort of relieved that it hadn’t happened before now and she’d gone elsewhere. After everything she’d told me, better me than anyone else, right?
There was a bang, loud and sharp, and I flinched, my body moved to protect itself, make itself smaller, and for a moment, I thought it must have been bad because I hadn’t felt it. I hadn’t felt anything.
Steve made an angry sound like he wanted to interject, but I didn’t let him. I glared at him, the first time I’d look his way in a while so the emphasis worked. “No women or children,” I recited the mantra that I had drummed into him over and over during the war. “Remember?” I asked, but meant, how could you forget. It was the last thing that I had stuck to, the one thing that I refused to do.
“Damn it,” I whispered, the sound almost drowned out as the rain threw itself the window and the room dimmed even further. My breathing hitched again, but after a day of soaking up booze, the pain in my hands were a distant dull throb that sparked up only if I moved them. “Oh, Stevie,” I felt myself say rather than heard because of the tempest that threw itself against the rattling office windows. “What have we done?”
I smiled pleased that it had stuck even after all this time, but kept the smile from my voice as I bellowed. “Two!”
VC: Lai Hock, what are your thoughts on Kampung Admiralty? Will it work?
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Both Adler’s and my desks had been turned over and dragged to the centre of the room. Visible from the doorway was a long delicate arm draped over the corner of my desk and fingers brushed the floor. A thin trail of blood flowed from the wrist, passed the base of her thumb, crept along the lifeline on her palm and down her index finger to drip on the floor.
I threw myself forwards and up off the bed like I planned on pacing around the small room, but I had to sit back down quick as the room spun about me and sharp, crazy dots of impossible colours swam in the corners of my vision. I panted like I had run a race, “please ,no,” I whispered, my head close to my knees and squeezed my eyes shut. “no, please.” I begged. “I can’t.” I whispered and soon as I said it I knew it was true. “I-I-” I stopped because my voice cut off.
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“Who?” Her brow furrowed, longer than just a moment this time, taken aback by the sullen almost disinterested tone. “My husband? He-”
I sighed in a cloud of bluish gray smoke and reached into my desk and pulled out what I hoped she wouldn’t notice was last week’s newspaper with its tell-tale fading ink and yellowing edges. I scooted my butt further back into the dying chair and hiked my legs up and placed my feet on the desk in front of me.
The detective glanced around and smiled like he tasted something bitter. “What do you want me to do once we’re finished?” He asked, leant closer to me like he wanted to share a secret. “Want me to torch the place?” He asked so quietly I was unsure if I heard him correctly. If I agreed to cop-assisted arson, I could get into trouble for agreeing to the idea…but if it was a genuine offer, and turned it down, would that work equally as badly.
Inside was just as tatty and dishevelled as outside. Most of the remaining green paint in the ballroom had either flaked off completely or hung in thin streamers that fluttered softly in the old buildings many draughts. The creaky wooden floors were still the grimy bare boards, shoes popped on the grit and sawdust, and bits of glass broken from previous fights and never properly swept up.
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All this time, that little gun hadn’t wavered. I took a deep breath in and bit my teeth and surprised myself by sighing something very close to a yawn. Diplomatically I hid it as best I could, but I think she still caught it. This dame didn’t miss much.
I scooped up the jewellery because I had the vague notion of returning it and dumped it into the nearest pocket that didn’t already clink. I rescued my hat from the back seat and placed it on my head without the usual flare. I scrambled gracelessly out and had to shuffle a few steps to right my balance before I turned and slammed the door shut. I checked the street, then crossed it at an angle and entered the place with a level of confidence that hopefully was higher than I felt.
At the back of my mind pressed the fact that I knew I was on limited time in here before someone was sent to check to see if I’d shimmied down the drainpipe.
I shook my head, no, even though it was true. Somehow, that wasn't fully it.
“Okay, that’s enough.” He knocked back the rest of his drink and placed his glass on the table. He stepped forwards and swept my right arm over his shoulders and stood up straight, which practically lifted me off the ground. He asked me something but I was distracted by how the words buzzed in his chest.
At some other sign that I missed, the rest turned and headed towards the cars. At a distance the man deemed far enough from us away, he turned to me. “Sorry about that,” he murmured quietly, he even sounded apologetic. He led me slowly towards the building that housed the agency, his strides wide, but reluctant.
Engagement present for my neighbour
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“And why the hell,” he hissed at me, almost under his breath, “do you have her string of pearls in your jacket pocket?”
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Did that mean she changed her mind, or was it more of a ‘not here?’ And what kind of shitty amateur did she think I was if she thought I’d be stupid enough to pull something in front of so many witnesses?
I studied him through the tumble of brown hair in the way. He didn’t look convinced yet, but at least he appeared more ready to listen now than he had been.
The curtains were barely a silvery gold and because it was as cool as it was going to get I figured it was around dawn. I became aware of an ache in my bladder which let me know it would be a problem soon, but for now it was safe to ignore.
JN: They are a social linkway and a neighbourhood incubator. People use the covered linkways the most, but some don’t even say hi when they meet neighbours. So the idea is, if we attach social functions [e.g., more seats, community gardens and exhibits or murals] along the way, hopefully people will check out the activities and have conversations. The incubator is a hub with flexible spaces and furniture for residents to hold workshops or activities.
Ever the gentleman, he took the time to be nice to everyone he met in a bland, polite way, no matter their gender or status, that matched the Steve I remembered from the war. He held doors open even if he didn’t need to go through them and smiled at children, or picked up hats that blew off in the warm early summer breezes and even ran a block after a guy who dropped his wallet as he got into a cab.
I cut him off, “pardon?” I asked. “If you are in such a rush, then don’t come to the morgue... I’ll see you at the crime scene.” The copper told me the address of the crime scene, my heart sank as he spoke each number and continued onto the street name. It was the agency.
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The only wretched sliver hope in my life was Steve, this bright and shining boy from my past. I shoved my cold hands in my pockets and found myself smiling as my strides lengthened.