3 - Something Drastic
Case of the Partially Missing Barber
Half an hour later Kowalski walked out of Shears To You. Most of the forensics ants were still crawling over the crime scene, but they wouldn’t find anything - not unless Spelter wanted it found. It was clear now what he’d meant when he called it his crime scene. Herbert’s murder would go down as a suicide, the case would be closed, and silence would be added to the long list of Kowalski’s shortcomings.
For a moment he considered charging heroically back inside and demanding an explanation for the bite mark. Spelter might be dirty, but surely some of the forensics ants would back him up. He could picture it now; Spelter wiping the sweat from his greasy brow as his eyes darted for the exit, the forensics ants banding together to bar his escape, piling in around him… no, around Kowalski. Dragging him down. Kowalski reaching for his gun and finding only air. Then blackness.
Spelter was too careful, too calculating. He probably didn’t even take a shit without surveying the landing zone and mapping out secondary targets. If he called in the forensics ants it was because he knew they could be trusted. How else could they have missed the gaping fang wound in Herbert’s side? Only chance had placed Kowalski in the wrong room at the wrong time and, as difficult as it was to admit, only a reputation for incompetence had gotten him out of it.
If he went back in now, he thought with sickening realisation, he’d end up like Spelter’s last partner - a name on a wall and an empty casket.
He climbed inside Betsy and shut the door. Maybe young Kowalski would have done it, but smart Kowalski didn’t listen to children.
Not since the incident.
What would it matter anyway? Getting rid of one dirty cop wasn’t going to miraculously clean up the streets. Someone would just take his place, Kowalski’s body would be found floating face down in the river, and the only thing that would be different would be who to make the cheques out to.
He started the engine and reached across to the glove compartment. His shaky fingers fumbled the latch open and he snatched up the first cassette tape he laid his hands on. A handsome middle aged ant gave him a thumbs up from the sticker. The Four F’s of Failure. Fitting. He slipped it in and hit play as he pulled away from the curb.
“-on your road to betterment,” spoke a smooth voice over some soft upbeat music. He hadn’t rewound it after last time. “The second F is Fear. Fear of competing, fear of losing, of course. Fear of winning even. But mostly it’s the fear of trying. The fear that if you try and don’t succeed then you have no-one to blame but yourself. And that is true, it is.
“But that’s also how we make ourselves better, by picking ourselves up and taking that next step - even when we know we might fall again. Because most people never realise that falling doesn’t hurt as much the second time around. They’re too afraid of the first.”
Kowalski closed his eyes for a moment, which was quite a reckless thing to do while driving a car, and let the words sink in. The voice was that of Rony Tobbins, the most famous motivational speaker in the city and one of those eccentric ants that gave themselves a last name. He’d held numerous executive workshops, written three bestselling self-help books, and recorded a mountain of cassette tapes like the one playing right now. Rumour even had it that he’d entertained Mother on more than one occasion.
Then he’d drowned in a literal pool full of cocaine and been posthumously sentenced to life in prison. It wasn’t all bad though, Kowalski had managed to swipe a full set of tapes when they’d seized his villa.
“The thing that gives fear its power is you. Only you can fight it, embrace it, own it. You just can’t run from it.” Kowalski nodded along in his car. Rony was right, he was afraid. Afraid of ending up in the belly of whatever had eaten half of Herbert. But Rony was wrong about one thing. He couldn’t fight Spelter, not with any hope of victory. And he couldn’t go to the Captain without evidence, which Spelter wasn’t about to let him have.
His only option was to run.
“If you run from fear you acknowledge that it is strong and that you are weak, and the next time it rears its ugly head there will be two of them. Then four, then eight, like a great big fear hydra. Are you even listening to me, Kowalski?” He’d imagined that last part, though it really did feel like Rony was riding him on this one. If the late Mr Tobbins had come back as a ghost, however, his unfinished business would probably be to inhale the nonmetaphorical tonne of cocaine he left behind. Not to give advice to a drunk ant in crisis.
Kowalski turned down the volume and tuned Rony out. This wasn’t a good time for his conscience to get him killed; he’d just bought a peace lily for his apartment. Besides, what could he even do about it? Spelter held all the cards.
He could visit the morgue. Damnit. The coroner might have been paid off, but Kowalski was on the case so he couldn’t be turned away. Stop it. He could take a picture and show it to the Captain. Enough!
It might just work.
It might also get him shot. Or sealed in a drum of acid. Or mulched. But at least then Kowalski would have the last laugh - nothing would grow in soil with his blood alcohol level. Not even a peace lily.
He needed to take his mind off of it, so he cranked the volume back up and Rony’s smooth voice once again filled the car. “Fear is a habit. A routine. You break routines by doing something drastic. By setting your clock forward an hour. By filling your swimming pool with something different, like cotton candy. Sweet, sweet cotton candy. The point is that unless you’re willing to break a few eggs, you’d better get used to the taste of fear omelette.”
How did Rony know him so well?
Kowalski was somewhat of a habit connoisseur, and for most of his career he’d lived with the fear that he didn’t have what it took to be a detective. He’d been a dreamer in his youth, so he’d become a cop. Then when it turned out he made an awful cop, he’d become a drinker. Things just didn’t work out the way they always had in the mind of a starry-eyed fourteen year old. Bad guys got away, good guys didn’t, the Spice Ants broke up. And as a detective he felt powerless to prevent any of it.
But you know what? If he wasn’t cut out to be a cop, neither was Spelter. Spelter, who looked down on him for doing his job. Spelter, who took bribes to cover up the truth. Spelter, who right now was making a mockery of Herbert’s death.
Spelter, who was a bad cop.
Now was his chance to make a difference, to take down Spelter and get Herbert’s family some answers. To stop the bad guy getting away. To do something drastic.
So maybe it was time he became something else: a hero. No, that was a bit much. But a good ant? Probably not, either.
A good cop though?
That he could do.