Next chapter of Phantom Detective is served. Enjoy!
Leah crossed the doors of the Police Station next morning at half past eight. While she was still in her apartment she thought for a moment she’d be late, due to a crisis of indecision in front of her wardrobe. Normally, she didn’t pay much attention to her clothing, but she wanted to impress the rest of the staff. She wanted to look more like an adult in a discreet way. After discarding several options and following Simon’s recommendations, she obtained the result she had been looking for and managed to catch the bus on time.
Despite the confidence in herself which she had left home with, nerves seized her when she entered the Police Station. The security agent guarding the access to the second floor and the offices smiled politely at her, but the rest of the peoble that went upstairs at the same time observed her with inevitable surprise. Leah leaned her head, looked at her feet and and hid herself behind her chestnut hair to avoid eye-contact. The short way between the stairs and her work table, the nearest to Benjamin’s Archer Office, seemed to her endlessly. She was aware of all the eyes fixed in her and she was able to hear the murmurs whose words, fortunately, could not recognise. She sighed relieved when she finally sat down behind the desk, very thankful to the lateral walls of her individual office that shielded her from indiscreet looks.
- If the description you gave yesteday was correct, I think I’ve seen Mark Green.- said Simon, always by her side.- And if I’m right and that’s him, I inform you he’s coming.
Leah put her bag over the table and pretended to be very busy searching something inside when Mark Green stopped in front of her desk.
- Morning, partner!
The girl raised her eyes and found a smiling Mark that didn’t seem the same as the day before. However, despite his smile, she could notice a hint of falseness in his words and good manners, and she knew he was just trying to keep up appearances. She smiled back briefly and said a shy “Morning”.
- Please, Leah... stand up. I want the rest of the people to meet you, to prevent possible mistakes... yo know what I mean. C’mon, don’t get nervous.
Possible mistakes, sure. Of course. Simon, at her back, touched her cheek with his ectoplasmic hands when she stood up, to cool them with his cold phantom essence and avoid blushing. Mark placed one hand over her shoulder with familiarity while encircling the room with his other arm, keeping the smile. Leah wished fervently not to look scared in front of all that people studying her with perplexity.
- Guys, this is Leah Meyer. She’s my new partner, the last and prodigious acquisition of the Police Force, according to what I’ve heard. Despite her age, she’s been the best of her degree and she’s earned the deserved position that is now yours thanks to her intelligence and skills. Behave youself and be patient with her, okay?
- You could do the same, man.- Simon murmured, without much affection.
The rest of the staff in that section waved their hands and said hello. Mark Green gave her a small notebook with flexible and purple covers.
- A little gift... as an apology for what I said about you yesterday. Every agent needs a notebook where writing down annotations, be careful and don’t lose it.
- Thank you.
- Take this...- he said, giving her a pen.- Note down: a black coffee with only one spoon of sugar.
Leah blinked, puzzled for a second. Coffee? Mark laughed at her expression and shrugged.
- It’s a tradition. The new guy is in charge of coffees the first week. Just one spoon of sugar, uh? Don’t forget. Guys! Tell Leah what you’re gonna drink.
When Leah went out of the Police Station, she did it with the first pages of her police agent notebook full of breakfast orders for the rest of her colleagues, feeling completely stupid. A tradition, or had Mark make it up to annoy her?
- I told you he’ll make your life impossible.- Simon commented.
- Shut up.- she murmured.
She crossed the street and went to a coffee house that, as Mark had told her, was in the next corner. At least he hadn’t lied about its location. What the hell?? Why did it comfort her? Surely he just wanted his bloody coffee with one spoon of sugar as soon as possible. And what if she asked for more than one spoon of sugar... just to bother him? No, she didn’t want to begin their relationship with the wrong foot... She would behave herself and would try to be nice. For now.
The coffee house was small and crowded by people and smoke. She took the last place in the large queue towards the bar, and read again the orders in the notebook: three black coffees, two of them with sugar and the other one without, two capuccinos, four coffees with a dash of milk, one hot chocolate and two moccha. Was she supposed to carry twelve cups by herself to the Police Station? Mark could have come with her...
- I don’t like him.- Simon snorted.
There were three persons behind the bar attending the customers, so she hadn’t lost much time in the queue. The boy that attended her should be only a few years older than she and he raised his eyebrows with incredulity when Leah finished reading the list.
- I think you’re gonna need help.- he observed, when he put two trays with six cups in front of her.
Leah sighed, shoulders down, without knowing what to do.
- I would help you, you know that.- Simon said.- But I don’t think people reacted well if they see a flying coffee tray.
Perhaps making an impossible superhuman effort for keeping the balance, she could carry one tray with one hand and the other...
- I knew you were going to need help.- said a female voice at her back.
She turned and saw a woman smiling politely at her. She was blonde, she had a slim figure and was a little taller than she. She appeared to be thirty and wore a formal and elegant dark green suit; her face was familiar to Leah, she was sure of having seen her before in the office. The woman took one of the trays and encouraged Leah to follow her outside.
- My name is Samantha Evans.- she said, while they waited for the traffic lights to turned green.- I work with you in the Homicides Department. You have great aspirations for someone of your age, don’t you think?
- Maybe.- Leah accepted.- But I know I’m able to do it.
- Of course, your credentials must be very impressive if you’ve managed to enter into the Police Force. Your development will be very interesting to see.
Leah didn’t know what to answer, so after a second doubting, she dediced to just say thanks for what she had done for her.
- Thanks for helping me with the coffees.
- You’re welcome.- she smiled.- Don’t hold it against Mark.
- That’s what everybody tells me.
Samantha laughed. She had a cheerful and contagious laugh that made her smile as well.
- He’s a good guy. A bit fussy, perhaps... but you’ll become accustomed to him. And he’ll do the same with you. Give him time.
Again in the Police Station, when she sat down for the second time behind her desk, she realized she had forgotten to buy something for her too, in the coffee house. But she preferred to be hungry than going out again, so the only thing she ate was a chewing gum she was lucky to find in her bag.
After hanging her leather jacket in a close coat rack, she contemplated the desk of her tiny office without knowing exactly what she should do next. It was a large table of polished wood that shone weakly. Apart from a computer turned on, a telephone and three black ring blinders in its left side, it was empty. She saw Simon flying around the other offices, prying, out of the corner of her eye. In that moment, the phone rang, startling her. She looked distressed at it for a few seconds. Should she answer or not? She wrung her hands, hesitant: never before she had considered answering a call of such a crucial importance. When finally she decided to stretch her hand towards it, she heard approarching footsteps and a familiar voice, saying:
Leah moved her hand away quickly, scared because of the vehemence of the word. Mark observed her severely.
- I’m sorry, I just...
- Don’t apologize.- he replied, dryly.- Stand up and come with me. Leave your things there, they’ll be okay.
She obeyed and followed Mark to his own desk, not very far from hers. He took a seat and told her to sit down in a chair at the other side of the table. She saw Simon behind the man, frowning at him.
- Well, Leah... your job will be different from ours, due to your age.
- Must he repeat it all the time like a parrot?- Simon protested, annoyed.
- While we’re staying in the Police Station, we spend our time in paperwok and answering calls. Sometimes we also attend people that come here to see us expressly...
- I’m sorry to cut you off, Mark, but I know that already.
Leah noticed a hint of anger in his face, but she told herself she didn’t care about it. Didn’t she feel offended when he treated her like a baby? She had the right of being a bit rude. Simon smiled, pleased by her words.
- Of course. Sorry. The thing is that we have to relieve you from attending the citizen, by phone and in person. It’s nothing personal, but you’ll understand that they wouldn’t take you seriously.
- I understand it.
- So we just have the paperwork. It’s a real nuisance, I know, but that’s what you’ll do being in the Police Station. You’ll also observe how I realize my job and you’ll help me if I need it, it’s that okay?
- As if you needed to follow his example.- Simon whispered.
- Okay.- Leah said, trying to look happy.- So... what do you want me to do?
- Thanks for asking.- Mark smiled.
He pointed a mountain of blue and red folders next to his computer. A big mountain of folders.
- Just yesterday someone left this in my table.- he explained.- Mislayed files. Could you please go to the store and put them in their place? The store is upstairs and here’s the key.
Leah turned to all her autocontrol and made an effort to keep smiling. What was the point of the courtesy if the couldn’t refuse?
- Sure, Mark.
- You’re saving my life, Leah.- he laughed.
- Yeah, keep laughing, you idiot.- Simon mumbled.
Leah stood up, kept the key inside her trouser pocket and took the mountain of folders as she could. In her way to the stairs she saw Samantha smiling cheerfully at her, but that didn’t make her feel better.
- Does he think you’re his secretary or something? ‘Cause if he does, he should pay you for this, it would be fair. What a hypocrite! What a... tyrant!- Simon exclaimed, while she went upstairs.
- But he’s right.- she whispered.- I can’t work in the public eye, nobody would take me seriously. Anyone would claim for a person with more experience than me. If this is the only way to be helpful, I have no choice.
Simon grumbled but said nothing else.
The store was a large room full by innumerable rows of filing cabinets, folders and evidence boxes of closed and opened cases, raised in front of her as buildings of an impregnable city. It was a disheartening vision. The air inside was stuffy and there wasn’t a single window. She press a button to turn on the lights, rectangular and fluorescent placed in regular gaps in the ceiling, and after doing it one of them blew with a spark. The others shone intermittently making an unpleasant buzzing. Leah made a face.
- What a cozy place.- Simon said with irony.- Make yourself comfortable, Leah, ‘cause I think this room will be your second home since today.