by Shaunn Grulkowski
“I can assure you, Lieutenant; the bullet impacted on your scapula, not your clavicle.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well,” Doctor Bergen said. “Your scapula is here” he jabbed Louise below her neck with the back of his pen. “Your clavicle” he tapped her with the pen an inch farther toward her back.
“Is right about there-ish.” He turned to pick up a tablet from his desk. “Now: lucky for you, the projectile juuuust missed your suprascapular artery and sort of broke apart after impact.” He made a couple of quick taps on the pad with his bullet-wound prod, and an x-ray materialized on the MediaWall behind him. “You can see the fragments” he said, drawing circles around the bits of bullet on the image. They looked a bit like cigarette ashes floating in an old cup of water. “Here, here, and a couple there. We’ve since removed them, obviously, and stuck you all back together.” Lieutenant Louise Lloyd took that as a signal to rotate her arm.
She was terrible at reading signals, by the way.
Doctor Bergen chuckled. He’d known Lieutenant Lloyd since she was a corporal, and her name was less fun to say. “So, while you can move your arm mostly normally, it’s still going to hurt like a sonofabitch for a few weeks, most likely.”
“But I can go back to the duty roster?” She asked, sliding off the examining table. Both of her feet hit the floor simultaneously, with the unconscious precision of the best of the FedCops.
“Looking for a yes or no, Doc.”
“Well, yes, I guess. You really should rest for at least a f-”
“Can you sign the I-47 so I can get back on rotation?”
Louise pantomimed a signature with her right index finger; immediately after attempting it with her left, forgetting about the freshly treated gunshot, and having another apoplectic swearing fit.
“I will, I will” Doctor Bergen said, sounding to Louise like he was trying to psych himself up. “Siddown a minute, first.”
Louise made a noise somewhere between a loud sigh and a louder grunt. “I really don’t have time.”
“El Tee, I will write a report that says you have a brain tumor the size of my first apartment, and that you spent your entire visit hurling racial epithets at me. You’ll be chained to a desk, processing capital expenditure reports until your grandkids die of boredom” he said, crossing his arms. “Or you can sit down on that exam table for five minutes.”
She sigh-groaned again, plopping down on the table so quickly that she almost slid off the wax paper. The doctor saw her wince.
“Okay. I’m sitting. What’s so important?”
Doctor Bergen half-sat on the edge of his desk, reading from the tablet.
“It says that you’ve lost eight pounds since your last monthly check.”
“So, you’ve always hovered around the minimum weight requirement. Now you’re five pounds below it. Why is that?”
Louise rolled her eyes. “I’ve been running more.”
“People shooting at you can prompt that.”
“That tumor seems to be getting bigger, El Tee.”
“I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve skipped some meals? It’s hard to keep track. I’ve just been so busy since the transfer to the Baltimore garrison, I haven’t really been keeping track. But I will, scout’s honor” she went to raise her hand, but thought better of it. “So—we good?”
“Not yet. How do you like the Baltimore garrison?”
Realizing she wasn’t going to be leaving as quickly as she’d hoped, Louise crossed her feet under her knees and leaned forward. She’d never sit like this in front of the other FedCops, but the Doc wouldn’t think much of her tendency to sit like a seven-year old. She hoped.
“I like having a command. The subs seem okay. Maybe a little undisciplined.”
“The subordinates. The troops. You’ve worked for the Federal Police all these years and you don’t know what ‘subs’ means?”
Bergen smiled. “Honestly, I don’t get many officers. They usually go to the HQ doctors. I get all the” he pantomimed quotation marks with his fingers, “subs.”
“The less time at HQ the better. Plus, you were my dad’s doctor, so-” she trailed off.
“Which is part of the reason I’m concerned. Most of the reason. So, the garrison’s fine?”
“What do you think of the city?”
“No just any random city” he laughed. “But not D.C. I know you loooove it here. I’ve seen all the knick-knacks in your office.”
“Well, D.C. is pretty perfect. Orderly. And I was born here, so, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. But what about Baltimore?”
“Baltimore is fucking gross. I sort of hate it. Everything’s fucking broken, there’s vagrants just toddling about the streets, zonked out on who-the-fuck-knows-what. The city council’s no fucking help with anything—I think they resent us being there to tell you the truth. I’d ask, but no one ever seems to be in their fucking office, like ever. Plus the Proxes; fucking hack amateurs. They’re everywhere.”
“I understand that one of the proxy police agents actually saved you from any further damage.”
The lieutenant’s face wrinkled. “Is that what they said? I guess you could come to that conclusion. I mean, for sure I’d have made it to the vehicle, got my sidearm and put her down; he just got to it quicker” she paused. “Of course, he didn’t have a bullet freshly stuck in his cla—-scapula. So he should have been quicker.”
Doctor Bergen tilted his head just a bit toward his shoulder. “You didn’t have your weapon on you?”
“Oh, don’t you start.”
He put both his hands up in front of his chest. “Easy, tiger. That’s just not like you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not. It’s just-the whole scene was weird. Kind of distracting, you know?”
“I heard about the skeleton.”
“A skeleton, minus the skull. A booby-trapped, headless skeleton. What the fuck could that be about?”
“Not really. Anything that was there got vaporized, along with” her voice cracked, just the faintest bit. “Along with Morell and Robeson.”
“You want to talk about that?”
“So that’s it. A pile of ashes on a dirty street in a shitty town?”
“Yeah, seems that way” she sighed. “Why do you think it’s so gross?”
“A lot of those cities are broke, El Tee. Maintenance costs money.”
“How’d the whole city go broke?”
“Same way most of them do. People leave. People with money, anyway. So then you get young people, who generally don’t have money, and the folks who didn’t have money to leave in the first place. Sometimes the young people make more money, but then they split too. The others that weren’t so lucky, they get added to the biomass of poor that were there before. Cities survive on taxes. Poor people don’t make enough to tax in any significant way. You’re a detective: follow it to its most logical conclusion.”
“Yeah, well the place is a shithole regardless. But it’s my shithole now, I guess. So, if you wouldn’t mind signing that there form…”
“Only if you promise to start taking better care of yourself. Make your first stop the commissary, and eat. A whole meal. Like one that an adult would eat.”
“I mean it. I’m going to follow up.”
Louise slid off the table one more time, straightening up and saluting with her off-hand. “Yessir!”
Doctor Bergen shook his head and signed off on the form on his tablet. “There you go El Tee. And get a drink with some calories to go with that meal. A big glass of milk. Soda. Anything.”
Lieutenant Louise Lloyd saluted again, and started to walk across the office. Just before she got to the door, she stopped; turning around to ask the doctor one last question.
“Hey, I just thought of something. About the case.”
“Yeah. What do you know about the Glasslands?”
“Same shit everyone does, I guess. Nuclear exchange in the Arabian Penninsula. Turned parts of the deserts in Jordan and Syria into glass. It’s got a different name though. Trinitie? Trinite? Something like that. I understand it’s a slippery situation.”
“Just trying to lighten things up a little. You’re such a dour kid, El Tee” he ruffled her too-long-for-her-liking brown hair. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s what the Prox said that the shooter said. ‘This is for the Glasslands. What do you make of that?”
“Maybe you’ll find out while you’re cleaning up your shithole.”
“Yeah” she said, returning to command posture as soon as she walked out the door, and set out for the aforementioned shithole. She didn’t stop at the commissary, promising herself that she’d get something on the way to the garrison.
She didn’t do that either.
Shaunn Grulkowski is the creator of Retcontinuum, several published short stories, and a perpetually annoyed wife.