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An Impression of Smoke

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A Month After Martinaise

 

A low rumble hums an indistinct melody of Revachol, of carriages on pavement, of wind on metal. It is the first thing you notice as you wake, cheek pressed into leather, head pounding, neon signs flashing by as the — patent leather upholstery, shaped for prolonged comfort, built-in pull-out tool box under the seat, the distinct reverberation of a twelve cylinder compression ignition engine against your back — Coupris Kineema you are in makes its way through the stone veins of the city. You do not recall how you got here.

 

At that thought you jerk up, arm catching awkwardly on a seatbelt fastened across your middle. Your hands are not bound and you are not gagged. A good start. You hurriedly turn to look at the driver of the vehicle and see only a black mass. It seems to be eyeing you, silently. You realize your glasses have partially slid off. Just as you form the beginnings of something — a demand, a question, a thought — the figure speaks.

 

“Good evening, Lieutenant,” he says. “How are you feeling?” It’s Satellite-Officer Jean Vicquemare’s gravelly voice. A passing streetlight flashes and confirms your theory.

 

Glasses askew, propped up on an elbow, you stare at him. You feel simultaneously too hot and too cold. Your head throbs, not from any injury, as far as you can determine. Your hands tremble as you reach up to fix your glasses. They don’t answer to your command to stop shaking.

 

“Not good then.” He turns back to the wheel. “I didn’t foresee this level of idiocy from you, but those around the shitkid always surprises.” It is surprising he foresaw anything. He has not spoken to you for weeks. He turns left at an intersection and a wave of nausea threatens to pull you under. “What made you think coming to work with a 38 degree fever was a good idea?”

 

You place a hand on your head. Damp skin burns under your fingers. “I imagine it was the fever.”

 

He lets out a startled laugh. “Yes, the fever. Fuckin’ hell.” He draws out a pack of cigarettes and pauses. “Do you mind?”

 

“No. Please open the window, though, if you smoke.” He assents with a grunt. He slowly rolls down the window with one hand, other on the wheel. He then takes both hands off — you startle — and deftly reaches into his coat. A flick, a click, a light. Fingers wrap around leather again as Vicquemare savors his first pull. Smoke escapes out the window towards a brightly lit Fritte that quickly disappears out of sight. It smells sweet. It’s nice.

 

You settle down in your three-seat bed. “So,” you say. “What happened?”

 

“Don’t remember, huh. Trying to follow in the shitkid’s footsteps?” He smirks, eyes crinkling at the corners, glancing at your affronted expression in the rearview mirror. It isn’t unlike Harry’s smile. You wonder who copied it from who. “Don’t worry, you didn’t drink on the job. When you arrived at work today, Harry didn’t even fuckin’ notice you were sick, but apparently he thought it strange your face was red because you were ‘physically incapable of blushing.’” You feel as if you are on the verge of disapproving that theory, right there, right now. He holds his cigarette over the pull-out ashtray and taps it twice. It returns to his lips. “Either way, you two headed out to investigate THE FOOL, you know, your current case.”

 

You vaguely recall something of that sort. A jester’s costume. A bloodied set piece.

 

“That’s the last I saw of you two. But, I do know the shitkid has a penchant for footwork, and you’re still not used to the Jamrock Shuffle.” He glances at you. He looks slightly apologetic. “I bet the bastard dragged you halfway across Revachol and back, all in this shit weather.” You look outside. Dirtied snow lines the streets. It looks recent. “You passed out. Middle of an interrogation of a suspect. Harry called me from a payphone to pick you up.”

 

You wince. You hope your negligence did not affect the case. Vicquemare is right; that *was* uncharacteristically “idiotic” of you. “I… apologize, Lieutenant.” You wince and let out a muffled groan as the wagon goes over a pothole. Vicquemare notices and slows the car down. “If I may, where are we headed at the moment? And where is Detective Du Bois?”

 

“To that first question: we’re headed to the precinct to get you checked out by Gottlieb.” Two taps on the ashtray. A street light momentarily lights up his face, and then it's lost in shadow. “To the second: the shitkid is finishing up the case. Would’ve driven you himself, but that bastard won’t touch another carriage for the rest of his life if I can help it and he needed to take care of a few things. He’s gonna stay at a local motel for the night, so don’t worry about him.”

 

You swallow. Your Adam's apple scrapes across the inside of your throat. You cough. He wordlessly reaches an arm behind him, water bottle in hand, pressing it in your general direction. You take it. 

 

The ride to the precinct is silent, punctuated only by your coughs and the occasional pothole.

 

. . .

 

Jean leaves the room as the Lazareth looks you over. Gottlieb informs you that you have the flu, hands you a paper bag with medication, tells you “don’t be as much of a self-destructive shithead as the rest of them,” and then ushers you out the door.

 

Jean is waiting outside, second cigarette in hand, leaning against the Kineema. Smoke obscures the already blurry face a few yards in front of you. The air is refreshingly cold on your face. Streetlights twinkle in the night swirling behind him. An intake of breath. “You look like shit,” he remarks. 

 

“I have the flu.” Your statement comes out as a whisper. You stand in the door frame, one hand resting on the door handle. Your legs feel like shit, as if you’d both run a marathon and pummeled them with a hammer. You try to walk towards him. Your knee crumples-

 

“Shit!” Two warm hands grasp at your torso, saving you from the fall into the dirty slush under your feet. You stare transfixed at Vicquemare’s fallen cigarette dying pitifully in the snow. It is also not an Astra. “Goddammit, Kitsuragi,” voice low and gruff. “We really need to get you home.” A hand fixes your glasses. He gently takes the bag of medication from you.

 

He continues to talk as he half-carries you towards the car. “I spoke to Pryce. You have paid leave for a week, Lieutenant, so don’t even think about coming to work tomorrow.” The carriage door opens. With the aid of the Satellite-Officer, you are pushed inside. Your wet boots squeak as they drag across the rubber mats of the Kineema. The door thumps closed behind you. Vicquemare enters the driver’s seat. A jangle of keys, then the vehicle comes to life. “Harry let me know where you live.” A pained sigh. “I’m driving you there.” 

 

He looks furtively over his shoulder. “Kitsuragi? Did you hear me?”

 

“Yes. I-” You stop to take a breath. “I heard you.” You reach into your orange jacket, fumble for a moment, then hold out your apartment keys.

 

His brows furrow. “Right.” He takes them. “Sleep, Lieutenant. I’ll wake you when we get there.”

 

You comply.

 

. . .

 

Sunlight pierces through your eyelids, directly into your throbbing mess of a head. You feel something soft under your aching body. You catch a faint whiff of Astra smoke. It is your bed. You are fully clothed, except for your jacket and boots.

 

You feel like shit. Your legs feel on the verge of cramping and the prospect of exiting your bed is so unappealing that you consider falling back asleep. 

 

You will not fall asleep. You wake up everyday at precisely 6:00 am. No exceptions.

 

You begin to drag a hand down your face when you feel an edge of something soft and cool at the tips of your fingers. You go to touch your forehead and meet plasticy fabric. You lift it up. It is a blue cold compress, thoroughly melted.

 

You sit up. The events of the night before are hazy in your mind. You remember Vicquemare, smoke trailing in the cold, masking his eyes. Lazareth Gottlieb’s gnarled hand on your forehead. Strong arms loading you into the back of the vehicle.

 

The tips of your ears heat up. You will have to thank the Satellite-Officer later, though it seems he reneged on the promise to wake you when you arrived. You swing your legs over the side of the bed.

 

Wait. Your apartment building has no elevator. You live on the fourth floor. 

 

You also do not own a cold compress.

 

. . .

 

Following a shower, you stumble into your living room, small kitchenette to one side. There is a door leading to a narrow balcony with a direct view of the opposing apartment complex. The room is sparsely furnished, as always. There is a new cigarette butt on the kitchen top ashtray. Not Astras. Another brand.

 

A note sits on top of your breakfast table. You raise an eyebrow. You leave it alone and reach for the bag of medication that is set beside it. You take the directed amount of pills, wash them down with water, then sit. 

 

The note is on a folded piece of white paper, most likely from Vicquemare’s ledger. You pick it up, unfold it.

 

The handwriting is thin and tall, like rusted metal gates, and it seems to have been written quickly. It reads: “Had to do this for the shitkid every once in a while. Keys should be near the door, I slid them under.” You look. They are there. “Take your meds, and in case you forgot, you’re on paid leave. So don’t leave your fucking apartment. You can keep the cold compress, bought it for cheap at the convenience store downstairs. -JV”

 

You set the note down. After several moments, you stand to make yourself a pot of coffee, holding onto the table for support. 

 

A small smile dances on your lips, with no one but Revachol to witness.