UNITED STATES—Freshly fired Detective Zorba walked out the side door of headquarters where a few officers gathered to smoke under the hood of a vacuum fan. One of them saluted him, “How’s everything, Devon?”

His reply of “OK” took every centimeter of his ability to dissemble a crumbling façade. So he’d be able to walk out on the street, and be away from the pestilent cloud of doom.

Outside there was a siren on the street, oddly reassuring, its low pleasant hum, well within the innocuous decibel range that our lovely politicians in the underground cities had long ago legislated so citizens’ sensitive ears would be offended.

“It’s Friday, October13th—wow,” he chuckled to himself.

Just before his “badge” representing six years of sweat, care, bad guys and not so bad guys, maneuvering through a staggering amount of dead ends and where an honest person was the weak link and he had had to learn the hard way to be honest when it was not reckless, he shut a final drawer in his cubicle. Then a bell dinged in his ear: notification that they had the results of the audio-dimensional report, taken from a lucky scrap of audio a neighbor’s phone had recorded during that long-ago unsolved Wilcox killing. Maybe Friday the 13th wouldn’t be so lucky after all.

He swiveled the picture around and all he could make out was the image of the deaf man, the victim, sauntering down the street a few seconds before getting a hammer stuck in the back of his head. There was a scribble of static then another figure came into view:
The perp’s face was obscured by the hoodie, a once-popular clothing item, but that had been outlawed when the underground cities were founded.

In this image you could see why, not even the most advanced audio-dimensional scan could get at the details. The folds of the hood had blocked the efforts of the audio-dimensional scanner. In the end you had a supposition of three possible facial reconstructions. They were vague and generic, though one had a hint of familiarity.

“You fired,” rang in Devon Zorba’s ear. It was really deeply, just what he wanted. It would be hell telling Cecilia about it. He didn’t know what she would say. He had a chip to turn in, and his coffee mug to take home, from the county morgue gift shop. One of the earliest gifts she’d given him. When the edge of his hand brushed it off his desk, it slid off. The time it took to fall seemed to slow in vertical plummet and at the end speeded up, and his heart skipped a beat as he expected it to shatter in a million directions.

But it didn’t happen. Maybe it was a good sign, despite being unhinged. One of those rare times exiled from every good thing, Cecilia’s hug, the calm comfort of a stupid joke, appetite fled, even the pleasure of music denied. It was Friday the 13th, he reminded himself. And the firing hurt. A lieutenant could do that now, as a part of the reforms. It would be reverted to an overnight commission, there was always the chance. His record was good, he knew, but these days your record had to be exceptionally good, when a lieutenant turned on you.

So former Detective Zorba made his usual path to the Metro station. The ‘usual’ meant that he had switched it up, just in case somebody had a bead on him. That he got from his Grandma, who pounded into young Devon that “You can never be too careful.” It was second nature to change the route and throw a glance over his shoulder. But there was really no cause: homicides were down 3 percent and there was nary a pickpocket these days.

The stakes were too high for those guys.

So Detective Zorba was being gracefully sucked down into the inviting, slightly warmed environs of the Metro station, and a figure barged in from of him from behind a glittering case of drugs and liquors available in one the underground stores in the underground city.
This guy was a bumpkin clad in forest of a plaid flannel. He held something cupped in his hand, and a bony shoulder butted up against Zorba’s chest.

“Excuse me. . .”

Zorba immediately did a half twist and saw that the peasant stumbled from his own force. Whiskey, tango, foxtrot. It was a move that took no thought whatsoever on the detective’s part. Then he saw the glazed look in his eyes as he raised an arm, clad in homemade sackcloth. Detective Zorba, now no longer detective, did the only decent thing. He reached a helping hand down to the flush-faced kid in plaid and sackcloth crude as burlap.

“So sorry.”

Out the corner of his mind as he approached the virtual turnstile to the train, Zorba kept track tabs on the youthful rube. He could hear the train smoothly approaching a firm stop below. Zorba hastened his steps. The kid froze in his tracks as the virtual turnstile applied the right amount of non-lethal taser as befit those who lacked credit in their “wallet.” Zorba as being followed, all right.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)