You have found a secret story that is not featured in the Feedback episodes. You’re good at finding these! Read this if you have read Reverb (Episode 2) but have not yet read Mixer (Episode 3).
First, Monty appeared agitated.
He smacked his own forearm, like he had spotted an insect on it. This startled Will into sitting up straight. He had downed more whiskey than he expected, and was close to dozing off across the desk before the chief startled him.
Will was so drunk that for a brief moment, he had forgotten what was happening.
Monty lifted his hand again, and it hung in the air, rotating slightly toward his face and then back over and over. The harsh light shining on the man’s bald head looked redder on his dome. Then the choking started.
“Sir?” Will stood up, but Monty slammed both hands on his desk and stood up, back craned over and head turned to look the young man in the face. Monty’s drooling mouth, twitching lips, and erratically sniffling nose were shadowed beyond only the faintest hints of movement. Will may as well have uplifted a rock at night and watched the things below crawling in darkness.
“I… know.” Monty’s sunken eyes were given some light by an upward tilt in his neck. With the yellow lamp and forest of red blood vessels, Will felt drawn to the enormous pupils, so large they must have seen nothing. “This… is not… the end.”
Will had seen many people die of poisoning in games and movies. When they said something poignant, they immediately went limp and silent, like the last of their effort was spent saying what needed to be said.
But Monty didn’t keel over. He made more noise, and rolled to the side, over his own bottle, sending shards into his back with a shattering pop.
“Someone help!” Will screamed, turning around, flinging the door open, and stumbling into the blinding hallways. A few distant officers looked up from their TCS slips near the soda machines.
Apart from the man who now lay on a stretcher under a sheet, no one suspected Will. Nor should they, from a technical standpoint. He had been drinking, too, and clearly someone had poisoned the last of Monty’s current bottle of Platinum Crown Royal Single Malt with potassium cyanide, a nasty old-world drug that was supposedly valued for being quick and subtle.
“Bullshit,” Will whispered to himself in the hospital waiting room. There was no need to stay. All the other officers had come and gone. He had so many hands land on his shoulder, he felt like the rung of a ladder. The old man was a hero, once, but now he ended his life awkwardly, forcing officers to visit his corpse at one or two in the morning. People would have time to sleep on his death. That made it seem all the more easy to forget him.
“How are you?” A man said, setting a huge hand on his shoulder. His voice was like the rumble of a distant storm.
Will looked up at Jack. Though not empathetic per se, he appeared at least concerned for Will’s mental state. His pitch-black business suit was appropriate, compared to his usual more colorful pinstripe fare.
“Should you be here?” Will asked.
“I have a little time,” he said, standing up straight. “It’s important for records. I visited the chief of Coltra police when he passed, and no one can say I didn’t. Up next, I’ll be getting Janet and Helen with the others, so I can’t stay. But you should go. Even if it’s not yet official, you’re meant to succeed Monty in any circumstances where he cannot lead. This qualifies.”
“You’re right,” Will said with a sigh. “And I realize this is just the start. Leonardo has eyes everywhere. There are definitely still officers who will serve his goals, especially now that he lost his main police puppet.”
“We’ll get to that,” Jack said. “I better get going. Don’t go immediately, but within the next minute.” The man’s steps made his distance obvious as he went down the hall to the elevator.
“Yeah?” He stopped and waited.
Jack took a moment to blow air from his pursed lips in a kind of condensed, elongated sigh. “If that’s true, then hold no pity. He could have fought, or fled. Instead, he walked to the guillotine.”
Will leaned back and watched the distant nurses, receptionists, and even doctors who should have kept walking all standing to watch the mysterious golem of flesh that was their higher leader.
Will went back to work. Monty’s closest heirs would need to clear out the official room, once the investigation was finished. That was fine. The longer it took before Will had to go back in there, the better.
If anything put the naysayers at the station to rest, it was Will’s confidence and work ethic, starting with a constant presence that first night. They needed someone, and he was there. Half of the chief’s role was managing the local city jail within the station, as well as the more distant prisons in a supervisory capacity, and Monty had delegated that entirely to Will for years. The rest would be dealing with all the things that Monty had ignored. Difficult choices that officers were afraid to make without supervision.
Will wanted no fanfare. He told everyone the same thing: “The focus will be on independent autonomy and the strength of the community.”
“And what does that really mean?” one snippy officer replied. The others nearby watched.
“For one thing, we’ll be getting more talent,” Will said. “We’ve needed it. I also want the people to trust us. We need to make as much of a positive, beneficial influence, as well as fulfilling our correctional role. Last but not least, we must find who killed Monty, give him justice, and correct any potential hints of further sabotage.”
“You think you’re the leader to get all that done, do you?”
“I don’t know,” Will said. “But I’m a very clear one. You’ll soon understand what to expect from me.”
“You’ll be jumping into the last two years of Monty’s term,” the officer said with a scrunched nose. “Hope you can make a good impression, in two years.”
“If you have nothing more for me, then I intend to excuse myself and do just that.”
“Actually, I didn’t just come to pull your hair,” he said. “We have a situation, came in tonight. Monty didn’t respond to it, but maybe you will, eh?”
The job didn’t scare him, especially not now, when it felt like nothing had changed. Come tomorrow and the following days, it would be made more official.
“Follow me,” the officer said, seeing the confirmation in Will’s eyes.
Will had thought that with Monty’s passing, he would be feeling angry less often. However, when Will knew the details of what had happened, he felt a type of black soot rising through his chest and throat, the urge to scream in raw hatred and frustration. He moved and spoke without thinking.
“Get him to compound one,” Will said, looking at the flamboyantly dressed man across the one-way mirror. He was at least fifty, and wore a bright red shirt and zebra print bell bottoms.
The snide older officer who had brought Will here had a new attitude. There were things on Will’s face that said more than any of the packaged rhetoric he expected from the young man. He simply obeyed, leaving to enter the room, cuff him, and lead him out. But before he left, he asked a question.
“What do I tell him?”
“Tell him…” Will said, “there is a new chief. One who is busy on the outskirts. And this new chief needs to hear the details from him in person.”
Red Wolf sat and fidgeted in the back of the police cruiser as they went further along the straight northern road. They passed the last major sign before the black void of the desert consumed them. Leaving the city’s glowing embrace made it seem not unlike one of the campfires at the singer camps he had visited. A shame that the Chorus would have to go as well. If only they had respected his need to perform.
NOW LEAVING COLTRA CITY LIMITS
PASCA: 238 MILES
Still, the idea of leaving the city came off as ironic. He had mustered up the courage to see Chief Montgomery, to walk through the police station. He had nightmares about being dragged through that place, and yet he had managed to force himself through the front entrance. They had seemed distracted, and the officers took some time to notice his outrageous appearance, even by Coltra fashion standards.
It was all so quick. “Right this way,” they had said, when he explained. That was all. Now as they stopped one mile into a dirt road stemming off the asphalt, stopping in the middle of the dry, cracked ground, the older officer said the same to him as they got out. One remained in the passenger seat.
“Why are we out here?” Red Wolf asked, shutting the door behind him. “You’re not going to try and make me find them, are you? Because it’s definitely not in this direction from the city, even.”
“As I said, our chief is out here.”
“That’s classified, sir.”
They made a short walk past complex, round, leafless shrubs for about a minute until the officer crouched down and dusted the solid sandstone, revealing a rope handle.
No way, Red Wolf thought. The police have hideouts like that? The singers should try something like this! I could bring it up to the next one I visit. Then they’d adore me for sure.
The trap door shed more sand and then fell all the way over like a hinge. Small trails of sand crawled their way down the cramped, dark staircase. Red Wolf would have to go behind him, with such a tight fit that he wouldn’t see the way there.
“Go ahead. He only wants to speak with you, alone. Make sure to tell him that it’s you, and only you.”
“Er, right. Sure.” Red Wolf descended the steps, each one more nerve-wracking, like he was climbing a rickety ladder up the side of a tree. Once he was low enough, about a quarter way, the top slammed down, making him cry out. He jerked his neck to look back, but a sickly yellow light blinded him. There was a small bulb that turned on once the top was down. That must have been why the officer let it drop. Indeed, it lit his way, and told him that he didn’t have too much farther to go.
“Hello? Is the chief down here?” he said. I’m a singer, and they know that. I should have some leeway to speak up. “Hello?” he tried again, but louder. “I’m a singer. I was told I could speak with you about the location and description of a singer group. Are you there, sir?”
He was halfway down when Red Wolf heard something. He stopped in his tracks. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was singing, but it was. The words were slow, with a jostling rhythm that seemed like it should be cheerful—or at least welcoming. Instead, the voice killed all good will. This voice was not meant for singing: the growl of a beast, soaked in whiskey, pained yet composed, and old.
There was an old woman, and in Wexford did she dwell
She loved her husband dearly, but another man twice as well.
One day she went to the doctor for some medicine to find.
Said “Doctor give me something that’ll make an old man blind.”
Red Wolf swallowed the pool of spit under his tongue and kept descending. The voice was at the bottom, at the end of whatever basement this was.
“Oh, brined eggs and marrow bones and make him sup them all
And it won’t be so long after that he won’t see you at all.”
So she fed him eggs and marrow bones and made him sup them all
And it wasn’t so very long after that he couldn’t see a wall.
Red Wolf shook his head and turned back to go up the stairs. Whatever was going on, he didn’t want to see the person singing. Maybe the chief had someone here playing tricks on him, or worse, the chief was dead, killed by a singer who caught on to Red Wolf’s scheme.
“Oh,” he said, “I’d drown myself but that would be a sin.”
“Well,” she said, “I’ll go with you and help to push you in.”
The old woman walked back a bit to get a running go
The old man blithely stepped aside and she went in below.
He reached the top, ignoring the blinding glow of the bulb, and pushed at the trap door. It held shut. His instincts told him to pound, scream, and shriek to be let out. But even a deviant singer like him couldn’t think to do it in that moment. His desire not to put off the one man who could lift the door and let him free from the outside stopped him. He was crushed on both sides, and his resolve cracked in the direction of the basement.
Oh, how loudly did she roar and how loudly did she bawl
“Ah, hold your whistle woman,” he said, “I can’t see you at all.”
She swam and swam and swam ’till she came to the further brim.
The old man got a long barge pole and he pushed her further in.
The guttural notes had a beauty that his plastic, crowd-based style contrasted against. Red Wolf wanted to sing for the world. This man seemed to sing only to placate a gaping wound in his heart.
Oh brined eggs and marrow bones will make an old man blind.
But if you want to drown him you must creep up close behind.
When he reached the bottom, he only saw the shadow of a man with his feet up on the table, a good ten feet away at the other end. The yellow light shining directly over the figure left more shade than exposed skin or features. The table itself went into focus as he approached. It was for lethal injection, a cushy, pea-soup green stretcher of sorts with broad belts over it and two separate branches for the arms. The person was seated at a stool with his head down, and the ribbed texture of his upturned boots shone well. The old singer found himself almost as angry now as he felt confused.
“Surprised?” the young chief asked, and for a second, Red Wolf was sure that there was a new person in the room. “My singing voice betrays my age.” Indeed, while everyone liked to be nice at the Chorus and ask him to sing, he didn’t have a beautiful tone or presence like Janet. Sadly, it was only Janet who could appreciate it fully.
“The chief of Coltra police? Yes. It’s me, Gruff. And I know who you are, Red Wolf.”
He straightened. He had not given any name, let alone his singer name, to the police.
“The chief of police is a singer himself. A hypocrite.”
“I protect the singers from themselves. Case in point: you.” The young man lowered his boots and stood. The light shone on his face better. Combined with the voice, Red Wolf understood. Even without the temporary face tattoo, beret, and other accouterments, he recognized the leader of the Chorus. The young bastard who had thrown him to the ground and ordered him to never come back. “Long I’ve wondered what was causing singer groups of late to get discovered. And it just so happens to be the ones you’ve been to and were rejected from. I knew you were trouble from the moment I met you in that van, and I was prepared for this moment.”
“Alright, I admit it! I was angry. I don’t regret it! Their ways of expression are perverse. The right way, the true way, is to let a real talent shine in front of a captive audience. Your folky methods have dominated all singer groups, do you realize that?”
“Your selfish actions have put people in jail, or worse,” Will said, stepping closer. “I was stuck, forced to let it happen. The only way to really stop it, and maintain my secret position between two irreconcilable groups, is to do this. So thank you, for making it so easy for me to snuff out your life.”
“You’re just as much a traitor to the singers as I am!” Red Wolf shouted, stepping backward in time with Will’s advance.
“As long as I’m the only one, then they’re safe.”
“The man who held a knife to his own neck should not complain when someone decides to kill him.”
“Let me guess: you killed Monty too!”
“Wrong again. I let him die. I sat still and watched, not truly participating, just like while I watched his ineffectual attitude sink into the police station. That is something I’ll never do again.”
Will rushed him, closing the distance fast enough to make Red Wolf throw up his hands. That was a mistake, and he felt it as a switchblade unzipped him like luggage, all the way to sternum.
When the older officer saw Will walking back toward the cruiser, he was wearing a grey jumpsuit and simple loafers.
“My uniform as second in command is no longer needed,” he said. “Get rid of it, along with the rest of the mess.”
“I don’t suppose I’ll get an explanation for this.”
“No, you won’t.”
The man blew a bit of hair away from his eyes and grinned. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you know what has to be done, even when the rest of us don’t. You remind me of Monty, when he was around your age.”
“I’m sure he had help from his elders. I could always use that too, like what I used to get from him.” Will looked up at the moon. It was more than half exposed, shining out in a completely cloudless, starless night. “What’s your name, officer?”
“Garret of Task House,” the man said.
“I appreciate you giving me a chance, Garret. Especially when my first big task is something like this, something where I can’t explain why I did what I did.”
“As long as you have the station’s interests in mind.” Garret saluted and went back to the car. Will would have to head back with him.
The sun would come up soon. In only a quarter of a day since watching a man die, Will had murdered another, and he was shocked by how composed he was. Like Janet, he really felt nothing negative at all about the idea of cutting someone out of the world forever. Some people were too risky to give second chances, and this way Janet and Helen, not to mention all the other singers at the camp, were safe. Killing Red Wolf was about as hard for him as smacking a mosquito.
“We had our disagreements, Monty,” Will mumbled. “But you made me hesitate. That’s worth something.”
He turned to go back to the cruiser, but stopped in his tracks, mouth hanging open. A creature, dark red and humanoid, stood by the cruiser. The other officers did not notice it as it flickered and faded, like it was made of red dry ice.
Garret watched him with some concern from afar, totally unaware of the reddish, looming, phantom version of Monty standing right next to him. Though turned to Will, its head was turned down in the same way before the poison got to him, rigid as a statue. Then he was gone.
Will hadn’t so much as blinked, but that was it. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. Nothing that happened at this night could matter. He did what needed to be done, and he had to look fully composed and prepared to do it again. The image of composure was the only thing that would keep him in power.