The horizon was a mix of neon and white with the occasional yellow of an old incandescent or fluorescent bulb in the quilt-work of high-rises. Their exteriors were either gleaming, freshly cleaned cement and steel, or dilapidated brick-work, soot-covered from decades of smog. From a distant enough overhead view, sections of the city-streets would be plastered with headlights from vehicles whose owners had yet to make the switch to flying craft. Only the police craft would stick out, their red and blue flashing in groups or singles.
At one corner drugstore with them, was Detective Arnold Rhein. It wasn’t a stretch to call Rhein a veteran of the force. Indeed, he was well-known by most in the precinct. Even for a brief while, by the Press, when he uncovered a Mayoral-aide’s murder that implicated the Mayor in a scandalous conspiracy.
Those days were long gone now. Rhein was near the end of his rope. He’d prematurely grayed decades ago, before cars flew. Now steel-haired, a permanent, salt and pepper tinted his five o’clock shadow. He’d often scratch it to think, infect the air with sand-paper sounds of nails on scruff.
Presently, sand-paper sounded in Armen’s Corner Drugstore. Rhein squatted at the feet of a fresh stiff. The body wasn’t even cold yet. Obvious signs of a struggle adorned the counter in over turned beef-jerky stacks, scattered candy-bars and other miscellanea.
Armed robbery gone awry. The stiff’s gut-wound said as much. It wasn’t precise or intentional. The bruise formed along the bridge of the stiff’s nose, through its crook and to his forehead, said he’d been headbutted and the gun went off. A trickle of blood that he’d made no attempt to wipe away said he was in shock or dead too soon after for it to gain purchase in his mind.
Rhein straightened to survey the scene better. Armed robbery gone wrong. That was it. Simple. Nothing else stuck out. A few, errant bills had been left behind in the drawer. Small bills, not worth risking the time once the sirens started blaring.
The upstairs neighbor had called the police, come down to check on the clerk and found him dead. The old woman with curlers in her hair was wrapped in a bathrobe assaulting to even the most deadened senses. She was a neon-teal beacon with a powdered-white face from hastily glomed on make-up. The curlers created a laurel around her head of clashing, hot pink.
Rhein looked away. He’d been on the job a lot of years, enough to discern two things; this would end up as another unsolved murder, and that woman had no sense of taste. He strolled back across the drugstore, slipped out for a uniform in charge of the scene. He’d already yielded to Rhein’s experience, acting as middle man to keep the blues orderly while the Detective did his thing.
“Detective,” the uniform said with a nod.
“Officer,” Rhein began. “Call the coroner. There’s nothing here. Typical smash and grab gone wrong. The only way we’d’ve caught the guy is if we’d seen him running out with the cash.”
The officer seemed to understand. He flipped his little memo book closed. Rhein stepped around him and through a line of cruisers to his unmarked, four-wheel car. He’d never cared much for the fliers. They handled like refrigerators, big and bulky with no grace, and undeserving of the power of flight. He preferred the old gas-guzzling, air-polluters he’d known his whole life.
But that was the nature of things now. The old got older until they ended up stiffs, took their ways with ’em to make way for young and new.
He drove on through the city: the future was progress that had no place for him. Traffic was horrendous, but better than before fliers. Everything was different– yet somehow, the same. He wasn’t sure when the change had started, but instinct and memory said somewhere between wives two and three. Now Carol, wife four, was looking to get the long end of the stick. The others hadn’t been so fortunate. Rhein had been “married to the job” before Carol, a cop in his prime, then a detective with something to prove. The relationships could’ve never hoped to survive.
Carol had a detective nearing retirement though. Rhein wasn’t even willing to take the extra effort anymore of double-checking things. He made a call, and it was over. Nose to the ground was for greenies that hadn’t learned the cyclical nature of the city and crime. They were still too young to have the skills that allowed him a lone glance to make a call. Only time and experience could allow for that. Rhein had both, wasn’t sure he wanted either anymore.
To any other Detective, especially a greenie, he’d have seemed a burn out. The truth was paradoxically nearer and further than most knew. Rhein wasn’t a burn-out in the usual sense, he was merely worn down. His mind had gone from the razor-sharpness of a freshly honed blade to the dull, age-worn metal of one eons older. Forty years of work had worn it down.
His unmarked car rolled up to his tenement on the city’s outer-edge. He put it in park and killed the engine. For a moment, he sat there staring, watching cars and fliers pass on the road and in the sky.
The world had changed, and not for the better. His world, the one he’d come from anyway, was smaller, more tightly-knit. People had worked for one another, and with one another, all to make life better. Personal gain had been the side note then, societal gain the main passage. Now everyone was out for themselves. The world was too big. Cities had tripled, quadrupled in size to accommodate the ever-growing global census. With them rose violent crime rates until one could no longer hope to make a difference, no matter how hard they tried. At least, if they could, it took a technique Rhein didn’t know or could never learn.
The old guard had to inexorably resign, move on, fade into history to become a forgotten relic. Why not start here, with himself? He saw no a reason not to.
A few moments later, he exited the elevator to the squalor of his tenement’s hallway, pushed his way into the meager apartment he’d afforded on a cop’s salary. He found Carol in bed, covers up to her chin. He went about quietly undressing, slipped into bed.
She stirred, “How was work?”
He pulled her in to his bare chest, stared emptily at the ceiling, “Just another day.”