There are days that are bad days. Sometimes, when you are a police officer, that can feel like every day. Until the worse ones. The ones where the sheriff calls in sick tend to be among those: she doesn’t do it often, but when she does it often means some shit is coming hard down the fan. You don’t become the sheriff without developing good instincts. Today hers led to calling in sick and leaving me in charge. Which meant that anyone who could leave the station had, under one pretext or another.
Officially, I’m an inspector. Unofficially, the Detective Inspector. Not officially at all, the Spook Inspector. Most every city or county has at least one officer who gets assigned the cases I officially call ‘weird shit’. Here, it’s me. Don’t get me wrong: it pays well and the budget I can draw upon if I need to is staggering in scope – so is the authority I can use if I have to. Flip side is that the world is a lot weirder than anyone believes and part of my job is to hide that from everyone. I deputized Jim Bean some years ago. I get by.
But everyone has heard stories, so they find reasons to not be here. Just in case. The academy-trained kids remain, not having sense to believe even half the stories they hear. If they asked, I’d tell them only a third of the stories are true. And ask them to pick the ones that unsettled them the most. Some would laugh. The wiser ones don’t at all because people come into policing for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s the belief that authority can matter against the dark.
All of which means I’m working on paperwork in my office, which today is mostly typing up lies to explain some missing pets in Alderby and wondering how much the families know. The constables will ask them questions, some family members might be directed to me later. But that’s all later and I’m busy enough thinking up lies that the knock on the door is almost a welcome distraction.
The boy who pushes the door open isn’t. I’d guess him to be ten, maybe eleven. A bit pale but ordinary enough, with a white cane in his right hand and dark glasses over his eyes. There is something wrong with his eyes beyond the blindness: they look like they’re filled with broken lights or falling stars. I don’t reach for my gun: I’m not the sheriff but I have good instincts all my own. “Can I help you?”
“I think so?” he says, quite seriously. “You’re in charge, right?”
“The sheriff isn’t in today, but –.”
“Nope. All the bindings here connect to you,” he says firmly. “And you know I’m not normal, which is all kinds of sad.”
He pouts, and I can’t shake the feeling its genuine. “I’m good at seeming entirely human and now that I can’t see people stare at me all the time and it’s all kinds of weird.”
“All kinds, is it?”
“Well, maybe not all of them. But,” and he flings an exclamation mark after the word, “But but I thought we could ignore all that and be friends or at least you could make some police officers stop being really mean. Because there is a town north of here with an APB, like in the TV shows, for a boy who might be me though they don’t mention I can’t see and it’s all a mistake and I’d like to fix it please?”
I pause. “North Camden. The kid who assaulted a police officer.” Officer Monroe had insisted on an APB, claimed the kid has assaulted him despite having no obvious wounds at all. I’d been meaning to go north and chat with him, but had figured it could wait until tomorrow. But the universe never waits on paperwork: privately, I think it explains a lot of things.
“All right.” I lean back in my chair. “I’m Detective Inspector Noah Arbus. You are?”
“Jay.” The boy enters, closing the door and gets into the seat across from my desk.
“So your first name is just?”
He giggles at that. “I should tell people that, but nope!” And he grins.
The grin is human. I mean, it’s not because no one has a grin like that, but it is anyway. If you could bottle that, you’d reduce violent crimes by half. I’d still be together with my partner if I had half his grin. It’s friendly, pure, earneastly innocent in a way that goes beyond easy concepts of innocence.
I remind myself to breathe. “Okay, Jay, tell me what happened?”
“Uhm. Okay, so I sense bindings really well, and good too! And the officer was being really mean to an older kid, like all twisting up bindings with words and trying to push her into saying things that would get her in jail so I said that was all wrong and he was kind of taken aback and I might have used some really strong language!”
“Such as?” I ask.
“I called him a poop head really loudly.”
“You did, did you?”
“Uh-huh. But he was being mean and trying to destroy bindings without any cause and I said that and he drew his gun. I’m pretty tough but I didn’t want him hurting people so I bound his gun and then tried to fix things with a hug, but sometimes hugs don’t fix things and he accused me of assault and I might have thought he was kidding but mean people don’t make real jokes so I made sure the other kid got away safely and then went away but he kind of put a police blockade up and stuff and I don’t want my friends getting into trouble because of me.”
“Hugging someone who doesn’t ask for a hug can be dangerous,” I say, mostly to get a pause in.
“I know all that, but I didn’t want to scare anyone and his bindings were really –.” Jay trails off, biting into his lower lip. “He was looking for an excuse to bind people with his authority, and if he couldn’t find one he was going to make one and that isn’t right at all! So I kind of goofed up and I am sorry for being goofy but! he shouldn’t have done that and Charlie and I would like to not be arrested if that’s okay with you?”
“And if it’s not?”
“Uhm.” The kid scratches his head and blinks. “I’d like you to to arrest us, because you’re a lot nicer? But Charlie would call Honcho and he’s a magician and we kind of have tons of friends so we’d get out without problems and it might look really bad for you and I don’t want that.”
“Do you want officer Monroe punished, then?”
“Nope. I did a really good binding on him so everything is okay!”
“A good binding.” I consider reach for the battle in the bottom drawer of my desk to deal with the thoughts ‘a good binding’ raises, but something in his face stops me.
“Not that kind,” Jay says, hurt. “You know how some people never change? Well, he won’t. He gets to be himself until he’s dead but also to know that and not be able to hide from himself at all. So he might be less of a monster and not hurt many people and that’s pretty important because being yourself is a lot bigger than most humans think.”
“Might,” I repeat.
Jay squirms in the chair. “Well, I figure you’ll help with that since I kind of told you about him and if I bound him to make him better I’d be hurting him a lot and Charlie and Honcho might get cross with me and it’s all pretty confusing.”
“I imagine so.” I sit back. “I’ll deal with it. And in turn you and Charlie will head elsewhere, okay, so I don’t have any more problems to deal with.” I decide part of that is definitely not asking what this Charlie might be.
“But I’m a Jay, not a problem,” he says hotly. I say nothing. “Well, unless you have a microwave sometimes but I’m getting better at not making them explode.”
He grins, and I can’t help but return it. I stand. “All right. Consider it taken care of, but next time I expect you to think before you act.”
“Okay! I can try that,” he says. “Only I didn’t think before I said okay, and thinking before I think has to be as important too, right?”
“You can work on it?” I offer.
“Thanks!” He offers up another huge grin and bounces to his feet. “I won’t confuse people when I leave, okay?”
I have time to nod before Jay vanishes from sight. He doesn’t open the door when he leaves. I go back to my paperwork, feeling strangely relaxed. The rest of the day involves some bickering between officers and dealing with fallout from other cases but I manage it well enough and make it home without incident. For the first night in a goodly while, I don’t need a drink.
I have a feeling I won’t be needing one for a long time unless I want one.