06 November 2009

"Part of the Solution"

By Curtis C. Chen

"This job is killing me," Tim said.

"Maybe you should find a new job," Karl said.

"That's funny." Tim tossed back the rest of his drink.

"I think you've had enough." Karl waved a bill at the bartender. "I'll drive you home."

"I'll call a cab."

"Like hell you will." Karl paid their tab and grabbed Tim's left arm.

Tim made a halfhearted attempt to break free of Karl's grip. "What time is it?"

"Half past midnight," Karl said, shoving Tim forward.

"One more for the road," Tim said, spinning himself around.

Karl twisted Tim's arm behind his back and pushed him down into an empty chair by the door. "I'm the brawn, remember?"

Tim grimaced with pain. "Make it a coffee?"

Karl shook his head and flagged down a waitress.


Tim's wristwatch beeped on the hour at one o'clock, and he stopped struggling and let Karl maneuver him the rest of the way up to his apartment.

"You're a great partner," Tim said.

"Don't kiss me," Karl said.

"I ain't that drunk."

At the top of the stairs, Karl lowered Tim to a sitting position in the hallway, facing away from the door to Tim's apartment. Karl had to use both hands to turn the key in the ancient lock. He had stopped complaining after the first dozen times.

Tim closed his eyes and hummed loudly, trying to muffle the sounds he knew were coming.

Karl had been a good partner. It wasn't just his formerly sense-resistant brain structure or his physical strength. They had been a team. Karl hadn't simply shielded Tim's sensitive noggin, though he had lasted longer at that than anyone else. Karl had also helped with their investigations. He had been least as much a solver as Tim had. Sometimes more.

The whiskey was wearing off. Tim could feel the familiar tingling in his head which preceded the intrusion of another person's subconscious. The company called it a gift, but it felt more like a curse—he couldn't control it, couldn't even read people clearly most of the time, usually just got jumbled images—

Should have let him have that last drink. Might have been asleep by now. Wouldn't have to listen to his off-key humming.

Tim's head snapped up, and the thought flashed through his mind before he could speak: I'm reading Karl? That's impossible!

Karl looked down at Tim, frowning. "What's impossible?"

The door creaked open.

Tim launched himself sideways, slamming his shoulder into Karl's legs and knocking him down. The shotgun discharged a split second after Karl's head dropped out of the doorway.

Karl had already drawn his sidearm and was pulling his cell phone out of his jacket. Tim grabbed his partner's hand and stopped him from pushing the panic button.

Twelve-gauge rigged to a magnetic switch, activated by light and motion sensors, Tim thought, looking straight at Karl. Plausible deniability.

Karl blinked twice, then lowered his weapon. "You're—I'm—"

Tim pulled out his own cell phone, opened the case, and removed the battery. "Disappear first. Talk later."