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“I beg your pardon?”
The officer finally looked up from his papers. “Detective Robinson isn't here, he was terminated this morning. If there's anything I can help you with-”
“No I heard you. I just want a reason.” My watch showed one-thirty. I was going to be late.
“Sir, we don't currently have any information regarding that.” He peered behind me. “Now, is there anything I can help you with?” I heard a cough and glanced back at the line. If looks could kill.
I looked at my watch again. “Well, do you possibly know where he is? He was working on something important.”
The police officer stared at me. He sighed and pulled out a scrap of paper. “You can try him at his address,” he said, scribbling. He finished and the paper came through the slot on the window. “Would you like his number as well?”
“No, I already have that.” I slipped the address into my wallet and began to walk off. “Thanks for your help-”
"NEXT!” The guy behind me brushed past and began to stammer into the glass. I walked out the door, dodging the glares. Behind me, I heard a whisper, “Asshole.” Whatever.
The heat hit hard once I left the air conditioned police office. The morning clouds hadn't put up much of a fight. The streets were a skillet.
I considered going back inside as I pulled out my phone and dialed home.
It rang. And rang. I paced a bit. A pair of officers yanked a man out of their car.
Mom answered. “Hello?"
“Ma! He wasn't there.”
The sound of plates responded. “He wasn't? Why?”
“They fired him!” The officers dragged the screaming man into the station. I hope he kicks someone.
“They fired Robinson? Why?”
I wiped my forehead and sighed. “I don't know. They wouldn't tell me.”
“Well...” Mom went quiet. “I don't know what to say.”
“It's fine. I got his apartment written down. I'm going to figure this out.”
“Alright. Make sure you stay out of the heat, okay?”
“Got it, Ma.”
I hung up the phone and took another look at the scrap of paper the officer gave me.
“Huh...” I didn't think he lived that close to the station. I could walk it.
Detective Jim Robinson was a close family friend, ever since I was teenager. Needless to say, our first meeting wasn't... friendly. He must've thought I had potential or something. If it wasn't for him, I'd be the one being dragged into the station.
I turned onto 4th. People lounged on the street, their fans doing little to combat the balmy summer heat.
Recently, I ran into more trouble. A friend went missing. Robinson took the case. A “personal favor” he called it. Just my kind of case, he had said through his chocolate bar.
I got to his address. Our family always invited him over. He never invited us.
“What a dump.” I couldn't believe he lived in an apartment, let alone here.
The officer at the desk didn't write his apartment number down. I would have to talk to the landlord. At least the building would be air-conditioned.
The landlord was perplexed by my request. “You want to see Robinson? You sure?”
What kind of question was that? “Yes. Soon, if you wouldn't mind.”
The man wiped his face with his shirt for the fifth time. “Alright, alright. I'll get the key.”
“Key? Why the hell-” The landlord left the room. The cheap fan on the wall rotated back and forth, blowing hot air and dust in my face. I put my hands into my pockets. It helped me to think. Why didn't Robinson tell me he was fired?
“Got it. Follow me.”
I wished he made me go in front. The stairwell smelled bad enough. We arrived on the second floor. 204 was on our right. He unlocked the door and beckoned me in.
204 was empty.
“What the hell is going on here? Where is he?” Worms crawled around in my stomach.
“Moved out. Today no less.” He pulled out a stick of gum.
“Moved out?” The words hung thick in the heat.
“Yeah. Weird, huh? Didn't even see him do it. Just had the key and the final check in my mailbox.”
Something was definitely wrong. “That's impossible. He's been living here for years. Did you see a moving truck? Anything?”
He shook his head.
My head started to hurt.
“Are you sure you didn't see anything?”
“Look son, I told you everything I know. He wanted to move, so what?” He wiped his forehead again.
I had no answer. I rested my face in my hands.
The landlord sighed. “I can give you his cell number. That's all I got.”
His cell! Of course, I had his number! I ran down the hallway to the stairs and yelled a quick “Thanks!” I pulled my phone out as I stepped outside.
I had his number saved, thankfully. He'd pick up. In a city like this, a case could come at any time. Old habits die hard.
It rang. I tapped my foot. “Come on... come on.”
The ringing cut off. I relaxed, my gut settling “Robinson, thank G-”
A pleasant female voice. “We're sorry. The number you're trying to reach is no longer in service.”
“BULLSHIT!” The worms turned into a rock in my stomach. I hung up, and punched his number again. Same friendly voice. How was this possible? What happened to him?
I sat down on the step. I clasped my hands together to keep them from shaking. Where was he? I picked up my phone and dialed home. I had to hear a familiar voice.
It rang once. “Hello?” Sweet relief.
“Ma, thank you for picking up.”
“Well... you're welcome, but where are you? What are you doing?”
“Ma I went over to Robinson's apartment. It was empty. He moved out today!”
Silence. Then, “Who?”
The rock sunk a little lower. “Robinson. The detective. The one helping me look for Marty.”
A few seconds of silence. It was getting hard to swallow. “Oh. Oh right! I'm sorry, dear. Your father and I have been so busy around here setting up for the party, it's been... I guess I'm just tired. Hold on.”
I heard my father's voice in the background. They were talking. I couldn't make any of it out. I turned up the volume. No good. They were talking fast. Arguing.
“Sorry, dear. Had to tell your father something.” She was shaky. On the verge of tears.
“You ok?” She really sounded upset.
“Come home. We... have the party set up.” She choked.
I checked my watch. “I got some time left, I gotta make one more call.”
“Ma. This is important!”
She hung up.
I didn't feel better.
My head was pounding. What was wrong with everyone today? Was it a joke? Robinson loved a good joke, but not like this. His were stupid, but had charm.
Marty was my best and only friend. When things got bad, he was there with a smile and a joke.
He went missing a week ago. I found out from his mother. She thought I knew where he was. I have never heard a woman cry that hard. I got Robinson on the case. He didn't hesitate.
I had to make one last phone call. I walked back towards my house dialing.
“Police.” The voice was bored. The desk clerk.
“Hello sir. I was at your office earlier today. I was looking for Detective Robinson.” Silence. “You told me he was terminated today.”
Typing. A sigh. “Sir, we have no one by that name in our office.”
“Yeah, he was fired.”
“No, we've never had someone by that name in our office.”
It became very cold. The sounds of the street vanished. All I could hear was my breathing. I wanted to challenge him. My mouth moved on its own and thanked the officer for his help.
I hung up. Then I sat down on the curb.
I wasn't angry. I sat and felt nothing. The sun crawled across the sky. Shadows deepened.
There was a vibration from my pocket. A text. From Mom.
I pulled myself up. There was one more chance. My parents were good friends with Robinson. They know what he meant to me.
They wouldn't do this to me.
I walked home. In the distance, a dog started barking. It didn't stop.
I unlocked the front door. Streamers and balloons littered the hallway. There was a light on in the kitchen. My parents stared at me as I walked in.
She stood up and beckoned to me. “Come here dear, we need to talk.”
I didn't move.
Dad stayed quiet and stared back at his drink.
“Where's Robinson?” My mouth was dry. My stomach was an iron pit.
They looked at each other. I smiled. It was bitter.
“So you know, then.”
Ma opened her mouth, then closed it. Dad spoke.
“There is no Detective Robinson.” I nodded.
Mom inched closer “Dear, it's going to be ok.”
“No, it's not! You're lying to me!” I pulled out my phone. “I called you a few hours ago, after I left the police station. You said you knew him.
Mom pulled out her own phone. “Honey. I only got one call from you today. It scared me. It scared both of us.” She looked back at Dad.
“We've known him for years. He was at my high school graduation for Christ's sakes!” They were lying. They had to be.
“We've never known any detectives. You have to calm down.”
“No I won't! That man you say doesn't exist is the only person who can find Marty!” My voice hung in the air.
Ma put a hand to her mouth. Tears rolled her face. Dad stared at me.
I looked at them. “What!? What now? Does he not exist too?” I looked to my right. A picture of two boys in a pool smiled back at me. “Are you going to tell me that I've imagined that?”
I heard him. But I didn't... grasp what he said. “What?”
“Marty's been dead for five years.”
“No he...he went missing.” My voice lost its edge. “A couple weeks ago.”
Dad looked back down. This was no prank. It went too far.
“He's been there since grade school! We graduated at the same time!”
Mom ran out the room.
My head spun. It made no sense. I still had memories of both of them. Vivid ones. They couldn't be fake. The floor switched places with the ceiling. A car went by. Headlights lit up the sad decorations.
Dad looked up again. “It'll be alright. We can get help. Someone to talk to.”
I found gravity again. I hit the stairs.
Dad made no effort to get me.
It was dark now. I didn't even try to turn on the lights. I locked my door and sat against it. I put my window up. Dogs barked and children screamed. Horns sounded in the distance.
Mom came to my door. She tried to call me out. She had been crying. There was nothing left to say. She didn't come back.
I put my hands in my pockets. I was hollowed out. Memories of them played on repeat. Robinson and I getting pie at the local diner. Me and Marty in the car. Marty's mother crying. I remembered them with razor vividness.
Something was off. I felt around in my pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It was the address the officer at the desk gave me. It was the last proof I had of him. I unfolded it.
There was no address. The paper was blank.