9 - Curve Ball
Case of the Partially Missing Barber
Kowalski landed, as could be predicted by even the least sapient of soup ladles, directly on top of the girl behind the lattice. The chair they both now perched upon, an austere thing made more for the employment of underprivileged woods than for comfort or stability, buckled at every joint and fell apart like origami watching The Notebook. Down they went, and when they hit the floor she brought the tazer up to his neck and squeezed the trigger.
It felt like getting hit by a car.
His arms and legs went limp and he couldn’t help but flop down on top of the screaming little girl, which only made her dig the teeth of the tazer deeper. He was vaguely aware of someone pulling at his hair and a knee narrowly missing his vital organ, and then the world spun. Or he did, it was becoming difficult to tell with all the sirens in his head.
Black spots gnawed at the edges of his vision, an all-you-can-eat buffet of consciousness, until suddenly the pain went away. He could breath again, which he demonstrated by gasping loudly and almost swallowing his tongue. The heavy door swung open and shut and once again he was left to his own devices. This time he did his sweaty best not to add the contents of his stomach to his already ruined shirt.
After an indeterminate span of blissful weeping and a yawning screech from the door, he opened his eyes to find the little girl backlit in the doorway. She wore an oddly vindictive grin and she clung to the shirt of an older woman, who was maybe a full twenty years of age and very much the senior of all of the palace staff he’d met so far. At first glance he thought she was a guard, because Kowalski’s narrow definition of femininity didn’t include leather jeans, a cigar, or a murderous scowl.
Or the ability to hit a home run, which he might have to rethink on seeing how well she held that baseball bat.
She lunged forward with the bat over her head as if she were a lumberjack and he an offending stump in need of a good splitting, to which Kowalski gurgled in terror and rolled away like a square wheel made of very tender meat. “Crack his skull!” shouted the little girl, with the excitement that his gruesome death always seemed to inspire in people, right as the woman brought the bat down on his head. Or where his head had been before he’d flopped his way out of there.
Like so often in life, however, he quickly hit a wall - this time quite literally. The side of the booth, he realised; there was nowhere else to go. She raised the bat and his skull began to ache in advance. His limbs were just starting to talk to each other again, but not in a language any of them could understand. His tongue felt like lead in his mouth.
Then he saw a glint.
He was out of options, so he rolled towards the bat.
It came down behind him, and so did the woman attached to it when he tangled in her legs. Her cigar and her face bounced off the wall, in that order. She snarled and kicked at his bruised ribs with a loose foot, which hurt more than a bit, but he hung on for dear life. Presumably fed up with how pleasantly things were progressing for Kowalski, the little girl jumped into the fray and latched onto the one part of him that so far had escaped torment - his antenna.
If the older girl was a lumberjack, the younger was an amateur carpenter at best. Her teeth felt like two blunt bandsaws grinding away with the kind of craftsmanship that led to lattice you can jump through and chairs that can’t appreciate a good Ryant Gosling film.
One particularly well placed kick eventually dislodged the exhausted sack of bones that was Kowalski, and the older girl leapt to her feet. Her nose was bleeding and her eyes were wide with adrenaline. “My turn, bastard! Get back Beri!” she yelled in a voice deep enough to once again challenge his masculine sensibilities, and raised the bat back over her head. The little girl sprang loose right as she brought it down.
By now, however, Kowalski’s gross - not that kind of gross - motor functions had mostly returned. His hand shot up and, far from being able to stop the bat, he opened his palm. Inside was the shiny golden badge the Captain had given him, that he’d dropped when assaulting the not entirely undeserving little girl, and that he had spotted between the feet of the bat-wielding maniac while up against the wall.
The bat froze in mid air.
Or it would have had that been possible outside of cartoons. Kowalski woke to the same room, and the same two angry women looming over him. His head throbbed where he’d been hit, informing him of the bruised lump that would be joining him on the case.
Corporal Contusion, he thought brightly, reporting for duty. Then he burst into laughter. It wouldn’t even be the worst partner he’d had today.
“Are you alright, mister?” the little girl asked, delicately, to which he giggled nonsensically and levered himself into a sitting position. It hurt to think, or to even move his eyes, but that was probably just the concussion. He felt mostly recovered as far as the tazer went.
The older girl tightened her grip on the bat, which brought him back to reality. They were scared and likely quite confused. Random fits of laughter wouldn’t help the matter, so he pulled himself together and put some effort into a proper answer. Thankfully, he had a silver tongue when it came to women. “I’m fine, I just need a minute,” he reassured the younger girl, before offering a weak joke to the older, “You got me real good with that bat, heh heh…”
Her eyes narrowed dangerously and she chewed on her cigar, which evidently she’d retrieved while he’d been unconscious. Tough crowd. Her nose was still bloody and she breathed as if she’d just hit nine innings and then brained the umpire, so he couldn’t have been out long. Maybe she just needed some time to come around to his charms.
He turned back to the little girl, Beri, who was leaning over him with a peculiar expression on her face. “Are you a police officer?” she asked, bluntly. For a twelve-something year old she sure could stare into his soul.
He resisted the impulse to say, “I told you that before you tazed me,” and settled for a friendly nod. That did wonders for his headache, and he resolved to never do it again.
“So why did you attack me?” A good question, that. He wished he had a good answer. He racked his brains to come up with a good lie.
“I’m chasing a criminal. For treason. A treason criminal. He’s been working with the bees, selling honey,” he said, quite proud of himself.
The girl with the bat leaned in and, since she wasn’t a child that was half his height, the effect was a bit more threatening. She took the cigar out of her mouth and blew a manly amount of smoke in his face. He coughed. Twice. “This criminal, he come through that?” She jabbed a thumb back at the idiot-shaped hole in the lattice.
He shook his head, then added that to the ‘never again’ list. Right under nodding.
She took another puff and held it, then blew it out the side of her thin mouth. “Then why did you?”
Damn but these girls were good. He loosened the collar of his shirt, which tore audibly under the strain. He looked solemnly down at his ruined clothes and bruised body. He was a mess, covered in blood and grease and dirt from antennae to toe, likely concussed and definitely fractured in more than one place. No wonder the Kowalski charm wasn’t working. He barely believed himself when he said he was a cop.
When backed up against a wall, a liar always resorts to the truth. Or at least part of it. “Look out the window. Do you see the ant in the suit?” The girl with the bat motioned to Beri, who reluctantly went up to the curtained window set into the padded soundproof wall and peeked out from the tips of her toes. She nodded. “He’s here to kill me. His name’s Kevin. I think.”
As if Kevin might suddenly start firing through the window at any moment, Beri dropped to her hands and knees and crawled quietly back to the safety of the older girl. She too looked to be taking the situation more seriously, as if it were entirely obvious that someone somewhere would want to see Kowalski dead.
She’d just met him, for Mother’s sake.
Beri tried to ask, “Why does he want to kill you?”, at the same time that her accomplice began to say, “Who sent him?” But Kowalski cut them off in a peeved whisper, “I can’t tell you. And you can’t tell anyone else, got it? People’s lives depend on it.” And, because the liar never stays sober for long, he added, “Mother’s life depends on it.”
That drew a pair of shocked gasps, and as it should. Mother’s life might very well be at stake if, say, she saw Kowalski’s obituary in the paper and had a heart attack. It could happen. The best lies were the ones with plausible deniability.
He shushed them, an effort that drew mixed results, and said with all the authority he could muster, “I need to get out of the palace. If I don’t find a zoologist by sundown then,” he affected some tears, which was his usual fallback plan with the ladies if his silver tongue failed to net results, “I hate to think of what they will do to our wonderful Mother.”
He had expected them to half carry him out of the palace in their rush to see him gone, but instead they shared a look. A look that he knew well, from numerous and humorous relationships throughout the years. The look of a woman with a plan.
He’d put his foot it in again.
The older girl said, “I think there’s someone you should meet.”