7] Ode to Betsy
Ant Detective: Case of the Partially Missing Barber
“The third F is Foresight. If you don’t watch where you’re going, you’ll end up where you came from.” This was of particular concern to Kowalski, because he’d just left the morgue. And he was driving Betsy with what very well might be a fractured collarbone. He eyed the cars around him with suspicion. “You’ve got to look ahead and see failure coming before it’s too late to swerve onto the sidewalk.”
As the tape dragged on, Rony Tobbins slowly shifted from metaphorical epiphanies to rambling incomprehensibilities. Any number of things could have caused the decline, but in this case the most obvious answer also happened to be the most correct:
He’d run out of cocaine and his agent wasn’t willing to share.
If Kowalski noticed the increase of motivational spite in his betterment soup, it didn’t stop him from going back for seconds. “Just don’t swerve too soon. Not all failures are equal, after all. It’s better to accept a small one now than a big one later, like a failure vaccine. Just make sure to clean the needle, you can heat it over a stove or a lighter if you have one handy. And if you can’t find a vein, tie a belt around your arm.”
With Grenda performing Herbert’s autopsy, Kowalski felt decidedly less important to the case than he had been an hour ago. For all he knew, he could be hit by a car right now and she would still have Spelter nailed to the wall before they finished the twenty-one gun salute. So, to stave off the eventual lapse of his newfound sense of duty he’d set himself on a fresh, perilous mission.
He was going to the zoo.
Grenda might be able to uncover the cover up, but it wouldn’t tell them anything about the creature that had actually done the killing. That was where Good Cop Kowalski came in, and it explained why he was driving half way across the city to visit the zoo. Or, more specifically, a zoologist.
He was just passing the Palace of Mother now, an enormous cluster of sprawling spires and ornate halls that formed the heart of the city. Picket signs scrawled with angry slogans littered the street after yesterday’s anti-royalist protest, hastily discarded in the panic when the police opened fire with bean bags.
He’d watched it happen live on television. One dumpy young ant that looked more at home in a playground than a protest had taken a bean bag to his ball pit and gone down in tears. Kowalski remembered cheering at the screen. They’d had to stretcher him out.
It must have felt like… An analogy was just on the tip of his tongue…
Getting hit by a car? He seemed to have vehicular catastrophe on the brain today.
He wouldn’t know though, about the getting hit part. Sure, Betsy had her fair share of dings and dents, but to those he pled not guilty by reason of inconsiderate firemen and narrow car parks. She’d never been in a real accident before, and therefore neither had he. He patted fondly at her dash.
Some would say that today was a day for new things, especially after he had somewhat maybe cleaned up his act only a short while ago. And he’d never heard the words, “Lick my eyes until they bleed,” in a song before.
Some, however, would just call it Tuesday.
He came to a set of yellow traffic lights, and to demonstrate how much he’d grown as an ant he actually pulled to a stop. Down the street on his right an engine roared to life.
“It’s like when you cross the street, you look both ways. Especially to your right, that’s where they get you.” He drummed his fingers on the wheel. The lights were red now but no-one else was going through. Typical. “Always look before you cross, because the one time you don’t is the one time you should have.” Somehow a fly had found its way inside. He tried to shoo it out the window.
With the shock of someone getting hit by a car, he jumped in his seat. The lights had gone green at some point, and the van behind him thought he needed the help to notice. Kowalski idled for a few seconds in thanks then took off into the intersection.
A large truck at the lights on his right did the same, minus the obscene hand gesture.
“Oh well, I tried. While you’re not listening, I buried my retirement fund under the pool and my real name is Leslie.” That may have actually have happened, but Kowalski wouldn’t know. It was then that the truck hit him.
There are few certainties to be had in life. The first is death. The second is taxes. And the third is road rage. A more philosophical tale than this might try to make the point that death is the idiot-tax for someone that, in a fit of blind vehicular rage, tries to overtake in an intersection. But that’s a stretch even for this scholarly saga.
Either way, the van did try to overtake Kowalski for reasons known only to the driver and his back alley stress ball dealer, and as a result ended up as the lettuce in a vegan sandwich. In case any children are reading this story, it should be noted that the driver died instantly and without pain - his head popped off like a high blood pressure bottle rocket that was hit by a truck.
In one final act of irony, his violent death saved Kowalski’s life. By heroically cushioning the blow with own body, Kowalski wasn’t immediately reduced to a soggy chocolate bar in an ant-shaped wrapper.
Instead, he rolled. And not like through a meadow with the sun smiling down, etcetera. Like a rolling pin making stained glass cookies. If his collarbone wasn’t already broken, his seat belt saw to it now. Why did he even wear the damn thing?
Oh, right, the fines.
When he came to a rest he was upside down. Beyond that, he had no idea what was happening. The world around him was one wailing smear of noise and colour. Horns blared and alarms screeched, and all he could see was red. His own blood he realised, dripping up his face.
Someone had murdered Betsy. He reached for his buckle and pulled the clasp, then fell headfirst on the remains of Betsy’s thin roof. The additional stirring of his liquid brains did little to help him get his bearings, but the gunshot sure did. One loud BANG, unmistakeable even in the chaos.
Kowalski scrambled through what was once Betsy’s passenger door and huddled against her crippled frame. Then, as his brains coagulated, he realised this was the side the gunshot had come from and scampered around to her yawning boot. I’m a cop, he thought, and reached for his gun. It must have fallen loose in the accident, however, because what kind of cop didn’t carry a gun?
Except it hadn’t been an accident. Bits were coming back to him now, and from over the still-spinning wheel he found the unmarked white truck. The truck that ran the red light. The truck from where the gun had been fired. The truck whose bent doors were being kicked open as he sat there with a brain like a turd in a blender. So he did the only thing he could do in a situation like this.
For the second time in as many hours he ran. This time he started out of breath and things only went downhill from there. He made it a block before a stitch twisted into his side, but he did not slow. By the second block his legs were too tired to burn any longer, so they settled for the promise of great pain at a later, more painful, date.
He still did not slow down.
He couldn’t, because whenever he looked back he saw two ants running in the distance. Towards him. One with a hand in his black jacket, clutching at something within.
And that distance was closing.
The streets were mostly empty, which wasn’t entirely unexpected the day after anyone on them had been introduced to the military surplus of an office supply store. There were barely enough people to become collateral damage, let alone offer to help. Kowalski didn’t stop for any of them.
When he reached the next corner, his lead had all but dried up. Any moment now the curtain would close and the lights would come on, and the audience would be told there would be no refunds.
But this corner offered a way out.
The great gates of the Palace of Mother loomed not fifty feet away. And they were open. Mother’s children were allowed in the outer halls of the palace, just far enough to beg forgiveness or pass along a letter or whatever sappy crap helped them feel some maternal connection. It was not something Kowalski usually cared for, to be clear, but a pair of gunmen had a way of making one suddenly wish for the closeness of family.
So it was that, tired and sore from the big bad men that were picking on him, Kowalski ran home to mummy.
He was just passing the Palace of Mother now, an enormous cluster of sprawling spires and ornate halls that formed the heart of the city. Picket signs scrawled with angry slogans littered the street after yesterdays anti-royalist protest, hastily discarded in the panic when the police opened fire with bean bags. Either way, the van *did* try to overtake Kowalski for reasons known only to the driver and his back alley stress ball dealer, and as a result ended up as the lettuce in a vegan sandwich. In case any children are reading this story, it should be noted that he died instantly and without pain - his head popped off like a high blood pressure bottle rocket that was hit by a truck. Kowalski rolled. And not like through a meadow with the sun smiling down, etcetera. Like a rolling pin making stained glass cookies. If his collarbone wasn't already broken, his seat belt saw to it now. Why did he even wear the damn thing?