“If I’m going to help you, you’re going to have to give me some answers,” the Chief Inspector said, low tone, expression mostly hidden in the dimness of the bar, tucked away like the corner booth in which they hunched over their bourbons, leaning slightly towards one another to prevent their words from wandering. “It’s time for the truth.”
“The truth,” the Agent repeated slowly, lifted the glass to his lips and sipped, expression as hidden in the din as the Chief Inspector’s. Then he asked, “What would you like to know?” And just enough of his eyes were visible, just enough tone sounded through his voice that the Chief Inspector knew ‘the truth’ was exactly what he would get; they had moved beyond their conflict and subterfuge and had reached a fundamental moment of clarity. Each needed the other or both were ruined. Neither would live through the week. Unless they helped each other; unless they came clean.
“Why are you protecting the woman,” the Chief Inspector asked, “Why shouldn’t I throw her in a cell right now.”
“She is not who you think,” the Agent said. “Not what you think. And she did not kill the director.”
“She was seen. There is a gun with her prints.”
“The man she killed,” the Agent told him. “Was not the director.”
The Chief Inspector’s eyes widened. “His body has been identified …”
“His body is stinking in the morgue right now!”
The Agent took another sip of the bourbon; a cheap bourbon that grated his throat on the way down. The pause, he knew, would slow the Chief Inspector’s anger, return their conversation to an equilibrium. He said, “A duplicate.”
The Chief Inspector gaped at him, speechless.
“You said you wanted the truth,” the agent said, “And you should know the truth, now. But in this case, the truth will not set you free. Rather, what you are about to learn, while perhaps forestalling imminent doom, will only immerse you in more serious problems.”
Now it was the Chief Inspector’s turn to pause, take a sip of his bourbon, slow the emotions of the moment down. “If I do not arrest an assailant within the next 48 hours, and in so doing find the money the director stole, then the people from whom the director stole the money will come for me.”
“They will assume, given that everyone believes the woman killed the director and that you appear not to have found her, that you are in fact in league with her. You can see how they would reach that conclusion.”
The Chief Inspector acquiesced the point, changed directions. “Her prints on the gun …”
“They’re her's, absolutely. She definitely killed the man in the morgue. She is not squeamish about extinguishing life.”
“But the man in the morgue is not the director.”
“The man in the morgue is a duplicate brought in to provide access to the department.”
“And the money?”
“Oh, the director did indeed steal that, but had he not been replaced he would have done what he needed to do with it and returned it from whence it had come. The corruption within your department is legendary,” the Agent seemed to crack a smile.
The Chief Inspector waited. This was all a confusing circle. If the truth was coming, it had to be now, and he knew the Agent was aware of that.
“Your world is not alone. The duplicate, and at least another full dozen who have replaced members of your department, was to begin collecting human beings for ‘consumption’. Your director has likely been consumed by now. These beings duplicate and replace humans they come in contact with. Parts of their world is starving and, although they are unsanctioned, smuggling fresh, delicious humans is quite lucrative. Your department provides perfect cover for gathering human beings with a minimum of fuss, at least in the short term. They will take what they can and move on.
“It is my job to stop them. But to do that, I have to find them, and I can only do that with your help.”
The Chief Inspector stared at the agent, mouth open and eyes wide, not believing but not having another explanation for the things he’d seen.
The Agent nodded, placed his hand flat on the table between them. “Watch,” he said, and the Chief Inspector saw the Agent’s hand slowly fade away, gone, nothing, then slowly fade back. “I didn’t replace anyone,” he said. “I’m more of a projection. But I needed something more substantial to neutralize the duplicates, and that’s where the woman comes in. She did replace someone – someone we identified as having special skills. An assassin. That’s what she is.”
“How does this help me?” the Chief Inspector asked after taking a deep breath.
The Agent said, “The advent of your director’s theft is a complication, but perhaps a fortuitous one as it brought us in contact. I can provide evidence that the gun with the woman’s prints was planted by one of the duplicates. Then he will be eliminated. I can also replace the money the director stole. End of problem; well, that one.”
The Chief Inspector looked carefully at the Agent, fully cognizant that, all this being true, he was not staring into human eyes. Only a facsimile. “Where is the woman?”
“In the car.”
A moment. There could be no alternative now. The Chief Inspector asked, “You implied additional problems.”
The Agent said, “There are many more of these cells you must help us find. And I believe they intend to introduce a virus …”
* * *
BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.