Sunday, July 23, 2017

The "Lady in White" was inspired by a photograph done by JDyerArt on Deviant Art;

The Lady in White

       Today was mostly a miserable day. But then, most days were pretty miserable for me anymore. Work sucks … I hate having to deal with idiots who can’t read instructions, and then expect me to fix what they broke. Or yell at me to try to bully me into going faster or try to force me to do something that isn’t my job.
       Most nights, I just want to be alone, pick up a six-pack of stout, or more likely a cheap bottle of Bourbon, and go home and watch T.V. or surf the ‘net. When I am at home I just want to ignore the real world, shut it out and let the alcohol soothe me into blissful oblivion. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, avoiding crowds of people and large social gatherings. But when my wife of 17 years dumped me for a younger guy it raised my misanthropy to a whole new level.
       That had been a year and a half ago and I’ve pretty much gotten over her now. I had some vindication though. I thought the guy was a con artist, most of her friends and family knew it too. I tried to tell her, but of course she wouldn’t listen to me. She wouldn’t listen to her brother or her friends either. We were right of course and she found out less than six months later, when he disappeared along with three-quarters of a million dollars and her new Mercedes. So, yeah, I was vindicated … but I still felt like crap – she didn’t deserve that. But she’s got another new guy now who seems to be okay.
       Yeah, like I said, I’m pretty much over it. At least now I don’t try to talk to her when I walk in the door. I couldn’t afford the house, so I moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the city. I was angry at her back then and left the house a mess; broken windows busted up furniture and so on. Typical temper tantrum stuff, rather childish really. But she sold it and gave me half the money. I burned through that pretty fast. Most nights I just stay home and drink.
       But tonight feels a little different. I really haven’t any idea why, but it does. I suppose that part of what is making me feel different is how my boss stopped into my cubicle near the end of the day and told me I’d been doing a great job of helping all those morons. Maybe it was the fact that my boss actually used the word “morons”. It is good to know that she really does understand what some of us actually feel.
       Oh, me? My name is Max, short for Maxwell. I’m about, well, let’s just say I’m middle-aged. I work tech support. I sit in a cubicle and answer questions from people who aren’t smart enough to figure out their “smart” T.V.’s. It seems like ninety-five percent of what I do is to remind people that they have to actually put the provided batteries into the remote. Or; “Oh, your T.V. won’t turn on? Did you plug it into the electrical outlet? No? It works much better now, doesn’t it?” Dealing with people who can’t figure out how to put batteries into a remote does not leave me in a good frame of mind. Not one bit. Oh, did I mention that I’m not much of a people person?
       This morning was much better than usual. Yesterday a woman had called who was actually smart, but had a real problem with the T.V. She had actually read the user’s manual and gone through the trouble-shooting chart in the back. I was amazed. It turned out that there was a real problem with the T.V. so I was able to help her out and get a replacement shipped over-night. She called back this morning and asked for me by name to thank me for helping her out. She had gotten the new T.V. and set it up and it worked. Of course it would … she was one of those rare ones who could figure things out.
       We chatted a little bit when she had called. It felt like we kind of hit it off. She mentioned where she lived and it was right here in the city. That was quite a coincidence since we take calls from all over North America. I had to get on to the next call, but she did mention she would be at this particular pub in her neighborhood. She really liked it because it was off the beaten path. Sounded like my kind of place, so I made note of the address and went on to the next call.
       In between the good start and the good end, today was more of the same old stupidity. “Did you put the batteries in the remote? You did, but it still isn’t working? Okay, sounds like one of the batteries is in backwards, try turning it around. It works now? Great!” Click! Not even a “thank you.” Telling people how to connect their cable to the T.V. or explaining the difference between the HDMI cable and the network cable or walking them through things clearly explained in the “easy start” directions can leave a person simply exhausted at the end of the day. And I am exhausted.
       But, it’s Friday and Naomi had mentioned that pub. Oh, yeah, “Naomi” is her name. She’s the woman who had called me back this morning. Thinking back on it, it was kind of an odd conversation. Somehow we had gotten onto the topic of what colors we like. She said she liked white, with maybe very small splashes of color here and there. But her hair was black with white streaks added in. Don’t know how we ended up there.
       Now I’m sitting in a taxi on the way to the pub and I’m thinking back to that conversation. It had seemed to flow very naturally, we were just chatting. All told, I don’t think we talked for much more than five minutes, but she had told me quite a bit about herself. She was vegetarian, but didn’t mind dairy. And she liked dark beer and other alcohol (“Gin doesn’t have meat, right?” she had said). And, telling me about wearing white and about her hair. I guess she was kind of asking me out in an indirect sort of way. But I like the way she sounded. There were stirrings in my heart that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.
       The taxi has dropped me off. I’m standing at the door of what I’d call a “hole in the wall” type of place. It seems like it was hammered into place between the larger buildings on either side of it. A green door with a round port-hole type of window is looking back at me. Each window on either side of the door proclaims “Mickey’s Pub”, painted in big red letters. Heavy green curtains cover the lower two-thirds of the windows. There is light above the curtains, but it’s rather dim. Several motorcycles are parked at the curb. I look at them and see that, along with a couple of Harley’s, there are Yamahas and other foreign makes. So, at least I’m not nervous about going into the place because of that (nerds, even middle-aged ones, really don’t belong in “biker bars”).
       I admit to myself that I’m still feeling a little hesitation. Was Naomi just chatting, or was she asking me out? Maybe it’s just wishful thinking but we seemed to really connect. She sounded nice on the phone, friendly and seeming to like me, but maybe she’s out to rob me. After what happened to my ex, it’s something that crosses my mind as I stand staring at the door. But then, I don’t really have much she can steal, do I? What if she isn’t here? I guess I can just have a drink then leave. But what if she is there and really didn’t ask me out? She could be angry. I’ll be embarrassed … she might file a complaint against me at work and that could be a problem. So here I stand, awash in a sea of indecision, staring at the door to Mickey’s Pub.
       The sound of footsteps coming up the sidewalk startles me a little. A plain little man in a plain brown suit, with his collar unbuttoned and tie loosened, walks up to me; “You okay there fellah?”
       “Oh! Yes, I’m – I’m fine, thanks.”
       “Well, c’mon in. Folks in Mickey’s don’t bite … well, unless you want them too.” He winks at me, then steps to the door and pulls it open.
       Cool jazz flows out of the door like a blue mist. Miles Davis to put people in a good mood, and playing at a level that allows you to talk if you want to, or saunter around a dance floor if that’s what you feel like. The music puts me a little bit at ease, so does the man in the plain brown suit.
       He waves me in with a grin and offers to buy me a drink. I take the plunge and walk inside where the soothing jazz envelops me like velvet. The lights are low, but I can see that Mickey’s is larger than it looks from outside, extending much further into the back than I expected. But the real surprise is when I look to the left and see that most of the wall between this small building and the one next to it has been knocked down and Mickey’s actually takes up the ground floor of both buildings.
       Mr. Plain Brown Suit guides me to the bar to the right and tells the bartender to get me whatever I want and it’s on him.
       “Bourbon, please.” Mr. Plain Brown Suit slaps me on the back telling me what great taste I have and orders one too. The bartender sets out two spotless, shiny crystal glasses, drops a few ice cubes in and pulls down a bottle of Knob Creek and pours a nice generous measure for each of us. At least they’re not stingy with the drinks. I take a drink and my eyes go wide in surprise. Most of the time I drink pretty cheap, this is like the liquid equivalent of silk, a little bit sweet and nicely woody.
       I thank Mr. Plain Brown Suit and take another sip of the incredible nectar from Kentucky. I may have to re-think my drinking habits.
       I turn to my beverage benefactor and ask, “Do you by any chance know a woman by the name of ‘Naomi’? I gather she comes around here sometimes.”
       Plain Brown Suit is looking at me like I’m sprouting antennae from my head. “Naomi??? Okay, thas’ right, this is your first visit here, isn’t it?”
       I nod. I’m beginning to get the inkling that I’m missing something.
       He is nodding with me and says, “Okay, I guess you wouldn’t know then. Naomi … well, everybody knows Naomi. She owns this place.”
       Great. Mickey’s Pub is obviously very successful, so she probably is too. She probably did invite me over, but just as a new customer. I wonder if she’s married then, with a couple of kids, boys that grew up to be bouncers to throw a guy like me out on his ear. I deflate a little bit. I was avoiding getting my hopes up too much anyway. Well, at least it’s a nice place, good music and I got a free drink out of it. I’ve had nights out that were much worse than this.
       Mr. Plain Brown Suit is looking around. He walks over to a brick pillar between the two sections of Mickey’s. He’s motioning me over. Picking up my drink I drag myself over to him. I’m not really looking forward to meeting a frumpy old Irish mother.
       “There she is, at the end of the other bar.”
       My eyes follow his arm and stop. In a near trance, I am drawn in the direction he pointed. I have self-consciously stopped ten feet before reaching my goal. I stare. My mouth is hanging slightly open and I snap it shut.
       Lounging against the bar, her white dress sears into my eyes, shining like a neon sign in the black night, a pale blue satin belt around her waist drapes over her hip. Jet-black hair generously streaked with stark white flows over her shoulders and chest and down her back. Smoke is drifting lazily from a cigarette in a long black and silver cigarette holder. One leg is propped on the rung of the bar chair next to her, the other crosses gracefully over, dangling like a snare waiting to trap the next passing man.
       She is talking to the tall man behind the bar. He notices me staring and nods her in my direction. She turns a beautiful oval face towards me and deep brown eyes pull in my soul threatening to never let it go again. One brow lifts ever so slightly in a questioning look.
       I am suddenly very conscious of my faded blue jeans and old safari shirt. Even more so of the bit of paunch I’ve developed over the past several years. I run my fingers through my graying hair and wish I had stopped to shave before I left work. What a foolish old man I am to think that a beauty such as the one lounging before me could ever be interested in an aging computer geek.
       I look down in embarrassment. I have to say something … or run away.
       “Can I help you with something?” I immediately recognize her voice, though I’ve only spoken to her twice over the phone. Her voice is so beautiful in person that I almost melt.
       My mouth opens of it’s own accord and words stammer out; “Uh, hi Naomi, I’m …”
       Her exquisite features suddenly light up with a dazzling smile. “You’re Max! From the tech support line! I’m so thrilled that you came by. I was really hoping you would!”
       I watch, amazed, as she jumps from the stool, dropping her cigarette holder on the bar. She rushes to me and wraps her arms around me and presses her luxurious lips against mine. I am kissing her back, I mean, I have to right?
       Just as suddenly, she pulls back; “I am so sorry Max. I just … it’s just that, I simply fell in love with you while we were talking before. I … I don’t know why, but … I think … I think love you.” She blushes, and looks down, then back into my eyes. I am stumbling back into a chair behind me and falling into it. Naomi is now looking worried; “I really am sorry, it was so wrong of me …”
       I hold up my hand. “Wait.” I gulp down the rest of the Bourbon I find I am still holding. The drink has helped me stop trembling. I find that I am able to stand again, I reach out and take Naomi’s hand, then look into amazingly deep eyes that are starting to fill with tears, eyes that draw me in and consume my heart in that one instant.
       “I love you too …”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pokémon Detective; The Counterfeit Badge - part 4

[Note: "Pokémon", the Pokémon world, Pokémon creatures and some characters I've used are property of Nintendo and Gamefreak.]

Chapt. 9
       A drive of a few minutes brought them to a slightly run-down section of town with small apartment buildings. Monica stopped in front of a narrow two-story, red-brick building with a white front door. It stood out from the rest of the neighborhood; it was beautifully restored, the red brick was clean and the white trim freshly painted. They went up the front steps and Mike knocked on the door. There was no answer. Trying the door they found it was locked. He looked around, “The curtains are drawn. That’s a little odd for the middle of the day. Let’s check the back.”
       A narrow driveway led them to a garage and a small yard at the back of the building. As they walked towards the back door, Pearl nudged Mike and pointed to the top of the garage. They looked up to see that, in contrast to the well-kept appearance of the rest of the property, the shingles were torn up over a large portion of the roof. Monica said, “I don’t like the looks of that, it looks like it happened recently. Check the door.”
       Mike turned the door knob and the door opened. The stench of death hit him like a sucker-punch to the nose. He cursed fluently. Holding a handkerchief to his face he stepped into a small kitchen. Following his nose he walked through a hall towards the front of the house and into a sitting room and switched on the light. Sprawled on the floor was the body of a man. He was wearing blue silk pajamas and lay in a large pool of dried blood.
       Monica had followed him into the room and stood staring at the corpse. Mike said, “Well, I don’t think Mr. Bets will be able to give us any information.”
       “Was he shot?”
       “I’d say so. Happened a couple of days ago from the looks of it. You can see what I meant about the amount of blood. Let’s take a little look around before you call this in.” He noticed Pearl standing in the doorway – she looked rather ill. “Pearl, you can wait at the back door if you want.”
       The body was lying on its back. They easily found the three bullet wounds. One had torn a chunk out of the side of the man’s abdomen and there were two in the chest. As Monica and Mike started looking around, Pearl called out from the kitchen. They rushed in and found Pearl pointing beneath a small dining table. They looked and saw a small, dull, metallic-yellow cylinder. Mike picked it up and recognized it as an empty pistol cartridge. Looking around, they found two more empty cartridges and Pearl found one in the corner opposite from the door that still had the bullet in it. Finding a white towel, he laid it on the table and put the four cartridges on it.
       “Monica, let me borrow your cell phone. Open those curtains and turn on the light please.” He then took photos of each of the empty casings as well as the unexpended cartridge. He thought a moment then took a fifth photo showing the base of the full cartridge and the letters stamped into it. He then punched a number into the phone; it was picked up after the first ring. Mike switched to speaker-phone mode.
       “Rawlson speaking.”
       “Pete? Mike. We found something that may help us out. We’ve got another body, but this time we found the empty cartridges.”
       “Excellent! Hang on, I’m going to make a conference call. I’ve been in contact with the Curator of a military museum.” The phone clicked a few times, then Pete said; “Go ahead Mike, Curator Watanabe is on the line.” Introductions were made and the Curator greeted them.
       “Okay, we found another body, he’d been shot three times and we found three empty casings and one unfired casing.”
       The Curator asked; “Where were the cartridges in relation to the body?”
       “They were in a completely different room. The body was in a room at the front of the house, and the cartridges in the kitchen at the back.”
       “Ah, probably a ‘revolver’ type of pistol then. You have to remove the empty cartridges manually. Can you describe the cartridges to me?”
       “I can do better than that Professor, I took photos on the phone I’m using. We can send them. Do you have a cell phone or an e-mail address I can send them to?”
       The Curator gave an e-mail address and Mike handed the phone to Monica. She sent the five photos then handed the phone back.
       After a very few minutes the Curator came back on the line; “Yes, yes, I recognize those. They are from a very old model revolver called a ‘Webley’, we have a couple of them here. It held six cartridges, the bullets were ‘point four-five-five’, meaning they were almost half an inch in diameter. The bullets were made of soft lead.”
       Monica asked, “isn’t lead poisonous?”
       “Well, yes, it is, but that’s hardly a concern when you’re on the receiving end of the pistol. The close-up of the cartridge base, was it one of the fired ones or the unfired one?”
       “The unfired,” answered Mike.
       “I had hoped so. You’ll notice there is a round dent in the center part there, like you’ll see on the other three. That means whoever was firing the pistol had attempted to fire that cartridge, but it didn’t go off. Those cartridges would be almost as old as the gun and some of them may not work very well.”
       Mike thought that could be to their advantage. “Professor Watanabe, you said the pistol held six cartridges, right? How long would it take to reload after you’d fired those six?”
       Watanabe briefly explained how the pistol worked. He described how the pistol would “break-open” at the top with a hinge point just in front of the trigger, the shooter would then dump the empty cartridges out, and have to then manually load six fresh cartridges. “All told, I would expect that a person who had some practice with the gun could fully reload in twenty seconds or so. If they haven’t had much practice, probably more like thirty or forty seconds, maybe longer. There were devices which were perfected in the early to mid-Twentieth Century that allowed all six cartridges to be loaded at once. If your shooter has one or more of these so-called ‘speed loaders’ they can probably reload in less than ten seconds.
       “Now about the bullets fired by this gun, they’re subsonic – slower than the speed of sound. It won’t make much difference if the shooter is close to you, but if they’re a hundred or a hundred and fifty meters away, you might hear the gun being fired before the bullet gets to you. You may have one or two seconds to react.
       “One other thing Detective, if someone is pointing one of these Webleys at you, try to not let them shoot you. Those are pretty large bullets and they will do a lot of damage. Try to get behind a big rock, or brick wall or a tree. Okay?”
       “Thanks Professor Watanabe, we’ll do our best to stay safe.”
       After the Curator disconnected Rawlson told him; “Mike, this second murder ups the ante, you’ve got to find this guy and stop him.”
       “We’ll do our best …” and he rang off.
       “Okay, Mike. Just how are we going to find him?”
       “First, let’s finish checking around here. Even though Billy’s business wasn’t strictly legal, he still had to keep some records. See if we can find a computer or anything else that might help.”
       They found a small library across the hall from the sitting room. Billy’s desktop computer had been smashed. Monica turned the mangled computer over and, finding the hard drive said, “We can probably recover everything from this.”
       “Probably, but we don’t have time right now.” A retro-styled, push-button phone sat on the desk. A second wire coming from the back trailed through a small hole into the desk. He pulled open the drawer below the phone and found a small digital recorder plugged into the phone.
       They started with the last recording. It started with the beeps of the old-fashioned push-button phone being dialed, followed by the buzzing of the phone ringing at the other end. A man answered “Assistant Chief.”
       Billy sounded nervous and angry; “Jackson, that asshole Dalton is on his way here. You’ve got to send me some protection!”
       “Ah, Billy. Yeah, about that, I’m sorry, but nobody here’s going to help you. He’s already pretty much taken over and you’re out. I think you’d better take any offer he gives you and leave while you can. He’s not a very nice person.”
       Billy cursed fluently with several scathing remarks on the Assistant Chief’s antecedents as well as his sexual proclivities.
       “Billy, you’re wasting time. If Dalton is on his way, you’d better be getting out.” Jackson hung up.
       Monica was stunned. She knew that some officers had been taking bribes, but the revelation that the Assistant Chief was involved had left her dumbfounded.
       He started the previous recording; They heard Billy answer, then a harsh voice saying, “I’m on my way, you either sell out to me now, or you’re through.” There was a harsh laugh and he said, “I guess you’re through either way.”
       Mike paused the recording. He looked up at Monica, “That’s him. That’s the voice that called to me from the roof in Oreburgh.”
       He started the playback again. Billy was responding; “You can come over, but I’m not selling anything to you. I like it here and my business is going too good right now. You don’t scare me.” They heard the other man laugh and the line disconnected from the other end. They heard Billy say “Shit!” before he slammed down the phone.
       The next recording started mid-sentence; “… it’s Ricky again. For your own sake, I hope you’re ready to sell and get out. I’ll give you one million Pokéyen.”
       That statement was met by a string of profanities from Billy. “A lousy million?? I can make that in a week, or less. You go to hell!”
       “No Billy-boy – YOU go to hell! In fact, if you don’t sell out, hell is coming to you! Hahahahaha!” The line disconnected mid-laugh.
       He started the next recording. They heard Billy answer, then heard the now familiar voice; “Hi there ‘Billy-boy’, I thought I’d call and introduce myself. My name is Dalton, Ricky Dalton and I’m taking over your business in Sinnoh whether you like it or not. I can control the outcomes, so I can control the wagering! I’ll let people win for a while, they’ll come to me and drop you like a rotten Pecha berry.” They heard the harsh laugh again.
       “So, you’re the one cutting into my business. Fuck you Dalton. You ain’t takin’ over nothin’. You can’t let people win forever and I’m not inclined to sell. I’ve got friends around here and they’ll help me out.”
       “Hah! I’ve already bought your ‘friends’. I’ll buy you out, or I’ll take you out. Whichever way you want it, you’re out. I’ll call you back Billy. You’d best take my offer when I do.” Then they heard a click and dial tone.
       Mike picked up the small recorder and dropped it in a pocket. “Well, I think we’ve found the connection. Our psycho with the scar is apparently trying to, or rather has taken over bookmaking in Hearthome – probably going after the entire Sinnoh region. At least we have a name now. And something of a time-line, Billy was killed a couple of days ago, the first recording seems to have been just a few days before Jimmy was killed.”
       “Yeah, what about Jimmy?”
       “We know he’d seen someone tampering with the special food Fantina uses and went after him. He probably just got in the way. Maybe he was more involved; we know he was a gambler …”
       There was a sudden rush of noise outside, followed by a crash and tearing noise from the roof of the building. They felt the entire building shake as something ripped into the second floor. As they ran towards the back door Pearl threw it open and the three of them rushed into the back yard. A harsh bugling scream, which sounded like a mixture of tearing metal, a rumbling avalanche and the hiss of escaping steam, clawed at their ears. It echoed through the neighborhood, followed by a roar of fire filling the upper floor. Mike shouted, “Call it in! Get the fire department here fast!” Monica was already talking into her phone, giving the location and reporting the fire.
       Looking up they saw that fire was rapidly spreading through the upper story of the old building and already running down to the first floor. A large orange bulk was perched on top of the building, one fore-claw holding back a garage-door sized section of roof. The monster reared back, withdrawing its long neck from the gaping hole in the roof. A large rectangular head on the end of a long neck snaked around to look down at them as large, leathery wings stretched out and the Charizard screamed again. A now-familiar voice shouted; “Fry them!” Charizard shot an intense jet of yellow-orange flame down at them as they ducked around the corner of the building.
       Monica was wide-eyed, “What the fuck was that???”
       “That … was a Charizard.”
       “Well no shit? Biggest one I’ve ever seen!”
       Charizard screamed again and Mike shouted; “Pearl! Hydropump!”
       Pearl shot a powerful stream of water straight up at the roof and the Charizard pulled back. The counterattack caused Charizard’s flamethrower attack to go wide setting the roof of the garage on fire.
       The high-low wail of sirens was drawing closer, coming from the east and the south. There was a loud string of curses from above, followed by a rush of wind blowing smoke and embers down at them. They saw the enormous Charizard leap from the roof with Dalton sitting just in front of its wings. As it flew off towards the southwest the loose section of roof crashed into the driveway, missing them by inches. Monica shouted, “C’mon!” and ran to her bike with Mike right behind and Pearl chasing after them.
       The big Yamaha growled to life. She kicked it into gear as Mike jumped on behind her. He shouted for her to wait as Pearl ran up and jumped towards them. Mike caught her and jammed her between him and Monica. With the rear tire smoking, they tore off after the killer. Mike kept a close watch on the Charizard and a tight hold on the muscular waist in front of him, keeping Pearl pressed between them as Monica blazed up the street. He shouted “left!” as they came to the first intersection, Monica leaned far into the turn, the foot rest throwing up sparks as it scraped on the pavement. She jammed the throttle open trying to keep pace with the enormous beast flying away from them. A traffic light changed to red as they approached and she swerved onto the sidewalk and hit the rear brake hard to skid around the corner to the right, she twisted the throttle and the front wheel lifted. She made another hard left, and then an abrupt swerve around a taxi that had stopped for a fare, then back to the right to avoid an oncoming truck. Monica and Mike both saw the Charizard tuck in its wings, veer to the right and drop out of sight.
       Monica slammed on the brake again, skidding to a sideways stop as they came to the next corner. “Shit! Shit! Shit! Where did it go?” The chase had led them into a warehouse and industrial district.
       Mike looked around, “Where are we?”
       She glanced at the street signs. “The Gym is just a few blocks down that way. This is the direction that Jimmy went when he followed our suspect.”
       “Is there anyone on the Hearthome PD that you can trust?”
       She thought a moment, “Only a couple really. Why?”
       “Send them a text and get them coming this way. Come to think of it, send a text to Dodson over in Jubilife too. Let’s get some back-up headed down here.”
       She nodded. Her fingers flew over the keyboard on her phone typing out a message to the few people they could trust.
       As she finished, Mike shrugged. “If nothing else, they might be able to find our bodies. That’s a little comfort.”
       “Damned little ...” Monica eased the bike around the corner and up the street as all three of them kept watch for signs of the Charizard or Dalton. They rumbled along at a walking pace, nerves taught, eyes and ears straining for the merest hint of trouble. Monica was leaning forward to keep her weight over the front, tense, ready to accelerate hard if needed. As they approached an alley that opened across the street, a figure stepped out from behind a dumpster and raised its arm. Mike ducked down, shouting “GO!!!” The sound of a small explosion hit them a moment before an angry insect buzzed over their heads and smashed into the wall beside them, showering them with chips of brick and mortar. Monica had jammed the throttle open, skidded around the next corner and again slid to a stop. They scrambled off the bike and took cover against the wall.
       The street was quiet. Mike briefly peeked around the corner then drew back. He turned to Monica; “I think this is when the suspenseful music should be starting.”
       She gave him a dirty look. “That building appears to be abandoned; windows broken, door padlocked. Think he’s in there?”
       There was a deafening, spine-shaking scream of pain from inside the building.
       Mike nodded, “I’d say he is.”
       “Is that the Charizard? What the hell is he doing to that poor Pokémon?”
       For the first time since Monica met him, she saw a look of true anger on Mike’s face. “Damned good question, let’s go find out. I’ll go first, you two wait till I get across.” He ducked down and ran across the street, flattening himself against the brick wall to the left of the door.
       Another heart-wrenching scream of pain came from inside as Monica and Pearl darted across. She stopped in a crouch on the other side of the door. Through a broken window they could hear Dalton’s angry voice echoing through the building; “I told you to ‘fry them’ and you MISSED! Now they’re here! Hold out your paw again!” There was a metallic clang followed by another scream from the Charizard.
       Monica’s mouth contracted in anger, her eyes narrowed to slits. Her whisper was harsh, almost a hiss, “We’ve got to get in there – now!” She rose and turned toward the door.
       Mike grabbed her arm, “Yeah, but just remember. That Charizard is going to try even harder to kill us now.” He pointed to a window behind and above Monica. Part of one pane was broken out, “Take a look.”
       She hesitated, then nodded and carefully rose up till she could just see over the edge and peered into the gloomy interior. She saw a large warehouse. There was a big forklift parked against some cabinets about ten yards in to the left of the door, a second one right behind it. A little further in on the right she could see a short wall and some desks. She eased back to a crouch and described the cover areas. “And I can see Charizard about 50 yards further in. It’s curled up and licking its left forepaw. The roof has been torn open, probably how they’ve been coming and going. I don’t see Dalton.”
        “I don’t like not knowing where he is. Can’t be helped I guess.” He looked at Pearl who still appeared upset. “We have got to keep calm and keep our wits about us. Pearl, your wing-tips are hard, can you pry that lock off … quietly?”
       She shook herself a little and her face became less pained and more determined. She wedged a stiffened wing-tip beneath the steel hasp and pried upwards. The wood was old and the screws, fortunately, were short and pulled away with only a slight crunch. Sounds of movement could be heard inside, as well as a pathetic moaning … a whimpering made even more heart-wrenching as they thought of the size and power of the suffering beast.
       “Be ready with your Pokémon. When we go in, Pearl and I will go right, you go left and get your Golem and Machoke out fast. If we can hit Charizard with both rock and water attacks, we may be able to knock it out.” He saw her mouth turn down and she started to speak. He held up his hand; “I know. It is in pain and has undoubtedly been horribly mistreated. But we have to live long enough to be able to help it … the only way we’re going to do that is to defeat it. Okay?” He looked into her eyes and she nodded.
       “Watch for Dalton, the moment you see him holler out. I think the Charizard is probably the bigger danger right now, but that gun can kill us just as dead. Don’t forget, Dalton is our main target.”
       He reached a hand towards the door, “Get ready – the hinges are probably rusty and they’re going to know we’re coming in. I’ve got a little further to go, so I’ll move first, you follow. Get behind one of those forklifts as soon as you’re inside. Ready?”
       She nodded and he pushed hard on the door. Hinges that hadn’t been used in years screamed in protest, echoing through the building along with a splintering sound as rotted wood ripped from the hinge plates. As Mike rushed through the door he saw the Charizard’s head whip around towards the door. He hit the floor in a baseball slide and crashed into a desk behind the waist-high wall with Pearl tumbling over him. He looked over to find that Monica was in position as the enormous fire-colored beast rose to its haunches and let loose an angry, deep throated, brassy howl. Mike heard the electronic rushing sound of two Pokémon being released from their Pokéballs and Monica’s partners appeared and took cover. Then suddenly everything fell silent, a slight breeze drifted down through the gaping hole in the roof stirring scraps of paper and dead leaves. As he listened he heard Charizard take a deep, snuffling breath and make a loud snort.
       There was an opening in the wall a little further to his right with another industrial steel desk just past it. He pointed out the other desk to Pearl and she carefully moved towards it, then rushed across the opening and dove behind the desk. Just as she crossed the opening a tremendous jet of flame shot through it, splashing over the top of the wall. A head-splitting scream tore through the building, followed by what seemed like a minor earthquake caused by it taking a step towards them.
       Dalton’s voice called out; “Charizard, stop! Detective Kohler! Are you okay back there?” They heard him chuckle. “I do hope so, because I want you to see what prying into my affairs will cost.”
       Monica looked over at Mike and nodded towards Dalton. Mike held a finger to his lips & shook his head. He carefully moved towards the gap in the short wall. He stopped when he heard a shuffling of feet and the muffled voice of a woman who sounded to be struggling against a gag in her mouth.
       Dalton said, “Come now Detective! No need to be afraid, I want you to see this and I give my word that nothing will happen till we have a chance to talk.”
       Mike spoke up, “And why should I trust you? You’ve already tried to kill me.”
       “Well, yes, I must admit that our first couple of meetings didn’t go very well. But I promise that you’ll be safe for the moment. Here, maybe this will help to change your mind.”
       There was an abrupt, quiet ripping sound accompanied by a yelp of pain. A familiar voice shouted out; “Mike! Get out, he’s going to kill you!”
       This brought him up short. He paused before answering, knowing he didn’t want to give any more leverage to Dalton than necessary. He had to be careful to not let it seem that she was any more important to him than anyone else. “Professor Salvia, is that you?”
       A short exclamation was followed by her voice becoming muffled again. Dalton spoke again; “Okay now Detective, stand up and let’s talk about this, shall we?”
       He motioned to Monica and Pearl to stay out of sight and then stood up. “Okay Dalton, what’s on your mind?”
       “Oh, very good! I guess you are a real Detective if you’ve found out my name, I’m very pleased at that. It makes my victory that much more sweet!”
       Dalton was standing in the middle of the ragged pool of sunlight under the gaping hole in the roof. Here was the plain-looking man they’d seen in the surveillance videos. The scar on the left side of his face gave his mouth an evil twist. He was gripping the Professor’s arm with one hand and pressing the barrel of the pistol into her side with the other. Her white coat was torn and dirty, her hair disheveled and her face smudged and tear-stained. There was a large strip of duct-tape across her mouth. Her hands appeared to be tied behind her back. The expression in her eyes was a mix of fear and anger. She started to struggle again, but Dalton jabbed her hard in the ribs with the muzzle of the gun and tears sprang to her eyes as she subsided.
       The Charizard was a few yards to Dalton’s right, glaring at Mike but still sniffing the air. Mike could see green fluid oozing from a cut across its left forepaw.
       “Okay Dalton, the game is up for you. I’ve got a dozen or more cops coming and they’re taking you down. You give up now and it’ll go a lot easier for you.”
       “Detective, please! I had hoped you were above such a weak bluff. I own the Police Department in Hearthome, and a good number of Officers scattered around Sinnoh. With the threat of the gun and Charizard’s fire, it was nothing for me to build a new organization here. There’s nobody coming. Although I know that bitch cop is here with you – she has been annoyingly ethical.
       “However, let me get to the point. Being the only person with a gun gives me all the power. I have your pretty friend here and, as you probably know, I’m not above killing her. Well and you too, for that matter. But, I suspect that if I kill you, they’ll just send someone else. So, here’s my proposition; you leave – leave Hearthome and leave Sinnoh. You make whatever excuses will keep your boss from sending anyone else and I let the good Professor go free. If you refuse, she dies and so do you. It’s as simple as that.”
       There was a slight rustle to Mike’s left, Monica or one of her Pokémon had moved a little bit. The Charizard turned slightly towards her and drew in its breath, readying an attack. The man standing next to it said, “Wait!” and it stopped.
       “Well now Detective. It seems I have the advantage here. I’m ready to put a bullet in the Professor and Charizard is ready to roast your cop friend.”
       Mike saw Pearl out of the corner of his eye. She was shifting a little and it looked like she was going to be able to easily target the Charizard. They had one small advantage; they were in the shadows of the warehouse while Dalton was standing in the splash of sunlight. Still he had to be careful; he couldn’t afford to be over confident. He turned his head slightly as though looking at the massive Pokémon in front of him, but turned his eyes to see what Monica was doing. He could see she was whispering orders to her Golem, but she was looking up through the torn open roof.
       Monica shouted “Now!” The Golem fired an enormous rock directly at the Charizard, striking it full in the chest. At the same moment a gray form streaked through the gaping hole above and crashed into Professor Salvia, knocking her backwards, then grabbing her with its talons and carrying her out of the pool of light, just as a tremendous bang reverberated through the building.
       Dalton’s harsh voice sounded out; “What the fuck?? Kill them all Charizard! Kill them all!”
       Pearl stepped into the gap in the wall behind which they were hiding. She fired her water pump, hitting Charizard and causing it to stumble backwards.
       Mike saw Dalton raise his arm as though pointing at Pearl. He leaped towards her, pushing her out of the way just as the pistol fired. There was a horrific tearing, burning pain in his thigh as the bullet ripped through it. He couldn’t help screaming in pain. He scrambled the rest of the way across the opening as the pistol fired again, the bullet tearing a large chip from the concrete floor and impacting the wall behind them.
       Pearl slid up hard against the desk. Her eyes went wide as she watched the person she had already come to respect as her partner grasping a gaping wound through his leg. He was asking if she was alright, his eyes full of concern only for her after he had almost been killed saving her from a murderer’s bullet. A strange sensation came over her, a sudden feeling of strength she had only felt one time before. She closed her eyes as she gave in to the rush of an almost painful ecstasy, a cold heat spreading from her heart, surrounding her in glowing ribbons of life-energy, feeling her body grow outwards as the surrounding energy field snapped inwards slapping against her skin. She could feel herself growing taller, stronger, faster, her wings becoming harder than steel and razor sharp. With a sudden surge of power and elation coursing through her very core, she stood up and shouted; “Empoleon!!!” Her voice was deep, confident and challenging.
       Mike, his eyes watering from more than just the pain in his leg, his heart swelling with pride, grinned and said, “Alright Pearl!”
       Monica shouted out; “Yahoo Pearl!” This had the unfortunate consequence of attracting the attention of both the gunman and his fierce Pokémon. Dalton raised his pistol and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. The Charizard’s mouth gaped open and a huge flood of flame shot towards the big forklift where she was hiding, engulfing it in fire. Monica scrambled towards the second forklift, praying that the big propane cylinders mounted on the machines were empty. Unfortunately they were not, the first one exploded into several large, jagged pieces of metal which flew with deadly intent all over the warehouse. One skipped off the floor next to her with a clang then cut through a steel locker behind her. One leg of her slacks was burning, as she swatted at it, her Machoke tore the burning portion off.
       Mike could see both Dalton and Charizard readying their next attacks. The seven-foot tall Pokémon was drawing a deep breath and Dalton raised his pistol, aiming again at Monica. Pearl used Brine to soak Monica and the area she was in. The Staraptor who had knocked Professor Salvia away streaked towards the Charizard just as it let loose another fire blast attack. Between Staraptor’s interference and Pearl’s soaking the fire was weakened, but Monica was in view of Dalton. Just as he was pulling the trigger Golem leaped into the line of fire, the bullet breaking a chip off the Pokémon’s rocky armor.
       Mike was frantically looking for the Professor and saw her white coat suddenly floating into view, a large, blue bundle of muscle carrying her at a very fast run across the warehouse directly towards him. Mike pointed at the Charizard; “Hydropump!” Pearl shot her powerful jet of water at their fiery foe, striking it square in the face just as another huge rock from Golem pounded into its chest. The Charizard screamed in rage as it tumbled backwards, crashing into a dozen 15-foot tall steel shelves. It fell, becoming entangled in twisted metal.
       As the Machoke carrying Div continued its sprint towards Mike and Pearl, Dalton once again raised the deadly piece of steel in his hand. Amid bellows of rage and the screech of tearing metal rising from the Charizard, Mike plainly heard the pistol’s sharp report and saw Dalton’s hand jump upwards with the recoil, just as the Machoke sprang over the half wall. The blue fighting Pokémon grunted in pain as the bullet smashed into its back below the right shoulder. It turned as it fell, landing full on its back with a loud groan, protecting Div from impact with the floor. She rolled a few feet further, then scrambled back to check the fallen Machoke.
       Mike had been counting shots. He knew that Dalton had pulled the trigger on six rounds and now needed to reload. “Pearl! Finish off that Charizard! Knock it out!” He looked across and saw Monica getting to her feet, she had been counting too. “Monica get Dalton NOW!”
       Pearl charged across the floor towards the tangle of Charizard and steel shelves. The creature was getting to its feet, though one wing looked like it had been wrenched out of joint. There was a deep rumbling as Monica’s Golem rolled like a giant bowling ball, converging with Pearl on the orange bulk of their foe. Golem crashed into Charizard’s stomach as Pearl’s hydropump again struck its face, the dual attack pushing it once again into the pile of twisted metal.
       Monica sprinted across the floor, crossing just behind Pearl. She could see Dalton dumping the cartridges from the gun. As she closed the distance he dropped two unfired cartridges into the old Webley and snapped it closed. She ran harder, hoping she could close the last few yards before he could aim. There was a screech from her left and the big Staraptor streaked out of the shadows at the man in front of her. Suddenly distracted, he looked towards the bird just as Monica slammed into him and, at the same time, the Staraptor’s talons grabbed the gun and tore it from his grasp. They fell to the floor, Monica on top of him as the Staraptor soared up through the torn-open roof. As Monica grabbed one arm to turn him over, Dalton twisted away and kicked at her, connecting a glancing blow to her head. He scrambled to his feet.
       Charizard screamed in pain and rage as it threw a section of steel shelving straight at Pearl. She ducked and rolled as it flew just above her. The sheet of steel screeched across the floor and smashed into the still smoldering forklift. As Charizard scrambled to regain its footing, Golem fired another boulder at it. Charizard answered with flamethrower, striking the rock-type Pokémon with enough force to push it back several feet, leaving its rock armor dully glowing red at the edges. The big horned head swiveled towards Pearl, still spewing an intense jet of flame. She raised two sharp, hardened wings to cover her face, planting her feet but still sliding back from the force of the attack, her talons gouging furrows in the concrete floor, her smooth feathers smoking. They launched another simultaneous attack against Charizard, striking it with another huge rock to the chest and a hydropump blast to the face. Charizard’s scream trailed off into a low groan as it went unconscious and toppled back, crashing to the floor.
       Dalton turned towards the sound of the big creature’s collapse and stared wide-eyed, shouting “Charizard No!”
       As he stood there, Monica tackled him to the floor again, punching him square in the jaw as they went down. His head bounced hard off the concrete and he lay still. She roughly rolled him onto his face, yanked his arms behind him and slapped handcuffs on him. “That’s what you get for calling me ‘bitch’ you asshole!”
       Mike looked over at Div, “How’s Machoke?”
       “I think he’ll be okay. We need to get him to the Pokémon Center, where’s his Pokéball?”
       Monica called over, “Here it is.” She tossed the ball and Div caught it. Popping open the ball, she pulled the Pokémon inside.
       Div kneeled down next to Mike. He looked questioningly at her hands, marks from the ropes plainly visible on her wrists. “Staraptor bit them off.” Pulling a large bandana cloth out of her pocket she said; “This is going to hurt,” and pressed the cloth into the wound.
       Mike passed out.
Chapt. 10
       Mike regained consciousness for a few moments in an ambulance. He saw an IV running into his arm. The ambulance sped across a railroad crossing, jostling him and he blacked out again.
       He woke up in a hospital bed; IV’s and monitor wires coming from under the blanket covering him. He sat up and looked at his leg and saw a large bandage over the wound. He looked towards the window and saw Pearl asleep in a chair. He marveled at her new, evolved form. She was large and powerful looking, even in her sleep. She was almost radiant with health and strength. She was a much darker blue color, almost black. Her wings harder, with long, sharp edges, were jointed at the shoulder and what would be the elbow in a human. He’d never been prouder of any Pokémon partner than he was of her.
       He looked around at the rest of the room. It was pretty common-looking but at least it was a private room. A monitor next to the IV stand was quietly beeping, tracking his heart-beat and other vital signs. He found a remote for the TV mounted on the wall and switched it on. The sudden sound woke Pearl from her slumber.
       She jumped up with a shout of “Empoleon!” and rushed to him putting a wing across him and laying her head on his chest.
       “Pearl, you’re looking great! I’m so proud of how brave you were back there. And you evolved just in time to really help us out, thank you.” And he hugged her hard, his eyes brimming over with the emotions washing over him. Emotions he hadn’t felt so strongly for a long time.
       From the doorway he heard, “Ah! You’re finally awake!”
       He snapped his head around with a huge grin on his face; “Div! Great to see you! Are you okay?”
       She had tears streaming down her face as well. She came over and hugged him, kissing him and said, “Thanks for saving me.”
       “Well, it was a team effort.” Monica stood at the door holding two cups. “Here’s your coffee Div. It’s good to see sleeping beauty is awake.”
       He looked sadly at the cup in Div’s hand, she laughed and handed it to him. He sipped and sighed, “ahh, thanks, I needed that. Have you all just been hanging out waiting for me to wake up? How long was I out?”
       Div wiped her eyes and sat in a chair next to the bed. “You’ve been out about a day, thanks in large part to the pain meds. Monica and I have been pretty busy, but Pearl stayed here the whole time, even wanted to go into the operating room but they wouldn’t let her, of course. Nurse Joy came over and healed her and cleaned her up while they patched up your leg.”
       “What happened to Charizard?”
       Div had called an assistant at the lab, he took their fastest flyer and brought a special Pokéball that allows them to capture any Pokémon. A highly specialized ball, they are only available to Pokémon Labs, kept in the most secure storage and used only under extreme circumstances. The Charizard was caught in this “Master Ball” and taken to the Sandgem Lab and was being kept in stasis for the time-being. It appeared to have suffered a lot of physical abuse. Dalton had broken its forepaw, and old scars and healed bones showed a long history of abuse.
       “I can’t even imagine what it took for that man to turn that Pokémon into a killer. But we’ll do our best for him, though I don’t think he’ll ever be able to battle normally.” Professor Salvia’s mouth was set in an angry line and tears ran down her cheeks again.
       “You want to give him a taste of his own medicine, don’t you?”
       She nodded then took the coffee cup back from him and took a gulp, dashing away the tears with the other hand. “I was thinking a steel bar across the hand would be a good start.
       “Oh, and we started checking Pokémon food supplies all around Sinnoh. Several Centers and most of the Gyms had at least some traces of contamination by Stun Spore. The general feeling is one of shock, most of us just can’t believe someone would do that. I gather Dalton was trying to affect the outcome of battles and control the betting?”
       Monica answered, “That’s what it’s sounding like. If he wanted a Gym Leader to lose to an underdog trainer, he’d sneak in and drop some stun spore in the food, the Gym Leader’s Pokémon would be a little weaker and slower, and the trainer would win. Of course he would have suggested that some folks bet on the underdog, they’d win and keep coming back to him. He also would’ve made good money back because most people would’ve bet on the Gym Leader. If he wanted the Gym Leader to win, he’d contaminate the supplies at the local Center.”
       “What else happened after I … uhmm?”
       Monica laughed. “Passed out? Don’t worry about that, you lost more blood than you think. That bullet left a pretty nasty wound.” She held up her hand as he reached for the bandage, “The Doctor says you’re going to be okay. It’ll take some time to heal and you’ll have a scar … and a good story.
       “Anyway, a couple of minutes after you blacked out, my girlfriend showed up with her patrol partner. We got Dalton trussed up before he came-to. He hollered a lot when he did wake up … surprised the hell out of me, he was asking about Charizard. I really don’t get how you could abuse a creature like that, but still be worried about it. Twisted bastard.
       “Anyway, shortly after that Dodson and a handful of his colleagues flew in on several Pokémon. He took Dalton back to the jail in Jubilife, my girlfriend went along as a representative for us. Frankly, I didn’t know how far I could trust the other cops here. He’s being held without bail. He’s been spilling his guts about the gambling scheme and the whole Stun Spore scheme. He’s right proud of himself. Isn’t saying much about Jimmy or Billy though. The trial is going to be in Jubilife City, we’ll all have to be there of course. The Sinnoh Regional Prosecutor’s office is handling the case.”
        “And the gun?”
       “Staraptor had dropped it on the roof. Dodson recovered it for us. Fortunately that museum guy had shown us how it worked, so I was able to unload it. I think even if I hadn’t known what it can do, I’d be afraid of it … it simply looks deadly.
       “Oh, and we found a puddle of dried blood inside the side door that Dalton had used after he’d shot at us. We’re still waiting on the DNA testing, but I’m guessing that’s where Jimmy was killed. Dalton won’t cop to it yet, but I’d say your reasoning that Jimmy followed him was about right.”
       “What about that counterfeit badge that Jimmy had?”
       “As near as we can tell, it sounds like Dalton put it there. He actually had several of them with the rest of his belongings at the warehouse. Maybe it was intended as some kind of warning to the Sinnoh League to stay out of his way. He had mentioned that some folks from the League had been asking around about the gambling.”
       “What about here in Hearthome? How much of a problem do you have now?”
       Monica hesitated, looking at her feet, so Div spoke up; “She hasn’t had time to really get used to things yet, but you’re looking at the acting Chief of Police for Hearthome City.”
       “Yeah … definitely not used to being in charge.” She looked up at Mike with a wry grin, “But I’m going to do my damnedest to clean up the mess that YOU uncovered. Your boss has been a big help. So has Dodson for that matter.  Deputy Rawlson has sent over several folks from the P. W. L. to help with keeping our Department running. Dodson has rounded up cops from all over Sinnoh to help out too.” Her face fell and her shoulders slumped a little bit as she shook her head; “It’s been rough. We’ve had to suspend almost half the department and several of the higher ups have already resigned. A couple of Lieutenants in Jubilife also resigned.” She shook her head, “We’ll probably end up with some of our own folks in jail over this. It really breaks my heart how far this went in such a short time. And I can’t even imagine how long it will take to rebuild our reputation.”
       He leaned back against the pillows and gave her a very serious look; “So, you have a girlfriend, huh?”
       She looked up, startled, “Out of everything I just told you, THAT is what you focus on?” Then she laughed, “If you didn’t have that hole in your leg, I’d hurt you!”
       “Well, it’s a shame I’m stuck here for the time being. I’d buy you both a drink, your girlfriend too.”
       “After that crack, I shouldn’t give this to you.” She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a pint bottle and handed it to him. “Rawlson told me you like whiskey.” She stood and got three cups from the sink.
       He poured a good measure of the amber liquid into each of the cups and handed one to Div and one to Monica. Raising his cup he said, “Here’s to that son-of-a-bitch spending the rest of his life in prison!”
       He took his drink in one long gulp. Monica and Div each took a small sip. Smacking his lips he said, “Now that was damned good! Thanks!
       “I’ve got one more thing I have to take care of.” He sat up, wincing a little bit against the tight pain in his leg. He turned towards Pearl, “When you and I first met, you agreed to work with me on this case and I said you would decide how well we worked together, whether you wanted to stay with me or not. So, it is your choice, do you want to work with me?”
       Pearl was watching him closely, once again seeming to peer inside him rather than simply at him. She had never known another human like this man. He had shown her respect and encouragement throughout a difficult ordeal and he had risked his own life when hers was in danger. She really didn’t have to think about this, she reached out her wing and he proudly took it in his hand.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pokémon Detective; The Counterfeit Badge - part 3

[Note: "Pokémon", the Pokémon world, Pokémon creatures and some characters I've used are property of Nintendo and Gamefreak.]

Chapt. 7
       A buzzing sound jolted both of them awake. Pearl was on her feet in an instant and looking for the source of the harsh sound. Mike had rolled out of bed into a crouch. He sighed and hit the “off” button on the alarm clock. He never had liked being awakened by an alarm clock – they always startled him too much. He’d spent a good deal of money over the years replacing the ones he’d smashed. He restrained from damaging this one, though clearly Pearl was considering it.
       He sagged back into the bed he had just bolted out of. Scrubbing at his scalp, he squeezed his eyes shut. Sitting on the edge of the bed he opened his pack and got their breakfast started.
       A strong cup of Pu-erh tea and a tin of stew helped to wake him up. Pearl ate daintily at the last of the Pokémon food that Professor Salvia had given them. As she finished, she looked sadly at her empty bowl. “I know, Pearl. And I don’t know how long we’ll be here finishing this up, so we’ll see what the Center has that can’t be tampered with. After that we’ll make some phone calls.”
       When they got to the lobby they found a vending machine meant for after-hours service which had sealed tins of Pokémon food. He purchased a few tins for water-type Pokémon and snacks for himself and dropped them in his coat pocket. The public phones were arranged along one wall and were simply divided by short partitions providing no real privacy. He turned to the counter where Hearthome’s Nurse Joy was helping a couple of trainers who were getting their Pokémon back. He stepped over as they left. She looked a little drawn, her eyes red and tired looking and her usually perfectly pressed clothes were wrinkled and her hair was slightly disheveled. “Hi Nurse Joy, would you happen to have a more private phone I could use?”
       “Oh, are you the ‘Mike K.’ who checked in early this morning?”
       “That’s right. Blissey was a big help.”
       “Are you also the ‘Mike’ that saved my cousin in Oreburgh?” Her eyes started to tear up. She waved at her rumpled dress and stained apron and said, “I went over there to help and was with her all night.” She seemed a little embarrassed and seemed to be mentioning this as an excuse for her appearance. “I haven’t even been able to change clothes yet.”
       “Well, yeah, I am. I’m glad you were able to go help her. How’s she doing?”
       The Nurse looked up at him with grateful eyes. She pushed some stray hairs back into place and straightened her apron and brushed her skirt. “We were able to stabilize her and get fluids going in an I.V. She’s going to be okay. We owe you and your Prinplup a lot for getting the fire out so quickly. If it had kept burning …”, she started crying and couldn’t continue for a moment. Mike watched as she took a breath and blotted her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “This isn’t very dignified of me.”
       “That’s alright, you’re only human and that’s a pretty normal reaction. And I know you’re close to your ‘cousins’.”
       “Oh! Thank you! That is so kind of you to say. Did you know that one of the mine workers was nearby when you chewed out that cop?” She gave him a very endearing, slightly mischievous and dimpled grin. “It means so much to any of us when someone says something like you did. Word is getting around and we all really appreciate it.
       “And yes, there is a phone in the office, right back here.” She motioned him behind the counter and into a small office. The furnishings were simple; two metal bookshelves full of books on Pokémon training, types, health and injuries and some old ledgers and a few photos and novels. There was a moderate sized, simple, gray industrial desk up against the third wall. It was arranged so that you would be facing the door as you sat at it. A large, very modern, flat-screen computer monitor, keyboard and mouse were in the middle of the desk. The video telephone was on the end against the wall. Most everything except the phone and computer were well used, functional and simple. “The phone is on the Pokémon Center’s network and is quite secure. Take as much time as you need.”
       Sitting down in the well-used leather desk chair, he looked up and thanked her. The cute red-head with the dimples smiled and closed the door. Pearl sat in the only other chair in the corner behind the door. Mike punched in the number of Deputy Director Rawlson. The screen stayed blank, but a voice answered; “Rawlson here. Oh, hey Mike! How’re you doing?” The screen flickered to a display of the face at the other end.
       “Hi Pete. Thought I’d check in, keep you from getting on my ass about it later.”
        “Damn right!” The Deputy Director grinned at him. “Oh, I got a call from the Chief of Police in Oreburgh. God awful mess with what happened to their Nurse Joy. And it seems like you really stirred things up there.”
       “I just talked with Joy here in Hearthome and it sounds like her cousin in Oreburgh is going to be okay.”
       “That’s how it sounds yeah. But I was talking about your conversation with someone named ‘Tomaka’.”
       “Oh, that asshole.”
       Pete bellowed with laughter. “Yeah, I’d say that sizes him up pretty well. It seems that their Chief arrived on scene just in time for the end of your conversation. Tomaka tried to report you for your ‘assault’ on him. But, even if the Chief hadn’t already been there, two of the locals had overheard Tomaka’s remarks too. So his ‘complaint’ ended on the spot. Did you know that Nurse Joy is rather well respected, even adored, in Oreburgh?”
       “I saw how everyone there was jumping in to help right away …”
       “That particular Nurse Joy has been taking care of both the miners and their Pokémon for quite a while now. I’m told she has gone down into the mine itself many times to stabilize the injured. She’s saved a lot of lives. I understand that more than a few residents were expressing their unhappiness with the Sergeant. Lucky for him the Chief is a local and was able to get the situation calmed down. Tomaka damned near got shipped out to another town, but he’d been there long enough that he had a few friends who were ready to stand up for his general character. He’s going to spend the next two weeks helping Chansey at the Pokémon Center and then he’s going to walk a beat down in the mine for a while. The Chief thinks it’ll give him a better perspective on things.”
       “Well, hopefully it’ll work. He was helpful … up till he pissed me off.
       “Anyway, I wanted to fill you in on that as well as the situation with those counterfeit badges.” Mike explained what he’d found in Jubilife City and what had happened in Oreburgh.
       “So that’s what happened to James.” Mike saw him scribble a note. “But you don’t think that he’s involved in what happened in Hearthome?”
       “He said he wasn’t. I don’t know how far I can trust him, but my gut says I can on this. I don’t think he would’ve come to talk to me like that if he was. Hell, I don’t think I’d be sitting here if he was involved in the killing. He had the opportunity to do what he wanted after he knocked me out, but I’m still alive.”
       “Okay. Let me know if you need anything from my end. And be careful. Remember, you’re dealing with someone who is more than a little Zubat-crazy.”
       They disconnected and Mike leaned back in the chair. He wondered just what the killer was up to and just how far he would go. He activated the phone and dialed the Pokémon Lab in Sandgem Town. A young fellow in a lab coat answered and Mike asked for Professor Salvia.
       “I’m sorry, but the Professor isn’t in right now and we’re not sure when she’ll be back. I’m one of her assistants, may I help you?”
       “Do you know where she is? I’d really like to speak with her directly.”
       “I’m, uh, not really able to tell you where she is right now …”
       Mike disconnected the call. He banged his fist on the desk in frustration. Pearl had heard the conversation and had jumped up, ready to go. “Settle down. If something has happened to her, the best hope we have is to figure out what is going on. We’re not going to do that by rushing around with no plan.” She looked a little annoyed, but sat back down. He entered another number. The phone was picked up after several rings, no picture. A woman said “hello?”
       “Sergeant Kamara? I’m Mike Kohler, Lieutenant Dodson in Jubilife City suggested I call you.”
       “Oh, hi. Uh, yes, hang on a moment.” There was the sound of a chair scraping on the floor, followed a few moments later by the sound of a door opening and closing, then footsteps in gravel. “Okay, I can talk now. The name’s Monica. How can I help?”
       “Well, first, do you know a bookie by the name of ‘Billy Bets’?”
       “Oh, him,” she said in a flat tone. “Yeah, I know him. Gambling isn’t really legal, but it isn’t exactly discouraged either. He’s built quite a business on making book on various things, primarily Pokémon gym battles and Elite Four and Champion battles. Look, why don’t I meet you somewhere. I’d rather talk in person.”
       “Okay, I’m at the Pokémon Center right now.”
       “Perfect! I’ll be there in about five minutes.” She hung up.
       He stepped to the door and saw there were no trainers in the lobby. Nurse Joy had apparently changed as her dress and apron were fresh again and her hair, still damp, was pulled back into a bun. He stepped over to her, “Thanks for the use of the phone. I’m afraid I’ll need to use your office a little while longer, I’m expecting someone and we need a place we can talk. But, I’ll return the favor; I strongly suggest that you carefully check your stocks of Pokémon food for contamination, especially by Stun Spore. I have reason to believe that someone has been tainting some food supplies with it.”
       A shocked look sprang onto her face and she said; “Who would …? Oh. The same guy. Okay. I’ll go do that right away.”
       A few moments later the front doors slid open and a woman stepped in and looked around. Seeing him standing at the counter, she stepped over and asked; “You’re Mike?” She was dark with black, close-cropped hair. Short and stocky, Mike could see she was muscular, built a like a wrestler. She wore a brown sport coat over a tan shirt and dress slacks. Slight bulges under the jacket showed where she kept several Pokéballs, as well as an expandable baton on her belt. A small 2-way radio was also clipped to the belt as was a handcuff case. He also noticed that she appeared to be wearing heavy shorts under her tan dress pants.
       Monica had noticed him quickly taking in the details of her apparel as well as the items she carried. She had been doing the same, taking note of the fact that he apparently didn’t carry any Pokéballs. When she saw his eyes linger a moment on her hips, she grinned at him. “You noticed my shorts? Well, I found early on that dress pants don’t hold up well in a fight – and it’s rather embarrassing when your silk panties end up flappin’ in the breeze.”
       He smiled back at her and nodded understanding. “Let’s step in here and talk. Nurse Joy has given me the use of her office.” Mike stepped around the desk. Pearl got up from the chair and moved over between the bookshelves. As the Hearthome officer sat down, Mike said; “Would you please turn off your radio. Also, I gather from our phone conversation that you have a cell phone, please turn that off as well.”
       She paused a moment, then nodded. She took the radio from her belt, turned it off and set it on the desk. A black and silver cell phone came from an inside jacket pocket and she turned it off, laying it next to the radio. She hesitated a moment, then removed the batteries from both items. “That okay?”
       “It should be. Thanks. Lieutenant Dodson over in Jubilife City told me I could trust you. But I’m finding that I need to be very careful right now.”
       “And you’re not sure just how far you can trust Dodson, right?” She shot him her big grin again.
       “Well, yes, that’s about right. The case I’ve been asked to look into is very – complicated.”
       She leaned forward in her chair to look directly at him. “Look, we both know I can’t prove to you right now whether I’m trustworthy or not. But, I’m already being ostracized by some people in the department because I’m too honest to take the money that’s going around. I’m beginning to think the only reason I’m still here is they haven’t figured a clean way to get rid of me … yet. But I will do everything I can to help you. I know what you’re here for and, as you said, the case is ‘complicated’. But if something can be done now, we may just be able to save the Hearthome Police Department from going down the sewer along with everything else.”
       He studied her face and saw honesty there. He sure hoped he was right. “Tell me about the murder.”
       She was the second Officer on the scene. The body and the area around it were still smoldering when she arrived. The body had been found by a beat cop who had seen the smoke and decided to check on it. One of the investigators had suggested that it was a “rogue” Pokémon, but finding two bullets in the chest during the autopsy put the lie to that. The autopsy was also when they found the counterfeit badge. She continued; “I started to ask around about what was being done with the investigation and was told, in no uncertain terms, that I’d better drop it. It was a rogue Pokémon, that was all. The thing was, the victim had five Pokéballs on his belt that he hadn’t even touched. If he’d been attacked by a wild ‘mon, I think he would’ve pulled at least one. I didn’t hear about the autopsy results until a week later. And then, only because I ran into the Coroner at a coffee shop. I went back out where we’d found him, but by then, the crime scene was pretty fucked up.
       “Before I’d learned about the autopsy, I had flown over to Sandgem Town to the Pokémon Lab. I tried very hard to get Professor Salvia to admit that a wild ‘mon could kill a person. In the end, she ended up convincing me that it just wasn’t very likely. That raised my suspicions, of course. Hearing about the bullets clinched it.
       “I’m afraid that one or more people in the Hearthome PD are trying very hard to cover up what happened. They’re protecting someone, possibly themselves, but someone else too.”
       “You’re the one who sent the copy of the file to the C. I. B., aren’t you?”
       “Yeah. I was at a loss as to what to do. I knew I couldn’t do much on my own, I was out of my depth. I’ve been in burglary division and I’ve been a beat cop. Murder is something else entirely. And a gun? Shit! I’ve never even seen one. I hoped that with that file, the P. W. L. cops wouldn’t ignore it.” She sagged back in her chair, clearly exasperated by the situation. Shaking her head, she looked up at him. “Mike, I’ve never seen anything so horrible as this. And when I came to the realization that a person had done this … it still makes me sick. So, yeah, I’ll give you all the help I can … if you’ll have me.”
       He nodded. “Besides the Staraptor that delivered the file, what kinds of Pokémon do you have with you?”
       “I’ve got a Torterra and a …”
       He interrupted her; “No, what types do you have with you?”
       “Oh, uh, the Torterra is a Grass type. And I’ve got an Ice type, one Rock and one Fighting type, plus Staraptor.”
       “Okay, you’d better leave the Grass and Ice types here with Nurse Joy. I’m sure she’s got a secure storage for them.” She seemed to hesitate, so he explained; “Look, we are going up against a very powerful Fire-type ‘mon. I think it’s a Charizard. I got a glimpse of it in Oreburgh and it is huge, and it doesn’t hold back on its fire attacks regardless of what, or who, the target is. It might kill a Grass or Ice type without thinking twice. Your others have more of a chance if it comes down to it.”
        “Oh. Okay. Yeah, I guess this guy is pretty fucked up.”
       He stepped around the desk and Pearl stood up with him. “Yeah, he is.” He held out his hand and Monica stood up and shook it. He opened the door, then started to add; “I hope your life …”
       She finished the thought; “… my life insurance is paid up? Yeah, it is. I hope you don’t always end conversations with bad clichés.”
       As the three of them stepped out of the office, they found Nurse Joy at the counter. “Hi Sergeant Kamara!” She turned to Mike, “Thank you for the heads up on the Pokémon food. About half of our stock was contaminated. Chansey is dumping it into the incinerator right now. I did save several samples … just in case you needed them.”
       “Thank you Nurse Joy. Please keep those samples locked up for me. Oh, while I’m thinking about it, can you contact whoever is filling in for your cousin in Oreburgh and have them check their food supplies for the same kind of contamination? With everything that was going on, we didn’t get it checked. Also, the Sergeant needs to store a couple of her Pokémon here for a while, and I’m not too confident about the usual stasis system. Do you have a secure physical storage for them?”
       “Of course. There’s a floor safe in the office that is designed specifically for Pokéballs.” She took the Sergeant’s two Pokéballs, checked the ID’s on them, went into the office and returned a few minutes later. She handed a slip of paper to Mike, “That is the combination, just in case you need to get them back out and I’m ... not available. The safe is right under the desk.
       “Oh, and I’ll move your bag from your room into my office. That way I can lock it up and keep an eye on it as well.”
       “Thank you very much Nurse Joy. You have been a tremendous help.”
       As they turned to leave, she said, “Thank you Mike, and both of you be very careful.”
       The main entrance of the Pokémon Center slid closed behind them as they carefully looked up and down the street. “First, I want to see where you found the body, there might still be something to be found. How far is it?”
       “A couple of miles, just west of town. I’ve got my bike parked around the corner. I think we can fit all three of us if we scrunch up a bit. What was that about contaminated food?”
       Mike filled her in on what Nurse Joy in Oreburgh had found in the food he had been sent. “So, I had Joy check the food supplies here, just in case. Good thing I did I guess.”
       She considered this for a moment, looked over at him and started to speak. He stopped her and said, “No, I don’t know for certain that it’s connected. But after what happened in Oreburgh, I’d bet my last Pokéball that it is.”
       She shrugged and walked around the corner into a narrow side-street. Mike’s vision of the three of them trying to ride a bicycle vanished in a puff of black and chrome. A big Yamaha Roadliner was parked next to the building. Monica said, “If I stay forward, you can sit on the back and your Prinplup can sit between us.” She walked up to the big bike and looked it over, carefully checking that nothing had been obviously tampered with. “It looks okay.” She put in the key, pushed the starter and it sparked to life with a deep, whispery rumble. She looked the bike over again and nodded. Picking up the black helmet from the seat, she swung a leg over the bike and settled in as far forward as she could. She looked at the helmet, then back at Mike and Pearl, shrugged and set it on the sidewalk. “It won’t protect me from bullets.” She rolled the machine off the kickstand and looked back with a grin spreading across her face; “You know… we could sure end up paranoid after all of this.”
       “I already am.” He settled onto the back of the seat and helped Pearl to her place between them. Gathering up the long trench coat he wore, he said, “Let’s go.”
       A twist of the throttle and the bike sped up the street.
Chapt. 8
        Monica brought the bike to a stop in a clearing just west of town. Mike swung off the back of the bike and helped Pearl down as the bike’s engine shut down. The area was quiet. A few flying-type Pokémon were singing and bug-types were chirping, enjoying the early morning warmth.
       “The body was just over here.” She pointed the direction. The clearing was to the north side of the road, surrounded by bushes and trees which thickened into forest as you got further from the road. Walking a few yards into the clearing, she waved her arm at the spot.
       Mike would’ve been able to find it on his own. There was a patch of mostly bare ground around a man-sized patch of still growing grass. In the bare section he could still see the scorched remains of clumps of grass, some starting to show new growth. He squatted down by the patch of growing grass … something didn’t seem right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He walked around the burned section and examined some of the shrubbery around it.
       “Monica, you see how elongated that burned patch is? And see how the shrubs at the other end are seared as well? Does that suggest anything to you?”
       She looked at the burned area and walked over to the shrubs. “I hadn’t noticed the searing of those bushes before. And the burn pattern seems to spread wider at first, then gets narrower in that direction …”
       “When I looked at the burn pattern on the ground in Oreburgh, it was a smaller oval, and spread out in an almost fan-shape. I know that one came from a high angle – he was on the roof of the Center when he attacked.”
       “So this one is narrower and longer? It sounds like it came from a much lower angle?”
       “That’s right. And that also means that the attack came from over there, to the left. Yes, see this smaller burned patch of grass here, and another over here? This oran berry bush has been singed as well. It looks like the Charizard stood about here, those burns are from its tail. Let’s start looking around here and see what else we can find.”
       The only other thing they found as they looked around was that there had been any number of people visiting the scene. Mike asked, “Is there anything special about this spot?”
       “Not really. It’s just a clearing. Since it’s so close to town, people rarely stop on their way out of town since they’re just starting out. And people coming in are usually close enough to push on to town.”
       “Did you notice much blood around, or under the body? I’m not seeing any right now.”
       “Hm. No, I hadn’t noticed any. But at the time, we were still thinking that he’d died from the burns.”
       “That’s what seems wrong here. Okay, let’s go pay a visit to the Gym and see what Fantina can tell us.”
       They got aboard the big road bike and Monica turned it back towards town. As they sped back down the road Mike mulled over the crime scene. Several things nagged at him about the scene. If the victim had been killed at the clearing, being shot by a gun, he thought there should be at least some blood. That means that he’d been killed somewhere else, then dropped in the clearing and burned there. But killed where … and why?
       They arrived at the Hearthome City Gym and Monica parked at the back of the building. She led them to a side door and into an area with several offices opening off a small lobby. Mike bent down to whisper to Pearl, “Stay close. Don’t eat anything anyone tries to give you, okay?” Pearl nodded once.
       A receptionist behind a polished wooden desk greeted the Sergeant. Monica replied, “Hi Winnie. We need to see Fantina. Is she in?”
       “She is. I’ll let her know you’re here.” She spoke into the phone, “Fantina, Sgt. Kamara is here to see you. … Okay, I’ll bring them back. … I’m sorry, yes, she has someone else with her.” Winnie disconnected the phone and led them down a short hallway.
       They stepped into a large office with a big window overlooking a well-manicured garden in the middle of a large courtyard. A thick, plush silver-gray carpet covered the floor. The office was decorated in a modern style with a lot of glass and shining steel. The desk was stainless steel and topped with thick glass. A moderate sized touch-screen computer lay on the desk. Shelves lined the left and right walls and displayed several books, keepsakes, trophies and so forth. A few framed magazine covers with Fantina pictured on them adorned the walls. There were some file cabinets to the right, behind the desk. Three chairs faced the desk with a comfortable sofa off to the right.  A small wet bar was situated on the opposite side of the desk from the file cabinets. Everything was bright, stylish and expensive and was kept very neat and in its place.
       Fantina stood up from behind her desk to greet them. She was thin, her hair colored purple and in a complicated coiffure. She was wearing a simple gray suit with pink highlights. She had the look of a fashion model, but close inspection revealed tell-tale lines at the corners of her eyes showing the years creeping up on her. “Bonjour mes amis! ‘Ow are vous today? Have a seat, s'il vous plaît. Oh! Eet iz all zo regrettable!”
       Mike shook her hand and sat in one of the chairs, Monica sat next to him and Pearl sat on the sofa. He looked up and asked; “Don’t you find it hard to maintain the accent all the time?”
       Fantina sighed and sat down. “Sometimes, but it is part of the image.” She gave a small smile and asked, “What gave it away?”
       “I’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair bit of time in France. Your French, well, it didn’t sound quite genuine.”
       “Ah. Well, my publicist thought it would be a good image to project. Now I’ve been using it so long, I think I’m stuck with it.”
       “My name is Mike Kohler. I’m a Detective with the C. I. B. of the Pokémon World League. I’m working with Sergeant Kamara here, trying to find out what happened to Mr. Peterson. What can you tell me about him? How long had you known him, what kind of person was he?”
       “He was a good kid; a good student and hard worker. Certainly one of the best I’ve had here, and I was considering him as the Assistant Gym Leader to run things and handle gym battles when I was away. He was very responsible. He will … would have been a Gym Leader himself one day. He’d been here a little over three years. I didn’t know much about his personal life outside of the gym … to be honest, I don’t think he had much life outside, he was dedicated to perfecting his knowledge and skills as a trainer.”
       “What about his friends? Did he spend time with anyone in particular, any romantic interests?”
       “Well, as far as I know, Jimmy’s friends were here at the gym. I know he was fairly close to another of the senior trainers, a boy named Louie Finch. Louie came here a short time after Jimmy, and they had known each other in school in Jubilife City. I haven’t heard about any ‘romantic interests’ as you put it, nothing serious anyway. I gather he went out on dates with various girls, but he hadn’t singled anyone out. The students here are allowed their privacy and free time, so it isn’t unusual that I wouldn’t know a lot about their private lives. Granted, because he was my best student I was a little closer to Jimmy than most of the others, but I didn’t intrude on his private life.”
       Mike thought it was a shame she hadn’t – she might have been able to give them something. Out loud, he asked; “Where was Jimmy supposed to be on the day he was killed?”
       “He had been teaching our beginners class in the morning. We run several classes for youngsters who are just starting out. If my senior apprentices are good enough, and Jimmy was, I have them teach most of these classes. After that, he was supposed to work on the set up for a Gym Battle with a trainer we were expecting that afternoon. Jubilife TV was going to televise it, so he was also going to assist them with their camera feeds – they generally tap directly off the video system in the Gym and then add a couple of their own cameras. But, he came to me shortly after the morning classes and said he was going out to get Pokémon food.”
       “Were you low on Pokémon food?”
       “Well, now that you mention it, I didn’t think we were. That is a little odd. We get regular deliveries to the gym, along with other supplies such as medicines, fresh vegetables, other food stuffs and so forth. I wonder why we were low?”
        Mike shrugged, “It probably isn’t important. Can we see his room?”
       As they walked out of the office the Sergeant quietly asked him, “That bit with the food, odd coincidence with what you’ve found. You think it’s connected?”
       He nodded and whispered back, “Probably. A lot of loose ends yet.”
       Fantina led them to the other side of the building from the offices. They walked down a short hallway with a door on either side then through the left-hand door. It opened into a largish room with ten beds arranged in a barracks style. There were four doors along the left side of the room and these opened into small private apartments. At the far end of the dorm a sliding door opened into the bathing area.
       “This is the boy’s dormitory. The girl’s dorm is through the door across the hall. The four apartments to the left are for the senior apprentices. Right now I have, well had, two senior male apprentices and two senior girls. The room with the padlock on it was Jimmy’s. Here are the keys and a master key card.”
       He unlocked the padlock then swiped the card on the door. They stepped into a single-room apartment. It was a modest size and comfortable enough for one person. A good-sized desk was pushed up against the right hand wall. An open door next to the desk revealed a clothes closet. A single bed in the corner, a chest of drawers and a tall bookcase completed the furnishings. There was a braided rug on the floor by the bed. Books were scattered around the room with a couple of them open on the desk.
       “Thank you Fantina. I think we’re going to be here for a little while. If you could have that friend of Jimmy’s, was it Louie? Yes, have him come down here, I’d really appreciate it.”
       After Fantina left, Mike asked, “Sergeant, did you come in here after the murder?”
       “I did.” She looked around, “I think everything looks the same.”
       “Did you find his computer?”
       “No … but when I was here before, I didn’t know what had actually happened. So, mainly I was just here to secure the room. We had maintenance put the hasp on the door and I locked it up. I’m sorry, I didn’t look for a computer or anything else really.” She stepped back to the door and inspected the hasp and lock. “These look okay, the screws were new and they don’t look like they’ve been removed. The lock was new too, I removed it from the package and gave Fantina both keys.”
       “Okay. Let’s see what we can find” and he started looking through the desk. Monica was looking through the chest of drawers.
       Pearl wandered into the room and looked around, then bent down and peered under the bed. She said “Prin?” and pointed under the bed.
       He walked over, knelt down and looked under the bed. “Good job Pearl!” He reached under the bed, almost to the wall and removed a black laptop computer. He put it on the desk, opened it up and pressed the power button … nothing happened.
       “Here Mike, try this.” She handed him a power cord that had been on top of the dresser. He plugged it in and turned the computer on. He brought up Jimmy’s contacts list and started scrolling through them. “Well, now there’s a name I didn’t expect to see.”
       Monica stepped over to look at the screen; “Billy Bets? Hmm. Maybe the ‘good kid’ wasn’t entirely good.”
       Just then the door from the hallway opened and closed. There was a knock on the room door and a young man said, “excuse me sir, you wanted to see me? I’m Louie Finch.” He was blonde, with a ruddy complexion and was a little on the heavy side. He shifted nervously from foot to foot and looked from the one to the other of them.
       Mike closed the computer and stood up. “Yes, we did. Fantina tells us you were pretty good friends with Jimmy.”
       “Yes sir, we both went to the trainer’s school in Jubilife City. Jimmy was in the year ahead of me, but we became good friends. He travelled for a few months before he started here. He’d always write and tell me how great this gym was, how much he was learning and all the fun he was having in the city. Of course, we both had a crush on Fantina, so I came over after I graduated.”
       “So, what kinds of things did he like to do here in the city? Did he have a girlfriend?”
       “Mostly he was dedicated to Pokémon. He studied a lot and we would have practice battles. He could use the Gyms teaching Pokémon just as well as his own. Besides that, we did the usual things boys do I guess. We’d go to games, we both loved basketball and soccer. We went to the movies most every week. When we could, we’d take a couple of the girls from the gym or some that we’d gotten to know around town. But he wasn’t going steady with anyone. He was too serious about becoming a Gym Leader after he finished his studies here.”
       “Okay, what about the day he died? Had you seen him at all?”
       “Yes sir. Saw him a couple of times in the morning. He’d been teaching a beginner’s class and we met in the cafeteria for a coffee after that. Fantina was expecting a challenger, so we needed to set up for that later. But we made plans to go out that evening. Just after lunch, I was in my room working on a research paper when I heard him yell something from his room. My door was open – it’s the second one over – and I looked out as he threw his door open. I asked what was going on and he just said he ‘knew someone had been messing around’ and ran out. He never came back.” Louie hung his head and covered his eyes.
       They gave him a moment, then Mike asked, “Did you hear or see anything unusual after that? Any loud Pokémon screams, or anything that sounded like an explosion?”
       “N-no sir, nothing unusual that I remember. And nothing like an explosion, I’d remember that. But at the time I think Fantina was working with the junior apprentices on battling techniques. They were working with some of the Gym’s higher-level Pokémon and they can get pretty noisy.”
       “Where were you boys going to go that night?” The teen looked a little embarrassed and Mike added; “Look son, I’m simply trying to get a good picture of Jimmy, if you guys weren’t doing anything wrong, you’re not going to be in trouble. If you were involved in something you shouldn’t have been, you’re better off telling me now, if it isn’t too bad, I’ll keep it to myself. Okay?”
       He looked at the floor and said, “We were going to go to an underground casino. Jimmy loved to play poker. He started playing a couple of years ago and he got me hooked on it too. But he was a lot better than I was. I was usually lucky to break even or just come up a little short, but Jimmy almost always came out ahead. I never played for big stakes, usually a 50 or 100 PokéYen bet limit. But Jimmy sat in on bigger games sometimes. I don’t know for sure if it was just luck or skill or both, but he was good. He kept trying to teach me how to be better, but I just liked going out. If I ended up short of cash because of it, he’d usually make it up to me. That’s the kind of guy he was I guess.”
       Monica asked; “Do you remember which club you were going to that night?”
       “Yes ma’am, I think it was called ‘Meowth’s Charm’ or something like that.”
       Mike felt that some pieces were starting to come together. “Did Jimmy gamble on anything besides poker?”
       “I don’t know for sure. I know he always had money, maybe not huge amounts, but enough that we could have fun. He told me he was saving up money too, to be able to travel and to start his own gym some day.”
       “One last thing. We’re going to need to check into some of the things on his computer, do you know if he kept a list of passwords anywhere?”
       “He had a small black book that he kept them in, like an address book, but I don’t know where he kept it.”
       “Thanks Louie, you’ve been a big help.”
       Mike turned and looked out of the window in the wall across from the door. He stared, lost in thought for a minute, and then his eyes focused and he perked up. The window looked over a yard and loading dock at the back of the building. Nodding at the window he said, “Monica, look out there.”
       She looked and said “I don’t see anything unusual.”
       “I don’t either, but the scene itself is suggestive. We’ll check it later. Let’s finish looking through this computer.”
       He opened the computer up and it sprang back to life. “So, we already know he’s a gambler. Plays poker and is probably betting on other things through ‘Billy Bets’. Let’s check his e-mail. … … Hmmm, from mom, from dad, a couple from a girl named Theresa …”
       “That’s his sister. I made the next of kin notification. They live up in Celestic Town.”
       “Okay. Wait, here’s one from Nurse Joy at the Center in Celestic Town. Now that’s interesting! He sent her a sample of Pokémon food … and she found that it had been tainted with Stun Spore.”
       “Just like you found at the Center here and in the food that had been sent to you?”
       “Yeah. There’s definitely a connection here.”
       He started to close the computer but Monica stopped him. “There’s an icon there labeled ‘cameras’. Didn’t Fantina mention Jubilife TV using the Gym’s cameras? I wonder if there are cameras besides at the battle arena?”
       “Good question.” Mike double-clicked the icon and a window popped up asking for a password. “Damn it! Let’s find his address book.” They started opening drawers and searching for the book.
       Looking for a place she could search, Pearl walked across towards the book case. As she stepped into the middle of the small rug she felt a slight movement under her foot. She stepped back, then stepped forward again and felt the same shift of a board. Bending down, she grasped the edge of the rug in her beak and pulled it back. Exclaiming “Prinplup,” she pointed to the floor.
       Mike looked over at her. “What did you find?” There was a slight, but noticeable gap between two floorboards and he could see marks from one being pried up. Monica handed him a pocket knife and he lifted up the loose board, then sat back on his heels and whistled. “Look at what you found, Pearl!”
       Monica said, “Well, there’s his address book … right on top of a fucking huge pile of cash.” She bent down and looked into the dark space beyond what they could see. “There’s more stashed further back in there. There must be three or four hundred-thousand here. What the hell do we do with all of that?”
       Mike stood up and walked over to the door to listen for a moment. It wasn’t latched, so he quietly pulled it open, then checked the dorm and found it empty. He checked the other senior apprentice apartments and found them unoccupied as well. Stepping back into the room, he closed and locked the door and said, “For right now, we’re going to leave it where it is. Since you’re not sure who all can and can’t be trusted at the Police Department, we’re going to close this up, put the rug back in place and keep it to ourselves. In the end, well, we will have to follow certain procedures … but I expect his family could use some help.” Removing the black address book, he quietly put the floor board in place, laid the rug over it and turned back to the desk.
       He found a password under “video”, a 16-digit mish-mash of numbers letters and symbols. He typed it in and a menu opened up with various cameras listed. They found six views of the Gym’s battle arena and one for the main entrance and another for the office entrance. The corridor to the dorms was covered as well. They also found cameras labeled “kitchen”, “warehouse” and “loading dock”.
       Monica pointed to the left side of the window where there was a folder marked “saved videos”. “Let’s see what he had been looking at.”A second window opened with a list of video files labeled with dates. She pointed to the first one, “That one was about two weeks before he was killed, let’s start there.”
       He double-clicked the file and a video player popped up and began playing. The video showed them a view of a dimly lit warehouse. A door opened and a figure walked in. It appeared to be a man wearing dark clothing. He was a very ordinary looking person; he didn’t look very tall, a little heavy around the middle, just average. They couldn’t see his face very well, but he didn’t appear to have a beard or mustache, his hair looked dark and cut rather short. He had a satchel slung over one shoulder, the kind almost any Pokémon trainer would have. The door closed behind him cutting off the daylight from outside. The camera focus shifted a little as it adjusted to the lower light conditions. The man turned on a small flash light and walked directly to a shelf off to his left. He opened a large square bin then withdrew an object from his satchel. He removed a lid from what appeared to be a small jar, took a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth and poured the contents into the bin. He took a scoop from a shelf and appeared to mix the contents of the bin. He closed the bin, wiped off the outside of it and slipped out the door. The video cut off at that point.
       They looked at each other and both said; “Pokémon food!”
       “Do you think we can get a screen shot of his face?”
       Mike said, “Let’s see if Jimmy already did.” He opened up the “pictures” folder on the computer, “Yep, there are two with the same date as the video, one with ‘A’ and one with ‘B’.” He opened them up to find that they were indeed the person’s face.
       Monica looked closely, “I can’t recognize him, but these are pretty blurry. The dim light in the warehouse didn’t allow for a very clear shot.”
       “Okay, let’s see what other movies he’s been enjoying.” The next video was from three days before the murder and showed the same man climbing the steps to the loading dock, the time stamp showed it to be late afternoon. There was another saved video from the same time that showed him again entering the warehouse and putting something in the same bin, then mixing the contents. The loading dock video was clearer than the darkened warehouse. They found a corresponding still shot saved to the hard drive. “You still don’t recognize him?” Mike asked.
       “Not really. He’s a nice looking guy I guess, but rather plain. I think he’d tend to really blend in with a crowd.” She looked again at the screen shot; “Zoom in on his face a little more … there, is that a scar on the left side of his face? I can’t say for sure, but see how his mouth is drawn to that side? We might be able to recognize him from that.”
       “Yeah, good eye. Let’s see how far back the video server saves these camera feeds.” He clicked on the video search function. “It looks like they go back about two months. Hmm, except for the loading dock camera, that only goes back to the week before Jimmy was killed. That’s odd.”
       “Not if he just put it up. If he’d found out about the tainted Pokémon food … ” They both looked out the window at the view of the loading dock. “He saw him out the window, didn’t he?”
       “… and added this camera to get a better look at the guy. I saw some receipts here in his desk.” Mike opened the top left drawer, “Yeah, here they are … basketball game, movie, movie, some clothes, ah! One digital video camera. It wasn’t cheap, but I guess he could afford it. He paid cash.” Turning back to the computer he said, “Okay, what did the cameras catch on that particular day.”
       He did a quick search and brought up the warehouse camera for the day Jimmy was killed and clicked fast-forward. They saw the outside door open and Mike put it back to normal speed. The unknown man came in and again added something to the bin and mixed it. They watched him leave and a few minutes later they saw another figure come into the warehouse from a door behind the camera. He went to the bin, opened it, then went out the door the other man had used. Mike checked the loading dock camera and saw their man climb up the steps and enter the warehouse. After a few minutes, they saw him leave again and walk around the corner of the next building up the street, followed a short while later by Jimmy.
       Mike saved both videos. “Damn it! Why the hell didn’t he tell someone what was going on? Alright, let’s go take a look at the warehouse and loading dock.” He looked around, “We need to find a place to hide his computer. It won’t fit in where the password book was.”
       “No, but the hard drive will.” She looked out the window to be sure no one was watching and closed the curtains. Opening a pouch on her belt she pulled out a multi-tool, opened the bottom of the laptop and removed the hard drive. Placing the hard drive into the space under the floorboard she carefully replaced the rug and said, “There we go, snug as a Swadloon.”
       Mike dropped the password book into a pocket. The three of them stepped out, locked the door to Jimmy’s apartment and went looking for the warehouse. One of the students at the arena showed them the way. He found an electrical panel next to the door and switched on the lights. Mike asked the student, a girl of about 15 named Cassie, where the food bins were and she led them across the big room.
       “They’re right here sir.”
       Mike looked up and found the camera in an opposite corner and located the bin which had been tampered with in the videos they’d seen. “Cassie, there’s a ‘G’ on this bin, what is that for?”
       “That’s food that is especially formulated for Ghost types. It’s the food that Fantina feeds to her Pokémon.”
       “Thanks Cassie. You can go on back to the arena. We really appreciate your help.”
       As she walked away, he opened the bin and looked in. He was unable to tell if there was anything wrong or not. “Monica, see if you can find something to put some samples in.” She came back with a trash bag and cut off a corner and handed it to him. He dropped a few pieces of the food into the bag. Looking around he found a case of tissue, pulled some out and wiped the inside of the bin and dropped it into the other corner of the bag which Monica handed to him. They taped the bags closed then closed them into another bag.
       Monica asked, “What now?”
       “Now, we have your Staraptor take this to Nurse Joy with this note. We’ll have her test these samples for Stun Spore.”
       They walked out onto the loading dock and Monica opened a Pokéball and a large black and white bird appeared in a flash of red light. She handed the packet with the samples and note on it to the Pokémon. “Staraptor, take this to Nurse Joy. Please wait for a reply then come find me.” It flew off at high speed and disappeared over the building.
        Mike looked around and pointed up to an awning above them, “There’s Jimmy’s camera.”
       The loading dock was off a wide alley between the Gym and a storage facility. There was a large lawn in the area between the dorm wing and the Gym’s warehouse. “Jimmy followed our suspect around that corner and up that street. Do you know what’s up that way?”
       “There’s a shopping district up that way, small shops that cater to both locals and tourists. There are a couple of bigger stores too. Several of the buildings have apartments above them. There’s an industrial district further up. Do you want to go take a look?”
       “Not yet. I want to go talk to Billy Bets next. I want to see how he’s connected to all of this.”