|No Pain At All
Author: yagasu PM
Detective Natalie Campbell has been forced to turn in her badge after a tragic accident. She is quickly pulled into an investigation during a vacation in which a killer is on the loose, and the suspect pool is limited to several of her closest friends.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery - Chapters: 4 - Words: 12,477 - Updated: 05-22-12 - Published: 05-18-12 - id: 3023548
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter One : Natalie
"Liar! You are a liar!" — Hawk Soltaire, Courtroom A Part 2
IT WAS A DARK DAY.
Grey clouds hung low over the earth, causing the birds to dart under telephone lines, narrowly missing the rooftops as they sought shelter beneath the trees. The streets, stained with oil from the old trucks that made their way down Route 103 every morning, were remarkably empty. And quiet. The sound of little children playing a modern variation of cops and robbers – with mini machine guns and plastic Tasers – was one to be sorely missed. Only Natalie stood outside her driveway, staring through the fog, breathing in the scent of fresh rain. She knew she should get inside before the downpour began, as the cheap awning above her head would do little to keep her dry, but she couldn't move.
Today is the day, she thought. Today is the day that he comes back.
Natalie had stood outside her home for hours, refusing to go inside for food, water, or the bathroom. Twice she resisted the urge to sit inside the green Ford Explorer parked next to her, obscuring her thin body from the neighbor's view. She dialed him once, at around eight A.M. He didn't pick up. She left a message on the machine, saying that she would be waiting until ten, but ten had come and gone several hours ago, and she was still here. But there was no use waiting anymore. He wasn't coming back.
Natalie glanced at her watch – 2:30? It looked much darker than the middle of the afternoon. She cast her eyes upward, instinctively shielding her eyes even though there was no sun in sight. It was a move her father had instilled in her. One of his many weird habits that translated over to her. On any other day, she would have scoffed at the mention of any similarity to her dad, but today, she welcomed it. Natalie needed to think of an experience with a male that was pleasant to get her mind off this situation.
You do this to yourself, girl.
It was true. She probably should have moved on months ago, when he called her into the office and told her that he had to let her go. It didn't matter to him that this was her career, her life.
"We need to go our separate ways," he said, not a bead of sweat pouring down his brow like it usually did when he was nervous. "We need to live our own lives."
And that she did. Or at least, she tried to.
Natalie managed to carve out a meaningless existence, working 9 to 5, shuttling to and from the retail store and home, with the occasional stop at the supermarket for next week's dinner. She lived paycheck to paycheck, with no motivation, no meaning, no purpose.
But then he'd called her, said that he was sorry, and that he wanted to make things right again. That he wanted to try to fix things, to make them better.
Today was supposed to be the day that he came back into her life. Today was supposed to be the day that she filled the empty place inside of her. But he wasn't showing up, and it was about to rain. She needed to get inside soon. Besides, there were better things to do with her life than wait for some low-life guy to come around and make her feel worse than she already felt.
Natalie turned away from the street, running her hands over the hood of her car as she walked by it and into the house. The faithful truck had been in her family for years, and she was grateful that her father signed it over to her when she turned 18. To think that she had driven this same set of wheels for almost 6 years. When she went into the force, she requested an Explorer just like this one, but they said those were only for the K9 units. One of the only reasons Natalie didn't mind turning in her badge.
She shut the front door behind her with as much strength as she could summon.
Her home was a mess. The living room, which was the largest feature of the one bedroom apartment, lay in shambles. A heap of green, blue, and orange blankets lay haphazardly on the couch. The new scarlet pillow she had purchased two weeks ago was strewn on the carpet where it had fallen this morning. Fashion magazines piled on the center coffee table, covered with empty packages of expired TV dinners and Coke cans. Natalie trudged through the socks and shoes that littered the ground, careful not to misstep and break her neck.
That wouldn't be very pleasant.
Her laptop sat on the couch, next to the remote, which she reached for instinctively. Natalie didn't so much watch the television, but it had to be on at all times. It was one of the first things she learned while living alone: silence is deafening, and every little noise you hear is not a burglar trying to steal your valuables. With the tube on, there would be no heightened pulses, sweaty palms, that sort of thing, for a silly animal making its way through her backyard. Natalie clicked it on, changing stations until she reached the news.
There was only one reason she ever watched the news, and that was to ensure that her employers hadn't released her information into the public. If everyone knew that Natalie Campbell – the most famous of all detectives in the South Florida area, a real life counterpart to some of those CSI : Miami cop outs – if they found out that she was no longer a detective, there'd be some pretty nasty letters flooding through her mailbox. The public would want to know the details, and those were as embarrassing as anyone could have it. The department had made a deal with her: leave now and no one will say anything. Natalie went against her gut instinct – which was to own up to her mistakes and see that justice be done, even when she was in the wrong – and took their offer, walking out of the station a regular woman. One with no reason to continue living.
"Yes, Jim, could you tell us a bit about this weather? Some of us are getting pretty worried, as far as traffic is concerned." The middle aged woman, Bonnie, if memory served correctly, chuckled to herself as the meteorologist came on view, smiling from one ear to the other.
"Well, Bonnie, that's a great question, especially since this rain is not going to let up anytime soon."
Natalie turned her attention away from the screen and opened her laptop. The mac had been a gift from her commanding officer, Joseph Jones, when she passed through training. It hadn't been long after that when she was called out to her first case. Natalie sighed. Had it really been five years since she started work in the homicide division? The nostalgia threatened to crush her. She opened a browser, hoping to chase away the strange feeling of longing for a time that wasn't necessarily all that pleasant.
A new email? Natalie hadn't remembered when the last time she received an actual email. All of her outside contacts came through social media outlets, but she figured someone must be stuck on the archaic, but reliable, communication system. Dana Fisher? She hadn't heard from her in ages. Natalie opened the message, scanning it as quickly as possible.
"Some of the guys pooled this together," she read aloud. "We hoped you would be able to look into it for us."
Natalie chuckled. Didn't they know that she wasn't on the force anymore? Surely the news had gotten around within the department.
"We know you aren't officially able to work on this, but we need your expertise."
Natalie shook her head.
"You want my 'expertise', huh? The same expertise that led me here." She spoke to an empty room.
Natalie closed her laptop and stood up. There was no way she was going to investigate something for some mail-room clerks that swore they had the next big story that would carry them into fame. If it was just Fisher asking, there wouldn't be a problem. She could work with the woman, but the others? They were just moochers.
No, there was no way she was risking her neck for something that didn't benefit her in the slightest.
The doorbell rang. Just two low tones, but they were enough to make her body grow cold. Very few people knew where she lived, but the possibility of a stalker wasn't what frightened her, it was the possibility that he might be the one at the door. Right when she had managed to forget about this man, he came ringing her doorbell. In one swift motion, Natalie gathered all of the blankets, pillows, magazines, socks, and shoes into the adjacent bedroom, shutting the door softly behind her. Without forgetting to give her face and hair a once over in the mirror behind the front door, Natalie pulled it open.
"Kenneth?" She exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
The young man smiled sheepishly.
"Not who you expected to see?"
Natalie closed her mouth, which was still hanging open. She shook her head.
"No, sorry, I didn't think I would ever see you again."
"Yeah, I don't mean to intrude, but," he paused and gestured to her house. "Can I come in?"
The rain was pouring down hard now, with the wind sending it in various directions. The clouds were dark, heavy, and occasionally flashed with lightning.
"Oh, sure, sorry, come right in." Natalie opened the door wide enough for him to enter, then shut the door. She turned to where he stood awkwardly in her living room, dripping onto her carpet. She smiled. Classic Kenneth.
"Here, Kenneth, come with me into the kitchen. I've got some coffee, needs to be warmed up, but it's still fresh."
"That sounds great after today." He followed her into the kitchen, taking a seat at the counter.
The kitchen was much smaller than the living room, with just a sink and an adjacent counter. There was only room for a refrigerator – no cabinets – so she couldn't stock up on crackers and cereal like she did back in college. That was the easiest way to avoid packing on the weight: instead of filling your house with junk food, get Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which was just as good to snack on and less destructive to your health. Natalie turned the coffee maker on and found two zebra-striped mugs in the dishwasher. She placed one in front of Kenneth.
"So, how has my old friend been using his time?"
"I was afraid you would ask that," Kenneth replied, wiping the rain off his face. Natalie handed him a napkin off the counter, which he gratefully accepted. The coffee from this morning was no good, but she didn't mind making a new batch. The smell of the beans grinding into pieces filled her with a strange sense of warmth.
"I'd like to say that I was successful in trying to get back to school, but that'd be a lie."
Natalie smiled and shook her head. The young man hadn't changed much since she last saw him. He stood a little under six feet, pale skin, intense blue eyes that never ceased to stare at your own. Even now, when he was clearly nervous and had every reason to look away, he kept his gaze fixed on hers, almost as though he could see through this wall that she put up as soon as he crossed the threshold.
"But what about you?" He asked in response. "Still cracking the hard cases, putting away the bad guys?"
Natalie shoved her hands in her black jeans pockets.
"You know how it is, everyday is always something different," she lied. "It's all up here, though," tapping her forehead, "all of it happens in here."
"So glad to see that you're still doing what you love." He paused. "Unlike me. I'm working at my uncle's manor again."
"Oh, you are?"
The coffee maker's light flickered in the corner of her eye, and she turned to it while Kenneth spoke.
"Yeah, I didn't really want to go back there, but the pay is steady, and besides, unless I go to school, there's little reason for me to stay out here."
Natalie waved a packet of sugar above the counter.
"You're still two sugars?"
She carried the small container with the coffee to where their mugs were. If he continue to pry like this, there was no way that she would be able to keep it a secret, not the least from him, the one guy that claimed to be her best friend. Granted, the last time they had seen each other was over five years ago, but they'd known each other far longer than that. If there was one person she didn't want to disappoint in this life, it was Kenneth, and she feared that if she wasn't careful, her own words would betray her.
"This is great," Kenneth said, pulling the steaming mug away from his lips. Natalie nodded and tried some herself. Unlike many of her former colleagues, Natalie drank her coffee black, as raw as possible. It wasn't that she liked it black and bitter, but by adding so many different creamers and flavors, it ceased to be coffee and turned into an over-priced, over-caffeinated milkshake.
"Is your uncle doing well?" Natalie inquired. Kenneth frowned and took another sip of the steaming drink. When he finished, he shrugged.
"You never know with this rich types. They don't stick around the house very often, if you know what I mean."
"And your cousin? Josiah, wasn't it?"
"Yes, my man, Josiah. He's getting married this week."
Married? The boy had to be, what, seventeen? And he was already getting married?
"You see, Natalie, that's the reason why I came here today." He leaned forward, pushing his half-empty mug off to the side. His black hair hung just above his collar, but swooped across his forehead in a damp bang. He wore contacts – a fact he had disclosed to her once when they were teens, when he was too embarrassed to admit that the movie they were watching made him cry – which was fortunate. Natalie would never tell him this, but she absolutely loved his eyes.
Kenneth continued speaking.
"Josiah hasn't forgotten you and the important role you played in saving his life all those years ago."
"Kenneth, I - "
"Hear me out," he interrupted. "Josiah has always considered you to be an inspiration, and he wanted to get a chance to thank you directly." Kenneth cleared his throat. "He wants you to come to the Manor."
Natalie resisted the urge to argue with Kenneth. The events that transpired several years ago at the Manor led to her great fame throughout South Florida. Yes, she had saved the young Josiah's life, but she refused to take responsibility of that on herself. There were so many things that went wrong, so many things that she was ashamed of. She didn't want to think that anyone looked up to her because of her shabby performance in the past.
But this was Josiah Livingston, the cute little boy who always made her smile, even when she was having a rough day. When she found out that he was missing, all those years ago, it was her first priority to find and bring him back. So that she could see his smile again. But it never returned. He came back a hardened young boy, and now he had grown up into a man, and Natalie was afraid of what she might see. Josiah was getting married, this much she knew, but what kind of a person had he become? How could he still want to see her even though he knew all that she had done, or rather, all that she had failed to do?
"Kenneth, I don't know," she finally replied. "I don't know if I want to go back there."
"No one wants to go there, Natalie," Kenneth said firmly. "You think that I want to walk through those halls, knowing the kind of people who walked there before me? Knowing that the blood running through my veins was not enough for me to get a chunk of that wealth, and I have had to spend all of my life scrounging for pennies on the street?" Kenneth shook his head, his eyes never leaving hers. "No," he said, "I don't want to go back there either. But my cousin needs me, and if there is any person in the world that I care about, it's this kid." Kenneth stood up. "But there's more."
Natalie crossed her arms.
"Even if you don't want to come because of Josiah - ,"
"I want to see him, okay?"
"Even if you don't want to come, let me give you something else to think on."
Kenneth pulled a damp, crumpled paper from his pocket.
"Josiah is getting married, yes. But before then, he has something he wants to speak with you about."
Kenneth lifted the paper in his hands.
"A job offer. Paid in advance." He handed the paper to her.
Natalie unfolded it. A bank notice, with her name and credit card information already filled out.
"How did you know - "
"Does it matter?" Kenneth shook his head. "Josiah needs your investigating expertise, if that's what you call it. He says it's something important, but he can't bring it to the attention of all of the law, just you."
Natalie looked away.
"You are allowed to accept private cases?"
"Off the books," she lied. "If it's for a friend."
"Well, it's always encouraging to see the corrupted state of our law enforcement system," Kenneth chuckled. He gestured to his coffee mug.
"Thanks again for the coffee, Natalie. There's little in the world that can compare to some of the stuff that comes out of your kitchen."
Natalie forced a smile. She was unsure what she should say to him in response. The paper in her hand had become a dead weight, and she didn't know if she could accept it or not.
"I have to get going," he barreled on. "It was definitely great talking with you, and I hope to see you later this week."
She walked him to the door without saying anything.
"It would mean a great deal to Josiah if you did this for him," Kenneth said from behind her. Natalie opened the door, and he stepped out.
"You don't have to give me an answer just yet," he said, gazing into the street. Some of the rain had subsided, but the clouds were just as dark, and leaves were being pulled off their branches.
"When do you need to know?" Natalie asked, looking down at the paper she gripped firmly between her fingers.
"By tonight." Kenneth turned back to her. "It's for Josiah's peace of mind. He's already freaking out, wedding jitters, I guess."
"So, what, I give you a call, you get me a ride to the island?"
"Oh, the ride is already secure. And even if you can't let me know by tonight, you can still show up for the wedding. Josiah would still like you to be there."
"Thanks, Kenneth," she said, forcing another smile. He nodded, and headed into the rain. She didn't wait to watch him to get into his little black car, but instead shut the door quickly.
How had everything gotten so difficult in such short a time?
There was no way that she could accept this case, especially since she wasn't technically a detective any longer. She could just as easily get arrested as carry out an investigation, considering all of her credentials were useless.
But what about Josiah? She had always had a special place in her heart for that boy. Seeing him all grown up was something she had always thought about, but never carried out to completion. That, coupled with the chance to investigate again, clouded her judgment.
Natalie didn't know what to do.
She reached for her cellphone, scrolling through the contact list until she found his name. To think that after five years, she still had Kenneth's number in her phone. She pushed the green button on the left, and put the phone to her ear.
Natalie knew her answer.
She just hoped she wouldn't come to regret it.