Constable Time: A Seat at the Feast
This is not our world, but it is. Set in an alternate reality, Constable Time follows Jacob Time as he navigates a complex world where the moneyed elite hold every lever and everyone else is there to obey. Even the police. Even when there is a murder. Driven by a sense of justice too rare in this world, Time keeps his head down, but never lets up. At every twist, though, he has to wonder: what will they let him do if the killer is one of theirs?
This is the first in a series.
Time knew he shouldn’t fixate on the thumb on the red button. Knew he should be scanning, searching for a weakness. Maybe the bomb wasn’t real? But he knew it was real. Knew he should shift his look upward and catch the man’s eyes, grey and glassy and twitching. Seen that before. Time knew he should be looking for options.
But he knew there were no options.
It was a black plastic cylinder wrapped around the man’s faded blue dress shirt with gun metal gray electric tape. A rectangular metal frame at the front held a layer of plastic explosive. Like Playdough, Time thought, only deadlier.
The man was 40, maybe more. He wore a shabby suit, probably his Sunday best, the jacket buttoned and held tight as he walked through the huge glass doors into the lobby of Finance Capital’s 47-story signature skyscraper. The man had centered himself in the midst of the teeming, gleaming white space and unbuttoned his jacket.
A pause, a glance, a worry, a whisper, a murmur, a buzz, a hurried exit, a finger pointed, a soft gasp, a loud voice, a shout, then a mass of rushing footsteps, then walking, then jogging, then running. In three minutes the lobby was deserted but for the man with the bomb on his chest. In two more minutes there were two security guards hanging on the edges of that great space, one more behind the big counter by the banks of elevators. More were on the way, some already hiding in corridors.
But the man just stood there with a thumb on the red button of a little black plastic transmitter with a tiny antenna at its bottom. The guards had guns drawn, but he knew they would not shoot. He knew they knew what that thumb on the red button meant.
It was two more minutes when Constable Time entered the lobby. His partner, Denis Bucard, trailed behind him, but stopped at a signal just past the big glass doors. Behind him uniformed police had cleared the near sidewalk, though the street still rattled with cars and cabs, and the opposite sidewalk was filled with gawkers and pedestrians. It was the best they could do.
Time stood next to a man in a suit with a two-way radio hovering below his chin, staring at the man with the bomb. The man had a red cross on a white background sewn on his blazer. The guards had the same on shoulder patches bulging from steroid-pumped arms. Swiss Guard, Time knew. One of the big private security firms. Good reputation. Firms like Swiss Guard wanted to keep that reputation by not letting anyone blow up a client’s building.
Time was a good three inches taller than the security chief with the walkie, but he stooped as he stood next to him, leaned down and in. Listened to the security chief give him the little lowdown he had to give.
One of the guards took a step forward. Wet face, lips pulled back, eyes wide. The man with the bomb looked weirdly similar when he turned toward that guard, who froze and stopped breathing. And in that growing group of taut faces forming a wide circle around the man with the bomb, Time’s was the only face that was utterly calm.
“Tell them I need five minutes.”
Time spoke softly, hunched into the ear of the security chief. The chief smirked. Just then Time spotted the front edge of thick carbon fiber slip past the wall behind the bomber. Goddammit. Screeners. Each with a six foot shield, body armor, helmets and ear protection, they would rush in and enclose and, if they did it right, they wouldn’t die. They said the explosion felt like running full speed into a brick wall.
Time realized the chief had not answered him.
“Ask him, please, I need five minutes.”
The security chief mumbled something into his radio that was answered by a soup of static and barked garbled words.
He said, “The CEO is about to evac via helicopter.”
Shit. “The bomb isn’t that powerful, he’s forty-seven floors up, he—”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Now the security chief actually laughed, but he caught a twitch from the bomber and stopped. More staccato static from the radio and the chief turned away from Time. When he turned back he said, “The CEO’s airborne.”
So it had to be now.
There was just a shiver of the chief’s finger toward the screeners when Time stepped from the edge of the circle of guards into the gleaming white no man’s land. The security chief glared at Time’s back and started to growl, but stifled it when Time took another step toward the bomber.
Lips flat, eyes soft and round. Time was tall, but could seem small. Brown hair, fit, but unassuming in his rumpled cheap brown suit. His hazel eyes had flecks of green; that would be the only thing you might mention if you were trying to describe him in way that would separate him from the mass. He had strange, soft, light brown eyes with green streaks that pulled you in when, on rare occasions, he needed them to.
This gleaming white high-ceilinged space was silent, but even so Time’s voice barely penetrated. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I can’t pay it.” The bomber’s eyes were lost yet fierce.
Time held. He had been gliding nearer, three steps from him now, but stopped. “What?”
“I can’t pay it. Not ever.”
And Time had an inkling then, but before he could mold it into a plan he heard slapping boots on tile from behind the wall at the back of the lobby. The screeners. He knew it and the man with the bomb knew it.
“Run,” the bomber almost whispered.
Now the screeners darted through as the circle of guards melted back. A second column disgorged from a stairwell on the other side of the lobby, war whoops behind carbon fiber shields.
Time whirled and fled, through two screeners, scraping his ribs on one of the shields and diving through. The bomber shrunk then. Physically closed in on himself, retreated, seemed to encircle his center mass as he held his hand high and let his thumb slip away.
Time just had time to cover his ears. He slid face first on the slick tile, scrunched as best he could as the blast flattened the circle of screeners like Tunguska pines. But the concussion caught a weak spot above and punched through the cement.
Time felt the heat and impact though it was mostly deflected by the shields behind him. He turned in time to see jagged chunks of cement break loose from above one of the screeners sprawled on his back. Saw it smash into the black helmet with the opaque visor. Another screener took a hit to the shoulder as he kneeled to rise, went down again.
Around him faces were turning toward the destruction, the guards, the security chief, Bucard by the door. Like Time, the bang followed by the rumbling had been replaced by an eerie silence and then ringing, deadened by the billowing grit.
Behind him the remains of the man with the bomb were interred by cement and tile, dust and steel. Time stared, remembering the shape of the bomb, its texture, and was that a little—
More ringing, but now different. It took Time four rings to realize it was his cell phone. He pulled it from an inner coat pocket.
“You will have to speak louder,” almost yelled after listening to a flood of words, “I’m having a hard time hearing—”
But he heard it this time. Someone was dead. Murdered. Up on the top floor of the headquarters of Quantitative Advantage. Time recognized that name, though he had only the vaguest idea what they did. But he knew if he recognized the name they were one of the big ones.
He signaled to Bucard and spoke though he knew he would not be heard. “We have to go. Now.”