The Rotting Goddess
the bucket lid raised
The full moon came oddly that month, and would shine twice—once red, once blue. September’s Harvest gave way to the bowman and her arrows, the blood of the hunt under pale red of October. Jack’s grin would glow from doorways beneath the second moon, the face called the betrayer moon, the man of cheese who invited lunacy
. And meanwhile, something was stirring. Cats leapt, fiddles in hand; the maiden let down her hair; dead fathers walked and the gray mocker whispered.
Once in a blue moon.
It was a time of nevers, of maybes, of sometimes, of two-and-a-half-years and every once in awhile, twice in three months—a thirteenth hour, a three hundred and sixty-sixth day. And it would be now.
One more night.
If they say the moon is blue, we must believe that it is true.
It was the only thing to say, really. Um.
Clipped, uneasy—perfectly demonstrative of her misgivings and more than mild resentfulness. For the love of God, they were sending her to an ex-penal colony
with more livestock than people. There really was no other appropriate response.
Except maybe that. Yes, she was in disgrace, and her badge was dangling rather precariously over the gaping crevice of eternal shame and condemnation, as it were. A temporary suspension wasn’t out of the question. If anything, she had expected it. It wouldn’t have been fair—it would have been downright ridiculous, circumstances considered. But a month or so of “involuntary off-pay leave” wouldn’t have surprised her, either. (And she couldn’t say she hadn’t been looking forward to spending a few weeks doing something other than knocking over felons and begging judges for warrants. A day of fly-fishing, maybe, and some uninterrupted scarf knitting. Maybe both.)
“I refuse to shoot a twelve-year-old boy, and they ship me off to a farming community
for two weeks? And for what? Some vague case no one’s touched in seventeen years that you can’t even find a file for?” Alexandra Sanders’ very hair seemed to crackle with indignance. (But that was probably just because she had forgotten to brush it.)
A gentle push came from Silas Corrigan, her partner of six months. She was too busy gritting her teeth to realize that her fist had curled and whitened, digging her nails and the tip of a knitting needle into his wrist.
The tap became a bit more like a shove. “Alex, he was sixteen, and he was trying to throw a grenade at a SWAT team. Shut up and get in there.”
“Uh-uh.” Her body somehow managed to end up right back where it had started prior to the push. “Can’t make me.” Alex dug her heels into the carpet furiously, hazel eyes narrowed, elbows jabbing at her assailant’s ribs. The tail end of her current knitting project dangled, bedraggled and forgotten, from its garishly orange mother yarn ball.
They must have looked rather odd, at that point, as Silas’ attempt at ushering her into their boss’s office had degenerated into mid-hallway full-bodied shoulder shoving. Considering that she hardly looked formidable enough to shift a chair, while he weighed in at seventy pounds heavier and somewhere around eight inches taller than her, there was a certain absurdity to fact that a struggle was even occurring.
“Doyle could have had the balls to call me useless officially
—but no, he’s going to bother being a subtle bastard. Why disgrace me when he can just strike me from memory by dumping me off in some obscure Amish cult town.” At this, the needles’ direction became far more pointed. Alex launched a vicious attack at the nearest desk, only to be thwarted by toe pain whiplash.
Silas used her distraction to sweep the screeching fury into a bear hug, lift her kicking form off the ground, and deposit her before a door at the end of the hall. A calloused, bulky hand reached over to muss up her hair in a condescending head pat.
Waving him away, she straightened her Kevlar vest and yanked at a curl of his hair. “Jerk.” The door stood before her, name plate and doorknob glistening. Alex pointed an accusing finger at it, then shifted the digit to him. “This door signifies me stepping directly into the woes of misfortune and injustice. You just placed me right next to it. Anything that happens from this point on is entirely your fault.”
This unnecessarily melodramatic accusation received an odd look from a harrowed-looking intern with glasses askew and an impossible number of pens bristling in his front pocket. Newbie, clearly. The experienced cubicle-inhabiting members of Littleroot Police Station were well accustomed to ignoring Alex and Silas. (She caught his eye and stuck out her tongue; he scurried past them at an increased speed.)
“Good luck, Sanders.” The detective mock-saluted her with a one-sided grin.
They would make men believe that the moon is made of cheese…
“Hello, Miss Sanders.” Doyle oozed politeness with more eagerness than a Ditto trapped in an oven oozed singed purple slime. Hands folded, voice prim and proper, chair tipped just
to the point of nonchalant attention… Alex wanted to sic her Growlithe on his leather chair. “I see Silas has delivered his portion of the news. You are not too fussed, I hope?”
Actually, now that Alex took a moment to ponder it, a Ditto stuck in an oven wouldn’t be particularly excited to melt. No, Doyle was more akin to the ever-malicious Jello that kept reappearing at family gatherings, and had a habit of oozing through at least six hapless clothing articles (and a pet or two.) Nothing came out of Aunt Priscilla’s kitchen without a vindictive streak.
Temporarily distracted by flashbacks, she settled for a zero-syllabic grunt in response. “Hmm.”
“Hmm?” That sounded far too expectant for Alex’s tastes. (His hair was rather sticky, too—a bit much gel, and probably excessive amounts of hairspray. The blonde looked rather bottled. Yes, definitely Aunt Priscilla’s Cabbage-and-Marshmallow Lime Delight Jello….)
A few moments of awkward silence ensued. She was determined not to break it. Or scream in frustration. Because the slanted look in his eyes told her all she needed to know—the moment she had entered this department thirteen months ago, she was damned to hell. And by God, she certainly deserved it.
Which wasn’t to say she wouldn’t scream like a Dugtrio being stalked by a Doduo colony.
“Really?” she managed to snarl out.
Doyle’s smile made her want to kick puppies.
Yes, she was the Dugtrio, he the Doduo. No matter how persistently she evaded his every move, no matter how many times she poked her obnoxious little phallus-shaped heads up through the ground in pursuit of escape, he would stomp her back down. It was an eternal game of Whack-a-Mole, in which she was the poor, oft-beaten rodent. With every onslaught, though, she would shriek and protest—and she would be six times as obnoxious as he could ever dream to be, because she would occasionally pop up at just the right time to send him skidding through the dust. It would harm his ego far more than her head. The pain was worth the gain. Somewhat.
One hand worked it through the unnecessarily slimy hair as the other patted awkwardly at his jacket, probably in search of his handkerchief (because only reincarnated Jello demons carried handkerchiefs, those days). “Miss Sanders, what else do you expect me to do with you? The Bureau nearly lost half a SWAT team because you couldn’t swallow your tongue and pull the damn trigger.”
Screaming-hell-demon-response. Right. Theoretically. In practice, she’d say as little as possible.
Alex leaned back in her chair obstinately, picking apart the seams at the arm rests. So much for active resistance. As long as she was stuck in the abhorrently-decorated office, she may as well cause some good old passive aggressive destruction. Really, who mixed purple arm chairs with a red plaid couch and walls the shade of four-month-molded margarita mix? Everything about the furnishings (except the intimidating full-backed leather swivel chair) contradicted the uptight iciness of the crusty old turd of an owner. The only way to rectify the situation was to destroy them, clearly.
“I’m waiting, Miss Sanders. You seem to have a nice piece of advice or two at the tip of your tongue.”
“As I said. You could suspend me.”
“Yes, and I’m sure all your young journalist friends wouldn’t just jump at the chance to condemn our child-slaughtering governmental regime. Nevermind that she has no right to the job, no experience, no understanding of what cause it is she shoots for.… All that matters is the poor little child with the grenade, left depraved and unaware by a childhood saturated with propaganda. ‘Alexandra Sanders fought for his life, and now she’s paying with her own.’”
Alex couldn’t bring herself to protest his mocking tone. She did have a few rather unfortunate acquaintances. And she should have shot the brat. (Selective hearing came into play when she attempted to consider the rest of his jibes.)
After a year of being dragged to Doyle’s office every other day or so, Alex had begun to formulate a theory: Doyle got the good chair and a view of the Vertigo
poster; anyone who felt like challenging his authority got a subconscious self-esteem downer with the threadbare chair on the left; and anyone who pandered to his every whim was assured of the usefulness in the form of the foot-shorter reproduction of Doyle’s own leather monster. The sloppiness was merely intended to throw visitors off, and the entire basis of his interior decoration was a mind game. It made far more sense than the other alternatives, which all depended on Doyle being either incompetent, or too lazy to rectify his decorator’s mistakes. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras, Sanders,” they would always tell her. Psychological manipulation was always the hoofbeats when it came to Ulrich Doyle.
But right. She was in the middle of a conversation. Doyle’s thin eyebrows rose in an arc that made Alex wonder if he spent an unhealthy amount of time around wax, spas, and women’s clothing. She could never quite get her eyebrows shaped like that, now matter how many times she took tweezers to them.
The eyebrows were waiting for her answer. Right. Eyebrows waiting higher. Right right right….
This was another situation in which “um” wouldn’t have been misplaced. Unfortunately for Alex, she had already used it once today. Hmm, meh, and uh-uh were also off the list. “Er” was entirely inappropriate for a situation such as this. And so, she settled, with much deliberation and forethought, on a drawn-out squeak of discomfort. “Eehmkk.”
Doyle eyed her carefully, lips pursed and eyebrows still positioned with unnatural precision. “But enough equivocation. Mister Corrigan seems to have preemptively informed you of your fate.” Here, Alex’s fingers began curling deeper into the gaudy armchair. “Unfortunately, it seems he was not fully informed. As such, his…” a stuffy, condescending pause, “representation… of the situation is not, shall we say…” a cough, “right.” Alex’s glare sharpened as he melodramatically wrist-flipped a manila folder. It spiraled to a halt on the desk’s edge.
She opened the file. Her finger traced across the pages as if trying to absorb the words at a faster speed; her mouth slackened slightly; her neck gave an awkward twitch-crack movement. Silence.
What? But this…
FBI-level false identity (passports, letters of recommendation from previous bosses, employment records, degrees, school reports), full-length reports on a case that no one was recorded as investigating, complete psychological profiling on everyone who moved to Forget-Me-Not Valley in the last five years (all seventeen, which seemed too high a number), task list after task list, scientific evaluation of the soil quality.... The three-inch pile of overkill sitting before Alex left her speechless, confused, and completely bowled to the ground with shock. For a moment, even odd noises abandoned her.
And then her eyes met his, narrowing the glare so that they may as well have been closed.
“I’d think a suspension would require less paperwork than all this ****.”
“Your language, Sanders.”
Kabloom. All theories blown. Alexandra Sanders officially had absolutely no idea what was going on. (Not a new state of being for her, admittedly—but still a surprising one. And here she thought she’d had it all figured out.)
“I don’t know what you expect me to get out of this, but whatever it is, it’s not coming to me.” The indignation and bewilderment of the day was steadily giving way to a nice, solid sinking sensation in the depths of her stomach. This was far from a throw-away preparation job. No, anything but. They didn’t send you anywhere under identities this strong unless there was a genuine chance of getting shot.
“We’ll put it this way. The Miltank Mules went away twenty years ago. Now they’re back. Our technological improvements helped us trace the geographic signatures of soil remnants to Forget-Me-Not Valley. Now, we need someone who we don’t mind sending off on a useless black bag operation to go in, get their Miltank breeders out, and push around enough weight to get a conviction.”
“…Miltank Mules as in the dealer that used Miltank to smuggle harmless, entirely legal hallucinogens to bored rich kids? As in the supposed ring declared null, void, and un-investigatable because no crime had been committed?” So much for preserving paperwork. And not being sent on a red herring waste of time. And getting shot. That last one might’ve been fun.
Doyle cleared his throat into a faux-Rolex adorned hand; for a man in his mid-thirties, his mannerisms were awfully ancient. “Yes, well, now they’ve defaced public property.” At least he had the grace to appear embarrassed for her. Hah. Ha ha ha….
“They took their Miltank for one too many public grazing. Which is to say, Slateport doesn’t appreciate hallucinogen-laced cow patties diffusing into the atmosphere. That is, the parents of Slateport. They do not want their children getting high off of second-hand vapors.” Which definitely happens.
She could see him folding slowly and awkwardly in on himself, well aware of how entirely ludicrous he sounded. Righteous anger seemed the best course of action.
“This just gets better by the minute. Shall I whip you up a cocktail and press your coats, while I’m at it?”
Her snipe whizzed past his ears. Doyle was in business mode, now. His eyebrows slanted downwards, forming determined grooves that were really just byproducts of too much sunbathing as a youth; his posture shifted, leaning towards her on his chair. “We can’t get inside contact because of their technology and isolation policies, but from what we know, Belinda Horace owns the ranch right now. Just farm for a few days, scrounge up sufficient proof for arrest. All there is to it. Foolhardy or not, Slateport is paying, and we’re certainly not losing any significant manpower
“Mmmpf.” Doyle’s eyes strayed repeatedly towards the door as he settled back into his chair, hands folding into his lap; now was very clearly her cue to leave. As such, she took it, grabbing the file into one arm and bestowing a kick upon the heinous disgrace to mankind that was her purple chair. The resulting stumble lead her flight from the room.
“And Sanders.” She paused in the doorway, dignity sputtering pitiful puffs of smoke. “Be grateful your father is willing to stick his fingers into dirty places.”
If they say the moon is blue…