Hint 2. Never Underestimate The Things People Do For Glory
The sharp tone of my trilling alarm clock brings me back from the darkness. I groan. I don’t have a clue what time it is but I’m probably already late for work.
I roll over to check the clock and the agony that explodes through my head brings back the events of the previous day with painful clarity.
Someone shot me.
But I also saw Jack Docklen’s abs twice, so there’s still some justice in the world.
The clock reads 8:40. If I can get ready in fifteen minutes, I’ll still be early for my 9am shift. I have the best super power in the world.
I drag myself out of my warm bed, flicking the duvet back over behind me. By the time I’ve finished fishing under the bed for my dressing gown, the throbbing in my head has severely reduced.
How did I get home yesterday?
I probably shouldn’t be going into work like this but I’ve got to face Ripley some time and perhaps if I look as bad as I feel, his pity will force him to go easy on me.
With the telltale crack of displaced air, I materialise in the bathroom. Alex is sitting on the edge of the bathtub in just his pyjama bottoms. He tumbles back in shock at my sudden appearance, dropping his razor with a clatter.
“Jesus, Maya!” He complains, swiping the razor from the floor. “How many times do we have to go over this? You’re not supposed to do that in the house.”
“Oh stop moaning Alex.” I flash him a quick smile before turning to the mirror, parting my hair in search of any lumps and bumps. There’s a crack in my cranium for sure, I can feel it.
Alex narrows his eyes, pretending to be annoyed, before returning to his shave with a faint smile.
“Ripley’s going to kill you,” he says smugly.
“Oh just… put a shirt on.” I snap, lost for a proper comeback. Ripley really is going to tear me a new one.
“Put a shirt on?! Maya, I’m in the bathroom, I’m totally entitled to be as naked as I like here. The door’s locked! You always fucking turn up when I’m on the toilet.”
It’s my turn to narrow my eyes in false anger.
“Trust me,” I say, “that’s worse for me than it is for you.”
“Liar,” Alex flexes a bicep. “You do it on purpose.”
“Yes, because looking at your biceps while you take a piss is really what does it for me.”
“Hey, you said it, not me.”
“Alex,” I whine, reaching for my toothbrush, “don’t be mean to me. Someone shot me.”
“Aww May-May,” he croons, reaching his arms wide for a hug I accept immediately. He waits until I’m all curled up safe against his chest before he asks: “Can I have a lift into work?”
It’s ten to nine and our apartment’s a good 45 minutes away from the office if Alex has to take public transport.
“No,” I say, pulling free and sticking my toothbrush in my mouth with a grin.
“Thanks, girl!” He gives me a cheesy thumbs up, striding out of the room.
“I meant it,” I murmur, turning back to the job at hand.
By the time I’ve finished in the bathroom, Alex is sitting at the breakfast bar with a bowl of cereal and a glazed expression on his face. He’s no closer to getting dressed than he was before but I’m still in my dressing gown so I can’t complain.
Alex ignores me, eyes glued to the television until I’m halfway through pouring out my own bowl of cereal when he jumps up so fast his chair clatters to the floor behind him.
“No.” He turns to me, pure joy in his eyes, and turns back to the television. “No way! Maya you’re on the telly!”
“What?” In a second I’m at his side, pulling out the second chair and cementing my gaze to the tv.
The headlines roll across the bottom of the screen whilst grainy smartphone footage shows the front of the Caverny branch of City National Bank.
As we watch there’s a commotion amongst all visible police officers and the front door of the building bursts wide open. There’s Jack Docklen, looking tremendously dashing in his ripped shirt. The camera’s too far away to catch his black eye.
All twenty hostages flock around him in adoration, a whole entourage of relieved disciples, and to its credit, our police force responds perfectly. Some men rush forwards, collecting and assessing the state of the hostages whilst another subset, one I can just about tell includes Alex, disappears into the bowels of the empty bank building to collect Docklen’s incapacitated gunmen.
As Docklen gets closer to the camera, it becomes clear that he’s holding someone bridal style, cupped to his chest. At my side, Alex starts to chuckle and I don’t get why until I realise it’s me in Docklen’s arms, all out cold and floppy.
“Didn’t have you pegged for the damsel in distress type, Maya.”
“Shut up Alex.”
The smartphone footage ends, cutting to another interview with dashing Jack Docklen and it all just goes from bad to worse.
I don’t remember any of this bit. All I remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance, Alex all in a fluster, being told I’ll be Ok as long as I don’t sleep for a few hours and to make sure someone checks up on me during the night. Alex went back to do the paperwork, a superior officer turned up, telling me just to go straight home, and I haven’t seen Docklen since.
“Wow, Sergeant Docklen, man of the hour once again,” the reporter begins, thrusting a microphone into his face.
“Inspector now,” Docklen corrects, so at home in front of the camera. The reporter giggles girlishly and I hate her immediately.
“Tell us what happened,” she says.
Docklen grins, taking in a deep breath. “Well…”
And that’s when he begins to spin the most utterly ridiculous web of sensationalist lies I’ve ever heard. In his tales we’re no longer a daring pair of heroes, working as the seamless team I remember. And actually, now that I think about it, wasn’t I the one that did the majority of the work anyway? He just stood there and waved his arms about while I actually rescued people.
Instead, apparently, I grew frustrated with the manoeuvre all of my own volition, eventually slipping in through a back door when I thought no one was looking. No mention of my incredible super power, I notice. Except, someone was looking: Docklen. And though it was only his first day and he was just meant to be observing, he saw me slip in and was engulfed by concern. This is his team now, his people and he feels an overwhelming protectiveness for every single one of us. He simply couldn’t bear to stand there, tormented by the thought that I could be inside on my own, getting hurt.
“That’s not what happened,” I spit, standing to wash my dirty dish. I can’t bear to even look at him anymore, his smug beautiful face grinning out from the television.
“I know, Maya,” Alex replies darkly around a mouthful of breakfast cereal. “You’re stupid but you’re not stupid.”
Alex reaches over for the remote, brusquely interrupting Docklen with the power button as the man’s halfway through describing how he found me, already unconscious at this point, and singlehandedly neutralised every threat before leading the hostages out to freedom.
Well he did singlehandedly take out all the gunmen, I do have to give him that.
Alex is looking at me weirdly when I finish rinsing my bowl and turn around.
“What?” I ask, taking his dish from his lax hand.
“Nothing.” Alex shrugs, “I was just going to say you don’t have to go into work if you don’t want to. But then I realised it was pointless.”
“And, of course, I do have to.”
“Yeah, can’t let that bastard get away with it.”
Alex grins. I smile.
“No problem, any time. If you want me to punch him, just say.”
“Nah, it’s cool. Besides, if anyone’s going to punch him, I think I’d like to do it.”
Alex gives me a cheery salute, slouching off to his bedroom.
“Don’t go without me,” he says, “I’ll be ready in five.”
Docklen arrives at twenty past nine, all in a flurry. He strides straight to his office, tossing a duffle bag through the door and dropping his jacket on the back of his chair. He brushes his hair back, almost as if he’s trying to show off the yellowing bruise beneath his left eye. I can watch him do all this because from about waist height upwards, his office is entirely glass. It’s not even a separate room really, we can see everything his does in there. He’s got a new shirt. It makes me realise there’s part of his old one still sitting on my bedroom floor somewhere, hidden away in the back pocket of yesterday’s trousers.
He doesn’t even take the time to log onto his computer and check his email. Docklen walks into that office and straight out again. Except when he walks out, his rushed half-jog has magically transformed into a cocky stroll.
Without hesitation he makes a beeline for my desk.
From across the room, Alex catches my eye. He rolls his hands into fists, mock boxing the back of Docklen’s head. I smile. Alex’s inability to take anything seriously is definitely a calming influence on my life.
“What do you want?” I demand with a glare as Docklen places his palms on my desk, leaning in to speak.
“Wanted to say great job yesterday, Kurtis.” He grins, fiddling with the fluffy picture frame I keep on my desk. It was a gift from last year’s secret santa but I haven’t actually put a photo in it yet.
“Really?” I ask, all bitterness and brittle mockery. “Which bit was so great? The bit where I abandoned my post to sneak in through the back door or the bit where you had to rescue me from the beatings of four criminals?”
To his credit Docklen is taken aback, if only for a second.
“Impressive,” he says. “You’ve been watching the news.”
I throw him my best death glare before very pointedly turning back to the paperwork on my desk. Docklen refuses to take the hint.
“Look,” he sighs, “I was going to tell you about that. You know we’re not supposed to reveal the identities of Sapient+ members and they already knew your name. I did the best I could. You’re so great at your job - we’ll get another chance I promise. I didn’t mean to steal all the thunder.”
“It’s not that you stole my thunder, Docklen,” I spit, staring blindly at my computer screen just so I don’t have to share stares with those glorious blue eyes. “You made me look like a complete idiot, like I’m totally incapable of my role on the force. I’m a girl, you sexist pig, not some useless Disney princess. You needed my help yesterday, not the other way round.”
Docklen draws back and this time, when he replies, I can hear the anger in his voice.
“Actually, Sergeant Kurtis, I think you’ll find it was a team effort. It was a team effort and I was not only very grateful to you for the part you played but, as your senior officer, I was very impressed by the composure you showed in the field.”
Thankfully I’m spared from having to answer because Ripley’s propped his office door open, calling my name.
“Excuse me.” I stand, tearing my photo frame from Docklen’s grip. “I have to go get my arse handed to me.”
“Don’t listen to anything Ripley says,” Docklen whispers, “he’s just a doddery old fool. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did a great job.”
“Look Docklen,” I hiss, making sure to get him with my shoulder as I barge past. “You obviously don’t get how things work around here. Ripley’s a legend. I saved your life yesterday and I’m already starting to regret it. You better watch your mouth or next time I might find myself feeling considerably less heroic.”
Docklen doesn’t say anything as I march away. I can sense his gaze burning into the back of my neck as I slink ashamedly past Ripley and into his office, closing the door gently behind me.
Ripley is silent as he walks around the back of his desk and drops himself onto his rich leather desk chair. I opt for formality, standing to attention, hands clasped behind my back. Ripley just sighs, running a weary hand over his face before dropping his palm to the spot on his stomach where everyone knows he hides that small puckered scar of gunshot wound. He doesn’t do it on purpose, it’s definitely subconscious, but if Docklen’s comment hadn’t already made me fully aware of the sacrifices Ripley has made to keep this team running not only smoothly but in accordance with the letter of the law, this movement certainly would.
This is going to be bad.
“Look,” I say, deciding to jump in first. “I know what you’re going to say, Chief, and I know I totally deserve it. Trust me, Docklen’s been in the office like ten minutes and I already regret everything. But I just want you to know that it wasn’t just me - he played as much of a part as I did. And remember, it was so much cleaner than it could have been. The big picture is that a) we saved twenty people yesterday and b) I am never, ever, ever going to go against protocol again. I promise.”
Ripley sighs and the expression on his face tells me he hasn’t been listening to a single word I’ve said.
“Maya, what are you even doing here? You should be home recovering.”
I’m taken aback. This is completely not the direction I expected this conversation to go.
“No, sir, don’t worry, I’m fine. Sir, I don’t know what Docklen told you but I just want you to know that what he said on the news wasn’t true. I’m not that stupid.”
“I don’t care, Maya. I’m just happy that you’re both safe. Now get your stuff and go home, we can talk about this in three days when you’re better.”
“I think it’s a bit unfair that you’re sending me away and you’re not punishing Docklen in any way.”
“I’m not punishing you, Maya.”
“That’s not how it’s going to look to everyone else. Besides, I’m fine.”
Ripley leans forwards, lifting a flimsy hospital discharge sheet from his desk. I squint, recognising my name scrawled across the top.
“That’s not what this piece of paper says, Kurtis. This piece of paper says you’ve got concussion and you won’t be fit for service for another week. Now I know you, so I’m giving you three days. After that you can come back in and do office work. Screw the week, that’s a minimum recommendation as far as I’m concerned. You’ll be lucky if I let you back out onto the street before the end of the month. I’m not letting you be a distinct idiotagain so you can sit here and catch up on everything you like to pretend you’re too busy to do. I’ll let you back on the beat when I think you’re ready. Maybe that will be a week, maybe more. That’s up to my discretion though, Sergeant, just as it’s up to my discretion to discipline Inspector Docklen in whatever way I see fit. Now act like a professional, stop whining about some nonsense news story, and go home. I’ll see you in three days.”
Ripley slams the discharge form back onto the surface of his desk with a bang and I flinch.
“Obviously I did not make myself clear. That will be all, Sergeant Kurtis. Get out of my station.”
“Sorry, sir. I’ll see you on Thursday, sir.”
Ripley only grunts angrily and I flee.
Docklen hasn’t moved, still watching when I let myself out of Ripley’s office and march stiffly over to my desk. Part of me wants to give him the death glares again but he didn’t quite get it last time and I really don’t want to have a confusing hate/love conversation with him right now so I force myself to pretend like he doesn’t even exist. I’m off the beat indefinitely and it’s all his fault. I’m so angry I might do something stupid. Like punch him. Or kiss him.
Amber, in the desk next to mine, leans back with a grin as I bend over, grabbing my bag from under my chair.
“What’s with you and Officer Striptease?” She asks. “He’s really staring. I’m worried if I move an inch to my right, he’ll burn right through me.”
“Not now, Amber,” I snap, stuffing belongings into my bag without care.
“Shit, Maya, what’s wrong?”
If it wasn’t bad enough, I can already feel the tears prickling at the corners of my eyes. My head’s absolutely killing me and whilst there’s nothing I’d like more than to go home and curl up in bed, the idea of leaving here with my tail between my legs is mortifying.
My phone buzzes as I walk towards the door, injecting pace into my stride when it looks like Docklen’s about to intersect me. I stop, fishing the device out my pocket with one hand and swiping through the security block. It’s a text from Alex.
Don’t worry, he says, I’ll grab the wine and pizza on my way back from work.
I smile, a small, wan thing, and look up, straight into Docklen’s intense gaze. He’s not even ten centimetres from me, way too far into my personal space, and I mentally curse Alex and his pointless text for slowing me down.
“Look, Kurtis,” Docklen begins, “I really am…”
I don’t get to hear the end of Docklen’s sentence. I don’t care. I wink out of existence, disappearing right beneath his very nose.