The Naked Eye - A Trilogy

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Chapter 13

A careless footstep disrupts a puddle as Furor stomps across the university parking lot toward the nearby train station. His heart pounds hard against his chest, warming his hands and causing sweat beads to pool on his palms.

Overrun with thoughts, the veins in his temples swell and pulse. A surge of violent breath whistles through his clenched teeth like the sound of a knife being whetted over oilstone. Every exhale sends a puff of white air into the cold night sky as steam rises from his neck. Overhead, misty halos surround boulevard lamps as a wincing moon squeezes its one eye closed.

On the trolley ride home, Furor tries to phone Lombardo. When no one picks up, Furor leaves a message. It’s brief, stilted, mentioning the discrepancy in the printout, the five extra names, Furor’s failed efforts to look them up online, the library, the microfiche, and the picture of Dobbs holding the key.

A few minutes later, the trolley lets him off in front of the large, red-columned, green-tiled gateway to Chinatown. From there he heads straight for the bar Feng Po where, at a lonely booth, in a darkened corner, he floods his veins with alcohol and the volatile cocktail of hatred and revenge. Dobbs, who was then his acting lieutenant, had received and reviewed all of Furor’s weekly case reports during those early months of the investigation. He must have seen something in those reports—something not even Furor recognized was bringing him closer to unmasking the killer’s identity, Dobbs’ identity. Whatever it was, it must have scared Dobbs, scared him so much that he knew the only way to protect himself was to have Furor removed from the case. And the only way for Dobbs to do that was either to kill Furor or someone close to him. By choosing the latter, not only was Furor forced to step away from the case, but Jai Mei became a red herring. Whatever thread, no matter how imperceptible, that linked the other victims together, would be frustrated by her death. But what was it that Dobbs had seen? What was it that Furor had found? As he wades into the evidence—evidence that has long sat cordoned off in the far corner of his mind, a labyrinth unfolds; a circuitous maze of speculation and fact. Challenging the labyrinth, he returns to the victim’s medical histories, the last and most promising angle of his investigation prior to Jai Mei’s death. But he’d been through it all before. Of the first eight victims, three had shared the same doctor, five had received treatment at the same hospital, and six appeared to have been treated for some form of MS-related symptoms. But there were still two who had seemingly never been treated for anything related to MS, and nothing to connect the three who had never even been to the same hospital as the others, let alone the five who had seemingly never met the aforementioned doctor. Contemplating the evidence, Furor attempts to divine a connection, but only seems to come up against that same flat wall. Before long the alcohol reaches his brain, dulling his senses and slowing his reasoning.

Leaving just before the bar issues the last call for drinks, Furor stumbles out onto the now desolate cobblestone streets. Sick with rage, a tide of toxic emotions rises behind a heaving chest. Uncapped, he scrambles into a nearby alley where, behind a dumpster, one hand braced against the lid, the other clinging to the brick wall, a lurch of vomit empties his stomach of its contents. Afterwards, as he wipes the aftertaste from his mouth on the back of his sleeve, he leans back against the wall, let’s his knees go weak. Sinking slowly to the ground, he buries his head between his knees as salt-streaked tears spill over his eyelids, blurring his vision and mixing with beads of wrenching sweat to form streams that trickle awkwardly down the prickled pores of his unshaven cheeks.

In the pale reflection of a puddle, the skies flash with lightning, bright and intense. He looks up. In that section of sky just visible between the buildings, a string of white sheets hangs from a clothesline strewn across the alley. Stretched out beneath the unconquerable night sky, they breathe in and out like enormous white lungs in the gentle breeze. A loose chain clangs against the fire escape. Lowering his head, he closes his eyes.

When he opens them again, he finds himself bent up against the dumpster as the sun, having crept above the skyline, chases away the last shadows of night while casting a golden glow across the rain-slicked streets. As the warmth of its rays soaks into his skin, he rises, unsteadily, to his feet.

The watch at his wrist reads half past ten o’clock. Twenty minutes later, he pushes through the doors of the police station, vision focused. Every object on his periphery blurs. He can’t even hear his own footsteps over the sound of his breathing. The smell of liquor still emanates like a thick cloud around his head.

Across the lobby, at the end of the hall, he sees Captain Dobbs standing just outside his office surrounded by a handful of men in grey and blue suits.

He reaches into his coat, clears the gun from his shoulder holster. Index finger extended, he snaps the safety off. Though he’s handled that gun every day for the past twenty years, today it somehow feels strange, foreign. The weight of it makes his hand shake. His strides lengthen, heart accelerates. Tightening his grip, he feels the thread of the hilt feed into the flesh of his palm. The crowd breaks, opening a direct line-of-sight between him and Dobbs. Two steps from entering the hallway, he lays his finger over the trigger, raises his arm. Flexing his finger, he’s about to pull back hard on the trigger when a hand reaches out, takes hold of his arm by the wrist, lower’s it to floor. As a man’s large frame steps squarely in front of him, Furor looks up. What stares at him are eyes as hard as glass.

“I think we’d better talk,” Lombardo says, wresting the weapon from his partner’s hand as he redirects him outside.

“I got your message,” Lombardo says, crossing the parking lot. “I tried calling you back about a dozen times.”

“Where are we going?” Furor says.

“I spoke with the director of Internal Affairs, David Disney, this morning, told him about our investigation and your findings. It looks like we’re not the only ones who’ve called for an open investigation on Peter Dobbs this week.”

Furor lifts his head.

“That’s right,” Lombardo says. “Someone else beat us to it.”

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